Lilian Oliva Bardales: “In prison when I haven’t committed any crime”

Lilian Yamileth Oliva Bardales, 19 years old, and her four-year-old son have been held in KarnesFamily Detention Center” since last October. She had applied for asylum, explaining that she had fled Honduras to escape an abusive ex-partner, six years older than she, who had beaten her regularly since she was 13. Her application was denied. Last Wednesday, she locked herself in a bathroom and cut her wrists. She was removed from the bathroom, held for four days under medical “supervision” during which she was denied access to her attorneys, and then, on Monday, suddenly moved from Karnes, presumably for deportation. From beginning to now, the treatment of Lilian Oliva Bardales has been a national disgrace.

Oliva Bardales left a note, the translation of which reads, in part: “I write this letter so you know how it feels to be in this damn place for 8 months. You don’t understand that people’s lives have no price and you cannot buy it with money. You don’t have a heart for anybody. You just lie and humiliate all of us who have come to this country … I do this because only God knows what I have suffered in my country. I come here so this country can help me but here you’ve been killing me little by little with punishment and lies in prison when I haven’t committed any crime. What hurts me the most is that I saw how my brother was killed and how it’s hurt my son and all the abuse that we suffered in my country. You don’t believe me you never wanted to give me my freedom. I do this because I would rather be dead than seeing my son fail along with me. Maybe you are not fathers or mothers to understand the reasons and the suffering that we live in this place together with our children. You would not like to be locked up in a place like this the way we are here suffering with our children. What I tell you is that nobody lives forever in this world one day we are all going to die and give an account to God. I do this because I don’t feel any life going back to my country. That’s why I waited so long so you could take a decision on my case but you have treated us worse than an animal …That’s why I do this because you were bad to me and my son. We did not deserve this. now you want to deport me after spending 8 months here.”

That’s “family detention”. It is the place where mercy dies a slow, tortured, mean, evil death:

The quality of mercy is not strained;
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest;
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes:
‘T is mightiest in the mightiest; it becomes
The throned monarch better than his crown:
His sceptre shows the force of temporal power,
The attribute to awe and majesty,
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings;
But mercy is above this sceptred sway;
It is enthronèd in the hearts of kings,
It is an attribute to God himself;
And earthly power doth then show likest God’s
When mercy seasons justice.”

When mercy seasons justice. When degradation, abuse, torture and despair season the appeal for asylum … what then? Where are Lilian Oliva Bardales and her four-year-old son?

 

(Image Credit: McClatchydc.com)

Women at work, not miracles, feed the village

At the end of November, Durban, South Africa, will host COP 17, the 17th Conference of the Parties (COP 17) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). As happened last year, in the run-up to the Cancun conference, the press yet again `discovers’ women farmers, women fisherfolk, women workers, who are at the core of the struggle for climate justice, both as active participants and as targets of environmental devastation and climate change. Yet again, the story is that women `bear the brunt.’

This story takes one of two routes, miracle or mercy. According to the first, by some miracle, women discover a way to feed their communities. According to the second, the slow death of climate change shall have no mercy on women. This week’s Mail & Guardian offers a prime example of the miracle narrative.

In “The `miracle’ tree”, the village of Tooseng is saved by the `miracle’ of the moringa tree. It was no miracle. It was instead Mavis Mathabatha, of the Sedikong sa Lerato drop-in center, which feeds 320 children and provides after-school care. As well it was her mentor, Mamakgeme Mphahlele, who directs Lenkwane Lamaphiri drop-in center, in Mphahlele Seleteng. Both Mathabatha and Mphalele have committed their centers to planting the super-nutritious moringa trees. The moringa leaves are a treasure of nutrients: calcium, vitamin C, potassium, iron, vitamin A, protein, and lots of each.

There was no miracle. Mathabatha and Mphalele, as women in charge of drop-in centers, did what women in charge of drop-in centers do. As Mavis Mathabatha tells the story, the women performed research. They asked questions. They went on-line and researched some more. They found the information, then they found the agencies to provide the seeds, then they found the means. They took care of the children, the community, and, in their way, the world.

Climate justice. Sustaining and sustainable food. Healthy children. These are not lofty, impossible goals, and they are never the result of miracles. They are, instead, produced by women who live in the everyday, in the odinary world we all inhabit, and who struggle to improve it. We have had too many stories of miracle workers. Instead, let’s hear about the neighbors and friends, the women around the corner or in the next village, and what they’re doing. Let’s admire Mavis Mathabatha and Mamakgeme Mphahlele for their radically ordinary pursuit of well being for all.

 

(Photo Credit: Mail & Guardian)

 

Betty Tibikawa’s asylum nightmare

Yarl’s Wood

Betty Tibikawa is a Ugandan lesbian who has applied for asylum in the United Kingdom. She has been turned down and sits in Yarl’s Wood, waiting to be deported, struggling to live.

Betty Tibikawa’s family has disowned her. The infamous Ugandan tabloid, the Red Pepper, identified Tibikawa as lesbian, and so extended the threat to her life and well being.

And she has been tortured. Having just graduated from high school, Betty Tibikawa was preparing to go to university in Kampala when three men abducted her. They took her to an abandoned building and branded her thighs with a hot iron. They left her unconscious. She remained at home, in bed, for two months. In the home of the family that then disowned her for being lesbian.

The United Kingdom Border Agency has decided that Betty Tibikawa shall not receive asylum. The scars are real, and they do indicate having been branded with a hot iron, but she shall not remain in the United Kingdom. Has the agency decided, despite all evidence to the contrary, that Uganda is now magically safe for LGBTQ persons? That can’t be. There’s too much evidence to the contrary. Is Betty Tibikawa not lesbian enough for the UKBA, and thus not in enough danger? Being tortured, being abducted, being threatened by a national newspaper, being disowned and abandoned by one’s family aren’t enough? What would be credible enough?

Betty Tibikawa’s story is an old story, a familiar story. In pleading for asylum, Tibikawa is  “at the mercy of states not only jealous of their own sovereignty but dominant on the international scene, pressed to intervene here rather than or sooner than there”. Hers is a story of mercy, a test of the sovereign nation-State’s capacity to engage in mercy. The State has failed … again.

She has come before strangers and revealed herself. She has been prodded, poked, interrogated, poked again, prodded again, all in the name of some sort of science. In this, Betty Tibikawa mirrors Saartjie Baartman, a Khoisan woman brought to France, an African woman who, in the end, “craved … mercy. Mercy. I was one colored woman against a thousand dead white men.” All she craved was mercy. She found none. She found, instead, European men who claimed science, who claimed mercy.

Betty Tibikawa mirrors as well Joseph “John” Merrick, the “Elephant Man”, who looked at the world of English scientists and doctors and wondered aloud, “If your mercy is so cruel, what do you have for justice?” The doctors responded that Merrick had much to learn about science, about religion, about mercy.

Where is mercy?

Is it to be found in a court of law? Does mercy abide anywhere in the processes of asylum? Do mercy and justice ever meet? What crime did Betty Tibikawa commit? The crime of self knowledge? The crime of knowing whom she loves? The crime of love itself?

Betty Tibikawa says she can’t sleep and has terrible nightmares. The current practice of asylum is a nightmare, a nightmare from which we all must try to awake. Meanwhile, Betty Tibikawa waits to be deported back to Uganda.

 

(Photo  credit: Dan Chung / Guardian)