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

A detainee stands outside a toilet stall in the Ain Zara detention center, Tripoli, July 5, 2018. 

© 2018 Human Rights Watch
“Please try to help us to be evacuated from this critical situation,” the message popped up on my mobile phone.  In struggling English, the plea continued: “Our is full of suffering such as starvation, frightened sound of weapons, working as military by force and sickness….”

Women, men, and children held in nightmarish migrant detention centers in western Libya now face an even greater risk than usual to life and limb as fighting by rival factions over the Libyan capital of Tripoli escalates.

In WhatsApp messages and calls over the past several weeks, men (and one boy) from sub-Saharan Africa described to me how they have been forced to work for militias, stockpile weapons, and, in one case, sleep right next to a room full of guns, bullets, and grenades—all of which puts them at risk of attack. They have listed their woes, including a diminishing supply of food, drinking water, and medicine.

They have told me their fears of retaliation for giving me information—which is why I won’t say their names or nationalities—and begged me to help them. A 16-year-old who’s been in detention for a year said he was talking to me from the toilet because he was so frightened of being caught with a phone.

“It’s a war zone. There’s a lot of sounds of bombing. So we are scared. The militias come. Some people want to work with them to get food because there is a lot of starvation.”

Over the years, colleagues and I have spoken with hundreds of people who have experienced captivity and abuse at the hands of smugglers, traffickers, and Libyan officials. Men have told me of being tortured, women have whispered accounts of rape. Children recounted being abused and going hungry and witnessing unspeakable violence.

Last year, I visited four detention centers, in the system nominally under the control of the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA), where everyone caught trying to reach Europe by sea by the EU-supported Libyan Coast Guard is incarcerated, along with many who didn't even make it that far. Even before the recent flighting, these were miserable places, where people were detained arbitrarily in the most abysmal conditions and exposed to violence, forced labor, extortion, and deprivation.

On April 4, Libyan National Army (LNA) forces based in eastern Libya, under General Khalifa Hiftar, advanced on Tripoli in a bid to oust the GNA. According to the World Health Organization, 432 people have died in the clashes between rival militias, including 23 civilians, and 2,069 have been wounded, including 79 civilians. An estimated 58,800 people have been displaced.

Over 3,400 people are in centers on or near the front lines in and around Tripoli. On April 23, LNA fighters reportedly entered the Qasr Ben Ghashir center, south of Tripoli, and opened fire. Shelling and fighting have surrounded other centers in Tripoli, interrupting delivery of food, water, and health services. On May 7, three detainees at the Tajoura detention center messaged me that an airstrike had hit a part of the compound housing military vehicles, less than 100 meters from where detainees are held. One man told me the blast blew out the windows of his building; UNHCR later confirmed that two people were injured by the airstrike.

While the United Nations has called for a humanitarian truce, General Hiftar has urged his fighters to persevere during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which began on May 5, and the prime minister of the besieged GNA, Fayaz al-Sarraj, is asking for more help from Europe to repel the attack.

UN agencies have helped transfer hundreds of detainees from centers closest to the fighting to others, a life-saving but temporary intervention since front lines change with the ebb and flow of the fighting. The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, has managed to evacuate about 163 refugees to its center in Niger, and 146  directly to Italy since the outbreak of hostilities. These laudable efforts are still nowhere near enough.

Migrants and refugees trapped in Libya urgently need help reaching places of safety. The international community should heed calls from UNHCR and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to help create humanitarian corridors to safety, including outside of Libya, for the people currently detained in Tripoli and surrounding areas.

 The EU and other governments should ramp up their resettlement efforts for those already evacuated from Libya to Niger, which would allow for more transfers there, and follow Italy’s example of direct evacuation.  They should also call unequivocally on Libyan authorities to release all migrants and refugees who are arbitrarily detained.

The WhatsApp message I received asking for evacuation ended with a simple call: “We would just like to be in safe place.” Let’s hope the world is listening.

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

The migrant rescue ship Sea-Watch 3, carrying 47 migrants, comes into dock at the Sicilian port of Catania, southern Italy, Thursday, Jan. 31, 2019. The Sea-Watch 3, operated by the German aid group Sea Watch, had been kept at sea for nearly two weeks while Italy pressed other European countries to agree to take them in. 

@ 2019 AP Photo/Salvatore Cavalli
(Milan) –The Italian government should firmly reject a proposal to fine shipmasters up to €5,500 for every person they rescue and take to Italy, Human Rights Watch said today. Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister Matteo Salvini has proposed this and other problematic anti-rescue measures in a decree to be examined by the government starting as early as today.

“Salvini’s latest salvo in his war on humanitarian rescue puts a price tag on the right to life,” said Judith Sunderland, associate Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The rest of the coalition government should reject this naked effort to discourage saving lives at sea, including by merchant vessels.”

Since becoming interior minister, Salvini has repeatedly sought to further restrict the already extremely tight Italian policies on rescues at sea and disembarkation of people rescued at sea. Italy has cut back on search-and-rescue operations, delayed or refused taking people rescued at sea to Italy, and supported efforts by Libyan coast guard forces to interdict asylum seekers and migrants seeking to cross the Mediterranean to Europe and return them to abusive detention in Libya.

The first draft of the decree would impose fines of between €3,500 and €5,500 per foreigner rescued at sea and subsequently taken to Italy in the event the rescuing ship did not comply with “the operating instructions issued by the authorities responsible for the area in which the rescue operation takes place or by the respective authorities of the flag state” or the laws of the sea.

The flag state is the country that has licensed the ship. In cases involving ships flying the Italian flag, the decree allows for temporary suspension or revocation of the license of vessels whose instances of rescue and disembarkation in Italy are considered “grave or repeated.”

The proposed measure is based on a partial and deeply flawed reading of international law, Human Rights Watch said. The law of the sea governing rescue operations imposes obligations on shipmasters to respond to situations of distress at sea and to take the people rescued to safe places. This includes general guidance to cooperate with and follow instructions from coastal states that have assumed responsibilities to conduct and coordinate rescue operations in their declared search-and-rescue region.

These duties should be read in conjunction with the nonrefoulement obligation in international human rights and refugee law, which prohibit the return of refugees to persecution and the return of any person to the risk of torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment. Guidelines issued by the International Maritime Organization stress that factors to be considered when designating a place of safety for rescued people to land should include “the need to avoid disembarkation in territories where the lives and freedoms of those alleging a well-founded fear of persecution would be threatened.”

As a matter of policy and practice, Libyan forces take people they rescue or intercept at sea to Libya, where they face arbitrary detention in abysmal conditions and a well-documented risk of serious abuse, including forced labor, torture, and sexual violence. The United Nations has repeatedly emphasized that Libya is not a safe place to take people rescued at sea. Concerns about the risks for those returned to Libya have been heightened as fighting rages in Tripoli among rival militia factions, putting detainees in detention centers at further risk.

