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

European Union policies contribute to a cycle of extreme abuse against migrants in Libya. The EU and Italy’s support for the Libyan Coast Guard contributes significantly to the interception of migrants and asylum seekers and their subsequent detention in arbitrary, abusive detention in Libya.

Human Rights Watch found violent abuse by guards in four official detention centers in western Libya, including beatings and whippings. Human Rights Watch witnessed large numbers of children, including newborns, detained in grossly unsuitable conditions in three out of the four detention centers. Almost 20 percent of those who reached Europe by sea from Libya in 2018 were children.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Video

Libya: Nightmarish Detention for Migrants, Asylum Seekers

European Union policies contribute to a cycle of extreme abuse against migrants in Libya. The EU and Italy’s support for the Libyan Coast Guard contributes significantly to the interception of migrants and asylum seekers and their subsequent detention in arbitrary, abusive detention in Libya. 

(Brussels) – European Union policies contribute to a cycle of extreme abuse against migrants in Libya, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. The EU and Italy’s support for the Libyan Coast Guard contributes significantly to the interception of migrants and asylum seekers and their subsequent detention in arbitrary, abusive detention in Libya.

The 70-page report, “‘No Escape from Hell’: EU Policies Contribute to Abuse of Migrants in Libya,” documents severe overcrowding, unsanitary conditions, malnutrition, and lack of adequate health care. Human Rights Watch found violent abuse by guards in four official detention centers in western Libya, including beatings and whippings. Human Rights Watch witnessed large numbers of children, including newborns, detained in grossly unsuitable conditions in three out of the four detention centers. Almost 20 percent of those who reached Europe by sea from Libya in 2018 were children.

“Migrants and asylum seekers detained in Libya, including children, are trapped in a nightmare, and what EU governments are doing perpetuates detention instead of getting people out of these abusive conditions,” said Judith Sunderland, associate Europe director at Human Rights Watch. “Fig-leaf efforts to improve conditions and get some people out of detention do not absolve the EU of responsibility for enabling the barbaric detention system in the first place.”

In a letter to Human Rights Watch as the report went to print, the European Commission indicated that its dialogue with Libyan authorities has focused on respect for the human rights of migrants and refugees, that the EU’s engagement in Libya is of a humanitarian nature, and that concrete improvements have been achieved though challenges remain.

Kemi, a Nigerian woman who was seven-months’ pregnant at the time, said a guard at al-Karareem detention center beat her with a hose.

© 2018 John Holmes for Human Rights Watch

Human Rights Watch visited the Ain Zara and Tajoura detention centers in Tripoli, the al-Karareem detention center in Misrata, and the Zuwara detention center in the city of the same name in July 2018. All are under the nominal control of the Directorate to Counter Illegal Migration (DCIM) of the Government of National Accord (GNA), one of two competing authorities in Libya. Human Rights Watch spoke with over 100 detained migrants and asylum seekers, including 8 unaccompanied children, and each center’s director and senior staff. Researchers also met with the head of DCIM; senior officials of Libya’s Coast Guard, which is aligned with the GNA; and representatives of international organizations and diplomats.

Abdul, an 18-year-old from Darfur, was intercepted by the Libyan Coast Guard in May 2018, when he attempted to reach Europe to apply for asylum. He was subsequently detained in abysmal, overcrowded, and unsanitary conditions in the al-Karareem center. He said that guards beat him on the bottom of his feet with a hose to make him confess to helping three men escape. Abdul’s experience encapsulates the struggle, dashed hopes, and suffering of so many migrants and asylum seekers in Libya today, Human Rights Watch said.

Senior officials in EU institutions and member countries are aware of the situation. In November 2017, EU migration commissioner, Dimitri Avramopoulos, said: “We are all conscious of the appalling and degrading conditions in which some migrants are held in Libya.”  Yet since 2016, the EU and particular member states have poured millions of euros into programs to beef up the Libyan Coast Guard’s capacity to intercept boats leaving Libya, fully aware that everyone is then automatically detained in indefinite, arbitrary detention without judicial review.

Detainees said guards at al-Karareem detention center beat them on the soles of their feet. 

© 2018 John Holmes for Human Rights Watch

Italy – the EU country where the majority of migrants departing Libya have arrived – has taken the lead in providing material and technical assistance to the Libyan Coast Guard forces and abdicated virtually all responsibility for coordinating rescue operations at sea, to limit the number of people arriving on its shores. The increase in interceptions in international waters by the Libyan Coast Guard, combined with obstruction by Italy and Malta of rescue vessels operated by nongovernmental organizations, has contributed to overcrowding and deteriorating conditions in Libyan detention centers.

Enabling the Libyan Coast Guard to intercept people in international waters and return them to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment in Libya can constitute aiding or assisting in the commission of serious human rights violations, Human Rights Watch said. EU and member state support for programs for humanitarian assistance to detained migrants and asylum seekers and for evacuation and repatriation schemes have done little to address the systemic problems with immigration detention in Libya, and serve to cover up the injustice of the EU containment policy.

Elijah said guards forced detainees to sit on the ground and stare at the sun.

© 2018 John Holmes for Human Rights Watch

Libyan authorities should end arbitrary immigration detention and institute alternatives to detention, improve conditions in detention centers, and ensure accountability for state and non-state actors who violate the rights of migrants and asylum seekers. The authorities should also sign a memorandum of understanding with UNHCR, the United Nations refugee agency, to allow it to register anyone in need of international protection, regardless of nationality, in full respect of its mandate.

EU institutions and member states should impose clear benchmarks for improvements in the treatment of migrants and conditions in detention centers in Libya and be prepared to suspend cooperation if benchmarks are not met. The EU should also ensure and enable robust search-and-rescue operations in the central Mediterranean, including by nongovernmental groups, and significantly increase resettlement of asylum seekers and vulnerable migrants out of Libya.

“EU leaders know how bad things are in Libya, but continue to provide political and material support to prop up a rotten system,” Sunderland said. “To avoid complicity in gross human rights abuses, Italy and its EU partners should rethink their strategy to truly press for fundamental reforms and ending automatic detention.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

We, the undersigned refugee and human rights organizations in Thailand, welcome today’s commitment by the Government of Thailand to stop detaining migrant and refugee children. This commendable step brings Thailand closer to international standards for the treatment of refugee and migrant children and recognizes their fundamental rights under international law.

We urge the authorities to immediately release all refugees arbitrarily detained in Thailand and fully protect the rights of refugees and children, including by reuniting separated families and prioritizing the best interests of the child.

