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IOM steps up support as Rohingya refugee numbers rise in Southeast Asia

Almost 3,300 arrived in Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand last year, the UN agency said, a roughly 290 per cent rise over the 850 people recorded in 2021. 

IOM urged States in the region to work collectively to provide life-saving care and support to the refugees to prevent loss of life at sea during the migration journey.   

Steadfast support 

The Rohingya, a majority Muslim community, have been fleeing waves of violence and persecution in Myanmar. More than 700,000 left the country in 2017 to escape a brutal military crackdown. 

Almost one million Rohingya are currently living in crowded refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. 

“Since the beginning of the Rohingya refugee crisis, IOM has been steadfast in providing the necessary humanitarian assistance to the Rohingya,” said Sarah Lou Ysmael Arriola, Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific. 

As the increase in arrivals continues, with nearly 300 already as of 23 January, IOM is ramping up operations to provide vital humanitarian assistance. 

Providing basic services 

Most arrivals have been recorded in Indonesia, where IOM is working with the authorities, NGO partners and the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, to facilitate access to basic services. 

IOM has provided protection and health services, in addition to refurbishing temporary shelters and ensuring water supply, access to food, sanitation and waste management. 

Teams are also conducting information sessions in the Rohingya language to support the refugees in identifying risks linked to human smuggling and trafficking, gender-based violence and sexual exploitation and abuse. 

Education and housing help 

In Thailand, IOM is providing health services to Rohingya, in addition to promoting alternatives to detention for migrant children and mothers and an increase in education services for those in shelters.    

Meanwhile, in Malaysia, it is expanding a cash-based rental assistance programme, following vulnerability assessments, in response to the constant threat of eviction Rohingya refugees face.    

Since 2020, over 3,000 Rohingya in the three countries have received direct assistance from IOM. 

Saudi Arabia a strategic partner in UN support for Palestine refugees, amid concern over escalating violence

In a first since 2020, UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini visited Saudi Arabia on 28 and 29 January at the invitation of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.  

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Longtime Saudi solidarity with Palestine refugees topped the agenda of his talks with the Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs, Waleed ElKhereji, and the Supervisor-General of the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center, Dr. Abdallah al Rabeea.  

Recent escalation concerning 

A later meeting with the Chairman of the King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies, His Royal Highness Prince Turki Al-Faisal, focused on the fragility of the situation in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the worrying escalation last week. 

A terrorist attack outside a Jerusalem synagogue on Friday left at least seven Israelis dead and three injured, while nine Palestinians were killed during an Israeli raid targeting suspected militants on a West Bank refugee camp the previous day. 

“The concerning events that are unfolding in the West Bank are a stark reminder that the stability of the region is often hanging by a thread,” said Mr. Lazzarini. 

“We at UNRWA look forward to working closely with Saudi Arabia, as a strategic partner, on ensuring that the lives of the refugees, particularly children and youth, continue to be transformed positively through education, healthcare and other services that the agency offers.” 

Supporting critical services 

The Commissioner-General again acknowledged how the much-needed Saudi contribution of $27 million at the end of last year was directly allocated to UNRWA’s core programme budget and helped maintain critical services to Palestine refugees. 

All discussions during his two-day mission explored ways for the UN agency to co-operate with Saudi entities on youth empowerment and employment.  

Mr. Lazzarini emphasized the importance for UNRWA to work with Saudi Arabia as a strategic partner, particularly in areas such as youth development and empowerment, as well as promoting regional peace and stability.  

“Education and modern-day skills are the best tools that the international community can offer to young Palestine refugees,” he said. “By helping them build their future, we would also be sending them a message that they are not alone.” 

A meeting with Prince Turki Al Faisal of 🇸🇦 means a discussion about regional stability and prospect for peace + how @UNRWA is an irreplaceable pillar of stability in absence of a political solution addressing plight of #PalestineRefugees https://t.co/G7QJ8jIsk0

Home, belonging, and the Holocaust

In 1933, Hitler began putting the party’s core racist and nationalist ideology into practice, identifying who could claim Germany as home and who in their view, really belonged in the country.

