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

Unaccompanied minors are seen at the Bristow facility, in this photo provided by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, in Bristow, Virgina, U.S., June 21, 2018.

© 2018 Reuters

Held down, injected, drugged – this is how immigrant children in need of mental health support, but detained in government facilities, are being treated, according to a lawsuit filed in a California court in April.

Children at the Shiloh Treatment Center in Manvel, Texas, were allegedly prescribed as many as 10 different shots and pills at a time and told they would never leave the center if they refused to take the medication. One plaintiff declared that staff members at Shiloh provoked the children to make then angry and justify giving them injections.

Another complaint, filed on behalf of five immigrant children in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles in June, alleges that the policies of the Office of Refugee Resettlement are causing grave harm to children. It accuses the agency of detaining children in excessively restrictive conditions, forcibly medicating children and failing to reunite children with their families.

Lucas, a 12-year-old from Guatemala, is one of the plaintiffs. He is detained at the Shiloh center. According to his older sister, who lives in Los Angeles, when he was in Guatemala, Lucas was a happy and talkative child. However, his detention and the fear of not being reunited with his family have made him depressed. He was placed on psychotropic medication and transferred to Shiloh. The staff told him he won’t be released until they assess him as “psychologically sound.”

This is just one more scandal tarnishing the image of Donald Trump’s great America. But this one struck me the hardest.

I don’t know what it’s like to be an immigrant kid, to travel alone to an unfamiliar country or be separated from my family at the border. But I know what it’s like to experience forced psychiatric treatment as a child.

I spent much of my teenage years in psychiatric wards. It starts with the hands of strangers all over you, holding you down. You are stripped and given an injection. You feel like you’re losing control, being locked up in your own body.

Overmedication of children with mental health conditions or other disabilities is common in institutions. Human Rights Watch has documented such practices in Russia, Serbia and Brazil, where our researchers have frequently found children lying like zombies in the middle of noisy facilities. In most cases, the purpose of overmedication seems to be discipline and convenience for the staff, rather than treatment.

This is not to say that children in Shiloh and other facilities don’t have mental health needs. Of course they will be traumatized and require treatment. How else would you feel if you had to flee violence in your home country and ended up detained alone in a foreign land?

But forced psychiatric treatment is not help. These children need to be freed and reunited with their families, rather than being forcibly injected with psychotropic drugs. I know the damage it causes. No child should ever have to endure that.

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

SOS MEDITERRANEE crew rescue people off an over-crowded rubber boat in the Mediterranean, June 9, 2018. 

© 2018 Kenny Karpov/SOS MEDITERRANEE

(Milan) – The European Union’s obstruction of nongovernmental rescues and handover of responsibility to Libyan coast guard forces is a recipe for even greater loss of life in the Mediterranean and a continuing cycle of abuse for people trapped in Libya, Human Rights Watch said today.

“The EU’s efforts to block rescues and dithering on where rescued people can land, propelled by Italy’s hard-line and heartless approach, is leading to more deaths at sea and greater suffering in Libya,” said Judith Sunderland, associate Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Instead of discouraging rescues by nongovernmental organizations, commercial vessels, and even military ships, EU member states and institutions should ensure that rescued people can be taken to safe ports where their protection needs can be met.”

In a visit to Libya in early July, Human Rights Watch interviewed Libyan coast guard forces, dozens of detained refugees and migrants in four official detention centers in Tripoli, Zuwara, and Misrata, and officials from international organizations. The detained asylum seekers and migrants interviewed made serious allegations of abuse by guards and smugglers, and some reported aggressive behavior by coast guard forces during rescue operations at sea. Human Rights Watch confirmed that Libyan coast guard forces lack the capacity to ensure safe and effective search-and-rescue operations.

Since his government came to power in early June, Italy’s deputy prime minister and interior minister, Matteo Salvini, has campaigned against nongovernmental rescue organizations operating in the Mediterranean and refused or delayed ships from disembarking hundreds of vulnerable people rescued at sea in Italy, including military and commercial vessels. On July 23, the Italian government announced it would allow military ships participating in EUNAVFOR MED, the EU’s anti-smuggling operation, to disembark in Italy for five weeks while they renegotiate the mission’s operational plan.

In recent weeks, only the Spanish group Proactiva has patrolled international waters off the Libyan coast. All other rescue organizations are either blocked in Italian and Maltese ports by legal action or are planning new operating procedures given the uncertainty around rescue coordination and disembarkation. The risk that their vessels could be impounded, or that they could face criminal prosecution or financial loss from delayed disembarkation, risks deterring commercial ships from rescuing people at sea, even as the demand increases.

Two inflatable rubber boats used by Libyan coast guard forces for interceptions and rescues in Sebratha, 65km west of the capital Tripoli, July 2018.

© 2018 Human Rights Watch

The death toll in the central Mediterranean – between Libya/Tunisia and Italy/Malta – has skyrocketed even as departures from Libya have fallen significantly. In June alone, an estimated 600 people died or have been reported missing, bringing the death toll since January 1 to over 1,100. According to UNCHR, the United Nations refugee agency, the death rate in June was 1 in 7 people who attempted the journey, compared with 1 in 19 in the previous months of 2018, and 1 in 38 in the first six months of 2017.

Josefa, a woman from Cameroon, shortly after her rescue by the Spanish group Proactiva from a destroyed rubber boat in the Mediterranean, July 17, 2018. The organization also recovered the corpses of a woman and a young child. 

© 2018 Proactiva
On July 21, Proactiva docked in Palma de Mallorca, Spain with two corpses – a woman and a young child – and one survivor they found on a destroyed rubber boat 80 nautical miles from the Libyan coast. The organization has accused Libyan coast guard forces of leaving them to die after boarding the other passengers and returning them to Libya. Libyan authorities deny the accusation.

The failure by EU member states to ensure adequate search-and-rescue capacity in the Central Mediterranean is contrary to the spirit of international maritime law and may in certain circumstances give rise to liability for preventable loss of life and for direct breaches of the prohibition of refoulement return to risk of persecution, torture, or ill treatment, Human Rights Watch said.

Enabling Libyan coast guard units to intercept people in international waters, when it is known the coast guard will return people to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment in arbitrary detention in Libya – conditions that have been well-documented – may constitute aiding or assisting serious human rights violations. Likewise facilitating the interception and forced return to Libya of migrants seeking protection breaches international refugee law because Libya is not a party to the 1951 Refugee Convention and does not have a refugee law or procedure. This means that returned migrants have no effective remedy for their protection needs.

In a regrettable step, the International Maritime Organization (IMO), a UN agency, officially acknowledged in June Libya’s declaration of a vast search-and-rescue (SAR) region. Despite limited capacity of Libyan coast guard forces and the known fate of those returned to Libya, Italy has secured explicit support from EU heads of state for its practice, tested since at least May 2017, of transferring responsibility to those forces even in international waters.

The number of people detained in Libya has surged due to increased interceptions by Libyan coast guard forces. Brigadier General Mohamed Bishr, the head of the Libyan illegal migration directorate, told Human Rights Watch on July 12 that 8,672 people were in official detention centers, up from 5,200 in May. The International Organization for Migration estimates that there are 9,300 people in official detention centers in Libya. There are no available figures for people held in informal detention facilities run by armed groups or people smugglers and traffickers.

A woman lies on a mattress on the floor in Tajoura detention center, Tripoli, July 8, 2018. 

EU leaders and institutions should unequivocally reject Salvini’s call to “change the rules” to designate Libya a safe place to take refugees and migrants, Human Rights Watch said. Given Libya’s current treatment of migrants, such a designation would amount to a denial of reality. UNHCR should update its 2015 call on all countries to “allow civilians (Libyan nationals, habitual residents of Libya, and third-country nationals) fleeing Libya access to their territories.”

EU member states should act urgently to protect life at sea and take rapid steps to ensure predictable disembarkation in places of safety, Human Rights Watch said. They should support rather than obstruct nongovernmental groups’ rescue operations and ensure an adequate presence of vessels equipped for and ready to respond to boats in distress.

Until Libyan authorities end arbitrary detention, demonstrate sustained and significant improvements in conditions and treatment in detention centers, and have sufficient autonomous capacity to fulfil their search-and-rescue responsibilities, EU member states should resume these duties in international waters off the Libyan coast, including in the area Libya has declared its search-and-rescue region.

EU countries should urgently establish a regional disembarkation arrangement, including guarantees against automatic detention of rescued people, to ensure that people are taken to safe ports and swiftly relocated to another EU country that assumes responsibility for legal processing. Such an agreement is critical to preserving life-saving efforts at sea, including by nongovernmental and commercial ships, and to avoiding recurring disputes over disembarkation. EU countries and the European Commission should press Italy and Malta, closest to the critical search-and-rescue area, to allow prompt disembarkations.

Beyond emergency situations, taking rescued people to a non-EU country should be considered only if certain key conditions are met, Human Rights Watch said. These include, at a minimum, procedural guarantees against arbitrary detention and refoulement, access to a fair and efficient asylum procedure, and fair deportation procedures for those with no valid claim to remain. No countries outside the EU have indicated a willingness to enter into any formal disembarkation agreements.

Libyan authorities should adopt clear and consistent standard operating procedures for the coordination of rescue operations by commercial, nongovernmental, and any other vessels in its territorial waters or, within what it considers its search and rescue region in international waters, Human Rights Watch said. Libyan coast guard forces can and should play a vital role in ensuring a swift response to boats in distress, and in arranging for safe disembarkation outside Libya.

“Italy’s interior minister is right to point to the underlying hypocrisy in training and supplying Libyan coast guard forces while saying Libya is not a safe port,” Sunderland said. “But no amount of wishful thinking will make Libya a safe place to take rescued refugees and migrants anytime soon.”

