The Takeaway: Amid Ethnic Cleansing, Rohingya Refugees Forced to Return to Myanmar

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Approximately 750,000 Rohingya Muslims have taken refuge in Bangladesh along the Myanmar border since October of 2016 after fleeing abuse and persecution in their country. Earlier this week, without the approval of the international community, the Bangladesh and Myanmar governments reached an agreement to begin the repatriation of Rohingya refugees back to Myanmar beginning as early as next week in a process that can take up to two years.  

Eric Schwartz is president of Refugees International and former U.S. assistant secretary of state for population, refugees and migration.  He says there is no real plan in place and that  moving refugees now is premature, dangerous and potentially deadly for the Rohingya.

This segment is hosted by Todd Zwillich

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America's Voice: Under Trump, U.S. Admits Lowest Level of Refugees in Decades

Since taking office, Donald Trump and his Administration have implemented a sweeping anti-immigrant agenda that has involved multiple Muslim bans, mass deportations, the termination of DACA, the cancellation of temporary protected status (TPS) for multiple groups — and a dramatic reduction of the number of refugees admitted into the U.S.

So far this year, only 5,000 refugees have been admitted. This year’s cap on refugees is 45,000, the lowest level in decades, though at the current rate of admissions, it’s possible that only 20,000 refugees will be brought in all year.

The decrease in refugee admissions is part of Trump’s plan to implement a nativist, ethno-centric agenda which has long been pushed by hate groups. And Trump’s Administration is behind him: chief of staff John Kelly, who used to oversee the Department of Homeland Security, once said that if it were up to him, he would admit between zero and one refugee into the U.S. each year.

Trump and his Administration act like refugees are an inherently dangerous people and the United States is magnanimous in accepting any at all. But refugees undergo a rigorous screening process and multiple reports have found that they are beneficial to the U.S. economy. Moreover, the entire history of the United States involves welcoming in immigrants who were seeking opportunity or safety that they couldn’t find in their home country. Trump and his Administration are, in essence, barring the next generation of Americans.

Donald Trump and refugee admissions

Since taking office, Donald Trump has significantly curtailed refugee entry into the U.S. by:

  • Slashing refugee admissions into the United States to 45,000 people per year
  • Issuing an executive order pausing the U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program for four months (from June to Oct. 2017), including a near-total suspension of admissions from 11 countries
  • Instituting stricter vetting requirements, requiring officials to rescreen refugee applicants who already had been through the process and slowing admissions down
  • Suspending its policy of admitting family members of refugees

Only 5,000 refugees were admitted into the U.S. within the first three months of fiscal year 2018. In Trump’s first presidential year, 33,368 refugees settled in the U.S., half the number accepted in 2015, and about a third of 2016 numbers.

The Trump Administration’s cap of 45,000 refugees per year is the lowest since the Refugee Resettlement Program was created by Congress in 1980. It was a Republican president, Ronald Reagan, who authorized the highest refugee cap at 217,000 admissions, in comparison to around 70,000 to 80,000 under the Obama and Bush Administrations.

However, under the current pace of admissions, the number of refugees allowed into the U.S. this year is likely to be closer to 20,000 — well below the 45,000 cap.

As Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD), the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in a written statement, admitting so few refugees shows Trump’s continued callousness toward immigrants:

Setting a record-low refugee admissions level is more evidence of the Trump administration’s indifference and lack of humanity toward thousands of vulnerable refugees who have been forced to flee their home countries through no fault of their own.

“It’s enormously discouraging and dispiriting, and it is another reflection of this administration’s march away from the principle of humanity,” said Eric Schwartz, president of Refugees International, who ran the refugee program at the State Department during the Obama Administration.

For the full article, click here

Irin: Five migration trends to watch in 2018

2017 saw a host of new and quickly deepening humanitarian crises from Southeast Asia to Africa. But behind this rising tide of forced displacement was an isolationist and xenophobic political backdrop that could render 2018 even worse, especially given the lack of diplomatic leverage and leadership required to resolve intractable conflicts.

In the United States, President Donald Trump spent his first year erecting bureaucratic walls to keep out immigrants and refugees, while calling for a physical wall along the southern US border. In Europe, far-right candidates threatened to upset a host of elections. And, as North Africa acted as a holding cell, conflicts in both the continent's east and centre escalated while humanitarian budgets shrank, driving up the numbers of internally displaced and urgent protection needs.

“What distinguishes conflicts of today is that they’re unending,” Demetrios Papademetriou, co-founder and president emeritus of the Migration Policy Institute, told IRIN. “None of the conflicts we see today are anywhere near being resolved, because the resolutions are extremely complex. They involve religion, power, control of resources. No refugee-producing conflict today will be resolved in the near future.”

UN member states are hammering out the details of two global compacts – one on refugees and one on migration – to be adopted at this year’s General Assembly in September. But few are optimistic that they will be game-changers for better global refugee and migration governance in the years to come.

So, while this year promises to be even more difficult, here are five key questions on migration policy the answers to which will shape how 2018 really plays out for some of the world’s most vulnerable people:

Will the EU continue its harmful deterrence policies?

A dramatic decline in sea crossings from Libya to Europe in 2017 sounds on the surface like a success. But this year is likely to expose the kinds of human rights abuses the EU is willing to tolerate to keep externalising its migration responsibilities.

Like the 2016 EU-Turkey accord – which choked off the Aegean Sea route but led to more than 10,000 asylum seekers being detained on Greek islands and returns to unsafe countries – Italy’s deals with Libyan groups have come with a human cost: abuse for up to one million migrants languishing in detention centres, often with ties to militias. Despite an international outcry, mainly due to CNN footage of what appeared to be slave auctions, little is likely to change before Italy's general election in March.

Towards the end of 2017, the EU and the African Union put together a repatriation plan to send migrants back to their countries of origin or other transit countries, such as Niger, with the help of the UN's refugee agency, UNHCR, and the International Organization for Migration.

