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Asylum Partnership AgreementOn April 14, 2022, the U.K. government and Rwanda entered into an agreement, that later became a five-year asylum partnership agreement. The agreement, officially titled “U.K.-Rwanda Migration and Economic Development Partnership,” will aim to provide asylum for immigrants traveling to the U.K. illegally, through relocation to Rwanda. As part of the agreement with Rwanda, officials will process refugees on entry into Rwanda, where they will receive a decision regarding their refugee status.

What Does the Agreement Entail?

U.K. Home Secretary Priti Patel and Rwanda’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Vincent Biruta signed the asylum partnership agreement, which falls under the Memorandum of Understanding. The decision to strike an agreement with Rwanda came about as a result of the U.K.’s new immigration policy, which intends to counteract illegal immigration. “The consultation showed public support for the need to disrupt the criminal activity that underpins illegal migration.”

Rwanda will receive financial support from the U.K. government to accommodate and process refugees. According to the House of Commons Library “…the U.K. is providing £120 million funding to Rwanda. It will also pay for the processing and integration costs for each relocated person.”

Is the Agreement Necessary?

The two states signed the agreement in response to the migrant crisis affecting much of Europe in recent times. They intend to provide a safer, more manageable system to combat illegal immigration into the U.K.

It is anticipated that approximately 60,000 people are set to travel across the English Channel by the end of 2022. This figure is more than double in comparison with last year’s 28,526 people crossing the Channel in small boats. There was hope that schemes such as the partnership agreement would present a more viable option to combat future illegal immigration. However, “14,728 people have arrived since the government launched the Rwanda policy,” according to BBC.

Questions Over Suitability of the Deal and Its Potential Impact on Poverty

Many raised notable questions over the suitability and practicality of Rwanda serving as the representative country to accommodate refugees. Significant concern from U.K. officials regarding the asylum partnership agreement with Rwanda has manifested from numerous documents submitted to a high court hearing earlier this year.

A key point raised questions over Rwanda’s human rights status. Rwanda is one of the 14 countries presenting substantial issues in relation to asylum systems and human rights.

Concerns regarding the impact the agreement may have upon refugees traveling to Rwanda and the communities that they could settle in have been a prevalent talking point. Treatment of refugees arriving in Rwanda remains an issue from a human rights perspective, as suppression of freedom of speech, detention and even torture are common practices.

Economically, Rwanda has seen steady progress in recent times, with the country aiming to become a middle-income nation by 2035. However, according to The World Bank, with its poverty percentage standing at 55% in 2017, it may represent a difficult beginning for many refugees. The refugees that could face relocation to Rwanda will indeed discover this and with the right to leave Rwanda available to thousands of them, it has the potential to cause chaos and increase the strain on aid agencies working to combat poverty within Rwanda and across Africa.

The Ethical and Legal Challenges of the Agreement

At this current time, the agreement appears to be shrouded in controversy and indifference due to human rights concerns. The inaugural flight carrying asylum seekers destined for Rwanda should have departed on June 14, 2022. However, the European Court of Human Rights'(ECHR) late intervention successfully halted the first wave of deportations. Prime minister Boris Johnson condemned the ECHR’s decision and threatened to revoke the U.K.’s participation in the convention.

The asylum partnership agreement with Rwanda was met with a considerable outcry in the lead-up to June 14 and efforts to disrupt and put an end to the agreement were voiced in the form of organized protests. The UNHCR commented on the agreement, stating “They should not be traded like commodities and transferred abroad for processing.”

With the considerable legal battles looming over the asylum partnership agreement, any effort to relocate migrants to Rwanda as part of the agreement will not take place before late autumn at the earliest. The next landmark step in the ongoing developments of the agreement will take place on September 5, when a judicial review will take place at London’s High Court to determine the legality of the agreement.

