Monthly Archives: March 2013

#May1TO, May Day: Solidarity City! – Status for All!

Join us in the streets for the 8th Annual May Day of Action!


5:30pm on Wednesday May 1st, 2013
March starts at Nathan Phillips Square

Mark the date, more information forthcoming.

Videos from previous year:
More info:

Organized by a coalition of organizations. To endorse and participate in the organizing, please email

Palestinian Refugees in Jordan and the Revocation of Citizenship

Palestinian Refugees in Jordan and the Revocation of Citizenship: An Interview with Anis F. Kassim

Jan 28 2013
by Hazem Jamjoum

[Palestinian Refugees, 1948. Public Domain. From Wikimedia Commons.]
[Anis F. Kassim is an international law expert and practicing lawyer in Jordan. He was a member of the Palestinian legal defense team before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in the 2004 landmark case on Israel’s separation wall, and that led to the ICJ’s Advisory Opinion on the Legal Consequences of the Construction of a Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. The following interview was originally published by BADIL Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights in their quarterly magazine al-Majdal.]

Hazem Jamjoum: What legal status was afforded Palestinians who came under Jordanian control after the 1948 Nakba?

Anis Kassim: On 19 May 1948, the Jordanian army entered the area of central Palestine that the Zionist forces were unable to occupy, and began the process of legally incorporating central Palestine into the Jordanian Kingdom. As part of this process, on 20 December 1949, the Jordanian Council of Ministries amended the 1928 Citizenship Law such that all Palestinians who took refuge in Jordan, or who remained in the western areas controlled by Jordan at the time of the law’s entry into force, became full Jordanian citizens for all legal purposes. The law did not discriminate between Palestinian refugees displaced from the areas that Israel occupied in 1948 and those of the area that the Jordanian authorities renamed the “West Bank” in 1950.

On one hand, this citizenship was forced upon the Palestinians who did not really have much of a say in the matter. On the other, this was a welcome move because it saved those Palestinians the hardship of living without citizenship.

HJ: How was the process for the revocation of citizenship complex?

AK: First of all, I should note that the law itself has not been officially amended, so what I am about to describe is still what is officially in effect today. First of all, the Jordanian Constitution, adopted in 1952, states that citizenship is a matter to be regulated by a law, and the Jordanian Citizenship Law was indeed adopted in 1954, replacing that of 1928 and its amendment. According to this law, it is possible to revoke the citizenship of a Jordanian citizen who is in the civil service of a foreign authority or government. The citizen must be notified by the Jordanian government to leave that service and, if the citizen does not comply, the Council of Ministries is the body with the authority that is able to decide to revoke his citizenship. Even if the Council does decide to revoke the citizenship, this decision must then be ratified by the King, and even then, the citizen whose citizenship was revoked has the right to challenge the Council of Ministries’ decision in the Jordanian High Court, and it is this court’s decision that is binding and final. These procedures are being completely ignored when the citizenship of a Jordanian of Palestinian origin is revoked.

HJ: Did the status of Palestinians in Jordan change after the 1967 War with the Israeli occupation of the West Bank?

AK: No. their status remained as Jordanian citizens.

HJ: When did the differentiation between Palestinian citizens of Jordan begin?

AK: Today we can speak of five kinds of Palestinian citizens of Jordan. The first differentiation came in the early 1980s, when the Jordanian government was concerned that Israeli policies and practices aimed to squeeze out the Palestinian inhabitants of the occupied West Bank; to empty out the Palestinian territories to replace them with Jewish settlers. The Jordanian government then created the first real differentiation between its Palestinian citizens by issuing differentiated cards.

Those who lived habitually in the West Bank were issued green cards, while those who habitually lived in Jordan but had material and/or family connections in the West Bank were issued yellow cards. The sole purpose of these cards at the time was so that the Jordanian authorities at the King Hussein (Allenby) Bridge—the only crossing point between Jordan and the occupied West Bank—could monitor the movement of these card holders, enabling the Jordanian authorities to know how many Palestinian West Bankers had crossed into Jordan, and to ensure that they returned, essentially a kind of statistical device. Indeed, this was a wise policy in terms of countering the Zionist plans to continue the ethnic cleansing of Palestine.
The major turning point came with the Jordanian disengagement (fak al-irtibat) from the West Bank on 31 July 1988.

HJ: What was the disengagement?

AK: Since 1948, when central Palestine came under Jordanian control, the Jordanian government has claimed the West Bank as part of the kingdom. By 1988, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) had come to be recognized on an Arab and, to some extent, international level as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people, but the Israelis and Americans were still refusing to recognize the PLO, let alone to officially communicate with it. Jordan’s King Hussein shrewdly took the decision to disengage from the West Bank as a message to the United States and Israel that if they were going to negotiate with anyone over the fate of Palestinians in the West Bank, it should be with the PLO. In the famous speech he delivered on 31 July 1988 [1] in which he declared the disengagement—and we have to remember that this was during the most intense period of the first Intifada— King Hussein stated that the purpose of the disengagement was to support the Palestinians’ struggle for self determination by relinquishing his claim to that territory.

