Author: Stanley Pignal, Brussels
Story date: 10/10/2009
The head of the UN refugee agency has called for the European Union to overhaul its "dysfunctional" asylum policy amid concerns that attitudes to foreigners are hardening in the financial crisis.
Antonio Guterres, UN High Commissioner for Refugees, warned against turning asylum seekers into scapegoats, as events in Calais and the Mediterranean seemed to show a waning in Europe's tolerance for those seeking international protection.
Speaking to the Financial Times, Mr Guterres expressed "concern" at the situation in the Mediterranean, where reports suggest that dozens of potential asylum seekers have drowned after being barred access to European shores.
Italy, in particular, has enraged human rights groups with its policy of sending boats carrying African migrants back to Libya, where most of them originate, without first establishing if their claims for asylum are valid. Mr Guterres said: "The European problem will not be fixed by dumping protection to Libya.
These agreements can solve the problems of countries in relation of the flows of population but do nothing to protect the human rights of people."
The comments from Mr Guterres, a former Portuguese prime minister, are unlikely to be welcomed by Rome, which has reacted angrily to any perceived criticism of its policy.
Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian prime minister, threatened last month to block all EU business when the European Commission confirmed that it had sent a letter to the Italian authorities seeking more information on the matter.
Mr Guterres has also called for the UK to consider taking in at least some of those migrants in Calais who have families already in the UK. EU rules stipulate that asylum seekers must be processed in the country in which they first arrive in the bloc but differing attitudes towards refugees mean that the fate of those who apply for international protection largely depends on which country they arrive in.
"You cannot have a single European space in which you can circulate freely without a passport, with different criteria in the asylum system.
"This dysfunctionality needs to be addressed," said Mr Guterres, who is encouraging tentative moves that would boost co-operation at EU level.
It is virtually impossible to obtain asylum in Greece, for example, whereas northern European countries tend to be welcoming, he pointed out.
Mr Guterres welcomed evidence that EU members were voluntarily resettling more people who had been granted refugee status by other countries, for example Iraqis stranded in Syria who were being given the right to move to Sweden.
But he worried that "the development of attitudes in public opinion that tend to transform foreigners in general, and asylum seekers in particular, as scapegoats of the current economic crisis".
Publisher: BBC News
Story date: 10/10/2009
Two weeks ago, the makeshift migrant camp at Calais known as the "jungle" was shut down by French police and 276 people were arrested. But, as Emma Jane Kirby reports, almost all have since been released and many are now living in a state of limbo.
If the authorities in Calais have been getting tougher with illegal immigrants, then so has the weather.
It has now been raining solidly for three days and the Afghan migrants are huddled under damp bridges, their clothes drenched, miserably watching the streams of water that are soaking through their blankets.
Even the sandwiches they have just been given at the soup kitchen are so sodden they fall apart as they try to bite into them.
All of these migrants are "ex-jungle" and most were arrested there two weeks ago when it was closed.
The French government said the idea behind the camp's closure was to send a strong signal to people-traffickers that Calais was no longer the last stop over before England.
It also aimed to show the UK that Paris was making a big effort to stop the steady flow of migrants who were trying to sneak across the Channel.
So how come the migrants are back now?
'No other choice'
Ashatran was the last jungle resident I spoke to before the police came and arrested everyone.
He is also the first person I see under the bridges.
He tells me he was taken to a deportation centre in Lille, but when he showed the authorities a paper proving he was trying to claim asylum in France, he was just let go.
He stole aboard the first train to Calais.
"We have no other choice," he says, shaking his head. "We have no other place. So we just came back here and now we sleep under the bridges under the open sky."
He had hoped he would be given a bed to sleep in while his application was being processed and was stunned when he was simply shown the door.
"The jungle is finished," he says. "They know we have nothing now... So I don't understand the meaning, I don't understand the purpose of these actions."
Liberated into limbo
In the queue at the soup kitchen there are more baffled faces like Ashatran's.
Almost all the 276 migrants who were arrested in the jungle have been released some because they were children; others because they were already in the process of claiming asylum; and some because judges ruled that correct procedures had not been followed and the migrants' human rights not respected.
The problem is, they have been liberated into limbo. Scattered all over France, they are now slowly regrouping in Calais.
