August 13-19, 2019

U.S. Migration Policy Developments

U.S. authorities are pursuing imprisonment against at least six immigrant workers detained in an unprecedented raid of poultry processing plants in Alabama last week, pressing charges of failure to depart and illegal re-entry. In an interview last week, Guatemalan President-elect Giammatei doubled down on his refusal to honor the safe third country agreement being developed between the U.S. and current Guatemalan governments, stating that Guatemala is unable to take care of its own, let alone others, and that he will lobby the current Guatemalan government to slow down or reverse its current negotiations. Late last week, the State Department announced it would continue working with the current Guatemalan administration to implement the deal, and that remaining issues could be resolved in time for implementation to begin in August.

Sources: Huffington Post, Associated Press, ABC News. 

U.S. Border Management & Detention

An appeals court ruled on Thursday that children in migrant detention centers must be provided toothpaste and soap and cannot be sleep deprived, dismissing the Administration's reasoning that individual agencies could decide on their own how to interpret what it means to provide safe and sanitary conditions. According to data released by ICE last week, nearly 9.000 detainees in ICE custody have passed credible fear interviews, meaning they have passed the first step of their asylum seeking process. Under past administrations, asylum seekers at this stage would be released on bond from detention. A review of legal challenges by families of children separated at the border this week revealed widespread abuse, including sexual abuse, of children housed in foster homes across the United States. Last week, a former Border Patrol agent who had called migrants ‘subhuman’ and used his patrol vehicle to intentionally run over a Guatemalan migrant he found in the desert in Arizona, pleaded guilty in court to violating the rights of migrants and will face up to one year in prison and fines of up to $100,000. IOM announced late last week that the number of migrant deaths in the Americas exceeded 500 in the first half of this year, a 33% increase from last year, attributing the increase to Venezuela’s displacement crisis.

Sources: CBS News, BuzzFeed, Frontline, the New York Times, the Associated Press.

Venezuelan Refugee Crisis

As U.S. authorities prepare a new round of sanctions against Venezuela's government, Colombia is bracing for a new influx of Venezuelan asylum seekers, despite already hosting 1.4 million. Over the last two weeks, UN High Commissioner for Refugees Grandi has visited Chile and Brazil to meet with national leaders, praise regional efforts to welcome displaced Venezuelans, and call for greater support for regional actors responding to the crisis. 

Sources: Al-Jazeera, UNHCR.

UK Home Office's Asylum Policy in the Spotlight

The Home Office's policy of changing the locks of rejected asylum seekers to evict them from government-provided accommodation fell into the spotlight this week. One Gambian woman whose case was still ongoing was mistakenly locked out of her room, without being given time to collect her belongings or medication. Once the responsible contractor realized the mistake, the locksmith was forced to break the door to re-open it. In Glasgow, as many as 300 asylum seekers live under fear of eviction; though local authorities have no control over UK immigration policy, local authorities recently prevented the eviction of 50 failed asylum seekers. The Scottish Human Rights Commission's lawsuit against the Glasgow contractor threatening these evictions, alleging they violate asylum seekers’ human rights, will be heard at the end of August.

Sources: the Guardian, Al-Jazeera, Holyrod.

Mediterranean Search-and-Rescue

A two-week standoff between Spanish Open Arms NGO rescue ship and Italian Interior Minister Salvini came to a head over the weekend. Last Friday, Italian Prime Minister Conte announced the ship to dock in the port of Lampedusa, following an agreement to relocate them to France, Germany, Romania, Portugal, Spain and Luxembourg, but Italian authorities never formally authorized it to dock. This Monday, Open Arms declined an offer to dock in Algeciras, Spain, arguing that the situation on board was dire and that passengers could not sustain another six days at sea. The stand-off over this ship widened a growing rift between Italy's hard-line Interior Minister Salvini and the rest of the government, increasing the possibility of a dissolution in Italy's coalition government. The sole survivor of another shipwreck, rescued last week by the Maltese Coast Guard, reported over the weekend that although he saw multiple ships pass the dinghy in which he and, initially, 14 others were adrift, none attempted to help. German Chancellor Merkel called last Thursday for the EU to resume maritime rescue operations in the Mediterranean, suspended since March in favor of aerial monitoring.

Sources: El País, Al-Jazeera, BBC, Reuters, Deutsche-Welle.

European Migration Trends

The Swiss Secretariat for Migration released figures today revealing that asylum applications to Switzerland declined by 10% in the first half of 2019, compared to the same period in 2018, after seeing a 15% decline in asylum applications in 2018 compared to 2017. The three top countries of origin thus far in 2019 were Eritrea, Afghanistan, and Syria. In Bosnia, reports emerged last week of conditions for asylum seekers steadily worsening as Slovenian and Croatian border police carry push people back to Bosnia, and as Bosnia's weak central government struggles to implement unified migration policies. Spanish authorities released data last week demonstrating that irregular migration into Spain in the first half of 2019 is 39% lower than over the same period in 2019. Over the weekend, German Interior Minister Seehofer issued a stark warning to Syrian refugees in Germany, warning that those who visit Syria for holidays cannot credibly claim to fear persecution, and announced that Germany will consider revoking their asylum.

Sources: SwissInfo, the New Humanitarian, Deutsche-Welle.

Rohingya Refugees across southeast Asia

A year after a new government entered into power in Malaysia, promising reforms of the asylum system and to allow refugees to work, reports emerged last week of significant distress among the 175.000 asylum seekers in Malaysia, about half of whom are Rohingya displaced from Myanmar, for whom the pace of reform is glacially slow. Myanmar and Bangladesh announced last Friday that they will initiate the repatriation of about 3.500 Rohingya refugees next week, provided that they agree to return to Myanmar. A UNICEF report released over the weekend reveals that there are 250.000 Rohingya children in Bangladesh receiving only informal educational support, and another 25.000 receiving no education at all, and that 97% of all Rohingya children aged 15-18 in Bangladesh have no access to education.

Sources: Reuters, Dhaka Tribune, Voice of America.

Joel Hernàndez