UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is concerned by continuing forced return of hundreds of refugees from Cameroon’s far north region to north-eastern Nigeria despite the recent signing of the tripartite agreement aimed at, among other things, ensuring the voluntary nature of returns.
So far this year, Cameroon has forcefully returned over 2,600 refugees back to Nigerian border villages against their will.
UNHCR is particularly concerned as these forced returns have continued unabated after the governments of Nigeria and Cameroon signed a tripartite agreement with UNHCR in Yaounde on March 2 to facilitate the voluntary return of Nigerian refugees when conditions were conducive.
Inside Nigeria, UNHCR teams have heard and documented accounts about Cameroonian troops returning refugees against their will - without allowing them time to collect their belongings. In one incident on March 4, some 26 men, and 27 women and children, were sent back from the Cameroonian border town of Amtide, in Kolofata district, where they had sought refuge, according to UNHCR monitoring teams in the border regions.
In Nigeria’s Borno State some refugees were rounded up during a military offensive against Boko Haram insurgents in the Mandara Mountains on the Cameroonian side of the border and were taken in trucks to a camp for displaced people in Banki. Those returned included a one-year-old child and a nine-month pregnant woman, who gave birth the day after her arrival in Banki.
During the chaos families were separated and some women were forced to leave their young children behind in Cameroon, including a child less than three years old. Returnees were given food and water by aid agencies and are now settled in the Banki camp for internally displaced people. UNHCR staff also recorded about 17 people who claimed to be Cameroonian nationals, and also reported that they were deported by mistake to Banki. It is common in this region to find people who lack documentary proof of their nationality.
While acknowledging the generosity of the Government of Cameroon and local communities who host over 85,000 Nigerian refugees, UNHCR calls on the Government of Cameroon to honour to its obligations under international and regional refugee protection instruments, as well as Cameroonian law.
The forced return of asylum seekers and refugees is refoulement, or forced return, and constitutes a serious violation of the 1951 Refugee Convention and the 1969 OAU Convention, both of which Cameroon has ratified.
This press release (excerpt) was published on the UNHCR's website on March 21, 2017.
By Fahrinisa Oswald
Already traumatised by loss and conflict, stranded refugees face further trauma without mental healthcare.
Athens, Greece - It was just another day for teenage brothers Ismael and Isa Achekzai at the local market in Herat, Afghanistan, where they went daily to sell potatoes from their family's modest plot of land on the outskirts of town. Their earnings from the market were not much, but they were enough to help the family of five just about get by.
But as the brothers pushed their wheelbarrow towards their home, a powerful explosion ripped through the market, leaving behind a cloud of dust and chaos, and a family who would forever be changed.
As the debris began to settle, Ismael stood up and looked to the spot where his brother had been standing just moments before. The wheelbarrow carrying their vegetables was overturned, its contents a splattered mess everywhere. Isa had not survived the blast from the roadside bomb.
Bending down slowly, Ismael started collecting his younger brother, piece-by-bloody-piece. He collected as much of Isa as he could find, placing the pieces in a plastic bag. He then carried the bloodied plastic bag home, placing it on the kitchen table for his mother who was busy making dinner. That was 10 years ago.
"Ismael has not been the same since," says his father, Ibrahim Achekzai, who is now in his mid-50s. Neither has his mother, who recently gave birth to a premature baby boy in a camp on the outskirts of Athens, Greece. Though she claims to be in her mid-30s, Bibi Achekzai is missing almost every tooth in her mouth and has the appearance of a woman in her late-40s.
The Achekzais are one of thousands of traumatised refugee families now stranded in Greece since the beginning of the mass influx of refugees to Europe in mid-2015.
They are also one of the many refugee families in desperate need of mental health services, which, though exist in small numbers, are incredibly difficult to access.
Prior to the ratification of the EU-Turkey deal on March 20, 2016, very few refugees who arrived in Greece stayed for more than a few days or weeks. With the EU-Turkey deal, however, followed by the closure of the Macedonia border and the Balkan land route to central Europe, more than 62,000 refugees from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan are now stranded in Greece, a large percentage of whom are in desperate need of mental health services.
The EU-Turkey deal and the sudden closure of the Greek-Macedonian border meant that many people who had planned on continuing onwards to central and northern Europe were forced to quickly reassess their plans. Not only did this cause chaos in the asylum system in Greece - by suddenly overloading it with thousands more cases over night - it created a fresh trauma for many refugees whose futures became instantly uncertain.
"It was really abrupt what they did," explains Anastasia Papachristou, who works for Doctors Without Borders (known by its French initials MSF). "They just stopped their movement and the majority of our patients had to plan their lives all over again." Because of this, she continues, "they experienced yet another trauma."
