RI President Eric Schwartz discussed the Rohingya refugee crisis with MSNBC's Hallie Jackson. View the video below.
The mass exodus from Myanmar continues for Rohingya Muslims, who are fleeing what the U.N. has called “a textbook case of ethnic cleansing.” Judy Woodruff speaks with Eric Schwartz of Refugees International and Daniel Russel of Asia Society about the horrific accounts of murder and sexual violence, the roots of the humanitarian crisis and what can be done.
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No more excuses. The Rohingya need our help.
By Eric P. Schwartz October 12
Eric P. Schwartz is president of Refugees International. He was on a fact-finding mission in Bangladesh from Sept. 15 to 19.
In 1998, President Bill Clinton visited Rwanda, where he formally apologized for the U.S. government’s inaction during the 1994 genocide there that claimed approximately 800,000 lives. He lamented that the international community “did not immediately call these crimes by their rightful name.” Indeed, this was an omission of historic proportion, and the absence of outrage enabled policymakers to avoid considering bold measures that might have made a difference.
The U.S. government is now risking the same kind of failure in the case of Burma’s Rohingya minority. On Oct. 5, State Department testimony to the House Foreign Affairs Committee was strikingly reminiscent of the initial descriptions of the situation in Rwanda 23 years ago. Members of Congress tried in vain to persuade the department’s East Asia witness, Deputy Assistant Secretary Patrick Murphy, to affirmatively declare that ethnic cleansing was taking place in Burma, also known as Myanmar. Instead, he described the situation as a “cauldron of complexities.” His remarks betrayed little sense of urgency.
The facts are hardly in dispute. On a visit to Bangladesh last month, I heard repeated testimony from refugees that confirmed what credible human rights groups have been reporting for many weeks. After attacks by a Rohingya militant group on Burmese security forces at the end of August, the Burmese military began systematically setting fire to Rohingya villages and shooting civilians as they sought to flee.
By now more than 500,000 Rohingya — about half of the Rohingya population living in Burma prior to Aug. 25 — have fled to Bangladesh, joining hundreds of thousands of Rohingya who were already there as refugees. The exodus continues even now, and there is little doubt that the Burmese military is responsible for crimes against humanity.
To be sure, the State Department testimony on Oct. 5 came after more pointed statements last month by Vice President Pence, who declared that the Burmese military had responded with “terrible savagery,” and by Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, who referred to “a brutal, sustained campaign to cleanse the country of an ethnic minority.” But these statements haven’t been followed by a strong U.S. effort to rally the world to the cause of the Rohingya. As a result, the State Department testimony remains the most detailed discussion of U.S. policy to date.
Our values demand that we should not simply sit by as if there were nothing we could do to prevent the continuing tragedy. U.S. interests in regional stability and democracy in Burma also compel stronger action. The persecuted Rohingya population has already attracted the attention of movements in the Islamic world. Militant groups may seek recruits among the roughly 1 million Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh. Future attacks by Rohingya insurgents in Burma would give the military a pretext to reassert control and end the country’s long-fought struggle for democracy.
Bold action is essential to diminish the likelihood of such an outcome and to enable the safe return of the Rohingya. It is true that the challenges are formidable. While Burmese civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi has expressed a willingness to accept the return of the Rohingya who have fled, no one knows what obstacles may be imposed by the Burmese authorities. It is unrealistic to believe Rohingya whose villages have been destroyed by the military would have sufficient confidence to dare return. Moreover, action to bring multilateral pressure to bear at the United Nations risks being stymied, above all by the Chinese government, which supports the Burmese military.
China also has an interest in good relations with Bangladesh and the Islamic world as well as in the long-term stability of Burma itself. For all these reasons, the United States should seek to join with China to press both Aung San Suu Kyi and the Burmese military to agree to the return of the Rohingya refugees and to provide them with genuine safeguards.
In particular, the United States, China and other U.N. Security Council members should urge that such safeguards include rapid deployment of a U.N. peace observer mission to Rakhine state, home to the overwhelming majority of the refugees. The mission would monitor both the return of refugees and conditions facing all ethnic communities, including those the Burmese government are concerned may be threatened by Rohingya insurgents. The diplomatic involvement of the Chinese, who now contribute more personnel to U.N. peace operations than any permanent member of the Security Council, could provide reassurance to the Burmese government and military.
The politics of this effort would be extremely complicated. But it is worth a try, as it may be the only hope to promote regional peace and stability and keep faith with a Rohingya population whose most fervent desire is to live in peace in Burma.
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World Food Programme forced to cut grain handouts as lack of funding and sheer number of people fleeing South Sudan’s conflict leave agencies overwhelmed
Samuel Okiror in Kampala
Monday 9 October 2017 08.23 EDT
The flood of people fleeing South Sudan, coupled with delays and constraints on funding, has lead to food rations to refugees being slashed by half.
According to agencies working on the ground in Uganda, where most of the refugees have been arriving from the conflict across the border, food supply lines are being shut down and distribution of aid becoming increasing irregular.
The UN’s World Food Programme said it was forced to cut the amount of grain it was handing out due to delayed payments.
“When the funding comes late it takes a bit longer to secure the cereals. It means that you have to go to the markets to procure, transport, store and distribute,” said El Khidir Daloum, WFP director for Uganda.
In the last fortnight, South Sudanese refugees at Nyumanzi settlement in Adjumani, which hosts about 20,000 people, protested in front of officials from the prime minister’s office.
Titus Jogo, refugee desk officer in Adjumani, said that they had to calm people down and explain that WFP did not have enough stock this month.
Andie Lambe, executive director at International Refugee Rights Initiative, said: “Our understanding is that the ration cuts this month were as a result of a break in the food pipeline within WFP and that these cuts are both temporary and that the gap was substituted with a cash equivalent of the missing ration. In addition, WFP assured us that this would not be applied to recent arrivals and vulnerable households.
“The refugees are dependent on handouts due to the lack of alternatives for them to support themselves. When rumours of rations being permanently cut or stopped altogether are combined with actual cuts and without clear explanation being given for this, tensions will increase and it is not unreasonable for refugees to voice their disquiet.”
The sheer scale of the disaster, in which more than 86% of refugees are women and children, means that strains have been put on already scarce resources.
“Uganda is dealing with a refugee crisis of historic proportions and the country and its humanitarian partners have not been able to meet the needs of one million South Sudanese who have sought protection from violence in a relatively short amount of time,” said Francisca Vigaud-Walsh of Refugees International.
“Uganda has an exemplary refugee policy and has done what it can to provide safe harbour and land to refugees, but the needs of refugees outstrip the capacity of humanitarian responders, given that the funding simply isn’t there,” she said.
In May this year, WFP was forced to cut food rations to refugees in the east African nation by 50% due to severe funding shortages. The agency need an estimated $167m (£126m) to provide aid through to the end of the year, but donors contributed only $30m as of September.
WFP needs $62m to help scale up, sustain and expand life-saving assistance and protection for the next six months of more than 1.3 million refugees.
