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Globalization

Amnesty report: Global refugee situation 'disastrous'

Amnesty International's latest annual report paints a bleak picture of human rights around the world. The international organization has also criticized Europe's handling of the refugee crisis.

"I feel that humanity is dead," a Yemeni woman says, as she stands amid the ruins of what was once a school, gesturing at the rubble. "For a place of learning to be hit in this way, without warning."

Yemen - along with Syria, Libya and other Middle Eastern and African states - features prominently in Amnesty International's annual report, released Wednesday. Armed conflicts in those countries have killed thousands of people and driven millions from their homes, sparking a refugee crisis with global ramifications.

"Probably 2015 is one of the worst years in recent times that I can recall," Amnesty International Secretary General Salil Shetty said in an interview with DW from London.

"The very system which was created to protect human rights - a system which has been built up over the last 70 years - is itself under threat."

Syrian refugees on the border with Turkey

More than 2 million Syrian refugees have fled to neighboring Turkey

Human rights under threat worldwide

No region in the world goes unmentioned in Amnesty's latest annual report. The human rights violations recorded in the document range from the persecution and abduction of activists in Latin America and Asia, to executions in the United States, and the devastating civil wars in Africa and the Middle East that have displaced millions.

Shetty described the situation as a "paradox."

"On the one hand states have become more repressive, they are using counterterrorism as an argument to do mass surveillance and repression and take shortcuts on human rights, but on the other hand they are doing this because people are standing up for their rights," he said.

Amnesty's report depicts the current global refugee situation as disastrous. More refugees are on the move today than at any other time since the end of the Second World War - most of them fleeing the conflict in Syria. And even though their rights are enshrined in both the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in the Geneva Conventions, many migrants all too frequently find themselves in vulnerable situations.

Europe no shining example

The European Union is often regarded as a champion of human rights, but Selmin Caliskan, the Secretary General of Amnesty's Germany branch, says the new report tells a different story.

"The EU continues to focus on isolation and will keep trying to strengthen its borders to deter refugees from coming to Europe," she told DW.

"We all know that doesn't work at all," she added. "But the emphasis is still on the closure of borders instead of on safe and legal access routes, and providing refugees with a decent level of humanitarian support in the countries they've already fled to, for example Lebanon, Jordan or Turkey."

'Humanity undermined'

European nations remain deeply divided over how to handle the immigration crisis. In Germany, the government of Chancellor Angela Merkel has come under increasing pressure over its open door policy towards refugees.

More than 1 million asylum seekers entered the country last year, and there have been calls for limits to be imposed. Germany's Amnesty chief said that while she understands these concerns, the idea of limiting numbers shouldn't sweep aside human rights, which guarantee the individual right to seek asylum in another country.

Selmin Caliskan from Amnesty International

Selmin Caliskan: Tighter borders aren't part of the solution

Caliskan also took issue with the German government's new asylum package, which classifies Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria as "safe countries of origin" - making it easier for authorities to reject asylum applications from those countries' citizens. She says the new measures also ultimately erode rights that allowed family reunification for minors and protection for traumatized refugees. Those developments, according to Caliskan, will have a troubling impact on society.

"Our humanity is being undermined," she said. "So another normality is being created - and that is dangerous, because you can only have prosperity and security if human rights are respected."

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