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Put migrant protections at heart of US policy, rights groups urge | Human Rights News



Guatemala City, Guatemala – Migrant rights groups in Guatemala, the United States and beyond are calling on the White House to adopt a rights-based approach to migration ahead of US Vice President Kamala Harris’s upcoming visit to Guatemala and Mexico.

US President Joe Biden tasked Harris with leading diplomatic efforts in Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras to help stem migration to the country’s southern border after children and families arrived in large numbers earlier this year.

The Biden administration’s focus so far has been on addressing the “root causes” of migration from Central America, but migration advocates say prioritising the use of security forces and expulsions to block asylum seekers means that years of failed US policies are continuing.

“The focus so far has been militarisation,” said Silvia Raquec, migration programme coordinator at the Pop N’oj Association, an Indigenous-focused non-profit group in Guatemala.

“The focus needs to be on regularisation mechanisms and the safety and protection of migrants,” she told Al Jazeera.

Harris’s trip

Harris is scheduled to arrive late on Sunday in Guatemala, where she will meet with President Alejandro Giammattei and other parties on Monday. She will then travel to Mexico, meeting on Tuesday with President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador before returning home.

Migration and its root causes will be central to Harris’s agenda on her first official trip abroad, but officials are also expected to discuss private sector investment, aid, and economic development. In Guatemala, talks will also focus on corruption.

Alianza Americas, a transnational network of 50 migrant-led organisations, and other regional and Guatemalan groups welcome Harris’s stated interest in addressing the structural root causes of migration.

At a press conference on Thursday in Guatemala City, they presented a series of recommendations concerning the rule of law, socioeconomic conditions, multi-faceted violence, climate justice and other issues that they say need to be tackled.

Harris will meet with Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (R) and his Guatemalan counterpart Alejandro Giammattei this week [File: Mexico’s Presidency/Handout via Reuters]

Ending the use of Title 42 – a public health directive that allows the US to immediately expel most migrants and asylum seekers at the border – is an urgent priority, said Abel Nunez, Alianza Americas’ vice president and executive director of the Central American Resource Centre in Washington, DC.

The administration of former President Donald Trump began using Title 42 last year during the COVID-19 pandemic, and Biden has continued to use it to expel most migrants and asylum seekers at the border. The policy prevents people from requesting asylum or accessing any other US immigration proceedings.

Title 42 expulsions to Nuevo Laredo, in northern Mexico, are increasing kidnappings and violence against migrants and asylum seekers, Human Rights First and other US-based rights groups reported last month. “They are using it as a wall. It is a virtual wall,” Nunez told Al Jazeera.

Blocking asylum seekers

Biden has also continued the past US administrations’ pressure on Mexico – and to a growing extent now also Guatemala – to stop migrants and asylum seekers before they reach the US border.

“It is increasingly intensifying,” said Luis Garcia, director of the Center for Human Dignity, a migrant rights group based in Tapachula, in southern Mexico.

Garcia told Al Jazeera the Mexican and Guatemalan governments have upped mass deployments of police and military forces this year to ingratiate themselves with the new US administration, which had promised to take a more “humane” approach to immigration than Trump.

Mexican National Guard forces march after the country announced a heightened deployment at the border with Guatemala to stop the flow of US-bound migrants [File: Jose Torres/Reuters]

Mexico continues to rely heavily on its National Guard for immigration and border enforcement, while over the course of the pandemic, Guatemala has periodically deployed the military to stop Honduran and other migrants, officially on health grounds.

Migration slowed for months last year due to pandemic lockdown and border closures but has since picked up. The devastation wrought in November by hurricanes Eta and Iota also propelled many people to flee, particularly from Honduras.

“More and more, the [US] border is getting closer,” said Raquec, of the Pop N’oj Association. “Guatemala could be a wall, too, and that is worrisome.”

New US-Guatemala deal

Guatemalan officials have not released details of the meeting schedule during Harris’s visit this week, but a spokeswoman for the Guatemalan presidency told Al Jazeera that the Guatemalan interior and defence ministers would be participating in the talks.

“The issue of migration and all social, economic and security aspects have been permanently present in bilateral conversations,” Patricia Letona said in a written statement, when asked whether police or military deployments related to migration would be on the table.

Since he took office in January 2020, Giammattei has taken on “the commitment to strengthen border security as a strategy to confront transnational threats like drug trafficking, human trafficking, and as a preventive measure in the face of the pandemic”, said Letona.

To that effect, US and Guatemalan officials signed a new cooperation deal on Friday. The MOU between the US Department of Homeland Security and Guatemala’s Ministry of Interior will establish a new police tactical unit. US agencies, including US Customs and Border Protection (CBP), will also provide training, equipment and technical assistance.

