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Boris Johnson is shutting the door on child refugees

In the name of strengthening its negotiating position after Brexit, the British government is removing internationally recognized protections for unaccompanied children who were once welcomed in the U.K.

Children warm themselves around a fire.

Children warm themselves around a fire in the refugee camp of Moria, on the island of Lesbos, Greece, on Nov. 26, 2019. Aris Messinis/AFP/Getty Images

It was May 2014 when 16-year-old Tedros fled Eritrea after becoming a military target for suspicion of smuggling. Giving his parents no notice of his departure, he slipped over the border into Ethiopia, and from there traversed Sudan, Libya, Italy, and France by himself until finally settling in Britain. Of the family of six he left behind, his youngest brother, Danni—both names are pseudonyms to protect their identities—would follow the same route four years later.

Now, after U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government removed child refugee protections from the European Union withdrawal bill last month prior to Britain’s Jan. 31 departure from the EU, the brothers hope other young people like them will continue to have the same chance they did.

In the final stretch of his journey, Tedros recalled living on a river’s edge in Calais, France, among strangers, dependent on a charity that provided food each day. “There’s no protection there,” Tedros said of the camp, formerly referred to as the Jungle, where children and young adults were at risk of exploitation and trafficking. Both Tedros and Danni had stayed in the camp, though years apart, prior to forging a new home in Britain. “They are young … they are desperate to join family, they will take whatever chance they get,” Tedros said.

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Danni, he said, was desperate. Tedros contacted the British Red Cross to help him reunite with his brother, who was nearly 13 when he left for the same arduous journey. From there, Safe Passage, an international organization that provides aid to unaccompanied children, reunited the brothers under the Dublin III Regulation, established by the EU in 2013 to transfer asylum claims to Britain and other member states, guaranteeing unaccompanied child refugees the right to reunification with family members.There are currently an estimated over 4,000 unaccompanied minors in Lesbos, Greece, and a few hundred in northern France.

The brothers’ story is not unique. Since 2010, Britain has granted protection to over 12,000 unaccompanied minors. There are currently an estimated 4,000 unaccompanied minors in Lesbos, Greece, and a few hundred in northern France, many living on the outskirts of formal camps. In both 2015 and 2016, over 1 million people applied for asylum in Europe—the worst refugee crisis since World War II.

After three years of political instability during which Britain sought to withdraw from the European Union, calls for sweeping immigration reform to wrest control over Britain’s borders dominated the national narrative. In the week leading up to Brexit, Johnson’s government introduced plans for a new points-based system, a new global talent visa, and the removal of protective measures for refugee children as part of the EU withdrawal bill—even as the House of Lords voted to restore the refugee protections after Brexit.

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Despite being enshrined in British and international law, and former Prime Minister Theresa May including the Dublin Regulation in her former Brexit bill, last week members of Parliament gave a final stamp of approval, voting 348 to 252 against the Lords’ amendment, ceasing to allow unaccompanied child refugees such as Danni to be reunited with family members in Britain after Brexit.

“It is bitterly disappointing,” said Alf Dubs, a Labour Party member of the House of Lords and an ardent defender of unaccompanied child refugees given his own experience being evacuated from Czechoslovakia as part of the Kindertransport—a British effort that welcomed 10,000 children over the course of nine months beginning in 1938. “What could be more humane than arguing for child refugees to be able to join relatives in this country?” Dubs wrote in an emailed statement.Britain’s Conservative Party has long been hostile toward migrants.

As members of Parliament declared that including the amendment in the EU withdrawal bill “weakened their negotiating flexibility,” making political pawns of young people who take life-risking measures to flee to safety, a Home Office minister assured the House of Lords that the amendment would be included in the immigration bill set to be introduced later this year during the 11-month transition period.

