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Since President Trump took office in January 2017, the U.S. has withdrawn from the Paris climate agreement and the non-binding Global Compact on Migration.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

 

 

Reuters: Trump choice to lead IOM could see American rejected for first time in decades

GENEVA (Reuters) - President Donald Trump’s nomination of a Christian charity executive who has disparaged Islam to head the U.N. migration agency could see countries reject an American for the first time in nearly 50 years when they pick its new leader on Friday.

Since the body now known as the International Organization for Migration was founded to manage the vast movement of people in post-World War Two Europe, all nine of its leaders have been Americans apart from a Dutchman who ran it in the 1960s.

But Trump’s choice of Ken Isaacs, a vice president of U.S. evangelical charity Samaritan’s Purse, could end that streak.

Isaacs, whose only major government experience was a 2004-2005 stint under George W. Bush as a political appointee in charge of disaster relief at the U.S. overseas aid agency, is one of three candidates to succeed William Swing, a veteran U.S. and U.N. diplomat retiring after a decade as IOM chief.

The IOM is involved in politically sensitive operations around the globe, from helping European countries manage the arrival of hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers to aiding Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh.

In February, shortly after the Trump administration nominated Isaacs to lead the IOM, the Washington Post dug up tweets and social media posts in which he disparaged Muslims.

Isaacs has since apologized for hurting anyone’s feelings and said he had “never shown discrimination against anybody or anything, period”. He said he had been retweeting and commenting on material to provoke debate.

In one post reported by the paper and since deleted, Isaacs wrote in a comment on a CNN story about a militant attack in London: “...if you read the Quran you will know that ‘this’ is exactly what the Muslim faith instructs the faithful to do.”

In another, he wrote on Twitter: “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!”

The U.S. State Department said it was “proper” that Isaacs had apologized, but his “private” social media posts did not disqualify him for the IOM post.

“Mr. Isaacs is committed to helping refugees and has a long history of assisting those who are suffering. We believe that if chosen to lead IOM, he would treat people fairly and with the dignity and respect they deserve.”

At a press event in Geneva in March, Isaacs was introduced by Jennifer Arangio, senior director of the White House National Security Council: “He embodies what the United States believes.”

Isaacs is up against Portuguese politician and ex-EU Justice Commissioner Antonio Vitorino, and Laura Thompson, a Costa Rican now serving as Swing’s deputy. The vote will be held in secret.

Isaacs says he will not represent the U.S. administration if he leads the IOM. But he has also made clear he would not challenge Trump policies widely viewed as hostile to immigrants, such as a ban on citizens of seven Muslim majority nations entering the United States and a drastic scaling back of the U.S. program to accept refugees.

“I’m not going to speak on any country’s domestic policy,” he said, when asked at the March briefing about Trump’s plan for a wall on the Mexican border.

    “States have a right to protect their borders the way that they deem necessary,” he said. “If it’s inhumane, then I’ll come back and have private conversations. But I think states have a right to protect their borders the way that they want to.”

Approached by Reuters at a garden party at the U.S. mission in Geneva on Thursday, he declined to comment further.

The vote poses a dilemma for IOM states, Jeremy Konyndyk, who like Isaacs served as a head of U.S. foreign disaster assistance, told Reuters.

“Do they risk angering the Trump administration by rejecting its preferred candidate, or risk validating Trump’s migration agenda by putting a Trump nominee in charge of IOM at the very moment his administration is attacking asylum in the U.S.?”   

Konyndyk said Isaacs must disavow the views uncovered in his social media posts. “He has never fully repudiated his attacks on Muslims, descriptions of refugees as security threats, and mockery of climate science,” Konyndyk wrote in an opinion piece for IRINnews.org, a news agency for humanitarian aid groups.

Eric Schwartz, president of Refugees International, wrote in the Washington Post on Monday that Isaacs’ social media posts were “bigoted”, “appalling” and must disqualify him.

More than 600 aid agencies that work in the migration field signed a letter to IOM member states last week which did not mention Isaacs by name but said the new IOM chief must demonstrate “a record of and commitment to respecting diversity and condemning xenophobia, discrimination and intolerance”.

Privately, aid agency officials say their chief concern is that the real aim of the Trump administration — which has already withdrawn from the Paris climate treaty, the U.N. human rights council, the U.N. cultural body UNESCO and U.N. negotiations on a “global compact” to manage migration — is to undermine the IOM’s role as a global body engaged in migration.

“The risk that we analyze is that Ken Isaacs is not independent from the Trump administration and could be a puppet put in to disrupt the U.N. system,” said a senior official at one of the agencies supporting the letter, who requested anonymity because he may work with IOM in future.

This piece originally appeared here

Christian Science Monitor: Refugee crisis: While some follow US as it disengages, others lead

Around the world, the number of refugees and internally displaced people continues to rise – now estimated at more than 68 million people, with more than a third of them refugees forced by conflict across international borders.

In response, the United Nations’ member states are negotiating a new pact on migration that aims to improve the world’s response to the mounting crisis.

All of the UN’s 193 members, that is, save one: the United States.

The US under President Trump is sitting out the talks on an area of international policy where it long took the helm: It set an example as the largest resettler of refugees and largest donor of funds to meet the needs of the displaced, and as the world’s most powerful country it cajoled others to follow its lead and adopt its humanitarian values.

The Trump administration announced in December that concerns over potential infringements on national sovereignty and border security compelled it to pull out of the negotiations, which are set to deliver a new Global Compact for Migration by the end of the year.

The compact – like the Paris climate accord that the US under Mr. Trump withdrew from last year – includes no mandatory measures but seeks to offer guidelines and principles for orderly and safe migration and humane resettlement of refugees.

But now the US withdrawal from the global migration talks – especially in the wake of the 2017 numbers released for World Refugee Day last week showing a worsening crisis – is raising new concerns about the impact of the US turn on migration issues.

Are other countries stepping up to fill the void left by the US, or are countries taking a cue from Trump’s America and stepping back from the world’s refugees and displaced?

International migration experts say they’re seeing some of both – in a country like Canada welcoming more refugees than in past years, for example, or on the other hand, in a country like Hungary matching Trump’s anti-immigrant posture and imposing harsh new anti-migrant measures.

“If you looked at the world’s response to the migration crisis through the lens of the United States’ actions and policy prescriptions, you’d get a pretty distorted view of the broader context and mobilization,” says Craig Mokhiber, director of the New York office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

As chair of the migration task force within the compact negotiations, Mr. Mokhiber says he’s seeing not just countries but nongovernmental refugee organizations, faith-based groups, the private sector, and municipalities come together to hammer out an accord.

“So the US,” he says, “is very much an outlier.” But then he adds a caveat:

“On the other hand, it’s true that a few countries have rejected international law and humanitarian norms since the crisis began,” he says. “And that’s where the US response to all of this becomes very worrying,” he adds, “because when a very powerful country and traditional leader bows in any way to disrespecting human rights, others can be tempted to say, ‘We can follow this powerful leader’s example and do the same.’ ”

Others, too, say they see both trends happening. But they worry that the sheer weight and influence of the US in an international issue like refugee resettlement and migration policy could have a dire impact over time.

“It is difficult to overestimate the impact that the rhetoric and policies of the Trump administration are having on so many levels around the world on efforts of international organizations and humanitarians to address the challenges of this ongoing crisis,” says Eric Schwartz, president of Refugees International in Washington.

The crisis of migration and rising numbers of refugees is not that different from just two years ago, Mr. Schwartz says, when all UN members (including the US) signed a “New York Declaration” on migration launching the current “compact” negotiations. At the time, then-President Barack Obama assembled world leaders to unveil a US pledge to resettle more refugees (110,000 in 2017) and to implore others to follow the American example.

Most of the world’s refugees come from the same countries in conflict as a few years ago, with Syria, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Myanmar, and Somalia accounting for about two-thirds of refugees in 2017.

“But the world does feel very different – and to my mind that is attributable almost exclusively to the rhetoric and policies coming out of Washington,” says Schwartz, a former assistant secretary of State for population, refugees, and migration. “American leadership has always been a powerful catalyst on all these issues,” he adds, “and now it’s not there.”

There are also signs that the “different feel” extends to publics, including in the US. Polls show a majority of Americans still support receiving refugees and immigration generally, but in falling numbers. And in Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel has seen her support wither as she has championed immigrant assimilation in the wake of the large refugee influx of recent years.

If anything, Schwartz says the Trump administration’s rhetoric and actions – from the Muslim travel ban that the Supreme Court upheld Tuesday and a steep reduction in the number of refugees to be resettled in the US to presidential warnings of an “infestation” of immigrants – are enabling the world’s worst actors, from Hungary to Myanmar.

“Can you imagine a George W. Bush being complicit in the nationalist, antidemocratic, and anti-migrant rhetoric coming out of Europe right now?” Schwartz says.

Even some quarters generally supportive of the Trump administration and its initiatives are balking at the tough stand on refugees. The Heritage Foundation in Washington last year issued a paper calling for a strengthening of the US refugee admissions program, even as the Trump administration was drastically reducing resettlements.

