Playing today: Nigeria, Brazil, Serbia, Switzerland, Costa Rica, Iceland
In 2018, the Nigerian refugee crisis is into its fifth year. Since extreme violent attacks of the Islamist sect Boko Haram spilled over the borders of north-eastern Nigeria into neighboring countries in 2014, Cameroon, Chad and Niger got drawn into a devastating regional conflict. To date, the Lake Chad Basin region is grappling with a complex humanitarian emergency. Some 2.2 million people are uprooted, including over 1.7 million internally displaced (IDPs) in north-eastern Nigeria, over 482,000 IDPs in Cameroon, Chad and Niger and over 203,000 refugees.
The crisis has been exacerbated by conflict-induced food insecurity and severe malnutrition, which have risen to critical levels in all four countries. Despite the efforts of Governments and humanitarian aid in 2017, some 4.5 million people remain food insecure and will depend on assistance. The challenges of protecting the displaced are compounded by a deteriorating security situation as well as socio-economic fragility, with communities in the Sahel region facing chronic poverty, a harsh climate, recurrent epidemics, poor infrastructure and limited access to basic services.
The Nigerian military, together with the Multinational Joint Task Force, have driven extremists from many of the areas they once controlled, but these gains have been overshadowed by an increase of Boko Haram attacks in neighbouring countries. Despite the return of Nigerian IDPs and refugees to accessible areas, the crisis remains acute.
Boko Haram may be the primary cause of flight from Nigeria but it is not the only current factor. In twelve northern states, Shari’a law imposes brutal penalties on alcohol consumption, homosexuality, infidelity and theft. More widely across the country, homosexual couples who marry face up to 14 years in prison, witnesses or those who help them ten years. The law punishes the “public show of same-sex amorous relationships directly or indirectly” with ten years in prison, and mandates 10 years in prison for those found guilty of organising, operating or supporting gay clubs, organizations and meetings.
In 1966, Igbo people fled the North after a series of coups and counter-coups led to massacres in Kano, Zaria and other northern cities.
According to the Forced Migration Observatory, a new database from the Brazilian think tank Instituto Igarapé, … hundreds of thousands of Brazilians are driven from their homes each year by disasters, development and violent crime. Venezuelans escaping economic crisis at home are also pouring into Brazil. Though neighboring Colombia has born the brunt of this exodus – welcoming as many as 1 million migrants since 2015 – Brazil has seen some 60,000 Venezuelans arrive and numbers are rising fast.
Despite this influx, Brazil’s main migrant problem remains the millions of displaced people already inside its borders. This domestic crisis has mostly simmered under the radar for nearly two decades.
As a result of the arrival of large numbers of people into southern Europe that accelerated two years ago this month, there are 7,600 refugees in Serbia, according to the UN refugee agency (UNHCR). Most live in 18 state-run asylum centres that provide basic necessities. Many are starting to prepare for the long haul. … Meanwhile, every weekday, five people are chosen to leave Serbia and enter Hungary – and the EU – legally. It may be a double-edged sword. “In Hungary my family are in a 24-hour closed camp – when someone goes to the bathroom there are four police on every side of you,” said Weesa “They are not free like we are here.” Faqirzada says many countries could learn a lot from Serbia. “In Afghanistan, no one cares for each other. In Turkey there were no schools. In Bulgaria we slept in forests. But in Serbia, the people support each other. They support my family too, I do not forget this.” Still, if and when the Faqirzada family are given a chance to move closer to Germany, they will take it.
The Kosovo War caused 862,979 Albanian refugees who were either expelled by Serb forces or fled from the battle front. In addition, several hundreds of thousands were internally displaced, which means that, according to the OSCE, almost 90% of all Albanians were displaced from their homes in Kosovo by June 1999. After the end of the war, Albanians returned, but over 200,000 Serbs, Romani and other non-Albanians fled Kosovo. By the end of 2000, Serbia thus became the host of 700,000 Serb refugees or internally displaced from Kosovo, Croatia and Bosnia.
During World War II, Switzerland as a neutral neighbour was an obvious choice of destination for refugees from Germany and France in particular. Switzerland’s longstanding neutral stance had also involved a pledge to be an asylum for any discriminated groups in Europe – Huguenots who fled from France in the 16th century, and many liberals, socialists and anarchists from all over Europe in the 19th century. However, Swiss border regulations were tightened in order to avoid provoking an invasion by Nazi forces. They did establish internment camps which housed 200,000 refugees, of which 20,000 were Jewish. But the Swiss government taxed the Swiss Jewish community for any Jewish refugees allowed to enter the country. In 1942 alone, over 30,000 Jews were denied entrance into Switzerland.
