Posts Tagged ‘refugees’

MEA 2019 laureate Abdul Aziz Muhamat wants refugees themselves to be heard

November 9, 2020

Geneva Solutions of 7 November 2020 published a call to give “a voice back to the voiceless: a call to empower refugees” written by Abdul Aziz Muhamat, who is a human rights advocate for migrants and refugees now based in Geneva. He is the 2019 Martin Ennals Award Laureate for Human Rights Defenders (see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/09/30/flight-from-manus-the-inside-story-of-an-exceptional-case/),

He is currently a UN fellow at OHCHR, and the former recipient of the ISHR Human Rights Defenders Fellowship. He is involved in social work, advocacy, and is authoring in collaboration with other refugees offshore and inshore ( They Can’t Take The Sky):

I’m tired of hearing celebrities saying they are  “voices of the voiceless.” Unfortunately, I hear it often from celebrities with our pictures and stories, rather than from refugees themselves.

The so-called “voiceless” are individuals living in poverty and conflict zones, and were forced to leave their countries while they were muffled, hushed, pushed down and left out. But they are not voiceless. They do not need your voices but they do need you to put them behind the microphone, make room at the table, and give them a chance to speak up. If we want to find lasting and sustainable solutions for the refugee and migrant crisis, then stop speaking for the so-called voiceless, and start working alongside them to make sure their powerful voices are heard.

Media, the arts and celebrities often say they strive to “give voice to the voiceless”. While this can empower, it can also be a potentially harmful tool for them too. It makes me feel like an object, it discourages me from speaking for myself and most importantly, it is dehumanising because someone else is speaking on my behalf. Being a refugee means more than being an alien, no right, no voice; this can sound trite, clichéd, even patronising. Speaking on our behalf can take the real voices of the concerned people away and replace them with a slogan, “Voice of the Voiceless”. Are they really voiceless? If so, then who took their voices?

What refugees urgently need, besides food and water, medical care, and a roof over their heads, is hope! And prospects of a homeland, friends, and a sense of security. Unfortunately, reality presents a completely different picture to many of them. Here is a call for reflection.

Protests and public ceremonies at least remind us of the problem, even if they do not solve them. Anyone who has never been part of a refugee trek has little idea of everything that happens along the way. These people have just turned their backs on violence, persecution, and human rights violations only to walk into hopelessness, hunger, and cold! It is a vicious cycle of evil that has been set in motion. People with a permanent home and a roof over their heads can barely imagine this. There are millions of fates and stories that tell of violence, human abysses, but some also of hope and courage.

Why is it easy to listen to someone who speaks out on behalf of victims but not to the victims directly? Is it also time to question this invisibility? The fact is that no-one is listening and no-one is offering them a platform to express their concerns on their own, so it doubles their suffering. We hide them in detention centres or camps, away from us, making it harder for them to connect with reality. But it also prevents the truth from coming out as it is, and that’s part of the complexity. The majority of these refugees are coming from countries that are torn apart by wars, extreme poverty, lack of freedom of speech, human rights abuses etc.

The media are not interested in listening to the people concerned. Instead they listen to the rich and famous, and this makes them complicit. It is on journalists and the media’s shoulders to seek out the stories of those who would be left out of the public record, like refugees, asylum seekers and migrants. If we aim “to give voice to the voiceless,” it requires more than asking for sound-bite quotes, taking pictures in refugee camps or using them to sell newspapers. No, it is bigger than that, it means listening to their stories, offering them a safe platform to speak for themselves rather than to speak on their behalf, no-one was born without a voice.

No media so far asks the refugees about the impact of the US election or the EU migration policy, why? Because we don’t have a voice and our point of view is not considered as valuable. The Trump administration, but also the Democratic party, have largely dismantled the US asylum seekers and refugees resettlement programme. It became a model for the EU member States and Australia, and even questioned the refugees convention of 1951.

