Italian Catholic priests go to war with Salvini over immigration


Gianfranco Formenton, a priest in Italy’s central Umbria region who has long preached against racism and in support of migrants, knows what it is like to clash with Matteo Salvini, the recently installed interior minister and leader of the far-right League party.

In response to the party’s xenophobic rhetoric in 2015 – the year more than a million migrants arrived in Europe and 150,000 landed on Italy’s southern shores – he put a sign up on the door of his church in San Martino di Trignano, a hamlet of the town of Spoleto, saying: “Racists are forbidden from entering. Go home!”

He immediately bore the wrath of Salvini, who wrote on Twitter: “Perhaps the priest prefers smugglers, slaveholders and terrorists? Pity Spoleto and this church if this man [calls himself] a priest.”

Fr Formenton is also believed to have been the target of intimidation by far-right sympathisers when his rectory and home were ransacked a few days after Luca Traini, a failed League candidate in a local ballot, injured six Africans in a shooting in the town of Macerata in early February.

As the Democratic party, the biggest left-wing force in Italy, appears cowed in the face of Salvini’s vitriolic immigration stance, fearing it will lose support, the interior minister’s strongest opponents are priests such as Formenton.

But they are struggling to convince parishioners to welcome migrants, amid mounting adulation of Salvini, a Catholic who reportedly attends mass.

“We have a population that wants blessings from the church, processions and religious rites, but every time Pope Francis recalls migrants or the poor, they no longer listen,” Formenton told the Guardian.

“There is an evil force of racism, and Salvini has contributed to this. He’s been a magician in cultivating hate and manipulating anger. People of all ages have become racist because of the climate we’re living in.”

Knowing that many of his backers are devout Catholics, Salvini has exploited religion to galvanise support. The 45-year-old once again brandished a rosary and swore on the gospel to be “loyal to his people” while addressing thousands of ecstatic voters at the League’s annual rally in Pontida, a town in the northern Lombardy region, last Sunday. His speech, during which he pledged to create a European-wide alliance against “mass immigration”, came a few days after Mario Delpini, the Archbishop of Milan, pleaded for more humanity among Christians.

“Can they go to mass each Sunday and ignore the drama that is happening in front of their eyes?” said Delpini.

In the few days since Salvini’s speech, more than 200 migrants have drowned in the Mediterranean.

Pope Francis also spoke out after Salvini, who is also deputy prime minister, blocked the Aquarius, a rescue ship with more than 600 people on board, from docking in Italy in June. “I encourage those who bring them aid and hope that the international community will act in a united and efficient fashion to prevent the causes of forced migration,” the pontiff said.

At the same time, Salvini has been nurturing a relationship with US Cardinal Richard Burke, a fierce critic of Pope Francis and supporter of Donald Trump, as he strives to build consensus from within the church.

Cosimo Scordato, a priest at Saint Francesco church in Ballarò, a neighbourhood of Palermo and home to many migrants recently arrived in Sicily, compared Salvini’s use of religious imagery to that deployed by Mafia bosses.

“Holding a rosary in front of thousands of supporters reminds me of Mafia bosses holding the Bible,” Fr Scordato, who has been subjected to intimidation by the Mafia, told the Guardian.

“Mobsters believe themselves to be sort-of spokesmen of Christian values, they feel protected by the church and want to show people they have God on their side.”

Scordato said he recently wrote a letter to Salvini encouraging him to see migrants as an opportunity in a country with a low birth rate and ageing population. He got no reply.

Fr Enzo Volpe, a Salesian priest in Palermo, said Christians have “forgotten about the Good Samaritan, who healed and took care of the poor”.

“Young Italians are moving to the US and England in search of work and opportunities,” he added. “What if these countries had stopped Italians at the border like Italy is doing with Africans? What’s the difference? Is it because Africans are black?”

Fr Luigi Ciotti, one of the most popular priests in Italy, organised a protest this weekend, which invites people to wear a red T-shirt – the same colour worn by three-year-old Syrian Aylan Kurdi when his drowned body washed up on a beach in Turkey in 2015.

“Red also means to stop,” he said. “And we need to stop now, stop and reflect and look inside ourselves. We need to question our hearts and conscience: what are we becoming?”

Earlier this week Fr Alex Zanotelli, a member of the Comboni missionaries in Verona, urged journalists to report on the tragedies in Africa and raise more awareness among Italians about the plight of migrants, who are now perceived by many as “parasites” and “invaders”.

“If Italians don’t know what’s going on in Africa, they cannot understand why so many people are fleeing their lands and risking their lives,” he said.

