Refugees in Turkey: Unsafe Harbor

This year is the Sixtieth Anniversary of one of the landmarks of human rights, the 1951 Refugees Convention.  In 1967, a protocol amended the convention, removing both time and geographic restrictions to the convention.  Taken as a whole, this document serves as one of the most important safeguards to the rights of refugees within international law.  It is an anniversary well worth celebrating.

Turkey’s status within the convention, however, is something of an oddity.  Although it ratified both the 1951 Convention and the 1967 Protocol, it did so with an important reservation: it did not accept the erasure of regional exceptions in the 1967, ratifying the protocol with “an exception” that it would continue to only accept refugees from the Council of Europe.

The result is that Turkey, a country of over seventy million people and a major destination for refugees and migrants, accepts, according to Amnesty International – Turkey, only a small handful of refugees. Refugees from outside Europe – from Sub-Saharan Africa, Iraq, Syria, Somalia, Iran, and elsewhere – can only hope to achieve temporary residence while the UNHCR works to find them permanent sanctuary elsewhere.

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Using Border Agents as Translators Has Tragic Consequences

Border Patrol Agent

© Getty Images

Guest post by Erica Schommer, border immigration attorney

This May, in a police stop gone wrong, Benjamin Roldan Salinas and a companion were detained by the U.S. Forest Service for picking salal (a plant used in floral arrangements), without a license.

Because Salinas did not speak English, the Forest Service called in Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) to translate. Events escalated rapidly when Salinas, in fear of being apprehended by immigration agents, ran from the agents to a nearby river.

After days of searching, Salinas’ body was found near the river on June 4. His companion remained with agents, but was subsequently arrested by the CBP for a suspected immigration violation and placed in removal proceedings.

Salinas’ fear was due to a phenomenon in which the CBP is called on by outside law enforcement agencies under the guise of translator. Once on the scene, however, the CBP does not limit itself to translating and will question a person about potential immigration violations if it suspects the person of an infraction. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

On 60th Anniversary of Refugee Convention States Failing Refugees

”They stripped me naked and assaulted me. I begged them to kill me. Instead, they cut off my hands with machetes.”
- Amnesty International Interview, Sierra Leone, 1996

libya refugees

The Dhehiba camp in Tunisia © AI

After World War II and the systematic murder of millions of Jews, Roma, LGBT and many others, nations and individuals recognized the need for safe refuge from persecution and genocide.

After years of discussion and negotiation, the 1951 UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (the UN Refugee Convention) and later the 1967 Protocol emerged and provided a framework for protection. Most importantly, it established that no one could be returned to a country in which her/his life or freedom would be at risk.

It also placed obligations on signatories requiring they share responsibility when people flee across borders, and provide those seeking refuge with access to housing, health care and livelihood.

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Migrants’ Rights: A Visual and Verbal Journey

By Amalia Greenberg Delgado, Immigrants’ Rights Coordinator

“You don’t imagine that your dreams can end in a moment on this journey… he [the soldier] pulled me by the hand and told me to walk further into the bushes. He took me far away from the train tracks until we were completely alone. He told me to take my clothes off so that he could see if I was carrying drugs. He said that if I did what he said he would let me go.”
Margarita (not her real name), a 27-year-old Salvadoran migrant, describing how she was sexually abused by a soldier, Amnesty International interview, June 2009.

Every year, tens of thousands of women, men and children travel without legal permission through Mexico to reach the United States. They flee poverty, war, environmental disasters and are enticed by a promise of freedom and a chance to join their families in the North. Some disappear on the journey without trace, kidnapped and killed, robbed and assaulted or sometimes falling or thrown off speeding trains. Some suffer arbitrary detention and extortion by public officials along the way. The litany of abuses and repeated attempts to reach the United States are testaments to the determination migrants have to build a better life.

At the Annual General Meeting (AGM) this past Saturday, March 19, 2011, Amnesty International USA heard from leaders in the movement about increased human rights abuses of migrants on both sides of the United States’ southern border. Father Solalinde, a human rights defender and director of a migrants’ shelter in Oaxaca, spoke of the “globalization of love” and the absolute right to dignity that must be afforded to all human beings. His soft spoken words did not lessen the blows of his words as he reminded us of the struggles that migrants face.

