refugee crisis
June 17, 2018

A rescue boat carrying hundreds of migrants, most of them Sub-Saharan Africans, docked in Spain Sunday after being denied permission to dock in Italy by the country's new populist coalition government, elected in part because of anger over the effects of the European Union's asylum policy. Malta also rejected the ship.

Managed by Doctors Without Borders (MSF) and another aid group called SOS Mediterranee, the Aquarius initially headed to Italy after rescuing migrants off the coast of Libya. The journey from its intended docking point to Spain took a week, and several other ships, including an Italian coast guard boat, took on some of the 629 migrants to make the trip safer.

"This sad odyssey of the people on the Aquarius is another reminder that all people, regardless of their nationality or immigration status, should have access to basic assistance and protection," said Red Cross Secretary General Elhadj As Sy, who was on hand for the ship's arrival. "No human being is 'illegal,' and people who need help should receive help." Bonnie Kristian

February 13, 2018

In the two decades Venezuela has been ruled by Hugo Chavez and his successor, Nicolas Maduro, fully one in 10 Venezuelans — about 3 million people — have fled the country to escape chronic shortages of food and other necessities. Nearly half that number, 1.2 million, have left Venezuela in the past two years alone, The Wall Street Journal reports.

Many of those who leave simply cross the border into Colombia, which saw its Venezuelan population grow by 62 percent to 550,000 last year. In the first month and a half of 2018, another 50,000 have already taken refuge in the neighboring country. "By world standards Colombia is receiving migrants at a pace that now rivals what we saw in the Balkans, in Greece, in Italy in 2015, at the peak of [Europe's] migrant emergency," Joel Millman of the United Nations' International Organization for Migration told the Journal.

Venezuelans are eager to flee because food has become so expensive and scarce that children are dying of hunger. The Maduro regime has restricted food imports, trafficked limited supplies for personal profit, and arrested bakers for allegedly making the wrong bread. Runaway inflation is expected to reach 13,000 percent this year. Read The Week's breakdown of the crisis here. Bonnie Kristian

October 21, 2017

President Trump is considering further revisions to refugee admission procedures, Reuters reported Friday evening, including a plan to suspend a program that allows refugees to settle with family members already living in the United States. In the new proposal, incoming refugees would be delayed by additional scrutiny before being admitted to rejoin their families.

Also on the table is increased use of security advisory opinions (SAOs) for refugees coming from high-risk countries. SAOs are in-depth security checks that are currently mandatory for male refugees from some countries; the new plan would apply them to women as well. Refugee fingerprinting requirements may be expanded, too.

The Department of Homeland Security declined a Reuters request for comment as the proposed changes are still under review. Bonnie Kristian

September 13, 2017

The White House is considering dropping the refugee limit for the next year below 50,000, a quota that hasn't been seen since at least 1980, The New York Times reports. In a meeting Tuesday, Homeland Security officials reportedly suggested a limit of 40,000.

"When you get down to some of the numbers that are being talked about, you get down to a program of really nugatory levels," said David Miliband, the president of the International Rescue Committee. "It's not an exaggeration to say the very existence of refugee resettlement as a core aspect of the American story, and America's role as a global leader in this area, is at stake."

In addition to a ban on travel from seven majority-Muslim countries, Trump dropped the cap on refugees to 50,000 days after taking office. He will soon need to announce a new cap, as required by the Refugee Act of 1980. But since the Refugee Act was passed, the average quota for refugees has been 94,000. In 1986, it hit its lowest recent level under former President Ronald Reagan, who set a cap of 67,000.

There are a number of major refugee crises unfolding around the world: An estimated 5 million people have fled from Syria and recently close to 400,000 Rohingya people have left Myanmar due to what appears to be an unfolding genocide. But supporters of lower refugee admittance numbers argue that the most useful way to help displaced people isn't through resettlement in America.

"One senior administration official involved in the internal debate over refugees described the move to curtail admissions as part of a broader rethinking of how the United States deals with migrants, based on the idea that it is more effective and affordable to help displaced people outside the nation’s borders than within them, given the backlog of asylum seekers and other immigrants already in the country hoping to stay," The New York Times writes.

"Refugee resettlement is just a way of making ourselves feel better," argued the executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, Mark Krikorian. Jeva Lange

September 2, 2017

"Roughly 60,000 [refugees from Myanmar] have arrived in Bangladesh since the violence erupted on Aug. 25," United Nations Refugee Agency representative Vivian Tan said Saturday, a markedly higher estimate than the 27,000 the U.N. reported Thursday. As many as 20,000 refugees are believed to be stuck at the river which separates the two countries.

