A family walking on a railroad track with few luggages
Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Dilemmatic Adjudication: Europe’s Refugee Crisis and the Question of Migrant Rights

While recently making major headlines, the arrival of substantive numbers of asylum seekers to Europe has been a pressing political issue for a longer time. This presentation will discuss the role of law in this context as being torn between, on the one hand, increasingly restrictive migration policies and, on the other hand, difficult individual situations…
Poster

‘Camps That Are Becoming Cities – Cities That Are Becoming Camps: The Case of Syrian Refugees in Lebanon and Jordan

The Oppenheimer Chair is pleased to welcome Faten Kikano, PhD Candidate in Environmental Design, from the Université de Montréal for a conference and a photo exhibition. Ms. Kikano will present her research and her photos about the life of  Syrian refugees in camps in Lebanon and Jordan. Join us for a lunch, a short conference…
Sonia Cancian Poster
Monday, 27 March 2017

The Power of Life Stories: Situating the Narratives of Migrants and Refugees within the Context of the Law

The Oppenheimer Chair and the McGill Centre for Human Rights and Legal Pluralism are pleased to welcome Dr. Sonia Cancian, from Zayed University for a seminar on life stories of migrants and refugees and the law. This seminar will lead a discussion on life stories of migrants and refugees and their power (or not) within…
  The Christmas market in Berlin, which reopened three days after a deadly attack on Monday. Photo Credit Clemens Bilan/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images on the NY Times website

Petrified Unity in Terror-Struck Berlin

Op-Ed in NY Times by Anna Sauerbrey
29 December, 2016

“It has been almost a week since a truck plowed through a Christmas market in the heart of Berlin, killing 12 people and injuring dozens. In the following days, the city, the country — all of Europe — were gripped by the Continent-wide manhunt for the suspect, Anis Amri, who was shot and killed by the Italian police on Friday.

Certainly, sadness prevails in Berlin. At Breitscheidplatz, many have left flowers and candles. Some cry. “I just don’t get it,” said a man who lives nearby.

“We have helped so many. Why do they attack us?””

Out of the senseless violence of the past years, this sentence expresses what I fear most. Who are “they”? Probably Muslims. Daesh and its victims all put in the same bag, without distinctions. Just like, in the 30s and 40s, German Jews and North American citizens of Japanese origin were too often associated with the enemy and collectively considered suspicious. Just like gay men, in the early days of the AIDS epidemic, were often indiscriminately considered responsible for its dissemination. This is the most terrifying prospect of the populist onslaught: treating everyone with only one identity marker, thus seeing only a threatening throng, an unindividualised mass.

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  Cover page of the Amnesty International Report on Human Rights violations related to the EU hotspot system.

New Amnesty International report on the human rights violations linked to the EU hotspot system in Italy

6 November, 2016

Amnesty International published yesterday a new report on the human rights violations linked to the EU hotspot system in Italy. The report demonstrates that a host of human rights violations are taking place in Italy, including excessive use of force by police, arbitrary detention and collective expulsions, and details serious allegations of torture and other forms of ill-treatment. The Italy-Sudan recent readmission agreement is also discussed in detail.

The full report is available here.

  A boy rides his bicycle in the Calais migrant camp. Photo Credit: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

New fears for 1,000 lone children in Calais refugee camp

Article in The Guardian
24 September, 2016

“In May, David Cameron announced that Britain would accept as many as 3,000 unaccompanied minors. James Brokenshire, immigration minister at the time, said Britain had “a moral duty to help”.  

However, Home Office figures reveal that by mid-September, only 30 children had arrived under the scheme. The Home Office did not respond to queries over whether it intended to help lone child refugees once the Calais camp was destroyed.

On Monday President François Hollande is expected to visit Calais and confirm that the refugee camp will be demolished. Details emerged last week when refugee organisations were told that alternative accommodation elsewhere in France would be supplied for 9,000 adults and families.

However, because of a supposed lack of emergency capacity for unaccompanied minors, at least 850 children will be made homeless.”

