Peace, Refugee Stories, Social Issues

Is migration the “mother of all problems”?

By Fr. Paul Lansu
Senior Policy Advisor, Pax Christi International

Europe is now home to people from all over the world. In most European countries, we see the increase of rejection of new foreign citizens in Western society. Anti-migration sentiments are growing. In the south and east negative attitudes prevailed. In Italy for instance, one in every two persons perceive migration as a problem. Several European countries have built fences and barriers at their borders playing on people’s fear of foreign threats and focusing on the dangers from immigration of terrorism.  Recent elections in different EU states demonstrate that concerns surrounding migration and asylum continue to dominate the public space, shape national, and EU politics. Extremist (right wing) political parties are winning votes massively.

Migration remains the biggest challenge and is a debatable issue both in public opinion as well as in politics. Is this question the mother of all problems? Negative perceptions of “outsiders” have caused divisions not just between countries, but also within communities, political parties, the media, at street level, even within families. This topic will make a big difference in the next EU elections in May 2019.

Unhappiness characterizes modern man. Many people experience living in a chaotic world. Fear of innovation is the result of this. Determining or confronting other customs and cultures gives rise to resistance, even hatred and racism. Because the “stranger” is now also visible in the small cities and municipalities, the fear of migration is growing. It all became so unexpectedly and chaotic, loss of political control. Emotions are put to the test. Hosting in my neighbourhood refugees of different cultural and religious backgrounds is a sensitive issue. The fact that refugees/migrants want to go to places where they are among themselves is understandable but that does not help the integration. Ghettos should be prevented.

Some politicians use the rhetoric of keeping and “kicking migrants out.” That can result in criminalising these people. Even Prime Ministers or Presidents of EU member states use xenophobic rhetoric and hate speech against migrants and refugees. That behaviour is observable within authoritarian populist leaderships in Europe. The microphone of xenophobia is often the megaphone of a loud minority.

Migration is not going to stop

We cannot and must no longer withdraw ourselves from the needs in the rest of the world. Due to the expansion of the EU some years ago, we see economic migration from Central and Eastern European countries in the direction of Western Europe. There is also the economic migration from former Soviet Republics into Eastern and Central European countries as well as negative attitudes toward Middle Eastern (Muslim) refugees recently arrived in many European states. Refugees will continue to turn up in the EU because it is the only haven within reach for dozens of conflict areas.

Accepting the other and integration of new people is not an easy thing to do. That asks specific programmes, budgets and especially the political will to implement or apply values and standards not at least the principles of democracy and human rights, including the rights of minorities. Political will includes also recognising the concerns of ordinary people. We cannot underestimate that. Two obligations should come first: care for the welfare of the own population within the borders and care for victims of violence both within and outside our borders.

Fear of the Other

Since some time a culture of fear has been created. Behind the fear of migrants lies in many cases the fear of the unknown. We speak also about the fear of the Other, which stems from the fear of the Self. The Self that goes through an identity crisis feels vulnerable vis-à-vis the Other. Are we afraid of the other? Fear is also about change. When change looks out of control, it stirs social tension and political polarization.

The EU should develop some robust collective instruments to deal with migration challenges. With no clear public action in sight, fear remains and the populist wave can grow. Public action includes burden sharing and ways of solidarity. Our priority of concern must go to the thousands of women and children who are the most vulnerable groups in the communities. Young refugees, minors, often end up in criminal networks, prostitution and child labour.

The immigration issue is a huge challenge. As said that needs political will and especially the recognition that the world has significantly changed and our principles must be applied in different ways. The aim should be a sensible, pragmatic and compassionate migration policy. The question is how to best manage migration and coordinate on an international level. There is no purely European or purely national way to solve to this challenge: a mix of these and integration can be the only effective solution. That needs dialogue!

A human and Christian approach

The common basis for our thinking and attitudes is the conviction that all human beings are equal in dignity and rights and equally to be respected and protected. Every person has the same right to be respected, whatever his origin. Because of this, we are called by God to resist evil, to act justly, and pursue peace to transform the world. Evil can be seen in attitudes of exclusion, marginalisation, hate speech, racism, stigmatization and criminalization of migrants and refugees.

