More than 13,500 asylum seekers remain trapped on the Greek islands in deplorable conditions as winter begins on December 21, 2017. Greece, with support from its European Union partners, should urgently transfer thousands of asylum seekers to the Greek mainland and provide them with adequate accommodation and access to fair and efficient asylum procedures.

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

(Beirut) – Lebanese authorities should conduct an independent, thorough, and transparent investigation into the deaths of Syrians in military custody and allegations of torture and ill-treatment in detention, Human Rights Watch said today. On July 4, 2017, the Lebanese military issued a statement saying four Syrians died in its custody following mass raids in Arsal, a restricted access area in northeast Lebanon where many Syrian refugees live. On July 14, Human Rights Watch received credible reports that a fifth Syrian detainee had also died in custody.

A Lebanese soldier at an army post in the hills above the Lebanese town of Arsal

© 2016 Reuters

A doctor with expertise in documenting torture reviewed photos of three of the men provided by their family lawyers to Human Rights Watch, which showed widespread bruising and cuts. He said the injuries were “consistent with inflicted trauma in the setting of physical torture” and that “any statement that the deaths of these individuals were due to natural causes is inconsistent with these photographs.” Human Rights Watch also spoke with five former detainees, who said that army personnel beat and ill-treated them and other detainees. A military officer told Human Rights Watch that the army was investigating the deaths and would publish its findings.

“While the Lebanese army’s promise to investigate these shocking deaths is a positive step, the promise will be meaningless without transparent and independent accountability for anyone found guilty of wrongdoing,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Anyone who supports the Lebanese army should support efforts to tackle such serious allegations of military abuse.”

Photos of the bodies of three Syrians who died in Lebanese military custody, provided to Human Rights Watch by their families' lawyers. © 2017 Private

On June 30, the Lebanese army announced it had raided two unofficial refugee camps in Arsal that day, and was met with suicide bombers, a bomb, and a grenade, resulting in the injury of seven soldiers. On July 15, the army released a statement saying that it detained 356 people following these raids. It referred 56 for prosecution and 257 to the General Security agency for lack of residency. A humanitarian organization official told Human Rights Watch that children were among those detained.

The Lebanese army regularly conducts raids on unofficial refugee camps in Lebanon, but has not responded to questions from Human Rights Watch about the purpose of these raids. The raids came amid calls from Lebanese politicians for the return of refugees to Syria and reports of an impending military operation against armed groups on the Syrian border near Arsal.

Human Rights Watch has not been able to confirm reports that Syrians died during the raids themselves, but a source in Arsal said the municipality received nine bodies, not including the five men who were reported to have died in custody.

The army’s July 4 statement said that four detainees who “suffered from chronic health issues that were aggravated due to the climate condition” died before being interrogated. It identified them as Mustafa Abd el Karim Absse, 57; Khaled Hussein el-Mleis, 43; Anas Hussein el-Husseiki, 32; and Othman Merhi el-Mleis. The army did not specify where it had detained them.

Human Rights Watch spoke with a family member and a close acquaintance of two of the deceased, who said that they had no known serious health conditions. Both said that the army gave no reason for the arrests and did not notify the families of the deaths.

On July 14, Human Rights Watch received reports that a fifth Syrian detainee, Toufic al Ghawi, 23, died in detention after the army transferred him to the Elias Hrawi government hospital. A witness in Arsal who saw the body before burial said, “Toufic didn’t look human anymore. His flesh was torn apart.” Human Rights Watch has not received photographs of the body.

Additional evidence supports the allegations of abuse and torture during the arrests in Arsal and at military detention facilities. A witness in Arsal told Human Rights Watch that he had seen 34 former detainees with marks on their hands, legs, and backs, and in one case, on a former detainee’s head.

Human Rights Watch spoke with five former detainees who said they were mistreated, physically abused, and denied food and water, along with scores of other detainees during four to five days of detention without charge before being released.

Human Rights Watch wrote to the military on July 10 to verify the number of those arrested, injured, or killed during the army raids; those still in custody; and the conditions of their detention, but has not received a response. Human Rights Watch also requested permission to enter Arsal to interview witnesses, but has not received permission. An army officer told Human Rights Watch that the army was not allowing “media organizations” to enter Arsal. Human Rights Watch shared its findings with the military and military prosecutor.

Under international law, Lebanon has an obligation to investigate deaths in custody and hold those responsible to account. Human Rights Watch and local human rights organizations have long documented reports of torture and ill-treatment by security services including the army. Impunity for violence is a recurring problem in Lebanon. Even when officials have initiated investigations into deaths, torture, or ill-treatment, they have often not been concluded or made public. Human Rights Watch is not aware of cases where military personnel have been held to account.

“The Lebanese public and the Syrian families of those who died in detention deserve a clear accounting of what happened to them and punishment for those found responsible,” Whitson said. “Unfortunately, Lebanese authorities have a history of opening investigations in response to public pressure, but failing to conclude them or publish the results.”

Photographic Evidence of Torture
Human Rights Watch received 28 photographs of three of the deceased men, taken at the Elias Hrawi government hospital in Zahle, from the law firm representing the families of the deceased. The lawyers said they were not able to locate Othman el-Mleis’s body. Dr. Homer Venters, director of programs at Physicians for Human Rights, who has expertise in documenting torture, reviewed the photographs and shared his report:

The photos reveal widespread physical trauma of the upper and lower extremities. The lack of defensive wounds suggests that these injuries were inflicted while the victims were restrained or otherwise incapacitated and the distribution of these injuries are consistent with inflicted trauma in the setting of physical torture. Several of the photos are consistent with lacerations caused from being suspended by the wrists. It would be reasonable to conclude that the deaths of these men is the result of in-custody violence, although the precise cause of death cannot be predicted based on the information and photographs submitted. Any statement that the deaths of these individuals was due to natural causes is inconsistent with these photographs.

Corroborating Evidence of Torture and Mistreatment of Arsal Detainees
Human Rights Watch spoke with five former detainees from Arsal who said they were detained without charge for four to five days. They said soldiers handcuffed them, hooded them with their shirts, put them on the ground in the sun, and stomped or hit anyone raising their head. “I moved my head up slightly, and immediately a soldier hit me with his boot,” one man said.

The men said soldiers then loaded them onto trucks “one over the other, as if they’re shipping potato bags,” and took them to multiple detention sites including Rayak Air Base in the Bekaa Valley and the military intelligence and military police bases in Ablah. At Rayak Air Base, they said, army personnel held more than 100 of them in one room overnight, denied them food and water, and did not allow them to use the bathroom. “They would beat whoever asked to go to the bathroom,” said a former detainee in his 60s.

They said that army personnel at Rayak beat, insulted, and threatened them and others. “They beat people, some with batons, others with the butt of a gun,” one said. “I saw one soldier on the outside poking one of the detainees from the window with a bent skewer. He beat him, then he started cutting his face…until blood came out.”

The men interviewed said they were finally transferred to General Security, the agency in charge of foreigners’ entry and residency, who did not mistreat them and released them. The former detainees said that the army never told them why they had been detained.

One former detainee, interviewed on July 11, said: “I had to leave my son behind [in detention]. To this day, I don’t know what has happened to him.” Lebanese law limits pre-charge detention to 96 hours.

Medical Reports
Human Rights Watch also reviewed medical reports for three of the deceased, dated July 1 and 2, and prepared by a forensic doctor at the request of the general prosecutor, concluding that they had suffered heart attacks and a stroke, and that the bodies did not show marks of violence.

A lawyer representing the families said she had received permission from a Judge of Urgent Affairs for a forensic doctor to examine the bodies, conduct an autopsy, and take medical samples to ascertain the cause of death. After she took the medical samples to the Hotel Dieu hospital in Beirut for analysis, the lawyer said, Military Intelligence personnel there demanded she turn them over, by order of the Military Information Directorate. She handed them over after the general prosecutor, Samir Hammoud, instructed her to do so. Following the military’s intervention, she said that the X-ray, CT scan, and autopsy results have not been released to her or made public.

