The Philippines’ new ban on Filipinos migrating to Kuwait for work is likely to increase abuses of workers who are forced to resort to unsafe and unregulated channels to enter the country, Human Rights Watch said today. Kuwait and the Philippines should instead agree on key reforms that could more effectively protect migrant domestic workers in Kuwait.On January 19, 2018, the Philippines Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) ordered a temporary ban on Filipinos seeking to migrate to Kuwait for work, pending an investigation into seven deaths of domestic workers in the country. On February 12, the Philippines ordereda “total ban” on new workers migrating to Kuwait.
“The Philippines should work with Kuwait to protect workers rather than ban them from migrating, which is more likely to cause harm than to help,” said Rothna Begum, Middle East women’s rights researcher. “Kuwait should confront the outcry over deaths, beatings, and rapes of domestic workers by taking immediate steps to reform the kafala system, which traps workers with abusive employers.”
Kuwait’s kafala, or sponsorship, system ties migrant domestic workers’ visas to their employers, prohibiting workers from leaving or changing jobs without their employers’ consent.
Previous bans by the Philippines and similar bans by other countries of origin did little to end abuses in Kuwait or other Middle Eastern countries. Instead, people desperate to work still migrate, but through unsafe and unregulated channels. These can leave them exposed to abuse and trafficking and make it more difficult to address abuses.
President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines has called on employers in Kuwait and other Middle Eastern states to treat Filipinos as human beings. Kuwaiti authorities have claimed they are providing the Philippines with the results of their investigations into deaths but have yet to take any serious steps to deal with laws and policies that facilitate such abuse, Human Rights Watch said.
Kuwait has more than 660,000 migrant domestic workers in a population of 4 million. According to estimates by the Philippines, more than 250,000 Filipinos are in Kuwait, most of them domestic workers. Many send their salaries home to help feed, educate, and house their own families.
Human Rights Watch has extensively documented abuses of migrant domestic workers in Kuwait and other Middle Eastern countries. Employers confiscate domestic workers’ passports, force them to work excessively long hours without rest or a weekly day off, confine them to the employers’ homes, verbally abuse them, and in some cases, physically and sexually assault them. Suicides and deaths of domestic workers are reported every year in Kuwait.
In 2015, Kuwait passed a law on domestic workers extending labor protections for the first time, including a right to a weekly rest day, a 12-hour working day with rest periods, annual paid leave, and overtime compensation. In 2016, Kuwait became the first in the Gulf region to passa minimum monthly wage of 60KD (US$200) for domestic workers. However, the law is weaker than Kuwait’s main labor law and does not conform to the International Labour Organization (ILO) Domestic Workers Convention. The law fails, for instance, to provide for workplace inspections in the home, which can be done with due regard to privacy.
Under Kuwait’s kafala system, workers who flee their employers can be arrested for “absconding” and fined, imprisoned for up to six months, deported, and barred from returning for at least six years.
The kafala system can force workers to remain with abusive employers and punish those who try to flee. Workers who seek legal redress often have to do so without an income as they cannot work for another employer without the initial employer’s permission. Many leave the country without getting justice.
Human Rights Watch has previously reported that the Domestic Workers Department, which mediates disputes between domestic workers and employer-sponsors, has no authority to compel employer participation. The 2015 domestic workers law authorized the department to sanction recruitment agencies, but not employers, for failing to respond to a summons.
Human Rights Watch also documented inconsistent responses by police officers to domestic workers. Some officers provided immediate assistance, while others detained the worker and called her employer or refused to accept a complaint.
In response to the Philippines ban, on February 13, the Kuwaiti cabinet authorized Al Durra Recruitment Company, the state-owned recruitment agency, to find workers from Indonesia, Vietnam, Bangladesh, and Nepal.
“The Kuwaiti government should fight the root causes of abuse of domestic workers – such as the kafala system – before looking to recruit workers from other countries,” Begum said. “Domestic workers from other countries like Indonesia, Bangladesh, and Nepal have faced similar problems in Kuwait.”
The Philippines has been a leader in protecting its domestic workers in the Middle East. Philippine embassies verify contracts to check that employers commit to paying a monthly minimum wage of US$400 and have requirements for agencies to pay for return flight tickets home for abused workers. But these work best for migrants arriving through a regulated channel.
