"Being a refugee shouldn't be a life sentence -- but that's exactly what it's become for millions of refugees who have been confined to camps and denied their freedom, some for 30 years," said LOST cast member & international advocate Jeff Fahey. On Tuesday he went to Capitol Hill with the US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI) and former US Ambassador Michael Ussery to meet Members of Congress and the press to urge an end to the inhumane practice of warehousing refugees. Of nearly 14 million refugees worldwide, 8.5 million have been warehoused and denied their basic rights for a decade or more despite guarantees in the 1951 Refugee Convention -- which include the right to move about freely, work, receive documentation, and choose a place of residence.
"Unfortunately," said Fahey, "these refugees have been forgotten and ignored by the very international organizations established to look out for their most basic rights and ensure their welfare."
Fahey and Ussery were joined by USCRI's Lavinia Limon, president & CEO, at a briefing hosted by the co-chairs of the Bipartisan Congressional Refugee Caucus. Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI) joined a press briefing to voice his support for the campaign to end refugee warehousing. USCRI released a letter to donor countries from Thai civil society asking for rights-based alternatives, and a new report: "Stonewalling on Refugee Rights, Algeria and The Sahrawi," interviewing refugees who recently escaped the abuse that tens of thousands of Sahrawi refugees endure in the Tindouf camps in Algeria.
On September 10, the UN's High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, made the first visit by a UNHCR head to the Tindouf camps in Algeria since 1976 and noted, "I recognize that not enough has been done and that the international community should wake up... we have to work more and better." Jeff Fahey said he was pleased the UN High Commissioner visited the camps and was recommending steps to help the refugees. "But he needs to do more. A 2nd and 3rd generation of children are being born into the hopelessness of these camps."
"From Thailand to Kenya to Algeria, these refugees have been confined to camps and forced to subsist on meager rations for 5, 15, 30 years or more," said Lavinia Limon. "It's an appalling way to treat human beings. It's a terrible way to spend US tax dollars and aid from other donor nations. Resources would be much better spent helping refugees rebuild their lives, not ensuring they remain refugees the rest of their lives."
"The real enemy of Sahrawi refugees is not the desert, however hot the sun and sand are," said Ussery. "They are victims of a perfect storm: a blind eye and neglect by UNHCR; restrictive policies by Algeria which denies the consequences of its actions while enabling the Polisario; and a non-transparent Polisario Front ruling entity that abuses the rights and controls their day-to-day lives of refugees, who are confined to the camps, forced to take handouts, and unable to make a better life for themselves."
Among the group's recommendations to end the abuses of warehousing & improve refugees' lives:
1. Establish a program in the camps allowing refugees who want to return
to their homes or go elsewhere to do so without intimidation, without
being arrested, and without being abused by the security forces.
2. Conduct a census to ensure an accurate count and provide documentation
for free movement and travel.
3. Establish in-camp UNHCR presence to monitor aid distribution & prevent
widespread hijacking & misuse.
4. Implement durable, rights- and community-based solutions to help
refugees resettle, rebuild their lives.
*For the new Report and other information from USCRI on warehousing Sahrawi refugees in Algeria, go to: http://www.refugees.org/article.aspx?id=2398&subm=33&area=About%20Refugees&
*For more on refugee rights, also see: www.moroccanamericanpolicy.org/refugee/report.pdf
Source: Moroccan American Center for Policy
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