The investigation into the men’s deaths is now before the military court, the family’s lawyer said. Human Rights Watch has previously raised concerns about the independence, impartiality, and competence of the Military Tribunal, where the majority of judges are military officers who are not required to have law degrees, and where trials take place behind closed doors.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

(Erbil) – Iraqi forces have forcibly displaced at least 125 families said to have familial ties to affiliates of the Islamic State (also known as ISIS), Human Rights Watch said today.

Sunni tribal groups (known as the Hashad al-Asha'ri), within the Popular Mobilization Forces (known as the PMF or Hashd al-Sha'abi), which are under the control of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, and Iraqi soldiers forced the families out of their homes following the passage of a decree issued by local authorities. The families, all from Salah al-Din governorate, are being held against their will in a camp functioning as an open-air prison near Tikrit. The PMF also destroyed some of the families’ homes.

“While politicians in Baghdad are discussing reconciliation efforts in Iraq, the state’s own forces are undermining those efforts by destroying homes and forcing families into a detention camp,” said Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “These families, accused of wrongdoing by association, are in many cases themselves victims of ISIS abuses and should be protected by government forces, not targeted for retribution.”

Iraqi forces have forcibly displaced at least 125 families said to have familial ties to affiliates of the Islamic State (also known as ISIS). 

In August 2016, the Salah al-Din governorate council passed a decree stating that anyone proven to have been complicit or affiliated with ISIS has no right to return to the governorate. The decree also orders the expulsion of immediate relatives of ISIS-members from Salah al-Din for 10 years to life, and says that they are only allowed to return if they are deemed “safe.” The decree establishes a committee to seize ISIS-affiliates’ property and suspend their, and their families,’ provision cards. Families that kill their ISIS-affiliated relatives, or hand them over to the Iraqi authorities, are exempted.

One woman from al-Shakrah village, three kilometers south of al-Shirqat, said that PMF fighters forced her and her relatives from their home on January 7, 2017, because her husband’s brother had joined ISIS. She said that the fighters “forced our whole family of 14 people out and onto the truck. They didn’t let us grab even a change of clothing.”

Two women from the village of al-Aithah said that local PMF forces destroyed hundreds of homes with explosives after they retook the area on September 21, targeting not only some of the families they thought to be affiliated with ISIS, but also some families that had fled because of the fighting. Satellite imagery reviewed by Human Rights Watch showed that between September 23 and October 23, 220 homes in the village were destroyed by explosives and fire.

Before and after satellite imagesBefore and after satellite images

Satellite imagery shows the village of al-Aithah, outside Tikrit, Iraq, before and after the destruction caused by the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF). 

Before: © 2017 DigitalGlobe After: © 2017 DigitalGlobe

Under the laws of war, parties to a conflict may only attack military objectives. The intentional or wanton destruction of civilian property is unlawful unless the property is being used for a military purpose. Destroying property merely to punish the population is always prohibited.

Iraqi federal authorities should investigate any intentional destruction or looting of civilian property, punish those responsible – including those in command control at the time of such acts who failed to prevent the crimes – if abuses are found, and compensate victims, Human Rights Watch said.

Human Rights Watch visited the Shahama camp for displaced people, 13 kilometres north of Tikrit, on February 3, to interview families affected by the decree. Hussein Ahmed Khalaf, the camp manager, said that 362 families were there, of whom 237 had fled Hawija, a city 50 kilometers west of Kirkuk that is still under ISIS control. Those families had arrived when the camp opened at the beginning of January.

He said that over the next month, 125 families from the al-Shirqat area were brought to the camp. Human Rights Watch interviewed 14 people forcibly displaced with their families to the camp. They all said that PMF fighters, in the presence of the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) with army vehicles, had forced them out of their homes. They said that they were prohibited from leaving the camp and from having mobile phones.

In a Salah al-Din news broadcast in January, Brigadier General Juma Enad Sadoon, the Salah al-Din operational commander for the ISF, said that he ordered the forced displacements of immediate relatives of ISIS members following the passage of the decree by the Salah al-Din governorate council. He said “ISIS families” were identified by other residents and through intelligence gathered by the security forces. He said he gave the order because of concerns about family members communicating with their ISIS relatives fighting in Mosul and other fronts and because of complaints from the relatives of victims of ISIS abuses. He said he would not stop displacing these families.

But most families who spoke to Human Rights Watch either denied they had a relative in ISIS or said that if they did, this family member was as distant as a cousin or brother-in-law.

Residents of Shahama camp speak with relatives through the camp fence. 

 

 

© 2017 Sami Hilali

On January 26, two videos were posted on a Facebook page covering news from Salah al-Din showing local PMF forces in al-Shirqat displacing families of ISIS suspects using army vehicles.

Both videos feature a female commander known as Um Hanadi of the local PMF of al-Shirqat known as the Group of Um Hanadi for Special Tasks (Tashkeel Um Hanadi La Mohmat al-Khasah). In one video, she and a group of armed forces are loading families they refer to as “ISIS families” onto at least two Iraqi army trucks with military license plates. The video shows at least two Iraqi military commanders, recognizable because of their red berets. One fighter and the cameraman identify themselves as members of the Iraqi military’s Division 17, Brigade 60. In the other video, Um Hanadi says to the camera, “It is an honor for me to clean and cleanse al-Shirqat with these elite forces.”

A New York Times article from January 29 about the camp quotes Salah al-Din’s deputy governor, Amar Hekmat, as saying that the aim behind the forcible displacement is, “to defy the terrorists and send a stern message to the families.” Salah al-Din’s First Deputy Governor Khazhal Hamad is quoted in the same article saying that displacing the families was a way of protecting them from retaliatory attacks by neighbors who lost family members to ISIS. “There are hostile feelings towards these people, and these feelings can affect the civil peace we are trying to achieve,” he said.

A February 28 response from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ human rights office to Human Rights Watch’s findings stated that the displacement was carried out by the Salah al-Din operational command in order to protect the families from revenge attacks; for security reasons linked to continued suicide attacks; and because some of these families may be sharing information about ISF positions with ISIS. It stated that the operational command was mandated with holding and protecting the families in the camp. Representatives of the PMF did not respond to questions sent by Human Rights Watch.

The article goes on to say that Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi sent a letter in late January to the local governor criticizing the displacement and ordered governorate and federal government officials to resolve the issue. There was no indication he had called for the punishment of armed forces under his command that participated in it. Iraqi federal authorities including al-Abadi should continue to condemn the forcible displacement of these families and censure any state forces that participate in the practice, Human Rights Watch said.

Two of those interviewed by Human Rights Watch said that Salah al-Din’s Governor Ahmad Abdullah al-Jabouri came to the camp in late January and told them that he was working on a solution to secure their release, but that nothing had happened since.

It is a basic international standard that punishment for crimes should only be imposed on people responsible for the crimes, after a fair trial to determine individual guilt. Imposing collective punishments on families, villages, or entire communities is strictly forbidden and can itself be a crime, especially if it results in forced displacement.

Under the laws of war, forced displacement of civilians is strictly prohibited except in the limited cases when displacement is necessary to protect civilians or for imperative military necessity, and then only for as long as it is needed. Under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, it is a war crime to order such unlawful displacements of civilians during a conflict. Widespread or systematic unlawful forced displacement imposed as a policy of the state or organized group can amount to a crime against humanity.

Local governorate councils should reverse any decrees targeting the families of alleged ISIS affiliates in violation of international standards. Iraq’s parliament should issue a decree calling on the local governorate councils to rescind the decrees and on armed forces to cease the forced displacements, reiterating the unlawfulness of these displacements and stipulating that any armed forces who participate in the displacements should be censured.

