Title

Helsinki Commission Briefing to Focus on Refugee Crisis

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

WASHINGTON—The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, today announced the following briefing:

“REFUGEE CRISIS IN EUROPE AND TURKEY: CURRENT CHALLENGES AND RESPONSES”

Tuesday, October 10, 2017
2:00 PM
Russell Senate Office Building
Room 188

Live Webcast: www.facebook.com/HelsinkiCommission

Since 2015, more than 2 million people have traveled north across the Mediterranean Sea, seeking refuge from wars, political repression, famine, and climates of economic and social hopelessness. In 2017 alone, more than 133,000 refugees and migrants have arrived on European shores. At least 11,309 people died or went missing on this perilous sea route since the start of the crisis, including more than 2,655 this year. Using overland routes, more than 3 million registered refugees have reached Turkey, fleeing the Syrian civil war and other desperate circumstances from points further east.

These massive flows of humanity bear with them significant humanitarian, economic, political, and security implications. Such large population movements also leave thousands of people vulnerable to exploitation by human traffickers and other predators.

The briefing brings together international experts and NGO representatives to assess the current humanitarian situation facing these refugees and the root causes of their flight. Speakers will address the response of international organizations, receiving national governments, and civil society. These practitioners and experts will also contribute their recommendations for action from domestic and international actors at all levels, including the United States.

The following experts are scheduled to participate:

  • Matthew Reynolds, Regional Representative for the United States and the Caribbean, United Nations High Commission for Refugees
  • Luca Dall'Oglio, Chief of Mission, International Organization for Migration (Washington, DC office)
  • Philip Hyldgaard, Executive Director, A21 Campaign
  • Jill Marie Gerschutz-Bell, Senior Policy and Legislative Specialist, Catholic Relief Services and on behalf of Caritas Europa

 

