UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, and the Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development (KFAED) today signed an agreement worth US$10 million to improve the living conditions of Syrian refugees in northern Iraq.
The KFAED contribution, the first ever to UNHCR, will have a substantial impact on the water, health, sanitation, shelter conditions in five camps hosting 97,000 Syrian refugees in Dohuk and Erbil, in northern Iraq.
The agreement was signed at a ceremony attended by Kelly T. Clements, the UN Deputy High Commissioner for Refugees, and Abdulwahab A. Al-Bader, the Director General of the Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development.
“The generous contribution from the Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development is extremely welcome and timely, with the number of Syrian refugees in the region now exceeding 5 million people,” Clements said.
“Many Syrian families in Northern Iraq have been displaced for extended periods of time and live in dire conditions. They need our solidarity and our support, now more than ever,” she added.
The KFAED contribution reflects Kuwait’s pioneering humanitarian efforts and is a real commitment to creating a brighter future for refugees, added the Deputy High Commissioner.
Iraq currently hosts over 230,000 Syrian refugees, most of whom are located in the northern part of the country, in Erbil, Duhok and Sulaymaniyah. Over 90,000 Syrian refugees, almost 40 percent, live inside camps, including Domiz 1, the largest refugee camp in Iraq, Domiz 2, Basirma camp, Darashakran camp and Qushtapa camp, where the project funding will be directed.
The Deputy High Commissioner’s two-day mission to Kuwait follows the High Commissioner’s visit last year and comes just ahead of the Brussels conference, Supporting the Future of Syria and the Region Conference in Brussels, on 4-5 April 2017. The Ministerial conference will discuss the implementation of commitments made a year ago to support Syria and outline the way ahead for the refugee response.
Kuwait has previously hosted three international humanitarian pledging conferences, and nine top donors’ meetings in support of the international humanitarian response to the humanitarian crisis in Syria.
Kuwait also co-hosted the Supporting Syria and the Region conference in 2016, during which the country pledged US$300 million in support of the Syria humanitarian response over the next three years.
By 2016, the State of Kuwait had provided a contribution of US$360 million to UNHCR for the Syrian crisis and Iraq. In 2015, the country held the position of largest donor per capita and was UNHCR’s sixth largest donor globally.
Published on the UNHCR's website on April 2, 2017.
By: Francesca Fontanini
As more people flee gang violence, UNHCR’s international protection chief calls for shared responsibility and preparedness to protect refugees effectively.
The impact of insecurity and violence uprooting tens of thousands of people from the Northern Triangle of Central America is becoming increasingly evident in Mexico, UNHCR’s international protection chief said today, urging greater regional efforts to provide effective refugee protection.
In his opening statement at the Protection Dialogue with the Mexican Government, held in Mexico City, Assistant High Commissioner for Protection Volker Türk described the Central America situation as approaching crisis levels. He spoke shortly visiting the border region with Guatemala, where he had the opportunity to speak with many refugees and asylum seekers.
For decades, Mexico has served as a place of transit for Central American migrants heading north. But in the last few years the reality has changed with an increasing number of people from the so-called Northern Triangle countries of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, seeking asylum in Mexico. “This is a bit of a wake-up call so we are all better prepared to respond to a new, changing dynamic in the region,” Türk said.
“In the various conversations I had with men, women and children, who fled mainly from the Northern Triangle, it is evident that they are escaping from horrific situations of violence. They mentioned extortion, forced recruitment and human rights abuses mainly perpetrated by transnational organized crime groups and local criminal gangs,” he told an audience made up of government officials and institutions working on refugee issues.
Türk said that among those now fleeing the Northern Triangle there are entire families and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people – collectively known as LGBTI - who risk double discrimination because of their sexual orientation.
“Displacement is a huge challenge but also an opportunity for social transformation. Despite the horrors they have endured, refugees discover strength and resilience while in displacement. We need to empower them to contribute to their future and becoming agents of change,” he said.
