Talk Media News: Cooperation is key to preventing the Venezuelan refugee crisis from getting worse, new report says

The U.N. estimates that 2019 could see the exodus of some 2.1 million Venezuelans, adding to the 3.3 million who have already fled political and economic turmoil under President Nicolás Maduro.

If those projections hold true, neighboring Colombia will likely receive the lion’s share of refugees, solidifying the country’s role at the front line of the crisis.

Eric Schwartz is the president of Refugees International, and commends Colombia for keeping its borders open and allowing those fleeing Venezuela to access basic services.

“In an awful situation, Colombia is standing up and doing pretty much the right thing.”

But Refugees International warns in a new report that that could change if Colombia fails to get more international support.

Remember, 7 million Colombians remain internally displaced by fighting between the government and FARC rebels. And even though the two sides signed a peace deal in 2017, Colombia has a long way to go to help those whose livelihoods were destroyed by decades of war.

If the Venezuelan refugee issue distracts from that effort, attitudes toward refugees could change.

“In any situation where there are large numbers of people fleeing and trying to seek refuge, there are challenges with respect to host communities, and I think the government of Colombia could very much use the financial support of the international community in addressing what some of those host community concerns might be.”

To do that, Schwartz suggests those donating to the refugee response also could help Colombia ensure its domestic peace process is successful.

And crucially, Colombia can’t be left to deal with the refugee crisis by itself, lest a go-it-alone approach to migration prevail.

“We know what the worst case looks like. All you have to do is look in other parts of the world where governments are shutting borders. It means that people who are at risk suffer much more significantly, that more people die and that governments use hate-filled rhetoric to stoke polarization.”

Talk Media News: Unfazed by US boycott, 160+ countries back global migration compact

Some 164 countries signed on to a non-binding Global Compact for Migration this week, enshrining some commonly accepted migration policies that are likely to come in handy as ever greater numbers of people leave their home countries behind in search of a better life.

“What we ultimately got out of the text is a floor, not a ceiling.”

Alice Thomas is a program manager for Refugees International.

“It’s the first time you have in one document a 360-degree view of migration and a set of best practices for states working collaboratively to achieve safer, regular, orderly migration.”

Some of the compact’s 23 goals include ending “migration detention unless as a last resort,” eliminating discrimination against migrants and stopping the “allocation of public funding or material support to media outlets that systematically promote intolerance.”

While the compact is clearly and purposefully non-binding, the U.S. boycotted it anyway, and perhaps that’s no surprise. The U.S. has been widely criticized for detaining migrants (even going as far as to separate migrant children from their parents) and President Trump himself has repeatedly turned public sentiment against migrants, even peddling the debunked theory that they pose health risks to the U.S.

Non-binding or not, Thomas hopes one of the compact’s goals to collect more data on migration will ultimately help countries with good migration policy to stand out from the pack.

“To say that best practices are going to drive you to do something that’s going to call you out in some fashion – well yeah, maybe it’s going to mean that you’re not following the best practices for migration. But the whole idea that the international community needs to work together to try to deal with this phenomena.”

That cooperation is urgently needed. According to the U.N., the number of international migrants has increased from around 100 million people 30 years ago to more than 250 million now, and that trend shows little signs of stopping.

UN Dispatch Podcast: Global Compact for Migration, Explained

Over 180 countries are endorsing what is known as the Global Compact for Migration. The text of this non-binding agreement was finalized over the summer, and countries are meeting in Marrakech, Morocco on December 10th and 11th to formally launch the Compact.

There is a great deal of misinformation being spread, mostly by right wing governments in Europe in the US, about what this agreement entails.

This agreement is not a treaty. Rather, it is an agreed set of principles and creates a kind of platform for multilateral and bilateral cooperation around issues of international migration.

On the line to explain the Global Compact for Migration, better known around the UN as the “GCM” is Alice Thomas of Refugees International.  I caught up with Alice Thomas from Marrakech where she was participating in civil society forums around the Compact. We discuss both the content of the Compact and its potential impact on destination countries, origin countries and migrants themselves. We also discuss the impact of the non-participation of a few countries in this compact, including the United States and some countries in Europe.

