Posts Tagged World Cup

Refugee World Cup, Saturday 23 June

Playing today: Mexico, Germany (already covered: Belgium, South Korea, Tunisia, Sweden)


The bullet wound in Francis Gusman’s spine makes it hard for her to travel. When gangs shot at each other in her hometown of Yoro in Honduras in 2016, she was hit by a stray round and has been unable to walk since. But when gang members then murdered her sister this February, she decided she had to leave, however hard the journey.

She set off on the dangerous migrant trail north, along with her husband, 12-year-old son, and her sister’s orphaned 13-year-old daughter. After crossing the Mexican border, her husband and a friend had to carry her 36 miles along the road to this town of Tenosique in southeast Mexico. Here they have applied to Mexico for refugee status, arguing the gangsters who killed her sister could target her niece for being a potential witnesses or go after other family members….

Gusman’s story illustrates the brutality that is pushing many to leave the Northern Triangle of Central America, which includes Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, and seek refuge in nearby countries, including Mexico and the United States. The number of asylum applications in Mexico has rocketed, from 2,000 in 2014 to more than 14,000 last year, with Honduras as the leading source of applicants, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR).

However, this surge comes as more Mexicans are themselves fleeing violence to seek refuge in the United States. In the first three months of 2018, the Northern Triangle nations and Mexico made up four of the six top source countries of applicants for U.S. asylum, government data shows.

“People are leaving because they are suffering from high levels of violence from gangs and other organized criminal groups. These gangs want to recruit minors, they carry out extortion, kidnapping, sexually abusing girls,” says Francesca Fontanini, spokesperson for the UNHCR in the Americas. “This flow of families from Central America will not stop because if the root causes are still there these people will keep coming to the U.S. or to other countries.”

The violence in HondurasGuatemala and El Salvador continues to force thousands of people to head north in search of refuge, even as the Trump administration imposes cruel practices intended to deter them from seeking asylum. Last week, US Attorney General Jeff Sessions ruled that people submitting claims related to domestic or gang violence will not qualify for asylum—a decision that effectively closes the door to many Central Americans fleeing for their lives. In recent weeks, authorities have stepped up criminal prosecutions of people attempting to cross the border, going so far as to forcibly separate children from their families. …

Initial talks between the US and Mexican governments in May considered the possibility of converting Mexico into a “safe third country”. This would force asylum seekers to apply in Mexico, preventing them from reaching the US to demand refuge.

More than 20,000 migrants or refugees are kidnapped in NTCA countries – Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador – every year, according official sources (CNDH). Sixty-eight per cent of the migrants and refugees interviewed by MSF in places along the transit route in Mexico had been exposed to violence. Nearly one-third of the women surveyed were sexually abused. Central American gangs are operating in the south of Mexico and are responsible of some of the attacks against migrants.

MSF medical data shows that a quarter of our medical consultations for migrants and refugees in Mexico are related to injuries from intentional violence. Ninety per cent of our mental health consultations are related to violence. Our patients are suffering from anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder, among other conditions, which have severe consequences on their ability to function. Women, children, and members of the Lesbian-Gay-Bisexual-Transgender-Queer (LGBTQ) community are more vulnerable to certain types of violence and require specific protection measures that are not effectively in place in Mexico.



In 2015, when the current refugee crisis was at its most intense, Germany took the lead.

Berlin took the lead in efforts to resolve the European refugee crisis on Monday by declaring all Syrian asylum-seekers welcome to remain in Germany – no matter which EU country they had first entered.

Germany, which expects to take a staggering 800,000 migrants this year, became the first EU country to suspend a 1990 protocol which forces refugees to seek asylum in the first European country in which they set foot.


Germans gathered by the hundred at train stations on Sunday to welcome refugees arriving in their cities as if they were long-lost friends or returning war heroes.

An estimated 10,000 refugees were expected to arrive in Germany by train from Hungary and Austria on Sunday, and they were greeted with spontaneous rounds of applause and songs, as well as sweets, pastries and toys, on station platforms across the country. At Munich station, volunteers amassed a large stockpile of food. Helpers at the main train station in Frankfurt formed human chains to pass bags of food, clothing and toiletries to the exhausted arrivals, whom they welcomed with banners and balloons.

Three years on:


Today, four Syrian families have made their home in Wegscheid – including the Aljumaas. Mahmoud Aljumaa arrived in Germany in 2015; his two daughters and wife, Ghofran, a year later. The girls, 6 and 8, already speak perfect German, tinged with the local Bavarian accent.

The Aljumaas say they have been welcomed with open arms here, but the political debate over immigration and asylum has changed the tone, stoking fear and uncertainty. They have asylum statusfor now, but they fear that could change.

