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Toronto (Canada)

29, JAN 2003

Email: afrah95@hotmail.com
M. M. Afrah

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 World”.

A little 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.

Priests who 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 British aristocrats.

Crossing 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.

Ironically, 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.

                 Your 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.”

The bible 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 strife.

Even when 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 headed.”

M.M. Afrah © 2003
Email: afrah95@hotmail.com


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!


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