Today, Deputy Prime Minister General Prawit Wongsuwan, representatives of the Royal Thai Police, the Ministries of Social Development and Human Security, Foreign Affairs, Interior, Health, Education, and Labour signed the Memorandum of Understanding on the Determination of Measures and Approaches Alternative to Detention of Children in Immigration Detention Centers. The MoU acknowledges that children should only be detained as a measure of last resort and any detention period should be as brief as possible. The MoU prioritizes the best interests of the child, and affirms government responsibility to ensure children remain under their family’s care. Children should only be transferred into privately-run shelters or government custody as a measure of last resort. The government is in the process of adopting detailed procedures to implement these provisions. 

The MoU reflects a first step towards ending the immigration detention of children, but further efforts are necessary to protect the best interests of the child and to bring Thai policy and practice in line with basic international standards. The MoU fails to address family separation, and migrant mothers are only granted release from immigration detention following a cash bail payment of 50,000 Thai Baht (US$1,500) to reunite with children in holding shelters. The bail rate is exorbitant for most migrants and, particularly, refugees, who are prohibited from working in Thailand. Furthermore, the bail provision does not extend to fathers of migrant and refugee children, undermining the rights of a child to family life as enshrined in international law and best-interest practices. Bail is further restricted to mothers with children who are also in immigration custody.

Thai authorities continue to conduct immigration raids that result in the arrest and arbitrary detention of children and refugees. Since October 2018, immigration enforcement operations have continued to take place throughout Bangkok and other cities across Thailand. Thai authorities have arrested hundreds of refugees recognized by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), including children. These arrests violate international legal norms regarding the protection of refugees and undermine the government’s stated commitments to respect basic human rights.

We note with alarm that children remain detained at Bangkok’s Suan Phlu Immigration Detention Center. Thailand is party to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which prohibits the arbitrary or unlawful detention of a child. The CRC allows for the separation of a child from his or her parents against their will solely in cases where “competent authorities subject to judicial review determine . . . that such separation is necessary for the best interests of the child.” Article 22 of Thailand’s Child Protection Act of 2003 requires the best interest of the child to be given primary importance when considering the treatment of a child. The continued arrest and detention of refugees has not demonstrated adherence to Thailand’s commitments under international law.

Although Thailand is not a party to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees or its 1967 Protocol, the Thai government has repeatedly expressed a commitment to protect refugees in Thailand, including by adopting the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration and endorsing the  Global Compact on Refugees during the UN General Assembly in December 2018. The Thai government also affirmed a commitment to “humanitarianism and to take care of various groups of irregular migrants” during the UN Human Rights Committee review of Thailand’s obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in March 2017. On January 10, 2017, the government also adopted a cabinet resolution to develop a legal framework to identify and recognize refugees. However, at present, the Thai government has yet to enact legislative measures to advance this resolution.

Despite the commitments made by the government, Thai law still fails to recognize or provide protection for refugees, and all migrants found in Thailand without permission are subject to imprisonment and a fine in addition to deportation. In the case of refugees, this is in violation of non-penalization protections underscored in international law and basic protections underscored in multiple human rights covenants.

We urge the Thai government to:

  • End the detention of all refugees held solely on the basis of their immigration status.
  • Ensure that migrants are never arbitrarily detained, and migrants are only detained in exceptional circumstances following an individualized assessment and after the exhaustion of all alternatives to detention in line with international law.
  • Undertake meaningful, formal consultations with groups representing refugees, other civil society organizations, and refugees where possible to develop a legal framework to recognize and protect refugees in line with international standards and ensure the right to work so that they have a proper standard of living while awaiting resettlement or repatriation.
  • Withdraw the reservation to Article 22 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which addresses the proper protection of refugee children.
  • Accede to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol, and the Convention on the Protection of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families.

Signatories

  1. Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network (APRRN)
  2. Asylum Access Thailand (AAT)
  3. Center for Asylum Protection, (CAP)
  4. Coalition for the Rights of Refugees and Stateless Persons (CRSP)
  5. Fortify Rights
  6. Human Rights Watch
  7. Migrant Working Group (MWG)
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

A picture taken on December 4, 2018, shows workers at the Al-Bayt Stadium in Al-Khor, a city in northeastern Qatar. 

© 2018 David Harding/AFP

(Beirut) – Qatar made some important progress on human rights in 2018 but failed to deliver on several key promised reforms, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2019. Among the promises not yet kept is the full repeal of the exploitative kafala (sponsorship) system, which gives employers excessive power over migrant workers.

“While Qatar has taken some important steps to protect human rights, there is still a long way to go before migrant workers are protected from abuse and exploitation,” said Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “With the World Cup 2022 fast approaching, and as Qatar races to complete planned construction projects in time, now is the time to put in place durable labor rights reforms.”

In the 674-page World Report 2019, its 29th edition, Human Rights Watch reviewed human rights practices in more than 100 countries. In his introductory essay, Executive Director Kenneth Roth says that the populists spreading hatred and intolerance in many countries are spawning a resistance. New alliances of rights-respecting governments, often prompted and joined by civic groups and the public, are raising the cost of autocratic excess. Their successes illustrate the possibility of defending human rights – indeed, the responsibility to do so – even in darker times.

In May, Qatar joined the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, but did so with a range of formal reservations depriving women and migrant workers of some of the treaties’ protections.

In September, Qatar’s emir signed into law the Gulf region’s first refugee asylum law. The law demonstrates Qatar’s commitment to refugee rights but falls short of its international obligations, particularly with regard to its restrictions on refugees’ freedom of movement and expression.

Also in September, Qatar passed a law on permanent residency that would be available for the first time to children of Qatari women married to non-Qatari men. With permanent residency, they can receive government health and educational services, and can invest in the economy and own real estate. However, the law falls short of granting women equal rights with men to confer nationality on their children and spouses.

On April 30, the ILO inaugurated its first project office in Qatar for a three-year cooperation program to help Qatar achieve its commitments on migrant rights. Its work will include replacing the kafala system with a new contractual system, setting a nondiscriminatory minimum wage, improving a system to ensure that wages are paid, and barring employers from confiscating workers’ passports. In September, Qatar also passed a law allowing most migrant workers to leave the country without an exit permit. But it excludes workers not covered by the labor law, such as domestic workers, and allows employers to apply to exclude some other workers.

