By Yves Clarisse
A top French court on Friday ruled that the “principle of fraternity” should have shielded an olive farmer from prosecution over his role in helping hundreds of migrants to enter the country illegally.
Cedric Herrou received a four-month suspended prison sentence last August for taking migrants from the Italian border to his farmhouse in the Roya Valley in southeastern France and housing them in a makeshift camp at a disused railway premises.
“The concept of fraternity confers the freedom to help others, for humanitarian purposes, without consideration for the legality of their stay on national territory,” the constitutional court ruled.
Fraternity is one of three values that make up France’s constitutionally enshrined national motto: Liberty, Equality and Fraternity.
The court said France’s parliament should adapt the law, and its ruling could reverberate across the European Union at a time of deep divisions within the bloc on how to deal with migrants.
Migrants who successfully cross the Mediterranean sea from Libya and elsewhere to Italy often go north and try and slip across the mountainous border into France. France tightened its border controls in 2015.
Herrou has said he believed he had a duty to provide food and shelter to desperate migrants fleeing war, poverty and oppression.
French law covering the entry of foreigners and right to asylum states that anyone aiding “the unlawful entry, movement, or stay of a foreigner in France” is liable to face up to five years in prison and a fine of up to 30,000 euros ($35,277.00).
However, it grants immunity to anyone who offers such help to a foreigner without receiving anything, such as money, in return. The court said the words “unlawful stay” should be removed to ensure that the principle of fraternity extends to those in France both legally and illegally.
In a statement, Interior Minister Gerard Collomb said the ruling was compatible with draft immigration and asylum legislation being debated in parliament.
The new law would double to 90 days the time in which illegal migrants can be detained, shortens deadlines to apply for asylum and makes the illegal crossing of borders an offense punishable by one year in jail and fines.
The center-right party, The Republicans, said it saw “major problems” with the ruling.
“This is an ideological victory for those who consider that illegal immigration is legitimate ...and an encouragement for those who think France doesn’t have the right to protect its borders,” Guillaume Larrive and Eric Ciotti, two of the party’s lawmakers, said.
Published on Reuters on July 6, 2018
In Libya, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) teams are working to care for migrants and refugees in the Bani Walid region and in detention centers in Khoms and Misrata. Here, MSF head of mission Christophe Biteau shares his analysis of the current situation.
Since the end of 2017, European, African, and Libyan officials have made a number of declarations about putting an end to the ordeal suffered by migrants and refugees in Libya. Has anything come of them?
The principal measure, facilitated by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), has primarily consisted of stepping up so-called “voluntary” returns of people from Libya to their countries of origin. A distinction should be made between two different situations in the current context. There are migrants detained in “official” centers and migrants who are abducted and held in clandestine prisons.
In November, there were close to 17,000 detainees in the first category. Their so-called “emergency evacuation” began several months ago and, since November 2017, around 15,000 of them have been repatriated. That’s a positive development when it allows people trapped in Libya and really wanting to return home to do so. All the same, we have to question the voluntary nature of these repatriations, given the arbitrary detentions that leave people no other alternative.
As for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), the organization has evacuated just over 1,000 of the most vulnerable among the refugees. Most have been taken to Niger, where they wait for another country to provide them asylum.
The majority of the over 50,000 people registered with UNHCR in Libya are from Syria and have been in the country for some time, but there are many more refugees and asylum-seekers passing through Libya who remain under the radar. They are among the ones who are abducted, locked up, sometimes even murdered. It’s difficult to estimate their number but, according to some observers, there are 700,000 migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers in the country.
Has anything about the situation changed during your time in Libya?The main change we’ve seen is a fall in the number of people held in official detention centers to between 4,000 and 5,000. This has made detention conditions a little less unbearable than they were six months ago, [easing] the problems caused by overcrowding. But so many problems still have to be addressed, and the very few international organizations deployed in the country are almost exclusively based in Tripoli and are blind to them.
Our teams providing medical care and support in several Libyan detention centers meet detainees who tell them they’re still waiting for assistance and they don’t know what’s going to become of them. The graffiti on their cell walls reflects only too well their uncertainty.
But most of all, nothing’s being done to put an end to the ordeals suffered by migrants and refugees mainly outside official detention centers. In addition, people who risk their lives by crossing the Mediterranean in an attempt to leave Libya are still, with the help of European states, being brought back to the country, where they find themselves exposed to all kinds of violence.
