Immigrant and Refugee Issues

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HAITI NEWS AND VIEWS: Hurricane Irma effects are one more reason to extend TPS for Haitians, lawmakers argue

By: Anthony Man, September 18, 2017, for the Sun Sentinel

The South Florida congressional delegation and both of the state’s U.S. senators issued a bipartisan plea to the Trump administration on Monday to extend temporary protected status for Haitian nationals in the U.S., partly because of the impact of Hurricane Irma.

Irma hit northern Haiti on Sept. 7. It caused flooding, destroyed crops and homes and further damaged infrastructure, cutting off rural villages from nearby cities, the lawmakers said in a letter to Trump’s Department of Homeland Security.

Not mentioned in their letter is a looming potential threat: Hispaniola, home to Haiti and the Dominican Republic, is in the cone of uncertainty for Hurricane Maria in coming days.

Last year, Haiti suffered severe damage from Hurricane Matthew, which devastated its main food-growing region. Earlier this year, the Trump administration said TPS, which was granted and has been renewed repeatedly since the devastating 2010 earthquake, would end early next year.

With population growth, Haitian community in South Florida sees more political clout

It prevents deportation but does not grant a path to permanent residence or citizenship. TPS has been repeatedly extended as the country recovered slowly, often with setbacks. Haiti has experienced an epidemic of cholera introduced to the country by United Nations forces brought in to help after the earthquake.

On May 24, then-Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly announced a six-month extension of TPS, until Jan 22, 2018, and advised Haitians in the U.S. to use the time to get their affairs in order. Kelly is now Trump’s chief of staff in the White House.

Kelly said Haiti has “made progress across several fronts.” He cited multiple signs of progress including the closing of the vast majority of camps for displaced residents, the plan to rebuild the Haitian president’s residence in Port-au-Prince and the withdrawal of the U.N. stabilization mission.

South Floridians with ties to Haiti and elected officials with lots of Haitian-American constituents said there hasn’t been much progress on recovery. And, they said, there is no way the country can absorb the return of 58,000 people who have protected status. An April report from the Immigrant Legal Resource Center said the largest concentration of Haitians with temporary protected status were in South Florida. The New York metropolitan area was second.

Haitians in US get slight reprieve but worry about future

The only representative from southeast Florida not on the list is U.S. Rep. Brian Mast, a Republican who represents northern Palm Beach, Martin and St. Lucie counties.

The lawmakers asked Duke to grant an additional 18 months starting Jan. 22.

Haitian community leaders press to continue protected status as deadline looms

They said TPS “is central to our country’s commitment in providing safe haven to individuals unable to securely return to their home country due to ongoing violence, environmental disasters, or other extraordinary conditions. Haiti continues to face such conditions.”

In their letter, the lawmakers also said that “some statistics may look encouraging at first glance, a closer look shows a country still struggling significantly to recover from the extraordinary conditions” caused by the earthquake and Hurricane Matthew.

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ON MIGRATION: Disposable Africans – Migration and its Consequences

By: Nanjala Nyabola, June 21, 2017, for IRIN

Much ink has been spilt trying to make sense of the migration flow across the Mediterranean, a stretch of sea that has become the frontline of capitalism’s most urgent question: What’s more valuable – a human life, or the fraying concept of the sanctity of state borders?

Journalists and commentators have largely framed the boat crossings as a European crisis, and yet the vast majority of the migrants using the major route from Libya to Italy are Africans. They are also the majority of the nearly 2,000 people recorded to have died or gone missing in the Mediterranean so far this year.

Why do young Africans choose to risk all for the attainment of a precarious existence in Europe? Why is Africa home to me, but uninhabitable to my peers?

I went to Palermo, the largest city on the Italian island of Sicily, to try to get some answers.

Broken

The day I visit Palermo’s docks, volunteers anxiously await the arrival of a commercial vessel – the Tuna I – that has just rescued 470 people from the sea and is heading to port.

The energy is a little unnerving. It’s heartening to see so many people give up their time to welcome the people who have been rescued, but when the boat arrives many volunteers take selfies in front of the hungry and disoriented people hanging listlessly over the railing of the ship.

While the volunteers scream and wave their welcome to the Tuna I, the response from the ship is far less enthusiastic. There’s something perverse about this, consistent with the voyeurism that has characterised the global response to the drownings at sea.

Most of the people who disembark the Tuna I are clearly broken in ways I may never truly understand. Many weep or struggle to walk. Some have to be carried off.

Their clothes are ripped and worn, and almost none are wearing shoes. Almost none. A few stand out: An Arab man in shoes and socks is quickly cornered by the police.

There is damage here beyond the physical. Many look but don’t seem to see, moving among the volunteers as if in a trance.

Where did they break? Who hurt them?

At a halfway house in the suburbs of Palermo, I ask a group of young people who survived the same journey months earlier. They all give the same answer: Libya.

The devil and the deep blue sea

Mediterranean rescue by Jason Florlo for IRIN

“Libya is not good. A person can’t live there. Africans are nothing to them [in Libya],” says Amir from Senegal. “[But] you can’t turn back once you’re in Libya, even if it’s not easy to come here.”

Everyone is scarred by Libya. Mention the name and eyes well up. In many ways, the reaction gets to the heart of what I went to Italy to engage with – what drives the momentum towards Europe, even when the journey becomes grotesque.

It turns out that once people are in Libya, going back is not an option. Libya is the devil to the Mediterranean’s deep blue sea.

