July 29-August 5

U.S. Asylum Policy Developments

Attorney General Barr ruled on Monday that asylum seekers fearing a threat issued against their family, rather than directly against them, will no longer be eligible for asylum. Last Monday, Guatemalan Prosecutor for Human Rights Jordán Rodas filed a complaint with the Constitutional Court seeking to invalidate the safe third country agreement signed by Guatemala and the United States last week. A report emerged over the weekend reflecting profound doubts across both the U.S. and Guatemalan governments as to Guatemala's capacity to enforce the agreement, and, last week, Secretary of Homeland Security McAleenan announced that he would be seeking similar safe third country agreements with Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador, Panama and Brazil. On the same day, Mexican President López Obrador announced that he would not pursue or sign a safe third country agreement with the United States. Mexican authorities announced last Wednesday that arrivals to its border with the United States were down by 40% since Mexico launched new immigration controls last May. Last Friday, a federal judge struck down a rule that barred asylum seekers who had entered the U.S. via irregular means from soliciting asylum, arguing it violates U.S. immigration law. 

Sources: NPR, Associated Press, Bloomberg, Reuters, the New York Times.

U.S. Border Management & Detention

Internal communications surfaced last Monday showing that, when preparing the Remain in Mexico policy, officials at the Department of Homeland Security had intended to ask asylum seekers if they feared being returned to Mexico or any other country before a decision was made to send them back, but that this question was removed from the policy by the Administration. On Tuesday, further reports emerged showing that Stephen Miller, immigration advisor to the President, is pushing for border patrol agents, rather than asylum officers, to conduct credible fear interviews at the border, on the hope that fewer asylum seekers would be found to have a credible fear of persecution if returned to their country of origin. A court filing from the American Civil Liberties Union revealed last week that despite the ostensible end to the Administration's family separation policy a year ago, over 900 children have been separated from their parents by border authorities in the intervening time. On Thursday, doctors from the universities of Harvard and Johns Hopkins called for an investigation into the death of three asylum seeker children in detention since December 2018. On the same day, Customs and Border Protection also announced a 32 year-old Salvadoran man had died in custody in a detention center in New Mexico. Reports emerged over the weekend of dreadful conditions in migrant holding centers along the U.S.-Mexico border holding returnees to Mexico under the Migrant Protection Protocol, and in Mexico's interior holding migrants detained by Mexican authorities before they reached Mexico's northern border.  

Sources: BuzzFeed, NBC News, the New York Times, CBS News, NBC News, the Los Angeles Times.

Mediterranean Search-and-Rescue

The EU brokered an agreement last week to allow two rescue boats carrying 116 and 135 asylum seekers to disembark in Italy. The passengers of the first boat will be relocated to France, Germany, Portugal, Luxembourg, and Ireland, while the Catholic Church will help receive the passengers of the second boat in Italy. An EU Commission spokeswoman hailed the agreement and called for further ad hoc deals to enable further maritime rescue in the Mediterranean. On the day this announcement was made, Sea-Eye's rescue ship Alan Kurdi rescued 40 asylum seekers and set sail toward Lampedusa, despite complaints from Italian Interior Minister Salvini that they should disembark in Libya rather than in Italy. After Salvini definitively closed Italian waters to the Alan Kurdi, Maltese Prime Minister Muscat announced a deal with other EU countries to redistribute the passengers and allowed the ship to dock in Malta. While all asylum seekers rescued by the Alan Kurdi will be disembarked and relocated, it is unclear what will happen to another 121 asylum seekers rescued last week by the Open Arms rescue ship. Reports surfaced over the weekend that the EU has begun deploying aerial drones over the Mediterranean in order to surveil asylum seeker maritime crossings.

Sources: Reuters, Deutsche-Welle, the Guardian, EuroNews.

European Migration Trends

Denmark announced last week it will resume receiving resettled refugees from UNHCR's quota system this year, after a 3-year hiatus. At the end of last week, an Italian court acquitted Medhanie Tesfamariam Berhe, who had been mistakenly arrested for human trafficking and held in detention for three years while his trial proceeded. Incoming President of the European Commission Von der Leyden visited Italy last week, pledging to work toward a common European migration policy that is more effective and more humane. In Iceland, a controversy is coming to a head over the impending deportation of 2 Afghan families to Greece under the Dublin Regulation, despite the vulnerable status of these families.

Sources: the Local, the Guardian, Deutsche-Welle, Iceland Review.

Refugee Returns to Myanmar

Myanmar Foreign Minister U Myint Thu visited Bangladesh this week to discuss voluntary returns to Myanmar with Rohingya leaders and Bangladeshi government officials. Although participants reported that the talks were cordial, Rohingya leaders were unsatisfied with the talks, given that rather than being offered citizenship, they were offered a path to eventual naturalization beginning with applying for a national verification card, which Rohingya leaders fear will be used to further persecute them. by Myanmar's government. UNHCR announced this week the return of 300 Karen refugees from Thailand to south-east Myanmar, pursuant to a 2016 voluntary repatriation agreement between the two countries. 

Sources: Associated Press, Agence France-Presse, Voice of America, UNHCR.

Conditions for Asylum Seekers in Turkey and Libya

As pressure against Syrian refugees rises in Turkey, human rights groups have increased their criticism against authorities’ harsh crackdown. Libyan Interior Minister Bashagha announced last week that Libyan authorities are planning to close the detention centers of Misrata, Tajoura, and Khoms, though it is not clear when this will happen, or how authorities planned to prevent overcrowding at other centers as a result. 

Sources: Voice of America, BBC.

Joel Hernàndez