The drivers of (forced) displacement and migration are extreme poverty, food insecurity, lack of opportunity, climate change and insecurity. Religious extremism is often the breeding ground for terror, violence and fear. Respect is required for the rights of all people on the move, regardless of their status. The West has a moral obligation to help those fleeing violence and persecution.

Racism is a sin. Rejecting the “other” is a threat to our Christian identity. People of faith must condemn racism because it denies human dignity and the mutual belonging to the one human family and defaces the image of God in every human being. All media and public opinion makers should stop to dehumanise the other.

Xenophobia or “fear of the foreigner” must be converted into understanding, meeting and possible cooperation. Assistance in emergencies and for survival should not be denied.

The Gospel is calling the faithful to welcome the stranger as an act of love inspired by faith (Matthew 25:35-40). Jesus Christ identifies himself with the stranger. Based upon the principles of our Christian faith and the example of Jesus Christ, we should raise a narrative of love and hope, against the populist narrative of hate and fear. Every human being is worthy of respect and protection. Matthew 7:12 should inspire us: “do to others what you would have them do to you.” That is a golden rule! Our duties to the “others” includes welcoming, protecting, offer hospitality and to integrate.

Integration of refugees or migrants often involves abuse of power and often ends in new forms of slavery and unfair competition on the labour market. Only an inclusive approach that considers all dimensions of the human being and calls for the participation of each one in society can effectively fight against discrimination and exclusion.

Churches are important actors in civil society and political life. Their role as conscience-keeper should be fully assumed. A culture of encounter and dialogue should be promoted. We should recognize God in the faces of the other, the stranger and migrant.

Refugee Stories, Young Peace Journalists

Young Peace Journalists Stories: ‘Faking asylum to be in Europe: never an option’

The following piece was written by Innocent Umezuruike Iroaganachi, a member of the Young Peace Journalists of Pax Christi International (YPJ – PCI), and the World Catholic Association of Communication (SIGNIS). He holds a Bachelor and Master of Arts in Communication Studies, a doctoral student specializing in Peace and Development Communication Studies and a part-time lecturer at the Catholic Institute of West Africa (CIWA) Nigeria. Currently, he is the blog writer and website content editor for Asante Africa Foundation and an emerging media leader with the Centre for Social Awareness, Advocacy and Ethics (CSAAE).

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Few months ago, I was invited to attend a Television (TV) Seminar organized by the TV Desk, of the World Catholic Association of Communication (SIGNIS), in Dublin, Ireland, from 25-30 September, 2018. I had lots of doubt on how possible this can be, because I have to undergo the process of getting an Irish visa. Going by the stories making news on the denials of visa and strictness by European countries to issue visas to young people from Africa – Nigeria to be specific, as a result of influx of migrants into their continent, I was reluctant to give it a trial. But after some motivation from mentors, like Professor Walter Ihejirika, President of SIGNIS Africa, Professor. Joseph Faniran and Dr. Inaku Egere, of the Centre for the Study of African Culture and Communication (CESACC) in the Catholic Institute of West Africa (CIWA) and Dr. Godswill Agbagwa, the founder of the Centre for Social Awareness Advocacy and Ethics (CSAAE) and good friends, I went ahead with the application for an Irish visa. After three weeks of my application, I received a parcel from the Irish embassy, without waste of time, I opened the parcel, behold, on the last page of my passport, was a ninety (90) days Irish visa.

With the visa having been granted to me, many more issues began springing up. Particular among those issues, were people advising me not to come back to Nigeria once I travel to Ireland. I totally understand why they want me to not come back. One will ask, are you coming back to a country that has no plans for the citizens’ development? Like every young Nigerian, who is still struggling to have a better life, I was confused. Even in my confusion, I was sure about one thing, following due process to achieve an aim, thus, I concluded that I will go to Ireland and come back.