Yet under Muammar Gaddafi, Libya was a prized destination in itself for Africans from throughout the region, a place of well-paid employment. Gaddafi’s removal in 2011, helped by a European-led coalition, changed that.

For black Africans, Libya has gone from haven to hellhole in the shadow of the bloody conflict and political vacuum that followed Gaddafi’s death. Africans have been crossing through Libya for decades, but there is a tinge of vengeful anti-blackness in the horrors they survive today.

Slave markets where black bodies are displayed and bartered are popping up in Libyan towns. Many people testify to being held in dark, windowless rooms, sometimes for months on end, while waiting for relatives to pay ransoms to facilitate their crossing.

Young women will almost certainly be raped, and it is not uncommon for people to be shot for complaining about any aspect of their detention.

When I ask Amir why he didn’t just turn back once he got to Libya, he says: “Whatever I saw in Libya was worse than anything I have ever seen in my life. And the thought of going back to Libya – back to the desert – was enough to keep me going.”

No home from home

But Italy offers only a meagre respite from racism.

“I have faced many difficulties,” I hear from Boubacar, a young Gambian. “I don’t have my independence like I want to.

“To me it’s not worth leaving my home and coming to a place like this to be discriminated [against], to be insulted, to be isolated.”

Italy does more than most for Africans who survive the crossing, but it is less than a full life with few prospects of becoming home.

The people who disembark the Tuna I get a pair of shoes, a bag with food, and a medical check-up. But they will almost immediately be shipped to reception centres around the country for interviews, and many will be deported. Only minors qualify for a substantive, automatic protection of two years.

Any services provided at the dock are primarily provided by non-profit organisations like the Red Cross. European governments deliberately punish survivors by withholding key services to make a point to anyone else considering the journey.

But national policies don’t always capture what’s happening on the ground. Local politicians like popular Palermo mayor Leonluca Orlando, who insists that diversity fuels the vibrancy and success of his city, resist Brussels.

“In 50 years, I am convinced that current European leaders will be facing charges of crimes against humanity,” Orlando tells me, as he personally greets some of the people disembarking from the Tuna I.

Palermo’s lessons

A popular narrative in European capitals is that if there was less migration there would be more opportunities for Europeans. But people in places like Sicily see things with more nuance.

Orlando’s welcome of rescue boats – he welcomes each one – has not dented his popularity in Palermo, even though Sicily is one of Italy’s poorest regions.

That’s partly because of a demographic crisis – Sicilians are producing fewer children. So, the subsidised labour of migrants has become invaluable.

At the Centro Astalli, a one-stop service centre for migrants and refugees in a disused church, I meet Veronica who provides a personal insight into the situation in Sicily.

The conversation begins as an introduction to the centre. But as soon as we realise we are the same age, it becomes a familiar millennial exchange on how much harder it is to attain conventional markers of success today than it was for our parents.

“I started here as a volunteer,” she tells me, “but when we got funding to expand the project they took me on full time. But my sister is 28, and she graduated almost three years ago and still hasn’t found work.”

Astalli offers one year of free Italian lessons, access to a laundry and showers, a free breakfast and afterschool activities for children. The centre also runs an arts programme with local volunteers that brings together Italians and migrants in projects designed to foster assimilation and understanding.

The programmes are funded by the Jesuit Refugee Services and the European Union. But some Palermitanos resent that so much is available to migrants for free.

“For me, I understand because I work here,” Veronica says. “Many of the asylum seekers are my friends. But for people like my sister, it’s very difficult to understand.”

“Why do they still come here when they know it’s so bad here?”

This leaves structural racism as an enormous challenge for Astalli’s clients. Asylum seekers find it impossible to rent houses or find meaningful work. Only one of Astalli’s clients to date has completed university.

A young Gambian man, like Seydou, who I met, would rarely experience the kindness that I experienced as a tourist with an American twang.

“Maybe no one is going to fight you on the streets, but when it comes to real integration we have many problems,” Veronika says. “The Sicilians will stay with the Sicilians, and the refugees together in another place, but they don’t mix.’’

It’s a dynamic that leaves many people like Seydou vulnerable to exploitation. He was forced to move when he threatened to report one of his first halfway houses for siphoning money from the municipality intended for supporting migrants.

“Why do they still come here when they know it’s so bad here?” Veronica wonders. It’s a question I put to the people I interview.

Gambian migrants celebrate arriving in Italy, unaware of what is likely to follow. Photo by Jason Florlo for ISIN/MOAS

Seydou and the others tell me it’s about a chance at life – to escape a violent family or conflict, to being able to have optimism for the future.

None of the young people I encounter would encourage other Africans to attempt the crossing to Europe. But what European bureaucrats call pull factors, they call hope.

Cold war nostalgia

“Borders and barriers, which enclose us within the safety of familiar territory, can also become prisons and are often defended beyond reason or necessity,” wrote Edward Said in 1984.

The world then was paradoxically more and less open than it is today. On the one hand, in the shadow of empire, African and Asian citizens of various nationalities could travel to Europe and beyond without the burden of invasive, derogatory visa procedures.

For much of Africa, the Cold War opened Europe up in ways that may never be experienced again. The ideological blocs competed for influence by showering African students and technocrats with fully funded opportunities to work and travel.

In cities like Berlin, African students like my father could drink beer with their West German counterparts while East Germans like 20-year-old Michael Schmidt were shot dead for attempting to scale the wall.

