Press Review 40: 29 September – 5 October 2014

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Tags: Asylum Seeker Ebola Food Shortages press review regulations and legislation South Africa

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Asylum Seeker/Refugee Policy Issues

Nauru asylum seekers sew lips shut in protest over Cambodia transfer
Ben Doherty, The Guardian, 1 October 2014

Asylum seekers on Nauru, including children, have stitched their lips shut in protest at being held in detention for more than a year and at plans to move them to Cambodia. In a video seen by Guardian Australia, six boys and men appear seated in a tent in a Nauru detention centre, with their lips crudely sewn shut. Guardian Australia has been told that at least one of the men has been taken to hospital after refusing all food and water for more than 48 hours. Protests are continuing daily in Nauru over what asylum seekers say is discriminatory and cruel treatment. The immigration minister Scott Morrison introduced a bill into parliament in September to attempt to reintroduce temporary protection visas and a new form of temporary regional work visa for asylum seekers who arrived by boat. But the proposed legislative changes will not apply to asylum seekers already offshore, who must stay on Nauru or agree to be moved to Cambodia. A second video shows asylum seekers standing against the perimeter fence holding placards reading ‘I’m tired, please kill me’ and ‘only our corpses might go to Cambodia’. The protesters chant ‘Morrison, shame on you’. Security guards can be seen standing by, but they have not interfered in the protests. Asylum seekers also handed over a letter addressed to the Australian high commissioner detailing their complaints. The asylum seekers’ letter said they had been dumped on the island ‘like rubbish’ and treated ‘like animals’.

Basic needs unmet for UK asylum-seekers
IRIN News, 1 October 2014

Last month, the UK Home Secretary, Theresa May, announced that asylum seekers in the UK would not be receiving an increased allowance. A court ruling in April had criticized the very low level of support given to those seeking asylum and gave the Home Office four months to show how it had calculated that the current allowance would cover the needs of asylum seekers. The Home Office duly did its sums, but announced that the amount to be paid would not increase. The decision was a blow to campaigners who had brought the case to show that asylum seekers were being forced to live in extreme poverty while waiting for their applications to be processed. Dave Garratt, the chief executive of Refugee Action, the organization which took the Home Secretary to court, told IRIN that asylum seekers were coming through their doors, telling them that they were really struggling to survive. But the campaigners did at least force the Home Office to give an account of how the asylum seekers’ allowance – currently just over £5 a day for a single adult – was calculated.

A single adult asylum seeker’s allowance is currently just over 50 percent of the benefit known as ‘income support’ – in itself considered the minimum needed to lead an adequate life. In cases where an initial asylum request has been refused and a destitute applicant is waiting for the result of an appeal, or has agreed to return to their country of origin but is unable to do so immediately, the allowance, known as Section 4 support, is no longer paid in cash, but loaded onto a ‘Azure card’. This can only be used at designated shops, for food and a limited range of other items. The recipient has no money for anything else – bus fares, postage, faxing documents or any of the other expenses needed to pursue his claim. Accommodation provided to asylum seekers is also very basic – often hostel-style or shared accommodation. Ironically the very point at which asylum seekers finally succeed in getting refugee status can be one of the most difficult moments. Temporary support stops four weeks after that status is granted. The refugee can now work and is eligible for normal welfare benefits, but has just one month to find new accommodation and get a job, or else negotiate a whole new set of form filling, interviews and bureaucratic requirements.


Somalia battles al-Shabab for Galgala mountains
BBC News, 1 October 2014

Troops in northern Somalia have battled al-Shabab Islamist militants for the Galgala mountains, with both sides claiming to have won. The fighters have been holding the northern mountains for several years. An al-Shabab spokesman told the BBC that after a heavy battle they still controlled the territory in Puntland. The al-Qaeda aligned group is mainly based in southern and central Somalia where the African Union force is heading a major offensive against it. Abdiweli Hirsi Abdille, the information minister of Somalia’s north-eastern region of Puntland, told the BBC that troops had captured the Galgala region in an early morning offensive. He gave no details of prisoners or casualties. An al-Shabab official, who spoke to the BBC on condition of anonymity, said that after fierce fighting they had fought off the assault, killing 20 soldiers, including the commander of the operation. Galgala is the only area in Puntland that has been under the control of al-Shabab.

