Canadian court rules invalid ‘Safe Third Country’ with the U.S.

By Steve Scherer and Moira Warburton

OTTAWA/TORONTO (Reuters) – A Canadian court on Wednesday ruled invalid a pact that compels asylum seekers trying to enter Canada via the American border to seek sanctuary first in the United States, saying their detention there violates their human rights.

Under the so-called Safe Third Country Agreement between the two neighbors, asylum seekers at a formal border crossing traveling in either direction are turned back and told to apply for asylum in the country in which they first arrived.

Lawyers for refugees who had been turned away at the Canadian border challenged the agreement, saying the United States does not qualify as a “safe” country under U.S. President Donald Trump.

Nedira Jemal Mustefa, one of the refugees turned back, described her time in solitary confinement in the United States as “a terrifying, isolating and psychologically traumatic experience,” according to the court ruling.

“We’re all too familiar with the treatment that the U.S. metes out to asylum seekers,” said Maureen Silcoff, president of the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers. “This case highlights the conditions that people face when Canadian officials turn them around at the U.S. border.”

More than 50,000 people have illegally crossed the Canada-U.S. border to file refugee claims over the past four years, walking over ditches and on empty roads along the world’s longest undefended border.

Canada has sought to stem the human tide of asylum seekers that flowed into the country starting in 2016, after Trump promised to crack down on illegal immigration. Experts have said suspending the agreement would have huge implications for the Canada-U.S. relationship.

Federal court judge Ann Marie McDonald ruled that the agreement was in violation of a section of Canada’s Charter of Rights that says laws or state actions that interfere with life, liberty and security must conform to the principles of fundamental justice.

She suspended her decision for six months to give Parliament a chance to respond to the ruling, which is not final and can be appealed to the Federal Court of Appeal and then the Supreme Court if necessary.

Canada’s justice ministry and immigration ministry had no immediate comment, nor did officials in the U.S. embassy in Ottawa.

(Reporting by David Ljunggren and Steve Scherer; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Jonathan Oatis)

Australia says no timeframe to decide case of Saudi teen asylum seeker

Australia's Foreign Minister Marise Payne speaks during a news conference at Australian Embassy in Bangkok, Thailand, January 10, 2019. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha

By Panu Wongcha-um and Patpicha Tanakasempipat

BANGKOK (Reuters) – Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne said on Thursday there was no timeframe for the assessment of the case of Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun, a Saudi woman who fled to Thailand saying she feared her family would kill her.

The U.N. refugee agency has referred Qunun to Australia for consideration for refugee resettlement.

“Following the UNHCR referrals, Australia is now going through the steps we are required to do in relation to the assessment process and then when that is complete an announcement will be made,” Payne said in Bangkok, after arriving on a visit arranged before Qunun sought asylum.

Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun, a Saudi woman who claims to be fleeing her country and family, is seen in Bangkok, Thailand January 7, 2019 in this still image taken from a video obtained from social media. TWITTER/ @rahaf84427714/via REUTERS

Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun, a Saudi woman who claims to be fleeing her country and family, is seen in Bangkok, Thailand January 7, 2019 in this still image taken from a video obtained from social media. TWITTER/ @rahaf84427714/via REUTERS

Qunun is staying in a Bangkok hotel under the care of the UNHCR.

She arrived in Thailand on Saturday and was initially denied entry. She had been intending to fly from there to Australia to seek asylum.

She soon started posting messages on Twitter from the transit area of Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi airport saying she had “escaped Kuwait” and her life would be in danger if forced to return to Saudi Arabia.

Within hours, a campaign sprang up, spread by a loose network of online activists, and the world watched as she refused to board a flight to Saudi Arabia and barricade herself inside a transit lounge hotel room.

On Monday evening, Thai authorities allowed her to enter the country.

Her case has drawn attention to Saudi Arabia’s strict social rules, including a requirement that women have the permission of a male “guardian” to travel, which rights groups say can trap women and girls as prisoners of abusive families.

It comes at a time when Riyadh is facing unusually intense scrutiny from its Western allies over the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October and over the humanitarian consequences of its war in Yemen.