Italy/EU Support for Libyan Coast Guard Forces

Migrants on a Libyan Coast Guard boat in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Libya, January 15, 2018. 

© 2018 Hani Amara/Reuters

Italy has taken the lead in EU efforts to build the capacity of Libyan authorities to secure Libya’s borders and patrol the Mediterranean. In February 2017, Italy signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Government of National Accord on migration control. Italy has since delivered four patrol boats under a 2008 agreement and promised to provide two more large boats as well as 30 Zodiacs (rubber speed-boats) by October. Italy is carrying out an EU-funded project to assist Libya in setting up a maritime rescue coordination center (MRCC), which is expected to be operational in 2020.

In the meantime, a Libyan operations room has been set up aboard an Italian navy ship docked in Tripoli. In a meeting with Human Rights Watch, Colonel Abu Ajeila Ammar, head of Libyan coast guard search-and-rescue operations, said, “We coordinate with MRCCs Rome and Malta, and the operations room is there to enhance the cooperation.”

In June, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) officially acknowledged Libya’s declaration of a vast search-and-rescue (SAR) region. EU heads of state adopted a joint statement in late June that all vessels in the Mediterranean  “must…not obstruct operations of the Libyan Coastguard.” It is regrettable that the IMO, a UN agency, recognized the authority of Libyan forces to take charge of operations despite concerns about capacity and the fate of those returned to Libya, Human Rights Watch said.

The Italian Maritime Rescue Coordination Center (IMRCC) has routinized a practice, tested since at least May 2017, of transferring responsibility to Libyan coast guard forces in international waters even when there are other, better-equipped vessels, including its own patrol boats or Italian navy vessels, closer to the scene.

The EU’s anti-smuggling operation EUNAVFOR MED – also known as Operation Sophia – includes a training program, begun in October 2016, for Libyan navy and coast guard officers, petty officers, and seamen under the Libyan Government of National Accord’s Defense Ministry. As of June, 213 Libyan coast guard and navy personnel had participated in training courses, according to an EUNAVORFOR MED presentation Human Rights Watch attended. EUNAVFOR MED should intensify its monitoring of Libyan coast guard operations, including by units not trained by the EU, and regularly publish its findings.

According to news reports, EUNAVFOR MED has paused operations given the uncertainty around being able to take rescued people to Italy, as provided under the mission’s operational plan. Since it began in 2015, ships participating in the operation are credited with rescuing over 49,000 people.

The Libyan coast guard under the Government of National Accord does not yet have a fully functioning maritime coordination center, and the existing operations room does not guarantee continuous coverage or rapid response in every case of distress. In a report leaked in February, EUNAVFOR MED cited a “critical infrastructural situation” in the operations room, limited language and software skills among personnel, and fuel and equipment shortfalls. The report concluded that the “lack of effective and reliable communication systems hampers Libyan capacity for the minimum level of execution of command and control, including that necessary to coordinate SAR/SOLAS events.”

Libyan coast guard forces rely heavily on Italian (and Maltese) surveillance capacity and assistance. Libyan units have inadequate and insufficient boats, chronic maintenance problems, and fuel shortages that limit their ability to patrol even Libyan territorial waters and quickly reach boats in distress, according to information obtained through interviews with Libyan coast guard forces in Tripoli and Sebratha, in July.

Colonel Ammar told Human Rights Watch that the force is able to coordinate and rescue large numbers of people despite “limited means.” He said, though, that “the boats that we currently have at our disposal are not suitable for SAR operations…. what we need are proper SAR boats, these are bigger, have more capacity and provide protection in the “hot zone [the area between Misrata and Zuwara].”

While Colonel Ammar said that the coast guard conducts daily patrols in the “hot zone,” Captain Ayman Al-Dabbashi, commander of the Libyan coast guard in Sebratha, told Human Rights Watch that his unit can patrol to only about five miles from shore due to fuel shortages. “There is no coordination between any of the Coast Guard points [on the western coast],” he said. “Everyone is independent.”

Despite these limitations, the Italian maritime rescue center now consistently appears to instruct boats in distress and potential rescue vessels to call the Libyan coast guard and defer to its instructions. This has led to delays in rescues, with Libyan authorities requiring nongovernmental rescue groups and commercial ships to wait on the scene until a Libyan patrol boat can arrive. It has also led to dangerous situations in which people panic and jump in the water to attempt to swim to a European vessel.

In an interview with Human Rights Watch, Brigadier General Abdullah Toumiyeh, commander of the Libyan coast guard, rightly stressed that “the priority…is saving lives. If an NGO boat is closer to the incident, then it should carry out the rescue, however they [NGOs] need to coordinate with…the Libyan Coast Guard.”

Accounts From Asylum Seekers, Migrants

Accounts of intercepted asylum seekers and migrants suggest that Libyan coast guard units are intervening even when other vessels are nearby.

“Ododo,” 31, from Nigeria, said she and over 100 others spent eight hours on a rubber boat on June 24: “We saw a very white rescue ship, and there was a plane overhead with a Spanish flag. But then the Libyan boat came very fast. They threw a rope but we said we didn’t want to go back. They insisted. We had to obey to save our lives.”

Another Nigerian woman, “Ifedayo,” interviewed separately, had a similar account: “We left one week and one day ago,” she said, or on July 2. “We saw the big white rescue ship, then the Libyan ship came fast and blocked us, [we said] we are so close, let us go. But they said no.”

“Emmanuel,” a 16-year-old from Sierra Leone, said he left on an overcrowded rubber boat from Garabulli on May 10. The passengers spent 16 hours at sea before they saw what he described as a “big, white-and-black” ship he believed was European. “But the Libyans came and hit our boat with theirs. It started to sink. They threw a rope for us to use to climb onto their patrol boat. There were pregnant women, they had to use the rope too. Everyone was jostling to get the rope. On board they didn’t give us anything, no water or food or life jackets.”

Some, like “Nala,” 23, from Somalia, expressed a mix of dismay and gratitude regarding her rescue by the Libyan coast guard. “We spent about five hours on the boat. It had started to sink and some boys called for help. The Libyans came. We lost hope when we saw the Libyans because we know we can stay in a place like this [detention center] for years, but we were happy they saved us.”

“Joanna,” a 34-year-old mother of three from Cameroon, said that once the boat she was on with 170 people crossed the “international line” after 10 hours at sea in early June, they saw a small white plane circling above them, but they did not call the Italian coast guard because they were afraid the Italians would send Libyan coast guard to take them back to Libya.

“The large Libyan boat came one hour after we saw the plane,” she said. “They threw us a rope and at first we refused to tie it to ours. The Libyans shot into the air and threatened us: ‘If you don’t tie it onto the boat then we will shoot at you.’ So we tied it to our boat and they started to move people to their boat.”

“Ahmed,” 26, a Palestinian from Gaza, said that he made a second attempt to reach Europe in May. “After 11 hours at sea, we spotted a large, orange-colored boat. We called the Italians with a Thuraya [satellite phone], but the boat had already started to lower its speed boats to come and rescue us. But before they could approach, the Libyans came from behind us and so the foreign boat stopped and did not approach us when they saw the Libyans. Some people jumped off our boat and started to swim toward the foreign boat. Those who remained refused to board the Libyan ship.

“At this point two of the three Libyans on board the large rescue ship, one of whom was from the coast guard and two who were in military uniform, shot into the water next to where we were. They also came very close to our boat and started to make waves to scare us. People got scared and finally started to board their ship. They took us to Khoms,” Ahmed said.

This may have been an incident reported by SOS MEDITERRANEE, whose rescue ship the Aquarius is white and orange, on May 7, in which the crew observed people jumping in the water. The rescue group said that the Libyan coast guard declined their repeated offers of assistance and ordered the ship to leave the area.

Obstruction, Criminalization of Nongovernmental Rescue Groups

Since 2014, nongovernmental organizations have been performing vital search-and-rescue operations in international waters off the coast of Libya, where many unseaworthy, overcrowded boats enter into distress. According to official Italian statistics, nongovernmental groups performed roughly 40 percent of all rescues in the central Mediterranean in 2017 and the first five months of 2018 – a total of 51,569 people.

A concerted campaign by Italian politicians and officials in 2017 and the volatile security situation in the Mediterranean led several groups, including Save the Children and Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS), to suspend operations. The Italian parliament conducted two separate inquiries in 2017, finding no evidence of misconduct by nongovernmental rescue organizations. Representatives of the Italian coast guard and navy said at the time that these groups were cooperative.

Nonetheless, every nongovernmental rescue organization with current capacity to perform rescues is facing legal battles or restrictions by Italian or Maltese authorities. Twenty people linked to the German group Jugend Rettet, Save the Children, and Médecins sans Frontières (MSF) are caught up in an investigation by a Sicilian prosecutor against Jugend Rettet for alleged collusion with smugglers. Its vessel was impounded in 2017.

Two crew members from Proactiva are under criminal investigation in Sicily after the group’s ship Open Arms refused to hand over rescued people to a Libyan patrol boat in international waters in March 2017. The boat was impounded but later released.

In June, judicial authorities in Malta impounded the vessel of the German group Mission Lifeline, and placed its captain under investigation, after the group was permitted to dock with 234 people following a five-day standoff. In July, Malta blocked two other German rescue organizations, Sea-Watch and Seefuchs, from leaving port, and grounded Moonbird, a civil reconnaissance aircraft that has assisted in spotting and subsequent rescue of migrant boats.

Rescued men disembark in Valencia, Spain, after spending over a week on the SOS MEDITERRANEE/MSF ship Aquarius. Italy and Malta refused to allow the ship to dock. July 17, 2018. 

© 2018 Kenny Karpov/SOS MEDITERRANEE

The Aquarius, operated jointly by SOS MEDITERRANEE and MSF, was forced to divert to Valencia, Spain, in early June with over 600 people after Italy and Malta refused to allow them to dock. Malta subsequently denied the Aquarius entry for a port call, and the ship has been docked in Marseilles since mid-June.

