Migrants in Bosnia and Herzegovina
Civil wars, violence and poor governance in North Africa and the Middle East pushed people to Europe. Based on the statistical data of the International Organization of Migration (IOM), a total of 1,046,599 people arrived in Europe in 2015. The total number of arrivals to Europe by land in 2015 was 34,887, with 1,011,712 people arriving by sea. Bosnia and Herzegovina is a country that has received these migrants. Here is some information about migrants in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The Driving Forces of the European Union Migration Crisis

Every migration process remains influenced by a combination of several factors. The motivation for migration can be economic, environmental, political and social. The IOM defines the “push factor” as the situation or factor in a country of origin that encourage people to leave their country. The “pull factor” is the situation or factor that draws people to another country.

For the migrants, pull factors are high wages, employment and labor opportunities. But the essential push factors are lack of economic opportunities, slow economic growth and low wages. In other words, factors that have a connection with the economic situation. However, the situation is different for refugees. The main push factors for them are wars, interstate or civil strife and political oppression. The pull factors are safety and security.

The Western Balkan Migratory Route

Within a short period, a high number of arrivals of asylum seekers and migrants to the European Union (E.U.) has presented European leaders and politicians with one of the enormous challenges in the history of the E.U.

The case of Bosnia and Herzegovina can be an example of how the migration crisis created new challenges for a country that has unstable institutions and a weak economic situation. Since the beginning of the migration crisis, Bosnia became an unintended waystation for asylum seekers and migrants. The majority of the people who snuck in Bosnia and Herzegovina used the Western Balkan migratory route.

The majority of asylum seekers and migrants made their way from Turkey to Greece and northwards via the Western Balkans. The people who entered Greece tried to travel through the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Serbia to Hungary and Croatia. However, the violent act of Croatian border police pushed asylum seekers and migrants to Bosnia and Herzegovina.

According to the United Nations (U.N.) data, around 8,000 asylum seekers and migrants are currently present in the country, and 5,400 individuals are accommodated in E.U.-funded camps. Most of the people were from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. The vast majority of the asylum seekers and migrants were not eager to stay in Hungary or Croatia. Their main goal was to travel towards Western Europe.

The Numbers

In 2014, 43,357 illegal border crossings were registered in the Western Balkan route. However, in 2015, the numbers drastically increased. In 2015, 764,033 illegal border crossings occurred. Over the next few years, the numbers dropped. The total number of illegal crossings in 2016 stood at 130,325 and in 2017, it dropped to 12,179.

The lowest number of border crossings in 2018 was 5,869. However, after 2018, the numbers increased. For example, in 2020, there were 26,918 illegal crossings. The data refers to the detection of illegal border crossing rather than several individuals. The same individual may have attempted to cross the external borders several times.

The Situation in Refugee Camps

In January 2021, the European Commission announced that €3.5 million in financial aid will go toward helping asylum seekers and migrants in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The main goal of the funding is to supply warm clothing, blankets, food, healthcare service and psychosocial support. Since early 2018, the E.U. has provided more than €88 either directly to Bosnia and Herzegovina or to partner organizations that implement projects to improve conditions in the camps.

Despite the E.U. monetary help, the authority of the country faces difficulties to handle the situation, and most of the camp residents live in poverty. Residents of camps suffer from a lack of food, clean water and sanitary conditions. On the other hand, one of the main problems resulted in that the responsible authorities in Bosnia and Herzegovina and other international organizations did not manage monetary aid properly. Also, as NGOs have argued, the E.U. often focuses on short-term solutions rather than long-term.

Despite all the financial aid from the E.U., the Bosnian Premier Zoran Tegeltija states that “Bosnia-Herzegovina can’t handle the migrant crisis on its own.” The position of Bosnian authorities is that they are carrying a heavy burden and financial support is not enough.  Zoran says the “number of migrants in proportion to the number of residents is significantly higher compared to other countries.”

Conclusion

The E.U. provided monetary aid to Bosnia and Herzegovina in 2016. Despite the ongoing challenges in the refugee camps in Bosnia and Herzegovina, hopefully, continued financial aid will improve their conditions.