“There is growing concern among parliamentarians and ministers about the forcible displacement of so-called ISIS families and what this will mean for reconciliation efforts in areas recently taken back from ISIS,” Fakih said. “That concern needs to translate into action before these destructive policies are mimicked across the country.”

Local Justifications for Displacement
Local leaders from Salah al-Din told Human Rights Watch that the forcible displacement of families of alleged ISIS affiliates was in line with jalwa, an Arabic term for eviction and a principle that entails the forced relocation of a clan to avoid friction if one of its members murders someone from another clan living in the same area.

Other local officials are taking similar measures to expel so-called “ISIS families.” In July, the Babylon governorate council passed a decree calling on authorities to demolish the homes of anyone proven to have participated in terrorist activities, deport their families from the governorate, and to authorize legal procedures against the families proven to have “concealed” their ISIS-affiliated relatives. Families from Anbar face similar difficulties. In July, local leaders issued a covenant saying that people who “promoted” ISIS are not allowed to return until their charges are reviewed. Individuals who did not renounce relatives who supported ISIS are only allowed to return home “when this situation stabilizes,” they said.

Identified with ISIS
Four of the 14 people Human Rights Watch interviewed were from al-Shakrah village and were brought to the Shahama camp on January 7 and January 26. Three were from al-Aithah village, 11 kilometers north of al-Shirqat, and were brought to the camp in early January. The rest were from three neighborhoods of the town of al-Shirqat and were brought to the camp on January 26, 28, and 29. Some were brought alone, while others said they were loaded into approximately 30 vehicles, some with up to 11 other families. Several said they had only the most tangential connections, or no connections at all, to people who had joined ISIS.

One couple said that their cousin, a member of Um Hanadi’s PMF group with whom they had a running land dispute for years, was the one that brought forces to their home and made them leave. They said they had no links to ISIS. Another woman said she was a nurse, and had continued her work at the local hospital under ISIS because she was the only female nurse and felt it was her duty to provide health care for women. Fighters brought her and her family to the camp, saying it was because she had been affiliated with ISIS, she said.

One widowed woman said that ISIS fighters forced her to marry off her 14-year-old daughter to one of their fighters after they took her village in 2014. According to the mother, the daughter married the fighter, who was subsequently killed, and gave birth weeks before she and the rest of her family were forcibly displaced. The woman said PMF and Iraqi soldiers displaced her and her family, including her daughter and grandchild, to the camp because of the forced marriage.

“They [the PMF] told me: ‘You gave your daughter to ISIS,’” she said. “But they do not understand our situation with ISIS and the pressure they put on us. We couldn’t say anything to them…I had no choice. I couldn’t say anything…ISIS became the government ruling over everyone. They’ve gone to war with every country. What could I do as a woman to oppose them?”

“As they drove us from al-Shirqat they were celebrating, it was like a victory for them,” said a man from the Jamia neighborhood. He said PMF and ISF jointly rounded up 28 people from his area and brought them to the camp on a convoy of dozens of cars, blaring celebratory music from their loudspeakers:

We saw all these cars and trucks suddenly pull up in our village, and I saw several Hashad fighters [PMF] knock on the door of my neighbors. Their son had been with ISIS. They forced them out immediately and into one of the trucks. Then came the knock at our door, and my mother-in-law opened and told the fighters that her son’s family, my husband’s brother, who had joined ISIS, lived down the road. They said to her, “But you are also related to him.”

Shahama Camp Conditions
Human Rights Watch observed that the families from Hawija and al-Shirqat in the Shahama camp are housed in tents in separate areas of the camp. The camp manager said that this was because of concerns over possible tensions between people who left Hawija voluntarily and those forcibly displaced from al-Shirqat over suspected family ties to ISIS suspects.

Shahama camp residents are not allowed to leave or to have mobile phones, and visitors are restricted. Residents at the camp from the initial wave of families from Hawija told Human Rights Watch that until the al-Shirqat families arrived they had been allowed to have phones, and leave the camp at will.

The camp receives assistance and support from four international aid organizations, but two aid workers said that most aid groups would not support a camp that is functioning as a holding site for forcibly displaced people, rather than a camp to which displaced people have gone voluntarily. Having visited about a dozen camps in Iraq and the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, Human Rights Watch researchers observed significantly worse conditions in the Shahama camp than in the other camps it had visited. According to a senior aid worker and the camp manager, the camp has no clinic, no school, and lacks adequate sanitation services and food, water, and heating oil.

Destruction and Looting
A local sheikh from the village of al-Aithah interviewed in the Shahama camp said the PMF arrived three days after the Iraqi military retook the village from ISIS on September 19. Two women from the village said that the PMF forces destroyed hundreds of homes. One said her home was included and the other that she witnessed the destruction:

I saw them destroying the houses. They would destroy around 15 homes a day. For about 15 days the destruction didn’t stop in the village. My house was not destroyed when the army came, but…lots of neighbors’ homes were destroyed by the PMF. It was the local PMF destroying the homes. I saw them and know them personally as being from the local PMF.

She said the PMF targeted the homes not only of some families thought to have links to ISIS, but also some of those who had simply fled the area out of fear.

Local residents said that as far as they were aware, there were no airstrikes on the village after it was retaken, so the destruction could not have been a result of aerial attacks, and there was seemingly no military necessity for the destruction, meaning it most likely constituted a war crime. “We want the Iraqi government to show mercy on these women and children,” one of the women said. “Don’t act like ISIS, by destroying homes and displacing families.”

Several members of the displaced families also said PMF members looted their property. One woman from Tal al-Jumaila neighborhood in al-Shirqat said that the morning before she was displaced, PMF confiscated her cow without giving any reason. A man from Tal al-Jumaila neighborhood and another from al-Shakrah village both said fighters took their cars. The rest of the interviewees said that because they did not have access to their phones, they did not know what had happened to their property since they left.

Detention
Seven people interviewed said that ISF had arrested one or more of their family members, in one case a 15-year-old boy, on suspicion of ISIS affiliation either at their homes or at a checkpoint in the area, some as early as August. Six had not heard from their relatives since and all of them said that because of the ban on phones, they were unable to make any calls to see if they were still in detention or had access to a lawyer.

One man from al-Shakrah said he had been detained by ISF at a checkpoint near Tikrit because his brother had been an ISIS member, and was beaten for a day with electric cables while guards asked him how he could have shared a home with an ISIS fighter. That night, he said, they transferred him to the Salah al-Din operations room, and then to a prison in Tikrit. A few weeks later he was taken before a judge and ordered released, after which he returned to al-Shakrah, he said. On January 7, he and his family were forced to relocate to the camp.

Another al-Shakrah villager said that on September 24, 2016, more than 15 Iraqi soldiers and PMF members who were in the village told all the men and boys ages 15 and over to gather at the local school to be screened:

I gathered there with my 15-year-old son, as we were told. A soldier called out three names of men from the village and detained them. Then about 20 fighters wearing PMF patches brought 10 more men with masked faces to us, and started pointing at people at random, while the ISF stood by and watched. The PMF took away the 14 men and one boy, my own son, whom they pointed at, loading them onto military trucks. One PMF fighter was filming the group of detainees on his phone as they waited to load the trucks, and ordered them to bark like dogs.

They brought his son back after 28 days. The family confirmed with Iraqi army officers that his son was not on a wanted list, but five days later, PMF came to the home with a masked man who said the boy was affiliated with ISIS and detained him again, the father said. The father said he has heard nothing from him since and that on January 7, local PMF members in the village came to their home and said they were an “ISIS family” and had to get onto the PMF trucks and go to the camp.

