Wednesday, February 16, 2011

India’s African diaspora risks being left out in the new scheme of things

Friday, February 11 2011 at 18:52

Set deep in south Delhi is a park named for the red-flowered Gulmohar tree and which provides the location for Gumolhar Park Journalists Colony, a tranquil neighbourhood associated with the capital’s more affluent residents.

House Number 47 would pass for any of the tens of old-style Hindu villas in the estate originally established for journalists in the 1970s, only that its upper storey is home to a unique venture that seeks to reconnect the widely disseminated Indian diaspora.

A private online portal, the People of Indian Origin (PIO) TV studios are rather cramped and give off a whiff that is both sipid and musty in nature, perhaps an apt reminder of the chasm that has for decades existed between India and its 30 million-strong diaspora, and which it is now scrambling to redress.

“Every day we get about 3,000 hits or more, but during all these big events like the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas or overseas PBD’s, we get about 70,000—80,000 [hits],” said the manager of the Indian operation of the family-run outlet, Kuldeep Yadav.

The Pravasi Bharatiya Divas—Non-Resident Indian Day—is India’s best known move towards reconnecting with its diaspora. Held annually around January 9—a date the marks Mahatma Ghandi’s return from South Africa—the jamboree has in recent years sought to celebrate the achievements of its diaspora.

New Delhi’s arm-length treatment of its diaspora had been partly informed by a need to avoid being seen as interfering with sovereign ties, but also by the fact that most of its relatives are fiercely proud of their African roots.

Political influence

But the success of the diaspora in North America and western Europe where they now yield immense economic and political influence has awakened the country to the potential benefits of a community whose gross income is worth an estimated $1 trillion, and who send home more money than any other country.

But as India seeks to delicately re-engage with Africa, its three million-strong diaspora on the continent are unwittingly caught in the middle with ironically the same historical links it trumpets playing against it.

28 homosexual Jamaicans gain political asylum victory in US

By theGrio
1:47 PM on 02/15/2011

In an unprecedented victory, 28 homosexual Jamaicans, who were persecuted due to their sexual orientation, have gained political asylum in the United States. The success of their claims reflects the degree of of persecution suffered by homosexuals in Jamaica.

Since 2007, Great Britain, the former colonial power which introduced the island's sodomy laws, has granted asylum to at least five Jamaicans on the grounds that their lives were in danger due to their sexual orientation.

The individuals were assisted by Immigration Equality, a network of pro-bono attorneys which strives to secure asylum for lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders, because they were persecuted in their country as a result of their sexual orientation, gender identity or HIV-status.

The Immigration Equality spokesperson said:

"By offering them a safe haven, the United States is not only saving their lives, but benefiting from the talent, skills and service these asylees bring to our country. We are proud and honored to help them begin life anew here in their adopted homeland."

The organization is reported to have 97 additional cases filed in 2010 and several filed previously that are awaiting review.

Renowned largely for its music, culture and reputation as one of the most-favored Caribbean travel destinations, the island is also infamous for its intolerance and unbridled violence against homosexuals. Homosexuality, known throughout the Caribbean as "buggering," remains a criminal offense in Jamaica and is punishable by up to 10 years in jail.

Bedouin Smugglers Abuse Africans Held for Ransom, Israel Group Says

February 15, 2011

TEL AVIV — About 1,000 African migrants trying to cross the Sinai Desert from Egypt into Israel have been systematically beaten, raped and held captive for ransom in the past year by the Bedouin smugglers they hired to help them make the journey, an Israeli advocacy organization said Tuesday.

Testimony collected by the Hotline for Migrant Workers in a new report depicts a network of torture camps in the northern reaches of the desert where the migrants, mostly Eritrean, are sometimes held for months in abusive conditions, while their Bedouin captors press their families abroad to send thousands of dollars in ransom money.

“I was a virgin when I arrived in the desert,” said a 21-year-old Eritrean woman cited in the report, who was held for six months. “During the first few times that I was raped, I cried and resisted, but that didn’t help. They wouldn’t leave me alone. After that I stopped resisting. Only when the $2,800 arrived did the smugglers unchain me.”

In their accounts in the report and in person, the migrants recall a pattern of abuse, including gang rapes and beatings with electric rods and heavy sticks. Often, they said, they were shackled together in groups as their armed captors kept them under guard. At one of the camps, captives were given T-shirts with numbers printed on them and were referred to by those numbers.
Physical torture typically accompanied the captors’ extortion calls, usually by satellite phone.

“The most painful moments were when they called my family as they beat me and I cried out,” said Avraham Asmara, a 25-year-old Eritrean man who was held for a month before escaping and crossing the border three weeks ago. “I was always thinking about what my family was thinking and feeling when they heard me like this.”

At a news conference, Mr. Asmara said he had paid $3,000 to his smugglers to take him across the desert, but was taken captive. His family members in Eritrea sold their home and belongings to send his captors $8,000 of the $10,000 ransom they demanded, he said.

