UAI-June 2021 Newsletter

Inhumanity and Refugees – Messages for World Refugee Day, 20 June 2021
 
Dear Members and Supporters

This month, as we prepare for World Refugee Day, our focus is on the inhumanities being suffered by refugees in so many places around the world.
 
We are grateful to Dr Jeff Crisp for the first article below on New and Neglected Refugee Situations. And we thank Sarah Hammerl for the second article looking at the potential for action in the Courts to persuade governments to grant refugees the basic rights that are provided in international law. We are also working on a paper to shine a spotlight on some of the situations where camps that are supposed to represent safe havens for refugees can become as dangerous as the situations from which they were fleeing. This will appear in next month’s Newsletter.

11 June 2021


New and neglected refugee situations

By Jeff Crisp

 
In recent years, the international community’s attention has been grabbed by a succession of major refugee emergencies: the flight of more than five million Syrians, escaping from the military onslaught of the Assad regime and its Russian ally; an exodus of three million Venezuelans, leaving the chaotic situation in their homeland; and the movement of 700,000 people from Myanmar’s Rohingya population, a Muslim minority group deprived of citizenship and human rights.
 
But there are other refugee situations that have failed to hit the headlines, either because they are relatively recent, or because they have existed for so long that they are taken for granted. This briefing identifies five of the world’s newer and most neglected refugee situations and provides links to further reading on them…
 
 



The Sahel
 
One refugee and displacement scenario that has been almost entirely neglected by the English-language media is to be found in the Sahel, a vast and semi-arid area stretching from Burkina Faso, in the south, to Algeria, in the north, and from Chad, in the east, to Mauritania in the west. Almost three million people in the region have been forced to flee from their homes and at least four times that number are in need of humanitarian assistance.
 
In the words of UNHCR, “the countries that make up the Sahel are among the world’s least developed and are now the epicentre of the fastest-growing displacement crisis, driven by years of violent attacks by armed insurgent groups and criminal gangs.” At the same time, the climate crisis and food insecurity has provoked conflict between refugees, displaced people and host communities, with particular tensions arising over access to water points and to limited fertile farmlands.

Almost 30 million will need aid in the Sahel this year – The Guardian
Over 2 million in Refugee Camps – AFN (Africa Freedom Network)
The Sahel Crisis Explained – UNHCR


Myanmar
 
The plight of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh has received considerable publicity since mid-2017, when Myanmar’s armed forces launched a vicious assault on this stateless population. The military coup that took place in Myanmar in February this year, followed by the army’s ruthless attempt to crush any popular resistance, has made it much less likely that the Rohingya will be able to return to their homes in the near future.
 
At the same time, the growing scale of violence in the country has prompted a new wave of internal displacement and prompted a growing number of people to seek refuge in India and Thailand, both of which have been reluctant to admit the new arrivals. This movement is likely to grow, as a combination of armed conflict, food insecurity and unemployment makes life in Myanmar increasingly intolerable for poorer members of the country’s population. According to many commentators, only the threat of a major refugee exodus in the region is likely to prompt ASEAN, the Association of South-East Asian Nations, to take serious action to stabilize the situation in Myanmar.
 

IDMC (Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre) Report -Myanmar
Asia Insight – Violence, hunger and ruin risk deeper refugee crisis
Refugees International – The dangerouse refugee response in Bangladesh


Mozambique
 
In the 1980s, some two million Mozambicans fled from their homeland as a result of an armed conflict between the FRELIMO government and the South African backed rebel movement RENAMO. Almost all of these refugees returned to the country in the early 1990s, when a peace agreement was established between the warring parties. After three decades of relative stability, Mozambique is now convulsed by a new crisis, provoked by attacks on the civilian population by a terrorist group linked to ISIS.
 
Around half a million Mozambicans have been displaced within the country by these events, while a much smaller number has attempted to flee to neighbouring Tanzania, which generously hosted more than 70,000 refugees from Mozambique in the 1980s. Since that time, Tanzanian refugee policy has become progressively more restrictive, and in April this year, the country effectively closed its borders to victims of the Mozambique insurgency. In that month, UNHCR reported that some 1,500 Mozambicans were either refused entry to the country or detained and then forcibly returned. 
 