Sommerreise BTW Bayern Bürgerstimmen Umfrage (DW)The Aljumaa family has made Wegscheid their new home

“I want to ask German politicians a question: Are we refugees or should we integrate? If we should integrate, that means that we would be like Germans after some time. It would mean we aren’t refugees,” said Mahmoud. “My daughters can’t read or write in Arabic. My older daughter is in the sixth grade and in Arabic she would be sent back to second grade. How could I send them back to Syria, send her back to the second grade? It would destroy her life.”

Their sense of uncertainty has only grown as they have seen fellow refugees from Afghanistan – a country they say cannot be deemed safe – increasingly facing deportation.    …

Most everyone we spoke to in Bavaria seemed to agree on one point: From 2015 to now, this region has handled the refugee crisis and integration efforts well. Now they need a clear signal from German policymakers on whether refugees are really welcome to stay and become a part of German society.

The welcome offered to refugees in 2015 was particularly poignant in light of German history.  During the Nazi era as anti-Jewish legislation and other repressive measures were introduced and tightened, there were many desperate to leave.   People continued to try to find ways out of Germany and the occupied territories throughout the war years, at great risk to themselves and anyone who tried to help them.

One largely overlooked refugee story from that period, however, is the forced migration of ethnic Germans just at the end of the war from Poland, Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union.

Historian R.M. Douglas has written one of the only English language books on the subject, has described it as “not merely the largest forced migration but probably the largest single movement of population in human history,” with between 12 and 14 million civilians to move in just a few years. Douglas wrote that this mass movement of peoples was accomplished “largely by state-sponsored violence and terror” – including murder, torture and rape. Hundreds of thousands of Germans ended up in internment camps, some of which had just shortly before been Nazi concentration camps.

Accounts from those who made the journeys are horrific. One woman wrote of spending days standing on a freight train traveling from what is now northeastern Poland. “Pregnant women who had given birth had frozen to the floor,” the account, later published in Der Spiegel, read. “The dead were thrown out of the windows.” …

In Germany, the expulsions are still remembered, even while Nazi atrocities are, too. “The Nazis’ crimes had been far worse,” Der Spiegel wrote in a lengthy article in 2011, “but the suffering of ethnic Germans was immense.” Perhaps that’s why the current refugee crisis, of a comparable scale to the German expulsions (almost 12 million people have been displaced in Syria alone), has found a relatively large amount of sympathy in Germany, a country that expects to receive 800,000 refugees this year. Even if many in the country are far too young to remember the German expulsions themselves, they may remember the damage wrought upon older family members. Much like these family members, modern-day refugees are having their fate decided for them by their nationality.



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Refugee World Cup, Friday 22 June

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.

Costa Rica

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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.


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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 Ví 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.”

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Refugee World Cup, Thursday 21 June

Playing today: Denmark, France, Croatia, Argentina, Australia, Peru


Denmark has had a clear and consistent message to asylum seekers in the last two years: stay away. The latest figures on the number of people seeking asylum in the country suggests that message has finally sunk in.

Denmark received just 3,458 asylum applications in 2017—an 84% drop from 2015 (when the refugee crisis saw a dramatic peak in the number of asylum seekers in Europe). The government puts the drop down to the 67 anti-immigrant (link in Danish) regulations it has passed since 2015.

On October 1, 1943, Adolf Hitler ordered Danish Jews to be arrested and deported. The Danish resistance movement, with the assistance of many ordinary Danish citizens, managed to evacuate 7,220 of Denmark’s 7,800 Jews, plus 686 non-Jewish spouses, by sea to nearby neutral Sweden. The vast majority of Denmark’s Jewish population thus avoided capture by the Nazis and is considered to be one of the largest actions of collective resistance to aggression in the countries occupied by Nazi Germany. As a result of the rescue, and the following Danish intercession on behalf of the 464 Danish Jews who were captured and deported to the Theresienstadt transit camp, over 99% of Denmark’s Jewish population survived the Holocaust.

Denmark received about 240,000 refugees from Germany and other countries after World War II. They were put into camps guarded by the reestablished army.  Contact between Danes and the refugees were very limited and strictly enforced. About 17,000 died in the camps caused either by injuries and illness as a result of their escape from Germany or the poor conditions in the camps.


Hundreds of refugees are living in “inhumane” conditions in northern France with no toilets and only polluted rivers to wash in, the United Nations (UN) has warned.  “Increasingly regressive migration policies” and a lack of attention from national and international authorities has led to hundreds of displaced people living without adequate emergency shelter or proper access to drinking water in Calais and Dunkirk, experts said. It is estimated that up to 900 migrants and asylum-seekers are currently based in Calais, 350 in Dunkirk and an unidentified number at other sites elsewhere along the northern French coast. The French government has in recent months, taken temporary steps to provide access to emergency shelter, drinking water and sanitation for some refugees. Up to 200 migrants are currently being put up at a sports centre in Dunkirk. But the UN experts stressed that these were not long-term solutions and warned that there was an absence of valid alternatives in the provision of adequate housing.


