International Refugee Day 2016
International Refugee Day 2016
In a bid to celebrate International Refugee Day, EuroMed Rights gives an overview of the situation of refugees in the Euro-Mediterranean region.
Today more than ever, migration and asylum issues have topped the European agenda and this year more than ever, today must serve as a sharp reminder of the obstacles and problems refugees are facing.
From North to South, refugees of all origins are facing a multitude of challenges. Mentalities, traditions, inequalities between men and women as well as between men alone, weaknesses of institutional and legislative frameworks, lack of resources and training…
While some achievements can be highlighted, too many obstacles still persist and refugees are largely seen as a burden or a security threat, rather than being welcome after having suffered atrocities in their home countries.
Through personal testimonies, EuroMed Rights together with its members and partner organisations, remind us how important it is that we deal with refugees in a humane and appropriate way.
Bulgaria – Radostina Pavlova
Legal Aid – Voice in Bulgaria
On the International Refugee Day, we should also think about those whose stories and reasons for fleeing their countries are not recognized as worthy of refugee protection. Instead of being treated with humanity, they are called “illegal”, fraudulent, economic migrants etc. Migrants are subjected to push-backs, deportation, detention and absolute exclusion from society, while being portrayed as a threat so as to legitimise their treatment as less than fully-righted humans.
In Bulgaria, it is very difficult to obtain refugee or humanitarian status, since people coming from several countries – such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan and many African countries – are considered a priori not “real” refugees and their requests are turned down. The Center for Legal Aid – Voice in Bulgaria provides pro bono legal aid most often to people who are fighting a negative response and striving to have a fair asylum procedure. Over the last several months, we have challenged a newly established procedure for the admissibility of subsequent asylum claims, which makes it unreasonably difficult for asylum seekers, once refused, to file another claim, and they end up being detained and deported. We have also fought for more transparent and accountable decision-making processes in the detention of migrants: currently, virtually all migrants coming into Bulgaria are detained in prison-like centres, even if in some case just for a short time. Furthermore, we are also encouraging a public debate about according a humanitarian status to those migrants who have lived in Bulgaria for some years now, who have integrated into the community, but have exhausted all the avenues to remain legally. These people often face deportation to unstable countries, where they have nothing and nobody left.
More information on Legal Aid – Voice in Bulgaria and its activities can be found here
Cyprus – Doros Polykarpou
Action for Equality, Support, Anti racism (KISA)
Cyprus used to grant reception conditions in the form of welfare benefits, but the revised public benefits system for asylum seekers and persons with humanitarian protection status, voted in July 2013, illustrates how socially divisive governmental policies are in reality.
This system provides for two different levels of benefits: one for Cypriots/other EU citizens (minimum income guarantee), and another for asylum seekers and persons with humanitarian protection status. The new system grants asylum seekers a reduced amount of public benefit and provides to receive a large part of it (for food, clothing, and footwear) in the form of vouchers.
This system condemns asylum seekers to a life in extreme poverty and misery, while their human dignity is further violated. Moreover, once refugees apply for international protection in the country, they are referred to the Reception Centre for Asylum Seekers in Kofinou until their asylum application is examined, a procedure, which often takes years to be completed. The remote location of the Reception Centre in Kofinou, combined with the conditions that prevail within the centre today (lack of effective management, overpopulation) may trigger the traumatic experiences that some refugees have experienced in the past.
KISA believes that the remote location hampers the integration of refugees. A violent incident that took place recently between residents of the Reception Centre illustrates the lack of appropriate reception conditions of asylum seekers in the country. Turmoil initially began when residents of the Centre attacked a young individual from a different ethnic group. Following the incident, police units and an ambulance visited the Centre. However, the ambulance refused to transfer the injured young man to the hospital, using the excuse that he was drunk, while the police force also departed from the Centre, considering the matter closed. After the police force’s departure, the tension between the two ethnic groups continued and resulted in the eruption of a generalised conflict.
KISA’s activities in the field of asylum include the documentation of asylum seekers’ situation within Cypriot society and awareness-raising on the difficulties they face in Cyprus. through campaigning and strategic litigation, KISA also aims to bring positive change in the lives of asylum seekers and refugees but also within Cypriot society in general.
