29, JAN 2003
COMING TO AMERICA - SOME HOME TRUTHS
Time and again
I have been asked what gave me the idea of coming to North
America, instead of Western Europe, Australia or New Zealand.
Surprise –-because in my student days, I was unable to
understand why the English, the Irish, the Scots, the Polish,
the Italians, the Portuguese, the Greeks, the Jews, the Arabs,
the Asians and countless other races ended up in the “New
research showed that most of these nationalities left their
native countries for a variety of reasons, such as religious
persecution, wars, famine, (potato famine in the case of the
Irish), class prejudice and injustice. Jews with money fled
Nazi Germany during World War Two. Others came to North
America to build a new life for themselves since the
“discovery” of the Americas by Chris Colombo.
spoke with fire and brimstones in their voices advised Queen
Victoria to dump re-offending hardcore convicts and riff-raffs
in the “New World”, Australia, New Zealand and North
America, which was then considered as penal colonies by the
turbulent Atlantic Ocean in rickety and jam-packed sailboats
was a lifetime trauma. Many of them died of typhoid, diarrhea,
dysentery and starvation. Death had shrunk them aboard the
so-called tall ships by a third. Those lucky enough who
survived the agony and the turbulent Atlantic Ocean ended up
in Ellis Island in New York, where they have been kept in
quarantine for months on end, with many of them dying there,
for lack of medical care and sustenance.
there is a poem by Emma Lazarus emblazoned on the Statute of
Liberty in New York’s Ellis Island, which says:
“Give me your tired, your poor.
huddled masses yearning to breath free.
The wretched refuse of your teeming ashore.
Send these, the homeless, the tempest-tost to me.
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”
commands: “Do not mistreat or oppress a stranger, you
know how it feels to be a stranger, because you were
sojourners in the land of Egypt.” Exodus 13.17. The
Qur’aan says the same thing with more emphasis.
THE NEW, NEWCOMERS
Since September 11, popularly known as
911, rising xenophobia and increased threats to the human and
civil rights of individuals labeled “outsiders” continued
to deepen in the United States, despite integrated efforts of
human rights advocates who endeavor to address the serious
flows in the new immigration laws, hostility and racism toward
uprooted people, paradoxically, by the sons and grandsons
mentioned in Emma Lazarus’s poem. Increased enforcement of
the new immigration laws include photographing,
fingerprinting, deportation and detention of undocumented
immigrants and refugees, which human rights advocates say,
have resulted in migrants and refugees from the Middle East
and several Asian and African countries with Muslim sounding
names using more dangerous routes to cross borders, and
families living in fear of arrest and detention.
A refugee is a
person who have been officially recognized by the United
Nations as having a well-founded fear of persecution because
of his/her political affiliation, religion, race, nationality,
membership in a particular social groups, opinion or civil
refugees are deported to their war-torn native countries they
face monumental problems such as the possibility of being
killed or maimed by landmines. An example is Somalia, a
country which has more guns in private hands than any other in
Africa or Afghanistan. It is estimated that guns outnumber the
population of roughly seven million souls, according to a
census taken before the civil war.
A case in
point is the recent deportations of several shackled Somalis
to a country they have never known and could not speak their
native language because they were brought to the United States
by their parents when they were toddlers, from a country torn
apart by clan wars and famine since 1991.
Have I said
that before? I am sure I am repeating myself. The great
Chinese philosopher, Confucius, said: “If we do not
change directions, we are likely to end up where we are
Mr. Afrah is an outspoken Author/Journalist and
a member of the Canadian Journalists for Free Expression
(CJFE) and the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists
(CPJ). He contributes hard-hitting articles to Canadian and
international newspapers and magazines on the Somalia
situation "through the eyes of a man who covered the country
for more than two decades".
Many of us remember his critical articles in his
weekly English language HEEGAN newspaper, despite a mandatory
self-censorship introduced by Guddiga Baarista Hisbiga Xisbiga
Hantiwadaagga Somaaliyeed in 1984 and the dreaded NSS. I am
very proud to know that Mr. Afrah openly defied the draconian
censorship laws and went ahead to write what he thought was
wrong in the country. He received several death threats from
the warlords and was briefly held hostage by gunmen in 1993.
But he remained defiant and continued to send his stories of
carnage and destruction to Reuters news agency. He still is!