With violence and persecution expected to continue in Northern Triangle countries, both Mexico and UNHCR agreed on the need for greater regional cooperation and support to provide effective protection for those driven from their homes.
Last year, Mexico received almost 9,000 new asylum applications, a 156 per cent increase in comparison to 2015. Since January 2015, the number of asylum applications filed has increased by more than eight per cent per month.
Based on this trend, the UN Refugee Agency projects at least 20,000 additional asylum claims in Mexico in 2017. “These figures reflect the reality on the ground and it is a clear indication that Mexico is no longer only a country of transit but also of destination for refugees,” said Mark Manly, UNHCR's representative in Mexico.
In the protection response, emphasis needs to be given to local integration programmes, including access to the labour market and basic services. “These programmes could be a win-win situation where also host communities can benefit. Embracing diversity is an added value to any society,” Türk said.
The parties also concluded that there should be greater efforts to improve the quality of asylum, access to a fair and efficient process in the recognition of refugee status, and alternatives to detention for asylum-seekers with special provision made for children.
Both UNHCR and the Government of Mexico will continue working with the local and regional authorities as well as to strengthening the partnership with civil society groups and shelters which host refugees and migrants in Mexico.
UNHCR welcomed the commitments announced by President Enrique Peña Nieto during the UN Leaders Summit held in New York in September 2016, as well as Mexico’s commitments under the San Jose Declaration, adopted in July last year.
“These are important steps also ahead of crafting a Global Compact on Refugees in 2018,” Türk concluded.
This article was published on the UNHCR's website on March 10, 2017.
A decision to lift a hefty fee that has prevented many Syrians from maintaining legal status in Lebanon is a positive step, Human Rights Watch said today. Yet the decision appears to exclude a number of the most vulnerable refugees.
The new policy, announced last week by General Security, would waive the annual $200 residency fee for Syrian refugees in Lebanon, provided that they registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) before January 1, 2015, or obtained residency through their UNHCR certificate at least once in 2015 or 2016.
“If it’s carried out, the decision to waive residency fees for some refugees will have a real and positive impact for many Syrian families living in Lebanon,” said Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Yet excluding large parts of the refugee population only serves to further marginalize already vulnerable people.”
The policy excludes Syrians not registered with UNHCR, almost 500,000 people by government estimates. On May 6, 2015, UNHCR suspended registration of Syrian refugees in Lebanon at the request of the Lebanese government. General Security also confirmed to Human Rights Watch by phone, on February 13, that the policy excludes registered refugees who renewed their residency through sponsorship by a Lebanese national. General Security also said that the waiver does not apply to Palestinian refugees from Syria.
Human Rights Watch and aid organizations have long called for waiver of residency renewal fees for all Syrian refugees in Lebanon.
Lebanon introduced new residency regulations in January 2015 that most refugees have been unable to comply with. Without residency, refugees can be arrested, restricting their movement. This makes it difficult for them to work, send their children to school, or get health care. It has also hindered their ability to register marriages and births, leaving tens of thousands of Syrian children born in Lebanon at risk of statelessness. An inability to work has exacerbated poverty among refugees, leading to increased child labor and early marriages. The lack of legal status has also left refugees vulnerable to a range of abuses, including labor exploitation and sexual abuse, unable to turn to the authorities for protection for fear that police may arrest them for expired residency.
In 2016, Human Rights Watch found that half of the nearly 500,000 Syrian school-age children registered with UNHCR in Lebanon were not getting a formal education, and that lack of residency was a key barrier.
Lebanese authorities have not published any statistics on the number of Syrian refugees without legal status, but the Lebanon Crisis Response Plan, published in January 2017, estimates that 60 percent of those over age 15 lack legal residency, compared with 47 percent in January 2016. At a February 2016 donors conference in London, Lebanon committed to a review of existing regulatory frameworks related to residency conditions and work authorizations for Syrians.