KISA advocates in order to influence both the policies and practices at political, legal, and structural levels. Additionally, through KISA’s Migrant and Refugee Centre, we provide free information and support services to migrants, refugees, asylum seekers, victims of trafficking and racism / discrimination while, at the same time, promoting the self-organisation of refugees and migrants as well as their empowerment, both on an individual and group levels, so that they are more able to claim their rights.
More information on Action for Equality, Support, Anti racism and its activities can be found here
Great Britain – Barbara Harrell-Bond
International Refugee Rights Initiative/Rights in Exile (HCA)
The information portal (Refugee Legal Aid Information), a project in continuous progress to assist lawyers representing refugees, also provides a way for refugees to contact us from all over the world. We get many frantic requests for advice from Rwandans, particularly in Africa but also elsewhere, who, due to UNHCR’s promotion of the Cessation Clause (see back issues of our Newsletter for the long struggle against this wrong policy), find themselves subjected to forced return to Rwanda. Except for a few countries, they have no access to lawyers.
An example of an achievement of Rights in Exile is quite exciting and shows the importance of quick reaction. We received an inquiry from a Sri Lankan refugee en route to Los Palma, Canary Islands. He asked whether he should request asylum in the airport or wait until he exited. We were able to contact Kimi Aoki Iglesias, at an NGO in the Island where Los Palmas is located. She advised him to try to leave the airport first, but if he were detained, the police would get him in contact with them. All this communication took place before he landed because she reacted quickly to our email.
More information on International Refugee Rights Initiative and its activities can be found here
Jordan – Linda Al Kalash
In January 2016 Tamkeen’s office received a detailed email providing information regarding the dire situations of Sudanese refugees in Jordan, with many of them being deported to Sudan. The email was sent by a Darfur refugee who flew from Jordan to America a year and a half ago, leaving behind many friends. Many are still in Jordan as asylum seekers, some have legal refugee status. All of them were victims of the Darfur war.
After escaping the horror of Darfur and the genocide, they were admitted to Jordan, but a few days ago many of them were forcibly sent back to Sudan. If action is not taken, thousands more will face a similar fate. Once in Sudan, these people have been put in jail and beaten, facing a life threatening situation. Jordan deported them just because they were been demonstrating outside Amman’s UNHCR offices for a month, asking for better safety condition and to be treated equally as other refugees. Three of them died on 19 December 2015, when the police used tear gas against a group of refugees that refused board on the plane. Jordanian authorities have not commented this tragedy.
According to the email received by Tamkeen, there are about 3200 Sudanese refugees in Jordan, mostly from Darfur.
In the past days about 500 Sudanese people were deported back to Sudan, the majority of them are documented refugees, which means that they have been recognized as refugees by the UNHCR. Approximately 180 of them were arrested and imprisoned shortly after their return to Sudan. Furthermore, because of their refugee status, they were not provided with work permits.
More information on Tamkeen and its activities can be found here
Jordan – Dominique Sherab
Arab Renaissance for Democracy and Development (ARDD-Legal Aid)
Hassan is a young Sudanese man. In 2011, he came to Jordan to escape the dangers of the war in Sudan and he has lived in Amman ever since.
When he arrived in Jordan, Hassan quickly began to search for work. After some time, Hassan was hired by a company to work as a blacksmith. This work occupied Hassan’s time and helped him to adapt to his new life in Amman and to move past the difficulties and memory of his experience in Sudan. So, he considered his job as a chance to begin a better life.
After a short time, though, his employer began to gradually stop salary payments to Hassan. Every time he asked for an explanation, his employer just told him to be patient. After two years of backlog wages Hassan decided to quit his job, not knowing how he could solve the situation.
Hassan wanted to claim his wage, but at the same time he feared the reaction of government authorities as he had been working without a permit. At last, Hassan decided to end his silence and seek help to claim his right to his salary for the work he had done. He knocked door-to-door to request legal advice for his situation. That is how he got in contact with ARDD-Legal Aid.
ARDD-Legal Aid listened to the detailed circumstances of Hassan’s case and informed him that he indeed had the right to claim his unpaid wages in regular courts. Even though Hassan did not have a work permit, the lawyers of ARDD-Legal Aid informed him that he may still claim these wages under the labor laws of Jordan. The lawyers encouraged him to approach the employer once more in a friendly manner before he took the steps to file a lawsuit, but the attempt to amicably resolve the dispute was unsuccessful.