As drafted, the decree could conceivably apply to Italian Coast Guard or Navy vessels and other European vessels that abide by the nonrefoulement obligation. It would also apply to private vessels, including commercial ships, that decline to take rescued people to Libya, given the risks there. It would include shipmasters following their flag states’ guidance to comply with nonrefoulment obligation and to avoid disembarkation in Libya due to the risk of human rights violations in that country.

The Italian measure also rests on a self-serving mischaracterization of the capacity of the Libyan Coast Guard, under the EU-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) based in Tripoli, to perform fully its responsibilities in its vast, self-declared search-and-rescue region. Despite concerted efforts since 2016 by Italy and the European institutions to build the Libyan Coast Guard’s capacity, Human Rights Watch research has found that this corps lacks the capacity, equipment, and training to perform safe rescues.

Since the beginning of an attack, on April 4, on Tripoli by forces loyal to General Khalifa Hiftar, who is allied with a rival government to the GNA that is based in eastern Libya, the Libyan Coast Guard has intercepted and returned to detention in Libya at least 871 refugees and migrants, according to the International Organization for Migration. There are also indications that it has diverted assets for military use in the context of current hostilities.  

The decree includes a provision to transfer authority over passage in Italian territorial waters from the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure to the Interior Ministry. It also gives jurisdiction over all cases of alleged facilitation of unlawful entry into the country to district prosecutors’ offices with anti-organized crime powers. Finally, it provides a budget of €3 million over the next three years to enable agents of foreign police corps to conduct undercover investigations on Italian territory into unlawful entry.

Combined, these measures could lead to heightened criminal investigations and prosecutions in relation to rescue efforts. This would further discourage rescue at sea, including by commercial shipping, by raising the real and perceived costs of responding to migrants and refugees in distress.

Salvini is trying to push through these measures using a procedure that allows for legislation by government decree only in “extraordinary cases of need and urgency.” Such decrees have immediate force of law but must be enacted, including with amendments, by parliament within 60 days or expire. Given that only 1,091 people have been disembarked in Italy since the beginning of the year, it is not clear that the requirements of necessity and urgency are met, Human Rights Watch said.

“The real emergency is the risk of death at sea, and the horrifying detention conditions in Libya, including in centers on the front lines of warring militias,” Sunderland said. “Instead of criminalizing humanitarian rescue operations, the Italian government should work with other EU governments to ensure search-and-rescue capacity in the Mediterranean, coupled with a fair distribution of responsibility for people rescued, and to ensure safe ways for migrants and refugees to escape Libya.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Satellite images taken on April 25, 2019 show rapid construction activity in anticipation of increased family and child detention in tents built at the El Paso and Donna, Texas Border Patrol Stations since April 14, 2019. The new tents are highlighted in red. A Border Patrol official told the New York Times the agency could hold families for up to 20 days. Human Rights Watch will monitor changes in construction activity at these sites in coming weeks.

©2019 Planet Labs; Source: Human Rights Watch
Satellite images taken on April 25, 2019 show rapid construction of migrant tent jails intended to house families and children at Border Patrol stations in El Paso and Donna, Texas.
In mid-April, US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) contracted with New York-based Deployed Resources, LLC to erect “temporary (8 months) soft-sided facilities” meant to give CBP “additional capacity to accommodate family units and UAC [unaccompanied children] arriving in surging numbers to the southwest border,” housing up to 500 people at each location.
“At a time when humanitarian needs are stretched dangerously thin, CBP is spending almost $40 million dollars on new tent jails to hold families and children,” said Clara Long, senior researcher in the US Program at Human Rights Watch. “Children and families should not be detained, particularly by an agency with such a horrendous track record on respect for detained migrants’ basic rights.”
In March, US officials apprehended over 103,000 migrants at the US-Mexico border, including many families seeking asylum in the United States. Most families are released in border towns to travel on to their destination in the US where they will go before an immigration judge to decide their case. Nonprofit and religious groups along the border have struggled to respond to the humanitarian needs of these recently released families.
The new tents appear aimed at increasing the number of families and children CBP can detain. A Border Patrol official told the New York Times the agency could hold families up to 20 days.
The images analyzed by Human Rights Watch show that since April 14, 2019, two days after the government’s contracting notice, three large structures were erected at the El Paso and Donna, Texas Border Patrol stations. On Friday, the CBP solicited bids from contractors for crowd control barricades and metal fences at the Donna, Texas site meant to detain and partition with chain-link fences the unaccompanied children the agency is expecting to keep there.
“Instead of doubling-down on detention facilities, the government should be investing in a truly humanitarian response at the border,” Long said. “Nonprofits and religious groups already receiving migrants after their time in CBP custody have a lot to teach the government about how a compassionate and humanitarian response might be structured.”


Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

A Mission Police Dept. officer (L), and a U.S. Border Patrol agent watch over a group of Central American asylum seekers before taking them into custody on June 12, 2018 near McAllen, Texas.

© 2018 Getty Images

“Give me your rich and well-rested…yearning to breathe free.” So the Trump administration seeks to rewrite America’s traditional welcome to the persecuted: from now on the huddled masses, or anyone fleeing conflict and abuse, will have to pay a fee for the right to seek asylum.

President Trump ordered the change in an April 29 memo to Kevin McAleenan, the acting secretary of homeland security, and Attorney General William P. Barr, ordering them to promulgate regulations that would impose a fee to apply for asylum and also bar work authorization for asylum seekers who cross the border irregularly, until their cases are adjudicated.

This assumes asylum seekers can afford to pay a fee, maintain themselves without working for months or years, and still afford an immigration attorney to represent them. But that is not the case. While asylum seekers are not economic migrants, in my experience, they are mostly poor. As such, they are caught in a triple whammy. They will have to pay for the government’s costs in processing their asylum claim, but they won’t be allowed to earn the money to pay. Finally, if asylum seekers in the United States are unable to hire a lawyer because, unlike criminals, they do not have the right to a court-appointed attorney, they will find themselves facing an immigration judge and a prosecuting trial attorney in an intimidating court environment where they don’t know the rules and usually don’t speak the language.

The foundation of international refugee law is the prohibition on sending refugees back to face threats to their lives or freedom; it is not reserved for those who can pay. Consider the poor Central American woman whose government fails to protect her from violence being told that she must pay to have her refugee claim heard. Can you imagine Bangladesh or Lebanon setting up bureaucrats with cash registers at their borders to charge fleeing Rohingya or Syrian refugees for the right to seek asylum?

