Press Review 36: 1-7 September 2014

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Tags: Africa Asylum Seeker Border Crossing migration press review South Africa

Asylum Seeker / Refugee Issues

Thousands of Refugee Children Are Suffering in Thai Detention
Charlie Campbell, Time Magazine, 2 September 2014

Significant trauma is being experienced by thousands of refugee children being held in squalid detention centres in Thailand, claims a new report from Human Rights Watch (HRW). The 67-page report, Two Years with No Moon: Immigration Detention of Children in Thailand, accuses Thailand of violating children’s rights, impairing their health and imperilling their development. There are approximately 375,000 migrant children in Thailand, say experts, the largest number coming from Burma, where thousands have fled the world’s longest running civil war as well as recent pogroms against the Rohingya Muslim minority. Other young refugees hail from Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Somalia, Syria and elsewhere.

Thailand has not ratified the 1951 Refugee Convention and does not have functioning asylum procedures. If caught, undocumented foreigners run the risk of being put in immigration detention, often in harsh conditions. HRW researchers say that they found children were being crammed into cells so crowded that they had to sleep sitting up, and that the children were being housed with unrelated adults, risking sexual and physical abuse. Because there is a lack of legal and other mechanisms by which they can be released, many of the children are detained indefinitely, sometimes for years. Thailand has denied that it is failing refugee children in a seven-page written response to the HRW.

Australia asylum seeker ‘brain dead’ after infection – activists
BBC News, 3 September 2014

A young Iranian asylum-seeker, aged 24, has been pronounced brain dead after a minor cut on his foot became infected and did not receive medical attention for weeks. Hamid Khazaei had been in a detention centre on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea. He was transferred to mainland Australia for treatment last week but had a heart attack. Mr Khazaei’s case is being blamed on poor hygiene at the Manus Island camp. A spokesman for the Refugee Action Coalition said that skin and fungal infections are endemic at the camp. Australia’s immigration department said last week that its chief medical officer was reviewing the background to Mr. Khazaei’s condition and medical care while he was at Manus Island.

In February, an outbreak of violence at the centre left several people injured and one dead. In recent months, the Australian government has come under increased scrutiny for its treatment of asylum seekers who arrive in Australia by boat. Australia detains all those who arrive by boat to seek asylum. Detainees are held on Christmas Island and in camps on Papua New Guinea and Nauru. The UN and rights groups have strongly condemned conditions in these camps. The Australian government says its tough asylum policies are intended to save lives by stopping people from getting on dangerous boats to make the journey to Australia.

Concern over Bangladesh move to repatriate Rohingyas to Myanmar
IRIN News, 4 September 2014

Bangladesh announced this week that it will send back over 2,000 Muslim Rohingya refugees to Myanmar, stoking concerns about the prospect of returning them to an increasingly dire situation. Myanmar has agreed to repatriate some 2,415 Myanmar nationals who are living in refugee camps in southeastern Bangladesh. The Rohingyas have long faced persecution and discrimination, including being stateless in the eyes of Burmese law. Myanmar’s government claims that historically they are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and labels them ‘Bengalis’, denying the existence of a people called ‘Rohingya’.

The Bangladesh government would like the Rohingya refugees on its territory to be repatriated. Outbursts of violence – called ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya by some – in Myanmar in 2012 led to 140,000 people (mainly Rohingyas) living in camps in Rakhine State, where they remain today. According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), there are 200,000 to 500,000 Rohingyas in Bangladesh, of whom only 32,355 are documented and living in two government camps assisted by the agency, both within 2km of Myanmar. Most live in informal settlements or towns and cities in what Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has described as ‘deplorable conditions’.

From 1992 to 2005, around 230,000 Rohingyas returned from Bangladesh to Myanmar under an agreement between the two governments, but the repatriation process stopped when the Burmese government refused to extend the agreement. The decision to restart repatriation procedures was announced after the eighth round of consultations between the governments of Bangladesh and Myanmar in Dhaka on 31 August.

Ethiopia refugee camp submerged by floods
Al Jazeera, 5 September 2014

Ethiopia’s Lietchuor camp, home to almost 40,000 refugees from South Sudan, has been made uninhabitable by flooding, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) said. The medical charity said in a statement on Friday that the camp in Ethiopia’s Gambella region resembled ‘a lake dotted with islands’. Ethiopia’s Administration for Refugee and Returnee Affairs and the UNHCR have decided to close the camp and are searching for suitable ways to relocate the refugees. Several other camps such as Pagak and Pamdong, which are transit camps also in Gambella, have also been seriously damaged as rainstorms and strong winds destroyed mud huts, the group said. The charity said a 120-bed hospital in Itang was also affected by storms. A water-stopping dam reinforced by the MSF team to protect the hospital collapsed, and the clinic, which served patients from both the refugee and host communities, is no longer functional. The UN says an estimated 180,000 refugees have arrived in Ethiopia from South Sudan since violence there erupted in late 2013. It has warned that numbers could reach 300,000-350,000 by the end of this year. Thousands of people have been killed and more than 1.8 million have fled a conflict sparked by a power struggle between President Salva Kiir and sacked Vice President Riek Machar, who recently signed a ceasefire deal.