'We share patients'
Since 2014, MSF has run a joint programme with Babel DC - a local Greek NGO that offers mental health services and support to the refugee and migrant community currently stuck in Greece. "We share patients," says Anastasia.
"They [Babel] have a psychiatrist on their team and they provide psychological services to our patients and we cover the holistic rehabilitation of them."
Between the two organisations, refugees and migrants who have access to these services have "full support: social, psychological, medical and mental support," says Anastasi.
For the first 10 months in Greece, the Achekzai family lived in a camp in Oinofyta, a small town on the outskirts of Athens.
Despite the camp manager's continuous attempts to relocate them to central Athens where they would be able to access mental health services for Ismael and Bibi, and school for the younger son Yacoub, 16, the cries for help fell on deaf ears. For 10 months, the family sat in their tent day after day, with little clarity about their asylum process, and unable to begin a rehabilitation programme - further traumatising the entire family.
"Because of the living conditions here in Greece, the lack of safety and clarity about their asylum cases, they [the refugees] are being re-traumatised and rehabilitation takes longer. We have a lot of relapses," explains Anastasia.
In January 2017, 10 months after their arrival in Greece, the Achekzai family was finally identified as highly vulnerable and moved to an apartment in central Athens where Ismael and Bibi would have access to much needed mental health services.
"The UNHCR gave us a list of seven points of vulnerability - these are seven vulnerabilities we are looking for in a person," explains Lisa Campbell, the manager of the camp in Oinofyta where the Achekzai family was living. "In the end, in the Achekzai family of five people, there were 20 vulnerabilities - multiple vulnerabilities per person."
The Achekzai family are only one of the many cases that mental health practitioners are now facing in Greece. More and more they are dealing with problems directly caused by the increasingly desperate plight of refugees stranded in Greece.
"Because we don't have the right social services and psycho-social services available, people are getting severely depressed. People are turning to alcohol and drugs, spousal abuse and violence," explains Lisa. And the longer they sit in the camps with nothing to do and no clarity about their situations, the worse the problem gets.
"For those who have been so traumatised - either by war, by the trip or by sitting here for the last seven, eight, nine months - some of them over a year - in hopelessness without the support system that they need, they are turning to things that are going to be detrimental to society," she continues.
Mental health and rehabilitation services
The most recent case that Campbell referred to a mental health unit in her camp was of an Afghan woman who had been there for several months, was eight months pregnant, and was becoming near suicidal. She was so depressed that she had become violent towards her own family, shouting at her husband and son on a daily basis. Out of pure desperation, the husband reached out to Lisa for help, and she was able to make a referral immediately.
According to Lisa, European politicians may be "shooting themselves in the foot" by not addressing the mental health issues of the current refugee population in Greece as well as throughout the rest of Europe. "They are going to try to integrate into European society and they are not going to have the coping skills to do what they need to do to become productive members of society," she says.
But, offering mental health support and rehabilitation is complex, time-consuming and expensive, and the challenges that organisations and practitioners face are enormous. "There are challenges linked to the specific problems with which they come to us, and these are very complex problems - problems that have come with them from their country of origin," says Nikos Gionakis, president of Babel DC, a Greek mental health unit for migrants and refugees.
"Other [challenges], relate to the way they have moved, and many of them are related to the conditions of living here, from lack of perspective and lack of information about their situation," he continues.
There are also cultural challenges relating to the stigma of seeking mental health support. "When people come from countries where the mental health system is stigmatised - for example, it is identified with big mental hospitals - people believe many times that if they go to a psychiatrist they will end up in a mental hospital," says Nikos.
They are very reluctant, he adds, and it often take months to build trust to the point that these people are able to open up about the trauma they have experienced or are currently experiencing.
Due to the heavy nature of the work, Babel also offers mental health support to volunteers and professionals working with refugees and migrants. "We say that in order to care for someone, someone else must care for you," says Nikos.
Mental health and rehabilitation services will not bring back Ismael's younger brother, Isa. It may not even be able to improve Ismael's condition. But, for Isamel and Bibi - and for the thousands of refugees like them - it may help to prevent further trauma. It may even provide them with better and more effective coping mechanisms.
"It's a complex thing for us," says Anastasia. "Rehabilitation is not that you can focus on one thing. You need to have a holistic approach, so you need to follow their progress throughout the whole rehabilitation process. You have to focus on their total improvement."
This article was published on Al Jazeera's website on March 22, 2017.
Amid reports of impending closure and an uncertain resettlement deal with the US, migrants seeking asylum in Australia are stuck in Manus Island's detention center and know alarmingly little about their future.
