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Executive Summary for June 21st

We review the latest issues related to refugees, including a row over the total number of refugees, reports that Somalis in urban Kenya have been ordered into camps and the sacking of a whistleblower who revealed conditions in Australia’s offshore detention regime.

Published on June 21, 2016 Read time Approx. 2 minutes

How Many Refugees Are There?

A mistaken tweet from the International Organization for Migration (IOM) drew a sharp rebuke from the expert community on World Refugees Day.

The IOM’s official account tweeted: “refugees at highest ever level, reaching 65m,” conflating refugee numbers with the total figure for all forcibly displaced people.

Tom Nuttall, from the Economist, was among the first critics, replying: “No, refugees at 21.3m. 65m is total displaced. Please correct.”

Hein de Haas, a professor of migration, questioned the broader wisdom of the press release behind the tweet: “The problem is that such alarmist ‘highest ever’ press releases may contribute to the same xenophobia they decry.”

His sentiment was echoed by Jeff Crisp, a former senior United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) official now with the Refugee Studies Centre at Oxford University, who tweeted: “Fully agree. And combining refugees with the much larger number of internally displaced people does not help either.”

For the record, here is a fuller breakdown of the numbers from the UNHCR’s Global Trends report released on June 20:

  • 21.3 million persons were refugees (16.1 million under UNHCR’s mandate + 5.2 million Palestinian refugees registered by UNRWA)
  • 40.8 million internally displaced persons
  • 3.2 million asylum-seekers.

Urban Somali Refugees Ordered Into Camps

Somali refugees have been told by the government of Kenya to leave urban areas and return to camps, according to The Star newspaper.

The newspaper quotes interior minister Joseph Nkaissery repeating the government’s intention to close the Dadaab complex of camps on the border with Somalia: “We therefore urge all refugees to come out in large numbers to be assisted to return home. We further ask all refugees residing in urban centers to move to their designated camps to avoid conflicts with the law,” he said.

While there are no accurate figures, some experts estimate that as many as 100,000 Somali refugees are living in urban centers – primarily the capital, Nairobi.

Australian Whistleblower Has Contract Terminated

An award-winning psychologist has had his contract with the operator of Australia’s offshore detention centers terminated after criticizing them.

Paul Stevenson, a trauma specialist working with staff at the controversial centers, lost his job after labeling conditions at the secretive facilities an “atrocity.”

Stevenson, who has been feted as a whistleblower, described the detention regime on Papua New Guinea’s Nauru and Manus Island as “demoralizing … and desperate” in a recent interview with the Guardian. He told the newspaper that his contract had since been terminated.

A winner of the Order of Australia, one of the country’s highest honors, for his work with the victims of the Bali bombings, he said that “the public needs to hear about the consequences people face for speaking out, and to understand the level they go to in minimizing access.”

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