Québec suspend le parrainage de réfugiés pour les organismes

Of note:

Pour se donner le temps d’enquêter sur de possibles cas de fraudes, le ministère de l’Immigration a décidé de suspendre pendant un an le dépôt de dossiers de parrainage de réfugiés pour les organismes provenant de partout au Québec. Selon ce nouvel arrêté ministériel émis mercredi par la ministre de l’Immigration, Nadine Girault, seuls les groupes de 2 à 5 personnes seront ainsi autorisés à déposer des dossiers de parrainage dans le cadre d’un nouveau mécanisme d’envoi en ligne qui abandonne le système du « premier arrivé, premier servi » au profit d’un tirage au sort.

« Cette décision s’explique par la tenue d’enquêtes pénales et administratives visant des organismes à la suite d’allégations sérieuses qui mettent en cause l’intégrité des actions de certains organismes et la protection des personnes réfugiées », peut-on lire dans un communiqué du ministère. Ces changements surviennent après que le ministre de l’Immigration, de l’Intégration et de la Francisation (MIFI) de l’époque, Simon Jolin-Barrette, a reconnu les ratés du processus en janvier dernier et promis de revoir le mécanisme de réception des demandes.

En colère, plusieurs organismes se plaignent d’avoir été tous mis dans le même panier et d’être ainsi pénalisés pour quelques possibles fraudeurs. « On dit à tout le monde d’arrêter parce qu’il y a des problèmes avec certains joueurs. C’est injuste », a lancé Paul Clarke, d’Action réfugiés Montréal. « L’analogie que je fais, c’est une classe où quelques élèves n’auraient pas fait leurs devoirs, mais on demande à tous les élèves de rester en retenue. » M. Clarke est d’autant plus déçu qu’il a des réfugiés sur sa liste d’attente depuis au moins 5 ans.

« Je suis atterrée », a lancé pour sa part Nayiri Tavlian, de l’organisme Hay Doun, qui poursuit sa mission humanitaire de parrainage depuis près de 15 ans. « Ce programme-là fait la fierté du Québec. Je ne comprends pas qu’on mette la hache de cette manière sous prétexte que certains font des choses irrégulières », a-t-elle dit visiblement en colère. « C’est de la manipulation. »

Rappelons qu’en 2017, le gouvernement libéral d’alors avait suspendu pour 18 mois le programme de parrainage privé, notamment à la suite d’allégations d’irrégularités et de fraudes, où des organismes demandaient d’importantes sommes à des familles de réfugiés, et souvent, sans leur donner l’encadrement nécessaire à leur arrivée.

Nayiri Tavlian soutient que son organisme est un de ceux qui ont toujours collaboré avec le ministère et même dénoncé des choses qui n’allaient pas. Même qu’avec d’autres organismes, Hay Doun réclame depuis deux ans des détails sur cette reddition de compte. « [Le ministère] voulait qu’on fasse des rapports. Alors on a dit “parfait, qu’attendez-vous de nous ? Envoyez-nous des formulaires !” Mais on n’avait pas de réponse. »

Or, ces rapports n’auraient été exigés que très récemment, confirme Paul Clarke, d’Action réfugiés Montréal. « Tout d’un coup, au mois de septembre, les organismes expérimentés comme le nôtre, on a reçu un document [du ministère] qui nous demandait de fournir un rapport financier depuis deux ans et un rapport d’établissement pour voir comment on avait géré l’accompagnement de tous les gens qu’on a accueillis depuis deux ans », a-t-il raconté.

Le directeur de la Table de concertation des organismes au service des personnes réfugiées et immigrantes (TCRI), Stephan Reichhold, craint pour sa part que cette décision du ministère nuise à la réputation des organismes et du programme lui-même. « On est très déçus de la décision. Ça va donner des arguments aux groupes anti-réfugiés qui vont s’emparer de ça et dire qu’en plus de faire venir des réfugiés, les organismes sont des fraudeurs. »

750 dossiers aux « groupes 2 à 5 »

Comme le ministère de l’Immigration maintient la même limite de 750 dossiers pour ce programme, c’est la catégorie des « groupes de 2 à 5 personnes physiques » qui hérite de la totalité des places, ce qui constitue une forte augmentation puisqu’elle était limitée à 100 demandes.

Du 6 avril au 5 mai 2021, ces groupes de particuliers pourront donc déposer une demande de parrainage (maximum deux) par voie électronique, à raison d’une demande par envoi. Le ministère procédera à un tirage au sort parmi les demandes reçues, un mécanisme qui crée un malaise, selon le directeur de la TCRI. « C’est complètement en contradiction avec la mission d’un programme humanitaire qui aide les réfugiés. Le fait qu’on parle de sauver des vies sur la base d’un procédé aléatoire soulève des questions sur le plan éthique », a soutenu M. Reichhold.

Quebec is suspending all private refugee sponsorships by organizations because it says it has serious concerns with the integrity of the program.

The province said today that until November 2021, only groups of two to five people can privately sponsor a refugee.

All larger organizations including church groups and non-profits that have privately sponsored refugees for years are shut out of the program for the next 12 months.

The government published its decision in the Official Gazette and did not give details other than saying it had serious concerns about the integrity of certain practices within the framework of the program.

Quebec’s Immigration Department did not immediately return a request for comment.

Paul Clarke, executive director of Action Refugies Montreal, a non-profit that has sponsored refugees to Quebec since the 1990s, called the government’s decision unfortunate.

Clarke says legitimate organizations such as his have been put under a cloud of suspicion following the suspension. He says it’s unfair to punish his group for the alleged mistakes of others.

“They are using a sledgehammer when they should be using surgical tools,” Clarke said in an interview, in reference to the Immigration Department.

Quebec’s decision to suspend private refugee sponsorships from organizations does not reduce the number of refugees who can apply to immigrate to the province.

Clarke said the government has allowed about 750 applications for the last couple of years and will do so for 2021.

The published public order says the government has “serious concerns about the integrity of certain practices of legal persons within the framework” of the private refugee sponsorship program.

Source: Quebec suspends private refugee sponsorships by organizations for one year

Canada urged to offer safe haven to Hongkongers

Needed:

Conservative Party Leader Erin O’Toole is calling on the Canadian government to urgently adopt special measures that provide a safe haven for Hong Kong residents facing persecution under a harsh national security law imposed by China on the former British colony.

Mr. O’Toole said Canada must also be prepared to support the 300,000 Canadians living in Hong Kong. This would include evacuation assistance if it becomes necessary for Canadian citizens to flee the Asian financial hub as Chinese security forces continue their crackdown on civil rights.

Special immigration and refugee measures are also needed to provide a “lifeboat” for non-Canadian Hongkongers who are being harassed by Chinese security forces and Hong Kong police, he said in an interview with The Globe and Mail.

“We have to have special provisions,” Mr. O’Toole said. “There is a need for us to provide a refugee route for pro-democracy activists who are now living in a police state and cannot access the process of satisfying the requirements, when dealing with Canadian consular services, to use Express Entry or any other way they can visit Canada.”

It’s been more than three months since Beijing enacted the Law of the People’s Republic of China on Safeguarding National Security, which criminalizes opposition and dissent in Hong Kong. Western countries including Canada have accused the Chinese government of breaking a treaty with Britain that pledged to leave human and civil rights in Hong Kong untouched for 50 years after the former British colony was handed over to China in 1997.

This new law spells trouble for the multitude of Hongkongers who have opposed Beijing’s efforts to erode rights in the Asian city, including the more than 7,000 charged in connection with past protests or those under surveillance by Hong Kong police.

Canada’s arm’s-length Immigration and Refugee Board recently granted asylum to two Hong Kong activists, as The Globe first reported, but their case was unusual in that they came to Canada in late 2019, and neither face charges back home for taking part in pro-democracy protests. More than 45 other activists who arrived before the coronavirus pandemic have also applied to be accepted as refugees.

Mr. O’Toole’s call for immediate action to help Hongkongers comes days after the House of Commons committee on citizenship and immigration voted unanimously to investigate measures to provide a haven for them.

NDP immigration critic Jenny Kwan, who put forward the motion, said the Trudeau government is doing nothing, and Hongkongers are growing desperate.

“It’s been all talk and no action,” she said. “The Liberals always find the right words to say but they never follow up with action.”

There are several hundred thousand Canadians of Hong Kong origin living in Canada and 300,000 Canadian citizens living there now.

Mr. O’Toole said action is needed especially after China’s ambassador to Canada, Cong Peiwu, recently warned Ottawa against granting asylum to pro-democracy dissidents from Hong Kong. Mr. Cong said last week that such action could jeopardize the “health and safety” of 300,000 Canadians living there.

“I have actually met a few people in Canada who cannot return to Hong Kong because they fear for their lives, and knowing what we know about the situation there, I think we have to offer them safe haven,” Mr. O’Toole said.

