Posts Tagged ‘refugees’

US Law firms receive Frankel Award for Pro Bono Service

September 1, 2022

On 31 August 2022 Human Rights First announced that three law firms will be honored with the Marvin E. Frankel Award for Pro Bono Service: Greenberg Traurig LLP, Latham & Watkins LLP, and Morrison Foerster. The Frankel Award is presented annually to law firms that demonstrate outstanding commitment to pro bono service, helping Human Rights First achieve justice for refugees in the United States.

Over the past year, pro bono attorneys around the country have stepped up in historic numbers to represent refugees fleeing Afghanistan, the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and the many other conflicts and human rights abuses that occur around the world,” said Jenna Gilbert, Director of Refugee Representation, at Human Rights First. “The law firms we honor with this year’s Marvin E. Frankel Award have demonstrated their commitment as extraordinary leaders in pro bono during this challenging period. Thanks to their tireless work, they have changed lives and provided asylum seekers with the legal protections they deserve to feel empowered in their new communities.”

The award is named for Judge Marvin E. Frankel, co-founder and former chairman of Human Rights First. During his lifetime, Judge Frankel was a champion for the human rights movement and understood the critical impact pro bono representation can have on the lives of clients and lawyers. Under his guidance, Human Rights First developed a nationally recognized pro bono representation program that is now one of the largest of its kind in the country.

In 2021, HRF’s refugee representation team partnered with 2,139 pro bono attorneys across 175 law firms, corporations, and law school clinics to provide standard-setting, life-saving legal representation to asylum seekers from around the world.

https://www.humanrightsfirst.org/press-release/human-rights-first-honors-three-law-firms-2022-marvin-e-frankel-award-pro-bono-service

Video game launched to experience a refugee’s journey

July 14, 2022

Ruth Schöffl reported from Vienna, on 08 July 2022 how a Syrian refugee game developer, an Austrian company and UNHCR teamed up to create a video game that reveals the life-or-death decisions that refugees face.

Jack Gutmann was never one of those children whose parents badgered him to limit his screen time and go outside and play. On the contrary, they encouraged Jack and his four brothers to spend as much time as possible absorbed in computer games so they would stay indoors, safe from the conflict raging on the streets outside their home. 

I was scared, and I tried to escape reality,” says Jack, named Abdullah at birth and brought up in Hama, Syria’s fourth-largest city. “I didn’t want to see the war and I did not want to hear it.” When there was electricity, he played video games. When the electricity went out, he played on his laptop. When the laptop battery died, he designed on paper.  

He never dreamed that years later – safe in Austria – his passion for computer design would equip him to produce an award-winning video game. A teaching edition of Path Out was re-launched by UNHCR for World Refugee Day (20 June 2022) this year to help schoolchildren in Austria and elsewhere stand in the shoes of a refugee, making life-and-death decisions along a hazardous journey to safety. 

Jack, who took a new name when he forged a new life in Austria, began drawing and colouring digitally as a child and mastered the graphics programme Photoshop by the time he was fourteen.

Digital art and computer games were the window to the world for me, out of my room in Syria, away from the war into a diverse world with very different people,” he says, reflecting on the crisis that broke out in March 2011, the same month he turned 15.  

Since the start of the crisis in 2011, millions of Syrians have been forced to flee their homes. Today some 6.8 million Syrians have fled abroad as refugees, and almost as many – 6.9 million – are displaced within the country.  

At 18, facing the danger of being drafted into the army, Jack fled his homeland – a dangerous and circuitous journey to Turkey and then across a number of countries until he reached Austria in the heart of Europe. This was the first place he truly felt safe. 

“I didn’t plan to stay in Austria,” he freely admits. “But when I arrived here with my brother, we were really shocked because so many people helped us – positively shocked.” 

Shortly after arriving, Jack met Georg Hobmeier, head of Causa Creations, a Vienna-based game-design company that sees video games not only as entertainment but, in the words of its website, as “meaningful, enriching experiences that can connect us, challenge our perceptions, and give insights into the world around us.” They’ve worked on issues such as migration, climate change and nuclear energy. 

