Category Archives: Refugee Issues

With Trump Silent, Sanders and Dems Demand Aid for Iranian Earthquake Victims

“The U.S. has routinely offered to help the Iranian people in times of need. This time should be no different.”

Written by Jake Johnson, staff writer for CommonDreams. Published 11-17-2017.

A devastating 7.3 earthquake struck the Iran/Irag region, killing over 500 and leaving 9,000 injured. Image via Facebook.

As the death toll from the “horrific” earthquake that struck the Iran-Iraq border earlier this week climbs above 500, and as President Donald Trump remains entirely silent on the matter, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and four Democratic senators sent a letter on Thursday to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson demanding that the White House waive certain sanctions on Iran and allow aid to reach those desperately in need.

“After earthquakes in 2003 and 2012, the United States demonstrated its compassion and goodwill by offering assistance to the Iranian people and allowing private relief donations,” the senators wrote. “This time should be no different.”

While the 7.3 magnitude quake affected both Iran and Iraq, Iran bore the brunt of the overall destruction and casualties.

Under the current sanctions regime, Iranian-Americans living in the U.S. are prohibited from delivering funds to their friends and family members. As Al Jazeera reported on Thursday, several attempts by Iranian-Americans to set up fundraisers for Iran in the days following the earthquake have been stymied by U.S. Treasury Department rules.

“The way it is now, it is extremely difficult,” Tara Kangarlou, a New York-based Iranian-American journalist, said of the economic restrictions. “These are the moments that you realize how political tug of war are hurting ordinary Iranians.”

As for official U.S. government assistance, the Trump White House has been relatively quiet; the Treasury Department called the quake “tragic” in a statement to the Associated Press, but did not say whether the administration plans to mount any kind of response. Trump, himself, has not said a word about the quake, which Sanders and his Democratic colleagues noted was “the world’s deadliest of the year.”

In addition to killing hundreds and injuring over 9,000, a report from European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations found that the tremor damaged 12,000 buildings in Iran and Iraq.

Shortly after the earthquake struck, Sanders highlighted the “growing tensions” between the U.S. and Iran—particularly following Trump’s decision to decertify the Iran deal—and argued that providing relief to the Iranian people following such a devastating event “would be an important act of friendship.”

Read the senators’ full letter:

We write today concerning the recent earthquake that struck Iran on November 12. The latest reports indicate over 500 dead and thousands wounded, making this earthquake the world’s deadliest of the year. We urge you temporarily waive any existing restrictions that would impede relief donations in order to speed the delivery of aid.

While the earthquake affected both Iran and Iraq, most of the casualties are on the Iranian side of the border. After earthquakes in 2003 and 2012, the United States demonstrated its compassion and goodwill by offering assistance to the Iranian people and allowing private relief donations. The administrations of George W. Bush and Barack Obama both temporarily waived sanctions, and the Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) issued general licenses to simplify aid delivery.

Under the Bush administration, an OFAC license authorized U.S. persons to provide cash donations to nongovernmental organizations, U.S. and non-U.S., assisting with relief efforts in Iran. At the time, OFAC also worked with aid organizations to clarify rules on donations of food and medicine and which Iranian entities could receive aid and eased banking constraints to ensure the timely receipt of donations in Iran. While we understand that a general license issued by OFAC in 2013 allows for U.S. nongovernment organization to deliver aid to Iran, we urge you make it easier for U.S. citizens to contribute to nongovernment organizations not based in the United States that are currently providing relief aid to earthquake victims in Iran.

Despite decades of animosity and no formal diplomatic relations, the United States has routinely offered to help the Iranian people in times of need. This time should be no different. We ask that you direct the Department of State to assist in aid efforts and to coordinate such efforts with OFAC and other relevant agencies in order to ensure aid arrives quickly.

Thank you for your attention to this matter. We look forward to your timely response.

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Will anyone protect the Rohingya?

 

Photo: Foreign and Commonwealth Office via Wikimedia Commons

Vincent A. Auger, Western Illinois University

Since August, the Rohingya, an ethnic minority in Myanmar, has faced what a United Nations official called “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”

Recent reports describe a campaign by Myanmar security forces to drive the Rohingya from the country permanently. Hundreds of thousands have fled to camps in neighboring Bangladesh, creating a new refugee crisis.

This is exactly the type of atrocity that the United Nations vowed to combat in 2005, when it asserted a “responsibility to protect” civilian populations from genocidal violence. Yet, little has been done.

Why has “the responsibility to protect” failed, and can the Rohingya be helped?