Iraqi federal authorities should make efforts to inform family members about the location of all detainees. Iraqi federal authorities should make public the number of fighters and civilians detained, including at checkpoints, screening sites, and camps during the conflict with ISIS, and the legal basis for their detention, including the charges against them. They should ensure prompt independent judicial review of detention and allow detainees access to lawyers and medical care and to communicate with their families, Human Rights Watch said.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

After 25 years of vicious conflict that has cost countless lives and displaced millions of people, peace has finally broken out in south-central Somalia — at least that's what Kenya says. And the UN refugee agency, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) has joined Kenya to tell the world it should now focus on helping as many refugees as possible to return home.

But I recently spoke with some of the estimated 320,000 Somali refugees in Dadaab, Kenya, the world's largest refugee camp. And it's clear that peace is the last thing some of those signing up for UNHCR's $400 repatriation cash handout are discovering.

A newly arrived Somali refugee is forced out of the queue outside a reception centre in the Ifo 2 refugee camp in Dadaab, near the Kenya-Somalia border, in Garissa County, Kenya, July 28, 2011

© 2011 Reuters

A number of refugees told me they had returned destitute to destroyed Somali villages without health care provision and schools, or faced danger as armed groups continue to clash in and around their villages, including towns. After doing their best to survive, they fled back to Kenya, once again as refugees.

One of them is "Amina," a 38-year-old single mother. After a decade in Dadaab, she decided to try her luck and returned in January 2015 with her five children to her village, Bula Gudud, in the Lower Juba region, hoping to rebuild her life.

She told me: "After two days back home, fighting broke out between government troops and al-Shabab [armed Islamist group]. I could hear the bullets. My children were so scared. They just ran around, trying to get out of the house." The following day, Amina fled to the closest city, Kismayo. She had no relatives there but hoped she'd find safety and work to feed her children. She found neither.

She and her family barely survived for nine months with other displaced civilians in Kismayo's appalling internally displaced persons' camps. After a man in a government uniform raped her, a common occurrence in the unprotected and aid-starved camps across the country, Amina gave up and 10 months ago begged her way back to Dadaab.

But her ordeal didn't end there. The Kenyan authorities have refused to re-register her and her children as refugees, and UNHCR has not reactivated her ration card or given her any food.

"If we send 1,000 people home under the voluntary repatriation agreement but we then register 1,000 new arrivals, we would not get the job done," a Kenyan government official in Dadaab told me

Kenya, Somalia and the UNHCR had signed an agreement in November 2013 on the "voluntary repatriation" of Somali refugees. It says that both countries and the UN would make sure that Somalis return voluntarily and safely and would get help to resettle back home. A few months later UNHCR said that "the security situation in many parts of ... Somalia [is] volatile [and] protracted ... conflict has had devastating consequences, including massive displacement, weakened community structures, gross human rights violations and the breakdown of law and order".

But Kenya has repeatedly referred to this agreement as evidence that it is time for all Somalis to go home, stressing that the UN agency should help Kenya "expedite" refugee repatriation.

Somali refugees have a collective memory of previous repeated attempts by Kenyan security forces to coerce "voluntary" returns. In late 2012, Kenyan police in Nairobi unleashed appalling abuses in an effort to enforce an illegal directive to drive tens of thousands of urban Somali refugees into the Dadaab camps and from there back to Somalia. In April 2014, Kenyan security forces, primarily police, carried out a second round of abuses against Somalis in Nairobi and then deported 359 a month later without allowing them to challenge their removal.

In May 2016, Kenya announced that "hosting refugees has to come to an end", that Somali asylum seekers would no longer automatically get refugee status and that the Department of Refugee Affairs, responsible for registering and screening individual asylum applications, would be disbanded.

So far, thankfully, the Kenyan police in Dadaab appear to have been acting properly and the refugees told us they had not been harassed or directly coerced. But they are all aware that the government intends to close the camp by the end of November. Everyone we spoke to expressed the fear that those who do not take the voluntary repatriation assistance package now will be forced back later this year with nothing.

Since mid-2015, Amina and at least another 4,000 Somali refugees have either returned to Kenya after facing conflict and hunger back home or fled to Dadaab for the first time.

But with refugee registrations now closed, Amina and the others won't get food aid. Their survival will depend on the kindness of neighbours or relatives whose own rations were slashed last year by a third because of a funding shortfall. Amina and other returnees and new arrivals will also be the first to face arrest and deportation for "illegal presence" if Kenya shuts down Dadaab in three months.

International and Kenyan law require the authorities to make sure that anyone seeking asylum in Kenya is fairly heard and, if found to need protection, gets it. As long as Kenya continues to shred its commitments, Amina and thousands of others like her will languish hungry and destitute in legal limbo and wake up every morning wondering whether they are about to be deported back to the dangers that many have repeatedly fled and still fear.

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

Asylum seekers behind a metal fence in the ‘Hangar 1’ detention center, in Röszke, Hungary. September 9, 2015.

© 2015 Zalmaï for Human Rights Watch

(New York) – The massive refugee crisis demands an unprecedented global response. At two summits on September 19 and 20, 2016, at the United Nations, world leaders should take bold steps to share responsibility for millions of people displaced by violence, repression, and persecution.

Leaders will gather in New York to discuss providing greater support to countries where refugees first land, just as many of those countries are at breaking point. There is a grave risk to the bedrock foundation of refugee protection, the principle of nonrefoulement – not forcibly returning refugees to places where they would face persecution and other serious threats. People are fleeing violence in Afghanistan, Burma, Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Honduras, Iraq, Somalia, and Syria, among others.

“Millions of lives hang in the balance,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. “This is not just about more money or greater resettlement numbers, but also about shoring up the legal principles for protecting refugees, which are under threat as never before.”

This year, Human Rights Watch has documented Turkish border guards shooting and pushing back civilians who appear to be seeking asylum; Jordan refusing entry or assistance to Syrian asylum seekers at its border; Kenya declaring that it will close the world’s largest refugee camp in November and pushing Somalis to return home despite potential danger; and Pakistan and Iran harassing and deregistering Afghan refugees and coercing them to return to a country in conflict.

The UN General Assembly has convened the September 19 summit “with the aim of bringing countries together behind a more humane and coordinated approach” to refugees. The final statement, already drafted, is a missed opportunity to widen the scope of protection and limits expectations for concrete, new commitments. However, it affirms refugee rights and calls for more equitable responsibility sharing. Given the scale of the refugee crisis and populist backlash in many parts of the world, this affirmation should be the basis for collective action, Human Rights Watch said.

On September 20, US President Barack Obama will host a “Leader’s Summit” to increase commitments for aid, refugee admissions, and opportunities for work and education for refugees. Governments are expected to make concrete pledges toward goals of doubling the number of resettlement places and other admissions, increasing aid by 30 percent, getting 1 million more refugee children in school, and granting 1 million more adult refugees the right to work. Though the participants have not been announced, 30 to 35 countries are expected to attend. Canada, Ethiopia, Germany, Sweden, and Jordan will join the United States as co-facilitators.

Boost Humanitarian Aid to Countries of First Arrival
The vast majority of the world’s 21.3 million refugees are in the global south, where they often face further harm, discrimination, and neglect. Human Rights Watch called on countries of first arrival like Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Thailand, Kenya, Iran, and Pakistan, to commit to proposals to provide refugees with better access to work and education.

The world’s richest nations have largely failed to help countries on the front lines of the displacement crisis. As of September 9, UN aid appeals were 39 percent funded, with some of the worst-funded in Africa; the appeal for refugees from South Sudan stands at 19 percent. The regional refugee response plans for Yemen and Syria are funded at 22 and 49 percent.