The UK government being so reluctant to help children reunite with family in the UK and the French government using the misery of hundreds of children to force the hand of another government are disgraceful political behaviour. Housing isolated children and reuniting them with family members should be a priority of the first order for any politician concerned. And it should be done quickly.

To read the full article in The Guardian, please click here.

  Illustration by Kaye Blegvad

When a Swimsuit Is a Security Threat

Op-ed in NY Times on the infamous "burkini"
24 August, 2016

“According to France’s prime minister, Manuel Valls, the suit is part of “the enslavement of women.” In a newspaper interview, the mayor of Cannes, David Lisnard, said: “The burkini is the uniform of extremist Islamism, not of the Muslim religion.”

These explanations may seem ludicrous, but Mr. Valls and Mr. Lisnard perfectly summed up the two contradictory public order rationales that European courts all the way up to the European Court of Human Rightsuse when dealing with Muslim women in religious garb. According to Europe’s highest court of human rights, Muslim women in head scarves and burqas are simultaneously victims, in need of a government savior, and aggressors, spreading extremism merely by appearing Muslim in public.”

From a human rights perspective, “ludicrous” is an understatement, but, in the present political context, it’ll take years before the ECtHR changes its case law. From an integration perspective, the ban is totally counterproductive: sales of burkinis have increased 200% since the first ban. Thank Heaven, the Canadian human rights policy and practice could inspire the French Republic: the RCMP will allow female Muslim officers to wear the hijab, after it allowed over twenty years ago male Sikh officers to wear the turban (the first such officer is now head of intelligence!)

To read the full Op-Ed in the NY Times, please click on the following link.

Inspiration and Innovation: the Rio 2016 Refugee Olympic Team

Guest contribution by Justin Margolis, B.A, M.Sc.
9 August, 2016

In 2014, I published an article on Asylum-Seeking Olympians, accredited Members of the Olympic Family who use the Games as a way to flee their country and seek asylum in a new land, at times facilitated by their Olympic Accreditation Cards. With the arrival of the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Summer Olympic Games, refugees are again making Olympic headlines, with the creation of the first ever Refugee Olympic Team. Last Friday, ten refugees marched into the Olympic Stadium waving the Olympic flag, at the end of the Parade of Nations and just before the home country, Brazil.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) should be congratulated for recognizing the plight of these refugees and allowing them to compete with dignity. Although a team of refugees competing under the banner of the IOC is not the situation I researched, I wish to share my thoughts and analysis. In particular, four qualities make these athletes distinct from past independent athletes (IOA/IOPs) who also competed under the Olympic flag.

It is important to highlight that “countries” do not enter the Olympics, rather “National Olympic Committees” (NOC). This is how American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands compete separately from the United States, although their athletes are U.S. citizens. Additionally, territories like Hong Kong, Palestine, and Taiwan (Chinese Taipei) each have NOCs. There are currently 193 United Nations Member States, but 207 NOCs will compete in Rio.

Independent Olympians vs. Refugee Olympic Team

The IOC has a recent tradition of allowing athletes to compete as independents: Barcelona 1992 (58 Independent Olympic Participants), Sydney 2000 (4 Individual Olympic Athletes), London 2012 (4 Independent Olympic Athletes), Sochi 2014 (1 Independent Olympic Participant), and currently at Rio 2016 (9 Independent Olympic Athletes). At Rio the independent athletes are Kuwaiti, as their NOC is currently suspended. Although the IOAs and the Refugee Olympic Team (ROT) both compete under the Olympic flag, their reasons for existence are fundamentally different: IOA/IOPs are included during political transition and in the event of NOC suspension.

The end of the Cold War resulted in two different delegations competing under the Olympic flag in 1992. At the time of the Barcelona Summer Games, UN sanctions banned the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro) from competition, and the Republic of Macedonia had not yet formed a NOC. The IOC permitted 52 Yugoslav and 6 Macedonian athletes to compete as IOPs; three won medals. Likewise, with the dissolution of the Soviet Union and in the absence of new NOCs, athletes from most CIS states formed a “Unified Olympic Team,” competing under the Olympic flag at both the Albertville Winter and Barcelona Summer Games.