This process went way beyond enacting legislation to define and exclude Jews from society: the Nazis launched misinformation and hate speech campaigns vilifying and dehumanizing Jews, and sanctioned acts of terror that destroyed people’s places of worship, livelihood, and homes.

As Germany gained territory in Europe under the guise of uniting German-speaking peoples, they ensured that similar systematic campaigns took place in the countries under their control.

Jews from Subcarpathian Rus are subjected to a selection process on a ramp at Auschwitz-Birkenau, Poland.
US Holocaust Memorial Museum/Yad Vashem

Jews from Subcarpathian Rus are subjected to a selection process on a ramp at Auschwitz-Birkenau, Poland.

Nazis emboldened by ‘deafening silence’

In his message for the International Day, UN Secretary-General António Guterres notes that the Holocaust was the culmination of thousands of years of antisemitic hate, aided by the decision of so many to do nothing to stop the Nazis. “It was the deafening silence – both at home and abroad – that emboldened them”.

This, he continues, was despite Nazi Germany’s hate speech and disinformation campaigns, contempt for human rights and the rule of law, the glorification of violence and tales of racial supremacy, and disdain for democracy and diversity.

“In the face of growing economic discontent and political instability, escalating white supremacist terrorism, and surging hate and religious bigotry – we must be more outspoken than ever,” added the UN chief, drawing a parallel between the Holocaust and the present day.

Dolls made by stateless Jewish children living in UN displaced persons camp in Florence after the Second World War, on display at UN Headquarters
UN News/ Conor Lennon

Dolls made by stateless Jewish children living in UN displaced persons camp in Florence after the Second World War, on display at UN Headquarters

After the end of the world

The UN Outreach Programme on the Holocaust scheduled a series of events in January and February at UN Headquarters in New York, illustrating the “home and belonging” theme, including a ceremony to mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day, on 27 January.

One of the exhibitions currently on display at the UN, and continuing until 23 February, centres on the experiences of the Jewish refugees who found themselves scattered across Europe, in dire need of help.

After the End of the World: Displaced Persons and Displaced Persons Camps, displays documents and photographs from the archives of the United Nations and the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, and explains the role of the UN Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA), which was set up to resettle those displaced by the war and the Holocaust.

As well as information, and photographs of refugees, the exhibition contains several artifacts, including dolls made by stateless Jewish children who were living in a displacement camp in Florence, Italy, after the war.

Misinformation, stereotypes, and antisemitism

Copy of “Der Giftpilz” (The Poisonous Mushroom), an antisemitic children’s book, on display at UN Headquarters.
UN News/ Conor Lennon

Copy of “Der Giftpilz” (The Poisonous Mushroom), an antisemitic children’s book, on display at UN Headquarters.

Displacement due to conflict and persecution remains a feature today, and misinformation and hate speech, which spread rapidly around the world thanks to the internet, continue to put lives at risk.

Located next to the exhibition on displacement, is another installation illustrating the stereotyping, misinformation, and conspiracy theories used by the Nazis, to vilify Jews, Roma, migrants, LGBTQIA+, or other groups.

The aim of “#FakeImages: Unmask the Dangers of Stereotypes” is to challenge the viewer to unmask the lies that continue to divide and polarize communities, and both exhibitions encourage visitors to draw comparisons with present-day antisemitism. “#FakeImages” is on show until 20 February.

The Book of Names

Until 17 February, visitors to the UN can also see the Yad Vashem Book of Names of Holocaust Victims, which details alphabetically the name of each of the approximately 4.8 million Holocaust victims that Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center, has so far documented and confirmed.

 

Whenever possible, the book shows the date of birth, hometown, and place of death of each victim.

The names are taken from Pages of Testimony – forms created by Yad Vashem to record the brief life stories of Jews killed in the Holocaust – as well as from various lists compiled during and following the Holocaust, and subsequently reviewed by Yad Vashem experts.

Speaking at the opening of the exhibition on Thursday, Mr. Guterres recalled that, in the 1930s, German Jews were forced to adopt an additional name: “Israel” for men, and “Sarah” for women. Prisoners in Auschwitz were dehumanized further: when they arrived at the concentration camp, their names were erased and replaced with a number burnt on their forearms.

