Hungary Tightens Asylum Laws

By Sarah Lafen

Impunity Watch Desk Reporter, Europe

BUDAPEST, Hungary — On Tuesday, Hungary’s parliament voted to detain all asylum seekers within the country over the age of 14. Expected to take effect later this month, the new law will mandate authorities to detain all asylum seekers who are currently in guarded and enclosed migrant camps. Hungary previously detained all asylum-seekers, however suspended the practice in 2013 after pressure from the United Nations refugee agency and the European Court of Human Rights.

A Hungarian Police Officer stands guard at a makeshift migrant camp on the border between Serbia and Hungary (Photo Courtesy of The Washington Post)

Asylum seekers will be detained until their applications are reviewed, which is a process that usually takes months to complete. The process will be termed “assigned residency,” however is considered by many to constitute detention. The new law will apply to newly-arrived asylum seekers as well as those who are currently in the country waiting for their applications to be processed.

Human rights advocates called the new law a “reckless breach of international law.” According to Cecile Pouilly, spokeswoman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the new law means that “every asylum seeker, including children, will be detained in shipping containers surrounded by high razor wire fence at the border for extended periods of time.” The UNHCR predicts that the new legislation will “have a terrible physical and psychological impact on women, children and men who have already greatly suffered.”

Human rights groups protested the new asylum law, including Amnesty International Hungary and the Hungarian Association for Migrants and the Migrant Solidarity Group for Hungary. These groups insist that the law would “serve the government’s xenophobic and discriminatory political propaganda purposes.”

Hungarian Prime Minister, Viktor Orban, justified the measure in saying it will help secure the European Union’s borders from migrants. Orban also believes the law act as a deterrent against migration, which he called the “Trojan horse of Terrorism.” Orban noted that the “flood of migration has slowed down but has not stopped” and that Hungary’s laws “apply to everyone” including “migrants who want to cross Hungary’s border illegally.” According to Orban, the laws which are applicable to everyone “is the reality, which cannot be overruled by charming human rights nonsense.”

Other nations restrict the movement of migrants for security reasons, however Hungary would be the only European nation with such restrictive measures.   The new law can still be vetoed by the Hungarian president, but is not expected to happen.

 

For more information, please see:

USA Today — Hungary Will Detain Asylum Seekers in Shipping Containers — 8 March 2017

The Washington Post — Hungary Votes to ‘Detain’ All Asylum Seekers in Camps — 8 March 2017

Hungary Today — Hungary Parliament Tightens Asylum Law to Throw Migrants Back to the Other Side of the Border – Updated — 7 March 2017

The New York Times — Hungary Approves Detention of Asylum Seekers in Guarded Camps — 7 March 2017

 

Report Shows 10 Hate Crimes Per Day on Refugees in Germany in 2016

By Sarah Lafen

Impunity Watch Desk Reporter, Europe

 

BERLIN, Germany — According to a report conducted by the German Interior Ministry, over 2,500 migrants in Germany were attacked in 2016 as the result of hate crimes.  560 migrants were injured, including 43 children.  Nearly 1,000 of the attacks were on migrant housing, and 217 of the attacks were on refugee organizations and volunteers.  An average of 10 attacks per day occured.

Police in Heidenau secure a refugee center from attacks from far-right extremists opposed to asylum accommodation (Photo Courtesy of The Independent)

In February 2016, a neo-Nazi was sentenced to eight years in jail for burning down a sports hall which housed refugees and caused $3.7 million worth of damage.  In another instance, a group of onlookers cheered as an asylum shelter in eastern Germany was engulfed in flames.

German authorities have recently tightened their refugee procedures, practicing stricter benefit rules, speeding up the process of removing failed asylum seekers, and paying refugees to voluntarily return to their home countries.  Though the country is still struggling with a backlog of asylum applications, Germany’s intake of refugees fell in 2016 to 280,000 from 890,000 in 2015.

The German government issued a statement strongly condemning the violence on refugees, commenting that “people who have fled their home country and seek protection in Germany have the right to expect safe shelter.”

A left-wing politician with the Die Linke party, Ulla Jelpke, blames the violence on far-right extremism, and called upon the government to take stronger action to eliminate the violence.  Jelpke asked whether “people have to die before the right-wing violence is considered a central domestic security problem and makes it to the top of the national policy agenda” and called on the government to “stop giving the impression through new tougher asylum laws that refugees are a threat.”

International human rights group Amnesty International commented that “there are structural problems in Germany with how it prevents and deals with hate crimes.”  Amnesty called for “better risk assessments, more protection at certain locations and prosecutions of these appalling racist crimes.”

2016 was the first year in which data was collected on the amount of attacks on refugees, so the total number of attacks cannot be compared with those of previous years.

 

For more information, please see:

Aljazeera — ’10 Attacks a Day’ Against Refugees, Shelters in 2016 — 26 February 2017

BBC — Germany Hate Crime: Nearly 10 Attacks a Day on Migrants in 2016 — 26 February 2017

The Independent — Nearly 10 Attacks on Refugees a Day in Germany in 2016 — 26 February 2017

International Business Times — Germany sees Hate Crimes Against Migrants Surge in 2016 to 3,500 — 26 February 2017

Xenophobia Threatens Peace in Germany

By Sarah Lafen

Impunity Watch Desk Reporter, Europe

BERLIN, Germany —  A federal government report released by the German government warns of unrest in Eastern Germany due to far-right violence as the product of “xenophobia and racist attacks.”  The report warns that the line between protests and violence is becoming too blurred, and that the increasing violence tarnishes the reputation of East Germany as a place to do business.  Through the report, the German government urges civil society to take a stronger stand against anti-migrant demonstrations.