‘AUSTRALIA’S CONCERN’

Payne’s visit has also thrown a spotlight on another refugee case, involving Bahrain footballer Hakeem AlAraibi, who has refugee status in Australia but was arrested at Bangkok airport last year after arriving for his honeymoon.

Bahrain made a request to have him extradited and he is in jail, waiting for a hearing to decide his case.

Payne withheld talks with Thai Deputy Prime Minister Prajin Juntong, who is also justice minister, and Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai.

“I also appreciate the opportunity … to raise Australia’s concern about the detention of and possible return of Mr Hakeem AlAraibi to Bahrain,” Payne told reporters after the meeting.

“The Thai government is aware of the importance of this matter to Australia.”

AlAraibi was convicted for vandalizing a police station in Bahrain and sentenced to 10 years in prison in absentia.

“He has denied all wrongdoing as accused by the Bahrain government,” Nadthasiri Bergman, AlAraibi’s lawyer in Thailand told Reuters.

“He would be put in danger if he is sent back to Bahrain.”

World football governing body FIFA says AlAraibi should be freed and allowed to return to Australia where he plays for Melbourne football club Pascoe Vale in the second tier of the Australian League.

Activists have called on Thai authorities to “show humanity” to AlAraibi in the same way that they did to Qunun.

(This version of the story adds dropped word ‘agency’ in paragraph 2)

(Additional report by Panarat Thepgumpanat, Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore and Robert Birsel)

Canada granting refugee status to fewer illegal border crossers

FILE PHOTO: A family who identified themselves as being from Hait, are confronted by a Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) officer as they try to enter into Canada from Roxham Road in Champlain, New York, U.S., August 7, 2017. REUTERS/Christinne Muschi/File Phot

By Anna Mehler Paperny

TORONTO (Reuters) – Canada is rejecting more refugee claims from people who crossed its border illegally as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government seeks to dissuade, block and turn back thousands more, according to new data obtained by Reuters.

Forty percent of such border crossers whose claims were finalized in the first three months of this year were granted refugee status, down from 53 percent for all of 2017, according to data provided by Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Board. There were no claims finalized in the first three months of 2017.

FILE PHOTO: A group of asylum seekers wait to be processed after being escorted from their tent encampment to the Canada Border Services in Lacolle, Quebec, Canada, August 11, 2017. REUTERS/Christinne Muschi/File Ph

FILE PHOTO: A group of asylum seekers wait to be processed after being escorted from their tent encampment to the Canada Border Services in Lacolle, Quebec, Canada, August 11, 2017. REUTERS/Christinne Muschi/File Photo

The Immigration and Refugee Board said on Tuesday it has received no directives or guidance on how to deal with these border crossers.

The government’s “first priority remains the safety and security of Canadians and the integrity of our immigration system,” a spokesman for Immigration and Refugee Minister Ahmed Hussen said in an email.

The wave of border crossings started up in January 2017 and ramped up over the summer as many Haitian immigrants in the United States who were at risk of losing their temporary legal status streamed into Canada on expectations they could find a safe haven. In the months since, thousands of Nigerians have made the same crossing.

More than 27,000 asylum seekers have walked across the Canada-U.S. border since President Donald Trump took office, some of whom have told Reuters they left the United States because of Trump’s policies and anti-immigrant rhetoric.

The influx has strained Canada’s backlogged system for assisting people seeking refugee status, leaving aid agencies scrambling to meet growing demand for housing and social services.

Trudeau’s government has sought to stem the influx by amending a U.S.-Canadian border pact that turns back asylum seekers at border crossings, but allows immigrants who enter the country outside of an official border crossing to apply for refugee status.

Canada sent its immigration and refugee minister to Nigeria, asking the Nigerian government to help discourage its citizens from crossing into Canada, and asking the United States to deny visas to people who might then go to Canada.

Immigration and Refugee Board data shows that while only a small number of border-crosser claims have been processed, acceptance rates are down for all groups seeking refugee status. The success rate is especially low for Haitians and Nigerians, with overall acceptance rates of 9 percent and 33.5 percent, respectively.