One problem facing Hongkongers trying to flee now is pandemic travel restrictions that prevent them from boarding an aircraft bound for Canada. Before COVID-19, they could travel to Canada as a tourist and ask for asylum upon arrival – but not any more. They are fearful of declaring their intention to seek asylum while in Hong Kong, where they could be monitored, or are being watched by police, or already face charges for pro-democracy demonstrations.

Another option is for them to apply as economic immigrants through Ottawa’s Express Entry program, but that is a difficult route. Express Entry is for high-talent immigrants and it also requires a certificate from Hong Kong’s police, who are under the thumb of Beijing’s Ministry of Security.

The NDP’s Ms. Kwan hopes Ottawa could set up a system similar to that established by successive governments to help persecuted gay Iranians and Chechens reach Canada. Such a process would allow designate non-governmental organizations to play a role in helping arrange documents for Hongkongers’ passage out of the Asian city, perhaps via a third country.

She also recommends that Ottawa loosen family reunification rules so that a greater number of family relations in Canada could easily sponsor arrivals from Hong Kong. It’s harder for Canadians to sponsor relatives to immigrate to Canada if they are not a spouse, partner or children.

Canadian supporters of Hong Kong dissidents say the problem with using programs such as Express Entry is that applicants from Hong Kong do not generate sufficient points to merit acceptance.

Robert Falconer, a research associate at the University of Calgary School of Public Policy and an external adviser to Alliance Canada Hong Kong, said there could be a solution. If Canada is concerned about China seeing it grant asylum to many dissidents from Hong Kong, and would prefer to bring them in as economic migrants, he said, perhaps there could be a special code that applicants can add to their Express Entry applications. The code would artificially raise the point total so they can be accepted.

Mr. Falconer said groups such as Alliance Canada Hong Kong could be empowered to distribute these codes to dissidents in Hong Kong.

“For all appearance, they would come in as economic-stream immigrants,” he said.

Source: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/politics/article-canada-urged-to-offer-safe-haven-to-hongkongers/

Canada begins accepting Hong Kong pro-democracy activists as refugees

Welcome and likely the start of a future wave:

Canada has begun accepting Hong Kong pro-democracy activists as refugees, a sign that this country is opening its doors to those fleeing Beijing’s crackdown on civil rights in the former British colony.

In a Sept. 1 letter, the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada notified a married couple from Hong Kong, both in their early 30s, that the refugee protection division has determined they are “Convention refugees” and their claims for asylum have been accepted.

Under Canadian law, a “Convention refugee” refers to the United Nations Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and is defined as someone who cannot return to their home “due to a well-founded fear of persecution based on race, religion, political opinion” or other factors.

The Globe And Mail spoke to the Hong Kong couple, who originally arrived in Canada last December, but is withholding reporting certain details of their cases because they fear retribution against themselves or families back in Hong Kong by agents of the Chinese Communist Party. The Globe is also granting them confidentiality for the same reason.

The Hong Kong man, 33, who has been accepted as a refugee, said he was a very active protester in the pro-democracy movement in the Asian city, including with a well-known political party that put pressure on the local government to implement universal suffrage. He and his wife, 30, also took to street protests in 2019 amid mass demonstrations that followed efforts by Hong Kong’s leadership to enact legislation that would allow extradition to mainland China.

The man said he was on the front lines of demonstrations in 2019 and ran a warehouse to produce defensive equipment for protesters. He said he was at one point detained by Chinese authorities – they were not wearing uniforms – and Hong Kong police followed him and searched his home, but he was never charged.

He said near the end of his time in Hong Kong, fearful for his safety, he ended up hiding in a cave under a building.

Now, with asylum in Canada, he said: “It feels now like I no longer need to hide, and I am finally somewhere I can live safely.”

He said he is very thankful for Canada’s decision, a country he said shares common values with Hong Kongers.

Immigration lawyer Richard Kurland, who is not representing them, said he believes these two Hong Kongers are among the first pro-democracy activists to be granted asylum. He said he believes a few others may have already obtained refugee status as well.

“These are the first of a small number,” Mr. Kurland, based in Vancouver, said. “This is like the starter’s gun.”

He said accepting refugees from Hong Kong, however, is an indictment of the Asian city’s justice system, which still retains the legacy of institutional frameworks from Britain, despite Hong Kong’s 1997 handover to China under a one-country, two-systems formula.

“By implication, the Canadian refugee determination system has put the Hong Kong judicial system into disrepute. The person has no internal flight alternative, and cannot reasonably rely upon Hong Kong’s judicial structure for protection.”

The Globe reported earlier this year that close to 50 Hong Kongers – many of whom took part in the massive demonstrations that began last year – have already applied for asylum in Canada, citing harassment and brutality at the hands of police in Hong Kong and fear of unjust prosecution.

Conservative foreign-affairs critic Michael Chong said Canada must do more than just “accept a handful” of asylum seekers from Hong Kong, where a harsh new security law was imposed by Beijing this summer – one that criminalizes dissent and opposition.

“Processing a handful of asylum claims from those fleeing Hong Kong is not commensurate to the crisis that is unfolding there,” he said. “Canada needs to do more to provide a path for those seeking asylum from the imposition of China’s draconian new national security law.”

Mr. Chong said Canada should work with allies, such as Britain, to admit many more Hong Kongers fleeing. There is no reason why Canada couldn’t follow the British lead by offering a path to citizenship to Hong Kong residents, he said.

Hong Kongers coming to Canada would enrich the country because “they are highly educated” and would provide immense economic benefit, he added.

Avvy Go of Toronto’s Chinese and Southeast Asian Legal Clinic said it’s urgent to act now to help the people of Hong Kong.

“The situation is getting worse. More and more people have been arrested. It is clear the Hong Kong government is not going back down. … We need [to] act now before they arrest more people and their passports are seized,” she said.

Mr. Kurland said he still expects a surge of immigration from Hong Kong and more refugee claims. Canada has not yet unveiled special measures to facilitate migration from Hong Kong. He said Ottawa appears to be keeping this in abeyance until “things turn urgent and you see a wave of claimants from Hong Kong.”

Former Liberal justice minister Irwin Cotler, an international champion of human rights, urged the Trudeau government to grant asylum to any Hong Kong resident seeking to escape China’s draconian national security law.

“I wouldn’t be limiting it to two. This has been such a serious assault on democracy for the national security legislation that impacts on everyone … and puts anyone in Canada who supports them at risk so we need to have a response that says we are here to protect those who we are able to protect and to facilitate their coming to Canada,” he said.

The Hong Kong couple accepted as refugees received the support of a Canadian group called New Hong Kong Cultural Club.

Source: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/politics/article-canada-starts-accepting-hong-kong-activists-as-refugees/

Trump to cut 2021 refugee admission to 15,000

No real surprise:

The Trump administration has proposed further slashing the number of refugees the United States accepts to a new record low in the coming year.

In a notice sent to Congress late Wednesday, just 34 minutes before a statutory deadline to do so, the administration said it intended to admit a maximum of 15,000 refugees in fiscal year 2021. That’s 3,000 fewer than the 18,000 ceiling the administration had set for fiscal year 2020, which expired at midnight Wednesday.

The proposal will now be reviewed by Congress, where there are strong objections to the cuts, but lawmakers will be largely powerless to force changes.

The more than 16.5% reduction was announced shortly after President Donald Trump vilified refugees as an unwanted burden at a campaign rally in Duluth, Minnesota, where he assailed his opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden. He claimed Biden wants to flood the state with foreigners.

“Biden will turn Minnesota into a refugee camp, and he said that — overwhelming public resources, overcrowding schools and inundating hospitals. You know that. It’s already there. It’s a disgrace what they’ve done to your state,” Trump told supporters.

Trump froze refugee admissions in March amid the coronavirus pandemic, citing a need to protect American jobs as fallout from the coronavirus crashed the economy.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the administration is committed to the country’s history of leading the world in providing a safe place for refugees.

“We continue to be the single greatest contributor to the relief of humanitarian crisis all around the world, and we will continue to do so,” Pompeo told reporters in Rome on the sidelines of a conference on religious freedom organized by the U.S. Embassy. “Certainly so long as President Trump is in office, I can promise you this administration is deeply committed to that.”

But advocates say the government’s actions do not show that. Since taking office, Trump has slashed the number of refugees allowed into the country by more than 80%, reflecting his broader efforts to drastically reduce both legal and illegal immigration.

The U.S. allowed in just over 10,800 refugees — a little more than half of the 18,000 cap set by Trump for 2020 — before the State Department suspended the program because of the coronavirus.

The 18,000 cap was already the lowest in the history of the program. In addition, the State Department announced last week that it would no longer provide some statistical information on refugee resettlement, sparking more concerns.

Advocates say the Trump administration is dismantling a program that has long enjoyed bipartisan support and has been considered a model for protecting the world’s most vulnerable people.

Scores of resettlement offices have closed because of the drop in federal funding, which is tied to the number of refugees placed in the U.S.