Activists in Leipzig, Germany protest the German government’s migrant policy (Photo Courtesy of VOA News)

Within the past year, attacks on refugees residing in East Germany have increased dramatically, including riots and arson attacks on refugee shelters.  Far right-motivated violence was far more prevalent in Eastern Germany last year, at a rate of 58.7 average occurrences per one million inhabitants.  This figure was significantly higher than the rate of 10.5 average occurrences per one million inhabitants in Western Germany.  The attacks are most commonly carried out in the Eastern German states of Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania.

In 2015, Germany accepted over 1 million refugees into the country.  This movement increased support for the anti-immigrant party Alternative for Germany (AfD), which is represented in all of the eastern federal states.  AfD is also known for their criticisms of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s “open-door policy” toward asylum-seeking refugees.

Iris Gleicke, the federal government’s Commissioner for Eastern German Affairs, considers right-wing extremism to pose a “very seirous threat” to the social and economic development of new German states.  Gelicke, who grew up in Eastern Germany, stated that “Society should not look away when people are attacked or refugee shelters are set on fire. A lot is on the line for east Germany.”  On recent trips to Japan and California in attempt to draw investments into Eastern Germany, Gleicke claims that there was concern about whether their staff would be welcome in the Eastern German states, and whether or not their investments would be safe there.

Merkel recently expressed her regret for losing control over the refugee situation in Germany, stating that she wishes she could “turn back time” to better prepare the country for the influx of migrants.  Merkel’s statements come in the wake of her conservative’s party second electoral defeat within the last two weeks, as voters rejected her open-door policy towards refugees.

 

For more information, please see:

The Huffington Post — German Government Fears Xenophobia Will do Economic Harm — 21 September 2016

Independent — Angela Merkel Admits she Lost Control of Refugee Crisis in Germany and Would ‘Turn Back Time’ if she Could — 21 September 2016

Newsweek — Far-Right Violence ‘Threatens East German Economy — 21 September 2016

VOA News — German Government Warns Against Rising Xenophobia — 21 September 2016

Migrants Aid in Rescue Efforts in Wake of Italian Earthquake

By Sarah Lafen

Impunity Watch Desk Reporter, Europe

ROME, Italy — In the wake of Wednesday’s earthquake in Italy, thousands of migrant refugees currently hoping to gain asylum in Italy flocked to the sites most affected by the quake to aid in rescue efforts.  These refugees hail from multiple countries, including Senegal, Niger, and Burkina Fasso, and arrived in Italy via boats run by human traffickers.   In Calabria, a group of over 70 refugee asylum seekers pooled their daily allowance money of two euros ($2.30) to donate to earthquake survivors.

A volunteer prepares food after the earthquake in Amatrice, Italy (Photo Courtesy of Reuters)

In the Italian town Arquata del Tronto, one West African migrant named Abdullai told reporters that while he was scared of the earthquake at first, he soon realized that the survivors of the quake needed his help as much as possible.  Abdullai and 16 other migrant workers spent a day weeding, cleaning, and preparing an area to be used as an emergency operations center.  Another group of 20 Muslim migrants used gardening tools to prepare the grounds for tents to be set up, and cleared a field for a helicopter landing space.  While taking a break from their physical labor, the migrants all knelt and prayed together.

According to Letizia Bellabarba, a coordinator of a charity that hosts asylum seekers, the refugees came up with the idea to aid in rescue efforts themselves.  Bellabarba says that the refugees “said that Italy welcomed and helped them, and it was now their turn to help Italians.”  Approximately 50 asylum seekers associated with the charity came forward to help, were split up into groups of 15-20 per day, and were given assignments through Italy’s Civil Protection Department.

The outreach and assistance of these asylum seekers does not quash the anti-immigration movement in Europe, however.  Amidst the tragedy surrounding the earthquake, a priest in Boissano, Father Cesare Donati, expressed his anti-immigration stance through a Facebook post saying “it is now time to put the victims into housing and send the migrants to the tents…”  A lumberjack who was left homeless by the earthquake said that while he is grateful for the help of the migrants, he is worried they are using up resources that should be going to the victims of the quake instead.

For more information, please see:

The Huffington Post — The Refugees Who Helped Survivors of Italy’s Earthquake Know What it Means to Suffer — 28 August 2016

NPR — Migrants Help in Relief Effort After Deadly Earthquake in Italy — 28 August 2016

The Huffington Post — Refugees in Italy Donate Money and Help Clean up After Earthquake — 26 August 2016

Reuters — African Migrants go to Italian Quake Zone to Help Survivors — 26 August 2016

Colombian Displacement Second Only To Syria

By Kaitlyn Degnan
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

BOGOTÁ, Colombia – The number of internally displaced persons in Colombia has surpassed 6 million, according to a report by the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees. The report surveys the number of refugees, displaced persons, asylum seekers and “others of concern.”

