Wednesday, August 06, 2008

2008 Global Refugee Survey by USCRI Focusing on India

Sahana Basavapatna

The US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI) in its recent Global Refugee Survey for 2008 gave India a distinction that it would not be proud of. India, according to this survey, is one of the 10 worst violators of refugee rights in the world.

The note on India is interesting for a couple of reasons. For a country that has for long complimented itself on how generous it is in accepting and allowing refugees to live in India, this heavy criticism should bring into focus the real meaning of ad-hocism and the risks it brings to the lives of refugees. It is indeed one of the worst violators for not only the ambiguity in the refugee policy, but also for how this translates in reality. It is one thing to allow refugees to live in India, but altogether different to have the discretion to deport them at will without any explanation or information. Further, this unsavory distinction would hold true when one considers “protection” – a core function of UNHCR and the States- in reality - slum like conditions in which refugees more often find themselves in, lack of basic services such as water, electricity, space, privacy, education and health and the response of agencies such as UNHCR and its implementing partners.

However, a word of caution is also essential as the Survey’s argument that Chins are “the least favoured” among the refugees does not give a complete picture. The Survey should have taken into consideration other refugee groups such as Afghans, Somalis, and Palestinians and others, who undoubtedly have their own experiences to share about living as refugees in a democracy like India. So, while deportation and threats of deportation or lack of protection of Chins in Mizoram/New Delhi is real, it is, one can argue, worse for the Somalis and ethnic Afghans in New Delhi (and elsewhere). By that yardstick for example, the Somalis can be considered to be equally “least favoured”, evidenced by their determined struggle against suspension of registration of asylum seekers, the often long delay in decisions on applications and the deterioration of even basic standards of living in Delhi.

It can only be hoped against hope that there is some change from status quo given that the Government of India is believed to be working to table a refugee protection bill in the parliament.

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Five Asian Nations Branded 'Worst' Violators of Refugee Rights by P. Parameswaran

WASHINGTON, June 20, 2008 (AFP) - China, India, Malaysia, Thailand and Bangladesh have been identified as among the worst violators of refugees' rights in a global survey released ahead of Friday's World Refugees Day.

They joined Iraq, Kenya, Russia, Sudan and Europe as the 10 worst places for refugees last year, according to the World Refugee Survey 2008 released in Washington on Thursday.

The annual study, conducted by the US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI), a non-governmental group, also showed the total number of refugees growing to 14 million at the end of 2007, the largest it has been since 2001.

Driving the growth again were Iraqi refugees, with more than 550,000 fleeing their country. In all, more than two million refugees from the insurgency-wracked nation are awaiting an end to violence in their homeland.

The worst places for refugees list was based on violators turning refugees away to face further persecution, violence, and possibly death, or letting them enter a country and subjecting them to deprivation and stultifying limbo, USCRI said.

"We've tried to call attention to these countries because they have been particularly egregious in their treatment of refugees," USCRI president Lavinia Limon said.

"Some of them have forced refugees back into dangerous situations, some of them have warehoused refugees in camps for decades, and some of them have done their best to make sure refugees never enter their territory. Some of them have done all of the above," she said.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has made refugee protection the theme of this year's events marking World Refugee Day.

In a report card, where countries are graded from A to F and that formed the basis for the USCRI worst violators' list, China, Malaysia and Thailand received an F grade following a study on forcibly returning refugees to their homes and physical protection of refugees.

Some of the North Korean refugees repatriated by China have reportedly been executed.

Malaysia forcibly sent refugees from Myanmar to Thailand, where "some of them were sold into slavery -- men to fishing boats and women to brothels," said Merrill Smith, USCRI director of international planning and analysis.

Thailand also forced refugees to return to Myanmar and Laos, he said.

Malaysia and Thailand also got an F grade together with Bangladesh and China in a study on conditions in which refugees were detained and provided access to courts.

In the category where freedom of movement of refugees was gauged, Thailand and Bangladesh received the worst grade. "Thailand confined about 140,000 refugees in special refugee camps where they are not allowed to leave -- mostly those from Myanmar and Laos," Smith said.

Malaysia, Bangladesh and Nepal also received the worst grade in a study on whether governments allowed refugees to earn a livelihood.

One of the reasons that India was listed as among the worst places for refugees was because of its "radically discriminatory treatment of refugees," said Smith.

