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 children in the Calais migrant camp await interviews with the UK Home Office, October 22, 2016. 

© 2016 ZALMAÏ/Human Rights Watch

Tomorrow, UK parliamentarians will hold a much-needed debate on the situation of migrants and asylum seekers in Calais, one year after the demolition of the so-called “Jungle” camp.

The discussion is critical, because conditions in Calais remain grim. With winter looming, between 700 and 1,000 migrants continue to sleep in the open and rely heavily on distributions from humanitarian organizations to survive. The total includes at least 100 children like 17-year-old “Daniel”, an Ethiopian boy I interviewed in June. Bright and friendly, “Daniel” told me he’d had no dinner the previous day because he had to flee police spraying migrants with tear gas. Two days before, he said the police took his blankets and sleeping bag. He’d only had those blankets for one day.

Many of the migrants told similar stories – how police regularly spray them in the face with tear gas while they sleep, and spray or confiscate sleeping bags, blankets, clothing, and sometimes food and water. UNICEF and an independent investigation have recently warned that children in Calais are also at risk of sexual exploitation, violence, and trafficking. Last week, a French government investigation into our findings found them credible.

Tomorrow’s debate should focus on what Britain can – and should – do to help the children in Calais. Children remain in France even though they may be eligible to come to the UK under European asylum regulations based on family ties, a recent report found. There are legal channels to bring children from Calais to the UK, but even the family reunification process has been slow, arbitrary, and lacking in transparency. Last year, Human Rights Watch found that some children with UK family ties were not brought to the UK following the camp’s closure.

For children in Calais who do not have family in the UK, until February a humanitarian provision in UK immigration law known as the “Dubs Amendment”, gave the UK discretion to admit them if they were unaccompanied asylum seekers or refugees. However, the UK applied strict age and nationality criteria in implementing this provision, and closed admissions in February. In total, the UK eventually allowed 480 children to be brought to the UK under Dubs, all in 2016, from France, Italy, and Greece.

The UK can do better than this.

It’s time for the government to stand up and help these children. Reopening the Dubs scheme to help vulnerable children would be a welcome first step. Authorities should also make every effort to ensure that the family reunification process functions smoothly and swiftly.

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

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

© 2017 Bukary Dao/Le Républicain

(Beirut) – Algerian authorities have been rounding up sub-Saharan Africans in and around Algiers and have deported more than 3,000 to Niger since August 25, 2017, without giving them an opportunity to challenge their expulsion, Human Rights Watch said today. Those expelled include migrants who have lived and worked for years in Algeria, pregnant women, families with newborn babies, and about 25 unaccompanied children.

“Nothing justifies rounding up people based on their skin color, and then deporting them en masse,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “A country’s power to control its borders is not a license to treat people like criminals or to assume they have no right to be there because of their race or ethnicity.”

Trusted sources in Algiers told Human Rights Watch that those detained initially included 15 refugees and asylum seekers. All were later released after the authorities ascertained their status.

Ahmed Ouyahia, President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s cabinet chief, said on July 7 that migrants are a “source of criminality and drugs,” and that the authorities need to protect the Algerian population from this “chaos.” On July 11, Foreign Affairs Minister Abdelkader Messahel said that migrants “represent a threat to national security.”

During successive waves of arrests, security forces rounded up sub-Saharan migrants on the streets, on construction sites where many work, and in their homes. The migrants were taken to a facility in Zeralda, a suburb of the capital, where they spent one to three days in crowded halls with no mattresses and little to eat during the day, witnesses told Human Rights Watch. The migrants were then bused 1,900 kilometers south to a camp in Tamanrasset, then expelled to Niger, witnesses and local sources said.

Three sub-Saharan migrants interviewed separately by phone told Human Rights Watch that they believe gendarmes targeted them based on their skin color. “When black workers there saw the gendarmes, they tried to flee but the gendarmes chased them and forced them into the van,” said one migrant who was arrested earlier and forced into the gendarme’s van. “They arrested seven men.”

A nongovernmental organization based in Gao, Mali, said that several Malians were also expelled at the Algeria-Mali border, an insecure region with minimal government presence where armed groups, including some linked to Al-Qaeda, are active.

Those expelled have included both Nigeriens and hundreds of citizens of other countries such as Mali, Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, and Guinea – all nationals of sub-Saharan countries, according to the International Rescue Committee (IRC), which runs an assistance program for migrants in Agadez, Niger. The IRC told Human Rights Watch that migrants were expelled in successive waves. The first convoy arrived in Agadez on August 25, and the most recent one on October 25. The IRC registered 3,232 migrants arriving from Algeria, among which 396 were women and 850 children, including the 25 unaccompanied children.

Under international law, Algeria has the authority to control its borders and to remove people not in the country legally, but should give each person an opportunity to challenge their removal. It should not discriminate based on race or ethnicity or subject migrants to arbitrary detention, inhuman and degrading treatment.

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, asylum seeker, or anyone else to a place where they would face a threat of being persecuted, 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.

Algeria is also 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.

Human Rights Watch documented a previous roundup of more than 1,400 sub-Saharan migrants in December 2016. At least several hundred were deported to Niger.

The Niger Expulsions

The migrants Human Rights Watch interviewed all said the authorities did not screen them to ascertain their situation or status, provide information about their rights, or allow them to contact the consular representatives of their country of origin.

Dadi

Dadi, who said she was 32 and from Cameroon, had lived in Algiers with her husband for five years and had held a succession of temporary jobs. She said gendarmes had arrested her and put her in their van on October 11, at about 10 a.m., after she got off a bus in her neighborhood, Derouicha, in Ain Berriane. She said she had nothing with her but her passport. The gendarmes proceeded to detain other sub-Saharans:

They drove over to a construction site. When black workers there saw the gendarmes, they tried to flee but the gendarmes chased them and forced them into the van. They arrested seven men and took us all to the Bellevue gendarmerie station.

She said they later bused the migrants to the Zeralda camp, where authorities took their fingerprints and doctors examined them. The authorities managing the camp put her in a large hall where she was the only woman among hundreds of men.

At 7 p.m., Algerian Red Crescent workers visited the hall and arranged for the gendarmes to move her to another room, which held many women, including some who were pregnant or accompanied by children, as well as some unaccompanied children. The women came from Mali, Cameroon, Liberia, Niger, and other countries, she said. She said spent two nights in the Zeralda camp, sleeping on cardboard, with no bedding.

On October 13, she said, authorities boarded them on buses. She counted 13 buses, each transporting dozens of men, women, and children. They arrived at Tamanrasset on October 15, at 3 p.m. Authorities took them to a camp outside of the city, in containers she described as “decent,” with beds and toilets. On October 16, the authorities put her and 14 other women and children on a bus to the Niger border, where a truck transported them to Agadez. When Human Rights Watch reached Dadi by phone on October 24, she was staying with a Cameroonian relative in Agadez, hoping to reunite with her husband, who was still in Algeria.

Yves

Human Rights Watch reached Yves, an Ivorian who works as a gardener, by phone in Algiers. He said he was arrested on October 11, at 10 a.m., with his wife and their month-old baby. They were trying to get a taxi in front of a hospital in the suburban Douera neighborhood, where they had gone have their infant vaccinated. Yves said the gendarmes did not ask for their papers or tell them the reason for their arrest. He showed them his wife’s hospital documents, proving that she had given birth one month earlier, but the gendarmes refused to let them go.

He said the gendarmes pushed them into a van, and drove around the city, arresting other black people. The gendarmes took them to a police station, and from there to the Zeralda camp, where they stayed until 10 p.m. They were freed after the Red Crescent intervened. He said he has been hiding in his house, fearing arrest. The gendarmes confiscated his passport and have not returned it to him, he said.

Dramane

Dramane, a 23-year-old Ivorian who has been living in Algiers for one year and worked as a house painter, told Human Rights Watch by phone that he was arrested on October 20 on a construction site, with four other men. He said gendarmes did not ask to check their papers but put them in a van without giving them the time to collect their belongings or their money from their homes. The gendarmes drove them to the Zeralda camp. He said he did not have anything to eat from 10 a.m. until 10 p.m. He said the gendarmes in Zeralda informed them that they will be transferred to Tamanrasset the following day. Human Rights Watch was not able to reach him again for an update.

The Mali Expulsions

Human Rights Watch was not able to ascertain the exact number of migrants expelled to Mali. Eric-Alain Kamdem, coordinator of the Maison du Migrant (Migrant House, an association working to assist migrants in Gao) told Human Rights Watch that his nongovernmental organization helped eight Malians who arrived at Gao on October 23, after being deported from Algeria. He said they told him they were taken by Algerian security forces by bus from Tamanrasset to the Mali border, where they were left on the road in the desert. Local truck drivers picked them up and transported them to Assamaka, and then to Gao, Kamdem said. 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Migrant laborers work at a construction site at Aspire Zone in Doha, March 26, 2016. 

© 2016 Naseem Zeitoon/Reuters
 
(New York) – The Qatari government’s newly announced labor reforms are a step in the right direction, but their implementation will be the decisive factor, Human Rights Watch said today.
 
This week, under pressure from the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) and investigation by the International Labor Organization (ILO) “concerning non-observance by Qatar of the Forced Labour Convention,” Doha pledged a series of important labor reforms. These are outlined in an ILO document where Qatar expressed a commitment to the ILO to institute a minimum wage, allow the monitoring of labor practices by independent experts, and reform the kafala (sponsorship) system that can prevent migrant workers from fleeing abusive employers.
 