The IDP settlement of Altos de la Florida, Soacha, Colombia. [Photo courtesy of UNHCR]
Although this year’s report identifies a decrease in the number of reported refugees, this is mainly attributed to Venezuela’s revision of the reported number of Colombian refugees in the country. Despite the decrease, Colombia has the highest number of refugees and internally displaced persons in South America, and is second only to Syria world-wide. There are 6.4 million Colombians falling into this category. Out of those, 137,000 are internally displaced persons. Only Syria has a greater number of refugees and internally displaced persons, with about 12 million people falling into this category.

“It’s not just the FARC,” says UNHCR Colombia Representative Martin Gottwald. Forty percent of human rights violations in Colombia are perpetrated by new “irregular groups,” many of which have evolved from long demobilized paramilitary groups.

The high number of internally displaced persons and refugees are the result of 50 years of conflict between the Colombian government and different groups, including the FARC, or the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. The FARC and the Colombian government have engaged in peace talks on-and-off since November 2012.

The release of the report comes on the heels of the 2015 Global Peace Index, which ranked Colombia as 146 out of 162 countries worldwide. The report named the high number of displaced persons and refugees as a driving factor behind the low score.

About a week before the release of the report, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres publicly expressed concern over the effects of the ongoing conflict. He called for “solutions… to guarantee the safety and dignity of refugees and people displaced inside Colombia,” and said that the UNHCR would be ready to support the peace process.

Guterres also commented on the rising number of internally displaced persons and refugees worldwide, citing that one in every 122 people is a refugee, internally displaced person, or asylum seeker. Criticizing global inaction on the issue, he said: “It is terrifying that on the one hand there is more and more impunity for those starting conflicts, and on the other there is seeming utter inability of the international community to work together to stop wars and build and preserve peace.”

 

For more information, please see:

BBC – Profiles: Colombia’s armed groups – 29 August 2013

UNHCR – UN High Commissioner for Refugees expresses concern over fresh fighting in Colombia – 11 June 2015

International Business Times – Latin America Less Peaceful in 2015 Due to Rising Instability: Report – 17 June 2015

Miami Herald – U.N. Report: Colombia continues to lead world in displaced, refugees – 18 June 2015

UNHCR – World-wide displacement hits all-time high as war and prosecution increase – 18 June 2015

Australia Stands by Plan to Reopen Offshore Detention Centers for Asylum-Seekers

By Mark O’Brien
Impunity Watch Reporter, Oceania

CANBERRA, Australia — Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard said on Sunday that the decision to send asylum-seekers to detention centers on Pacific Islands rather than letting them on Australian soil could result in saved lives.

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard said the controversial plan to send asylum-seekers to reopened detention centers on Pacific islands could result in saved lives. (Photo Courtesy of Bloomberg Businessweek)

Australian leaders announced last week that they plan to reopen the camps on Nauru and Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island, a move critics called regressive.  The asylum-seekers would remain in the detention centers while their immigration cases are processed.

“Yes, this is a tough policy,” Gillard told Sky News.  “I understand for many people that it’s hard for them, that it’s emotionally hard for them.”

Gillard said the move could result in preventing lives from being lost at sea.  According to a report released last week by a former Australian Defense Force chief, nearly 1,000 asylum-seekers have drowned in the waters between Indonesia and Australia in the last decade.  More than 60 percent of them have drowned in the last three years.  These numbers helped prompt the policy change.

“We stood on a policy of not having offshore processing, but we’re seeing large numbers of people losing their lives at sea because they are enticed by people smugglers,” Gillard told Sky News, admitting that she compromised her position “in the nation’s interest.”

“We’ve got to be very clear with asylum-seekers that they will get no advantage by having paid a people smuggler,” she added.  Gillard said people could wait in the island camps for “an extended period of time,” but she would not say how long that might be.

But many have expressed concerns about the change, including the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.  Navi Pillay said there is no evidence the effort would dissuade asylum seekers and could even lead to human rights violations.

“[Australian leaders must] break an ingrained political habit of demonizing migrants and asylum-seekers,” he said.

In fact, people smugglers have already adopted a new effort to counter Australia’s changed policy.  The West Australian reported that smugglers are telling asylum-seekers that Nauru is “just another Christmas Island,” in reference to Nauru being just a different stop on the path to be resettled in Australia.

The West Australian said Nauru and Manus Island processed 1,637 people between 2001 and 2008, the vast majority of whom were resettled in Australia or New Zealand.

Since Parliament approved the policy change last week, 10 boats of asylum-seekers have arrived.  These are just the latest in what has been a record year of immigrants attempting to reach Australia, mostly from Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Iran, and Iraq.  The centers at Manus and Nauru can hold up to 600 and 1,500 people, respectively.

For its part, Nauru has indicated it wants to exert some level of control over the process.  According to the Sydney Morning Herald, the island country’s foreign minister, Kieren Keke, told the Sunday Age that “his country would have ‘no problem’ with giving journalists access to report the stories and conditions of asylum seekers in its care who wanted to speak publicly.”

