Posts Tagged ‘UNHCR’

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.

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Disappearance of Lao Rights Defender Od Sayavong – another Sombath Somphone?

October 17, 2019

Lao democracy advocate Od Sayavong reads a statement at a protest in Bangkok, Thailand, June 16, 2019.

Lao democracy advocate Od Sayavong reads a statement at a protest in Bangkok, Thailand, June 16, 2019.
Roseanne Gerin of Radio Free Asia reported on 2 October 2019 that UN Rights experts had expressed concern over disappearance of Lao human rights defender Od Sayavong, who went missing in Thailand months after meeting with a U.N. special rapporteur. Three special rapporteurs and four members of the U.N.’s Working Groups on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, part of a body of independent human rights experts under the U.N.’s Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland, urged Bangkok to clarify the steps it has taken to locate Od and ensure the safety of other vulnerable Lao human rights defenders in the capital, according to a news release.

Od, 34, who had been recognized as a refugee by the U.N. refugee agency and openly criticized his country’s government online and in public protests, was last seen at his home in Bangkok on Aug. 26. A week later a colleague reported his disappearance to the Thai police, but authorities have not provided information about his whereabouts, the news release said.

If an enforced disappearance occurred in part as a reprisal for Od’s engagement with the U.N. system, it would be a violation of his human rights, requiring immediate action,” said Philip Alston, the U.N. special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, met with Od and other Lao human rights defenders in Bangkok in mid-March prior to a visit to Laos.in the printed news release. “Everyone should have unhindered access to and communication with the U.N. in the field of human rights.

Michel Forst, U.N. special Rapporteur on human rights defenders, called Od a “vocal advocate on human rights, corruption, and environmental issues in the Lao PDR, a country with a track record of arbitrary arrests and enforced disappearances.”

In a 6 September statement, the Paris-based International Federation for Human Rights and its member organization Lao Movement for Human Rights (LMHR) called on Thai authorities to immediately investigate the activist’s disappearance.

He also had called for the release of three Lao workers sentenced to lengthy jail terms in April 2017 for criticizing their government while working in Thailand, and for a U.N. investigation into the disappearance of rural development expert Sombath Somphone in December 2012. Prior to his abduction a police checkpoint in the Lao capital Vientiane, Sombath criticized government-negotiated land deals that had left thousands of rural Lao villagers homeless with inadequate compensation for their losses. The Lao government has failed to make headway on resolving Sombath’s case, despite repeated commitments that it will do so. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/01/04/sombath-somphone-third-anniversary-of-his-disappearance-in-laos/

https://www.rfa.org/english/news/laos/us-rights-experts-express-concern-10022019161459.html

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

A good appointment at the UN High Commissioner for Refugees

August 9, 2019

Image
On 8 August 2019,  Filippo Grandi, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) announced that Austrialian Gillian Triggs [@GillianTriggs] has been appointed Assistant High Commissioner for refugee protection. He states that she will bring to #UNHCR substantial legal expertise, knowledge and experience of refugee issues and a passion for human rights. From the single blog post I have on her that seems indeed very likely: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2015/06/16/the-importance-of-independent-national-human-rights-bodies-illustrated-in-australia/

About the struggle against statelessness

July 10, 2019

Amal de Chickera of the Institute on Statelessness and Inclusion worre on 5 July 2019 an OPINION: “We need to build a global statelessness movement”.

…The denial of the right to a nationality and resultant statelessness is a condition imposed on people (almost always through violating international law), with the intention of weakening them. Statelessness is thus, nothing short of violence. Even as the words and actions of many world leaders cheapen human rights and lives; promote insularity, narrow nationalism, racism, xenophobia, misogyny and hypocrisy and disproportionately target the most vulnerable; those denied legal status, the stateless and those at risk of statelessness are inevitably targeted by the politics of hatred and fear.

Be they Rohingya of Myanmar, refugees fleeing Syria, minorities in Assam India, Dominicans of Haitian origin, single Nepalese mothers, those accused of terrorism in the UK, human rights defenders in Bahrain, or those languishing in camps at the American border; we repeatedly witness the denial of status, the right to a nationality and (risk of) statelessness as a consequence and cause of discrimination, exclusion and hardship.