The groundwork for these efforts to obstruct rescues by nongovernmental groups was laid in 2017, when Italy imposed a “code of conduct” on them. In June 2018, all EU heads of state endorsed a statement effectively warning these groups to “not obstruct…the Libyan Coast Guard.” In July, the president of the European Commission took another swipe at nongovernmental groups, saying that “no one should contribute to keep alive the model of activities used by human smugglers and traffickers to exploit human misery.”

Statistical studies have debunked the claim that rescues by these groups encourage people to attempt the sea crossing, demonstrating stable or even higher numbers of departures at times when rescue ships were spread thin or absent entirely.

Burden on Commercial Shipping

Current dynamics in the Central Mediterranean may lead to an increased burden on commercial ships to respond to boats in distress at a time of significant uncertainty around disembarkation.

In at least two recent cases, the Italian maritime rescue center told commercial ships to contact Libyan coast guard forces for instructions. On June 30, the center diverted the commercial ship Sedef to respond to a boat in distress inside Libyan territorial waters, and subsequently said the ship should call the Libyan coast guard to arrange transfer or disembarkation. A representative of Kasif Denizcilik, the Turkish company that owns the Sedef, told Human Rights Watch by phone that the transfer of 115 rescued people to a Libyan patrol boat at sea took place without incident on July 1.

After the crew of the Vos Thalassa, an oil rig supply ship, reported to the Italian maritime rescue center that they had rescued 67 people in international waters on July 8, the Italian authorities instructed them to meet up with a Libyan patrol boat, providing them the position for a transfer. The plan was aborted when the crew reported that they faced protests and even threats once people realized they were heading toward the Libyan coast. All were eventually taken to Italy, where two of the rescued men face charges for violence, threats, and conspiracy to facilitate irregular immigration.

Forty people rescued by the crew of the Sarost 5, a Tunisian-flagged vessel, on July 15 remain on board, with Tunisia, Italy, and Malta refusing to allow the ship to disembark.

“We need to ensure that shipping can continue to fulfill their rescue obligations without undue difficulties or risk to the crew,” John Stawpert of the International Chamber of Shipping told Human Rights Watch in a phone interview.

The shipping industry, including flag states – countries where ships are registered – and maritime trade unions should consider using its influence to press EU member states and Libya to allow European coordination of rescue operations involving commercial ships in international waters, Human Rights Watch said.

Laws of the Sea

Support from Italy, Malta, or any other EU country in coordinating interceptions or rescues resulting in the return of refugees and migrants to Libya raises complex questions of law. All ships are obligated to come to the aid of a vessel in distress and take those recued to what is considered a place of safety under maritime law. Effective coordination among coastal states and all ships at sea is at the heart of the global search-and-rescue regime and is vital to preserving life at sea.

At the same time, the current conditions in Libya mean that it cannot be considered a place of safety. Furthermore, when facilitating Libyan interception of refugees and migrants at sea is instrumental in their return to abusive detention in Libya, this could constitute aiding or assisting in serious human rights violations. The EU and its member states are aware of the foreseeable violations that face migrants upon their return and that such violations breach both EU and Libya’s international legal obligations.

The UN Human Rights Committee, which oversees implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), concluded that “a State party [to the ICCPR] may be responsible for extraterritorial violations of the Covenant if it is a link in the causal chain that would make possible violations in another jurisdiction.” All EU member states and Libya are parties to the covenant. In light of this jurisprudence, any EU state assisting Libya to return people to Libya could be in breach of the covenant because the harm disembarked migrants face in Libya is a “foreseeable consequence” based on “knowledge the State party had at the time.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Protesters attend a rally against Hungarian government's clampdown on a top foreign university and non-government organisations in Budapest, Hungary, May 21, 2017.

© 2018 REUTERS/Laszlo Balogh

With independent media largely silenced or taken over, the courts increasingly curbed, and a parliament firmly under the control of the newly re-elected Fidesz ruling party, Hungary’s nongovernmental groups are the most effective remaining voices to hold the government to account. It should come as no surprise then that they are increasingly under fire.

Laws passed against these groups in 2017 and since Hungary’s legislative elections are bad enough. But the authorities recently introduced draft bills that would impose a special 25 percent tax on funds for “supporters of immigration” and change the law governing public assembly to give the police more discretion to ban or disband demonstrations they don’t like.

They follow a law that came into force on July 1 that makes it a crime to help refugees, asylum seekers, or other migrants. The law is designed to intimidate people who work or volunteer for aid groups. They could be jailed for up to a year for their work under the new law.

This newest law criminalizes a wide range of legitimate activities that are essential to expose and hopefully moderate the suffering caused by the government’s policies and practices on refugees and migrants, from violence at borders to lengthy detention in container camps. Legal professionals and aid workers will now take personal risks if they attempt to carry on their work advising asylum seekers and migrants about their rights in Hungary or simply sharing information or building volunteer groups.

The law passed in 2017 in the Fidesz-majority parliament requires organizations to register as “foreign-funded organizations” if they receive over a certain threshold of financial support from abroad and to use this pejorative label at every public appearance. The law – largely inspired by Russia’s ‘Foreign Agent’ Law – is intended to discredit and demonize civic action. It drew international condemnation from the human rights community and international experts.

A coalition of independent groups formed an alliance in response, to disobey the law and challenge it in the Hungarian constitutional court and the European Court of Human Rights. But while the clock is ticking for Hungarian groups, these challenges are still pending.

The government has also run a series of taxpayer-funded campaigns against independent groups and those who support them, from ordinary citizens to the billionaire philanthropist George Soros. State-sponsored billboards were similarly used to fuel hatred against asylum seekers and migrants. While the number of arrivals in Hungary is small, it suits Prime Minister Viktor Orban to talk about an invasion, since it legitimizes punitive action against people trying to stand up for the rights of everyone in the country.

These new and proposed laws and smear campaigns send a clear message to those who act in solidarity with the most marginalized groups like migrants, Roma, and the recently criminalized homeless: be quiet or face the consequences.

While European leaders get frustrated and tired with Orban’s stance on migration in Brussels, these last proposals for a biased tax and new curbs on peaceful gatherings should not be taken lightly. The complete rewrite of the Law on Assembly is set to strengthen protection for powerful interests against having to face protesters. For example, it could lead to banning protests outside the homes of public figures or embassies. Critics of autocratic regimes visiting the Hungarian parliament could be silenced or prosecuted for protesting.

These are serious risks affecting everyone’s rights to free assembly and expression. The changes benefit a political elite irritated by the voices demanding the government to heed European values of democracy, transparency and rule of law. No parliamentary vote, regardless of its size, should be a mandate for rights abuse.

Many of the organizations still standing up for the rights to free expression and association, are the same groups working to advance the rights of migrants and refugees in Hungary, as well as the rights of prisoners, Roma, people with disabilities, children, and women who face domestic violence. In short, anyone who needs protection.

Unless Europe holds the government accountable for disregarding European rules and values, there is no doubt that those who dissent and criticize unjust policies will come under increased pressure to give up or give in. European leaders have a duty to protect these values and those in Hungary who defend them and have no time to waste.

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

The Brazilian Ministry of Foreign Affairs reports that 55 Brazilian children are among the thousands of immigrant detainees being held in US shelters and detention centers. US immigration agents separated the children from their parents as the families tried to enter the United States.

At first, as they wrested children from their parents’ arms, some agents neglected to write down the children’s names, their country of origin, or the name of the place to which they were sending each child. In doing so, they compounded cruelty with carelessness.

By now, the authorities know where the children are. What they don’t know necessarily, because they haven’t kept track properly, is which children are related to which adults. Some of the children are very young, and apparently some of the parents have been deported and the US government doesn’t know where they are.

President Michel Temer addressed this tragedy with US Vice President Michael Pence when the two met in Brasília on June 27. President Temer offered to collaborate on arranging transportation to Brazil for detained children whose families want them returned home. For his part, Vice President Pence simply stood by the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy. About the separated children, he had little to say.  

While the US has stopped separating newly arriving children from their parents, it is now planning to detain entire families together, even though international law makes clear that detention is never in the best interest of a child. 

Brazil’s diplomats should ask for access to all shelters and detention centers holding children and try to map the location of every Brazilian child. They should require from the US information about where their parents are detained. They should reach out to parents and relatives to advise them on legal options for family reunification. For those families who want to be reunited in Brazil, President Temer could follow through on his offer to provide an official airplane to bring the children home.

Brazilian authorities should not only act quickly to protect the rights and interests of Brazilian children. They should also insist that the US put an end to a policy that inflicts incalculable psychological damage on innocent children, no matter their nationality.

President Trump has shown no concern about how the cruel treatment of immigrant children is viewed abroad.  Still, if there is one country that might be able to press his administration to reunite these children with their families, it might well be Brazil, the largest economy of the Latin American countries from which these families are migrating. 

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
In an important verdict for the protection of labor rights and freedom of expression in Thailand, a magistrates court in Bangkok on Wednesday acquitted 14 Burmese migrant workers of criminal defamation charges for filing a complaint against their employer with the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand (NHRCT).

The court found the workers had filed their complaint in good faith in order to protect their rights, as guaranteed by the Thai constitution and international conventions.

In their complaint to the NHRCT in July 2016, the workers alleged that the Thammakaset chicken farm in Lopburi province had subjected them to grueling work conditions, including forced labor. Three months later Thammakaset responded with a criminal defamation complaint against the workers as well as a labor rights activist from the Migrant Worker Rights Network, contending that the complaints had damaged the company’s reputation.

Disappointingly, the NHRCT took no action to support the right of the workers to bring grievances against the company.

