New OXFAM Report: A dangerous 'game': the pushback of migrants, including refugees, at Europe’s borders
By Catherine Garcia
This time last year, the Bidi Bidi refugee camp in Uganda didn't exist; today, it's home to more than 270,000 people who fled war and famine in South Sudan.
What was once just brush is now crisscrossed with roads and dotted with buildings. Bidi Bidi opened in August 2016, and by the end of the year, 260,000 people had already made their way there. It is now the world's largest refugee camp, the U.N. says, larger than the Dadaab camp in Kenya that has welcomed Somali refugees for more than two decades.
At least 50,000 people have died in the conflict in South Sudan since it began in 2013, and more than 800,000 refugees have fled to Uganda; on Tuesday alone, 3,000 refugees crossed the border, NPR reports. The U.N. says this is the fastest growing refugee crisis in the world, and humanitarian needs have reached "unprecedented levels."
The UNHCR has initiated a special program to help wary Mozambican refugees return home. Recurring tensions between FRELIMO, the ruling party, and the opposition RENAMO have sent thousands of Mozambicans fleeing across the border into Malawi.
UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, and the Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development (KFAED) today signed an agreement worth US$10 million to improve the living conditions of Syrian refugees in northern Iraq.
The KFAED contribution, the first ever to UNHCR, will have a substantial impact on the water, health, sanitation, shelter conditions in five camps hosting 97,000 Syrian refugees in Dohuk and Erbil, in northern Iraq.
The agreement was signed at a ceremony attended by Kelly T. Clements, the UN Deputy High Commissioner for Refugees, and Abdulwahab A. Al-Bader, the Director General of the Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development.
“The generous contribution from the Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development is extremely welcome and timely, with the number of Syrian refugees in the region now exceeding 5 million people,” Clements said.
“Many Syrian families in Northern Iraq have been displaced for extended periods of time and live in dire conditions. They need our solidarity and our support, now more than ever,” she added.
The KFAED contribution reflects Kuwait’s pioneering humanitarian efforts and is a real commitment to creating a brighter future for refugees, added the Deputy High Commissioner.
Iraq currently hosts over 230,000 Syrian refugees, most of whom are located in the northern part of the country, in Erbil, Duhok and Sulaymaniyah. Over 90,000 Syrian refugees, almost 40 percent, live inside camps, including Domiz 1, the largest refugee camp in Iraq, Domiz 2, Basirma camp, Darashakran camp and Qushtapa camp, where the project funding will be directed.
The Deputy High Commissioner’s two-day mission to Kuwait follows the High Commissioner’s visit last year and comes just ahead of the Brussels conference, Supporting the Future of Syria and the Region Conference in Brussels, on 4-5 April 2017. The Ministerial conference will discuss the implementation of commitments made a year ago to support Syria and outline the way ahead for the refugee response.
Kuwait has previously hosted three international humanitarian pledging conferences, and nine top donors’ meetings in support of the international humanitarian response to the humanitarian crisis in Syria.
Kuwait also co-hosted the Supporting Syria and the Region conference in 2016, during which the country pledged US$300 million in support of the Syria humanitarian response over the next three years.
By 2016, the State of Kuwait had provided a contribution of US$360 million to UNHCR for the Syrian crisis and Iraq. In 2015, the country held the position of largest donor per capita and was UNHCR’s sixth largest donor globally.
Published on the UNHCR's website on April 2, 2017.
BY JEANNE CARSTENSEN
At an abandoned grocery store on a strip of dirt next to the Hungary-Serbia border fence, Bashar and Marua Surchi huddle with their children around the fire.
The Surchis have spent seven months in Serbia after fleeing violence in their hometown of Dohuk, in Iraqi Kurdistan. Bashar, an English teacher, and Marua, a veterinarian, traveled from Iraq to Turkey to Bulgaria with their two young girls. They wanted to reach Germany, but after arriving in Serbia they found their path blocked.
Like all of the 8,000 registered refugees in Serbia, they are waiting for their family’s name to be chosen from a list. Hungary allows only five asylum seekers a day to enter each border gate, 10 total.
For now, they live in this abandoned grocery store in an open camp next to the border. But starting Tuesday, all asylum seekers — including the Surchis — will be detained in closed camps.
From where Bashar is standing, he can see one of the camps, just on the other side of the fence. It’s a dense warren of shipping containers laced with huge coils of barbed wire.
He says the detention facility looks more like a prison than a refugee camp.
“What did I do? I’m not a terrorist!” he says. ”I’m human.”
The new policy is part of a larger effort by hardline anti-immigration Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban. His government has been struggling to deal with the thousands of people from the Middle East, Southeast Asia and Africa trying to get into Europe over the past two years.
According to the Hungarian government, 324 shipping container homes have been installed at two separate locations, called "transit zones," built into a fence that Hungary erected along the 110-mile-long border in 2015.
EU member Hungary previously systematically detained all asylum applicants but suspended the practice in 2013 under pressure from EU officials, the UN refugee agency and the European Court of Human Rights.
Rights groups like Amnesty International have condemned the new rules for failing to meet Hungary's international obligations to asylum-seekers.
The UNHCR also said that systematic detention will "have a terrible physical and psychological impact on women, children and men who have already greatly suffered."
Safet Resulbegovic manages a Serbian refugee camp run by the Serbian government. He’s concerned the refugees in the new Hungarian detention centers will turn to smugglers and human traffickers to escape. He’s also concerned the conditions will breed violence.
“When you run from war, and you are going to a part of world where they promised you human rights and a normal life ... and you come there and you see that that doesn’t exist ... I’m scared that those people will be more disappointed and maybe they will become violent to the others.”
So far, the European Commission has been reluctant to pressure Hungary to repeal the policies that many advocates are calling a violation of international law.
On Tuesday, EU Commissioner for Migration Dimitris Avramopoulos praised Hungary’s actions and participation in border safety for the European Union. He vaguely raised some concerns at a press conference, saying the EU will continue “to work together with experts to ensure EU rules are complied with.”
But short of that, the EU and the European Commission have signalled little willingness to intervene.
And that leaves refugees like Bashar Marua with no place to turn.
“How [will] we live there? How will we sleep there?” Marua says, as her daughter begins to wimper. "[What if] the baby gets sick? What do we do?”
Published on Pulitzer Center's website on March 31, 2017.