Culture

Name-Place-Animal-Thing: Of Refugees in Jordan, Camps in Greece and a Safe House in the US

This week’s column looks at articles providing insight into the ongoing migrant crisis by focusing on conditions in Jordan, Greece, the US and Canada.

Name-Place-Animal-Thing. Credit: Vishnupriya Rajgarhia

Name-Place-Animal-Thing. Credit: Vishnupriya Rajgarhia

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Sudanese refugees from Darfur sit near their tent in an open-ended sit-in in outside the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) office, demanding better treatment and acceleration of their relocation, in Amman, Jordan December 11, 2015. Credit: Reuters/Muhammad Hamed/File Photo

Sudanese refugees from Darfur sit near their tent in an open-ended sit-in in outside the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) office, demanding better treatment and acceleration of their relocation, in Amman, Jordan December 11, 2015. Credit: Reuters/Muhammad Hamed/File Photo

Stuck in limbo

“Essentially, we’ve had to do just start watching and waiting,” says Joseph Landis, who works with the International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP) in Amman, Jordan, helping Sudanese and Iraqi refugees to migrate to the US. According to Landis, while the US courts have been pretty successful in lifting the travel ban for those travelling for business or tourism, “the 120 day pause to ‘improve the vetting system’ for refugees is still happening”. The IRAP has successfully helped many refugees who had already been approved pre-ban to “wriggle through the new restrictions” but those currently undergoing the interview, repeal and appeal process, remain stuck in limbo.

In this article from September 2016, several Sudanese refugees in complained of unliveable conditions in Jordan. Migrants face restrictions on working in the country, making it difficult to earn livelihoods. To make matters worse, not everyone is guaranteed monetary assistance from the state either. 25-year-old Khalda Khatar, whose family was denied state assistance, told a reporter,  “Sometimes there’s food, sometimes there isn’t.”

Since the US is currently the only country that accepts Sudanese refugees from the Middle East, the travel ban is particularly taxing on this community. As the article highlights, and has become glaringly obvious in the many months since the refugee crisis first grabbed international attention, there’s a widening gap between what international organisations like the UN expect countries to do for the migrants within their borders and what states are actually capable of providing, that is if they’re willing at all.

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Refugees and migrants wait to be registered at the Moria refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos, November 5, 2015.Credit: Reuters/Alkis Konstantinidis/File Photo

Refugees and migrants wait to be registered at the Moria refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos, November 5, 2015.Credit: Reuters/Alkis Konstantinidis/File Photo

The most expensive humanitarian response in history

Nobody, not the Greek government, not the EU, not even the UN, knows how many refugee camps currently exist in Greece. The various institutions also have different estimations of how many migrants there are in the country – thousands have disappeared since the EU closed its southern borders, effectively locking the mass of migrants inside Greece.

It’s been nearly two years since Alan Kurdi’s drowned body catapulted the migrant crisis from a distant problem straight into the public consciousness, and since then, it has been another year since Greece’s borders to the rest of the EU shut down, preventing the migrants flooding into Greece from simply passing through to other countries.

This article seeks an explanation for how what is possibly the world’s most expensive humanitarian effort was managed so dismally – many of the camps that the Greek government has actually managed to keep running don’t provide liveable conditions such as running water, functioning toilets, edible food and heating in the winter months.

The authors cite a number of organisational reasons within the Greek government and also its relations with the EU and the UN. For instance, much of the funding collected for the Greek government’s use was not actually released because of the country’s failure to come up with plans for organising and rehabilitating the influx of people. Or the fact that the Greek migrant ministry countered a German NGO’s $1.6 million plan for creating more accommodation with a $8 million plan that was ultimately rejected by international aid organisations, ultimately leaving stranded refugees just where they were.

Much of the article reflects the familiar squabbles of states and international organisations that don’t really have the power to impose decisions on member states, sadly evoking an unsurprised feeling more than outrage. In the end, the authors float the most cynical theory of all, that this mismanagement and the squalid conditions refugees face once they get to Greece act as an effective deterrent, effectively discouraging more people from coming to Europe seeking asylum.

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US Canada border as seen from the White Pass and Yukon Railroad. Credit: DJHeini/Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0

US Canada border as seen from the White Pass and Yukon Railroad. Credit: DJHeini/Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0

A safe house in Buffalo, New York

“I never thought my country would be the one people had to run from,” says a US staffer at Vive, a safe house for refugees in upstate New York.

This article takes a peek into the lives of some of the migrants who stop at Vive as they try to make their way through the US to Canada. The latter makes for a more appealing option because Canada “offers far better social services than the U.S. does, including access to education, temporary health services, emergency housing, and legal aid.” If you can get to Canada, you are closer to receiving better asylum conditions than in the US, and more likely to as well. This has made Vive a “penultimate” stop on this modern day underground railroad – a reference to the route that American slaves took to escape to Canada for their freedom.

But for many, the travel is not a simple passing through. In 2004, the US and Canada adopted the Safe Third Country Agreement, “which requires all refugees to seek asylum in the first country they enter.” Exceptions to the rule include unaccompanied minors and those with immediate family members already present in the country they want to go to. For instance, Tita, an Eritrean woman fleeing religious persecution stayed at Vive while trying to figure out how to reunite with her partner (that she was not legally married to) and her son.

The author walks the reader through the emotional trials of people at Vive, whether they are only there for a handful of days or have been stuck for months.The frustrations, trauma, boredom and terror of being stateless is palpable through the stories of women like Tita, a Salvadoran man who risked his life by taking a treacherous path into Canada (not realising that he didn’t need to), a Colombian man who battled exhaustion to walk several miles into Canada only to find out that he may not be able to remain there after all.

The staff at Vive are currently preparing for a scenario in which the border patrol forces obtain a warrant to raid their premises. Until now, the two sides have been mutually respectful within legal limits but the preparation indicates a creeping cynicism into an already anxious, sometimes hopeless place.

Want to suggest a piece that should be included in this column? Write to me at nehmat@thewire.in
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