Racism has produced the Mediterranean `refugee crisis”

Today, thousands of people escaping violence are killed or die because of the color of their skin, their origins, and because there are too many of “them” to fit into the neoliberal order of exploitation and competition. At the same time, the disequilibrium of the climate originated in the global North and has had a devastating impact on the global South.

The European Union had no qualms when it defunded and thus forced the Mare Nostrum Italian program to be abandoned and then moved to the Frontex program, based on nationalist (here European) security and militarization. Mare Nostrum saved 150 000 people, while Frontex, not designed to save people, has already killed thousands with more deaths to come.

This move seemed innocuous from the United States where the militarization of civil society has already been normalized.

After the events of Baltimore, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, the mayor of Baltimore, went on air to establish that, thanks to the police and the military, the city was back in order, adding that Baltimore was resilient. Resilience rhymes with silence, and, as Audre Lorde taught, “silence and invisibility go hand in hand with powerlessness”.

The indifference to the ordeal of millions in the Global South is a racial issue that is used to promote and allow an absurd, but for a few profitable, bio-economic order that needs racism to impose so-called free trade markets and their dehumanization through militaristic means. Organizations as respected as Amnesty International or Medecins Sans Frontières MSF (Doctors without Borders), whose President once opposed the Western military actions in Libya, present in their latest reports evidence of this racist indifference and its consequences for real human beings. Nicolas Sarkozy, former president of France, continues to defend his government’s decision to involve France in the bombing of Libya. At least, another French president refused to participate to the destruction of Iraq but that was then.

Amnesty interviewed refugees to document the reality of the very long journey to the Mediterranean Sea shores. Libya is often the destination. People risk abduction and extortion by smugglers and police. Women face the additional risk of sexual violence, and all in the context of growing racial and religious intolerance. The next goal is to escape Libya where the rights of allegiance to local powers prevail over human rights. With the complicity of many, the smugglers have developed a new crude business in this zone of no rights.

The smugglers are merely taking advantage of a situation that has it source somewhere else. As Loris De Filipi, MSF President explained, “A mass grave is being created in the Mediterranean Sea and European policies are responsible.” Both Amnesty and MSF are demanding a change of European policies.

The European Commission has proposed to create a quota system to distribute the migrant population among European countries according to their size and economy, “share the burden.” Thus far, only six countries out of the twenty-eight countries have agreed to participate to this program. British Home Secretary Theresa May has rejected participating in any EU migrant resettlement proposal. Her conservative counterparts in the EU have agreed with her. Instead, they have offered a military intervention to destroy the smuggling business in Libya.

The formula of “nothing for refugees and everything for the military” comes from a radically racialized world vision. The “refugee crisis” is is not a question of choice or opportunity, to use neoliberal language. People just want to escape the impossibility of life.

With about 19 000 km of walls built in the world, the message is violent and the violence it creates. We should instead look at opening the borders and learn about the racialization of humanity. Only by freeing the movement of people can the world start a desegregation process that is necessary if we want to survive. Every serious geographer agrees people thrive when they can move and not be fixed in place.

We have been told the markets should be free because they can regulate themselves. It’s not so. Having no real existence, markets, can never be free. Only the people can regulate, and only the people can know freedom.

 

(Photo Credit: MSF / Ikram N’gadi)

Asylum haunts the foreign service

Bita Ghaedi fled to the UK in 2005 to flee a forced marriage. Then her troubles really began.

Asylum haunts the foreign service. People face violence, persecution, torture, from the State, from partners, from various sectors. Finally, they flee. They escape. They go to the United Kingdom, say, or the United States. Where they apply for asylum. And are treated like criminals. Often they are placed in immigrant detention centers, where they are treated as immigrant detainees, which is to say where they are treated as common criminals … or worse. Then they are returned to the torture zones and the killing fields. They tell their stories, others tell their stories. Their stories circulate, in the languages of those who suffered throughout their communities. Their stories, their bodies, their scars and their memories, precede the ambassadors and the envoys.

