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.

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A story from the other side of the world

A Twitter link led me to Blog-a-stan, the blog of an American Ph.D student doing her dissertation research in Kazan, Russia. Immediately, I was hooked by the author’s dark humor and storytelling. And when I came to the half-way point in a post titled Sud’ba (“Fate”) I stopped, and shivered, because I knew the story already.

Read, and then I’ll explain.

Tanya was sitting wrapped in a goat fur blanket rocking herself back and forth. It was only 8pm but they seemed to have already finished off a bottle of vodka and Valeria was now opening the second. “Leslie, come, sit, eat with us” she said. “Oh I just ate” I said but sat down for conversation. Tanya was moaning and crying and Valeria began to explain that her only daughter had just died. “It was a stomach illness. They did an operation but 100 days later, two days ago, she died. She was 37 years old.” Tanya sobbed and shook. I said how sorry I was to her, my eyes wide, slowly becoming conscious of the fact that I was rocking back and forth on my own chair empathetically. “Sud’ba” Tanya shook her head, “Sud’ba,” she sobbed as she tightened the goat hair blanket around her. I tried to remember the word, which I knew I knew but couldn’t find in my head at the time, only to look it up in the dictionary later and remember it: “Fate.” Valeria explained that Tanya’s husband had died five years ago of cancer so now she was all alone in her house. And she continued, hesitantly, touching my arm as she explained, “Tanya can’t sleep at her place any more. It’s just too sad for her there. Would you mind if she stayed here with us for awhile?” For a moment, and I know this is awful, but for a moment the thought crossed my mind that the dead daughter was an elaborate ruse and that they were together and felt they needed to come up with an excuse for Tanya sleeping over all the time. “Of course I don’t mind,” I said with the utmost sincerity, whichever story was true I was happy to have Tanya stay. From then on I became accustomed to walking in to find Tanya with Valeria at the table, a bottle of vodka by her side that they would stay up late drinking rocking back and forth and talking about “Sud’ba.” Valeria too is a victim of Sud’ba at the moment as her ex-husband is currently insisting she sell the dacha she uses on the weekends and there’s nothing she can do about it. Both situations strike me as things we would deal with not just emotionally but practically through lawyers in the States to regain our control over the situation. We would find a pretense for suing the hospital for the botched operation, take the husband to court to insist on our right to half the property, maybe even the whole thing. And while this wouldn’t take the pain away, particularly in the first case, it would at least give us a feeling of some agency over this damn Sud’ba.

Yes, I know this story, with some slight differences. My version has loose leaf tea instead of vodka, an old comforter from Bagram Airbase instead of a goat hair blanket, and a young Afghan man in the place of a middle aged Russian Tatar woman.

But the grief-stricken rocking, and the wide-eyed American, and the very real, physically wrenching absence of justice, the rule of law and human agency are the same. So is the sud’ba.

If some night I don’t come home

Another aidworker has been kidnapped in Chechnya. Zarema Gaisanova, an employee of the Danish Refugee Council, has been missing for five weeks, and, surprise, surprise, the police are being accused of abducting her. Gaisanova’s family and friends want her back.

I’m no longer going to feign hope when it comes to abductions of aidworkers, journalists and human rights activists in the North Caucasus.

We know how this story ends.

Oh, this is bad

According to Human Rights Watch, a Chechen aidworker and her husband were brazenly abducted from the office of the Grozny-based humanitarian NGO Save the Generation today (yesterday Russian time).

Two armed men entered the office of the group, Save the Generation, at about 2 p.m., witnesses said. The men said they were members of the security services and demanded that Zarema Sadulayeva, the head of the organization, and her husband, Alik (Umar) Lechayevich Dzhabrailov, come with them. They did not say where they were taking the couple. They had not been heard from as of 9:30 p.m., and Russian authorities had not responded to inquiries about the couple’s whereabouts by the Russian human rights organization Memorial.

Clearly not afraid of being identified or pursued, the kidnappers later came back to take their victims’ things.

Shortly after Sadulayeva and Dzhabrailov were taken away, the men who had taken them returned to the organization’s office and took Dzhabrailov’s mobile phone and his car, a gray VAZ 2110, with a license plate ending in 237.

Not even a month has passed since the murder of one of Chechnya’s –and Russia’s– most prominent human rights advocates, Natalia Estemirova. But unlike Estemirova, who directly investigated crimes by state agents, Sadulayeva and her husband were involved in apolitical humanitarian work.

Save the Generation is a nongovernmental organization in Chechnya founded in 2001 that provides psychological and physical rehabilitation to disabled children, orphans, and other socially vulnerable groups. The group also works closely with UNICEF, among other groups, to provide training about landmines, and promotes protection of the rights of the disabled.

Honestly, it doesn’t get any more uncontroversial than orphans, children with disabilities, and landmine victims. However, this is Chechnya under Ramzan Kadyrov,  and Kadyrov really doesn’t like it when people point out the fact that his republic has, you know, some issues.