Media contact: 
Name: 
Stacy Hope
Email: 
csce[dot]press[at]mail[dot]house[dot]gov
Phone: 
202.225.1901
Relevant countries: 
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This increased desperation, combined with increasing resentment among host country populations, is becoming a recipe for disaster. As a result of the widespread sectarian violence that erupted in Iraq in 2006, masses of Iraqis began fleeing to neighboring countries in the region for shelter. It is estimated that more than one million Iraqi refugees have fled to Jordan, Syria and other neighboring states, and approximately 2.2 million Iraqis have been displaced within Iraq itself. Jordan, a small Arab nation with a population of six million, has accepted almost half a million Iraqi refugees. This amounts to an 8 percent increase in the population of Jordan in essentially a year and a half. This would be the equivalent of the United States enduring a stream of 24 million people across its borders in the same time frame. Poverty, unemployment, and inflation are on the rise in the country making it extremely difficult for the Jordanian government and society to cope with the influx of refugees. In 2007, Jordan effectively sealed its borders by imposing strict visa requirements on Iraqis seeking entry, documents that most fleeing Iraqis do not have or would be required to make a dangerous trip to Baghdad to try to obtain. Jordan is not a party to the 1951 United Nations Convention on Refugees and does not have a domestic refugee law. The government does not, therefore, recognize Iraqis as residents of its country, but rather classifies them as “guests” or “visitors.” The Jordanian government does not allow Iraqis to work, however some do find jobs in the “underground” economy, which at best pay barely enough to survive and for which the threat of exploitation is significant. In many situations, men, fearing arrest and deportation, remain in hiding and rely on whatever income their wives and children can generate. Iraqis are permitted to seek medical assistance at government clinics, where they are offered the same health care benefits as uninsured Jordanians. In addition, as a result of pressure from the international community, Jordan opened its schools to Iraqi children. It is estimated that approximately 25,000 Iraqi students have enrolled for the 2007-2008 school year, a significantly smaller number than was expected. While the admission of Iraqi students is relatively low, it has nevertheless put a substantial strain on an already overburdened school system. As a result, the day-to-day needs of Iraqis continue to increase as their resources are diminishing. Multiple families are sharing a single dwelling and those seeking medical attention frequently suffer from severe depression and stress related illnesses. Many of the NGOs offering services in Jordan are attempting to address this burgeoning medical crisis but lack the resources to provide comprehensive counseling – leaving increasingly large numbers of the vulnerable Iraqi refugee population simmering in a cauldron of stress and depression. This situation does not bode well for long-term societal stability. Attempts to provide assistance to Iraqi refugees in Jordan are complicated by both the location and the mixed demographics of the population. Unlike the situation of the Palestinian refugees encamped in tent cities in the “no-man’s-land” on the Syrian border with Iraq, there are no Iraqi refugee camps in Jordan -- where the numbers and needs of the refugees could be easily identified, and to which humanitarian and other assistance could be quickly and efficiently delivered. Rather, Iraqi refugees in Jordan are dispersed throughout Amman and the surrounding areas. A number of refugees -- some of whom came to Jordan to escape the regime of Saddam Hussein, returned to Iraq after his fall, and now have taken up residence again in Jordan -- are quite wealthy, and are obviously able to fend for themselves. The bulk of Iraqi refugees in Jordan, however, arrived with few resources or have now, as is the case with those who were “middle class” when they fled, completely depleted whatever income they may have had from savings, or selling their homes and possessions. The Jordanian government made it quite clear that they want Iraqi refugees to be treated humanely, yet they do not want Iraqis to permanently settle in Jordan. This fact was reinforced at an international conference hosted by Jordan on March 18, during which Foreign Minister Salah Al-Bashir remarked, “But the main challenge now is to find the right environment for a political settlement in Iraq that would restore security and stability, helping Iraqi refugees return home, because there is no other alternative.” While the Jordanian government sees no alternative for Iraqis other than return, the reality is quite different. Many NGOs in Jordan are looking at this from a long-term perspective with some estimates of Iraqis staying for at least ten years, or perhaps permanently. Many Iraqis who fled have had a close family member or friend killed, threatened, kidnapped, or tortured, making return extremely difficult if not impossible. As resources are depleted and Iraqis become more and more desperate to survive, the economy will not be the main source of worry for host countries. Increasingly desperate refugees interacting on a daily basis with increasingly resentful host country populations could sow the seeds of instability on the streets of Amman and Damascus – the current situation may just be the calm before the storm. In Congress, Commission Chairman Hastings, who is also Special Representative on Mediterranean Affairs for