There is concern among Israeli human rights officials that the upheaval in Egypt will make it even more difficult to crack down on the kidnappings, which they say started last year. The Bedouins and Egyptian authorities have had tense relations for years, with the Bedouins complaining of discrimination and harsh treatment. The vast, sparsely populated Sinai Desert has long been something of a lawless no man’s land.

Reut Michaeli, executive director of the Tel Aviv-based Hotline for Migrant Workers, voiced concern that when the migrants, including women pregnant from rape, do make it across the border to Israel, they are not provided state-financed medical treatment.

The group Physicians for Human Rights — Israel, which runs a clinic here for migrants, referred 165 women for abortions in 2010 and suspects that about half were raped while in Sinai, according to its report in December.

According to official estimates, about 33,000 Africans, most of them migrant workers seeking better economic prospects but some of them refugees from war in Sudan, have crossed into Israel from Egypt since 2005, setting off a national debate about how to handle the influx. The number rose to about 13,600 last year from fewer than 4,900 in 2009, according to Israeli Parliament figures.

Male migrants who were held captive told of being beaten when they tried to protect the women, and there are also reports that men were raped.

Musa Naiem, 35, from Sudan said the camp where he was held, in sight of a Bedouin village, was a fenced-in pen with three rooms covered by a cloth roof. He and others slept outside in the sand and had no toilets or showers.

Mr. Asmara said he liberated himself and his fellow captives with a handcuff key secretly recovered from the captors by a woman who had been raped. On a day the smugglers were in another room, he unlocked himself and the others. Together they overwhelmed and disarmed their captors and fled into the desert.

It turned out they were only a half-hour’s walk from the Israeli border.

Pulling the small silver key from his wallet, Mr. Asmara turned it in his hand and said: “This is for me to remember. This is the key that helped 50 people find freedom from hell.”

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

African Refugees in Egypt Sit Out the Protests

By Ashley Bates
Mon Jan. 31, 2011

olitical and socio-economic backgrounds take to the Egyptian streets, African migrants from Sudan and elsewhere are holing up inside their homes. I called a few of them to find out why.

"I don't know any Sudanese who are participating," said Abdel Raheem, a 28-year-old Sudanese Cairo resident. "I saw on the news that people are being arrested. For someone who's not Egyptian, this would be really bad."

S.H., a Somali refugee in Cairo who asked that only his initials be used, agreed. "I'm not in a position to speak for the whole Somali community, but I have called some of my close friends, and everyone is staying home and watching the situation closely," he told me. "They wouldn't be safe."

An estimated 2-3 million migrants, refugees, and asylum-seekers now live in Egypt—and they have good reason to fear the Egyptian authorities. The last time they banded together to gain greater freedoms, they were rewarded with lethal suppression.

In late September 2005, approximately 3,000 mostly Sudanese migrants and their supporters set up a makeshift tent camp outside the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees building in Cairo. For three months, they called on the UNHCR to resettle them in other countries. They also protested their frequent harassment and imprisonment by the Egyptian police, and demanded access to public schools and health care, as well as the right to work legally in Egypt.

On December 30, 2005, the Mubarak government crushed this peaceful sit-in demonstration. About 4,000 Egyptian police encircled the camp, fired water cannons into the crowd, dragged women by their hair, and beat people indiscriminately, according to media reports. More than 2,000 protesters were arrested and at least 27 migrants, including one toddler, were killed in what the Egyptian Interior Ministry alleged was a "stampede." Only after the aggressive intervention of the UNHCR and human rights organizations did the Mubarak government rescind its plans to deport 645 of the detained people as "illegal immigrants."

The Mubarak government's repression of African migrants has escalated ever since. According to a 2008 Human Rights Watch report, Egyptian border authorities implemented a policy of "shoot-to-stop" in the remote border zones. In a two-year period, thirty-three Israel-bound migrants—including young children—were shot and killed by Egyptian security forces.

In addition to their well-founded fears of being killed, arrested, or deported, migrants are also avoiding participation in this week's pro-democracy demonstrations because they feel no sense of "Egyptian" identity. Egyptian civilians have ostracized them with racist names like "samara" meaning black, "funga monga" meaning monkey, or "abit" meaning slave.

"The protests are a sacrifice for the Egyptian people—it's not for us. It's not our nation." Abdel Raheem said.

While refugees hope that the protests will bring a new government that is more sympathetic to their plight, they harbor grave concerns that, in the short term, Egypt will descend into chaos.

"I think the refugees are not excited about the protests," said S.H., a Somali refugee who cautiously ventured outside on Sunday to watch the demonstrations from a safe distance. "Refugees are running from turmoil and unrest. They came here for protection."

He added sadly, "[Refugees] know what can happen when things get out of control."