The closure of the popular migration route via the Balkans border in March 2016, led to a rapid increase in the number of refugees in Switzerland as they immigrated to Germany. Refugees entered Switzerland through Ticino, and a report estimated there were 5,760 illegal residents in this region.
Amnesty International reported that migrants and asylum-seekers with rejected asylum claims were returned in violation of the non-refoulement principle [a fundamental principle of international law that forbids a country receiving asylum seekers from returning them to a country in which they would be in likely danger of persecution based on “race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion]. Concerns remained regarding the use of disproportionate force during the deportation of migrants. Government proposals for the creation of a National Human Rights Institution continued to be criticized for failing to guarantee the Institution’s independence.
4,471 asylum applications by refugees were received in 2016 in Costa Rica – according to UNHCR. Most of them came from El Salvador, Venezuela and from Colombia. A total of 2,815 decisions were made on initial applications, of which 81 per cent were initially rejected. Violence in El Salvador and Honduras is causing refugees to arrive in increasing numbers.
Because they’re often escaping severe violence in their countries of origin, they often need greater psycho-social assistance to address mental health needs. A lack of local support networks means they require more material and economic assistance than other groups, too.
As in other contexts, refugees in Costa Rica face barriers that prevent them from fully exercising their rights: discrimination, xenophobia, and a lack of information (either on their side or from the host community). Unlike many places hosting displaced populations, however, refugees and asylum seekers in Costa Rica have the right to work, start their own businesses, open bank accounts, and access public services (health care, education, etc.). Understanding this context is critical to counteracting barriers, easing local integration, and increasing self-reliance. UNHCR identifies individuals and families living in the most vulnerable conditions and addresses their immediate needs. Then, to empower households to build new economic and social lives and better integrate into their host countries, they’re included in the Graduation program.
To encourage this integration and address extreme poverty faced by Costa Rican households, several women from local communities are included in the project. Most are survivors of sexual and gender-based violence, single mothers in highly vulnerable conditions, or HIV positive. Not only does this provide vulnerable women from Costa Rica with a pathway out of poverty, it also enhances the self-reliance and community integration of refugee women and children by connecting them to a similarly vulnerable local community of women.
Since Iceland’s refugee policy was first initiated in 1956, the country has accepted a grand total of 584 refugees, a rate lower than other Nordic countries. Groups and families of refugees have arrived from a diverse range of countries — Vietnam, Poland, Hungary, former Yugoslavia and Serbia. Post-recession, Iceland’s economy has recovered at a four percent growth rate per year. However, according to a PBS report, Iceland would require 2,000 new immigrants a year to maintain that level of growth — refugees would contribute to this number. The Mayor of Akureyri, Eirikur Bjorgvinsson, explains that refugees contribute more to Iceland’s economy than the amount of assistance that they are actually receiving. In order to become assimilated in Iceland society, the government offers financial assistance, education, health services, housing, furniture and a telephone for up to one year to refugees in Iceland. According to the Ministry of Welfare, the policy in Iceland has welcomed a quota of 25 to 30 refugees every year. However, this quota has changed in the last few years with the crisis in Syria, protests from Icelandic citizens and an exception in 1999 with the outbreak of the war in Kosovo.
In the next few weeks 52 new refugees are expected to arrive to Iceland, as reported by Vísir.is. Most of them are children and young adults under the age of 24. Last August, the Icelandic government agreed to welcome 55 refugees. As we reported last year, however, a Market and Media Research poll on the subject showed that 88.5% of Icelanders believe the government should welcome more of them.
The 52 refugees who are on their way to Iceland are mostly of Syrian, Iraqi and Ugandan origin. While the Syrian and Iraqi have lately been residing in refugee camps in Jordania, those coming from Uganda were forced to seek asylum away from their home country because of their non-normative sexuality (Iceland has been accepting queer refugees since 2015).
Upon arrival they will be sent to different parts of the country: 4 families are going to the Fjarðabyggð municipality in the east, 5 families to the Westfjords peninsula in the North and 10 individuals will stay in Mosfellsbær, close to Reykjavik.
The Minister of Social Affairs Ásmundur Einar Dádason assured that the preparations to receive the refugees are in full swing. “The results have been positive so far and we received applications from the municipalities to participate in the program,” he said. “It’s a very good example of a solid partnership between the state, the local authorities and the Red Cross.”