If the right to a nationality and inclusion were a house, it would be no exaggeration to say global politics and events have (again) lit a spark under its wooden foundation.

Confronted with this reality, over a year ago, our Institute decided to organise a World Conference on Statelessness. This may appear a strange decision, considering the number of all-consuming emergencies globally, but our motivation stemmed from a sense that we cannot always be in reaction mode.

We must confront the issue on the front foot, finding inclusive, creative and effective ways to promote the right to nationality. The conference brought together 300 activists, advocates, academics, artists and others from 60+ countries. One participant referred to it as the ‘A team’, not merely for the alliterative descriptors, but because of the commitment shown to come together and create something bigger and better than the sum of our parts.

But what does this mean?

On an issue as complex and intersectional as statelessness, spanning numerous fields including human rights, migration, child rights, development, feminism, humanitarianism, conflict, economics and politics (to name but some), it is evident that there are no simple or straightforward solutions. The conference however did throw up some clear indicators:

  1. The grand challenges of statelessness: the conference was structured around 10 Grand Challenges focusing on global crises and big issues – the Rohingya, Syria, gender discrimination, citizenship stripping and legal identity etc. These issues are bigger than statelessness but can only be resolved if the right to a nationality and statelessness is understood and prioritised.
  2. The underlying problems: The underlying causes of exclusion and statelessness are most often racism, patriarchy and xenophobia. We can tell right from wrong when a racist attacks a minority child, a misogynist harasses a woman, or a xenophobe abuses a migrant. But when this happens under the cloak of law, procedure and official language, we respond not with anger, but tolerance. We try to find a middle ground. The Kuwaiti Bidoon, the Nepali mother or stateless refugee in Greece are not searching for middle ground. They demand their rights.
  3. Celebrating successes: We have many successes to celebrate, including the Makonde successfully securing their Kenyan citizenship and Sierra Leone passing a gender equal nationality law. We must learn from our successes, as we do from our defeats.
  4. Inclusive, interdisciplinary and effective: We have to confront inequalities among ourselves, accepting the very real barriers to inclusion we face, challenging ourselves to diversify our work and our partners, and ultimately transcend the limitations of our own organisations and contexts, creating something bigger, that cannot be claimed by one entity.
  5. Activists front and centre: A global movement must have courageous activists who defy the odds to fight for their people. We who are not directly impacted by statelessness must step aside and let the real experts set the agenda, guide us and hold us to account.

We have a long way to go, but the stakes cannot be higher. The more nationality is instrumentalised and viewed as a privilege to be taken away from the undeserving, the more we will see people and groups being labelled as such, so they may be excluded, denied and deprived. Our house is burning and we can only stem the fire through a global movement and working together.

SEE ALSO: https://www.unhcr.org/protection/statelessness/53b698ab9/handbook-protection-stateless-persons.html

http://news.trust.org//item/20190705101713-ajq91/

Today: World Refugee Day 2019

June 20, 2019

Many are the initiatives on this day. UNHCR lists just a few ways that you can take action right now and spread this message even further:

Sometimes good news fall on the right day: a French court acquitted Tom Ciotkowski, a British human rights defender who documented police abuse against migrants and refugees and volunteers who were helping them in Calais. Amnesty International France’s Programme manager on Freedoms, Nicolas Krameyer said: “Today’s decision, delivered on World Refugee Day, is not only a victory for justice but also for common sense. Tom Ciotkowski is a compassionate young volunteer who did nothing wrong and was dragged through the courts on trumped up charges”. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/05/15/european-governments-should-stop-treating-solidarity-and-compassion-as-a-crime/]

EuroMed Rights focuses on the current practice of stopping people from disembarking ships/boats on the Mediterranean Sea shoreline, particularly in Tunisia. In many aspects, this situation is emblematic of the obstacles faced by refugees in obtaining protection and access to rights in the Euro-Mediterranean region. It is also emblematic of the unfailing solidarity with refugees of local organisations and individuals.