So, ARDD-Legal Aid outlined for Hassan the nature of his case type and the requirements of such procedures, which included support documentation and witness testimony. With ARDD-Legal Aids support Hassan filed the lawsuit, but the witnesses to the case failed to appear in court. As a result, the case became more difficult to prove, and the only evidence that Hassan had in court was his oath of truth in all statements of the case. On this oath, the court ruled to compel the defendant employer to pay wages and benefits for Hassan (totaling more than 2,000 JOD) bringing hope for Hassan new life.
More information on ARDD-Legal Aid and its activities can be found here
Lebanon- Berna Habib
In Lebanon, there is no refugee law. Refuges are assimilated to migrants and many of them are considered ‘illegal’. In 2011, Ruwad frontiers conducted its first successful strategic litigation case. It was the case of an Iraqi woman who fled Iraq in 2009 to escape severe threats to her physical integrity (after her husband had been killed). She arrived in Lebanon only to be facing deportation back to Iraq on order of the Lebanese General Security.
Ruwad Frontiers was instrumental in lobbying the court not to deport her. The woman was resettled and has been living in Lebanon since.
For refuges coming from Syria, the problem is more complex. Much has been done by the authorities to host the mass influx of refugees but their situation remains very vulnerable. It is especially the case for children who are born on Lebanese territory. As families of refugees from Syria face severe obstacles in registering the birth of their children, these children face increasing risks of becoming potentially ‘stateless’ … obtaining legal residency is deemed by many of them too expensive and too burdensome. Ruwad Frontiers call on the Lebanese authorities to lift all hurdles, financial and administrative, getting in the way of refugees registering their newborns and to ensure they are granted unhindered access to basic rights.
Frontiers Ruwad is a human rights NGO from Lebanon, operating since 1999 to strengthen the protection of marginalised groups in society, including refugees, the stateless and foreign detainees. Ruwad Frontiers provides information on basic rights and offers services to get access to these rights. It lobbies the Lebanese authorities and other relevant UN bodies. Ruwad Frontiers also works towards the rule of law and respect for human rights in Lebanon and in the region. Groups who benefit from Ruwad’s activities are refugees from several nationalities, including Palestinians and stateless persons.
More information on Frontiers Ruwad and its activities can be found here
Libya – Gino Barsella
Italian Council for Refugees
Just turned 18, Fresghy left his village in Eritrea to escape forced military service. In Spring 2011, he arrived in the outskirt of Khartoum (Sudan), in the so-called “Libyan market”, where he spent days negotiating passage to Libya and then the sea with the “merchants of human flesh”. A week later, the smuggler’s truck is stopped by the Libyan police and they are brought to a detention centre nearby. These were the toughest months of his life, living in an overcrowded and hot cell, without knowing what will happen to him. One day, Fresghy and his inmates realised that the police had left the detention centre and, after breaking free, they found themselves caught in the midst of the Libyan civil war. Fresghy then escaped to Shusha refugee camp, in Tunisia, where he started UNHCR procedures to be registred as a refugee. But the asylum seekers were too many, the procedures too long and, according to rumors, the chances to be accepted in Europe as refugees were too slim. Fresghy lost his patience and he went back to Libya all alone, hoping to cross the sea by boat. Before reaching Zwara, the first town after the border, he was captured by militias and he disappeared for months.
He finally managed to escape to Nigeria, but Lagos was too dangerous for foreigners and Fresghy then crossed the border to Benin and reported to the local UNHCR office. He finally obtained his refugee status, which allows him to work and is now awaiting safely reinstallation in a third safe country, the United States.
Among the various activities of the CIR in Libya, one of the most important is support offered to vulnerable migrants in detention centers, especially women and children. Even if they are not technically speaking ‘refugees’, they often suffer violence and psychological traumas and are in need of international protection. The first goal of the CIR is for them to be released from these centers, then to help them have access to health facilities and regain their independence and dignity. Finally, those who wish to return to their own countries are supported through socio-economic reintegration projects.