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But the compassion extended to child refugees 80 years ago has all but faded. Even as the government says it “intends to seek a family reunion agreement with the EU for separated children,” it simultaneously withdrew all legal obligations to do so and refrained from making similar commitments for adults. In 2018, Britain transferred 209 migrants out of the country under the Dublin Regulation, while accepting 1,215—a paltry figure when compared to Germany’s acceptance of 7,580 migrants that year.

Britain’s Conservative Party has long been hostile toward migrants. But at a moment when Britain claims to be reclaiming its sovereignty and hails Brexit as a “moment of real national renewal,” the government is backtracking rather than making progress when it comes to protecting basic human rights and international obligations upheld by national and international humanitarian and refugee laws under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Source: FP

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Netherlands, IOM launch Global Migration Initiative to protect people on the move

COMPASS will provide vulnerable migrants including victims of trafficking and unaccompanied or separated children access to a broad range of protection and assistance services.

 The International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands launched the Cooperation on Migration and Partnerships for Sustainable Solutions initiative (COMPASS) at the beginning of 2021. COMPASS is a global initiative, in partnership with 12 countries, designed to protect people on the move, combat human trafficking and smuggling, and support dignified return while promoting sustainable reintegration.

The initiative is centred on a whole-of-society approach which, in addition to assisting individuals, will work across all levels – households, communities, and the wider communities – and encompasses the following partner countries: Afghanistan, Chad, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Mali, Morocco, Niger, Nigeria, and Tunisia.

“We want to mobilize families, peers and communities to encourage informed and safe migration decisions, protect migrants, and help those returning home reintegrate successfully,” said Monica Goracci, Director of the Department of Migration Management at IOM.

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“One key component is also undermining the trafficking and smuggling business models through the promotion of safe alternatives and information sharing to reduce the risks of exploitation and abuse by these criminal networks.” Vulnerable migrants, including victims of trafficking and unaccompanied or separated children, will have access to a broad range of protection and assistance services such as mental health and psychosocial support, while migrants in transit who wish to return home will be supported with dignified return and reintegration.

Community level interventions will focus on improving community-led efforts to address trafficking in persons and smuggling of migrants, and support sustainable reintegration of returning migrants. COMPASS will work with national and local governments to enable a conducive environment for migrant protection, migration management and international cooperation on these issues.

“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is pleased to launch the COMPASS programme in cooperation with IOM, an important and longstanding partner on migration cooperation,” said Marriët Schuurman, Director for Stability and Humanitarian Aid of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands.

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“The programme is a part of the Dutch comprehensive approach to migration with activities that contribute to protection and decreasing irregular migration. Research and data gathering are also important components, and we hope that the insights that will be gained under COMPASS will contribute to broader knowledge sharing on migration and better-informed migration policies.”, added Schuurman. The initiative has a strong learning component, designed to increase knowledge and the uptake of lessons learned, both within the programme and beyond its parameters. COMPASS will actively contribute to global knowledge that supports countries in managing migration flows and protecting vulnerable migrants such as victims of trafficking. The implementation of COMPASS is set to start soon.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands, as the donor to the COMPASS initiative, pledges its active support to partner countries to improve migration cooperation mechanisms within its long-term vision. 

IOM, the leading inter-governmental organization in the field of migration, contributes its expertise as the technical implementation partner to the initiative. IOM works closely with governmental, intergovernmental and non-governmental partners in its dedication to promoting humane and orderly migration for the benefit of all. 

READ  42 Nigerians, 231 other African migrants arrive Assamaka

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A child, 40 others drown in shipwreck off Tunisia

Photo: Mediterranean Sea

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) are deeply saddened by reports of a shipwreck off the coast of Sidi Mansour, in southeast Tunisia, yesterday evening. The bodies of 41 people, including at least one child, have so far been retrieved.

According to reports from local UNHCR and IOM teams, three survivors were rescued by the Tunisian National Coast Guard. The search effort was still underway on Friday. Based on initial information, all those who perished were from Sub-Saharan Africa.

