March 14-21, 2022 Mixed Migration—hebdo
This week we open with another discussion of pushbacks in the Aegean Sea, and why the undeniable evidence that just emerged of their commission will lead to anything but their omission. Then the news.
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Last Thursday, Lighthouse Reports published photos leaked from the EU anti-fraud agency’s (OLAF) investigation of Frontex, revealing, in sequential detail, the commission of a pushback by the Greek Coast Guard and its recording by Frontex aerial surveillance—a practice long denied by both Greek authorities and Frontex.
Since journalists and advocacy groups began noting in 2020 a dramatic increase in the number of pushbacks—and in their disregard for human life—being conducted in the Aegean, Greek authorities have shot back, time and again, that allegations were built on Turkish propaganda. Greek authorities have made no comment yet to evidence of their unlawful conduct appearing not in the form of an NGO report, but rather in an OLAF submission and bearing Frontex’ seal. Whether this revelation, by dispelling any remaining plausible doubt surrounding Greek and European misconduct, triggers a change in policy (or at least in messaging) from Greek authorities remains to be seen.
As the European Parliament and the Frontex Management Board review the OLAF investigation, it’s useful to sample what is happening, across the Western world, in the area of forced migration management. The UK Parliament is poised to vote this week on the Nationality and Borders Bill, which, unless amended, would effectively close off access to the UK asylum system to irregular entrants. This spring, the U.S. government may (or may not) finally scrap Title 42, a 1940s era public health law allowing authorities to summarily deport foreigners to prevent infectious disease transmission, used in laughably bad faith from the start of the COVID-19 pandemic to expel asylum seekers from U.S. soil (1.7 million times over the last two years, some of which were doubtless repeat expulsions but no one knows how many) without offering them access to the asylum system. Australia remains a hostage to its sovereign borders, its ‘stop-the-boats’ policy an unqualified success in reducing the number of unsafe departures—though via Australia’s abdication from its international humanitarian responsibilities, rather than through a comprehensive policy balancing diplomatic efforts at peacemaking, development efforts at poverty relief, and refugee resettlement.
A cornerstone of 20th-century refugee law is the principle of territorial asylum, which gives any person fearing persecution in their home state the right to request asylum in another state, and prohibits that receiving state from refouling an individual in fear to the state responsible for that fear. Two decades into the 21st century, the West’s commitment to this principle appears tenuous, as states beef up border protection and implement more selecting admission criteria—look no further for evidence than to the range of facilities long denied to refugees from the world over and suddenly activated for Ukrainian refugees.
Maladapted though it is to border control in an era of mass mixed migration, the principle of territorial asylum is essential to sustaining the universality of the right to asylum. If the principle of territorial asylum is to be replaced, because the West has collectively decided it is too cumbersome to be sustained, then the alternative that protects the universality of the right to asylum has not yet been discovered. That universality is certainly nowhere to be seen in the migration policymaking of the U.S., the EU, the UK, or Australia.
You can catch more insight on the why of pushbacks in episode 3 of the Fractured podcast, where I pick apart Greece’s awkward position at the nexus of the dysfunctional migration relationship between Turkey and the EU. I recorded it the day before last week’s revelations, and it dropped at right about the same time that der Spiegel went live with its story. Life’s all about timing, right?
On to the news…
Last Tuesday, the World Bank revealed findings of its Afghanistan Welfare Survey conducted between October and December of last year indicating a doubling in the proportion of families affected by food insecurity since the fall of the internationally-recognized Afghan government last August, with the rate of families unable to afford a full food basket up from 35% to 70%, and that of families skipping meals up from 25% to 50%. | On Friday, the Afghan Ministry of Education announced that all schools would reopen in the last week of March, covering up to grade 12 and including girls’ schools. On the same day, the remains of an Afghan asylum seeker who perished after ingesting a poisonous plan in a forest in Bulgaria were repatriated for return to his family and burial.
Myanmar and its neighbors
Last Tuesday, Bangladeshi security forces admitted, for the first time, that they believed ARSA had orchestrated the September 2021 murder of Rohingya community leader Mohib Ullah, on the heels of arresting 15 suspects and verifying their testimony to the crime. | On Wednesday, India’s Supreme Court agreed to review the case of a 14-year old Rohingya unaccompanied minor living in an orphanage in Assam, to determine whether she ought to be repatriated to Myanmar or reunified with her family in Bangladesh. On the same day, railway police in West Bengal announced it had arrested 7 Rohingya refugees who had absconded from encampment near Cox’s Bazaar and crossed the border into India irregularly. | On Sunday, the Biden Administration formally determined that the Myanmar military committed crimes of genocide against the Rohingya community beginning in 2017, building on a UN assessment asserting genocidal acts had taken place and facilitating legal action in international forums against perpetrators.
