July 15-22, 2019

U.S. Asylum Policy Developments

The Administration announced last Monday a safe third country rule, meaning that asylum seekers who did not apply for asylum in countries of transit would be ineligible to apply for asylum in the United States. This rule, protested by UNHCR, challenged by legal experts who argue the agreement exceeds the Administration’s statutory authority under the Immigration and Nationality Act, and disputed by the governments of Mexico and Guatemala, would effectively bar refugee status from those coming from Central America, unless they first requested asylum in Mexico and were turned down. The American Civil Liberties Union sued to have the rule blocked, and House Democrats drafted legislation which would allow asylum seekers to stay in the United States throughout their proceedings and provide free legal representation to those who need it but cannot afford it. Additionally, reports leaked late last week that the Administration is considering dropping the U.S. refugee resettlement cap to zero, or to numbers below 5.000.

Sources: Federal Register, UNHCR, Time Magazine, Lawfare, the New York Times, Politico, BuzzFeed.

U.S. Border Detention Crisis

The Administration's new asylum rule created further uncertainty at U.S. ports of entry where asylum seekers have been waiting for months to enter the United States. Border patrol and asylum officers were reportedly notified of the rule change just hours before it went into effect. There are currently about 900.000 asylum seekers in the United States awaiting adjudication, which creates a years-long backlog before cases are heard, and about 16.000 asylum seekers waiting across the border in northern Mexico to enter the United States to lodge asylum claims. Rare interviews with Border Patrol agents, alongside interviews with attorneys working in detention centers along the U.S.-Mexico border, opened a window into the day-to-day life of the individuals staffing these centers and the reactions of local community members as conditions deteriorated over the last two months. Senate Democrats visited detention centers at the border over the weekend and delivered strong criticism of the Administration upon their return, accusing border authorities of treating asylum seekers like criminals, while a report emerged this Monday of woeful shortcomings in ICE's capacity to treat mentally ill detainees, who number several thousand and comprise up to 30% of all detained migrants, and most of whom are held in facilities without any mental health support capacity. 

Sources: NPR, the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, ProPublica, Politico.

New Migration Policy Announcements in Greece

Greek Prime Minister Mitsotakis met with EU Migration Commissioner Avramopoulos last Monday to discuss his newly-inaugurated government's priorities to reform migration policy in Greece. Mitsotakis outlined six priorities: improving living conditions in receptions centers, bolstering land and maritime border control, overhauling and accelerating the asylum determination system, properly applying the EU-Turkey deal, completing an expanded reception center in Samos, and adopting European regulations on citizen security. Greek authorities arrested 15 people on suspicion of fraud and human smuggling, including an airport official on the island of Kos, for issuing false documents to help asylum seekers travel from the islands to the mainland.

Sources: Associated Press, Ekathimerini.

Mediterranean Search-and-Rescue

EU Interior Ministers met last week to discuss reshaping search-and-rescue efforts in the Mediterranean, with France and Germany demanding the creation of a coalition of countries willing to take in asylum seekers rescued in Mediterranean waters, Italy demanding it not be the sole country of disembarkation, and EU Migration Commissioner Avramopoulos suggesting that ad hoc arrangements hold sway until the EU can reform its Common European Asylum System. The meeting broke up on Thursday without agreement on a common framework. Last Thursday, Sea-Watch III captain Carola Rackete was questioned by Italian prosecutors over charges of presumed facilitation of human trafficking, pursuant to her having rescued migrants in waters under Libyan Coast Guard jurisdiction and subsequent refusal to disembark them in Tripoli. Over the weekend, Médecins Sans Frontières and S.O.S. Méditerranée, who had suspended activities in the Mediterranean last December, announced they were resuming search-and-rescue operations in the Mediterranean. This Monday, Interior Ministers again met in Paris to discuss burden-sharing across Europe to receive asylum seekers rescued at sea, ahead of meetings between French President Macron and UNHCR leaders.

Sources: Channel News Asia, Deutsche-Welle, France 24, BBC, Associated Press.

European Migration Trends

Last Monday, Croatian President Grabar-Kitarović admitted last Monday that border police have been pushing asylum seekers back across the border into Bosnia, but denied that these push-backs were unlawful or that police used excessive force in carrying them out. Her acknowledgement of this practice breaks with Croatia's policy, hereto now, of denying they were taking place. Later in the week, Germany's Federal Statistics Office released updated population figures, revealing that the German population reached a record 83 million in 2018, and that although net migration has fallen and asylum seeker arrivals stood below 100.000, arrivals from Eastern European EU countries contributed to keeping net immigration at 400.000 in 2018. The data suggests that, despite the drop in asylum seeker arrivals, Germany's strong economy and labor shortages, combined with the ageing of Germany's population and stagnation of its domestic workforce growth, will continue drawing migration to Germany for years to come. Last week, the European Commission approved €1.41 billion in humanitarian assistance to Turkey, as part of the 2015 EU-Turkey deal. 

Sources: the Guardian, Reuters, Anadolu News Agency.

Australian Migration Policy 

The internal correspondence of high-ranking figures of the Australian military surfaced last Monday, revealing concern among Australian defense forces about their lack of readiness for climate change events, as well as at the prospect of a surge in migration from impoverished and climate change affected populations in the region. Later in the week, the Australian government declined calls to process the ‘legacy’ asylum cases of 30.000 asylum seekers who arrived between 2009 and 2013, before the inauguration of Australia's offshore detention policy, and whose asylum petitions remain pending. Newly-inaugurated Prime Minister Marape urged Australia to relocate 450 asylum seekers stranded in Papua-New Guinea after the October 2017 closure of the Manus Island detention center, and Governor Benjamin of Manus Island reinforced the message, requesting that every element of Australia's asylum system on the island be dismantled. New Zealand Prime Minister Arndern has repeated over the weekend her willingness to resettle refugees from Australia's offshore asylum processing centers in Manus Island and Nauru should Australia wish to initiate the resettlement process.

Sources: Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Voice of America, the Guardian, Sydney Morning Herald.

International Humanitarian Funding Trends

Secretary General Egeland of the Norwegian Refugee Council stated this week that international humanitarian NGOs have seen only 27% of their funding requests met thus far this year, deploring harsh cutbacks from donors at a time where international crises are growing. His comments follow on findings by the OECD that international aid funding declined by 2,7% from 2017 to 2018, and that, since 2017, aid to least-developed countries has fallen by 3%, aid to Africa by 4%, and humanitarian aid by 8%. The crisis in Cameroon, caused by a combination of internal conflict and cross-border displacement provoked by Boko Haram in Nigeria, is particularly neglected, with funding needs only 20% met as of mid-2019.

Sources: the Guardian, OECD.

Forced Migration into Uganda

A flare-up in conflict in Ituri Province of the Democratic Republic of the Congo has led to a surge in refugee flows to Uganda, with many risking drowning while crossing Lake Alberta. Since June, daily arrivals have risen to 300. As of mid-2019, Uganda was already hosting over 1 million refugees, 350.000 of them from the DRC.

Sources: Voice of America.

Venezuelan Refugees in Brazil

As Venezuelans keep fleeing economic and political distress, Brazilian military authorities, with support from UNHCR and USAID, have set up a highly functional reception system at the Pacaraima border crossing. Paracaima receives about 800 arrivals per day, where authorities and NGOs offer shelter and sustenance, ahead of relocation to other parts of the country arranged by Brazil's government. The improvement in the quality of reception from a year ago seems linked with Brazil's political transition, one year ago, to an Administration hostile to Venezuela's government and friendly with its opposition.

Source: Public Radio International.

Joel Hernàndez