If you have 20 minutes and want to a primer on the Global Compact For Migration, have a listen –>


NPR: Trump Escalates Immigration Issue Days Ahead Of Elections With White House Remarks

Trump promised to crack down on what he called the abuse of the asylum process and delivered a stern warning to a group of Central American migrants slowly making their way through Mexico, who have set their sights on the United States.

"The president has willfully and cynically vilified an asylum-seeker population composed of vulnerable children, women, and men," said Eric Schwartz, president of Refugees International.

Read the full story here.

The Takeaway: UN Report Accuses Myanmar Military of Genocide

new report from the United Nations says six of Myanmar’s top generals should be tried for genocide and other crimes against humanity in the International Criminal Court.

The report comes one year after the Myanmar military systematically forced more than 700,000 people from the Rohingya Muslim minority from their homes and villages across the border into Bangladesh. At least 10,000 Rohingya were killed in a targeted campaign of genocide, the UN experts say -- adding that 10,000 is a conservative estimate.

Daniel Sullivan, senior advocate for Human Rights at Refugees International, visited and interviewed Rohingya refugees living in Bangladesh earlier this year and recently wrote an article called "Five Key Priorities To Address the Rohingya Crisis."

PBS Newshour: Amid ‘mounting evidence of atrocities,’ UN calls for investigation into Rohingya crackdown

The U.N. is calling for an investigation into Myanmar’s violent crackdown last year against the Rohingya, a Muslim minority group. But Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh are finally receiving aid, and despite repatriation discussions, many are reluctant to return to the people who brutalized them. Nick Schifrin talks to special correspondent Tania Rashid and Refugees International's Dan Sullivan.


All Things Considered: U.N. Human Rights Probe; Top Myanmar Generals Should Face Genocide Charges

A United Nations-mandated Fact-Finding Mission issued a scathing report documenting Myanmar security forces' violence against the country's ethnic Rohingya Muslim population last year.

RI’s Daniel Sullivan joins NPR’s All Things Considered to discuss the treatment of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar.

MSNBC: White House reportedly looking to turn away an additional 20,000 refugees

The Trump Administration is talking about drastically reducing the number of refugees permitted into the U.S. next year. The cutback has forced Refugees International - a leading advocacy organization that previously focused only on refugee crises overseas - to intervene here in the U.S. Andrea Mitchell is joined by Eric Schwartz, President of Refugees International, to discuss.

MSNBC: White House reportedly looking to turn away an additional 20,000 refugees

The Trump Administration is talking about drastically reducing the number of refugees permitted into the U.S. next year. The cutback has forced Refugees International - a leading advocacy organization that previously focused only on refugee crises overseas - to intervene here in the U.S. Andrea Mitchell is joined by Eric Schwartz, President of Refugees International, to discuss.

See original piece here.

StarTribune: Immigrants give Minnesota more than they take

Immigration can be credited with much of the American success story, and it’s an essential theme in Minnesota’s story. But popular support for immigration has always been fragile. This state’s candidates for high office should know what history teaches: Politicians’ willingness to speak up for immigration in general and refugees in particular has often been crucial in keeping America growing and Minnesota thriving.

Read the full story, featuring RI President Eric Schwartz, here.

Dhaka Tribute: Report: Rohingya refugees beset by danger on all sides

Rohingya refugees are at immediate danger from an assortment of sectors

The Rohingya crisis has proved to be a herculean challenge for Bangladesh over the past nine months. Even as the country hosts nearly a million forcibly displaced Rohingya people in Cox’s Bazar, the problems seem to escalate despite every effort to solve them.

Refugees International (RI), an advocacy group for displaced and stateless people, published a report where it said that Rohingya refugees are at immediate danger from an assortment of sectors, and recommended feasible solutions to stakeholders to address the situation.

The report titled “Unnatural Disaster: Aid Restrictions Endangering Rohingya Ahead Of Monsoons In Bangladesh” concurs with reports by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) about the immediate threat the Rohingya diaspora in Bangladesh are facing.

Long-term planning and political viability

The report commends Bangladesh for its bold moves to accommodate the Rohingya refugees and urges even bolder moves to draw the situation to a close. However, it identifies that the government has no long-term planning because of political pressure ahead of the elections and concerns that it may ease pressure on the Myanmar government if the Rohingya are rehabilitated in Bangladesh.

