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)

Judge’s Order in Flores Should Signal the End of Family Detention in the United States

A federal judge issued an order in the Flores case that should go a long way to ending the government’s practice of detaining children and their mothers in unlicensed, secure facilities in Dilley and Karnes, Texas. Since the summer of 2014, the government has detained thousands of women and children fleeing violence in Central America. The longstanding Flores settlement guarantees minimum standards for the detention, release, and treatment of children in immigration detention. These standards, the court concluded, are not being met.

The judge’s order came after settlement negotiations between the parties failed earlier in July. The judge gave a withering critique of the government’s argument that the terms of the original Flores v. Reno 1997 settlement agreement only apply to unaccompanied minors, finding that the terms of the agreement plainly apply to “all minors.” Under the settlement, children generally must be released from custody.

Moreover, the judge said that the government “must release an accompanying parent as long as doing so would not create a flight risk or a safety risk.” There should be few cases in which a mother should not be released with her child. Almost all of the mothers currently detained are fleeing threats of violence and persecution in their home countries and are seeking asylum and other humanitarian protection here in the United States. They lack criminal records and have every incentive to appear for future court dates given that a clear majority of them have credible claims to asylum.

The judge also weighed in on short-term detention facilities, finding that the government had materially breached the agreement to provide “safe and sanitary” holding cells for children following their arrest. The freezing concrete cells, known as “hieleras,” or ice boxes, are unsanitary, overcrowded, and deprive children of adequate nutrition or hygiene.

What remains to be seen is how the government will respond to the court’s order. The government has until August 3 to submit papers to the court explaining why the ruling should not be implemented within the next few months; the government also may appeal the Judge’s decision. Given the harmful effects of continued detention—which include mental and physical harms—many advocates are hopeful that the government will choose to comply with the order promptly.

In anticipation of releasing children and mothers, the government should be taking steps to make sure that proper release practices are developed and implemented. Unfortunately, over the past couple of weeks, advocates witnessed chaos, disorganization, and coercion surrounding releases stemming from Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson’s June 24 announcement that women who passed an initial interview to establish their eligibility for protection under U.S. immigration law would be released.

Today, the CARA Family Detention Pro Bono project partners, who provide pro bono representation to women and children currently detained in Dilley and Karnes, Texas, called on Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director, Sarah Saldaña, to take immediate steps to remedy the situation. It is critically important that measures are in place to ensure that the mothers fully understand their rights and obligations upon release, to ensure their future appearance in immigration court and their timely filing of claims for protection in the United States.

As we see the light at the end of the long, dark tunnel of family detention, let’s make sure that the government goes about this the right way.

(Cross-Posted from Immigration Impact)

 

Burundi: no business as usual

If ever evidence was needed to show that the transition from conflict to sustainable peace is a long, hard road, recent events in Burundi have demonstrated it.

The announcement on 23 April 2015 by President Nkurunziza that he would run for a third term sparked fierce opposition. Although Burundi’s constitution contains a two term limit, Nkurunziza argues, and the Constitutional Court agreed (albeit reportedly under pressure) that his first term does not count because he was appointed by parliament rather than in a general election. Serious protests then rocked the capital Bujumbura, with increasing reports of violence between government forces and protesters. Such reports would have been worrying in any country, but were particularly concerning in Burundi, a country with a long history of mass violence that has been negotiating a protracted and painful transition to peace since the signing of the Arusha Peace and Reconciliation Agreement in August 2000.

The situation then evolved fast. On Thursday 14 May, an attempted coup d’état took place when the president was in neighbouring Tanzania for an emergency meeting with members of the East African Community. The coup has now been quelled, the President has returned to Burundi, and many of those responsible have been arrested. However, the media black-out that has been forcibly imposed on the country through the burning down of the main media and radio houses remains in place, and the situation remains highly charged.

Yet again, it feels like Burundi has reached a crucial junction. In many respects, the government’s actions and words over the next days and weeks are likely to determine whether or not the country’s trajectory will take it closer to civil war or allow it to continue the painful progression towards greater stability. For the situation to diffuse rather than escalate, a number of things need to happen.

First, President Nkurunziza needs to ensure the fair treatment of those arrested – and already there are concerning reports that this is not the case. While the forcible seizure of power is clearly a breach of national and international law and needs to be treated as such, their actions have to be considered within the broader political context in which they took place. Therefore, the president needs to ensure that any action taken not only respects national and international human rights protections, but also is sensitive to the genuine grievances of protesters and others. Ultimately, the president should accept that he is, in part, responsible.