These measures would be pathbreaking for Gulf countries where migrants make up most of the labor force, but the announcement gives little detail on how laws will be amended, how the changes will be carried out, or the timeframe for their implementation, Human Rights Watch said.
 
“Qatar’s decision to allow the monitoring of labor practices could help protect the rights of hundreds of thousands of migrant workers who toil in sometimes hazardous or even life-threatening conditions,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Because the abusive kafala system is Gulf-wide, other countries in the region should take similar steps.”
 
Qatar hosts nearly 2 million migrant workers, who comprise approximately 95 percent of its total labor force. The ILO outlined a technical cooperation agreement with Qatar that will focus on extensive reforms of the kafala system, institute a nondiscriminatory minimum wage, improve payment of wages, end document confiscation, enhance labor inspections and occupational safety and health systems, refine the contractual system to improve labor recruitment procedures, and increase prevention of forced labor.
 
Approximately 40 percent, or 800,000, of Qatar’s workers are employed in the construction sector, many on venues related to 2022 FIFA World Cup. Qatari authorities have said they are spending US$500 million per week on World Cup-related infrastructure projects, including the building or restoration of eight stadiums, hotels, transportation, and other facilities. In June 2017, FIFA put in place a Human Rights Policy that says “FIFA seeks to prevent or mitigate adverse human rights impacts that are directly linked to its operations, products or services by its business relationships.”
 
The ILO document provides few details. For example, it states that a minimum wage will be adopted, without stipulating when, what it will be, and how it will be enforced.
 
Also on October 26, Qatari Minister of Labor Issa al-Nuaimi announced the cabinet had approved establishment of a “Workers' Support and Insurance Fund,” including a minimum wage. Al Jazeera, the Qatar-based news outlet, reported that Qatar had signed bilateral agreements with the countries from which most foreign workers originate. Qatari authorities should clarify the amount of the minimum wage and when it would go into effect, Human Rights Watch said.
 
Qatar’s exit visa requirement can prevent migrant workers from leaving the country merely on the say-so of a current or former employer. Law no. 21 of 2015, relating to the entry, exit, and residence of migrant workers, as amended by Law No. 1 of 4 January 2017, requires that in order to leave the country, employees provide a certificate that attests to the amicable end of the contractual relationship with their employer, or to demonstrate that abuse by an employer made it necessary to change employer or leave the country without restriction. The proposed reforms indicated in the ILO document aim to remove “restrictions on migrant workers’ ability to change employer and exit the country.”
 
Qatari authorities should clarify whether this means the abolition of the current certificate system, Human Rights Watch said.
 
Human Rights Watch has previously documented shortcomings in Qatar’s legal and regulatory framework that have led to the abuse and exploitation of Qatar’s migrant workers, including late or unpaid wages; overcrowded and unsanitary conditions, including insufficient access to drinking water and improper ventilation; and the absence of adequate protection against heat stress in a country where daytime temperatures can reach 45 degrees Celsius (114 degrees Fahrenheit) in summer months.
 
The cooperation agreement, according to the ILO document, includes a labor inspection policy, again without providing much detail but stipulating that inspections should increase and include large-scale projects such as those for the 2022 World Cup.
 
The ILO document cites a Qatari government communication with the organization dated October 2 that references Law no. 13 of 2017, an August 16 amendment to Labor Law no. 14 of 2004, that obliges workers and employers to refer disputes, such as exit visas and employment contracts, to a Ministry of Administrative Development, Labour and Social Affairs body. If the body is not able to settle the dispute amicably, the government will refer the case to the dispute resolution committee within the same ministry. The law stipulates that the body must resolve disputes within three weeks and includes disputes raised by migrant domestic workers, granting the right of appeal to both parties of the committees’ decisions. The communication states that the rules and procedures of the committee are pending approval by the Emir. Human Rights Watch urges passage of clear rules and procedures that put a definitive end to the kafala system and bring Qatar’s labor laws into full compliance with ILO standards.
 
The reforms indicated in the ILO document were announced ahead of an ILO meeting in Geneva in November 2016, during which the body had said it might penalize Qatar if it failed to address its exploitative labor system.
 
“Qatar’s commitments to the ILO are steps in the right direction to protect migrant worker rights, but the authorities need to get much more specific and put reforms in place without delay,” Whitson said.
 
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

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

© Futuro Berg/Help Refugees, October 2017

(Paris) – A report released on October 23, 2017, by the French administration and security forces’ internal investigations departments has found convincing evidence that police used excessive force and committed other abuses against child and adult migrants in Calais, Human Rights Watch said today. The French report comes almost exactly one year after authorities demolished the large migrant camp there, known colloquially as the “Jungle.”

The investigation and report were requested by the Interior Ministry in response to a July report by Human Rights Watch on police abuses against migrants in and around the city. The results of the French investigation are consistent with Human Rights Watch’s principal findings – that police routinely used chemical sprays on migrants, including children, while they were sleeping and in other circumstances in which they posed no threat, and regularly sprayed or confiscated sleeping bags, blankets, and clothing, apparently to press them to leave the area.

“The investigation requested by the Interior Ministry confirms that police in Calais used excessive force and otherwise abuse migrants, including children,” said Bénédicte Jeannerod, France director at Human Rights Watch. “Local and national authorities should put an end to these practices, discipline officers who abuse their power, and carry out the investigators’ recommendations.”

The French ombudsman’s office (Defenseur des Droits) and many of the aid groups operating in and around Calais, including L’Auberge des Migrants and Help Refugees, have published similar reports of police abuse following the closure of the sprawling migrant camp one year ago this week.

Most of the abuses described to investigators were attributed to the French riot police (Compagnies républicaines de sécurité, CRS). Among other findings, the French investigation noted that police forces do not regularly comply with the requirement that they wear badges with identifying numbers. As a result, members of the police force who commit abuses cannot be easily identified.

The investigators recommended, among other steps, that police forces ensure that officers are aware of the general rules for the use of aerosol sprays and receive specific instructions about methods authorized in specific operations. The investigators said that police should wear visible identification at all times, and use cameras during operations and identity checks. Human Rights Watch has long advocated requiring police to issue a record of identity checks, commonly called a stop form, as proof of a procedure and to enable accountability in case of abuse.

The investigators said that police forces should enter into dialogue with aid groups. They also said that improving migrants’ access to food, water, and other basic needs would reduce tension in Calais, and with it the need for police intervention.

Until July, local authorities attempted to prevent food distribution by aid groups and refused to provide migrants with access to drinking water and showers, saying that doing so would attract more migrants. The lack of basic services contributed to “a state of physical and mental exhaustion” and “inhuman living conditions” among migrants in and around Calais, the French ombudsman observed in June.

One question the investigators addressed at length is whether the hand-held aerosols used by police forces in Calais contain pepper spray (oleoresin capsicum, OC) or teargas (the popular name for aerosols that usually include the chemical agent 2-chlorobenzylidene malononitrile, or CS), concluding that police employed teargas.

At the same time that Interior Minister Gérard Collomb announced the investigation that resulted in this week’s report, a ministry news release reacted to the Human Rights Watch report with the statement that police used teargas rather than pepper spray, as Human Rights Watch had reported. In fact, the effects of CS spray are more severe, and its long-term effects possibly more harmful, than those of OC pepper spray.

“Protracted debate on whether police forces use OC or CS aerosols misses the point,” Jeannerod said. “The real concern is the routine and indiscriminate way police use these sprays, amounting to excessive force.”

During the investigations, three investigation departments – the inspectorates for the National Police, the Gendarmerie National, and the French State (Inspection Générale de la Police Nationale, Inspection Générale de la Gendarmerie Nationale, and the Inspection Générale de l’Administration) – conducted 93 interviews with representatives of aid groups, police and other authorities, and migrants, as well as Human Rights Watch researchers.

“These recommendations are a step in the right direction,” Jeannerod said. “It’s particularly important for national and local authorities to recognize the urgency of addressing the humanitarian situation migrants face.”
 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Migrant laborers work at a construction site at Aspire Zone in Doha, March 26, 2016. 

© 2016 Naseem Zeitoon/Reuters

(Beirut) – Qatari authorities should adopt and enforce adequate restrictions on outdoor work to protect the lives of migrant construction workers who are at risk from working in the country’s intense heat and humidity, Human Rights Watch said today.

Current heat protection regulations for the great majority of workers in Qatar only prohibit outdoor work from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. during the period June 15 to August 31. But climate data shows that weather conditions in Qatar outside those hours and dates frequently reach levels that can result in potentially fatal heat-related illnesses in the absence of appropriate rest. International experts recommend work limitations based on actual weather conditions and the use of the authoritative Wet Bulb Global Temperature heat stress index to calculate appropriate work to rest ratios, not on predefined dates and times.

Authorities also should investigate the causes of migrant worker deaths, regularly make public data on such deaths, and use the information to devise appropriate public health policies, Human Rights Watch said. In 2013, health authorities reported 520 such deaths of workers from Bangladesh, India, and Nepal in 2012, of whom 385, or 74 percent, died from unexplained causes. Qatari public health officials have not responded to requests for information about the overall number and causes of deaths of migrant workers since 2012.

“Enforcing appropriate restrictions on outdoor work and regularly investigating and publicizing information about worker deaths is essential to protect the health and lives of construction workers in Qatar,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Limiting work hours to safe temperatures – not set by a clock or calendar – is well within the capacity of the Qatari government and will help protect hundreds of thousands of workers.”

