Who killed Samba Martine? We all did

Samba Martine died, or was killed, on December 19, 2011, in the Aluche immigrant detention center in Madrid. This week, a Spanish court ordered her case to be reopened, stating that Martine’s death “could have been avoided.” That’s putting a fine point on it. Samba Martine was killed. She was killed by the Spanish government. She was killed by a global immigration detention gulag that has little to no rules, even less enforcement of the few rules it has, almost no accountability, and so little transparency as to be opaque. Except to the prisoners who continue to die … avoidably.

Here’s one version of Samba Martine’s story, as presented last year to a European Parliament Commission: “On 19 December 2011, a Congolese citizen, Samba Martine, died at the Aluche immigrant detention centre in Madrid. According to the Spanish Ombudsman’s 2012 annual report, her death was due to a lack of communication between institutions, which meant that she was not given the right treatment as someone with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). The immigrant held at Aluche had been diagnosed as HIV-positive at the Melilla temporary detention centre for immigrants but was transferred to the Aluche immigrant detention centre in Madrid without the latter centre being given any information whatsoever about her health status. This meant that at Aluche she was diagnosed with different illnesses and the centre’s doctors treated her on the basis of the different diagnoses without realising that she was HIV-positive, which consequently led to her death … The case of Samba Martine shows that the lack of coordination between the Aluche immigrant detention centre and the Melilla temporary detention centre for immigrants led to a diagnostic error which meant that she was not given the essential treatment for her illness, which indirectly caused her death. In addition to this case, there is the case of Idrissa Diallo and many other immigrants who have lost their lives in immigrant detention centres in Spain, suggesting that human rights … are being systematically violated.”

Samba Martine did not die of a `lack of coordination’. She was killed. She was killed by a program that targets immigrant women, and especially African women.

Samba Martine was held at Aluche for 38 days. From the day she arrived to the day she died, she complained of severe headaches, perineal irritation, stomach pains, and more. She went to the on-site medical facility, such as it is, and was given little to no treatment. Finally, the pain was so severe, they decided to send her to the hospital, only after debating whether to send her in a police car or ambulance. Hours later, Samba Martine died, alone, in pain.

Who died that night? 3106. A number, not a person. Cause? Cryptococcal infection … the second most common AIDS-defining illness in Africa. What crime did she commit? None. `Officially’, Aluche isn’t a prison. In fact, it’s worse. Next to Aluche, standard Spanish prisons look almost decent.

Samba Martine is not an exception. The notorious CIE, the Centro de Internamiento de Extranjeros, is filled with Sambas. Women, and especially African women, suffer particular indignities and violence. A litany of `failures’ and `omissions’ will now ensue. The prison clinic is private. The prisons don’t communicate with one another. The prison staff is inadequately trained. None of these describe what happened.

Samba Martine was not failed by anyone. She was killed. She was killed by the State, in this instance Spain, and she was killed by the world that sustains black holes, militarized borders on every corner, and dispensable surplus populations.

On June 2, 2012, six months after she died, Samba Martine was buried in a cemetery in Madrid. Her mother, Clementine, came from Canada. She knew her daughter’s death was neither accident nor failure. It was murder. She knew. We all killed Samba Martine.


(Photo Credit: elpais.com)

Amnesty has never meant freedom

Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, members of Pussy Riot, walked out of prison today. This is good news, but it’s not freedom. Freedom does not exist where whole populations live in fear of State mandated, sponsored, or instigated terror. Gay and lesbian individuals and populations, from Moscow to Kampala, know this all too well. Ask Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera about life in Uganda, and she will not talk about “freedom.” She will talk about the struggle for freedom, the long hard walk to a freedom dreamt of but not in sight. Ask those, like Alyokhina and Tolokonnikova, who suddenly leave prison if they feel “free.” They may feel joyful and relieved to be on the outside, however precariously, but they do not feel free. They remember too much.