It’s bad enough that Trump laments not separating more children from their parents at the border, that his attorneys general deny the right to bond hearings for asylum seekers in detention, and broadly seek to disqualify asylum seekers fleeing gangs and domestic violence; now his administration tries to squeeze blood from a stone by making asylum seekers pay for the privilege of accessing their fundamental rights. The callousness of this proposal is surpassed only by its pettiness.

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

Migrant detention center in the Tripoli suburb of Tajoura.

© 2019 Ahmed Jadallah/Reuters

(Beirut) – The reported attack by armed men on asylum seekers and migrants in a detention center on April 23, 2019 highlights the growing risk to thousands of detainees during ongoing fighting in Tripoli, Human Rights Watch said today. Forces under the command of General Khalifa Hiftar are battling with militias allied with the United Nations-backed Government of National Accord (GNA).

Some migrant detention centers are located near militia bases – ripe targets for attack during fighting – and GNA-backed militia members have allegedly forced some detained migrants to handle weapons, according to unconfirmed reports. The GNA needs to ensure that migrants and asylum seekers in its custody are moved out of harm’s way and to release all those who are arbitrarily detained.

“Thousands of migrants and asylum seekers detained in appalling conditions now find themselves trapped near or on the front lines of conflict,” said Judith Sunderland, associate Europe and Central Asia director. “Any militia members who force them to handle weapons would compound their nightmare – and might be guilty of war crimes.”

Members of the European Union (EU) and other countries should urge the clashing parties to respect their legal obligations and remove all civilians under their control, including detained migrants, from the vicinity of military objectives. These countries should help to ensure the release or relocation to safety of all migrants in GNA detention centers, including through evacuations out of the country.

About 6,000 migrants and asylum seekers are held in Libyan detention centers, according to UN figures, including over 3,000 deemed at risk of getting caught up in fighting over Tripoli. While only some detention centers are located in or near the capital, many in western Libya are run by local armed groups aligned with the GNA. Detainees are held indefinitely, without judicial review, and exposed to the serious risk of abuse, including torture, deprivation of food and medical care, forced labor, extortion, and sexual violence.

On April 23, armed men attacked detainees at the Qasr Ben Geshir detention center, about 24 kilometers south of Tripoli, according to reports. At least 12 of those injured were taken to the hospital, Amnesty International said, citing the UN refugee agency. Reports describe attackers firing guns but differ over whether any of those injured may have been hit by bullets. It remains unclear who carried out the attack.

Human Rights Watch has gathered information directly and individually from two people who said they were detained at the time in the Tajoura detention center, in an eastern suburb of Tripoli, and a third person who said they were detained in Tarik Al Sikka detention center in the heart of Tripoli. Human Rights Watch is withholding their names to protect them.

The two detainees at Tajoura said that since April 4, armed men had forced them and other detainees at that detention center to work repairing military vehicles at a nearby militia facility, and to load, unload, and clean weapons. One detainee said that the weapons included machine guns, and described being brought by armed men to unload weapons in an area that has seen repeated fighting since April 4, along with other detainees.

At Tarik Al Sikka detention center, in Tripoli, militia members have stored weapons and munitions including shoulder-fired rockets, hand grenades, and bullets in proximity to where detainees are housed, and forced detainees to help move them, one detainee said.

Human Rights Watch has heard credible claims via multiple sources that armed groups in Tripoli have forced detained migrants or asylum seekers to work in similar fashion during past fighting between militias there including in August and September 2018.

Parties to the conflict forcing detained migrants to handle weapons, stockpiling weapons where migrants are detained, and conducting military activities in compounds where migrants are detained would likely violate the laws of armed conflict. Using civilians as human shields or taking hostages would constitute war crimes.

Fighting has occurred since April 4 near several detention centers, according to Human Rights Watch sources and UN reporting. The UN refugee agency has relocated at least 300 detainees from the Ain Zara and Abu Slim detention centers to a UN short-term housing facility since April 9, but has voiced fears for detainees in general and called for all refugees and migrants to be released. As of April 19, it had evacuated 163 detainees by plane to Niger.

As of April 24, authorities at Tajoura detention center had reportedly opened its doors to allow detainees there to leave. On April 24, the UN refugee and migration agencies relocated about 325 detainees from Qasr Ben Geshir detention center, where the previous day’s attack had occurred, to a detention center in Zawiya, a coastal city about 45 kilometers west of Tripoli.

Information on Libya’s migrant detention centers is particularly hard to verify in times of crisis. Even in normal circumstances, GNA authorities tightly control access by UN agencies, nongovernmental organizations, and international researchers. Detainees are wary of talking on the record, citing fear of reprisal.

Hiftar’s forces have seized much of eastern Libya since 2014 in what he calls a campaign against terrorism, and he is allied with a rival government to the GNA that is based there. On April 4, forces under his command, known as the Libyan National Army (LNA), advanced on Tripoli with the stated aim of capturing the city.

At least 278 people have been killed so far in the fighting and 1,332 injured, including at least 21 and 69 civilians respectively, and about 34,975 have fled their homes, according to UN data as of April 25. Fighting appears to have escalated since April 20, with clashes reported in Tripoli’s southern suburbs followed by a nighttime air strike that targeted a militia base there. The base is within one kilometer of the Al Sabaa detention center, where migrants and asylum seekers are currently held, according to Human Rights Watch’s information.

Since 2015, the EU has contributed to the abuse of migrants and asylum seekers in Libya through its support to the GNA-aligned Libyan Coast Guard, which delivers all those it rescues or intercepts to abusive detention centers in Libya. 

Meanwhile, armed groups in western Libya have a record of abuses including failing to take measures to protect civilians during fighting, and forcibly displacing people without military need and barring their return. LNA forces have allegedly blocked civilians from leaving areas under siege, burned and looted homes, and carried out summary executions.

The International Criminal Court has issued an arrest warrant for Mahmoud al-Warfalli, a commander in Hiftar’s forces, for his alleged role in the killing of 33 people, and a second warrant for his alleged involvement in another incident. His whereabouts are unknown.

All parties to the conflict should take all feasible precautions to protect civilians, including migrants and any of the thousands of Libyans detained arbitrarily at facilities around the country who might also be at risk; act to remove everyone under their control, including those in custody, from the risk of exposure to armed hostilities; and refrain from forcing migrants to participate in military-related activities or operations.

The EU should move quickly to act on High Representative for Foreign Affairs Federica Mogherini’s pledge to help evacuate detained migrants and asylum seekers out of Libya or relocate them to safer areas inside Libya. That action could include evacuation to Europe.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Unaccompanied children line up for an evening meal at a detention facility run by the Greek police.

© 2015 Kelly Lynn Lunde

The European Court of Human Rights recently confirmed what many have long known: that Greece’s practice of locking up unaccompanied migrant and asylum-seeking children in police cells and detention centers leads to serious rights abuses.

