Migration Flows
The dangerous Mediterranean journey that many migrants take from North Africa and the Middle East in order to reach Southern Europe has been well-reported in the media, with countless news stories chronicling the boatloads of immigrants who die attempting the treacherous voyage. Second to the Mediterranean route, but far less covered, however, is what is known as “the Western Balkan route”—which 40% percent of migrants use in order to cross into Europe. Many using the Balkan route are Syrians and Afghans who take boats from Turkey, or elsewhere, to Greece, where they then walk for thousands of miles through Macedonia, Kosovo, Serbia and finally Hungary, in order to attempt to then cross over into affluent Western European countries, such as bordering Austria.

In recent weeks, however, the “Western Balkan route” has gained unprecedented attention thanks to plans by the Hungarian government to erect a 4-meter (13-foot) wall along Hungary’s 109-mile border with Serbia, which they hope will prevent incoming flows of Syrian and Afghan refugees into the country.

Moves by the Hungarian Parliament to construct the wall, which began on Monday, June 15, come following Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s frustration over the European Union’s (EU) ineffectiveness in dealing with the increased flow of migrants pouring into the region. Denouncing the EU’s plan to evenly redistribute migrants throughout the region’s 28 member-bloc as “border[ing] on insanity,” Orban has justified moves to build the wall by arguing that Hungary suffers from a higher rate of incoming refugees then neighboring EU states. According to Orban and the Hungarian government, about 54,000 migrants entered the country this year, compared to only 43,000 in 2014. The EU’s Eurostat agency has also revealed that Hungary received the second-highest number of applications for asylum in the EU after Germany in 2015, with most applications coming from Kosovo.

Hungary’s wall has received extraordinary levels of criticism from the rest of the EU and from neighboring Serbia, who argue that plans to erect the wall reflect growing levels of blatant xenophobia within Hungary’s illiberal government. Critics also point to national campaigns that were conducted in the past year, in which posters reading anti-immigrant sentiments such as “if you live in Hungary, you have to respect our laws,” were put up throughout the country, helping to paint refugees residing in Hungary as lawless job-stealing thieves and criminals.

Human rights organizations have further critiqued the Hungarian government’s response to the migration crisis, arguing that it requires desperate refugees to put themselves at ever greater risks in order to escape the violence of their home countries. Human Rights Watch (HRW) has argued that Hungary’s “wall” is not only morally wrong but also hypocritical, based on Hungary’s own authoritarian past. Alluding to the fact that Hungary was an axis power during World War Two (in fact Hungary was the first country to join Hitler’s cause), HRW has stated that “[it is] tragic… that Hungary, from where about 200,000 Hungarians were forced to flee in 1956 to obtain protection from Western Countries, is currently closing its borders to those fleeing their countries for similar reasons.”

This frustration has been echoed by the refugees themselves, who argue that a wall isn’t going to stop them from attempting to reach safety in Western European countries. Mr. Nayab, for example, who was a surgeon working for the Afghanistan government before he was stabbed four times by the Taliban, believes Hungary needs to focus its efforts on stopping the Islamic State rather than on building a wall to curb migration flows into the country. According to Mr. Nayab, “In Afghanistan, life is not safe, and every human who wants a safe life will make a hole in that wall, or find another way.”

Indeed, it is undeniable that alarming and ever-increasing rates of refugees pouring into Europe from all sides is one spill-over effect of the horrifying wars ravaging parts of the Middle East and Northern Africa. But, it is also undeniable that building walls—which has also been contemplated by the British government in order to resolve the refugee crisis in Calais, France and the Kenyan government in order to prevent Al-Shabaab from crossing over from Somalia—fails to effectively discourage desperate refugees from attempting the journey. The only way to begin to resolve Europe’s current refugee crisis is to spend energy and resources attempting to contain the source of the problem, rather than attempting to contain the victims of the problem.

