Bulgaria bears a “big responsibility” for protecting the European Union’s external borders and should do so “in full respect” of migrants’ human rights, says Europe’s senior minister for migration, Dimitris Avramopoulos.

Bulgarian border police stand near a barbed wire fence on the Bulgarian-Turkish border on July 17, 2014. 

© 2014 Reuters

Speaking in the country’s capital, Sofia, Avramopoulos, the European commissioner for migration, home affairs and citizenship, said Bulgaria had the EU’s support as well as his “personal commitment” as it seeks to police Europe’s outer frontiers.

But can Avramopoulos really be confident that Bulgaria will respect migrants' rights in the way he hopes? Its track record suggests not.

Take the case of 16-year-old ‘Abdullah’ from Afghanistan, who experienced Bulgaria’s “respect” first hand.

“When Bulgarian police saw us, we tried to run away,” he said. “They chased us with dogs and shot at us. There were five police. When they caught us, they started beating us. They kicked me and the others wherever they could reach. They did this for about an hour and threatened us with the dogs. They took my money and mobile.”

Abdullah (not his real name) is one of several migrants and asylum seekers who told Human Rights Watch about summary returns from Bulgaria, and violence both at its borders and inside detention centers in late 2015. These are not new problems; we also documented similar abuses in April and September 2014.

Yet Abdullah’s and hundreds of others’ similar testimonies have fallen on deaf ears at EU headquarters in Brussels. While Bulgaria has the right to protect its borders, it doesn’t have the right to summarily return people to Turkey or physically abuse them. By focusing on border protection, Avramopoulos missed the chance to press Bulgaria on violence against migrants and asylum seekers.

The commission should forcefully remind Bulgaria of EU laws and standards, and urge Bulgarian authorities to investigate these credible reports of abuses and bring them to a halt. Because ignoring Abdullah’s story won’t make the allegations go away, and resorting to violence is no way to manage the refugee crisis.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

(Beirut) – Qatar submitted documents to the United Nations on May 21, 2018, to join two core human rights treaties, following cabinet approval on March 14, Human Rights Watch said today. But Qatar’s accession to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights includes formal reservations that will deprive women and migrant workers of the treaties’ protections.

Qatar rejected gender equality provisions in marriage, divorce, and child custody on grounds that they contravene Sharia, or Islamic law. It also declared it would interpret several provisions in line with Sharia, including on defining cruel, inhuman, or degrading punishment – avoiding bans on capital and corporal punishment – minimum marriage ages, and freedom of religion. And it said it would interpret the term “trade unions” in accordance with its national law, limiting migrant workers’ rights to form unions.

“Qatar’s accession to these core human rights treaties is an important public commitment to uphold the rights of everyone in the country,” said Belkis Wille, senior Qatar researcher at Human Rights Watch. “But the government undercuts its own actions by falling back on tired and outdated carve-outs to reject equal rights for women and migrant workers.”

Qatar is the third country of the Gulf Cooperation Council states to ratify both covenants, following Kuwait and Bahrain.

Qatar’s reservations relating to equal rights between men and women in marriage, divorce, and child custody are done on religious grounds, a position similar to that of several other countries that cite Sharia or other religious personal status laws for making such reservations. Qatar’s personal status law discriminates against women by requiring a male guardian to approve their marriage. The law gives men a unilateral right to divorce while requiring women to apply to the courts for divorce on limited grounds and women are required to obey their husbands.

Qatar also provides that fathers retain guardianship over their children following divorce even if the mother has custody. In most cases, boys live with their mother until age 13 and girls until age 15, when they automatically move to their father’s custody unless the court rules otherwise or extends the custody in the best interest of the child. Women, but not men, lose custody if they remarry. Under inheritance provisions, female siblings receive half the amount their brothers get.

Qatar also said it will interpret the right to profess and practice one’s own religion so that it “does not violate the rules of public order and public morals, the protection of public safe[t]y and public health, or the rights of and basic freedoms of others.” While people of other faiths can practice their religion in Qatar, the penal code prohibits proselytizing.

Article 116 of Qatar’s Labor Law allows only Qatari nationals the right to form workers’ associations or trade unions. As a result, migrant workers, who make up over 90 percent of the workforce, cannot exercise their rights to freedom of association and to form trade unions. 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

24 April 2018

Mr. Viktor Orbán
Prime Minister
1357 Budapest, Pf. 6.


Dear Prime Minister Orbán,

I am writing to you following the re-election of your party to government in Hungary. As you take up a new mandate and consider your priorities for Hungary, I would like to share with you recommendations for steps your government can take to improve the protection of human rights of everyone in Hungary.

Human Rights Watch is an international nongovernmental organization working in over 90 countries worldwide. Human Rights Watch has worked extensively on human rights in Hungary since 2011 and has engaged with authorities on a range of issues. We are aware that in the past you have not agreed with Human Rights Watch’s analysis and recommendations. Nevertheless, we hope as you commence a new term of office you will consider engaging with Human Rights Watch on Hungary’s human rights obligations.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban addresses the supporters after the announcement of the partial results of parliamentary election in Budapest, Hungary, April 8, 2018.

© 2018 Reuters

In recent years, Hungary has been scrutinised by United Nations, European Union and Council of Europe bodies and European institutions and human rights monitors for the effect of your government’s policies on human rights and the rule of law.

As Hungary enters into a new parliamentary term under your leadership, we hope you will take the opportunity to engage constructively with those institutions to which Hungary has a long-standing record of participation and commit to discuss and address their concerns.

We encourage you in particular to use your mandate to reaffirm the importance of civil society in a democratic society; enable a media landscape conducive to a pluralistic, facts-based debate; address legal and policy shortcomings with regards to the treatment of migrants and asylum seekers; and, ensure that public funds are not used to fuel xenophobia and intolerance.

Civil society

There has been a troubling pattern of efforts to impede and discredit the work of civil society organizations in Hungary in recent years, particularly those that receive funding from abroad or help migrants and asylum seekers. The draft legal package referred to as “Stop Soros” would compound existing and unjustified restrictions imposed on nongovernmental organizations in 2017 and could curb or end their ability to carry out legitimate activities.

We call on you as a matter of priority to ensure that your government refrains from publicly alleging that these organizations – lawfully operating in Hungary – are engaged in illicit activities, or that they represent a threat to national security. Intimidation against employees and volunteers, seen during the electoral campaign by candidates or their supporters and in some media, should end and be replaced by a more genuinely democratic climate where everyone’s right to participate in political and public affairs, as guaranteed under international norms, is respected and protected. We encourage you to ensure that the Hungarian government respects and protects the freedoms of association, assembly and expression and urge you to participate in meaningful dialogue and constructive partnership with civil society actors, including human rights groups.

Similarly, the new Hungarian government should redouble efforts to address the ongoing uncertainty of educational institutions of international background, in particular the Central European University, whose continued operations are still in jeopardy, despite the university’s efforts to comply with 2017 legislation.

Media pluralism

We have observed in recent years a notable decline in the protection of freedom of speech and media under your previous mandates. Newly introduced media laws, a restructured public broadcaster with questionable editorial independence and disproportionate ownership of private media by figures close to the government have contributed to a dramatically polarized media landscape. Outlets critical of your government and state institutions have faced intimidation and restrictions on accessing information and engaging with decision-makers; they had to defend themselves in front of courts for alleged defamation and libel.

As Prime Minister, you have a renewed opportunity and responsibility to uphold free expression in Hungary, ensure that citizens have access to a diversity of opinion through media pluralism, and that critical media outlets and journalists do not risk retaliation for their views. Under international law, journalists should not face threats, sanctions or charges and penalties for criticizing public figures.

Human rights of migrants and asylum seekers

The Hungarian government has faced criticism by international and regional human rights bodies, including the United Nations Refugee Agency, and is being challenged at the European Court of Human Rights for violating the rights of migrants and asylum seekers. Human Rights Watch is concerned at the continued automatic detention, solely on the grounds of immigration status, of almost all asylum seekers in substandard border “transit zones”; the summary removal of all persons detected inside Hungary after irregular entry to the external side of the border fences, sometimes violently; the arbitrarily applied restrictions on accessing the asylum procedure; and the criminalization of irregular entry. We call on you to ensure that migrants and asylum seekers are treated fairly and humanely by revising, as necessary the existing legislative framework and to repeal or review the March 2017 asylum law.

In this context, we hope that the next Hungarian government will refrain from using public funds to falsely depict migrants as “threats” to national security and to the Hungarian nation’s survival, often increasing the racial prejudices prevalent in Hungarian society, and will instead engage in meaningful discussions and genuine policy making on asylum and migration management nationally and within the European Union.

Rule of law

Finally, we turn to you at this important moment to urge you to make a renewed commitment to the separation of powers and institutional checks and balances between the legislative, executive and judicial institutions, including by restoring the mandate and independence of the Constitutional Court without delay. We urge the Hungarian government to commit to engage constructively with international and European human rights bodies, including the United Nations’ Human Rights Committee, UN Special Procedures, and the Council of Europe expert bodies with regards to best practices and necessary steps to restore the protection of human rights and the rule of law in Hungary, and to commit to consider the recommendations addressed by these institutions to the Government of Hungary.

I hope that this letter can serve as a basis for a constructive dialogue on these important matters and would welcome an opportunity to discuss them with you in person at a convenient time.


Kenneth Roth
Executive Director
Human Rights Watch

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

A rigid hulled inflatable boat (RHIB) approaches the MV Open Arms, the search and rescue ship of Proactiva Open Arms, in the central Mediterranean off the coast of Libya, December 16, 2017.

©2017REUTERS/Darrin Zammit Lupi
WE MAY NEED to curb our enthusiasm over an Italian judge’s April 16 decision to release the rescue ship Open Arms, operated by the Spanish group Proactiva, which Italy impounded a month ago.

Although the Open Arms may soon sail again and perform vital rescues in the Mediterranean, two crew members face unjustified criminal charges. But Italy’s determination to enable Libyan coast guard forces to intercept migrant boats in international waters is cause for the deepest concern.

The case against the Proactiva rescuers hinges on their refusal, on March 15, to hand over people they had rescued to a Libyan coast guard unit in international waters despite instructions from the Italian maritime rescue coordination center that Libya had taken over responsibility for the operation.

A prosecutor in the Sicilian city of Catania opened an investigation and ordered the Open Arms impounded. A preliminary investigations judge in Catania dismissed the initial charge of criminal association but upheld the charge of facilitating irregular migration and the impounding of the Open Arms. The case was transferred within Sicily to Ragusa, where a preliminary investigations judge released the ship.

On his way to concluding that there is insufficient evidence of wrongdoing to justify continuing to sequester the ship, the Ragusa judge presented some positive but also potentially dangerous – and somewhat contradictory – arguments.

The judge made the important point that the abuses migrants face in Libya justified Proactiva’s refusal to hand people over to Libyan forces. He cited a “state of necessity” provision in Italian law that absolves someone of a criminal act if it was necessary “to save others from a real threat of serious harm.” The judge rightly noted that under international maritime law, a rescue operation only ends when the people rescued disembark at a safe place and that nowhere in Libya can be considered such a place.

This is critical, as it goes to the larger issue of the legitimacy of E.U. and Italian cooperation with Libyan coast guard forces. There is overwhelming evidence of abuse in Libyan migrant detention centers in all parts of the country, including those under nominal control of the Government of National Accord (GNA). The abuse includes torture and other ill treatment, rape, extortion and forced labor, as well as deprivation of food, water and healthcare, and unsanitary conditions.

Yet Italy is increasingly providing logistical support to enable Libyan coast guards to intercept boats in international waters, even when there are properly equipped vessels operated by nongovernmental groups or others on or closer to the scene. The evidence considered in the Proactiva case clearly illustrates that the Italian rescue center, which received the first distress alert, is determined to hand over responsibility to Libyan authorities. And it shows the active role of Italian navy personnel on board the Capri, an Italian warship docked in Tripoli at the time, in coordinating the movements of Libyan patrol boats.