But despite that ruling, as of March 30, 82 unaccompanied children were still detained in so-called “protective custody,” held in police station cells or immigrant detention centers across the country.

Human Rights Watch has found that detained children are forced to live in unsanitary conditions, often alongside adults they do not know, and can be abused and ill-treated by police. Detention can also have a serious long-term impact on these children, including anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, memory loss, and harm to their development.

To make things worse, because they are in detention, these kids – who may have suffered horrific experiences while escaping from war zones – are often unable to receive medical treatment, psychological counselling, or legal aid. Few even know the reasons for their detention or how long they will be behind bars.

That’s what happened to the nine unaccompanied children – six from Syria, two from Iraq, and one from Morocco, aged between 14 and 17 – who brought a case, protesting both their detention and the conditions of it, to the European Court in 2016.

The court has now finally ruled and found that the children’s detention violated their right to liberty and the conditions in the various police stations exposed them to degrading treatment. It rejected the argument that the detention was necessary to protect the children. And it ruled that Greece had violated the kids’ right to challenge their detention and seek a remedy for the detention conditions in the police stations.  

Unaccompanied children in Greece should not have to spend another day locked up in filthy police cells. The Greek government should respond to the court’s ruling by immediately transferring kids who are currently in police custody to open and safe accommodation. Greece should also work to increase its shelter capacity, find alternatives to detention, and implement a comprehensive foster family system introduced in 2018, which would benefit Greek children as well.

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

A South African flag waves above Port Elizabeth, Eastern Cape


Today, South Africa launched its National Action Plan to combat xenophobia, racism, and discrimination, marking an important step towards addressing the widespread human rights abuses arising from xenophobic and gender-based violence and discrimination that continue to plague South Africa.

The five-year plan, developed in a consultative process between the government and civil society, aims to raise public awareness about anti-racism and equality measures, improve access to justice and better protection for victims, and increase anti-discrimination efforts to help achieve greater equality and justice.

But the Action Plan fails to address a key challenge fueling the problem: South Africa’s lack of accountability for xenophobic crimes. Virtually no one has been convicted for past outbreaks of xenophobic violence, including the Durban violence of April 2015 that displaced thousands of foreign nationals, and the 2008 attacks on foreigners, which resulted in the deaths of more than 60 people across the country.

To effectively combat xenophobia, the government and police need to publicly acknowledge attacks on foreign nationals and their property as xenophobic and take decisive action. This should include ensuring proper police investigations of xenophobic crimes and holding those responsible to account.

Inflammatory public statements – such as those made by Johannesburg mayor Herman Mashaba in December 2016, blaming illegal immigrants for crimes and calling on them to leave the city – should be strongly condemned. As South Africa prepares for national elections on May 8, 2019, political leaders should not incite xenophobic violence or promote discrimination.

The National Action Plan is a welcome development indicating the South African government’s intent to fight xenophobia, racism, and all forms of discrimination and prejudice. Now it should fully implement that plan, and work to stem the dangerous tides of intolerance for good.

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

The Honorable Mike Enzi
Chair, Senate Budget Committee
379 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510

The Honorable Bernie Sanders
Ranking Member, Senate Budget Committee
332 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510

The Honorable John Yarmuth
Chair, House Budget Committee
402 Cannon House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515

The Honorable Steve Womack
Ranking Member, House Budget Committee
2412 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515

Re: Decreasing immigration enforcement funding in FY 2020 budget

Dear Chairman Enzi, Ranking Member Sanders, Chairman Yarmuth, and Ranking Member Womack:

I write on behalf of Human Rights Watch to urge you to reduce funding for the administration’s wasteful and abusive immigration enforcement activities and to exercise much-needed oversight over the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) during negotiations over DHS appropriations.

President Trump’s FY 2020 budget proposes a record $51.7 billion for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which includes a 19 percent increase in funding from FY 2019 for US Customs and Border Protection (CPB, $18.2 billion) and US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE, $8.2 billion). Such an increase in funding is entirely unwarranted for an agency that has repeatedly failed to use its resources in rights-respecting ways.

The proposed budget includes:

  • $8.6 billion for construction of a border wall ($5 billion from CBP and $3.6 billion from the Department of Defense);
  • $192 million for 750 Border Patrol agents, 171 CBP officers and support staff;
  • $367 million for aircraft, vessels, surveillance technology, and equipment;
  • $314 million for an additional 1,000 ICE agents, and others;
  • $2.7 billion to detain 54,000 people per day, with the stated goal of detaining 60,000 people per day, including 10,000 family detention beds;
  • Creation of a “Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Fund” which would increase detention capacity to 60,000 a day, plus increase hiring of new immigration judges and federal prosecutors.

Instead of the above, the FY 2020 DHS Appropriations bill should accomplish the following:

  1. Congress should reduce the enforcement and detention budget for ICE and CBP. CBP’s budget has nearly tripled since DHS’s inception in 2003 and ICE’s has more than doubled—the two budgets total $26.4 billion in taxpayer dollars, a historically unprecedented high.[1] DHS’s rapid and unchecked growth in spending has given rise to serious abuse.

Human Rights Watch has documented: abusive conditions in CBP holding cells, including for children;[2] failures by CBP to follow US law when apprehending asylum seekers at the border;[3] the separation and mistreatment of families traveling together to the US to seek asylum;[4] systemic failures in detention medical care that has contributed to preventable deaths;[5] transfers of immigrant detainees between far-flung detention centers in ways that interfere with their due process rights;[6] the abuse of transgender women in detention;[7] and widespread summary deportations of people who call the United States home—including mothers, fathers, and spouses of US citizens; tax-paying employees; and respected community members—without giving them a chance for consideration of their deep and longstanding ties to the United States before removing them from the country.[8]

In addition, the media and other organizations have documented DHS’ harmful treatment of immigrants, including force-feeding of hunger strikers in violation of the Convention Against Torture;[9] harassment of journalists and attorneys at the US-Mexico border;[10] and enforcement activities at courthouses affecting domestic violence survivors’ safety and due process rights in general.[11] Measures should be taken to rectify the structural causes of these abuses and the impunity that has generally attached to them, before any increase in appropriations towards enforcement activity is considered.

The abuses that we and others have documented require enhanced oversight and greater attention to due process. We recognize that these activities may, in fact, require appropriation of funds. For example, we support allocating funds for hiring immigration judges and providing know-your-rights services;[12] ensuring counsel for noncitizens whose due process rights are threatened in immigration proceedings including vulnerable groups such as persons with mental disabilities;[13] requiring transparency in data collection and dissemination;[14] creating effective accountability mechanisms within DHS and its component agencies; improving detention conditions, and providing sufficient resources for appropriate medical care. However, without a clear commitment by this administration and this Congress to appropriate first to these types of activities, there should at the very least not be any increase in appropriations for enforcement and detention.

