US fol­lows Europe pol­icy on asy­lum seek­ers

US long re­set­tled more refugees than any other coun­try, rais­ing ceil­ing to 110k dur­ing Obama’s last year in of­fice

Muscat Daily - - WORLD -

Tijuana, Mex­ico - Nkeze wasn’t home when Cameroo­nian mil­i­tants came knock­ing, prob­a­bly to de­liver their sig­na­ture ul­ti­ma­tum to join their sep­a­ratist move­ment or have his writ­ing arm cut off.

The 24 year old eco­nom­ics stu­dent es­caped to Douala, the coun­try’s largest city, only to learn that the gov­ern­ment wanted to ar­rest him for par­tic­i­pat­ing in a uni­ver­sity protest. He then flew to Ecuador and trav­elled through eight coun­tries to the US bor­der with Mex­ico, in­clud­ing a trek through Pana­ma­nian jun­gle where he saw corpses and refugees cry­ing for shel­ter, food and wa­ter.

In his quest to set­tle with rel­a­tives in Hous­ton, Nkeze now faces a po­ten­tially in­sur­mount­able ob­sta­cle: A new Amer­i­can ban for­bids any­one from ap­ply­ing for asy­lum at the US-Mex­ico bor­der if they trav­elled through an­other coun­try to get there.

“When you find your­self on US soil, you are well-pro­tected,” Nkeze said, sound­ing up­beat as he waited in Tijuana for a chance to make his case.

“You are pro­tected by hu­man rights.”

The US is in­creas­ingly align­ing it­self with wealthy coun­tries in Europe and else­where to make asy­lum a more dis­tant prospect.

On Thurs­day, Amer­i­can au­thor­i­ties sent a Hon­duran man from El Paso, Texas, to Gu­atemala. It marked the first time the US gov­ern­ment directed an asy­lum-seeker back to that coun­try un­der the new pol­icy, which gave him an op­tion to file a claim there. He de­cided against fil­ing a claim and re­turned to Hon­duras, ac­cord­ing to Gu­atemala’s For­eign Min­istry.

Asy­lum was once al­most an af­ter­thought, un­til an un­prece­dented surge of mi­grants made the United States the world’s top des­ti­na­tion in 2017, ac­cord­ing to the United Na­tions Refugee Agency. The US held its lead­ing po­si­tion last year, fol­lowed by Peru, Ger­many, France and Turkey.

Nearly half of the roughly 1mn cases in back­logged US im­mi­gra­tion courts are asy­lum claims, with most from Gu­atemala, El Sal­vador and Hon­duras.

Trump has called asy­lum ‘a scam’ and de­clared that the coun­try is ‘full’. In nine months, the ad­min­is­tra­tion re­turned more than 55,000 asy­lum-seek­ers to Mex­ico to wait for their cases to wind through US courts. An­other asy­lum ban on any­one who crosses the bor­der il­le­gally from Mex­ico is tem­po­rar­ily blocked in court.

This file photo shows vol­un­teers call­ing out the names of peo­ple on a wait­ing list try­ing to ob­tain asy­lum in the US along the US-Mex­ico bor­der in Tijuana, Mex­ico, on Novem­ber 12

It’s un­clear how the ban will be rolled out.

The US Home­land Se­cu­rity Depart­ment did not com­ment on Thurs­day’s ini­tial flight, which got a bare-bones an­nounce­ment from Gu­atemala’s for­eign min­istry. The US has struck agree­ments with Gu­atemala, El Sal­vador and Hon­duras that aim to send back asy­lum-seek­ers who pass through their coun­tries, but the Cen­tral Amer­i­can na­tions are woe­fully un­pre­pared to ac­cept large num­bers.

The UN Refugee Agency said on Tues­day that the ban is at odds with in­ter­na­tional law and ‘could re­sult in the trans­fer of highly vul­ner­a­ble in­di­vid­u­als to coun­tries where they may face life-threat­en­ing dan­gers’.

Asy­lum is de­signed for peo­ple flee­ing per­se­cu­tion based on their race, re­li­gion, na­tion­al­ity, po­lit­i­cal be­liefs or mem­ber­ship in a so­cial group. It isn’t in­tended for peo­ple who mi­grate for eco­nomic rea­sons, but many con­sider it their best hope of es­cap­ing poverty and vi­o­lence.