"They treat refugees depending on their nationality -- at the better end of the spectrum would be the Tibetan refugees, they are treated the best. Sri Lankans not so well but worst of all would be the Chin ethnic group from Myanmar," he said.

Smith pointed out that treating refugees well did not mean that they would remain permanently in their host countries, citing Malaysia as an example.

He said that Malaysia in 2005 issued documents to refugees from neighboring Indonesia's Aceh province allowing them to work and move about freely following the tsunami disaster that devastated the province.

Of the 32,000 Acehnese who received those documents, only 6,000 remained in Malaysia as of this year while the others returned home, Smith said.

"The interesting part about that is that treating refugees well does not cause them to stay," he said.

Western nations were also criticized in the report, including the United States and the European Union which received grades of F and D, respectively, for their poor physical protection of refugees including the forced repatriation of some asylum-seekers.

Human Rights Watch Reveals Disturbing Realities of Conflict-Induced Displacement in Chattisgarh and Andhra Pradesh

Ishita Dey

In a latest finding by Human Rights Watch, which is based on four weeks on-the-ground research in Chhattisgarh and Andhra Pradesh in late 2007 and early 2008, including approximately 175 accounts from affected villagers, Salwa Judum leaders, government officials and police, and former Naxalites the group called for an end to all government support for unlawful activities by the Salwa Judum vigilantes, and urged affected state governments to take immediate measures to protect the tens of thousands of persons displaced. Human Rights Watch also called on Maoist rebels known as Naxalites to end attacks on civilians and other abuses.

The 182-page report, “‘Being Neutral is Our Biggest Crime’: Government, Vigilante, and Naxalite Abuses in India’s Chhattisgarh State,” documents human rights abuses against civilians, particularly indigenous tribal communities, caught in a deadly tug-of-war between government security forces and the vigilante Salwa Judum and Naxalites.

The report highlights the impact of this conflict on children’s lives. The Naxalites have long used children as young as 6 years old as informers and children from 12 years old in armed operations. The Chhattisgarh police have recruited and used children as special police officers to assist government security forces in the region, often deploying them in high-risk anti-Naxalite combing operations. While the Chhattisgarh police have acknowledged this as an error, the government is yet to devise a scheme for systematically identifying, demobilizing, and rehabilitating such underage special police officers.

To read the full article please click on the link given in the right column below: -

A High Court Ruling in Bangladesh in July 2008 Declares 250,000 Biharis or “Stranded Pakistanis” as Citizens

Ishita Dey

On 26 November 2007, 11 members of the Stranded Pakistanis Youth Rehabilitation Movement (SPYRM), including its president, Sadakat Khan, filed a petition seeking High Court orders to register as voters Urdu-speaking people living in 70 camps across the country. In the ruling in July 2008, 250000 Biharis or stranded Pakistanis were declared as citizens. This judgment has drawn a mixed reaction from others in refugee camps of Dhaka and elsewhere. People who have migrated before Bangladesh was formed still feel that they had come to settle in Islamic Pakistan and not secular Bangladesh and some of them did want to go back to Pakistan after Bangladesh was formed. Unlike their parents, the younger generation of Biharis do not feel like aliens in Bangladesh. Most speak both Bangla and Urdu, go to Bangla-medium schools, have Bengalee friends and spouses. Many of them identify themselves as Bangladeshis rather than claiming to be “Biharis” or “stranded Pakistanis”, and are working for stronger integration.

Most of them feel while they have won the right to vote they still need to fight to reclaim their properties and want to enjoy the rights of a citizen of Bangladesh.

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Revisiting the Structure of Refugee and IDP Camps