The Nazi invasion of France led to an initial panicked flood of refugees – some 6-10m people took to the roads, with little idea of where they might go, carrying what they could.  Many subsequently returned home, deterred by the chaos on the roads, the collapse of public transport, and the difficulties of finding somewhere to live and earn a living.  Increasingly Jews in France, as well as political opponents of Nazism, sought routes out of the country.  Initially they headed to the ‘unoccupied zone’, governed (on paper at least) by the Vichy government under Marshal Petain.  Many tried to cross the border into Switzerland, but were often turned back by zealous border guards.  Those who could cross to Spain headed to Portugal, where they hoped to get on a ship in Lisbon.  Would-be refugees often paid a high price to guides who claimed they could get them to safety – some were cheated, some betrayed, but some did get through.



Croatia declared its independence from the former Yugoslavia in 1991. This resulted in a war that lasted until 1995. During this time, 900,000 Croats were displaced both inside and outside the country.  An estimated that between 200,000-300,000 ethnic Serbs left Croatia in August 1995, while 130,000 ethnic Croats left Bosnia and Herzegovina for Croatia.  War broke out in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1992. During the war, an estimated 403,000 refugees arrived in Croatia as a result of the conflict. The Croatian refugees who left the country began returning in 1996. By 2012,  roughly half of the Croatian refugees of Serbian descent had returned to Croatia. One of the main issues impeding their return was housing.

In 2015, Croatia faced new refugee challenges when a huge wave of Syrian refugees arrived en route to northern Europe. During this influx, more than 800,000 people passed through Croatia. Two refugee camps were set up in Croatia, and the government provided free transport for refugees to Hungary and later to Slovenia. On September 16, 2015, Croatia became one of the main transit countries when Hungary closed its borders to refugees. Since then, the country sees approximately 12,000 entries each day.


Greece Migrants

High wages, economic prosperity, a good public education system and a liberal legal framework brought many European immigrants to Argentina between 1870 and 1914.  By the start of World War I, Argentina was one-third European. However, by the end of 1960, most European migration to Argentina halted.  In light of subsequent high levels of regional migration, Argentina signed a regional agreement, along with Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay and Venezuela, which recognizes the right to migrate, provides equal treatment for foreigners and the right to family reunification. It also established the “Patria Grande” program, granting residency and creating a process for foreigners to become permanent residents. Argentina signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the UNHCR in 2005, dictating the guidelines for the admission of refugees in Argentina. Among the criteria for resettlement in Argentina are that immigrants are survivors of torture or violence, women at risk, or women with children or families with strong integration potential. Before refugees in Argentina are considered for visas, relatives or other Argentinian citizens must vouch for them. The process kicks off with a letter of invitation sent to the refugee family. In July 2016, Argentina announced it would accept 3,000 Syrian refugees, the first country to assist the European Union with the Syrian refugee crisis.



For years, Australia has been punishing people who need our protection. We have been turning back the boats which were carrying them to safety, and shipping and warehousing them in Nauru and Papua New Guinea. If they make it to mainland Australia, we have been detaining them indefinitely and, once they are released, leaving them to struggle in the community without support. … The kinds of services and supports available to people seeking asylum change depending on how and when they came to Australia, the stage of the process they are in, and the visas they have (or did have). Services and supports also vary between and within States and Territories. Even then, the conditions of their visas (if any) often seem arbitrary, and there is little to no transparency in decision-making. On top of this, there are frequent, often unannounced, changes to people’s eligibility for services and supports. In 2018, more policy changes are likely to leave thousands more without any income or government-funded support. As well, policies that punished people seeking asylum increasingly apply to those who came by plane, as well as by boat. These changes add to existing policies that are already driving thousands of people to destitution. Every day, more and more people needing our protection are forced to rely on overstretched and overwhelmed communities and non-governmental organisations to survive. …  People who need our protection should not be punished for seeking it. They should not be forced to choose between starving in the streets or returning home to persecution. They should not be treated as if they are not human, simply because they are not (yet) Australian.



In the ’80s, Maoist terrorist group, Sendero Luminoso, waged a brutal war against the government. Gross human rights violations committed by both parties destabilized the country and left half a million people internally displaced. Many of Peru’s poorest people are refugees from the civil war who lost everything they owned after leaving the countryside and never recovered. Environmental changes, such as drought and shortened growing seasons, have caused a wave of “climate refugees” in Peru. Although Peru has its own challenges of adequately settling internally displaced people, it has opened its doors to neighbors both near and far with initiatives to streamline processes to receive Syrian refugees and the creation of nearly 6,000 visas for Venezuelans to escape the current crisis.