This week Bita Ghaedi was informed that she would not be deported immediately to Iran. Further, she was informed that she could finally leave Yarl’s Wood. In 2005, Bita Ghaedi fled a violently abusive family and an imminent forced marriage. In the UK, she has been a civil rights, women’s rights and human rights activist who has publically supported the opposition to the Iranian government. She has reason to believe she would be killed if she is returned to Iran. The question is whether it would be the State or her family who would commit the deed.

In 2007, Bita Ghaedi’s application was turned down. She attempted suicide. She appealed the decision. In January of this year, she was on weeks long hunger strike. She was supposed to be deported April 20, but Icelandic volcanic ash postponed that. She was supposed to be deported this past Wednesday, May 5. That’s when the high court decided, again, to delay the deportation and hold another hearing. That is meant to happen July 21.

Bita Ghaedi’s story parallels that of Rodi Alvarado. Rodi Alvarado was born and raised in Guatemala.  In 1984, at the age of 16, she married a man, a former soldier, who immediately began beating, torturing, raping her. She went to authorities who did nothing. She ran away, was caught by her husband, and beaten unconscious. Finally, in 1995, she fled to the United States, leaving her two young children with relatives. She applied for asylum. In September 1996, an immigration judge granted her asylum.

That’s where the story turns: “The Immigration and Naturalization Service appealed the grant to a higher court, the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA). And in June 1999, the BIA reversed the decision of the immigration judge, by a divided 10-5 vote, and ordered that Ms. Alvarado be deported to Guatemala”

The case then lingered on until December 2009, when Rodi Alvarado was finally, and without explanation, granted asylum. For fourteen years, Rodi Alvarado waited in terror.

In March 2009, Amnesty USA released Jailed Without Justice: Immigration Detention in the USA. Without naming Rodi Alvarado, the report suggests that, in the context of US treatment of asylum seeking women, Rodi Alvarado’s case is not unusual. In fact, it’s almost benign.

In the United States, women asylum seekers are routinely abused. Some, like Saluja Thangaraja, can share their names: “Saluja Thangaraja fled the brutal beatings and torture that she suffered during the Sri Lankan civil war only to endure more than four and a half half years of immigration detention upon arrival in the United States in October 2001. She was granted asylum in 2004. However, immigration authorities appealed the decision, and Ms. Thangaraja remained in detention. She was finally released in March 2006 after filing a habeas petition. Despite posing no danger to the community and demonstrating a commitment to pursuing her asylum claim, Ms. Thangaraja was never given a custody hearing during the four and a half years she was detained.”

Others must continue to insist on anonymity: “A 26-year-old Chinese woman cried as she told AI [Amnesty International] researchers that she fled persecution after she and her mother were beaten in their home for handing out religious fliers. She arrived in the United States in January 2008 seeking asylum and was detained at the airport before being moved to a county jail. No one explained to her why she was being detained. An ICE Field Office Director decided that she should remain in detention unless a bond of $50,000 was paid. Neither her uncle in the United States nor her family in China had sufficient funds to meet the required amount. Her attorney told Amnesty International that the immigration judge indicated that he did not have the authority to release her from detention or change the amount of the bond set. Family members in the United States were finally able to raise the money needed to secure her release in December 2008, after she had spent nearly an entire year in detention.”

Women asylum seekers in detention centers are shackled in childbirth, placed in isolation for the crime of not speaking English, sexually harassed, abused, exploited. In other words, women asylum seekers are treated exactly the same as women immigrant detainees.

Bita Ghaedi, Rodi Alvarado, Saluja Thangaraja, the “Chinese woman”, and the thousands of other asylum seekers who are and have been abused, these are the ambassadors of the United States and the United Kingdom. Not the Secretary of State nor the Foreign Secretary. Not Hillary Clinton nor David Miliband, or whomever it will be next week. The lives and bodies of these women testify to the story of women who have sought refuge and the manner in which they have been treated in the great democracies of the early twenty first century. These women and the asylum they have sought haunt the foreign service and will continue to do so for a long time to come.

 

(Photo Credit: indymedia.org.uk)