And the damage is reverberating beyond American borders as other countries close their doors to refugees as well.

“We’re talking about tens of millions of desperate families with no place to go and having no hope for protection in the near term,” said Krish Vignarajah, president of the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, a federally funded agency charged with resettling refugees in the United States.

Bisrat Sibhatu, an Eritrean refugee, does not want to think about the possibility of another year passing without reuniting with his wife.

For the past 2 1/2 years, he has called the caseworker who helped him resettle in Milwaukee every two weeks to inquire about the status of his wife’s refugee case.

The answer is always the same — nothing to report.

“My wife is always asking me: ‘Is there news?’” said Sibhatu, who talks to her daily over a messaging app. “It’s very tough. How would you feel if you were separated from your husband? It’s not easy. I don’t know what to say to her.”

He said the couple fled Eritrea’s authoritarian government and went to neighboring Ethiopia, which hosts more than 170,000 Eritrean refugees and asylum-seekers. Between 2017 and 2019, his wife, Ruta, was interviewed, vetted and approved to be admitted to the United States as a refugee. Then everything came to a halt.

Sibhatu, who works as a machine operator at a spa factory, sends her about $500 every month to cover her living expenses in Ethiopia.

“I worry about her, about her life,” Sibhatu said, noting Ethiopia’s spiraling violence and the pandemic. “But there is nothing we can do.”

He hopes his wife will be among the refugees who make it to the United States in 2021.

Source: Trump to cut 2021 refugee admission to 15,000

Douglas Todd: ‘Religious persecution’ claimed by more asylum seekers in Canada

Of interest, including the sensible perspective of Richard Kurland “Canadians don’t have to light their hair on fire.”:

A rising number of “irregular migrants” are arriving in Canada and saying they are victims of religious persecution.

Many of the roughly 60,000 of these migrants who found a way into Canada last year are claiming either political or, increasingly, religious persecution, according to an internal report by the Canadian Border Services Agency.

The report reveals that more than four out of five claimants who arrived from India, Iran and China had found an unauthorized way to get onto Canadian soil before they made their “inland” application for refugee status. A smaller number asked to be viewed as asylum seekers when they arrived at either a land border crossing or a Canadian airport. The report doesn’t clarify which proportion claim religious persecution.

A Vancouver immigration specialist, Richard Kurland, obtained the CBSA document through an access to information request. Normally, Kurland said, about four out of 10 irregular migrants are eventually granted refugee status in Canada, regardless of whether they maintain they have been victims of political or religious persecution.

The uptick in the number of applicants in Canada making claims of religious persecution appears to be a sign of the times.

The Pew Research Center has found that, since 2007, governments around the world have generally imposed greater restrictions on religious freedom.China and Iran, major source countries of migrants to Canada, are among the worst for imposing limits on the way citizens’ practice their faith.

Although China, an officially atheist state, says it permits religious freedom, it only allows five major religious groups to operate and they’re subject to control by the United Front and the Communist Party. House churches, underground Catholics, Falun Gung members and Uighur Muslims face harassment, imprisonment and even torture.

Iran, an Islamic republic in which 98 per cent of the population is Muslim (mostly Shia), formally recognizes Jews, Christians and Zoroastrians, but not Baha’is, who are frequently imprisoned and persecuted as “misguided” Muslims. Religious minorities in Iran often report feeling threatened — and apostasy, specifically conversion from Islam, can be punishable by death.

In addition, Pew gives some its worst marks for “high levels of inter-religious tension” and “violence by organized groups” to the large migrant-source countries of India and Nigeria. It also lists Egypt and Pakistan, both Muslim-majority states.

While India is a secular state with a reputation for religious tolerance, since it is the birthplace of Jainism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Sikhism, in recent decades there have been anti-Sikh, anti-Hindu, anti-Muslim and anti-Christian riots. There are also reports of vigilantism in regions run by the Hindu nationalist BJP Party.

Nigeria’s population of 200 million is roughly divided between Muslims and Christians. In recent years gun battles have burst our between young, often-educated members of rival Christian and Muslim sects, leading to dozens of deaths and the burning of mosques and churches.

No doubt there is severe religious persecution occurring in many places. But not all maltreatment narratives are believed by Canada’s border officials, who reject the majority of irregular applicants.

Regardless of the reasons irregular migrants have for claiming refugee status, Kurland emphasizes, “The big question is: ‘How many of the failed applicants are actually removed from Canada?”

Canadian officials, like those in other immigrant-receiving nations, typically only get around to forcibly removing about 15 per cent of failed claimants, he said. The rest find ways to work with immigration officials to stretch out their stays in Canada for years.

“It’s not Amazon.com. You can’t just pack them up and return them,” Kurland said.

What is the common pattern for recent irregular migrants? The reality is that most who end up in Canada first go to the U.S., Kurland said, before they illicitly cross the land border into Quebec or Ontario.

Most don’t apply for refugee status as they cross a land border or touch down at a Canadian airport, he said, because they justifiably fear being immediately deported.

(Government-assisted refugees are in a different category, since they come to Canada recommended and approved by the United Nations.)

There are weaknesses in arguing you were persecuted for religious beliefs, Kurland said.

The main drawback is border and immigration officials will likely ask why you didn’t escape persecution by moving to another region of your own country. So-called “internal flight” is a common way to avoid harassment, especially in India, Pakistan and Nigeria.

Despite the many inconsistencies involved in the way Canada and other immigrant-receiving countries deal with irregular migrants, Kurland believes we don’t have a terrible system. “Canadians don’t have to light their hair on fire.”

Since the worst applicants are returned to their country of origin, the many others who find ways to drag out their stays often end up contributing. Many marry, find sponsors and hold down jobs, eventually obtaining permanent resident status.

“They’re the ones who’ve beaten the Darwinian system.”

Source: Douglas Todd: ‘Religious persecution’ claimed by more asylum seekers in Canada

How Angela Merkel’s great migrant gamble paid off

Good long read:

Five years ago, as more and more refugees crossed into Europe, Germany’s chancellor proclaimed, ‘We’ll manage this.’ Critics said it was her great mistake – but she has been proved right

Mohammad Hallak found the key to unlock the mysteries of his new homeland when he realised you could switch the subtitles on your Netflix account to German. The 21-year-old Syrian from Aleppo jotted down words he didn’t know, increased his vocabulary and quickly became fluent. Last year, he passed his end of high school exams with a grade of 1.5, the top mark in his year group.

Five years to the month after arriving in Germany as an unaccompanied minor, Hallak is now in his third term studying computer science at the Westphalian University of Applied Sciences and harbours an aspiration to become an IT entrepreneur. “Germany was always my goal”, he says, in the mumbled sing-song of the Ruhr valley dialect. “I’ve always had a funny feeling that I belong here.”

Hallak, an exceptionally motivated student with high social aptitude, is not representative of all the 1.7 million people who applied for asylum in Germany between 2015 and 2019, making it the country with the fifth highest population of refugees in the world. Some of those with whom he trekked through Turkey and across the Mediterranean, he says, haven’t picked up more than a few words and “just chill”.

But Hallak is not a complete outlier either. More than 10,000 people who arrived in Germany as refugees since 2015 have mastered the language sufficiently to enrol at a German university. More than half of those who came are in work and pay taxes. Among refugee children and teenagers, more than 80% say they have a strong sense of belonging to their German schools and feel liked by their peers.

Success stories like Hallak’s partially redeem the optimism expressed by Angela Merkel in a sentence she spoke five years ago this week, at the peak of one of the most tumultuous years in recent European history – a sentence that nearly cost her her job and that she herself has partially retreated from.

Australia: ‘Depressed, anxious, bored, frustrated’: Christmas Island detainees struggle with isolation

Speaks for itself:

More than 30 people transferred to a remote immigration detention facility on Christmas Island have little access to internet and are struggling to contact their families.

The controversial North West Point detention centre on Christmas Island was reopened in August to relieve pressure on the onshore detention network, which had been nearing capacity.

At least 31 people have so far been transferred to the facility. The Australian Border Force declined to confirm the current detainee population on Tuesday.

One of the detainees is Les Reilly, who was transferred to Christmas Island from the Yongah Hill detention centre outside Perth in early August.

He said there were four computers with no video-calling software at the Christmas Island facility, but “you’re lucky if one works at a time”.

How the U.S. asylum system’s biases affect migrants’ chances

Good data-based analysis, showing how outcomes depend upon nationality, where seekers wait (what part of the country, whether in detention or not), and the judge assigned. Sean Rehaag continues his annual analysis with respect to outcome differences, showing wide variations between IRB Members, some explicable, some not:

For the world’s most vulnerable, protection in the United States has all but disappeared.

Wait times for asylum seekers at the U.S.-Mexico border that already seemed indefinite now seem impossible. Families struggle to find food and shelter to outlast a pandemic order with no end date.

Those who cross north are sent back to Mexico in a matter of hours — or even put onto planes back to the countries from which they fled — without any opportunity to explain why they came.