In a recent Radio Free Europe interview, he actually made the following statement:

The only thing I can say is that we’ll fully rebuild Chechnya and solve every social problem. Chechnya will be the most successful region in Russia and the world.

Ok then! Right. Those ain’t delusions of grandeur at all.

On the subject of human rights abuses, Kadyrov wanted to make one thing crystal clear: he’s the biggest victim of all.

[…] my father was killed. I’ve lost thousands of people I know [Who actually knows, I mean personally knows, thousands of people? -Ed]. I’ve lost relatives, classmates and friends. And no one says Kadyrov has lost them, that Kadyrov has rights, too. Everyone’s silent about that.

As my stepfather says, “What’s that I hear? The sound of the world’s smallest, saddest violin playing just for you?”

When terrorists set off bombs in the center of Grozny, killing police, women, and children, human rights activists say nothing about that. Why don’t they protect my rights? Kadyrov has lost everything. But whenever something happens in Chechnya — where there are a million residents — if someone violates the law, it’s always Kadyrov who’s to blame.

All of which would seem totally unfair but for the pesky little fact that virtually everyone Kadyrov threatens meets a strange and grisly end soon thereafter. (But don’t worry, Kadyrov has a totally reasonable explanation for this. Watch the video!)

Meanwhile, back in the real world:

“Human Rights Watch is extremely concerned about the fate of Zarema Sadulayeva and Alik Dzhabrailov,” said Holly Cartner, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The shocking murder of Natalia Estemirova only last month has made it obvious that activists in Chechnya are being targeted for their work and are extremely vulnerable.”

“If the authorities have officially detained Sadulayeva and Dzhabrailov, they should reveal their location and the legal basis for holding them and guarantee their rights,” Cartner said. “This includes an absolute prohibition on ill-treatment, their right to inform their relatives of their whereabouts, and access to a lawyer of their choosing.”

As if screaming into the wind –which is what all appeals to the rule of law in the North Caucasus have become– HRW finishes with the following:

The detention of anyone followed by a refusal to acknowledge this detention, or by concealment of the fate or whereabouts of the detained person, constitutes an enforced disappearance, a crime under international law that is prohibited in all circumstances.

These stories don’t usually end happily, but I’m going to hold out hope Sadulayeva and Dzhabrailov are still alive until I read otherwise.

A few things

Inspired by Devon Whittle’s Arusha guides for ICTR interns, I am working on a guide to living in Sarajevo as an intern, UNV, or just poorly paid NGO staffer. My guide will be a fully revised and blog-ified version of a short document I put together for my successor near the end of my time in Bosnia. I was going to post the guide last night, but I have decided to put more effort into it, polish it up a bit more.

***

In offline life, I am writing something about the Democratic Republic of the Congo. When I began the piece, I had only the faintest understanding of the Second Congo War, and I feel like that hasn’t really changed. The sheer number of belligerent parties (more than twenty) and civilian deaths (between 4 and 5 million, including those who have died of disease and starvation as a result of the conflict) make my head spin. The magnitude of human suffering is dizzying. I hate “-ist” titles, but I suppose if you had to assign one to me it would be “Central Asianist” (blech!) or “Eurasianist” (blech!).  What I am definitely not is an “Africanist.”  Sometimes, I think this implies a kind of intellectual wussiness when it comes to conflicts. European and Central Asian conflicts aren’t simple by any stretch, but I get the feeling, reading about the DRC, that my Africa-focused friends at Wronging Rights and other blogs really do have to put more effort in.

And I thought the Afghan civil war was knotty. Crikey.

***

Oh. Dear. God.

NBC is coming out with a new reality show called ‘The Wanted’, about pseudo-journalists entrapping accused terrorists and war criminals. I wish I was kidding.

Couldn’t they have gone for another ‘Law and Order’ spin-off  –perhaps ‘Law and Order: War Crimes Investigations’? Fiction would have been better.

Journalists are going ballistic over this, but I think the international justice set has even more reason to worry about unintended consequences.

***

I’m going to lay off the haterade as far as Libertarians go for a while solely because Reason published this article.

Opponents of illegal immigration usually do little more than cite andecdotes attempting to link illegal immigration to violent crime. When they do try to use statistics, they come up short. Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), for example, has perpetuated the popular myth that illegal immigrants murder 12 Americans per day, and kill another 13 by driving drunk. King says his figures come from a Government Accountability Office study he requested, which found that about 27 percent of inmates in the federal prison system are non-citizens. Colorado Media Matters looked into King’s claim, and found his methodology lacking. King appears to have conjured his talking point by simply multiplying the annual number of murders and DWI fatalities in America by 27 percent. Of course, the GAO report only looked at federal prisons, not the state prisons and local jails where most convicted murderers and DWI offenders are kept. The Bureau of Justice Statistics puts the number of non-citizens (including legal immigrants) in state, local, and federal prisons and jails at about 6.4 percent (pdf). Of course, even that doesn’t mean that non-citizens account for 6.4 percent of murders and DWI fatalities, only 6.4 percent of the overall inmate population.

