Category: International Cooperation

African asylum seekers in America

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Cameroonian asylum seekers in the custody of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) have accused the agency’s officers and private prison guards of using torture, violence and threats to force them to sign documents facilitating their deportation. If true, the actions violate state, federal and international laws.

The refugees, as mentioned in a November 5 report from the Southern Poverty Law Center (SLPC) and Freedom for Immigrants, claim that ICE officers and private prison guards at detainment facilities in Louisiana and Mississippi physically forced their fingerprints as signatures upon documents that they didn’t understand. They further allege that guards and officers used threats of prolonged detainment or abuse and housed them alongside federal prisoners.

“All of the complainants are seeking asylum in the U.S. and face life-threatening consequences if deported to Cameroon,” the SLPC and Freedom for Immigrants wrote of the accusers in their report.

One non-English-speaking refugee said that ICE officials and private guards demanded that he sign an English document that he didn’t understand. He claims that an ICE supervisor seized him by the throat. He alleges that, as he hid under the table, the people present dragged him out, removed his pants and underwear, leaving his genitals exposed, and bent his left arm in a painful position while forcing his right thumbprint onto the documents in the presence of the 10 people present.

“They don’t treat us like immigrants. They treat us like prisoners,” the man is reported to have said in the report. “My country Cameroon is in a civil war,” he continued. “I don’t know why they force us to go back to a country that is not stable right now. People die every day.”

Another 49-year-old detainee said detainees feared for their life after watching this man being physically forced to sign a document. “This is what will happen to you if I don’t sign,” a female guard allegedly told the 49-year-old accuser.

Another detainee said, “The three (guards) pressed me to the wall as I cried. One held my hand, the other pressed against my chest, and the third held onto my other hand and pressed my fingerprint to the paper. She told me that this was my custody review document for deportation. I couldn’t sleep for days because of the pain I was in.” She alleged that guards at the facility strip-searched them and made them squat naked within sight of federal prisoners, to search them for weapons.

The SLPC and Freedom for Immigrants argue that the incidents, if true, violate Louisiana state and federal law, the international Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment, which the U.S. has ratified, as well as ICE’s own policies within its 2011 Performance Based National Standards.

The accusers all fled a four-year ongoing conflict in the central African nation of Cameroon, in which over 3,000 people have been killed and half a million displaced, according to the United Nations.

[Newsweek]

Asylum seekers seeking refuge in the United States

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A former Colombian police officer had spent his career fighting rebels from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia — also known as FARC — and now that he was retired, they promised to hunt him down.

The first death threat came in the form of a note slipped under the front door. “Now that you’re out of the police we will take care of the pending issues,” read the note. “We are returning to the area.” The paper bore the FARC logo. Over the next few months, FARC would send four more death threats to Edier de Jesus Rodriguez Bedoya.

Bedoya and his family lawfully entered the U.S. in May 2013, and applied for asylum. He told an immigration judge that FARC was systematically targeting retired Colombian police officers who had fought against them. He feared if he returned to Colombia, FARC would make good on its threats. But that wasn’t enough for the U.S. Department of Justice, whose Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) rejected his asylum request.

This week, federal appeals court overturned that decision: “As we have repeatedly explained, a threat of death qualifies as past persecution,” wrote Judge Robert King for the unanimous three-judge panel. Although the written threats never explicitly said they would “kill” the officer, “their meaning is plain and unambiguous,” the court wrote.

It’s a rebuke of the BIA at a time when more and more claims are being denied. An analysis earlier this year by the nonpartisan human rights organization Human Rights First found far fewer people are being granted asylum than in the past. The current grant rate is 40 percent lower than the average during the Barack Obama and George W. Bush administrations, the group said.

Joe Biden has criticized the Trump Administration’s asylum policies, and has promised to increase the number of asylum officers, to take the burden off overwhelmed immigration courts.

This federal appeals court decision will help others who seek asylum in that jurisdiction, said immigration attorney Jim Hacking. “No aspect of legal immigration has been under greater assault than our asylum system,” he told NPR. “Hopefully, this case represents a solid first step to restoring sanity to the asylum process.”

[NPR]

Alarm over world’s hunger crisis

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U.N. agencies have warned that some 250 million people in 20 countries are threatened with sharply spiking malnutrition or even famine in coming months.

The United Nations humanitarian office this week released $100 million in emergency funding to seven countries most at risk of famine—Yemen, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Congo, and Burkina Faso.

But David Beasley, head of the World Food Program, says billions in new aid are needed. Without it, “we are going to have famines of biblical proportions in 2021,” he said in an Associated Press interview last week.

In multiple countries, the coronavirus pandemic has added a new burden on top of the impact of ongoing wars, pushing more people into poverty, unable to afford food. At the same time, international aid funding has fallen short, weakening a safety net that keeps people alive.

[AP]

Ethiopia’s multiple crises: War, COVID-19, even locusts

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Ethiopia could hardly bear another emergency, even before a deadly conflict exploded in its northern Tigray region this month. Now, tens of thousands of refugees are fleeing into Sudan, and food and fuel are running desperately low in the sealed-off Tigray region, along with medical supplies and even resources to combat a major locust outbreak.

The United Nations warns of a “full-scale humanitarian crisis.” Food can’t get into the Tigray region of some 6 million people because of transport restrictions imposed after the fighting began. Humanitarian officials say long lines have appeared outside bread shops, prices have soared, and banks dispense only small amounts of cash.

“At this stage there is simply very little left, even if you have money,” according to the internal assessment by one humanitarian group contacted by The Associated Press.

[AP]

Global coronavirus case total tops 50 million

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The coronavirus has hit another sobering milestone: more than 50 million positive cases worldwide since the pandemic began.