Aljazeera – Refugee report following the attacks on Palma
IDMC Report on Internal Displacement in Mozambique
Reuters – UN warns Tanzania not to reject those fleeing violence in Mozambique


Afghanistan
 
Beginning in 1979, the Afghan refugee situation is one of the world’s longest and largest but, after five decades, it rarely gets the attention that it warrants. There are currently around 2.5 million registered Afghan refugees, the vast majority of them in Pakistan and Iran. According to one estimate over 1.1 million Afghans are displaced within their own country, 400,000 of whom were uprooted in 2020. These numbers could well grow as the US withdraws its troops from the country and the Taliban extends its operations.
 
In recent years, Afghans have been under intense and sometimes direct pressure to return to their country of origin, not only from Pakistan and Iran, but also from the European Union, where some 250,000 have congregated after a gruelling overland journey. But they are returning to a country that has been devastated by years of armed conflict and economic stagnation, two problems that foreign intervention in the form of humanitarian aid and military operations have done little to mitigate. As a result, many of the returnees have no alternative but to settle in the squalid informal settlements that now circle the country’s major cities.
 
As deportations soar, Afghans struggle on home soil – New Humanitarian
IDMC Report on Internal Displacement in Afghanistan
EU efforts to repatriate Afghan asylum seekers is dangerous – Aljazeera


Democratic Republic of Congo
 
The DRC currently hosts over 500,000 refugees from neighbouring countries, including Rwanda, the Central African RepublicSouth Sudan and Burundi. Some five million DRC citizens are estimated to be displaced within the country, while a million more have sought refuge in countries such as Uganda, South Africa, Burundi, Tanzania, Zambia and Angola.
 
While the DRC has vast amounts of oil, diamonds, gold and other natural resources, the country has been plagued by decades of poor governance, political instability, armed attacks by militia groups and human rights violations, as well as epidemics and natural disasters. Despite military offensives conducted by the government’s armed forces with assistance from a UN peacekeeping force, violence continues to escalate. According to one estimate, more than 120 militia groups are currently active in the east of the country alone.
 
UNHCR – The DRC Crisis Explained
UN – OCHA Report on the crisis in DRC
Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect – May 2021 Report


Judicial action to protect the rights of people forced to flee
 
By Sarah Hammerl
 
In this segment, we present three cases that shed light on the role and responsibility of the judiciary in the context of asylum protection. Amidst the growing trend among politicians, government officials, media outlets, and various other actors to link asylum seekers and migrants with social disorder and criminal activity, asylum rights organisations and groups decry the erosion of the global asylum system. The horrible consequences for those forced to flee their homes and search for safety elsewhere are plain for all to see.
But reminding governments of their legal responsibilities towards asylum seekers and objecting to policies and practices that put them at risk not only concerns civil society, but also fall within the remit of the judiciary. There are several examples of judicial decisions in recent years which acknowledge the violation of asylum laws and in some cases were able to oblige states to change their practices. A recent example is the decision in late April 2021 of the Kenya High Court to suspend a move by the government to close the Dadaab and Kakuma refugee camps.
 
Kenya Court suspends government’s move to close refugee camps
Judgements related to asylum cases can be important milestones for political pressure and advocacy.
 
But with the politicisation (and polarization) of the issue, courts have also regularly denied responsibility and failed to uphold fundamental asylum norms inscribed in international conventions. On April 8, 2021, the Chief Justice of India, Sharad Arvind Bobde rejected the rights of Rohingya refugees to non-refoulement in the high court, arguing that India, which is not a signatory of the Geneva Convention of 1951 on the Status of Refugees, is not bound to adhere to international asylum procedures. The Indian government holds that Rohingya refugees are “a threat to national security,” and plans to deport them back to Myanmar, despite the ongoing military crackdown in Rakhine State which forced hundreds of thousands of Rohingyas to seek shelter in Bangladesh, a process the UN has described as ethnic cleansing.
 
India is chipping away at its past generosity towards refugees
Over the last few years, the criminalisation of asylum seekers has also increasingly affected humanitarian action that has emerged around the EU’s external borders and in its Member States. Humanitarian actors, rights activists and engaged citizens assisting asylum seekers across the EU have fallen victim to accusations, arrests and intimidation for supposedly facilitating illegal entry and transit or assisting illegal residence and/or other charges specific to Member State immigration laws. In some cases, judicial action was successful in challenging these developments, as David Whelan and Euan Lindsay elaborate in their blog “How Judicial activism challenged Fortress Europe in France”.
 
How Judicial Activism Challenged Fortress Europe in France


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Image Credit © UNHCR 
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