But with the Democratic party failing to voice a strong opposition, the onus rests on the priests to wrestle against Salvini.

“The party is divided and doesn’t know how to counteract Salvini, and on which issues,” said Mattia Diletti, a politics professor at Sapienza University in Rome. “Due to people being so connected to him and the immigration issue, there is a fear that [opposing him] could be damaging.”

Source: Italian Catholic priests go to war with Salvini over immigration

Refugee claims process needs major overhaul, says report

Will be interesting to see the degree to which the government adopts these recommendations or not. Yeates was former deputy minister at then Citizenship and Immigration Canada and knows the issues well:

Canada must overhaul its refugee claim system or create a new agency that reports to the immigration minister in order to streamline and expedite the asylum process, an independent review has concluded.

The 147-page report makes 64 recommendations — among them calls for a more aggressive approach and increased resources to tackle the backlog of refugee cases over two years.

Neil Yeates, a retired long-time senior civil servant in the federal and Saskatchewan provincial governments, led the government-commissioned review. He said Canada’s refugee determination system is now at a crossroads.

“Once again, it is dealing with a surge in claims that it is ill-equipped to manage, running the risk of creating a large backlog that, if not tackled promptly, may take years to bring to final resolution,” he wrote in his report.

Under the current system, various federal departments and agencies have a role in refugee intake, adjudication, removal or permanent residence approval, and the appeals process, but the Immigration and Refugee Board operates as an arm’s-length body making independent decisions.

The report recommends either maintaining that structure under an Asylum System Management Board, or shaking it up with major structural reforms under an integrated Refugee Protection Agency that reports directly to the immigration minister.

A spokesperson for the IRB told CBC News it has “significantly improved efficiencies at the Refugee Protection Division” and reported “an increase in refugee claim finalization by 40 per cent over the past year.”

The Canadian Council for Refugees said it’s “alarmed” by the proposals, arguing they could undermine the independence of the IRB. It called on the government to maintain the IRB as an independent quasi-judicial tribunal responsible for refugee determination.

“People’s lives hang on decisions on refugee claims,” said CCR president Claire Roque in a statement. “We are not talking about traffic violations, we are talking about a decision that may determine whether a person lives or dies. When we make such important decisions, we need to guarantee due process and the basic protections of an expert and independent tribunal.”

The CCR said the current system — created in the wake of a 1985 Supreme Court decision that found refugee claimants are entitled to charter rights and a fair hearing — is a regarded as a model around the world.

The CCR said any changes must be in line with the principles of fairness, respect for due process and compassion.

“The complex and painful realities of refugees cannot be adequately addressed through a process that focuses on systems and efficiencies,” the organization said in a release.

A spokesman for Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen said the government is committed to upholding Canada’s “proud humanitarian tradition” of providing protection to those fleeing persecution while ensuring the asylum system is not abused.

“The findings in the final report will inform our review of Canada’s asylum system as we determine how best to maximize efficiency while ensuring that the system remains fair and continues to be in line with international standards,” said Mathieu Genest in an email.

“IRCC is studying the recommendations and will be consulting stakeholders, and provincial and territorial partners, on the findings over the course of the summer. It is premature to speculate on any changes that may be considered.”

Asylum over immigration

In his report, Yeates noted the growing trend of people using the asylum process instead of regular immigration channels.

“With the advent of human capital immigration models that place a high emphasis on education, language and skilled labour, asylum systems in countries like Canada risk becoming avenues of last resort for lower skilled economic migrants, who generally do not have access to other pathways to permanent residence,” the report reads.

Current approval rates for protection are about 65 per cent, so there are “ever present concerns” that the asylum system can be vulnerable to misuse, Yeates warned.

“When there are lengthy waiting times for an initial protection hearing there are further concerns that the asylum system may be abused to prolong temporary stays in Canada for healthcare, work permits, public schooling, direct access to Canadian citizenship for children born while in Canada and other benefits, all of which make future removal from Canada of many unsuccessful claimants difficult,” the report reads.

A series of reforms in 2012 aimed to expedite the claims process, but the system is still strained by spikes in asylum claims and resources stretched thin.

IRB spokeswoman Anna Pape said claims intake has been exceeding operational capacity by an average of 2,300 cases per month for the last year, creating a growing backlog. As of May 31, 2018, there were about 57,235 pending cases.

She said the IRB has taken steps to improve efficiency, and the number refugee claims finalized increased by about 40 per cent in 2017-18 compared to the previous year.

The IRB is currently funded to finalize approximately 24,000 claims per year.