“Every month we need $20m to feed the refugees in Uganda. For the next six months we have a shortage of $62m to $85m for refugees,” said Daloum. “We know what it takes to secure those resources, but at the same time, this is a life-saving issue.”
The Ugandan president, Yoweri Museveni, and the UN secretary general, António Guterres, hosted a summit in June in Kampala to call for action for South Sudanese refugees, with $674m needed to support them in 2017. However by August, only 21% of that sum had been raised.
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(CNN)At least 12 Rohingya refugees, including 10 children, died after their boat capsized as they tried to flee Myanmar for Bangladesh, officials told CNN.
A fishing trawler capsized on the Naf River late Sunday evening local time, said Ariful Islam, commanding officer of the Bangladesh Border Guard in Teknaf, on the border with Myanmar.
Islam said his team rescued 13 people by pulling them from the water into their boats.
"They (were) so distressed," Islam said of those rescued. "We have provided them with first aid and food. Now they are in the camps."
He added it was unclear how many people were on board the boat or if any are still missing: "You never know, we might find more bodies."
The 12 dead bodies were found washed ashore near Shah Porir Dwip, on the southern tip of Bangladesh.
At least 519,000 Rohingya refugees have arrived in Bangladesh since late August after fleeing violence in Myanmar, according to the latest report from the Inter Sector Coordination Group in Bangladesh.
Last week, Bangladesh announced plans to build a single, enormous refugee camp to house around 800,000 Rohingya refugees as the flow of people across the border shows no signs of stopping.
"Solutions lie with (Myanmar) because the problem was created by the Myanmar government. We want them to take back their citizens to their own homeland," Obaidul Quader, a Bangladeshi minister, said last week, adding the refugees were an "unbearable burden" on his country.
Bangladesh is also dealing with the internal displacement of hundreds of thousands of its own citizens due to severe seasonal flooding.
In a new report released Friday, aid organization Refugees International described the actions of the Myanmar military as "crimes against humanity."
Myanmar has repeatedly denied claims it is working deliberately to wipe out the Rohingya, saying they are carrying out counter attacks against "brutal acts of terrorism."
The crackdown in Rakhine intensified after Rohingya militants killed 12 security officers during coordinated attacks on border posts, according to Myanmar state media.
At midnight local time Monday (2:30 p.m. ET), a month-long ceasefire called by the militant Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) will come to an end, the group said in a statement Saturday.
ARSA leader Ata Ullah said the ceasefire was conducted to allow humanitarian access to Rakhine State and to allow safe passage for refugees to escape to Bangladesh.
He accused the Myanmar government of blocking humanitarian access, adding that ARSA is determined to "stop the tyranny and oppression waged against the Arakanese people."
CNN's Medhavi Arora contributed reporting.
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Grassley, Feinstein slam Trump administration for not consulting Congress on refugees
By SEUNG MIN KIM 09/27/2017 07:25 PM EDT Updated 09/28/2017 10:19 AM EDT
The leaders of the Senate Judiciary Committee blasted the Trump administration on Wednesday for insufficiently consulting with Congress before deciding the number of refugees that will be admitted into the United States next year.
The unusually harsh joint condemnation of the State Department from Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the committee’s chairman, and top Democrat Dianne Feinstein of California came as the administration slashed the number of refugees the country will take in during fiscal 2018 to 45,000 people. President Barack Obama had aimed to admit 110,000 refugees in the current fiscal year, which ends Saturday.
Aides to the senators said a meeting on the issue with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson wasn’t even scheduled until after details of the administration’s refugee plan had leaked out to the news media on Tuesday. The meeting occurred at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday — just before the senators issued their joint statement.
“We are incredibly frustrated that the annual consultation for refugee admissions, which is required by law, was finalized just one day in advance,” Grassley and Feinstein said. “It is simply unacceptable to read in the press that the administration had reached its decision on the refugee cap before the mandated meeting with Congress had even been scheduled.
“Since August, our offices have made bipartisan requests to the State Department on this meeting,” the senators continued. “Congress and the law require real engagement on this important subject. An eleventh-hour meeting to check a legal box is not sufficient.”
Under the law, the administration is required to consult with Capitol Hill in person before a president can formally issue the annual number of refugee admissions. The administration must also submit a report to Congress on the matter.
The Trump administration's refugee report — which has not yet been made public but was obtained by POLITICO — also outlines a new potential hurdle for those seeking admission as a refugee into the United States.
While generally refugees have only needed to show a fear of persecution, the Trump administration's report says the government may now also consider how well the refugee would integrate into the United States.
According to the 70-page report, the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security will "work closely" with the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees to "ensure that, in addition, to referrals of refugees with compelling protection needs, referrals may also take into account certain criteria that enhance a refugee’s likelihood of successful assimilation and contribution in the United States.
The State Department on Wednesday night referred questions about the policy to its Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration.
But advocates for refugees are beginning to raise concerns about the assimilation policy. Eric Schwartz, president of Refugees International, called it "new criteria that undermines the spirit of humanitarianism that underlies the Refugee Act.
"Moreover, it’s not clear what problem this criteria is trying to solve, as refugees already succeed in integrating into American society," Schwartz said. "In any case, I’d be reluctant to leave to pseudo-sociologists in government the determinations about which refugees will do better in the United States."
The refugee report outlines several ways that agencies are working on integration efforts for refugees. For instance, Homeland Security is exploring whether to prioritize "grant-funded programs that focus on integrating newly arrived refugees and recently approved asylees through a variety of critical assimilation services," according to the report.
Feinstein issued a statement later Wednesday calling the refugee cap of 45,000 “completely unacceptable” and that it “does not reflect the needs of the worldwide humanitarian crisis.”
“California accepts more refugees than any other state—9 percent of the U.S. total—and I’ve never been told about a problem,” Feinstein said. “Simply put, our country is not doing its part to respond to this global crisis and there’s no good reason for that to be the case. We’re better than this.”
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Last week Myanmar’s de facto head of state Aung San Suu Kyi again failed to address the international communities’ concerns on the plight of the displaced Rohingya ethnic group in her country. The onetime democratic activist and Nobel Peace Prize laureate seemed unaware or unwilling to acknowledge the mass exodus of the Muslim minority in the mostly Buddhist country, leading human rights officials to debate their next step in the unfolding tragedy.
In one month, more than 422,000 Rohingya have been forced to flee their home in the country’s northern Rakhine State as the Myanmar military reportedly conducts “clearance operations” that have been deemed “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing” by the United Nations human rights chief Zeid Ra‘ad Al Hussein.
Rights groups have been pressuring diplomats to redirect their attention and issue targeted economic sanctions against the leaders of the campaign and the country’s true power, the military.
After decades of martial law, Suu Kyi’s party National League for Democracy (NLD) took control of the government in 2016 as the face of Myanmar’s long-delayed shift to democracy. But since then, she has been a “profound disappointment,” says Human Right’s Watch Asia advocacy director John Sifton, for failing to condemn the same army generals who kept her under house arrest for 15 years.
Still, he says, she may be the international communities’ only hope to halt the continuing atrocities.