HJ: How was the disengagement a “turning point” for Palestinians’ status as Jordanian citizens?

AK: When the disengagement was declared, the color of the cards (yellow and green), that had been used as a statistical device, became the criteria for determining the citizenship status of a citizen. The government issued instructions to the effect that those who habitually lived in the West Bank, that is green card holders, on 31 July 1988 were “Palestinian citizens,” while those who were living in Jordan or abroad were Jordanian. Put another way, over one-and-a-half million Palestinians went to bed on 31 July 1988 as Jordanian citizens, and woke up on 1 August 1988 as stateless persons.

HJ: You previously mentioned that we can speak of five kinds of Palestinian citizens of Jordan. What are the different kinds of status among Palestinians citizen of Jordan currently?

AK: The first category we can call hyphenated Palestinian-Jordanians. These are Palestinians who were in Jordan on the date of the disengagement with no material connection to the West Bank or Gaza Strip, or who were Jordanian citizenship holders abroad. These are regarded as Jordanians for all legal purposes.

The Palestinians in the second category are the green card holders whose citizenship was revoked by the government orders that I described earlier.

The Palestinians in the third category are the yellow card holders, who kept their citizenship after the disengagement, but many of whom have more recently faced the revocation of their Jordanian citizenship rights.

The fourth category is that of blue card holders. These are 1967 Palestinians refugees from the occupied Gaza Strip who are in Jordan and who were never given citizenship rights. They are in a very miserable position because, since they are not Jordanian, they cannot enjoy any of the benefits of citizenship in this country: they cannot access public schools or health services, they cannot get driving licenses, they cannot open bank accounts, or purchase land. They are mostly concentrated in the refugee camps in the Jerash area, specifically the one called “Gaza Refugee Camp,” which is generally known as the worst of the refugee camps in Jordan in terms of living conditions. To build a tiny house in the camp, they need to get several permits from several government departments. While they receive some modest support from UNRWA, any support that comes from the rest of the society has to be approved by Jordanian security authorities.

The fifth, and newest, of the categories is that of Jerusalem residents. These have always been a special case: the Israelis consider them permanent residents of Israel without any citizenship rights, while for Jordan they are citizens whose status was not affected by the disengagement. The problem now is that the Israelis, as part of their ongoing ethnic cleansing project, are revoking the residency rights of Palestinians in Jerusalem who cannot prove that their “center of life” is in that city, to use the terms of the Israeli High Court. The Jordanian government has yet to officially take a position on the Jordanian citizenship rights of these Jerusalemite Palestinian citizens of Jordan whose residency in Jerusalem has been revoked by Israel. This is now another emerging problem.

HJ: You mentioned that yellow card holders have been facing the revocation of their Jordanian citizenship in recent years. Can you expand on this?

AK: The main institution that handles this issue is the Follow-up and Inspection Department (al-mutaba’a wa al-taftish) of the Jordanian Ministry of Interior. To understand what’s happening you need to understand that the way Jordanian citizenship works since 1992 is that every citizen must have a “national number” (raqam watani). Anyone who does not have this number is not a citizen.

In recent years, the Follow-up and Inspection Department has been expanding on the scope of its authority in interpreting the 1988 government regulations dealing with the revocation of Palestinians’ Jordanian citizenship. We need to keep in mind also that these regulations were never made public, and that in fact no policy, let alone law, dealing with the revocation of Palestinians’ citizenship in Jordan has ever officially been made public. Originally, as I described, 31 July 1988 was treated as a cut-off date, if you were a green card holder in the West Bank, your citizenship was revoked, and otherwise you remained a citizen. The Department has since expanded to the revocation of citizenship from others under other pretexts.

For instance, many Palestinian citizens of Jordan were able to acquire Israeli-issued West Bank residency permits through such procedures as family reunification since 1967. Of course, part of Israel’s ethnic cleansing policies manifested as revocation of West Bank residency permits over the years under various pretexts. For example, at one point West Bank residency permit holders who were away from the West Bank for more than three years had their residency revoked by the Israelis. The Follow-up and Inspection Department of the Jordanian Interior Ministry has revoked national numbers (i.e. citizenship) from many Palestinians who had their West Bank residency permits revoked by the Israelis under the pretext that these people should have kept these residency permits, and that the Palestinian should go and get the Israelis to reissue them their West Bank residency permits.

Another example is that of PLO or Palestinian Authority (PA) employees. Even though a Jordanian citizen can work for any other government, many Palestinian citizens of Jordan who have taken jobs in PA institutions have been stripped of their national numbers. A more recent example is that of the Jordanian parliamentary elections [November 2010]. Many of the Palestinians who went to register as voters were sent to the Follow-up and Inspection Department, where they had their national numbers revoked.

