July 2-8, 2019

U.S. Border Detention Crisis

A delegation from the House of Representatives visited migrant detention facilities on Monday, reporting back alarming conditions from their visits, including detainees drinking from toilets, abuse by guards, as well as severe overcrowding in cells. During their visit, a report surfaced of a Facebook group populated mostly by Border Patrol and ICE employees sharing salacious memes about politicians and advocates calling for improvements in the detention centers and derisive exchanges about migrants attempting to enter the United States. Another report surfaced on the next day revealing that Department of Homeland Security's internal watchdog had warned of deteriorating conditions in May, contradicting the Administration's claim that the alarming conditions reported in late June were sudden or hereto then unknown. The Office of the Inspector General released the report on Tuesday, revealing widespread overcrowding in reception facilities and delays in releasing detainees whose processing had been completed and were thus cleared for departure. On Tuesday, a Federal Judge struck down a policy announced in March 2019 that would have made it possible to deny bail and release on bond to asylum seekers pending their court date and instead keep them in detention throughout their wait for a court date. At the end of last week, a Nicaraguan man died in an Arizona hospital after him and 36 other migrants turned themselves in to the Border Patrol. He is the 12th person to die in U.S. immigration authorities since last September. Over the weekend, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michele Bachelet stated that, as a pediatrician and as a mother, she was appalled by the conditions in which U.S. authorities are keeping detained asylum seekers.

Sources: the Guardian, ProPublica, NBC News, Texas Tribune, CNN, Reuters.

U.S. Asylum Policy Developments

As the Administration expands its Remain in Mexico policy, reports have emerged from press sources, Human Rights Watch, and Doctors Without Borders, of widespread insecurity and abuse against asylum seekers in Mexican border towns. The Migrant Protection Protocol, commonly known as Remain in Mexico, stipulates that asylum seekers who have lodged an application for asylum in the United States must return to Mexico and wait there as US authorities adjudicate the case.

Sources: Texas Observer, Human Rights Watch, Huffington Post, ABC News

Migrant Detention Crisis in Libya

44 people perished in a migrant detention center near Tripoli, after the warehouse where 120 were detained was hit in an airstrike. The tragedy, described by U.N. Libya envoy Ghassan Salame as a war crime, highlights the cost of the EU's policy of supporting the Libyan Coast Guard in intercepting migrant maritime departures to return them to detention centers in Libya. A closed-door meeting of the UN Security Council adjourned on Tuesday without a joint statement condemning the attack, reportedly due to U.S. opposition to proposed language drafted by the British delegation to the UN. Reports surfaced on Thursday that the Libyan government is considering closing all migrant detention centers, and also that guards at the stricken center prevented migrants from fleeing when the attack began, shooting at some who attempted to run away. Further reports emerged of Libyan militias using asylum seekers as human shields, detaining them near their ammunition stores and of abusing those who speak out to visiting foreign officials. Despite appeals from the UN, however, the European Commission refused to consider suspending its policy of supporting Libya's coast guard to intercept and return migrants to Libya. The IOM signaled on Thursday that migrant routes in the Sahara are becoming more dangerous as Niger security forces patrol and intercept smugglers, leading to migrants being taken on more remote routes, or abandoned more frequently by smugglers trying to evade capture.

Sources: NPR, Deutsche-Welle, the Guardian, the Irish Times, EU Observer.

Mediterranean Search and Rescue

An Italian court cleared Sea-Watch captain Carola Rackete of all charges against her stemming from her unauthorized entry into Italian waters and into the harbor of Lampedusa late in the prior week. Rackete was moved by Sea-Watch to a secret location shortly after her release due to threats against her life. A boat with an over 80 asylum seekers capsized off the Tunisian coast on Thursday, after setting sail from Libya, according to four survivors rescued by local fishermen. As of Monday, July 8, 16 bodies had been recovered. Over the weekend, another two ships from German NGO Sea-Eye defied warnings and performed rescues in the Mediterranean; the Alex defied Italy's ban and docked in Lampedusa, while the Aylan Kurdi was allowed to dock in Malta. Germany's Development Minister Gerd Müller stated in a newspaper interview published on Monday July 8 that the EU should relaunch rescue operations in the Mediterrenean, and also rescue asylum seekers on Libyan soil, without unanimous consent from EU member states if needed.

Sources: Reuters, the Guardian, Agence France-Presse, BBC, Politico Europe.

Greek General Election

Kyriakos Mitsotakis of the center-right New Democracy party won last Sunday's general election, and was inaugurated on Monday, July 8. Last Monday, on a visit to Samos, Mitsotakis criticized outgoing Prime Minister Tsipras’ handling of asylum seeker arrivals to Greece, pledging to speed up the asylum petition review process, the decongestion of frontline Aegean islands, and removals of rejected petitioners to Turkey. Greece's new Parliament will, for the first time in 7 years, have no representation from the extreme far-right party Golden Dawn.

Sources: Ekathimerini, the National Herald

Australian Asylum Practices

Opposition leaders in Australia criticized the government's treatment of asylum seekers this week, after reports emerged over the weekend of medically transferred asylum seekers being kept in substandard conditions and under heavy surveillance, without access to outdoor spaces or even to their balconies. The Australian government began proceedings last week to repeal the Medavac law that makes it possible for detained asylum seekers to obtain medical treatment in Australia.

Sources: the Guardian, Al Jazeera.

UK Fast-Track Asylum Appeal

A UK High Court sustained a deported Ugandan woman's appeal against the rejection of her asylum petition in 2013. The Court found that her rejection was caused by the flawed nature of the fast-track process, which did not give petitioners enough time to prepare their cases, leading to a 99% rejection rate. While the Court had ruled against the fast-track process and shut it down in 2015, this woman's appeal is the first reversal of a rejection, and may set a precedent for the reversal of thousands of similar asylum rejections and removals from U.K. soil. 

Sources: the Independent.

UNHCR Urges Action on Refugee Resettlement

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi issued a statement on Monday demanding that the world’s developed nations do more to help developing nations hosting the vast majority of the world’s refugees. Grandi forecast that, by next year, there would be 1.5 million refugees worldwide needing resettlement, the majority distributed between the Horn of Africa (450.000), Turkey (420.000), and the Middle East and North Africa (250.000).

Sources: Deutsche-Welle.

Syrian Refugees in Lebanon

Lebanese authorities made good on their promise to begin demolishing the homes of Syrian refugees in Lebanon which inhabitants themselves had not demolished by the end of June. Military units began destroying homes in the settlement of Arsal this first week July.  Authorities do not allow refugees to build homes with walls higher than 1 meter in Lebanon.

Sources: Al Jazeera.

Refugee Returns to Myanmar

151 Karen refugees returned from Thailand to Myanmar last Monday, accompanied by Thai and UNHCR officials. Since 2016, about 900 Karen refugees have returned from Thailand to Myanmar. Over the weekend, UNHCR reported that heavy monsoon rains flooded refugee camps in Cox’s Bazaar, destroying 273 shelters, injuring 11 people, and displacing 2.137 refugees. Food stores and other infrastructure have also been damaged in the flooding.

Sources: the Bangkok Post, UNHCR.

Joel Hernàndez