Inter Press Service » Migration & Refugees http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Thu, 19 Jan 2017 23:18:50 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.14 Pacific Islanders Call for U.S. Solidarity on Climate Changehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/pacific-islanders-call-for-u-s-solidarity-on-climate-change/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pacific-islanders-call-for-u-s-solidarity-on-climate-change http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/pacific-islanders-call-for-u-s-solidarity-on-climate-change/#comments Thu, 19 Jan 2017 13:24:20 +0000 Catherine Wilson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148561 Higher tides and coastal erosion are encroaching on homes and community buildings in Siar village, Madang Province, Papua New Guinea. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Higher tides and coastal erosion are encroaching on homes and community buildings in Siar village, Madang Province, Papua New Guinea. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

By Catherine Wilson
CANBERRA, Australia, Jan 19 2017 (IPS)

The new political power of business magnate Donald Trump, who will be inaugurated Jan. 20 as the 45th President of the United States, will have ramifications for every global region, including the Pacific Islands.

Pacific leaders who are witnessing rising seas, coastal erosion and severe natural disasters in the region are alert to the new president’s declared scepticism about climate change and the contributing factor of human activities. His proposed policy changes include cutting international climate funding and pushing ahead fossil fuel projects.“It is sad for us who rely on the United States to do the right thing and to hear the president embarking on the opposite path, which is ensuring our destruction.” -- Reverend Tafue Lusama

They say the United States’ solidarity on climate change action is vital to protecting people in developing and industrialised nations from climate-driven disasters, environmental degradation and poverty.

There are 22 Pacific Island states and territories and 35 percent of the region’s population of about 10 million people lives below the poverty line. One of the most vulnerable to climate change is the Polynesian nation of Tuvalu, home to about 10,000 people spread over nine low lying coral islands.

“Tuvalu is among the poorest in the world, it is isolated, small and low in elevation. All aspects of life, from protecting our small land to food security, from our marine resources to our traditional gardens are being impacted by climate change. All the adaptation measures that need to be put in place need international climate funding. With Trump’s intended withdrawal pathway, our survival is denied and justice is ignored,” Reverend Tafue Lusama, General Secretary of the Tuvalu Christian Church and global advocate for climate action, told IPS.

Trump’s 100-day action plan, issued during last year’s presidential campaign, claims it will tackle government corruption, accountability and waste and improve the lives of U.S. citizens who have been marginalised by globalisation and ‘special interests’ of the political elite.

But his intended actions include cancelling billions in payments to United Nations climate change programmes, aimed at assisting the most vulnerable people in developing countries, and approving energy projects, worth trillions of dollars, involving shale, oil, natural gas and coal in the United States in a bid to boost domestic jobs.

Last December, 800 scientists and energy experts worldwide wrote an open letter to the then president-elect encouraging him to remain steadfast to policies put forward during the Barack Obama administration such as reducing the country’s dependence on fossil fuels, which in association with industrial processes accounts for 65 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, and supporting renewable energy development.

“It is sad for us who rely on the United States to do the right thing and to hear the President embarking on the opposite path, which is ensuring our destruction,” Reverend Lusama added.

London-based Chatham House claims that a key success of the COP21 climate change conference in Paris in 2015 was the supportive ‘alignment’ of the United States, the second largest emitter accounting for 16 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Here the United States joined the High Ambition Coalition, a grouping of countries committed to rigorous climate targets, which was instrumental in driving consensus that global warming should be kept lower than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

Increased global warming could be disastrous for Pacific Island states with many already facing a further rise in sea levels, extremely high daily temperatures and ocean acidification this century, reports the Pacific Climate Change Science Program.

In 2015 the region was hit by a severe El Nino climate cycle which ‘forced people to walk for days seeking sustenance…and, in some cases, to become severely weakened or die from malnutrition,’ Caritas reports. In Papua New Guinea, 2.7 million people, or 36 percent of the population, struggled with lack of food and water as prolonged drought conditions caused water sources to dry up and food crops to fail.

And a consequence of more severe natural disasters in the region is that their arc of impact can be greater.

“Kiribati is one country in the world that is very safe from any disaster….[but] during Cyclone Pam in Vanuatu [in 2015] and Cyclone Winston, which hit Fiji [in 2016], the effects also reached Kiribati, which has never happened in the past,” Pelenise Alofa, National Co-ordinator of the Kiribati Climate Action Network, told IPS.

The economic toll of natural disasters is well beyond the capacity of Kiribati, a Least Developed Country with the third lowest Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in the world in a ranking of 195 countries by the World Bank.

“It is not in a position to meet its own adaptation needs because the climate change problems are too enormous for a small country like Kiribati to have enough resources to meet the problem head on,” Alofa said.

The economic burden extends to replacing coastal buildings at risk of climate change and extreme weather, which would cost an estimated total of 22 billion dollars for 12 Pacific Island nations, claims the University of New England in Australia. The risk is very high in the Republic of the Marshall Islands, Kiribati and Tuvalu, where more than 95 percent of built infrastructure is located within 500 metres of a coastline.

Recently several Pacific Island countries benefitted from the United Nations-administered Green Climate Fund (GCF), the largest multilateral climate fund dedicated to assisting developing countries cope with climate change. Three grants, ranging from 22 million to 57 million dollars, were awarded for a multiple Pacific nation renewable energy programme, to enable Vanuatu to develop climate information services and Samoa to pursue integrated flood management.

But the GCF, to which the United States, its largest benefactor, has committed 3.5 billion dollars, could suffer if Trump follows through on his promise, given that international pledges currently total 10.3 billion.

Ahead of the next United Nations climate change conference, to be chaired by Fiji in Bonn, Germany, in November, Pacific Island leaders are keen that President Trump visits the region. President Bainimarama has already invited him to Fiji and the Reverend Lusama would like him to also “visit Tuvalu to witness firsthand the proof which is so obvious to the naked eye of climate change impacts.”

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UN Meeting Says No to Anti-Muslim Hatredhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/un-meeting-says-no-to-anti-muslim-hatred/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=un-meeting-says-no-to-anti-muslim-hatred http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/un-meeting-says-no-to-anti-muslim-hatred/#comments Tue, 17 Jan 2017 23:49:48 +0000 Andy Hazel http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148538 Anti-muslim hatred has been particularly targeted at women. Credit:  UN Photo/Tobin Jones

Anti-muslim hatred has been particularly targeted at women. Credit: UN Photo/Tobin Jones

By Andy Hazel
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 17 2017 (IPS)

The rise in anti-muslim attitudes around the world prompted a special UN meeting Tuesday, just days before the inauguration of US President-elect Donald Trump whose controversial policies have drawn on anti-Muslim sentiments.

As if to illustrate just how easily noble intentions are misinterpreted, co-opted and misused, the event’s hashtag #No2Hatred was quickly taken over by nefarious social media actors and became an outlet for angry political diatribe.

“Anti-muslim hatred does not occur in a vacuum,” said David Saperstein, American Ambassador at large for International Religious Freedom at the event. “The rise of xenophobia across the world creates challenges that focus our attention and the data leaves us no doubt that this is happening.”

Saperstein quoted studies showing a massive rise in anti-Muslim rhetoric and violence, France has seen a 223 percent increase in attacks on Muslims between 2014 and 2015, the British investigative group TELL MAMA reported a 326 percent increase in abuse and public attacks on Muslims in the UK over the same period. A 2016 study found 72 percent of  Hungarians admit to a negative view of Muslims.
"Most Muslim hate crime is against women and I would encourage everyone to consider the gender-specific aspects to this violence," -- Richard Arbeiter, the Director-General, Office of Human Rights, Freedoms and Inclusion, Global Affairs Canada.

“Underreporting is a very serious structural problem that obscures these numbers. The silencing effect is enormous and we must resolve to confront this,” Saperstein said.

“I sincerely regret just how necessary these deliberations have become,” said Richard Arbeiter, the Director-General, Office of Human Rights, Freedoms and Inclusion, Global Affairs Canada. “Most Muslim hate crime is against women and I would encourage everyone to consider the gender-specific aspects to this violence.”

Panels looked at civil society building how governments could best combat anti-Muslim discrimination, and positive narratives to promote inclusion. Several topics recurred for discussion; how best to engage with political actors and organisations of different beliefs, and how to counter misinformation online.

The American Jewish Committee’s Muslim-Jewish relations director, Mr Robert Silverman reinforced the idea of creating powerful messages by finding alliances and shared priorities with unlikely groups.

“Too often initiatives result in people speaking within bubbles to each other. In a country like the United States or in a place like Europe, we need to get out of our bubbles and reach out to the unlikely and unorthodox partners.”

“You should focus on the common ground,” he continued. “Don’t try to bring in an issue like climate change. Just focus narrowly on the common grounds.”

European Commission Coordinator on Combating anti-Muslim hatred David Friggieri outlined his meeting with the heads of Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft and Google where “open and frank discussion” lead to the enforcement of the European Union’s free speech laws in an effort to counter anti-Muslim sentiment. The ‘red line’ agreed to by the companies and the European law, he told IPS, was one of incitement.

“We have a law prohibiting incitement to violence or hatred based on race, religion, ethnicity or nationality,” said Friggieri. “We are monitoring the situation with them every few months. We have had our first monitoring and there are some improvements but we look forward to seeing more.”

“In terms of the really bad type of hate speech such as incitement to violence, we look at: how are they taking it down? How long before they take it down? What responses does the company give to individuals who notify and to trusted flaggers? Ultimately the aim is to take down (from the internet) the worst type of incitement to violence.”

In a similar effort to address the recent increase in hate speech and anti-Muslim rhetoric, Moiz Bokhari, advisor to the Secretary General of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation spoke of the Center for Dialogue, Peace and Understanding a newly established website that provides foundations to deconstruct dangerous narratives. The site is aimed at addressing the potential for crimes, radicalisation and to “counter all types of radical extremist discourse in order to delegitimise the violent and manipulative acts committed in the name of religion, ideology or claims of cultural superiority.”

 The High Level Forum on Combating Anti-Muslim Discrimination and Hatred was dominated by discussion of how to address anti-Muslim sentiment and increase the  message of tolerance and inclusion. The forum was convened by the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, the Delegation of the European Union to the United Nations and the Permanent Missions of the United States and Canada.

UN Secretary General Antònio Guterres used his introductory address to reaffirm the recently-launched initiative Together – Respect, Safety and Dignity for All. An outcome from the Summit for Refugees, the strategy is designed to strengthen the bonds between refugees migrants and host countries and communities.

Speakers throughout the day highlighted bipartisan interfaith success stories: the Canadian town that raised money to rebuild a mosque that had been burned down following the Paris terror attacks, the Norwegian mosque that was protected from attack by Oslo’s Jewish community, the power of positive stories of Muslims in the news and popular culture, and the success of Sadiq Khan who overcame a campaign rife with xenophobic rhetoric to become the first Muslim Mayor of London.

“Politics is moving against us, but local politics not so much,” said Catherine Orsborn, director of interfaith anti-Islamophobia campaign group Shoulder to Shoulder.

Several panellists highlighted the importance of establishing relationships with local political and law enforcement agencies so that any future instances Islamophobia could be dealt with more effectively.

Friends of Europe’s Director Europe and Geopolitics Alfiaz Vaiya ended the discussion on civil society and coalition building with an optimistic note: “The political climate is very toxic, but it’s about politicians being able to sell and be confident in selling a strong narrative on inclusion and diversity. I think youth are the way forward, we see how they vote we see how they follow progressive trends and we should encourage more youth to get involved in conversations like this.”

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Migrants Seeking Europe Catch Their Breath in Moroccohttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/migrants-seeking-europe-catch-their-breath-in-morocco/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=migrants-seeking-europe-catch-their-breath-in-morocco http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/migrants-seeking-europe-catch-their-breath-in-morocco/#comments Fri, 06 Jan 2017 13:35:58 +0000 Fabíola Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148422 City of Rabat, Morocco. Credit: Fabiola Ortiz/IPS

City of Rabat, Morocco. Credit: Fabiola Ortiz/IPS

By Fabíola Ortiz
NADOR, RABAT and CASABLANCA, Morocco, Jan 6 2017 (IPS)

With a stable economy and a peaceful political climate, Morocco – which has always been a transit country for migrants — is becoming a potential new destination for settlement. The elusive dream for most of those who cross the Sahara, though, is still Europe.

No more than 15 kilometers separate the Spanish enclave Melilla and the Moroccan coastal city of Nador, in the northeastern Rif region. This tiny Spanish town of 70,000 people became a major crossing point for those seeking to reach asylum in Europe."The image of living in Europe is changing and some of them prefer to stay in Morocco as long as they can access rights. It’s not a super-developed country, but neither is it a super-poor country." --Miguel Hernandez Garcia

Melilla, together with Ceuta, are the remaining Spanish territories on the African continent and the European Union’s only land border. Precisely for that reason, many Sub-Saharan Africans and increasing number of Syrians dream of reaching the other side as a promised land and better life.

Both cities erected fortified borders as the pressure from migrants increased. Every year, hundreds of Sub-Saharans (many of those undocumented in Morocco) endeavor to cross the fences or embark on the perilous journey by boat across the Mediterranean.

Last month, rescue ships saved around 60 migrants who were adrift not far from Melilla. In early December 2016, at least 400 people broke through the border fence of Ceuta. On Jan. 1, another wave of 1,100 African migrants attempted to storm the same fence.

Mohamed Diaradsouba, 24, risked his life after he decided to depart Ivory Coast. He traveled almost 5,000 kms from Abidjan to Nador, passing through Mali and Algeria. He left his wife and one-year-old son with the hope of one day coming back.

“Where I lived there was no employment, I couldn’t get money to survive. I came to Morocco because I want to cross to Spain. But here there is no job either. I’m sure I’ll find a job in Spain, France, Belgium or Germany and make my living,” he told IPS.

He and a group of four companions rely on small donations provided by activists and the Catholic Church in Nador. Undocumented migrants are not tolerated by local police, who frequently conduct street sweeps and arrest those without legal papers.

When IPS talked to Diaradsouba on a cold November night, he was living in a rural community called Khamis-akdim, a 15-minute drive from Nador. It had been three months since he and some 300 other people Sub-Saharans Africa had set up a makeshift camp in the surrounding forest due to fear of entering the city.

Campsite where Sub-Saharan migrants live near Nador, Morocco. Credit: Mohamed Diaradsouba

Campsite where Sub-Saharan migrants live near Nador, Morocco. Credit: Mohamed Diaradsouba

“We’re camping in the bushes up on a hill. Life here is not easy. We have to walk every day to fetch water and food. We sleep in plastic tents, so when it rains everything gets wet. I didn’t bring any suitcase with me, I’m only wearing my clothes. We’re afraid of the police, they don’t know what human rights are, I’d better stay in the forest,” he said, noting that other nationalities like Cameroonians, Guineans and Malians share the same campsite.

The Ivorian migrant did not have any legal papers, refugee card or asylum seeker certificate of any kind. He is among the thousands of invisible undocumented foreigners in Morocco who are not recognized by the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) or the Moroccan government.

