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Collective concerns

International | United States stays out of far-reaching global migration accord
by Onize Ohikere
Posted 12/18/18, 02:30 pm

More than 160 United Nations member states last week signed a first-of-its-kind accord to improve the treatment and safety of migrants around the world.

Several nations, including the United States, abstained from the agreement over concerns it would infringe on their sovereignty.

Participating nations signed the nonbinding pact at a conference in Marrakech, Morocco, after 18 months of negotiations. The agreement details 23 objectives to help minimize the factors that drive migration, coordinate assistance on missing migrants, and ensure migrants’ access to basic services.

The objectives urge member countries to provide all migrants with timely proof of legal identity and to ensure that “immigration detention is not promoted as a deterrent or used as a form of cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment to migrants, in accordance with international human rights law,” according to the agreement. The pact also calls on the nations to invest in skill development to help migrants achieve full inclusion in society. The UN is slated to endorse the accord at a General Assembly meeting Wednesday.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres told the conference that unregulated migration has allowed smugglers and other predators to exploit migrants who travel across deserts and rivers. “More than 60,000 migrants have died on the move since the year 2000,” he said. “This is a source of collective shame.”

More than 258 million migrants around the world are currently seeking better economic opportunities or fleeing conflict. In the Middle East, the Syrian civil war has displaced nearly 11 million people, with 6 million of them crossing the border as refugees. This year, more than 110,000 migrants and refugees crossed the Mediterranean Sea into Europe, according to the International Organization for Migration. And the Myanmar military crackdown on Rohingya Muslims sent more than 750,000 people fleeing the country also known as Burma into neighboring Bangladesh.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel hailed the accord as “nothing less than the foundation of our international cooperation.” The United States, which pulled out of negotiations in 2017, said at the time that the declaration “contains numerous provisions that are inconsistent with U.S. immigration and refugee policies and the Trump administration’s immigration principles,” but provided no specific details. U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said the global approach was not compatible with U.S. sovereignty. “We will decide how best to control our borders and who will be allowed to enter our country,” she said.

In Brazil, incoming Foreign Minister Ernesto Araújo said the country would also withdraw from the pact because “immigration shouldn’t be treated as a global issue, but rather according to the reality and sovereignty of each country.” A debate over the accord in Belgium led the ruling coalition in the Belgian Parliament to break apart. Other dissenting nations included Austria, Australia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland.

In a separate agreement, a majority of UN member nations on Monday voted to increase protection and share the responsibility of hosting refugees. Only the United States and Hungary opposed the nonbinding compact, while Eritrea, Libya, and the Dominican Republic abstained.

Associated Press/Photo by Cliff Owen Associated Press/Photo by Cliff Owen National security adviser John Bolton discusses the new Africa strategy at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C., on Thursday.

U.S. adopts new Africa policy

The United States last week unveiled its “Prosper Africa” strategy and cautioned against the predatory practices of China and Russia on the continent.

National security adviser John Bolton said the new plan will encourage African leaders to accept “high quality, transparent, inclusive, and sustainable foreign investment projects.” He listed the top priorities of the strategy as trade, counterterrorism, and advancing U.S. interests.

Bolton accused China of using bribes, opaque agreements, and debts to hold African nations captive. He also said Russia engages in corrupt economic dealings to forward its interests.

“They are deliberately and aggressively targeting their investments in the region to gain competitive advantage over the United States,” Bolton said.

Last year, China opened its first overseas military installation in Djibouti, which is also home to the only permanent U.S. military base on the continent.

The United States also plans to reevaluate its aid to countries with corrupt leadership, such as South Sudan, and others that vote against the United States in the United Nations and other international forums.

“All U.S. aid on the continent will advance U.S. interests and help African nations move toward self-reliance,” Bolton said.

Several African nations are already wary of the United States after reports that President Donald Trump used derogatory language to refer to the continent in a private meeting.

Landry Signe, a Brookings Institution fellow, told Reuters the administration’s focus on trade and investment “reflects a more accurate understanding of the fast-changing dynamics within Africa.” He called for more details on concrete actions the Trump administration plans to take. —O.O.

Associated Press/Photo by Arshad Butt Associated Press/Photo by Arshad Butt Funeral for Pakistani Christian worshippers who were killed in Quetta, Pakistan, on April 16

Pakistan disputes U.S. religious freedom concerns

Pakistan rebuffed the U.S. State Department last week for naming it a country of particular concern over religious freedom violations in the wake of the high-profile blasphemy case of Asia Bibi.

Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback cited Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, criminalization of Ahmadi Muslims, and failure to hold those who attack religious minorities accountable for their violence as reasons for the designation. Last year, the State Department put Pakistan on a special watch list.

“It’s our hope … the new leadership in Pakistan will work to improve the situation,” Brownback said. “There [were] some encouraging signs seen recently on how they’ve handled some of the recent protesting against the blasphemy laws, and we continue to watch very carefully what’s happening to Asia Bibi.”

Bibi, a Christian mother of five, was recently exonerated of charges of blasphemy against Islam after almost nine years in prison. Her release triggered Islamist protests throughout the country, and she remains in hiding in Pakistan for her safety.

“Pakistan does not need counsel by any individual country [on] how to protect the rights of its minorities,” the Pakistani Foreign Ministry said. It also called the act “politically motivated.”

Human rights and persecution groups have criticized Pakistan for the same violations the State Department cited. Open Doors put Pakistan fifth on its latest World Watch List of countries with the most severe persecution of Christians.

Each year, the State Department designates nations that have “systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom” as countries of particular concern. This year it listed Myanmar (also known as Burma), China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan. Uzbekistan was removed after being on the list since 2006 because of “substantial changes” to religious freedom, Brownback said. —Julia A. Seymour

Former terrorist seeking presidency detained

At least 15 people died in violent protests in Somalia’s autonomous South West state after authorities last week arrested Mukhtar Robow, a former top member of the al-Shabaab Islamic extremist group and a candidate for president of the region.

Somali-based Radio Dalsan reported that Ethiopian forces accompanied by Somali police in Baidoa, the region’s capital, arrested and tortured Robow during a raid Thursday. He was then flown to Mogadishu, the Somali capital.

Robow announced his candidacy last month, calling it a response to requests from people in the region. He received clearance to run from the electoral commission, but the national government opposed him. The Somali security ministry confirmed his arrest, saying he failed to denounce extremist ideology and mobilized armed forces to threaten regional security.

Somali-based Garowe Online said the casualties of the protests include a regional lawmaker.

Robow, who was the target of a $5 million U.S. bounty, trained in Afghanistan and served as second-in-command for the al-Qaeda-linked group, but had a falling out with its leaders in 2012 over what he called ideological differences. He surrendered last year to the Somali government. —O.O.

Onize Ohikere

Onize is a reporter for WORLD Digital based in Abuja, Nigeria.

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