Nationwide Class Action in the U.S. Protects the Right to Seek Asylum

A Seattle-based federal court has stepped in to protect the right to seek asylum, deciding in favor of a nationwide class constituting thousands of asylum-seekers in a case with important implications for the Trump administration’s recently-announced quota policy for U.S. Immigration Courts. On March 29, 2018, Chief U.S. District Judge for the Western District of Washington Ricardo S. Martinez issued an 18-page order granting the plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment in the Mendez Rojas v. DHS case. Judge Martinez’s forceful decision shores up the due process rights of asylum-seekers under the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and statutory rights grounded in the federal Immigration and Naturalization Act and Administrative Procedure Act, as well as protections enshrined in international refugee law more broadly.

The named plaintiffs in the suit are asylum seekers from Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, and the Dominican Republic. Collectively, they stand in for two classes of individuals certified by the Court last year, those who declared a fear of return to their home countries and have undergone a credible fear interview and been released to pursue their asylum claims, and, second, those released without first undergoing the credible fear interview. None of the named plaintiffs received notice of the one-year filing deadline or a meaningful mechanism to timely file their asylum applications. Asylum seekers must file their asylum applications within one year in order to receive asylum protection.

The class action lawsuit, brought by counsel from the American Immigration Council, Northwest Immigrants Rights Project, and Dobrin & Han, PC, included asylum seekers released from detention who are in removal proceedings in immigration court and who have yet to be placed into removal proceedings and who were not given notice of the one-year filing deadline to apply for asylum.

The Court agreed with the plaintiffs that the lack of notice to asylum seekers violates the congressional intent behind the one-year filing deadline. Created by Congress in 1996, the one-year filing deadline was ostensibly designed to guard against fraudulent asylum claims. The law’s most ardent supporters, however, made clear that the implementation of the deadline should not impede protection for genuine asylum-seekers. During discussions on the Senate floor, for instance, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) stated:

Like you, I am committed to ensuring that those with legitimate claims of asylum are not returned to persecution, particularly for technical deficiencies. If the time limit is not implemented fairly, or cannot be implemented fairly, I will be prepared to revisit this issue in a later Congress.

The Court also relied on U.S. Supreme Court precedent, specifically Mullanenoting that procedural due process requires that notice be “reasonably calculated, under all the circumstances, to apprise interested parties of the pendency of the action and afford them an opportunity to present their objections.” In this case, the Court found that the publically available DHS documents discussing the one-year filing deadline were not reasonably calculated to provide adequate notice to the asylum-seeking plaintiffs. The Court note that some of the asylum seekers in the class believed they had actually applied for asylum by virtue of undergoing a credible fear interview, in which they explained their fear of return to their home country in great detail to a USCIS asylum officer.

The Court also highlighted the problems caused by informing someone that they will be instructed on how to apply for asylum in court in the future, while the court dates referenced often take place well beyond the one-year filing deadline imposed. My 2016 article in the Wisconsin Law Reviewexamines the problems at the intersection of our burgeoning immigration court backlog and the one-year filing deadline in greater detail.

Judge Martinez signaled his sympathy regarding the extreme vulnerability of asylum-seekers, grounding his decision in the fact that “many class members have suffered severe trauma, do not speak English, are unfamiliar with the United States’ complicated immigration legal system, and do not have access to counsel.”He went on to conclude that DHS’ failure to provide adequate notice is a violation of the Due Process Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

Responding to DHS’ argument that the Court owed deference to agency “procedure,” the Court stated simply, “no deference is owed to procedures that violate a statute or the Constitution.” Currently, there is a ping pong back and forth between the agencies overseeing the asylum process. Until a Notice to Appear is filed with U.S. Immigration Court, the court will not accept an asylum application. If a case appears likely to be headed for a court appearance, however, USCIS, which includes the asylum office, routinely denies jurisdiction. There is currently no actual deadline for ICE to file a Notice to Appear with immigration court, leaving asylum-seekers and attorneys in limbo and unable to meet the deadline–a “technical deficiency” in the purest sense.