The same judge upheld the legal fiction of a Libyan search-and-rescue region that the Italian government supports. The Government of National Accord declared such a region in August 2017, but the International Maritime Organization has yet to include that region in its Global Search-and-Rescue plan. No amount of wishful thinking can hide the fact that Libyan coast guard forces lack the equipment, capacity and professionalism to perform these duties. In fact, Libyan patrol boats have on numerous occasions engaged in reckless and abusive behavior against migrants and members of rescue organizations during sea operations.

Libyan coast guard units have a right to operate in their own territorial waters. But legitimizing intervention in international waters by coast guard units only nominally controlled by the Government of National Accord contributes to increasing insecurity and chaos on the high seas, further endangering lives. The Italian rescue center recently instructed the rescue group SOS MEDITERRANEE to refrain from assisting over 100 people crowded onto a rubber boat because Libyan coast guard forces were taking over coordination of the operation.

The group was forced to negotiate with Libyan forces to be allowed to stabilize the situation and evacuate families with children and urgent medical cases to their ship in what SOSMEDITERRANEE described as a “tense and dangerous emergency situation.” The Libyan patrol boat intercepted all the other people on the rubber boat in a move that cannot properly be called a rescue.

Affirming a Libyan search-and-rescue region means accepting that the people Libyan forces take onto its patrol boats will be disembarked in Libya, which we know will lead to detention and abuse. The U.N. refugee agency, UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration are not always there when the people disembark, nor do these agencies have regular access to Libyan detention centers.

Efforts to reform Libya’s detention regime and the treatment of migrants and refugees will be relevant when the situation for migrants and refugees in Libya actually improves. But the possibility of reforms cannot justify policies that place people in harm’s way today. Working with the Libyan coast guard to enable them to intercept people in these circumstances may be tantamount to aiding or assisting the commission of serious human rights violations.

Proactiva is being prosecuted for refusing to return people to a cycle of detention and violence in Libya. Instead, it is Italy and the E.U. that face moral and quite possibly legal sanctions for helping Libyan coast guard forces intercept people in international waters and take them back to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Buraika detention facility for migrants in Aden governorate, Yemen.

© 2018 VICE News Tonight on HBO

(New York) –Yemeni government officials have tortured, raped, and executed migrants and asylum seekers from the Horn of Africa in a detention center in the southern port city of Aden, Human Rights Watch said today. The authorities have denied asylum seekers an opportunity to seek refugee protection and deported migrants en masse to dangerous conditions at sea.

Former detainees told Human Rights Watch that guards beat them with steel bars and sticks, whipped them, kicked and punched them, threatened to kill or deport them, sexually assaulted them, and fatally shot at least two men. Male guards forced women to take off their abayas (full-length robes) and headscarves. They took migrants’ money, personal belongings, and documents provided by the United Nations refugee agency.

“Guards at the migrant detention center in Aden have brutally beaten men, raped women and boys, and sent hundreds out to sea in overloaded boats,” said Bill Frelick, refugee rights director at Human Rights Watch. “The crisis in Yemen provides zero justification for this cruelty and brutality, and the Yemeni government should put a stop to it and hold those responsible to account.”

Human Rights Watch interviewed eight migrants, including seven ethnic Oromo from Ethiopia who had recently been held at the center, as well as Yemeni government officials and members of migrant communities.

The migrant detention center, in Aden’s Buraika neighborhood, is a converted marine science research center. Since early 2017, it has held several hundred Ethiopian, Somali, and Eritrean migrants, asylum seekers, and refugees, though as of April 2018, only about 90, primarily Eritrean, migrants remained.

Past videos and photos of the detention facility show hundreds of men and boys in a crowded concrete hangar, with women and girls sitting on a stone floor. Former detainees reported that the facility was overcrowded, with dire sanitation conditions and little access to medical care. The provision of food was inconsistent, and guards would occasionally withhold food.

Former detainees said guards sexually assaulted women, girls, and boys regularly. Boys would be taken at night: “Every night, they would take one, to rape them,” a former detainee said. “Not all of them. The small ones. The little ones. I know seven boys who were sexually assaulted… You could hear what was happening.” Several former detainees said the boys would come back unable to sit, sometimes crying, and occasionally telling the others what had happened. An Ethiopian woman who had been held at the facility said she still suffered pain after a guard beat her severely for refusing to have sex with him. She said women and girls were regularly raped and saw guards rape two of her friends.

Yemeni officials have not given asylum seekers an opportunity to seek protection or otherwise challenge their deportation, former detainees said. The former head of the center told VICE News Tonight on HBO that he used smugglers to return migrants to Djibouti, claiming he deported between 500 to 700 migrants a month this way: “And all the trips that we did are by the ministry’s instructions. No, [the interior minister] doesn’t ask us to contact the smuggler, but we return them in the same way they came in… They smuggled them in, they should smuggle them out.”

An Ethiopian man told Human Rights Watch the guards would take 10 people outside and have them write their names and why they left their country. He said, “If any one of them say ‘persecution,’ they tell them, ‘Be quiet, you are lying’ and then register them as migrants looking for job opportunities.” After this questioning, the man saw guards take about 150 people away from the center, including eight children he knew had been raped. The guards said they were taking them across the Red Sea to Djibouti.

The Yemeni authorities have prevented international humanitarian organizations that have visited the center from examining migrants with serious injuries, former detainees said. Guards remained near visiting aid workers, making it impossible for detainees to safely report on conditions.

Yemen’s Interior Ministry, in response to the Human Rights Watch preliminary findings, wrote in a April 2 letter that they had removed the center’s commander and begun procedures to transfer the migrants to another location, and promised to investigate complaints or evidence of abuse. Two detainees said that after the commander’s removal, some of the worst abuses had stopped.

The authorities have continued to send large groups of migrants out to sea without allowing them to seek protection or otherwise challenge their deportation, Human Rights Watch said.

In early April, the center’s new authorities put the remaining Ethiopians – about 200 people – on trucks and transported them to Bab al-Mandab, on the coast about 150 kilometers from Aden, two witnesses said. Guards sent one boat of about 100 Ethiopians out to sea. The engine of a second boat was not working, so the guards forced the remaining Ethiopians into a large, guarded yard near the shore. After a day in the yard without food, some detainees managed to escape.

The Houthi armed group, which controls the capital, Sanaa, and much of northern Yemen, has also arbitrarily detained migrants in poor conditions and failed to provide access to asylum and protection procedures in a facility near the western port of Hodeida, a former detainee and migrant community activists told Human Rights Watch. The former detainee said the conditions in Hodeida were “inhumane,” including overcrowding, lack of access to medical care, and physical abuse: “Some of the guards were very cruel and merciless. They used to beat us indiscriminately.”

Human Rights Watch examined photos showing men with sores and festering wounds. In early 2018, at least one group of migrants – 87 people, including 7 children – held in the Hodeida facility were released on condition they travel to Aden, the former detainee said. Yemeni soldiers stopped the group along the way and took them to the Buraika detention facility.

“Both the Yemeni authorities and the Houthis need to work with the United Nations refugee agency to establish a process that would allow African migrants to seek asylum or otherwise get needed protection,” Frelick said. “The horrific mistreatment of these vulnerable people only brings Yemeni leaders, whether from the government or the Houthis, into global disrepute.”

Migrants and Asylum Seekers in Yemen

Yemen has traditionally been a destination, source, and transit country for migrants. Of the estimated 10 million migrant workers in Saudi Arabia, up to 500,000 are Ethiopian nationals, many of whom travel irregularly to Saudi Arabia via Yemen. While many migrate for economic reasons, a significant number have fled because of serious human rights violations by their government.

Ethiopian migrants walking on road in Shabwa governorate, Yemen

© 2018 VICE News Tonight on HBO

Yemen is in the midst of an armed conflict, involving the Yemeni government and the Saudi-led coalition against the Houthis, and has what the UN calls the world’s worst and largest humanitarian crisis. But that did not stop more than 50,000 migrants from Somalia and Ethiopia, including more than 30,000 children, from going to Yemen between January and August 2017, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM). By February 2018, Yemen was hosting about 281,000 refugees, including many Somalis, who are recognized as refugees on a prima facie basis, and asylum seekers. The numbers are most likely much higher, given the problems migrants have registering with humanitarian agencies.

Since 2015, the Yemeni government and the Houthis have detained migrants in poor conditions, refused access to protection and asylum procedures, deported migrants en masse in dangerous conditions, and exposed them to abuse. In November 2017, Saudi Arabia opened a major campaign to deport undocumented workers and by April 1 had apprehended over 885,000 people violating labor or residency laws, including 12,477 whom Saudi border guards caught trying to cross the border from Yemen. About 38 percent were identified as Ethiopian. Saudi Arabia has not established an asylum system for migrants to prevent their forced return to places where their lives or freedom would be threatened.

Tens of thousands of Ethiopians have fled Ethiopia since late 2015 following security forces’ brutal crackdown against protesters, particularly in the Oromia region, which resulted in over 1,000 deaths and tens of thousands of arrests. Further government-initiated clashes between ethnic communities in eastern Ethiopia since 2016 left over 1 million people displaced and hundreds more dead. Many people from eastern Ethiopia move to Yemen fleeing both abuses in Ethiopia and the long arm of Ethiopian security in neighboring countries. Thousands of Eritreans leave their country every month fleeing indefinite military conscription. In Somalia, conflict-related abuses, massive internal displacement from conflict and drought, insecurity in government-controlled areas, and targeted violence against civilians by the Islamist armed group Al-Shabab have caused many people to flee.

Role of Yemen and the United Arab Emirates

The migrant detention center in Aden’s Buraika district is officially under Yemeni government control. It is housed in a building owned by the Yemeni Ministry of Fisheries that was converted into a detention facility for migrants in early 2017. Yemeni soldiers have apprehended, detained, and helped to coordinate transporting migrants to the center.

Men and boys from the Horn of Africa detained in the Buraika detention facility in Aden governorate, Yemen

© 2018 VICE News Tonight on HBO

Col. Khalid al-Alwani, the former police chief of Buraika district, served as director of the Department of Refugees Affairs and Migration and commander of the center under the Interior Ministry. Former detainees alleged that he had overseen abuse, including the beating and rape of detainees and threats to aid workers. Al-Alwani denied any wrongdoing when interviewed by Human Rights Watch.

The Interior Ministry said in its April 2 letter to Human Rights Watch that it had suspended al-Alwani in mid-March and that he had “overstepped his jurisdiction.” The ministry stated it would support investigations, legal action, and suspension of any of its employees at checkpoints or at the center involved in abuse, but said it had “received no complaints.” It said it did not have the means to provide support to the center but acknowledged it had coordinated with the Defense Ministry to provide food for the center.

The Interior Ministry said that Yemeni forces arrested and transported migrants to the center but conceded it did not control the elite units known as the Security Belt, which were “rounding up and transport[ing]… migrants and displaced people to the detention center.” These units are supported and take orders from the United Arab Emirates (UAE). A UN panel of experts determined that Security Belt and other elite forces were UAE proxy forces. The UAE plays a leading role in directing coalition operations in Aden and along Yemen’s southern and western coasts. In Aden, UAE-supported forces have a particularly strong hold in certain neighborhoods, including Buraika. The UAE government did not reply to a Human Rights Watch letter raising questions about the UAE’s role regarding the center.