Red Cross to Kenyatta: send troops to quell clan clashes

IRIN News, 1 September 2014

Kenya’s top humanitarian official has called on President Uhuru Kenyatta to make good on a threat to deploy the army in perennially restive areas in the country’s northeast due a resurgence of intercommunal conflict. Months of intermittent hostilities in the county have left dozens dead and more than 18,000 displaced from their homes and are currently living in seven displacements sites within Rhamu in Mandera North sub-county. About 77 people have lost their lives and more than 95 have been injured since January due to the conflict between the two main clans in Mandera, according to the Kenya Red Cross Society (KRCS).

Apart from Mandera, intercommunal conflict has affected other northern counties such as Wajir, Garissa and Marsabit, where 95 people died in clashes between January and June 2014. Between January and June 2014, at least 125 people were killed country-wide, scores injured and 215,479 uprooted from their homes, many of them in the northeast, according to KRCS and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Sanitation, shelter and healthcare services have been badly affected in many areas affected by conflict, according to the KRCS. This has led to a spike in cases of diarrhoea, malaria and pneumonia, according to aid workers.

Namibia: Call to Restrict Travellers From Ebola-Hit DRC
Katima Mulilo, New Era, 2 September 2014

A senior politician in Zambezi wants the restriction of the movement of trucks and people from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) where two cases of Ebola were reported. Last week over 80 South Africa-bound trucks from the DRC were stranded at the Kazungula border post after Botswana immigration authorities prevented them from entering the country over concerns about Ebola. Zambezi is a trans-frontier region bordering countries such as Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Angola with the latter countries sharing borders with the DRC, thus making them susceptible to the disease. Chairperson of the Zambezi Regional Council, Raphael Mbala, noted that plans were underway to put measures in place but such plans have not come to fruition due to some delays. The Ministry of Health and Social services recently announced it has banned all travellers from countries hit by Ebola as a precaution.

Landlord migrant check scheme to be rolled out in West Midlands
Alan Travis, the Guardian, 3 September 2014

Private landlords across Birmingham and the Black Country in the United Kingdom will face fines of up to £3,000 beginning in December if they fail to check on the immigration status of their new tenants, the British Home Office has announced. The introduction of the first phase of the ‘right to rent’ scheme is part of a drive to ‘create a hostile environment’ for illegal migrants in Britain and to deny them access to public services they are not entitled to. An official code of practice published alongside the announcement suggests that the immigration status of everyone who is to occupy a new tenancy should be checked to avoid accusations of discrimination. Only those well known to the landlord, such as immediate family members, will be exempt.

Calais migrants foiled as they try to storm ferry
BBC News, 4 September 2014

Undocumented migrants in the French port city of Calais tried to force their way onto a ferry bound for England, officials and witnesses say. Passenger John Bailey told the BBC the migrants tried to run up the ship’s main ramp but the crew raised it and turned a fire hose on them. The migrants were detained by French police. The mayor of Calais, Natacha Bouchart, said she would blockade the port unless Britain helped to control the migrants. She said that her city was being ‘taken hostage’ by more than 1,000 migrants attempting to cross the English Channel from France. Officials say that two attempts were made to board MyFerryLink ship Berlioz. In the first, about 85 migrants forced their way through a gate and climbed over fences, overpowering security staff. A second attempt – made by about 150 migrants who also succeeded in gaining entrances to the port – was frustrated when police moved in to detain them.

Many of the migrants in Calais believe the UK will be a more welcoming place if they can get there. In 2002 the French government closed the main Red Cross centre at Sangatte near Calais and unsanitary illegal camps have sprung up in its place since then. In recent months French police have tried to break up the camps, but the migrants say they have nowhere else to go. They can often be seen sheltering under plastic bags and sheets, with many depending on charities for food. Calais is the nearest French port to England and millions of British tourists travel through the town every year.

Northern Nigeria: ruined lives
Obinna Anyadike, IRIN News, 4 September 2014

Thousands have died in the violence in Nigeria’s northeast between Boko Haram insurgents and the security forces, with no end in sight to the bloodletting. Bombings and shootings by the Salafist group have been countered by extra-judicial murder by the army and the police, documented by local and international human rights groups. After five years of insurrection, Boko Haram now holds towns in the state of Borno; last week leader Abubaker Shekau announced a self-declared caliphate. IRIN talked to a group of mothers and widows in Maiduguri, the birthplace of Boko Haram, who have lost sons or husbands in the expanding violence.

Mozambique rivals sign landmark peace deal
AFP, Mail & Guardian, 5 September 2014

Mozambique’s president, Armando Guebuza, and rebel Renamo leader, Afonso Dhlakama, who came out of hiding Thursday, signed a peace deal in Maputo, bringing an end to a two-year conflict. The two leaders embraced, prompting jubilant cries and clapping from those gathered. For two years government forces and fighters loyal to Dhlakama have clashed, with the rebel leader accusing the state of reneging on a peace deal that ended Mozambique’s brutal civil war. About one million people died as a result of the 15-year conflict, which ended in 1992. In the most recent clashes Dhlakama’s supporters attacked buses and cars on the main north-south highway and government forces raided his bush hide-out, in a low-level but deadly insurgency.