Tofig Ismayilzada
Photo: Flickr

Matamoros Refugee CampNot until 2019, under the Trump administration’s Migrant Protection Protocols program (MMP), has a refugee camp existed on a United States border. After two years of operation, on February 24, 2021, the Matamoros refugee camp closed and the U.N. Refugee Agency began its in-person registration of the 750 people who lived there. The MPP policy forced people seeking asylum in the U.S. to remain in Mexico until their cases could be heard in U.S. immigration court.

The Matamoros Refugee Camp

The influx of immigrants to the U.S. border can be attributed to root causes of “economic problems, ongoing violence, worsening corruption, challenges to democracy as well as the devastating impact of the coronavirus.” In 2017, the majority of immigrants from Central America were from El Salvador (39.7%), Guatemala (27.2%) and Honduras (18.6%).

An asylum seeker is defined as “a person who has left their country and is seeking protection from persecution and serious human rights violations in another country.” Since the implementation of the MPP, roughly 70,000 people made the difficult choice to leave their country of origin to seek asylum in the U.S. and about 70,000 were returned to Mexico. A refugee camp thus formed in Matamoros, Mexico, located on the southern bank of Rio Grande, directly across the border from Brownsville, Texas. At this camp, hundreds, and at times, thousands of people wait for the duration of their immigration proceedings.

The conditions of living at the camp posed serious health risks. Furthermore, as of December 2020, there were more than 1,000 reports of “rape, kidnapping, torture and other violent attacks” against asylum seekers at the U.S. border. In addition to the risks posed at dangerous border towns, the camp faced deteriorating conditions, including a lack of access to water and sanitation. In juxtaposition to the peril faced in a crowded refugee camp, there were celebrations within the community of residents. People formed church groups and tent schools. They celebrated quinceaneras and fell in love. The refugees at the Matamoros camp showed resolve to find some level of normalcy within a period of uncertainty and fear.

Organizations Supporting the Camp

Resource Center Matamoros (RCM) is a humanitarian organization that has become a staple of social support for immigrants at the border. Gaby Zavana, the organization’s co-founder, told The Borgen Project that there were no medical resources and no infrastructure in the early days of the camp.”We initially provided food, tents and blankets, but that shifted to providing an office building for the refugees to have access to legal teams, medical teams and social support services.” The work that Zavana does within the RCM is multi-faceted. She explained that as the organization expanded, RCM started to take on the role of camp management.

Zavana says that RCM prioritized public health issues by setting up temporary camp showers so that people would not have to bathe in the river. Additionally, RCM targeted camp infrastructure, paving walkways and helping people construct better home structures and kitchens. The work of RCM extends to lobbying the Mexican and U.S. government and advocating on behalf of the asylum seekers at the U.S. border.

Angry Tias and Abuelas, the recipient of the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award in 2019, is an organization based in the Rio Grande Valley, Texas. The organization has engaged in efforts to provide food to the hungry, visit the imprisoned and comfort people stranded at the border. It also set up stores in the Matamoros camp to supply essential items like diapers and cooking utensils to the migrants, free of charge.

Fixing Immigration Policy

The Biden administration announced in late February 2021 its plans to close the Matamoros refugee camp, terminate the MPP and dedicate $4 billion to address the underlying causes of migration from Central America. The administration has started processing migrants and all of the residents of the camp have now moved to await their hearings in the U.S. When asked about the environment of the camp upon hearing the news of its impending closure, Zavana told The Borgen Project that the residents were unusually quiet. The quietness could signify a deep, silent reflection of their experiences at the camp and futures in the United States.

The number of people coming to the border has increased dramatically since the termination of the MPP. Zavana says that “a big portion of RCM’s work has gone to the camp so the closure of the camp can free up resources to focus on new arrivals.” RCM is currently working on an interim shelter to house new arrivals until more shelter facilities open up.

The Road Ahead

The tides are shifting for asylum seekers at the U.S. border. The Matamoros refugee camp provided some level of security for thousands of people fleeing persecution, violence and poverty in hopes of receiving asylum in the United States. The efforts of organizations like the Resource Center Matamoros allowed camp residents to live with more dignity and humanity. The Biden administration’s upheaval of Trump-era immigration policy is promising for the past residents of the Matamoros refugee camp.

