South Sudan conflict: 3.7m in ‘need of food’, says UN

South Sudanese refugees cook on an open fire at a camp run by the Sudanese Red CrescentA third of South Sudan’s population is now in “urgent need” of food, the UN says

The United Nations has said it estimates 3.7 million people are in acute need of food in South Sudan as a result of the civil conflict there.

The UN’s humanitarian co-ordinator in South Sudan Toby Lanzer told the BBC $1.3bn (£790m) was needed to deal with the crisis.

Violence broke out in South Sudan on 15 December, starting as violence between rival army factions.

It has now killed thousands of people and displaced around 860,000.

Mr Lanzer said it had also had profound effects on the country’s economy. “Largely because markets have been disrupted, people have been living under extreme duress, people aren’t able to move as they normally would,” he said.

“Nobody in mid-December… could have foreseen the scale of the emergency that now faces us. We are doing everything we can to avoid a catastrophe,” he added.

The number of those needing food represented around a third of South Sudan’s population, he said.

He said that in the city of Malakal, some civilians had stormed a warehouse where aid was being kept and “helped themselves”.

“Most of the looting was done by people who were so desperate for the aid that they simply couldn’t wait,” he said.

He said over that of 863,000 people who have been displaced; 740,000 of them are still in South Sudan and the others have left for neighbouring countries.

Fighting continues

A fragile ceasefire was agreed last week between the two sides ahead of a second round of peace talks due to start on 7 February.

However, earlier this week, the medical charity MSF says 240 of its staff in South Sudan were forced to flee into the bush because of continuing insecurity.

MSF said the workers were among thousands of people trying to escape fighting in Unity State between government forces and rebels.

The fighting was sparked by a political dispute between President Salva Kiir and his former deputy Riek Machar on 15 December.

Although both men have supporters from across South Sudan’s ethnic divides, fighting has often been communal, with rebels targeting members of Mr Kiir’s Dinka ethnic group and government soldiers attacking Nuers, the group from which Mr Machar hails.

A ceasefire was agreed after talks between the two but fighting has continued in some areas and correspondents say it could be further jeopardised by treason charges against some of Mr Machar’s allies over what authorities say was a “coup attempt” in December.

Fighting erupted in the South Sudan capital, Juba, in mid-December. It followed a political power struggle between President Salva Kiir and his ex-deputy Riek Machar. The squabble has taken on an ethnic dimension as politicians’ political bases are often ethnic.
Accessed originally from the BBC here

Protests throw spotlight on Israel’s African migrant pressures

From the BBC News, by Richard Galpin

Hundreds of African women and children marched across the Israeli city of Tel Aviv on Wednesday to demonstrate outside the offices of the United Nations and the embassy of the United States.

It was the latest in an unprecedented wave of protests by African asylum seekers, who fear the Israeli government is trying to force them out of the country.

Since a new law came into force last month, the asylum seekers – most of whom are from Sudan and Eritrea – say the authorities have been instructing many of them to leave the cities and towns where they have been living and report to a detention centre in the Negev desert in southern Israel.

The new law gives the authorities the power to hold them in the centre indefinitely, putting them under intense pressure to agree to leave Israel voluntarily.

The African immigrants began arriving in Israel in 2006 and it is estimated there are currently 53,000 in the country.

Female African asylum seekers and their children demonstrate on January 15, 2014 in Tel Aviv, Israel.Thousands of African migrants have held protest marches over the past week

‘Seeking protection’

“The reason I am here is because I fled violence and persecution back home, the on-going genocide,” says Dahar Adam who is from the Darfur region of Sudan.

“The reason I am here is because I fled violence and persecution back home, the on-going genocide,” says Dahar Adam who is from the Darfur region of Sudan.

“I came here seeking protection as a refugee and have been here almost seven years, but I didn’t get any kind of status or recognition as a refugee.”

“We requested many times, but they denied and neglected us, they don’t want to take this problem seriously,” he said.

In a rare public rebuke, the UN Refugee Agency has accused the Israeli government of following a policy that “creates fear and chaos amongst asylum seekers,” and warned that putting asylum seekers under pressure to return home, without first considering why they had fled, could amount to a violation of the 1951 Refugee Convention.

A child from the African migrant community holds a placard ahead of a protest against Israel's detention policy toward migrants, in Tel Aviv (15 January 2014)Israel says most of the migrants do not meet the criteria for refugee status according to international convention

‘Economic migrants’

But the government is sticking to its position that the African immigrants are not refugees but are instead economic migrants who see Israel as an attractive destination because it is the nearest developed country where they can find jobs.

The government also insists it has the systems in place to process any asylum applications.

“Only a few hundred have applied,” says the foreign ministry spokesman, Yigal Palmor.

“It is quite a mystery why not more have tried to use the procedure.”

And only a handful so far, approximately a dozen, have been granted refugee status.

“The others have been found to be working migrants or other types of migrants and did not qualify for refugee status under the criteria of the Refugee Convention,” Mr Palmor said.

