Izza Leghtas

Gaining Access to Work for Women Refugees in Jordan

Gaining Access to Work for Women Refugees in Jordan

Several countries around the world including Jordan are slowly recognizing the right of refugees to work and providing them opportunities to join the formal labor market. Refugees International is partnering with the Center for Global Development (CGD), the IKEA Foundation, Tent, and the Western Union Foundation in a joint initiative to push for more laws and policies that allow refugees to work legally and in decent conditions.

Venezuelan Refugees in Curaçao are Facing Abuse, Detention, and Deportation

Venezuelan Refugees in Curaçao are Facing Abuse, Detention, and Deportation

A Refugees International team traveled to Curaçao in February 2019 to investigate the conditions for Venezuelans living there. It quickly became clear to us that the fate of Venezuelans in Curaçao might very well be the worst of those seeking refuge in the region.

Hidden and Afraid—Venezuelans Without Status or Protection on the Dutch Caribbean Island of Curaçao

Hidden and Afraid—Venezuelans Without Status or Protection on the Dutch Caribbean Island of Curaçao

As the crisis in Venezuela has intensified, 3.4 million Venezuelans have fled their homes—many to other countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. Only 40 miles from the coast of Venezuela, an estimated 10,000 to 13,000 Venezuelans have fled to Curaçao in search of safe harbor. But once on the island, many of them live hidden and afraid with no real opportunities to obtain international protection or other forms of legal stay.

“You Cannot Exist in This Place:” Lack of Registration Denies Afghan Refugees Protection in Turkey

“You Cannot Exist in This Place:” Lack of Registration Denies Afghan Refugees Protection in Turkey

Turkey currently hosts the largest population of refugees in the world, including a growing number of Afghan refugees. Following a recent change in asylum procedures for Afghans and other non-Syrians in Turkey, Afghans have been facing increasing difficulties in registering with the authorities. Izza Leghtas and Jessica Thea recommend ways in which Turkish officials can make policy adjustments that will better ensure the rights of refugees.

Out of Reach: Legal Work Still Inaccessible to Refugees in Jordan

Out of Reach: Legal Work Still Inaccessible to Refugees in Jordan

The Jordan Compact is an ambitious effort by the international community and the Kingdom of Jordan to help mitigate the economic toll of hosting a large number of Syrian refugees and turn it into a development opportunity. However, more than two years into the Compact, the results are disappointing and many refugees in Jordan are worse off.

The Guardian: Italy bars two more refugee ships from ports

Italy’s interior minister has sparked a new migration crisis in the Mediterranean by barring two rescue boats from bringing refugees to shore, a week after the Aquarius was prevented from docking.

“Two other ships with the flag of Netherlands, Lifeline and Seefuchs, have arrived off the coast of Libya, waiting for their load of human beings abandoned by the smugglers,” Matteo Salvini, the leader of the anti-immigrant party the League, wrote on his Facebook page. “These gentlemen know that Italy no longer wants to be complicit in the business of illegal immigration, and therefore will have to look for other ports [not Italian] where to go.”

Italy’s closure of its ports to the migrant rescue ship Aquarius, which was carrying 620 people, triggered warnings from aid agencies of a deadly summer at sea for people trying to cross the Mediterranean.

Axel Steier, the co-founder of Mission Lifeline which operates the Lifeline ship, said his crew had rescued more than 100 migrants off Libya on Friday in an operation with a US warship, and transferred them to a Turkish merchant vessel.

He said his ship was too small to make the journey from Libya to Italian ports and that he always transferred migrants to other ships, but insisted those craft should have the right to land in Italy.

“I am sure there is an obligation for Italy to take them because its closest safe harbour is Lampedusa. We hand over migrants to Europe because of the Geneva convention,” he said.

Vessels chartered by an assortment of European NGOs have plied the waters off Libya for three years, rescuing migrants from leaking boats and transporting them to Sicily.

Following Salvini’s decision to prevent the Aquarius from docking, however, Malta quickly followed suit, leaving the vessel stranded at sea until Spain offered to take the ship. It is due to arrive in Valencia on Sunday.

Crews of the NGO boats say Salvini’s port closures leaves them without anywhere close by to take the people they rescue, and that the move will prove counterproductive.

“It will not stop people coming,” said Ruben Neugebauer, of the German charity ship Sea Watch. “They will come anyway, but more of them will die.”

Sea Watch refused last week to take 40 migrants rescued by the US navy ship Trenton off Libya, fearing a fate similar to that of the Aquarius. Trenton waited four days before being allowed to dock in Sicily.