– Jamie Garwood
Photo: Flickr

refugee storiesOf the world’s population, 79.5 million people have been forcibly displaced from their homes. There are currently about 26 million refugees worldwide. Many of these individuals have been forced to flee their homes, experiencing extreme difficulty and hardship. At the peak of the 2015 European refugee crisis, headlines surrounding refugees’ stories of fleeing their home countries saturated the news. Combined with sobering photographs, these refugee stories provided the world with a glimpse into the realities of what thousands of individuals and families were experiencing and enduring. As the years have passed, this coverage has diminished, but thousands of refugees continue to flee their homes to find asylum elsewhere.

Refugee Stories in the News

One World Media, an organization supporting independent media coverage on circumstances in developing countries, advocates for continued media coverage of the European Refugee Crisis. To do so, it launched the Refugee Reporting Award. In partnership with the British Red Cross, the award encourages accurate and empathetic coverage of the state of the continuous refugee crisis.

The Executive Director of Communications and Advocacy at British Red Cross, Zoë Abrams, expounds on the importance of telling refugee stories. She explains that these stories are key to breaking down misconceptions and bias surrounding refugees and migrants. Abrams further states that “the relative trickle of stories nowadays means it is easy to wrongly assume that the situation for people on the move has dramatically improved.” This, however, is far from true, as issues regarding migration have increased across the globe.

How We Tell Refugee Stories

Although it is important to compile and share refugee stories, the manner in which individuals and their stories are portrayed should be carefully considered. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) advises readers not to focus on refugees’ pasts, but to consider what individuals can accomplish despite what they have experienced.

The UNHCR shared the story of Shahm Maskoun, a Syrian refugee now living in France. He was finding great success in his life in Syria, but then war broke out and he was forced to flee, leaving everything behind. When Maskoun arrived in France, he had nothing and was very lonely. However, taking advantage of the support offered to refugees and migrants, he received some financial and health support. He eventually enrolled in a master’s program and then began giving back, assisting students in his classes and using his skills in internships. Reflecting on his own experiences, Maskoun says that he wants people to understand that refugees themselves aren’t the crisis, but the manner in which the media tells their stories can be problematic, insinuating they are defined by the hardships they have experienced.

The Importance of Refugee Stories

All types of refugee stories, including those highlighting the difficulties that individuals experienced while fleeing their homes and those describing the success found by refugees in other countries, have their place. A recent study shows that children need to hear refugee stories because it makes them more compassionate and empathetic, especially if refugee children are living in their communities and attending their schools.

Testing three groups of children, the results illustrated the connection between empathy and a willingness to help others. In this case, hearing the stories and experiences of the refugee children who would be joining their school class made children act accordingly with kindness and mindfulness toward their new classmates.

Compiling and telling refugee stories can be a useful tool in educating and informing the public about the state of the refugee crisis. As these stories foster empathy, it is likely that communities will remember refugees and seek to help provide them with relief and safety.

– Kalicia Bateman
Photo: Flickr

Germany's Duel System
Germany has gained worldwide acclaim for its joint education and vocational training programs. There are tens of thousands of asylum-seekers participating throughout the country, which signals concerted government effort to create a path to employment.

What is Germany’s Dual System?

Germany’s vocational education and training (VET) programs combine practical and theoretical training with real-life work experience. Those enrolled typically spend part of the week in vocational schools and the rest work directly at specific German companies. After two to three years, certification and sufficient language preparedness all but guarantees job placement, which is critical in the refugee integration effort.

After the influx of refugees in 2015, Germany’s dual system has become an essential part of the country’s integration strategy. The number of refugees entering tradecraft apprenticeships, both through vocational school and otherwise, increased 140% during 2018. Given the success of these vocational schools, many other European countries such as Austria, Switzerland, Luxembourg and Denmark have adopted similar frameworks.

Syrian Asylum-Seekers in Germany

Syrian refugees and asylum seekers in particular benefit from Germany’s undertakings. Of the more than 1.4 million asylum applicants, the majority come from Syria.

Enrollment in a government-sponsored language program is necessary for participation in the dual system. While this may seem like a barrier to integration at first glance, asylum-seeker status guarantees the right to attend subsidized language courses.