In its response to COVID-19, the Trump administration achieved what it long sought, a shutdown of the U.S. asylum system. And with new regulations introduced this summer, the administration has moved to squeeze out any real chance at refuge in case the pandemic order is lifted.

But even before the current president began his campaign against asylum in the United States, people often struggled to win protection — no matter how strong their cases appeared to be.

In its 40-year history, the system has chronically fallen short of its promise of safety.

The Trump administration has used statistics about grant rates to justify closing off access to asylum, saying that those who lose their cases are illegitimate asylum seekers.

The facts show a different story: Thousands of people turned away based not on the merits of their cases, but on the capriciousness of a system so riven with inequity that many outcomes seem little more than arbitrary.

A San Diego Union-Tribune analysis of 10 years of court outcomes uncovered many symptoms of the system’s biases — shortcomings that date to the system’s creation.

Numerous factors can sway a case’s result, calling into question the administration’s assertion that a denial means an asylum seeker was lying.

Where asylum seekers wait for their day in court can mean the difference between protection and deportation.

That “where” depends on two decisions mostly out of asylum seekers’ control — whether they are held in detention and in which part of the country their hearings are scheduled.

It can ultimately influence several other important factors: their chances of finding legal representation, the judge assigned and what legal precedents the judge must follow.

Outcomes also vary by nationality, discrepancies that cannot be fully explained by the human rights violations that vary from country to country.

Mixed into all of this are the tendencies of each judge. Even among judges at the same court, grant and deportation rates vary widely.

Stories of different outcomes for similar cases, even for family members fleeing the same danger, are common.

Not a simple yes or no

When people ask for protection at the border, they enter a maze of bureaucracy that is the U.S. asylum system.

Herding them along are thousands of federal employees and contractors — asylum officers, detention center guards, deportation officers, immigration judges, court interpreters and government attorneys.

The process is an adversarial one, with a goal of determining whether the person is deportable from the United States, not whether that person merits protection.

U.S. asylum law, based on international agreements, protects people who flee persecution based on race, nationality, religion, political opinion or membership in a social group such as the LGBTQ community. Persecution must come directly from the government or from someone whom the government cannot or will not control.

In the decade of cases analyzed by the Union-Tribune, immigration judges granted asylum about 19% of the time.

These findings are based on roughly 146,300 immigration court cases with asylum applications filed that reached initial decisions from fiscal 2009 through 2018, excluding some asylum requests that didn’t originate at the border.

But asylum is not always a simple yes or no.

About a quarter of cases were closed without judges making decisions on the merits of the asylum applications. These closures generally meant that asylum seekers were allowed to stay, at least temporarily, in the United States.

Judges ordered deportations in nearly half of the total cases.

The Executive Office for Immigration Review, the agency within the Department of Justice responsible for immigration courts, did not respond to a request for comment about the various findings of the Union-Tribune’s investigation.

Where they wait

Asylum seekers often have little control over where their cases end up — and it’s not necessarily tied to where they arrived at the border.

Though the Trump administration drastically changed where asylum seekers wait beginning in 2019, during the decade analyzed by the Union-Tribune the federal government had two main options.

If immigration officials decided to keep asylum seekers in custody, they were sent to detention centers around the country depending on bed space.

If released, they went wherever someone was willing to help them — a cousin in New York, a friend in Colorado, or an unknown sponsor linked to an advocacy group.

Where this fateful combination of circumstances takes an asylum seeker can make a big difference.

Based on the 10 years of case data analyzed by the Union-Tribune, a detained asylum seeker in Texas was 9.3 times more likely to be ordered deported than a non-detained asylum seeker in New York.

Nationwide, asylum seekers who remained in custody were ordered deported at a higher rate — in 74% of cases — compared with 44% for those who were never detained. Those who were initially detained and then released were ordered deported in 37% of cases.

Being detained doesn’t necessarily reflect anything about the legitimacy of an asylum seeker’s case or hint at a criminal past. Rather, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the agency responsible for immigration detention, has longstanding policies to keep many asylum seekers in custody regardless of their circumstances.

In or out of custody, the region where an asylum seeker ends up dictates what legal precedents will be used to decide their cases.

The example most widely cited by attorneys is the debate over the definition of what constitutes a “social group” for asylum purposes. The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which governs Texas, along with Louisiana and Mississippi, has long used a narrow interpretation.

How courts define which categories count as social groups makes a difference for people whose persecution claims are based on their membership in a family, or as part of a broader group such as women fleeing domestic violence in countries that don’t protect them or as young men targeted for gang recruitment, among others.

Records show judges under the 5th Circuit ordered 3 in 4 asylum seekers deported from fiscal 2009 through 2018 — more than any other circuit in the country.

At the other end of the spectrum, judges in the 2nd Circuit, which guides case law in New York, Connecticut and Vermont, ordered fewer than 1 in 3 deported.

Judges in the 9th Circuit, which includes California, ordered just over 2 in 5 asylum seekers deported.

Location also dictates how many immigration attorneys, particularly those willing to work pro bono, are available. It is notoriously difficult for asylum seekers held in rural detention centers to find attorneys.

Asylum seekers who did not have representation were ordered deported in 60% of cases in the Union-Tribune analysis, compared with 42% for those with legal help.

Unlike cases in criminal courts, attorneys are not provided to those who cannot afford them — not even when the asylum seeker is a child.

Where they’re from

Geography plays a role in another way — the Union-Tribune’s analysis revealed disparities in outcomes based on nationality.

Part of that has to do with conditions in the country and whether they create reasons to flee that are clearly defined under asylum law.

But another part may have to do with biases and preconceptions in U.S. culture about that country.

This may help explain why asylum seekers from China are much more successful than those from Somalia.

Out of the 10 nationalities with the most asylum applications filed, those two countries of origin, both with long histories of human rights violations, are near the top of the list for grant rates. China ranks second, and Somalia ranks third.

And yet, the odds of asylum seekers from China being granted asylum were 2.2 times higher than those from Somalia, according to the Union-Tribune analysis.

This disparity might be explained by the outsized focus on China in U.S. media coverage and in federal government. China’s notorious treatment of Uighurs — an ethnic minority — and the country’s violent repression of pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong are just the latest examples of human rights violations in the public eye.

In contrast, the decades-long rampant human rights abuses in Somalia that have created hundreds of thousands of refugees do not often make front-page headlines.

Add in racism and xenophobia toward people from certain regions of the world, as well as potential anti-Muslim bias, said Karen Musalo, director of the Center for Gender & Refugee Studies at UC Hastings College of the Law, and the potential for discrepancy grows.

“The relationship between the United States and the country you’re from is a big factor,” said Jeremy Slack, a University of Texas at El Paso professor and author of the book “Deported to Death.” “Chinese people get asylum right now much, much easier than most other countries because we like to poke China as a human rights abuser.”

China’s affiliation with communism is another likely influencer, especially after Congress, in 1996, made it easier for people fleeing the country because of its one-child policy to claim asylum.

These kinds of systemic biases regarding nationality have been in place since the asylum system was created.

In the early days, immigration officials who processed asylum requests relied on U.S. State Department recommendations for each individual case, guidance that was heavily influenced by U.S. foreign policy — in particular, the country’s war on communism.

Under the Reagan administration, Central Americans fleeing powerful communist leaders were granted asylum far more often than those fleeing right-leaning strongman governments because of the United States’ involvement in proxy wars in their countries.

“There was a refusal to recognize that the governments we were supporting were engaging in human rights violations,” said Lucas Guttentag, who teaches immigration law at Stanford University and Yale University.

This meant that Nicaraguan migrants, who were fleeing the left-wing Sandinistas, were granted asylum at a rate of 26%, according to a report published in the book “Threatened Peoples, Threatened Borders: World Migration Policy” in 1995, compared with Salvadorans at 2.6% and Guatemalans at 1.8%, who were fleeing right-wing regimes.

Guttentag was one of the lead attorneys in a lawsuit calling for an end to systemic discrimination based on U.S. foreign policy.

A 1990 settlement in the case allowed Salvadorans and Guatemalans to have their claims reassessed, and Congress made other changes to try to account for the system’s shortcomings.

But as the Union-Tribune’s data analysis suggests, systemic bias based on country of origin has not disappeared.

“It’s cynical to say this, but it needs to be said, which is even though the refugee definition is supposed to be applied in a neutral way, the same way to all nationalities, that has never been the case in the U.S.,” Musalo said.

The difference a judge makes

Even for nationalities with higher grant rates, family members fleeing the same persecution can be split apart by different results.

There are glaring examples among many Chinese families that sought asylum based on the country’s former one-child policy. On multiple occasions, immigration judges granted asylum to the father who was seeking refuge from forced abortions, but not the mother.

“It is difficult to imagine how a rational system of law could tolerate such inconsistent results,” appellate judges in the 2nd Circuit wrote in changing the outcome for a mother in one such case.

