Sunday, October 26, 2014

In French Port City, ‘a Real Psychosis’ -

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In Calais, Resentment and Fear Amid Influx of Migrants

In Calais, Resentment and Fear Amid Influx of Migrants

CreditMarlene Awaad for The New York Times

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CALAIS, France — Charles Dufeutrelle used to donate medicine and clothes to the occasional migrant from Afghanistan who came in for coffee at La Gauloise, the bar he owns in Calais, the port city in northern France that has long been a gateway to Britain.
But after a migrant broke into the bar in 2012, Mr. Dufeutrelle, 31, bought aTaser and pepper spray, which he keeps in a drawer near the cash register. And when a group of migrants refused to leave the bar when he asked them to, he pulled out his hunting rifle to scare them away.
That time, the rifle was not loaded, Mr. Dufeutrelle said — but “next time, I will not hesitate to shoot.”
His frustration reflects the resentment and fear that have swept Calais in the last year, along with a new wave of migrants hoping to cross illegally to Britain, which they see as a better place than France to start a new life. The migrants began squatting in vacant buildings and took over shelters in the city center, angering residents and drawing warnings from the local authorities that they could lose control of portions of the city.

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English Channel

Many people here fear devastating repercussions for Calais, which is already suffering from 16 percent unemployment, one of the highest rates in France. Anti-migrant sentiment here has buoyed far-right groups like the National Front party, whose support surged in elections for the European Parliament this past spring.
The National Front’s leader, Marine Le Pen, visited Calais on Friday to denounce what she called the “scandalous carelessness” of the government in a city where “there is nothing left but survival of the fittest, violence.”
Her visit followed unrest in the city on Wednesday, when fights broke out between rival ethnic groups among the migrants and some tried to force their way onto Britain-bound trucks, prompting riot police to step in. Last month, four young Calais residents threw improvised firebombs at a building occupied by Egyptian migrants in the city center.
“The discontent has turned into a real psychosis,” said Emmanuel Agius, the deputy mayor of Calais and a member of the conservative Union for a Popular Movement party. “The migrants of today no longer fear breaking the laws.”
Tensions started to build in Calais more than a decade ago, in 2002, when a Red Cross center in nearby Sangatte was closed down and migrants started to camp around the port instead. The police have dismantled some camps, but the migrants have rebuilt them in new locations.
The local authorities estimate that there are 2,200 to 2,300 migrants around the city now, mostly men who have fled from Afghanistan, EgyptEritrea,EthiopiaSudan or, most recently, Syria. They wait along the highway leading to the waterfront, hoping to hide in a ferry-bound truck and sneak into Britain. Many of them speak some English and believe they can assimilate better there than in France, even though the British government is adamant about not accepting them.
Britain has called on France to do more to stop the migrants, but “we can’t control them anymore,” said Gilles Debove, a local police officer and a member of the main police union.
About 100 migrants forced their way into Calais’s port last month by tearing down barbed-wire fences. After violence flared this week, the French interior minister, Bernard Cazeneuve, said 100 more police officers would be sent to Calais.
Mr. Debove said migrants in the city took over vacant buildings, stole money and cellphones from residents, fought among themselves and sometimes sexually assaulted local women. He said 80 crimes had been reported in the city this summer involving migrants, up from six a year ago.

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French Official Strengthens Border

The French government will send police reinforcements to the port city of Calais, where increasing numbers of migrants have been gathering, the prefect for the region, Denis Robin, said.
 Publish DateOctober 24, 2014. Photo by Reuters.