Graphic on the impact asylum seekers are having in Canada: tmsnrt.rs/2HCp4aD

(Reporting by Anna Mehler Paperny; editing by Jim Finkle, Leslie Adler and Bill Berkrot)

Supreme Court dismisses Hawaii’s challenge to Trump travel ban

International passengers arrive at Washington Dulles International Airport after clearing immigration and customs in Dulles, Virginia, U.S. September 24, 2017. REUTERS/James Lawler Duggan

By Lawrence Hurley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday formally dropped plans to hear the last remaining challenge to an earlier version of President Donald Trump’s travel ban targeting several Muslim-majority countries and a ban on refugees, but a fight over the legality of his latest restrictions still could reach the nine justices.

The high court said it will not hear the case brought by Hawaii over the bans, which have expired and been replaced with revised policies. Trump’s 120-day ban on refugees ended on Tuesday and is set to be replaced by a new set of restrictions.

Two lower courts have blocked Trump’s new ban targeting people from eight countries, Trump’s third set of travel restrictions, and the issue could find its way back to the Supreme Court on appeal.

The court on Oct. 10 disposed of the first of two travel ban cases — brought by the American Civil Liberties Union and others in Maryland — after Trump’s earlier 90-day ban on people entering the U.S. from six predominantly Muslim countries expired on Sept. 24. It was a replaced with a modified, open-ended ban involving eight countries.

The justices had been scheduled to hear arguments in the two consolidated on Oct. 10.

Among the issues raised by challengers was whether the travel ban discriminated against Muslims in violation of the U.S. Constitution’s prohibition on the government favoring or disfavoring a particular religion. The same arguments are being used against the new ban.

Trump has said the restrictions were needed to prevent terrorism in the United States.

The expired ban had targeted people from Iran, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Somalia and Sudan. The new ban removed Sudan from the list and blocked people from Chad and North Korea and certain government officials from Venezuela from entering the United States.

If the new restrictions go into effect, they could block tens of thousands of potential immigrants and visitors to the United States. Trump had promised as a candidate “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.”

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Will Dunham)

Woman’s murder prompts mass eviction of Syrians from Lebanese town

Woman's murder prompts mass eviction of Syrians from Lebanese town

MIZIARA, Lebanon (Reuters) – Abu Khaled had lived in the Lebanese town of Miziara for almost 20 years until a woman’s suspected murder by a Syrian refugee led to his expulsion alongside several hundred other Syrians.

“They gave us notice to evict at 2 a.m.,” said Abu Khaled, standing outside a bare building in a nearby village with some of his 13-strong family, who were all forced to leave on the orders of the local authorities.

“I don’t know how we left – we carried our stuff on the road and then found this warehouse and we put ourselves here,” he told Reuters.

More than six years into the Syrian war, 1.5 million Syrians account for one quarter of Lebanon’s population. But patience is wearing thin with their presence and the strain it has placed on local resources.

The Lebanese army has previously carried out evictions of Syrian refugees, citing security concerns.

At the local level, ill feeling has surfaced intermittently in recent years, with councils imposing curfews, telling Lebanese not to rent houses to Syrians, or outright asking them to leave an area.

The Miziara council went a step further by using trucks to move people out, said George Ghali, programs manager at the Lebanese rights group ALEF.

The decision was prompted by last week’s arrest of a Syrian man for the murder of 26-year-old Rayya Chidiac in Miziara, a wealthy Christian town in north Lebanon.

Chidiac had been found dead in a relative’s home on Sept. 22 showing signs of bruising, strangling and sexual assault, security forces said.

The refugee, in his 20s, had worked as the building’s caretaker, and confessed to her murder.

“THEY ARE DEVOURING US”

While the crime shocked Syrians and Lebanese alike, the locals said they must protect their own and could no longer risk living alongside Syrians.

“We are giving them food and they are devouring us. We cannot welcome them here any more,” priest Yousef Faddoul told Reuters. “Let them set up tents for them elsewhere.”

But the Syrians say they are being punished collectively for one man’s crime.