Increase Numbers Resettled in Other Countries
Resettlement from countries of first arrival is a key way to help refugees rebuild their lives and to relieve host countries, but international solidarity is glaringly absent. In 2015, the UN refugee agency facilitated resettlement of 81,000 of a projected 960,000 refugees globally in need of resettlement. The agency estimated that over 1.1 million refugees would need resettlement in 2016, but projected that countries would only offer 170,000 places. Representatives of 92 countries pledged only a slight increase in resettlement places for Syrian refugees at a high-level UN meeting in March.

In the European Union, the arrival by boat in 2015 of more than 1 million asylum seekers and migrants – and more than 3,700 deaths at sea – laid bare the need for safe and legal channels for refugees to move, such as resettlement.  However, many EU countries, including Austria, Bulgaria, and Hungary, are focused primarily on preventing spontaneous arrivals, outsourcing responsibility, and rolling back refugee rights.

A July 2015 European plan to resettle 22,500 refugees from other regions over two years has resettled only 8,268 refugees, according to figures from July 2016. Most EU countries underperformed, and 10 failed to resettle a single person under the plan.

End Abusive Systems, Flawed Deals
The EU struck a deal with Turkey in March to allow the return to Turkey of almost all asylum seekers on the deeply flawed grounds that Turkey is a safe country for asylum; it is on the verge of falling apart. Australia forcibly transfers all asylum seekers who arrive by boat to offshore processing centers, where they face abuse, inhumane treatment, and neglect.

The EU and Australia should renounce these abusive policies. EU countries should swiftly adopt a proposed permanent resettlement framework with more ambitious goals and a clear commitment to meet them, Human Rights Watch said. They should share fairly the responsibility for asylum seekers arriving spontaneously, and help alleviate the pressure on Greece and Italy.

Governments also undermine asylum with closed camps, as in Kenya and Thailand, and by detaining asylum seekers, as do Australia, Greece, Italy, Mexico, and the United States.

While by many measures the US leads in refugee resettlement and response to UN humanitarian aid appeals, it has been particularly slow and ungenerous in admitting Syrian refugees. And it has had notable blind spots, as with its border policies for Central American children and others fleeing gang violence and its use of Mexico as a buffer to keep them from reaching the US border.

The Obama Administration met its goal of admitting 10,000 Syrian refugees this fiscal year in the face of opposition from more than half of US governors and a lack of resettlement funds from Congress, but the US has the capacity to resettle many times that number. It should commit to meeting the Leaders’ Summit goals, which would mean doubling this year’s 85,000 total refugee admissions to 170,000.

Several other countries with capacity to admit far more refugees, including Brazil, Japan, and South Korea, have fallen woefully short. Japan admitted 19 refugees in 2015, South Korea only 42 aside from North Koreans, and Brazil only 6.

Russia resettles no refugees. The Gulf States do not respond to UN resettlement appeals, though Saudi Arabia says it has suspended deportations of hundreds of thousands of Syrians who overstay visitor visas. Most Gulf states, except Kuwait, have also fallen short in their response to Syrian-refugee-related UN appeals to fund refugee needs, according to an Oxfam analysis.

“Every country has a moral responsibility to ensure the rights and dignity of people forced to flee their homes,” Roth said. “When more than 20 million people are counting on a real international effort to address their plight, lofty pronouncements are not enough.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

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

Bill Frelick, director of Human Rights Watch's refugee program, monitors, investigates, and documents human rights abuses against refugees, asylum seekers, and internally displaced persons, and advocates for the rights and humanitarian needs of all categories of forcibly displaced persons around the world.

Before joining Human Rights Watch, Frelick directed Amnesty International USA's refugee program and the US Committee for Refugees (USCR), which he served for 18 years. He was the editor of USCR's annual World Refugee Survey and monthly Refugee Reports. Frelick has traveled to refugee sites throughout the world and is widely published. He taught in the Middle East from 1979-1983 and was co-coordinator of the Asian Center of Clergy and Laity Concerned from 1976-1979. Frelick has a B.A. from Oberlin College and an M.A. from Columbia University.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

African migrants gesture behind a fence during a protest against Israel's detention policy towards them, at Holot, Israel's southern Negev desert detention centre February 17, 2014.

© 2014 Reuters

(Jerusalem) – Israeli authorities should abandon a new policy that could lead to the indefinite detention of thousands of Eritrean and Sudanese nationals for refusing to leave Israel for Rwanda or Uganda, Human Rights Watch said today. The policy is the latest in a series of coercive measures against these groups aimed at thwarting their legitimate right to seek protection and would almost certainly result in mass unlawful asylum seeker detention.

Eritreans and Sudanese in Israel have been unable to obtain protection because, according to the United Nations refugee agency, Israel’s unfair asylum system has either prevented or discouraged them from lodging asylum claims or has unfairly dismissed their claims. Israeli authorities categorize them, along with all irregular border-crossers, as “infiltrators” and have recognized fewer than 1 percent of asylum applicants as refugees, compared with acceptance rates in the European Union of 90 percent for Eritreans and 60 percent for Sudanese.

“In the latest chapter of its longstanding quest to dodge its refugee protection duties, Israel is threatening to lock up thousands of asylum seekers who refuse to leave,” said Gerry Simpson, associate refugee director at Human Rights Watch. “Instead of jailing them, Israel should fairly identify and protect refugees among them.”

On January 1, 2018, Israel’s Population, Immigration and Borders Authority (PIBA), under the Interior Ministry, announced plans to indefinitely detain thousands of Eritrean and Sudanese men if they refuse to leave for Rwanda or Uganda by March 31. Although the first phase applies only to some men, later phases could extend the policy to others and to women and children.

There were 27,018 Eritreans and 7,731 Sudanese in Israel as of March 2, 2017, according to the PIBA. Since 2013, about 14,000 have left Israel, including as a result of government measures against asylum seekers involving prolonged or indefinite detention, which Israel’s High Court has twice ruled unlawful.

The detention policy is based on the 1952 Law of Entry into Israel, which says prospective deportees can be detained beyond two months if their lack of cooperation has prevented or delayed their deportation.

However, to date, Rwanda and Uganda have only accepted people who voluntarily agreed to leave Israel, and neither country has confirmed any agreement to accept anyone deported from Israel, meaning anyone removed from Israel against their will. As a result, the Israeli High Court said in August that Israel could not deport Eritreans and Sudanese to Rwanda and Uganda and could therefore not justify detaining them for refusing to cooperate with efforts to deport them there.

Detention is arbitrary under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) if a country detains someone for deportation when there is no realistic prospect of deporting them. Arbitrary indefinite detention may also constitute inhuman and degrading treatment in breach of Israel’s obligations under the ICCPR and the UN Convention Against Torture. Detention Guidelines by UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, say asylum seekers should be detained only “as a last resort” as strictly necessary and proportionate to achieve a legitimate legal purpose and that countries should not detain them simply for deportation purposes. Detention is permitted only briefly to establish a person’s identity or for longer periods if it is the only way to achieve broader aims, such as protecting national security or public health.

The government’s plan states that all Eritrean and Sudanese “infiltrators” should leave for “their country or … a third country” by the end of March. It promises US$3,500 to those who agree to leave, less if they leave voluntarily after March.

The same day, the authorities published procedures for some of those who do not leave by March 31. Men who apply after February 1 to renew their permit to stay in Israel will be told to leave Israel within 60 days if their asylum applications are rejected, if they have not applied for asylum, or if they registered as asylum seekers after 2017. Only men with children in Israel or who have been identified as victims of trafficking or slavery are exempt.

The procedures say that an “infiltrator” who “does not voluntarily agree to leave” will face “enforcement and deportation proceedings.” They also say the procedures may be applied later to other Eritrean and Sudanese “infiltrators,” including, but not limited to, asylum seekers who lodged claims before January 2018 that are still pending.

