On September 21, thousands of people will come together in New York City to demand action on global climate change. The People’s Climate March, which comes in advance of the United Nations Climate Summit on September 23, will not only be the largest climate march in history, but also the most diverse.
“This policy calls for UNHCR to pursue alternatives to camps whenever possible. Compliance with this policy is mandatory.” Those words are taken from a policy statement prepared by UNHCR, the United Nations Refugee Agency. Approved by High Commissioner António Guterres on July 22, 2014, the document has curiously not been placed in the public domain, nor have UNHCR’s key partners – donor states, other UN agencies, and NGOs – been informed of its existence. But Refugees International has gained access to a leaked copy.
“Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.” In just 15 words, the Universal Declaration on Human Rights makes it very clear that people whose life and liberty are at risk in their homeland should be able to leave it and find safe refuge in another state.
But as with many other rights that are spelled out in the Universal Declaration, the right to seek asylum is routinely denied to many people who should be able to benefit from it.
In December 2013, in Juba, South Sudan, fighting broke out between soldiers of the Nuer and Dinka ethnicity within the presidential guard. This fighting quickly spread throughout the country, as many Dinka aligned themselves with the country’s president, Salva Kiir, and many Nuer aligned themselves with the former vice president, Riek Machar. Since then, 1.5 million people have been forced to flee their homes.
In November of 2013, the government of Saudi Arabia began expelling large numbers of foreign nationals, including some 550,000 Yemenis, 180,000 Ethiopians, and 36,000 Somalis. While there has been little international attention or condemnation of these deportations, the returning individuals and their countries of origin have suffered many logistical, economic, and social ramifications due to this decision.
After decades of war punctuated by drought and famine, signs have emerged in recent years that Somalia may be heading toward a more peaceful and prosperous future. The terrorist group Al Shabab has been driven out of the capital and other areas (although attacks and assassinations are still a regular occurrence), a federal government has been elected and – despite limited capacity – assumed the reins of power, and economic projects are being planned and implemented.
In Australia, the navy is intercepting boats in international waters and incarcerating asylum seekers in floating prisons. In Kenya, the government is deporting refugees to Somalia, despite the continued armed conflict and the increasingly serious drought in that country. Sudan has recently returned a group of refugees to Eritrea, one of the most authoritarian countries in the world. And the United States is refusing to admit many Mexican children who arrive at its border, despite mounting evidence that they are escaping from life-threatening and gang-related violence.
#BringBackOurGirls. This slogan has been trending since April, when the Islamic Jihadist terrorist organization Boko Haram kidnapped more than 200 girls from their school in Borno State, Nigeria. Countless celebrities around the world – including U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama – have lent their voices to the social media campaign. But three months later, “our girls” have not been brought back. Although reports say approximately 50 have managed to escape, 276 girls are still missing.
Four months ago, the Kenyan government launched a major crackdown against Somali refugees living in urban areas that involved mass arrests, extortion, and even deportations back to Somalia. This week, my colleague, Alice Thomas, and I are traveling to Kenya to assess the deteriorating situation for those refugees.