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Refugee World Cup,Wednesday 20 June

Playing today: Uruguay, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Spain, Portugal, Morocco

Uruguay was the first Latin American country to offer sanctuary to Syrian refugees.  However, the country’s struggling economy made it impossible to assimilate the new arrivals into the workforce, and the welcome rapidly began to sour, with some refugees attempting to move on to other countries, but finding difficulty in doing so because most countries do not accept their Uruguay-issued documentation and without their Syrian-issued passports.

Syria_Refugees_AP_650_bigstry uruguay

Saudi Arabia has faced international criticism for its failure to take in numbers of Syrian refugees proportionate to its resources, whilst poorer neighbours struggle to support the influx. The UNHCR says there are between 100,000 and 500,000 refugees in the country against a Saudi population of 31 million. One significant reason is that a majority of the refugees fleeing to Saudi Arabia are from Sunni areas of Syria – areas that play host to the Islamic State. Saudi Arabian forces have bombed these regions and want to know if the refugees are escaping ISIS or the bombings.  Meanwhile Saudi intervention in the Yemeni Civil War has contributed to the flow of refugees out of the country.

yemen 2

Iran has taken on a significant role in providing sanctuary for refugees in the region, particularly from Afghanistan and Iraq.    During the Second World War, it took in Polish refugees – both soldiers and civilians.  On March 19, 1942, General Władysław Anders ordered the evacuation of Polish soldiers and civilians who lived next to army camps. 33,069 soldiers left the Soviet Union for Iran, as well as 10,789 civilians, including 3,100 children, a small fraction of the approximately 1.7 million Polish citizens who had been arrested by the Soviets at the beginning of the war. Polish soldiers and civilians stayed in Iranian camps at Pahlevi and Mashhad, as well as Tehran.



Franco’s 1939 victory in the Spanish Civil War saw desperate refugees from the Republican side trying to leave Spain.  London and Paris were disinclined to accept them, but Mexico was prepared to accept all Spanish refugees then in France, and placed them under diplomatic protection.

spanish child refugeesEarly in the Civil War, child refugees were shipped to Britain, Belgium, the Soviet Union, other European countries and Mexico. Those in Western European countries were able to return to their families after the war, but those in the Soviet Union, from Communist families, were forbidden to return until 1956, after Stalin’s death. They lived in Soviet orphanages and were regularly transferred from one orphanage to another according to the progress of the Second World War. Just under 4,000 children arrived at Southampton Docks on 23 May 1937.  All the children and accompanying adults were housed in a single, large refugee camp in North Stoneham, near Southampton. 


During World War II, Portugal, which remained neutral, attracted around 100,000 to 1,000,000 refugees.  “In 1940 Lisbon, happiness was staged so that God could believe it still existed,” wrote the French writer Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. The Portuguese capital became a symbol of hope for many refugees. Even Ilsa and Rick, the star-crossed lovers in the film Casablanca, sought a ticket to that “great embarkation point”. Erich Maria Remarque’s 1964 novel, The Night in Lisbon, told the story of two German refugees in the city in the opening months of the war.



In 1976, Morocco laid claim to the Western Sahara, an area south of Morocco, after Spain withdrew from the territory.  This action incited a decades-long war between Morocco and the Polisario Front, Western Sahara’s liberation movement, that lasted until 1991 when the United Nations brokered a cease-fire.  The suspension of hostilities left Morocco with de facto control over two-thirds of Western Sahara. As a result, thousands of refugees from Western Sahara fled to Tindouf, Algeria. An estimated 90,000 Western Saharan refugees remain in camps in Tindouf, Algeria because a referendum to vote on the independence of Western Sahara from Morocco — promised in the 1991 UN cease-fire — has yet to occur.  Morocco has received an influx of refugees since the start of the Syrian civil war – UNHCR estimates that more than half of the 6,000 refugees and asylum-seekers currently in Morocco are from Syria.

syrian-refugees morocco


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Refugee World Cup, Tuesday 19 June

Playing today: Russia, Japan, Egypt, Senegal, Colombia, Poland

Russia since the late nineteenth century has contributed massively to the forced migration of peoples.  From Jews driven out of Tsarist Russia by pogroms, to political refugees from Stalin and his successors, and the displacement of populations due to civil and world wars, Russian refugees have made a significant cultural impact on the countries in which they found sanctuary.  Writer Vladimir Nabokov and artist Marc Chagall both fled to Europe and then had to seek safety in the USA as the Nazis took over.  In France, Irene Nemirovsky established a successful literary career but was deported to Auschwitz where she was murdered.  In recent times, Russia has seen an influx of refugees from Ukraine and from Syria.