For the so-called "boat people" unlucky enough to find themselves stuck in one of Australia's infamous offshore detention centers, the future is far from certain and a way out is unclear. The largest center is on Papua New Guinea's (PNG) Manus Island. According to the Australian government, as of December 2016, 866 men seeking asylum in Australia were being detained there.
However, PNG Chief Justice Sir Salamo Injia made a surprise announcement Monday that the Manus Island detention center had in fact closed - despite all of the detainees still living in the facility. According to media reports in PNG, the "closure" is merely a technicality.
The detention center has not been moved, but it is now being officially being considered part of the naval base on which it is built. Detainees are also reportedly free to move in and out of the compound.
The move is in ostensible compliance with a 2016 PNG Supreme Court order ruling that the detention of asylum seekers on Manus Island breached the right to personal liberty spelled out in the state constitution and was therefore illegal.
At the time of the ruling, both PNG and Australia appeared to be making progress in talks on how to close the center - although Australia's immigration minister, Peter Dutton, offered no specific details on the future of the detainees beyond a brief statement claiming that "a series of options are being advanced and implemented."
On March 1, Reuters reported that dozens of asylum seekers being detained on Manus Island accepted a cash deal of up to 25,000 Australian dollars (17,800 euros) in exchange for voluntarily returning to their home countries. The 29 men who reportedly left represent the largest number leaving the island in four years.
Other Efforts to resettle some refugees in PNG have failed, with many being forced to return to the detention center after being assaulted or robbed by locals.
The Director of Migration and Border Policy at the Lowy Institute for International Affairs in Sydney, Dr. Jiyoung Song, told DW that there are still too many uncertainties over where the detainees can be relocated to.
"I understand the government is still in negotiation with relevant parties," she said. "Australia hopes that the United States will take them [asylum seekers], but it is still unclear whether the deal will be implemented on which scale or when."
US deal in troubled waters
The potential US solution was the result of a deal made in November 2016 following a year of negotiations with the Australian government. The US had reportedly offered the one-off agreement to resettle refugees currently being held on both Manus Island and Nauru.
But a few months on, the future of the deal is looking less assured. The biggest concern at this stage is the unpredictablity of US President Donald Trump. Although the deal was organized under his predecessor Barack Obama, a change in US administration usually does not threaten finalized negotiations made by a previous government.
"President Trump's anti-immigration and US-first rhetoric has had an impact on his commitment to delivering his predecessor's agreed deal with Australia," said Song, "Mr. Trump abruptly ending his phone call with Prime Minister Turnbull doesn't look like a good signal for his commitment to the deal, although he did say he would honor the deal with extreme vetting over those to be transferred to US soil."
The US's refugee processing system is notoriously long and rigorous, meaning applicants could wait up to two years in offshore detention while processing takes place - time which those stuck on the Manus Island detention center may not have. Shortly after the original deal was made, US Homeland Security officials arrived in Australia to begin the vetting process, although it is unclear if this process has been stalled.
Australia's prime minister has reiterated that recent events will not affect the US's original commitment to take refugees from the offshore detention centers.
But even if the deal is successfully implemented, the women and children being held at the other Australian detention center on Micronesia's Nauru Island are far more likely to be given preference for resettlement in the US, leaving the future of Manus Island detainees even more uncertain in the wake of its alleged imminent closure.
'Ring of steel'
The Manus Island detention center was originally built in 2001 as part of Australia's so-called Pacific Solution - a government policy which saw asylum seekers transported to detention centers on Pacific island nations instead of the Australian mainland.
Although the policy enjoyed bipartisan support, the center on Manus Island was closed for a period of time in 2008 before controversially re-opening in 2012 due to an increase in irregular maritime boat arrivals.
Following an increased number of drownings at sea, the renewed policy centered on the premise that the ends justified the means. Since 2009, more than 600 asylum seekers have died en route to Australia.
The area around the northern coast has subsequently been described as a "ring of steel" by Australian government sources.
Along with its Nauru counterpart, the Manus Island detention center has sparked much controversy, with numerous reports of assault, mental illness and self-harm among detainees.
Notable incidents include the riots in February 2014 which resulted in the murder of 23-year-old Reza Berati and the death of 24-year-old Hamid Kehazaei in August of that year after an urgent medical transfer to the Australian mainland was significantly delayed. In January 2015, up to 700 men took part in a hunger strike which lasted two weeks.
Scarcity of information
Any information coming out of Manus Island tends to raise more questions than it answers.
Immigration expert Song said the current outlook for detainees in offshore detention is bleak, with the Australian government quickly running out of options.
"Australia will have to find another third country option,” she said. "New Zealand has already offered but Australia turned it down as it's too close to Australia. It may try Canada, or go back to the Malaysia option again, which failed under the Gillard government."