While al-Alwani told Human Rights Watch the UAE did not play a role in the center’s operations, multiple sources and local media reported that al-Alwani coordinated with UAE-backed Yemeni forces to arrest and transport migrants to the center and was receiving some support from the coalition. He publicly asserted that Yemeni security forces were coordinating with the coalition to deal with the migrants in a “legal and humane manner” while they were detained before deportation. At least five people, including those who know al-Alwani personally or have interacted with him in a professional capacity, said he received support from the Saudi-led coalition. They cited examples in which al-Alwani or his associates asked others to seek permission from the UAE-backed Security Belt or the coalition to provide access to the center. At least once, al-Alwani refused entry to a Yemeni government official, telling the official he only recognized the coalition’s authority, a witness said.

The Interior Ministry letter said that, due to the war, state institutions did not have the capacity to adequately respond to migrants. It said that the government had formed a ministerial committee to oversee closure of the Buraika detention center and transfer migrants to a new facility in Ras al-Ara in Lahj governate. Ras al-Ara is infamous for its strong network of smugglers, increasing the risk to migrants.

Forced Returns, Smugglers, and Death at Sea

An Ethiopian man released from the center in 2018 said there were “two ways” to leave the Buraika detention center: by paying smugglers or by being “deported into the sea.”

In March 2017, Colonel al-Alwani told the media that security forces had detained more than 200 Ethiopian and Eritrean nationals in Aden and Lahj, who were then brought to the center and deported, presumably to their home countries. Human Rights Watch has previously documented the arbitrary detention and torture of Ethiopians and Eritreans who have been forcibly returned.

Two Ethiopians recently held at the center said that the guards allowed smugglers to enter and solicit money from detainees in exchange for promises to take them to Saudi Arabia. They witnessed Yemeni men in civilian clothes and guards asking people for their relatives’ phone numbers. They would then call the family members and tell them they could have their relatives released and sent to Saudi Arabia for a fee. More than 100 people whose relatives agreed to send money were eventually released, a third man said, with promises they would be taken to Saudi Arabia. He said an interpreter worked with the guards to take names, details, and negotiate payment between the migrants and the smugglers.

The Yemeni government bears responsibility for the deaths of deported detainees at sea. In a January 26 statement, IOM and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported that 51 Somalis and 101 Ethiopians left Aden on January 23 on a boat operated by “unscrupulous smugglers who were attempting to take refugees and migrants to Djibouti, while also trying to extort more money from these refugees and migrants.”

Three people detained in the Buraika center at the time told Human Rights Watch the boat left from the center under al-Alwani’s supervision. Hours after leaving the center, the smugglers tried to force the Somali passengers onto a second boat, which capsized. The smugglers took the surviving Somalis and Ethiopians back to Yemen, but “left the others in the sea,” a survivor told a former detainee when he came back to the center. At least 30 people died. Two former detainees said that after the incident, a Somali official came to the center and yelled at al-Alwani for deporting people who perished at sea – soon afterward, the Somalis held at the center were moved elsewhere. 

Accounts of Abuse

Pseudonyms been used to protect sources’ security.

Ahmed, 16, from Oromia, Ethiopia, said he went to Yemen in early 2018, walking for three days before reaching Aden. He registered with UNHCR as an asylum seeker. After about a week, a soldier in a local market apprehended him and took him to a nearby checkpoint, where he was held with 10 other Ethiopians, including women and other children. The soldiers took them to the Buraika detention center.

Guards searched them, taking their personal items, including their money. They also took Ahmed’s UNHCR document. Late at night, someone gave Ahmed some food; he hadn’t been given food or water since the soldier had found him that morning.

The guards regularly hit the prisoners, Ahmed said. One day he did not hear guards ordering the prisoners in the yard back inside. A guard began yelling, hitting him on his shoulder with a stick. “Beating was normal,” he said. “They beat anyone.”

About 10 days after he arrived, the guards told the men that one Ethiopian man had escaped. They took a large group of men and boys to the main yard and ordered them to strip naked, whipping seven and saying the men would not be given food or water until after sunset. The guards ordered the women to look at the naked men and boys and beat those who did not. Ahmed heard a gunshot. He saw the guards take an Ethiopian man’s limp body into a truck. Later, other detainees told him the man had been killed. “We don’t know how long we stayed,” he said. “When you are standing there, heat and hunger don’t matter. What matters is the gun. We are waiting for the gun.”

The nights were horrible, Ahmed said, as the guards would yell at the men and boys to go to sleep: “They would scare people with their guns... Some of my friends, who were kids, they [the guards] took them. And then when they came back they could not sit.” Some of the children told Ahmed the guards had raped them. He knew 10 children taken at night, including some held at the checkpoint with him the first day. Most were younger than he was.

One night, Ahmed saw a guard enter the ward and order a child who was asleep next to Ahmed to go with him. Ahmed heard the child screaming. He and his friend, terrified the guard would come back for them, decided to flee. They ran toward a part of the detention center they were prohibited from entering, managing to jump over a broken part of the wall. Ahmed heard shots. His friend fell: “I was just running, running, running. Then I slept. Somewhere. Then I walked…”

Another man, detained at the same time, confirmed that Ahmed had been held at the facility. Ahmed told Human Rights Watch, “When I see any military uniform, I get terrified.”

Mohammed, 29, an ethnic Oromo from Harar, Ethiopia, had taught secondary school math. He took a boat with about 170 other men and women across the Red Sea. After about 30 hours with the passengers crammed together “like stairs on top of one another,” the smugglers began shouting and hitting them with sticks, ordering them to jump into the sea. Mohammed did not feel he had a choice. He and the others swam to shore and immediately lay down on the beach, exhausted. They began walking in the morning, breaking into groups. They left one sick woman behind. “At that moment, it is very difficult to try to carry anyone or to stop for who is sick,” Mohammed said.

At a nearby checkpoint, a group of about 20 soldiers stopped Mohammed and about 50 other men and women; when some began to run the soldiers fired in the air. The soldiers gave them food and then forced them – including by hitting them – into three trucks made for transporting livestock and took them to the Buraika detention center. Over the next two months, Mohammed said, all 170 people with whom he had traveled to Yemen ended up there.

The guards beat him, repeatedly using a wooden stick to hit his foot, breaking it. He showed the disfigured foot to Human Rights Watch researchers. The guards shot two detainees while he was there, he said. When the detainees asked what happened to these men, the guards said they were sent for medical treatment, but he believed they died. Another time, the guards beat a group of men with metal rods, and the men’s wounds bled for more than two days. The guards would beat or whip those who resisted in front of the others. He said that IOM visited the center while he was there, but the guards refused to let them see the people they had mistreated, and the detainees weren’t able to tell them what was happening because the guards were always nearby and anyone who tried to tell visitors what was happening “would get beaten.”

The guards raped some of the young Ethiopian boys who were detained with him, he said. When other men refused food in protest, guards beat them. “The big men, they didn’t use them, but the boys, they used them, and the women,” he said. “They would change who every night…They sexually abused anyone without a beard, men and women, and anyone who resisted, they beat.” The guards would come at night, screaming at the detainees to go to sleep, and sometimes shooting in the air. When the boys came back, they would not be able to sit or walk well. The guards raped one Ethiopian boy about 10 years old. “Every time after that at night…. he would hold my hand.” Mohammed said the boy was terrified. “One of those times, the guards beat him with a metal stick.”

Abubakr, about 30, an Oromo from Harar, Ethiopia, arrived in Yemen in 2011. He said that in 2017, his younger brother was arrested at a checkpoint on the way to Aden, and then taken to the Buraika detention center.

Abubakr went with a Yemeni official to try and negotiate this brother’s release. He felt safe because he had a UNHCR refugee card, he said. When he arrived at the center, an official yelled at the man who had accompanied him, accusing them of trying to destroy his way of living. Abubakr said the official slapped him on the face, pain that Abubakr still feels, and took his UNHCR ID card and a large sum of money he had with him. Abubakr was detained there for a month.

Abubakr said that every night the guards would order the men and boys asleep, come into the hangar, stomp on some children’s feet, and order them to go with them. He said the boys would sometimes return crying, saying the guards had raped them. The guards also beat the prisoners, including with steel bars. After being beaten severely, one of his brother’s friends was sent away. Abubakr did not know what happened to him.

After a month in the center, the official told Abubakr he was releasing him, but that if he returned to ask about his brother he would be detained again. He made Abubakr sign a document that had the official Yemeni government seal, which he described to Human Rights Watch and identified.

“I would die if I stayed in the prison, I would die. I am still afraid,” said Fatima, 25, an Oromo woman from Harar, Ethiopia.

Yemeni soldiers arrested Fatima and her husband with a few dozen other Ethiopian men and women. When they arrived in Buraika, Fatima was separated from her husband. She saw the guards beating the men, ordering them to strip and checking their pockets. The male guards made the women take off their abayas and headscarves and checked their bodies and hair. They took them to a room with about 100 other women.

The guards would beat them regularly, she said, when the women would wail or yell. They could see the guards mistreating the men through holes in the wall of their enclosed space. The guards did not provide much food, a small plate of rice for 12 women, and the supply was not consistent.

Every night, the guards would take one or two women with them, she said. Most women were eventually forced to go with the guards. If a woman refused to sleep with the guards, they would retaliate by withholding food for two days, she said. She knew five girls – a 12-year-old, two 15-year-olds, and two 17-year-olds – who were held in the facility with her and who had been raped.

She said that two weeks after she was detained, one of the guards forced her to go with him. He took her into a nearby room, where she saw two other guards raping two of her female friends. The guard told her to take off her clothes. She refused, telling him she had a husband. The guard said she could choose: sleep with him or hang herself. There was a rope in the room. She began praying. The guard beat her, hitting her with his hands and with a large stick on her back.

Fatima became very sick, in severe pain and often crying and moaning. After the beating, she said the guards mostly left her alone, eventually releasing her when her health further deteriorated.

One of the two women Fatima saw being raped remains in the detention facility. The other was released after the guards “used her seriously and she became weak.” The guards promised to send this woman to Saudi Arabia, and Fatima heard they put her on a smuggler’s boat, but she did not know where the woman ended up.

Omar, 30, from Bale, Oromia region, Ethiopia, traveled to Yemen from Somalia in late 2017. He said that he and about a dozen others, including four women, arrived off the coast of Shabwa, an area largely controlled by the UAE-backed Shabwani Elite Forces. Soldiers at a checkpoint stopped them and gave them food. More Ethiopians arrived, until the group had about 30 people.

The soldiers made a phone call. A few hours later, men in civilian clothes came in a truck used for transporting livestock. They had an Oromo language interpreter with them. Omar heard the men and soldiers negotiating and believed the men were paying the soldiers for the migrants. The process appeared organized: He heard them asking the soldiers to sign a paper, so the men had a record they had paid.

The soldiers forced the group onto the truck, where they remained cramped for hours. Checkpoints along the road stopped the truck a few times, and Omar and others who spoke Arabic would yell that they were being smuggled, but each time the soldiers at the checkpoint let them pass. Omar said he saw the men showing the soldiers a piece of paper, which he thought was a permission form.

That night, the truck arrived at the Buraika detention center. The guards forced the men to strip, searching them and taking all of their belongings. They told everyone to turn over their money – if they found someone had hidden money, they would punish him. They took Omar’s money and phone.

The guards beat Omar and the two others who had been yelling along the way with a steel bar until they had fallen to the ground, bleeding, or fainted. Omar had a scar on his right eyebrow.

The third night he was detained, after hearing rumors the guards were raping some of the boys, Omar decided to stay awake. He positioned himself near a part of the wall that had a hole in it and peered out. He saw one of the guards raping one of the children. He said, “They do this every night, but I saw it two times, because if anyone tries to see them, they shoot them, and if anyone refuses, the next morning they take them out, and the one who refused, they beat him.”

One day a man suffering from diarrhea needed to use a toilet but there was none nearby. After he tried to explain this to the guard, who didn’t understand, he walked a bit away to defecate. The guard shot him. Omar said guards also shot another man during his detention.