“It’s difficult to get a paper or a residency permit. I’d have to travel to the capital Rabat (10 hours by train) to make a request. I’m waiting for my luck, one day it will come,” he said.

Diaradsouba had no idea how long he would have to wait to attempt his crossing to Europe. He was still unsure whether he would risk getting through the fences to Melilla, hide himself in the backseat of a car or go by boat. “There’s no fixed price to pay for a boat. We try to gather [funds] among 30 or 40 people. Everything will depend on how much money we’ll have to pay.”

Aziz Kattouf, an activist with the Moroccan Association for Human Rights (AMDH), confirms that those people camping on the forest live in terrible conditions, but he says at least they are in a “safer place” than Nador.

“They’re far from the police’s eyes. They don’t want to stay, their only hope is to cross,” he told IPS, adding that there are other four large camps in the forest where undocumented people have erected tents.

Every two or three weeks, the police raid the camps. “They apprehend men and sometimes children, destroy their tents and take their phones. Many are sent by buses to further areas in the south of Morocco. But they always come back to the camps,” said the activist.

Living alongside the foreigners altered the daily life of residents of Khamis-akdim, but there has not been a case of mistreatment or racism against them. In fact, the local Berber farmers have shown solidarity, said Alwali Abdilhate, a Tamazight speaker.

“We have good relations with the people who are camping. Early in the morning, they go to the streams or waterholes to wash their clothes and buy food in our local market. There’s a bar that allows them to recharge their cell phones,” said Abdilhate, whose family home is located right by the path migrants take to reach the camping area.

A few weeks after the initial interview, Diaradsouba contacted IPS to say he had managed to reach Spain by boat entering through Almeria. He had to pay 2,500 euros to embark on the 12-hour sea journey.

According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), between January and December 2016, 8,162 migrants arrived by sea in Spain, while 69 people died attempting the crossing.

The majority of migrants in Morocco are Sub-Saharan male adults between 18 and 59 years old, says Miguel Hernandez Garcia, coordinator of a program run by the Association Droit et Justice that provides legal assistance for refugees and asylum seekers.

“There are different reasons for leaving their countries, threats of physical violence or political reasons. Some are in touch with members of their communities who have reached Europe and say living conditions aren’t what they used to be in the past. The image of living in Europe is changing and some of them prefer to stay in Morocco as long as they can access rights. It’s not a super-developed country, but neither is it a super poor country,” Garcia told IPS.

Morocco became the first Arab country to develop a policy that offers undocumented migrants the chance to gain permanent residency. In 2013, the King of Morocco Mohammed VI gave momentum to a new policy on migration after receiving recommendations from the National Council for Human Rights.

“Morocco ratified international conventions and needed to implement policies. It wanted to show a good image to the world as a welcoming country. It was a clever idea to put out this strategy to the international community as an open mind State with humanitarian will. Besides, it’s also a good thing for the economy,” said Garcia.

During a full one-year campaign for regularization, more than 90 percent of the 27,000 migrants who applied were documented. The government is now discussing in Parliament a raft of related legislation – the first law approved on the scope of the new policy was against human trafficking. A second law that still pending is about asylum.

“It’s basically to guarantee the access to rights for migrants. It’s only three years now that this policy is running and still no official body is in charge of it,” Garcia added.

Jean-Paul Cavalieri, the UNHCR representative in Morocco, said the first challenge is to finalise the law on asylum and extend medical benefits to refugees and regular migrants.

“Another challenge has to do with the territorialization of the policy, how you implement the policy on the ground in remote areas. The migrants are spread out across the country. That could be a model for [other] countries in the region. What we want is that refugees are able to find asylum and a protected space. It’s just the beginning, the policies are being developed, but it has to expand and be implemented.”

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Reporting from Inside a Refugee Detention Centrehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/reporting-from-inside-a-refugee-detention-centre/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=reporting-from-inside-a-refugee-detention-centre http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/reporting-from-inside-a-refugee-detention-centre/#comments Thu, 29 Dec 2016 23:01:17 +0000 Andy Hazel http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148350 Journalist and asylum seeker Behrouz Boochani is detained indefinitely by the Australian government on Papua New Guinea's Manus Island. Credit: Aref Heidari.

Journalist and asylum seeker Behrouz Boochani is detained indefinitely by the Australian government on Papua New Guinea's Manus Island. Credit: Aref Heidari.

By Andy Hazel
UNITED NATIONS, Dec 29 2016 (IPS)

Despite being locked up in an Australian detention centre on Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island, Kurdish-Iranian journalist Behrouz Boochani has continued reporting – gaining bylines and media attention around the world.

Journalism is the reason Boochani was forced to flee his home country of Iran, and – like the other 900 men detained indefinitely on Manus Island – seek refuge in Australia.

“When the Australian government exiled me to Manus Island I found out that they are basing their policy on secrecy and dishonesty,” Boochani told IPS.

“In my first days here I started to work to send out the voice of people in Manus. Why did I start? Because the Australian government’s policy of indefinite detention is against my principles and values, and against global human values.”

“I know that I am a refugee but I'm a journalist and writer too. I have been denied my identity as a journalist because of this refugee concept and most of the media don't care about that." -- Behrouz Boochani

Boochani worked as a freelance writer in Iran and founded the magazine Werya, devoted to exploring Kurdish politics, culture and history. In February 2013 the offices of Werya were raided by the paramilitary agency the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, also known as Sepah, classified by the US government as a terrorist organisation.

Boochani was in a different city when 11 of his colleagues were arrested. The story he wrote about the raid on the website Iranian Reporters quickly went global and put him in the government’s sights and he fled.

Boochani spent his first two years in detention writing and publishing articles under a fake name, for fear of losing the mobile phone that has been his lifeline since arriving on Manus Island.

“We were not allowed to have phones until April this year,” he explains. “The guards twice searched my room looking for my phone. After two years of sending out my work in this way I felt that I had become part of Australian society and with the support of (international organisations) PEN International and Reporters Without Borders, I started to use my real name. I would never say that I’m not scared, but I say that fear is not powerful enough to stop me or prevent me from working on my mission. It’s my duty to document all of what happens here.”

What has been happening on Manus Island has attracted global condemnation. In May the UN Human Rights Council condemned the detention centre and Papua New Guinea affirmed that it would be shut down. Since then, the Australian government have declared the centre ‘open’, meaning that inmates can come and go freely though they cannot leave the island. Boochani and other detainees have spoken of being encouraged to accept residency in Papua New Guinea, despite attacks on detainees from both local residents and police forces. Returning to Iran, Boochani says, is not an option.

“PEN International and a coalition of human rights groups launched an international campaign on behalf of Mr Boochani in September 2015. The campaign called for Mr Boochani’s request for asylum to be processed by Australian immigration officials as soon as possible and urged the Australian government to abide by their obligations to the principle of non-refoulement—as defined by Article 33 of the United Nations Convention relating to the Status of Refugees. Despite numerous approaches to the Australian government and relevant ministers and departments, by the campaign coalition and its supporters, there has been no response from senior government officials.”
– PEN International letter to Australian Minister of Immigration Hon. Peter Dutton MP, November 3, 2016

“The political situation in Iran does not change especially for Kurdish people. There are about 20 journalists still in prison there. In November, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution against the Iranian regime for violating human rights. Last year they hanged more than 1,000 people. How can I go back?”

Since arriving in Manus Island, Boochani has written for Australian and international newspapers and radio programs and co-directed the feature length documentary about life on Manus Island Chauka, Please Tell Us the Time. He has continued to write articles about Kurdish culture and politics for Kurdish media, published poetry and essays, contributed to two forthcoming books and completed his first novel, due in mid-2017.

One of the greatest challenges facing Boochani is what he calls “the refugee concept”, the willingness of Australian and international media to use his insight and words but to cast him as a “broken man” or a refugee.

“This is a big form of censorship,” he says. “I know that I am a refugee but I’m a journalist and writer too. I have been denied my identity as a journalist because of this refugee concept and most of the media don’t care about that. When I have found a subject for a story and provided information and documents to other journalists sometimes they have ignored me, or other times they published a story on the basis of my information but denied my identity by referring to me only as a refugee. I’m doing the same job as other journalists in Australia or anywhere else, but I am always called a refugee.”

Overcoming the international concept of Australia as a peaceful, law-abiding nation with a relaxed attitude to life also presents a difficulty to Boochani as a journalist. “We are being tortured by a western country and the media and human rights organisations find it hard to believe that a country like Australia is implementing policies that are the same in many ways as Iran or Saudi Arabia,” he says. “I am a prisoner like the others here. It’s hard to work in this situation. I have to endure prison and torture and at the same time work as a journalist or human rights defender.”

The Manus Island detention centre holds around 900 men, most of whom are refugees intercepted en route to Australia having fled conflicts in countries such as Sudan or Syria, or persecution as is the case with Rohingyas from Myanmar.

The detention centre is a key part of a multi-billion-dollar bilateral agreement between the Papua New Guinean and Australian governments. Condemnation of Australia’s offshore detention of asylum seekers has come from several branches of the United Nations including the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Committee Against Torture, the High Commissioner for Refugees, the Special Rapporteur on torture and the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants.

While identifying as a journalist and writer, Boochani is not motivated by profit.

“If I do work for money, I will lose my way. The important thing is to send out a voice from Manus and let people know the reality.”

“I am a journalist, I am a writer, I am a prisoner. The history of this prison is written in my hand … I am here with only a phone and my tongue and say:  I am more than you know. The Australian government made a mistake exiling a journalist to this prison and keeping him as hostage.  Writing is my mission, my work, it is me.”

Correction: An earlier version of this article said that the UN Human Rights Council had declared Manus Island Detention Centre illegal. The council condemned the centre, and in response the PNG government declared it illegal.

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Refugees from Boko Haram Languish in Cameroonhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/refugees-from-boko-haram-languish-in-cameroon/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=refugees-from-boko-haram-languish-in-cameroon http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/refugees-from-boko-haram-languish-in-cameroon/#comments Fri, 16 Dec 2016 15:17:54 +0000 Mbom Sixtus http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148227 UNHCR chief Filippo Grandi is received at the Minawao Camp in Cameroon’s Far North region on Dec. 15, 2016, where some 60,000 refugees have fled attacks by Boko Haram. Credit: Mbom Sixtus/IPS

UNHCR chief Filippo Grandi is received at the Minawao Camp in Cameroon’s Far North region on Dec. 15, 2016, where some 60,000 refugees have fled attacks by Boko Haram. Credit: Mbom Sixtus/IPS

By Mbom Sixtus
MINAWAO CAMP, Cameroon, Dec 16 2016 (IPS)

Tears spring to Aichatou Njoya’s eyes as she recalls the day Islamic militants from Boko Haram arrived on her doorstep in Nigeria.

“It was on May 24, 2013. My husband was sleeping in his room while I was on the other side of the house with our six children. The youngest was only one month old,” she mutters, pausing to collect herself.The funding gap for refugees and IDPs in Cameroon now stands at 62.4 million dollars.

Njoya told IPS when the armed insurgents broke into the house, they grabbed her husband and dragged him into her room. “They brought him in front of us and put a machete to his neck and asked him if he was going to convert from Christianity to Islam. They asked thrice, and thrice he refused. Then they slew him right in front of me and our children,” she said, still holding back tears.

The widowed refugee said an argument ensued among the assailants as to whether to spare her life or not. They finally agreed to let her live. The next day she escaped with her children to the hills and trekked for several days until they reached the border with Cameroon, where the UNHCR had vehicles to transport refugees to the camp. The camp had just been set up, she says.

Njoya, now 36, has been living in the Minawao refugee camp in Cameroon’s Far North region for more than three and a half years now, with scant hope of returning anytime soon.

IPS spoke with Njoya and others during the Dec. 15 visit of Filippo Grandi, High Commissioner for the United Nations Refugee agency UNHCR, to the camp. Grandi called for the financial empowerment of Nigerian refugees to help them cope with insufficient humanitarian aid.

The camp hosts about 60,000 Nigerians who have fled their homes since 2011 because of attacks carried out by the Islamist terror group, Boko Haram.

Grandi spoke with refugees, representatives of national and international NGOs, and officials of the Cameroonian government who gathered to welcome him. Cameroon is the third country he is visiting as part of his tour of countries of the Lake Chad Basin affected by the Boko Haram insurgency.

Grandi said his visit was intended to encourage donors to provide more aid to affected countries and governments to work together to reinstate peace in the region and facilitate the return of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) their homes.

“We have made efforts to improve aid, but aid is still insufficient. I have listened to complaints of these refugee women who say they do not have any income generation activities and I think the UNHCR and its partners should begin working in that direction. Help them help themselves,” he said.

He had just listened to representatives of the refugees and refugee women discussing the difficulties they face on a daily basis, including food and water shortages, scarcity of wood, insufficient medicines, and insufficient classroom and medical staff in health units in the camp.

Growing population, funding gap aggravate living conditions

According to Njoya, and every other refugee who talked to IPS, including Jallo Mohamed, Bulama Adam and Ayuba Fudama, living conditions are growing worse by the day. They all complain of joblessness. Njoya says even when they leave the camp with refugee certificates as IDs, Cameroonian security officers still stop them from going out.

“This hinders the success of the income generation activities we are yearning for,” she said.

“When we just got here, they gave each refugee 13 kg of rice monthly. It was later reduced to 10 and last month (November 2016) it dropped further. The rationing for wood has also declined.  Nowadays when you go to the health unit for headache, they give you paracetamol. If you have a fever, they give you paracetamol. If you have stomach ache or anything else, they give you the same tablets. And when you go there at night, there is no one on duty,” says Jallo Mohamed.

Reports say there are periods when as many as 50 births are recorded per week in the Minawao camp.

“You can’t blame them. They sleep early every night because they do not have TV sets or other forms of entertainment. That is why the birth rate is as it is,” said a medic at the camp who asked not to be named.

Cameroon currently hosts more than 259,000 refugees from the Central African Republic and 73,747 Nigerians. Funders led by the U.S., Japan, EU, Spain, Italy, France and Korea were able to raise only 37 per cent of a total of 98.6million dollars required in assistance for refugees and IDPs in Cameroon this year – a funding gap of 62.4 million dollars, according to the UNHCR factsheet.

The funding gap for requirements of Nigerian refugees, according to the UNHCR, stands at 29.7 million dollars. Nevertheless, High Commissioner Grandi remains positive that empowering refugees to earn incomes will improve living standards at the Minawao Camp.

Regarding the wood shortage, he said he saw fuel-efficient cooking stoves in Niger and Chad and will encourage stakeholders in Cameroon to introduce the models in the camp. He also reassured refugees that an ongoing water project will provide the camp and host communities with clean pipe-borne water.

The High Commissioner’s mission to Cameroon also includes the launching of 2017 Regional Refugee Response Plan for the Nigeria Refugee Situation.