Responsibility to protect

The “responsibility to protect” doctrine resulted from the humanitarian catastrophes of the 1990s: Somalia, Bosnia, Kosovo and especially Rwanda. The world struggled to balance respect for state sovereignty with the imperative to prevent the slaughter of civilians. In 2001, the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty issued a report redefining the problem. It stated that states had primary responsibility to protect their populations. But, if they could not or would not, then that duty could be exercised by the international community.

This concept was affirmed by the United Nations at the 2005 World Summit. However, my research on the origins and implementation of the responsibility to protect has demonstrated that this consensus was superficial. Many states, including the United States and China, gave lip service to a “responsibility to protect,” but were unwilling or unable to implement it. The conditions under which the responsibility to protect could be invoked remain deliberately ambiguous.

Words in action: Libya and Cote d’Ivoire

Despite this tepid support, in 2011, the United Nations authorized two operations in countries where civilians were at risk.

In Cote d’Ivoire, United Nations peacekeeping forces intervened to remove the incumbent president, Laurent Gbagbo, who had lost an election and was using the country’s security force to attack civilians in an attempt to remain in power. U.N. forces helped oversee a political transition and maintain security. This intervention was widely seen at the U.N. as a success.

The other intervention was in Libya, after the country’s leader Muammar Gaddafi threatened to slaughter those who opposed his regime. The intervention – led by Britain, France and the United States – successfully prevented Gaddafi’s slaughter of civilians. But it also led to the collapse of his regime, his murder by rebel forces and continuing conflict in post-Gaddafi Libya.

Failure to protect

Despite humanitarian crises in Syria, Yemen and South Sudan, the responsibility to protect has not been used by the U.N. since 2011 to justify intervention. The Libya case helps to explain this: Once the intervening forces helped overthrow Gaddafi, Russia and China declared that the “responsibility to protect” was merely a pretext for the West to conduct regime change. Those countries have repeatedly vetoed U.N. Security Council resolutions on Syria.

Implementing the “responsibility to protect” faces other challenges as well. One is that an intervention to protect civilians may encounter armed resistance from those who are committing the atrocities, as would likely be the case in Syria. A larger, more capable international military force would be necessary to defeat them. Many states will be deterred by the greater costs and risks of such an intervention.

Another challenge is that states and international organizations have multiple goals and priorities. They may not wish to jeopardize relations with the offending regime, or risk other national interests, in order to stop violence. They may even help the regime that is committing the atrocities, as the Russian government has done in Syria, to advance those interests.

Finally, a successful intervention may lead to a costly commitment to provide long-term security and relief – a “responsibility to rebuild,” so to speak. For most states, these potential costs of intervention far outweigh their willingness to act to save lives.

What can we do for the Rohingya?

All these challenges to implementing the responsibility to protect are evident in the Rohingya case. Myanmar authorities have resisted any international role in the crisis, raising the cost of potential intervention. In any case, other states have little interest in taking action. China is shielding Myanmar from pressure in the U.N. Security Council and is trying to pull Myanmar into its sphere of influence. President Trump has not made Myanmar a priority for American foreign policy. Russia, India and other states prefer to work with the regime to further their own interests in the region.

What can be done, then?

Economic and political sanctions against the Myanmar military are a possibility. But without Chinese participation, they would have limited effectiveness. Sanctions might also lead the Myanmar military to reverse recent democratic reforms in the country.

An alternative would be for the United States and other countries to sharply increase aid to Bangladesh, which is hosting the fleeing Rohingya civilians. They might also consider accepting some Rohingya as refugees. However, this could be problematic given the current debate on refugees in the United States and many other countries.

The ConversationIn the longer term, diplomatic and financial pressure, as well as the possibility of indictment for crimes against humanity, may convince Myanmar’s military leaders to cease the ethnic cleansing and allow some Rohingya to return. Unfortunately, no international cavalry is likely to ride to the Rohingya’s rescue.

Vincent A. Auger, Professor of Political Science, Western Illinois University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Trump Warned: ‘If You End DACA, We Will Make Your Life Impossible’

“The end of DACA would rip apart families, instill fear in communities, make our nation less safe, and hurt our economy.”

By Jessica Corbett, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 8-31-2017

Photo: United We Dream/Twitter

Following reports that President Donald Trump would end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) as early as Friday, immigrant rights activists and supporters of the program reacted with immediate outrage and promises to oppose the president if he makes such a move.

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‘Positively Evil’: Immigrant Checkpoints to Remain Open as Harvey Forces Evacuations

“Safety should be a priority regardless of immigration status.”