“If I don’t go back to my work, what can I do? In my country there is a war … two days ago, a rocket exploded near my house,” said Sobhi Razzouk, a Syrian from Idlib who had worked in Miziara for 15 years before being expelled. Like Abu Khaled, he was had joined in Lebanon by his family after the war began.

“We condemn this horrific act … but the way we were expelled – we never expected this.”

In response to questions from Reuters, the United Nations’ refugee agency UNHCR called for “restraint from collective reprisals against refugees”, and said it was in touch with local authorities and refugee families.

Miziara’s municipal authority said on its Facebook page that Syrians could now only be in town during daytime working hours – if they had work permits. Landlords can only rent accommodation to those with residency permits.

Another post from the municipality encouraged Miziara landlords and those who sponsor Syrians to evict them or annul their guarantees.

“We support evicting Syrians in a legal way and evicting all those who break the law and anyone who has no business being in Miziara,” said Maroun Dina, the head of the municipal council, said.

“This is a problem across Lebanon. If the government doesn’t take the necessary steps then the public will and I cannot control the public,” Dina said.

PRECARIOUS STATUS

Many Syrians in Lebanon live in a precarious legal situation, with proper residency and work documentation expensive and hard to obtain.

Lebanon has resisted the establishment of organized refugee camps for Syrians, fearing a repeat of its experience with around half a million Palestinians, most still living in refugee camps set up after the creation of Israel almost 70 years ago.

That has left Syrians scattered across the country in tented settlements or urban areas – without any clear definition of their rights, and at the mercy of local authorities.

Their long-term presence is a particularly sensitive issue for Lebanon, where the addition of so many predominantly Sunni Muslim Syrians would upset the delicate sectarian balance with Christians, Shi’ite Muslims and other groups.

As the Syrian government regains control of more Syrian territory, calls have increased in Lebanon for Syrians to return home, although Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri has said there can be no forced return.

Last week, the north Lebanese town of Bsharri cited Chidiac’s death as a reason to clamp down on Syrians, saying the situation in Syria had improved to the point where they no longer needed to be in Lebanon.

It issued a statement saying Syrians must not gather in public squares, must not go out after 6 p.m., and would be barred from renting properties in the area from Nov. 15.

(Reporting by Reuters TV; Writing by Lisa Barrington; Editing by Tom Perry and Kevin Liffey)

Somali refugee faces terror charges in Canada stabbing, car attacks

Edmonton Police investigate at the scene where a man hit pedestrians then flipped the U-Haul truck he was driving, pictured at the intersection at 107 Street and 100th Avenue in front of the Matrix Hotel in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada October 1, 2017.

By Ethan Lou

EDMONTON, Alberta (Reuters) – A Somali refugee who had been on a watch list over extremist views faced five counts of attempted murder and terror charges on Sunday after Canadian police said he stabbed a police officer and ran down four pedestrians with a car in Edmonton, Alberta.

The suspect, a 30-year-old man whom police did not identify,

had been investigated two years ago for promoting extremist ideology but was not deemed a threat, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) said.

RCMP Assistant Commissioner Marlin Degrand said an “exhaustive investigation” into the man in 2015 did not uncover sufficient evidence to pursue charges.

Canadian media identified the suspect as Abdulahi Hasan Sharif, although Reuters was not immediately able to confirm his identity.

Police cordoned off an apartment block near downtown Edmonton and plainclothes officers were seen carrying large bags of equipment into the building.

The attacks in the western Canadian city began when a Chevy Malibu hit a police officer standing in front of a football stadium at about 8:15 p.m. Mountain time on Saturday (10.15 p.m. ET), sending him flying into the air.

The driver got out of the car and stabbed the officer multiple times before fleeing, according to police accounts and surveillance footage of the incident.

Police identified the suspect when he was stopped at a checkpoint and his license showed that he was the owner of the Malibu. He fled the checkpoint and was apprehended after a police chase across a downtown street, during which he hit four pedestrians.

A flag of the Islamic State militant group was found inside the Malibu, said Rod Knecht, police chief of Edmonton, Alberta’s provincial capital.

Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson told reporters: “To the best of our knowledge, this was a lone-wolf attack. There’s no immediate cause for panic or concern.”

U.S. national security agencies strongly leaned toward the conclusion that the suspect acted alone, although they were reviewing the matter, a U.S. official told Reuters.

The police officer, who had stab wounds to the head and face, was released from a hospital on Sunday along with two pedestrians. A third pedestrian was upgraded to stable from critical, while the fourth suffered a fractured skull and had regained consciousness.

On Sunday, two women were stabbed to death and their assailant shot dead by a soldier in the southern French port city of Marseille in what officials describe as a “likely terrorist act”.

 

TRUDEAU, ALBERTA MUSLIMS CONDEMN ATTACK

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called the Edmonton attack “another example of the hate that we must remain ever vigilant against.” Canada’s government said it would keep the terrorist threat level at medium, where it has been since late 2014.

The Alberta Muslim Public Affairs Council denounced the attack and hundreds attended a Sunday evening rally organized by the group.

“These types of acts, whether terrorism or not, seek to divide communities. We have to show that’s not going to happen, not in Edmonton,” said group spokesman Aurangzeb Qureshi.

Canada has been dealing in recent months with a surge in illegal border crossings by people seeking refugee status, which has renewed debate over whether it should tighten its borders.

The North American country has not experienced as much violence from extremist attacks as the United States and Western European nations, but there have been several deadly incidents in recent years.

In January, a French-Canadian university student was charged with murder after six people were shot and killed inside a Quebec City mosque, in what Trudeau called “a terrorist attack.”

In August 2016, Canadian police raided an Ontario home and killed Aaron Driver, who they said was an Islamic State supporter preparing an attack on a Canadian city with a homemade bomb.

In 2014, Canada was stunned by two deadly attacks that police said were the work of homegrown radicals and led to tougher new anti-terrorism measures.

A gunman killed a soldier at Ottawa’s national war memorial before launching an attack on the Canadian Parliament in October 2014. In the same week, a man ran down two soldiers in Quebec, killing one.

In 2015, a videotape attributed to al Shabaab, a Somali-based Islamist militant group behind a deadly 2013 attack on a Kenyan shopping center, threatened North American malls, including the West Edmonton Mall.

 

(Additional reporting by Candace Elliott in Edmonton, Julie Gordon in Vancouver, Mark Hosenball in Washington and Anna Mehler Paperny in Toronto; Writing by Jim Finkle; Editing by Sandra Maler, Peter Cooney and Paul Tait)

 

Trump expected to set U.S. refugee cap at 45,000: sources

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks as he holds a joint news conference with Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy in the Rose Garden at the White House in Washington, U.S., September 26, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

By Yeganeh Torbati and Steve Holland

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Trump administration plans to cap the number of refugees admitted to the United States in the coming year at 45,000, two people with knowledge of the decision said on Tuesday, and advocates said this historically low level is insufficient in the face of growing humanitarian crises worldwide.

That figure would be the lowest ceiling for refugee admissions since the U.S. Refugee Act was signed in 1980. Since then, the ceiling has never been set below 67,000 and in recent years has been around 70,000 to 80,000.

The secretaries of State and Homeland Security are consulting with members of Congress on Wednesday, according to one White House official. The president’s decision on the refugee limit will be announced following that consultation, two officials said. The Wall Street Journal first reported the 45,000 figure on Tuesday.

By law, the president is required to consult with members of Congress about the number of refugee admissions before the start of each fiscal year, on Oct. 1.

The number of refugees actually admitted to the country, which can fall below the cap, dropped to its lowest in the fiscal year after the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks with only around 27,000 admitted.

For fiscal year 2017, which ends Sept. 30, former President Barack Obama established a cap of 110,000 refugees for permanent resettlement in the United States.

After taking office in January, President Donald Trump issued an executive order lowering the maximum number to 50,000 for 2017, saying that more would be “detrimental to the interests of the United States.”

Critics said if the 2018 level is set even lower, it could damage the international reputation of the United States.