Second, and related, the issue of President Nkurunziza’s third term in office needs to be addressed. The old adage says that that which does not kill you makes you stronger, and there is a danger that, having weathered this threat, President Nkurunziza will emerge emboldened. However, it would be a huge mistake to overlook the strength of feeling that has been, and still is being, demonstrated, quite literally, on the streets of Bujumbura. Renouncing his intention to stand for a third term would avoid conflict and allow Nkurunziza to ensure a proper democratic transition of power.

Third, while much of the attention over the past days has been on events in the capital, Bujumbura, there is a growing refugee crisis in neighbouring countries. Since 2005, the return and reintegration of those who fled previous violence was a crucial component to the broader reconstruction of the country. Now, once again, the return of those who have fled will be a crucial marker of the government’s legitimacy: indeed, the government can prove its commitment to peace by ensuring that those who have fled into exile are able to return voluntarily and with dignity.

Fourth, and facilitating return, it is vital that the government bring its armed elements under control. Allegedly one of the main causes of flight has been threats from, and human rights abuses committed by, the government’s notorious armed youth wing, the imbonerakure (meaning “those who can see from far”). Its continuing presence is likely not only to increase the refugee crisis, but also to prevent those who have fled from returning.

Fifth, press freedom is crucial. The fact that so little information is available within Burundi is extremely dangerous: the vacuum it leaves is inevitably filled with rumour. And rumours generate instability as people are living in fear and uncertainty. Therefore it is vital that a free press be allowed to function as crucial evidence for – and the function of – democratic space.

Finally, it is clearer than ever that the elections slated for June need to be postponed until there is a environment in which they can viably take place in a free and fair manner. Forging ahead with the mechanisms but not the substance of democracy never works. Although the president might appear to have contained the current crisis (although that remains to be seen), an unfree and unfair election will, at best, simply be a holding exercise. At worst, it could fuel considerably more violence as tensions simmering under the surface re-emerge.

Ultimately, the need for equitable governance to become strongly entrenched within Burundi is vital to its political health moving forward. It is important to remember that although President Nkurunziza’s bid for a third term was clearly the trigger for recent events, tensions have been simmering in Burundi for some time with the ruling regime being accused of becoming increasingly dictatorial. Local and international human rights organisations have been sounding the alarm for years. This misuse of political power is antithetical to dealing with legacies of violence. It leaves the country in a permanent state of suspended animation, always waiting to see if a trigger will lead to the kind of violence and unrest that has been witnessed over the past days. The people of Burundi deserve far more. And it is the responsibility of their government to deliver.

 

 

On the Job! UNHCR Gender Equity and Diversity Consultant (deadline 7 November)

The United Nations Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is hiring a Gender Equity and Diversity Consultant. Details follow:

The Division of Human Resources Management (DHRM) at the United Nations Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is committed to systematic examination and assessment of the effectiveness of UNHCR human resources policies. UNHCR has adopted a two-pronged approach to gender equality: mainstreaming gender and promoting targeted actions to address gender and diversity issues. Recognizing that our operational effectiveness is highly dependent on our staff, it is crucial that our staff reflect both gender and diversity in order to best respond to our persons of concern. Therefore, ensuring that human resources policies take into account gender equity, are family friendly and cognizant of LGBTI, are major priorities for DHRM. Following the launch of the Policy on Achieving Gender Equity in UNHCR Staffing on 7 March 2007 and with the goal of achieving a 50/50 gender distribution in UNHCR in all positions in the Professional category and above, work is still needed to implement relevant aspects of the policy in an effective manner. The policy should therefore be comprehensively reviewed, in order to introduce necessary actions to address gender equity, including among national staff. A dedicated person with significant experience in gender and diversity in a HR context is needed to drive the process and ensure the involvement of relevant stakeholders and continuous commitment from senior management.