Omar said he fled Ethiopia because he participated in the Oromo protests and feared government abuse. He intended to apply for asylum but was detained before he was able to. He still wants to apply for asylum, but said he was afraid to go to the UNHCR office, because was worried he would be apprehended en route. “The problems are still going on,” Omar said. “Many people in the [detention center] deserve asylum but have no way to ask for asylum.”


The Yemeni government should:

  • Transfer migrant detainees to centers that meet international standards.
  • Work with donor governments and international agencies to bring migrant detention centers in line with international standards under the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (“Mandela Rules”). These set out limits on the number of people per room; appropriate sleeping arrangements and bedding; adequate facilities for personal hygiene; adequate clothing and food; and access to medical services, among other things. No male staff member should enter the part of the prison set aside for women unless accompanied by a female staff member, and women prisoners should be attended and supervised only by female staff members.
  • Stop detaining children and their families for immigration violations, and work with UN and other impartial humanitarian agencies to identify children in detention and facilitate their safe release. In the interim, the authorities should ensure that detained children are kept separate from unrelated adults, and have appropriate food and medical care, and can communicate with their families.
  • Ensure that detention center staff act in accordance with the Standard Minimum Rules, particularly with respect to humane treatment and the use of force against detainees.
  • Investigate allegations of abuse, and appropriately discipline or prosecute those found responsible. Ensure redress for victims of abuse.

The Yemeni government and Houthi authorities should:

  • Ensure that detained migrants who may be facing deportation have the opportunity to make asylum claims or otherwise challenge their forced removal. Detaining asylum seekers should be a last resort.
  • Work with UNHCR and other impartial humanitarian agencies to establish a presence and procedures at known migrant landing points so that new arrivals can register and make asylum claims.
  • Provide UNHCR and other impartial humanitarian agencies unfettered access to all migrant detention centers and to individual migrants.
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Rony and Ronyde Ponthieux in Miami, FL. © 2018 Human Rights Watch

(Miami) – US law should be changed to offer a path to permanent legal status for people who have lived in this country for many years with Temporary Protected Status (TPS), Human Rights Watch said today. Hundreds of thousands of people have built lives in the United States while living here legally under that program.

In March 2018, Human Rights Watch interviewed Haitian families in Miami whose lives, built in the US, hang in the balance as they risk losing their protected status. In December 2017, Human Rights Watch documented the harm caused by deporting authorized and unauthorized immigrants without adequate consideration of their rights to home and family.

“The average Haitian TPS holder has been in the US for 13 years, and the average Salvadoran for 21 years,” said Clara Long, senior US researcher at Human Rights Watch, citing figures calculated by Center for Migration Studies. “Congress should not leave them at the mercy of a broken immigration system that pays little heed to the family and community ties they have built in the US.”

In 2017, the Trump administration said that it would not renew TPS protections for citizens of Sudan, Nicaragua, Haiti, and El Salvador after granting them a final 18-month extension. Nearly 1,000 Sudanese, 5,000 Nicaraguans, 60,000 Haitians, and 260,000 Salvadorans are scheduled to lose TPS by September 2019. The government will decide by May 2018 whether 86,000 Hondurans will be able to renew their status.

International human rights law requires a fair, individualized hearing for anyone facing deportation. The law should also weigh a person’s ties to US families and communities against the government’s interest in deporting the person. A humane and rational system should not wait until the point of deportation to consider these issues, Human Rights Watch said. Instead, Congress should create a fair and inclusive legalization program that accords due weight to immigrants’ ties to the US.

Human Rights Watch has long called on the US government to respect and protect families in its immigration policies, protect immigrants from workplace violations and crimes, provide a legalization process that effectively protects the basic rights of the estimated 11 million unauthorized immigrants, and focus enforcement efforts on genuine threats and protect due process rights for all.

Haitian families told Human Rights Watch about their lives in the US and their concerns about their future:

  • Rony Ponthieux, 49, has been in the US since 1999 and obtained Temporary Protected Status in 2010. He became a registered nurse in 2013, taking care of patients with respiratory problems like pneumonia and tuberculosis at the Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami. If he loses TPS next year, he said, he doesn’t know what he will do about his 10-year-old US citizen daughter, Ronyde Ponthieux. “Who is going to take care of me if I stay here?” Ronyde said. “And if we go to Haiti it’s going to be really hard for my parents. I don’t speak French and if I want to go to American school that will cost a lot of money.”
  • “Erick F.,” 47, came to the US nearly 10 years ago. He has been driving for Uber because, he said, employers are leery of hiring people with temporary status. He previously had a job with a major US delivery company. “We can’t make any plans,” he said. “We don’t know how we would go to Haiti because my family lost everything in the earthquake.” Erick’s 6-year-old US citizen daughter doesn’t speak French or Creole, he said. “When you are living in a country for so many years this place becomes your country. We followed the law. We followed the rules. We didn’t expect that the government was going to say, ‘you have to go.’”
  • “Leomar P.” has been in the US for 12 years and has two US-born children. He said he bought a house after working as a dishwasher in the Miami area for years, but if he were deported he would have to leave all of that behind. “I pay taxes; I pay bills,” he said. “If I’m deported I’m going to be deported without anything.
  • “Danielle J.” has photos of two children in the back of her cell phone case: her daughter and the little boy with autism she takes care of as a home health aide. “I’ve been with the family for three years,” she said. “He’s my baby. His mom says I need you to be with him, how can they deport you?” Danielle’s 4-year-old US citizen daughter has asthma, she said, and she worries that if she is sent back to Haiti she wouldn’t be able to get the medicine her daughter needs.

These concerns are reflective of broad anxiety in the Haitian community, said Marleine Bastien, director of the Miami-based Family Action Network Movement. “It’s really a tragedy if these people are deported.”

The Family Action Network Movement was among the plaintiffs in a suit filed this month seeking to reverse the Trump administration’s decision not to renew TPS for Haitians. As a result of the fears now plaguing South Florida’s Haitian community, the suit alleges, the group has also seen an increase in the number of child referrals to its mental health program for treatment of anxiety and situational depression.

Last month, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund alleged in a federal lawsuit that the government’s decision on TPS was “irrational and discriminatory” and influenced by President Donald Trump’s “public hostility toward immigrants of color.”

Congress should urgently get to work on ensuring that long-term deeply settled immigrants, including TPS recipients, can continue giving back to their communities, contributing the US economy and supporting their families.

Clara Long

US Program Senior Researcher

Another lawsuit filed in California on behalf of the US citizen children of TPS holders says that the government’s cancellation of protected status for long-term residents from Haiti and El Salvador “violates the constitutional rights of school-age United States citizen children of TPS holders, by presenting them with an impossible choice: they must either leave their country or live without their parents.”

“Congress should urgently get to work on ensuring that long-term deeply settled immigrants, including TPS recipients, can continue giving back to their communities, contributing the US economy and supporting their families,” Long said. “Putting hundreds of thousands more deeply rooted immigrants under the constant threat of deportation is a recipe for rights abuse.”


Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Ibtissam, 22, a mother of two hoping to reunite with her husband in Germany, pictured at the Souda Refugee Camp on Chios island, Greece, June 10, 2017. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra

Thousands of asylum seekers are trapped in crowded and filthy processing centers on the Greek islands, with many spending the winter in lightweight tents or even sleeping outside on the ground. Greece contends it has to keep the asylum seekers on the islands because a March 2016 agreement between the European Union and Turkey provides that asylum seekers who arrive by boat from Turkey should be sent back there to have their asylum claims processed. 

After a December campaign by 13 nongovernmental groups, including Human Rights Watch, to move the asylum seekers to safer conditions on the Greek mainland, more than 7,000 people have been moved. But thousands more have arrived on the islands or remain trapped there. By the latest count, more than 13,000 people are on the Greek islands, many of them in vastly overcrowded centers.

The following questions and answers explain the situation and what needs to be done about it.

Q: Why is Greece forcing asylum seekers to remain on the Greek islands?

An EU-Turkey “statement” from March 2016 committed Turkey to accept the return of all asylum seekers who reached the Greek islands by traveling through Turkey and crossing the sea. In return, the EU agreed to provide billions of euro in aid and other benefits, and to resettle an equal number of Syrians who were already in Turkey.

The Greek government, under a “containment” policy, decided to keep asylum seekers confined to the islands to facilitate their speedy processing and return to Turkey.

Members of vulnerable groups – including pregnant women, older people, unaccompanied children, single parents with children, victims of torture or sexual or gender-based violence, and people with disabilities – and people eligible to be reunited with family members already in the EU are supposed to be exempt. But they are not always identified by the authorities and there has been considerable pressureon Greece from the EU and its member states to narrow the criteria to minimize the numbers of people eligible.

Q: What are the consequences of this containment policy?

The islands have become places of indefinite confinement for thousands of people where they do not have timely access to asylum procedures nor benefit from the protection they are entitled to. Many have been stuck there for months on end.

This has significant consequences for their health and wellbeing. In addition to dire living conditions, including insufficient food, many can’t get physical and mental health services or education for their children or even police protection if violence breaks out in these tense conditions.

Many people have attempted to end their lives due to the extreme distress and emotional pain they experience. In October, Medecins Sans Frotieres (MSF) reported that between June and September, an average of six to seven people per week arrived at their clinic on Lesbos for mental health consultations following suicide attempts, incidents of self-harm, or psychotic episodes.

Women and girls say they experience sexual harassment and threat of violence daily, deterring them from leaving their shelters or even going to the bathroom alone. They express little confidence that Greek authorities would help or protect them if they report incidents.

Q: How does the containment policy affect local people on the islands?

The containment policy has caused significant tensions on the islands. Mayors from the five Greek islands affected said in December that the containment policy had turned their communities into “island prisons.”

While many Greek people continue to offer help, some residents and local authorities who showed support and solidarity before the EU-Turkey deal are increasingly having a hard time accepting the strain on the local infrastructure. Nongovernmental groups on the islands have reported some racist and xenophobic incidents, exacerbating fear and anxiety among the asylum seekers trapped there.

Q: Aren’t conditions on the mainland just as bad?

Even though the conditions on the mainland need improvement, they are much better than on the islands. The mainland has facilities that are not overcrowded, are protected from the winter weather, and offer better security and access to services, with some room for expansion.

In addition, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ (UNHCR) accommodation program provides 22,000 rented housing places to vulnerable asylum seekers and refugees, including to asylum seekers transferred from the islands.

People on the mainland have better access to services such as hospitals and specialized health care support, and children, the vast majority of whom have no access to education on the islands, can enroll in school on the mainland where programs are in place.

The EU and other member states should financially support Greece to expand asylum seekers’ accommodation on the mainland and take steps to relocate asylum seekers from Greece to other EU countries. Other EU member states should also refrain from resuming returns of asylum seekers to Greece, which would exacerbate its problems with reception conditions for asylum seekers.

Q: Wouldn’t speeding up asylum procedures on the islands end the overcrowding and the dire conditions?

The initial EU-Turkey plan envisioned that most asylum seekers would quickly be sent back to Turkey to have their asylum claims processed there.

In reality, the majority of asylum seekers trapped on the islands lack a realistic prospect of return to Turkey under the deal, either because they are considered “vulnerable” and protected from the expedited proceedings that are in place to implement the agreement, have family elsewhere in the EU and are entitled to reunite with them, or come from countries with conditions that make it likely they will be admitted to the regular Greek asylum system for a full examination of their claim. Migration control is not grounds for harming the wellbeing, health, and dignity of those trapped on the islands.

The only way to increase the number or speed of returns to Turkey would be by weakening the safeguards or quality of the process. This is no way to treat a traumatized population, and the wrong way to alleviate overcrowding or address the systemic issues linked to the containment policy and EU-Turkey deal that have created this inhumane situation on the islands.

