Inter Press Service » Migration & Refugees News and Views from the Global South Sun, 29 Nov 2015 21:51:31 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Ethiopia: The Biggest African Refugee Camp No One Talks About Sun, 29 Nov 2015 21:51:31 +0000 James Jeffrey 0 Cubans Seeking the American Dream, Stranded in Costa Rica Mon, 23 Nov 2015 22:16:50 +0000 Diego Arguedas Ortiz A group of Cubans wait in a shelter opened by the authorities in the town of La Cruz in the northwestern Costa Rican border province of Guanacaste. Credit: National Risk Prevention and Emergency Response Commission of Costa Rica

A group of Cubans wait in a shelter opened by the authorities in the town of La Cruz in the northwestern Costa Rican border province of Guanacaste. Credit: National Risk Prevention and Emergency Response Commission of Costa Rica

By Diego Arguedas Ortiz
SAN JOSÉ, Nov 23 2015 (IPS)

Thousands of Cubans heading for the United States have been stranded at the Costa Rican-Nicaraguan border since mid-November, waiting for the authorities in Managua to authorise their passage north.Just over 2,500 Cubans are waiting in northern Costa Rica, the majority in temporary shelters opened by the local authorities. After receiving temporary transit permits from the Costa Rican government, the Cubans ran into resistance when they reached Nicaragua, which closed the border and denied them passage.

“We’re desperate to get to the United States because we want a better future for our children and for ourselves,” said Arley Alonso Ferrarez, a Cuban migrant, in a video provided by the Costa Rican government’s National Risk Prevention and Emergency Response Commission.

Alonso and the other Cubans stuck at the Nicaraguan border are seeking refuge under the U.S. Cuban Adjustment Act’s “wet foot, dry foot” policy, which guarantees residency to any Cuban who sets foot on U.S. soil.

The exodus was fuelled once again this year by the fear that the thaw between the Cuban and U.S. governments, which began in December 2014 and has led to the restoration of diplomatic ties, would result in the modification or elimination of the special treatment received by Cuban immigrants to the United States.

Cubans have been making their way to the United States through Central America for several years now, but the phenomenon had gone unnoticed until the Costa Rican government adopted measures in early November to fight the trafficking of persons through this country.

That cut short the flow of undocumented immigrants and revealed the scale of the movement of Cubans from Ecuador to the United States.

“The current crisis was triggered by the dismantling of the (trafficking) ring, which has brought to light the situation which we had already warned about, with regard to the increase in the number of Cuban migrants,” Costa Rican Foreign Minister Manuel González told IPS.

“I wouldn’t wish this on anyone, not even my worst enemy,” Cuban migrant Ignacio Valdés told the local newspaper La Nación, referring to the dangers faced along the lengthy journey. “We’ve been robbed, we were forced to jump into the sea between Colombia and Panama, some girls were even raped, and the police stole from us.”

After the Nov. 10 arrest of members of the trafficking ring which smuggled migrants through Costa Rican territory, Cubans began to be stranded in groups along the southern border of the country.

That forced the authorities to issue seven-day safe conducts, to regulate their passage to Nicaragua. But that country completely sealed its border on Nov. 15, and blocked the entrance of Cubans when it reopened the border the next day.“The current crisis was triggered by the dismantling of the (trafficking) ring, which has brought to light the situation which we had already warned about, with regard to the increase in the number of Cuban migrants.” - Costa Rican Foreign Minister Manuel González

The migrants are awaiting the results of a meeting to be held Tuesday Nov. 24 in El Salvador, where the countries of Central America, as well as Mexico, Ecuador and Colombia, will try to hammer out a joint regional response.

The meeting will explore options to create a “humanitarian corridor” to facilitate the passage of Cubans to the United States – which has not been invited to the meeting, while Cuba has failed to confirm its participation, the Costa Rican Foreign Ministry reported.

In recent years, more and more Cubans have been going through Ecuador, which grants them three-month tourist visas and to which they arrive by plane. The route – by land and sea – is much less frequently used and less well-known than the Florida Straits.

It is 5,000 km as the crow flies between Ecuador and the U.S. border, but the routes used by the trafficking gangs are much longer.

In April 2014, the Ecuadorean government eliminated the requisite that Cubans applying for visas present a letter of invitation, thus allowing them to remain in the country for up to three months without any additional requirements.

Once they make it to the South American continent, the migrants go by land across the border between Ecuador and Colombia, before taking a boat along Colombia’s Pacific coast to Panama, where they are smuggled, once more by land, to the Costa Rican border.

“These people are brought in by the mafias, the international people trafficking networks; without a doubt they are risking their lives,” said the foreign minister. “We have received reports of women who have been raped, who have crossed through jungles, and of children who are put in danger. The conditions are deplorable.”

According to Costa Rica’s immigration office, around 13,000 Cubans have travelled through this country since last year.

But they have mainly gone unnoticed, because most of them are smuggled by people traffickers, who charge between 7,000 and 13,000 dollars per person.

Carlos Sandoval, an expert on immigration issues, told IPS that the trafficking rings operate throughout Central America, and are also involved in smuggling migrants from the region who are trying to make it into the United States.

And, he added, while a solution for the stranded Cubans is urgently needed, Central America has long been in debt to its own citizens who try to reach the United States.

“An ironic aspect of this humanitarian corridor initiative is that it’s happening in a region that spits out migrants. Around 300,000 people a year set out from Central America in an attempt to make it to the United States,” said Sandoval, a researcher at the University of Costa Rica’s Social Research Institute.

The Central American migrants heading towards the United States face situations just as complex as what the Cubans are going through.

“The case of the Cubans is just one more instance of what is a day-to-day reality in Central America,” said the Costa Rican expert, who for years has studied Central American migration to the United States, carrying out fieldwork in this region, in Mexico, and in the U.S.

Sandoval said the situation requires a regionwide response – something Costa Rica should have had in mind when it issued the first safe-conduct passes. He argued that it is the region’s governments themselves that create the conditions that allow trafficking networks to operate.

“What makes their business possible? It is possible to the extent that the borders are closed: it is so difficult to get there that without the support of these people (traffickers), it is even more complicated and dangerous,” Sandoval said.

Costa Rica plans to open new shelters in the northern town of Upala, because the ones already set up are full, the minister of human development and social inclusion, Carlos Alvarado, told IPS.

“Many of these people (the Cubans) are professionals, others are skilled workers. They are between the ages of 20 and 45. There are more men than women, some 30 children, and around 10 women who are pregnant,” said Alvarado.

Cubans continue pouring into the country, said the minister. On Friday Nov. 20, for example, some 200 people arrived.

On Saturday Nov. 21, Costa Rica’s authorities reported that there are more than 2,500 Cubans in transit in this country.

“Most of them report that they came using their own funds – they sold all they had and left everything behind to go to the United States,” the minister said.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Paris, the Refugees and Europe Wed, 18 Nov 2015 21:27:22 +0000 Roberto Savio

Roberto Savio, founder and president emeritus of the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and publisher of Other News.

By Roberto Savio
ROME, Nov 18 2015 (IPS)

The focus on terrorism is obscuring the issues of refugees, and it is important to consider its impact on Europe, after the shock of Paris.

Roberto Savio

Roberto Savio

Of course, the impact of terrorism in the daily life of ordinary citizens is going to increase the culture of checks and controls in place since September 11, 2001. Since the New York massacre, the 10,000 planes that take off daily carry citizens who go through vexing security checks, and cannot bring liquid on boards, etc. Osama Bin Laden has changed totally our way of travelling. It is no small achievement, and Paris will increase that trend.

Let us not forget that we have ample literature from ISIS making it clear that its strategy is to get the West to react against the Muslim living in their countries, by erecting a wall of distrust and discrimination, so as to radicalise them as much as possible. There are 44 million Muslims living in the West: if they felt shunned and discriminated against, they would be a formidable force, well beyond the 50,000 fighters who now carry the ISIS project of domination. Since at least 50 per cent of them now come from the West (there were only Iraqi and Syrians at the beginning), the jihad is becoming much more globalised Estimates say now that ISIS is recruiting about 3,000 foreigners every month. The massacre of Paris will only increase this confrontation.

Writing in the Washington Post’s opinion pages last weekend, counterterrorism analyst Harleen Gambhir said ISIS has set a dangerous trap for Europe with the Paris attacks. He recalls that, after the attacks on Charlie Hebdo, its website said that such attacks “compel the Crusaders (the West) to actively destroy the grey zone themselves… Muslims in the West will quickly find themselves between one of two choices, they either apostatise…or they will join the Caliphate”.

The fact that near one of the kamikaze was found a Syrian passport that could show that he came as a refugee is going to have a deep impact on the present policy on refugees. In the US, already about half the 50 state governors have declared that they will not admit Syrians. And Polish Prime Minister, Beata Szydlo, has already declared that in view of the Paris attacks Poland will not accept European Union (EU) quotas for asylum seekers.

This is a final blow for the Syrians. They have lost 250,000 people during the war, and they have now over 4 million refugees. To view all of them as terrorists is a total nonsense. But it is a nonsense which plays well in the hands of xenophobic and right wing parties, which have sprouted all over Europe, as well as of the Republicans during the US electoral campaign. In the polls, Marine Le Pen, Matteo Salvini and all right wing parties, with their speeches on security and controls, are finding consensus among a scared population. The German nationalist party will now certainly sit in the Parliament. Xenophobes and nationalists play a very irresponsible game, but it pays, and that is enough. No media are debating the ISIS trap, busy with their ritual stories on Paris. But this is medium term problem.

