Immigrant and Refugee Issues

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Essay Contest – Writers’ Room of Boston Immigrant Voices

Have you immigrated recently to Boston from another country?

If so, we want to hear your story!
Enter The Writers’ Room of Boston Immigrant Voices Essay Contest
Theme: “A Boston Journey– The Immigrant Experience in This Historical Moment.”
All immigrants and refugees are invited to submit a 500-word essay about their experiences since arriving in greater Boston. Share your challenges, successes and hopes for the future.
Public_Domain_Archives_Boston_Skyline
We understand that some members of the immigrant community may feel uncomfortable identifying themselves and for this reason, essays may be submitted under a pseudonym.
All contact information (email addresses, addresses and phone numbers) will remain private for every submission.
ALL WINNERS AND FINALISTS WILL BE PUBLISHED ON OUR WEBSITE: WWW.WRITERSROOMOFBOSTON.ORG
First Prize: a new laptop computer
Second Prize: a $100 gift certificate to Porter Square Books
(located in Cambridge near the Porter Square T stop on the Red Line)
Send your essay in the body of an email to: info@writersroomofboston.org
DEADLINE FOR SUBMISSION: MIDNIGHT, MAY 15, 2017

 

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ON DEVELOPMENT, ON MIGRATION: Humankind’s Ability to Feed Itself, Now in Jeopardy | Inter Press Service

Mankind’s future ability to feed itself is in jeopardy due to intensifying pressures on natural resources, mounting inequality, and the fallout from a changing climate, warns a new United Nations’ report. Though very real and significant progress in reducing global hunger has been achieved over the past 30 years, “expanding food production and economic growth have often come at a heavy cost to the natural environment,” says the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) report

Source: Humankind’s Ability to Feed Itself, Now in Jeopardy | Inter Press Service

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ON MIGRATION: Trump’s Offensive Against Undocumented Migrants Will Fuel Migration Crisis | Inter Press Service

This article speaks to how, with continued extreme economic disparity, migrants will migrate:

“Donald Trump will not stop me from getting to the U.S.,” said Juan, a 35-year-old migrant from Nicaragua, referring to the Republican president-elect who will govern that country as of Jan. 20. Juan, who worked as a street vendor in his country and asked that his last name not be mentioned, told IPS: “I got scared when I heard that Trump had won the election (on November 8). Maybe with Hillary (Clinton) there would have

Source: Trump’s Offensive Against Undocumented Migrants Will Fuel Migration Crisis | Inter Press Service

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Divided We Fall, But Bland Calls For Unity Won’t Cut It Either

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This is about the deep listening that needs to be done and that Community Supported Film wants to nurture and champion…

“The biggest mistake we can make is to assume that it is up to our political leaders to unify us. They can set the tone, but it is primarily in the hands of the American people to rebuild a basic level of mutual respect and dignity …
Hate and bigotry almost always grow out of fear.
Caring for those you disagree with is not the same as compromising your principles.
Emotional connections change everything; rational arguments don’t. …
1. Whatever it is you are pursuing, think about who loses if you win.
2. Decide you care what happens to them.
3. Reach out across that divide to start a real conversation. …”

The 2016 election highlighted divisions that run deep in American society. Here’s what you can do to help bridge them.

Source: Divided We Fall, But Bland Calls For Unity Won’t Cut It Either

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ON DEVELOPMENT, ON MIGRATION: A Perspective on Migration, Agriculture and Rural Development | Inter Press Service

Migration is part of the process of development. It is not a problem in itself, and could, in fact, offer a solution to a number of matters. Migrants can make a positive and profound contribution to the economic and social development of their countries of origin, transit and destination alike.

Source: Beyond Calais: A Perspective on Migration, Agriculture and Rural Development | Inter Press Service

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ON MIGRATION, AFGHANISTAN: Dying to Get to Europe | Inter Press Service

They are not just data or numbers for statistical calculations. They are desperate human beings fleeing wars, violence, abuse, slavery and death. They hear and believe the bombastic speeches about democracy and human rights and watch the many images of welfare and good life in Europe. They are so desperate that trusting the promises of human traffickers comes almost naturally to them. After all these human traffickers are the very people who lure them to

Source: Dying to Get to Europe | Inter Press Service

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ON DEVELOPMENT, IMMIGRANT/REFUGEE: What Happens When a Small Farmer Migrates?

Kenya – Maasai pastoralists, who participate in the Farmer Field School, taking their cattle to a local livestock market. ©FAO/Vitale

ipsnews.net, by Baher Kamal, ROME, Oct 13 2016 – Now that world attention is focused on the fast growing process of urbanisation, with 2 in 3 people estimated to be living in towns and cities by the year 2030, an old “equation” jumps rapidly to mind: each time a small farmer migrates to an urban area, equals to one food producer less, and one food consumer more.

Such an equation especially impacts developing countries, where small farmers produce between 60 and 80 per cent of all food.It also affects the living conditions in urban centres, with negative repercussions on the policies aimed at achieving the sustainability of world’s cities, which is scheduled to be top on the agenda ofHABITAT III conference in Quito, Ecuador on October 17-20.

IPS interviewed Dr. Peter Wobst at the United Nations leading agency dealing with food and agriculture, to assess the impact of rural migration on food production.

“Every smallholder moving out is one producer less – that’s for sure… But the reality is complex…,” says Wobst, who is senior advisor on the Strategic Programme on Rural Poverty Reduction at the Rome-based Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).

Dr. Peter Wobst

According to Wobst, migration (mobility of people, largely comprising of labour mobility) is a common phenomenon that occurs during the economic and social transformation of societies/economies.

“We want this to happen for economies and regions to develop. Today, in a more integrated world economy, more than ever. And the numbers speak for themselves – one billion people not living in the communities where they were born.”

