Posts Tagged ‘refugees’

New Amnesty report on human rights defenders helping migrants

March 4, 2020

Amnesty accuses European law enforcement agencies of using trafficking and terrorism laws
Human rights group Amnesty has warned that concerned citizens across Europe are facing prosecution for offering help and assistance to refugees and migrants.

In a new report published on 3 March 2020, Amnesty International said European law enforcement authorities and prosecutors are “misusing already flawed” laws intended to prevent people smuggling and terrorism to target members of the public who offer migrants shelter and warm clothing, or attempt to rescue them at sea. Amnesty examined several cases that took place in Croatia, France, Greece, Italy, Malta, Spain, Switzerland and the UK between 2017 and last year, during which human rights defenders who attempted to help refugees and migrants were targeted under legislation intended to tackle organised immigration crime networks. Amnesty’s report comes as world media attention has once again turned to the Mediterranean migrant crisis after Turkey opened its border with Greece to thousands of Syrian refugees.

In one such case, Frenchman Pierre Mumber was charged with “facilitating irregular entry” into France when he was caught offering tea and warm clothing to four west African asylum seekers before being acquitted on appeal. The report also notes that Swiss citizens have faced prosecution for providing migrants and refugees with shelter or helping them access services and protection. Elsewhere, the agency revealed that people in Italy who have worked to rescue migrants and refugees crossing the Mediterranean on unseaworthy vessels have been subjected to smear campaigns and criminal investigations. See also:

https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/12/18/international-migrants-day-the-story-of-the-ocean-viking/

https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/12/02/un-experts-consider-human-rights-defenders-in-italy-under-threat/

https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/02/12/luventa10-sea-rescue-group-gets-ai-germanys-human-rights-award/

Commenting on the contents of the report, Elisa De Pieri, Regional Researcher at Amnesty International, said: “The increased focus on limiting and deterring arrivals in Europe has meant that making refugees or migrants feel safer or welcomed is seen as a threat. “The failure of European states to fulfil the basic needs of refugees and migrants means it is often left to ordinary people to provide essential services and support. “By punishing the people who step up to fill the gaps, European governments are putting people on the move at even greater risk.”

https://www.amnesty.org/download/Documents/EUR0118282020ENGLISH.PDF

Amnesty accuses European police of targeting ‘human rights defenders’ who help refugees and migrants

“luventa10”, sea rescue group, gets AI Germany’s human rights award

February 12, 2020

Hilfsorganisation Iuventa Jugend Rettet (picture alliance/dpa/Iuventa Jugend Rettet)

Amnesty International Germany has awarded its human rights prize to the “luventa10“, the crew members of a sea rescue ship that saved refugees stranded at sea. The activists currently face human trafficking charges in Italy. For more on this and similar awards: http://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/a-i-germanys-human-rights-award. This was announced on Tuesday.

In 16 operations between July 2016 and August 2017, the Iuventa crew allegedly helped rescue more than 14,000 people at sea, Amnesty said. Run by the German non-governmental organization Jugend Rettet (“Youth Rescues”), the Iuventa was confiscated by Italian authorities in Lampedusa in August 2017 under the suspicion that the organization was aiding illegal immigration and working with Libyan smugglers. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/05/15/european-governments-should-stop-treating-solidarity-and-compassion-as-a-crime/

Criminal investigations have been brought against ten ocean rescue activists from Germany, the UK, Spain, and Portugal, “even though all they’ve done is save humans from drowning in the Mediterranean Sea,” Amnesty said, explaining its reasoning behind the choice.

An Italian court has charged the activists with “aiding and abetting illegal immigration.” Markus Beeko, secretary-general for Amnesty International Germany, calls the charges “more than shaky.” Iuventa10 stands as an example of how those that help “are criminalized for not forsaking people fleeing their home countries in their moment of need,” the organization said. An awards ceremony will take place in Berlin on April 22.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/12/18/international-migrants-day-the-story-of-the-ocean-viking/

https://www.infomigrants.net/en/post/22717/migrant-rescue-crew-of-iuventa-awarded-human-rights-prize

https://www.dw.com/en/amnesty-international-germany-awards-human-rights-prize-to-ocean-rescue-activists/a-52335304

International Migrants Day: the story of the Ocean Viking

December 18, 2019

THE Ocean Viking, a refugee rescue ship operated jointly by SOS Mediterranee and Doctors Without Borders (MSF), saved the lives of 60 people from a watery grave in the Mediterranean last week. The European Union — having ignored the refugees’ initial distress calls as they attempted to escape war-torn Libya in an unseaworthy boat on the evening of November 28 — refused to provide the Ocean Viking with a port of safety. It wasn’t until Palermo mayor Leoluca Orlando called on Italian prime minister Giuseppe Conte to end the five-day standoff on Twitter that the ship was allowed to dock.,,,

SOS Mediterranee and MSF originally began operating refugee rescue missions in the central Mediterranean onboard the Aquarius. But after a series of legal threats from EU member states, the charities were forced to abandon it.