“This exhibition is a call to action”, said the UN chief. “Some one million victims remain unidentified, and we are racing against time. It is a call to remembrance:  as fewer and fewer can bear direct witness, we will have to find new ways to carry the torch of remembrance forward”.

Visiting the UN:

The exhibitions in the UN lobby are free and open to the public. Guests are welcome to visit the exhibitions during regular hours (Monday-Friday, 9 am – 5 pm). For more information check the United Nations Visitor Centre entry guidelines.

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Virtual events

UN Holocaust Memorial Ceremony

The event includes remarks by United Nations Secretary-General; the President of the 77th session of the General Assembly, the Permanent Representative of Israel and the Deputy Representative of the United States to the United Nations.

Professor Debórah Dwork delivers the keynote address. Jacques Grishaver of the Netherlands will share his testimony as a survivor of the Holocaust. Professor Ethel Brooks will speak to the persecution and mass murder of the Roma and Sinti. Two grandchildren of Holocaust survivors will also address the ceremony – Professor Karen Frostig and Michael Shaham. Musicians who will perform, include Shoshana Shattenkirk, Michael Shaham (who will perform on a Violin of Hope). Professor Renée Jolles performs a piece for violin specially composed by Victoria Bond for the 2023 Holocaust memorial ceremony. Cantor Nissim Saal, recites the memorial prayer.

The ceremony, which takes place on 27 January at 11:00 AM Eastern Time, is streamed live on the United Nations YouTube channel, and then available on demand.

Each life a world: Survivors share their stories

As part of a collaboration with the UN, the Jewish non-profit organization B’nai B’rith, continues its series of annual virtual events, featured on its YouTube channel, with testimony from Holocaust survivor, Ivan Lefkovits.  

Professor Lefkovits, along with his mother and older brother, were deported to the Ravensbrück concentration camp in 1944. His brother, who was 15, was murdered. Professor Lefkovits and his mother survived the war, and in 1969 established the Basel Institute for Immunology.

Palestinian refugees face hitting ‘rock bottom’, warns UNRWA in $1.6 billion appeal

Head of UNRWA, Philippe Lazzarini, told journalists in Geneva that competing global crises, and skyrocketing levels of poverty and unemployment among Palestine refugees, have put immense strain on them – and the agency – which started the year some $70 million in arrears.

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“On the one hand we are asked to deliver public-like services to one of the most under-privileged communities in the region. We obviously are a UN agency (and) abide by UN values, but in reality, we are funded like an NGO, meaning that we depend on voluntary funding from Member States.”

Most Palestine refugees now live below the poverty-line and many depend on humanitarian assistance, including cash and food, from UNRWA.

Eyewitness

“I thought that they had reached rock bottom some time ago, but I discover each time that this misery people are confronted with is getting worse and worse,” the UNRWA Commissioner-General said, of his recent visit to meet Palestinian refugees in Syria. “I witnessed first-hand indescribable suffering and despair.”

The desperate situation of Syria’s Palestine refugees is mirrored in Gaza and Lebanon – where more than nine in 10 live below the poverty-line – and in Gaza. “Many told me that all they asked for was a life of dignity, that’s not much to ask for,” the Commissioner-General explained.

Totally dependent

“We have seen increased poverty in the Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon …there has been a stiff increase compared to previous assessments, which means again, we are the only lifeline for this community. The same happened in Gaza; in Gaza, we have more than one million people who are also dependent on our food assistance.”

Highlighting the vast scope of UNRWA’s work, Mr. Lazzarini explained that the agency provided services, much as a small government would. “We act in reality as a Minister of Education, a Minister of Primary Health, a Minister of Municipalities, a Ministry of Social Services for this extraordinarily vulnerable group of Palestinian refugees,” he said.

“We are also providing emergency humanitarian assistance and hence my appeal this morning for a total of $1.6 billion.”

In response to a renewed escalation of violence, a Palestine refugee family find refuge at the UNRWA Beit Lahiya Preparatory Girls’ School in northern Gaza.
©UNRWA Photo/Mohamed Hinnawi

In response to a renewed escalation of violence, a Palestine refugee family find refuge at the UNRWA Beit Lahiya Preparatory Girls’ School in northern Gaza.

