The Trump-Turnbull Meeting and Australia’s “Pacific Solution” for Refugees

 Credit: Reuters. Asylum-seekers at Manus Island detention center, Papua New Guinea, 2014.

Credit: Reuters. Asylum-seekers at Manus Island detention center, Papua New Guinea, 2014.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Washington, D.C. (February 22, 2018) – On the eve of Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump, Refugees International welcomes the decision of the Trump Administration to resettle refugees transferred by the Australian Government into detention in Papua New Guinea and Nauru. Under the current arrangement, the U.S. has reportedly agreed to take up to 1,250 of the refugees. To date, more than 100 have arrived in the United States.

We encourage the Trump administration to expand this important humanitarian resettlement program, as permitted in the agreement between Australia and the United States, so that the nearly 2400 asylum-seekers currently impacted by Australia’s transfer policy could obtain the durable solution of U.S. resettlement.

At the same time, we are deeply disturbed by Australian practices regarding asylum seekers arriving by sea. Under these practices, asylum-seekers have either been interdicted at sea and summarily returned, often to countries of origin, or transferred into detention in Nauru and Papua New Guinea pursuant to Australia’s so-called “Pacific Solution” policy.

As refugee protections erode around the world, the Government of Australia should not become a leader in the international race to the bottom. But recent practices raise serious concerns that this is precisely what is occurring. 

Asylum-seekers approaching Australia by sea are denied proper screening procedures that would ensure against return to countries of origin or other countries that may not guarantee necessary protection.  And in the so-called off-shore processing centers in Nauru and Papua New Guinea, asylum-seekers have suffered arbitrary and indefinite detention, risks to their personal security, inadequate healthcare - including the failure to address  trauma and other mental health concerns - and inadequate sanitary facilities. These and other concerns have been identified and documented by a range of credible international observers.

For these reasons, Refugees International strongly encourages the Trump Administration to expand its current resettlement arrangements with Australia – to ensure durable solutions that end the suffering of the affected populations. 

In the absence of such action by the United States government, the government of Australia cannot in good conscience – or consistent with its obligations under international refugee law – continue with this off-shore arrangement, and must itself provide resettlement for those who have suffered so significantly.

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For interviews with RI President Eric Schwartz please contact Hardin Lang, Vice President for Programs and Policy, at (202) 378-8995 or at hardin@refugeesinternational.org.

Refugees International (RI) advocates for lifesaving assistance and protection for displaced people and promotes solutions to displacement crises. We are an independent organization, and do not accept any government or UN funding. For more information, visit www.refugeesinternational.org.

Humanitarian Groups Oppose U.S. Funding Cuts to the UN Relief Agency for Palestinians

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Leading Humanitarian Organizations Object to Trump Administration Plans to Cut U.S. Contributions to the UN Relief Agency for Palestinians

Washington, D.C. – Today, the leaders of 21 leading organizations involved in international humanitarian response sent a letter to the Trump Administration objecting “in the strongest terms” to the U.S. decision to withhold $65 million in planned U.S. contributions to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).

In the letter (see the full letter text below), the humanitarian leaders write, “We are deeply concerned by the humanitarian consequences of this decision on life-sustaining assistance to children, women and men in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, and the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Whether it is emergency food aid, access to primary healthcare, access to primary education, or other critical support to vulnerable populations, there is no question that these cuts, if maintained, will have dire consequences.”

The letter was sent to United States Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster, and Secretary of Defense James Mattis.

Eric Schwartz, president of Refugees International and former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees and Migration, said, “As reflected in comments by Ambassador Nikki Haley, this decision is aimed at punishing Palestinian political leaders and forcing them to make political concessions. But it is wrong to punish political leaders by denying life-sustaining aid to civilians. This is a dangerous and striking departure from U.S. policy on international humanitarian assistance which conflicts starkly with values that U.S. administrations and the American people have embraced. ”

Joel Charny, director of Norwegian Refugee Council USA and co-organizer of the letter with Refugees International, added, "It has been U.S. policy for decades that 'a hungry child knows no politics,' as President Reagan stated to justify U.S. assistance to famine-affected Ethiopia in 1984. Aid to save lives and alleviate suffering should be provided solely on the basis of need and there is no justification for violating this principle in the case of Palestinians civilians."

The letter to the Trump Administration concludes: “(I)t is deeply troubling to witness such a casual disregard of principles that have been crucial to U.S. policy deliberations over many decades. We hope sincerely that you will reconsider this unfortunate decision, which we believe undermines critically important values as well as U.S. leadership around the world.”

