Interview

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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World Affairs: Eric P. Schwartz: Refugee Crises: Improving Lives, Protecting Rights

According to the United Nations Refugee Agency, there are currently 65 million refugees, asylum-seekers, and internally displaced persons in the world. War and internal conflicts have led to this record-high number as individuals from countries such as Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Myanmar have been forced from their homes. Global climate changes have also impacted people in the four famines--South Sudan, Nigeria, Somalia, and Yemen--where decades of ongoing conflicts and severe droughts have led to an increase in internally displaced persons.

As the US seeks to limit accepting refugees and other countries struggle to host new populations, how are displaced persons protected? How is Refugees International, an independent humanitarian organization responding to displacement crises, providing support?

Eric Schwartz, President of Refugees International and former Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees, and Migration, will join us to discuss the relief efforts which are improving the lives of refugees, asylum-seekers, and internally displaced persons.

SPEAKER: Eric P. Schwartz President, State, Refugees International

MODERATOR: Jane Wales CEO, World Affairs and Global Philanthropy Forum; Vice President, The Aspen Institute

For more information about this event please visit: http://worldaffairs.org/event-calenda...

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VOA News: Plight of Refugees

Host Carol Castiel sits down with Eric Schwartz, former Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees and Migration under the Obama Administration, currently President of Refugees International, an independent humanitarian organization that advocates on behalf of displaced and stateless people. He discusses the plight of refugees worldwide with a focus on the Rohingya, a persecuted Muslim minority in Myanmar; the impact of US refugee policy under the Trump administration and the EU’s struggle to integrate the largest refugee flow since World War II.

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Washington Post: Trump nominee for U.N. migration post called Muslims violent, Christians top priority

The Trump administration’s nominee to coordinate billions of dollars in assistance to migrants around the world has suggested in social-media posts that Islam is an inherently violent religion and has said Christians in some cases should receive preferential treatment when resettling from hostile areas.

In tweets, social media posts and radio appearances reviewed by The Washington Post, Ken Isaacs, a vice president of the Christian relief organization Samaritan’s Purse, made disparaging remarks about Muslims and denied climate change — a driving force behind migration, according to the agency the State Department has nominated him to lead.

In June, after a terrorist attack in London, Isaac reposted and commented on a CNN International story that quoted a Catholic bishop saying “This isn’t in the name of God, this isn’t what the Muslim faith asks people to do.”

Isaacs responded: “CNN, Bishop if you read the Quran you will know ‘this’ is exactly what the Muslim faith instructs the faithful to do.”

Isaacs was announced Thursday as the Trump administration’s pick to become director general of the United Nations’ International Organization for Migration, or IOM. The 169-member organization has a nearly $1 billion annual operating budget and for decades has deferred to the United States, one of its top benefactors, to lead the organization.

Trump’s pick could be at risk of being the first U.S. nominee since the late 1960s to lose an election by the group’s voting members, according to several people involved in international relief coordination.

“I don’t know the nominee, but I’ve seen some of his statements and they reflect a troubling prejudice that is really incompatible with a position of leadership for the world’s most important international migration agency,” said Eric Schwartz, president of Refugees International and a former assistant secretary of state under President Barack Obama.

“The person who leads this needs to be a symbol of the international community’s support for humanity. And that means that dark-skin people and Muslim people have the same inherent worth as any other people.”

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The New York Times: White House Urged to Restore Aid to U.N. Palestinian Refugee Agency

The leaders of 21 global aid organizations asked the Trump administration on Wednesday to restore withheld funds to the United Nations agency that helps Palestinians, calling the funding cut a “dangerous and striking departure” from a history of American generosity.

In a letter to top administration officials, the groups’ leaders expressed concern that the White House’s decision to withhold more than half of the planned contribution to the agency, if maintained, would disrupt Palestinian access to food, health care, education “and other critical support to vulnerable populations.”

The administration announced last week that it was withholding $65 million from a scheduled payment of $125 million to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, which aids more than five million Palestinians in refugee camps across the Middle East.

The announcement came after Palestinian leaders had accused the administration of blatantly siding with Israel in the protracted Israeli-Palestinian conflict and dimming prospects for a Palestinian state that would exist side by side with Israel.

Administration officials said that restoration of the aid depended partly on the Palestinian aid agency’s making unspecified reforms, and that withholding the funds had not been punitive.

Many Palestinians and their supporters disputed that assertion. They pointed to statements by administration officials, including a Jan. 2 Twitter message by President Trump, who complained that “we pay the Palestinians HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS OF DOLLARS a year and get no appreciation or respect.”