the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, has introduced comprehensive legislation to address this humanitarian and potential security crisis. In January, Chairman Hastings and Congressman John Dingell wrote to President Bush requesting an additional $1.5 billion in funding in the FY 2009 budget, and also called on Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to layout a long-term plan to address the plight of Iraqi refugees and internally displaced populations (IDPs). In April, Chairman Hastings joined with Congressman Bill Delahunt and nine of his Congressional colleagues in sending a bipartisan letter to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki urging the government of Iraq to use $1 billion (4 percent) of the expected $25 billion budget surplus to assist Iraqi refugees and IDPs. Additionally, Commission Co-Chairman Senator Benjamin L. Cardin was successful in offering an amendment to the Labor, Health and Human Services, Education Appropriations bill last year. Co-Chairman Cardin’s amendment provides six months of eligibility for resettlement assistance to Iraq Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) holders when they arrive here in the United States, ensuring that Iraqis are able to make the transition to a productive life in the United States by providing preliminary housing, school enrollment and job assistance. On April 10, the Helsinki Commission held a hearing on the Iraqi refugee crisis which focused on the impact of the massive displacement of Iraqi citizens on Jordan, Syria, Egypt and Turkey as well as other countries in the region; the security implications of this humanitarian crisis; and efforts by the United States and others to address the plight of Iraqi refugees, including humanitarian relief, resettlement of Iraqi refugees, host country commitments, and European cooperation as well as the development of a long-term plan to address this crisis. 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Turkey, however, imposes a “geographical limitation” on its commitments under that agreement and only recognizes refugees arriving from Europe. Iraqis entering Turkey from non-European countries are treated as asylum-seekers. UNHCR-Turkey has assumed responsibility for processing these individuals and it then submits its recommendations to the Turkish government. The Turkish government, however, ultimately determines the status of asylum-seekers making the registration process time-consuming and confusing. Those who have registered with UNHCR for asylum can wait up to nine months to be fully processed and are not entitled to any assistance during that period. In the interim, the refugees are reliant upon the charity of the communities in which they have settled or must fend for themselves on the streets. Iraqi refugees entering Turkey are not permitted to reside in Ankara or Istanbul – where they may have relatives or access to an established Iraqi community – but are directed to a number of “satellite cities” in different locations throughout Turkey. In most instances, there is no Iraqi community or support system in these remote locations, making resettlement, access to services, and integration into the local community extremely difficult for the refugees. The Turkish government has accepted in principle the establishment of seven ‘Reception Centers,’ to provide services to refugees from Iraq – planned in or near the satellite cities to which they are currently directed. These centers would be co-financed with the European Commission (EC). The EC would pay 75 percent of the project and the Turkish government would pay the remaining 25 percent. However, the day-to-day oversight and financial obligations would fall to the Turkish government. 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Sulukule is on the brink of total demolition, due in part to an urban transformation project developed by the Fatih and Greater Istanbul municipalities as part of Istanbul’s participation in the 2010 European Capital of Culture event. The outcome of this urban renewal plan will destroy an historical neighborhood and force 3,500 residents of Sulukule 25 miles (40 kilometers) outside of the city to the district of Tasoluk or, worse, onto the streets of Istanbul. The Roma community in Sulukule is living on the fringes of society and continues to be treated unfairly. Instead of implementing an urban renewal project that would preserve this centuries-old neighborhood and allow the Roma there to remain together as a community, they will be dispersed and forced to migrate elsewhere. The Romani residents of Sulukule have essentially been unable to work since 1992 when the municipality closed down the music and entertainment venues that had been the lifeblood of the community and a major tourist attraction. With this source of income gone, the Roma of Sulukule have found it increasingly difficult to earn a living. The residents of Sulukule have been offered the opportunity to purchase the new homes that will be built as part of the project. However, the homes are quite expensive and, given the Romani community’s lack of employment and income, this is an empty gesture. The offer of housing in Tasoluk is also well beyond the means of the current residents of Sulukule, making it all the more likely that the majority of them will be forced to live on the streets. On April 4, members of the Helsinki Commission sent a letter to Turkish Prime Minister Tayip Erdogan, expressing concern about the Sulukule transformation project. 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  • Commission Staff Participates in Conference on Roma; Greece Slated to Serve as OSCE Chair in 2009