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For interviews with Refugees International President Eric Schwartz, please contact Gail Chalef, Senior Communication Officer at either +202-540-7026 or at gail@refugeesinternational.org.

For interviews with Norwegian Refugee Council USA Director Joel Charny, please contact Basma Alloush, Advocacy and Communications Officer, at +1-617-966-0333 or at basma.alloush@nrc.no.

MANTENIENDO LA ESPERANZA CON NUESTROS COMPATRIOTAS EN PUERTO RICO: Satisfaciendo las necesidades urgentes de los sobrevivientes del huracán María

Washington, D.C. (diciembre 21, 2017) – A casi tres meses después de que el devastador huracán María azotara a Puerto Rico, los ciudadanos de este territorio estadounidense continúan enfrentando enormes desafíos al acceder la electricidad, el agua potable, y la asistencia federal para reparar sus hogares. En respuesta a esta crisis, Refugees International (RI), una organización independiente y no partidaria, que aboga a favor de los refugiados y desplazados, llevó a cabo su primera misión dentro de los Estados Unidos para investigar la emergencia humanitaria – una acción que, hasta ahora, solamente había llevado a cabo en el exterior. Hoy, después de haber completado su misión a fines de noviembre, Refugees International publicó su evaluación de la crisis en Puerto Rico en el informe, “Manteniendo la esperanza con nuestros compatriotas en Puerto Rico: Satisfaciendo las necesidades urgentes de los sobrevivientes del huracán María.”

“Han pasado casi tres meses desde que el devastador huracán María azotó a Puerto Rico, y muchos de los sobrevivientes con quienes nos hemos reunido – incluyendo a personas mayores con problemas de salud – todavía no tienen un techo que los proteja y están literalmente y figurativamente en la oscuridad,” dijo el presidente de RI, Eric Schwartz, quien viajó a la isla a fines de noviembre como parte de un equipo investigativo de RI. “La respuesta inicial sufrió gravemente de una falta de liderazgo a nivel federal empeorada por un fracaso total en responder con los recursos o la urgencia que la situación exigía. La emergencia continúa y no es muy tarde para que el gobierno de los E.E.U.U. fortalezca sus esfuerzos para abordar la situación de nuestros compatriotas quienes han sufrido – y continúan sufriendo - tan gravemente en Puerto Rico”.

Teniendo en cuenta la experiencia de RI en respuesta y prevención de desastres internacionales, uno de los objetivos principales de la misión era identificar cómo se podrían utilizar las mejores prácticas internacionales de respuesta en casos de desastre en Puerto Rico y en situaciones similares.

“Francamente nos sorprendió la pobre coordinación y falta de logística sobre el terreno – por FEMA y por el gobierno de Puerto Rico – que menoscabó seriamente la eficacia del suministro de ayuda”, dijo Alice Thomas, investigadora principal para el informe de RI. “Los Estados Unidos, a través de la Agencia de los Estados Unidos para el Desarrollo Internacional (USAID por sus siglas en inglés) agresivamente promueve mejorar la coordinación de las respuestas internacionales en casos de desastres, y es una pena que no practiquemos en casa lo que predicamos en el extranjero”.

El informe de RI indica que los sobrevivientes de María se enfrentan a unos retos enormes al intentar navegar el proceso excesivamente burocrático y opaco de asistencia de FEMA, y exhorta a FEMA y a las autoridades puertorriqueñas que adopten sistemas mejorados de coordinación y manejo para asegurar que la ayuda llegue a los hogares más vulnerables. El informe le hace un llamado a FEMA y al gobierno de Puerto Rico que transformen el manejo de información implementando una campaña pública para difundir información fácil de comprender sobre la asistencia de respuesta y recuperación.

Finalmente, el informe enfatiza la importancia de reducir el riesgo de desastres futuros durante el proceso de reconstrucción y la necesidad de que el Congreso apoye generosamente estos esfuerzos.

“Es critico que los esfuerzos de respuesta y recuperación en Puerto Rico incluyan medidas para reconstruir de manera más segura y aumentar la resiliencia de la isla ante desastres futuros”, dijo Thomas, directora del programa de desplazamientos causados por el cambio climático. “Puerto Rico, al igual que los otros grandes desastres ocurridos a través de la nación durante el 2017, debe servir como una señal de alerta. Nuestros líderes tienen que trabajar hacia hacer nuestras comunidades – incluyendo a nuestros compatriotas en Puerto Rico – más resilientes y mejor preparadas frente a estos desastres cada vez más intensos”.

Leer informe aquí.