Human Rights Watch, along with a growing number of states and international bodies, seeks the abolition of criminal defamation laws because individuals should not face imprisonment for the purpose of protecting reputations.

In May, six United Nations human rights experts called on Thailand – where defamation laws have frequently been used to retaliate against whistleblowers who report labor abuses – to revise its laws and prosecution processes to prevent the “misuse of defamation legislation by companies.” But the Thai government has yet to do so.  

This verdict should serve as a wake-up call for the Thai government to take concrete measures to ensure fair treatment of workers in line with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. It should also serve notice to the NHRCT to end their weak performance and step up to protect the integrity of its complaint process by speaking out against abusive criminal defamation cases.

Thailand should be investigating and ending labor rights abuses, instead of ignoring retaliation against victims, whistleblowers, and human rights defenders.

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

France’s highest court has just ruled that helping others in need, including undocumented migrants, is protected by the country’s constitution.

Migrants rest after having crossed part of the Alps mountain range from Italy into France, near the town of Nevache in southeastern France, December 21, 2017. 

© 2017 Reuters/Siegfried Modola

The decision comes at a time when people and groups trying to help undocumented migrants – in European countries like Hungary, Italy,  and Malta as well as France – face criminal prosecution, official obstruction of their work, or confiscation of rescue boats.

This landmark decision, handed down last week by the French Constitutional Council, is not only a victory for individuals who act in solidarity to help others, but by recognizing ‘fraternity’ has constitutional force, it is also historic. Until now, fraternity has been the poor relation of the French national motto “Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité” (Liberty, Equality, Fraternity), the first two of which are already enshrined in the constitution.

The case arose from people convicted for the so-called “offence of solidarity” after they helped irregular migrants on French soil. However, invoking “the common ideal of liberty, equality and fraternity,” the Constitutional Council ruled that “any act of aid provided for humanitarian purposes” could not be punished, irrespective of the legal status of the person being helped. The court also held that facilitating the movement of irregular migrants should not be criminalized “when these acts are carried out for humanitarian purposes.”

With a problematic new asylum and immigration bill currently being discussed in parliament, this ruling is particularly timely.

But above all, the message it sends is powerful: fraternity is not just a motto to put on school buildings which we can reject when confronted with real people who need our help. It is a pillar of the French Republic, now enshrined as a constitutional principle, which the French authorities and legislators must abide by.

Much of Europe, including France, is being poisoned by toxic rhetoric against migrants and asylum seekers, and a corresponding wave of legislation that wants to make helping such people a crime. France’s highest court gives us an urgent reminder that our shared values are more important now than ever.

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

Migrants are seen in the town of Bani Walid, Libya March 25, 2018

© 2018 REUTERS/Ismail Zitouny

The way people actually live, Niccolo Machiavelli famously argued, is so different than the way they should live, that if we focus only on the way things ought to be done and ignore how they are actually done, we will find ruin rather than preservation.

It’s not hard to imagine Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini or Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban nodding with approval at the sixteenth century author, widely regarded as the godfather of political realism.

After all, polls suggest that people across Europe see migration as a key concern. Politicians running on anti-migration platforms have won recent elections in Italy, Hungary and Austria. And as a recent meeting of EU leaders showed, efforts to agree on a common European policy seem to come down to the notion that someone else, outside Europe, should take responsibility for migrants and asylum seekers.

So realism must mean that the correct response to irregular migration is to seal Europe’s borders, and process those who try to reach Europe in camps far from our shores?

Not so fast. There are more realistic and better alternatives.

Sealing borders encourages smuggling  -- as with the illicit drug trade, the price goes up, bringing new actors into the market. When people are fleeing violence or feel they have nothing to lose, closing the door in one location often leads them to try other more perilous routes.

Curtailing search and rescue by nongovernmental groups  in international waters off Libya, as Italy and Malta are currently doing, makes the sea more deadly. Those governments contend that they are deterring people from making the journey, in effect consigning some to drown so others might live.

But the data does not support claims that rescue by these groups encourages more people to try the journey. Research also suggests that migrants are willing to take enormous risks in part because conditions in Libya are so horrific. The real result of stopping  rescue by these groups will simply be more senseless and cruel deaths at sea. 

What about offshore processing? In theory, asylum seekers can have their claims determined in any country with a proper asylum system and adequate resources to humanely treat people. But in practice few if any of Europe’s neighbors meet that test. And to deter secondary movement to Europe, most proposals involve creating offshore detention camps. We know from Australia’s experience that such camps become places of despair and suffering.

In any event, no country in Europe’s neighborhood has yet proven willing to host such a detention camp. Given the disaster that would likely ensue they are right to say no.

What about the argument that we must keep people away, because that’s what voters want, and if we don’t take a tough line, the xenophobic populists will win, and we will lose the Europe founded on shared values we care about?

People in Europe worry about migration for sure. But their attitudes to it are complex and open to change, as reaction to the tragic drowning of the Syrian toddler Alan Kurdi showed.

Confront the manufactured crisis of the populists, explain that Europe’s duty to help some of the world’s refugees is a core value, create flexible legal avenues for labor migration, invest in integration for those who will stay, and have a credible strategy for safely returning those who have no right to stay, and you can win people round.

Ah, but the Machiavelli fans might say, that’s not possible. Europe is too divided.

Political divisions over migration are real. But they are amplified by the fact that Europe is unwilling to address even modest migration challenges. The scandalous conditions on the Greek islands are a case in point, where vulnerable asylum seekers are made to suffer because doing so supposedly deters others from coming.

Divisions are made worse by the instrumentalization of migration for domestic political objectives, despite the sharp fall in arrivals. And they are made harder to address by the fact that mainstream politicians—such as German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer, Austrian Prime Minister Sebastian Kurz and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte—too often echo the siege mentality of Viktor Orban.

What’s the realistic alternative for European leaders?

Challenge the populist narrative. Explain that Europe can manage migration if governments work together to develop effective asylum systems, foster proper integration, create a credible system for the safe return for rejected asylum seekers, work to address root causes, make legal migration a credible prospect, and explain honestly the benefits and challenges of migration.

Help voters understand that in a world where almost all of people who have had to flee their own countries are hosted in developing countries, it’s important that Europeans do their bit. It’s also a Europe people might actually feel proud of instead of cynical about.

Barbed-wire fences and remote camps might make voters feel safe today but they won’t address the actual forces that drive migration or resolve the situation of people on the move, even as they empower forces in Europe who want to take the continent back to the hyper-nationalism of its bloody past.

Machiavelli’s wider writing makes clear that his argument was not that policymakers should accept the world as it is, but that they should understand the realities necessary to achieve their objectives. If it remembers that lesson, Europe can manage migration without setting aside its values. 

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

Migrants are seen in front of a dorm destroyed during Bosnian 1992-1995 war, in Bihac, Bosnia and Herzegovina May 11, 2018.

© 2018 REUTERS/Dado Ruvic

Western Balkan and European Union leaders meet in London this week for a summit that could be a chance to revive stalled reforms and focus attention on critical issues. Unfortunately, there is every chance it will turn out to be full of hot air.

Hosted by the UK, the meeting gathers leaders of six Western Balkan countries and their closest European Union partners with a stated aim of strengthening security cooperation political dialogue and economic stability across the region. 

However, neither promoting human rights nor the rule of law – key criteria for possible future EU membership – have even been mentioned. 

That may give some people the impression that things are quiet in those departments – but it is far from the case.

The Western Balkans remains a prisoner of low expectations by EU governments and the United States – who have long prioritized stability over building democratic institutions that can ensure respect for human rights and the rule of law.

Across the region, minorities face serious problems securing their rights.

The plight of the Roma stands out especially. As elsewhere, they remain marginalized and subject to discrimination. Bosnia and Herzegovina still does not recognize them as fully equal citizens. That leaves them and other minority groups without equal rights to political participation and constitutional protection, even though the European Court of Human Rights has declared Bosnia’s position on this a violation of human rights.

Serbia, Macedonia, and Montenegro routinely deny Roma equal access to basic services. They are often forcibly evicted without adequate alternate housing.

Roma from Kosovo – those who were not forced to flee in the Kosovo war  – are kept segregated in informal settlements. Roma that the UN placed in camps that were contaminated by lead when it administered Kosovo still await compensation. A UN trust fund for community assistance projects has not garnered any donations.

The flow of migrants along the “Western Balkan route” has subsided. But governments are sometimes still resorting to using increased border protection measures, including violent push-backs from Croatia, an EU member since 2013, and from Serbia, or detention in inhumane conditions in Macedonia. Aid groups and volunteers try to help migrants in both Serbia and Bosnia, but that is no substitute for the provision of adequate reception conditions by the governments.

People with disabilities are also denied their rights. In Croatia, children and adults with disabilities remain trapped in institutions. In Serbia, the recent increase in the number of children with disabilities placed in institutions, and their lack of access to education, raises similar concerns, notwithstanding Serbia’s promises that these children will be able to go to school.

Journalists and human rights defenders work in a hostile environment across the region. Threats and even violent attacks are frequent in Serbia and Montenegro. Some face copycat smear campaigns and personal attacks for investigating powerful political and business interests. They are, however, coming together to advocate for their rights across borders.

Thankfully, the agenda in London does include what it refers to euphemistically as “legacy issues of the past” – which in fact remain the issues of the present in the region.

The failure to adequately address war crimes and other wartime abuses helps perpetuate current political conflicts. Investigations are underfunded, convicted war criminals are often glorified in their home countries, and cross-border cooperation is minimal. Organizations that advocate justice for war crimes are portrayed as foreign agents in some countries.

If Britain and the other EU members want to increase stability in the Western Balkans, they should insist on effective cooperation between prosecutors and police across the region on war crimes to ensure that people cannot evade responsibility by moving to another country or acquiring its nationality.