Freedom United issues a call to close Libyan slave markets.

Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) is featuring stories of survival—a collection of video testimonies and first-hand accounts from people who have risked everything for a chance at safety. As an organisation working with refugees and people on the move, we know that nothing—not a wall, or even an ocean—will ever stop people who are simply trying to survive.

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https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2019/06/france-acquittal-of-young-man-for-showing-compassion-to-refugees-in-calais-shows-solidarity-is-not-a-crime/

https://mailchi.mp/euromedrights/world-refugee-day-deadlock-at-sea-obstacles-to-the-right-of-asylum-the-tunisian-case?e=1209ebd6d8

https://www.freedomunited.org/

https://www.msf.org/refugees-around-world-stories-survival-world-refugee-day

The Emirates trying to do good with one hand but what horror with the other!

May 8, 2019

The two faces of the UAE on human rights:

While major NGOs are involved in a campaign to save the life of human rights defender Ahmed Mansoor, Sharjah – the third largest and third most populous city in the United Arab Emirates – launches an international award for refugee work.

Update 6 May 2019:  Ahmed Mansoor remains in isolation in Al-Sadr prison in Abu Dhabi with no bed or water, despite an unconfirmed report that he may have ended his hunger strike recently. See: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/04/10/mea-laureate-ahmed-mansoor-on-hunger-strike-in-emirates/

Mansoor is being kept in an isolation ward in Al-Sadr prison in Abu Dhabi, where he is being held in “terrible conditions” in a cell with no bed, no water and no access to a shower. His health has deteriorated significantly, and he is in bad shape, moving slowly when he is allowed out of his cell. He is not allowed to have regular family visits, another reason he started his hunger strike in mid-March. The NGOs – Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), ARTICLE 19, Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), CIVICUS, English PEN, FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) under the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, Front Line Defenders (FLD), the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR), IFEX, International Service for Human Rights (ISHR), Martin Ennals Foundation, PEN International and Reporters Without Borders (RSF)- call on the UAE to immediately and unconditionally release Ahmed Mansoor, and other unlawfully detained human rights defenders.

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Filippo Grandi in Security Council denounces ‘toxic language of politics’ aimed at refugees, migrants

April 10, 2019

Dissecting the term “refugee crisis” itself, Mr. Grandi asked the Security Council to consider to whom, exactly, that applied: “It is a crisis for a mother with her children fleeing gang violence; it is a crisis for a teenager who wants to flee from war, human rights violations, forced conscription; it is crisis for governments in countries with few resources that, every day, open their borders to thousands. For them, it is a crisis.

UN Photo/Evan Schneider. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, briefs the Security Council. (9 April 2019)

But it is wrong, he continued, to portray the situation as an unmanageable global crisis: with political will and improved responses, as enshrined by the Global Compact for Refugees, adopted last December, it can be addressed, and the Security Council has a critical role to play, particularly in terms of solving peace and security crises, supporting countries that are hosting refugees, and working to remove obstacles to solutions.

Conflicts, Mr. Grandi pointed out, are the main drivers of refugee flows: of the nearly 70 million people that are displaced, most are escaping deadly fighting. However, from the point of view of the UN High Commission for Refugees, approaches to peace-building are fragmented; addressing the symptoms, rather than the causes.

..[he goes into more detail on the Libyan situation]…

The UN refugee chief went on to exhort the Security council to step up support for the developing countries that host 85 per cent of the world’s refugees, to avoid leaving governments politically exposed, and refugees destitute. With regards to the return of refugees and migrants to their countries of origin, Mr. Grandi countered the misconception that UNHCR blocks returns: refugees have both a right to return, and also a right to not return, he said, in the absence of security and basic support. The informed choice of refugees must be respected, and returns must be dignified.