This tragic loss of life underscores once again the need to enhance and expand State-led search and rescue operations across the Central Mediterranean, where some 290 people have lost their lives so far this year. Solidarity across the region and support to national authorities in their efforts to prevent loss of life and prosecute smugglers and traffickers should be a priority.

Prior to yesterday’s incident, 39 refugees and migrants had perished off the coast near the Tunisian city of Sfax in early March. So far this year, sea departures from Tunisia to Europe have more than tripled compared to the same period in 2020.

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UNHCR and IOM continue to monitor developments closely. They continue to stand ready to work with the national authorities to assist and support the survivors, and the family members of those lost.

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Ethiopian migrants return home from Yemen with IOM support in wake of tragic boat sinking

Yemen: Stranded Ethiopian migrants prepare to board an IOM-facilitated flight from Aden, Yemen, to fly home to Addis Ababa. Photo: IOM/Majed Mohammed 2021

One hundred and sixty Ethiopian migrants have returned home safely from Yemen today with the assistance of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), just one day after a perilous journey across the Gulf of Aden claimed the lives of dozens of people, including at least 16 children.

More than 32,000 migrants, predominantly from Ethiopia, remain stranded across Yemen in dire, often deadly, circumstances.

“The conditions of migrants stranded in Yemen has become so tragic that many feel they have no option but to rely on smugglers to return home,” said Jeffrey Labovitz, IOM’s Director for Operations and Emergencies.

At least 42 people returning from Yemen are believed to have died on Monday when their vessel sank off the coast of Djibouti. Last month, at least 20 people had also drowned on the same route according to survivors. IOM believes that, since May 2020, over 11,000 migrants have returned to the Horn of Africa on dangerous boat journeys, aided by unscrupulous smugglers.

READ  EU, IOM, UNHCR to support peaceful integration of refugees and migrants across Latin American, Caribbean communities affected by Covid-19

“Our Voluntary Humanitarian Return (VHR) programme provides a lifeline for those stranded in a country now experiencing its seventh year of conflict and crisis. We call on all governments along the route to come together and support our efforts to allow migrants safe and dignified opportunities to travel home,” added Labovitz.

COVID-19 has had a major impact on global migration. The route from the Horn of Africa to Gulf countries has been particularly affected. Tens of thousands of migrants, hoping to work in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), now find themselves unable to complete their journeys, stranded across Djibouti, Somalia and Yemen.

While the pandemic has also caused the number of migrants arriving to Yemen to decrease from 138,000 in 2019 to just over 37,500 in 2020, the risks they face continue to rise. Many of these migrants are stranded in precarious situations, sleeping rough without shelter or access to services. Many others are in detention or being held by smugglers.

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“We cannot find jobs or food here; Yemen is a problem for us,” said Gamal, a 22-year-old migrant returning on the VHR flight. “I used to sleep in the street on cardboard. I could only eat because of the charity people would give me and sometimes we were given leftovers from restaurants. I never had much to eat.”

Since October 2020, in Aden alone, IOM has registered over 6,000 migrants who need support to safely return home. Today’s flight to Addis Ababa was the second transporting an initial group of 1,100 Ethiopians who have been approved for VHR to Ethiopia. Thousands of other undocumented migrants are waiting for their nationality to be verified and travel documents to be provided.

Prior to departure on the VHR flight, IOM carried out medical and protection screenings to ensure that returnees are fit to travel and are voluntarily consenting to return. Those with special needs are identified and receive specialized counselling and support.

In Ethiopia, IOM supports government-run COVID-19 quarantine facilities to accommodate the returnees on arrival and provides cash assistance, essential items and onward transportation to their homes. The Organization also supports family tracing for unaccompanied migrant children.

READ  Nigerian priest leaves German parish after receiving death threat

Across the Horn of Africa and Yemen, IOM provides life-saving support to migrants through health care, food, water and other vital assistance.

Today’s flight was funded by the US State Department’s Bureau for Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM). Post-arrival assistance in Addis Ababa is supported by EU Humanitarian Aid and PRM.

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