Hence, as the rural areas (including agriculture) transform, new production systems require different compositions of skills, which in turn needs to be taken into account in the relevant education systems (basic education as well as vocation training), Wobst adds.

While some people find new opportunities in the changing rural economy, others are seeking opportunities in nearby towns or cities or ultimately move abroad. This is all fine as long as people improve their relative livelihoods condition, he says.

“What obviously we do not want to see is that people move because of economic distress, because they cannot cope with the changing rural (economic) environment and do not see any other viable livelihoods opportunity in their communities of origin. To be beneficial, migration should be a choice, not a necessity.”

Wobst then explains that “we at FAO are therefore working on ‘addressing the root causes of distress migration’, dealing with the socio-economic issues that drive people out of rural areas.”

Now, back to the farmer moving to the city. According to Wobst, for an individual, that “equation” seems obvious… But in a time continuum and over a large number of farmers it does not hold.

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Pakistan – People escaping flooded areas by tractor. ©FAO/Hafeez

Wobst goes further to explain why the equation “each time a farmer migrates to an urban area, means one food producer less and one food consumer more” does not necessarily hold.

“As economies undergo structural transformation, the movement of people in search of better employment opportunities elsewhere is inevitable. Farmers can migrate to an urban area, but also to other rural areas, and can do this on a short-term (including seasonal/cyclical migration) or long-term basis.”

However, even in the case of rural-urban migration, generally the “equation” (rural migration to urban centres implying less food production and more food consumption) does not hold, Wobst adds.

“If properly managed, safe and regular migration can reduce pressure on local labour markets and foster a more efficient allocation of labour and higher wages in agriculture.”

“Some farmers may find a much more productive occupation in urban areas. Some may still have a farm back home that they support to become more productive through the remittances they send as well as the new knowledge and skills they have acquired.”

Some of those remaining farmers in the rural areas become more productive over time (fostered by agricultural transformation, advancement in technologies, agricultural investment, better vocational training, extension services, etc.), says Wobst.

And adds that agricultural and rural transformation will lead to more integrated food systems, with further occupational opportunities up the value chain (including processing, packaging, transport, wholesale, and retail).

Wobst also explains that remittances from family members who migrated can relax liquidity constraints and foster investments in agriculture and other rural economic activities with potential for job creation in rural areas of origin.

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Burundi – Refugees fleeing civil conflict. ©FAO/Linton

“Further, migrants can acquire new knowledge, skills and networks which will allow them to engage in more productive and attractive employment and entrepreneurial opportunities linked to agriculture upon their own return or simply facilitate those opportunities for the remaining farm household or community members.”

IPS asked Wobst about the latest figures. In 2015, there were 244 million international migrants, including 150 million migrant workers. About one third of them are aged 15-34, he said.

Internal migration is an even larger phenomenon, with 740 million internal migrants in 2013. Around 40 per cent of international remittances are sent to rural areas, reflecting the rural origins of a large share of migrants, Wobst further explained.

Moreover, in 2015, 65.3 million people around the world were forcibly displaced by conflict and persecution.

Regarding the impact of migration, Wobst believes it brings both opportunities and challenges for countries of origin, transit and destination.

In countries of origin, diaspora, migrant networks and return migrants can foster the transfer of skills, know-how and technology, as well as investments to promote agriculture and rural development, he says. In countries of transit and destination migrants can help fill labour shortages.

“However, large movements of people present complex challenges. Rural areas of origin risk losing the younger and often most dynamic share of their workforce, while in transit and destination countries migration can constitute a challenge for local authorities to provide quality public services for migrants and host populations, and further strain the natural resource base.”

Hence, the FAO has been working to create alternative and sustainable livelihood options in rural areas, with a special focus on women and youth, and harness the developmental potential of internal and international migration.

“Hence, the FAO has been working to create alternative and sustainable livelihood options in rural areas, with a special focus on women and youth, and harness the developmental potential of internal and international migration”.

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ON THE MEDIA: A Twin Cities documentary filmmaking project helps local Iraqi refugees tell their stories

Jameelah Hassoon and Jamal Ali came to the U.S. in 2009.

In Baghdad, Jamal Ali was a U.S.-trained engineer who worked as a UPS manager. In Minnesota, he has reinvented himself as an interpreter — and, in recent years, a fledgling documentary filmmaker.

Ali is part of an annual project launched in 2012 that enlists Iraqi refugees to tell their stories on film. This year, he led a team that set out to highlight success stories in the small local Iraqi community and examine the idea of Muslim refugees as a threat. St. Paul’s Landmark Center will host a screening of the documentary and a discussion with the filmmakers later this month.

 “We just want to pass a ­message that [the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant] is not representing Islam,” Ali, the movie’s co-director, said. ISIL “has been denied and refused by all Iraqis.”

Funded with a state Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund grant, the “Iraqi Voices” project is the brainchild of a local nonprofit called Iraqi and American Reconciliation Project. Since 2007, the nonprofit has brought in visiting Iraqi professionals and supported clean water projects at Iraqi schools.

Ali says he and his family discovered the documentary project at just the right time. He was resettled in Minnesota with his wife and two adult children in 2009 after a stint in Jordan, among the first ­refugees from the Iraq war to arrive in the state.

It was a challenging transition at first. Ali’s wife, Jameelah Hassoon, an anesthesiologist in Baghdad, struggled to come to terms with the realization she would not be able to restart her career because of education and licensing requirements. Getting involved with the project provided a good outlet.

Nathan Fisher, a Twin Cities filmmaker who had shot a documentary about Iraqi refugees in the Middle East, recruited the family to the project. They and other participants — a largely middle class bunch that included a former veterinarian, teacher and entrepreneur — shot three- to eight-minute documentary shorts about their lives. A middle-aged woman dreams of reuniting with her adult children, who couldn’t accompany her to Minnesota. A young man recounts narrowly avoiding a terrorist attack in an Iraqi barbershop during a visit to a barber in ­Columbia Heights.