Title: Consultant (Gender Equity and Diversity)

Supervision: Director of the Division of Human Resources Department (DHRM), with the support of the Division of International Protection (DIP)

Location: Geneva, Switzerland. Key stakeholder interviews will be carried out on-site

Duration of the assignment: 6 months full time, starting as soon as possible

Tasks and responsibilities:

The consultant will draft a comprehensive strategy and framework to address gender and diversity in staffing in UNHCR. Tasks will include:

– Comprehensively review the implementation of the 2007 Gender Equity Policy which aims for UNHCR to achieve a 50/50 gender balance at all levels in the International Professional category, and recommend actions to achieve continuous progress on gender equity and greater diversity among all categories of staff

– Conduct an evaluation of other relevant UNHCR human resources policies (including policies and practices regarding appointments and assignments, staff welfare, training, accommodation, security, etc.) related to gender and diversity to identify good practices, gaps and inconsistencies, through global consultation with relevant UNHCR staff and offices

– Review the effectiveness of the spouse employment policy, in light of Article 101 of the UN Charter, and recommend actions for improved implementation

– Benchmark UNHCR policies and practices to achieve gender equity and diversity in staffing against those of other UN agencies and INGOs with deep field presence

– Review policies and practices on LGTBI and recommend improvements

– Recommend specific actions for the integration of gender and diversity into all relevant DHRM policies

– Develop a communications strategy on the Policy to achieve gender equity and diversity in UNHCR

– Recommend accountability mechanisms and incentives to encourage senior management’s commitment and action to achieve the gender and diversity targets

Continue reading

Aid Workers Could Secure Better Protection under the Protection of Civilians Mandate

When two aid workers were shot dead in Afghanistan last month, the world’s media focused its attention on the dangers of 21st century humanitarianism and the challenges that assistance agencies face in protecting their personnel. Those challenges were underscored again this week with the tragic news of more fatal attacks on aid workers in South Sudan. International law plays an undeniably important role in the protection of humanitarian personnel, but these events call into question the extent to which international law’s provisions on protection are effective on the ground. Reframing the protection of humanitarians as a protection of civilians issue could go some way to improving protection across-the-board.

Aid worker security is of vital importance to any humanitarian mission. Insecurity in this regard not only compromises the safety of aid workers themselves, but also the safety of the populations they serve and the quality of the aid they deliver. Condemning the attacks on the above mentioned South Sudanese aid workers, Wendy Taeuber, Country Director for the International Rescue Committee (IRC) in South Sudan, commented that the ‘security and safety of … staff is paramount in order to be able to operate.’

It is a desperately sad reality that attacks on aid workers are so common. According to the Aid Worker Security Database (AWSD), in 2013-2014 alone 610 workers across the major international organizations and national agencies were killed, wounded or kidnapped in the field (so-called ‘major incidents’). That figure does represent a slight decrease in the number of victims compared to 2012-2013 statistics, but the trend over the past decade shows a deeply concerning increase all the same.

So what accounts for such an increase? One might chalk these figures up to weapons becoming more powerful and more indiscriminate (unable to be operated in a manner consistent with the legally required distinction between combatants and non-combatants) than ever before but the statistics remain fairly steady with respect to the number of victims of weapons-related incidents. For an answer, it appears we need to look elsewhere.

The general framework for the protection of humanitarian personnel under international law may provide us one explanation, but certainly not the full array of them. There are several major international legal instruments that pertain to the protection of humanitarian aid workers and each legally classifies those aid workers as civilians. The 1949 Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War (the fourth Geneva Convention) and the 1977 Protocols additional to the Geneva Conventions (Additional Protocol I and Additional Protocol II) are civilian protection treaties that oblige Parties to protect aid workers in specified armed conflict situations. Article 71(2) of Additional Protocol I, for example, requires that ‘personnel shall be respected and protected’ generally and Article 71(3) stipulates that each Party in receipt of relief consignments is obliged to ‘assist relief personnel … in carrying out their relief mission’. But despite being classified as civilians for the purposes of the conventions, aid workers are rarely treated like civilians in practice. It is in this paradox that many of the humanitarian protection issues faced today are sourced. Reframing the protection of humanitarian personnel as a protection of civilians issue (in line with international law), therefore, may provide an avenue for some improvement.