  1. Congress should explicitly limit DHS’s authority to transfer or reprogram money toward increasing immigration detention, or other enforcement programs.

In recent years, ICE has redirected appropriations to grow its detention and enforcement machinery, spending beyond Congressional appropriations to expand detention to peak levels. ICE employed this tactic during the most recent partial government shutdown as it expanded to 49,000 individuals in custody despite the fact that the agency had only been appropriated funds to detain 40,500 individuals per day.[15] For this reason, critical accountability measures such as limitations on transfer and reprogramming authority must be included in statutory text, not just report language. It is now in your power to reverse the trend and start tackling the harms that deployment of these resources regularly causes.

  1. Congress should ensure DHS, particularly ICE and CBP are investing adequately in accountability and oversight and should impose vital safeguards and reporting obligations in order to hold DHS accountable.

Despite congressional reprimands in response to unmet demands for transparency and required reports, DHS under the Trump administration has failed to comply with budgets, deadlines, and reporting requirements. For example, ICE’s response to Congress’ requirement in its FY 2018 Appropriations Bill to issue full detainee death reports within 90 days of a death in custody, was to fail to meet the 90-day deadline for multiple deaths during fiscal year 2018, and to release severely truncated, incomplete reports completely devoid of analysis.[16] Shockingly, DHS has faced no consequences for these failures. Instead, its budget continues to skyrocket.

DHS’s own Inspector General has found evidence of mismanagement and abuse, including but not limited to:

  1. Congress should carefully consider whether surveillance technologies would violate the human and constitutional rights of travelers, immigrants, and people who live near the border—and decline to fund those that it believes would do so.

Congress should also conduct robust oversight of government surveillance technologies already deployed at the border and ensure that any employment of surveillance technologies is disclosed in any relevant immigration or criminal cases as to ensure judicial scrutiny of any potential rights violations. We are concerned that funding further government surveillance on the border could amount to increased rights-violating surveillance of large numbers of people in the United States.

We call on you to reject any increase in appropriations that will exacerbate serious rights violations in the existing immigration enforcement system, and instead to put forward appropriations that will enhance transparency, due process, accountability, and fair treatment of all people subject to DHS jurisdiction.


Jasmine L. Tyler
Advocacy Director
US Program, Human Rights Watch


The Honorable Richard Shelby
Chair, Senate Appropriations Committee
304 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510

The Honorable Patrick Leahy
Ranking Member, Senate Appropriations Committee
437 Russell Senate Building
Washington, DC 20510

The Honorable Nita Lowey
Chair, House Appropriations Committee
2365 Rayburn HOB
Washington, DC 20515

The Honorable Kay Granger
Ranking Member, House Appropriations Committee
1026 Longworth HOB
Washington, DC 20515

[1] American Immigration Council, “The Cost of Immigration Enforcement and Border Security,” January 25, 2017, https://www.americanimmigrationcouncil.org/research/the-cost-of-immigration-enforcement-and-border-security.

[2] Human Rights Watch, In the Freezer: Abusive conditions for women and children in US Immigration Holding Cells,” February 28, 2018, https://www.hrw.org/report/2018/02/28/freezer/abusive-conditions-women-and-children-us-immigration-holding-cells#.

[3] Human Rights Watch, ”You Don’t Have Rights Here”: US Border Screening and Returns of Central Americans to a Risk of Serious Harm, October 16, 2014, https://www.hrw.org/report/2014/10/16/you-dont-have-rights-here/us-border-screening-and-returns-central-americans-risk.

[4] Joel Rose, “Deported Parents Describe Agonizing Wait to be Reunited With Their Children,” National Public Radio, August 14, 2018, https://www.npr.org/2018/02/27/589079243/activists-outraged-that-u-s-border-agents-separate-immigrant-families.

[5] Human Rights Watch et al., Code Red: The Fatal Consequences of Dangerously Substandard Medical Care in Immigration Detention, June 20, 2018, https://www.hrw.org/report/2018/06/20/code-red/fatal-consequences-dangerously-substandard-medical-care-immigration; Human Rights Watch and Freedom for Immigrants, Systemic Indifference: Dangerous & Substandard Medical Care in US Immigration Detention, May 8, 2017, https://www.hrw.org/report/2017/05/08/systemic-indifference/dangerous-substandard-medical-care-us-immigration-detention.

[6] Human Rights Watch, A Costly Move: Far and Frequent Transfers Impede Hearings for Immigrant Detainees in the United States, June 14, 2011, https://www.hrw.org/report/2011/06/14/costly-move/far-and-frequent-transfers-impede-hearings-immigrant-detainees-united.

[7] Human Rights Watch, “Do You See How Much I am Suffering Here?”: Abuse Against Transgender Women in Immigration Detention, March 23, 2016, https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/03/23/us-transgender-women-abused-immigration-detention.

[8] Human Rights Watch, The Deported: Immigrants Uprooted from the Country They Call Home, December 2017, https://www.hrw.org/report/2017/12/05/deported/immigrants-uprooted-country-they-call-home#290612.

[9] Human Rights Watch, “ICE Force-Feeding Immigrant Detainees on Hunger Strike: Force-feeding is Cruel, Inhuman, and Degrading,” February 1, 2019, https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/02/01/ice-force-feeding-immigrant-detainees-hunger-strike.

[10] Human Rights Watch, “US Harassing Journalists, Lawyers, Activists at Border: Congressional Investigation Needed,” March 8, 2019, https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/03/08/us-harassing-journalists-lawyers-activists-border.

[11] Matthew S. Schwartz, “Judges Ask ICE to Make Courts Off limits to Immigration Arrests,” National Public Radio, December 13, 2018, https://www.npr.org/2018/12/13/676344978/judges-ask-ice-to-make-courts-off-limits-to-immigration-arrests.

[12] Human Rights Watch, Tough, Fair, and Practical: A Human Rights Framework for Immigration Reform in the United States, July 8, 2010, https://www.hrw.org/report/2010/07/08/tough-fair-and-practical/human-rights-framework-immigration-reform-united-states#9cf36f.

[13] Human Rights Watch, Deportation by Default: Mental Disability, Unfair Hearings, and Indefinite Detention in the US Immigration System, July 25, 2010, https://www.hrw.org/report/2010/07/25/deportation-default/mental-disability-unfair-hearings-and-indefinite-detention-us

[14] Letter from Human Rights Watch to House Oversight Committee on problems with FOIA, June 2, 2015, https://www.hrw.org/news/2015/06/02/letter-house-oversight-committee-problems-foia.

[15] Julia Ainsley & Heidi Przybyla, “Why the Trump Admin Wants More Detention Space for Migrants and Democrats Want a Limit,” NBC News, February 11, 2019, https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/immigration/why-ice-wants-more-detention-space-migrants-democrats-want-cap-n970071.