More information on the Italian Council for Refugeesand its activities can be found here
Morocco – Khadija Ainani
Association Marocaine des Droits Humains (AMDH)
His name is Coudou. He got his nickname on the football field because he always dreamed of being a professional footballer. He is 25 and he left his country in 2009 in order to ensure his personal and security. First, he went to Senegal by car, where he stayed for three years playing football in clubs. Working as a maid he managed to save some money, and left for Mauritania. His goal was to reach Morocco, but he faced many difficulties at the border with Mauritania. During his first few weeks in Rabat he slept rough, but he then met some fellow refugees who have accepted to host him. At first, he was subjected to many assaults in the area, but he then slowly started to adapt to life in Morocco. In the morning he would look for a job and at night he played football, but it was very difficult for him to sustain football pratice as he was so from working in building sites. Finally, he took on shoemaking, he set up a small workshop in the Takadoum market and he has been working there ever since and he was recently made legal. Life in Morocco is not easy and he eventually gave up on his dream of becoming a football player. Today, his greatest wish is to save as much money as possible and go to Europe.
The mission of AMDH is to protect and promote human rights in general, including those of migrants and refugees, focusing on several aspects: support and solidarity, advocacy, sit-ins, marches, caravans, creative workshops, round tables, seminars, training, networking etc.
A recent AMDH project entailed capacity building activities for organisations working with people in need of international protection, in partnership with CEAR, a project that will continue throughout 2016. This project is dedicated to migrants, refugees and asylum seekers, and organisations working in the field of migration and asylum. They also assist asylum seekers who organised a sit-in outside the UNHCR to protest against the rejection of their application and to demand that their status is legalised.
Thanks extended to Alpha who helped collecting the testimony.
More information on AMDH and its activities can be found here
Morocco – Abderrazak Ouiam
Organisation Marocaine des Droits Humains (OMDH)
B., a refugee from Ivory Coast, fled his country in 2004 after the outbreak of internal conflict in Ivory Coast. He refused to join the army of Hassan Watara and during his escape he was involved in a serious accident which cost him two fingers.
He spent two painful years between Mali and Algeria before arriving in Morocco in 2006, in the city of Oujda. Always fearing arrest and deportation; B. walked 28 days from Oujda to Rabat to register at the UNHCR.
Despite his refugee status, recognized by the UNHCR, he escaped several push-back operations to the Algerian border between 2006 and 2008.
The OMDH, in collaboration with the UNHCR, supported him on many occasions to help him go back to Morocco. OMDH also assisted him in the legal procedures to obtain the residence permit at the Oujda police headquarters.
Despite all his efforts, he currently has no steady job: with UNHCR’s help, he tried to start a small project (selling laptops), but it was in vain. His very vulnerable situation led him to file for resettlement with UNHCR.
More information on OMDH and its activities can be found here
OPT / Israel – Ran Goldstein
Physicians for Human Rights in Israel
Israel is home to some 300,000 non-citizen migrants. Among them are migrant workers, and about 43,000 asylum seekers, of whom over 90% are from Eritrea and Sudan. Called “infiltrators” by Israel, to portray them as a security threat, they have entered the country from the Sinai Peninsula, where many of them have been tortured by Bedouin smugglers-turned-extortionists. Along other deterrence measures, Israel pushed through legislation that allows it to jail asylum seekers for a year, and whose purpose is to coerce asylum-seekers into leaving Israel, since, according to the UN Convention on Refugees, Israel cannot deport them by force.
Asylum seekers are granted a visa that only gives them the right not to be temporarily deported from Israel. They are not allowed to work and receive no social benefits. Because social rights are contingent upon residency in Israel, the status-less population is deprived of the possibility to fully realize its right to health, and the vast majority of these individuals have no access to healthcare.
PHRI’s aim is to protect and promote the rights of migrant workers, asylum seekers and refugees, and other non- resident groups. The organization employs individual counseling and advocacy, legal action, government lobby, and provision of medical and legal services to both provide for their immediate health needs, and promote long-term policy change to secure public health care services and access to basic human rights for all persons living in Israel, regardless of their legal status.
The organization operates the “Open Clinic” five days a week, staffed by volunteer doctors who provide treatment to anyone who is not covered by the national health insurance. The treatment doesn’t always end with the visit to the clinic – often, patients need PHRI’s support to exercise their right to health vis-à-vis the healthcare system or private insurance companies. In 2016, PHRI’s Open Clinic will conduct about 6,000 medical examinations of unauthorized and uninsured persons, primarily asylum seekers. In addition, our caseworkers will assist approximately 250 individuals. Among them tens victims of torture.