Male African migrants protesting in Tel Aviv (January 2014)Hundreds of migrants are being held in a detention centre in the Negev desert

But a spokesperson for the UN refugee agency rejected this, telling the BBC that the Israeli government, having initially advised the immigrants they did not need to apply for asylum, then changed its mind in 2012.

But, the UN spokesperson said, the government failed to inform the migrants that they needed to submit their applications.

Five to a room

Zena MebrahtuZena, from Eritrea, has a job and says he lives in better conditions than African friends of his

Many of the Africans live in a run-down area of south Tel Aviv, attracted to the city by the chance of finding work in the many restaurants, cafes and hotels.

At the entrance to a dingy, dilapidated apartment block, I met Zena Mebrahtu, a 27-year-old Eritrean, who invited me to follow him up the stairs to see the room that is now his home.

He shares the bed and single electric cooking ring with his younger brother.

The other rooms which make up what was once an apartment, have all been rented out individually to Sudanese and Eritrean immigrants.

But Zena knows he is lucky. He has a fridge, a television and even a surfboard leaning against the wall, given to him by a friend.

“I have a good job,” he says, “I have Israeli friends and they gave me a job.”

“My [African] friends are living in the worst condition, in a room like this with five people.”

Zena’s neighbourhood has a particularly high concentration of immigrants, and relations with the local Israeli population are tense.

“There are people who behave well with me,” he says.

“But there are more who don’t like me, don’t like refugees and don’t like me staying here.

“They say to me you are dirty, you don’t know how to live, you need to go home.

“Most of them think I came to Israel to get money.”

African migrants walk on a road after abandoning a detention facility in the southern Israeli desert (December 15, 2013)Illegal migrants who agree to leave the country get $3,500 compensation

On the street outside, a local Israeli man Yaniv Avigad poured out his feelings about the immigrants.

“They are destroying our lives in many ways,” he said.

“There’s a lot of violence. I have lived in the neighbourhood ever since I was a little kid and they always said this was a bad neighbourhood.

“But I’ve never encountered anything like it since they came here five years ago.”

“I feel very scared, it is not my country any more, it is theirs.”

Mr Avigad believes the government is not being tough enough and wants new laws which will stop the African immigrants renting rooms.

“I think then they will go home.”

The Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has warned the immigrants that their protests will make no difference to the government’s policy of removing “illegal infiltrators”.

The increasingly shrill debate about the African immigrants prompted President Shimon Peres to speak out last week.

He reminded Israelis that the country had signed the UN convention on refugees and this prohibited the deportation of people to countries where their lives would be in danger.

He added: “We remember what it means to be refugees and strangers.”

And all this even though the government says it has successfully stopped almost all illegal immigration into Israel, with the completion last year of a fence across the border with Egypt – the route which the Sudanese, Eritreans and other Africans had been using.

What do you think of this situation in Israel? Do let us know your thoughts!

On the trail of migrant smugglers

By Kristy Siegfried 

Photo: Mujahid Safodien/IRIN: Migrants climb into a smuggler’s vehicle at the border between Zimbabwe and South Africa


  • Stricter immigration laws boosts demand for smugglers
  • Smugglers provide a service migrants willingly pay for
  • But abuse, extortion increasing with growing demand
  • Prosecutions rare, smuggling low risk and highly profitable

JOHANNESBURG, 7 January 2014 (IRIN) – When the corpses of migrants are discovered in the desert, floating at sea, or in airless container trucks, the official response often includes calls to take action against the smugglers. Following the deaths of over 300 migrants who drowned trying to cross the Mediterranean in October 2013, for example, Italy’s integration minister, Cecile Kyenge, declared, “Behind these tragedies… there are human traffickers who are enriching themselves on the backs of people who are fleeing war and hunger,” and urged increased patrols to target people smugglers.

Statements like Kyenge’s reflect the widely held perception that “human trafficker” and “people smuggler” can be used interchangeably to describe shadowy criminal networks preying on desperate and naïve people. The small number of researchers worldwide who study migrant smuggling say the truth is often less malevolent and more complex.

To begin with, smugglers – unlike traffickers – provide a service that migrants willingly pay for. The definition provided by the Smuggling of Migrants Protocol, which forms part of the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, says that service must involve helping someone to gain illegal entry to another country in return for “financial or other material benefit”.

The demand for such services has increased as states around the world have shored up their borders over the last 10 to 15 years, making it more difficult for would-be migrants and asylum seekers to enter countries legally.

In a statement released on International Migrants Day (18 December), the International Organization for Migration (IOM) pointed to the “direct link between tighter border controls and increases in people smuggling”, which it described as a US$35-billion-a-year business.

Noting that at least 2,360 migrants had died trying to cross borders clandestinely in 2013 – the deadliest year on record – IOM suggested that unless the international community takes decisive action to address the causes of irregular migration, “more migrant lives will be lost at the hands of people smugglers and traffickers”.

Smugglers as protectors? 

Gabriella Sanchez, a social and cultural anthropologist who has researched migrant smuggling in a number of countries, disputes the notion that migrants who use smugglers run a greater risk. “Most people who die crossing borders die proceeding on their own,” she told IRIN on the phone from the Border Crossing Observatory, a research centre at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia. “Most people die because of exposure to the elements, not because of violence.”

