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Canada government pledges to speed up resettlement of Syrian refugees

Publisher: Reuters
Story date: 20/09/2015
Language: English

Canada's Conservative government pledged on Saturday to speed up the processing of refugee applications from Syrians and Iraqis, an issue on which it has been criticized by political opponents as it heads into an Oct. 19 election.

Immigration Minister Chris Alexander said Canada would designate Syrians who have fled the conflict there as "prima facie" refugees, rather than waiting for a United Nations agency to formally process them.

Canada will also deploy more immigration officials to handle applications, take steps to facilitate private sponsorship and work to ensure the vast majority of applications from Syrians and Iraqis are processed within six months, he said.

"These measures will ensure that thousands of Syrian and Iraqi refugees will have reached Canada by the end of 2015," Alexander told reporters in Toronto.

"Our existing commitment to resettle 10,000 Syrians will be complete a full 15 months earlier than originally anticipated."

Canada's Conservative government came under fire earlier this month after it emerged that the British Columbia-based aunt of a Syrian toddler whose body washed up on a Turkish beach had hoped to help the family emigrate to Canada.

The center-left opposition Liberals and New Democrats have railed against Canada's slow refugee process and pledged to do more to accept additional refugees from the war in Syria if they win power next month.

(Reporting by Jeffrey Hodgson, Editing by Franklin Paul)

Colombia peace talks must not fail, says Pope Francis

Publisher: Reuters
Story date: 20/09/2015
Language: English

Pope Francis urged Colombia's government and Marxist FARC guerrillas on Sunday to ensure that nearly three years of peace talks in Cuba are successful and end their "long night" of war.

"Please, we do not have the right to allow ourselves yet another failure on this path of peace and reconciliation," the Argentine pontiff said in an address at the end of a Mass he celebrated in Havana's Revolution Square.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has staked his reputation on reaching a pact with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) to end Latin America's longest insurgency, which has killed some 220,000 people and displaced millions over 50 years.

"May the blood shed by thousands of innocent people during long decades of armed conflict, united to that of the Lord Jesus Christ crucified, sustain all the efforts being made, including those on this beautiful island, to achieve definitive reconciliation," Francis said.

"Thus may the long night of pain and violence, with the support of all Colombians, become an unending day of concord, justice, fraternity and love, in respect for institutions and for national and international law, so that there may be lasting peace."

At the negotiations in Havana, Santos' government and the FARC have reached partial agreements on land reform, an end to drug trafficking, political participation for ex-rebels and efforts to remove land mines. Discussions on victim reparations and demobilization are ongoing.

If they can reach a comprehensive peace deal, it would be placed before Colombian voters for approval.

(Reporting by Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by Daniel Trotta and Kieran Murray)

Haiti border crisis grows as Dominican Republic expels 'migrants'

Publisher: Reuters
Story date: 20/09/2015
Language: English


Every morning, Gustavo Adolfo wakes up in a migrant shelter in Haiti, treks across a field of burnt brush where men make charcoal, and crosses a river into the Dominican Republic, a country he left in fear three months ago.

With a machete strapped to his waist, Adolfo is joined by others each day in a desperate effort to make a living. They cross the border into the wealthier Dominican Republic under constant threat of arrest or expulsion.

"I can make 200 pesos ($4.50) a day working in the fields there," said the middle-aged Haitian as he swatted away a swarm of mosquitoes.

Dominican officials last month began implementing a controversial immigration program targeting Haitian migrants and Dominican-born people of Haitian descent.

The program centers on round-ups and deportations that have triggered concerns about a slow-growing border migration crisis in the poorest country in the Americas.

So far about 1,500 people have been deported at a pace of 50 to 100 per day, according to relief officials with access to records supplied by the Dominican government. The officials asked not to be identified because they were not authorized to discuss the number of deportees.

Thousands more have fled the Dominican Republic out of fear of arrest or harassment, scared by neighbors, bosses, coworkers and police or immigration officials.

More than 27 percent of those crossing into Haiti say they were born in the Dominican Republic, according to Amnesty International. But they lack documents to prove residency or citizenship, and many are undocumented immigrants who say they have lived most of their lives on the Dominican side of the border.

