According to an article in the Los Angeles Times, the advocacy group Human Rights Watch recently condemned the nation of Egypt for shooting refugees crossing the Sinai desert region on their flight for asylum in Israel. In July of 2007, news about a seven-month pregnant woman being shot by Egyptian border guards only highlighted the 33 other refugees who have been killed by Egypt’s “Shot-to-Stop” policy towards those fleeing from their home. 32 of those killed have been black Africans. According to the article:

Since 2006, more than 130,000 refugees, asylum seekers and other migrants have passed though Egypt and crossed the Sinai border into Israel, according to the report. African migrants have complained about the difficulty of social and economic integration in Egypt.

The report emphasized that Egypt began a shoot-to-stop policy following a meeting between the Israeli prime minister and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in late June 2007. In the meeting, the two leaders discussed the flow of refugees into Israel by way of Egypt.

“We are not saying that Israel ordered Egypt to kill people; there is no evidence of that,” explained Van Esveld, “but what we are saying is that it seems that Egypt has responded to Israeli pressures with this policy of lethal force.”

A report entitled, Sinai Perils: Risks to Migrants, Refugees and Asylum seekers in Egypt and Israel, points to the fact that the Egyptian government has not allowed African refugees to make asylum cases and have tried them in military courts before deporting them (hundreds in numbers) to conflict zones where the refugee’s well-being is jeopardized. It is important to note the experiences of black African refugees is drastically different than refugees from Palestine and Iraq.


Environmental Refugees?

October 15, 2008

The contemporary focus on global warming has always made me wonder if the future will be prepared for when refugees are no longer fleeing from war and conflict, but instead are forced to cross other nation’s borders because of environmental disasters? With Hurricane Katrina internally displacing many in the United States and the 2004 Tsunami killing thousands and destroying homes, if global warming alters the landscape of the world, how will the international community respond?

An article by Urmee Khan in the Telegraph entitled, “Climate change study predicts refugees fleeing into Antarctica.” has begun to ask those questions and suggests the following:

Refugees are expected to move to Antarctica because of the rising temperatures that will see the population of the continent increase to 3.5 million people by 2040.

While this statement may be controversial and could be up for debate, the international community must start thinking about what impact the change in the global environment will have on the migration of people. Will we be able to respond accordingly or will chaos unfold?

The International Herald Tribune featured the following article today:

GENEVA: The United Nations says the increasingly negative image of refugees is fueling racism and violence against foreigners around the world.

A senior official at the U.N. refugee agency says even countries with good reputations for protecting asylum seekers are seeing a rise in hostility toward foreigners.

Erika Feller says the growing intolerance of refugees is causing countries to tighten the laws and procedures affecting asylum seekers. She says South Africa and Ukraine are examples of countries where this has led to unprovoked and lethal attacks on foreigners.

Her comments Wednesday were part of an annual report to the agency’s governing body.

Click here to see the article.

A recent article from The Daily Iowan covered the work of Noah Merrill, a native of Vermont who has done humanitarian work with Direct Aid Iraq. Since his involvement with the organization in 2007, Merrill has been traveling around the country to defend the human rights of those who have been displaced.

While the article is focused on the work of an American in Iraq rather than the plethora of issues facing refugees, the opening paragraph captured my attention in highlighting the reality of trauma and the need for healing:

Noah Merrill expected to interview two, maybe three, Iraqi refugees inside of a small home in Jordan. But when word spread that an American wanted to hear their stories, more than a dozen families showed up, desperate to be heard. The refugees filled the cramped room for hours, one at a time telling tales of sad goodbyes to their country, to their homes.

The Harvard Program in Refugee Trauma, under the leadership of Dr. Richard Mollica, has done extensive research and documentation on the role of the refugee story in the healing and recovery process. While Merrill was surprised so many were willing to share their painful stories, for refugees, telling and retelling their stories not only affirmed that violence and pain was inflicted on them, but it is a psychological coping mechanism for trauma.

When: October 10th-12th, 2008.
Where: University of Pittsburgh

Barbara  Harrell-Bond, OBE from the American University in Cairo
Merrill Smith, Director of International Advocacy at the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Judy Wakahiu, Executive Director of Refugee Consortium in Kenya
Abraham A. Awolich, Co-Founder of New Sudan Education Initiative
Khadra Mohammed, Executive director of the Pittsburgh Refugee Center

For more information, visit

Daisy Dube, a drag queen who fled Zimbabwe to South Africa in 2001, was shot last June outside of a nightclub. Her murderer shouted, “shoot the lesbians!” Her death received little coverage as is often the case with hate crimes in most countries. As a result, some debates have taken place over the issue of GLBT individuals seeking asylum in more “gay friendly” countries like South Africa; putting international human rights and refugee laws into question. An article today highlighted the current situation:

Gays and lesbians are entitled to apply for refugee status as they are classified as being part of a “social group”. But the process of applying for asylum, like for so many other refugee applicants, can be long and difficult.

Beyond the process being long and difficult, there are several cases where many gay refugees are not granted asylum on the basis of “sexual orientation.” Refugees must produce documentation or proof of persecution from their home country before they are given refugee status. This begs the question, how do you prove that you are a member of the GLBT community? Unlike the traditional concept of refugees, where people are forced to flee because of war and conflict, gay refugees are challenging international law to recognize that gay rights is a human right and thus also part of refugee rights and the international community must recognize their plea for asylum.

South Africa is one of only seven countries in the world that grants refugee status on the basis of sexual orientation. But people seeking that relief are battling as much as other refugees in the country.

A GLBT refugee’s plea for protection from persecution is at the mercy of the immigration/refugee policies of the country he/she is seeking asylum in. Only a select few countries (many of them “Western” nations) have established guidelines relating to the intersection of gender-based violence and forced migration. According to the Center for Gender and Refugee Studies at the University of California Hastings College of Law, in order for a gay refugee to be granted asylum in another country, that host country must recognize “sexual orientation” as a social group.