The actions of the US government over the last four years shaped the dichotomy of “Us-vs-Them”. It has also created social and economical inequality among the refugee communities: some were seen as vulnerable and others not, and this in turn has increased tensions within refugee communities. As an example, in 2017 when the US government made a deal with the Australians to take refugees from offshore detention centres on Manus Island and Nauru several countries were banned and it created big tensions between the refugees. These actions show a lack of compassion for the victims of armed violence and persecution and abdicates US leadership and support for countries struggling to cope with refugee crises. The Trump administration turned a cold shoulder to countries on the frontlines of conflict, many of which are close US allies and bear the burden of caring for and protecting the overwhelming majority of the world’s refugees. Even at its most robust, US refugee resettlement only directly benefits a small fraction of the world’s 26 million refugees. But when used strategically, and in combination with humanitarian assistance and technical support, it can have enormous benefits beyond helping the relatively few people rescued.

The US refugee resettlement program has traditionally aimed to identify the most vulnerable refugees, often those who are not only persecuted in their home country but also unwelcome in the country of first arrival, such as members of religious minorities or LGBT.  The American refugee policies have inspired many countries such as Australia, Europe, the UK, and especially after the domination of the right-wing in Europe. In Australia, refugees are forcibly sent to remote islands and detained for almost seven years, in Europe especially Greece became the EU warehouse for asylum seekers and migrants, and some were forcibly pushed back by some EU member States to Libya or left to drown off the coast of Libya.

Europe’s humanity is lost at sea when it comes to refugees and no-one knows when or how will the EU get it back.

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https://genevasolutions.news/peace-humanitarian/giving-a-voice-back-to-the-voiceless-a-call-to-empower-refugees

Somali rights defender Hawa Abdi died

August 6, 2020

Somali human rights activist and philanthropist Dr. Hawa Abdi. AFP PHOTO/Nicholas KAMM
On 5 august 2020 David Ochieng Mbewa reported in AfricaCGTN the death of Somali rights activist Dr. Hawa Abdi, popularly known as Mama Hawa, at the age of 73.

The Ministry of Women HRD would like to send heartfelt condolences to the family & loved ones of Dr. Hawa Abdi. She was a fierce advocate for the rights of Somali women & children & dedicated her life to providing them with free healthcare. Her legacy will live on through the lives she changed,” the Ministry of Women and Human Rights Development tweeted.

Abdi was famous for providing refuge for thousands of refugees using her own money and funds from donors in Somalia after founding the Dr. Hawa Abdi Foundation, previously known as the Rural Health Development Organization. Abdi had studied medicine in Ukraine becoming one of Somalia’s first female gynecologists. She also went on to pursue law studies and worked for government hospitals in Somalia.

In 1983, she opened a one-room clinic, on her family’s ancestral property, which over the years grew into a settlement which hosts tens of thousands of people, mainly women and children. The settlement in the Afgooye corridor, less than 15 miles from Mogadishu, includes a hospital, a school and a refugee camp.

She famously stood her ground when Islamist militants laid siege to the settlement in 2010 and attempted to force her to shut it down. The militants ended up withdrawing from the compound following intense pressure from locals and rights groups and even apologised for the incident.

In 2010, she was named one of Glamour magazine’s Women of the Year along with her daughters, Amina and Deqo. In 2012 she was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize and also won the BET’s Social Humanitarian Award.

Somali rights activist, Nobel Peace Prize nominee Dr. Hawa Abdi dies

https://www.garoweonline.com/en/news/somalia/somalias-doctor-to-the-poor-and-human-rights-activist-dies-at-73

EXILE SHALL NOT SILENCE US!

