Recent Press

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.

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.

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.

Read the original article 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.

Read the original article here

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.

Read the original article here

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.”

Read the original article here

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.

Read the original article here

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.

Read the original article here

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.

Read the original article here

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!  

Read the full article here

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.

Read the original article here

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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CS Monitor: The real story in Puerto Rico

People there are doing much to help themselves and each other. Those who live at a distance can join with them through prayers and donations.

It would be easy to paint a gloomy picture of Puerto Rico at year’s end.

Three months after hurricane Maria struck the island only 70 percent of electrical power generation has been restored. And that figure doesn’t take into account downed lines that keep even that electricity from reaching many homes.

New research by news media organizations into death records has shown that more than 1,000 fatalities can be attributed to the storm and its aftermath, a huge increase over the current official total of just 64. 

An international human rights organization, Refugees International, has criticized relief efforts by both the federal and Puerto Rican governments as showing “poor coordination and logistics on the ground” that have “seriously undermined the effectiveness of the aid delivery process.”

On Tuesday US Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson visited the island and struck a more positive note, assuring a group of local officials, “We are in this for the long haul.” Current emergency relief efforts will be followed up by HUD’s help in rebuilding homes, he said.

No doubt the logistics involved in aiding 3.4 million Americans living on an island far off the US mainland, where poverty and a suspect power grid already existed, are daunting.

But it’d be wrong to not point out some good news as well. Celebrities such as movie star Jennifer Lopez and Lin-Manuel Miranda, creator of the Broadway megahit “Hamilton,” have raised millions of dollars in relief aid and continue to make known the island’s need for help.

Church groups across the United States have responded with heartfelt relief efforts. In Lexington, Mass., for example, the Lexington Interfaith Clergy Association sponsored a drive called Lexington Unites for Puerto Rico that resulted in a 40-foot container with lanterns, clothes, water, food, and other supplies being delivered to residents of Cabo Rojo and Aguadilla, two towns hit hard by the hurricane. 

Local church members there helped unload and distribute the donations to those most in need. The US group expects to continue its efforts, becoming a long-term commitment.

All Americans ought to keep the people of Puerto Rico in mind as they go about their end-of-year charitable giving.

But they can do so not with a sense of pity but with a feeling of rejoicing in the resilience being expressed by Puerto Ricans. From all over the island have come reports of neighbors helping neighbors, sharing what they have and checking in on each other. Some have worked with whatever tools they could find to clear debris and open the roads; many are rebuilding their homes with whatever materials they can find, not waiting for outside aid.

Writer Rebecca Solnit studies disasters and how people respond to them, from the 1906 San Francisco earthquake to the 2005 hurricane that flooded New Orleans. Too often, she says, the wrong stories are told. 

“[E]verything we’ve been told about disaster by trashy Hollywood disaster movies ..., everything [in] the news – is that human beings are fragile” and will quickly revert to me-first looting and even savagery.

Instead, “When all the ordinary divides and patterns are shattered, people step up to become their brothers’ keepers,” she says. “And that purposefulness and connectedness brings joy even amidst death, chaos, fear, and loss.”

As we acknowledge the ability of Puerto Ricans to help themselves we’ll find ourselves encouraged to join with them in our prayers and with charitable donations.

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FOX News: FEMA defends Puerto Rico hurricane response amid criticism

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico –  The U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency is rejecting a report by Refugees International criticizing local and federal hurricane response in Puerto Rico.

Spokesman Daniel Llargues said Monday that FEMA has approved more than $1 billion in federal assistance and has distributed more than 120,000 tarps to people whose homes were damaged by Hurricane Maria. He said the agency also installed 920 generators, deployed 4,700 medical personnel and distributed more than 56 million liters of water and 49 million meals in the agency's largest commodity mission.

The Category 4 storm hit the island nearly three months ago, causing up to an estimated $95 billion in damage.

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NBC Los Angeles: Refugee Nonprofit Slams Local, US Hurricane Response in Puerto Rico

Power generation on the island is currently at 69 percent of normal, and 5 percent of utility customers still don't have water service

Housing is urgently needed for tens of thousands of Puerto Ricans who lack power and a regular source of safe water nearly three months after Hurricane Maria damaged their homes, Refugees International says in a report.

The nonprofit group visited the U.S. territory in recent weeks to survey needs and review the response by local and federal officials in the aftermath of the Category 4 storm, marking the first time it has organized a mission to a U.S. jurisdiction. In a report shared with The Associated Press, the group said its team was shocked by poor coordination and logistics across the island that have caused delays in aid. It noted the island is still in emergency mode and requires more help.

"There was a failure of leadership and a failure to appreciate the magnitude of the situation and the need for extraordinary action by U.S. officials," Eric Schwartz, the group's president and a former U.S. assistant secretary of state for population, refugees and migration, said in a phone interview. 