In the short term, Europeans will probably lose the benefits of the Schengen agreement: free circulation inside Europe. France has re-established border controls, as have Sweden, Germany and Slovenia. Hungary built a fence to protect its border with Serbia, and now Austria is doing the same. And, if Europe becomes a fortress and closes its borders, thousands of refugees will remain blocked in the Balkans, exasperating an already difficult situation. Eastern Europe has made clear that they will resist EU quotas. But the EU plan of resettlement of 120,000 men and woman, has so far resettled a grand total of 327 people all over Europe. The chairman of EU, Jean-Claude Juncker, has calculated that at this speed it will take until 2100 to implement the plan.

And Europe, even with right wing parties in power, will have to conduct a very difficult war with terrorism and refugees, at the same time. Until now it gave to Syrians priority in entering Europe. The Syrian passport found near one of the kamikaze is going to reopen that rule. It is irrelevant that the Syrian refugees are the consequence of a conflict started by Europe (like Libya). Fear will win over solidarity, if the latter was ever really available. A sense of guilt and remorse are hardly visible in European history.

We have now 60 million refugees. They would make the 23rd country of the world. But refugees are coming not only from war, but also because of sex discrimination (homosexuals in Africa, girls in Boko Harama and Yazhid territories); religions (just think of the Rohinga in Myanmar); climate refugees (they will grow exponentially, after 2020, since the coming conference of Paris will not solve climate warming). Today, somebody from Yemen is not accepted as a refugee. Yet there is a war, which is destroying its cities, under Saudi bombing. And Europe sticks to the definition of refugee as somebody escaping conflicts, then decides which conflicts are acceptable? And what about economic migrants, who escape hunger, not war? Does the distinction between refugees and immigrants make sense any longer?

By now, we know that the second or third generations of immigrants do not accept hardship for integration as their parents did. They are educated to a European standard of life and, if left out, they feel humiliated. The Caliphate becomes a way to get dignity, and escape the sad frustrations of a life without a future. And the reality is that Europe is not culturally prepared to accept people from different religions and different cultures.

There is a longing for a homogenous Europe (very much the way Japan goes). Of course, in schools that is changing, but young people are not in power. The demographic decline of the continent (it would lose 10 per cent of its population by 2030, according to United Nations projections, without immigrants or refugees), does not seep into collective consciousness. We will see, in the near future: a) a change of policy on refugees, b) a political success of the xenophobic parties, c) a decline of the European dream, and d) a new impossible challenge for Europe: how to keep out millions of people, without losing its identity, which is traditionally based on solidarity, tolerance and human values.


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Analysis: More Countries Want More Babies Tue, 17 Nov 2015 16:07:47 +0000 Joseph2

Joseph Chamie is former director of the United Nations Population Division and Barry Mirkin is former chief of the Population Policy Section of the United Nations Population Division.

By Joseph Chamie and Barry Mirkin
NEW YORK, Nov 17 2015 (IPS)

Concerned with the consequences of demographic decline and population ageing, especially with respect to economic growth, national defence and pensions and health care for the elderly, a growing number of governments are seeking to raise birth rates. Whereas nearly 40 years ago 13 countries had policies to raise fertility, today the number has increased four-fold to 56, representing more than one-third of the world’s population.

The most recent and largest addition to this pronatalist group of countries, which includes Australia, France, Germany, Iran, Israel, Italy, Japan, Russia, South Korea, Spain and Turkey, is China. The Chinese government announced that it will change its controversial one-child policy to a two-child policy per couple in order to balance population development and address the challenge of an ageing population.

Assuming a slight increase in its current fertility level, China’s population of 1.38 billion is projected – according to the UN medium variant – to peak by 2030 at 1.42 billion and then decline to 1 billion by the end of the century (Figure 1). However, if fertility were to remain constant at its current level, China’s population would soon begin declining, reaching around 0.8 billion by the year 2100. If fertility were to instantly reach the replacement level, an unlikely event, China’s population would grow to 1.51 billion by midcentury.

Source: United Nations Population Division.

Source: United Nations Population Division.

China’s population age structure is also becoming older than any time in the past. Whereas in 1950 less than five per cent of the Chinese were aged 65 years or older, today the proportion has doubled to 10 per cent. By 2035 China’s proportion elderly is expected to double again and reach one-third by around midcentury.

Similar to China, 82 other countries – accounting for almost half of the world’s population – are experiencing fertility rates below the replacement level of about two births per woman. As a result, the populations of 48 of those countries, including Germany, Japan, Russia and South Korea, are projected to be smaller and older by midcentury, even assuming modest gains in birth rates. If fertility rates were to remain constant at their current levels, the declines and ageing would be even more pronounced than currently expected (Figure 2).

Source: United Nations Population Division.

Source: United Nations Population Division.

In an attempt to counter those two major demographic trends, many governments have adopted a variety of policies to raise birth rates. At one extreme are draconian measures such as prohibiting contraception, sterilization, abortion and the education and employment of women. As those measures violate basic human rights, few governments are prepared to take such drastic steps to raise fertility. Moreover, such measures have undesirable demographic consequences, including higher levels of unintended pregnancy, illegal abortion and maternal mortality.

Some governments are promoting marriage, childbearing and parenting through public relations campaigns, incentives and preferences. Such programs highlight the vital role of motherhood and its valuable contribution to the welfare and growth of the country. Australia and South Korea, for example, are among those making appeals to women to have one more child. Also, Iran is considering legislation that would encourage businesses to prioritize the hiring of men with children.

Perhaps the most common pronatalist policies aim to reduce parent’s considerable financial costs for childbearing and child rearing. Those policies include cash bonuses at the time of a child’s birth and/or recurrent cash supplements for dependent children

In Turkey, for example, parents are entitled to 300 Turkish lira (108 dollars) for the birth of their first child, 400 Turkish lira (144 dollars) for the second and 600 Turkish lira (215 dollars) for the fourth and subsequent child. One consequence of this legislation, however, has been the need for the provision of government financial assistance to needy families with large families.

Additional policies, especially popular among many Western countries, focus on making employment and family responsibilities “compatible” for working couples, especially mothers. In addition to extended maternity leave as well as paternity leave, other measures include part-time work, flexible working hours, working at home and family-friendly workplaces, including nurseries, as well as pre-school and after-school care facilities.

However, the costs of family friendly policies are not insignificant. For example, with fertility at two children per woman, France’s extensive scheme of family benefits is estimated to cost four per cent of gross domestic product, one of the highest percentages in the European Union.

Some governments are also looking to selective immigration to maintain the size of their workforce and slow down the pace of population ageing. However, a recent United Nations study concluded that international migration at current levels would be unable to compensate fully for the expected population decline. Between 2015 and 2050, the excess of deaths over births in Europe is projected to be 63 million, whereas the net number of international migrants to Europe is projected at 31 million, implying an overall shrinking of Europe’s population by about 32 million.

In addition, the financial costs, social integration and cultural impact of immigration have come to the political forefront in recent months. A growing tide of refugees and economic migrants – mainly from Syria, Afghanistan, Eritrea, Iraq, Nigeria and Pakistan, estimated at over 800,000 – have arrived on the shores of the European Union since the beginning of 2015 to escape war, repression, discrimination and unemployment.

As part of its response, the EU is considering a plan to offer aid money and visas to African countries that agree to take back thousands of their citizens who are unlawfully residing within its borders. Also aiming to stem the record inflows of refugees, various EU members have put up fences, imposed border controls and tightened asylum rules.

Other countries that are averse to encouraging immigration, such as Japan and South Korea, have instead opted to boost labour productivity as a means of compensating for a shrinking labour force. Those governments are also reviewing legislation to encourage more women to join and remain in the labour force by offering them family friendly work environments, improved career mobility and promotions to management and senior positions.

While family-oriented measures may encourage some women to have children, those policies are costly and their overall effect on fertility is weak or unclear. The many forces pushing fertility to low levels are simply too powerful for governments to overcome with dictates, financial incentives and public relations campaigns.


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OPINION: Refugee Crisis – Diverting Funds From Civil Society is a Bad Idea Tue, 10 Nov 2015 07:22:05 +0000 Teldah Mawarire

Teldah Mawarire is a policy and research officer at CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance.

By Teldah Mawarire

Europe is in the throes of a refugee crisis and it’s not difficult to see that it does not quite know how to respond to it. By mid-October more than 600,000 people had reached Europe by sea.

Teldah Mawarire

Teldah Mawarire

The International Organisation for Migration estimates that more than 3,100 people have died or are missing this year alone as they try to make their way to Europe. The flow is likely to continue with the UNICEF saying more Syrians could head to Europe as the conflict in their country continues.

The response to the crisis has been markedly different by different sectors and in different countries. On the whole, it is civil society and not governments or regional unions that have led the effort to help those escaping the horror of war. Civil society organisations (CSOs) have responded by providing food, water, shelter, health services and skills programmes for arriving migrants. CSOs are lobbying the European Union and its members intensely to tackle the intolerance towards refugees. Even the monitoring of refugee arrivals and the database on deaths is being done by CSOs.