“If Qatar truly wants to stand out in the Gulf region as a forward thinking and rights-respecting state, it should start by delivering fully and transparently on all its promised reforms,” Fakih said.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

On September 4, 2014, a 23-year-old construction worker Alan Gonzalez stopped by a local store and discovered an armed robbery in progress. Children were attending pre-school a few doors down. Rather than turn away, Gonzalez went in and confronted the robbers. One pointed a fully loaded 9 mm handgun at his forehead and told him not to call the police. The gunman and his accomplice then fled, but Gonzalez ran after them. He quickly caught the gunman and put him into a headlock. During the ensuing struggle, Gonzalez was shot twice. After Gonzalez was shot a third time, the gunman was able to run away—but Gonzalez was so determined to stop the suspect that he chased him until eventually collapsing on the sidewalk covered in his own blood.

Miraculously, Gonzalez survived and became a star witness for the prosecution. The prosecutor said had Gonzalez not chased down the robbers, they might never have been caught.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

A Honduran migrant explains to Human Rights Watch research Carlos Rios-Espinosa the difficulties he has in making use of the bathrooms in El Barretal, Tijuana, Mexico.

© 2018 Luis Rodríguez Martinez/Human Rights Watch
In order to use the bathroom in the Tijuana migrant shelter, I had to be carried up a flight of stairs. Living in Latin America with a disability has never been a simple task; daily activities can be extremely difficult due to the lack of accessibility and specific supports for living independently. As a wheelchair user living in Mexico City, I had to be carried down two big stairs to be able to board my plane to get from the capital to Tijuana.

But things are much worse for the nine people with disabilities I met who traveled from different parts of Central America and Mexico to the US border as part of the migrant caravans. In November, their journey north in search of a life without violence and discrimination had stopped at El Barretal shelter in Tijuana, a town by the US border. Those who spoke with me were among the 12 migrants with disabilities registered by the Baja California state Human Rights Commission and other agencies. But the number is surely an understatement; people who may have less visible disabilities, such as developmental disabilities like autism or psychosocial disabilities (mental health conditions), were not identified.

When I asked about migrants with disabilities, many representatives from international humanitarian agencies reacted with surprise and immediately acknowledged the need to more actively search for them.

Human Rights Watch researcher Carlos Rios-Espinosa interviews a Central American migrant with a disability outside the Benito Juárez stadium in Tijuana, Mexico. 

© 2018 Luis Rodríguez Martinez/Human Rights Watch

Violence and discrimination against people with disabilities in Central America

The stories of people with disabilities I met in the migrant caravan, although diverse, share common features. Most significant among these are experiences of violence and discrimination in the countries they’ve fled. But people with disabilities often experience other types of violence and discrimination that in some cases are intimately tied to their condition.

According to the Committee on the Rights of People with Disabilities, a UN expert body that examines whether states are upholding the rights of people with disabilities, in Honduras, people with disabilities are threatened and extorted by the Maras and other criminal gangs. In the case of Guatemala, the Committee found that discrimination against people with disabilities in Guatemala is systematic and many of them are frequently victims of exploitation, violence, and abuse and that there are no measures for their protection, recovery, and reparation.

María and Ximena (not their real names) are two deaf women who arrived in Tijuana from Honduras. Like many other members of the caravans, they came to Tijuana by asking for bus rides and sometimes walking part of the way. Maria could communicate easily in sign language. A special education teacher from Guatemala, who also fled Guatemala as part of the caravan, helps interpret for the two women.

“I came with the caravan because there is no work in my country, and there is a lot of discrimination against deaf people, like me, in Honduras,” María said. “I worked in a maquiladora making lingerie, but when they realized that I was deaf, they began to pay me less money. They paid me 1,000 lempiras (US$41) a week, while the others earned up to three times more.” Also, her co-workers bullied her. “Everyone closed the door to me,” she said. “One day, I proposed to my friend Ximena that we leave with the caravan, and since then we have been on the road.”

Ximena's story was different and involves domestic violence. In sign language she told me, “My husband, who is also deaf, once hit my head against the wall.” She had to leave her five-year-old daughter behind. Unlike Maria, Ximena does not use sign language very well and had much less access to education. She cannot read and write. “If I go back to Honduras, my husband is going to kill me,” she said.

I also met Daniel Humberto Folgar Navas, a 49-year-old man from Guatemala with osteogenesis imperfecta, a condition that causes his bones to break easily. “I have fractured my bones nine times, and I live with unbearably intense pain,” he told me. “In Guatemala, I do not have any disability benefits or social security, and although I am a school teacher, the only work I have been able to obtain is selling plastic bags in the market.”

Rafael Peralta has clubfoot. He left his country because he said that “as a disabled person, I have no hope; in Honduras disabled people don’t matter at all.”

He also experienced discrimination at work. “I worked in the fields doing agriculture, but I was paid just 400 lempiras (US$16) per week, while people without disabilities earn 1,200 (US$49) doing the same job. They made fun of me because of my physical disability.”

Traveling 3,000 miles with a disability

Getting to Tijuana from Honduras, Guatemala, or El Salvador means traveling more than 3,000 miles and passing through different cities and towns. It’s a difficult endeavor for anyone. Most people with disabilities I interviewed said the people they met along the way were generally supportive, although social attitudes towards their disabilities sometimes placed them at risk, and they had experienced some dangerous and difficult moments.

Ximena and Maria both had guns pointed at them because they could not hear warnings. “Once, going through Guatemala, we had to relieve ourselves. We tried to do it in an open field because there were no bathrooms. Some men pointed their guns at us because we didn’t pay attention to their warnings to stay away…. When they understood that we were deaf, they let us go.”

For Rafael, there were moments of real anxiety. He told me, “Due to my clubfoot, I walk slower and to keep the pace with others in the caravan, I could not stop to drink water very often. In Chiapas, Mexico, I became dehydrated and my stomach began to hurt intensely, I could hardly urinate.” The walk demanded a lot of effort from Rafael, who walked with a cane. “Fortunately, in Oaxaca the Red Cross gave me some crutches and with those I continued my trip. They also gave me a wheelchair that I now use.”

In Tijuana, I had the opportunity to meet an older person with a disability who had been victimized by criminal gangs on the road. Gustavo Martinez, 68, who walks with a cane due to a knee injury, fled violence in his local community of San Pedro Sula, Honduras, together with his 25-year-old granddaughter. Unlike other migrants in the caravan, Martínez managed to save some money before setting out to pay for bus tickets. He said when they got off the train at the wrong stop, a gang of men with assault weapons stopped them. “They hung me by my ankles, and they pulled out one of my toenails, trying to force me tell them if I had relatives in the United States. They intended to extort money from us, but nobody said anything, and they released us.”