In 2016-7 when we started operations, we were celebrated as heroes. The Aquarius rescued nearly 30,000 people,” Starke says. “But then in June 2018, the escalations started. We were the first ship to be refused access to harbours in Italy. We had to bring the rescued all the way from Italy to Valencia. That was the first really significant standoff, which by now has become the norm.”..

In November 2018, while the Aquarius was docked in Marseilles, the Panamanian government — under pressure from Italy — withdrew its flag from the ship. ….

“We tried Switzerland, Germany and France. These would have been robust flags — meaning that if there was political pressure then they would not give in so easily to the Italian government. But none of the governments granted them to us” and we had to give up.

It’s maritime law to rescue people in distress at sea. All we do is follow existing laws. And according to those laws, a rescue is only completed once the rescued have reached land: once they’re put in a port of safety. At the moment, it is European countries that have the nearest port of safety to our rescues and the only countries that can be considered safe. The fact is our work is hampered by European governments.

Despite abiding by refugee and maritime law, it is often the Ocean Viking’s crew (and the entire civil refugee rescue fleet in general) that are portrayed as the criminals or as human traffickers. “All we do is save people’s lives. We are human-rights defenders. However, if you talk to to some politicians, if you read some newspapers, if you read some of the nasty emails we receive, they say we smuggle people. They say we’re criminals.

Despite the EU’s willingness to allow refugees escaping Libya to die crossing the world’s deadliest border and the demonisation of those trying to prevent that, Starke says that he is optimistic. “I’m optimistic the situation will change, simply because it has to change.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/05/15/european-governments-should-stop-treating-solidarity-and-compassion-as-a-crime/

https://www.un.org/en/observances/migrants-day

https://morningstaronline.co.uk/article/w/it-shouldnt-be-civil-society-versus-european-governments

Highly awarded Sadako Ogata – former UN refugee chief – dies at 92

October 29, 2019

Sadako Ogata the first woman to head the UN High Commissioner for Refugees has died at the age of 92 on 22 October 2019. I served under her for many years and have the greatest admiration for her. Sadako Ogata worked on some of the largest crises of the decade during her time in service from 1991 to 2000, including the Kurdish refugees fleeing from Iraq after the 1991 Gulf War, the Balkans War and the Great Lakes region of Africa. Before joining the UN, she was an academic – serving as dean of the faculty of foreign studies at Sophia University in Tokyo in 1989, where she had been a professor since 1980. She was well respected by UN staff and world leaders alike, and was described by her colleagues as a “five-foot giant” for her formidable negotiating skills and ability to confront hostile factions. From 2003 to 2012, Ogata was the head of the Japan International Cooperation Agency, overseeing efforts to provide assistance to those in developing countries.

Back in Japan, she also criticised her country’s low acceptance of refugees. “Japan has to set up a situation to welcome people… those who are in need, in serious need… I think we should be open to bringing them in,” she said in a Reuters interview in 2015. “[To say] Japan does not have resources, that’s nonsense.

She rightly received a lot of recognition while alive, including:

1994   Franklin Roosevelt Four Freedoms Award

1994   Prize for Freedom (Liberal Int’l)

1994   International Human Rights Law Group Award

1995   Liberty Medal

1995   Freedom Award (refugees)

1997   Ramon Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership

2001   Indira Gandhi Prize

2015   In Pursuit of Peace Awards.

——

Danny Ocean sings for Nansen award winner Azizbek Ashurov and refugees on 7 October in Geneva

October 2, 2019

Venezuelan singer Danny Ocean is one of the performers who will be honouring the winner of the 2019 UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award at a ceremony in Geneva on 7 October. “I know how hard it is to leave behind family, friends and everything you know to build a life again somewhere new,” said Ocean, who rose to global fame with his hit Me Rehuso, in which he sings about the love he left behind when he moved from his native Venezuela to the United States of America. “Millions of people each year are forced into making this decision to protect themselves and their families. For those refugees who have lost everything, the humanity and support of others is their only lifeline. For many years the winners of the Nansen Refugee Award have been that lifeline. It is an honour for me to play a part in celebrating their extraordinary achievement.”