In 2011, a catastrophic earthquake and tsunami struck Japan, killing over 15.5k people, causing a serious nuclear accident, and creating over 300k internal refugees.


Japan accepted just 20 asylum seekers last year – despite a record 19,628 applications – drawing accusations that the country is unfairly closing its door on people in genuine need. Since 2010, Japan has granted work permits to asylum seekers with valid visas to work while their refugee claims were reviewed, a change the government says has fuelled a dramatic rise in “bogus” applications from people who are simply seeking work. According to figures released this week, the number of applicants in 2017 rose 80% from a year earlier, when 28 out of almost 11,000 requests were recognised. …  Recent changes indicate Japan is getting even tougher. In an attempt to reduce the number of applicants, the government last month started limiting the right to work only to those it regards as genuine asylum seekers. Repeat applicants, and those who fail initial screenings, risk being held in immigration detention centres after their permission to stay in Japan expires.

Eri Ishikawa, head of the Japan Association for Refugees, said the new regulation was part of a wider crackdown on refugees under the conservative prime minister, Shinzo Abe.


Egypt is a destination and transit country for refugees and asylum-seekers, most of whom live in urban areas. According to UNHCR, currently, 208,398 refugees and asylum-seekers of 63 different nationalities are registered with UNHCR Egypt. Over half are from Syria.

But refugees in Egypt also face similar dangers compared to the perils reported from other North African countries. In September 2016, a ship capsized off the Egyptian coast, with more than 400 migrants on board. The boat had Egyptian, Sudanese, Eritrean and Somali migrants on board and was believed to be heading to Italy. 168 migrants were killed. This tragedy, however, did not slow down or stop the flow of refugees trying to make it to Europe. According to Mada Masr, an Egyptian news outlet, Eritrean refugees, for example, are staying in Cairo’s Mohandiseen district, waiting to get on boats to Europe. Eritreans are increasingly using Egypt as a transit country instead of going through Libya.

According to the EU, 7 percent of migrants who came to Europe in 2016 came through Egypt. The UNHCR explains: “limited livelihood opportunities and a lack of prospects for integration, coupled with a loss of hope to be able to return to their country of origin have contributed to the steady rise in the numbers of refugees departing irregularly by sea.”

Dangers lurk not only at sea but also in the desert. Between 2009 and 2014, hundreds of refugees were held hostage by Bedouin tribes in the Sinai. The refugees, coming from countries like Eritrea and Ethiopia, would be abducted to demand bribes of $20,000 to $40,000.

Meanwhile in 2012, Israel constructed a fence on the border with Egypt to keep out African migrants.


2004 marked the beginning of the most significant violent conflict in Senegal’s recent history. The province of Casamance has been seeking independence from the Senegalese government since 1982. Civil unrest came to a head in 2004, with instances of violent conflict being documented well into 2014. The conflict has displaced thousands and taken a serious toll on civilian life. While a ceasefire was signed in 2014, smaller scale fighting continues today, albeit at a much smaller scale. According to the most recent figures, there are an estimated 62,638 internally displaced people (IDP) in and around Senegal as a result of this civil strife.  Senegal also hosts refugees from CAR, Ivory Coast, Gambia and Mauritania.


In March 2018, Colombia hosted 277 refugees, 625 asylum-seekers and 11 stateless people. There are 7,671,124 internally displaced people, Colombians who have been forced to flee their homes but have not sought safety in another country, the second highest total worldwide (only Syria has a greater number).

The peace agreement between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) is being implemented and the former guerrilla group has officially laid down its arms. However, clashes with other armed groups have persisted and forced displacement is expected to continue in some areas.

Whilst refugees from Colombia’s own conflicts have headed to Ecuador, Venezuela or Panama,  at least one million people have entered Colombia from Venezuela since President Nicolás Maduro’s government descended into crisis last year.



Later in Refugee Week I will be posting the story of Barbara Szablewski (nee Czerniajew) and her life as a refugee during World War II.

Poland’s history is of invasions and partitions and displacement of peoples.  Before Hitler turned on his ally Stalin, they had divided the country up between them, and Poles suffered under both regimes.  Some found sanctuary in the UK where many joined the fight against Hitler and after the war settled permanently rather than return to a country which had replaced one tyranny for another.

Poland today, like so many European nations, is resisting the call to welcome refugees.  The government has refused to meet the EU’s mandatory refugee quota and take in refugees from the Middle East.  The country is one of the most homogeneous in Europe, partly as a result of the Holocaust’s destruction of its Jewish population and the post-war relocation of its large Ukrainian, Belarusian, German and other minorities.