Importantly, while declining to reach the constitutional argument for a meaningful application mechanism, the Court found that defendants’ failure to provide a uniform mechanism by which an asylum-seeker could actually timely apply for asylum, assuming she gained knowledge of the deadline, violated the asylum statute and the Administrative Procedure Act. The Court concluded by ordering DHS to provide notice of the one-year filing deadline to class members who have already been released. Further, Judge Martinez ordered that DHS give notice to future asylum-seekers prior to or at the time of release them from detention. DHS is also required to adopt and publicize uniform procedural mechanisms to ensure class members can timely file their asylum applications. Implementation and the reception from immigration judges nationwide to the decision remains to be seen. Already, advocates shared a report of a judge at the Arlington immigration court refusing to enter the Mendez Rojas decision into the record because he stated that the Executive Office for Immigration Review is not bound by the Administrative Procedure Act.

Assuming implementation is successful, this decision represents a win for asylum-seekers and brings greater clarity and organization to an already-overwhelmed and backlogged immigration court system. Judge Martinez’s order represents yet another instance in which the federal courts have intervened in administrative confusion to ensure constitutional due process and justice for immigrants. The decision is a step forward in upholding American values and adhering to our domestic and international legal obligations to protect refugees from return to countries where they would face a threat to their life or freedom.

The Crime of Aggression under International Criminal Law: Links with Refugee Law

The 16th Assembly of States Parties to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court is already more than halfway done. Many of the themes at the ASP this year is worthy of note, including the election of six new judges, planning for the 20th anniversary of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, as well as consideration of activation of the International Criminal Court’s jurisdiction over the crime of aggression.

Of particular interest is the ICC’s activation of the crime of aggression, which will be the focus of this blog post. The crime of aggression is defined under the Rome Statute as ‘the planning, preparation, initiation or execution, by a person in a position effectively to exercise control over or to direct the political or military action of a State, of an act of aggression which, by its character, gravity and scale, constitutes a manifest violation of the Charter of the United Nations’. The activation and exercise of the ICC’s jurisdiction over the crime of aggression is of significance because there are outstanding jurisdictional issues which are to be discussed at the ASP, including whether all States Parties are subjected to the ICC’s jurisdiction over the crime of aggression, or whether only States Parties which have ratified the crime of aggression amendments are subjected to the ICC’s jurisdiction over the crime of aggression (see Coalition of the ICC Backgrounder). This blog post will consider the impact the activation of the crime of aggressions may have on international refugee law.

ASP Work Programme

ASP Work Programme

One can see several parallels between international criminal law and refugee law. While at first glance, international criminal and refugee law may seem distinct from one another, in fact, when operating together, these two fields of law may enhance the functions of the other. First, the purposes of international criminal law and refugee law draw parallels with one another. Second, while international refugee law regime’s main purpose is to protect refugees, in order to do so, it must also protect the institution for asylum, by preventing those who have committed grave crimes from gaining refugee status and corresponding protection. Here, international refugee law borrows from international criminal law so as to ascertain what type of individuals would be excluded from international protection.

 One view of international criminal law’s purpose is to bring justice to victims through the prosecution of an individual for international crimes, i.e. by holding an individual liable for committing mass atrocities. The command responsibility rule is illustrative of this purpose in that high-ranking individuals can be held responsible for crimes committed by their subordinates. One view of international refugee law is that it offers the widest protection to those deserving through the granting of refugee status. Article 1F(a) of the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (Refugee Convention) prevents those who are undeserving of international protection from benefiting from that protection. This provision applies to those who have committed crimes prior to admission as refugees. Article 1F acts to preserve the institution of asylum, and to safeguard the receiving country from criminals who present a danger to that country’s security. Borrowing from international criminal law, international refugee law determines who is deserving of refugee status by excluding those who have committed serious international crimes. By working together, international criminal law brings perpetrators to justice, while international refugee law excludes those who try to find safe havens through acquiring refugee status and corresponding protection.