Para entrevistas con el presidente de RI, Eric Schwartz, o con la directora del programa de desplazamiento climático, Alice Thomas, favor contactar a Gail Chalef, oficial superior de comunicaciones, al (202) 540-7026 o a gail@refugeesinternational.org.

Keeping Faith with Our Fellow Americans in Puerto Rico: Meeting the Urgent Needs of Hurricane Maria Survivors

Washington, D.C. (December 18, 2017) – Almost three months after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, the citizens of the U.S. territory continue to face enormous challenges in accessing electricity, potable water, and federal assistance in repairing or rebuilding their homes. In response to this crisis, Refugees International (RI), a wholly independent, non-partisan advocacy group, conducted its first-ever mission within the United States to investigate the humanitarian emergency – an action the organization heretofore has only executed overseas. Completing its mission in late November 2017, RI today released its assessment of the Puerto Rico crisis in the report, “Keeping Faith with our Fellow Americans: Meeting the Urgent Needs of Hurricane Maria Survivors in Puerto Rico.”

“It has been almost three months since Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, and many survivors with whom we met – including people who are elderly and in poor health – still don’t have a roof over their heads and are literally and figuratively in the dark,” said RI President Eric Schwartz, who traveled to the island as part of an RI investigative team in late November. “The initial response suffered gravely from a failure of leadership at the federal level made worse by an overall failure to respond with either the resources or the urgency that the situation demanded. As the emergency continues, it is not too late for the U.S. government to strengthen efforts to address the plight of our fellow Americans who have suffered – and continue to suffer – so severely in Puerto Rico.”

In light of RI’s experience in disaster response and prevention around the world, a major goal of the mission was to identify how international best practices for disaster response could be brought to bear in Puerto Rico and in similar situations.

“Frankly, we were surprised by the poor coordination and logistics on the ground – by FEMA and the Puerto Rican government – which seriously undermined the effectiveness of the aid delivery process,” said Alice Thomas, lead researcher for the RI report. “The United States, through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), has aggressively promoted enhanced coordination in international responses to disasters, and it is a shame that the United States didn’t practice at home what we have been preaching abroad.”

The RI report notes that Maria survivors are facing enormous challenges in navigating FEMA’s overly bureaucratic and opaque assistance process, and it urges FEMA and Puerto Rican authorities to adopt vastly improved coordination and management systems to ensure that aid is targeted at the most vulnerable households. The report calls on FEMA and the Puerto Rican government to transform information management by implementing a public information campaign to effectively share easy-to-understand information on response and recovery assistance.

Finally, the report stresses the importance of reducing the risk of future disasters in the rebuilding process and the need for generous support from the Congress to promote such efforts.

“It is critical that response and recovery efforts in Puerto Rico include measures to build back safer and build the island’s resilience to future disasters,” said Thomas, RI’s Climate Displacement Program Manager. “Puerto Rico and the other major disasters we have faced across the nation in 2017 should serve as a wake-up call. Our leaders must work to make our communities – including our fellow Americans in Puerto Rico - more resilient and better prepared in the face of these intensifying disasters.”

Read the report here.

For interviews with RI President Eric Schwartz or Climate Displacement Program Manager Alice Thomas, please contact Gail Chalef, Senior Communications Officer, at (202) 540-7026 or at gail@refugeesinternational.org.

Hardin Lang, Former UN Peacekeeping and Humanitarian Official, Joins Refugees International as Vice President for Programs and Policy

Washington, D.C. (December 12, 2017) – Refugees International (RI) President Eric Schwartz announced today that Hardin Lang has been appointed as the organization’s Vice President for Programs and Policy. In this newly created senior role at RI, Lang will lead the development and implementation of the organization’s fact-finding and advocacy efforts on behalf of refugees and displaced persons around the world.

“We are thrilled that Hardin Lang is joining Refugees International at a time when refugees and displaced persons face enormous challenges,” Schwartz said. “Hardin’s humanitarian, peacekeeping, international organization, and foreign policy experience will be an enormous asset as we continue our critical work supporting the rights of vulnerable populations globally.”

With 25 years of experience working in conflict zones and natural disasters, think-tanks and academia, Lang is a veteran of six United Nations peacekeeping and humanitarian field missions and has worked in Afghanistan, the Balkans, Myanmar, Central America, Gaza and West Bank, Iraq, Haiti, Jordan, Lebanon, Tunisia, Turkey, and West Africa.