 Ali’s son, Naser, in his early 30s, created a movie about realizing that not all Americans are rich and happy. The movies have been screened at the Walker Art Museum, on the Macalester College campus in St. Paul and in churches across the metro.

“We wanted to express our feelings to the Americans,” Ali said. “It helped us release some of the stress we had.”

This year, the group of 10 amateur filmmakers decided to collaborate on one longer film.

“This year’s film was about debunking myths about Iraqis: ‘We are here. We are not that scary,’ ” Fisher said.

The film features a family that runs a St. Paul neighborhood grocery with a diverse clientele, where they serve Middle Eastern food and cheesesteak sandwiches. It also highlights Hala Asamarai, an Iraqi-American who won election to the Columbia Heights school board earlier this year.

The Landmark screening Oct. 29 will include a Q&A led by Joseph Farag, an assistant professor at the University of Minnesota. The free event runs from 2 to 4 p.m.

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IMMIGRANTS AND REFUGEES: Denmark’s Right Wing Peddles Anti-Migrant Spray

How do you really feel about migrants, Denmark? A new pepper spray meant to be used against asylum-seekers is the latest right-wing propaganda tool aimed at keeping refugees away.
BARBIE LATZA NADEAU

ROME — There has never been any question about how some Danes really feel when it comes to refugees and migrants. After all, Denmark is a country where the parliament actually voted to seize certain high-value items from them to help offset the costs of their housing and health care. It is also a country where it is legal to bounce migrants and refugees out of nightclubs just for being migrants and refugees.

Now some Danes have taken things a step further by handing out a special pepper spray that is meant to keep refugees away. The refugee-repellent product, Asyl Spray (presumably playing on the word asylum), was distributed in the southeast port city of Haderslev last weekend by the right-wing Danskernes Parti political group.

The purse-size spray can features the promise to “repel refugees” in a “legal” and “effective” way.

Party leader Daniel Carlsen, who says he came up with the idea, rebuffed outrage by claiming that most pepper spray is illegal in Denmark, and the anti-refugee spray provided a legal alternative.

“I cannot see how it is racist,” he told CNN. “Pepper spray is illegal here so we wanted to figure out a way for Danish people, in particular women, to protect themselves. It’s obviously not the ideal situation.”

He said he knew that while the spray could not stop migrants and refugees from trying to reach Denmark, it might act as a deterrent for those that have arrived. “In the long run we want to repatriate the migrants, we want to repatriate non-Westerners in general, that is in the long run,” he said. “In the short run we want to provide solutions to make life better and safer for the Danish people.”

Not surprisingly, the Danish approach to migration has raised eyebrows among those concerned about the tens of thousands attempting to reach Europe. The United Nations agency on refugees issued a statement of sheer disgust about the produce, stating that it “strongly regrets that this kind of incident is taking place in Denmark against asylum seekers and refugees, people who have already suffered so much.”

Carlsen doesn’t seem to care. “We are tackling an actual problem in our society, where many Danes feel unsafe,” he told local Danish television station SYD. “It is a disgrace to Denmark and Europe as a whole that an organization like this is promoting mass immigration to Europe, and it will destroy Europe. We are not saying that migrants are all rapists, but the problem with mass migration is the mass, and because of the mass it will in time replace the indigenous people of Europe.”

A year ago, Denmark started placing advertisements in English and Arabic in Lebanese newspapers warning potential refugees to Europe to stay put, or at least not to set their sights on Denmark as their promised land. One ad stated that the country had cut benefits to new refugees by half. Another warned there were new quotas that might limit their chances of asylum.

Norway and Hungary have also used traditional advertisements as well as social media to warn potential migrants and refugees to stay away. A television ad campaign in Hungary features scary-looking men on motorcycles hunting down refugees in a forest to the tune of dramatic music. “Don’t come here,” says the mayor, who is also featured on horseback in the advertisement, apparently hunting refugees and warning that trespassers who enter the country illegally could go to prison, his voice intoning over pictures of high electric fences and police cars.

Sweden, which welcomed refugees until public housing and refugee centers reached capacity, has also started using social media and even videos with techno beats to warn refugees that the utopia they dream of is gone. Instead, they will be housed in tents and forced to endure cold Swedish winters, which are depicted by a snowy fields and warnings of 12-month-long winters. “If you plan to come to Sweden, bring your own tent,” the advertisement suggests.

Since January, more than 300,000 people have made the sea crossing to Europe. Clearly the threat of refugee repellent sprays and negative advertisement about cold winters has done little to stop the flow of migrants into Europe. That’s undoubtedly because as unwelcoming as Europe is becoming, it still sounds better than where they are coming from.

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IMMIGRANT AND REFUGEES: Narrow National Interests Threaten Historic Refugee Agreement

Border guards in Bangladesh refused entry to Rohingya refugees from Myanmar in 2012. Credit: Anurup Titu/IPS

UNITED NATIONS, Jul 27 2016, ipsnews.net, by Aruna Duttoriginal – Narrow national interests are threatening to derail an upcoming UN summit which aims to bring countries together to find a more humane and coordinated approach to large movements of refugees and migrants.

The existing system, which was established after World War II, is struggling to cope with record numbers of displaced persons, Peter Sutherland, the UN Special Representative of the Secretary General for International Migration said at an event at the International Peace Institute in New York last week.

Sutherland criticized the ethos prevailing over the debate concerning refugees. “It is not compassion but order, and keeping people out that has dominated the debate,” he said, adding that the negative dialogue “has bred xenophobia, racism and nationalism.”

Words like “erecting walls,” are cheap, said Sutherland, and the UN must stand strong and reverse the rhetoric.

Amnesty International, which has long supported radical change in the existing agreement to accommodate increasing migration, has warned that a few nations were working through the prism of “narrow national self-interest” and these few countries may scupper Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s initiative to end the refugee crisis.

