US to take ‘extraordinary’ measures in face of migrant surge

A caravan of nearly seven thousand migrants from Central America walk toward Tapachula from Ciudad Hidalgo while en route to the United States, in Frontera Hidalgo, Mexico October 21, 2018. (File/Reuters)
Updated 27 December 2018
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US to take ‘extraordinary’ measures in face of migrant surge

  • US Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan warned Wednesday that the agency was unable to cope with the thousands of arrivals
  • In the last two months, Border Patrol has apprehended 139,817 people on the southwest border, compared with 74,946 during the same period a year earlier

EL PASO, United States: The United States will take “extraordinary” protective measures to deal with a surge of immigrant children in custody, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said Wednesday after a second Guatemalan child died in custody.
Nielsen plans to travel later this week to the Mexico border region to witness medical screenings and conditions at Border Patrol stations, she said in a statement, as Congress and Donald Trump remain deadlocked over the president’s demands for billions of dollars to fund a wall along the border.
“In response to the unprecedented surge of children into our custody, I have directed a series of extraordinary protective measures,” she said in a statement after the “deeply concerning and heartbreaking” death of the child.
Nielsen has asked experts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to investigate “the uptick in sick children crossing our borders” and to identify what further steps border hospitals should take in preparation, her statement said.
Nielsen added that she has asked the US Coast Guard medical corps to assess and “make appropriate recommendations” about Border Patrol medical programs, and has sought additional medical professionals from the Department of Defense.
US Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan warned Wednesday that the agency was unable to cope with the thousands of arrivals, as most facilities were built decades ago for men arriving alone.
“We need help from Congress. We need to budget for medical care and mental health care for children in our facilities,” he told CBS News.
Eight-year-old Felipe Gomez, who collapsed after running a fever, was among almost 25,000 migrant children in US custody, according to McAleenan — the greatest number ever recorded.
“That’s an enormous flow. That’s very different from what we’ve seen before,” he said, adding that the onset of the flu season was putting further pressure on health care services.
In the last two months, Border Patrol has apprehended 139,817 people on the southwest border, compared with 74,946 during the same period a year earlier, Nielsen said.
More than 68,500 were “family units” while almost 14,000 others were unaccompanied children, she said, and the system has been pushed to “breaking point.”
Augusto Mendoza, a Guatemalan migrant in El Paso with his one-year-old son, told AFP he would “never” consider making the journey again.
“It’s been very, very hard. I would never think about doing it again, I regret it for my son,” said Mendoza, who was separated from his wife at the border and released from detention on Christmas Day.
DHS officials said all children in border patrol custody would be given a thorough medical screening, reaffirming McAleenan’s commitment to “secondary medical checks” with a focus on those under 10.
And Guatemala has called for an investigation into the boy’s death, which came just three weeks after a seven-year-old girl from the country died in similar circumstances.
Gomez was detained with his 47-year-old father at a crossing in El Paso, Texas on December 18 and had been transferred to a New Mexico medical center showing signs of sickness on Monday, the CBP said.
Staff diagnosed him with a cold but later discovered a fever. He was discharged at midday, with prescriptions for ibuprofen and the antibiotic amoxicillin.
The boy was later sent back to the hospital suffering from nausea and vomiting. He died shortly before midnight on December 24.
CBP said it had not established the cause of death but would “ensure an independent and thorough review of the circumstances.”
Nielsen said that in the last fiscal year there were six migrant deaths in custody, but no child had died in Border Patrol custody for more than a decade.
“It is now clear that migrants, particularly children, are increasingly facing medical challenges and harboring illness caused by their long and dangerous journey,” she said.
Opposition Democrats reacted to Gomez’s death by accusing Trump — who has made hard-line immigration policies a central plank of his presidency — of demonizing migrants for political gain.
“The Trump administration must be held accountable for this child’s death and all the lives they have put in danger with their intentional chaos and disregard for human life,” Senator Martin Heinrich of New Mexico tweeted.
Nydia Velazquez, a Democratic congresswoman from New York, demanded “accountability” and an end to the White House’s “hateful, dangerous anti-immigrant policies.”
The boy’s death came on the same day that Jakelin Caal, a Guatemalan girl who died in US custody, was buried.
Her body arrived on Sunday in San Antonio Secortez, the remote village where her family — members of the indigenous Q’eqchi’ Maya people — live without electricity and other basic services.