These social measures are helping to lower barriers to employment for Syrian refugees. Germany’s dual system has positive social and economic outcomes in its own right, but it’s just one part of an ongoing, historic effort by many actors throughout the country. Participation in language courses and vocational training doesn’t guarantee quick integration into society for all, but it is a step in the right direction.

A Positive Impact

Thanks in part to this system, half of all refugees living in Germany will find steady employment within five years of arrival. The influx of asylum seekers, which initially caused much concern, has had an overwhelmingly positive impact on the German economy. More importantly, the opportunity to study German and find employment has improved the lives of Syrian asylum seekers.

As the most important aspect of integration, employment reduces feelings of alienation and creates a brighter path for Syrian families. By giving refugees the chance to immerse themselves in the language and culture as well as enter the workforce, Germany makes escaping poverty a reality for many.

– Rachel Moloney
Photo: PxHere

Refugee Rights in GermanyGermany is currently the most popular European destination for refugees from the Middle East and Africa. In 2016, Germany received 745,545 asylum applications, the most applications to any country in Europe that year. The reason that Germany still continues to receive a high number of asylum applications is a result of the generous refugee rights in Germany.

The overwhelming majority of refugees to Germany come from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, countries whose citizens are confronted by war and extreme poverty. As of 2016, the German government granted refugee status to 42.1 percent of applicants, subsidiary protection to 25.3 percent of applicants, and humanitarian protection (asylum) to 4 percent of applicants. Only 28.6 percent of applicants were rejected. Though this may seem large, Germany still accepted over half a million refugees in 2016.

The procedure for refugees begins at the nearest reception center, whether refugees are found already in the country are allowed in by border security. Next, their application for asylum is submitted to the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF). As their application is under review, refugees are granted a certificate of permission to reside temporarily in the Federal Republic of Germany. Throughout the application process, refugees are housed in reception facilities, where they are provided with essential items such as food, clothing, heat and healthcare. Following the application process, BAMF caseworkers interview asylum-seekers with the help of an interpreter, questioning their reason for persecution and their intended travel route. The interview is transcribed, translated into the asylum-seeker’s language and given as a copy to the asylum-seeker. Decisions for refugee status are based on these interviews and asylum-seekers are notified immediately.

Refugee rights in Germany exist for several groups of people. The three types of status asylum-seekers to Germany can receive are subsidiary protection, asylum or refugee status. Subsidiary protection is given to refugees who prove they are seriously threatened or in imminent danger in their country of origin. Those refugees receive a residence permit for one year that can be extended for two additional years. Refugees who are granted asylum status are deemed to face serious human rights violations and political persecution in their country of origin. They receive a residence permit for three years, unrestricted access to the labor market and an opportunity for a settlement permit.

Refugee status allows the most refugee rights in Germany. Persons granted refugee status receive a temporary residence permit and are granted the same rights as Germans: social welfare, child benefits, child-raising benefits, integration allowances, language courses and other forms of integration assistance.

Refugees rights in Germany are generous as asylum is a constitutional right in Germany, making it a high priority. As the number of asylum-seekers to developed countries continues to increase, it is important to look towards positive examples, such as Germany, that provide safety, protection and justice for refugees.

Christiana Lano
Photo: Flickr

Syrian refugees facts
The Syrian refugee facts are startling. In the past few decades, there has been an enormous influx of migrants and refugees into the Mediterranean countries and other Western European countries due to numerous conflicts. Recently, the plight of Syrian refugees has captured the world’s attention.

The Syrian conflict began in March of 2011, when pro-democracy protests broke out in the streets. These protests were against the regime of the Syrian government and President Bashar al-Assad.

When supporters of the President and rebel groups began fighting each other, the protest evolved into a full-out civil war. By August of 2015, an estimated 250,000 people had died due to the violence.