Let’s say you’re a young person crossing the Mediterranean in an attempt to get to Europe, and your boat is intercepted by the Libyan coast guard. What happens in this situation?People intercepted at sea by the Libyan coast guard are disembarked on the Libyan coast and taken to detention centers. UNHCR and IOM teams have divided up between them the 12 disembarkation sites [where] they have access and [are able to] conduct health assessments. The survivors are then, in theory, taken away to detention centers.
There’s no specific provision for the most vulnerable who, at this point, should be given special treatment and not be subjected to arbitrary detention that jeopardizes their health even more. We’re still seeing young children [taken] from boats intercepted at sea and brought to detention centers.
It also must be said that the distinction between official and clandestine networks is not always that clear. Anything can happen. Someone brought back from sea to Libya can all too soon end up once again in the clutches of people traffickers and the torture can begin all over again.
For many people, being sent back to the country they came from is not an option, and criminal networks are their only alternative to be able to find refuge and a better life in Europe. These networks, which Europe claims to be dismantling, have a monopoly on organizing the movements of very vulnerable people who have no other alternative. Why are Eritreans—90 percent of whose asylum claims are accepted in Europe—obliged to embark on such hazardous and arduous journeys? Doing everything to detain or return to Libya people seeking to flee just leads to even more suffering.
How widespread is the trafficking? There’s been talk of an industry of abduction and torture in Libya. Is this the case?We have no way of saying how many people are held in clandestine prisons, but kidnapping migrants and refugees and using torture to obtain ransoms is not only widespread, it’s probably increasing. It replaces incomes from local economies impacted by the lack of cash in Libyan banks. Those who survive the clandestine prisons are financially, physically, and mentally ruined. And, if it’s ever going to be possible, they need time and support to recover.
MSF doesn’t have access to clandestine prisons but assists people who manage to escape. For example, we work with a local nongovernmental organization to provide primary care in a migrant shelter in Bani Walid.
Some migrants have legs broken in several places, burn injuries, and severely beaten backs. Libyans working alongside us are as horrified as we are. While it’s impossible to say how many migrants and refugees arrive in Libya, pass through Bani Walid, and endure this nightmare, we’re treating just as many survivors during our consultations as last year.
Just last week a survivor who’d arrived at the hostel the previous day told us, “I’ve endured two months, three weeks, one day, and twelve hours of hell.” Although their health often requires them to be hospitalized, admission is often delayed because public hospitals oblige us to test patients beforehand for infectious diseases.
Every month we give 50 body bags to a local organization that wants to give a decent burial to migrants and refugees found dead in the Bani Walid area. They say they’ve buried over 730 bodies since last year. But we can’t conclude that this corresponds to the number of people who have died from the atrocities and dangers endured passing through this specific area. The death toll is definitely much higher.
PUBLISHED ON MSF ON MAY 15, 2018
Libya: Time Running Out For Hundreds of Migrants and Refugees in Dangerously Overcrowded Detention Center
Hundreds of migrants and refugees are being held in a dangerously overcrowded detention center in Libya, without adequate food or water and in inhumane conditions, the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) warned today.
Roughly 800 migrant and refugee men, women, and children are detained in the detention center in the port city of Zuwara, many of whom have been held for more than five months. The situation is deteriorating daily as more refugees and migrants are arbitrarily detained, including more than 500 people in the last 15 days alone. The number held far exceeds the center's capacity, with floor space so limited it is barely possible to lie down.
"The situation is critical," said Karline Kleijer, MSF emergency program manager. "We strongly urge all international agencies with a presence in Libya, representatives from the countries of origin, and the Libyan authorities to do everything they can to find a solution for these people over the next few days."
Since April 18, an MSF emergency team has provided health care to the detainees in the center.
On May 1, the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR airlifted 88 people in need of international protection from Zuwara to another detention center in Tripoli in order to identify the most vulnerable individuals for potential evacuation abroad. The Libyan authorities have transferred some people to other detention centers in an attempt to reduce the extreme overcrowding, and the International Organization for Migration has started a process of "voluntary humanitarian return" for some detainees. However, there is no solution in sight for many of the estimated 800 people who remain in the detention center in Zuwara.