“The bigger question is what happens to people when they’re back in Niger,” Minos Mouzourakis, policy researcher at the European Council on Refugees and Exiles in Brussels, told IRIN. “The EU is talking about resettlement as an option, but that doesn’t mean the same people being evacuated to Niger will have access to durable solutions. What is the actual objective? Are we just returning people to another transit country and calling it an evacuation, or are we giving them avenues to other legal options like resettlement?”

Migrant returns are paid for through programmes like a 3.3 billion-euro "emergency trust fund" originally billed as development aid for North Africa.

In late December, 162 refugees and migrants from Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia, and Yemen were brought to Italyfrom Libya under the EU-AU plan. But if the troubled inter-EU relocation programme is any indication, infighting may prevent the bloc from implementing a meaningful plan for resettlement from Africa.

Will the US lead the way (backwards) on refugee resettlement?

Last year, Trump all but ended resettlement to the United States, which has taken two thirds of the world's resettled refugees annually for the past decade. His executive order last January banned refugees and travellers from several Muslim-majority countries, prompting months of legal battles and indefinitely barring tens of thousands who had cleared the years-long vetting process. Though courts have saved the programme, the president sets the ceiling for refugee admissions, and in September he set it at 45,000 for fiscal year 2018, the lowest level since its inception in 1980. So far, admissions have slowed to a trickle. Many advocates predict the United States won’t even come close to Trump’s number.

Domestically, this threatens the entire American resettlement regime, since resettlement agencies’ federal funding is tied to the number of refugees they assist. Several agencies are already closing offices and laying off personnel.

Other countries are stepping in with increased resettlement pledges, including Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom. But those slots won’t be enough to fill the hole left by the United States.

“At a time when the international community is trying to come together to promote more equitable responsibility-sharing on refugees, when the US cuts the number of refugees it’ll resettle, it sends a very negative signal to the rest of the world,” Mark Yarnell, senior advocate and UN liaison for Refugees International in Washington, DC, told IRIN. “And even though resettlement is so rare relative to the number of people who are refugees, it’s still the solution many refugees hope for – and when they see it diminishing, they’re more likely to take more hazardous paths to safety.”

For the full article, click here

All Africa: Five Migration Trends to Watch in 2018

2017 saw a host of new and quickly deepening humanitarian crises from Southeast Asia to Africa. But behind this rising tide of forced displacement was an isolationist and xenophobic political backdrop that could render 2018 even worse, especially given the lack of diplomatic leverage and leadership required to resolve intractable conflicts.

In the United States, President Donald Trump spent his first year erecting bureaucratic walls to keep out immigrants and refugees, while calling for a physical wall along the southern US border. In Europe, far-right candidates threatened to upset a host of elections. And, as North Africa acted as a holding cell, conflicts in both the continent's east and centre escalated while humanitarian budgets shrank, driving up the numbers of internally displaced and urgent protection needs.

"What distinguishes conflicts of today is that they're unending," Demetrios Papademetriou, co-founder and president emeritus of the Migration Policy Institute, told IRIN. "None of the conflicts we see today are anywhere near being resolved, because the resolutions are extremely complex. They involve religion, power, control of resources. No refugee-producing conflict today will be resolved in the near future."

UN member states are hammering out the details of two global compacts - one on refugees and one on migration - to be adopted at this year's General Assembly in September. But few are optimistic that they will be game-changers for better global refugee and migration governance in the years to come.

So, while this year promises to be even more difficult, here are five key questions on migration policy the answers to which will shape how 2018 really plays out for some of the world's most vulnerable people:

A dramatic decline in sea crossings from Libya to Europe in 2017 sounds on the surface like a success. But this year is likely to expose the kinds of human rights abuses the EU is willing to tolerate to keep externalising its migration responsibilities.

Like the 2016 EU-Turkey accord - which choked off the Aegean Sea route but led to more than 10,000 asylum seekers being detained on Greek islands and returns to unsafe countries - Italy's deals with Libyan groups have come with a human cost: abuse for up to one million migrants languishing in detention centres, often with ties to militias. Despite an international outcry, mainly due to CNN footage of what appeared to be slave auctions, little is likely to change before Italy's general election in March.

Towards the end of 2017, the EU and the African Union put together a repatriation plan to send migrants back to their countries of origin or other transit countries, such as Niger, with the help of the UN's refugee agency, UNHCR, and the International Organization for Migration.

"The bigger question is what happens to people when they're back in Niger," Minos Mouzourakis, policy researcher at the European Council on Refugees and Exiles in Brussels, told IRIN. "The EU is talking about resettlement as an option, but that doesn't mean the same people being evacuated to Niger will have access to durable solutions. What is the actual objective? Are we just returning people to another transit country and calling it an evacuation, or are we giving them avenues to other legal options like resettlement?"

Migrant returns are paid for through programmes like a 3.3 billion-euro "emergency trust fund" originally billed as development aid for North Africa.

In late December, 162 refugees and migrants from Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia, and Yemen were brought to Italy from Libya under the EU-AU plan. But if the troubled inter-EU relocation programme is any indication, infighting may prevent the bloc from implementing a meaningful plan for resettlement from Africa.

Last year, Trump all but ended resettlement to the United States, which has taken two thirds of the world's resettled refugees annually for the past decade. His executive order last January banned refugees and travellers from several Muslim-majority countries, prompting months of legal battles and indefinitely barring tens of thousands who had cleared the years-long vetting process. Though courts have saved the programme, the president sets the ceiling for refugee admissions, and in September he set it at 45,000 for fiscal year 2018, the lowest level since its inception in 1980. So far, admissions have slowed to a trickle. Many advocates predict the United States won't even come close to Trump's number.

Domestically, this threatens the entire American resettlement regime, since resettlement agencies' federal funding is tied to the number of refugees they assist. Several agencies are already closing offices and laying off personnel.

Other countries are stepping in with increased resettlement pledges, including Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom. But those slots won't be enough to fill the hole left by the United States.

"At a time when the international community is trying to come together to promote more equitable responsibility-sharing on refugees, when the US cuts the number of refugees it'll resettle, it sends a very negative signal to the rest of the world," Mark Yarnell, senior advocate and UN liaison for Refugees International in Washington, DC, told IRIN. "And even though resettlement is so rare relative to the number of people who are refugees, it's still the solution many refugees hope for - and when they see it diminishing, they're more likely to take more hazardous paths to safety."