For further information, please see:

News.com.au — Australia out of Reach for Resettled Refugees — 21 August 2012

The West Australian — People Smugglers Using New Sales Pitch — 21 August 2012

Bloomberg Businessweek — Gillard Says Australia Asylum Policy Change in National Interest — 19 August 2012

The Daily News — Australia Defends ‘Tough’ Asylum-Seeker Policy — 19 August 2012

The Sydney Morning Herald — Nauru Demands Rights, Freedom for Asylum Seekers — 19 August 2012

Human Rights Watch Tells Malta to Stop Detaining Unaccompanied Children

By Pearl Rimon
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

VALLETA, Malta – Human Rights Watch (HRW) is calling for the government of Malta to stop their practice of detaining unaccompanied migrant children.

Migrants being transferred from a Maltese rescue boat. (Photo courtesy of Ben Borg Cardona/AFP/Getty Images)

Malta has a policy of mandatory detention for migrants who arrive by sea, resulting in prolonged detention of unaccompanied children and other abuses of migrants’ rights.

“Malta’s automatic, indiscriminate, and blanket detention of migrants – including unaccompanied migrant children – is inhumane and unnecessary,” said Alice Farmer, researcher in the Children’s Rights Division at HRW. “It doesn’t deter migrants from coming to Malta and it violates international law.”

Asylum seekers can be detained for up to 12 months and migrants not seeking asylum can be detained for 18 months. Malta has a policy of mandatory detention for any “prohibited immigrant,” including anyone arriving without “right of entry.”

Malta routinely detains unaccompanied migrant children who are often fleeing violence in their home countries, like Somalia and Eritrea. The children undergo an age determination process, a lengthy procedure that often takes months. They are detained as long as they look older than 12 or 14, and are held until they determine their age.

The children are assessed and if they are deemed to be under 18 they are released into group homes. While children who arrive with their families are automatically moved to group homes.

HRW interviewed 88 migrant and asylum seekers between February and May of this year. The average detention time for age determination was 3.4 months. The Maltese government has detained children as young as 12 in adult facilities, according to the HRW report.

“Malta should treat migrants who claim to be under age 18 as children until proven otherwise, and never detain them,” said Alice Farmer. “The fact that unaccompanied children, who have made long and dangerous trips without their parents or other caregivers, are locked up until they can prove they are children, demonstrates the brutality of the detention policy.”

HRW urges the Maltese government to treat those who claim to be children as such pending the outcome of age determination proceedings, and not detain them while their ages are assessed, bring their detention policies in line with the standards of the Council of Europe, and to limit detention of migrants to exceptional circumstances.

The Maltese government maintains that detention protects migrants from abuse, exploitation and getting lost in the country.

For further information, please see:

DI-VE — Beyond Burden Sharing on Irregular Migrants – 19 July 2012

The Epoch Times — Malta: An Accidental Destination For Many Migrants – 19 July 2012

The Malta Independent– Human Rights Watch – ‘Stop detaining children’ –19 July 2012

Greek Authorities Fail to Address Police Violence

By Connie Hong
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

ATHENS, Greece – The Greek government’s failure to acknowledge the widespread cases of police brutality in Greece has led to the routine use of excessive force, including the use of chemical sprays and stun grenades, on peaceful demonstrators, migrants, asylum-seekers, and members of other vulnerable groups.

Greek police arresting a demonstrator. (Photo courtesy of Cryptome)
Greek police arresting a demonstrator. (Photo courtesy of Cryptome)

A case study done by Amnesty International detailed the amount of mal-treatment, physical abuse, and even torture that protestors and migrants have suffered at the hands of police.  The report also listed the brutal methods that the police use during peaceful demonstrations, which includes using tear gas and other types of chemical weapons.

In one case, a protestor was hit by a police motorbike during a demonstration in central Athens.  She suffered serious head injuries, a fractured collarbone, and fractured ribs as a result of the collision.  A doctor, also a participant in the demonstration, was beaten by the police with batons when he tried to provide medical aid to the woman.

Such brutality continues to exist mainly due to the lack of investigation, prosecution, and punishment in these types of cases.

Greek authorities have minimized the issue of police brutality, claiming that while such cases do exist, they are rare and isolated.  As a result, authorities have refused to adequately address the issue.  Investigations, if launched, are often conducted with biases.  Authorities have even denied victims prompt medical care and access to lawyers.

Amnesty International stated that the government’s lack of response led to the creation of a “climate of impunity.”

The lack of identification is a common obstacle to prosecuting and punishing those that engage in police violence.  Demonstrators, especially those who have been severely beaten and gassed, often have a hard time in making out the identification number of the offending officers.  Even if the protestor can see clearly after enduring the gas and pain, the identification numbers are still difficult to find because they have been strategically placed, if at all, on the back of the officers’ helmets.

Being unable to provide any identification numbers makes reporting an abusive officer virtually impossible.  Other reasons why many cases go unreported are either lack of faith that reporting would bring any change, or, as in the case of illegal immigrants and asylum-seekers, fear of retribution.

Although Greek police have not issued a response to Amnesty International’s report, Greece’s new justice minister, Antonis Roupakiotis, called on prosecutors to address the issue of police brutality.

“Justice officials must investigate incidents of police violence rapidly and effectively without the long and dubious procedural delays that reinforce a sense of impunity,” Roupakiotis told a newspaper.