International refugee law borrows from international criminal law when determining which individuals would be excluded from refugee status under Article 1F(a) of the Refugee Convention. Under Article 1F(a), individuals are excluded from refugee status and corresponding protection where there are ‘serious reasons for considering that: (a) he has committed a crime against peace, a war crime, or a crime against humanity, as defined in the international instruments drawn up to make provision in respect of such crimes’. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has stated that ‘a ‘crime of aggression’ is essentially a ‘crime against peace’’ in its commentary. A crime against peace is defined as ‘the use of armed force by a State against the sovereignty, territorial integrity or political independence of another State, or in any manner inconsistent with the Charter of the United Nations’. This definition of a crime against peace was drawn from the United Nations General Assembly 1974 definition of ‘aggression’ and such definition has been retained in the International Law Commission’s Draft Code of Crimes against the Peace and Security of Mankind. As can be seen, international refugee law draws upon international criminal law in defining the relevant crimes under Article 1F(a) of the Refugee Convention. This type of close relationship between international criminal and refugee law may enhance respect for the rule of law internationally, while preventing individuals who do not deserve to be protected under the international refugee law regime from attaining refugee status.

As briefly demonstrated, while both international criminal law and refugee law may serve different functions, these two branches of international law, when operating together, may draw upon the other to enhance international respect for the rule of law. The negotiation between States Parties at the ASP will likely clarify the activation and jurisdiction of the ICC over the crime of aggression, which may, in turn, inform how Article 1F(a) may be interpreted by international refugee law adjudicators. Now more than ever, the institution for asylum must be protected from potential abuse by perpetrators of international crimes, so that only those deserving may be given the widest possible protection under the international refugee law regime.

This blogpost and Jenny Poon’s attendance to the 16th Assembly of States Parties in the framework of the Canadian Partnership for International Justice was supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.

Partnership logoSSHRC-CRSH_FIP

Court Order Protects Women Refugees (For Now)

As I’ve discussed previously, President Trump Executive Order (EO), “Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States,” had particularly grave consequences for women refugees. Under the EO, all refugees were suspended from entering the United States for 120 days, which adversely affected women in particular. The EO also suspended all citizens from seven targeted countries—Iraq, Syria, Somalia, Sudan, Libya, and Yemen —from entering the United States, and it banned refugees from Syria indefinitely. Women refugees often flee sexual violence and other persecution, and without refugee protection, women are often stranded in refugee or temporary settlement camps where they face a heightened risk of sexual and physical violence.

In light of this, the nationwide injunction issued by a federal judge in Washington last week and the other day’s Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision to uphold that injunction are good news for women refugees. Under the injunction, the provision in Trump’s EO suspending refugee admissions is on hold for now, and refugees are once again allowed to enter the United States and seek resettlement as planned. However, President Trump has threatened to fight the decision, indicating he may appeal now to the Supreme Court.

While the Ninth Circuit opinion was not a full-fledged decision on the merits (as it was merely reviewing whether or not to lift the district court’s temporary restraining order), as Jen Daskal helpfully notes on Just Security, the court drew a number of important conclusions. First, while it found that the President’s power over immigration is entitled to substantial deference, the court rejected the Trump administration’s claim that this power is unreviewable, particularly when constitutional rights are at stake.  Second, the Ninth Circuit noted due process rights cover all persons in the United States, including aliens. Third, the court indicated its concerns that the EO is intended to disfavor Muslims, potentially violating the Establishment and Equal Protection Clauses, but ultimately noted it would “reserve consideration of these claims” until the merits have been fully briefed.   Fourth, the court emphasized deep skepticism of the national security claims asserted by the government, noting that the administration has presented “no evidence that any alien from any of the countries named in the Order has perpetrated a terrorist attack in the United States.” In fact, ten top national security experts from across parties and across several administrations filed a declaration with the court indicating that the Executive Order did not, in fact, achieve national security goals and may, in fact, undermine them.

Indeed, refugees scheduled to arrive in the United States have already undergone an intensive vetting process.

*This post is cross-posted at cfr.org.