Such an approach would be inconsistent with Greece’s obligations under EU asylum law and international refugee and human rights law.

Q: Won’t opening the islands encourage more asylum seekers to take a risky journey by sea from Turkey to Greece?

The aim of the EU-Turkey deal, and subsequently of the containment policy, is to discourage migrants and asylum seekers from making the crossing from Turkey to Greece to enter the EU.

But it is unclear how much of a role the policy of containment has played in decreasing arrivals in comparison with other factors. The border closures along the Western Balkans route to the north of Greece, making it very difficult to reach other EU countries by land via Greece, increased Turkey’s action against smuggling networks, and the prospect of having to remain in Greece, even on the mainland, are also likely to be important factors in discouraging arrivals alongside the containment policy.

Containing asylum seekers on the Greek islands in substandard and appalling conditions that violate their rights and Greece’s international obligations in the hope that it will deter others from coming is bad policy. The EU should look instead at sharing responsibility across member states, tackling root causes of migration, and increasing availability of more safe and legal channels into the EU.

Q: What can the rest of the EU do to help improve the dire conditions on the islands?

The EU and its member states should agree on the need to end the containment policy and to immediately transfer the asylum seekers to Greece’s mainland. They should support the Greek government’s efforts to meet the protection needs of all asylum seekers in its territory, and ensure their safety and dignity, including relocating asylum seekers from Greece.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Proactiva’s rescue ship Open Arms on mission in November 2017. 

© 2017 Pau Coll
(Milan) – Italy has impounded a rescue ship and threatened criminal charges against two members of its crew and the coordinator of the organization after they refused to turn migrants over to Libyan forces, fearing that they would be abused.
On March 18, 2018, an Italian prosecutor in Catania, Sicily, impounded the Spanish rescue group Proactiva’s ship Open Arms and is considering levelling charges of criminal association for the purposes of facilitating irregular migration after Proactiva refused to transfer people rescued in international waters to a Libyan patrol boat. Everyone intercepted by Libyan forces or handed over to them is taken to Libya and placed in detention.
“Proactiva acted to save migrants’ lives and then prevented them from being abused in indefinite detention,” said Judith Sunderland, associate director for Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “It is perverse to try to characterize as criminal a refusal to hand victims to Libyan coast guard forces knowing they could face possible torture and rape in Libyan detention centers.”
International human rights and refugee law prohibits returning anyone to a place where they face a real risk of torture or ill-treatment – the nonrefoulement principle. Empowering Libyan forces to capture people on the high seas, when it is known that they will return them to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment in arbitrary detention exposes Italy and other European Union (EU) states involved to charges of aiding and abetting in serious human rights violations in detention, Human Rights Watch said.
Italy’s strategy to reduce boat arrivals is in line with the EU’s approach to migration cooperation with Libya. The EU is supporting training and technical assistance to Libyan coast guard forces nominally under the United Nations (UN) and EU-backed Government of National Accord based in Tripoli, and wants to expand those efforts. Despite EU insistence, the International Maritime Organization has not yet recognized a Libyan search-and-rescue zone, and Libya does not yet have a fully functioning maritime rescue coordination center.
Italy has delivered four patrol boats to Libyan coast guard forces. The Libyan forces included patrol boat 648, which was involved in this incident as well as a deadly intervention in November 2017 that cost the lives of at least 50 people, according to the German nongovernmental group Sea-Watch.
Based on a detailed incident report provided by Proactiva, the Open Arms responded on March 15 to an overcrowded rubber dinghy in international waters, 73 nautical miles off the Libyan coast. The Italian Maritime Rescue Coordination Center (IMRCC) informed the Open Arms after it reached the rubber boat that Libyan forces had command over the operation, but told the Open Arms crew to use their judgment. For the security of the people on board the rubber dinghy, Proactiva decided to provide everyone with life jackets and to transfer all the women and children to Proactiva’s rigid-hulled inflatable boats and stayed nearby.
Libyan coast guard patrol boat 648 reached the scene approximately 30 minutes later. Anabel Montes, the search-and-rescue coordinator on board Open Arms, told Human Rights Watch that coast guard officers threatened via megaphone and radio, in English, to kill the crew on the Proactiva boat holding women and children if it did not turn them over. Eleven men jumped out of the rubber boat into the water and were also taken on board by the Proactiva boats. At one point, the Libyan patrol boat and its own rubber dinghy sandwiched one of the Proactiva boats, and an unarmed Libyan officer boarded to convince people to transfer to the patrol boat. He desisted in the face of everyone’s refusal to cooperate.
After a three-hour stand-off, the Proactiva crew were able to safely transfer all women, children, and men to the Open Arms ship and proceed north. For more than 24 hours, the crew was unsure where they would be able to disembark the rescued people. The Italian Maritime rescue coordination center told them Italy had not coordinated the rescue and was therefore not responsible.
The national coordination center in Madrid, Spain, the ship’s flag state, told them they couldn’t help because Proactiva had performed a rescue in “Libya’s SAR zone.” Malta agreed to evacuate an infant and her mother for medical reasons. The Spanish government interceded on Proactiva’s behalf, and Italy eventually allowed disembarkation in Pozzallo, Sicily, on the morning of March 17.
The prospect of charges against Proactiva is the latest in a series of measures to discredit nongovernmental rescue groups, Human Rights Watch said. Anti-immigrant groups and some media carried out a concerted smear campaign in 2017. Carmelo Zuccaro, the Sicilian prosecutor who opened the investigation against Proactiva, made the news last year with broad accusations of complicity between rescue groups and smuggling networks, even though Zuccaro later confirmed to a parliamentary inquiry he had no evidence of any wrongdoing.
Another Sicilian prosecutor sequestered the Iuventus, a ship operated by the German group Jugend Rettet in August and is still pursuing an investigation into alleged facilitation of irregular migration. The Italian government imposed a code of conduct in July on rescue groups that serves a dual purpose of implying they need management and of restricting their ability to operate effectively.
“It is shocking that Europe has reached the point of criminalizing rescue at sea,” Sunderland said. “Europeans should support, not smear, people saving lives in the Mediterranean, and remember that EU and Italian policies are propping up a cycle of detention and violence in Libya, while groups like Proactiva are saving lives.” 
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Men deported from Algeria queuing after their arrival to Bamako, October 25, 2017. 

© 2017 Bukary Dao/Le Républicain


(Beirut) – Algerian authorities have arbitrarily deported in the beginning of March more than a hundred migrants of various African nationalities into a lawless zone of neighboring Mali, where armed groups have robbed some of them, Human Rights Watch said today.

The Algerian authorities failed to adequately screen the migrants to determine their status and give them the opportunity to challenge their deportation, including those who might have refugee claims, and to collect their savings and belongings. A nongovernmental organization based in Gao, Mali, said that it had provided services to more than 125 of the recently arrived Migrants on March 6 and 7.

“Algeria should treat all migrants with respect and decency, give them a chance to challenge their deportation and not expose them to the risk of suffering inhuman treatment,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch.

Five migrants who had reached Mali told Human Rights Watch in separate phone interviews that police in the north-central Algerian city of Ghardaia rounded them up on March 1 at various places, including on the street, at a construction site, and in a welding workshop. They said that authorities did not inform them of their right to call their consular representatives or let them collect their wages, savings, and other belongings.

The police escorted them on buses to Bordj Badji Mokhtar, the last town before the Mali border, handing them to gendarmes, who trucked to the border and sent them over the border at gunpoint.

They said they walked in the desert for six hours to reach In Khalil, the first town in Mali, then took privately owned trucks heading toward the town of Gao. Although the migrants traveled in two separate convoys to Gao, they described being stopped at impromptu roadblocks manned by armed groups who robbed them. Some said that the groups beat some migrants who did not turn over money or valuables.

Armed militant groups linked to al-Qaeda operate in northern Mali, along with criminal gangs and armed smugglers. The United Nations Secretary General, in his September 2017 report on the situation in Mali, stated that “the prevailing insecurity undermines the rule of law and the provision of basic services, particularly in the north and in some parts of the centre.”

Since at least December 2016, Algeria has expelled thousands of sub-Saharan migrants, mostly to Niger. In February, Interior Minister Mohamed Bazoum of Niger, told RFI that Niger was “not a dumping ground for migrants from the whole of west Africa.”

Aristide Preira, local coordinator at Maison des Migrants (Migrant House, an association assisting migrants) in Gao, told Human Rights Watch that the 26 migrants who arrived from Algeria on March 6, included 20 Malians, 3 Gambians and 3 Guineans. The 101 who arrived on March 7 included 76 Malians, 3 Guineans, 5 Senegalese, 5 from Burkina Faso, and 12 from Côte d’Ivoire, he said. They included two children, ages 16 and 17. They told him they had had nothing to eat for three days, and some were hospitalized for acute dehydration, he said.

Mouhamed Soumah, 34, from Guinea, who was an accountant in his home country, moved to Ghardaia in July 2017, and worked on a construction site. He said that police detained him and two co-workers at the construction site on March 1, telling them it was just for an identity check.

But at the police station, they were transferred with dozens of other men to a warehouse after being denied permission to get their belongings or contact their consulates and were taken to Bordj Badji Mokhtar. From there, gendarmes took them on trucks to an area near the border and ordered them at gunpoint to march toward Mali.

At In Khalil, 26 of them managed to negotiate a paid transport on a private pick-up truck to Gao. Soumah said that, during their two-day journey to Gao, armed men who he believed were rebels stopped them several times and demanded money before letting them continue.

Ousmane Sigide, 25, and Mohamed Dembere, 27, both Malians, who were arrested with him, gave similar accounts.

Sokodu Seydou, 28, a Malian, said that he started working as a welder in Ghardaia in May 2017 without a residency permit. He said that plain-clothes police came to his work site on March 1, asking to see his papers. When he showed them his passport, they took him and two colleagues to a police station in Ghardaia, also denying him a chance to retrieve his money from his room and to contact consular officials.

He said that he and dozens of other detainees there were fed and not mistreated, but were taken on buses to Adrar. The police handed them to the gendarmes, who put them in a warehouse-like structure for the night, then taken with hundreds of other men on trucks close to the Mali border and ordered to walk toward the border.

They walked to Khalil, and about 100 of them paid a local driver to take them on a truck to Gao. He said they were stopped several times on the road to Gao by groups of 5 to 10 men holding rifles and wearing clothes with no distinctive insignia. At one stop, the men asked them to pay 15,000 CFA francs each (US$28). When he said he did not have the money, the men beat him and others who refused to pay, took their phones, then released them. Seydou said they arrived in Gao on March 7, after two days on the road.

The Algerian government has legitimate authority to deport undocumented migrants. But it must comply with international law. As a party to the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families (Migrants Workers’ Convention), Algeria is prohibited from collective expulsions of migrant workers and their families and is required to examine and rule on each potential expulsion individually. The convention applies to all migrant workers and their families, irrespective of their legal or work status.

The treaty obliges the country’s government to inform migrant workers and their families before expulsion of their right to contact their consular authorities, their right to challenge their expulsion before the competent authorities, and to suspend the removal until that challenge is decided. Furthermore, anyone fearing persecution or other serious harm in their home country has the right to seek asylum.

In addition, in case of expulsion, the convention states that “the person concerned shall have a reasonable opportunity before or after departure to settle any claims for wages and other entitlements due to him or her and any pending liabilities.”

The convention obliges state parties to respect the rights to liberty and security of migrant workers and members of their families.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

This submission relates to Articles 22, 24, 28, 29, and 38 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and focuses on migrant and asylum-seeking children, the right to secondary education, and the protection of students, teachers, and schools during armed conflict.