– Brittany Granquist
Photo: Flickr

The Northern Triangle
Latin America is in a vicious circle of crime, poverty and corruption. High crime rates thwart economic opportunities and crime rates push people into poverty, all cumulating into corrupt leaders who use the pain for their power and self-interest. Nevertheless, nowhere is crime more prevalent than in the Northern Triangle.

The Northern Triangle is region in Central America that includes Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. It has experienced the worst problems such as poor economic growth, rampant gang violence and political corruption. This three-prong nightmare has fueled an estimated 265,000 people toward the Southern U.S. Border and will continue to grow into the foreseeable future. While some do attempt to find safety in Europe and elsewhere in South America, others take the risk and traverse their way to the U.S-Mexico border, where they risk entering the country illegally. Others surrender to U.S. border patrol and seek asylum. However, it is unlikely that they will receive asylum. On average, only 13% of individuals receive asylum and experience integration into the United States.

Gang Corruption

In 2017, a survey asked the people in El Salvador, “who runs the country?” About 42% of respondents said “Delincuencia/Maras.” For non-Spanish speakers, this translates to gangs, like MS-13.

These answers have visible ramifications that strike at the core of the government. Governments in the Northern Triangle are weak, and the people know this; the gangs know this. People understand the country’s power lies in gangs’ hands, not in the government’s.

For example, in 2012, the Salvadorian government agreed to sign a truce with the criminal organizations to address skyrocketing homicide rates. The profoundly unpopular legislation did lower the homicide rate but the people still had to continue to pay gangs. Tactics like homicide and racketeering are not the only ways these organizations flex their might.

Throughout the Northern Triangle, gangs rely on drug and human trafficking, money laundering, kidnapping and theft to export their criminal enterprise well beyond the Northern Triangle. Issues in the Northern Triangle are not just an inter-state problem but also a problem for the entire Western Hemisphere.

Governance Problem

Northern Triangle nations have made some progress when it comes to corruption. But the total damage that such corruption caused is still in the billions: $13 billion to be precise.

In 2006, Guatemala successfully combated corruption when it appealed to the U.N., which established the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG). This independent body investigates the infiltration of criminal groups within state institutions. Such an organization resulted in the conviction of hundreds of officials and reduced the homicide rate.

In El Salvador, in 2019, the country created its own independent body called Commission against Corruption and Impunity in El Salvador (CITIES), which could yield the same results as CICIG. Over in Honduras, the hopes of establishing such independent oversight do not seem to be gaining the same traction. After the resignation of President Lobo Sosa in 2013, an investigation into the Honduran Institute of Social Security revealed a scandal that cost the people over $200 million. It also implicated President Orlando Hernández, who admitted to unknowingly using some of the money to fund his presidential campaign.

Unlike Guatemala and El Salvador, the Honduras legislature rejected a proposal to create its own CICI. Instead, it created Support the Fight against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras (MACCIH). Although intended to fight corruption, it does not have the same autonomy as CICIG and CITIES. MACCIH is not autonomous and cannot investigate Honduran Public Ministry. Instead, it relies heavily on its relationship with the Attorney General and Congress, which could shield the people committing corruption. This inability to pass support for CICIH instead of settling for MACCIH might be signaling that the $200 million white-collar crime is the beginning of a giant iceberg.

A Path Forward

In Washington DC, support exists for CICIH and CITIES. Congresswoman Norma Torres and others released a statement in 2019 supporting these institutions. Reinstating the CICIG and implementing the same structure in CICIH and CITIES would stop corruption. This would allow the state to use its monopoly on violence to fight crime and allow positive economic growth. In April 2021, the State Department announced $740,740 in available funding for “competition for organizations interested in submitting applications for projects that empower civil society to combat corruption and protect human rights.”

– Diego Romero
Photo: Flickr

UnivocaNorth Korean defectors are Koreans who have fled North Korea seeking asylum in South Korea or other nations, mainly due to “political, ideological and economic reasons.” When North Korean defectors flee to South Korea, one particular challenge they endure is the language barrier. The two Koreas once shared a common language, but after years of conflict, the languages today are much different. The Univoca app, designed in South Korea’s capital city of Seoul, is a South Korean-North Korean translator app that has proven useful for learning new vocabulary to helps bridge the linguistic divide. Bridging the linguistic divide helps North Korean defectors better transition to living in South Korea.