Ana Powell

Sources: Al Jazeera, Reuters News Agency, The Guardian 1, The Guardian 2, US News
Photo: Flickr

The Life of Women in AfghanistanIn 2011, Newsweek and The Daily Beast published a list of countries, titled “Best Countries for Women,” that ranked the living conditions for women in various parts of the world. Out of 165 countries analyzed, Afghanistan ranked second-to-last at 164th.

Afghanistan is well known for its cultural and religious mistreatment of women. During the height of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, fundamentalists in accord with a strict interpretation of Islam implemented a wide array of behavioral laws against Afghan women.

According to the Revolutionary Association of Women of Afghanistan (RAWA), woman could be criminalized for working outside of the home, participating in any activity outside of the home (unless accompanied by a mahram, or a male relative), not wearing a burqa, wearing heels or makeup, laughing loudly, being photographed or filmed, playing sports, riding unaccompanied in a taxi, riding on a bicycle or motorcycle, looking at strangers, appearing on the balcony of her own home, receiving medical treatment from a male doctor and being educated, among others.

These regulations seriously constrain the personal freedoms of women in domestic and social realms of interaction. Women who violate or are even accused of violating these strict rules are subject to lashes, public stoning and other cruel policing tactics. Fear is used as a control mechanism to suppress women’s voices and actions on a daily basis. In Afghanistan, each woman must choose between expressing her free will and being violently punished for doing so.

Afghan women activists who try to rebel against this unfair treatment are often threatened with death in order to suppress their voices. Human Rights Watch reported in 2015, “Other setbacks for women’s rights in 2014 included a continuing series of attacks on, threats toward, and assassinations of, high-profile women, including police women and activists, to which the government failed to respond with meaningful measures to protect women at risk. The implementation by law enforcement officials of Afghanistan’s landmark 2009 Law on the Elimination of Violence Against Women remained poor, with many cases of violence against women ignored or resolved through ‘mediation’ that denied victims their day in court.”

Women for Women International is one of several organizations working to help women suffering from abuse, marginalization, poverty and lack of human rights due to war and conflict in Afghanistan.

They state on their website, “Decades of violence in Afghanistan have left millions of women and girls displaced or widowed. Common discriminatory practices, amplified by extremist groups, often make it dangerous for women to seek education, healthcare services, employment, or, in some cases, even to leave their homes.”

The Afghan Women’s Mission, founded in 2000, is another such organization created to support the humanitarian and political efforts of RAWA. Their website states, “Projects include many programs run by Afghan women including Malalai Clinic, schools, orphanages, agricultural programs, demonstrations and functions in support of women’s and human rights. We are an all-volunteer organization based in the United States.”

Despite the noble efforts of organizations like these, the situation remains virtually the same since the Taliban regime. Just earlier this year, the violent burning and murder of several women’s rights activists in Afghanistan shocked the world. If the situation for women is ever going to get better, meaningful reform needs to happen now.

– Hanna Darroll

Sources: Afghan Women Mission, Trust in Education, Scribd, Women for Women, Human Rights Watch,
Photo: RT

malnutrition in myanmar
Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, has an estimated population of 53 million people. Of this population, 2.5 million children in Myanmar suffer from stunted growth as a result of being malnourished over an extended period of time. Malnourished children often experience long term debilitating mental and psychical effects. These effects also impact the community and health resources available.

Currently, the rate of malnutrition in Myanmar is staggeringly high. The western area of the country, where 1.3 million Rohingya Muslims live, has unprecedented levels. More than 140,000 people are subjected to living in filthy, overcrowded camps. Others face restricted movement from villages and a lack of access to basic needs, such as clean water, food, education and healthcare. Political issues and ethnically motivated crimes have caused over 200,000 people to flee to neighboring areas such as Bangladesh to save their lives.

Human Rights Watch reports have indicated that ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity have occurred in Myanmar as a result of the atrocities faced by the Rohingya people. However, this minority is not recognized by the government, and the term Rohingya is prohibited from being used by the government in Myanmar.