 

For further information, please see:

Greek Reporter — Greek Justice Minister Speaks Out Against Police Violence — 8 July 2012

Amnesty International — Greece: New government should address police violence — 3 July 2012

Jurist — AI: Greece police routinely use excessive force, violence — 3 July 2012

Washington Post — Human rights group Amnesty International criticizes violence by Greek police — 3 July 2012

 

As More Refugees Reach Australia, Political Debate Heats Up

By Mark O’Brien
Impunity Watch Reporter, Oceania

CANBERRA, Australia — For the twenty-fifth time in the last month, another boatload of asylum seekers arrived on Australian soil Saturday hoping to find refuge.

Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young urges Australia to share the refugee burden with Indonesia or more asylum seekers could be forced to risk their lives. (Photo Courtesy of The Sydney Morning Herald)

A total of 32 Sri Lankans, including one girl, were intercepted on their small fishing vessel and taken to Christmas Island.  According to The Australian newspaper, the island has roughly 1,400 asylum seekers in detention facilities.  But the recent surge has the government scrambling to transfer many of them to detention centers on the mainland.

It is also calling into question Australia’s policies on refugees.

“The turn-back-the-boats option is what wee need if we are going to discourage reckless behaviour by people-smugglers and their clients,” said Opposition Leader Tony Abbott in The Australian, affirming his commitment to force asylum-seekers back to Indonesia despite warnings that the policy is dangerous and potentially illegal.

Many in the opposition party blamed Prime Minister Julia Gillard, who they said refused to restore border protection policies.

“Two years ago [Friday], Julia Gillard promised she would break the people smugglers’ business model by building an offshore processing centre on East Timor,” said Scott Morrison, an opposition immigration spokesperson, in a statement.

“Since that time, she has overseen the largest number of illegal boat arrivals under any prime minister, with 206 boats and over 13,600 people arriving on her watch.”

Saturday’s arrival capped a week that saw more than 200 refugees make it to Australia.  On Thursday, the Navy picked up 162 Middle Easterners after they sent a distress signal 50 nautical miles offshore.  On Friday, 38 Iraqis and four Indonesians were transferred to Christmas Island after their asylum boat was intercepted a week earlier.

“[The perception is that] everyday we’re being flooded by boat people who are cheating the system,” said Kon Karapanagiotidis, head of the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre in Australia.

“Everyday the news is reporting another boat has arrived and another boat has arrived,” he added.  “It’s feeding this idea that we’re being flooded.”

Karapanagiotidis said that makes it easy to turn asylum seekers into “scapegoats” and a “political football” without any compassion or understanding for why they are refugees in the first place.

A recent report by the United Nations Commissioner for Refugees identified “a time of rising anti-refugee sentiment in many industrialized” countries.  According to the report, European countries on the Mediterranean Sea saw an 87 percent increase in asylum requests in 2011 compared to the previous year, due in large part to the Arab uprisings at that time.  Australia and New Zealand actually saw a nine percent decrease in 2011.

But as more asylum seekers flock to Australia now, some say the only way to stop the rush of refugees is to be more willing to help.

On Friday, Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young warned that more people might be forced to risk their lives on boat trips to Christmas Island unless Australia agrees to share more of the regional asylum burden with Indonesia.

“There is a very real concern from those working on the ground,” she told The Saturday Age, “that unless there is a lot of work put into the relationship, Indonesia is going to get tougher on the asylum seekers and refuges who are here and make life even more unbearable for them, which is going to force people onto boats.”

“Unless we deal with that, there’s no way of stopping people from taking that dangerous journey,” she added.

Her comments came after two days of meetings with asylum seekers, non-government bodies, and Indonesian officials, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.  Unlike the government and opposition, the Greens’ prefer a regional approach that would see Australia take more refugees from countries such as Indonesia and Malaysia.

“The ALP and the Coalition accuse the Greens of not understanding this issue and being naive,” she said, “but the real naivety is thinking that pushing people anywhere else but Australia will stop them from coming [here].”

For further information, please see:

The Australian — In One Month, 25 Boats Arrive in Australia — 7 July 2012

The Australian — I Will Still Turn Boats Around, Tony Abbott Says — 7 July 2012

The Sydney Morning Herald — Share Refugee Burden, Green Senator Urges — 7 July 2012

CNN — Which Countries Take in Most Refugees?  Not the West — 5 July 2012

Illegal Africans in Israel Find Themselves Unwelcome

By Melike Ince
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

TEL AVIV, Israel — Israel has recently found itself at the center of an ironic controversy amidst this week’s release of an annual US  human rights report. It claims that Israel is denying basic public services to African asylum-seekers.

Protestors at an Anti-African demonstration in Tel Aviv. (Photo Courtesy of JPost)

It has become common practice for Africans escaping persecution to illegally enter Israel through Egypt. While those with official refugee status are provided with health care and work permits, asylum-seekers do not receive either of these services despite their great need for them.  The report also mentions that Israeli officials occasionally refer to asylum-seekers  as “infiltrators” and associate them with “the rise in crime, disease and terrorism.” Right wing parties have also been known to compare the immigrants’ existence to a cancer in the body of Israel.