Living conditions in shelters for migrants

Life in shelters in Tijuana is harsh for people with disabilities. When the migrant caravan first arrived, people were placed in a sports stadium called Benito Juarez. Heavy rains in November flooded the camp and the local authorities moved people to an area called El Barretal. Although most of the Central American migrants from the caravans are there now, about 300 people remained near Benito Juarez until December 12, 2018. Juan Carlos Flores, member of Baja California Human Rights Commission, said that they refused to move to El Barretal due to its location, a 45-minute drive from the US border crossing. They wanted to stay near the border in case their names were called for the asylum petition.

In Benito Juarez, I interviewed two people with physical disabilities: Ramiro Carrera and Herbert Ramos, both from Guatemala. Ramiro has difficulty walking and Herbert has no mobility in his right arm. “In this place there is no bathroom and we have to use one that is two streets away from here. We are charged five pesos (26 US cents) each time we use it,” said Herbert. For Ramiro that meant getting pushed in his wheelchair to the bathroom by someone.

While El Barretal provides migrants with slightly better facilities, people with disabilities still face numerous challenges. “I cannot bathe every day because it's very difficult, I do it outside, but the bathroom costs 25 Mexican pesos (US$ 1.24) and it's difficult to get money,” Daniel Folgar, who uses crutches, said. “Although the authorities serve food twice a day, people have to stand a long time in line,” Folgar explained. “With crutches it's hard, I cannot carry the plate of food they give me. Although I get priority and many times others bring me food here, but not always. If I stand in line, I risk getting bumped by others and falling down.”

Rafael Peralta, who also uses crutches, talked about the challenges he faces accessing showers and a toilet. Selling cigarettes in the camp, he manages to earn some money to shower in a neighboring private bathroom from time to time. “It is very difficult to bathe in this place; sometimes I spend four or five days without bathing, until I manage to save some money.”

When Rafael took me to El Barretal showers and bathrooms, I was able to see the difficulties he was talking about. The latrines were dirty and had a horrible stench. There were puddles of water in the entrances. “If I try to enter the latrine with the crutches I can slip; that's why I prefer to use a plastic can to go to the bathroom,” said Rafael. Entering with a wheelchair would indeed be impossible.

The United States government might take a long time to process asylum petitions that are still pending. More so because of the US government’s announcement on December 20 that “individuals arriving in the United States from Mexico – illegally or without proper documentation – will be returned to Mexico for the duration of their immigration proceedings.” Before the arrival of the caravans, there was already a significant backlog managing the requests. For the time being, the Mexican government should implement a specific program to meet the requirements of people with disabilities who are in El Barretal. That could include the provision of an accessible latrine, and the appointment of support staff so that these people can perform personal hygiene and are provided with food in a safe manner.

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

(Athens, December 18, 2018) – Greek law enforcement officers at the land border with Turkey in the northeastern Evros region routinely summarily return asylum seekers and migrants, Human Rights Watch said today. The officers in some cases use violence and often confiscate and destroy the migrants’ belongings.

“People who have not committed a crime are detained, beaten, and thrown out of Greece without any consideration for their rights or safety,” said Todor Gardos, Europe researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The Greek authorities should immediately investigate the repeated allegations of illegal pushbacks.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Migrants including asylum seekers in a dilapidated building in Borici camp, Bihac, Bosnia Herzegovina. November 19, 2018.

© 2018 Human Rights Watch
(Budapest) – Croatian police are pushing migrants and asylum seekers back to Bosnia and Herzegovina, in some cases violently, and without giving them the possibility to seek asylum, Human Rights Watch said.

Human Rights Watch interviewed 20 people, including 11 heads of families and 1 unaccompanied boy, who said that Croatian police deported them to Bosnia and Herzegovina without due process after detaining them deep inside Croatian territory. Sixteen, including women and children, said police beat them with batons, kicked and punched them, stole their money, and either stole or destroyed their mobile phones.

Tent camp on outskirts of Velika Kladusa, Bosnia Herzegovina, close to Croatian border, where migrants including asylum seekers sleep rough. November 21, 2018.

© 2018 Human Rights Watch

“Croatia has an obligation to protect asylum seekers and migrants,” said Lydia Gall, Balkans and Eastern EU researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Instead, the Croatian police viciously beat asylum seekers and pushed them back over the border.”

All 20 interviewees gave detailed accounts of being detained by people who either identified themselves as Croatian police or wore uniforms matching those worn by Croatian police. Seventeen gave consistent descriptions of the police vans used to transport them to the border. One mother and daughter were transported in what they described as a police car. Two people said that police had fired shots in the air, and five said that the police were wearing masks.

These findings confirm mounting evidence of abuse at Croatia’s external borders, Human Rights Watch said. In December 2016, Human Rights Watch documented similar abuses by Croatian police at Croatia’s border with Serbia. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported in August 2018 that it had received reports Croatia had summarily pushed back 2,500 migrants and asylum seekers to Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina since the beginning of the year, at times accompanied by violence and theft.

In response to a call by the Council of Europe’s human rights commissioner to investigate the allegations, Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic in September denied any wrongdoing and questioned the sources of the information. Police in Donji Lapac, on the border with Bosnia and Herzegovina, refused to provide Croatia’s ombudswoman, Lora Vidović, access to police records on treatment of migrants and told her that police are acting in accordance with the law.

In a December 4 letter, Interior Minister Davor Bozinovic responded to a detailed description of the Human Rights Watch findings. He said that the evidence of summary returns and violence was insufficient to bring criminal prosecutions, that the allegations could not be confirmed, and that migrants accuse Croatian police in the hope that it will help them enter Croatia. He said that his ministry does not support any type of violence or intolerance by police officers.

Croatia has a bilateral readmission agreement with Bosnia and Herzegovina that allows Croatia to return third-country nationals without legal permission to stay in the country. According to the Security Ministry of Bosnia and Herzegovina, under the agreement, between January and November 27, Croatia returned 493 people to Bosnia and Herzegovina, 265 of whom were Turkish nationals. None of the people Human Rights Watch interviewed underwent any formal return procedure before being forced back over the border.

The summary return of asylum seekers without consideration of their protection needs is contrary to European Union asylum law, the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, and the 1951 Refugee Convention.

