Summary of IRLC Panel

Friday, April 26, 2013 – The ABA International Refugee Law Committee and the Africa Committee co-sponsored a panel at the ABA Section of International Law Spring Meeting in Washington, D.C., titled “Rwandan Refugees – Is it Safe to Come Home?” The panel addressed the situation of Rwandan refugees in light of the UNHCR’s recommendation to invoke Cessation of their refugee status on June 30, 2013. The Cessation applies to those who escaped events in Rwanda that occurred between 1956 and 1998.

Speaking to a packed room, panelists included Filip Reyntjens, Professor of African Law and Politics at the Institute of Development Policy and Management, University of Antwerp; Olivia Bueno, International Refugee Rights Initiative’s Associate Director; and Mutuyimana Manzi a Rwandan refugee in Uganda since 2007.

The panel, organized and moderated by Northwestern Professor Galya Ruffer, provided a context of the situation in Rwanda today, considered the requirements for invocation of the Cessation of refugee status and presented a case study of who are the Rwandan refugees today and what are their concerns in regards to Cessation of their status. The focus of the panel then centered on lawyering and advocacy in such a situation in order to consider strategies, ethical concerns and responsibilities of lawyering in situations of severe oppression where lives are at risk.

As if playing into the theme of the panel, the Q&A resulted in a heated debate that carried on well past the end of the allotted time. In attendance was the Rwandan Ambassador to the United States who, along with a handful of other attendees, sought to discredit Professor Reyntjens and Mr. Manzi’s observations about the current state of affairs in Rwanda. The panel ended with moderator Professor Ruffer noting that in this difficult and complicated environment, it is indeed important to consider how lawyers give voice and protection in such a situation without making the refugees more vulnerable.

-Joe Hansen, Vice Chair of IRLC

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Refugee News Update

Solutions for Syria’s Refugees

It didn’t seem as if the situation in Syria could get any worse until last week when reports surfaced that the Syrian government may be using chemical weapons. Now U.S. lawmakers are calling on President Obama to take stronger action. But what should he do?

The most pressing problem seems to be the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Syrians. The generosity of Syria’s neighbors may be reaching its limit. What’s the best way to deal with the growing refugee crisis in the region?

Source: New York Times, full article here

Published: 1 May 2013

Colombia Tops IDMC Internally Displaced People List

Almost 29 million people lived in internal displacement in 2012, with 6.5 million newly displaced just in the past year, a report by the Norwegian Refugee Council suggests.

For the fourth year running, Colombia has the highest number of internally displaced people on the list.

Source: BBC News, full article here

Published: 29 April 2013

Immigration Reform Overlooks Asylum-Seekers

Harsh rules enacted in 1996 prevent them from working for months or years, making many destitute.

“Work authorization is not meant to get you rich, it’s to let you live,” said an Egyptian asylum-seeker who fled to the United States after a radical group beat him and tried to kidnap his wife and daughter. After fleeing persecution in their home countries, asylum-seekers like this man in New Jersey face a new type of maltreatment in the United States: The U.S. government won’t let them work during what is often a drawn-out asylum process.

As a result, vulnerable people who come to this country as their last hope too often end up destitute.

Source: L.A. Times, full article here

Date: 25 April 2013

Asylum Seekers Can Start Working Sooner Thanks To Class Action Lawsuit Settlement

The Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice have reached an agreement to allow asylum seekers whose cases have been pending for more than six months to apply for employment authorization — a huge relief to the thousands of people who have come to the United States to escape persecution who struggle to make ends meet as their applications are being reviewed.

At the heart of the class action lawsuit is the so-called “asylum clock” — the six month waiting period between the time an asylum seeker files for an asylum application and when that person can apply for legal work authorization. In the past, the asylum clock began only after the applicant was granted a hearing with an immigration judge and started without notice to the asylum seeker. But the settlement would give non-detained applicants at least 45 days to prepare for an expedited hearing.

Source: Think Progress, full article here

Date: 25 April 2013

Uganda Pilots Mobile Courts for Refugees

KAMPALA, 23 April 2013 (IRIN) – Uganda’s government and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) have launched a pilot mobile court system to improve access to justice for victims of crimes in Nakivale, the country’s oldest and largest refugee settlement.

The magistrate’s court, whose first session began on 15 April, will hear cases of robbery, land disputes, child rape, sexual and gender-based violence, attempted murder, and murder. The project – a collaboration of the Uganda government, UNHCR, Makerere University’s Refugee Law Project (RLP) and the Uganda Human Rights Council – aims to benefit some 68,000 refugees and 35,000 Ugandan nationals in the settlement.

“With the nearest law court currently 50km away in Kabingo, Isingiro, access to justice has been a real problem for refugees and locals alike. As a result many fail to report crimes and are forced to wait for long periods before their cases are heard in court,” said a UNHCR briefing on the programme.

Source: IRIN, full article here

Published: 23 April 2013

When It Comes to Somalia’s Displaced, Don’t Mistake Ambition for Achievement

As the number of internally displaced people in the world reaches record levels, Somalia’s situation highlights why creative solutions are needed to assist returnees.

Somalia’s new government is beginning to build confidence in its ability to progress the country’s recovery. The UK opened its new embassy – a collection of shipping containers painted white – in Mogadishu last week, and other European countries are following suit. Somalia’s progress raises an immediate question: is it now time for hundreds of thousands of refugees and displaced people living in the region to return?

Source: The Guardian, full article here

Date: 29 April 2013

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