Faysal Ishak Ahmed’s blood flows over all of us

Faysal Ishak Ahmed died on Saturday or was it yesterday … or was it six months ago. Faysal Ishak Ahmed, 27-year-old Sudanese asylum seeker, collapsed inside the detention center on Manus Island, the dumping grounds for those refugees and asylum seekers who seek haven in Australia. This is the same Manus Island where 24-year-old Iranian asylum seeker Reza Barati was killed two years ago. Eight months ago, the Supreme Court of Papua New Guinea declared the detention center illegal. Papua New Guinea and Australia have “agreed” to close the center, but, to no one’s surprise, no time frame has been set. Faysal Ishak Ahmed did not collapse nor did he suffer a seizure. He was killed, and his blood joins the blood of Reza Barati; their blood flows everywhere.

Faysal Ishak Ahmed’s story is all too familiar. For at least six months Faysal Ishak Ahmed complained of chest pains, swollen arms and fingers, high blood pressure and a pain at the back of his head, seizures, blackouts and breathing difficulties. He begged and pleaded for medical care. Fellow prisoners begged and pleaded on his behalf. He wrote letters; fellow prisoners wrote letters. He deteriorated; he received no medical care. When he finally died, the Department of Immigration and Border Protection stated a refugee “has sadly died today from injuries suffered after a fall and seizure at the Manus Regional Processing Centre”. There is no sadness like sadness. Jesus wept, the State shrugged.

The story continues. Manus Island prisoners rebel for a while. Letters are written, protests are lodged, pictures and drawings emerge. In Sudan, Faysal Ishak Ahmed’s parents say they want their body returned to them. They also say that they have not been formally informed of his death by anyone from the Australian or the Papua New Guinean governments. The State’s great and deep sadness continues to oppress the vulnerable and the hurting.

Faysal Ishak Ahmed is just another name, just another death, in the litany of neoliberal global ethics in which he must bear full responsibility for the site of his birth, the color of his skin, and the nature of his faith. It’s Faysal Ishak Ahmed’s fault that he spent three years in prison on Manus Island. It’s Faysal Ishak Ahmed’s fault that he ever asked anyone for help, safety, or haven. It’s Faysal Ishak Ahmed’s fault that he begged for six excruciating, agonizing months without any attention. It’s Faysal Ishak Ahmed’s fault that the medical staff consistently claimed he was malingering and returned to his bed. It’s his fault, it’s altogether Faysal Ishak Ahmed’s fault that his blood flows over all of us. We are innocent, we never saw him, we never knew. It’s Faysal Ishak Ahmed’s fault.

 

(Photo Credit 1: SBS Australia) (Photo Credit 2: The Guardian)

What Dembe, Mari, Masani, and Flavirina knew and what they learned

Dembe Ainebyona has suffered: State violence, mob violence, rape. Ainebyona is a 31-year-old lesbian, originally from Uganda, currently living in the Cape Town metropolitan area. In 2009, she applied for asylum status in South Africa. Unaware of South Africa’s liberal laws concerning LGBTQ people, Ainebyona hid her lesbian identity and hid the real reasons she had fled Uganda. She was denied asylum. Her appeal comes up in a few months.

This is not a story about Uganda. This is a story about South Africa and the reality of its so-called liberal laws as lived by LGBTI refugees and asylum seekers. It’s not a pretty story.

A recent report, Economic Justice: Employment and Housing Discrimination Against LGBTI Refugees and Asylum Seekers in South Africa, read against the account of Dembe Ainebyona, reveals a story, that of asylum seekers and refugees in the Cape Town area.

Why focus on Cape Town? Dembe Ainebyona lives there. It’s a global tourist as well as refugee destination. It’s a `model’ for neoliberal urban redevelopment.

And this: “In July 2012, the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) closed its Cape Town RRO [Refugee Reception Office] and refused to accept any new requests for asylum at the location. The temporary shutdown was particularly problematic for undocumented LGBTI newcomers because it placed them at risk of detention and subsequent repatriation. In fact, the largest population of refugees and asylum seekers reside in Cape Town. To push back, PASSOP and other advocates protested outside the closed RRO. Another human rights organisation also challenged in court the legality of the RROs closing. In July 2012, the Western Cape High Court ordered the DHA to continue accepting new asylum applications until the court provided a final determination on the case, thereby providing new asylum seekers entering Cape Town interim relief. After months of rallies and public outcry spearheaded by PASSOP, the Western Cape High Court ordered in March 2013 that the RRO fully resume operations by July 2013. However, despite these 2012 and 2013 court rulings, it was reported in April 2013 that the Cape Town RRO had not accepted any new applications since June 2012.” Welcome to Cape Town!