Amnesty also warned that a group of “unlikely bedfellows” including Australia, China, Egypt, India, Russia, Pakistan and the U.S., among others, risk bulldozing the only worldwide effort under way to provide concrete action to deal with the global refugee crisis affecting 20 million people.

The UN and organizations like Amnesty are appealing to these nations to change their positions to meet the challenge so that the new Global Compact on Refugees can be adopted at a UN Summit planned for Sept. 19.

“As time runs out to finalize what could and should be a game-changing agreement, so much hangs in the balance. Millions of refugees around the world are in desperate need – 86 percent live in low and middle-income countries often ill-equipped to host them, while many of the world’s wealthiest states host the fewest and do the least. This situation is inherently unfair,” Salil Shetty, Amnesty International’s Secretary General, is quoted saying in a press release July 25.

Instead of the new Global Compact on Refugee Responsibility Sharing, “What looms instead is possibly a shameful historic failure, with some states sacrificing refugees’ rights for selfish national interests,” Shetty added.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has been calling for a new approach to large movements of refugees and migrants, and in May he set out some proposals in a report to the General Assembly, including for internationally agreed compacts on refugees and migrants. These include global responsibility sharing where no country takes on more than their fair share of refugees.

Amnesty warned that even the term “responsibility-sharing” is in jeopardy and the whole deal may be delayed because some states want absolute parity. The international rights organization blames a lack of political will and willingness to tolerate the preventable suffering of millions of people by continuing to build fences.

At the IPI meeting last week, Omar Hilale, Permanent Representative of the Kingdom of Morocco and upcoming Co-Chair of the Global Migration Group, said migration had built the history of humankind for thousands of years. “It should be a positive discussion, recognizing the importance of migration. … It is not an issue of conflict between North and South.”

Karen AbuZayd, Special Adviser on the Summit on Addressing Large Movements of Refugees and Migrants, said the work of setting up concrete mechanisms is “all in the hands of member-states.” The UN’s 2030 Development Agenda she said, frames migration in a positive manner, contrary to mainstream media’s portrayal.

“We must not lose sight of the bigger picture: the positive ones, the success stories,” that come out of migration. AbuZayd also pointed out that the majority of refugees are children and refugee children are five times less likely to attend school.

Syrian refugees today account for 30 percent of the Lebanese population and 20 percent of the population of Jordan.

In order to respond to this crisis, countries like Lebanon, have gone into serious debt, while the six richest countries host less than 9 percent of the refugees, according to Oxfam calculations.

Jordan, Turkey, Pakistan, Lebanon, South Africa, and the Occupied Palestinian Territory are home to 50 percent of the world’s refugees and asylum seekers, but account for under 2 percent of the world’s economy.

Oxfam’s analysis concludes that the United States, China, Japan, Germany, France and the United Kingdom hosted 2.1 million refugees and asylum seekers in 2015 – just 8.88 percent of the world total.

Questioned whether it is important for richer countries to provide finance through very low-interest loans to these countries, or invest in more humanitarian assistance, Mais Balkhi, the Advocacy Manager of Syria Relief and Development, told IPS that said it has to be all these steps and more.

“It’s important for the richest countries to share the responsibility including hosting more refugees themselves in addition to providing both finance assistance to hosting countries neighboring Syria and increasing humanitarian aid.”

The Deputy Secretary General, Jan Eliasson, speaking at a recent forum on migration and development, noted that of late, the public debate on migration and refugees has been dominated by security concerns.

Eliasson stressed the need to recognize that, overall, human mobility has a positive impact on development and is a driver for economic prosperity and social progress. Jan Eliasson also said that  “While there are trans-national frameworks to deal with the environment, trade and finance, we lack a similarly comprehensive approach to the governance of international migration — one linking migration, human rights and development.”

But Balkhi told IPS that the existing treaties, such as the human rights treaty, would be enough if they were being implemented, which is not the case in many UN member states.

“I think there should be a plan and a strategy to implement existing treaties and not creating new ones. States should be held accountable when human rights are not applied.”

On Jul. 25, the UN General Assembly voted for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to join the UN as a related organization, a step which may indicate a move towards greater coordination of migration related issues within the UN system.

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AFGHANISTAN: Pakistan plans talks with Afghanistan, UN agency over refugees’ return

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Afghan refugees arrive to be repatriated to Afghanistan, at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) office on the outskirts of Quetta, Pakistan, August 26, 2015. REUTERS/Naseer Ahmed

Reuters, Thursday, 30 June 2016

The number of Afghans voluntarily returning from Pakistan has plummeted this year

* Pakistan has world’s second largest refugee population

* Just 6,000 Afghans returned home this year, vs 58,211 in 2015

* Afghanistan says working with Pakistan to tackle refugee woes (Adds Afghanistan minister’s comment)

By Mehreen Zahra-Malik

ISLAMABAD, June 30 (Reuters) – Pakistan plans talks with Afghanistan and the United Nations refugee agency to move longtime Afghan refugees to camps at home, the foreign office said on Thursday, after the numbers of those returning plunged this year.

Pakistan has the world’s second largest refugee population, with more than 1.5 million registered, and about a million unregistered, refugees from neighbouring Afghanistan, most of whom fled the Soviet occupation of their country in the 1980s.

The U.N. says the number of Afghans voluntarily returning from Pakistan has fallen to about 6,000, well below last year’s 58,211, as violence worsens in Afghanistan, where the government and its U.S. allies are battling a stubborn Taliban insurgency.

Pakistan’s foreign ministry said it would immediately approach Afghanistan on the political and diplomatic fronts, while the ministry for frontier regions would engage with the U.N. refugee agency and Afghanistan’s ministry of refugees.

The talks would seek ways to ease “early returns as well as the possibility of shifting Afghan refugees gradually from Pakistan to safer and peaceful areas of Afghanistan, where the Afghan government should establish settlements,” the foreign office said in a statement.