“The IRB continues to explore new and innovative ways to improve efficiency, with the objective of improving the timeliness of decisions,” Pape said.

Given the current caseload and existing resources, the projected wait time for claims for refugee protection before the IRB has increased to approximately 20 months.

The report recommends stronger financial controls and tracking of overall system spending rather than incremental funding. It estimates that, following the reforms, the federal government has spent an average of $216 million a year on processing claims, social supports such as health care and legal costs. That figure does not include costs for the Federal Court and downstream provincial costs.

The report also recommends that:

  • the minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship table an annual report in Parliament on the system as a whole;

  • the federal government develop an annual plan and budget based on forecasted intake and targets, with tracked expenditures, and establish an external advisory committee of experts;

  • Ottawa streamline the hearings process, using plain language on forms and making better use of technology;

  • the federal government integrate permanent residence processing of non-accompanying spouses/dependents into the asylum intake process to minimize repetitive processes;

  • government prioritize removals as soon as a removal order comes into effect;

  • specialized staff be tasked with asylum intake at major points of entry, and;

  • Ottawa establish a rapid-response contingency workforce to handle increased claim volumes.

Source: Refugee claims process needs major overhaul, says report

Government looking into using frozen assets to help refugees

Creative idea but the modalities and implementation may prove challenging:

The federal government is being asked to consider confiscating frozen assets in Canada to help refugees.

The proposal, which is still in its infancy, comes from the World Refugee Council, an initiative set up by the Waterloo-based Centre for International Governance Innovation.

While final and more formal recommendations will come in a report later this year, the council, chaired by Chrétien-era cabinet minister Lloyd Axworthy, already has floated the idea past government officials, according to documents obtained under the access to information law.

A letter to Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould from the council’s special adviser suggests introducing legislation to establish a judicial process for requests to seize and “re-purpose” funds to benefit refugees.

“Such assets are frequently brought to Canada (or elsewhere) by corrupt leaders or their associates,” the letter says.

“Since those very leaders are often responsible for forcible displacement as a result of their bad governance, using money stolen by them to assist refugees from their country would provide a certain symmetry.”

The council is proposing that Canadian courts be empowered to take those assets and authorize payments to the country of origin (if the government is “responsible and honest”), the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees or a non-governmental organization.

“The order could also include an accountability mechanism, with regular reporting to the court as to the disposition of the funds,” reads the letter.

‘No shortage of bad leaders’

The government already has the power to freeze assets through the Justice for Victims of Corrupt Foreign Officials Act — a version of the U.S. law popularly known as the Magnitsky Act. It targets the assets of corrupt officials “who have committed gross violations of internationally recognized human rights.”

Fen Hampson, director of the World Refugee Council, said the council’s proposal would be a next step.

“We’ve been trying to think of ways to hold bad regimes to better account,” he told CBC News. “There’s no shortage of bad leaders who are doing terrible things to their populations and creating a major problem for their neighbours, and also globally.”

The council has met with officials from the federal departments of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship and Foreign Affairs; the latter department helps to fund the council’s work.

“Hopefully, good ideas will sell themselves, but it’s up to the government to decide whether it sees an opportunity here to play a global leadership role,” said Hampson.

Adam Austen, spokesperson for Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, said in an email the department is “following (the council’s) work closely, and look(s) forward to receiving their recommendations as part of their final report.

“Canada is proud to be providing financial support to the work of the World Refugee Council. We share their goal of finding new and creative solutions to better support migrants and refugees worldwide.”

The World Refugee Council was created to find creative solutions to help mitigate the global migration crisis.

“We fund the refugee system as if it’s a charity ball,” Hampson said. “Donors will make pledges, but they’re not always fulfilled.”

Source: Government looking into using frozen assets to help refugees

The political debate over migrants hasn’t turned ugly yet – but it could

Good piece by Aaron Wherry:

The Liberals want the Conservatives to watch their words. The Conservatives want a plan. They’re both right.

The debate over what to do about the asylum seekers crossing our southern border — revived this week after the Quebec government worried aloud about its ability to deal with a possible surge of arrivals this summer — is serious, tawdry and dangerous.

On Wednesday, for instance, Conservatives celebrated when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau acknowledged in the Commons that crossing the border between official points of entry could be called “illegal.”

(The government typically refers to “irregular” border crossings. The Conservatives insist on calling them “illegal.”)

NDP MP Jenny Kwan later stood on a point of order to argue that, according to a strict reading of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, the people crossing the border at places like Roxham Road in Quebec aren’t committing a crime.