Ishita Dey
Jim Lewis in an article on refugee camps in New York Times Magazine analyses the possible reasons behind the basic structures of camps: tarp, tent, cluster, grid. He argues that one of the basic tenets behind this kind of camp architecture is based on an assumption that these structures are temporary and one of the ways to discourage people from settling there is to create such structures of discomfort. Though the official position is that repatriation is imminent, there are scores of instances to ponder and reflect on the fact that the refugee crisis in West Bank and Gaza, Northwestern Province of Pakistan and Kenya. It’s been sixty years of the Palestinian settlements in west Bank and Gaza. Thousands of Afghans are stranded in the Northwestern Province of Pakistan since Soviet invasion in 70s and Sudanese and Somalians have been forced to live in Kenya since 1992. To quote Jim Lewis, “In 1993, a refugee could expect to live in a camp for 9 years; by 2004, that had grown to 17 years — almost a year increase per year, which suggests that very few people are going home at all. As conflicts grow more protracted and complicated, quick and direct repatriation becomes a slimmer and slimmer thread to hang things on”. It is against this backdrop and context he feels that the humanitarian agencies should revisit the structure of the settlements along with other needs. The institutions responsible for the lives and movements of great number of people are organized along rectilinear lines like hospitals, prison and army barracks and so on. The author feels that the basic structure of the tarp is based on Western notions of family as a nuclear unit. Similarly the grid structure might not be acceptable for cultures that are organized along fluid lines. While the UN Refugee Commission does not lay down a template to follow; their basic idea is the safety of the refugees. After the basic settlement the camp dwellers are encouraged to modify these spaces. According to Lewis, Fred Cuny contributed to the practice of emergency aid in the late 60s and argued for the use of single-family tents arranged in an ersatz-village design that was more comfortable and more flexible. It was instrumental in reducing the spread of infectious diseases in camps. Cuny recommended single-family tents he assumed that most of the people were from the villages, whereas our experience of refugees in war in Iraq has led to refugees seeking urban refuge. Lewis believes that there is a new tide of urban migration and he sites the case of Manila where 80,000 people are living on a top of garbage dump. Lewis points out that there is a history of architects committed to the welfare of the people. Some of the renowned architects are “Hassan Fathy, a Cairene architect who, starting in the 1930s, trained the poor of Egypt to build homes from mud bricks; Buckminster Fuller, with his geodesic domes; and Habitat for Humanity. There are pockets of inspired practice, like Architecture for Humanity, a remarkable N.G.O. based in San Francisco that not only builds and consults but also acts as a sort of clearinghouse for open-source design. Along the Mexican-U.S. border, Teddy Cruz has fashioned fast, cheap and inventive housing out of salvaged materials. Jaime Lerner, a Brazilian architect who became mayor of Curitiba, helped transform it from a slum-infested metropolis of almost two million into a green and functioning model of urban planning”.

While most humanitarian agencies argue that the local community knowledge will play a key role in solving problems related to shelter, the urban planners need to address certain problems that the large body of UN might face. First and foremost cheap housing solutions, materials that easily available and transportable and durable to survive extreme weather conditions and easily reparable. In terms of security, water access, H.I.V./AIDS prevention, human rights issues make the problem more complex. Despite these problems, Lewis argues urban planners and humanitarian agencies should work on an alternative models of housing based on local knowledge.

To read the full article please click on the link given below: -

Need for Fresh Look at 1951 Convention and Relevance of Post Colonial Experiences

K.M. Parivelan
The Refugee Convention, which was formally adopted on 28 July 1951, forms the foundation of the modern international legal system designed to protect people who have to flee their countries because of persecution or conflict. It is widely credited with saving countless lives and ensuring a means of escape for people facing imprisonment, torture, execution and other human rights abuses for reasons such as their political or religious beliefs, or membership in a particular ethnic or social group. It is the key legal instrument in defining who is a refugee, their rights and legal obligations of the State Parties. The 1967 Protocol removed geographical and temporal restriction from the Convention.

The Convention provides a universal definition of who exactly qualifies as a refugee. This definition has proved sufficiently flexible to encompass new types of refugees as they have emerged over the years. The Convention also established a framework of basic refugee rights - for example, the right to identity papers, access to courts and education - without which their lives in asylum countries would be quite a predicament for asylum seekers and refugees.
What are the positive influences of 1951 Convention?
1. It provided the basic and general definition for ‘refugee’
2. It facilitated the customary international law scope for promoting the principle of ‘non- refoulement’
3. It set the minimum standard of treatment for refugees and provisions for their legal status and welfare
4. It provides legal and political scope for States to co-operate with UNHCR in the exercise of its functions.

Post Colonial Influences

The conflicts that accompanied the end of the colonial era in Asia, Africa and Latin America led to a succession of large -scale refugee movements. These population displacements prompted the drafting and adoption of not only the 1967 Refugee Protocol but also several other regional initiatives.