Bishop Tadeusz Pieronek, from the more liberal wing of the Church, told the Rzeczpospolita newspaper that accepting a few hundred asylum seekers isn’t much of a problem for a country of 38 million. “Not accepting refugees practically means resigning from being a Christian,” he said. “I’m ashamed of those who don’t want to do their duty not just as Christians but as human beings.” Critics also point out that Poles were massive beneficiaries of refugee policies in the past when thousands of people fleeing the military regime in the early 1980s were allowed to settle in Western Europe.

But the government, whose top officials are ostentatiously pious and which finds strong backing from the conservative wing of the Church, is no more willing to listen to the admonishments of Rome than of Brussels.







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Refugee World Cup, Monday 18 June

Playing today: Sweden, South Korea, Belgium, Panama, Tunisia, England

Panama hosts thousands of refugees seeking asylum from nearby countries such as Nicaragua and Venezuela. However, the majority of refugees in Panama come from Colombia. Over more than 50 years of drug-related conflict, 6.6 million Colombians have been forced to leave their homes. An estimated 370,000 Colombian refugees live in countries near their own, and Panama is a major hub.


Sweden has a reputation for generosity when it comes to asylum.  But, as with many European countries, the mood is now less welcoming, and a recent poll suggested that 60% of voters want the country to take in fewer refugees.  The most populous country in northern Europe, Sweden received 22k asylum seekers in 2017, and granted protection to 26.8k. Its reputation as a place of sanctuary goes back to World War II, when as an officially neutral nation which in various ways worked with both sides, it became a place of refuge for many who were fleeing Nazi persecution.  Nearly all of Denmark’s 8,000 Jews were brought to Sweden as were Jews from Norway and Finland.

South Korea

The Korean War caused a massive displacement of people in both North and South that left many thousands of Koreans in need of new homes. The close military, political, and economic ties between the United States and South Korea’s government during and after the war facilitated the immigration of large numbers of Korean war refugees, war brides, and war orphans to America.


South Korea is currently one of the few countries in Asia to be a party to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol. However, it continues to reject the vast majority of non-North Korean asylum seekers entering the country.

Since 1994, the government granted refugee status to approximately 2.5 percent of non-North Korean asylum applicants it screened. Between January and October 2017, 7,291 applied for refugee status; the government accepted just 96 cases, or approximately 1.31 percent of applications. North Koreans do not apply for asylum through this process, they are granted South Koran citizenship through the Promotion and Resettlement Support Act for North Korean Refugees.

The number of North Koreans arriving in South Korea has decreased significantly, because of heightened security on both sides of the border.  Some arrive in the South via China or Mongolia.  85% of North Korean refugees are women. Upon arrival all North Korean refugees have to go through lengthy interrogation.  Many are traumatised, and find the process of integration painful and difficult.

Tunisia has seen the number of refugees increase greatly since 2011, and then decrease to a much smaller number today. The country’s location attracts both migrants and refugees. It has promised to adopt a national asylum law soon, which will take the burden away from the UNHCR as the sole entity conducting refugee interviews.



After the invasion of Belgium in the First World War, somewhere between 225,000 and 265,000 refugees fled to Britain.  They received substantial popular support, in part due to the reports (in part true, in part exaggerated for propaganda purposes) of atrocities by the invading German army.  Fewer civilian refugees made it the UK in WWII (around 15000) and public opinion had shifted.  Rather than ‘plucky little Belgium’, the country was now seen as having betrayed the Allies by surrendering.   In 1960, as what had been the Belgian Congo gained its independence, around 80,000 Belgians were evacuated as tensions and violence escalated.

At present, Belgium, like other European countries, has seen an influx of refugees primarily from Syria.  Whilst the numbers are much smaller than in many other parts of Europe, the response has been, in some quarters at least, hostile.

The mayor of a swanky beach resort near the port city of Zeebrugge called for a “camp like Guantanamo” to house them. And on February 1, Carl Decaluwé, governor of the Province West-Flanders, urged Belgians not to feed refugees “otherwise more will come.”

On the other hand:

Volunteer Ronny Blomme, who has been helping migrants by giving them food, drinks, sleeping bags and warm clothes at the church since they began arriving in November, says he is wants to make up for the failure of officials to deal with the problem humanely.

“Trying to scare these people is useless — they traveled 8,000 kilometers [4,970 miles] to get here and they have already lost everything,” he said. “What we need is a humanitarian solution.”












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The Refugee World Cup – Saturday 21 June

Playing today – Argentina, Bosnia

Fittingly for the last of my series of World Cup linked refugee stories, both of today’s have a football theme.