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For South Asian Policy-Makers, Climate Migrants Still Invisiblehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/for-south-asian-policy-makers-climate-migrants-still-invisible/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=for-south-asian-policy-makers-climate-migrants-still-invisible http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/for-south-asian-policy-makers-climate-migrants-still-invisible/#comments Tue, 13 Dec 2016 13:49:42 +0000 Manipadma Jena http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148197 Flash floods carried away everything except the clothes on their backs. People take emergency food in plastic bags in a coastal village in India’s eastern state Odisha. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

Flash floods carried away everything except the clothes on their backs. People take emergency food in plastic bags in a coastal village in India’s eastern state Odisha. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

By Manipadma Jena
NEW DELHI, Dec 13 2016 (IPS)

Tasura Begum straightens up from picking a bushel of green chilis and looks at the mighty Padma River flowing by, wondering whose life it ruined today.

She remembers how she and her husband fretted about the river getting closer and closer to their thatched hut and tiny farm in Bangladesh’s Beparikandi village until, on that fateful day, they watched it engulf all their hopes and dreams.“Despite the clear writing on the wall, the magnitude of climate change as an additional ‘push’ factor remains largely invisible in the migration discourse.” --Harjeet Singh of ActionAid

Soon her husband had to take a job as an unskilled construction worker in Saudi Arabia to repay the loan they had meanwhile taken to buy food and rebuild another hut further back from the river. Her teenage son left for the capital Dhaka, leaving Tasura Begum with her youngest 4-year-old boy and an adolescent daughter who dreamt of becoming a doctor so she could cure her mother’s painful kidney ailment.

Crop failure, rising sea levels and flooding all caused by climate change is pushing migration like never before in South Asia, says a joint study released Dec. 8 Climate Change Knows No Borders  by ActionAid, Climate Action Network-South Asia and Bread for the World (Brot Fuer Die Welt).

Address policy gaps before climate forces mass migration, xenophobia, conflict

The three international organisations warn of the devastating and escalating strain climate change places on migration, particularly in Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Sri Lanka, and call for governments to recognise and fill the policy gap before it blows up into mass migration, unrest and large-scale conflict over resources.

Sudden events such as cyclones and flooding can lead to temporary displacement. However, if these events happen repeatedly, people lose their savings and assets, and may eventually be forced to move to cities or cross borders, even illegally, to find work, several studies have shown.

A week after losing their home to flood waters, this homeless family in Odisha still lives on an asphalt road. The father has left to work in a brick kiln in the neighbouring state of Andhra Pradesh. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

A week after losing their home to flood waters, this homeless family in Odisha still lives on an asphalt road. The father has left to work in a brick kiln in the neighbouring state of Andhra Pradesh. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

Slow onset events such as salinization from rising sea levels and loss of land to erosion also push people out of their homes in South Asia, where livelihood dependence on natural resources – as well as poverty – is high.

In May 2016, Cyclone Roanu ripped through Sri Lanka, India and Bangladesh, causing widespread damage with reconstruction costs estimated at 1.7 billion dollars.

The impact of drought and crop failure this year was spread across India, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, affecting 330 million people in India alone.

In 2015, South Asia – recording 52 disasters and 14,650 deaths, a staggering 64 percent of the global fatalities – was the most disaster-prone sub-region within Asia-Pacific, which itself is the world’s most disaster-prone region, according to the UN Economic and Social Commission of Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP).

Between 2008 and 2013, over 46 million people were displaced by sudden-onset disasters in South Asia. India ranked the highest with some 26 million people displaced, estimates Geneva-based Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) a leading data-source on internally displaced persons (IDPs).

The UN Global Environment Outlook (GEO-6) 2016 warns 40 million Indians and 25 million in Bangladesh (approximately 3 percent and 16 percent of respective populations) will be at risk from rising sea levels by 2050.

“Despite the clear writing on the wall, the magnitude of climate change as an additional ‘push’ factor remains largely invisible in the migration discourse,” Harjeet Singh, ActionAid’s Global Lead on Climate Change, told IPS.

“The invisibility of those forced away from their homes as a result of climate change means that they are falling through gaps in policy, and they may not be granted the same protections and rights granted to internally displaced persons or refugees,” Singh added.

“Populations forced to migrate, driven by desperation and lack of options, are least secure when they leave home for unknown lands. They have to opt for lower jobs, are often exploited and face harassment from enforcement agencies,” Sanjay Vashist, Climate Action Network – South Asia’s Director, told IPS.

Trafficked and exploited women face brunt of climate migration, lack social safety net

The report also flags the growing and alarming trend of women and girls trafficked into sexual exploitation as a result of migration, as well as the disproportionate burden placed upon women left behind at home like Tasura Begum, whose husbands are forced to migrate.

Women migrating alone across borders are most vulnerable to exploitation and abuse. Young Nepali and Bangladeshi females, migrating alone to seek work in India, have no other contact except those of local ‘agents’ who promise to arrange employment, mostly as housemaids. But in many cases, these agents are in fact traffickers. Once the migrating girls arrive in cities they may be forced to work in brothels against their will.

While this phenomenon has been taking place for years and is widely recognized, the extent to which climate change is contributing to this and further threatening girls’ safety is not yet fully understood, the report points out.

According to the World Bank 12.5 percent of households in Bangladesh, 14 percent in India and as much as 28 percent in Nepal have a female head and many of these are as a result of male migration.

Farm or other work-related stress, increased childcare and household burdens, high occurrence of poor health and threat of physical and sexual violence are faced by women left behind, according to a 2015 UN Women documentation of the experiences of Tasura Begum and others.

“Clearer definitions are needed for climate migration and displacement, and these need to provide the basis for data gathering, analysis and clear right-based policies,” Singh told IPS from the Global Forum on Migration and Development in Bangladesh where civil society organizations, policy makers, UN bodies and migration experts met over Dec. 8-12 to find solutions to migration issues.

“The UN’s Warsaw International Mechanism on Loss and Damage must work to ensure legal protection for people forced to migrate or displaced by climate change,” Singh said.

Politics over trans-boundary water issues increasing climate vulnerability of poorest 

Trans-boundary water issues, which are largely political processes and highly complex, are also exacerbating communities’ vulnerability to climate change, the report highlights.

The Ganges, Brahmaputra and Indus rivers originate in the Himalayas region and pass through two or more countries. These rivers provide critical water, ir­rigation, livelihood, food security and culture to hundreds of millions of people in river basins.

India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan and China have tried to navigate these trans-boundary water flows through a series of treaties and ongoing negotiations. However, amid geopolitical power tussles, the implementation of these legally binding bilateral agreements is often being contested. New dam or hydropower developments constantly bring newer dimensions to the debate.

“The governments of South Asia must recognize that climate change knows no borders,” Vashist said, adding, “governments have a responsibility to use our shared common ecosystems, rivers, mountains, history and cultures to seek common solutions to the droughts, sea-level rise and water shortages being experienced.”

“Shared initiatives such as regional early warning systems, food banks, and equitable approaches to trans-boundary water governance can enhance cooperation and learning and strengthen resilience,” Singh said.

“South Asian solidarity will also put the lid on regional xenophobia before it can rear its ugly head,” he added.

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Rohingya Refugees Trapped in Limbohttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/rohingya-refugees-trapped-in-limbo/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=rohingya-refugees-trapped-in-limbo http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/rohingya-refugees-trapped-in-limbo/#comments Wed, 30 Nov 2016 13:35:50 +0000 Mahfuzur Rahman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148012 The crisis of violence against Rohingya Muslims goes back many years. In this image, a group of refugees is turned back by Bangladesh border guards in 2012. Credit: Anurup Titu/IPS

The crisis of violence against Rohingya Muslims goes back many years. In this image, a group of refugees is turned back by Bangladesh border guards in 2012. Credit: Anurup Titu/IPS

By Mahfuzur Rahman
DHAKA, Nov 30 2016 (IPS)

Amid growing persecution by Myanmar’s military, thousands of minority Rohingya Muslims in its western state of Rakhine have fled their frontier villages and are languishing along the Myanmar-Bangladesh border for lack of shelter and emergency supplies.

In response to alleged coordinated attacks on three border posts on Oct. 9 that killed nine guards, Myanmar troops swarmed into areas along the country’s frontier with Bangladesh, forcing the Rohingyas to leave their homes."Myanmar security forces have been killing men, shooting them, slaughtering children, raping women, burning and looting houses, forcing these people to cross the river into Bangladesh.” -- John McKissick of UNHCR

London-based Arakan Rohingya National Organisation (ARNO), a political group based in Rakhine state (Arakan), Myanmar, said on Nov. 28 that Myanmar security forces have killed over 500 people, raped hundreds of women, burned down over 2,500 houses, destroyed mosques and religious schools, and perpetrated other abuses in the latest round of violence.

The international community and rights groups, including the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch (HRW), have expressed grave concern over the brutalities in Myanmar. They termed the operation the most serious since hundreds were killed in communal clashes in Rakhine in 2012.

Up to 250,000 people are said to have been displaced so far and thousands more affected by the recent operation. Both Myanmar’s military and government deny the allegations by the rights groups and the displaced minority.

Amid the evolving situation, Bangladesh, a next-door neighbour of Myanmar, is unwilling to allow the entry of more Rohingyas, as it has already been hosting some 300,000 undocumented Rohingyas since 1977. The Bangladesh government says it is not its lone responsibility to give them refuge.

In an Nov. 20 interview with United News of Bangladesh (UNB), an independent news agency, director general of Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) Abul Hossain said Bangladesh would not allow anybody to enter its territory illegally.

Terming the Rohingya crisis an international issue, Maj. Gen. Hossain said Bangladesh has already been hosting a large number of Rohingya refugees and managing them has become a problem. “We’re trying to manage our border efficiently so that any illegal intrusion, including the entry of militants and terrorists, is prevented.”

The Myanmar government has denied them citizenship even though they have been living there for generations, as the Buddhist majority of Rakhine state considers them illegal migrants from Bangladesh.

On Nov. 24, Amnesty International said the Rohingya refugees and asylum-seekers have been forced into hiding across the Na’f River that divides Bangladesh and Myanmar, and they are now suffering for lack of food and medical care.

Bangladesh’s Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan said Rohingyas were also entering Bangladesh through remote hilly areas and it was difficult to stem the flow.

“We hope that the Myanmar government will come to a solution soon,” Khan said.

Meanwhile, UNHCR has appealed to the government of Bangladesh to keep its border with Myanmar open and allow safe passage to any civilians fleeing the violence.

According to the Bangladesh Human Rights Commission, some 9,000 Rohingya people have already entered Bangladesh with the help of smugglers who know how to dodge the Bangladesh border guards (BGB). Bangladesh has reinforced both its border and coast guards since the escalation of operation by the Myanmar military and sent back many people. Some 3,000 Rohingyas are also said to have fled to China.

Prothom Alo, a leading Bengali national daily, reported that some 1,100 Rohingyas entered Bangladesh on Nov. 28 alone, with Myanmar’s military burning down their houses and firing shots indiscriminately.

Amid international pressure to accept the newly displaced Rohingya people, the Foreign Ministry of Bangladesh summoned the Myanmar Ambassador in Dhaka on Nov. 23 and conveyed its deep concern at the military operation forcing Rohingya Muslims to flee their frontier homes.

Later, in a statement, Bangladesh’s Foreign Ministry said it had asked Myanmar to “ensure the integrity of its border and to stop the influx of people from Rakhine state. Despite our border guards’ sincere efforts to prevent the influx, thousands of distressed Myanmar citizens, including women, children and elderly people, continue to cross the border into Bangladesh.”

Though the Bangladesh government is unwilling to accept the Rohingyas, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), one of Bangladesh’s two major parties, has been urging the government to give shelter to the displaced Rohingya people on humanitarian grounds.

In a statement, BNP chairperson Khaleda Zia, who is also a former Prime Minister, said, “Many Rohingya refugees have long been staying in our country which is densely populated and witnessing a shrinking of livable land. We’re also facing various social problems for it. Despite that, I call upon the authorities concerned to give the Rohingya refugees shelter as much as possible on humanitarian ground to save their lives.”

Meanwhile, the Amnesty International has denounced the persecution of Rohingya Muslims by Myanmar and also asked Bangladesh not to push the fleeing Rohingyas back across the border.

“The Rohingyas are being squeezed by the callous actions of both the Myanmar and Bangladesh authorities. Fleeing collective punishment in Myanmar, they are being pushed back by the Bangladeshi authorities. Trapped between these cruel fates, their desperate need for food, water and medical care is not being addressed,” said Champa Patel, Amnesty International’s South Asia director.

In Bangladesh’s capital Dhaka, thousands of people took to the streets on Nov. 25 in protest against the persecution of Rohingya Muslims. The protesters also burned an effigy of Myanmar’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi and a flag of Myanmar, carrying banners that read ‘Open the border to save the Rohingyas’.

A vigorous social media campaign is also underway to put pressure on Bangladesh’s authorities to allow the displaced Rohingyas to enter the country.

UNICEF has said thousands of malnourished children are suffering from lack of medical care and in danger of starving.

Amid the horrific situation, the UNHCR head in Bangladesh, John McKissick, on Nov. 24 told BBC Bangla that “Rohingya Muslims in Burma are being ethnically cleansed. Myanmar security forces have been killing men, shooting them, slaughtering children, raping women, burning and looting houses, forcing these people to cross the river into Bangladesh.”

Myanmar’s presidential spokesman Zaw Htay responded that McKissick “should maintain his professionalism and his ethics as a United Nations officer because his comments are just allegations.”

Last week, Human Rights Watch released satellite images showing that over 1,000 Rohingya homes have been destroyed in five villages of Rakhine state.

The New York-based group in a statement that satellite images taken on Nov. 10, 17 and 18 showed 820 destroyed buildings, bringing the total number it says it has documented to 1,250.

As the situation continues to deteriorate, the United States reiterated its call for a full, formal and transparent investigation into violence in Rakhine state and laid emphasis on international community’s participation for finding a solution there.

A human rights icon whose activism earned her the Nobel Peace Prize, Suu Kyi is now being criticised globally for her silence over the dire situation in her own country.

The first democratic election in 25 years was held in Myanmar in November last year, with Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) winning it with a thumping majority. Though she could not assume the presidency due to a constitutional bar, Suu Kyi is considered a de-facto leader as she serves as State Counsellor.

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Looking into the Eyes of Central American Refugees in a Time of Hate and Fear http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/looking-into-the-eyes-of-central-american-refugees-in-a-time-of-hate-and-fear/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=looking-into-the-eyes-of-central-american-refugees-in-a-time-of-hate-and-fear http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/looking-into-the-eyes-of-central-american-refugees-in-a-time-of-hate-and-fear/#comments Wed, 30 Nov 2016 04:00:35 +0000 Madeleine Penman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148007 The Suchuiate River crossing between Mexico and Guatemala. Those with visas cross the bridge, and those without visas – including people fleeing violence from Central America – have to take a makeshift tyre raft. Credit: Madeleine Penman / Amnesty International.

The Suchuiate River crossing between Mexico and Guatemala. Those with visas cross the bridge, and those without visas – including people fleeing violence from Central America – have to take a makeshift tyre raft. Credit: Madeleine Penman / Amnesty International.