“We are certainly concerned about security, and we understand the need for thorough vetting [of refugee resettlement applicants], but we also believe there is a clear US national security interest to continue to resettle refugees,” says Olivia Enos, a specialist in migration and human rights issues at Heritage and one of the authors of last year’s report.

The slow pace of resettlement that could result in fewer than 20,000 refugees gaining approval to enter the US this year is an “area of disappointment,” says Ms. Enos. The average intake of refugees in previous years – falling generally between 40,000 and 60,000 – made the US the global leader on refugee issues and allowed it to “promote our core values, including assisting the world’s most threatened and neediest,” she says.

Noting that the Heritage team has taken its report and its concerns over the refugee program to the White House national security staff and to some congressional offices, Enos says, “We’re hopeful that with some reform and strengthening of the program, the administration can in coming years get closer to the more typical numbers for refugee resettlement.”

Whether or not that happens, other experts say the key to addressing the rising rejectionist mood toward refugees and migrants globally will be vigorous campaigns to debunk the many myths that have taken root concerning refugees – from the dangers they pose to the jobs they take and the public resources they drain.

“What we’re up against are these proliferating distortions and propaganda around immigrants, so to counter that we are advocating a global effort based on the two pillars of evidence and values and built on the framework of international law that we’ve been building since World War II,” says the UN’s Mokhiber.

The “myths” include the terrorism risks and economic hardships that refugees pose, he says, “when we know from data that all of this is misinformation and false.” No refugee in the US has committed a deadly terrorist act at least since the 9/11 attacks, which did not involve refugees.

Refugees International’s Schwartz says his organization and others in the migrant advocacy community are anxious to work with the Trump administration “whenever we can.” He cites Trump’s supportive comments for the government of Bangladesh’s resource-stretching accommodation of more than 600,000 Rohingya refugees, and says, “We’re going to encourage this president and work with him when the opportunity arises.”

But in the absence of traditional US leadership on the migrant issue, Schwartz and others say that other countries and organizations are stepping up.

Heritage’s Enos says Canada is providing a model for the US and others ­– not just by accepting more refugees, but through a resettlement program that encourages private-sector and even individual-citizen sponsorship of refugees and emphasizes the role of assimilation in successful resettlement.

Around the world and in the US in particular, Mokhiber says, one salutary effect of the US leadership retreat has been a “massive mobilization” of other actors, from migrant advocacy organizations and faith-based groups, to local governments and mayors and large and small businesses.

One example: the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, an association of Catholic sisters that lamented the Trump administration’s “misguided” decision to pull out of the refugees and migrants compact negotiations. In response, it has redoubled its longtime advocacy of immigrant and refugee communities.

“All of these groups and individuals have stepped forward to pick up the slack where national governments have come up short,” Mokhiber says. “The challenge they face is that in a growing number of places they are in a struggle for the soul of public policy.”

This piece originally appears here

Washington Post: Anti-Islam statements should disqualify Trump’s pick for U.N. migration post

In a conference hall in Geneva on Friday, the world’s governments will send a fateful message about their views of prejudice against the world’s nearly 2 billion Muslims. On that date, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) — consisting of 169 member governments — is scheduled to elect its new director general. The individual nominated by the Trump administration, Ken Isaacs, has an unfortunate record of bigoted statements against Islam.

The facts are not in dispute. As The Post and others have reported, Isaacs has in recent years repeatedly posted statements online reflecting the view that Islam is a religion that is inherently violent and inextricably linked to terrorism.

After the July 2016 terrorist attack in Nice, in which a Tunisian resident of France drove a truck through crowds celebrating Bastille Day and killed 86 people, Isaacs tweeted that “Islam is not peaceful.” In September of that year, he tweeted that “Islam is 7th Century violence and bullying.” In a June 2017 tweet, he commented on a CNN International report quoting the bishop of Southwark Cathedral in London after terrorists killed eight people in that city. According to CNN, the bishop stated that the attack and the killings were “not what the Muslim faith asks people to do.” Isaacs responded, “Bishop, if you read the Quran you will know ‘this’ is exactly what the Muslim faith instructs the faithful to do.” And in Twitter replies to expressions of sorrow about the 2016 Orlando nightclub terrorist attack, he simply tweeted the hashtag #Islam.

There are more such tweets from Isaacs, as well as retweets of other condemnations of Islam for acts violence and terrorism, all of which fuel prejudice against Muslims.

The statements are appalling by themselves, but more so given the important position Isaacs is seeking. The director general of IOM oversees an institution that is playing a key role in meeting the growing challenges of global migration. With an annual budget of more than $1 billion and an international staff, IOM provides a broad menu of critical services both to governments and people on the move. This includes assistance to newly resettled refugees, voluntary repatriation of vulnerable migrants to countries of origin, shelter for individuals displaced by conflict, and programs to prevent human trafficking, among dozens of other valuable initiatives.

My concern about this issue is reinforced by my personal experiences with this important organization. As a former National Security Council official, as U.N. deputy envoy for tsunami recovery between 2005 and 2007, and as assistant secretary of state for population, refugees and migration between 2009 and 2011, I witnessed firsthand critical IOM work on refugee resettlement and on an array of international shelter, health-care and other assistance initiatives.

IOM is very active in countries that are majority-Muslim, and Isaacs has understandably apologized for his unfortunate statements. There is no reason to doubt the sincerity of his apology, and we should welcome his renunciation of such noxious comments. Moreover, Isaacs, who has already had a long career in humanitarian service, will no doubt continue to make contributions to the field.

But he should not be elected to lead the world’s most important international migration agency. For that position, his regrettable statements must be disqualifying.

Imagine, for instance, had a candidate for this position made a similar succession of disparaging remarks about Jews, Catholics, evangelical Christians or any other religious group. Would anyone seriously suggest that such statements should not present a bar from assuming such an important office as director general of IOM? Of course not, because electing such an individual would be disrespectful, dispiriting and demoralizing to the victims of such expressions of bias.

Two other credible candidates, from Portugal and Costa Rica, provide real alternatives for IOM leadership, and one or the other should be chosen.

Some IOM members may be concerned that defeat of the American candidate could put at risk financial support from the United States, which provides the organization with about one-third of its budget. Such an aid cut would be unfortunate and disruptive, but such fears should not guide decision-making on such a fundamental issue of principle.

Expressions of anti-Muslim sentiment — or prejudice against any religious group — should be a source of profound concern for citizens and governments around the world. Now is a moment for world leaders to give voice to that concern and to avoid complicity in prejudice. The IOM mission, which includes upholding the human dignity and well-being of all migrants, demands no less.

This piece originally appeared here

Politico: Pompeo commemorates World Refugee Day amid family separation controversy

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo marked World Refugee Day Wednesday with a statement “commemorating the strength, courage, and resilience of millions of refugees worldwide” as the Trump administration continues to defend its policy of separating children from parents who bring them into the U.S. illegally seeking asylum.

“We join the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and our international partners in commemorating the strength, courage, and resilience of millions of refugees worldwide who have been forced to flee their homes due to persecution and conflict,” Pompeo said in a statement. “The United States will continue to be a world leader in providing humanitarian assistance and working to forge political solutions to the underlying conflicts that drive displacement.”

The secretary of state’s statement comes amid boiling outrage directed at the Trump administration over its policy of prosecuting everyone who enters the U.S. illegally, a practice that has resulted in thousands of children being separated from their parents after crossing into the U.S. Outcry has risen in recent days, fueled by images of children kept in cages and audio of them crying and wailing after being separated from their parents.

Many of those seeking asylum in the U.S. are migrants from Central American nations where violence is nearly ubiquitous and criminal gangs exert significant control.

Asylum seekers who enter the U.S, and make their claim legally at a port of entry are not subject to arrest and separation, only those who cross the border illegally. There have been some reports, however, of families separated after they seek asylum at legal ports of entry.

That the State Department is not involved with the separation policy, a point spokeswoman Heather Nauert made Tuesday at her press briefing, has not shielded it from criticism. During a department-hosted Facebook live chat on traveling with children, the hosts were inundated with criticism and sarcastic comments from viewers, such as "do you recommend cage training for children to get them used to arriving in the US?"

Pompeo, in his Wednesday statement, touted America’s significant commitment to humanitarian assistance abroad, totaling $8 billion in fiscal year 2017. He made specific mention of U.S. efforts in Burma and Bangladesh, as well as in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Pompeo wrote that “the United States also maintains a steadfast commitment to getting life-saving support to Syrians wherever they are.”

Trump has pushed hard to dramatically limit the number of refugees the U.S. accepts and has sought to ban all Syrians, refugee or otherwise, from entering the U.S. for security reasons.

“Through active humanitarian diplomacy, humanitarian assistance, and tireless efforts to end conflicts and achieve durable solutions for persecuted people around the world, we will continue to help the world’s most vulnerable refugees, reflecting the deeply held values of the American people,” Pompeo said in his statement.

Refugees International, a non-profit that advocates for refugees around the world, issued the Trump administration an "F" on its World Refugee Day report card.