When I got to Ireland, I still met people who tried their possible best to discourage me from going back to Nigeria. Popular among the suggestions I got from people, was to come up with a real bad story for asylum. They did gave me instances of stories I could take a hint from and fabricate mine. Particular among them was lying that I have issues with the government, also that I am wanted for sake of my stand against the government on issues about the self-determination of Biafra (a group of Nigerians in the south east, clamouring for independence). Others include, fabricating stories about being wanted for kill by boko haram terrorist group and killer herdsmen, for my stand against their activities in Nigeria. The extent of their suggestions and the opportunities these people suggested that I am going to enjoying, all in the bid to discourage me from going back, made me think at some point, that my decision to go back to Nigeria was not ‘right’.

On my way back to Nigeria, I encountered an embarrassing situation. To enjoy a little bit of the long layover (of Tukish airline) I am going to have at Istanbul, Turkey, I decided to apply for a Turkish visa, to allow me tour the city a little bit, before departure time of the flight to Nigeria. Having arrived at the passport control, I spent over thirty-five (35) minutes been scrutinised by five different Turkish immigration and police officers. At the end of the scrutiny and eventual issuing of the Turkish visa by officers at the point of entry, one of the officers who accompanied me out of the airport and to find my way around, apologised to me for the long delay. When I enquired to know why they had to delay me for so long, I was told that the scrutiny was all in the bid to confirm, if the Irish visa I had was authentic and to verify beyond all doubt, that I will not run away when I am issued the visa to enter Turkey. I was further hinted that this is because they were surprised that a young African from Nigeria (like myself), had an Irish visa, travelled to Ireland and came back way-long before the expiration of the visa. I guess they do not see much of that happening.

Still with all these persuasions to stay back, I was certain about the following, I had a laid out plan for myself and my future, which will include travelling for sake of improving and gaining academic, professional and practical experiences, relating to my field of endeavour, that is, the media, journalism and communication. Therefore, going to Europe or any other place with false intention, staying back after the expiration of the visa, and falsifying stories to seek asylum, were never on the plan and I do not intend for them to be on it. It took lots of personal convictions for me to arrive at the conclusion, to not fake an asylum and stay back in Ireland, especially, after meeting people who claim to have done same and are “enjoying themselves”. Really, enjoying you say! I take an exception to such notion of enjoyment, because it is one built on lies and deceit. I wonder if those of them who frame untrue tales to seek asylum, consider what the consequence will be like, if the truth about their deceit come to the open at some point in their lifetime and stay in such countries.

This article is in no way branding all who seek asylum to be fake, on the contrary, this is about my personal experience and personal opinions, on the extent I encountered direct and indirect pressures from some people, who tried to convince me to fake an asylum, so as to stay back in Europe, a trend that has become so popular for young migrants. I decided not to follow the popular opinions urging me not to come back to Nigeria, not because I have a great job back in Nigeria or that my country has great programmes and polices making life better for the citizens, but for sake of being sincere and trustworthy to myself and the organisations I am associated with, I decided to come back.

Refugee Stories, Young Peace Journalists

Refugee Stories: “LJUBAV I ŽIVOT”: Stories Of War, Kafana Love and Remembrance [Part III]

The following interview was done by Alexandre Fonseca, a member of the Young Peace Journalists and an EVS Volunteer at Volunteers’ Centre of Vojvodina with the project “People BeyONd Borders” (Erasmus + Program).

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Summary:

Nina is a student of journalism, an active citizen and was a participant in the Youth Exchange “Get up – crossing borders” in Klösterbuch devoted to the current refugee situation in Europe, financed by OFAJ and organized by the Volunteers’ Center of Vojvodina, Treibhaus and Le Petit Graine. Nina was always willing to contribute, share her opinion and also her story of being a baby refugee from Krajina (part of Croatia) in a very emotional Living Library related to the topic.

We met afterwards for coffee and čvarci in a hostel in the downtown of Novi Sad to catch up and hear more about her story. After an hour or so, Nina suggested us to visit her in her home and talk to her mom, who lived through the journey with full conscience. We shared a lovely Sunday afternoon in Bukovac, suburb of Novi Sad, under the first snows of January, sheltered by the warmth of the fireplace, cheese pita and the words of the matriarch of the family, Branka. We remembered the Youth Exchange, talked about the future, presented each other cultures and culinary, but most of all remembered and reminisced. The first and second part of the story can be found here and here.

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Third Chapter:

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me

 “As if it wasn’t enough of war.”