Ultimately, however, it is difficult to discern a particular logic to the post-1988 revocations. In some cases, one person or group within the family has their citizenship revoked, while others in the same family remain citizens. With regards to employment in the PLO or PA, there are PA parliamentarians and ministers with Jordanian national numbers, while some Palestinian citizens of Jordan, for example, have had their citizenship revoked for working for a PA-owned company or civil institution. We can only say that so far it seems very arbitrary. I should also add that this wave of citizenship revocation means that yellow card holders live with the perpetual fear of any interaction with the government bureaucracy, since this could result in being sent to the Follow-up and Inspection Department and having their citizenship revoked.

HJ: Is there a way to know how many Palestinians have had their Jordanian citizenship revoked since 1988?

AK: No, these numbers are kept secret by the Jordanian Ministry of Interior and are not made public. There are various estimates, but these numbers vary. The most well-known of these is that of the Human Rights Watch report that stated that over 2700 Palestinians citizens of Jordan had their citizenship revoked between 2004 and 2008, but this number is based on a journalistic article in a Jordanian newspaper, and so, in addition to not giving information on the years before or after the period, are not to be taken as authoritative.

HJ: What is the effect of the revocation of citizenship on the people involved?

AK: They become like the blue-card holders from the Gaza Strip that I talked about before without the ability to access any government services, open bank accounts, etc. It should be mentioned though that there is a potentially very dangerous situation for Jordan; if this trend continues it will become a “ghetto state.” When you forfeit a Jordanian’s citizenship and keep him in Jordan because you don’t have the power to send him to Palestine—because the Israelis of course refuse—you will end up with over a million stateless Palestinians within your borders, and who have nowhere to go.

HJ: Earlier you described the Jordanian law of citizenship and the various levels of government and judiciary through which the revocation of citizenship must pass to become final. Can Palestinians who have had their Jordanian citizenship revoked make use of what you described as an advanced citizenship law to challenge the Follow-up and Inspection Department’s actions?

AK: As I described above, there is no question that the revocations of citizenship that the Jordanian authorities have carried out since 1988 contradict the written law and indeed the constitution. Under the law, the revocation of citizenship must follow the procedures I spoke about earlier, and are not the subject to such things as the color of your card or regulations. As it stands, however, a junior officer of the Follow-up and Inspection Department can decide the fate of a citizen’s citizenship rights. It is now a more simple matter to revoke a yellow card-carrying citizen from his citizenship than it is to revoke their driving license! With the revocation of a driving license, the citizen has the right to challenge the revocation in a court. The Inspection and Follow-up Department is indeed the only government department that is not subject to judicial review.

The government justifies this by stating that the revocation of citizenship by this Department is an “act of state.” There is one judge, Justice Farouq Kilani, who was president of the Jordanian High Court of Justice who did challenge the government’s position, and stated that citizenship is a matter regulated by law and not regulations, and that therefore the actions of the Department are null and void. As a result of his ruling—this was in 1998—the Minister of Justice demanded his resignation, and Kilani resigned. He subsequently gave two public lectures on the topic, and wrote a book called Independence of the Judiciary, an excellent treatise in which he describes in detail both his landmark ruling and his encounter with the Justice Minister. His ruling was very correct, constitutionally sound and legally unchallenged. The Jordanian judiciary has a long tradition of reviewing administrative decisions, including decisions involving citizenship. As it stands now, the situation in Jordan is very suffocating on this issue of citizenship revocation because there is no right to appeal since the government treats these decisions as “acts of state,” and it is practically impossible to take these issues to an international court.

It is also important to mention that there is no refugee law in Jordan. As such, once the citizenship is revoked, the Palestinian refugee is left with no political, civil, or economic rights.

HJ: Besides the position that citizenship revocation is an “act of state,” how does the Jordanian government justify stripping its Palestinian citizens of their citizenship rights and rendering them stateless?

AK: There have been several justifications or excuses given. Jordanian officials maintain, for example, that the revocations are designed to force Palestinians to stay in Palestine, to stop the Zionist leadership from implementing its ethnic cleansing project. This argument is usually framed within the paradigm of the “alternative homeland” project, the Israeli right-wing’s position that Palestinians have a homeland, and this homeland is Jordan. We do not debate the importance of these goals, and of full-fledged rejection of the “alternative homeland” project on all fronts. Mixing this in with the issue of Palestinian citizenship rights in Jordan is like mixing apples and pears. The “alternative homeland” is a national issue, and thus should not be treated solely at the Jordanian level, but through Jordanian-Palestinian-Arab coordination as an Arab summit item. Such a political issue should not and cannot be mixed with a human rights issue such as the rights of Palestinian citizens of Jordan. Moreover, the people who are fighting the “alternative homeland” project are the Palestinians themselves who have fought it with their own bodies in these decades of spilled Palestinian blood. Actually, if Jordanian officials are sincere about their political position, they should take more credible action against the Israelis to force them to leave the Palestinians in peace and to allow the refugees to return, as is their internationally recognized right.