  • Game designer Jack Gutmann (left) sits alongside Georg Hobmeier, head of Causa Creations, at their offices in Vienna, Austria. Game designer Jack Gutmann (left) sits alongside Georg Hobmeier, head of Causa Creations, at their offices in Vienna, Austria. © UNHCR/Simon Casetti

Jack, eager to turn his passion into a profession, teamed up with Causa Creations on a joint project. The result was Path Out, in which the player replicates Jack’s surreptitious trek from Syria, sometimes in the hands of people smugglers. 

We decided that Jack himself would be the main character of the game,” says Georg, adding that it was particularly important to show that behind every refugee statistic there are complex stories and complex personalities.  

In the Japanese game style they chose, the cute characters contrast with the harsh reality of the journey. Jack – the designer and the character – are dressed throughout in the yellow shirt he actually wore on his odyssey, which now has sentimental value to him.  

From a box in the corner of the screen, real Jack comments on the players’ moves in Youtuber style, often with humour. “You just killed me, man,” he exclaims when the player makes the wrong move. “In reality I wasn’t as clumsy as you.” 

Originally released as a two-hour game in 2017, Path Out has won international and Austrian awards for “its effort to shed light on a serious issue.”

The new version Causa and UNHCR developed for schools takes no longer than one lesson and helps pupils who might never meet real refugees learn that Jack led a life much like theirs until his world was turned upside down and he had to leave everything behind. It was rolled out in German and English for World Refugee Day; other language versions are to follow. 

Jack the designer is still writing his own happy ending. He felt safe as soon as he reached Austria, but it took time for the country to become his true artistic and emotional home.  

It took five years until I felt my journey was over, until I really felt relieved,” he says. Now 26, he speaks nearly flawless German and English. He completed vocational training, worked for a few years in a game development company, and now is training further in 3D modelling and animation to become an even better game developer and designer.  

He met an Austrian woman who also plays video games – though not by profession – and they married last year. 

And he maintains his sense of humour, a trait he considers essential both in real life and in his game, Path Out. “The story of flight and war is bad enough; one needs humour to be able to cope with it,” he says.  Since the game reflects his reality, “it’s funny at the same time. After all, computer games are supposed to be fun.” 

https://www.unhcr.org/news/stories/2022/7/62c822f14/unhcr-video-game-lets-pupils-experience-refugees-perilous-journey.html

FC Barcelona will support programmes for displaced children

March 28, 2022

Having pointed to football clubs’ bad behaviour on several occasions [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2022/03/25/premier-league-football-and-human-rights-continuing-saga/], it is fair to point out good examples: UNHCR, along with its National Association in Spain, Spain for UNHCR, announced 24 March 2022 a new partnership with FC Barcelona and the FC Barcelona Foundation.

The partnership will span the next four years. From next season, the UNHCR logo will appear on the back of the iconic FC Barcelona jerseys worn by the men’s and women’s first team and the Barça Genuine Foundation team, below each player’s number, with the aim of raising awareness of the plight of refugees and forcibly displaced people around the world.

In addition, the Foundation will make a cash contribution of €400,000 per football season towards four UNHCR projects on four continents (€100,000 per project), plus a separate donation (valued by the club at €100,000 per season) of FC Barcelona sports equipment, as well as the technical expertise of the FC Barcelona Foundation’s sports specialists.

The president of FC Barcelona, Joan Laporta, has stressed the club’s desire to respond to the growing number and complexity of refugee crises. UNHCR has been increasing its focus on the power of sport to help forcibly displaced people – and local communities that host them – to rebuild their lives.

FC Barcelona, through its Foundation, has collaborated with UNHCR since 2009 in various initiatives and programmes for people forced to flee. The Foundation has developed several of its own programmes in refugee settlements in Greece and Lebanon, and for unaccompanied children in Italy and Spain. In 2019, the FC Barcelona Foundation joined the Sport for Refugees Coalition, which was set up at UNHCR’s Global Refugee Forum, where it pledged to increase availability and access to organized sports and sport-based initiatives for refugee and hosting communities.

https://www.unhcr.org/news/press/2022/3/623c47ef4/fc-barcelona-unhcr-unite-forcibly-displaced-children-worldwide.html

New timely book on refugee flows

February 28, 2022

With massive new flows starting in the wake of the Russian attack on Ukraine, the new book announced on 28 February 2022 by UNHCR –People Forced to Flee: History, Change and Challenge – is most timely.