Hardin helped launch the UN stabilization in Mali and managed UN peace and humanitarian operations in Afghanistan and Haiti. In Iraq, he served as chief of staff for the International Organization for Migration’s (IOM) humanitarian and stabilization mission and later as an adviser to the UN special representative in Baghdad.  During his tenure at the United Nations, Hardin also served as head of the Office of the UN Special Envoy for the Haiti earthquake.

Hardin also worked for the United Nations in the Balkans, where he helped draft Kosovo’s first interim constitution and managed operations to safeguard ethnic minorities and assist displaced populations and returnees. Earlier in his career, he worked in Central America, serving as a human rights and refugee advocate before he went on to join the UN mission to Guatemala which was was charged with overseeing an end to that country’s civil war.

Hardin comes to Refugees International from the Center for American Progress (CAP) where he was a senior fellow specializing in Middle East conflicts and national security policy. Prior to CAP, he was a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). Hardin has published widely in the Wall Street JournalForeign Policy,NewsweekU.S. News and World ReportThe National Interest, and the Economist Intelligence Unit. He has been interviewed on the BBC, Bloomberg, Fox News, MSNBC, and NPR and has given testimony before the U.S. Senate. 

Hardin holds a master’s degree in public policy from Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, a master’s degree in international history with a focus on the Middle East from the London School of Economics, and a bachelor’s degree from Oberlin College. 

Founded in 1979, Refugees International advocates for lifesaving assistance and protection for displaced people and promotes solutions to displacement crises. We are an independent organization, and do not accept any government or UN funding. Each year, Refugees International conducts approximately twelve field missions to identify urgent needs among refugees and displaced populations, including for basic services such as food, water, healthcare, housing, access to education, and protection from harm. With our field-based knowledge of humanitarian emergencies, we successfully challenge policy makers and aid agencies to improve the lives of displaced people around the world.

For interviews with Refugees International Vice President for Programs and Policy Hardin Lang, please contact Gail Chalef, Senior Communications Officer, at (202) 540-7026 or at gail@refugeesinternational.org.

Denial of Aid and Severe Human Rights Abuses Endangering Civilians in Myanmar’s Kachin and Northern Shan States

Washington, D.C. (December 8, 2017) – A new Refugees International (RI) investigation released today details how Myanmar’s military - the same military responsible for ethnic cleansing of Rohingya Muslims in western Myanmar - is also responsible for severe human rights abuses and blocking of life-saving aid to a mostly Christian minority in the north of the country. A team from Refugees International was able to access a restricted area outside of government control in Myanmar’s Kachin State to document the conditions of tens of thousands of displaced persons. The team’s findings are highlighted in a just-released report: Suffering in Shadows: Aid Restrictions, Reductions Endanger Displaced Persons in Northern Myanmar.

“A dangerous combination of decreased international aid, decreased accessibility due to government policies, and waning global attention are creating a desperate and unsustainable situation for the displaced people in northern Myanmar,” said Daniel Sullivan, Refugees International Senior Advocate for Human Rights “While international pressure and attention on the plight of the Rohingya in the west of Myanmar must be sustained, the situation of forcibly displaced Kachin and other ethnic groups must not be forgotten.”

Some 100,000 displaced persons living in camps in Kachin and northern Shan States face Myanmar government policies that have dramatically increased restrictions on humanitarian assistance. Nearly half of the displaced population lives in areas controlled by ethnic armed groups, where the government has denied virtually all access for the United Nations and international humanitarian groups.

The RI report finds that the increased restrictions in areas beyond government control have not only made delivery of food and medicine more difficult but have also heightened the risks of abuse, exploitation, and human trafficking, creating a serious protection crisis. The effects of decreased aid and access to services have already manifested in the form of deteriorating health conditions, increased dropout rates among displaced students, and greater expressions of hopelessness among the displaced population. Even in government-controlled areas, aid delivery to displaced people has become increasingly difficult as the Myanmar government imposes increasingly onerous bureaucratic requirements.

RI urges the Government of Myanmar to take immediate steps to alleviate the suffering of displaced persons including restoration of crossline aid, timely granting of travel authorizations for humanitarian staff, and granting of access to the UN fact-finding mission.

Based on its findings, RI recommends that the U.S. government, United Nations, and international donors should:

  • Take measures to curb abuses and ensure accountability for those responsible for serious human rights violations through targeted sanctions against senior military officials, a multi-lateral arms embargo, and support for a UN fact-finding mission.
  • Sustain and augment humanitarian support to internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Kachin and northern Shan States through local civil society organizations, including support for full food rations to IDPs in areas outside of government control.
  • Take measures to curb abuses and ensure accountability for those responsible for serious human rights violations through targeted sanctions against senior military officials, a multi-lateral arms embargo, and support for a UN fact-finding mission.

