To prevent automated spam submissions leave this field empty.
In recent decades, while the transnational movement of information, goods, and capital has become almost effortless, the movement of people has become increasingly restricted. National security is the clear overarching paradigm, and no group is more affected by this focus on security than refugees.
The scale of the global refugee crisis is staggering. UNHCR’s 2014 mid-year report indicates a total population of some 46 million persons, including refugees, IDPs, asylum seekers and others of concern to the agency. Our moderator, Susan Akram of Boston University School of Law, reminded us that 3.1 million people have fled Syria for Lebanon, Iraq, Turkey, Jordan, and Egypt, where many are indefinitely detained. This mass exodus has created enormous pressure throughout the region. In Lebanon, refugees now make up more than 25% of the country’s population, and Jordan, hosting roughly 750,000 refugees, is the third most water-stressed country in the world.
François Crépeau, UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants, argued forcefully that, “Sealing international borders is impossible, especially in democratic States. Migrants will continue arriving despite all efforts to stop them, often at a terrible cost in lives and suffering.” During the past three decades, he says, irregular migration has been “criminalized,” compounding the challenges faced by migrants. Administrative law has become “the most dangerous law of the land,” with an immigration system that “mimics” the criminal justice system by importing criminal categories, mechanisms, institutions, and rationales—but without importing the associated due-process guarantees. Current migration policies have “opened a new and lucrative market” for smuggling rings that work to meet market demand for labor mobility. Regarding Syria, Crépeau urges a five-year global initiative to resettle one million refugees. With burden sharing, this would equate to 9,000 resettlements per year in Canada and 75,000 per year in the US, respectively “a drop in the [national population] bucket,” says Crépeau.
Eleanor Acer of Human Rights First focused on Fortress America, reminding us that the United States set the gold standard for the dubious maritime interdiction of refugees, becoming “a model for other states.” Whether expedited removal or strict asylum claim deadlines, “U.S. migration policies are based on politics and not on human rights.” The focus is on deterrence, detention, and deportation. On a positive note, Acer highlighted Judge Boasberg’s preliminary injunction blocking the Obama administration’s “aggressive deterrence strategy” of detaining asylum-seekers. While conceding that there may be sound reasons for deterring irregular migration, Judge Boasberg found that the government cannot use a blanket No-Release Policy that “deprives families with bona fide asylum claims of their liberty in order to send a message to others.” Acer asks what it is we should expect from policies that “block the doors of a burning building?” And, she urges us to respect the rule of law, especially refugee and human rights law.
UNHCR’s Buti Kale acknowledged that, with the Syrian crisis, a degree of “donor fatigue” has set in, yet he asks us to consider as well “the fatigue of those [refugee host] countries that have borne the brunt the burden.” Kale also highlighted Cartagena +30, a recent ministerial conference convened to review the 1984 Cartagena Declaration. The Conference adopted the Brazil Declaration, providing a regional framework for protection of refugees, IDPs, and stateless persons in Latin America and the Caribbean. Kale urged both Canada and the United States “to join the Cartagena process.”
Ron Munia, from DHS, provided an overview of the work done by the Office of Refugee Resettlement, which he directs. ORR assists refugees, torture survivors, trafficking victims, and others. While Ron didn’t say this explicitly, one take away was that while we think of Fortress America defined primarily by the armed guards, motion detectors, heat sensors, drones, and barbed wire fences along the U.S. border, refugees also face “fences” once inside the United States. For instance, while some refugees are eligible for cash assistance through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, the TANF rates have been stagnant since 1996. Indeed, 25 states have never changed their rate—a family of three receives $263 in Texas, $185 in Tennessee, and $170 in Mississippi (PER MONTH!). And, while ORR initially had 36 months to wean clients off of cash assistance, it now has just eight months to do so. On a positive note, ORR runs a “community garden” program that helps refugees not only to grow their own food and earn a little extra cash, but also to integrate into local communities by meeting neighbors, developing language skills, and overcoming social isolation, this last perhaps the most formidable challenge faced by any refugee.
Michael D. Cooper is an attorney and Managing Director of The Ploughshare Group. He has worked with several refugee and humanitarian aid agencies in the field, including Mercy Corps, the International Rescue Committee, and UNHCR.