Category Archives: asylum seekers

Heroes or Parasites: Europe’s Self-serving Politics on Refugees

Language is politics and politics is power. This is why the misuse of language is particularly disturbing, especially when the innocent and vulnerable pay the price.

The wars in Syria, Libya, Afghanistan and other Middle Eastern, Asian and African countries in recent years have resulted in one of the greatest humanitarian catastrophes, arguably unseen since World War II. Instead of developing a unified global strategy that places the welfare of the refugees of these conflicts as a top priority, many countries ignored them altogether, blamed them for their own misery and, at times, treated them as if they were criminals and outlaws.

But this is not always the case. At the start of the Syrian war, support for Syrian refugees was considered a moral calling, championed by countries across the world, from the Middle East to Europe and even beyond. Though often rhetoric was not matched by action, helping the refugees was seen, theoretically, as a political stance against the Syrian government.

Back then, Afghans did not factor in the Western political discourse on refugees. In fact, they were rarely seen as refugees. Why? Because, until August 15 – when the Taliban entered the capital, Kabul – most of those fleeing Afghanistan were seen according to a different classification: migrants, illegal immigrants, illegal aliens, and so on. Worse, at times they were depicted as parasites taking advantage of international sympathy for refugees, in general, and Syrians, in particular.

The lesson here is that Afghans fleeing their war-torn and US-occupied country were of little political use to their potential host countries. As soon as Afghanistan fell to the Taliban, and the US, along with its NATO allies, were forced to leave the country, the language immediately shifted, because then, the refugees served a political purpose.

For example, Italian Interior Minister Luciana Lamorgese was one of the first to advocate the need for European support for Afghan refugees. She told a ‘European Union forum on the protection of Afghans’, on October 8, that Italy will work with its allies to ensure fleeing Afghans can reach Italy via third countries.

The hypocrisy here is palpable. Italy, like other European countries, has done its utmost to block refugees from arriving at its shores. Its policies have included the prevention of refugee boats stranded in the Mediterranean Sea from reaching Italian territorial waters; the funding and the establishment of refugee camps in Libya – often depicted as ‘concentration camps’ – to host refugees who are ‘caught’ trying to escape to Europe; and, finally, the prosecution of Italian humanitarian workers and even elected officials who dared lend a hand to refugees.

The latest victim of the Italian authorities’ campaign to crack down on refugees and asylum-seekers was Domenico Lucano, the former mayor of Riace in the Southern Italian region of Calabria, who was sentenced by the Italian Court of Locri to over 13 years in prison for “irregularities in managing asylum seekers”. The verdict also included a fine of €500,000 to pay back funds received from the EU and the Italian government.

What are these “irregularities”?

“Many migrants in Riace have obtained municipal jobs while Lucano was Mayor. Abandoned buildings in the area had been restored with European funds to provide housing for immigrants,” Euronews reported.

The decision was particularly pleasing to the far-right Lega Party. Lega’s head, Matteo Salvini, was the Interior Minister of Italy from 2018-19. During his time in office, many had conveniently blamed him for Italy’s outrageous anti-immigrants’ policy. Naturally, the news of Lucano’s sentencing was welcomed by Lega and Salvini.

However, only rhetoric has changed since Italy’s new Interior Minister, Lamorgese, has taken office. True, the anti-refugee language was far less populist and certainly less racist – especially if compared to Salvini’s offensive language of the past. The unfriendly policies towards the refugees remained in effect.

It matters little to desperate refugees crossing to Europe in their thousands whether Italy’s policies are shaped by Lamorgese or Salvini. What matters to them is their ability to reach safer shores. Sadly, many of them do not.

A disturbing report issued by the European Commission, on September 30, showed the staggering impact of Europe’s political hostility towards refugees. More than 20,000 migrants have died by drowning while attempting to cross the Mediterranean on their way to Europe.

“Since the beginning of 2021, a total of 1,369 migrants have died in the Mediterranean”, the report also indicated. In fact, many of those died during the West-championed international frenzy to ‘save’ the Afghans from the Taliban.

Since Afghan refugees represent a sizable portion of worldwide refugees, especially those attempting to cross to Europe, it is safe to assume that many of those who have perished in the Mediterranean were also Afghans. But why is Europe welcoming some Afghans while allowing others to die?

Political language is not coined at random. There is a reason why we call those fleeing in search for safety ‘refugees’, or ‘illegal immigrants’, ‘illegal aliens’, ‘undocumented’, ‘dissidents’, and so on. In fact, the last term, ‘dissidents’, is the most political of all. In the US, for example, Cubans fleeing their country are almost always political ‘dissidents’, as the phrase itself represents a direct indictment of the Cuban Communist government. Haitians, on the other hand, are not political ‘dissidents’. They are hardly ‘refugees’, as they are often portrayed as ‘illegal aliens’.

This kind of language is used in the media and by politicians as a matter of course. The same fleeing refugee could change status more than once over the duration of his escape. Syrians were once welcomed in their thousands. Now, they are perceived to be political burdens to their host countries. Afghans are valued or devalued, depending on who is in charge of the country. Those fleeing or escaping the US occupation were rarely welcomed; those escaping the Taliban rule are perceived as heroes, needing solidarity.

However, while we are busy manipulating language, there are thousands who are stranded at sea and hundreds of thousands languishing in refugee camps worldwide. They are only welcomed if they serve as political capital. Otherwise, they remain a ‘problem’ to be dealt with – violently, if necessary.

The post Heroes or Parasites: Europe’s Self-serving Politics on Refugees first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Britannia Turns Back The Boats

Pushing people back across borders; turning asylum seekers away from shores.  When such tactics were openly adopted and used with impunity by Australia’s navy and border force, it caused outrage and concern in the maritime community and pricked the interest of border protectionists the world over.

Disgust and outrage have, in time, been replaced by admiration at the sheer chutzpah of Australian governments such as Tony Abbott’s, who introduced a turn-back-the-boats policy as part of an electoral promise to better secure borders. This meant that vessels heading for Australia could be literally turned back towards Indonesia without a care in the world.  The drownings would not stop, nor would the danger to the passengers be alleviated; they would simply take place in international waters or the waters of another country.

Other countries duly followed.  Greece and Italy fashioned their own turn-back policies at sea.  The UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants Felipe González Morales spoke despairingly in June this year that the practice should end.  “In the absence of an individualized assessment for each migrant concerned and other procedural safeguards,” he told the Human Rights Council, “pushbacks are a violation of the prohibition of collective expulsion and heighten the risk of further human rights violations, in particular refoulement.”

He also stated what all pupils of international human rights know: “States have an obligation to respect, protect and fulfill the human rights of everyone on their territory or within their jurisdiction or effective control, irrespective of migration status and without discrimination of any kind.”

The concept of control is important in matters of interception, rescue and forcible return.  As the European Court of Human Rights found in Hirsi Jamaa v Italy, which saw the forcible return by Italian authorities of migrants to Libya, the applicants remained under the “continuous and exclusive de jure and de facto control of the Italian authorities” during the course of their transfer, triggering the obligation to protect their human rights.  “Speculation as to the nature and purpose of the intervention of the Italian ships on the high seas would not lead the Court to any other conclusion.”

The International of the Law of the Sea 1982 outlines the obligation of every state’s vessels to “render assistance to any person found at sea in danger of being lost”.  The International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea and the International Convention on Maritime Research and Rescue affirm the obligation.

The LOSC also has a range of other relevant provisions on incursions of foreign vessels.  Innocent passage into the state’s territorial sea is permitted under Article 17; in cases where such passage is not innocent – for instance, the breach of domestic immigration laws – states may take measures to halt passage.  But under Article 18, a vessel, if deemed in distress, can also enter the territorial sea of the state in question even if migration laws have been breached.

