Edition 26 Volume 4 - July 13, 2006
I need help and protection -
an interview withAli
The law should differentiate between an enemy and a victim from an enemy state.
Between Iraq and Syria -
an interview withPanos Moumtzis
There are around 40,000 Palestinian refugees in Iraq. It's unlikely that any one country in the region can accept them all.
Collective aspiration -
I feel that I am ignored even by the authorities. Therefore I am convinced deep inside that I am nothing, and that I have no rights in this life.
North Africa and Europe: African forced migrations -
European externalization efforts focus on North African countries that have emerged as transit regions in the new geography of migration to Europe.
I need help and protection
an interview with Ali
BI: Where are you from originally?
Ali: I'm a farmer from a small village in West Darfur.
BI: When and why did you enter Israel?
Ali: I had been in Egypt for a year and a half. I faced many problems there because life in Egypt is not safe. Last year the authorities started to deport Darfurians back to Sudan and several people were killed in Cairo. I fled to Israel a year ago.
BI: Why Israel?
Ali: I chose Israel because I thought it's a democratic country and if I stay in Egypt maybe I'll be deported to Sudan. I thought the Israeli people would understand my problem. They should not punish me. I faced genocide.
BI: In Egypt did the United Nations help you as a refugee?
Ali: In Egypt, I went to a UN office but the problem was that they postponed my case many times. I had no residency and faced deportation.
BI: Why did you flee Darfur to begin with?
Ali: The Janjaweed forces [government-backed Arab militia], supported by the Sudanese military, attacked my village. They came in the morning and started to rape and kill. I ran to a mountain area near our village, I wanted to escape to anywhere. I ran with my sister. The Janjaweed shot my sister in front of my eyes. I had no power to help her. I don't know where the rest of my family is since then, whether alive or dead.
I saw that life in Darfur is not safe and moved to Khartoum. There I faced problems. The authorities wanted to arrest me; they accused me of being a rebel and threatened to send me back. They put me in jail for one month. They beat me every day. They released me on condition that I report twice a week and tell them of the activities of Darfurians in Khartoum. I said okay, to save my life. I left Khartoum, and other Darfurians helped me take a train to Wadi Khalfa, then by boat on the Nile. The Egyptians let me enter the country.
BI: Under Israeli law you, as a Sudanese citizen, are an enemy alien, along with 125 other Darfurians, because Sudan is in a state of war with Israel. What's more, you entered Israel illegally, crossing the Negev border. This is why you're in Israeli jail. Does this make sense to you?
Ali: The law should differentiate between an enemy and a victim [like myself] from an enemy state. We are not enemies. Israel should help us, not punish us again.
BI: Some Darfurians have been released from jail in Israel and allowed to live in kibbutzim. A few Darfurians have been accepted as refugees in Europe and elsewhere. If you're released, where do you want to go?
Ali: If given a chance to live in Israel, that's okay, but I don't want to go back to Sudan or Egypt. It's a problem for me to go back to an Arab country. Anywhere else is okay. In Israel I'll find protection. I need help and protection.
BI: How are you treated in jail in Israel?
Ali: Somehow not bad. We're allowed cell phones and internet. People are nice. But it's a jail. Human rights people try to help us but it takes a long time. A UN representative came here to try to help us. We don't know what's going on. We're in jail a year without committing a crime. This reminds us what happened to us there, to our families. I ask the Israelis to help us, we are peaceful people.- Published 13/7/2006 © bitterlemons-international.org
Ali is a Darfurian farmer from Bargy, a village near the town of Zalngy, in West Darfur. He currently lives in Ma'asiyahu Prison in Ramle, Israel.
Between Iraq and Syria
an interview with Panos Moumtzis
BI: At the moment, 200 Palestinian refugees are stuck on the border between Iraq and Syria. What is the situation with Palestinian refugees in Iraq and how did these people end up where they are?
Moumtzis: The situation of Palestinian refugees in Iraq at the moment is quite tense. They are being targeted as a group. They are viewed by some as supporters of the former regime of Saddam Hussein. They are also caught up in the general conflict that is taking place in Iraq.
A couple of hundred of them fled and were admitted to Syria a couple of months ago. And at the moment there are another 200 in al-Tan, the no-man's land between Syria and Iraq. They are clearly facing protection and personal security problems in Iraq, and they are particularly targeted as Palestinians.