Austerity package

Amid chronic funding shortfalls, UNRWA has expanded e-health access and telemedicine and launched a digital learning platform. “In the last three years, we had a ‘zero growth’ budget, which stayed at the same level,” Mr. Lazzarini said.

“Obviously, it didn’t meet all our needs, and that forced the agency to put in place austerity measures. And austerity comes at a cost; today, for instance, we regularly have up to 50 children per teacher attending class.”

Similarly tough conditions apply in healthcare provided by UNRWA, which provided seven million medical consultations in 2022. “On average, the doctor spent no more than three minutes with each patient, so it’s a bit quick, too,” the Commissioner-General said.

UNRWA’s 2023 appeal for $1.6 billion includes $848 million for core services including health, education, relief, social services and protection. Another $781.6 million is required for emergency operations in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon.

🚨#PalestineRefugees continue to be among the most vulnerable communities in the world

As humanitarian conditions worsen, we’re calling for $1.6 Billion to support our #GlobalAppeal – to continue delivering vital assistance & services that are a lifeline to #PalestineRefugees ⬇️ https://t.co/SUmgag5CKR

Mali: WHO doctor seized by ‘unidentified assailants’, as UNHCR raises alarm over continuing violence

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a tweet posted on Tuesday that WHO was working with local authorities to investigate the abduction of Dr. Mahamadou Diawara, who had worked for the agency in the town for around three years, “and ensure our colleague’s quick return to his family.”

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WHO said in a statement that he had been “leading efforts to provide medical care to communities that are often remote and face insecurity risks and violence.” 

The driver of his car was also attacked, but not abducted, and was said to be recovering from the incident.

“The motive for the abduction is unclear” at this time, said WHO.

Support wanes for those forced to flee

In another sign of the wider instability still gripping much of Mali, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) earlier called for enhanced support by the international community, for those recently displaced across the northwest African nation, where continued violence and threats by armed groups have forced both local Malians and refugees to flee for safety.

Mohamed Toure, UNHCR’s Mali representative said at a press briefing in Geneva that a vacuum had been created since the end of a counter-insurgency operation led by the French military against Islamist militants.

“In this vacuum right now, we don’t have any State authorities in that region, so it is really left in the hands of armed groups, terrorist armed groups, that are really spreading terror, spreading killings, spreading rapes, creating misery”.

Operation Barkhane was an initiative which began on 1 August 2014 and formally ended on 9 November 2022. It was led by the French military against Islamist groups across Africa’s Sahel region.

The operation was led in co-operation with five countries that span the Sahel: Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger. France began withdrawing its troops from Mali last February.

Displaced women prepare food at an informal camp in Bagoundié, Mali.
© UNOCHA/Michele Cattani

Displaced women prepare food at an informal camp in Bagoundié, Mali.

Longtime refugees running again

The numbers fleeing from those countries has notably increased in the past few weeks, “including refugees who have been displaced for quite a long number of years, of time”, said Mr. Toure.

Gao, Timbuktu and Kidal are some of the towns to which the refugees are currently fleeing to seek for security. UNHCR and its partners are supporting local authorities in responding to the needs of the forcibly displaced, providing them with emergency shelter, education, food and water supplies, together with cash assistance aimed at economic empowerment.

“We are talking about almost half a million people who are in need of assistance in terms of displacement”, said UNHCR’s Mali representative.

3 million in need

“Of course, beyond that, in Mali we have almost three million people who are in need of humanitarian assistance”, he added, and just 38 per cent of the support asked for last year was provided.

UNHCR said that as of the end of December, they were hosting more than 60,000 refugees in Mali, including 25,000 from Burkina Faso. Meanwhile, some 440,000 Malians remain internally displaced due to continued violence and threats from armed groups.

Mr. Toure said that refugees had received frequent testimonies from refugees and IDPs reporting the presence of foreign fighters, “involved in those conflicts”.

Show greater solidarity

As the needs of the displaced remain enormous, UNHCR is appealing to the international community to show greater solidarity for the displaced in Mali and in neighboring countries, to be able to continue to deliver life-saving assistance.