To view full article, click here

IR Insider: Trump Administration Reverses Temporary Protected Status for Salvadorans

United States Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen M. Nielsen on Monday reversed a policy that has allowed over 200,000 Salvadorans to live and work in the United States since 2001. The program, Temporary Protected Status (TPS), provides legal status for undocumented immigrants seeking refuge from countries riven by natural disaster, civil war or other conflict, according to the New York Times. TPS was granted for Salvadorans after two major earthquakes struck their country in early 2001, leading many to seek refuge in the U.S.

Following the designation, the Bush and Obama administrations continued to extend the protected status due to political, economic and social strife in a gang-ravaged El Salvador, which had the highest murder rate in Central America last year, reported the Washington Post. The Trump Administration, however, rescinded the protection on the basis that El Salvador had recovered from the 2001 earthquakes, the original reason for the program’s institution, reported the Washington Post.

“This is a bad decision,” Refugees International president Eric Schwartz told The Guardian. “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 US interests in stability in El Salvador.”

The decision could cause drastic harm to the Salvadoran economy. Political scientist Manuel Orozco told NPR that 80 to 85 percent of Salvadorans in the U.S. send home remittances, which totals over $4.5 billion per year, the Washington Post reports, and 17 percent of El Salvador’s GDP, according to World Bank.

The U.S. could also suffer from the lost legal statuses of Salvadorans, many of whom work for companies that are assisting in the clean-up and reconstruction efforts of hurricane-ravaged areas, including Houston.

“During hurricane recovery, I especially need those men,” Stan Marek, a construction company executive, told the New York Times. “If they lose their status, I have to terminate them.”

If the decision stands, Salvadorans who were previously protected must leave the U.S. by Sept. 9, 2019, or risk staying illegally. Undocumented immigrants with U.S.-born children fear their families could be torn apart.

For the full article, click here. 

Fair Observer: The Other Ethnic Crisis in Myanmar

isplacement and human rights abuses in northern Myanmar underscore the need for international pressure on Myanmar’s military.

With more than 650,000 people fleeing their homes, the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingyaminority by the Myanmar military has reached unprecedented proportions. But patterns of serious human rights abuses and restrictions on humanitarian aid at the hands of the military are neither unprecedented nor limited to the Rohingya. This fact not only reinforces the need for international pressure on Myanmar, but also highlights the urgent need to address an unsustainable situation that, if ignored, could lead to a rapidly deteriorating human rights and humanitarian crisis in another part of the country.

Some 100,000 mostly Christian people continue to live in displacement camps in northern Myanmar, increasingly cut off from life-saving aid. Even as a new round of national peace talks approaches, fighting between the Myanmar military and groups that have not signed a national ceasefire agreement, including the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), has ratcheted up. As recently as Christmas Eve, Myanmar military shells fell near a displacement camp in Kachin State.

Most of the 100,000 people in Kachin and northern Shan States have been displaced since 2011 when a 17-year ceasefire between the military and the KIA, one of Myanmar’s strongest ethnic armed groups, ended. Many have been displaced multiple times. In January 2017, for example, Myanmar military shells fell near a displacement camp causing thousands to flee across the border into China before being pushed back and making their way to a new camp high in the Kachin hills. Another thousand are estimated to have been displaced just since the end of December 2017.

ACCESS DENIED FOR LIFE-SAVING AID

Nearly half of the displaced population in northern Myanmar is living in areas beyond government control, mainly in the hands of the KIA and along the border with China. As Refugees International found in a recent — rare for an outside group — visit to these areas, this vulnerable population faces an increasingly precarious situation. Since May 2016, the government of Myanmar has forbidden any international aid delivery and denied virtually all access for the United Nations and international humanitarian groups. Local groups are still able to deliver aid but at a much higher cost and without the expertise and capacity that international humanitarians can provide.

At the same time, international donors have decreased the overall amount of aid to those national groups. The result, as found in Refugees International interviews with displaced persons in Kachin State, has been an increased sense of desperation expressed by displaced persons and borne out by increased reports of disease, higher dropout rates among students in schools set up for displaced persons, and increased numbers seeking livelihood opportunities in China, where they face growing risks of trafficking and exploitation.

In short, the dangerous mix of less international aid, more restrictions and waning global attention to displacement (going on seven years) has created both a humanitarian and protection crisis.

Conditions have even been worsening for displaced persons living in government-controlled areas. While not facing the near blanket restriction on international aid and services like those in areas beyond government control, these displaced persons face a dramatic increase in restrictions in the form of onerous bureaucratic requirements and delayed travel authorizations. As the UN humanitarian agency’s November 2017 update reported, “Over the last year, there has been a dramatic deterioration in the amount of access granted by the Government for humanitarian workers in Kachin and Shan states.”

Nor has the pattern of increased restrictions been limited to international humanitarians. Local humanitarians and media are also facing greater difficulties and intimidation. In 2017, two Kachin Baptist pastors were arrested for showing international journalists where a Myanmar military shell had landed on a Catholic church.

This links to a broader national trend of a crackdown on media. In December 2017, two local Burmese journalists working for Reuters were arrested for allegedly illegally obtaining documents related to abuses against the Rohingya. The government of Myanmar also continues to insist that it will not grant access to the fact-finding mission established by the UN Human Rights Council, and it recently barred the UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights from any further visits.

INTERNATIONAL PRESSURE NEEDED

The trajectory of recent events, from arrests of journalists to resumed shelling even near displacement camps, suggests the government and military are not prepared to take steps toward peace and respect for human rights whether in Rakhine or Kachin and northern Shan States. In the absence of internal policy change, the need for international pressure will only become more necessary and urgent.

The holding of emergency sessions at the UN Human Rights Council and UN Security Council and the US sanctioning of Maung Maung Soe — the general previously overseeing the ethnic cleansing campaign in Rakhine State — are welcome steps. But more must be done, including further targeted sanctions, suspension of military to military cooperation and imposition of a multilateral arms embargo.

