Death toll spikes as new European policies push migrants towards more dangerous sea routes

Desperate migrants are choosing ever more dangerous sea routes to Europe and using smaller and less seaworthy boats, causing a sharp increase in drowning deaths, warns the International Organization for Migration.

So far this year, at least 631 African migrants have died while attempting to reach Spain, a threefold increase from all of 2017. In one of the deadliest incidents, earlier this month at least two dozen North African migrants drowned in stormy seas near Cadiz, within sight of the Spanish shore.

The European Union’s success in cutting deals to close off the sea routes from Turkey to Greece, and from Libya to Italy, has resulted in an overall drop in the number of migrants arriving on the continent — 128,265 so far this year, compared to almost 187,000 in 2017, and 390,000 in 2016.

But it appears to have had a knock-on effect, pushing the migrants further and further west. Some are now even arriving in the Canary Islands, a Spanish archipelago 100 kilometres off the Moroccan coast. Migrants are also now being plucked from the sea off the British coast, with at least 76 people rescued from nine boats off Dover over the past two weeks, although it appears that they are making the crossing from France.

Yet despite the concerns over the rising death toll, many European nations seem focused on enacting even tougher anti-migrant policies.

This week, prosecutors in Sicily moved to seize a migrant rescue vessel operated by Medecins Sans Frontières and another aid organization. And soon, Italy’s parliament will vote on a new immigration law proposed by the populist government that will remove humanitarian protections for migrants and block asylum seekers from accessing services. These are moves that UN human rights experts have said will “certainly” violate international law.

Meanwhile in Hungary, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán is ratcheting up his attacks on the European Union, calling it a “transport agency” for migrants that hands out funds and “anonymous bank cards” to “terrorists and criminals.”

[CBC]

Tijuana declares ‘humanitarian crisis,’ seeks help from UN

The mayor of Tijuana has declared a humanitarian crisis in his border city and said Friday he was asking the United Nations for aid to deal with the approximately 5,000 Central American migrants who have arrived.

The comments by Mayor Juan Manuel Gastelum came as city officials and volunteers worked together to assist the 4,976 men, women and children, most of whom were camped out at a makeshift shelter at a sports complex after spending more than a month on the road. The Trump administration has spent weeks lambasting the caravan, which it said was filled with criminals, gang members and even — it insinuated at one point without any proof — terrorists.

Mayor Gastelum issued a statement saying that it was requesting help from the U.N.’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The mayor also criticized the Mexican federal government for not taking more seriously President Donald Trump’s threat Thursday to shut down the border if his administration determined Mexico had lost “control” of the situation in Tijuana.

Many of the migrants who are fleeing violence and poverty are seeking asylum in the United States and face the prospect of spending months in the border city before they have the opportunity to speak with a U.S. official.

[AP]

Creative solutions for refugees, filling a country’s labor gaps

Nagham Abu Issa was working as an executive assistant in a cement factory in Damascus when the civil war started in Syria. Her family fled to Lebanon. She is a refugee, but she is also a valuable employee, with a degree from Damascus University in English literature and has studied human resources. Now she hopes to take that savvy to Canada, not through resettlement but to fill the country’s labor gaps.

She has interviewed with Talent Beyond Boundaries (TBB), an international NGO that has started pilots in Canada and Australia to match a small number of refugees based in Lebanon and Jordan with employment opportunities abroad. The experiment is aiming high: to forge a new pathway for refugees to be recognized for what they can bring to a country, not for the state of the countries they were forced to leave. In so doing, TBB hopes to shift attitudes about refugees among Western nations and their immigration systems, some of which are under assault by the rise of populism and nativism. Bruce Cohen, co-founder of TBB and former chief counsel and staff director for the US Senate Judiciary Committee, created a searchable database for displaced jobseekers in Lebanon and Jordan that today holds more than 11,000 resumes. “It is really getting rid of this image of refugees as unskilled, poor, pitiful.”

In Canada jobs are plentiful. The government recently announced it will take in 350,000 immigrants in 2021, or 40,000 more than it expects to admit this year. Canadian employers have also expressed interest in hiring refugees. The TBB program works with federal and provincial governments in Canada on visas and connects employers to refugee talent. It helps businesses overcome legal barriers refugees face that traditional economic migrants would not, such as a lack of passports or access to education records.

Heather Segal, founder of Segal Immigration Law in Toronto, is working pro-bono with TBB because she says too many skilled refugees stagnate while nations like Canada face labor shortages. “Why are we obviating a group of educated, skilled people because their country fell apart?” she says. “There is a gap here that needs to be addressed…. We need creative solutions for the refugee system in the 21st century.”

