Monday, February 27, 2006

USCRI Anti-Warehousing Campaign

Merrill Smith, Editor,
World Refugee Survey,
U. S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
1. Egyptian Rights Groups Call for Investigation of Refugee Massacre
The Egyptian Organization for Human Rights (EOHR), along with more than 44 opposition and independent Members of Parliament, other civic groups, and former UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Adel Imam, called for an investigation into the pre-dawn police riot December 30 that left some 30 or more Sudanese demonstrators dead, half of them children, which the government rejected. The UNHCR itself, however, which had reportedly called for the authorities to disperse the refugees, has not joined in. The Government still holds nearly 500 of the demonstrators in detention, although it has backed away from earlier threats to deport them. A government spokesman said UNHCR would have three months to review the cases of the remaining detainees. Police in Yemen broke up a similar demonstration earlier in the month, killing at least one.
Many of the refugees were seeking third country resettlement—an option available to less than one-half of one percent of the world’s refugees—but those in Yemen also asked UNHCR to register them so that they would be allowed to work and to send their children to school and those in Egypt sought refugee status determinations which UNHCR had ceased in 2004. Egypt and Yemen are both parties to the 1951 Refugee Convention but neither has implemented it with legislation. EOHR called upon the legislature to pass such legislation and to amend the restrictive 2003 employment law that makes it virtually impossible for refugees to get work permits.
2. Thailand to Educate Refugees; Might Allow Work
Thailand’s education ministry decided in mid-December to provide education including Thai, English, and vocational skills, to 140,000 refugees from Myanmar confined to the country’s nine camps along the western border beginning in 2006. The Thai office of the Non-formal Education Commission will also provide computers, textbooks, and TV. Until now, vocational training has been restricted to activities such as candle- and soap-making, weaving, sewing, and agricultural projects.According to UNHCR. This new Thai initiative may also help with prospects of employment for refugees as they wait for the situation to improve in Myanmar and return home. Currently, refugees are not allowed to work in Thailand, which is a source of frustration for an energetic refugee population. However, as government is now reconsidering this policy, refugees with Thai language and vocational skills would be able to contribute to the growth of the Thai economy should working restrictions be eased.
3. “Abuse without end: Burmese refugee women and children at risk of trafficking”
Excerpts from the January 6, 2006 report from the Women's Commission for Refugee Women and Children:
Refugee camps are referred to as "temporary shelters" although many refugees, such as the ethnic Karens and Karennis, have been warehoused in border camps for decades. The majority of Burmese who have not been designated as refugees under that narrow interpretation are deemed "illegal" by the Thai government, regardless of the person's reason for entering Thailand. …
Regardless of their status, moreover, the vast majority of Burmese residing in Thailand have extremely limited means to support themselves and their families. … They live in fear of detection by the Thai authorities, not only because they are vulnerable to deportation back to Burma but also because the authorities will often exploit their lack of status to extort bribes from them.
Refugees who live in refugee camps along the Thai-Burma border also face specific risks. … [Thai policy] requires prior written approval to enter or leave the camps, people leave surreptitiously to work on nearby farms for less than the wages paid to Thais; many simply abandon the camps permanently to seek relatively better wage labour in urban or semi-urban areas. Refugees who leave the camps are vulnerable to arrest, harassment, extortion and trafficking.
Forced into an underground existence by their lack of status and precarious living conditions, Burmese in Thailand are at strong risk of being trafficked. …
[T]he fear of deportation haunts people living without status. Even workers who were registered for employment with the Thai government stated that some employers held on to their registration cards despite Thai law stating the workers must keep the card with them at all times. … [T]he capacity to report abuses they experience is an inseparable issue from their insecure status in Thailand. …
The long-term stay of refugees in camps exposes an at-risk population to further exploitation… Traffickers take advantage of the lack of viable income generation options for refugees in the camps.
4. Unregistered refugees, untapped potential in Kenya
Dann Okoth and Maore Ithula’s “The pains and gains of hosting refugees” ran in the January 8, 2006 Standard. Excerpts:
The presumption is that every refugee involved in business in Kenya is registered and therefore liable to pay taxes — but this may not necessarily be so. …
Agatha Munyaka of Domestic Income Department at [Kenya Revenue Authority] … says that for a refugee to legally be involved in business, they would have to hold a Kenyan Identity card. That is only when they would be able to acquire a PIN number, which qualifies them to pay taxes.