Korean Dialects

The North Korean language has always remained the same. It is known as Chosŏnŏ, whereas Hangugeo is the language of South Korea. The alphabet is the same but there are visual variations in terms of spacing, connection and appearance. Some words look completely different but most of the difference is in the dialect and pronunciation.

The developing democratic nation of South Korea frequently pokes fun at the northern dialect in comedy acts for seeming “quaint or old-fashioned. The government of the north, is of a hereditary nature as it is a family dictatorship that some often call a “hereditary dictatorship.” North Korea does not allow anything to stray from its traditional and conservative history. Defectors that have fled to South Korea often flee in a desperate attempt to leave their pasts behind them and begin a new life that does not involve dictatorship. Univoca, short for unification vocabulary, helps bridge linguistic barriers.

After the arduous journey to South Korea, many defectors describe the struggle with the language to be one of the biggest hardships. North Koreans can only understand about half of the language in South Korea. Defectors compare the transition to learning an entirely new language. Although they are eager to start a new life, the language barrier makes transitioning difficult.

The Univoca Translation App

South Korean teachers are hopeful that the Univoca app will help new defector students better understand their learning material. This, in turn, should help them progress in their educational endeavors. Univoca offers some independence from constantly relying on others to teach and translate the language.

The developers of Univoca’s dictionary deliberately and considerably chose the first 3,600 words of Univoca’s dictionary. Co-developer, Jang Jong-chul said, “We first showed this typical South Korean grammar textbook to a class of teenage defectors who picked out the unfamiliar words.” The creators also consulted older North Korean people to help with producing accurate translations.

Univoca users are able to type in the unknown word or scan a photo of it with a cellphone camera. The app then produces the appropriate translation. Univoca also offers commonly used phrases to guide users through basic activities such as ordering food off of a menu or asking for directions. Subscribers are able to add suggestions of words that they would like Univoca to add to the dictionary. This leaves room for a continually growing translation app.

The Univoca translation app is a simple solution with a tremendous impact. Univoca helps North Koreans transition to life in South Korea by offering assistance with the linguistic barriers that present themselves.

Sarah Ottosen
Photo: Flickr

Asylum System in Greece
When an asylum seeker reaches Greece after spending an onerous period braving some of the harshest conditions the human experience has to offer, they frequently meet consternation. The country they arrive in submits people looking for a better life to an elaborate system that starves them of their rights as asylum seekers under the Geneva Convention. This inevitably devolves into situations that mirror gross human rights violations. These situations exacerbate what many of the people face in their home country: poverty. The Borgen Project spoke to migration specialist Margaux Cachera to better understand the asylum system in Greece and its effect on poverty.

How the Policy Changed

Cachera worked on Leros, a Greek Island in the southern Aegean sea. She worked in conjunction with a hotspot that serves as the first glimpse of Europe for some migrants. She insists the asylum system in Greece has intrinsic ties to Europe’s policy on migration, which is admittedly poor. “There’s the basic issue of European countries not following the rule of law regarding refugees. One of the main principles of international law is nonrefoulement, which they are violating. So they are infringing on a key principle of refugee law. They simply go around it.”

The process of refugee migration in Europe is as follows; every asylum seeker may submit an application for international protection once inside the boundaries of the asylum country. However, on the fringes of Europe, in places like Spain, Italy and Greece, they face more difficult migration problems than northern countries. They have also increasingly looked to tighten immigration laws and border controls. After years of loosely following international law, a 2016 agreement with Turkey changed everything about the asylum system in Greece.

The controversial legislation and agreement with Turkey ensured that refugees and asylum seekers could no longer travel to other European countries. They thus end up in a clogged system that does not want them. Programs to house, feed and integrate asylum seekers have since fallen into disrepair. Cachera contends that in the years since the agreement came into being, the asylum system in Greece has become a divisive political football. “Since then, there has been a shift to a more intense, right-wing government and this agreement has started to be more harshly applied – not that it wasn’t ever applied before – and they [refugees and asylum seekers] are now being put into detention camps at scarier rates.” The asylum system in Greece is now morphing from a process by which people integrate into society to a process by which they experience exclusion or imprisonment.