Mozambique has been ruled by civil war victors Frelimo since independence, and the party is expected to win upcoming elections in October. There are fears the polls could be marred by violence. Dhlakama has lost every presidential election since 1994 and his Renamo party is struggling to retain its status as the biggest opposition party. The peace deal will see Renamo fighters integrated into the military and the party given a greater say in election oversight bodies. Dhlakama has also asked for a slice of the country’s growing natural resource wealth.

Sierra Leone to order anti-Ebola shutdown
Sapa-AFP, Reuters, Mail & Guardian, 7 September 2014

Sierra Leone said Saturday it will confine people to their homes in a nationwide three-day shutdown later this month aimed at containing the Ebola epidemic threatening West Africa. Pedestrians and vehicles will be barred from the country’s streets, except on essential business, for 72 hours starting on September 19. The worst-ever outbreak of Ebola has claimed 491 lives in Sierra Leone, one of three countries at the epicentre of the epidemic which has so far killed more than 2,000. Authorities in Freetown will use the three-day window to search out patients who have not come forward to treatment centres. The Sierra Leone quarantine plan was announced after the World Health Organization (WHO) said Friday that the death toll from Ebola since the start of the year had topped 2,000. Many governments have sought to isolate Sierra Leone as it battles the disease.

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) warned on Saturday that the proposed countrywide ‘lockdown’ will not help control the spread of Ebola. MSF said door-to-door screening requires a high level of expertise and, even when cases are found, there is a lack of treatment centres and other facilities to take them to. The virus has so far claimed 2,097 lives out of 3,944 people infected in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, the UN health body said. Nigeria has recorded another eight deaths out of 22 cases. The Democratic Republic of Congo’s Ebola death toll had risen to 32, with an additional 59 likely or confirmed cases. No licenced vaccine or treatment exist for Ebola. The WHO has said it is hopeful a vaccine will be available for health workers to use by November.

US confirms al-Shabab leader Ahmed Godane killed
BBC News, 5 September 2014

The leader of the Somali Islamist group al-Shabab, Ahmed Abdi Godane, was killed following a US attack earlier this week, the Pentagon has said. The US carried out air strikes on Monday night destroying a vehicle and an encampment south of the capital. Somalia’s president issued a statement on Friday urging militants to embrace peace after the death of their leader. Godane was one of the US state department’s most wanted men. It had placed a bounty of $7m (£4.2m) on his head. Somali analyst Nuur Mohamud Sheekh told the BBC that Godane’s death ‘will deal a major blow to the group. It will have an impact in terms of affecting the morale of the fighters on the ground but it is not the end of al-Shabab in the short or medium term.’ He added there was no likely successor. On Friday, President Hassan Sheikh Mohamed announced a 45-day amnesty for militants who are willing to renounce al-Shabab.

South Africa

Brits are worst in over-stay stakes
Cobus Coetzee, Cape Times, 2 September 2014

According to the Department of Home Affairs, European visitors are the main transgressors of South African immigration regulations with thousands overstaying their tourist visas by months over the past three years. Immigration statistics released by the department show that 11,865 citizens from European countries overstayed their visas between January 2011 and July of this year. On average, about 1.5 million tourists from Europe visit South Africa each year. The department is hoping the new immigration regulations introduced in May will act as a deterrent to keep visitors from overstaying their visas. Under the new regulations, fines no longer apply to overstayers and Home Affairs officials may now declare overstayers ‘undesirable’ and refuse them re-entry for a period of up to five years. Home Affairs spokesman Thabo Mokgola said previously people who overstayed up to 30 days were issued a R1,000 fine. The largest fine of R3,000 was issued to visitors who overstayed their visa by more than 91 days. Nearly half, or 5,006, of the European transgressors were from the UK, while 1,861 were from Germany, 814 from France and 538 from Portugal. On average they stayed on in South Africa for up to four months, or 118 days, after their three-month tourist visa had expired. British High Commission spokeswoman Isabel Potgieter said they had informed their citizens of the change in the immigration laws by posting it on their website.

South African stuck in Ebola-hit Liberia
News 24, 5 September 2014

A South African, working and living in Liberia has found himself unable to return home, due to stringent Ebola travel restrictions. Gerhard van Zyl, a mechanic from Bloemfontein who has been working at a diamond mine next to the Sewa river, shared his frustrations with Volksblad on Thursday, saying that he is unable to return to South Africa, as flights to and from the Ebola-hit nation have been cancelled. According to Van Zyl, three people have died due to the virus and 200 others have been put in quarantine in Koidu, the town closest to the mine where he works, which means that the miners are pretty much surrounded by the disease. Apart from his obvious fears, Van Zyl is also worried about the fact that he may not be able to return to South Africa in time for his son’s wedding on 27 September. South Africa recently announced that a new rule has been put into place requiring any South Africans who want to travel to or from West Africa to request permission from the health department. Should permission be granted, Van Zyl would also probably have to undergo a stringent medical screening process on arrival in the country.

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Image credit: Doctors without Borders