The right thing: Protection for Syrians, Libyans and Yemenis in the US

Imagine for a moment that you are a 25 year old Syrian.

You’ve just earned your Master’s degree in the United States. After two years, it’s time for you to go home. But the home you left isn’t the one you’ll be returning to. Everything has changed. Instead of happiness at your impending departure from the US, you feel fear, because you will be returning to a country in turmoil and a regime that will stop short of nothing –not even torturing and killing children– to put down a popular, pro-democracy uprising. Will the things you wrote about Syrian politics while living in America be held against you by the government? Will the mere fact that you studied in America mark you as a potential dissident and earn you harassment by the security forces? If you keep quiet and stay away from the protests, will you be caught in the crossfire anyway?

Please take a moment to add your voice to the US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants‘ appeal for temporary protected status (TPS) for Libyans, Syrians and Yemenis in the United States. TPS isn’t the same thing as asylum. People with TPS can’t stay indefinitely, but they are protected until it’s safe for them to return to their countries of origin.

So far, more than 450 letters were sent urging President Barack Obama and the Secretary of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, to grant Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to Libyans, Syrians, and Yemenis who are presently in the United States.

The more letters we send, the more likely our voices will be heard.  If you haven’t already, please ask our President and the Secretary of Homeland Security to protect the nationals of these countries in turmoil by allowing eligible individuals to remain in the United States legally until the violence and conflict in their home countries have subsided.  Click here to take action now >> 

TPS allows those who qualify to live, work, and study in the United States during the period of designation.  This temporary immigration status does not lead to permanent residency.  TPS may be granted in situations where there are extraordinary and temporary conditions, such as war or natural disaster, in the home country that prevent nationals from returning safely.

Please take action on behalf of Libyan, Syrian, and Yemeni nationals today >> 

Urge our policy makers to do the humane thing and grant TPS to Libyans, Yemenis, and Syrians.

Interesting things

The Migrant Express – Four days through Central Asia on the crowded Dushanbe to Moscow train. This tender, humane seven-part RFE_RL documentary explores the social and economic consequences of Tajiks migrating to Russia for work.

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Via the CPJ Blog – Afghan journalists are finally speaking with one voice, and are calling for a full investigation into the death of New York Times journalist Sultan Munadi and compensation for Munadi’s family.

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Also on the CPJ Blog – An Iraqi journalist finds refuge in Phoenix, Arizona, but struggles to find work. Eventually, his persistence pays off …he gets a job at Red Lobster.

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Kevin Heller blogs about the inevitable attacks on the Goldstone Commission, and the Goldstone-bashers respond in the comments.

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The slow march of justice in the former Yugoslavia continues. Four former members of the Bosnian Army have been arrested on suspicion of participating in war-time crimes against Bosnian Croats in a village in Herzegovina. Meanwhile, the ICTY trial of Radovan Karadzic is set to begin October 19th.

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The author of this article about expat snobbery and ignorance in Bosnia is someone I know personally, and we were part of the same large social circle in Sarajevo. He makes some important, if painful, points about how things work in the international organizations. However, I do think he exaggerates the extent to which young expats isolate themselves and eschew discovering all that is great about Bosnia. (Older, more mercenary expats are a different story.)  Also, the line, “the foreigners lecturing Bosnia have a fair amount of trouble mustering the necessary vocabulary to order a beer at a local bar” is a tad ridiculous. That’s the first phrase every expat learns.

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From the “things that make me ashamed of my country” files or, alternately, “America’s shitty domestic human rights record”: in eight states and the District of Columbia, many insurance companies consider being a victim of domestic violence a “pre-existing condition,” and thus grounds for denying coverage. Jillian Hewitt at Feministe is spot-on when she writes: “This is so ridiculous that it may make my post seem obvious or unnecessary, but I think it makes it all the more essential to talk about. This is not a controversial talking point; it does not even seem like a political one to me—this is about humanity. Or inhumanity, as it were.”

Miscellanea

Some perspective, via Penelopeinparis on Twitter.