Such thinking is bound to come across as soppily legal for the UK’s Home Secretary Priti Patel, who has been coming up with her own turn back the boats model.  This has formed part of an arsenal of hostile measures against migrants including the proposed Nationality and Borders Bill (Bill 14 of 2021-22), introduced on July 6.  Having gone through two readings of the House of Commons, it now rests with the Public Bill Committee, which is due to release a report on November 4.

In moving that the Bill be read a second time, Patel told Members that Britons had “had enough of open borders and uncontrolled immigration; enough of a failed asylum system that costs the taxpayer more than £1 billion a year; enough of dinghies arriving illegally on our shores, directed by organised gangs; enough of people drowning on these dangerous, illegal and unnecessary journeys […].”

The Bill came into being despite warnings from various Australian lawyers, doctors and former civil servants that their country’s refugee model was hardly the sort of thing that should inspire imitations.  In the view of Australian Greens Senator Nick McKim and Benali Hamdache of the UK Green Party, the “New Plan for Immigration imports all the worst parts of the Australian government policy.”  This includes the possible establishment of offshore processing (read detention) centres to places ranging from Rwanda to the Isle of Man and the creation of a temporary protection scheme.

The Bill takes the battering ram to a range of maritime practices, proposing to criminalise the practice of offering voluntary assistance at sea by targeting “those assisting persons to arrive in the UK without a valid clearance”.  That good Samaritan service provided by such bodies as the Royal Lifeboat Institution, which has been accused of being a “migrant taxi service” by its detractors, promises to be roped in.

Last month, it was revealed that Patel was already busily urging the Border Force to get into the pushback business in ways that would pass muster under maritime law.  According to “sources” within the Home Office, as reported by The Guardian, Patel had effectively become “the first home secretary to establish a legal basis for the sea tactics, working with attorney general Michael Ellis and expert QCs”.

Pushing back boat arrivals is not only lacking in humanitarian spirit but filled with monstrous danger.  The Straits of Dover, for instance, is the busiest shipping route in the world. One suggestion moving its way through the ranks is the targeting of certain boats, keeping the issue of safety in mind.  Dinghies are unlikely to fall within the scope of expulsion, as tempting as these might be.  Larger, sturdier migrant vessels are likelier prospects.

France, being the country where most of the migrants depart from, has been particularly vocal on the issue.  Pierre-Henri Dumont, the MP for Calais, has suggested that Patel’s policy “tears apart the UN Geneva conventions giving the right to everyone to apply to any country for asylum.”

Interior Minister Gérald Darminin also expressed his displeasure at the new approach, warning Patel that his country “will accept no practices contrary to the Law of the Sea, and no blackmail.”  Righteously, Darminin also claimed that “safeguarding human lives at sea takes priority over considerations of nationality, status and migratory policy”.  While this is very much in the spirit of protection, it is an attitude that is looking worn and tired.  Patel, for her part, hopes her cross Channel colleagues will see good sense and take up a promise of UK funding to prevent the migrant crossings taking place.  They may well do just that.

The post Britannia Turns Back The Boats first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Trumpism with a Biden Face: US Haitian Policy

With that orange haired brute of a president supposedly ushered out of the White House with moralising delight, the Biden administration was all keen to turn over a new leaf.  There would be more diplomacy, and still more diplomacy.  There would be a more humanitarian approach to refugees and asylum seekers – forget, he claimed, the Border Wall.  Kindness would come over border officials and guards of the imperium.

Instead, we have had secret diplomacy culminating in the trilateral security pact of AUKUS, one reached unbeknownst to allies in Europe, Asia and the Indo-Pacific.  And we have had a particularly ugly spectacle concerning Haitian refugees, with many being bundled into planes to be sent back to their country, having been taken from the burgeoning border camp around a bridge in Del Rio, Texas.

Having been blooded in the mass evacuation exercise from Afghanistan, the Biden administration was now doing the reverse in an exercise of expulsion, promising the deportation of 14,000 Haitians over a period of three weeks.  The jarring contrast was not lost on Nicole Melaku, executive director of the National Partnership for New Americans.  “When you contrast the welcome mat that was rolled out for many Afghan refugees who are deserving – of course – of our support and resettlement, with the deplorable treatment of Black migrants on our home soil, it is just an unfathomable contrast.”

At the Rio Grande River, US border agents, crowned by cowboy hats and sporting a thuggish élan, left a remarkable impression of ugliness by their free use of reins in pushing migrants back across the river.  Many members of their quarry had made the journey to obtain food.  “I can’t imagine what context would make that appropriate,” White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki expressed with the sort of wonder that is becoming her hallmark style.  “But I don’t have additional details and certainly I don’t think anyone seeing that footage would think it was acceptable or appropriate.”

Political atmosphere and atmospherics is everything, and while Psaki might be puzzled, her colleagues in the Biden administration are happy to maintain a firm line against mischievous incursions.  The US Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro N. Mayorkas has been firm.  “If you come to the United States illegally,” he declared on September 20, “you will be returned.  Your journey will not succeed, and you will be endangering your life and your family’s life.”

Such conduct did not sit well with the May announcement by Secretary Mayorkas that Haiti had been designated for Temporary Protection Status (TPS) for 18 months.  “Haiti is currently experiencing serious security concerns, social unrest, an increase in human rights abuses, crippling poverty, and lack of basic resources, which are exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic,” Mayorkas stated at the time.

Despite that official characterisation, the administration has taken comfort in using Title 42 of the United States code Section 265, a public health statute freely employed by the Trump administration, to prohibit “the introduction of persons or property, in whole or in part, from Mexico and Canada” into the US for fears of pandemic spread.  The liberal use of the statue has received judicial excoriation, with US District Judge Emmet Sullivan claiming it “collectively deprived” asylum seekers and refugees facing “real threats of violence and persecution” of “certain statutory procedures”.

Public health officials have also been disconcerted.  As Dr Ronald Waldman of the human rights group Doctors of the World remarks, “The prohibition for crossing the border has been applied selectively to asylum seekers”.  It certainly has not been applied to students and those doing business.

In a sober assessment of Biden’s report card so far, Natasha Lennard of The Intercept points out that the Trump administration’s use of the law saw half a million people removed. During the short tenure of the Biden administration, the current number stands at 700,000.  Over the course of January, 62,530 migrants were expelled according to the figures of Customs and Border Protection. For the month of April, it was 110,846.

In a resounding judgment of Biden’s policy towards Haitians and Haiti in general, Washington’s envoy to the country, Daniel Foote, has resigned.  His September 22 letter to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was an effort of extrication from “the United States inhumane, counterproductive decision to deport thousands of Haitian refugees and illegal immigrants to Haiti, a country where American officials are confined to secure compounds because of the danger posed by armed gangs in control of daily life.”

Foote also took a stab at a long standing practice of US foreign policy: that habitual meddling in the affairs of a country that had “consistently produced catastrophic results”.  The de facto, unelected prime minister Ariel Henry had received yet “another public statement of support as interim leader of Haiti” from the US embassy, among others. They had continued touting “his ‘political agreement’ over another broader, earlier accord shepherded by civil society.”  The now resigned envoy, sniping at this policy of backing “winners”, stated the essential heresy of the imperium: What Haitians needed was “the opportunity to chart their own course, without international puppeteering and favoured candidates, but with genuine support for the cause.”

In response to the resignation, US State Department spokesman Ned Price was a picture of regret and hollow advice. “It is unfortunate that, instead of participating in a solutions-oriented policy process, Special Envoy Foote has both resigned and mischaracterised the circumstances.”

Psaki was icily dismissive.  “Special Envoy Foote had ample opportunity to raise concerns about immigration during his tenure.  He never once did so.” Such bitchiness is a nice summation of the Biden administration so far: policies that continue to furnish us the acceptable face of Trumpism.