"The Trump administration has undermined U.S. refugee law and longstanding U.S. humanitarian policy through the inhumane separation of families seeking asylum, weakening of the U.S. asylum process generally, and crippling of the U.S. Refugee Admissions program," the group wrote. "Overseas, President Trump has sought to restrict lifesaving humanitarian aid, including aid to refugee women and girls, and failed in leadership to end conflicts that inflict humanitarian suffering."

This piece originally appeared here

NPR-All Things Considered: FEMA Blamed Delays In Puerto Rico On Maria; Agency Records Tell Another Story

A month after Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, Army Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Buchanan stepped off a helicopter in the town of Ceiba with a mission: Get relief supplies to people in need.

He and FEMA's regional administrator, Thomas Von Essen, told the town's mayor and other mayors from across the island that generators, plastic roofs and tarps would be there within days.

"There are 50,000 more blue tarps coming in over the next week," Buchanan said. "So these will all get pushed to all the mayors."

Von Essen added that FEMA had as many as 500 generators on the island before the storm and would soon distribute them.

But today, it's clear none of those promises were kept, and FEMA and the federal government failed on multiple fronts to help the devastated island recover.

Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Buchanan (left) talks to a U.S. Army helicopter crew member in Barranquitas, Puerto Rico, after a supply delivery mission for residents affected by Hurricane Maria, Oct. 23, 2017.

Ricardo Arduengo/AFP/Getty Images

NPR and the PBS series Frontline examined hundreds of pages of internal documents and emails. Rather than a well-orchestrated effort, they paint a picture of a relief agency in chaos, struggling with key contracts, basic supplies and even its own workforce.

Internal briefing documents show FEMA never had 500 generators on the island before the storm — it had 25. Its plastic roof program was out of plastic, and the most tarps FEMA ever produced was 125,000 — months after people needed them.

Hours after NPR and FRONTLINE published these findings, Democratic lawmakers from the House and Senate introduced a bill to create an independent commission to investigate the "flawed" federal response in Puerto Rico. They noted the "botched FEMA contracts" in calling for the commission. The legislation also calls for an examination of the island's death toll, and whether Puerto Rico was treated differently than Texas and Florida were after hurricanes last year, as NPR and FRONTLINE found.

"It is heartbreaking to learn that the more we closely examine [Hurricane Maria's] aftermath, the clearer we see the federal government failed the people of Puerto Rico," said U.S. Rep. Bennie G. Thompson, D-Miss., in announcing the legislation, which was written by U.S. Rep. Nydia M. Velázquez, D-N.Y.

FEMA's federal coordinating officer for Maria, Michael Byrne, said blame for any failures rests with the storm, not with federal responders contending with taxed resources and complicated geography.

"If there's a villain here, it's the 190 mph winds and the 50 inches of rain," Byrne said. "That's the villain. That's what did the damage to the people. We've done nothing but try to remedy that."

Still, as NPR and Frontline traveled the island in the months after the storm, it was clear many of the problems were man-made.

In Luquillo, Mayor Jesus Rodriguez said he had been waiting more than two months for FEMA to provide just seven generators that would power the town's water pumps. He said he couldn't understand what could hold up such a critical request in a town that had no running water.

"Water is life," he said, frustrated.

In Piñones, William Torruella, a pastor, and his congregation spent weeks gathering supplies on their own to deliver to nearby towns. He said when FEMA arrived in Morovis, two months after the storm, he asked what had taken so long. Officials told him the roads to the town had been closed.

"They were not closed," Torruella said, shaking his head. "I've been going there. The excuses do not explain what's happening."

Even an international disaster worker checking on survivors in Yabucoa in January was confused by the delays.

"We were pretty surprised to see how slow the response was [in Puerto Rico]," said Alice Thomas, a program manager with Refugees International, who has been to more than a dozen disasters. "Compared especially to major emergencies I've seen in foreign countries," she said. "And we couldn't get over particularly how bad the shelter response was."

The seemingly simple process of distributing tarps to storm victims illustrates the problem. Thomas said storm victims need tarps in the first week or two if they hope to save their homes.

"Why they couldn't get tarps, I do not know," she said, adding that federal officials working on the ground called the tarp delays a "mystery."

When asked what accounted for the delays, FEMA's Byrne said it was difficult to get supplies to Puerto Rico because it's an island.

"We had problems getting everything," he said. "When you have to ship it, you have to add seven days or sometimes longer to everything that you want to bring in. It's definitely a challenge."

Yet 20 years ago, after Hurricane Georges hit the island, there weren't reports of these logistical problems.

Contractors apply a FEMA tarp to a home in Morovis on Dec. 20, 2017, three months after it was damaged by Hurricane Maria. The day Maria hit, FEMA had fewer than 12,000 tarps on the island, far below what was needed.

Mario Tama/Getty Images

And the agency's own records reflect a different picture.

According to planning and briefing documents, the agency did not pre-position enough supplies on the island before the storm, as federal rules require. The day Maria hit, agency records show, FEMA had fewer than 12,000 tarps on the island. Then, the agency failed to acquire more.

First, records show, FEMA hired a company that was just two months old. It didn't provide a single tarp. Then FEMA chose a company whose last contract had been for $4,000 worth of kitchen utensils for a prison. It didn't produce a single tarp either.

Finally, FEMA turned to a third company, called Master Group. Its specialty, according to its website, is importing hookah tobacco. It produced some tarps, but when employees examined them in a warehouse in January, FEMA says, the tarps failed a quality-control inspection.

Import records examined by NPR and Frontline show the company brought the tarps in from China, which violates federal contracting rules. After NPR and Frontline questioned FEMA about this, the agency suspended the company.

FEMA was also struggling with contracts to deliver food, diesel fuel and other supplies.

Byrne said these were just a few troubled contracts out of more than 2,000 that did not have problems.

"We had a couple of ones that didn't work out well and we dealt with it," Byrne said. "I continue [to] focus on getting it solved."

Behind the scenes, though, some federal workers were discouraged. In one email, a top Army Corps official complained to FEMA managers, "We cannot survive any longer with any delay of materials," the engineer wrote. "I cannot keep saying we are trying. ... I need solutions."

A car battery connected to an inverter and a generator provides power for a street party on a block without electricity on Dec. 24, 2017.

Mario Tama/Getty Images

The Army Corps' plastic roof program, known as blue roofs, provides stronger roof sheeting tied down to houses. Without tarps, it became even more critical.

But FEMA didn't have enough plastic sheeting on the island. In the first month after Hurricane Irma in Florida, records show, the Army Corps put up 4,500 blue roofs. In Puerto Rico, just 439.

"It goes back to how much material do you have?" said Lt. Gen. Todd Semonite, who oversees the Army Corps. "Almost all the warehouses were empty. So when we hit, the amount of available supplies, either generators, blue roof material, whatever it might be, were just not there ... that could have gotten us more of a jump-start."

When it came to getting the lights on, federal officials chose a contractor named Fluor — a company with global experience building power generation plants but little experience rebuilding the grids that distribute power to communities. Government sources said they went with Fluor because it was a company they trusted, but they also described weeks of bureaucratic delays as the company got up to speed.

But that wasn't all that was causing FEMA headaches. FEMA was struggling with its own staff. One internal staffing document reveals that more than a quarter of the staff FEMA hired to provide people assistance on the island was "untrained" and another quarter was "unqualified."

Byrne bristles at the suggestion that FEMA didn't help people.

"I think we've done a lot of support," he said. "How can you look at the fact that we gave a billion dollars in assistance out, that we've given out 62 million liters of water, 52 million meals to the people. How can you categorize that as not providing assistance? I find that that doesn't connect."

Oscar Carrión taught himself how to string up electrical wire and restored power to thousands in his town.

Still, he said FEMA will learn from its mistakes. There were "a number of places where we weren't perfect," he said. "I'll accept that. I'm going to keep working to get better."

Four months after the storm, in a small neighborhood near San Juan called Villa Hugo, local resident Oscar Carrión wasn't waiting for help.

He had taken it upon himself to turn the lights on and had already restored power to 3,000 neighbors.

"I'm afraid of heights and of the electrical current," he said in Spanish. "The first time I got up there, I was trembling all over. I still tremble."

Carrión owns a grocery and has four kids. He has no experience working on power poles and doesn't own any safety equipment. He and his neighbors pooled together $2,500 to buy an old rusted bucket truck.

On this day, the neighbors unwound wire along the street and Carrión worked pole to pole.

"I guess I am taking a risk," he said, "but it's difficult to live in the dark. We were tired of hearing that they can't get to us. So we've decided to move forward on our own."

As he got back into the truck, he paused for a minute and said, "If we don't do it, nobody will do it for us."

The Guardian: Italy bars two more refugee ships from ports

Italy’s interior minister has sparked a new migration crisis in the Mediterranean by barring two rescue boats from bringing refugees to shore, a week after the Aquarius was prevented from docking.

“Two other ships with the flag of Netherlands, Lifeline and Seefuchs, have arrived off the coast of Libya, waiting for their load of human beings abandoned by the smugglers,” Matteo Salvini, the leader of the anti-immigrant party the League, wrote on his Facebook page. “These gentlemen know that Italy no longer wants to be complicit in the business of illegal immigration, and therefore will have to look for other ports [not Italian] where to go.”