It’s too bad facts have never mattered to the likes of Lou Dobbs and Michelle Malkin.

***

Memorial has ceased its work in Chechnya. This is equal parts sad and chilling. Oleg Orlov explained:

There is state terror in Russia.  We know about murders both inside Chechnya and elsewhere.  Those who are killed have tried to tell the truth and criticise the government.  Ramzan Kadyrov has made it impossible for human rights activists to work in Chechnya.  Natasha Estemirova’s killers wanted to put a stop to the flow of honest information from Chechnya.  Perhaps they have succeeded.

***

Afghanistan needs better police, and why police reform has not been better planned and resourced boggles the mind.

“The police would stop people driving on motorcycles, beat them and take their money,” said Mohammad Gul, an elder in the village of Pankela, which British troops have been securing for the past three days after flying in by helicopter.

He pointed to two compounds of neighbors where pre-teen children had been abducted by police to be used for the local practice of “bachabazi,” or sex with pre-pubescent boys.

“If the boys were out in the fields, the police would come and rape them,” he said. “You can go to any police base and you will see these boys. They hold them until they are finished with them and then let the child go.”

***

The EU fucked up badly with this, probably more than the Commissioners understand as of yet.  The least worst thing the EU can do now, what it should do, is waive the border control requirements for Bosnia’s inclusion in the visa-free regime.

***

Today, while I was walking to the grocery store, the Arcade Fire song ‘Keep the Car Running/Broken Window’ played on my ipod. It seems a fitting soundtrack to the news of late, whether you buy into the “forcibly disappeared dissident” interpretation of the lyrics or the “terrorist on the run” interpretation.

Every night my dream’s the same.
Same old city with a different name.
Men are coming to take me away.
I don’t know why but I know I can’t stay.

There’s a weight that’s pressing down.
Late at night you can hear the sound.
Even the noise you make when you sleep.
Can’t swim across a river so deep.
They know my name ’cause I told it to them,
But they don’t know where And they don’t know
When It’s coming, when It’s coming.

There’s a fear I keep so deep,
Knew it’s name since before I could speak:
Aaaah aaaaaah aaaaah aaaaaah
They know my name ’cause I told it to them,
But they don’t know where And they don’t know
When It’s coming, Oh! when It’s coming

Keep the car running

If some night I don’t come home,
Please don’t think I’ve left you alone.
The same place animals go when they die,
You can’t climb across a mountain so high.
The same city where I go when I sleep,
You can’t swim across a river so deep.
They know my name ’cause I told it to them,
But they don’t know where
And they don’t know
When It’s coming, Oh! when is it coming?

Keep the car running
Keep the car running
Keep the car running

 

***

This photo of the Ploče train station is a perfect representation of where my life and frame of mind are at this moment.

This photo of the Ploče train station is a perfect representation of where my life and frame of mind are at this moment.

***

I still owe Michael at Humanitarian Relief a post on the crisis in refugee resettlement. I owe a lot of things to a lot of people right now.

Azadi!

Not much I can add. Follow @TehranBureau on Twitter for real-time updates. And check out these stunning photos from The Big Picture.

Iran1

A supporter of defeated Iranian presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi shouts slogans during riots in Tehran on June 13, 2009. Hardline incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was declared winner by a landslide in Iran's hotly-disputed presidential vote, triggering riots by opposition supporters and furious complaints of cheating from his defeated rivals. (OLIVIER LABAN-MATTEI/AFP/Getty Images)

An injured backer of Mir Hossein Mousavi covers his bloodied face during riots in Tehran on June 13, 2009. (OLIVIER LABAN-MATTEI/AFP/Getty Images) #

An injured backer of Mir Hossein Mousavi covers his bloodied face during riots in Tehran on June 13, 2009. (OLIVIER LABAN-MATTEI/AFP/Getty Images) #

Give Joe Arpaio the investigation he so richly deserves

This news is almost a week old, but I am greatly relieved to see that Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers and others have called for a federal investigation into the conduct of Maricopa County, AZ Sheriff Joe Arpaio, a man whose style of law enforcement is a blend of  nineteen sixties Alabama and Spain under Franco, with just a touch of Aleksandr Lukashekno-style personality cult flamboyance thrown in for good measure. Joe Arpaio turned his county into an authoritarian fiefdom, ruled by fear, brutality, and racism, where prisons are industry and entertainment, and punishment is applied as an end in itself. Famously, Apraio, a county sheriff, became the subject of criticism by global human rights watchdog Amnesty International and the High Courts of Ireland and Iceland.

He’s that bad.

Something decidedly illiberal this way comes

First the police and FBI began raids of houses occupied by peaceful would-be protesters and activist groups. Then the crackdown on legal aid and media advocacy NGOs began. And now even Amy Goodman has been hauled away in handcuffs.

Here’s the video.