The ethnic cleansing of two-thirds of the Rohingya community previously living in Myanmar already begged all of these steps and more concerted international pressure. The ongoing plight of other minorities in Myanmar should not only reinforce the need for that pressure, but also remind us of broader risks of insecurity and even greater civilian suffering.

For the full article, click here

The Hill: Refugee admissions down for first part of fiscal 2018: report

Numbers of refugees admitted to the U.S. dropped below that of recent years during the first three months of fiscal 2018, according to The Wall Street Journal.

The newspaper reported that the U.S. admitted about 5,000 refugees during that time. That number is less than that of similar periods in recent years — and more than 20,000 less than in the first three months of fiscal 2017.

If that pace of refugee admissions continues, the U.S. will admit fewer than the 45,000 cap that President Trump set earlier this year.

“Our job is to balance the need to protect legitimate refugees with the need to protect our security,” said Jennifer Higgins, associate director for refugee, asylum and international operations at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services agency, part of the Department of Homeland Security, according to the newspaper.

During the first three months of fiscal 2017, the U.S. admitted more than 25,000 refugees. In the first three months of fiscal 2016, the country admitted more than 13,000.

Eric Schwartz, president of Refugees International, who ran the refugee program at the State Department during the Obama administration, said the low refugee admission numbers are “enormously discouraging and dispiriting.

"It is another reflection of this administration's march away from the principle of humanity," he said.

Officials announced earlier this year that Trump would allow no more than 45,000 refugees into the U.S. during fiscal 2018.

The decreased number of refugees let into the U.S. during October, November and December came after policies set forth by the Trump administration, including various travel bans.

Late last year, the Supreme Court granted the Trump administration's request to fully reinstate the third version of his travel ban.

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals and a federal district court in Maryland had said Trump could only block the entry of nationals from the six majority-Muslim countries in the ban — Iran, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Somalia and Chad — if they lacked a bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States. The high court’s decision now puts those rulings on hold.

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The Week: The Trump administration is completely reshaping America's refugee program

In 2017, President Trump aggressively scaled back America's refugee program, capping the number of people fleeing persecution who can enter the U.S. at 45,000 per year, the lowest number in more than three decades. Judging by the first three months of the fiscal year 2018, though, the number of refugees allowed into the U.S. will be well below that cap, The Wall Street Journal reports. So far, only 5,000 refugees have been admitted. 

A State Department spokesperson protested drawing conclusions from the number of refugees processed so far, saying refugees are not admitted at a steady pace over the course of the year and that it is too soon to estimate how many will be accepted by the end of 2018. Critics, though, point to the Trump administration's new policies, including heavy restrictions on admissions from 11 countries including Iran, Iraq, and Syria, which together accounted for 40 percent of refugees in the recent years. 

"It's enormously discouraging and dispiriting, and it is another reflection of this administration's march away from the principle of humanity," said Eric Schwartz, the former head of the the refugee program under President Barack Obama. 

The Trump administrations's policies have already resulted in a shifting landscape, with 29 percent of refugee admissions in the 2018 fiscal year coming from Bhutan, a nation of less than a million people. And while in recent years more than 40 percent of all admitted refugees identified as Muslim, just 14 percent did in this fiscal year, which began in October 2017. - Jeva Lange

For the original article, click here. 

Newsmax: Admission of Refugees to US Falls Off Sharply Under Trump

Only about 5,000 refugees have been admitted into the United States in the first three months of fiscal year 2018, far below the same period in recent years, The Wall Street Journal reported on Monday.

At this pace the number of refugees allowed into the U.S. for the entire fiscal year, which began in October, will even fall below the 2018 ceiling of 45,000 that President Donald Trump set last fall, which itself would already be the lowest since the refugee program began in its current form in 1980.

In the previous three years there has been the admission of an average of some 18,000 refugees in the first quarter, with last fiscal year during the same period registering more than 25,000 refugees.

The significantly lower numbers in the first quarter of this fiscal year reflect a range of Trump administration policies, including tougher screening and all but stopping admissions from regions of the world that generate large numbers of refugees.

Refugee advocates say the low numbers are evidence that the administration is rejecting what they consider traditional American leadership in helping some of the world’s most destitute people.

"It’s enormously discouraging and dispiriting, and it is another reflection of this administration’s march away from the principle of humanity," Refugees International president Eric Schwartz told the Journal.

There also has been a dramatic change in the religious makeup of the refugees admitted. While in recent years those who identify as Muslims have been more than 40 percent of all admitted refugees, that number sharply fell to only 14 percent of the total during the first three months of this fiscal year.

This has led critics to bolster their argument that Trump’s aim is to limit as much as possible the admission of Muslims, although the White House denies that the policies are driven by religious affiliation and say the purpose is to protect against the entry of terrorists.

Other officials also have pointed out that numbers in the early months do not necessarily reflect the upcoming trend for the year.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services agency official Jennifer Higgins told the Journal that "The premise that we are turning our backs on [refugees] is patently wrong," adding that "Our job is to balance the need to protect legitimate refugees with the need to protect our security."

Others have said that in any case the U.S. is better off helping refugees in their home regions than bringing them over.

"We can help people closer to where their homes are," Center for Immigration Studies official Jessica Vaughan said. "That makes it much easier for them to go home if conditions permit."

Read the original article here

NPR: U.S. Ends El Salvador's Protected Status, Affecting 200,000 Residents

The Trump administration says it will end the temporary protected status that has allowed some 200,000 natives of El Salvador to live in the U.S. without fear of deportation for nearly 17 years, the Department of Homeland Security says.

In announcing the designation's end, DHS Secretary Kirstjen M. Nielsen also said she's extending it for another 18 months, to Sept. 9, 2019 — a delay that her agency says is to ensure "an orderly transition."

When asked whether the move would result in U.S. customs officials targeting Salvadorans who try to remain in the U.S. without documentation after September of 2019, an administration official on a briefing phone call said that the agency's top priority remains the deportation of criminals and people deemed dangerous to society. But he added that Homeland Security would not "exempt entire classes of people."