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Reluctant Acceptance: Responding to Afghanistan’s Refugees

Do not for a minute think that this is a kind, heart-felt thing in the aftermath of Kabul’s fall. True, a number of Afghans will find their way to Germany, to Canada, to the UK, US and a much smaller number to Australia.  But this will be part of the curtain act that, in time, will pass into memory and enable countries to return to their harsh refugee policies.

Britain’s Home Secretary, Priti Patel, is none too enthused about welcoming high numbers of Afghan refugees.  “We have to be realistic in terms of those that we can bring to the country and resettle in a safe and secure way while giving them the right opportunities going forward in resettlement.”

This waffly formulation has yielded the following formula: the UK will accept a mere 20,000 staggered over five years.  Only 5,000 will be admitted in the next year, after which, presumably, the situation will resolve itself.  “What are the 15,000 meant to do,” asked Labour’s Chris Bryant, “hang around and wait to be executed?”

However inadequate Britain’s response has proven, Australia’s approach remains without peer. Every excuse has been made to delay, to obstruct, to prevent an orderly transfer of Afghan interpreters and former security personnel out of the country.  The Morrison government has become a specialist prevaricator, waiting for the horse to bolt before even finding the barn.  Instead of bothering to use strategic common sense and see the writing on the wall for the Afghan government based in Kabul, it waited months before deciding, abruptly, to close the embassy at the end of May only to then suggest it would need to put in Australian personnel to assist in the evacuation.

The number of humanitarian visas currently being offered is a paltry 3,000.  This is sharply lower than the number of Vietnamese accepted by the Fraser government after the fall of Saigon in 1975, which one estimate puts at 60,000.  In 2015, 12,000 places were offered for Syrians fleeing their country.  The Morrison government, in contrast, finds expanding Australia’s resettlement program beyond the current 13,750 places something of a heresy.

Behind the compassion argument, one constipated at best, is a marked reluctance to actually open the doors to the Afghans.  A good deal of this can be put down to the fact that Afghans have made up a sizeable complement of those maritime arrivals Australian politicians so detest as “illegals” deserving of indefinite detention in its system of Pacific concentration camps.  Many actually fled the Taliban to begin with, but that did not make immigration authorities any softer.

As the Saturday Newspaper appropriately described it, Australia’s antipathetic refugee policy has induced “a kind of moral numbness that puts decisions outside the reach of logic or decency.”  Prime Minister Scott Morrison could never be said to have been taken by surprise: “he was already in the grip of indifference”, one “necessary to live with the refugee policy he has spent years shaping.”

Despite the fall of the coalition-backed Afghan national government, Australian government officials did little to reassure the 4,200 Afghans already in Australia on precarious temporary protection visas that they would not be sent back when the time came.  Australian foreign minister Marise Payne offered an assessment on national radio that was far from reassuring. “All the Afghan citizens who currently are in Australia on a temporary visa will be supported by the Australian government and no Afghan visa holders will be asked to return to Afghanistan at this stage.”

One dark reminder of the brutal, and distinctly non-honeyed approach of Australia’s authorities to Afghan refugees comes in the form of a refugee and former member of an Afghan government security agency who aided coalition forces. For doing so, he was attacked by the Taliban.  He arrived in Australia by boat in 2013 after having suffered a grenade attack on his home and being the recipient of various warning letters from the militants. For his efforts, he was sent to Manus Island, where he was formally found to be a refugee in 2015.  In 2019, he was moved to Australia for treatment during that brief window of opportunity under the now repealed medevac legislation.

In total, he has spent eight years in detention, desperate to help his family out of the country.  He had previously asked no fewer than three times to be returned to Papua New Guinea.  “Every day Afghanistan is getting worse,” he writes in an email to his case manager from the behemoth that is the Department of Home Affairs.  “My family is in a dangerous place and I need help now please.  If you wait I will lose my family.  Why do you wait?  The Taliban want to kill my family.”

The email, read in open court, forms part of a case the plaintiff, given the pseudonym F, has taken against the Australian government, seeking his release.  He argues that his detention prevents him from “moving my family out of Afghanistan to a safe country to save them from the Taliban.” The nature of his detention prevented him “from doing anything to help” his family.

On August 3, 2021, the Federal Court judge Rolf Driver dismissed F’s claims that his detention was unlawful and refused an order “in the nature of the writ of habeas corpus requiring his release from detention forthwith”.  Judge Driver did find that the man was “a refugee and requires resettlement”, ordering mediation between him and the home affairs minister.  While Australia was not an option for resettlement, the applicant should have his request to return to PNG “acted upon”.

Morrison’s ministers are full of excuses about Australia’s unimpressive effort.  Defence minister, Peter Dutton, has constantly reiterated the idea that processing the paperwork is a difficult thing indeed, because some of the visa applicants cannot be trusted.  Having aided Australian and other coalition forces in the past, they had proved flexible with shifting allegiances.  “I’m not bringing people to Australia that pose a threat to us or that have done us harm in Afghanistan.”  With such an attitude, shutting the door to the suffering, even to those who were part of the coalition’s absurd state building project in Afghanistan, will do little to trouble an unformed, unimaginative conscience.

The post Reluctant Acceptance: Responding to Afghanistan’s Refugees first appeared on Dissident Voice.

The Poison of Nationalism

Once upon a time Nationalism was an ideology reserved for extremists, but in recent years it has moved from the irrelevant fractious fringes to become a central movement in western politics. Rooted in fear, it feeds on tribal instincts and has become mainstream by offering oversimplified explanations to complex problems, such as poverty and immigration.

The ideal of a post-cold war tolerant world where resources (including food and water), are shared equitably, governments cooperate and borders soften has been usurped by rabid intolerance and racism, wall building, flag waving, cruel unjust immigration policies and violent policing of migrants and migrant routes. Rather than addressing issues and tackling underlying causes the ardent nationalist blames some group or other, ethnic, religious or national.

Love, distorted but potent, and hate sustain the monster: love and corrupted pride of nation and ‘our way of life’, seen among the flag wavers as somehow superior; hatred of ‘strangers’, and hatred of change to that which is familiar. It is an insular reactionary movement of introspection and division based on false and petty notions of difference: skin color, religion, language, culture, even food.

Such prejudices lead to an agitation of suspicion and hatred of ‘foreigners’. National interests are favored over international responsibilities; minorities and refugees insulted, abused or worse. Covid has intensified such vile human tendencies, and highlighted what were already strained relations with ‘outsiders’ –  those that are differentwith ‘the other’.

People of Asian appearance have been victimized in various countries, most notably the US, Australia and Britain; trapped in refugee camps, asylum seekers/migrants have been forgotten, and vaccine nationalism, the “me first approach”, with wealthy western countries buying up vaccines, has been widespread. As a result of this injustice, while the rich will have their populations vaccinated by late 2021, developing countries (relying on the inadequate COVAX scheme) are looking at mass vaccination by the end of 2023, if ever. It is a moral outrage that flows from and strengthens ideas of global separation, inflames resentment and will prolong the virus.

Central to the fear-inducing nationalist program is reductive national identities and cultural images tightly packaged in ‘the flag’. Described as “primordial rag[s] dipped in the blood of a conquered enemy and lifted high on a stick” (in Flags Through the Ages and Across the World by Whitney Smith), national flags evolved from battle standards and means of group identification held aloft during the Middle Ages. They are loved by nationalists who always believe their country to be ‘the greatest on Earth’, their people the strongest and the ‘best’, their way of life superior.

Such ignorant, meaningless and completely false ideas have become common elements of political rhetoric. Politicians (of all colors) in many, if not all, western democracies believe they must reinforce such crass sentiments, or face losing populist support, being attacked as ‘enemies of the people’ – as High Court Judges were in Britain during the Brexit fiasco, or labelled ‘traitors’.

