Tag Archives: asylum seekers

Migrant population in Middle East more than doubles

BEIRUT — The number of migrants in the Middle East has more than doubled since 2005, according to a new report by the Pew Research Center.

Migrant workers, asylum seekers, refugees and internally displaced persons increased from around 25 million in 2005 to 54 million in 2015. This 120% increase is much higher than in North America and Europe (both around 20%) over the same period despite the arrival of 1.3 million asylum seekers in Europe last year, of whom many were from the Middle East. Forced and voluntary migration in the Middle East also grew at a faster pace than  in Africa (90% increase), the Asia-Pacific (26%), and Latin America and the Caribbean (77%).

The share of migrants of the region’s population grew from 7% in 2005 to approximately 13% in 2015. In other words, one-in-ten people currently living the Middle East is either an international migrant or displaced. The Pew Research Center based its analysis on data from United Nations agencies.

This growth of migration in the Middle East is mainly caused by two factors: conflict and economic opportunity.

About half of the Middle East's 23 million displaced migrants lived in Syria or Iraq in 2015Armed conflict in Syria, Iraq and Yemen has displaced millions. This forced displacement accounts for the majority (60%) of the growth of the migrant population. The aftermath of the invasion of Iraq and subsequent civil war, the war in Syria since 2011, the rise of Daesh and the various conflicts in Yemen since the Arab Uprising had (internally) displaced 23 people by the end of 2015, about half of them living in Syria or Iraq, followed by Jordan, Yemen, Turkey and Lebanon.

About six-in-ten of the Middle East's non-displaced international migrant lived in Saudi Arabia and UAE in 2015

Economic opportunity has attracted millions of migrant workers — mostly from countries outside the region — particularly to the oil-rich Gulf States: Saudi Arabia (10.2 million), United Arab Emirates (8 million), Kuwait (2.9 million) and Oman (1.8 million). But also Israel and Lebanon continue to attract migrants.

The figures from the Pew Research Center show how war and armed conflict have wreaked havoc on the region: the portion of migrants living in the Middle East that were not displaced fell from 78% to 57% in the past decade.

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European Commission critical of Baltic states for admission requirements asylum seekers

RIGA – Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have drawn the ire of the European Commission over their reluctance to host refugees under the EU relocation programme, the LNT commercial TV channel reported Friday.

“There are only two criteria based on which someone can be refused asylum or relocation within Europe,” Kristīne Liepiņa, spokesperson for the European Commission Delegation in Latvia, told LNT. “One reason is that this person poses a threat to other people’s security, namely, to local society. And another reason, of course, is if this person poses a threat to international security.”

Yet to date Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have only accepted refugee families with children and educated refugees with foreign language skills and work experience.

The Baltic states between them are expected to accept 1,481 asylum seekers by the end of 2017 as part of the EU’s relocation scheme. All EU member states together agreed to take 160,000 refugees that are stranded in Greece and Italy by that date.

In its fifth report on the progress of the EU relocation and resettlement programme, the Commission wrote last month: “During the reporting period, a number of Member States (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania) have rejected relocation requests without providing substantiated reasons or on grounds other than those specified in the Council Decisions on relocation.” The previous, fourth report (June) also singled out the Baltic countries, among others, for “[…] lack of motivation of rejections of relocation requests [which] goes against the letter of the Council Decisions on relocation and the spirit of loyal cooperation.”

This is the first time, however, that a representative of the European Commission openly criticises the Baltic governments. So far the EU Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship, Dimitris Avramopoulos, has only encouraged member states to do more. During the presentation of the last progress report he spoke of a “positive trend, but more efforts are needed.”

Latvia’s governing Unity party believes that the EU report is a testament to the fact that Latvia takes the application verification process very serious. “Our system of domestic affairs staff are doing their job well. […] The criteria should not be changed,” Lolita Čigāne (Unity), member of the Saeima and chairperson of the European Affairs Committee, told LNT in response to the criticism.

Ironically, the criticism comes at a time when all three Baltic countries have started accepting substantially more refugees. On Friday, Lithuania welcomed 11 Syrian refugees from Greece under the EU deal, bringing the total to 73 so far. Earlier last week, a court in Latvia granted five Iraqis refugee status and 12 asylum seekers from Eritrea and Syria subsidiary (temporary) protection. And two Syrian refugee families arrived in Estonia from Greece at the end of July.

The next progress report of the European Commission is expected in September.

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Iraqi refugee family’s appeal rejected by Vilnius court

The Vilnius Regional Administrative Court yesterday rejected an appeal by an Iraqi refugee family who arrived in the Lithuanian capital under the European Union’s refugee relocation programme in December 2015, the Lithuania Tribune reported.

The family had appealed against the Lithuanian Migration Department’s decision in February to grant them subsidiary (temporary) protection instead of full-fledged refugee status.

Refugee status grants permanent residency whereas subsidiary protection provides only temporary residence, which can be revoked once the situation in the country of origin improves.

“The asylum seekers failed to provide sufficient arguments regarding individual persecution directed directly against them and their minor children,” the court motivated its decision to dismiss the case in a press release. Judge Arūnas Kaminskas told reporters that the Migration Department had adequately assessed the family’s situation in Iraq, according to the Lithuania Tribune.

The family of four was the first that arrived in Lithuania under the EU relocation scheme, through which EU member states will take 160,000 refugees that are stranded in Greece and Italy by the end of 2017.

Under the EU programme there are no specific provisions about the exact status (refugee or subsidiary protection) relocated asylum seekers will need to be provided by host countries.

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Baltic states reluctant to host refugees

RIGA – “Do you people live here?” a Riga taxi driver yells at a black woman wrapped in a thick scarf who is pushing a stroller down a street lined with delapidated grey brick buildings and covered in a thin layer of snow.

