Texas can’t keep Syrians out

Texas loses fight to keep Syrian refugees out

By Alexa Ura – The Texas Tribune June 16

Texas on Thursday lost its fight against the resettlement of Syrian refugees in the state, ending a months-long battle during which refugees from the war-torn country continued to arrive.

Dealing the final blow to Gov. Greg Abbott’s effort to keep Syrian refugees out of the state, a federal judge dismissed Texas’s lawsuit against the federal government and a refugee resettlement agency over the resettlement of the refugees.

In an order dated Wednesday and released Thursday, Dallas-based U.S. District Judge David Godbey said the state did not have grounds to sue the federal government over this and failed to provide a “plausible claim” that a refugee resettlement nonprofit organization breached its contract.

The judge’s dismissal comes after several failed attempts by state Attorney General Ken Paxton to block the arrival of Syrian refugees.

Texas first filed suit in December against the federal government and the International Rescue Committee — one of about 20 private nonprofits that have a state contract to resettle refugees in Texas — saying they were violating federal law by moving forward with the planned resettlement of Syrian refugees.

In the aftermath of terrorist attacks in Paris that left 130 dead, Texas’s Republican leaders raised concerns about the refugee vetting process. Abbott in November directed nonprofit groups in Texas to halt the resettlement of any Syrian refugees last month.

But the federal government warned Texas that it did not have the power to reject Syrian refugees, and the International Rescue Committee’s Dallas branch informed the state it would continue aiding Syrian refugees placed in Texas, including two families set to arrive in December.

(Refugee resettlement in the United States is completely funded by the federal government, but the state is in charge of contracting with local nonprofit organizations and distributing federal dollars to those agencies.)

Since the state went to court, 229 Syrian refugees have been resettled in Texas — 21 arrived in December and the rest arrived this year, according to the federal government’s Refugee Processing Center.

In a short statement, Paxton said Thursday his office was “considering our options moving forward.”

“I am disappointed with the court’s determination that Texas cannot hold the federal government accountable to consult with us before resettling refugees here,” Paxton said.

Godbey’s dismissal follows a previous ruling in which he said Texas was unlikely to succeed in the lawsuit because it had “no viable cause of action” against the federal government.

Paxton’s office in December dropped its first request for an order to block the resettlement of two Syrian families that arrived in Houston and Dallas that month. Godbey then knocked down a second request to bar nine other Syrian refugees from arriving in Texas. But the state moved forward with its lawsuit, saying the federal government was required to consult with the state in advance of any additional refugee placements.

Godbey on Thursday reiterated in his ruling that the state “lacks a cause of action” to enforce that consultation requirement.

Meanwhile, the International Rescue Committee celebrated the win. The judge’s dismissal “upholds and affirms” the United States’ history of providing refuge for those fleeing violence, Jennifer Sime, a senior vice president with the International Rescue Committee, said in a statement.

“The court is unequivocal in validating the lawfulness of the refugee resettlement program and reaffirms Texas’ legacy in welcoming refugees,” Sime added.

This article originally appeared in the Texas Tribune.




18-year-old refugees in UK face destitution

For child asylum seekers turning 18 is a time of fear not celebration

When unaccompanied asylum-seeking children turn 18 their support can be completely cut off – no matter how long they have been in the UK

Do you remember your 18th birthday? Was it a time of anticipation, excitement and joy? Your whole life ahead of you and so much to look forward to.

Not so much if you are an unaccompanied asylum-seeking child in the UK. You might have been here for a few years, done well in school, be happily settled with your wonderful foster parents – but your life is about to be turned upside down.

Your journey to the UK is likely to have been harsh, cruel and unforgiving. The country you left was at best impoverished; at worst, war-torn and dangerous.

But you made it here and we cared for you. Social workers, teachers and foster carers have helped you to recover from the trauma suffered. Unaccompanied asylum-seeking children (UASC) tend to learn English quickly, engage positively at school and many could go on to university if allowed.However, your 18th birthday looms. You are about to stop being a vulnerable child deserving of our care and support and start being a statistic in our Alice in Wonderland immigration system.

The 2016 Immigration Act seeks to: “Reduce pressures on local authorities and simplify support for migrants pending resolution of their immigration status or their departure from the UK.”

They have achieved the second part, because they have all but removed support for UASC who turn 18 while leaving local authorities in the invidious position whereby: “Local authorities will continue to provide support under section 17 of the Children Act 1989 to meet any other needs of a child, or their family, in order to safeguard and promote the child’s welfare.”

For this the Home Office will provide £200 per week – meant to cover everything – but not if the young person’s appeal rights to remain in the UK have been exhausted. And here we get to the nub of the problem. Like so many political decisions this one is being made on the basis of how politicians wished the world was, rather than how it actually is. Our asylum application and removal and deportation services don’t work very well. This isn’t a political point: Labour have been just as inept as the Tories on this.

As they approach their 18th birthday, unaccompanied asylum-seeking children must apply for extended leave to remain in the UK, and the majority are turned down. However, the Home Office does not then remove them from the UK. The appeals system is byzantine and inefficient. Many young people go off grid and become more vulnerable. Often the Home Office have no idea where they are or how many of them there are. The removals system is inefficient, under resourced and overwhelmed.

At a meeting last week, I asked the immigration minister James Brokenshire if it would not be simpler and more humane to offer the same leaving care support to unaccompanied children as to other care leavers. His answer was that this would “not be appropriate as we are not preparing them for adult life in the UK so the approach must be different”.

This is as casually callous as it is nonsensical. Is he seriously suggesting that allowing an unaccompanied child to stay in their foster home until 21 and attend further education college or university (for however short a time) is a worse preparation for returning to their country of origin than being made functionally destitute? Or maybe he just accepts that destitution is what we are sending the young person back to?

Our whole approach to UASC is confused, grudging and wrong. It seems there has been a very cynical political calculation made that we can’t deport children so must be seen to be caring and magnanimous but, at 18, all bets are off.

The only reasonable approach to returning UASC to countries of origin is to do it soon after they arrive in the UK. This would be after a proper best interests determination by a family court which has also been given control over the immigration decision. If a young person has a viable situation to return to in their country of origin, or with a relative in another country, then that can be pursued. If not then the local authority should take a care order and the young person be given permanent leave to remain.

The Home Office will howl that this will encourage more children to travel to the UK. This totally misunderstands why children travel; it is often to escape an existential threat. We live in a dangerous, desperately unequal and uncertain world. Our corner of it is safe, prosperous and, despite the best efforts of successive home secretaries, tolerant and welcoming. This is why children travel, not because of this benefit or that service.

Local authorities that support UASC are already worried about the impacts of removing services. There are conflicts between the Immigration Act and local authorities’ statutory obligations, and the added cost implication if they do have to provide some form of support. The constant threat of judicial review which almost always proves a lengthy and expensive way of dealing with inequitable policy is very much present.

Today, in the Lords, The Adolescent and Children’s Trust – the charity where I am chief executive – will try to undo the damage done to vulnerable unaccompanied and refugee children who turn 18. We are introducing an amendment to the children and social work bill to give unaccompanied young people the same access to leaving care services, university and further education and training as all other care leavers until they leave the UK.

These are our children. Every child leaving care matters and we must not let the government divide up care leavers into the deserving and undeserving for narrow and cynical political ends.