In accordance with Millennium Development Goal One, to end hunger and extreme poverty, Myanmar has attempted to make progress. As of 2013, it has been collaborating with UNICEF in order to help combat child malnutrition. Myanmar has joined other countries in the global ‘scaling up nutrition’ movement.

The United States and other countries need to work with the government of Myanmar to help it create reform programs that provide equality to all its people, including equal rights protection and access to food, clean water and sanitation. Progress has been made, but the potential for more is great.

Erika Wright

Sources: The Parliament Magazine, UNICEF
Photo: Flickr

Burma Discrimination
Discrimination affects global poverty by breeding an environment of inequality that limits one’s access to fundamental rights and basic needs.

Discrimination against people or groups based on race, religion, ethnicity or other factors can foster segregation, which impoverishes the particular population who cannot obtain access to fundamental needs for basic living.

The groups discriminated against include minorities, indigenous people and migrants. Discrimination against these groups and poverty are connected in more ways than one. Being discriminated based on race or gender has a direct impact on one’s economic opportunity and makes it increasingly difficult to navigate familial, social and economic institutions. Additionally, one’s low economic status can be a target for discrimination causing a cyclical pattern between discrimination and poverty.

The link between discrimination and poverty is largely based on inequality in opportunity. In Burma, for example, widespread discrimination against minority groups such as Muslim minority groups has influenced the way in which that specific group lives. The marginalized minority group has been denied rights to citizenship, which restricts their access to employment, education, opportunity and fundamental living in general. Government forces also play an important role in the group’s limited access to equality, partly due to unfair, violent and sometimes abusive treatments of the group solely based on religion and ethnicity. The discrimination observed in Burma has pushed the minority group into poverty due to restricted social and economic rights.

Furthermore, discrimination hinders one’s ability to partake in government policies, especially policies centered on the development of strategies for poverty reduction. Limited justice then becomes more than an issue of inequality, but also an issue of poverty.

Discrimination can be a result of poverty and also an obstacle for ending global poverty. According to Human Rights Watch, two thirds of those living in poverty in low income nations reside in households led by an ethnic minority group specific to that country.

Lack of basic access to education due to discrimination, for example, serves as an important contributor and obstacle standing in the way of alleviating global poverty. According to Social Watch, a report revealed that among those who are illiterate, a vast majority belong to ethnic, religious or racial minority groups. Additionally, due to economic and social inequalities, minority groups are more likely to become exposed to health issues such as infectious disease.

The link between discrimination and poverty suggests that in order to completely eradicate global poverty, inequalities due to discrimination need to be addressed. Protecting minority groups from discrimination can help alleviate the number of people who fall or get trapped into poverty solely because of race, gender, ethnicity, religion or any other characteristic. Amending laws that pose a threat to minority groups as well as enacting laws that fight discriminatory policies can be a means of reducing discrimination, which will ultimately alleviate poverty.

– Nada Sewidan

Photo: Burma Times

Sources: Human Rights Watch, Social Watch

While the Ukrainian government has denied any use of Grad rockets — a high explosive rocket that can reach up to a range of 20,000 meters — a recent Human Rights Watch investigation proved both government and separatist forces have used the rockets in recent attacks.

According to Human Rights Watch, the Ukrainian government has killed more than 15 civilians and wounded numerous others in at least four separate attacks between July 12 and July 21. Separatist forces aren’t so innocent either. According to a statement made by the Pentagon last week, Russian forces were planning to transfer “heavy-caliber multiple-launch rocket systems” to Ukraine separatist forces. The rockets, which are in the 200mm+ range, pose as a looming threat for a country already proliferated with terror.

The use of unguided rockets in populated areas is a breach of international and humanitarian law and could result in war crimes. According to HRW, these crimes could be faced by both government and separatist forces. While the report certainly condemns government and separatist use of these rockets, it further criticizes separatists for not taking proper measures to avoid encamping in densely populated areas.

Senior Emergencies Researcher for Human Rights Watch, Ole Solvang, condemned commanding officers on both fighting sides for using the rockets, claiming that “[G]rad rockets are notoriously imprecise weapons that shouldn’t be used in populated areas.”