Charities say the NGO boats are a vital lifeline, rescuing more than 88,000 people in the past two years, but critics say they are a pull factor, encouraging people to make the dangerous sea journey. 

More than 600,000 migrants have made the crossing from Libya to Italy in the past four years, and Salvini’s stance reflects frustration that the rest of Europe refuses to take its share of arrivals. At least 13,000 people have drowned trying to reach European shores.

The French president, Emmanuel Macron, accused Salvini last week of cynicism and irresponsibility, but at the same time refused to allow the Aquarius to dock at French ports. 

“Malta and Italy didn’t open their ports, but then most other European governments didn’t help either,” said Izza Leghtas, a senior advocate at Europe for Refugees International. “They are all passing the ball among themselves.“

If the NGO boats are unable to land the people they rescue and cease to operate, Operation Sophia, an EU anti-smuggler mission patrolling the Mediterranean, may take up some of the slack. NGOs, however, say its warships operate too far out to sea, given that people traffickers favour towing rubber boats full of migrants to the edge of Libya’s 12-mile territorial waters before setting them adrift.

Italy’s port closures come despite an 85% fall in migrant crossings since last year. The decrease is in part the result of the EU and Italy training and funding Libya’s coastguard to intercept vessels.

Read full article in The Guardian, here.

Express: EU CHAOS: Aquarius row highlights long-lasting CRISIS on migration policy

Last weekend, Italy’s anti-immigration Interior Minister Matteo Salvini denied landing rights to the Aquarius, and over the past week Italy has argued with Malta and France over the fate of its passengers.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s differences with her own Interior Minister, Horst Seehofer, over migration policy is threatening an escalating coalition crisis.

During a recent visit to Berlin, Austria’s Chancellor Sebastian Kurz declared that he, Mr Salvini and Mr Seehofer were an “axis of the willing” demanding a tougher stance on immigration.

Tensions over European migration policy, which has never truly been solved since nearly 2.5 million people applied for asylum during the crisis in 2015, have been widening, showing it to be as much a great fear for the fate of the bloc as the eurozone’s financial crisis.

The latest dispute in Italy now threatens a fragile easing of hostility over migration that has mainly held because of the steep fall in the number of people travelling across the Mediterranean.

Numbers have dropped significantly from one million in 2015 to 40,000 this year, but there are increasing fears that Europe is not prepared for the next migration crisis.

Izza Leghtas, senior advocate for Europe for Refugees International, said: “It’s a big mess and they are all responsible for it. It just puts them to shame.”

When the Aquarius’s passengers dock in Valencia on Sunday, there are worries of more trouble, with far-right group Espana 2000 calling on members to gather at the port on Saturday night.

When asked what could be done to avoid a repeat of the Aquarius row, one diplomat said: “I do not see any solution at this point in time.

“Salving is on a triumph. Malta cannot accept them. Spain cannot keep accepting them.

The row over the Aquarius ship has reignited immigration tensions across the continent

The Aquarius row will intensify a debate at the EU summit later this month on efforts to overhaul asylum supply.

An attempt to change the EU’s ‘Dublin’ regulation, where states are responsible for asylum applicants, appears difficult to control, while central and European states have defied a push from Mediterranean countries for compulsory refugee resettlement quotas.

Mr Kurz, who governs the far-right Freedom party, wants Vienna to push harsh policies when it begins its six-month term as President next month and along with Danish counterpart Lars Lokke Rasmussen, have put forward an idea to send failed asylum seekers to a camp in a non-EU country.

But one diplomat said: “Unfortunately all of these interventions are pushing us away from a balanced debate.”

This piece originally appeared here

The Guardian: Italy bars two more refugee ships from ports

Italy’s interior minister has sparked a new migration crisis in the Mediterranean by barring two rescue boats from bringing refugees to shore, a week after the Aquarius was prevented from docking.

“Two other ships with the flag of Netherlands, Lifeline and Seefuchs, have arrived off the coast of Libya, waiting for their load of human beings abandoned by the smugglers,” Matteo Salvini, the leader of the anti-immigrant party the League, wrote on his Facebook page. “These gentlemen know that Italy no longer wants to be complicit in the business of illegal immigration, and therefore will have to look for other ports [not Italian] where to go.”

Italy’s closure of its ports to the migrant rescue ship Aquarius, which was carrying 620 people, triggered warnings from aid agencies of a deadly summer at sea for people trying to cross the Mediterranean.