In this chapter, like many times, things get better. We recover Branka’s family in Serbia, trying to pick up their lives in their new/old country, not before going through more trials and tribulations.

[Novi Sad, 5th of August 2018. The main square, right in front of the Cathedral, one of the trademarks of the city, is filled with gloomy posters of a dark time in the history of both Serbia and Croatia: Oluja / Operation Storm. The air is torrid, people stroll by lightly, in stark contrast with the mood in the square, set by the expressions on the pictures, captured 23 years ago.

It’s hard to tell if the tourists who pass casually by know or want to know about Oluja. In contrast, you can easily see the ones who are aware of it, those who have lived it or heard about it closely; those to whom these images cause their own private storm. For them, it’s still a living, breathing history.]

Open a newspaper, flick through the TV or go online. You have seen the masses of people forced to take shelter in schools, gyms or any other large public building. For all the times you have seen it (and you have seen it a million times), it is never less unfortunate. Particularly when the causes are human-made.

After having been persecuted by an army, facing the heat of August and the strain of many days on the road without anything, Branka and her family are trying to accommodate themselves in a gym of a high school in Ruma, near the border between Croatia and Serbia. Four years of conflict, three days of persecution and finally safety, a safety mired by its own precariousness. The place was offering just the bare minimum so they could rest, sleep and eat. As Branka says “it was nothing more than just a building full of other refugees, like us”. The conditions were not enough, so the family had to move on, in hope of a better place:

When we came to Belgrade, the city was closed for the refugees, because we were the last wave of refugees. There had been refugees from Bosnia and Croatia earlier and when we came Belgrade was ‘closed’. They were sending people to Kosovo. My husband parents’ went to Kosovo and they saw that the war might be starting over there too, so they came back a couple of months later. We survived lots of things and after all that, you still have to lose your men to go to Kosovo. As if it wasn’t enough of war.

The family found a shelter in Karavukovo, “a really small village” in the province of Vojvodina. Nina’s grandmother had a brother from Germany and his friend heard about their situation. Branka remembers they told them: “We have an empty house over there, so you can come in and stay until you know what are you going to do’”. It was a house, a shelter, a refuge and peace, but once again, not without hardships, as Branka recalls:

We stayed for over a year at the place of an old German couple, who kept the house after WWII and lend it to us without any fee. It was hard, because we almost did not have electricity, I was washing clothes outside when it was -10º. Then Nino and me started to work making bags for potatoes. It was a really hard job, because we were doing it with our bare hands, which would often be bloody.

However it may be, for Branka and her family, help came. “Some really good people, our neighbors, told us: ‘we have our garden and everything we have in there, we will share with you’. And that was the first friendship we made.”

Sadly, once again, Nino was still a refugee, now not escaping his homeland, but running away from the paramilitary services who were forcibly recruiting men, as he tried to escape the fate of so many that were deployed to fight a foregone war in Bosnia.

“My husband, after that, escaped to Belgrade and hid with his cousins. A while after we got to Karavukovo, there was a fire in the kitchen. He ran to put it off and burned his hands and head and almost died. He moved to Belgrade, but he didn’t…he couldn’t see the doctor, because they would put him in Bosnia again. He spent three months in Belgrade at his cousins’ house as a refugee. A refugee in refuge.”

What is it about hardship, about the most catastrophic of scenarios that brings out the best out of people? Is humanity doomed to meet its worst faith, before human kindness swallows our shallowness and egotism? Or is this belief that the best of people will come out from their darkest moments just a perception, a mere theater of shadows? Isn’t it true that people will also profit in and from tragedy? After all the tempests, the thunders, the menace, how much do you have or can go through for the happiest day of your life to be the one you finally get to settle?

One year later, we got a small house in a village named Srpski Miletić. It is a settlement for refugees, made by the Norway government. And we got it and it was the happiest day of my life. A small house, 39m2, but it was our house. I remember the day when we were going to get the key of the house.

As Branka explains:

For us, it was a huge thing. We had two rooms, living room, bathroom and kitchen. It was first 4 of us (my husband, my son and daughter and me) and then my grandmother come to our house too, because she was old and needed care.