The Poverty Asylum Seekers Face

If one reaches a Greek island with the hopes of attaining asylum, they immediately face stark reality. Before the 2008 economic crisis in the country, migrants experienced greater employment than natives. The following years proved the opposite, with unemployment rates among refugees dropping at greater rates than natives.

This phenomenon does not apply to asylum seekers, who often cannot obtain employment due to a lack of legal standing in Greece. As a result, they must live in a kind of limbo – unable to be employed and unable to have their case heard. This has created an environment with “no stable electricity or running water, limited food and insufficient space for social distancing.”

Cachera highlights the paradox about the asylum system in Greece – often asylum seekers (those who have not yet received their refugee status) benefit from greater aid than those who have received official status but are soon to lose it if they receive the good news of refugee status. “Asylum seekers don’t face the kind of poverty that refugees do. They have a shelter – which is deplorable but a shelter nonetheless. They have food – daily meals. And a stipend.” It then becomes curious to figure out why the system does not aid in the integration of its new migrants.

Greek’s hostile position to NGOs that help asylum seekers and provide programs that grant emergency housing and cash assistance programs like ESTIA and HELIOS, which “subsidizes rent and independent housing for up to twelve months” for vulnerable refugees, essentially subjugates asylum seekers to unwanted and uncared for wards of the state. It perpetuates a kind of incomplete existence in which not even prisoners remain.

What this Means for the Future

The solution appears to be one of increased funding to systems that aid asylum seekers and refugees. This functions in addition to the restoration of eligibility periods for programs like ESTIA. Such programs provide housing and cash to newly arrived refugees. Greece must realign itself with the principle of nonrefoulement. It must also reconsider its agreement with Turkey, which amounts to a naked attempt to circumvent established rules of the Geneva Convention, the doctrine that employs itself to protect vulnerable asylum seekers.

Of course, poverty has intrinsic ties to the process. Amnesty International recognizes 1.4 million refugees who currently need resettlement out of the more than 70 million people who have experienced forcible displacement due to “conflict, persecution or natural disasters.” Developing countries host about 84% of these people, which does not include Greece. Without a 180 degree turn to restore dignity and material resources to those waiting for refugee status the system is bound for further disrepair.

Human rights advocates and migration specialists like Margaux Cachera often publicize shameful issues to garner attention for gross injustice. Questions about actionable solutions, though, often engender a bevy of good ideas. “How do you make camps better? Should camps exist at all? I guess we’re not trying to discuss revolution here but enabling people to have agency is key. That’s the whole thing…. Camps in the global north are so regimented to a certain extent that they don’t allow for a microeconomy… Personally, I think it’s crucial that people are allowed to cook by and for themselves if they want. Which can spawn local vendors. People then have money to buy food and cook for their families. Some form of normality in that form would create a more positive social impact inside the camps.”

Depending on our aims for humanity, the global community must understand and address the asylum system in Greece. This would not only benefit those inside the walls of refugee camps and hotspots but also impact global poverty.

Spencer Daniels
Photo: Flickr

migrant childrenAs President Biden attempts to undo many of the anti-immigration policies of his predecessor, a surge in unaccompanied migrant children seeking refuge at the southern border is creating logistical challenges. In January 2021 alone, border patrol agents reported nearly 6,000 unaccompanied children crossing the border. This is almost double compared to the number of crossings in January of 2020. Concerns have arisen regarding the well-being of these migrant children and the steps that will be taken to safeguard them.

Causes and Temporary Solutions

The increase in migrant children can be linked to a combination of several factors. Firstly, natural causes. The coronavirus pandemic, coupled with devastating hurricanes in Central America, has compounded pre-existing conditions such as violence and poverty. Secondly, the reversal of Trump-era policies has restored hope to migrants who were previously denied entrance into the U.S.

To respond to the increase in asylum seekers, President Biden has restored border facilities to full capacity. Biden has also restarted programs allowing migrants to apply for asylum from their home countries rather than having to make the perilous journey to the border.