Last May … [the] Refugee Consortium of Kenya … claimed that the more than 60,000 refugees in urban areas did not rely on any institution for their upkeep and instead relied on small and medium-scale businesses worth millions of shillings as well as lots of money remitted from abroad without the exchequer levying any taxes.
The foregoing brings into focus the issue of regulating the refugees in order to tap into their potential. The pending Refugee Bill would be a good starting point. If passed, the bill would enable asylum seekers to have employment opportunities including engaging freely in trade and other income generating activities. … Until the Bill is made law, most efforts the authorities are making are geared towards herding all refugees into the camps in the north.
5. ECRE: Warehousing is not “Effective Protection”
In its December publication, “Guarding Refugee Protection Standards in Regions of Origin”, the European Council on Refugees and Exiles finds that “Many [refugees] are ‘warehoused’ for many years in unsuitable camps or struggle to maintain an impossible existence on the margins of society in their host country” and declares that “Any state restricting the economic rights of refugees is not providing them with protection that is effective.” It cautions European powers against using minimalist conceptions of protection to justify forcible readmission or transfer of asylum seekers and recommends they share responsibility more equitably.
Other findings and recommendations include:
In order to address the issue of lack of political will within host countries, capacity-building actions need to include training in public education and advocacy.
European states should undertake concrete measures to help refugee hosting countries provide a better quality of protection to refugees.
European governments should ensure adequate funding is available to NGOs to enable them to support the strengthening of protection capacity in refugee hosting countries. [and]
[T]hey should ensure increased and better targeted development funding for host countries. This funding should facilitate the integration of refugees into the host societies, when this is a dignified and appropriate solution, and refugees’ self-reliance, independently of the availability of any durable solution.
6. “UNHCR as Catalyst Rather than Sovereign - Host Governments as Primary Agents of Protection Rather than ‘Implementing Partners’”
"Excerpts from Amy Slaughter’s Ending Refugee Warehousing” in the latest EMM [Episcopal Migration Ministries] Messenger (Winter 2005, No. 8; originally submitted to the North-South Civil Society Conference on Refugee Warehousing):
Breathing life into the Convention in terms of actual state practice requires political will and sufficient resources and infrastructure. Whether the rights in question ask that states actively provide something or refrain from certain actions (so-called “positive” vs. “negative” rights), there are clearly both political and financial costs for the host states that must be acknowledged, without backing off of advocacy for a fuller deployment of refugee rights.…
[A] paradigm shift is needed, namely a return to an emphasis on the host state as the primary agent of protection. This is not to back away from burden-sharing, but rather to more clearly identify what role each party can most productively play, among the host state, donor states and UNHCR. Particularly muddled is the division of responsibility between host states and UNHCR in many refugee-hosting areas.
Therefore, as a precursor to any approach to end refugee warehousing, it is necessary to strike a better balance between UNHCR and host state responsibility. This would involve reversing the trend that has placed UNHCR in the role traditionally played by host states as the primary agent of protection, and has cast host states in an increasingly minor supporting role. …
The presence of UNHCR in countries of first asylum, though vitally important and often indispensable, can inadvertently serve to buffer refugees from a direct experience of their local hosts, allowing misunderstanding and mistrust to foment between the two. Ultimately, this can hinder integration opportunities, as refugees and their hosts view one another with suspicion rather than finding commonalities and converging interests. …
When refugees can avoid dealing with their host government directly, they often will, for many reasons, both political and of convenience. This undermines possibilities for local integration and keeps refugees segregated during their stay in exile. If instead refugees were encouraged to learn the local language and customs, it is likely that options outside of the refugee camps would organically present themselves. …
[A]mong other factors, warehousing is both a result and symptom of UNHCR’s increasing protection role in many host states, and the move away from state responsibility and national ownership (to borrow a development term). In order to reverse this trend, the incentive structures will need to be revised, as the current incentives clearly perpetuate the status quo: namely, protracted camp-based protection.
7. Refugee Voices
Nepal: Bhutanese Women Organize
After 15 years in exile, a group of Bhutanese women refugees in Nepal have formed an organization called Voices for Change to share their stories.