Kosovo authorities should fully cooperate with the Hague-based Kosovo Specialist Chambers, set up to examine serious wartime and post-war abuses there. Building societies based on the rule of law requires holding people who have committed serious crimes to account, even if they occupy powerful positions.

The EU accession process—a key mechanism for reform— has essentially stalled since Croatia joined the bloc.

The European Commission’s new strategy for the region, which aimed to restart the idea of accession, has already run into trouble. EU member states, including France, have postponed the decision to open negotiations with Albania and Macedonia until next June.

It is perhaps even more telling that, in its six-month presidency of the EU, Austria has more or less dropped the region as a priority. Considering Austria’s strong track record of commitment to its neighbourhood, that suggests that even the region’s former champions are losing interest.

That should change. EU governments should recognize that the genuine prospect of accession, coupled with human rights conditionality, can help drive reform, and that long-term stability requires democratic institutions that are capable of responding to and protecting the needs of citizens.

One ray of hope is that some of the states that emerged from the breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990s are expected to sign a declaration that could lead to forming a regional truth and reconciliation commission. It is a move long advocated by nongovernmental groups in the region.

This commission would work to establish a comprehensive account of both the crimes and victims of the conflicts. All the governments from the region at the summit should commit themselves to signing.

The Western Balkans region faces real human rights challenges that would benefit from effective cooperation between its states and from international support.

If Britain truly wants “a strong, stable and prosperous” neighbourhood, these issues should get more attention at the summit.

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

Asylum seekers from Algeria at a refugee squat on Lesbos. People of certain nationalities presumptively considered “economic migrants,” such as Algerians, are treated as having manifestly unfounded claims, and are often detained on that basis. 

© 2017 Arash Hampay for Human Rights Watch
“Why do I deserve to be treated that way?” Issa, a 25-year-old Syrian asylum seeker told me in mid-May on the island of Lesbos. “We are here, forgotten. Totally forgotten…. There is no dignity at all here.”

Issa is among the scores of people I have interviewed over the past two years who are trapped in Greece. While for most outside Greece, the 2015 refugee crisis is long forgotten, for asylum seekers in the country it remains acute. This is especially true on the Greek islands, where an official containment policy blocks asylum seekers who arrived by sea from Turkey from moving to the mainland.

Almost 17,000 women, men, and children like Issa are trapped in chaotic and dangerous conditions, with many unable to get basic services. Most are from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. Women (22 percent) and children (37 percent) make up more than half the population.

The Greek government likes to point the finger for this forgotten crisis at the European Union. It says that the policy is needed so that it can quickly return asylum seekers to Turkey under a 2016 EU-Turkey migration deal. But the truth is hardly anyone has been sent back, and now the Turkish government has suspended its bilateral arrangements with Greece that makes such returns legally possible.

Meanwhile, Issa lives in the “Olive Grove,” a makeshift encampment outside the gates of the Moria asylum processing center in Lesbos. As of June 13, almost 7,000 people lived in Moria, despite its maximum capacity of 3,000. With frustrations over uncertainty and poor conditions, violence is commonplace.

In the grove, lack of space means that hundreds of families, single women, and children are forced to live in even worse conditions, without security, electricity, showers, or running water. “Toilets are shared between men and women and they are dirty 24/7,” Issa told me. “We don’t sleep because of all the fights.”

Greece’s European Union partners would prefer it to keep people on the islands, and reduce overcrowding by increasing returns to Turkey.

But this is wishful thinking. There is little prospect of the majority of asylum seekers trapped on the islands being sent back to Turkey any time soon.

Many of those on the islands are members of vulnerable groups – unaccompanied children, single-parent families, people with disabilities, victims of torture or sexual and gender-based

violence— protected from return under the deal. Others are eligible to be reunited with family members already in the EU. Still others are from Iraq and Afghanistan and could only be sent back to Turkey if Greece determines they don’t need protection and can safely be sent back.

Meanwhile, the numbers of asylum seekers entering Greece via the land border with Turkey is increasing. Those people cannot be sent back to Turkey under the EU-Turkey deal at all since it only covers arrivals by sea.

In short, many of the people seeking protection in Greece cannot be returned to Turkey. So, what should be done?

First, Greece should end its containment policy and the EU should support Greece in doing that. Greek authorities have rightly transferred over 10,000 people from the islands to the mainland since November, where conditions and services are better. But they have also blocked efforts - with pressure from EU institutions and governments - to end the policy altogether, including through the courts, even though it is not meeting its objectives and causes untold suffering.

Second, it should improve the quality and efficiency of its asylum decision making, so that it can determine who is entitled to protection and who can safely be removed, either to Turkey or elsewhere. At the moment Greece is moving in the wrong direction, including with a new law that expedites cases by weakening safeguards in the asylum process.

Third, it should work to improve its treatment of asylum seekers including reception conditions and access to services, also on the mainland, to make sure they are in line with European standards.

Rather than pressuring Greece to trap asylum seekers in abuse or force them unsafely to Turkey, the EU should focus on greater responsibility sharing across member states, difficult though that is. EU institutions and states also need to work to increase safe and legal channels into the EU, including refugee resettlement, tackle root causes of migration through a principled and rights-based cooperation with countries of origin and transit, and ensure that returns are safe and follow fair procedures.

Greece and other EU states have a right to control their borders but not at any price. 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, not to mention a violation of basic rights for people like Issa who are stuck there.


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

Child protection authorities in Paris are using flawed age assessment procedures for unaccompanied migrant youths, excluding many from care they need and are entitled to. Hundreds of unaccompanied children sleep on the streets of Paris each night, according to estimates from lawyers and nongovernmental organizations.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

An internally displaced girl from Daraa province carries a stuffed toy and holds the hand of child near the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights in Quneitra, Syria June 29, 2018.

© 2018 Reuters/Alaa Al-Faqir

(Beirut) – Jordanian and Israeli authorities should allow Syrians fleeing fighting in Daraa governorate to claim asylum and protect them, Human Rights Watch said today. On June 16, 2018, the Syrian-Russian military alliance opened an offensive in Daraa and Quneitra governorate, one of the last anti-government held areas in Syria. The United Nations estimates that 271,800 people have fled the hostilities thus far, moving toward the Jordanian border and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

On June 26, 2018, Jordan’s new prime minister, Omar Razzaz, said at a news conference that Jordan “will not receive any new refugees from Syria.” On June 28, the Jordanian foreign affairs minister, Ayman al-Safadi, met with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, and told him that Jordan will provide all support necessary to Syrians “on their own soil.” In response, dozens of Jordanian citizens have taken to social media to call on their government to open the border for Syrians. The Jordanian border has been closed to fleeing asylum seekers since at least June 2016.

“The abject refusal by Jordanian authorities to allow asylum seekers to seek protection not only goes against their international legal obligations, but against basic human decency,” said Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Jordanians themselves are appealing to their government’s basic decency and calling for those in need to be let in.”

Since June 27, no aid convoy has been able to cross the border into Syria from Jordan due to their security concerns and the Syrian government has not authorized aid deliveries across the fighting lines. Residents told Human Rights Watch that displaced people residents along the border lack access to shelter, clean water, and food.

Daraa and Quneitra, which adjoin the occupied Golan Heights and Jordan, are part of one of four de-escalation zones in Syria established to stop hostilities and facilitate aid access until a political resolution is reached. The zone was negotiated by the United States, Jordan, and Russia. Local media activists reported relentless strikes and shelling by the Syrian-Russian military alliance onto towns in Daraa governorate since June 16, leading to extensive displacements.

Human Rights Watch spoke to five people, including three displaced Daraa residents who traveled to the Jordanian border attempting to flee the violence in the area, but could not due to the Jordanian border closure.

“There are displaced persons about two kilometers away from the border, but of course they can’t cross,” an activist who lived in Ghasam, a village near the Jordanian border, told Human Rights Watch on June 29. “Those who try face warning gunshots.”

The activist, whose name is withheld for his protection, said that almost every area in Eastern Daraa had been shelled or struck: “I visited most places that were struck except Reef al-Atash, given there are intense strikes and heavy clashes. I went to Busra, al-Karak, al-Musayfirah, al-Hirak, al-Jiza, al-Naihmah, Umm al Ma’azen, Al-Sahwah – and they were all hit by the Syrian government.”

He said that the towns are now entirely empty: “Nothing is left but stones…Have you ever heard of Grozny? This is how I’d compare the situation. It’s Grozny. The destruction is unbelievable,” he said, referring to the capital of Russia’s Chechnya region during the conflict there. Another resident said: “I was in Daraa al-Balad and I left to al-Karak, they shelled us there, I went to al-Jiza. There, the house I was staying in was shelled and we miraculously survived. From there, we fled to an area close to the Jordanian border. There is nowhere to go from here.”

He said he would enter Jordan if Jordanian authorities opened the border, but that it is clearly closed.

Mousa Zobi, the head of the Emergencies Committee for the Daraa Local Council, said that people are fleeing strikes and shelling but are also afraid of incoming Syrian government forces and pro-government militias retaking their areas. A resident of Tafas village in Daraa governorate confirmed this, saying that he was the only one left in his village but would leave if Syrian forces entered the village.

Zobi said he had visited the Jordanian border numerous times over the past two weeks and was trying to support the displaced people, but that humanitarian conditions were very difficult with limited and dwindling access to shelter, clean water, or food, and that he anticipates that the situation will only get worse as numbers of displaced people increase.

On June 29, the UN humanitarian arm, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said that the displaced population is in urgent need of assistance, and that while this agency is able to provide support through supplies already there, the Syrian government has yet to give them permission to provide aid across the line of fighting.

The activist from Ghasam said that he visited the border regularly: “We have been trying to return [the displaced people] into the towns near the border because there’s nothing to shelter them on the border, no tents, no water, no sanitary services. Everything is unavailable.”