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Prison Lobby's Ties to Arizona Anti-Immigration Law

The [undocumented] person, without right to residence and without the right to work, had of course constantly to transgress the law. He was liable to jail sentences without ever committing a crime … Since he was the anomaly for which the general law did not provide, it was better for him to become an anomaly for which it did provide, that of the criminal. Hannah Arendt, 1951

An immigrant stands in a holding cell at the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention facility for illegal immigrants on July 30, 2010 in Florence, Arizona. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

For almost two decades, legislators and Presidents have treated immigration detention as some sort of “magic bullet” that will deter would be immigrants from crossing the U.S. border, instill terror in communities so that immigrants will voluntarily leave, and criminalize individuals through incarceration if they choose to fight deportation because they are U.S. citizens, refugees, lawful permanent residents, or breadwinners with long-time ties to their U.S. families, communities and workplaces.

Today NPR reported that Arizona’s recent draconian immigration law, SB1070, was written in collusion with the leadership of for-profit prisons and their lobbyists. The law requires Arizona police to stop and ask for papers proving legal residency if the officer has “reasonable suspicion” to believe the person is undocumented. If the person can’t immediately produce papers, she will be arrested and detained. Lawsuits arguing that the law was unconstitutional were almost immediately filed because it would be almost impossible to “identify” an undocumented person without resorting to racial profiling.

Criminalizing immigrants through detention has proven to be no magic bullet in managing migratory trends, but it has certainly proven to be a golden goose for these private prison operators. As the President of Geo Group,Wayne Calabrese, explained to its investors, according to NPR:

“I can only believe the opportunities at the federal level are going to continue apace as a result of what’s happening. Those people coming across the border and getting caught are going to have to be detained and that for me, at least I think, there’s going to be enhanced opportunities for what we do.”

Depriving someone of their liberty through detention is a very coercive measure, which carries a strong stigma and severely impacts on individual rights. Criminalizing immigrants, not only by imposing criminal penalties for entering or remaining in the U.S without permission, but also by stigmatizing and criminalizing third parties who care for them, may have the effect of limiting or entirely denying protection and access to fundamental human rights, such as adequate housing or health care.

At the same time, documentation shows that “inflexible policies of exclusion, which are enforced through severe punishments of a penal nature and deportation for their breach, feed directly into the hands of traffickers,” who each year enslave thousands of women, men and children in the U.S., while the federal government adamantly declares its intention to protect trafficked persons.

For years, advocates have linked the massive growth in immigration detention with the exponential profits reaped by private prisons. Meanwhile, the U.S. government has picked up the enormous bill for a prison system that is widely viewed as cruel, inept and dysfunctional. It’s not good immigration policy, but it’s a terrific business strategy.

Tell Your Senators to Support the DREAM Act!

This Tuesday Senator Majority Leader Harry Reid announced that he would include the DREAM Act in a defense authorization bill.  The DREAM Act will help thousands of committed students and military officers to legalize their status in the United States.  Currently, they face unique barriers to higher education, are unable to work legally in the U.S., and often live in constant fear of exposure to immigration authorities.

The DREAM Act would provide certain conditional legal status, if students attend college or join the military. It would also allow immigrant students access to higher education by returning to states the authority to determine who qualifies for in-state tuition. Amnesty International supports the DREAM Act because it upholds significant human rights goals including the right to education and the right to family life and unity.

This is an incredible opportunity to fulfill the human rights of young immigrants in the United States. Urge your Senator to support passage of the Dream Act now!

Call the US Capitol switchboard at (202) 224-3121

Passage of the Dream Act will support a variety of human rights obligations including:

1. Right to Education:
Currently, undocumented children in the US are constitutionally guaranteed the right to access public education. However, their ability to complete high school, as well as the opportunity to pursue university studies, is undermined by their lack of legal status. Undocumented children are ineligible for federal financial aid for higher education and, in most states, for in-state tuition at public universities.

Education is a right worthy of protection itself. It is also an indispensable means of realizing other human rights. All children, without discrimination of any kind, including on the basis of their status or the status of their parents, have a right to education. General Comment No. 13 of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights establishes that states are obliged to ensure that education is accessible to everyone, without discrimination, within the jurisdiction of the state. Accessibility includes non-discrimination, physical accessibility, and economic accessibility.

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Migrants in Mexico Still in Great Danger

Wounded and dazed, Luis Fredy Lala Pomavilla stumbled to a near by highway checkpoint in Tamaulipas, Mexico where he alerted the authorities. Luis led Marines to a ranch. What they found was horrific. They found a ranch filled with the bodies of 72 massacred Central and South American migrants.