Hussain Alemi Balkhi, the Afghan minister for refugees and repatriation, said, “We know that the refugees face harassment and hardship, and we are working with Pakistani authorities to address these problems.”

He confirmed plans for a three-way meeting on July 19 with Pakistan and the U.N. refugee agency.

On Wednesday, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif allowed the 1.5 million registered refugees to stay on for six more months.

The registration deadline extension came soon after officials told Reuters at least 500 Afghan refugees had been arrested in the northwestern border province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and deported as a security risk.

Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper said more than 2,000 refugees were arrested in the last month, and 400 deported to Afghanistan. (Additional Reporting by Hamid Shalizi in Kabul; Writing by Mehreen Zahra-Malik)

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ON DEVELOPMENT: Leaving no one (apart from migrants and refugees) behind

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Burundian refugees wait on the beach in Kagunga, Tanzania. Bill Marwa/OXFAM

irinnews.org, July 25, 2016, original

Ten months ago, the UN’s 2030 Agenda laid out an ambitious set of Sustainable Development Goals to be met over the next 15 years as 193 countries committed themselves to “leaving no one behind” in the endeavour to end poverty and promote development.

Was this merely a lofty-sounding phrase or is it actually compelling countries to extend their commitments to the 65 million refugees and displaced people living within their borders?

First, the bad news: the xenophobia and nationalism dominating political discourse around the world threaten to undermine the inclusive spirit of the agenda, and perhaps even the relevance of the UN itself.

Brexit, the EU-Turkey deal, Kenya’s plans to close its largest refugee camp, Dadaab, extremist attacks inspired or directed by so-called Islamic State, the inward-looking, alienating nature of Republican nominee Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, have all contributed to a climate where governments are focused on acting individually to keep refugees and migrants out rather than on addressing their needs.

This doesn’t bode well for those hoping that concrete commitments towards a shared responsibility for the refugee crisis will emerge from the upcoming UN summit on large movements of refugees and migrants, or from US President Barack Obama’s separate Leaders’ Summit on Refugees, nor for hopes that countries will use their development agendas to prioritise the most vulnerable.

The promise

The latest draft declaration on the UN summit, to be signed by leaders in New York in September, is peppered with references to the 2030 Agenda.

“Words, of course, are cheap” – Peter Sutherland, UN special representative for international migration

The agenda, says the declaration, recognises migrants as “agents of change and as enablers for development in countries of origin, transit and destination”; endeavours to “reach the furthest behind first”; calls for facilitating safe migration and mobility; and “explicitly recognises the “needs of refugees, internally displaced persons and migrants”.

Its targets deal with issues specific to refugees and migrants, like “education, labour standards, human trafficking, exploitation of children, access to justice and the building of self-reliance and resilience”.

“Meeting a year after 2030”, the draft optimistically notes, “we pledge to realise the full potential of the agenda for refugees and migrants”.

The reality

But during a recent briefing at the International Peace Institute in New York, where panellists attempted to join the dots between the 2030 Agenda and the UN refugee summit, their repeated calls to counter xenophobic rhetoric towards refugees and migrants sounded a desperate note.

Peter Sutherland, the UN special representative of the secretary-general for international migration, warned that pervasive and increasingly dominant political rhetoric was giving rise to xenophobia and racism and “breeding the type of extreme nationalism that many of us hoped was left behind us 40 or 50 years ago”. The optimism many felt when migration made it into the SDGs has dissipated, he said.

Related: What does Brexit mean for refugees?

Besides the “leaving no one behind” spirit of the agenda that calls for addressing the needs of the most vulnerable first, Goal 10 (reduce inequality within and among countries) specifically calls for the “orderly, safe, regular and responsible migration and mobility of people”, through “the implementation of planned and well-managed migration policies” (target 7).

But as Sutherland said: “Words, of course, are cheap.” Rather than embracing the spirit of the global development agenda, political leaders are nurturing “a misguided belief that safeguarding sovereignty means acting unilaterally.

“They’ve resisted calls for collective action regionally and internationally,” he said.

What about IDPs?

Another negative, which emerged as a source of tension at the panel discussion, is that internally displaced people will be left off the refugee summit agenda. Member states demanded that IDPs be left out because “they are an issue of national sovereignty”, said Karen AbuZayd, the UN special adviser on the summit. A perfect opportunity for countries to commit to taking responsibility for both their own and other states’ displaced people appears to have been lost.

Of the world’s 65 million displaced people, more than 45 million are IDPs, pointed out Josephine Liebl, policy adviser at Oxfam. “For the summit to only focus on refugees and not look at IDPs is a huge omission for us,” she told IRIN. “In our programmes we’ve seen that IDPs receive very little protection and assistance.” This is, in part, she explained, because their movement may be less visible, because they are not crossing borders. Another reason, of course, is that IDPs are often caught up in the political conflict perpetrated by the member states themselves.

The good news

On the positive side, the 2030 Agenda does attempt to address many of the root causes that drive people to flee their homes, including poverty, climate change-induced disasters, and conflict. The wide-ranging and ambitious agenda has a better chance than the Millennium Development Goals, its predecessor, of tackling what drives migration in the first place, said Paul O’Brien, Oxfam America’s vice president for policy and campaigns.

O’Brien said the fact that three interest groups prevailed in developing the agenda – those wanting to finish the goals of the MDGs, nation states calling for more economic growth to sustain development, and those pushing for solutions to global challenges like climate change and structural inequality – has led to an agenda that is far better positioned to address the underlying causes of mass displacement of people.

Also, the 2030 Agenda is about universality. “It places obligations on countries accepting refugees and migrants to fulfill commitments regarding education, healthcare, job opportunities and everything else that the 169 targets cover,” said O’Brien. This, he told IRIN, “creates an avenue for accountability”. “There is nothing in the SDGs that says these commitments apply to countries’ own citizens only.”