The Dominican Republic, which has a population of about 10 million, has long complained of illegal migration of Haitians, even as it benefits from a steady source of cheap labor for construction, agriculture and domestic work.

The Dominican government declined repeated requests for comment on its immigration crackdown. But the issue touches a centuries-old xenophobic nerve in the country, stemming from its occupation by Haiti in the early 19th century.

Four informal settlements have sprung up in southern Haiti

for people affected by the deportations. They now house between 2,500 and 3,000 people, according to the Jesuit Refugee Service.

The Haitian government began a relocation program at one settlement camp, Tte l'Eau, last month. But the program, including $30 in assistance for deportees, was suspended due to a lack of funds, according to Frantz Pierre-Louis, a top regional Haitian government representative.

A United Nations human rights official in Haiti, Gustavo Galln, this week urged the government to establish health facilities and deliver drinking water to the camps.

"The conditions are horrible there, I don't know how people are living," he said.

The U.N. Humanitarian Coordinator in Haiti is seeking $6.9 million in emergency assistance for the country but it is unclear how much of it would be used to improve conditions in the migrant camps.


Camp residents complain they lack basic essentials and receive little or no help from the Haitian government.

"People come all the time and take our information but they never give us anything! We need food," yelled Manuel Amadice, a rail-thin man in his 50s wearing worn flip-flops.

Amadice left Haiti as a child but said he lacked the required documents to apply for residency in his adopted homeland.

The migrant crisis stems from a 2013 constitutional change that stripped citizenship away from the Dominican-born children of foreign parents – mostly of Haitian origin. The ruling was applied retroactively to 1929, sparking an international outcry that it would leave thousands stateless.

Under a separate law all "migrants" were required to apply for temporary residency by deadline of June 17, or face deportation.

Dominican officials have said 78,000 out of 289,000 applicants for residency were denied. It remains unclear how many of those may face expulsion.

"I was born in the Dominican Republic and my mom died when I was 7. I never had a birth certificate," said Pablito Felix Ramirez, a resident of one settlement camp called Parc Cadeau.

Ramirez, 24, who fixes motorcycles at his cardboard and stick shack, said he is legally Dominican, but the Dominican government sees him as Haitian.

He has no family in Haiti and added that he had been unable to get a Haitian identity card or birth certificate, making him a man without a country.

"Wherever I can make 50 pesos ($1), I'm happy," Ramirez said.

(Editing by David Adams and Tom Brown)

Kerry says U.S. ready to take more refugees

Publisher: Reuters
Story date: 20/09/2015
Language: English


The United States will increase the number of refugees it takes in by 15,000 over each of the next two years, bringing the total to 100,000 by 2017, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said after talks with his German counterpart on Sunday.

The remarks may show increasing U.S. willingness to help cope with the mass migration of Syrians although the offer is modest when compared with the hundreds of thousands that are moving to Europe and in particular, Germany.

Kerry did not say how many of the additional refugees would be from Syria but pledged that the United States was ready to help.

"In consultation with Congress, we will continue to explore ways to increase those figures while maintaining robust security," Kerry told a news conference after meeting German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier.

"The need is enormous, but we are determined to answer the call."

Kerry also announced he will hold talks on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly in New York this week on ways to restart negotiations on a political solution to end Syria's war.

"We have agreed on certain formats and processes by which we should try and proceed," he said, adding that he would meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif to discuss the situation in Syria.

"This will be a very timely meeting in New York and will give us tremendous opportunity to be able to work together and find some ways forward."

Kerry's comments on refugees address calls on U.S. President Barack Obama to help more in the crisis. Obama has said the U.S. will accept at least 10,000 Syrians over the coming year displaced by the four-year-old civil war.

His announcement comes ahead of a Sept. 23 emergency summit meeting of European Union leaders to address the stream of refugees that has overwhelmed the region.

He said the United States would like to take in more refugees in the coming year but needed additional funding from Congress to hire more people to process the refugees.

"We are doing what we know we can manage immediately," he told a news conference. "As soon as we have the opportunity to try to up that we will ... welcome more people in these kinds of circumstances."

