In the News

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

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

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

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

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

VOA’s Nightline Africa ft. Alexandra Lamarche

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

Listen to the full interview here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alice Thomas is a program manager for Refugees International.

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

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

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

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

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

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

UN Dispatch Podcast: Global Compact for Migration, Explained

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

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

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

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

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


The Takeaway: UN Report Accuses Myanmar Military of Genocide

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

See original piece here.

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

Rohingya refugees are at immediate danger from an assortment of sectors

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

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

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

Long-term planning and political viability

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

Lack of accountability in aid

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

Bureaucratic deadlock

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

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

Retaliation against Myanmar

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

Funding crisis

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

Voluntary repatriation

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

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

Bhasan Char relocation ill-conceived

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

This piece originally appeared here

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This piece originally appeared here

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This piece originally appeared here.

Courthouse Service News: Federal Judge to Hear Trump’s Request to Extend Immigrant Detention

LOS ANGELES (CN) – The conversation over the nation’s immigration policy crisis, highlighted in recent weeks by the separation of immigrant children from families detained at the border, will shift over to a Los Angeles federal courtroom next month.

U.S District Judge Dolly Gee will hear arguments July 27 on the executive order signed by President Donald Trump this past week ending his administration’s policy of separating immigrant children from migrant families at the U.S.-Mexico border.

The order says it will maintain” family unity” by detaining “alien families together throughout the pendency of criminal proceedings for improper entry or any removal or other immigration proceedings.”

Trump makes clear in his order that families entering the country illegally will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law – language in line with his zero tolerance policy that has resulted in the separation of more than 2,300 children from their families in recent weeks.

As part of Trump’s action, the Department of Justice was ordered to file a request – which it did on June 21 – asking the court to modify the Flores settlement agreement. The 1997 consent decree limits the detention of migrant families to no more than 20 days.

The government is seeking a modification allowing detention of immigrant families past the current time limit.

In a June 26 speech to the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation in Los Angeles, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said the Flores settlement has had “disastrous consequences” for immigrant children.

FILE – In this Dec. 15, 2017, file photo, President Donald Trump sits with Attorney General Jeff Sessions during the FBI National Academy graduation ceremony in Quantico, Va. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)

“[The Flores settlement] keeps us from detaining alien children with their parents for more than 20 days while their asylum cases are pending,” Sessions said. “We are asking the court to let ICE detain illegal alien children together with their parent or legal guardian in family residential facilities.”

The DOJ’s filing said the Flores settlement created a “powerful incentive for aliens to enter this country with children” by eliminating the “practical availability of family detention across the nation.”

The agency blamed the Flores agreement for a “3- to 5-fold increase in the number of illegal family border crossings.”

As part of the request, the government also seeks an exemption for ICE family residential facilities from any state licensure requirements.

“The government is not asking to be relieved from the substantive language of the agreement on the conditions of detention in these facilities. The government asks for immediate relief, along with a schedule to allow the parties to more fully address the issues raised by this request,” the filing says.

The Flores agreement, a settlement in the California case Flores v. Reno, set national standards for the detention, release and treatment of all undocumented children in federal custody.

It includes a provision that detained minors be placed “in the least restrictive setting appropriate to the minor’s age and special needs.”

The settlement also requires that juveniles be released from custody without unnecessary delay to a parent, legal guardian, adult relative or an individual designated by the parent.

The Trump administration must operate under standards set by the Flores Settlement unless Congress or the courts modify it. The prospect of congressional action on immigration policy is uncertain at best.

Congressional Republicans have proposed a bill that would override the Flores Settlement and allow indefinite detention of immigrant families together during criminal and immigration court proceedings.

A statement by Refugees International said “it remains to be seen whether this bill will overcome the longstanding stalemate” in Congress on immigration policy reform.

“In any case, it might well be subjected to court challenge,” the statement said. “That leaves the courts.”

The Trump administration may not find the relief it seeks in Los Angeles. A look at Judge Gee’s background and previous rulings may offer a hint at whether she will agree with the administration’s plans to hold families longer.

Gee – appointed to the federal bench by President Obama in 2009 – is the daughter of Chinese immigrants and has been described as an advocate for workers, immigrants and women.

In a ruling that was the first of its kind, Gee ordered the U.S. government in April 2013 to provide legal counsel for mentally disabled immigrants who are detained for potential deportation.

In June 2017, Gee ruled that conditions and staff training at family detention centers at the border violated the Flores settlement. She called on the Trump administration to address detention facility conditions, which she called “deplorable and unsanitary.”

If Gee rejects the DOJ’s motion, the administration could start separating families again or allow adults to go free while their asylum cases proceed.

Rejection would deal Trump’s immigration policy another significant blow this week after a federal judge in California on Tuesday ordered a freeze to family separations at the U.S.-Mexico border.

The order requires federal officials to stop detaining parents apart from their minor children and also calls for the reunification – within 30 days for cases involving children age 5 and older – of all families that have been separated at the border.

The order also mandates that officials provide parents contact with their children by phone within 10 days, if the parent is not already in contact with his or her child.

“Plaintiffs have demonstrated a likelihood of success on the merits, irreparable harm, and that the balance of equities and the public interest weigh in their favor, thus warranting issuance of a preliminary injunction,” US District Court Judge Dana Sabraw wrote Tuesday.

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