In Iraq they are pretty much mixed and integrated into the general community; they are not in camps or separate locations as such. This is also creating a lot of insecurity because they don't know who will attack them and where the attack will take place.
BI: What is their legal status?
Moumtzis: They are Palestinian refugees in Iraq. They are outside the UNRWA area of operations, but they are recognized as refugees and they've lived there for many years. They have Palestinian travel documents.
BI: What will happen in terms of relocation?
Moumtzis: The Syrian government has taken some, but there are around 40,000 Palestinian refugees in Iraq. It's a fairly large number and I think it's unlikely that any one country in the region can accept them all. What is really needed is peace and security in Iraq. The solution cannot be having everybody admitted to another country.
It's a sizeable number. These are people with livelihoods who have lived most of their lives in Iraq. The best solution is of course stability in Iraq so people can carry on living as they have for many years.
BI: Has the Syrian government been welcoming to these refugees? How many Palestinian refugees are there in Syria?
Moumtzis: In Syria there are close to 420,000 Palestinian refugees who have been here for a very long time. When the first wave of about 300 Palestinian refugees from Iraq arrived a few months ago at the border, the Syrian government admitted them to the country. But within two or three days a second wave of some 200 came.
The Syrian government, although sympathetic, has expressed concern that there are 40,000 Palestinian refugees in Iraq and clearly Syria cannot receive such a sizeable number.
In general, Palestinian refugees in Syria are treated well. They have full rights to education and employment alongside Syrian citizens, except with respect to nationality so as to maintain their status as refugees.
At the moment, on humanitarian grounds we are very concerned about two things: one is the people currently in no-mans land. They are living in very harsh conditions; they are in the desert where the temperature reaches over 40 degrees and there are snakes and scorpions; there are no facilities--it's not really a camp, so no water or sanitation, etc. There are pregnant women there and more than 70 children. They cannot stay for very long. So the question is where should they go.
But more than these 200 people, the concern is, of course, for the protection and safety of the people in Baghdad.
BI: UNRWA is facing funding problems. What is the situation now?
Moumtzis: The financial situation is more critical than ever before. We continue to provide services throughout the UNRWA area of operations, but, particularly today with the unfolding humanitarian situation in Gaza, the situation is very worrying. It's becoming worse than it has ever been before. The continuing military escalation is having a direct impact on the humanitarian situation, which means that the limited resources we have, we have to spread over a larger number of people to address the urgent humanitarian needs.
I really urge donors from all over the world, from the Gulf to the West, to support our humanitarian operation in order to be able to continue to provide the minimum, life-saving humanitarian needs for civilians.- Published 13/7/2006 © bitterlemons-international.org
Panos Moumtzis is director of operations in Syria for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA).
There is a fashionable characterization of the modern Palestinian predicament: the "Palestinian people" live inside the West Bank and Gaza; outside, scattered throughout the rich Gulf states and further afield, we find a sort of elite diaspora, cosmopolitan citizens of the world, a mirror image of the Jewish diaspora on the European continent. The common understanding is that these exiles, effortlessly integrated, will easily find their way after the final settlement of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in a globalized world, connecting to their community in Palestine through the internet, hi-tech networking, modern entrepreneurial skills, investments, perhaps adding a Palestinian passport to that already possessed from Canada or Jordan.
This is almost entirely a fictitious image, reflecting just a fraction of Palestinians from those who went to the Gulf or America in the 1950s and 60s. The majority of Palestinian refugees in the Arab world live in a vast personal and political prison, and while it is not the prison of occupation of their compatriots inside occupied Palestine, it is just as stifling.
In a set of meetings held last year in Iraq, Yemen, Sudan, Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, Egypt, UAE, Saudi Arabia, the West Bank and Gaza, several countries in Europe and the Americas, Palestinians participated in articulating the path forward, and what they wanted. It is quite simple: representation and return. The idea of the PLO, more than its physical presence, is the central unifying factor among Palestinians from Syria to Greece to Canada. The claim of return equally so.
