Eric Schwartz

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.”

NPR: Trump Escalates Immigration Issue Days Ahead Of Elections With White House Remarks

Trump promised to crack down on what he called the abuse of the asylum process and delivered a stern warning to a group of Central American migrants slowly making their way through Mexico, who have set their sights on the United States.

"The president has willfully and cynically vilified an asylum-seeker population composed of vulnerable children, women, and men," said Eric Schwartz, president of Refugees International.

Read the full story here.

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

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

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

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

See original piece here.

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

Since President Trump took office in January 2017, the U.S. has withdrawn from the Paris climate agreement and the non-binding Global Compact on Migration.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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This piece originally appeared here



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In another, he wrote on Twitter: “If Islam is a religion of peace, let’s see 2 million Muslims in National Mall marching against jihad & stand for America! I haven’t seen it!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This piece originally appeared here

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This piece originally appears here

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This piece originally appeared here

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This piece originally appeared here

Deutsche Welle: Shaming the EU into leading on refugees

Fed up with Donald Trump's "capricious assertiveness," European Council President Donald Tusk warned EU leaders this month that "in the new global game, Europe will either be one of the major players, or a pawn. This is the only real alternative."

In a depressing way, the shockingly blunt remarks made by the European Council president about Trump's antipathy toward Europe teed up Eric Schwartz's message just perfectly.

Schwartz, who is the president of the Washington-based Refugees International, was in Brussels to urge the EU to seize Tusk's first option: Brussels shouldn't just be a "major player," but the world's leader in humanitarian policy.  

"The reality of a strong United States committed to a strong and united Europe -- that's not there," Schwartz told DW. "It is almost impossible to overstate the significance of that development. It is extremely challenging, extremely troubling."

At the height of the refugee crisis in 2015, Germany's chancellor, Angela Merkel, stood alone in her open-door policy. Merkel - whom Schwartz described as  the "voice of reason, of responsibility, of acceptance, of the principles of inclusion" – was met with great opposition from most EU leaders.

Refugees International notes that the developments in the years since, including the lack of a common asylum policy and the failure of the agree migration resettlement scheme, have exacerbated the problem. It is especially critical of what it describes as the unacceptable prioritization of blocking arrivals over ensuring human rights, especially EU efforts to prevent potential migrants and refugees from leaving Turkey and Libya.

As troubling, said Schwartz, is that "the nativist rhetoric among leaders in the United States has been matched by nativist rhetoric here" in Europe. 

No shame in shaming

Rather than succumbing to a discouraging situation, Refugees International has chosen to use a creative approach to help the world's most vulnerable, even if it means making European policymaker uncomfortable.


Refugees International President Eric Schwartz

"In Europe at least there is a declared commitment, an articulated commitment to human rights principles," he explained. "And our job is to point out the dramatic discrepancy between the principles that European leaders espouse and the actions that they're taking and that gives us the capacity to shame governments and move them in the right direction."

How do those conversations play out? Schwartz described them.

"We sit down with European leaders and say, 'This is what you say you care about, but look what's happening: You say you care about human rights in Libya but there are thousands of people being detained under wretched conditions. All right. You say you care about human rights in Turkey, but you've got an agreement where people are being returned to Turkey without the kind of guarantees of protection that they need.'"

The relative quiet they've bought by blocking the most massive flows of people is not solving their problems, he tells them. According to Schwartz, EU interlocutors aren't exactly leaping into action – but at least they're listening.

EC's Kohler: migration-related spending increases are insufficient

EU leaders ignore these issues at their peril, said Michael Kohler, who works with the European Commission's Directorate-General for Neighborhood and Enlargement Negotiations.

As Director for the Southern Neighborhood, Kohler tracks developments in the Mediterranean countries where both refugees and economic migrants disembark for Europe.

Like Schwartz, Kohler agrees that there should be more ambition in the EU, along with more funding for migration-related action. The EC's proposal for such spending in the next multiannual budget draft is much higher than the previous seven-year plan, but "even the steep increase is much too low."