Share or Die


Let Them Drown: The Violence of Othering in a Warming World

By Naomi Klein, The London Review of Books

02 June 16

Edward Said was no tree-hugger. Descended from traders, artisans and professionals, he once described himself as ‘an extreme case of an urban Palestinian whose relationship to the land is basically metaphorical’.[*] In After the Last Sky, his meditation on the photographs of Jean Mohr, he explored the most intimate aspects of Palestinian lives, from hospitality to sports to home décor. The tiniest detail – the

placing of a picture frame, the defiant posture of a child – provoked a torrent of insight from Said. Yet when confronted with images of Palestinian farmers – tending their flocks, working the fields – the specificity suddenly evaporated. Which crops were being cultivated? What was the state of the soil? The availability of water? Nothing was forthcoming. ‘I continue to perceive a population of poor, suffering, occasionally colourful peasants, unchanging and collective,’ Said confessed. This perception was ‘mythic’, he acknowledged – yet it remained.

If farming was another world for Said, those who devoted their lives to matters like air and water pollution appear to have inhabited another planet. Speaking to his colleague Rob Nixon, he once described environmentalism as ‘the indulgence of spoiled tree-huggers who lack a proper cause’. But the environmental challenges of the Middle East are impossible to ignore for anyone immersed, as Said was, in its geopolitics. This is a region intensely vulnerable to heat and water stress, to sea-level rise and to desertification. A recent paper in Nature Climate Change predicts that, unless we radically lower emissions and lower them fast, large parts of the Middle East will likely ‘experience temperature levels that are intolerable to humans’ by the end of this century. And that’s about as blunt as climate scientists get. Yet environmental issues in the region still tend to be treated as afterthoughts, or luxury causes. The reason is not ignorance, or indifference. It’s just bandwidth. Climate change is a grave threat but the most frightening impacts are in the medium term. And in the short term, there are always far more pressing threats to contend with: military occupation, air assault, systemic discrimination, embargo. Nothing can compete with that – nor should it attempt to try.

There are other reasons why environmentalism might have looked like a bourgeois playground to Said. The Israeli state has long coated its nation-building project in a green veneer – it was a key part of the Zionist ‘back to the land’ pioneer ethos. And in this context trees, specifically, have been among the most potent weapons of land grabbing and occupation. It’s not only the countless olive and pistachio trees that have been uprooted to make way for settlements and Israeli-only roads. It’s also the sprawling pine and eucalyptus forests that have been planted over those orchards, as well as over Palestinian villages, most notoriously by the Jewish National Fund, which, under its slogan ‘Turning the Desert Green’, boasts of having planted 250 million trees in Israel since 1901, many of them non-native to the region. In publicity materials, the JNF bills itself as just another green NGO, concerned with forest and water management, parks and recreation. It also happens to be the largest private landowner in the state of Israel, and despite a number of complicated legal challenges, it still refuses to lease or sell land to non-Jews.

I grew up in a Jewish community where every occasion – births and deaths, Mother’s Day, bar mitzvahs – was marked with the proud purchase of a JNF tree in the person’s honour. It wasn’t until adulthood that I began to understand that those feel-good faraway conifers, certificates for which papered the walls of my Montreal elementary school, were not benign – not just something to plant and later hug. In fact these trees are among the most glaring symbols of Israel’s system of official discrimination – the one that must be dismantled if peaceful co-existence is to become possible.

The JNF is an extreme and recent example of what some call ‘green colonialism’. But the phenomenon is hardly new, nor is it unique to Israel. There is a long and painful history in the Americas of beautiful pieces of wilderness being turned into conservation parks – and then that designation being used to prevent Indigenous people from accessing their ancestral territories to hunt and fish, or simply to live. It has happened again and again. A contemporary version of this phenomenon is the carbon offset. Indigenous people from Brazil to Uganda are finding that some of the most aggressive land grabbing is being done by conservation organisations. A forest is suddenly rebranded a carbon offset and is put off-limits to its traditional inhabitants. As a result, the carbon offset market has created a whole new class of ‘green’ human rights abuses, with farmers and Indigenous people being physically attacked by park rangers or private security when they try to access these lands. Said’s comment about tree-huggers should be seen in this context.

And there is more. In the last year of Said’s life, Israel’s so-called ‘separation barrier’ was going up, seizing huge swathes of the West Bank, cutting Palestinian workers off from their jobs, farmers from their fields, patients from hospitals – and brutally dividing families. There was no shortage of reasons to oppose the wall on human rights grounds. Yet at the time, some of the loudest dissenting voices among Israeli Jews were not focused on any of that. Yehudit Naot, Israel’s then environment minister, was more worried about a report informing her that ‘The separation fence … is harmful to the landscape, the flora and fauna, the ecological corridors and the drainage of the creeks.’ ‘I certainly don’t want to stop or delay the building of the fence,’ she said, but ‘I am disturbed by the environmental damage involved.’ As the Palestinian activist Omar Barghouti later observed, Naot’s ‘ministry and the National Parks Protection Authority mounted diligent rescue efforts to save an affected reserve of irises by moving it to an alternative reserve. They’ve also created tiny passages [through the wall] for animals.’

Perhaps this puts the cynicism about the green movement in context. People do tend to get cynical when their lives are treated as less important than flowers and reptiles. And yet there is so much of Said’s intellectual legacy that both illuminates and clarifies the underlying causes of the global ecological crisis, so much that points to ways we might respond that are far more inclusive than current campaign models: ways that don’t ask suffering people to shelve their concerns about war, poverty and systemic racism and first ‘save the world’ – but instead demonstrate how all these crises are interconnected, and how the solutions could be too. In short, Said may have had no time for tree-huggers, but tree-huggers must urgently make time for Said – and for a great many other anti-imperialist, postcolonial thinkers – because without that knowledge, there is no way to understand how we ended up in this dangerous place, or to grasp the transformations required to get us out. So what follows are some thoughts – by no means complete – about what we can learn from reading Said in a warming world.

He was and remains among our most achingly eloquent theorists of exile and homesickness – but Said’s homesickness, he always made clear, was for a home that had been so radically altered that it no longer really existed. His position was complex: he fiercely defended the right to return, but never claimed that home was fixed. What mattered was the principle of respect for all human rights equally and the need for restorative justice to inform our actions and policies. This perspective is deeply relevant in our time of eroding coastlines, of nations disappearing beneath rising seas, of the coral reefs that sustain entire cultures being bleached white, of a balmy Arctic. This is because the state of longing for a radically altered homeland – a home that may not even exist any longer – is something that is being rapidly, and tragically, globalised. In March, two major peer-reviewed studies warned that sea-level rise could happen significantly faster than previously believed. One of the authors of the first study was James Hansen – perhaps the most respected climate scientist in the world. He warned that, on our current emissions trajectory, we face the ‘loss of all coastal cities, most of the world’s large cities and all their history’ – and not in thousands of years from now but as soon as this century. If we don’t demand radical change we are headed for a whole world of people searching for a home that no longer exists.

Said helps us imagine what that might look like as well. He helped to popularise the Arabic word sumud (‘to stay put, to hold on’): that steadfast refusal to leave one’s land despite the most desperate eviction attempts and even when surrounded by continuous danger. It’s a word most associated with places like Hebron and Gaza, but it could be applied equally today to residents of coastal Louisiana who have raised their homes up on stilts so that they don’t have to evacuate, or to Pacific Islanders whose slogan is ‘We are not drowning. We are fighting.’ In countries like the Marshall Islands and Fiji and Tuvalu, they know that so much sea-level rise is inevitable that their countries likely have no future. But they refuse just to concern themselves with the logistics of relocation, and wouldn’t even if there were safer countries willing to open their borders – a very big if, since climate refugees aren’t currently recognised under international law. Instead they are actively resisting: blockading Australian coal ships with traditional outrigger canoes, disrupting international climate negotiations with their inconvenient presence, demanding far more aggressive climate action. If there is anything worth celebrating in the Paris Agreement signed in April – and sadly, there isn’t enough – it has come about because of this kind of principled action: climate sumud.