Christine Matthews, deputy director of the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) office in New York, told the panel that the 2030 Agenda’s call to “leave no one behind” was a landmark opportunity to strengthen the bridge between the humanitarian and development arenas, and for countries to incorporate building resilience and self-reliance of displaced people into their national and local development frameworks. Implementation of Goals 1 (no poverty), 10 (reduced inequalities), and 16 (peace, justice, and strong institutions), in particular, will stop people from leaving their homes in the first place, she said.

There is at least some evidence of progress in this regard. Jessica Espey, associate director of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network, cited Nigeria as an example of a country looking at “leaving no one behind” as a way to address conflict. And the needs of Syrian refugees comprise a central component of Jordan’s new development plan, for example.

The World Bank and other donors are also supporting a scheme where Jordan gives employment, entrepreneurial support, and education to Syrian refugees in return for trade benefits. While the primary intention may be to stop Syrians from moving to Europe, it is also a sign that the focus – both within and outside the UN – is shifting to more development-oriented approaches to tackling the refugee crisis.

Some political accountability

Many see the inclusion of Goal 16 (peace, justice, and strong institutions) as a big positive in addressing a major driver of mass displacement – conflict. “During the SDG negotiations, many member states didn’t want to take on humanitarian and peace and conflict issues,” said Espey. “They saw this as the responsibility of the Security Council.

Related: The EU-Turkey migration deal is dying. What’s Plan B?

“The problem then is that the SDGs don’t tackle a number of pressing issues to do with instability and conflict,” such as refugees and displaced people. “Goal 16 (peace, justice and strong institutions) ended up being the closest thing to a compromise.” Besides the political sensitivities, Espey pointed out that conflict and migration present an intractable and daunting challenge to an already overloaded and ambitious development agenda. “Adding governance to the agenda was just too big an issue to bite off,” she said.

Nevertheless, Goal 16 is being seen as an important “political placeholder for these crises”, as she put it, and, she agreed, for strengthening the humanitarian/development nexus. “The goal ensures that these issues of conflict and migration are being discussed as part of national priorities. And ‘leave no one behind’ gives leverage to tackle this goal.”

A final positive is the inclusion of “disaggregated” indicators: applying the different categories such as sex, race, and age to the population so that vulnerable people do not slip under the radar, as was the case with the MDGs. ‘Migratory status’ is at least one of these categories in the SDG indicators, stressed Casey Dunning, a senior policy analyst at the Centre for Global Development. Unless refugees and other displaced people are identified and counted they won’t be able to access services.

But in Dunning’s view, the interest for collecting this detailed disaggregated information is “just not there at the moment”. Not only, she said, are countries intent on looking inward and putting up fences, they are more focused on their own economic growth than on ensuring that no one is left behind.

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Immigration: Thousands of stateless in Dominican Republic risk deportation

Original article found on: The Thomson Reuters Foundation

By: Thomson Reuters Foundation

Hundreds of Dominicans of Haitian origin protest to reclaim their right to their Dominican nationality and to denounce their situation after a 2013 verdict by the Constitutional Tribunal outside the National Congress in Santo Domingo, March 12, 2014. REUTERS/Ricardo Rojas

Hundreds of Dominicans of Haitian origin protest to reclaim their right to their Dominican nationality and to denounce their situation after a 2013 verdict by the Constitutional Tribunal outside the National Congress in Santo Domingo, March 12, 2014. REUTERS/Ricardo Rojas

BOGOTA, Feb 1 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Tens of thousands of Dominican-born people of Haitian descent are stateless and at risk of being deported if they fail to meet a Sunday deadline to register for residency in the Dominican Republic, Amnesty has warned.

For decades the Dominican Republic recognised the children of Haitian migrants born in the country as Dominican citizens irrespective of the migration status of their parents.

But a 2013 court ruling, along with previous changes to nationality laws, have denied children of Haitian migrants their birth certificates, identity documents, and stripped them of their nationality, Amnesty and the United Nations say.

This means up to 200,000 people are in legal limbo and stateless – not recognised as a citizen by any country – and denied the basic rights most people take for granted.

In recent weeks, long queues of stateless people, the vast majority of Haitian descent, have formed at immigration offices in the capital Santo Domingo waiting to apply for residency permits before the Feb. 1 deadline.

“At the stroke of midnight the hopes of tens of thousands of vulnerable people will be scuppered as this deadline expires. This could leave thousands at risk of possible expulsion from the country,” Erika Guevara, Americas director at Amnesty International, said in a statement.

“Even if these people are able to stay in the Dominican Republic after the deadline expires, their futures are woefully uncertain.”

The Dominican government has said changes to the nationality laws aim to tackle illegal migration from neighouring Haiti.

Since the late 1890s, hundreds of thousands of Haitians have crossed into the more prosperous Dominican Republic to escape political violence or seek a better life.

Many ended up working on low pay as sugar cane cutters, settling in impoverished, isolated communities known as bateyes.

Under pressure from the United Nations and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, the Dominican government introduced a further law in May 2014 to allow people born to undocumented foreign parents to apply for residence permits – a first step to citizenship.

Amnesty said interior ministry figures showed less than 5 percent of an estimated 110,000 people entitled to do so have applied for residency.

Rights groups have criticised the government over a lack of awareness raising campaigns about the new law and delays in setting up offices to process citizenship claims.

The government did not immediately respond to phone calls, but in a newspaper interview the country’s chief immigration officer Jose Ricardo Taveras defended the government’s efforts to resolve the legal limbo facing undocumented people.

The El Caribe news site quoted him as saying that more than 20 offices had been set up to deal with claims and the government had launched a big publicity drive.

Juan Alberto Antuan, a young man of Haitian descent born in the Dominican Republic, is among those still awaiting identity documents.