Kohler takes the long view on his concerns about the crisis of leadership and of empathy. "The point is you need to stabilize a rather big part of the world," he told DW. "So if you take in refugees, you don't stop the instability which will produce more refugees. If you decide not to take in refugees, there is still instability and it will produce even bigger pressure on you and your society and your borders."

While the EU and member states are collectively by far the top humanitarian donors in the world, he hopes to see more unity on helping stabilization in the rest of the world that will ultimately result in fewer people seeking to leave their home countries. That's in Europe's interest, he emphasized, no matter who's sitting in the White House.

This piece originally appeared here

The Atlantic: Trump’s Pick to Lead Refugee Efforts Is a Critic of Immigration

When President Trump picked Ronald Mortensen to head the State Department office that coordinates the U.S. response to global refugee crises, he listed the nominee’s credentials that make him suitable for the job: Mortensen, a statement issued last week said, was a retired foreign service officer who had served in France, Australia, Mauritania, and Chad. For the past 15 years, he had worked with the U.S. Agency for International Development, responding to the crises in Iraq, Syria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and other places. In other words, Mortensen was an ideal candidate for the job.

What the Trump administration did not mention is Mortensen’s views on immigration, which he chronicled liberally in blog posts between  June 2009 and October 2017 for the Center for Immigration Studies, a Washington think tank that supports reduced immigration to the United States; Mortensen is listed as a fellow at CIS. In those posts, Mortensen linked illegal immigration to ID theft and higher crime rates; railed against Dreamers, who were brought to the country as children without documentation; criticized efforts at reforming the nation’s immigration system; and specifically targeted Senators John McCain and Marco Rubio, the Mormon church, and evangelical leaders for their support of those efforts. It’s worth noting, however, that Mortensen’s blog posts were restricted almost exclusively to those who are in the U.S. illegally. I did not find any post in which Mortensen criticized the asylum process that he will soon oversee if he is confirmed by the Senate, or the global refugee architecture to which the U.S. is still the largest single financial contributor. 

“I think it’s alarming to have people put forward who are so strongly anti-immigrant when the job requires building bridges to other countries and working to help people in need around the world,” Anne Richards, who served from 2012 to 2017 as the Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM), the post Mortensen has been nominated to, told me. “And so you can’t be hostile to foreign-born people; in terms of running a refugee-resettlement program, it’s very important that the person appreciate the American tradition of being a home for refugees and immigrants and wanting to make that work as opposed to tear it down.”

Richards’s remarks are indicative of the widespread criticism directed at Mortensen’s nomination from individuals and groups advocating for refugees in the United States. Eric Schwartz, the president of Refugees International who headed PRM between 2009 and 2011, urged the U.S. Senate in a statement to reject the nomination. Senator Jeff Flake, the Arizona Republican who sits on the panel, has already said he will vote against Mortensen. Rubio, the Florida Republican whom Mortensen called “either exceptionally gullible or just plain dishonest” for his support of immigration overhaul, is also on the panel, but hasn’t yet publicly said how he will vote. Democratic senators have expressed reservations about the nomination.

But other than those blog posts, little is known about Mortensen, who spent years in government service and created few ripples. Jeremy Konyndyk led USAID’s  Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance from 2013 to 2017, overseeing the U.S. response to international disasters. That’s where, he said, he came across Mortensen. Konyndyk, who is now a senior policy fellow at the Center for Global Development, told me Mortensen was on OFDA’s surge roster, a team of personnel sent in emergency situations to various countries. He said USAID dispatched Mortensen occasionally “when we couldn’t cover the staffing needs from within the normal staff.” Konyndyk said Mortensen’s expertise was in administrative support for large deployment; Trump’s nominee would manage staffing and get hotel rooms booked, among other tasks. Mortensen, Konyndyk said, also deployed on rotations to Iraq as a team leader while the office was recruiting for a permanent position for that job.

“I never talked immigration with him, obviously,” Konyndyk said. “In my dealings with him as a professional, he was competent in the roles we gave him. He was a pleasant guy to work with in my experience. I certainly never saw anything of this fire-breathing, anti-immigrant zealot, and I didn’t learn of any of that until I left government. But I was pretty shocked when I read some of his blog posts. It seemed very different from the guy I had known and worked with. Clearly he had a side that he didn’t show at work.”

