By Stephanie Nebehay
The United Nations on Friday labeled an anti-immigration law proposed in Hungary an “assault on human rights” and urged its government to uphold the right of freedom of association.
The nationalist government in Budapest on Tuesday submitted legislation to parliament that would empower the interior minister to ban non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that support migration and pose a “national security risk”.
The bill is part of an anti-immigration drive by Prime Minister Viktor Orban that has set its sights on a campaign by Hungarian-born financier and philanthropist George Soros to bolster liberal and open-border values in eastern Europe.
It appeared to mark a further tightening of controls on groups “working on issues the government regards as against state interests, such as migration and asylum”, U.N. human rights spokesman Rupert Colville said.
It represented “an unjustified restriction on the right to freedom of association and is a worrying continuation of the government’s assault on human rights and civic space,” he told a Geneva news briefing.
The government says the bill, which would also impose a 25 percent tax on foreign donations to NGOs that back migration in Hungary, is meant to deter illegal immigration Orban says is eroding European stability and has been stoked in part by Soros, who has dual Hungarian and U.S. citizenship.
“Such a tax is likely to result in reduced budgets and disrupt fundraising, thereby undermining NGOs’ ability to carry out their activities and services,” Colville said.
Published on Reuters on February 15, 2018
“Sweden’s renewed commitment to participate in the relocation of asylum seekers and to increase resettlement are positive signals, but it’s time to lift the restrictions imposed on asylum seekers at the height of the 2015 migration crisis”, says the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Nils Muižnieks, in a report released today following his visit to the country in October 2017.
While noting the urgency of strengthening European solidarity and creating safe and legal avenues for people seeking protection in Europe, the Commissioner calls on Sweden to lift the restrictions on the right to family reunification and to give refugees and beneficiaries of subsidiary protection the same rights in this regard. “Sweden should move beyond emergency mode and return to the levels of protection in place before the surge of arrivals”, said the Commissioner. Concerned by the humanitarian consequences of the amendment to the Law on the Reception of Asylum Seekers, he calls on the authorities to ensure that the basic needs of those rejected asylum seekers who cannot be returned and are at risk of destitution are met.
The Commissioner also calls on the authorities to strengthen the support they provide to unaccompanied migrant children and ensure that the best interest of the child is a primary consideration in all decisions relating to asylum and migration. This includes considering the cases of unaccompanied minors as a priority so as to avoid long waiting periods, which contribute to psychological distress, and granting minors the benefit of the doubt if uncertainty remains as to their age. In this respect, the authorities should not rely only on a medical assessment of age, but establish multidisciplinary procedures. Concerning the particular vulnerability of unaccompanied minors whose asylum claim has been rejected and who face forced return to Afghanistan, the Commissioner reiterates that any decision on return should be based strictly on individual circumstances and that states should not return a child to a country where there are substantial grounds for believing that he or she is at risk of irreparable harm.
Furthermore Commissioner Muižnieks recommends the establishment of a statelessness determination procedure and that persons identified as stateless be granted a permanent residence permit on this ground.
As regards the situation of persons with disabilities, the Commissioner calls for the full incorporation into Swedish law of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). Welcoming the extension of the protection afforded by the Discrimination Act to include the denial of reasonable accommodation to persons with disabilities, he encourages the authorities to further expand the scope of protection to all spheres of life.
The Commissioner is concerned at reports of a trend towards re-institutionalisation as a result of a decrease in state-funded personal assistance. He calls on the authorities to closely monitor the impact of these cost-reduction measures - in particular in terms of access to education and employment, resort to congregated settings and remedicalisation of the approach to disability. “Cost-effectiveness and administrative organisation of care and services should not have primacy over the right of persons with disabilities to independent living”, he said.
In the context of labour market measures for person with disabilities, he recommends phasing out the term “reduced capacity to work” and instead focusing on the ability of the person to work, with adequate support. The Commissioner also calls on the authorities to sustain progress in replacing all forms of substituted decision-making with supported decision-making, in line with the CRPD.
Lastly, the Commissioner urges the authorities to review the legislation on involuntary placement in a way that it applies objective and non-discriminatory criteria, which are not specifically aimed at people with psychosocial disabilities. “The authorities should clearly signal that their goal is to reduce and progressively eliminate recourse to coercion in psychiatry and to put sufficient safeguards in place.”
Published on the COE website on February 15, 2018
UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, welcomes the steps taken by the Ugandan government to investigate allegations of wrongdoing in government refugee programmes.