Italy’s closure of its ports to the migrant rescue ship Aquarius, which was carrying 620 people, triggered warnings from aid agencies of a deadly summer at sea for people trying to cross the Mediterranean.

Axel Steier, the co-founder of Mission Lifeline which operates the Lifeline ship, said his crew had rescued more than 100 migrants off Libya on Friday in an operation with a US warship, and transferred them to a Turkish merchant vessel.

He said his ship was too small to make the journey from Libya to Italian ports and that he always transferred migrants to other ships, but insisted those craft should have the right to land in Italy.

“I am sure there is an obligation for Italy to take them because its closest safe harbour is Lampedusa. We hand over migrants to Europe because of the Geneva convention,” he said.

Vessels chartered by an assortment of European NGOs have plied the waters off Libya for three years, rescuing migrants from leaking boats and transporting them to Sicily.

Following Salvini’s decision to prevent the Aquarius from docking, however, Malta quickly followed suit, leaving the vessel stranded at sea until Spain offered to take the ship. It is due to arrive in Valencia on Sunday.

Crews of the NGO boats say Salvini’s port closures leaves them without anywhere close by to take the people they rescue, and that the move will prove counterproductive.

“It will not stop people coming,” said Ruben Neugebauer, of the German charity ship Sea Watch. “They will come anyway, but more of them will die.”

Sea Watch refused last week to take 40 migrants rescued by the US navy ship Trenton off Libya, fearing a fate similar to that of the Aquarius. Trenton waited four days before being allowed to dock in Sicily.

Charities say the NGO boats are a vital lifeline, rescuing more than 88,000 people in the past two years, but critics say they are a pull factor, encouraging people to make the dangerous sea journey. 

More than 600,000 migrants have made the crossing from Libya to Italy in the past four years, and Salvini’s stance reflects frustration that the rest of Europe refuses to take its share of arrivals. At least 13,000 people have drowned trying to reach European shores.

The French president, Emmanuel Macron, accused Salvini last week of cynicism and irresponsibility, but at the same time refused to allow the Aquarius to dock at French ports. 

“Malta and Italy didn’t open their ports, but then most other European governments didn’t help either,” said Izza Leghtas, a senior advocate at Europe for Refugees International. “They are all passing the ball among themselves.“

If the NGO boats are unable to land the people they rescue and cease to operate, Operation Sophia, an EU anti-smuggler mission patrolling the Mediterranean, may take up some of the slack. NGOs, however, say its warships operate too far out to sea, given that people traffickers favour towing rubber boats full of migrants to the edge of Libya’s 12-mile territorial waters before setting them adrift.

Italy’s port closures come despite an 85% fall in migrant crossings since last year. The decrease is in part the result of the EU and Italy training and funding Libya’s coastguard to intercept vessels.

Read full article in The Guardian, here.

Financial Times: Aquarius dispute shows EU leaders at sea over migration

From aboard the Aquarius, somewhere between Sardinia and Spain, Aloys Vimard tells how the ship’s 629 migrant passengers experienced the relief of being rescued from the Mediterranean Sea — then the horror of being denied the right to land in Italy.

“One man threatened to jump into the water because he was so scared of being returned to Libya,” said Mr Vimard, a Médecins Sans Frontières project co-ordinator on the former German coastguard vessel. “He said: ‘I don’t trust you, I would rather die than go back to Libya.’ Everyone was very, very anxious.”

The Aquarius is now sailing towards an emergency safe harbour offered by Spain. But the political storm over the vessel, whipped up by a new government in Rome, shows no sign of abating.

Tension over European migration policy, which has been half-hidden since almost 2.5m people applied for asylum during the 2015-16 crisis, has burst into the open — showing it to be every bit as much an existential fear for the fate of the bloc as the eurozone’s financial crisis.

Since Matteo Salvini, Italy’s anti-immigration interior minister and leader of the far-right league, denied landing rights to the Aquarius, Italy has argued with Malta and sparred with France over the fate of its passengers. Criticism from President Emmanuel Macron sucked Rome and Paris into a diplomatic row.

In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s differences with her interior minister, Horst Seehofer, over migration policy threatened a full-blown coalition crisis. Sebastian Kurz, Austria’s chancellor, added fuel to the fire during a visit to Berlin by declaring that he, Mr Seehofer and Mr Salvini were an “axis of the willing” demanding a harder line on migration.

The disputes threaten a fragile detente over migration that has held mainly because of the steep fall in the numbers coming across the Mediterranean: they have dropped from 1m in 2015 to fewer than 40,000 this year, mainly due to a squeeze on travel via Turkey and Libya. It stokes a sense that Europe is ill-prepared for the next migration crisis— which many see as a matter of when, not if. I do not see any solution at this point in time. Malta cannot accept them. Spain cannot keep on accepting them EU diplomat

“It’s a big mess and they are all responsible for it,” said Izza Leghtas, senior advocate for Europe for Refugees International. “It just puts them to shame.”

The Aquarius’s long-suffering passengers may yet face more problems when they dock in Valencia on Sunday morning. There are worries of trouble once those rescued — more than 500 of whom have now been transferred to two Italian ships — disembark. España 2000, a far-right group, has called on members to gather on Saturday night at the port.

The Aquarius row has underscored what one diplomat brands the “Gordian knot” of Europe’s migration disputes. There is no EU authority with the power to interpret — still less enforce — where international maritime law dictates a rescue ship should dock.

“I do not see any solution at this point in time,” the diplomat said, when asked what could be done to prevent a repeat of the Aquarius tug of war. “Malta [by far the smallest EU state] cannot accept them. Spain cannot keep on accepting them.”

The Aquarius affair will intensify an already fractious debate due at an EU summit this month on long-running efforts to overhaul asylum policy.

An attempt to reform the EU’s so-called Dublin regulation, on which states are responsible for asylum applicants, seems intractable. Central and northern European states including Hungary have resisted a push from Mediterranean countries for compulsory refugee resettlement quotas. Mr Kurz has raised the stakes by signalling that Vienna will push harsh policies when it starts its six-month term as EU president next month.

Mr Kurz — who governs with the far-right Freedom party — and Lars Lokke Rasmussen, his Danish counterpart, last week raised the idea of sending failed asylum seekers to a camp in a non-EU country.

The tough rhetoric has frustrated European envoys who argue calm consideration is the only way to win a comprehensive pan-EU settlement on migration. “Unfortunately all of these interventions are pushing us away from a balanced debate,” said one diplomat. “We need to make things a bit more rational.”

Perhaps nowhere is this felt more than in Germany, where Ms Merkel has warned that a failure to solve the migrant and asylum crisis will put fundamental tenets of EU life — the free movement of people — at stake. But as her political opponents realise, her authority has been undermined by the fallout from her “open doors” policy in 2015 and 2016, when Germany let in more than 1m refugees.

The EU also faces growing pressure over its anti-migration efforts on Libya, which have been crucial to cutting arrivals in Italy. The UN Security Council last week imposed sanctions on six alleged people-traffickers including Abd al-Rahman al-Milad, a local commander in Libya’s EU-trained coastguard. Recommended Review Non-Fiction Europe’s migrant crisis, up close and personal A UN panel of experts has accused Mr Milad’s unit of being “directly involved in the sinking of migrant boats using firearms”. The EU has said it did not train Mr Milad, but has not responded to repeated questions from the FT on whether it trained anybody under his command.

Defenders of EU policies say it has invested in efforts to give human rights training to coastguards, monitor their behaviour and improve conditions in migrant detention centres.

On the European home front, diplomats point to progress in areas such as accelerating and co-ordinating asylum procedures, and identifying safe countries of return.

But the Aquarius case has shown once again how quickly the trouble on migration in Europe can blow in — and how grave the political and human consequences can be.

“We were left adrift during 48 hours without any instructions, any idea of what would happen,” said MSF’s Mr Vimard, speaking as the ship continued its fraught voyage to Valencia. “When you see authorities put political considerations above the safety of the people, it’s really shocking.”

This piece originally appeared here

Financial Times: Aquarius dispute shows EU leaders at sea over migration

From aboard the Aquarius, somewhere between Sardinia and Spain, Aloys Vimard tells how the ship’s 629 migrant passengers experienced the relief of being rescued from the Mediterranean Sea — then the horror of being denied the right to land in Italy.

“One man threatened to jump into the water because he was so scared of being returned to Libya,” said Mr Vimard, a Médecins Sans Frontières project co-ordinator on the former German coastguard vessel. “He said: ‘I don’t trust you, I would rather die than go back to Libya.’ Everyone was very, very anxious.”

The Aquarius is now sailing towards an emergency safe harbour offered by Spain. But the political storm over the vessel, whipped up by a new government in Rome, shows no sign of abating.

Tension over European migration policy, which has been half-hidden since almost 2.5m people applied for asylum during the 2015-16 crisis, has burst into the open — showing it to be every bit as much an existential fear for the fate of the bloc as the eurozone’s financial crisis.