Mortensen’s nomination is part of a larger pattern of the Trump administration relying on critics of immigration to staff its immigration-related functions. Andrew Veprek, who is seen as skeptical of the U.S. refugee program, is now the deputy assistant secretary in the bureau that Mortensen has been nominated to lead. Veprek, a foreign service officer, was previously at the White House where he worked closely with Stephen Miller, Trump’s senior adviser, who supports lower immigration to the U.S. Jon Feere, who also worked at CIS, is now a senior adviser to Thomas Homan, who is the director of the bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The administration has also nominated Ken Isaacs, the vice president of Samaritan’s Purse, a Christian charity group, to head the United Nation’s International Organization for Migration. Isaacs has made remarks criticizing Islam.

As a presidential candidate, Donald Trump called for a ban on all Muslims entering the United States and for a total ban on Syrian refugees. His travel ban includes mostly Muslim countries (though the vast majority of the world’s Muslims can still enter the U.S.) and, so far this year, only 11 Syrian refugees have been admitted into the U.S., according to the most recent data. Trump’s administration has set a ceiling of 45,000 refugees for this fiscal year—the lowest in decades.

“Their goal is to break the system. It’s to make it so that the U.S. is no longer the leading country for refugee resettlement,” an expert on refugee-related issues, who requested anonymity out of a fear of retribution from the Trump administration, told me.

“They [the Trump administration] are succeeding on all fronts,” the expert said. “But unfortunately that success is undermining the mission of the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration, and it’s undermining leadership of the United States in refugee protection.”

The U.S. leadership in refugee affairs has been forged over decades through bipartisan consensus. Since President Reagan signed the Refugee Act in 1980, successive U.S. presidents have, on average, set a ceiling of 95,000 refugees per fiscal year. The U.S. is the single largest financial donor to the world’s refugee crisis, and has traditionally been generous about accepting refugees as well, though the numbers fell after the attacks of September 11, 2001. But Trump, as he said in September 2017, wants to resettle refugees near the countries from which they are displaced. Many of these nations are sometimes as impoverished or unstable as the places from which they are fleeing.

“The entire Trump administration is a departure from years and decades of bipartisan cooperation to bring refugees to the Unites States,” Richards, who is now a professor at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service, told me. “This wasn’t a hallmark of previous Republican administrations.”

Indeed, the immigration expert called Mortensen’s nomination “a provocation by the administration. … To put somebody in charge whose track record consists of writing about how much he despises immigrants is just unfathomable.”

Konyndyk said the White House statement’s focus on Mortensen’s work at USAID suggested that’s why he was being picked for the job, but “to my mind, it’s very clear that’s not why he’s being nominated for this post.” He said while Mortensen was competent, that word also described about 100 other people who were on the surge roster alongside the president’s nominee.

“None of them, I would say, were being actively considered for this post. There’s nothing in what I saw, nothing at his work at USAID that would naturally incline one to say this guy would make a great assistant secretary for refugees at the State Department,” Konyndyk said. “And I think it’s pretty clear what sets him apart is not the work he did at USAID, it’s the blogging he did at CIS, and given the broader context of this administration, it’s pretty clear that’s why he has been nominated.”

This piece originally appeared here

Foreign Policy: Security Brief: North Korea Diplomacy Kicks Into High Gear

After abruptly cancelling a planned summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, President Donald Trump and his lieutenants are maneuvering this week to resuscitate the planned meeting.

Following White House claims that Pyongyang was snubbing them, North Korean diplomats were dispatched to Singapore and the United States on Monday, according to the Associated Press. Kim Yong Chol, a former intelligence chief who is frequently described as Kim Jong Un’s right-hand man, was spotted in a Beijing airport believed to be en route to New York on Monday.

President Trump confirmed in a tweet early Monday that Kim was headed to New York. “Solid response to my letter, thank you!” The letter in question — an odd, highly Trumpian document — was dictated in full by the president himself, an administration official told reporters last week.

Late Monday, a North Korean delegation was reported to have arrived in Singapore, which is set to host the Trump-Kim summit — if it happens.