People Forced to Flee draws on the lessons of history to probe how we can improve responses to forced displacement. Tracing the roots of asylum from early history to contemporary times, the book shows how the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees turned the centuries-old ideals of safety and solutions for refugees into global practice. It highlights the major achievements in protecting people forced to flee since then, while exploring serious setbacks along the way.

Published at a time when over 84 million people in the world are forcibly displaced, it examines international responses to forced displacement within borders as well as beyond them, and the principles of protection that apply to both: reviewing where they have been used with consistency and success, and where they have not. At times, the strength and resolve of the international community seems strong, yet solutions and meaningful solidarity are often elusive.

Most forced displacement is experienced in low- and middle-income countries and persists for generations. People forced to flee face barriers to improving their lives, contributing to the communities in which they live, and realising solutions. Responding better is not only a humanitarian necessity but a development imperative.

The book shows how this work gained momentum with the international affirmation in December 2018 of the Global Compact on Refugees; and it illustrates how it is being supported by a growing group of partners encompassing forcibly displaced people, local communities and authorities, national governments, international agencies, non-governmental organisations and the private sector.

People Forced to Flee also examines how increased development investments in education, health and economic inclusion are helping to improve socio-economic opportunities both for forcibly displaced people and their hosts. Alongside this are greater investments in data, evidence and analysis pointing to what works best. And it discusses the wide array of financing mechanisms that can support sustainable responses.

As noted by Filippo Grandi, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, in his foreword, the book highlights with great clarity the enormous challenges to preventing, mitigating, and finding solutions to forced displacement. “The drivers of displacement are unrelenting; the demands placed on humanitarian funding are growing,” Grandi notes. Yet he adds that while “the challenges are enormous, history has repeatedly demonstrated the potential for, and power of, positive change”.

The book is published by Oxford University Press in hardback or in digital format via this microsite.

People Forced to Flee: History, Change and Challenge, takes up the mantle of a series of UNHCR publications, stretching back to 1993, that were previously entitled The State of the World’s Refugees. This book was written by Ninette Kelley.

https://www.unhcr.org/news/press/2022/2/621c851f4/new-book-explores-past-present-future-protecting-people-forced-flee.html

First planeload of Afghan human rights defenders has landed in Ottawa

January 13, 2022
Immigration Minister Sean Fraser rises during Question Period, in Ottawa, Dec. 10, 2021. Fred Chartrand/The Canadian Press

Six months after the federal government promised to help thousands of Afghan women leaders, human- rights activists and journalists flee to Canada, the first planeload has landed.

Immigration Minister Sean Fraser announced the arrival of 252 Afghan refugees on Tuesday, including the first 170 admitted through a special program for people the government deems to be human-rights defenders.

It is a privilege to welcome today this cohort of Afghan refugees, who face persecution as a result of their work to protect the human rights of others,” Mr. Fraser said in a statement.

“I am grateful for their work to document and prevent human rights abuses and proud that they now call our country home.”

The Liberal government launched the special program in July after weeks of criticism from angry Canadian veterans upset Ottawa wasn’t doing more to help Afghans facing possible Taliban reprisals for having worked with Canada in the past.

Mr. Fraser’s office said the 170 who arrived through the special program had been referred to Canada by the Ireland-based human-rights organization Front Line Defenders, which has been working to identify those most at risk.

The Liberals have promised to resettle 40,000 Afghan refugees to Canada, but nearly all of those are expected to be people living in UN camps in Pakistan and other neighbouring countries.

With Monday’s arrivals, the government says it has so far resettled about 6,750 Afghan refugees in Canada. Fraser suggested last month that it could take up to two years for the government to meet its promise of bringing in 40,000 Afghans.

Veterans and refugee groups aren’t the only ones who have lamented the pace of the government’s efforts when it comes to helping Afghans escape to Canada, with opposition parties also joining the chorus of criticism in recent months.

https://www.theglobeandmail.com/canada/article-first-afghan-human-rights-activists-arrive-six-months-after-ottawas/

TODAY: International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women,

November 25, 2021

Women and girls everywhere continue to be subjected to multiple forms of gender-based violence, including femicide, online violence and domestic violence, UN and regional experts (for impressive list see below) said today. They call on States to exercise due diligence and to fight pushbacks on gender equality.