"It may revisit the Cambodia option. As far as the public know, only five went there and three have left." Song added that asylum seekers didn't come to Australia to be settled in Cambodia, a developing and non-democratic country that is probably not entirely safe for asylum seekers. "Nobody wants to go, so this option, although it's still alive, is not a working one."
This article was published on DW's website on March 16, 2017.
By Moulid Hujale
After eight years of a rigorous resettlement process at Kenya’s Dadaab refugee camp, Dahabo Hashi and her five children were due to travel to South Dakota on 10 March. Civil war in Somalia had forced them to flee to Dadaab. But their plans to start a new life in the US are now on hold, after President Donald Trump last week signed a new executive order banning travel from six Muslim-majority countries.
This is the second time that Hashi’s family has been hit by the US president’s travel ban. On 27 January, as their flight was being booked, they were told that all travel arrangements had been cancelled.
When US federal courts blocked Trump’s executive order in February, Hashi was among hundreds of Somali refugees in Kenya who were cleared for travel. But the new revised order means that their case is again on hold – at least for 120 days while the US refugee resettlement programme is suspended.
“This is painful. I cannot believe this is happening to us again. Our hopes and dreams are being shattered,” Hashi said.
“There is nowhere else to turn. We have been enduring a very tough and long process for years, hoping one day to escape the harsh life of the refugee camp, only to be told we cannot move at the last minute. It is devastating.”
Hashi arrived in Dadaab, the world’s largest refugee camp, in 1991 following the civil war in Somalia. She was among the lucky few who received the opportunity for resettlement from the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) in 2009.
Although the US is a favourite destination for refugees, it has a very tough and lengthy screening process, involving extensive background checks by multiple federal security agencies.
AdvertisementAccording to the US state department, “Refugees are subject to the highest level of security checks for any category of traveller to the United States.”
That is why it takes years for refugees to be resettled in the US, with some even deciding to withdraw their applications as the wait drags on.
Omar Jelle, a father of four, was in the final stages of a resettlement process that had started in 2007. He had thought about withdrawing several times but the travel ban made up his mind.
“I was already fed up and was in a dilemma when I heard about the travel ban, and that cemented my decision. It was difficult to explain to my wife as you can imagine,” said Jelle. “But I am a father and have to provide for my children rather than just sit and wait for something that is never coming.”
He was eight when he first arrived in Dadaab from Somalia more than two decades ago. Now, 33, he has been in the camp ever since, going to school and getting married there.
“I was a young high school graduate when I did my first resettlement interview with the UNHCR. I never thought I would marry in the camp and stay that long,” he said.
“During the process, I got married, had my first child and then the second child, the third and the fourth. I sacrificed a lot of opportunities, including several job offers in Somalia, in the hope of getting a better future for my children once resettled in the US. Enough is enough – I have now lost hope,” he said.
His only option was to return voluntarily to Somalia, to hunt for job opportunities he had turned down in the past. Last month, he left his family behind in Kenyaand returned to Mogadishu for the first time in 25 years.
He has been welcomed by old friends from Dadaab who have already settled in the city, working for charities and non-profit organisations. “I had to take the risk of going back to Somalia and I don’t regret it, because I need to move on and, of course, I have a duty to help rebuild my country as well. I plan to bring my wife and children here when the security situation gets a little better.”
Four-year-old Nimo Mohamed has cancer and her application for resettlement is being processed urgently because the treatment she needs is not available at Dadaab.
“I am very worried about what will happen to her. We are trapped here and no one knows of our situation,” said Mohamed Noor, her father.
There has been a question mark over the fate of refugees at Dadaab as Kenyan authorities have been pushing to close the entire camp.
Hundreds of thousands of Somali refugees who live at the camp fear being forced to return to Somalia, a country that is currently on the brink of famine and where al-Shabaab Islamic militants are fighting to overthrow the government.
In the Eastleigh area of Nairobi, Mohamed Osman, 28, had his resettlement interview cancelled last week. He was hoping to join his wife, who lives in the US.
“My case had been active before the order was announced but when I checked online last week, I was disappointed to find that my status update was changed to ‘on hold’. I am stuck in Nairobi where I live in constant fear of police harassment. My wife cannot come to me because she has a green card and is afraid to be denied re-entry to the US if she leaves,” he said.
Osman had lived in Dadaab since 1991 before moving to Nairobi a couple of years ago. He is contemplating taking a dangerous journey to try to reach his wife if his application is not successful.
“As a man, I have to find plan B. There should be some way out even if it means giving my life to smugglers in order to escape this life and meet my wife,” he said.