On Sunday, South Korean President Moon Jae-in said his surprise meeting with Kim on Saturday had yielded a commitment from his counterpart to “completely denuclearize the Korean peninsula.”

But Moon’s remarks also hinted at the huge differences that remain between the United States and North Korea ahead of any summit meeting. North Korean demands of the denuclearization of the entire peninsula would likely require the withdrawal of American nuclear-capable forces from the region, a grand bargain that the Trump administration appears unlikely to accept.

The Trump administration continues to maintain Pyongyang must give up its nuclear weapons quickly and to eliminate its entire arsenal. Moon referred to this gap by saying, “Both sides should try to diffuse misunderstandings by meeting face-to-face.”

Nonetheless, the diplomatic activity has American officials optimistic. “We have got some, possibly, some good news on the Korea summit, where it may, if our diplomats can pull it off, may have it back on even,” Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told reporters last week.

Welcome to this week’s edition of Security Brief. As always, please send your tips, questions, and comments to

Hold your fire. U.S. authorities had been prepared to sanction nearly three dozen entities tied to North Korea this week, but are holding off amid hopes that diplomatic efforts could revive a summit meeting between the leaders of North Korea and the United States, the Wall Street Journal reports. Trump administration officials told reporters last week that the United States was still short of fully implementing its so-called “max pressure” campaign and hinted that more sanctions were likely in the works.

Crossing the border. With President Trump claiming that a summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un could still be on, American officials crossed into the North on Sunday for preparatory talks. Called away from his position as ambassador to the Philippines, Sung Kim, a former U.S. envoy to Seoul, led the delegation. “The talks are focused on what would be the substance of a potential summit between Trump and Kim Jong Un — the issue of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program,” the Washington Post reports.

Abe summit. With South Korean President Moon Jae-in playing a mediating role between North Korea, Japanese officials are worried about being sidelined. On Monday, President Donald Trump agreed to meet with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe ahead of any summit with North Korea.   

No peace in cyberspace. The thaw between North and South Korea doesn’t extend to cyberspace. “In the weeks since their agreement, the North ramped up its campaign of cyberattacks on South Korea, launching fresh assaults on financial companies and groups focused on North Korea, according to people familiar with the matter,” the Wall Street Journal reported last week. “The frequency of those attacks also increased this month, one of the people said.”

How did we get here? If you’re confused about how the U.S.-North Korea relationship went from Twitter threats to bromance to break-up so quickly, here’s a handy timeline to help you trace the events that led up to the historic U.S.-North Korea summit’s cancellation.  

The fall back. Should North Korea ever employ its nuclear arsenal, U.S. armed forces may try to destroy its missiles ahead of launch. According to the Daily Beast, “the Pentagon has embraced a controversial policy of destroying enemy nuclear missiles before they launch, an internal policy document from May 2017 shows.” Such a move may include “executing cyberattacks against missile control systems or components.”

An intriguing back-channel. Israel Hayom describes a Saudi media report of an diplomatic channel between Israel and Iran running through Jordan. With the Syrian military preparing operations in the Syrian Golan Heights near the Jordanian border, Israel, Syria, and Jordan have agreed that only Syria and Jordan’s army will operate on respective sides of their border. The agreement would prevent the deployment there of Iran-backed Shiite militia Hezbollah.

“The report indicated that Iran used Jordan as a go-between to relay a message to Israel, saying it would not operate in southeastern Syria near the border with Jordan,” Israel Hayom reports. “According to the report, the understandings were ‎reached in a series of indirect meetings in Jordan, ‎where Iranian officials, including the envoy to ‎Jordan, met with top Jordanian officials, who in turn ‎met with senior Israeli security officials.‎”

Russian de-escalation. Haaretz reports that Russian President Vladimir Putin is mulling moves to ratchet down tensions between Israel and Iran. “Israeli political and military leaders believe Russia is willing to discuss a significant distancing of Iranian forces and allied Shiite militias from the Israel-Syria border, Israeli officials say,” Haaretz reports. “The change in Russia’s position has become clearer since Israel’s May 10 military clash with Iran in Syria and amid Moscow’s concerns that further Israeli moves would threaten the stability of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime.