Under it Sinai Torture Project, in cooperation with other organizations (Hot line for Migrants, Assaf and the Italian organization Medu) PHRI lobbies the Knesset, relevant Ministries and international stakeholders for the provision of health, social and legal services to victims of torture who now reside in Israel. It is supported by experts specialized in mental health and psycho-social support issues, who conduct academic research and provide high-quality data as to the scale of trauma history, mental health problems, and rehabilitation necessities among torture survivors.
More information on Physicians for Human Rights in Israel and its activities can be found here
OPT / Israel – Reut Michaeli
Hotline for Refugees and Migrants
On February 22nd 2015 the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants succeeded to release Befakadu – an Ethiopian man, husband, and father – from immigration detention after 5 months of detainment. Befkadu’s asylum application had been rejected and he was taken to detention with the intention to deport him, despite the fact that his wife Elizabeth, also Ethiopian, was four months pregnant with their second child. Their first child, seven-year-old Bat-El, is in second grade and has known no country other than Israel. Elizabeth has been waiting for an answer to her asylum application since January 2009. After a long series of legal appeals, a moving piece on Israel’s channel 2 and five long months of detention, the Hotline succeeded to release Befakadu on February 22nd. Five days later they had a healthy baby boy!.
Although Befkadu is out of detention, a decision from the Supreme Court in his case is still pending. The case challenges the policy which allows an individual to reside in Israel while his or her spouse’s asylum application is pending only if they were married prior to arriving in Israel. This case has the potential to set a significant precedent that will stop families from being ripped apart. We know of dozens of other couples in similar situations who could be affected by this judgment and there is likely to be many more that we don’t know of, both now and in the future.
‘Y’ was imprisoned for three years in the Israeli immigration detention center Saharonim, because the Ministry of the Interior wrongly identified him as Ethiopian.
While Eritrean and Sudanese citizens fall under Israel’s non-removal policy, citizens of other countries may be imprisoned indefinitely if they refuse to leave. Due to this ‘Y’, was held in prison for three full years; 1,045 days of administrative detention because of this misidentification. After a long bureaucratic struggle by the Hotline on his behalf, the Ministry of Interior finally relented and recognized ‘Y’ as Eritrean and released him from detention.
Unfortunately, ‘Y’ was shocked when he recently received a summons to Holot, to serve the maximum time there, even though he has already been detained by the government for three years. This is possible, because now that they have identified him as Eritrean, he is eligible to be sent to Holot.
Thanks to the appeal we filed, ‘Y’s’ summons to Holot is currently frozen, and will stay so for a long time. We will continue to fight for him, as the state has committed a grievous injustice and deprived him of his liberty for three years based on a mistake. We will fight to make sure he doesn’t spend any more time in the Israel Prison Service.
More information on Hotline for Refugees and Migrants and its activities can be found here
Turkey – Mustafa Kurter
Helsinki Citizens Assembly (HCA)
On 15 September 2015, thousands of Syrians tried to cross the Turkey border with Greece, hoping to reach Germany. In the Turkish refugee camp they were living in terrible conditions there was the rumor that the Greece border was open to refugees, so many of them started to walk from Istanbul to Edirne (almost 300 km), the last city before the border. The Turkish police forces were blocking the border and many of them were moved in the stadium of Edirne. HCA went to this stadium with an ambulance for medical support, but the Governorship didn’t allow them to provide medical support to the refugees, claiming that there were already several ambulances, although there were none. After 4-5 days the hygienic conditions were critical and they could have access to the hospitals because of the ID card. After the Edirne crisis, several of these problems were addressed and now refugees can have access to medicines and to free medical health care in hospitals.
Mustafa Kurter, from the Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly (HCA) collected the testimonies of many refugees staying at Erdine: many of them did not want to stay in Turkey, believing they could create a new life for them and their families just in Europe.
They escaped from war and death in Syria, looking for hope in Turkey but they couldn’t find it. In the five days that Mustafa spent in Erdine, trying to support the migrants stuck in this improvised camp, there is one image of those days that he cannot forget. On the third day, it was raining and everybody was looking for shelter. Everybody but one inconsolable man, who just sit in the middle of the stadium with his arms open asking repeatedly “Why?” to a silent sky.
Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly ( HCA ) has a Psychological and Primary Health Care Clinic to Syrian refugees in Kilis which is technically and financially supported by Medicine Sans Frontiers – Spain. They have been running this clinic for almost 3 years, helping over 100.000 refugees.
More information on Helsinki Citizens Assembly and its activities can be found here