The move upends a status quo that has existed since 2001, when President George W. Bush extended temporary protected status to Salvadorans who were in the U.S., after major earthquakes devastated parts of El Salvador.

As NPR's Carrie Kahn reports, "The vast majority of [Salvadorans] that were here in the country living illegally at the time had fled in the 1980s and '90s, during the decades of the U.S.-backed civil war in the country and unrest there."

People who live in the U.S. under the TPS program have done so under a series of 18-month extensions that have rendered it semi-permanent — a condition that has been welcomed by immigrants and criticized by those who want to see a strict overhaul of U.S. border controls.

To maintain their work authorization, TPS immigrants pay hundreds of dollars in fees for permits every 18 months. The U.S. government says Salvadorans with TPS must register one more time if they want to keep working through the fall of 2019, but it added that it wasn't yet announcing the final re-registration period.

In a news release about its decision, Homeland Security said that Salvadorans should use the 18-month delay to either leave the U.S. or "seek an alternative lawful immigration status in the United States, if eligible."

The agency also called on Congress to act, saying that only a change to U.S. law would provide a "permanent solution" for people who have for years been living and working in the U.S.

"The 18-month delayed termination will allow Congress time to craft a potential legislative solution," DHS said.

The Trump administration's move quickly drew criticism from immigrants' rights and advocacy groups. While acknowledging a need for Congress to change U.S. immigration laws, Refugees International President Eric Schwartz said via a statement that it was "baffling and mean-spirited that the administration has sought to hold the fate of these people hostage to such action."

Another group unhappy with the decision is Amnesty International USA, whose Marselha Gonçalves Margerin, advocacy director for the Americas, called the TPS termination "a devastating betrayal for thousands of families who arrived at the United States seeking safety as well as their U.S. citizen children."

Margerin added, "If forced to return to El Salvador, mothers, fathers, and children could face extortion, kidnapping, coerced service to gangs, and sexual violence."

TPS immigrants' home countries have often lobbied to maintain the status, in part because it smooths the process both of finding work in the U.S. and of sending money back home.

In the case of El Salvador, the U.S. said on Monday that the problems brought by the earthquakes "no longer exist." But the country remains wracked by violence and poverty, and it has benefited from its citizens' ability to work in the U.S.

"Remittances are at an all-time high," Carrie reports. "Those are dollars coming back home from relatives abroad. That accounts for nearly a fifth of El Salvador's GDP. That's a huge loss to such a poor country."

When President Trump took office, a total of more than 300,000 immigrants were allowed to live in the U.S. legally under the TPS exception. Of that number, the majority were originally from El Salvador; the two other main nationalities with TPS status are Hondurans — some 57,000 of whom will learn their fate in July — and Haitians — about 46,000 of whom have already been told their TPS status will end.

Last week, Homeland Security said it would end TPS status for Nicaragua, which has some 2,500 citizens in the U.S. under the protective status.

Other countries whose citizens in the U.S. are protected under TPS rules include Nepal, Syria, Sudan, Yemen, Somalia, and South Sudan.

Read the original article here

WOSU: U.S. Ends El Salvador's Protected Status, Affecting 200,000 Residents

The Trump administration says it will end the temporary protected status that has allowed some 200,000 natives of El Salvador to live in the U.S. without fear of deportation for nearly 17 years, the Department of Homeland Security says.

In announcing the designation's end, DHS Secretary Kirstjen M. Nielsen also said she's extending it for another 18 months, to Sept. 9, 2019 — a delay that her agency says is to ensure "an orderly transition."

When asked whether the move would result in U.S. customs officials targeting Salvadorans who try to remain in the U.S. without documentation after September of 2019, an administration official on a briefing phone call said that the agency's top priority remains the deportation of criminals and people deemed dangerous to society. But he added that Homeland Security would not "exempt entire classes of people."

The move upends a status quo that has existed since 2001, when President George W. Bush extended temporary protected status to Salvadorans who were in the U.S., after major earthquakes devastated parts of El Salvador.

As NPR's Carrie Kahn reports, "The vast majority of [Salvadorans] that were here in the country living illegally at the time had fled in the 1980s and '90s, during the decades of the U.S.-backed civil war in the country and unrest there."

People who live in the U.S. under the TPS program have done so under a series of 18-month extensions that have rendered it semi-permanent — a condition that has been welcomed by immigrants and criticized by those who want to see a strict overhaul of U.S. border controls.

To maintain their work authorization, TPS immigrants pay hundreds of dollars in fees for permits every 18 months. The U.S. government says Salvadorans with TPS must register one more time if they want to keep working through the fall of 2019, but it added that it wasn't yet announcing the final re-registration period.

In a news release about its decision, Homeland Security said that Salvadorans should use the 18-month delay to either leave the U.S. or "seek an alternative lawful immigration status in the United States, if eligible."

The agency also called on Congress to act, saying that only a change to U.S. law would provide a "permanent solution" for people who have for years been living and working in the U.S.

"The 18-month delayed termination will allow Congress time to craft a potential legislative solution," DHS said.

The Trump administration's move quickly drew criticism from immigrants' rights and advocacy groups. While acknowledging a need for Congress to change U.S. immigration laws, Refugees International President Eric Schwartz said via a statement that it was "baffling and mean-spirited that the administration has sought to hold the fate of these people hostage to such action."

Another group unhappy with the decision is Amnesty International USA, whose Marselha Gonçalves Margerin, advocacy director for the Americas, called the TPS termination "a devastating betrayal for thousands of families who arrived at the United States seeking safety as well as their U.S. citizen children."

Margerin added, "If forced to return to El Salvador, mothers, fathers, and children could face extortion, kidnapping, coerced service to gangs, and sexual violence."

TPS immigrants' home countries have often lobbied to maintain the status, in part because it smooths the process both of finding work in the U.S. and of sending money back home.

In the case of El Salvador, the U.S. said on Monday that the problems brought by the earthquakes "no longer exist." But the country remains wracked by violence and poverty, and it has benefited from its citizens' ability to work in the U.S.