Croatian authorities should conduct thorough and transparent investigations of abuse implicating their officials and hold those responsible to account, Human Rights Watch said. They should ensure full cooperation with the Ombudswoman’s inquiry, as required by national law and best practice for independent human rights institutions. The European Commission should call on Croatia, an EU member state, to halt and investigate summary returns of asylum seekers to Bosnia and Herzegovina and allegations of violence against asylum seekers. The Commission should also open legal proceedings against Croatia for violating EU laws, Human Rights Watch said.

As a result of the 2016 border closures on the Western Balkan route, thousands of asylum seekers were stranded, the majority in Serbia, and found new routes toward the EU. In 2018, migrant and asylum seeker arrivals increased in Bosnia and Herzegovina, from fewer than 1,000 in 2017 to approximately 22,400, according to the European Commission. The Commission estimates that 6,000 migrants and asylum seekers are currently in the country. Bosnia and Herzegovina has granted international protection to only 17 people since 2008. In 2017, 381 people applied for asylum there.

Bosnia and Herzegovina has only one official reception center for asylum seekers near Sarajevo, with capacity to accommodate just 156 people. Asylum seekers and migrants in the border towns of Bihac and Velika Kladusa, where Human Rights Watch conducted the interviews, are housed in temporary facilities managed by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) – a dilapidated building, a refurbished warehouse, and former hotels – or they sleep outdoors. The IOM and UNHCR have been improving the facilities. The EU has allocated over €9 million to support humanitarian assistance for asylum seekers and migrants in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

“Just because the EU is sending humanitarian aid to refugees in Bosnia and Herzegovina, that does not justify turning a blind eye to violence at the Croatian border,” Gall said. “Brussels should press Zagreb to comply with EU law, investigate alleged abuse, and provide fair and efficient access to asylum.”

For detailed accounts by the people interviewed, please see below.

Human Rights Watch interviewed 13 men, 6 women, and one 15-year-old unaccompanied boy. All interviewees’ names have been changed in order to protect their security and privacy. All interviews were conducted in English or with the aid of a Persian or Arabic speaking interpreter. Human Rights Watch informed interviewees of the purpose of the interview and its voluntary nature, and they verbally consented to be interviewed.

Denied Access to Asylum Procedure, Summarily Returned

All 20 people interviewed said that people who identified themselves as Croatian police or whom they described as police detained them well inside Croatian territory and subsequently returned them to Bosnia and Herzegovina without any consideration of asylum claims or human rights obstacles to their return.

Nine said that police detained them and others and took them to a police station in Croatia. The others said that police officers took them directly to the border with Bosnia-Herzegovina and made them cross.

Those taken to police stations said they were searched, photographed, and questioned about details such as their name, country of origin, age, and their route entering Croatia. They were not given copies of any forms. They said they were held there in rooms with limited or no seating for between 2 and 24 hours, then taken to the border. Three people said they asked for asylum at the police station but that the police ignored or laughed at them. Six others said they dared not speak because police officers told them to remain quiet.

Faven F. and Kidane K., a married couple in their thirties from Eritrea, said they had been walking for seven days when they were detained on November 9, close to Rijeka, 200 kilometers from the border. They said that four men in green uniforms detained them in the forest and took them in a windowless white van without proper seats to a police station in Rijeka:

They delivered us to new police. One was in plain clothes, the other one in dark blue uniform that said “Policija” on it…. At the station, they gave us a paper in English where we had to fill in name, surname, and place of birth…. A lady officer asked us questions about our trip, how we got there, who helped us. We told them that if Croatia can give us asylum, we would like to stay. The lady officer just laughed. They wrote our names on a white paper and some number and made us hold them for a mug shot. Then they kept us in the cell the whole night and didn’t give us food, but we could drink tap water in the bathroom.

Yaran Y., a 19-year-old from Iraq, was carrying his 14-year old sister Dilva, who has a disability and uses a wheelchair, on his back when they were detained along with at least five others at night in the forest. Yaran Y. said he told officers he wanted asylum for his sister, but that the police just laughed. “They told us to go to Brazil and ask for asylum there,” Yaran Y. said.

Ardashir A., a 33-year-old Iranian, was travelling with his wife and 7-year-old daughter in a group of 18 people, including 3 other children, the youngest of whom is under age 2. He said that Croatian police detained the group 12 kilometers inside Croatian territory on November 15 and took them to a police station:

They [Croatian police] brought us to a room, like a prison. They took our bags and gave us only a few slices of bread. There were no chairs, we sat on the floor. Two people in civilian clothes came after a while, I don’t know if they were police, but they took a group picture of us and refused to let us go to the toilet. A 10-year-old child really needed to go but wasn’t allowed so he had to endure. After two hours they took us … to the border.

Adal A., a 15-year-old boy from Afghanistan traveling on his own said that he was detained on November 15 near Zagreb and taken in a white windowless van to a police station:

They searched us at the police station and took our phones, power banks, bags, and everything we had. They took three kinds of pictures: front, side, and back. We had to hold a paper with a number. I was asked questions about my name, where I am from, my age, and about the smuggler. I told them I’m 15. We then sat in a room for 24 hours and received no food but could get water from the tap in the toilet.

Palmira P., a 45-year-old Iranian, said that a female police officer mistreated Palmira’s 11-year-old daughter during a body search in a police station courtyard on the outskirts of Rijeka in early November: “She pulled my daughter’s pants down in front of everyone. My daughter still has nightmares about this policewoman, screaming out in the middle of the night, ‘Don’t do it, don’t do it!’”

Everyone interviewed said that Croatian police confiscated and never returned or destroyed their phones and destroyed power banks and phone chargers. Four people said that Croatian police forced them to unlock their phones before stealing them.

Madhara M., a 32-year-old from Iran, said a police officer found a €500 bill in his pocket on November 15: “He looked at it, inspected it, and admired it and then demonstratively put it in his pocket in front of me.”

Accounts of Violence and Abuse

Seventeen people described agonizing journeys ranging from 15 minutes to five hours in windowless white police vans to the border. In two cases, people described the vans with a deep dark blue/black stripe running through the middle and a police light on top. A Human Rights Watch researcher saw a police van matching that description while driving through Croatia.

Croatian roads close to the border with Bosnia and Herzegovina cross windy, mountainous terrain. People interviewed said they had experienced nausea, vomited, or felt extreme cold or heat in the van. A 23-year-old Syrian woman said she believed the difficult van ride and pushback caused her to miscarry her 7-week pregnancy. Amez A., a 28-year-old Iraqi, said police sprayed what he thought was teargas into the van before closing the back doors and driving off, making everyone in the car vomit and have difficulty breathing.