Axel Steier, the co-founder of Mission Lifeline which operates the Lifeline ship, said his crew had rescued more than 100 migrants off Libya on Friday in an operation with a US warship, and transferred them to a Turkish merchant vessel.

He said his ship was too small to make the journey from Libya to Italian ports and that he always transferred migrants to other ships, but insisted those craft should have the right to land in Italy.

“I am sure there is an obligation for Italy to take them because its closest safe harbour is Lampedusa. We hand over migrants to Europe because of the Geneva convention,” he said.

Vessels chartered by an assortment of European NGOs have plied the waters off Libya for three years, rescuing migrants from leaking boats and transporting them to Sicily.

Following Salvini’s decision to prevent the Aquarius from docking, however, Malta quickly followed suit, leaving the vessel stranded at sea until Spain offered to take the ship. It is due to arrive in Valencia on Sunday.

Crews of the NGO boats say Salvini’s port closures leaves them without anywhere close by to take the people they rescue, and that the move will prove counterproductive.

“It will not stop people coming,” said Ruben Neugebauer, of the German charity ship Sea Watch. “They will come anyway, but more of them will die.”

Sea Watch refused last week to take 40 migrants rescued by the US navy ship Trenton off Libya, fearing a fate similar to that of the Aquarius. Trenton waited four days before being allowed to dock in Sicily.

Charities say the NGO boats are a vital lifeline, rescuing more than 88,000 people in the past two years, but critics say they are a pull factor, encouraging people to make the dangerous sea journey.

More than 600,000 migrants have made the crossing from Libya to Italy in the past four years, and Salvini’s stance reflects frustration that the rest of Europe refuses to take its share of arrivals. At least 13,000 people have drowned trying to reach European shores.

The French president, Emmanuel Macron, accused Salvini last week of cynicism and irresponsibility, but at the same time refused to allow the Aquarius to dock at French ports.

“Malta and Italy didn’t open their ports, but then most other European governments didn’t help either,” said Izza Leghtas, a senior advocate at Europe for Refugees International. “They are all passing the ball among themselves.“

If the NGO boats are unable to land the people they rescue and cease to operate, Operation Sophia, an EU anti-smuggler mission patrolling the Mediterranean, may take up some of the slack. NGOs, however, say its warships operate too far out to sea, given that people traffickers favour towing rubber boats full of migrants to the edge of Libya’s 12-mile territorial waters before setting them adrift.

Italy’s port closures come despite an 85% fall in migrant crossings since last year. The decrease is in part the result of the EU and Italy training and funding Libya’s coastguard to intercept vessels.

This piece originally appeared here

Financial Times: Aquarius dispute shows EU leaders at sea over migration

From aboard the Aquarius, somewhere between Sardinia and Spain, Aloys Vimard tells how the ship’s 629 migrant passengers experienced the relief of being rescued from the Mediterranean Sea — then the horror of being denied the right to land in Italy.

“One man threatened to jump into the water because he was so scared of being returned to Libya,” said Mr Vimard, a Médecins Sans Frontières project co-ordinator on the former German coastguard vessel. “He said: ‘I don’t trust you, I would rather die than go back to Libya.’ Everyone was very, very anxious.”

The Aquarius is now sailing towards an emergency safe harbour offered by Spain. But the political storm over the vessel, whipped up by a new government in Rome, shows no sign of abating.

Tension over European migration policy, which has been half-hidden since almost 2.5m people applied for asylum during the 2015-16 crisis, has burst into the open — showing it to be every bit as much an existential fear for the fate of the bloc as the eurozone’s financial crisis.

Since Matteo Salvini, Italy’s anti-immigration interior minister and leader of the far-right league, denied landing rights to the Aquarius, Italy has argued with Malta and sparred with France over the fate of its passengers. Criticism from President Emmanuel Macron sucked Rome and Paris into a diplomatic row.

In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s differences with her interior minister, Horst Seehofer, over migration policy threatened a full-blown coalition crisis. Sebastian Kurz, Austria’s chancellor, added fuel to the fire during a visit to Berlin by declaring that he, Mr Seehofer and Mr Salvini were an “axis of the willing” demanding a harder line on migration.

The disputes threaten a fragile detente over migration that has held mainly because of the steep fall in the numbers coming across the Mediterranean: they have dropped from 1m in 2015 to fewer than 40,000 this year, mainly due to a squeeze on travel via Turkey and Libya. It stokes a sense that Europe is ill-prepared for the next migration crisis— which many see as a matter of when, not if. I do not see any solution at this point in time. Malta cannot accept them. Spain cannot keep on accepting them EU diplomat

“It’s a big mess and they are all responsible for it,” said Izza Leghtas, senior advocate for Europe for Refugees International. “It just puts them to shame.”

