News roundup: EU Turkey deal faltering, Jordan-Syria border no-man’s land, returnees from Afghanistan

Erdogan says Europe not ready to face 3mn refugees as EU-Turkey deal collapse looms

The Turkish president issued a veiled threat to unleash a wave of refugees on Europe as EU officials warn of a potential collapse of the union’s deal with Ankara, which has curbed the flow of refugees across the Aegean Sea. Speaking to Al Jazeera, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey is currently hosting three million refuges on its territory and that if they all marched into Europe, the Europeans would not know what to do with them. He also reminded them that under the terms of Turkey’s refugee deal with the EU, the union pledged to provide six billion euros in aid over the course of several years. “As far as I can remember, until now the EU had only given 250-300 million Euros to Turkey so far,” he said. The veiled threat comes days after several officials in Europe voiced concern that the EU has no contingency plan for a collapse of the Turkish deal.

Syria-Jordan border: 75,000 refugees trapped in desert no man’s land in dire conditions

Video footage and satellite images showing makeshift grave sites and burial mounds offer a rare glimpse inside a desert no man’s land between Jordan and Syria where tens of thousands of refugees who have been virtually cut off from humanitarian aid for two months are stranded, said Amnesty International.

The video footage was obtained from Tribal Council of Palmyra and Badia, which has a network of activists operating inside the area known as the berm, and independently verified using satellite imagery.

Rich nations’ self-interest means refugee crisis set to get worse, not better

Amnesty has a (perhaps not particularly recent) but compelling denunciation, “Rich nations’ self-interest means refugee crisis set to get worse, not better”, lambasting countries who send refugees back to conflict zones (Kenya, we’re looking at you; but also Pakistan, Iran and Jordan), those who leave refugees to wallow in misery and/or limbo (Myanmar, Malaysia, Australia and the EU under fire here), and the dangerous routes that refugees take in their flight to freedom in Southeast Asia, Central America and, more famously, the Mediterranean.   [see the full article]

South Sudan Crisis Strains Uganda’s Exemplary Refugee Welcome

Uganda is celebrated around the world for providing refugees with the land and resources to become self-sufficient. But war in South Sudan is putting pressure on that model, leaving the most vulnerable struggling to survive, reports Carolyn Thompson from Uganda.

[…] Inyani fled from neighboring South Sudan in July after being mistaken for a rebel while going to pay his children’s school fees in the town of Nimule. The 30-year-old was arrested and beaten by a group of men in uniform, his arms tied behind his back while he was hit with sticks and rammed in the chest with guns.

He was released after the mistake was realized, but decided his family needed to leave the country. He, his wife, his two daughters and his son piled on to a small motorbike and drove from their hometown of Lao to the Ugandan border, about 22 miles (35 kilometers) away.

His family are now among more than 250,000 South Sudanese refugees who have flooded into Uganda since renewed clashes between government and opposition forces broke out in July. That is more than seven times the number who fled to Uganda during the entire first half of this year. By October, more than a million South Sudanese were displaced – with Uganda hosting the highest number by far.

 

Afghanistan May Have to Accommodate 1.5 Million Refugees in 2016

Afghanistan will reportedly take in more than 1.5 million Afghan refugees by the end of the year, challenging the government at a time when Kabul is already struggling against resurgent Taliban militants and an emerging Islamic State group (IS).

Based on figures compiled by the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), some 20 percent of Afghanistan’s population already are former refugees known as “returnees.” Many of them, along with internally displaced Afghans and Afghans living in “refugee like” conditions, are part of a group of people the United Nations calls “people of concern.” The U.N. says this group of people has grown by 33 percent in 2015, and numbers more than 1.7 million people who are in desperate need of assistance.

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The Dadaab saga continues: not-so-voluntary repatriation and no support

(Photo Ashley Hamer, Al Jazeera)

Since our last post on Daadab, there have been a few updates:

  • Most Somalis do not want to return
  • UNHCR and Kenya claims they do and Kenya is trying to send them anyways
  • There is little to no support for those who decide to return
  • The return and closure of Dadaab has been highly criticized by organisations such as MSF and Amnesty
  • The Kenyan High Court will hear a petition on the closure on Nov 7.

Stay tuned!

Gallery: 25 years of Dadaab

 

Kenya: High Court to hear petition against closure of Dadaab refugee camp

The petition, filed by the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights and Kituo Cha Sheria, seeks to have the government’s closure decisions declared unconstitutional.

