By Kate Lyons
Six months after he arrived in the UK, Hassan’s calls to his family started going unanswered. He would send WhatsApp messages to his wife and children, but the blue double tick sign for message read did not appear. From April 2016 until January 2017, nothing.
“No answer, I have stress,” says Hassan in the fledgling English he has been learning since his arrival in the country two years ago.
Hassan and Mariam (not their real names) fled Yemen with their four children in September 2015 when Houthi rebels tried to abduct their 17-year-old son and force him to fight for them.
They spent everything they had to pay a smuggler to get Hassan to safety. The plan was for the rest of the family to join him later. But after he arrived in the UK, he lost contact with them.
Enter the Red Cross. Hassan contacted its international family tracing (IFT) unit in Birmingham. He gave a detailed statement, including information about the camp in Djibouti where his family had stayed and rumours he had heard about where they might have moved to.
Four days later, Hassan’s Red Cross caseworker, James Simmonds – “Mr James, I love this man,” says Hassan – contacted him with good news.
“I was excited, crying,” Hassan recalls. “[Simmonds] says: ‘I found your family in Marrakech, here is a contact number.’ He gives me his phone. I call my wife: ‘Hello, you are Mariam? Yes, this is your husband.’ My wife is crying, my children are crying, it’s happy.”
As he hung up that first call, Hassan says he wept and kissed Simmonds’ phone again and again.
Hassan’s case is unusual for its swift and happy resolution. The separation of families due to conflict and migration is common. Without any idea where their relatives are, or the ability to search for them themselves, people around the world turn to Red Cross’s IFT teams for help.
In the first nine months of 2017, the British Red Cross had 2,157 such inquiries and its IFT teams took on 867 cases.
The IFT units fielded 50% more inquiries in 2015 (2,874) than in 2014 (1,865). This year, 53% of the inquiries came from unaccompanied or separated children.
Andrea Wood is one of the service managers of the IFT office in London, where 10 staff and volunteers are buzzing about on a Tuesday morning logging enquiries, filing reports with Red Cross services around the world and interviewing clients. Wood says it is often only the very hardest cases that make it through their doors.
“What many of the people will have done is tried many other ways themselves with community groups or other people they know,” says Wood.
There are a few ways the Red Cross can help people: reaching out to UNHCR or Red Cross teams in various countries, consulting European-wide databases of missing people, or even getting people to draw maps of the last place they saw a family member, so that a local Red Cross team can go out and try to get a message to them.
Success rates are not high. In 2016, British Red Cross IFT teams were able to resolve 213 cases. In 151 cases, people were traced and contact reestablished. In 32 cases they provided the news of a death. In 17 cases partial information was provided, and in 13 cases no contact was wanted by the person found.
The number of successful cases drops even further when there is no obvious place to start a search for someone, for instance if people were separated during a journey.
In these cases, the Red Cross takes a photograph of the person searching for their family, which is then uploaded to a website, Trace the Face. The site is publicly available and makes for depressing viewing, featuring more than 3,000 photographs of people with captions such as “I’m looking for my father”, “I’m looking for my wife”, “I’m looking for my family”.
Since 2013, Trace the Face has yielded just nine successful reconnections for the British Red Cross.
Wood says managing expectations is one of the most difficult parts of the work in family tracing. “Searching for lost people is not quick. It can be – occasionally it completely astounds us all and we think: how can that possibly have happened? But it can take an incredibly long time.”
In the meantime, the waiting is often torturous, as people suffer from “ambiguous loss”, similar to that experienced by people whose loved ones go missing or into a coma. Wood says these ambiguous losses can be “absolutely catastrophic” and are often more difficult to deal with than a death.
“However much you’re trying to get on with your life, which is hard enough anyway, battling through the asylum system, there’s that emotional paralysis of ‘how can I engage here in my life when all of my feelings are there?’” she says.
This is certainly the experience of Taliya Frouza Savaheli, who after two years of searching, much of which has been supported by the Red Cross in London and Athens, still does not know what happened to her younger brother Reza.
Savaheli, who lives in London, last saw her brother in 2015, on a family holiday in Turkey. At that time, Reza, then 34, was living in Iran and was desperate to leave. He told his sister he was going to travel from Turkey to Greece with a friend.