Torrents of abuse

There are various interconnected threads to, and expressions of, Nationalism, from the political realm to mainstream and social media, popular culture to education. This suffocating network strengthens discrimination and prejudice of all kinds, including racism. During the recent Euro ’21 tournament black England players who had missed penalties in the final were subject to a torrent of abuse online. The same England ‘fans’ booed opposition teams singing national anthems and their own team, when they ‘took the knee’ before matches; a universal non-political act of solidarity that UK Home Secretary, Priti Patel disparagingly described as “gesture politics”.

She was later (rightly) accused of “stoking the fires of racism”, by refusing to endorse the players’ actions. Her new widely condemned immigration policy, has also given license to nationalist bigots and racists. Some of them have recently been recorded hurling abuse from the beaches of southern England at refugees in boats crossing the English Channel.

Irresponsible nationalist politicians like Patel (and the world is full of them), thick with ideology and ambition, are dogmatic in their beliefs and concerned solely with getting and retaining power. To this narcissistic end they employ the inflammatory rhetoric of nationalism – ‘our country’, ‘this great nation of ours’, ‘controlling immigration’, and ‘the flag’. Predictable and crude methods used to cajole the slumbering masses and agitate their tribal tendencies.

In order to strengthen their nationalist credentials presidents, politicians and military men and women, adorn themselves with the national emblem: embossed badges, a trend led by the US, who are flag-waving world leaders, and at press briefings/interviews they are rarely seen without a flag at their side – two, where there was no pre-Covid, in the case of the totally inept UK Government, desperate one suspects to shift the focus away from their homicidal management of the pandemic, and the calamity that is Brexit Britain. The flag is not, in itself, the problem, but its growing use is a powerful sign of the unabated rise of nationalism, a trend that with the fall of Trump, many had hoped was in decline.

Unifying acts of kindness

Nationalism grows out of fear. It feeds hate, leads to violence, and creates a climate of ‘us’ and ‘them’.  Indeed it thrives and is dependent upon such divisions. The stranger, the foreigner, refugee, asylum seeker or migrant is targeted. Blamed for the country’s ills, slandered as criminals, rapists, murderers. Accused of stealing jobs, draining health care services, degrading housing, corrupting the pristine national culture with their vile, primitive habits and beliefs.

In this way the ‘stranger’ becomes dehumanized, making it possible to abuse and mistreat him or her in varying degrees: From verbal insults on the street, the workplace or in the classroom to violent assault; detained in offshore prisons (Australia), imprisoned for years without charge (Guantanamo e.g.), housed in inhumane conditions in refugee camps, detention centers and/or temporary housing, or allowed to drown in the Mediterranean, North Sea and elsewhere.

Such atrocities are all fine, because the men, women and children who are being mistreated constitute the ‘them’. ‘They’ are the enemy, the destroyer of civilisation and decency, less than human, even the children, and as such they deserve it. And the further away such ‘strangers’ are kept the easier it is to perpetuate the demonisation myth, maintain suspicion and strengthen hate. Conversely as Joe Keohane makes clear in The power of strangers: the benefits of connecting in a suspicious world, “connecting with strangers helps to dispel partisanship and categorical judgements, increase social solidarity and make us more hopeful about our lives.” Mistrust of ‘strangers’ is strengthened by division and dispelled by contact; by sharing a moment, by acts of kindness – given and received, in which our common humanity is acknowledged.

Nationalism poisons the mind and the society and must be rooted out. Despite the apparent signs to the contrary, it is completely at odds with the tone of the times, which is towards unity – greater cooperation, tolerance and understanding. It is in reaction to this unifying movement that the demon of nationalism has risen; it is  cruel, ugly and extremely dangerous and must be countered by unifying acts of kindness and compassion wherever it is seen.

If the unprecedented crises confronting humanity – environmental emergency, displacement of people, poverty and armed conflict – are to be faced, mitigated and overcome, individuals, communities, businesses and governments must increasingly come together, agree methods and global policies and build united integrated societies founded on compassion. Given the unprecedented scale and range of the issues, particularly climate change and the broader environmental calamity, there is no alternative.

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Denmark Offshores the Right to Asylum

This has been a fantasy of Danish governments for some time.  There have been gazes of admiration towards countries like Australia, where processing refugees and asylum-seekers is a task offloaded, with cash incentives, to third countries (Papua New Guinea and Nauru come to mind).  Danish politicians, notably a good number among the Social Democrats, have dreamed about doing the same to countries in Africa, returning to that customary pattern of making poorer states undertake onerous burdens best undertaken by more affluent states.

The government of Mette Frederiksen has now secured amendments to the Danish Aliens Act that authorises the transfer of asylum seekers to other countries as their applications are being processed.  The measure was secured on June 3 by a vote of 70 to 24, though critics must surely look at the absence of 85 MPs as telling.  The measure is not automatic: the Danish government will have to secure (or bribe) the trust of third party states to assume their share.

Government spokesman Rasmus Stoklund left few doubts as to what the new law entailed.  “If you apply for asylum in Denmark, you know that you will be sent back to a country outside Europe, and therefore we hope that people stop seeking asylum in Denmark.”

Stoklund’s language of warning evokes parallels with Australia’s own campaign of discouragement, marked by a highly-budgeted effort featuring such savage products as No Way.  You Will Not Make Australia Home.  In the video, Lieutenant General Angus Campbell, then chief of Australia’s effort to repel naval arrivals known as Operation Sovereign Borders, is stern in threatening that “if you travel by boat without a visa you will never make Australia home”.  Other delights involve a graphic novel, translated into 18 different languages, promising trauma and suffering to those who end up in a detention centre in the Pacific, and the feature film Journey, where an Iranian mother and her child seek sanctuary in Australia.  The Danish propaganda arm will have some catching up to do.

Who then, are the third country candidates?  Denmark already has a memorandum of understanding with the Rwandan government that covers migration, asylum, return and repatriation.  Its purpose is to target an asylum system which supposedly gives incentives to “children, women and women to embark on dangerous journeys along migratory routes, while human traffickers earn fortunes”.  When it was made, Amnesty International’s Europe Director, Nils Muižnieks could see the writing on the wall, calling it “unconscionable” and even “potentially unlawful”.  But for Rwanda, just as it is with Pacific island states such as Nauru, money is to be made.  Such countries effectively replace demonised people smugglers as approved traffickers and middlemen.

The response to the legislation from those in the business of advocating for refugees and the right to asylum has been uniform in curtness and distress.  Filippo Grandi, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, voiced strong opposition to “efforts that seek to externalise or outsource asylum and international protection obligations to other countries.”

UNHCR spokesman Babar Balloch could only make the relevant point that the legislation ran “counter to the letter and spirit of the 1951 Refugee Convention”.  Moves to externalise “asylum processing and protecting of refugees to a third country… seriously risk setting in motion a process of gradual erosion of the international protection system, which has withstood the test of time over the last 70 years”.

Balloch is evidently not as attentive as he thinks: those wishing to externalise such obligations have well and truly set this train in motion.  The 2018 EU summit went so far as to debate the building of offshore processing centres in Morocco, Algeria and Libya to plug arrival routes via the Mediterranean.  The UK government is also toying with the idea of an offshore asylum system.

Bill Frelick of Human Rights Watch’s Refugee and Migrant Rights Division distils the relevant principle being sacrificed.  “By sending people to a third country, what you are essentially doing is taking what is a legal right and making it a discretionary political choice.”  It is an increasingly attractive, if grotesque policy, for wealthier countries with little appetite to share the burdens of sharing the processing claims under the UNHCR’s Global Compact on Refugees.

Unfortunately for Frelkick and their like, the Danish government is proving derivatively consistent.  It has been opting out of the European asylum system since the 2000s, doing its bit to fragment an already incoherent approach in the bloc.  The centre right government of Anders Fogh Rasmussen, just by way of example, was proud to reduce the number of asylum seekers and those wishing to settle in Denmark.  In 2004, 1,607 people were granted asylum compared to 6,263 three years prior.