By Madeleine Penman
MEXICO CITY, Nov 30 2016 (IPS)

Ten years ago I arrived in Mexico for the first time. A heavy backpack strapped around my waist, I toddled over a large, concrete bridge that divides Mexico and Guatemala.

When I crossed the border, a man with his shirt unbuttoned down to his belly and sweat pouring down his chest took my passport, glanced at it for no more than two seconds, then stamped it with a smile and cheerily barked to me “welcome to Mexico.”

My entry into Mexico couldn’t have been easier, because I’m from Australia and don’t need a visa. But for hundreds of thousands of men, women, children and entire families fleeing violence and crossing Mexico’s southern border from some of the most dangerous corners of the world, it is a very different story.

Instead of a smile, they will face unfounded suspicion, fear, prejudice and even hate.

Knowing full well of the likelihood of being denied entrance and, instead, facing possible deportation to the war-like horrors and violence in Honduras and El Salvador, many are effectively forced to enter clandestinely.

One of the routes that migrants and asylum seekers are forced to take through Mexico includes travelling atop these freight trains and risking their lives. Credit: Madeleine Penman / Amnesty International.

One of the routes that migrants and asylum seekers are forced to take through Mexico includes travelling atop these freight trains and risking their lives. Credit: Madeleine Penman / Amnesty International.

Ten years after I used this border crossing for the first time, I came back as part of an international observation mission and have spoken to dozens of people whose lives have been turned upside down. We spoke to a man in a wheelchair who had lost both of his legs when he fell off the freight train dubbed “The Beast” that migrants and asylum-seekers travel on top of to get through Mexico. He was taken to a hospital in Mexico, who then referred him to Mexican migration authorities. He told us that migration authorities ignored his request to lodge an asylum claim and deported him back to Honduras straight away. He said he spent just four days there, fearing for his life, and then came back to Mexico immediately. He had still been unable to lodge an asylum claim given his fear of being detained.

Some 400,000 people are estimated to be crossing Mexico’s southern border every year. Many of these are in need of international protection, and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has called on governments in the region to recognise the humanitarian crisis affecting the Central American countries of El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala.

Amnesty’s own research has shown how the generalised violence in El Salvador and Honduras makes them some of the deadliest places on the planet. A few days ago, I spoke to a young fisherman from El Salvador who had fled his country with more than 30 members of his family because the extortions and war taxes that criminal gangs imposed on them at home, and impose on entire industries in El Salvador in order to let them operate, made living there impossible. Saying no to gangs (“maras”) often means a death sentence.

Mexico has a history of receiving people fleeing violence and showing solidarity and hospitality to those in need of protection.

In the 1980s, tens of thousands of Guatemalans fled civil war and came as refugees to Mexico. Thirty years later, Mexico seems to be forgetting this welcoming face. On mission, well after we crossed the border and were inside Mexican territory, in a stretch of just two hundred kilometres along the coast of the southern state of Chiapas, we went through seven migratory control checkpoints that at times includes military personnel, federal police and many migration agents ready to detain anyone without papers.

Mexico has invested significant resources in enforcement and security along its southern border in recent years. Some of this money comes from US government funding from the Merida Initiative, an extensive security assistance package.

A prison or a migratory checkpoint? Difficult to tell. The “CAITF” border control checkpoint in Huixtla, Chiapas. Credit: Madeleine Penman / Amnesty International.

A prison or a migratory checkpoint? Difficult to tell. The “CAITF” border control checkpoint in Huixtla, Chiapas. Credit: Madeleine Penman / Amnesty International.

The increase in checkpoints and security has resulted in a spike in detentions and deportations of Central American people from Mexico, in many cases returning people to threats, attacks and even killings. Of all the checkpoints I passed through, one of them stood out in particular.

It was a special customs control centre that stood out on the highway like an enormous spaceship, airport, or prison. It had Federal Police officers, an army barracks, customs, bright lights, watch towers, and an incredible amount of infrastructure.

The problem with this focus on detentions, enforcement, security and deportations is that many people who are in danger and should be recognised as refugees are not being identified by Mexican migration agents.

Under international and domestic law, migration agents are obliged to refer anyone who expresses a fear of returning to their countries to Mexico´s refugee agency, COMAR – Comisión Mexicana de Ayuda a Refugiados.

However, the vast majority of people are detained and returned to their countries with their fears being overlooked. Why is this so? Do authorities really think that traumatised people fleeing their countries are such a threat? Are they hearing their stories?

I met a woman who told me that in Honduras, as a woman, she couldn’t wear skirts, tights, she couldn’t dye her hair, she could barely do anything without gangs threatening her. She spoke to me on the side of the road, with no money, waiting to move to find transport that could take her to a safer place. Others from El Salvador told me that just transiting between one neighbourhood and another put you at risk, as gangs would suspect you as a possible rival for being an outsider.

We are living in a time of extreme hate and fear. Unless we listen to people´s stories and act, our societies and policies will continue to create walls of prejudice rather than bridges of protection and justice. After this trip along Mexico’s southern border, more than ever I pledge to welcome refugees, in my heart and in my society. I hope you can look into their eyes and welcome them too.

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“Bonn Has Become an Insider Tip on the International Stage”http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/bonn-has-become-an-insider-tip-on-the-international-stage/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=bonn-has-become-an-insider-tip-on-the-international-stage http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/bonn-has-become-an-insider-tip-on-the-international-stage/#comments Tue, 29 Nov 2016 07:00:04 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147958 VN Campus Bonn (© Michael Sondermann/Bundesstadt Bonn)

UN Campus Bonn (© Michael Sondermann/Bundesstadt Bonn)

By Baher Kamal
ROME/BONN, Nov 29 2016 (IPS)

With around 320,000 inhabitants on 141 square kilometres, no other relatively small city has played such a historically critical role like the City of Bonn.

Founded 2,100 years ago by the Romans, from being the birthplace of Ludwig van Beethoven to being the capital of Germany for over 50 years (1949-1990; seat of the Federal Government and Parliament until 1999), Bonn is also one of the best-guarded safe-deposit boxes of European and recent world history.

IPS interviews the City of Bonn’s Mayor Ashok-Alexander Sridharan.

IPS: For over half a century Bonn was the centre for top world leaders deciding on the future of Germany and Europe. What in your opinion is the City of Bonn’s best-kept political secret from that period?

Ashok Sridharan, Mayor of the City of Bonn

Ashok Sridharan, Mayor of the City of Bonn

Sridharan: The fact that Bonn today has become an insider tip on the international stage – especially in the area of sustainability – certainly originates from those roughly five decades when Bonn acted as capital city for the most successful democracy on German ground. It was this valuable heritage that Bonn could draw back on when the decision was taken in the Federal Republic of Germany to make Bonn Germany’s United Nations City.

IPS: After New York and Geneva, Bonn has become one of the world’s biggest venues for United Nations organisations, with the presence of a total of 19 agencies. And your City is strongly involved in international development cooperation at the municipal level, on international youth projects and on the international dialogue of cultures. What are your current and future plans for the City?

Sridharan: At international level, Bonn is successfully establishing itself as Germany’s United Nations City with a strong focus on sustainability-related issues. ‘UN Bonn – Shaping a Sustainable Future’ is the joint slogan of our Bonn-based UN agencies. With the UNSSC Knowledge Centre for Sustainable Development, we have been able to welcome another important UN agency on board this year. And in December, the UN SDG Action Campaign will open its central campaign office in our city.

Bonn has increasingly developed into a sustainability hub. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) play a central role in this context.

Naturally, our city is also called upon to take up this issue in its own affairs. It is for a number of years now that we have successfully engaged in municipal development cooperation. We maintain partnerships with Bukhara (Uzbekistan), Cape Coast (Ghana), Chengdu (P.R. China), La Paz (Bolivia), Ulaanbaatar (Mongolia) and Minsk (Belarus), for instance.

Moreover, we are integrating the sustainable approach locally in our own day-to-day affairs. We promote fair trade and sustainable procurement, as well as eco-friendly mobility. Also, we are stepping up the use of renewable energies and advocate social interaction and a sense of togetherness in our local community.

IPS: The City of Bonn is also one of the largest international media hubs. Deutsche Welle, based here, organizes an annual Global Media Forum bringing over 2,000 professionals from all continents. Are there any new initiatives by your City in the field of international information and communication?

Sridharan: We use every opportunity to raise awareness for the special capabilities in our city among journalists from all over the globe coming to Bonn for whatever reason. We do so as Germany’s United Nations City with a focus on sustainability, but also as birthplace of Ludwig van Beethoven, as important IT centre in Germany, and much more.

Bonn is home to tens of thousands of migrants, representing nearly one third of its total population. ​​While migration and refugees have occupied the front pages of newspapers in Europe for long now, London has overwhelmingly welcomed their Mayor, Sadiq Khan, whose Pakistani father drove buses to send his children to school.

The City of Bonn has an elected Mayor in Sridharan, born of Indian and German parents. It’s a win-win for all parties no doubt and yet so little is highlighted in the North of the value migrants bring to European economies; and even less is known to the potential migrants themselves in the South what lay ahead for them in Europe, a shock that they can hardly visualise from their positions of hardship and the manipulation of human traffickers.
Our communication is internationally oriented and we release quite a lot in English, such as on our special service website www.bonn-international.org or in our Bonn International Newsletter.

IPS: How are you managing your City’s share of migrants and what measures have you initiated on integration? How many are there now waiting for formal migrant status and have the number of migrants gone up this year? Are there any climate migrants? How do you strike a balance between what is considered humane and the need to adhere to and execute policies?

Sridharan: Between September 2015 and February 2016 the number of refugees reached a peak with roughly 150 people arriving here every single week, persons who were seeking shelter in Germany.

This was a big challenge for all: for the refugees with an unclear future in their new surroundings, for our administration that was faced with the tremendous task of providing temporary accommodation for a great number of people, including very traumatized refugees.

Last, not least, for our local citizens, now encountering many different new neighbors with a foreign language and culture! These were difficult months, especially since we had to accommodate several hundred refugees in our gymnasiums. At the same time, innumerable volunteers saw to it that Bonn was able to truly welcome these refugees and to take good care of them.

It is with relief that I can say that today’s situation is a little more relaxed. At this time, we are accommodating 3,000 refugees in municipal housing, an increasing number of them with permanent resident status.

Another 3,000 people in Bonn have received residence permits after their application for asylum had been granted. The number of people applying for asylum has decreased, as no more refugees are being sent to the City of Bonn by our authorities at this time. People coming from what is considered a safe country must go back home, which they often do voluntarily.

At the same time, we have been able to improve the type of accommodation we offer. Nobody must sleep in gymnasiums without any private space. The temporary housing we are able to offer now still has provisional character, but with some private space and independence. Also, we are managing to build more reasonably priced apartments, which we were already lacking before the refugees arrived in Bonn.

The birthplace of Ludwig van Beethoven

The birthplace of Ludwig van Beethoven

We do our best to integrate the refugees here: They can visit language classes. International classes preparing for the German schools have been established. Our Job Center runs a special Integration Point offering services for the people seeking work in Germany and wanting to stay.

Refugees come from many countries. People from Syria make up the largest group, comprising roughly 1,100 persons at this time. Whether or not the small number of other refugees from Africa includes so-called climate migrants, we do not know.

Finally: We have many migrants in Bonn. However, refugees who need special support for their integration in our city and community only make up a small share. It helps that the structures that have been established for our growing international community in Bonn are already there – for people who come to work or to study in Bonn or even to move here with their entire family.

The thought behind Agenda 2030 ‘Leaving no one behind’ is something we are living here in Bonn – just like elsewhere in cities in Germany, Europe and all over the world.

In December, the Pope has invited to a European meeting of mayors at the Vatican for an exchange of experience among city representatives on the ways refugees are being welcomed here. I will be delighted to share our experiences on that occasion.

IPS: The City of Bonn has always worked on sustainable project partnerships and contributed to international cooperation. What are your new initiatives on international cooperation?

Sridharan: In a globalized world with tight networks and strong dependencies cities must cooperate at international level. This holds true especially for cities like Bonn – a city that has always maintained close contacts around the globe, as United Nations City, business location and science hub.

We have joined a number of different international city networks. In October, I was elected Vice President of ICLEI. ICLEI is a city network for sustainability with over 1,500 members worldwide.

Every year, several hundred city representatives meet here in Bonn to discuss topical issues on climate adaptation and urban resilience during our annual ICLEI Resilient Cities Conference. We will seek to intensify this type of cooperation in the future.

Cooperating with our partner cities from Africa, South America and Central Asia plays an important part in this context as well. In recent years we have run a project with our partner city of Cape Coast in Ghana for the restoration of a fresh-water lagoon. With La Paz we have just initiated a joint project tackling waste separation and disposal. I am convinced that municipal cooperation will become ever more important still.

By 2050, four out of five people worldwide will live in cities. The heads of state and government will have to learn that the global development goals may not be reached without including the cities. This implies that cities will receive the necessary funds to fulfill their important tasks.
Functioning cities and municipalities are of utmost importance when it comes to keeping up state order and structures. This holds true especially if we take a look at the crisis regions in North Africa, the Middle East and South-Western Asia.

I have every confidence that municipalities can render highly important contribution, even when it is small,  towards consolidating administrative structures in these countries.

IPS:  Your City hosts key conferences; the City is pro-active on climate change. Although Mayors deal on a daily basis with the most pressing development issues, very little global development funding, reported to be 1%, is channelled through local governments. Are you working with other Mayors globally to correct or revise the allocation of resources?

Sridharan: Municipal development cooperation, the cooperation of cities and municipalities worldwide, is an area of politics which is increasingly gaining importance. The Federal Government has recognized this and has considerably stepped up funding for municipal cooperation with emerging and developing countries. It is a matter of fact that cities and municipalities can only render their small proportion towards global cooperation.

However, practical experience, face-to-face contact with local citizens and an exchange at eye level make municipal cooperation an indispensable element of international development cooperation.

Laying down a separate goal for cities under Agenda 2030 and adopting a New Urban Agenda during the Habitat III conference in Quito at the beginning of October are encouraging signals.

By 2050, four out of five people worldwide will live in cities. The heads of state and government will have to learn that the global development goals may not be reached without including the cities. This implies that cities will receive the necessary funds to fulfill their important tasks.

Together with my fellow mayors from other cities, I will continue to advocate for more support of the local level.

IPS: Where do you want to see your City? What is your dream, vision for the City of Bonn? How do you want to see Bonn further evolving?

Sridharan: I think Bonn is on a good way: as second political center in the Federal Republic and Germany’s United Nations City, we fulfill a number of national tasks for our country. We have gained a sound reputation as IT center and rank fourth Germany-wide as far as the number of employees in this field is concerned.

We are home to some global players like Deutsche Post DHL Group and Telekom and to some extraordinary scientific institutions doing top-flight research. Being birthplace of Ludwig van Beethoven, we are looking forward to celebrating the 250th birthday of our most famous son in 2020.