Bayan Mahmud fled ethnic violence in the north of Ghana, stowing away on a ship leaving Cape Coast, and ending up in Argentina.  He was lucky, finding kindness from a member of the ship’s crew, and then from strangers who helped him get to Buenos Aires, and to get refugee status.  Now, he’s on the Boca Juniors youth football team and hopes to one day be the first black player in the Argentine national team.  Maybe next time…

Bosnia & Hercegovina

Dejan Cokorilo’s story of leaving Sarajevo for safety in Sweden – ‘The Civil War kidnapped our childhood. Our city was under siege, but somehow my parents found a way out. We found peace and freedom in a new country, far away from home.’

Meanwhile the Bosnian national team includes a number of players who at least temporarily fled their homes during the war – amongst them Miralem Pjanic, Edin Dzeko, Asmir Begović, Senad Lulic, Haris Medunjanin.


There’s an actual Refugee World Cup, in Manchester later this month.  Details here:

and another took place in Sweden just before Rio as well:





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The Refugee World Cup – Friday 20 June

Playing today: Italy, Costa Rica, Honduras, Ecuador, Switzerland, France


The Italian island of Lampedusa is best known for being the primary European entry point for migrants, mainly coming from Africa.  Last autumn, around 36o migrants died in the seas around the island, and over 30 000 have been rescued by Mare Nostrum.  And the boats keep on setting sail, crammed with desperate people.

Costa Rica

One of the most peaceful and stable countries in the region, Costa Rica hosts many refugees, mainly from Colombia and Nicaragua.  Costa Rica took in many refugees from a range of other Latin American countries fleeing civil wars and dictatorships during the 1970s and 1980s.


In recent years, growing numbers of people have sought asylum in Mexico, Canada and the United States, citing the threat of gang violence and forced recruitment in countries such as Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras.

‘A 17-year-old boy who fled Honduras said, “My grandmother is the one who told me to leave. She said: ‘If you don’t join, the gang will shoot you. If you do, the rival gang will shoot you, or the cops. But if you leave, no one will shoot you.'”‘


Jason Tanner reports on a photographic assignment for UNHCR on the Ecuador-Colombia border:

‘Over the course of four weeks I would be ferried, often at short notice and sometimes covertly, to meet with and photograph refugees fleeing persecution and violence from neighbouring Colombia. This fearful frontier town in Ecuador is often the first stepping off point for refugees seeking safety and security. Unfortunately, for many refugees, the reach of those responsible for the violence often extends deep beyond the porous borders of Latin America.’


Switzerland’s cherished neutrality during the Second World War was in part protected by rigorous border controls.  Many refugees were turned back, including at least 20 000 Jews.  Those who helped people to cross the border were subject to criminal proceedings, and it is only very recently that some of the sentences handed out to people who challenged the restrictions to smuggle desperate people across the frontier have been given pardons.   See Aimée Stitelmann’s story here.


In September 1940, plans were being developed to enable Jewish children to get special visas to leave for the US.   The plan was intended for children under 13, but older children (up to 16) were eligible to accompany their younger brothers and sisters.   In March 1941, the OSE  (Oeuvre de Secours aux Enfants) at Montpellier sent a list of 500 children held in camps who were candidates for emigration.  These children were released from the camps, and brought by OSE to await emigration, along with children who had been helped by the Rothschild Foundation, Secours Suisse and the AFSC.   The first convoy of 101 children left Marseille in May 1941.   The train stopped briefly at Oloron station, just by the Gurs camp, so that children could say goodbye to their parents.  This was traumatic for all, and OSE did not continue with this practice.   From France, the children travelled through Spain to Portugal, stayed for around a week whilst they received medical care and were vaccinated.  At Lisbon, they boarded the SS Mouzinho, which took to the sea on 10 June 1941.  They disembarked in New York where they were met and looked after by the U.S. Committee for the Care of European Children.  The OSE went on to organise an underground network to smuggle children out of France.

Rio Mavuba, a member of the French World Cup squad, was born on board a boat in international waters during the Angolan Civil War, and later stated that his birth certificate did not have a nationality on it, reading only “born at sea”.   He received French nationality in September 2004.


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The Refugee World Cup – Thursday 19 June

Colombia, Ivory Coast, Uruguay, England, Japan, Greece

Colombia has one of the world’s largest populations of displaced people – somewhere between 2.6 and 4.3 million – due to ongoing armed conflict in the region.

See here for information on the photo project, Land of Light, undertaken by UNHCR Colombia and the Colombian photographer Santiago Escobar Jaramillo, which was realized through a series of  workshops with displaced communities.

Georgina’s story

Ivory Coast

Bere Tassoumane’s journey from stateless person to state official.