The approach of the current government is to negate the very right to seeking asylum in Denmark, aided by third countries.  And there is not much left to do, given that the country received a mere 1,515 asylum applications in 2020, its lowest in two decades.  Of those, 601 were granted permits to stay.

Lurking, as it always does in these situations, is the Australian example.  The right to asylum is vanishing before the efforts of bureaucrats and border closing populists.  The UN Refugee Convention, like other documents speaking to freedoms and rights, is becoming a doomed relic.

The post Denmark Offshores the Right to Asylum first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Priti Patel and the Death of Asylum

Nothing makes better sense to the political classes than small time demagoguery when matters turn sour. True, the United Kingdom might well be speeding ahead with vaccination numbers, and getting ever big-headed about it, but there is still good reason to distract the voters.  Coronavirus continues to vex; the economy continues to suffer. In February, the Office of Statistics revealed that Britain’s economy had shrunk by 9.9%.  The last time such a contraction was experienced was in 1709, when a contraction of 13% was suffered as a result of the Great Frost which lasted for three devastating months.

With Brexit Britain feeling alone, it is time to resort to mauling targets made traditional during the 2016 campaign to exit the European Union: the asylum seeker, the refugee and anyone assisting in that enterprise.  And the person best suited to doing so is the Home Secretary, Priti Patel, who outlined the government’s New Plan for Immigration on March 24th.  It has three objectives with one overarching punitive theme “to better protect and support those in genuine need of asylum.”  The authenticity of that need will be aided by deterring “illegal entry into the UK, thereby breaking the business model of criminal trafficking networks and protecting the lives of those they endanger”.  Those with “no right to be” in the UK will also be more easily “removed”.

It is in the nature of such policies to conceal the punitive element by extolling virtues.  “The UK accepted more refugees through planned resettlement schemes than any other country in Europe in the period 2015-2019 – the fourth highest resettlement schemes globally after the USA, Canada and Australia,” reads the policy statement. “The UK also welcomed 29,000 people through the refugee family reunion scheme between 2015 and 2019. More than half of these were children.”

This self-praise ignores the inconvenient fact that the UK received fewer applications for asylum than European states such as France and Germany in 2020.  According to the UNHCR, both countries received four times the number in 2020.  “The number of arrivals in the UK in 2020,” remarks academic Helen O’Nions, “was actually down 18% on the previous year.”

It does not take long, however, to identify and inflate the threats: people crossing the English channel in their “small boats reached record levels, with 8,500 … arriving this way” in 2020.  Sinister imputations are made: 87% of those arriving in small boats were male.  In 2019, 32,000 illegal attempts were made to enter the UK, but foiled in Northern France while 16,000 illegal arrivals were detected in the UK.

The Home Office laments the rapid increase of asylum claims; decisions cannot be made “quickly”; “case loads are growing to unsustainable levels”.  Never mind the UN Refugee Convention and human rights: what matters is bureaucratic efficiency.  To achieve that, Patel hopes to “stop illegal arrivals gaining immediate entry into the asylum system if they have travelled through a safe country – like France.”  Any arrivals doing so could not be said to be “seeking refuge from imminent peril”.  Stiffer sentences are also suggested for those aiding asylum.  “Access to the UK’s asylum system should be based on need, not on the ability to pay people smugglers.”

Much of what the Home Office makes of this is nonsense.  It entails a fantasy about a model cut, idealised asylum seeker: those with state documents from the persecuting state, clearly of the identifiable sort, all morally sound.  The murkier reality necessitates deception as an indispensable part of the process.  To not have documents makes travel impossible.  Alternative routes and means are therefore required.

The threat to relocate and refuse those seeking asylum would also breach the UK’s own Human Rights Act of 1998, obligating the state to prevent people from being returned to places where they are at the risk of torture, inhuman, degrading treatment or cruel and unusual punishment.  That principle is also a cardinal feature of the Refugee Convention.

The view from those who actually have more than a passing acquaintance with the field is vastly different from Patel’s.  Politely, some 454 immigration scholars in the UK have told the Home Secretary in an open letter that she does not know what she is talking about.  The New Plan, for instance, may have 31 references, but “there is just one reference to research evidence, a research paper on refugee integration.”  The undersigned scholars suggest that Patel look more deeply, as the plans being proposed “not only circumvent international human rights law, but are also based on claims which are completely unfounded in any body of research evidence.”

The scholars also note that asylum seekers and refugees lack safe and legal routes, with countries across Europe, North American and Australasia going “to huge efforts and massive expense in recent decades to close down access to the right to asylum.”

The markings of the New Plan resemble, all too closely, the Australian approach of discrimination which has become an exemplar of how to undermine the right to asylum: an obsession with targeting those people smuggling “gangs” and associated business rackets, merely code for targeting those fleeing persecution; distinguishing the method of arrival in order to demonise the plight of the asylum seeker; the decision that, irrespective of the claims of asylum, no sanctuary would ever be given to certain individuals because they chose to jump a phantom queue and not know their place.

The open letter also notes the “distinct and troubling echoes” of “the Australian Temporary Protection Visa programme and the vilification of people with no option but to travel through irregular means to flee persecution and seek sanctuary.”

Another unsavoury aspect of the British turn in refugee policy towards the antipodean example can be gathered by the possible use of offshore detention centres.  Canberra relies on the liberal use of concentration camps on remote sites in the Pacific, centres of calculated cruelty that serve to destroy the will of those whose governments have already done much to encourage their flight.  The official justification is one of killing asylum seekers with kindness: We saved you from almost certain drowning at sea, only to seal you within the confines of legal purgatory.  In the New Plan, one senses a touch of envy for it.

In October last year, it was revealed that the UK Prime Minister’s office was considering the detention of asylum seekers in places as varied as Moldova, Morocco and Papua New Guinea.  According to documents obtained by The Guardian, the Foreign Office had been charged with a task by Downing Street to “offer advice on possible options for negotiating an offshore asylum processing facility similar to the Australian model in Papua New Guinea and Nauru”.  Patel herself had flirted with the idea of establishing centres at Ascension and St. Helena, though she has had to content herself with ill-suited military barracks on the mainland that facilitated the spread of COVID-19.

Alison Mountz, in The Death of Asylum, makes much of this transformation of the island from a point of transit to that of hostile containment.  From field research conducted in Italy’s Lampedusa Island, Australia’s Christmas Island and the US territories of Guam and Saipan, Mountz argues that “the strategic use of islands to detain people in search of protection – to thwart human mobility through confinement – is part of the death of asylum.”  Officials such as Patel are happy to help matters along.

The post Priti Patel and the Death of Asylum first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Abuse on the Mainland: Australia’s Medevac Hotel Detentions

Governments that issue press releases about the abuse of human rights tend to avoid close gazes at the mirror.  Doing so would be telling.  In the case of Australia, its record on dealing with refugees is both abysmal and cruel.  It tends to be easier to point the finger at national security laws in Hong Kong and concentration camps in Xinjiang.  Wickedness is always easily found afar.

Australia’s own concentration camp system hums along, inflicting suffering upon asylum seekers and refugees who fled suffering by keeping them in a state of calculated limbo.  Its brutality has been so normalised, it barely warrants mention in Australia’s sterile news outlets.  In penitence, the country’s literary establishment pays homage to the victims, such as the Kurdish Iranian writer Behrouz Boochani.  Garlands and literary prizes have done nothing to shift the vicious centre in Canberra.  Boat arrivals remain political slurry and are treated accordingly.

Recently, there were small signs that prevalent amnesia and indifference were being disturbed.  The fate of some 200 refugees and asylum seekers brought to the Australian mainland for emergency medical treatment piqued the interest of certain activists.  Prior to its repeal as part of a secret arrangement between the Morrison government and Tasmanian senator Jacqui Lambie in December last year, the medical evacuation law was a mixed blessing.