A large number of refugees, migrants and asylum-seekers in Zuwara have already endured alarming levels of violence and exploitation in Libya and during harrowing journeys from their home countries. Many are from eastern or western African countries, but some are from as far away as southern Asia. Some were malnourished on their arrival to the center as they had been held captive by smuggling networks in the area.
"MSF calls again for an end to the arbitrary detention of refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants in Libya," Kleijer said.
Published on MSF on May 3, 2018
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
The Philippines’ new ban on Filipinos migrating to Kuwait for work is likely to increase abuses of workers who are forced to resort to unsafe and unregulated channels to enter the country, Human Rights Watch said today. Kuwait and the Philippines should instead agree on key reforms that could more effectively protect migrant domestic workers in Kuwait.On January 19, 2018, the Philippines Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) ordered a temporary ban on Filipinos seeking to migrate to Kuwait for work, pending an investigation into seven deaths of domestic workers in the country. On February 12, the Philippines ordereda “total ban” on new workers migrating to Kuwait.
“The Philippines should work with Kuwait to protect workers rather than ban them from migrating, which is more likely to cause harm than to help,” said Rothna Begum, Middle East women’s rights researcher. “Kuwait should confront the outcry over deaths, beatings, and rapes of domestic workers by taking immediate steps to reform the kafala system, which traps workers with abusive employers.”
Kuwait’s kafala, or sponsorship, system ties migrant domestic workers’ visas to their employers, prohibiting workers from leaving or changing jobs without their employers’ consent.
Previous bans by the Philippines and similar bans by other countries of origin did little to end abuses in Kuwait or other Middle Eastern countries. Instead, people desperate to work still migrate, but through unsafe and unregulated channels. These can leave them exposed to abuse and trafficking and make it more difficult to address abuses.
President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines has called on employers in Kuwait and other Middle Eastern states to treat Filipinos as human beings. Kuwaiti authorities have claimed they are providing the Philippines with the results of their investigations into deaths but have yet to take any serious steps to deal with laws and policies that facilitate such abuse, Human Rights Watch said.
Kuwait has more than 660,000 migrant domestic workers in a population of 4 million. According to estimates by the Philippines, more than 250,000 Filipinos are in Kuwait, most of them domestic workers. Many send their salaries home to help feed, educate, and house their own families.
Human Rights Watch has extensively documented abuses of migrant domestic workers in Kuwait and other Middle Eastern countries. Employers confiscate domestic workers’ passports, force them to work excessively long hours without rest or a weekly day off, confine them to the employers’ homes, verbally abuse them, and in some cases, physically and sexually assault them. Suicides and deaths of domestic workers are reported every year in Kuwait.
In 2015, Kuwait passed a law on domestic workers extending labor protections for the first time, including a right to a weekly rest day, a 12-hour working day with rest periods, annual paid leave, and overtime compensation. In 2016, Kuwait became the first in the Gulf region to passa minimum monthly wage of 60KD (US$200) for domestic workers. However, the law is weaker than Kuwait’s main labor law and does not conform to the International Labour Organization (ILO) Domestic Workers Convention. The law fails, for instance, to provide for workplace inspections in the home, which can be done with due regard to privacy.
Under Kuwait’s kafala system, workers who flee their employers can be arrested for “absconding” and fined, imprisoned for up to six months, deported, and barred from returning for at least six years.
The kafala system can force workers to remain with abusive employers and punish those who try to flee. Workers who seek legal redress often have to do so without an income as they cannot work for another employer without the initial employer’s permission. Many leave the country without getting justice.
Human Rights Watch has previously reported that the Domestic Workers Department, which mediates disputes between domestic workers and employer-sponsors, has no authority to compel employer participation. The 2015 domestic workers law authorized the department to sanction recruitment agencies, but not employers, for failing to respond to a summons.
Human Rights Watch also documented inconsistent responses by police officers to domestic workers. Some officers provided immediate assistance, while others detained the worker and called her employer or refused to accept a complaint.
In response to the Philippines ban, on February 13, the Kuwaiti cabinet authorized Al Durra Recruitment Company, the state-owned recruitment agency, to find workers from Indonesia, Vietnam, Bangladesh, and Nepal.
