Ius Gentium

University of Baltimore School of Law's Center for International and Comparative Law Fellows discuss international and comparative legal issues


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Come on Over: Uganda Opens Doors for Southern Sudanese Refugees While the Rest of East Africa Sleeps

 

J. Michal Forbes

 

Tucked away south of South Sudan and north of Tanzania lies Uganda, the Pearl of Africa.[i]  Located on the north shores of Lake Victoria, Uganda is known for its delicious fresh fruit and its vast number of gorillas.[ii]

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In a mere six months, the Ugandan government built the Bidi Bidi settlement, which is one of the largest refugee settlements in the world.[iii] There are currently more than 600,000 South Sudanese living in Uganda and thousands more cross the border every day.[iv] The UN estimates there will be an additional 300,000 entering Uganda in 2017, with 86% of refugees being women.[v] 

South Sudan, despite being one of the newest nations in the word, is on the brink of an ethnic civil war.[vi] Hostilities between the Dinka, the largest ethnic group in the country, and the Nuer have led to the death of over 300,000 people. Despite outside attempts to initiate peace agreements and a ceasefire, the violence still continues in Juba, the capital.[vii] As a result, thousands of South Sudanese people are fleeing, typically by foot, to Uganda, in hopes of escaping the violence.

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A sign welcoming visitors to South Sudan

Uganda is not without its own problems, however. In recent years, Uganda has made headlines for its corrupt political practices, criminalizing homosexuality and soaring poverty rates.[viii] Yet, Uganda has a surprisingly  unusual open policy that allows refugees to own land, receive an education, and work.[ix] In fact, Uganda is the third largest refugee-hosting country in Africa after Ethiopia and Kenya. [x]  The country’s approach to refugees focuses on community integration, in hopes that the burden will be less on the economy because of the integration.[xi]

Considering that Uganda has a significant over-population problem that strains its government’s finances, it is surprising that they have opened their borders to South Sudanese refugees. According to the World Bank, Uganda’s population grew from less than 9 million in 1969 to over 41 million in 2014.[xii]  Additionally, Uganda has the fifth highest total fertility rate in the world with almost 6 children born per woman.[xiii] Uganda remains one of the poorest countries in the world, with most people living off of US $1.90 a day.[xiv]

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A South Sudanese baby being immunized[xv]

Unfortunately, in December Bidi Bidi had to stop allowing in new refugees, except for those uniting with family. Reports have said that Bidi Bidi is transforming from a refugee camp to an actual community. Uganda is getting outside financial assistance from UNHCR and Medical Teams International who work with the refugee population to bring them much needed resources. However, the refugees still need a lot more help than what Uganda can give. It will take help from outside international organizations in order to ensure that the refugees get the proper schools, homes and educational opportunities they need in order to fully integrate into the Ugandan community.

The question arises, if Uganda, a country that is economically strained and does not has limited resources is able to accept over half a million people from the South Sudan, when will the rest of the world pitch in and help? The whole premise of Africans helping Africans is inspiring, however the impact of the South Sudan civil war can cripple East Africa’s regional economy and security.[xvi]

In order for the crisis in South Sudan to not to severely cripple East Africa’s region, it is vital that the East African Community as a whole adopts similar policies as Uganda. The East African Community, or EAC, is comprised of Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda. The EAC is focused more on economic and trade development in the region and less with humanitarian aid.

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The East African Community Logo[xvii]

It would be beneficial if the EAC would borrow from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) by adopting a policy of “community citizens”, in which all citizens of the 16 states that comprise ECOWAS can reside in community member states. The treaty establishing the EAC does mention that “’partner states undertake to establish common mechanisms for the management of refugees’”, but no action has ever been taken.[xviii] Considering that South Sudan is a member state of the EAC, the other states should accept refugees similarly to Uganda.

If not, Uganda will be only country in East Africa that South Sudanese refugees can enter, live in and prosper. The semi-stability that EAC has enjoyed over the last few years could be adversely impacted. Once the dominoes start to fall in the region, it will be hard to pick them back up again.