Furthermore, as a sovereign state, the Jordanian government could have taken steps during the negotiation of the Wadi Araba Israeli-Jordanian peace settlement to insist on such things as allowing Jordanian citizens to maintain their West Bank residency permits, and to restore those that had been stripped. As it stands now, the Jordanian government does not have the power to push for such a residency permit to be issued to an individual, and so by stripping them of their Jordanian citizenship, these individuals are left stranded with nowhere to go. But also as it stands, the Jordanian government can stop security coordination with Israel, and can stop the marketing of Israeli products in Jordan. Lately, the Jordanian Ministry of Industry has allowed the entry of 2500 types of Israeli products into the Jordanian market.

Another justification that Jordanian officials forward is that they are not revoking citizenship, rather they are “correcting the situation” of certain individuals who were wrongly classified, that all they are doing is simply dropping the national number. “Correcting the situation” is the new catch-phrase you see. They say this to avoid contradiction of the Follow-up and Inspection Department’s actions with the law and constitution, but the fact remains that simply dropping the national number is in effect the total revocation of citizenship.

HJ: Do you see any way that this situation can be reversed?

AK: The January 2010 report of Human Rights Watch [2] about the citizenship revocation raised some awareness both locally, on an Arab level as well as internationally, but this was short-lived and has not alleviated the situation. This issue requires an international campaign of human rights organizations because there is no venue left to air your grievances. Ultimately, the situation would best be alleviated by addressing the root-cause of the situation of these Palestinians, which is the implementation of Palestinians’ right to return to the lands from which they were displaced. Until then however, more attention needs to be given to this thus far largely-ignored issue, and the Jordanian laws and constitution need to be respected and implemented by restoring the citizenship of those whose rights were revoked, and ensuring that the law is followed in any future case of citizenship revocation.


[1] See the text of the speech at:

[2] Human Rights Watch, “Stateless Again: Palestinian-Origin Jordanians Deprived of their Nationality,” Human, January 2010:

Displacement in Myanmar

BANGKOK, 22 March 2013 (IRIN) – More than 1,000 people have been displaced following sectarian violence in central Myanmar this week, government officials tell IRIN.

“The numbers are still unclear, however, between 1,000 and 2,000 have been displaced,” Ye Htut, Myanmar’s presidential spokesman, said on 22 March. Many of the displaced are now staying in a local football stadium in the town of Meiktila, where they are receiving relief assistance, while others are staying with family and friends.

The comments follow two days of violence in Meiktila, in Mandalay Division – the worst communal unrest to shake Myanmar since clashes between ethnic Rakhine Buddists and Rohingya Muslims in western Rakhine State in 2012. That earlier violence left 167 dead, hundreds injured and over 120,000 people displaced. More than 10,000 homes were burned or destroyed.

The current conflict erupted after an argument broke out between a Muslim gold shop owner and his Buddhist customers. A Buddhist monk was reportedly among the first killed, leading a Buddhist mob to set fire to Muslim homes and at least five mosques, local media reports say.

Government reports suggest at least five people have been killed, but unconfirmed reports say the number is much higher.

Potential to spread

“This is an extremely worrisome situation,” Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch in Asia, said. “The government is not doing enough to head this off, and further sectarian violence in Myanmar is a real risk.”

The government must promote reconciliation and tolerance in the multi-ethnic, multi-religious society, while at the same time holding those responsible for the violence accountable, he explained.

“What happened in one place could easily happen in another,” Basil Fernando, director of policy and programmes for the Asian Human Rights Commission, said from Hong Kong. “It’s imperative the government takes action against those responsible.”

But according to Ye Htut, action is already being taken.

“We take this very seriously and will hold accountable those responsible,” he said, noting 13 people were arrested on the morning of 22 March alone.

“At the moment, the situation is under control. However, there are still small groups of people trying to incite trouble. It’s important we have the full cooperation of local residents,” he said.

“This is quite unusual. People are being manipulated,” said one local journalist who used to live in the area. He cited extremist views, such as anti-Muslim sentiment by some groups, as a possible underlying factor in the violence.

Myanmar’s Muslims account for approximately 4 percent of the country’s roughly 55 million inhabitants, however, the last nationwide census was conducted in 1983. The government lists 135 ethnic groups, which are grouped into eight national races: Burman, Kachin, Kayah, Karen, Chin, Mon, Rakhine and Shan.

Photo: Courtesy of the Arakan Project
More than 100,000 Muslim Rohingya are displaced

On 21 March, Vijay Nambiar, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on Myanmar, arrived in Yangon, where he expressed sorrow over the loss of lives and destruction in Meiktila.

“While firm action by the authorities was needed to prevent further loss of life or spread of violence, the continued fostering of communal harmony and preservation of peace and tranquillity among the people was the most urgent priority, and this was the responsibility of all sections of society. Religious leaders and other community leaders must also publicly call on their followers to abjure violence, respect the law and promote peace,” he said.

In a brief statement on 21 March, the US embassy said it was closely monitoring the situation and extended its “deepest condolences to the families of those who lost their lives and property in the violence.”

The latest violence is seen as yet another test for Myanmar’s reform-minded President Thein Sein, who has been praised for opening up and liberalizing the once-pariah Myanmar, also known as Burma, since taking office in March 2011.

Creative Action at Ministry of Labour: Make ‘em pay to work!