So how does the protection of humanitarians vs protection of civilians issue play out on the ground? The problems in this regard are too numerous and too complex to list in full but some key issues can be identified here. For one thing, aid workers look like aid workers and not like civilians. They are often dressed in uniforms with internationally-recognized emblems that guarantee their legal protection if nothing else (the International Committee of the Red Cross’ (ICRC) emblem of a red cross on a white background being the most prolific) and they often travel in marked vehicles with a host of resources and privileges that are not available to the general civilian population. These factors create an operational atmosphere in which humanitarians look to be more protected than they actually are. This is so even without considering that certain types of humanitarian are permitted, unlike the civilian population, to carry guns – a consideration that despite having no legal relevance here (as these humanitarians are governed by a separate branch of international law) does accentuate the differences between humanitarians and civilians. In light of these perceived differences, mission planners have ended up splitting protection of humanitarians units away from protection of civilians units, meaning the two rarely work together or share resources which in turn serves only to foster the unhelpful divide. Major advocacy groups like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, too, have responded by prioritizing protection of civilians in their campaigns at the cost of minimalizing protection of humanitarians advocacy. In reality, that perceived protection – emblems, resources, organization, etc. – makes humanitarians look like legitimate military and political targets for certain groups and therefore renders them open to attack in the same way as a combatant but with no means of defending themselves.

Those problems are especially acute in the national aid worker context. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has indicated in a 2011 report that despite overall improvements in aid agencies’ security risk management, national aid workers perceive continued inequities in security support compared with their international counterparts.

Placing protection of humanitarians more firmly under the umbrella of protection of civilians may go some way to eradicating issues with respect to operational ‘siloing’, resource allocation and international/national worker inequities. The mandate of protection of civilians encompasses a wide range of activities designed to obtain ‘full respect for the rights of all individuals in accordance with international law – international humanitarian, human rights, and refugee law – regardless of their age, gender, social, ethnic, national, religious, or other background’ (an Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) endorsed definition). Since 1999, protection of civilians has received widespread attention and resources from critical institutional and humanitarian actors and has a framework for prevention and response that is far more developed than that which applies to the protection of humanitarians.

There is certainly institutional and cultural support for a more thorough system of humanitarian worker protection. The United Nations Security Council, for instance, has issued several resolutions condemning attacks on aid workers (most prolifically with respect to the treatment of humanitarian personnel in Syria) and has previously emphasized, in Resolution 1502, that attacks on aid workers constitute war crimes. Garnering this influential support and directing it towards addressing the gaps in international law with respect to how protection is framed, therefore, can only be welcomed.

Despite the fact that a review of the role of international law in the protection of humanitarian personnel would be a positive move, international law plays a frustratingly limited role in conflicts where motivations of politics and religion often have the final say. Humanitarian protection is a complex and multifaceted issue and only a coordinated effort across all risk and security areas can foster the levels of change demanded by the tragedies too often witnessed in humanitarian missions the world over.

As part of that coordinated effort, August 19, 2014, marks World Humanitarian Day, a day conceived to increase awareness of humanitarian work around the world and encourage greater dialogue on key challenges. You can show your support and find out more about the Messengers of Humanity campaign by visiting www.worldhumanitarianday.org.

Can better access to citizenship help resolve conflict and refugee crises in Africa’s Great Lakes Region?

The manifold problems of conflict and displacement in Africa’s Great Lakes region[1] seem as complex as they do intractable. After all, with the exception of Tanzania, all the countries in the region have generated refugees and internally displaced people (IDPs) in large numbers over the past decades. But while not wanting to diminish the problems facing the region past and present, scale should not be conflated with either inexplicability or insolvability.

Of course, there is no silver bullet either. But research carried out by the International Refugee Rights Initiative over the past six years in the region, all of which focuses in one way or another on conflict and displacement in a number of different settings, indicates that a framework of citizenship can contribute positively to a better understanding of, and better policy responses to, forced displacement in this troubled region.

Citizenship in this context is understood as access to legal citizenship, but also more broadly as recognition of the right of a person to belong in a community and the power of that acceptance/belonging as a means of accessing other rights. And the research suggests that while there are many causes of political conflict and displacement in the region, unequal or inadequate access to citizenship has been a major contributing cause. At the same time, not only has the failure to ensure inclusive citizenship contributed to displacement, it has also made it harder to resolve: exclusive understandings of national citizenship limit refugees’ access to citizenship in host states and inhibit local integration, and the continued operation of exclusionary policies has made return “home” impossible for many.