Lack of accountability in aid

The involvement of numerous international aid bodies has convoluted the humanitarian efforts and prevented development of uniform guidelines or standards. As such, when there are massive setbacks like 2,699 latrines are decommissioned and another 15,000 are emptied, and a further 5,000 no longer function, there should be a mechanism of accountability for shoddy planning and construction.

Bureaucratic deadlock

There are concerns that the process of aiding Rohingya refugees has become labyrinthine with a plethora of international NGOs, domestic NGOs, government agencies, and other concerned groups getting involved. One such issue is the subject of issuing visas to international humanitarian personnel. 

Earlier in March, 39 foreign aid workers were detained by authorities for not possessing the necessary paperwork to work in the country. They were later released after pledging to rectify matters. Refugees International (RI) recommends the visa process be eased for these groups. Aid workers now receive non-immigration visas, but it requires juggling between several ministries and there is no specific policy regarding it.

Retaliation against Myanmar

The report stresses that the solution, just like the origin of the problem, lies with Myanmar. Hence, it recommends UN member countries to place selective sanctions on senior Myanmar military officers tied to the Rohingya genocide. In addition, an arms embargo on the Myanmar military is recommended, as well as referring cases of abuse of the Rohingya to the International Criminal Court.

Funding crisis

RI recommends donors be asked to fully fund the $951m Joint Response Plan for the Rohingya crisis plan, of which only 17% has been raised.

Voluntary repatriation

The repatriation to Myanmar is urged to be safe, voluntary, and dignified. The report asks for a Memorandum of Understanding between Myanmar, the UNHCR, and the UNDP as a framework to support repatriation efforts.

RI is opposed to repatriation at this time, citing the lack of long-term planning and sustainability.

Bhasan Char relocation ill-conceived

The Bangladesh government’s plans to relocate Rohingya refugees to Bhasan Char has been seen as a cause for concern. Natural disasters like flooding, storms and cyclones, in addition to reduced accessibility, are identified as a hindrance to the rights of the Rohingya people. 

This piece originally appeared here

The Atlantic: The UN’s Migration Body Rejects Trump’s Pick to Be Its Leader

Since President Trump took office in January 2017, the U.S. has withdrawn from the Paris climate agreement and the non-binding Global Compact on Migration. The president himself has criticized refugees, blamed migration for Europe’s ills, instituted a travel ban that targets the citizens of five predominantly Muslim countries, and adopted a tough policy on migrants along the U.S. border with Mexico.

The global community appears to have noticed. On Friday, it issued something of a response: Ken Isaacs, Trump’s candidate to lead the International Organization on Migration, was rejected by the UN agency, a rare repudiation of U.S. leadership by the Geneva-based body.

Isaacs was a longtime executive at Samaritan’s Purse, the evangelical Christian aid organization that is headed by Franklin Graham. He also served as director of foreign-disaster assistance during the George W. Bush administration, and worked in Africa, Asia, and other parts of the world. But his remarks about Muslims and Islam drew widespread condemnation and doomed his candidacy. Isaacs was reportedly eliminated after three rounds of voting. The ultimate winner, Antonio Vitorino, a Socialist Portuguese politician who previously served as an EU commissioner, defeated Laura Thompson, the Costa Rican diplomat who is the currently the number two official at the IOM. With the exception of a brief period in the 1960s, an American has held the top spot at the organization since it was founded in 1951. Vitorino will succeed William L. Swing, the U.S. diplomat who has headed the IOM since October 2008.

“This was a very competitive election with three highly qualified candidates,” a U.S. State Department spokesperson said in a statement. “We congratulate the winner and look forward to working with” him. “IOM is an important partner for the United States around the globe, and we are committed to working with IOM to address root causes of migration and to promote safe and legal migration.”

The development was not unexpected. The backlash against Isaacs’s nomination began almost as soon as it was announced in February. The Washington Post unearthed social-media posts in which Isaacs made comments that were widely seen as disparaging of Islam and Muslims. In one he tweeted: “If Islam is a religion of peace, let’s see 2 million Muslims in National Mall marching against jihad & stand for America! I haven’t seen it!” He criticized the Obama administration’s decision to increase the number of Syrian refugees accepted by the U.S., saying while “most of the refugees are fine people … there are real security risks and this can’t be swept under the rug.” He also said the U.S. should preferentially admit Christian refugees from Syria because they “can never return.” Subsequently, CNN reported that Isaacs tweeted that Austria and Switzerland should consider building a wall in the Alps “to control their borders from refugees.”

