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Child refugees have become pawns in a rightwing culture war

In striking down Alf Dubs’ House of Lords amendment, the government is feeding nativist narratives

“Who could be against children joining their families?” Few questions better capture the cruelty of the Conservative government’s approach to child refugees than that posed by Labour peer Alf Dubs this week. Dubs was protesting against the government’s decision to scrap a commitment from the Brexit withdrawal agreement that allows unaccompanied child refugees to reunite with their families in Britain. The House of Lords struck down the measure on Tuesday – only for the government to promptly overturn its changes. Dubs’ question pinpointed the confusing priorities of Boris Johnson’s hard-right government: why did it pick this fight?

The government’s position is riven with contradictions: it publicly supports protecting family reunification, but argues that including the commitment within the Brexit withdrawal bill ties its hands in EU negotiations. How can your hands be tied by something you’ve publicly supported? Vulnerable children should not be made bargaining chips, but the row over child refugees plays into a culture war that has proved a winning electoral formula for the right. Much like rightwing politicians’ tirades against international aid, which pit overseas donations against the needs of British pensioners waiting for beds in hospital corridors, the debate around child refugees fortifies a nativist narrative: (white) Britain comes first.

READ  38 people including children feared dead as vessel carrying fleeing civilians sinks 

This message is finding a growing audience among a population that has experienced the economic hardships of austerity and absorbed its belt-tightening mantra. The populist right preys on this invented feeling of economic scarcity. While debating the issue of unaccompanied child refugees recently on Sky News, my fellow panellist, a Conservative supporter, argued the government’s priority should be housing the many deprived British children and families living in temporary accommodation.

Read Also: Millions of future climate refugees may need protection, U.N. committee warns

It was a perfect example of the racialised antagonism that pits groups against one another. Having helped to plunge a fifth of the population into poverty, the right now uses Britain’s straitened circumstances as justification to attack progressives for wanting to help refugee children. This deepens the divisive rhetoric of “us” and “them”; the latter category now includes not just migrants or foreigners, but also people who are anxious to defend them.

Across the world, progressives are consumed by the question of how to dismantle this dog-whistle racism. The communications expert Anat Shenker-Osorio works on political messaging designed to defeat far-right narratives. She has closely studied successful progressive campaigns, from New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern’s 2017 victory to Ireland’s 2018 referendum on abortion. During the 2018 US midterm elections, Shenker-Osorio worked with grassroots groups in Minnesota that were attempting to counter Republican race-baiting and immigrant-bashing. They found that messages focused only on economics weren’t cutting through. As JaNaé Bates, communications director for the Isaiah coalition of faith communities for racial and economic justice in Minnesota, has explained, some voters who wanted free healthcare, education and childcare would add: “If my Somali neighbour is going to get it [too], I don’t want it.”

READ  Removing barriers for immigrant medical professionals is critical to help fight Coronavirus

Progressive groups worked with Shenker-Osorio to develop a campaign message with an inclusive narrative capable of persuading swing voters. It focused on a relatable subject: long Minnesota winters. A campaign ad, which ran on radio and online, claimed that everyone knew how to dig their neighbours out of the snow – regardless of whether they had lived in Minnesota for one year or 50. The ad concluded with a rousing message that called out the divisive rhetoric of opposition candidates: “There are lots of ways to be Minnesotan and all of them are greater than fear”.

Minnesota, previously a marginal Democrat state, wound up with resounding Democrat victories for governor, attorney general and Senate races, taking control of the state house and elected the first Somali-American, Ilhan Omar, to Congress. Its story is a lesson for the challenges facing the UK left: how to build a more inclusive version of the collective “us” and share ideas with progressive movements in other countries – which is exactly how the populist right is organising. As Shenker-Osorio says when we talk on the phone: “The right uses the same talking points everywhere, all they do is run it through a localised spellcheck.”

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The alternative is to be dragged into a nativist narrative that incites division. And that’s where everyone loses, from desperate families forced to use food banks, to children living in camps far away from their families.

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Dominican Republic, IOM clear hurdles for 100,000 Venezuelan migrants

The Migration Normalization Plan will allow Venezuelans living irregularly in the Dominican Republic to work, move without risk of deportation, open bank accounts and join the country’s social security system.  Photo: IOM / Francesco Spotorno

 

 

Santo Domingo – The first group of almost 100,000 Venezuelan migrants without legal status in the Dominican Republic have received visas allowing them to work, open bank accounts and join the social security system under the country’s Migration Normalization Plan.

Created by the Dominican government and launched with the support of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the plan aims to regularize the Venezuelan population in three stages: application for extension of stay, visa, and residency. Since April, when the first phase began, 43,000  Venezuelans have registered to extend their stay and, on 1 July, the first group of 21 Venezuelans received their work visa.

“Now that I have my visa, I feel that for others like me a lot of opportunities are opening. We will be able to establish more safely and formally to offer a better future to our children,” says Gabriela Rivero, who arrived in the country with her husband and daughter in 2018.  “Once we settled, we did not imagine how difficult it would be to get a job because the lack of documentation closed all doors.”