Marie (not her real name) and her one-year-old daughter arrived in Riga in August from the Democratic Republic of Congo. They are among a handful of asylum seekers living in the Mucenieki refugee centre on the outskirts of Riga, Latvia’s capital.

Built as a Soviet military base, today the area consists of cheap housing for primarily blue-collar workers who commute to the capital. The refugee centre – a fenced-off three-story building, which opened in 1999 – can accommodate around 200 people but currently only houses 54.

The Baltic states – Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania – between them are expected to accept 1,481 asylum seekers by the end of 2017 as part of the EU’s controversial relocation programme. Latvia, with two million inhabitants, is set to receive 481 asylum seekers – a fraction of the 160,000 refugees EU member states agreed to take from Greece and Italy over the next two years. In addition, the Latvian government has agreed to resettle another fifty refugees from outside the EU, according to UNHCR and the Latvian government. The relocation scheme will cost EUR 14,9 million, with EUR 8,4 million coming from the national budget and the remainder from the EU.

Just before Christmas, the first refugee families arrived in Tallinn and Vilnius, the capitals of Estonia and Lithuania. Latvia expects its first arrivals through the relocation scheme in February.

The asylum system in Latvia is relatively new in comparison with many other member states. To date, the country has received among the lowest numbers of asylum applications in the entire EU, in both absolute and relative terms. From 1998, when the asylum system was introduced, until September 2014, a total of 1,366 persons had applied for asylum in Latvia of which 64 were granted refugee status, and 112 temporary protection, according to the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR.

As in other East European countries like Hungary, Poland and Slovakia, there is a lot of resistance to the EU relocation programme. Policymakers worry that the refugees will use up limited resources. And ordinary citizens are both concerned and divided. “I’m afraid of losing my traditions,” an old woman told a local newspaper, standing next to Riga’s Freedom Monument. “I already suffered under the Soviets. Finally we live in a free nation, and I don’t want to lose this again.” There appears to be a generation gap in the perception of refugees in Latvia, with older generations – including many politicians – having more negative views than younger Latvians who grew up after the collapse of communism.

Most Latvian political parties, both the main oppostion social democratic Harmony party and the ruling centre-right coalition, have responded to the European Union’s calls for more solidarity in accepting refugees through the relocation scheme by warning that the newcomers will not be able to integrate, will live on benefits and engage in criminal activities. The centre-right government, composed of the Unity party of prime minister Laimdota Straujuma, the conservative Union of Greens and Farmers and right-wing National Alliance, reluctantly agreed to the EU relocation scheme. Yet prime minister Laimdota Straujuma resigned on December 7, along with her cabinet, partially due to disagreements within her own Unity party over the EU relocation scheme.

The fact that in the past 25 years, Latvia has not been able to fully integrate its large Russian minority is often cited as another reason the country should not accept newcomers from more unfamiliar cultures.

Yet unlike in neighbouring Estonia, where protestors marched through the capital as part of an anti-immigrant rally calling for stricter EU border controls and a national referendum on whether the country should accept its quota of refugees, there haven’t been public protests in Latvia.

It is the lack of experience with refugees and migrants that is striking in homogeneous Latvia.

“We have one student from China,” said Pēteris Ševčenko, the principal of Riga’s Natālijas Draudziņas Secondary School, the only school reachable by public transport from the Mucenieki refugee centre. Four refugee children from Iraq are expected to start school here this year. Ševčenko admits that although his teachers are highly motivated, his school is ill-prepared to welcome students that don’t speak Latvian or English. “Parents tell me that they fear that the newcomers will try to convert their children to Islam,” said Ševčenko.

According to Iveta Zarina, spokesperson with the Ministry of Education and Science, a total of eight schools in the country have experience teaching refugees.

“Teaching Latvian to refugees arriving here is the highest priority for the Latvian government and people, therefore every person arriving to Mucenieki will receive a three-month intensive course in Latvian,” explained Zarina. But currently, there are no language-instruction courses on offer at Mucenieki and Marie, the Congolese asylum seeker, says she has not had the chance to learn any Latvian. “But people here have been very welcoming,” said Marie, who expects to hear next month if she is granted asylum.

For now, NGOs are being called on to fill the void in language instruction. Patvērums “Drošā māja” (Shelter “Safe House” – PDM) is the only non-governmental organisation in Latvia that is working with refugees and asylum seekers to help them integrate. The NGO recently organised a tour of downtown Riga for inhabitants of the Mucenieki refugee centre during which they visited some of the city‘s most significant historical and cultural buildings. The tour was part of the “Introductory Course about Latvia” offered by PDM with support from the Ministry of Culture. PDM also offers language classes.

Parts of the private sector are pragmatic in their approach to the prospect of more refugees settling in Latvia, although only a minority would employ them, according to a recent survey carried out by the Latvian Chamber for Commerce and Industry. “It is clear that the refugee issue in Europe is becoming more and more important. Businessmen have to think if they are ready to employ refugees,” Jānis Endziņš, chairman of the Chamber of Commerce, told the Baltic News Network. Twenty eight percent of business owners surveyed said they were prepared to hire refugees and 23 percent thought refugees could have a positive impact on Latvia’s economy and labour market. Yet 58 percent of entrepreneurs noted that the situation is risky and that Latvia should resettle as few refugees as possible. Many respondents pointed out that they saw language barriers as an obstacle.

Earlier this week outgoing Justice Minister Dzintars Rasnačs (National Alliance) announced that Latvia will introduce a burqa ban in public. “This ban is needed not to ensure public order and security, but to protect Latvia’s cultural values, our common public and cultural space, and each individual,” Rasnačs told national LNT television.

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