The response from those in power however has been inadequate. From bickering in the European Union to hard-line stances taken by the Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban that his country must defend its borders from “migrants.”

There are, however, glimmers of hope. Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel has been more welcoming to refugees until the recent vote by Germany’s lower house of parliament to limit the number of refugees, although the country still projects to receive about 1.5 million refugee arrivals this year. The European Union last month agreed to share 120,000 refugees through a quota system to some member states.

The United Kingdom has promised that it would take in 4,000 refugees this year and 20,000 refugees over the next five years, although it is one of the European Union members that have refused to be part of the quota system. After unhelpful remarks by British lawmakers earlier this year that refugees must not make their way to London because its streets are “not paved with gold,” taking in refugees is a step in the right direction but it is still a “pitifully small” response, as stated by Green MP Caroline Lucas in the UK parliament.

Worryingly, Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne has said that the money to support refugees should be taken from the Department for International Development (DFID) – the United Kingdom’s official agency in charge of administering aid. DFID is involved in a wide range of projects that include preventing malaria deaths, improving child education and child immunisations, infrastructure development, humanitarian work, civil society support and research among others.

DFID substantially spends about 12 billion pounds per year on international aid. Although the bulk of DFID funding is disbursed through governments, there is a possibility of reduction in allocations to projects led by civil society that rely on funding from the United Kingdom if the Osborne proposal is implemented.

Given the important work being done by CSOs in dealing with refugee crisis, it makes little sense for the UK government to cut or divert aid budgets from CSOs especially when efforts to implement the Sustainable Development Goals, agreed to by world leaders in September this year, will need additional resources. Instead, the UK should make a greater effort to support refugees from its domestic budget.

While the current rules around Official Development Assistance (ODA) allow for donors to count some expenditure for resettling displaced people in their own countries as part of their aid allocation, only a relatively small amount of aid given to refugees has been counted as part of ODA in previous years.

The concern for civil society is that faced with the immensity of the current refugee crisis, coupled with fiscal austerity, donor countries will divert more aid in this way.

Reducing funding could set a bad precedent and lead to other donor governments reducing their funding of projects in the Global South. Already there are concerns in Sweden as the government is considering diverting development aid to refugee reception aid.

In an environment where civil society around the world already faces a funding crisis, while the demand for its work increases, diverting funding is the last thing that the sector needs.

Funding the response to the refugee crisis should be seen as separate from regular development assistance support. If anything, additional resources need to be made available for civil society organisations to continue the essential work they are doing to respond to the crisis, while governments do their best to help refugees in line with humanitarian principles.


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Turkey Elections: AKP Strategy Pays Off, Kurds Continue to Struggle Wed, 04 Nov 2015 07:10:18 +0000 Joris Leverink 0 U.N. Rights Commissioner Blasts Harsh Treatment of Refugees Thu, 22 Oct 2015 21:02:42 +0000 Thalif Deen By Thalif Deen

As the flow of migrants continues to rise – from war-ravaged countries in the Middle East, Asia and Africa to Europe – so do the horror stories of the harsh treatment meted out to these refugees.

Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein New United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. Credit:

Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein New United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. Credit:

The newspapers have dramatized some of the incidents, including food thrown at refugees, confined to cages like animals, and new fences on land borders preventing them from transiting from one country to another.

In Germany, despite its liberal open door policy, there was a call to reopen concentration camps at an anti-immigration rally attended by over 20,000 people, raising fears of hate speech, according to the New York Times.

Hungary is building a fence to ward off refugees. And Slovakia has said it will accept only Christian refugees, triggering a strong condemnation by the United Nations.

But the most severe condemnation has come from the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein who singled out the Czech Republic for its brutal treatment of refugees.

Over the last two months, several European countries of transit have been employing restrictive policies against migrants and refugees who are trying to reach European countries further north.

“However, the Czech Republic is unique in routinely subjecting these migrants and refugees to detention for 40 days, and reportedly sometimes even longer — up to 90 days — in conditions which have been described as degrading,” he complained in the latest condemnation on Oct. 22.

According to credible reports from various sources, the violations of the human rights of migrants are neither isolated nor coincidental, but systematic: they appear to be an integral part of a policy by the Czech Government designed to deter migrants and refugees from entering the country or staying there, Zeid said.

“Many of these people are refugees who have suffered horrendously in their countries of origin as well as during their journey to the Czech Republic,” he said, adding: “International law is quite clear that immigration detention must be strictly a measure of last resort.”

And as for children, he said, the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child has emphasized that detention of children on the sole basis of their migration status, or that of their parents, is a violation, is never in their best interests, and is not justifiable.

With the oncoming winter weather, the flow of refugees has accelerated in recent days at even more rapid pace.

According to the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, more than 643,000 refugees and migrants from the Middle East, Africa and Asia have crossed the Mediterranean to Europe this year and at least 3,135 have died enroute.

In a story, datelined Munich, the Times cited a Bavarian newspaper pointing an accusing finger at refugees and reporting over 1,000 criminal acts, 2,000 police interventions and 3,000 injuries over a two week period alone.

“In an age when one cannot pass through airport security with a bottle of water, tens of thousands arrive every day with little or no screening,” the newspaper said.

The EU Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said: “We want to stop the flow, but in order to stop it, we must also find a political solution to the situation in the Middle East, stop the war in Syria, see Libya becoming a state again.”

“I don’t want to be very optimistic. I believe this situation will last,” he warned Wednesday.

High Commissioner Zeid referred to credible reports that migrants arriving in the Czech Republic have been routinely strip-searched by the authorities looking to confiscate money in order to pay the 250 CZK (10 US$) per day each person is charged for their involuntary stay in the detention centers.

This payment is demanded by the authorities from all migrants, without clear legal grounds, leaving many of them destitute upon their release.

“The fact that people are being forced to pay for their own detention is particularly reprehensible,” Zeid said.

Zeid also expressed alarm that the detention policy is accompanied by an increasingly xenophobic public discourse, including repeated Islamophobic statements by President Miloš Zeman, and a public petition “Against Immigration” launched by former President Václav Klaus.

While noting that some material conditions in Bìlá-Jezová, including overcrowding, have reportedly improved in the last week, due mainly to the opening of other centres, the High Commissioner pointed out that the basic approach has not changed.

He urged the Government to take immediate steps to ensure respect for the human rights of migrants and refugees.

“These should include establishing alternatives to detention that are grounded in human rights, in line with the Czech Republic’s international human rights obligations, and with the recommendations of the Czech Ombudsperson,” Zeid said.

“The authorities should also take into account the concerns expressed by the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights, civil society organizations and even several representatives of the Government itself.”

Striking a more positive note, the High Commissioner welcomed the Oct. 13 report by Czech Ombudsperson Anna Šabatová, who spoke of parents being treated in a degrading way in front of their children, who are traumatized by the constant presence of heavily armed personnel.

At the time of her visit, there were 100 children detained in Bìlá-Jezová.

The writer can be contacted at

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Opinion: From European Union to Just a Common Market Tue, 20 Oct 2015 12:15:17 +0000 Roberto Savio

Roberto Savio, founder and president emeritus of the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and publisher of Other News.

By Roberto Savio
ROME, Oct 20 2015 (IPS)

The success in the recent Swiss elections of the UDC-SVP, a xenophobic, anti European Union, right wing party, opens a number of reflections.

Roberto Savio

Roberto Savio

Seventy years ago Europe came out from a terrible war, exhausted and destroyed. That produced a generation of statesman, who went about creating a European integration, in order to avoid the repetition of the internal conflicts that had created the two world wars. Today a war between France and Germany is unthinkable, and Europe is an island of peace for the first time in its history.

This is the mantra we hear all the time. What is forgotten is that in fact a good part of Europe did not want integration. In 1960, the United Kingdom led the creation of an alternative institution, dedicated only to commercial exchange: the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), formed by the United Kingdom, Austria, Denmark, Norway, Portugal, Sweden, Switzerland, then later Finland and Iceland. It was only in 1972 that, bowing to the success of European integration, the UK and Denmark asked to join the EU. Later, Portugal and Austria left EFTA to join the European Union.

The UK was never interested in the European project and always felt committed to “a special relation” with United States. Union would mean also solidarity and integration, as the various EU treaties kept declaring. The UK was only interested in the market side of the process.

Since 1972, the gloss of European integration has lost much of its shine. Younger generations have no memory of the last war. The EU is perceived far from its citizens, run by unelected officials who make decisions without a participatory process, and unable to respond to challenges. Where is the external policy of the EU? When does it take decisions that are not an echo of Washington?

Since the financial crisis of 1999, xenophobic, nationalistic and right wing parties have sprouted all over Europe. In Hungary, one of them is in power and openly claims that democracy is not the most efficient system. The Greek crisis has made clear that there is a north-south divide, while Germany and the others do not consider solidarity a criterion for financial issues. And the refugee crisis is now the last division in European integration. The UK has openly declared that it will take only a token number of 10,000 refugees, while a new west-east divide has become evident, with the strong opposition of Eastern Europe to take any refugee. The idea of solidarity is again out of the equation.