“The Kuwaiti government should fight the root causes of abuse of domestic workers – such as the kafala system – before looking to recruit workers from other countries,” Begum said. “Domestic workers from other countries like Indonesia, Bangladesh, and Nepal have faced similar problems in Kuwait.”
The Philippines has been a leader in protecting its domestic workers in the Middle East. Philippine embassies verify contracts to check that employers commit to paying a monthly minimum wage of US$400 and have requirements for agencies to pay for return flight tickets home for abused workers. But these work best for migrants arriving through a regulated channel.
The Philippines and Kuwait have yet to sign a pending bilateral labor agreement to protect Filipino domestic workers. President Duterte is considering a visit to Kuwait.
“While bilateral agreements have many limitations, they can be helpful when there is an agreed upon mutually enforceable employment contract that provides real protections, and effective complaint systems and investigation procedures,” Begum said.
The Philippines and Kuwait should agree on a bilateral agreement that includes a standard contract, a system for rescuing workers in distress and investigating worker abuses and deaths, a requirement to inform the Philippines of any national arrested, and a requirement for all employers who apply for work and residency permits for domestic workers to apply for authorization from the Philippines embassy, which can then register workers and provide protection. The Philippines should also seek agreement to continue criminal or civil cases against employers or agencies on behalf of workers who wish to return home and who provide a power of attorney to embassy officials.
The Philippines government should share and consult on the draft agreement with domestic workers, local nongovernmental groups, and trade unions and ensure that it includes monitoring systems with public reporting about how the agreement is being carried out.
The Philippines embassy should ask employers to register domestic workers when they arrive and should check in with workers periodically, and before they leave about their working conditions.
The Philippines should also increase oversight and effective monitoring of recruitment agencies, so they do not deceive workers or charge them recruitment costs or fees, and ensure that there is an expedited complaints process for returning workers to file complaints against agencies. Many workers say they find the current process too lengthy and drop cases so they can leave the Philippines to find new work.
“Both Kuwait and the Philippines have an opportunity to work together to increase protections for domestic workers and fix the gaps that are leaving workers vulnerable to extreme abuse,” Begum said.
Published on HRW on February 21, 2018
Lawrence Hurley, Andrew Chung
The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday curbed the ability of immigrants held in long-term detention during deportation proceedings to argue for their release in a ruling in sync with President Donald Trump’s get-tough approach toward immigration.
The court’s conservative justices carried the day in the 5-3 decision that overturned a lower court’s ruling that required that immigrants held by the U.S. government awaiting the outcome of deportation proceedings get a bond hearing after six months of detention to seek their release.
The ruling could lead to indefinite detentions of certain classes of immigrants, including some with legal status who the government wants to deport.
The court’s five conservatives were in the majority in the ruling written by Justice Samuel Alito. Three liberals dissented, including Justice Stephen Breyer, who sharply criticized the decision. Another liberal, Justice Elena Kagan, did not participate.
Class action litigation brought by the American Civil Liberties Union challenged the government’s practice of placing immigrants facing deportation proceedings in detention for months or years without being able to argue for release.
Breyer said that forbidding bail would likely violate the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of due process under the law. Breyer said he doubted the U.S. Congress, in crafting the immigration provisions at issue, would have wanted to put thousands of people at risk of lengthy confinement without any hope of bail.
“We need only recall the words of the Declaration of Independence, in particular its insistence that all men and women have ‘certain unalienable Rights,’ and that among them is the right to ‘Liberty,'” Breyer wrote.
But Alito said that these immigration law provisions cannot be interpreted to limit the length of detention. He called Breyer’s view of the statutes “utterly implausible.”
The case assumed added importance in light of the Trump administration’s decision to ramp up immigration enforcement, with growing numbers of people likely to end up in detention awaiting deportation.
The court threw out a 2015 decision by the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that the government must provide bond hearings to gauge danger and flight risk when detention exceeds six months, and every six months after that. Former President Barack Obama’s Justice Department had challenged that ruling. The Trump administration took up the appeal.
Justice Department spokesman Devin O‘Malley said the 9th Circuit’s ruling had resulted in unnecessary bond hearings, adding to a backlog in the immigration court system.
“We are aggressively working to implement common sense reforms to reduce that backlog, and today’s Supreme Court decision ensures that immigration judges in the Ninth Circuit can focus their valuable docket time on matters actually required by law,” O‘Malley said.