The refugees are members of the Rohingya Muslim community, an ethnic minority group in Myanmar. Violence broke out after Rohingya militants clashed with Myanmar security forces, and the civilians who fled report being attacked by militants, government troops, and Buddhist mobs alike. Human Rights Watch took satellite photos of one village which appear to show "complete and total" destruction, with 99 percent of buildings ruined.

The U.N. World Food Program (WFP) on Saturday suspended food aid in Myanmar's Rakhine State, the area the refugees are leaving, citing safety concerns. "We are coordinating with the authorities to resume distributions for all affected communities as soon as possible," said a WFP statement, "including for any people newly affected by the current unrest."

"We fled to Bangladesh to save our lives," one refugee told The Associated Press. "The military and extremist Rakhine are burning us, burning us, killing us, setting our village on fire," he added. "The military destroyed everything. After killing some Rohingya, the military burned their houses and shops." Bonnie Kristian

August 9, 2017

More and more refugees are crossing into Canada from the United States, and the Canadian military is now building a camp to house 500 asylum-seekers in Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle, Quebec.

From Jan. 1 to June 30, more than 3,300 people made their way from the U.S. to Quebec, the BBC reports, and there's nowhere for them to stay as their asylum applications are being processed. This camp, near Plattsburgh, New York, will be built by the military, and have heated tents fitted with flooring and electricity.

Francine Dupuis, an employee at Praida, a program that helps refugees, told the BBC that in July alone, 1,200 additional people crossed into Quebec, and about 90 percent were from Haiti. They arrived a month after President Trump announced that the U.S. is ending its program that extended temporary protection to Haitian citizens following the catastrophic 2010 earthquake. Catherine Garcia

May 9, 2017

Leaked audiotapes reveal that Italian authorities delayed responding to a capsized refugee boat's pleas for help, resulting in the drowning of 268 Syrians, including 60 children, The Washington Post reports.

The 2013 shipwreck has long been considered one of the most tragic examples of the dangerous crossing migrants attempt in order to reach Europe. The ship had at least 480 passengers on board when it left northwestern Libya for the Italian island of Lampedusa, but it capsized 61 nautical miles south of its goal. Italian and Maltese ships were able to save some of the passengers, but the majority of the refugees drowned before responders reached the boat.

On Monday, the Italian magazine L'Espresso published tapes showing that Italian authorities had known the refugee ship was in trouble hours beforehand but refused to respond, The Washington Post reports:

... [At] 12:39 p.m., passenger Mohanned Jammo, a doctor who survived the shipwreck and who had a smartphone with him, calls the headquarters of the Italian coast guard in Rome asking for help. "The boat is going down" and "water is coming into it," he says. A woman can be heard asking for his position, which he gives.

At 1:17 p.m., Jammo calls again, asking if the coast guard has sent anyone. He is answered by a man who tells him to call Malta instead. "You are near Malta," the man claims. In truth, the ship was 61 nautical miles from Lampedusa — but 118 nautical miles from Malta.

In a third conversation, at 1:48 p.m., Jammo again calls the coast guard, saying he called Maltese authorities and was told he is closer to Lampedusa. "Lampedusa is Italy?" he asks. "We are dying, please." [The Washington Post]

In another conversation from 4:44 p.m., an Italian coast guard officer tells the Maltese Navy that a nearby Italian ship would not respond to the refugee boat's distress calls because Italy would then be "in charge of transfer to the nearest coast." While Malta was willing to respond, its closest ship was 70 nautical miles away while Italy's closest ship was just 20 nautical miles away.

After sending a surveillance plane to check on the capsized boat, Malta again called the Italians, this time at 5:07 p.m., to encourage an urgent response as their own navy ship could not reach the Syrians in time. Only then did the Italians finally respond.

Read the full report at The Washington Post. Jeva Lange

October 24, 2016

French authorities have begun the process of clearing the massive refugee camp in Calais known as "the Jungle," with demolishment set to begin Tuesday. The camp has poor sanitation and makeshift living quarters, and the French government said it is being destroyed on humanitarian grounds; still, the Jungle was believed to have held more than 7,000 people, and bulldozing the camp requires their relocation to other camps across France. More than 1,200 police have been dispatched to prepare for those who still want to try to get to Britain and may refuse to leave. "Our dream is over," one Sudanese man told the BBC. Migrants will be allowed to seek asylum and if they do not, they could face deportation. Jeva Lange

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