Sixteen people, including women and children, said that they were slapped, pummelled with fists, beaten with police batons made of rubber or wood, or kicked by people they described as or who identified themselves as Croatian police during the pushbacks.

In many cases, the violence was accompanied by abusive language in English. Human Rights Watch observed marks and bruises on nine people and viewed photographs of injuries on four more who said they were the result of beatings by Croatian police officers. Four people said that they required treatment at Bosnian hospitals.

Adal A., the 15-year-old unaccompanied boy, described a particularly vicious beating on November 16:

They wore dark blue uniforms with masks, and as I exited the van, both police hit me with their batons. I felt a blow to my neck and I fell forward and wanted to get up. At that point, I was on the Bosnian side of the border stones, where another six Croatian police officers stood waiting. They were all over me, beating me. I don’t know how they beat me, but it was hard and strong, and I tried to protect my face. I was so badly beaten on my back that I still can’t sleep on it properly because of the pain. When they saw that my nose was bleeding, and that my hand was injured and that I couldn’t walk, they stopped…. They yelled “Go!” and as I was trying to leave, they fired guns in the air.

Human Rights Watch interviewed Adal A. four days after he said this had happened and observed marks and bruises on his legs and arms.

Aftab A., 37, from Iran, said that police officers in dark blue uniforms beat him and his 12-year-old son in what he called the “Tunnel of Death:”

They [police] make this tunnel [lined up on each side] and you have to pass. They took us out of the van one by one and they started beating me with batons from both sides. I was beaten on my arm, shoulder, and on my knee with batons. My son was beaten with batons on his back and on his head…We kept screaming ‘my son my son!’ or ‘my dad my dad!’ but they didn’t care. They kept beating at us until we crossed the border. Even my wife was struck across her back with a baton. The child was so scared and was crying for half an hour and then wouldn’t speak for a long time.

Madhara M., 32, from Iran, was taken to the border on November 15 along with four others, including a married couple. He said that Croatian police beat him and then threw him into a ditch he said separates Croatia from Bosnia and Herzegovina:

There were about eight police officers in front of the van. But there were more behind them making sure we can’t run away. The first punch broke my tooth… I fell, and the officer rolled me over, and punched me in the eye. It was so painful, I tried to escape by crawling, but the police struck me with the baton on my back. Suddenly, I received a second blow on the same eye. Then the police officers grabbed me and threw me into the ditch. All along, they were laughing and swearing in English, things like ‘I will fuck your mother.’

Bahadur B. and Nabila N., both 32 and from Iran, are a married couple who were traveling with Madhara M. Nabila N., who was three-months’ pregnant at the time, described the violence at the border:

They [Croatian police] were standing four on one side and four on the other side. We call it the ‘terror tunnel.’ They told us to get out. Bahadur tried to help me down from the van, as I was stiff from the ride. When he did, the police started beating him…I turned and screamed at them to stop beating my husband, but…. I stumbled on a bag in the darkness…When I got up, I was face-to-face with a police officer who was wearing a mask. I kept screaming, “Please don’t do it, we will leave” but he deliberately hit me hard with his baton across my hand. I kept screaming “baby, baby!” during the whole ordeal but they didn’t listen, they just laughed.

Both Yaran Y., 19, and his sister Dilva, 14, who has a physical disability, said they required medical treatment after Croatian police used physical force during the pushback in early July. Yaran Y. said:

I was carrying Dilva on my back the whole way while others pushed her wheelchair. Our family travelled with five other people. It was dark, when the police surprised us by firing shots in the air. They police wore dark or black color uniforms and there were six or seven of them. I asked one of the police officers for asylum but he harshly pushed me so I fell with my sister on my back. In the fall, my sister and I landed on a sharp wooden log which severely injured her foot and my hand.

A Human Rights Watch researcher observed scars on Dilva’s foot and Yaran’s hand and saw pictures of the fresh injuries.

Sirvan S., 38, from Iraq, said Croatian police in dark blue uniforms beat him and his youngest son, age 6, during a pushback on November 14: “My son and I were beaten with a rubber baton. I was beaten in the head and on my leg. My son was beaten with a baton on his leg and head as well as he was running from the police.” Sirvan’s wife, 16-year-old daughter, and 14-year-old son witnessed the violence.

Gorkem G., 30, travelling with his 25-year-old pregnant wife, 5-year-old son, and 2-year-old daughter, said that Croatian police pushed his son, so he fell hard to the ground. “He only wanted to say “hi” to the police,” Gorkem G. said

Family members described the anger, frustration, and trauma they experienced seeing the police officers beat their loved ones. A 10-year-old Yazidi boy from Iraq said, “I saw how police kicked my father in his back and how they beat him all over. It made me angry.” His father, Hussein H., said that police officers had dragged him out of the van at the border and kicked and punched him when he was on the ground.

Fatima F., 34, a Syrian mother of six, travelled with her husband’s 16-year-old brother and three of her children, ages 2, 4, and 10. She said that three police officers in dark uniforms beat her husband’s brother in front of her and her children:

They were merciless […] One officer was by the van, one in the middle of the line of people, and one close to the path [into Bosnia and Herzegovina]. They kept beating the others with batons, and kicking. They [the officers] saw me and the kids but they just kept beating the men despite the kids crying. They didn’t beat me or the children, but the children were very afraid when they saw the men being beaten. My oldest girl kept screaming when she saw my husband’s brother get beaten…[she] screams out in the middle of the night.

In three cases, people said they were forced to cross ice-cold rivers or streams even though they were near a bridge.

Thirty-year-old Abu Hassan A. from Iran, travelling in a group of seven other single men, said:

They [police] were wearing masks. There was a bridge about 50-60 meters away. More than six police were guarding the bridge. It [the stream] was about 5-6 meters wide and waist high and muddy. They told us we have to cross. Then the police… beat me with batons and kicked me, and the first handed me over to the second police who did the same thing, and then handed me over to the third, who did the same thing. After that, I was close to the riverbank, where two other police were waiting. The first one beat me again with baton and pushed me toward the other. They beat me on the legs, hands, arms, shoulders. This is what they did to force us to go into the water and across. I could barely stand or walk for a week after.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Asylum seekers outside their tent in the "Olive Grove", a makeshift camp outside Moria camp on the island of Lesbos on October 31, 2018.

© 2018 Giorgos Moutafis
 (Athens) – The Greek government and its European Union partners should urgently ensure that all asylum seekers on the Aegean islands are transferred to suitable accommodation on the mainland or relocated to other EU countries as winter approaches, 20 human rights and other organizations said today.