The difference for many of these families came down to which judges decided the cases.

The Union-Tribune found large differences in decisions among judges at the same immigration court, even when taking into account that asylum seekers held in detention facilities tend to be ordered deported at higher rates.

Take, for instance, the three judges in San Diego who heard mostly detained cases over the course of the decade analyzed by the Union-Tribune.

Judge Robert McSeveny had the highest deportation rate and ordered about 81% of asylum seekers before him deported. He also had the lowest grant rate at 13%.

Judge Carmene “Zsa Zsa” DePaolo ranked somewhere in the middle, ordering 41% deported. She granted asylum in about 55% of cases.

Judge Anthony Atenaide ordered about 20% deported and granted about 76% asylum.

These gaps between judges — some well over 60 percentage points — exist in courts across the United States.

“There shouldn’t be that much difference,” said Paul Schmidt, a former immigration judge. “It’s hard to make sense out of the system because there are so many variables superimposed on each other.”

Ashley Tabaddor, president of the National Assn. of Immigration Judges, said that different rates among judges should be expected.

There might be details in cases of two people fleeing the same harm in the same country that lead to different outcomes depending on how good their attorneys are — if they have them — as well as how much the government attorneys push back and what the judges’ own previous courtroom experiences are, she said.

Even in cases where details are exactly the same, Tabaddor said, judges can have different opinions.

“It’s not unusual for people looking at the same set of facts and same set of rules to have differing opinions about how much weight to give evidence and what the conclusion should be. That’s in every court,” Tabaddor said, pointing to differences among U.S. Supreme Court justices.

Judges’ grant rates are also influenced by their work history, according to a study from 2007 titled “Refugee Roulette” by researchers from Temple University and Georgetown University Law Center.

The Union-Tribune analysis corroborated this finding. Judges who previously worked as ICE attorneys — generally arguing in immigration court against asylum seekers and other immigrants requesting to stay in the U.S. — were about 1.4 times more likely to order asylum seekers deported during the decade analyzed.

A little more than half of immigration judges who heard cases analyzed by the Union-Tribune previously worked for ICE.

When they make the career switch, they go from one federal agency to another.

That’s because, like ICE employees, immigration judges work for the executive branch rather than the judicial branch.

The judges’ boss is the attorney general, the nation’s highest-ranking prosecutor in the Department of Justice.

Tabaddor and other leaders of the judges’ union have long argued that immigration courts should be part of the judicial branch instead — a solution that could help reduce the mistrust that many critics have toward the system.

“Why don’t you trust the judge?” Tabaddor said, addressing those critics. “It’s because you know the court is run by a law enforcement agency. You feel like the court is stacked. You feel like there’s something inherently wrong. And on those grounds I say, ‘You’re absolutely right.’”

A family separated

For one asylum seeker from Central Asia, this fateful lottery of circumstances could mean that he is deported while his family stays in the United States.

The Russian-speaking man, Mr. U, declined to fully identify himself, as well as the country that he fled, to protect family members he left behind. But he allowed the Union-Tribune to review his case files.

His experience navigating the system presents a striking example of how an asylum seeker’s physical location can impact other factors in a case — and ultimately the outcome.

Mr. U first entered the asylum system in San Diego.

He was separated from his 13-year-old son, as well as his adult stepson and his stepson’s wife, shortly after the family arrived at the San Ysidro Port of Entry in 2017.

The physical separation meant their immigration court cases were split, as well.

Though their asylum claims were all tied to the stepson’s political activities, their separation would ultimately result in dramatically different asylum outcomes.

Mr. U would spend the remainder of his case locked up at Otay Mesa Detention Center while his son was taken to a facility for unaccompanied migrant children in Chicago.

His adult stepson and the stepson’s wife ended up at a detention facility in Adelanto, a few hours north. Mr. U did not know where they were.

The day before his trial, Mr. U got some of the best news he’d received since his arrival. He finally found a pro bono lawyer willing to take his case.

“I was very happy,” Mr. U told the Union-Tribune through a translator. “I had a new hope to see my son sooner.”

On the day of his trial, he handed the judge a written statement explaining that the attorney, who then worked at Catholic Charities, was unable to be in court that day because another client had a hearing.

The statement added that Mr. U’s adult stepson was also in immigration custody and that their cases were related. Mr. U hoped that his stepson could be a witness in his case.

Mr. U asked to postpone his trial for about a month and a half.

“I do not wish to prolong my case any longer than necessary,” Mr. U said in his statement. “My young child has been taken from me and is in the custody of the government far away. He is alone and without me, and I need to get back to him.”

Immigration Judge Scott Simpson insisted that Mr. U proceed with his trial that day without the attorney and without his stepson as a witness.

“You’ve been detained for over eight months,” Simpson told Mr. U, according to court records. “That’s ample time to find an attorney. So, there’s no good cause to continue any longer.”

On his own, Mr. U, who has a high school education, struggled to explain his story clearly to the judge.

The Russian interpreter also struggled to understand him, frequently interrupting the dialogue between Mr. U and Simpson to get clarifications.

Both Simpson and ICE attorney Guy Grande called out details from his testimony that were slightly different from what a fellow detainee had translated into English for Mr. U’s asylum application.

For instance, Mr. U testified that his wife had loaned money to someone, but his application said, “I lent” the money.

He also testified in court about an incident in which police threatened him that he did not mention in his application. His application did mention other instances of threats.

In the end, Simpson did not find him credible. He ordered Mr. U deported.

Mr. U felt fear flood his body, terrified what might wait for him in his country.

“It was a big shock and a hit for me. I immediately felt bad,” Mr. U said. “My blood pressure spiked, and my heart was hurting because I cannot return home.”

Simpson had the highest deportation rate of judges at Otay Mesa Detention Center, according to the Union-Tribune analysis.

The judge, who previously worked as an ICE attorney, ordered asylum seekers deported in more than 80% of the cases he heard. He granted relief in about 15%.

About a month after Simpson decided Mr. U’s case, the stepson and the stepson’s wife were granted asylum by a different judge. They did not have a lawyer either.

That judge, Ian Simons, had the highest grant rate and one of the lowest deportation rates among judges who heard cases at Adelanto at the time. He granted asylum in more than 30% of cases and ordered asylum seekers deported in over 60%.

Holding out for appeal

Appeals are an increasingly important part of the path toward protection, a reality often reflected in high reversal rates among some judges.

The Board of Immigration Appeals, or BIA, part of the same agency in the Department of Justice that employs immigration judges, is the first step in the process.

In the cases analyzed by the Union-Tribune, the BIA told more than 1 in 5 judges nationwide that their decisions were wrong at least 20% of the time.

Judges with fewer than 25 appealed cases were not included in the analysis.

A reversal rate of 20% is a common measure when looking for red flags with judges’ decisions, according to University of San Diego law professor Shaun Martin.

Four judges had reversal rates of 40% or higher.

“A consistently high reversal rate like that would cause you to look very closely to see if the judge was doing something systemically wrong,” Martin said.

Cases appealed beyond the BIA go to the federal circuit courts of appeal, leaving the immigration court system and entering the traditional legal process in the judicial branch. Data analyzed by the Union-Tribune did not include those court decisions.

Attorneys worry that more and more asylum seekers will have to go to the circuit courts to be granted relief. Under Trump, most recent appointees to the BIA are former immigration judges who had some of the highest asylum denial rates in the nation.

Ten members of the current 23-person board are former immigration judges appointed to their positions during the Trump administration.

All but one had deportation rates of more than 70% in at least one of the courts where they heard cases during the decade analyzed by the Union-Tribune. Eight of them had asylum grant rates below 10%, including two judges who didn’t award a single grant of asylum while at a particular court.

The board includes two other Trump appointees who worked in the Office of Immigration Litigation in the Department of Justice, which argues against asylum seekers who have appealed their cases to federal circuit courts, and one Trump appointee who worked for ICE before the administration hired her as an assistant chief immigration judge and ultimately a board member.

Six board members were appointed under the Obama administration, and four were appointed by earlier administrations.

So much is riding on appeals that attorney Dree Collopy, who wrote a 1,680-page legal guide on asylum, encourages lawyers to make sure that the record created in immigration court is incredibly thorough.

“We honestly can’t depend on immigration courts or the Board of Immigration Appeals to give any kind of due process or meaningful review of asylum cases anymore,” Collopy said.

But navigating the appeals process can be daunting and often takes years. Those who are already detained usually stay in custody for the duration. Many give up before they get that far.

Mr. U is better positioned than many.

Because of the outcry over family separation at the border and a class-action lawsuit in San Diego, he was released from detention and reunited with his family in Chicago. And he has a pair of attorneys — Bardis Vakili with the American Civil Liberties Union of San Diego and Imperial Counties and Luis Gonzalez, the attorney who’d originally agreed to take his case — working on his appeal.

They argued that Simpson denied Mr. U his right to an attorney, as well as his right to present evidence.