But this only scratches of the surface of what we can learn from reading Said in a warming world. He was, of course, a giant in the study of ‘othering’ – what is described in Orientalism as ‘disregarding, essentialising, denuding the humanity of another culture, people or geographical region’. And once the other has been firmly

established, the ground is softened for any transgression: violent expulsion, land theft, occupation, invasion. Because the whole point of othering is that the other doesn’t have the same rights, the same humanity, as those making the distinction.

What does this have to do with climate change? Perhaps everything. We have dangerously warmed our world already, and our governments still refuse to take the actions necessary to halt the trend. There was a time when many had the right to claim ignorance. But for the past three decades, since the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was created and climate negotiations began, this refusal to lower emissions has been accompanied with full awareness of the dangers. And this kind of recklessness would have been functionally impossible without institutional racism, even if only latent. It would have been impossible without Orientalism, without all the potent tools on offer that allow the powerful to discount the lives of the less powerful. These tools – of ranking the relative value of humans – are what allow the writing off of entire nations and ancient cultures. And they are what allowed for the digging up of all that carbon to begin with.

Fossil fuels aren’t the sole driver of climate change – there is industrial agriculture, and deforestation – but they are the biggest. And the thing about fossil fuels is that they are so inherently dirty and toxic that they require sacrificial people and places: people whose lungs and bodies can be sacrificed to work in the coal mines, people whose lands and water can be sacrificed to open-pit mining and oil spills. As recently as the 1970s, scientists advising the US government openly referred to certain parts of the country being designated ‘national sacrifice areas’. Think of the mountains of Appalachia, blasted off for coal mining – because so-called ‘mountain top removal’ coal mining is cheaper than digging holes underground. There must be theories of othering to justify sacrificing an entire geography – theories about the people who lived there being so poor and backward that their lives and culture don’t deserve protection. After all, if you are a ‘hillbilly’, who cares about your hills? Turning all that coal into electricity required another layer of othering too: this time for the urban neighbourhoods next door to the power plants and refineries. In North America, these are overwhelmingly communities of colour, black and Latino, forced to carry the toxic burden of our collective addiction to fossil fuels, with markedly higher rates of respiratory illnesses and cancers. It was in fights against this kind of ‘environmental racism’ that the climate justice movement was born.

Fossil fuel sacrifice zones dot the globe. Take the Niger Delta, poisoned with an Exxon Valdez-worth of spilled oil every year, a process Ken Saro-Wiwa, before he was murdered by his government, called ‘ecological genocide’. The executions of community leaders, he said, were ‘all for Shell’. In my country, Canada, the decision to dig up the Alberta tar sands – a particularly heavy form of oil – has required the shredding of treaties with First Nations, treaties signed with the British Crown that guaranteed Indigenous peoples the right to continue to hunt, fish and live traditionally on their ancestral lands. It required it because these rights are meaningless when the land is desecrated, when the rivers are polluted and the moose and fish are riddled with tumours. And it gets worse: Fort McMurray – the town at the centre of the tar sands boom, where many of the workers live and where much of the money is spent – is currently in an infernal blaze. It’s that hot and that dry. And this has something to do with what is being mined there.

Even without such dramatic events, this kind of resource extraction is a form of violence, because it does so much damage to the land and water that it brings about the end of a way of life, a death of cultures that are inseparable from the land. Severing Indigenous people’s connection to their culture used to be state policy in Canada – imposed through the forcible removal of Indigenous children from their families to boarding schools where their language and cultural practices were banned, and where physical and sexual abuse were rampant. A recent truth and reconciliation report called it ‘cultural genocide’. The trauma associated with these layers of forced separation – from land, from culture, from family – is directly linked to the epidemic of despair ravaging so many First Nations communities today. On a single Saturday night in April, in the community of Attawapiskat – population 2000 – 11 people tried to take their own lives. Meanwhile, DeBeers runs a diamond mine on the community’s traditional territory; like all extractive projects, it had promised hope and opportunity. ‘Why don’t the people just leave?’, the politicians and pundits ask. But many do. And that departure is linked, in part, to the thousands of Indigenous women in Canada who have been murdered or gone missing, often in big cities. Press reports rarely make the connection between violence against women and violence against the land – often to extract fossil fuels – but it exists. Every new government comes to power promising a new era of respect for Indigenous rights. They don’t deliver, because Indigenous rights, as defined by the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, include the right to refuse extractive projects – even when those projects fuel national economic growth. And that’s a problem because growth is our religion, our way of life. So even Canada’s hunky and charming new prime minister is bound and determined to build new tar sands pipelines, against the express wishes of Indigenous communities who don’t want to risk their water, or participate in the further destabilising of the climate.

Fossil fuels require sacrifice zones: they always have. And you can’t have a system built on sacrificial places and sacrificial people unless intellectual theories that justify their sacrifice exist and persist: from Manifest Destiny to Terra Nullius to Orientalism, from backward hillbillies to backward Indians. We often hear climate change blamed on ‘human nature’, on the inherent greed and short-sightedness of our species. Or we are told we have altered the earth so much and on such a planetary scale that we are now living in the Anthropocene – the age of humans. These ways of explaining our current circumstances have a very specific, if unspoken meaning: that humans are a single type, that human nature can be essentialised to the traits that created this crisis. In this way, the systems that certain humans created, and other humans powerfully resisted, are completely let off the hook. Capitalism, colonialism, patriarchy – those sorts of system.

Diagnoses like this erase the very existence of human systems that organised life differently: systems that insist that humans must think seven generations in the future; must be not only good citizens but also good ancestors; must take no more than they need and give back to the land in order to protect and augment the cycles of regeneration. These systems existed and still exist, but they are erased every time we say that the climate crisis is a crisis of ‘human nature’ and that we are living in the ‘age of man’. And they come under very real attack when megaprojects are built, like the Gualcarque hydroelectric dams in Honduras, a project which, among other things, took the life of the land defender Berta Cáceres, who was assassinated in March.

Some people insist that it doesn’t have to be this bad. We can clean up resource extraction, we don’t need to do it the way it’s been done in Honduras and the Niger Delta and the Alberta tar sands. Except that we are running out of cheap and easy ways to get at fossil fuels, which is why we have seen the rise of fracking and tar sands extraction in the first place. This, in turn, is starting to challenge the original Faustian pact of the industrial age: that the heaviest risks would be outsourced, offloaded, onto the other – the periphery abroad and inside our own nations. It’s something that is becoming less and less possible. Fracking is threatening some of the most picturesque parts of Britain as the sacrifice zone expands, swallowing up all kinds of places that imagined themselves safe. So this isn’t just about gasping at how ugly the tar sands are. It’s about acknowledging that there is no clean, safe, non-toxic way to run an economy powered by fossil fuels. There never was.

