Inflammation and stories on immigration

Seeking_Asylum_in_Australia
A recently married couple from Tehran just made their third attempt, along with 57 other asylum seekers, to reach Christmas Island, Australia.  If the weather is stable and the small boat holds up, their more than 200 mile trip across the Indian Ocean into Australian territory should last three days.  However, since June, this three day trip has ended tragically taking the lives of over 100 people.

The first “boat people” to seek asylum in Australia were the Vietnamese during the mid-1970s.  According to Luke Mogelson, a NY Times correspondent that actually endured one of these journeys posing as a refugee, Australia is extremely concerned with such people and, in response to such concerns, they adopted The Pacific Solution as a way to send asylum seekers to detention centers with the help of the Australian navy.

These detention centers are located in Papa New Guinea, or on the miniscule island state in Micronesia called The Republic of Nauru.  Both locations rely heavily on Australian aid.

Mogelson also mentions that, “over the past four years, most European countries have absorbed more asylum seekers, per capita, than Australia – some of them, like Sweden and Liechtenstein, seven times as many.”

As a result of such absorption, the Pacific Solution has been denounced repeatedly by refugee and human rights advocates.  The BBC reports that Australia plans to increase the capacity of their refugee center to more than 2,000 beds to cope with the demand.  Furthermore, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, also according to the BBC, promised to take a hard line approach to people smugglers, but insists that anyone seeking asylum will be treated humanely.

For the most part, the issue surrounding human smuggling prompts Australia to be weary of refugees.  Luke Mogelson from the NY Times has lived in Afghanistan and explains that the refugee smuggling business is conducted through a money transfer system known in the Muslim world as hawala.  This system is convenient especially for Afghani people that do not have legitimate bank accounts, but have family living abroad that are in need of remittances.

Unlike most refugees, the recently married couple from Tehran previously mentioned continuously persisted in getting to Christmas Island so their child would be born there.  Other refugees typically expect to be reunited with their respective families after arriving in Australia, few want to risk the lives of their children on the treacherous trip.

Despite the fact that thousands of refugees have died attempting to reach Christmas Island, people continue making the trip, some even more than once.  The conditions they endure during their trip are unthinkable, their dreams of a new life quickly being countered with the nightmare of a ride they face on the way to safety.

Lindsey Lerner

Sources: NY Times, BBC
Photo: The Australian

mongolia
It is no secret that the concerns and rights of ethnic minorities in China fall to the wayside in favor of the Han, the ethnicity with the majority in the country. Inner Mongolia serves as an example of the cultural and economic strife caused by marginalizing one group over another. The result is what the Mongol minority believes is outright economic exclusion and the watering down of their culture.

One of the key issues within the region is the migration of the indigenous nomads from their native grasslands to the cities. The Chinese government waves off the migration as a move into modernity for the nomads. A removal from what Chinese authorities refer to as a “backward” culture, but as Nick Holdstock of the U.K. Independent points out, the natives have no say whatsoever when it comes to moving to the cities. This outflow of ethnic Mongolians to urban centers has raised fears among Mongolians that their culture, language and lifestyle are being threatened.

Another point of tension lies in the regional mining of rare-earth metals. Various mining companies have entered the region to take advantage of the lucrative prospects, especially since the value of these metals is demonstrated in their ubiquity among high-tech electronics. However, the mining has been accompanied by a degradation of the surrounding environment as well as the health of the nomads.

For example, the town of Baotou, a major mining hub, has seen its groundwater polluted to toxic levels, their crops ruined and much of their livestock destroyed. Moreover, the use of underground water sources, essential to the removal of impurities from the coal, has lessened the water available to crops and livestock. Many farmers, unable to deal with destruction of their livelihood, have moved away. The Guardian points out that the population within the surrounding villages of the Baotou plants has decreased dramatically. Those that have remained in the area are plagued by severe illness.

All of these factors have coalesced, creating serious economic problems for the ethnic minority. Environmental devastation of their grasslands has degraded some of the main forms of their economic livelihood; the mining industry in the region tends to hire workers from other provinces, excluding the nomads from many of the economic benefits the industry might bring.  Furthermore, those who have migrated to urban areas have discovered cultural barriers to finding gainful employment, namely an inability to speak passable Mandarin.

Tensions have, moreover, reached the point of violence in some instances. In 2011, a herder was killed by a passing coal truck when he attempted to prevent coal trucks from crossing into his land during his protest against the mining industry. Several days later another protester was killed by a forklift driver. Tensions finally boiled over and several thousand Mongolians went out to voice their opposition toward the mining activities.

Unfortunately, the case of Inner Mongolia is a harsh reminder among ethnic minorities in China of their second-class citizen status. Perhaps in time, the Chinese government will listen to the voices of protest among the disenfranchised minority groups that populate many rural areas throughout China. Until then, Mongolians and other ethnicities face major economic and cultural challenges.