African students had not yet felt the sting of authoritarianism or economic austerity at home. Struggling with racism in Europe, many treated their stay as a necessary, temporary step to professional achievement rather than a shot at staying.

Only after structural adjustment hollowed out African economies and the establishment of the new, hyper-connected European Union, did visa restrictions for non-Europeans become common. At first, they were simply administrative hurdles, but today they are laborious and dehumanising processes designed to deter all but the most tenacious.

New realities

Yet Europe still needs migrants, especially in the south where dwindling populations have aggravated labour shortages in agricultural sectors that resist mechanisation.

Italian grapes, Greek olives, and Spanish oranges all need bodies to plant, process and harvest them. By 1992, the architects of a single Europe realised that wealth disparities between various European countries – not just along the East-West axis but also North-South, the struggling economies of Greece, Italy, and Spain – required creative interventions for successful management.

“Borders and barriers, which enclose us within the safety of familiar territory, can also become prisons and are often defended beyond reason or necessity”

And so for much of the last 25 years, the Eurozone has both aggressively courted and turned away migrants: punishing people legally seeking asylum at airports and embassies, and more or less ignoring clandestine migration across the Mediterranean, until the European economy was pummelled by the 2007-2008 financial crisis.

Migration, or fear of migration, is today the bogeyman of European politics that might yet break up the European Union. Not because of the lie that a flood of refugees and migrants is on its way, but because of what Said observed: that the irrational and unnecessary over-policing of Europe’s borders is throwing up contradictions and triggering an existential crisis.

The impulse to keep people out at all costs leaves Europe with a paradox: While preaching humanitarianism abroad, politicians threaten to prosecute NGOs for saving migrant lives at sea because leaving people to die is considered a deterrence.

Europe is now trying to reconcile that gap with security-focused development aid. In late 2015, EU governments at the Valetta Summit promised African governments, including autocratic regimes in Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Sudan, up to two billion euros in funding to help stem African migrations.

People move

After watching the Tuna I dock, I wander into some of Palermo’s museums and encounter three fascinating exhibitions.

The first is a tour that takes you past centuries-old churches with dome-shaped towers – mosques converted into Catholic churches and a testament to Palermo’s Muslim past.

The second is an installation at the museum of contemporary art featuring family photographs intertwined with yards of jute and rope. The artist set it up to evoke drowning, and perhaps the idea that – given a different set of circumstances – any one of our family members could have drowned trying to cross the sea.

The third is an exhibition at the Royal Palace featuring art from countries banned from the United States under President Donald Trump’s executive order.

These three exhibitions challenge Palermitanos to rethink simplistic narratives about migration. To me, they evoke the timelessness of human mobility, echoing Mayor Orlando’s vision that in 50 years the world may have a different set of moral values. Perhaps freedom of movement will be claimed as a universal value. Or perhaps it will be lost forever.

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ON MIGRATION: The Stories Behind DACA, the Now-Ended Program for Young Undocumented Immigrants in the US

By: Amanda Lichtenstein, September 11, 2017, for Global Voices

Activists protest the end of DACA in Los Angeles, September 5, 2017. “Deport Hate, Not Dreamers” and “United We Dream/#DefendDACA.” Photo by Molly Adams on Flickr, permission under CC BY 2.0.

United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions recently announced that the Trump administration would terminate a program that grants two-year renewable work and study permits to immigrants who were brought to the country as children without papers.

In the days following the policy shift surrounding Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACAprotestswalkoutspetitions, “resistbot campaigns” and calls for impeachment have flooded the internet and the streets of the US. Critics accuse the White House of being cruel, as many DACA recipients self-identify as Americans.

DACA was put in place through executive action by President Barack Obama in 2012. A legislative version of the policy, known as the DREAM Act, has repeatedly failed to pass in Congress.

Nearly 800,000 DACA recipients, who are often called “dreamers” in reference to the DREAM Act, now face the possibility of deportation when their permits expire in six months if Congress does not act.

The decision triggered a renewed debate on the very definition of what it means to be an “American,” in this case referring to a citizen of the United States, with organizations like Define American at the forefront, using stories to put a face to the numbers.

Founded by journalist Jose Antonio Vargas, who is himself undocumented, Define American’s mission is to use the power of story to “transcend politics and shift the conversation about immigrants, identity, and citizenship in a changing America.”

Define American also invites undocumented people and their allies to create and upload text and video testimonials about the immigrant experience in the US.

Giovanni Amado, 23, arrived in the US in 1998 from Mexico City when he was just 3 years old. In his video testimonial, published a few days before the Trump administration’s announcement, Amado talks about his work as a fraud specialist in a bank and says he does not understand how terminating DACA helps anyone:

“The term American should not be defined by a document or the lack of one. It is more so the willingness to contribute to the country and help others out whenever possible.”

And Denea Joseph, a 23-year-old woman from Belize who came to the US at the age of 7, says DACA allowed her to finish her university studies. She defines American as:

“..an individual — immigrant or otherwise — who has lent their skills, knowledge, education, business acumen as well as labor that lends to this nation’s positionality as a hegemonic power.”

In addition to crowd-sourced testimonials, Define American recently launched#UndocuJoy, a social media campaign designed to combat victimizing representations of undocumented people by “flooding the media with authentic images of happiness.”

The campaign features a video in collaboration with poet Yosimar Reyes who narrates his poem “I Love Us” throughout a series of images of everyday undocumented people getting up, going to work, dancing, making breakfast, and being human:

“I love us / because we have constantly had to prove our humanity / and constantly done it beautifully / Because to stay human / Under these conditions / you have to have an understanding of / Beauty.”