UN: Nearly 71 million now displaced by war, violence at home

Updated 14 min 28 sec ago
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UN: Nearly 71 million now displaced by war, violence at home

  • The figures are bound to add fuel to a debate at the intersection of international law, human rights and domestic politics
  • UNHCR said 70.8 million people were forcibly displaced at the end of last year, up from about 68.5 million in 2017

GENEVA: A record 71 million people have been displaced worldwide from war, persecution and other violence, the UN refugee agency said Wednesday, an increase of more than 2 million from last year and an overall total that would amount to the world’s 20th most populous country.
The annual “Global Trends” report released by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees counts the number of the world’s refugees, asylum-seekers and internally displaced people at the end of 2018, in some cases following decades of living away from home.
The figures, coming on the eve of World Refugee Day on Thursday, are bound to add fuel to a debate at the intersection of international law, human rights and domestic politics, especially the movement in some countries, including the US, against immigrants and refugees.
Launching the report, the high commissioner, Filippo Grandi, had a message for US President Donald Trump and other world leaders, calling it “damaging” to depict migrants and refugees as threats to jobs and security in host countries. Often, they are fleeing insecurity and danger themselves, he said.
The report also puts a statistical skeleton onto often-poignant individual stories of people struggling to survive by crossing rivers, deserts, seas, fences and other barriers, natural and man-made, to escape government oppression, gang killings, sexual abuse, militia murders and other such violence at home.
UNHCR said 70.8 million people were forcibly displaced at the end of last year, up from about 68.5 million in 2017 — and nearly a 65 percent increase from a decade ago. Among them, nearly three in five people — or more than 41 million people — have been displaced within their home countries.
“The global trends, once again unfortunately, go in what I would say is the wrong direction,” Grandi told reporters in Geneva. “There are new conflicts, new situations, producing refugees, adding themselves to the old ones. The old ones never get resolved.”
The phenomenon is both growing in size and duration. Some four-fifths of the “displacement situations” have lasted more than five years. After eight years of war in Syria, for instance, its people continue to make up the largest population of forcibly displaced people, at some 13 million.
Amid runaway inflation and political turmoil at home, Venezuelans for the first time accounted for the largest number of new asylum-seekers in 2018, with more than 340,000 — or more than one in five worldwide last year. Asylum-seekers receive international protection as they await acceptance or rejection of their requests for refugee status.
UNHCR said that its figures are “conservative” and that Venezuela masks a potentially longer-term trend.
Some 4 million people are known to have left the South American country in recent years. Many of those have traveled freely to Peru, Colombia and Brazil, but only about one-eighth have sought formal international protection, and the outflow continues, suggesting the strains on the welcoming countries could worsen.
Grandi predicted a continued “exodus” from Venezuela and appealed for donors to provide more development assistance to the region.
“Otherwise these countries will not bear the pressure anymore and then they have to resort to measures that will damage refugees,” he said. “We are in a very dangerous situation.”
The United States, meanwhile, remains the “largest supporter of refugees” in the world, Grandi said in an interview. The US is the biggest single donor to UNHCR. He also credited local communities and advocacy groups in the United States for helping refugees and asylum-seekers in the country.
But the refugee agency chief noted long-term administrative shortcomings that have given the United States the world’s biggest backlog of asylum claims, at nearly 719,000. More than a quarter-million claims were added last year.
He also decried recent rhetoric that has been hostile to migrants and refugees.
“In America, just like in Europe actually and in other parts of the world, what we are witnessing is an identification of refugees — but not just refugees, migrants as well — with people that come take away jobs that threaten our security, our values,” Grandi said. “And I want to say to the US administration — to the president — but also to the leaders around the world: This is damaging.”
He said many people leaving Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador through Mexico have faced violence by gangs and suffered from “the inability of these governments to protect their own citizens.”
The UNHCR report noted that by far, the most refugees are taken in in the developing world, not wealthy countries.
The figures marked the seventh consecutive year in which the numbers of forcibly displaced rose.
“Yet another year, another dreadful record has been beaten,” said Jon Cerezo of British charity Oxfam. “Behind these figures, people like you and me are making dangerous trips that they never wanted to make, because of threats to their safety and most basic rights.”