The new unit will “contribute to improving border security” in the US and Guatemala by “identifying and dismantling criminal organisations that profit from the trafficking and smuggling of people, narcotics, and contraband”, the US Embassy in Guatemala tweeted on Friday night.

In a brief public statement that same day, Guatemala’s Minister of Interior Gendri Reyes said the eventual deployment would be to borders “to strengthen the whole issue of migrants”. A key transit country, Guatemala shares borders with Honduras, El Salvador, Belize and Mexico.

Guatemala’s Ministry of the Interior and the US Department of Homeland Security did not respond to Al Jazeera’s request for comment on the unit’s mandate in time for publication.

Same tactics

Migrant rights advocates say the push for police and military responses to migration demonstrates that Biden does not intend to significantly change his approach to Central American migration from that of previous US administrations.

During the Obama administration, when Biden was acting as US vice president, Guatemalan task forces against border-area trafficking also received US training and equipment, including armoured jeeps. But in 2018 the vehicles were deployed to intimidate an international anti-corruption commission, which led the US to suspend some military aid to Guatemala.

US officials are increasingly speaking about root causes of migration, including corruption, but advocates say that so far the words are different but the actions are not.

Families from Central America sit along the roadside as they await to be transported to a US border patrol processing facility in La Joya, Texas, last month [Adrees Latif/Reuters]

“We do have to recognise that the narrative has been a little different, and we are glad,” said Nunez at Alianza Americas, but he added that civil society groups in origin countries, Diaspora communities and the US should not be placated by discourse.

Nunez said he anticipates more security-focused measures and more campaigns telling people not to migrate. But if the US is serious about recognising the root causes of migration, he said it must acknowledge systemic change is long-term and provide protection and pathways to regularisation for people who need to flee in the meantime.

“We need to coordinate and continue to apply pressure to ensure we arrive at a migration process that centres the migrant and protects their rights,” he told Al Jazeera. “Until we do that, the truth is it is just a show.”

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600 doses of stolen COVID-19 vaccines recovered at 2 private clinics




Police have recovered 600 doses of AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine from two private pharmacies in Kampala. 10 suspects were also arrested in the two-day operation following a tip-off from a concerned citizen.    

A police officer, who was involved in the operation, intimated to URN that they carried out raids on First Pharmacy Mulago-Wandegeya and Victoria Pharmacy in Ntinda. He explains that they first sent operatives to both facilities under the disguise that they were travellers looking for Covid-19 vaccination and certificates and got assurance that the service was available.    

“We swiftly stormed these places in Wandegeya and Ntinda, and the stolen vaccines were found there and of course arrested some suspects from there,” he said.

He says that during the raid on First Pharmacy, they intercepted one of the employees who was running away with some materials in the bag.  

“We forced him to open the bag for searching. Upon opening, documents that looked like Covid-19 vaccination certificates dropped down,” he said.

He says that they searched the pharmacy where they recovered some exhibits and arrested some suspects. According to police, they also conducted another raid on Victoria Pharmacy, recovered several doses of COVID-19 vaccines, and arrested five suspects. 

Kampala Metropolitan deputy police spokesperson, Luke Owoyesigyire confirmed the arrests but declined to reveal the identities of the suspects. 

“It’s true about that operation intelligence in Bukoto, we found 600 doses of the vaccine, in these two pharmacies and also ministry of Health vaccination cards and other documents” said Owoyesigyire’’. 

He says the suspects are locked up at the Special Investigations Unit (SIU) Kireka. According to police, similar operations are still ongoing after discovering that unscrupulous people stole Covid-19 vaccines from the ministry of Health storage facility and are now busy selling them to the public on the black market.

At a press conference held today, however, First pharmacy demanded an apology from the police, claiming no raid was conducted at their facility or vaccines recovered. 

More than 50 pe rcent of the 964,000 doses of AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccines donated by Covax Facility and India have already been used. Recently, President Museveni in his televised address said that the government is preparing to get Johnson and Johnson vaccines from the USA and Cuba since India suspended exports. Unicef announced that another 170,000 doses would be arriving in the country in two weeks. 


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Pakistan FM accuses previous gov’t of ‘mishandling’ Jadhav case | India News




Shah Mehmood Qureshi says the bill passed by Parliament last week aims at bringing Pakistani laws in line with orders from the International Court of Justice.

Pakistan’s foreign minister has blamed the country’s previous government for “mishandling” the case of Kulbhushan Jadhav, an Indian national convicted for spying by a Pakistani military court four years ago, as legislation related to the cases passes up to Pakistan’s Senate.

Speaking to the media in the Pakistani city of Multan on Sunday, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said a bill passed by the lower house of parliament last week was aimed at complying with orders from the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and to deprive India of an opportunity to have Pakistan “dragged back” to the court.