He pointed to a “kind of Mali fatigue” in terms of fundraising and support, which was “diminishing drastically” the level of assistance being provided to vulnerable families on the run.

WHO deplores the abduction of Dr Mahamadou Diawara, who was taken by assailants from his car yesterday in #Menaka in #Mali.

WHO is working with local authorities to investigate the abduction & ensure our colleague’s quick return to his family.
https://t.co/cFFsZ5QuoM

UN refugee chief praises Moldova for opening the country to Ukrainians fleeing war

“The Moldovan people and Government have shown remarkable solidarity with refugees since the Russian invasion of Ukraine began nearly one year ago”, Filippo Grandi told the media during his visit to the country.

“This support was visible from the first days and weeks of the war, when tens of thousands of refugees – mainly women and children – fled Ukraine and continues to this day”.

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“Opening homes”

Despite many pressing economic challenges and limited resources, “Moldovans opened their country and their homes”, the senior UN official continued.

During the past 11 months, almost 750,000 Ukrainian refugees entered and over 102,000 have remained – almost half of whom are children.

“The Government’s decision earlier this week to activate temporary protection is another concrete and tangible expression of continued and sustained solidarity with the Ukrainian people”, he stated.

The UN refugee chief explained that the move provides a more secure legal status for refugees and paves the way for a more sustainable planning and response.

“Temporary protection will help refugees access employment, become self-reliant, and will also allow them to contribute to their host communities until they can return home in safety and dignity”.

It also provides the framework for even more long-standing access to education and other basic services as well as stability during trauma and upheaval.

Stepped-up support needed

The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, is committed to supporting Moldova and deepening its cooperation on refugee inclusion, while simultaneously mobilizing support for host families and communities.

Since the beginning of the refugee influx, it has delivered to Moldova more than $100 million worth of assistance and support.

“We will continue to invest in strengthening social protection systems in Moldova for refugees and Moldovans alike”, assured Mr. Grandi.

“But it is imperative that the international community steps up to provide renewed support for the refugee response and for the communities generously hosting refugees in Moldova”.

This means urgent and enhanced development investments in the country, as well as significant international efforts to shore up and grow the State’s economy, including encouraging private sector investment that can provide sustainable opportunities for both Moldovans and refugees.

 

In Moldova we could observe once more that mayors, district governors, community leaders, local NGOs, host families and generous individuals are key actors in responding to a refugee situation. When good government policies provide space, grassroots hospitality thrives. https://t.co/o5bvfBE0kc

Steep increase in deadly boat journeys reflects Rohingyas’ desperation: UNHCR

More than 3,500 desperate Rohingya attempted deadly sea crossings in 39 boats in 2022 – mainly from Myanmar and Bangladesh – UNHCR spokesperson Shabia Mantoo told journalists in Geneva.

“This represents a 360 per cent increase on the year before, when some 700 people made these journeys.”

The UN agency’s latest warning about the situation comes amid an ongoing military crackdown in Myanmar by generals who seized power two years ago, and the continued absence of a comprehensive regional response among coastal South Asian nations to protect refugees’ lives at sea and prevent their exploitation by people smugglers.

Boats ‘adrift for weeks’

Calls by UNHCR to maritime authorities in the region to rescue and disembark people in distress have been ignored or have gone unheeded with many boats adrift for weeks,” Ms. Mantoo said, adding that without concrete pledges for regional cooperation, more people will die on the high seas.

Latest UNHCR data on the number of deaths resulting from these dangerous journeys indicate that at least 348 people died or went missing at sea in 2022, making it one of the deadliest years since 2014.

The agency noted that 3,040 individuals who made the sea journey disembarked in 2022, primarily in Myanmar, Malaysia, Indonesia and Bangladesh. Nearly 45 per cent were women and children.

Stranded Rohingya people sit on the deck of an abandoned smugglers’ boat drifting in the Andaman Sea in  2015.
UNHCR/Christophe Archambault

Lured by ‘false promises and false hope’

In the last two months of 2022, four boats carrying over 450 Rohingya disembarked in Aceh, Indonesia. One boat carrying more than 100 Rohingya disembarked in Sri Lanka. Another vessel is feared to have sunk in early December with approximately 180 individuals on board, UNHCR reported, while several boats that departed in December “remained at sea as of the end of the year”.