There is an avalanche of evidence that there is no peaceful way either. The trouble is structural. Fossil fuels, unlike renewable forms of energy such as wind and solar, are not widely distributed but highly concentrated in very specific locations, and those locations have a bad habit of being in other people’s countries. Particularly that most potent and precious of fossil fuels: oil. This is why the project of Orientalism, of othering Arab and Muslim people, has been the silent partner of our oil dependence from the start – and inextricable, therefore, from the blowback that is climate change. If nations and peoples are regarded as other – exotic, primitive, bloodthirsty, as Said documented in the 1970s – it is far easier to wage wars and stage coups when they get the crazy idea that they should control their own oil in their own interests. In 1953 it was the British-US collaboration to overthrow the democratically elected government of Muhammad Mossadegh after he nationalised the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (now BP). In 2003, exactly fifty years later, it was another UK-US co-production – the illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq. The reverberations from each intervention continue to jolt our world, as do the reverberations from the successful burning of all that oil. The Middle East is now squeezed in the pincer of violence caused by fossil fuels, on the one hand, and the impact of burning those fossil fuels on the other.

In his latest book, The Conflict Shoreline, the Israeli architect Eyal Weizman has a groundbreaking take on how these forces are intersecting. The main way we’ve understood the border of the desert in the Middle East and North Africa, he explains, is the so-called ‘aridity line’, areas where there is on average 200 millimetres of rainfall a year, which has been considered the minimum for growing cereal crops on a large scale without irrigation. These meteorological boundaries aren’t fixed: they have fluctuated for various reasons, whether it was Israel’s attempts to ‘green the desert’ pushing them in one direction or cyclical drought expanding the desert in the other. And now, with climate change, intensifying drought can have all kinds of impacts along this line. Weizman points out that the Syrian border city of Daraa falls directly on the aridity line. Daraa is where Syria’s deepest drought on record brought huge numbers of displaced farmers in the years leading up to the outbreak of Syria’s civil war, and it’s where the Syrian uprising broke out in 2011. Drought wasn’t the only factor in bringing tensions to a head. But the fact that 1.5 million people were internally displaced in Syria as a result of the drought clearly played a role. The connection between water and heat stress and conflict is a recurring, intensifying pattern all along the aridity line: all along it you see places marked by drought, water scarcity, scorching temperatures and military conflict – from Libya to Palestine, to some of the bloodiest battlefields in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

But Weizman also discovered what he calls an ‘astounding coincidence’. When you map the targets of Western drone strikes onto the region, you see that ‘many of these attacks – from South Waziristan through northern Yemen, Somalia, Mali, Iraq, Gaza and Libya – are directly on or close to the 200 mm aridity line.’ The red dots on the map above represent some of the areas where strikes have been concentrated. To me this is the most striking attempt yet to visualise the brutal landscape of the climate crisis. All this was foreshadowed a decade ago in a US military report. ‘The Middle East,’ it observed, ‘has always been associated with two natural resources, oil (because of its abundance) and water (because of its scarcity).’ True enough. And now certain patterns have become quite clear: first, Western fighter jets followed that abundance of oil; now, Western drones are closely shadowing the lack of water, as drought exacerbates conflict.

Just as bombs follow oil, and drones follow drought, so boats follow both: boats filled with refugees fleeing homes on the aridity line ravaged by war and drought. And the same capacity for dehumanising the other that justified the bombs and drones is now being trained on these migrants, casting their need for security as a threat to ours, their desperate flight as some sort of invading army. Tactics refined on the West Bank and in other occupation zones are now making their way to North America and Europe. In selling his wall on the border with Mexico, Donald Trump likes to say: ‘Ask Israel, the wall works.’ Camps are bulldozed in Calais, thousands of people drown in the Mediterranean, and the Australian government detains survivors of wars and despotic regimes in camps on the remote islands of Nauru and Manus. Conditions are so desperate on Nauru that last month an Iranian migrant died after setting himself on fire to try to draw the world’s attention. Another migrant – a 21-year-old woman from Somalia – set herself on fire a few days later. Malcolm Turnbull, the prime minister, warns that Australians ‘cannot be misty-eyed about this’ and ‘have to be very clear and determined in our national purpose’. It’s worth bearing Nauru in mind the next time a columnist in a Murdoch paper declares, as Katie Hopkins did last year, that it’s time for Britain ‘to get Australian. Bring on the gunships, force migrants back to their shores and burn the boats.’ In another bit of symbolism Nauru is one of the Pacific Islands very vulnerable to sea-level rise. Its residents, after seeing their homes turned into prisons for others, will very possibly have to migrate themselves. Tomorrow’s climate refugees have been recruited into service as today’s prison guards.

We need to understand that what is happening on Nauru, and what is happening to it, are expressions of the same logic. A culture that places so little value on black and brown lives that it is willing to let human beings disappear beneath the waves, or set themselves on fire in detention centres, will also be willing to let the countries where black and brown people live disappear beneath the waves, or desiccate in the arid heat. When that happens, theories of human hierarchy – that we must take care of our own first – will be marshalled to rationalise these monstrous decisions. We are making this rationalisation already, if only implicitly. Although climate change will ultimately be an existential threat to all of humanity, in the short term we know that it does discriminate, hitting the poor first and worst, whether they are abandoned on the rooftops of New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina or whether they are among the 36 million who according to the UN are facing hunger due to drought in Southern and East Africa.

This is an emergency, a present emergency, not a future one, but we aren’t acting like it. The Paris Agreement commits to keeping warming below 2°c. It’s a target that is beyond reckless. When it was unveiled in Copenhagen in 2009, the African delegates called it ‘a death sentence’. The slogan of several low-lying island nations is ‘1.5 to stay alive’. At the last minute, a clause was added to the Paris Agreement that says countries will pursue ‘efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°c’. Not only is this non-binding but it is a lie: we are making no such efforts. The governments that made this promise are now pushing for more fracking and more tar sands development – which are utterly incompatible with 2°c, let alone 1.5°c. This is happening because the wealthiest people in the wealthiest countries in the world think they are going to be OK, that someone else is going to eat the biggest risks, that even when climate change turns up on their doorstep, they will be taken care of.

When they’re wrong things get even uglier. We had a vivid glimpse into that future when the floodwaters rose in England last December and January, inundating 16,000 homes. These communities weren’t only dealing with the wettest December on record. They were also coping with the fact that the government has waged a relentless attack on the public agencies, and the local councils, that are on the front lines of flood defence. So understandably, there were many who wanted to change the subject away from that failure. Why, they asked, is Britain spending so much money on refugees and foreign aid when it should be taking care of its own? ‘Never mind foreign aid,’ we read in the Daily Mail. ‘What about national aid?’ ‘Why,’ a Telegraph editorial demanded, ‘should British taxpayers continue to pay for flood defences abroad when the money is needed here?’ I don’t know – maybe because Britain invented the coal-burning steam engine and has been burning fossil fuels on an industrial scale longer than any nation on Earth? But I digress. The point is that this could have been a moment to understand that we are all affected by climate change, and must take action together and in solidarity with one another. It wasn’t, because climate change isn’t just about things getting hotter and wetter: under our current economic and political model, it’s about things getting meaner and uglier.

The most important lesson to take from all this is that there is no way to confront the climate crisis as a technocratic problem, in isolation. It must be seen in the context of austerity and privatisation, of colonialism and militarism, and of the various systems of othering needed to sustain them all. The connections and intersections between them are glaring, and yet so often resistance to them is highly compartmentalised. The anti- austerity people rarely talk about climate change, the climate change people rarely talk about war or occupation. We rarely make the connection between the guns that take black lives on the streets of US cities and in police custody and the much larger forces that annihilate so many black lives on arid land and in precarious boats around the world.