Since Matteo Salvini, Italy’s anti-immigration interior minister and leader of the far-right league, denied landing rights to the Aquarius, Italy has argued with Malta and sparred with France over the fate of its passengers. Criticism from President Emmanuel Macron sucked Rome and Paris into a diplomatic row.

In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s differences with her interior minister, Horst Seehofer, over migration policy threatened a full-blown coalition crisis. Sebastian Kurz, Austria’s chancellor, added fuel to the fire during a visit to Berlin by declaring that he, Mr Seehofer and Mr Salvini were an “axis of the willing” demanding a harder line on migration.

The disputes threaten a fragile detente over migration that has held mainly because of the steep fall in the numbers coming across the Mediterranean: they have dropped from 1m in 2015 to fewer than 40,000 this year, mainly due to a squeeze on travel via Turkey and Libya. It stokes a sense that Europe is ill-prepared for the next migration crisis— which many see as a matter of when, not if.

"I do not see any solution at this point in time. Malta cannot accept them. Spain cannot keep on accepting them," EU diplomat.

“It’s a big mess and they are all responsible for it,” said Izza Leghtas, senior advocate for Europe for Refugees International. “It just puts them to shame.”

The Aquarius’s long-suffering passengers may yet face more problems when they dock in Valencia on Sunday morning. There are worries of trouble once those rescued — more than 500 of whom have now been transferred to two Italian ships — disembark. España 2000, a far-right group, has called on members to gather on Saturday night at the port.

The Aquarius row has underscored what one diplomat brands the “Gordian knot” of Europe’s migration disputes. There is no EU authority with the power to interpret — still less enforce — where international maritime law dictates a rescue ship should dock.

“I do not see any solution at this point in time,” the diplomat said, when asked what could be done to prevent a repeat of the Aquarius tug of war. “Malta [by far the smallest EU state] cannot accept them. Spain cannot keep on accepting them.”

The Aquarius affair will intensify an already fractious debate due at an EU summit this month on long-running efforts to overhaul asylum policy.

An attempt to reform the EU’s so-called Dublin regulation, on which states are responsible for asylum applicants, seems intractable. Central and northern European states including Hungary have resisted a push from Mediterranean countries for compulsory refugee resettlement quotas.

Mr Kurz has raised the stakes by signalling that Vienna will push harsh policies when it starts its six-month term as EU president next month. Mr Kurz — who governs with the far-right Freedom party — and Lars Lokke Rasmussen, his Danish counterpart, last week raised the idea of sending failed asylum seekers to a camp in a non-EU country.

The tough rhetoric has frustrated European envoys who argue calm consideration is the only way to win a comprehensive pan-EU settlement on migration. “Unfortunately all of these interventions are pushing us away from a balanced debate,” said one diplomat. “We need to make things a bit more rational.”

Perhaps nowhere is this felt more than in Germany, where Ms Merkel has warned that a failure to solve the migrant and asylum crisis will put fundamental tenets of EU life — the free movement of people — at stake. But as her political opponents realise, her authority has been undermined by the fallout from her “open doors” policy in 2015 and 2016, when Germany let in more than 1m refugees.

The EU also faces growing pressure over its anti-migration efforts on Libya, which have been crucial to cutting arrivals in Italy. The UN Security Council last week imposed sanctions on six alleged people-traffickers including Abd al-Rahman al-Milad, a local commander in Libya’s EU-trained coastguard. 

Recommended Review Non-Fiction Europe’s migrant crisis, up close and personal A UN panel of experts has accused Mr Milad’s unit of being “directly involved in the sinking of migrant boats using firearms”. The EU has said it did not train Mr Milad, but has not responded to repeated questions from the FT on whether it trained anybody under his command.

Defenders of EU policies say it has invested in efforts to give human rights training to coastguards, monitor their behaviour and improve conditions in migrant detention centres.

On the European home front, diplomats point to progress in areas such as accelerating and co-ordinating asylum procedures, and identifying safe countries of return.

But the Aquarius case has shown once again how quickly the trouble on migration in Europe can blow in — and how grave the political and human consequences can be.

“We were left adrift during 48 hours without any instructions, any idea of what would happen,” said MSF’s Mr Vimard, speaking as the ship continued its fraught voyage to Valencia. “When you see authorities put political considerations above the safety of the people, it’s really shocking.”

Washington Post: The U.N. and Burma signed a deal to resettle Rohingya refugees, but no one knows what’s in it

Last week, the United Nations inked a deal with the government of Burma to begin the long process of resettling some of the 700,000 Rohingya refugees who fled their homes for neighboring Bangladesh after a brutal military campaign last year.

The Burmese government promoted the agreement as proof that it is doing right by the Rohingya, a persecuted minority that is denied citizenship rights and freedom of movement in Burma. The United Nations has celebrated it as a major first step that would help secure the future of the Rohingya in Burma.

But no outside observers are able to verify the claims: The agreement has been kept unusually secret. 

The three parties that signed the memorandum of understanding — the U.N. refugee agency, or UNHCR; the U.N. Development Program; and the Burmese government — have declined to make the text of the agreement available to those who have asked to see it, including journalists, other U.N. officials and U.N. donor countries such as the United States.

Nongovernmental organizations, including Refugees International, have urged that the text be made public and warned in a statement that “conditions for Rohingya in Myanmar remain appalling,” referring to Burma by its official name. A statement from about two dozen Rohingya organizations across the world also raised concerns about keeping the text secret.

“All previous records showed that the U.N. agencies, including UNHCR as the agent of the interest of the international community, could not provide adequate protection to the Rohingya returnees due to obstinacy of the Myanmar government,” the groups said. “We are intrinsically aware of the false promises of the Myanmar authorities who are characterized by cheating and brutality.”

A Western diplomat closely following the negotiations said the United Nations has withheld the text of the agreement at the request of the Burmese government and called the lack of transparency “problematic.” The diplomat, who was not authorized to discuss the issue publicly, spoke on the condition of anonymity. A spokesman for the Burmese government could not be reached to comment. 

In response to questions from The Washington Post, Knut Ostby, the U.N. resident and humanitarian coordinator in Burma, said the UNHCR, the UNDP and Burma's government are in “discussion about publicly releasing the contents of the MoU.”

“Such a decision would require consent of all three parties,” he added.

Negotiations between the U.N. agencies and the Burmese government took about four months, with especially heated discussions about the issues of citizenship and identity for the Rohingya. Most Burmese, including Aung San Suu Kyi and other government officials, do not even use the term “Rohingya.” The U.N. news release on the resettlement agreement referred to the group as “refugees in Bangladesh.”

Ostby said in an interview before the signing of the agreement last week that both sides eventually agreed that the Rohingya need to have “an identity and need to exist as normal people.”

He also said that the agreement specifies that the Rohingya need to be able to live in safety and be provided basic services, including access to work and shelter. “We have requested and agreed that there should be a clear and predictable pathway to citizenship,” Ostby said.

But no details have been provided by the United Nations, which will not be handling the citizenship verification process, or the Burmese government. And a statement from Suu Kyi’s office on the repatriation agreement simply refers to the Rohingya community as “displaced persons” rather than using the word “Rohingya.”

In an interview with the Japanese broadcaster NHK, Suu Kyi pointed to the agreement as a sign that Burma's government has “carried out all [their] responsibilities” toward the refugees, and she urged the international community to study its text — the same text that has not been made public.

The Rohingya refugees themselves doubt that the government can ensure their safety. Many fled amid atrocities that allegedly included rape, torture and extrajudicial killings at the hands of the Burmese military, carried out in response to attacks by a militant group on police posts in Rakhine state.

The United Nations has not negotiated with the refugees themselves on the terms of their resettlement but says it can do so now because it will be granted access to northern Rakhine, where the attacks occurred. The area was all but sealed off after the violence in August.

“We have not been in a position to negotiate with refugees before this, but UNHCR will now be in a position to have these conversations,” Ostby added.

This piece originally appeared here

The Jordan Times: Experts launch global migration programme for ‘improved humanitarian policy framework’

AMMAN — Policymakers, academics and government officials from around the globe recently gathered in Washington DC to discuss new ways to tackle global migration, displacement, and humanitarian policy challenges in the 21st century, as part of the official launch of the “Migration, Displacement and Humanitarian Policy” programme.

Organised by the Washington based Center for Global Development (CGD), the conference aimed to “foster constructive dialogue around the global compacts on migration and refugees, and advance policy discussion on a range of issues such as innovative labour mobility agreements, compacts for refugee and host livelihoods, and reform of the humanitarian system”, CGD director of communications Holly Shulman told The Jordan Times.

In his opening remarks, CGD president Masood Ahmed said: “We are thrilled to see the launch of our programme that brings together the different streams of research and policy work in these areas that we see more and more interconnected.”

“Rather than thinking about migration as having a set of fixed benefits or costs, it is the policy framework under which you manage migration that determines what the outcomes are going to be in terms of balance of benefits and costs,” Ahmed stressed, citing the long term work undertaken by researchers Cindy Huang, Jeremy Konyndyk and Michael Clemens that helps enlighten policy work in areas affected by migration such as Jordan.