 “Most people who die crossing borders die proceeding on their own”

She says migrants typically think of smugglers as “mechanisms of protection”, who can increase their chances of crossing a border successfully. “Of course, there’s going to be a level of risk, but people calculate their risk… Migrants and refugees are not ignorant or gullible.”

The level of risk migrants are exposed to often depends on how much money they can afford to spend. Those who can buy plane tickets, pay for forged visas and passports, and bribes for customs and immigration officers, are much more likely to reach their destination safely. Migrants who use longer land and sea routes, travelling with different smugglers who may or may not be linked to one another – what the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) describes as a “pay-as-you-go” package – run the highest risk of being stranded or exposed to abuse.

More abuse by smugglers

Routes from West and East Africa to Europe, and from the Horn of Africa to the Middle East, with their treacherous sea and desert crossings, have become even more dangerous in recent years. Smugglers have increasingly taken to extorting more than the agreed upon sum from migrants, often by means of holding them captive along the way or even at their destination, and forcing them to phone relatives to ask for money under threat of torture. Reports of such abuses, which blur the line between smuggling and trafficking, have emerged from Sudan, Yemen, Egypt’s Sinai desert and Libya.

“What’s happening now is unprecedented,” says Yitna Getachew, a regional thematic specialist with IOM’s East and Southern Africa office in Pretoria, South Africa. “Up until recently, you didn’t see abuse of migrants by smugglers. It’s a business and they have reputations to think of.”


Photo: Kristy Siegfried/IRIN:  Migrants form queues to be counted by their smuggler prior to being transported by boat from Djibouti to Yemen

Christopher Horwood, coordinator of the Regional Mixed Migration Secretariat (RMMS) which published a  in June 2013 on migrant smuggling between the Horn of Africa and Yemen, speculated that the large numbers of migrants from Eritrea and Ethiopia have pushed up demand for smugglers’ services, and also the temptation to extort ever larger sums of money. “In the case of Ethiopians and Eritreans, the sums are so large it’s become irresistible,” he told IRIN.

Christopher Horwood, coordinator of the Regional Mixed Migration Secretariat (RMMS) which published a report in June 2013 on migrant smuggling between the Horn of Africa and Yemen, speculated that the large numbers of migrants from Eritrea and Ethiopia have pushed up demand for smugglers’ services, and also the temptation to extort ever larger sums of money. “In the case of Ethiopians and Eritreans, the sums are so large it’s become irresistible,” he told IRIN.

Migrants who experience the highest levels of violence are those who travel “without smuggling references”, Sanchez says. “Most people travel with smugglers who are known to them and recommended by others.”

However, on the long “pay-as-you-go” routes, such as the one from Eritrea to Israel or from Somalia to South Africa, migrants generally only know the smugglers who take them on the first leg of their journey. Thereafter, they may travel alone for part of the way or be passed from one smuggler to another through what Horwood describes as “informal chains” or “loose alliances” that differ from the more organized networks typical of human trafficking.

Obstacles to prosecution

The extent to which abuse by smugglers occurs, even on the most notoriously dangerous routes, is unclear. “Most stories you hear are the stories of the people who had a bad experience with a smuggler. You don’t tend to hear the stories of the people who didn’t experience abuse,” said Sanchez, who argued that the majority of migrants do not experience abuse at the hands of smugglers.

Those migrants who do experience abuse rarely report it, particularly if they have reached their destination and are trying to steer clear of the authorities. The lack of formal complaints by migrants has added to the difficulties of prosecuting smugglers, who can be difficult even to identify.

“Unlike trafficking, smuggling isn’t done by professionals, it’s done by people who have other jobs. These aren’t arch-criminals, but people who are making money on the side,” said Khalid Koser, deputy director of the Geneva Centre for Security Policy, who has done extensive research on migrant smuggling.

“There’s no profile for a smuggler,” agreed Sanchez. “The smugglers I interviewed in Arizona [near the US border with Mexico] were teenagers who guided people through the desert… you have a single mother of three who was housing people overnight and… grandmothers feeding people.” Migrants may also assist by cooking at a safe house, steering a boat or driving a vehicle in return for a lower fee. This sometimes results in their arrest for smuggling.

Migrants criminalized

“The determination of who is a smuggler is quite problematic. We think about smuggling as becoming more organized and structured, but what we’re actually seeing is how the risk is being transferred onto the migrants and refugees,” said Sanchez. “Most of the people who are prosecuted for smuggling are migrants themselves.”

Even countries that are signatories to the Smuggling Protocol often have no specific legislation to target people-smuggling. Samantha Mundeta, a regional legal adviser with UNODC’s Southern Africa office, noted that most countries in her region rely on immigration laws that “tend not to get to the bottom of the crime [smuggling] and the people who perpetuate it”, and which are more often used to criminalize migrants.

“There’s no attempt to go after the smugglers, it’s all about irregular entry by the migrants”

“There’s no attempt to go after the smugglers, it’s all about irregular entry by the migrants,” agreed Getachew of IOM, who says the lack of capacity and resources in local law enforcement authorities has also hampered efforts to investigate smuggling.