You may have heard about this horror earlier this week, which may be the biggest massacre so far in Mexico’s bloody drug war.  Apparently, members of the Zeta criminal organization asked the migrants for money and those who could not pay were murdered. This is one of the usual extortionary schemes criminal gangs perpetrate against migrants as they pass throug Mexico to the United States.  Other human rights abuses that migrants face are kidnapping, rape, and forced prostitution, as the National Commission on Human Rights of Mexico reported 9,758 kidnapped migrants between September 2008 and February 2009.

The plight of migrants and their journey through Mexico is so treacherous that Amnesty International released a report documenting their abuses called: Invisible Victims: Migrants on the Move in Mexico.

We are gravely concerned about the massacre of these 72 migrants and the Mexican government must act now to ensure that the human rights of migrants are protected, especially from extorsion, kidnapping, sexual abuse, forced prostitution, and torture.

Migrants in Mexico: Invisible Victims of Abuse

Every year, tens of thousands of women, men and children make “the most dangerous journey in the world” through Mexico as irregular migrants. More than nine out of every 10 are Central Americans. The vast majority are heading to the US fleeing the poverty and insecurity.

Not only do migrants have to travel across all of Mexico, but some must travel through other Central American countries as well such as Guatemala or El Salvador. But it is not only the length of the journey that is so dangerous, but the human rights abuses the migrants are subject to along the way, and the chilling impunity some of the perpetrators enjoy. For female travelers, 6 out of every 10 encounter sexual abuse. In the six month period between September 2008 and March 2009: 9,758 migrants were kidnapped, many of which said that public officials and police officers were either involved or complicit in the kidnapping.

Not only are migrants the targets of abuse, kidnapping, and human trafficking, but migrant defenders are also targeted as they try to protect the human rights of this at-risk population. One such defender, Father Solalinde, who runs a migrant shelter in Ciudad Ixtepec, was notified of abductions of migrants off trains near Ciudad Ixtepec. After notifying the press and assembling a group of supporters, Father Solalinde went to inspect a complex where criminal gangs were suspected of holding the abducted migrants. After discovering convincing evidence that the migrants had recently been in the building, the local police arrived, detained Father Solalinde and 18 other people who accompanied him. Those 18 individuals were Guatemalan immigrants who then went before the Mexican Immigration Service. Father Solalinde said in his struggle to protect the rights of migrants “the biggest challenge for me to overcome is the constant intimidation, harassment and disrespect from people who don’t want me to carry out my work”.

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Tell Arizona's Governor to Veto SB1070!!!

UPDATE: Much to our dismay, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R) signed the immigration bill (SB1070) on Friday. We will continue the fight for immigrant rights.

The Arizona House and Senate have passed a bill (SB1070) that would empower police officers to stop and interrogate every individual in the state regarding citizenship status and make it a crime to be an undocumented person in Arizona. If a person does not immediately present documents proving that she is legally in the US, she may be criminally prosecuted, jailed and turned over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement for deportation. The bill contains no safeguards against racial profiling and increases the likelihood of arbitrary arrest and detention. These are all human rights violations. Because SB1070 has already passed in the Arizona house, it’s next stop is the governor’s office. Tell Governor Jan Brewer to veto the bill. Join activists across the US as they visit the Governor on April 20th to express opposition to this bill.

Governor Jan Brewer’s Contact Information:
Phone number: 1-800-253-0883
Email: azgov@az.gov

The scapegoating of migrants, the deliberate fueling of fear and the nurturing of discriminatory, racist and xenophobic sentiments by some politicians and parts of the media have been accompanied by measures that have trampled on some of the most basic human rights of migrants, including the right to liberty and security of the person. Much of the public debate about migration is couched in terminology which is loaded and derogatory. People trying to enter another country are vilified as “illegal immigrants”, “gate-crashers”, and even as “invaders” seeking to breach the defenses of the US with malicious intent. The clear implication is that they are abusing the system and exploiting the generosity of states. Such descriptions create the impression not only that migrants have no right to enter, but that they have no rights at all.

The Right to be Free from Racial Profiling Discrimination

Discrimination through racial profiling is an assault on the very notion of human rights. It is all too easy to deny a person’s human rights if you consider them as less than human. This is why international human rights law is grounded in the principle of non-discrimination. The drafters of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights stated explicitly that they considered non-discrimination to be the basis of the Declaration.

Discrimination enshrined in law, for example, where the law is used to target individuals based on nationality or ethnicity, strips away human rights. Discrimination in law enforcement can mean that certain groups are viewed by the authorities as ”potential criminals” and so are more likely to be arrested and imprisoned. It can also mean that they are more likely to suffer harsher treatment once in the criminal justice system.