The BIA sided with Simpson.

Now Mr. U is waiting to find out if the 9th Circuit will change the outcome in his case.

He’s not allowed to work while he waits, so he has to depend on his stepson, who already has a green card.

He hopes to learn English and one day find a profession that will allow him to be useful to the country he wants to call home.

And he worries about the family members left behind.

Dwindling odds

Though asylum has become an increasingly polarized topic, building enough political will to make the system more equitable has historically been difficult.

“Asylum was always a political football,” said Ruth Wasem, who specialized in immigration policy at the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service before becoming a professor at the University of Texas at Austin.

The asylum system is part of a worldwide effort that grew out of failures to protect Jewish migrants during the Holocaust. It took the United States decades to fully codify its commitment to help victims of future atrocities.

Larry Gollub, a retired asylum officer, said that low grant rates are not proof that asylum seekers are filing frivolous or fraudulent claims.

“It’s just proof that they can’t meet the high standard for asylum,” Gollub said.

And they are struggling with the obstacles built into the system that make it less likely for them to win.

Methodology

Immigration court records are collected, tracked and released monthly by the Executive Office for Immigration Review within the Department of Justice. The San Diego Union-Tribune used the June 2019 release in its analysis.

Since case information is entered manually, various columns throughout the more than 50 million rows of data in the various tables contained slight inconsistencies, and the Union-Tribune cleaned these entries when necessary.

The analysis includes any cases with asylum applications that were completed from fiscal 2009 through fiscal 2018. Cases flagged as legal permanent residents, rider cases, cases originating with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, and cases that did not include either a charge of being present without admission or arriving without a valid entry document were excluded from the analysis. Cases with incomplete information on these distinctions remained in the analysis.

Judges who heard less than 50 cases in a particular location and nationalities with less than 100 cases during the 10-year period were excluded to prevent skewed results.

Judge work histories were gathered by the Union-Tribune based on summaries released by EOIR when the judge was hired. When necessary, histories were confirmed or clarified using news clippings, court records, law firm biographies, law school newsletters, and in some cases, contacting individuals directly.

With guidance from statisticians, the Union-Tribune performed various statistical tests, including logistic and multivariate regressions, to determine the significance of findings.

Case data and analyses steps can be found on the Union-Tribune’s GitHub page.

With few exceptions, most of the changes to the system since it was created have made the process more difficult for asylum seekers, particularly for those who come to the border.

Among recent changes is the Trump administration’s “Remain in Mexico” program, which forces many asylum seekers to wait for their cases across the border.

Most recently, the administration published new rules that would narrow longstanding definitions in parts of asylum law and fundamentally shrink what options asylum seekers have if they manage to get their cases into immigration court. A second set of proposed rules would allow the government to bar people from asylum because of the pandemic.

The changes would further erode access to a system that is meant to function as part of an international screening process, one that determines which migrants should be recognized as refugees.

“I see our current moment as one of real crisis,” said Denise Gilman, co-director of the immigration clinic at the University of Texas at Austin School of Law. “Even as limited and paltry as the system was, we’re experiencing a moment of doubt as to whether it will even exist in any meaningful way.”

The Trump administration has argued that because the majority do not win their cases, many people applying for asylum do not have valid reasons to ask for help. Recent outcomes appear even lower than in previous years, partly because the administration changed the way outcome statistics are calculated in official reports.

Source: How the U.S. asylum system’s biases affect migrants’ chances

A Radical German Program Promised a Fresh Start to Yazidi Survivors of ISIS Captivity. But Some Women Are Still Longing for Help

Interesting and somewhat dispiriting, given the mixed results of the program, long read:

When Hanan escaped from Islamic State captivity, there wasn’t much to come back to.

She and her five children had survived a year in a living nightmare. After her husband finally managed to arrange their rescue in the summer of 2015, they joined him in a dusty camp in Iraq where he lived in a tent. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) still controlled the territory they called home, and they were unsure if they could ever go back. And Hanan was unsure if she could ever escape the darkness she felt inside.

So when, in the fall of 2015, Germany offered her the promise of safety and a chance to heal from her trauma, it wasn’t a difficult decision. Accepting a place in a groundbreaking program for women and children survivors of ISIS captivity did mean leaving her husband behind in the camp, but she was told he could join her after two years. So she and her children boarded the first flight of their lives, out of Iraq and away from their tight-knit community, in search of safety and treatment for what still haunted them.

Hanan, now 34, was one of 1,100 women and children brought to Germany in an unprecedented effort to aid those most affected by ISIS’s systematic campaign to kill and enslave the ancient Yazidi religious minority. (TIME is identifying Hanan by her first name only for her safety.) Launched by the German state of Baden Württemberg in October 2014, the program aimed to help survivors of captivity receive much-needed mental-health treatment and support. In Iraq, there had been a rash of suicides among the heavily-traumatized survivors, who had minimal access to mental-health care and faced an uncertain future. In Germany, far from the site of their suffering, state officials hoped the women and children could find healing and a fresh start.

But for Hanan, those promises remain unfulfilled. German officials never granted visas to any of the women’s husbands, leaving families, including Hanan’s, indefinitely torn apart. Like most of the women, she’s not undergoing promised trauma therapy. She often thinks about killing herself. The only thing stopping her, she says, is her children.

Not all the women are desperate. Some are thriving in Germany, and others have become global advocates for their community, like 2018 Nobel Prize winner Nadia Murad. She is the most prominent face of a program that was so ambitious and well-intentioned it inspired other countries, like Canada and France, to follow suit. But Hanan’s experience illustrates how parts of the program failed to live up to their full potential, and shows how difficult it is for refugees to gain access to mental health services, even in a program designed for just that. Michael Blume, the state official who led the program, sees it as a “great success” overall. But he is troubled by the state’s failure to bring the women’s husbands to Germany. “A great humanitarian program should not be sabotaged by bureaucracy,” he says. “But that’s what is taking place.”

Before she left Iraq, Hanan said she was given a piece of paper with information about what awaited her in Germany. “I wish I could find that paper now,” she says, “because the promises they gave us, they didn’t keep all of them.”

By the time ISIS swept across Sinjar, the area in northwest Iraq that is home to most of the world’s Yazidis, Hanan had already endured more than her share of hardship. Her parents were murdered in front of her when she was six. She and her two siblings went to live with their grandfather and his wife, where they were beaten, starved, and forced to work instead of going to school. Her baby sister died soon after.

In her early twenties, she escaped the torturous conditions at home by marrying Hadi. It was the first good fortune of her life, she says; they loved each other. Over the course of about seven years, they had four daughters and then a son, who was just a few months old in August 2014, when ISIS captured Sinjar and unleashed its systematic campaign to wipe out the Yazidis.

In conquered Yazidi towns, fighters executed the men and elderly women. Boys were sent off for indoctrination and forced military training. Women and girls weresold into slavery, traded among fighters like property and repeatedly raped. Hanan and her children were among more than 6,000 people kidnapped. Hadi, who was working as a laborer in a city beyond the reach of ISIS when their village was captured, was frantic when he learned his family was gone.

Within days, President Barack Obama launched U.S. airstrikes on ISIS militants, and U.S. forces delivered food and water to besieged Yazidis trapped on Sinjar mountain. In the following months, as Yazidi women and children started emerging from captivity—some escaped, while others were rescued by a secret network of activists—with tales of horror, Yazidis pleaded for more international action. Former captives were severely traumatized. Mental-health care in Iraq was limited. And because the Yazidi faith doesn’t accept converts or marriage outside the religion, the women raped and forcibly converted to Islam by ISIS members feared they were no longer welcome in the community.

In Germany, home to the largest Yazidi population outside of Iraq, officials in Baden Württemberg decided to act. In October 2014, state premier Winfried Kretschmann decided to issue 1,000 humanitarian visas and earmark €95 million ($107 million) for what became known as the Special Quota Project for Especially Vulnerable Women and Children from Northern Iraq. The state recruited 21 cities and towns across the southwestern state to host the refugees, agreeing to pay municipalities €42,000 ($50,000) per person for housing and other costs, while the state would cover the cost of their healthcare. Two other states agreed to take an additional 100 people.

Program officials interviewed survivors of ISIS captivity in Iraq, selecting those with medical or psychological disorders as a result of their captivity who could benefit from treatment in Germany. The project was not restricted to Yazidis, and a small number of Christians and Muslims also were chosen. That was when the officials told each woman that after two years, immediate family members like husbands could apply for a visa under German rules for family unification.

The program was groundbreaking. No German state had ever administered its own humanitarian admission program. And instead of waiting for asylum-seekers to make dangerous journeys across the Mediterranean, officials were seeking out the most vulnerable and bringing them to safety. The first plane arrived in March 2015. The last of the flights—including the one carrying Hanan—landed in January 2016.