Uganda’s Prime Minister, Dr Ruhakana Rugunda, initiated the probe after reports received by UNHCR and the World Food Programme alleged corruption and grave misconduct by officials involved in refugee assistance.
The allegations include faking documents on delivery of food assistance as well as demanding refugees pay bribes to access various services that should be free of cost.
“UNHCR takes all allegations of corruption, fraud and misconduct very seriously. Dishonest or fraudulent conduct by those involved in refugee response causes great harm to the people we care for and erodes public confidence and donor trust,” said Valentin Tapsoba, Director of UNHCR’s Regional Bureau for Africa. “It is also a disservice to the model policies of Uganda, a country hosting more than a million refugees.”
Uganda operates an open border policy and allows refugees to enjoy similar rights to those enjoyed by its own citizens, provides access to social services and allocates land for shelter and agriculture.
In Uganda, the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) leads the overall refugee response in partnership with UNHCR. The OPM and UNHCR coordinate their response with other UN agencies as well as local and international NGOs.
In order to enhance effective oversight, as well as restore public trust and donor confidence, UNHCR is supporting the government to take immediate steps to address the situation.
The government of Uganda has the responsibility to register all refugees arriving in the country. To assist in this process, UNHCR is urgently making available its globally tried and tested tools and systems to re-enrol and verify the refugee population. This will strengthen the integrity of the data underpinning the refugee operation.
Together with the government, UNHCR is also reviewing and strengthening procedures and monitoring across all refugee operations to curtail opportunities for corruption and exploitation of refugees living in Uganda and reinforce measures to ensure that vulnerable refugees, particularly women and girls, are well protected.
“UNHCR’s priority is to protect refugees and to ensure that the resources provided by governments and donors are responsibly managed, with full accountability,” added UNHCR’s Tapsoba.
“We wish to underline that corrupt acts of individuals should not be attributed to the integrity of all - who are providing a valuable service to humanity.”
UNHCR commends the Government and people of Uganda, who have offered remarkable hospitality and generosity in sharing their land and resources for decades. Over a million refugees entered Uganda in the last year and a half. Uganda currently hosts over 1.4 million refugees from South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, Somali and other countries.
Published on UNHCR on February 8, 2018
By Mallory Moench
Asylum-seeker Aboubacar Soumah won the right to a bond hearing and a chance to be released from immigration detention two months ago. But he is still behind bars in upstate New York because he can’t afford the $15,000 cash bond set by the immigration judge.
Soumah has only $59 to his name. With no family in the U.S. to help support him, his only way to raise funds is the $1 a day he earns by cleaning tables in Batavia Federal Detention Center where he is locked up.
The asylum-seeker, who fled persecution in Guinea, has been in detention since he arrived across the southern border and presented himself for asylum in July. A psychiatrist diagnosed him with depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, but he has no way to receive proper treatment until he’s released.
Lawyers from the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) sued the federal government last year for unlawfully denying parole and bond hearings to asylum-seekers in Batavia. They won the case in late November and a federal judge ordered the government to re-adjudicate parole or have their first bond hearing after being held in detention for more than six months.
Thanks to that ruling, nine asylum-seekers have been released on parole since then and another 17 received bond hearings. But the amounts set are often well beyond the ability of the asylum-seekers to pay: In eight cases, bond was set at $15,000; others range from $5,000 to $12,000.
Thirteen detainees have been able to make bail through crowdfunding from friends and family or loans from bail-bond companies. But Soumah is one of at least four detainees who can’t afford to pay at all.
In January, NYCLU filed a motion to challenge how the federal judge’s November ruling was being implemented – with bonds set so high that some asylum-seekers are still detained. NYCLU argued that immigration judges failed to consider whether asylum-seekers could pay the bond, and that detainees shouldn’t remain behind bars just because they’re poor.
“Most of these people have hardly a penny to their name when they fled persecution in their home countries and came to the U.S.," said NYCLU attorney Aadhithi Padmanabhan. "It’s going to be very difficult and in some cases impossible to collect thousands of dollars. There might as well be millions of dollars."
“They are being jailed because of their poverty," she said.
Detained immigrants usually have bond set by the Department of Homeland Security, but asylum-seekers are an exception. Instead, after six months in detention they can get bond hearings before judges in immigration court, which is overseen by the Department of Justice Executive Office for Immigration Review.