Ms. Mantoo highlighted the vulnerability of the ethnic Rohingya who have made the sea journey, and of the 700,000 who fled military persecution en masse from Myanmar to Bangladesh in 2017. “We’re hearing reports … from Rohingya about this growing sense of desperation and this anxiety about the future and really their hope for security, for protection. Some of them are wanting to reunite with family members, others, their vulnerabilities are being exploited by traffickers or smugglers luring with false promises and false hope.”

Call for regional response

In a call for solidarity among nations impacted by the Rohingyas’ plight, the UNHCR official noted that regional ministers are due to meet next month as part of The Bali Process, to discuss how to combat people smuggling, human trafficking and related transnational crime.

“The movements that we’re talking about today, they are of Rohingya refugees, they are refugees that require international protection,” Ms. Mantoo insisted. “They should not be deported, they should be provided with protection and assistance, so we’re urging States to ensure that they abide by their international legal obligations in disembarking them, rescuing them at sea, disembarking them and then ensuring that they are protected and not returned to situations of danger where they lives may be at risk.”

Reiterating its appeal for more countries to share the “humanitarian responsibility” of the emergency in a more predictable, equitable, and sustainable way, Ms. Mantoo noted that most Rohingya refugees continue to be hosted by Bangladesh.

“The people of Bangladesh, the local communities and the Government have been generous in hosting them and receiving them and providing them with protection and assistance, but they do require more support to ensure that they are able to be supported during their displacement,” she said.

Greece in spotlight over trial of activists, volunteers who rescued migrants

The hearing involving 24 volunteers and activists began on Tuesday on the Greek island of Lesvos, prompting OHCHR to warn of the “chilling effect” that it has had on other rights defenders, who’ve now halted their work in Greece and other European Union countries.

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Those on trial were all associated with Emergency Response Centre International, or ERCI; between 2016 and 2018, the group helped more than 1,000 people to reach safety and provided survivors with medical and other assistance on Lesvos, OHCHR said.

Voice of reason

“I think it’s absolutely clear, that you have people who are in distress at sea, people who are on boats that may have capsized, or may have sunk; they are in the water and there is nobody to rescue them,” said UN rights office spokesperson, Liz Throssell.

“That is why we are saying that this trial, and trials like it, are absolutely concerning because they criminalise actions that save people’s lives.”

Speaking to journalists in Geneva, Ms. Throssell noted that those on trial included a Syrian refugee and foreign nationals, such as the Irish-German national, Sean Binder.

The OHCHR official explained that the defendants face charges that include several alleged misdemeanours related to the facilitation of migrant smuggling, and she welcomed the news on Friday that the prosecution had recommended the annulment of some of the accusations.

Cut adrift

Today, there are no civil society rescue teams operating in Greek waters, Ms. Throssell reiterated, despite the fact that 492 migrants have either died or gone missing in the Eastern Mediterranean since 2021, according to the UN International Organization for Migration (IOM).

Similar trials of other rights activists have already taken place in a number of other EU countries including Hungary, Italy and Malta, the OHCHR official continued.

The fact of saving lives, providing humanitarian help is crucial and it should never be criminalised by any State, and that is why in this particular case we are saying that that the charges against these defendants should be dropped,” she said.

IOM’s Missing Migrants project updates migrant fatalities in the region and has recorded nearly 1,700 deaths and disappearances on the Eastern Mediterranean sea route since 2014, including nearly 500 children.

Many of the victims are known to have come from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

A large rubber boat filled with refugees is pulled to shore on the island of Lesbos, in the North Aegean region. (file)
© UNICEF/Ashley Gilbertson VII Photo

A large rubber boat filled with refugees is pulled to shore on the island of Lesbos, in the North Aegean region. (file)

🇬🇷#Greece: Trial of human rights defenders charged for role in rescuing #migrants at sea sets dangerous precedent. Life-saving & humanitarian work should never be criminalised or prosecuted. We call for all charges against all defendants to be dropped.