UNODC has set up a voluntary reporting system in Asia that allows countries in the region to collect and share data on smuggling trends and networks. In eastern and southern Africa there is no such system, and “weak coordination regionally on these issues”, said Mundeta.

The role of corruption in facilitating almost every stage of a smuggling operation presents another major obstacle. In a paper published recently by UNODC, the authors note that “Migrant smuggling could not occur on the large scale that it so often does without collusion between corrupt officials and criminals.”

Smugglers are often able to bribe their way out of trouble, and the combination of corruption and light penalties for the small number of smugglers who are prosecuted has made it “a very attractive activity” for criminals, commented Horwood.

Allowing mobility

Several researchers IRIN spoke to suggested that the most effective deterrent to smuggling may be fewer border controls, not more. “Countries tend to focus on border security, and that doesn’t seem to work,” said Koser. “The unintended consequence of more restrictive immigration policy is more illegal migration.”

In the West Africa region, where a protocol on freedom of movement allows people living in member states to travel within the region without visas, there is little demand for smugglers. “Smuggling can’t operate without restrictions,” said Horwood.

“We need to look at visas and passports, we don’t need to look at any more criminalization or deterrents,” said Sanchez. “We need to look at mechanisms that are going to facilitate mobility.”

However, the political sensitivities that inform debates about irregular migration around the world make it unlikely that such mechanisms will be introduced in the near future. As long as public sentiment remains anti-immigration, governments will continue to make it more difficult for migrants to enter their countries legally, perpetuating the demand for smugglers.

What do you think about this piece? Are the smugglers to blame? 

Migration Matters Kickoff Event @ York University, Toronto

Jan 22, 2014 to Jan 29, 2014, 2:30pm-4pm

Announcing… a new York initiative called Migration Matters, which will showcase migration scholars and scholarship at York. With the support of the VPRI’s Office and the Centre for Refugee Studies, we have a number of projects underway, including: a series of seminars/roundtable discussions that will address pressing issues or questions related to migration (broadly defined) from a wide range of perspectives and fields of studies; and a Migration Matters York blog for networking and featuring migration scholarship and events at York. Watch for more details in the next few days. For more information about how you can participate, contact Luann Good Gingrich at

Join us for the following special events:

Kickoff Event
Jan. 22
2:30 to 4pm
519 Kaneff Tower

Migration at the margins: Work, profit, or nation-building?
Join the discussion with distinguished York scholars:
Leah Vosko
(Department of Political Science; Canada Research Chair, Feminist Political Economy)
Luin Goldring
(Department of Sociology; Coordinator, Research Alliance on Precarious Status)
Andrew Crane
(Schulich School of Business; Director, Centre of Excellence in Responsible Business)
Reception to follow
8th Floor Common Area, Kaneff Research Tower
Hosted by the Centre for Refugee Studies

Please join us for our second event:
Data Migration and the Search for Origins
Jan. 29
12:30 to 2pm
519 Kaneff Tower
with Julia Creet (Department of English)

The Dominican Republic’s discrimination against Haitians

From the Washington Post

HAITI AND the Dominican Republic, uneasy neighbors on the sun-baked island of Hispaniola, share a tangled and contentious history, by turns violent, cooperative and exploitative. That is the background, though hardly an excuse, for an unconscionable decision by the highest Dominican court that strips at least 200,000 ethnic Haitian migrants of any claim to citizenship, including those born on Dominican soil decades ago.

The court’s decision enshrines the deep-seated racism and discrimination suffered by Haitian migrants and their children, who have worked back-breaking jobs in Dominican sugar-cane fields and construction sites for many years. It leaves the migrants stateless, lacking even the certainty that their children can receive an education.

Compounding this injustice, the court ordered the authorities to comb through birth records, back to 1929, to weed out ethnic Haitians no longer entitled to citizenship. Tens of thousands will be left in legal limbo, including those who have never set foot in Haiti and speak no Creole, Haiti’s main language.

The Dominican economy, much like that of the United States, depends on migrant labor to fill jobs at the bottom of the wage scale. And much like the United States’ political class, Dominican authorities have balked at extending fair treatment and equal status to those migrants.For many years, the children of Haitian laborers born on Dominican soil were denied official documents on the grounds that their parents were “in transit” — even if they’d been working in the country for decades. A constitutional amendment in 2010 codified that systemic discrimination, and the court decision, handed down last month, set the rule in stone — and applied it retroactively. The court gave officials one year to draw up a list of residents to be excluded from or stripped of citizenship.

The implications of the court’s xenophobic ruling are disastrous. Ethnic Haitians — as well as the Dominican-born children of immigrants from Europe, China and elsewhere — may no longer be entitled to subsidized tuition, public health insurance or other benefits.

As in the United States, mass deportation of immigrants on whom the economy relies is not a viable option for the Dominican Republic.The Dominican president, Danilo Medina, acknowledged that the decision had created “a human problem that we have to solve.”U.S. officials should press the issue through diplomatic channels with their Dominican counterparts. By ignoring the plight of ethnic Haitians, the international community would only compound an injustice.

What are your thoughts on the deportation of Dominicans of Haitian Origin?