Qatar has a migrant labor force of nearly 2 million, who comprise approximately 95 percent of its total labor force. Approximately 40 percent, or 800,000, of these workers are employed in the construction sector. Since December 2010, when Qatar won its bid to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup, the country has embarked on a massive building spree – restoring or building eight stadiums, hotels, transportation, and other infrastructure. Qatari authorities have said they are spending US$500 million per week on World Cup-related infrastructure projects.

In contrast to the rudimentary and inadequate heat laws for workers, Qatar’s 2022 FIFA World Cup organizers, the quasi-governmental Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, in 2016 mandated work-to-rest ratios, commensurate with the risk posed by heat and humidity, for the workers building stadiums for the tournament.

However, these creditable requirements only apply to just over 12,000 workers who are building stadiums for the World Cup – about 1.5 percent of Qatar’s construction workforce – and take no account of the effect of sunlight, which significantly increases the risk of heat stress. Supreme Committee officials told Human Rights Watch that they expect the number of workers on their projects to peak at around 35,000 by late 2018 or early 2019.

“If Qatar’s World Cup organizers can mandate a climate-based work ban, then the Qatar government can follow its lead as a step towards providing better protection from heat for all workers,” Whitson said.

The lack of transparency on migrant worker deaths has made it difficult to assess the extent to which extreme weather conditions are harming those working outdoors. A 2014 report that the Qatari government commissioned from the international law firm DLA Piper noted that the number of worker deaths in Qatar attributed to cardiac arrest, a general term that does not specify cause of death, was “seemingly high.” The authorities have failed to implement two key recommendations from that report. First, Qatar has not reformed its laws to allow autopsies or post-mortem examinations in cases of “unexpected or sudden deaths,” which the report says “should be performed” in any case of sudden or unexpected death; the law provides that autopsies may be performed to determine if the death was the result of illness, but should be expanded to explicitly authorize autopsies in cases of sudden or unexpected deaths. In addition, Qatari authorities have not commissioned an independent study into the seemingly high number of deaths vaguely attributed to cardiac arrest.

Moreover, Qatar has not made public meaningful data on migrant worker deaths for four years that would allow an assessment of the extent to which heat stress is a factor. Qatari authorities responded to an inquiry from Human Rights Watch about deaths of migrant workers at workplaces with figures indicating 35 workplace deaths, mostly from falls, presumably at construction sites, for 2016. The government has not provided the total number of deaths of migrant workers in 2016, but partial information from sending-country embassies indicates that the yearly migrant worker death toll has been in the hundreds.

International human rights law obliges all states to take necessary and reasonable steps to protect individuals’ right to life. This includes putting in place and enforcing legislation that provides effective protection to workers engaged in activities that pose a serious risk to life. States also have an obligation to collect information, undertake studies and compile reports about the risks associated with inherently dangerous types of work.

The Supreme Committee has provided information on worker deaths for projects under its purview. Out of a total of ten worker deaths on World Cup projects between October 2015 and July 2017, the Supreme Committee classified eight deaths as “non-work-related.” It has listed seven of these deaths as resulting from “cardiac arrest” and “acute respiratory failure,” terms that obscure the underlying cause of deaths and make it impossible to determine whether they may be related to working conditions, such as heat stress.

“As Qatar scales up its FIFA World Cup construction projects, authorities need to scale up transparency about worker deaths that could be heat related, and take urgent steps to end risks to workers from heat,” Whitson said.

Qatari authorities should immediately replace the work ban limited to midday summer working hours with a legally binding requirement based on actual weather conditions consistent with international best practice standards. This should include rest-to-work ratios commensurate with the risk from heat and humidity exposure, access to shade, plentiful hydration, and the prohibition of work at all times of unacceptable heat risk. The authorities should engage heat-stress specialists in drafting legislation, which should include meaningful sanctions for non-compliance.

Bahrain, Oman, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates – the other five members of the Gulf Cooperation Council – all operate similar summer working hours’ bans that are not linked to actual weather conditions, and migrant workers in these countries are also vulnerable to similarly extreme temperatures.

“Qatar sought the spotlight by bidding for the 2022 World Cup, brought in hundreds of thousands of migrant workers to build roads, stadiums, and hotels, and then shelved key recommendations from their own consultants to investigate migrant worker deaths,” said Whitson. “FIFA and national football associations should make clear they expect life-saving changes to law and practice that could set a Gulf-wide example of how to save construction worker lives now – and in the future.”

Risks to Workers from Heat and Humidity

Qatari authorities’ strategy to mitigate heat-related risks to outdoor workers is limited to the 2007 decree prohibiting outdoor work between 11:30 a.m. and 3 p.m. during the period from June 15 to August 31, a rudimentary summer working hours ban. This system is demonstrably inadequate to address the very real heat-related risks that outdoor workers face due to very high temperatures in Qatar outside these hours and times of year.

In 2005, a paper written by three doctors employed at the intensive care unit of Hamad Hospital and published in the Qatar Medical Journal warned of the dangers of heat stroke to “unacclimatized outdoor workers” and outlined recommendations to minimize the risks to worker health. It recommended that “national public health authorities need to update the current heat emergency response plans with emphasis on their ability to predict mortality and morbidity associated with specific climatologic factors and their public health effect.” Qatari authorities did not respond to questions about whether they have undertaken or funded any subsequent public health study into the health and safety risks associated with living and working outdoors in Qatar’s extremely hot and humid environment, and Human Rights Watch is unaware of any such study.

Temperature readings do not, in isolation, accurately reflect the risk to workers from heat stress. Labor institutions in other countries and the global standards-setting institution International Organization for Standardization (ISO) use heat stress indices, such as the Wet Bulb Globe Temperature (WBGT), which measures the combined effect of temperature, humidity, wind speed, and solar radiation on humans. When the body generates heat faster than it can lose it, the core body temperature rises. An increase in core temperature beyond 39 degrees Centigrade creates health risks. ISO sets guidelines on exposure to help ensure core body temperature does not exceed 38 degrees Centigrade.

ISO Standard 7243 uses WBGT as the heat stress index to specify recommended rest/work cycles at different physical work intensities: a WBGT of 29.3 means the ratio of work vs. rest should be 45 minutes to 15 minutes for an acclimatized worker doing moderately exerting work; when the WBGT reaches 30.6, the work-rest ratio should be 30 to 30; when the WBGT reaches 31.8, the ratio should be 15 to 45; and if the WBGT goes above 38, no work can safely be performed. The threshold levels are lower for workers doing strenuous work.

Data that Human Rights Watch obtained from the UK Meteorological Office and publicly available data from the ClimateChip project, which disseminates research into the impact of climate conditions on human health, with a particular focus on heat stress, demonstrates the inadequacy of Qatar’s time and date-bound heat mitigation strategy. The data shows that the WBGT can be dangerously high in Qatar at times of the year where there is no work ban in place, notably in May, the first half of June, and September. For example, in September 2016 in Doha, the maximum WBGT in direct sunlight reached 35 and was frequently at levels where even acclimatized outdoor workers would be at serious risk in the absence of frequent breaks. Professor Tord Kjellstron, an expert in environmental and occupational heat stress, told Human Rights Watch that the risk of heat stroke was high in these temperatures: “at a WBGT of 33C, it is so hot that any physical activity, including work, is almost impossible to keep up for more than a short period of minutes.”

The data for Qatar also shows that the WBGT is dangerously high throughout the day and night between mid-June and the end of August, when the only restriction on work is the 11:30 a.m. – 3 p.m. ban. Air temperatures rarely fall below 30 degrees Celsius, and high, night-time humidity levels mean that the WBGT remains dangerously high for days or weeks on end. For example, in one 72-hour period in August 2016, the WBGT remained almost constantly above 30.6, the threshold level at which an acclimatized worker can only work safely for 30 minutes of every hour. ClimateChip data shows a steady annual increase in the mean and maximum WBGT figures for Doha.

Other experts Human Rights Watch consulted said that Qatar’s weather conditions and rudimentary regulations pose significant risks to the health of workers. Dr. Rebekah Lucas, an environmental physiologist at the University of Birmingham, reviewed data on Qatar from ClimateChip and the UK Meteorological Office. Referring to the combination of heat and humidity levels at times and dates when employers are under no obligation to provide breaks from work, she told Human Rights Watch that “workers performing moderate to strenuous labor under such adverse climate conditions are at risk of suffering acute heat-related injuries and impaired work performance.” Professor Douglas Casa, an expert in exertional heat stroke at the University of Connecticut, told Human Rights Watch that “in view of the inadequacy of Qatar’s heat policies, there is a high probability that heat stroke played a role in many of the unexplained deaths or the deaths attributed to cardiac arrest.”

In contrast to the government, Qatar’s World Cup organizers mandate work-to-rest ratios that are commensurate with the risk posed by heat and humidity, requiring supervisors to identify appropriate work-to-rest ratios using a Humidex chart. However, the Humidex chart takes no account of the effect of direct sunlight, which significantly increases the risk of heat-related illness. In addition, these requirements apply only to workers involved in World Cup projects, representing around 1.5 percent of the total number of migrant construction workers in Qatar. The Qatari authorities should extend this requirement to the general construction sector, using the Wet Bulb Globe Temperature, which as noted better measures the heat stress from the combined effect of temperature, humidity, wind speed, and solar radiation on humans, and grant outdoor workers respite from work in line with an index that accurately measures workers’ exposure to heat stress.