United Nations officials said the administration’s move had created the worst financial crisis in the Palestinian aid agency’s seven-decade history.

In their letter, the leaders of the aid groups said: “We are particularly alarmed that this decision impacting humanitarian aid to civilians is not based on any assessment of need, but rather designed both to punish Palestinian political leaders and to force political concessions from them.

“This is simply unacceptable as a rationale for denying civilians humanitarian assistance, and a dangerous and striking departure from U.S. policy on international humanitarian assistance,” the letter stated.

It was signed by top executives of prominent nongovernmental relief and advocacy organizations, including Save the Children, Oxfam America, CARE USA, Refugees International and the International Rescue Committee.

The letter was sent to Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, the American ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki R. Haley, and Mr. Trump’s national security adviser, Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster.

Eric P. Schwartz, the president of Refugees International, said in a telephone interview that the letter was the outcome of what he described as “the deep reaction by the N.G.O. community to a very bad decision.”

Mr. Schwartz, a former assistant secretary of state for population, refugees and migration under the Obama administration, said the Palestinian aid decision had broken with decades of American policy.

He pointed to President Ronald Reagan’s 1984 assertion that “a hungry child knows no politics” in deciding to help famine victims in Ethiopia.

For the full article, click here. 

NPR: The Future Of Myanmar's Rohingya Refugees

Myanmar says it is ready to start receiving Rohingya refugees this week, but will they be safe? Eric Schwartz of Refugees International discusses their return with NPR's Lulu Garcia-Navarro.

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

There are increasing concerns over a plan to send a group of Rohingya refugees back to Myanmar beginning this week. A deal was reached between Myanmar and Bangladesh, where more than 600,000 refugees fled. Yet United Nations and humanitarian groups say the move is premature and that the conditions that led to ethnic cleansing still exist. Joining me in the studio is Eric Schwartz, president of Refugees International and a former assistant secretary of state. Welcome to the program, sir.

ERIC SCHWARTZ: Pleasure to be here.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So the Rohingya have faced rape, forcible displacement, other atrocities in Myanmar, which is what forced them to flee to Bangladesh in the first place. In the past few days, Rohingya Muslims have continued, though, to pour across the border into Bangladesh. Why are the two countries talking about returning refugees to Myanmar if people are still fleeing violence?

SCHWARTZ: Why they're talking about it is because they feel they have to talk about it. The government of Bangladesh wants the bulk of these people to return. They also would be feeling some domestic pressures in this area, as well. And the government of Burma, I think, is feeling some of the pressure from the international community and feels some need to be responsive. But the real story here is this is horrifying, this discussion, to be taking place right now, given the complete absence of measures in place to ensure safety and security upon return.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: As I understand it, the Rohingya, according to this agreement, will be moved from the camps in Bangladesh to a camp in Myanmar where there could be security concerns.

SCHWARTZ: Oh yeah, there are no safeguards in place. There - been no serious discussion of safeguards for return. You have to realize that we're talking about one of the greatest crimes in recent memory - massive abuses, forced relocation of hundreds of thousands of people in a matter of weeks.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: There's problems, obviously, with monitoring the situation. The government won't let - of Myanmar - won't let international monitors in. And, in fact, the top U.N. official responsible for human rights was barred from the country. Is that right?

SCHWARTZ: Yanghee Lee, the U.N.'s special rapporteur for human rights in Myanmar, has been denied entry. A U.N. fact-finding mission has been denied entry. If there was going to be a return - and this is premature - but if there was going to be a return, there would have to be some sort of international monitoring in place.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Myanmar sees most of the Rohingya as illegal migrants who originally came from Bangladesh generations ago. Bangladesh does not want them either. We're seeing a new generation growing up in refugee camps. In many ways, they are stateless people. Bangladesh is not giving newborns, for example, documents to show that they have any status at all in the country. So what is the way forward?

SCHWARTZ: The bottom line is they - Rohingya have been in Myanmar for centuries. They have legitimate claims to citizenship there. And the notion that they're stateless or somehow they are kind of an alien people is nonsense. It is nonsense. It is a myth perpetrated by the authorities in Myanmar. So yeah, the government of Bangladesh should have policies that are tolerant and willing to take care of the Rohingya for as long as they need to be taken care of. But the culprit here is the government and the military in Myanmar.

The government of Bangladesh needs to do what it is doing, and it needs to do more. And the international community needs to assist the government of Bangladesh. But ultimately, the solution for these people should be a solution in Myanmar. Until that's possible, the international community and the government of Bangladesh have a responsibility to provide these people with the refuge they deserve.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Eric Schwartz is president of Refugees International. Thank you so much.

SCHWARTZ: Thank you.