Countries disagree as to who should take responsibility for the nearly 500,000 people who have crossed the Mediterranean into Europe this year alone, prompting Hungary's use of water cannon and razor wire on its border with Serbia.

Many of the same fears shape the debate in Europe as in the United States, where the number of refugees allowed in slowed sharply after the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

Some Republicans have warned that the administration could open the door to potential militants.

Congressman Bob Goodlatte and Senator Chuck Grassley, Republicans who head the judiciary committees in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, said in a statement the proposal lacked "a concrete and foolproof plan to ensure that terrorists won't be able to enter the country."

Aid groups, meanwhile, have been critical of plans to allow in only 10,000 Syrians, given the large size of the American economy and population. They have called for ten times as many to be admitted.

Kerry has pushed for renewed efforts to find a political solution to the crisis and urged Russia and Iran, who back Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, to convince him to negotiate an end to the war.

(Reporting By Lesley Wroughton; Additional reporting by Jason Lange in Washington; editing by John O'Donnell and Ruth Pitchford)

Refugees in America: Syrian family rebuilds life in the US

Publisher: AP, Associated Press
Story date: 20/09/2015
Language: English

JERSEY CITY, N.J. (AP) Hussam Al Roustom and his wife didn't tell anyone before they and their two small children left Syria, fearing their plans for escape could fall apart.

Leaving their homeland had never been part of the picture before. Al Roustom had a supermarket and owned their home in the western Syria city of Homs. But a civil war that started with unrest in 2011 had taken its toll, especially on his son Wesam, already dealing with autism and so traumatized by the barrage of violence that he stopped speaking entirely.

"When they would exit the house, it was only to the sounds of war," Al Roustom said through a translator. "When they would sleep, they would hear the sound of bullets."

These days, it's the sounds of passing cars and conversations between people on the street for Al Roustom and his wife, Suha, as they and their children settle into their small apartment in Jersey City, New Jersey. They've been here about three months, among the 1,500 or so Syrian refugees who have been resettled in the U.S. out of an estimated 4 million who had fled the country in recent years.

Wesem, now 7, speaks "a few words," his father said. He and Maaesa, 3, have been to the park, the pool and the beach, and Wesem has learned to swim. Al Roustom just started a job with a moving company, work found through the help of Church World Service, the organization that is helping resettle the family.

"In Syria we lost a lot of our dignity," he said. "Here, I'm sure the situation will be much better."

They're hopeful other relatives will be able to follow; the Obama administration announced recently that 10,000 Syrian refugees would be accepted in the coming fiscal year. And Secretary of State John Kerry said Sunday that the U.S. will accept 85,000 refugees from around the world next year, and up to 100,000 in 2017.

Al Roustom's three brothers and a sister are in Jordan, and his wife has a sister in Lebanon. All have registered with the United Nations' refugee agency.

The "circumstances of Syrian refugees in Lebanon is extremely difficult; I would love for her to come here," said Suha, who didn't want to give her last name for fear of reprisals to family still in Syria, including her parents. She and her husband have different last names.

There's not much they can do other than hope. Refugees here can file papers on behalf of children or parents arguing for family reunification, but siblings aren't eligible, said Mahmoud Mahmoud, director of Church World Service's Jersey City office.

Suha's parents aren't refugees because they haven't left Syria. Asked whether they should try to leave, her eyes filled with tears and she had no answer.

It's been a difficult, long journey, Al Roustom said in an interview last week. In the year prior to their leaving, they had moved four times because of the violence.

"In Syria, we would keep going from place to place; there was no future for my son," Suha said through a translator.

They initially left in March 2013 with a group of other families, sitting in the back of a big vegetable truck. After a few hours, they were dropped off in the desert, and then walked for a couple additional hours until Jordanians met them.

"We were extremely scared, but we reached to a point it's either death, or live with dignity or freedom," Al Roustom said.

They reached the border with Jordan and spent a month in a refugee camp there, then lived for two years in a cramped apartment with one of his brothers.

Syrian refugees aren't allowed to work in Jordan. When Jordanian authorities caught Al Roustom working, it was off to another refugee camp while they went through the process of trying to get to the U.S. That took about a year of extensive interviews and background checks with multiple agencies.