Excerpt from Ganga’s story:

When I was a student, I had high hopes to become a great person. The aims of my life have been scattered. Just because of being a refugee, opportunities never knock at our door. When we go around looking for opportunity, many doors remain closed.
Life in the camp is very difficult particularly for women. Life is so uncertain that we have to live each day as it comes. Day by day the problem is getting more complex. Fifteen years have passed now since the problem began. …
When I see people of my age making a significant contribution for the community, I get inspired and try to make my mind to do the same. But as a refugee, I have come across so many limitations and restrictions to implement the ideas into reality. Slowly the spirit vanishes and I loose hope and give up. I have to look forward for others to do. …
I along with my friends are striving to look for a practical solution for all of us. We also want to live and progress in life. We intend to work together for finding practical solution (relief package) the people need now and want to contribute something to our society as a whole. We do not want to be burden to other people. We have formed a small working team named as “Voice for Change”.
Message to all the human rights activists around the world I strongly feel that the refugee camp is not a place to live all our lives. Human rights should be made accessible to all.
Excerpt from Pingala's story:
Personal perspective on the impact of long stay in the refugee Camp;
It is no good at all to keep human beings in the refugee camps for so long. Due to the prolonged nature of our problem the people are divided and loose faith on each other. The development process of life is decreasing. People forget to desire for better life. …
The innocent people keep dying everyday due to the lack of fundamental rights, while the stakeholders of the human rights keep themselves busy organizing human rights program and seminars. We are always made experimental tools. When we hear of human rights it sounds so good but it only reflects on paper for us. Our hope rises up when people talk of rights but at the same time it becomes difficult to convince us when it is not realized in practice. …
Meetings with leaders
I started meeting our leaders personally and expressed interest to contribute/get involved in the movement. Some encouraged, some discouraged and while some expressed to have legal background. I felt doubly discriminated, first being a challenge in a male dominated society and second being a refugee. All my freedoms are severely restricted…
I started searching for a platform for women like me to raise our voice and to extend support in searching solution to the problem. I attended many meetings with senior leaders and listened [to]them. It has become clear to me that they talked only about politics, i.e. democracy and human rights in Bhutan but they never talk on the day-to-day problem we are facing. Humanitarian problem[s have] no place in their agenda and are largely ignored.
My friend Ganga also had similar opinion and we agreed to share our idea with others friends. Friends like Uma and Rupa were very encouraging. We all felt an urgent need of a platform to highlight our day-to-day problem and seek for practical solution to the peoples’ problem. Therefore we agreed to form Voice for Change with a vision “to lend strength to the search for a solution to our problem”.
Recent visit to the camps in 2005
Recently during the festival, I visited many of our organizations and their heads and even went around the camps meeting our friends and relatives. I talked and listened to what they feel now, after fifteen years in the camp. The people are so frustrated and desperate with the situation that they feel very difficult to express their problems as they now feel that nothing will happen even if they share. The young boys and girls are really at risk without any opportunity at hand. The dormant nature of our movement has further annoyed the people. There are no opportunities to the people. The old people are seen praying for their early death.
UK: "We don't want support from the state, we want to be given the chance to work for ourselves"
Asylum seekers from Zimbabwe are not allowed to work in the United Kingdom, despite a court ruling that it is unsafe for any of them to return. Several testified before Parliament December 14, 2005, as reported by the British Refugee Council. Maeve Sherlock, Chief Executive of the Refugee Council backed the call for the right to work saying "It is inexcusable that we are still forcing vulnerable people into destitution." For more on Council's campaign against destitution and for the right to work. Following are excerpts from the asylum seekers' resumes:
Tendai Williard Chinhanhu
One day I would hope to return to Zimbabwe with the experience I have gained from British coaches. I also wish I could help train young British athletes, and the young runners from my club (Poole Runners) in Dorset are already reaping the benefits from having trained together with me, but when I was released from detention on 7th July 2005 I was given a letter telling me I was not allowed to work or volunteer. I would love to be able to earn my living as a carpenter.
Nkosinathi Ndlovu
As a doctor I feel it is my duty is to save lives and to help the sick to recover. Also I would like to carry out research in the field of cancer and would like to be a positive influence to young children my volunteering my time in community projects.
Harris Nyatsanza
As a teacher I would like a chance to contribute to the society in a positive and meaningful way. I would like to take back to Zimbabwe the skills that I will get from working inside the British education system.