Typhoon Haiyan’s displaced seek refuge in cities

From IRIN. 

Photo: Carmela Fonbuela/ IRIN:  IDPs recently arrived to Metro Manila following the Category 5 Super Typhoon Haiyan

MANILA, 3 December 2013 (IRIN) – Almost 20,000 typhoon survivors have arrived in the Philippine capital region of Manila since Super Typhoon Haiyan devastated a large area across the central island provinces nearly one month ago, displacing a total of four million people.

“We did not expect this massive devastation. We were not prepared. It would have been better if they [had been] evacuated to neighbouring provinces so it will be easier for them to return when the situation has normalized,” said Alice Bonoan, regional director of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) for the National Capital Region.

“But many of them just took the free flights to Metro Manila offered by the military and took their chances… They just needed to escape the devastation and hunger,” Bonoan said.

Military cargo flights transporting relief goods from Manila to devastated areas offered to fill the empty return flights with survivors desperate to evacuate.

Hundreds of kilometres away from the typhoon’s epicentre, local governments in the capital region are scrambling to absorb the new arrivals in an urban area already stretched by its 12 million residents, including the country’s largest population of slum dwellers – about 200,000 households, according to 2010 estimates.

At the headquarters of the Philippine Air Force, aid workers and volunteers welcome an estimated 500 survivors arriving on cargo flights daily with hot meals and fresh sets of clothing. Lactating mothers line up to offer breastfeeding to survivors’ babies. Volunteer drivers transport those seeking shelter from relatives. The remaining displaced are housed DSWD shelters and “tent cities”.

Typhoon Haiyan (local name Yolanda) flattened swathes of homes and other structures, displacing some four million Filipinos, according to the government’s latest count. About 200,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) are staying in evacuation centres while the remainder are seeking shelter in private homes.

Temporary Shelter

Gerardo Macenda, 37, from Guiuan in Eastern Samar, one of the most devastated cities in the typhoon’s path, set foot in Metro Manila with his family on 20 November. Without relatives in Manila to help them, they were taken to a DSWD facility in Mandaluyong city on the outskirts of the capital.

Macenda, his wife, and three children took the first C130 flight out of the province on 15 November, which took them first to Cebu and then to the capital region. “We needed to go away. I don’t want to see the devastation anymore. My children are traumatized. We had a simple but good life. We built a house and I owned a tricycle [to transport customers]. I earned enough for the family, but the typhoon took it all away,” Macenda told IRIN.

They are among the 134 displaced persons at this DSWD shelter, one of 1,031 temporary sites the agency has set up nationwide. The government is counting on the IDPs to return to their hometowns as soon as the situation normalizes, but the challenge will be to prepare for those who stay on, said Eric Esmas, a senior DSWD social welfare officer.

A number of private sector companies have made job offers, but many evacuees do not have the skills or education, or are the right age to fulfil the basic requirements. “Is he a worker or a farmer? We will then link them to the resources that are available,” Esmas said.

Off radar

While thousands of evacuees fled on military planes and have been formally registered by the government upon landing, unknown numbers of survivors are taking what are known as “roll-on roll-off” (Ro-Ro) inter-island transport vessels that carry busloads of people from affected islands to safer shores.

This group has hardly been reached by aid workers, much less included in the national database, according to the government. Other evacuees manage with their own resources and simply do not seek DSWD assistance, said the agency’s regional director, Bonoan.

“It’s the hard reality,” she acknowledged. “We cannot help them if we don’t know where they are. There are those who arrived in Metro Manila without going through DSWD. We cannot avoid that.”

The International Organization of Migration (IOM) began tracking evacuees on 17 November at their departure points to map migration flows as well as to learn what plans the unregistered IDPs have to survive financially at their destination.

Urban IDPs are often seen as “messy” beneficiaries who risk being “ignored”, according to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR). “IDPs in urban environments are less photogenic and less visible than those in camps. The plight of urban IDPs therefore goes largely ignored by an international media flooded with other compelling images.”

A 2008 UNHCR study noted that “Effective protection is further limited by the fact that both host governments and donors are not generally keen on assisting IDPs in urban environments because many assume that those who make it to cities can support themselves.”

DSWD’s Bonoan said the government is managing for the moment because relatives and acquaintances have hosted most arriving IDPs, but an unknown number may not be receiving any help, and that DSWD “cannot help them forever”.


Solidarity Fast with Striking Detainees in Lindsay, ON Detention Center – Dec 14th

Solidarity Fast with Striking Detainees Dec 14th

(From :

In response to our call for a demonstration on the outside, immigration detainees in Lindsay will be initiating their own 24hr fast inside on December 14th, 2013. Because of this, we have called for a 24hr global solidarity fast to accompany the protest at Lindsay Jail. Please take a photograph of yourself if you are fasting in solidarity with those inside and send it to (And if you’re in Ontario.. GET ON THE BUS TO LINDSAY!)

Latest statements of solidarity.

DSC_0510Wife, mother and family friend of Clifford Adjei

DSC_0515Mohammed Mjasiri, father of Amin Mjasiri who was on hunger strike for 65 days.