“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.”

Officials with the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency did not return a request for comment Sunday.

Puerto Rico's Bumpy Road to Recovery

Puerto Rico is still struggling to recover from the Sept. 20 storm that killed dozens of people and caused up to an estimated $95 billion in damage during a 12-hour rampage across the island with winds of up to 154 mph. Power generation is currently at 69 percent of normal, and 5 percent of utility customers still don't have water service. Nearly 600 people remain in shelters, and more than 130,000 have left for the U.S. mainland.

Those who remain behind face a lack of supplies and problems including limited access to tarps and a delayed response to requests for financial assistance, the report said.

"Compared to international disaster settings, I couldn't believe how slow the response was two months later," said Alice Thomas, climate displacement program manager for Refugees International who visited Puerto Rico.

She called for an improved strategy for delivering aid. "It has to happen now. There is still an emergency going on," she said.

The report noted that it took five days before any senior U.S. officials visited Puerto Rico after the storm, and the nonprofit called for better coordination between local and federal agencies and a more aggressive plan to find adequate housing for those displaced by the hurricane. It said many people were unable to file claims in the first few weeks because they couldn't access the internet and then had problems awaiting home inspections because phone service was so spotty.

The report comes just days after a United Nations expert on extreme poverty and human rights visited Puerto Rico to assess needs and damage, marking the first time such an envoy has visited the U.S. territory in recent history.

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NPR: U.S. Handled Puerto Rico Hurricane Aftermath Badly, Says Refugee Group

An international human rights group, Refugees International, has issued a scathing report on the U.S. response in Puerto Rico to Hurricane Maria. The group says "poor coordination and logistics on the ground" by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Puerto Rican government "seriously undermined the effectiveness of the aid delivery process."

Refugees International is an independent non-profit group that advocates on behalf of displaced people around the world. This was the first time the group had investigated a situation in the U.S.

When its team arrived in Puerto Rico, more than two months after the storm, Refugees International says it was surprised that the relief effort was "uncoordinated and poorly implemented." The group says the poor response was "prolonging the humanitarian emergency on the ground."

Puerto Rico was especially vulnerable to a disaster like a hurricane, the group says, because of its aging population, poorly maintained infrastructure and lack of emergency management assets, like helicopters and backup generators. "In light of these known limitations," the report says, "it is troubling that it took five days before any senior federal official from the U.S. mainland visited the island."

Comparing it with past natural disasters, such as the 2010 Haitian earthquake, the group found the U.S. response lacking. In Haiti, the group says 8,000 U.S. troops were deployed to the island within two days of the disaster. In Puerto Rico, it took 10 days for 4,500 U.S. troops to arrive. Central to FEMA's problematic response, Refugees International says, is that the federal agency is designed to supplement local and state disaster response efforts. But in Puerto Rico, the group found, municipalities and the Commonwealth had "limited capacity and ability to respond."

Now that immediate needs like food and water are taken care of, the group says, Puerto Rico's greatest need is housing. Puerto Rico's government says more than 472,000 homes were destroyed or badly damaged in Hurricane Maria. Months after the storm, Refugees International says, housing assistance provided by FEMA and the Puerto Rican government is not reaching the most vulnerable populations. Authorities have failed to distribute tarps and temporary roofs to all who need them, the group says. And the process for receiving assistance is complicated, confusing and poorly executed.

Responding to the Refugees International report, FEMA agreed that coordination of efforts in disaster response is vital. But FEMA said Puerto Rico's devastation by the hurricane presented a difficult situation. "More than 1,000 nautical miles from the mainland United States with an already fragile infrastructure and facing challenging economic circumstances presented communication and logistical challenges unique to the situation."

FEMA said: “We regret the loss of life after any disaster and our thoughts and prayers are with the family members affected by the devastation of Hurricane Maria. FEMA continues to work every day to bring back a sense of normalcy to Puerto Rico. ...

”Unity of effort is required for disaster response and recovery on any scale, but especially during this historic season. When emergency managers call for unity of effort, we mean that all levels of government, non-profit organizations, private sector businesses, and survivors must work together – each drawing upon their unique skills and capabilities – to meet the needs of disaster survivors.”

Also Monday, Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello announced he was ordering a review of all deaths in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria. Puerto Rico's government has listed the official death toll from the hurricane at just 64. Independent reporting from journalists and statistical analyses with past years suggest that more than 1,000 deaths may have been due to Hurricane Maria.

Rossello said by law in Puerto Rico, the cause of death must be certified by a doctor or coroner, something not always possible in the chaos after the storm. Rossello has ordered Puerto Rico's Demographic Registry and the Department of Public Safety to review all deaths to get "the most accurate count and understanding of how people lost their lives to fully account for the impact of these storms." The governor has also called for the creation of an expert panel to look at how deaths are certified and make suggestions on how to improve the process in the future.

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