J. Michal Forbes is a proud native of Prince George’s County, Maryland, Ms. Forbes has a fiery passion for international law, travel and frozen yogurt. After receiving her B.A. in Political Science from the University of Maryland, Baltimore she taught ESOL in the Washington, D.C. Metropolitan area before joining the US Peace Corps in 2011. Ms. Forbes served in the Peace Corps in Ukraine from 2011 to 2013, in a small town between the Red Sea and the Black Sea in Crimea. Fluent in Russian, Ms. Forbes soon caught the travel bug and traveled/worked extensively throughout Eastern Europe during her 27 month commitment. Currently a 3L, Ms. Forbes is a member of the International Law Society, Immigration Law Society, Black Law Student Association and the Women Lawyers as Leaders Initiative. She has worked for Maryland Legal Aid and the NAACP’s Office of the Attorney General. She was recently awarded the honor of being named Article Editor with the University of Baltimore Law Forum, a scholarly legal journal focused on rising issues in Maryland. It is her dream to work for the U.S. government assisting with asylum seekers and refugee.  In her free time, Ms. Forbes enjoys eating frozen yogurt with her husband and learning Arabic.

 

[i] Uganda, Global Interlink, http://www.global-interlink.org/id2.html    

[ii] 21 Interesting Facts About Uganda You’ve Never Heard Before, BuzzKenya, http://buzzkenya.com/facts-about-uganda/

[iii] Uganda’s sprawling haven for 270,000 of South Sudan’s refugees, The Guardian, https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2017/jan/24/uganda-sprawling-haven-for-270000-of-south-sudans-refugees

[iv] South Sudan Region Refugee Response Plan: January – December 2017, UNHCR, available at http://www.unhcr.org/578f2da07.pdf

[v] Id.

[vi] UN: South Sudan on brink of ethnic civil war, Al Jazeera, http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2016/12/south-sudan-brink-ethnic-civil-war-161214104548897.html

[vii] Violence, fear and looting grip South Sudan’s capital Juba, The Guardian, https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2016/jul/19/south-sudan-violence-fear-looting-juba

[viii] Uganda’s Deteriorating Human Rights Record up for Review, Human Rights Watch, https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/11/02/ugandas-deteriorating-human-rights-record-review

[ix] Is Uganda the best place to be a refugee?, The Guardian, https://www.theguardian.com/global-development-professionals-network/2016/aug/20/is-uganda-the-best-place-to-be-a-refugee

[x] id.

[xi] Uganda’s sprawling haven for 270,000 of South Sudan’s refugees, The Guardian, https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2017/jan/24/uganda-sprawling-haven-for-270000-of-south-sudans-refugees

[xii] Uganda Populations, worldometers, http://www.worldometers.info/world-population/uganda-population/

[xiii] Uganda: The World Factbook, Central Intelligence Agency, https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/ug.html

[xiv] Poverty headcount ratio at $1.90 a day (2011 PPP) (% of population), http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SI.POV.DDAY

[xv] South Sudanese Refugees are Flowing into Uganda at an Unprecedented Rate, The World Post, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/south-sudanese-refugees-uganda_us_582dbecae4b099512f810c15

[xvi] South Sudan civil war: What it means for East Africa, Blasting News, http://us.blastingnews.com/world/2016/07/south-sudan-civil-war-what-it-means-for-east-africa-001011003.html

[xvii] Taken from the East African Community Website, http://www.eac.int/

[xviii] The East African Community and the Refugee Question, The Society for International Development, http://www.sidint.net/content/east-african-community-and-refugee-question


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No Country for Palestinians: The Deportation Paradox

