HRF Releases a New Report on Iraqi Refugees
In its newest report, Living in Limbo: Iraqi Refugees and U.S. Resettlement, Human Rights First found that U.S. processing delays leave thousands of Iraqi refugees – including Iraqi Christians and other religious and sexual minorities, as well as U.S.-affiliated Iraqis – living in limbo in the Middle East region.
Despite the ongoing U.S. troop drawdown and the shift to a civilian-led operation in Iraq, Iraqis continue to face persecution and violence, circumstances that cause them to flee to different regions of Iraq or to seek refuge in countries such as Syria, Jordan, and Turkey.
Refugees living outside Iraq are struggling to survive, with limited ability to exercise their basic rights, obtain formal employment, or access services such as education and heath care. Meanwhile they face long delays in processing their demand for help.
Human Rights First’s report, based on independent research and interviews with Iraqi refugees as well as government officials and UN staff, offers a series of recommendations to address the continued plight of Iraqi refugees, including how the United States can ensure timely and effective processing of resettlement and visa applications for Iraqi refugees, U.S.-affiliated Iraqis, and other refugees.
Refugees Wrongly Labeled Terrorists
On December 20, 2010, Human Rights First joined the Hudson Institute, Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, the National Association of Evangelicals, the Southern Baptist Convention, Concerned Women of America, and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in calling on the Obama administration to move promptly in resolving the continued mislabeling of refugees as “terrorists” due to overly broad interpretations of “terrorist activity,” “terrorist organization” and “material support.”
Thousands of men, women, and children – who do not pose a danger to the United States and have not committed any acts of wrong-doing – have had their applications for asylum, refugee resettlement, permanent residence, and family reunification denied or delayed.
In November 2009, Human Rights First released the report, DENIAL AND DELAY: The Impact of the Immigration Law’s “Terrorism Bars” on Asylum-Seekers and Refugees in the United States, describing these problems and offering a series of policy recommendations aimed to focus the scope and application of the terrorism bars on those individuals who Congress intended those provisions to target.
- Watch the CSPAN video, U.S. Refugee Policies and Terrorism Suspect Lists, December 20, 2010.
- Read the CQ article, Laws to Keep Out Terrorists Also Block Refugees, Groups Say, December 21, 2010.
- Read the Christian Post article, Evangelicals, Human Rights Groups Decry Government Inaction on Refugees, December 21, 2010.
- Click here for more background on the issue and to read Human Rights First’s November 2009 report.
DHS Secretary Signs New Exemptions to Terrorism Bars
In recent months the Obama Administration has taken steps to address the plight of asylum seekers and refugees affected by the “terrorism” bars.
Over the spring and summer, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) released from “hold” a large number of cases after recognizing that the political parties or movements with which those applicants had been affiliated were not in fact involved in violence during the periods when the applicants were affiliated with them, and thus should not have been treated as “Tier III terrorist organizations.”
These applicants were not granted exemptions; rather, their cases were finally released from adjudication based on the conclusion that there was in fact no issue of “terrorism”-related inadmissibility.
The issuance of new exemptions for persons who had voluntary connections to groups that DHS does consider to be “Tier III terrorist organizations,” meanwhile, had been proceeding much more slowly.
In late December 2010, however, DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano, signed exemptions for some individuals who have been adversely – and unintentionally – affected by the broad scope of these bars. By exercising her discretionary authority to exempt the All Burma Students’ Democratic Front from qualifying as a “terrorist organization,” and exempting the provision of material support to the All India Sikh Students Federation-Bittu Faction as “terrorist activity,” DHS can begin to adjudicate the cases of affected individuals.
Similarly, Secretary Napolitano signed exemption announcements with respect to individuals who engaged in acts of “solicitation” or received “military-type training” under duress, allowing DHS to begin making determinations of whether – based on a totality of circumstances – the individual’s activities warrant a bar to asylum, refugee resettlement, permanent residence, and/or family reunification.
Many of these pending applications have been on hold for many years. It is hoped that the release of these exemptions will also allow additional exemptions, already under discussion for months by DHS and the other federal agencies involved, to be issued in the near future.
DHS has been preparing to consider for possible exemptions a group of about 18 political parties and movements that include those groups that account for the largest number of cases currently on hold. Once these are reviewed, DHS plans to proceed country-by-country, considering all remaining political movements in Sudan or Eritrea, for example, at once, in the hope that this will make for a more efficient interagency process.
Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission: Hearing on Christian Minorities Under Attack in Iraq and Egypt
The Honorable Frank Wolf (R-VA/10th), Chair of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, called a hearing on January 20, 2011, in response to the increased sectarian violence in Iraq and Egypt.
Panelists condemned the recent targeting of Christian Minorities in Iraq, in particular the massacre at the Our Lady of Salvation Church in Baghdad that occurred on Sunday, October 31, 2010, resulting in the deaths of over 70 people, and the more recent bombings of a predominantly Christian neighborhood in Baghdad on December 30, 2010.
In a statement submitted for the record, Human Rights First described how, as a direct result of these attacks, increasing numbers of religious minorities, including Christians, have fled Iraq in search of safe refuge to neighboring countries, such as Turkey, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon.
These refugees join hundreds of thousands of other refugees struggling to survive in the region. For many of these refugees, resettlement to third countries – such as the United States – offers the only long-term and sustainable solution.
Human Rights First offered a series of recommendations to the United States government to combat bias-motivated violence generally, including in Iraq and Egypt, and to provide durable solutions for those who seek safe refuge, including by ensuring timely and effective processing of refugee resettlement and visa applications through resolving unnecessary delays with security check procedures and establishing an expedited resettlement process for refugees facing imminent risk of harm.
- Click here for more information on the hearing and the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission.
- Read Human Rights First statement submitted for the hearing. (PDF)
United States Resumes Deportations to Haiti
In December 2010, the Obama Administration announced it would begin to resume deportations to Haiti that have been halted since the 7.0 earthquake decimated the country on January 13, 2010.
In the past year, the devastating earthquake has been followed by mass displacement and homelessness, a cholera epidemic, political instability, and slow reconstruction efforts.
Nevertheless, on January 21, 2011, officials from the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced that 27 Haitians had been returned to the island. ICE stated 26 have criminal convictions and one is regarded as a national security threat.
More deportations may follow in coming months. Advocacy organizations have expressed concern regarding dangers faced by returned Haitians, including displacement, disease, and detention.
- Click here to read more about the deportation of Haitians.
- Read the petition filed by advocacy groups with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights urging deportations not be resumed to Haiti.
- Read the letter from the Center for Constitutional Rights to President Obama.
- Take action to urge President Obama to stop the resumption of deportations to Haiti
Calling for Nominations for the Freedom from Fear Award
The Freedom from Fear Award is a new national award that will honor fifteen ordinary people who have committed extraordinary acts of courage on behalf of immigrants and refugees—individuals who have taken a risk, set an example, and inspired others to awareness or action.
The award seeks to honor unsung heroes who are not professional advocates. Based on nominations, awardees will receive a $5,000 cash award.
See video for more information.
Follow HRF’s Refugee Protection Program on Twitter! www.twitter.com/HR1stRefugees