Mr. Grandi concluded by returning to the consequences of the toxic language surrounding refugees and migration, citing the example of the recent mosque shootings in Christchurch, New Zealand in March, which left 49 dead. The response of the New Zealand Government should, he said, be seen as an good example of effective leadership and how to respond to such toxicity, in a firm and organized manner, restating solidarity with refugees, and reaffirming the principle that our societies cannot be truly prosperous, stable and peaceful, if they do not include everyone.

https://news.un.org/en/story/2019/04/1036391

Aziz: thank you for the attention but now I have go back to detention…

February 18, 2019

Last Wednesday, 13 February 2019, Abdul Aziz Muhamat was awarded the 2019 Martin Ennals Award for human rights defender in Geneva. Some time earlier Behrouz Boochani was awarded the Australian Victorian Prize for Literature. What they have in common is that they are detained – for almost 6 years – on Manus Island under Australia’s off-shore refugee policy.  Their stories testify to the cruelty of this regime and the humanitarian deficiency of a country that claims a strong liberal tradition and is itself a nation based on immigration. Successive governments have defended this policy as necessary to stop trafficking although it is hard to see how forced stays of such length would attract anybody except the most desperate refugees. And anyway even those recognized as refugees would not be allowed to settle in Australia!

Aziz’ impassioned acceptance speech in Geneva, spoke of the solidarity he feels for his fellow detainees in the face of daily humiliating and degrading treatment. Therefore he vowed to return to his detention centre in the Pacific, return to be a number (“On the island, officials refer to me as QNK002. I have no identity other than that number“). See:

Read the rest of this entry »

South Sudanese doctor wins 2018 Nansen Medal

October 2, 2018

Dr. Evan Atar Adaha speaks after accepting the 2018 Nansen Refugee Award. He and his team carry out an average of 58 operations a week in difficult conditions at Maban County Hospital in South Sudan.
Dr. Evan Atar Adaha speaks after accepting the 2018 Nansen Refugee Award.  © UNHCR/Mark Henley

The South Sudanese doctor, Evan Atar Adaha, was chosen for his 20-year commitment to providing medical services to people forced to flee conflict and persecution in Sudan and South Sudan, as well as to the communities that welcome them. Dr. Atar runs the only functional hospital in Upper Nile State, an area larger than Ireland. Located in the town of Bunj, in Maban County, it serves more than 200,000 people, including 144,000 refugees from Sudan.

Presenting the Nansen award in Geneva’s Bâtiment des Forces Motrices, Filippo Grandi, UN High Commissioner for Refugees, said that most of the doctor’s patients were refugees and he had lived through displacement himself, after fighting forced him to close his first hospital in Kurmuk, Sudan. In addition, he embodied “not only solidarity, but courageous solidarity” with his refugee patients, “two commodities that are very scarce in today’s world.”

Originally from Torit, a town in southern South Sudan, Dr. Atar studied medicine in Khartoum, Sudan, and afterwards practised in Egypt. In 1997, as war ravaged Sudan’s Blue Nile State, Dr. Atar volunteered to work there. In 2011, increasing violence forced him to pack up his hospital and flee with his staff and as much equipment as he could transport, a journey that took a month. In his acceptance speech, Dr. Atar said “However, this award is not for me as an individual. The award is for my team back in Maban.”

The keynote speaker at the event, actor Cate Blanchett, who is a UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador, earlier told the audience: “It is a formalised way of saying ‘thank you’ to one person specifically, but more importantly, it carries with it the inexpressible thanks to all who work in the humanitarian fields – often at great personal cost.” Blanchett concluded: “People like Dr. Atar inspire us to build a better future for everybody.”

The event was hosted by South African actress and advocate for UNHCR’s LuQuLuQu campaign Nomzamo Mbatha. She introduced the evening’s performers including Indian sitar player Anoushka Shankar, Syrian dancer and choreographer Ahmad Joudeh and Norwegian singer Sigrid.

British radio and television presenter Anita Rani hosted a Facebook Live stream of the ceremony on the UNHCR Facebook page.

For last yer’s award see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/10/01/ceremony-of-the-2017-nansen-medal-for-nigerian-zannah-mustapha-on-line-2-october/

Fo more on this and other awards in the refugee world: http://trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/unhcr-nansen-refugee-award

http://www.unhcr.org/uk/news/latest/2018/10/5badfc784/south-sudanese-surgeon-receive-2018-nansen-refugee-award.html