Germany moved because of its demographic reality. It had 800,000 vacant jobs, and it needs at least 500,000 immigrants per year to remain competitive and keep its pension system alive. But that mentality is even more clear with the East European countries, which experience increasing demographic decline. At the end of communism in 1989, Bulgaria had a population of 9 million. Now it is at 7.2 million. It is estimated that it will lose an additional 7 per cent by 2030, and 28.5 per cent by 2050. Romania will lose 22 per cent by 2050, followed by Ukraine (20%), Moldova (20%), Bosnia and Herzegovina (19.5%), Latvia (19%), Lithuania (17.5%), Serbia (17%), Croatia (16%), and Hungary (16%). Yet, all Eastern Europe countries have followed the British rebellion, and take a strong stance on refusing to accept refugees.

Now the idea of European integration is reaching a crucial challenge: the United Kingdom will hold a referendum by the end of 2017 to decide if remain in the European Union or not. The prime minister David Cameron, has invented this referendum, in order to renegotiate with EU the terms of British participation, get enough concessions to appease the Euro-skeptics and thus win the referendum in favor of Europe.

Only 10 years ago, such a maneuver would have gone nowhere. But now things are different, and there is a general tendency among European countries to take back as much as possible space given to the EU. Germany has already indicated that it is open to debate, and it wants to avoid a Brexit as much as possible. Cameron has not yet indicated the detail of his requests to remain in the EU. But it is widely believed that they will be about unhitching from European political integration, requesting exceptionality for the British financial sector, demanding a voice in decisions in the Eurozone (of which the UK is not a member), eliminating social benefits for European immigrants and giving to the British parliament a strong say over European decisions. Cameron has already indicated that he will withdraw from the European Court of Justice.

Once Great Britain obtains these concessions or even part of them, other countries, beginning with Hungary, will follow. And this will be the end of the process of European integration. We will take the route of EFTA, not the one envisioned by the founding fathers: Konrad Adenauer, Robert Schumann, Paul-Henri Spaak and Alcide De Gasperi.

Meanwhile, Europe will have to accept that it is not going to be the homogenous and white society that the right wing and xenophobic parties dream of reestablishing. The lack of global governability has created a staggering figure of 60 million refugees. Of those, 15 million live in refugee camps. One of them, Dadaab, in Kenya, has now half a million people, more than the population of several members of the United Nations. It is estimated that climate change will create by 2030 another 10 million refugees. Solidarity or not, Europe demography will require the arrival of some million. What will be the Europe of 2030?


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Opinion: Having to Choose, A Nation’s Agonizing Immigration Duty Thu, 15 Oct 2015 13:21:21 +0000 Peggy Sands Orchowski

Peggy Sands Orchowski Ph.D. has covered immigration reform in Washington for the last 10 years and is the author of the new book, The Law That Changed The Face of America: The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965.

By Dr. Peggy Sands Orchowski
WASHINGTON DC, Oct 15 2015 (IPS)

It’s auniversally acknowledged truth that no nation can sustain open borders. Even the wealthiest, most popular “nations of immigrants” like the US cannot possibly accept everyone who wants to immigrate here or even qualifies to do so.

Peggy Sands Orchowski

Peggy Sands Orchowski

Nations have the core right and duty to choose who can immigrate: come in, stay, work and become a citizen. They do it through immigration laws established and enforced by democratic representative governments. Saying that, immigration decisions certainly are some of the most difficult any nation state must make.

Think of the US and other highly desired immigrant host countries as a popular public college. Millions of people qualify for entry but college administrators get to and must choose who is accepted for admission. They are making life changing decisions for the applicants, and often agonizing ones for the colleges trying to be fair and diverse.

As a result, responding to changing conditions, college admission requirements usually change over time, as do immigration laws. But the admission policies in place at any one time have to be upheld and enforced (allowing for some flexibility in special cases) or there is chaos.

The US 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) is 50 years old this year. It is the most liberal immigration law in the world, the legacy of Ted Kennedy and the last major Great Society bill to be passed by the “fabulous 89th Congress.” It truly changed the diversity of America. But it did not allow open borders. Instead it imposed a complicated 7 per cent formula.

Still today, immigrants from any nationality can apply for a green card. But no nationality will get more than 7 percent of all the permanent immigration visas granted in one year (currently about 1.2 million annually). Surplus applicants from that nation are placed on a waiting list. Every nationality is to be treated equally with no discrimination against and no preferences for (a political exception was made for Cubans in 1966).

The INA also changed another traditional admission priority for immigrants. Instead of basing admission on the individual migrant’s ability to work, as had been the case since earliest days of the nation (remember, handicapped and ill migrants were turned away at Ellis Island no matter now close a family member they were), the INA gave a priority for green cards to extended family members. “Family unification” not “work ableness” is still the top qualification for a green card today.

Significantly, the Congressional jurisdiction for immigration also changed from the Labour Committee to the Judiciary committee. Immigration suddenly took on the tenor of social justice and even a sacred civil right — which it isn’t of course. Now millions of people feel qualified to immigrate to the United States. Millions apply. The US simply can’t take them all.

The agonizing universal truth about immigration is that immigrants get to apply but the nation state gets to decide based on national immigration laws. Those laws have two roles: to bring in the fresh new eager labour and energy of new immigrants that most every nation now wants to add to their growth and prosperity; and to protect the integrity, national identity and labour standards of the host country’s citizenry.

That difficult choice becomes a most terrible dilemma when facing millions of desperate migrants at the borders with their families. Humanitarian and ethnic supporters demand their right to immigrate. But even a collective of small well off nation states like the EU can’t provide enough housing, services and jobs for them all.

They can’t expect that hundreds of thousands of migrants from vastly different cultures will integrate within a reasonable time into their national cultures — ones based especially on freedom for women. Who among them should be chosen? What happens to the vast majority who aren’t?

Obviously massive permanent immigration is not a solution. It is unreasonable to expect nation states to do it and unfair to call them “anti-immigrant” when they won’t. Another process other than massive immigration will have to be negotiated to help citizens of failing states find refuge, peace and prosperity.


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A New Framework in an Age of Migration Mon, 12 Oct 2015 19:36:48 +0000 Alejo Carpentier By Alejo Carpentier
ROME, Oct 12 2015 (IPS)

With the worldwide numbers of displaced people at all-time highs, migration has become the watchword for humanitarian crises.

Given the cost in economic, political and moral terms of coping with mass migration – and particular the experience of what has been unfolding this year in Europe – the need for a universal set of rules and principles is increasingly evident. So is the desire to keep people safely in their homes.

Several European politicians have insisted that greater aid and investment in the originating countries can stem the tidal movements of people. Even Matteo Salvini, an opposition leader in Italy who is hostile to refuge being offered by his own country, is a stated believer in the idea of that development will keep people from coming.

But few understand how practically difficult it has proven to fund such development. First, increasing amounts of official aid flows are tagged to humanitarian crises, reducing the funds available for sustainable development plans. Second, much of the promised aid never materializes, for a host of reasons.

Take Nepal. Less than half the reconstruction aid pledged in the wake of that country’s earthquake in April has been delivered, according to UN officials. Controversies over the Himalayan nation’s new draft constitution are hardly encouraging to donors. The result is that the disaster may translate into a longer-lasting catastrophe than it had to be, ultimately crimping economic opportunity and food security.

Or take Yemen. Saudi Arabia announced a large donation for humanitarian operations there, even though it is engaged in the military conflict that has exacerbated displacement and poverty.

Meanwhile, amid the horror stories of refugee mistreatment in Europe, Tunisia is now building a moat along its border with Libya, demonstrating fears of its own.

It’s pretty evident that the combined sums spent on deterring migration and humanitarian aid to refugees makes talk of encouraging growth in the source countries an exercise in pure optimism.

That may now change. The global community today gathered at the Rome headquarters of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and voted to approve the Framework for Action for Food Security and Nutrition in Protracted Crises. The agreement, brokered by the Committee for World Food Security (CFS), aims to stitch together the increasingly dysfunctional separation of humanitarian and development aid budgets.

As the signatories represent state and non-state donors and actors, the agreement should make it much easier to ensure resources can push past political and bureaucratic barriers to get where they are direly needed.

Take Syria, where more than half the population is displaced, conflict is rampant and the European Union took months to agree to accept less than 5 per cent of the refugees than are now camped in Lebanon and Turkey. Many refugees, terrified that dismal conditions in neighboring countries will become permanent and discouraged from seeking protection further west, are in fact returning to Syria despite the dangers.

That may be an international diplomatic failure – and many of the returnees say they blame the United Nations for their plight.

But it is a practical issue, and that is where the new Framework may help.

FAO, for its part, has already begun acting as if the agreement were in place. This summer it partnered with the International Organization for Migration to help smallholder agricultural production in Syria by around 500 families who returned. The aid consists of seeds, farm tools and ready-made poultry farms, all aimed at providing for the families themselves but also helping pre-empt the agricultural desertion of a conflict-racked country.

The budget resources here are going to what has long been a no man’s land. It’s a small step towards keeping development alive amid an overriding humanitarian emergency.

“Supporting agricultural based livelihoods can contribute to both helping people stay on their land when they feel safe to do so and to create the conditions for the return of refugees, migrants and displaced people,” says FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva.

To be sure, the Framework was devised to deal with protracted crises – places where food insecurity has been reported on a nearly perpetual basis for at least a decade. There are 21 such places today. But most such crises take place in fragile states, where conflict is rife either as a cause or an effect.