IMG_7349Amee, Toronto

enddetention_dec14Victoria, Toronto

Hunger Strike 1Kitty, Toronto

Hunger Strike 2Brendan, Toronto



Kenya to repatriate Somali refugees

The Dadaab refugee camp, Oct 2013

The Dadaab refugee camps are now more like towns.

More than 500,000 Somali refugees in Kenya are to be given the opportunity to return home after the UN refugee agency signed a tripartite agreement with the two countries’ governments.

Under the agreement, the Somalis will be repatriated voluntarily over the next three years.

The Somalis have sought refuge in Kenya from war and poverty.

Two of the camps they live in, Dadaab and Kakuma, are now so large they are more like towns, correspondents say.

There is also a suburb of the capital, Nairobi – Eastleigh – that is known as “Little Mogadishu” because so many Somalis live there.

‘Terrorism threat’

The refugees fled Somalia after the collapse of the central government in 1991.

Many of them were born in camps and have never set foot inside their home country.

The two governments and the UN hope to introduce a reintegration programme to help the refugees start new lives in Somalia and take part in the reconstruction of the country.

Somalia’s Deputy Prime Minister Fowsia Yusuf Adam said her country was preparing for the safe return of its refugees.

“Terrorism is still a major threat to our region. The federal republic of Somalia is committed to creating conditions that will allow for the safe and dignified voluntary repatriation of the Somali refugees in Kenya and other neighbouring countries.”

The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) said refugees would decide whether they wanted to return.

“No-one wants to see refugees go home and have to flee again, or become displaced inside Somalia,” said Alessandra Morelli, the UNHCR representative for Somalia.

Somalia’s ambassador to Kenya, Mohammed Ali Nur, told the BBC the agreement would be implemented over three years.

It gave refugees the chance to rebuild their lives, he said.

“They can’t be begging… for food all their lives,” he told the BBC’s Newsday programme.

The BBC World Service’s Africa editor, Richard Hamilton, says the main problem with the agreement is that most of the refugees know that Somalia is still not safe and probably would not want to return.


Our correspondent says that, while Kenya has been praised for offering help to a neighbour in need, the country is becoming disgruntled with having to bear the burden of the refugee population.

Kenya’s Deputy President William Ruto says refugees have become a shield for those who pose a security threat to Kenya.

Kenya has been concerned about further threats of terrorism following the attack by suspected Somali militants on the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi in September.

The Somali Islamist al-Shabab group – which is linked to al-Qaeda – said it was behind the attack.

It said it was taking revenge after Kenya sent troops into Somalia to help the UN-backed government seize territory from militants.



Horn migrants risk new routes to reach Europe

By Kristy Siegfried 

Migrants form queues to be counted by their smuggler prior to boarding a boat to Yemen


  • More migrants heading to Europe
  • Saudi Arabia and Israel get tough
  • Smugglers’ new routes through Sahara
  • The ‘balloon effect’

JOHANNESBURG, 11 November 2013 (IRIN) – The shipwreck that claimed the lives of more than 350 mainly Eritrean asylum seekers off the Italian island of Lampedusa last month has focused Europe’s obsession with irregular migration on the area of the Mediterranean separating southern Italy and Malta from North Africa. But this treacherous stretch of sea represents only the final leg of a lengthy journey filled with hazards.

The number of migrants attempting the so-called Central Mediterranean route has doubled in the last year, to over 30,000 by the end of September. The majority of boats now depart from Libya, a country where smugglers operate with relative ease thanks to porous borders and the lack of an effective police force or army under the transitional government.

Coming from the Horn

Syrians fleeing the war in their country make up a significant portion of the current migrant influx, accounting for 7,500 of the 26,100 who arrived in Sicily from Libya by the end of September, according the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR). But a further 7,500 came from Eritrea and 3,000 from Somalia, compared to 1,890 Eritreans and 3,400 Somalis who used the same route through all of 2012.

Katrine Camilleri of the Jesuit Refugee Service in Malta, a tiny southern European country that has received nearly 1,700 migrants and asylum seekers so far this year, told IRIN that “over the last two years, the proportion of Somalis and Eritreans has increased.”

The question of why more Eritreans and Somalis are trying to reach Europe is one that researchers are only beginning to try to answer, but changes in migration policy in faraway Saudi Arabia and Israel offer some important clues.

Until last year, the majority of migrants and asylum seekers from the Horn of Africa region – which encompasses Somalia, Eritrea, Ethiopia and Djibouti – headed either for the Gulf States by way of Yemen or to Israel by way of Sudan and Egypt.

This year, both of these routes were virtually cut off. Saudi Arabia has resumed construction of a 1,800km fence along its border with Yemen and deported thousands of undocumented migrant workers. According to Chris Horwood of the Nairobi-based Regional Mixed Migration Secretariat (RMMS), Saudi Arabia’s border with Yemen is now “completely sealed” and migrants are unable to get through. Although Ethiopians and Somalis continue to arrive in Yemen, their numbers have dropped from over 107,000 in 2012 to 58,000 by the end of September this year.