The justices sent the case back to the 9th Circuit to consider the question of whether the Constitution requires bond hearings for detained immigrants.
The ACLU said it looks forward to arguing the constitutional questions in lower courts. “The Trump administration is trying to expand immigration detention to record-breaking levels as part of its crackdown on immigrant communities,” ACLU attorney Ahilan Arulanantham said.
There are roughly 36,000 immigrants held in detention in the United States on any given day, and the ACLU estimates that about 10 to 20 percent have been detained at least six months.
Those suing included immigrants who were held at the border when seeking illegal entry as well as others, including lawful permanent residents who hold so-called green cards, who have been convicted of crimes.
The lead plaintiff was Alejandro Rodriguez, a legal immigrant from Mexico living in California who was brought to the United States as a baby. He was working as a dental assistant when he was detained for three years without a hearing after being placed in deportation proceedings based on two non-violent convictions, joyriding and misdemeanor drug possession.
Although Rodriguez was released eventually, the case brought on his behalf continued.
In dissent, Breyer said that asylum seekers or non-citizens who arrive at the U.S. border still have due process rights.
“We cannot here engage in this legal fiction,” Breyer wrote.
“Whatever the fiction, would the Constitution leave the Government free to starve, beat, or lash those held within our boundaries? If not, then, whatever the fiction, how can the Constitution authorize the Government to imprison arbitrarily those who, whatever we might pretend, are in reality right here in the United States?”
Breyer added, “No one can claim, nor since the time of slavery has anyone to my knowledge successfully claimed, that persons held within the United States are totally without constitutional protection.”
This marked the second time the high court considered the case. It ordered a new round of arguments after Trump’s conservative appointee Neil Gorsuch joined the bench last year.
Published on Reuters on February 27, 2018
By Kok Xing Hui
Every weekday morning, about 70 students stream into a house in a quiet neighborhood on Malaysia's Penang Island.
The children are Rohingya refugees and the house is a private school where they learn Malay, English, math and science.
This life is light years away from the one the children left behind in Myanmar.
"People were getting hit and killed and the police were arresting people. My whole village was burned down," 13-year-old Anwar Sadek Shah Ahmad says softly, cowering into his teacher's shoulder.
Anwar and his family fled their fishing village in Myanmar's Rakhine State in 2013 after violence broke out.
His grandmother, he said, only fled Myanmar last year and is now in a refugee camp in Bangladesh, where more than 680,000 Rohingya have fled to since August 2017.
There are thousands of children like Anwar in Malaysia -- he's among the Rohingya refugees who escaped from Rakhine State by boat largely before 2015, when Kuala Lumpur began turning back Rohingya arrivals.
Even though they consider themselves the lucky ones, those who made it to Malaysia still lead lives fraught with risk and hardship.
"They have no legal rights — no right to work, no opportunity for mainstream education, and are obliged to eke out a very difficult living in the grey market economy of the country," said Richard Towle, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Representative for Malaysia.
This is the case for all refugees in Malaysia. Most of the 150,000 refugees there are from Myanmar, but there are also Pakistanis, Syrians, Yemenis and Palestinians.
Anwar's father has been working illegally in Penang since 2006 and paid smugglers to bring over his son, daughter and wife by boat. Anwar also has an infant brother who was born in Malaysia. The family are now registered with the UNHCR.
The UN body has registered 62,000 Rohingya refugees in Malaysia, but the organization estimates there could be another 30,000 to 40,000 who are there illegally and don't have official refugee status -- obtaining it is a lengthy process that can only happen in the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur.
"UNHCR Malaysia prioritises refugees in immigration detention, vulnerable refugees who have come to UNHCR from referral partners including government agencies, and others who have been interviewed and found to need UNHCR's protection and support," said Towle.
It's not clear whether Malaysia will accept any of those who have fled since August, an exodus that has lead to the world's fastest growing refugee crisis in Bangladesh.
The Muslim Rohingya have been denied citizenship in mostly Buddhist Myanmar since 1982, and while the group has long been discriminated against, the situation has deteriorated significantly in the past few years. Between 2012 and 2015, more than 112,000 Rohingya fled, largely by boat, to Malaysia.
