By Christina Okello
Activists have raised concerns about new EU plans to allow police to force migrant children to have their fingerprints taken. The aim is to prevent unaccompanied minors from going missing or ending up in the hands of criminal gangs. Critics say coercion is not the answer.
Under the proposal, EU member countries would be able to take the fingerprints of children as young as six, compared to the current age of 14.
An estimated 10,000 unaccompanied refugee children went missing in Europe between 2014-2016, according to the EU’s law enforcement agency, Europol.
"We have been pushing for lowering the age of taking fingerprints of migrant children from 14 to 6," Anna-Maria Corazza Bildt, an MEP with the right-wing European People's Party told RFI. "It's extremely difficult for law enforcement authorities to find them, to identify them and to protect them if they're not fingerprinted."
NGOs oppose coercion
The problem is how you take the fingerprints. Using coercion is not the answer, claim rights activists, who argue the move also undermines data protection, at a time where the EU is rolling out measures to boost privacy.
"When it comes to a child of six, how ready can he or she be to make an informed decision when it comes to having his or her fingerprints taken?" Marie Martin, a Migration & Asylum Programme Officer with the organization EuroMed Rights, told RFI.
Technically, the use of force would only be applicable to children aged 14 and not six, and only as a last resort. Even so, Martin is still unimpressed.
"Their rights would not be better protected if they're better identified," she reckons. "What's going to protect them is if you put in place safeguards and child-friendly measures, ie proper reception conditions."
Kids on streets
Not only would the measure be ineffective against criminal gangs, Martin adds, fingerprinting also won't solve the problem of missing persons.
"This measure is already in place for children from the age of 14. Those children are still wandering on the streets and are still lost, because they've absconded, because they want to escape, for some of them, from systems which are not respectful of their rights."
Europe has grappled with a massive influx of migrants since 2015, with many countries struggling not only with the challenge of taking in migrants but also of how to track them down.
"There was no consideration of any alternative means in the political debate at the Commission," regrets for his part Eric Topfer, a Policy Advisor for Human Rights Policies at the German Institute for Human Rights.
"If you’re interested in children's rights, there could have been an option to enter alerts on missing persons in the Schengen information system, which is also an EU wide database," he told RFI.
Proposing a new fingerprinting system when one already exists -- Eurodac which was set up in 2003 -- doesn't say much for the efficiency of the current model.
Supporters of the proposal argue an overhaul is necessary.
"In the current situation, member states have a free hand based on national law," says MEP Corazza Bildt.
If the new proposal goes through, "it would be much more restricted and with many safeguards on the way you would be able to take fingerprints," she insists.
Fifteen years after Eurodac was created, it's increasingly become a policing tool.
Topfer, from the German Institute for Human Rights, is concerned that the new proposal would embolden police to overstep their power.
"The police would immediately be able to access Eurodac to search for fingerprints of migrants and asylum seekers," he says, warning against a criminalisation of the migrant community.
"They are immigrants, they've done nothing illegal. Usually police only have access to databases where fingerprints are registered of people who are suspected of committing a crime. It's discrimination of a certain population in Europe."
Corazza Bildt admits the proposal "is not ideal, it's not what we want," but claims it is better than the current situation.
But, rather than going directly to coercion, "one should really try to convince the children in a child-friendly manner in a way that protects their dignity," she adds.
Published on RFI on April 26, 2018
MARIANGELA’s eyes fill with tears as she talks about her parents in Venezuela. A pre-school teacher, she arrived in Chile three months ago with her husband and two children. They live with 48 other immigrants, mainly Venezuelans, in a refuge run by an evangelical church in Puente Alto, a poor district on the outskirts of Santiago. The corrugated-iron rooms are stuffed with bunk beds and mattresses. There is just one bathroom. Children play on a dusty patio among discarded bits of wood and metal and an abandoned sofa.
Despite the discomfort she has to endure, Mariangela feels lucky. She has found work in a shop and her children are going to a municipal school and to a nursery that has waived its fees. “I heard that Chileans were snobs but I have been treated only with kindness,” she says, pointing at her olive-toned skin.