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  • Helsinki Commission Leadership Condemns Kyrgyz Return of Uzbek Refugees

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  • Human Rights, Democracy, and Integration in South Central Europe

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  • From Promises to Practice: Implementation of National Policies on Roma, Sinti and Travellers

    By Erika Schlager, Counsel for International Law A recent conference on Romani issues provided a positive benchmark on how far the international community has come in addressing discrimination toward Europe’s largest ethnic minority group.  The meeting also served to highlight how much more national governments have to do to address the needs of Roma in their countries.  On May 4 and 5, 2006, the Government of Romania, along with several inter-governmental and non-governmental partners, hosted an “International Conference on the Implementation and Harmonization of National Policies for Roma, Sinti, and Travellers:  Guidelines for a Common Vision.”  The two-day meeting, conducted in Romani, Romanian, and English, was well attended and focused on housing, employment, community policing, and the status of Roma in Kosovo. Although one opening speaker joked that the magnitude of logos on display for the numerous hosts reminded him of medieval European heraldic insignia, the meeting demonstrated that at least in one area – Romani issues – two major players in this field, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the Council of Europe, are able to put aside institutional rivalries in favor of cooperation.  The conference hosts included the Austrian Presidency of the Council of the European Union, the Council of Europe, the European Commission, the European Union Monitoring Center, the European Roma and Travellers Forum, the OSCE, the Project on Ethnic Relations, and the Romanian Government in its capacity as Chair of the Council of Europe and as President of the Decade of Roma Inclusion.  The Bucharest conference was convened to follow up on a similar meeting held in October 2005 in Warsaw. The title of the meeting underscored one of the key goals of Romani activists: turning promises into practice.  For national governments, this means developing both the legal framework as well as the political will necessary for the full implementation of national policies and practices that meet the needs of their Romani minorities.   Currently eight countries – Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Macedonia, Romania, Serbia and Montenegro, and Slovakia – participate in the “Decade of Roma Inclusion.”  The Decade is a multilateral initiative, supported by the Open Society Institute (OSI) and the World Bank, designed to establish measurable national goals for improving the situation of Roma in four priority areas:  education, employment, health, and housing.  In the context of this initiative, all of the countries involved have adopted national action plans as a basis for addressing these specific areas during the period 2005-2015. Romani leaders look to opportunities like the Bucharest conference to push for improved implementation of the action plans.  Nicolae Gheorghe, a veteran of the Romani civil rights movement who will soon conclude his tenure as the OSCE Senior Advisor remarked that, 16 years ago, he thought the impetus for change would come from international organizations.  Today, he suggested, change must be implemented by national governments. The focus of the conference was by no means exclusively on the eight Decade countries.  While these eight countries collectively are home to roughly half of Europe’s Romani population, the addition of Central Europe’s large Romani minority into an expanded European Union has also served to heighten the attention given to Romani issues in Western Europe.  This heightened awareness was reflected in the inclusion of speakers from countries such as Finland, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.  Indeed, one Council of Europe speaker drew pointed attention to problems “in some of the oldest members of the European Union.” The situation of Roma in Kosovo as well as Kosovo Romani refugees and internally displaced person was addressed in a plenary session that underscored the widespread concern over the precarious situation of that particular Romani community.  The plight of Kosovo Roma remains a top priority for Romani activists across the region.  Some speakers argued that Romani representatives should be included in the ongoing status talks on Kosovo. The conference also addressed the issues of housing, employment, and police relations as they relate to the Romani communities.  A Council of Europe official suggested that, in the aftermath of Romania’s recent floods, the Romanian Government should take advantage of the opportunities presented in the post-emergency context to regularize the legal status of Romani housing in flood-affected areas.  A Hungarian Romani police officer noted that the inspiration for his transnational Romani Police Officers Association came from a meeting in New York with representatives of the National Black Police Officers Association. Changes Bring New Challenges As a benchmark for progress, the conference clearly showed how far the international community has come in addressing Roma issues.  In 1994, the OSCE held its first seminar on Romani human rights issues.  At that meeting, two interventions illustrated clearly the chasm that separated governments from the experiences and perspectives of their most vulnerable citizens.  On one side stood Florina Zoltan, who described the brutal pogrom in Hadareni, Romania, that one year earlier had left her a young widow.  On the other side, an Italian Government official welcomed the opportunity to attend a meeting where one could finally talk about that pesky “Gypsy crime problem.”  There was little room for dialogue, let alone mutual cooperation. Twelve years later, the landscape has changed dramatically.  Many government delegations to the Bucharest conference included Romani officials, and the improvements made in protecting the basic human rights of Roma now leaves enough political space for the discussion of other factors which contribute to the marginalization of Europe’s largest minority.  (At the same time, this development prompted one Romani NGO to lament the virtual decapitation of the Romani civil rights movement:  as more Roma move into government and inter-governmental positions, there are fewer independent Romani voices to hold those authorities accountable.) As the number of international meetings on Romani issues has increased in recent years, organizers of such meetings face considerable challenges in meeting the ever higher expectations for them, and governments, non-governmental actors, and international organizations must work hard to avoid duplication and create a sense of forward motion and real change.  And, as suggested in concluding remarks by a Council of Europe representative, such conferences must figure out how to reach out to local governments, national parliaments and, above all, the majority populations which are the source of the discrimination Roma face.