In September 2017, Zulkifli Abu Bakar, the director-general of the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency said those fleeing violence in Myanmar would not be turned away, and that they would be provided temporary shelter.
But in 2015, Wan Junaidi Jaafar, the Malaysian Deputy Home Minister, said the Rohingya arriving in the country illegally would be turned back.
"We cannot welcome them here," Wan Junaidi said, adding that if the country continued to welcome them "hundreds of thousands" would come from Myanmar and Bangladesh.
CNN reached out to Zulkifli as well as the country's Ministry of Home Affairs for this article but did not get a response.
The latest exodus was sparked in last August, after an attack on government border posts by a Rohingya militant group resulted in a brutal crackdown by Myanmar's military. Refugees poured into Bangladesh with horrific stories of systematic rape, mass killings and arson -- although Myanmar's military denies killing any civilians or committing atrocities.
In Malaysia, schools such as the one Anwar goes to, have sprouted up because while the country tolerates Rohingya presence and the UNHCR has issued them refugee status, they are still officially considered illegal migrants and therefore can't go to regular schools.
This limits their options to schools run by non-government organisations, or religious schools known as madrassas where they learn Arabic and study Islam.
According to the UNHCR, there are about 50 schools in Malaysia run by non-governmental organisations educating Rohingya children.
Anwar studies at the Penang Peace Learning Centre, also known as the School of Peace. On the morning CNN visited, Anwar and the older students were being taught math while the younger students, aged three to six, did coloring. Their classroom was also home to two pet rabbits.
All classes are held in Malay, or Bahasa Melayu, the country's national tongue. The kids have picked up the language despite arriving with no knowledge of Malay just a few years ago.
"Malay is easy, we hear it everywhere, but English is hard," says Rosmin Kayas, 12, who arrived in 2014.
The School of Peace was founded by Kamarulzaman Askandar, a political science lecturer at the Universiti Sains Malaysia, who learned about the Rohingya's plight while doing research.
He said: "I was sad about how bad their lives in Malaysia have been, that they can't work and that their children do not have access to free education."
The school started as weekend classes using space in the local religious school. As the student population grew, Kamarulzaman rented a terrace house and hired three teachers so the school could run five days a week.
But there are huge challenges. They struggle to find the RM6,000 (US$1,471) needed to run the school each month and neighbors complain about the school being in their neighborhood, because of the noise.
The school is mainly funded by individual donations. "Other organizations like the UNHCR also helps from time to time with school materials and training support for the teachers," he said.
Most frustratingly, he says, he has difficulty keeping the children in school.
"Older boys would be asked by the families to look for jobs, while older girls would be asked by the parents to help the families at home, and to be married off when they come of age," Kamarulzaman says.
Rosmin's sister, for example, is only 13, but was pulled out of school early this year to help out at home when their mother got pregnant.
Kamarulzaman says there is also little incentive for older kids to stay in school since the school only teaches the elementary school syllabus, which is typically for children aged seven to 12.
He said he wants to start teaching the secondary school syllabus — if he can secure funding that will provide the teachers and the necessary space.
Experts say Malaysia should look at improving the Rohingya's access to employment, healthcare and education.
"It is really about livelihood — being able to work and to feed their families and to have enough money to use services from the market. If they cannot access government services, they need money for healthcare services and to send their children to school," Oh Su-Ann, a visiting fellow at Singapore's ISEAS - Yusof Ishak Institute.
Towle from the UNCHR says he can understand why Malaysia is afraid committing towards formal arrangements for the refugees might cause more to arrive.
"We believe that a carefully managed registration scheme, where UNHCR and the Government, working closely together, can mitigate the risks of this but could also deliver the positive dividends to Malaysia and to refugees," he said.
But despite the difficulties with work and education, the Rohingya students and parents at the Penang school say they are happy.
Malaysia is peaceful compared to what he left behind, says Anwar. Now, he spends his free time playing football with new friends from the neighborhood.
Likewise, Jubairah Bashir, 34, who brought three children to her illegal migrant husband in Penang in 2013, says she has picked up basic Bahasa Melayu and can buy her groceries. She has also made Malaysian friends.
"If I can, I want to go home to Myanmar. But otherwise Malaysia is good and the children have school here," she says.
"At least the family is together now."
Published on CNN on February 25, 2018