Monday, December 4, 2017

The European Union Endorses the Enslavement of Migrants in Libya

What happens to workers from Africa who are physically blocked from getting to their jobs in Europe? A chilling CNN report details what happens to people who are unsuccessful in their attempt to cross the Mediterranean and, as a result, have no money to pay for the cost of their voyage. Waste not, want not. Slavery, long a part of north Africa’s history, is the only future for many of the workers who cannot reach the under-the-table jobs in Europe’s capitals. Labor is valuable and many would-be migrants can’t pay back the cost of their transport, so they are sold at auction. Put up a barrier, block the movement of people, goods or capital, and entrepreneurs will find a way to make money anyways.

The European Union has created this situation with their policy of blocking their black and brown workforce, allowing in only a trickle of people, while the rest build up into a giant lake of unwanted labor behind Fortress Europe’s wall. As long as their are jobs in Europe, there will be migrants moving across the desert to fill them. As long as the Italian Navy blocks the boats, there will be destitute workers with no jobs and no way to pay off their smugglers in Libya.

In Another Blow for Migrant Rights, the US is Leaving Negotiations for a “Global Compact” on Migration

Those of us in refugee affairs have been following the development of the possible Global Compact on Migration, which it is hoped would facilitate global cooperation on the refugee and migration crisis. Today, the Trump administration announced it is leaving the process, essentially saying that whatever the rest of the world decides to do about the migration crises, the US will not be taking part in that decision. As Marc Goldberg at UN Dispatch points out, it’s a bizarre decision with no upside for the US, but will probably win Trump praise from immigration and anti-UN hardliners, for whom all international cooperation is a plot to undo US “sovereignty.” (Never mind that we are the biggest and richest country, and that as a result, we set most of the policy at these things.)

Goldberg aptly compares our decision to leave the negotiations over the migration crisis to our decision to leave the Paris Accord. In both cases, it’s like our apartment building caught on fire, and our neighbors pounded on our door to get us to come down the stairwell with them, and we keep saying, “no thanks, we don’t believe in fire.”

Many hoped the negotiations currently underway to cooperate on migration and refugees would result in a binding agreement. Maybe the Trump administration is worried about that, too. Trump’s over the top reaction to the refugee deal between the US and Australia shows that he intends to cut all immigration, no matter how tiny, no matter how humanitarian, no matter how much our allies and neighbors desperately need our help, including the resettlement of refugees, in an attempt to “wall” the US off from the rest of the world.

The problem, of course, is that immigration enforcement is hugely expensive, often doesn’t work, and simply leads to the destabilizing of important allies and neighbors. The world exists. It is not “fake news.” Take a look at the strain Lebanon is now under as a result of the huge influx of Syrian refugees. Lebanon is one of our most important allies in the Middle East. Where is this going?
It’s very typical of Americans to ignore the rest of the world — we have spasms of isolationism every few decades. But if you go on ignoring a fire in your apartment building, like ignoring climate change or the refugee crisis, you’re going to start feeling pretty warm sooner, rather than later. One day you might look up from tweeting and realize that all of your neighbors have exited the building with out you, and the fire is now at your door.

The Supreme Court Allows the Travel Ban to Go Forward: Because Setting Immigration Policy is Part of what the Government is Supposed to Do

Donald Trump ran for President of the United States as an immigration hardliner. He promised his supporters he would crack down on all types of immigration to the fullest extent of the law. Immigration is almost entirely within the purview of the federal government, so promising to crack down in immigration is actually something the President of the United States can promise.
Nevertheless, during the election, multiple people said that a Trump Presidency would not change the status quo very much because of “checks and balances.”

With Republicans in charge of congress, by “checks and balances, they meant that the courts would provide a check on Trump’s most extreme impulses. This shows a fundamental misunderstanding about what the courts are supposed to do.