A spokesperson for the department said that these judges adjudicate bond on a case-by-case basis. They don’t grant bond if “the alien is a danger to the public or national security” and set an amount that is “required to compel the alien’s presence at future hearings.”
Immigration bond is usually higher than criminal bond and always has to be paid in cash. The law calls for bond to be set at a minimum of $1,500, but it’s often much more. The national average for immigration bonds tripled over the past two decades, according to data from Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC).
Civil rights groups have sued the federal government multiple times over detained immigrants’ right to win release on an affordable bond. A federal judge ruled in 2015 that immigrants held longer than six months in detention should receive a bond hearing, but it doesn’t always happen.
Andrea Sáenz, supervising immigration attorney at Brooklyn Defender Services, said she and other lawyers in New York City filed at least 50 petitions suing the government to give detained asylum-seekers bond hearings in 2017.
The judge should grant bond unless the government can prove they pose a danger to the community or may run away. Sarah Deri Oshiro, head immigration attorney at Bronx Defenders, explained that if the government can’t prove either condition with clear and convincing evidence but still denies bond, “the bond-seeker’s constitutional rights have been violated.”
But just getting bond doesn’t address whether someone can afford to pay it. Last year, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York ruled that an immigration judge should have considered whether a Haitian asylum seeker could afford bond when setting the amount. Not all judges are required to follow this decision, but NYCLU attorneys argue that they should at Batavia.
“The extremely excessive bond amounts at Batavia not only keep people detained needlessly, but to the extent that they are able to obtain release, they do so at extreme personal cost to them and to their families,” said NYCLU attorney Paige Austin.
Mamadou is a 28-year-old asylum-seeker who prefers to be identified by his first name only because his asylum case is still pending. He was detained at Batavia for 14 months after fleeing ethnic and political persecution in Guinea.
“Sometimes I thought, one year in detention when all I ask for is protection, and I would cry and think about that,” Mamadou said. While in detention, he developed an acute stomach condition that doctors said required an operation, but he was too afraid to have it done because, he said, he didn’t want to die before he saw his family again.
After NYCLU’s successful lawsuit, Mamadou received a bond hearing on Dec. 29, 2017 – the same day as the hearing about his asylum case. He said he was excited but nervous. Some of his fellow detainees had their bonds set as high as $15,000 and Mamadou knew his friend helping him make the payment could never afford that amount.
With pleading from his volunteer attorney, the judge set Mamadou’s bond at $5,000. Mamadou was released from detention on Jan. 2.
“It’s unforgettable for me to have been freed,” Mamadou said. “My friends and family give me everything I need, they’re always giving me food and if I need money for anything. I can’t even eat all the food they’re giving to me. They say, I know you suffered, but now you’re home.”
Families and friends bear the brunt of paying thousands of dollars to get a loved one out of detention. They often turn to bail bond companies, even though many have been exposed for exploitative practices such as charging immigrants up to $400 a month to rent ankle trackers. Most attorneys warn immigrants against using these companies, but sometimes they’re the only options.
One detainee in Batavia decided to use a bail bond company to get out of detention. Austin said she understood his decision, but lamented that he’s now “in bondage”, as she put it – possibly for years before his asylum case is decided.
To avoid using these companies, community organizations try to raise bond funds. Jamila Hammami, director of the Queer Detainee Empowerment Project, estimates she’s raised $40,000 in bail for at least 10 immigrants since 2014.
The average amount was $7,500, although she remembered one gay man from Honduras whose bond was set at $15,000. Hammami said that if she’s not able to raise enough money through personal connections or online platforms, immigrants remain detained until they are granted asylum or deported.
But many asylum-seekers like Soumah, who fled persecution in their home countries, still lack community or family support in the U.S. Until the judge grants him relief, he will remain behind bars, too poor to be free.
Published on WNYC on February 7, 2018
By Ilan Lior
The Population, Immigration and Border Authority will begin issuing deportation notices on Sunday to asylum seekers from Eritrea and Sudan who are not held in the Holot detention facility.
In the first stage the notices will be issued to men without children who come to renew their residence visa. Citizens of Eritrea and Sudan are required to renew their visas every two months at the authority’s office in Bnei Brak. They will receive their last two-month visa, along with a letter stating that during this period they are expected to leave the country, otherwise they will be forbidden to work and can expect to be incarcerated indefinitely. Authority personnel will suggest that they leave for either Rwanda or their native countries.