Although Suu Kyi rightfully won Myanmar’s election, her formal title is state counsellor, a position she created for herself to get around the constitution’s prohibition on anyone with a foreign spouse or children from holding the presidency. Suu Kyi’s two children are British citizens, as was her late husband.
Still, she is widely recognized as the country’s leader, with the president, U Htin Kyaw,serving as a close confidant. But the Constitution allots 25 percent of parliamentary seats to the military and allows the armed forces to overrule the president in the event a “state of emergency arises” or any time the army deems newly established rights are interfering with their ability to protect the state’s sovereignty.
“They realized they could manage a transition to ‘democracy’ in which she would run a civilian government, but they would continue to essentially run the national security and foreign affairs of the state,” says Sifton.
The Myanmar Army began its most recent crackdown on the Rohingya a month ago, after a handful of insurgents under the name Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) attacked police outposts, killing 12 officers. The army has since used the attack as a pretense to systematically kill civilians, rape women and burn more than 200 villages. Military leaders say the campaign is targeting only armed militants, even as close to half the Rohingya population in Myanmar has now fled to neighboring Bangladesh.
Dan Sullivan, senior advocate for human rights at Refugees International, who visited Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, close to the border, says Bangladeshi patrols described finding land mines at crossing points and verified refugees’ stories that it was Myanmar police setting fire to their homes.
Also near Cox’s Bazar, United Nations Human Refugee Agency spokeswoman Kitty McKinsey, who is working in two nearby refugee camps, says although they heard the raids had slowed slightly, refugees are still coming over the border. McKinsey says they have all told similar stories.
“They describe seeing their families killed, chopped up in front of them, this is the thing I hear over and over again,” she says.
But the persecution of Rohingya in Myanmar is not unique to the military and has roots extending back more than half a century. Among the Burmese population, even the name ‘Rohingya’ is taboo, as many believe the government narrative that these people are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. Under Myanmar’s 1982 Citizenship Law, Rohingya are not one of the recognized “national races” and therefore are denied basic rights.
Human Rights Watch deputy director for global advocacy Philippe Bolopion visited Rakhine State in the spring, when he says even before the recent crisis, many Rohingya were confined to “de facto prison camps” without access to jobs, hospitals or education.
“People are stuck in these camps for years, they have absolutely no future, and no dignity and no semblance of a normal life.”
McKinsey says the minority group is unique in that they are one of the only ethnic populations in the world that are both stateless and refugees.
“These people have never had the protection of the country in which they were born. The Rohingya are the most friendless people in the world, the most persecuted people in the world. … They have no allies, it’s just unbelievable.”
After the most recent wave of refugees, Bangladesh, one of the poorest countries in the world, is now sheltering more than 800,000 Rohingya. Local Bengalis have begun to open their homes to refugees as well as to those already living in camps, but McKinsey says the speed and sheer number of arrivals have left at least 90 percent of the latest wave living outside of the camps, forced to squat in makeshift shelters on the side of the road.
Last week’s U.N. General Assembly brought together more than 100 heads of state but failed to produce any kind of concrete action on the crisis. The U.S. also pledged $32 million for the emergency response in Bangladesh and in Rakhine State itself. But as a political matter, Sifton says there is reluctance among U.S. officials to admit that their hopes for Myanmar haven’t been realized. Under President Obama the U.S. removed most sanctions on Myanmar in 2016 and began working and training with the country’s military in a limited capacity.
“Policy makers the world over who were invested in [Myanmar’s] transition are concerned that taking tough actions like sanctions, arms embargos will essentially be an admission that the transition to democracy has failed,” he says.
The State Department refused to comment on sanctions. In spite of a long history of ethnic conflict and atrocities under years of unfettered military rule, the U.N. has never issued sanctions on Myanmar for its human rights abuses. However, many countries have taken a bilateral approach to punish the state.
The U.N. has yet to even hold a public Security Council meeting on the situation in Rakhine State, but Sifton says the issue has the necessary support for a procedural vote to put the issue on the agenda. Sanctions or other substantive action would likely be vetoed by China, one of Myanmar’s closest allies, but Sifton thinks even debating the issue would send a signal to the military that they are under scrutiny.
However, recent military speeches in the region call into question whether such a threat would be much of a deterrent. On Thursday, Gen. Min Aung Hlaing addressed the situation in Rakhine State without mentioning the almost half million Rohingya Muslims who fled his forces.
“Regarding the rehabilitation of villages of our national races, for the national races who fled their homes, first of all they must go back to their places,” he said.
The use of ‘national races’ refers to the constitutionally recognized ethnic groups, including both Buddhists and Hindus, some 30,000 of whom have also been displaced by the crisis.
Related slideshow: Protesters rally in solidarity with Rohingya Muslims >>>
Aung Hlaing has done little to hide that his army is trying to rid the country of Muslims entirely, defending the operations as “unfinished business,” a reference dating back to World War II when ethnic tensions between Buddhist and Muslims resulted in mass atrocities, disproportionately affecting the Rohingya.
Former Lt. Gen. Wai Lwin also spoke Thursday during a rally for the former ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party, where he and others spun theories of the Rohingya’s ties to militant groups like the Islamic State and dismissed international pressure to halt the clearance operations. Wai Lwin stressed the importance of the military’s ability to “protect the country’s sovereignty,” over “prioritizing human rights.”
Even with the army’s transparent intentions on public display, Suu Kyi has refused to condemn the military, reminding the world that her government has only been in power for 18 months.
“I’m a bit dumbfounded by this idea that we have to be understanding of the hardships of democratic transition. Yes, we get that, but that does not excuse an ethnic cleansing campaign,” says Bolopion.
Rights groups have called for sanctions specifically targeting high-ranking military officers, issuing personal travel bans and targeting companies they own.
“The Trump administration could throw [Myanmar’s army chief] Gen. Min Aung Hlaing on the specially designated nationals list tonight if he wanted to.”
This list, issued by the Treasury Department, designates individuals and companies that are effectively blacklisted, cutting off their assets and any relations with the U.S. The decision would not require billions of dollars or even international cooperation, it’s just a matter of policy.
Senior U.S. officials have expressed fear that sanctions will only strengthen the military and serve to further isolate Suu Kyi. But Human Rights Watch believes these actions would do just the opposite, he says, empowering Suu Kyi and leveraging her record of getting Obama to lift sanctions to rein in the army.
From the beginning of her appearance in the world’s spotlight, Suu Kyi has said she’d like to be seen as a politician, not a human rights icon, and Human Rights Watch’s calls for action suggests using her as such.
“She could be the middle man between the generals and the U.S. She’ll be the one to convince them [that] if they do what she asks, which is stop these operations and negotiate some kind of situation where [refugees] are allowed to return,” she could get sanctions removed again, says Sifton.
Unfortunately, even if the Rohingya are able to return, prejudice runs deep among the people of Rakhine State. The end of strict military rule gave rise to a growing strain of Buddhist extremism that regards the Rohingya a threat to both the country and its majority religion.