These most recent accusations come just a few weeks after the July 17 downing of the Malaysian Airlines Jet, MH17, in Ukraine. The crash, which was caused by a “massive explosive decompression” from a rocket, resulted in 298 deaths. The downing, which is still under investigation, was immediately addressed by the United Nations’ High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, who hinted her suspicion that the attack may have been a war crime by the separatists.

More than 1,129 people have been killed and at least 3,442 others have been wounded as a result of the Ukrainian conflict since mid-April. The anti-government protests, which came as a result of former President Yanukovych’s failure to partner with Europe over a trade deal, have resulted in increased division among the country.

Fighting in Ukraine has only further exacerbated the country’s economic problems. With many families forced to vacate cities in major turmoil, displacement has caused an inevitable increase in unemployment and, predictably, poverty. One such city is Lugansk, which — at once a city of 420,000 — now occupies less than half of its original population.

Those left in the city are faced with an incredible lack of medical supplies, lighting and electricity. Those still living there, including retirees or families with small children with hardly any money, are basically trapped. Lugansk — and other Ukrainian cities — citizens are forced to endure inhumane conditions of fighting, violence and medical neglect. While a cease-fire from both ends is the country’s primary solution, Ukrainian citizens will continue to suffer until the violence is halted.

Nick Magnanti

Sources: Huffington Post, SOS Childrens Villages, RT
Photo: WN

ugandan street children
The Human Rights Watch has exposed the terrors that occur on the streets of Uganda every day. Homeless children are beaten and abused by police forces, local government officials and city authorities.

In a country where poverty rates are already very high, child abuse is a daily occurrence on the streets. Children are harassed, threatened, beaten, arrested, robbed and detained. They are accused of being criminals and scavengers. Some children, boys and girls, have even been raped by older boys and men, but these rarely get reported to the police.

There have been reports of police tying boys’ arms and legs and forcing them to lie under metal car seats, as well as being tied to motorbikes to be taken to police stations. Pepper spray has also been used on several street children.

It is estimated that there are 2.7 million orphans in Uganda. Additionally, a study by the African Network for the Prevention and Protection against Child Abuse and Neglect estimated that 10,000 children live on the streets of Uganda. This number has increased by 70 percent since 1993.

These large numbers of street children make it difficult for cities to determine the real criminals. Instead of differentiating, authorities simply treat them all like they deserve to be punished.

The HRW report explains that many of the street children “fear the authorities and that police are a source of violence, not protection.”

In an attempt to minimize the problem, a free national child helpline was created about a month ago by Plan International. It receives around 1,500 calls each day from children and adults reporting various abuses seen around the country.

With the help of agencies like the African Network for the Prevention and Protection against Child Abuse and Neglect, this problem can be fixed. The Ugandan street children need to be cared for, rather than beaten. The HRW report set forth a call for the Ugandan government to focus on improving the lives of street children and to prosecute those who abuse them.

– Hannah Cleveland

Sources: The Guardian, BBC News
Photo: The Guardian

death squad
In a recent letter to the Bangladeshi government, Human Rights Watch urged the country to abolish its paramilitary group, Rapid Action Battalion (RAB). Deemed by HRW as a “death squad” after evidence that RAB officers were responsible for the murder of seven men this past spring, HRW expressed adamancy on the issue, calling for immediate action by the Bangladeshi government. Advising the government to make RAB a completely civilian force until its abolishment, the group’s recommendations were not met well by Bangladeshi officials.

In response to the letter, the Bangladeshi Cabinet Committee on Law and Order discussed the issue during its meeting. When asked by reporters about the outcome, Committee Chief Amu claimed, “Whether we’ll disband RAB or not is entirely an internal issue. It doesn’t concern them [HRW].” Adamant that the government will make its own decision separate from the rights group’s personal stance, the paramilitary group–which was formed in just 2004–is unlikely to be going anywhere anytime soon, according to Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.