June 22, 2020

On 19 June, 2020 AfricanDefenders launched a podcast series on African human rights defenders in exile  

“If you have to leave, leave. But refuse to keep quiet. Silencing you is what all oppressive regimes want. Don’t stop defending others because you are outside your country. Defending others is defending ourselves.”  Interview with an African HRD in exile  

Human rights defenders (HRDs) in Africa face grave risks in conducting their invaluable work of promoting the rights of others, protecting the environment, and holding the powerful to account. All too often, they are forced to leave their homes to seek protection, after threats, surveillance, judicial harassment, arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearance, torture, and targeting of colleagues and family members.

Exile impacts every aspect of a person’s life, and no experience of exile is the same. Exiled HRDs face serious challenges in their human rights work, such as losing legitimacy in the eyes of their government and their communities, collecting information remotely in a safe manner, and accessing funding. Many exiled HRDs also continue to face security concerns, worry about the safety of colleagues and family members in their country of origin, and struggle with socio-economic integration in their host country. Exile can also take a toll on their wellbeing and family dynamics.

Yet, the majority of exiled HRDs continue their human rights work, disseminating the information received by monitors on the ground through regional and international advocacy and campaigning, mobilising diaspora communities, and at times (re-)establishing organisations in exile. If authoritarian governments, corrupt leaders, and violent militia groups aimed to silence HRDs by forcing them into exile, their strategy has largely failed.

Based on research that collected the testimonies of more than 120 HRDs, in-depth case studies, and live interviews with four exiled HRDs, Exile Shall Not Silence Us is a podcast series that highlights the professional, security, socio-economic, and psychosocial challenges of HRDs in exile in Africa, but most of all their achievements and resilience strategies.

In episode 1, Cristina Orsini, Senior Programme Officer at AfricanDefenders, gives an overview of the main findings of the research on the situation of African HRDs in exile. Listen to Episode 1

Corona pandemic leads to “tsunami of hate and xenophobia” says Guterres

May 8, 2020

Coronavirus Has Sparked 'Tsunami Of Hate And Xenophobia': UN Chief
UN chief Antonio Guterres appealed for “an all-out effort to end hate speech globally. (File photo)

Additionally, “journalists, whistleblowers, health professionals, aid workers and human rights defenders are being targeted simply for doing their jobs,” Guterres said. The UN chief … singled out educational institutions to help teach “digital literacy” to young people — whom he called “captive and potentially despairing audiences.” Guterres also called on “the media, especially social media companies, to do much more to flag and… remove racist, misogynist and other harmful content.”

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/06/19/un-strategy-and-plan-of-action-on-hate-speech-launched/

https://www.ndtv.com/world-news/un-chief-antonio-guterres-says-coronavirus-covid-19-has-sparked-tsunami-of-hate-and-xenophobia-2225238

UN Guidelines for use of emergency powers in time of covid-19 pandemic

April 14, 2020

UN Special Rapporteur on Extra-Judicial Executions Agnes Callamard. Photo: Foreign and Commonwealth Office/Wikipedia.

a set of guidelines issued by the UN’s Human Rights’ Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESR), in whcih governments are urged to respect human rights across the spectrum, including economic and social rights, and civil and political rights as this would be fundamental to the success of the public health response.

The announcement shed light on the controversial decision by the Maltese government to close the country’s ports as migrant boats were stranded. The UN said it was aware that governments had to take difficult decisions in light of the coronavirus pandemic, but insisted measures should be proportionate. Emergency powers must be used for legitimate public health goals, not used as a basis to quash dissent or silence the work of human rights defenders or journalists.

This was also highlighted by Agnes Callamard, the UN Special Rapporteur on Extra-Judicial Executions, who said these emergency measures also had to be lifted when these were no longer necessary for protecting public health. People needed to be informed about the emergency measures, where these applied and for how long they were meant to be in effect. “As the crisis passes, it will be important for governments to return life to normal and not use emergency powers to indefinitely regulate day-to-day life, recognizing that the response must match the needs of different phases of this crisis,” the CESC said.

Unfortunately, several governments around the world – and in the EU – have taken advantage of the coronavirus pandemic to implement a series of measures that roll back human rights.