For durable solutions in the intermediate to longer term, progress will be needed through the establishment of peace talks and in beginning pilot programs for safe and voluntary returns of displaced persons to their villages of origin when conditions permit.

Read the full version of the report here.

For interviews with Refugees International Senior Advocate Daniel Sullivan, please contact Gail Chalef, Senior Communications Officer, at (202) 540-7026 or at gail@refugeesinternational.org.

Refugees in Turkey Trapped in Cycle of Exploitative Work, New Refugees International Report Finds

Washington, D.C. (December 4, 2017) – A new Refugees International (RI) report released today examines the inaccessibility of work permits for the vast majority of refugees in Turkey, despite the possibility of legal employment under Turkish law. The study, “I Am Only Looking for My Rights”: Legal Employment Still Inaccessible for Refugees in Turkey, is based on interviews with dozens of Syrian and non-Syrian refugees in Turkey in October 2017.

The report finds that without legal employment, refugees become trapped in a cycle of informal work where the risk of exploitation and abuse is high. In addition, the lack of decent wages for adult refugees pushes many refugee children into the job market as well, instead of attending school.

“Refugees in Turkey face enormous hurdles to finding legal employment,” said Izza Leghtas, RI senior advocate for Europe. “Refugees commonly work excessively long hours and in difficult working conditions and are paid a fraction of their Turkish counterparts.”

While the Government of Turkey took an important and positive step in early 2016 by introducing a system of work permits for Syrian refugees, a possibility which already existed for non-Syrian refugees, most employers are reluctant to apply for these work permits and to pay the required fee. Other difficulties refugees face are language barriers and a climate of hostility and negative myths about the impact of refugees on Turkish society.

To address these issues, the Government of Turkey should both educate the Turkish public about refugees and their positive contribution to Turkish society and encourage employers to hire refugees. In this context, where Turkey already hosts 3.5 million refugees and does not provide them with adequate protections, European Union (EU) governments and the United States should accept much larger numbers of refugees through resettlement and other programs. The report also urges EU governments not to send asylum-seekers from Greece back to Turkey, as provided under an agreement between the EU and Turkey in March 2016.

For its part, the European Union, which provides billions of Euros to Turkey for projects to assist refugees, should place greater emphasis on livelihoods and enabling the refugee population to be self-sufficient.

Read the full English-language version of the report here.

Read the full Turkish-language version of the report here. 

For interviews with Izza Leghtas (in English, French, Arabic, and Spanish), please contact Gail Chalef, Senior Communications Officer, at either (202) 540-7026 or at gail@refugeesinternational.org.

Secretary Tillerson Must Take Action Against Ethnic Cleansing of Rohingya During Myanmar Visit

Washington, D.C. (November 13, 2017) –  On November 15, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will become the highest-ranking official in the Trump Administration to visit Myanmar. His visit comes at a tumultuous time, three months after Myanmar security forces began brutal attacks which resulted in more than 600,000 ethnic Rohingya Muslims fleeing the country.

Refugees International President Eric Schwartz said, “Secretary Tillerson’s visit must be used to recognize the tragedy for what it is, ethnic cleansing, and to pressure the Myanmar government and in particular Myanmar’s military to address the crimes against humanity that are taking place. This trip cannot become an endorsement of the current state of affairs in Myanmar. Failure to make strong statements connected to strong actions will do just that.”

Secretary Tillerson has already recognized the immense tragedy of the situation. One month ago, he stated, “We’re extraordinarily concerned by what is happening with the Rohingya in Burma…What’s most important is that the world can’t just stand idly by and be witness to the atrocities that are being reported in the area.”

What remains to be seen is whether, one month on, such statements will be followed with strong actions. Tillerson further stated, “If these reports are true, someone is going to be held to account for that.”

Numerous eye witness accounts collected by the United Nations and human rights groups, including Refugees International, and corroborated by satellite imagery have left little doubt that the reports are true. A recent U.S. State Department delegation reported hearing further accounts of villages burned, Rohingya seeing family members killed in front of them, or being shot as they fled. 

The question now is whether those responsible will, indeed, be held to account.

To take full advantage of his visit, Secretary Tillerson should: 

  • Reiterate U.S. calls for the Myanmar government to grant unhindered access throughout the country for humanitarians and the UN fact-finding mission tasked with investigating serious human rights abuses;
  • Press for safe returns of displaced Rohingya back to their homes in Myanmar;
  • Demand accountability for individuals involved in planning, aiding, or carrying out grave human rights abuses.