The residency regulations introduced in January 2015 required all Syrians 15 and over to pay an annual $200 renewal fee per person, present valid identification and an entry slip obtained at the border, submit a housing pledge confirming their place of residence, and provide two photographs stamped by a Lebanese local official.
To maintain residency, Syrians not registered with UNHCR have to provide a “pledge of responsibility” signed by a Lebanese national or registered entity to sponsor an individual or family. Human Rights Watch found that some Lebanese nationals charge refugees up to $1,000 for sponsorship and that in many cases, General Security required sponsorship even for refugees registered with UNHCR.
More than 1 million Syrian refugees are registered with UNHCR in Lebanon, although the government estimates that there are 1.5 million Syrians in the country. General Security and aid groups operating in Lebanon should publicize the new policy broadly so that eligible Syrian refugees can benefit from the fee waiver, Human Rights Watch said.
Human Rights Watch found that General Security offices have applied residency policies inconsistently, including by requiring refugees registered with UNHCR to obtain a sponsor and by requiring Syrians to sign a pledge not to work, even after this requirement was dropped in 2016. Lebanese authorities should ensure that the new fee waiver policy is applied consistently by all General Security offices in Lebanon, Human Rights Watch said.
The residency renewal announcement comes amid troubling public statements about the possible return of refugees, including reports of negotiations between Hezbollah and Syrian opposition forces to return refugees from Lebanon to Syria. This policy risks cementing a category of refugees without residency who would be highly vulnerable to any forced returns. Conditions in Syria do not permit the creation of safe zones and any forcible or coerced return of refugees would be illegal under international law, whether or not the Syrians have residency status or are registered with UNHCR. Refugees are entitled to protection and should not be forced to return to countries where they face persecution.
“Lebanon shouldn’t leave out Syrians who were unable to register with UNHCR or resorted to a Lebanese sponsor to maintain legal status,” Fakih said. “It is in Lebanon’s own interest to ensure that all refugees are able to live legally here without fear of arrest, until such time as conditions in Syria permit their safe return.”
This article was published on HRW's website on February 14, 2017.
Niniek Karmini - Associated Press
Asylum seekers stranded for years in Indonesia have rallied in the capital urging the UN refugee agency to speed up their resettlement in third countries.
Dozens of people from war-torn nations including Afghanistan, Iraq, Sudan and Somalia called on the UNHCR to accelerate their resettlement on Monday, saying they could no longer bear to live in limbo and without jobs.
They waved banners reading "Refugees are human" and "Save us" during the rally at the refugee agency's office in Jakarta. Some chanted "Process, process!"
"Waiting for more than four years here without resettlement is absolutely terrible," said 19-year-old protester Mahdi Rezaee from Afghanistan, where scores of ethnic Hazaras like himself have been captured, tortured and killed by Islamic militants.
Indonesia is home to nearly 14,000 men, women and children seeking resettlement in other countries, according to the UNHCR.
About 7500 have been recognised as refugees, giving them the prized UN card that inches them closer to realising their dreams of a better life.
But last year, just 610 were resettled in other countries such as the United States, Canada, Germany and New Zealand.
Another protester, 30-year-old Mohammed Akbar, who has held a UN refugee card for three years, said he is struggling to feed his family and still does not know when he will be resettled to another country.
Indonesia, a poor country of more than 250 million people, is not a signatory to the UN Refugee Convention, and the government does not allow asylum seekers to work or have access to schools and public hospitals.
The Migration and Maritime Powers Legislation Amendment (Resolving the Asylum Legacy Caseload) Bill 2014, which amends the Migration Act 1958 and the Maritime Powers Act 2013, has recently been adopted by both the House of Representatives and the Senate. The full text can be read here.