At the beginning of 2013, Israel completed its own fence along the border with Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, shortly after a law allowing it to detain so-called “infiltrators” for up to three years came into effect. Prior to these measures, around 1,000 asylum seekers, mainly from Eritrea and Sudan, were reaching Israel every month. By contrast, during the first nine months of 2013, only 36 individuals crossed the border, according to UNHCR Tel-Aviv.

“It would make sense that two major borders being closed – and the demand from migrants to move being the same as it was – that they will look for alternative routes,” said Horwood.

A perilous journey

Tesfamihret Sheshy*, a 29-year-old Eritrean asylum seeker who spoke to IRIN over the phone from Malta, left his country in February 2012 after being forced to take up a teaching post as part of his national service. He was not trained as a teacher, received no salary and was posted far from his family home. “There was no limit of years you have to be there,” he explained. “You can’t help yourself, your family or the economy of your country.”

After a brief spell at Shagarag refugee camp in eastern Sudan, a “deadly” place where abductions of refugees by human traffickers were a common occurrence, Sheshy paid smugglers to take him to Khartoum, the Sudanese capital. But after a year of dodging authorities and being unable to support himself, he decided to try to reach Europe via Libya. “I knew life there [in Libya] was very difficult, but I had no choice,” he said. “Going out of Eritrea, it’s not like you have a preference [about where you’re going]; you get out of your house because it’s on fire and you’re just looking for people who can welcome you.

“People were travelling to Israel because it was the only way, and now they’re travelling to Europe because it’s the only way.”

After paying another smuggler, Sheshy spent 10 days crossing the Sahara desert with a group of 25 other migrants, all of them Eritrean. “It was very horrible. In the desert, there was no water and the smugglers were threatening us. Fortunately, we survived.”

Some are less fortunate. Recently, the bodies of 92 migrants who had been trying to reach Algeria were found in northern Niger. They had died of thirst after the two trucks carrying them broke down and their smugglers abandoned them.

After entering Libya and being detained by a militia in Benghazi for several days, Sheshy escaped and made his way to Tripoli, the capital. There, he contacted a Libyan smuggler who promised to transport him to Europe. Instead, the man locked him in a warehouse with 300 other migrants. He remained there for two months before his relatives could send the US$1,600 that the smuggler demanded for his release and passage to Europe.

On their own

Melissa Phillips, a senior programme officer with the Danish Refugee Council in Tripoli, said that the absence of international or government agencies in southern Libya has made it impossible to track the numbers of migrants entering the country. “The only thing we have at the moment is the number of boats departing from Libya,” she told IRIN.

According to UNHCR, 4,619 migrants left Libya for Europe in September alone, compared to 775 during the same month last year.

Phillips added that Libya has long been a destination for economic migrants from sub-Saharan Africa looking for work. But for asylum seekers looking for protection, Libya’s lack of a refugee law and practice of detaining migrants means it is rarely a final destination. “Those groups [transiting through Libya] would include Eritreans, Somalis, some Ethiopians and Syrians,” she said.

Fearing arrest, smugglers rarely accompany migrants on sea crossings, despite charging upwards of $1,500 for passage on over-crowded, often unseaworthy, vessels. “Someone is given instructions on how to navigate. People will call that person the captain, but that person is a fellow migrant who’s suddenly been given a GPS [global positioning system],” explained Phillips. “If anything adverse happens [at sea], they will go off course.”

This was the experience of Ahmed Omar Isaak, a 31-year-old Somali refugee who also described his journey to IRIN over the phone from Malta. “We were 55 Somalis in one inflatable boat. They just gave us a compass and a GPS and told us which direction to go, and then they put us in the sea and told us to go,” he said.

Sheshy travelled with 300 others in a fishing boat that broke down after three days at sea with no food or water. They were rescued by Italian and Maltese coast guards and taken to Malta, where Sheshy has spent the past three months in a refugee reception centre while his asylum application is processed.

“Playing into the hands of human traffickers”

The Danish Refugee Council and RMMS are about to embark on a study that will look at migration flows from the Horn of Africa, through Sudan to Libya, and onward to Europe. The research aims to learn more about the routes and methods of travel this group of migrants and asylum seekers are using and the dangers they face along the way.

What is already clear, however, is that making it more difficult for asylum seekers to use one route to safety merely forces them to use other, often more dangerous, routes. Similar patterns are playing out all over the world, but particularly on the frontiers of Europe, where increasing numbers of migrants and asylum seekers are now entering the European Union via Bulgaria and other Balkan countries, following increased border controls in Greece, previously the most popular entry point.

“It’s like squeezing a balloon,” said Edwards of UNHCR. “The problem pops up somewhere else, and that’s exactly why we’ve been arguing strongly that you can only really work to reduce the toll in lives if you approach it holistically. If you approach it from a deterrent point of view, you’re playing into the hands of human traffickers.”

Phillips of the Danish Refugee Council pointed out that not only do deterrents like fences shift the routes taken by migrants, they also set precedent for transit countries like Libya that are looking for examples to model their migration policies on.

“It’s not just Israel and Saudi Arabia. It’s the actions of European countries, who are talking about greater use of sea patrols and Frontex [the EU’s border security agency] but not about how [they] can share this responsibility. So there are very few good examples that Libya can look to about how to manage this.”