Investigations into Worker Deaths

Qatari authorities have failed to implement two of the key recommendations of a 2014 report the government commissioned by the international law firm DLA Piper. The report included an independent review of the legislative and enforcement framework of Qatar’s labor laws and practices, prompted by reporting by news media and research by international human rights and labor groups that pointed to abuses of migrant workers. The report noted that the number of deaths attributed to cardiac arrest was “seemingly high” and urged that the government reform its laws to mandate autopsies or post-mortem examinations into “unexpected or sudden deaths.” The other key recommendation was that the government commission an independent study into an apparently high number of deaths that authorities attributed to cardiac arrest.

Human Rights Watch has identified the failure of the Qatari authorities to perform autopsies or post-mortems on deceased foreign workers when the cause of death is unclear as a significant problem. Data from Qatar’s Supreme Council of Health for 2012 – the last year for which the Qatar government made public relatively detailed and comprehensive information about worker deaths – indicated that out of a total of 520 deaths that year of migrant workers from Bangladesh, India and Nepal – three countries that supply roughly three-quarters of Qatar’s 2 million low-paid migrant workers – 385 (74 percent) died that year from causes that the authorities neither explained nor investigated: 246 workers (47 percent) died from “sudden death, cause unknown;” and 139 (27 percent) died from “other causes.”

The Indian ambassador to Qatar, Sanjiv Arora, told the Qatari press in February 2014 that “most of the [Indian] deaths [in Qatar] are due to natural causes.” In response to a right to information request submitted by a Delhi-based organization, the Environics Trust, the Indian embassy in Qatar revealed the death toll of Indian workers in Qatar since 2011: 239 Indian workers died in Qatar in 2011, 237 died in 2012, 241 died in 2013, 279 died in 2014, and 279 died in 2015. The Indian embassy refused to respond to Environics Trust questions about the causes of these deaths, stating that the information “has been shared by the Qatari authorities in confidence.” Environics Trust has appealed the decision to India’s Central Information Commission on grounds that it is in the public interest to disclose the names and especially the causes of death of the high number of Indian nationals in one country.

A representative from the Nepal Embassy in Qatar told DLA Piper that, out of a total of 353 Nepali deaths in 2012 and 2013, “most…were a result of cardiac arrest.”

The United Kingdom-based Office of National Statistics Death Certification Advisory Group offers guidance to doctors in England and Wales on the completion of death certificates: “Terms that do not identify a disease or pathological process clearly are not acceptable as the only cause of death. This includes terminal events, or modes of dying such as cardiac or respiratory arrest, syncope or shock.” In the United States the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers similar guidance to doctors: “The mechanism of death (for example, cardiac or respiratory arrest) should not be reported as the immediate cause of death as it is a statement not specifically related to the disease process, and it merely attests to the fact of death.” A senior cardiologist in the UK, Dr. Hamish Dobbie, told Human Rights Watch said that if a doctor certified a death as “sudden death / cause unknown” in the UK, it would automatically trigger an investigation by a coroner to determine the cause of death, and that in most cases the coroner would order an autopsy.

The DLA Piper report commissioned by the Qatari government stressed the importance of collecting and disseminating data on deaths, as well as the importance of investigating “sudden” deaths and deaths attributed to cardiac arrest:

It is crucial that the State of Qatar properly classifies causes of deaths. It is critical to collect and disseminate accurate statistics and data in relation to work-related injuries and deaths. If there are any sudden or unexpected deaths, autopsies or post-mortems should be performed in order to determine the cause of death. If there are any unusual trends in causes of deaths, such as high instances of cardiac arrest, then these ought to be properly studied in order to determine whether preventative measures need to be taken.

Qatari Law no. 2 of 2012 states that “the autopsy or post-mortem examination of human bodies is prohibited unless for the purpose of determining whether death was caused by a criminal act or whether the deceased suffered from illness prior to death, or for educational purposes.” Human Rights Watch wrote to Minister of Public Health Dr. Hanan Mohamed Al Kuwari on September 28, 2016, to ask for details on how many migrant worker fatalities have resulted in autopsies or post-mortem examinations. Human Rights Watch received no response to this request or a follow up request sent on September 6, 2017.

Human Rights Watch’s letters to the minister of public health also requested information on migrant worker deaths in Qatar since 2011, broken down by year, age group, profession, and cause of death, and whether any had been related to heat stress. Human Rights Watch wrote similar letters to the Indian, Nepali, Bangladeshi, Sri Lankan, and Filipino embassies in Qatar, requested similar information on deaths of their nationals in Qatar. In view of the procedures required to attain a work visa and complete a death certificate, it is certain that all of this data exists.

In August 2017, Qatari authorities responded to Human Rights Watch with information on migrant worker deaths at the workplace resulting from injuries. This information indicates that 35 migrant workers died in 2016 as a result of serious injuries, most of them apparently sustained in the course of construction work. They did not provide information on the total number of migrant worker deaths in 2012 or since, or information on the causes of those deaths. The only other response, from the Indian embassy, referred to the press release section of their website and did not answer the questions posed.

Without this information, it is impossible to draw any conclusions on death rates relative to the size of the migrant worker population, adjusted for age, or to compare the death rates of workers employed outdoors to the death rates of workers employed indoors. Qatar is under no obligation under human rights law to report death statistics for nationals or non-nationals, but the failure of the Qatari as well as Indian, Nepali, Bangladeshi, and Filipino authorities to provide this data obstructs the most basic analysis of migrant worker deaths in Qatar.

World Cup Deaths

Out of ten worker deaths reported by the Supreme Committee between October 2015 and July 2017 on projects directly related to the World Cup, the Committee classified eight as “non-work-related,” based on the cause of death listed on the death certificates. In only one of these eight cases – the death of the 57-year-old worker on July 17, 2017 from “coronary artery disease” – did the cause of death include reference to an underlying cause.

It is standard practice in many countries for death certificates to include both the immediate cause of death as well as the underlying causes – the diseases or injuries that initiated the events resulting in death – and the latter is essential for determining whether a death was work-related.

On July 23, 2017, Human Rights Watch wrote to the Supreme Committee to ask for more precise details on all eight of the deaths they have classified as “non-work-related.” The Supreme Committee responded that “death certificates in Qatar do not include any further information on cause of death.”

In July 2016, in response to a Human Rights Watch query with regard to the April 27, 2016 death of 48-year old construction worker, Jaleshwar Prasad, the Supreme Committee stated that Prasad had fallen ill at the worksite that morning and died later that day, and that “the hospital reported the cause of death as cardiac arrest.” It added that an investigation into Prasad’s death “concluded that work duties were not a contributory factor,” but did not explain who carried out this investigation, nor how it arrived at this conclusion. The Supreme Committee’s latest Worker Welfare Progress Report, released in June 2017, stated that Prasad died of “heart failure due to acute respiratory failure.” The Committee told Human Rights Watch that they did not have records of the heat and humidity in the days before Prasad’s death. According to data from the UK Meteorological Office for April 26, 2016, the temperature spiked at 39.1 degrees Celsius in the early afternoon hours, although humidity was low. In a September 6, 2017 communication, the Supreme Committee said that they had “asked about the possibility of carrying out an autopsy, but were informed the police would only deal directly with Mr. Prasad’s employer.”

Other deaths mentioned in the June 2017 report include:

  • The death of a 27-year-old Nepali worker on October 22, 2016, due to “acute heart failure due to natural causes”;
  • The death of a 26-year-old Ethiopian on December 1, 2016, due to “acute respiratory failure”; and
  • The death of a 25-year old Bangladeshi worker on February 4, 2017, due to “acute respiratory failure.”

On August 6, 2017, the Supreme Committee provided additional information to Human Rights Watch about deaths that occurred since the finalization of their June 2017 report:

  • On May 4, 2017, a 56-year-old Indian worker died due to “heart failure due to natural causes.”
  • On July 17, 2017, a 57-year-old Indian worker died due to “coronary artery disease due to hyperlipidaemia (excessive cholesterol).”

In its September 6, 2017 communication, the Supreme Committee said that outside of the officially restricted midday summer work hours, work was suspended on their projects due to high Humidex index readings for a total of 150 additional hours in 2016, and an additional 255 hours between January 1 and early September 2017. With regard to the fact that the Humidex index does not take the effect of solar radiation (sunlight) into consideration, the committee said that sunlight is “factored into the restrictions on SC project sites” but did not elaborate. The committee said it carries out “spot checks” to ensure that contractors shut down work sites when required by temperature and humidity readings.

International Law Requirements, and FIFA’s Human Rights Policies

Qatar has ratified the revised version of the Arab Charter on Human Rights. Under this charter it is, therefore, bound to respect and protect the right to life (article 5) and the right to health (article 39) of everyone in the country. It is also bound under the Arab Charter to respect the right of every worker in the country to “rules for the preservation of occupational health and safety” (article 34). Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) also affirms the rule of customary international law that “every human being has the inherent right to life.”

According to a draft general comment prepared in April 2015 by the Human Rights Committee, the body of experts charged with monitoring implementation of the ICCPR, the right to life “concerns the entitlement of individuals to be free from acts and omissions [emphasis by Human Rights Watch] intended or expected to cause their unnatural or premature death,” and implies the existence of a legal framework to ensure the enjoyment of the right to life by all individuals. The draft is still under consideration at time of writing.

The United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights offer guidelines specifying some of the steps businesses should follow to implement their responsibilities. As laid out in those documents, businesses should respect all human rights, avoid complicity in abuses, and adequately remedy them if they occur. These principles and guidelines apply to all relevant actors engaged in construction-related activities in Qatar or linked to preparations for the 2022 World Cup, including world football’s governing body, FIFA, and the national football associations who will participate in the tournament.

In 2015, FIFA commissioned Harvard professor John Ruggie, who developed the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, to report on its human rights policies. Professor Ruggie’s May 2016 FIFA report calls for human rights protections across FIFA’s global operations, including Qatar. In October 2016, FIFA released FIFA 2.0: The Vision For The Future, which makes human rights a central pillar. In June 2017, FIFA published its Human Rights Policy, “anchoring respect for human rights” across all FIFA operations. Under the UN Guiding Principles, FIFA is obligated to take effective steps to avoid human rights problems and ensure remedy for abuses that occur in spite of those efforts.

Human Rights Watch Recommendations:

To the Government of Qatar:

  • Release data on migrant worker deaths for the past five years, broken down by age, gender, occupation, and cause of death;
  • Immediately replace the summer working hours ban with a legally binding requirement that employers adequately minimize the heat-stress risk to workers, including the prohibition of work at all times of unacceptable heat risk. Engage recognized heat-stress specialists in drafting legislation, which should include meaningful sanctions for non-compliance;
  • Amend Law No. 2 of 2012 on Autopsy of Human Bodies to require medical examinations and allow forensic investigations, including autopsies if necessary, into all sudden or unexplained deaths; and
  • Pass legislation to require that all death certificates include reference to a medically meaningful cause of death, such as a trauma, a disease, or a pathological process.

To FIFA and National Football Associations:

  • Insist that Qatar put in place reforms to protect workers from heat and other injuries, including to replace the summer working hour ban with a system that accurately reflects the actual risk to workers at any given time; and
  • Insist that Qatar carry out investigations into worker deaths and make comprehensive data publicly available.

To the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy

  • Use the Wet Bulb Globe Temperature (WBGT), which measures the combined effect of temperature, humidity, wind speed and solar radiation, to determine thresholds for dangerous outdoor work and ban work in excess of these thresholds; and
  • Implement the WBGT year-round and at all hours of the day, not just during the existing calendar-based work ban dates.
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

India’s home minister, Rajnath Singh, said in a tweet that his government is “not violating any international law” if it deports Rohingya refugees “as we are not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention.”

Hold on. If India had not signed the Convention Against Torture would Indian authorities have carte blanche to torture and ill-treat anyone in custody? Of course not. India knows full well that certain principles of international law are considered customary international law – they are unlawful because states have long prohibited the practice as a matter of law. It doesn’t matter whether or not the country has ratified a treaty on the subject. And, if it is wrong to torture or persecute someone, forcing someone to return to a place where they face these abuses is also unacceptable.

By deporting them we are not violating any international law as we are not a signatory to 1951 Refugee Convention.

— Rajnathsingh_in (@RajnathSingh_in) September 21, 2017

The home minister correctly cites the 1951 Refugee Convention as a source of law for the principle of “nonrefoulement,” which prohibits the return of refugees “in any manner whatsoever” to places where their lives or freedom would be threatened. He could also have cited the 1984 Convention Against Torture, which prohibits the return of anyone to another country where there are substantial risk of torture. There are also other regional conventions and declarations that endorse the principle, such as the 1969 OAU Refugee Convention, the 1969 American Convention on Human Rights, and the 1966 Bangkok Principles on Status and Treatment of Refugees.

But that’s not the end of the story.

Certain rules of customary international law are so important that no government can violate them even if a treaty existed that would allow them to do so.  The prohibitions on torture and slavery are such “peremptory norms.” As early as 1982, the executive committee of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, which is comprised of 101 countries including India, affirmed that the principle of nonrefoulement was “progressively acquiring the character of a peremptory rule of international law.”

The Indian government says it is worried about the entry of refugees with links to Rohingya militants. If that’s the case, they should produce evidence and prosecute individual suspects. While a Rohingya militant group attacked security posts in Burma, it is the campaign of ethnic cleansing by the Burmese military that has caused Rohingya to flee, most to Bangladesh but some to India.

When your neighbor flees his burning house, you are not at liberty to push him back into the flames because you consider him a trespasser. The Rohingya are literally fleeing their burning homes. The obligation not to push them back stems less from a signature on a piece of paper than from the fundamental principles of our shared humanity. 

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

Election campaign posters for the upcoming general election are pictured in Berlin, Germany, September 12, 2017.

© 2017 Reuters
(Berlin) –The platforms of the German parties most likely to be elected to the Bundestag differ greatly on protection of human rights in foreign policy and migration and asylum policy, Human Rights Watch said today.
 
“The election platforms of the main German parties offer a clear roadmap for voters when it comes to making sure their elected representatives will protect human rights,” says Wenzel Michalski, Germany director at Human Right Watch. “Of course, what matters is the actual political work after the elections, which we will closely monitor.”
 
Three parties, the SPD (Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands – Social Democratic Party of Germany), Bündnis90/Die Grünen (Alliance 90/The Greens) and FDP (Freie Demokratische Partei – Free Democratic Party) – devote separate sections of their platforms to human rights in foreign policy.

In their shared platform, CDU (Christlich Demokratische Union Deutschlands – Christian Democratic Union of Germany) and CSU (Christlich Soziale Union in Bayern – Christian Social Union in Bavaria) seek to champion democracy, freedom, human rights, and Europe. They say that Germany’s role in the world should be based on its commitment to values like human dignity, protection and promotion of human rights, rule of law, democracy, and tolerance. The heading of the chapter on development cooperation refers to the close connection between human rights and development policy. However, there are no details about how to carry out these commitments. On migration and asylum policy, CDU/CSU agree that people in need should receive help. But they call for reduced migration, and quick and consistent deportation of rejected asylum seekers. They also praise the EU-Turkey deal, even though it has trapped asylum seekers and migrants in abusive conditions on the Greek islands.

The term “human rights” is not mentioned in the Bavaria Plan, the separate CSU election program. The CSU emphasizes, however, that the values of German foreign policy remain clear. These include international law, democracy, and rule of law. “Ending the persecution of Christians” is cited as a specific foreign policy goal, but there is no mention of protecting other religious denominations. The CSU advocates an arbitrary numerical limit on asylum seekers, irrespective of their protection claims, a violation of international law obligations, and limiting family reunification.

The SPD platform says that protecting and promoting human rights is a foreign policy priority. It says that peace and development are unthinkable without human rights. In concrete terms, this means that human rights activists need to be better protected, women fully involved in peace and security efforts, and LGBT individuals able to live free from violence. The party also advocates the expansion of corporate responsibility. The SPD also calls for strengthening international law and the International Criminal Court, and prosecuting those who commit war crimes and crimes against humanity. It seeks to ban autonomous weapons, to contain arms exports – in particular, to ban the export of small arms – and to bind human rights standards for all trade, investment and economic partnership agreements. The platform asserts that migration policy should be based on respect for human rights and adherence to the international Refugee Convention, and says that the temporary suspension of family reunifications should be lifted.

The Linke’s (The Left) platform says that Germany should act in accordance with international law and universal human rights, including civil, economic, social, and cultural norms. German foreign policy should create a global social infrastructure that enables everyone to gain access to education, health, work, and a self-determined life in dignity and social security. The protection of human rights is a clear priority when it comes to a fair world economic order, corporate responsibility, and the right to food. The Linke says the production and export of arms should be stopped. It rejects invoking human rights to legitimize military intervention and calls for strengthening international law in this regard. It also says the German government should join the Additional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, so that people whose rights are violated can appeal to the UN committee for a remedy. On asylum and migration policy, the party believes the basic right to asylum is not adequately guaranteed in the German constitution, and opposes an upper limit to asylum seekers, and restrictions on family reunification.

Bündnis 90/Die Grünen's election platform on foreign policy contains a separate subsection on “Peace, Global Equity and Human Rights.” It says that foreign policy engagements should follow the guiding principles of human rights and international law. Specifically, it supports greater protection for human rights defenders and the appointment of dedicated human rights consultants at all German embassies, and the establishment of a council for peace, sustainability, and human rights to review government action related to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. The platform says that development policy should be based on human rights, that women’s rights are an important factor for foreign and development policy, and that there should be worldwide protection for LGBT people. Arms exports to conflict areas and countries in which severe human rights violations are taking place should be prohibited by law. The platform supports the principle of “responsibility to protect” in cases of crimes against humanity. It says that trade relationships should be held to human rights standards, and that companies are responsible for the social consequences of their actions. On migration and asylum policy, Bündnis 90/Die Grünen advocates protecting the right to asylum, and opposes an upper limit on asylum seekers and restrictions on family reunification.

The heading of the FDP’s chapter on foreign policy is “Freedom and Human Rights,” which it seeks to strengthen worldwide. It says that Germany should be prepared to provide military assistance to end severe human rights violations and that Germany should clearly condemn the oppression of members of the opposition and civil society in Russia. It also advocates sanctions against EU member states that permanently violate fundamental and human rights and calls for the worldwide recognition of the International Criminal Court. The party opposes discrimination against LGBT people worldwide. The party also wants to promote an international freedom of information treaty that would secure the global internet's freedom and independence and curtail its surveillance and censorship. The FDP considers the right to asylum non-negotiable and rejects any kind of fixed upper limit.

In the AfD’s (Alternative für Deutschland – Alternative for Germany) chapter on foreign and security policy, the term human rights is not mentioned. While the party commits itself to the values set down in the Charter of the United Nations and to the tenets of international law, the platform does not explain what this would mean in terms of protecting human rights. In its migration and asylum policy, the AfD calls for a restrictive amendment to the Basic Law as well as a renegotiation of the Refugee Convention to accommodate “the threat to Europe posed by population explosion and migration flows.”

“The election platforms clearly show the positions of parties contesting the Germany parliamentary elections when it comes to human rights,” Michalski said. “Now, it is up to voters to make a decision.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

The entrance of the European Court of Justice is pictured in Luxembourg, January 26, 2017. Picture taken January 26, 2017.

© 2017 Reuters

Hold the champagne. It’s more of a sparkling water moment.

On September 6, the European Union's Court of Justice upheld the EU’s 2015 emergency plan requiring all member countries to relocate asylum seekers out of Italy and Greece, rejecting an attempt by Slovakia and Hungary to have it struck down.

The court said the temporary, mandatory plan was a reasonable step to share responsibility for asylum seekers at a time when thousands were arriving on Greek islands every day.

The ruling comes just a few weeks ahead of the plan’s formal end. It was a modest plan, designed to benefit a fraction of those arriving. Even so, it has fallen far short of its original target of 160,000 people to be relocated over a two-year period.

According to figures published this week, only 27,695 asylum seekers - 19,244 from Greece and 8,451 from Italy - have actually been relocated. Even after quotas were reduced, this is less than one-third of the overall goal. Only a handful of EU countries are on track to fulfil their obligations under the plan; most have relocated far fewer than required. Hungary and Poland, which backed the legal challenge to the plan, have not relocated a single person.

The court’s endorsement of the validity of a shared approach by EU member states to hosting and processing asylum seekers should help with tough negotiations ahead on creating a permanent relocation mechanism as well as fundamentally reforming EU asylum rules—particularly the Dublin Regulation—that place disproportionate pressure on member states at the EU's external borders that see most irregular arrivals.

At the very least, the ruling should encourage all EU governments to pledge more places and move quickly to relocate asylum seekers, including on the basis of broader eligibility criteria. Better still would be if EU governments took it as a signal to roll up their sleeves and agree a permanent scheme consistent with European values. 

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

Immigration March, San Francisco, October 5, 2013

© 2013 Annette Bernhardt

 

The Trump Administration’s decision to end, in six-months, the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that suspends deportation for children brought to the United States illegally, puts those young people on the legislative trading block. The delay is part of a move to pressure Congress to pass new legislation before DACA’s expiration on March 5, 2018.

Congress, get ready to do your job - DACA!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 5, 2017

Announced by Attorney General Jeff Session today, Trump’s delay sets up a horse trade that pits the Dreamers against legal immigrants, including legally admitted refugees, under the Trump-backed RAISE Act, which aims to cut legal permanent immigration to the United States by half over the next decade. As the price for continuing some level of protection for the Dreamers, the “grand bargain” would also throw in funding for Trump’s border wall and more immigration detention facilities.

The problem: people are not horses.

DACA has shielded more than 785,000 young people in the United States from being deported, allowing them to work, go to school, and lead lives as normal as possible short of being able to legalize their immigration status. DACA is, at best, a temporary fix, an exercise in prosecutorial discretion. Importantly, it directs the enforcers of U.S. immigration law to go after bigger fish, such as people with criminal records. But it is not a permanent solution.

Trump’s end to the program may have been forced by a threatened lawsuit from a small group of Republican state attorneys general who gave him an ultimatum to shut down DACA by September 5. But while Trump has expressed qualms about deporting Dreamers in the past, he shows his hand in his willingness to abandon these vulnerable young people for a chance to decrease numbers of legally admitted immigrants and refugees.

Trump's RAISE Act would reduce the total number of legally admitted immigrants by 41 percent the first year, and by 50 percent within 10 years.

The White House announcement sets a timeline for members of Congress who want to continue some form of protection for young people and ties their fate to legislators’ willingness to cut legal immigration. Under the RAISE Act, this would be achieved mostly by curtailing family-based immigration categories, but also by capping the number of refugees admitted at 50,000 per year, a 41 percent drop from the number admitted last year. The bill would reduce the total number of legally admitted immigrants by 41 percent the first year, and by 50 percent within 10 years.

If Congress rejects Trump’s demands, it will mean an end to the temporary protection of Dreamers. The result could be mass deportations of young people who have lived most of their lives in the United States to countries where many have only the most superficial connections. Their apprehension will only be made easier by their having provided names and addresses to register with DACA.

Trump's RAISE Act would reduce the total number of legally admitted immigrants by 41 percent the first year, and by 50 percent within 10 years.

Bill Frelick

Director, Refugee Rights Program

Painfully, if the price of letting Dreamers stay is cutting legal immigration, then many families waiting for years to be united will see their hopes dashed; and the United States will provide refuge for at least 35,000 fewer people per year than it did last year, putting safe harbor further out of reach for many of the world’s refugees.

The deal holds Dreamers hostage to Trump’s budget boosts for his wasteful border wall with Mexico along with more immigration detention facilities, where Human Rights Watch has found serious abuses. Trump’s request to Congress this year alone, for a wall estimated to cost more than $21 billion, is $1.6 billion. Since apparently Trump lacks the leverage to make Mexico pay for it, he is now exerting pressure on Congress.

Congress and the Trump Administration do need to set immigration priorities. But pitting one marginalized group against another, and using them as bargaining chips is unseemly and fundamentally dehumanizing.

 

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

After police halted an evening distribution of food and clothing, three officers stop and question a boy who had paused to change his shoes before returning to the wooded area where he and other migrants spend the night, May 2017. 

© 2017 Help Refugees

In Calais at the end of June, I spoke to a 17-year-old Ethiopian boy (I’ll call him Biniam T.). He said French riot police (the Compagnies républicaines de sécurité, CRS) had sprayed him with a chemical substance as he was walking with some other boys along the side of a road: “It was the daytime, and they came in a van. They sprayed us from the van. They didn’t say anything; they just sprayed.”

It wasn’t the first time I heard such an account—in fact, nearly every one of the children and adults I interviewed had a similar story. Nor was it the only time police had subjected Biniam to such treatment. “If they catch us when we are sleeping, they will spray us and take all of our stuff. Every two or three days they do this,” he said. “This is normal for us. It’s part of our life.”

Conditions for migrants in Calais may soon improve, at least marginally. Interior Minister Gérard Collomb announced on July 31 that the state would open new shelters for migrants, provide access to water, toilets, and showers and investigate reports of excessive use of force by police.

This is a positive, if initial, response to the Human Rights Watch report last week of widespread police abuses against migrants in Calais and a court decision this week from France’s highest administrative court sharply criticizing officials’ refusal to provide water and other humanitarian assistance to migrants. City officials had at first opposed the Interior Ministry’s plans and had vowed not to comply with the court order.

And the minister also challenged our finding that riot police routinely use pepper spray on child and adult migrants when they pose no conceivable threat. A ministry news release stated that police use teargas rather than pepper spray. “I reiterate that in the security forces, there is no use of pepper spray,” he  told reporters, adding,  “There could be some misconduct by individuals.”

Why the ministry would think tear gas would be better than pepper spray is anyone’s guess. Tear gas (usually containing the chemical agent 2-chlorobenzylidene malononitrile, or CS) and pepper spray cause similar symptoms, including a painful, burning sensation in the eyes and difficulty breathing, although the effects of tear gas often last far longer and can be more severe than those of pepper spray (oleoresin capsicum, OC). Tear gas is a nerve agent, and frequent exposure has been associated with long-term decreases in pulmonary function and increases in respiratory complaints. Put more plainly, people who have been repeatedly exposed to tear gas don’t breathe as well as the average person, even months afterward.

We can say confidently that riot police carry hand-held spray canisters as well as tear gas grenade launchers. I saw both in the hands of police dispersing aid distributions in Calais. Nearly every migrant I spoke with said they had been sprayed by police at close range, usually in the face, most within the previous two weeks. Aid workers said they had witnessed the same, and two aid workers told us a police officer had sprayed them in the face.

It’s possible that the sprays used by the French riot police contain teargas rather than pepper spray. At least one company that sells equipment to French police forces sells hand-held spray canisters containing CS tear gas as well as pepper spray.

We described the chemical sprays used by French riot police in Calais as pepper spray because the symptoms that migrants and those who treated them reported to us were more consistent with pepper spray and news reports on the riot police’s arsenal have stated that it includes pepper spray.

Whatever the police are using, the accounts we heard suggest that they do so routinely and abusively. They also regularly spray or confiscate sleeping bags, blankets, and clothing, and sometimes migrants’ food and water, apparently to pressure them to leave the area. Such acts violate the prohibition on inhuman and degrading treatment and international standards that call for police to use force only when it is unavoidable, and then only in proportion to the circumstances, and for a legitimate law enforcement purpose.

The police abuses we documented in Calais are serious human rights violations. They also adversely affect migrants’ willingness to apply for asylum and, in the case of children, to enter the protection system.

The Interior Ministry’s investigations should assess all relevant evidence, including accounts from aid workers who can corroborate elements of migrants’ accounts—injuries and other symptoms they’ve observed, the repeated requests they receive for sleeping bags and clothing, and abusive practices they’ve witnessed or directly experienced.

Investigators should bear in mind that many people who have been sprayed will be unable to identify individual police officers. Those who can may reasonably fear retaliation. All will need concrete assurances that these investigations will confront bad practices.

The announced investigations are a good start in addressing these pernicious practices—but only if they’re comprehensive, public, and lead to individual sanctions where appropriate.