Overcoming these disconnections – strengthening the threads tying together our various issues and movements – is, I would argue, the most pressing task of anyone concerned with social and economic justice. It is the only way to build a counterpower sufficiently robust to win against the forces protecting the highly profitable but increasingly untenable status quo. Climate change acts as an accelerant to many of our social ills – inequality, wars, racism – but it can also be an accelerant for the opposite, for the forces working for economic and social justice and against militarism. Indeed the climate crisis – by presenting our species with an existential threat and putting us on a firm and unyielding science-based deadline – might just be the catalyst we need to knit together a great many powerful movements, bound together by a belief in the inherent worth and value of all people and united by a rejection of the sacrifice zone mentality, whether it applies to peoples or places. We face so many overlapping and intersecting crises that we can’t afford to fix them one at a time. We need integrated solutions, solutions that radically bring down emissions, while creating huge numbers of good, unionised jobs and delivering meaningful justice to those who have been most abused and excluded under the current extractive economy.

Said died the year Iraq was invaded, living to see its libraries and museums looted, its oil ministry faithfully guarded. Amid these outrages, he found hope in the global anti-war movement, as well as in new forms of grassroots communication opened up by technology; he noted ‘the existence of alternative communities across the globe, informed by alternative news sources, and keenly aware of the environmental, human rights and libertarian impulses that bind us together in this tiny planet’. His vision even had a place for tree-huggers. I was reminded of those words recently while I was reading up on England’s floods. Amid all the scapegoating and finger-pointing, I came across a post by a man called Liam Cox. He was upset by the way some in the media were using the disaster to rev up anti-foreigner sentiment, and he said so:

I live in Hebden Bridge, Yorkshire, one of the worst affected areas hit by the floods. It’s ****, everything has gotten really wet. However … I’m alive. I’m safe. My family are safe. We don’t live in fear. I’m free. There aren’t bullets flying about. There aren’t bombs going off. I’m not being forced to flee my home and I’m not being shunned by the richest country in the world or criticised by its residents.

All you morons vomiting your xenophobia … about how money should only be spent ‘on our own’ need to look at yourselves closely in the mirror. I request you ask yourselves a very important question … Am I a decent and honourable human being?

Because home isn’t just the UK, home is everywhere on this planet.

I think that makes for a very fine last word.

C 2015 Reader Supported News

Donations can be sent to the Baltimore Nonviolence Center, 325 E. 25th St., Baltimore, MD 21218.  Ph: 410-323-1607; Email: mobuszewski [at] verizon.net. Go to http://baltimorenonviolencecenter.blogspot.com/

“The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose–especially their lives.” Eugene Victor Debs

Syrian refugees in Scotland

Scotland has taken in more than a third of all UK’s Syrian refugees

Home Office reveals 1,602 people have been resettled so far under plan to accept 20,000, with only 33 housed in London

Esther Addley and Helen Pidd

Friday 27 May 2016 13.29 BST Last modified on Friday 27 May 2016 19.51 BST

Scotland has welcomed more Syrian refugees than any other part of the UK under the government’s official resettlement scheme, accepting more than 600 people compared to just 33 who have been taken in by London local authorities, figures show.

The data, released on Friday by the Home Office, reveals that 1,602 people were resettled under the government’s Vulnerable Persons Resettlement scheme (VPR) between October last year and March. It exposes a wide disparity in the acceptance rates of councils across the country.

Scottish authorities have accepted 610 arrivals, including 68 in Renfrewshire, 58 in Argyll and Bute and 53 in Edinburgh alone. Councils in Yorkshire and the Humber have taken in 171 and 159 have gone to the West Midlands.

Of the 33 London boroughs, by contrast, only Camden, Islington, Barnet and Kingston-upon-Thames have taken any refugees in the period. No councils in the north-west, including the 10 in Greater Manchester, accepted any refugees.

The most welcoming council in the country is Coventry, where 105 Syrians have been resettled since David Cameron’s announcement that Britain would take in 20,000 refugees. Welsh councils have resettled 78 people, and Northern Ireland 51.

But no refugees were accepted in the six-month period by the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead, in which the constituency of the home secretary, Theresa May, is located, or by Watford borough council, home to the constituency of the Home Office minister responsible for resettling refugees, Richard Harrington.

A spokeswoman for Watford council said a number of refugees had since been resettled in the borough, and the council was committed to taking in up to 10 Syrian families every year.

Cameron’s local authority, West Oxfordshire, has taken 10, but there were no acceptances in the boroughs in which several other senior ministers’ constituencies are found, including George Osborne (Cheshire East), Philip Hammond (Runnymede) and Michael Gove (Surrey Heath).

The prime minister told parliament in September that Britain would “live up to its moral responsibility” towards people driven from their homes by the conflict by resettling 20,000 people from refugee camps on the Syrian border in the next five years. He said the pace at which they came to the UK would depend on the speed with which the UNHCR could identify refugees and how quickly local councils were able to process the applicants.

Coventry has accepted almost 200 refugees in total since 2014, some under an earlier relocation scheme for Syrians fleeing the conflict. Abdul Khan, the deputy leader of Coventry city council, told the Guardian the refugees who have come to the city include those with “significant medical needs”.

He added: “We have accepted them because it is the right thing to do. The refugees have experienced some of the worst aspects of human behaviour, and when in September 2015 we were asked to offer further places to the national scheme, we did so.”

Sabir Zazai, director of the Coventry refugee and migrant centre, who himself came to the city as a refugee from Afghanistan in 1999, said the community had been very supportive of the council’s welcoming stance.

“Coventry is a a city that has gone through war, that is turning its own experiences of conflict and war into love, care and compassion for others. When we first had these discussions, the general response was, if we can help, why shouldn’t we help? There wasn’t any hesitation.”

Ivan Lewis, the MP for Bury South who is seeking the Labour nomination for Greater Manchester mayor, criticised the combined authority in the region for not doing its bit.

Eight months ago leaders in Greater Manchester agreed to take 1,500 Syrians on the VPR scheme over a five-year period but none have yet arrived in the region.

Lewis said: “I am very disappointed that Greater Manchester despite securing funding has so far failed to take one Syrian adult refugee. This is not acceptable and I am calling on the combined authority to take action as a matter of urgency.

“Greater Manchester has a long and proud tradition of welcoming refugees. It is now urgent we show leadership and fulfil our moral obligation to victims of a bloody civil war.”

Lewis said he has begun recruiting local families who are willing to offer foster homes to Syrian child refugees, including some whose own relatives came to Britain originally on the Kindertransport having fled Nazi persecution.

He said: “Vulnerable children and adults living in refugee camps deserve safe and secure homes as soon as possible. I have visited refugee camps in the past and know that despite the best efforts of aid workers no one should have to live in such conditions for any length of time.

“I have begun recruiting families willing to take children and have been heartened by the number of local families willing to open up their homes. There is no time to waste as rightly there has to be proper vetting and training procedures before children can be placed.”

Tony Lloyd, Greater Manchester’s interim mayor, said the county had a “proud history of welcoming people from all over the world” but that the authority needed assurance from central government that the resources would be in place to integrate the new arrivals.