The Situation of Migrant and Asylum-Seeking Children (Articles 22, 24)

During the last review period, Human Rights Watch documented routine pushbacks at the Hungarian border of accompanied and unaccompanied child asylum seekers, the rejection of asylum claims without any meaningful review of their substance, and the holding of child migrants and asylum seekers in poor conditions in transit zones.

In August and September 2015, Hungary established a new border regime that had the following elements:

  • A law that restricts access to asylum in Hungary for those who enter from Serbia and permits quick returns of asylum seekers to Serbia on the ground that it is deemed a “safe country” for asylum seekers; 
  • National authorities are allowed to declare a state of emergency “due to mass immigration” and close border crossing points. The state of emergency has repeatedly been extended since then.
  • Irregular entry is now a criminal offense, allowing authorities to imprison people who cross the border irregularly for up to eight years, deport them, and bar their re-entry.[1]

In September 2015, Hungary built a razor wire fence and established two transit zones on its border with Serbia where asylum seekers are held while processing takes place. That same month, a law established a fast track asylum procedure requiring most people filing asylum claims to wait inside these transit zones inside the Hungarian border in poor conditions while their claims are processed. By law, vulnerable asylum seekers–which includes families with children and unaccompanied children–are supposed to be exempt from the fast-track asylum procedure and given access to regular processing in reception facilities inside Hungary. However Human Rights Watch research indicates that members of vulnerable groups, including children, who are moved into reception centers may still have their claims rejected without any substantive consideration effective access to asylum. [2]

In October 2015, Human Rights Watch visited five detention centers and two open reception facilities across Hungary.[3]

Human Rights Watch found that Hungary was detaining accompanied and unaccompanied children, amongst other asylum seekers, for weeks at a time, sometimes in poor conditions. Detainees at the Nyirbator detention center said the facilities were infested with bedbugs, and Human Rights Watch researchers observed rashes and bites on detainees in both parts of the facility.[4] Staff said that eradicating the problem would be too costly. Though the temperature was cold, around 5 degrees centigrade, many people were without sweaters and were wrapped in bedsheets. Staff said detainees are expected to buy their own clothes.[5]

Human Rights Watch interviewed nine children in two asylum detention facilities who said they were between 14 and 17 years old. All nine said that they had told staff they were unaccompanied children, but staff failed to take the steps necessary to properly assess their ages. Directors at both asylum detention centers denied that any unaccompanied children were detained there. Omar (pseudonym), an Afghan youth, said: “I told them [Hungarian officials] I am 16. They told me I was lying…. Police then took me to a doctor and removed my T-shirt. The doctor just looked at me and said that I’m an adult.”[6] The age-disputed children Human Rights Watch interviewed either had not been seen by a medical professional at all or had received a cursory examination.[7]

Some said that Hungarian officials had entered an erroneous adult date of birth on their asylum identification cards when they were first registered and that they had been unable to correct the error. Others said that Hungarian police and officials from the Office of Immigration and Nationality simply copied erroneous ages from registration papers obtained in Greece, Macedonia and Serbia, without taking into account their claim to be a child.[8]

On July 5 2016, a new law was adopted which enables Hungarian police to apprehend persons caught inside Hungarian territory within 8 kilometers of the border and push them back to the Serbian border.[9]

In July and September 2016, Human Rights Watch found that some of the most vulnerable asylum seekers, including children, were kept stranded on the Hungarian border in poor conditions for weeks while they waited to enter the country and file their claims. Human Rights Watch also documented cases of violence against migrants and asylum seekers, including four unaccompanied children and a family with young children, who crossed irregularly into Hungary after July 5, 2016. Migrants and asylum seekers reported being severely beaten by people wearing uniforms consistent with those of Hungarian police, army, or local paramilitary–so-called “field guards.”[10]

On March 7, 2017, the Hungarian government adopted the latest comprehensive set of amendments to asylum laws, allowing for the automatic detention, solely on the ground of their immigration status, of almost all asylum seekers. This includes families with children, as well as unaccompanied children above age 14. These amendments stipulated that asylum seekers would be held in border “transit zones” for the duration of their asylum process, including any appeals.[11] One of the amendments also enables the summary expulsion of all persons found in an irregular situation in Hungary to the external side of the country’s extensive border fences. Coupled with recent restrictive amendments to the asylum law, which bar asylum seekers from meaningful access to the asylum procedure, authorities limited daily entry of asylum seekers, leaving thousands, including children, stranded in Serbia in poor conditions.[12]

These measures violate the rights of all asylum seekers and migrants, including children, who enter the territory of Hungary.[13] As a result, the only way those without legal status in Hungary will be able to request protection through the asylum system is to gain admission to a transit zone established on the Hungarian-Serbian border.  By mid-November 2017, there were 455 asylum seekers detained in the two transit zones, including 243 children, among them 19 unaccompanied children.[14] In February 2018, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) noted that the Hungarian authorities were, on average, only allowing two asylum seekers a day to enter the country through the two “transit zones,”[15] leaving 4,000 asylum seekers and migrants stranded in Serbia, many in inhumane conditions.[16]

Human Rights Watch recommends that the Committee ask the government of Hungary:

  • What are the procedures for age assessments of accompanied and unaccompanied migrant and asylum-seeking children?
  • What steps are being taken to improve access to asylum for anyone seeking protection, including children?
  • Will the government follow the Committee’s recommendation that member states should not detain children for immigration purposes, even as a last resort?
  • What services do migrant and asylum-seeking children have access to including physical and mental health services and education?
  • What steps are being taken to improve the quality of living conditions in state-run facilities, detention centers, and transit centers for migrant and asylum-seeking children?
  • Has the government investigated any allegations of excessive use of force and violence by border officials and prosecuted any, where applicable? If so, how many and with what outcome?

Human Rights Watch recommends that the Committee call upon the government of Hungary to:

  • Comply with the European Union reception directive and international refugee law and take steps to improve access to asylum for anyone seeking protection, including children.
  • Conduct non-invasive, comprehensive age assessments of accompanied and unaccompanied migrant and asylum-seeking children, in line with international legal standards.
  • Follow the Committee’s recommendation that member states should not detain children for immigration purposes, even as a last resort.
  • Provide full access to quality physical and mental health services that meets international standards of accessibility, availability, acceptability, and quality.
  • Provide access to quality, inclusive education for migrant and asylum-seeking children.
  • Otherwise improve the quality of living conditions for migrant and asylum-seeking children.
  • Investigate any allegations of excessive use of force and violence by border officials and prosecute, where applicable.

Right to Secondary Education (Articles 28, 29)

In 2012, Hungary lowered the age at which children must attend school from 18 to 16.[17] Following this reduction in the age of compulsory attendance, by 2015 25,000 students are estimated to have voluntarily left school before completing their secondary education.[18] According to the European Commission, in 2016 the early school leaving rate increased to 12.4 percent, above the European Union average of 10.7 percent. While the early school leaving rate has been decreasing steadily across the European Union, it has not fallen in Hungary since 2010.[19]

Human Rights Watch recommends that the Committee ask the government of Hungary:

  • What percentage of the children who have voluntarily dropped out of school at age 16 or 17 since 2012 come from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, or from the Roma community and could you provide the data on early leavers disaggregated by gender, ethnicity, religion, disability, as applicable?
  • What is the gender breakdown of children who have voluntarily dropped out of school at age 16 or 17 since 2012?
  • What measures is the government taking in accordance with article 28(e) to encourage regular attendance at schools and the reduction of drop-out rates?

Human Rights Watch recommends that the Committee call upon the government of Hungary to:

  • Ensure that the reduction in the compulsory age of school attendance does not discriminate in access to education against either boys or girls, children of lower socio-economic backgrounds, or Roma children.
  • Take immediate measures to reverse drop-out rates.  

Protection of Education during Armed Conflict (Articles 28, 38)

As of January 2018, Hungary was contributing 71 troops and 12 staff officers to United Nations peacekeeping operations around the world. Hungary’s peacekeepers are deployed in Cyprus and the Central African Republic, both of which have endorsed the Safe Schools Declaration. 

Hungary’s peacekeeper troops are required to comply with the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations’ UN Infantry Battalion Manual (2012), which includes the provision that “schools shall not be used by the military in their operations.”[20] Moreover, the new 2017 Child Protection Policy of the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations, Department of Field Support, and Department of Political Affairs notes:

United Nations peace operations should refrain from all actions that impede children's access to education, including the use of school premises. This applies particularly to uniformed personnel. Furthermore, recognizing the adverse impact of the use of schools for military purposes, in particular its effects on the safety of children and education personnel, the civilian nature of schools, and the right to education, United Nations peace operations personnel shall at no time and for no amount of time use schools for military purposes.[21]


In June 2015, the UN Security Council unanimously adopted resolution 2225 (2015) on children and armed conflict, which:

Expresses deep concern that the military use of schools in contravention of applicable international law may render schools legitimate targets of attack, thus endangering the safety of children and in this regard encourages Member States to take concrete measures to deter such use of schools by armed forces and armed groups.[22]

That same year, Hungary expressed concern at the UN Security Council open debate on children and armed conflict that “attacks on schools and hospitals have become a common feature in most armed conflicts, putting children at peril and impeding their access to education and health services,” and at the increasing use of schools for military purposes.[23]

Human Rights Watch believes that an example of such a concrete measure to deter the military use of schools would be for Hungary to endorse and implement the Safe Schools Declaration.[24] The Safe Schools Declaration is a political commitment to better protect students, educational staff, schools, and universities during armed conflict. It was drafted through a consultative process led by Norway and Argentina in 2015. The Declaration includes a commitment to use the Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict.[25] The Committee on the Rights of the Child has previously recommended endorsement of the Safe Schools Declaration stating it is particularly relevant in the context of the State party’s participation in UN peacekeeping operations.[26]

As of February 2018, 73 countries—representing more than one-third of all UN member states—have already endorsed the Safe Schools Declaration, including 20 of Hungary’s fellow European Union states, and 20 of Hungary’s fellow NATO states.

Human Rights Watch recommends that the Committee ask the government of Hungary:

  • What steps has Hungary taken in line with UN Security Council Resolution 2143 (2014) and 2225 (2015) to deter the use of schools for military purposes?
  • Are protections for schools from military use included in any policies, rules, or pre-deployment trainings for Hungary’s armed forces?
  • Will Hungary commit to protecting students, teachers, and schools during armed conflict, and endorse and implement the Safe Schools Declaration, including by bringing the Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict into domestic military policy and operational frameworks?

Human Rights Watch recommends that the Committee call upon the government of Hungary to:

  • Endorse and implement the Safe Schools Declaration, including by bringing the Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict into domestic military policy and operational frameworks.

[1] “Hungary: New Border Regime Threatens Asylum Seekers, Closed Borders, Prosecution, and Forcible Returns,” Human Rights Watch news release, September 9, 2015, https://www.hrw.org/news/2015/09/19/hungary-new-border-regime-threatens-....

[2] Ibid.; “Hungary: Failing to Protect Vulnerable Refugees, Ensure Prompt Asylum Process; Probe Excessive Force Allegations,” Human Rights Watch news release, September 20, 2016, https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/09/20/hungary-failing-protect-vulnerable-r....

[3] “Hungary: Locked Up for Seeking Asylum, Long Detention, Poor Conditions, Little Help for Vulnerable People,” Human Rights Watch news release, December 1, 2015, https://www.hrw.org/news/2015/12/01/hungary-locked-seeking-asylum.

[4] Currently most asylum seekers in Hungary are accommodated in substandard border “transit zones” following a 2017 policy change.