Ahmed Omar Isaak, Somali migrant: “I never dreamed I would end up in the sea”

OHANNESBURG, 11 November 2013 (IRIN) – Ahmed Omar Isaak, 31, fled the conflict in his home country of Somalia in January 2012. His intention was merely to move to a place of safety, but that proved much harder than he had imagined. Over the next 16 months, he travelled nearly 5,000km in trucks, buses, boats and the boot of a car, enduring detention, beatings and being stranded in the Sahara desert. He told IRIN about his journey over the phone from Malta.

“I’m from the Medina District of Mogadishu region. I left the country because of so many reasons – lack of security and tribal fights. At first, I just wanted to go to the nearest country for safety, and that was Kenya. I stayed in Nairobi for two months, but without any documents, I couldn’t do anything. I couldn’t survive, and I was afraid that the Kenyan police would arrest me. So I went to the Ugandan border by truck. From there, I went to Kampala and stayed one month, but life was very hard because I didn’t know anyone to help me. Someone told me that I should try Libya because it was easy to get from there to Europe.”
Crossing the desert

“I passed into South Sudan and took a bus to Juba, and from there went by boat up the River Nile to the border with Sudan, and then I took a bus to Khartoum. Then, I started my journey through the Sahara desert. I paid US$360, and

there were 80 Somalis squeezed into 12 Land Cruisers travelling in a convoy for three days and three nights. We ran out of water, and the sun was terribly hot. In the desert, there was a big smuggler who works between the two countries [Sudan and Libya]. He kept us for three weeks. He told me to call my parents and ask for $800. I became sick; I nearly died. There were 200 of us there, and five of them died. By the help of Allah, there was a Good Samaritan, a fellow Somali who gave $200 from his pocket to pay for me.
“We came from there to Libya with smugglers, but before we reached Kufra [near Libya’s south-eastern border], we were met by militias. They arrested the smugglers and left us there in the middle of the Sahara. There were 99 of us, and we stayed there for 24 hours without water, food or shade before the militia came back for us. They put us in a lorry and took us to Kufra. That’s where we were jailed for four months and beaten, day in, day out.

“One day, I told them that I wanted to go to the toilet. The main gate was open and there was no guard at that time, so four of us escaped. We didn’t know where to run; we just went into town and hid ourselves in a building that was still being constructed. Then we went to a part of town where Africans were living, and they helped us and gave us food.

“I called my parents and friends, and they sent me $500, which I used to pay a smuggler to take me to Benghazi. He took me to the Red Cross there, and they gave me blankets and somewhere to sleep. I stayed there for two weeks, and then smugglers took a group of us to Tripoli in a private car. They dressed me up like a Libyan woman with my face covered so the police would not question me. Other times, they put me in the boot of the car.

“In Tripoli, the police stopped me to ask for documents, and when I spoke English to them instead of Arabic, they beat me with sticks and the back of a gun and took some money from me and told me to go. The next time I was stopped, I was jailed for two months. Finally, the Somali ambassador came and got us released.”

Crossing the sea

“Two weeks later, I decided to take a boat to Europe. I never wanted to stay in Libya because life there is hell. Others paid $400 or $500 to the smugglers, but I didn’t pay

because I didn’t have money. I told them that in school I was taught how to navigate and knew how to use a compass, and they trusted me. It wasn’t true, but when I was in Tripoli I went to the internet and looked up how to use a GPS [global positioning system] and which settings to use.
“We were 55 Somalis in one inflatable boat. They just gave us

a compass and a GPS and told us which direction to go, and then they put us in the sea and told us to go. We were aiming to go to Malta because the sea is very big and wide and that was the nearest place to get to. Around 160km away from Tripoli, the boat started taking on water. Everybody was screaming, some people wanted to go back to Libya, but I told people to keep taking the water out while we waited for a ship to come. But no one came to rescue us. After about 10 more hours, we drifted to just outside Tripoli, near the border with Tunisia. Some militia saw us and asked us where we were from and if we were trying to go to Italy. They beat us and took us to a detention centre, where we spent three weeks. Some ladies were pregnant and vomiting, and some of the militia felt sorry for us and decided to let us go, but said if they saw us going in the sea again, they would kill us.
“I came back to Tripoli, and after another month, found another smuggler with a boat. I had to go back to the sea again. It was another inflatable boat, and we only had biscuits and a little water, which [were] finished after two da

ys. I drank some of the seawater because I was so thirsty. But after three days and three nights at sea, we came safely to the land of Malta.
“We were taken to detention, but it was an open centre, a nice place, and UNHCR [the UN Refugee Agency] met us there and registered us. I requested refugee status, and after staying there for three months, I got my protection. Now I’ve settled in town and I get a little money from the government and from doing some interpretation.

“Malta is a small country, and I like it, but I want to continue legally to another country, to be resettled in a country like America. I left Somalia because of Al-Shabab, and so many problems, but if I had known that’s how it would be, I would never have left. I never dreamed I would end up in the sea or the distance I would cross in the end to get protection and opportunities.”