“We are extremely worried because the authorities continue to deny the existence of statelessness, but it’s our reality,” Antuan told Amnesty. “Discrimination exists in this country, I can’t work and I can’t access vital services.”

Original article found on: The Thomson Reuters Foundation

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Immigrant and Refugee: Baker’s cabinet pick raises eyebrows

Original article found on: The Boston Globe

By Maria Sacchetti | November 13, 2014

 

Chelsea City Manager Jay Ash has led a city of immigrants for 14 years. And when controversy erupted, community leaders say Ash did not flinch.

He cleared permits for immigrants-rights marches, and greeted the demonstrators when they paraded past City Hall. He stood by the City Council when it declared Chelsea a sanctuary city for immigrants. And he welcomed immigrant children to the city during a national crisis last summer when some mayors sought to turn them away.

But this week, the towering Democrat raised eyebrows by agreeing to serve as secretary of housing and economic development for Governor-elect Charlie Baker, a Republican who opposes illegal immigration.

City Manager Jay Ash (left), a Democrat, has been viewed as championing immigrants’ rights in Chelsea.

City Manager Jay Ash (left), a Democrat, has been viewed as championing immigrants’ rights in Chelsea.

“I don’t get it,” said Gladys Vega, the executive director of the Chelsea Collaborative, a nonprofit that advocates for immigrants, who berated Baker for his immigration policies at a campaign stop in August. “It was like, wow.”

Ash, 53, the son of a single mother, grew up in Chelsea’s subsidized housing and is Baker’s first Cabinet pick. To some, Ash’s appointment was seen as an overture to the Democrats after Baker’s narrow victory Nov. 4.

But Ash’s selection is also a curiosity in a city with the highest proportion of immigrants in Massachusetts, nearly 45 percent, triple the state average. The vast majority are not US citizens, but a mix of immigrants from Somalia, Guatemala, El Salvador, and elsewhere, some here legally and others illegally.

Baker opposed driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants and backed the federal Secure Communities program to detect criminals here illegally, even as the mayors of Boston and Somerville curtailed it in their cities, saying it was also ensnaring immigrants stopped for minor traffic violations.

Baker also favors barring illegal immigrants from state public housing, in keeping with federal law, and has pointed out that a ban would not apply retroactively, so people would not be evicted. The plan has won support in the Democrat-led state Legislature, but advocates for immigrants successfully lobbied to eliminate the restrictions.

Ash declined to comment on Baker’s immigration policies when reached by phone Wednesday, but called the Cabinet post “a great opportunity.”

“I’m looking forward to serving with the governor,” Ash said. “I’m sure that the governor will do great things for the Commonwealth.”

Baker spokesman Tim Buckley said Ash and Baker did not discuss specific policy before the appointment but that Ash would carry out Baker’s initiatives, including on housing policy and immigration.

“There are no litmus tests when it comes to finding great people to join Governor-elect Baker and Jay is eager to follow through on all of Baker’s initiatives including the alignment of housing policy with federal standards,” Buckley said.

Supporters say Baker has shown flexibility on immigration issues, and was willing to welcome immigrant children to Massachusetts last summer. He has also pledged to continue in-state tuition for immigrant children with temporary legal residency since 2012, known as Dreamers.

Some say Ash’s appointment transcends immigration issues, and reflects Ash’s skills as a tireless yet practical manager eager to see results.

During his tenure as city manager, Chelsea built several new hotels, a major Market Basket supermarket, and 2,000 housing units.

“I just think Jay will approach things with respect and dignity for all human beings and a realistic world view,” said Molly Baldwin, chief executive and founder of Roca, a nonprofit in Chelsea that works with high risk youth and young adults. “If we can have a lot more of that in government that’s a good thing.”

Roy Avellaneda, a former Chelsea city councilor whose Argentine parents were once undocumented, said Ash’s skills transcend immigration issues and could improve cities similar to Chelsea statewide.

“You won’t find a bigger advocate” for affordable housing, Avellaneda said. “You’ve got to look at the position he’s appointed to. That’s right up his alley.”

Vega, head of the Chelsea Collaborative, remained skeptical. She felt it was inappropriate of Ash to join Baker in a campaign stop in Chelsea last August, a city that has championed immigrant rights.

“I think that he should have said no,” Vega said of Ash’s decision to work for Baker. “The only thing that gives me hope is that his heart [Ash] was very loyal to immigrants.”

The same month Ash welcomed Baker in Chelsea, he also welcomed immigrant children who arrived in the country this summer, while the Lynn mayor criticized the surge of children for straining budgets for health care and schools.

“When the mayor of Lynn was saying no, Jay was saying yes,” Vega said, and added, “He said the City of Chelsea’s open for anyone who wants to come. We don’t care about your immigration status.”

“Maybe he’ll educate Baker,” she said. “Who knows?”

Original article found on: The Boston Globe

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Immigrant and Refugee Issues: Realities About Refugee Camps

Original article found on: IRIN

by Kristy Siegfried on October 7th, 2014

Photo: Jodi Hilton/IRIN UNHCR wants camps to be the exception rather than the norm

Photo: Jodi Hilton/IRIN
UNHCR wants camps to be the exception rather than the norm

JOHANNESBURG: For years, the images most commonly associated with refugees have been of sprawling, dusty camps populated by rows of tents sheltering thousands of men, women and children with little to occupy them besides queuing for aid handouts.

The reality is that only just over one third of the world’s 17 million refugees live in camps today. The rest choose to live in cities or communities where a more independent, if precarious, existence is possible.

The international humanitarian community has been slow to respond to this reality, but is now scrambling to catch up, especially in view of the crisis in Syria which has so far produced over three million refugees, the majority of whom are living in cities in neighbouring countries.

The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), in particular, has struggled to adapt its traditionally camp-based model to fulfil its mandate of ensuring that all refugees have access to protection and assistance, wherever they may live.