Perhaps most debated is Biden’s decision to reopen the Carrizo Springs influx facility in Texas for children aged 13 to 17. The facility has drawn comparisons to a McAllen, Texas, processing center used by both the Obama and Trump administrations where children were enclosed in chainlink fences and forced to sleep on the ground. Child welfare advocates are concerned about Biden’s decision because the Carrizo Springs facility is not licensed to house children. However, they generally agree that the facility is an improvement over the McAllen housing used during the Trump presidency.

Political Tightrope

While Biden’s reversal of the restrictive immigration policies created by Trump will increase the number of refugees granted legal entrance into the United States, a bigger question remains on how to improve conditions in migrant countries of origin in the face of COVID-19, extreme weather, climate change and violence. Addressing these conditions will eliminate the need for migration entirely, resolving many of the issues associated with migration to the U.S.

The process of softening the restrictions put in place by the previous two administrations is a lengthy and complicated one. Biden faces pressure to open the border from the left and pressure to close it from the right. Through the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021, Biden has put forth a $4 billion four-year plan to improve living conditions in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, the home countries of many of the migrants who have arrived at the U.S.-Mexico border to seek asylum. These improvements will alleviate migration to the U.S.

The Road Ahead

Biden is walking a political tightrope by working to address root causes while simultaneously continuing Obama and Trump-era border practices. He also faces the tangible challenge of lacking the capacity to process the sheer numbers of migrant children arriving daily. Whether or not Biden can deliver on the promises he made in his campaign remains to be seen but it is certain that the U.S. is understandably trying to adopt an approach that safeguards both the well-being of migrants as well as that of the United States.

Kieran Hadley
Photo: Flickr

Addressing migrant and Refugee HealthAt the end of 2019, there were 79.5 million recorded forcibly displaced people in the world, with 26 million labeled as refugees. Roughly 68% of those displaced come from just five countries, which means that resources can be scarce for many of these people and their physical and mental health may become less of a priority in lieu of other needs. More focus needs to go toward addressing migrant and refugee health in order to protect the well-being of one of the most vulnerable populations.

7 Facts About Migrant and Refugee Health

  1. The Immigrant, Refugee and Migrant Health Branch (IRMH) is a branch of the Division of Global Migration and Quarantine that works to improve the health and well-being of refugees. The IRMH also provides guidelines for disease prevention and tracks cases around the globe in migrant populations. The organization has three teams and five programs that work both in the U.S. and around the world to combat infectious diseases.
  2. Refugees are affected by illness and health issues through transit and in their host communities. Most refugees are likely to be in good health in general, according to the CDC, but migrating tends to be a social determinant in refugee health. Health inequities are increased by conditions such as restrictive policies, economic hardship and anti-migrant views. Poor living conditions and changes in lifestyle also play a role.

  3. Refugee health profiles are compiled through multiple organizations to provide information about important cultural and health factors pertaining to specific regions. Refugees from different areas often have very different health concerns. For example, anemia and diabetes are priority conditions in Syrian refugees but parasitic infections and malaria are the focus for Congolese migrants.

  4. About one-third of migrants and refugees experience high rates of depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorders. Mental health is a vital part of all refugee health programs and the priority for youth mental health programming is especially necessary. Forced displacement is traumatic and while there is likely a reduction of high anxiety or depression levels over time after resettlement, some cases can last for years.

  5. Healthcare is often restricted based on legal status within refugee populations. The 1946 Constitution of the World Health Organization articulated that the right to health is an essential component of human rights but many people are limited to claiming this right. Activists for refugee health along with many NGOs call for universal health care and protection for migrant populations.

  6. Important needs in refugee health include the quality and cost of disease screenings. HIV, hepatitis, schistosomiasis and strongyloidiasis are diseases that are prevalent among vulnerable refugee and migrant populations. However, ease and quality of medical screenings are not guaranteed in many centers or camps.

  7. Mothers and children face many barriers due to their unique needs and few refugee health care providers are able to properly address them. There is an increased need for reproductive health services and many of the barriers provide more difficulty than aid to many women. These include language, costs and general stigma.