I am aware that this is a lot that needs to be maintained and consolidated. We will continue to develop Bonn into a location for dialogue and exchange on global issues concerning the future of mankind.

This is my declared goal. But most importantly and our biggest asset: that is Bonn’s citizens – well educated, willing to excel, open-minded and with a Rhenish cheerful nature.

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For Women and Girls Who Flee Conflict: Protection & Opportunityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/for-women-and-girls-who-flee-conflict-protection-opportunity/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=for-women-and-girls-who-flee-conflict-protection-opportunity http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/for-women-and-girls-who-flee-conflict-protection-opportunity/#comments Thu, 24 Nov 2016 14:34:11 +0000 Regional Directors http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147939 A displaced woman waiting in a transit camp in Gevgelja, Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Photo: Dejan Dokuzovski/UNDP

A displaced woman waiting in a transit camp in Gevgelja, Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Photo: Dejan Dokuzovski/UNDP

By the Regional Directors of the United Nations for Europe and Central Asia: Ingibjorg Solrun Gisladottir (UN Women), Cihan Sultanoğlu (UNDP), Alanna Armitage (UNFPA), and Marie-Pierre Poirier (UNICEF)
UNITED NATIONS, Nov 24 2016 (IPS)

Over the past 18 months, 1.3 million migrants and refugees crossed into Europe. For women and girls particularly, that journey is one of violence and trauma.

Worldwide, one in five women displaced by humanitarian crises have experienced sexual violence. But their voices remain largely unheard.

When women and girls flee their homes in search of safety and opportunity, they often find they are merely trading one nightmare for another. Large numbers of them tell disturbing, and often recurring, accounts of robbery, and physical, sexual and psychological abuse at the hand of criminal gangs, smugglers, traffickers, border guards, police and fellow refugees.

Moreover, many girls end up forced into early marriages as their parents desperately seek to protect them, instead exposing them to another form of violence.

Along the route from the Western Balkans to northern Europe, few safe, secure, and clean spaces exist for women to find protection against violence and regain a sense of safety. While national authorities and civil society, often with UN support, extend legal, health and psychosocial services to them, these efforts need to be scaled up.

With the closure of borders in 2016, many women and their children are now stranded in overcrowded reception or transit centers, lacking privacy and often even access to basic services. Many were separated from their partners and children in the process. This puts them into vulnerable positions and exposes them to abuse and exploitation.

In the course of their journeys, women are dependent on legal systems, police forces, languages and cultural norms they are not familiar with.

But they also often believe that reporting incidents of violence will trigger reprisals or even damage their prospects of obtaining asylum in the EU. For these reasons, it is highly unlikely they will report these crimes.

Governments need to guarantee the safety and rights of women and girls fleeing wars, all along their journeys and in destination countries.

First, there should be measures to prevent sexual and gender-based violence along the route. Police, border guards and other service providers must be trained to detect cases of violence and assist victims so they can get the help they need.

Psychosocial and legal support, trauma counseling, provision of basic hygiene and reproductive health products and women-safe spaces are essential parts of the package. For unaccompanied and separated girls, the immediate appointment of a guardian is a must.

Second, we call for women who experienced gender-based violence to be granted international protection as per international law. Women fleeing sexual violence, early or forced marriage, and so-called ‘honour’ killings must go to great lengths to demonstrate that these types of attacks are reasons for obtaining asylum.

Third, with no end in sight for humanitarian crises, it is critical to adequately finance programmes that uphold international humanitarian norms and standards support refugees and migrants and contribute to their social inclusion.

At a historic meeting on large movements of refugees and migrants held at the United Nations in September, governments endorsed a landmark global agenda to boost support for refugee and migrant women and girls.

On this International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, let us remember that women and girls have the right to live a life of dignity, free of violence whether at home or at work, at school or in public spaces, in times of peace or war, and as equal citizens.

Let’s work together to make sure women and girls don’t leave their homes only to face more tragedy as they are trying to get to safety.

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Australian Activists, Dissenters and Whistleblowers Feeling the Heathttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/australian-activists-dissenters-and-whistleblowers-feeling-the-heat/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=australian-activists-dissenters-and-whistleblowers-feeling-the-heat http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/australian-activists-dissenters-and-whistleblowers-feeling-the-heat/#comments Thu, 24 Nov 2016 11:44:38 +0000 Stephen de Tarczynski http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147934 Under national security laws, Australians' telecommunications metadata must be retained by service providers for two years. Credit: Stephen de Tarczynski/IPS

Under national security laws, Australians' telecommunications metadata must be retained by service providers for two years. Credit: Stephen de Tarczynski/IPS

By Stephen de Tarczynski
MELBOURNE, Nov 24 2016 (IPS)

For Australian activist Samantha Castro, it was her association with the non-profit publishing organisation Wikileaks that brought her to the attention of the Australian Federal Police (AFP).

She says she’s been followed, her car has been searched, and that the AFP has filmed and photographed her, along with her children, at protests. She believes that authorities have hacked her email account and computer and are responsible for wiping contacts from her phone.Without public scrutiny, without our eyes, as citizens, on what’s being done in our names, then that’s what authoritarianism looks like." -- Associate Professor Sarah Maddison

“They are putting all this time and effort into psychologically disrupting me in the hope that I will stop doing what I’m doing,” says Castro, an operations coordinator at Friends of the Earth who co-founded the Wikileaks Australian Citizens Alliance in 2010 to support the work of Wikileaks.

Wikileaks works to disseminate official and censored documents and files related to war, spying and corruption. While it has won a range of media freedom awards, its release of sensitive material has raised the ire of governments around the world, including Australia’s.

Castro explains that working with Wikileaks founder Julian Assange – an Australian who remains holed-up in Ecuador’s London embassy, fearing extradition to the United States – resulted in significant attention from authorities.

It was these links with Assange’s organisation which, she believes, led to her house being broken into in 2014. She is adamant that the AFP was behind the break-in.

“The reason for that was information and knowledge from when I was with Wikileaks,” Castro, who did not report the matter to police, told IPS.

She says that although nothing was taken from the house, her keys were lined up on the kitchen table alongside a phone that had been opened up. She took the carefully displayed items to mean that she was being monitored.

“I knew straight away. It was a very clear symbol that they wanted me to know that they knew,” says Castro, adding that she spent “a lot of time” searching her house for bugs.

While the AFP does not comment on ongoing operations, a warrant is required to place a person under surveillance. IPS understands that further court approval is needed to enter a premises to covertly plant a listening device.

“I have felt the wrath of the surveillance state since we founded WACA,” says Castro, whose group changed its name in 2014 to Whistleblowers, Activists and Citizens Alliance in recognition of a broadening movement.

It is not only activists from non-governmental organisations like WACA who are feeling under pressure. There is a growing sense here that space for the broader civil society to express dissent or call out abuse is being squeezed. Those who speak out risk public vilification, financial loss and jail time.

On his visit to Australia in October, the United Nations special rapporteur, Michel Forst, expressed surprise at the situation. “I was astonished to observe mounting evidence of a range of cumulative measures that have concurrently levied enormous pressure on Australian civil society,” he said.

Among the issues Forst pointed to were the defunding of environmental and indigenous bodies in response to litigation or advocacy work, anti-protest legislation and intensified secrecy laws, “particularly in the areas of immigration and national security.”

Attorney-General George Brandis last year took aim at environmentalists using legal action to further their cause, labelling them “radical green activists” who “engage in vigilante litigation to stop important economic projects.”

The island state of Tasmania has, according to Forst, “prioritized business and government resource interests over the democratic rights of individuals to peacefully protest”. Similarly, legislation passed in March in New South Wales state means that protestors face up to seven years in jail for interfering with mining operations.

Mandatory data retention laws were introduced just over a year ago, purportedly for national security reasons, under which service providers must retain the metadata of Australians’ telecommunications activities for two years.

Twenty-one government agencies can access the data and all can apply for a Journalist Information Warrant in order to identify a reporter’s confidential source.

Paul Murphy, CEO of the Media, Arts and Entertainment Alliance, a journalists’ union, says the profession’s ethics require journalists to protect the identity of their sources.

“Journalists must work smarter to ensure that brave people can tell their stories in confidence and public interest journalism can continue to play its vital role in a healthy, functioning democracy,” he argues.

Those in the higher levels of statutory bodies have not been spared.

Professor Gillian Triggs, President of Australia’s independent Human Rights Commission, has faced ongoing criticism from government ministers since the release in 2015 of her report into the mental and physical health of children in immigration detention.

Then-prime minister Tony Abbott called the report politically motivated and said the commission “should be ashamed of itself”, while Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said that much of the content was “either dated or questionable”.

In October, another cabinet minister urged Triggs “to stay out of politics and stick with human rights”, while Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull confirmed on Nov.16 that Triggs’ contract will not be renewed when it expires in mid-2017.

Despite the vitriol, Triggs has continued to fight back, a fact that Professor Brian Martin, a long-time whistleblowing activist, says may well inspire others “who might want to resist.”

But there’s a flipside: “You could say that overt attacks, like on Gillian Triggs, provide a warning to others that they better be careful,” says Martin.

Last year also saw the implementation of the controversial Border Force Act, legislation that Forst describes as “stifling”.

In June, a psychologist with extensive experience in the offshore processing centres on Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island and Nauru had his contract immediately cancelled after speaking out on the atrocious conditions in the camps.

Although no charges in relation to the Act have been laid, the secrecy provisions of the law allow for a two-year prison term for any immigration and border protection worker who discloses “protected information”, covering all information a worker obtains in the course of their employment.

Some exceptions apply, such in cases of child or sexual abuse, although whistleblowers are responsible for ensuring that any abuse is serious enough to warrant disclosure.

And in what is being seen here as a significant step for transparency into the plight of asylum seekers held indefinitely in the offshore centres, an amendment to the legislation was quietly posted on the website of Australia’s immigration department in mid-October.

The amendment frees doctors and other health professionals, including nurses, psychologists and psychiatrists, from the law’s secrecy provisions.

The government’s concession “is an enormous democratic win,” says Associate Professor Sarah Maddison, co-editor of the 2007 book ‘Silencing Dissent’.

“Without public scrutiny, without our eyes, as citizens, on what’s being done in our names, then that’s what authoritarianism looks like,” she adds.

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Children of the ‘Others’, Sons of Minor Godshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/children-of-the-others-sons-of-minor-gods/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=children-of-the-others-sons-of-minor-gods http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/children-of-the-others-sons-of-minor-gods/#comments Tue, 22 Nov 2016 14:23:49 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147885 UNICEF campaign on Zika response © UNICEF/UNI183007/Quintos

UNICEF campaign on Zika response © UNICEF/UNI183007/Quintos

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Nov 22 2016 (IPS)

In December 1946, “faced with the reality of millions of children suffering daily deprivation in Europe after World War II,” the General Assembly of the United Nations created the UN International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), to mount urgent relief programmes.

In keeping with the ethos of the United Nations, UNICEF’s mandate was—and still is, to provide aid “without discrimination due to race, creed, nationality, status or political belief.”

It is so that the sole condition made by Maurice Pate upon his appointment as the organisation’s first Executive Director was “that it include all children” from both Allied and “ex-enemy countries.”

Seventy years later, as Europe copes with a refugee crisis not seen since it was founded, the organisation remains an ever-present advocate for children’s rights, UNICEF reminds.

“It is uniquely positioned among humanitarian and development agencies to respond not only to the needs of children displaced by disaster and armed conflict, but also to work for a better future for all children.”

And in spite of the growing shortages of funds to the United Nations system at large, this New York-based organisation strives to alleviate the huge suffering of hundreds of millions of children trapped in wars, violence, abuse, exploitation, smuggling, sexual violations, trade of vital organs and death.

UNICEF believes that there is hope for every child. “The conviction that every child is born with the same inalienable right to a healthy, safe childhood is a constant threat through the history of the organisation. Its continued viability depends on applying past lessons learned to the challenges ahead, and harnessing the power of innovation to solve tomorrow’s problems. “

As envisioned by current executive director Anthony Lake, this will require a “willingness to adapt and find new ways to realise the rights and brighten the futures of the most disadvantaged children around the world.” “UNICEF understands that the spiral of poverty, disease and hunger stifles global development and leads to violations of children’s human rights.”

Children and adults fleeing from ISIL-controlled areas in rural Raqqa. More than 5,000 people have fled their homes over the past week to escape the fighting. © UNICEF/UN039551/Soulaiman

Children and adults fleeing from ISIL-controlled areas in rural Raqqa. More than 5,000 people have fled their homes over the past week to escape the fighting. © UNICEF/UN039551/Soulaiman

So far, so good. But not enough. Recent facts show the increasingly dramatic situation children face worldwide. UNICEF’s Statistics and Monitoring report mentioned in July this year, some key findings:

16,000 children die every day, mostly from preventable or treatable causes.

• The births of nearly 230 million children under age 5 worldwide (about one in three) have never been officially recorded, depriving them of their right to a name and nationality.

2.4 billion people lack access to improved sanitation, including 946 million who are forced to resort to open defecation for lack of other options.

• Out of an estimated 35 million people living with HIV, over 2 million are 10 to 19 years old, and 56 per cent of them are girls.

• Globally, about one third of women aged 20 to 24 were child brides.

• Every 10 minutes, somewhere in the world, an adolescent girl dies as a result of violence.

Nearly half of all deaths in children under age 5 are attributable to undernutrition. This translates into the unnecessary loss of about 3 million young lives a year.

Marking this year’s UN Universal Children’s Day on 20 November, UNICEF Executive Director said “When we protect their rights, we are not only preventing their suffering. We are not only safeguarding their lives. We are protecting our common future.”

Iraq 2016: A girl looks out through a hole in a wall at a damaged school in Ramadi, in Anbar Governorate – which has been especially hard hit by conflict, violence and internal displacement. Some 3.3 million people in the country are currently displaced and over 10 million are in need of humanitarian assistance as a result of the country’s ongoing crisis. About 1 million school-aged Iraqi children are internally displaced; 70 per cent of them have missed an entire year of education. © UNICEF/UN/Khouzali

Iraq 2016: A girl looks out through a hole in a wall at a damaged school in Ramadi, in Anbar Governorate – which has been especially hard hit by conflict, violence and internal displacement. Some 3.3 million people in the country are currently displaced and over 10 million are in need of humanitarian assistance as a result of the country’s ongoing crisis. About 1 million school-aged Iraqi children are internally displaced; 70 per cent of them have missed an entire year of education. © UNICEF/UN/Khouzali

Established on 20 November 1954, UN Universal Children’s Day promotes international togetherness, awareness among children worldwide, and improving children’s welfare.

20 November also marked the day in 1989 when the UN General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child, a human rights treaty that changed the way children are viewed and treated as human beings with a distinct set of rights instead of as passive objects of care and charity.

Lake called on the world to confront the “uncomfortable truth” that around the planet, the rights of millions of children are being violated every day.

“[Children’s rights are] being violated around the world, in every country, wherever children are the victims of violence, abuse and exploitation, violated wherever they are deprived of an education.”