Dabsai, a 47-year-old from Eritrea is a resident of Netanya. "I don't want to go to Rwanda," he said. "I'm from Eritrea, and I don't want to return to Eritrea. I'm going to jail, without fear."
Habtum, an asylym seeker from Eritrea who spent over a year in the Holot detention facility, said "They told me to leave after 60 days. I told them that I cannot, there's a problem because I came here." He says he'd rather enter prison.
The authority is in the process of hiring 100 new immigration inspectors, who will begin work shortly. From the beginning of April, asylum seekers who were asked to leave the country but do not will be subject to arrest.
According to population authority figures, there are some 39,000 Eritreans and Sudanese in Israel, including 5,000 children. For now, deportation notices will not be issued to women, children, fathers of children, anyone recognized as a victim of slavery or human trafficking, and those who had requested asylum by the end of 2017 but haven’t gotten a response.
This brings down the number of those subject to deportation, for the time being, to between 15,000 and 20,000 people. But Interior Minister Arye Dery and other officials have made it clear that the decision not to deport parents, women or children will likely change down the road. Those seeking asylum now are not assured protection either.
Two weeks ago the population authority gave similar notices to asylum seekers held in Holot, which is expected to close in around six weeks. Asylum seekers there say the authority has held conversations about deportation with about 60 of the some 900 people in the detention center in the Negev desert, all from Eritrea. During these talks, the authority representative told them they must go to Rwanda or to their own country, otherwise they will be imprisoned at Saharonim Prison indefinitely. They were given a month to inform the authority of their decision. The Holot detainees say Uganda was not offered as an option, as it was in the past.
During these conversations, the asylum seekers were given a two-page letter in Hebrew entitled “Information Sheet for the Infiltrator Leaving for a Safe Third Country” (“infiltrator” being the state’s term for asylum seekers who entered Israel over its border with Egypt). It begins, “We would like to inform you that the State of Israel has signed agreements allowing you to leave Israel for a safe third country that will absorb you and give you a residency visa that will allow you to work in that country, and promises not to remove you to your country of origin.”
The document continues, “The country to which you go is a country that has developed tremendously in the last decade and absorbs thousands of returning residents and immigrants from various African countries. ... This country has governmental stability, which contributes to develop in many fields, including education, medicine and infrastructure.”
The authority says it would arrange for Israeli travel documents for those leaving and pay their airfare. “The authority’s representatives will assist you in the process of leaving the State of Israel until the date of your flight, and any questions you may have can be addressed to them,” it says.
It was noted that a grant of $3,500 would be given them at the airport before boarding the plane, along with an entry visa to the country of destination. “Upon arrival at the third country, a local team will be waiting for you at the airport to accompany you during the first few days. The staff will take you to the hotel that was arranged for you, where you will meet the local representatives, who will explain your options,” the document says.
The authority also said that its representatives would contact them in the third country shortly after they leave Israel. The document lists a phone number that can be called “during business hours,” which are not specified. It also says that before getting on the plane they will be given a phone number of a representative of the third country whom they can contact.
They are warned that if they do not leave willingly and must be forcibly removed, the financial grant would be reduced considerably. The letter concludes, “We wish you success.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said the agreement with Rwanda allows for involuntary deportation. Rwanda, however, has publicly denied the existence of any such agreement, and has insisted it would not accept anyone deported against his will.
Published on Haaretz on February 4, 2018
Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) continued to provide medical assistance to refugees and migrants along the Central Mediterranean route throughout the last months of 2017. At sea, the dedicated search and rescue vessel Aquarius, run by MSF in cooperation with humanitarian organization SOS MEDITERRANEE, rescued 3,645 people from unseaworthy boats in the Mediterranean and brought them to ports of safety in Italy.
At disembarkation, MSF provided psychological first aid after tragic rescues in addition to running several mental health and health care projects in Sicily. In Libya, MSF teams provided medical assistance to refugees and migrants arbitrarily held in detention centers nominally under the control of the Ministry of Interior.
Libya: Dismal Conditions in Detention Centers Hinder Medical Treatment
In Tripoli, a massive increase in the number of people detained in October and November 2017 resulted in extreme overcrowding and a dramatic deterioration of conditions inside the capital’s detention centers. In some locations, up to 2,000 men were crammed together in one cell without enough floor space to lie down.