By Julia Conley, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 8-25-2017

CBP and ICE suspended border patrol operations during two recent hurricane evacuations, but they have not been given orders to do so as Hurricane Harvey approaches Southeast Texas. (Photo: Jonathan McIntosh/Flickr/cc)

As residents of Southeast Texas evacuate under strict orders in preparation for the rapidly-approaching Hurricane Harvey, members of the area’s immigrant community are being left with an impossible choice on Friday: face the potentially life-threatening storm or follow evacuation orders and risk being detained and even deported.

Border Patrol officials said late Thursday they were not planning to close roadside immigration checkpoints north of the affected area as tens of thousands made their way out of several coastal counties, where Harvey was expected to make landfall by early Saturday. Continue reading

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Canada Builds Border Camp for Asylum Seekers Fleeing US

Hundreds of Haitians, fearful of deportation under President Donald Trump, have crossed the border to seek refugee status in Quebec

By Jessica Corbett, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 8-9-2017

Thousands of asylum seekers have fled the U.S. for Quebec, Canada, in recent months because of U.S. President Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant statements and policies. (Photo: Morgan/Flickr/cc)

Canada’s military has troops assembling heated tents that will be capable of temporarily housing up to 500 asylum seekers who continue crossing into the country where it borders New York State.

“Around 250 asylum seekers are arriving each day in Montreal, the largest city in Canada’s mainly French-speaking province of Quebec,” Reuters reported on Wednesday. A spokesperson for the Canada Border Services Agency told CBC-Radio Canada there are currently 700 people waiting to be processed, and although the wait time is two or three days, the asylum seekers do not have access to beds. Continue reading

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Border Agency Set to Jumpstart Trump’s Wall in a Texas Wildlife Refuge

by Kiah Collier, Texas Tribune, and T. Christian Miller, ProPublica, July 28, 2017, 1:55 p.m.

The Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge in Hidalgo Co. in South Texas. Photo: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

U.S. Customs and Border Protection will begin constructing the first segment of President Trump’s border wall in November through a national wildlife refuge, using money it’s already received from Congress.

That’s what a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service official recently told a nonprofit group that raises money to support two national wildlife refuges in South Texas, according to the group’s vice president.

“I was alarmed,” said Jim Chapman of Friends of the Wildlife Corridor. “It was not good news.”

For the past six months, CBP has been quietly preparing a site to build a nearly 3-mile border barrier through the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, according to The Texas Observer. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers also has reportedly begun drilling and soil testing in California and New Mexico.

But construction on the wall was not expected to begin until January because Congress has yet to approve CBP’s budget. On Thursday, the House approved a spending bill that contained $1.6 billion to build segments of the wall in Texas and California. Its fate in the Senate is uncertain.

However, CBP recently told a senior Fish and Wildlife Service official in Texas that the agency would shift funds to pay for the new segment out of its current budget. The official passed on the news to Chapman’s group this week.

The Fish and Wildlife Service official confirmed the remarks, but asked not to be identified for fear of losing his job.

Customs and Border Protection spokesman Carlos Diaz said it “would be premature to speak about specific locations.” The only South Texas projects authorized under the current budget are the installation of 35 gates at gaps the agency left in the existing border fence, he said.

The 2,088-acre Santa Ana refuge, located along the Rio Grande south of McAllen, Texas, is considered one of the nation’s top bird-watching sites, with more than 400 species of birds. The refuge is also home to two endangered wildcats — the ocelot and jaguarundi — and some of the last surviving stands of sabal palm trees in South Texas.

A wall cutting through the refuge could do serious environmental damage, Chapman said, undermining the reason Congress appropriated money to buy the land in the first place. But under a 2005 law, the Department of Homeland Security can waive any environmental regulations that would normally impede construction in a sensitive wildlife area.

Chapman said his group is now counting on Democrats to halt expansion of the project.

“The Democrats in Congress up to now have been very unified as far as not appropriating money for the wall,” Chapman said.

Trump made construction of a border wall between the U.S. and Mexico the signature promise of his political campaign and told supporters it would be solid concrete, 30 feet high and would stretch the length of the U.S.-Mexico border. Trump estimated it would cost perhaps $10 billion to $12 billion — and he vowed the Mexican government would pay the bill. Five days after his inauguration, he signed an executive order to begin the process.

Since then, the wall has faded from the headlines amid other controversies. But Trump has never ceased pursuing its construction, even as he has backed off the most bombastic of his demands.

In February, the CBP launched a bidding contest to build models for the new wall. Both solid concrete and alternative designs were allowed. The project is months behind schedule.  CBP officials recently said the winners will be announced in November.

Earlier in July, Trump told reporters on Air Force One that the wall should be see-through. Border patrol agents needed to be able to spot threats on the other side and avoid any “large sacks of drugs” thrown over the top. He also said he favors a wall with solar panels to generate energy and reduce the building cost.