Johns Hopkins University’s coronavirus tracker reported more than 50.2 million COVID-19 cases globally as of Sunday.

There have been more than 1.2 million deaths from the disease worldwide since the pandemic started.

[AP]

U.S. refugee admissions

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President Joe Biden has promised to increase annual refugee admissions to 125,000.

Under the Trump administration, the number of refugees that would have been allowed into the United States in the coming year would have been at its lowest level in modern times, just 15,000 refugees.

According to a Trump administration White House memo, 5,000 of those 15,000 places were to go to refugees facing religious persecution, 4,000 reserved for refugees from Iraq who helped the United States, and 1,000 for refugees from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras; leaving 5,000 open slots remaining, although refugees from Somalia, Syria, and Yemen are banned unless they can meet special humanitarian criteria.

[Foreign Policy]

545 migrant children separated from their parents by US government cannot be found

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Lawyers appointed by a federal judge to identify migrant families who were separated by the Trump administration say that they have yet to track down the parents of 545 children and that about two-thirds of those parents were deported to Central America without their children, according to a filing Tuesday from the American Civil Liberties Union.

The Trump administration instituted a “zero tolerance” policy in 2018 that separated migrant children and parents at the southern U.S. border. The administration later confirmed that it had actually begun separating families in 2017 along some parts of the border under a pilot program.

A federal judge in California ordered that the parents be found. “It is critical to find out as much as possible about who was responsible for this horrific practice while not losing sight of the fact that hundreds of families have still not been found and remain separated,” said Lee Gelernt, deputy director of the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project. “The tragic reality is that hundreds of parents were deported to Central America without their children, who remain here with foster families or distant relatives.”

[NBC News]

UNRWA struggles and Palestinians across Middle East suffering unprecedented poverty

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Across Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Gaza and elsewhere, Palestinian refugees are suffering at new depths because of the pandemic, according to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency chief, Philippe Lazzarini. “There is despair and hopelessness,” he said in an interview.

“In Gaza, people are going through the garbage,” Lazzarini said, referring to reports from UNRWA staff in the enclave. Lazzarini, an experienced humanitarian, was appointed commissioner general of UNRWA in April, and leads it at a time of deep financial crisis for the agency. Add to that the threat of coronavirus ripping through refugee camps across the Middle East, home to many of the 5.6 million Palestinians supported by UNRWA. Meanwhile, Israel’s possible annexation of the occupied West Bank looms, threatening to stifle UNRWA’s work there.

Collected, diplomatic and with three decades of humanitarian experience behind him, the Swiss Lazzarini has been brought in to steady a rocking ship. “In such a highly unstable, volatile environment, we need a predictable UNRWA,” he said. “We need a predictable organization and predictable funding.”

With a typical yearly budget deficit of well over £100m, the organization of 30,000 staff is never more than four or five weeks away from running out of funds. The financial crisis exploded in 2018 when Donald Trump cut up to $300m of annual donations, months after he angrily complained that the US received “no appreciation or respect” from Palestinians for the aid.

[The Guardian]

World Food Programme awarded the Nobel Peace Prize

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This year’s Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded to the World Food Programme (WFP) for its “efforts to combat hunger” and its “contribution to bettering conditions for peace in conflict-affected areas.”

The Norwegian Nobel Committee, which presented the award in Oslo on Friday, also described the organization as “a driving force in efforts to prevent the use of hunger as a weapon of war and conflict.”

Executive director David Beasley reacted with joy to the news of his organization’s Nobel win. He said the credit for the prize lay with the “WFP family. … They’re out there in the most difficult, complex places in the world, where there’s war, conflict, climate extremes … They deserve this award.”

He also said that the award was a “call to action,” urging people to “step up and step up now,” warning there are “possibilities of famines of biblical proportions,” and calling for billions of dollars in additional aid to save people around the globe.

“We’re looking for a vaccine for Covid; we have a vaccine for hunger — it’s called food, and we have the food. We need the money and the access to solve it,” he added.

[CNN]

Central American migrant caravans restart heading north

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Members of a U.S.-bound migrant caravan from Honduras have been detained in Guatemala and deported before they could reach Mexico. Though their journey was cut short, the formation of a new caravan reveals that – as in 2018 and 2019 – Central Americans are still fleeing violence, hunger and climate change en masse.

The crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border also persists despite the coronavirus drawing media attention toward other matters. The result is a continuation of dehumanizing and dangerous conditions on the border, with less public scrutiny than ever.

Under international and domestic law, the United States must offer asylum to people with a “well-founded fear” of persecution based on their political beliefs, racial or ethnic background, religion or other special characteristics that make them a target for violence. But in April 2018, the Trump administration began “metering” asylum-seekers by requiring that they get on a waiting list for their initial appointment with U.S. officials. By August 2019, 25,000 people were on the list, mostly in Tijuana. By March 2020, over 65,000 asylum-seekers had been returned to Mexico, mostly through ports of entry in Texas.

Under pressure from the Trump administration, the Mexican government acceded to this policy, giving asylum-seekers the right to wait for their interview in Mexico. But shelters could not keep up with the demand, leaving thousands on the streets or in tent camps with no plumbing or electricity. Asylum-seekers outside the shelters rarely have access to social assistance or legal counsel, and are targeted by criminals and local police for extortion, mugging, kidnapping and assault.

In March 2020 the Department of Homeland Security closed the waiting lists for asylum interviews and suspended asylum hearings. Since then, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol has turned away more than 147,000 people. Most of the migrants, including non-Mexicans, are stuck in Mexico.

Yet hunger, sickness, violence and generally dangerous conditions in Central America mean many asylum-seekers will brave the obvious health risks at the U.S.-Mexico border rather than return home. And others, like the migrants in the new Honduran caravan, will continue to flee.

[The Conversation]