Conservative MP Michelle Rempel accused the NDP of quibbling over “semantics,” but the adjective “illegal” is obviously meaningful to the Official Opposition. And when applied to human beings with families and children who might have excellent reasons for fleeing their home country, “illegal” is at least a fraught term.

Playing politics

The Conservatives, who describe the ongoing border crossings as a “crisis,” would like the government to table a plan for resolving the situation. They went as far as tabling a motion in the House this week calling on the Liberals to do so.

But — in the classic style of opposition motions — the request for a plan was buried in text that would have had the government acknowledge its “failure to address the crisis” and “admit the Prime Minister’s irresponsibility of tweeting #WelcometoCanada to those seeking to enter Canada through illegal means.”


And so Liberal MPs declined to support the motion in a vote on Tuesday, and so Conservative MP Ted Falk stood in the House on Wednesday and lamented the prime minister’s refusal “to even commit to a plan.”

The Conservatives also charge that the irregular arrivals are “queue jumpers,” a description the government rejects.

The Liberals argue the Conservative and NDP proposals — respectively, to declare the entire border to be an official port of entry, or to unilaterally suspend Canada’s border agreement with the United States — are both irredeemably flawed. And the situation is certainly complicated, legally and practically.

But writing down and publishing a detailed plan could still be useful.

In the meantime, each side is warning the other about where all this might be headed.

‘The flames of fear and division’

“I recommend that my colleague choose his words carefully, because false information and incendiary rhetoric only fan the flames of fear and division,” Transport Minister Marc Garneau said Tuesday, scolding Conservative MP Pierre Paul-Hus.

“I’m worried that the dialogue in Canada is going to switch from ‘how we do immigration’ to ‘if we do immigration,’ ” Rempel told CBC radio’s As It Happens that same day.

On Wednesday, Trudeau said it was “completely irresponsible of the Conservatives to arouse fears and concerns about our immigration system and refugees.”

But Rempel contends that it’s the Liberals who could be inciting division.

“As someone who supports compassionate, planned, orderly migration, and sees it as a key to sustaining the Canadian economy over time when done properly, legally, and safely, I worry that by abdicating the responsibility to do this, it is actually the Liberal Party that is creating divisiveness in the country,” she told the House this week.

More than 6,000 people have crossed the Quebec border seeking asylum so far in 2018 and officials expect the surge to continue with the onset of warmer weather 7:34

Trudeau’s tweet and Trump’s edicts

Canada takes pride these days in not being the sort of place where such divisiveness dominates. But you don’t need to look far here to see how large-scale, unplanned immigration can trigger something ugly and destructive.

In the United States, migration has helped to inspire a nativist litany of grievances that is warping American politics. In Europe, it has helped to birth a new era of nationalism. All sides should be aware of the forces at play here.

However much the prime minister’s tweet on January 28, 2017 acted as a beacon to those seeking refuge, policy decisions in the United States are no doubt giving people good reasons to flee.

But that American approach isn’t likely to change soon. On Thursday, the Trump administration announced that 9,000 Nepalese immigrants will have to leave by June 2019. And even if Trudeau had never hashtagged a message of welcome to the world, the federal government would still bear the responsibility for managing the border.

Liberals can point to the emissaries they have dispatched to dissuade would-be travellers, but such efforts will be discounted if the rate of crossings doesn’t decline. The Trudeau government can point to the funding and resources it has committed to dealing with the new arrivals, but ultimately the Trudeau Liberals may find they have little room now to quibble with the premier of Quebec, or to suggest that it’s the province that should be doing more to accommodate asylum seekers.

If social services in Quebec are noticeably stretched, if immigration procedures bog down, if community tensions rise, Ottawa will be blamed.

Of course, all of this — the number of people crossing the border, the processing and integration of those people while they’re here, the language being used to talk about them — are ripe for political exploitation.

Responsible critics have a duty to avoid overstating the danger here. Responsible governments have a responsibility to limit the grounds for concern.

Source: The political debate over migrants hasn’t turned ugly yet – but it could

Refugees in Sicily: “Seven Minutes” Integration through fashion – Film teaser by our son

Our filmmaker son, Alex, shot this teaser for a short doc he is shooting in Sicily about a refugee from the Ivory Coast, Abdoulaye, and how his love for fashion helps him integrate into the local community.
Hope you enjoy it and find it as interesting as we did: Password: Partinico

Trudeau tweet caused influx of refugee inquiries, confusion within government, emails reveal

Not surprising. I can only imagine the internal conversations.