More recently, at the time of the 2012 London Games, South Sudan had just gained independence but had not yet established a NOC; its athlete competed independently. Also at London, following the dissolution of the Netherlands Antilles and its NOC, three athletes from Curaçao decided to compete as independents, despite being eligible to compete for Aruba or for the Netherlands as several of their teammates ultimately did.

Furthermore, athletes have competed as independents when issues arose with their NOC. At Sochi 2014, the Indian Olympic Association was suspended due to electoral fraud. The three Indian athletes entered the Games under the Olympic flag and one competed as an IOP. After holding new elections, India’s NOC was reinstated halfway through the Games and the remaining two athletes competed as Indians. Kuwaiti athletes were intended to compete as IOAs at London 2012, but their

NOC’s suspension due to political interference was lifted shortly before the Games. Kuwait’s NOC is again suspended, and Kuwaiti athletes are currently competing in Rio as independents.

The 2016 Russian doping scandal has led to the disqualification of many athletes, notably in Athletics. The IOC rejected a proposal to allow certain “clean” Russian athletes compete as “neutral” athletes under the Olympic flag. Had the IOC accepted, the neutral Russians would have joined the Kuwaitis as IOAs.

The IOC Creates and the IOC Decides

When the IOC previously decided to recognize IOA/IOPs, its decision applied equally to all qualified athletes from the NOC or predecessor state in question. For example, had more than four athletes from East Timor qualified for the 2000 Sydney Games during their country’s democratic transition, they would have joined their teammates as IOAs.

For Rio 2016, the IOC identified 43 potential refugee athletes from undisclosed countries to form a refugee team. After consulting with NOCs, the International Federations (sporting bodies such as FIFA), and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the IOC selected ten refugee athletes from four countries: D.R. Congo (2), Ethiopia (1), South Sudan (5) and Syria (2).

The athletes currently reside in Belgium (1), Brazil (2), Germany (1), Kenya (5), and Luxembourg (1); these countries became the refugee’s Host NOC. It is truly unique that the IOC‘s Executive Board, not a defunct NOC, decided the team’s composition.

Is That My Old Neighbour?

In the past, athletes were able to compete as independents when their home country was unable to participate in the Games. But at Rio 2016, all four countries of origin of the refugee athletes have active NOCs competing in the Games. In theory, the athletes could participate with the NOC of their country of origin and citizenship. In practice this of course is not possible. The sheer reason these athletes are refugees is due their well-founded fear of persecution in their home country, and their inability and/or unwillingness to return to it. This will be the first time that independent athletes compete under the Olympic flag, while their compatriots are still competing under their former national flag.

Avoiding an Olympic Groundhog Day

Olympic Rule 41 states that athletes must hold the nationality of their NOC to participate. In the case of migration, athletes who have already competed for one NOC must wait at least three years before competing for their new NOC. This has happened many times, especially during the Cold War when Eastern Bloc Olympians sought asylum in the West and then competed for their new country upon acquiring its citizenship.

Refugees initially begin as permanent residents of their new countries, but a waiting period of varying length applies before acquiring citizenship. Even in generous countries like Canada, this period is longer than an Olympiad. This means that most if not all ten refugee athletes competing in Rio will not be citizens of their new countries before the 2020 Tokyo Games. It is not impossible that in 2020 they could again be renounced to competing as refugee athletes. This situation would be completely out of the IOC’s control, as it is up to each country to grant citizenship.

The ten refugees competing at Rio are extremely fortunate and will serve as an inspiration to the planet. Also, the financial support provided by the Olympic Solidarity Commission is essential, since Host NOCs have little incentive to spend, as any medals will be awarded to the ROT, not the NOC.

But with more than 20,000,000 refugees worldwide, we all must work harder to end conflicts, so that such accommodations are no longer necessary.