While it was championed as a humanitarian instrument, it did not ensure one iota of freedom.  As before, limbo followed like a dank smell.  The repeal of the legislation offered another prospect of purgatory, only this time on the mainland.

The individuals in question have found themselves detained in Melbourne at the Mantra Bell City Hotel in Preston, and the Kangaroo Point Central Hotel in Brisbane.   In the mind of Refugee Action Coalition spokesman Ian Rintoul, the conditions at both abodes are more restrictive than those on Nauru.  The medical help promised has also been tardily delivered, if at all.

“My life is exactly the size of a room, and a narrow corridor,” reflects Mostafa (Moz) Azimitabar, who has been detained at the Mantra for 13 months.  Like his fellow detainees, he has become a spectacle, able to see protesters gather outside the hotel, the signs pleading for their release, drivers honking in solidarity.  He sees himself as “a fish inside an aquarium … The whole of my life in this window to see the real life, where people are driving, walking; when they wave to us.  And when I wave back at them.  This is my life.”

When former Australian soccer player turned human rights activist Craig Foster visited Azimitabar, conversation could only take place between a transparent plastic barrier.  “I had to talk with him behind the glass,” tweeted the detainee.  “Several times a day Serco officers enter my room and there aren’t any glasses for them.”

After the visit, Foster described the corrosion of liberties, “this constant theme of the most onerous regulations … constantly chipping away – just taking another right, another right, another right, and making them feel less and less and less human, if that’s possible after eight years.”

The more obstreperous refugees have been targeted by the Department of Home Affairs and forcibly relocated.  Iranian refugee Farhad Rahmati found himself shifted from Kangaroo Point to the Brisbane Immigration Transit Accommodation Centre (BITA), and then to Villawood.  BITA also received four more from Kangaroo Point in mid-November.

The advent of COVID-19 compounded the situation.  Detainees already vulnerable to other medical conditions faced another danger.  The authorities gave a big shrug.  Shared bathrooms are the norm and are infrequently cleaned.  Hand sanitizer containers are left empty or broken.  The inquiry into the failure of Victoria’s quarantine system that led to a second infectious wave in Melbourne avoided considering the conditions of detained refugees.  Writing in Eureka Street, Andra Jackson wondered if this had anything to do with the fact “that these men, now detained in some instances for six to seven years, have behaved more responsibly that [sic] some returning travellers.”

The government authorities did release five refugees from the medevac hotels last week, threatened by lawsuits testing the legal status of their detention.  On December 14, the 60 men detained at the Mantra were told that they would be moving to another undisclosed location.  The conclusion of the contract with the hotel has the Department of Home Affairs considering its options, and all are bound to aggravate the distress of the detainees.

Alison Battinson of Human Rights for All has a suggestion bound to be ignored.  “Instead of telling the gentlemen that they are going to be moved to another place of detention – that hasn’t been disclosed to them – the more sensible approach would be to release them as per the law.”

The only ray of compassion in this mess of inhumanity has come in the form of a Canadian resettlement scheme.  Nine refugees have already availed themselves of the opportunity; another twenty await their fate.  Australian politicians, as they so often do on this subject, are nowhere to be found.

The post Abuse on the Mainland: Australia’s Medevac Hotel Detentions first appeared on Dissident Voice.

When Homeless Means Homelandless: Guatemalans in Lincoln County

Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

It doesn’t take a lockdown to pull from some of us humanists the universality of how deep the emotional, cultural, societal, economic and spiritual divide is between the have’s and have’s not.

As we move from “top” to “bottom” in the daily stories of how these forced social distancing measures, draconian business closures, far-reaching travel bans and the like are affecting lives, we need to have more humanistic ways of parsing out the realities of the homeless, or in the case of people from Guatemala, the homelandless.

There are many reasons Guatemalans have come to this county, crossing that borderline without the proper Gestapo paperwork and billets for the own lives.

After tragedy, Oregon Christmas tree industry buoyed by bill | KOMO

The stem of the immigration tide to an area usually starts with one family or one group of cohorts ending up in a place like Newport and loving it as a new promise, a new start, maybe a new homeland. For a time, there were seasonal jobs in the fishing, hospitality and salal harvesting arenas.

Most Guatemalans get here with very little. Some have children in schools. Many do not speak Spanish, let alone English.

In many ways, coming from Huehuetenango and other places where violence is prolific,  Guatemalans thought they’d be happy with the chance “to make it” in the USA since back in their native land the per capita annual income for lower economic groups is  $1,619. Add to this challenge of more than two dozen Mayan languages spoken in that part of Mesoamerica and none spoken here.

A Tales of Two Cities, Many Cultures, Infinite Mentalities

For many, watching daily TV-YouTube-Facebook antics of Trump and Company, Hollywood perversions, other rich and famous, and  even run of the mill policy makers “deal” with their seclusion and isolation makes the blood boil. Lovely gardens, three triple-wide fridge/freezer combos full of Whole Foods delectables; manicured lawns for croquet surrounding terra cotta pools; superfood smoothies laced with plethora of vitamins and herbs; soaking in Clorox-laced bathtubs and tips on how to dose one’s body with ultraviolet showers.

As we go further and further down the food chain and feeding trough, one more week of lock-down can parlay into more than ennui and cabin fever: for millions, one more week is less food, more anxiety, fear of the unknown, downright depression and suicidal tendencies.

Being homeless in a Time of Covid highlights how unhealthy, psychologically-stressing, and legally-precarious these days are. There is no social distancing when six or seven people share a campfire, a can of beans and smokes.

Now imagine that homelessness is coupled with the state of being homelandness.

Lighting Up Latin America – Oregon Rural Electric Cooperative Assn

There should not be a question of legal or illegal immigration. People came and immigrated to this country from the time of the Indians. No one’s illegal. They should just be able to come.

— Linda Ronstadt

Linda Ronstadt has come a long way from home | Music | tucson.com

Guatemalans might be staying four-families-to-a-beat-up-RV on the Oregon Coast, but not speaking English, appearing like “the other” and having not only no cash reserves but also zero confidence in accessing local (and governmental) food and financial aid add up to be literal hunger.

Social Justice Starts with Who You Associate With!

Ironically, I use singer Linda Ronstadt’s quote “declaring there are no illegal aliens” because after my family moved to the US from stints in the Azores, Germany, France and UK, we ended up in Tucson, Arizona of all places.

I learned how to make tamales and mole from aunts and cousins of Linda’s. She even swept into one of these kitchen forays and planted a kiss on my forehead. Que lindo. Un chico hippie blanco haciendo tamales con mis tías (How cute. A white hippy boy making tamales with my aunties.)

Her brother Peter was Tucson’s Police Chief when I was a reporter there and in southern Arizona. His policies were virtually hands-off on immigrants, with or without papers.

I’ve been on this battle line for social justice in Latin America since age 19, when I was active as a student journalist and activist against US military aid to El Salvador and Guatemala. Then, a few years later, I was working in Southern Arizona as a reporter for a small newspaper group owned by a family. The two dailies — Bisbee Review &  Sierra Vista Dispatch — and a few other weeklies were run by two quirky brothers. My stories often times were front page doozies.

Tombstone Epitaph Newspaper Building, 1927 | Special Collections

It was a crazy time for a young newspaper journalist:  In the morning covering the Bisbee rose club, and then five hours later, on the scene covering the drug tunnel found connecting Agua Prieta with Douglas. Funky stories about fence-jumping turquoise pirates getting into abandoned mine shafts at the Copper Queen open pit, to covering one of the deepest exploratory oil wells our near Tombstone. Drug-running, gunrunning, and nuts and bolts county planning and zoning. I interviewed Jesse Jackson when he came out to our neck of the desert to help settle down the Cochise County Sheriff Department going after a group of African Americans they were serving papers on.

Google: The Miracle Valley shootout and a confrontation between members of the Christ Miracle Healing Center and Church (CMHCC) and Cochise County law enforcement and Miracle Valley, Arizona.