The Aquarius’s long-suffering passengers may yet face more problems when they dock in Valencia on Sunday morning. There are worries of trouble once those rescued — more than 500 of whom have now been transferred to two Italian ships — disembark. España 2000, a far-right group, has called on members to gather on Saturday night at the port.

The Aquarius row has underscored what one diplomat brands the “Gordian knot” of Europe’s migration disputes. There is no EU authority with the power to interpret — still less enforce — where international maritime law dictates a rescue ship should dock.

“I do not see any solution at this point in time,” the diplomat said, when asked what could be done to prevent a repeat of the Aquarius tug of war. “Malta [by far the smallest EU state] cannot accept them. Spain cannot keep on accepting them.”

The Aquarius affair will intensify an already fractious debate due at an EU summit this month on long-running efforts to overhaul asylum policy.

An attempt to reform the EU’s so-called Dublin regulation, on which states are responsible for asylum applicants, seems intractable. Central and northern European states including Hungary have resisted a push from Mediterranean countries for compulsory refugee resettlement quotas. Mr Kurz has raised the stakes by signalling that Vienna will push harsh policies when it starts its six-month term as EU president next month.

Mr Kurz — who governs with the far-right Freedom party — and Lars Lokke Rasmussen, his Danish counterpart, last week raised the idea of sending failed asylum seekers to a camp in a non-EU country.

The tough rhetoric has frustrated European envoys who argue calm consideration is the only way to win a comprehensive pan-EU settlement on migration. “Unfortunately all of these interventions are pushing us away from a balanced debate,” said one diplomat. “We need to make things a bit more rational.”

Perhaps nowhere is this felt more than in Germany, where Ms Merkel has warned that a failure to solve the migrant and asylum crisis will put fundamental tenets of EU life — the free movement of people — at stake. But as her political opponents realise, her authority has been undermined by the fallout from her “open doors” policy in 2015 and 2016, when Germany let in more than 1m refugees.

The EU also faces growing pressure over its anti-migration efforts on Libya, which have been crucial to cutting arrivals in Italy. The UN Security Council last week imposed sanctions on six alleged people-traffickers including Abd al-Rahman al-Milad, a local commander in Libya’s EU-trained coastguard. Recommended Review Non-Fiction Europe’s migrant crisis, up close and personal A UN panel of experts has accused Mr Milad’s unit of being “directly involved in the sinking of migrant boats using firearms”. The EU has said it did not train Mr Milad, but has not responded to repeated questions from the FT on whether it trained anybody under his command.

Defenders of EU policies say it has invested in efforts to give human rights training to coastguards, monitor their behaviour and improve conditions in migrant detention centres.

On the European home front, diplomats point to progress in areas such as accelerating and co-ordinating asylum procedures, and identifying safe countries of return.

But the Aquarius case has shown once again how quickly the trouble on migration in Europe can blow in — and how grave the political and human consequences can be.

“We were left adrift during 48 hours without any instructions, any idea of what would happen,” said MSF’s Mr Vimard, speaking as the ship continued its fraught voyage to Valencia. “When you see authorities put political considerations above the safety of the people, it’s really shocking.”

This piece originally appeared here

Financial Times: Aquarius dispute shows EU leaders at sea over migration

From aboard the Aquarius, somewhere between Sardinia and Spain, Aloys Vimard tells how the ship’s 629 migrant passengers experienced the relief of being rescued from the Mediterranean Sea — then the horror of being denied the right to land in Italy.

“One man threatened to jump into the water because he was so scared of being returned to Libya,” said Mr Vimard, a Médecins Sans Frontières project co-ordinator on the former German coastguard vessel. “He said: ‘I don’t trust you, I would rather die than go back to Libya.’ Everyone was very, very anxious.”

The Aquarius is now sailing towards an emergency safe harbour offered by Spain. But the political storm over the vessel, whipped up by a new government in Rome, shows no sign of abating.

Tension over European migration policy, which has been half-hidden since almost 2.5m people applied for asylum during the 2015-16 crisis, has burst into the open — showing it to be every bit as much an existential fear for the fate of the bloc as the eurozone’s financial crisis.

Since Matteo Salvini, Italy’s anti-immigration interior minister and leader of the far-right league, denied landing rights to the Aquarius, Italy has argued with Malta and sparred with France over the fate of its passengers. Criticism from President Emmanuel Macron sucked Rome and Paris into a diplomatic row.