Most importantly, it shows a dangerous misunderstanding of what the Supreme Court does: settle disputes between Federal Appellate Courts and interpret the Constitution. It is not the Supreme Court’s job to declare a President’s policy to be too extreme or too radical, it’s job is to adjudicate whether or not the Constitution of the prohibits the President from enacting that policy. And the President’s powers on immigration under the Constitution and under Federal law are sweeping.
Today, the Supreme Court temporary upheld Trump’s revised travel ban while the legal challenges against it proceed in the lower courts (read the decision here.) This does not mean that the ban will not be overturned as unconstitutional once the two cases against it reach the Supreme Court, merely that the President is given deference to enact laws under the powers which he has been granted by the Constitution until the courts have had an opportunity to weigh the issue. The Constitutionality of the travel ban is very much unclear, but I personally believe it is probably Constitution. The President has broad powers to restrict immigration.

Trump was hired by American voters to do a job: limit immigration, particularly from Muslim countries, and this is what his travel ban is trying to accomplish. I strenuously disagree with the travel ban. I think it is a moral and political abomination. But we all knew what the stakes were in this election. Voting matters — if you are a US citizen, your vote in 2018 will be the much-needed check on the President’s powers.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

October 2017 Statelessness Roundup

Here is an non-exhaustive list of some of the biggest developments on the topic of statelessness and nationality from around the world:

Malaysia
The Malaysian press continues their extensive coverage of the issue of birth registration, including on the introduction of a late fee for registration. See article here.

Bangladesh/Myanmar
Excom side-event on Rohingya refugees. Also, there have been a bunch of articles on problems with and controversy over repatriation/returns and indications that Guterres may make a major push to resolve the crisis.

Vietnam
Cambodia appears poised to revoke the citizenship of ethnic Vietnamese persons living in Cambodia, according to this story.

Syria and Iraq
The enormous problem of stateless children stemming from the wars in Iraq and Syria continues. This article is about potential statelessness amongst the children of ISIS fighters.

USA
The "Nowhere People" exhibit comes to Chicago.

Also, further analysis of recent Supreme Court decision on nationality law.

Bahrain
Deprivation of citizenship for persons accused of ties to Iran. Unrest in Bahrain continues due to tensions between the Shia majority and the government over alleged Iranian influence.

Americas generally
A recent article on the eradication of statelessness in the Americas.

West Africa generally
UNHCR has issued its latest newsletter on statelessness in W. Africa and the Banjul Action Plan. It notes that Burkina Faso has now acceded to the 1961 Convention.

Europe generally
UNHCR has unveiled its determination procedures for stateless persons in detention. Also, ENS highlights the high cost of nationality in Britain, an issue that resonates in many countries.

General
ISI has released guidelines on statelessness for development actors.

A new paper has been published in Tilburg Law Review on stateless indigenous peoples.

Monday, October 2, 2017

et tu, Facebook? Just Like in the Real World, Refugees find only Persecution and Silencing on Social Media

Facebook was created as a place where ordinary people who are divided by space and place can network together online, finding like-minded communities and reaching out to one another. It was supposed to be beautiful, man. And it is, sometimes. Just not if you're a refugee. If you're a refugee, Facebook has turned into yet another place you can go for censorship and abuse. Because nothing amplifies persecution like having it spread all over social media.

Refugees and immigrants had a terrible year. Globally, protection spaces are shrinking and hostility is rising across the world as more and more people need assistance and a safe place to live. Social media was supposed to help vulnerable people like refugees find one another, link up into networks and access information about services. At least, that seemed to be a realistic goal for social media as a tool for social activism. The reality is that nation-states with axes to grind against individuals can now use social media as a tool to extend the long arm of persecution around the world, as long as the price is right.

At the same time that Facebook is testifying before the US Congress about selling divisive, racist, anti-immigrant and anti-refugee ads in the US, Rohingya activists have argued that Facebook is censoring groups trying to document violence in the Rakine state for "violating community standards." It is unclear what Facebook means by this phrase.

Apparently, Facebook's policy is to promote content that earns money for Facebook and remove content that does not. As refugees usually don't have a lot of money and can't fake-generate a lot of fake-"likes" to drive advertising, this means that the Facebook world is starting to look more and more like the real world for refugees: a place where refugee voices are silenced. Money talks, and persecutors, not victims, usually have all the money.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

The Trump Administration will now "Protect" Refugees by Persecuting Them

In what may prove to be one of the most ironic moments of the Trump Administration (though it's early days still), the new guidelines for individual refugee resettlement were leaked today to VICE news. Among numerous other changes, they contain the following ominous phrase: "PRM and DHS/USCIS will work closely with UNHCR to ensure that, in addition to referrals of refugees with compelling protection needs, referrals may also take into account certain criteria that enhance a refugee's likelihood of successful assimilation and contribution to the United States."