Commenting on the executive order, the UN high commissioner for refugees, Filippo Grandi, said: “The imperative remains to provide protection for people fleeing deadly violence, and we are concerned that this decision, though temporary, may compound the anguish for those it affects.”
This article was published on The Guardian's website on March 14, 2017.
One year after the EU-Turkey deal: migrants and asylum seekers are paying the price with their health
One year after the EU-Turkey Deal, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) released a report to expose the human costs of European policy failures in Greece and the Balkans. MSF calls on the EU and member state leaders to radically change their approach to migration and ensure a swift end to the unnecessary suffering of the thousands caught in the consequences of the EU-Turkey deal.
The European Council stated that the deal, which rewards Turkey for “stemming the flow” of migrants and refugees and accepting those forcibly returned from Greek shores, would offer migrants “an alternative to putting their lives at risk”. One year after, men, women and children are trapped in unsafe zones outside Europe, unable to flee, forced to use even more dangerous smuggling routes to reach Europe, or they are trapped in overcrowded “hotspots” on the Greek islands.
“The deal is having a direct impact on the health of our patients, and many are becoming more vulnerable,” says Jayne Grimes, MSF psychologist in Samos. “These people have fled extreme violence, torture and war and survived extremely dangerous journeys. Today, their anxiety and depression is aggravated by the lack of information on their legal status and their poor living conditions. They are losing any hope that they will find a safer, better future than the one they fled. I often see people who contemplate suicide or self-mutilate.”
According to the report “One Year on From the EU-Turkey Deal: Challenging the EU’s Alternative Facts”, MSF psychologists in Lesvos saw the percentage of patients with anxiety and depression increase by two and a half and the percentage of those with post-traumatic stress disorder increase threefold. Symptoms of psychosis also increased. This all coincides with our teams seeing more patients with severe trauma, and more cases of self-harm and suicide attempts. Through the nearly 300 mental health consultations MSF teams in Samos have conducted, they have seen a similar deterioration and an escalation in self-harm and suicide attempts in recent months.
“European leaders continue to believe that by building fences and punishing those who still try to cross them, they will deter others from fleeing for their lives,” says Aurelie Ponthieu, MSF humanitarian adviser on displacement.
Along the Balkan route in Serbia and Hungary, MSF teams have seen an increase in patients reporting trauma linked to the violence they have experienced since the closure of the Balkan route, a few days before the EU-Turkey deal.
“European leaders continue to believe that by building fences and punishing those who still try to cross them, they will deter others from fleeing for their lives,” says Aurelie Ponthieu, MSF humanitarian adviser on displacement.
“Every day we treat the wounds, both physical and psychological, inflicted by these deterrence policies. Such measures have proven to be not only inhumane and unacceptable, but also completely ineffective,” concludes Ponthieu.
MSF decided to suspend funds from the EU and Member States in opposition to the EU-Turkey deal. We reiterate that full respect of the right to seek asylum, the opening of safe and legal alternatives for the movement of people, such as resettlement, relocation, humanitarian visas and family reunification, as well as work and study visas are the only humane solution to end death and suffering at Europe’s borders, on land and at sea.
This article was published on Médecins Sans Frontières' website on March 14, 2017.
By: Francesca Fontanini
As more people flee gang violence, UNHCR’s international protection chief calls for shared responsibility and preparedness to protect refugees effectively.
The impact of insecurity and violence uprooting tens of thousands of people from the Northern Triangle of Central America is becoming increasingly evident in Mexico, UNHCR’s international protection chief said today, urging greater regional efforts to provide effective refugee protection.
In his opening statement at the Protection Dialogue with the Mexican Government, held in Mexico City, Assistant High Commissioner for Protection Volker Türk described the Central America situation as approaching crisis levels. He spoke shortly visiting the border region with Guatemala, where he had the opportunity to speak with many refugees and asylum seekers.
For decades, Mexico has served as a place of transit for Central American migrants heading north. But in the last few years the reality has changed with an increasing number of people from the so-called Northern Triangle countries of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, seeking asylum in Mexico. “This is a bit of a wake-up call so we are all better prepared to respond to a new, changing dynamic in the region,” Türk said.
“In the various conversations I had with men, women and children, who fled mainly from the Northern Triangle, it is evident that they are escaping from horrific situations of violence. They mentioned extortion, forced recruitment and human rights abuses mainly perpetrated by transnational organized crime groups and local criminal gangs,” he told an audience made up of government officials and institutions working on refugee issues.
Türk said that among those now fleeing the Northern Triangle there are entire families and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people – collectively known as LGBTI - who risk double discrimination because of their sexual orientation.