President Obama recently “pardoned” and “commuted” a few sentences. He talked a little about the unfairness of some aspects of the so-called War on Drugs. He didn’t mention that he has the lowest pardon rate of any President in recent history. He didn’t mention the bodies piling up in prisons and jails across the country.

He certainly didn’t mention Karen Sandoval, originally from Honduras, who lives in constant fear and terror. He didn’t mention the terror of a rigid “immigration enforcement policy” that rips families and communities apart, that rends hearts and souls and sometimes minds, and, not incidentally, that targets women – as undocumented individuals, as those left to clean up and care for those, and in particular the children, `left behind’, and, when incarcerated, as those most vulnerable to sexual abuse and violence from staff.

In Spain, the conditions in immigration detention centers, in the notorious centros de internamiento de extranjeros, or CIEs, are infamously toxic. What’s the anwer? Build more! Put one on every corner. In Italy, the vicious conditions of immigration detention centers are so bad they have inspired prisoners to sew their lips shut, in protest. They say these are worse than prisons “or any other place”. In these prisons, “people … are treated like animals.”

None of this is new. We have seen the sewn lips before, and we have turned away. We have each time taken an oath to forget. That’s what amnesty is, that’s what amnesty was at its origin. Once a year, those who committed violence in the name of preservation of the democratic State, would gather, each year at the same time in the same place, and would take an oath to forget. That is why the State, from its earliest, feared the mothers in mourning, the mothers who refused to forget, who howled their remembrances in words and deeds.

Amnesty has never meant freedom. Ask those who remember.


(Photo Credit: CalvertJournal.com)

What happens in immigration detention stays in immigration detention

This is a story of whistleblowers in the land where there are no whistles and ears are forbidden. That land is called “immigration detention”. In different places, it goes by different names. Yarl’s Wood in England. Centro de Internamiento de Extranjeros, or CIE, in Spain. The names change, but the structures and situations are the same. “Immigration detention” is a country, and it’s global.

In September, there was yet another story about systematic sexual predation at Yarl’s Wood. This time it was Tanja’s story, an account that only made it to the public because of the tenacity, perseverance and creativity of Tanja, who just kept on pushing. Yarl’s Wood is a designed community in which staff preys upon the most vulnerable, typically young women fleeing sexual violence. Remember, the Yarl’s Wood prison population is almost 90% women, while men make up almost half the staff. The police yet again said they would conduct an investigation. The real story here is the story of the story, the fact that Tanja could get the story out at all. And that story continues.

Since Tanja’s story broke, all hell has broken loose, and by hell is meant silence. First it was Sirah Jeng, a 59-year-old Gambian, who said she could corroborate Tanja’s story. Her reward? In November she was informed, with barely any notice, that she should get ready for imminent deportation … hours before her scheduled appointment with investigating police. That was November.

This month, Afolashade Lamidi, 40-year-old Nigerian, also confirmed parts of Tanja’s accounts, and then some. And she received the same treatment as Sirah Jeng. She was promised the opportunity of forced return to Nigeria.

This is in so many ways a common story. In Spain this month, Aramis Manukyan, known by his friends and now the world as Alik, was “found dead in his cell.” Alik was a 42-year-old Armenian, a father of a 7-year-old daughter. Found dead in his cell was immediately translated into suicide, despite various testimonies to the contrary. Prisoners reported from different floors that they could her Alik’s cries, but no matter. He committed suicide.

After much pressure from the usual suspects like SOS Racismo, Cerramos los CIE (Close the CIE) and Migra Studium, the police, yet again, say they would conduct an investigation. And that’s when the two key witnesses were deported.

For every Tanja and every Alik there are tens, hundreds, thousands of neighbors and friends, prisoners all. There are witnesses in prison, and they are not the kings or queens in the land of the blind. They are the witnesses in the land of the blinded. They are the whistleblowers in the land where whistles are prohibited and hearing is a crime. Remember, what happens in immigration detention stays, or dies, in immigration detention.


(Photo Credit: Guy Corbishley / Demotix / Corbis / The Guardian)