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Tijuana Arrests 34 Central America Migrants on Minor Charges

Officials in the Mexican border city of Tijuana said they have arrested 34 members of the caravan of Central American migrants for minor offenses and turned them over for deportation,

A Tijuana city statement late Monday said the 34 — apparently all men — were arrested for drug possession, public intoxication, disturbing the peace and resisting police, and added they would be deported to their home countries. The main caravan has between 4,000 and 6,000 participants, so those arrested represent less than 1 percent of the total.

Tijuana Mayor Juan Manuel Gastelum has made a point of saying the city is not comfortable with the caravan that began arriving last week, and he compared the Central American group unfavorably with about 3,000 Haitians who ended up in this city bordering San Diego on a failed bid to reach the United States last year.

“The Haitians arrived with their papers, with a clear vision,” Gastelum said in an interview posted on the city’s Facebook page. They came “in an orderly way, they never asked us for food or shelter,” renting apartments and making their own food. He said the Haitians found jobs and “inserted themselves in the city’s economy” and had not been involved in any disturbances.

The Mexican government gave the Haitians temporary transit permits, and after they failed in attempts to enter the United States, many have since applied for Mexican residency. The majority in the Central American caravan have refused Mexico’s repeated offers of residency or asylum, and vowed to cross the border.

The caravan of Central Americans, he said “had arrived all of sudden, with a lot of people — not all … but a lot — were aggressive and cocky.”

Trump administration officials, who have portrayed the migrant caravans as a threat to the United States, have said there were as many as 500 criminals in the groups heading northward, but they haven’t said what the crimes were and said they could not reveal the source of the number because they were protecting intelligence sources.

Some local police and residents have expressed concern that portraying the caravan as criminals has tarred its innocent members and exposed them to reprisals.

Some of the largely Honduran migrant were frightened over the weekend when about 500 people in an affluent district of Tijuana staged angry protests against the caravan. Dozens of the more radical protesters then marched to an outdoor sports complex near downtown where 2,500 migrants are staying, sleeping on dirt fields and under bleachers.

Dulce Alvarado, 28, from Lempira, Honduras, said she was stepping out of a corner grocery near the complex carrying her 2-year-old son when she was surrounded by the demonstrators chanting “Get out!” and “We don’t want you here!”

“I was very scared,” Alvarado said.

A Tijuana police officer helped Alvarado to safety and the protest eventually ended peacefully.

Another Tijuana police officer, Victor Coronel, who has overseen security outside the sports complex where the migrants are staying, said local fears are based on the bad behavior of only a handful of migrants.

“The problem is that there has been bad information circulating on social media, with videos of two or three migrants acting badly, climbing the wall or grabbing food in stores,” said Coronel, adding that most are poor people simply trying to find work.

Mexico’s ambassador to the U.S., Geronimo Gutierrez, told reporters Monday that the situation is a “wake-up call” for the U.S., Mexico and Central America, and could force the region to work together to address the issue of immigration.

U.S. border inspectors are processing only about 100 asylum claims a day at Tijuana’s main crossing to San Diego, and there was already a waiting list of 3,000 when the new migrants arrived, so most will have to wait months to even be considered for asylum.

Gastelum, appealing for greater federal help to copy with what he called an “avalanche” of migrants, estimated they would be in Tijuana for at least six months while waiting to file asylum claims.

For most people in this city of 1.6 million, the arrival of thousands of Central Americans is not noticeable. Most of the migrants stay within a three-block radius of the sports complex that faces the towering metal walls topped with barbed wire at the U.S.-Mexico border.

But the United States has dramatically increased security at ports of entry in preparation for the caravan, placing cement barriers topped with razor wire that can be quickly moved to block passage if a mass of migrants to try to force their way into the country.

Rohingya Face ‘Intimidation, Violence’ in Bangladesh camps

The failed attempt to send thousands of Rohingya back to Myanmar starting this month has drawn attention to alleged violence and intimidation by security forces against members of the Muslim minority living in Bangladesh’s sprawling refugee camps.