Prioritizing Vulnerable Populations

The U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR) is well known for its work to safeguard the rights and well-being of people who have been forced to flee. Refugee International is another organization that advocates for the rights and protection of displaced people around the world. Awareness of refugee health facts and concerns enables organizations to take a direct stance on improving conditions and procedures. With the growing number of refugees around the world today, addressing migrant and refugee health must be prioritized in order to better protect these vulnerable populations.

– Savannah Gardner
Photo: Flickr

border campsThe United States’ Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) program, better known as “Remain in Mexico,” is a policy that requires those seeking asylum within the United States entering from the southern border to wait outside of the United States in Mexico while their cases are reviewed by immigration judges. Since its implementation in January 2016, this policy has led to the build-up of camps of asylum seekers around Mexico. These U.S.-Mexico border camps are ridden with crime, disease and other dangers.

Rampant Crime in US-Mexico Border Camps

The NGO, Human Rights First, has reported more than 1,314 cases of rape, kidnapping, murder, torture and other violent crimes against migrants forced to return to Mexico. Of those cases, 318 have been kidnappings or attempted kidnappings of children. Rampant police corruption in border cities means nothing is done to protect migrants. Crimes including extortion, assault and sexual harassment have all been reported against members of the Mexican police. These reports come from individual interviews held by Human Rights First in order to determine the scale of crime within migrant camps. Given that about 55,000 individuals have been returned to Mexico as part of the Migrant Protection Protocols program, the organization believes that those 1,314 cases are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to violent crime in U.S.-Mexico border camps.

The Dangers of Mexican Regions

The United States Department of State periodically releases travel advisories on countries and regions throughout the world to warn citizens of dangers they may face when traveling there. This includes the Mexican state of Tamaulipas, Matamoros, a hotspot for gathering migrants awaiting entrance into the United States. Thousands of migrants, returned to Mexico by immigration officials to await their trials, live in tented border camps in a place that the United States considers dangerous. This has led to scrutiny by organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) for endangering asylum seekers by sending them to places that the United States admits are dangerous.

Vulnerable Populations in Camps

Despite the fact that vulnerable populations are supposed to be exempt from the “Remain in Mexico” program, many individuals that should not have been sent back have shown up in U.S.-Mexico Border camps. The period from the programs start through June 2019 saw 13 pregnant women and 4,780 children sent to await their trials in Mexico according to Human Rights Watch. Human Rights Watch also reports that people genuinely afraid of returning to Mexico, including kidnapping and assault victims, have been denied exemption from the Migrant Protection Protocols program and were sent back across the border anyway. Human Rights Watch, the ACLU, Human Rights First and others, have all found that people including the disabled, the young, the sick and members of the LGBTQ+ community, have all been sent back to Mexico despite qualifying for an exemption from the policy.

Unsanitary Conditions Spread Disease

The unsanitary conditions along the U.S.-Mexico border have led to diseases spreading among migrants. Reportedly, there is little clean water and migrants often bathe in the Rio Grande River, which is known for containing E. coli, other bacteria and human feces. Few cases of COVID-19 have been officially recorded. However, with border camps’ proximity to COVID-19 hotspots both in the U.S. and Mexico, there is likely an abundance of unknown cases.

NGOs Assist Migrants

Immigration to the United States has basically come to a complete standstill as the border between the two countries has remained closed throughout the course of the pandemic. Because of this, NGOs have gone into border camps in order to assist those in need. The UNHRC has set up hand-washing stations and isolation areas in some migrant camps. It has also provided cash relief to migrants who have lost jobs due to the pandemic. Other organizations like Global Response Management and  Doctors Without Borders have provided medical assistance by building medical centers, distributing PPE and providing medical treatment for those infected with COVID-19.

The United States Migrant Protection Protocols, or the “Remain in Mexico” policy, has without a doubt led to an increase in concerns for the health and safety of people along the U.S.-Mexico border. Now, with the COVID-19 pandemic bringing the already slow asylum process to a standstill, poverty and disease has spread throughout these camps. However, NGOs like the UNHRC have been stepping up and providing assistance to those most in need.