He said: “I have repeatedly requested meetings with the home secretary to discuss a proper support and funding package both for Syrian refugees and existing asylum seekers but the home secretary cannot schedule a meeting until July.

“We need a proper partnership with central government to prevent more people being housed in hotels where they cannot adapt to life in the UK and access the support services they desperately need. I hope the home secretary will now meet me as a matter of urgency.”

The Guardian has been trying since September to gain access to the refugee figures. The Home Office refused a freedom of information (FoI) request asking to be told which local authorities had accepted Syrians on the VPR. Officials decided the information was exempt from disclosure under section(s) 36(2)c of the Freedom of Information Act. This provides that information can be withheld “where disclosure would otherwise prejudice, or would be likely otherwise to prejudice, the effective conduct of public affairs”.

The Guardian had challenged the refusal but had yet to hear back when the government released the information. The release came after the home affairs select committee submitted its own FoI asking for the statistics. After the Home Office missed a 20-day deadline to respond, the information commissioner’s office ordered it to release the information as soon as possible.

The chair of the committee, Keith Vaz, said: “This is the first time that the home affairs select committee has needed to resort to a freedom of information request from the Home Office. Surely this is such a successful policy for the government, I would have thought they would be more open and transparent.

“Since the minister for Syrian refugees first appeared before the committee, it has been like drawing teeth to get basic information about any aspect of the commitment to settle these 20,000 people in the UK.

“The failure to provide this information is obstructing parliament’s scrutiny of a major initiative of significant public interest, and we will continue to demand answers.”


Xenophobic tradition in America


100 years ago, Americans talked about Catholics the way they talk about Muslims today

Updated by German Lopez on December 9, 2015, 3:00 p.m. ET

About a century ago, millions of Americans feared that members of a religious group were amassing an arsenal of weapons for a secret, preplanned takeover of the United States.

The feared religious group was not Muslims. It was, as the Los Angeles Times’s Matt Pearce wrote in a great new piece on Wednesday, Catholics:

Hatred had become big business in southwestern Missouri, and its name was the Menace, a weekly anti-Catholic newspaper whose headlines screamed to readers around the nation about predatory priests, women enslaved in convents and a dangerous Roman Catholic plot to take over America.…

America’s deep and widespread skepticism of Catholics is a faint memory in today’s post-Sept. 11 world. But as some conservative politicians call for limits on Muslim immigration and raise questions about whether Muslims are more loyal to Islamic law than American law, the story of Aurora’s long-ago newspaper is a reminder of a long history of American religious intolerance.

Today, there are calls for federal surveillance of mosques in the name of preventing terrorist attacks; a century ago, it was state laws that allowed the warrantless search of convents and churches in search of supposedly trapped women and purported secret Catholic weapons caches.

This may seem absurd today, but there was a real fear among Protestant Americans back then that Catholics were planning to take over the country. As Pearce reported, the fears led to serious violence: Lynch mobs killed Catholic Italians, arsonists burned down Catholic churches, and there were anti-Catholic riots. It was a similar sentiment to the kind of Islamophobia today that’s led many Americans to call for shutting down mosques, forcing Muslims to register in a national database, and even banning Islam.

The point of the comparison is not to say that the US faces the same problems today as it did a century ago, or that the discrimination toward Catholics back then and Muslims today is exactly the same. But when looking back at the history of the US, it’s easy to see a pattern of consistent xenophobia and fears of outsiders.

Xenophobia makes a regular appearance in US history

In response to terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, much of the conversation has focused on refugees and immigration. This conversation has been tinged with xenophobia toward Muslims — with many Republican presidential candidates going as far as saying the US should ban Muslim refugees, people from Muslim-dominated countries, or Muslims altogether.

But this sort of rhetoric is not new to the US. As the Pew Research Center found, Americans have generally opposed taking in refugees even as they went through abhorrent, well-known crises. (Vox’s Dara Lind noted that America even rejected some Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi Germany.)

Xenophobia has fueled other policies, too. In the late 19th century, the US passed the Chinese Exclusion Act to stop the flow of Chinese laborers into the US. During World War II, the US put Japanese Americans in internment camps after the country declared war on Japan. Throughout the war on drugs, lawmakers have regularly tapped into xenophobic sentiments to prohibit certain drugs — such as when San Francisco banned opium smoking that was perceived as popular among Chinese immigrants, and when prohibitionists built up opposition to marijuana by fearmongering about its use among Mexican immigrants.

Throughout all of these periods and policies, the public and lawmakers cited genuine policy interests: national security, keeping American laborers competitive in the job market, and preventing drug abuse. But underlying such policy stances were obvious signs that Americans were simply scared of foreigners who weren’t like them.

By and large, we tend to recognize the underlying xenophobia today, and that the policies it produced were wrong, bigoted, and self-destructive.

As Islamophobia rears its ugly head in the US again, it’s worth thinking about how we now look back on those moments of American history — and whether we’re making the same mistakes again.

[Postscript] What are the roots of the war on drugs?

Beyond the goal of curtailing drug use, the motivations behind the US war on drugs have been rooted in historical fears of immigrants and minority groups.

The US began regulating and restricting drugs during the first half of the 20th century, particularly through the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906, the Harrison Narcotics Tax Act of 1914, and the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937. During this period, racial and ethnic tensions were particularly high across the country — not just toward African Americans, but toward Mexican and Chinese immigrants as well.


Reciprocal Altruism at Work

Syrian refugees in Canada step up to help Fort McMurray wildfire evacuees

By Emanuella Grinberg, CNN

Updated 8:24 AM ET, Fri May 6, 2016

The images of burning homes and clouds of smoke brought tears to his eyes. Naser Nader had lived through something similar in his homeland of Syria.

This time, it wasn’t besieged Damascus; it was in Fort McMurray, Alberta, the site of this week’s wildfires.

“I’ve lived it. I’ve been there,” he said through a translator. “I’ve seen the fires. I’ve seen the blood. I’ve experienced the losses.”

Nader is one of many Syrian refugees in Calgary, Alberta, giving what little he has to return the favor to his adopted country. Nader and other members of the Syrian Refugee Support Group are pooling money to buy relief supplies for those affected by the wildfires.

Nader arrived in Canada in December with his wife and two children. He fled Damascus in 2013 and lived in Jordan for three years before moving to Canada. He knows from experience that every little bit counts when you’re on the move.

“We felt like we had to do something because we lived through that experience.”

Nader and fellow Syrian refugee Rita Kallas purchased diapers, toothbrushes, toilet paper, bandages, water bottles and pillows on Thursday along with laundry hampers to hold the supplies. They drove through Calgary on Thursday night to collect $5 per family in different neighborhoods.

It was Kallas’ idea to call on Calgary’s Syrian community. Speaking on the phone as she drove through the city with Nader, Kallas summed up her motivation in one sentence: “We understand what they’re feeling.”

She arrived in Canada with her husband and son in December. When she heard the news it reminded her of everything she left behind in Syria.

“You can’t bring it back. When you lose everything it’s very sad. It’s very terrible for you,” she said.

She posted a message on Facebook and was instantly overwhelmed by the enthusiastic response.

“The Canadian people have helped us a lot. It’s our turn to pay them back,” she said. “It’s our turn to be a part of this community.”



Canadians welcome Syrian refugees

I wanted to help Syrian refugees settle in Canada. Now they are my family.

Thousands of Canadians have committed to setting up homes for refugees and helping them navigate their new country.

By Leslie Garrett May 11 at 6:00 AM

Leslie Garrett is a journalist and author living in London, Canada, with her family.