Not only did overcrowding make it physically impossible at times for MSF teams to enter the cells and triage the people detained inside, it further increased tension and violence. MSF team members were harassed and threatened, and patients experienced violence and mistreatment. From September to December 2017 the MSF team treated more than 76 people for violence-related injuries, including broken limbs, electrical burns, and gunshot wounds.
The team was able to help only a small percentage of all those in need of urgent treatment and it was not possible to follow up on medical cases. Even so, more than 6,500 medical consultations in detention centers were carried out from September to December 2017.
Most medical complaints were related to the conditions of detention, with overcrowding and inadequate latrine and drinking water provision resulting in acute upper respiratory tract infections, musculoskeletal pain, and acute watery diarrhea. MSF teams tried to focus on the most vulnerable people, such as pregnant women, children under five years old, and people with life-threatening or potentially life-threatening complaints. A 24-hour emergency referral service was implemented, with more than 150 patients referred to hospital for further medical treatment.
The number of detainees dropped in December when thousands of people were repatriated to their countries of origin by the International Organization for Migration (IOM). Conditions inside detention centers in Tripoli improved and there was less mistreatment and violence against patients. In the detention centers that MSF visits, teams are now able to access cells to provide medical care to refugees and migrants that remain in arbitrary detention. However, most of the physical and mental health problems requiring medical assistance still stem from the substandard detention conditions.
Few international organizations are able to work in Libya due to widespread violence and insecurity. Those who do—including MSF—do not have full and unhindered access to all detention centers where refugees and migrants are being held. It is not possible to provide meaningful medical care in a system of arbitrary detention that causes harm and suffering.
An overwhelming number of detainees have already endured alarming levels of violence and exploitation in Libya and during harrowing journeys from their home countries. As such, MSF reiterates its call for an end to the arbitrary detention of refugees, asylum-seekers, and migrants in Libya.
Aquarius Continues Sea Rescues as Numbers Attempting Mediterranean Crossing FallIn the central Mediterranean, the number of refugees, asylum-seekers, and migrants rescued at sea and brought to safety in Italy has fallen since last year. The search-and-rescue ship Aquarius recovered 3,645 people from September to December 2017, compared to 5,608 during the same period in 2016.
This drop in numbers appears to be due to fewer boats leaving Libya. Reasons for this are unclear, though likely factors include the weather and political developments on the ground in Libya. There have been media reports that local militias are being paid off by Italy to prevent departures. Italian ships have been deployed in Libyan territorial waters as part of a broader European strategy to seal off the coast of Libya and “contain” refugees, asylum-seekers, and migrants in a country where they are exposed to extreme and widespread violence and exploitation.
Onboard Aquarius, MSF medics treated people for injuries they suffered in Libya and heard their accounts of violence and abuse at the hands of smugglers, armed groups, and militias. Around 12 percent of all women rescued were pregnant and were cared for by an MSF midwife. There was a high prevalence of severe skin infections that required treatment with antibiotics and many patients suffered from severe chemical burns.
As winter approached, teams also treated multiple cases of hypothermia among those rescued. Rough sea conditions caused huge swells to crash over the aft deck of the ship, soaking people sleeping there. In November, 588 people were rescued but an unknown number drowned after an overcrowded inflatable dinghy suddenly capsized mid-rescue. The team on Aquarius launched all available floatation devices and life jackets and pulled as many people from the sea as they could, but it was not possible to save everyone. No bodies were recovered.
A Challenging Rescue Environment, and An Unclear Future for Refugees
Carrying out search and rescue activities in the Mediterranean is becoming increasingly challenging and complex. People who manage to escape Libya are increasingly being turned back at sea, with the EU-supported Libyan Coastguard active in international waters. The MSF team on Aquarius witnessed refugees and migrants aboard unseaworthy vessels being intercepted by the Libyan Coastguard in international waters as EU military assets at the scene looked on. On October 31, November 24, and December 8, Aquarius was instructed to stand by and the crew was forced to watch as hundreds of people were pushed back to Libya by the Libyan Coastguard.
Although these interceptions are presented as “rescue operations” and are celebrated by the Libyan Coastguard and their EU partners, the reality is that migrants and refugees are not being returned to a port of safety. The crimes committed against refugees and migrants in Libya are widely known and have generated international outrage. Under no circumstances should migrants and refugees aboard vessels in distress in international waters be returned to Libya—they must be brought to a port of safety.