The Philippines and Kuwait have yet to sign a pending bilateral labor agreement to protect Filipino domestic workers. President Duterte is considering a visit to Kuwait.
“While bilateral agreements have many limitations, they can be helpful when there is an agreed upon mutually enforceable employment contract that provides real protections, and effective complaint systems and investigation procedures,” Begum said.
The Philippines and Kuwait should agree on a bilateral agreement that includes a standard contract, a system for rescuing workers in distress and investigating worker abuses and deaths, a requirement to inform the Philippines of any national arrested, and a requirement for all employers who apply for work and residency permits for domestic workers to apply for authorization from the Philippines embassy, which can then register workers and provide protection. The Philippines should also seek agreement to continue criminal or civil cases against employers or agencies on behalf of workers who wish to return home and who provide a power of attorney to embassy officials.
The Philippines government should share and consult on the draft agreement with domestic workers, local nongovernmental groups, and trade unions and ensure that it includes monitoring systems with public reporting about how the agreement is being carried out.
The Philippines embassy should ask employers to register domestic workers when they arrive and should check in with workers periodically, and before they leave about their working conditions.
The Philippines should also increase oversight and effective monitoring of recruitment agencies, so they do not deceive workers or charge them recruitment costs or fees, and ensure that there is an expedited complaints process for returning workers to file complaints against agencies. Many workers say they find the current process too lengthy and drop cases so they can leave the Philippines to find new work.
“Both Kuwait and the Philippines have an opportunity to work together to increase protections for domestic workers and fix the gaps that are leaving workers vulnerable to extreme abuse,” Begum said.
Published on HRW on February 21, 2018
Lawrence Hurley, Andrew Chung
The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday curbed the ability of immigrants held in long-term detention during deportation proceedings to argue for their release in a ruling in sync with President Donald Trump’s get-tough approach toward immigration.
The court’s conservative justices carried the day in the 5-3 decision that overturned a lower court’s ruling that required that immigrants held by the U.S. government awaiting the outcome of deportation proceedings get a bond hearing after six months of detention to seek their release.
The ruling could lead to indefinite detentions of certain classes of immigrants, including some with legal status who the government wants to deport.
The court’s five conservatives were in the majority in the ruling written by Justice Samuel Alito. Three liberals dissented, including Justice Stephen Breyer, who sharply criticized the decision. Another liberal, Justice Elena Kagan, did not participate.
Class action litigation brought by the American Civil Liberties Union challenged the government’s practice of placing immigrants facing deportation proceedings in detention for months or years without being able to argue for release.
Breyer said that forbidding bail would likely violate the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of due process under the law. Breyer said he doubted the U.S. Congress, in crafting the immigration provisions at issue, would have wanted to put thousands of people at risk of lengthy confinement without any hope of bail.
“We need only recall the words of the Declaration of Independence, in particular its insistence that all men and women have ‘certain unalienable Rights,’ and that among them is the right to ‘Liberty,'” Breyer wrote.
But Alito said that these immigration law provisions cannot be interpreted to limit the length of detention. He called Breyer’s view of the statutes “utterly implausible.”
The case assumed added importance in light of the Trump administration’s decision to ramp up immigration enforcement, with growing numbers of people likely to end up in detention awaiting deportation.
The court threw out a 2015 decision by the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that the government must provide bond hearings to gauge danger and flight risk when detention exceeds six months, and every six months after that. Former President Barack Obama’s Justice Department had challenged that ruling. The Trump administration took up the appeal.
Justice Department spokesman Devin O‘Malley said the 9th Circuit’s ruling had resulted in unnecessary bond hearings, adding to a backlog in the immigration court system.
“We are aggressively working to implement common sense reforms to reduce that backlog, and today’s Supreme Court decision ensures that immigration judges in the Ninth Circuit can focus their valuable docket time on matters actually required by law,” O‘Malley said.
The justices sent the case back to the 9th Circuit to consider the question of whether the Constitution requires bond hearings for detained immigrants.
