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Executive Summary for February 13th

We review the latest issues related to refugees, including a Human Rights Watch report on Pakistan’s forced returns to Afghanistan, data showing Venezuelans topped asylum requests in the U.S. and reports of widespread sexual violence in a French refugee camp.

Published on Feb. 13, 2017 Read time Approx. 3 minutes

HRW: UNHCR Complicit in Pakistan’s Mass Forced Return of Afghan Refugees

Human Rights Watch has accused the U.N. refugee agency of complicity in Pakistan’s forced return of refugees to Afghanistan in a new report documenting abuses.

At least 600,000 Afghan refugees, both registered and unregistered, have left Pakistan since last July. The HRW report called the exodus the “world’s largest unlawful mass forced return of refugees in recent years.”

Afghan refugees interviewed by the human rights group said the threat of deportation, police harassment and anti-Afghan sentiment in Pakistan forced them to leave.

Many also cited UNHCR’s doubling of its cash support for returnees to $400 last June as instrumental in persuading them to go back. UNHCR suspended the assistance in December but plans to resume in March.

Human Rights Watch said UNHCR’s cash support and failure to provide Afghans with full information about conditions in the country or speak out against Pakistani abuses made the agency complicit in unlawful refoulement – the forcible return of refugees to a place of danger.

“The U.N. refugee agency should end the fiction that the mass forced return of Afghan refugees from Pakistan is, in fact, mass voluntary return,” said Human Rights Watch’s senior researcher Gerry Simpson, who authored the report.

Pakistan’s country representative for UNHCR, Indrika Ratwatte, denied that refugees were forced back to Afghanistan and said police harassment of Afghan refugees had ended since mid-2016.

Last week, Pakistan extended a March deadline for all Afghan refugees to leave the country to December 31, 2017. Human Rights Watch urged the government to extend refugee permits until at least March 2019.

Venezuelans Top List of Asylum Requests in U.S.

More Venezuelans requested asylum in the U.S. last year than any other nationality, according to unpublished U.S. government data reported by the Associated Press.

The Citizenship and Immigration Services data show 18,155 Venezuelans submitted asylum requests in 2016, six times the number who applied in 2014, the year protests and unrest broke out.

President Nicolas Maduro cracked down on the opposition and has since presided over a collapsing economy and severe food and medical shortages.

“The pace at which requests are increasing is alarming,” said Julio Henriquez, director of the Boston-based nonprofit Refugee Freedom Program, who obtained the data. Henriquez said most of the asylum seekers are middle-class Venezuelans who may not qualify for refugee status.

The second top nationality for asylum requests was China, with 17,745 requests last year, according to the data.

Reports of Widespread Sexual Violence at Dunkirk Refugee Camp

Volunteers working at a refugee camp in Dunkirk, France, described widespread sexual violence against women and children at the camp in interviews with Britain’s Observer newspaper.

Around 2,000 refugees, including an estimated 100 unaccompanied minors, live in Camp de la Linière on the French coast.

Volunteer workers told the newspaper, on condition of anonymity, that smugglers residing at the camp had forced women to have sex in exchange for food, blankets or passage to the U.K.

“Sexual assault, violence and rape are all far too common,” one volunteer coordinator said, adding that adult nappies were one of the most in-demand products for women, who are scared to go to the toilets are night.

The Dunkirk Legal Support Team, which has filed legal action against the British government’s decision not to accept unaccompanied minors from Dunkirk, said authorities have failed to provide security at the camp, allowing smugglers to take control.

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