  • As people are being called upon to stay at home, governments must take urgent measures to help people without adequate housing. …The authorities should also take particular care to prevent more people from becoming homeless and implement good practices such as moratoriums on evictions, deferrals of mortgage or loan payments.
  • It was also important to keep in mind people who relied on community and home services to eat, dress and bathe – including people with a disability or the elderly.
  • The guidelines also refer to prisoners and those kept in detention, saying these were at a higher risk of infection in case of an outbreak. Social distancing was difficult to maintain in these places, which had a high risk of contamination. States should “urgently explore options for release and alternatives to detention to mitigate the risk of harm within places of detention,” it said.
  • The document also tackled the issue of migration, saying migrants and refugees also faced “particular risks” as these may be confined to camps and settlements, which might be overcrowded, overstretched and with poor sanitation. “It is also vital that any tightening of border controls, travel restrictions or limitations on freedom of movement do not prevent people who may be fleeing from war or persecution from accessing safety and protection,” the committee said.

This recommendation is the exact opposite of the decision taken by the Maltese government last week to close its ports, making it very clear that it would not be taking any more migrants as a measure to prevent the spread of COVID-19. This announcement came 24 hours after Italy closed all its ports, saying its harbours could not be considered safe. The decision was harshly criticised by more than 20 non-governmental organisations who called on the prime minister to ensure that all persons within Malta’s responsibility were rescued and their safety guaranteed. “The nation cannot quietly celebrate Easter while men, women and children are drowning on our doorstep. Saving lives and ensuring their disembarkation at a safe place is a fundamental legal obligation and also a moral imperative that can in no way be negotiated or renounced,” the NGOs said.

The guidelines called on governments to take “specific actions” to include migrants and refugees in national prevention and response campaigns by ensuring equal access to information, testing, and health care for all, regardless of their status. Earlier this month, the Maltese authorities put the Hal Far open centre under a two-week quarantine after eight migrants tested positive for coronavirus. The decision was slammed by local NGOs who said this would exacerbate the situation where the virus could potentially spread among the 1,000 residents.

On 14 April 2020 Clément Nyaletsossi Voule, the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, called on States not to use state of emergency declarations during the COVID-19 crisis to impose wholesale restrictions on freedom of peaceful assembly and association, and released detailed Guidelines governments and law enforcement agencies must follow to avoid human rights abuses.

No country or government can solve this health crisis alone and I am concerned about worrying trends and limitations emerging from civil society reports around the world, including on civil society’s ability to support an effective COVID-19 response,” said Clément Nyaletsossi Voule, the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association. “Civil society organisations are key in helping States to frame inclusive policies, disseminate information, and provide social support to vulnerable communities in need,” he said.

In his 10 Guidelines, the expert said that where new laws or regulations are adopted, any limitations on rights imposed must adhere to the principles of legality, necessity and proportionality. Free-flow of information is crucial in times of crisis and laws criminalising ‘false news’, including those targeting human rights defenders, must be avoided. “It is inadmissible to declare blanket restrictions on human rights and fundamental freedoms,” Voule said. “Exemptions should be foreseen for civil society actors, particularly those monitoring human rights, trade unions, social services providing humanitarian assistance, and journalists covering the management of the crisis. “State of emergency does not halt the freedoms of peaceful assembly and of association,” the human rights expert said.

Voule said his Guidelines could help States reassess measures already in place to ensure compliance with their human rights obligations and to take citizens’ demands fully into account.

https://reliefweb.int/report/world/covid-19-restrictions-should-not-stop-freedom-assembly-and-association-says-un-expert

Coronavirus emergency measures must be timely and proportionate

Refugees and migrants in camp conditions at high risk of COVID-19

March 30, 2020

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.”

Click to access 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.

In March 2020 Japanese TV station NHK broadcast a programme on Mrs Ogata: https://www3.nhk.or.jp/nhkworld/en/ondemand/video/3016069/
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