Shaffi, who ran away from the camp before the police came, says he has no idea what the authorities want to achieve.
"The French police are very hard they give us many problems," he says.
"Every morning they catch us some people they take to detention centres, some they release. I was taken to the police station this morning and now I am released."
The simple answer to why this is happening is that the French government is keen to make conditions here as tough as possible to discourage the migrants from returning.
It is true there are fewer migrants here now than before, and it is true that there has been a marked increase in Afghan migrants looking for help to return home.
At the soup kitchen, Nazanine Nozarian, project coordinator for the International Organisation for Migration, is handing out leaflets to the migrants informing them about voluntary returns.
Many hands shoot out for the leaflets, which are written in six languages.
"By the end of the year, we expect to double the number of voluntary return applications from Calais," she says.
"We explain that the rules have changed, especially in the UK, and that the UK is not the promised land."
Warned to flee
Affredi is tempted to go home, even though he fears for his safety.
A former medical student from the Pakistan-Afghan border, he says his father, a local tribe leader, was killed in front of him after he refused to sign an agreement to work with the local Taliban.
Affredi also refused and was warned to flee.
"I came to Europe for protection," he says in surprisingly fluent English. "I came for shelter and human rights."
He points at the filthy pile of wet blankets under the bridge.
"I didn't know it would be this... Now I cannot think. I am no longer a human being."
He is a proud man and I can see he's trying hard not to cry in front of a woman.
"I decided to give myself up in the jungle because I thought the police would see I wasn't a criminal and that I was playing by the rules... I didn't know that it could get worse."
He says he is now seriously considering returning home and abandoning his dream of a new life in Britain.
"It's better to die in front of my family than to die of winter under the bridges here," he says.
But there are many who still dream of that sweet new life in England and every day, a couple more migrants return to Calais in the hope of stealing across the Channel.
Philippe Blet, the Socialist deputy mayor of Calais, is frustrated. He claims clearing the jungle was nothing more than a media stunt and a farce.
"We're not solving the problem, the problem is still there," he says. "We're just papering over the cracks.
"We want to chase them away but they just keep coming back. It's unavoidable... It's England that has to sort out its immigration policy not us."
"In Calais... [the migrants] are just 40km from happiness. It's that simple."
Publisher: Dpa - Deutsche Presse-Agentur
Story date: 10/10/2009
Sana'a, Yemen_(dpa) _ Germany has donated 1.5 million euros (around 2.2 million dollars) to aid agencies running relief operations in conflict-hit north-western Yemen, the German embassy in Sana'a said Sunday.
Yemen's national army has launched a massive military operation against the Shiite rebels in the province of Saada on August 11, in the latest flare-up in the fighting that has raged on and off since mid-2004.
The funding went to the International of the Red Cross, the UN refugee agency UNHCR and the World Food Programme, each received 500,000 euros, the embassy said in a press release.
The donation was in response to a flash appeal launched last month by the United Nations to raise around 24 million dollars for its operations in Yemen.
It is intended to "mitigate the effects of the armed conflict in Saada on the civilian population," the embassy said.
An estimated 150,000 people have been forced to leave their villages in Saada and neighbouring Amran province by the fighting.
Thousands of displaced people are still unreachable by aid agencies due to the lack of humanitarian corridors.
Publisher: AFP, Agence France Presse
Author: by Romen Bose
Story date: 10/10/2009
LONDON, Oct 11, 2009 (AFP)
Hundreds of Malaysians who tore up their passports and set off for Britain in the belief they could claim citizenship under a quirk of colonial law have found themselves stateless and desperate.
"Dee", a trained architect from the resort island of Penang, is now reduced to washing up dishes at a Chinese restaurant in central London a victim, he says, of a "citizenship that is not real."
"I have become an illegal immigrant... actually even worse because at least they have their own country to go back to. I don't," the 34-year-old told AFP.
A little-known legal clause gave residents of Penang and Malacca a seaside enclave south of the capital Kuala Lumpur the status of British Overseas Citizenship (BOC) when Malaysia gained independence in 1957.
Ethnic Chinese in the two regions that were part of a British colony in the former Malaya, wary of discrimination under an independent nation dominated by Muslim Malays, had sought assurances they could resort to residing in Britain.