Sources: Reuters, TOLOnews, al Jazeera, the Hindu, Deccan Herald
Ethiopia’s civil war
Last Wednesday, Director General Tedros Adhanom announced that the WHO has a shipment of 95 tons of medical supplies ready to ship into Tigray, pleading with Ethiopian authorities to issue permission for delivery. | On Thursday, Amhara state spokesman Gizachew Muluneh tallied 11.6 million people in need of food aid and 263.000 IDPs in Amhara. On the same day, the Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced that a convoy of 20 trucks carrying food and 3 fuel tankers had departed Semera, in Afar state, to deliver their cargo in Mekelle. | On Friday, the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission denounced that authorities had detained at least 8 Tigrayan current and former government officials unaffiliated with the TPLF, including one member of the ruling Prosperity Party. | On Saturday, UAE authorities announced they had delivered 30 tons of food to Mekelle, intended to assist 7.000 Tigrayan civilians.
Regional environmental stress and displacement
Last Thursday, WFP spokeswoman Marwa Awad sounded the alarm that there are ~8.3 million people in South Sudan approaching famine as flooding and intermitted conflict destroy frams and disrupt harvests. On Friday, the UN and 102 humanitarian NGOs issued a $1.2 billion appeal to support South Sudanese refugees—the vast majority of whom are hosted in neighboring countries themselves beset with conflict, poverty, and climate-driven challenges—as South Sudan struggles with smoldering conflict and widespread flooding. | On Sunday, the EastAfrican relayed the concerns of scientists and policymakers with the impact of rising temperatures on pastoralist livelihoods across sub-Saharan Africa, as cattle farming in all but highland regions of Kenya and Ethiopia is likely to decline in productivity as higher temperatures stress cattle and reduce their food intake.
Sources: Addis Standard, Reuers, WAM, VOA, the EastAfrican
Middle East and North Africa
Yemen’s civil war
Last Monday, the WFP issued a report projecting that 19 million people in Yemen will need food aid to avoid going hungry this year, and 7.3 million will face acute malnutrition risks, with 2.2 million children and 1.3 million expecting or nursing mothers facing acute malnutrition and the number facing famine conditions expected to jump from 61.000 to 131.000 (see the full WFP assessment here). | On Wednesday, UN leaders lamented that a donor conference, intended to raise $4.27 billion to fund the humanitarian response in Yemen, raised only $1.3 billion, undermining the food security of millions of Yemeni civilians. | On Thursday, the Gulf Cooperation Council announced it had invited all parties to the Yemeni conflict to a peace conference in Riyadh, which Ansar Allah immediately rejected, charging that Saudi Arabia, as a party to the conflict, cannot impartially mediate de-escalation or negotiate a resolution to Yemen’s 8-year civil war. | On Sunday, Yemen’s internationally-recognized government tallied that 116.000 civilians were displaced from Marib in 2021, amid renewed fighting over the strategic oil hub, adding to the 2.2 million civilians displaced from the region over the entire course of the war.
Asylum seeker (im)mobility in Turkey and Tunisia
Last Monday, Turkish authorities announced they had detained 246 asylum seekers in Turkey’s western Izmir province and its eastern Kilis province, also detaining 24 smugglers in Kilis province. | On Tuesday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip pledged an open-door policy toward refugees from Ukraine, 20.000 of whom have arrived to Turkey already, congratulating himself on the naturalization of nearly 195.000 of the ~4 million Syrian refugees currently living in Turkey. | On Wednesday, the Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights issued its Annual Report on Irregular Migration, documenting a quadrupling of unaccompanied asylum seeking minor arrivals to Italy from Tunisia between 2017 and 2021, to a total of 2.731 arrivals last year (see the full report, in Arabic, here).