The struggle for permanent sanctuary

In Attorney General Sessions’ speech announcing DACA’s termination, he referred to DACA recipients as “mostly adult illegal aliens.”

His choice of wording recalled Define American’s campaign #WordsMatter, launched in 2015, which urges journalists to stop using the word “illegal” to refer to people:

“Phrases such as “illegal immigrant” and “illegal alien”  replace complex legal circumstances with an assumption of guilt. They effectively criminalize the personhood of migrants, instead of describing the legality of their actions.”

“Being in the US without proper documents is a civil offense, not a criminal one,” the campaign continues.

Given Trump’s past disparaging comments about people of Mexican origin, as well as a series of controversial executive orders, pardons, and proclamations that involve minority communities, the move to end DACA and the language used to justify the decision have reinforced accusations that Trump is purposefully stirring mistrust and hatred in society.

Even before Trump’s rise to the presidency, the federal government’s deportation priorities led certain areas of the country to limit their cooperation with US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Currently, four states (California, Colorado, Connecticut and New Mexico), as well as 37 cities and counties, have declared themselves as so-called sanctuary cities.

Following the DACA decision, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel doubled down on his city’s commitment to offering sanctuary, going so far as to declare Chicago a “Trump-Free Zone.”

But sanctuary cities aren’t a permanent solution for DACA recipients. Their fate now rests with Congress. Perhaps hearing the personal stories published by initiatives like Define American will remind lawmakers that there are real people behind the statistics and that being American is more than just a piece of paper.

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ON HAITI: Welcoming Haitian refugees to Canada isn’t about generosity but justice

By: Martin Lukacs, August 29, 2017, for The Guardian

Canada has a hand in the misery Haitians are fleeing. Asylum should serve as reparations.

A family from Haiti walk to the US-Canada border to cross into Canada from Champlain, New York, U.S. August 11, 2017. Photograph: Christinne Muschi/Reuters

The minders of Canadian PM Justin Trudeau’s brand are surely displeased. He’s spent two years cultivating an image of Canada’s refugee system as the political equivalent of airport hugs and teddy-bears. And now the pressure is on him to act like that were remotely the truth.

The image of the country as a welcome haven was pitched to win the support of millions of people in Canada who rightly feel two things: compassion for the plight of refugees and disgust for the antics of Donald Trump. But refugee rights advocates had warned what would come to pass: desperate people would take Trudeau at his word.

Hence an influx of thousands of Haitian refugees from the United States—afraid of being deported back to Haiti by Trump—now await an uncertain fate in Canada. The Liberal government may have been happy to reap the political benefits of Trudeau’s PR posture. But apart from accepting a small number of Syrian refugees, they have dumped hundreds back in Haiti since they lifted a ban on deportations to the country in 2016. And they have studiously avoided removing other barriers that would make Canada a truly welcoming country.

The current debate has so far focussed on one such barrier: a 2004 agreement with the US that bars almost all refugees from making an asylum claim at a Canada-US border post. That’s why they are increasingly turning to precarious crossings—at which point they can at least get a hearing. This agreement—whose basis is the indefensible notion that the United States is safe for refugees—should long ago have been scrapped.

Instead Trudeau has turned to admonishing Haitians, dispatching a minister to the United States to warn Haitians against seeking asylum in Canada. “For someone to successfully seek asylum it’s not about economic migration,” Trudeau warned. “It’s about vulnerability, exposure to torture or death, or being stateless people.”

“Economic refugees,” of course, are not entitled to asylum. And this is where the base ranting of right-wing tabloids and anti-immigrant racists, who have stoked hate and fear of “selfish queue-jumpers,” dovetails with the high-minded reasoning of elite pundits and Liberal policy-makers preaching pragmatic limits and strict refugee criteria.

Both adhere to a brand that is much more enduring than this latest Prime Minister’s: the brand of an innocent Canada, whose benevolence is indisputable, whose humanitarian impulse is never in doubt. What they disagree about is whether Canada should bestow it on refugees.

Astonishingly, what has merited not a single mention in mainstream discussion is that Canada doesn’t stand at a remove from the misery that Haitians are fleeing: we had a direct hand in it. Ignoring this history—and absolving Canada of responsibility for Haiti’s situation—has created the greatest barrier of all to refugees receiving the welcome they deserve.

Haiti’s long-suffering people, who have endured a line of dictatorships, had a brief respite in the last quarter century: a popular democratic wave that swept priest Jean-Bertrand Aristide to power. He raised the minimum wage from mere pennies, disbanded an army that bullied the population, and started providing education and medical care to the poor majority.

Defying the agenda of the Haitian elite and multinational companies who used the country for cheap labour made Aristide enemies—the US, France, and sadly, Canada. in 2003, the Liberal government of the time hosted US and French officials to plot Aristide’s ouster. They cut aid to his government. And when US marines invaded the country, Canadian soldiers guarded the airport while they flew out Aristide and dumped him in Africa. A United Nations military force, commanded for a period by Canadians, occupied the country, providing cover for the regime installed after this coup d’état. Thousands of Haitians were killed.