Failure of the government to take such steps should result in targeted sanctions against Senior General Min Aung Hlaing and other senior military leaders and military owned enterprises. Further action should also be pushed with allies and with the UN Security Council including multilateral sanctions and an international arms embargo.

Finally, U.S. engagement and pressure should not end with this visit. Secretary Tillerson should further use his trip to Myanmar to announce the appointment of a Special Representative and Policy Coordinator, with the rank of ambassador, to continue and coordinate U.S. government policy and multilateral actions toward Myanmar.

BACKGROUND


More than 600,000 ethnic Rohingya people have fled their homes in western Myanmar’s Rakhine State across the border to Bangladesh since late August 2017. The refugees have fled “clearance operations” by the Myanmar security forces and attacks by local Rakhine mobs following an attack on August 25, 2017 by a group of Rohingya militants against some 30 police posts and an army base. The response of the Myanmar security forces has been condemned as grossly disproportionate with the United Nations and numerous human rights groups reporting widespread and systematic burning of homes, shooting of fleeing Rohingya, and mass rapes in a campaign of ethnic cleansing.

Secretary of State Tillerson will visit Myanmar on November 15.


Refugees International traveled to Bangladesh in late September 2017 and released a report, “Bearing Witness to Crimes Against Humanity: The Forced Expulsion of the Rohingya from Myanmar”. 

For interviews regarding Secretary Tillerson's trip or about the Refugees International recommendations, please contact Gail Chalef, Senior Communications Officer, at (202) 540-7026 or at gail@refugeesinterational.org.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson's Comments on the Rohingya Crisis Statement by Refugees International President Eric Schwartz

Washington, D.C. (October 19, 2017) – Refugees International welcomes Secretary of State Tillerson’s October 18 statement on the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar, and, in particular, his comment that “the world can’t just stand idly by and be witness to the atrocities being reported in the area.”

But in fact, the world can stand idly by, as can the United States, and for nearly two months, that is largely what has occurred. 

What is happening on the ground is not complicated. The Myanmar military has a plan which it continues to execute methodically: to drive out the bulk of the population of Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar and to terrorize and kill women, men, and children to achieve that objective. 

The Myanmar military is succeeding in this gruesome effort, which is ongoing.


Statements like those of Secretary Tillerson, which follow strong statements by U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley and Vice President Mike Pence last month, are very useful if they are followed by strong action. But they are not valuable if they stand by themselves, as they create expectations that, if not realized, send confusing signals to the world and undermine U.S. credibility. 

So how can the United States build on these encouraging statements by Secretary Tillerson? And what can the Government of the United States do to communicate to the Myanmar military that these awful actions must come to an end? 

First, the United States must press – not occasionally but repeatedly and at the highest levels – for the Myanmar military to cease all violations of human rights and indicate a willingness to accept the return of Rohingya in conditions of safety and dignity; the United States should also press at the highest levels for unfettered access for humanitarian organizations to Rakhine State.

Second, the United States should prohibit all military to military cooperation, and press the UN Security Council to impose a multi-lateral arms embargo until these requirements are met and individuals involved in planning, aiding or carrying out such abuses against the Rohingya are held accountable.

Third, the United States should support targeted bilateral and multilateral sanctions on senior military officials and military-owned enterprises.

Fourth, in light of Government of Myanmar’s stated willingness to accept return of Rohingya, the United States should engage China and other members of the UN Security Council in discussions of measures to ensure safety and dignity in the return process, including the deployment of international observers.

And finally, the United States should continue to support generous assistance to refugees in Bangladesh.

These measures would demonstrate a seriousness of purpose to bring an end to horrendous abuses – a seriousness of purpose that has thus far been sorely lacking.

For interviews with Eric Schwartz, president of Refugees International, lease contact Gail Chalef, senior communications officer, at (202) 540-7026 or (202) 290-8608.

Ethnic Cleansing of Rohingya in Myanmar: Refugees International Calls for Presidential Envoy and Sanctions on Myanmar’s Military

Washington, D.C. (October 5, 2017) – The Myanmar military has executed a campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya people of Rakhine State, a new Refugees International policy brief concludes. The brief, “Bearing Witness to Crimes Against Humanity,” provides testimony from Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, detailing abuses by Myanmar’s military forces that constitute crimes against humanity.  