As a result, the research underscores the fact that proper realisation of citizenship is one factor that determines whether or not a particular person or group will be forced into displacement; whether they will be able to repatriate; whether they will be accepted by those in their home communities if they do return; how they are perceived in exile both by host communities and those “at home”; whether durable solutions are possible; or whether they will end their lives in exile.

This assertion suggests that there needs to be a paradigm shift in responses to refugees in the region whereby discussions around “durable solutions” to displacement are viewed through a citizenship lens. In the case of repatriation, this means recognition that repatriation can only be a solution when there is a genuine re-assertion of the bond of citizenship between citizen and state, permitting the latter to protect the former and the former to engage in dialogue on the nature of the protection required. Without re-establishing the state/citizen bond and the realisation of their full rights as citizens, refugees will continue to resist return – and others who face similar exclusion will continue to flee.

It also means that repatriation should not be assumed to be the preferred – or, at times, the only – solution. The preconception that the only place refugees can legitimately belong is in their original homes both drives, and is driven by, an emphasis on repatriation that has been promoted by both national governments and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). This attitude has inhibited the possibilities for refugees to forge new forms of belonging, whether through local integration or resettlement to a third country. It also prevents refugees in protracted situations from integrating meaningfully (unless they choose to fall off the official radar and “self-settle”, albeit with a different set of challenges), creating strong feelings of marginalisation and alienation.

Therefore, greater emphasis needs to be placed on local integration as a lasting solution to exile and as a means of re-establishing citizenship rights. Those in exile desire meaningful citizenship, not least in situations where returning “home” is unlikely to be possible for the foreseeable future. In this context, local integration should be promoted as both a temporary and long-term solution to displacement. Integrating refugees into the host community empowers them to act as rational actors capable of addressing their own needs, as opposed to passive recipients of humanitarian aid in camps.

One of the key ways in which local belonging can be supported is through the way in which humanitarian assistance is given to refugees and their hosts. The findings have shown that refugee policy, by isolating refugees in settlements or camps, reinforces separation, undermines local integration and should be avoided wherever possible. The benefits to humanitarian programming in the short-term – as well as the misappropriated policy assumptions that underlie the settlement policy – are small compared to the benefits of supporting and allowing refugees to integrate freely within their country of exile.

Ultimately, therefore, the problem of conflict, displacement, and refugees in the Great Lakes region is intertwined with the crisis of citizenship and the logic of inclusion and exclusion. The way forward, therefore, lies in a process by which refugee policies and practices in the region are re-aligned to become more inclusive, and to have a focus on building the dignity and supporting the resourcefulness of refugees. Refugees need to be viewed as rational actors, who are best placed, either as individuals or as communities, to determine what their interests are and how to protect their rights. This assertion translates into a policy that promotes an organic process of interaction between refugees and host communities that starts at the onset of a refugee influx and allows both to mutually benefit from each other; that identifies potential areas of tension and encourages collaboration between both communities to identify ways of removing the cause of that tension; and that allows local actors to benefit from the economic and business opportunities that result from the presence of the refugees and thereby minimises xenophobia.

 

[1] The Great Lakes region consists of the territory covering 12 states that are members of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR): Angola, Burundi, Central African Republic, Republic of Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, South Sudan, Sudan, Tanzania, and Zambia.

World Refugee Day Draws Attention to Shortcomings of International Law

SyrianRefugeesintheRegionJune1st2014-page-001Tomorrow, on June 20, we observe World Refugee Day. This day was established by the United Nations to honor the courage, strength and determination of those who are forced to flee their homes under threat of persecution, conflict and violence. But this year’s World Refugee Day also reminds us – perhaps more than ever before – of our failures as an international community and the shortcomings of international refugee law. Civil war in Syria has created the worst refugee crisis in 20 years, with an average of 6,000 people fleeing every day in 2013. Not since the 1994 genocide in Rwanda have refugee numbers risen at such a startling rate.