Despite the Greek government’s recent efforts to transfer asylum seekers from the islands to more suitable accommodation in the mainland, as of December 3, 2018, over 12,500 people were still living in tents and containers unsuitable for winter in five EU-sponsored camps known as hotspots on Lesbos, Samos, Chios, Kos, and Leros – almost triple their capacity. In addition to serious overcrowding, asylum seekers continue facing unsanitary and unhygienic conditions and physical violence, including violence based on gender.

The lack of basic protection measures leaves women and girls, as well as lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT+) people, particularly vulnerable to sexual harassment and assault, and afraid to use site facilities including bathrooms and showers. Medical care, trauma counseling, and psychosocial – or mental health – are insufficient, as is legal counseling and support during the different stages of the asylum procedure. Mental health among asylum seekers has deteriorated amid harsh living conditions and emotional distress.

The humanitarian crisis in the hotspots is the result of Greece’s EU-backed policy of containing asylum seekers on the Aegean islands, until their asylum claims are adjudicated or until it is determined that they fall under one of the “vulnerable” categories listed under Greek law. “Vulnerable” asylum seekers are exempted from the border procedures, and they are allowed to move to the mainland. Greek authorities have periodically accelerated the transfer of “vulnerable” asylum seekers to the mainland but as of late November, an estimated 2,200 people identified as eligible for transfer are still waiting because accommodation facilities on the mainland have similarly become overcrowded during past months, amidst the ongoing lack of an EU-wide responsibility sharing mechanism. Others have fallen through the cracks of lengthy and inefficient vulnerability assessments and are confined to the dire conditions on the islands.

The containment policy was designed and justified as a means to carry out the March 2016 EU-Turkey deal that would return to Turkey asylum seekers who reached the Greek islands by crossing the sea, for their asylum claim to be processed there. The policy imposes unjustified and unnecessary suffering on asylum seekers, while unduly limiting their rights to have their case examined on its merits – as opposed to its “admissibility” – the organizations said.

Speeding up returns, a measure foreseen under the deal, would not solve the crisis on the islands. Many of those trapped on the islands are protected against return and could not be sent back to Turkey, other third countries, or their countries of origin under EU law.

Greece and other EU countries should share responsibility to provide an adequate standard of living for asylum seekers, guaranteeing their subsistence and protecting their physical and mental health throughout a fair and efficient asylum procedure. A recent pledge to move 6,000 asylum seekers to the mainland to provide them with an adequate standard of living is a first step, albeit not one that can ensure sustainability in the long-term.

Greece, with the support of EU institutions and countries, should end its inhumane containment policy and facilitate the transfer of asylum seekers from the Aegean islands. Special care should be given to the needs of children, women survivors of violence, pregnant women and new mothers, and LGBT+ people, among other groups.

European governments should be ready promptly to relocate asylum seekers from Greece and ensure their access to adequate living conditions while their asylum applications are being processed. Portugal’s recent agreement to transfer 100 asylum seekers and potentially up to 1,000 through 2019 is a positive step that other EU countries should follow.

EU governments should follow the lead of the European Parliament in reaching an agreement on a functioning and fairer EU asylum system, which supports Member States, including through a mandatory distribution mechanism; protects people in need; and enables families to reunite in the EU.

The Greek and European authorities should show genuine, humane leadership in addressing the deplorable conditions for the people trapped on the Greek islands. Women, men, and children seeking protection in Europe should be treated in accordance with their rights and not be forced to spend another winter in squalid and unsafe camps.

The Organizations Supporting This Statement:

Amnesty International
ASB - Arbeiter Samariter Bund
Campfire Innovation 
Caritas Hellas
CEAR – Spanish Commission for Refugees
Centre for Research on Women’s Issues – DIOTIMA
Churches Commission for Migrants in Europe
Greek Council for Refugees
Greek Forum of Refugees
Greek Helsinki Monitor
HumanRights360
Human Rights Watch
Jesuit Refugee Service
Legal Centre Lesvos
Medecins Du Monde – Greece
Oxfam
PRAKSIS
Refugee Support Aegean
SolidarityNow
Terre des hommes Hellas

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

(Milan) – Libyan security forces forcibly removed 79 migrants and asylum seekers on November 20, 2018 from the Panama-flagged cargo ship Nivin in the port of Misrata in Libya, after they refused to leave the ship for 10 days, Human Rights Watch said today. Security forces reportedly used force and tear gas. An unknown number of people were taken to hospital, and others were taken to the al-Karareem detention center in Misrata.

“This is the worst possible conclusion to the desperate plea of the people on board the Nivin to avoid inhuman detention in Libya,” said Judith Sunderland, acting deputy Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The situation is the result of efforts by Italy and the European Union to obstruct rescue operations by nongovernmental organizations and empower the Libyan Coast Guard even when Europe knows that Libya is not a safe place.”

Libyan authorities should immediately allow United Nations and nongovernmental personnel to visit the people removed from the cargo ship, find alternatives to their detention, and investigate the possible use of unlawful force.

The Nivin, acting on instructions from the Italian Maritime Rescue Coordination Center, had rescued 95 people from a sinking rubber boat in international waters off the Libyan coast on November 7 and subsequently docked at the port of Misrata on November 10. According to the UN, the group includes Ethiopian, Eritrean, Somali, South Sudanese, Pakistani, and Bangladeshi nationals.

Human Rights Watch conducted research in detention centers in areas controlled by the UN-backed Government of National Accord in Libya in the summer of 2018, including the al-Karareem center. There and elsewhere, asylum seekers and migrants alleged abuse by guards, members of armed groups, and smugglers that included beatings, inhumane detention conditions, forced labor, extortion, and sexual assault. 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Saudi-led coalition aircraft struck three apartment buildings in Faj Attan, a densely populated neighborhood in Sanaa, on August 25, 2017. Two of the buildings were completely destroyed and the third suffered extensive damage.

© 2017 Mohammed al-Mekhlafi

(Paris) – President Emmanuel Macron of France should raise serious concerns with Abu Dhabi’s crown prince regarding laws-of-war violations in Yemen, Human Rights Watch said today. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed al Nahyan of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) will visit Paris on November 21, 2018.

