By Nicola Davis
The majority of Europeans support proportional allocation of asylum seekers, a system that takes into account each country’s capacity, research has revealed.
But the study also shows that support for the system is dramatically affected by the number of asylum seekers expected for each country if the policy were implemented.
Published in the journal Nature Human Behaviour by researchers from the US, Britain and Switzerland, the study is based on an online survey of 18,000 citizens of 15 European countries
While, overall, 72% of participants across 15 countries supported proportional allocation when taken at face value, just under 58% backed it when told of its expected impact on the number of asylum seekers in their country. Most countries would see an increase in asylum seekers if they were distributed proportionally.
However, experts say the latest findings add weight to calls for a change in policyfrom current rules in which asylum seekers to Europe should apply in the first country in which they arrive.
“We asked people what kind of asylum system they want and what kind of asylum system they believe is fair, because back then [in 2016 when the survey was conducted], and still now, it is obvious that the current Dublin system is not working,” said Dominik Hangartner, co-author of the research from the London School of Economics.
“We had a little bit of a suspicion that the loudest voices are not necessarily representative of what the majority of the population believes,” said Hangartner.
The team randomly split the participants into four groups. The first was simply asked to select their favourite of three systems for allocating asylum seekers to countries.
One option was that applications for asylum should be allocated to the European country in which the asylum seeker first arrived (the current system); another was that each country should be allocated the same number of asylum applications; and the final option was that each country should receive applications in proportion to its capacity. The latter is a system that takes into account factors such as the country’s population size, GDP, unemployment rate and number of past applications.
The team found that for all 15 countries, the majority of participants backed proportional allocation, with 72% of all those who took part favouring the approach once factors such as age distribution and education levels for each country’s population were taken into account.
The second group of participants was also asked to choose one of the three systems, but they were told how the system currently operates and were presented with arguments for and against policy change. Again, proportional allocation received the majority of support across all countries, with almost 69% of participants backing the system.
The preferences expressed changed dramatically when a third group of participants was told just how many asylum seekers their country would be allocated for each system, based on real-world data from 2015.
“We made it very explicit, very salient, what that would imply in terms of additional numbers of asylum seekers, and asked them the question: ‘OK, which system do you prefer?’” said Hangartner.
For the UK, that would mean an increase from the 38,700 applications under the current system to 43,200 if each country received the same number, and 159,600 under the proportional allocation system.
For all countries, such as Germany, that would receive fewer asylum applications, support for proportional allocation was even higher than for those unaware of the figures. For all countries which would receive more applications under proportional allocation, the reverse was true.
While almost 61% of those in Britain supported proportional allocation on the face of it, only 31% backed the policy when the expected increase in asylum applications was made clear. Similar patterns of support for proportional allocation were seen for the final group of participants, who were given both additional information on the policies and the relevant figures.
Nevertheless, the researchers point out that six of the 10 countries that would see more asylum applications still had a majority in favour of proportional allocation even when the figures were revealed. That, Hangartner said, suggests there might be more support for reform that previously thought, adding that he believes support for proportional allocation is high because it chimes with norms around fairness also seen in other systems.
Judith Dennis, policy manager at the Refugee Council, welcomed the study. “This research confirms our own experience of the public’s clear compassion for refugees and instinct to welcome people seeking asylum,” she said.
“We urge the new government to take heed of this empathy and work to provide protection to our fair share of refugees, as well as support those refugees split from their families to reunite and live together in safety.”
A Home Office spokesperson said: “We have a proud history of offering protection to those who need it. In 2016, the UK resettled more refugees than any other EU member state, and in the five years up to December 2016 more than 23,000 children and adults have been reunited with family members in Britain.
“However, it is vital we do not incentivise treacherous journeys across Europe which play into the hands of people traffickers. We stand by the well-established principle that those seeking protection should claim asylum in the first safe country they reach.”
Published on The Guardian on June 26, 2017.
