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European Commission seeks to resettle 50,000 refugees

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The European Commission has unveiled a new plan that would allow for 50,000 refugees – mostly from a host of African countries – to be resettled to Europe over the next two years.

The proposal on Wednesday by the European Union’s executive branch involves admitting asylum seekers under the bloc’s resettlement programme, which was introduced at the height of a major refugee crisis in 2015.

“We need to open real alternatives to taking perilous irregular journeys,” European Union Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos told a news conference in Brussels.

The commission said that it had set aside 500 million euros ($590m) to support the resettlement effort. Member states will be free to participate in the scheme on a voluntary basis.

The EU’s executive arm said that while resettlement from Turkey and the Middle East is to continue, an increased focus should be put on resettling vulnerable people from Libya, Egypt, Niger, Sudan, Chad and Ethiopia.

“Europe has to show that it is ready to share responsibility with third countries, notably in Africa. People who are in genuine need of protection should not risk their lives or depend on smugglers,” Avramopoulos said.

23,000 people resettled

Libya is the main jumping-off point for many people willing to brave potentially dangerous sea journeys across the Mediterranean in search of better lives in Europe. Egypt, Sudan, Chad and Niger – one of the main migrant transit countries in Africa – all border Libya.

Resettlement is managed by the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which selects refugees who have a continued need for international protection.

European countries are individually responsible for deciding on resettlement numbers so they cannot be legally bound by Brussels to take more people in.

Last year, the main beneficiaries of UNHCR-facilitated resettlement programmes were refugees from Syria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iraq and Somalia.

The EU has already resettled 23,000 people from refugee camps in countries outside the EU under the scheme, mainly Turkey and Jordan, which were overwhelmed with people fleeing the war in Syria.

The resettlement programme is different from the EU’s compulsory refugee quotas, which involved moving asylum seekers who had already reached Italy and Greece to other EU countries.

The latter scheme, which ended on Wednesday, saw just 29,000 people out of a planned 160,000 shared out around EU states to ease the pressure on the overstretched Greek and Italian authorities.

The commission also said it wants to ensure that those not permitted to stay in Europe are returned to their home countries more quickly.

“We have to be clear and brutally honest, people who have no right to stay in Europe must be returned,” Avramopoulos said.

He also said that the commission would propose a temporary extension to allow countries such as Germany, Austria, Denmark and non-EU country Norway to keep systematic ID checks in place.

Schengen border controls

Separately, the EU also released plans on Wednesday to allow countries in the passport-free Schengen area to reintroduce border controls for security reasons for up to three years.

Countries in the 26-country Schengen travel area can currently reintroduce frontier checks for six months for security reasons, and two years if that is combined with a threat to borders.

“Under today’s proposals, member states will also be able to exceptionally prolong controls if the same threat persists,” the commission said in a statement.

Avramopoulos however said this should be a “last resort”, and that keeping the Schengen area open for travel should be a priority.

Several countries, including France and Germany, have called for the extension after a series of attacks. France reinstated the checks after the November 2015 Paris attacks.

Border checks introduced by Germany, Denmark, Austria, Sweden and Norway in May 2016 to deal with a huge influx of refugees and migrants into Europe from Syria and North Africa are set to expire in November.

The reintroduction of so many checks raised concerns about the collapse of the Schengen zone, seen by many in Europe as a symbol of unity and freedom.

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Human Rights

Somaliland poet jailed for three years in crackdown on writers

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A poet has been sentenced to three years in prison in Somaliland as part of a wide-ranging crackdown against activists and writers.

Naima Abwaan Qorane, 27, was jailed on Sunday for “anti-national activity of a citizen and bringing the nation or state in contempt”.

Prosecutors said she had expressed opinions on social media that undermined the semi-autonomous state’s claim to full independence.

In a second case on Monday, the same court sentenced Mohamed Kayse Mohamoud, a 31-year-old author, to 18 months in prison on charges of “offending the honour of the president.”

The case against Mohamoud was based on a Facebook post saying the “president is a local”, according to the charge sheet seen by activists.

It was offensive to the president because the president was “a national president” and not a local official, the presiding judge said.

Somaliland, a former British protectorate, declared unilateral independence from Somalia in 1991 as the regime of Mohamed Siad Barre collapsed, but has not been recognised as a fully autonomous state by the international community.

It is effectively self-governing with its own elections, constitution, courts and currency. President Muse Bihi Abdi was elected last year.