The Canadian government’s role was hardly based on humanitarianism: having refused a full role in the US war on Iraq, they needed to get back in the good graces of George Bush. In a moment of candour out of sync with our humanitarian brand, ex Liberal Foreign Affairs Minister Bill Graham explained: “Foreign Affairs view was there is a limit to how much we can constantly say no to the political masters in Washington…eventually we came on side on Haiti, so we got another arrow in our quiver.”

The cost to Haitians of this cynical calculus was incalculable. Since the coup, Haiti has lurched from disaster to disaster, compounded by governments more accountable to the US than its own people. The devastating earthquake of 2010 was shaped by inequality and deliberate under-development that Haiti was plunged back into after Aristide’s ousting. The impact of similar storms on neighbouring Cuba—whose measures to lift people out of the most impoverished infrastructure have not been blocked by western governments—was a fraction of what it was in Haiti.

Western governments have tried to wash their hands of their victims. In the wake of the earthquake, Obama’s administration built a fortress around Haiti: coast guards cruised the waters to prevent any from fleeing; air force bombers dropped messages in the country, warning that “if you leave, you will be arrested and returned”; and a US private prison company started setting up a detention centre in Guantanamo Bay, while Haitians had not yet dug themselves out of the rubble.

And the reconstruction effort that millions of people around the world compassionately contributed to? Botched by the U.S. and Canada, it left Haiti with plenty of industrial parks for sweatshop employers and luxury hotels for tourists and NGO officers, but virtually no new housing for the million Haitians who had been made homeless. To make matters even worse, the occupying UN force introduced the world’s largest cholera epidemic into the country — it has killed 30,000, infected 2 million people, and rages on.

Canada has “slapped some make-up” on the situation to justify deporting people to the country, says Haitian human rights lawyer Patrice Florvilus, who fled to Montreal from Haiti in 2013 after facing death threats. “Canada claims things have returned to normal. They have not. There is criminalization of homosexuality and dissent, assassinations, a corrupt justice system. So much suffering has flowed from the coup onward, and the state now has no capacity to protects its citizens. Canada should assume responsibility for the chaos and injustice it helped create.”

Haiti is today sliding back toward dictatorship: disastrously bad elections, sanctioned by the US and Canada, have produced a parliament packed with thugs and drug dealers, the old army is being revived, and leading figures in the current government have links to the dictatorships of old.

All of this could hardly be a better example of the slogan repeated by migrant justice movements around the world: “We are here because you were there.” Western government’s wars, their ransacking of resources, the manipulation and impoverishment of poor countries, has led to an inevitable flow of displaced and persecuted to our shores.

“If Canada wants to become a real beacon for refugees, here is an opportunity prove it,” says Florvilus, who believes Canada should grant special refugee status to the arriving Haitians.

He’s right. After all of our crimes toward that country, asylum should serve as the barest of reparations. The refugees arriving are hardly a “flood,” or “unsustainable” — they are drop in the bucket alongside the immigrants that arrive every year. As climate change wreaks devastation around the world, these numbers are sure to grow.

In past decades, mobilizations led by the Haitian community in Montreal have forced the Canadian government to act more in line with its rhetoric. That can happen again. Now is the time to fight for the values that will govern how we address the graver refugee migrations to come.

In the final account, welcoming refugees isn’t a matter of generosity, or burnishing Brand Justin — it’s a matter of justice.

 

 

 

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ON IMMIGRANTS & REFUGEES: Olympic Stadium In Montreal Turned Into Welcome Center For Refugees From U.S.

The Trump administration extended that status for just six months — and urged Haitian refugees to “prepare for and arrange their departure from the United States.” The administration cited “Haiti’s success in recovering from the earthquake,” although Haiti continues to struggle with a number of crises, including an ongoing cholera epidemic, a nightmarish sewage problem and a catastrophic hurricane.

That helps explain why a sudden surge of refugees are leaving the U.S. As to why they’re entering Quebec, the CBC cites the large Haitian community in Montreal.

“Obviously, there is a stronger attraction to coming to Quebec for Haitians than in other provinces,” PRAIDA spokeswoman Francine Dupuis told the CBC. “They have the help of their community to get settled.”

But it’s not clear if the Haitian refugees arriving in Canada will be permitted to stay, the CBC reports. The challenge is fundamentally the same as in America: A government evaluation of just how bad life is in Haiti.

“Asylum seekers originally from Haiti who have crossed the Canada-U.S. border could be deported back to Haiti if their application is refused because Canadian authorities deem Haiti as a sufficiently safe country,” the CBC writes.

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ON DEVELOPMENT: Aid Credibility at Stake as Donors Haggle Over Reporting Rules

By Ben Parker for IRIN from GENEVA, 21 July 2017

Photo by Ylenia Gostoli/IRIN

The world’s rich countries spend billions at home but report it as “aid”, exploiting a loophole that enables donors to mislead the public and cut vital development budgets. IRIN has dug into the data to reveal the worst offenders and the extent of a practice that topped $15 billion last year, seriously undermining the credibility of aid statistics. Given the wide differences in how they apply the ambiguous rules, donors have been trying to set new boundaries on in-donor refugee aid since February 2016.

However, progress has been slow, and the process again stalled at a meeting in Paris on 10 July. A working group on the issue will now need further rounds of negotiation if proposals are to be ready for adoption at a high-level meeting in late October.

Under current accounting rules, the costs of receiving refugees can count towards a donor country’s total overseas development assistance. In-country ODA has ballooned: In 2016, leading donor countries reported $15.4 billion of domestic spending on refugees as ODA, a huge rise from $3.9 billion in 2012 and several times more than they spend on refugees abroad. That’s also more than they spent on emergency aid in foreign countries, and more than three times the income of the UN refugee agency.

