Algeria and Morocco should to take action to assure safe passage to 41 Syrian refugees stranded along the border between both countries for weeks, the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) said on Tuesday.
The Syrian refugees, including babies and a pregnant woman in need of medical care, have been stuck on the border since April 17, with Morocco and Algeria trading blame in what resulted in a diplomatic row last month.
The North African neighbors often exchange diplomatic barbs over their 1,500-km (970-mile) land frontier from the Mediterranean Sea to the Sahara Desert. It has been shut since 1994 because of disputes over security.
Last month, Morocco said the Syrians attempted to enter Morocco through the border town of Figuig, an area surrounded by mountains, between April 17 and 19. It accused Algeria of forcing them to cross into Morocco.
Algeria rejected the accusations, saying Moroccan officials had tried to dispatch a group of Syrians over the border from Morocco into Algeria.
"There is a sense of urgency in this matter and we call on both governments to take instant and constructive steps to uphold international humanitarian imperatives and evacuate this vulnerable group," the UNHCR said in a statement.
According to Human Rights Watch, the refugees arrived at the border after traveling through Libya and Sudan. The UNHCR said they are in dire circumstances, including exposure to snakes and scorpions in the remote area.
Last week, videos emerged on social media showing locals from Figuig demanding the Moroccan government allow the Syrian refugees in ahead of the holy month of Ramadan, which began last weekend.
Some 5,000 Syrians have gone through a migration regulatory process in Morocco, with several hundred receiving refugee status, according to Morocco's ministry of foreign affairs.
Morocco and Algeria have had a contentious relationship since independence from France. Border disputes triggered an armed conflict in the 1960s known as the "Sand War".
One of their biggest disputes has been over Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony, most of which Morocco claimed in 1975. Algeria supports and hosts the Western Saharan independence movement Polisario, a stance that angers Morocco.
Published on Reuters on May 30, 2017.
Human Rights First today called on Congress to reject President Trump’s budget proposals that target refugees and asylum seekers. The president’s proposed budget that was submitted to Congress today would support a decrease in overall refugee admissions, major cuts to refugee assistance, and a dramatic increase in funding for border agents, immigration detention, deportation, and the construction of a wall on the Southern border.
“President Trump’s budget proposals send a dangerous message that refugees are not welcome in the United States and will not be supported,” said Human Rights First’s Jennifer Quigley. “We urge Congress to defend America’s reputation as a leader in providing refuge to those fleeing violence and persecution by rejecting cuts to refugee assistance and resettlement."
The president’s budget proposal includes cuts to the Migration and Refugee Assistance Account, the International Disaster Assistance Account, and the Refugee and Entrants Assistant Account, all of which provide vital funding for refugees and victims of violence and persecution seeking safety. Additionally the Health and Human Services budget states that funding will be provided to support the resettlement of 50 thousand refugees in fiscal year 2018, a drastic reduction from the 85 thousand refugees resettled in FY 2016.
The budget also calls for increased funding for immigration enforcement and border security, including funding that would lead to increased detention of asylum seekers and additional barriers to asylum. This includes $300 million for 500 additional Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) officers and 1,000 additional Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, $1.5 billion for detention and deportation of immigrants, and $1.6 billion for border wall.
“This is not what American leadership looks like. A massive overuse of immigration detention and erecting multiple barriers to entry fly in the face of U.S. legal and treaty obligations to provide access to protection to refugees seeking asylum,” added Quigley.
Emboldened by the administration’s strong anti-refugee rhetoric, CBP officers have been illegally turning back asylum seekers at the border. A recent Human Rights First report “Crossing the Line,” documents dozens of incidents at seven points of entry along the Souther border where CBP agents illegally turned away asylum seekers without referring them for the required protection screening.
Published on Human Rights First's website on May 23, 2017.
The International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor expressed alarm on Monday at the inhumane detention of thousands of vulnerable migrants in Libya and said she was examining whether an investigation could be opened into crimes against them.
Libya is the main gateway for migrants attempting to reach Europe by sea. The United Nations migration agency said more than 1,000 migrants have been reported dead or missing in the Mediterranean this year, while an unknown number perish in the desert.
According to the International Organization for Migration, 20,000 migrants are held by criminal gangs in irregular detention centers in Libya and growing numbers of migrants are traded in what they call slave markets before being held for ransom, forced labor or sexual exploitation.
ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda told the United Nations Security Council that her office was collecting and analyzing information "related to serious and widespread crimes allegedly committed against migrants attempting to transit through Libya."
"I take this opportunity before the council to declare that my office is carefully examining the feasibility of opening an investigation into migrant-related crimes in Libya should the court's jurisdictional requirements be met," Bensouda said.
The United Nations Security Council asked the court in 2011 to investigate crimes committed since the start of an uprising the same year that led to the fall of leader Muammar Gaddafi. The oil-producing North African state slipped into turmoil and been riven by factional strife since then.
The International Criminal Court, which opened in 2002, has international jurisdiction to prosecute genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes in member states or if a situation is referred by the U.N. Security Council.
Published on Reuters' website on May 8, 2017.