Join us as we charge Ontario Ministry of Labour employees fees to go to work. Strange? Not at all. Migrant workers have to pay thousands of dollars to work in Ontario, and its legal. If recruiters can make a quick buck off migrant workers, we can make a quick buck off the people who allow it. All you need is suit and a tie. Show up bright and early on March 22nd, around 7:30 or so in the morning.

Please fill out this form so we can send you all the details (its the shortest job application you’ll ever do):

Still unsure? Don’t worry. Recruiters aren’t licensed in Ontario, so anyone can do it! What’s even better is that recruiters can’t be held liable for what happens at work. So if these Ministry of Labour employees boss turns on them, its no skin off your back.

By our guessestimation (its pretty hard to get the facts) at least half off Ontario’s 120,000 migrant workers are paying between $3,000 and $10,000 to unscrupulous recruiters*. That’s could be as high as 1.2 billion dollars a year. Imagine how much more money could be made by the rich if we started charging the non-migrant workers too. Its an untapped opportunity and we need to take matters in to our own hands.

With few real ways to get into Canada permanently, migrants are forced to pay recruiters to come to Canada on a temporary basis. To do so, entire families get into debt. Here. they pay in to E.I., and CPP, but face insurmountable barriers . Health and safety protections are non-existent. Documents are seized and bosses are often abusive. All of this is allowed by provincial and federal laws. We won’t be treating the Ministry of Labour employees that badly.

** This is the first of many actions, if you can’t make it to this one, please sign up at to hear about future ones**

March 22nd is the three-year anniversary of the passing of the Employment Protections for Foreign National Act (Live-In Caregivers & Others) aka EPFNA. EPFNA banned recruiters fees and seizure of documents from live-in caregivers but left out seasonal agricultural workers, and those in the temporary foreign worker low skilled program. Not only that, EPFNA has not been fully implemented to adequately support live-in caregivers and requires key amendments to ensure that it actually works.

* Two-thirds of caregivers in a survey by Caregivers Action Centre who arrived after EPFNA was enforced paid fees, averaging $3275. Filipino workers that MWAC organizations come in to contact with report paying a base fees of $5,000 while Thai workers report paying a base fees of $10,000. | |


Tensions mount on Mali-Burkina Faso border as cattle farmers vie for land

Malian farmers and livestock, forced south by conflict, put pressure on land and water resources in the borderlands

MDG : Mali : pastoralist Peul leads goats on the road to Massina, near Mopti

A Malian shepherd leads goats on the road to Massina, near Mopti, 2013. Photograph: AFP/AFP/Getty Images

The movement of hundreds of thousands of cattle from Mali is threatening peace across the border in Burkina Faso, where tensions are mounting as Malian refugee pastoralists come head to head with local agricultural farmers.

“They don’t even say hello, they don’t ask but they just take things,” said Hamidou Tamboura from Djibo, near the site of the refugees.

“They are hot blooded, and when their animals come on your land you cannot chase them away, as they receive protection from international organisations. We share the same vegetation and the water resources, but they get extra support.”

Nomadic tribes have crossed the porous borders of these large territories for centuries in search of pastures to graze their cattle, a phenomenon known as transhumance.

Farmers from Niger normally go to the Gao region in Mali between December and February for a special herb called bourgou. However, the security situation has prevented them accessing the region, and they remain stuck in Burkina Faso.

Meanwhile, cattle farmers from Mali, who are not usually part of the transhumance, are being forced south to Burkina Faso by the conflict, putting additional pressure on the same land occupied by the nomadic tribes from Niger. Many are afraid to return.

“Even though the Islamists have been defeated, we still cannot go back. The Malian army are killing the civilian population and many are being accused of sympathising with the Islamists,” said Idoual Ag-Bala, a refugee from Gao.

“We know there is not enough food and water for the animals in Burkina Faso. We’re hopeful for peace. As soon as there is peace we will go back.”

According to the UN high commissioner for refugees (UNHCR), about 47,000 refugees have crossed the border since Islamists took control of northern Mali in early 2012, some of them bringing their livestock with them.

Latest figures from Oxfam (pdf) estimate that between 100,000 and 200,000 animals have entered Burkina Faso, Mauritania and Niger. In one camp in Burkina Faso there are three animals for every person, said the report.

The large influx of animals has put considerable pressure on both land and water resources still recovering from the shock of the 2011 drought and the resulting Sahel crisis in 2012.

A May 2012 report by Réseau Billital Maroobé (pdf), a network of pastoral farmers across Africa, had already warned of the potential challenges posed by increasing refugee numbers.

“There is a big risk that we will run out of food and water. We need an early warning system so we can see where shortages might arise,” said Boubacar Cissé, director of Conseil Régional des Unions du Sahel (Crus), a farmer’s organisation that works in the Sahel region of Burkina Faso.

“The Ecowas [Economic Community of West African States] countries know that this needs a regional response. The Burkina Faso government said they will try and mobilise food for the cattle,” he said. “At the same time, we need to raise the awareness of the security forces in Mali so that they can distinguish between farmers and rebels.”