On the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, they issue the following statement: [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/11/19/16-days-of-activism-against-gender-based-violence-start-on-25-november-2019/]

“Although they represent more than half the world’s population, women and girls the world over are still at risk of being killed and subject to violence, intimidation and harassment when they speak out – for the simple fact of being women and girls. Violence against women and girls is the result of intersectional forms of social, political, economic, racial, caste and cultural discrimination perpetrated daily against women and girls in all of their diversity, including in the context of armed conflict, and States and the international community have the obligation mandated by international human rights law and standards to address this violence. Together, these forms of discrimination not only aggravate the intensity and frequency of violence but also sharpen the impunity that exists against it and increase societal and individual readiness to allow it.

Of particular concern is the fact that not only women and girls continue to be subjected to multiple manifestations of violence but that the spaces where this violence takes place have also multiplied. Nowhere is this more apparent than within online spaces, including social media. Governments, private companies and others may seek to hide their responsibilities behind the seemingly “borderless” nature of the internet. But human rights are universal and, as such, there is one human rights regime that protects the rights of women and girls offline as well as online, and that demands zero tolerance for violence against women and girls in the digital space. Violence against women and girls flourishes because those who seek to silence women and girls and facilitate their exploitation, abuse, maiming and killing are not firmly prevented from and held accountable for their actions.

It is unacceptable that in today’s world where humanity and life on this planet faces the existential threats of climate change and toxic pollution amidst a proliferation of conflict; the COVID-19 pandemic has killed at least 5 million people and infected at least 250 million worldwide in less than two years, also causing an increase in domestic violence against women, that women and girls are unable to participate fully in responding to these threats or in the search for solutions because they are discriminated, abused and continue to suffer violence, including sexual violence, exploitation and death on the basis of their sex, gender, sexual orientation and gender identity. These global crises interact with and further deepen pre-existing inequalities as well as legal, institutional and policy gaps to eliminate gender-based violence against women and girls, which in many cases, worsen them. Indigenous women, internally displaced women, women with disabilities, lesbian and transgender women and women belonging to other vulnerable or marginalized groups are particularly affected by the failure of these policies to prevent such violence, as well as protect and assist survivors.

While a number of States, non-state actors and other stakeholders have stepped up their interventions and resource allocations to prevent and respond to gender-based violence against women and girls, more effort in terms of both financial and non-financial interventions is needed to make these approaches truly transformative, particularly with regards to prevention, to avoid that policies remain ‘gender blind’, ‘gender exploitative’ or ‘race neutral’. Many of these policies do not disaggregate data based on social and racial constructs which discriminate, marginalize, exclude, and violate women and girls. These policies need to transform the prevailing social, economic and political systems that produce, nurture, and maintain gender inequality and drive violence against women and girls everywhere, through increased investment in their education and skills development, access to information, social services and financial resources, and support for positive representation and images in public discourse and social media. Collectively, they need to do more to challenge the patriarchal social norms and constructs of masculinity, femininity, racism and casteism that are based on extremely harmful stereotypes and which can cause psychological, physical, emotional and economical harm, including for women of colour, including those of African descent. These stereotypes pervade state institutions as evidenced by the lack of accountability for many cases before law enforcement and justice systems. States must also ensure access to comprehensive physical and mental care for survivors of gender-based violence, as part of the full range of quality sexual and reproductive health care that must be available for all.

Collective effort is required to stop the reversal of progress made in ending violence against women across the world and to counter the backlash against gender equality and the tenets of human rights-based legislation and governance. Those responsible for these regressive steps often begin by attempts to co-opt the justice system, change or issue new legislation and curtail fundamental rights and freedoms for women and girls, such as their freedom of thought, expression and association, their right to peaceful assembly, freedom of association, freedom of thought and, in particular, their sexual and reproductive rights. All human rights are inalienable, interdependent and exist without a hierarchy, despite the efforts of some actors to sacrifice some of these rights at the expense of others, often in the name of their own cultural or religious norms and their particular perception of societal harmony.

Women and girls around the world need to be heard; their voices should not be silenced nor their experiences go unnoticed. Women will never gain their dignity until their human rights are protected. Women’s rights are human rights. Women and girls’ agency and participation in all processes that affect their rights and lives need to be promoted and protected at all costs. States should ensure and create an enabling environment for women to exercise their fundamental freedoms of expression, association, peaceful assembly and public participation free from intimidation and attacks. States must exercise their due diligence obligation and protect women human rights defenders, activists and women’s organizations who are regularly harassed, intimidated and subjected to violence for defending their rights and promoting equality. The level and frequency of violence against them should raise alarm bells everywhere. It is, and should be, a public policy and a human rights priority.

If we want to gauge the underlying health, security and prosperity of a society, we all need to address our duty to play a part in the respect and furtherance of women and girls’ rights. There will be no prosperity without ending violence against women and girls in the public as well as in the private sphere.

There will be no ending of violence against women and girls if we don’t recognize and protect the dignity, rights and security of women and girls everywhere and at all times.” ENDS

*The experts:

Platform of independent expert mechanisms on the elimination of discrimination and violence against women (EDVAW Platform): Reem Alsalem*, Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences; ****Melissa Upreti ****(Chair), **Dorothy Estrada Tanck **(Vice-Chair), Elizabeth Broderick, Ivana Radačić, and **Meskerem Geset Techane, ***Working Group on discrimination against women and girls*; ****Gladys Acosta Vargas, ***Chairperson of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women;* Margarette May Macaulay******, ****Rapporteur on the Rights of Women of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights**; Iris Luarasi, President of the Group of Experts on Action against Violence against Women and Domestic Violence of the Council of Europe; Tatiana Rein Venegas**, President of the* Committee of Experts of the Follow-up Mechanism to the Belém do Pará Convention*; Maria Teresa Manuela, Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Women in Africa.*

Obiora Okafor*, Independent Expert on human rights and international solidarity; Javaid Rehman, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran; Fabian Salvioli, Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence; Marcos A. Orellana, Special Rapporteur on the implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and wastes; Francisco Cali Tzay, Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples; Vitit Muntarbhorn,*Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia*; Mama Fatima Singhateh, Special Rapporteur on the sale and sexual exploitation of children; Mary Lawlor, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; **Victor Madrigal-Borloz, ***Independent Expert on Protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity*; ****Alioune Tine****, Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Mali; **Sorcha MacLeod (Chair-Rapporteur), Jelena Aparac, Ravindran Daniel, Chris Kwaja, ***Working Group on the use of mercenaries*; Gerard Quinn****, ****Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities*; Livingstone Sewanyana*, Independent Expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order; ****Fionnuala Ní Aoláin****, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism; Cecilia Jimenez-Damary, Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons;** Saad Alfarargi, Special Rapporteur on the right to development; **Tomoya Obokata, Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, including its causes and consequences; Fernand de Varennes****, Special Rapporteur on minority issues; Yao Agbetse, Independent Expert on the situation of Human Rights in the Central African Republic; **Nils Melzer, ***Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment*; Felipe González Morales, Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants; Balakrishnan Rajagopal, Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing; Tlaleng Mofokeng, Special Rapporteur on the right to health; Attiya Waris, Independent Expert on debt, other international financial obligations and human rights; Pedro Arrojo Agudo, Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation;****Elina Steinerte**** (Chair-Rapporteur), ****Ms. Miriam Estrada-Castillo**** (Vice-Chair), ****Ms. Leigh Toomey****, ****Mr. Mumba Malila****, ****Ms. Priya Gopalan****, Working Group on arbitrary detention;** Michael Fakhri, Special Rapporteur on the right to food; Ahmed Shaheed, Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief; Muluka Anne Miti-Drummond,Independent Expert on the enjoyment of human rights by persons with albinism; Siobhán Mullally, Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children; Clément Nyaletsossi Voule, Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association**; **Isha Dyfan, ***Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Somalia* ; ****Luciano Hazan (****Chair-Rapporteur),**** Aua Balde ****(Vice-Chair),**** Gabriella Citroni, Henrikas Mickevicius**** and ****Tae-Ung Baik, ***Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances*; ****Alexandra Xanthaki, ***Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights;* **Morris Tidball-Binz ***Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions*; Anais Marin, Special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus; Surya Deva (Chairperson), Elżbieta Karska (Vice-Chairperson), Githu Muigai, Fernanda Hopenhaym, and Anita Ramasastry, Working Group on Business and Human Rights; David Boyd, Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment; Ms. Dominique Day (Chair), Ms. **Catherine S. Namakula (Vice-Chair), Ms. Miriam Ekiudoko,** Mr. Sushil Raj, Ms. Barbara G. Reynolds Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent; **Irene Khan, ***Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression.

See also:

https://www.coe.int/en/web/commissioner/-/combating-violence-against-women-in-a-digital-age-utilising-the-istanbul-convention-grevio-general-recommendation-no-1-on-the-digital-dimension-of-vio

https://www.unhcr.org/news/stories/2021/11/619e0ae14/refugee-women-lead-combating-gender-based-violence.html

https://reliefweb.int/report/world/violence-targeting-women-politics-trends-targets-types-and-perpetrators-political

UNHCR dismayed by deportation of Cambodian refugees by Thailand

November 23, 2021

When the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), feels the need to speak out publicly – as it did on 22 November 2021 – it must be serious: It said that it deplored Thailand’s deportation of a Cambodian refugee, which occurred only ten days after the authorities deported two other Cambodian refugees. This action contravenes the principle of non-refoulement, which obliges States – including Thailand – not to expel or return people to a territory where their life or freedom would be threatened.

On 19 November, the Cambodian refugee was arrested. UNHCR immediately notified the authorities of the individual’s refugee status and urged the Government not to return the individual to Cambodia over serious concerns for the safety of the refugee. The refugee was held in a detention centre in Aranyaprathet overnight and deported to Cambodia the following day, on 20 November.

We are extremely alarmed by this trend of forcibly returning refugees to Cambodia, where they face a serious risk of persecution. Given recent developments, we are very concerned about the safety of UNHCR recognised Cambodian refugees in Thailand,” said Gillian Triggs, UNHCR’s Assistant High Commissioner for Protection.

We urge the Royal Thai Government to refrain from deporting recognized refugees and to abide by its international obligations, particularly the principle of non-refoulement. UNHCR continues to offer its full support to the Government in ensuring the protection of those in need in Thailand,” she added.

UNHCR is seeking urgent clarification from the Thai authorities regarding the circumstances leading to this most recent deportation and the fate of those returned in Cambodia. UNHCR exhorts Cambodian authorities to uphold international human rights standards and to allow human rights organisations access to the deportees.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/05/11/three-democratic-voice-of-burma-journalists-and-two-activists-risk-refoulement-by-thailand/

https://www.unhcr.org/news/press/2021/11/619ba8da4/unhcr-dismayed-deportation-third-cambodian-refugee-thai-authorities-month.html

Greece’s mistaken deterrence: migrants and aid workers facing heavy prison sentences

November 17, 2021
An abandoned life jacket in the Aegean Sea in 2016 | Photo: Picture-alliance/AP Photo/L.Pitarakis
An abandoned life jacket in the Aegean Sea in 2016 | Photo: Picture-alliance/AP Photo/L.Pitarakis

A post by Marion MacGregor published on 15 November 2021in ‘Infomigrants’ brings out an awful truth which I have to face up to even though Greece is my adopted country. In the face of Turkey ‘weaponsing’ migrants, it is trying its hands at deterrence in the hope that it will diminish the pressure of inflows

Greece and other European countries are increasingly using the threat of criminal proceedings against aid workers and those migrants who ended up being marked as migrant smugglers.

Hanad Abdi Mohammad is in prison, he says, because of something he was forced to do. The Somali is serving an impossibly long sentence of 142 years (!) after he was convicted last December for driving an inflatable dinghy carrying migrants to Greece. He says that he didn’t have a choice, because the smuggler hit him in the face and threatened him with a gun before abandoning the boat in rough seas. As 28-year-old Mohammad told journalists and members of the European Parliament who visited the prison last week, he “didn’t think saving people is a crime.”

In the same prison on the Greek island of Chios two men from Afghanistan, Amir Zaheri and Akif Rasouli, both in their 20s, are also serving sentences of 50 years for similar criminal offences. The men’s convictions and staggering prison terms show how far Greece is ready to go in order to stop migrants in their tracks.

On the day the smuggler abandoned them at sea between Turkey and Greece, Mohammad and nearly three dozen other migrants were only concerned about their lives. Mohammad says that he called the Turkish coast guard repeatedly, begging to be rescued. But when it arrived, the Turkish patrol boat circled the migrants’ dinghy sending water into the boat and gradually pushing it toward Greece. In the chaos, two women fell overboard and drowned, AP reports.

The survivors were finally rescued by the Greek coast guard, and Mohammad helped others onto the rescue boat. He admitted to having driven the boat after the smuggler left. It didn’t cross his mind that would lead to him being prosecuted as a smuggler.