Chile has recently become a magnet for migrants. From 2007 to 2015 the number of immigrants living in Chile increased by 143% to 465,000 people, about 2.7% of the population. That is the third-highest rate of increase among members of the OECD, a rich-country club. Peruvians, Colombians, Argentines and Bolivians made up about two-thirds of migrants in that period. Since then, immigration has shot up at an even faster rate. Last year, Venezuelans were the largest group of new arrivals, followed closely by Haitians. Now 1m foreigners are thought to live in Chile. A third of them are undocumented.
Chileans should welcome immigration. Birth rates are falling, the population is ageing and unemployment is low. Chile has a shortage of workers in health care, technology and agriculture. It needs “both manual and skilled labour” says Rodrigo Ubilla, the under-secretary of the interior. In 2015 immigrants had more years of education, higher salaries and higher rates of employment than Chileans, according to the country’s survey of poverty.
But the abrupt rise in immigration has come as a shock to a country that had no empire and is a long way from the world’s main trouble spots. Most Chileans are descendants of Spanish colonisers and indigenous people. Later immigrants from Spain, Germany, Croatia and other places added to the mix. Chileans tend to think of themselves as transplanted Europeans (and largely ignore the country’s indigenous heritage).
The new diversity has brought two problems. It has overwhelmed an immigration system designed for smaller numbers. And it has provoked a backlash against newcomers. Sebastián Piñera, who became Chile’s president last month, proposes to deal with both by making immigration more orderly but also harder.
Chile has less immigration than many other countries, but 68% of Chileans want to restrict it, according to a survey by the National Institute of Human Rights. Nearly half think immigrants take jobs from locals. Haitians provoke most hostility. Last year the number of Haitians in Chile grew by 100,000, in part because Brazil made it harder for them to come. Most do not speak Spanish and tend to be black as well as poorer and less educated than other Latin American immigrants. They are subject to more assaults and insults and often work in terrible conditions. Earlier this year, labour inspectors found five Haitian forestry workers living in a stable in southern Chile without electricity or sanitation. Haitians with higher education often do the same manual labour as their compatriots (other immigrants also have that problem, because Chileans are slow to recognise foreign degrees in some professions).
“Haitians are not welcome in Chile,” says Edward Sultán, who works for An Nou Pale (“Let’s Talk”) Foundation, a charity that helps black people integrate into Chilean society. “If you’re black, you’re considered inferior.” A video posted recently on social media showing Haitians arriving at Santiago airport spoke of an “invasion”. Checho Hirane, a radio presenter, worried aloud that uncontrolled immigration would “change our race”, though he later backtracked.
Colombians are next to Haitians at the bottom of an informal pecking order, says José Leonardo Jiménez, a communications graduate from Venezuela. That may be because some Chileans stereotype Colombians as drug-dealers. Venezuelans, he says, are higher up, in part because they tend to have more education.
While proclaiming that Chile “is open to and welcomes immigration”, Mr Piñera is trying to limit and control it. On April 9th he announced that foreigners who come as tourists will no longer be able to ask for temporary work visas once they are in the country. Instead, they will have to apply for a new “opportunities” visa outside Chile. Decisions will be made based on a points system, which favours those with sought-after skills and education.
Think of a number
Successful applicants will be treated well. They will get an identity number which will let them open bank accounts, sign housing contracts and so on. Immigrants will have the same access to public health care and education as Chileans. To attract the most highly skilled, Mr Piñera announced a new visa for postgraduates from the world’s top 200 universities.
Haitians will face much more restrictive treatment than others. Tourists will have to apply for 30-day visas outside Chile (compared with the 90-day visas issued at the border for citizens of most Latin American countries). To soften this blow, the government will issue up to 10,000 “humanitarian” visas a year to Haitians who already have relatives in Chile. Venezuelans will be treated more indulgently. Unlimited numbers will be able to apply for a “democratic responsibility” visa, an acknowledgment of the country’s “grave democratic crisis” and the refuge it provided when Chile was a dictatorship in the 1970s and 1980s.