As things stand, a third of the world’s hungry outside of India and China live amid protracted crises. And while agriculture accounts for a third of GDP in those countries, it receives less than 4 per cent of external assistance funding, according to Luca Alinov, a FAO officer based in Kenya. Thus the Framework paves the way for resources to flow to the agricultural sector – where returns in terms of food security are highest – precisely where it is most neglected.

It is widely felt to be high time to break down the increasingly archaic distinction between humanitarian and development assistance – and with it the distinct official channels through which resources are doled out.

“Rural development and food security are central to the global response to the refugee crisis,” Graziano da Silva said.

To be sure, how to carry this out in practice may vary, but the Framework’s genesis as the fruit of multi-stakeholder dialogue is likely to broaden the toolkit. Again, FAO has already been doing spadework, such as partnering with MasterCard to provide people in refugee camps in Kenya with prepaid cards allowing them to purchase local goods, a scheme that lends itself to adaptation to varying circumstances.

While state-backed social protection programs such as the Productive Safety Net Program, which helped Ethiopia become the only protracted-crisis country to achieve the Millennium Development Goal of halving the share of populating suffering from hunger, are ideal, the institutional and political stability required for that is often lacking.

That is perhaps where the new Framework may prove most innovative, according to Daniel Maxwell of Tufts University. In line with the universal bent of the Sustainable Development Goals, it suggests going beyond reliance on state building as the sanctioned channel of intervention and points to consensus that strengthening livelihoods should be the priority.

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As the Mediterranean Refugee Crisis Endures, International Morality Ebbs Thu, 01 Oct 2015 21:02:35 +0000 Arlene Chang Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson (left) speaks to journalists at a press stakeout following the High-Level Event on "Strengthening Cooperation on Migration and Refugee Movements in the Perspective of the New Development Agenda".

Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson (left) speaks to journalists at a press stakeout following the High-Level Event on "Strengthening Cooperation on Migration and Refugee Movements in the Perspective of the New Development Agenda".

By Arlene Chang
NEW YORK, Oct 1 2015 (IPS)

As the world suffers its biggest upheaval of human mobility, with 60 million people forced to desert their homes or countries due to persecution, armed conflicts, starvation and hunger that are a veritable danger to their lives, the response from the international community has been rather laggard.

Rolling disasters like in Syria, Eritrea, Afghanistan, Iraq, Ukraine, Libya and Yemen, the Boko Haram in Nigeria, the 40-year old war in Somalia and the ethno-religious infighting in the Central African Republic, have all added push to the global migration crisis. These huge transient flows of humanity have been a challenge some politicians have met and others have disregarded, aggravating the crisis.

Some central and Eastern Europe countries have even gone ahead to say, “They will take everybody ‘as long as they are Christians’”.

Earlier this week, Peter Sutherland, U.N. Special Representative of the Secretary General on Migration and Development said, “Refugees under the 1951 Convention have particular rights… (However) ‘economic migrants’ is now a description that’s being commonly used.”

He pointed out that many migrants could be escaping for reasons of starvation, economic catastrophe or the collapse of a feeding system. “Are we not going to have a more nuanced expression of where we stand morally in terms of our values than saying, we’re going to send them home?” he asked.

Director general of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), William L. Swing, agreed. “There is greater anti-migrant sentiment than at any time in memory and it’s very widespread and increasing. We’re also in a period in which there is a vacuum of leadership, political courage. There is a serious erosion of international moral authority.”

Sutherland reminded hostile countries to bear in mind that the Mediterranean migration crisis is an international responsibility. “We’ve had it before…Ironically…we’ve had it in regard to 1956 in Hungary – and 200,000 people being accommodated within jig time,” Sutherland said.

Sutherland and Swing were addressing an audience attending ‘A Global Response to the Mediterranean Migration Crisis’, an event hosted by the Council on Foreign Relations.

Under the latest plan, only 120,000 migrants will be resettled, much less than the total number of people seeking asylum. Member states like Hungary and Croatia are building fences to stop travelers, demonstrating division within the EU on how to respond to the humanitarian crisis. The divide threatens to “undermine Europe’s tradition of open borders and free movement of people,” Edward Alden, CFR’s Bernard L. Schwartz Senior Fellow, said.

Hungary, a gateway to many prosperous European countries, sealed its border with Serbia on Sep. 15, in a bid to keep refugees out, prompting even U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to express concern over its handling of the refugee influx in a meeting with Hungarian President Janos Ader on Sep. 26.

“Why should Greece and Italy carry the enormous burden because they happen to be the place where the migrants and refugees land? Is there some sort of new world of international morality, which defines proximity as creating responsibility? Why should Turkey have 1.7 million? Or why should Lebanon have one quarter of its entire population? Or Jordan? Why should they carry it all?” Sutherland asked.

Even as the world today has 60 million migrants in flux, the United Nations is not witnessing a loosening of purse strings. This prompted Secretary General Ban to comment on the poor state of empathy in the world.

Speaking at the opening session of the high-level debate of the U.N. General Assembly Monday, Ban Ki-moon told delegates that a 100 million people require immediate humanitarian assistance, pointing out that at least 60 million people have been forced to flee their homes or their countries. But, the U.N.’s need for 20 billion dollars this year dwarfs funding received. The 20 billion dollars requirement is six times the level of funding needed a decade ago.

“We are not receiving enough money to save enough lives. We have about half of what we need to help the people of Iraq, South Sudan and Yemen – and just a third for Syria,” he said Monday.

In Yemen, 21 million people – 80 per cent of the population – need humanitarian assistance and the U.N.’s response plan for Ukraine is just 39 per cent funded. The appeal for Gambia, where one in four children suffers from stunting, has been met with silence.

With the migration crisis and continuing global strife, it is likely that humankind will sustain its oldest poverty reduction strategy, making it unlikely that the situation will abate any time soon.

Swing and Sutherland said that only a reform in international migration policies would help.

“Europe should immediately define new policies. Those new policies should allow for example, humanitarian visas – so should the United States. Humanitarian visas, family reunion visas, short term visas. There are whole other ways that you can facilitate terrible events,” Sutherland said, even as he talked about the handicap of governments to be self-motivated in changing policy.

“The dreadful photograph of the body on the beach brings within days an increase in the number of people that some countries have agreed to take as refugees. A photograph did it. Are they idiots? Do they not know that 3,000 are dying every year, as they have been for years – with may of them children and women. That should have elicited the policy response, not the photograph of a terrible dead body on the beach.”

Swing advocated for migration policies that were more desirable and a change in the “toxic, poisonous” public narrative on migration.

“Most of our Nobel prize winners weren’t born in the U.S. Forty per cent of all patent applications come from people who were not born in the U.S., and many other countries have the same spirit – a tone that is historically, overwhelmingly positive. We’ve got to get back to a historically correct narrative,” he said, adding, “A ‘high road policy’ – multiple entry visas, dual nationalities, portable social security benefits…all kinds of things if we can be little smarter in how we deal with it.”

“The problem in my mind is the fundamental value system we believe in,” Sutherland said. “We have to create countries that value lives equally.” (END)

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Human Rights Activists Condemn Houthi Militia’s Atrocities Against Women in Yemen Wed, 30 Sep 2015 15:04:16 +0000 Emirates News Agency By Emirates News Agency (WAM)
Geneva, Sep 30 2015 (IPS)

(WAM) — Arab and Yemeni human rights activist monitoring the civil war in Yemen say that women have been subjected to grave human right violations at the hands of the rebel Houthi militia and an allied insurgent group under the command of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh.

The human rights defenders were speaking at a landmark event organised by the Arab Federation for Human Rights (AFHR) on the sidelines of the 30th session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

Dr. Mona Hejres, a member of the AFHR and head of “Together for Human Rights,” noted in her presentation at the event that that women were active participants in the revolution that drove Saleh out of power and that many had faced human rights crimes including killing, torture, arbitrary arrest and detention, and use of excessive force during that struggle. She said that today, in rebel-held areas, women suffer greatly at the hands of the Houthi militia and Saleh group, with widespread murders, forced disappearances, kidnappings, deprivation of basic educational and health services, bombardment of residential districts, and other atrocities targeting them in the capital Sana’a, Aden and other cities.

She called upon the international community to live up to its responsibilities in protecting the Yemeni people, especially women, and to back the Arab Coalition’s operations seeking to protect the Yemeni people. She also appealed to the UN Security Council to enforce its resolutions on Yemen and ensure protection, safety and security for its people, and particularly women.

During the event, a number of heads of Yemeni human rights associations and organisations pointed to a recent report by the Yemeni Coalition to Monitor Human Rights Violations (YCMHRV) as further evidence of the suffering caused by the Houthi militia and Saleh group in Yemen, particularly with regard to women.

Representatives of the AFHR and the YCMHRV also reiterated their rejection of the western countries’ request to establish a fact finding committee, which they said would dilute and ignore what they termed a human tragedy fomented by the rebel militias. Instead, they said, the international community should focus on prosecuting war criminals in the conflict, and to uphold its responsibilities to protect women during armed and military conflicts and disputes.