Branka recalls little Nina’s mischief on the day her family got the key to the house:

“She was a kid, and she was playing outside. She fell down and her knees were bloody. I wanted her to be nicely dressed, but she just wanted to celebrate that moment of joy, on her own way – playing outside. It was a really beautiful moment.”

After all the tempests, the thunders, the menace, did things get better? This is a strong family, that’s all I know.

Disclaimer: This text does not attempt to take any sides in a war that involved brothers and sisters, people united under one flag, and although retelling the story of this civil war trough the perspective of Serbian refugees, it is not meant to isolate them from the wider victims of this conflict who are, in the words of Branka, “the people that were unprepared”.

Find this article and others by Alexandre Fonseca on BalkanSteps.

Refugee Stories, Young Peace Journalists

Refugee Stories: “LJUBAV I ŽIVOT”: Stories Of War, Kafana Love and Remembrance [Part II]

The following interview was done by Alexandre Fonseca, a member of the Young Peace Journalists and an EVS Volunteer at Volunteers’ Centre of Vojvodina with the project “People BeyONd Borders” (Erasmus + Program).

__________________________________________________

Summary:

Nina is a student of journalism, an active citizen and was a participant in the Youth Exchange “Get up – crossing borders” in Klösterbuch devoted to the current refugee situation in Europe, financed by OFAJ and organized by the Volunteers’ Center of Vojvodina, Treibhaus and Le Petit Graine. Nina was always willing to contribute, share her opinion and also her story of being a baby refugee from Krajina (part of Croatia) in a very emotional Living Library related to the topic.

We met afterwards for coffee and čvarci in a hostel in the downtown of Novi Sad to catch up and hear more about her story. After an hour or so, Nina suggested us to visit her in her home and talk to her mom, who lived through the journey with full conscience. We shared a lovely Sunday afternoon in Bukovac, suburb of Novi Sad, under the first snows of January, sheltered by the warmth of the fireplace, cheese pita and the words of the matriarch of the family, Branka. We remembered the Youth Exchange, talked about the future, presented each other cultures and culinary, but most of all remembered and reminisced. The first part of the story can be found here.

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Second Chapter:

Summer Storm

“I have to say that, after all, I have no hate in my heart.

I have learned not to hate anyone.” – Branka Kemera

“About 150-200 000 Krajina Serbs retreated into Bosnia […]

The 450-year-old Serbian community in Croatia

had effectively ceased to exist.”

 – Nigel Thomas and Krunoslav Mikulan

In this chapter, we catch up with Branka after four years of intense conflict in Glina, part of the back then Republic of Serbian Krajina, a rebel republic situated within the territory of Croatia.

Branka was no longer a student, she had gotten married in 1992 and become a mother in 1994. One year later, the war would come to an end, after four long years. Was Branka still an idealist? It is hard to tell. What changes when you witness war on a daily basis? When you give birth in the middle of such a conflict? What do you feel? How do you keep yourself going? For some people, life is not meant to be easy. But to Branka, these trials and tribulations were never a sign to stop.

On the contrary, the only way it made sense for her was to press forward and try harder, even in the unfairness of war. She created a business with her friend Radojka, sewing and selling clothes, because “people have to wear the clothes, even in the war”. To find food for the family, now larger with baby Nina, Branka’s father-in-law was a hunter, providing some nourishment by this means. Branka also tried to carry on with her studies of Literature in a branch of the University of Belgrade, which had opened near Glina. Unfortunately, due to the lack of resources and disorganization of that branch, she was unable to continue.

In 1995, however, the Republic of Serbian Krajina was not only a problem for the people living in it, but for politicians in all sides of the conflict. Franko Tuđman, Croatian President, was, as John Ashbrook and Spencer Bakich state “faced with a quandary: how to reestablish Croatian authority in the Krajina and rid himself of the Serbian minority in the area without alienating the international community”.

According to the same authors, by then, Slobodan Milošević started sensing that the “international community would no longer entertain the idea of a Greater Serbia, so he temporarily washed his hands of Republika Srpska [Serb-dominated Republic in Bosnia] and permanently of the Krajina”. In that summer, the Krajina experiment would come to a tragic end. Civilians, as so many times during the wars in Yugoslavia, would again be part of the battle chessboard.