The US isn’t alone in ask­ing other coun­tries to block mi­grants. Af­ter about 1mn refugees trav­elled through Turkey and Greece to seek safety in Europe, the Euro­pean Union agreed in 2016 to pay Turkey bil­lions of eu­ros to keep them in refugee camps.

The EU has also funded the Libyan Coast Guard to stop Africans from cross­ing the Mediter­ranean, where thou­sands have drowned. Libyan forces have kept refugees in squalid con­di­tions and in­flicted tor­ture.

Since 2001, Aus­tralia has in­ter­mit­tently blocked boats from Asia and de­tained asy­lum-seek­ers on Christ­mas Is­land, a tiny Aus­tralian ter­ri­tory, or sent them to Pa­pua New Guinea and Nauru, an is­land na­tion of 10,000 peo­ple. Aus­tralia pays de­ten­tion costs.

The US long re­set­tled more refugees than any other coun­try, rais­ing its ceil­ing to 110,000 dur­ing Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s last year in of­fice. That prac­tice has been sharply cur­tailed since Trump took of­fice, with the coun­try plan­ning to re­set­tle no more than 18,000 refugees in 2020.

“There’s this race to the bot­tom around the world, and gov­ern­ments are look­ing to each other and try­ing to fig­ure out what’s the harsh­est pol­icy they can get away with,” said David FitzGer­ald, a so­ci­ol­ogy pro­fes­sor at Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia at San Diego and au­thor of Refuge Be­yond Reach: How Rich Democ­ra­cies Re­pel Asy­lum­seek­ers.

Cameroo­ni­ans hop­ing to fol­low Nkeze’s path face mount­ing ob­sta­cles. Ecuador, the main gate­way from Europe, be­gan re­quir­ing visas for Cameroo­ni­ans and ten other na­tion­al­i­ties in Au­gust, in­clud­ing six in Africa. Un­der heavy pres­sure from Trump, Mex­ico is bot­tling up Cameroo­ni­ans and other USbound asy­lum-seek­ers near its south­ern bor­der with Gu­atemala.

Nkeze walked through Panama’s re­mote, mostly road­less Darien Gap in less than four days on his way to the US Af­ter giv­ing his tent and rain­coat to a woman who was cling­ing to life, he slept on a stone and prayed for clear skies and morn­ing light. Only about a dozen in his group of 40 men could keep up in a race to a refugee camp on the other side of the jun­gle.

When his 20-day tran­sit per­mit in Mex­ico ex­pired, Nkeze helped a friend at a Tijuana juice fac­tory for a cut of his earn­ings and lived at a no-frills ho­tel in the city’s red-light district.

Even be­fore the ban, asy­lum was dif­fi­cult to get in the US Judges granted only 21 per cent of cases, or 13,248 out of 62,382, in the 2018 fis­cal year. Nkeze can also ask for two vari­a­tions of asy­lum, but they are even harder to ob­tain, with three per cent suc­ceed­ing un­der ‘with­hold­ing of re­moval’ law and only two per cent un­der the UN Con­ven­tion Against Tor­ture.

“They es­sen­tially want you to bring a note from your tor­turer be­fore they are will­ing to let you stay in the US,” said Stephen Yale-Loehr, pro­fes­sor of im­mi­gra­tion law prac­tice at Cor­nell Uni­ver­sity.

Nkeze may have caught a break when a fed­eral judge in San Diego ruled Tues­day that any­one who ap­peared at a US bor­der cross­ing be­fore the ban was an­nounced July 16 and waited for their names to be called should be ex­empt.

He waited for five months in Tijuana for his turn on a list of nearly 9,000 peo­ple seek­ing asy­lum at a San Diego bor­der cross­ing.

When his name was fi­nally called Novem­ber 12, he wore a Mex­i­can flag pin on the chest of his jacket as Mex­i­can au­thor­i­ties es­corted him to US bor­der in­spec­tors. He said it was a show of ap­pre­ci­a­tion.

He was im­me­di­ately taken into im­mi­gra­tion cus­tody and is be­ing held in an Ari­zona de­ten­tion cen­tre.

When you find your­self on US soil, you are well-pro­tected. You are pro­tected by hu­man rights




This file photo shows peo­ple wait­ing along the US-Mex­ico bor­der in Tijuana, Mex­ico, to ob­tain asy­lum in the United States, on Novem­ber 12

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