Of course, compared to Trump tweets, contradictions and reversals … (not intended as a benchmark):

When Prime Minister Justin Trudeau used Twitter to welcome refugees to Canada last winter, it prompted a spike in inquiries from would-be refugees to Canadian embassies abroad, and resulted in confusion within the federal government, newly released emails reveal.

“To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength #WelcomeToCanada,” Trudeau said on Twitter Jan. 28, 2017, the day after Trump put out an executive order banning refugees and visitors from Muslim-majority countries Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

It was widely seen as a comment on Trump’s policy. To date the message has been retweeted over 400,000 times and liked more than 750,000 times. International commentators wondered whether Canada was announcing it would take in all those banned from entering the U.S. Some Canadian officials wondered about that too, according to records the National Post obtained through an access-to-information request.

Noting that Trudeau’s message had been picked up by the New York Times, an Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada official anticipated in an email to colleagues, the same evening as the tweet, that “there will be more pressure” to respond the following day.

Two days later, officials stickhandling media requests were worrying about overloading spokespeople. “I’m sorry, I’m trying to figure out how not to max you out,” one said in an email.

In addition to requests from media there were queries from Canada’s own officials posted abroad. Concerns from the embassy in Mexico appear in an email chain with the subject line “Guidance required on how to respond to increasing number of refugee enquiries in the region following change in US administration and Prime Minister’s tweet.”

The first secretary and “risk assessment officer” at the embassy, whose name is redacted, sent an initial message on Feb. 1, 2017, four days after the tweet.

“I am seeking official guidance/response from Ottawa on how to address refugee enquiries following all the publicity around the US ban on some nationalities, and our Prime Minister’s tweet on welcoming refugees,” the email began.

“We are receiving an increasing number of enquiries from the public about requesting refugee status in Canada, and a number clearly having links with our Prime Minister’s tweet this weekend. A significant number of the enquiries received since the weekend have been from nationals of the ‘US banned countries’, but we are also receiving them from all nationalities, both through emails and directly at our reception.”

The first secretary went on to say that some of the requests had come from Cuban nationals, and that the mission in Costa Rica had been in touch to express concerns about inquiries being received there, too.

“In the current situation, other missions in our area of responsibilities are probably seeing the same thing happening and I think we need to liaise with them and provide formal guidance on how to address these enquiries given the Prime Minister’s tweet,” the official wrote. “A number of clients are asking if it is true that Canada will accept the refugees the US are rejecting, and what is the process to do so. … I would imagine that missions all around the world are seeing these enquiries increasing since the weekend.”

Much of the ensuing conversation — shared with nine Global Affairs Canada email accounts, another six from IRCC and a few that are blanked out — is redacted.

But it shows immigration officials responding with lengthy messages containing response lines developed to clarify Canada’s intentions after the tweet.

An IRCC official told diplomats on Feb. 2 that the lines, approved by the Privy Council Office, were also being shared with officials at the Canada Border Services Agency. The suggested response started with: “We are working with the United Nations Refugee Agency, U.S. officials and our missions abroad to clarify the current situation and determine what our next steps might be.”

Trudeau ultimately stood by the message in his tweet but began adding, during public appearances, that “there are steps to go through” to be considered a refugee. Canada did not change the number of refugees it would accept through resettlement programs. But Conservative politicians would go on to blame the tweet for encouraging an uptick in irregular crossings by asylum seekers at the Canada-U.S. border, particularly in Manitoba and Quebec.

Trump’s travel ban was met with widespread protest and challenged in court. After parts of the executive order were struck down, Trump twice reissued altered versions, both of which include the same list of countries minus Iraq. The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule on the legality of the latest iteration, issued in September, by June.

Source: Trudeau tweet caused influx of refugee inquiries, confusion within government, emails reveal

Australia: Being cruel to refugees doesn’t strengthen multiculturalism

I find Minns somewhat over the top. There is a correlation between confidence in immigration and border management, to deny this is counter to the Canadian experience.

This does not justify some of the anti-immigration and anti-refugee rhetoric (and some of the Australian government’s initiatives) but denying any link and not taking border management seriously is another matter:

There are now dozens of statements from United Nation bodies, condemning Australia’s refugee policies as harsh, inhumane and detrimental to the health and safety of the refugees.

In the face of this criticism, over the last two years, the Australian government has developed a new rationale for this extremely harsh treatment. They now claim that the measures used against boat arrivals – mandatory detention, permanent exclusion and being sent (now for five years for some) to Nauru and Manus Island – are, paradoxically, the very things that reinforce public support for immigration and multiculturalism.

The Prime Minister’s website quotes him as saying that: “Strong borders allow the government to maintain public trust in community safety, respect for diversity and support for our immigration and humanitarian programs.”