Here’s the story of Mari, Masani, and Flavirina, residents of Cape Town.

Mari: “Lesbian asylum seeker Mari has an educational background in finance management and worked as an accountant in her home country of Angola. She reports that she had two interviews where, after having a positive reception on the phone, the potential employer would not even ask for her CV or paperwork after meeting her in person and assuming her sexual orientation … Mari, who recently escaped from Angola with her girlfriend, explained that she and her girlfriend had to sell all of their possessions and combine their savings to purchase plane tickets to flee to South Africa. Since arriving in Cape Town, they have been unable to find work and therefore are unable to afford housing. (Mari explains that despite their efforts to find employment, they are extremely limited because they cannot seek asylum seeker status and obtain legal documentation since the Cape Town DHA office has stopped accepting new arrival applicants.)”

Masani: “Lesbian refugees and asylum seekers are particularly vulnerable as they are often victims of sexual assault. As a result of discriminatory attitudes, police officers do not take reports of sexual assaults targeting the LGBTI community seriously. [Masani, a Ugandan lesbian] explains that police often respond with additional harassment when speaking with victims, asking questions such as, `How can you enjoy sex with ladies?’”

Flavirina: “Flavirina arrived in Cape Town from Burundi as a guest for an LGBTI/transgender conference. When people in her hometown heard why she had left the country, an official from Burundi contacted her and warned her to stay out of the country or she would likely be imprisoned or attacked upon her return. She applied for refugee status in South Africa and is still pending a determination. Since living in South Africa, she has lived in various shelters, on the streets and is currently living in a township. At one point, Flavirina found refuge at a Christian shelter, where she had to hide both her Muslim religion and her gender identity. The shelter separated the living quarters by gender, forcing her to share showers, dressing rooms, and other living quarters with men. As the shelter did not allow new members to leave the premises for the first three months of their stay, Flavirina was trapped in this environment, having to dress and act male. After coming out to the pastor in charge of the shelter, he told her he could no longer guarantee her safety.”

Most interviewees in this report were aware of the protections in South Africa’s Constitution, and the minority that were not came to the country following rumors of tolerance in the nation’s communities.” They found violence and promise, persecution and hope. They found that, in South Africa, life can be hard and dangerous for lesbians. They found as well that, in South Africa, life can be hard and dangerous for women marked as `foreigner’.  As non-national Africans and as lesbians, they face housing and employment discrimination.

In February, Free Gender, the Khayelitsha-based Black lesbian organization, celebrated 20 years of democracy and lamented 20 years of fear. They celebrated the rule of law as they decried the rule of violence and torture.

For those who decry and work to reverse the current wave of homophobic legislation, continue to do so. At the same time, ensure your country has more than good laws. Make sure you welcome and care for the stranger in your strange land, whoever she may be.

 

(Video Credit: The Atlantic Philanthropies / YouTube)

Lampedusa nowhere, Lampedusa everywhere

The plan was, and is, simple. Cut off routes for migration; create one “forced route”, an impossible route. If anything goes wrong, blame it on the dead. Call it Plan Lampedusa.

The only problem is that those who moved through Lampedusa refuse to die, vanish, or accept. Welcome to the Lampedusa Charter, welcome to Lampedusa in Hamburg. Welcome to Lampedusa … everywhere.

A week ago or so, over three hundred immigration and asylum activists met, on the island of Lampedusa, to write a new Lampedusa Charter. The 300 included representatives from Lampedusa in Hamburg, the Moroccan Social Forum, and Terre Pour Tous, a Tunisian organization of relatives of migrants and shipwreck victims. The Charter rejects the forced route to Europe. The authors of the Charter reject the erasure of their lives, their humanity, and their stories.

For Europe, and beyond, Lampedusa has become the spectacle of tragedy. Regularly, Africans, by the boatload, drown or “are saved” off its shores. But the news media never seem to question why those shores? Why are there so many drowning off the shores of Lampedusa? And what happens to those who pass through, on to the continent?