In Denmark, where a quarter of ODA was reportedly spent in-country, national auditors say the government misreported some figures. But Isabelle De Lichtervelde, policy manager for development finance at the ONE campaign, told IRIN that Denmark is among some “very concerning countries” and is showing “poor behaviour” in aggressively chasing the in-donor category of ODA.

Six countries met the UN target of 0.7 percent of gross national income spending on aid. However three – Germany, Denmark, and the UK – only reached the threshold by including in-country ODA. The Netherlands, Belgium, Iceland, Switzerland and Denmark all report over $20,000 per new refugee as ODA.

While Denmark and some others apparently lobby for a broad definition, a swathe of civil society groups is against reporting in-donor refugee costs as ODA at all, let alone widening the loophole. Julie Seghers, OECD policy and advocacy advisor of Oxfam, told IRIN “it is legitimising the spending of ODA money within donors’ own borders, and for an objective that doesn’t serve aid’s core purpose, which is to fight poverty in developing countries.”

The Danish audit

Denmark has released its own view of the accounting rules showing how it intends to extend its interpretation this year and add more to the category. According to preliminary OECD and national data, Denmark allotted $420 million in 2016 but granted asylum to only 7,444 new refugees. Its response to the OECD suggests it would aim even higher in 2017. For example, it plans to include more costs such as police time and asylum appeals processing as well as other administrative expenses that go far beyond core spending on food, accommodation, and language training.

Denmark’s national auditors however have warned Danish MPs that the accounting for some aspects of refugee ODA is “neither rigorous nor transparent”. In addition, some was double-counted or wrongly allocated, according to a June report. The fluctuations and changing methodologies on in-country ODA may lead to “less predictable” foreign aid spending, the auditors found. In response, Denmark has enacted a new regulation to smooth out the impact of fluctuations in refugee spending on overseas development planning.

An analysis by Oxfam of Denmark’s policies in December found its ODA refugee spending “staggering”. The report claims “it is not unlikely that Danish development aid is co-financing empty housing facilities in Denmark”, due to an excess of capacity funded by the government despite falling refugee numbers. The government chose not to respond.

A spokesperson for the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs acknowledged that Denmark was “actively” involved in the talks on in-donor refugee costs but declined to go into details. The official said Denmark supports work to make the rules “more precise”, and to increase “transparency and comparability”.

Betwixt and between

Stuck in the middle are the staff of the Organisation for Economic Development (OECD), a membership organisation of major economies, often called a rich countries’ club. The Paris-based OECD is the venue where the ODA rules are made. Its secretariat back in 2001 was already uncomfortable with what they call the in-donor element: “donors’ expenditures on refugees who arrive in their countries – while commendable from a humanitarian point of view – do not make a sufficiently direct contribution to the economic development and welfare of developing countries to qualify as official development assistance. Including such data undermines the credibility of the ODA concept.” OECD officials today rarely criticise their member states openly, but try to hold the line on the principle of development aid in private.

OECD official Brenda Killen, writing in a personal capacity from Uganda’s recent refugee fundraising conference, did remark pointedly that the OECD should aim for “fidelity” to the original purpose of ODA, which she phrased as “the economic development and welfare of developing countries”, and said: “we need more and better data on aid from donor countries, including what is being spent inside their own countries.”

Few details have emerged about the ongoing negotiations, and donors are tight-lipped. “No decisions regarding ODA guidelines were taken”, at the last meeting on 10 July,  according to an email response to IRIN from the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Nevertheless, IRIN understands the biggest remaining sticking point is about the costs of handling asylum seekers whose claims are rejected. One observer told IRIN the “dangerous precedent” of in-donor ODA means it’s critical to get it right. The new rules are unlikely to apply until 2019. Donor countries want recognition for taking on refugees, but, the observer said, ODA was the wrong yardstick for measuring their fulfillment of their refugee convention obligations. In donor countries, a range of ministries now have their eye on the development budget and the rules must prevent donors “gaming the system”, the observer added.

Seghers told IRIN that NGO advocates, including Oxfam, argue that any changes should be careful not to encourage donors to pad out their figures. She said the new rules should clearly define what’s not allowed, and give more detail and transparency on how the figures are arrived at.

294 pages of rules

The OECD’s statistical directives, including tables and annexes, already come to 294 pages, many about reporting ODA.

Closed-door committee meetings at the OECD regularly update the definitions of what’s allowable as ODA and how it should be calculated. Last year, for example, the members agreed new guidelines allowing certain types of military and security assistance to count. The debates tend to roll on: discussions continue on what support to the private sector should be included and how to measure it, while peacekeeping and security spending are attracting another round of attention.

However, given the migration “crisis” in Europe, and pressures on development spending in general, the eligibility of refugee spending is now a top issue for the OECD’s Development Assistance Committee. In February 2016, OECD DAC members agreed it was a priority to sort it out: “It is necessary to improve the consistency, comparability, and transparency of our reporting of ODA-eligible, in-donor refugee costs… We therefore agree to set up a clear, transparent, and inclusive process to this aim.”

Sixteen months later, the definitions remain ambiguous and donors continue to draw up figures based on their own interpretations — and consciences. The current rules, laid down in 1988, allow “official sector expenditures for the sustenance of refugees in donor countries during the first twelve months of their stay”. They exclude measures for “integration”, without saying what that means. This leaves a lot of room for interpretation, observers point out.