“Displacement is a huge challenge but also an opportunity for social transformation. Despite the horrors they have endured, refugees discover strength and resilience while in displacement. We need to empower them to contribute to their future and becoming agents of change,” he said.
With violence and persecution expected to continue in Northern Triangle countries, both Mexico and UNHCR agreed on the need for greater regional cooperation and support to provide effective protection for those driven from their homes.
Last year, Mexico received almost 9,000 new asylum applications, a 156 per cent increase in comparison to 2015. Since January 2015, the number of asylum applications filed has increased by more than eight per cent per month.
Based on this trend, the UN Refugee Agency projects at least 20,000 additional asylum claims in Mexico in 2017. “These figures reflect the reality on the ground and it is a clear indication that Mexico is no longer only a country of transit but also of destination for refugees,” said Mark Manly, UNHCR's representative in Mexico.
In the protection response, emphasis needs to be given to local integration programmes, including access to the labour market and basic services. “These programmes could be a win-win situation where also host communities can benefit. Embracing diversity is an added value to any society,” Türk said.
The parties also concluded that there should be greater efforts to improve the quality of asylum, access to a fair and efficient process in the recognition of refugee status, and alternatives to detention for asylum-seekers with special provision made for children.
Both UNHCR and the Government of Mexico will continue working with the local and regional authorities as well as to strengthening the partnership with civil society groups and shelters which host refugees and migrants in Mexico.
UNHCR welcomed the commitments announced by President Enrique Peña Nieto during the UN Leaders Summit held in New York in September 2016, as well as Mexico’s commitments under the San Jose Declaration, adopted in July last year.
“These are important steps also ahead of crafting a Global Compact on Refugees in 2018,” Türk concluded.
This article was published on the UNHCR's website on March 10, 2017.
By Patrick Wintour
Human rights groups have heavily criticised a vote by the Hungarian parliament to force all asylum seekers into detention camps as the country’s prime minister, Viktor Orbán, called migration “a Trojan horse for terrorism”.
The asylum seekers will be kept in converted shipping containers while they wait for their cases to be heard via video-link as part of measures Orbán said were designed to save Europe. He considers the migrants, many of whom are Muslims, as a threat to European Christian identity and culture.
The measure was fiercely opposed by civil liberties groups in the country and some socialist MPs but was nevertheless passed overwhelmingly by 138 votes to six with 22 abstentions. Support came from Orbán’s Fidesz party and the far-right Jobbik.
Amnesty International, one of a consortium of seven civil rights groups to protest against the new regulations, said the proposals would breach EU law and the refugee convention. “Dumping all refugees and migrants into containers isn’t a refugee policy it’s avoiding one,” the group said in a statement, denouncing the Hungarian moves as a “flagrant violation of international law.”
Gauri van Gulik, Amnesty’s deputy director for Europe, said: “Rounding up all men, women and children seeking asylum and detaining them months on end in container camps is a new low in Hungary’s race to the bottom on asylum seekers and refugees.”
Amnesty called on the European Union to take action against Hungary’s “illegal and deeply inhumane measures.”
The United Nations refugee agency said the new law “violates Hungary’s obligations under international and EU laws, and will have a terrible physical and psychological impact on women, children and men who have already greatly suffered.”
Asylum seekers in Hungary, which hundreds of thousands entered in 2015 in the hope of reaching western Europe, can at present be held for up to four weeks if they are apprehended within five miles of the border, but the new rules remove the time limit and will apply countrywide. Unaccompanied minors below the age of 14 will be put in the care of the country’s child protection services.
The Hungarian government stressed that any detained asylum seekers would be free to leave at any point, as long as they drop their claim and return to either Serbia or Croatia, the two countries through which refugees have mainly been arriving.
The law, due to come into force in a week, will also require asylum seekers to have their fingerprints and photographs taken, or be thrown out of the country for non-cooperation. It also makes it easier to declare a state of emergency designed to ensure that no one can enter Hungary and the EU without permission.
A statement from the seven civil rights groups, which includes the Hungarian Helsinki Committee and MigSzol, the Migrant Solidarity Group of Hungary, said extension of the current state of emergency due to migration to September “only serves to maintain the xenophobic, fear-mongering propaganda.” It said there were “hardly 400” asylum seekers in the country at present.
A total of 391,000 people arrived in Hungary illegally across the green border in 2015, the Hungarian government claims, of whom 177,000 submitted requests for asylum but only 5,000 waited until their asylum proceedings were completed.
Hungary accepted 502 asylum seekers in 2015 and 425 in 2016. Germany took in 890,000 asylum seekers in 2015 and 280,000 in 2016.
There have also been claims, rejected by the government, in the Swedish press that the Hungarian border guards have been attacking asylum seekers. Media access to the camps is restricted.