Sources: al Jazeera, AP, the New Arab, Hürriyet, al-Monitor, InfoMigrants,
Global Maritime Migration
Last Monday, 123 asylum seekers arrived autonomously to Summerland Key, where they were apprehended by border authorities for processing and prompt repatriation. | On Tuesday, Colombian authorities intercepted a vessel carrying 34 asylum seekers across the Gulf of Urabá, the first leg of the route from Necoclí into Panama leading into the Darién Gap and onward through Central America. | On Thursday, 16 Cuban asylum seekers arrived autonomously to the Summerland Key, where they were apprehended by border patrol for likely repatriation. | On Saturday, the U.S. Coast Guard rescued 189 Haitian asylum seekers from an overloaded vessel navigating rough waters 4 kilometers off of Haiti’s Cap du Mole. On the same day, 15 Cuban asylum seekers arrived autonomously to the uninhabited island of Cayo Hueso, near Key West, where they were apprehended by U.S. authorities for likely repatriation. | On Sunday, another 25 Cuban asylum seekers arrived autonomously at multiple points in southeastern Florida, for a total of 56 arrivals over the 4 days prior.
The English Channel
Last Tuesday, just under 950 asylum seekers tried to cross the English Channel, with 12 vessels carrying 405 people reaching British waters to be rescued and brought to UK shores, and French authorities intercepting another 538 attempting to cross. | This Monday, UK authorities intercepted 6 vessels carrying 213 asylum seekers, bringing them ashore in Dover.
Mediterranean and Aegean Seas
Last Friday, Turkish authorities apprehended 60 asylum seekers at sea off the coasts of Çeşme and Muğla, reporting that the former had been rescued after a likely pushback from European waters and the latter intercepted as they were departing Turkey’s shores. On the same day, Tunisian authorities retrieved the lifeless bodies of 12 asylum seekers who perished at sea trying to reach Europe. | On Saturday, an additional 8 lifeless bodies, likely from the same shipwreck, washed up on Tunisia’s shores. | On Sunday, IOM announced that the confirmed death toll had risen to 25, with an additional 35 missing from a vessel believed to have sunk with 60 people on board.
South China Sea
On Sunday, a ferry carrying 89 Indonesian laborers attempting an irregular crossing Malaysia sank in rough seas shortly after setting sail, with 61 passengers rescued, 2 deceased, and 26 missing and likely deceased as well.
Sources: the Hill, el Colombiano, the Miami Herald, NBC Miami, PA, the Independent, Hürriyet, AP, Reuters, AFP
Displacement from Ukraine
Last Tuesday, EU health commissioner Stella Kyriakides announced the EU would begin procuring vaccines for polio, tuberculosis, and measles, to administer to refugees arriving from Ukraine, in light of child immunization rates as low as 60% in parts of Ukraine. On the same day, the Palestinian Authority announced an agreement with the Polish Ministry of Education allowing Palestinian students who had studies in Ukraine interrupted by hostilities to continue studying in Poland. Also on Tuesday, Sweden’s government issued a proposal, pending Parliamentary approval, to temporarily reinstate document checks at its borders to better manage increasing refugee arrivals from Ukraine. | On Wednesday, the Danish Parliament approved a law allowing Ukrainian refugees to obtain 2-year residency permits, offering relief to the ~1.750 Ukrainians already arrived and clarity to the ~20.000 expected to settle in Denmark. On the same day, Ukrainian Interior Ministry adviser Vadym Denysenko disclosed that ~20.000 civilians had managed to flee Mariupol through a fleeting humanitarian corridor over the previous 2 days. Also on Wednesday, the WHO confirmed that 43 attacks against healthcare centers in Ukraine have taken place since the Russian invasion began, with 300 health facilities now in conflict zones or occupied areas, and another 600 within ~10 kilometers of a frontline. | On Thursday, WFP spokesman Jakob Kern disclosed that aid groups were racing to replenish food stocks in Ukrainian cities at risk of encirclement, as food security collapses in the WFP’s erstwhile top provider of food supplies. On the same day, Ukrainian intelligence assessed that there are ~400 Syrian mercenaries in Russia awaiting deployment to Ukraine, with another 1.000 to join them imminently and as many as 40.000 potential recruits. | On Friday, Reuters revealed that Italian authorities were drawing up plans to receive 175.000 Ukrainian refugees, pending formal governmental approval. On the same day, Japanese authorities lifted eligibility requirements restricting admission to Ukrainian