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Last week, the blogosphere and Twitterverse couldn’t stop debating the new MSF UK ad titled ‘The Boy.’ While exploring the ads of MSF UK through the years on YouTube, I stumbled across more ads by British humanitarian and human rights NGOs. It didn’t take me long to realize how much more provocative –and creative–  these were than ads produced by similar or even sister organizations in the United States. Take the following Amnesty UK ads, neither of which I can imagine ever running on television in the United States, as but two examples.

Amnesty UK anti-torture ad.

Amnesty UK anti-extremism, pro-human rights ad.

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I have recently been thinking of the 2006 Economist editorial in which the publication took a shockingly bold stance against torture, and with a twist. Instead of arguing against torture based on torture’s ineffectiveness  as an intelligence-gathering tool –the line of argument adopted by many torture opponents in the American media– the Economist assumed torture to be very effective, and argued against it anyway. Maintaining a society in which people are free from state repression comes at a price, it stated, and in our era that price may well be thousands of innocent lives lost to terrorism.

When liberals put the case for civil liberties, they sometimes claim that obnoxious measures do not help the fight against terrorism anyway. The Economist is liberal but disagrees. We accept that letting secret policemen spy on citizens, detain them without trial and use torture to extract information makes it easier to foil terrorist plots.

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To eschew such tools is to fight terrorism with one hand tied behind your back. But that –- with one hand tied behind their back –- is precisely how democracies ought to fight terrorism.

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Human rights are part of what it means to be civilized. Locking up suspected terrorists –- and why not potential murderers, rapists and paedophiles, too? –- before they commit crimes would probably make society safer. Dozens of plots may have been foiled and thousands of lives saved as a result of some of the unsavoury practices now being employed in the name of fighting terrorism. Dropping such practices in order to preserve freedom may cost many lives. So be it.

This is the liberal meaning of “freedom isn’t free.”

So be it.

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The Refugee Recertification Network is up and running on Ning.

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Safrang on the Afghanistan mission at a critical juncture.

The debate and the buzz is likely to continue and to build to a feverish pitch as the US administration considers its options in Afghanistan. With Iraq largely off many radars, the loud noise, mud-slinging, and endless debate that we saw occupy TV screens, opinion pages and most political conversations between 2003 and 2008 is now focused on Afghanistan. The real side of all of this debate, however, plays out in Afghanistan and not in the American op-ed wars of the left, the right and the middle. Any policy preferences bear life and death consequences for the people of Afghanistan.

Pervez Kambakhsh freed

It’s wonderful when one of these stories ends happily –or even bittersweetly, anything but tragically– once in a while.

From the Independent (UK):

The fate of the 24-year-old trainee journalist became an international cause célèbre after his plight was revealed by this newspaper. A petition to secure justice gathered more than 100,000 signatures and the Afghan government came under intense pressure from the international community to release him.

Mr Kambakhsh was moved from his cell in Kabul’s main prison a fortnight ago and kept at a secure location for a few days before being flown out of the country. Prior to his departure, he spoke of how his relief was mixed with deep regret at knowing he was unlikely to see his family or country again.

Wherever Pervez Kambakhsh is now, I hope he is receiving the support he needs. Not seeing one’s family or country again is a high price to pay for freedom, but maybe it will one day be safe enough for Kambakshsh’s brother and parents to visit him. Kambakhsh is a very young man, and he has plenty of life ahead of him.

I eagerly await reading the book.

At least she’s being honest!

In an otherwise unremarkable blob of her usual anti-refugee nuttiness, Ann Corcoran writes:

I have no clue what is really happening in Rwanda, or DR Congo, or Uganda, or Somalia or Kenya for that matter, and neither do you!

Well, actually, those of us who work in international fields and get our news from sources other than World Net Daily, Glenn Beck, and Tom Tancredo email blasts do know what’s happening in various African countries. But mad props to Ann for admitting that the subject of her blog is one she couldn’t write a failing college paper about.

We don’t need to worry about which side is the right side, as I said in my title, let Africa take care of Africa.  Let us take care of America.

And by “take care of America” she doesn’t mean provide healthcare or better education or alternatives to incarceration. No, she means stop refugee resettlement and all other forms of immigration, seal the borders, and commence mass deportations of immigrants already here. Because  “care” in the language of right wing America means the opposite of its dictionary definition.