“We’d have a situation where we’d basically be asking the people who are carrying out the ethnic cleansing to stop carrying out the ethnic cleansing, let people return and then guard them from ethnic cleansing by the local population,” says Sifton.
In these types of situations, peacekeeping forces or international monitors are often deployed, but often come with their own set of problems.
Despite perilous conditions, McKinsey says, all refugees — including the Rohingya she’s spoken with — always want to return home.
“These are people with their own free will and they are the ones who will decide where they can go safely. … The international community to needs to create conditions that will make it attractive for people to go back to their lives,” Bolopion adds.
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BY ROBBIE GRAMERSEPTEMBER 27, 2017 - 5:14 PM
Drawing outcry from humanitarian and refugee aid groups, President Donald Trump’s administration formally proposed Wednesday slashing the number of refugees allowed into the United States to its lowest level in decades.
The Trump administration proposed capping the number of refugees the United States takes in at 45,000 in fiscal year 2018, senior administration officials confirmed on Wednesday. Foreign Policy reported on the upcoming refugee quota decision on Tuesday.
The breakdown: 19,000 from Africa, 17,000 from the Middle East and South Asia, 5,000 from East Asia, and 1,500 from Latin America and the Caribbean.
A top administration official cited security concerns in the decision to limit the number of refugees, amid fears terrorists or other malign actors could slip into the United States under the guise of being a refugee. Refugees undergo extensive background checks, and new directives from President Trump could compel U.S. agencies to make those checks even more stringent.
“The security and safety of the American people is our chief concern,” the official said.
But humanitarian leaders say the security argument falls flat; since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, none of the nearly 1 million resettled refugees who entered the United States ever carried out a terrorist attack.
“You can assert whatever you want to assert but the facts just simply bely this preposterous argument,” said Eric Schwartz, president of Refugees International. “I see this as an example of fact-free policymaking,” he added.
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NPR's Ari Shapiro speaks with Eric Schwartz, president of Refugees International, about what he learned from Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, after his trip to Cox's Bazaar.
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Eric Schwartz is seeing firsthand what's happening at the border of Myanmar in Bangladesh. He's president of Refugees International, and he arrived in the area over the weekend. I asked him to describe what he's seeing.
ERIC SCHWARTZ: Well, Ari, the magnitude of the abuses perpetrated by the Burmese military is almost unimaginable. I've been on about - oh, I don't know - dozens of human rights and humanitarian missions over a 30-year career. And I've - I don't recall ever getting choked up until yesterday.
SCHWARTZ: Well, the day before yesterday. After hearing - visiting a hospital with kids who had suffered gunshot wounds, burn wounds - 1-year-old, a 5-year-old, a 17-year-old girl. What we've heard repeatedly from everyone we've spoken to is a pattern of really horrendous abuses in the military surrounding villages, firing incendiary devices, people fleeing, people being shot at indiscriminately, villages being burned and just masses and masses of people going across the border.
SHAPIRO: What you're describing sounds less like an effort to force people out and more like an extermination campaign.
SCHWARTZ: There is no question in my mind that there are crimes - certainly, this is ethnic cleansing. And there are crimes against humanity that are taking place. Unquestionably a wide practice of atrocities - a textbook definition of crimes against humanity. It's shocking. It's even shocking for someone like me who has seen a lot of bad things over the years.
SHAPIRO: Will you tell me the story of someone that you met in one of these camps, a story that'll stay with you?
SCHWARTZ: Sure. At the risk of getting choked up, a very articulate woman from a village who fled with three young girls - ages I think about 7 and 5 and a young baby - whose husband urged her to get out of the village. And he said that he would follow. She was later told by other villagers who arrived in Bangladesh that her husband was shot but not only shot. He was shot through the head. And the look of resignation and - both resignation and anger was really just so affecting. So there was story after story. There was nobody we talked to - there's nobody we talked to who hasn't had a mother, a brother, a son, an uncle, some family member who was killed by the military. This is a horror story.
SHAPIRO: They have fled to Bangladesh, a very poor country. What are the conditions right there where you are? Is it an organized refugee camp, or is it more ad hoc than that?
SCHWARTZ: Well, it's very ad hoc. And these camps have been very makeshift. We're talking about 400,000 people, on top of as many as half a million Rohingya refugees who were already in Bangladesh. Probably roughly about half of the new arrivals are in these makeshift facilities. People are living in squalor, where, in the rainy season, mud is ankle deep. International aid providers are doing the best they can. And the government of Bangladesh is doing the best that it can. You know, there's a basic question here, which is, you know, has the government of Bangladesh recognized its responsibility to take care of these people. And at this point. The government of Bangladesh has said, yes, that this is a challenge it's prepared to take on. And that's extremely important.
SHAPIRO: Eric Schwartz is president of Refugees International - speaking with us from Bangladesh near the border with Myanmar. Thanks for joining us.
SCHWARTZ: Thank you, Ari.
RI President Eric Schwartz discussed the Rohingya crisis with Al Jazeera English. View the video below.
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By Matthew Pennington | AP September 9
WASHINGTON — Don’t expect the United States to step in and resolve what is increasingly being described as an ethnic cleansing campaign against Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslims.
Not wanting to undermine the Asian country’s democratic leader, the U.S. is cautiously criticizing what looks like a forced exodus of more than a quarter-million Rohingya in the last two weeks as Myanmar’s military responds with hammer force to insurgent attacks.
But neither Trump administration officials nor lawmakers are readying sanctions or levying real pressure on Aung San Suu Kyi’s government. A bill making its way through Congress seeks to enhance U.S.-Myanmar military cooperation.
“Further normalization of the military-to-military relationship with Burma is the last thing we should be doing right now,” said Walter Lohman, Asia program director at the right-leaning Heritage Foundation. “What a terrible signal to be sending.”
Human rights groups are equally appalled. The U.N. says 290,000 Rohingya have fled from Myanmar, the country also known as Burma, into neighboring Bangladesh since Aug. 25. It is the biggest flight of the long-suppressed minority in a generation. The Rohingya are denied citizenship in Myanmar, regarded by majority Buddhists as illegal immigrants although many have lived in the ethnically diverse Southeast Asian nation for generations.
Rohingya refugees packed into camps in Bangladesh are becoming desperate. Fights are erupting over food and water. Vivian Tan, speaking for the U.N. refugee agency, said new arrivals are setting up spontaneous settlements along roadsides or on any available patches of land.
“We are seeing the mushrooming of these very flimsy shelters that will not be able to house people for too long,” she said.
The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, which has previously warned of the risk of genocide in Myanmar, says the widespread destruction of homes and villages suggests “an effort to ethnically cleanse the region of its Rohingya population and to prevent their eventual return.”
Refugees International accuses the military of blocking life-saving aid and of committing rights abuses, “which we believe amount to ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.” It called for re-imposition of sanctions against military officials, such as visa bans and asset freezes, and international accountability for officers implicated in wrongdoing.
Although the U.S. has long led the international effort to address human rights abuses and bring democracy to Myanmar, the prospects of Washington leading a new pressure campaign appear slim.