“[Their rights are violated] wherever they are denied the chance to make the most of their potential simply because of their race, their religion, their gender, their ethnic group, or because they are living with a disability,” he added.

Lake cautioned on the long-term impact of these violations in how children may view the world when they grow up and how they will perceive others’ rights when their own rights are violated.

“These children are the future leaders of their societies […] the future parents and protectors of the next generation.”

UNICEF’s total resources for the period 2014–2017 amount to 26,700.7 million dollars. Please consider that the world spends 1,7 trillion dollars a year on weapons.

In either case, these amounts come out of citizens’ pockets. Should they not choose whether their money should be spent to saving children or producing death machines that kill children, women and men?

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New Fund Aims to Help Build Resilience to Climate Changehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/new-fund-aims-to-help-build-resilience-to-climate-change/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=new-fund-aims-to-help-build-resilience-to-climate-change http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/new-fund-aims-to-help-build-resilience-to-climate-change/#comments Fri, 18 Nov 2016 17:15:59 +0000 Fabíola Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147844 Mary Robinson, the U.N. special envoy on El Niño and Climate. Credit: Fabiola Ortiz/IPS

Mary Robinson, the U.N. special envoy on El Niño and Climate. Credit: Fabiola Ortiz/IPS

By Fabíola Ortiz
MARRAKECH, Nov 18 2016 (IPS)

The world has been too slow in responding to climate events such as El Niño and La Niña, and those who are the “least responsible are the ones suffering most”, Mary Robinson, the special envoy on El Niño and Climate, told IPS at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Marrakech (COP22).

The first woman President of Ireland (1990-1997) and former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (1997-2002), Robinson was appointed earlier this year by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to the new mandate involving climate change and El Niño."I’ve seen a window into a ‘new normal’ and it is very serious." -- Mary Robinson

During the 22nd Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), Robinson strongly advocated for engaging community-led solutions and for incorporating gender equality and women’s participation in the climate talks.

“Global warming is accelerating too much and it is being aggravated by El Niño and La Niña. They do not have to become a humanitarian disaster, but people have now been left to cope for themselves…I think we were too slow in many instances and this has become a humanitarian disaster for the 60 million people who are food insecure and suffering from droughts,” she said.

El Niño has been directly associated with droughts and floods in many parts of the world that have severely impacted millions of livelihoods. A warming of the central to eastern tropical Pacific waters, the phenomenon occurs on average every three to seven years and sea surface temperatures across the Pacific can warm more than 1 degree C.

El Niño is a natural occurrence, but scientists believe it is becoming more intense as a result of global warming.

How El Niño interacts with climate change is not 100 percent clear, but many of the countries that are now experiencing El Niño are also vulnerable to climate variations. According to Robinson, El Niño and its climate-linked emergencies are a threat to human security and, therefore, a threat to the achievement of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) announced in September 2015 as the 2030 Agenda replacing the Millennium Development Goals.

“I have gone to Central America to the dry corridor in Honduras and have seen women crying because there is no water and they feel very neglected. They feel they are left behind and that nobody seems to know about them. I saw in Ethiopia severely malnourished children, it could affect them for life in terms of being stunted. The same thing in southern Africa. I feel I’ve seen a window into a ‘new normal’ and it is very serious. We need to understand the urgency of taking the necessary steps,” Robinson said.

Drought and flooding associated with El Niño created enormous problems across East Africa, Southern Africa, Central America and the Pacific. Ethiopia, where Robinson has visited earlier this year, is experiencing its worst drought in half a century. One million children in Eastern and Southern Africa alone are acutely malnourished.

It is very likely that 2016 will be the hottest year on record, with global temperatures even higher than the record-breaking temperatures in 2015, according to an assessment released at the COP22 by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). Preliminary data shows that 2016’s global temperatures are approximately 1.2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Temperatures spiked in the early months of the year because of the powerful El Niño event.

These long-term changes in the climate have exacerbated social, humanitarian and environmental pressures. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees pointed that in 2015, more than 19 million new displacements were associated with weather, water, climate and geophysical hazards in 113 countries, more than twice as many as for conflict and violence.

“We need a much more concerted response and fund preparedness. If we have a very strategic early warning system, we can deal with the problem much more effectively. Building resilience in communities is the absolute key. We need to invest in support for building resilience now rather than having a huge humanitarian disaster,” stressed Robinson.

On Nov. 17, during the COP22 in Marrakech, the Climate Risk and Early Warning Systems (CREWS) – a coalition led by France, Australia, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Japan and Canada launched at the Paris climate change negotiations in 2015 – announced a new goal to mobilise more than 30 million dollars by July 2017 and 100 million by 2020.

The international partnership aims to strengthen risk information and early warning systems in vulnerable countries such as Mali, Burkina Faso, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and small island developing states in the Pacific. The idea is to leverage financing to protect populations exposed to extreme climate events.

There will be a special focus on women, who are particularly vulnerable to climate menaces but are the protagonists in building resilience. “Now we’ve moved from the Paris negotiations to implementation on the ground. Building resilience is key and it must be done in a way that is gender sensitive with full account of gender equality and also human rights. We must recognize the role of women as agents for change in their communities,” Robinson emphasised.

The number of climate-related disasters has more than doubled over the past 40 years, said Robert Glasser, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Disaster Risk Reduction.

“This initiative will help reduce the impact of these events on low and middle-income countries which suffer the most,” he said.

José Graziano da Silva, Director-General of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), told IPS, “We can see already in Africa the impact of climate change that is undermining our efforts to bring food security for all. Take the example of El Niño that has affected all of Africa in the last two years. Countries that had made fantastic progress like Ethiopia, Zambia, Tanzania and Madagascar are now suffering hunger again. Countries that have eradicated hunger are back to face it again. We need to adapt.”

Climate change has different impacts on men and women, girls and boys, told IPS Edith Ofwona, the senior program specialist at International Development Research Centre (IDRC).

“Gender is critical. We must recognise it is not about women alone,” she said. “[But] women are important because they provide the largest labour force, mainly in the agricultural sector. It is important to appreciate the differences in the impacts, the needs in terms of response. There is need for balance, affirmative action and ensuring all social groups are taken into consideration.”

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Trump’s Offensive Against Undocumented Migrants Will Fuel Migration Crisishttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/trumps-offensive-against-undocumented-migrants-will-fuel-migration-crisis/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=trumps-offensive-against-undocumented-migrants-will-fuel-migration-crisis http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/trumps-offensive-against-undocumented-migrants-will-fuel-migration-crisis/#comments Thu, 17 Nov 2016 15:37:31 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147824 About a hundred Central American migrants crammed into a large truck were rescued in the Mexican state of Tabasco in October. It is not likely that Donald Trump’s arrival to the White House will dissuade people from setting out on the hazardous journey to the United States. Credit: Courtesy of the Mesoamerican Migrant Movement

About a hundred Central American migrants crammed into a large truck were rescued in the Mexican state of Tabasco in October. It is not likely that Donald Trump’s arrival to the White House will dissuade people from setting out on the hazardous journey to the United States. Credit: Courtesy of the Mesoamerican Migrant Movement

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Nov 17 2016 (IPS)

“Donald Trump will not stop me from getting to the U.S.,” said Juan, a 35-year-old migrant from Nicaragua, referring to the Republican president-elect who will govern that country as of Jan. 20.

Juan, who worked as a street vendor in his country and asked that his last name not be mentioned, told IPS: “I got scared when I heard that Trump had won the election (on November 8). Maybe with Hillary (Clinton) there would have been more job opportunities. But that won’t stop me; it has never been easy to cross, but it is possible.”

Juan set out from Nicaragua on September 13, leaving his wife and son behind, and on the following day crossed the Suchiate River between Guatemala from Mexico, on a raft.

In Mexico, he experienced what thousands of migrants suffer in their odyssey towards the “American dream”. He evaded at least four checkpoints in the south of the country, escaped immigration officers, walked for hours and hours, and was robbed of money, clothes and shoes by three men wearing hoods in El Chagüite, in the southern state of Oaxaca.

After filing a complaint for assault in a local public prosecutor’s office, he has been living since October in the “Hermanos en el Camino” shelter, founded in 2007 by the Catholic Church division of pastoral care for human mobility of the Ixtepec Diocese in Oaxaca, awaiting an official humanitarian visa to cross Mexico.

“I want to get to the United States. What safeguards me is my desire and need to get there. I want to work about three years and then return,” Juan said by phone from the shelter, explaining that he has two friends in the Midwestern U.S. state of Illinois.

The struggles and aspirations of migrants such as Juan clash with Trump’s promise to extend the wall along the border with Mexico, to keep out undocumented migrants.

While they digest the triumph by Trump and his Republican Party, migrant rights organisations and governments in Latin America fear a major migration crisis.

During his campaign, Trump vowed to deport the 11 million undocumented immigrants who live in the United States, about half of whom are of Mexican origin.

And on Sunday Nov. 13 the president-elect said that as soon as he took office he would deport about three million unauthorised immigrants who, he claimed, have a criminal record.

A member of the migrant aid group “Las Patronas” waits for the train known as “The Beast”, that was used by undocumented migrants to cross southern Mexico, to give them water and food. The Mexican government shut down the notorious train in August. Credit: Courtesy of the Mesoamerican Migrant Movement

A member of the migrant aid group “Las Patronas” waits for the train known as “The Beast”, that was used by undocumented migrants to cross southern Mexico, to give them water and food. The Mexican government shut down the notorious train in August. Credit: Courtesy of the Mesoamerican Migrant Movement

“Trump’s policy would aggravate the migratory situation,” said Alberto Donis, who works at Hermanos en el Camino, one of the first Mexican shelters for migrants, which currently houses some 200 undocumented migrants, mainly from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.

“With Trump, we don’t know what else he will do, but it will be worse than what we have now. After what happened in the elections, people who are not able to cross will stay here. Mexico will be a country of destination. And what does it do? Detain and deport them,” he said, talking to IPS by phone from the shelter.

For the last eight years, the outgoing administration of Democratic President Barack Obama has implemented contradictory migration policies, that have demonstrated the scant influence that sending countries have on U.S. domestic policies.

On the one hand, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which delays deportation for migrants who arrived as children, was adopted in 2012. And a similar benefit was created in 2014: the Deferred Action for (undocumented) Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA).

However, DAPA has been suspended since February by a court order and it is taken for granted that Trump will revoke both measures when he takes office.

And on the other hand, the Obama administration set a new record for deportations: Since 2009, more than two million migrants have been deported, mainly to Mexico and Central America.

In 2015 alone, U.S. immigration authorities deported 146,132 Mexicans, which makes an increase of 56 per cent with respect to the previous year, 33,249 Guatemalans (14 per cent less than in 2014), 21,920 Salvadorans (similar to the previous year) and 20,309 Hondurans (nine per cent less).

An estimated 500,000 undocumented migrants from Central America cross Mexico every year in their attempt to reach the 3,185-km border separating Mexico from the United States, according to estimates from organisations that work with migrants.

In the first nine months of this year, Mexico deported 43,200 Guatemalans, 38,925 Hondurans and 22,582 Salvadorans.

Central American mothers in search of their children who went missing on their way to the United States take part in a caravan that set out on Nov. 10 and is set to reach the Mexico-U.S. border on Dec. 2. Credit: Courtesy of the Mesoamerican Migrant Movement

Central American mothers in search of their children who went missing on their way to the United States take part in a caravan that set out on Nov. 10 and is set to reach the Mexico-U.S. border on Dec. 2. Credit: Courtesy of the Mesoamerican Migrant Movement

Activists criticize the Comprehensive Plan for the Southern Border, implemented since August 2014 by the Mexican government with the help of the United States to crack down on undocumented migrants. The plan includes the installation of 12 bases on rivers and three security belts along the Mexico-U.S. border.

But some migrant rights’ organisations have doubts as to whether Trump will actually carry out his threats, due to the social and economic consequences.

“He says so many outrageous things that I cannot imagine what he may do. He is a businessman and I don’t think he will risk losing cheap labour. None of it makes sense, it is nothing more than xenophobia and racism. The United States would face long-term consequences ,” Marta Sánchez, executive director of the Mesoamerican Migrant Movement, told IPS.

The Movement is taking part in the XII caravan of mothers of Central American migrants who have gone missing on their journey to the United States, made up of mothers from Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua, which set out on Nov. 10 in Guatemala and reached Mexico Nov. 15.

On Nov. 12 Claudia Ruiz Massieu, Mexico’s secretary of foreign affairs, meet with this country’s ambassador and consuls in the U.S. to design plans for consular protection and assistance for Mexican nationals, with a view to the expected increase in tension.

The governments of Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador do not appear to have devised plans to address the xenophobic campaign promises of Trump.

These economies would directly feel the impact of any drop in remittances from migrants abroad, which, in El Salvador for example, represent 17 per cent of GDP.

But the U.S. economy would suffer as well. The American Action Forum, a conservative think tank, estimated that the mass deportation of all undocumented migrants would cause an economic contraction of two per cent and a drop of 381 to 623 billion dollars in private sector output.

Juan just wants to cross the border. “The idea is to better yourself and then return home. People keep going there and they will continue to do so, because in our countries we cannot get by; the shelters are full of people looking for the same thing. If they were to deport me, I would try again,” he said.

For Donis from Hermanos en el Camino, migrant sending countries are not prepared to receive the massive return of their citizens.

“They already don’t have the capacity to sustain the people that are living in the country; it would be even more impossible for them to receive millions of deported migrants. Nor are shelters prepared. What these countries need to do is invest in sources of employment, in the countryside, in infrastructure, invest in their people, in order to curb migration,” said the activist.

During the caravan of mothers of missing migrants, which will end on Dec. 2 in Tapachula, Mexico, on the border with the United States, Sánchez anticipated that they would mention Trump and define their position. ”We will reject those measures and fight against them, this is just beginning,” she said.

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Understanding Unauthorized Migrationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/understanding-unauthorized-migration/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=understanding-unauthorized-migration http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/understanding-unauthorized-migration/#comments Tue, 15 Nov 2016 02:28:37 +0000 Joseph Chamie http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147758 Refugees at the Greek-Macedonian border. Credit: Nikos Pilos/IPS

Refugees at the Greek-Macedonian border. Credit: Nikos Pilos/IPS

By Joseph Chamie
NEW YORK, Nov 15 2016 (IPS)

Growing numbers of men, women and even children in every major region of the world are joining international streams of unauthorized migration. This global movement of humanity’s desperate is taking place despite walls, fences, barriers, guards, patrol ships, warnings and nativist political rhetoric. Governments of origin, transit and destination countries are struggling on how best to manage unauthorized migration flows.

While the specifics of leaving ones country and settling in another without authorization vary from region to region, the dynamics of most unauthorized migration are similar. Understanding those dynamics is essential to addressing the underlying causes of unauthorized migration and assisting governments, international agencies, regional and national organizations dealing with the consequences, especially the tragic loss of thousands of lives in failed unauthorized migration attempts.

Climate change, environmental degradation, shrinking natural resources, armed conflict and violence are additional major emigration pressures.