The ceremony will also feature a keynote address by Nadine Labaki, the Lebanese director of the Cannes Jury Prize winner, and Oscar-nominated film, Capernaum, and will be hosted by award-winning South African TV presenter Leanne Manas. Other performers joining them on the night will be Swiss musician Flèche Love and German poets and stage performers Babak Ghassim and Usama Elyas.

Last year’s winner: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/10/02/south-sudanese-doctor-wins-2018-nansen-medal/.

https://www.unhcr.org/news/press/2019/9/5d91b9434/danny-ocean-perform-global-humanitarian-award-ceremony.html

Flight from Manus: the inside story of an exceptional case

September 30, 2019

The journalist Michael Green produced for Earshot a fascinating story on the long trip of Abdul Aziz Muhamat from Manus Island to Geneva. Green followed Aziz closely for years and came to Geneva with him for the Martin Ennals Award ceremony where I met them both. Now the story is complete with beautiful pictures, insights and sound tracks. Flight from Manus cannot really be summarised and the best is to see the whole story for yourself (link below).

One day, he’s in a detention centre. The next he’s in Geneva, where his face is on billboards and he’s celebrated as a champion of human rights. Aziz was in an incongruous situation, burdened with a heavy choice….

…..With some delays and complications, he made it to Switzerland, but he was only given permission to stay for two weeks. Then, he’d have to return to Manus Island — back to the situation he was being celebrated for campaigning against.

After he accepted the award, a meeting frenzy ensued. Over the following days, Aziz met with a slew of diplomats, dignitaries, politicians and UN bodies. He made speeches at universities and at the United Nations Human Rights Council….[see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/03/02/mea-laureate-abdul-aziz-addresses-un-human-rights-council-on-off-shore-refugee-policy/]

One day, when he arrived for an event at a university, I noticed he was sporting a brand new navy blue overcoat. That morning, someone who had attended the awards ceremony recognised Aziz at the train station. The man said he’d been following Aziz on Twitter and noticed that he was always wearing the same flimsy, zip-up top. He wanted to buy Aziz a proper winter coat — and took him into a nearby store to do just that. Aziz never even got his name.

And yet, despite the all interest and adulation, he still wasn’t free…

..Aziz started getting headaches every day. In his meetings, people were telling him he should not go back to Manus Island. His friends back there were saying it wasn’t safe to return. Despite his doubts, and a crushing sense of guilt and duty towards the people he left behind, Aziz decided he would be a more effective advocate if he could remain in Europe. On the day he was due to leave Switzerland, in early March, Aziz instead sought asylum. He submitted himself to a new detention centre — and to a new uncertain, indefinite future…

…The months went by. ……Finally, in June, Aziz received a phone call from his lawyer that changed everything. Switzerland granted him asylum and permanent residency. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/06/10/aziz-mea-laureate-2019-recognised-as-refugee-in-switzerland-from-where-he-promises-to-continue-the-sttuggle/]

———–

The sound bites were turned into a podcast, The Messenger, co-produced by Behind the Wire and The Wheeler Centre.

———————————–

For those in Geneva on Wednesday 2 October 2019 (18:15 – 19:30) in Auditorium A2 of the Maison de la paix, Geneva, Abdul Aziz Muhamat will be speaking about “Surviving Manus Island detention Centre:  A testimony” Moderator: Vincent Chetail  A staunch defender of human rights and dignity, Abdul Aziz Muhamat will share his experience and offer his insight into what lies ahead.

https://www.facebook.com/events/2720741894616336/

—-

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-09-30/refugee-abdul-aziz-muhamat-manus-to-geneva/11539314

see also: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-10-09/un-bachelet-criticises-australia-asylum-seeker-policies/11588084

The Rafto Prize 2019 to refugee rights defender Rouba Mhaissen from Syria

September 26, 2019

Rouba Mhaissen, Defending the human rights of people living as refugees

The Rafto Prize 2019 is awarded to Rouba Mhaissen, director of Sawa for Development and Aid (SDAID), for defending human rights from the local to the global level for people living as refugees. Rouba Mhaissen has contributed locally to improving the lives of people living as refugees in Lebanon in ways that protect their dignity and right to self-determination. At national and global levels, Mhaissen stands out as a relentless and powerful defender of the human rights of refugees. For more on this and other awards for human rights defenders see: http://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/rafto-prize. For last year’s award: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/09/27/polish-ombudsman-adam-bodnar-winner-of-2018-rafto-award/

The Rafto Conference with a keynote address by the Rafto Laureate will take place 2 November at 11:00-14:00 at Universitetsaulaen, Bergen and the award ceremony the next day 3 November at 18:00 also in Bergen.