 

Top Syrian Refugee Facts:

 

  1. The conflict has displaced nearly 12 million Syrians from their homes and families.
  2. More than 75 percent of Syrian refugees are women and children.
  3. Syrian citizens represented 49 percent of the individuals entering countries via the Mediterranean Sea.
  4. According to the UNHCR, there are already 3,151 dead or missing refugees in 2016 alone.
  5. Most refugees stay in the Middle Eastern region, escaping to countries such as Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq.
  6. Since 2011, the conflict displaces an average of 50 Syrian families every hour.
  7. Three out of four Syrians live in poverty.
  8. As of January 31, 2016, nearly 10,000 refugee children have gone missing in Europe. Human trafficking circles are likely culprits.
  9. The crisis in Syria has reversed 10 years of progress in education for Syrian children, according to the U.N children’s agency.
  10. In 2015, the European Union granted 292,540 refugees asylum, with Germany, Sweden, and Italy granting the most.

Many Syrian refugees suffer from the low quality of life and lack of resources in refugee camps. However, many countries and international groups around the world have worked hard to ameliorate the living conditions for these individuals.

Organizations such as the Karam Foundation and Project Amal ou Salaam focus on raising funds and providing programs or educational resources for children. Other groups, like Sunrise USA and Islamic Relief USA, work on getting necessities like food, clothing, trauma-care facilities and more.

As of May 31, 2015, the United States had given more than $3 billion in aid to Syria.

The Syrian War Crimes Accountability Act of 2015 (S.756) has passed the Senate and is under consideration in the House. This bill would call on the President to support efforts in Syria and force the Department of State to make Congress aware of various war crimes.

Efforts like this have increased awareness and accountability of the Syrian conflict. These actions ensure a quicker end to the violence and a hasty return home for Syrian refugees all over the world.

Ashley Morefield

Photo: Flickr

Olympic-CommitteeSince its inception, the Olympic Games have been about bringing nations together. For the first time, this will include athletes without countries, flags or an Olympic committee: refugees. In October, International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach announced the good news for refugees.

UNHCR estimates that there are over 20 million refugees. From this group, 43 athletes were selected as potential Olympians. This number was reduced to 10 athletes from four countries participating in athletics, swimming and judo.

At the opening ceremony, these athletes will march with the Olympic flag and the Olympic anthem. Coaches and funding are provided by the International Olympic Committee.

Brazil currently hosts two refugee athletes. Yolande Bukasa Mabika and Popole Misenga are judoists from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The DRC’s civil war from 1998-2003 cost Mabika and Misenga many family members and left their home, Bukavu, ruined. Both faced horrible training conditions, including being locked up without food every time they lost a match.

When their coach disappeared during the World Judo Championships in Rio 2013, they used the opportunity to seek asylum. Both were woefully unprepared: Misenga reports stopping people and asking in French where Africans lived. Mabika was only able afford an apartment in a favela after financial assistance from the Olympic committee.

Both are thankful for their martial arts experience. Mabika is grateful for the strength it provided her, and Misenga states that it helps him find peace.

Mabika, Misenga and their eight team members are truly what Bach describes as a “symbol of hope for all the refugees in the world.” Yiech Pur Biel, a refugee from South Sudan now living in a camp in Northern Kenya, said, “I can show my fellow refugees that they have a chance and a hope in life. Through education, but also in running, you can change the world.”

The games have also been good news for refugees living in Brazil, helping them feel more connected to their new country of residence. Hanan Khaled Daqqah, a 12-year-old from Syria, said that she felt Brazilian when she carried the torch through her new home.

By putting this team in the spotlight, international attention will hopefully grow more positive towards refugees. Already, the media has spread the story of Syrian swimmer Yusra Mardini and two others braving the open ocean to drag a boat filled with refugees to shore after the boat’s motor failed.

All 10 of the refugee athletes share inspirational stories like Mabika, Misenga, Biel and Mardini. After escaping war or poverty, they have managed to balance poor living conditions, work and acclimating to a new country with their intense Olympic training. With all the controversy surrounding refugees, the positive media attention highlighting these brave athletes and their accomplishments is good news for refugees.

Jeanette I. Burke

 

hias
HIAS, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, was founded in 1881, and its initial goal was to help Jews in Russia and Eastern Europe escape from the pogroms. As an organization, HIAS has maintained its original goal of helping Jews around the world flee undesirable, threatening situations, as well as managed resettlement programs for the individuals who must leave their homes.