DRC ex-militiamen, relatives starve to death
SAPA, IOL News, 1 October 2014

More than 100 demobilized militia fighters and their family members have died from starvation and disease in a remote military camp in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said Wednesday. The government kept the former fighters in the north-western Kotakoli camp much longer than the intended three months, HRW said, and failed to provide enough food and health care. The demobilized fighters belonged to armed groups that remained active in eastern DRC after the end of a civil war more than a decade ago. Some 941 surrendered fighters and several hundred family members were sent to the camp in September 2013 to wait for integration into the military or into civilian life. Supplies ran out by the end of the year and the government only sent minimal food and medicine. The demobilized fighters were kept in Kotakoli because of delays and donor hesitation to finance the demobilization programme, Defence Minister Alexandre Luba Ntambo told HRW. Many of the demobilized fighters belonged to the M23 group, which was defeated by the army and a United Nations special intervention brigade in November 2013. Short for the Movement of March 23, the group was formed in early 2012 when nearly 300 Congolese soldiers turned against the government, citing poor conditions in the army and accusing it of reneging on a 2009 peace deal with the National Congress for the Defence of the People, a militia active in the east of the country.

Rebels in Democratic Republic of Congo slow to disarm
Philipp Sandner, Deutsche Welle, 1 October 2014

UN troops gave the rebel groups in the Democratic Republic of Congo six months to disarm. During this timeframe rebels from Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) were expected to voluntarily lay down their weapons. This was supposed to be a first step towards their reintegration into society. Three months have elapsed in the meantime and the results have not been encouraging. So far just two hundred rebels and their dependents have registered at the transit camp in Kanyabayonga intended to receive them. This was reason enough for international peacekeepers to repeat their call to the rebels to disarm. ‘The UN reiterates its call to the rebels to hand in their weapons and agree to be taken to a place outside the Kivu provinces,’ General Abdallah Wafy, the UN Secretary General’s Deputy Special Representative for the DRC said. He added there were no further conditions attached, but said that additional steps could be taken against the leadership of the FDLR.

Libya aid push constrained by insecurity
IRIN News, 1 October 2014

A wave of violence between militia groups vying for power is sweeping across parts of Libya, prompting international organizations to put forth an ambitious plan to provide humanitarian aid to 85,000 people by the end of this year. Yet concerns remain over the feasibility of such an operation, given the security risks, access issues and communication problems. Since May at least 165,000 Libyans have fled their homes, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), as the capital Tripoli has been rocked by clashes. This is in addition to over 55,000 people who have been displaced since the Western-backed military overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, many of whom have now been re-displaced. Last week the UN World Food Programme (WFP) and UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) sent their second aid convoy into the country from Tunisia, delivering food and materials to 6,700 people in western Libya. The organizations say this is the start of a much larger programme, with UNHCR aiming to reach 85,000 people by the end of the year – including in the eastern city of Benghazi.

Boko Haram video shows Abubakar Shekau alive
BBC News, 2 October 2014

A video has been released showing the purported leader of Nigeria’s Islamist group Boko Haram dismissing the military’s allegations that he is dead. In the video, Abubakar Shekau says his fighters shot down an air force jet that went missing three weeks ago. Last week, the military claimed a man posing as the Boko Haram leader in videos had been killed and, in August 2013, said that Shekau may be dead. Security analysts have questioned the credibility of the military’s claims. Nigeria journalist Ahmad Salkida, who has good contacts within Boko Haram, said on his Twitter account last week that he had it ‘on authority that Shekau is well and alive’. Is it is not clear when or where the video, obtained by the AFP news agency, was made. But the BBC’s Hausa Service editor, Mansur Liman, says the man speaking appears to be the same Abubakar Shekau in other Boko Haram videos. In the video a heavily bearded man stands on the back of a pick-up truck firing an anti-aircraft gun into the air. He mocked the Nigerian military for reporting that he had been killed and was surrounded by heavily armed masked gunmen. The Nigerian military has recorded some recent success against Boko Haram after preventing the town of Konduga, near Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state, from falling into the jihadists’ hands. But towns and villages are still under the militants’ control and reports that Abubakar Shekau is still alive will once again make it hard for people to believe the information coming from the Nigerian military.