Our unusually mild Canadian winter had made me expect that I could get away with a light coat and no hat. But I had a few blocks to walk, and my ears were stinging in the freezing wind, so I took the scarf from around my neck and draped it around my head. “You know what you look like, don’t you?” my colleague Bill said.

I smiled. I knew exactly what I looked like. And so did the Syrian woman wearing a hijab walking alongside us. She smiled, too.

The eight of us — Bill, me and a refugee family of two parents and four kids — were heading to the elementary school where the three older children were to begin their Canadian education. The family spoke barely a word of English, and yet there they were, earnest and trusting, bundled up in their government-issued winter coats and boots, the kids’ backpacks almost as big as they were, but holding little more than a lunch bag and some brand-new indoor shoes with soles that lit up with each step.

Ten days earlier, Bill and I had driven two hours in separate cars to a hotel near the Toronto airport where this Kurdish Syrian family, the Omers, was waiting for us along with many others who’d arrived on the same flight from Turkey. We had known their names for only a few weeks and been apprised of their arrival less than three days before. I had quickly sourced car seats from the Salam donation center, which had been set up in our community exclusively to provide items that Syrian refugees arriving in the city might need, including clothes, dishes and diapers. Exhausted volunteers were taking in mountains of items, which were being dispersed almost as quickly.

Our family, which is how I’d begun to think of them, is among the approximately 9 million Syrians who have been displaced by the five-year war in their country. To date, 26,859 of them have found their way to Canada, according to the tiny counter on the government’s website. Of those, 8,999 are “privately sponsored,” meaning groups like the one I’m part of raise a minimum of $20,900 and agree to help settle the new arrivals, something that sounds straightforward until you begin to break it down.

We have a committee whose job it was to find housing, no easy task for a family of six and at a price point that they will be able to sustain after our one year of financial support is up. This group also furnished the townhome, right down to sheets on the beds and toothbrushes beside the sink.

Another woman collected clothing for the family, ensuring that items fit and that Canada’s four seasons are covered.

Still others stocked pantry shelves with nonperishables and then, when we had a firm arrival date, put milk and meat and vegetables into the fridge and prepared a meal of chicken and rice so the family would have their first dinner in their new home warm and ready to eat.

Another is responsible for paperwork, a seemingly endless task that makes my eyes glaze over.

A few have taken on health-care needs, which involves making appointments with doctors and dentists who, ideally, speak Arabic or Kurdish, and making a rush appointment with the local health unit when the school sounded the alarm over gaps in the children’s vaccination records, and the family was unable to tell us exactly what shots they received in the refugee camp.

A couple who speak a similar dialect to our family has served as our often-called-upon interpreters. It’s a task they tell me they’re happy to take on because this same sponsorship committee welcomed them and their children a decade ago from Iraq.

And Bill, my companion on this freezing day, a former school principal-turned-Anglican-minister, has prepared the school for our arrival.

We’re greeted by a teacher who’s working with the influx of refugee children. She has enlisted a 12-year-old Canadian student of Kurdish parents, who will translate for us and guide the two eldest girls, ages 9 and 10, to their classrooms. The halls quickly fill with chattering, rosy-cheeked children coming in from the cold as we trail behind our young ambassador. We’re introduced to the teacher for the eldest girl and are learning where to put coats and boots when the PA system crackles to life, and we hear the first tinny sounds of “O Canada.” Everybody stops while the anthem plays, and I look at our family standing at attention. I drop my gaze so they don’t see my tears.

The welcome our family has received has been heartening amid the inflamed rhetoric raging on both sides of the 49th parallel. En route from the hotel airport, we stopped for a bathroom break and coffee. I waited with two sleeping kids in my car, while Bill took the rest of the family inside. He later told me that two large Ontario Provincial Police officers wearing their standard jackets walked up to the table. The family, who’d been waving the tiny paper Canadian flags Bill had given them, looked nervous. Yes, Bill told the police officers, these were new Canadians from Syria. The largest officer bent down on one knee so he was eye-level with the seated family, extended his hand and said, “Welcome to Canada.”

It’s probably the first English phrase the family recognized. They heard it from the guy shoveling snow at their townhouse complex, from the owner of a nearby variety store who refused money for phone cards and gave the family free ice cream, from the neighbor who loaned the family a space heater. They heard it from the woman assessing the parents for English as a Second Language classes, from many teachers at the kids’ school. They heard it from us, so intent we are on ensuring that they do feel welcome.

Not all Canadians feel likewise. There was vocal opposition to our new prime minister’s pledge to bring in 25,000 refugees, a key promise of his party in the fall federal election after the photo of 3-year-old Aylan Kurdi’s drowned body on a beach in Turkey found its way to front pages around the world.

I was not yet part of a sponsorship committee then, but the daily news of the refugee crisis left me feeling impotent, and each day of doing nothing felt like a failure.

It has been two months since our family put their faith in us and got into two cars with complete strangers for the drive to their new home. The first few weeks were a confusing game of charades, with both sides eager to be understood. Trying to invite the family to a newcomers’ dinner at a local mosque, I turned to a computer translation program and printed off an invitation in Arabic. But Siyar and his wife, Vensa, looked uncomfortable when I presented them with the paper, so I telephoned a long-settled Syrian Canadian who extended the invitation on my behalf. I still have no idea what I said to the Omers, but I’m pretty sure it was not a dinner invitation.

I’ve lost faith in Google Translate, but these days, it’s the kids who are translating for me, aided by my enthusiastic pantomime. They show off their new English vocabulary every time I see them and delight in their father’s apparent inability to learn “even one word,” they tell me. He grins and says “hello” just to prove them wrong. He owned a restaurant in Syria and is anxious to get a job but has to first attend his ESL classes, after which a local restaurant owner has agreed to meet with him. His wife is on a long wait list for her classes because she also needs child care, but I’m amazed by how much she is picking up on her own.

Our committee has dealt with everything from a temperamental furnace that kept going out during below-freezing nights to a little boy who still cries each time he has to leave his mother at the gate to his kindergarten.

We’ve shared meals and family videos on Facebook. I’ve seen photos of the dog left behind and Skyped with their family members scattered across Europe, some still in Syria. I sing along with the kids, ad nauseum, to a YouTube video, “A is for Apple. Apple, Apple, Apple … ”

They’ve become “our family” to those of us who’ve rallied around to help in ways large and small. And part of our job is making sure that they always feel “welcome to Canada.”


Alf Dubs on the Job

One of my heroes, Lord Alf Dubs, Kindertransport survivor, is still working hard for refugees at age 83. His 84th birthday is on May 12.

Refugee held illegally after Home Office refused to believe he was 16

Call for investigation into case of Syrian boy who was locked up for almost a month despite having documents proving identity

Diane Taylor

Wednesday 4 May 2016 06.00 BST Last modified on Wednesday 4 May 2016 06.30 BST

A 16-year-old Syrian asylum seeker, who travelled through nine countries without his family, finally reached safety in the UK only to find himself unlawfully locked up by the Home Office for almost a month because officials did not believe his age.

Lord Alf Dubs, the Labour peer who was himself a child refugee who fled Nazi Germany, described the case as “shocking” and “appalling” and called on the Home Office to explain what went wrong.

The child fled Syria last August, leaving behind his family in Damascus. During an eight-month journey he travelled through Lebanon, Turkey, Greece, Macedonia, Serbia, Hungary, Austria, Germany and France before reaching the UK and claiming asylum on 20 March. He wanted to go to the UK because he has an uncle there.