Angry Israeli citizens took to the streets in protests and riots this week, attacking Africans and shattering African-run shops to express their frustration over the situation. Many attribute the increased violence in southern Tel Aviv to the Africans. Locals have also accused the immigrants of decreasing employment among nationals and argue that there are insufficient economic resources to provide for the 60,000 illegals currently in Israel.  Africans for many years considered Israel to be peaceful and tolerant but now find themselves living in fear.

“I cannot live this way. I’m afraid for my life,” said Amene Tekele Haymanot, an illegal immigrant seeking refugee status.

In an effort to calm the tense population, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned the violence but promised “the infiltration problem must be resolved and we will resolve it.” The government hopes that the security barrier that is currently under construction near the Egyptian border will hinder illegal entry. If it succeeds in doing so, Israel plans to begin the deportation process soon after its completion

Those sympathetic to the Africans’ plight believe that race is playing a role in the conflict, and the irony of the situation is not lost on them. It was not long ago that those of Jewish ancestry were escaping their own persecution in Europe and settling in Israel. In the past year, Israel has  received over 4,000 applications for asylum but has approved just one.  Though it is considering deportation as one potential solution, international law will likely render Israel unable to send any of the illegals back to their home countries due to the risks of persecution there.

For further information, please see:

CNN News – Why Did Anti-immigration Sentiment Boil Over in Israel? – 31 May 2012

Jerusalem Post – Tel Aviv: Clashes, Arrests at Anti-African Demo – 30 May 2012

Al Jazeera – Should Israel be Responsible for Immigrants? – 29 May 2012

BBC News – Israel Denies African Migrants’ Rights, Says US – 25 May 2012

South Sudanese Asylum Seekers Asked To Leave Israel

By Carolyn Abdenour
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

JERUSALEM, Israel – On Wednesday, 31 January, Israel announced its plan to deport South Sudanese asylum seekers if they do not voluntarily leave the country by March 31, 2012.  If these asylum seekers leave before this deadline, they will receive a plane ticket home and a $1,300 grant.

South Sudanese asylum seekers outside their home in Tel Aviv. (Photo Courtesy of Haartez)

The Israeli Interior Ministry’s press statement said, “Now that South Sudan has become an independent state, it is time for you to return to your homeland.  While it is not a simple move, the State of Israel is committed to helping those who wish to return voluntarily in the near future.”  In July 2011, South Sudan became an independent state and a member of the United Nations.

Israel’s South Sudanese community was angry and confused about the government’s decision.  Matthew Deng, a pastor of two South Sudanese churches located outside Tel Aviv, commented, “South Sudan is dealing with many issues, how can people go back now?  We don’t even have hospitals, schools – nothing…All we have is what is in [the capital] Juba.”

The Israeli government will advertise the grant offer to the South Sudanese people via media broadcasts and leaflet distribution.

The United Nation’s High Commission on Refugees’ William Tall said in order for Israel to act consistent with its signed agreements regarding asylum seekers, the country must screen asylum applications individually to evaluate if the South Sudanese applicants are genuine refugees.

In December 2011, Israel’s Population, Immigration, and Borders Authority (“PIBA”) reported of the 51,125 African asylum seekers and economic migrants throughout Israel, 13,066 people are from South Sudan.  Since 2005, paid smugglers have assisted Africans sneak into Israel through its border with Egypt’s Siani desert.  Last month, the interior minister documented 2,295 people entered Israel through this border.

People fleeing persecution and abuse from Sudan and Eritrea find Israel attractive because the country offers them safety and employment opportunities.  Since many migrants live in the poor southern neighborhoods of Tel Aviv, the Israelis call the area “little Africa”.

The Israelis struggle with how to approach the influx of migrants.  Recognizing their country developed from the Nazi genocide of Jews, some Israelis do not want to turn people escaping prosecution away.  However, others want to maintain their country’s Jewish character without the social and economic burden associated with migrants.

Presently, Israel is developing a 150-mile fence along its border with Egypt, threatening harsh punishment on people to assisting illegal migrants, and enlarging its detention facility to combat the influx of illegal immigration.

Orit Marom of the Aid Organization for Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Israel (“ASSAF”) said the people need a year or two to prepare to return to South Sudan.  Mr. Deng added the members of his community want to return to South Sudan, but they want to wait “until South Sudan is ready.”

For further information, please see:

The Jerusalem Post –South Sudanese Distressed By Looming Deportations – 2 Feb 2012

The Jerusalem Post – 2,295 Illegal African Migrants Enter Israel In January – 1 Feb 2012

Arutz Sheva – Israel Offers Assistance Basket For Departing Sudanese – 31 Jan 2012

The Boston Globe – Israel Says It Will Deport South Sudanese Migrants – 31 Jan 2012

Australia To Send Asylum Seekers to Malaysia and Papua New Guinea

By Brittney Hodnik
Impunity Watch Reporter, Oceania

CANBERRA, Australia – The High Court in Australia has recently halted a program known as “The Malaysia Plan.”  The Australian government signed the Malaysia Plan in May to send asylum seekers – more commonly known as “boat people” – to Malaysia to be reviewed and processed.  The government hopes it will deter asylum seekers from going to Australia and overwhelming the already inundated system.  Now, Australia has reached an agreement with Papua New Guinea as well.