Following the success of operation Flash, the Croatian Army was convinced that it was possible to recover the control of all of Krajina. This military operation, launched at the beginning of May 1995, inflicted a major blow into the army of the Krajina Republic, showing “the reticence of Belgrade to support the Serbs against Croatian action”, as John Ashbrook and Spencer Bakich suggest. A position seconded by Branka’s husband, Nino, to whom “the Krajina army was ordered from Belgrade to pull back with all military equipment. And if the army is to pull back, all civilians should leave their places, as well. If the Serbian army had stayed in Croatia, there would have been an even more violent war”.

For the Croat officials, it showed that it was also possible to “reimpose Croatian sovereignty over all the regions in revolt and, simultaneously, to rid these areas of their Serbian populations”, Ashbrook and Bakich write. As a result, the western part of Slavonia [around the city of Okučani] was now controlled by the Croatian Government, while according to the authors of Yugoslav Wars, Nigel Thomas and Krunoslav Mikulan, “almost all 15000 Serb population fled across the Sava River into Bosnia-Herzegovina.”

It was nothing more than a prelude to what was coming. Four months later, in the first days of August, the army of Croatia launched Operation Storm, which shifted the military power of the war, and played an essential role in facilitating the peace agreements that would end the war, while also creating a humanitarian disaster for the Serbs living in the region. Those who could escape, did so, in fear of retaliation. Among them, Branka and her family: husband, her one year-old daughter Nina, mother and brother, plus both Nina’s grandfathers.

We traveled from Croatia to Serbia, 12 days, without water, without food. Terrible. It was August, in a high temperature and Nina was so nervous, she cried every time, so scared.

When we tried to escape there was a column and one Croatian plane bombed us. There was a terrible noise, because the aircraft fled so low until us. After that Nina has a terrible fear of airplanes.

Every day, you were scared for people who are close to you, for your family. If they are going to be alive or dead. That is the biggest scare.

A family of eight on the run, escaping in any possible way:

We were surrounded by the Croatian army and our life was in danger all the time, Nina and I almost did not escape. Without the help of a Serbian soldier, we would not survive.

We had car, tractor, bus. But no fuel. Also people got stuck, because they had no way to go. I had to beg some old woman to give me 20 liters of fuel to put it in the car. Because of that, she traveled with us.”

At the same time, one local radio, Branka recalls, was telling people that it would not be a problem to stay and that for the Serbs in the region, everything was under control. Others did not want to leave their homes and their place, after living their whole life in Krajina. Sadly, not everyone who wanted to, could escape. Among those who stayed was Branka’s grandmother, who after surviving WWII and losing everyone dear to her, was again witnessing war at home.

We could not put our grandma in the car and she had to go with another family. They got stuck and the Croatian army arrested them. She was shot.

When we came to Serbia, we tried to find her. We asked the Red Cross, UN, when we passed to Serbia, we asked also people: ‘Where is she, where is she?’ And we thought, after a couple of months, that she was killed.

After half a year, we got a letter from Croatia saying that our grandmother was alive. She was shot, she had two bullets in the chest that crossed all the way to the back. She was thrown in a hole with other dead people, but someone noticed that she was breathing and got her out of there.

She stayed alive and we cried when we got that letter. Red Cross transported her from Croatia to our house. She was living with us until 2005, when she passed away the day before Orthodox Christmas.

We tried to accuse Croatia Army of that crime, but we didn’t succeed. No one helped us, and no one was interested in the situation. Our grandma was about 75 years old.”

Fearing for the life of their grandmother and confronted by the harsh conditions of the exodus, they had to keep on. Their first stop was Banja Luka, capital of the Serb controlled part of Bosnia, Srpska Republic:

In Bosnia, we stopped in Banja Luka, because we had and still have some relatives over there. This was the meeting point for the whole family, just to see if everybody is alive and that everybody was there.”

Everyone was safe, but they were still “on the road. Without money, shoes, food, without anything.” No more words are needed for now.

To be continued…

Find this article and others by Alexandre Fonseca on BalkanSteps.