It’s not possible that someone who comes to claim asylum in Greece is threatened with such heavy sentences simply because they were forced, by circumstances or pressure, to take over handling a boat,” one of the lawyers representing the three imprisoned in Chios, Alexandros Georgoulis, told AP. Greek authorities, he said, “are essentially baptizing the smuggled as the smuggler.”

From file: Sara Mardini and Seán Binder | Screenshot from Amnesty International Ireland
From file: Sara Mardini and Seán Binder | Screenshot from Amnesty International Ireland

Greek authorities have also accused aid workers and volunteers helping migrants in Greece of serious crimes. In one widely publicized case, the Syrian human rights worker Sara Mardini, a refugee herself, and an Irish volunteer Sean Binder were arrested and detained for months in 2018 on suspicion of espionage, money laundering, human trafficking and other offenses. Due to face trial on the island of Lesbos alongside 22 other civil society activists later this week, Binder says he is “terrified.”

I’ve had a taste of life in prison on Chios. It was all scabies and bed bugs with 17 of us packed in a cell,” Binder told The Guardian. “The police holding cells were even worse, the most awful place on earth; squalid, windowless rooms full of asylum seekers just there because authorities had nowhere else to put them.”

Giorgos Kosmopoulos, a campaigner with an Amnesty International group which plans to monitor the trial in Greece, says that this is not only happening there. “Human rights defenders across Europe are being criminalized … for helping refugees and migrants,” he told The Guardian. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/10/09/mary-lawlor-condemns-criminalization-of-those-saving-lives-in-the-mediterranean/

AP reports that, according to the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, Germany, Italy, Malta, the Netherlands, Spain and Greece have initiated 58 investigations and legal proceedings since 2016 against private entities involved in search and rescue.

I think it’s important to challenge these in the courts, to not at all sit back and accept that we should be cast as smugglers or spies because I offered CPR, (or) more often than not just a smile, to someone in distress,” Binder told the news agency. “It is preposterous that we should be cast as criminals. I don’t accept it….It doesn’t matter who you are, you don’t deserve to drown in the sea.

Binder told The Guardian that he has not bought a return ticket to the UK, where he has been studying. He and Mardini face a maximum eight-year sentence, convertible into a fine. They are still under investigation for offences which could carry 25-year sentences if they are convicted.

In my view, the problem can only be tackled in a European context [see e.g. https://ec.europa.eu/home-affairs/what-we-do/policies/legal-migration-and-integration_en%5D but it seems most member states cling to outdated notion of sovereignty.

Not directly related but possibly relevant is recent legislation in Greece, adopted on November 11, 2021, that makes it a criminal offence to spread “fake news.” Human Rights Watch said that the Greek government should immediately move to revoke the provision, which is incompatible with freedom of expression and media freedom. “In Greece, you now risk jail for speaking out on important issues of public interest, if the government claims it’s false,” said Eva Cossé, Greece researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The criminal sanctions risk making journalists and virtually anyone else afraid to report on or to debate important issues such as the handling of Covid-19 or migration or government economic policy.

While the trial began Thursday, it was almost immediately suspended. The court’s decision to adjourn, said 27-year-old Binder, a diver and German national, “is further proof of the absurdity of this case.”

https://www.commondreams.org/news/2021/11/18/drop-charges-greece-delays-trial-humanitarians-who-aided-refugees-sea

https://www.infomigrants.net/en/post/36487/greece-migrants-and-aid-workers-facing-decades-in-prison

https://www.independent.ie/regionals/kerryman/news/kerry-aid-worker-faces-trial-in-greece-41058865.html

https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/11/17/greece-alleged-fake-news-made-crime

https://reliefweb.int/report/greece/greece-guilty-verdict-migrant-rights-defenders-could-mean-more-deaths-sea-un-expert

https://www.ansamed.info/ansamed/en/news/sections/politics/2021/11/19/trial-of-aid-workers-in-greece-is-adjourned-amid-protests_5de29280-fde8-4c77-b7c2-ef878c497157.html

See also in March 2022: https://www.hrw.org/news/2022/03/17/ray-hope-fight-against-greeces-border-abuses,

and on 12 April: https://www.ohchr.org/en/press-releases/2022/04/un-committee-enforced-disappearances-publishes-findings-greece-and-niger

Haitian Guerline Jozef wins Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights award 2021

October 29, 2021

When Guerline Jozef, co-founder and executive director of the San Diego-based Haitian Bridge Alliance, learned that she had won this year’s RFK award, she wanted to celebrate in another way. She brought the ceremony to the border and led a group, including Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights staff and musician Wyclef Jean, to the Tijuana Immigration Shelter and then to the Otaimesa Detention Center, which houses detainees at the Immigration and Customs Department.