Orbán said at an oath-taking ceremony for border guards, called “border-hunters” by the government, on Tuesday that the arrival of asylum seekers might have ebbed since 2015 but it had not come to an end.
He said Hungary had to act on its own since the migration crisis would last until its causes are removed and the EU could not be relied upon to do so.
“We are still under attack,” Orbán insisted. “The pressure on Hungary’s borders will not cease in the next few years because millions more people are preparing to set off in the hope of a better life. The storm has not blown itself out.”
He added: “Migration is the Trojan wooden horse of terrorism. The people that come to us don’t want to live according to our culture and customs but according to their own at European standards of living.”
The refugees are expected to be kept at two or three camps on Hungary’s southern border.
In addition, Hungary is pressing ahead with a second electrified fence along the Serbian-Hungarian border due to be completed by 1 May. The new barrier, stretching for nearly 100 miles (150km), will enable the border to be monitored using CCTV and thermal cameras, and other technological equipment.
A government spokesman said: “Thanks to the new technology, a low voltage, and completely safe current will also be flowing through the fence, which will send an alarm to border control authorities if any attempts are made to damage the fence.
“The goal to be realised by the fence is exactly what the Austrians want too, that nobody is able to cross the border who will need to be sent back later because they are in the EU illegally.”
This article was published on The Guardian's website on March 7, 2017.
By Todd Stump
Everyone in Arbaz's family is dead.
One brother disappeared more than two decades ago and another died after losing a leg in a bombing and an arm to the Taliban, who sawed it off at the shoulder.
Arbaz's hosts have generously provided for his material needs and attended to his physical injuries, but after 11 months as a refugee in Germany, this is the first time the 23-year-old Afghani opened up about the trauma he experienced in his home and during his journey.
"Nobody knows my heart is crying," he told Dr. Shaifali Sandhya at a Red Cross refugee center in Berlin. "When I would tell people at home, they'd treat it as an ordinary thing."
To people in his homeland his experience is unexceptional, common enough not to be examined or thought about too much. The same is true for people in his new home. His fellow refugees lived through their own traumas and the staff at the resettlement centers have heard many similar stories.
Sandhya -- a Delhi-born, Cambridge-educated psychologist -- has counseled hundreds of immigrants in her career. She says the psychological effects of trauma from war -- loss, privation and social isolation -- may be a better indicator of an immigrant's ability to successfully adapt than characteristics governments tend to focus on, like country of origin and religion.
Sandhya left her home in Chicago in November 2016 to conduct a 10-day fact-finding trip in Germany, the first part of a study of how trauma among refugees manifests itself in individual and group behavior. Sandhya, 44, speaks five languages and is learning German as well. She financed the project herself.
She visited four cities, spoke to government ministers, visited refugee centers and met more than 100 refugees, videotaping interviews with some of them, including Arbaz. Names of the refugees have been changed to protect their identities because they fear the recent backlash against Muslim immigration in Europe and are concerned that President Donald Trump's travel ban will force them to return to their home countries, where they likely will face retribution and even death.
At the outset of the trip, Sandhya considered herself well-suited for the research. An immigrant herself, she has lived in five different countries, including Muslim ones, and studied the interpersonal dynamics of non-Westerners in Western countries. She counsels immigrant families confronted by colliding cultures, but while examining the physical and psychological journey of refugees, she began a journey of her own.
She arrived at the first refugee center in a bustling Berlin neighborhood dotted with ethnic restaurants, where 40 percent of the residents are immigrants.
The refugee center is in a recently converted department store, the exterior of which was decorated with children's drawings -- it could have been a school or a recreation center. The elevator was covered in graffiti, but not the kind an American city-dweller might expect. Instead, these were images of dinosaurs with kitten's heads and other fanciful children's scribblings.
Germany's refugee population is primarily from Afghanistan and Syria and is mostly male. All the residents at the refugee center have experienced some form of trauma.
The scar that runs down the face of Ferhad, a 20-year-old unmarried Syrian immigrant from Aleppo, is a lifetime reminder of the torture he suffered under interrogation. Arbaz contracted an infection during a long boat journey, causing severe abdominal pain and blood in his urine.
"These are clear signals to health professionals that they are in need of help. But what of the wounds that can't be seen?" Sandhya asked.
With Sandhya next to him, Arbaz sat patiently while questions and answers were translated from English to German to Urdu and then back again. Frustrated, he finally turned to Sandhya and surprised her, asking in her native Hindi, "How do I explain what goes on in my heart?"
In her years of counseling immigrants and helping them to cope with new environments and personal relationships, Sandhya learned that what might seem to be a matter of the mind to a mental health professional is frequently a matter of the heart to a patient.