OCHA said that the area near the Jordanian border is also at risk from the ongoing hostilities, with aid convoys unable to cross since June 27 due to bombardment a few kilometers from the border.

Thousands of displaced Daraa residents have also gathered along the outskirts of the occupied Golan Heights. Media reports indicate that the delivery of aid from Israel is continuing to camps close to the occupied Golan Heights, though residents indicate that this is not nearly sufficient for their needs. On June 29, the Israeli army, which controls entry into the Golan Heights, said it will not allow Syrians fleeing the fighting in Daraa to enter, but will continue to provide aid. There is no access to the Golan Heights for residents of Syria without Israeli authorities’ permission.

Human Rights Watch has previously documented the Syrian government’s use of unlawful tactics in retaking territory from anti-government groups in places like Eastern Aleppo and Eastern Ghouta, including using prohibited weapons such as chemical weapons and incendiary and cluster munition attacks. The Syrian government, with the backing of its Russian ally, also restricted access to humanitarian aid and struck medical facilities during fighting in Eastern Aleppo and Eastern Ghouta.

On June 27, a hospital supported by the Syrian-American Medical Society in Daraa was attacked with six airstrikes, severely damaging the facility and killing one doctor, according to the organization. The attack on the hospital was the eighth reported on a medical facility by the Syrian-Russian military alliance in as many days.

International humanitarian law prohibits attacks directed against health facilities and medical workers. All parties to the conflict must take all feasible precautions to save civilian lives and should cease the use of prohibited weapons and unlawful attacks on civilians and medical facilities. All parties should all facilitate unimpeded humanitarian aid and access. All warring parties should provide permission for and facilitate cross-line and cross-border assistance.

Jordan and Israeli authorities operating in the occupied Golan Heights should allow asylum seekers to seek asylum in areas under their control, and facilitate the entry of humanitarian aid to serve the displaced population fleeing violence. The international community should also provide support to countries that are hosting refugees and providing humanitarian assistance.

“The situation in the southwest is so dangerous that even humanitarian convoys cannot cross to provide aid to populations in need,” Fakih said. “There is no stronger signal that Jordan and Israeli authorities should not close the door on Syrians fleeing to safety.”


Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Migrants are seen onboard the charity ship Lifeline at Boiler Wharf in Senglea, in Valletta's Grand Harbour, Malta June 27, 2018.

© 2018 Reuters

As an American living in Italy, I feel almost choked by despair. The country of my parents ripped young children from their parents and put them in cages. The country of my children is condemning people to drown in the Mediterranean.

Over 200 people have drowned or gone missing off the Libyan coast in the last three days, including young babies, bringing the death toll so far this year to over 1,000.

The new Italian government closed its ports to rescue boats in June. After years of laudable efforts to save lives in the Central Mediterranean, the Italian state-run Maritime Rescue Coordination Center is denying any further responsibility, insisting Libyan coast guard forces are in charge or that the countries where rescue ships are registered should take responsibility.  

Migrants and refugees are already exploited by unscrupulous smugglers who pack them into unseaworthy vessels. Confusion, uncertainty, and delays by the European Union contribute to loss of life at sea.

In a devastating chain reaction, Malta – which is host to many asylum seekers, but studiously avoids responsibility for rescues and disembarkation – is aping Italy’s hardline approach. After 200 people floated adrift at sea on the Mission Lifeline rescue boat for five days, Malta finally allowed survivors to disembark – only to place the captain under investigation.

Malta has since also refused the rescue group Proactiva’s request to refuel, and is blocking another rescue organization, Sea-Watch, from leaving port.

At a migration summit last week, EU leaders agreed on little except to further empower Libyan coast guard forces to intercept boats in international waters and tell NGO rescue boats not to intervene. Never mind that everyone taken back to Libya is locked up in horrific prisons where they face filthy conditions and risk torture, sexual violence, forced labor, and extortion.

I want my three sons to be proud of their two countries. I tell them about the outrage across America over the caging of children that forced the Trump administration to change its policy. I talk about the compassionate European volunteers trying to save lives at sea.

I hope to tell them soon that European leaders have pledged to support European rescue operations at sea and share responsibility for disembarking rescued people on European soil, and then to sort out humanely – on dry land – who needs protection and who may be safely returned home.

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

Hundreds of women march outside the Justice Department as part of a rally calling for "an end to family detention" and in opposition to the immigration policies of the Trump administration, in Washington, U.S., June 28, 2018.

© 2018 Reuters

Following a substantial increase in the enforcement of the Trump administration’s policy to separate migrant children from their parents, anti-immigrant policy and rhetoric hit a flashpoint last week. Images and audio of toddlers crying and children in cages triggered outrage and widespread protest, with political leadersreligious bodies, and human rights organizations denouncing the practice—which is clearly traumatizing to both children and parents—as a clear violation of human rights.

The pressure on all sides did not go unheeded. Last week, the president appeared to cave to the rising criticism and signed an executive order ostensibly designed to cease his own policy of family separation. Border Patrol agents have reportedly stopped handing over migrant adults for prosecution who have crossed the border with children. Though this puts an end to one egregious practice on the border, it also marks the beginning of another. The executive order threatens prolonged and indefinite detention of children with their families. The administration has released no plan to reunify separated families of asylum-seekers who wish to pursue their claims, and the media has reported several cases in which detained parents have been coerced into signing deportation orders in exchange for reunifying with their children. Now is not the time to look away. 

Compare these events, for example, with Trump’s executive order “travel ban”. When the travel ban was initially signed, hundreds of thousands of legal residents in the United States suddenly became terrified of leaving the country for fear that they wouldn’t be able to return home. Human rights advocates and concerned citizens worldwide spoke out, inspiring mass protests along with pro bono legal clinics that popped up in airports throughout the country. While the government was forced to rewrite the ban due to these unprecedented demonstrations and successful court challenges, an altered version of the ban remains in place today and the debate has all but gone away.

Without doubt, the modified version of the ban, upheld this week by the Supreme Court, represents several significant gains for human rights advocates: the list of countries was reduced, existing visas are being honored, and Syrian refugees are no longer barred indefinitely. But the government learned from this defeat. They modified the ban to make it harder to challenge in court, and much of it is now enacted overseas—before the people affected by the ban ever reach the United States. Aside from the organized #NoMuslimBanEver coalition, popular resistance to the ban has died down, and the restrictions have largely become normalized. Out of sight, out of mind?

Both the travel ban and the family separation and detention policies are symptoms of a much larger global issue: how receiving countries treat migrants, who are often fleeing unstable and/or violent situations. The family separation policy is cruel. But it is happening at the same time as the Italians turn away boats, and Mexican authorities appear indifferent to the violence and intimidation from criminal gangs that asylum-seekers suffer as they travel north. With over 200 million migrants in the world, and that number set to double in next two decades, it's urgent to find broader solutions. The Global Compact on Migration, now being negotiated at UN, offers some hope, but it will not work if many countries continue to see the issue purely in terms of border control. In addition, this compact will have little effect on an American president who seems to hold contempt for the idea of international cooperation.

Situations of inhumane treatment and abuses of power are where we need human rights the most—but activists must find new ways to use human rights law effectively in the face of those who disregard such laws and norms. By basing rights in our common humanity, not citizenship or some other trait, international human rights law is key in challenging the anti-immigrant sentiment which precisely seeks to limit rights to privileged classes. Trump's language on illegal migrants coming to "infest" the US is part of this dehumanizing.

Rights advocates must seize the popular outrage against family separations to push for further reforms and reject the current normalization of mass immigrant detention—whether of adults, families, children, or asylum-seekers. The new executive order maintains a hardline stance on immigration, stating that its new policy of maintaining family unity will only be applied “where appropriate and consistent with law and available resources”. There are also no specific details on how or when the separation process will end, and a “fact sheet” issued by the White House over the weekend only says it will effectuate reunifications for the purpose of deporting the family together. But a federal court judge has now issued an injunction temporarily halting the separation of parents and children, and ordering that those already separated must be reunited within 30 days.

Last week, the Department of Justice filed a motion to modify a decades-old court settlement that limits the ability of the government to detain migrant children for more than 20 days, asking the court to allow the government to detain children with their families indefinitely. And there is continued evidence that the administration is limiting access to legal ports of entry for asylum seekers, driving them towards informal border crossings.

The “solution” to family separation in the Trump executive order is anything but that. Detaining families means jailing children. Even if children are held with their family members, locking them up presents serious concerns for their physical and psychological health. This executive order will place more vulnerable people into a dangerous detention system with inadequate medical care and serious due process failures.

Asylum seekers should not be detained—prosecution of asylum seekers is in violation of the Refugee Convention (to which the US is party), which clearly says that no refugee should be criminally prosecuted for entering a country illegally. Domestic law in the United States already allows for asylum seekers to be released under measures that ensure their appearance at hearings. No asylum seekers, but especially families traveling with children, should be criminally prosecuted for entering the country illegally. Prosecutors should be issued national guidelines to ensure this does not happen in the immediate term. Trump supporters will argue that many of these migrants are not refugees, and that if people do not want to be separated from their children—or imprisoned with them—then they should not come into the country illegally. But it is impossible to know who among the asylum seekers are genuine refugees, so the only acceptable policy is not to prosecute any of them criminally.

If the Trump administration ends its zero-tolerance policy, it could refrain from mass prosecutions and allow the exercise of prosecutorial discretion for criminal prosecutions for illegal entry. The practical result of this would be far fewer prosecutions of parents traveling with children. 

If prosecutors have good reason to prosecute persons who are not asylum seekers for illegal entry, they should keep family units together by ensuring that the non-citizen adults, who are often receiving sentences to time served (a matter of hours or days in custody), are placed in a custodial setting that is close to the CBP facilities in which their children are held for 72 hours, facilitating family visits and reunion as soon as possible. Proper measures need to be put in place that allow children and their parents to be quickly reunited, and to ensure that parents are not deported while their children are held in custody.