In Egypt, as in Lebanon and many other countries in the Arab world, thousands of Palestinians live without residency permits, work permits, or the ability to pay for basic school or medical fees. The current Egyptian government (unlike under Gamal Abdel Nasser's government) treats Palestinian refugees as visiting foreigners, demanding extraordinary fees for all basic services provided to Egyptians, whether health, social or educational. But more than this, they cannot speak openly about their situation, they cannot participate in any civic life, they cannot dare protest: they are silenced, and voiceless. In a set of meetings held in Egypt last year, young Palestinians talked about this ceaseless existential prison.
This is what one had to say:
When I think of myself as a member of a group, I wonder about my place within it, and I feel like I'm sitting in a locked room watching people outside who don't see me, while I anxiously search among them for my family. I am talking about my personal feelings, not my political point of view. I feel alone; we can be six people, but still we will feel alone. I don't even know the family next door. And I have no relation whatsoever with the neighbors. I feel that I am ignored even by the authorities. Therefore I am convinced deep inside that I am nothing, and that I have no rights in this life, I don't even have a land. I was born in Libya, and I heard that those who are born in Libya can't enter Palestine. I wish to visit Palestine, why can't I do that? If I can't enter Palestine to visit it, how would I dare enter it to vote? Do you know that they requested international supervisors for the elections, and I applied--not intending to vote, but just to watch. This would have been a great honor for me. I just wanted to watch, as I did with the Egyptian elections. But the security service in Egypt refused, because I am Palestinian, and therefore I don't have either the right to vote or to supervise voting. Can you see the double standards? I don't even have the right to supervise an election, and at the same time I can't vote. I want to know: who exactly am I?
Palestinian refugees are enormously fragmented today yet they also possess a collective aspiration which is exactly the ingredient needed to combat it. Indeed, the fact that their aspirations are not individual but rather collective in character is the most hopeful sign for the coming period.- Published 13/7/2006 © bitterlemons-international.org
Dr. Karma Nabulsi is a fellow in politics and university lecturer at St. Edmund Hall, Oxford University.
North Africa and Europe: African forced migrations
Africans represent only around 12 percent of the world's population. But a little less than one third of the global refugee stock lives in Sub-Saharan Africa: 2.6 million out of a total of 8.4 million at the end of 2005 (a figure not including the 4.3 million Palestinians under UNRWA's responsibility). Furthermore, according to some expert estimates, more than half of the growing global number of internally-displaced persons (IDPs)--15 out of 25 million--are also to be found in Africa.
Sub-Saharan Africa is therefore both the largest producer and the largest receiver of forced migration flows worldwide. And the trend is on the rise: during 2005, among the first five countries reporting mass refugee arrivals, four were located in Africa: Chad (32,400 prima facie arrivals), Benin (25,500), Uganda (24,000) and Ghana (13,600). Besides, during the same year, all the countries that produced more than 10,000 cross-border forced migration outflows were in Africa as well: Togo (with a mass refugee outflow of 39,100 persons), Sudan (34,500), the Democratic Republic of Congo (15,600), Somalia (13,600) and the Central African Republic (11,500). To this, one should add individual asylum seekers--there were, for instance, 36,200 worldwide from Somalia alone last year.
As for the internal geography of forced migration in Africa, even though East Africa and the Great Lakes region remain the biggest refugee producing and receiving areas, it is no longer true (for many years now) that West Africa is a stable and safe haven where migration has an essentially economic nature. Recent or ongoing conflicts in Cote d'Ivoire, Liberia, Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Togo have deeply transformed human mobility patterns in that region as well. The Guinea Gulf coastal strip that used to be essentially a labor-importing region has turned largely into a refugee exporter.
This dramatic situation remains largely confined to the African continent, with very little outpouring to neighboring areas and to Europe in particular. Generally speaking, African forced migrants are too poor and African infrastructures too scarce and decayed to enable the vast majority of refugees to go beyond the closest relatively safe area, be it within the country of origin or right beyond the nearest border. This also explains why 22 of 38 "protracted refugee situations" (defined as 25,000 persons or more living in exile for five or more years) listed by UNHCR at the end of 2003 were actually located in Africa. Most of these short distance exiles live in refugee camps where human rights standards are often equal to or worse than those prevailing in the sending regions at the time of their flight.