A month later, Reza’s friend arrived back in Iran, but there was no sign of Reza. The friend said they had become separated trying to cross a river. No one has heard from him since.
“Whatever it takes for me to find him, I’ll do,” Savaheli says.
The first thing she did, the day after she heard Reza was missing, was book an appointment with the British Red Cross’s IFT team in London.
Since then she has travelled to meet the Red Cross team in Athens, tried to get more of the story from the friend in Iran and, on the advice of the IFT unit, visited the Iranian foreign ministry. She intends to travel to the small Turkish town where he was last seen.
“I think maybe he changed his looks, maybe he changed his name, maybe he met someone. I tell myself these things to keep myself going,” she says. “We need something, we need to find a piece of him.”
Hassan is still waiting to see his family again. As a refugee, he is entitled to bring his wife and dependent children to the UK, and he is waiting to see if they will be granted visas.
He is particularly nervous about his eldest son, who is 19. It is not straightforward to bring in children over the age of 18 under family reunion provisions.
While he waits, Hassan is making the most of his renewed contact with the family.
“Now I talk with them on WhatsApp and Imo every night, in the morning, two times, three times, every day. I don’t sleep because I am talking with them [for] three, four hours.”
Published on The Guardian on December 25, 2017
By Charles Anderson
New Zealand’s new government is considering creating a visa category to help relocate Pacific peoples displaced by climate change.
The new category would make official the Green party’s pre-election policy which promised 100 visas for those affected by climate change.
As part of the new Labour-led coalition government, the Green party leader James Shaw was given the role of climate change minister.
He told Radio New Zealand on Tuesday that “an experimental humanitarian visa category” could be implemented for people from the Pacific who are displaced by rising seas resulting from climate change.
“It is a piece of work that we intend to do in partnership with the Pacific islands,” Shaw said.
Before the election, the Greens also proposed increasing New Zealand’s overall refugee quota from 750 each year to 4,000 places over six years.
Shaw’s announcement comes after the New Zealand immigration and protection tribunal rejected two families from Tuvalu who applied to become refugees in New Zealand due to the impact of climate change.
The families argued rising sea levels, lack of access to clean and sanitary drinking water and Tuvalu’s high unemployment rate as reasons for seeking asylum.
The tribunal ruled they did not risk being persecuted by race, religion, nationality or by membership of a political or religious group under the 1951 refugee convention.
International environmental law expert Associate Professor Alberto Costi, of Victoria University, told the Guardian that the current convention could not accommodate environmental refugees. “The conditions are pretty strict and really apply to persecution. These people who arrive here hoping to seek asylum on environmental grounds are bound to be sent back to their home countries.”
In 2014 Ioane Teitiota, from Kiribati, made headlines after he applied in New Zealand to become the world’s first climate change refugee “on the basis of changes to his environment in Kiribati caused by sea level rise associated with climate change”.
The case was dismissed by New Zealand’s supreme court and Teitiota was deported the following year.
Costi acknowledged Shaw’s proposal would allow that gap in the refugee convention to be filled but said the problem would be legally determining whether an environmental migrant was still able to live in their home country.
“I have sympathy but legally it creates a big debate. There needs to be clear guidelines.”
Costi said there would be a difference in an application from someone from Tarawa in Kiribati, where conditions are obviously worsening every year, to those whose countries are only affected seasonally.
“It’s an idea to be explored. I would welcome more clarity.”
Published on The Guardian on October 31, 2017.
A report released on October 23, 2017, by the French administration and security forces’ internal investigations departments has found convincing evidence that police used excessive force and committed other abuses against child and adult migrants in Calais, Human Rights Watch said today. The French report comes almost exactly one year after authorities demolished the large migrant camp there, known colloquially as the “Jungle.”
The investigation and report were requested by the Interior Ministry in response to a July report by Human Rights Watch on police abuses against migrants in and around the city. The results of the French investigation are consistent with Human Rights Watch’s principal findings – that police routinely used chemical sprays on migrants, including children, while they were sleeping and in other circumstances in which they posed no threat, and regularly sprayed or confiscated sleeping bags, blankets, and clothing, apparently to press them to leave the area.
“The investigation requested by the Interior Ministry confirms that police in Calais used excessive force and otherwise abuse migrants, including children,” said Bénédicte Jeannerod, France director at Human Rights Watch. “Local and national authorities should put an end to these practices, discipline officers who abuse their power, and carry out the investigators’ recommendations.”
The French ombudsman’s office (Defenseur des Droits) and many of the aid groups operating in and around Calais, including L’Auberge des Migrants and Help Refugees, have published similar reports of police abuse following the closure of the sprawling migrant camp one year ago this week.
Most of the abuses described to investigators were attributed to the French riot police (Compagnies républicaines de sécurité, CRS). Among other findings, the French investigation noted that police forces do not regularly comply with the requirement that they wear badges with identifying numbers. As a result, members of the police force who commit abuses cannot be easily identified.
The investigators recommended, among other steps, that police forces ensure that officers are aware of the general rules for the use of aerosol sprays and receive specific instructions about methods authorized in specific operations. The investigators said that police should wear visible identification at all times, and use cameras during operations and identity checks. Human Rights Watch has long advocated requiring police to issue a record of identity checks, commonly called a stop form, as proof of a procedure and to enable accountability in case of abuse.
The investigators said that police forces should enter into dialogue with aid groups. They also said that improving migrants’ access to food, water, and other basic needs would reduce tension in Calais, and with it the need for police intervention.
Until July, local authorities attempted to prevent food distribution by aid groups and refused to provide migrants with access to drinking water and showers, saying that doing so would attract more migrants. The lack of basic services contributed to “a state of physical and mental exhaustion” and “inhuman living conditions” among migrants in and around Calais, the French ombudsman observed in June.
One question the investigators addressed at length is whether the hand-held aerosols used by police forces in Calais contain pepper spray (oleoresin capsicum, OC) or teargas (the popular name for aerosols that usually include the chemical agent 2-chlorobenzylidene malononitrile, or CS), concluding that police employed teargas.
At the same time that Interior Minister Gérard Collomb announced the investigation that resulted in this week’s report, a ministry news release reacted to the Human Rights Watch report with the statement that police used teargas rather than pepper spray, as Human Rights Watch had reported. In fact, the effects of CS spray are more severe, and its long-term effects possibly more harmful, than those of OC pepper spray.
“Protracted debate on whether police forces use OC or CS aerosols misses the point,” Jeannerod said. “The real concern is the routine and indiscriminate way police use these sprays, amounting to excessive force.”
During the investigations, three investigation departments – the inspectorates for the National Police, the Gendarmerie National, and the French State (Inspection Générale de la Police Nationale, Inspection Générale de la Gendarmerie Nationale, and the Inspection Générale de l’Administration) – conducted 93 interviews with representatives of aid groups, police and other authorities, and migrants, as well as Human Rights Watch researchers.
“These recommendations are a step in the right direction,” Jeannerod said. “It’s particularly important for national and local authorities to recognize the urgency of addressing the humanitarian situation migrants face.”
Published on HRW on October 24, 2017.
International Rescue Committee aid workers on the ground in Myanmar and Bangladesh are scaling up our response to the world's fastest-growing humanitarian crisis. Here's a look at the Rohingya refugee crisis by the numbers:
600,000+ Rohingya Muslim refugees have fled violence and persecution in Myanmar since August.
300,000 more Rohingya are expected to flee to Bangladesh in the coming weeks.
The total number of refugees in Bangladesh could soon top 1 million.
It's the fastest mass exodus IRC aid workers have seen since the Rwandan genocide in 1994.
95% of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh do not have access to clean water, and more than three quarters lack food.
120,000 Rohingya remain trapped in Myanmar, cut off from essential services and dependent on aid to survive.
The United Nations emergency response plan is only one-quarter funded by donor countries, leaving a shortfall of $328 million.
What's happeningRohingya Muslim refugees arriving in Bangladesh tell of the horrors they endured as their families were attacked and their villages burned in Myanmar's western state of Rakhine. “The levels of trauma that we are seeing here are severe," said Sanna Johnson, the IRC's Asia regional director. "We have spoken to women who have seen their children slaughtered before their eyes."
With aid agencies overwhelmed by the scale of the crisis amid humanitarian funding shortfalls, people are living in increasingly dire conditions in the refugee camps in Bangladesh. An IRC assessment released on Oct 23 found that their greatest needs are health care, food, protection for women and children, shelter and sanitation.