Since December there has been a series of arrests and detentions of activists, bloggers and writers. Local human rights workers say at least 12 journalists have been detained, some for up to three weeks.

“The detention of my client was illegal, the charges made against her are politically motivated and the sentence is unfair,” Qorane’s lawyer, Mubarik Abdi Ismail, said. “The the judge was not independent and therefore he could not deliver a free trial.”

He said the poet had been threatened during her interrogation. “On one night while Naima Qorane was in [police] detention in Hargeisa, two hooded men entered her cell and threatened that they will rape her if she would not provide passwords of her mobile phone and her social media pages particularly her Facebook. They took all passwords,” he said.

“In March, two [police] and intelligence officers came to Qorane’s cell and demanded her to tell everything and confess her crimes … they threatened that they will bring very strong men who would rape her, and then that they would kill her and dump her body into unknown place. They returned the second night and put a loaded pistol of her forehead and threatened that was her last minute in life.”

Qorane was also denied visits from her family for a number of weeks after her father spoke to the media and, though held for political offences, she was not separated from other detainees. She is now being held in Gabiley women’s prison.

Ahmed Hussein Qorane, Naima’s father, said he was given only limited access to visit his daughter and was not surprised by the sentence. “My daughter is innocent … She has nothing to do with what they alleged. She must be released without condition. They did not allow her to see a doctor. She has bad toothache. They beat her in the detention and her left knee is swollen while she has an injury on her thumb,” he said.

Much of Qorane’s poetry evokes the lost unity of Somalia, but does not explicitly mention Somaliland or its future, supporters say. She read her works at a TEDx conference in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, last year.

Guleid Ahmed Jama, the chair of the Human Rights Centre-Hargeisa Somaliland, said the imprisonment of Qorane and Mahamoud were contrary to the constitution.

“This shows that the judiciary is being used to suppress critical voices. We are very concerned about the judiciary’s acts that are putting people behind bars for expressing their opinion. Somaliland is a democracy. We have a very good constitution. The government needs to respect that constitution,” he said.

Qorane said in 2016 that she had received death threats and been warned to leave Somaliland. “If it happens – though I am not expecting it – jail was built for people not for animals … I will be released one day and the prison experience is not going to change my views,” she said in a local media interview.

There has been no official statement from the Somaliland authorities.

Said Abdi Hassan, an activist in Somaliland, said Qorane’s sentence was unfair. “She was detained because of her views which everybody has the right to express without fear,” he said. “How can a country claim to be seeking recognition while they disregard rights of the people.

“But we want to tell Naima that even if she is jailed forever, her views will be active. She is a role model for many of our youth by calling for unity and against tribalism.”

Officials contacted in Somaliland said they were unable to comment on the case.

Additional reporting by Abdalle Ahmed Mumin

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Somaliland: Female poet jailed over unity calls

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MIDDLE EAST MONITOR — A court in Somaliland has sentenced a female poet to three-years in jail after she called for unity with Somalia amid ongoing regional tensions, Garowe Online reported yesterday.

Naciima Abwaan Qorane was arrested in January at Igal International Airport upon her return from Somalia’s capital Mogadishu where prosecutors claimed she had recited poetry calling for unity.

Qorane was charged by police in Somaliland with “anti-national activity and violating the sovereignty and succession of Somaliland”. Somaliland’s prosecution claimed that Qorane called Somaliland a “region” and “insulted and defamed” the government.

Read: Somalia’s quandary with UAE: A port in Somaliland

“We are very concerned about the conviction and sentence of Naima. Freedom of expression is enshrined and protected by the Constitution of Somaliland,” Guled Ahmed Jama, the director of Human Rights Centre, said.

Regional tension
A breakaway, semi-desert territory on the coast of the Gulf of Aden, Somaliland declared independence from Somalia in 1991.

In a recent struggle for power between the two states, Somalia rejected a $422 million tripartite port agreement between Ethiopia, Somaliland and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) logistics port company DP World as “null and void”.

Tensions escalated when the UAE went ahead with the port deal despite strong opposition. Somalia’s members of parliament voted for a law to officially ban DP World last month.

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Refugees in Indonesia selling sex to survive

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AAP — Homeless mother-of-three, Nimo, fled to Indonesia from Somalia after Islamists killed her family, but with prostitution as the only way to survive, she tearily says her life in Jakarta is “much harder” than her war-torn homeland.

Indonesia has traditionally been a transit nation for asylum seekers but in recent months the UNHCR has been meeting with refugees to tell them they’ll probably never be resettled somewhere else.