“The closure of Dadaab would be a disaster for the tens of thousands of refugees still living there who have nowhere else to go. Their repatriation back to Somalia is not voluntary – they are being forced to return when the conditions that forced them to flee in the first place have not improved,” said Michelle Kagari, deputy director of Amnesty International’s East Africa regional office.

“We hope that this court action will prompt the Kenyan authorities to reconsider their decision, and uphold their international obligations to protect refugees.”

The Kenyan government announced on 6 May that it was disbanding the Department of Refugee Affairs with immediate effect, and would close the camp on 30 November 2016, repatriating the more than 260,000 Somali refugees there to Somalia despite the immense risks they would face.

 

 

Refugee Returns from Kenya to Somalia: “This is About Fear… Not About Choice”

The Kenyan government’s threat to close the Dadaab refugee camp by the end of November would not only endanger the lives of several hundred thousand Somali refugees but has already caused irreparable harm and damage.

With no alternative options, some refugees have been coerced into repatriating to Somalia, where insecurity and an ongoing humanitarian crisis continue. The United Nations Refugee Agency’s focus on expediting the pace of returns – through a program that is supported by donors and implemented in partnership with non-governmental organizations – in the face of political pressure from Kenya, promotes large-scale returns that are unlikely to be sustainable. Development and reintegration initiatives in designated areas of return in Somalia need time to take hold; and, in the meantime, support for Somali refugees who remain in Kenya cannot be abandoned.

 

Somali Refugees Decry Empty Promises Upon Return From Dadaab Camp

The majority of the returnees are women, children, the elderly and the disabled – “the most vulnerable sectors of society,” according to The American Refugee Committee, an aid group providing some health care and child protection in the camps.

Yet there is very limited health care for the returnees living in the camps, and medical care in Kismayo town is expensive. The camps have few decent running water sources or latrines, leaving thousands of people at risk of disease.

Families arriving in Kismayo discover a fragile town with little infrastructure that cannot provide basic food and shelter, let alone facilitate their resettlement in Somalia.

 

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Refugees stranded in Somalia after Kenya eviction: Somalis are returning to Kismayo in a “voluntary” process to a homeland still stricken by war, drought, and hardship.

He said he felt forced to return to Somalia because of food and healthcare cuts in Dadaab last year, and because of threats from the Kenyan authorities, he told Al Jazeera, seated on a plastic chair in the sand, a crowd of fellow returnees gathering around him.

Abukar knew the situation in Kismayo would be worse than Dadaab. He suspected there would be scant help for the returnees and he knew his country was still at war.

Nevertheless, the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) has spent much of 2016 trucking and flying thousands of Somalis back into their country as part of a “voluntary repatriation” agreement between that organisation, the Kenyan government, and the fledgling federal government of Somalia.

Between December 2014, a year after the repatriation agreement was reached, and September 2016, a total of 30,731 Somali refugees from Dadaab went through the voluntary return process, according to UNHCR statistics.

[…]

In early September, however, Jubaland state authorities called a halt to the returns process.

“We are overwhelmed … The returning of these refugees [from Dadaab] is neither safe, secure and definitely not dignified,” said Adam Ibrahim Aw Hirsi, Jubaland state’s justice minister.

“Families of five or six are living outside with their children, there are no schools, there is no food, not even basic hygiene like drinkable water, no toilets. Some are sick, some elderly and some are very young.”

Hirsi said the returnees are being misled by UNHCR and Somalia’s federal government with false promises of support to start a new life, when in reality little has been prepared for their sustainable resettlement and Jubaland is not ready to receive them.

 

 

 

Kenya: Dadaab Crisis – Refugees’ Fears Are Real, Says MSF

Humanitarian group, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) has called on the Kenyan government and the United Nations High Commissioner of Refugees (UNHCR) to urgently consider alternative arrangements, as the closure of the world’s largest refugee camp, Dadaab, draws near.

This came as a report released by the group recently, revealed that at least eight out of 10 refugees indicated that they did not want to return to their home states, citing among other concerns, forced recruitment, sexual violence and lack of healthcare as their main concerns.

“This decision is yet another blight on refugee protection globally, where again we see a total failure to provide safe haven for people in danger. The UN itself has recently declared that five million people are at risk of hunger inside Somalia. Sending back even more people to suffer is both inhumane and irresponsible,” says Bruno Jochum, MSF General Director.

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Govt rejects MSF report on Dadaab refugees

The government has repudiated a report by medical charity group MSF that claimed 86 per cent of refugees at Dadaab do not want to leave. Interior ministry spokesman Mwenda Njoka said there are “serious doubts” about the figures because UN refugee agency UNHCR itself has found that most want to go back home.