Lampedusa in Hamburg offers one response. In early 2013, about 300 West African men made it to Hamburg. They survived the treacherous trip through Libya. They survived the impossible journey across the Mediterranean. They made it through Lampedusa and onto the mainland, and finally made it to Hamburg.

The 300 applied for asylum and ran into obstacles, many of which derived from EU regulations. And so they organized. They organized Lampedusa in Hamburg. They organized solidarity networks. Football clubs supported them. Bar bouncers protected them from racist attacks. The State did nothing. Then the “Lampedusa tragedy”, the death of over 300 African refugees, happened in October 2013. Hamburg declared “danger zones”, meaning specified areas in which police could demand anything of anybody, without any proper cause or due process. Lampedusa in Hamburg, and its allies, responded with mass demonstrations. Finally, the State relented … somewhat. The danger zones were disbanded. Lampedusa in Hamburg still lives under threat of deportation.

In Hamburg, African refugees and asylum seekers joined with others in the local Right to the City movement. They organized for the universal right to stay. From squatters to homeowners and apartment dwellers in suddenly chic neighborhoods to residents in areas facing `redevelopment’ to asylum seekers and refugees, people organized to combat racism, gentrification, exclusion, inhumanity.

Lampedusa in Hamburg, and its allies, are rewriting the narrative of immigration and citizenship, as they re-draw all sorts of maps. No amount of crocodile tears over the tragedy of Lampedusa can wash away the reality of Lampedusa. And that reality is that Lampedusa is everywhere. Migrants, immigrants, irrespective of their status, carry the portal of entry with them forever. Those who have passed through Lampedusa, they are forever citizens and bearers of Lampedusa. The plan was Lampedusa nowhere. Instead, the reality is Lampedusa everywhere. And the residents of that reality are organizing, demanding the right to stay.

 

(Photo Credit: Getty Pictures / Express.co.uk)

Welcome Irene Kainda as a neighbor, not as a stranger

What are the borders of being-a-refugee? When does one stop being a stranger and become simply a neighbor? Irene Kainda wants to know.

Irene Kainda is 21 years old. She lives in Cape Town. She has lived in Cape Town continuously since 1998. She used to live with her mother and her brother, Felipe, who is two years younger than Irene. In 2006, Irene and Felipe’s mother abandoned them. The two children spent three years in a homeless shelter, and then were taken in by some good people. Now Irene is in college and so is her brother, thanks to Irene’s hard work. In many ways, this is, or could be, a tale of great promise, a tale of a young woman who keeps on keeping on.

Irene and Felipe came to South Africa as refugees, and there’s the rub. The civil war in Angola is officially at an end, and the situation is both improved and improving: “Angola is a nation of bright minds, brilliant writers, exceptional musicians, and a civil society that, almost 11 years after war’s end, is ready to have its voice heard.” Of course, there’s much room for improvement, but that’s true everywhere.

Recently, the South African government decided to `encourage’ Angolan refugees to return `home’. The `invitation’ to `apply for repatriation’ is universal. Everyone has to `apply’. Hundreds of thousands of people, call them Angolans who have sought refugee status, live in South Africa. Many of them have lived there for twenty years. For many of them, South Africa is the only home they really know. Irene Kainda notes, “I came to South Africa when I was seven. I don’t remember Angola, I don’t know where I am from and who or where my family there is.”

What are the borders of being-a-refugee, and how does gender inflect those borders? Women and girl refugees haunt the world. According to the most recent UNHCR Global Trends Report, at the end of 2011, 42.5 million people were displaced. Of them, 15.2 million were refugees. Women and girls made up 49 per cent of persons “of concern to UNHCR.” According to the UNHCR, 48 percent of refugees are women and girls. Further, “in 2011, UNHCR submitted some 92,000 refugees for resettlement. Ten per cent of all submissions were for women and girls at risk, the highest percentage of the last six years.” The next UNHCR report comes out in a month.

The civil war in Angola saw massive, programmatic and widely acknowledged violence against women and girls, and yet the processes and structures concerning demobilization altogether avoided women and girls as a distinct group. Thus, no resources were dedicated to their specific needs. And now it looks like South Africa’s Department of Home Affairs will do the same, avoid any recognition of the specific situations of Angolan-born women and girls living in South Africa.