Finally, Congress needs to act to reform US immigration law to respect the rights of people seeking asylum, children, and families. Activists must ensure that abusive practices do not simply go underground where we cannot see it. They must not be normalized. Criminalizing families, and traumatizing children, should never be the tactics of any government, much less a democratic one.



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

An African migrant girl looks around as she stands on the bridge under which a makeshift camp is set up on a motorway on the outskirts of Algiers, Algeria June 28, 2017. 

© 2017 Reuters/Zohra Bensemra

(Beirut) – Algeria has deported thousands of men, women, and children since January 2018 to Niger and Mali in inhumane conditions, and in many cases without considering their legal status in Algeria or their individual vulnerabilities, Human Rights Watch said.

Human Rights Watch in April and May interviewed 30 sub-Saharan migrants of various nationalities who said that the Algerian authorities had raided areas where migrants are known to live, arresting them on the streets or on construction sites, and expelled them en masse at the border with Niger or Mali, in most instances with no food and little water. They described being forced to march dozens of kilometers in the desert, in high temperatures, before reaching towns where they found assistance or private transportation.

“Algeria has the power to control its borders, but that doesn’t mean it can round up people based on the color of their skin and dump them in the desert, regardless of their legal status and without a shred of due process,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch.

All the migrants interviewed said that they were rounded up with dozens and sometimes hundreds of other sub-Saharan migrants, on the streets, during nighttime raids in neighborhoods where migrants are concentrated, or at their work places. They said that in most cases the police or gendarmerie agents did not ask to verify their documents.

Some who said they had a valid visa or a certificate from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) stating that the agency is reviewing their claim for refugee status tried in vain to convince the security forces that they were in Algeria legally. One migrant said, “They told us: ‘You are all illegal here; you have no right to be in Algeria.’”

Those interviewed said that Algerian police beat migrants, denied their requests to take their money and possessions with them, and on several occasions stole their phones and other possessions. The summary expulsions also separated families.

Emanuele, 30 years old, from Côte d’Ivoire, told Human Rights Watch she is eight months pregnant and living with her 2-year-old boy in Oran, where she cleans homes. On April 24, the police came to her neighborhood, called Coca, in Oran, at 4 a.m. and she said they rounded up everyone with darker skin without allowing them to collect their money or their other belongings. She said police later bussed her and her son, together with 100 other people, among them another pregnant woman and a woman who had a newborn, from Oran to a warehouse in Reggane, in the province of Adrar. They spent a day there. Then at 5 a.m. on April 26, authorities pushed them on trucks, bussed them to the border, and ordered them to march into Mali. She said she had only two small bottles of water for her and her son.

We marched for hours before we reached In Khalil. Can you believe it? Me eight months pregnant, with a 2-year-old boy, marching in the desert? It was so hot we could barely breathe.

Another migrant from Guinea, who was arrested in Tlemcen on April 12 and taken to the Mali border four days later, said, “I have nothing left. I lost everything. I arrived in Gao without a penny in my pocket, without a phone, and with only trousers and a shirt on. We have been treated like animals.”

Ahmed Ouyahia, at the time President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s cabinet chief, said on July 7, 2017, that migrants are a “source of criminality and drugs,” and that the authorities need to protect the Algerian population from this “chaos.”

Interior Minister Noureddine Bedoui, told news agencies on March 22, 2018, that “repatriations” of migrants are carried out “at the request of their country of origin.” However, the migrants interviewed all said that they were not offered an assisted voluntary repatriation, either through the International Organization for Migration (IOM) or through contacts with their consulates or embassies.

The overall number of sub-Saharan migrants expelled from Algeria since the beginning of the operations of mass expulsions, in December 2016, is not known. Bedoui told parliament on March 22 that Algerian authorities have repatriated about 27,000 sub-Saharan migrants in the last three years.

The IOM told Human Rights Watch on June 27 that, from January 1 to May 18, it had rescued more than 7,000 migrants of various non-Nigerien nationalities expelled at the Niger border. The agency also said that, in 2018, it had registered 22 convoys carrying 9,037 citizens of Niger – 3,008 women and 6,029 men – expelled by Algeria.

In Gao, Mali, a nongovernmental organization said it has assisted more than 600 sub-Saharan migrants expelled from Algeria since the beginning of the year. On June 9, it said it had rescued 125 migrants expelled from Algeria that week.

On May 22, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights called on the Algerian government to “cease the collective expulsions of migrants.”

Algeria is a party to the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families, which prohibits collective expulsions of migrant workers and their families and requires examining and ruling on each potential expulsion individually. The convention applies to all migrant workers and their families, irrespective of their legal or work status.

Law N° 08-11 of June 25, 2008, on the Conditions of Entry, Stay and Movement of Foreigners in Algeria, gives authorities the power to expel foreigners who illegally entered Algerian territory or whose visas have expired, but requires them to notify the person, who is given between 48 hours and 15 days to leave the territory. The person has up to five days to challenge the decision before an interim relief judge at the administrative tribunal, who has 20 days to decide on the legality of the decision. The expulsion is suspended pending the decision. Human Rights Watch found that the Algerian authorities did not follow this procedure in the cases documented.

As a party to the 1951 Refugee Convention and the 1987 Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, Algeria is barred from forcibly removing any refugee or asylum seeker to a place where they would face a threat of being persecuted, or anyone else to a place where they would probably be tortured or subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment. The claims of anyone expressing such fears should be examined in full and fair procedures while the person remains in the country. Despite being a party to the Refugee Convention, Algeria has not adopted any legal framework recognizing the asylum-seeking process or the status of refugees.

The Algerian government should end the arbitrary and summary expulsions of migrants and develop a system for the fair and legal processing of irregular migrants. It should include the right to challenge their expulsions and facilitate the timely voluntary repatriation of migrants who wish to return to their country of origin.

The following are accounts by people interviewed by Human Rights Watch. Their names have been changed for their protection.

Expulsions at the Niger Border
Between April 6 and 25, 2018, Human Rights Watch interviewed 25 sub-Saharan migrants from countries other than Niger who were either forcibly expelled across the border into Niger or who managed to extricate themselves at the last minute. Those who had been arrested either in Algiers or in Oran said that the authorities had captured them in groups, especially in late night or early morning raids, and took them to a detention center for one or two nights. Those arrested in Algiers were held in a camp in Zeralda, about 30 kilometers from the capital. Those arrested in Oran were held in a detention center in Bir el Djir, in Oran.

In most cases, the authorities then bused them to a camp in Tamanrasset, 2,000 kilometers south of Algiers, loaded them into trucks and took them past In Guezzam, the last Algerian town before the border. There the authorities dropped them off, with little water and no food, and told them to walk toward Assamaka, the first town in Niger, about 20 kilometers from In Guezzam. In one case, the person said he was transported with Nigeriens to Arlit, in Niger.

The UN’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights said in a May 22 statement that, “From Tamanrasset, Nigeriens are transferred by bus to Agadez in Niger, while the others are crammed into big trucks to be transferred to the Nigerien border where they are abandoned and left to walk hours in the desert heat to cross the border into Niger.”

Expulsions at the Mali Border
Human Rights Watch interviewed five people who were expelled across the Malian border. They were arrested in various towns, such as Oran, Ghardaia, Tlemcen, and Laghouat. Authorities had gathered them in a detention center in Reggane, a city in central southern Algeria where they stayed for one to several days. Then, the authorities bused them to Bordj Badji Mokhtar, the last town before the Mali border. Armed Algerian gendarmes then trucked them to the border and ordered them, at gunpoint, to march in the direction of Mali.

Each said they walked in the desert for about six hours to reach In Khalil, the first town in Mali, where they then boarded privately owned trucks heading toward the town of Gao.

The House of Migrants (La Maison des Migrants), a nongovernmental organization based in Gao, said that as of May 3, it had assisted more than 650 migrants in 2018. The association reported four waves of migrants expelled from Algeria, arriving on March 6, 7, 19, and 21. On June 15, it said it had received another 120 migrants expelled from Algeria the previous week.

Armed militant groups linked to al-Qaeda operate in northern Mali, along with criminal gangs and armed smugglers. The UN 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 center.”

Summary Arrests, Expulsions Apparently Based on Racial Profiling
Human Rights Watch interviewed nine men who were among a group of about 70 migrants arrested together on March 26, at a place where migrants socialize in Ain Beniane, an Algiers suburb. Four said they were irregular migrants working on construction sites or as daily workers; one said he was an asylum seeker; one said he was married to an Algerian woman and had four children and a residency permit; three others said that they were legally in the country with Malian passports. Following their arrest, the migrants were jailed for two days.

The 70 were all tried together for “illegal entry into Algerian territory” and “prostitution,” convicted the same day and given six-month suspended sentences. They consistently described a trial conducted in Arabic, with no interpreters or defense lawyers, and no real opportunity to defend themselves. After the court pronounced their sentences, the police took them to Zeralda, and from there to Tamanrasset. Those who held a valid visa or papers allowing them to stay in Algeria said that they attempted repeatedly to show their papers and gain their release, to no avail.

The collective expulsion of migrants and the disregard for their distinct statuses suggests that the Algerian authorities are arresting men and women based on their skin color instead of an individual assessment of their cases, as required by international law.

One of the nine, Kevin, a Cameroonian, said he has lived in Algeria for 19 years. He married an Algerian woman and has four children, all Algerian nationals. When the police took him to the commissariat of Ain Beniane, he showed his marriage certificate and his children’s birth certificates, which he carries with him. The police refused to release him.

After spending two days in the police cell, he and the others appeared before the prosecutor, who ignored his pleas and asked only for his name and told him to sign a paper. The prosecutor then sent the group to court, where they were convicted the same day. The police took him to Zeralda, where his wife came and begged the police to release him, but they refused. He was bused with the others to Tamanrasset, where he managed to persuade the head of the camp to let him go before the expulsion to Niger.