U.S. officials are wary of undermining the weak civilian government of Suu Kyi, which took office last year, ending five decades of ruinous army rule. The military remains politically powerful and oversees security operations, but Suu Kyi is still seen by Washington as key to sustaining civilian rule and eventually addressing the Rohingya’s long-term grievances. Last year she invited an international commission led by former U.N. chief Kofi Annan to help her government address the sectarian tensions.
Another obstacle: Re-imposing even limited sanctions on abusive military officials would probably require new legislation or executive action.
In the past five years as Myanmar took steps toward democracy, President Barack Obama and Congress almost entirely waived or ended the once-formidable array of U.S. restrictions.
Myanmar’s transition was a priority for Obama and a prized foreign policy achievement. President Donald Trump has shown little interest in getting involved.
Asked if Trump was concerned about Myanmar’s violence, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the president was “aware of the situation.” She said Friday she didn’t know if Trump has spoken to Suu Kyi since becoming president.
U.S. diplomats are more engaged. U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley said in a statement Friday that Washington is “deeply troubled” by reports of attacks against innocent civilians.
The U.S. Embassy in Yangon is discussing the situation with civilian and military authorities, and calling for an end to violence and access for humanitarian groups and journalists, the State Department said. Lack of access has made it hard to verify the situation on the ground.
But the department has indicated new sanctions aren’t being prepared on a nation it now considers a “partner,” not an adversary.
“As partners now, we can encourage, we can facilitate, we can assist,” said Patrick Murphy, a senior U.S. diplomat for Southeast Asia. “That’s what we’re trying to do.”
Gentle persuasion doesn’t appear to be working.
Republican and Democratic lawmakers, traditionally in the vanguard of Myanmar policy, have denounced the military’s conduct and strongly urged intervention by Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace laureate who has courted unprecedented criticism for dismissing the crisis as a misinformation campaign.
Many high-level officials have talked to her, including U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, said one U.N. Security Council diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue. As for what the Security Council might do next, the diplomat said there is no decision.
“I know the Chinese do not favor anything more than a repeat of what we’ve done before, but the situation might demand that,” the diplomat said.
In a letter to Suu Kyi, Rep. Ed Royce, the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Republican chairman, said atrocities against Rohingya “must end” or bilateral relations will be affected. Republican Sen. John McCain urged Suu Kyi — who spent nearly 15 years under house arrest — to condemn atrocities Rohingya have suffered at the hands of the same military that long oppressed her.
Beneath the rhetoric, there are wrinkles. A defense spending bill due to be taken up by the Senate in coming days could expand restricted ties with Myanmar’s military. A draft of the bill, opposed by some lawmakers, allows for courses and workshops on issues like maritime security, peacekeeping and combating human trafficking.
A separate resolution, with McCain as a co-sponsor, describes the situation in bleak terms.
“Brutal and methodical reprisal by the Burmese military on villages” has been carried out, it says, “with helicopters firing on civilians, razing villages with petrol bombs, and front line troops cutting off families’ escape routes.”
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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Former officials of the State Department and the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service have written to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, urging that two White House-ordered reports on refugee resettlement costs be balanced by also tallying the benefits refugees bring to the United States.
Reuters in June first reported discord over the reports, which President Donald Trump ordered in March. Four current and former officials said they believe the Trump administration wants to help make a case to restrict refugee flows by creating a skewed analysis.
A White House spokesman at the time denied ordering biased reports.
Trump campaigned for president on a platform of restricting immigration and building a border wall with Mexico. His March order framing the reports, which are due in September, did not ask that they include the economic or diplomatic benefits of resettling refugees, which many experts say can be considerable over time.
“We believe that an assessment of the long-term costs of the Refugee Admissions Program must also gauge the long-term economic and social benefits of the program, and that failure to do so will paint a misleading picture of the program’s value to the United States,” the 10 former senior officials and academics wrote to Tillerson.
The letter was sent to Tillerson on Wednesday and made public on Thursday.
For the first report, Trump ordered a tally of “the estimated long-term costs of the United States Refugee Admissions Program at the Federal, State, and local levels, along with recommendations about how to curtail those costs.”
Trump directed that the second report estimate “how many refugees are being supported in countries of first asylum (near their home countries) for the same long-term cost as supporting refugees in the United States, taking into account the full lifetime cost of Federal, State, and local benefits, and the comparable cost of providing similar benefits elsewhere.”
The letter’s authors called that a “flawed exercise,” saying that while keeping refugees in camps overseas may be cheaper in some cases, it does not provide a sustainable long-term solution.
“The cost of a fish may be less than that of a fishing pole, but only the latter will free the beneficiary from dependency into the future,” they wrote.
Signers of the letter include Arthur Dewey and Eric Schwartz, both former assistant secretaries of state for population, refugees and migration; former deputy INS commissioner Myrta Sale; and three former INS general counsels.
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LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - People suffering in Somalia’s latest drought have fared better when donors deftly shift funding to emergency projects that help residents save money and stockpile food, a charity said on Tuesday.
Severe drought in the Horn of Africa nation is expected to deepen until the October rainy season, and humanitarians are racing to avoid a repeat of the 2011 famine when more than 250,000 people died of starvation.
Funding from major donors, including the United States, Britain and the European Union has been used effectively in Somalia for community warehousing of food and for savings and loans programs, the rights group Refugees International said in a report.
Flexible use of that funding allowed agencies in Somalia to switch to emergency preparedness projects once it became clear in June 2016 that the drought would be prolonged, it said.
It was easier for donors to send funds to agencies in Somalia because they already had contracts in place, it said.
“By acting early to heed pre-famine warnings, the humanitarian community in Somalia and donors were able to stabilize what could have been a catastrophic situation,” it said.
“Many of the target communities were better able to maintain food security, preserve their assets, and avoid having to flee to other areas during the drought.”
More than 6 million Somalis -- about half the country’s population -- are in need of emergency aid, the United Nations says.
Another sign of progress since the 2011 famine is that the government’s national development plan and the U.N.’s humanitarian appeal included long-term resilience projects, Refugees International said.
Along with a shift to longer-term planning, Somalia needs a stronger government and peace to end its recurrent hunger crises, Mark Yarnell, a senior advocate with Refugees International told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
“The unfortunate reality is [resilience] can never occur at a scale that will be able to fend off this inevitable rolling tide of climate change,” he said.
Southern Somalia is receiving less rainfall than historic averages, which has hit poor farmers, the report said.
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Aug 15, 2017
Thousands of asylum-seekers in Greece's Aegean islands are stranded in appalling circumstances, according to a new report by Refugees International.
Since a 2016 deal between the E.U. and Turkey, which aims to discourage migrants from crossing the sea to Greece, Turkey has agreed to take back migrants who arrived to Greek islands from its territory. But in reality very few have so far been relocated, according to Refugees International — just 1,210 as of June 13.