Starting off the discussion panels, former executive director of the UN World Food Programme Catherine Bertini, former US assistant secretary of state for international organization affairs Bathsheba Crocker and former US assistant secretary of state for population, refugees, and migration Eric Schwartz tackled the issue of “aspirations vs limitations: can humanitarian reform deliver change?”

“This topic doesn’t need this much discussion. Actually, if we had more senior national and international leadership on resolving crises, or ‘political will’, we would not need this many discussions around issues facing the humanitarian world,” Bertini claimed, before moving on to highlight the need to distinguish between the number of displaced and the state of humanitarian funding.

“We cannot keep comparing the current situation to that of the past,” she stressed, citing the case of the protracted Syrian and Yemenis crises which “created refugees who need aid for longer, hence for larger amounts of money.”

She commended the voluntary nature of humanitarian funding, saying “I believe this is one of the points that should be retained in any new model as it allows for more accountability, responsibility and effectiveness compared to assessed funding.”

Schwartz, who is the current president of the NGO Refugees International, went on to discuss ways to reform and improve the humanitarian system, noting “we are facing the challenge of a large number of agencies and operations trying to do good but in a very uncoordinated, unmanaged way.”

Acknowleding the “progress made on real self sufficiency mechanisms such as education and employment,” he stressed, however, “we cannot achieve transformative humanitarian architectural reform at the same time as we are witnessing the erosion of rights for refugees, migrants, and asylum seekers”.

During his presentation in the panel titled “Responding to Protracted Displacement: Innovation in Challenging Times”, director of the Jordan Compact Project Management Unit Feras Momani stated: “When it comes to such crises, rather than addressing immediate short term humanitarian needs, the idea is to look at it as a development challenge and take into consideration the long term economic development needs.” 

Adressing the specific case of Jordan, Momani introduced the launch of the Jordan Compact Project Management Unit following the London Conference on the Syrian Crisis in 2016, saying: “We wanted to make sure that the activities targets of the Jordan Compact are being met, especially in light of the large number of actors involved in the compact”.

“We are working to consider Syrian refugees as assets not burdens, meaning that we are not only looking at their immediate needs such as water, food, shelter etc. The Jordan Compact realises that refugees are human beings with needs that are much more than humanitarian. They have their own aspirations, skills, etc,” he told the audience, stressing “this is especially relevant in the case of Jordan, which hosts some 1.4 refugees from protracted crises in the region.” 

Invited as a keynote speaker, UN special representative for international migration Louise Arbouralso emphasised the “bigger picture” entailed in the current narrative on migration. “There is a lot more to migration and development than remittances,” she stated, pointing out the need for migration policy to be “fair and nuanced, especially at the most granular level.”

“With its implications across so many broad areas, the issue of migration needs to be tackled in a way that maximises the economic and social benefits of human mobility for all,” the UN official commented.

“As countries struggle with political pressures to close borders and question the value of traditional aid to humanitarian emergencies, divisive rhetoric can often drown out reasoned debate,” said Schulman, noting that the CGD event came to address “the imperative for pragmatic evidence on migration, forced displacement, and humanitarian policies.”

The event also witnessed the official launch of the migration programme’s flagship project, a study in a series of migration policy recommendations titled “Migration Is What You Make It”.

“This series will offer synthetised evidence on the economic, social and other impacts of human mobility, and how policy can shape these impacts for greater benefit for host and origin countries, as well as migrants themselves,” Shulman concluded.

This piece originally appeared here

Financial Times: UN sanctions target alleged Libya people traffickers

By Michael Peel and Heba Saleh 

The UN has slapped sanctions on six alleged human traffickers in Libya, including a regional commander in the country’s EU-trained coastguard.

The Security Council imposed travel bans and asset freezes on two Eritreans and four Libyans in response to a Dutch proposal, in a sign of European concerns about abuses of migrants and the flow of refugees along the central Mediterranean route to Italy. It is the first time the UN has used sanctions against human traffickers.

The most prominent target is Abd al-Rahman al-Milad, head of a regional coastguard unit that a UN panel of experts says has been “directly involved in the sinking of migrant boats using firearms”. The EU said it had not trained Mr Milad, a former militia leader in the 2011 uprising that toppled Muammer Gaddafi, the late dictator. It did not provide information on whether it had trained other personnel in his unit.

Izza Leghtas, senior advocate for Europe for Refugees International, said the UN move highlighted broader questions over European support for anti-migration efforts in Libya, where abuses are rife in detention centres holding people taken off boats intercepted by coastguards.

“The people who were abused by [Mr Milad] are the very kind of people Europe is trying to stop reaching its shores,” said Ms Leghtas. “The overt imperative of preventing people arriving in Europe at any cost has to stop.” 

The EU said the more than 200 Libyan coastguards it trained had gone through a “thorough and robust vetting procedure”. It added that it had been working “tirelessly” on fighting people-trafficking and smuggling networks.

But the Security Council’s Libya sanctions committee said Mr Milad’s coastguard division was “consistently linked with violence against migrants”. Several witnesses in criminal investigations have stated they were picked up by armed men on a coastguard ship used by Mr Milad and taken to a detention centre where they were held in brutal conditions and subjected to beatings, the committee said.

The UN list also includes two alleged militia leaders in Zawiya, a city west of Tripoli where Mr Milad is coastguard commander. The fourth Libyan is Mus’ab Abu-Qarin, who is accused of organising sea crossings for more than 45,000 people in 2015 alone. Mr Qarin allegedly organised a journey in April 2015 that ended in a shipwreck in the Sicilian channel, killing 800 people, the sanctions committee said.

One of the Eritreans, Ermias Ghermay, is the subject of Italian arrest warrants issued in 2015 in relation to the alleged smuggling of thousands of migrants under inhumane circumstances. Those voyages include an October 2013 shipwreck near the island of Lampedusa in which 266 people died.

Libya is split between two rival governments based in the east and west, and control in many parts lies in the hands of local militias. Some of the armed factions have turned to people smuggling as a lucrative business, exploiting proximity to Europe and the lack of effective authority.

In some areas, militias act as the self-styled coast guard, intercepting boats and detaining migrants, often subjecting them to torture and extortion.

In December, the African Union said that between 400,000 and 700,000 migrants were thought to be in at least 40 detention centres across Libya. Last year, Amnesty International accused Libya’s coast guard of “violent and reckless” conduct during interceptions. It cited an incident in which some 50 people drowned after the coast guard intervened during a rescue attempt by a ship operated by a non-governmental agency called Sea-Watch.

In May, more than a hundred migrants, who had been kidnapped and held captive by human traffickers near the western town of Beni Walid, managed to escape. However, they shot at by their captors and at least 15 were said to have been killed.

Survivors, mostly teenagers from Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia, told Medecins Sans Frontieres, the French charity, that some of them had been held for up to three years.
 

This piece originally appeared here.

IRIN: For victims of the Ituri conflict’s sexual violence, aid is scarce

Around 8pm one January night, the bullets started flying through the village of Blukwa, in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Ituri Province. It was just one incident in a wave of violence that has flared up in the region in recent months, forcing tens of thousands of people to flee.

As with conflicts elsewhere in Congo, rape and other forms of sexual violence feature prominently in the Ituri attacks, in which hundreds of people have been killed.

But for many women and girls who have fled to Uganda, care for their physical and psychological wounds is hard to come by – even when they are willing to seek it out, overlooking the stigma often attached to victims of sexual violence.

Support includes identifying survivors; providing access to psychosocial, medical, and legal services; training health workers in clinical management of rape; and supplying post-rape kits to health facilities.

As Dismas Nkunda, the executive director of Atrocities Watch Africa, noted, Uganda is known for its “robust” refugee regime, one that now accommodates around 1.4 million people who have fled neighbouring countries.

“Providing appropriate support for survivors of rape is mandatory for any refugee protection regime anywhere in the world, so there should be no excuse whatsoever for failure to support these victims,” he said.

Francisca Vigaud-Walsh, senior advocate for women and girls at Refugees International, said the reasons for the unmet needs are clear. “It is unsurprising that there is a limited number of services for rape survivors arriving from Ituri into Uganda,” she said. “The humanitarian response in Uganda is woefully underfunded, and limited resources are now being diverted to the cholera response,” she said.

"When I returned back home in the morning I thought I would find my husband and son… They were no more. They had been killed the same night I was terribly raped.”


Rape: One survivor’s story

Speaking recently from Kyangwali, a sprawling Ugandan settlement for refugees, one  former resident of Blukwa recalled the January night she fled. The woman, who did not want to use her name, said she and her husband heard shooting and he went to investigate. “We should run to save our lives,” he told her as he returned to the house. “He grabbed our son and ran with him,” she recalled. “I tried to follow, but I lost touch. It was dark.

“I couldn’t call them, so I decided to go my separate way to hide. While I was in the bush, I heard and saw two people coming towards my direction. They had guns; I knew I was dead.

“I tried to plead with them to spare me. They couldn’t listen. They undressed and raped me. One covered my mouth while the other raped me. After he finished, his colleague came and did the same. They raped me without any mercy. They threatened to kill me if I ever shouted.