Another Israeli strike. Israeli forces struck a Syrian airfield Thursday, bombarding a site that was previously struck on May 10. The targets of the strike were munitions depots belonging to the Iran-backed Hezbollah terrorist group, located on an air base south of the city of Homs, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group, which also said the strikes were most likely carried out by Israel,” the Times of Israel reports.

Drone proliferation. Israel’s armed forces said they discovered a drone laden with explosive believed to have flown into Israeli territory from Gaza, the Times of Israel reports. The IDF shelled an Islamic Jihad position in response, killing three.

Fighter jocks of tomorrow. The U.S. Air Force is on the hunt for a new generation of fighter pilots, and thinks it can find them in front of a computer screen. “The Air Force is working on an online video game that it hopes will allow it to find and recruit talented young people,” Air Force Times reports.

French spy scandal. French authorities revealed they have arrested two former intelligence officers on charges of treason, the Telegraph reports. “The agents are thought to have handed over secrets while still in service for France’s external DGSE intelligence agency,” according to the paper. Sources close to the investigation tell AFP the two men spied on behalf of China.

Liaison work. The Palestinian Authority’s intelligence chief, Majid Faraj, met with Mike Pompeo last month shortly before he sworn in as secretary of state and still ran the CIA. “Faraj is considered one of the people closest to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas,” Haaretz reports. “His meeting with Pompeo is part of a close relationship between the two intelligence chiefs, which began last winter when Faraj helped arrange a visit for Pompeo in Ramallah. A Palestinian official told Haaretz that the U.S. and Israel are looking at the Palestinian issue from national security standpoints.”

Drought. Conditions of drought struck two thirds of Afghanistan, putting more than 2 million people at risk of lacking sufficient food, according to new U.N. figures. “Water points and fountains across the country have dried up, and the lack of rain and snow melt has caused rivers to run low or dry up completely,” VOA reports. “The lack of water has prompted farmers to delay planting crops and reduce their field sizes in an effort to minimize losses.”

Sanctions, espionage, and Iran. Before the sanctions relief provided by the Iran deal, the Iranian regime operated vast money-laundering and sanctions-evasions schemes that stretched across oceans and implicated wealthy businessmen, with U.S.-Iranian dual nationals sometimes caught in the middle. The U.S. withdrawal from the Iran deal may herald a return to that era, Politico reports.

Rubio flexing on ZTE. After the U.S. implemented severe restrictions on China telecoms giant ZTE due to national security concerns as well as its flouting of Iran sanctions, Trump suggested that relief for the powerful Chinese company would be coming soon. But U.S. Senator Marco Rubio isn’t having it. Over the weekend, Rubio said that Congress would work to make it impossible for the president to overturn the restrictions, the Washington Post reports. “None of these companies should be operating in this country,” Rubio said. “I think most members of Congress have come to understand the threat China poses.”

No collusion! China edition! Trump’s suggested relief for ZTE hasn’t gone unnoticed. More than 60 Democratic representatives are calling for an ethics investigation into Trump’s ties to China. Trump’s defense of ZTE came a few days after a $500 million Chinese government-linked loan was approved for one of Trump’s businesses.

The Sarsour dossier. Israeli private intelligence firms just keep making news. Haaretz reveals in a new investigation that “a secretive Israeli firm collected intelligence on Palestinian-American political activist Linda Sarsour and her family, acting on behalf of an American-Israeli organization established to combat the BDS movement.” The company, Israel Cyber Shield, put together the dossier for Act.IL, a pro-Israeli advocacy group, “which used it as the basis of a campaign to discourage U.S. colleges from allowing the pro-BDS activist to speak on campus.”

Speaking of which, meet Black Cube. A source familiar with the private intelligence firm Black Cube’s work related to Iran tells NBC that the company was hired shortly after President Donald Trump visited Israel to investigate aides to President Barack Obama. That work was done “for Trump” according to the unnamed source. Black Cube collected material on aides Colin Kahl and Ben Rhodes, two key foreign policy aides in the Obama administration.