According to the Refugee Advice and Casework Service, this bill seeks to:
- introduce TPVs for asylum seekers who arrived by boat or by air without a visa and are not subject to mandatory regional transfer and resettlement arrangements but are found to engage Australia’s protection obligations;
- establish a new assessment process with limited merits review for asylum seekers who arrived by boat from 13 August 2012;
- mandate that Australia’s non-refoulement obligations are irrelevant to the compulsory removal of a person who does not have a visa;
- codify Australia’s interpretation of its protection obligations under the Refugee Convention, render the Australian definition of “refugee” separate to and narrower than the currently accepted international law definition;
- clarify that Australian born children of asylum seekers who arrive by boat (unauthorized maritime arrivals) will be treated in the same way as their parents, including being eligible for transfer to a regional processing country and bar them from applying for a protection visa in Australia (where this applies to their parents);
- give the Minister the ability to place a limit on the number of protection visas that may be granted in a financial year; and
- limit the ability of Australian courts to invalidate actions at sea where these actions do not comply with Australia’s international obligations or the domestic law of other countries.
According to the UNHCR, this bill "raises a number of serious questions in relation to the interpretation of the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol". The UNHCR submitted a memo to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee and proposed several amendments to the bill in order to comply with Australia's international obligations under international refugee law.
Moreover, the Refugee Advice and Casework Service recently stressed that: "the proposed changes will strip away fundamental legal safeguards afforded to people seeking protection from persecution in Australia."
Posted by Flavie Fuentes
Since the 24 November 2014, this group of Syrian refugees have been protesting against this inhumane treatment and the denial of their basic rights as refugees.
A Greek MP, Yiannis Michelogiannakis, has recently joined them, after two protesters died.
More than a thousand of Syrian refugees have been camping outside the Parliament in Athens to protest against their intolerable situation in Greece. Because of the Greek laws on asylum and a very strict policy, Syrian refugees can scarcely have access to asylum procedures.
According to the UNHCR, of the 152 asylum applications by Syrian nationals, examined during 2012, 50 were rejected and in only 2 cases was refugee status or subsidiary protection granted. The UNHCR therefore recommended in 2013 to "afford protection to asylum seekers from Syria in accordance with the provisions of the 1951 Geneva Convention or other form of complementary protection (subsidiary protection)."
Unfortunately, the situation has not showed any positive development since then. The Syrian refugees who arrive in Greece, are not only denied the access to a fair and transparent asylum procedure but are only prevented from leaving the country. Men, women, children and elderly people are therefore stuck in inappropriate detention facilities, or homeless, without any access to medical care, school or social support.
According to figures provided by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), at least 348,000 migrants and asylum seekers fled their country and tried to reach foreign countries' coasts after a risky sea journey. More than 4,000 of them did not survive.
The main sea routes used by migrants and asylum seekers in 2014 have been established as follows by the UNHCR:
- some 82,000 people crossed the Gulf of Aden and Red Sea, leaving Ethiopia and Somalia for countries in the Arabian Peninsula.
- an estimated 54,000 people have left Bangladesh or Myanmar and headed to Thailand, Malaysia, or Indonesia.
The UNHCR's 2014 High Commissioner's Dialogue on Protection Challenges was focused this year on "Protection at Sea". A recent informal discussion that took place in Geneva specifically dealt with the "Specific protection challenges affecting migrants at sea and how the global community could better respond to their plight.”
The UN Human Rights Office last month issued the OHCHR Recommended Principles and Guidelines on Human Rights at International Borders "with a view to translating the international human rights framework into practical border governance measures."
During the Geneva based event, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres, stressed the inherent risks of some countries' immigration policies that increasingly refuse asylum to sea-bound migrants who escaped war or poverty. According to him, these policies should better address the reasons why so many people migrate and conciliate a more humane approach with security considerations.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees also recalled the challenge of smuggling and trafficking networks that take advantage of these people's despair and widely contributes to their tragic deaths, by drowning for example.
"Ultimately, unless they can access safe and regular migration channels, desperate people may continue to brave the perils of the sea in search of protection, opportunity and hope. In their place, we would probably do the same. And perhaps only this recognition of our common humanity can guide us to make the right choices in response." said the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, during this event.