In July, hundreds of migrants supported by No Border, an advocacy group, occupied a former metal factory less than a mile from City Hall. At least 100 Sudanese and Eritrean migrants filled the factory one recent day, sleeping on cardboard mats, burning discarded tennis shoes for heat and tapping old water pipes to wash their faces. The floor was littered with empty potato-chip bags and puddles of rainwater from a broken skylight.
“I tried more than 10 times to get inside a truck, but you can die,” said Hassan Abdallah, 30, who said he had fled the Darfur region of Sudan several months ago and crossed the Mediterranean in a fishing boat. “There are no other solutions for us,” he said. “The conditions in which we live force us to do that. You hide, and you think about God.”
Many residents say the situation has left them feeling stressed. Some women say they avoid walking alone in Calais at night. Bar owners say they lost business from local residents after migrants began coming in to charge their phones and use the restrooms.
Sylvie Cambie, who owns a bar called Aux Deux Moineaux, said her sales had fallen by half since Sudanese migrants moved into a shelter nearby. “When my customers see them, they walk away,” Mrs. Cambie said. “I don’t want them, I can’t stand them, and that has nothing to do with racism.”
Philippe Langlois, a guard at the city’s main cemetery, said he had gone into a rage last year when migrants occupied a small plot of land he had bought years ago. “I burned their blankets and made them leave,” Mr. Langlois said. He also padlocked the cemetery restrooms after he saw groups of migrants from a nearby camp using them.
Calais had plenty of problems before the migrants came. A mainstay industry, lacemaking, is in decline, and the city’s biggest employer, the SeaFrance ferry line, went into liquidation in 2012. Though the city is still one of the busiest ports in Europe, traffic has been diminishing, and officials say it could fall further if the migrant problem is not solved.
The situation has also angered many truck drivers, who can be fined $3,200 if they are found to have carried an illegal migrant into Britain, even unwittingly. Last month, some of them threatened to stop delivering goods to England unless the French authorities find a solution.
“If we continue on this path, the city will experience ruin,” said Mr. Agius, the deputy mayor.
The mayor has offered to turn an old community center into a shelter that would house more than 1,000 migrants, and France and Britain have announced plans to strengthen security at the port. But Mr. Dufeutrelle, the bar owner, said he did not think these steps would solve the real problem.
“We need to tell these poor souls that England is no longer an El Dorado,” he said.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Closure of Holot brings both relief and uncertainty for asylum seekers | Middle East Eye