Some who left Liberia for safety in Ivory Coast during its civil war later returned the hospitality when Ivory Coast went through the same terrible trauma.  “During the Liberian war, refugees who left from Liberia to Ivory Coast stopped with people who also fled this Ivorian war,” Kolubah added.  “So those who were hosted as Liberian refugees in Ivory Coast do not want their host to go to the camp. They want them to stay with them no matter what it is.”


Uruguay’s president has agreed to take 100 Syrian child refugees.  The complexities of refugee politics are clear from this article – both in terms of the contribution relative to that of other nations, and to the problem as a whole, but also in terms of the way domestic politicians respond to even this ‘drop in the ocean’.


Refugee Action tells the stories of some of the refugees they work with, and the struggles they face in the UK.

I am, probably, more critical of my own country’s response on refugee and asylum issues, than of most others.  I expect more, I hope for more.  And there is so much to be disappointed, or angry, about.  I had to make a mental readjustment, however, talking to a taxi driver yesterday – father from Djibouti, mother from Britain, born in Dubai, and in no doubt at all that this was the place to be, a generous and welcoming society.  I found myself giving ground, acknowledging, I hope not too grudgingly, that it was good, even if I believed it could be better.   He’d have passed Tebbitt’s cricket test too, with a higher score than me…


Even a wealthy, peaceful nation, which tends not to persecute its citizens, can encounter a refugee crisis as the result of natural disaster.  The tsunami in 2011 left many homeless and facing desperate conditions.   ‘Freezing winds, hail storms and thick snow are the latest threats to 430,000 beleaguered survivors of northern Japan‘s week-long cascade of disasters. After a massive earthquake, devastating tsunami and nuclear crisis, many people made homeless are now facing icy weather, with temperatures forecast to plunge to –5C (23F).’ (Guardian, March 2011).


Syrian refugee Hussein finds safety in Greece.

In 1923, Greeks from Asia Minor were evacuated or relocated in Greece following the Convention Concerning the Exchange of Greek and Turkish Populations signed in Lausanne.  This followed a period of brutal massacres and ‘ethnic cleansing’ instigated by the government of the Ottoman Empire.  The first census after the evacuations showed the number of Greeks of Asia Minor origin to be 1,164,267. Descendants of the refugees took part in the great Greek migrations of the interwar period, as well as the large immigrations to the United States, Australia and Germany in the 1960s-1970s. Today, about 40% of the population of Greece claims full or partial descent from the Asia Minor refugees; as does an almost equal percentage of diasporan Greeks.



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The Refugee World Cup – Wednesday 18 June

Playing today: Australia, Netherlands, Spain, Chile, Cameroon, Croatia


In December 2010, a flimsy boat was wrecked by a storm on the cliffs of Christmas Island.  50 of the 89 men, women and children aboard, all asylum seekers, predominantly from Iran and Iraq, died.


In the mid-16th century, many Protestant Walloons and Flemings came to England to escape warfare and religious persecution, arriving in England through the Channel ports, many initially settling in Sandwich, until the numbers became too great.   Subsequently, the Walloons were permitted to move to Canterbury, and were welcomed by the city.  ‘The strangers (as they were called), were allowed to gather for worship at the church of St Alphege, opposite the Archbishop’s Palace, and later in the western crypt of the Cathedral.  Most of the refugees were engaged in the weaving trade, and provided local employment, and a flourishing trade in finished cloth for sale in London or abroad.


In 1937, during the Spanish civil war, a group of almost 4,000 children was evacuated from Bilbao in the Basque region of Spain. They embarked from Santurce, Bilbao, on the ‘Habana’ on Friday 21st May and dropped anchor at Fawley, at the entrance to Southampton Water, on Saturday evening. The following morning, Sunday 23rd, they docked at Southampton.  Initially accommodated in a large camp at North Stoneham, Eastleigh, they were eventually dispersed to many ‘colonies’ throughout the country.

Chile – Julio Parrado tells the story of his arrest and torture after the overthrow of the Allende government in Chile, and how he found sanctuary in Sweden.


A few weeks ago photographer Frederic Noy went to Cameroon with UNHRC to photograph the arrival of Central African refugees fleeing the violence in their country.


The UN Refugee Agency is recommending that the process of ceasing refugee status of refugees displaced from Croatia in the 1990s begins. Almost 20 years after the conflict in the former Yugoslavia ended, the circumstances that triggered displacement have fundamentally changed. Regional cooperation has intensified, voluntary returns have taken place, different ethnic groups have proven able to peacefully co-exist and economic and political progress is increasingly visible.  Meanwhile, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Montenegro and Serbia continue their efforts to find sustainable housing solutions for some 74,000 vulnerable refugees, returnees and IDPs from the 1991-1995 conflicts.


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