Australia to Impose “Lifetime Ban” on Anyone Caught Immigrating Illegally

you-wont-be-settled-in-australiaThe Australian government is set to introduce legislation that will set a lifetime ban on refugees trying to enter the country by boat.

Australia has some of the strictest immigration laws in the world. People who enter the country without a visa are placed in off-shore detention centers indefinitely. The country has been widely criticized for the policy and moved to close one of its largest detention camps in Papua New Guinea in August.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and his government want to deter refugees from even trying. By setting a lifetime ban on this form of illegal immigration, the government is sending a message to people smugglers that “Australia is not an option for you.”

“This will send the strongest possible signal to the people smugglers,” Turnbull told reporters Sunday in Sydney. “They must know that the door to Australia is closed to those who seek to come here by boat with a people smuggler. It is closed.”

Refugees will not be able to return under any circumstances, not even on a tourist visa or as a spouse of an Australian citizen. The ban will work retroactively and affect all cases after July 19, 2013.

Immigration and Border Protection Minister Peter Dutton
Immigration and Border Protection Minister Peter Duttonau

Immigration and Border Protection Minister Peter Dutton said the law will not change the outlook for refugees significantly, as the ones who are already in detention centers “are living in false hope.”

“There are still people, advocates in Australia and elsewhere, who are messaging to people on Nauru and Manaus that at some stage you are coming to Australia,” Dutton said. “Those people are living in false hope and it cannot continue.”

The government will introduce the proposal this week as an amendment to the 1958 Migration Act.

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Pakistan arrests National Geographic’s ‘Afghan girl’ Sharbat Gula

Sharbat Gula in the women's jail of Peshawar.
Sharbat Gula in the women’s jail of Peshawar.

An Afghan girl with haunting green eyes whose portrait on the cover of National Geographic magazine in 1985 became one of the world’s most recognizable photographs has been arrested in Pakistan on charges of possessing forged identity papers, officials say.

Sharbat Gula, whose iconic image by photographer Steve McCurry earned her the title of “Mona Lisa of the Afghan war”, was taken into custody from her home in the north-western Pakistani city of Peshawar with two men, said to be her sons, police official Tahir Khan said.

An official of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), a department that deals with forgery cases, confirmed the arrest.

“Our team together with police raided her house and recovered both Pakistani and Afghan IDs,” said FIA director Imran Shahid.

Sharbat Gula - then and now
Sharbat Gula – then and now

Now in her 40s, Sharbat Gula — also known as Sharbat Bibi — was arrested in Peshawar on Tuesday for falsifying documents and staying illegally in Pakistan, officials said.

An official of Pakistan’s National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) said she could face seven to 14 years in jail and a fine of up to $5,000 or be deported if convicted by court of fraud.

Omar Zakhilwal
Omar Zakhilwal

The top Afghan envoy in Pakistan, Omar Zakhilwal, who has been pursuing the case of 46-year-old Sharbat Gula with Pakistani officials, said a court in Peshawar will hear case on November 1, “in which we expect Sharbat Gula to be released”.

He said in a post on his official Facebook page that an Afghan legal team had taken up Sharbat Gula’s case with legal departments. He also took up her case with Pakistan’s foreign policy chief Sartaj Aziz.

peshawarThe arrest in Peshawar of Sharbat Gula, one of the world’s most recognized and famous and Afghanistan’s most beloved image, has deeply saddened all Afghans without exception and has hurt their emotions,” Zakhilwal wrote in his post.

The action was a “complete contradiction” of the Pakistan government’s efforts to “win hearts and minds” in Afghanistan, he added.

Zakhilwal also dismissed the charges leveled against Sharbat Gula, saying the Pakistani identity card she had “was not fake and neither was it obtained fraudulently”. He added there were more than 500,000 Afghan refugees who had been issued Pakistani IDs and the interior ministry was “very well aware” of this.

“In light of the implications Sharbat Gula’s arrest as well as release can have for Pak-Afghan people-to-people relations and also the legal weaknesses with the case on which she is charged, I requested Mr Sartaj Aziz that the Pakistan federal government issues a directive to release Sharbat Gula immediately. Mr Sartaj Aziz gave me his assurances for which I am grateful,” Zakhilwal said.

He pointed out a deadline set by Pakistan for Afghan refugees to return these ID cards was November 15, which was more than two weeks away.

If Sharbat Gula is released, the Afghan government will facilitate her family’s immediate repatriation and support her to resettle in her own country, Zakhilwal said. The envoy said Sharbat Gula’s husband and eldest daughter had died and she had sold her house just before her arrest.

Soviet army invades Afghanistan
Soviet army invades Afghanistan

Gula’s family fled to Pakistan with thousands of Afghan families when Soviet forces invaded Afghanistan in 1979. Some obtained identity papers in a bid to stay on in Pakistan. Some three million Afghan refugees live in Pakistan, especially in the northwestern Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province and the semi-autonomous tribal areas.

ng_afghangirlIn 1984, National Geographic photographer Steve McCurry took the haunting image of Sharbat Gula, then aged about 12, at Nasir Bagh refugee camp on the edge of Peshawar. The photo, which became the most famous cover image in the magazine’s history, was likened to Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa.