By: Vivian Tan
UN refugee chief Filippo Grandi today highlighted China’s potential to address the root causes of displacement and resolve refugee crises globally through wide-ranging development initiatives.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees is in Beijing this week on his first official visit to China. In the last two days he has met with top government officials, UNHCR’s Goodwill Ambassador Yao Chen, and addressed future diplomats at the China Foreign Affairs University.
“UNHCR and China have been cooperating for 40 years. During that time China has become a major actor on the international stage,” said Grandi. “The global refugee issue has also grown bigger and more complicated as factors causing people to flee are increasingly mixed.”
Reflecting these needs, China’s contribution to refugee programmes has increased significantly – from US$2.8 million in 2016 to US$12.5 million so far this year, much of it on the sidelines of the recent “Belt and Road” forum held in Beijing.
Led by China, the Belt and Road initiative is a far-reaching platform for international cooperation in multiple sectors including trade, investment, infrastructure, connectivity and people-to-people exchanges. It spans more than 60 countries in Asia, Europe and Africa – some of which are producing or hosting refugees.
“The Belt and Road initiative is about peace, prosperity and inclusion,” said Grandi. “We hope that China can invest some of those resources directly in countries hosting large numbers of refugees and displaced people. In doing so, it can empower refugees and their host communities in a win-win situation for all.”
The initiative also has the potential to pave the way for refugee solutions, the High Commissioner noted. “Through its many development projects, China can help to stabilize areas in conflict and address the root causes of displacement.”
Grandi noted that soft power was equally important in changing attitudes towards refugees, as Chinese actress Yao Chen has done. Through her 80 million-strong social media following in China, she has been a strong voice for refugees in the last seven years.
During their meeting on Wednesday, Grandi thanked her for advocating on behalf of refugees, and presented her with a certificate renewing her tenure as Goodwill Ambassador for two more years.
“I remain committed to the refugee cause for as long as I’m needed,” said Yao Chen. “But I long for the day I become ‘unemployed’ when there are no longer refugees in the world.”
Published on the UNHCR website on June 8, 2017.
Germany has begun granting gays from Chechnya special visas on humanitarian grounds following reports that gay people are being tortured and killed in the Russian republic.
The Foreign Ministry told The Associated Press on Thursday the first man arrived in Germany on Tuesday and four other applications for humanitarian visas are being reviewed.
Gay activists and others have been alarmed by reports accusing police in Chechnya of detaining and torturing about 100 men suspected of being gay. The AP spoke with victims of the crackdown who supported the claims, though Chechen officials have denied the reports.
Germany provides visas on "urgent humanitarian grounds" for people who can demonstrate they're in serious danger.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel pressed Russian President Vladimir Putin last month to help protect gay rights in Chechnya.
Published on NBC news on June 8, 2017.
Throughout the 20th century, it was a common and largely uncontested practice for refugees to be placed in camps when they arrived in their country of asylum.
The advantages of this arrangement appeared to be self-evident. For aid agencies, concentrating refugees in a single location made it logistically easier to provide them with the shelter, food, water, sanitation and the other forms of emergency relief they required. Refugee-hosting countries believed that there would be fewer security problems if refugees were kept in camps where their activities could be closely monitored. And there was a general sense that by accommodating refugees in large and highly visible settlements, it was easier to raise the donor state funds required for them to be sustained.
Over the past 15 years, such assumptions have come under growing critical scrutiny. Aid agencies such as UNHCR have increasingly looked for alternatives to camps, enabling refugees to live in urban centers or among host populations in rural areas. This major - and in the author’s opinion very positive policy change - has come about as the result of several considerations.
First, while camps might possibly be an appropriate response at the height of an emergency, it has become increasingly clear that refugee situations usually last for years or even decades on end. And throughout that time, camp-based refugees and their offspring are often denied basic rights, such as freedom of movement, access to land and the labor market, and the ability to establish a livelihood. Refugee camps are often located in remote, isolated and inhospitable areas, making it impossible for refugees to grow their own food and contribute to the local economy.