[16] National Immigrant Justice Center et al., “ICE Releases Sham Immigrant Death Reports As it Dodges Accountability and Flouts Congressional Requirements,” December 19, 2018, https://immigrantjustice.org/press-releases/ice-releases-sham-immigrant-death-reports-it-dodges-accountability-and-flouts.

[17] Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General, “Issues Requiring Action at the Essex County Correctional Facility in Newark, New Jersey,” February 13, 2019, https://www.oig.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/assets/2019-02/OIG-19-20-Feb19.pdf; “Management Alert: Issues Requiring Action at the Adelanto ICE Processing Center in Adelanto, California,” September 17, 2018, https://www.oig.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/assets/2018-10/OIG-18-86-Sep18.pdf; “Concerns About ICE Detainee Treatment and Care at Detention Facilities,” December 11, 2017, https://www.oig.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/assets/2017-12/OIG-18-32-Dec17.pdf.

[18] Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General, “ICE Does Not Fully Use Contracting Tools to Hold Detention Facility Contractors Accountable for Failing to Meet Performance Standards,” January 29, 2019, https://www.oig.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/assets/2019-02/OIG-19-18-Jan19.pdf.

[19] Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General, “ICE’s Inspections and Monitoring of Detention Facilities Do Not Lead to Sustained Compliance or Systemic Improvements,” June 26, 2018, https://www.oig.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/assets/2018-06/OIG-18-67-Jun18.pdf.

[20] Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General, “Border Patrol Needs a Staffing Model to Better Plan for Hiring More Agents,” February 28, 2019, https://www.oig.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/assets/2019-03/OIG-19-23-Feb19.pdf.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

“Then the Chinese man said, ‘If you do not marry a man, the money we spent on you to bring you here…was 3000 Yuan and as you have already stayed here for 10 days, 4000 Yuan [US$637] is needed to give me back now. Right now, count the money to give me. If not, I will tell the man who is going to marry you to come pick you up this evening or tomorrow.’”—Young Kachin woman, trafficked in 2015, who escaped from the house and reached the Chinese police before being sold.

© 2018 Human Rights Watch

Nang Seng Ja was just 19 and living in Myanmar’s northern Kachin State when her aunt invited her on a trip to see her three cousins who live in China. About a month into the visit, Nang Seng Ja fainted. She awakened in a strange house surrounded by a Chinese man and his family. “I heard from them that I was trafficked,” she told Human Rights Watch.

Nang Seng Ja, whose name I’ve changed for her protection, fled to a nearby police station, and begged for help. “The police then took 5,000 yuan [$800] from the family,” she said. “Then they sent me back to the family.”

They locked her in a room where the man raped her repeatedly. They forced her to take what they said were fertility drugs. “The family’s mother and father told me, ‘We bought you. You must stay here,’” she said. After 14 months, one of her cousins, angry that she received a smaller share of the “bride” money, told Nang Seng Ja’s parents where she was. They paid another trafficking survivor half of the family’s property to recover her.

Each year, traffickers through deceit or force, transport hundreds of women and girls from northern Myanmar to China and sell them to Chinese families struggling to find brides for their sons due to the country’s gender imbalance.

Myanmar’s internal armed conflict in the North has been ongoing since achieving its independence in 1948, but dramatically escalated in 2011 when the government ended a 17-year ceasefire. More than 100,000 people, predominantly ethnic Kachins, have been displaced. Many trafficking survivors said that they live desperate lives in displaced people’s camps, with little opportunity to earn a living. The Myanmar government blocks aid to the camps. Women and girls often become the sole breadwinners for their families, with their husbands and brothers away fighting.

Across the border in China, the percentage of women has fallen steadily since 1987. Researchers estimate that China has 30 to 40 million “missing women.” The imbalance is caused by a preference for boys, exacerbated by the “one-child policy” in place from 1979 to 2015, and China’s continuing restrictions on women’s reproductive rights.

Trafficking survivors usually said that trusted people—in some cases their own relatives–promised them work in China, then sold them for amounts ranging from $3,000 to $13,000. Survivors said buyers often seemed more interested in a baby than a bride. The women and girls were typically locked in a room and raped repeatedly. After giving birth they could sometimes escape, but usually only by leaving their children behind. Several women said they were so desperate to see their children that they returned to China to the families who had held them captive.

Law enforcement officials on both sides of the border make little effort to stem trafficking and, as Nang Seng Ja’s story illustrates, are sometimes complicit in the business. Families of trafficked women described begging the Myanmar police for help repeatedly and being turned away. The families—and experts—described police demanding bribes to act. Police operating as part of the opposition force, the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), were no better.

Women who escaped and made it to the Chinese police were often jailed and deported, while their traffickers and buyers remained free. There is little effective coordination between police in Myanmar and in China, and even the most essential tools to facilitate such cooperation—interpreters, for example—are not in place.

Back in Myanmar, survivors have little access to services and grapple with stigma as they try to rebuild their lives. The Myanmar government provides a few services, but these are narrow in scope and miss most of those who need them. A number of civil society groups help survivors, push for justice, and work—with or without law enforcement help—to recover victims, but they have few resources.

All three police forces in the region should do more to prevent trafficking, recover and assist victims, and pursue both the traffickers and the buyers. International donors should fund nongovernmental groups’ efforts to help women and girls caught between Myanmar’s abuses against the Kachin and China’s war on reproductive rights.

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

HRW remains concerned by the human rights crisis in Libya, which is taking place amidst near-absolute impunity. We regret the failure of this Council to provide a credible response. The fact that I am speaking under an item 10 General Debate – rather than dedicated dialogue on Libya – is itself a symptom of that failure.

Since the Council’s last resolution on Libya, armed groups, some of them affiliated with one or the other of Libya’s rival governments, continued to attack civilians and civilian property indiscriminately and sometimes deliberately; abduct, torture, and disappear people; and failed or refused to ensure the safe return of displaced people to areas they control. The UN-recognized government tightened restrictions on foreign media.

Migrants detained in Libya face ill-treatment and inhumane conditions in official detention centers run by one of the competing governments, and in unofficial centers controlled by militias or traffickers.

Libyan courts are plagued by a lack of due process. Prison authorities, often only nominally answerable to one or the other of the rival governments, hold thousands of detainees in long-term detention, in many cases without charges.

In this environment, how can we speak meaningfully about technical assistance and capacity building, in the absence of robust monitoring, public reporting, and efforts towards accountability? For the fourth year in a row, the resolution on the table this session is out of touch with the needs on the ground. HRW calls once again on this Council to establish a Special Rapporteur on Libya.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Police officers stand in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, U.S., January 19, 2018.

© 2018 Reuters

The US Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday that immigrants with certain criminal convictions – even those who served their time decades ago for minor crimes – may be detained indefinitely without a hearing for bail.