READ  38 people including children feared dead as vessel carrying fleeing civilians sinks 

Since 2019 Gabriela has led a support organization for Venezuelan migrants in Santiago de los Caballeros called FEV (Fundación Emigrantes de Venezuela), which offers free orientation and helps hundreds of migrants daily to complete their normalization plan applications.

With IOM support, eight Venezuelan migrant organizations have created orientation hubs to assist the Venezuelan population who are applying to the plan. Of the 43,000  registered through the General Directorate of Migration (DGM) web page, around 9,000 have visited the hubs for help on the procedure. The promoters and coordinators of each hub – mostly Venezuelan migrants – have learned the process with the support and guidance of the DGM team and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MIREX). Besides being trained for orientation, they became the pilot group of the plan to receive their extensions and visas.

“The idea of this process is that we are the ones at the front of the hubs, a migrant helping a migrant, a Venezuelan helping a Venezuelan,” says Iván Carrera, a lawyer from Caracas and legal adviser of FUNCOVERD (Fundación Colonia de Venezolanos en RD). Carrera works as a promoter at the orientation hub in El Sambil Santo Domingo, one of the locations with the most people requesting support for their application.

READ  Removing barriers for immigrant medical professionals is critical to help fight Coronavirus

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IOM launches open South America portal

International Organisation of Migration (

Buenos Aires – IOM, the International Organization for Migration, this week launched the Open South America Portal, a web platform providing migrants and stakeholders in the region with access to reliable and timely information on human mobility restrictions and health and safety measures adopted by governments in the COVID-19 pandemic.

Open South America, available in SpanishEnglish and Portuguese, shares official information by country on the latest measures, including border restrictions, quarantine requirements and COVID-19 tests for migrants and travellers.

The portal also provides updated information on authorized entry points and key places for travellers and migrants, such as consulates, migrant care and health centres, airports, border crossings points and ports. This information can be explored through an interactive map.

The platform, funded by the IOM Development Fund, is also accessible to vulnerable migrants who may be stranded or are at risk of receiving misinformation on migration.

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, South America has been one of the most impacted regions worldwide. According to the World Health Organization figures, as of 8 July 2021 there were 33,475,765 COVID-19 cumulative cases in the region, which represents 89 per cent of the total cases in Latin America, and 18 per cent of all infections recorded globally.

READ  Types of migration: Return migration

Countries such as Brazil, Peru, Colombia and Ecuador all experienced severe outbreaks. For example, Brazil currently reports the third highest number of cumulative cases (18,855,015) and second highest death toll (526,892) globally.

“Open South America will facilitate orderly, regular and responsible migration in South America amid the uncertain times of COVID-19 and after the pandemic,” said Minister Ana Laura Cachaza, General Director of Consular Affairs of the Government of Argentina.

“Migrants’ access to up-to-date information through innovative online tools is essential considering the changing migration dynamic in the region due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Marcelo Pisani, IOM Regional Director for South America.

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29,000 Nigerians, Ghanaians, Somalians, other Africans migrated through the Mediterranean Sea to Europe in 2021 —IOM

The International Organisation for Migration has said that 29,000 individuals including Nigerians, Ghanaians, Somalians and other Africans have emigrated to Europe through the Mediterranean Sea this year.

About 13,000 were arrested by the coast guards and returned home while 761 migrants were said to have perished in the sea.

Disclosing this to journalists in Abuja on Friday, the Chief of Mission, IOM Nigeria, Mr Franz Celestin, said less than five per cent of migrants usually made it to Europe, adding that the vast majority stay in Africa.

He further said that a lot of migrants were trafficked within the Economic Community of West African States, adding that Mali was the number one destination point for trafficked Nigerian women.

Responding to questions on the number of people who have undertaken the perilous trip to Europe through the Mediterranean, the IOM Chief said, “A combination of unemployment and underemployment is pushing people to migrate.

READ  Types of migration: Return migration

“In this year, 29,000 migrants from Sub-Sahara Africa have migrated to Europe through the Mediterranean. About 13,000 were intercepted by the coastguard while 761 died.”

International Organisation of Migration (

Celestin stressed the importance of tackling human trafficking which he said grossed about $150 billion annually.

“Traffickers make a lot of money and they would continue to do it until a coordinated response is evolved to stop them. We are collaborating with Interpol in this respect; we are connected to the Interpol i/247 database. We connected the MIDAS to the Interpol database where we pass the information on traffickers to the Interpol,” he stated.

Celestin explained that the IOM has been involved in the biometric registration of children in the North-East, noting that the agency has registered no fewer than 17,053 children in 18 different internally displaced person camps between 2019 and May 2021 in Borno State.

The agency chief also disclosed that IOM was involved in the G7 Famine Prevention and Humanitarian Compact for North-East.

READ  38 people including children feared dead as vessel carrying fleeing civilians sinks 

 

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