His blog reiterates the message: “Strong borders are the foundation of our high-immigration multicultural success”. Peter Dutton made the same point in a speech in London last year.

In fact, government figures have shown few reservations about wading into Pauline Hanson’s territory when they have felt it is in their political interest to do so. In November 2016, Dutton claimed that Malcolm Fraser made a mistake in allowing Lebanese Muslims into the country – not fundamentally different to Hanson’s call in the election that year for a total ban on Muslim immigration. In the same year he said that “illiterate and innumerate” refugees would take Australian jobs or “languish” on the dole and Medicare. Hanson’s 1996 maiden speech said that “immigration must be halted in the short term so that our dole queues are not added to by, in many cases, unskilled migrants not fluent in the English language.”

Citizenship Minister Alan Tudge suggested earlier this month that mulitculturalism is at risk unless tougher English-language tests are introduced for potential migrants. He argued that those from a non-English-speaking background are often concentrated “in particular suburbs… with a considerable absence of English being spoken or understood.” Again, Hanson, speaking then of Asian migrants, said that “they have their own culture and religion, form ghettos and do not assimilate.”

Last April Dutton introduced a bill to require permanent residents to wait four years, instead of one, to apply for citizenship. He plans to reintroduce it this year. It is another signal to the electorate that we should be suspicious and fearful of new arrivals. It is a move in the direction of Cory Bernardi’s Australian Conservatives, who are opposed to multiculturalism and want to extend the waiting time for permanent residents before applying for citizenship to ten years.

Both Turnbull and Dutton raced to condemn Sudanese youth gangs in Melbourne in January. Although the Federal government has no jurisdiction over the matter and despite the fact that crime in Victoria was down nearly 5 per cent in the year to last September, Dutton claimed that people were afraid to go out to restaurants. Again, fear is stoked, insecurity deepened and small, easily identifiable, non-Anglo groups blamed. In this soil, it is inevitable that broader hostility to immigration will grow – something that Tony Abbott, ever the opportunist, has noticed and taken advantage of with his call for deep cuts to immigration.

The claim that our government is staunchly defending a tolerant multiculturalism by taking necessarily harsh action against asylum seekers is difficult to sustain.

The international record on such action and its effect on the broader society is also informative. When the years spent in squalid refugee camps in Turkey, Jordan and elsewhere finally became too much and exploded into large refugee flows into Europe in 2015 and 2016 some governments took brutal and exclusionary actions. Hungary sent troops to force refugees back from its border. Today its Prime Minister Viktor Orban rejects taking any refugees in coordination with other EU countries, calling them “Muslim invaders.”

The Polish Law and Justice Party fought and convincingly won the 2015 election on the basis that it would not accept even one Muslim refugee. In so doing it has legitimised racism and Islamophobia. As many as 60,000 took part in a march in Warsaw last November organised by a movement called “White Poland”. With banners such as “White Europe” and “Clean Blood” they outnumbered the official Independence Day celebrations.

In Austria, Sebastian Kurz became Chancellor late last year after campaigning on a hard anti-immigrant policy, including seizing money from asylum seekers to pay for the costs of their temporary accommodation. Now, he has joined in coalition with the far-right Freedom Party (FPÖ). Its leader, and now Vice-Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache has continued the attack, calling for asylum seekers to be shut up in conditions which some have described as chillingly reminiscent of concentration camps. The party’s General Secretary Herbert Kickl has spoken of plans to create “camps” for refugees “to keep them concentrated in one place”.

The evidence from Europe is consistent with our experience in Australia. Right-wing populism, anti-immigrant sentiment, suspicion of and hostility to people simply because they are Muslim, cannot be effectively challenged by cruelty towards refugees. On the contrary, such refugee policies legitimise the fears on which that brand of politics thrives. These policies not only harm the refugees, they also harm the society in which we live.

There are alternatives to the current Australian refugee policy which do not amount to open borders. We know this is the case, because, in this country, we implemented many of these alternatives for decades very successfully. Thousands of Canberrans plan to march on this Palm Sunday to call for our leaders to do so again.

via Being cruel to refugees doesn’t strengthen multiculturalism

Canada vastly unprepared to process migrants and refugees

Latest numbers and update on impact of the change to first-come-first serve:

A small change marks a troubling time in our immigration system.

Overwhelmed by an endlessly ballooning backlog, the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) recently ditched the 60-day timeline to process asylum claims. People wanting to claim asylum will now be processed on a “first-in, first-out” basis.

