August 5-13, 2019

U.S. Migration Policy Developments

A report emerged this week that the State Department has dramatically increased its rejection of immigration visas on the basis that a potential immigrant might become a public charge, drawing welfare benefits rather than contributing taxes to the state. Thus far in Fiscal Year 2019, 5.343 Mexican applicants have been denied on this ground, and 12,179 total applications, against just 7 denials of Mexican applicants, and 1.033 total, in FY 2016, the last year of the Obama Administration. U.S. authorities announced last week they would extend temporary protected status for Syrian immigrants in the United States, which was due to expire in September 2019, for another 18 months. Last Thursday, on the first day of school in Mississippi, an unprecedented immigration raid led to the detention of 680 undocumented immigrants in one day, some of whom had been living in the United States for a decade or more. Over the weekend, Alejandro Giammattei, a conservative law-and-order hardliner and avowed opponent of the safe third country agreement recently signed between Guatemala and the United States, won Guatemala's Presidential election and announced that the deal was wrong for Guatemala and that he would try to alter it once in office.

Sources: Politico, the New Humanitarian, the New York Times, Reuters.

U.S. Border Management & Detention

On Wednesday, an immigration judge in San Diego granted asylum to Alec, the first person caught in the Remain in Mexico program to receive asylum in the United States. However, and despite the judge ordering that the Honduran man be released in the United States, DHS reserved the right to appeal the case, allowing it to keep Alec in custody, and possibly to send him back to Mexico pending his appeal (Alex was eventually released to a sponsor within the United States). Reports emerged last week of asylum seekers caught in the Remain in Mexico program being bused to reception points all over Mexico⁠—including to Chiapas, on the Guatemalan border⁠—and of increasing numbers of asylum seekers giving up on their claims rather than await their court dates in Mexico.

Sources: the Los Angeles Times, Courthouse News Service, the Tucson Sentinel, the Texas Tribune.

Venezuelan Refugee Crisis

Colombia announced last week that it would grant citizenship to 24.000 displaced Venezuelan children born in Colombia, offering a solution to a potential statelessness crisis in Latin America. As Venezuela's crisis continues roiling, new data is emerging that suggests the refugee population is shifting from a majority of able-bodied men to more vulnerable groups: pregnant women, the elderly, people with disabilities, and people with chronic illnesses.

Sources: the Washington Post

Refugee Arrivals to Greece and Evolving Migration Policy

The beginning of August saw a significant spike in arrivals to Greece's Aegean islands, with Turkey's coast guard reporting they intercepted over 3.000 asylum seekers attempting to cross between July 29 and August 4, and Greek authorities reporting over 1.300 arrivals in that same time span. In a newspaper interview late last week, Alternate Minister for Citizens’ Protection Koumoutsakos, who manages Greece’s migration policy, voiced his strong concern at this sudden spike in arrivals, and called for greater solidarity from Europe, noting that, this year, there will be more asylum petitions lodged in Lesvos and Samos than in Austria and Finland.

Sources: the National Herald, Ekathimerini.

Mediterranean Search-and-Rescue

The Italian Senate passed legislation toughening sanctions for NGO ships bringing rescued asylum seekers into Italian waters last week, incorporating fines of up to €1M, imprisonment for ship captains, and immediate seizure of the ships of NGOs who break Italian law into Italy's penal code. Both the EU and the UN have voiced concern over the Security Decree B, though neither have yet to take firm action. The IOM reported last Wednesday that 39.289 migrants have entered Europe by sea thus far in 2019, a 34% decrease from the figure of 59.271 for the same period last year. In these same time periods, fatalities in the Mediterranean have declined by 45% from 1.517 to 840.

Sources: Reuters, the Local, IOM.

European Migration Trends

UK authorities announced last week that 50 asylum seekers who had been intercepted trying to cross the English Channel would be repatriated to France. As of late July, there have been 1.150 crossing attempts so far this year. Cypriot Interior Minister Petrides announced last week he would personally ask Dutch authorities to take in asylum seekers currently in Cyprus, noting that Cypriot authorities are overwhelmed and that his faith in EU-based solutions gone, he will approach EU states individually for support. Petrides requested support from the EU as well. Last Tuesday, the EU and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime announced a 3-year effort to help Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, and Morocco disrupt and dismantle migrant smuggling networks. Germany's Institute for Employment Research announced last week that it is pleasantly surprised by the rate of refugee absorption into the German labor market, indicating that about 400.000 refugees are employed, about 50% of them in skilled professions. This week, preliminary analyses from EASO found that 337,200 asylum applications have been lodged thus far this year in Europe, a 10% jump from last year, with the main countries of origin being Syria, Afghanistan, and Venezuela, and the countries with the highest refugee status recognition rate being Syria and Yemen.

Sources: the Independent, NLTimes.NL, Politico Europe, the Daily News Egypt, EuroNews.

Australian Migration Policy

Australia's government announced last week reintroduced a bill that would loosen restrictions for revoking residency visas on character grounds, which could lead to a significant increase in deportations from Australia, particularly to New Zealand. Last week, Syrian refugee Hassan Al Kontar, who spent years in Australia's offshore detention system and was eventually able to attain resettlement in Canada, announced a campaign to sponsor 200 other offshore detainees for resettlement to Canada. At the beginning of this week, protesters gathered in Sydney outside of the home affairs department as part of recurring protests against Australia's issuance of temporary visas to asylum seekers found to have valid claims to refugee status.

Sources: the Guardian, CBC.

Displacement in Myanmar

Civil society groups in Minbya, a township in Myanmar, have put out an appeal for help to support internally displaced people fleeing conflict in Rakhine state between the national military and Arakan Army rebels. In less than two weeks, more than 6.000 IDPs have arrived to camps near Minbya, with many more feared trapped by the fighting. This week, the total number of displaced people was estimated to be as high as 60.000, as flooding due to the rainy season makes it exceedingly costly to open and maintain displaced people camps. Separately, UNHCR announced late last week that it had managed to issue biometric identification cards to over half a million Rohingya refugees currently living in Bangladesh, most of the receiving an official ID for the first time in their lives.

Sources: Myanmar Times, UN News.

Joel Hernàndez