The 1969 OAU Convention governing the specific aspects of refugee problems in Africa, which came in to force in 1974. It went about expanding the definition of the term ‘refugee’ as well as principle of ‘non-refoulment’. The OAU Convention contextually elaborated on the 1951 Convention definition of refugee as: “any person compelled to leave his/her country because of “external aggression, occupation, foreign domination or events seriously disturbing public order in either part or the whole of his country of origin or nationality.”. This means that persons fleeing civil disturbances, widespread violence and war are entitled to claim the status of refugee in States that are parties to this Convention regardless of whether they have a well-founded fear of persecution. Similarly in Latin America the initiative was taken by government representatives and distinguished Latin American jurists in 1984 to discuss the international protection of refugees in the region. This gathering adopted what became known as the Cartagena Declaration. The Declaration recommends the definition of a refugee used throughout the Latin American region should include the 1951 Refugee Convention definition and also persons who have fled their country “because their lives, safety or freedom have been threatened by generalized violence, foreign aggression, internal conflicts, massive violation of human rights or other circumstances which have seriously disturbed public order.” Although the Declaration is not legally binding on States, most Latin American States apply the definition as a matter of practice; some have incorporated the definition into their own national legislation.

In the context of Asia, distinct attempt was not made at convention or declaration level, but the principles adopted by the Asia Africa Legal Consultative Committee (AALCC) in 1966 is quite a contributory step. Even though non-binding in character, did influence the refugee policy in the region. Similarly a Group of Arab experts met in Cairo in November 1992 and adopted a non-binding Declaration on the protection of Refugees and displaced Persons in the Arab world.

In the recent years, however, the continuing validity of the 1951 Convention has been publicly questioned in some quarters. This has alarmed refugee protection activists, UN officials and aid agencies involved with refugees who feel that politics are being played at the expense of the Convention and, therefore, of the refugees it protects. The reasons behind these attacks on the Convention appear to be linked primarily to the rising number of asylum-seekers, the increase in people-smuggling networks, the perception that the majority of asylum-seekers are "bogus," and the high costs involved in maintaining asylum systems.

These concerns are understandable, but the critique of the Convention tends to ignore some vital basic factors, "Firstly, the main reason the numbers soared was that there were three major wars in Europe during the 1990s, in addition to numerous other conflicts around the world. "Secondly, the whole point of the Convention is precisely to make the distinction between those who need the international protection that official refugee status affords, and those who do not. Therefore, one set of argument is that it doesn't mean there's anything wrong with the Convention per se. The Convention has also been wrongly blamed for a collective failure to manage the soaring numbers of would-be economic migrants. "The Convention was never intended to sort out all the world's migration problems. "The trouble is, with virtually no other migration path open from poor countries to rich ones, the Convention has been subjected to pressures which should be catered for by alternative migration management tools."

On the cost of managing asylum-systems, we need to look at some states having rigorous process of detaining every single asylum-seeker entering the country without proper documentation. "This is an extremely expensive way of dealing with asylum-seekers, as well as inhumane and, arguably, quite at odds with Article 31 of the Convention." Asylum systems in some countries are inefficient, sometimes taking years to reach a decision. "This means not only considerable extra costs in terms of social benefits, but it also makes such countries attractive to economic migrants, stimulating a “vicious circle of increased numbers, higher costs, and slower decisions”.

The most worrying trend is the growing number of states violating Article 33 of the Convention, which says, "No contracting state shall expel or return a refugee in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers of territories where his life or freedom would be threatened…" If refugees are sent straight back to danger - or are prevented from leaving their countries in the first place - then all the other measures designed to protect and assist them count for nothing. Under international law this should not happen, and blatantly ignoring international law is a dangerous path to tread." The 1951 Refugee Convention has come under increasing scrutiny in recent years, with some governments questioning its continuing relevance. UNHCR has been paying special attention to the problem, analysing the extent of the practice in recent years in terms of the number of countries involved and the number of people affected. This is being done in the context of the "Global Consultations on International Protection", talks between UNHCR, governments, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and experts focusing on how States are interpreting and implementing the 1951 Refugee Convention and examining protection problems that are not fully covered by the treaty, so as to better protect refugees. Most notably the Executive Committee constituted is able to incorporate some of the non-signatory countries to voice their concerns and proactively contribute to the refugee protection regime.