Alison Aminzadeh

Hisham Shaban Galia traveled ten thousand miles to reach the United States, where he sought asylum.[1] Shaban was escaping the violence that plagued his home in the Gaza Strip, facing violence from both Hamas and Israel.[2] His asylum claim was denied because he failed to meet his evidentiary burden of producing documents to support his claim; he had represented himself pro se.[3] For the past sixteen months, Shaban has been held at an immigration detention facility in Arizona.[4] While Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has determined that Shaban cannot stay in the country, the fact that his home – Palestine – is no longer considered a state poses a problem: how can the U.S. deport someone to a state that, under the eyes of U.S. law, does not exist?[5]  Shaban has since obtained counsel from the non-profit, the Council on American-Islamic relations.[6] His counsel, Liban Yousef, filed a habeas corpus petition for supervised release; if granted, this would allow Shaban to have the opportunity to work.[7] While the petition is still being reviewed, ICE released a “Decision to Continue Detention.”[8] Shaban fears that he will spend his life in the limbo of the detention center, having already spent over five hundred days there.[9] While his case appears unusual, the war-torn Gaza Strip is likely to produce more asylum seekers with similar backgrounds who will be difficult to deport under U.S. law.

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Palestine and Israel territory over the past 70 years

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states in Article 15 that everyone has the right to a nationality.[10] The history of Palestine is an interesting one: formerly seen as a “home for stateless Jews” in 1947, Palestine now finds itself in the reverse position: Israel has attained statehood, and Palestine has lost its status.[11]

There are four requirements for statehood.[12] First, there must be a population; this means that the alleged state must have people there.[13] Second, a state must have territory, meaning it must be based on some land.[14] Third, the state must have some government; in other words, there has to be some entity making the laws.[15] Finally, a state must have the capacity to enter into international relations.[16] This last requirement acts as a less-objective test and a safeguard for when the international community does not want to recognize a state. By not engaging with that would-be state, the international community can reinforce the idea that the entity is not a state.

There are about fifteen million stateless people worldwide, and the number is growing.[17] Based on the estimates provided by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Palestinians make up one-third of the stateless people worldwide.[18] Vicent Chetail writes that the Refugee laws for Palestinians are very strict.[19] While Shaban entered the U.S. for the legal purpose of requesting asylum, most Palestinian refugees are only able to enter other countries through illegal means.[20] In the United States, there are about 1,087 asylum seekers reported; however, given their lack of rights and access to resources, the number of asylum seekers in the U.S. is likely significantly greater.[21]

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Shaban is not the first – nor will he be the last – Palestinian that the U.S. holds for deportation. When ICE was questioned on how Palestinians have been deported in the past, it asserted that it has coordinated with Israel, Egypt, and Jordan.[22] However, Shaban’s deportation officer gave him the option of being deported to Pakistan, Afghanistan, Malaysia, or Iraq.[23] Shaban has never been to any of these countries, and considered that this might be a threat; even so, he said he would go anywhere as long as he was no longer in detention.[24]

In addition to the practical conundrum that follows the attempt to deport a stateless person, there are also considerable legal concerns surrounding the international rights of people like Shaban. Article 31 of the UN Refugee Convention (1951) clearly states that no signatory shall impose penalties on refugees because of their illegal status, given the dire situations these refugees are fleeing.[25] The U.S., however, did not sign the Convention, but did sign the 1967 Protocol.[26] The Protocol appeared to retain the substantive portions of the 1951 Convention, and only removed the temporal and geographic restrictions, which focused mainly on events occurring in Europe.[27] Still, Chetail explained that the international community’s application of this Convention is problematic, as deportation should be used as a last resort and not a deterrent.[28] Shaban’s lawyer also alleges that the detention is unconstitutional, as it violates his client’s right to due process.[29] While statelessness is not a crime – in contrast, it is a mark of vulnerability – Shaban has remained in detention after being deemed inadmissible to the United States.[30]

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Campaign to support the release of Hisham and Mounis Hammouda, also in detention