Refugee Stories, Social Issues

I was a stranger and you took my child from me

by Tony Magliano

In the last judgment scene of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus sends a severe warning that hell awaits those who ignore meeting the essential human needs of the poor and vulnerable – and thus likewise, ignore him.

And in reference to those who display a lack of hospitality toward migrants and refugees, Jesus warns “I was a stranger and you did not welcome me.” Now … just imagine the indignation expressed in his words “I was stranger and not only did you not welcome me, you took my child from me!”

The Trump administration’s inhumane and unchristian immigration policy of “zero-tolerance” –  stepped-up apprehension and detention of migrants/refugees often fleeing armed conflict and drug gang violence, mass assembly-line criminal court trials, jail sentences imposed, and deportation back to the violence refugees were fleeing – was started under President George W. Bush and continued under President Obama (see: https://bit.ly/2OZwYye).

Joanna Williams, director of education and advocacy for Kino Border Initiative (see: https://www.kinoborderinitiative.org/) told me the U.S. practice of criminally charging refugees for entry into the country is against international law as defined by the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol – of which the U.S. is a signatory. The Convention states that refugees have “the right not to be punished for illegal entry into the territory of a contracting State [nation],” and that they have the right to work, education, public relief and assistance (see: https://bit.ly/2Ndn8IR).

But the Trump administration’s policy of systematically separating refugee families was a new and even lower attempt to fearfully deter fleeing families from entering the U.S.

Children as young as 18-months-old have reportedly been forcefully taken away from their parents and placed in government-run caged facilities (see: https://bit.ly/2t83fuO).

But a federal court ordered the Trump administration to end its policy of family separation and to reunite all children with their parents.

Advocacy Officer Esmeralda Lopez of the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (see: http://refugees.org/) told me that 2,654 migrant children were separated from their parents in total, and according to a recent federal report 565 children still remain separated from their parents (see: https://nyti.ms/2MT7Yf3).

And to make this sad unjust situation worse, the Trump administration appears to have no idea how to reunite the more than 400 parents it has already deported with their children who are in U.S.

While the court order now bans family separation, it will not keep the Trump administration from continuing its heartless “zero-tolerance” policy toward suffering refugees. That will only come from massive political pressure from us.

Adding injury to insult, the Trump administration cut $300 million in funding to the U.N. Relief and Works Agency which provides emergency assistance and basic human services to Palestinian refugees (see: https://bit.ly/2PuKvzf).

But the U.S. is not the only economically developed nation to turn its back on most of the world’s 25 million refugees, 40 million internally displaced people and 3 million asylum-seekers (see: https://www.unrefugees.org/refugee-facts/statistics/).

Bulgaria, Hungry, Slovenia, Macedonia, Austria and France (funded by the U.K.) have all recently built barriers to keep out refugees (see: https://bit.ly/2d3jscf).

War, drug gangs, the flow of weapons, militarism, individual and corporate greed, poverty, lack of comprehensive immigration reform legislation, nationalism – as in “America first,” and a secularism that has little place for God are among the root-causes that are forcing our brothers and sisters to seek safer havens.

Let’s us commit ourselves to up-rooting these poisonous weeds and sow seeds of true Christian welcome.

* Photo from the Dallas Morning News.
Refugee Stories, Young Peace Journalists

Refugee Stories: “The victims of natural disaster: displaced people? Yes, but actually forgotten.”

The following interview was done by Olivier Lungwe Fataki, a member of the Young Peace Journalists based in Uvira (South Kivu), in Congo, DRC.

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Summary:
The story starts by the author observation. It’s about the displaced people, victims of flooding by the waters of Nyangara Pond, in DR Congo, South Kivu Province, in Uvira territory. The waters of this pond had left their natural bed before pouring into the residential area of Kilomoni and destroying many private dwellings whose victims had moved into a chapel of the Catholic Parish of the area. Later, to facilitate the liturgical activities, a site was built using tarpaulins donated by a Xaverian Father. To date, besides the aids obtained two months ago, these displaced people do not know how to go about it so as to go back to their life at home, because of the lack of livelihood, security and protection by the Congolese State and entitled organizations.