During a fact-finding mission to the Bangladesh-Myanmar border in late September, Refugees International President Eric Schwartz and Senior Advocate for Human Rights Daniel Sullivan met with Rohingya refugees who recently fled the targeted attacks in Myanmar’s Rakhine State. The Rohingya men, women, and children shared consistent accounts of Myanmar soldiers surrounding villages, burning homes to the ground, stabbing and shooting the fleeing villagers, and committing mass rapes. 

“The Rohingya have faced decades of persecution and targeted violence in Myanmar, but the recent attacks that began just over a month ago are of an entirely new scale and level of inhumanity,” Schwartz said. “After 30 years working in the human rights field, there is no doubt in my mind that the actions of the Myanmar military constitute crimes against humanity.”

To date, more than 500,000 Rohingya men, women, and children have fled Myanmar, creating a humanitarian crisis in Bangladesh, where that nation’s existing capabilities to handle the crisis have been overwhelmed. To its credit, the Government of Bangladesh has generally welcomed the Rohingya refugees, but Bangladesh and the Rohingya refugees need much more international assistance to address the still growing humanitarian crisis. 

“The root causes of the crisis must be addressed and that can only be done by bringing pressure on the Myanmar government to end its policies of persecution and on the Myanmar military to end its egregious human rights abuses,” Sullivan said.

Further, Refugees International calls on the United Nations, United States, and international community to demand a cessation of abuses against Rohingya civilians and to apply pressure on the Government of Myanmar to grant a United Nations fact-finding mission access to Rakhine State to investigate human rights abuses against the Rohingya. In addition, humanitarian organizations must also be granted unfettered access to Rohingya communities in Rakhine State. 

Measures by the U.S. Government and the international community should include:

  • Targeted sanctions on Senior General Min Aung Hlaing and other senior military officials and military-owned enterprises.
  • A multi-lateral arms embargo on Myanmar.
  • Appointment of a high-level U.S. Presidential envoy on Myanmar.

Read the full policy brief here.

For interviews with Eric Schwartz or Daniel Sullivan, lease contact Gail Chalef, senior communications officer, at (202) 540-7026 or (202) 290-8608.

Refugees International Reports on Allegations of Sexual Exploitation and Abuse of Iraqi Women in De Facto Detention Camps

Washington, D.C. (October 3,2017) – Many Iraqi women and girls perceived or alleged to be affiliated with ISIS are reportedly being detained and subject to sexual exploitation and abuse, according to a new Refugees International issue brief released today. The brief, “Guilt by Association: Iraqi Women Detained and Subject to Sexual Exploitation and Abuse,” outlines alleged cases of abuse in de facto detention camps throughout the country, at the hands of Iraqi security forces and other authorities.

“Information regarding such cases has been circulating within Iraq in the aftermath of the operation to liberate Mosul, but there hasn’t been a concerted effort to protect these women and girls. The Government of Iraq and all actors responsible for the protection of civilians must give this its due attention immediately,” said Francisca Vigaud-Walsh, RI senior advocate for women and girls.

Many displaced Iraqis – primarily women and children – suspected of ISIS sympathies or family ties have been forcibly relocated into camps where they are detained indefinitely, their documentation seized, and their freedom of movement severely restricted. RI interviewed dozens of humanitarian workers with knowledge of alleged violations occurring in camps in the Ninewa, Salaheddin, and Anbar governorates. The humanitarian workers report witnessing inhumane conditions and described in detail the exploitation of women and girls in exchange for essential aid items, such as food and access to health services.

“The right to humane treatment is at the core of international humanitarian law and all civilians in Iraq, regardless of their perceived or alleged affiliations, are entitled to access to safety, security, and humanitarian assistance,” Vigaud-Walsh concludes. 

Read the full issue brief here.

لقراءة التقرير باللغة العربية اضغط هنا

Read the latest RI field report on internal displacement in Iraq here.

For interviews with Francisca Vigaud-Walsh, please contact Gail Chalef, senior communications officer, at (202) 540-7026 or (202) 290-8608.

New Refugees International Report on Returns in Iraq Following the Battle against the Islamic State

Washington, D.C. (September 25, 2017) – Refugees International released a new report today examining the prospects for return of the three million people in Iraq displaced by the protracted battle against the Islamic State (ISIS). The report, Too Much Too Soon: Displaced Iraqis and the Push to Return Home, outlines the challenges of returning to towns and villages across Iraq that have been liberated from ISIS control. The report is based on a fact-finding mission to the northern and central regions of Iraq in July 2017.

