September 2-9, 2019

Migration Developments in Greece

Greek authorities carried out the transfer of 1.400 asylum seekers from Moria to northern Greece this week, with about 1.000 being transferred temporarily to the Nea Kavala camp, pending their relocation to another camp currently under construction. With this process ongoing, the Greek government also pledged further transfers to the mainland, to speed up Greece’s asylum process, and to facilitate repatriations to Turkey or to countries of origin. Riots broke out in Moria following the transfers, while individuals transferred to Nea Kavala expressed shock at conditions there and disappointment at the lack of improvement from conditions in Moria. Over the weekend, Greek Prime Minister Mitsotakis issued a stern warning to Turkey not to try to coerce Europe with threats, after statements from multiple Turkish politicians that they might reopen the coastline to uncontrolled migration if Turkey does not receive assistance setting up a safe zone in Syria to which it could send back Syrian refugees. Mitsotakis also criticized EU states for not doing more to relieve the burden on Greece.

Sources: Ekathimerini, EuroNews, the Globe Post, the National UAE, Deutsche-Welle.

Mediterranean Search-and-Rescue

The Eleonore, a search-and-rescue ship belonging to the German charity Lifeline, was seized by Italian authorities after docking in Sicily last Tuesday and disembarking the 100 asylum seekers it had rescued in the Mediterranean 8 days prior. On the same day, the Mare Jonio, belonging to Italian charity Mediterranea Saving Humans announced it would dock in Lampedusa to disembark 35 asylum seekers it had rescued in the Mediterranean, while the Aylan Kurdi, as of last week, continued to wait for a safe port to disembark. Outgoing Italian Interior Minister Salvini had authorities seize the Eleonore, and announced it would seek to fine it for entering Italian waters without permission, while the Mare Jonio was seized by authorities and Mediterranea Saving Humans fined 300.000€.  The Ocean Viking, back at sea after disembarking rescued asylum seekers onto a Maltese ship last week, rescued 50 asylum seekers off the Libyan coast this weekend, including a pregnant woman and 12 children.

Sources: Agence France-Presse/Jiji Press, the Independent, the Local, the Associated Press.

European Migration Trends

Spain and Morocco announced last week they would work more closely to counter irregular migration, on the heels of a breach by 150 people, the largest all year, of the border fence between Morocco and Spain’s African enclave of Ceuta. Italy formed its new government last week, with the Interior Ministry handed to Luciana Lamorgese, a longtime civil servant inside the Ministry, and a more moderate figure than her predecessor Salvini. German police documented just over 600 attacks on refugees and asylum seekers in the first half of 2019, amid 8,605 right-wing extremist offenses documented in the same period. Turkish President Erdoğan threatened last week that, unless the international community works together to create a Safe Zone in northern Syria, Turkey would allow refugees to enter Europe in large numbers again.

Sources: Reuters, Deutsche-Welle the Guardian.

UK Asylum Policy and Practice in the Spotlight

Help Refugees and Lord Dubs denounced last week the Home Office’s announcement that, in the event of a no-deal Brexit, the UK would no longer be bound by the Dublin Regulation or any family reunification obligations, with Help Refugees warning that this would push more children to try to use smugglers, and Dubs pledging to raise the issue in Parliament forthright. A study by the opposition Liberal Democratic Party last week revealed that, between 2016 and 2018, the Home Office rejected about 3.100 asylum applications from LGBTI claimants, denouncing a culture of disbelief at the Home Office that returns LGBTI applicants to countries where homosexuality is persecuted.

Sources: the Independent, the Guardian.

Migrant Detention and Repatriation in Africa

Amnesty International denounced late last week that Tanzania and Burundi have agreed to an accelerated timetable for the repatriation of Burundian refugees from Tanzania. Earlier in the week, survivors of the July 2 air strike on the migrant detention in Tajoura, who had marched to a UNHCR center in protest and to seek safety, were ordered out of the center and back to Tripoli’s streets over the weekend. In South Africa, riot police dispersed a violent crowd last week trying to attack immigrants living in Johannesburg, following rumors of the murder of a South African taxi driver by a Nigerian drug dealer earlier in the week.

Sources: Amnesty International, the Irish Times, Bloomberg.

U.S. Migration Policy Developments

Reports surfaced last week of a substantial rise in the number of Cubans applying for asylum in Mexico, from 218 in all of 2018 to 4.604 between January and August of this year, as migration across Mexico becomes more difficult and as Cubans, as of January 2017, no longer receive automatic refugee status recognition in the United States and must apply through the same strained channels as all other asylum seekers. Last week, the head of the Asylum Division of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services was removed, in a move widely seen as a response to his criticism of the Administration’s migration policies.

Sources: the Guardian, BuzzFeed, Politico. 

U.S. Border Management & Detention

A report from the Office of the Inspector General released last week reveals that migrant children separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border and detained suffered intense trauma, as a result of ineffective procedures, insufficient specialist staff, and poor training among non-specialist staff. Notably, the report found that the longer children were held in detention, the greater the psychiatric effects and need for care. Late last week, a 8½ months pregnant Salvadorean woman started having contractions after entering the United States to seek asylum. U.S. authorities had her taken to the hospital where treatment was administered to interrupt her contractions, after which she was sent back to Mexico as part of the Remain in Mexico program. A federal judge last week ordered U.S. authorities to allow 11 parents who were separated from their children and deported to be allowed back into the United States, to reunite with their children and be allowed to lodge asylum petitions. Last week, U.S. authorities announced that irregular border crossings from Mexico had dropped to half of their peak of 130.000 last May. Reports surfaced last week that the Administration is failing to fund legal aid services at at least 3 shelters for migrant unaccompanied minors, despite federal law requiring this service be provided at all times.

Sources: Politico, the Associated Press, Bloomberg, the Huffington Post.

International Refugee Resettlement

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Grandi urged Japanese authorities to do more for those demanding asylum in Japan, denouncing that Japan’s refugee recognition rate of 0.25% and its long-term detention of asylum seekers are not acceptable. Reports surfaced last week that the Administration will convene a high-level meeting next week to discuss next year's refugee resettlement ceiling, which hardliners within the administration are reportedly attempting to cut down from last year's 30.000 to a historic low of 10.000-15.000.

Sources: Japan Today, the New York Times.

Rohingya Refugees in Bangladesh

Last week, Bangladeshi authorities banned mobile phone companies from continuing to provide coverage or sell SIM cards at Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh. Bangladeshi authorities issued a rule in late August whereby only Bangladeshi nationals, holder of a national ID card, would be allowed to possess local SIM cards. Local authorities allege that cell phone service is being abused for drug trafficking, while Rohingya community leaders have voiced concerns that this will limit their ability to communicate or to send and receive remittances.

Sources: the Economist, the New York Times, Al Jazeera.

Australian Asylum Policy

U.S. authorities announced last week that asylum seekers held in offshore detention in Papua-New Guinea, but transferred to Australia for medical treatment, would be able to be processed for resettlement to the United States from Australia (until this announcement, the process could only be advanced offshore). While 619 asylum seekers have achieved resettlement to the United States in the last two years, advocates hope this change will make it possible for this number to double. Criticism surfaced this week of Australia's harsh policies against asylum seekers arriving by boat, compared to its lax admission of those arriving with tourist visas by plane, many of whom turn out not to have bona fide claims to refugee status.

Sources: the Guardian , the Economist.

Joel Hernàndez