In 2009, it released a policy statement on refugee protection and solutions in urban areas which recognized urban areas as “a legitimate place for refugees to enjoy their rights”.

Now it has gone a significant step further with the release of an “Alternatives to Camps” policy which commits the agency to actively pursue alternatives to camps whenever possible. It is the first official recognition by UNHCR that camps should be a last resort rather than the default response to refugee influxes, and has been widely welcomed by the refugee rights community as representing a major, if overdue, shift in the agency’s approach.

Between the UNHCR’s establishment in the early 1950s and the installation of its current High Commissioner Antonio Guterres in 2005, “there was a widespread assumption within the humanitarian community that refugees belonged in camps,” according to Jeff Crisp, formerly the agency’s head of policy and evaluation, writing in a blog for advocacy group Refugees International, where he now serves as senior director for policy and advocacy.

Camps becoming harder to fund

Keeping refugees in camps has not only been logistically far more convenient for aid providers, but has often been the preference of host states who view camps as minimizing both the perceived security threat posed by refugees and their burden on local communities and economies. However, as refugee crises have become more protracted, with over six million refugees now living in exile for five or more years, camps have become increasingly difficult to fund.

“A lot of funding goes to new emergencies but within as little as 18 months, if the emergency is not continuing, there’s a falling away of donor support,” said Steven Corliss, director of UNHCR’s programme management and support division. As support diminishes programmes such as secondary education are the first casualties, but eventually even basic services come under pressure. Recently, the World Food Programme had to cut food rations for a third of all African refugees, the majority of them long-term refugees confined to camps.

Photo: IRIN In the top six refugee-hosting countries in the world, the majority of refugees are already living outside camps

Photo: IRIN
In the top six refugee-hosting countries in the world, the majority of refugees are already living outside camps

UNHCR’s new policy acknowledges that camps remain a necessary feature of the humanitarian landscape, particularly in the context of emergencies and where host governments insist on them, but adds that “they nevertheless represent a compromise that limits the rights and freedoms of refugees and too often remain after the emergency phase and the essential reasons for their existence have passed.”

“Camps should be the exception and, to the extent possible, a temporary measure,” states the policy.

Corliss of UNHCR explained that the policy was the result of an internal discussion and “a conviction that this is the right and most humane approach…

“The idea is to give people a meaningful choice and the opportunity to live a more dignified life,” he told IRIN.

Sonia Ben Ali, founding director of Urban Refugees, an NGO, described the new policy as “a milestone” and welcomed its rights-based approach. “It plays a very strong role in showing how UNHCR recognizes that camps are not the proper conditions for refugees to live in,” she told IRIN.

Getting host states on board could be tricky

She added that the success of the policy would depend to a large extent on how effective advocacy efforts will be, particularly in convincing host governments that alternatives to camps are not only better for refugees, but can also produce better outcomes for local economies and host communities.

“We need to address the [security and economic] concerns of host states, and for this we really need an evidence base,” she said.

Corliss agreed that there was a need to gather more evidence that alternatives to the camps’ approaches could benefit host communities, for example by allowing aid agencies to invest more in local infrastructure instead of funding parallel service delivery systems in camps.

“Refugees come with assets; they have a lot of human potential that can help stimulate the economy. It’s very important to document that so we can advocate for it.”

Researchers from Oxford University’s Humanitarian Innovation Project have begun this task with a recent study from Uganda showing that the majority of refugees who gained permission to live and work outside designated refugee settlements, found ways to sustain themselves without aid.

However, not everyone is confident that even evidence-based advocacy efforts will be enough to overcome resistance from host states that often has less to do with real concerns about refugees over-burdening local communities than with what Lucy Hovil, a senior researcher at the International Refugee Rights Initiative, referred to in a recent article as “realpolitik”.

In Kenya, for example, the dominant narrative that Somali refugees represent a security threat, has seen thousands of Somalis living in Nairobi pushed back to camps in the past six months.

Michael Kagan, co-director of the Immigration Clinic at Nevada University’s William S. Boyd School of Law, described the alternatives to camps’ policy as encouraging but “still aspirational”.

“The missing link is to explain how host governments can be persuaded to let refugees have more autonomy,” he said. “What is still not clear is how UNHCR will react when host governments refuse to abandon camps. Will UNHCR cooperate? Will they refuse? How hard will UNHCR push? Will UNHCR fall back on platitudes rather than standards? This, we don’t know.”

Change needed in livelihoods support

Corliss of UNHCR acknowledged that “creating an enabling environment in terms of law and policy” would be essential to the new policy’s success, but also pointed to the need for a “fundamental transformation in the way we do livelihoods programming”. Whereas in the past, livelihoods support has been used “as a kind of occupational therapy, to keep people busy in camps”, Corliss said UNHCR was moving towards “a much more hard-headed, market-oriented approach” that would help refugees acquire the appropriate skills to enter a host country’s job market or to start a small business.

Corliss added that bringing refugees to the point where they can achieve sustainable livelihoods requires “comprehensive support over a period of time”.

In recent years, UNHCR and other aid agencies have been experimenting with various ways of delivering that support to refugees dispersed throughout urban areas. “Cash-based interventions will be very important,” said Corliss, and have the added benefit of stimulating local economies. UNHCR is already making use of cash-based interventions in 94 operations around the world. In the longer term, however, there will be a need to work with development partners to strengthen local infrastructure such as public health systems.

“This is a policy that’s extremely ambitious and is going to have to be progressively implemented,” he told IRIN.

Guidance to help field staff operationalize the policy is still being developed and UNHCR will need buy-in from partners, including international NGOs, other UN agencies and donors, but most importantly host governments.

Kagan pointed out that outside camps, what refugees needed even more than aid was rights – “the right to work, the right to send your kids to school. These are the things refugees need in cities,” said Kagan. “They have to have rights to be able to rebuild their lives in dignity. And that requires government buy-in.”

Original article found on: IRIN