In March 2014 Israeli High Court proceedings, the State Prosecutor’s Office told the court that Israel had “begun to implement … two [transfer] agreements” with African countries, but the authorities have not confirmed the countries’ identities or published the agreements.

Rwanda and Uganda deny any agreements exist. However, nongovernmental organizations and journalists have interviewed dozens among an estimated 1,500 Eritreans and Sudanese who agreed in 2014 and mid-2015 to leave Israel and who were flown to Rwanda or Uganda. UNHCR says that “some 4,000” people were relocated under the program between December 2013 and June 2017.

About 50,000 Eritreans and Sudanese entered Israel through Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula between 2006 and 2012, when Israel sealed off its border with Egypt. Israeli officials have said they cannot deport Eritreans and Sudanese home because of human rights abuses in Eritrea and because Israel has no official diplomatic relations with Sudan, which also criminalizes visiting Israel with up to 10 years in prison.

Until early 2013, Israeli immigration authorities blocked almost all Eritrean and Sudanese asylum applications. Between then and mid-2017, 12,295 people managed to lodge asylum claims, of whom 7,437 were awaiting decisions as of June. Almost all the rest were rejected. UNHCR says the low number of asylum claims also reflects widespread distrust in the asylum system and a failure of the Israeli authorities to inform Eritreans and Sudanese of their right to claim asylum or to accord registered asylum seekers more rights than people given “conditional release permits” from detention, the status Israel gives to all Eritrean and Sudanese nationals who entered the country irregularly.

In late December, an Israeli judge heavily criticized the authorities for forcing asylum seekers to overcome significant procedural obstacles to lodge claims, including “lengthy waits in line,” sometimes overnight, characterized by “irregularities, violence and bullying.” The judge said some asylum applicants “wait …in vain because only a few are allowed entry and even for them some … are not allowed to submit their request.”

UNHCR says that Israel has not processed Eritrean and Sudanese asylum applications fairly, which is starkly reflected in the fact that Israel has granted only 10 Eritreans and 1 Sudanese refugee status since 2009. Israeli asylum lawyers have told Human Rights Watch that about 700 Sudanese from Darfur have obtained humanitarian status, a status granted on a purely discretionary basis outside the asylum system.

UNHCR has stressed that a person is a refugee as soon as they fulfill the requirements under the 1951 Refugee Convention, that a country recognizing that fact is “merely declaratory of an existing status,” and that “this is particularly valid in the Israeli context where lack of formal recognition of refugee status of … ‘infiltrators’ is linked to shortcomings in the asylum procedure.”

UNHCR also says that “the protection needs of the majority of Eritreans and Sudanese [in Israel] … are akin to the protection needs of refugees” and that UNHCR “considers them to be in a refugee-like situation.”

The Israeli authorities should urgently carry out a full review, with UNHCR support, of how Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers have been blocked from seeking asylum and how current procedures prevent a fair assessment of their claims, Human Rights Watch said. Those who have not previously filed asylum claims or who were previously denied a fair hearing should be allowed to file claims or have their claims reviewed afresh.

“Now that the UN refugee agency has confirmed that Israel’s asylum procedures for Eritreans and Sudanese are deeply flawed, the Israeli authorities should drop their charade and urgently and fairly re-review all their claims,” Simpson said.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Smoke billows behind a building in the Yemeni capital Sanaa on December 3, 2017, during clashes between Houthi rebels and supporters of Yemeni ex-president Ali Abdullah Saleh. 

© 2017 Getty Images

(Beirut) – Lawless armed conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) morphed into disastrous trends for the region in 2017, Human Rights Watch said today in releasing its 2018 World Report.

“Failed leadership, failed governments, and failed policies have brought nothing but catastrophe for the youth and future generations of the Middle East caught up in the region’s wars,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The legacy of these wars will be recorded as the ‘shame of the century’ for the Middle East.”

In the 643-page World Report, its 28th edition, Human Rights Watch reviews human rights practices in more than 90 countries. In his introductory essay, Executive Director Kenneth Roth writes that political leaders willing to stand up for human rights principles showed that it is possible to limit authoritarian populist agendas. When combined with mobilized publics and effective multilateral actors, these leaders demonstrated that the rise of anti-rights governments is not inevitable.

The top five trends in the region’s wars included:

  1. Chemical and Other Banned Weapons as the New Normal: The Syrian government, backed by its Russian allies, has used banned chemical weapons, and in Yemen, the United States-supported Saudi-led coalition has used widely banned cluster munitions. Human Rights Watch documented dozens of instances in which the Syrian government used chemical weapons in Syria, including littering Aleppo with chlorine-filled barrel bombs. The Islamic State (also known as ISIS) also used chemical weapons in both Syria and Iraq. The Russian government effectively blocked the only body whose job it was to attribute responsibility and pave the way for sanctions against Syria for using chemical weapons by vetoing the Joint Investigative Mechanism’s Mandate at the United Nations Security Council. Human Rights Watch also documented the Saudi-led coalition’s repeated use of cluster munitions in Yemen – including those made in the US and Brazil. Houthi-Saleh forces made wide use of anti-personnel landmines, despite repeated promises not to use this weapon, which leaves behind unexploded bomblets that harm civilians for generations.

“While the world moves to end the scourge of chemical weapons, cluster munitions, and landmines, the Middle East has made these disgusting weapons the new normal in warfare,” Whitson said. “It’s repellent that arms manufacturers continue to profit off the sale of banned weapons.”

  1. Starving Children During War: Beyond bombing homes, schools, hospitals, and irreplaceable cultural architecture in the region, the Syrian government and Saudi-led coalition have each resorted to blocking aid and impeding critical supplies from reaching starving children. The Syrian government imposes sieges in various regions of Syria, including in so-called “de-escalation zones” such as Ghouta, severely restricting access to food and medical care for the civilian population. The Saudi-led coalition imposed a nation-wide blockade on all of Yemen’s ports and airspace, in a country where malnutrition, cholera, and diphtheria were already ravaging children and have now reached epidemic levels. The UN secretary-general placed the Saudi-led coalition on his annual “List of Shame” for violations against children, despite extraordinary threats and bullying by the Saudi government to be taken off the list.

“It is deeply disturbing that Arab governments are deliberately starving Arab children during wartime,” Whitson said. “The cruelty and barbarism on display in the Middle East should lead to a collective hanging of heads in shame in the region.”

  1. Unlawful Video Executions by Warlords, National Armies Alike: It’s not just ISIS that has promoted itself with gruesome acts of violence and savagery. Human Rights Watch documented Iraqi army soldiers and Khalifa Hiftar-aligned Libyan militias proudly recording depraved acts of torture and executions of detainees. The Egyptian army and police in Sinai staged “shoot-outs” to cover up such executions. Governments failed to investigate, condemn, or appropriately punish repeated unlawful acts by their forces, despite sometimes promising to do so. 

“It’s difficult to square the global outrage against ISIS horrors in the face of national armies and militias that mimic their tactics but receive military assistance from various foreign governments,” Whitson said.

  1. Ran Out of Men, Let’s Use Children: Houthi-Saleh forces resorted to recruiting children to help fight in Yemen. The UN secretary-general placed Houthi forces, as well as other parties in Yemen, on his annual “List of Shame” for their persistent recruitment of children. Human Rights Watch also documented the use of child soldiers in the Syrian conflict by multiple parties, including Kurdish armed groups and Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. Iran actually recruited Afghan immigrant children to fight in support of Syrian government forces.

“As if slaughtering and starving the region’s children is not bad enough, some are now despicably dragging children to fight and die on the battlefield,” Whitson said.

  1. Arabs Flee the Arab World En Masse: Many people in the Middle East voted with their feet, fleeing their countries in record numbers over the past five years. Millions of Syrians escaped Syria, while the hundreds of thousands who sought refuge in Europe faced a widespread backlash against refugees. Libyans, Iraqis, Yemenis, and Egyptians joined the ranks of millions of refugees and internally displaced in the Middle East who have lost their homes, livelihoods, and communities.