The result, says a new report entitled “Like a Prison”: Asylum Seekers Confined to the Greek Islands, is thousands of asylum-seekers trapped in overcrowded and unsafe accommodation on the Greek islands. This "containment" has taken a psychological toll, says the advocacy group, based in Washington, D.C. The report describes how some migrants on the islands of Chios, Lesvos and Samos feel trapped and anxious about the lack of available services. " Greece’s policy of containing people on its Aegean islands is having devastating effects on people’s physical and mental health," said Izza Leghtas, senior advocate for Europe at Refugees International, said in a statement.
More than 12,000 migrants have crossed from Turkey to Greece this year, according to the IOM, a considerable drop in numbers compared to some 161,000 arrivals during the same period a year before. " Because far fewer people are arriving along this route than in 2015, the EU and Greece are presenting the EU-Turkey agreement as a success"Leghtas said. "The reality is that thousands of people, many of them traumatized from war or persecution, are trapped and unable to get the help they need."
TIME has written about the mental strains placed on migrants languishing in Greece in "Finding Home," a multimedia project which has been following three Syrian refugees since Sept. 2016 as they prepared to give birth and raise a child in foreign countries. Read more here.
Read the original article here.
Aug 03, 2017
Italy's parliament voted to allow a limited naval mission to support Libya's coastguard in a bid to curb human traffickers, provoking a fierce reaction from the head of rival forces to Libya's U.N-backed government. General Khalifa Haftar, the rogue general who oversees the eastern part of the country, threatened to repel “any naval vessel that enters national waters without permission from the army."
This follows an influx of more than 94,000 migrants arriving to Italy's shores this year, overwhelmingly from North Africa, which according to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) is slightly higher than the respective totals in 2015 and 2016. The numbers have strained Italy's network of reception centers and has led to a public backlash, which could fuel populist opposition parties in next year's general election.
Here's what to know:
The Italians are joining forces with Libya
"(We will) provide logistical, technical and operational support for Libyan naval vessels, helping them and supporting them in shared and coordinated actions," Italian Defense Minister Roberta Pinotti said on Tuesday, ahead of the Parliamentary vote the following day.
The Italian naval vessel, the Comandante Borsini, entered Libyan waters within hours of the vote. Another vessel is expected to follow in the coming days, but Libya's eastern parliament affiliated with the forces of Haftar opposed the decision. It complained that the vote violated the country's national sovereignty and, according to Arab news network Al Arabiya, Haftar has ordered the bombing of Italian warships. The Italian government called the threat "unrealiable" and "unfounded," according to the news agency Agenzia Giornalistica Italia.
The Italian government initially hoped to send six ships to Libya's territorial waters, but plans had to be scaled down following popular protests in Tripoli, Reuters reports. Libyans have reportedly been posting images of Omar al-Mukhtar, a national hero who battled Italian rule in the early 1900s, on social media in response to the Italian presence— reflecting the widespread unease over a former colonial power intervening on domestic affairs. Pinotti said that Italy had no intention of creating a blockade on Libya's coast.
Italian officials believe that sending the boats back to Libya will act as a deterrent, but rights groups are deeply concerned by the move. Refugees International, which is based in Washington, D.C., says returned migrants face detention and abuse at the hands of traffickers and even the coastguard. " It is no secret that migrants and refugees who are intercepted and returned by the Libyan coast guard face horrific abuses in Libya’s migrant detention centers," Izza Leghtas, senior advocate for Europe at Refugees International, said in a statement. "By engaging in these operations, the Italian government would be knowingly complicit in these abuses."
The Italian battle with aid groups is escalating
Italian authorities also impounded a migrant rescue ship operated by German aid agency on Wednesday, stepping up tensions over the role of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that rescue migrants.
Many Italian lawmakers have suggested NGOs which patrol the seas to pick up migrants act as a virtual invitation to make the journey. Luigi di Maio, from the populist 5 Star Movement, likened aid-group's rescue ships to a migrant "sea taxi" around the same time in April when a Sicilian court suggested NGO's colluded with Libyan smugglers. It's a claim NGOs vehemently deny.
In July, Italy's center-left government threatened to close its ports to NGO's operating rescue boats that did not sign a "code of conduct." The seized ship, the Iuventa, is operated by German aid group Jugend Rettet, which is among six out of the nine aid groups operating search-and-rescue activities off Libyan waters to have refused to sign up to the code-of-conduct.
More than 2,200 people have been recorded as dead or missing this year. Aid groups say they are only fulfilling their humanitarian duty to save lives. Ambrogio Cartosio, chief prosecutor in the Sicilian city of Trapani, told reporters on Wednesday that no one has yet been charged and the investigation the German NGO was ongoing. "The evidence is serious," he said, Reutersreports. "We have evidence of encounters between traffickers, who escorted illegal immigrants to the Iuventa, and members of the boat's crew."
Numbers of migrants are rising
The IOM says that the number of asylum seekers entering Europe by sea in 2017 (through to July 30) is around 100,000 less than the same period the year before. Italy, however, receives the majority of migrants arriving in Europe due to traffic through the Central Mediterranean route from Libya to Italy's southern coast. The route has been dubbed the "deadliest" in the world by Amnesty International due to the thousands of people recorded as dead or missing in the attempt to cross the sea in flimsy rubber dinghies or rickety wooden vessels.
Italy's migration crisis is further compounded by its neighbors, like Switzerland, Austria and France, tightening their border controls in a bid to prevent migrants crossing the Alps. Italy, which was once a point of transit for migrants moving up to northern Europe, has become a place of settlement.
View the original story and video here.
July 24, 2017 01:44 PM EDT
Experts say Libya has a migration problem - and bigger than that, they have a smuggling and human trafficking problem.
“Refugees that are basically coming from the east, moving through the Sahara Desert, westward into Libya,” said Bill Frelick, Refugee Rights Program Director, Human Rights Watch. “We have from West Africa, including people fleeing Boko Haram in Nigeria, a conflict in Mali, another group of people coming up through Niger, sort of a west-to-east flow. And there is a mixed migration, people who don’t qualify as refugees here as well.”
A new report by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) says for decades migrants and refugees have traveled to Libya for employment and stability. However, since the fall of regime in 2011, the country has been “roiled by instability and insecurity.”
“People who meet the refugee definition, someone who has a well-founded fear of being persecuted in their country of origin, based on their race, religion, nationality, they have a particular protection under international law,” said Frelick. “And a place like Libya, they haven’t signed the refugee convention and doesn’t have any refugee law, you’ve got a problem right at the outset.”
Without local or international law on their side and with few agencies able to aid the increasing number of refugees traveling into Libya, many turn to smugglers in hopes of reaching their final destination.
Izza Leghtas, Senior Advocate for Europe at Refugees International visited Tunisia and Italy working with migrants and refugees, many who traveled through Libya. In June, she published a report called “Hell on Earth” detailing some of the struggles faced by those traveling out of Africa to reach Europe.
Using numbers from the UNHCR, the report states, “as of May 24, 2017 more than 50,000 refugees and migrants have arrived in Italy by sea since the beginning of the year, and almost all sea arrivals to Italy depart from Libya.”
Her report also details harsh abuse and mistreatment that both Leghtas and Frelick said plagues the journey across Libya.
