Rejected asylum: From Karachi to Germany and back again

Al Jazeera

Jacob Kushner for Al Jazeera

A lawyer and his family fled death threats in Pakistan and came to Germany only to face terrorism. Now, they’re being forced to go home.

Salzhemmendorf, Germany – Late one summer night in this quiet village, a Molotov cocktail came flying through the window of the apartment where a Zimbabwean refugee and her three young children lived.

In the apartment next door, an asylum seeker from Pakistan who calls himself Mr Khan heard nothing. He was sitting at his computer with his headphones on, watching videos on the internet with news from Karachi. He and his family had fled Pakistan for Europe in 2012 after some of his colleagues – lawyers who were Shia Muslim – had been murdered by Sunni Islamic extremists.

When he heard a loud banging on his apartment door, he opened it to find a police officer, who ushered him and his family outside. The building smelled of smoke, and Khan surveyed the wreckage: The Molotov cocktail had destroyed the bedroom it was thrown into. It was the room in which the woman’s 11-year-old son usually slept on a mattress on the floor. By chance, he was sleeping in his mother’s room that night, which may have saved his life.

Outside, “I heard the sound of the fire brigade,” Khan said. “If they did not come, this whole building could have been finished.”

After Khan’s building was attacked by xenophobic Germans, he wondered whether Germany would accept their asylum applications, and allow them to stay.

“Tomorrow, I don’t know what will happen,” Khan said. “Maybe Germany will say, ‘Out!'”

In fact, it did.

Read the full story at Al Jazeera. This is the 6th article in a 7-part series. 

 

 

In Germany, Police Struggle to Protect Asylum Seekers

Columbia Global Reports

Photo by Journalistenwatch, flikr.

Last week I wrote about an attack on a refugee housing complex in Altenburg, Germany, in which two baby carriages were set aflame. It occurred just two days after members of a right-wing, anti-immigrant movement called PEGIDA marched through the town. That piece grappled with the question of how Germany—a nation with an unparalleled record of confronting its past—has found itself once again home to a small but active collection of xenophobes willing to resort to hate speech or even violence against newly arrived refugees.

But what is Germany doing to protect asylum seekers from right-wing terrorism? In 2015, the newspaper Die Zeit counted 220 violent attacks against refugees but only four convictions. Last year, the number of attacks (including ones that did not result in violence) exploded to 3,500.

How to stop this proliferation? Read the full piece at Columbia Global Reports.

Escaping Aleppo only to encounter violence in Germany

Al Jazeera

Illustration by Jawahir Al-Naimi/Al Jazeera

In Freital, Abu Hamid and his fellow refugees were attacked by right-wing Germans, who could be convicted of terrorism.

Freital, Germany – On Halloween night, 2015, in this town outside the Saxon capital of Dresden, Abu Hamid went into the kitchen to grab some food when he noticed sparks of light outside the window. Sensing danger, he and his roommates rushed out of the kitchen just as a booming explosion shook the house, shattering the windows and sending pieces of glass into one man’s face.

“After that, we thought someone would come inside the home and attack us,” Abu Hamid said. “One of my friends, he took a knife.”

The explosion was caused by illegal fireworks, as they later discovered. It appeared someone had placed them on the windowsill that night to target those inside. For months beforehand, local police had failed to see a connection between a series of right-wing protests against refugee housing shelters and the bombing of a car belonging to a left-wing politician in Freital. Just one month before Abu Hamid’s apartment was attacked, another, almost identical firework attack had been launched on the house of some Eritrean refugees in the town.

It wasn’t until news outlets as far away as Berlin began pressuring authorities to take action that Germany’s federal prosecutor took up the case. In a dramatic SWAT-style raid, federal and state police arrested five suspects believed to have formed an organised anti-refugee militia.

Read the full story at Al Jazeera. This is the fifth story in a seven-part series.

Clausnitz: When a mob awaited refugees in a German town

Al Jazeera

A police car is parked in front of an asylum shelter in Clausnitz in March 2016 [Hannibal Hanschke/Reuters]

Once the face of anti-refugee sentiment in Germany, Clausnitz and its newcomers have learned to co-exist.

On a cold night last year, some 70 Germans, mostly men, surrounded a bus of refugees in this small town and began chanting at them to “go home”.