refugees with family or acquaintances already in Japan, opening eligibility to all displaced Ukrainians, a dramatic shift in one of the Western world’s least refugee-hospitable countries. | On Saturday, Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk announced that 190.000 civilians had been evacuated from conflict zones since the Russian invasion had begun. On the same day, Polish authorities announced they had issued ~123.000 residency permits to Ukrainian refugees since beginning to issue them on the Wednesday prior. Also on Saturday, the city council of Mariupol charged that several thousand denizens of the Livoberezhniy district had been deported to Russia, as residents of the besieged city continue struggling through punishing humanitarian conditions. | On Sunday, UNHCR tallied ~3.5 million refugee departures from Ukraine since the Russian invasion began on February 24, and another ~6.5 million internally displaced. On the same day, the Washington Post relayed the concerns of parents, school administrators, and policymakers in Poland as its national school system, already facing a teacher shortage, has absorbed 75.000 Ukrainian students in 3 weeks, with many more likely to follow. Also on Sunday, der Spiegel revealed the the substance of debate at last week’s crisis summit of the EU Council, Commission, and Parliament, where Luxembourg, Greece, Italy, and Germany advocated for redistributing Ukrainian refugees from Poland to other EU countries according to a relocation quota; and Slovenia, Finland, Slovakia, Hungary, and Poland, prevented proposals from moving forward. | This Monday, the last two journalists covering the siege in Mariupol for an international outlet reported their flight from the besieged city through a humanitarian corridor that allowed 30.000 civilians last Tuesday, now bereft of international press coverage. On the same day, Spanish Migration Minister Jose Luis Escriva confirmed that ~25.000 Ukrainian refugees have reached Spain so far, with more expected to follow. Also on Monday, Health Minister Sajid Javid announced that UK authorities had issued ~9.500 visas to Ukrainian refugees, as another ~150.000 had shown interest in migrating to the UK.
Med5(+1) migration (mis)management
Last Tuesday, efsyn revealed that 30 Syrian refugees had been stranded on an islet in the Evros river, marking the land border between Greece and Turkey, since Saturday prior, when they attest they were pushed back to the island by Greek security forces in a transfer that led to the disappearance of a 4-year old child, believed to have fallen in the river. On the same day, Amnesty International appealed to Spanish authorities to desist from repatriating Mohamed Benhlima, a former Algerian official who defected in 2019 and blew the whistle on official corruption in Algeria’s military, and has since then sought asylum unsuccessfully in France and Spain (see AI’s full appeal here). Also on Tuesday, Greek authorities deployed 200 police officers to conduct document checks on foreigners in Athens’ central Omonia Square, verifying the papers of 435 individuals and taking 125 lacking proper documentation to the Amygdaleza migrant detention center. | On Wednesday, efsyn further informed that the 20 Syrian refugees stranded in the Evros river have pending deportation orders against them in Turkey, leaving them at high risk of repatriation to Syria if returned to Turkish soil. On the same day, the European Court of Human Rights issued a Rule 39 ruling compelling Greek authorities to admit the 20 asylum seekers stranded in the Evros and offer them access to the Greek asylum system. Also on Wednesday, authorities in Portugal announced they would tighten requirements for a law allowing the descendants of Sephardic Jews to obtain Portuguese citizenship, requiring applicants to demonstrate an effective link with Portugal. | On Thursday, Lighthouse Reports and der Spiegel released photos obtained from the European anti-fraud agency’s investigation into Frontex, taken by a Frontex patrol plane and showing a Greek Coast Guard vessel conduct a drift-back. On the same day, Front-Lex announced it had filed suit against Frontex, a week prior, on behalf of a Syrian asylum seeker alleging he and 20 others reached the Greek island of Samos and was then pushed back onto an unnavigable raft and left adrift in the Aegean sea for 17 hours, with the knowledge and complicity of the European border agency. | On Friday, Greek border police located the group of 29 Syrian asylum seekers stranded in the Evros river and, in compliance with the ECtHR’s Rule 39 order, granted them access to Greece’s territory and asylum system.