Justice Samuel Alito’s majority opinion in this 5-4 decision makes the issue sound like a purely technical one for grammarians and lawyers. But the issue in Nielsen v. Preap revolves around the right to liberty and to be free from arbitrary detention.

This is what mandatory immigration detention for people with an old criminal record looks like:

When Ricardo Fuenzalida was in his early 20s, he was arrested twice for misdemeanor possession of marijuana. He pleaded guilty, never spent a day in jail, and went on to become a family man who worked hard at his construction job and coached his twin girls’ soccer team. In 2013, over 13 years later, US immigration agents arrested him, locked him up, and tried to deport him.

As a lawful permanent resident, Fuenzalida fought deportation, but the US government argued he was subject to mandatory detention for his “controlled substance offense,” meaning he could not be released on bail (or “bond” in immigration parlance). After months of detention, at tremendous financial and emotional cost for his family – as well as financial cost to US taxpayers – Fuenzalida won his case and returned home.

In 2016, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that people like Fuenzalida are not subject to mandatory detention if they were arrested years after being released from criminal custody. The court said that the federal statute on mandatory detention allows for immigrants with certain criminal convictions to be taken into custody “when…released” – but not beyond that time.

The Supreme Court in Nielsen v. Preap reversed this decision, holding that “when…released” meant any time after the immigrant left custody, affirming an expansive and arbitrary interpretation of mandatory detention.

Justice Stephen Breyer, in his dissenting opinion, makes clear that what is at stake is not a narrow question of law to be decided on grammar alone. Rather, the issue cannot be decided “without bearing in mind basic American legal values: the Government’s duty not to deprive any ‘person’ of ‘liberty’ without ‘due process of law,’… and more directly, the longstanding right of virtually all persons to receive a bail hearing.”

This decision will deprive immigrants like Ricardo Fuenzalida of their freedom without due process, contrary to basic American values, and in violation of international human rights law.

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

Worshippers pray for victims and families of the Christchurch shootings during an evening vigil a the Lakemba Mosque, Friday, March 15, 2019, in Wakemba, New South Wales, Australia.

© 2019 Mark Goudkamp via AP

Today is the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, known in Australia as Harmony Day. It’s especially relevant given last Friday’s attack in Christchurch, New Zealand, where an Australian right-wing extremist gunned down at least 50 people and wounded dozens more in two mosques. The attacker livestreamed the shootings and published a manifesto of hate.

New Zealand’s prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, has shown leadership with compassion and integrity in standing with victims and speaking up against hateful and xenophobic rhetoric.

In neighboring Australia, Prime Minister Scott Morrison also strongly condemned the attack and inflammatory statements by a far-right senator. But many Australians have questioned the sincerity of Morrison’s response on Christchurch, especially given the record of senior Australian government officials in scapegoating Muslims and conflating Islam or refugees with terrorism for political gain.

On Monday, a Liberal Party senator, Linda Reynolds, cited the 2002 Bali bombings in Indonesia that killed 202 people to explain her opposition to a bill to allow urgent medical evacuations of refugees from the islands of Manus and Nauru. Were asylum seekers responsible for the Bali attack? No. Is there any connection? None.

But if politicians and media say the words “refugee,” “Muslim,” and “terrorist” together enough, people start to internalize it. As immigration minister, Morrison insisted people seeking asylum be referred to as “illegal maritime arrivals.” Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton has suggested that visas for white South African farmers be fast-tracked on humanitarian grounds while castigating past governments for allowing refugees from Lebanon to come to Australia, which he linked to terrorism. Tabloid media in Australia have time and again painted a picture of refugees as potential terrorists. 

And it’s not just the governing coalition. On Tuesday, leaked footage emerged of past remarks by New South Wales opposition leader Michael Daley telling a pub audience that educated Asians are “moving in and taking their jobs.”

These are not the loony fringe nationalistic politicians that proudly preach Islamphobia and racist policies. These are mainstream Australian political parties.

What Christchurch tells us is that the short-term political gain in stirring up fear and anxieties around foreigners is not just wrong, but dangerous. On Harmony Day, Australia’s leaders should pledge to call out xenophobic and racist rhetoric, so as to prevent however inadvertently sowing the seeds of discrimination and violence against Muslims or any other minority.

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

14 March 2019

Dear European leaders,

We, the 25 undersigned humanitarian, human rights and volunteer organizations call on you, in the run up to the third anniversary of the EU-Turkey deal, to take immediate and sustained action to end the unfair and unnecessary containment policy which is preventing asylum seekers from leaving the Greek islands. We also call on you to urgently reach a common responsibility-sharing agreement for hosting asylum seekers across EU Member States.

The policy that traps people on the Greek islands and prevents them from reaching the European mainland has caused a recurrent and endless cycle of overcrowding, substandard living conditions and extremely poor access to services: the European “hotspots” continue to provide accommodation and basic services, such as food and medical assistance, well below minimum standards. The European response in Greece has proven to have disastrous consequences on refugees’ rights, including their health and safety. This has been exhaustively documented and brought to your attention through countless reports over the last three years[1].

As many as 20,000 asylum seekers were stranded in unsafe, unhygienic and degrading conditions on the Greek islands in 2018. Currently, around 12,000 people are still forced to live in inadequate reception and identification centers built for a maximum capacity of half this population: sleeping in unheated tents or overcrowded containers with limited access to running water and electricity, and often exposed to ongoing violence, harassment and exploitation, amid high tensions, lack of security and minimal protection.

While the number of asylum applications across Europe has dropped over the last three years, the number of asylum applications filed in Greece has increased exponentially. In Lesvos alone, for instance, the number of asylum applications more than tripled between 2016 (5,000 applications) and 2018 (17,270 applications). At the same time, organizations providing medical and legal assistance are stretched beyond capacity. By preventing most asylum seekers from leaving the islands and being transferred to the European mainland, European governments are putting undue pressure on the islands’ residents, local community resources, local authorities, and on Greece, while reception conditions, including the protection mechanisms for asylum seekers are still substandard.

The expectation that most newcomers could be returned to Turkey under the EU-Turkey deal has proved to be dangerously unrealistic. According to Greek Asylum Service representatives in Lesvos, only up to 6% of the asylum-seekers arriving to Lesvos would be eligible for return to Turkey.

It is shameful that, despite this sobering reality, some European governments have been holding hostage any real responsibility sharing mechanism until returns are sped up and increased, focusing instead on deterrence policies and border controls at the expense of basic rights and safeguards. The current situation at the borders of Europe is the direct result of those short-sighted and unsustainable policies implemented following the EU-Turkey deal and the lack of aptitude and political will across Europe to find common ground on key aspects of a common European asylum system.