“UNHCR has found many refugees are willing to leave. We are just constrained by lack of funding and that is why the repatriation has been slow.

“These findings are part of these organisation’s self-interests to continue having a presence in Dadaab and earn big salaries….,” he said.

But the medical charity group, which runs a hospital at the camp, on Friday defended its findings saying they were within the range of reports by UNHCR which had previously stated that just a quarter of the refugee population were ready to return.

From Dadaab to Despair: what now for this so-called “voluntary” return to Somalia

Did you know that the third-largest city in Kenya is a refugee camp? Did you know that some of the the residents of that camp have been there for three generations?  Did you know that now they are going “home”, a place most of them have only heard of, whether they like it or not?

Welcome to the largest refugee camp in the world: Daadab, a place where  1,000 babies are born every month, but only 2,000 leave each year. Dadaab was built in 1992 for 90,000 refugees fleeing the war in Somalia. Today it is home to an estimated half a million people, 350,000 of them registered refugees“an urban area the size of Bristol, Zurich or New Orleans.” It is now considered the largest refugee camp in the world.

Conditions are difficult at best: “The residents cannot work and cannot leave. Permanent structures are forbidden: there must be no bricks, no concrete, no power lines; no proper roads, no sanitation, no drainage and no toilets.The half a million inmates use pit latrines for toilets, and there is a shortage of 35,000.”

But the camp should not be seen only as a burden on Kenyan society: despite Kenya’s strict encampment policy, a report commissioned by the governments of Norway, Denmark and Kenya in 2010 found that the camps’ businesses generated an annual turnover of $25m (£17.5m). The host community earned $1.8m from the sale of livestock alone to refugees.And the camp itself has its own economy and elections, where “these days, in the market, you can buy everything from an iPhone to an ice-cream.” Nevertheless, the government resists any constructions that “looked too much like real houses”, and it has torn down illegal power lines; refugees are not allowed to work, even if they manage to obtain diplomas.

Despite strong reasons why Kenya may wish to consider local integration, in reality few durable solutions are available, as Kenya does not allow local integration in any meaningful sense, and with extremely limited resettlement opportunities – only 43,000 departures of Somalis from Kenya since 2003 – refugees in Dadaab are essentially trapped if they are unwilling to return to Somalia.

The end of an era?

And now, after 25 years, Dadaab may close.

In 2013, Kenya, Somalia and the refugee agency UNHCR signed a tripartite agreement which would have facilitated refugees voluntarily move to Somalia followed by a pilot programme in 2014-2015 in which around 2,500 people returned to Somalia. As UNHCR describes it,

On 2 April 2015, Al-Shabaab militants launched an attack on the University College of Garissa in Kenya, killing 148 Kenyan students. In the aftermath of the attack, the political leaders of Kenya’s North Eastern Region called for the closure of the Dadaab camps, and a number of senior Government officials called for UNHCR to repatriate all Somali refugees in Dadaab to Somalia. However, after a series of démarches reaffirming the voluntariness of the repatriation process, Kenya, Somalia and UNHCR jointly reaffirmed their commitment to a coordinated and humane return process in accordance with the Tripartite Agreement. To this end, the Tripartite Commission was formally launched on 21 April 2015 to oversee the implementation of the Agreement

In May 2016, the Kenyan government announced plans to speed up the repatriation of Somali refugees and close the Dadaab camp in northeastern Kenya by November. Kenyan authorities, with officials from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), then stepped up a 2013 “voluntary” repatriation program.

Defining the terms: “voluntary repatriation”

Voluntary repatriation is defined as the “return in safety and in dignity to the country of origin” and re-availment of national protection. In order for the return to be voluntary, refugees must be genuinely free choice about whether to return and be fully informed about conditions in their home country

According to Human Rights Watch, returns under the ongoing program amount to refoulement, because they are neither voluntary nor fully informed decisions:

Refugees said the government’s decision to close the Dadaab camp had left them feeling trapped. They are afraid to return to Somalia, but also afraid of being arrested and deported if they stay in Dadaab until the November deadline. Many have therefore chosen to take US$400 in cash as part of a UNHCR-returns assistance package because they believe that if they don’t, they will be summarily deported later this year with nothing.