Zack Lindberg

Sources: The Independent, The Guardian
Fabio Ghioni

Syrian_Refugee_Camps_in_Demand
Overfull and varying widely in accommodation, Syrian refugee camps have become an international crisis. The United Nations has made the largest humanitarian appeal for aid ever at $5 billion to relieve the situation but has received less than $2 billion to date. Some 2.2 million refugees are currently scattered across Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt while more Syrians are fleeing war at an alarming pace. Estimates say more than 3 million refugees will be in those areas by January.

Such numbers are startling given the Syrian population before the onset of war was only  22.5 million. Lebanon, for example, has no official camps despite having more than a million refugees in its borders and does not allow the building of permanent refugee structures. Those who can afford it rent apartments or rooms in the cities at an exorbitant rate while others share the homes of sympathetic civilians or even inhabit abandoned buildings in depressed areas. In the northeast region, an average of 17 people per household are packed together according to a study conducted by Doctors Without Borders last year.

Water, food and healthcare are rationed out slowly and insufficiently, with less to go around as numbers rise. Employment for refugees was around 20% last year in Lebanon, and the economies of Iraq, Turkey and Jordan are in little better position to provide opportunities for such a rapid influx of labor.

Dependency on humanitarian aid is heightened and the desperation of the situation has many refugees working for extremely low wages in poor conditions and engaging in child labor. Economic and physical insecurity in Jordan’s Zataari camp has led parents to arrange hurried marriages for their teenage daughters as young as 14. Matchmakers recruit young girls for Saudi husbands but often end up as prostitutes or victims of “pleasure marriages” where the suitor divorces them after consummation.

Though some of Syria’s displaced persons find bourgeois  housing in Cairo or end up in one of Turkey’s refugee camps that consist of metal trailers with access to satellite T.V. and air conditioning, most see basic necessities and sanitation as luxuries. The Domiz camp in Iraq is made up primarily of tents and has 45,000 residents despite being designed for just 30,000. In just two weeks between August and September, more than 1,500 people were treated for upper respiratory infections there by the World Health Organization (WHO).

Security is also an issue in these camps with reports of rape, theft, kidnapping and murder being common. In the Zataari camp, Jordan security forces restrict entry but lack the manpower to adequately police the camp’s 120,000 residents. Other camps in Iraqi Kurdistan and Turkey reportedly funnel arms and recruits back into Syria. In Lebanon, crime has increased by 30% and increased tensions between Hezbollah and Sunni refugees may be behind the recent bombing of the Iranian embassy in Beirut.

Syria’s bordering nations are gradually increasing restrictions for entering refugees. Lebanon and Turkey are both planning to relocate some people to camps they wish to build within Syria’s insecure borders. Only about 25% of Syria’s refugees are actually in camps now, the rest are trying to survive by their own means. There are also an additional 3.8 million who are internally displaced.

Despite their faults, the refugee camps provide essential support and the need for more camps is evident, but where they can be built and how they will be funded is not so clear.

– Tyson Watkins

Sources: Medecins Sans Frontieres, World Health Organization, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees: Syrian Arab Republic,
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees: Moving Refugees, The Guardian, Integrated Regional Information Networks, BBC, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees: Syrian Regional Response Plan, Aljazeera, The Daily Star United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees: Stories from Syrian Refugees, The New York Review of Books
Photo: NPR

Fast_For_Families
On the 11th day of a hunger strike, Vice President Joe Biden made a surprise visit to a Fast for Families strike tent on the National Mall in Washington. The Vice President then prayed with the group and encouraged their efforts to bring immigration reform.

The U.S. Senate passed a bipartisan immigration bill (S.744) in June. However, the House of Representatives has been deadlocked on the issue. Fast for Families supporters have vowed to fast until the House votes on the immigration reform bill that has already passed in the Senate. The Fast for Families effort in Washington is in conjunction with local fasts and events taking place in congressional districts all over the country.

The Vice President’s visit inspired the fasters as he addressed the crowd saying, “[w]e’re going to win this.” Vice President Biden and President Barack Obama have struggled to keep immigration issues in the spotlight since the President made a promise to bring immigration reform in his campaign.

Biden also said during his visit to the Fast for Families tent, that the 11 million undocumented men, women, and children working for citizenship are already Americans. Throughout the first eleven days, Fast for Families has been visited by many public officials including Rep. David Valadao (R-CA), Secretary of Labor Tom Perez, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), and Reverend Jesse Jackson.

Fasters have vowed that they will continue fasting until they can no longer sustain themselves or are “medically prevented” from continuing. Long time immigration reform activists participating in the fast received the Vice President’s visit and message as inspiring. In fact, Biden’s visit, in connection with House Speaker John Boehner’s recent comments at a news conference on November 21 that immigration reform is not dead, has offered hope to immigration reform advocates and a sign that the change they hope for is coming.

For more information and Fast for Families updates, please visit fast4families.org.

Daren Gottlieb

Sources: Time, Los Angeles Times, Fast for Families
Photo: Media Heavy