Meanwhile, more than one study has noted that xenophobia is the dark side of the new supposedly democratic South Africa: “Intolerance is extremely pervasive and growing in intensity and seriousness. Abuse of migrants and refugees has intensified and there is little support for the idea of migrant rights.” Sometimes the abuse was directed specifically at Angolan refugees in Cape Town: “The City of Cape Town, like many other cities, has seen a number of xenophobic attacks on foreigners…The most well-publicised conflicts have been those in Danoon, Doornbach in 2001 and in Joe Slovo Park in 2002. Perhaps the most publicised incident was in Joe Slovo Park, where four people were killed in clashes between Angolan refugees and South Africans.”

Irene Kainda is an Angolan-born young woman who has lived and grown up, and raised her younger brother, in Cape Town in a very particular historical period. She has labored through abandonment, homelessness, xenophobia, violence against women, and more. At every step of the way, she was supposed to fail, and take her younger brother down with her. Instead, she succeeded, and took her younger brother up with her. And her reward, if the South African government has its way, is to be shipped to a `homeland’ she doesn’t know?

That cannot be. The State cannot punish Irene Kainda who has spent almost all her life engaged in Cape Town in performing the labor of survival with dignity, hope, and humor. Rather than deport Irene Kainda, reform the State. Institute a statute of limitations on being-a-refugee. Take responsibility for being a haven. Stop treating Irene Kainda as a stranger and welcome her as a neighbor.

 

(Photo Credit:Mail & Guardian)

 

Australia tortures migrant children

The Australian government continues to torture refugee and asylum seeking children. The State currently holds some 2000 children in detention. That’s mandatory detention for all non-citizens who arrive without prior authorization. That rule includes children. And so there is a `furor’ of  `concern’ for the well-being, and in particular for the mental health, of the children behind bars.

None of this is new, and none of it is surprising. A mandatory incarceration policy that makes no exceptions for children, and in particular for children fleeing violence and persecution, will have exactly the effects you imagine. Seemingly healthy children will engage in `self-harm’. This includes slashing one’s body and suicide by any and every means possible. Children report not being able to sleep. Children report a desperate desire to go to school, to play, to have normal children’s lives. Children report fear that they will go crazy and kill themselves. And then they kill themselves.

For girls, the situation is equally predictable. Girls are `particular’: “Girls and young women are at particular risk of gender based violence and sexual abuse… Girls and young women are particularly at risk of harm due to their sex… Moreover, girls are particularly susceptible to marginalization, poverty and suffering during armed conflict, and many may have experienced gender-based violence in the context of armed conflict.” The particularity of girls’ vulnerability emerges from both detailed and extensive research scholarship and from simple common sense. You know migrant girls, girl refugees, and asylum-seeking girls are `particular.’ So does the Australian government. What does the State do in recognition of this particularity? Absolutely nothing. Less than nothing. It intensifies and increases the pain, the torment, and the torture.

Children in low-security prisons in Pontville, in Tasmania, and in Darwin, in the Northern Territory, are falling apart. Their precariousness is not about this condition or that condition. It emerges directly from the totality of being-caged. The intensity and levels of self-harm in both locations is off the chart. Meanwhile, Australian Human Rights Commissioner Gillian Triggs has been informed that she cannot visit the refugee and asylum seeker detention camps on Nauru and Manus Islands because that would violate the sovereignty of the island nations. Australia’s massive funding of those prison camps apparently did not violate any sovereignty. Australia’s insistence on shipping off hundreds of women, girls, boys, and men to the island nations also did not violate any sovereignty proprieties. This is the way of sovereignty, the wink-wink nudge-nudge of fraternal violence.

This is why the Australian government can so easily ignore reports of sexual violence against Tamil refugees, and especially the `particular’ targeting of Tamil girls. To accept such reports would violate Sri Lankan sovereignty, and after all, the refugees and asylum seekers had already violated Australian sovereignty. That’s why they’re in prison, isn’t it? It’s a perfect circle … of hell.

Rather than `discovering’ yet again the nightmare of child detention, why not discover the simple, open alternative? Recognize and respect the particularity of girls. Take the children, all the children, far from the cages. Teach them to respect themselves and others. Help them to find peace and love. End child detention. Do it now.

 

(Image Credit: The Green Journal AU)