It was February 2016, and nearly one million asylum seekers had arrived the previous year to Germany from the Middle East, Africa and elsewhere. As they waited to see if they’d be allowed to stay, they were sent off to live in different cities and towns across the country.

One bus with 15 asylum seekers from Syria, Lebanon, Iran and Afghanistan was sent one evening to the village of Clausnitz, in the eastern German state of Saxony.

Their hostile reception by protesters who shouted at them and blocked them from entering their apartments made international headlines. A video of the encounter circulated widely, reinforcing stereotypes of small-town Germans as racist and blemishing Germany’s so-called “welcome culture”.

The refugees pleaded to the driver to turn around and return them to the temporary shelters they’d been living in around Dresden, the Saxon capital. Neither the refugees nor the demonstrators wanted this. But then, neither had a choice.

Read the full story at Al Jazeera. This is the 4th story in a 7-part series.

The forgotten murder of a 4-year-old refugee in Berlin

Al Jazeera

Refugees wait outside the State Office of Health and Social Affairs in the early hours of December 9, 2015 [Sean Gallup/Getty Images]

At the start of the refugee crisis, dysfunction and danger awaited those registering for asylum in Germany.

Before the wheels of Germany’s asylum system were fully turning, hundreds of thousands of newly arrived refugees were piling up in cities throughout the country. In Berlin, tens of thousands were forced to sleep on the streets at night and fight for their place in line by day at the now-infamous Lageso , the State Office of Health and Social Affairs, while they waited to apply for asylum.

The climate of fear and tension at Lageso reached its climax one afternoon in October 2015 when a 32-year-old German man appeared at Lageso and, in the chaos of the crowds, enticed a four-year-old Bosnian boy named Mohamed away from his family and abducted him.

Read the full story at Al Jazeera. This is the 3rd story in a 7-part series.

Dorcas Kiteng’e: A victim of Kenya’s doctors’ strike

Al Jazeera

Jacob Kushner/Al Jazeera

One month after Al Jazeera published the story of Dorcas Kiteng’e’s struggle for cancer treatment in a nation whose doctors are on strike, the 25-year-old has died due to lack of proper care.

Some 5,000 public sector doctors walked out on December 5 after Kenya’s leaders failed to make good on a 2013 agreement to raise salaries, hire new physicians and improve conditions in public hospitals. The standoff between the health ministry, which lost $53 million last year due to corruption, and the doctors, continues to drag on. Nobody knows how many hundreds or thousands of Kenyans have died as a result of the government’s refusal to pay and the doctors’ refusal to return to work until that happens.

This is the story of one of those victims – the final days in the life of Dorcas Kiteng’e.

Read the article at Al Jazeera.

In a World of Closed Borders, Deciding Who Deserves Asylum

The Nation & The Nation Institute Investigative Fund

Fenced in: Some refugees at Kakuma are segregated for special protection. /Jake Naughton

At Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya, workers face few humane options

From Turkey to Pakistan, from Iran to Ethiopia, refugee workers are being forced to make painful choices regarding the future of more than 21 million refugees, part of a record 65 million displaced persons around the world. They must choose between political and economic refugees, individuals and families, the healthy and the sick, the elderly and unaccompanied children, gay and straight. They try to move those most in need of help to the front of the line for resettlement somewhere safe.

But when it comes to triaging the world’s humanitarian crises, there are few humane choices.

Read in the February 27, 2017 edition of The Nation Magazine.

Permanent Displacement

Pacific Standard
/Jacob Kushner

/Jacob Kushner

Inside Kakuma, Kenya’s 25-Year-Old Refugee Camp

In 1992, the U.N. formally recognized Kakuma as a refugee camp — a temporary shelter. A quarter-century later, Kakuma hosts more than 150,000 refugees — victims of all manner of East African calamities, from Ugandan homophobia to political unrest in Burundi. Presently, it is filling up once again with people fleeing civil war in South Sudan.

Long before the Syrian civil war, before millions of people began fleeing to camps in Turkey, Jordan, and elsewhere in search of safety, Kakuma was something of an icon in the global refugee crisis. Today, it stands as a solemn reminder of the permanence of humanity’s displaced masses.

