News & Views Monday 30th December 2019 to Sunday 5th January 2020


The Refugee ‘Crisis’ Showed Europe’s Worst Side to the World

Over the last decade, migration has become an urgent political issue. The 2010s have been marked not only by the global movement of people across national borders but also attempts by governments to erect walls and fences in their path. We’ve seen nationalism winning votes and the worldview of the far right mainstreamed.

“Flow”, “flood” and “crisis”. Media imagery and language has shaped public opinion. Of course, migration from the global south to the north – intimately connected to the legacy of colonialism and the west’s military machinations – has been happening for decades. But the 2010s has seen a higher number of people from the south moving towards the north. In particular, Europe has seen hundreds of thousands of people from Africa, the Middle East and south Asia, fleeing chronic poverty, political instability, wars, and the climate crisis in countries often laid to ruin by western-backed institutions.

Libya had always been the migratory destination for many sub-Saharan Africans because of its employment opportunities. Following the suppression of the 2011 Arab spring and Nato’s intervention in Libya, a lawless society emerged, with racial hatred against sub-Saharan Africans unleashed. Many escaped forced labour and torture, climbed into dinghies and began the dangerous sea journey across the central Mediterranean. But when they landed in Europe, they didn’t come to safety. Instead, they found themselves in the centre of a white, Eurocentric discourse – a “problem” to be blamed for society’s ills.

Read more: Hsiao-Hung Pai, Guardian,

Seeking Asylum in Europe In 2019: Facts and Figures

How many people asked for asylum in the European Union? Where did they come from? In what country did they request asylum? Here’s what you need to know about asylum applications in the EU in 2019. Germany is still the EU country with most asylum applicants

Unsurprisingly, the EU countries that had the largest number of new asylum applicants in 2019 were, for the most part, the most populous countries. Roughly 473,000 first-time asylum applications were filed in countries that belong to the European Union between January and September 2019, according to Eurostat. (Data for October through December has not yet been made available. If we assume that the number of asylum applications in last quarter of 2019 equals the average number of applications so far, that would mean that 630,000 would have been filed in 2019.) This number is roughly the same as during the same period in 2018; since a dramatic drop in asylum applications in late 2016, the number of asylum applications in the EU has remained relatively steady, falling only slightly.

Among the six countries with the highest number of applicants were the five most populous EU countries: Germany (roughly 111,000 first-time applicants asked for asylum between January and September), France (87,100), Spain (80,000), the UK (32,000) and Italy (25,000), according to an InfoMigrants data analysis based on Eurostat numbers. The notable exception among the top 6: Greece (which received 47,000 applications).

Who were the asylum applicants? Young people; many Syrians, Afghanis, Venezuelans Among the top countries of origin for asylum seekers according to Eurostat were Syria (54,240 first-time asylum applicants between January and September 2019), Afghanistan (35,235), Venezuela (31,120), Iraq (23,220), Colombia (20,335), Pakistan (18,110), Turkey (18,015), Iran (16,975) and Nigeria (16,295), as well as non-EU European countries Georgia and Albania (just over 15,000 each). A total of 294.460 asylum applicants were male – that's roughly 62%The largest age group were those between 18 and 34 years of age (roughly 47%). Roughly 30% were underage (17 or younger), 24% were younger than 14. Roughly 22% were between 35 and 64 years of age. Less than 1% were 65 or older.

Read more: Info Migrants,

Refugees All Over the World Pressured to Go Back Home in 2019

This was the year when refugees all over the world were pressured to go back home. The indelible refugee image for me was of Syrian refugees last summer in the Arsal region of Lebanon taking pickaxes to their own shelters under orders from the Lebanese army to make them more temporary. Winter has now arrived, and these shivering refugees are living in great misery, but still resisting mounting pressures to go back to a country controlled by an abusive government that is still bombing, imprisoning and torturing civilians. Meanwhile, in Turkey, scores of Syrians are being unlawfully deported home as the international community watches silently.

Most Rohingya refugees who fled Myanmar's military campaign of murder and destruction have just passed their second year in the overcrowded camps in Bangladesh, yet their host government also insists their stay will be short-lived. Although there is no sign that Myanmar will soon let them return safely, Bangladesh is forcing the Rohingya to live in flimsy bamboo and tarp shelters that provide minimum shelter from the region's monsoon winds and rain. And their children are being denied an education. Every so often, their families are pressured to "choose" to return to Myanmar, from which they were brutally expelled and which still denies Rohingya access to citizenship rights. Or there is talk of relocating them to a remote, uninhabited, flood-prone silt island.

Likewise, Burundians in Tanzania, Afghans in Pakistan, and Somalis in Kenya are all under pressure to go back to home countries where their lives and freedom are at serious risk. Shrinking asylum space in countries at the front lines of crisis cannot be separated from eroding support from donor and resettlement countries and the example those countries set by their efforts to block asylum seekers from their own shores. The US government's attempts to foist asylum seekers onto Mexico and Central American countries, like the EU's migration deal with Turkey and Italy's cooperation with Libyan coastguard forces, greenlight further pushbacks by countries of transit and first arrival. The about-face from one-time champions of refugee rights has left refugees in the lurch in 2019, and the system of international responsibility-sharing that has sustained millions of refugees is now at its lowest ebb since the end of the second world war.