Hanan, along with 111 others, was sent to a pleasant hilltop town of about 25,000 people at the edge of the Black Forest. (Officials asked that the town not be named to protect the survivors, whom they fear could be targeted by ISIS members.) For the first three years, she lived with about half of the group in an old hospital in the town center that had been converted into a communal residence.

Hanan and her five children occupied two rooms off a central corridor—one they used for sleeping, and the other, with a sink along one wall and a worn leather sofa along another, as a living room. They shared a bathroom and a kitchen with a large family next door.

“The neighbors are worse than Daesh,” she joked with a grimace, using a pejorative name for ISIS. It was May 2017, more than a year after her arrival. She sat on the floor to breastfeed her youngest child, Saber. At three, he was small for his age, but Hanan was small too. Her long dark hair was pulled back, and she wore a long blue skirt and a dark hoodie. Her next youngest, Sheelan, climbed into a wardrobe in the corner, peeking out from underneath thick black bangs. Haneya, her oldest at 10, and Hanadi and Berivan, eight and seven, were fighting with the neighbor’s children, their shrieks competing with the Kurdish music videos blaring from the television. Hanan yelled at them to stop.

Caring for her five children alone was wearing Hanan out. She was often sick, but found it difficult to go to the doctor because she didn’t have help with childcare. She complained about painful and unresolved gynecological issues from being repeatedly raped. She wanted to go back to the doctor, but she relied on social workers to make appointments for her and said they were blowing off her requests. And most days, she suffered debilitating headaches.

A trauma therapist came once a week to the shelter for a group session with the women, but Hanan usually wasn’t able to attend because of the children. And she didn’t want to talk about her experiences in front of the other women. When she slept, nightmares came. One night she dreamed she was back in captivity and an ISIS fighter was trying to take her oldest daughter, Haneya. Hanan woke herself and the children up with her screams. The older girls talked about their time in captivity often and sometimes had nightmares too. “They’re not like normal kids,” Hanan said. “When it’s nighttime, they ask me, ‘Mama, do you think Daesh is going to come to get us?’”

A year earlier, around six months after her arrival, that nightmare had become reality. She was out shopping for food when she spotted him. He had trimmed his hair and beard, and exchanged his tunic for a blue T-shirt. But it was him—the ISIS member who had been her captor for a month.

She stared, frozen in place. He saw her, too: His eyes widened in recognition and surprise. Panic shot through her and then her feet were moving, carrying her out of the store and around the corner. By the time she went to the police, he was gone. She said they treated her as if she had mistaken a random refugee for her former tormenter. But she knew what she saw. “How could I forget the face of the man who raped me?”

Germany was supposed to be a sanctuary. Now, inside the old hospital walls was the only place Hanan felt safe. She rarely ventured out, remembering threats from her captors that they would find her if she ran away.

She worried the man she’d spotted might come back to harm them. The only identifying information she could give police was his nom de guerre. And though police were stationed outside the shelter for some time after she made the report, Markus Burger, head of the department for refugees and resettlement in the town’s social office, said his office eventually received a report stating there was no direct threat. The police referred questions about the incident to the federal public prosecutor, and a spokesman for the prosecutor said the office was aware of the incident but could not comment further. At least one other woman in the programsaw her own captor in Germany, and she later returned to Iraq because she no longer felt safe.

Hanan couldn’t understand why the police couldn’t find the man. She began to see threats anywhere she went. Muslim people speaking Arabic terrified her. Once at a park with her children, a bearded man on a bench called out to her. Though she had never seen him before, she was afraid. She gathered the children and rushed back to the shelter.

Yazidis are no strangers to trauma. The religious minority has endured centuries of persecution and attacks, from the Ottoman empire to Saddam Hussein to Al Qaeda. Jan Kizilhan, an expert in psychotraumatology and transcultural psychotherapy who was the program’s chief psychologist, was born to a Yazidi family in Turkey and immigrated to Germany as a child. Survivors of ISIS captivity are dealing not only with their own individual trauma from the violence and family separation they endured, he said, but also the historical trauma borne by their people, and the collective trauma from ISIS’s attempted genocide.

But after the women arrived in Germany as part of the program, trauma therapy wasn’t a top priority. At first, most of the refugees were focused on adjusting to life in Germany, said Kizilhan. They were also following the situation back home, where a multinational coalition was wrestling territory away from ISIS. With every victory, Yazidi families waited for news of their missing relatives, hoping they would not be among the bodies discovered in mass graves. Most had family members in camps, and others still in captivity. They weren’t ready to work through past trauma in therapy, because it was still part of their present.

There was another, more basic, obstacle to treatment: Most of the women were unfamiliar with the concept of psychotherapy. “To even help them understand why they would need this or how it would help, it takes time,” said Kizilhan. In many Middle Eastern cultures, including the Yazidi community, psychological trauma is often expressed somatically, he explained — many women complained of a burning liver, headaches, or stomachaches when the root was a psychological, rather than physiological, problem.

In 2017 and 2018, Tübingen University Hospital and the University of Freiburg, which were also involved in psychotherapeutic care for program participants, carried out surveys of 116 of the women in the program. Ninety-three percent of those surveyed fulfilled the diagnostic criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder during the first survey, and the number remained the same a year later. That makes the fact that just 40% of the women have received trauma therapy, years after their arrival, striking.

But Kizilhan insists the figure does not represent a failure. Some women simply don’t want therapy, he says, and it can’t be forced. He expects that an additional third of the women will be ready for therapy in the coming years. “And then we will be there to help them,” he says. “Each person is individual, different, and needs different timing.” The state decided to cover the cost of the womens’ healthcare indefinitely—initial plans were to foot the bill for three years—after it spent only €60 million ($71 million) of the allocated €95 million ($113 million) on the program.

Kizilhan acknowledges the challenges, including finding enough therapists and translators to work with the women. Kizilhan and Blume, who led the Special Quota project, say the program was an emergency intervention, and that a more long-term solution is building capacity for mental health care in Iraq. The state of Baden Württemberg has put resources toward that, too—donating €1.3 million ($1.5 million) to help establish the first master’s program for psychotherapy in Iraq, started by Kizilhan at the University of Duhok in 2017.

Kizilhan and Blume say the program in Germany has been successful despite the challenges. In the Tübingen University study, 91% of the women surveyed said they were satisfied to be in Germany, and 85% said they were satisfied with the program. When asked if they were satisfied with the psychosocial care, the number who said yes dropped to 72%. Hanan was among those who found it lacking.

Her struggle to access medical care and therapy were two of the ways she felt let down by the program. For her first three years in Germany, Hanan received minimal therapy, even though she wanted it. She rarely attended the group sessions, both because she found them unhelpful and because of the ongoing childcare issues. She said she was not offered individual sessions. Burger said when social workers saw some women were unhappy with group sessions, they arranged for individual therapy, and Hanan began talking with a therapist every few weeks. She said it helped a little, but she felt the same after each session.

***

On a Wednesday in July 2018, Hanan left German class early to shop for food. Before leaving home, she pulled on a fitted black blazer over her beige shirt and leggings. The clothes were new; she had recently cast aside the long, dark skirts and sweaters that she had worn ever since her escape for a more modern wardrobe. Friends had urged her to make the switch, teasing her that she dressed like she was still living under ISIS. Hanan walked to the store, passing traditional timber-frame buildings and window boxes overflowing with geraniums and petunias. She spotted a friend outside the supermarket and stopped to chat before buying chicken legs and vegetables. Managing the family’s budget alone—something she had never done in Iraq—was challenging. Sometimes she didn’t have enough money at the end of the month.

Two years on from encountering her former captor, the town was beginning to feel less threatening, though Hanan still didn’t like going out at night. She attended German language class four mornings a week. She’d never learned how to read or write as a child, so learning German was doubly hard, but she was making slow progress. She was also making a few German friends, and she’d found a way to decipher their text messages even though she couldn’t read. When she received a message, she’d paste it into the Google Translate app and press the audio button. A robotic voice would read it aloud and she’d reply via voice note.

Back at home, she put a pot of rice on the stove and began browning the chicken, preoccupied by the logistics of her upcoming trip to Iraq to visit her husband, Hadi. She’d learned through her social worker that her stipend would be paused while she was away, and Hanan wasn’t sure how she would make it through the month without the money.

It would be the second time she had to travel to see Hadi. (The women were admitted as humanitarian refugees, rather than asylum seekers, which spared them the process of applying for asylum and meant they were allowed to return to visit family in Iraq, unlike asylum holders.) Saber, now four, had spent most of his life separated from his father, and didn’t recognize him. The girls no longer even missed him. He was becoming a faraway memory.

Two and a half years had now gone by since she left Iraq, well past the two years after which Hadi had been promised he could apply for a visa. Hanan’s social worker helped her file papers related to his visa application. But whenever Hanan asked what was happening, she was given the same answer: Not yet.