“Is there any greater evidence of just how inhospitable the Middle East has become than the reality of millions of its people fleeing, or trying to flee, disastrous wars – caused by disastrous leadership?” Whitson said.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

SOS MEDITERRANEE rescuers help a Somali woman off their rigid-hulled inflatable boat (RHIB) so she can board the Aquarius. October 11, 2017.

© 2017 ANTHONY JEAN/SOS MEDITERRANEE
(Brussels) – The European Union and its member states were too often willing to set aside human rights in 2017, but there were glimpses of a more principled approach, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2018.

During a year dominated by concerns about the influence of populist extremist parties, Human Rights Watch highlighted developments in 10 EU member states and union-wide developments on migration and asylum, discrimination and intolerance, terrorism and counterterrorism, and EU foreign policy.

“It was clear during 2017 that treating human rights in the European Union as an optional extra won’t defeat the populist extremists or their ideas,” said Benjamin Ward, deputy Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “But the growing consensus among EU governments and bodies around the need to tackle Poland’s assault on human rights and the rule of law shows that an approach based on EU core values can help.”

In the 643-page World Report, its 28th edition, Human Rights Watch reviews human rights practices in more than 90 countries. In his introductory essay, Executive Director Kenneth Roth writes that political leaders willing to stand up for human rights principles showed that it is possible to limit authoritarian populist agendas. When combined with mobilized publics and effective multilateral actors, these leaders demonstrated that the rise of anti-rights governments is not inevitable.

The EU and its member states intensified efforts to prevent arrivals of asylum seekers and irregular migrants, and to shift responsibility for migration control onto countries outside the EU’s borders, notably Libya, in ways that exposed people to human rights abuse.

Despite performing less well than anticipated in some European elections, populist extremist parties exercised an outsized influence over European politics during the year, and entered Germany’s parliament.

Despicable attacks by extremists in Belgium, Finland, France, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom, most claimed by the Islamic State (also known as ISIS), together killed more than 60 people and left hundreds injured. Some of the security measures introduced or strengthened during the year compromised human rights, including a new EU directive to combat terrorism that lacks adequate safeguards to protect freedom of expression, and problematic measures in individual EU countries.

Racist, xenophobic, and anti-Muslim sentiment and violence persisted across the EU. Muslims experienced widespread hostility and intolerance. Anti-Semitism, including hate crimes, remained a serious concern.

The EU’s willingness to advance human rights through its foreign policy agenda was often undermined by other interests, including national security, access to natural resources, migration control, and lack of leadership on human rights by the EU’s External Action Service.

Country-specific developments in the EU highlighted by Human Rights Watch include: France’s decision to incorporate some abusive state of emergency powers into regular law; Hungary’s curbs on human rights groups and independent universities; Poland’s undermining of checks and balances on the executive; the ongoing crisis for asylum seekers on the Greek islands; and the failure of the UK government to guarantee rights protection during the Brexit process.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Summary

Discrimination on grounds of origin or religion remains a significant problem in France. Abusive police identity checks disproportionally affect minorities, which France has failed to address despite a commitment to do so at its last UPR. Migrants and asylum seekers lack access to basic services and are subject to harassment and abuse and France is failing to adequately protect unaccompanied children. Counterterrorism laws undermine fundamental rights and lead to abuse.

  1. Discriminatory Identity Checks

The measures taken by France since its last UPR, such as the adoption in 2013 of a Code of Ethics for the Police and National Gendarmerie, prohibiting police from basing decisions on who to stop solely on physical characteristics, and distinctive signs, have not prevented the use of ethnic profiling by the police when performing identity checks. Recent reports by the French Ombudsman and France’s Human Rights Consultative Commission found that young men from visible minorities are overrepresented in police checks and are 20 times more likely to be stopped by the police. Security Laws adopted in February and October 2017 raise concerns that people who complain about discriminatory checks could face increased sanctions, and that the use of discriminatory identity checks could be expanded. In July 2016, the National Assembly rejected a proposal to require police officers to draw up stop forms on the grounds that it would be too costly, while their use is a simple yet effective way to measure stops and promote accountability, and has shown positive results in other countries such as the United Kingdom. On October 18, 2017, President Macron expressed his wish to restore trust between the police and the population, acknowledging that France is the European country that carries out the most identity checks.

Recommendations

  • Reform the Code of Criminal Procedure to require that all identity checks be based on a reasonable, individualized suspicion.
  • Introduce stop forms and ensure that these forms include information identifying the person stopped and the law enforcement officer(s) conducting the stop, the legal basis for the stop, whether a pat-down or search of belongings was conducted, and the outcome of the procedure.
  • Adopt clear guidance for law enforcement officers with respect to identity checks, including a requirement to inform of the legal basis for the stop and of rights during a stop, as well as instructions on stops and searches of children.
  • Ensure that abuse during police stops is systematically investigated and prosecuted, and hold officers to account.
  1. Treatment of migrants and asylum seekers, including unaccompanied minors

As of late November 2017, approximately 700-1000 migrants and asylum seekers continue to live and sleep outdoors in and around Calais, northern France, including between 100-200 unaccompanied children. In July 2017, Human Rights Watch research found that police forces in Calais routinely spray chemical agents on child and adult migrants while they are sleeping or in other circumstances in which they pose no threat, and regularly spray or confiscate sleeping bags, blankets, clothing and shoes. Despite a ruling in late July by the Conseil d’État, France’s highest administrative court, allowing food and clothing distributions, intimidation of humanitarian workers and disruption of delivery of aid continues. In October 2017, an inquiry conducted by the French administration and security forces’ internal investigations departments at the request of the Ministry of Interior, in response to Human Rights Watch’s July report, found convincing evidence that police used excessive force and committed other abuses against child and adult migrants in Calais, and set out recommendations. Despite the recent findings, as of late November 2017, local organizations report that police violence against migrants and delays in accessing the child protection and asylum systems continue.

Recommendations

  • Implement the recommendations of the October 2017 administrative report into police abuse.
  • Investigate reports of police abuse against asylum seekers and migrants and hold abusers to account.
  • Ensure that unaccompanied migrant children have full access to asylum procedures, guardianship, mental health support, family reunification under the Dublin regulations, and other essential services.
  • Comply with obligations under the European Union reception directive and immediately provide accommodation to all asylum applicants who lack sufficient means to provide for themselves while their claims are processed, from the moment a person indicates an intention to seek asylum.
  1. Counterterrorism laws

Since France’s last UPR, concerns have intensified: France has adopted new laws introducing broad counterterrorism, intelligence and surveillance powers. France had a state of emergency in place for almost two years starting in November 2015. Although the October 2017 Counterterrorism Law formally ended the state of emergency, it incorporated several emergency powers into normal criminal and administrative law. These includes powers that have led to significant abuse, such as the power to order people considered a threat to national security to live in an assigned place and to carry out house searches, with only limited judicial authorization. The powers have given rise to concerns that Muslims may be targeted on the basis of their religious practice, with no evidence pointing to their involvement in any criminal behavior, and have exacerbated longstanding concerns about ethnic profiling in police stop and search practices. The law has been criticized for granting the executive the power to restrict freedom of worship, assembly, free movement and the right to privacy, without adequate judicial safeguards.

Recommendations

  • Use the October 2017 Counterterrorism Law’s annual review by Parliament and sunset clause set for 2020 to carry out thorough evaluations of the implementation of the law, including assessing whether these measures are necessary and proportionate to countering terrorism.
  • Ensure civil society is able to participate throughout the Counterterrorism Law’s review processes.
  • Publish public data regarding measures imposed under counterterrorism laws, and about legal appeals against their use, in order to allow for accountability and transparent discussion of their necessity.
  • Ensure that the powers introduced in counterterrorism laws are not used in a discriminatory way against religious and ethnic minorities and foreign nationals.
  • Amend the law to ensure robust and full judicial oversight and approval of any measure that restrain someone’s liberty and freedom of movement, worship, assembly and right to privacy.