“Vietnam/War/Memory/Justice: A Conversation with Viet Thanh Nguyen,” Feb. 14 at Georgia Law

nguyenGeorgia Law’s Dean Rusk International Law Center, for which I serve as director, will host a roundtable on the legacies of the U.S.-Vietnam War as part of next week’s visit here by Viet Thanh Nguyen, a University of Southern California professor whose first novel, The Sympathizer, won the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

nothingEntitled “Vietnam/War/Memory/Justice: A Conversation with Viet Thanh Nguyen,” our roundtable will take place from 4 to 5:30 p.m. this Tuesday, February 14, in the Larry Walker Room on the 4th floor of the law school’s Dean Rusk Hall.

The topic of the roundtable is drawn from Nguyen’s 2016 work, Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War, which itself was nominated for the 2016 National Book Award for Nonfiction. (Nguyen’s newest book, a short-story collection titled The Refugees, was published yesterday.) In Nothing Ever Dies, Nguyen writes:

“Memory, like war, is often asymmetrical.”

The same may be said of justice; in particular, of efforts to right the wrongs done during armed conflict and similar extreme violence. These issues of transitional justice, memory, and war will be explored in the roundtable, at which Nguyen will be joined by:

tiana-mTiana S. Mykkeltvedt, Georgia Law alumna, member of the Dean Rusk International Law Center Council, and partner at the Atlanta law firm Bondurant Mixson & Elmore, who was flown out of Vietnam as an orphan in April 1975 in what came to be known as Operation Babylift; and

amann► Yours truly, Diane Marie Amann, Associate Dean for International Programs & Strategic Initiatives and Emily & Ernest Woodruff Chair in International Law at Georgia Law, who also serves as the International Criminal Court Prosecutor’s Special Adviser on Children in & affected by Armed Conflict.

Roundtable space is limited, and registration, available here, is recommended. For more information, contact ruskintlaw@uga.edu.

Our Center is especially pleased to sponsor this event, given that our namesake, the late Dean Rusk, a Georgia Law professor, and served as U.S. Secretary of State during the first years of the Vietnam War. The Georgia Asian Pacific American Bar Association, the Vietnamese American Bar Association of Georgia, and Georgia Law’s Asian Law Students Association are cosponsoring the roundtable. It will be the last in a series of Global Georgia events hosted by other university units, most notably the Department of Comparative Literature and the Willson Center for Humanities and Arts:

► 4 p.m. Monday, February 13, in the university Chapel, Nguyen will deliver the 3d Annual Betty Jean Craige Lecture of the Department of Comparative Literature, entitled “Nothing Ever Dies: Ethical Memory and Radical Writing in The Sympathizer.” For information, contact Professor Peter D. O’Neill at pon@uga.edu.

► 6-7 p.m. Sunday, February 12, at Avid Bookshop, 493 Prince Avenue in downtown Athens, a book-signing of The Refugees.

(Cross-posted from Exchange of Notes)

“The Judicial Branch Grabs Back”

As noted by Dahlia Lithwick in The Judicial Branch Grabs Back (Slate), here are four of the five federal judges who have issued stay orders in response to Trump’s executive order:
• Judge Ann Donnelly (Eastern District of New York)
• Judge Allison Burroughs (District of Massachusetts)
• Judge Judith Dein (District of Massachusetts)
• Judge Leonie Brinkema (Eastern District of Virginia) (no photo)
Update as of 30 January: Another judge to add to the list (LA Times story here):
• Judge Dolly Gee (Central District of California)

Teams of lawyers are also grabbing back at airports all across the US.  Even the floor serves as an office at JFK airport for preparing habeas corpus petitions.  Lawyers took over the food court at JFK’s Terminal 4 this weekend to plan legal action, prompting my colleague Jennifer Taub to tweet this comment and photo.

Read On! ‘Human Security and Human Rights under International Law: The Protections Offered to Persons Confronting Structural Vulnerability’

I am thrilled to post for the first time in IntLawGrrls and to share the publication of my book Human Security and Human Rights under International Law: The Protections Offered to Persons Confronting Structural Vulnerability (Hart Publishing, 2016).