In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s differences with her interior minister, Horst Seehofer, over migration policy threatened a full-blown coalition crisis. Sebastian Kurz, Austria’s chancellor, added fuel to the fire during a visit to Berlin by declaring that he, Mr Seehofer and Mr Salvini were an “axis of the willing” demanding a harder line on migration.

The disputes threaten a fragile detente over migration that has held mainly because of the steep fall in the numbers coming across the Mediterranean: they have dropped from 1m in 2015 to fewer than 40,000 this year, mainly due to a squeeze on travel via Turkey and Libya. It stokes a sense that Europe is ill-prepared for the next migration crisis— which many see as a matter of when, not if.

"I do not see any solution at this point in time. Malta cannot accept them. Spain cannot keep on accepting them," EU diplomat.

“It’s a big mess and they are all responsible for it,” said Izza Leghtas, senior advocate for Europe for Refugees International. “It just puts them to shame.”

The Aquarius’s long-suffering passengers may yet face more problems when they dock in Valencia on Sunday morning. There are worries of trouble once those rescued — more than 500 of whom have now been transferred to two Italian ships — disembark. España 2000, a far-right group, has called on members to gather on Saturday night at the port.

The Aquarius row has underscored what one diplomat brands the “Gordian knot” of Europe’s migration disputes. There is no EU authority with the power to interpret — still less enforce — where international maritime law dictates a rescue ship should dock.

“I do not see any solution at this point in time,” the diplomat said, when asked what could be done to prevent a repeat of the Aquarius tug of war. “Malta [by far the smallest EU state] cannot accept them. Spain cannot keep on accepting them.”

The Aquarius affair will intensify an already fractious debate due at an EU summit this month on long-running efforts to overhaul asylum policy.

An attempt to reform the EU’s so-called Dublin regulation, on which states are responsible for asylum applicants, seems intractable. Central and northern European states including Hungary have resisted a push from Mediterranean countries for compulsory refugee resettlement quotas.

Mr Kurz has raised the stakes by signalling that Vienna will push harsh policies when it starts its six-month term as EU president next month. Mr Kurz — who governs with the far-right Freedom party — and Lars Lokke Rasmussen, his Danish counterpart, last week raised the idea of sending failed asylum seekers to a camp in a non-EU country.

The tough rhetoric has frustrated European envoys who argue calm consideration is the only way to win a comprehensive pan-EU settlement on migration. “Unfortunately all of these interventions are pushing us away from a balanced debate,” said one diplomat. “We need to make things a bit more rational.”

Perhaps nowhere is this felt more than in Germany, where Ms Merkel has warned that a failure to solve the migrant and asylum crisis will put fundamental tenets of EU life — the free movement of people — at stake. But as her political opponents realise, her authority has been undermined by the fallout from her “open doors” policy in 2015 and 2016, when Germany let in more than 1m refugees.

The EU also faces growing pressure over its anti-migration efforts on Libya, which have been crucial to cutting arrivals in Italy. The UN Security Council last week imposed sanctions on six alleged people-traffickers including Abd al-Rahman al-Milad, a local commander in Libya’s EU-trained coastguard. 

Recommended Review Non-Fiction Europe’s migrant crisis, up close and personal A UN panel of experts has accused Mr Milad’s unit of being “directly involved in the sinking of migrant boats using firearms”. The EU has said it did not train Mr Milad, but has not responded to repeated questions from the FT on whether it trained anybody under his command.

Defenders of EU policies say it has invested in efforts to give human rights training to coastguards, monitor their behaviour and improve conditions in migrant detention centres.

On the European home front, diplomats point to progress in areas such as accelerating and co-ordinating asylum procedures, and identifying safe countries of return.

But the Aquarius case has shown once again how quickly the trouble on migration in Europe can blow in — and how grave the political and human consequences can be.

“We were left adrift during 48 hours without any instructions, any idea of what would happen,” said MSF’s Mr Vimard, speaking as the ship continued its fraught voyage to Valencia. “When you see authorities put political considerations above the safety of the people, it’s really shocking.”

Europe Must Stop Putting Politics above Human Lives

Refugees International is dismayed by the Italian government’s refusal to allow the SOS Mediteranée and Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) ship, the Aquarius, to disembark in Italy. EU governments have the means to manage these arrivals in an organized, humane way that complies with their obligations under international law.