The boy’s uncle had the child’s Syrian passport, certificate of basic preparatory education and his civil registration record – sent in the post from Syria – all showing his date of birth as 25 August 1999. A medical report carried out by a Home Office doctor confirmed he had injuries consistent with torture. The boy said he had been kidnapped by Syrian government officials, tortured and forced to work transporting ammunition for the war.

But a Home Office official who handled his case declined to look at the documentation and decided he was over 18, meaning he was detained at Tinsley House immigration removal centre near Gatwick airport. Under-18s should not be detained in this way.

On 15 April an urgent judicial review application was lodged at the high court by the boy’s solicitors, in an attempt to secure his release from detention. On the same day, the Home Office conceded it had detained a child and released him into the care of social services, 26 days after locking him up.

Dubs said: “This is a shocking episode. The fact that this young person had the right to claim asylum but was treated in such an appalling way breaches all our traditions. The Home Office needs to explain how this happened. Something has gone badly wrong here.”

Asif Anwar of Duncan Lewis solicitors, which is representing the boy, said: “[His] journey from Syria, across the EU and into Britain exposed him to circumstances that should not be known to any child. For someone so young, he should have received adequate care and reception on arrival in the UK.”

The Refugee Council policy manager, Judith Dennis, said: “Unaccompanied children have often witnessed horrors most grownups would struggle to imagine and they arrive here alone, bewildered and frightened. The government must immediately take steps to ensure that anyone who claims to be a child is referred to social services for a properly conducted, sensitive, expert-led age assessment.”

Between January 2015 and March 2016 more than 30 children who were unlawfully locked up have been released. The Refugee Council said it believed there were many more cases of children detained unlawfully as adults that it was not aware of.

A spokesperson for the Home Office said it did not comment on individual cases but added, “The UK has a proud history of granting asylum to those who need our protection and every case is carefully considered on its own individual merits.”


A different sanctuary story

Chimp is freed from ‘solitary confinement,’ meets Jane Goodall, retires in Florida

By Karin Brulliard, Washington Post April 29, 2016

Back in the 1990s, Joe the chimpanzee was a California TV and film actor owned by a well-known Hollywood animal trainer. The chimp’s best-known work was a 1997 movie called “Buddy,” in which Rene Russo played a socialite who lives in a mansion with various primates and other creatures she treats as her children.

By 1999, Joe was 11 years old, and his career path had taken a new turn. He’d been handed over to the small Mobile Zoo in Wilmer, Ala., where for 16 years he was a star attraction who lived in a chain-link enclosure and, according to animal rights activists, was sometimes harassed by peanut-throwing visitors.

Though chimpanzees are highly social animals in the wild, the zoo’s owner told AL.com earlier this year that Joe had  “imprinted” onto humans and not taken well to other chimps at the facility. So Joe lived alone, with a color television and a DVD player that showed him movies.

That ended last week, when Joe retired to a chimp sanctuary in Florida. The impetus for the move was a change in federal law regarding chimpanzees, which formed the basis of a lawsuit against the zoo by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which challenged what it called his “solitary confinement.”

Last fall, after years of campaigning by famed chimpanzee advocate Jane Goodall and animal welfare groups, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service designated all chimps — not just wild ones — as “endangered” under the Endangered Species Act. That ended a longstanding distinction between captive chimps and wild ones, whose population has fallen from millions to about 300,000, and it afforded captive chimps the same protections.

Among those is protection from what is known as “take,” which includes harming and harassing an endangered species. The change was hailed by animal rights groups as the likely end to medical research on chimpanzees in the United States, the only developed country that performs it.

But it was also Joe’s ticket out of his Alabama cage.

Over the years, the Mobile Zoo had been cited by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for dozens of violations of the federal Animal Welfare Act, including the conditions Joe was kept in. More recently it was fined by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration for violating worker safety by allowing employees to directly contact Joe.

In January, PETA filed suit against the zoo, claiming that Joe, now 29, was being held in violation of the Endangered Species Act. Last week, the group dropped the suit after the zoo agreed to surrender him — making him the first captive chimpanzee to be released to a sanctuary since the federal change.

En route to Save The Chimps sanctuary in Florida, he met a famous benefactor: Goodall. In a video released by PETA (you can view it here), Joe seemed unimpressed by her. He promptly gave a hug, however, to a female chimp at his new home.


Refugee? Asylum Seeker? What’s the Difference?


When I visit Friends Meetings and other groups I am usually asked to explain the terms used to classify people who arrive in the US, UK and other countries seeking refuge. Here is a description of the different kinds of people caught up in a confusing, often opaque, system about which most people know little or nothing.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, promulgated in 1948, gave everybody the right to seek asylum (but not to gain it). An asylum seeker could be said to be someone who is seeking to attain refugee status.

According to the UN Refugee Convention of 1951, a refugee is a person who “owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it” (Chapter 1, article 1 (2)).

A refugee has fled across international boundaries, often as part of a group, and has officially obtained temporary or permanent sanctuary from a foreign government before arrival. Often the UN High Commissioner for Refugees is involved in resettling such people.

In contrast, asylum seekers apply to a foreign government on their own initiative for refuge from persecution in the home country, usually on or after arrival in the receiving country. Even if they do not have proper documents, they are not classified as unauthorized migrants under international law. They go through time-consuming and complex procedures to gain or be denied asylum.

A successful asylum seeker, or asylee, is classified as a refugee and is eligible for various kinds of resettlement assistance. In the United States asylees constitute a small proportion of refugees and relatively few people seek asylum, but in the UK and Europe entering asylum seekers vastly outnumber refugees who arrive with legal status. Many receiving countries establish annual quotas of refugees, depending on varying (sometimes arbitrary) criteria. The US refugee program has a ceiling of 70,000-80,000 admissions per year. The UK’s Gateway refugee program routinely admits only 750 refugees per year. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees reported that some 1.8 million people applied for asylum around the world in 2014. These totals were the highest in the history of the UNHCR.

A person who flees persecution and seeks refuge inside his or her own country is designated as internally displaced. According to the UNHCR, in 2014 there were many more internally displaced persons (38.2 million) than refugees (19.5 million) in the world.

A relatively small proportion of asylum seekers—usually no more than 30-40 percent in major receiving countries such as the United States and Britain—do gain asylum and the benefits that are supposed to go along with this legal status. They may succeed because they arrive with copious documentation of the persecution they suffered and have the financial resources to hire a good lawyer or the luck to find skillful pro bono representation. But most do not.

Governments use these rather narrow criteria to exclude as well as accept asylum seekers and refugees. In many countries they are confused or conflated with illegal or economic immigrants or even criminals and treated as scapegoats, accused of causing social, economic and social proble  ms for which they are not responsible. They may be subjected to xenophobic reactions and lethal violence that deepen their isolation and suffering.

Then there are those called illegal aliens, illegal immigrants, undocumented or unauthorized migrants, or overstayers. They remain in the shadows, hoping to escape notice, until some mischance—a broken car light, lack of identification, an injury while crossing the desert—brings them to the attention of the authorities. Some of them end up in detention and are served, after a perfunctory or prolonged legal process, with a deportation order. Some seek refuge in the “destitution underground.” Others are sent back to where they came from, to an uncertain fate.

These are the sojourners among us.

©Linda Rabben, 2016