This book considers the potential of human security as a protective tool within the international law of human rights. Indeed, it seems surprising given the centrality of human security to the human experience, that its connection with human rights had not yet been explored in a truly systematic way. The book attempts to address that gap in the literature and sustains that the human rights of persons, particularly those facing structural vulnerability, can be addressed more adequately if studied through the complementary lens of human security and not under human rights law alone. It takes both a legal and interdisciplinary approach, recognizing that human security and its relationship with human rights cuts across disciplinary boundaries.

Human security with its axis of freedom from fear, from want and from indignity, can more integrally encompass the inter-connected risks faced by individuals and groups in vulnerable conditions. At the same time, human rights law provides the normative legal grounding usually lacking in human security. International human rights norms, individualistic in nature and firstly enacted more than sixty years ago, present limits which translate into lack of protection for people globally. As a result, the collective and contextual conditions undergone by persons can be better met through the broader and more recent notion of human security, which emphasizes ‘critical (severe) and pervasive (widespread) threats’, and accentuates socioeconomic vulnerabilities as authentic security concerns. Indeed, as signaled by Sadako Ogata, human security is ‘the emerging paradigm for understanding global vulnerabilities’.

The analysis follows a two-part approach. Firstly, it evaluates convergences between human security and all human rights – civil, political, economic, social and cultural –and constructs a general framework for thought and action, the ‘human security – human rights synergy’. Secondly, it goes on to explore the practical application of this framework in the law and case-law of UN, European, Inter-American and African human rights bodies in the thematic cores of 1) violence against women and girls (VAW); 2) undocumented migrants and other non-citizens such as asylum-seekers and refugees; converging in 3) a particular examination of the conditions of female undocumented migrants. In the last chapter, the book systematizes this evidence to reveal and propose added values of human security to human rights law; and inversely, it indicates how human rights standards/indicators can deliver a needed more precise, normatively grounded and operational conception of human security.

These ‘interpretative synergies’ offer promise for shifting the boundaries of international human rights law: in constructing integrative approaches to fill legal gaps, better prevention and addressing protectively collective threats, and –in the spirit of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights- creating an ‘enabling environment’ to fulfil all human rights, especially for those not only confronting isolated moments of risk or individual human rights violations, but rather conditions of structural vulnerability affecting their everyday lives. Continue reading

Work On! Volunteers Needed for Refugee Education Chios for Nov., Dec., and Jan. 2017

Refugee Education Chios the sole provider of a holistic non-formal education programme and their role on the Island of Chios is as important as ever. They have now completed their fifth successful month running their school and youth centre for the refugee children on Chios Island (Greece).

There are around 200 children aged between 6 and 18 years old
attending the school every week and 100 youth aged between 12 and 20 years
old attending the youth centre. The team is made up of a teachers, musicians, artists, nurses and social workers etc. They promote diversity within the volunteer group, and are
not necessarily look for individuals with a traditional teaching
background.

They are looking for volunteers to join for a minimum two weeks but the
longer the better. Accommodation and mobility on the Island is covered by
the progamme.

If you have the passion and enthusiasm to join them on their journey then
please email your CV and brief note to beavolunteer@baas-schweiz.ch

Read more about us in the articles below:
http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/refugee-school-chios-greece
-lessons-in-life-for-the-migrant-children-a7229916.html

http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/inpictures/2016/07/refugee-school-respite
-children-greek-camps-160706184135733.html#

http://www.reuters.com/article/us-europe-migrants-greece-school-idUSKCN11K
1TW

Facebook: https://en-gb.facebook.com/refugeeeducationchios/

 

Will a UN summit on migration change anything?

On September 19, the UN Secretary-General will convene a summit meeting at the UN General Assembly in New York to address current “large movements of refugees and migrants.” Its goal is to ensure a re-commitment to the core principles of refugee protection and discuss new frameworks to respond to the increasing number of people on the move.