8. JRS Surveys Detention of Refugees in Commonwealth Countries
Jesuit Refugee Service presented the results of their survey on “ Detention of Asylum-Seekers and Refugees in Commonwealth Countries” in November 2005. Excerpts:
All refugees in Zambia are required to reside in one of 5 refugee camps or settlements, unless they have got a work or study permit, a self employment permit, or have been given permission to stay in an urban area on medical or security grounds. For a refugee to obtain a self-employment permit, he/she must have US $25,000 in assets. A work permit costs US $400 and a study permit is US $100. It is quite obvious that most refugees cannot afford to pay these amounts of money. Consequently, most refugees who move out of the camps into a city are technically living there illegally (without authorisation from the government) and are at risk of being arrested and detained. It is easy to see that the system is open to being abused by immigration and police officers who frequently round up and detain refugees and asylum seekers for unspecified periods of time. Cases of these officers soliciting bribes from their victims are very common.
The vast majority of the refugees and asylum seekers who end up in detention in Zambia are not there because they have committed criminal offences, but simply because they have violated the administrative requirement that they remain in designated areas. …
In Tanzania, there is a strict policy of encampment. The refugees are required at all times to be in their camp; otherwise they risk being arrested. JRS Tanzania reports that in the Ngara area refugees are regularly arrested for being outside the camp without a travel permit; often just for collecting firewood outside the designated areas. They need to collect firewood in order to cook their food, so they are being criminalised for fulfilling their survival needs. … Once the refugees are released from the prisons, which are very far from the camps, they are required to return to the camps on foot. In many cases they again get rearrested by the police during their long walk back to their camp and get charged again with being outside the camps…a vicious circle.
In Nairobi in Kenya, again most of the refugees in detention are people arrested for lack of valid documents and being illegally in the country.
JRS Uganda reports that in practice Uganda does not detain asylum seekers while their status is being determined. This is mainly due to the intense training on refugee issues of immigration officers and the police throughout the country by an NGO called the Refugee Law Project.
However JRS Uganda reports that there are incidents where refugees in Uganda have been unjustifiably arrested and even tortured. And there is a problem with the distribution of asylum seekers’ identification papers. In Kampala, these are usually given to the head of the family. This means that children are left without any kind of identification, and they live in constant fear of being arrested for “being idle and disorderly” (a major cause for arrests) and for illegal entry - since they are foreigners without documentation. Both men and women are supposed to be given ID documents, but in practice only the men are given them. Many refugee women in Uganda are in business that involves them in traveling long distances selling items like clothes, and this leaves them vulnerable to unjustifiable arrests when they cannot prove their identity. It is particularly hard for them to explain themselves to the police when they don’t speak the language, as is the case for so many refugees around the world.
Refugees in Uganda are provided with settlement areas less restrictive than the refugee camps in many other African countries but their freedom of movement is still restricted to these settlement areas if they do not have a permit. …
There’s more on detention of refugees and asylum seekers in Australia, Jamaica, India, South Africa, and Sri Lanka in the full document.
9. Warehousing in the New Yorker
John Lahr’s review of Ariene Mnouchkine’s play about refugees in the August 1, 2005 New Yorker refers to warehousing. Excerpts:
In hide-and-seek, it's a tragedy if you are not found: this turns out to be the existential predicament of the refugees who populate Ariane Mnouchkine's pageant of the uprooted, "Le Dernier Caravanserail (Odyssees)." … Set in notorious detention camps in France, Australia, New Zealand, and Indonesia, the story is played out by thirty-six actors onstage, and, around the world, by the twelve million people who are trapped in a ghost life of detention centers and legal rigmarole. … Mnouchkine improvised the piece in six months from stories that she and two of her actors had collected from refugees between 1999 and 2002. … Through the caprice of history, these emigres find themselves with no rights, no voice, no place. (Half of the world's refugees are under the age of eighteen, and, as Caroline Moorehead writes, in "Human Cargo," "almost five per cent of these are unaccompanied minors, travelling the world on their own." Another seven million refugees have been, according to the World Refugee Survey, "warehoused for ten years or more.") … Most of the action takes place in a sort of Rubic's Cube that Mnouchkine has devised to give isolation angularity and insight: from almost every angle, the refugees are caged…

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