The observation…

Once upon a time, in June 2018, when I was heading for Bujumbura, the Burundian capital, located a few tens of kilometers from the city of Uvira, in the province of South Kivu, DR Congo, I caught a glimpse of the tents built in tarpaulins, looking like military barracks, at the edge of the Congolese road leading to the border with the Burundi.

As a result, I was curious to know what it was all about, but I could not stop the vehicle that was carrying us because everyone seemed in a hurry for his business. At my sides, none of the passengers around me could tell me what it really was because everyone was asking everyone.

Two days after my stay in Bujumbura…

As I knew that in the quarter where I saw these tents there is a Burundian refugee transit center, all my thoughts went in the direction of an extension of this center, but still it was necessary to verify. So one good morning, I went to the site to inquire.

As soon as I arrived, I found a mother carrying her child on the back, getting out of a tent to go into the shade of an unfinished building located two meters from the site. I approached her and introduced myself before proposing to her a conversation which she accepted willingly.

Me and her under the shadow of the unfinished building…

Me: How are you?

Her: We are a bit good despite this dramatic situation that has hit us.

Me: Dramatic situation…! Would you like to tell me about it?

Her: In March 2018, our houses had collapsed due to the flood waters of the Pond “Nyangara” which had overflowed before pouring into the residential area of Kilomoni. And many of us, victims of this disaster, had nowhere to go. That’s how we came to take refuge in the chapel of the Catholic parish of Kilomoni.

Me: It was a natural disaster then …. but how did you survive this cascading collapse of the flooded houses?

Her: Oh! That’s the wonder of God and it’s no secret to anyone. At the beginning of this year 2018, heavy rains were felling regularly over most of Uvira’s territory. The waters of the pond “Nyangara” gradually swelled, some could see how their homes were flooding, and others were surprised to see the water rises from the bottom of their houses and fill them all in a few hours. Noticing this situation, we tried to save what we could by starting with the little children before taking care of the furniture. A pity that many did not succeed because most of the houses were built in adobe, therefore much more fragile in contact with the water and yielded easily. That’s how many goods had perished.

Me: Who did welcome you in the chapel and how did you leave there to live in these tents built of tarpaulins?

Her: Initially, when we slept in the chapel, it was on the authorization of a reverend Xaverian Father as a sign of compassion with the victims of the natural disaster, while in the meantime, the liturgical activities took place there during the day. Thus, to free space, we asked the Reverend Father to provide us with tarpaulins to temporarily build tents in the enclosure of the parish that was not invaded by the water. That’s how he paid us tarpaulins for the construction of these tents in which we live today.

Me: How do you live in this site?

Her: We live with difficulties, because it was only in April and May 2018 that we received visits from certain politico-administrative authorities and some humanitarian organizations. After identification of all the victims, some NGOs gave us living goods including beans and rice; another one had built us a latrine. But also, some administrative authorities had given us kitchen utensils, soaps and few clothes. However, since June, we each one manage in one’s own way to make ends of month meet. Many of us are farmers, other fishermen. When we leave our tents for our occupations, we lose a lot of property for the lack of security and surveillance of the site. Particularly, the Congolese State has taken no steps to protect us and secure us.

… Under conversation, other people, also victims of this natural disaster, were heading towards us …, among them, there was a lady who had been indicated to me as responsible of the displaced people of this site. Suddenly, I greeted her and introduced myself at the same time.

Her (responsible of the displaced people site): Thank you and welcome to our place.

Me: You are welcome, Madam! I would like to know how much you live in this site?

Her: We are here forty households, but other victims of this disaster settle in unfinished building sites here in Kilomoni.

Me: Now that the waters of the “Nyangara” pond are gradually regaining their natural bed, are there not people among you who are going back to their homes?

Her: No, unfortunately. Because most of the flooded houses had collapsed, and to return to live there, you must have the means to start building. The majority of those who occupy tents here do not really have those means. On the other hand, those who prefer to be much safer are going to look for unfinished building sites in the quarter to settle there, because here, the more it rains the more the tarpaulins are destroyed in contact with the sunlight which shines in Uvira.

Me: What does the Congolese state say about your case?

Her: Nothing at all.