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By Victiashea Matthews


December 30, 2015 (La Jolla)  - The Center for Comparative Immigration Studies (CCIS) and Eleanor Roosevelt College at the University of California, San Diego hosted an event called the “Comparative Responses to Asylum Seeking in Europe, Australia, the U.S., and Middle East” on November 30th,  


What drives international migration?  Why are some countries more hostile and others more accepting?  Those are some of the compelling questions posed by David FitzGerald, Co-Director of CCIS and Professor of Sociology. These are fascinating questions to consider when unpacking the asylum-seeking diaspora. Here are some highlights from the event.


European Union


The first group of experts focused primarily on the European experience of asylum seeking.  Philippe De Bruycker from Universite Libre de Bruxelles explained the many facets of asylum seeking.  It is a moral and religious crisis, considering that some European leaders want their societies to remain Christian by refusing to welcome Muslim refugees, but the Bible says, “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God” Ephesians, 2:19). It’s an institutional crisis considering how the European Council decision to relocate 40,000 persons within the European Union (EU)  was accompanied by a  resolution from the state governments of  the European Council. It’s an international crisis considering how many countries are willing--or not willing--to accept refugees. It’s an operational crisis in that the EU is unable to establish minimum reception conditions on Greek Islands, for example.It’s a political crisis in that there is a lack of internal solidarity and the EU more divided than ever in terms of asylum seeking. It’s a security issue due to concerns of terrorists  hiding among refugees entering the EU through Greece.


Eastern Europe

Raphi Rechitsky, a visiting scholar at the Center for Comparative Studies,spoke next on the Ukraine and forced migration at the Eastern borders of Europe, which has incentivized new programs that will harden and sometimes militarize the border. In 1998-2003 and even up to 2008, the EU worked with international partners and built houses for migrants. Rechitsky pointed out that the refugee label is socially constructed through an international mechanism of powerful immigration states that try to externalize, especially when powerful states are threatened.




The next focus point was Australia as Claire Higgins, a Research Associate at the Andrew and Renata Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law, discussed Australian reactions towards asylum seekers. Australia has among the world’s most restrictive policies towards refugees. Refugees from Syrians and Iraqis were often returned. Tens of thousands of asylum seekers haved arrived by boat, at a high cost for Australia to process. Australia imposed a “No Way” campaign, stating “You will not make Australia home” and  does not allow  asylum seekers admittance to Australia. Neither Nauru nor New Guinea has agreed to permanent resettlement of the asylums seekers. Nauru lacks long-range solutions, but has planned for temporary settlement of refugees in Cambodia. Resettlement to Cambodia costs $10 million per refugee. Many refugees in Australian islands such as Manus are abused by the workers at detention centers, including children.  The purpose of the constant torture of the asylum seekers is so they are so broken down that they can’t make decisions, Higgins said. There is substantial support in Australia for the harsh policies toward those who arrive illegally by boat, amid fears of terrorism. Demonizing rhetoric toward asylum seekers is bipartisan in Australia, despite past acceptance toward Indochinese refugees.



The Americas


Everard Meade, PHD Director of the Trans-Border Institute at the University of San Diego, discussed the United States. He predicts that asylum rates for people fleeing parts of Central America and Mexico will go up. Foreign policy plays a role in how many of the numerous seekers may be granted asylum, but the border has gotten out of control. There has been a dramatic change in the number of immigrant children coming to America. Since 2005, the number of children from Mexico has been extremely high. The number of unaccompanied kids from Central America seeking asylum are now up sharply along with Border Patrol apprehensions; domestic politics, fear of racial and and cultural integration all play a role in restrictive policies. After 2003 when Home Land Security was created, many kids who were victim of gangs of Central America seeking asylum in the U.S. were considered part of the gangs and deported, creating a circular immigration system. These are some of the oldest racial tropes in the U.S. history. This isn’t new and has been going on for a long time.


Karen Masala, Professor of law at UC Hastings, discussed externalization of borders in the U.S., race, and how issues that don’t have to do with international norms really do control of policy. U.S. has been narrowing protection of refugees for 30 years, since the Refugee Act took effect. Prevention of access of territory is common, such as when Haitian dictator Jean-Claude Duvelier agreed with Reagan to intercept the Haitian refugees. From 1981 to 1991 over 20,000 refugees were returned without their consent. High number of Haitians had a credible fear to apply for asylum , but they were brought to Guantanamo Bay. President Bill Clinton campaigned on a pledge of helping the Haitians but after winning election, did the opposite and turned them away.


Middle East


When discussing Middle East asylum seeking, Rawan Arar, PhD student in sociology at UC San Diego, talked about her experience visiting Jordan to find out what was going in the refugee camps this past summer. There are 630,000 Syrian refugees in Jordan. Once Syrians started coming, Iraqis started to get less support in Jordan  Arar asks,  how do major refugee states maintain their sovereignty? At the Zaa’tari Refugee Camp, Arar partnered with Save the Children but she didn’t get access until she was right there at the border of the camp.  She only got in because there was no talk of who was in the car. She said the toilet areas broken down and they used bricks to improve their homes. Zaa’tari had protests of conditions by about 7,000 people. They pushed back in the ways in which they were controlled. Some people could even run away. She then visited the Azraq Refugee Camp. In many places people lived without cars so most could not run away.  At Azraq she saw more monitoring either with cameras or with people on the ground She said there was something really depressing about going into the refugee camp knowing that more people would be coming in. It was so hot and people were lined up in the shade, up to 30,000 people.


There were 80,000 people in the Emirati refugee camp. They had access to a refrigerator or air conditioned room. She saw hair dye, soap, and condoms in the shop. Each refugee refugees a small amount of currency to spend.


The reality is that 85 percent of Syrian refugees live outside these camps. Access to food, water, education, and health care is guaranteed in these camps, but not if you are living outside the camps. Save the Children is renting rooms and creating a similar curriculum to the Ministry of Education to teach the Syrian children. Overall, the refugee camp is a secondary border. Camps help to control migrations because they are highly secured, with obstacles to leaving the camps. But sometimes the camps have been so difficult that despite hardships outside, some refugees leave and return to the war-torn places they came from rather than remain in limbo, with no promise of a better future or countries willing to take them in.  Arar concludes, “Citizenship is the language of rights.”




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