What she didn’t know was that Germany’s position toward refugees had shifted. The welcoming stance the country adopted when more than a million people poured into the country seeking asylum in 2015 had hardened amid a backlashfueled by far-right anti-immigration parties. When he interviewed the women in 2015, and told them their husbands could apply for a visa after two years, Kizilhan was in line with the rules at the time. But now laws governing refugees and family unification visas were tightened. German courts even began ruling against Yazidiswho requested asylum, saying it was safe for them to go back to Iraq.

To date, no husbands of women in the Special Quota Project have received visas. It’s hard to know how many are waiting: Kizilhan says he has identified 18. According to the study, 28 percent of the women surveyed had husbands in Iraq.

A spokesman for the Baden Württemberg Ministry of Interior, Digitalization and Migration said that “special rules” apply to family reunifications for those granted humanitarian admission, and may only be allowed “for reasons of human rights, on humanitarian grounds or to protect political interests.” The special rules “must be considered on a case by case basis,” he said, and added the federal authorities are responsible for issuing visas, not the state.

Kizilhan said the ministry could intervene to make sure the family members are issued visas. But the political will behind the creation of the Special Quota Project has evaporated. In January, Kizilhan said he had recently met with state interior ministry officials to ask that they find a way to bring the husbands to Germany, but that they told him the change in federal law made it difficult to do so. “This is ridiculous,” Kizilhan says. “If you can take 1,100 with the special quota, you can take 18 people in one day.”

On trips back to Iraq, Kizilhan said he’s been confronted by husbands demanding answers, and is distressed that the state has not followed through. He notes that bringing the women’s immediate family to Germany would improve their psychological health—the goal of the program—by helping to reduce post-traumatic stress symptoms and easing their integration into society. Hanan often spoke of waiting for Hadi’s arrival to move into an apartment on her own. She was fearful of handling all the responsibilities of living in a new country without him. And she desperately needed help caring for the children, help she thought would be provided in the program. They’d spent a year separated from Hadi in captivity. Now, they were once again separated, once again waiting for their family to be reunited.

After Hanan’s visit to Iraq, months went by with no news about Hadi’s visa. They both began to despair that it would ever materialize, their frustration compounded by a dearth of information about the delay.

In the spring of 2019, after waiting three years, Hadi decided he could wait no longer. He borrowed money and set out for Germany along irregular migration routes. It took him eight months—he was detained in Greece on the way—but eventually he made it to Hanan. Their reunion, though, was far from perfect. After his arrival in Germany, the once-happy couple separated. Hanan would not discuss the details of their estrangement except to say that it took root because of their physical separation and left her distraught. He is now in a relationship with another woman and Hanan said he is not in touch with his children. His future in Germany is uncertain, too—it is unclear whether he will be permitted to stay.

Last summer Hanan moved into a light-filled two-bedroom furnished flat rented for her by the municipality in a quiet residential neighborhood. It’s decorated brightly in orange—a peach wall, tangerine dining chairs, an ochre shag carpet, and a sofa the color of carrots. While there’s a bunk bed in the kids’ room, they usually end up sleeping in Hanan’s king-size bed every night, a tangle of arms and legs. She was finally able to see a doctor to resolve her lingering gynecological health problem, although the daily headaches are still there. She’s no longer afraid of going out at night.

On a Sunday morning in January, she awoke late, groggy from hosting friends the night before. Saber, now six, and Sheelan, seven, plopped on the sofa to watch Tom and Jerry on the television as Hanan made bread in the kitchen. Squeezing small lumps off the dough, she quickly slapped each one from hand to hand, stretching it into a thin disc. In Iraq, she would have baked the loaves in an outdoor clay oven. Here, she used a small metal box oven, heated with an electric coil, placed on the countertop. She placed each loaf on top to let it brown, then baked it inside the oven before stacking the finished loaves on the windowsill.

When she was done, the children gathered at the table, scooping up fried eggs, yogurt, tahini, and cheese with the fresh bread. They chattered together in German; they rarely spoke Kurdish with one another anymore. Saber, impish and sensitive, speaks German with a near flawless accent. After breakfast, the three older girls clear the table, wash the dishes, and sweep the floor unbidden. Hanadi, now 11, and Berivan, now 10, both with round cheeks like their mother, are learning how to swim at school. Haneya, now 13, reads and translates the mail and types messages in German for her mother.

“Sometimes I look at my kids and think ‘OK, I’m all right.’ But I just feel bad,” Hanan said, lowering herself onto the sofa. “It’s a bad feeling inside of me, I don’t know how to explain it. Sometimes I want to hit myself, because of this bad feeling inside, and I don’t know how to deal with it. Many times I thought about killing myself, but then I remember my kids, that they need me.”

The situation with Hadi has her so upset she doesn’t think about ISIS anymore, Hanan said, adding that she doesn’t know what to do or where to turn. She’s spent hours crying with a Yazidi friend, another survivor, who lives nearby. That’s the closest she gets to therapy now.

After Hanan moved into the apartment, her therapy sessions ended. A few months later, social workers took her to an appointment at a new therapist’s office, but she hadn’t gone back. She said the appointment time of 7 p.m. was impossible as there was no one to watch the children at home. But she knows she needs help. “It’s too much for me,” she said. “I can’t hold all these problems alone.”

Burger, of the town’s department for refugees and resettlement, said that as more of the women moved into private apartments last year—all but 10 now live on their own—it became harder to arrange therapy sessions. Some therapists have waiting lists, and there is always the problem of timing, he said. “It’s difficult finding a time when the trauma therapist and the translator both are available, and also when someone can take care for the children, and when the German classes aren’t at the same time. But we are working on it.” He could not give a number for how many of the women in the town were undergoing therapy, saying it was constantly changing, but said therapy was available to all who wanted it. “We can only offer it,” he said. “In the end it is the decision of the women if they want to take part in the programs, and we don’t want to and can’t force anyone to take part.”

Hanan knows it was right to come to Germany. She’s better off than she would be in Iraq, where despite the territorial defeat of ISIS, most Yazidis are still displaced, and their future is uncertain. She feels safe now in Germany, and she can see bright futures for her children here.

But she can’t muster any of that hope for herself, not after losing Hadi. The darkness she had hoped to escape never went away. “Maybe I’m going to go crazy, or I’m going to kill myself. Maybe I won’t find a solution for myself except to die,” she said. “Now I’m 34, and I didn’t see any hope in my entire life. And for the future also, I don’t have any hope. Only God knows.”

Source: A Radical German Program Promised a Fresh Start to Yazidi Survivors of ISIS Captivity. But Some Women Are Still Longing for Help

Liberals appealing ruling striking down Canada-U.S. asylum agreement

Not surprising given that the ruling reflected in part the particular circumstances of asylum seekers that were at the heart of the case:

The Liberal government is appealing last month’s Federal Court decision that ruled the Safe Third Country Agreement — Canada’s asylum agreement with the United States — infringes upon the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

In a decision released July 22, Justice Ann Marie McDonald said the agreement — which stops people from entering either Canada or the U.S. at official Canada-U.S. border crossings and asking for asylum — violates the section of the Charter guaranteeing “the right to life, liberty and security of the person.”

McDonald suspended her invalid ruling for six months to allow Parliament to respond.

Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said in a statement Friday the government filed an appeal today because they believe there are factual and legal errors in some of the court’s key findings.

“There are important legal principles to be determined in this case, and it is the responsibility of the government of Canada to appeal to ensure clarity on the legal framework governing asylum law,” reads the statement.

“Canada has a long and proud tradition of providing protection to those who need it most by offering refuge to the world’s most vulnerable people, and the government of Canada remains firmly committed to upholding a compassionate, fair and orderly refugee protection system. The STCA remains a comprehensive vehicle to help accomplish that, based on the principle that people should claim asylum in the first safe country in which they arrive.”

The 16-year-old agreement, which remains in effect, recognizes both countries as “safe” countries for migrants and states that refugee claimants are required to request refugee protection in the first country they arrive in — meaning Canadian border officials would send back to the U.S. any would-be refugee claimants arriving at an official border crossing into Canada.

The Canadian Council for Refugees, Amnesty International, the Canadian Council of Churches and a number of individual litigants brought the original case forward and argued that by returning ineligible refugee claimants to the U.S., Canada exposes them to risks — including detention and eventual deportation to countries where they could face harm.

Conservative MP and immigration critic Peter Kent immediately issued a statement supporting the appeal.

“While we are pleased the government has decided to appeal this ruling, Canadians’ confidence in the immigration system has been rocked by years of Justin Trudeau’s failure to address these concerns, and his failure to restore integrity and compassion to the immigration process,” he said in a statement.But the NDP’s critic Jenny Kwan called the move the a “heartless and shameful act.”

“By appealing this ruling, the federal Liberals are saying they’d rather let people seeking the safety of asylum here in Canada suffer under Donald Trump’s rules, than stand up for human rights and Canadian values,” she wrote in a statement Friday afternoon.

“It’s un-Canadian.”

Source: Liberals appealing ruling striking down Canada-U.S. asylum agreement