Do donors include the costs of processing asylum seekers whose claims are rejected? Should the clock therefore start after the determination of refugee status? Should they charge the costs of all healthcare and education? Can they factor in police time or the expense of hearing legal appeals?

The answers to a lengthy questionnaire compiled by OECD confirm an inconsistent range of reporting practices. Donors report between zero and $31,000 per refugee as ODA (in 2014 figures). Australia, Luxembourg, Poland, and South Korea decided to report no in-country refugee costs at all. But the Netherlands reported $31,933 per head, the UK $3,261, and Japan $337. Denmark reported $21,791, according to the survey.

Why does it all matter?

Development advocates say the labelling is misleading and provides cover to cut foreign aid. For example, in-country spending has allowed Germany to meet the target of aid spending being 0.7% of national income, but $6 billion never left its borders. A cut in Norway’s foreign aid spending has been camouflaged by its in-country spending.

“How credible is aid data when aid money is being used to fill in domestic budget gaps?”, said Oxfam’s Seghers. Massaging the figures means a loss of confidence in the data: “this puts the credibility of ODA as the yardstick of development aid at risk”, she added.

The debate over definitions may be “extremely technical”, but “they’re also very political”, said De Lichtervelde. Aid is a “crucial resource… you need to protect it.”

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ON IMMIGRANTS & REFUGEES: What Happens When Mom and Dad Face Deportation from the US

“I understand how hard it is to take care of little kids,” says 19-year-old Luis Duarte, second from right, who is now caring for his three younger siblings after his parents, originally from Mexico, were detained by US immigration agents in late May. Credit: Deepa Ferndandes

This story by Deepa Fernandes originally appeared on PRI.org on June 11, 2017. It is republished here as part of a partnership between PRI and Global Voices.

As 19-year-old Francisco Duarte watched his parents handcuffed and driven away by immigration officials in late May outside their San Diego, California, home, all he could do was console his hysterical 12-year-old twin sisters.

Then he took off to find help for his parents. They would need an immigration attorney, and Francisco would need to gather their paperwork.

His younger brother Luis, 17, stepped up to look after the younger sisters — he cooked them eggs and ham when they came home from school that day.

The brothers were busy figuring out all the household chores, making sure they had their little sisters taken care of.

And then it hit the brothers. Rent was due in less than a week. They were now going to have to pay all the family’s bills. Duarte said he and his brother gathered all the money his parents had. It came to $2,500.

They would need to supplement their father’s income somehow. He was the breadwinner, running the family ice-cream business. “My mom and my dad met selling ice cream from pushcarts 20 years ago when they came to this country,” Duarte said.

While Francisco and Luis push their own ice cream carts to help out, neither could bring in the money that their farther did, Duarte said.

Francisco Duarte Sr. and his wife, Rosenda Perez, were arrested by immigration agents on May 23. Duarte had left his National City, California, home to buy a newspaper across the street. His wife came out to see what was going on and she was arrested too. Officials say they have been charged with “immigration violations” in the US. There are no criminal charges against them, and neither has a criminal record.

The San Diego couple are among a growing number of non-citizens arrested on civil immigration charges during the first months of the Donald Trump administration. From January 22 to April 29, more than 41,000 people suspected of living in the US without proper authorization have been arrested by federal agents — nearly a 40 percent increase from the same period in 2016, according to US officials.

A quarter of those arrested are charged with being in the US without legal status, but have no prior criminal records. It’s a group that was not targeted as heavily by the Barack Obama administration. The latest numbers show Trump is making good on his campaign promise to change that, as detailed recently by reporter Maria Sacchetti at The Washington Post.

Before his arrest, Duarte was able to pass custody of his three younger children to Luis, his oldest son.

For the kids, it’s been a whirlwind. On a recent Tuesday, Francisco sought commmunity members to write letters of support for his parents.

He arrived back home hungry. “I’ve been out all morning,” said Luis. “We’ve just been hectic, doing as much as we can for our parents, so yeah, [I’m eating] breakfast at 2:37 p.m.”

Mark Lane, a legal assistant at an LA-based immigration law firm, sat with Francisco, and they discussed what else needed to be collected for his parent’s case. Lane was one of the people Francisco called for help the day his parents were arrested.

“Pre-Trump administration, maybe I got two to three calls a week, now I get 10 to 15 calls a day,” Lane said. “People are very scared, families are being split up.”

Lane, whose firm has taken the case of Francisco’s parents, talked to the kids about the expenses they would need to pay. All four children are in school, leaving little time to work and bring in income. So they decided to turn to a terrain they know well: social media.

They created a short video about their situation, posted it to YouTube, and linked it to a GoFundMe fundraising page. They set their fundraising goal at $70,000 and, just days later, they had surpassed it. More than $72,000 in donations have come in so far.

They’re stunned and grateful.

But it wasn’t just money rolling in — people were also reaching out to say we support you.

“It’s just very uplifting that every day I get messages from people and they’re just letting me know that they’re there for me and if there’s anything that I need they’re just a phone call, a text away,” Francisco said.

The older Francisco found it hard to comprehend the social media campaign his kids are pursuing on his behalf, his son said. During a recent phone call, the younger Francisco explained to his father how money and support was coming in.

His dad asked who was donating. “Many people,” his son told him. “Teachers, neighbors, friends, people from around the city,” he told his father during their telephone conversation.