Maryam bin Tawq, Coordinator at the AFHR, spoke about the importance of establishing the international coalition “Operation Restoring Hope” aimed at protecting the Yemeni people from violations and crimes against humanity being carried out by al-Houthi group and the Saleh Militia. She said that the Euro-Mediterranean Center for Human Rights had found that the rebel militias had committed more than 4,500 human rights violations within the course of just one month of their control of Sana’a. (END)

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Report Condemns Atrocities of Houthi Rebels in Yemen Mon, 28 Sep 2015 16:49:06 +0000 Emirates News Agency By Emirates News Agency (WAM)
ABU DHABI, Sep 28 2015 (IPS)

(WAM) – A new report from a human rights group operating in Yemen says that human rights violations have reached unprecedented levels, with more than 3,000 people murdered by the insurgent Houthi militia and its allies in Yemen.

The report by the Yemeni Coalition to Monitor Human Rights Violations (YCMHRV), prepared from
reports by the organisation’s field monitors in Yemen, outlines a series of atrocities committed over the
past year in Sana’a, the capital, Aden, Taiz, Lahej, Hodiedah, Addali’e, Abyan, Dhamar and Shabwa,
governorates (see full report in report.

The report tied the Houthi militia and an allied group operating under the command of former Yemeni
president Ali Abdullah Saleh with unconstitutional overthrow of the legitimate government that has
resulted in human rights violations that have afflicted men, women, children, property and the

The findings show that between September 2014 and August 2015, 3,074 people were murdered, about
20 percent of whom were women and children, and 7,347 civilians were wounded due to random
shelling, at least 25 percent of whom were women and children. A total of 5,894 people were arbitrarily
detained during the monitoring period – 4,640 of them were released and 1,254 people remain in

The report also focuses on arbitrary detention, forcible disappearances and hostage taking violations,
which the monitors said have been carried out regularly by the rebel militia against politicians,
journalists, and human rights and political activists. It said detainees are frequently mistreated and
deprived of basic needs such as food, water and proper hygiene and sanitation. Monitors also reported
that some detainees are used as human shields at military sites that have been targeted by the Coalition

“This is a clear violation of both national and international legislation,” said the report. “The de facto
forces, the Houthis, failed to observe their commitment towards human rights and humanitarian law,
being the power in control that practices the state’s functions. Rather, the Houthis-Saleh showed total
recklessness towards human rights and human suffering.”

The report concludes with recommendations, calling on the Houthi-Saleh militia, Yemeni government
and the international community to implement relevant UN Security Council resolutions. It also calls on
the international community to support the newly established National Commission to investigate
alleged human rights Violations with all needed technical assistance. (END)

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UAE Government Stresses its Abiding Support for Syrian Refugees Thu, 17 Sep 2015 13:31:22 +0000 Omar Salim By Omar Salim
ABU DHABI, Sep 17 2015 (IPS)

In response to suggestions that the Gulf states are doing littleor nothing to help Syrians fleeing their civil war, the Government of the United Arab Emirates has announced that it has take a broad range of supportive actions to alleviate the suffering of the Syrian population and to care for Syrian refugees in Syria and abroad, reports WAM.

Calling the Syrian refugee crisis a political and security crisis, a tragedy of enormous proportions and a key priority for his government, the UAE’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Dr Anwar Gargash, noted that the UAE Government has welcomed and extended residency permits to more than 100,000 Syrian refugees, from all segments of society and various religious sects, since the start of the Syrian civil war in 2011.

This has brought the number of Syrian residents in the UAE to almost a quarter million, he said.

In addition, the minister noted, the UAE Government has during this time allowed thousands more Syrian nationals with expired visas or travel documents to adjust their status, enabling them to remain in the UAE.

Government figures show that the number of new and registered Syrian students enrolled in UAE schools since the beginning of the crisis has surpassed 17,000, while more than 6,000 Syrian nationals have established businesses in the country, indications that, according to the minister, “Syrian families are living a natural and normal life in the UAE’s secure and welcoming environment.”

The UAE government has also pointed out that it is among the leading financial contributors to efforts to help the Syrian people during the civil war. Thus far, the UAE has provided about 1.1 billion dollars, about half of that in humanitarian aid that has directly benefited Syrian refugees and another 420 million dollars to combat Daesh terrorism in Syria and Iraq and to provide humanitarian support and relief to displaced people.

These efforts include the UAE-funded Mrajib Al Fhood camp in Jordan, which provides high-quality care, shelter and education for 6,437 Syrian refugees and has been expanded to accommodate up to 10,000. Additionally, the UAE-Jordanian field hospital in Al Mafraq offers a wide range of professional medical services to Syrian refugees and has provided nearly a half-million treatments.

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U.N. to Host Meeting of World Leaders on Refugee Crisis Tue, 15 Sep 2015 20:41:19 +0000 Thalif Deen By Thalif Deen

The 28-member European Union (EU), which was sharply divided over the Greek bailout financial crisis last year, is facing its biggest test of unity over the growing refugee crisis unfolding in European borders.

At an emergency meeting in Brussels Monday, the EU hesitantly agreed to share some 40,000 refugees – mostly fleeing from war zones in Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya – but only on a voluntary basis, even as Germany, Austria, Slovakia and the Netherlands imposed new border control measures to ward off the tidal wave of hundreds and thousands of displaced people flowing into Europe.

The restrictive measures include razor wire fences across land borders and pronouncements by some Eastern and Central European countries that only Christians will be welcomed, triggering strong condemnations by the United Nations.

Conscious of the spreading crisis, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will be hosting a meeting of world leaders on the margins of the General Assembly session – to specifically discuss international migration.

The meeting is scheduled to take place Sep. 30 immediately following a meeting to approve the U.N’s new socio economic agenda for the next 15 years: Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) targeted to be achieved by 2030.

And of the 17 SDGs, Goal 16 is on international migration.

Ben Phillips, Campaigns and Policy Director at ActionAid told IPS that governments need to remember that what they have called the migrant crisis is first and foremost a crisis suffered by vulnerable people who flee their homes as a last resort.

“The response of too many governments has been to protect borders and neglect people. But it cannot be solved with higher walls. Most governments’ responses to date have tended to be brutal, panicked, and ineffective even in their own terms. They need urgently to shift to a smarter, kinder, approach.”

The Secretary-General has already appealed to European leaders “to be the voice of those in need of protection” and to quickly find a joint approach to the refugee and migration crisis that shares responsibilities equitably, as Germany and Austria continue to welcome thousands of people fleeing their war-torn homelands.

He has also spoken by telephone with several European leaders to discuss the migration crisis.

Recognizing the challenges that large-scale refugee and migration flows pose to Member States, the U.N. chief appealed to the leaders to be the voice of those in need of protection and to quickly find a joint approach to share responsibilities equitably.‎”

The Secretary-General also commended the leaders for having voiced concern about increasing xenophobia, discrimination, and violence against migrants and refugees in Europe.
“He hoped that any manifestation of these phenomena would be addressed firmly and without delay,” he said.

Ban is expected to meet with EU leaders when they arrive in New York to address the General Assembly beginning Sep. 28.

Phillips told IPS that ActionAid has called upon governments to address three key challenges: “Governments need, firstly, to respond in the spirit of the solidarity and welcome that has shown by ordinary people; secondly, to tackle the specific vulnerabilities faced by women and girls travelling across borders; and, thirdly, to address the root causes driving the mass movement of people, through sustainable solutions to conflict, inequality and climate change.”

“The spontaneous acts of kindness shown by human beings helping human beings offer a ray of hope, and show that once again the power of the people is stronger than the people in power.”

He also said ActionAid, which is working on the ground across the world to support people who have fled, has seen first hand the damaging consequences of governments’ dehumanising response and failure to address the root causes driving the mass movement of people.

Asked whether the new law in Hungary that would allow the government to arrest migrants and imprison them is a violation of international humanitarian law, U.N. Spokesperson Stephane Dujarric told reporters “I think one of the points that’s clearly needed — and that’s exactly what the High Commissioner for Refugees said — is that we need to have comprehensive measures that apply throughout Europe.”

“A situation where different countries at different borders have different procedures creates chaos, both physical, as well as legal chaos.”

He said it is clear that those who are on the move, whether they be refugees or migrants, have rights. Countries also have responsibilities towards their own citizens in order to ensure national security.

“But, it is clear that international law, especially as it relates to refugees, needs to be respected. And more importantly, people, migrants, refugees, need to be treated with human dignity and I think that has been lacking in some places,” he added.

Dujarric also said migration with a “small m” has existed ever since we as humans were able to walk.”

“I mean, populations move, have always been on the move. The issue is that Member States need to deal with the migration flows in a way where we avoid forcing, whether it’s refugees or economic migrants, into the hands of criminal gangs, which is what we’re seeing across the Mediterranean and in Asia in the Andaman Sea, where there are no proper… enough proper avenues to deal with the migration issue — even with economic migration issue”.

And that’s one of the reasons, he said, the Secretary General will be bringing Member States together as part of goal 16 which talks about international migration, “but for that, we need a dialogue between the countries of origin, the transit countries and the destination countries.”

“And sometimes they’re the same. You know, different people migrate to different countries,” he added.

The writer can be contacted at

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Tunisia Digs a 100-Mile Moat to Keep Refugees at Bay Tue, 15 Sep 2015 11:25:16 +0000 a Global Information Network correspondent Credit: UNHCR

Credit: UNHCR

By a Global Information Network correspondent
TUNIS, Sep 15 2015 (IPS)

Once surrounding castles of old, a moat stretching 100 miles is being dug by Tunisia against alleged terror threats from nearby Libya. Reporters are kept at bay from the digging in what officials have dubbed “a closed military area.”