In the United States, the Tent Partnership for Refugees works with businesses to facilitate refugee hires, both in countries to which they first flee and where they are ultimately resettled. Tent Partnership’s leaders argue that it is not just the right thing to do, it makes both strategic and business sense. A report released by Tent and the Fiscal Policy Institute in May, for example, showed higher retention rates and resilience among the refugee workforce in the US market.

[Christian Science Monitor]

Italy wants remaining rescue ship seized

Authorities in Italy have demanded the seizure of a humanitarian ship used to rescue migrants from drowning in the Mediterranean Sea, alleging that the ship improperly dumped contaminated and medical waste at port — a charge strongly rejected by the nonprofit groups that operate the ship.

Doctors Without Borders (also known as Médecins Sans Frontières or MSF) and SOS Mediterranee describe the seizure order as an attempt to criminalize humanitarian aid, saying the ship has always followed standard procedure for disposing waste.  Italian authorities demanded that the ship, operated by Doctors without Borders and SOS Mediterranee, be seized on Tuesday.

The officials alleged that the migrants were carrying diseases* that could be transmitted through their discarded clothing, Reuters writes.

In a press conference, Gabriele Eminente, MSF‘s general director in Italy, expressed astonishment at the charges. He said that since 2015, his group has made more than 200 landings in Italy. “These are among the most controlled and closely watched moments by Italian police. We would have had to set up illegal activities right under the eyes of the authorities,” Eminente said. “We are absolutely surprised and indignant.”

The BBC notes that Italy’s populist government, which campaigned on an anti-immigrant platform, has had an antagonistic relationship with aid groups rescuing migrants in the Mediterranean.

[NPR]

* Alleging that migrants or outsiders are bearing disease has a very long history, as a Stanford study notes, and Europeans in particular have long depicted Africa as dirty and diseased. Here in the U.S., Fox News recently claimed without evidence that a caravan of Central American migrants and asylum-seekers was bringing infectious diseases toward the U.S.

Pope Francis criticizes migrant treatment and rising wealth inequality

Pope Francis criticized rising wealth inequality and the treatment of migrants, saying the world should not ignore those “tossed by the waves of life”.

“Injustice is the perverse root of poverty,” Francis said. “The cry of the poor daily becomes stronger but heard less, drowned out by the din of the rich few, who grow ever fewer and more rich.”

Francis also reiterated his support for migrants saying that people must pay attention to “all those forced to flee their homes and native land for an uncertain future”.

A report this year by Oxfam said 3.7 billion people, or half of the global population, saw no increase in their wealth in 2017, while 82 percent of the wealth generated last year went to the richest one percent of the global population.

[Reuters]

Federal Court blocks Trump Administration’s asylum ban

A federal court in San Francisco has temporarily blocked the Trump administration’s new asylum ban, saying it violates existing law and would cause irreparable harm to immigrants.

Earlier this month, President Trump issued a proclamation saying anyone crossing the U.S. southern border without doing so through an official port would be ineligible for asylum. The American Civil Liberties Union, the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Center for Constitutional Rights and others quickly filed lawsuits seeking to block the order. The plaintiffs’ complaint alleged the administration violated the Immigration and Nationality Act, or INA, which maintains that if a person makes it to U.S. soil — even if they’ve crossed the border illegally — they are eligible to apply for asylum.

U.S. District Judge Jon S. Tigar agreed with the complaint in his ruling, issuing a temporary restraining order on the proclamation. “Whatever the scope of the President’s authority, he may not rewrite the immigration laws to impose a condition that Congress has expressly forbidden,” he wrote. It “strains credulity” that an asylum-seeker’s manner of entry into the U.S. can be the sole factor in declaring them ineligible for asylum, he wrote.

“This ban is illegal, will put people’s lives in danger, and raises the alarm about President Trump’s disregard for separation of powers,” ACLU attorney Lee Gelernt, who argued the case, wrote in a statement. “There is no justifiable reason to flatly deny people the right to apply for asylum, and we cannot send them back to danger based on the manner of their entry. Congress has been clear on this point for decades,” his statement continued.

Southern Poverty Law Center lawyer Mary Bauer said she’d “talked to a dozen kids and they’ve all been there any number of weeks,” she said, “and they’ve all been told that if they try to get on the list [to get into the US for an asylum claim], they’ll be taken into custody.”

The allegations from Tijuana make it clear that the asylum ban actually affected unaccompanied children more than anyone — and made asylum literally unavailable to them. And even now, with the ban on hold, these children will have to find a way to cross into the US illegally — over newly mounted concertina wire — if they want a shot at asylum.

The Trump administration intends to keep fighting the asylum ban in hopes of getting the newly ensconced conservative majority on the Supreme Court to uphold it.

[NPR/Vox]

New UNESCO report highlights insufficient progress on education for refugee children

Half of the world’s forcibly displaced people are under the age of 18. Yet, many countries exclude them from their national education systems.