Operating through the values of dignity and respect, empowerment, welcoming, collaboration and teamwork, excellence and innovation, and accountability, HIAS partners with other local refugee assistance organizations in order to maximize the amount and quality of care that goes towards helping refugees settle into new environments.

HIAS partnerships span all across the United States in order to help those seeking better homes both locally and abroad. Partners include the Jewish Family and Children’s Services of the East Bay, the Jewish Family Service of Western Massachusetts, the Jewish Family and Vocational Service of Middlesex County, the Carolina Refugee Resettlement Agency and many more.

HIAS endeavors to not only provide refugees with physical freedom and aid, but also with emotional and psychological support. HIAS gives legal protection to those separated from their children, those seeking asylum, those who need medical attention and those who need protection from danger.

HIAS offers psychological counseling to refugees in order to help them deal with both the trauma they experienced in their old homes and with the shock that comes with moving to a radically different place. HIAS’ goal is to provide refugees with the chance to create a sustainable new life for themselves.

An example of HIAS’ success includes the securing of an asylum in New Jersey for a Syrian refugee who was being targeted by the Assad regime. Additionally, HIAS is managing to sustain a growing community of individuals coming from Iraq to Toledo, Ohio.

— Jordyn Horowitz

Sources: HIAS 1, Charity Navigator, HIAS 2, HIAS 3
Photo: JSpace

asylum seekers in australia
A group of 157 asylum seekers from Sri Lanka have been held at sea for over a month by Australian officials. After a long detention and questionable treatment, Australia’s immigration minister Scott Morrison has announced that the group will be brought to the mainland.

Nevertheless, the future of the asylum seekers in Australia remains unknown, as they will be brought to shore to be detained a second time until a decision is made regarding whether or not they will be sent back to Sri Lanka.

Officials have not released any information about where the group will be taken.

The group includes Tamils—a group that still faces repression and violent attacks in Sri Lanka even though the civil war ended five years ago. The civil war took place between the majority Sinhalese Sri Lankan military and the Tamil separatists.

While the Australian government claims its policies are aimed at saving lives by preventing people from boarding dangerous boats and enduring a rough journey, the conditions of Australia’s detention camps have received harsh criticism both from human rights advocates and the United Nations.

UNHCR, a department from the U.N. who specializes in refugees, has spoken up, questioning whether or not on-water screening of asylum claims is at all fair.

The Australian government has been known to enforce tough policies aimed at ending the arrival of asylum seekers on boats. Just last month Australia detained a separate boat populated by Sri Lankan asylum seekers, and returned them to their country after “screening” their claims.

Reports have also come to light noting that Australian officials have been towing boats back to Indonesia, the most common area where refugees originate.

Activists have filed a legal challenge with the goal of preventing this current group of asylum seekers from being treated the same way. Under international law, Australia cannot return refugee seekers who may face maltreatment upon returning back to their homeland.

According to Graeme McGregor, the group’s refugee campaign coordinator, asylum seekers should be given the rights to undergo a “full, fair and rigorous assessment for refugee status” regardless.

Amnesty International has voiced their opinion, which aligns with McGregor’s concerns stating, “Stranding a boatload of people in the middle of the sea, in an effort to ‘stop the boats’ has achieved nothing.”

Indian officials from the Indian High Commission will be given full access to determine the identities of the asylum seekers to see if there is a potential for any of the refugees to be returned to India.

Morrison maintains that regardless of how the rest of the claims are addressed, no members of the group will be allowed to settle in Australia. Next month, the High Court will hear the asylum seekers case.

Until then, 157 men, women and children remain in limbo—awaiting their fate.

-Caroline Logan

Sources: BBC News, ABC News
Photo: News First

Last week the U.N. office of the High Commissioner for Refugees (syrian-child_refugee_war_syria_global_poverty_development_undp_optUNHCR) said more than 1.5 million Syrian civilians had fled their country to escape the civil war that had been raging there for almost two years. Dan McNorton, a spokesman for the UNHCR, said the actual number of refugees is probably much higher due to concerns some Syrians have regarding registration. In addition, approximately 4 million people have been internally displaced since the beginning of the conflict. So what does this mean for the Syrian people who are now refugees? What can be expected in the life of a refugee?