Saltwater will fill the massive trench to be topped with sand dunes. Alligators are not mentioned in the moat’s prospectus.

“Why erect this wall when one was brought down between the two Germanies?” asked Salim Grira Mzioui, a local council representative of Wazen, a Libyan village along the border in an interview with the French newspaper Le Monde. “This will pose insurmountable problems. There are farmers cultivating land on both sides. There are also camel herds coming and going.”

The wall will put an end to ancestral traditions of border communities that have long ignored the state line artificially dividing entire tribes, he said. “We’re going to divide a people,” Adel Arjoun, a Tunisian hotel owner from Medenine, told Le Monde.

According to Tunisian officials, incursions by terrorists who target tourists prompted the decision to dig the barrier. Last June, for example, 38 foreign tourists were killed by a Tunisian said to be trained at a Libyan camp. Earlier, two attackers killed 21 foreign visitors at the Bardo Museum in Tunis.

But the small number of attacks suggests that Tunisia may be joining the anti-immigrant fever that has gripped some northern European countries.

And as the walls go up, the number of lives lost among desperate refugees is growing. Last month over 500 people leaving Libya were tossed into the seas when their vessels capsized.

Tunisia’s moat is only one of several misguided solutions to the swelling number of refugees fleeing war and extreme poverty. Hungary, Bulgaria and Greece are building walls. Ukraine plans to seal its 1200 mile border with Russia, and Estonia has a 70 mile wall in the works against the former Soviet Union.

Meanwhile, hundreds of Tunisians turned out last weekend to march against a draft bill for amnesty to those accused of corruption.

The draft bill is the centerpiece of the new government, which seeks to boost the economy by clearing away cases against businessmen and civil servants charged with corruption crimes.

Opponents of the law, however, call it as an attempt to whitewash the misdeeds of the old regime and ignore an ongoing process of transitional justice through the Truth and Dignity committee.

“We’re against the draft law because it is unfair and unconstitutional,” Sami Tahri, an official with the Union for Tunisian Workers, said at the protest. “It doesn’t fight corruption, it encourages it.”

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UAE Continues Relief to Syrian Refugees in Lebanon Sat, 12 Sep 2015 21:19:21 +0000 Emirates News Agency

Att.Editors: The following item is from the Emirates News Agency (WAM)

By Emirates News Agency (WAM)
ABU DHABI, Sep 12 2015 (IPS)

(WAM) – Under the directives of the President of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), efforts are underway to provide relief to the Syrian refugees in Lebanon. A strategic humanitarian plan has been put in place by the country which includes shelter to refugees closer to Lebanon in order to facilitate their return home when the crisis is over.

According to reports issued by the UAE news agency WAM, since the crisis began in 2011, the Gulf countries received more than 100,000 Syrian refugees. Earlier 140,000 refugees were accomodated in the region.

The UAE was one of the first countries to respond to the growing humanitarian crisis, providing more than USD530 million in direct aid, mainly through the Syria Recovery Trust Fund.

Since January 2015, the UAE provided an additional USD44 million as part of a new aid commitment of USD100 million, reported WAM.

The UAE is also working towards peace and stability in Syria, by supporting the Global Coalition Against Daesh and as a co-leader for the Coalition Working Groups on Stabilisation and Strategic Communications in the region.

Commenting on the UAE humanitarian assistance to the Syrian refugees, Hamad Saeed Sultan Al Shamsi, Ambassador of UAE to Lebanon, said “The UAE government, its humanitarian institutions and organisations through direct initiatives and its offices have continued their support for the displaced Syrians in Lebanon.”

Ambassador Al Shamsi added that the UAE Embassy in Lebanon, in cooperation with the UN and other international organisations including Dar Al Fatwa, Orphanage House and municipalities, have provided humanitarian and relief assistance to the Syrian refugees with included medical treatment, date food packages, drinking water and food supplements for children, blankets and mattresses, and, during Iftar and Eid ul Fitr, distributed clothes, gifts and sacrificial meat. He also pointed out that the UAE Embassy in Beirut purchases goods from the local markets to support the Lebanese economy.

Millions of Syrians fled their homes as the conflict in their country escalated. By the summer of 2014, more than 11 million people — nearly half the population of Syria — had either been internally displaced or fled the country altogether. More than four million sought refuge in neighbouring countries, where they were sheltered in refugee camps, such as the UAE-funded Mrajeeb Al Fhood refugee camp in Jordan, that is home now to more than 4,000 Syrian refugees, and other refugee camps in Lebanon, Iraq and Turkey. (WAM) (END/2015)

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Strong Climate Deal Needed to Combat Future Refugee Crises Thu, 10 Sep 2015 15:32:35 +0000 Andreas Sieber

Andreas Sieber, who has worked for several NGOs and the Saxon State Chancellery in Germany, is part of the #Climatetracker project.

By Andreas Sieber
STRASBOURG, Sep 10 2015 (IPS)

Climate change has been held responsible many of the social and economic woes affecting mainly the poorest in the global South and now many are seeing it as one of the root causes of refugee crises.

In his State of the Union speech here Sep. 9 to the European Parliament, even European Commission President Jean Claude Juncker said that an “ambitious, robust and binding“ climate treaty is needed to prevent another refugee crisis.Climate change has been held responsible many of the social and economic woes affecting mainly the poorest in the global South and now many are seeing it as one of the root causes of refugee crises

Climate change is one the root causes of a new migration phenomenon,” said Juncker. “Climate refugees will become a new challenge – if we do not act swiftly.”

Calling on the European Union and its international partners to be more ambitious about climate protection, Juncker warned that “the EU will not sign just any deal” at the United Nations climate change conference (COP21), scheduled to be held in Paris in December.

The COP21 meeting is expected to come up with a climate treaty with the aim of keeping global warming below 2°C.

Climate change marked by longer-lasting droughts, more violent storms and rising sea levels is worsening the living conditions of hundreds of millions. Particularly in the poorest countries, climate change has the effect of forcing people who are unable to adapt to leave their homes.

In the Sahelian countries, Bangladesh and in the South Pacific people have already had to flee because of climate impacts.

According to Jan Kowalzig from Oxfam, “climate change is already causing a lot of damage in the global South. It could ruin all progress which has been made in the fight against global poverty over the last decades.”

However, it is the relationship between climate change and the refugee phenomenon that is attracting the attention of many experts.

Earlier this year, a study by a research team from Columbia University and the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) held global warming partly responsible for the civil war in Syria.

The study noted that between 2006 and 2010, Syria faced the “worst drought in the instrumental record”, leading to crop failures and mass migration within the country. According to climate models, this drought would have been highly improbable without climate change.

“For Syria, a country marked by poor governance and unsustainable agricultural and environmental policies, the drought had a catalytic effect, contributing to political unrest,” the study concluded.

The number of refugees entering Europe this year is the highest on record and Syrians are by far the largest group – an estimated nine million Syrians have left their homes so far.

Besides the Syrian crisis, the United Nations warns that, worldwide, climate change could increase the number of refugees dramatically.

Srgjan Kerim, president of the United Nations General Assembly, has estimated that global warming could cause up to 200 million refugees until 2050. “Tomorrow we will have climate refugees and we have to know that,” Juncker told the European Parliament.

Oxfam’s Kowalzig explains what needs to be included in a climate treaty to mitigate a potential refugee crisis: “Climate change expels people from their homes and this is where a potential climate treaty in Paris comes in: first, we need to cut emissions and keep global warming below two degrees; secondly, people in poor countries need support to adapt to climate change; and thirdly, a climate treaty in Paris has to lay down rules for damages and losses caused by global warming where adaption is not possible.”

In his speech in Strasbourg, Juncker also admitted that the European Union “is probably not doing enough” to tackle climate change. The EU has announced greenhouse gas emission cuts of 40 percent by 2030 as part of its ‘Intended Nationally Determined Contribution’ (INDC).

INDCs are the commitments every country is supposed to announce before the climate conference in Paris.

However, because a treaty in Paris based on the INDCs will not be enough to keep global warming below 2oC, many organisations and countries from the global South are demanding a five-yearly “review and improve” process to make climate commitments more ambitious over time.

Any agreement reached in Paris should at least offer a perspective for effective climate protection and this depends heavily on the process of creating a regular built-in review that would enable countries to improve that agreement.

Last week, formal negotiations ahead of COP21 in Paris were held, but while there was support for long-term goals, short-term commitments seemed to be far less popular.

An agreement in Paris with short-term commitments and five-year cycles without a concrete long-term goal might not be perfect. It would lack a perspective beyond 2030, but it would enhance climate protection and greenhouse gas reduction in the next 15 years.

On the other hand, an agreement with an ambitious long-term goal but no effective short-term measures would allow countries to fall far behind with their greenhouse gas reductions and many would just not be able to catch up after 2030.

Edited by Phil Harris   

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Mental Health Another Casualty of Changing Climate Tue, 08 Sep 2015 20:10:20 +0000 Jed Alegado and Angeli Guadalupe A young resident of Tacloban in the Philippines walks through some of the damage and debris left by the Typhoon Yolanda, Dec. 21, 2013. Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

A young resident of Tacloban in the Philippines walks through some of the damage and debris left by the Typhoon Yolanda, Dec. 21, 2013. Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

By Jed Alegado and Angeli Guadalupe
MANILA, Sep 8 2015 (IPS)

Jun* is in chains, tied to a post in the small house that resembles a fragile nipa hut. His brother did this to prevent him from hurting their neighbours or other strangers he meets when he’s in a ballistic mood. Jun has been like this for three years now, but since Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines two years ago, his symptoms have worsened.

