God help the refugees. God help us all.

Dadaab Oxfam

2012: Fatuma Sankos arrived in Dadaab two months ago with her two small sons – Abass Hassan and Mohamed Hassan. She lives in a tiny shelter made from sticks, cardboard and plastic bags. She has not yet been formally registered in the camp so is not able to get food rations and depends on other refugees for food, and aid agencies for water. Photo: Jo Harrison/Oxfam, published under Creative Commons license

Kenya announced last week that it will close all of its refugee camps, forcing more than 600,000 refugees to return to the violence they fled in their home countries of Somalia, Sudan, Ethiopia and other nearby countries. That’s terrible, but the United States is in no position to criticize Kenya. In secret memos uncovered last week, the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) ordered a 30-day “surge” of arrests of immigrant mothers and children to return them to the violence they fled in their home countries of El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala.

Leviticus 19:33-34 When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them.

The Guardian reported on one woman’s flight from El Salvador, and current U.S. orders to return her and her twelve-year-old daughter there.

“The mother, who asked that her name not be published out of fear of retaliation in her home country, claims she fled to the United States in March after she endured multiple gang rapes by members of a gang called ‘Mara 18’, who also killed her brother-in-law and threatened to attack her daughter.”

She told her story to the U.S. Border Patrol officer.

“His response was that I needed to solve these problems in my own country, and that it wasn’t his problem.”

The woman and her daughter are being held in the Karnes detention center, awaiting “expedited removal.” The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has asked the United States not to deport the woman and her daughter.

U.S. plans for raids and accelerated deportations of Central American women and children come in response to a new wave of refugees from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. Reuters reported:

“From October 2015 through March 2016, the U.S. Border Patrol apprehended more than 32,000 family “units”, defined as mothers and children traveling together, for crossing illegally into the United States. Over the same period in 2014-2015, there were about 14,000 such apprehensions; in 2013-2014, about 19,800.”

The violence in these three countries flows from the wars of the 1970s and 1980s, when the United States supported violent, genocidal, right-wing regimes. Much of today’s violence is gang-related, with law enforcement agencies often complicit or corrupted, unwilling or unable to protect the victims. Women and children are particular targets, with all three countries ranking among the top four countries in the world in femicides, the murders of girls and women.

“No Contracting State shall expel or return (‘refouler’) a refugee in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers of territories where his life or freedom would be threatened on account of his race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.” (1951 Geneva Convention on refugees)

And in Kenya …

Kenya’s Dadaab refugee camp houses more than 300,000 refugees from neighboring Somalia. Kenya has closed its Department of Refugee Affairs, which eliminates any route to official asylum status, work permits, or permission to remain for any refugees from anywhere. Not only Dadaab, but also other refugee camps in the country, will be closed.

“The Government of Kenya acknowledges that the decision will have adverse effects on the lives of refugees and therefore the international community must collectively take responsibility on humanitarian needs that will arise out of this action.”

According to the UN refugee agency, Dadaab is the world’s largest refugee camp. Dadaab was opened in 1991, with plans to host up to 90,000 people. Today more than 400,000 people live there, including 10,000 third-generation refugees born in Dadaab to parents who were also born there.

The practice of granting asylum to people fleeing persecution in foreign lands is one of the earliest hallmarks of civilization. References to it have been found in texts written 3,500 years ago, during the blossoming of the great early empires in the Middle East such as the Hittites, Babylonians, Assyrians and ancient Egyptians. (UNHCR – the UN refugee agency)

The United States, along with other wealthier countries of the world, takes in fewer refugees than poorer countries. Some 86 percent of refugees are hosted in economically poorer countries of the world. That’s an increase from 70 percent 20 years ago. Rich countries are doing less, not more, and demanding that poorer countries take on more of the economic burden as wars increase the number of refugees worldwide.

Deuteronomy 10:18-19 He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt.

Donald Trump may speak for the worst of us in his denunciations of immigrants and refugees, but polls show widespread U.S. opposition to accepting Syrian refugees or refugees, including children, from Central America. That’s consistent with traditional U.S. opposition to all refugees:

“Across seven different refugee situations since 1939 for which Gallup has a basic support or opposition measure, the average level of public support has been 33% and the average level of opposition has been 57%.”

God help the refugees. God help us all.

About Mary Turck

News Day, written by Mary Turck, analyzes, summarizes, links to, and comments on reports from news media around the world, with particular attention to immigration, education, and journalism. Fragments, also written by Mary Turck, has fiction, poetry and some creative non-fiction. Mary Turck edited TC Daily Planet, www.tcdailyplanet.net, from 2007-2014, and edited the award-winning Connection to the Americas and AMERICAS.ORG, in its pre-2008 version. She is also a recovering attorney and the author of many books for young people (and a few for adults), mostly focusing on historical and social issues.
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