Leaving the country where they grew up was wrenching, "but when you see your children day by day getting worse diseases, death we have to save them," Al Roustom said.

Syrian refugees have been leaving the country in droves, many taking desperate measures and resorting to dangerous journeys across ocean waters to get to Europe. European nations have been in crisis as governments try to deal with the influx, some closing borders. Hungary, for instance, has been building razor wire and steel fences at its borders.

In the U.S., Syrian refugees have been resettled in 33 states this fiscal year, according to the State Department's Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration. Texas and Michigan have taken in the most, with 172 people each. New Jersey has gotten 73, according to the most recent data.

The U.S. will accept 85,000 refugees from around the world next year, up from 70,000, and that total would rise to 100,000 in 2017, Kerry said at news conference with German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier after they discussed the mass migration of Syrians fleeing their civil war.

Many, though not all, of the additional refugees would be Syrian, American officials have said. Others would come from strife-torn areas of Africa. The White House had previously announced it intended to take in 10,000 additional Syrian refugees over the next year.

In Jersey City, Al Roustom said, he feels "like a normal human being," able to enjoy simple things like taking his kids to the park or a funny moment with his wife.

"In four years, we felt like we haven't been able to laugh," he said.


Associated Press videographer Joseph Frederick and AP writer Tarek Hamada in Phoenix contributed to this report. Follow Deepti Hajela at

U.S. Will Accept More Refugees as Crisis Grows

Publisher: The New York Times, USA
Story date: 20/09/2015
Language: English

BERLIN The Obama administration will increase the number of worldwide refugees the United States accepts each year to 100,000 by 2017, a significant increase over the current annual cap of 70,000, Secretary of State John Kerry said Sunday.

"This step that I am announcing today, I believe, is in keeping with the best tradition of America as a land of second chances and a beacon of hope," Mr. Kerry said, adding that it "will be accompanied by additional financial contributions" for the relief effort.

The American move, announced after Mr. Kerry held talks in Berlin with his German counterpart, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, still falls far short of the global demand for resettlement from people who continue to flee turmoil in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and other countries.

"This kind of piecemeal, incremental approach is simply not enough to effectively address this crisis," said Eleanor Acer, director of the refugee protection program at Human Rights First, an advocacy group that has been pressing the United States to take 100,000 Syrians alone next year. "This minimal increase for next year is certainly not a strong response to the largest refugee crisis since World War II."

Four million Syrians have fled to other countries, and hundreds of thousands of others from the Middle East and Africa have been pouring into Europe. Mr. Kerry said the United States would explore ways to increase the overall limit of refugees beyond 100,000, while carrying out background checks to ensure that their numbers are not infiltrated by terrorists.

"We still need to do more, and we understand that," Mr. Kerry said at a news conference with Mr. Steinmeier.

Under the new plan, the limit on annual refugee visas would be increased to 85,000 in 2016. The cap would then rise to 100,000 the following year.

The United States has taken in only about 1,500 Syrian refugees since the start of the conflict there more than four years ago. American officials said that the Syrians accepted in the next year would come from a United Nations list of about 18,000 refugees.

The three largest groups of refugees admitted last year were from Iraq, Somalia and Bhutan. Syrians were at the bottom of the list of nationalities. Refugees are people who have fled their homes to escape war or persecution (and can prove it), while migrants more generally may be relocating for economic reasons.

In their meeting, Mr. Kerry and Mr. Steinmeier also focused on ways to end the war in Syria, where 250,000 people have died and 12 million have fled their homes in the past four and a half years. In addition, Germany and the United States will try to rally support next week at the United Nations General Assembly for a significant increase in aid to United Nations refugee camps in the countries neighboring Syria, Mr. Steinmeier said.

The American response is unlikely to relieve much of the pressure on European countries, particularly Germany, which remains the most desirable destination for most of the migrants. Other efforts to address the crisis, such as agreeing to distribute migrants equitably among European Union members, have foundered so far, and in the absence of a unified and effective policy, the migrants have been left to find their own way across the Continent.