Crus has started to put out “antennas” around the region to monitor the migration of pastoralists, but little else has been done from the Ecowas side. “It’s almost like we need a UNHCR for cows,” said one aid worker.

Council votes in favour of motion to help undocumented residents

Chris Kitching,,   Published Thursday, Feb. 21, 2013 11:04AM EST

City council has voted in favour of a motion that makes it easier for people without full and secure immigration status to access city services already available to legal residents of Canada.

According to advocates, the proposed measures within the motion make it easier for newcomers to receive aid from places such as food banks and access health, employment and recreation services, and ensure their children can attend local schools.

Syed Hussan, a spokesman for the Solidarity City Network, said there are about 400,000 people in Toronto who don’t have full immigration status.

City hall

Toronto City Hall is shown in this file photo. (The Canadian Press/Michelle Siu)

“These people live here, they’re part of our community,” Hussan told CP24 reporter Katie Simpson ahead of the vote. “They should be in our schools, they should be able to walk down the street to the food bank or a shopping centre or go into a shelter without fear of detention and deportation.”

Hussan, who was at city hall Thursday to watch council debate the motion, said that having the motion approved would help newcomers take one “small step” towards that goal.

He is also calling on the provincial and federal governments to eliminate restrictions.

The motion not only calls on improved access to city services, it also calls for the federal government to create a regularization program for undocumented residents, and asks the province to review its policies for provincially-funded services to ensure access to health care, emergency services, housing and other social supports.

“We need the province to join in, we need the federal government to make its moves and we need Toronto to set the path forward,” Hussan said.

Dozens of supporters, wearing yellow T-shirts reading “Access without fear,” attended the city council meeting to watch the vote.

By passing the motion, Toronto becomes the first city in Canada to have “sanctuary city” type policies, according to Solidarity City Network.

Read more:

Watch the Video Here:  Council votes in favour of motion to help undocumented residents |

Sudan: Families from South Sudan stranded in Khartoum

Man and children at the Shegara departure point in Khartoum, awaiting transport to South Sudan.

Man and children at the Shegara departure point in Khartoum, awaiting transport to South Sudan.

Thousands of South Sudanese families are stranded in Sudan’s capital Khartoum waiting for an opportunity to return home, but insecurity and lack of resources have been hampering efforts by humanitarian agencies to transport them safely back to their places of origin.

“Since the independence of South Sudan in 2011, scores of people have returned from Sudan but many are still waiting, stranded at numerous departure points,” said OCHA’s Head of Office in Sudan, Mark Cutts. “The humanitarian community needs more support to step up its efforts to help these people return home.”

Since the Comprehensive Peace Agreement was signed by Sudan and South Sudan in 2005, some 2 million people have returned to South Sudan, which became an independent country in July 2011. Over the last few years, humanitarian organizations such as the International Organization for Migration (IOM) have helped many families return home as well as provided the support that they needed to rebuild their lives in the world’s youngest country. In recent years, however, aid agencies’ capacities have been stretched by the emergence of new crises in the two countries, including in South Sudan’s Jonglei State and Sudan’s South Kordofan and Blue Nile States where millions of people have been forced from their homes by conflict.

Today, some 40,000 people are stranded at 40 different departure points across Khartoum, waiting for a truck, bus or a barge to take them south. “These points have basically become squatter camps and the people are living in squalor,” added Mr. Cutts.

During a recent visit by OCHA staff to two departure points in Khartoum, many people said they had sold most of their possessions in order to survive. They explained that the Government of South Sudan had encouraged them to go to the departure points, where they could be transported back. However, lack of funding for transportation and the closure of roads to South Sudan because of insecurity are hampering efforts to help these families return home. The outlook is bleak as roads are frequently impassable due to flooding during the rainy season from June to September, but many families continue to wait, living in poverty with very few resources.

“We have no schooling for our children, our husbands are not allowed to work and we are suffering a lot from a lack of help,” said Katarina who lives at the Soba-Kongor departure point in Khartoum. “What we need more than anything else is some help to go back home.”

“Ultimately the Governments of South Sudan and Sudan are responsible for the welfare and transportation of those stranded,” said the head of IOM in Sudan, Malke Dharmaratne. “We will assist wherever and whenever we can, but organized movements by road, rail and air need to stem from concerted government efforts.”

IOM is working with the Inland African Church to help transport small groups of people in the coming weeks, but the Governments of Sudan and South Sudan need to organize and fund larger scale returns. IOM stressed that this was vital to ensure the safety of the returnees.

Last April, a group of people on their way back to South Sudan were caught in cross-fire when conflict erupted in the Heglig area, along the border between the two countries. OCHA and humanitarian partners have been urging the Governments to help establish and respect safe transportation corridors.

In the meantime, humanitarian organizations are concerned about the families at the departure points.

“While we appreciate the efforts of the Government of Sudan, international organizations remain extremely concerned at the humanitarian conditions of those living at the departure points,” said the UN Refugee Agency’s Deputy Representative in Sudan, Francois Reybet-Degat, outlining the urgency of the situation and the need for a solution.