UK migration policymaking
Last Tuesday, the Independent revealed that UK Information Commissioner is investigating whether the Home Office has deliberately withheld the full results of a public consultation on the government’s ‘New Plan for Migration,’ to shield the public and MPs from suspected displeasure with the intended intensification of border controls ahead of a key vote on the Nationality and Borders Bill. | On Thursday, the Guardian revealed that a coalition of Tory MPs are preparing a rebellion against the Nationality and Borders Bill’s provisions for offshore asylum seeker processing, and introducing strengthened resettlement program into the reform. On the same day, the High Court issued a ruling granting victims of trafficking leave to remain in the UK, protecting them from deportation and exposure to the risk of re-trafficking, and allowing them to access the British labor market. | On Saturday, the Guardian relayed the dismay of 3rd-country nationals displaced from Ukraine, who have been denied entry despite having family members in the UK or sponsors willing to host them into a reception system limited to Ukrainian refugees, rather than open to refugees from Ukraine. | On Monday, advocates across the UK began demonstrating against the passage of the Nationality and Borders bill, set to be debated and voted on in Parliament as soon as this Tuesday. On the same day, the Independent relayed the concerns of advocates over the UK’s unregulated mechanisms to match Ukrainian refugees with willing hosts, which absent serious safeguarding mechanisms could put vulnerable families at serious risk of trafficking and abuse.
Migrant policymaking in northern Europe
Last Tuesday, Finland’s Ministry of Interior announced it would introduce a novel border procedure to provide for the expedited processing, at or near border crossing points, of asylum claims that are deemed likely to be unfounded. | On Saturday, the Objective disclosed that the Sailing Group conglomerate of Danish grocery stores has suspended the procurement of strawberries from two Spanish providers featured in a high-profile Danwatch investigation last May into abusive labor conditions for migrant farmworkers in southern Spain’s ‘plastic sea.’ On the same day, der Spiegel revealed that Germany’s asylum service is set to unfreeze ~41.000 applications of mainly Afghan asylum seekers who already have refugee status in Greece and made secondary movements, at least some of whom are likely to be returned under the auspices of a deal whereby Germany will support Greece to house and re-integrate returnees.
Sources: Reuters, Middle East Monitor, InfoMigrants, the Washington Post, the Guardian, Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, AP, AFP, der Spiegel, efsyn, infobae, Kathimerini, Human Rights 360, the Independent, iNews, SchengenVisaInfo, the Objective.
U.S. migration policymaking
Last Monday, the Biden Administration suspended the use, pending a DHS review, of expedited removal, a procedure that originally allowed U.S. authorities to deport irregular migrants without due process in border areas shortly after their entry, then dramatically expanded by the preceding Administration. On Tuesday, DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas signed a migration management agreement with Costa Rica, addressing root causes of migration, intended to be the first of multiple such U.S. agreements with Central American states. | On Wednesday, the Biden Administration extended Temporary Protected Status to Afghan nationals on U.S. soil, protecting them from deportation and allowing them to access public services and the labor market for the next 18 months, offering a lifeline to ~76.000 Afghans evacuated from Kabul last August but then offered humanitarian parole, rather than a more robust immigrant visa. | On Thursday, DHS Secretary Mayorkas disclosed to news media the contents of a memo, issued to border officials on the Friday prior and subsequently leaked, instructing them to use their discretion to exempt Ukrainian asylum seekers from Title 42 and allow them to claim asylum upon arrival on U.S. soil. | On Friday, the DHS Inspector General issued a report revealing unsafe and unsanitary conditions in the privately-owned Torrance migrant detention facility in rural New Mexico, recommending that detainees be moved immediately to more suitable facilities amid critical staffing shortages and unsanitary conditions.
Migration and its drivers in Latin America
Last Monday, newly inaugurated Chilean President Gabriel Boric ruled out issuing an amnesty to asylum seekers who had entered Chile via irregular means, and called for a regional agreement to distribute refugees equitably across South America. | On Thursday, Colombian authorities tallied that just over 785.000 Temporary Protection Permits for displaced Venezuelans have been approved, and just under 565.000 issued, reminding holders that the permits permit their residence only in Colombia, and cannot be used as an international travel document. | On Friday, Instituto Nacional de Migración officials had to suspend activities in Tapachula after frustrated asylum seekers became violent and vandalized the office. | On Saturday, Bolivian officials announced they had resolved a dispute with Chile over its digging of trenches along the border, intended to deter vehicle and foot traffic across irregular crossing points, on the Bolivian side of the border rather than on Chilean soil.
Sources: BuzzFeed News, infobae, CBS News, AP, La Nación, Vanguardia, Deutsche-Welle, el Deber,
Australian refugee reception
On Sunday, Australian authorities announced that they had issued 4.500 3-year humanitarian visas to displaced Ukrainians, with more to come, and disbursed $450.000 (Australian) to community groups to support reception and integration efforts.