The ACLU said it looks forward to arguing the constitutional questions in lower courts. “The Trump administration is trying to expand immigration detention to record-breaking levels as part of its crackdown on immigrant communities,” ACLU attorney Ahilan Arulanantham said.
There are roughly 36,000 immigrants held in detention in the United States on any given day, and the ACLU estimates that about 10 to 20 percent have been detained at least six months.
Those suing included immigrants who were held at the border when seeking illegal entry as well as others, including lawful permanent residents who hold so-called green cards, who have been convicted of crimes.
The lead plaintiff was Alejandro Rodriguez, a legal immigrant from Mexico living in California who was brought to the United States as a baby. He was working as a dental assistant when he was detained for three years without a hearing after being placed in deportation proceedings based on two non-violent convictions, joyriding and misdemeanor drug possession.
Although Rodriguez was released eventually, the case brought on his behalf continued.
In dissent, Breyer said that asylum seekers or non-citizens who arrive at the U.S. border still have due process rights.
“We cannot here engage in this legal fiction,” Breyer wrote.
“Whatever the fiction, would the Constitution leave the Government free to starve, beat, or lash those held within our boundaries? If not, then, whatever the fiction, how can the Constitution authorize the Government to imprison arbitrarily those who, whatever we might pretend, are in reality right here in the United States?”
Breyer added, “No one can claim, nor since the time of slavery has anyone to my knowledge successfully claimed, that persons held within the United States are totally without constitutional protection.”
This marked the second time the high court considered the case. It ordered a new round of arguments after Trump’s conservative appointee Neil Gorsuch joined the bench last year.
Published on Reuters on February 27, 2018
By Kok Xing Hui
Every weekday morning, about 70 students stream into a house in a quiet neighborhood on Malaysia's Penang Island.
The children are Rohingya refugees and the house is a private school where they learn Malay, English, math and science.
This life is light years away from the one the children left behind in Myanmar.
"People were getting hit and killed and the police were arresting people. My whole village was burned down," 13-year-old Anwar Sadek Shah Ahmad says softly, cowering into his teacher's shoulder.
Anwar and his family fled their fishing village in Myanmar's Rakhine State in 2013 after violence broke out.
His grandmother, he said, only fled Myanmar last year and is now in a refugee camp in Bangladesh, where more than 680,000 Rohingya have fled to since August 2017.
There are thousands of children like Anwar in Malaysia -- he's among the Rohingya refugees who escaped from Rakhine State by boat largely before 2015, when Kuala Lumpur began turning back Rohingya arrivals.
Even though they consider themselves the lucky ones, those who made it to Malaysia still lead lives fraught with risk and hardship.
"They have no legal rights — no right to work, no opportunity for mainstream education, and are obliged to eke out a very difficult living in the grey market economy of the country," said Richard Towle, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Representative for Malaysia.
This is the case for all refugees in Malaysia. Most of the 150,000 refugees there are from Myanmar, but there are also Pakistanis, Syrians, Yemenis and Palestinians.
Anwar's father has been working illegally in Penang since 2006 and paid smugglers to bring over his son, daughter and wife by boat. Anwar also has an infant brother who was born in Malaysia. The family are now registered with the UNHCR.
The UN body has registered 62,000 Rohingya refugees in Malaysia, but the organization estimates there could be another 30,000 to 40,000 who are there illegally and don't have official refugee status -- obtaining it is a lengthy process that can only happen in the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur.
"UNHCR Malaysia prioritises refugees in immigration detention, vulnerable refugees who have come to UNHCR from referral partners including government agencies, and others who have been interviewed and found to need UNHCR's protection and support," said Towle.
It's not clear whether Malaysia will accept any of those who have fled since August, an exodus that has lead to the world's fastest growing refugee crisis in Bangladesh.
The Muslim Rohingya have been denied citizenship in mostly Buddhist Myanmar since 1982, and while the group has long been discriminated against, the situation has deteriorated significantly in the past few years. Between 2012 and 2015, more than 112,000 Rohingya fled, largely by boat, to Malaysia.
In September 2017, Zulkifli Abu Bakar, the director-general of the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency said those fleeing violence in Myanmar would not be turned away, and that they would be provided temporary shelter.