Without wanting to pour cold water over a meeting that is, in and of itself, a positive move – after all, lack of coordination is often a key stumbling block to protection – the process is unfortunately fundamentally flawed. The summit brings together States, and therefore will be strongly influenced by government agendas. And those governments that are driven by the political need to limit mobility (keep people out), and by the imperative to contain and ghettoize them if they do get in, are among the loudest and most powerful.

On paper, restricting the movement of people might seem like a good way to reduce the global migration crisis. It is certainly politically expedient, and by limiting the number of people on the move eventually it might stop looking like a crisis. In practice, of course, this is almost impossible to achieve. And if it did happen, it would be at an unbearable cost to those for whom staying behind is simply not an option. People will still move, but they will do so without protection and below the official radar, which benefits no-one.

So why this fear of movement? After all, the movement of people is as old as humanity itself and rather than being made illegal, it needs to be accepted as the norm. Movement is one of the key coping strategies for people caught up in situations where violence and threat compels them to seek safety and livelihoods elsewhere. Yet mobility (forced or otherwise), rather than being seen as an important coping strategy for individuals, continues to be seen as a challenge to state sovereignty. As a result, it fails in fulfilling its potential to contribute to protection with policy structures, securitised narratives around refugees and migrants, and broader issues of xenophobia limiting its implementation. People are moving all the time. But they are often doing so despite the policy context, not because of it; and often in extremely dangerous circumstances as a result.

Of course, on paper the summit meeting is seeking to do exactly this – to regularise and monitor the movement of people. However, for as long as good intentions continue to be blocked by political priorities, in practice they will remain just that – good intentions.

At the same time, the containment and ghettoization of those who do manage to gain access to wealthier states continue to push refugees and migrants to the margins of societies, thereby emphasising and maintaining their exclusion.

That is not to say that refugees and migrants do not show extraordinary resourcefulness in finding spaces for inclusion. Indeed, many forge local forms of belonging, not least through seeking out economic and social resources despite broader political exclusion. However, the precariousness of their situation remains a dominant feature of their lives, and the parameters for discussion need to be broadened. In particular, there needs to be a far more robust focus on creating spaces for belonging that draw people in from the margins.

Indeed, it is interesting to speculate that if post-9/11 US foreign policy had not been driven by the idea of a “war on terror” but rather by a war on marginalisation, the current contours of displacement around the world, particularly in the Middle East, would likely be significantly different. The extent to which the war on terror has sustained and exacerbated marginalisation by creating foot soldiers living on the edges of society who can all too easily be deployed by those intent on generating violent extremism, has been a foreign policy disaster. At the same time, the extent to which this same “war on terror” has validated the growing securitisation of foreign policy has further entrenched the divide between insiders and outsiders.

Migrants – both forced and otherwise – have been particular victims of this approach. In a global context in which there is shrinking asylum space, and where increasingly refugees and migrants are being associated, however falsely, with violent extremism, it has become increasingly difficult for asylum seekers, migrants and refugees – regardless of categorisation – to access places of safety.

Of course, this is not the whole story. Many respond to the arrival of strangers with empathy and a determination to help. And equally, it is important not to characterise refugees and migrants merely as victims of these circumstances.

So will the meeting in New York change anything? Probably not. The fundamental problems facing refugees do not lie in the substance and structures of protection – after all, the principles of integration and safe movement are all there in the 1951 Refugee Convention. They lie in the political will to implement these ideas. Without addressing the realpolitik that continues to drive practice, therefore, any new ideas – or the repacking of old ideas – will continue to be palliative.

Instead, far more needs to be done to persuade governments of the benefits in ensuring that policies pull people into the centre rather than polarise and exclude them; and draw on, rather than negate, the creativity that refugees and migrants demonstrate in their quest to forge spaces of belonging.

In the meantime, refugees and migrants will continue to challenge the parameters of policy and practice, and will continue to test our political imaginations. And long may they do so. Rather than sitting around waiting for the world’s leaders to sign onto agreements, against the odds thousands of refugees and migrants are sending their children to school, generating livelihoods and negotiating their way through exile and through journeys, however precarious. But it should never be this hard.

Telling Places with Georgian IDPs

Photograph of Georgian IDP camp, copyright Hannah Mintek, 2010.