Although quantitatively more limited than the European media suggest and European public opinion tends to perceive, Sub-Saharan undocumented migration to Europe is nevertheless a real phenomenon and a relatively new one as well. Until the late 1990s, irregular migrants apprehended along the Italian and Spanish coasts or rescued inside (or just outside) those two countries' territorial waters were mostly coming from southeastern Europe, the Maghreb, Turkey or a few large Asian countries (primarily Iraq and Afghanistan).
It is only since the beginning of this century that statistically relevant numbers of Sub-Saharans are able to reach European shores or remote European islands such as the Canaries and European enclaves on the African mainland, such as Ceuta and Melilla. Compared to over 700,000 undocumented migrants who claimed for regularization in Italy in 2002 and over 690,000 who made a similar application in Spain in 2005, a few thousand African clandestine entrants every year are a really marginal phenomenon. But media attention and a high mortality rate understandably make this a big issue. Four times as many migrants are estimated to die while attempting to enter Europe than those found dead at the United States' southern borders. From the policy point of view, the crucial questions are then the following: Are these desperate boat people refugees? Are they entitled to international protection?
If we take Italy as an example, in 2005 60 percent of some 7,000 new asylum applications were by nationals of countries of West Africa or the Horn of Africa, most of whom were smuggled through maritime borders from North Africa. According to the Italian Consortium of Solidarity (ICS), among the largest national groups of African asylum seekers who made an application in Italy, over 97 percent of Eritreans (1,259 out of 1,285 applications), over 57 percent of nationals from Cote d'Ivoire (604 applications) and over 75 percent of Ethiopians (549 applications) were granted either asylum ex the Geneva Convention or humanitarian protection. These figures seem therefore to demonstrate that the proportion of "real" refugees among African boat people landing in Europe--in Italy at least--is indeed very significant.
The problem is that reaching the external borders of the EU has become an extremely risky and daunting task for any African migrant, whatever the root causes of his/her migratory choice. For the past two decades at least, European countries, first individually and more recently through their common institutions, are strongly and consistently pursuing the strategic aim of shifting migration controls outside their territory. Often dubbed "externalization" by migration scholars, this approach is implemented through a variety of technical means, from a huge enhancement of the filtering function of visas to ever harsher forms of responsibility and higher financial sanctions for transport companies that neglect to control their passengers' travel documents.
The ultimate frontier of externalization consists of the outsourcing of sovereign powers, obtained through formal or (more frequently) informal agreements that delegate authorities in third states to implement exit controls at their borders facing the EU or even entry controls, and to effect mass repatriations at their borders with more remote sending or transit countries.
Currently, European externalization efforts focus on North African countries that have emerged as inevitable transit regions in the new geography of undocumented migration to Europe. With some countries, such as Tunisia and to a lesser extent Morocco, cooperation has been successful and transit flows reoriented toward new corridors, in Libya, Mauritania and Senegal. But beside their short-term, intended effects, externalization policies toward North Africa produce less desirable side effects, from the intensification of pre-existing cross-border tensions (such as between Algeria and Morocco) to the risk of disrupting local migratory and economic circuits (such as between northern Niger and Libya).
Moreover, European externalization practices are seriously jeopardizing asylum rights and substantially weakening international protection obligations, particularly in Africa. As recently stated by UNHCR High Commissioner Antonio Guterres in an official address to the European Parliament, "these barriers are not necessarily aimed at refugees but they do not differentiate between them and other categories of people on the move." Such specific risks are coupled with more general risks of massive human rights violations when the third state to which migration control functions are delegated is marked by low degrees of accountability and transparency of military and police forces.
This was made dramatically evident by the killings of migrants at the Ceuta and Melilla border fences in August-September 2005 and again in Melilla on July 3, 2006. The EU reacted by emphatically relaunching the not-so-new idea of a "balanced and comprehensive approach" to migration management. The limited scope and scarce resources allocated to the EU pilot Regional Protection Programmes and the mixed results of the First Euro-African Conference on migration and development held in Rabat on July 10-11 allow for the most lukewarm of hopes. Effectively preventing and lawfully dealing with African forced migration remains an open challenge and a crucial ethical and political test for Europe.- Published 13/7/2006 © bitterlemons-international.org
Ferruccio Pastore is coordinator of research on "International Migration/New Security Issues" and deputy director of the Centro Studi di Politica Internazionale (CeSPI) in Rome.