The claims made by HRW are a result of evidence that linked at least three RAB officials to the death of seven civilian men this past spring. The three guilty officials, who are now in police custody, have admitted their link to the killings and have been stripped of their badges by the government.

Yet high officials in RAB are still being questioned, and it is highly unlikely that all guilty parties have admitted to their involvement in the scheme.

“The Bangladeshi government has promised to reform RAB and hold it accountable, but it has utterly failed,” said Brad Adams, Asia director for Human Rights Watch. “RAB is beyond reform and should swiftly be abolished.”

Responsible for at least 800 killings in the past 10 years and numerous acts of torture and mistreatment, human rights groups around the world have supported HRW’s statement against the paramilitary group in hopes that the Bangladeshi government will listen.

– Nick Magnanti

Sources: Human Rights Watch, BD News 24, Prothom Alo
Photo: Progress Bangladesh

Waleed abu al-Khair, a well known human rights lawyer and activist, has been sentenced to jail for 15 years for undermining the state as well as insulting the political system.

His charges stem from apparently disobeying an anti-terrorism law which punishes any civil act that “disturbs public order, shakes the security of society, or subjects its national unity to danger, or obstructs the primary system of rule or harms the reputation of the state.”

However, this is not the first time al-Khair has faced the threat of jail time. In multiple occasions he has been sentenced to varying amounts of time, never reaching such intensity as the most recent conviction.

His nationally heard liberal voice rings across the nation — a concern to the unsteady Saudi government. In his statement, al-Khair will not appeal the court because he does not see the legitimacy of the claim, and therefore believes it will fall apart when it comes time to book him.

The international reaction to the jailing of such a prominent voice has been negative thus far, with a Saudi researcher for Human Rights Watch saying that “Waleed abu al-Khair’s harsh sentence shows that Saudi Arabia has no tolerance for those who speak out about human rights and political reform and it will go to any length to silence them.” Saudi Arabia’s reaction simply shows the rest of the closely watching world that freedom of speech is less than valued.

By showing dissent to the Saudi king, al-Khair put himself in the cross-hairs of the government. Al-Khair brought international attention to Saudi Arabia and this action upset the government to the point where they believed he represented them falsely and under a harsh light.

This incarceration demonstrates Saudi Arabia’s fear of the people, and the movement they could start if enough voices show disagreement. Countries that strive for a democratic state allow the citizens to voice concerns, however it appears this is not the case. The oppressive government in this situation shows the deviation from the hope for democracy, forcing other countries to question the stability of Saudi Arabia.

With reason, multiple countries, including the United States, have shown moderate concern for the blatant disregard of human rights in this ongoing debacle with al-Khair.

According to Reuters UK, “in the past year, Saudi authorities have been criticized by international rights groups for jailing several prominent activists on charges ranging from setting up an illegal organization to damaging the reputation of the country.” Should this disrespect of the people continue, it’s likely Saudi Arabia will have little time and warning before activists stop getting trampled by the government and stand together and force the government to listen. The necessity for the government to acknowledge and consider the points being made by activists and lawyers like al-Khair is vital to the growth of the country as well as the progressive nature clearly being yearned for by many of its citizens.

– Elena Lopez

Sources: Reuters, CNN, Al Jazeera
Photo: Dhaka Tribune

womin in syria
Human Rights Watch (HRW) has recently released a report titled “We are still here: Women on the front lines of Syria’s conflict,” which details the increasingly significant role women in Syria have been playing over the past three years during the vicious war as well as the additional obstacles that women must face.

Protests against the Syrian government began in 2011, and they quickly erupted into a deadly civil war, pitting antigovernment militias against government forces. According to the United Nations, the war has killed 150,000 people and displaced over nine million. As of June, half of the entire population of the country is currently in need of humanitarian aid.

The report released by HRW includes the stories of 17 different women who fled this destruction in Syria and are now refugees in the neighboring country of Turkey. “Their experiences reflect the various roles that women, particularly those opposed to the government or living in areas that came under government attack, have taken on as political activists, caregivers, humanitarians, and providers, as well as the particular ways in which conflict impacts women.”