  • Advancing the Human Dimension in the OSCE: The Role of the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights

    This hearing, led by the Helsinki Chairman the Hon. the Hon. Sam Brownback, Co-Chairman the Hon. Christopher H. Smith Office, and ranking member the Hon. Alcee L. Hastings, examined the role that Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) has played over the last fifteen years. ODIHR’s role in advancing human rights and the development of democracy in the OSCE participating States was noted and agreed to be particularly important. ODIHR is engaged throughout Western Europe and the former Soviet Union in the fields of democratic development, human rights, tolerance and non-discrimination, and promotion of the rule of law and has set the international standard for election observation. Within the hearing, the challenges that ODIHR faces were examined, specifically those instigated by the Russian Federation, Belarus and a small minority of the OSCE participating states seeking to undermine the organization under the guise of reform.  ODIHR has earned an international reputation for its leadership, professionalism, and excellence in the area of election observation.  That being said, ODIHR’s mission is much broader, encompassing a wide range of human rights activities aimed at closing the gap between commitments on paper and the reality on the ground in signatory countries.    

  • Tools for Combating Anti-Semitism: Police Training and Holocaust Education

    The Helsinki Commission held a briefing on Holocaust education tools and law enforcement training programs undertaken by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Co-Chairman Smith cited the vicious murder of Ilan Halimi as a reminder of the need to redouble efforts to combat anti-Semitism and to speak out when manifestations of related hatred occur.  The briefing highlighted specific programs which promote awareness of the Holocaust and provide law enforcement professionals with the tools to investigate and prosecute hate-inspired crimes.   Paul Goldenberg, a Special Advisor to ODIHR who designed the law enforcement training program which assists police to recognize and respond to hate crimes, stressed that law enforcement professionals must be recognized as an integral part of the solution.  Dr. Kathrin Meyer addressed the challenges presented by contemporary forms of anti-Semitism and highlights ways to address the subject in the classroom. Other witnesses – including Rabbi Andrew Baker, Director of International Jewish Affairs for the American Jewish Committee; Stacy Burdett, Associate Director of Government and National Affairs, Anti-Defamation League; and Liebe Geft, Director, Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Museum of Tolerance also presented testimony at this briefing.