– Aidan Sun
Photo: Flickr

Migrant Crisis
The migrant crisis in Italy is prevalent; Italy receives more asylum seekers per year than any other European country. Since 2017, over 192,000 individuals have sought refuge in Italy by crossing the Mediterranean in informal vessels and ships organized and manned by non-governmental organizations. Many migrants who make the perilous journey from the coast of North Africa to Italy land at the small island of Lampedusa, the southernmost area of Italian territory, located just 70 miles from the coast of Tunisia.

At the peak of the crisis, hundreds of thousands of Syrians, Afghanis and Libyans crossed into Europe to seek asylum. However, Italy’s strategic location near the coasts of Tunisia and Libya led to a continuous increase in attempted landings. These two locations are common debarkation points for Middle Eastern and North African migrants. According to Reuters, from August 2019 to July 2020, over 21,000 individuals successfully reached Italy’s southern shores. These figures represent an increase of 148% from the previous year.

Additionally, E.U. regulations regarding the resettlement of asylum seekers place high financial and administrative burdens on Italy. The 1990 Dublin Regulation is a law for E.U. member states which forces migrants coming to the European Union to make their application for asylum in the first country where they arrived. This legislation disproportionately affected the Italian government in comparison with its northern European neighbors.

Migrants and the 2018 Elections

The E.U.’s perceived ambivalence towards Italy’s economic burden and the peak of the European migrant crisis in 2017 created tension. These factors created a perfect storm for the victory of right-wing political leader Matteo Salvini and his Lega party. Salvini’s message on the campaign trail, that of blocking migrant arrivals in Italy and a renegotiation of ties to the European government in Brussels, struck a tone with many dissatisfied Italian voters in the north of the country where anti-immigrant sentiments remain common.

As minister of the interior, Salvini fulfilled his electoral promise, continuing his hardline position regarding the migrant crisis in Italy. During his tenure, the Lega leader utilized Italy’s military vessels to prevent ships carrying migrants from docking in the country’s ports and cut off funding for social programs that provide vital assistance and resources for newly arrived asylum seekers.

Looking Forward

The Lega-led government collapsed in 2019. The liberal government that succeeded it altered the dynamics of the Italian government’s role in the migrant crisis. Salvini heavily criticized the E.U. government for its laissez-faire approach to Italy’s economic and organizational woes during the migrant crisis. In contrast, the current Italian government is much more open to collaboration with Brussels. An agreement reached at the end of 2019 between Italy, Germany and France allowed for the relocation of migrants rescued at sea throughout the E.U., thus moving away from the controversial Dublin Regulation.

Even under the new liberal government in Rome, deportations of recently arrived migrants have continued into the present. However, the current national policy regarding asylum seekers differs from the issue’s handling under Salvini; instead of directly blocking migrant vessels and NGOs from docking in Italian ports, the government is directly lobbying with Tunisia to incentivize the North African country to control illegal migration from its borders by threatening cuts to development aid.

The economic and social catastrophe of the coronavirus pandemic accelerated the new Tunisian policy and continued deportations. The country faced an administrative breakdown during the spring and found a need to centralize government resources towards the virus. These factors led to the closure of numerous refugee facilities in southern Italy. Furthermore, the new liberal government had, for the first time, deployed military ships to stop migrants from Tunisia in order to maintain Italy’s national quarantine.

Although the country has policies in place to ensure all incoming asylum seekers are quarantined before entry, the fear of new cases being brought into the country as well as additional stress on an already damaged economy may lead to increased support for Salvini’s policies in the future.

International Rescue Committee (IRC)

One important organization lobbying for the rights of migrants seeking refuge in Italy and the E.U. is the International Rescue Committee (IRC). The IRC primarily assists in the safe movement of asylum seekers. It organizes funding for secure ships and professional sailors to transport migrants across the Mediterranean. Furthermore, the IRC was instrumental in the development of Refugee.Info. This online site serves as an informational tool on how to apply for asylum. It also details statistics regarding the issue of migrants in Italy. Lastly, the IRC provides mental and physical health services for newly arrived migrants in the collection facilities in southern Italy. Though COVID-19 has posed many challenges to the migrant crisis in Italy, there are organizations making a difference.

Jason Beck
Photo: Wikimedia