“Without the resumption of organized return movements to South Sudan, the lack of prospects for the majority of those wanting to return back home in safety and dignity is very troubling.”

From OCHA South Sudan

6 March 2013 – 4:49pm

Open doors to Syrian refugees, Canada urged

Turkey’s ambassador denies his country is holding up process

From CBC News

Posted: Mar 20, 2013 5:14 AM ET

Initial estimates from December suggest the number Syrian refugees could be more than a million by June.Initial estimates from December suggest the number Syrian refugees could be more than a million by June. (Mohammad Hannon/Associated Press)

Citizenship and Immigration Canada officials have said Canada can’t take Syrian refugees out of Turkey’s 17 camps because the Turkish government isn’t allowing any refugee to leave until the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has made decision regarding their case.

Immigration Minister Jason Kenney toured two of the Turkish camps in January, and the government has announced it is contributing $1.5 million to the Red Cross/Red Crescent Movement to aid the refugees of the conflict, on top of $8.5 million in aid it has already provided.

While there have been calls for Canada to take in refugees from Syria, Canada is following the UNHCR recommendation that it is too early in the crisis to discuss resettlement.

Thair Hafez said he has been pleased with Turkey's response to Syrian refugees, but would like to see more from Canada.

Thair Hafez said he has been pleased with Turkey’s response to Syrian refugees, but would like to see more from Canada.(CBC)

Turkish laws at issue

A spokewoman for Kenney said Turkish laws regarding refugees are holding up any potential refugee claims.

“The fact is that Turkey does not allow potential refugees to leave the country, nor does Turkey issue exit visas, until the UNHCR has made a decision on their case and refers their case to a country for resettlement. The UNHCR has not made a decision in many cases, and is not referring any Syrian cases for resettlement,” Alexis Pavlich, press secretary to Jason Kenney, wrote in an emailed statement.

Citizenship and Immigration Canada spokeswoman Ana Curic had earlier said Canada’s hands are tied.

“We obviously understand the anxiety Syrian Canadians are feeling right now. Until they get a decision from the UNHCR they can’t even get out of Turkey — there’s nothing we can do, that’s Turkish law,” Curic said.

Ambassador disputes claims

Tuncay Babali, Turkey’s ambassador to Canada, said the claims are unfounded and that his government’s position has been misrepresented.

“We have no such decision at all, and people who are in the camps can leave freely, wherever they desire to go,” Babali said. “Turkey is ready to co-operate on this, and everybody in the camps is free to leave. There is no such characterization. It’s a misrepresentation.”

For Syrians with relatives in refugee camps, the confusion adds to the anxiety.

Syrian in Ottawa concerned for relatives

Thair Hafez owns a car dealership in the Ottawa neighbourhood of Westboro but recently took a risk, travelling to the heart of the Syrian civil war. He also visited relatives who fled to Turkey, where five large families are sharing a single apartment in the town of Reyhanli.

Hafez said he is grateful to Turkey but disappointed in Canada, where he’s lived for three decades.

“Canada as a country, they did not contribute but they can do better. In the past they helped Iraqis, the Lebanese, the Somalians, the Kosovans, the Bosnians,” Hafez said.

Syrian refugee numbers could increase by two or three times by the end of 2013 if Syria’s civil war continues, according to António Guterres, the UNHCR’s high commissioner.

In December, the UN estimated the number of Syrian refugees would reach 1.1 million by the end of June.

Furore over Australian detention of immigrant children

Close to 2,000 children are under some form of detention in Australia


“You cannot underestimate the human cost of detaining children,” Jeroen Van Hove, the coordinator of the  (IDC), an umbrella group of 258 members (including organizations) working in 50 countries around the world, based in Belgium, told IRIN, describing Australia’s detention regimes as one of the “harshest” in the world.MELBOURNE, 5 March 2013 (IRIN) – Australia is failing in its international obligations to protect the rights of close to 2,000 children now in immigration detention, say rights groups and legal experts.

“You cannot underestimate the human cost of detaining children,” Jeroen Van Hove, the coordinator of the  (IDC), an umbrella group of 258 members (including organizations) working in 50 countries around the world, based in Belgium, told IRIN, describing Australia’s detention regimes as one of the “harshest” in the world.MELBOURNE, 5 March 2013 (IRIN) – Australia is failing in its international obligations to protect the rights of close to 2,000 children now in immigration detention, say rights groups and legal experts.

“You cannot underestimate the human cost of detaining children,” Jeroen Van Hove, the coordinator of the International Detention Coalition (IDC), an umbrella group of 258 members (including organizations) working in 50 countries around the world, based in Belgium, told IRIN, describing Australia’s detention regimes as one of the “harshest” in the world.

“The current detention policy causes serious damage to these children and has been criticized internationally for its human rights violations.”

According to Australia’s Department of Immigration and Citizenship, as of 1 March there were 1,983 children (under 18) in immigration detention, including 998 in secure locked facilities and 985 detained in the community (the preferred option for children as it allows them to live in community-based accommodation without the need to be escorted outside a locked facility).