HRW alleges that the Kenyan authorities are insisting on closing the camp, irrespective of whether any refugees wish to stay, are cutting rations in an effort to encourage or force refugees to opt for the repatriation “package” which includes $400 and 3 months’ food rations, and are not being honest about the situation in Somalia. HRW also pointed out that UNHCR’s information regarding Somalia is not correct, or is at odds with other information published by UNHCR:

UNHCR-Somalia officials acknowledged to Human Rights Watch that their assessments indicate that conditions in south-central Somalia are not conducive to mass refugee returns in safety and dignity. UNHCR’s latest assessment in May found: “Civilians continue to be severely affected by the conflict, with reports of civilians being killed and injured in conflict-related violence, widespread sexual and gender-based violence against women and children, forced recruitment of children, and large-scale displacement.”

The information that UNHCR provides to refugees in Dadaab seeking to make an informed choice about returning, however, is mostly superficial and out of date, and sometimes misleading, Human Rights Watch said.

UNHCR “shares some of the concerns” recently raised by Human Rights Watch but did not specifically endorse the allegations.

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Returns: but where to?

In August 2016, Kenya decided to “hold back its decision to close Daadab camp until peace in Somalia is restored,”  and although refugee verification exercise is complete, the process of repatriation may take longer given the security situation in Somalia.

Also in August, “Authorities in southern Somalia say they have blocked Somali refugees returning from Kenya because the refugees do not get the humanitarian support they need once they reach major cities.” Returnees are given a cash grant and transportation, but they are returning to areas where adequate shelter, food, and water do not exist, not to mention educational and medical facilities already overstretched with IDPs sheltering in those areas.

Following HRW’s allegations in September 2016 that Kenya is harassing and intimidating Somali refugees to return home when it is not safe to do so, Kenya rejected the allegations nevertheless reaffirmed on Thursday its plan to close the camp by November.

As a recent op-ed described it,

“It is impossible to call what is happening “voluntary” by any definition of the word. Yet both Kenya and UNHCR persist in doing so. This is a betrayal of the refugees and a dangerous precedent. Now, other countries in the region want their own tripartite agreement. Kenya has shown how to push UNHCR into a corner and close a refugee camp in the absence of any of the normal criteria for doing so. Europe and the United States, having abrogated any moral high ground on protecting refugees, are easily shamed by Kenya into pledging money toward the returns process, lending weight and momentum to the farce.”

 

 Read the full HRW report: Kenya: Involuntary Refugee Returns to Somalia:  Camp Closure Threat Triggers Thousands Returning to Danger, Human Rights Watch, 14 September 2016.

 

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Los Desaprecidos: Enforced disappearances, a crime without end

“Many of the victims were so weak from torture and detention that they had to be helped aboard the plane. Once in flight, they were injected with a sedative by an Argentine Navy doctor before two officers stripped them and shoved them to their deaths. […] He estimated that the navy conducted the flights every Wednesday for two years, 1977 and 1978, and that 1,500 to 2,000 people were killed. ” (New York Times, 1995)

Today is International Day of the Disappeared, marking the tens or hundreds of people who have been abducted or killed and whose fates remain unknown. Enforced disappearances, forcible disappearances, or desaparecidos in Latin America –  where the concept first rose to prominence – refers to (in Article 2)

the arrest, detention, abduction or any other form of deprivation of liberty by agents of the State or by persons or groups of persons acting with the authorization, support or acquiescence of the State, followed by a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty or by concealment of the fate or whereabouts of the disappeared person, which place such a person outside the protection of the law.

Enforced disappearances were a substantial feature of the Latin American dirty wars, with estimates of over 16,000 people disappeared in Peru, an estimated  30,000  in Argentina45,000 in Guatemala during the violence of the 1980s and 1990s, and estimates of 15,000 to 109,000 disappeared in Colombia. And it’s not just in Latin America; according to the International Centre for Transitional Justice,

In the case of Argentina,

The pattern was similar for those arrested. Many were taken from their homes in the middle of the night, tortured at clandestine detention centres and then disposed of. After years of investigations, it is thought that some bodies were destroyed with dynamite and others buried in unknown common graves, but the majority were thrown from planes into the Atlantic Ocean.

In addition, women who were pregnant were often forcibly separated from their children, with those children being given to military families for adoption. In Syria, “More than 65,000 people, most of them civilians, were forcibly disappeared between March 2011 and August 2015 and remained missing, Amnesty said, citing figures from the Syrian Network for Human Rights, a Syria-based monitoring group.”

disappeared

Enforced disappearance is like a kidnapping or extrajudicial detention, and likely also torture and/or extrajudicial execution, but it has the features of being committed by State agents or with their acquiescence, and a denial of the whereabouts or the fate of the person concerned.  It’s not like the situation of persons missing during armed conflict or natural disaster, because the person was generally deliberately abducted by authorities who then refuse to acknowledge having the individuals. It’s its own crime, not just kidnapping, torture or killing, even if all of these things also happened.

Enforced disappearances are particularly horrific because the circumstances of the person remain unknown. And the crime continues – with both the disappeared individual as well as his or her family – for as long as there is no resolution. An enforced disappearance not only removes (percieved) political opponents, it avoids the evidence and the witnesses and the international outcry, as a tool to create a climate of terror among family members or other activists, who may be forced to bribe middlemen for information out of fear of approaching the State authorities directly.

‘Detainees were squeezed into overcrowded, dirty cells where disease was rampant and medical treatment unavailable, Amnesty said, while those imprisoned suffered torture through methods such as electric shocks, whipping, suspension, burning and rape. “People would die and then be replaced,” Salam Othman, who was forcibly disappeared from 2011 to 2014, was quoted as saying in the report. “I did not leave the cell for the whole three years, not once … Many people became hysterical and lost their minds.”’

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On the human rights law side,  enforced disappearances constitute “a multiple human rights violation.” They violate the right to life, the prohibition on torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment, the right to liberty and security of the person, and the right to a fair and public trial. These rights are set out in the ICCPR and the Convention against Torture. There is even a UN Declaration on Enforced Disappearances, an Inter-American Convention on Forced Disappearance of Persons  and the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance.

A widespread or systematic pattern of enforced disappearances constitutes a crime against humanity according to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC), which provides that enforced disappearances are a crime against humanity “when committed as a part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population, with knowledge of the attack.” In some circumstances, enforced disappearances may also constitute a war crime:  The Geneva Conventions also stipulate that persons taken into custody (combatants or otherwise) must not be murdered or executed without trial, must have due process.

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See also:

Cartographers for social equality: more on maps

The title, of course, is from a West Wing episode a long time ago, where the point is made that how things are visually represented goes a long way to influencing how we think about them.

So, the other day, we talked a little bit about maps, and specifically about cool GIS things that people are doing.And we’ve found some more interesting tools for you, in case you feel like doing mappy things on your own:

 

The human geography of displacement: mapping and profiling

One of the (many) challenges in responding to situations of displacement is that of information: knowing what and who is where, identifying resources and needs, and allocating resources. Coordination can be as simple as a 3W (who, what where), or be a complex or interactive tool. There is far, far more that can be said about coordination than can be summarized here. Instead, let’s look at some of the interesting initiatives that have combined maps and technology to map or profile the human geography of displacement.

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 Some interesting story maps and discussions on mapping refugees:

  • Musings on Maps: Refugee Traffic Scars the Globe’s Surface: “What sort of stories does this simplified map simply omit?  The stories of those journeys are interrupted by death, while they are far smaller, of course remain absent:  the perilous trajectories of individuals fleeing Syria, Iraq, Africa, Indonesia, Afghanistan and Pakistan however risk not only their lives, but increasingly their legal status as they undertake huge geographic migrations in search of new homes elsewhere, traveling by boat, on foot, or along paths promised by human traffickers.  The sleek image, despite its attempted accuracy, shows the intensity of itineraries as embossed on the map as if to disfigure the notion of global unity that runs against the very narrative of global unity implicit in a iconic equidistant azimuthal projection centered on the North Pole which emphasized global harmony as World War II was tried to be forgotten, which as the official flag adopted by the United Nations adopted in October, 1947 promoted an image of global unity:”

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Specific mapping and profiling projects

  • Diseases and refugee camps (George Mason University, 2012) –  “Our initial focus is on the the Dadaab refugee camps which are located in Kenya, approximately 100 kilometers from the Somali border. The camps themselves are homes to roughly 500,000 people, with nearly 99% of the population coming from Somalia. Within the camps the mortality rate is ~ 0.44/10,000 per day with  diseases such as cholera and measles being among the causes of death.”
  • Livelihood, security, and access to services among urban refugees in Delhi (JIPS) – The goal of the Stanford students` research project was to add spatial analysis capabilities in order to better identify and understand geographic patterns related to refugee security. A Livelihood Index score was calculated for each household, based on responses covering the four key components of livelihoods. This enabled to carry out a spatial analysis of the distribution of households with high living standards (scoring high in the Livelihood Index) and low living standards (scoring low) with respect to one another, ethnicity, and proximity to public services. Results from the spatial analysis suggested that proximity to services did not significantly correlate with higher living standard, suggesting that physical distance to services may not be the most important barrier for urban refugees. Finances, lack of mobility, or discrimination may play more significant roles in living standards. See the full, interactive study here!
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Livelihoods, access to services among urban refugees in Delhi – JIPS

 

 

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  • Earth observation and GIS to support humanitarian operations in refugee/IDP camps – “Since 2011 we are providing Earth observation-based information services to Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) on demand. A service on population monitoring has already reached an operational stage. Thereby indicators on population are derived by automated dwelling extraction from (multi-temporal) very high resolution (VHR) satellite imagery. Based on such information, further added-value products are provided to analyse internal camp structure or camp evolution. Two additional services to support groundwater extraction and assess the impact of the camps on the environment are currently under development. So far twenty-five sites in nine countries have been analysed and more than a hundred maps were provided to MSF and other humanitarian organisations.”

 

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Za’atri refugee camp, Jordan

 

  • Syria Refugee Sites – “Data as of June 11, 2015. The “Syria Refugee Sites” dataset contains verified data about the geographic location (point geometry), name, and operational status of refugee sites hosting Syrian refugees in Turkey, Jordan, and Iraq. Only refugee sites operated by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) or the Government of Turkey are included.”
  • Using GIS as a planning and coordination tool in refugee camps in South Sudan – “The South Sudan refugee crisis has suffered from substantial information gaps, largely stemming from a lack of coordinated approaches to data collection and inadequate resources to operationalise such a data collection effort. In particular, shortcomings in the availability and reliability of data about patterns of refugee flows over the border, settlement area characteristics and overall social organisation have limited the speed and effectiveness of the humanitarian response. To address these gaps, REACH, in partnership with UNHCR, developed a simple methodology aimed at bringing together data from reliable sources and representing it in both text and geospatial formats, such as static and interactive webmaps.”
  •  Informing Humanitarian Action with GIS in Al-Za’atari Camp – “Information about Al Za’atari collected by REACH is available on the open geo-portal Open Street Map. IS officers adjust data in to suit OSM by using JOSM and Mercaator software, a mapping platform commonly used by the digital humanitarians in emergency environments. Information is shared in a free map that can be viewed online or downloaded, although some information is protected due to its sensitive nature. Using OSM means that spatial data can be immediately available and therefore more effective in crisis situations when there is little time to construct more complex software. As part of its commitment to improve information management in emergencies, REACH has created an OSM wiki-page to explain how the data is structured and adjusted to the software so other humanitarian organisations can replicate the method elsewhere around the world. The REACH team in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI) is now following the Al Za’atari model for refugee camp mapping.”

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  • Using GIS technology to map shelter allocation in Azraq refugee camp (UNHCR Innovation) – “to allocate shelters, staff just had to navigate through a map of the camp to see which shelters had already been allocated, which ones were available, and how many people were living inside. Later on, the program would show additional data, such as whether the shelter had been damaged, or if it was occupied informally by another family. Staff only had to click on the desired shelter to allocate it, and the data would then feed directly into the progress file. What’s more, it only took an impressive 20 seconds to find the right key among 10,000.”
  • GIS for Good: Siting refugee camps in Uganda – “The first objective of the project was to develop two separate scenarios for refugee campsite selection.
    Scenario 1: Existing Community Infrastructure, was designed such that the selection of sites would assume that refugees would be reliant on the community infrastructure that already exists.  This would provide refugees an opportunity to integrate with local communities to a certain extent, and put less pressure on UNHCR to develop the infrastructure for new camps in rapid crisis situations.
    Scenario 2: New Community Infrastructure, was designed under the assumption that UNHCR would be able to provide infrastructure to new camps.  Although both models aspire to a level of community integration, this model would be undertaken under the hope that the presence of UNHCR and thus, refugees, would actually benefit communities that had previously suffered from poor access to certain resources.  These camps might prove a bit more difficult to develop, but the hope is that the positive effects of a camp would benefit the communities for a long time to come.”
  • What Makes a Camp Safe? The Protection of children from Abduction in Internally Displaced Persons and Refugee Camps– “The study is one of the first initiatives to generate a database of IDP and refugee camp attacks for analysis and policymaking purposes. The researchers also used geographic information systems (GIS) software to produce a series of maps that chart migration trends, camp attacks, and the abduction of children. A major advantage of GIS mapping is the ability to track the movement of IDP and refugee populations over time; this will allow Pitt researchers to continue to track population movements to determine whether migratory populations are at greater risk than those in permanent, stationary camps.”

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 Other links:

 

 

Offshore Justice: could Australia end up at the ICC for abusing asylum-seekers? | Justice Hub

“This isn’t the first time that it has been suggested that the ICC examine allegations of abuses against asylum-seekers in Australian detention facilities. In 2014, Andrew Wilkie, an independent member of parliament, insisted that the Australian government was committing crimes against humanity against asylum-seekers and requested that the ICC investigate. Wilkie argued that the Australian government was guilty of imprisonment and other severe deprivations of physical liberty in violation of fundamental rules of international law; deportation and other forcible transfer of population; and other international acts causing great suffering, or serious injury to body and mental and physical health.”

See the whole article here.

And see the documentary:

Daily chart: The Refugee Project – an interactive chart of migration and refugee flows

In every corner of the earth ordinary people are forced to leave their homes, often without notice, often never to return. When they cross international borders, they are called refugees. The Refugee Project is a narrative, temporal map of refugee migrations since 1975. UN data is complemented by original histories of the major refugee crises of the last four decades, situated in their individual contexts.

Have a look: http://www.therefugeeproject.org/

 

The plot thickens: Australia to close Manus Island centre; staff demanding end to offshore detention; Australia doesn’t bother to investigate any of the Nauru files before declaring them bunk

After the PNG supreme court ruled in April that the detention centre was “illegal and unconstitutional”, we have been waiting with bated breath to see what convoluted legal explanation Australia will find in order to keep avoiding their responsibilities under national and international law. This week, after the leak of over  2,000 incident reports detailing systemic physical and sexual abuses, humiliating treatment and harsh conditions, and widespread self-harm and suicide attempts on Nauru, the Australian Minister for Immigration, Peter Dutton, and the President of Nauru have decided, respectively, that the reports were only “hype” or “cooked up” the reports just to discredit them. Of course, the standard institutional response to allegations of abuse, exploitation, or assault, particularly when perpetrated by one’s own officials, is to claim that the victim is lying and the allegations are baseless. And the fact that the official response notes that, “Many of the incident reports reflect unconfirmed allegations or uncorroborated statements and claims – they are not statements of proven fact. The Australian government continues to support the Nauruan government to provide for the health, welfare and safety of all transferees and refugees in Nauru.” Although advocates dispute the characterization as “unconfirmed allegations,” the government response does highlight one salient point: that there was no effort to investigate or substantiate these allegations. Except when they want to file charges against someone for attempting suicide, like the Iranian asylum-seeker was criminally charged and ordered to pay $165 for attempting suicide (suicide and homosexuality were legalized a month later, in May 2016).

Dutton also accused asylum seekers of committing acts of self-immolation in order to get to Australia. He does not seem to take the point that people prefer to burn to death than to stay in indefinite detention as an indication that the situation is inhumane.

Now, more than 100 former employees from Australia’s offshore detention centres have called for asylum seekers to be brought to the mainland rather than sweeping it all under the rug with yet another inquiry. (see the full list). This, in a context where they might face criminal charges by Australia for speaking up. Their voices join over 1,800 academics and dozens of  human rights, legal, religious and medical groups that have demanded the Australian government put a stop to the suffering of asylum seekers and refugees in its offshore processing regime.

There is some good news:,according to the PNG govenment (later backed up by the Australian government), Australia has agreed to close the controversial asylum seeker detention centre in Papua New Guinea (PNG) declared unconstitutional earlier this year.As described by the Guardian,

The Manus Island detention centre has had a troubled existence since being reopened in 2012. In 2014 three days of unrest and an invasion of the detention centre by PNG police and others saw more than 60 asylum seekers seriously injured. One man was shot, another had his throat slit and 23-year-old Reza Barati was murdered by guards who beat him with a nail studded piece of wood, and kicked and dropped a rock on his head. PNG’s supreme court heard up to 15 expatriate and local guards killed Barati. Two local men were convicted of his murder this year.

The detention centre has also been plagued by consistent allegations of abuse and privation. Rape, physical and sexual assault and drug abuse are common, the centre’s water supply has failed, and detainees are fed expired food. Suicide attempts and acts of self-harm are common, and some men have alleged they have been beaten and tortured in solitary confinement.

Australia still claims that none of them will settle in Australia, and organizations such as Human Rights Watch have highlighted that simply shifting them elsewhere will not work:  “These men should immediately be moved to Australia or a safe third country, not simply shunted down the road to a transit centre or moved to Nauru or Cambodia. Nearly a thousand men on Manus have already lost three or more years of their lives locked up in limbo for no good reason. They’ve endured dirty, cramped conditions, inadequate medical care and violence. Finally, it is time to let them move on with their lives in safety and dignity.” Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch claim that Australia has a “deliberate policy” of not addressing issues on Nauru as a strategy to “deter” further boat arrivals, as well as that asylum seekers are suffering immensely from inadequate medical care.

“Australian authorities are well aware of the abuses on Nauru. The Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), a Senate Select Committee, and a government-appointed independent expert have each highlighted many of these practices, and called on the government to change them. The Australian government’s persistent failure to address abuses committed under its authority on Nauru strongly suggests that they are adopted or condoned as a matter of policy.”

“Few other countries go to such lengths to deliberately inflict suffering on people seeking safety and freedom,” said Amnesty International’s senior director for research Anna Neistat, who went to Nauru to conduct the investigation.

Continue reading The plot thickens: Australia to close Manus Island centre; staff demanding end to offshore detention; Australia doesn’t bother to investigate any of the Nauru files before declaring them bunk

Nauru: “what’s the point of surviving at sea if you die here?”

https://embed.theguardian.com/embed/video/australia-news/video/2016/aug/10/nauru-australia-refugees-detention-centre-asylum-migration-video
Today, around 2,000 reports were leaked of abuse, psychological disturbance, sexual assault and degrading treatment that the people, particularly children, detained on Nauru have experienced. The scale, variety, and seriousness of the allegations should be shocking.The institutional response is appalling (from the Guardian article):

In one report an asylum seeker described being told she was “on a list” written by local Nauruan guards naming single women they were “waiting for”. “She has received offers to get her pregnant when she gets out,” the caseworker wrote.

They reveal allegations of misconduct by Wilson Security guards at the detention centre. In one report a “cultural adviser” for Wilson Security, the company that employs guards at the detention camp, allegedly told an asylum seeker who had been sexually assaulted in camp that “rape in Australia is very common and people don’t get punished”.

The caseworker who filed the report wrote that the female asylum seeker also told her the guard had questioned whether the sexual assault had occurred and said: “If that happened to you why didn’t you scream at the time?”

“You have to take it out of your head if you go into Nauru then he [the alleged perpetrator] could be your neighbour or if you go to Cambodia then he could be on the plane next to you,” the adviser reportedly told the woman. “You also have to teach your son to treat this man nicely.”

The Nauru Database: Interactive

A few things are worth pointing out:

  1. Not all allegations are always substantiated. The government claims that these reports are only that, and are “evidence of rigorous reporting mechanisms.” From this we can infer that these reports were not followed up or investigated or prosecuted, because then the government would be able to reply with an actual statistic of the steps they have taken to address the issues. Quite a lot of the allegations are involving crimes that, in the case of some of the sexual abuse allegations, would involve criminal sentences of 10 to 25 years if prosecuted in Australia.
  2. The fact that access to the facility is extremely restricted does not bode well for the alleged transparency and humane conditions supposedly found there. Nothing is more suspicious than a secret facility with indefinite detention – it is why organizations like the ICRC spend a lot of time monitoring detention facilities.
  3. There is a conflict of interest when the agency required to investigate is the agency also responsible for the staff who are allegedly the perpetrators of the misconduct.
  4. Australia has a duty of care, and legal responsibility for all of the people in this facility, whether or not they have contracted it out.

This is what Australian taxpayers are funding to the tune of 1.2 billion per year.

 

The Nauru files: 2,000 leaked reports reveal scale of abuse of children in Australian offshore detention (the Guardian)

The devastating trauma and abuse inflicted on children held by Australia in offshore detention has been laid bare in the largest cache of leaked documents released from inside its immigration regime.  More than 2,000 leaked incident reports from Australia’s detention camp for asylum seekers on the remote Pacific island of Nauru – totalling more than 8,000 pages – are published by the Guardian today. The Nauru files set out as never before the assaults, sexual abuse, self-harm attempts, child abuse and living conditions endured by asylum seekers held by the Australian government, painting a picture of routine dysfunction and cruelty.  The Guardian’s analysis of the files reveal that children are vastly over-represented in the reports. More than half of the 2,116 reports – a total of 1,086 incidents, or 51.3% – involve children, although children made up only about 18% of those in detention on Nauru during the time covered by the reports, May 2013 to October 2015.

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