Tighten US-Africa Link

Jan 31 2011 18:08

American President Barack Obama is expected to focus more on Africa in 2011. This comes none too soon. Africa has become a competitive terrain as emerging powers accelerate their economic diplomacies on a continent considered the "last frontier" for trade and investment opportunities in the West-to-East shift in global economic momentum.

The unfinished business of Iraq and Afghanistan and Obama's reaching out to the Muslim world and re-engaging with neglected vital interests in East Asia inevitably pushed Africa on to the back burner. The "Great Recession" reinforced his domestic focus and interrelated with his administration's initial Asia-Pacific emphasis. Yet, simultaneously, Obama's opening move saw Asia as Sinocentric and meant acknowledging the rise of emerging powers and regions. The orchestrated emergence of the G20 (including South Africa), Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's opening foray into the continent and Obama's symbolic visit to Ghana, including his "tough love" remarks for Africa's leaders, seemed a harbinger of things to come.

Meanwhile, having assembled an expert Africa team under Ambassador Johnnie Carson, the administration's main concerns were crisis-managing Darfur and the north-south Comprehensive Peace Agreement in Sudan, reviewing prospects for reassembling the Humpty Dumpty of Somalia and keeping a nervous eye on unsettling developments in Kenya and Nigeria. As Obama surveys the horizon leading up to 2012, many of the early initiatives in Asia, the Middle East and the Hindu Kush have settled into a pattern of engagement, even if not satisfactory resolution. The same goes for closely interrelated areas of strategic interest: the Russian "reset" agenda and navigating ambivalent transatlantic ties including the troubled eurozone. This leaves two areas devoid of Washington's strategic attention: Latin America (and the Caribbean, save for Haiti) and last, but not least, Africa.

In the Americas much depends on Obama's relations with the Dilma Roussef administration in Brazil and how the cautious relaxation of restrictions on a post-Castro Cuba is navigated. Closer to home, there is the urgency of cross-border management of relations with a Mexico battling a drug cartel insurgency, plus an immigration challenge that has made Arizona a flashpoint of violent reaction. But the penultimate test for Obama, is going to be the extent to which he charts a new course in Africa.

Opening a new chapter in US-African relations will not be simple. Overall, relations between the US and Africa are already on a good footing -- complacently and boringly so. The end of white rule in Southern Africa mainly accounts for this. As such, US-Africa policy is a non-controversial terrain of bipartisan consensus. But it is also by and large in a holding pattern, devoid of strategic vision.

As Africa becomes the focus of competitive economic strategies from traditional and emerging powers alike, the Obama administration's challenge will be to break out of this holding pattern into something more dynamic. This is a challenge for African leaders too. How will they exploit the fact that the world's lone superpower (in relative decline though it is) is led by "one of their own", with roots in the continent? The fact that Obama is of Kenyan descent ought to suggest a broader strategic vision converging with a pan-African strategic impetus. The unfolding East African Community (EAC) integration project could result in the five-nation bloc becoming Africa's first regionally integrated political federation, but this seems as yet unregistered on Washington's radar.

The vision of converging US and African agendas on the continent should be one of regional and continental integration. Unless Obama can, in consultation with Africa's leaders, grasp this, his exhortations about African leadership, responsibility and democratic good governance amounts to little for a continent that must overcome its fragmentation. In practical terms this means revisiting the Southern African Development Community-US Forum or initiating a forum for the US and the Southern African Customs Union. This could lead to new trade agreements. In West Africa, it means establishing an Economic Community of West African States-US forum with a sense of urgency informed by the likely break-up of Côte d'Ivoire, a case of "elite sovereignty" defying "popular sovereignty". Unlike in Southern Africa, there are already structured relations between Ecowas and Africom (as with the African Union as well).

Friends if the SADC
Then there is the break-up looming at the eastern end of the Sudano-Sahelian geocultural fault line. South Sudan has just concluded its self-determination referendum. An EAC-US forum could explore South Sudan's joining EAC. Such a prospect could also offer Somaliland an integrationist option while guiding the Somali region into a greater East African federated community.

The break-up of Sudan and, possibly, Côte d'Ivoire means that Africa may see more fragmentation on the road to integration. But both crises present opportunities for exercising the pan-African imagination. Rather than South Sudan and/or north and south Côte d'Ivoire being recognised as fully sovereign states, their respective regional economic communities could integrate them as self-governing autonomous areas, accelerating regional integration.

Then there is the African diaspora. There is no reason why there should not be a "Friends of Ecowas" among West African immigrants in the US, or equivalent "Friends of the EAC" and "Friends of SADC" in their respective diasporic communities. African Americans could boost their African interests through such constituency-building structures. The US is one of the major African diaspora states.

In short, the creative possibilities emanating from a joint US-African integration project are endless. The US must reposition itself as the strategic partner of a continent that will eventually outstrip both China and India in population. If Obama fails to place US-African relations on a more dynamic footing it is difficult to imagine anyone coming after him who will.

Francis A Kornegay is a research associate at the Institute for Global Dialogue.