What does this mean?

There are three ways someone can be a refugee in the United States. First, they can come to the US and claim asylum here. Second, they can be resettled as an individual referral by UNHCR (or occasionally an NGO or embassy) or third, they can be resettled as part of a group referral.

Under the current system for individual referrals, UNHCR selects candidates based on their urgent protection needs. Usually, this means that the refugee is facing serious threats to their life or safety in the refugee camp, or they are an unaccompanied minor, or the have an urgent health problem that cannot be addressed in the camp. The decision is made based on the refugee's needs, not the needs of the host state.

Group referrals are functionally different. For group referrals, UNHCR and member states usually negotiate in order to find the best possible outcome for all parties. Refugee needs are balanced against the priorities of the United States and the burden to host countries. For example, a mass influx of refugees into a single country, like Syrians to Lebanon or Rohingya to Bangladesh, will usually prompt donor countries to take a certain number not only to ensure better treatment for all refugees, but also to share the burden with host states. Group referrals may also be used to end "protracted" refugee situations, where refugees have been stuck in camps for decades with no solution.

There has already been reporting on the Trump Administration's decision to end group processing for Central American minors. There has also been reporting on the potential reduction of the cap to 45,000 places, though this cap must await input from Congress. For comparison, the Obama administration had hoped to increase the program to 110,000 places. Gone is the Obama administration's plans for a reserve of 14,000 places for any unforeseen emergencies.

Strange language also appears in the group designations for Burmese ethnic minorities in Malaysia (Chin, Mon and others) and Bhutanese in Nepal are to be wrapped up in 2018. What this means, exactly, is not clear, particularly given that UNHCR has cited resettlement needs for over 100,000 people. How resettlement of these groups will interact with the Rohingya refugee crisis is also not clear.

All in all, given Trump's campaign rhetoric, the document is not really a shock. While it marks a sharp decrease in admissions, this is a power of the President and the Administration is asserting its prerogatives according to how US citizens voted. Resettlement is a voluntary program and so far, Trump has not done anything truly revolutionary, like pull out of the 1951 Convention.

In both tone and substance, however, the document marks a sharp departure on refugee resettlement policy from that of the Obama administration. Besides the ominous language quoted at the top that makes it sound like State Department officials may become more involved in the selection of individual resettlement cases, the overall tone leaves much to be desired. Gone is any high minded language over the US's responsibilities or references to the "global refugee crisis." Gone is all discussion of expanding the resettlement program to new countries in an effort to further extend burden sharing.

But every UNHCR resettlement officer and probably many employees at PRM (or those that are still left) are probably wondering the same thing right about now. What does it mean that the US government will prioritize refugees who can "assimilate" into the US? English speakers? Christians? It's not clear, but it is ironic. Refugees have usually fled their countries due to racism, religious persecution and national persecution.

Now, they will face discrimination in the US resettlement program, discrimination that for the very vulnerable could be dangerous to their health or safety. Other refugees may feel pressure to convert to Christianity in order to qualify for the program. Desperate people will do desperate things. In fact, the more you think about what this sort of coercive policy might do to refugees, the more it begins to look a lot like the very persecution many refugees fled. Ironic.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Is This The End of Refugee Resettlement?

Over the past few years, the refugee resettlement program has come under increasing strain. This week, we saw Trump tell the UN General Assembly that host countries would now have to bare the burden of finding a solution, while floating the possibility of increased monetary aid (though how this fits in with his promise to slash the State Department's budget is unclear.) Basically, the US is not going to participate much in the resettlement program in the future and we certainly aren't going to step forward to take on our fair share of Syrian refugees or anyone else. People should get ready for that.

Worryingly, apparently Denmark has now suspended its program as well. The doors are closing on a global solution and it's not clear if there will be any increased funding for host countries. Lebanon and Bangladesh, you are on your own. What will be the result? Probably yet more conflict and more displacement.