Asylum-seeking children in detention in countries such as Australia, Hungary, Indonesia, Malaysia and Mexico, are given limited access to education, if any. Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, Burundian refugees in the United Republic of Tanzania, Karen refugees in Thailand and many Afghan refugees in Pakistan can only get an education in separate, nonformal, community-based or private schools, some of which are not certified.

Lebanon and Jordan, hosts to the largest number of refugees per capita, do not have the resources necessary to build more schools. They have therefore established separate morning and afternoon school shifts for citizen and refugee children.

To provide quality education to all refugees, Germany would need 42,000 new teachers, Turkey 80,000 and Uganda 7,000.

A new UNESCO Report recognizes the considerable investments made by countries such as Rwanda and Iran to ensure that refugees attend school side by side with nationals. Turkey has committed to include all refugees in its national education system by 2020, as have seven countries in East Africa. Uganda has already fulfilled this promise.

 [Read full article]

A hard journey for those in the Migrant Caravan

The month-long journey for the Migrant Caravan has been hard. The migrants’ expected long stay in Tijuana has raised concerns about the ability of the border city of more than 1.6 million people to handle the influx.

While many in Tijuana are sympathetic to the migrants’ plight and trying to assist, some locals have shouted insults, hurled rocks and even thrown punches at them. The cold reception contrasts sharply with the warmth that accompanied the migrants in southern Mexico, where residents of small towns greeted them with hot food, campsites and even live music.

Alden Rivera, the Honduran ambassador in Mexico, told the AP on Saturday that 1,800 Hondurans had returned to their country since the caravan first set out on 13 October and that he hoped more would make that decision. “We want them to return to Honduras,” said Rivera.

Honduras has a murder rate of 43 per 100,000 residents, similar to US cities like New Orleans and Detroit.

In addition to violence, migrants in the caravan have mentioned poor economic prospects as a motivator for their departures. Per capita income hovers around $120 a month in Honduras, where the World Bank says two out of three people live in poverty.

[The Guardian]

The US has spent almost 6,000,000,000,000 dollars on wars since 2001

A new report from Brown University is aiming to provide a close estimate of the cost of the overall cost to the US government of its myriad post-9/11 wars and assorted global wars on terror. The estimate is that $5.933 trillion has been spent through fiscal year 2019.

This is, of course, vastly higher than official figures, owing to the Pentagon trying to oversimplify the costs into simply overseas contingency operations. It is only when one considers the cost of medical and disability care for soldiers, and future such costs, along with things like the interest on the extra money borrowed for the wars, that the true cost becomes clear.

That sort of vast expenditure is only the costs and obligations of the wars so far, and with little sign of them ending, they are only going to grow. In particular, a generation of wars is going to further add to the medical costs for veterans’ being consistently deployed abroad.

Starting in late 2001, the US has engaged in wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Pakistan, Yemen, and elsewhere around the world. Many of those wars have become more or less permanent operations, with no consideration of ending them under any circumstances.

[Antiwar.com]

Editor’s note:
If someone spent a million dollars every day since Jesus was born, to date they still wouldn’t have spent a Trillion dollars!
If you could spend $1,000 per second, it would take almost 30 years to spend 1 trillion dollars!
In about half that time, the U.S. has spent 6 trillion dollars on war.

Migrants arriving in Tijuana brace for long stay

More buses of exhausted people in a caravan of Central American asylum seekers reached the U.S. border as the city of Tijuana converted a municipal gymnasium into a temporary shelter and the migrants came to grips with the reality that they will be on the Mexican side of the frontier for an extended stay.

Tijuana’s robust network of shelters was already stretched to the limit, having squeezed in double their capacity or more as families slept on the floor on mats. A gated outdoor courtyard can accommodate hundreds more. There are real questions about how the city of more than 1.6 million will manage to handle the migrant caravans working their way through Mexico, which may total 10,000 people in all.

With U.S. border inspectors at the main crossing into San Diego processing only about 100 asylum claims a day, it could take weeks if not months to process the thousands in the caravan that departed from San Pedro Sula, Honduras, more than a month ago.

To claim asylum in San Diego, migrants enter their names in a tattered notebook held together by duct tape and managed by the migrants in a plaza outside the entry to the main border crossing. Migrants who registered six weeks ago are just now getting their names called. The waiting list has grown to more than 3,000 names and stands to become much longer with the caravans.

Francisco Rueda, the top deputy to Baja California state governor, said that if all migrants from the caravan currently in Tijuana were to register to seek asylum in the U.S., they would likely have to wait four months in Mexico at current processing rates. For that reason, the state has asked Mexican federal authorities to encourage others in caravans to go to other border cities.

There are 7,000 jobs available in the state for those who can obtain legal status in Mexico, Rueda added. He touted Tijuana’s integration of Haitian migrants over the last two years and the state’s relatively low unemployment rate.

[AP]