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

Refugee children take part in a protest in March 2015 against their resettlement on Nauru and living conditions on the island.

© 2016 Private

Migrant children might soon be separated from their parents as a matter of course when families enter the United States irregularly, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly told CNN in early March. Under the proposal, which another Homeland Security official described as among the options the department is considering to “discourage [others] from even beginning the journey,” separated parents would be detained in jail-like facilities while children would be placed in foster homes or shelters for children.

The suggestion rightly drew considerable criticism, and by early April, Secretary Kelly had begun to back away from it. “The idea that the government would cause harm to children to dissuade other families from crossing the border is cynical in the extreme,” my colleague Clara Long wrote in response.

Holding children in immigration detention is a recurring, if abusive, practice around the world, as Australia, Europe, and the United States each seek ways to respond to recent migration flows.

To be sure, it’s unusual to deliberately separate young children from their mothers, as the US proposal would do. But families are frequently split up, with men held separately from women and children. It’s also common for countries to detain unaccompanied children, sometimes for protracted periods.

As one example, Mexico began to detain unaccompanied children as well as adults in large numbers after 2014, at least partly at the urging of US authorities who sought to “stem the flow” of Central American asylum seekers, in the words of Lev D. Kubiak, the assistant director of international operations for US Immigration and Customs Enforcement in testimony before a House subcommittee in June 2015. Mexican immigration authorities apprehended more than 20,000 unaccompanied children from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras in 2015 and over 17,500 in 2016, detaining the vast majority.

In Europe, Hungary has just adopted a measure allowing its authorities to detain asylum seekers on its territory, including families with children and unaccompanied children age 14 and above. Belgium, which had been something of a regional model after it eliminated immigration detention for families in 2009, announced at the end of 2016 that it planned to resume the practice sometime this year.

In perhaps the most extreme and flagrantly abusive use of immigration detention, Australia has forcibly transferred all asylum seekers who arrive by boat, including unaccompanied children and families with children, to offshore facilities in Nauru and Papua New Guinea. The asylum seekers sent there face the choice of indefinite banishment to those countries, relocation to Cambodia, or return to the countries they fled.

Practices such as these are a particularly inhumane response to humanitarian crises. It’s no mystery why Central American children flee their home countries in large numbers, on their own or with their families. Gang violence has plagued Central America’s Northern Triangle for decades, and children are particularly targeted. It’s not uncommon to hear reports that 13-year-olds, or even younger children, were shot in the head, or had their throats slit, or were tortured and left to die, as Óscar Martínez observed in The Nation.

Many of the arrivals to Europe, including large numbers of unaccompanied children, are coming from war-torn countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and Yemen or from highly repressive states, Eritrea and Ethiopia among them.

Similarly, Australia’s offshore operations on Nauru and Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island house men, women, and children from these and other countries who fled armed conflict or sustained persecution because of their political beliefs, religion, or ethnic origin.

Detention has particularly devastating human consequences, which is why international standards discourage detaining asylum seekers and call on countries to end the immigration detention of children. Nevertheless, politicians and policymakers frequently turn a blind eye to the abuses immigration detention entails. What’s more, they sometimes attempt to justify detention in terms that suggest that it somehow serves the “greater good.” The reality, as I’ve seen, is anything but humane.

The Effects of Immigration Detention on Mental Well-Being

Perhaps nowhere are the adverse effects of immigration detention more evident than in Australia’s offshore operations on Manus Island and Nauru, where refugees and asylum seekers have been warehoused for more than three years. A leaked report by UNHCR, the United Nations refugee agency, found, in fact, that post-traumatic stress disorder and depression “have reached epidemic proportions” among those held in both locations.

I’ve been to the facilities on both islands, and many of those I spoke with told me they were seriously considering suicide. More than a dozen adults and some of the children I and an Amnesty International researcher interviewed on Nauru had tried to kill themselves at least once by overdosing on medication, swallowing bleach, other cleaning products, or razors, hanging or strangling themselves, or setting themselves on fire. “I’m tired of my life,” a 15-year-old girl said, telling me that she had tried to commit suicide twice since she arrived on the island.

Children who were separated from one of their parents suffered particularly dramatic and immediate downturns in their mental state. A woman whose husband had been transferred to Australia for medical treatment told me that their 9-year-old son began to repeatedly talk about killing himself: “Two weeks ago, my son took the lighter. He said, ‘I want to burn myself. Why should I be alive? I want my daddy. I miss my daddy.’ I look in his eyes and I see sadness.”

The father of another boy reported that his son had begun to have violent mood swings, stopped speaking, and avoided leaving his room after the boy’s mother was transferred to Australia for medical care without advance warning.

These kinds of adverse effects on mental well-being aren’t restricted to places like Nauru and Papua New Guinea. Human Rights Watch documented similar feelings of depression and suicidal feelings among asylum-seeking mothers and children detained for long periods in the United States. In Greece, where unaccompanied children are frequently held in police custody with no access to mental health care, we’ve spoken to children who appeared to be experiencing psychological distress and in some cases had attempted to harm themselves.

Whatever the circumstances, immigration detention causes significant harm to children and adults. Studies by Physicians for Human Rights and the Bellevue/New York University School of Medicine Program for Survivors of Torture, among others, have found that detained asylum seekers suffered high levels of anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder and that their mental health worsened with continued detention.

Children, in particular, can experience extreme distress in reaction to even short periods of confinement. Research shows that they may become aggressive, display separation anxiety, have difficulty sleeping, and suffer loss of appetite.

These consequences are lasting: children continue to experience emotional distress for months after leaving detention settings. In light of these outcomes, a 2014 survey of pediatricians by the Medical Journal of Australia found that 80 percent of those responding believed that the mandatory detention of asylum-seeking children amounted to child abuse.

The Impact on Children’s Protection Claims

Detention can also be particularly problematic for those who are in need of refugee protection. As a practical matter, it’s much more difficult for people in detention to get the kind of specialized support they need to present their asylum claims effectively. Moreover, children as well as adults may decide not to pursue claims, even very strong ones, because they don’t want to remain locked up in the meantime.

In the United States, where most people in immigration proceedings do not have court- appointed lawyers (instead, under US immigration law, they have the “privilege of being represented, at no expense to the Government”), a 2015 study published in the University of Pennsylvania Law Review found that only 37 percent of all immigrants (and 55 percent of all child immigrants) were represented in immigration cases. For detained immigrants, adults as well as children, the representation rate fell to 14 percent.

In part, that disparity in the United States is because many immigration detention centers are located in rural areas that are often far from pro bono or private lawyers. For example, the immigration detention center in Artesia, New Mexico, where women and children fleeing violence in Central America were held when they began to arrive in large numbers in 2014, is “far away from public scrutiny and public access,” with “no lawyers to speak of [,] . . . no human rights groups, and no community based organizations,” Stephen Manning wrote in The Artesia Report, published that year.

The US government has opposed efforts to provide representation for unaccompanied children and other groups of particularly vulnerable people in immigration proceedings. In fact, one immigration judge went so far as to claim that even very young children could represent themselves adequately. “I’ve taught immigration law literally to 3-year-olds and 4-year-olds. It takes a lot of time. It takes a lot of patience,” the judge said in a March 2016 deposition reported in the Los Angeles Times, claiming, “They get it. It's not the most efficient, but it can be done.”

But the difference between having a lawyer and being unrepresented is far from trivial: among detained immigrants, those with lawyers are more than 10 times more likely than their unrepresented counterparts to win their cases, the 2015 University of Pennsylvania Law Review study found.

Elsewhere in the world, I’ve seen that detention has similar adverse effects on children’s ability to pursue protection claims.

In Mexico, which has also detained large numbers of Central Americans in recent years, UNHCR has estimated that as many as half of all Central American children there  have strong cases for asylum—not meaning necessarily that all are refugees, but rather that their cases warrant in-depth review.

In October 2016, President Enrique Peña Nieto announced that Mexico would strengthen its refugee recognition procedures and “develop alternatives to immigration detention for asylum seekers, particularly children.”

These promises were largely unfulfilled by the year’s end. Mexico’s refugee agency, the Mexican Commission for Refugee Assistance (Comisión Mexicana de Ayuda a Refugiados, COMAR), afforded international protection to just 124 unaccompanied children from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras in 2016. That’s a considerable increase from 2015, when 57 children from these countries received protection, but still less than 1 percent of the total number of unaccompanied children Mexican authorities apprehended in each of these years.

If my interviews are any indication, Mexico’s practice of detaining most asylum seekers is an important factor that helps explain the discrepancy between the large number of unaccompanied children with plausible claims and the very small number who apply for and receive asylum.  Edgar V., a 17-year-old Honduran boy, told me that when he was apprehended in Oaxaca, Mexican immigration officials advised him to apply for asylum. But it is far more common for immigration officials to tell unaccompanied children not to bother making an asylum claim, other children reported.

Despite the advice he received, Edgar had decided not to seek asylum. “I was locked up, and they said it would be a long time before I heard. I couldn’t handle that,” he said. “At least two months, up to six months for the response. When they told me it would be six months before I heard back, I said no, I don’t want that.”  Instead, he accepted being returned to Honduras.

I heard from other unaccompanied children as well as families who made similar decisions to forego asylum claims even when they thought they would face serious risks on return. “I don’t want to return, but because of the time locked up here, I told myself it’s better to return,” another 17-year-old boy told me, after describing a series of death threats that had led him to flee. I asked him how he would stay safe. “I won’t leave the house unless I have to,” he said. “There are criminals on every corner. They walk around armed as if they were the police appointed by law.” 