When confronted with the posts, Isaacs, via the State Department, said he regretted that his “comments on social media have caused hurt and have undermined my professional record.” Additionally, he said: “It was careless and it has caused concern among those who have expressed faith in my ability to effectively lead IOM. I pledge to hold myself to the highest standards of humanity, human dignity and equality if chosen to lead IOM.”

But the opposition to the nomination only grew. Hundreds of aid groups wrote to the IOM, asking its members to vote for a director general with a record of “condemning xenophobia, discrimination and intolerance.” And this week, Eric Schwartz, the president of Refugees International, wrote in the Post that Isaacs’s “regrettable statements must be disqualifying.”

The IOM, which was set up in the aftermath of World War II, coordinates the global response to worldwide migration, including that of refugees, and became a UN agency in 2016. At present it coordinates the international response to the migrant crisis in Europe as well as the Rohingya crisis along Myanmar’s border with Bangladesh. The job of its director general would have been to represent the values of the IOM and the UN system, not the U.S. government position on migration.

But the Trump administration’s policies on families at the U.S. border with Mexico, its travel restrictions on citizens from five Muslims or predominantly Muslim countries, and the president’s own remarks about Muslims and refugees would have likely placed an American director-general in an awkward position. As Jeremy Konyndyk, who was the Obama-era director of the office of foreign-disaster assistance, wrote in IRIN, the website that covers humanitarian relief:

This naturally raises the question—would Isaacs, if elected, join his UN peers in condemning Trump’s family separation policy? Against the backdrop of the migration policies of the administration that nominated him, his position on this cuts to the core of his credibility as the potential leader of IOM. Unlike most past IOM chiefs, Isaacs is a dust-on-his-boots relief operator rather than a diplomat or migration expert – so there is little indication of his migration policy views beyond his inflammatory social media statements. And while he kicked off his campaign with a quasi-apology after reports of those social media posts emerged, he has never fully repudiated his attacks on Muslims, descriptions of refugees as security threats, and mockery of climate science. For the proposed head of an organization whose roles include coordinating global migration policy, supporting refugee resettlement, and mitigating potential climate disasters, these stances create more than a bit of awkwardness.

This piece originally appeared here

 

 

Axios: Window Narrowing to Stave Off Worst-Case Scenario in Southwest Syria

The Assad regime last weekend launched an offensive into southwest Syria aimed at dividing opposition forces in Daraa province and reasserting government control over the region.

Why it matters: The regime campaign, backed by Russian airpower, has already displaced at least 45,000 civilians — many seeking shelter along Jordan's closed border — and that number could soon reach 200,000. The UN has warned that a full-scale offensive could put as many as 750,000 lives at risk and prove as bloody as the sieges of “eastern Aleppo and eastern Ghouta combined" (which included the use of chemical weapons).

The details: Syria’s southwest is a strategically sensitive area that borders Jordan, Lebanon and Israel. The new regime offensive is taking place in a “de-escalation zone” negotiated last year by the U.S., Jordan and Russia — an agreement that decreased violence and lowered tensions between Israel and Iran over the latter’s presence in the area. This could all now change, and an Iranian role in the regime offensive could drag Israel deeper into the fight.

What’s next: There is a small window to prevent a worst-case scenario. The parties to the de-escalation agreement could try to resuscitate it, but no such effort appears underway. Although Moscow has reportedly reached out to Washington to broker a deal under which opposition fighters would turn over positions to regime forces, it is unclear if Washington could compel that outcome even if it wanted to.

If diplomacy cannot slow the fighting, the humanitarian situation will deteriorate. Most assistance to Syrians in the southwest is delivered via UN cross-border relief operations from Jordan. But if violence escalates, those operations could cease. If Jordan continues to keep its doors closed, displaced Syrians will be left to languish in informal settlements along the border or try their luck in areas controlled by the regime.

Hardin Lang is vice president for programs and policy at Refugees International.

This piece originally appeared here.