"Remittances are at an all-time high," Carrie reports. "Those are dollars coming back home from relatives abroad. That accounts for nearly a fifth of El Salvador's GDP. That's a huge loss to such a poor country."

When President Trump took office, a total of more than 300,000 immigrants were allowed to live in the U.S. legally under the TPS exception. Of that number, the majority were originally from El Salvador; the two other main nationalities with TPS status are Hondurans — some 57,000 of whom will learn their fate in July — and Haitians — about 46,000 of whom have already been told their TPS status will end.

Last week, Homeland Security said it would end TPS status for Nicaragua, which has some 2,500 citizens in the U.S. under the protective status.

Other countries whose citizens in the U.S. are protected under TPS rules include Nepal, Syria, Sudan, Yemen, Somalia, and South Sudan.

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FOX News: Refugee admissions lowest in recent years thanks to Trump immigration crackdown

The U.S. admitted significantly fewer refugees in the first three months of fiscal year 2018 as the Trump administration implemented tougher vetting procedures and banned refugees from countries generating most of them.

The Wall Street Journal reported that 5,000 refugees were admitted to the country during the months of October, November and December. The figure is far below similar periods in recent years – with 25,671 refugees admitted in the same period during the Obama administration.

If the current rate of admission continues, the number of people given asylum in the U.S. will not reach the 2018 refugee ceiling of 45,000 set up by President Trump last year. The limit is already at its lowest since the program to resettle the refuges was started in 1980.

The downfall of the number of refugees admitted indicate the broader effect of the administration’s crackdown on immigration, including the controversial decision to suspend admission from 11 countries such as Iran, Iraq, Syria, and creating tougher screening process of applicants.

The administration said the figures reflect its attempt at trying to find a balance between protecting “legitimate” refugees and the need to protect the country’s security.

“Our job is to balance the need to protect legitimate refugees with the need to protect our security,” Jennifer Higgins, associate director for refugee, asylum and international operations at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services agency, told the newspaper.

With admissions suspended from 11 countries, where most refugees tend to come from, nearly a quarter of admissions in the last period were from Bhutan, a tiny country in Asia with fewer than a million people, according to the Journal.

The publication’s review of the refugee admission data also showed that there has been a significant decline in Muslim refugees coming to the U.S. in the last period, while the proportion of Christians, Buddhists and Hindus has risen. In recent years, almost half of the refugees identified as Muslim, but only 14 percent of people identified as such in the last three months of 2017.

The decreasing number was criticized by advocates of refugees, who said the country is failing to take the leadership.

“It’s enormously discouraging and dispiriting, and it is another reflection of this administration’s march away from the principle of humanity,” president of Refugees International Eric Schwartz, who also ran the refugee program at the State Department during the Obama administration, told the Journal.

But the State Department dismissed the allegations that the U.S. is turning back on refugees, saying the number of admitted refugees tend to fluctuate and it remains premature to speculate whether the number will be below the 2018 ceiling.

“The premise that we are turning our backs on them is patently wrong,” Higgins told the Journal, noting that tougher vetting procedures slowed down due to new initiatives, including rescreening refugee applicants who had already been through the process.

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The Guardian: US says 200,000 people from El Salvador must leave within 18 month

Trump administration names fourth country in four months to lose protection under TPS program, which since 1990 has provided deportation relief

Nearly 200,000 people from El Salvador must leave the US in the next 18 months or change their immigration status, the US Department of Homeland Security said on Monday.

This announcement came despite efforts by immigration advocates and El Salvador’s government to persuade the Trump administration to continue providing lawful status and the ability to work to Salvadorans who have been protected from deportation since the country was hit by two devastating earthquakes in 2001.

“They are Americans in all but their paperwork,” said Frank Sharry, executive director of the immigration group America’s Voice Education Fund. “Now, the Trump administration is trying to drive them back to a country engulfed in corruption, violence and weak governance.”

El Salvador is the fourth country in four months to lose protection under the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) program, which since 1990 has offered deportation relief to people from regions experiencing armed conflict and natural disasters.

DHS said it cancelled the TPS for Salvadorans because the dangerous conditions created by the earthquakes, which killed more than 1,000 people, no longer exist. The country has rebuilt from the damage but is beset by drought, economic issues and gang violence.

“The administration has definitely taken the most narrow view of what it could consider,” said Royce Murray, policy director at the American Immigration Council.

Christian Chávez Guevara, who has TPS and has lived in the US since 2000 was emotional as he described how this decision would affect his family in a call with reporters.

“Our family is going to break apart,” said Chávez, who is married to a US citizen and is the guardian of his 15-year-old US citizen cousin whose mother was deported. He also cares for two stepchildren.

“I don’t know what to do,” Chávez said. “There is not a plan for the future now.”

The majority of the 195,000 Salvadorans with TPS have lived in the US longer than Chávez, according to a 2017 report by the Center for Migration Studies. The report found 51% of Salvadorans with TPS have lived in the US for more than 20 years and 34% have homes with mortgages. They live mostly in California, Texas, New York and Washington DC.

“This is a bad decision,” said Refugees International president Eric Schwartz. “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 US interests in stability in El Salvador.”

Salvadorans with TPS have until 9 September 2019 to leave the US or change their status.

DHS acknowledged some TPS recipients had lived and worked in the US for many years but said only Congress could create a pathway to lawful immigration status for the population. “The 18-month delayed termination will allow Congress time to craft a potential legislative solution,” the DHS statement said.

This echoes the Trump administration’s justification for ending a program that offered temporary deportation protection to undocumented immigrants who came to the US as children – Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (Daca). Trump cancelled Daca, but said he wanted Congress to find a solution that would protect that population.

“Alongside the decision to end Daca last fall, we’ve now placed a million people who have worked and lived legally in the US for years – and who have been vetted – we have now taken that status away from them,” said Murray. “No one gains in this scenario.”

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Think Progress: Iraq’s internal refugees being forced back to unsafe areas in order to vote in May elections

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has ordered the return of millions of returnees to towns that are far from safe.