Read: Pacific Standard Magazine

KENYA: Two gay brothers and their family are on the run

TakePart

Jake Naughton

“We have a bad, bad story,” begins Gloria Ibara, a refugee from Burundi and the mother of four. Sitting on a mattress in a simple Nairobi apartment, she tells me of her problem: “They want to kill our family.”

Gloria, whose bright smile accents her worn face, was born in rural Gitega province to a family of farmers. As her children grew, Gloria came to realize her son Eric was gay. (The names of the family members have been changed out of concern for their safety.)

At first “I told him to stop, that it’s not good,” Gloria says. But over time she decided that “that’s the way he was, and he couldn’t change it.” So she went on loving and caring for him just the same.

In many parts of East and Central Africa where homophobia is rife, parents react harshly on learning that a child is gay. Parents feel enormous pressure to either “fix” their gay kids or disown them. I’ve met dozens of LGBT refugees who have fled their home countries and escaped to Kenya, and only one—a woman, also from Burundi—wasn’t disowned by her family. So when Gloria learned that her son Eric was gay, it was extraordinary for her not to reject them. Stunned as she was when she later found out that her older son, Claude, then well into his teens, too was gay, she supported him too. It’s for that reason that they are now a family on the run.

Read their story at TakePart.

The Secret Lives of Nairobi’s LGBT Refugees

Newsweek

An HIV-positive, gay refugee from Uganda stands outside the house he shared with dozens of other LGBT refugees on the outskirts of Nairobi. JAKE NAUGHTON

For months, nearly two dozen gay, lesbian and transgender Ugandans had been living in a large house on the outskirts of Nairobi in an area called Rongai. Long after a court struck down Uganda’s infamous anti-gay law—dubbed the “Kill the Gays” bill for a death penalty provision in an early draft—LGBT people in Uganda were still being disowned by their families, hunted down by neighbors, jailed by police, even killed. Hundreds fled Uganda—mostly to Kenya, where they are faring little better.

Many of these refugees grew up in urban, middle-class families and loathe living in a hot, squalid refugee camp, as Kenyan law requires of all refugees. They are city people, accustomed to partying at secret gay clubs in Kampala.

One afternoon last December, a Kenyan man came to the gate of the Rongai house with a warning: Neighbors were plotting to attack the gay refugees that night and run them out of town. The refugees didn’t wait. They fled, scattering to different apartments across the city.

Read in the June 10, 2016 print edition of Newsweek

The Blood in Your Phone: Covering Conflict Minerals

Columbia Graduate School of Journalism - Covering Business

Artisanal copper mining in the Congo. / Jacob Kushner

The global mineral trade can be ugly. Think children skipping school to dig barefoot with picks and shovels for gold or other precious ore. Picture warlords and army officers using guns to traffic minerals on the black market. Think Democratic Republic of Congo.

Or perhaps, consider the multi-billion dollar corporations that source many of the precious metals they use to build your mobile phone or your laptop from under regulated and often illegal mines. U.S. Congress began thinking about this in 2010 when it passed a first-of-its-kind law aimed at curbing the trade of certain “conflict minerals” in the Democratic Republic of Congo—Africa’s second largest country, whose eastern region has been ravaged by mineral-fueled violence for decades, killing more people than any other conflict since World War II.

Covering Business spoke with Michael Kavanagh, a veteran Bloomberg reporter in Congo who has covered the mineral trade there for more than a decade, about what journalists get wrong and how they can do a better job of covering this complex and divisive subject.

Read the article at Columbia University’s Covering Business blog.

Why Being ‘Haitian’ Made Them Stateless

Columbia Global Reports

Juliana Deguis Pierre sits outside her home in the Dominican Republic. / JACOB KUSHNER

Haitians today face all manner of stigma—for perennially being “the poorest nation in the western hemisphere,” for devolving into political chaos every few years. Much of that prejudice takes root just next door, in the country with which it shares the island of Hispaniola.

In January of last year I met Felix Callo Marcel, a 22-year-old born in the Dominican Republic but who was refused a Dominican identity card and even had his school enrollment certificate confiscated by the Dominican government. His parents were immigrants from Haiti. Marcel is one of an estimated 200,000 people who have had their nationality officially stripped away from them. Now, tens of thousands of people of Haitian heritage are being deported or fleeing for their own safety to Haiti, where many live in refugee camps akin to those that popped up after Haiti’s devastating 2010 earthquake.