Anti-refugee. The Trump administration, which has drastically cut back the number of refugees allowed to resettle to the United States, last week nominated Ronald Mortensen, an outspoken hardliner on immigration and refugees, to be the next assistant secretary of state for population, refugees and migration.

Aid groups are not impressed and they fear he will take up the senior position to dismantle refugee aid and resettlement programs. Mortensen’s “writings demonstrate an absence of empathy and compassion essential for a position of leadership on refugee issues,” said Eric Schwartz, president of Refugees International who held the assistant secretary post from 2009 to 2011.

China’s AI aces. Jeff Ding of Oxford has translated a fascinating network analysis of China’s so-called AI “aces.” The article maps the careers of China’s most prominent artificial intelligence researchers and executives and provides a picture of how talent moves through the Chinese AI market and its research focuses. The analysis reveals that large companies — principally, Microsoft, Google, Baidu, and Tencent — continue to dominate the Chinese AI landscape and that AI research in China remains focused on computer vision, natural language processing, and computer hardware.

Picking up the pace. The United States hopes to shave years off the amount of time it takes to sent out arms shipments to allied militaries, Defense One reports. New “pilot authorities” established by the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act will allow certain weapons shipments to countries like Saudi Arabia, South Korea, and Romania to cut through red tape.

Major Russian missile test. Russia’s armed forces test fired four Borei-class intercontinental ballistic missiles from a submerged submarine in the White Sea last week, the Diplomat reports. Video of the test shows four missiles firing in less than 30 seconds.  

Botnet takedown. American authorities moved to dismantle a botnet thought to be tied to Russian hackers last week. “Court documents unsealed in Pittsburgh … indicate that the FBI has seized a key web domain communicating with a massive global botnet of hundreds of thousands of infected” routers and other devices, Hacker News reports. “The court documents said the hacking group behind the massive malware campaign is Fancy Bear, a Russian government-aligned hacking group also known as APT 28.”

Zuckerberg’s wonderland. Now that fake news has become a serious business and reputational risk for Facebook, the company’s executives are emphasizing how seriously they’re tackling the problem with three new initiatives.

“Facebook will soon issue a request for proposals from academics eager to study false news on the platform. Researchers who are accepted will get data and money; the public will get, ideally, elusive answers to how much false news actually exists and how much it matters,” Wired reports.

The company will also launch a highly prominent public education campaign to teach users “what false news is and how they can stop its spread.”

“The third announcement — and the one the company seems most excited about — is the release of a nearly 12-minute video called ‘Facing Facts,’ a title that suggests both the topic and the repentant tone,” Wired editor-in-chief Nicholas Thompson writes.

Whoops! FBI officials have repeatedly argued that they are facing a crisis in the form encrypted phone devices that may contain crucial evidence but cannot be accessed by law enforcement. But the FBI has hugely overestimated the number of such phones in the possession of law enforcement, claiming that the number was close to 7,800 when it is in fact likely to be between 1,000 and 2,000 devices, the Washington Post reports.

The statistic is a highly significant one as it has served as the primary motivation behind legislative initiatives designed to provide law enforcement so-called “extraordinary access” schemes to encrypted systems. Cryptographers and Silicon Valley firms argue that it is all but impossible to design a secure system with such access and that it will put major American technology firms — no one more so than Apple — at a competitive disadvantage if they have to design phones with American police requirements in mind.

Trisis goes global. The developers of a sophisticated cyberweapon linked to an attack on a Saudi petrochemical plant have expanded their operations to include targets in the United States, CyberScoop reports.

Tick-tock. Thomas Gibbons-Neff of the New York Times has pieced together the most complete to-date account of a February assault on U.S. forces in Syria by what are believed to be Russian mercenaries. The battle featured a huge show of force by American troops repelling the assault, delivering a mix of artillery, aerial, and small arms fire on the Russian force, which was repelled without inflicting any American casualties.  

F-35 combat debut. Israeli armed forces have carried out strikes using the F-35 fighter jet, in what appears to be the jet’s combat debut, according to the Jerusalem Post. “We are flying the F-35 all over the Middle East. It has become part of our operational capabilities. We are the first to attack using the F-35 in the Middle East and have already attacked twice on different fronts,” Israel Air Force Commander Maj.-Gen. Amikam Norkin said last week. His presentation included a photograph of the jet flying over Beirut.  