In September, Aquarius was instructed to conduct three rescues in international waters under the coordination of the Libyan Coastguard. These unprecedented and highly unusual instructions from the Maritime Rescue Coordination Center (MRCC) in Rome presented MSF with an impossible choice. Fortunately for each rescue, Aquarius was able to render the necessary assistance and took all rescued men, women, and children to a port of safety in Italy.
In that situation, it was not possible to verify who exactly was coordinating rescue operations, as there are several entities operating along Libya’s vast coastline that claim to be the Libyan Coastguard. Contact points on land and at sea were unclear, as was the chain of command. As there have also been numerous violent incidents in recent months between the Libyan Coastguard and the few other remaining humanitarian organizations running dedicated search and rescue activities in the Mediterranean, the security of our team was paramount during these interactions.
It’s unclear what the future holds for refugees and migrants traveling the Central Mediterranean route, but with Libya riven by widespread violence and insecurity, with no unified government, a plethora of armed groups, and active fighting ongoing in several parts of the country, it does not look like an end to their suffering is in sight.
MSF has worked in Libya since 2011, providing medical consultations and referrals to refugees and migrants held in several detention centers nominally under the control of the Ministry of Interior. MSF works in centers in Tripoli, Khoms, and Misrata and, in partnership with a local association, provides care to those who have survived and managed to escape from informal places of captivity in the Bani Walid area. MSF also runs a primary health care clinic in Misrata and supports women and child health activities in Benghazi.
Published on MSF on January 30, 2018
By Jonathan Clayton
Renewing a strong appeal to regional leaders to make peace, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi has praised the “open border” policy of Uganda which is currently receiving up to 500 refugees a day.
Grandi who is currently on an official visit to the East African country, now providing sanctuary to a total of some 1.4 million refugees, upheld Uganda’s treatment of those fleeing wars and persecution as a model for the rest of the world.
“I want to thank the Ugandan government, local government and its people… despite recent influxes Uganda has the most progressive refugee policies in Africa, if not the world,” Grandi told journalists after touring this refugee settlement.
Imvepi and neighbouring Rhino Camp, both located in Arua district, now provide some 245,000 mainly South Sudanese refugees with a temporary home.
“Almost 500 people a day come to Uganda…. All are allowed to come and receive protection, to mix freely, to work, to access basic services, the borders are open; its refugee policies are among the most progressive in the world,” he said.
Most of the refugees have fled the conflict in South Sudan north of Uganda, but a steady and growing number are also fleeing increasing insecurity in the Democratic Republic of Congo on its western border. Uganda also hosts around 50,000 refugees from Burundi.
Uganda now has the largest refugee population in Africa, more than half of whom are children. A quarter of all the people now living in Arua district are refugees while in neighbouring Yumbe district half of the entire population is made up of refugees. This puts added strain on already stretched local resources.
Grandi highlighted that refugees in Uganda often received parcels of land to grow food, were allowed to work and access education, health and justice services, but he warned the generosity of host communities who are also facing development challenges could not be taken for granted.
“We should not overly test the patience of people… We have to make sure local communities also benefit from the refugee presence,” he said.
He explained UNHCR and the Ugandan government had adopted a comprehensive strategy which supported grass roots’ initiatives aimed at fostering harmonious relationships between nationals and refugees.
Under this policy facilities, such as health clinics and water wells, set up to support the refugee presence are available to local communities. Hosting refugees can be a “win-win” for local communities and refugees, Grandi explained after touring a new well which will provide water to everyone living in the immediate vicinity.
Later this week, UNHCR will be launching an appeal for fresh funding to support this “whole of society” approach, also known as the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework, with increased infrastructure investment.
Grandi met with several refugees many of whom told him they would go home if there was peace and security, but at the moment that was not the case. “We are confused, there is no peace there. We will go home if there is peace,” Sarah Utua, 24, told him who walked six weeks to Uganda with elderly parents and two children to flee fighting near her home.
“These people all want to go home… I would once again appeal to the leadership in South Sudan ‘Please make peace’,” Grandi said.
The High Commissioner was moved by the story of a man his own age who told him he had been a refugee in Uganda four times in his life.
“I want to go back and make sure my bones end their days there. This is the fourth time I have been a refugee. Uganda has been good to me but I want to go back,” Lasuba Yousto, 60, said.
Grandi also met with Ugandan Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda to whom he reiterated UNHCR’s thanks for his country’s approach to the refugee situation and pledged to maintain and improve cooperation with the authorities in all areas.