“I was really struck by the level of brutality that people described on behalf of these smugglers,” said Leghtas. “People described to us the journey in the Sahara Desert to reach Libya or within Libya because they would be on these trucks that would be moving really fast and they said if someone fell of the truck or if you stopped because you needed to use the toilet they wouldn’t wait for you.”
The International Organization for Migration has recognized more than 381,000 migrants across Libya, but estimates that number to be between 700,000 and 1 million.
“People would arrange for this, for the smuggler to take them where they need to be, but then what people told us is that the smugglers would keep them for weeks or months in warehouses and on farms in the desert and basically force them to pay money," said Leghtas. "In some cases more money than they had agreed upon and the asylum seekers would tell us that the smugglers would force them to call their families on the phone and then they would beat them up and torture them while they are on the phone and then they would force them to call their families on the phone and then they would beat them up and torture them while they are on the phone so they would cry and scream, and the family members would be under a lot of pressure to transfer them money."
Leghtas said the migrants would often pay smugglers thousands of dollars to transport them.
"I've actually interviewed people who have told me that for them, the most harrowing experience was crossing the Sahara Desert," said Frelick. "They were forced to drink water that the smugglers would put benzene, you know gasoline basically, into, to keep them from drinking too much and then that would make them sick."
Although smuggling and human trafficking are separate by definition, both Frelick and Leghtas say that in many cases people complicit in smuggling end up being trafficked when their fate is no longer in their control.
"People who started, having fled their homes often as refugees, went voluntarily to a smuggler to try and get out of the bad situation they were in, and then along the way, along the course of the journey they've been bought and sold and traded between these guys and the next thing they know they are in a situation that is completely out of their control and they are being subjected to rape and other forms of sexual violence," said Frelick.
"We heard that there are women who get basically taken by some of these smugglers who are used for sex," said Leghtas. "There is a huge amount of exploitation, they don't have a choice."
Leghtas said people witnessed other migrants dying from sickness and hunger. She said, "It's hard to even distinguish between the human trafficking and the smuggling because people [can no longer control] their movements anymore.... they're tortured, they're beaten, they are fed whatever they are fed which is not enough. I spoke to a couple of Eritreans in Italy who said they weren't able to walk by the time they got there because they were so malnourished."
Reports from Refugees International, Human Rights Watch and various United Nations groups describe migrants are being detained throughout Libya in official and unofficial capacities. They say that if you enter Libya, even seeking asylum or refuge, it is illegal under their laws. Refugees, asylees, and migrants picked up by police and the coast guard are often taken to detention centers where they can remain for months.
And Leghtas says that abuse on behalf of Libyan officials is widespread. "People in detention centers are often involved with the smugglers, or are even smugglers themselves... One man said, the smuggler is a policeman, the policeman is a smuggler, basically they are all the same."
Since many migrants goal is to reach international waters or Europe, Leghtas says the European Union needs to do more in terms of search and rescue. "NGO's are very involved, the Italian authorities have stepped up and done a lot to save people's lives - this is a dangerous crossing."
Reports say there have been more than 2,000 migrant deaths so far this year in the Mediterranean Sea.
"This is really a challenge for the EU because they desperately want to partner with somebody in Northern Africa to stem the flow of migrants and asylum seekers into Europe, and yet they don't have any legitimate partner that they can actually work with because many of the guys themselves that purport to be a coast guard may or may not have any authority to do that," said Frelick. "They may put on a uniform, but who are they really and what is the collusion between a state authority, a smuggler, or a trafficker, and they may be one in the same at the end of the day."
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By Carol Morello July 17
A group of prominent foreign policy experts on Monday called on Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to keep the office responsible for managing refugee inflows a part of the State Department instead of moving it to the Department of Homeland Security.
Last month, a leaked memo showed the administration contemplating a relocation of the Bureau of Population Refugees and Migration. Such a change, says a letter signed by 58 former diplomats and national security advisers, would adversely shift the bureau’s focus from humanitarian and policy concerns to solely security issues.
“We are convinced that the elimination of PRM’s assistance functions would have profound and negative implications for the Secretary of State’s capacity to influence policy issues of key concern to the United States,” the letter states. “It would also be ironic, as this is one of the bureaus at State that has enjoyed strong bipartisan support over many years.”
The signatories include former officials who served in Republican and Democratic administrations, as well executives from numerous religious and humanitarian organizations that work with newly arrived refugees.
Among them are William J. Burns, a former ambassador to Russia and deputy secretary of state in the Obama administration; Dennis Ross, a former director of policy planning for the State Department under President George H.W. Bush; and Daniel Kurtzer, the former ambassador to Egypt under President Bill Clinton and to Israel under President George W. Bush.
Currently, refugee admissions span multiple agencies, but the State Department takes the lead.
The leaked memo said moving management responsibilities for refugees to DHS would “enable processing efficiencies” and is consistent with President Trump’s emphasis on border security and adequate vetting of people who enter the country.
It is not clear if the proposal is under serious consideration, or whether Congress would go along with it.
Trump dropped the number of refugees permitted into the United States this fiscal year from 110,000 to 50,000, a cap that was reached last week. Potential refugees are vetted by DHS, a process that can take a year and a half or more.
After a Supreme Court ruling last month on the president’s travel ban, the State Department established new rules for visa applicants and refugees from six predominantly Muslim countries, including a requirement that all refugees have a “close” family relationship in the United States. Trump has not yet set a new cap on refugees for next year.
Eric Schwartz, the president of Refugees International who helped organize the letter sent to Tillerson, said DHS plays an important role in security screening. But he said it does not focus on foreign policy considerations, such as support for host countries where refugees are awaiting admissions and encouraging other nations to take in more displaced people.
“You could transfer folks from the Department of Agriculture or the Department of Defense to DHS for the requisite expertise,” Schwartz said. “But the problem is the mandates of those departments are very different.”
Read the original article here.
by ALEX SEITZ-WALD and DANIELLA SILVA
WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court’s decision to reinstate much of the Trump administration’s travel ban while it considers the merits of the case is potentially good news for many who want entry into the United States, but may be a bad blow for refugees, experts said.
However, uncertainty surrounded the impact of the high court's action. Several federal agencies must now decide how they will implement it, and advocates warned the confusion itself is harmful, given the delicacy of the refugee process.
“We know that people are going to be hurt by this, and there will be a lot of disruption and dislocation,” said Lavinia Limón, president and chief executive of the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, one of nine nonprofits that helps resettle refugees.
“There are people told they were going to fly next week after waiting two years, who maybe sold their possessions and are all packed,” Limón added. “It’s just cruel to imagine that after fleeing war and waiting years finally you’re ready to go next week and guess what? This is what happens.”
The Supreme Court justices overturned a series of lower court rulings to green-light enforcement of much of Trump’s executive order. The court's action temporarily imposes tough restrictions on travel from six Muslim countries — Iran, Sudan, Syria, Libya, Somalia and Yemen — and the entry of all refugees until the court hears the case this fall.
On Tuesday, former acting attorney general Sally Yates said at the Aspen Ideas Forum that the Department of Justice first found out about Trump's travel ban by reading about it in The New York Times. She described how her deputy called her and said he had just been on the Times website and “it looks like the president has instituted some sort of travel ban."