👉https://t.co/1vX9VTe9OI https://t.co/t0oNRr7Pj9

New US border policy poses risk to fundamental rights, warns UN’s Türk

Taking aim at the expected rise in so-called “expedited removals” from the United States, Mr. Türk also criticised the intention to use the COVID pandemic-related Title 42 public health order even more than today.

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Fast-track expulsion

The move will permit the “fast-track expulsion to Mexico” of 30,000 Venezuelans, Haitians, Cubans and Nicaraguans each month, the UN rights chief maintained.

He explained that Title 42 has already been used by US immigration officials 2.5 million times at the southern border, to expel people to Mexico or their home country, without assessing what risks they faced as a result of being returned.

The High Commissioner welcomed the extension of the US so-called “humanitarian parole” programme to include nationals of Cuba, Haiti and Nicaragua – in addition to Venezuelans.

Asylum and protection

But he insisted that the measure “should not come at the expense of fundamental human rights, including the right to seek asylum and the right to an individual assessment of protection needs”.

His call follows on from the UN refugee agency’s (UNHCR) call last Friday for the administration to think again, and meet international human rights standards. 

Mr. Türk stressed that seeking asylum “is a human right, no matter a person’s origin, immigration status, nor how they arrived at an international border.”

“These measures appear to be at variance with the prohibition of collective expulsion and the principle of non-refoulement,” the OHCHR chief said.

Parole’s no replacement

He added that limiting humanitarian parole for some, “cannot be a replacement for upholding the rights of all to seek protection of their human rights”.

Those most in need of asylum, and those in vulnerable situations are unlikely to meet the restrictive requirements to be granted humanitarian parole, including having a financial sponsor in the US, he noted.

“We hear a great deal of talk about migration crises, but in reality, it is those migrating who often are the ones truly in crisis”, said the High Commissioner.

“Rather than vilifying them and stripping them of long-recognized rights, we should be seeking to govern migration humanely and safely with full respect for the human rights of every individual.”

UN Human Rights Chief @volker_turk voices concern over new #USA border enforcement measures. Expanded legal pathways for some cannot replace rights of all to seek asylum and protection.

👉https://t.co/Yd8BlyEU6t https://t.co/5mqzXJ3LKO

New US border measures ‘not in line with international standards’, warns UNHCR 

According to reports, the reforms would deny migrants the chance to seek asylum in the US if they crossed from Mexico into the US without permission. 

But President Biden also said that up to 30,000 people per month from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua and Venezuela could come legally, if they meet a series of requirements, including finding a sponsor and demonstrate they are able to afford a plane ticket. 

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UNHCR spokesperson Boris Cheshirkov told journalists in Geneva that while the UN agency welcomed the expanded safe and regular pathways for entry to the US for some, the new measures “must not preclude people forced to flee from exercising their fundamental human right to seek safety”.

More examination time needed

Due to the “multi-faceted” nature of the Administration’s announcement, UNHCR is seeking additional details and analyzing the likely impact of the measures, said Mr. Cheshirkov, which would enable an “unprecedented number of people” from the four nationalities to enter.

In addition to considering the well-being of thousands already on the move from Latin and Central America, the agency raised its concern over the expansion of the controversial COVID pandemic emergency “Title 42” health restrictions order, to expel Cubans, Haitians, and Nicaraguans without weighing the dangers they were fleeing or the risks and hardships many of them will face in Mexico.

UNHCR had made continuous calls for it to be lifted, and the issue has provoked a major court battle in the US, with the Supreme Court ruling at the end of December that the policy allowing migrants to be turned away at the border on health grounds, should remain for now.

“What we are reiterating is that this is not in line with refugee law standards and that to establish a link between safe and legal pathways which have been announced and of course we welcome the expansion of those on one side that are accessible for some people with curtailment for the right to seek asylum for many more who are ineligible for these pathways”, said Mr. Cheshirkov.  

Safer pathways

Seeking asylum is a fundamental human right, the agency stressed.

UNHCR will continue to engage with the US and other Governments, to expand safe pathways and develop protection and solutions for asylum seekers – in line with international standards, the Spokesperson said.

We need more support and opportunities to find durable solutions for people #ForcedToFlee. https://t.co/auybWW1TxO

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