A month after declaring victory over the self-proclaimed Islamic State (ISIS), roughly two million internally displaced Iraqis face being returned back to unsafe towns by Iraqi security forces, prompting concern from refugee advocacy groups and aid workers.

The refugees are being forced back to the towns they fled as a result of ISIS rule and fighting, Reuters reported on Monday, in order to ensure that the parliamentary elections take place on time in May, as under Iraqi law, voters must be in their home districts before they can vote.

Al-Abadi in June unveiled a 10-year reconstruction plan for Iraq that is supposed to start this year, but it seems the refugees, also referred to as internally displaced people (or IDPs), are being returned to areas that have been in some cases entirely decimated by the campaign against ISIS.

A diplomat from the U.S. embassy in Baghdad told Reuters she had heard of the forced returns and that the United States has asked that the IDPs — at one point numbering at around 3.2 million, according to U.N. figures — be returned home safely.

U.S.-backed Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi is facing a tough election. His opposition to the Kurdish independence referendum in September is likely to have created a formidable roadblock, given the 62 seats the Kurdish blocks control in the 328-seat parliament.

Al-Abadi in December vowed that the elections would happen on time. “The cabinet today reiterated that provincial and parliamentary elections will be held on 12 May 2018. There is no reason for delaying the elections,” he said.

But timely elections mean that in many cases, the returnees face the risks of hidden explosives and booby traps left behind by ISIS, as well as threats of possible renewed violence. In many cases, their homes have been destroyed and they’re told to live in tents in cities where they no longer have a livelihood or any means of support or access to medical services.

Aid workers tell Reuters that the refugees have already been taken back from camps at Amriyat al-Fallujah, 25 miles from Baghdad, as well as other nearby communities, against their will. They were given an hour to pack up and leave the IDP camps at which they were staying and be transported back via military trucks.

The forced returns, carried out by the military at al-Abadi’s behest, started in the fall.

“Even those who don’t openly resist really have no other choice. They cannot really say no to a bunch of people with guns,” said one aid worker. An Iraqi military spokesman said that while the reports for forced returns was exaggerated, that “citizens have to go home.”

Mahdi Ahmed, an IDP, said being forced to return home would prompt him to not vote for al-Abadi’s party.

“They are doing this because of the election, but if I go back and see my house destroyed, my money gone, and my life ruined, why would I vote for them?” he asked.

Humanitarian and refugee groups have been worrying about early returns for months. Refugees International issued a report in September calling the returns “ill-advised under most circumstances.”

“Where people want to go home badly enough, they simply will. But the government in Baghdad must take seriously its responsibility to protect its own citizens and to assure a stable future in Iraq,” said the report.

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The Wall Street Journal: Refugee Admissions to U.S. Off to Slow Start in Fiscal Year 2018

Trump refugee policies helped slow inflow to just over 5,000 in first quarter

WASHINGTON—The U.S. admitted about 5,000 refugees in the first three months of fiscal year 2018, far below similar periods in recent years, as the Trump administration implemented tougher screening and all but halted admissions from parts of the world that generate large numbers of refugees.

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MSNBC: Journalists Held in Myanmar as Rohingya Crisis Continues

Daniel Sullivan had the chance to close out 2017 with an appearance on MSNBC speaking with Hallie Jackson about humanitarian situation for Rohingya and Kachin in Myanmar

Salon: San Juan’s mayor blasts Trump as “disaster-in-chief”

3 months since Hurricane Maria struck, more than 1 million people are still without power in Puerto Rico

One hundred days after Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico and left most of the American territory's infrastructure destroyed, Carmen Yulin Cruz, mayor of the island's largest city, is continuing her bracing criticism of President Donald Trump for not doing enough to respond.

“Where he needed to be a commander-in-chief, he was a disaster-in-chief. President Trump does not embody the values of the good-hearted American people that have made sure that we are not forgotten,” Cruz said in an interview with ABC News.

Trump has defended his administration's response to the disaster as deserving a score of 10 out of 10.

“I would say it’s a 10,” Trump said in an October press conference when asked how well the White House had done.

"I give ourselves a 10," he continued. "We have provided so much, so fast."

More than three months after Maria hit Puerto Rico as a Category 4 hurricane, only 70 percent of the territory-owned power company's plants are operational. Many people still have to use generators for power.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers told ABC News in a statement that it would take until May to get power working throughout Puerto Rico.

Refugees International, a non-profit group that helps displaced people worldwide, issued a scathing report earlier this month, in which they stated that "thousands of people still lack sustainable access to potable water and electricity and dry, safe places to sleep."

The study also found that the Federal Emergency Management Agency has done a poor job helping storm victims navigate bureaucratic hurdles. FEMA has also failed to renew a temporary program that is currently providing housing to nearly 4,000 Puerto Rican families who were relocated to New Jersey while their homes are rebuilt.

The study also found that the Federal Emergency Management Agency has done a poor job helping storm victims navigate bureaucratic hurdles. FEMA has also failed to renew a temporary program that is currently providing housing to nearly 4,000 Puerto Rican families who were relocated to New Jersey while their homes are rebuilt.

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Have you read the Refugees International report on the crisis in Puerto Rico?

We read news daily from international organizations addressing refugee situations around the world, appealing for help from the U.S. government and our citizens. It might come as a shock to American readers that one of the leading global organizations advocating for refugees, Refugees International (RI) has issued a field report on the United States and its response to the crisis in part of its territory — Puerto Rico. 

The report, written by Alice Thomas, RI’s Climate Displacement Program Manager is entitled, “Meeting the Urgent Needs of Hurricane Maria Survivors in Puerto Rico

In late November, Refugees International (RI) conducted a mission to Puerto Rico to assess the protection and assistance needs of the most vulnerable hurricane survivors. This was RI’s first mission within the United States in the organization’s 38-year history. Our goal was to provide insights and expertise based on RI’s long history of advocating for improvements in responses to international humanitarian crises and our experience in similar acute, sudden-onset, weather-related disasters in foreign countries, including island nations.