[5] Hungary: Locked Up for Seeking Asylum, Long Detention, Poor Conditions, Little Help for Vulnerable People,” Human Rights Watch news release, December 1, 2015, https://www.hrw.org/news/2015/12/01/hungary-locked-seeking-asylum.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] 2007. évi LXXXIX. Törvény az államhatárról, July 6, 2016, https://net.jogtar.hu/jr/gen/hjegy_doc.cgi?docid=A0700089.TV&timeshift=20160717; “Hungary: Migrants Abused at the Border, Ensure Asylum Access; Investigate Cruel, Violent Pushbacks,” July 13, 2016, https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/07/13/hungary-migrants-abused-border.

[10] “Hungary: Migrants Abused at the Border, Ensure Asylum Access; Investigate Cruel, Violent Pushbacks,” July 13, 2016, https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/07/13/hungary-migrants-abused-border; “Hungary: Failing to Protect Vulnerable Refugees, Ensure Prompt Asylum Process; Probe Excessive Force Allegations.”

[11] 2017/XX law on the severity of proceedings performed at the areas of border control and the amendments of related legislation, March 7, 2017, https://net.jogtar.hu/jr/gen/hjegy_doc.cgi?docid=A1700020.TV&timeshift=fffffff4&txtreferer=00000001.TXT; “Hungary: Draft Law Tramples Asylum Seekers’ Rights, EU Should Seek To Halt Plan to Hold Asylum Seekers in Transit Zones,” March 7, 2017, https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/03/07/hungary-draft-law-tramples-asylum-seekers-rights; Joint Letter to the European Parliament to Adopt a Resolution on the Situation in Hungary, April 25, 2017, https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/04/25/joint-letter-european-parliament-ado....

[12] “Hungary: Draft Law Tramples Asylum Seekers’ Rights, EU Should Seek To Halt Plan to Hold Asylum Seekers in Transit Zones;” “Human Rights Watch World Report 2018, European Union,” 2018, https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2018/country-chapters/european-union#fa....

[13] Reception Conditions Directive, Directive 2013/33/EU, http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/PDF/?uri=CELEX: 32013L0033&from=EN (accessed July 13, 2017); Refugee Convention of 1951; European Convention on Human Rights.

[14] “Human Rights Watch World Report 2018, European Union,” 2018, https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2018/country-chapters/european-union#fa....

[15] United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), “Hungary: UNHCR dismayed over further border restrictions and draft law targeting NGOs working with asylum-seekers and refugees,” February 16, 2018, http://www.unhcr.org/en-us/news/press/2018/2/5a86dcff4/hungary-unhcr-dismayed-further-border-restrictions-draft-law-targeting.html (accessed February 22, 2018).

[16] UNHCR, “Serbia Update 05-18 February 2018," https://data2.unhcr.org/en/documents/details/62188 (accessed February 22, 2018).

[17] Public Education Act (Law CXC. Of 2011) [2011. évi CXC. Törvény a nemzeti köznevelésről]. (2011). 45. § (2).]

[18] “Brutális adatok: itt a tankötelezettség leszállításának eredménye,” October 19, 2016, 168 ora, http://168ora.hu/itthon/brutalis-adatok-itt-a-tankotelezettseg-leszallitasanak-eredmenye-2611 (accessed February 22, 2018).

[19] European Commission, “Education and Training Monitor 2017, Hungary,” 2017, https://ec.europa.eu/education/sites/education/files/monitor2017-hu_en.pdf (accessed February 2, 2018), pp., 3, 5.

[20] United Nations Infantry Battalion Manual, 2012, section 2.13, “Schools shall not be used by the military in their operations.”

[21] UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations, Department of Field Support and Department of Political Affairs, “Child Protection in UN Peace Operations (Policy),” June 2017.

[22] UN Security Council, Resolution 2225 (2015), S/RES/2225 (2015), http://www.securitycouncilreport.org/atf/cf/%7B65BFCF9B-6D27-4E9C-8CD3-CF6E4FF96FF9%7D/s_res_2225.pdf (accessed October 9, 2017), para 7.

[23] Permanent Mission of Hungary to the UN, New York, “Open debate of the Security Council on Children and Armed Conflict: Children Victims of Non-State Armed Groups, Intervention by H.E. Ambassador Katalin Bogyay, Permanent Representative,” 25 March 2015, https://ensz-newyork.mfa.gov.hu/assets/71/15/76/e6af1556049805974efde6bf5096b74628cd7561.pdf (accessed February 16, 2018).

[24] Safe Schools Declaration, May 28, 2015, https://www.regjeringen.no/globalassets/departementene/ud/vedlegg/utvikl... (accessed October 19, 2016).

[25] Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack, Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict, March 18, 2014, http://protectingeducation.org/sites/default/files/documents/guidelines_... (accessed October 19, 2016).

[26] UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, “Concluding observations on the report submitted by Bhutan under article 8 (1) of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict,” CRC/C/OPAC/BTN/CO/1, June 27, 2017 http://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/treatybodyexternal/Download.aspx?symbolno=CRC%2fC%2fOPAC%2fBTN%2fCO%2f1&Lang=en (accessed February 6, 2018).

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Footage of women and children in immigration holding cells in Douglas, Arizona, September 2015, made public in 2016 after a group of migrants challenged detention conditions in the cells. 

US Customs and Border Protection via American Immigration Council

(Washington, DC) – United States border agents routinely hold families, including infants, in freezing cells when it takes them into custody at or near the border, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today.

The 44-page report, “In the Freezer: Abusive Conditions for Women and Children in US Immigration Holding Cells,” is based on interviews with 110 women and children. Human Rights Watch found that US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents routinely separate adult men and teenage boys from other family members. The practice runs counter to agency policy that families should be kept together whenever possible while in holding cells. After the initial period of detention in the freezing holding cells, sometimes for days, men usually remain separated from the rest of their family upon transfer to longer-term detention facilities.

“The persistent practices in immigration holding cells are degrading and punitive,” said Michael Garcia Bochenek, senior children’s rights counsel at Human Rights Watch. “Immigration authorities should keep families together and shouldn’t detain children overnight in holding cells.”

Detention and family separation have serious adverse consequences for mental well-being, especially for those who have already suffered trauma. Most of the women and children Human Rights Watch interviewed said they had fled their home countries after they were targeted for violence or other persecution.

Time in the holding cells was “the most difficult and traumatic” period of detention for women and children apprehended by US immigration authorities, a team of psychologists found in a 2015 study.

All immigration detainees have the right to be treated with dignity and humanity, and children are entitled to specific safeguards. Human Rights Watch found that conditions in immigration holding cells are in breach of international standards and CBP policies, and likely violate the terms of federal court orders.

Women and children told Human Rights Watch they spent up to three nights in cells with uncomfortably low temperatures, sleeping on the floor or concrete benches with only a foil blanket to protect them. In many cases, border agents required them to remove and discard sweaters or other layers of clothing, purportedly for security reasons, before they entered the cells.

Holding cells often do not provide hand soap to women and children, meaning they cannot hygienically clean their hands before and after eating, feeding infants, using the toilet, or changing diapers. Most of the women and children held in these cells said they were not allowed to shower during their time in holding cells.

One woman interviewed said she and her-five-year-old son were soaked after wading across the river. “We were sitting on the cement floor, completely freezing,” she said. “In the end, I had to sleep seated upright, with my son in my lap, because I couldn’t let him lay down on the cement floor.” CBP officials have consistently denied that holding cells are cold, even as the women and children held there have regularly reported that the temperatures in these facilities are much colder than in other immigration detention centers. In October 2017, for example, the Women’s Refugee Commission reported that nearly all of about 150 women interviewed in 2016 and 2017 said they had been held “for days in freezing cold CBP facilities.”

CBP officials did not answer Human Rights Watch’s specific questions about conditions in holding cells, citing ongoing litigation. They instead pointed to agency policies and stated that CBP follows all applicable laws and policies, including court orders.

In court filings, the agency has attempted to justify its failure to provide sleeping mats to women and their children by saying that the cells are not designed for holding people overnight. Yet nearly all the women and children Human Rights Watch interviewed spent at least one night in a holding cell. Other studies, including one by the US Government Accountability Office (GAO), have consistently found that two-thirds of migrants in holding cells remain there for at least one night, and tens of thousands of migrants spend 72 hours or more in holding cells each year.

A preliminary court order, limited to holding cells in Arizona and upheld on appeal, says that all migrants held for more than 12 hours must be given sleeping mats and the opportunity to wash. In another court case that covers holding cells in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley, a federal judge ordered CBP to remedy abusive conditions for children placed in holding cells.

CBP should ensure that all immigration holding cells provide hygienic conditions, including access to soap, showers, toothbrushes, and toothpaste, for all detained migrants, Human Rights Watch said. The agency should set temperatures in cells that are comfortable for detained people.

Holding cells should be used only for very short periods. People should not be held there overnight unless it is unavoidable, and children should never be held there overnight. People held overnight should be provided with sleeping mats and blankets.

US immigration authorities should also avoid splitting up families when they are apprehended. Instead, the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) should identify and provide alternatives that keep families together.

“Conditions in immigration holding cells are not only needlessly cruel but also demonstrably harmful, particularly for people who have suffered persecution,” Bochenek said. “The United States should not persist in practices that traumatize children and their families.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Demonstrators stand on a balcony during an anti-racism rally in Macerata, Italy, February 10, 2018. REUTERS/Yara Nardi.

© 2018 Reuters
Italian politics are never boring, and election campaigns are always times of particularly strident debate. But the tenor of the campaign leading up to Italy’s national elections on March 4 on immigration issues is profoundly alarming.

In the wake of a drive-by shooting targeting sub-Saharan Africans in Macerata, in central Italy, on February 3, many politicians seem more concerned with blaming irregular immigrants than with forcefully condemning an act of racist violence that left five men and one woman injured. The confessed shooter, Luca Traini, a former failed candidate for the anti-immigrant party Northern League, said he was distraught over the horrific death and dismemberment of an Italian woman and wanted to “shoot black men.” Three Nigerian men have been charged with the murder.

Matteo Salvini, the leader of the Northern League (NL), qualified his condemnation of the shooting saying, “it’s clear that out-of-control immigration, an invasion…leads to social conflict.” Silvio Berlusconi, former prime minister and leader of Forza Italia (FI), took the opportunity to repeat an old theme of his: undocumented migrants in Italy are all “ready to commit crimes,” creating a “social bomb about to explode.”

There are clear links between Traini and extreme-right groups—a copy of Mein Kampf along with other Nazi publications was found in his home and he has a neo-Nazi tattoo on his forehead. But the leader of the far-right Fratelli d’Italia (FdL), Georgia Meloni, insisted he was simply unbalanced, and that fighting “terrorism and the invasion of illegal immigrants” should be the priority rather than debating fascism and racism “that no longer exist.”

Far-right, ideologically racist violence has reared its ugly head in Italy before but everyday intolerance and concerns and grievances over the significant increase of boat migration  permeate Italian society. Exploiting and pandering to these sentiments, in rhetoric and in policy, present a serious long-term threat to the fabric of Italian society.

Current polls suggest that no single party is likely to achieve a clear victory in the elections on March 4 and it is anyone’s guess what strange deals may be struck to form a government. But the direction and tone of the discussion around migration has already done significant damage, whoever wins, and Italy’s vibrant nongovernmental groups will have their work cut out for them to promote fair, rights-respecting policies.

A FI-NL-FdL coalition offers a rights-be-damned law-and-order approach with a heavy dose of nativism. Their explicit campaign pledges range from pushbacks of boat migrants to Libya to eliminating humanitarian visas that allow particularly vulnerable migrants to remain in Italy.

Meanwhile the populist Five Star Movement—never coherent on immigration issues— took a sharp turn to the right after a poor showing in 2017 local elections. Its leader, Luigi Di Maio, led the charge last year against nongovernmental organizations saving lives in the Mediterranean and has lately taken up the “Italians First” slogan.