The UAE plays a prominent role in the Saudi-led coalition’s military operations in Yemen. Since March 2015, the coalition has indiscriminately bombed homes, markets, and schools, impeded the delivery of humanitarian aid and used widely banned cluster munitions. Human Rights Watch has documented nearly 90 apparently unlawful coalition attacks, some of them likely war crimes. The UAE and UAE-led proxy forces have arbitrarily detained, forcibly disappeared, and tortured Yemenis in southern and eastern Yemen, including Yemeni activists who have criticized coalition abuses.

“As the UAE’s de facto leader and deputy commander of its armed forces, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed al Nahyan could have acted to stop grave abuses in Yemen, but instead war crimes have mounted,” said Bénédicte Jeannerod, France director at Human Rights Watch. “If President Macron is truly concerned about the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, he should tell the crown prince that France will stop selling weapons to the UAE if there’s a real risk of their unlawful use.”

Despite Saudi Arabia’s and the UAE’s records of abuse, France, along with the United States and the United Kingdom, continue to sell weapons to both countries. In June, the French newspaper Le Figaro reported that French special forces were on the ground in Yemen, alongside UAE forces.

Macron should press the UAE to investigate alleged serious violations by its armed forces and Yemeni forces it supports, to appropriately prosecute those responsible for war crimes, and to provide reparation to victims of violations, Human Rights Watch said. France should stop supplying weapons and munitions to the UAE if there is a substantial risk that these arms are being used in Yemen to commit or facilitate serious violations of international humanitarian law or international human rights law.

Despite leading considerable efforts to present the UAE as progressive and tolerant, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed al Nahyan, the nation’s de facto leader, has largely failed to improve his country’s human rights record.

Domestically, UAE authorities have carried out a sustained assault on freedom of expression and association since 2011. In 2014, the UAE issued a counterterrorism law that gives authorities the power to prosecute peaceful critics, political dissidents, and human rights activists as terrorists. UAE residents who have spoken about human rights issues are at serious risk of arbitrary detention, enforced disappearance, imprisonment, and torture. Many are serving long prison terms or have left the country under pressure.

In March 2017, the UAE detained Ahmed Mansoor, an award-winning human rights defender, on speech-related charges and held him incommunicado for more than a year. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison on May 29, 2018 for crimes that appear to violate his right to free expression.

UAE courts also imposed a 10-year prison sentence in March 2017 on a prominent academic, Nasser bin Ghaith, whom authorities forcibly disappeared in August 2015, for charges that included peaceful criticism of the UAE and Egyptian authorities.

On October 4, the European Parliament adopted a strongly worded resolution calling for the immediate release of Mansoor and all other “prisoners of conscience” in the UAE. The resolution expressed concern that “attacks on members of civil society including efforts to silence, imprison, or harass human rights activists, journalists, lawyers, and others has become increasingly common in recent years.” It said that European institutions should make respect for human rights activists “a precondition to any further development of relation between the EU and UAE.”

In addition, despite some reforms, many low-paid migrant workers remain acutely vulnerable to forced labor. The kafala (visa-sponsorship) system ties migrant workers to their employers. Those who leave their employers can face punishment for “absconding,” including fines, prison, and deportation. A 2017 law extended key labor protections to domestic workers, previously excluded from such guarantees, but its provisions remain weaker than those of the country’s national labor law.

Yet over the past several years, the UAE and France have strengthened their bilateral relations across a range of areas, including security, trade, and cultural exchanges. In 2017, France increased its arms sales to the UAE and opened the Louvre Abu Dhabi museum amid serious concerns regarding labor abuses in building the museum. On October 11, the UAE joined the International Organization of the Francophonie, which promotes the spread of French language and values, as an associate member, although  human rights and democratic principles are at the heart of the organization’s charter.

“By failing to address the UAE authorities’ serious rights violations in Yemen, France risks glossing over a dark reality,” Jeannerod said. “Despite outward appearances, the UAE has repeatedly shown itself to be resistant to improving its human rights record at home and abroad.” 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

In its latest attempt to harness the power of public relations to provide a sheen of respectability to its authoritarian government, the UAE is hosting the first ever World Tolerance Summit.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Rohingya refugees walk inside Kutupalong refugee camp near Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh January 8, 2018.

© 2018 Reuters
“How can we go back?” Mohammad, a Rohingya refugee in a Bangladesh camp called to tell me. “They will kill us if we go back.”

There is panic in the refugee camps, he said, after Myanmar and Bangladesh announced plans to start refugee repatriations very soon. While the Bangladeshi government accepted approximately 700,000 Rohingya refugees after the Myanmar army’s ethnic cleansing campaign, Rohingya say authorities are now pressuring them to return.

Around 30 families are supposed to leave shortly. Security forces have been deployed in the refugee camps even as Bangladeshi officials said that there won’t be any forced returns.

Myanmar authorities say they have verified the identities of 4,000 Rohingya to be returned, but no one quite knows who is on that list. Some, fearing that they are included, have fled from the camps. Others threaten or attempt suicide.

Despite numerous well-documented claims of mass killings, rape, arson, and other crimes that forced hundreds of thousands to flee northern Rakhine state for Bangladesh, the Myanmar authorities remain in denial, refusing to hold to account the troops responsible. Myanmar is blaming the messenger, so two Reuters journalists, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, are in prison for investigating and exposing military atrocities.

The UN human rights chief, Michelle Bachelet, warned that “returning Rohingya refugees to Myanmar at this point effectively means throwing them back into the cycle of human rights violations that this community has been suffering for decades.”

Bangladesh’s friends and donors should call on leaders in Dhaka to halt all attempts to return Rohingya refugees. Refugees have the right to return home if they wish, but all returns must be fully voluntary and safe with full respect for their human rights, including their right to security as well as international monitoring to protect them from further persecution.

Mohammad explained the stakes. “They say we are foreign settlers. My grandfather had a citizenship card. My mother. My father. My older brother. But they say I am not a citizen. This is forced. This is involuntary. Not one person in the camp wants to go back.”

 

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

Immigrants and community leaders rally in front of the U.S. Supreme Court to mark the one-year anniversary of President Barack Obama's executive orders on immigration in Washington, November 20, 2015. 

© 2015 Reuters

(Washington, DC) - United States President Donald Trump said he was preparing an executive order restricting US birthright citizenship. In response, Human Rights Watch US Program Executive Director Nicole Austin-Hillery released the following statement:

“The guarantee of birthright citizenship has been the law of land in the US for 150 years. Floating ideas about restricting it hastily by executive order ahead of midterm elections reeks of political pandering,” said Nicole Austin-Hillery, US program director at Human Rights Watch. “It also threatens to stoke fear and uncertainty, and unravel the lives of countless families overnight.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am