Analysis: South Sudan at a crossroads
Stephen Graham, IRIN News, 2 October 2014

The failure of peace talks and the end of South Sudan’s wet season could unleash fresh fighting between government forces and rebel factions, propelling millions of people in the world’s youngest nation back towards a man-made famine, analysts and humanitarian workers warn. Nine months of bad-tempered negotiations have yet to produce a firm ceasefire, let alone a political deal to end a conflict punctuated by atrocities. Skirmishes have continued in areas close to where thousands of civilians are crammed into UN bases. There are fears that both sides have used the seasonal lull to re-arm. Surging violence would roil plans by the UN and humanitarian partners to use the dry season to patch up roads and other infrastructure and pre-position critical supplies before the meagre returns from the current disrupted harvest run out in early 2015. The rains usually begin to ease by late October.

The conflict erupted in December 2013, when an intensifying power struggle between President Salva Kiir and former vice-president Riek Machar boiled over into fighting within the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) in the capital, Juba. Violence quickly engulfed much of the north and east of the country, pitting troops loyal to Kiir against rebel units and militias aligned with Machar. Thousands of civilians are believed to have died, many of them targeted for their ethnicity. Kiir is an ethnic Dinka, Machar a Nuer. According to the UN, the violence has displaced 1.3 million people within the country, including about 100,000 sheltering in often squalid conditions in UN bases. With agriculture disrupted, livelihoods lost and trade patterns wrecked, nearly four million face serious food insecurity. Another 450,000 have fled to neighbouring Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda.

Ebola outbreak: ‘Five infected every hour’ in Sierra Leone
BBC News, 2 October 2014

A leading charity has warned that a rate of five new Ebola cases an hour in Sierra Leone means healthcare demands are far outstripping supply. Save the Children said there were 765 new cases of Ebola reported in the West African state last week, while there are only 327 beds in the country. Experts and politicians are set to meet in London to debate a global response to the crisis. It is the world’s worst outbreak of the virus, killing 3,338 people so far. There have been 7,178 confirmed cases, with Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea suffering the most. Save the Children says Ebola is spreading across Sierra Leone at a ‘terrifying rate’, with the number of new cases being recorded doubling every few weeks. It said that even as health authorities got on top of the outbreak in one area, it spread to another. The scale of the disease is also ‘massively unreported’ according to the charity, because ‘untold numbers of children are dying anonymously at home or in the streets’.

Now hunger threat shadows Ebola in West Africa
Reuters, News24, 3 October 2014

The threat of hunger is tracking Ebola across affected West African nations as the disease kills farmers and their families, drives workers from the fields and creates food shortages. In the worst-hit states of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, Ebola is ravaging their food-producing regions, preventing planting and harvesting, and disrupting supply routes and markets. The UN’s World Food Programme and Food and Agriculture Organisation say border and market closures, quarantines and movement restrictions, and widespread fear of Ebola have led to food scarcity, panic buying and price increases, especially in Sierra Leone and Liberia.