The 60-day rule was put into place by the previous Conservative government in 2012. It required officials at IRB to process asylum claimants in order of their designated country of origin. Moreover, decision makers within the board had to process claims within two months. A generous analysis would say those changes were meant to improve procedural efficiency. I am not a generous person.

At the same time that Canada was promising ease of access to foreign millionaires, it created massive procedural obstacles for refugees.

In 2015, a federal court concluded that the major elements, specifically the lack of access for those deemed to be from “safe countries” ( i.e. a safe Designated Country of Origin) was unconstitutional. Nonetheless, that program has remained largely in place.

The effect has been catastrophic.

In 2012, when the Designated Country of Origin program was instituted, less than 10,000 claims were rolling in. Starting in 2014, those numbers have grown substantially. So, too, has the backlog.

By the end of the last year, the backlog was as high as 43,000 cases. The organization had anticipated a backlog of 30,000. The average wait time is now 20 months for new claims. Thousands of much older cases have languished.

Some have waited for an answer for more than six years. The new first-in, first-out system has thrown an already-lengthy process into disarray. Thousands of scheduled hearings have been cancelled, reports the Star’s Nicholas Keung.

IRB spokesperson Anna Pape said, “(The board) must postpone recent referrals at this time due to the operational limitations.”

The change at IRB is necessary but, make no mistake, it’s a move made out of desperation. With inadequate resources, the board has performed a herculean feat.

They’ve put in place a two-year task force to sort through legacy cases. Early last year, they dabbled with the first-in, first-out system under its former leader Mario Dion.

Dion had been unequivocal, saying to CBC News in July, “I am afraid the way things are at this point we will need additional resources … because there is a limit to how much you can stretch one person’s time.” He saw no hope in meeting the demands on the system, saying it was “essentially impossible to close the gap using existing resources.”

Money was a major hindrance, said Dion to the Canadian Press: “Efficiency has increased significantly, but there is no way we can deal with 30,000 cases when we’re funded for about 17,000.”

The most recent federal budget does lay out some money for the board but it lags behind what is needed. There is an additional $12 million in legal aid support for asylum claimants. Lawyers for refugees often tell me that a major obstacle is the lack of representation available to claimants.

Significantly, the budget allocates $173.2 million dollars for security operations at the border and for processing at IRB. Of that, $74 million dollars will be spent over the next two years on irregular migration.

There are bright spots within the asylum system. Funding for Yazidi women and girls fleeing ISIS’s terror remains in place. Canada recently stepped up to accept 1,845 refugees of 30,000 African asylum claimants that Israel is planning to mass deport. Canada’s move isn’t game-changing, but for those few, it is life saving.

Nonetheless, without an international action plan, the global migrant crisis will continue unabated. Simmering global hostility to migrants — refugees and non-refugees alike — looks likely to end up at Canada’s ports, airports and borders. For example, rumors and the eventual fact of the Trump administration’s rescinding of Temporary Protected Status is responsible for the Haitian migrants who have walked across the border.

The ministry of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship is aware of the need to pour attention and resources into the board. Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen has received an interim report on the IRB and a full report is expected later this year.

More migrants will come here and we need to be ready.

via Canada vastly unprepared to process migrants and refugees | Toronto Star

An obscure State Department policy change is likely to send immigrants to their death – ThinkProgress

Valid points – the report was viewed as one of the benchmark reports in this regard:

The State Department has “been ordered to pare back passages in a soon-to-be-released annual report on global human rights that traditionally discuss women’s reproductive rights and discrimination,” Politico reported earlier this week. This change is likely to have a devastating impact on many foreign nationals seeking asylum in the United States after facing persecution, or even the threat of death, in their home nation.

A trio of federal immigration laws and human rights treaties permit individuals, who otherwise would be subject to deportation, to remain in the United States — if they are likely to face certain kinds of persecution in their home country. An immigrant seeking asylum, for example, may remain in the United States if they can establish that they have a “well-founded fear of future persecution” in their country of origin. Similarly, under Article 3 of the United Nations Convention Against Torture, the United States agrees not to “expel, return, or extradite” a foreign national if it is “more likely than not that they would be tortured if removed to a specific country.”

Immigrants seeking asylum or similar protections often rely heavily on the State Department’s annual human rights reports to establish that their fear of persecution or torture in their home nation is well-founded. For example: The 2016 State Department report on the northwestern African nation of Mauritania warns that members of the Resurgence of the Abolitionist Movement, an anti-slavery organization that advocates for the rights of Mauritania’s Haratine ethnic group, were arrested and tortured there. This report could provide members of this organization (or even members of Mauritania’s Haratine minority more generally) who arrive in the United States with the evidence they need to be able to stay.