To be sure, a large number of unaccompanied children would probably prefer to travel through Mexico to the United States rather than staying in Mexico. But it’s also the case that other countries in the region—Costa Rica, Panama, even Belize—are seeing increasing numbers of asylum applications from children and adults, just as Mexico is. Put another way, children and adults fleeing persecution and violence will seek safety in countries throughout the region if they are aware of their right to do so, aren’t locked up, and receive appropriate assistance to go through the process.

Using Detention to Deter Others

As Homeland Security officials did with their family separation proposal, lawmakers and policymakers often try to justify immigration detention as a deterrent to future irregular arrivals. Australian lawmakers, for example, have repeatedly stated that mandatory detention and offshore processing of maritime arrivals are necessary to “stop the boats.”

These kinds of explanations fail to hold up in several respects.

For one, a policy of deterrence means that the state is imposing a hardship on some people to change the behavior of others. But there is something contradictory at the heart of any policy calling for the detention of asylum-seekers, since it means that people seeking refuge from persecution are welcomed first by being locked up,” as Michael Kagan, a University of Nevada law professor, wrote in a 2016 Texas International Law Journal article.

For another, these policies don’t serve their stated purpose. Refugees and asylum seekers are primarily motivated by finding a place of safety and may be completely unaware of detention policies in destination countries, researchers have found.  Similarly, migrants who aren’t fleeing persecution probably choose their destinations on the basis of factors such as family or community ties and perceived educational and economic opportunities. Alice Edwards, a senior UNHCR official, observed in a 2011 article for the Equal Rights Review,There is no empirical evidence that the prospect of being detained deters irregular migration.” Similarly, the International Detention Coalition concluded in an April 2015 report that detention is largely ineffective at reducing irregular migration.

Moreover, international standards call for limits on the use of immigration detention. UNHCR’s Detention Guidelines call for immigration detention to be used sparingly, and only after a detailed, individual assessment; even then, they maintain that detention must be reasonable in the specific circumstances and proportionate to a legitimate public order, public health, or national security purpose. These guidelines explicitly note that mandatory or automatic detention is arbitrary, and therefore impermissible.

For children, the standard is clearer, stronger and even stricter: the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, which oversees compliance with the global treaty on children’s rights, says that countries should “expeditiously and completely cease the detention of children on the basis of their immigration status.”

In short, as UNHCR noted in a 2014 report, Beyond Detention, “[n]ot only does detention not work as a deterrent, it is not a legitimate purpose for detention under international law.”

In truth, immigration detention often serves a purpose that’s largely symbolic. As the sociologists Arjen Leerkes and Dennis Broeders have observed, countries use immigration detention as a signal that they are acting to control their borders. Australia’s offshore processing system, which holds 2,000 people on remote islands as an example to others, provides a clear illustration of this function of immigration detention. As a refugee on Manus put it, “The cost of Australia’s border protection policies is a human sacrifice—us. They need us here as a symbol to stop the boats.”

 Rebranding Detention and Other Restrictions as Protection

Perhaps the most pernicious claim I hear from government officials is that detention, with its purported but unproven deterrent effect, has a protective function. Australian officials have perfected this tactic, spinning the sustained abuse of their offshore operations as a life-saving measure by claiming that offshore operations are necessary to deter smuggling by boat and thus save lives at sea. Some European lawmakers are adopting this rhetoric and also claiming, largely without evidence, that immigration detention prevents trafficking.

Countries deploy other strategies in combination with detention. Australia, the European Union, and the United States are each taking steps to prevent asylum seekers and migrants from reaching their territories, as Bill Frelick, Ian Kysel, and Jennifer Podkul discuss in a 2016 article Journal of Migration Security on the “externalization” of migration control.

In Australia, methods include the interdiction of boats on the high seas and pushbacks of boats to Indonesian waters. A 2015 Indonesian police investigation also found that Australian authorities paid smugglers to turn boats around. Asked to respond, then-Prime Minister Tony Abbott refused to admit or deny the reports of collusion with smugglers, saying only that the Australian government had stopped the boats “by hook or by crook.”

The United States has also employed high seas interdictions and shipboard screenings. And both the European Union and the United States have pursued intensive efforts to support and encourage third countries to “contain” asylum seekers and migrants.

In the case of the United States, that’s meant pushing Mexico to apprehend, detain, and deport Central Americans in large numbers.

The EU has negotiated an arrangement that commits Turkey to accept the return of all asylum seekers who travelled through Turkey in exchange for billions of euros in aid, visa liberalization for Turkish citizens, and revived negotiations for Turkish accession to the EU. In principle, the €3 billion funding is designated for projects to improve the lives of refugees as well as of host communities in Turkey. The deal also provides for the resettlement of one other Syrian refugee from Turkey for each Syrian returned to Turkey.

Under the deal, Greece and other EU countries regard Turkey as a safe country even though Syrians often face significant hurdles in registering for temporary protection and asylum seekers of other nationalities, including Afghans and Iraqis, are ineligible even to apply. Turkey has accepted obligations under UN Convention on the Status of Refugees, but only for refugees from Europe. As Human Rights Watch and other groups have found, many Syrians, as well as Afghans, Iraqis, and others seeking international protection in Turkey cannot lawfully work, access health care, or enrol their children in school, meaning that their presence in Turkey is precarious.

In addition, individual EU member states are known to have turned asylum seekers away at their borders with other non-EU states. Hungary’s violent pushbacks of asylum seekers to the Serbian border are well-known. Poland, which receives large numbers of asylum seekers from the Russian Republic of Chechnya as well as from Tajikistan and Georgia, routinely denies them the right to seek asylum at its border with Belarus and instead summarily returns them there, Human Rights Watch found in a March report.

Characterizing such tactics as protective is both contrary to the facts and shamelessly manipulative.  It’s simply not credible to claim that immigration detention and efforts to contain migrants in third countries protect people from serious harm.

The Way Forward

Authorities should know by now that immigration detention has serious adverse consequences for mental well-being, particularly for families and unaccompanied children. It’s also the case that detention can lead unaccompanied children, as well as adults, to abandon well-founded asylum claims and accept return to possible harm. And closing off safe and legal routes for refugees makes it more likely rather than less that people will turn to smugglers in their search for safe destinations.

It doesn’t have to be this way. For many adults, probation-style periodic reporting to the authorities, or being asked for a financial deposit, and other alternatives are proven means of avoiding the negative consequences of detention while providing reasonable guarantees of appearance in immigration proceedings, the International Detention Coalition has found.

When it comes to children, countries should eliminate the use of immigration detention. Some countries have already agreed in recent years to end or sharply reduce the detention of migrant children: Japan, Panama, Taiwan, and Turkey now prohibit the detention of migrant children, and half a dozen other countries have placed limits on immigration detention of children.

But more countries, Australia and the United States among them, need to recognize that locking children up as a means of migration control is unnecessary, abusive, and counterproductive.

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

Anti-gay rights activists stand on a rainbow flag during a protest by gay rights activists demonstrating against a proposed new law termed by the State Duma, the lower house of Parliament, as "against advocating the rejection of traditional family values" in central Moscow June 11, 2013.

© 2017 Reuters

‘Lilly,’ a transgender woman from Uzbekistan, traveled to northern Russia in 2015, in search of work, hoping to earn money for her transition. In December 2016, three men attacked her on the street, forced her into a car, and gang-raped her. They also filmed the rape and extorted money from Lilly by threatening to publish the video online.

Police promptly arrested two of the perpetrators hours later. In May of this year, a court in Murmansk found the two men guilty of extortion with the use of violence and sentenced them to four years in prison. They were never charged with the rape – the rape that changed Lilly’s life irretrievably. “I only wish I could exchange my life for another,” Lilly told me. But the court did recognize that the men targeted Lilly because of “hate” – hatred for her gender identity – a rare breakthrough in Russia.

Hate attacks in 2010-2016 marked on Russia’s map – red stands for killing; green stands for bodily harm.

© 2017 “Civic Assistance” Committee (CAC)


It’s significant that hostility towards LGBT people was acknowledged as a motivating factor precisely because hate crimes are a serious issue in Russia, and something that the United Nations experts who monitor Russia’s compliance with the International Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) will examine in Geneva this week. It is a difficult task because Russian authorities don’t compile hate crime data and have not been contributing to the OSCE’s statistics on hate crimes, published annually by the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR). Nevertheless, independent monitors flag that the most frequent victims of hate attacks in Russia are non-Slavs, religious minorities, and LGBT people.

In Moscow, Anastasia Denisova, of Russia’s leading migrant support group Civic Assistance Committee, runs the project “hatecrimes.ru,” which provides legal assistance to victims and, in the absence of official statistics, maps out hate crimes on an interactive map of Russia with the use of countrywide findings by SOVA-Center, an independent think tank. She told me that, “in most cases when non-ethnic Russians are attacked, police begin by treating the victim as the guilty party and our lawyers have to work hard to make them realize who is the victim and who is the aggressor. Also, if a victim of a hate crime was also robbed, for instance, the authorities tend to launch a case on robbery, ignoring the hate motive.”

Russia should ensure that authorities systematically recognize hate motives in a crime as an aggravating circumstance and launch mandatory training programs for law enforcement officials and judiciary. The government should also list hate crimes as a separate category in criminal statistics to give the public a clear picture of the issue’s scope and resume its reporting on hate crimes to the OSCE as part of contributing to international efforts aimed at resolving the problem.

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