Monday, October 29, 2012

The Great Balkan Asylum Seeker Debate Continues

The last few weeks have brought a flurry of attention to the visa-free regime of the Balkans. Will the EU shut the whole thing down because of so-called "fake" asylum seekers?

In a letter to the European Commission, Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg and the Netherlands claimed that a flood of asylum seekers from ex-Yugoslavia have been slowing down their systems with false asylum claims. The idea of reintroducing visas in the region to prevent such exploitation has now been raised several times, but this has been the most serious request.

Germany in particular has been harping on this point, faced as they are with a "surge" of asylum-seekers from Serbia and Macedonia. Interior Minister Hans Peter Friedrich has stated that the influx "must be stopped immediately" and has advised that asylum seekers recieve vouchers for products rather than funds as one measure to reduce the attractiveness of Germany as a destination.

While the media often points out that such false asylum claims represent a small portion of the populations of the sending countries (and that most have come from Roma) there seems to be no attempt to verify that all the claims are fake, or, "economic based."

If the influx is so heavy that it has clogged asylum systems, then how can governments have possibly managed to properly evaluate the claims to determine that they are not legitimate under the refugee convention? Considering the many human rights problems in the sending countries- the same human rights issues preventing them from joining the EU in the first place- isn't it possible that some of the claims are legit?

The EU countries on the receiving end of such claims seem to be in a catch-22 here. If they admit that the claims are legit, than they have to provide refuge (and funds) to asylum seekers, as well as anger the governments which are currently trying to project a human rights friendly image. If they send them back, because there are no legitimate human rights claims emerging from these countries, then what is the hold-up from letting them into the EU? In a particular bind are countries like France and Belgium, who don't have such an amazing track record of their own when it comes to minority rights. France's record on Roma, in particular, leaves much to be desired, even in comparison to Serbia and Macedonia.

A thin line is being walked by these states when it comes to the Balkans, and if the free visa regime is indeed revoked, its going to be more than just asylum seekers who are put off.

Read More:
How to Solve the Balkan Asylum Crises (Balkan Insight)
Germany and France Demand Reintroduction of Balkan Visas (EU Observer)
EU Ministers to Curb 'Fake' Asylum Seekers (EuroActiv)
Germany Seeks to Halt Influx of Balkan Asylum Seekers (Der Spiegel)

Monday, October 15, 2012

New Report: Unnacompanied Minors on the Rise in Central America

The Women's Refugee Commission has released a new report on unaccompanied minors entitled,
"Forced from Home: The Lost Boys and Girls of Central America". According to the report, the number of child migrants apprehended traveling to the US from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador has almost doubled .

The research conducted by the WRC confirms that the continuing problem of gang violence, coupled with heavy-handed tactics of police that tend to consider all youngsters potential gang members, has led to the upswing and created a "lost generation." In addition, girls are at a particular disadvantage since they are vulnerable to both gang violence and gender-based violence. Although there is also poverty in these countries, the majority of children seem to be fleeing from violence.
The conditions in Central America have deteriorated to such a point that, when the WRC asked the children if they would risk the dangerous journey north through Mexico all over again now that they had direct knowledge of its risks, most replied that they would. They said that staying in their country would guarantee death, and that making the dangerous journey would at least give them a chance to survive. Many of them expressed a longing for their homelands, stating that they would not have left but for fear for their lives (at 7).
Since the conditions in these countries don't seem to the changing (and let's recall that the US has contributed to the Central American gang problem significantly) it makes sense for the Government to adjust certain measures to ensure the human rights of these children are protected.

The report outlines a number of ways for the government to improve its response, but I would like to emphasize one in particular: unnacompanied minors are not entitled to legal assistance or lawyers, and often have to defend themselves from deportation in court. This is just patently unfair and should be the first thing to change. When a child's life is in the balance, he or she should have a better shot than an elementary grasp of a foreign legal system and 15 minutes in front of an impatient judge.

The entire report is worth a read, and is available for download here.

Read More:
 Gangs without Borders (SFGate)
National Center for Refugee and Immigrant Children
Gang-Based Asylum Claims (Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota)

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Images from Berlin's Refugee March

 This weekend in Berlin was the culmination of a long-organized Refugee Protest March, wherein Asylum Seekers protested against deportation and especially the conditions of "Residenzpflicht"- the policy preventing asylum seekers in Germany from travel or work. Here are some images from the March, which I attended.

"Right to Stay for All"- Youth Without Borders
"No Deportation for Refugees! Same Rights for All"
"Stop Deportation- Shut down Refugee Camps"

Even the police came by to show their support :)