Israeli High Court’s decision to strike down the latest version of the Infiltrator Law is a gain for African asylum seekers
African asylum seekers protest outside Holot detention centre in Israel's Negev Desert, 17 Feb (AFP)
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Last update: 
Wednesday 8 October 2014 20:59 BST
On 21 September, in a move that has brought some respite to over 50,000 Africans who have fled to Israel in recent years, the country’s High Court ruled against recent amendments to the 1954 Prevention of Infiltration Law and ordered the closure of the controversial Holot detention facility.  
The law allowed authorities to imprison newly arrived asylum seekers in a closed facility for up to one year without trial. It also enabled authorities to move certain groups of asylum seekers to the ostensibly “open” Holot facility, so described because detainees are permitted to leave at certain times, but are required to be present for roll calls throughout the day. In addition, the gates of the centre, located in a remote part of the Negev desert, are locked at night. In September’s 7-2 ruling, the court ordered the closure of Holot within 90 days and instructed authorities to relax controls on the centre’s detainees. 
The court’s decision was unprecedented, in that it was the only time it has ever nullified two versions of the same law. A previous incarnation of the Infiltrator Law enacted by the Knesset in 2012, which enabled authorities to jail asylum seekers for up to three years and in some cases longer, was struck down unanimously by the same panel of judges last year. In both cases judges cited incompatibility with the right to liberty and human dignity enshrined in Israel’s Basic Laws, which in effect serve as a constitution.
In response, government officials and conservative commentators have lashed out at a Hight Court that is out of step with the much more right-leaning legislature. Judges have been accused of overstepping their mandate and there have been calls for the judiciary to be reined in. The Israeli daily newspaper, Haaretz quoted Knesset Member Miri Regev as saying: “the Knesset gave [the court] this authority and it is the one that will limit it.”
Justice Uzi Vogelman, who authored last month’s majority ruling, stated that the law “violates human rights in an essential, deep and fundamental way.” Similarly, he said of the 2012 amendment that the limits to personal liberty were “disproportionate” and “[deviated] from the principles accepted in Israel and in the rest of the civilised world.”
Damned if they leave, damned if they don’t
The influx of migrants from sub-Saharan Africa began in the mid-2000s, gaining momentum as older routes from North Africa to Europe became increasingly restricted. However, in late 2012 a fence sealing the border with Egypt was completed, bringing migration through the Sinai to an almost total halt.   
Supporters of the Infiltration Law, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu himself, charge that most of the African migrants are “infiltrators” who are in the country for economic reasons. It is hard to know just how much economic factors weigh in the decisions of individuals who have made the hazardous trip to Israel, especially given the authorities’ reluctance to review asylum applications. But what is far more certain is that the two source countries where the overwhelming majority of migrants come from -Sudan and Eritrea - have notoriously poor human rights records.
According to a UNHCR survey for 2013, Eritrea, with a population of only 6.5 million, accounted for 35,000 asylum claims globally, making Eritreans the 8th largest group of new asylum claimants. The notoriously repressive Horn of Africa country consistently ranks lowest on the Reporters without Borders Press Freedom Index, below even North Korea, to which it is often likened in media reports.
The case of Dawit Weldegebriel, an Eritrean who has been in Israel for more than four years, is not entirely exceptional. He told the Middle East Eye that while he was working at a rural school in Eritrea his open criticism of the government’s education policies landed him in prison. After escaping to Sudan he and a fellow Eritrean were kidnapped by Bedouin smugglers in 2010, who then took the pair to Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula. He was later released near the Israeli border after securing a ransom of $13,000.
“We crossed the border and were welcomed by Israeli soldiers,” Weldegebriel told MEE. “That day was unique for us because they welcomed us and gave us bread and water. They then brought us to Saharonim [detention centre] where we were held for a month.”
Rights groups cite systematic human rights violations as the reason so many people flee Eritrea. According to a report by Human Rights Watch, these include “long-term forced conscription and forced labour, extrajudicial killings, disappearances, torture and inhumane and degrading treatment, arbitrary arrest and detention, and restrictions on freedom of expression, conscience and movement.”
The situation is not better for most asylum seekers from Sudan, whose incumbent president Omar Al-Bashir is wanted by the International Criminal Court on counts of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. 
Mutassim Ali, an asylum seeker activist from Sudan’s conflict-stricken Darfur region and a Holot detainee, came to Israel in 2009. He felt that the lack of diplomatic ties between Sudan and Israel would make deportation less likely. He also believed that Israel’s history as a safe haven for Jewish refugees would make it a more welcoming place for asylum seekers than other countries. “Darfur is going through genocide and if there is anyone on the planet who can understand what genocide means it is them [the Jews],” Ali said. Now simply having visited Israel, which Sudan considers an “enemy state,” would make Ali liable for prosecution back home.
Nevertheless, Israel has been accused by rights groups of dragging its feet on the issue of asylum reviews, refusing to grant refugee status to a single Sudanese asylum seeker while rejecting 99.9 percent of Eritrean applications for asylum. This is in spite of the fact that Sudanese nationals make up the world’s 4th largest refugee population, while over 80 percent of Eritrean asylum seekers are afforded protection in countries such as Norway, Italy and the UK.
State lawyers say they do not forcefully deport Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers en masse because of obligations under international law and, in the case of Sudan, a lack of diplomatic ties. But according to Human Rights Watch and other critics of the government’s stance on asylum seekers, the state’s policies have coerced many asylum seekers into returning home despite documented cases of returnees suffering various abuses in their countries of origin. Government officials themselves have made no attempt to conceal such intentions. In 2012, then Interior Minister Eli Yishai said bluntly of asylum seekers that he aimed to “lock them up and make their lives miserable.”   
Backlash from the right
The working class neighbourhood of Neve Sha’anan in south Tel Aviv is home to the world’s second largest bus station. It is also a place where many asylum seekers have settled, including Weldegebriel. “Every month they bring people from the prisons and dump them at the Central Bus Station at Levinski Park in Tel Aviv,” he said.  “People do not know where to go. They don’t know Hebrew, they don’t have any money. People were really suffering and decided to create their own life in the Neve Sha’anan area.”
Ali and many other asylum seekers and activists say they sympathise with local residents who feel threatened by the presence of large numbers of poor, unemployed newcomers in what was already an economically marginalised part of the city. They say asylum seekers have difficulty finding work because of ambiguous regulations and complex bureaucratic procedures, while government neglect has created a powder keg of social tensions in Neve Sha’anan.
A similar sentiment is echoed by Shula Keshet, a gender activist from Neve Sha’anan, who says that the government’s de facto policy of shepherding migrants into poor Mizrahi communities without providing alternatives has created ghettoes of poverty. This has created fertile ground for xenophobia which, coupled with the hostile response to the High Court’s recent ruling, has tempered the hopes of asylum seekers.
On the evening of 5 October, for the second consecutive night, scores of anti-immigrant protesters descended on Levinski Park carrying black flags with “bagatz” (the Hebrew acronym for the High Court) written in white letters. The crowd shouted “Sudanese to Sudan!” as nervous African immigrants looked on. On several occasions police intervened to stop protesters attacking the bystanders.
May Golan, a 28 year-old protest organiser, condemned the court’s 21 September ruling, saying: “we didn’t choose the [court’s] judges, we chose members of the Knesset and we demand they protect us. We demand they give us another law or take down the authority of the judges.” Golan, who has gained a reputation as fierce anti-immigrant campaigner, counts Michael Ben-Ari, an ultranationalist former Knesset member who attended the protest, as one of her political patrons.
For now, asylum seekers remain caught in a legal limbo and face a future of worrying uncertainty as they wait to see what the government’s next move will be. “Right wing politicians will do whatever they can to make out situation miserable. I know we have a lot to do moving forward to get our rights,” said Weldegebriel.
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Friday, October 3, 2014