Germany recently has been under pressure from a seemingly unstoppable influx of migrants, and it reinstated border checks a week ago to better manage the crowds. The flow from Austria slowed over the weekend to less than 2,000 registered arrivals each day, according to Lars Rebel, a spokesman for the German federal police.

But Austria received about 20,000 newcomers over the weekend on its eastern border with Hungary. Most "still want to go to Germany, their great goal, their great dream, their great vision," said Alexander Marakovits, a spokesman for Austria's Interior Ministry in Vienna.

At least 10,000 arrived or passed through Sunday at the small Austrian village of Nickelsdorf, a city in the state of Burgenland near the border with Hungary that links Budapest to the east and Vienna to the west, Mr. Marakovits said.

The main highway linking the two cities was closed amid concerns that crowds of refugees would spill into traffic. Although everyone insisted the flow was manageable, the director of the state's police, Hans Peter Doskozil, hinted at the strain.

"In the worst case, if there is no shelter, then the buses can go on the highway and make a kind of sightseeing tour," Mr. Doskozil told the Austria Press Agency, "as crazy as that sounds.

"But they must drive away, so that the others see something is happening," he added. "Otherwise you can't hold the crowd back anymore."

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Gerry Foitik, head of the Austrian Red Cross, said his volunteers would probably manage to accommodate most migrants somewhere in Austria on Sunday night. But he said about 5,000 might remain in and around Nickelsdorf.

Mr. Kerry met with Mr. Steinmeier in Berlin at Villa Brsig, a palatial German guesthouse overlooking a lake. Later they met with a small group of Syrian refugees, who asked not to be identified by journalists out of concern for friends or relatives still in Syria.

The Syrians, asked by Mr. Kerry why the surge of migrants had been so great in recent weeks, said they had despaired of being able to return home and that life in refugee camps was becoming harder as food rations were cut back.

"The reason people are coming now is because they gave up hope completely," one woman said.

One man asked: "Are not five years enough for the international community to intervene, especially the United States?"

Asked at his news conference why the United States could not accept more Syrians more quickly, Mr. Kerry said that budget constraints and vetting requirements established after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks limited the scope of the response.

"We are doing what we know we can manage immediately," he said. But he did not rule out the possibility that more might eventually be done.

Along the migrant trail, those who had appeared boxed in on Friday stranded in Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia and Hungary somehow managed to continue their trek. With help from the Serbian authorities, who made no secret of their policy of pushing them through as fast as possible, most of the migrants who had been thwarted at the Hungarian border made their way west into Croatia.

From there, some continued toward Slovenia, where the authorities said around 2,500 had crossed the border by Sunday morning; the Croatians took a larger number to the Hungarian border in the northeast.

In Hungary, angry officials, who have been struggling to extend a razor-wire fence at the Serbian border to include the Croatian frontier, received the arrivals, packed them on trains and buses and moved them quickly to the Austrian line. The authorities there were allowing them to enter 5,000 on Saturday alone.

The authorities in Slovenia, meanwhile, were halting migrants at the border with Croatia to the south and allowing them to pass in small groups, taken by bus from border crossings at Obrezje and Rigonce to several locations around the country.

By Sunday morning, the crowds had diminished, with only about 300 people waiting at the huge Obrezje crossing, and only about half as many in Rigonce. Those who continued to straggle toward the border from deeper inside Croatia were simply allowed through by the Croatian authorities, leaving it up to the Slovenians to stop and process them.

The Slovenians took the migrants, one busload at a time, to a processing center in Brezice, a few miles from the border. There, they were registered but not fingerprinted. Slovenia is a member of the European Union, as is Croatia, but unlike Croatia it also is part of the Schengen accord, which allows passport-free travel but encourages strong external borders.

Illustrating how hard it is to keep the refugees from their main goal Germany only seven migrants had requested asylum in Slovenia by Sunday. The rest were taken to six refugee centers around the country. From there, many simply decided to make their own way north toward the Austrian line, where a few hundred had crossed by Sunday morning.