At the time of RI’s mission to Puerto Rico, more than two months after the storm hit, our team encountered a response by federal and Puerto Rican authorities that was still largely uncoordinated and poorly implemented and that was prolonging the humanitarian emergency on the ground. While food and bottled water are now widely available and hospitals and clinics back up and running, thousands of people still lack sustainable access to potable water and electricity and dry, safe places to sleep. Moreover, Maria survivors are encountering enormous challenges navigating the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) bureaucratic and opaque assistance process and lack sufficient information on whether, when, and how they will be assisted.

The horrendous conditions that tens of thousands of Puerto Ricans - many of whom are poor and elderly - continue to endure require the Trump Administration and Congress to prioritize needs and corresponding response programs. FEMA and Puerto Rican authorities, with support from the highest levels of the U.S. federal government, must immediately adopt a more streamlined, coordinated, transparent, and effective strategy that includes, among other things, ensuring that survivors have access to safe and secure accommodations while longer-term recovery programs get up and running. In doing so, international best practices endorsed by the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (USAID/OFDA) and other international humanitarian agencies should be brought to bear both in Puerto Rico and in future U.S. disasters. In addition, affected populations must be provided with better and easier-to-comprehend information on FEMA’s assistance process. Grappling with questions around Puerto Rico’s medium- to longer-term recovery requires Congress’s and the Trump Administration’s focus and attention - but it will take time. In the meantime, we cannot leave our fellow Americans in Puerto Rico without adequate assistance and support.

(read the full report here)

Key in the report are the recommendations, which will require action by our elected officials. I suggest that you email and call your Congressional representatives, asking them if they have read the report (provide a link) what they think about the recommendations and how they plan to act on them. They all have staffers that take on these tasks — put them to work!  

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News Deeply: Must-Read Stories on Refugees From 2017

We collected the best stories on refugees from 2017, as selected by refugee and migration experts and the readers and editors of Refugees Deeply.

WE ASKED REFUGEE and migration experts to select their favorite stories on migration and refugees from the past year and explain why they are must-read material. Here is a selection of their choices, as well as some sent in by members of the Refugees Deeply community and our editors’ own favorites. (Let us know what stories you think should also be included via via emailTwitter or Facebook.)

Izza Leghtas

Senior advocate, Refugees International

The Desperate Journey of a Trafficked Girl” by Ben Taub in The New Yorker

I chose this piece because of the extensive research it reflects and the geographic area that Taub covered in the piece. From Benin City to Sicily via Agadez and the Mediterranean Sea, I love that Taub covered the story along the journey of the main character in the piece and so many others. But the main reason this story has stayed with me is that it is so human. Too often, reporting on migration along the Central Mediterranean refers to people as masses, as numbers, and to follow one character and give the reader the time to get to know her is incredibly refreshing. When I read the piece, I had recently returned from Sicily where I was researching the Central Mediterranean migration route, so it is an issue I was already familiar with. But I was deeply moved by Taub’s writing style and the level of care and detail it reflects. I hope we can see more reporting like this.

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NPO: Deaths from Maria in Puerto Rico Rise above 1,000 as Response Remains Slow

Unfortunately, manmade disasters often follow natural ones. One of the latest examples can be found in the US government’s response to Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria did catastrophic damage to the island in September. A new report by the nonprofit Refugees International (RI) has found that two months after the hurricane hit, the emergency response by both US federal and local officials in Puerto Rico has left many of the island’s 3.4 million residents still living in unsafe conditions and unable to access help, even when the help is nominally there.

“There was a failure of leadership and a failure to appreciate the magnitude of the situation and the need for extraordinary action by US officials,” Eric Schwartz, president of Refugees International, said in an interview with the Associated Press.“These people are our fellow Americans. The response of the federal authorities should have been and should be much stronger than it was and much stronger than it is.”

In the confusion, even the number of people who died as a result of the hurricane is under serious question; many say the official number of 64 is far too low and doesn’t reflect the fact that a thousand more people than usual died during the 42 days following the storm. The New York Times reported on Monday that the method of counting the dead is under official review.

Much of that difference comes from deaths that might not have been caused by the hurricane itself but came in its aftermath, when people were unable to get medical care because hospitals weren’t functioning or when life-saving equipment such as oxygen machines didn’t work because of electricity blackouts. For example, the New York Timesreported there was a 50 percent increase in recorded deaths from sepsis, a severe infection that’s often an indicator of delayed medical care or poor living conditions, in the weeks following the hurricane.

“Everyone is here to help, but there is an epic leadership void,” an aid worker was quoted as saying in the RI report, “Keeping Faith With Our Fellow Americans: Meeting the Urgent Needs of Hurricane Maria Survivors in Puerto Rico.”

One thing that has dogged the US federal government response to Puerto Rico is the apparent confusion about responsibility. Is Puerto Rico part of the US? Certainly, but it’s not really clear that that federal officials (or most Americans) knew that in the early days after Hurricane Maria. This left the island in a no-man’s land—and, ironically, unable to access the generally superior, quicker, and better coordinated responses the US gives to foreign countries hit by natural disasters. Instead, the US government followed FEMA’s response blueprint—only much delayed and with less success than in similarly hard-hit places like Texas following Hurricane Harvey and Florida following Hurricane Irma. FEMA’s reliance on coordinating with local authorities was not effective in this case, the report found. Puerto Rican resources—if Puerto Rico was a US state, it would be the poorest in the country—were quickly overwhelmed by the storm, and the late federal government response exacerbated the situation.

The report says the chaos of the early days essentially continues, with lack of coordination between local and federal authorities holding sway. Tarps are available, but few can actually seem to get them, leaving people living in homes with leaky roofs or none at all. FEMA disaster aid is available to homeowners, but the forms are confusing. One applicant reported his cell phone going dead because he was on hold for 20 minutes with FEMA—and he had no way to recharge it due to the lack of electricity.

NPQ has reported extensively on the effect of Hurricane Maria and its aftermath on Puerto Rico. The criticism of the response started in the earliest days following landfall. NPQ’s Cyndi Suarez is currently in Puerto Rico and will be reporting in early January on the role of the nonprofit sector there and how activists are seeking to fill the yawning gaps resulting from the public sector’s inadequate response.—Nancy Young

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