Dr. Rouba Mhaissen (31) is a Syrian-Lebanese economist, activist, community mobilizer and development practitioner who works on forced migration and the Syrian refugee crisis. She is the founder and director of Sawa for Development and Aid, and an outspoken defender of the rights of people living as refugees. Her relentless demands for human rights for all refugees have been heard in international fora. Through her advocacy for Syrian refugees in Lebanon, Mhaissen underlines the importance of treating refugees and other migrants with dignity and as people with the right to form their own lives and destinies: Since the beginning of the Syrian civil war in 2011, the Lebanese government has maintained open borders for Syrian refugees. The early arrivers were allowed to work in certain sectors of the economy, despite being exposed to expensive fees for work-permits, marginalization, and limited freedom of movement. But as the civil war endures, the refugees’ situation has become precarious. The demographic, political, and economic balance in Lebanon is fragile as a third of the local population lives below the poverty line and one out of four are refugees. Lebanese authorities routinely blame the country’s hardship on the refugees, and the economic crisis has further increased the suspicions of refugees.

In this increasingly volatile situation, the Lebanese government has begun emphasizing return-policies toward Syrians living in Lebanon, through a combination of restrictive policies and rampant discrimination. Unlawful evictions, harassment, intimidation, and attacks on refugees leave many with no choice but to return. Upon their arrival in Syria, many have faced arbitrary arrests, interrogations and torture. For Syrian refugees, both residing in Lebanon or returning to Syria represent impossible “choices”.

The Rafto Prize 2019 is a call to protect human rights for all, irrespective of our legal status. .. The current international neglect of the human rights situation for people living as refugees must stop: In the short-term this means financial support, in the long term assisting resettlement and facilitating return or local integration.

https://www.rafto.no/news/the-rafto-prize-2019-1

Nansen Refugee Award Regional Winners for 2019 are…

September 18, 2019

On 18 September UNHCR announced the five 2019 Nansen Refugee Award Regional Winners. For more on the Nansen Award and 8 more awards in the refugee area, see: http://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/unhcr-nansen-refugee-award.

These are the every-day heroes going to extraordinary lengths to help forcibly displaced people in great need, who have been chosen as the regional winners of the UNHCR 2019 Nansen Refugee Award. The regional winners for Africa, the Americas, Asia, Europe and the Middle East were short-listed from more than 450 nominees.

They are:

  • Africa: Evariste Mfaume, the founder of NGO Solidarité des Volontaires pour l’Humanité in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, who champions the rights of Congolese people displaced by conflict and also refugees and their host communities.
  • Americas: Bianka Rodriguez from El Salvador, a young trans woman and executive director of NGO COMCAVIS TRANS, who advocates for the rights of forcibly displaced LGBTI people in the country.
  • Asia: Alberto Cairo, a physiotherapist in Afghanistan and head of the International Committee of the Red Cross orthopaedic programme, who has dedicated almost 30 years of his life to providing prosthetic limbs and helping find jobs for injured Afghans.
  • Europe: Humanitarian Corridors, a ground-breaking cross-border initiative established with the Italian Government in 2015 to enable particularly vulnerable refugees to start a new life in safety in Italy.
  • Middle East: Abeer Khreisha, a community volunteer in Jordan, known as ‘the mother of Syrians’ for her work helping refugees.

The overall winner of the Nansen Refugee Award – who is not among those honoured today – will be revealed on 2 October in Geneva. For last year’s winner see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/10/02/south-sudanese-doctor-wins-2018-nansen-medal/

https://www.unhcr.org/nansen-refugee-award.html

European Lawyers in Lesvos awarded Pax Christi Peace Prize 2019

August 14, 2019

Pax Christi International honoured the European Lawyers in Lesvos (ELIL) as the recipient of the 2019 Pax Christi International Peace Prize at a ceremony held in Brussels on Wednesday evening, 26 June.