As word spread on social media, friends began coming by the house to help. A group of Luis’s friends from school are helping out. Luz Maria Castañon said they don’t want Luis to suffer at school.

“He’s going to be valedictorian, honestly. [There’s] nothing compared to his GPA.”

In the kitchen, another friend, Maria de Jesus, cooks up some tacos. She said should would cook for the children until their parents come back home.

The twin sisters, Aracely and Yarely, watched their parents get handcuffed and be taken away by immigration officials. It was confusing, Aracely said, and they miss them a lot. Especially when they come home from school.

“Usually my mom would be here and she would sometimes have a little snack prepared,” Yarely said.

The girls are not identical twins, but they both have the same sweet, kind of sad smile. They busy themselves putting things away in their room.

“Sometimes it is a bit overwhelming but, um, …” Yarely trails off.

Luis checks in on his sisters, makes sure they are OK, and then has to leave. “I’m going to go and do laundry right now because our sheets are really nasty,” he said.

Is this his job normally?

“Nah, not really.”

After the laundry, he has to be home for his sisters. His brother will continue gathering letters of support for their parents.

“I understand how hard it is to take care of little kids now,” Luis said.

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ON IMMIGRANTS & REFUGEES: East Bay Airbnb Hosts Offer Free Lodging to Refugees

When Sandy Yen learned earlier this year that home-sharing site Airbnb was looking for people to host refugees for free, she jumped at the chance, offering her Oakland guest house.

“My parents were Taiwanese immigrants in the 1970s, and when they came to the U.S., they struggled,” Yen said. “They were unfamiliar with the culture and the language. I’d like to give a family the kind of help I wish my parents had received.”

Yen is waiting to be matched with a family. She learned about Open Homes from an email Airbnb sent her about the program.

The 37-year-old is among 160 Bay Area residents to welcome refugees and other displaced people through Airbnb’s Open Homes program, which launched in June.

Residents of the East Bay, as well as elsewhere, are opening their homes to refugees through Airbnb’s recently launched Open Homes program. Photo: Creative Commons

There are 41 such volunteers from the East Bay, 75 in San Francisco and 48 in the South Bay. Around 450 Californians are participating, according to Airbnb.

Hosts can volunteer their homes and spare bedrooms to refugees via the Airbnb website. The International Rescue Committee, the startup’s U.S. partner, then books the listings for their refugee clients.

“They (the committee) have around 30-40 areas where they are actively working to settle refugee families, so we have been communicating with hosts in those areas to see if they would be open to signing up,” said Kim Rubey, Airbnb’s head of social impact and philanthropy.

Open Homes uses an enhanced version of a tool that was developed a few years ago to help folks displaced by disasters such as Hurricane Sandy in 2012.

“One of our hosts was living in Brooklyn and contacted us to say she had a big place and she wanted to list it for free,” Rubey said.

“At the time, we only allowed people to create listings when you charged. We realized what a great opportunity it was to help people out and a team of architects and designers worked through the night to redesign our payment system. That was the beginning of our disaster relief tool,” Rubey said.

The company has activated the tool more than 60 times to house people affected by disasters, she said.

Rubey said Airbnb, a $30 billion startup operating in 50,000 cities in 191 countries, got so much positive feedback about the disaster relief tool, the company decided to expand it.

“Since we are a global platform, we started exploring other global issues as well” and realized there was an overwhelming need for housing for refugees, Rubey said. This led to the development of Open Homes.

With the enhanced tool, “a host anywhere around the globe at any time can alert us to let us know their ability to help on the refugee front,” she said. This can be accomplished by visiting Airbnb.com/welcome and following the prompts.

“What has been really overwhelming to us is how many people are signing up who are not currently hosts,” Rubey said.

While the Brooklyn host was the inspiration for the disaster relief tool, another, unlikely person helped with the development of Open Homes: President Donald Trump.

In January, Trump issued his infamous executive order banning citizens from several Muslim-majority countries from entering the country. Travelers from those countries were detained or otherwise found themselves in limbo in airports around the world, including San Francisco International Airport. Many had fled wars in Yemen or Syria or repression in Sudan or Iran.

Protesters swarmed SFO in support of the detainees, and San Francisco-based Airbnb also stepped up.

Brian Chesky, co-founder and CEO of Airbnb, tweeted Jan. 28, “Airbnb is providing free housing to refugees and anyone not allowed in the US. Stay tuned for more, contact me if urgent need for housing.”

At that point, “we were not quite ready to launch (Open Homes),” but Airbnb activated the disaster relief tool and helped many detainees. “It helped us learn a lot in a short time,” contributing to the development of Open Homes, Rubey said.

“Our whole mission is to create a world where people feel like they belong wherever they go. Travel bans fly in the face of that, so we want to help in any way we can,” she said.

Yen said, “Knowing that there are millions of people displaced, I hope we can offer our home and help a family or an individual, welcome them in every way possible and make their path a little smoother.”

 

Janis Mara covers East Bay real estate for Berkeleyside. She has worked at the Oakland Tribune, the Marin Independent Journal, the Contra Costa Times, Adweek and Inman News, an Emeryville-based national real estate trade publication, winning California Newspaper Publishers Association and Digital First Media awards for investigative work, business coverage and education writing. Reach her at janismara (at) gmail.com or follow her on Twitter, @jmara.

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ON IMMIGRANTS & REFUGEES: 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

Emotional_hug_-_L1-e1478932928836

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.

people-escaping_

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.

burundi-refugees_

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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