In March of last year, the UN High Commissioner Antonio Guterres wrote in the New York Times, “[o]n Wednesday, my colleagues will register the one millionth Syrian refugee. A milestone in human tragedy. And a figure that should, after two years of death and destruction, stir the level of political action needed to put an end to this war before more lives are lost, more people forced to flee and the conflict destabilizes the region.” This past April, UNHCR once again brought to our attention the one millionth refugee, although, this time, the figure referred solely to the number of Syrian refugees in Lebanon. In total, and in addition to 6.5 million internally displaced persons in Syria, we are currently facing a staggering 2.8 million Syrian refugees. Continue reading

Book Launch: Protecting Civilians in Refugee Camps

Protecting Civilians in Refugee CampsIt’s my great pleasure to announce the book launch of Protecting Civilians in Refugee Camps: Unable and Unwilling States, UNHCR and International ResponsibilityThrough an analysis of the International Law Commission’s work on international responsibility, the book discusses responsibility for human rights violations taking place in refugee camps being administered by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and its implementing partners. It will be launched at the Bergen Resource Centre for International Development in Bergen, Norway, on May 22, 2014. Protecting Civilians is the first book in the International Refugee Law book series, edited by Dr David Cantor and published by Martinus Nijhoff Publishers. In the same series, the edited volume Refuge from Inhumanity? War Refugees and International Humanitarian Law will be out in September.

‘Heading to Europe: Safe Haven or Graveyard?’ Panel discussion on migration by sea at Radboud University Nijmegen May 16

The Interest Group on Migration and Refugee Law of the European Society of International Law, the Centre for Migration Law of the Radboud University Nijmegen and the Amsterdam Center for International Law of the University of Amsterdam are pleased to announce Heading to Europe: Safe Haven or Graveyard?, a panel discussion on migration by sea in the Mediterranean. The panel discussion will be held on 16 May 2014 at the Radboud University Nijmegen.

The year of 2013 has demonstrated that the tragedy of thousands of migrants and refugees drowning on the shores of Europe is now a common occurrence.  The fate of those who perished near the Italian island of Lampedusa has brought the urgency of the situation into focus. The aim of the panel discussion is to provide an overview of the legal rules and processes applicable to migration by sea in the Mediterranean and to reflect on their wider sociological implications.

The panel discussion consists of two panels, each followed by a plenary discussion. In the first panel, legal experts working in the field of academia and at stakeholder organizations (e.g. UN Refugee Agency, Council of Europe, European Union) focus on legal aspects of boat migration in the Mediterranean. The second panel brings together scholars and practitioners with first-hand experience from transit countries to discuss the sociological effects of the legal rules and processes. Click here for the complete program, and here for more information on the panelists.

The organizing partners cordially invite interested scholars, governments officials, practitioners and advanced students to join in the panel discussion ‘Heading to Europe: Safe Haven or Graveyard?’. Active participation in the discussion is strongly encouraged. Participation is free of charge. For participation, please register at the bottom of this page. For inquiries, please contact Lisa-Marie Komp at lisa-marie.komp@law-school.de.

Location is the CPO-zaal, Spinozagebouw at the Radboud University in Nijmegen (Montessorilaan 3).

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Australia’s Increasingly Restrictive Policies Block Asylum Seekers From Entry

Australian Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, recently announced a strict new policy mandating that all asylum seekers arriving by boat would be sent to a refugee-processing center in Papua New Guinea. This policy change has been covered widely in the media, through the New York Times, the BBC, and other news outlets. According to the Australian Prime Minister’s announcement, asylum seekers, by arriving by boat without a valid visa, will forfeit any right to claim asylum in Australia. Rather, if an asylum seeker is determined to have a genuine claim to refugee status, she will be resettled in Papua New Guinea. Australia is, of course, a signatory to the 1951 United Nations Refugee Convention and the 1967 Protocol. While this development is disheartening, it is not shocking given the political arena and the long history of restrictive asylum policies in Australia. Australia’s policies with regards to asylum seekers arriving by sea have long been controversial. In August 2001, Australia turned away a Norwegian vessel in distress carrying over 400 asylum seekers, focusing international attention on the intersection of maritime rescue law and refugee law. For coverage of this incident and in depth coverage on related issues, see Professor Niels W. Frenzen’s Migrants at Sea blog. Amnesty International’s Australia Chapter also provides regular reports and coverage on the treatment of asylum seekers and refugees in Australia.

Australia is, of course, is only one of several countries to turn away asylum seekers arriving by sea. Indeed, the United States also participates in interdiction at sea. In fact, our own Supreme Court explicitly found this practice to be in line with our international obligations even where, in that case, the US was interdicting Haitians and returning them to the country of feared persecution. See Sale v. Haitian Centers Council, 509 U.S. 155 (1993). Whether Australia’s evolving interdiction policy will be judged by its own courts remains to be seen.