Bernard, who holds a Malian passport, was expelled with the others across the Niger border, but was able to make his way back, on April 11, to Algiers, where his wife and 4-year-old child live. On May 1, Bernard went to the Houari Boumediene airport in Algiers, at 8 a.m., to take a flight to Abidjan, where he intended to stay for a few days. He told Human Rights Watch, speaking over the phone from Zeralda, that the police did not let him take his flight and instead confined him and six other Sub-Saharan migrants of various nationalities, inside the airport police post. Human Rights Watch saw a photo of Bernard’s boarding pass for the flight to Abidjan.

Bernard also said the police never explained why they detained him, and gave him nothing to eat or drink, during the more than 24 hours they detained him at the airport. At noon on May 2, he said, the police took him and the six other Sub-Saharans from the airport to the camp at Zeralda, where they slept the night on sheets of cardboard. On May 3, he sent Human Rights Watch a text message saying that they were being transported to Tamanrasset. He counted 14 busloads of migrants when they left Zeralda.

On May 9, he said, the authorities deported him with hundreds of other migrants, most from Niger, to the Niger border. The IOM mission in Niger received them and transported them all to Arlit, Niger where he was staying when last in touch with Human Rights Watch.

None of the migrants interviewed said that authorities offered them the option of an assisted voluntary repatriation, either through their countries’ diplomatic services or through the IOM. Several said that, given the hardship of deportation through the desert, they would have liked to contact the IOM to facilitate their return to their countries.

Article 23 of the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families states that “migrant workers and members of their families shall have recourse to the protection and assistance of the consular or diplomatic authorities of their State of origin or of a State representing the interests of that State whenever the rights recognized in the present convention are impaired. In particular, in case of expulsion, the person concerned shall be informed of this right without delay and the authorities of the expelling State shall facilitate the exercise of such right.”

Lack of Due Process to Challenge Deportations
None of the migrants interviewed said they had been told when arrested of their rights as foreigners in Algeria or under international law, including the right to legal representation under the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families.

For example, Omar, 30, from Guinea, said that he had worked on a construction site in Tlemcen since entering Algeria in February 2017. He said that, on April 12, 2018, he was sleeping in a shared room on the construction site when gendarmes swarmed in, roughed him up, and did not allow him to take his phone or other belongings. He said that he asked the gendarmes to let him collect two months of salary before leaving, but they pushed him outside the room. He saw that they were clearing men from the other rooms too and beating those who resisted.

The gendarmes took the men to a gendarmerie detention center, where they held Omar for three days along with dozens of other migrants of various nationalities. He said the gendarmes left them for an entire day without food and hit those who protested. On the third day, the gendarmes gave each of them a document to sign in Arabic, which the migrants could not read, and did not mention a right to call a lawyer or their consulates.

They were later bused to a detention center in Reggane, where men and women were separated. The gendarmes beat the men who tried to insist on staying with their wives and, for some, with their children. Omar said they remained at the Reggane detention center for a day. At 4 a.m., on April 16, the gendarmes forced the men into a truck and took them to Bordj Badji Mokhtar. From there, other gendarmes drove them to an area near the border and ordered them, at gunpoint, to march toward Mali. He said they walked for hours under the hot desert sun. When they arrived in In Khalil, Mali, Omar and others arranged with a private transporter to take them to Gao:

I have nothing left. I lost everything. I arrived in Gao without a penny in my pocket, without a phone and with only trousers and shirt on. We have been treated like animals.

Abuse, Harsh Treatment During Arrest, Expulsion
Of the 30 migrants interviewed, five reported that Algerian authorities used violence against them during raids; seven others said that they witnessed such violence.

Police arrested Elizabeth, 45, from Ghana, on April 9, in Oran. She had been living in Algeria for six years and earned a living cooking for the African community in a migrant neighborhood in Oran. She was in her pajamas when the police knocked on her door at night, saying they were conducting a routine document check. They did not let her take anything with her, not even her purse.

They took her and her four children, aged 3 to 13, to a camp in Oran, where she saw hundreds of men, women, and children, including babies. The following day the police loaded them on buses. They arrived at Tamanrasset two days later, where police took them to a camp outside the city, holding them in converted shipping containers.

On April 11, at around 10 p.m., the police started herding everybody onto trucks. She said that she and other women refused to obey. A policeman beat her on her head with a baton until she lost consciousness. When she woke up, she was in a small clinic inside the camp. After that they took her back with her children to the container in Tamanrasset. She said that throughout their arrest and trip to Tamanrasset, they were only given some biscuits and water.

Speaking by phone from Tamanrasset on April 10, Elizabeth said she had lost everything. All her savings remained in the house where she lived. She had friends who were not arrested to check on the house, and they said that thieves came after the round-up and stole everything, including her refrigerator, clothes, and furniture.

Henri, from Cameroon, has lived in Oran since 2015, working at a construction site. He lived with his pregnant wife:

On March 14, Algerian police officers, accompanied by the [Algerian] Red Crescent, came to my house and told me that I have 30 minutes to collect a few things and leave the house because I was being deported. Then, they put my wife and me in a bus and took us to a detention center. When we got there, I asked if I can have our luggage back and one of the police officers hit me on the face. Suddenly, I was surrounded by police officers who fired their taser guns at me. They pushed my wife a little but did not beat her. A young woman with the Red Crescent who witnessed the abuse sympathized with my wife’s condition and told them to let us ago. We were released, but they kept all of our things.

Many of the migrants reported losing their belongings, ranging from not being allowed to collect wages owed them to confiscation of phones and sometimes meager savings during arrest. For many of them, these possessions were never returned, despite promises from the security forces to return them when they reached the Tamanrasset detention center.

Article 15 of the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families, which Algeria has ratified, says that “no migrant worker or a member of his or her family, shall be deprived of property, whether owned individually or in association with others.” 

Lack of Respect for Asylum Seekers’ Rights
Human Rights Watch interviewed two asylum seekers who have pending refugee requests and who were forcibly taken to the border. One was expelled; the other said he managed to jump off the truck and evaded expulsion.

Lucas, 27, from the Ivory Coast, had lived in Algeria for more than a year and had worked on a construction site in Regaia, 40 minutes from the capital. He said he fled Ivory Coast because he had been a victim of acts of revenge after the civil war.

Lucas said that he decided to apply for asylum with the UNHCR in Algeria. He could not reach their office at first, fearing arrest, but sent the UNHCR a request by fax, in November 2017. After a first visit to the office, Lucas received a UNHCR certificate, which Human Rights Watch reviewed. It said it was valid until July 28, 2018 and that “as an asylum seeker, this person is under the mandate of the UNHCR and should be most notably protected against any forcible return to a country where he could be exposed to threats against his life and freedom, until the final determination of his refugee claim.” UNHCR also gave him a number to call in case of emergency or arrest.

Lucas was arrested on March 5, when police came to the construction site and started to confiscate everyone’s phones and money. He said he managed to reach someone at the UNHCR emergency number who told him not to worry and that the police would release him. Later that day, he was taken to Bab Ezzouar police station, where he asked the police officers to verify the UNHCR document that he had with him, but they refused.

I told the police that I have legal papers, so you should either call my consulate or release me, but one of the officers at the police station said, “I can detain all of you here and no one will be able to help you.”

Lucas said he was then taken to Zeralda detention camp, with other migrants, among whom he identified 12 asylum seekers. He said they left Zeralda at 7 p.m. and arrived the next day in Tamanrasset. There, they were put on a truck and driven to the Niger border. That’s when, Lucas said, he seized the opportunity, along with another migrant, to jump off the truck:

We walked and walked in the desert until we reached the first village and there we found somewhere to sleep. The guy who was with me had another phone that he kept hidden from the police, so we made one more attempt and called UNHCR, who said that they will find a way to bring us back to Algiers.

Lucas said they stayed in Tamanrasset for a few days, then they rode with the help of smuggler to Ain Salah. At Ain Salah, they tried to buy a bus ticket, but no one would sell then one. He and his friend paid a private driver to take them to Algiers. 

Jack, a Cameroonian who came to Algeria in December 2017, works on construction sites. He said that he comes from the Anglophone part of Cameroon and had fled due to ongoing political turmoil.

He said police arrested him on the street, in the Ain Beniane neighborhood, on March 26:

I had a certificate issued by the UNHCR, when the police caught me, but I was told in the commissariat that it doesn’t mean anything and that they would still deport me. When I reached out to UNHCR through the emergency number they gave me, they said that I should not panic and assured me that they will come down to the commissariat where I was held and ask the police to release me. But the police took me to Zeralda, and from there to Tamanrasset.

Authorities then transported him to a point between the town of In Guezzam and the Niger border. He walked in the desert with dozens of others until they reached the Nigerien border village of Assamaka. He stayed a few days there before crossing back to Tamanrasset, where he worked and collected enough money to pay for private transportation to Algiers.

The UNHCR office in Algiers told Human Rights Watch that the agency “is following the situation very closely. Cooperation with relevant authorities at all levels is maintained and we have been able to successfully advocate for the release of a number of asylum-seekers and refugees registered with our Office who have been affected by these operations.” 

International law admits the possibility that a receiving state could transfer an asylum seeker to a third state where their refugee claim could be processed. However, the UNHCR guidelines on “bilateral and/or multilateral transfer arrangements of asylum-seekers” puts several conditions for such a transfer. It requires an individual assessment “in each case as to the appropriateness of the transfer, subject to procedural safeguards.” The transfer should not take place if there are no guarantees the person “will be protected against refoulement,” i.e., return to a place where they would face danger.

Algeria does not appear to have followed these UNHCR guidelines before expelling asylum seekers in the cases documented.


Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am