"I've learned that you can't help a person if you ignore culture and family considerations, but until now, I've seen it mostly from the female perspective," she says. "This new experience has taught me that the traumas women suffer are often related to the traumas experienced by the men in their lives. But men in these cultures are reluctant to talk about them, so the problem goes untreated."
Hassan – whose name, like Arbaz's, has been changed to protect his identity -- told Sandhya that he had been a darji, a tailor. He was born to a Kurdish family of seven siblings in Afrin, a land wild with olive groves known as "liquid gold" in northern Syria.
"I had a normal life," the 32-year-old refugee said. "After my marriage, I stayed with my wife and children."
That changed in 2006 when Syrian President Bashar-al-Assad's forces pulled Hassan from his shop and out of his normal life. He was detained in a secret prison for his "political activities" and his quest for a new life began.
Upheaval in the lives of refugees like Hassan can cause trauma that manifests in ways having profound effects on both refugees and the countries where they settle.
Sandhya said psychologists know that when no constructive outlets are available for mental anguish, symptoms can emerge as what they call "somatic" pain, or pain related to the body and distinct from the mind.
"Somatic pain can manifest itself in many guises including malaise or chronic bodily aches, but has no diagnosable medical cause," she explains.
Further disguising the problem is that these trauma manifestations may be shaped by culture, so they deviate from the typical ways Americans, for instance, may experience PTSD, Sandhya said.
"Salvadoran female civil war refugees can suffer from "calorias"-- a perception of intense heat in their body. For Cambodians, it is sometimes manifested as hallucinations of vengeful spirits," she said.
Headaches, Sandhya learned, was how Syrian men here are experiencing the phenomenon.
"I have huge headaches. I feel sad but I don't cry . . . I am living with men and I cannot have them see me cry," Hassan said.
"Have you spoken to Aliya and Imran since you left?" Sandhya asked, inquiring about Hassan's children.
Rubbing his temple, Hassan replied, "I have a headache. I am sorry. I want to tell you more… but I cannot."
Another coping mechanism is unwavering faith. Many refugees credit Allah with their survival. Yet another is dissociation, a term psychologists use to describe the separation of normally related mental processes, which results in one process functioning independently from the rest.
"It is a coping mechanism to help the person continue to function in the aftermath of emotionally traumatizing life events," Sandhya said. She sees it regularly when refugees tell their stories, describing horrific events in anodyne, emotionless ways.
Arbaz told his story as if he was reading a telegram; short declarative sentences delivering horrifying news and ending abruptly.
"I saw little children take pictures of the war, of dead corpses."
"People were being flagellated, strung up as chickens with their flesh torn up."
Even before he turned 13, four of Arbaz's siblings died, lost to bombing and Taliban attacks. When he was 16, another sibling died. His parents, unable to cope with their misfortune and without treatment for their own trauma, died in quick succession, grief-stricken.
Left out of his retelling was any description of his own horror at having witnessed such events, the terror he must have felt under constant fear of death, or the heartbreak of watching his parents die.
By the time a refugee arrives in a host country, he has spent an average of $9,000, traveled through six countries and many cities, endured two years of intense hardship, and attempted unsuccessfully to settle in a safe haven at least twice. But, most significantly, he has likely witnessed repeated brutalities to family members, loved ones and traveling companions.
"What an outsider might see as a casual acceptance of death is the brain coping with overwhelming trauma," Sandhya said. "Dissociation limits and alters the access to intense sensory and emotional memories that would otherwise inhibit basic functions."
While this protective mechanism alters the impact of terror on our bodies, it does so at the price of silencing victims whose experiences are vital to understanding the effects of trauma. Sandhya recommended that refugees be encouraged to share these traumatic episodes both for their own health and for their successful integration into their new communities.
Through her study, Sandhya said she hopes to gather knowledge of civic innovations that lead to more successful integration with less conflict. She said the lessons can be applied to refugee settlement in the U.S.
While there are misgivings among the general public about the level of resettlement in Germany and a growing political backlash, Sandhya said that everyone from the most senior elected officials to the caregivers in the refugee centers were united in their unwavering belief that the experiment will succeed. Frequently, the commitment is quite personal; many Germans involved in the resettlement efforts are married to immigrants or are immigrants themselves.
But their efforts on behalf of the refugees can be suspect. In their home villages, many were told that Germany is a dangerous place where Muslims were unwelcome. Rania, an 8-year-old from Syria, at first refused to believe one of the center's workers was, in fact, German.
Rania said to her, "I can't believe it because you smile all the time."
This article was published on US News' website on February 15, 2017.