Anadolu Agency: New secretive deal between UN, Myanmar smells foul

One million Rohingya survivors of the Myanmar genocide, who took refuge across the borders in the neighboring Bangladesh, remain largely unpersuaded by the news of the latest repatriation deal the United Nations agencies have signed with their perpetrators in Naypyidaw, and openly call for “UN Security Forces” to guarantee safe return to their homelands in the Western Myanmar state of Rakhine.

On 6 June, the two UN agencies with mandates for refugee protection and “development” inked the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Government of Myanmar, a hybrid military-Aung-San-Suu-Kyi regime. Knut Osby, UN’s man in Yangon, took to the Twittersphere, putting the spin that “Secretary General Antonio Guterres welcomes the agreement”, whose content is treated as if it were Myanmar’s top national security secret. Additionally, Mr. Osby, who holds the assistant secretary general position, tried to assure the Rohingya refugees via the mass media that UN would be pressing for “group identity” recognition by Myanmar and a “voluntary, safe, dignified and sustainable” return.

Leading INGOs, including the Nobel Peace Prize winning Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) and the Washington-based Refugees International, headed by Eric Schwartz, the former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Refugees and Migration, issued statements, stressing the total absence of necessary conditions and injecting a dose of reality as if to pre-empt the typically phony reactions of ‘welcome’ that pervade diplomatic quarters. Both organizations express varying degrees of valid skepticism about the MOU. The conditions on the ground indicate no semblance of physical safety for any returning Rohingyas. There is no indication that the official acceptance of Rohingya by Myanmar as an integral ethnic minority of the Union is forthcoming, especially when one remembers the national standing Rohingyas had enjoyed as a group until the early years of the military rule in the 1960’s. And there is little prospect for their re-integration into the predominantly Buddhist society where the most powerful Senior General Min Aung Hlaing publicly declared his genocidal intent, that the presence of the Rohingya in N. Rakhine was an “unfinished business” from the pogroms of the Second World War.

In addition to the frightening prospects of being marched back to Myanmar’s “killing fields”, what has truly unnerved the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh -- thousands have been in refugee camps in Bangladesh since the early 1990’s as they fled the earlier waves of violent persecution -- about this latest UN-Myanmar refugee deal is this: UN agencies -- the UNDP, the UNHCR, the World Food Program (WFP) -- have a dismal record when it comes to standing up for the Rohingya in the last 40 years since the UNHCR first became involved in the repatriation process in the summer of 1978.

The UNHCR operates in both countries at the pleasure of the governments in Dhaka and Naypyidaw, neither of which is a signatory to the Refugee Conventions. The UN’s rotating international staff in Myanmar may lack the institutional memory about their uncomfortable role in the broken sacred principle of non-refoulment, but those Rohingya who were forcibly repatriated have not. The UN agency whose principal mandate is protection of the refugees was in fact in no position to stand up for the most vulnerable Rohingyas sandwiched between the perpetrating Myanmar and Bangladesh.

In the decades that followed the 1990’s repatriations, the UN’s refugee watchdog had consistently put keeping good relations with host governments in order to secure access -- or “pragmatic humanitarianism” -- above its own organizational mandate of protection. That is why the UNHCR, and all other UN agencies operating in Myanmar, have had an open, if unwritten, directive for all staff to comply with regarding Myanmar’s refusal to use the term ‘Rohingya’. So the staffs of all UN agencies operating in Myanmar avoid using the word ‘Rohingya’ in all their communications seen or heard by Myanmar officials. On the eve of Myanmar’s “ethnic cleansing” of the N. Rakhine state, the WFP reportedly recalled its July 2017 report about the semi-famine like conditions in which 80,000 Rohingya children under the age of 5 were living at the “request” of the Myanmar government.

Specifically, UN agencies in Myanmar lead an organizational double-life, speaking in two different scripts: one, tailored to placate the host regime by not calling Rohingyas by the group’s ethnic name in meetings and interactions with Myanmar authorities, who have attempted to systematically erase the group’s identity from Myanmar’s collective consciousness, history and official records; the other one to please the ears of global human rights organizations and Rohingya campaigners internationally by calling the group by their proper name, Rohingyas.

At the level of individual management of the UN’s in-country team, the last UN Resident Coordinator, Renata Lok-Dessallien, opted to maintain cordial relations with Myanmar leaders and prioritizing (business-friendly) development approach over human rights, an act which undermined the then UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s policy of Human-Rights-First, which was adopted as a result of the widespread failures of UN agencies during the last phase of the civil war in Sri Lanka, where Colombo was accused of war crimes, crimes against humanity and even genocide against a Hindu Tamil minority group. Specifically, Lok-Dessallien commissioned an internal report entitled “The Role of the United Nations in Rakhine state” but subsequently “suppressed” the report. The report’s recommendations included the call for frontloading human rights with respect to the oppressed Rohingya group, pointing out the UN’s ill-preparedness in the face of (likely) mass atrocities against the group and enjoining taking a firmer stance on the state’s egregious rights abuses in the Rohingya area.