Telling Places with Georgian IDPs

Although it created new opportunities for many Soviet peoples, the end of Soviet rule also left many wounds unhealed, while creating new traumas. In the Caucasus, the post-Soviet decades were marked by frequent bloody conflict, from Chechnya to Nagorno-Karabakh to Abkhazia. Wars raged among Georgians, Russians, Ossetians, Chechens, Ingush, and Abkhazians over borders that had been contested since the advent of Soviet rule, if not earlier.

In the Republic of Georgia, one upshot of over two decades of violence is the nearly 300,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) who now reside a country with a total population of 4.6 million. How can these IDPs be integrated into Georgian society, and move on with their lives, given all the damage that has been inflicted by war and the fact that many of them still lack permanent homes? How, in short, do people build new lives after catastrophe?

A new project I am organizing with geographer Elizabeth Dunn of Indiana University, “Telling Places: Forced Migration and Spatial Memory in the Caucasus,” seeks a partial resolution to the emotional upheavals of the 2008 Georgian-Russian war. In partnership with Georgian NGOs and Georgian scholars, we will use digital mapping technologies (GIS) to create a resource that will be eventually managed by IDPs. This resource will provide a transferable technology usable by IDP communities around the world seeking to reconstruct their lives.

We are calling this resource a ‘convening point’ rather than a website, given the degree of interactivity we envision. The Telling Places convening point will interactively map the villages from which IDPs were ethnically cleansed, and keep the pasts these villages represent for IDPs alive in digital form. As a spatially-organized multi-media repository, Telling Places will gather interviews, video, and writings by IDPs with the family documents and maps that IDPs have preserved during their displacement. This resource will help IDPs rebuild their attachments to their home villages and preserve their memories for future generations.

 

Continue reading

Transfers from Israel are a symptom of the global refugee crisis seizing Europe

For decades, Europe has managed to ignore the majority of refugees housed in countries along the borders of those in crisis – including TurkeyLebanon and Africa’s Great Lakes region – and has had its collective head in the sand over the critical failures to offer them adequate protection and assistance. It has wrongly assumed that aid budgets are a suitable substitute for proper engagement with deeply-entrenched causes of conflict and forced migration. As it turns out, throwing money at a distant refugee crisis without an assessment not only of the broader context of the conflict, but also of the extent to which actions taken by European governments have contributed to instability, eventually catches up with you. So now, as images of thousands of asylum seekers in train stations in Hungary and those coming ashore in Greece show, the protection crisis is no longer out there. The challenge of protection has been laid squarely at Europe’s feet.

Inevitably, the response to the growing visibility of this global refugee crisis has been mixed, ranging from generosity and empathy (as displayed by the welcome received by Syrian asylum seekers arriving in Germany after their gruelling journey from Hungary), to hostility and anger (as evidenced by the image of a camerawoman tripping up fleeing migrants). One of the key factors that determines public opinion is the ability to engage with individual stories – stories that work as an antidote to the xenophobic language that turns individuals into marauding hordes and personal tragedies into a perceived threat. But in order to understand individuals, we must understand why they flee and why they choose Europe. We need to grasp the fact that their stories are inextricably linked to failures of protection and a lack of viable opportunities for livelihoods elsewhere. And to do that, we need to re-trace their steps and understand the many factors that led them to Europe.

One of these stories is told in a report recently published by the International Refugee Rights Initiative. The report, “I was left with nothing”: “Voluntary” departures of asylum seekers from Israel to Rwanda and Uganda is based on interviews with 25 Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers, 22 of whom were sent from Israel to Uganda and Rwanda between February 2014 and May 2015 under a so-called “voluntary departure” programme. Due to the circumstances under which they left Israel, and the way in which they were treated on arrival in Rwanda and Uganda, most have subsequently been forced to flee once more. Many are now trying to make their way into Europe. Some have succeeded, others have not.