Immigration activists say that a few hundred Malaysians took up citizenship, most of them eventually being granted the right after residing in Britain for more than five years in the 1980s and 1990s.
Immigration laws tightened up in 2002, ending any chance for Malaysian BOCs to register as British citizens.
But confusion over the change, combined with shady immigration lawyers out to make a buck, meant many Malaysians continued to pursue applications. Dee, who had seen many BOC friends successfully gain citizenship, applied in 2003.
Ben Scaro, an Australian lawyer who advocates their cause, says the situation became messier as cases were left unresolved for years, and letters sent in 2005 told applicants they could not proceed unless they showed they had lost Malaysian citizenship.
As a result, a large number of BOCs including Dee renounced their Malaysian citizenship a process that is extremely difficult to reverse.
"I filled up the forms to renounce my citizenship and my Malaysian passport was cut up," Dee says."I was told by the officials at the Malaysian High Commission here that I was no longer a Malaysian citizen."
"What makes it worse is the British government saying it's very hard to renounce Malaysian citizenship and declaring we are still Malaysian while the Malaysian government says we are not Malaysian anymore but British. Its crazy."
Sealing their fate, an Asylum and Immigration tribunal in July 2008 ruled that Malaysian BOCs who have or had Malaysian citizenship do not have a right to reside in Britain.
"We are looking at a situation where nearly 1,000 Malaysians who have given up their citizenship are now BOCs but have no right to stay in the UK," Ben Scaro said.
It also ruled that a Malaysian BOC does not lose their Malaysian citizenship by applying for a BOC passport or renunciation of Malaysian nationality.
"The British Home Office effectively orchestrated the BOCs' statelessness," Scaro said.
"It said if you can prove you are not Malaysian your case can go forward, so of course the BOCs are going to go to the Malaysian High Commission and renounce.
"And then once they had renounced, then the decision comes along, saying the BOC will no longer be a path to citizenship."
Malaysian constitutional lawyers also disagree with the British tribunal's interpretation of Malaysian law.
"If a Malaysian has gone through the renunciation process and followed the procedure, then the person is no longer a Malaysian citizen," prominent lawyer Malik Imtiaz Sarwar told AFP in Kuala Lumpur.
"Of course Malaysia would not allow the citizen to renounce its citizenship without having another citizenship but as far as the government is concerned the British Overseas Citizenship, as its name implies, is another citizenship."
"If these Malaysians follow the procedures, in these circumstances, they end up being stateless."
Edmund Yeo, a Malaysian citizen who is an elected councillor in Ealing, West London, says that only the British government can now resolve the dilemma.
"The British government gave them that right, they were born and you called them BOC in Malaysia... and now you want to remove yourself from this problem, that's not right," he told AFP in his office near London's Chinatown.
"These people can be turned into very productive citizens who pay taxes. These are not economic refugees, they did not come in the back of a lorry. They walked in the front door saying they are claiming citizenship, so give it to them."
London Citizens, a civic group campaigning for the BOC, organised a major rally in July to urge the British government to legalise long-term illegal residents who are hardworking and contribute to society.
"People who have been here for more than four years, show evidence that they are good citizens, non-criminals, willing to contribute, we ask the government to give them a two-year work permit and during the period if they get a strong reference from their employer, we ask they be made legal," said organiser Joy Lam.
"The Malaysian BOCs are a small group of people and they are stateless so our first priority is to try and get them indefinite leave to remain."
However, a UK Borders Agency spokesperson, in a written response to AFP, said the government was sticking to the ruling of the tribunal.
"Being a BOC is not the same thing as having British citizenship and does not give people an automatic right to live in the UK," she said.
"We do not believe that these individuals are stateless and the courts agreed. Anyone in the United Kingdom illegally should leave voluntarily. If they do not, they are liable to be removed."
For Dee, the situation remains bleak.
"Malaysia will not take me and I have lived in the UK for 11 years," he said. "I am British, I have lived here for more than a third of my life and I am willing to work hard so why don't they just let me?"
Refugees Global Press Review
Compiled by Media Relations and Public Information Service, UNHCR
For UNHCR Internal Distribution