“The PML-N are the ones who mishandled the Kulbhushan Jadhav case,” he said, referring to former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz party, a main opposition political party.

“The steps we have taken are in order to comply with the International Court of Justice’s orders and recommendations.”

Qureshi’s comments follow a noisy debate on the bill in Parliament on Thursday, with both treasury and opposition benches accusing each other of incompetence in the handling of the case.

Jadhav was arrested by Pakistani security forces in March 2016, and convicted a year later by a military court for espionage and facilitating attacks by armed groups on Pakistani soil.

At the time of his arrest, the military released a video of Jadhav appearing to confess to having operated a network of operatives to conduct attacks in Pakistan’s southwestern Balochistan province.

In July 2019, after a petition lodged by India, the ICJ ordered Pakistan to allow Jadhav full and unimpeded consular access to Indian officials but rejected an Indian plea for his conviction to be dismissed.

The court also ordered that Jadhav be given the right of review and reconsideration of his conviction before a civilian court.

The bill passed by Pakistan’s lower house of parliament on Thursday gives foreign nationals convicted by military courts in Pakistan the right to file an appeal before a high court, as well as to file petitions seeking consular access.

India’s government has not so far remarked on the passage of the bill, which will also have to be voted on by the upper house of parliament before it becomes law.

In August 2020, India’s foreign ministry said New Delhi had asked Pakistan to allow an Indian lawyer to represent Jadhav in his appeals.

In defence of the bill, on Sunday, Qureshi said: “India wants that [Jadhav] not be given consular access, and on that excuse, Pakistan be dragged back into the International Court of Justice,” he said.

“This is what India wants. I hope that our opposition members will not misunderstand things and will understand India’s plan.”

India’s foreign ministry has not commented on Qureshi’s accusation.

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Rwandan Army Releases Abducted UPDF Soldier – Here is How He Got in Trouble




Private Bakulu Muhuba has regained his freedom following his release by Rwandan security. According to the Rwanda government, Muhuba who is attached to the 32nd Battalion Nyakabande in Kisoro district was arrested by Rwanda Defense Force-RDF soldiers at around 2:45pm on Sunday while loitering in Kamanyana-Majyambere village, Cyanika sector in Burera district, Northern Province.

RDF soldiers on patrol intercepted Muhuba while donning a UPDF uniform and carrying a Medium Machine Gun (MMG) with 100 rounds of ammunition, a binocular, cell phone, and his military identification documents. However, a Ugandan security official at Chanika border who preferred anonymity refuted Rwanda’s claims saying that Muhuba was in a group of fellow UPDF soldiers while patrolling the Ugandan side of Chanika border on Saturday evening at around 5:50pm but stayed behind to make a short call.

He says that he later fell in an ambush of Rwandan soldiers who had crossed to the Ugandan side. They placed him at gunpoint and whisked him off to Rwanda. At around 9:00pm on Sunday evening, Rwandan security officials repatriated Muhuba and handed him over to Ugandan security officials at the no man’s land at Chanika border.

They also handed over a Medium Machine Gun (MMG) with 100 rounds of ammunition, binocular, cell phone and the military identification documents recovered from Muhuba. Captain Peter Mugisha, the Kisoro Resident District Commissioner witnessed the repatriation and hailed RDF for releasing Muhuba unhurt. Such incidents are common along the Uganda-Rwanda border.

On May 25, this year, two RDF soldiers crossed to Kazaza and Mukayaga villages in the Kamwezi sub-county, Rukiga district. The soldiers who included a captain and his two escorts crossed to Uganda in pursuit of Waragi smugglers.

The soldiers returned to Rwanda without being arrested by Ugandan security authorities. The governments of Uganda and Rwanda have been feuding since 2019. On February 27, Rwandan President Paul Kagame issued a travel advisory to his nationals against travelling to Uganda, saying their safety is not guaranteed.

He accused Ugandan authorities of abducting its citizens and locking them up in non-designated areas. Kagame also accused Uganda of hosting and facilitating dissidents especially from Rwanda National Congress-RNC and the Democratic Forces for the liberation of Rwanda FDLR, which have declared war on the Kigali government.

The Rwandan authorities advised the truck drivers to use the Mirama Hill border in Ntungamo district. The border closure took a huge toll on truck drivers and suffocated business along the border especially Katuna and Chanika town. This led to an increase in smuggling along the border with most Rwandan nationals crossing to Uganda through porous border points to buy food.

Rwandan authorities on accusations of smuggling have shot dead at least eight people including Ugandan and Rwandan nationals. On July 30, 2019, President Museveni told journalists at Kabale State Lodge that they are discussing the impasse with his Rwandan counterpart. However to date, the negotiations mediated by the Angolan President João Lourenço and his Democratic Republic of Congo counterpart Félix Tshisekedi, are yet to bear positive results.





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