“In a crisis of such unprecedented scale, we need the full weight of the international community to save lives in Bangladesh and Myanmar, and take concerted action in what is undoubtedly the most urgent refugee crisis in the world," said Johnson.
How the IRC helpsThe IRC and our partners are launching an emergency response in Cox’s Bazaar, Bangladesh focused on essential health assistance, treatment of malnutrition, protection of vulnerable children, and a range of specialized services for women and girls.
In Myanmar, the IRC is gradually resuming critical health and protection programs in Rakhine State, serving both Muslim camps and Rakhine villages—but humanitarian access remains restricted for humanitarian groups and thousands remain out of reach of lifesaving aid.
Published on IRC on October 23, 2017.
Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is calling for an end to the arbitrary detention of refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants in Libya.
For more than a year, MSF has been providing medical care to people held inside Tripoli detention centres in conditions that are neither humane nor dignified.
“Detainees are stripped of any human dignity, suffer ill treatment, and lack access to medical care,” says Dr Sibylle Sang, a medical advisor for MSF. “Every day we see how much unnecessary harm is being caused by detaining people in these conditions but there is only so much we can do to ease the suffering.”
Medical teams treat more than a thousand detainees every month for respiratory tract infections, acute watery diarrhoea, infestations of scabies and lice, and urinary tract infections. These diseases are directly caused or aggravated by detention conditions. Many detention centres are dangerously overcrowded, with the amount of space per detainee so limited that people are unable to stretch out at night, and there is little natural light or ventilation. Food shortages have led to adults suffering from acute malnutrition, with some patients needing urgent hospitalisation.
With no rule of law in Libya, the detention system is harmful and exploitative. There is a disturbing lack of oversight and regulation. Basic legal and procedural safeguards to prevent torture and ill-treatment are not respected. With no formal registration or proper record-keeping in place, once people are inside a detention centre there is no way to track what happens to them. This makes close monitoring and follow-up of patients extremely difficult. From one day to the next, people can be transferred between different detention centres or moved to undisclosed locations. Some patients simply disappear without a trace. The medical care MSF is able to provide in these circumstances is extremely limited.
Access to the detention centres is restricted when clashes take place between heavily armed militias in Tripoli. In addition, the management of the detention centres can change overnight and access to patients held inside has to be renegotiated. Other detention centres remain inaccessible for MSF due to ongoing violence and insecurity.
Increased funding alone is not the solution to alleviating the suffering of refugees and migrants being held in detention centres. A narrow focus on improving conditions of detention, while turning a blind eye to the complex reality of the current situation in Libya, risks legitimising and perpetrating a system in which people are detained arbitrarily, without recourse to the law, and are exposed to harm and exploitation.
MSF calls for an end to the arbitrary detention of refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants in Libya.
Published on MSF on September 1, 2017.
By Kizito Makoye
Sadick Thenest remembers how his 8-year-old daughter had a narrow brush with death two years ago, when she contracted cholera after drinking contaminated water.
“She was so gaunt, weak and had terrible diarrhea,” said the refugee from Burundi. “A slight delay in rushing her to hospital would have meant something else - but with God’s grace she survived.”
The father of four, aged 35, is among thousands of refugees grappling with frequent outbreaks of waterborne diseases in the crowded Nyarugusu camp in western Tanzania, due to poor sanitation.
“Living in a refugee camp is a constant struggle. You either stick to health rules or contract diseases,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone.
The health risks in Nyarugusu camp - home to around 100,000 refugees, mainly from Burundi and Democratic Republic of Congo - have grown due to an influx of people this year, amid spikes in the political instability afflicting both countries.
But Thenest, who came to the camp two years ago at the height of political tensions in Burundi, has learned how to protect his family from bouts of diarrheal diseases - a major cause of death in children under five.
“I always ensure that my children use clean and safe water,” he said. “I have instructed them to wash their hands with soap after using a toilet.”
Thenest, who works as a technician with international engineering charity Water Mission, said the health situation in the camp is improving as more people get access to clean water from a recently installed solar-powered water treatment facility.
“The plant produces thousands of liters every day - women no longer go far to fetch water,” he said.