About 65 percent of Sierra Leone’s 6 million people depend on agriculture, which represents about 40 percent of the national economy, so the Ebola emergency and its impact on farming are already dragging down overall economic growth. The finance ministry said a whole planting season could be lost. Growth this year is expected to slow to 8% from over 11% forecast earlier in the year and inflation is expected to climb to 10% by the year-end from 7.5% as food prices continue to climb because of shortages. Liberia could experience an even worse decline, with the IMF forecasting a fall in GDP to 2.1% from 6% projected earlier. Inflation is expected to hit 13% at the end of the year, compared with 7.7% earlier. The Ebola impact is wrecking rural farming areas in Liberia and Sierra Leone which are still recuperating from the civil wars of the 1990s that also drove farmers from the fields and devastated rural communities. Liberia’s Commerce Minister, Axel Addy, said the government was negotiating with importers to try to ensure the country had three months’ supply of rice. About 6 million tonnes of rice is consumed every year. But importers were also complaining of rising costs because insurance premiums on vessels bringing cargo to Liberian ports had increased due to fears of Ebola. And for many, the food aid may not arrive in time to stave off shortages that are growing by the day.

Somali troops ‘capture key port town’ from al-Shabab
BBC News, 5 October 2014

Somali government troops backed by African Union (AU) forces have taken the last coastal stronghold of the al-Shabab Islamist group. But the AU told the BBC the joint forces were not yet in full control of the town, and the AU had parked its heavy armour on its outskirts. Barawe, 220km (135 miles) south-west of the capital Mogadishu, has not been run by the central government for 23 years. The AU says al-Shabab used Barawe as a base to launch attacks on the capital. Al-Shabab has lost control of several towns in the past month, but still controls large swathes of territory in rural areas. The BBC’s Emmanuel Igunza says the news is a significant blow to al-Shabab because they had used Barawe as a supply route for weapons and food and as a base for a lucrative charcoal business. The loss of Barawe – after six years under their control – comes a month after al-Shabab’s leader, Ahmed Abdi Godane, was killed by a US air strike near the town. US strikes have also targeted other senior militants in and around Barawe.  The group, which is estimated to have at least 5,000 fighters, wants to overthrow the UN-backed Somali government and has imposed a strict version of Sharia in areas under its control. Last week, a woman was stoned to death in Barawe for alleged adultery. Correspondents say al-Shabab tends to tactically withdraw from areas when faced with a large offensive, but leaves some fighters within the civilian population to launch attacks later.

South Africa

Court defends rights of foreigners
Franky Rabkin, Business Day Live, 29 September 2014

There is no law to prevent refugees and asylum seekers from getting licences to operate spaza shops in South Africa, the Supreme Court of Appeal said on Friday. The proliferation of immigrant-run spaza shops in townships across the country has led to tension with local traders, some of whom have argued that only South African citizens should be entitled to licences. While they appeared to have support from sections of the government, Friday’s judgment made it clear that asylum seekers and refugees — who are legally in the country — were also entitled to apply for permits to run spaza shops. Judge Mahomed Navsa had strong words for the police and the government, saying they should ‘guard against unwittingly fuelling xenophobia’. The judgment concerned a police initiative called ‘Operation Hard Stick’ meant to close down unlicensed spaza shop owners in Limpopo. More than 600 businesses were closed, even some that did have licences.

Refugees and asylum seekers said when they tried to get licences, the authorities claimed that foreigners were not entitled to operate businesses in SA. But for many, being self-employed was the only way to feed their families. While the constitution does limit the right to choose one’s occupation or trade to citizens, this did not trump the right to dignity, said Judge Navsa.

Prepared for permits says SA
Mxolisi Ncube, The Zimbabwean, 3 October 2014

South Africa said this week it had prepared well enough to avoid the pressure that followed the rolling out of special permits for Zimbabweans in 2010. Ahead of the permit renewal process that began October 1, Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba said all was set for the Zimbabwe Special Permit processing for some 245,000 holders of the Dispensation for Zimbabweans Project (DZP). No new applications will be allowed. ‘We, along with our application processing partner VFS, have completed all the necessary preparations to process all prospective applications for the ZSP. All the 10 ZSP Application Centres have been secured by VFS.’ Gigaba said 120 dedicated staff members had been tasked with dealing with ZSP adjudication. Zimbabweans were expected to begin applying online through the website The application fee is R870.

Tags: Asylum Seeker    Ebola    Food Shortages    press review    regulations and legislation    South Africa   

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Content credit: Scalabrini Centre
Image credit: Hazara Asylum Seekers