Over 6,500 asylum seekers sought refuge in Australia in 2010. (Image Courtesy of The Daily Telegraph)
Over 6,500 asylum seekers sought refuge in Australia in 2010. (Image Courtesy of The Daily Telegraph)

As of August 16th, 800 asylum seekers will be sent to Malaysia as “test cases” for the new program.  Historically, Malaysia has not treated refugees kindly, but claims it has “made a significant conceptual shift about its treatment of asylum seekers,” according to The Sydney Morning Herald.

But Anna Burke, a Labor MP from Victoria disagrees.  She believes that sending these refugees to a third country is worrisome.  “I’m very concerned that we can’t really guarantee the safety of the individuals, the 800 who will be sent there,” Burke told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

According to UPI, Australia has been pushing for Papua New Guinea to sign an agreement similar to the Malaysia Plan.  Under both plans, Australia pays for the opening of the centers and the other expenses that come along with receiving and processing the boat people.

Questions concerning human rights issues are still being debated.  Australian government officials believe that the new policy will deter future boat people from seeking asylum in Australia, knowing that they will be sent to the more dilapidated countries of Malaysia or Papua New Guinea.  The Australian Human Rights Commission is especially concerned about the minors who are facing deportation.  As reported by UPI, 50 minors are in the middle of the situation, including a 16-year-old unaccompanied boy.

Yet another reason why Australian officials are leaning toward this policy is to adjust to the recent influx of asylum cases flooding the system.  In November 2010, the High Court extended the right of judicial review to asylum seekers on Christmas Island, as reported by The Australian.  By processing many of the refugees in outside countries, hopes are that the system will face less pressure.

The Sydney Morning Herald reports that Australian citizens are largely opposed to the new policies even though both political parties are promoting them.  More than 50% of Australian citizens believe that asylum seekers should land and be processed in Australia rather than a third country.  Of the 50% of citizens who feel refugees should remain in Australia, 55% believe that they should be held in detention while 41% believe they should be allowed to live in the community.

According to UPI, Australia’s Department of Immigration reported that 134 boats carrying 6,535 people arrived in 2010.  Australian officials are continuing to work toward an effective agreement.

For more information, please visit:

The Daily Telegraph — First 800 Asylum Seekers Will Test Compassion Level — 16 Aug. 2011

The Sydney Morning Herald — Voters Reject Refugee Plans of Both Parties — 16 Aug. 2011

The Australian — Asylum Case Overloading Legal System — 15 Aug. 2011

UPI — Papua New Guinea in Aussie Refugee Deal — 15 Aug. 2011

Sri Lankan asylum seekers detained in Indonesia, denied entry to New Zealand

By Brianne Yantz
Impunity Watch Reporter, Oceania

WELLINGTON, New Zealand – Earlier this month the Indonesian Navy intercepted a boat containing over 85 Tamil Sri Lankan refugees bound for New Zealand.  Many were waving New Zealand flags or holding signs that read “Our future life is in New Zealand,” the New Zealand Herald reported.  However, the refugees were detained and New Zealand’s Prime Minister, John Key, publicly announced that the asylum seekers would not be permitted to enter the country.

Sri Lankan asylum seekers display signs after their boat was intercepted by the Indonesian Navy.  (Photo Courtesy of AP/ New Zealand Herald)
Sri Lankan asylum seekers display signs after their boat was intercepted by the Indonesian Navy. (Photo Courtesy of AP/ New Zealand Herald)

Key also noted that of the thousands of refugees that seek asylum in New Zealand only 750 a year are accepted. He firmly stated that New Zealand would not accept anyone who did not follow the normal channels.  Key stated that allowing the refugees into the country without going through the proper legal channels would promote smuggling.  As Key explained to The Telegraph, “if you are going to take this boat, there are just thousands and thousands of other boats which will come.”

Many have since criticized Key and accused him of exaggerating the issue.  To his critics, the probability of a mass influx of asylum seekers to New Zealand is not as likely or harmful as Key believes.

According to TamilNet, Keith Locke, the Green Party MP in New Zealand, stated “there is room in our country for more Sri Lankan asylum seekers.  In the last 3 years we have not even filled our 750 annual refugee quota.”  Locke further argued that Key’s mother was in fact an asylum seeker, fleeing Nazi Germany in 1939 for Britain.

TamilNet also reported that Tamil groups in New Zealand believe that Key’s stance is misguided; Key’s judgment has been clouded by poor advice and hostile propaganda from the Government of Sri Lanka.

The Tamil organizations pointed out that the Tamils in Sri Lanka are currently being suppressed by a military dictatorship and that the nation’s war crimes have received little to no international coverage.  Therefore, the lack of public sympathy for the refugees comes as no surprise.

Despite these criticisms, Key has maintained his stance on the issue and the refugees remain in Indonesian custody.

However, one major political figurehead, who is also the leader of the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK) political party in Indonesia, has requested the refugees at least be set free.  According to MSN News, MDMK leader, Vaiko, reportedly wrote to Indonesia’s Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, arguing that the refugees were not illegal immigrants and “as per International Law, their right to seek asylum cannot be curtailed by Indonesian authorities.”