As civil society organizations from across the European continent, we are convinced that the EU has sufficient resources and capacity to respond humanely to the needs of all those seeking asylum in its territory. Taking immediate measures to improve the conditions of people seeking asylum in Europe and finding a solution to the current humanitarian and human rights crisis at Europe’s border is your responsibility and duty. We therefore call on you to live up to Europe’s human rights foundation and values. To that end, we, the undersigned organizations, call on you to:

  • urgently agree on fair and sustainable arrangements for sharing responsibility for asylum seekers arriving in Europe, that will ensure member states’ ability to provide decent and dignified conditions for people in need of protection. In this context, we welcome the recent announcement of an agreement between the governments of Portugal and Greece, to gradually relocate 1,000 refugees out of the camps.
  • urge the Greek Government to suspend immediately the restriction of movement that unnecessarily contains asylum seekers in the Greek islands, imposing squalid and dangerous living conditions on them and putting unfair pressure on Greece and the residents of the Aegean islands. To facilitate the transfer of asylum seekers off the islands, increased reception capacity in the mainland and more effective shelter allocation are needed.
  • urge the Greek Government to better allocate and use EU funding - not only prioritizing the support of the border control and asylum procedures, but also ensuring the provision of essential services - such as medical and legal services for the safety and rights of migrants - as well as the planning of a fair and an efficient asylum system and a long term and sustainable reception and integration plan for refugees and migrants in Greece.

Yours sincerely,                                                                             

ActionAid Hellas

Amnesty International

Avocats Sans Frontières France

Boat Refugee Foundation

Caritas Hellas

CEAR - Comisión Española de Ayuda al Refugiado

Danish Refugee Council

DIOTIMA - Center for Research on Women’s Issues

Equal Rights Beyond Borders

Greek Council for Refugees

Greek Helsinki Monitor

Human Rights Watch

International Rescue Committee

JRS Europe

JRS Hellas

Legal Center Lesbos

Mare Liberum

Médecins du monde - Greece



Refugee Legal Support

Refugee Rights Europe


Solidarity Now

Terre des hommes Hellas


- EU Member States’ Heads of State

- EU Member States’ Ministers of Migration, Justice and Home Affairs,


- European Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship, Dimitris Avramopoulos

- Deputy Director-General for Migration – DG Migration and Asylum (HOME), Simon Mordue


[1]  See e.g. Danish Refugee Council, Fundamental rights and the EU hotspots approach, 2017 at https://drc.ngo/media/4051855/fundamental-rights_web.pdf, Doctors without Borders at https://www.msf.org/moria-state-emergency or https://www.doctorswithoutborders.org/what-we-do/news-stories/story/refugees-further-traumatizedconditions-greeces-moria-camp as well as the International Rescue Committee at https://www.rescue.org/sites/default/files/document/3153/unprotectedunsupporteduncertain.pdf, Greek Council for refugees in https://www.gcr.gr/media/k2/attachments/SCIZReportZfinalZPDF.pdf, Oxfam at https://www-cdn.oxfam.org/s3fs-public/file_attachments/2019-01_greece_media_briefing_final.pdft, or International Center for Migration Policy Development at https://www.icmpd.org/fileadmin/ICMPD-Website/2019/Strive_Study_final_pdf.pdf

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

A group Venezuelan “caminantes” (“walkers”) carry their belongings after leaving the border city of Cucuta, Colombia on July 29, 2018. Every day, hundreds of Venezuelans begin the journey on foot towards other cities in Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru, looking for a better life. 

© 2018 Human Rights Watch

(Washington, DC) – The United States Department of Homeland Security should designate Venezuelans for Temporary Protected Status because deteriorating conditions make it unsafe at this time to force people to go back there, Human Rights Watch said today.

The massive exodus of people from Venezuela is caused largely by a humanitarian crisis marked by severe shortages of medicine and food. Many Venezuelans have also fled because of a ruthless government crackdown that has led to thousands of arbitrary arrests, prosecutions of hundreds of civilians by military courts, and torture and other abuses of detainees.

“The humanitarian crisis in Venezuela is a classic case of the need for blanket temporary protection,” said Bill Frelick, refugee rights director at Human Rights Watch. “This is not the time to be deporting Venezuelans.”

Companion bills have been introduced in the House and Senate that would designate Venezuelans for Temporary Protected Status for 18 months. Both bills say, “Venezuela is enduring an unprecedented economic, humanitarian, security, and refugee crisis, consisting of extreme food and medicine shortages, severe infant and child malnutrition, rampant crime, and government-sponsored repression.” In addition, on March 7, 2019, Senators Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) led a bipartisan letter with 24 co-signers calling on President Donald Trump to designate Venezuela for Temporary Protected Status.

The responsibility for the humanitarian crisis, which has deepened since 2017, lies largely with Venezuelan authorities, Human Rights Watch said. During Nicolás Maduro’s presidency, the government has failed to address the crisis while making heavy-handed efforts to deny and conceal its severity.

More than 3.4 million Venezuelans have fled their country in recent years, according to the United Nations. The vast majority – 2.7 million – are in Latin America or the Caribbean. But as of June 2018, more than 72,000 Venezuelan asylum seekers were in the US. The Venezuelan American National Bar Association estimates that there are about 150,000 Venezuelan nationals in the US who would qualify for Temporary Protected Status.

Temporary Protected Status is intended to protect nationals and habitual residents of countries experiencing extraordinary and temporary conditions from being returned to those countries if they are not able to return in safety. Unlike asylum, which is intended to provide permanent protection, Temporary Protected Status does not require a person to qualify for or to seek refugee or asylee status based on a well-founded fear of being persecuted. Instead it considers generalized conditions that violate human rights as the basis for protection.

Venezuela is facing a severe humanitarian crisis. Human Rights Watch research shows that its health system is in utter collapse, with increased levels of maternal and infant mortality; the spread of vaccine preventable diseases, such as measles and diphtheria; and dramatic surges in infectious diseases such as malaria and tuberculosis. Although Venezuelan authorities have stopped publishing official data on nutrition years ago, research by Venezuelan organizations and universities document high levels of food insecurity and child malnutrition.

In the last quarter for which statistics are available (July – September 2018), Venezuelans were the leading nationality seeking asylum in the US. The 6,763 Venezuelan asylum applicants were 30 percent of all asylum applications in the US during that three-month period in 2018.

Human Rights Watch has urged Venezuela’s neighbors to provide region-wide temporary protection that would grant all Venezuelans legal status for a fixed period, at least until decisions are issued on their individual claims for protection.

“Some Venezuelans will qualify for asylum based on a well-founded fear of being persecuted if returned,” Frelick said. “Temporary Protected Status is the best available way to offer protection for people who do not qualify as refugees or are not seeking asylum but who nevertheless should not be sent back to their country because of generally unsafe conditions there.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am