Excluding refugees who number more than 21 million and are under the protection of international conventions and agreements, it is estimated that of the remaining approximately 225 million migrants worldwide about 50 million are unauthorized migrants. The countries with the largest numbers of unauthorized migrants include the United States (11 million), India (at least 10 million), the Russian Federation (4 million), Malaysia (1 million) and the United Kingdom (1 million).

Every year countries receive millions of migrants who are granted visas for various purposes, including employment, family reunification, business, schooling, medical care and tourism. Some of those migrants with short-term visas overstay their visits, thereby becoming unauthorized migrants, whose numbers are increasing in various countries.

Many countries seek foreign workers, especially the highly skilled. However, the level of demand for those workers is far less than the growing pool of potential migrants in sending countries. Based on international surveys, the number of people indicating a desire to immigrate to another country is estimated at about 1.3 billion, far larger than the current 244 million migrants worldwide (Figure 1).

Source: Author’s estimates based on United Nations statistics and international Gallup surveys.

Source: Author’s estimates based on United Nations statistics and international Gallup surveys.

Among those wishing to migrate, about 100 million report planning to migrate in the next year and 40 million have taken steps necessary for migration, such as obtaining travel documents and needed finances. Again, the number of potential migrants who have taken steps to emigrate greatly exceeds the world’s average level of approximately 6 million migrants per year.

While everyone has the right to leave and return to their home country, they do not have a right to enter another country. Consequently, the large majority of people wishing to emigrate basically have no legal means available to them other than unauthorized migration.

Well before undertaking unauthorized migration, powerful push and pull factors influence men, women and even children in their decision-making. High unemployment, low wages, few benefits, difficult living conditions, separated families, poor governance, human rights abuses and limited prospects for improvement in the near term are among the root causes of unauthorized migration. Climate change, environmental degradation, shrinking natural resources, armed conflict and violence are additional major emigration pressures.

At the same time, higher wages, demand for labor, benefits, schooling, health care, social welfare and security in the industrialized countries are among the factors attracting many to emigrate. The economic successes reported by earlier migrants, some being family members or friends, and the remittances they regularly send home confirm the benefits of relocating overseas. Modern communication, advanced information systems and integrated transportation networks also act as facilitators for those considering unauthorized migration.

In making their decisions, most potential migrants conclude that the perceived benefits of unauthorized migration greatly out weigh the costs and risks involved. The financial costs of unauthorized migration are substantial, varying greatly according to a variety of factors, including distance, transportation, obstacles and the number, gender and age of the migrants. While short distances over a single border may cost several thousand dollars, smuggler fees that involve long distances, land and sea transportation, crossing many borders and payoffs to those along the way are in the tens of thousands of dollars.

Due to the high profits, low risks and seemingly unlimited supply of people wishing to emigrate, criminal networks are increasingly involved in smuggling and human trafficking. As a result, growing numbers of men, women and children are falling victim to deception and mistreatment, including debt bondage, unlawful confinement, sexual abuse and violence against them.

Potential migrants often claim to recognize the risks of unauthorized migration. However, those starting out on their migratory journeys tend to discount the risks, perhaps believing they apply to others, and are often misled by false claims and promises of smugglers and traffickers. At the same time, many potential migrants have family obligations, responsibilities and related concerns pushing them to attempt unauthorized migration.

In resorting to unauthorized migration, many men, women and children are risking their lives to reach their desired destinations. From 2000 to 2015 at least 50,000 migrant border-related deaths occurred globally. Approximately half of those deaths were at European external borders, followed by the Mexico-United States border accounting for about 15 percent of the deaths.

The latest tragedies in the Mediterranean in early November brought the grim tally of migrant deaths in 2016 to 4,271, making this already the deadliest year ever recorded. From one death for every 269 European migrant arrivals in 2015, the probability of dying in 2016 has surged to one in 88 arrivals. In addition, some believe that more migrants perish attempting to the cross the Sahara Desert than drown in the Mediterranean Sea.

Upon arrival at the border some unauthorized migrants avoid detection by the authorities and travel usually to large cities where they typically join their compatriots, relatives and earlier arrivals. Lacking legal resident status, those migrants, as well as the growing numbers of visa overstayers, live in fear of deportation and often take on irregular, low-wage and difficult work that citizens generally eschew.

Most unauthorized migrants, however, are met by border agents and taken into custody for processing, checking and determining eligibility for entry. While considerable variation exists across countries, some common procedures are applied when dealing with unauthorized entry.

If eligible to apply for asylum or protection, the authorities send the prospective refugees to reception centers and shelters for additional screening. Others, deemed economic migrants, are relocated to another facility for further processing and evaluation, appear before a court at a later date or forced to leave the country.

Virtually all governments have explicit policies against unauthorized migration. Implicit policies and actual enforcement, however, are more varied and ambiguous, with considerable debate on how best to address the presence of unauthorized migrants. Although in the past legalization was the typical remedy, recently the issue has become highly contentious, emotive and politicized, with vocal arguments for and against granting legal status to unauthorized migrants.

At one extreme are those who contend that deportation is the appropriate and necessary solution to unauthorized migration. At the other extreme are those who oppose deportation, pressing for legalization of unauthorized migrants. And in between there are others who equivocate on deportation and legalization depending on the circumstances, such as length of stay, family relations, children, employment, arrival as minors and criminal record.

Given the complexities, politics and enormous variations in country circumstances, it would be naive to attempt to enumerate specific actions on how best to deal with unauthorized migrants. Nevertheless, it is instructive and perhaps useful to consider a general recommended approach that is both reasonable and workable.

For unauthorized migrants residing in countries and those apprehended attempting to enter outside legal channels, governments should properly review and evaluate the migrant’s circumstances and conditions and decide on the appropriate course of action in a timely, transparent and humane manner. Unfortunately, the recent surges in the arrivals of unauthorized migrants by land and sea, especially families and young children, have overwhelmed and seriously delayed the review and evaluation process.

In those instances when repatriation is deemed appropriate, reasonable and feasible, governments should return and reintegrate the unauthorized migrants back to their countries of origin consistent with basic human right principles. If unauthorized migrants are found to have legitimate claims and recognized rights to remain in the country, governmental authorities should ensure the fundamental human rights of those migrants and facilitate their integration within the country.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of IPS-Inter Press Service.

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Somali Refugees “Coerced” Out of Kenya: Amnestyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/somali-refugees-coerced-out-of-kenya-amnesty/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=somali-refugees-coerced-out-of-kenya-amnesty http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/somali-refugees-coerced-out-of-kenya-amnesty/#comments Mon, 14 Nov 2016 21:32:06 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147755 Somali refugees in Mogadishu. Credit: Abdurrahman Warsameh/IPS

Somali refugees in Mogadishu. Credit: Abdurrahman Warsameh/IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Nov 14 2016 (IPS)

The Kenyan government is driving many of its 300,000 refugees back to war-torn Somalia, said Amnesty International in a new report.

In May, the East African nation announced its plans to close the Dadaab Camp, the world’s largest refugee camp, after citing economic, security and environmental concerns as well as waning international support.

Ahead of its 30 November deadline, Amnesty International found that government officials have threatened refugees to leave despite their previous promise to ensure refugee repatriations are voluntary.

“The refugees are caught between a rock and a hard place. Kenyan government officials are telling them they must leave by the end of the month or they will be forced to leave without any assistance,” said Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes Michelle Kagari.

While speaking to refugees, Amnesty International learned of the threats refugees are receiving including lack of financial and transportation support if they do not leave.

“The refugees are caught between a rock and a hard place." -- Michelle Kagari.

“[Kenyan authorities’]…came to our block areas with microphones and said: ‘You have to go register yourselves to go to Somalia…if you don’t register yourself now, you will have to go on foot with your babies on your backs,’” Hadi, a 24-year Dadaab resident, told the organisation.

According to the UN Refugee Agency and Kenya’s government, only 25 percent of refugees said they are willing to return to Somalia. Many refugees expressed concerns about relocation due to ongoing insecurity in the Somalia.

Despite the installation of an internationally-backed government, Somalia’s civil war, which began in the 1990s, has raged on with multiple groups including Al-Shabab vying for territorial and political control.

The unrest has led to up to one million civilian deaths and over 1.1 million internally displaced persons (IDPs). Additionally, the country has been undergoing a drought, leaving approximately five million, or 40 percent of the population, without sufficient access to food.

As a result, the country lacks basic services needed to support a large-scale influx of refugees from Dadaab.

Mouna, a mother of a disabled child, told Amnesty International said that she cannot return because Somalia does not have the necessary services to support people with disabilities.

“There are no facilities for disabled people in Somalia. As refugees we are already considered last in everything. With children with disabilities we will be right at the back of the queue when it comes to receiving help,” she said.

Amnesty International called for the international community to step up and support Kenya and its refugees including increased resettlement places and safe and sustainable integration into host communities.

“Rather than focusing on returning refugees to Somalia, where they are at risk of further human rights abuses, the international community should be working with Kenya to ensure long-term sustainable solutions,” said Kagari.

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U.S. President-Elect Donald Trump Urged to Ensure Human Rights for Allhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/u-s-president-elect-donald-trump-urged-to-ensure-human-rights-for-all/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-president-elect-donald-trump-urged-to-ensure-human-rights-for-all http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/u-s-president-elect-donald-trump-urged-to-ensure-human-rights-for-all/#comments Wed, 09 Nov 2016 21:13:25 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147703 A view of Trump World Tower opposite the United Nations in New York. Credit: IPS UN Bureau.

A view of Trump World Tower opposite the United Nations in New York. Credit: IPS UN Bureau.

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
NEW YORK, Nov 9 2016 (IPS)

Across the world, human rights groups are reacting to the election of Donald J. Trump as the President of the United States, urging him to make a renewed commitment to human rights.

In the early hours of Wednesday morning, President-elect Trump announced his victory, saying the country must “bind the wounds of division” and that he intends to work with, rather than against, the international community.

“I want to tell the world community that while we will always put America’s interests first, we will deal fairly with everyone…all people and all nations. We will seek common ground, not hostility; partnership, not conflict,” he said after a long and contentious election campaign.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon offered his congratulations to the 45th U.S. President and highlighted the important role the North American nation plays in the global action and solutions.

People everywhere look to the United States to use its remarkable power to help lift humanity up and to work for the common good,” UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon

“As a founding member of the United Nations and permanent member of the Security Council, the United States is an essential actor across the international agenda.  People everywhere look to the United States to use its remarkable power to help lift humanity up and to work for the common good,” Ban stated.

The new Administration must strengthen international cooperation in order to uphold and advance human rights goals, he added.

Oxfam America’s President Raymond C. Offenheiser echoed similar sentiments, noting the need for continued U.S. leadership in the fight against global poverty. He also urged the newly-elected President to lead a strong and compassionate response to humanitarian emergencies which have prompted the worst refugee crisis since World War II.

“We hope President-elect Trump will reconsider his stance against refugees who are seeking safety in America as their last resort. Now is a time for solidarity and compassion, not a time to close our minds, our hearts, or our borders,” Offenheiser stated.

During his campaign, Trump vowed to suspend the Syrian refugee resettlement program which brought 10,000 Syrians to the country this year. He has said that Syrian refugees represent “a Trojan horse” that will spread extremism and enable terrorist acts and called for “extreme vetting.”

Human Rights Watch’s Executive Director Kenneth Roth said that Trump must abandon his anti-human rights rhetoric.

“He found a path to the White House through a campaign marked by misogyny, racism, and xenophobia, but that’s not a route to successful governance,” Roth said in a statement.

“President-elect Trump should commit to leading the U.S. in a manner that fully respects and promotes human rights for everyone,” he continued.

Since announcing his bid to run for president in June 2015, Trump has made numerous degrading statements towards a range of communities including Latinos, Muslims, and women.

He has also made controversial policy proposals such as the reinstatement of severe forms of torture, including water boarding.

Executive Director of Amnesty International USA Margaret Huang said that this “disturbing” and “poisonous” rhetoric must not become government policy and that the U.S. must uphold its obligations under international law.

“Some of the darkest moments of U.S. history occurred when elected officials ignored those commitments, including…the use and condoning of torture by government officials,” she told IPS, adding that his statements have raised grave concerned whether the country will adhere to these obligations.

“We will hold President-Elect Trump accountable to his promise of representing all Americans in seeking a ‘better, brighter future,’” she concluded.

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Peace Fails to Bring Prosperity in Eastern Sri Lankahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/peace-fails-to-bring-prosperity-in-eastern-sri-lanka/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=peace-fails-to-bring-prosperity-in-eastern-sri-lanka http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/peace-fails-to-bring-prosperity-in-eastern-sri-lanka/#comments Mon, 07 Nov 2016 11:07:34 +0000 Amantha Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147667 Worshippers pray inside the Meera Mosque in Katankuddi, in front of the bullet-riddled wall dating back to an attack that killed over 100 people 25 years ago. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Worshippers pray inside the Meera Mosque in Katankuddi, in front of the bullet-riddled wall dating back to an attack that killed over 100 people 25 years ago. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Amantha Perera
KATANKUDDI, Nov 7 2016 (IPS)

It is a Tuesday afternoon and only a handful of devotees have flocked to the Meera Grand Mosque in Katankuddi, about 300 kms east of the capital Colombo.

As they prostrate in prayer, the wall in front of them is anything but pious. It is pock-marked with hundreds of holes bored into it when attackers opened fire using automatic weapons on Aug. 3, 1990. Suspected Tamil Tiger separatists attacked the Meera Mosque and another smaller prayer center Husainiya Mosque close by. By the time the attackers fled, 103 people were dead.“During the war, we had less people here. Now there are more people, more cattle and more elephants fighting for the same water and the same land.” -- villager Wickrama Rajapaksa

The mosque committee and villagers have kept the bullet-riddled wall as a reminder of the regions bloody past. For over 30 years, Katankuddi was in throes of Sri Lanka’s bloody civil strife. A Muslim enclave surrounded by Tamil villages, Katankuddi suffered terribly. Its population felt besieged and was waiting for the first opportunity to flee. As in most of Sri Lanka’s North and East, where the war left over 100,000 dead, millions were displaced and the region suffered billions of dollars in damages and losses.

But the nightmare ended seven years back, when government won its war with the Tamil Tigers. Since then, towns like Katankuddi have adjusted to peace — and with it, to a whole new set of problems.

For starters, not many people want to leave Katankuddi, but hundreds want to somehow find a home there. It was never a village with much open space to spare. Because of its ethnic composition, Katankuddi was always jam-packed. Now it is bursting at the seams.

In a land area of 3.89 sq km, there are 53,000 residents and a population density of 13,664 per sq km, over 20 times the national average of between 300 to 400. According to M.M. Shafi, the secretary of the Katankuddi Urban Council, in the last five years alone, at least 500 families have returned or relocated to Katankuddi.

“People now don’t want to leave,” he said.

Peace has brought with it a huge, stinking garbage problem. Shafi and other public officials have to find ways to dispose of a daily garbage collection as high as 30,000 metric tonnes. They do have a small compost plant, but it is no match for the daily collection.