Worthless lives

Ann Corcoran is upset that 115 Somali refugees were saved from a sinking boat off the coast of Malta.

Ann Corcoran is an evil person.

I rarely say that about anyone, because I think calling someone “evil” is usually a cop-out, a way to deny one’s own capacity for evil deeds. That said, I do think it’s a label befitting someone whose first emotions when she reads a news story about 115 human beings saved from dying at sea are disappointment and annoyance.

That’s some serious social pathology, right there.

Some thoughts on the Phoenix Liberian case

By now, most of you have heard the heartrending story of the little Liberian refugee girl who was raped by four boys, also Liberian refugees, in Phoenix, AZ.  The four boys ranged in age from 9 to 14 years old. When the girl’s parents learned what happened, they told the police to take their daughter away, that the shame she had brought on her family was too great to bear. The girl was subsequently placed in foster care.

Like I said, most of you know these details already. And if you’ve read the news stories, you also know what the knee-jerk media and public reaction to this story has been — oh, those savage Africans!

Right wing columnist Phyllis Chesler even titled her column –I’m not kidding– “Child Barbarians in Phoenix: Obama Extends their Stay,” and used what happened in Phoenix to advance her argument that people from the “Third World” are inherently criminal, violent, animalistic and unassimilable into American society.

She wrote:

Most Americans have no idea how different our culture is from cultures in the Middle East, central Asia, or Africa. If differences are acknowledged, America and the West are blamed for them. The barbarism, genocide, perpetual civil and religious wars, the cruelties of Sharia law (stoning, cross-amputations, be-heading), and the utterly tragic treatment of women, children, and the poor in the Third World– all are blamed on western imperialism, colonialism, and capitalism.

Not true–or so I have been arguing for years. Some barbarism is indigenous to a region. But even if it were true–what’s to be done now? Should we willingly welcome cannibals [Huh? -Ed], gang-rapists, child-rapists, polygamists, (dis)honor murderers to our shores?

Terrible things happen in the Third World: Children as young as five are routinely kidnapped into slavery, or forced to become suicide bombers or child-soldiers. Children see their mothers raped, their fathers tortured, their parents and other relatives brutally murdered. Male children are forced to rape their own mothers, female children are forced to sexually service men old enough to be their grandfathers. No one protects, consoles, re-educates, or “treats” them as trauma victims.

Immigrants bring both their barbarism and their traumatized histories right along with them when they come to America.

Anti-refugee blogger Ann Corcoran also weighed in. Displaying her inimitable talent for creatively combing prejudices, she wrote :

This is a heinous practice we are well aware of with followers of Islam—-blaming the rape victim.  But these Liberians are likely not Muslims, so I was interested to learn that this cultural problem was coming into the US with other refugee cultures as well.

Predictably, one of her commenters responded:

The family of the rape victim should be deported immediately. They don’t understand nor to they have the same values that we Americans have. They have no business being here. The families of the rapists should also be investigated. We shouldn’t have to allow people with these sort of views to live in this country. They don’t seem to understand what civilized people allow. We can’t have them breeding a generation of this kind of thinking in this land. I am sorry if this sounds harsh, but if they came here for a better life, that is fine, but if their values will alter our way of life, then they shouldn’t be allowed to come.

Americans also commit rape, just like Americans also murder and abuse their children and intimate partners. As has been proved time and again, foreign born residents –including refugees- are actually less likely to commit violent crimes than Americans born in this country. These are not opinions, they are facts. (See here and here.)

A climate of impunity for violence against women, much of it sexual, has existed in Liberian society for a long time, and reached unfathomable proportions during Liberia’s civil war. This is also true.

But so is the tremendous effort Liberian activists have put into ending that culture of impunity and changing social attitudes toward women and victims of sexual and gender-based violence. Like every other society, Liberian society is not culturally or attitudinally monolithic. Certain opinions are widely (though not universally) held, but extrapolating the actions or opinions of any individual or small group of individuals to the entire racial, ethnic, religious or national category that person or those individuals fall into is illogical, dangerous bigotry. It reduces people to categorical absolutes, dismisses all of life’s messiness as predestination, and encourages faulty assumptions about violence, culture, and causality.