We wanted to bring this award to people on both sides of the border and let them know that it was for them,” Joseph said. “We hear them. We see them. We keep fighting for them.”

We went to the border because we heard there were Haitians,” she said in a speech outside the detention center, recalling the early days of her organization’s activities in Tijuana. “We went for the Haitians, but we stayed for everyone, and we continue to fight for everyone.

Kerry Kennedy, daughter of Robert F. Kennedy and president of Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, has known Ms Joseph for three years since working together to help Haiti and Cameroon immigrants in Tijuana.

For more on this award and its laureates, see: https://thedigestapp.trueheroesfilms.org/awards/69FD28C0-FE07-4D28-A5E2-2C8077584068/edit

The great thing about Guerline is that she’s tackling a big problem. She works in a crucible of poverty, race and immigrants,” Kennedy said.

According to Joseph, her parents gave up a comfortable life in Haiti to move to the United States after the coup. Back in Haiti, they had a big house and her father was the mayor. In the United States, the father became a taxi driver and the mother became a housekeeper. Both worked long hours to take care of their families.

https://californianewstimes.com/haitian-activist-wins-robert-f-kennedy-human-rights-award-brings-celebration-to-the-border/573950/

https://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/news/immigration/story/2021-10-28/haitian-activist-kennedy-human-rights

Jeel Albena Association in Yemen wins 2021 Nansen Award

September 30, 2021
Ameen Hussain Jubran, head and founder of the Yemeni non-governmental organization Jeel Albena.

© UNHCR/Ahmed HaleemAmeen Hussain Jubran, head and founder of the Yemeni non-governmental organization Jeel Albena. 29 September 2021

The Jeel Albena Association for Humanitarian Development, a Yemeni humanitarian organization that has supported tens of thousands of people caught up in the country’s conflict, is the winner of the 2021 UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award. 

UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, announced the laureate this Wednesday 29 September 2021. Every year, the prize recognizes a person or group, that goes above and beyond the call of duty, to help displaced or stateless people. For more on this award for refugee workers: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/CC584D13-474F-4BB3-A585-B448A42BB673

In a statement, Mr. Grandi said that “Jeel Albena does this in an extraordinary way helping people on all sides of Yemen’s conflict.” 

“Its staff and volunteers have stayed put, working quietly on the ground throughout the conflict, in the face of the harshest adversity, at a time when many others have left,” he said.  

Frontline work 

Their work, often near the frontlines, has included constructing 18,000 emergency shelters for internally displaced people and their host communities. Their work has also allowed thousands to make a living, and been a vehicle to restore basic human dignity. 

Mr. Grandi noted that Jeel Albena’s motto is “By Yemenis, for Yemenis” and that it “exemplifies its spirit of local community action.” 

“Always, they seek solutions together with the communities where they are active,” he explained. 

Established in June 2017, the association started with only fifteen staff and now has more than 150 employees, over 40 per cent of them, recruited from within displaced communities.  . 

The organization’s founder, Ameen Jubran, will collect the award on behalf of the organization. 

Mr. Jubran first started working with displaced people while he was at university and he has never stopped. He was nearly killed in the conflict and, like many of his team, have experienced displacement first-hand.  

“But he did not give up. In fact, he says the experience of being forced to flee his home only increased his determination, in the true spirit of Nansen,” Mr. Grandi recalled.  For the High Commissioner, the award “puts a much-needed spotlight on Yemen, a country where the suffering faced by civilians does not receive the attention it deserves.”  “It is my profound hope this award draws international attention to Yemen and that Jeel Albena’s extraordinary work will inspire more action for the people there who have suffered,” concluded the High Commissioner.

For last year, see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/10/02/nansen-refugee-award-2020-to-maye-vergara-perez-of-colombia/

https://news.un.org/en/story/2021/09/1101582