Read more: Human Rights Watch,

2019 Concludes a 'Deadly Decade' for Children in Conflict

Children continue to pay a deadly price as conflicts rage around the world, UNICEF said today. Since the start of the decade, the United Nations has verified more than 170,000 grave violations against children in conflict – the equivalent of more than 45 violations every day for the last 10 years. The number of countries experiencing conflict is the highest it has been since the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1989, with?dozens of violent armed conflicts killing and maiming children and forcing them from their homes.

"Conflicts around the world are lasting longer, causing more bloodshed and claiming more young lives," said Henrietta Fore, UNICEF Executive Director. "Attacks on children continue unabated as warring parties flout one of the most basic rules of war: the protection of children. For every act of violence against children that creates headlines and cries of outrage, there are many more that go unreported."

In 2018, the UN verified more than 24,000 grave violations against children, including killing, maiming, sexual violence, abductions, denial of humanitarian access, child recruitment and attacks on schools and hospitals. While monitoring and reporting efforts have been strengthened, this number is more than two-and-a-half times higher than that recorded in 2010. More than 12,000 children were killed or maimed in 2018. Continued, widespread use of airstrikes and explosive weapons such as landmines, mortars, improvised explosive devices, rocket attacks, cluster munitions and artillery shelling cause the vast majority of child casualties in armed conflict. Attacks and violence against children have not let up throughout 2019. During the first half of the year, the UN has verified over 10,000 such violations against children – although actual numbers are likely to be much higher.

Read more: Relief Web,

Surge In Suspected Modern Slavery Victims Waiting Years For Home Office Decisions

The number of suspected modern slavery victims left waiting over two years for a Home Office decision on their case has surged by more than half in just three months, fuelling concerns that a delay-ridden system is pushing people back into exploitation.

New data obtained through freedom of information laws show 4,991 people had been waiting for more than six months for a decision from the National referral Mechanism (NRM) – the UK’s framework for identifying modern slavery victims – in September 2019, compared with 4,027 just three months before in June.

A total of 605 people had been waiting more than two years in the latest figures, compared with 397 in June 2019 – a rise of 52 per cent.

The National Referral Mechanism (NRM) is designed to identify modern slavery victims and offer them a 45-day period to recover while the Home Office investigates their case. A decision on whether their claim is genuine should be made “as soon as possible” after this period.

The status of their immigration and whether or not the claimant could face criminal charges are two of the potential consequences dependent on the outcome of the decision.

Read more: May Bulman, Independent,

What is so Special About Being a British Citizen, Legally?

You would be forgiven for thinking there are some special rights or privileges attached to being a British citizen. Politicians are fond of telling us how great it is to be British and how it is a privilege not a right. Our government charges foreign nationals a small fortune to become British citizens in anticipation of the assumed benefits of that hallowed status. Government policy has been, since the British Nationality Act 1981 first created British citizens, to keep the number of British citizens small.

How citizenship is defined and what rights and responsibilities are attached to citizenship tells us a lot about a nation or polity. These are basic questions of political philosophy and the basis of democracy, after all. Literally, who are “we”?

What is a British citizen?
For a lawyer, this is an easy question to answer. British citizenship is a legal status defined by the British Nationality Act 1981 and a “British citizen” is a person on whom that status has been conferred, either automatically by law or by administrative action exercised under the act. The British Nationality Act 1981 also creates other forms of British national as well; British citizenship is only one form of British nationality.

Read more: Freemovement,

Human Rights Watch - 10 Good News Stories for Children in 2019

Our children's rights team at Human Rights Watch spends a lot of time focused on the abuses that children suffer around the world. But as we wrap up the year, we'd also like to recognize some of the positive things that have happened for children. Here are 10 good news stories for kids from 2019:

Four countries – Georgia, South Africa, France, and Kosovo – banned all corporal punishment of children, bringing the global total to 58, up from 11 in 2000.

Three armed groups in the Central African Republic, one in Syria, and one in Myanmar signed agreements to end the recruitment and use of children in armed conflict.

Government-allied militia forces in Nigeria released nearly 900 children from their ranks.

Tanzania and Mozambique both made child marriage illegal.

The president of Rwanda pardoned hundreds of women and girls who had been jailed for abortions.

An additional 19 countries committed to protecting schools during armed conflict by endorsing the Safe Schools Declaration, bringing the total to 101 endorsers.

Netherlands adopted a new law requiring companies doing business in the country to prevent child labor in their supply chains.

The European Parliament passed a resolution calling on all member states to end medically unnecessary surgeries on children born with intersex traits.

Ekiti State in southwest Nigeria adopted a policy to ban the expulsion of girls from school during and after pregnancy.

The International Criminal Court upheld a ruling that former warlord Thomas Lubanga is liable for US$10 million in reparations to former child soldiers in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Many children will benefit from these actions, though millions are still out of school and suffer exploitation and abuse. We should take a moment to celebrate the progress of 2019, but we still have a lot of work to do.