As part of a broader initiative to help refugees access clean energy and sanitation, Water Mission is installing more such plants in three refugee camps in western Tanzania.
The $5.3 million project, funded by the Denmark-based Poul Due Jensen Foundation, is expected to provide safe water for some 250,000 refugees in Nyarugusu, Nduta and Mtendeli camps.
Benjamin Filskov, Water Mission’s country director, said “huge” investment in solar technologies by the organization would help communities access clean and safe water, and contribute towards achieving the world’s development goals.
“We will document saved lives and ensure general public health, as a result of safe water,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
According to Water Mission, the Tanzania project aims to pump 100 percent of the water using solar power, with diesel generators as back up.
A recent shipment of 780 solar panels to Tanzania will produce 226,000 watts of power and provide a continuous supply of safe water to keep children in good health, it said in a statement.
JORDAN SOLAR FARM
With rising use of renewable energy, refugee communities in Africa and the Middle East are increasingly embracing solar power to help build their economic resilience, reduce deforestation and prevent violence against women and girls.
From Dadaab in Kenya, to Darfur in western Sudan and Azraq in Jordan, solar power is being deployed to provide affordable and sustainable energy solutions for tens of thousands of displaced people.
In semi-arid eastern Kenya, Africa's largest solar-powered borehole - equipped with 278 solar panels - is providing 16,000 refugees in Dadaab camp with a daily average of about 280,000 liters of water, which they use for drinking, cooking and personal hygiene, according to the European Commission.
In Azraq, a 2-megawatt solar farm that started operating in May - the world's first in a refugee camp - has enabled the U.N. refugee agency, UNHCR, to provide free, clean electricity to 20,000 Syrian refugees, covering the energy needs of two villages connected to the national grid.
Refugee families can now run a fridge, TV, fans and lights in their shelters, and recharge their phones, which is crucial for maintaining contact with loved ones abroad, the agency said.
Yet while access to clean energy for refugees and their host communities is a global priority for UNHCR, analysts say millions of displaced people still lack access to sustainable, cheap energy sources because of a lack of funding.
SAFETY FOR WOMEN
At Kakuma refugee camp in northwest Kenya, residents receive 10 kg of firewood for cooking every eight weeks, but for most, it is not enough, said Anna Okello, a research analyst with Practical Action Consulting International who works in the camp.
The need to gather extra firewood often results in personal security problems as adolescent girls and women face sexual harassment when they go out to collect it, she said.
Clean energy sources like solar can deliver benefits to refugees by enhancing safety, security, health and livelihoods, she added.
“If reliance on firewood can be lessened through solar cooking, this will have a direct impact on the development and protection of women in the camp,” she said.
For example, it frees up time otherwise spent on firewood collection or cleaning sooty pots, she explained.
A lack of electric power has caused other problems for Kakuma's nearly 180,000 inhabitants.
“I don’t dare go to the toilet alone at night because it’s too dark,” said Aisha Ilanda, 31, from Congo.
Providing solar street lamps and lanterns and energy-efficient cooking stoves can greatly improve the lives of refugees and contribute to their protection, Okello said.
Introducing solar technology to Kakuma could also help build economic resilience among refugees who make up a vibrant community exploiting new business opportunities such as charging mobile phones and operating money transfer services like M-Pesa.
“Access to solar energy would help these businesses stay open longer; street lighting could make the streets safer; and solar lights can provide a safe learning space inside homes,” said Okello.
“The sun is plentiful in Africa - it’s free, it does not pollute and will never run out of power,” she added.
Published on Thomson Reuters Foundation News on June 23, 2017.
A Burmese man who spent eight years in direct provision has won his Supreme Court appeal over the legal ban preventing him from working.
In a significant decision on Tuesday, the seven-judge Supreme Court unanimously found in favour of the man, but adjourned the matter for six months to allow the legislature consider how to address the situation.
The court found that, “in principle”, the ban in the Refugee Act on asylum seekers seeking employment, is contrary to the constitutional right to seek employment.
The decision could have major implications for other asylum seekers.
Giving the court’s judgment, Mr Justice Donal O’Donnell said the man was eight years in the asylum system before getting refugee status.
While the State can legitimately have a policy of restricting employment of asylum seekers, Section 9.4 of the Refugee Act does “not just severely limit” the right to seek work for asylum seekers, but “removes it altogether”, he said.