Bangladesh has boosted its international reputation by hosting more than 730,000 Rohingya who fled a vicious campaign by Myanmar’s military last year that U.N. investigators have labelled genocide – an accusation Myanmar has consistently denied.

But Bangladesh appears keen to demonstrate that Rohingya refugees will not be welcome there indefinitely. The planned repatriations sparked fear and chaos last week as Rohingya went into hiding – and in a handful of reported cases attempted suicide – to avoid being sent back.

Meanwhile, allegations of sporadic beatings, looting and intimidation by Bangladeshi soldiers, police and camp officials have underscored the bleak conditions faced by Rohingya in their host country, where most are denied official refugee status and face restrictions on freedom of movement.

The repatriation of some 2,000 refugees was scheduled to begin last Thursday, but Bangladesh has now put the plans on hold until next year after failing to find any Rohingya willing to go back.

Rohingya in the camps have told VOA that soldiers were stationed near the homes of those who were told they would be sent back last week, fueling fears of forced repatriation and adding to widespread distress in communities already suffering extreme trauma after last year’s violence.

One Rohingya man told VOA anonymously that block leaders in the camps were also “announcing with loudspeakers… that it’s essential for everyone to carry ID with them whenever and wherever they go if they leave their homes.”

Late last month, security forces looted property from Rohingya shopkeepers at the Balukhali camp, said John Quinley, a human rights specialist with the non-profit organization Fortify Rights.  

“Right now the security forces are operating in the camps with total impunity,” he said.

In another case earlier this month, Fortify Rights reported that security forces rounded up 18 Rohingya leaders and slapped and hit some of them while telling them to instruct other refugees to cooperate with a new U.N.-backed project to provide them with “smart cards.”

Many Rohingya oppose the identity cards because they fear the information on them will be shared with the Myanmar government.

Bangladesh’s refugee, relief and repatriation commissioner, Abul Kalam, told VOA he was unaware of the allegations of violence but would follow up. “Generally, it is not acceptable that someone would apply force on or beat someone to do or not to do something,” he said.

Quinley called on the U.N.’s refugee agency to “do everything in their power to make sure that the Bangladeshi authorities are respecting human rights.”

Spokesperson Caroline Gluck said the agency has notified the authorities of a “small number” of reports of violence related to the smart card project. The agency has “been following up with them to ascertain the circumstances of what happened,” she told VOA.

Officials have responded that the incidents were “not linked” to the smart card project, she said.

She added, “The new ID card will enable refugees to be better protected and will streamline access to assistance and services.”

Mohammed Sheikh Anwar, a Rohingya activist, told VOA the Bangladeshi government “needs to keep the lower-level authorities in check. There should be an accountability measure.”

“Committing violence against genocide survivors to make them agree to the authorities’ terms is not the solution,” he added.

Last week a Rohingya man named Ata Ullah said he was beaten at the office of an official at the Chakmarkul camp, the Guardian reported, after he failed to provide the official with a list of refugees.

Ata Ullah said in a video circulated on social media that when he couldn’t provide the official with a list he “was beaten with a large stick… they stepped on my neck, I could not stand it.”

Human Rights Watch warned in a report in August that the Bangladeshi government was restricting access to basic services by resisting attempts by aid agencies and Rohingya refugees to “create any structures, infrastructure, or policies that suggest permanency.”

As a result, the report said, “refugee children do not go to school, but rather to ‘temporary learning centers,’ where ‘facilitators,’ not ‘teachers,’ preside over the classrooms. The learning centers are inadequate, only providing about two hours of instruction a day,” the report said.

US Briefly Closes Major Border Crossing with Mexico

U.S. officials briefly shut down one of the world’s busiest border crossings Monday to set up concrete blocks and barbed wire as Central American migrants arrive.

The closure of the crossing between Tijuana, Mexico, and San Diego, California, kept a large number of Mexicans from entering the U.S. where there are jobs.

It also caused a massive traffic backup for U.S. citizens trying to get back home after visiting Mexico.

The barriers are an apparent precaution against fears that a large number of people may try to rush the border to get into the U.S.

About 3,000 migrants from the various Central American caravans are already in Tijuana and thousands more are expected throughout the week.

They have gotten a hostile reception from hundreds of locals in Tijuana, who greeted the migrants with cries of “get out” and “go home.”

Some echoed President Donald Trump’s rhetoric, calling the Central Americans criminals and the caravan an “invasion.”

Trump tweeted Sunday that the U.S. is “ill-prepared for this invasion and will not stand for it. They are causing crime and big problems in Mexico. Go home.”

But some of the migrants are puzzled by fears they are dangerous, saying they fled Honduras for the U.S. to escape violence and gangs.

Ethiopian Jews Protest for Right to Immigrate to Israel

Hundreds of Ethiopian Jews gathered in the country’s capital Addis Ababa on Monday to protest the Israeli government’s refusal to allow all of them to immigrate to Israel, which they say has split families between the two countries.

About 135,000 Ethiopian Jews live in Israel, many of whom are related to the nearly 8,000 still awaiting permission to perform “aliya,” or Jewish immigration. Last October, the Israeli government made plans to bring over 1,000 people — but only one family has been allowed into the country since then. 

Israel has been absorbing Ethiopian Jews by the thousands since the late 1970s through immigration and covert government missions that have secretly smuggled them out of Africa. In recent years, regulations slowed the flow of African migrants into Israel, and then stopped it completely.

Israel doesn’t consider them Jewish under religious law. They are descendants of Ethiopian Jews who were forcibly converted to Christianity around a century ago, and the Israeli government views bringing them to Israel as family reunification, rather than “aliya.” Until 2013, only Ethiopians with maternal heritage, a traditional way of identifying Jews, were allowed into the country.

“At least 70 percent [of the roughly 8,000 awaiting permission], and I think it’s higher than that, probably closer to 80 percent, have direct, first-degree relatives in Israel,” Rabbi Jerome Epstein, president of the North American Conference on Ethiopian Jewry, told VOA News. “If the people who’ve made aliya were Jewish, then these people are Jewish, too.”

Critics charge that the government’s reasoning is actually thinly-veiled bigotry.

“I’m not saying the government is racist, but I do think there are people who would prefer to see white people who look like them being brought over,” Epstein said.

Migration at Top of Agenda of Spanish PM’s 1st Morocco Visit

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez urged greater cooperation on migration while making his first visit Monday to Morocco, a jumping-off point for a growing number of migrants trying to reach Spain and get a foothold in Europe.

Spain is one of the North African kingdom’s strongest European allies, and enhanced collaboration on all levels was a focus of Sanchez’s visit. It was among the topics discussed at a lunch hosted by Moroccan King Mohammed VI, the official MAP news agency said.

Controlling migration from Morocco to Spain was the focus of Sanchez’s talks with Moroccan Prime Minister Saad Eddine El Othmani.

“Migration is a shared responsibility, and we need to strengthen our cooperation,” Sanchez said at their joint news conference.

El Othmani said Morocco “is doing everything in its power” to fight illegal immigration, but insisted the complex issue “cannot be solved solely by the security approach.”

“Despite the importance of security, we must focus on the development of countries of departure in Africa,” Othmani said.

Many migrants in Morocco who embark for Spain are sub-Saharan Africans.

Moroccan authorities say the kingdom prevented 65,000 migrants from crossing to Spain in 2017. However, Morocco says it cannot be the region’s immigration police.

Morocco’s place as a point of passage has grown with Italy’s refusal to take in migrants who try to cross the Mediterranean Sea from Libya. The Libyan coast guard, with help from the Italian government, increasingly has intercepted flimsy boats launched by migrant smugglers.

Migrants head to northern Morocco with the aim of crossing the Strait of Gibraltar to Spain or climbing over high fences to reach the Spanish enclaves in North Africa, Ceuta and Melilla.

Nearly 47,500 migrants arrived in Spain by sea since the start of the year, while 564 died or went missing while attempting the voyage, according to the International Organization of Migration.

Morocco, along with Tunisia and Algeria, has refused to serve as an immigration reception and processing center, an idea proposed by the European Union. Morocco instead wants more EU funding to help manage migration across its borders.

Morocco is scheduled to host an international U.N.-sponsored conference on migration on December 10-11.