The photograph appeared on the National Geographic cover in June 1985, and was widely used to publicize the plight of refugees.

Last year Pakistan’s government began a crackdown on Afghan refugees who allegedly used forged documents to obtain Pakistani nationality. That’s when Gula’s name surfaced.

“It is a sign of the times in Pakistan, that it has now reached someone who was something of a celebrity in the ’80s, someone more high profile than the average,” said Nicholas Bishop, project development officer for the IOM in Afghanistan.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM), which assists undocumented migrants, says the arrest — although legal if the ID card is proven to be false — is symptomatic of the mounting pressure on Afghan refugees in Pakistan to return home.

Pakistan has said that it plans to send all of the estimated 2.5 million refugees back to Afghanistan as they have become an “unbearable” burden on the economy.

Demolition of Calais ‘Jungle’ camp under way

Boarding busses in Calais
Boarding busses in Calais

The dismantling of the “Jungle” migrant camp in Calais has began as its inhabitants leave by bus for other parts of France.

A group of workers started to demolish unoccupied tents and shacks by hand, according to reporters at the scene.

About 2,000 migrants left voluntarily on Monday, and hundreds more have followed in the days following.

The Jungle has become a key symbol of Europe’s migration crisis, housing some 7,000 residents in squalid conditions.

calais-migrant-camp-the-jungleThe operation to close the camp has been largely peaceful, but concerns remain that some migrants will refuse to give up their attempts to cross the Channel to the UK.

The French authorities said they were prioritizing departures on Tuesday morning, but crews in hard hats and orange jumpsuits started demolition shortly after 1500 local time.
Crews began to pull down wooden frames and tarpaulins
Crews began to pull down wooden frames and tarpaulins

They tore down wooden shacks with sledgehammers and used diggers to move away debris.

The demolition is expected to be done mostly by hand – and in a low-key manner – as officials believe sending in bulldozers at this point would send the wrong message to migrants they want to convince to get on buses voluntarily.

The Calais police commissioner says the camp will be fully cleared by Friday and that only about 200 people are expected to try to stay.

There are warnings that those determined to stay will set up camp in the surrounding countryside while the demolition takes place before returning to the area.

Children are the only group allowed to stay in Calais. They will be housed in the camp’s converted shipping containers while the rest of the Jungle is dismantled.

Almost 200 children from the camp have been brought to the UK, some of them under the “Dubs” amendment to the Immigration Act, according to UK Home Secretary Amber Rudd.

The amendment allows particularly vulnerable children – such as girls and those under 13 – refuge in the UK, even if they do not have family already in the country.

Dismantling the Jungle

At times the migrants have jostled with police as they wait to board buses.
At times the migrants have jostled with police as they wait to board buses.

than 1,200 police were deployed for the clearance operation.

The French interior ministry said officers “might be forced to intervene” if there was unrest during the demolition.

In a statement (in French), French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said 2,318 migrants had been “given shelter” on Monday.

A total of 1,918 adults had been taken away on 45 buses to 80 reception centers, while 400 minors were transferred to “provisional reception centers” within the camp.

The first day had taken place in a “calm and controlled manner”, he said.

Once the migrants have been transferred to different parts of France, they will be given the opportunity to claim asylum, or face deportation.

where-asylum-applications-have-been-made-in-2016Last year more than one million migrants – many fleeing the civil war in Syria – arrived in Europe. Countries struggled to cope and division arose in the EU over how best to deal with resettling people.

An EU-Turkey pact to try to stop migrants crossing to Greece and moves by Balkan nations to close their borders have driven down the number of people using the so-called eastern Mediterranean route.

However, migrants from African countries such as Eritrea and Somalia as well as West African nations such as Nigeria and the Gambia are continuing to attempt the crossing from Libya to Italy.

Notorious refugee camp in France to be dismantled starting next week

The Calais Jungle
The Calais Jungle

The French Interior Ministry announced Friday that the Calais Jungle, the overcrowded and notorious refugee camp in Northern France, will be dismantled. There are 6,486 refugees currently in the Calais Jungle who will be moved to other camps throughout the country. “It is an operation that carries a risk,” said a French official in regards to the plan.

The official added that the evacuation plan will begin on Monday and is expected to last about a week. In the camp, there are refugees from all over the world, including Syria, Afghanistan and Eritrea, who are requesting to enter Britain.

Migrant camp in Calais
Migrant camp in Calais

Britain usually rejects their asylum request in accordance with the EU law that states that refugees need to ask for asylum from the first country they enter. Last month, French President Francois Hollande announced the plans to close the camp. He described the situation in the camp as “unacceptable.” This week, a French court dismissed the petition to delay the evacuation until alternative housing for the refugees was found. The petition was submitted by various human rights organizations.