He also opined that only 700 to 900 miles of wall may be needed. About 650 miles of the 2,000-mile long border already has some type of physical barrier. The remaining miles will be guarded by topography, the president said.

“You have mountains. You have some rivers that are violent and vicious. You have some areas that are so far away that you don’t really have people crossing,” he said.

It remains far from clear, however, whether Trump will be able to achieve even his scaled-down version of the wall. The current border fence, a far more modest project built mostly under President Obama, cost between $2.8 million to $3.9 million on average per mile, according to the Government Accountability Office. CBP previously announced that the agency has $20 million on hand for the current fiscal year.

Both Democratic and Republican lawmakers have balked at paying for the wall, which the Department of Homeland Security estimates would cost around $20 billion. Mexican officials have vigorously rejected any proposition of financing construction.

Trump, however, has already taken credit for beginning to fulfill his campaign promise.

“In a true sense, we’ve already started the wall,” he told the reporters.

ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for their newsletter.

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The Defiant, Refugee-Loving History of New Mexico

How the state’s unique and open relationship with Mexico is overshadowing Trump’s immigration policies.

By . Published 7-11-2017 by YES! Magazine

“We’ve been known, historically, to welcome the stranger and offer refuge to persecuted individuals.”
YES! Illustration by Jennifer Luxton.

After two hours of public testimony, Ralph Nava was the last of 60 speakers to testify in favor of the Santa Fe City Council’s resolution to reaffirm and strengthen its welcoming policies toward immigrants. As a native of northern New Mexico whose family’s presence in the region dates back generations, he implored the audience and council members to consider the history. “All of this area was Mexico just a few generations back,” Nava said. “All of a sudden, we’re trying to make all of these artificial barriers and walls that don’t make sense.”

He went on to tell a story about taking his grandmother to Mexico. On their way back over the border, she kept telling the U.S. border agents she was Mexican even though she had lived her entire life in New Mexico. “She wouldn’t say she wasn’t Mexican,” laughs Nava, who insists that for her, it was not a symbolic stand. “She genuinely thought of herself as Mexican.” Continue reading

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As Trump Pushes Massive Saudi Weapons Deal, Yemenis Suffer from Cholera, War, and Famine

One possible outcome of Trump’s visit could be a green light to attack the Red Sea port city of Hodeidah, where the bulk of the humanitarian aid enters Yemen

By Lauren McCauley, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 5-19-2017

Cholera patients line the halls of Yemen’s few medical facilities, less than 45 percent of which are fully functional after two years of war. (Photo: Mohammed Hamoud/IRIN News)

President Donald Trump will arrive in Saudi Arabia on Friday bearing a major arms deal for the Gulf kingdom, which observers warn will swiftly then be used against the people of Yemen, who are currently facing a deadly cholera outbreak, devastating famine, and two years of war that shows no sign of abating.

In exchange for the $110 billion package, said to be the largest arms deal in history, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman has offered “to invest at least $200 billion in American infrastructure and open up new business opportunities for U.S. companies inside the kingdom,” according to Alternet‘s Max Blumenthal, a move that is expected to win the U.S. president points in the rust belt states of Ohio, Michigan, and Wisconsin. Continue reading

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With Muslim Ban 2.0 in Court, Trump Campaign Website Scrubs Call for Ban

Statement calling for “total and complete shutdown on Muslims” entering U.S. removed from Trump campaign website Monday afternoon

By Deirdre Fulton, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 5-8-2017

This story may be updated.

Minutes after a reporter asked White House press secretary Sean Spicer why President Donald Trump’s campaign website still broadcast his call for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States,” that page went blank, according to reports on Monday afternoon. Continue reading

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‘We Reject Politics of Fear’: Groups Urge Congress to Build Schools, Not Wall

Teacher in Milwaukee said six-year-old student “crawled into her lap crying [and] told her, ‘I am so scared that somebody is going to take my daddy away'”

By Nadia Prupis, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 4-27-2017

“Instead of funding President Trump’s anti-immigrant agenda, we are seeking additional funding for our nation’s public schools.” (Photo: doug turetsky/flickr/cc)

More than 150 advocacy groups sent a letter (pdf) to Congress on Thursday urging lawmakers to reject President Donald Trump’s proposal to build a U.S.-Mexico border wall and spend the money on education instead.

Trump’s “targeting of Muslims, refugees, and undocumented immigrants…are eroding the trust built by educators, parents, law enforcement, and communities over decades,” the letter states.

Its signatories include the Center for Popular Democracy, SEIU, and the National Immigration Law Center, among other community groups and labor unions. Continue reading

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