U.S. domestic law is not silent on the issue, either. The facts of Shaban’s case, as well as the cases of those like him, run directly contrary to the spirit of Zadvydas v. Davis.[31] The U.S. Supreme Court heard the facts pertaining to Kestutis Zadvydas’s detention. Zadvydas was born to Lithuanian parents in a German camp for displaced persons.[32] Neither Germany nor Lithuania would accept him upon deportation.[33] He was ordered to be deported due to his criminal record.[34] The removal period for aliens held in custody was ninety days.[35] After the ninety days passed, Zadvydas filed a writ of habeas corpus.[36] Justice Breyer, writing for the majority, expressed concerns over the constitutionality of a statute that would allow indefinite detention, writing that it is inconsistent with the Due Process Clause.[37] If one is to rely on stare decisis, it is evident that U.S. law does not permit holding Palestinians like Shaban indefinitely. Furthermore, during oral arguments, Justice Scalia had asserted that the burden of finding a country to be deported to lies with the petitioner.[38] Even if this is the standard for petitioners to meet, Shaban has already met it by wishing to be deported to his state of Palestine.[39] The conundrum lies in the refusal of the U.S. to recognize Palestine as a state, and its refusal to employ any alternative that would release Palestinian asylum seekers from indefinite detention.

To send a letter to Phoenix ICE Field Director Thomas Giles; ICE Director Sarah Saldaña, ICE Public Advocate Andrew Lorenzen-Strait, visit this website.

Alison Aminzadeh is a third year law student at the University of Baltimore. She is currently a Rule 16 attorney working on the Human Trafficking Project as a part of the Civil Advocacy Clinic. She is also a Senior Staff Editor for the Journal of International Law, and the former President of the Students Supporting the Women’s Law Center. 

[1] John Washington, The US wants to deport this Palestinian – but first it would have to recognize Palestine, The Nation (Mar. 28, 2016), available at http://www.thenation.com/article/can-you-be-deported-if-you-are-stateless/.

[2] Id.

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] Id.

[6] Id.

[7] Id.

[8] Id.

[9] Id.

[10] Id., citing Universal Declaration of Human Rights , art. 15, Dec. 10, 1948.

[11] Washington, supra note 1.

[12] Motevideo Convention on the Rights and Duties of States, art. I (Dec. 26, 1933).

[13] Id.

[14] Id.

[15] Id.

[16] Id.

[17] Washington, supra note 1.

[18] Id.

[19] Chetail is a professor of International Law at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva. Id.

[20] Id.

[21]  Id., citing United Nations High Commissioner, Citizens of Nowhere: Solutions for the Stateless in the U.S., Refugees and Open Society Justice Initiative (Dec. 2012), available at http://www.rcusa.org/uploads/pdfs/UNHCR_OSJI_STATELESSNESS_REPORT.pdf.

[22] Washington, supra note 1.

[23] Id.

[24] Id.

[25] Id.

[26] Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, 606 U.N.T.S. 267 (1951, 1967); States Parties to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and the 1967 Protocol, UN High Commissioner on for Refugees (last accessed Apr. 10, 2016), available at http://www.unhcr.org/3b73b0d63.html.

[27] Haya Madanat, 1951 Refugee Convention and the 1967 Protocol, Hopes for Women in Education (Nov. 15, 2012), available at https://blog.hopesforwomen.org/2012/11/15/1951-refugee-convention-and-the-1967-protocol-by-haya-madanat/; Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, supra note 26.

[28] Washington, supra note 1.

[29] Id.

[30] Id.

[31] Id., citing Zadvydas v. Davis, 533 U.S. 678 (2001).

[32] Zadvydas v. Davis, 553 U.S. at 682.

[33] Zadvydas v. Davis, 553 U.S. at 682.

[34] Zadvydas v. Davis, 553 U.S. at 682.

[35] Zadvydas v. Davis, 553 U.S. at 682.

[36] Zadvydas v. Davis, 553 U.S. at 682; 28 USCS § 2241.

[37] Zadvydas v. Davis, 553 U.S. at 690; Washington, supra note 1.

[38] Washington, supra note 1.

[39] Id.