Second, even a well-resourced refugee camp provides an unnatural and often dangerous environment for its inhabitants, especially women and children. Camps are frequently characterized by high levels of sexual violence, the forced recruitment of adults and minors into militia groups, as well as attacks from hostile external forces. Encampment is also known to generate trauma, psycho-social problems and inter-generational conflict, making it difficult for individuals and communities to prepare for a peaceful and productive future.
Third, even in countries where refugees are officially obliged to live in camps (Kenya being one example), growing numbers of refugees chose to vote with their feet, moving to urban centers such as the capital city of Nairobi, where they have a better opportunity to find work and live a more normal way of life. At the same time, a growing proportion of the world’s refugees over the past 15 years moved to countries where, for a variety of reasons, camps were not established at all or only used to a limited extent: Egypt, India, Jordan, Lebanon, South Africa and Turkey, for example.
Finally, camps represent a lost opportunity. They make it more difficult for refugees to integrate with the local population and prevent them from acquiring the skills they will need if they are eventually to return and contribute to the rebuilding of their own country. They absorb a huge amount of scarce donor funding without offering their inhabitants the opportunity to become self-reliant and to find a solution to their plight.
In some situations, there might be little alternative to establish refugee camps, especially in the initial stage of an emergency. But this is no excuse for them to be perpetuated for years on end, progressively losing the interest and resources of the international community. As UNHCR has recently recognized, alternatives to camps must be pursued as a global principle, while the provision of appropriate support to refugees in urban centers and rural host communities must be guaranteed.
Published on Refugees International on June 7, 2017.
Thai authorities should drop criminal defamation charges against 14 Burmese migrant workers who alleged that their employer violated their labor rights, Human Rights Watch said today. Proceedings in the case will begin in Don Muang Magistrates Court in Bangkok on June 7, 2017.
“The Thai government should not allow an employer to criminalize these migrant workers for reporting what they describe as horrendous and unlawful labor conditions,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The charges against these 14 workers should be dropped, and Thailand’s criminal defamation law should be abolished.”
The 14 workers submitted a complaint to the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand (NHRC) in July 2016, accusing Thammakaset Farm – a chicken farm in Lopburi province – of subjecting them to grueling work conditions that included up to 20 hours of work per day, forced overtime, and being compelled to sleep in chicken rearing areas overnight.
Human Rights Watch’s research has found that the human rights and labor rights of migrant workers from Burma, Cambodia, and Laos working in Thailand have been regularly abused with impunity over the years. Migrant workers frequently receive little or no protection from Thai labor laws despite government assertions that all legally registered migrant workers will be protected under those laws. Migrant workers who raise complaints against Thai employers commonly face retaliation. Migrant workers are also prevented from organizing and legally establishing a labor union, or becoming an elected leader of a labor union, because of discriminatory provisions in the Labor Relations Act that only provide those rights to Thai nationals.
Thailand’s criminal defamation law provides employers with an easy way to retaliate against migrant and Thai workers alike who report alleged human rights abuses. These lawsuits accuse critics of making false statements with the intent of damaging the company’s reputation, Human Rights Watch said.
On May 31, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha emphasized the importance of companies respecting human rights in their operations and upholding the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. Specifically, he said: “The government is determined to push business operations in Thailand to be fully in line with the three pillars of the UN Guiding Principles regarding protection [of human rights], respect [for human rights], and reparation [for damage from abuse] … The government has undertaken actions, including enforcing a labor protection legislation that ensures fair treatment of workers and protect them from abuse and mistreatment.”
However, the use of criminal defamation laws is inconsistent with these commitments. Human Rights Watch, along with an increasing number of governments and international agencies, believes that criminal defamation laws should be abolished because they are an inherently disproportionate response to the need to protect reputations. Civil defamation laws are perfectly adequate for that task. In addition, criminal defamation laws in Thailand and many other countries are easily abused as a way to retaliate against people who speak out against abuses.
“The government is helping to chill the atmosphere for investigations of company supply chains, and is undermining corporate accountability, if it does not protect these 14 migrant workers from retaliation,” Adams said.
Published on HRW's website on June 7, 2017.