WNYC's The Takeaway | Bangladesh Plans to Relocate 100,000 Rohingya to Cyclone-Prone Island

Since 2016, over 1 million Rohingya Muslims have fled ethnic cleansing by Myanmar's military and taken refuge in Bangladesh, which has one of the highest population densities in the world.

Following the Foreign Minister’s announcement that it could no longer accept Rohingya refugees, Bangladesh has completed some construction as part of a plan to relocate 100,000 refugees to a remote, monsoon-prone island in the Bay of Bengal.

The island's name, Bhasan Char, means "floating island". Rohingya activists have criticized the decision, saying that they didn't get a chance to weigh in.

Daniel Sullivan, senior advocate for human rights at Refugees International, gives an update on the situation in Myanmar, and then discusses Bangladesh’s refugee relocation plan.

VOA’s Nightline Africa ft. Alexandra Lamarche

Peter Clottey, host of VOA’s Nightline Africa, interviews Refugees International advocate for sub-Saharan Africa Alexandra Lamarche about her recent research on the humanitarian situation in the Central African Republic.

Listen to the full interview here.

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