Published on UNHCR on January 31, 2018
The US should renew its grant of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to almost 7,000 Syrians living in the United States, Human Rights Watch said today. Anyone forced to return to Syria would face grave risks from the widespread conflict and violations of human rights and international humanitarian law there.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is expected to announce a decision by the end of January 2018 about whether to extend existing TPS for Syrians.
“The brutality and violence that originally motivated the US to provide Temporary Protected Status for Syrians have not abated,” said Sarah Margon, Washington director at Human Rights Watch. “Multiple armed groups, including the Syrian government, are targeting and indiscriminately attacking civilians in Syria day after day, and it is not safe for people to return there.”
More than 400,000 people have died because of the Syrian conflict since 2011, according to the World Bank, with 5 million seeking refuge abroad and more than 6 million displaced internally, according to UN agencies. As of September 2017, the UN also estimated that 420,000 people were still living in besieged areas.
The Syrian government and non-state armed groups have committed a host of violations, including attacking civilians and civilian infrastructure, using prohibited chemical weapons, employing starvation as a war tactic, and using civilians as human shields. Many armed groups have long used arbitrary detention, enforced disappearances, and ill-treatment against civilians in Syria.
The US first granted TPS to Syrians already in the US in 2012, finding that “extraordinary and temporary conditions” in Syria prevented “nationals from returning in safety.” The Homeland Security secretary revised the classification in 2016, making Syrians who had continually lived in the US since at least August 1 of that year eligible to register.
The US government should not only keep the program in place for Syrians who currently receive its protection, but it should expand protected status to include people who arrived after the current August 2016 cutoff date. This would make more people facing exactly the same dangers eligible for blanket protection from return to Syria. The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has called on all governments not to forcibly return anyone to Syria.
“As a practical matter, Temporary Protected Status would ensure that no eligible Syrian is returned to face threats to their safety from the ongoing armed conflict in their country,” Margon said. “With mounting pressure on Syrian refugees in Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey to return, terminating the protection in the United States would send a dangerous signal that could affect far larger numbers of Syrians at serious risk of forced return.”
Published on HRW on January 24, 2018
By RICK GLADSTONE
The leaders of 21 global aid organizations asked the Trump administration on Wednesday to restore withheld funds to the United Nations agency that helps Palestinians, calling the funding cut a “dangerous and striking departure” from a history of American generosity.
In a letter to top administration officials, the groups’ leaders expressed concern that the White House’s decision to withhold more than half of the planned contribution to the agency, if maintained, would disrupt Palestinian access to food, health care, education “and other critical support to vulnerable populations.”
The administration announced last week that it was withholding $65 million from a scheduled payment of $125 million to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, which aids more than five million Palestinians in refugee camps across the Middle East.
The announcement came after Palestinian leaders had accused the administration of blatantly siding with Israel in the protracted Israeli-Palestinian conflict and dimming prospects for a Palestinian state that would exist side by side with Israel.
Administration officials said that restoration of the aid depended partly on the Palestinian aid agency’s making unspecified reforms, and that withholding the funds had not been punitive.
Many Palestinians and their supporters disputed that assertion. They pointed to statements by administration officials, including a Jan. 2 Twitter message by President Trump, who complained that “we pay the Palestinians HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS OF DOLLARS a year and get no appreciation or respect.”
United Nations officials said the administration’s move had created the worst financial crisis in the Palestinian aid agency’s seven-decade history.
In their letter, the leaders of the aid groups said: “We are particularly alarmed that this decision impacting humanitarian aid to civilians is not based on any assessment of need, but rather designed both to punish Palestinian political leaders and to force political concessions from them.
“This is simply unacceptable as a rationale for denying civilians humanitarian assistance, and a dangerous and striking departure from U.S. policy on international humanitarian assistance,” the letter stated.
It was signed by top executives of prominent nongovernmental relief and advocacy organizations, including Save the Children, Oxfam America, CARE USA, Refugees International and the International Rescue Committee.
The letter was sent to Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, the American ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki R. Haley, and Mr. Trump’s national security adviser, Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster.
Eric P. Schwartz, the president of Refugees International, said in a telephone interview that the letter was the outcome of what he described as “the deep reaction by the N.G.O. community to a very bad decision.”
Mr. Schwartz, a former assistant secretary of state for population, refugees and migration under the Obama administration, said the Palestinian aid decision had broken with decades of American policy.
He pointed to President Ronald Reagan’s 1984 assertion that “a hungry child knows no politics” in deciding to help famine victims in Ethiopia.
