Joint NGO Statement on International Protection, delivered before the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Geneva, October 2012
The joint consortium of non-governmental organisations, organised through the International Council of Voluntary Agencies (ICVA), produced a written Statement on International Protection on the occasion of the 63rd annual UNHCR-NGO consultations. Below is the oral presentation of the primary themes of that document, unpublished elsewhere.
Executive Committee of the High Commissioner’s Programme
1-5 October 2012
NGO Statement on International Protection
Agenda Item 5. (a)
Mr. Chair, Ladies and Gentlemen,
A wide range of NGOs have been involved in preparing this oral statement. It briefly outlines some of the issues covered in a full written statement, which draws attention to situations involving serious protection issues for persons of concern. The written statement is available at the back of the room and on the ICVA website. As mentioned in the General debate NGO statement, our observations and views stem from our operational experience and may sometimes be different from those of States or UNHCR. We encourage open dialogue on these issues so we can collectively improve our work on behalf of displaced and stateless populations.
Concerning Africa, the NGOs’ full statement addresses Kenya, Mali and neighbours, the Rwandan cessation clause, Somaliland, South Africa, South Sudan, Sudan and Tanzania, some of which we refer to here.
NGOs are concerned about numerous issues in Kenya, including officials’ statements that Somali refugees can safely return home, arbitrary arrest and detention in Nairobi and poor urban registration practices. NGO’s call on Kenya to take concrete steps to address these issues.
In Mali, at least 200,000 IDPs and their hosts need urgent additional assistance. However, the Consolidated Appeal is only 48% funded. Burkina Faso, Mauritania and Niger host most of the region’s 265,000 registered Malian refugees. However, in mid-September, UNHCR’s budget was only 39% funded. We therefore make an urgent appeal to States to increase support to host countries and UNHCR.
While some African States have followed UNHCR’s recommendation that States invoke the cessation clause for Rwandan refugees who fled Rwanda before 1999, many long-term Rwandan refugees still fear return, and face security threats in their country of asylum. NGOs urge UNHCR to closely monitor Rwandan returnees’ well-being and ask host countries to ensure legal safeguards protect those who do not wish to return.
NGOs are concerned about South Africa’s defiance of court orders to re-open recently closed refugee reception offices, plans to only register asylum seekers in poverty-stricken remote border areas, and refusal to register asylum seekers who did not claim asylum in transit countries. We call on South Africa to take concrete steps to address these issues.
In July, Sudan forcibly returned 9 asylum-seekers and one refugee to Eritrea after all 10 were convicted of illegally entering Sudan and were denied access to UNHCR. NGOs call on Sudan to end such unlawful prosecutions and to cooperate fully with UNHCR. Sudan also continues to block aid to hundreds of thousands of desperate IDPs in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile states who also face Sudan’s aerial bombardment of civilian areas. We call on Sudan to guarantee aid agency access.
Concerning the Americas, Canada recently adopted legislation penalising unlawful entry, allowing arbitrary long-term detention, interfering with family reunification rights and reducing appeal rights. NGOs call on Canada to repeal provisions breaching international law and to adopt a more rights-respecting approach to refugee protection.
Ecuador also recently adopted a Decree curtailing refugee protection including introducing an ‘admissibility stage’ during which time asylum-seekers are denied documentation and cannot access services and risk deportation. We call on Ecuador to rescind the Decree and to protect the asylum seekers’ rights from the moment they lodge claims.
Concerning Asia and the Pacific, this year NGOs’ written statement addresses concerns relating to refugee protection including, Afghan refugees and IDPs, Australia, China, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Thailand, some of which we refer to here.
Australia’s new refugee law targets asylum-seekers arriving by boat by transferring them to offshore asylum processing centres where they may be detained for as long as it takes to process their claims, while asylum-seekers who arrive by plane can remain in Australia pending a decision on their claims. The law therefore appears to be arbitrary and discriminatory and NGOs call on Australia to revoke it.
During the past two months, China forcibly returned between 4,000 and 7,000 Kachin refugees to Myanmar where they face army abuses and a lack of aid. NGOs condemn China’s mass forced return of refugees and call on China to protect and assist refugees from Myanmar.
Following recent violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine State, Muslims are banned from entering and working in the state capital. They are entirely dependent on the limited aid they receive in IDP camps where conditions fall well below international standards. NGOs call on Myanmar to guarantee IDPs free movement and to enhance cooperation with agencies and donors to better assist IDPs.
Concerning Europe, NGOs urge the EU to reject the proposed changes to the Reception Conditions Directive, as they would introduce regressive detention measures for asylum-seekers. Under the Dublin II Regulation, countries continue to transfer asylum seekers to countries such as Greece, Hungary and Italy, where inadequate asylum systems threaten their fundamental rights. We call on EU Member States to adopt proposed changes to the Regulation ending such transfers.
In September, Greek police took over 20,000 foreigners to police stations for questioning. Although Greece has a right to deport people unlawfully present, NGOs are concerned the sweeps unlawfully targeted people on the basis of race or ethnicity and that people wanting to lodge asylum claims were among the 2,400 arrested pending deportation. NGOs call on Greece to end arbitrary mass round ups, to guarantee asylum seekers access to RSD and to urgently improve detention conditions.
Concerning the Middle East and North Africa, the NGOs’ full statement addresses concerns relating to refugees from Syria, Syrian IDPs, Egypt, Israel and Yemen, some of which we refer to here.
NGOs recognise the efforts of Syria’s neighbours to keep their borders open to the large numbers of Syrian refugees. However, we call on Turkey and Iraq – whose partial border closures have trapped thousands of would-be refugees in Syria – to urgently allow all Syrians seeking asylum to cross. We call on Jordan to allow refugees to freely move in Jordan, and with the support of donors and UNHCR to prioritise improving their camp conditions.
Trafficking of mostly sub-Saharan migrants and asylum-seekers in Egypt’s Sinai peninsula -– and their torture, sexual assault, and rape during negotiations for their release in exchange for ransom – continues unabated without any attempt on the part of the Egyptian law enforcement to intervene despite Egypt’s detailed trafficking law. NGOs call on Egypt to use its increased security presence in Sinai to free trafficking victims and to grant UNHCR access to migrants detained by Egyptian police.
NGOs have previously criticised Israel’s new laws allowing indefinite detention of asylum-seekers, denial of access to lawyers and prosecution of irregular border-crossers. In addition, Israel has since June repeatedly detained migrants, including asylum seekers, attempting to enter the country from Egypt and has forcibly transferred them to Egyptian security. NGOs call on Israel to immediately end these actions.