The parents of the rape victim in Phoenix have done themselves and the rest of the Liberian refugee community in the United States no favours by abandoning their daughter and telling the press how ashamed of her they are, but they do not represent all Liberians refugees, or all Liberians. Prominent Liberians from U.S.-based activists to Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf have condemned the reaction of this family and expressed their support for the victim. The Liberian diaspora has recoiled in as much horror at the entire situation as everyone else.

This is not about Africans.

This is not about Liberians.

This is not about refugees.

And this is not about your agenda or my agenda when it comes to immigration.

This is about a little girl in Phoenix who had something terrible done to her, parents who betrayed their child when she needed them most, and yes, four little boys who will now be swallowed by the criminal justice system and whose lives will forever be defined by a crime they committed as juveniles.

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The county prosecutor for Maricopa County has stated that the 14 year old boy will be tried as an adult, while the 9, 10 and 13 year olds will be tried as juveniles. Instead of receiving counseling and rehabilitation to re-enter society, these boys will spend years, possibly decades in the case of the 14 year old, in some of the worst prisons in the democratic world.

Childhood is defined legally and understood socially by a person’s age, not by his or her behaviour or capacity. Ten year olds are fully capable of drinking and smoking, but we don’t let them do those things. Fifteen year olds are certainly capable of fighting in wars –but we don’t let anyone enlist in the armed forces until she or her reaches age 18, and we view combatants below that age elsewhere in the world as victims of adult manipulation and unfortunate circumstances beyond their control.

A few nights ago, I asked a lawyer friend to explain the rationale behind trying children as adults and sentencing them to hard time in adult prisons. He said that there isn’t a sound legal rationale behind it –it’s purely pandering to a lynch mob mentality for political gain, buying votes by satiating voters’ desire for retribution without the consideration of mitigating circumstances. It’s not that we view child offenders as adults when they commit terrible crimes, he explained, it’s that we stop caring that they are children.

All of that made perfect sense to me. There are many aspects of American political culture that are incredibly illiberal and backward, and our attitude toward juvenile offenders is one of these. Not until 2005, following the Supreme Court decision in Roper v. Simmons, did it become illegal everywhere in the United States to apply the death penalty to juvenile offenders.

Even then, the court ruled 5-4, and the decision is still controversial. Think about that: it’s controversial for the United States to no longer be executing people for crimes they committed as kids. Prior to Roper, fifteen states still allowed the execution of juvenile offenders as young as 16 years old.

What is in store for the Liberian refugee children at the center of the Phoenix tragedy? For the little girl, I hope, all the medical and psychological services she needs, with or without the future involvement of her parents in her life. It is also my sincere wish that she finds the kind of unconditional love she was denied by her parents.

For the boys, life from now on will be nasty, poor, solitary, and bereft of opportunities for rehabilitation. Given where they will stand trial, convictions are all but guaranteed, and the resulting sentences will likely be lengthy, custodial ones. The conditions in Maricopa County jails violate minimum humanitarian standards. Infamous Sheriff Joe Arpaio runs Maricopa like his personal, authoritarian fiefdom. I wrote about Arpaio last year. If you think I’m being dramatic and exaggerating what the Liberian boys will face in the days ahead –or you believe the boys deserve whatever is coming to them– I suggest you keep reading.

Continue reading

Thoughts for the weekend

HOLY SH*T!

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Next time I come across one of those ‘Feminism Killed Romance/Chivalry/Marriage/Civilization’ pieces that seem to be so popular right now, I think I’m going to start projectile vomiting Exorcist-style.

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Dozens killed in suicide bombings: Iraq is going to pieces. I didn’t think the surge would work, but I didn’t want it to fail. On the contrary, I very much wanted to be wrong in my prediction, and I still do.

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I am disappointed that Ashraf Ghani has hired James Carville to advise him in his bid for the Afghan presidency. Carville represents all that is mercenary, cynical and deeply illiberal in American politics.