The UN had since replaced the disgraced Resident Coordinator with Knut Osby, significantly increased its Myanmar budget and elevated its office in Myanmar one-notch up the UN bureaucracy to the level of Assistant Secretary General-ship.

The UN’s reputation -- and most specifically the reputation of the UNHCR and the UNDP -- is on the line in Myanmar, and beyond. Any part they play in facilitating returns from Bangladesh to Myanmar is risky, when returns could potentially result in another round of mass killings, further decades of containment in concentration camps or deliberate slow starvation. The UN agencies simply must place protection and human rights first this time around. The signs of a new secretive deal do not bode well for the Rohingya survivors. The newly-organized UN in Myanmar has even shelved the organization’s own governing principles of transparency and inclusivity, as evidenced by the freshly-inked MOU with Myanmar. Myanmar is now a suspect in the eyes of the International Criminal Court and international law circles. In apparent compliance with the demands for secrecy typically made by Myanmar’s military-controlled National League for Democracy (NLD) government, the UN has not made public the MOU for scrutiny. Neither has the UN included Rohingyas in any stage of the negotiations over the MOU, nor spelled out their future role. There is then little wonder that the Free Rohingya Coalition, the emerging global network of the widely recognized Rohingya representatives, with deep roots in their communities, both inside Myanmar and in diaspora, including Bangladesh, cry foul against the MOU, which remains shady.

The UNHCR have added a fourth adjective -- “sustainable” -- to the mainstreamed mantra of “voluntary, safe and dignified”. To make the fourth adjective viable, the UN must listen to Rohingya voices that call for a “protected return to a protected homeland in Myanmar”.

This piece originally appeared here

Financial Times: UN sanctions target alleged Libya people traffickers

By Michael Peel and Heba Saleh 

The UN has slapped sanctions on six alleged human traffickers in Libya, including a regional commander in the country’s EU-trained coastguard.

The Security Council imposed travel bans and asset freezes on two Eritreans and four Libyans in response to a Dutch proposal, in a sign of European concerns about abuses of migrants and the flow of refugees along the central Mediterranean route to Italy. It is the first time the UN has used sanctions against human traffickers.

The most prominent target is Abd al-Rahman al-Milad, head of a regional coastguard unit that a UN panel of experts says has been “directly involved in the sinking of migrant boats using firearms”. The EU said it had not trained Mr Milad, a former militia leader in the 2011 uprising that toppled Muammer Gaddafi, the late dictator. It did not provide information on whether it had trained other personnel in his unit.

Izza Leghtas, senior advocate for Europe for Refugees International, said the UN move highlighted broader questions over European support for anti-migration efforts in Libya, where abuses are rife in detention centres holding people taken off boats intercepted by coastguards.

“The people who were abused by [Mr Milad] are the very kind of people Europe is trying to stop reaching its shores,” said Ms Leghtas. “The overt imperative of preventing people arriving in Europe at any cost has to stop.” 

The EU said the more than 200 Libyan coastguards it trained had gone through a “thorough and robust vetting procedure”. It added that it had been working “tirelessly” on fighting people-trafficking and smuggling networks.

But the Security Council’s Libya sanctions committee said Mr Milad’s coastguard division was “consistently linked with violence against migrants”. Several witnesses in criminal investigations have stated they were picked up by armed men on a coastguard ship used by Mr Milad and taken to a detention centre where they were held in brutal conditions and subjected to beatings, the committee said.

The UN list also includes two alleged militia leaders in Zawiya, a city west of Tripoli where Mr Milad is coastguard commander. The fourth Libyan is Mus’ab Abu-Qarin, who is accused of organising sea crossings for more than 45,000 people in 2015 alone. Mr Qarin allegedly organised a journey in April 2015 that ended in a shipwreck in the Sicilian channel, killing 800 people, the sanctions committee said.

One of the Eritreans, Ermias Ghermay, is the subject of Italian arrest warrants issued in 2015 in relation to the alleged smuggling of thousands of migrants under inhumane circumstances. Those voyages include an October 2013 shipwreck near the island of Lampedusa in which 266 people died.