Snubbed. U.S. military officials rescinded an invitation for China to participate in military exercises in the Pacific, the Wall Street Journal reports. The move comes in response to Chinese military upgrades on disputed islands in the South China Sea.  

MH17. International investigators said Russia was directly responsible for the shoot-down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over eastern Ukraine in 2014. The investigators said they had identified the unit — the 53rd anti-aircraft missile brigade in Kursk — responsible for shooting down the airliner.  

Reapers to Greece. The U.S. military deployed Reaper drones — the more technologically advanced successor to the Predator — to Greece in a first of its kind deployment, the Intercept reports. “The tilt toward the Hellenic Republic comes at a time of strained relations between the U.S. and Greece’s neighbor and rival Turkey following the 2016 coup attempt by members of the Turkish military,” the outlet notes.  

‘Be prepared for war.’ The Swedish government is distributing a 20-page pamphlet to all households in the country that advises its population what to do in the event of war or crisis. The pamphlet’s publication comes amid heightened tensions with Russia and renewed debate over whether the neutral country should join the NATO military alliance.  

Logistics test. The U.S. Army is testing its ability to rapidly deploy a large number of armored vehicles and other equipment to Europe with a huge deployment to eastern Europe. “All told, 3,300 troops of the 1st Armored Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division from Fort Hood, Texas, will bring 2,500 pieces of equipment across the Atlantic Ocean,” Defense News reports. “The formation will relieve the 2nd Armored Brigade of the 1st Infantry Division, which will return to Fort Riley, Kansas.”

NDAA moves forward. House lawmakers last week approved a $717 billion authorization bill for the American military that aims to increase troop numbers, provide for equipment upgrades, and provide a pay rise. Next the Senate must pass its version of the National Defense Authorization Act before the two chambers’ versions are reconciled.

The low-yield nuke lives. Before the defense authorization bill sailed through the House, Democratic lawmakers attempted to limit the Trump administration’s plans to develop new low-yield nuclear warheads. The effort was voted down by the House.

Future war in NDAA. The Senate Armed Services Committee’s version of the defense authorization bill would allocate a significant chunk of funding toward science and technology projects, Fifth Domain reports. The bill, which has been approved by the committee, “would sprinkle $600 million more than the Trump administration budget requests into science, technology and testing programs, to include hypersonics, space constellation technologies, rocket propulsion, directed energy and quantum information science,” the outlet reports.  

Cyber in NDAA. The annual defense bill approved by the House includes measures aimed at improving the Pentagon’s network security, CyberScoop reports. The bill “seeks closer collaboration between the departments of Defense and Homeland Security in defending against hackers, asks for quick notification of data breaches of military personnel, and continues to crack down on foreign-made telecom products that are deemed security threats,” according to the outlet.

This piece originally appeared here

Chicago Tribune: Haley: Vote with US at UN or we'll cut your aid

U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley is proposing a sweeping reassessment of U.S. foreign assistance with a view to punishing dozens of poor countries that vote against U.S. policies at the United Nations, according to a confidential, internal memo drafted by her staff.

The move to make foreign aid conditional on political support follows a U.S. decision to cut tens of millions of dollars in assistance to Palestinian refugees, a cut made in retaliation for Palestine sponsorship of U.N. resolutions denouncing President Donald Trump 's controversial recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital. Haley now wants to apply a similar principle to decisions about aid to other needy countries.

"It is the opinion of the U.S. mission to the U.N. that all U.S. foreign assistance should be re-evaluated to ensure that taxpayers dollars are spent to advance U.S. interests, not to fund foreign legacy programs that provide little or no return on investment," according to the 53-page memo, which was reviewed by Foreign Policy. The Palestinian aid cuts "should serve as a fulcrum from which we use our foreign assistance leverage and measure its impact,"

The memo, "America First Foreign Assistance Policy" and marked sensitive, echoes Trump's oft-repeated claim that the world takes advantage of U.S. largesse while opposing American goals. The proposal also underscores the dramatic shift in Haley's own stance on foreign assistance; she began her term pledging to preserve humanitarian aid for Palestinian and Syrian civilians and to oppose "slash and burn" cuts at the United Nations.