Arbitrary Arrest and Detention

The right to liberty and security of the person is protected in Article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which the US has signed and ratified. The right to a speedy trial is guaranteed under Article 9(3), which states that all detained arrestees are “entitled to trial within a reasonable time or to release” and that it “should not be the general rule that persons awaiting trial shall be detained in custody.” Article 9(4) protects detainees from unlawful detention, stating that “[a]nyone who is deprived of his liberty by arrest or detention shall be entitled to take proceedings before a court, in order that court may decide without delay on the lawfulness of his detention and order his release if the detention is not lawful.” Improper use of detention interferes with fundamental human rights crucial to protection of the inherent dignity of migrants. Migrants have the right to liberty and to freedom from arbitrary detention (Article 9 of the ICCPR; Articles 3 and 9 of the UDHR, Article 16 of the Migrant Workers’ Convention). This means that detention should be subject to constraints, including the requirement that the detention is in accordance with the law, justified in the individual case as a necessary and proportionate measure and subject to judicial review. The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) has adopted Deliberation No. 5 concerning the situation of immigrants and asylum-seekers. This sets out principles concerning people held in custody and a number of safeguards governing detention. These include the right of detainees to be told why they are being held, to communicate with the outside world, to have legal counsel and contact with consular authorities and to be brought promptly before a judicial or other authority. It also recommends that a maximum period of detention should be set by law and that custody may “in no case” be prolonged or indefinite

We'll Make Them Disappear

“If you don’t have enough evidence to charge someone criminally but you think he’s illegal, we [ICE] can make him disappear.” So said James Pendergraph, former Executive Director of the ICE Office of State and Local Coordination, in August 2008. I was in attendance at the Police Foundation National Conference where he made this bold assertion, and I couldn’t believe my ears. I actually asked the person next to me if he had just said what I thought he had just said and she affirmed it. Yes, he had just told an audience of police officers, sheriffs and other law enforcement personnel that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) could make people disappear. Was I in Chile during Pinochet’s dictatorship? Argentina during the dirty war? Sri Lanka, Iran or some other country where public officials boldly and publicly asserted such an awesome and illegal power? No, I was in the United States, where many ICE officers and their delegates run amok with almost no oversight or accountability.

More scary: in August 2008 James Pendergraph was in charge of managing and overseeing the 287(g) program, which delegates federal immigration enforcement authorities to state and local law enforcement agencies. Unfortunately, it is not at all shocking that today the DHS Office of the Inspector General released a report on the 287(g) program outlining a variety of grave concerns including woefully inadequate safeguards against racial profiling and other civil rights violations, deficient training and supervision of 287(g) empowered police officers, misuse of the 287(g) authority, including one incident in which the victim in an accident was brought to a jail to be processed for deportation, and misleading information to the public about the 287(g) program from the highest levels of ICE leadership to sheriffs on the ground – unfortunately, also not out of the ordinary these days.

For many years, communities subject to the 287(g) program have raised and fought against a variety of unconstitutional acts by police officers acting under this authority. Without a meaningful complaint mechanism the denigration of their human and constitutional rights has continued without acknowledgement or remedy. In fact, it is the outrageous position of ICE that it has no legal responsibility for the actions of 287(g) officers, even though Memorandums of Agreement make clear that law enforcement may only perform immigration enforcement activities under ICE supervision.

Today’s report from the OIG is important and timely. ICE has repeatedly stated that it must do better and can do better at prioritizing who is arrested, detained and deported, and what conditions they will be held in while their fate is decided. Here are a few ideas for how to turn this rhetoric into reality:

• Stop the use and misuse of state and local police officers by suspending all 287(g) agreements.

• Develop performance goals for 287(g) officers that do not focus on the number of immigrants encountered by officers as it incentives unjustifiable stops and arrests.

• Ensure that the training and guidance provided to 287(g) officers thoroughly prepares them to make critical decisions, including whether they will deprive people of their liberty, separate them from their families, and exile them to countries they may not know and governments they may well fear.

• Train all officers, including DHS officers, that every person stopped by a law enforcement officer has fundamental human rights that cannot be denied or ignored including :
o Freedom from torture, and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (ICCPR and CAT),
o Freedom from discrimination such as race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status (ICCPR),
o Recognition as a person before the law (ICCPR),
o Freedom of thought, conscience and religion (ICCPR),
o Best attainable standard of physical and mental health (ICESCR, ICERD, CEDAW, CRC), and
o Adequate food and water (ICESCR, CRC, CEDAW).