“After raping me, they left. I remained in the bush with a lot of pain. When I returned back home in the morning I thought I would find my husband and son… They were no more. They had been killed the same night I was terribly raped.”

Exhausted and hungry, she said she managed the two-day walk to the shores of Lake Albert and boarded a boat to Uganda, where some 50,000 people from Ituri have sought refuge this year.

According to an official at a Ugandan reception centre cited by the aid agency CARElast month, nine out of every 10 women arriving  arriving from Congo – most of whom had travelled from North Kivu Province, with some coming from adjacent Ituri had been raped, sometimes more than once, and sometimes by gangs – both inside Congo and as they fled to Uganda.

“All these women who make it here were victims of rape and other forms of gender based violence,” said the unnamed official.

Addressing the gap in aid for victims of sexual violence, Vigaud-Walsh said: “In part, Uganda and its humanitarian partners simply cannot keep up with the unrelenting number of refugees that continue to stream in from the DRC and South Sudan, not to mention Burundians that have fled persecution into Uganda. The OPM (Office of the Prime Minister) scandal, with regards to refugee registration and exploitation, has not been helpful either – it has shaken the will and trust of international donors.”

“Nonetheless, international donors must recognise that joint [UN refugee agency] – OPM efforts are underway to redress these failures,” she added. “The reduction in humanitarian dollars to Uganda will only serve to punish refugees. More financing is needed, in particular to allow for services for rape survivors to be prioritised for women and girls arriving from Ituri, DRC, as [for] those who continue to arrive from South Sudan.”
 

The stigma of survival

Alain Sibenaler, the Uganda country representative of the UN Population Fund, which works in partnership with CARE in assisting survivors of sexual violence in Kyangwali, said: “It is not easy estimating the magnitude of the problem because the majority of the cases go unreported, given the shame associated with rape.”

The suffering of survivors extends beyond the crime itself, noted CARE Country Director Delphine Pinault. “Despite the prevalence of rape and other forms of sexual violence, at the community level stigma surrounding being a survivor still persists, including being ridiculed, rejected, and isolated as a result of the shame,” she said.

CARE is setting up centres in Kyangwali to provide counselling and group activities to survivors of gender-based violence.

“Through a set of activities that brings women together in a rather relaxed fashion, they will be supported to tell their stories and process the past,” Pinault said.
 

Under-resourced response

She added that there were too few professional counsellors and specialists for traumatised children to allow survivors to speak in their own language.

As previously reported by IRIN, a cholera outbreak among new arrivals in Uganda has reduced the funding and resources needed to respond to cases of gender-based violence.

“I am alone and traumatised. How can I live without my husband and son? It could have been better if I was killed with them.”

And as a 17-year-old from the Ituri village of Lewi explained, individual needs are great.

“I am traumatised,” said the woman, who asked that her name not be used. “I am physically, emotionally, and psychologically affected. I can’t forget the terrible experience. Why did they have to rape me like that? It was so painful and terrifying.”

Primary healthcare facilities in the 17 villages that make up Kyangwali are very few in number and poorly supplied. The nearest referral hospital is 80 kilometres away. At the national level, Uganda languishes near the bottom of global healthcare league tables.

These shortcomings are all too evident for the survivor from Blukwa, who lost her husband and son. She says she is now incontinent, suffers pains in her abdomen, and that a whitish liquid is secreted from her genital area.

“I was referred to the health facility for checkups and treatment,” she said. “Unfortunately, I didn’t get proper medical treatment. I was given some drugs that didn’t help.”

“I am alone and traumatised. How can I live without my husband and son? It could have been better if I was killed with them,” she said.

*This story was amended on 27 April to clarify that the Ugandan official at a reception centre was referring to Congolese women who had arrived from other parts of Congo, for the most part North Kivu Province, and not only Ituri, when he said that nine out of ten of them had been raped during their journeys.

For the full article, click here

All Africa: Nigeria: Panic Over Planned Closure of Nigeria Refugee Camps

REFUGEE rights groups have bemoaned the imminent closure of camps housing millions of Nigerians displaced by the Boko Haram terror northeast of the country.

The West African country is planning to close all refugee camps by May and facilitate large-scale returns in the Borno State, especially to remote areas only recently secured from the terrorists.

Refugees International (RI) expressed alarm at the plans.

"We are concerned that many returns are being fueled by official pressure and the spread of misinformation," Alexandra Lamarche, RI Advocate for Sub-Saharan Africa, said.

Authorities are accelerating plans to return the displaced civilians as Nigeria approaches its national elections in early 2019.

Mark Yarnell, RI Senior Advocate, said while the Nigerian military had liberated a number of areas in the northeast Nigeria from Boko Haram control, major security challenges remained.

"Making large-scale returns for the majority of displaced civilians is entirely premature," Yarnell said.

As a result of the Boko Haram banditry, the scale of the humanitarian and security challenges within Nigeria remains staggering.

About 2 million Nigerians are displaced within the country and 7,7 million in urgent need of emergency assistance.

Additionally, the conflict still results in new displacement.

Humanitarian groups estimate more than 930 000 Nigerians are located in hard-to-reach areas impacted by the security situation are likely in need of humanitarian assistance.

The Boko Haram is perpetrating a violent campaign to overthrow the government an establish a radical Islamic state.

An estimated 100 000 civilians have been killed during the insurgency that begand in 2009.

For the original article, click here. 

Click Lancashire: Immigrants sue Trump administration over end to temporary protected status

The lawsuit is the first to challenge the administration's decision and is being brought by nine TPS status holders and five of their USA citizen children. MacLean said, "The decisions by this administration to terminate TPS were not based on an analysis of the countries' conditions as required by law or as previous administrations have done but the racial animus".

TPS is an immigration status granted to certain countries experiencing dire conditions such as an armed conflict, epidemic or natural disaster, and protects individuals from deportation and authorizes them to work in America for extended periods.

Arevalo spoke at a rally to announce the lawsuit outside the federal courthouse in San Francisco that was attended by some of the plaintiffs and dozens of demonstrators, some carrying signs that read, "Let Our People Stay". She's been here since 1993. In January, the Department of Homeland Security said it cancelled TPS for them because the risky conditions created by earthquakes in 2001, which killed more than a thousand people, no longer exist. My home and family are here. The defendants in the lawsuit are the United States and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Plaintiffs in the case filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California say more than 200,000 immigrants could face deportation due to the change in policy.

"These American children should not have to choose between their country and their family", Ahilan Arulanantham, advocacy and legal director of the ACLU of Southern California, said in a statement. It's the latest lawsuit filed against the Trump administration over its crackdown on immigration.

"This is a bad decision", Refugees International president Eric Schwartz told The Guardianreflecting on Trump's decision.

A lawsuit challenging the termination of the program for Haitians was filed in federal court in Boston in January and a second lawsuit on behalf of Haitians and Salvadorans was filed in federal court in Baltimore in February. The programme was created for humanitarian reasons, and the status can be renewed by the United States government following an evaluation.

In 2001, after two destructive earthquakes rattled El Salvador, President Bush granted Salvadorans residing in the US Temporary Protected Status.

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen concluded that El Salvador had received significant worldwide aid to recover from the quake, and homes, schools and hospitals there had been rebuilt.

The TPS termination "arises from the Trump Administration's repeatedly expressed racism toward non-white, non-European people from other countries", the lawsuit claims.

Lawyers on the case tell TPM that the immigrant parents, many of whom have lived in the USA for decades, are challenging the abrupt cancelation of their status as arbitrary and a violation of their right to due process.

For the original article, click here. 

News Deeply: For Refugees Detained in Libya, Waiting is Not an Option

Niger has halted refugee evacuations from Libya after E.U.resettlement promises were not kept. Izza Leghtas from Refugees International calls for urgent action with lives at stake.

WHEN WE MET in Niger last month, Helen* described the horrific year she had spent in Libya. She talked of the brutality of human smugglers, of being detained with hundreds of others in deplorable conditions without enough food.

The 20-year-old Eritrean is one of roughly 1,000 refugees from East Africa who have been evacuated by the U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR) from Libya’s detention centers to its southern neighbor, Niger. That program is now under threat.

While Helen has made it to the safety of Niger, she is deeply concerned about the people she left behind. She told me she has received desperate phone calls from them wondering when they might be evacuated. “They say, It’s like we are alive, but we are dead,” she said.

Niger generously agreed to host these refugees temporarily while European countries process their asylum cases far from the violence and chaos of Libya and proceed to their resettlement. In theory it should mean a few weeks in Niger until they are safely transferred to countries such as France, Germany or Sweden, which would open additional spaces for other refugees trapped in Libya.

But the resettlement process has been much slower than anticipated, leaving Helen and hundreds of others in limbo and hundreds or even thousands more still in detention in Libya. Several European governments have pledged to resettle 2,483 refugees from Niger, but since the program started last November, only 25 refugees have actually been resettled – all to France.

As a result, UNHCR announced last week that Niger authorities have requested that the agency halt evacuations until more refugees depart from the capital, Niamey. For refugees in Libya, this means their lifeline to safety has been suspended.