Of these, 281 are detained on Christmas Island (off the coast of Indonesia), while a further 34 are on remote Manus Island in Papua New Guinea (PNG) as part of the government’s controversial offshore processing efforts.

Activists there describe conditions as “overwhelmingly inadequate”.

This is a “blatant violation of international norms and arguably in breach of a range of UN Conventions,” Linda Briskman, a professor of human rights at Swinburne University, charged. “There is a mounting body of evidence, particularly from mental health professionals and researchers that reveals the terrible harms resulting from the detention of children.”

Mental health impact

Asylum advocacy groups in Australia have long raised concerns following reports of self-harm and trauma experienced by children in low-security facilities.

In February, an Australian-based organization, the Darwin Asylum Seeker Support and Advocacy Network (DASSAN), received reports from the Immigration Department under Australia’s Freedom of Information Act detailing self-harm among children at two Darwin detention centres.

Outside a Darwin detention centre

“These reports explain there were 26 self-harm incidents in Darwin centres from August 2010 to November 2011. The youngest child was only nine years old and he took an overdose of Panadeine, knowing what the full effects on him would be,” DASSAN coordinator Fernanda Dahlstrom said.

This was despite the fact that the Darwin airport lodge is considered more humane than other processing centres, she added.

“These cases aren’t isolated. More children are suffering the same psychological side effects as a result of detention in other facilities. We just don’t officially know the numbers,” said Leila Druery, a spokeswoman for ChilOut, an advocacy group for children in immigration detention in Australia.

“We would like to see the issue of detaining children depoliticized, by giving an independent children’s commission an oversight and guardianship role,” Druery explained, in reference to the current conflict of interest where the immigration minister is the sole person who decides if his own department is acting in the best interests of the child.

The Australian Red Cross echoes these concerns on placing children in detention centres for unknown periods of time while their refugee status is processed.

“[The] Australian Red Cross believe community-based detention for asylum seekers is a humane and sustainable alternative to the use of secured detention facilities and arrangements,” the Red Cross said in a statement.

“Evidence shows that when people spend long periods in immigration detention facilities, not only does their health suffer, but also their ability to cope and their psychological well-being.”

Rights of the child

Legal experts in Australia point to the responsibilities the government has under its international obligations, including as a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).

“Perhaps, the most obvious treaty breach is that of CRC. Clearly, maintaining children in detention for long periods of time does not treat their welfare as the paramount consideration,” said Stephen Keim, a Brisbane barrister and the president of Australian Lawyers for Human Rights.

Keim noted that when the periods of detention were long and indefinite so as to affect the mental health of the children involved, or the conditions are unsatisfactory, “issues of cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment arise,” which is prohibited under the Convention Against Torture, the CRC and the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights.

According to CRC, the detention of children should be used “only as a measure of last resort, for the shortest appropriate period of time and taking into account the best interests of the child.”

In February, a report by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child asked states to “expeditiously and completely cease the detention of children on the basis of their immigration status”.

The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has also expressed deep concern over the treatment of children in the Manus processing centre, which was reopened on 21 November 2012 in PNG.

“The mandatory detention of 34 children and their families at the Centre is particularly troubling for us,” said UNHCR regional representative Richard Towle.

The UNHCR report released on 4 February 2013 following a visit to the Manus Island facility noted that: “When viewed against the applicable international legal standards, it is clear that the current situation for detained children is profoundly unsatisfactory and UNHCR is therefore of the view that it is not currently appropriate for children to be transferred to Manus Island.”

Immigration remains a divisive issue in Australia

Duty of care

Refugee policy has long been a divisive issue in Australia, even though the country receives a small number of refugees annually compared to other countries including the USA, France, Germany, Italy, and Sweden.

In 2011, Australia received 15,441 onshore asylum applications, just 0.92 percent of the 1,669,725 applications received across the world, the Refugee Council of Australia reported.

However, according to Australia’s current labour government, the government is committed to ensuring people held in immigration detention are treated with dignity and respect and that children are always accommodated in the least restrictive form of detention accommodation available.

“No-one wants to see children in detention for long periods, which is why children have priority processing and the department endeavours to process their claims quickly,” said Brendan O’Conner, Australia’s minister for immigration and citizenship, in a statement provided to IRIN.

“The Australian government has a duty of care to ensure the health and wellbeing of children in immigration detention – including ensuring access to appropriate physical and recreational activities and excursions and education,” added O’Conner.

At the same time, all irregular maritime arrivals have to be detained while their “identities, health and reasons for travel are ascertained”.

Meanwhile, the Greens, a minority party that currently holds the balance of power in the Australian Senate, are campaigning for policy change when it comes to placing children in detention.

“Some of these children have spent their whole lives behind bars, having committed no crime other than being born in a country from which they are forced to flee,” said Senator Hanson-Young, who visited the detention centre in Manus Island in February.

“The government needs to end this cruel regime of indefinite detention.”

Since January 2013, most of the 1,382 irregular maritime arrivals were asylum seekers arriving by boat from Iran, Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan.