Been a while, but I am back at the Grand Hyatt Dubai, letting my hair down and indulging in impeccable room service while waiting for the connection to Manas International on Kyrgyzstan Airlines, departing tomorrow. For whatever it's worth, business class on Kyrgyzstan Airlines is nowhere close to business class on Turkmenistan Airlines by the way, HRIs favourite airline in Central Asia and the first choice of any discerning traveler in the region. For lovers of details, retro leather seats make all the difference.
Anyway, the decision to swing by Bishkek was taken very spontaneously, over by a few dirty martinis consumed in the Emirates Lounge where yesterday, on my way back from New Delhi, I was killing time in the pleasant company of a respectable Swiss entrepreneur in town with business he wouldn’t give too many details on. I couldn’t help noticing that he was carrying last week’s Economist and, for some reason, a book with nursery rhymes – he wouldn’t give too many details on that one either.
Anyway, we were exchanging expert opinions on pros and cons of skiing in Kyrgyzstan versus Chimbulak off Almaty and from one to the other we ended up talking about the recent unfortunate incidents in Bishkek which have brought fond memories of the days of the Tajik-color-revolution-that-never-happened and a certain not-so-subtly-handled-incident-in-Uzbekistan, both of which have provided useful opportunities for HRI to considerably expand its Central Asian portfolio under a newly found donor interest in a traditionally ignored region where pretty much everything goes.
And that’s why I am headed to Bishkek. Like elsewhere in the region, this is the sort of situation where a few donors will throw money around to compensate for continuing to do business as usual with nasty governments, geo-political strategy and all. I foresee life-saving workshops and capacity building in human rights and right based approaches, I foresee a need to develop gender tool kits and I foresee some lucrative work around refugees.
I may have said it before: HRI & affiliates really excel in our work with refugees and there are several reasons why I am particularly partial to HRIs refugee agenda. For one, this is one of the few solid arguments for HRI to maintain humble presences in the developed world, in particular say in Scandinavian countries or the UK. Here’s how we pay the rent:
Mentioned governments have to balance a natural dislike for immigrants with a number of inconvenient international obligations that include one exotically called non-refulement which essentially forbids them from deporting people to places like Iraq or Somalia. Another inconvenience is a rather active public opinion that would react unpleasantly to hearing that their trusted governments deports people to Haiti. Additionally, these governments also reckon they have too many refugees already so in principle they refuse most asylum applications for technical reasons that no one really understands, while crafting clinical euphemisms to refer to rejected asylum seekers in ways that would remove any element of vulnerability: “economic migrants” is HRIs term of choice, or "irregular migrants" is another one, embraced by governments who know very well it is easier to maintain one’s asylum credentials by funding Angelina & co to publicly hug miserable looking people on TV rather than actually fulfilling any inconvenient obligations. It may be a bit more expensive but damn, she is hot isn’t she?
What to do however with all those people that cannot be deported due to such technicalities? This is where HRI comes in with a typical helpful plan constructed on a sound argument which goes like this: all people have a "fundamental right to return” to their countries of origin, and HRI, as a humanitarian organization is ready to help the government support these poor people fulfilling their rights.
It so happens that most of them are conveniently detained indeterminately for being caught without a visa, which obviously limits their “universe of choices” significantly. They are briefly visited by an HRI official in the high security prison where their handcuffs are slightly loosened by the “law enforcement officer” (whose capacity is built in related HRI activities), just enough to allow them to sign an official application for Humanitarian Voluntary Return and the rest as they say is logistics – get a charter, put them on a plane, whatever.
The government loves the deal because the spin allows them to appear compassionate and helpful – which their enlightened citizenry find pretty cool and something worth opening one’s purse for. The additional association with HRI takes care of inconvenient legal technicalities and provides a nice opportunity to whitewash what are essentially illegal deportations and make them appear like the acts of a supportive, caring government. in press conference, the misfortunes of these people are deplored and straight government speaker faces make mention of countkess thank you notes received, for affording them the opportunity to return “home”. The idea that someone may leave a nasty place with many a financial and personal sacrifice on a journey that often takes several years and typically involves leaky boats, dodgy facilitators and plenty of significant loses before having the opportunity to claim asylum just to happily and voluntarily choose to return beck to square one does not strike anyone as unreal as long as HRI is there to vouch for the humanitarian nature of the whole affair. Since no courts are involved, HRI is helpfully covering all necessary legal advice, avoiding to burden what are essentially simple minds with difficult to comprehend (and impossible to pronounce) terms such as non-refoulement.
You may wonder what happens to these people once they voluntarily return to a place where they have nothing left and where unemployment is in the upper 90% ? Well I am glad you ask – sometime soon I will tell you all about HRIs cutting edge vocational training and “reintegration” programs, generously funded by a coalition of Scandinavian governments plus the UK.