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:

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.

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.

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.

The "Nowhere People" exhibit comes to Chicago.

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

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.

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.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Trump Has Tacitly Given the Green Light For Genocide in Burma

For decades, the Burmese government has denied the right of the Rohingya to Burmese citizenship. The government has systematically subjected the Rohingya Muslim minority to abuse and persecution, driving tens of thousands abroad. Many, many, many reports and condemnations have been issued over the years, yet the Burmese junta had little reason to listen. As a pariah state, there was not much more the international community could do to effect change (without more Chinese pressure, that is.)

In 2015, it seemed like change had finally come to Burma following the election of pro-democracy proponent Aung San Suu Kyi. With the change in government, the Obama Administration lifted some of the sanctions on Burma in 2016. Yet in celebrating the beginning of democracy in Burma, the international community glossed over important questions about Burmese identity and nationality. For decades, to be Burmese in the eyes of the government and many Burmese nationals meant belonging to one of the official Burmese ethnic groups listed in the 1982 citizenship law. The Rohingya are not on that list.

Perhaps predictably, the move towards democracy has not led to greater representation or rights for Burma's many minorities, but no group has suffered severe persecution like the Rohingya. Recently, things have come to a head in the worst wave of anti-Rohingya violence perhaps ever seen in Burma. The government stands accused of torching hundreds of villages. You can see some of the photos here.

Suddenly, the world seems to be waking up to the risk of another mass extermination of an entire group of people. In particular, Muslim nations are finally taking more notice. India, Bangladesh and Pakistan are beginning to push back. The Trump administration today released a statement condemning the violence, but make no mistake, they have also tacitly signaled to the Burmese government that they plan to do nothing about it.

Even setting aside the gutting of the State Department and the problematic (to say the least) tenure of Rexxon, the real problem is the administration's isolationist stance. The Obama administration built up a considerable amount of leverage by lifting some sanctions on the country, dangling before it not only the possibility of trade, but also economic assistance. As most diplomats know, it's our giant economy, not our nuclear weapons, that give America our international clout and keep us safe. No one can hurt us because we are literally too big to fail. But we are pretty much the only country in this position (along, perhaps, with China) and, as a result, no other country wants to risk our economic wrath through our powerful ability to enact economic sanctions. But the Trump administration doesn't believe in sanctions or in criticizing dictatorial or genocidal regimes. So Burma is free to do whatever it likes without fear of punishment.

Meanwhile, this latest crisis means UNHCR needs yet more money. And where is this money supposed to come from? I'm seriously asking and somebody from the Trump administration needs to answer.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

A new article on statelessnes from "the World Weekly"


Friday, August 25, 2017

Partition and Statelessness

The Guardian has published a long piece on statelessness as the result of the partition of Pakistan and India.