Michael R. Gordon and Alison Smale reported from Berlin, and Rick Lyman from Ljubljana, Slovenia. Reporting was contributed by Somini Sengupta from the United Nations; Palko Karasz from Graz, Austria; Emmarie Huetteman from Salzburg, Austria; Barbara Surk and Kristina Bozic from Ljubljana; and Bostjan Videmsek from Obredje, Slovenia.

U.S. Works To Speed Up Refugee Response

Publisher: NPR: Weekend Edition - Saturday
Story date: 20/09/2015
Language: English

SCOTT SIMON: This week brought more Syrian images of the migrant crisis in Europe – people who have fled war and oppression, trying to breach barbed wire and police cordons in Europe. As Hungary and Croatia threw up barriers, some former U.S. officials urged the United States to open its doors wider to refugees from the Syrian war. Anne Richard, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for population, refugees and migration, joins us now from the State Department. Thanks for being with us.

ANNE RICHARD: Thank you for covering this.

SIMON: The U.S. has pledged so far to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. That's just a few more than what's in an average zip code. Can't the United States take in more?

RICHARD: Well, we can make a home for many, many refugees in the United States. I'm convinced of it. But the tricky part is running a process that scrutinizes the backgrounds of the refugees before they come here to make sure we're bringing people who are legitimate refugees and who do not pose any kind of security threat to the United States. So both of those requirements is what slows down bringing lots of people to the United States.

SIMON: According to reports, that process can now take between a year-and-a-half to two years. People applying for asylum now have been told they can't even be considered until 2017. Is that the kind of timing that you really need in a crisis?

RICHARD: I can tell you that my bosses in the Obama administration would like to see the process move quickly and that for months now, even before this migrant crisis hit the headlines, we had been working to speed up the process to streamline it without cutting corners in security. At the same time, we should realize that in a crisis, the best thing to do is to get aid to the people in the places to which they've fled. We are, year in and year out, the top supporter of the world's humanitarian efforts.

SIMON: Let me ask you about policy, though. And I understand you – your title, of course, is population, refugees and migration. Gen. Austin, the U.S. military Central Command, told a Senate committee this week only four or five Syrian rebels that the U.S. trained to fight ISIS in Syria are still in the field. Is that a failure of U.S. policy – not just humanitarian relief efforts, but U.S. policy that makes even more Syrians decide they have to – and I can only phrase it this way – get out of hell?

RICHARD: We've looked at what is prompting Syrian refugees who've fled to neighboring countries to move a second time, and we think it's a couple of things. One is they may be getting too little aid to help support themselves and their families. The other is they want to support themselves, and they want to work. And right now, they're not really allowed to work in the countries to which they've fled. And so they're really searching for opportunities. They're searching for work opportunities and jobs, but they're also searching for educational opportunities.

SIMON: I mean, you've explained the problem is the backlog, not the number. But you must be aware that these former officials have urged the U.S. to accept 100,000 Syrian refugees.

RICHARD: Yes. These former officials – many of whom are my friends and former colleagues – have encouraged us to do more. And I think that the most senior leadership at the State Department, at the National Security Council and the White House want to bring more refugees. And so that's something that we're very focused on right now.

SIMON: How many Syrian refugees would you hope the United States could take in within the next year?

RICHARD: Well, next year, the president has said we will bring 10,000. And so the year after that, I'd like to see a steep ramp up. You know, most refugees have fled and tried to get to a safe place. They've gotten themselves out of danger – imminent danger – the way people inside Syria are in imminent danger – barrel bombing. But outside Syria, they've gotten themselves out of danger, but they have no future. And I think that's what prompting them to move is they want a future. And we have told the U.N. refugee agency, UNHCR, that we will accept into the United States people who are particularly vulnerable – people who've been tortured, people who have severe medical conditions, female-headed households with children or orphans, where they'll never be able to go home again. They've witnessed terrible things. But we think they can get a fresh start in the United States. And we know that this program works because we've seen it work year in and year out. We've brought 70,000 refugees here from around the world the last three years. And so I'm confident that our piece of this can be very successful.

SIMON: Anne Richard is the U.S. assistant secretary of state for population, refugees and migration. Thanks so much for being with us.

RICHARD: Thank you.

Refugees Daily
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