That means people such as Nimo face the prospect of spending much longer in the country than they first anticipated. And, for many women, it means working as they’d never imagined – in the sex trade.

Melbourne-based Human Rights Law Centre spokesman Daniel Webb says the suffering of refugees on our Australia’s doorstep exposes the cruelty of the government’s obsession with so-called deterrence.

“The people our government secretly turns back or frightens away don’t just vanish off the face of the earth – they’re being forced to suffer elsewhere,” he tells AAP.

Nimo, a 32-year-old Somalian refugee, was forced into hiding after the local refugee community discovered she was working as a prostitute.

Some in the conservative Muslim neighbourhood threatened her harm for betraying Islam’s teachings.

The homeless mother says she’s ashamed of the work and is often beaten by men.

“I would like to stop but I have no options,” Nimo tells AAP.

“If I don’t there will be no food for my family.”

Nimo has fallen through the aid safety net.

Some two-thirds of the 13,800 asylum seekers and refugees in Indonesia are dependent on aid or live in government-run immigration detention centres, according to the UN Refugee Agency.

They’re not allowed to work or access social security.

Many sleep in the streets near Jakarta’s already-full immigration detention centre or queue – day after day – at the UNHCR office seeking help.

Others drift from one boarding house to the next begging for food. Some sleep on the steps of a local mosque.

“I could never have imagined this life before,” Nimo says. “There is no hope. I have children and I am a prostitute. This is a really bad life. It’s much harder than Somalia.”

Nimo fled Somalia with her children after Islamists stoned her younger sister to death and then turned their guns on the rest of her family. She was shot during one attack.

Her 10-day journey through Dubai and Kuala Lumpur, and across the Malacca Strait, ended after a two-day bus ride to the Indonesian capital in 2015.

Her appeals for help from NGOs and the UNHCR have been refused.

During a recent interview – to discuss her sex work – no assistance was offered. Instead, she was lectured about breaking local laws, and the health risks of prostitution.

UNHCR Indonesia representative Thomas Vargas says recent humanitarian emergencies – such the Rohingya crisis in Bangladesh – mean money earmarked for Indonesia is being redirected.

“When there are those types of flashpoints, that’s where the limited funding the UNHCR has globally goes,” he tells AAP.

For refugees in Indonesia, aid is now even harder to come by.

“You have limited funding and you have to help the neediest. That’s the harsh reality. It’s a very tough situation,” Vargas says.

At night refugee women living on the street risk sexual violence.

Refugee Suad, 27, lives in a tight network of laneways near Jakarta’s central shopping district.

The Somalian says men regularly try to force refugee women to go with them for sex.

“When we sleep on the street, West African businessman come to this area. They threaten us and touch us and we are powerless to stop them,” she tells AAP.

“If you don’t say yes they say they can beat you. But I say no, I’m a Muslim, I can’t do it. I am hungry and I want money, but I can’t do that.”

Fear of being labelled a prostitute or shunned causes many women to hide their abuse.

Suad’s family was killed by a bomb in Mogadishu. She says she was abducted, raped and held captive by militants.

After she escaped a local mosque raised the money needed to pay people smugglers.

Suad says in Somalia rape victims are often accused of being prostitutes and are sent away so as not to shame their family or community.

But now, out of desperation, she’s now considering going with men.

“When you don’t have food, when you don’t have shelter, life becomes very hard and that is the only option,” she says.

Mr Vargas says “survival sex” is common among refugees who don’t receive aid or have family to protect them.

“When you are not able to make a living you resort, unfortunately, to these types of survival techniques and that’s a risk refugees have here,” he admits.

Asylum seekers and refugees across the archipelago are protesting their treatment.

But the fact is the UNHCR deals with 65.6 million refugees and forcibly displaced people globally.

The crisis is unlike any seen since World War II, according to Mr Vargas. It’s stretched aid budgets and led to tougher immigration policies in key resettlement nations.

US President Donald Trump’s executive order on immigration and Australia’s policy of refusing refugees from Indonesia if they arrived after mid-2014 are clear examples, he says.

It’s created “unpredictability in the (resettlement) system” and left refugees stranded.

Immigration policies based on deterrence and criminalisation – rather than protection and human rights – came under the spotlight at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva in March.

UN special rapporteur Nils Melzer says government policies – rather than criminal activity, corruption and dangerous travel – are the major cause of abuses inflicted on refugees.

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