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A trusted friend sent me a very reassuring email from Sarajevo, basically telling me to chill, and that Dodik knows he has already lost, but enjoys theatrics. Despite the deadlock, we push ahead, keeping sight of larger goals that move us beyond divisive politics –that was his message. This friend of mine is his country’s future, I am convinced.

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Ann Corcoran hates refugees. And Muslims. But more than anything else, she hates vulnerable Muslim minority refugees. Iraqi Palestinians, for example. On my other blog, I wrote about this.

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I keep telling my boss that I have hope that the reformists will win out in Iran. I believe they will, and I look forward to visiting a democratic Iran some day. I want to sit in a cafe in Tehran with my peers and listen to them tell me how they forced their government to recognize them as citizens and not mere subjects, how they won.

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“The most important lesson the struggle taught me and my friends is that no one is endowed with remarkable courage. But courage is another word for learning to live with your fears. Now, after eighteen years and the Chilean Truth Commission, courage has again evolved a new definition: the guts not to give in to easy justice. To live within the confinements of reality, but to search day after day for the progressing of one’s most cherished values.”

-Jose Zalaquett, at the opening of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

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“One cannot expect morality from politicians, but one can hold them to the ethics of accountability.” -Antjie Krog. From  ‘None More Parted Than Us’ in the amazing book Country of My Skull.

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I know a lot of people think  Amnesty International letter (now email/fax) writing campaigns on behalf of prisoners of conscience are futile, but they’re not, even when the subject of the campaign remains imprisoned. German Chancellor Angela Merkel was right when she said this:

I know from the time of the GDR (East Germany) how important it was that people around the world made sure that the people stuck in (Stasi prisons) Bautzen and Hohenschoenhausen … were not forgotten. Iran must know, particularly in the age of modern communications, that we will do everything in our power to ensure that these people (arrested in Iran during the recent turmoil) are not forgotten about.

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Thinking of Bosnia, of Srebrenica, of the grim anniversary. A powerful letter by a member of Women in Black (Belgrade), translated and published here:

And my dear Senka…

I missed you…so much…yesterday in Srebrenica…Again at the place where crimes were committed in my name, in our name…
Srebrenica…every time…it is an experience that will be remembered…the physical experience above all…which can never be forgotten…it’s here again…in me…and me with her (Srebrenica).

Meeting with the Women of Srebrenica…meeting with women whose bodies have been emptied of children killed by Serbs in my, in our name…

That’s them, those are “our” women…the same ones that followed the trial of the “Scorpions” with us, the same ones who we visit in Tuzla, and the ones that we meet in Srebrenica every year…You know this best…You know…Home is where you are loved…They always welcome you with a smile in their eyes, the same eyes that will never see their loved ones again…Serbs killed them! And they always open their arms to us, the same arms that will never hold their children again…Serbs killed them! And they come to you with a pure heart and a pure soul…they hug you and kiss you and even say thank you… to us, people from a brutalized, shameful, guilty land…And then you just want to die…to be gone…to vanish…to cease to exist…

And then…after all, after you have been burned by the July sun…wearing black…when you feel so guilty that you think this is it…Srebrenica is inside you…and that, my dear Senka, is confronting the past…our feminist approach…No abstract process…and it’s not happening to someone else, someone  far away…it’s happening to us in a land of  humanity, we who live in a land deprived of its humanity.

And then I remembered you…You, my image of you, every time we would travel back together from Bosnia…that horrible…hard…weight and silence I would see in your eyes…In front of me I see a large eyeball, a mouth of stone, which gives the impression that the verdict is already there…in front of me is a stone jury…
“We are guilty…”

I love you,
Milos

My weekend

- Holy moley, Kurds are shiny, happy, party-lovin’ people.

- In Kurdistan, you can buy high heels for toddlers.

- Add to the You Know You Work with Refugees…list: when someone responds to “How did you two meet?” with “Oh, at a massacre survivors’ support meeting,” and that seems very normal to you. 

- Burmese tribal people love stuffing themselves with junk food.

- Nothing says world peace like a Burmese-American-Iraqi-Afghan badminton match.

- Nothing says multiculturalism! like a group of Mennonites also joining in said badminton match.