Kick-ass stuff for a reporter, having just gotten back from a year in Scotland and Europe, part of a trip to be a writer after spending four years at the University of Arizona, the college daily, and the school’s lab newspaper in Tombstone (The Epitaph).

Just a few months after Europe, I was part of the news-gathering brethren penning these sorts of headlines: “Salvadorans Fight Over Urine . . .  14 Border Crossers Die in Arizona Desert, Organ Pipe National Monument.”

That was July 5, 1980. I was 23 years old.

Crossing Borders, Crossing Philosophical Lines

I was in the thick of things journalistically, working with literally homeless-homelandless people, some individuals spending thousands of dollars to coyotes to get them across that bullshit borderline. Earlier, in my senior year of high school, I had met Chileans living in Tucson who were here through the good graces of activist miniseries. Because of these adults’ leftist college activities, union membership and outspoken positions against right-wing despotism and violence — the Pinochet years – many were imprisoned, and some lost loved ones and comrades to the general’s death squads.

Eventually, I ended up in the Highlands of Guatemala, and along the US-Guatemala border. More than 200,000 Guatemalans were murdered in the dirty wars, a system of genocide fed by the USA and its “foreign” policies and School of the Americas at Fort Benning.

Then, in El Paso two years later, I was a graduate student at the University, I worked with refugees at Ruben Garcia’s Annunciation House and wrote some stories for both the El Paso Times and the now defunct El Paso Herald-Post on the good work at Ruben’s sanctuary.

Guatemala - Why Are So Many Guatemalans Migrating to the U.S. ...

I taught college classes in prisons and also part of a college program for children of migrant workers.

Ruben Garcia Opens The Door To Humanity | The City Magazine

My tutelage in covering varying levels of homeless and homelandless was fast and furious!

Fast-forward, and I skim through many years in activism — revolutionary social work, education, environmental journalism, more. I worked with adults living with developmental disabilities for United Cerebral Palsy of Southern Washington and Oregon, with Foster Youth teens as case manager for Life Works NW, and with homeless veterans and their families for the Salvation Army.

Oh yeah, I was with Portland’s Big Kahuna of homeless and addiction services —  Central City Concern — as an employment counselor.

I was working with people I consider to be brothers/sisters/comrades – “detritus” the rich, the beautiful people, mainstream and even social services folk might call them. Or I’ve heard “the dregs of society,” “bottom of the barrel,” and from those a bit more evolved on the human scale, “those disenfranchised humans.”

In every case over the decades, I worked with people who either had no home (prison, transitional housing, foster homes are not homes) or who were looking for a better home than their dangerous and precarious situations beheld.

Many moons have passed, and, lo and behold, I have been on the Oregon Coast with my spouse since December 2018, after going toe-to-toe with the “Starvation Army” in Beaverton on some really corrupt leadership decisions and dangerous situations in which these poverty pimps put both the clients and staff.

One thing led to another. I was quickly working as a substitute K12 teacher in Lincoln County; I created my own column in the arts and entertainment rag, Oregon Coast Today; wrote for the Newport News Times (now it’s pro bono because of dropped ad revenues); and, now, going on one year, manage for both Lincoln and Jefferson counties an anti-poverty program for Family Independence Initiative.

I am working with low income households in a state-supported social capital research project. Families or individuals living in Lincoln and Jefferson counties receive $840 each for a year to do monthly 10-minute “journaling.”

Guatemala - Why Are So Many Guatemalans Migrating to the U.S. ...

Love and Death in a Time of Panic-Demic!

Things have changed since the SARS-CV-2, as the non-profit I work for as a 1099 contractor is now distributing (and helping other non-profits distribute) $32 million in places like Chicago, Boston, Seattle and Detroit. These are cash assistance lump sums: so-called unconditional cash transfers. Starbucks a la Schulz has thrown in with a $500-per-person Covid fund ($6 million total) for King County; and other cities like Boston, Chicago and Detroit are having FII move millions of bucks for each household to receive a $2,400 cash transfer.

My months working with families, face to face, at various places like the housing authority’s Ocean Spray Family Center in Newport, and the libraries throughout the county, as well as Homeless Education Literacy Project, have put me front and center close to my roots in Mexico and Central America.

I have talked to many immigrants who have come from Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala.

There is an underground labor network, shadow economy, cash under the table mode of work. There are people who are supporting Guatemalans with translators and help navigating the school systems for their children.

Chapina Express - Los Angeles Food Trucks - Roaming Hunger

Earth Day 2020 Zoomed

I am also involved in the American Cetacean Society and other movements in the county tied to Surfrider beach clean-ups and the legal process of banning aerial spraying of agent orange-like herbicides onto clear-cuts. I was asked to be a speaker on the Zoom Earth Day 2020, and in that planning, it was obvious to me I was back with what I term Greenie Weenies/Meanies.

I was told that “putting a downer” on the Zoom Earth Day event would be a no-no. This is the sort of group-think silliness and reckless false hope I have been dealing with since, err, I was 13 living in Paris with my mom and sister while my US Army old man was in Vietnam shooting brown people.

Then, a day after that April 22 event, I end up talking to Ginger Gouveia, who is working with Guatemalans, who are homeless and precarious, AND starving in Lincoln County. Thanks to the deadly combination of Obama-Trump-ICE-Racism-Lockdown.

This is really what ecological social justice is about. Nothing in the current mainstream and big green environmental movement in the USA gets the class divide, the power of poverty to tear at the soul of a country, the globe.

And to cut into our Guatemalan neighbors.

Trump threatens Guatemala after its court blocks asylum deal with ...

Here’s Ginger’s letter to me:

I am writing to you as a member the group, Acompañar Relief Fund.  We are concerned citizens who are seeking donations on behalf of immigrants who have lost their jobs and do not qualify for any assistance.  All of whom have been hard working asylum seekers with families.  Our focus is on providing as many families as we can with some food assistance.

Since starting this fundraiser, we have been grateful for the generosity of our community, friends and families. The need is GREAT and our goal is to be able to include as many families as possible.  This population will not recover for many months and will not receive any financial assistance, no stimulus check and no unemployment. We are looking for ways to continue providing some support for as long as this financial disaster continues.

This week we were able to give $60, or gift cards, as well as rice and beans and some Masa to 20 families.  The families with the greatest need are being referred by agencies working with them.

Sincerely, Ginger Gouveia, Acompañar Coordinator

“Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.” – Karl Marx

Marx’s quote is taken out of context. He did see religion like opium which, of course, benefits for the sick and ailing —  it reduces people’s immediate suffering and provides them with pleasant illusions giving them the strength to carry on.

Almost all Guatemalans coming to USA, Oregon and Lincoln county place religion as both panacea and strength, community and spiritual sustenance.  In the past few years many unaccompanied minors and women with children from Central America have been crossing the border (at a rate of 180,000 per year). These are Mayans. Not the gringo Latin Americans. These are the Native Americans.

University of Oregon Professor Lynn Stephen has documented threats of violence, extortion, and torture against children and indigenous Guatemalan women whose husbands leave to go north:

“They’re leaving them in vulnerable, unprotected positions in communities. If you don’t have a male protector, women and children may become marks.”  Hundreds have ended up in Lane County and many others are in the Portland area.

“This is when it’s most amazing when it’s young people who are 15, 16, 14, deciding on their own to leave. My youngest son is 16. I can’t imagine what it would be like for him to make the journey,” Stephen said.

Rising hate drives Latinos and immigrants into silence | Cronkite News

These are cautious people, and the people working with refugees do not want to be named or identified in this anti-immigrant climate.

Gangs in Guatemala keep tabs on the new arrivals: harassment and extortion are common for the families back home when the gangs find out money is being sent to Guatemala by those working and living in the US.