For more information, please see:

TamilNet – Prime Minister criticized in New Zealand’s parliament over Tamil refugees – July 16, 2011

MSN News – Vaiko wants PM to put pressure on Indonesia to release Tamils – July 14, 2011

New Zealand Herald – PM accused of overstating refugee issue – July 13, 2011

Radio New Zealand – PM criticised over stance on asylum seekers – July 12, 2011

The Telegraph – New Zealand shuts door on Sri Lankan asylum seekers – July 12, 2011

E.U. Nations Disagree Over Refugee Plan for Libya

By Daniel M. Austin
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

Boat of Refugees docks in Lampedusa, Italy on February 21. (Photo courtesy of AFP).
Boat of refugees docks in Lampedusa, Italy on February 21. (Photo courtesy of AFP).

BRUSSELS, Belgium – As violence and revolution continues to rattle nations throughout North Africa, European Union (E.U.) members disagree on how to respond to the crisis.  In particular, there is wide disagreement on how to deal with the prospect of millions of North African refugees setting sail for southern Europe.  The Italian government, in particular,  has been urging other E.U. members to help find a solution to this looming crisis.

On Thursday, E.U. members Italy, Spain, France, Cyprus, Malta and Greece presented a joint proposal calling for a common asylum system to be in place by 2012.  The proposal was presented during a meeting of E.U. interior ministers in Brussels.  The plan also calls for dispersing the asylum seekers around all of Europe and not simply allowing the refugees to stay in the countries that ring the Mediterranean sea.  The Spanish Interior Minister, Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba echoed this sentiment when he claimed that “Italy was only the door of Europe”.  Along with establishing this common asylum system, the proposal calls for funding which will be used to help nations like Italy process the refugees that arrive on their shores.

The Italian government and Italian Interior Minister Roberto Maroni have been sounding the alarm about a potential refugee crisis that could hit Europe.  Mr. Maroni claims that as many as a million and a half Libyan refugees could seek asylum in Europe.  His belief is that E.U. members should deal with this problem collectively. Recent reports suggest that after this proposal was introduced, several E.U. members were still hesitant about providing assistance.

The refugees that are sailing to southern Europe include people who are seeking a better economic situation as well as political refugees.  The political refugees are especially important because the European Union has certain obligations related to human rights agreements which require the E.U. to identify and accept these people.

This migration of both political and economic refugees is also being monitored by the United Nations.  Specifically, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, has appealed to E.U. members to help deal with the potential wave of refugees related to the fighting in Libya.  In addition to those displaced by the recent fighting in Libya, Frontex, the E.U.’s border protection agency, estimates that between 750,000 and 1.5 million additional economic refugees are in Libya waiting to make passage to Europe.

For more information, please see:

AFP – Europe divided over Italy’s warnings of Libya exodus – 25 February 2011

BBC – EU urged to share asylum burden amid N Africa turmoil – 25 February 2011

THE GUARDIAN – Is EU serious about supporting human rights across north Africa? – 25 February 2011

VOICE OF AMERICA – Libya Unrest Sparks Migrant Debate in the EU – 24 February 2011

Migrants and Refugees Face Inhuman Living Conditions and Abuse in Greek Prisons

By Ricardo Zamora

Impunity Watch Reporter Europe

STRASBOURG, France – A recent investigation in the Greek prison system revealed severe police abuses against detainees.  The Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT), the experts that lead the investigation, report that police conduct, at times, bordered on torture.

In its report, the CPT notes instances of detainees being punched, kicked, beaten with clubs and even threatened with rape.

While the below-par living conditions in Greece’s prisons are not novel, the increasing detention has many human rights and political groups worried that living conditions and abuses will worsen.

In response to such concerns, the Council of Europe is calling on Europe to help Greece process inmates.

The “Dublin II Regulation” is major reason Greece is receiving so many migrants.  The regulation is an EU law that determines which state is responsible for looking into an asylum-seeker’s application.

While it aims to consider the legitimate concerns of asylum seekers and irregular migrants, the living conditions individuals face by being sent to Greek prisons under its guise indicates indifference.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees and human rights groups are calling for the stop of returns under the regulation because of the inadequate protection against inhuman conditions in Greece.

The European Court of Human Rights seems to share those concerns.  In a recent opinion it appealed to Austria, the Netherlands and Britain not to send any individuals back to Greece.

“Greece should not carry the burden of receiving the vast majority of all irregular migrants entering the European Union,” said Manfred Nowak, the UN Special Rapporteur on torture.  “In a number of Criminal Investigation Departments, I found more than 40 foreigners held in administrative detention in office space temporarily used as make-shift cells,” he added.

Nowak stressed that such conditions clearly violated Articles 7 and 10 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.  Articles 7 and 10 were adopted to curtail inhuman and degrading treatment.

Monsters and Critics reported that while the Greek government is planning on changing its system of expulsion centers, it has rejected the allegations of serious abuse of detainees.

For more information, please see:

Monsters and Critics – Council of Europe Group Blasts Greece Over Prison Abuses – 11.17.2010

Radio Free Europe – EU Sends Border Team To Greece Over Immigrants – 10.25.10

Global Nation – EU Urged to Help Greece Deal With Irregular Migrants – 10.24.10