Sunday, December 11, 2011

International Human Rights Day, 2011

A practice increasingly employed throughout the world

Rome, 7 December 2011 – In its latest report, Safe and Secure: How do Refugees Experience Europe's Borders?, the Jesuit Refugee Service finds ample evidence that European governments actively hinder refugee arrivals. JRS field offices confirm these deplorable practices are not limited to Europe; they are rapidly becoming the norm throughout Asia and Africa.
As the world commemorates the anniversary on 10 December of this poignant document, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Jesuit Refugee Service urges states to:
  • respond swiftly to all migrants and refugees in distress at sea and offer all those apprehended, including at land borders, access to procedures to determine whether they are in need of international protection; and 
  • end the practice of forcibly removing migrants to third countries where their human rights cannot be effectively protected.
"Sixty years after the formal adoption of the 1951 UN refugee convention, many governments are still inventing new excuses to justify the closure of their borders to asylum seekers instead of working to find durable solutions to forced displacement. This approach leads to tremendous human suffering while ignoring the universal obligation to protect the fundamental human rights of forced migrants", said JRS International Director, Peter Balleis SJ.
The experience of one Eritrean refugee, published in the report, is far too familiar. The boat on which he was fleeing was intercepted by Greek state officials, who then confiscated the engine and abandoned its occupants. Although he was rescued by fishermen, more than 15,000 other people have lost their lives trying to reach safety in Europe since 1994. Countless others face risks of other serious human rights violations, as recent events in Libya have shown.
Even those who make it to Europe cannot be considered safe. Research demonstrates that the EU policy of returning asylum seekers to the member state of first entry overlooks wide variations in national asylum practices in terms of quality, access and safeguards. Consequently, many refugees risk abuse, and may be returned, directly or indirectly, to their countries of origin – in violation of international refugee and human rights law.
Numerous states in the Asia Pacific region routinely engage in illegal practices denying forced migrants access to their territories and expelling those arrivals without considering their asylum claims. The Thai authorities forcibly interdict ethnic Rohingya asylum seekers at sea. Cambodia, Malaysia and Thailand have all returned ethnic Uighur asylum seekers to China before their asylum applications could be considered, and Australia has recently sought to return boat arrivals to Malaysia. Although this policy has been abandoned for now, it represents a growing exclusionary trend.
In recent years, many African countries – which continue to bear far more responsibility for refugees than do developed nations – have sought to prevent more displaced persons from crossing their borders. For instance, Kenya has repeatedly closed its borders with Somalia to refugees fleeing conflict, exposing refugees to arbitrary arrests, beatings and other human rights violations, including forced deportations.
Both Angola and South Africa arbitrarily prevent refugees who have travelled through a transit country such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mozambique and Zimbabwe, from entering their territories, maintaining that they could have applied for asylum in that country. Unfortunately, as recently found in a study by the NGO Lawyers for Human Rights, mechanisms to provide protection in these countries do not exist, leaving refugees at a high risk of persecution and exploitation.
"We call on European and other industrialised states to help developing nations hosting disproportionate populations of forced migrants. This could be achieved, at least in part, by resettling more refugees to richer nations and by allocating more technical and financial resources to poorer host countries", added Fr Balleis.
Notes to the editor
This JRS report highlights the difficulties asylum seekers face gaining access protection on European territory. EU polices that hinder refugee protection in favour of stronger border control are a key factor. Readmission agreements with neighbouring countries enable EU states to send migrants back to countries with poor protection records, such as Ukraine.
The report includes contributions by:
  • Two refugees: the first, Somali refugee Sayeed Mujadadi, describes his failed attempts to find protection in Belgium and his repeated detainment in Hungarian facilities; and the second, Afghan refugee Hakima Marina, details her harrowing journey from Afghanistan, the family's separation followed by their detention in Ukraine.
  • Two guest authors: Guy Goodwin Gill, a distinguished refugee scholar, who argues that EU policies contravene fundamental global refugee protection law; and Archbishop Agostino Marchetto, Vatican representative, frames refugee protection as a core Christian principle and urges states to cooperate for the benefit of refugees.
The report will be released on 8 December at an event in Brussels. Speakers include:
  • Guy Goodwin Gill;
  • Archbishop Marchetto;
  • MEP Barbara Lochbihler (Germany/Greens); and
  • Andrea Vonkeman from the UN refugee agency (UNCHR) Europe Bureau.
  • Three refugees will be present to provide their testimonies.
The Jesuit Refugee Service is an international Catholic organisation with a mission to accompany, serve and advocate for refugees. JRS works in more than 50 countries around the world. The organisation employs over 1,200 staff: lay, Jesuits and other religious to meet the education, health, social and other needs of 500,000 refugees and IDPs, more than half of whom are women. Its services are provided to refugees regardless of race, ethnic origin or religious beliefs. The 14 JRS offices in Europe provide direct services to forced migrants and their families, including material help such as food or shelter, as well as legal advice and social support.
For further information contact
James Stapleton,
Communications Coordinator
Jesuit Refugee Service (International Office)
Tel: +39-06 68977468; +39 346 234 3841
Phillip Amaral
Advocacy and Communications Officer
JRS Europe
Tel: +32 2 250 3223; +32 485 173 766

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