President Donald Trump hailed the court decision Monday as a “clear victory for our national security” that “allows me to use an important tool for protecting our nation's homeland.”
Mark Hetfield, the president of HIAS, a longtime immigrant aid organization, called the court's action "mixed news for human rights, for refugees, and for those non-citizens whom President Trump is trying to ban from the United States based solely on their place of birth.
"HIAS welcomes the ruling as an affirmation that the president does not have unfettered, unchecked authority to bar refugees from the U.S. without evidence to justify such action, and that people with ties to the U.S. can continue to enter," he added. "We are very disappointed, however, that others will continue to be arbitrarily excluded and that the executive order has been resurrected to once again cause irreparable damage to refugees, immigrants, and America’s reputation as a welcoming country.”
Who will be affected?
While the court ruled the ban could partly take effect while it makes a final decision later this year, it said the ban could not apply at this time to anyone with “a credible claim of a bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States.” That includes anyone with a family member, an employer, or a school they’re attending in the U.S., the court said in its unsigned ruling, which did not draw dissents from its centrist and liberal justices.
Even before Trump’s executive order, however, few people without some kind of relationship in the U.S. were able to get visas from the six affected countries.
“Our impression is the vast majority of people would still be able to travel because they have a pre-existing relationship, either through family or work,” said Betsy Fisher, the policy director at the International Refugee Assistance Project, one of the plaintiffs in the case. “That is the nature of visa requirements.”
For instance, of the 12,998 immigrants who entered the U.S. from Yemen last year, nearly all — 12,563 — had family in the country, according to State Department data.
The ruling envisions a process where migrants with a link to the U.S. may present their “credible claim” and be exempted from the travel ban. Immigration experts note, however, that may be more complex than it sounds.
First, some migrants in the current process tend to minimize links to the U.S. when applying for temporary visitation because those links can be held against them as evidence they would have reason to overstay a temporary visa (in order to be with their family, for example).
Second, some experts warn a new, court-mandated test will lead to more discretion for border officials — and potentially more confusion.
“It is hard to know numerically how many” people will be impacted, said immigration attorney Greg Chen, depending on how the court’s "bona fide" relationship test is interpreted and applied.
David Leopold, a former president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, said a rough estimate would be that about half of people lawfully admitted from the six countries would be exempt under the new ruling, citing U.S. “connections, permanent residents and people with visas who went home.”
He noted the court’s test leaves open questions that federal agencies in the Trump administration will have to answer.
“If an American company is hiring someone — researchers or doctors from Iran — are they going to say no ‘bona fide relationship’ at the time order went down?” Leopold asked.
Greg Siskind, an immigration attorney and blogger, noted that the court said student and work visas are by definition exempt, since they require a relationship in the U.S.
That leaves people traveling on tourist visas who could be banned.
“There’s never been a large number of tourists that come from those countries,” Siskind noted, since travelers have to prove somehow they plan to return to their countries and not stay in the U.S.
What about refugees?
The picture is potentially very different for refugees, though it’s unclear at the moment.
Resettlement agencies and advocates are waiting anxiously to see how the Departments of State, Justice and Homeland Security will interpret the high court’s decision.
The State Department said Monday it would implement the ruling in an "orderly manner" and have more to say on the matter after consultation with the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security.
Specifically, the big question for the agencies is whether a refugee's relationship with a U.S.-based refugee organization satisfies the standard set by the Supreme Court, experts said.
“Does having 'a bona fide relationship' mean a resettlement agency you’ve already been working with? You could legally argue that,” said Hans Hogrefe, director of policy and advocacy for Refugees International. “The examples given [in the court's decision] do not cite that.”
“The court standard has a lot of discretion built into it,” said Leah Litman, a professor at the University of California at Irvine Law School and a contributor to the Take Care law blog. “So there’s just little indication on the numbers of the people who are going to be subject to this.”
Alex Seitz-Wald reported from Washington, and Daniella Silva from New York.
CORRECTION (June 27, 2017: 10:18 a.m.): An earlier version of this story included a quotation from Greg Siskind, an immigration attorney, saying that green-card holders could potentially be affected by the Supreme Court’s ruling. In fact, as Siskind noted after publication of the story, the ruling will not affect green-card holders. Siskind's quotation has been removed.
Read the original article here.
David Jackson , USA TODAY Published 12:49 p.m. ET June 26, 2017 | Updated 2:47 p.m. ET June 26, 2017
WASHINGTON – President Trump took a victory lap Monday after the Supreme Court allowed most of his proposed travel ban from Muslim countries to take effect as it considers whether the policy overall is constitutional.
Calling it "a clear victory for our national security," Trump said the court's action "allows the travel suspension for the six terror-prone countries and the refugee suspension to become largely effective."
As the court waits to hear arguments in the high-profile case – one of Trump's major policy priorities – the justices lifted injunctions that had been in place on travelers from six countries where the majority of the population is Muslim.
Trump may bar people from Libya, Iran, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen if they have no "bona fide" relationship to people, families, or entities in the U.S. Visitors who do have such a relationship are to be let into the United States, the court said.
Groups that had sued over the order called the proposed ban an unconstitutional attack on religion.
While the Trump administration said initially that the measure would only temporary, Trump did not address that in his victory statement.
"As President, I cannot allow people into our country who want to do us harm," Trump said. "I want people who can love the United States and all of its citizens, and who will be hardworking and productive."
The travel ban, revised by the Trump administration in March after a flurry of lawsuits and protests, was supposed to apply to apply to the six Muslim countries for 90 days and to all refugees for 120 days. It is not known how the new Supreme Court order will affect those time limits, which would likely expire before the justices render a final decision on the policy.
In his statement, Trump said he was "particularly gratified" the court's decision was 9-0. However, there is no way to tell if the decision is truly unanimous, as the court issued a "per curiam" opinion that no one signed. In fact, three justices did register dissents on the grounds that the entire travel ban should have gone into effect.
The original ban, announced a week after Trump took office, led to protests nationwide and chaos at the nation's airports, including detentions of at least 746 people because of confusion over how to enforce the policy. Overseas, an unknowable number of people were not allowed to board flights en route to the United States. The initial ban also applied to seven countries, including Iraq; it was removed when the Trump team revised the ban in March.
The revised ban now in effect allows travelers with green cards and visas to continue entering the United States, but not refugees.
Eric Schwartz, president of Refugees International, said the impact of the court's decision will fall on "the most vulnerable of the world’s populations, including refugee women and girls, survivors of violence and torture, and refugee children." Schwartz said, "there is no reasonable national security justification for these measures."
Like the president, Trump administration officials declared victory.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions said "the threat to our national security is real... It is crucial that we properly vet those seeking to come to America from these locations, and failing to do so put is all in danger."
White House spokesman Sean Spicer said the administration is assessing exactly how to put the ban in place. "The government is reviewing the decision and determining how to proceed," Spicer said.
Contributing: Richard Wolf, Alan Gomez