The document is part of a broader interagency review of U.S. foreign assistance initiated by Trump, who appealed to Congress during his State of the Union Address to "pass legislation to help ensure American foreign assistance dollars always serve American interests and only go to America's friends."

The memo recognizes that support for U.S. positions at the U.N. is not the only condition for aid, and that in many cases it must be "disregarded in favor of US security or economic needs." Some of the largest recipients of U.S. aid, including Iraq, which votes against the U.S. 60 percent of the time, and Egypt, which "often has a more antagonistic approach to the United States in the U.N. than Russia, China and Venezuela," would likely be spared, according to the memo.

But "the autopilot nature of many U.S. foreign assistance efforts is leaving far too much 'low-hanging fruit' that should be either eliminated or leveraged into greater support at the U.N. and elsewhere."

The paper proposes subjecting to review nearly 40 countries that received a total of $100 million in U.S. assistance in 2016, but that vote against the United States 54 percent of the time. It notes that South Sudan, one of the top 10 recipients of U.S. aid in 2016, "votes for U.S. interests at the United Nations a paltry 47.9% of the time."

The document primarily targets development programs, including infrastructure, education and energy projects, even though those kinds of overseas assistance programs are often explicitly designed to advance U.S. foreign policy interests. Development and education investments help curb radicalism, while energy and development assistance boosts economic growth and stability, lowering the chance for conflict.

Haley's staff cite three U.S.-funded projects worth reconsidering in view of the recipient countries' frequent lack of support for U.S.: A $3.1 million job training program in Zimbabwe; a $6.6 million climate change program in Vietnam; and a $4.9 million school construction program in Ghana. The memo tallied $580 in total U.S. support for those three countries in fiscal year 2016, but saw support for U.S. positions in the U.N. of only 54 percent of the time (Ghana), 38 percent (Vietnam) and 19 percent (Zimbabwe.)

"None voted with us on Jerusalem, even though none have a strong domestic constituency compelling the vote," the memo added.

Haley's office suggested that congressional support for such a policy would strengthen its impact, but said U.S. diplomats could get better voting outcomes if they underscored the threat of losing aid money.

"If our warnings fail, then, as the president said, 'we would save a lot of money,'" the memo said.

Some conservatives have long bridled at the fact that countries that receive U.S. aid routinely vote against the United States in the U.N. General Assembly. "I've been of the view that votes in the United Nations should cost people, cost countries that vote against us," John Bolton, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and rumored next national security adviser, recently told Fox News.

Bolton recalled that former U.S. Secretary of State James Baker said that Yemen's 1990 vote against the authorization of force against the then Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein would be the most expensive vote they ever cast. "And we did cut their foreign aid," Bolton said. "And there needs to be more of that."

Haley, who has frequently sought Bolton's counsel on U.N. matters, agrees. "For decades, the U.S. has been by far the world's single-largest provider of foreign assistance," her staff wrote in the memo. "Numerous countries have taken advantage of this assistance while routinely opposing us in the U.N."

The memo said there is an "historic reflex" among American administrations to continue providing assistance year after year to legacy aid programs."It should stop," it states.

Humanitarian aid advocates have voiced alarm. "To walk away in a casual and cavalier manner from decades of U.S. policy on humanitarian assistance is profoundly depressing," said Eric Schwartz, the president of Refugees International. "It's wrong morally and it wrong geostrategically."

He said that such a posture could undermine U.S. soft power around the world.

"The goodwill that the U.S. has in the world has largely been the result of the perception of international good citizenship," he said. "To walk away from that is shameful."

This piece originally appeared here

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For the original article, click here. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Politico: Refugee skeptic lands top State Department refugee job

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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KQED Radio: Refugees International President Eric Schwartz

Eric Schwartz, President of Refugees International, joins us in studio to discuss the globe’s refugee hot spots. Schwartz recently travelled to Bangladesh to assess the plight of Rohingya refugees who have been targeted by Myanmar’s military.

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