Unlawful immigrants from all countries who arrived in Chile by April 8th will be allowed to stay. However, Mr Piñera said the government would get tough with people-smugglers and make it easier to expel anyone who violates immigration laws. A new “migration-policy council” will keep updating the country’s strategy. The visa regime will take effect under a presidential decree while the new law is debated in the congress.
José Tomás Vicuña, director of the Jesuit Service for Migrants, says the changes are “worrying”. He fears that expulsions will violate the right of immigrants to due process. Father Vicuña calls the measures directed at Haitians “arbitrary”. And he argues: “The country will spend more money on controlling borders and probably end up with a greater number of undocumented immigrants.”
The government’s new policy is likely to get a mixed reception in Quilicura, a district in the north of Santiago where most immigrants are Haitians. Even before Mr Piñera’s amnesty, the local authorities had made public services available to all, regardless of their legal status. They provide Spanish lessons and help in finding work. Creole-speakers work in schools and health centres. This reduces the risk that immigrants will cluster in ghettos, sell drugs and trade illegally, says Juan Carrasco, the mayor. Mr Piñera’s new policy will help them, by enshrining their right to stay and to use public services. But it may make some Haitians feel more than ever like second-class non-citizens.
Published on The Economist on April 12, 2018
A new regulation allowing some Syrian teenagers to get temporary legal status in Lebanon more easily is a positive and long-awaited step, Human Rights Watch said today. Lebanese authorities should ensure that all children can maintain legal status, a key factor in fulfilling their right to an education.
Lebanon’s General Security agency, in charge of foreigners’ entry and residency in Lebanon, issued the regulation effective March 31, 2018. It allows Syrian children who turned ages 15 to 18 after entering Lebanon and who do not have a Syrian passport or national identity card to obtain temporary residency by presenting their Syrian individual status record, so long as it is not over two years old. General Security told Human Rights Watch that the regulation excludes refugees who have already turned 19. Authorities should ensure that refugees who turned 15 to 18 after entering Lebanon but are now over 18 can benefit from this change. They should also accept additional forms of documentation such as United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) registration or family booklets in cases in which these refugees do not have other identification.
“This is a positive and much needed step to ensure that Syrian children in Lebanon can attend school safely and without risking arrest for lack of legal status,” said Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Children should not be forced into legal limbo simply because they didn’t have certain documents when fleeing to Lebanon.”
Most Syrian refugees have not been able to meet the requirements of harsh residency regulations that Lebanon imposed in January 2015. An estimated 74 percent of the nearly 1 million registered Syrian refugees in Lebanon now lack legal status, with consequences for nearly every aspect of their lives. In a 2018 survey of 129 Syrians ages 15 to 18, the Norwegian Refugee Council found that 90 percent did not have legal residency.
Lack of residency limits refugees’ freedom of movement; leaves them vulnerable to arrest, abuse, and exploitation; hinders access to education and health care; and exacerbates child labor and early marriage. It can mean that any interaction with authorities is a risk.
Previously, children under 15 were covered by their parents’ residency status, but upon turning 15, they had to apply for their own residency using either a Syrian national ID or passport. However, many children fled to Lebanon before obtaining those documents. According to a Norwegian Refugee Council briefing document, 78 percent of children surveyed had a Syrian civil extract, also known as an individual status record, as compared with 6 percent with a passport. However, many of the individual status records will have been issued more than two years ago. General Security should amend the new regulation to accept these older personal status records.
Legal status is key to ensuring that children can continue their education, Human Rights Watch said. According to the UN Refugee Agency, only 3,902 “non-Lebanese children” are enrolled in formal secondary education, just 5 percent of the nearly 80,000 registered Syrian refugees ages 15 to 18. More than 200,000 registered Syrian children are still out of school in Lebanon seven years into the refugee crisis.