Libya is split between two rival governments based in the east and west, and control in many parts lies in the hands of local militias. Some of the armed factions have turned to people smuggling as a lucrative business, exploiting proximity to Europe and the lack of effective authority.

In some areas, militias act as the self-styled coast guard, intercepting boats and detaining migrants, often subjecting them to torture and extortion.

In December, the African Union said that between 400,000 and 700,000 migrants were thought to be in at least 40 detention centres across Libya. Last year, Amnesty International accused Libya’s coast guard of “violent and reckless” conduct during interceptions. It cited an incident in which some 50 people drowned after the coast guard intervened during a rescue attempt by a ship operated by a non-governmental agency called Sea-Watch.

In May, more than a hundred migrants, who had been kidnapped and held captive by human traffickers near the western town of Beni Walid, managed to escape. However, they shot at by their captors and at least 15 were said to have been killed.

Survivors, mostly teenagers from Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia, told Medecins Sans Frontieres, the French charity, that some of them had been held for up to three years.
 

This piece originally appeared here.

“Death Would Have Been Better”: Europe Continues to Fail Refugees and Migrants in Libya

“Death Would Have Been Better”: Europe Continues to Fail Refugees and Migrants in Libya

This Refugees International report details how European policies designed to keep asylum seekers, refugees, and migrants from crossing the Mediterranean Sea to Italy are trapping thousands of men, women and children in appalling conditions in Libya. Based on a February 2018 field mission, the report describes the harrowing experiences of people detained in Libya’s notoriously abusive immigration detention system where they are exposed to grave human rights violations, including arbitrary detention and physical and sexual abuse.

News Deeply: For Refugees Detained in Libya, Waiting is Not an Option

Niger has halted refugee evacuations from Libya after E.U.resettlement promises were not kept. Izza Leghtas from Refugees International calls for urgent action with lives at stake.

WHEN WE MET in Niger last month, Helen* described the horrific year she had spent in Libya. She talked of the brutality of human smugglers, of being detained with hundreds of others in deplorable conditions without enough food.

The 20-year-old Eritrean is one of roughly 1,000 refugees from East Africa who have been evacuated by the U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR) from Libya’s detention centers to its southern neighbor, Niger. That program is now under threat.

While Helen has made it to the safety of Niger, she is deeply concerned about the people she left behind. She told me she has received desperate phone calls from them wondering when they might be evacuated. “They say, It’s like we are alive, but we are dead,” she said.

Niger generously agreed to host these refugees temporarily while European countries process their asylum cases far from the violence and chaos of Libya and proceed to their resettlement. In theory it should mean a few weeks in Niger until they are safely transferred to countries such as France, Germany or Sweden, which would open additional spaces for other refugees trapped in Libya.

But the resettlement process has been much slower than anticipated, leaving Helen and hundreds of others in limbo and hundreds or even thousands more still in detention in Libya. Several European governments have pledged to resettle 2,483 refugees from Niger, but since the program started last November, only 25 refugees have actually been resettled – all to France.

As a result, UNHCR announced last week that Niger authorities have requested that the agency halt evacuations until more refugees depart from the capital, Niamey. For refugees in Libya, this means their lifeline to safety has been suspended.

Many of the refugees I met in Niger found themselves in detention after attempting the sea journey to Europe. Once intercepted by the Libyan coast guard, they were returned to Libya and placed in detention centers run by Libya’s U.N.-backed Government of National Accord (GNA). The E.U. has prioritized capacity building for the Libyan coast guard in order to increase the rate of interceptions. But it is an established fact that, after being intercepted, the next stop for these refugees as well as migrants is detention without any legal process and in centers where human rights abuses are rife.

David*, a 26-year-old refugee from South Sudan, told me he spent 17 hours at sea before he and more than 100 others were picked up by the Libyan coast guard and taken to a detention center in Tripoli. David said that he and other sub-Saharan Africa refugees and migrants were given worse treatment than others because of their skin color. He said that once, when he was unwell, he waited in line to be taken to a clinic. He recalled that, even though he had arrived earlier, the guard in charge took three men from Morocco first. “[When] I said I came here before them, [the guard said], ‘You’re black, you’re a slave.’”

To be clear, evacuating refugees from Libya and resettling them from Niger is a humanitarian necessity. It does not absolve European governments of their responsibilities to push for an end to Libya’s criminalization of irregular migration and detention of refugees and undocumented migrants. European governments work very hard at great expense to stop people from crossing the Mediterranean Sea. This includes support for a system that picks up refugees and migrants at sea and deposits them to captivity and abuse.

For the full article, click here.