“It’s tragic,” said Robert Carey, former director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement under Obama. “It’s really moving away from the commitments the government has had for protections of refugees from both Republican and Democratic administrations,” he said. “Some people will die.”

In a speech to the United Nations last week, Trump said that more could be done to help refugees in their home regions. Offering financial assistance to hosting countries “is the safe, responsible, and humanitarian approach,” Trump said.

But that type of assistance “ignores all the people who have fled to places that are still not safe,” said another former Obama administration official, Anne Richard.

“Those are the people that the U.S. program really rescues,” said Richard, a former assistant secretary for refugees and migration at the State Department.

She said other countries might try to follow suit by closing the door to more refugees.

A September 2016 study by the libertarian think tank the Cato Institute found that of 3.3 million refugees admitted to the United States between 1975 through 2015, 20 were convicted of planning or committing a terrorist attack on U.S. soil.

A spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security declined to comment ahead of Trump’s final decision on the cap. The State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

David Inserra from the conservative think tank The Heritage Foundation said Congress should have more of a say in setting the cap to avoid radical swings in the numbers when there is a change in administrations.

“When president Obama increased the number dramatically Republicans said they didn’t want that but the consultation process didn’t give them any authority to stop it,” he said. “Now the same is going to be true for the other side.”

(Reporting by Yeganeh Torbati and Steve Holland in Washington; Additional reporting by Mica Rosenberg in New York and David Shepardson in Washington; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Grant McCool)

U.S. appeals court rejects Trump’s bid to bar most refugees

FILE PHOTO - An Iceland Air flight crew arrives on the day that U.S. President Donald Trump's limited travel ban, approved by the U.S. Supreme Court, goes into effect, at Logan Airport in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S., June 29, 2017. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

By Mica Rosenberg and Jonathan Stempel

NEW YORK (Reuters) – A U.S. appeals court on Thursday rejected the Trump administration’s effort to temporarily bar most refugees from entering the country, ruling that those who have relationships with a resettlement agency should be exempt from an executive order banning refugees.

A three-judge 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel also ruled that grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins of legal U.S. residents should be exempted from President Donald Trump’s order, which banned travelers from six Muslim-majority countries.

The ruling is the latest legal blow to the President’s sweeping executive order barring travelers from Iran, Syria, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen for 90 days, which the Republican president said was necessary for national security.

The Justices said that the government did not persuasively explain why the travel ban should be enforced against close relatives of people from the six countries or refugees with guarantees from resettlement agencies. The 3-0 ruling takes effect in five days.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June that Trump’s ban could be implemented on a limited basis, but should not be applied to people with “bona fide” relationships to people or entities in the United States.

The government took a narrow view of that interpretation, which the state of Hawaii challenged in court. A lower court judge sided with Hawaii, and the 9th Circuit judges upheld that view.

“It is hard to see how a grandparent, grandchild, aunt, uncle, niece, nephew, sibling-in-law, or cousin can be considered to have no bona fide relationship with their relative in the United States,” the court said.

The court also rejected the administration’s argument that the written assurances provided by resettlement agencies obligating them to provide services for specific refugees is not a bona fide relationship.

The agencies’ advance preparation and expenditure of resources for each refugee “supports the district court’s determination that a bona fide relationship with the refugee exists,” the decision said.

Trump’s first version of the executive order, signed in January, sparked protests and chaos at airports around the country and the world before it was blocked by courts. The administration replaced that version of the ban with a new order in March in response to the legal challenges.

A Department of Justice spokeswoman said: “The Supreme Court has stepped in to correct these lower courts before, and we will now return to the Supreme Court to vindicate the Executive Branch’s duty to protect the Nation.”

Hawaii’s Attorney General Douglas Chin said the ruling “keeps families together. It gives vetted refugees a second chance. The Trump administration keeps taking actions with no legal basis. We will keep fighting back.”

Refugee organizations cheered Thursday’s decision, saying it will give relief to people fleeing violence who were caught in limbo after the ban.

The broader question of whether the revised travel ban discriminates against Muslims in violation of the U.S. Constitution will be considered by the U.S. Supreme Court in October.