After the disaster, Jun lost his own house, his wife and his children. This psychological distress he went through triggered a relapse of his psychiatric illness. With no one else able to take care of him, Jun was taken by his brother to their family’s house.Climate change’s health impacts are inequitably distributed with the most vulnerable sectors like the elderly, children and pregnant women having the least capacity to adapt.

But since his brother is working and the other people in the house are their old, sickly and frail parents, no one can control Jun during his manic episodes. He has not been able to maintain his medications because his family can’t afford them and the free supply at the local health center doesn’t come consistently. For these reasons, the best option left for Jun’s brother is to put him in chains.

Impacts on mental health

A few more cases like Jun exist in Tacloban City and most likely, in other areas of the Philippines as well – both urban and rural. Typhoon Yolanda (also known as Typhoon Haiyan) struck the country on Nov. 8, 2013. It was a Category 5 super-typhoon with wind speeds ranging from 250 to 315 kph, killing at least 6,300 people and costing PhP 89 billion in damages.

Due to extreme loss and survivor guilt, at least one in 10 people here suffers from depression. But two years after the disaster, some survivors remain unaware of available mental health services. Others complain of the poor quality of services and scant supply of medications. Many survivors who are more affluent choose to consult psychiatrists in other cities to avoid the stigma.

As with most disasters, physical rehabilitation is prioritised. This is understandable and perfectly rational, but the mental health of the victims should not be forgotten.

According to the World Health Organization’s report on the Global Burden of Disease, mental disorders follow cardiovascular diseases as the top cause of morbidity and mortality in terms of disability-adjusted life years or the number of years lost due to ill-health, disability or early death.

Yet despite the staggering number of people affected, only an estimated 25 percent of them worldwide have access to mental health services. More than 40 percent of countries have no mental health policy and mental health comprises less than 1 percent of most countries’ total health expenditures.

Nowadays, climate change brings us more frequent and devastating natural disasters. In emergencies such as natural disasters, rates of mental disorders often double. Hence, attention to mental health should be doubled as well, especially in countries highly vulnerable to disasters such as the Philippines.

Being an archipelago and still a developing country, this is not surprising. According to the United Nations University Institute for Environment and Human Security’s World Risk Index Report 2014, out of the 15 countries with the highest disaster risk worldwide, eight are island states, including the Philippines.

Ensuring health impacts in the negotiation text

Health advocates are quick to respond to this alarming issue. Groups led by the International Federation of Medical Students (IFMS) are ensuring that the issue of health and its impacts to climate change are included in the climate negotiating text.

Beginning from the Conference of the Parties (COP 20) in Lima, Peru last year which continued in Geneva last February, the group has been advocating for health to be back at the center of negotiations and in effect ensuring that parties will forge a strong climate agreement in Paris on December.

Last week’s Bonn climate negotiations – one of the few remaining negotiation days before the actual COP in December – proved to be an exercise in futility as negotiators keep dodging on the issue of a loss and damage mechanism, which, according to health advocates, is crucial for helping people affected by the health-related impacts of climate change.

According to IFMS, “there is a growing involvement of member states to include health in the negotiating text. As a group, we want to ensure that health is included in all parts of the negotiating document – preamble, research, capacity building, adaptation and finance.”

Indeed, the impacts of climate change go beyond environment, food security, land rights and even indigenous peoples’ rights. More importantly, climate change has both direct and indirect effects on health. Climate change’s health impacts are inequitably distributed with the most vulnerable sectors like the elderly, children and pregnant women having the least capacity to adapt.

Parties to the UNFCCC must see this alarming issue towards forging a fair and binding climate deal in December which will limit keep global warming below 2 degrees C and ensure adaptation mechanisms to the most vulnerable nations.

In the future, it is foreseen that wars will be fought over water not oil. Disasters nowadays may give us a glimpse of the worst to come when the staggering impacts climate change worsen and affect us in ways beyond what we can handle.

Yet, with the rapid turn of extreme weather events, what we are doing is not just for future generations. It is for us, who are living now on this planet. We are going to be the victims if we do not take responsibility as much as we can, as soon as we can.

*Name has been changed to protect his identity.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Migrants Waiting Their Moment in the Moroccan Mountains Fri, 04 Sep 2015 16:22:35 +0000 Andrea Pettrachin Migrants looking down from the mountain behind the Spanish enclave of Ceuta in Morocco. Credit: Andrea Pettrachin/IPS

Migrants looking down from the mountain behind the Spanish enclave of Ceuta in Morocco. Credit: Andrea Pettrachin/IPS

By Andrea Pettrachin
CEUTA, Sep 4 2015 (IPS)

In the middle of the mountains behind the border fence of Ceuta, the Spanish enclave in Morocco, and eight kilometres from the nearest Moroccan village of Fnideq, an uncertain number of migrants live in the woods. No one knows exactly how many they are but charity workers in Melilla, Spain’s other enclave in Morocco, say they could be in their thousands.

Ceuta is one of the main (and few) ‘doors’ leading from northern Africa to the territory of the European Union, and is a ’door’ that has been closed since the end of the 1990s, when the Spanish authorities started to build a tripe six-metre fence topped with barbed wire that surrounds the whole enclave, as in Melilla.

In the past, those waiting in the mountains for their turn to try to reach Spain had been able to build something resembling a normal life. They put up tents and at least were able to sleep relatively peacefully at night.Today, the migrants are forced to remain mostly hidden in small groups among the trees or in small caverns, and they know that all attempts to pass the Spanish border are almost certain to fail and end up with arrest by the Moroccan authorities

That all ended after 2012, when the Moroccan police started to burn down the camps and periodically sweep the mountainside, arresting any migrants they found, charged with having illegally entered the country.

These actions were the result of agreements between the Moroccan and Spanish governments, after Spain had asked Morocco to control migration flows.

The most tragic raid so far by the Moroccan police took place last year on Gurugu Mountain which looks down on Melilla. Five migrants were killed, 40 wounded and 400 removed to a desert area on the border with Algeria. According to the migrants, the wounded were not cured and were left to their own destiny.

Today, the migrants are forced to remain mostly hidden in small groups among the trees or in small caverns, and they know that all attempts to pass the Spanish border are almost certain to fail and end up with arrest by the Moroccan authorities.

They live, in their words, “like animals” and when speaking with outsiders are clearly ashamed by their condition, apologising for being dirty and badly-dressed.

The first thing many of them tell you in French is that they are students and that before having to leave their countries they were studying mathematics, economics or engineering at university.

Many of them are from Guinea, one of the countries most seriously affected by the Ebola epidemic, others come from Cote d’Ivoire, Gambia, Mali, Burkina Faso, all countries characterised by political turmoil of various types.

All of them have been forced to live in these woods for months or even years, waiting for their chance to pass the border fence.

The statistics show that some of them will certainly die in their attempts to reach Spain – either on the heavily fortified fences which encircle the enclaves or out at sea in a small boat or trying to swim to a Spanish beach.

Some of them will finally make it to Spain, perhaps after five or six failed attempts. In that case they will have overcome the first hurdle, escaping the “push-back operations” by the Spanish Guardia Civil, but they will still face the possibility of forced repatriation, particularly if they come from countries with which Spain has a repatriation agreement.

Many of them, however, will finally give up and decide to remain somewhere in Morocco, destined to a life of continuous uncertainty due to their irregular position in the country. You can meet them and listen to their stories in the main Moroccan cities, especially in the north. In most cases, they had escaped death in their attempts to reach Spain and do not want to risk their lives any longer.

Meanwhile a report on ‘Refugee Persons in Spain and Europe” published at the end of May by the non-governmental Spanish Commission for Refugees (CEAR), denounces how sub-Saharan migrants are dissuaded from seeking asylum in Spain, even if coming from countries in conflict such as Mali, Democratic Republic of Congo or Somalia, once they realise that they are likely to be forced to remain for months in a Centre for Temporary Residence of Immigrants (CETI) in Ceuta or Melilla.

In Melilla, for example, those who apply for asylum cannot leave the enclave until a decision has been taken on their application. Unlike Syrian refugees whose application takes no more than two months, CEAR said the average time to reach a decision for sub-Saharan Africans is one and a half years.

The CEAR report is only one of a long list of recent criticisms of the Spanish government’s migration policies from numerous NGOs and international organisations.

The main target of these criticisms has been the Security Law (Ley de Seguridad Ciudadana) passed this year by the Spanish Parliament with only the votes of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s Popular Party. The aim was to give legal cover to the so called devoluciones en caliente, the “push-back operations” against migrants carried out by the Spanish frontier authorities in Ceuta and Melilla in violation of international and European law.

On the Spanish mainland, said the CEAR report, migrant’s right of asylum is seriously undermined by the bureaucratic lengths of application procedures and the political choices of the Spanish authorities.

Calls from CEAR and other NGOs to end “push-back operations” seem very unlikely to be taken into consideration soon by the Spanish government and Parliament, in view of the general elections later this year.

Edited by Phil Harris   

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