Their stories show how the dangerous voyage to Europe is not so much a choice as simply the only option left after trying countless other ways to find safety for themselves and their families. All those interviewed had fled conflict and persecution in their home countries, and had gone to Israel in the hope of finding not only a safe place to stay, but also a job to support themselves and their families. To get to Israel, many had risked being kidnapped by Bedouins in the Sinai desert and taken to a hidden camp where families are then extorted for ransom, as shown in the documentary, Sound of Torture. Those who made it to Israel, however, found that their problems had only just begun. More than two thirds of those interviewed had either been put into indefinite detention in Israel’s Holot detention centre (described by one interviewee as “a place not fit for human beings”), or had been threatened with detention, in line with Israel’s harsh treatment of asylum seekers. Until 2013, they were not even allowed to apply for asylum, and afterwards they faced an unfair process. Not surprisingly, since the beginning of 2013 approximately 10,000 African asylum seekers who had fled to Israel seeking refuge have once more been forced to flee – either back to the places from which they had fled, or to other destinations including Europe.

Meanwhile, approximately 1,500 Sudanese and Eritreans were persuaded to join a “voluntary departure” scheme, also documented by Human Rights Watch, run by the Israeli government, under which asylum seekers are sent to Uganda and Rwanda with a promise that they will receive legal status and a cash payment of approximately USD 3,500 on leaving Israel. They chose to leave not because they wanted to go to the third countries offered, but because they could not go home. In the words of one Eritrean asylum seeker: “They said: ‘you can either go to your country or to Rwanda.’ I said: ‘if I could go to my country, why would I even be in Israel to begin with?’” (This determination not to return contrasts sharply with controversial UK Home Office Guidance on Eritrea, which suggests that individuals can return safely as they will not face prosecution for having left without permission on return).

Yet the research documented the fact that, on arrival in Uganda or Rwanda, they were not only not offered any kind of automatic status, they were left with no valid legal documents (often having the few documents that they did have taken off them). They were then approached by people smugglers and “encouraged” to leave the country – or, by way of an alternative, risk deportation due to the fact that they had no legal status. As a result, all of those we interviewed who had arrived in Rwanda, and most of those who had been sent to Uganda, had once more fled. Another Eritrean who was transferred from Israel to Rwanda and was then smuggled into Uganda, explained: “Out of 16 people [who came on the same flight] I am the only one still here. They are all in Libya. I don’t need to go to these places. You go to Juba, from Juba, Sudan – it is dangerous. I don’t want to go there. I want to leave [Uganda] by plane.”

With their options now even further reduced (as one man said, the only document he had left was his Israeli prison identity document), some have subsequently taken the difficult decision to undertake the treacherous journey to Europe. Those interviewed were well aware of the dangers: in April 2015, three Eritreans who had left Israel under this so-called “voluntary” programme were executed by Islamic State in Libya. As one interviewee who knew one of the victims personally said, “Many have left [Uganda] to South Sudan and then they go to Libya. But now there is ISIS there. I don’t know if you saw on Youtube, there was one, he was with us in Holot, I know him. They [ISIS] have slaughtered him. We were together in Holot. I also know of two who are in Benghazi in the jail… They are still waiting there to go to Europe, by sea.”

Their stories point to some of the circumstances that drive individuals and families to risk their lives and get into a leaking boat to cross over the Mediterranean to a fundamentally uncertain future. They are circumstances driven by the fact that the ability to seek a place of safety is becoming increasingly difficult for millions of people – circumstances in which we are all, to some extent, complicit whether through foreign policy decisions taken by our governments or our own inaction. Europe’s refugee crisis, therefore, is not just a European crisis but a global one needing a global response. We need not only to show solidarity and take in more forced migrants in Europe, but to support protection globally, and to engage with greater honesty in the resolution of deeply entrenched causes of forced migration. We also need to hold Israel accountable for its treatment of asylum seekers. While other countries in the region are hosting millions of refugees fleeing Syria, Israel is hosting none, and is forcing out the several thousands of African asylum seekers already in it. It is not only sending those refugees to countries that already host large numbers of refugees, but is also putting their lives in danger and is eventually contributing to refugee crises in other countries.

(Reposted from OpenDemocracy)