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

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

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

This segment is hosted by Todd Zwillich

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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MSNBC: Journalists Held in Myanmar as Rohingya Crisis Continues

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

PBS NewsHour: What can stop the extreme violence against Rohingya Muslims?

The mass exodus from Myanmar continues for Rohingya Muslims, who are fleeing what the U.N. has called “a textbook case of ethnic cleansing.” Judy Woodruff speaks with Eric Schwartz of Refugees International and Daniel Russel of Asia Society about the horrific accounts of murder and sexual violence, the roots of the humanitarian crisis and what can be done.

 

NPR: Refugees International Head: Abuses Against Rohingya Refugees 'Almost Unimaginable'

NPR's Ari Shapiro speaks with Eric Schwartz, president of Refugees International, about what he learned from Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, after his trip to Cox's Bazaar. 

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Eric Schwartz is seeing firsthand what's happening at the border of Myanmar in Bangladesh. He's president of Refugees International, and he arrived in the area over the weekend. I asked him to describe what he's seeing.

ERIC SCHWARTZ: Well, Ari, the magnitude of the abuses perpetrated by the Burmese military is almost unimaginable. I've been on about - oh, I don't know - dozens of human rights and humanitarian missions over a 30-year career. And I've - I don't recall ever getting choked up until yesterday.

SHAPIRO: Wow.

SCHWARTZ: Well, the day before yesterday. After hearing - visiting a hospital with kids who had suffered gunshot wounds, burn wounds - 1-year-old, a 5-year-old, a 17-year-old girl. What we've heard repeatedly from everyone we've spoken to is a pattern of really horrendous abuses in the military surrounding villages, firing incendiary devices, people fleeing, people being shot at indiscriminately, villages being burned and just masses and masses of people going across the border.

SHAPIRO: What you're describing sounds less like an effort to force people out and more like an extermination campaign.

SCHWARTZ: There is no question in my mind that there are crimes - certainly, this is ethnic cleansing. And there are crimes against humanity that are taking place. Unquestionably a wide practice of atrocities - a textbook definition of crimes against humanity. It's shocking. It's even shocking for someone like me who has seen a lot of bad things over the years.

SHAPIRO: Will you tell me the story of someone that you met in one of these camps, a story that'll stay with you?

SCHWARTZ: Sure. At the risk of getting choked up, a very articulate woman from a village who fled with three young girls - ages I think about 7 and 5 and a young baby - whose husband urged her to get out of the village. And he said that he would follow. She was later told by other villagers who arrived in Bangladesh that her husband was shot but not only shot. He was shot through the head. And the look of resignation and - both resignation and anger was really just so affecting. So there was story after story. There was nobody we talked to - there's nobody we talked to who hasn't had a mother, a brother, a son, an uncle, some family member who was killed by the military. This is a horror story.

SHAPIRO: They have fled to Bangladesh, a very poor country. What are the conditions right there where you are? Is it an organized refugee camp, or is it more ad hoc than that?

SCHWARTZ: Well, it's very ad hoc. And these camps have been very makeshift. We're talking about 400,000 people, on top of as many as half a million Rohingya refugees who were already in Bangladesh. Probably roughly about half of the new arrivals are in these makeshift facilities. People are living in squalor, where, in the rainy season, mud is ankle deep. International aid providers are doing the best they can. And the government of Bangladesh is doing the best that it can. You know, there's a basic question here, which is, you know, has the government of Bangladesh recognized its responsibility to take care of these people. And at this point. The government of Bangladesh has said, yes, that this is a challenge it's prepared to take on. And that's extremely important.

SHAPIRO: Eric Schwartz is president of Refugees International - speaking with us from Bangladesh near the border with Myanmar. Thanks for joining us.

SCHWARTZ: Thank you, Ari.

PBS NewsHour: Will one company’s mixed mission in Yemen sow suspicion of aid groups?

For aid organizations, especially those in conflict zones, remaining politically neutral is crucial for trust. A New York Times investigation found that the conduct of a logistics company could drive suspicion that aid groups in Yemen were somehow acting as agents of the U.S. government. William Brangham speaks with The New York Times' Eric Schmitt and Daryl Grisgraber of Refugees International.

View the video here.

VOA: Humanitarian Crisis in Africa - Encounter

J. Peter Pham, Vice President for Research and Regional Initiatives and Director of the Africa Center at the Atlantic Council, and Michel Gabaudan, President of Refugees International, discuss with host Carol Castiel what is being dubbed the greatest humanitarian crisis since 1945, as conflict exacerbates famine in Yemen, South Sudan, Somalia and Northern Nigeria.

View the original video here.