Living close by, worshiping together, and being part of the shadow economy is how Guatemalans in Oregon survive, and thrive. Forming their own churches and then creating that kind of community is commonplace.

Right now, in Lincoln County, there isn’t enough support coming in to support Guatemalans. Churches are asking for help, per Ginger’s plea for donations.

No proporciona ningun beneficio en EUA….

That was the public service announcement mantra under the Obama Administration – USA does not provide any benefits.

U.S. pressure on Mexico to interdict refugees was pulled back for a few years and so many refugee workers have seen a new wave of Central Americans coming to Oregon. Many of those that got political asylum are still in Oregon.

They set down roots, enroll kids in schools, become part of the fabric of our towns and cities. With the lockdown and pandemic hitting the world and here in Lincoln County, our Central American homelandless brothers and sisters are struggling. These are valuable humans on their own accord, but invaluable as part of our community.

A while back, I read a letter to the editor of the Newport News Times railing against Oregon Coast Community College nominating an undocumented as Student of the Year. He was Guatemalan. He spoke eloquently at the podium why he came here and how he wanted to better his life.

The letter writer bashed this young person’s character. He brought up the old canard of having no papers is breaking the law. He called it a slap in the face to all the students who go to the college who were here “legally.” He felt the Guatemalan college graduate should not have been recognized!

In the end, we all are so-called illegal aliens – those with no Native American roots. That includes all the slaves forcefully brought to these shores. All those Spanish, French, Portuguese, and English armies and any number of people who immigrated here, either with paperwork or without.

All uninvited guests with no preapproval and passports given to them by the great First Nations tribes.

No one asked the Confederated Tribes of Siletz if the pioneers could come rushing into Oregon to steal their ancestral land.

It is 2020, a year that beguiles us all. Certainly, many of us five decades ago had 2020 vision about what would happen under predatory-parasitic-casino-disaster-neoliberal-neocon capitalism.  Yet now, in this 21st Century, there is obvious myopia and, worse, enabled blindness when it comes to really deal with this pandemic fairly, justly: it takes a village, state and country to raise a community, and the same to deal with pandemics.

I learn everyday from Guatemalans, including one of the country’s poets.

  • First, here are some Guatemala proverbs that say it all in a few words each –
  • Better to eat beans in peace than to eat meat in distress.
  • Do not bear ill will toward those who tell you the truth.
  • Everyone is the age of their heart.
  • It’s not the fault of the parrot, but of the one who teaches him to talk.
  • There’s no ill that doesn’t turn out for the better.
  • Your true enemy lives in your own house.

Better yet, a poem by Guatemala’s most famous poet who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1967: Miguel Angel Asturias. According to The Review of Contemporary Fiction, “Asturia was a man who believed deeply in maintaining Native American culture in Guatemala, and who championed those who were persecuted. His literature was critically acclaimed, but perhaps not always appreciated. As an artist, his complexity is such that readers and critics often shy away from his elegant beauty.

Caudal (The Fortune)

To give is to love,
To give prodigiously:
For every drop of water
To return a torrent.

We were made that way,
Made to scatter
Seeds in the furrow
And stars in the ocean.

Woe to him, Lord,
who doesn’t exhaust his supply,
And, on returning, tells you:
“Like an empty satchel

Is my heart.”

Miguel Ángel Asturias - Pueblo e Historia de Guatemala

Strong Men in Europe: Tony Abbott Visits Hungary

“I extend a special welcome to Australia’s former prime minister.  It is in part due to his tough policy that we regard Australia as a model country.  We especially respect it for the brave, direct and Anglo-Saxon consistency which it has shown on migration and defence of the Australian nation”.

These words of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán to Tony Abbott at the Third Budapest Demographic Summit uttered on September 5 would have made the former Australian premier gooey and weak at the knees.  Abbott, it must be remembered, had been the proud architect of the “turn back the boats” refugee policy, insistent that naval matters dealing with such arrivals be given a military flourish of secrecy.  It was not for the Australian public to know how many vessels might actually be making their way to Australia.

Orbán’s welcome pressed all the reactionary points of strongman mythology: inherent toughness, obsessive border security, and the singing praise for appropriate racial stock – the indomitable, pragmatic character that would not bow down to other “ethnic” elements in the populace.  (The irony, of course, is that Australia’s ruthless anti-refugee policy has the support of a good many nationalities keen to ensure that yesterday’s immigrants prevent today’s boat arrivals.)

Abbott, for his part, wrote gushingly of the Hungarian leader a few days after his Budapest meeting, seeing him as the prominent personality behind the Visegrád group (Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia) who had valiantly rallied, along with the Brexiteers, against the European Union and its more intrusive expectations.  Orbán “has not only transformed the economy but was the first European leader to cry ‘stop’ to the peaceful invasion of 2015 and is now trying to boost Hungary’s flagging birth rate.”

The account tallies with the wet-dreamers who find the Magyar crypto-despot admirably pugilistic and capable in prosecuting his goals, especially when it comes to Christianity and cultural identity.  Like Abbott, Rod Dreher, senior editor at The American Conservative, was impressed in a meeting with Orbán, one that had not been anticipated.  He spoke of Hungary, and Central Europe, having been victims of colonisation at the hands of Islam and the Middle East.  Orbán, it was noted, was won over by Christian leaders in the Middle East warning about their treatment at the hands of Islam’s followers.  “What did they say [about Muslim refugees]?  Don’t let them in.  Stop them.’”

The admiration for Orbán is the praise afforded an ambitious and successful authoritarian running under the banner of threatened civilisations, keen to do battle with demons.  Along with his ruling party Fidesz, the Hungarian leader has, as Timothy Garton Ash accurately conveys, “so completely penetrated the state administration that Hungary is again a one-party state.”  An independent judiciary has been eliminated.  Cronyism is encouraged; family members are favoured with government contracts; dissenters and opponents are the target of harassing tax investigations.

Since losing his federal seat in the May elections, Abbott has had little time for the antics of a fractious, scrutinising Parliament, and believes that Britain’s premier political institution is simply disrupting those who wished for Brexit.  It was only before a gathering at the UK Policy Exchange where he finally felt he could give a “full throttle, double-barrel roar”, one “turbo-charged by the Parliament’s consistent attempt to sabotage the people’s vote.” (The inner despot in Abbott fails to appreciate that Parliament is the voice of the British people, however muddled it might be.  Arguments on civilisation can cut both ways.)

Abbott was also keen to move away from anything approaching environmental calamity and cultural accommodation.  Being in Europe, and more specifically in such amenable company, had intoxicated him.  This was the frontline against unwanted Muslim immigration and environmental doomsday preaching.  “I mean,” he told summit delegates, “you get a million angry military-age males swarming into a single country in a year.  There are not there to be grateful, but they are there with a grievance.”  Nor was there a population bomb with a fuse waiting to go off, or carbon footprints worthy of concern, or an emissions problem in an increasingly heating world.  Instead, his idea of the “extinction rebellion” was demographic rather than climate related; people, certainly the right people, were not breeding enough.

The demographic problems of various countries, with declining birth rates, had necessitated dramatic action.  “Hungary, whose population is predicted to shrink by a quarter over the next half century, is waiving household debt for larger families and not taxing four-time mothers, among other measures worth careful study.”

Orbán, as with some of his European colleagues, is terrified by a demographic vanishing.  “It’s not hard to imagine that there would be one single last man who has to turn the lights out.”  At the third demographic summit, he noted “the spiritual foundations of Hungary’s family policy.”  Demography, in being destiny, was unavoidable: “human life is finite; and that just as we enter life, so we must leave it.”  With certain resignation, he noted the need to have more demographic conferences, in part to return his country to a state of model, diligent procreation.  Woodpeckers, he surmised, had to be taught how to peck wood again.  Christianity had to “regain its strength in Europe.”  Abbott, himself a religious zealot, could only agree: Christian Europe had get back to some fecund, dedicated shagging.