A 2016 survey by the University of Saint Joseph found that refugee children ages 15 to 17 without residency were more likely to be out of school than children in that age group with valid residency.
Older Syrian children face increasing restrictions on their freedom of movement precisely when they may need to travel longer distances and cross more checkpoints to attend secondary school. And although young children can usually cross checkpoints without incident, older children are more likely to be stopped.
Human Rights Watch previously found that General Security offices have applied residency policies inconsistently, including requiring refugees registered with UNHCR to obtain a Lebanese sponsor and requiring Syrians to sign a pledge not to work, even after this requirement was dropped in 2016. When General Security waived the annual US$200 residency fee for some refugees in 2017, it also imposed a daily quota of applications that limited the effect of the waiver, humanitarian organizations told Human Rights Watch. Lebanese authorities should ensure that the latest decision is applied consistently by all General Security offices in Lebanon, Human Rights Watch said.
The State Consultative Council found in February that the 2015 residency and entry regulations were invalid because it was the role of the government, not security agencies, to set these regulations. However, the regulations remain in force.
The Friends of Syria Group meeting in Brussels on April 24 and 25 should adopt policies and provide sufficient funding to address key obstacles to education, including harsh residency policies that restrict access to schools and contribute to poverty and child labor, Human Rights Watch said. Ensuring access to secondary education should be a core part of the education response.
Human Rights Watch has also urged candidates for Lebanon’s parliamentary elections on May 6 to support easing restrictions on temporary legal status for Syrians in Lebanon, until it is safe for them to return to Syria.
“The new decision is a step in the right direction, but should be expanded to ensure that people aren’t falling through the cracks,” Fakih said. “Children who turned 15 in Lebanon and lost legal status should not be excluded from this decision simply because they have already turned 18.”
Published on HRW on April 17, 2018
France urged by UN experts to take effective measures to bring water and sanitation services to migrants
UN human rights experts* are urging the Government of France to do more to provide safe drinking water, sanitation services and emergency shelter for migrants and asylum-seekers in Calais, Grande-Synthe, Tatinghem, Dieppe and other areas along the northern French coast.
It is estimated that up to 900 migrants and asylum-seekers in Calais, 350 in Grande-Synthe, and an unidentified number at other sites elsewhere along the northern French coast are living without adequate emergency shelter and proper access to drinking water, toilets or washing facilities.
“Migrants and asylum-seekers along the northern French coast, including those not admitted to the sports centre in Grande-Synthe, are facing an inhumane situation, with some living in tents without toilets and washing themselves in polluted rivers or lakes,” said Léo Heller, the Special Rapporteur on the human rights to water and sanitation.
“Some efforts have been made, but not enough. I am concerned that for every step forward, two steps are taken back. The situation along the northern French coast is emblematic of the need for much more attention from national and international authorities on this issue.”
Since last year, the French Government has taken temporary steps to provide access to emergency shelter, drinking water and sanitation for some migrants and asylum seekers. This includes contracting a local organisation to provide access to drinking water and shower facilities to migrants along the northern French coast, and hosting up to 200 migrants in a sports centre in Grande-Synthe.
The UN experts stressed that in the absence of valid alternatives in the provision of adequate housing, including in the Calais area, dismantling the camps was not a long-term solution. “We are concerned about increasingly regressive migration policies and the inhumane and substandard conditions suffered by migrants,” said the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, Felipe González Morales.
“Migrants, regardless of their status, are entitled to human rights without discrimination, including access to adequate housing, education, healthcare, water and sanitation as well as access to justice and remedies. By depriving them of their rights or making access increasingly difficult, France is violating its international human rights obligations.”
The experts also called for action to end harassment and intimidation of volunteers and members of NGOs providing humanitarian aid to migrants. They urged France to fulfil its obligations and promote the crucial work of human rights defenders.
Heller will address the issue of the human rights to water and sanitation of forcibly displaced people in a report to the United Nations General Assembly later this year.
The Special Rapporteurs have already contacted the Government of France to seek clarification about the issues highlighted.
Published on OHCHR on April 4, 2018