During wartime, the Urban Council began dumping the garbage in the lagoon. Nowadays, that dump is a massive man-made island extending 75 metres into the lagoon. The landfill has also provided a playground to a nearby school and with its exceptional growth rate, it can easily provide for more.

“The Muslim nature of this town can not be changed, it something that is very important. But we do have a land problem — a big problem,” said Mohamed Zubair, vice president of the Katankuddi Mosque Federation.

It such a massive problem that land value here is equal to some outlying areas near the capital Colombo. “When the war was on, the demand for land was manageable. Now it is going through the roof,” public official Shafi said.

Children ride bicycles home from school in Welikanda, Sri Lanka, which has seen a large influx of settlers since the end of the war. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Children ride bicycles home from school in Welikanda, Sri Lanka, which has seen a large influx of settlers since the end of the war. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Even in poorer areas of the region, land and resources like water have become scarce. In Welikanda, about 70 kms west of Katankuddi, the villages are much more spread out and the green cover is more conspicuous — but so is the poverty.

Public official Harsha Bandara says that even the Welikanda division is facing a serious shortage of water and agricultural land. In the last six months, it has suffered a major dry spell. By end of October, over 35,000 people were reliant on transported water in the division.

“The problem is that since the war’s end, people are not leaving. They will plant crops throughout the year and look for new land as well. On top of that, the rain patterns have changed, so we have a situation here,” said Bandara, who is the divisional secretary for Welikanda.

For villagers like Wickrama Rajapaksa, the drought means double trouble. “Elephants, they keep coming into villages, because dry earth makes the electric fence faulty and they know that. They also know that there are no firearms in the villages since the end of the war, but that where there are humans, there is food and water.”

He said that thousands of cattle from other parts of the country have been relocated to Welikanda and adjoining areas since the end of the war by large dairy companies.

“During the war, we had less people here. Now there are more people, more cattle and more elephants fighting for the same water and the same land.”

The government is drafting a new constitution that it plans to finalise before the end of the year and put to a public vote in 2017. But Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe recently said that the draft will protect the special place accorded to Buddhism in the existing charter, leading to fears that the Tamil minority will continue to be second-class citizens.

“The political history of modern Sri Lanka is one of missed opportunities by the Tamils and broken promises by the Sinhalese,” Mano Ganesan, Minister of National Co-Existence and Official Languages, told the Indian Express this month.

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Beyond Calais: A Perspective on Migration, Agriculture and Rural Developmenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/beyond-calais-a-perspective-on-migration-agriculture-and-rural-development/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=beyond-calais-a-perspective-on-migration-agriculture-and-rural-development http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/beyond-calais-a-perspective-on-migration-agriculture-and-rural-development/#comments Mon, 07 Nov 2016 06:15:10 +0000 Jose Graziano da Silva http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147657 José Graziano da Silva is Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).]]> José Graziano da Silva. Credit: FAO

José Graziano da Silva. Credit: FAO

By José Graziano da Silva
ROME, Nov 7 2016 (IPS)

Migration is part of the process of development. It is not a problem in itself, and could, in fact, offer a solution to a number of matters. Migrants can make a positive and profound contribution to the economic and social development of their countries of origin, transit and destination alike. To quote the New York Declaration, adopted at the UN Summit on Refugees and Migrants on 19 September, “migrants can help to respond to demographic trends, labour shortages and other challenges in host societies, and add fresh skills and dynamism to the latter’s economies”.

So far this year, already more than 320,000 people have crossed the Mediterranean in search of a better future. Thousands have lost their lives doing so. Those that have survived face uncertain prospects at their destinations. Many are confronted with hostility and inhumane new realities. Migrants and refugees are often perceived negatively in their host communities, deemed to “steal’’ jobs and drain financial and social services. At personal and collective levels, this creates a certain sense of disquiet.

Tighter border controls are not the solution. They have instead resulted in more deaths at sea and more human rights violations. Without adequate policies that respond to migrants’ need to leave and that offer accessible, regular, safe and affordable avenues for migration, countries risk being left alone to deal with very complex challenges, possibly falling into chaos and disorganization.

In many cases, this translates into the adoption of less than desirable informal solutions, where the risk of abuses of the rights of migrants and asylum seekers is high. What has been happening in the Jungle camp near Calais in France shows that the most vulnerable, such as unaccompanied children, are those most at risk.

The challenge is huge. If we do not act in a timely manner, tensions will only rise further.

We need to address the root causes behind large movements of migrants and refugees, bringing together humanitarian and development responses. We also need channels for regular migration, facilitating migrants’ integration and contributions to development.

FAO argues that investing in sustainable rural development, climate change adaptation and resilient livelihoods is an important part of the solution, including in conflict-affected and protracted crisis situations.

Forty percent of international remittances are sent to rural areas, indicating that a large share of migrants originate from rural locations. Globally, three-quarters of the extreme poor base their livelihoods on agriculture. And by 2050, over half of the population in least developed countries will still be living in rural areas, despite increased urbanisation.

Agriculture and rural development can help address the root causes of migration, including rural poverty, food insecurity, inequality, unemployment, and lack of social protection, as well as natural resource depletion due to environmental degradation and climate change.

Agriculture and rural development can create sustainable livelihood options in rural areas. This kind of support can also help prevent the outbreak of conflicts over natural resources, and help host communities and displaced people cope with and recover from shocks by building their resilience.

Youth deserve particular attention. One-third of international migrants from developing countries are aged 15-34, moving mainly in search of better employment opportunities. By making agriculture a sustainable and attractive employment option and developing food value chains, millions of new and better jobs could be created.

Together with its partners, FAO supports global and country efforts on migration, bringing its specialized expertise on food security, resilience-building and sustainable agriculture and rural development. It does so by generating data on migration and rural development, supporting capacity development at country and regional level, facilitating policy dialogue and scaling-up innovative solutions to enhance agriculture-based livelihoods, social protection coverage and job opportunities in rural areas, as well as to build resilience in protracted crisis situations.

Since 2014, FAO has been a member of the Global Migration Group (GMG). The GMG has played an important role in coordinating inputs from different UN agencies for the process of intergovernmental negotiations that led to the adoption of the New York Declaration during the UN Summit on Refugees and Migrants.

GMG will assume the same role in preparation of the adoption of the Global Compact on Refugees and the Global Compact on Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration by 2018. FAO stands ready to lend its technical expertise and share best practices, to ensure that the need to address the root causes of migration, including from rural areas, is taken into account in major global fora.

FAO will also enhance the collaboration with key partners in the area of migration and development, at global, regional and country level. In this regard, FAO is discussing ways to foster country-level collaboration with the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

Note on the terminology: FAO uses the term migration to refer to the movement of people, either within a country or across international borders. It includes all kinds of movements, irrespective of the drivers, duration and voluntary/involuntary nature. It encompasses economic migrants, distress migrants, internally displaced persons (IDPs), refugees and asylum seekers, returnees and people moving for other purposes, including for education and family reunification.

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International Women’s Boat to Gazahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/international-womens-boat-to-gaza/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=international-womens-boat-to-gaza http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/international-womens-boat-to-gaza/#comments Tue, 01 Nov 2016 15:25:01 +0000 mairead-maguire http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147588 Mairead Corrigan Maguire, co-founder of Peace People, is a member of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace, Development and Environment. She won the 1976 Nobel Peace Prize for her work for peace in Northern Ireland. Her book The Vision of Peace (edited by John Dear, with a foreword by Desmond Tutu and a preface by the Dalai Lama) is available from www.wipfandstock.com. She lives in Belfast, Northern Ireland. ]]> “I was a participant onboard the Zaytouna-Oliva boat | 29 Sep-5 Oct 2016,”  Mairead Corrigan Maguire.

“I was a participant onboard the Zaytouna-Oliva boat | 29 Sep-5 Oct 2016,” Mairead Corrigan Maguire.

By Mairead Maguire
ROME, Nov 1 2016 (IPS)

A few weeks ago, the US government agreed to give Israel $38 billion dollars, the largest military funding package the U.S. has given any nation.

This $38 billion in military and other type of Aid will be used to imprison the Palestinians of Gaza, and continue Israel’s military occupation, and imposition of an apartheid state, upon the Palestinian people.

This money will be used in the training fields of Israeli military, which are in Gaza, where military experiments are done, using US military weaponry, by the Israeli Occupation Forces.

The U.S. military and government is complicit in the crimes against the people of Gaza and the Palestinian occupied territory by the use of military hardware given by USA and by the training that Israelis give to Americans and USA gives to Israel. It is also estimated that some 70% of European humanitarian aid to Palestine ends up in Israeli pockets.

Gaza continues to suffer from the continuing Israeli blockade, naval and land, and this 25-mile-long tiny strip, 5 miles wide, with l.9 million people, living in it, is a brutal blockade and Israel controls everything including electricity, food, etc.

Nobel Peace Laureate Mairead Corrigan Maguire.

Nobel Peace Laureate Mairead Corrigan Maguire.

Indeed, everything that comes into Gaza comes through Israeli hands. Gaza’s only airport was completely destroyed in 2002 by Israeli jets and ground forces.

Egypt continues to be a part of this blockade as they have blocked Gaza’s southern border; and Egypt continues to receive USA military funding.

Medical authorities have reported that the time for operations in Gaza now goes up to 2025 as so many are awaiting health care, and the increasing issues around food, water, sewage, electricity, all of these mounting problems have led the U.N. to declare in their latest Report, that by the year 2020 Gaza will be uninhabitable.

What hope is there for the Palestinians of Gaza, the vast majority of whom are young people?

In order to give hope to the people of Gaza by showing solidarity and support the Women’s Boat to Gaza sailed in September 2016.

Also we sailed in order to challenge this illegal and immoral blockade and occupation of Palestine by Israel, and draw international attention to the fact that under Geneva Conventions it is illegal to punish civilians, which is what Israeli government policies continues to do.

The Women’s Boat to Gaza set sail from the Spanish Port city of Barcelona (Barcelona is twinned with Gaza) in mid- September 2016.

The three legs of the trip were 1715 miles from Barcelona to Ajaccio, Corsica, France and then down to Messina in Sicily, Italy. It was hoped to have two boats but when one developed engine trouble in Barcelona, the other 50’ sailing boat, Zaytouna-Oliva, continued alone.

At all Ports the women were greeted and hosted by mayors, officials, and supporters of the Free Palestine Movement. Over 40 women from around the world flew to Messina in hopes of being able to sail to Gaza.

I joined the boat in Messina, and was grateful to be chosen as one of the 13 women from thirteen countries, being finally chosen to sail to Gaza. It was sad for those of us sailing to leave behind so many wonderful women due to not enough boats to sail, but it is hoped the Palestinian Coalition will be able to get more sailings to accommodate those wishing to go on a future occasion.

The 13 chosen participants included Ann Wright, (boat leader) the captain and two crew, two Al Jazeera journalists, and women from USA, Ireland, Russia, UK, Spain, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden/Chile, Malaysia, South Africa, Australia, and Algeria.

The third leg of the journey from Messina to Gaza was almost 1000 miles and a nine-day journey. On 29th September 2016, we set sail from Messina, Sicily, after a wonderful reception from the mayor, the Muslim community, and many Palestinian friends in Messina.

The first few days sailing the weather was rough and many of us were seasick, but several days into the journey we had got our sea-legs and busied ourselves helping with the tasks to be done such as cooking, reporting, night watches with the crew, etc.

We shared our stories and held nonviolence training. It was a wonderful experience getting to know the women whose courage was inspiring. Their love for the Palestinian people and their freedom was very deep.

Unfortunately, some 400 miles from Messina, with some 600 miles to go, we had problems with the boats rigging. An appeal to friends in Crete resulted in a boatful of people coming out to meet us, bringing many gifts of food, and four men to fix the rigging!

This was for me one of the most moving experiences of the journey, and it proved yet again, the magnificence of the human spirit.

Around 20 men and women answered our call for help and came to our aid, and all for the people of Gaza. After the men fixed our boat rigging, we passed greetings to our rescuers from Crete and sailed in a happy and hope filled mood towards Gaza.

On Wednesday 5th October, we were contacted by the Israeli navy by phone. A few hours earlier all communications via our own phones were cut off. The Israeli navy communicator told Captain Madeleine that we were nearing the 20-mile military Israeli security zone and were breaking Israeli law. They said if we did not turn back or agree to be escorted to Ashdod, they would confiscate our boat and take us to Israel.

However, we kept sailing towards Gaza. We saw several Navy military ships on the horizon. At 6 p.m., a Zodiac boat came alongside our boat.

There were 30 Israeli sailors including Israeli women sailors who were the first to come on board our boat. They were not in combat gear. They wore baseball caps, and long sleeved jerseys. In 2010, I had been on the Rachel Corrie Irish/Malaysian boat, which was part of the Freedom Flotilla and when we were boarded by Israeli sailors, they were in combat gear, with rifles, and sniffer dogs, and we were handcuffed and forcibly taken to Israel.

I was surprised when this different approach was used to confiscate our boat, the Zaytouna. In 2010, on the Mavi Marmara, the Israelis murdered nine people, and subsequently a 10th person died as 50 people were wounded. Therefore, the treatment of our women’s boat to Gaza participants was very different from what happened on previous ones where I had travelled.

On the Zaytouna, when the Israeli navy sailors confiscated our boat, took us under protest against our will to Israel, arrested, held us for several days without contact with our families, and deported us for ten years, it was all completely illegal under international law. However, it is sad to report that no governments or international bodies have taken up our case for being hijacked, and again the Israeli government has been allowed to break international laws.

All the women were deeply saddened as we knew many people in Gaza were preparing for our visit, and yet again Israel was denying our entry into Gaza. So as we watched the coastline of Gaza in complete darkness and then the coastline of Israel fully lit up against the night sky, we were again witnessing the injustice and unfairness of the Israeli policies against the Palestinians. With this experience, many of us committed in our hearts to continue our support for the Palestinian people’s ongoing work to break the blockade and end the occupation.

We also saw just off the coast of Gaza two huge gas rigs fully lit up and whose gas is piped to Israel. Yet Gaza has only a few hours of light, as Israeli bombings have destroyed most of its electricity and sewage infrastructures.

When we reached Ashdod, Israel, after six hours sailing, we were processed by Israeli security and searched, taken to Prison and released two days later. All the women on board the Zaytouna, now have a ten-year deportation order. As this is my 4th time being given a 10-year deportation order, it will be 40 years before I can return to Israel or get into Palestine.

This thought reminds me that there are over 7 million Palestinian people who cannot return to their country, and this is why it is so important to campaign for the right to return for the Palestinian people.

I would like to thank the Freedom Flotilla Coalition who gave us the opportunity to participate on the journey to Gaza. Their work of joining in solidarity with the people of Gaza is so important and I thank them for all they do.

To the Palestinian people of Gaza, please keep your hopes high and believe that freedom and peace will come. Thank you for your perseverance and ongoing inspiration to us all.

This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 31 October 2016: TMS: International Women’s Boat to Gaza

The statements and views mentioned in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of IPS.

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