Because many men have had to leave their homes due to “indiscriminate attacks, arbitrary detentions, enforced disappearances, or engagement in military operations,” women have become especially vulnerable, having less support in the case of an emergency, and having the additional responsibility of sole breadwinner.

Raids by armed forces and abductions, in which women are more highly targeted, become larger threats without this support. When women are abducted or arbitrarily detained, they are also disproportionately prone to receive abuse, including sexual assault and torture.

Some armed groups have explicitly targeted women in Syria, putting in place discriminatory policies that limit “women’s engagement in public life and ability to move freely” and “their access to education and employment.” In addition to fear of conflict, these types of overt restrictions severely limit women’s mobility.

However, many women are fighting back. Maha, a Syrian woman and founder of a peaceful activism organization, is continuing her organization’s civic work in Syria even though she fled the country after losing her husband to a government attack.

Maha is worried, however, that the work her organization and others like it are doing is being covered by the images of violence, saying, “On the news, you only see blood and destruction. You don’t see that behind it, there are civilian groups doing things peacefully.”

This HRW report has helped to shed light on the experiences Syrian women have had during this troubling conflict. They are at a disproportionately high risk to experience abuse and many have had to assume challenging and dangerous leadership roles.

“Recognizing women’s multiple and significant roles in the conflict,” the report noted, “and their experiences as both actors and victims, is critical to developing appropriate responses to women’s needs inside Syria and in refugee communities and to ensuring their ongoing and meaningful participation in determining Syria’s future.”

– Emily Jablonski

Sources: Al Jazeera America, Human Rights Watch
Photo: CTV News

Flagellation, beating and electric shock are among the injustices migrants and refugees have allegedly suffered in several Libyan detention centers, according to testimonies gathered in a Human Rights Watch investigation carried out in April. These detention centers, which are operated by the Libyan government, are home to as many as 6,000 people, most of whom are captured either while trying to flee to Europe via the Mediterranean Sea or attempting to illegally enter Libya.

Though the government has been unsuccessful in catching the majority of those illegally entering or exiting the country–approximately three million illegal immigrants reside in Libya, while over half a million individuals are estimated to have their sights set on Europe–these detention centers remain extremely overcrowded and those detained are subject to poor sanitation conditions. In addition, the detainees are denied not only proper medical care, but also legal representation and trial prior to entering the detention facilities.

A representative from HRW who reported accounts of male guards inappropriately strip-searching women and girls noted that the unstable political situation in Libya is no excuse for the “torture and other deplorable violence” occurring in detention centers run by the government. Other testimonies detailed incidents in which guards violently attacked men and boys, digitally raped women and girls, and hung individuals from trees in order to beat them.

HRW has instructed Italy and the countries comprising the European Union to withhold international aid to the detention centers until the abuses cease. In the next four years, those countries were to invest a combined 12 million euros (roughly $16.4 million) into rehabilitating these centers. Now, most of that money will be invested into Libyan NGOs. A small amount will be still committed to rehabilitating several of the detention centers violating Libya’s international obligation to protect all on its soil, including those in detention centers.

Should the abuses stop, Italy and the EU are to convene with the Libyan Interior Ministry on how to best use aid to bring all detention centers up to international human rights standards.

These reports of torture come at a crucial time, as the numbers of migrants and refugees in Libya is not only at a record high but expected to continue to grow within the next few years, especially if the political uncertainty currently plaguing Libya persists. Those who have already experienced torture in these detention centers are at increased of risk of poverty upon their release, as the psychological and physical stress they have endured may prevent them from seeking or sustaining employment.

Ending torture, wherever it occurs in the world, should be at the forefront of international aid agendas not just because it endangers those who currently suffer from it  but also because it will affect their lives negatively thereafter as well.

– Elise L. Riley

Sources: The Guardian, IRCT, Human Rights Watch
Photo: The Guardian