The United Nations Relief and Works Agency, known by the acronym Unrwa, was created in 1949 to aid Palestinians who fled or were expelled from their homes during the Arab-Israeli war of 1948.
Originally meant to be a temporary support for roughly one million Palestinian refugees until a political solution was reached, the agency evolved into a sprawling organization for them and their descendants, who are also classified as refugees.
Functioning almost like a government in some places, the agency is widely regarded as a critical lifeline for many Palestinians. But it also has been accused of perpetuating what critics call a culture of dependency among a population that has quintupled in size.
Many Israelis regard the agency as politically biased and inherently hostile to Israel, an assertion United Nations officials deny.
Mr. Schwartz defended the agency. “Given the pressures and challenges confronting Unrwa, a fair assessment of their work would conclude they are providing valuable services under extremely difficult conditions,” he said.
Published on The NY Times on January 24, 2018
Asylum seekers must not be subjected to psychological tests to determine whether they are homosexual, EU's top court has ruled.
Tests to determine sexual orientation are controversial, but are sometimes used when assessing asylum claims.
The European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruling is binding in all 28 EU states.
The ECJ case relates to a Nigerian man who submitted an asylum application in Hungary in April 2015. He feared persecution in Nigeria for being gay.
Hundreds of homosexuals fearing persecution in Africa, the Middle East and Chechnya have sought asylum in the EU, the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights reports.
The Nigerian's claim was rejected after a psychologist's report failed to confirm his homosexuality.
A court in Szeged, Hungary, must now reconsider his case in light of the ECJ ruling.
What about similar gay rights cases?In December 2014 the ECJ ruled on a similar case in the Netherlands and found that sexuality tests violated asylum seekers' human rights.
In the new ruling, the ECJ said "certain forms of expert reports may prove useful" in such cases, but added that such reports interfered with a person's privacy. Authorities must also determine the reliability of a claimant's statements, the judges said.
In 2013 the ECJ ruled that asylum could be granted in cases where people were actually jailed for homosexuality in their home country.
Homosexual acts are illegal in most African countries, including key Western allies such as Uganda, Nigeria, Kenya and Botswana.
What happens next in this case?The Hungarian court cannot appeal against the ECJ ruling, so the Nigerian man - identified only as "F" - now has a stronger claim for asylum.
The ruling means that EU countries now have no legal right to impose psychological tests to determine an asylum seeker's sexuality.
What did Hungary originally decide?The ECJ says Hungarian officials had not found F's statements to be fundamentally contradictory, but had still concluded that F lacked credibility.
Their decision was based on a psychologist's report, which included:
Psychologists have long held that personality traits can be revealed by tests such as "draw a person in the rain" and the Rorschach test, which relies on an individual's interpretation of inkblots.
What sort of tests were at issue here? They were quite general psychological tests, aimed at identifying F's personality type and emotional characteristics.
F said the tests had violated his fundamental rights and they had not provided any assessment of "the plausibility of his sexual orientation", the ECJ said.
It also said any indication of sexual orientation provided by such tests could only be "approximate in nature". They were "of only limited interest for the purpose of assessing the statements of an applicant for international protection".
In 2010 the EU's Fundamental Rights Agency condemned the Czech authorities for using "phallometric" sexual arousal tests on some asylum seekers to determine whether they were gay. Czech officials said the tests had been used in fewer than 10 cases, with the individuals' consent.
The Hungarian court handling F's case quoted him as saying that he had not undergone any physical examination and had not been required to view pornographic photographs or videos.
Is Hungary a special case?No - other EU countries also conduct psychological tests on asylum seekers, to assess whether their statements can be believed.
The UK Home Office has detailed guidance on asylum claims based on sexual orientation.
The gay rights group ILGA-Europe says there is a huge diversity in the EU in the way asylum authorities assess someone's sexual orientation.
In F's case tests were imposed on him - unlike the Dutch asylum case of 2014, when several Africans offered evidence of their homosexuality.
In the Dutch case, the ECJ ruled that it was wrong to conduct "detailed questioning as to the sexual practices of an applicant for asylum".
F's asylum claim in 2015 came during a migrant crisis for Hungary. The country faced a huge influx of migrants - many of them Syrians, Iraqis and Afghans fleeing war. Most of them moved to Germany, via Austria, and Hungary then built a formidable border fence to keep migrants out.
Published on BBC on January 25, 2018