Dominicans take pride in their recent emergence as a middle-income nation. And yet, there’s no denying that Dominicans built their modern economy on the backs of their other half. Now it is the kids and grandkids of those Haitian immigrants whom the government says no longer belong.

Read the full article at Columbia Global Reports.

In A Kenyan Forest, A World Bank-Backed Project Threatens A Way Of Life

GlobalPost/GroundTruth, Huffington Post, International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ)

Elias Kimaiyo says the Kenya Forest Service has burned down his home repeatedly as part of a push to evict him and other members of the Senger, an indigenous tribe, from the forests where they have lived for generations. “Most of the time,” Kimaiyo says, “I just live in fear.” / TONY KARUMBA

Another chapter in the World Bank’s fraught relationship with indigenous peoples who live on or near land targeted for development.

By Jacob Kushner, Anthony Langat, Michael Hudson and Sasha Chavkin

It was a morning routine: Elias Kimaiyo woke up, went outside his family’s mud-and-thatch home and climbed a hill. His goal: see where Kenya Forest Service officers were heading that day as they trudged into the forest from a nearby ranger station. Like thousands of his fellow tribespeople, he spent many of his days worrying about whether his family would be the next to be evicted by gun-toting rangers.

One morning in late 2011, Kimaiyo saw that KFS officers were heading in another direction. He went home and worked with his wife, Janet, harvesting their small corn crop in a clearing in the forest. In the afternoon, he decided to check again.

This time, when he climbed the hill, he could see a group of rangers heading toward his house. Kimaiyo ran home. He and his wife began grabbing their things—blankets, utensils, a mattress—and hiding them in the brush. They could see their neighbors’ homes burning. Kimaiyo’s one-year-old son sat in the dirt, crying, as his mom and dad carried armfuls of their belongings deeper into the forest.

Kimaiyo and his wife fled with their son to the other side of a river. They hoped the KFS officers would somehow miss their house in the dense forest.

They didn’t.

Kimaiyo watched, he says, as flames consumed his house and what was left inside—tables, chairs, the bed frame, even the mattress, which the rangers had discovered poorly hidden in the brush and tossed onto the fire.

It was the fourth time, Kimaiyo claims, that Kenya’s government had destroyed his home since the 2007 launch of a forest conservation project that the World Bank said would “improve the livelihoods of communities participating in the co-management of water and forests.”

Read the full ICIJ investigation at The Huffington Post or at PRI’s The World.

This is the latest installment of “Evicted and Abandoned,” an examination of the hidden toll of development financed by the World Bank. The project is a collaboration between the ICIJ and The Huffington Post, with contributions from journalists around the globe

Look Who’s Fighting Homophobia in Kenya

TakePart

From left: Pastor John Kambo of Kilifi County; Kenyan mosque; Father Thomas Apil, a hospital chaplin in Mombasa. (Photos: Sam Wolson)

In an attempt to counter the anti-LGBT fervor gaining hold on Kenya’s coast, one gay rights organization has developed a new approach. Rather than confronting the religious leaders behind it, it’s inviting them to tea.

Read the full story at TakePart.

Birthright Denied

Moment Magazine

Juliana Deguis Pierre

Story and photos by Jacob Kushner

The campaign to expel the children of Haitian immigrants in the Dominican Republic is impractical. Their labor—and that of their parents—helped propel the Dominican economy last year to grow faster than all but one other country’s in Latin America, firmly establishing it as a middle-class nation. They are a significant part of the workforce in the booming construction and tourism industries that have helped transform the Dominican Republic into the most popular travel destination in the Caribbean.

But in a chaotic democracy that has adopted 38 different constitutions over a century and a half, anti-Haitianismo is the one enduring notion that mainstream parties across the political spectrum can invoke with impunity. It is driven by the fervor of Dominican nationalists, and, in particular, by one powerful, ultra-conservative family and its allies. Together, they are waging a political, legal and media war to defend the Dominican Republic against what they believe is the nation’s gravest threat: Haitian immigrants and their children.

Read: Moment Magazine