  • Human Rights in Iran: Prospects and the Western Response

    By Ronald J. McNamara, International Policy Director In response to ongoing developments in Iran, on June 9 the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also called the U.S. Helsinki Commission, held a hearing entitled, “The Iran Crisis: A Transatlantic Response,” to examine the continuing pattern of serious human rights violations in Iran and consider how to formulate an effective transatlantic response. The hearing is part of a series to explore emerging threats to countries in the OSCE region. Iran shares borders with several OSCE participant States: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Turkey, and Turkmenistan and also borders Afghanistan, an OSCE Partner for Cooperation. Commission Chairman Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS) focused squarely on the deteriorating human rights climate in Iran: “Across the border, Iran's human rights record is dismal and getting worse. The Iranian regime employs all of the levers of power to crush dissent, resorting in every form of persecution, even so far as execution. No effort is spared to silence opposition.” “Freedom denied” sums up the regime’s approach to fundamental human rights across the board, observed Chairman Brownback, “the tyrants in Tehran time and time again have shown a zeal for crushing outbreaks of free thought. Having come down hard on vestiges of independent media, the regime has pursued those who sought refuge on the Internet as a domain for democratic discussion.” Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) drew attention to the extensive economic ties between many European countries and Iran, suggesting that such interests influence policy toward Tehran. Smith also questioned the effectiveness of existing UN human rights structures and the need for major reform of the system. Dr. Jeff Gedmin, Director of the Aspen Institute Berlin, testifying before the Commission, noted the paradigm shift in U.S. foreign policy following the 9/11 terrorist attacks: “It’s changed our thinking about democracy, not only for the moral reasons, but because, as the president and others have said, the old realism, the old stability sort of policies didn't keep us safe, either. They weren’t fully moral, and they didn’t keep us safe.” Gedmin urged a more assertive approach toward Iran that would link the security approach and the human rights and democracy approach, and warned against concentrating on the former to the exclusion of the latter. Gedmin called for ensuring that promotion of democracy is part of any dialogue with the regime, while admitting that European commercial interests could complicate matters. In his testimony, Tom Melia, Deputy Executive Director of Freedom House, focused on the dynamics of democracy promotion more generally and efforts to foster related U.S. and European cooperation through the Trans-Atlantic Democracy Network initiative involving senior government officials and NGO activists from both sides of the Atlantic. He admitted that there are a variety of European perspectives on how best to encourage democratic change, contrasting “the more traditional Western European officials around Brussels and the newly arrived officials from Central and Eastern Europe….who are willing to be strong allies.” Citing the recently released report How Freedom is Won, Melia noted that broad civic engagement can speed democratic reform and that the absence of opposition violence in the struggle for change ultimately enhances the prospects for consolidation of democracy. Turning to Iran, he noted that the June 17th elections in that country “are not about filling the offices that matter in Iran.” Ms. Goli Ameri, Co-Founder of the Iran Democracy Project, addressed the complexities faced by Iranian-Americans who have thrived in the freedom and opportunity offered in the United States, and who hope that such liberties will be seen in Iran itself. She explained some of the differing approaches advocated within the community: “In my experience, there are three different views on U.S. policy towards Iran amongst Iranian-Americans. One group believes that the U.S. needs to take an active role and make regime change an official U.S. policy. The second group believes that freedom from decades of oppression can only come from the Iranian people themselves without any type of outside involvement.” Ameri continued, “In my travels, the majority of Iranian-Americans I met have a third, more considerate way in mind. They speak as concerned citizens of the United States and independent of political opposition groups or extremist political doctrines. They care about U.S. long-term interests as much as they care for their compatriots in Iran…Iranian-Americans support the promotion of a civil society and a civil movement in Iran. However, they want to ascertain that the format of support does not hurt the long-term security and interests of the United States, as well as not sully the mindset of the Iranian people towards the United States.” Ameri emphasized that Iranian-Americans, “differentiate between support for civic organizations and support for opposition groups, with the latter being of zero interest.” Dr. Karim Lahidji, an Iranian human rights activist since the late 1950s who fled Iran in 1979, pointed to contradictions that exist within the Islamic Republic of Iran, including the “farce” that the regime is somehow based on popular sovereignty. He noted that “power itself is dual in the sense that, on one hand, there is this [unelected] supreme guide, who is kind of a Superman, who supersedes over the other branches of government” and exercises “100 percent real executive power.” Under the current structures in place in Iran, Lahidji stressed, “the underlying and governing principle, it's not equality. It is discrimination that really rules” in which “the rights of the common citizen are different from the rights of Muslims, or the rights of non-Muslims are different from the rights of Muslims. Women don't have the same rights as men. But common people don't have the same rights as the clergy.” He concluded, “Under the present constitution, any reform of the power structure in the country that would lead to democracy or respect of human rights is impossible.” Manda Ervin, founder of the Alliance of Iranian Women, focused on the daily difficulties facing the average Iranian, including rising unemployment, unpaid workers, and other hardships that have spawned manifestations of civil disobedience that are in turn repressed by security and paramilitary forces. Hunger strikes and sit-ins by university students and journalists are common and are met with repression by the authorities. Citing arrests of activists, including members of the Alliance of Iranian Women, Ervin stated, “The regime of Iran practices gender apartheid and legal abuse of children. The constitution of this regime belongs to the 7th century and is unacceptable in the 21st century.” In an impassioned conclusion Ervin said, “the people of Iran need our support, our moral support, our standing in solidarity with them. They don't want words any more. They don't trust words. They want actions. They want United States and Europe to stand together against the regime of Iran.” The panelists repeatedly cited Iranian youth and the efforts of NGO activists as key elements in building a brighter future for Iran. The United States Helsinki Commission, an independent federal agency, by law monitors and encourages progress in implementing provisions of the Helsinki Accords. The Commission, created in 1976, is composed of nine Senators, nine Representatives and one official each from the Departments of State, Defense and Commerce.

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