The prize was accepted by “European Lawyers in Lesvos” (ELIL’s) managing director, Philip Worthington, who delivered a speech on the work of ELIL and their efforts to protect the human rights of migrants and refugees in crisis. The evening began with a speech highlighting the centrality of recognising the human dignity of every person by Bishop Kevin Dowling (Rustenburg, South Africa), Co-President of Pax Christi International. His speech was followed by his counterpart, Ms Marie Dennis, Co-President of Pax Christi International, addressing the importance of the refugee crisis to Pax Christi sections and member organisations around the world and how we are inspired by the work of ELIL. Ms. Greet Vanaerschot, Pax Christi International’s Secretary General, presented the award to Mr Worthington. Attendees were treated to musical interludes by recording artist Zem. A reception followed the one-hour ceremony.

One of the very few providers of legal assistance on the Greek island of Lesvos (also known as Lesbos, a focal point of mass immigration into Europe), ELIL was founded in June 2016 by the Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe (CCBE) and the German Bar Association (DAV). Since that time, along with a small permanent staff, almost 150 volunteer asylum lawyers from 17 countries have provided free legal assistance to more than 9,000 people, most of whom are from Syria, Iraq or Afghanistan. ELIL is the largest provider of legal assistance to asylum seekers on Lesvos and is the primary provider of legal assistance to unaccompanied minors who have been incorrectly registered as adults (over 500 cases in total) and asylum seekers in detention (almost 200 cases in total). In addition to other services, ELIL also helps reunite families by assisting with family reunification applications under the Dublin Regulation.

Established in 1988, the Pax Christi International Peace Award is funded by the Cardinal Bernardus Alfrink Peace Fund and honours contemporary individuals and organisations who make a stand for peace, justice and nonviolence in different parts of the world. For text and videos of the speeches, photos of the ceremony & more, please click HERE.

Read more about European Lawyers in Lesvos (ELIL): www.europeanlawyersinlesvos.eu

Hell and Hope: a documentary film about three women who escaped ISIS and made a new life in Germany

August 13, 2019

‘Hell & Hope’. This documentary is filmed in Germany in 2018, where 1,100 Yazidi survivors of ISIS brutalities found refuge. There, they have managed to rebuild shattered lives even as mothers and sisters are missing – presumed enslaved or killed – fathers and brothers dead. Before it was too late for Salwa in Iraq’s Sinjar, before the militants came, she says it was Yazidi men who prevented them from running.The men refused to run despite their wives asking them to. ‘We men don’t run away, we stay and fight’. But the women didn’t know how to drive, so they couldn’t run either. I doubt if in all of Sinjar, even four women know how to drive – if they knew how to drive, they would have escaped and survived. The men could’ve stayed and fought if that was what they wanted. They should have fought and not let us face what we faced.” said Salwa, Yazidi Survivor Knowing how to drive seems like a small thing, in the grand scale of what was happening in Iraq and Syria. And yet it is that small independence they were denied that might have made all the difference.

The camera follows three women – Lamiya, Salwa and Bazi – as they go about their lives in Germany; to classes, to work. Lamiya was one of two Yazidi women survivors who won the EU’s prestigious human rights award – the Sakharov Prize – for their work in advocating for their besieged community. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/11/01/sakharov-prize-2016-went-ultimately-to-two-yazidi-women/]

……

Despite the gripping horror of each story, there is not much different in the perspectives offered than what we’ve heard over the years now in countless pieces of reporting – the kidnappings, the slavery, the killings. What’s new is the fine detail that comes out when you have multiple women tell broadly the same story; the banality of evil.

Two of the three women who spoke expressed disgust, contempt and were especially distressed by the encouragement given to Daesh terrorists by their wives. It was felt as a deeper betrayal, even though Salwa explains why they did it: “What we saw was that the women encouraged their husbands. This is why I always say that women should see the world and get an education. They controlled women’s minds. What was Daesh telling their wives? They would say that women don’t go to heaven, that a woman is incomplete. Only men go to heaven, so in this life, women must please their husbands, and when they go to heaven, they can ask for their wives to join them. After a Daesh militant kills Yazidis, because they are infidels, he will go to heaven and if he is satisfied with his wife, he will ask for her to come.”

..how did they make it out of that hell? The German government reached out. “The girls did not apply for asylum. The government of the German state of Baden Württemberg came up with a special quota program to give girls, children and other victims a direct residence permit for 3 years.” Amish Srivastava, Director, Hell & Hope…

Watching the documentary is an exhausting experience, but the viewer is forewarned. One of the first lines that appear on the screen is “Girls risked their lives to escape Islamic State captivity. Few succeeded.”

https://www.thequint.com/entertainment/movie-reviews/hell-and-hope-isis-yazidi-women-escaped