“With the battle against ISIS in Iraq reaching its end stages, attention should now turn to the immediate future of the country,” said Daryl Grisgraber, Refugees International Senior Advocate and author of the report. “An essential pillar in rebuilding Iraq will be finding sustainable solutions for the 3.2 million people who currently remain internally displaced. Many of them want to return home, but the government of Iraq continues to struggle to create conditions for return that will allow people to do so in safety and dignity.” 

The internal displacement of millions of Iraqis has been a long-standing issue in Iraq; some three million Iraqi men, women, and children have been newly displaced as a result of ISIS activity since 2014. The displaced Iraqis live in camps, in informal settlements, in rented accommodation, and in host communities throughout the country. The ten-year reconstruction plan for Iraq announced by Iraqi Prime Minister al-Abadi in late June 2017 includes a goal “to return all displaced persons to their places of origin.” In some locations, local officials have expressed eagerness to start that process. However, the Refugees International report underlines serious concerns about how, when, and where these returns can or should take place.

The Refugees International report finds that Iraqis most recently displaced by ISIS activity (who represent a majority of Iraq’s current displaced population) are returning home much too soon. Not only is physical safety a fundamental problem (many areas, especially the ones most recently taken from ISIS, are heavily contaminated with improvised explosive devices and mines), but there is also widespread fear of revenge and retribution killings by and of religious and political groups that perceive others to be their enemies. Moreover, potential returnees are sometimes unwelcome by security forces and local authorities who are unwilling to protect people they consider their opponents, or sympathizers with their opponents. Though some internally displaced persons (IDPs) are spontaneously returning even to unsafe, unprepared areas, others are being pressured to leave their current places of residence against their will. According to customary international law and universal human rights principles, IDPs must not be forced to return.

In addition, the RI report finds, these displaced individuals find basic necessities of daily life hard to come by – an issue of even greater concern when the IDPs return to once embattled towns and villages. Shelter is practically non-existent in some of the areas most damaged by ISIS and by the fight to rout its forces. Access to clean water is a challenge for both IDPs and returnees, and medical services and electricity are not readily available in many places. Earning money to pay for the materials and services crucial for returnees is hardly possible until the nascent reconstruction of Iraq begins in earnest.

In addition, as the focus in Iraq shifts from emergency response to longer-term reconstruction efforts, IDPs who remain displaced and those who return home to largely destroyed communities will continue to need humanitarian aid until the government of Iraq is in a better position to assist its own citizens. Though the humanitarian situation may appear less desperate as military activity wanes, many Iraqis are still critically vulnerable and in need of the support from aid agencies. Funding for humanitarian programming in Iraq must continue to be a priority even as Iraq’s reconstruction gets underway.

Read the full report here.

For interviews with Daryl Grisgraber, please contact Gail Chalef, Senior Communications Officer, at (202) 540-7026 or (202) 290-8608.

World Leaders Must Act on Rohingya Crisis

Washington, D.C. (September 5, 2017) – Refugees International is outraged by the deplorable actions of the Myanmar military over the past several days. Well over 100,000 Rohingya from Rakhine State have been driven from their homes, and hundreds have reportedly been killed. Untold numbers are experiencing enormous deprivation and suffering as international humanitarian access is blocked to affected areas in Rakhine State. The military response to attacks by insurgents has been disproportionate and devastating to the broader civilian population. Make no mistake: ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity are taking place in the full view of the United Nations and governments of the world. 

Leaders at the United Nations, in Asia, in the United States, and around the world, must condemn these actions, demand humanitarian access, and exercise their responsibility to protect. This should include a special Security Council session focused on these atrocities, high level visits to Naypyidaw and the affected areas, and stern multilateral sanctions against the government until these abuses come to an end. 

World leaders must make clear to Myanmar’s military chief Min Aung Hlaing and other senior officers that continuing abuses will be met with consequences in the form of visa bans, asset freezes, and international accountability. World leaders should also make personal appeals to Myanmar’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi to end harmful rhetoric, including against international NGOs, to denounce the ongoing abuses, and to do everything in her power to stop them. 

The international community must also rally to provide aid where those fleeing violence can be reached. Already more than 120,000 Rohingya have fled across the border to Bangladesh. This adds to already immense challenges documented by Refugees International in a July 2017 report: “Reluctant Refuge: Rohingya Safe but Note Secure in Bangladesh”. The Government of Bangladesh should keep its borders open and be strongly supported by the UN and governments around the world in efforts to provide aid and shelter to those in need.

For interviews with Refugees International President Eric Schwartz or Senior Advocate for Human Rights Daniel Sullivan, please contact Gail Chalef, Senior Communications Officer, at (202) 540-7026 or at gail@refugeesinternational.org.