The refugees living in the Calais Jungle will be divided by families into several groups. The groups will then be divided among hundreds of refugee facilities in France where they will undergo medical tests and file an asylum request if they wish. 1,250 police officers and security personnel will oversee this operation, making sure that it goes smoothly.

Suicide bomber kills three at refugee camp on Syria-Jordan border

Syrians walk through the Ruqban refugee camp in Jordan's northeast border with Syria
Syrians walk through the Ruqban refugee camp in Jordan’s northeast border with Syria

The attack targeted an outpost manned by the Jaish al-Ashair rebel group at the Rakban refugee camp, said Said Saif, spokesman for the Forces of Martyrs Ahmed al-Abdo Brigades, a Free Syrian Army (FSA) rebel faction fighting against Islamic State.

Rakban is home to more than 75,000 people, among the millions of Syrians who have fled their homes during the country’s five-year civil war that has killed hundreds of thousands of others.

Jaish al-Ashair is one of the groups that polices the camp. The blast, triggered when a bomber rammed an explosive-laden truck into the post, targeted one of its positions about 400 yards from a medical station, Saif said.

During a similar attack in July, six Jordanian border guards were killed by a suicide bomber who drove his car at speed across the border and into a military post near Rakban, which is located in a desert area near where Islamic State is present.

Europe Makes Deal to Send Afghans Home, Where War Awaits Them

afghan-and-european-union-flagsThe European Union and Afghanistan announced a deal on Wednesday that would send tens of thousands of Afghan migrants who had reached Europe back home to an increasingly hazardous war zone.

The agreement is the most specific effort yet by Europe to divert or reverse a wave of hundreds of thousands of migrants from war-torn countries including Afghanistan and Syria. But unlike a major agreement with Turkey this year to have that country host more Syrian refugees, the new deal as worded would forcibly send Afghans whose asylum applications were rejected directly back to an intensifying war that has taken a severe toll on civilian life — seemingly at odds with international conventions on refugees.

An Afghan family at a refugee camp last year on the island of Lesbos.
An Afghan family at a refugee camp last year on the island of Lesbos.

“The E.U. and the government of Afghanistan intend to cooperate closely in order to organize the dignified, safe and orderly return of Afghan nationals to Afghanistan who do not fulfill the conditions to stay in the E.U.,” the agreement read.

The repatriation deal was announced alongside an international conference in which governments pledged $3.75 billion in annual development aid to Afghanistan over the next four years.

Taliban fighters on Wednesday attacked Afghan security forces who were fighting for a third day to maintain control of the main government buildings in Kunduz, a vital provincial capital that briefly fell to insurgents last year. In the Afghan south, another of the few remaining government-held districts in Helmand Province has been seized by the insurgents last week. At no time since before the 2001 American invasion of Afghanistan have the Taliban controlled more territory in the country.

In 2015 alone, 213,000 Afghans arrived in Europe, with 176,900 claiming asylum that year, according to European Union data. Fifty to 60 percent of such Afghan requests have been denied so far, meaning that tens of thousands of people could be returned to Afghanistan under the deal.

European officials denied that the repatriation deal was a condition for aid to Afghanistan.

In addition to the fact that even Afghan districts and major highways once declared safe are now threatened or overrun by the Taliban, the returnees from Europe will go back to a dire economic crisis, with an unemployment rate of about 35 percent and about 400,000 young people entering the job market every year.

Far-right party handed out ‘anti-migrant’ spray in Denmark, spurring backlash

denmark-map-2A provocative stunt by a far-right Danish political party  has stirred a growing international backlash.

Members of the Party of the Danes in the port town of Haderslev distributed dozens of aerosol spray cans to passersby. They were labeled “anti-migrant spray,” aimed at equipping local Danes against the threat of assault from immigrants and asylum seekers.

asyl-sprayThe purse-size can came with a label that translates as “Refugee Spray,” both “legal” and “effective.” The move immediately drew critics.

Izza Leghtas, a senior advocate for Europe at Refugees International, described the gag to CNN as “an appalling act of hostility and xenophobia towards asylum-seekers and refugees.” She went on: “People who have fled to Europe to escape from war and violence should find the protection they need, and be treated with respect like any other human being. Yet too often, they find closed doors and prejudice. This is the latest, extreme example of that.”

The Party of the Danes defended its stunt in Haderslev. “I cannot see how it is racist,” party leader Daniel Carlsen told CNN. “Pepper spray is illegal here so we wanted to figure out a way for Danish people, in particular women, to protect themselves. It’s obviously not the ideal situation.”

While the party is relatively fringe and linked with neo-Nazism, its fellow travelers include more prominent, legitimate organizations, such as the Danish People’s Party. From obscurity in the 1990s, the xenophobic DPP has risen to command a significant chunk of seats in Denmark’s Parliament, winning some 21 percent of the vote in elections last year. Denmark’s coalition government has been accused of taking a hard line on migrants, and was widely criticized for a plan to seize the assets and valuables of incoming refugees.

Like the attitudes of far-right populists elsewhere, security fears in Denmark about an influx of migrants are often built on a more abhorrent reservoir of racial hostility.