Update: Treatment of migrants and asylum seekers in France

As of December 2017, approximately 700 migrants and asylum seekers, most from Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Afghanistan, continue to live and sleep outdoors in Calais, northern France, including approximately 100 unaccompanied children. They depend largely on humanitarian organizations for access to food and basic essentials such as clothing, sleeping bags, and blankets.

In July 2017, Human Rights Watch found that police forces, particularly the riot police (Compagnies républicaines de sécurité, CRS), routinely use chemical agents on child and adult migrants while they are sleeping or in other circumstances in which they pose no threat. Police also regularly spray or confiscate migrants’ sleeping bags, blankets, clothing and shoes, and sometimes spray their food and water. The French authorities state that they use tear gas. Tear gas causes symptoms such as a painful, burning sensation in the eyes and difficulty breathing.  It is a nerve agent, and frequent exposure has been associated with long-term decreases in pulmonary function and increases in respiratory complaints. According to some asylum seekers and migrants, police have on occasion struck them with batons or kicked them when ordering them to leave food distribution sites or other locations. Such police behavior violates the prohibition on inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment as well as international and national standards regulating the use of force by police.

Police have also intimidated humanitarian workers and sometimes disrupted delivery of aid. Since a ruling in late July by the Conseil d’État, France’s highest administrative court, aid distributions have been allowed to proceed with little or no disruption, although intimidation of aid workers continues. Some showers and water stations have also been installed.

Unaccompanied migrant children struggle to access the asylum system. Barriers to seeking asylum include a lack of information, delayed appointments, and the distance to the asylum office in Lille, 110 kilometers from Calais. Many migrants cannot afford the cost of transport, and those who can risk detention if they travel by public transport.

In October, an inquiry conducted by the French administration and security forces’ internal investigations departments found convincing evidence that police used excessive force and committed other abuses against child and adult migrants in Calais. It set out recommendations for the police to address these abuses, which should be implemented immediately. As of December, police violence against migrants and confiscation of their belongings continue and destruction of their belongings has increased. Delays in accessing the child protection and asylum systems continue.

Recommendations for France:

  • Implement the recommendations of the state administration’s report into police abuse and report back on its progress.
  • Investigate reports of police abuse against asylum seekers and migrants and hold anyone found responsible to account.
  • Ensure that police officers comply with French law and institutional norms, including those relating to the use of force and the wearing of identification badges. Officers who fail to comply with these norms should be disciplined as appropriate.
  • Police should enter into dialogue with humanitarian workers and representatives of migrant groups to facilitate implementation of the Conseil d’État’s ruling requiring the delivery of humanitarian aid.
  • Ensure that unaccompanied migrant children have full access to asylum procedures, guardianship, mental health support, family reunification under the Dublin regulations, and other essential services.
  • Comply with its obligations under the European Union reception directive and immediately provide access to accommodation to all asylum applicants who lack sufficient means to provide for themselves while their claims are processed, from the moment a person indicates an intention to seek asylum.
  • Work with humanitarian and nongovernmental groups to help arrange emergency accommodation for any undocumented migrant without shelter in Calais.
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

A migrant walks past the slogans which read "refugees welcome" written on a wall near the former "Jungle" in Calais, France, August 23, 2017. 

© 2018 Reuters
Shortly after he became president of France last year, Emmanuel Macron had a hopeful vision for humanely addressing the country’s asylum crisis. “By the end of the year, I do not want to have men and women on the streets, in the woods. I want emergency accommodation everywhere.”

None of this has happened.

Tomorrow, Macron visits Calais, northern France. More than a year after the closure of the “Jungle” camp in the town, 600-700 asylum seekers and migrants, including 100-150 unaccompanied children, still live outdoors in increasingly desperate conditions. They face police harassment and violence, and are at risk from the cold. This reality sits starkly at odds with Macron’s commitments to a humane approach.

Last summer, Human Rights Watch found that police in Calais used excessive force toward asylum seekers and migrants, routinely using irritant gas, confiscating their sleeping bags, blankets, and clothing, disrupting aid delivery, and harassing aid workers.

The Ministry of the Interior and the prefect have denied any abuse from the police. But in October, the French administration and security forces’ internal investigations departments found convincing evidence that police used excessive force and committed other abuses, and they made a series of recommendations for this to change. These include ensuring officers are correctly using aerosol sprays, wear visible identification at all times, and use cameras during operations and identity checks.

Despite those recommendations, abuses continue. In December, more than 30 asylum seekers and migrants, as well as aid workers, told me police are still destroying and confiscating tents, shelters, and belongings – coinciding with winter’s arrival. As Kuma (not his real name), 17, told me, “When [the police] come, they beat us. They take our sleeping bags, our jackets, every time. They hit me sometimes. They use gas, all over my face. They say, ‘Don’t sleep. Go!’”

True, water and sanitation for migrants in Calais has improved. But emergency accommodation for winter is only opened when the weather is particularly severe, and there are not enough places for everyone.

France can do better.

Macron should call for the abusive policing practices to stop immediately, and for authorities to implement the October report’s other recommendations. Emergency accommodation should always be opened for those who would otherwise be homeless this winter.

The authorities should also commit to ensure migrants have full access to information and asylum procedures without undue delays. Macron’s rhetoric should become reality, and it should start now in Calais.

 

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

Mariam, an Afghan asylum seeker and her children in their tent in the Moria hotspot on the Greek island of Lesbos, on December 4, 2017.

© Eva Cosse/Human Rights Watch

Mariam’s home burned down last night.

It was just a thin tent, big enough for two, the kind you would take on a summer camping trip. But it accommodated an Afghan family of four – Mariam and her husband, their 8-year-old daughter and their baby boy. All around was the chaos of Moria camp, the overcrowded “hotspot” on the Greek island of Lesbos where nearly 5,500 asylum seeking women, men, and children have been crammed.

A huge mound of garbage had piled up in the muddy path outside the tent. But the inside was spotless. Blankets were neatly folded and stacked, along with small bags and backpacks, with clothes and precious identification documents. When we visited the camp two weeks ago and Mariam invited us in, we carefully took off our shoes. Then she shared a meal with us – us, who had passports, who were not stuck on the islands because of a policy blocking us from going to mainland Europe.

The family had been living in Iran, but had lost their refugee status, leaving them vulnerable to exploitation, and unable to access services. “I was never able to go to school there and I didn’t want that to happen to my children,” Mariam said.

But children in Moria also have no access to formal education. “Zainab,” the little girl, went to an informal school run by volunteers, but it’s only open a few hours a week. “I’m learning, little by little,” she said. “But there are boys who fight and don’t let us concentrate. One day there was a fight and a stone hit my friend in the eye. I don’t feel safe here.”

The aftermath of the fire that destroyed the family’s tent and injured them and others on December 19, 2017.

© Private/Human Rights Watch

Fights between young men from different nationalities break out almost nightly – an unsurprising result when stressed people live in horrible, uncertain conditions. Tents regularly catch fire, and last year virtually the whole camp burnt down. The police presence there is limited.

Zainab’s family had been in Moria for more than two months. It must have been a struggle to keep their tent so clean amidst the chaos and mud.

Last night there was another bout of violence and flames. A friend of the family told us they were injured, and we are trying to find out where they are. He sent us photos of their burned tent, along with a message: “they lost everything.”

This needless suffering is the result of Greece’s containment policy, and what happened to Mariam’s family is just one more reason why it should end.

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