The UNHCR defines a refugee as a person who,

owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country.

Like the Syrian refugees, many are often caught between a rock and a hard place. If they stay, they put themselves and their families in serious danger. If they flee, instability and uncertainty greet them at every turn. The UNHCR was created in 1950 to lead and coordinates international efforts to protect and assist people facing this difficult decision.  They protect the basic human rights of refugees and aim to ensure all refugees are given the opportunity to seek asylum in another country.

The starting point for many is often a UN refugee camp, intended to create a safe haven until they can begin their lives anew. Unfortunately, it is all too often the end of the road as well. Those who live in the camps are usually provided basic life sustaining necessities, but many will never leave. They become trapped in a state of dependence on these camps.

Currently, the largest and oldest camp (designed to house around 90,000 people) is home to almost half a million people, mostly from Somalia. It was intended to be a temporary solution for the influx of refugees from Somalia when the country descended into civil war more than 20 years ago, but the remoteness of its eastern Kenyan location and threats to security have prevented the UNHCR from further developing the camp for those who have permanently settled there. Education and sanitation is limited and the camp is extremely overcrowded.

The Syrian refugees have fled mostly to the neighboring countries of Jordan and Lebanon. Just last week Oxfam issued an urgent appeal for funds to assist those who are fleeing the conflict. Rick Bauer, the regional humanitarian coordinator for Oxfam said, “The sad reality is that the vast majority of Syrian refugees are not going home soon. He added that Oxfam is “starting to really worry about the health of Syrian refugees”.

“The aid effort must be properly funded and focused on providing refugees with affordable and decent places to stay, where they can live with dignity. That’s priority number one for refugees and host communities alike,” he said.

Priority number one indeed. But for the sake of Syrians who find themselves in a refugee camp, we hope they do not stay long.

– Erin N. Ponsonby

Source: CNN, UNHCR, Raw Story
Photo: MWB

afghanistan-refugees
As citizens of the United States, we hear a lot about the war in Afghanistan. We hear about what the U.S. is doing, our withdrawal timeline, attacks and progress. What we don’t hear about is how the war has affected Afghan citizens, and what life has been like for them.

Right now in Afghanistan, there is a mass exodus of teenage boys who are fleeing Afghanistan. These Afghan child refugees are headed on a 10,000-mile journey towards Europe, where, if they are lucky enough to live and arrive in Europe, they may be able to seek asylum. Teens are forced to trust in smugglers who transport them in secret compartments in vans and truck, or take them on dangerous water crossings with low survival rates.  Many of the boys who take on this journey die in the process, with estimates as low as 35% of boys making it to Europe.

Additionally, Afghan boys are at risk for sex trafficking on their journey. Many of the boys are sexually abused, or turned into sex slaves by their smugglers. They are powerless to the smugglers, who control their livelihood and safety. Many children may also be diverted into menial jobs as they try to save money to pay smugglers for future legs of their jouney. Boys disappear often, and anonymously. They are incredibly vulnerable and very susceptible to kidnappers.

The deaths and disappearances of these boys are, in part, a result of their vulnerability and poverty. The poorer and less educated the boys, the bigger risk they may suffer. Additionally, some of the children may be experiencing post-traumatic stress from the war-related events that they may have witnessed in Afghanistan. The children are also subject to the constant threat of deportation, as most of them do not have legal status or documentation.

The lack of legal status can have many implications on the children. They could be exposed to organized crime, physical abuse, and child labor, as well as the previously mentioned sex trafficking. In several of the countries through which the boys travel, such as Greece, unaccompanied children are not guaranteed asylum or refugee status. Those children who are caught, deported, and sent back to Afghanistan may be at an even greater risk if returned. The plight of young Afghans is undoubtedly a serious human rights violation and one that should be more widely covered by mainstream media.

– Caitlin Zusy 

Sources: 60 Minutes, 60 Minutes, UNHRC
Photo: The National