UNHCR - Eritrean survivor of Lampedusa tragedy returns to honour the dead, meet Pope Francis

Eritrean survivor of Lampedusa tragedy returns to honour the dead, meet Pope Francis

News Stories, 2 October 2014

Eritrean refugee Letebrhane and other survivors of the October 3, 2013 Lampedusa boat tragedy meet Pope Francis before returning to the Italian island to remember the dead one year later.
LAMPEDUSA ISLAND, Italy, October 3 (UNHCR)  Almost a year after she nearly lost her life off the tiny Italian island of Lampedusa, Letebrhane from Eritrea will overcome her fear of the sea and return to remember the thousands who have lost their lives trying to reach Europe across the Mediterranean on smugglers' boats.
The 24-year-old said she never wanted to see the sea again after the old boat she had boarded in Libya sank within sight of Lampedusa on October 3, 2013, leaving 368 people dead and just 155 survivors.
"When I heard about the possibility to return to Lampedusa for the commemoration, I was afraid and all the images I had in my head suddenly came back," said the young woman, who now lives as a registered refugee in Norway. She was referring to an official ceremony to take place Friday on Italy's southernmost territory.
"I never wanted to see the sea again. Then I realized how important it was for me to be there. I thank God because, to me, surviving October 3 was like being born a second time." She will attend tomorrow's commemoration in Lampedusa with other survivors. The group had a private audience with Pope Francis in Rome on Wednesday.
Letebrhane had left Eritrea in 2012 to escape compulsory military service in Eritrea. She could not even say goodbye to her family for fear they would be too worried. Only her best friend, Senait, travelled with her, and together they hoped to reach Europe and safety.
It took the pair one-and-a-half years to reach the coast of Libya, after crossing Sudan and travelling through the Sahara on crowded pick-ups, sold from smuggler to smuggler along the way. Letebrhane said they were frequently threatened and beaten en route; many women were sexually abused. Some of their travel companions died of thirst and exhaustion.
After surviving these ordeals and reaching Libya, they decided they could never go back the way they had come. "I knew the sea [journey to Europe] was dangerous, I had heard many terrible stories, but I had no other way. There was nowhere else to go," Letebrhane stressed.
She added that before the boat left, she and Senait were locked in a building in a remote area with scores of other people until there were enough for a boatload. Conditions were terrible and they had barely enough to eat.
The two Eritrean friends boarded the smuggling boat near Tripoli on October 2, 2013. After 24 hours at sea, they finally saw the lights of Lampedusa at four in the morning. They were close enough to see moving car headlights.
Then someone lit a blanket to try and attract the attention of other boats nearby. But this sparked panic on board, Letebrhane recalled, and people rushed to one side to escape the flames, causing the vessel to take on water and founder.
Most of those who survived were on deck, while many women and children were below water and could not escape in time. Letebrhane said she held onto the boat, only letting go when it sank beneath the waves on its deadly and tragic journey to the bottom. Senait was among the dead.
The scale of the disaster stunned the Italian nation and made headlines worldwide. There was great mourning and anger on Lampedusa at the failure to address the mounting number of crossings from North Africa and the attendant dangers.
As a result of this tragedy and a second sinking that left 268 Syrian refugees dead on October 11, the Italian government launched its "Mare Nostrum" operation, which has since saved more than 140,000 people to date.
But the sea crossings continue and the number of people losing their lives rises. Since that fateful day one year ago, more than 3,600 have died or gone missing in the crossing, many of them refugees fleeing from war and persecution.
UNHCR has urged European states to provide legal alternatives to the irregular crossings and thus help save lives. Letebrhane, meanwhile, will be back in Lampedusa tomorrow, happy to be alive but devastated for those lost at sea.
By Iosto Ibba and Barbara Molinario in Rome, Italy
A UNHCR report "So close, yet so far from safety", is available at