The governing Democratic Party (PD) has a more nuanced approach but its focus on bringing boat arrivals down goes hand in hand with accepting that people will be trapped in incredibly abusive conditions in Libya. It has also offered only a muted response to Traini’s racist rampage.

Over 600,000 migrants and asylum seekers have disembarked in Italy since 2014. An unknowable but significant number moved onward to other EU countries, but increased identification measures and reinforced border controls by Italy’s northern neighbors over the past two years mean that many remain in Italy, either as undocumented migrants or as asylum seekers in the country’s burgeoning but still overwhelmed reception system. There are legitimate concerns around mismanagement, corruption, and inadequate integration measures that both impede newcomers from contributing to society and nurture social tensions.

By supporting Italy in trying to stop the boats while at the same time failing to share responsibility for those arriving, the rest of the EU has helped to create fertile ground for anti-immigrant politics. A plan to relocate tens of thousands of asylum seekers to other EU countries fell 70 percent short of its target of 39,600 people. Meanwhile, governments around the EU are insisting that Italy take back people who travelled onward on their own, holding Italy to the Dublin Regulation, which requires the first country of entry to take responsibility for assessing asylum applications. Probably the only issue all political parties agree on is the need to reform the Dublin Regulation.

Italy faces real challenges, but fear-mongering and throwing rights to the wind shouldn’t be part of the solution. Italy’s political leadership should show the courage to confront rising racism and offer a positive, humane agenda on migration. And the rest of the EU should help by demonstrating a genuine commitment to sharing responsibility.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

A worker tends to chickens at a farm in Thailand. 

© 2007 Sukree Sukplang / Reuters

(New York) – The Thai government should publicly oppose in court the criminal defamation charges against 14 Burmese migrant workers for filing a complaint against their employer with Thailand’s human rights commission, Human Rights Watch said. The trial is to begin on February 7, 2018, in Don Muang Magistrates Court in Bangkok. If convicted, the workers face up to a year in prison.

“The criminal defamation case against 14 migrant workers for reporting abusive labor conditions threatens all rights enforcement bodies in Thailand,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “The government should publicly oppose the employer’s charges and protect the ability of government agencies to act on complaints of wrongdoing.”

Public prosecutors and representatives of the Ministry of Labor should both play an important role in raising concerns with the court about protecting persons from retaliation for filing complaints to government agencies.

In July 2016, the 14 workers submitted their complaint to the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand, accusing Thammakaset Co. Ltd. – a chicken farm in Lopburi province – of subjecting them to grueling work conditions. They said the company required them to work up to 20 hours a day without a day off over 40 or more days, forced them to work overtime, paid them below the minimum wage, restricted their freedom of movement, and confiscated their identity documents.

In August 2016, Labor Ministry officials ordered Thammakaset to pay the 14 workers compensation of 1.7 million Baht (US$48,600). However, the workers have yet to receive any compensation as the company has appealed the order in the courts.

Thammakaset filed a criminal defamation complaint in October 2016 against the 14 workers, together with a labor activist from the Migrant Worker Rights Network. Thammakaset contends the workers’ complaints to the human rights commission damaged the company’s reputation.

“The Ministry of Labor determined the company violated the law and ordered it to pay the workers,” Adams said. “Shockingly, the company not only refused to pay but is now trying to level criminal charges against their workers for highlighting their plight.”

On May 31, 2017, Prime Minister Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha emphasized the importance of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. He said: “The government is determined to push business operations in Thailand to be fully in line with the three pillars of the UN Guiding Principles regarding protection [of human rights], respect [for human rights], and reparation [for damage from abuse] … The government has undertaken actions, including enforcing a labor protection legislation that ensures fair treatment of workers and protects them from abuse and mistreatment.”

However, Thailand’s criminal defamation law allows employers to retaliate against workers who report alleged labor rights abuses. Article 137 of the Criminal Code makes it a criminal offense to give “false information to any official” where it “is likely to cause injury to any person or the public,” and carries a penalty of up to six months in prison and a fine of up to 10,000 Baht (US$300). Article 326 makes it a criminal offense to “impute anything” to another person “before a third person in any manner likely to impair [their] reputation … or to expose such other person to hatred or scorn,” and carries a penalty of up to one year in prison and a fine of up to 20,000 Baht ($600).

Human Rights Watch, along with an increasing number of governments and international agencies, believes that criminal defamation laws should be abolished because they are an inherently disproportionate response to the need to protect reputations. Civil defamation laws are perfectly adequate for that task.

“The government should not sit still while Thammakaset uses the courts to undermine corporate accountability for labor rights abuses,” Adams said. “Thailand’s national human rights commission should also step up and protect the integrity of its complaint process by speaking out against abusive criminal defamation cases.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

(Washington, DC) – Ongoing debates around US immigration policy should be squarely focused on the people whose rights and families are at stake, Human Rights Watch said today. Human Rights Watch released an automated Twitter bot, @ImmigrantsAreUS, which is tweeting out profiles of some of the nearly 25 million non-citizens living in the US, both authorized and unauthorized, based on their responses to US Census Bureau surveys.

The bot tweets actual survey question responses from a random selection of non-citizens surveyed by the US Census Bureau between 2012 and 2016 in its annual American Community Surveys. The surveys ask non-citizens detailed questions about their ties to American communities, including about their families and households, living conditions, occupations, and working conditions. This data contrasts with rhetoric from US President Donald Trump and some members of Congress that casts immigrants as a drain on society, and scapegoats unauthorized immigrants as violent criminals.

“Congress and the president should craft immigration policies informed by reality, not harmful scapegoating,” said Alison Parker, US managing director at Human Rights Watch. “Our bot will randomly tweet out profiles every hour, showing elected representatives who is affected by their decisions to arrest, deport or legalize – many of them people with deep roots in the US.”

Administration policies based on false narratives increased immigration arrests from the interior of the country by 40 percent during the first eight months of 2017. People arrested at the border are more likely to be recent arrivals to the US, and therefore have fewer ties with the country, than people living further inland from US borders. Data show arrests of people without criminal convictions living in the interior have tripled compared with the same period in 2016.

In its first hours in operation, the bot tweeted out the following profile:

“I am an immigrant. I am a veteran. I live with 4 family members. I am a 43 year old male. 3 or more people in my household worked last year. I earned $16,800 last year. I work 36 hours per week. I live in Rep. Martha Roby's state. #ImmigrantsAreUS” https://twitter.com/ImmigrantsAreUS/status/960317109141102592 

A fact sheet released by the White House on January 30 presented its latest proposal for immigration reform. It requests increased funds for a border wall and immigration enforcement, proposes legal status for 1.8 million unauthorized people who entered the country as children, would end the diversity visa lottery, and would cut legal options by ending several types of family-based immigration. Congressional leaders on both sides of the aisle have rejected the plan, for different reasons. The pressure mounts to address the uncertainty for the 800,000 former recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) before the March 5 deadline that may cut off their right to stay in the US.

Human Rights Watch has recommended Congress pass a “clean” DREAM act to address this group, without adding other harmful immigration policy changes. Human Rights Watch has proposed rights-respecting immigration reforms, including overhauling US laws to takes into account the ties that bind deeply-rooted immigrants to the country.

The @ImmigrantsAreUS bot will automatically mine US Census data to tweet out one profile per hour of authorized and unauthorized immigrants living in the United States. The auto-generated profiles are likely to include the immigrants’ profession, salary, numbers of hours worked weekly, property taxes paid, US military service, family relationships, home ownership, and parental status. The bot will also identify a member of Congress from the state of residence for each immigrant profiled. It is modeled after, and built in collaboration with the creator of the @censusAmericans Twitter account. Additional profiles tweeted out by the bot in its first hours include:

“Our @ImmigrantsAreUS bot will remind officials of the real people and families with everything at stake in this debate around immigration policy,” Parker said. “A rights-respecting government builds its policies informed by facts, not fear. The Trump administration and Congress should have the courage to produce a fair and functional immigration system.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Migrants in Calais gather in the rain for a clothing distribution in an industrial zone on the outskirts of Calais, France. 

© Futuro Berg/Help Refugees, October 2017

It’s the middle of winter and six hundred or more asylum seekers and migrants, including more than 100 unaccompanied children, remain camped out in Calais in increasingly dire conditions, exposed to the elements and faced with routine police harassment and frequent violence. Many are desperate to join family and friends in the United Kingdom; others are there for lack of any better option in France.

President Emmanuel Macron finally visited on January 16 and gave a major speech in front of an audience of police officers and government officials—it was not clear that any migrants attended or were invited. He delivered a mixed message about whether the situation for migrants here—or indeed France’s leadership for the European migrant situation—is going to improve.

Just across the Channel from Dover, the northern French city of Calais was, until October 2016, the site of a sprawling, squalid shantytown that held as many as 10,000 asylum seekers and migrants, including many unaccompanied children. The camp was dismantled at the end of that month, its residents dispersed to emergency shelters across France. But many of those shelters, particularly those for children, did not deliver on their promise of access to the French asylum system and other services, and migrants rapidly returned to Calais.

On a positive note, Macron emphatically stated that police must treat migrants with humanity, that the physical violence and destruction of migrants’ property that has characterized the police response in recent months is “contrary to all principles of professional ethics” and if proven, “will be punished.”

His speech and remarks later in the day in a meeting with nongovernmental organizations, including Human Rights Watch, appear to have been informed by the groups’ reporting and recommendations.

Indeed, at one point in the meeting, Macron affirmed that his administration took seriously the report of an internal investigation corroborating our own findings in July of police abuse of migrants, calling out Interior Minister Gérard Collomb, who suggested otherwise.

In fact, the internal inquiry found “credible” evidence of police abuse against migrants in Calais.

Macron also announced that the state would take responsibility for distributions of food to migrants, a role that French authorities have until now largely left to humanitarian groups.

At the same time, Macron appeared to endorse the premise that humanitarian aid draws migrants to Calais, raising immediate questions about whether the government will effectively provide such assistance.

It’s hard to credit the notion that the limited assistance migrants receive in Calais is a significant pull factor. Many migrants flee their home countries in search of safety. Calais draws migrants because it is the closest port to the United Kingdom, the preferred destination for many, not because they receive a little food, water, and clothing while they’re in northern France. Regardless, France has a duty to meet the basic needs of those on its territory.

Alarmingly, Macron also suggested that some groups have made unfounded accusations against authorities. In such cases, he said, the state will charge and bring to justice those responsible for defamation.

That sounds like a threat. Public officials should be open to criticism. Reports of police violence should be accepted in good faith and promptly investigated. Individuals and groups shouldn’t fear that speaking out will lead to repercussions.

Elements of Macron’s broader approach to migration are also questionable. Immigration document checks at emergency shelters, authorized by the interior minister in December, run counter to Macron’s pledge to “accommodate everyone in a dignified way” and could lead people to risk freezing outdoors.

The president’s support for expedited asylum hearings runs the risk that people with well-founded but complex claims could be returned to harm.

On wider EU migration policy, we see the same paradox. Macron called on the European Union to help migrants trapped in abuse in Libya, and offered to resettle refugees evacuated from Libya to neighboring countries. But France has failed to call for an end to the arbitrary detention of migrants in Libya and has endorsed the transfer of responsibilities from the  EU and nongovernmental group rescuers to the Libyan Coast Guard in the Central Mediterranean despite evidence that this approach leads to the return of migrants to abusive detention in Libya.

In advance of Macron’s Calais visit, the French newspaper L’Obs described Macron’s migration policy as “humanist discourse on the one hand and minimalist policy on the other—French hypocrisy.” In similar terms, a group of political allies wrote in Le Monde, Your politics contradict the humanism that you preach.”

The president should heed these warnings, and take steps to ensure that his administration’s migration policies uphold the human rights principles he has repeatedly reaffirmed. 

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am