Many of the refugees I met in Niger found themselves in detention after attempting the sea journey to Europe. Once intercepted by the Libyan coast guard, they were returned to Libya and placed in detention centers run by Libya’s U.N.-backed Government of National Accord (GNA). The E.U. has prioritized capacity building for the Libyan coast guard in order to increase the rate of interceptions. But it is an established fact that, after being intercepted, the next stop for these refugees as well as migrants is detention without any legal process and in centers where human rights abuses are rife.

David*, a 26-year-old refugee from South Sudan, told me he spent 17 hours at sea before he and more than 100 others were picked up by the Libyan coast guard and taken to a detention center in Tripoli. David said that he and other sub-Saharan Africa refugees and migrants were given worse treatment than others because of their skin color. He said that once, when he was unwell, he waited in line to be taken to a clinic. He recalled that, even though he had arrived earlier, the guard in charge took three men from Morocco first. “[When] I said I came here before them, [the guard said], ‘You’re black, you’re a slave.’”

To be clear, evacuating refugees from Libya and resettling them from Niger is a humanitarian necessity. It does not absolve European governments of their responsibilities to push for an end to Libya’s criminalization of irregular migration and detention of refugees and undocumented migrants. European governments work very hard at great expense to stop people from crossing the Mediterranean Sea. This includes support for a system that picks up refugees and migrants at sea and deposits them to captivity and abuse.

For the full article, click here. 

The Daily Dot: Lawsuit against Trump immigration decision cites ‘sh*thole countries’ remark

A class action lawsuit will be filed on Monday to try and overturn President Donald Trump’s decision to terminate temporary protected status (TPS) granted to immigrants fleeing natural disasters or conflict.

The lawsuit is the first to challenge the administration’s decision and is being brought by nine TPS status holders and five of their U.S. citizen children. The complaint will be filed with a district court in San Francisco by the ACLU Foundation of Southern California, the National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON) and law firm Sidley Austin.

It argues that the “new rule violates the constitutional rights of school-age United States citizen children of TPS holders, by presenting them with an impossible choice: they must either leave their country or live without their parents.”

The Trump administration controversially ended the protections for all individuals from El Salvador, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Sudan back in January. 

The complaint also cites reports, made days after the announcement of the administration’s plans, that the president had criticized the nations affected as “shithole countries.” The lawsuit argues that remark are proof that the administration’s decision “arises from the Trump Administration’s repeatedly-expressed racism toward non-white, non-European people from other countries.”

Immigrants from ten Central American and African countries have been afforded TPS since it was signed into law by President George H.W. Bush under the Immigration Act of 1990, many building businesses and raising families in the U.S. in the decades since.

Salvadorans make up 262,000 of the beneficiaries, more than half of the overall 436,000 TPS immigrants. Many came to the U.S. after two earthquakes devastated their country in 2001 or during the 1990s, fleeing a civil war.

According to a 2017 report by the Center for Migration Studies, 51 percent of Salvadoran TPS beneficiaries have resided in the U.S. for more than 20 years and 34 percent own a mortgage. The Department of Homeland Security has given them until September 2019 to leave or change their immigration status before deportations are enforced. As far as the DHS is concerned, the conditions under which the status was granted no longer exists.

Still, advocacy groups like Refugees International have protested that the country, although rebuilt, still suffers from severe economic problems and violent organized crime.

“This is a bad decision,” Refugees International president Eric Schwartz toldThe Guardian reflecting on Trump’s decision. “Given conditions in El Salvador, the return of hundreds of thousands of law-abiding residents of the United States who have been here for nearly two decades is just wrong. It’s wrong ethically and in terms of U.S. interests in stability in El Salvador.”

The lawsuit filed in California, however, will make its case against separating families and the constitutionality of the new policy. ACLU legal director Ahilan Arulanantham putting it quite simply: “These American children should not have to choose between their country and their family.” 

For the original article, click here. 

Daily Kos: White House aide with 'vindictive' views on refugees appointed to refugee post at State Department

White House aide Andrew Veprek “has been selected for a top State Department post overseeing refugee admissions, according to current and former officials.” There’s a slight hitch, though:

“My experience is that he strongly believes that fewer refugees should admitted into the United States and that international migration is something to be stopped, not managed,” the former U.S. official said, adding that Veprek’s views about refugees and migrants were impassioned to the point of seeming “vindictive.”

Veprek’s “close” relationship white supremacist Stephen Miller has Eric Schwartz, president of Refugees International, “deeply concerned,” to say the least. According to the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration’s website, the agency “provides aid and sustainable solutions for refugees, victims of conflict and stateless people around the world, through repatriation, local integration, and resettlement in the United States.” But:

Veprek played an influential role in Trump administration’s December withdrawal from international talks on a nonbinding global pact on migration issues. He also argued in favor of dramatically lowering the nation’s annual cap on refugee admissions, the current and former officials said.

Well, that’s not troubling at all, or the first time this has happened. Last month, the administration nominated Ken Isaacs to the UN’s International Organization for Migration despite—or because of—making anti-Muslim remarks. When it comes to Veprek’s appointment, “such a position typically does not require Senate confirmation,“ according to Politico, adding that some officials from the bureau may end up quitting in protest.

For the full article, click here. 

Preemptive Love Coalition: Let’s Rise Together

It’s been quite a year for women in the U.S.

From the #MeToo movement reverberating across the country, to the record number of women running for political office, to the examples of strong feminine role models in media (hello, Wonder Woman and Black Panther!), there is no denying that women are on the rise.

But it’s not just happening in the U.S. Despite being largely excluded by the women’s movement in the States, women around the world on the rise, too—and they’re overcoming some extraordinary challenges along the way.

Millions of women in Iraq are free from ISIS control. In some places, displaced people are returning home. Women are starting businesses, getting an education, and healing from the trauma of war.

They are rebuilding, helping each other start over, and reinventing themselves in the wake of tragedy. Women are rising, and it’s beautiful to see.

Refugee women are breaking into the tech sector.

A few days ago, dozens of women graduated from WorkWell, our tech hub transforming refugees into freelancers and entrepreneurs.  These women are breaking ground and laying a firm foundation for their future success in an industry typically dominated by men. One single mom brought her two small children to watch her graduate—our staff corralled the kids while their mom accepted her diploma.

Those kids don’t yet realize that their mom is a hero—but they will. 

Women are rebuilding their communities after years of war.

One of our closest friends and colleagues in Iraq, Hala Al Saraf, is receiving an international leadership award from Refugees International for her “tireless efforts in addressing the needs of the internally displaced in Iraq, particularly during the urgent humanitarian crisis of the past several years.” She is building her country back with love, grace, and grit—and we are so honored to work with and learn from Hala.

For the full article, click here. 

Politico: Refugee skeptic lands top State Department refugee job

A White House aide close to senior policy adviser Stephen Miller who has advocated strict limits on immigration into the U.S. has been selected for a top State Department post overseeing refugee admissions, according to current and former officials.

Andrew Veprek’s appointment as a deputy assistant secretary in the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM) is alarming pro-immigration activists who fear that President Donald Trump is trying to effectively end the U.S. refugee resettlement program.

Current and former officials also describe Veprek’s appointment as a blow to an already-embattled refugee bureau. Trump has made clear his disdain for liberal immigration policies, and the bureau has been adrift under Secretary of State Rex Tillerson — even as a record 65 million people are displaced around the world because of war, famine and other calamities.

The bureau’s website says it “provides aid and sustainable solutions for refugees, victims of conflict and stateless people around the world, through repatriation, local integration, and resettlement in the United States.” It adds that the bureau “also promotes the United States’ population and migration policies.”

Veprek is a Foreign Service officer detailed to the White House, which listed him as an “immigration adviser” in a 2017 staff document. He has worked closely there with Miller and the Domestic Policy Council, according to a current State official and a former one in touch with people still serving in the department. A former U.S. official also confirmed the appointment.

In interagency debates, some administration officials have viewed Veprek as representing Miller’s hard-line views about limiting entry into the U.S. for refugees and other immigrants.

Veprek played an influential role in Trump administration’s December withdrawal from international talks on a nonbinding global pact on migration issues. He also argued in favor of dramatically lowering the nation’s annual cap on refugee admissions, the current and former officials said.

“He was Stephen Miller’s vehicle,” the former State official said. The current official predicted that some PRM officials could resign in protest over Veprek’s appointment.

“My experience is that he strongly believes that fewer refugees should admitted into the United States and that international migration is something to be stopped, not managed,” the former U.S. official said, adding that Veprek’s views about refugees and migrants were impassioned to the point of seeming “vindictive.”

Veprek’s appointment as a deputy assistant secretary is unusual given his relatively low Foreign Service rank, the former and current State officials said, and raises questions about his qualifications. Such a position typically does not require Senate confirmation.

“On the positive side, one would hope that an appointee with limited experience would come into the job with a willingness to learn from professionals who have decades upon decades of experience,” said Eric Schwartz, president of Refugees International and a former assistant secretary of state for the PRM bureau.

He added, however, that he was “deeply concerned” given Veprek’s relationship with Miller and the Domestic Policy Council.

For the full article, click here.