But in 2015, Wan Junaidi Jaafar, the Malaysian Deputy Home Minister, said the Rohingya arriving in the country illegally would be turned back.
"We cannot welcome them here," Wan Junaidi said, adding that if the country continued to welcome them "hundreds of thousands" would come from Myanmar and Bangladesh.
CNN reached out to Zulkifli as well as the country's Ministry of Home Affairs for this article but did not get a response.
The latest exodus was sparked in last August, after an attack on government border posts by a Rohingya militant group resulted in a brutal crackdown by Myanmar's military. Refugees poured into Bangladesh with horrific stories of systematic rape, mass killings and arson -- although Myanmar's military denies killing any civilians or committing atrocities.
In Malaysia, schools such as the one Anwar goes to, have sprouted up because while the country tolerates Rohingya presence and the UNHCR has issued them refugee status, they are still officially considered illegal migrants and therefore can't go to regular schools.
This limits their options to schools run by non-government organisations, or religious schools known as madrassas where they learn Arabic and study Islam.
According to the UNHCR, there are about 50 schools in Malaysia run by non-governmental organisations educating Rohingya children.
Anwar studies at the Penang Peace Learning Centre, also known as the School of Peace. On the morning CNN visited, Anwar and the older students were being taught math while the younger students, aged three to six, did coloring. Their classroom was also home to two pet rabbits.
All classes are held in Malay, or Bahasa Melayu, the country's national tongue. The kids have picked up the language despite arriving with no knowledge of Malay just a few years ago.
"Malay is easy, we hear it everywhere, but English is hard," says Rosmin Kayas, 12, who arrived in 2014.
The School of Peace was founded by Kamarulzaman Askandar, a political science lecturer at the Universiti Sains Malaysia, who learned about the Rohingya's plight while doing research.
He said: "I was sad about how bad their lives in Malaysia have been, that they can't work and that their children do not have access to free education."
The school started as weekend classes using space in the local religious school. As the student population grew, Kamarulzaman rented a terrace house and hired three teachers so the school could run five days a week.
But there are huge challenges. They struggle to find the RM6,000 (US$1,471) needed to run the school each month and neighbors complain about the school being in their neighborhood, because of the noise.
The school is mainly funded by individual donations. "Other organizations like the UNHCR also helps from time to time with school materials and training support for the teachers," he said.
Most frustratingly, he says, he has difficulty keeping the children in school.
"Older boys would be asked by the families to look for jobs, while older girls would be asked by the parents to help the families at home, and to be married off when they come of age," Kamarulzaman says.
Rosmin's sister, for example, is only 13, but was pulled out of school early this year to help out at home when their mother got pregnant.
Kamarulzaman says there is also little incentive for older kids to stay in school since the school only teaches the elementary school syllabus, which is typically for children aged seven to 12.
He said he wants to start teaching the secondary school syllabus — if he can secure funding that will provide the teachers and the necessary space.
Experts say Malaysia should look at improving the Rohingya's access to employment, healthcare and education.
"It is really about livelihood — being able to work and to feed their families and to have enough money to use services from the market. If they cannot access government services, they need money for healthcare services and to send their children to school," Oh Su-Ann, a visiting fellow at Singapore's ISEAS - Yusof Ishak Institute.
Towle from the UNCHR says he can understand why Malaysia is afraid committing towards formal arrangements for the refugees might cause more to arrive.
"We believe that a carefully managed registration scheme, where UNHCR and the Government, working closely together, can mitigate the risks of this but could also deliver the positive dividends to Malaysia and to refugees," he said.
But despite the difficulties with work and education, the Rohingya students and parents at the Penang school say they are happy.
Malaysia is peaceful compared to what he left behind, says Anwar. Now, he spends his free time playing football with new friends from the neighborhood.
Likewise, Jubairah Bashir, 34, who brought three children to her illegal migrant husband in Penang in 2013, says she has picked up basic Bahasa Melayu and can buy her groceries. She has also made Malaysian friends.
"If I can, I want to go home to Myanmar. But otherwise Malaysia is good and the children have school here," she says.
"At least the family is together now."
Published on CNN on February 25, 2018
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