If there is no limit on the time for processing an asylum application, that could amount to an absolute prohibition on employment, no matter how long a person was within the system, he said.
He could not accept that if a right is in principle available, that it is an appropriate and permissible differentiation between citizens and non-citizens, and in particular between citizens and asylum seekers, to remove the right for all time for asylum seekers.
“The point has been reached when it cannot be said the legitimate differences between an asylum seeker and a citizen can continue to justify the exclusion of an asylum seeker from the possibility of employment,” he said.
“This damage to the individual’s’ self worth and sense of themselves, is exactly the damage which the constitutional right [to seek employment] seeks to guard against.”
The evidence from the man of the depression, frustration and lack of self-belief at being unable to work “bears this out”, he added.
He said, in principle, he would be prepared to find, in circumstances where there is no temporal limit on the asylum process, the “absolute prohibiton” on seeking of employment in Section 9.4, and re-enacted in Section 16.3.b of the International Protection Act 2015, “is contrary to the constitutional right to seek employment”.
Because this situation arises because of the intersection of a number of statutory provisions, and could arguably be met by alteration of one or other of those, and since that was “first and foremost a matter for executive and legislative judgment” , the court would adjourn consideration of what form of order to make for six months, he said.
After that period elapsed, the court would hear submissions from the sides as to what form of order should be made “in the light of the circumstances then obtaining”.
Represented by Michael Lynn SC, the man’s case was brought against the Minister for Justice, with the Attorney General and Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission as notice parties.
The man had argued, while living in direct provision on a €19 weekly allowance, he suffered depression, “almost complete loss of autonomy” and being allowed work was vital to his development, personal dignity and “sense of self worth”.
Shortly after coming here in late 2008, he was refused refugee status, but appealed. After the High Court found errors in how his applications were decided, there were re-hearings before the Refugee Appeals Tribunal which last September granted him refugee status.
Because that meant he could legitimately seek employment, the State argued the Supreme Court should dismiss as pointless his appeal against the Court of Appeal’s 2/1 rejection of his case.
Lawyers for the man and IHREC urged the court to address the issues and, in its judgment on Tuesday, the court said it had decided to do so for reasons including the case raised a point of law of general public importance.
In dismissing the man’s case last year, a majority Court of Appeal ruled the open-ended nature of the ban on work did not mean Section 9.4 is unconstitutional and rejected as “too broad a proposition” non-Irish citizens enjoy the same general rights as Irish citizens.
Mr Justice Gerard Hogan disagreed.
He ruled the man has a personal right under Article 40.3 of the Constitution to work here and Section 9.4. unconstitutionally struck at the “very substance” of that constitutional right.
Published on The Irish Times on May 30, 2017.
The Italian coast guard and rescue agencies said that they had found dozens of bodies in the water, "mostly toddlers." The Libyan coast guard has been criticized recently for its treatment of the would-be migrants.
Dozens of refugees, most of them small children, drowned in the Mediterranean on Wednesday in the latest tragedy to befall migrants escaping famine and conflict in Africa and the Middle East.
Rescue group MOAS announced it had found the bodies while the Italian coast guard said that it had been forced to call in reinforcements in recent days as some 1,700 people had been packed in 15 small boats.
MOAS founder Chris Catrambone showed an update on the situation on Twitter:
"Not a scene from a horror movie... Real life tragedy unfolding on Europe's doorstep today!" Catrambone wrote.
Some 50,000 migrants have been rescued at sea en route to Italy this so far this year, a 46 percent increase over the same period in 2016. In that time, some 1,300 have lost their lives during the perilous crossing.
Despite huge efforts on the part of the Italian government, European Union, and internationally-recognized authorities in Libya - the conflict in the latter means that human smugglers are usually able to operate with complete freedom.
Libya's own strategy has taken a more violent turn as of late. The German NGO Jugend Rettet said on Tuesday that it had rescued some migrants whose boat had been fired upon by the Libyan coast guard, ostensibly in an effort to hit the human traffickers running the vessel. When Libyan authorities find refugee boats and tow them back to their own shores, they reportedly bring the would-be migrants straight to detention centers renowned for human rights abuses.
Published on DW on May 23, 2017.