The next round of human rights reports, however, reportedly will strip down passages “that describe societal views on family planning, including how much access women have to contraceptives and abortion,” as well as a “broader section that chronicles racial, ethnic and sexual discrimination,” as Politico reports. These changes are “believed to have been ordered by a top aide to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.”

It is unclear just how drastically these reports will be pared down, but the State Department should understand the stakes if it chooses to water down its human rights reports.

A major reason why asylum seekers must rely on State Department reports is that the U.S. government is one of only a handful of entities capable of compiling such information in such a comprehensive way. If the State Department will no longer provide complete information on subjects such as ethnic discrimination, female genital mutilation, anti-LGBTQ persecution, or similar topics, then it is unlikely that many immigrants will be able to find this information from alternative sources.

Though some of the slack may be picked up by human rights groups such as Amnesty International, there will no longer be a single, comprehensive source where immigration attorneys can go to demonstrate the kinds of persecution that occur in many foreign nations. Many immigrants may be unable to find any reliable source demonstrating that the persecution they face in their home nation is real. Worse, some immigration judges may even conclude that conditions have improved in nations with widespread abuses because the State Department reports no longer mention such abuse.

And when that happens, it is almost certain that innocent people will be sent back to oppressive regimes to be imprisoned, tortured, or killed.

via An obscure State Department policy change is likely to send immigrants to their death – ThinkProgress

Israel agrees to halt deportations of Canada-bound asylum-seekers


Ottawa has reached a last-minute deal with Israel to suspend the deportation of asylum-seekers who currently are waiting for resettlement to Canada.

Israel is set to begin deporting some 37,000 asylum-seekers, the majority of them Sudanese and Eritreans, in April after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government issued them expulsion notices.

The asylum-seekers, most of them deemed by Israel to be economic migrants rather than refugees in need of protection, can either leave voluntarily for a “safe” African country and receive $3,500 and a plane ticket, or face imprisonment.

The Canadian government is under the gun to resettle 1,845 of the African refugees whose sponsorship applications are currently in process, some for years.

“Canada does not support policies of mass deportations of asylum-seekers. The rights of asylum-seekers and refugees are laid out in the Geneva Convention on the Status of Refugees, of which Israel is a signatory,” said Adam Austen, press secretary for Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland.

“As the country that resettles the highest number of African asylum-seekers from Israel, we are in direct contact with the Government of Israel to convey Canada’s concerns about the situation.”

A spokesperson for Immigration Canada confirmed it has reached an agreement with Israeli authorities to allow the Canada-bound asylum-seekers to remain in the country and not be jailed until their sponsorships are finalized.

“We ask that sponsors advise the department should any of their applicants be issued deportation or detention notices,” said Faith St. John. “Our office in Tel Aviv has dedicated resources to deal with the applications.”

Italy Tavor, a spokesperson for the Israeli Embassy in Ottawa, said the country recognizes the significance of the current “migration situation” and has allocated dozens of new staff positions to streamline and expedite the asylum determination process.

“Israel does not hesitate to grant refugee status when required, and follows a procedure consistent with the criteria and standards of international law, laid down by the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees,” said Tavor in an email to the Star.

“With that said, the data about the migrants who have entered Israel illegally indicates that 70 to 80 per cent of the migrants are of working age (19-40 years old) and that there are about five times more men than women. These numbers are consistent with a population that is composed mostly of economic migrants.”

Jenny Miedema of the Dufferin County’s Compass Community Church, which is sponsoring 14 African refugees through Tel Aviv, said sending asylum-seekers to third countries — namely Rwanda and Uganda, according to Israeli media reports — remains an issue of concern.

“They will be dropped off at a brand new country, with a brand new language, with no legal status,” said Miedema. “These countries are no safe haven. By sending them there, it becomes somebody else’s problem.”

Joanne Beach, director of justice and compassion for the Christian and Missionary Alliance in Canada, which has a sponsorship agreement with Ottawa, said Canada must do its utmost to expedite the resettlement of refugees.

“The alliance is still concerned for the welfare of those at risk of deportation in Israel who do not have applications currently in process. We are appealing to churches to consider entering into a sponsorship agreement or partnering with a Canadian Jewish organization to help those at imminent risk of deportation from Israel,” said Beach.

“We pray that sufficient resources are put in place (by Ottawa) to reduce backlogs and processing times.”

via Israel agrees to halt deportations of Canada-bound asylum-seekers | Toronto Star