(Reporting by Mica Rosenberg and Jonathan Stempel in New York; Additional reporting by Andrew Chung and Lawrence Hurley in Washington; editing by Sue Horton and Grant McCool)

Charities slam Calais ban that could halt food aid for migrants

An aid worker provides assistance near a group of migrants claiming to be minors who use blankets to protect themselves from the cold as they prepare to spend the night after the dismantlement of the "Jungle" camp in Calais, France, October 27, 2016. REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol

By Matthias Blamont and Sudip Kar-Gupta

PARIS (Reuters) – Charities expressed outrage on Friday as the mayor of French port Calais, which has symbolized Europe’s refugee crisis, signed a ban on gatherings that could stop aid groups distributing meals to migrants and refugees.

A decree published on Thursday said the Calais authority believed that handing out meals at the site of the former “jungle” migrant camp was one reason for a rise in ethnic tensions and conflict between rival groups of migrants.

The decree, a copy of which was obtained by Reuters, said food distribution by charities had led to large numbers of people gathering at the site of the now-closed camp, with fights breaking out and risks posed to the safety of local residents.

It did not expressly ban food distribution, but said it was “necessary to ban all gatherings” at the site and banned people from entering it. The decree said gatherings tended to take place “after the distribution of meals to migrants”.

Migrants have been streaming into Calais for much of the last decade, hoping to cross the short stretch of sea to Britain by leaping onto trucks and trains, or even walking through the railway tunnel under the English Channel.

Calais Mayor Natacha Bouchart, a member of conservative party The Republicans who signed the decree, defended her decision on the grounds of public safety and the damage to the local Calais economy caused by the refugee problem.

In a statement, Bouchart said it was also up to the national government to deal with the problem, and that she had always sought to act with “humanity” towards the refugees.

But human rights groups criticized the move, with some saying they would still hand out food to migrants and refugees.

“You’re talking about young people and children. You just can’t deprive them of food,” said Gael Manzi, who works for local aid association Utopia 56.

Manzi said Utopia 56 would continue to distribute food, but at a new site elsewhere in Calais.

Last month, non-government associations said hundreds of migrant children had been returning to Calais, despite the dismantling of the “jungle” camp late last year.

The influx of migrants fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East and Africa is a key issue in France’s upcoming presidential election, with many voters concerned about competition for scarce jobs, security, and the risk of further terror attacks.

Police forces are still deployed permanently in the area where the “jungle” camp stood.

(Reporting by Matthias Blamont and Sudip Kar-Gupta; Editing by Andrew Callus and Catherine Evans)

Deaths from Nigerian refugee camp air strike rises to 90, could reach 170: MSF

people walk at the site of a bombing attack

GENEVA (Reuters) – The death toll from an accidental Nigerian air strike on a refugee camp in the town of Rann has risen to around 90 people, and could be as high as 170, Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) said in a statement on Friday.

Tuesday’s strike on the northeastern town in Borno state, which had Boko Haram militants as its target, has led to an investigation by the Nigerian Air Force (NAF). The inquiry’s report is due to be submitted no later than Feb. 2.

The aid group, also known as Doctors Without Borders, said the higher figure of 170 comes from reports from residents and community leaders.

“This figure needs to be confirmed,” said Bruno Jochum, MSF General Director, in the statement.

“The victims of this horrifying event deserve a transparent account of what happened and the circumstances in which this attack took place.”

Borno is the epicenter of Boko Haram’s seven-year-long attempt to create an Islamic caliphate in the northeast. The insurgency has killed more than 15,000 people since 2009 and forced some two million to flee their homes, many of whom have moved to camps for internally displaced people.

“A Nigerian airforce plane circled twice and dropped two bombs in the middle of the town of Rann, which hosts thousands of internally displaced people,” MSF said.

“At the time of the attack, an aid distribution was taking place.”

On Thursday, Human Rights Watch said the strike had destroyed 35 structures, and hit 100 meters from what appears to be a Nigerian military compound, raising questions about why precautions were not taken to avoid harming civilians.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva; Writing by Paul Carsten; editing by Ralph Boulton)