For Muslim migrants, religious prejudice compounds horrors of Latin American route

Migrants travel north in ‘caravans’ along dangerous routes through Latin and Central America. (AFP)
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Migrants travel north in ‘caravans’ along dangerous routes through Latin and Central America. (AFP)
Migrants travel north in ‘caravans’ along dangerous routes through Latin and Central America. (AFP)
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Migrants travel north in ‘caravans’ along dangerous routes through Latin and Central America. (AFP)
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Updated 04 January 2022

For Muslim migrants, religious prejudice compounds horrors of Latin American route

For Muslim migrants, religious prejudice compounds horrors of Latin American route
  • Thousands of people from Southeast Asia, Middle East and Africa try to reach the US-Mexico border every month
  • Most hopefuls have considered Brazil as a country of transit, especially over the past five years of economic decline

SAO PAULO, Brazil: Among the thousands of migrants who try to reach the border between Mexico and the US every month, the presence of Muslims — most of whom leave African and Asian countries in search of a better future — is both conspicuous and constant.

There are no official figures about Muslim migrant flows through the Latin American route, but organizations that assist immigrants in the region report that their numbers have been rising.

They not only face the usual hardships of the journey north, such as the exploitation by coyotes, but also specific difficulties, including religious prejudice all along the way and obstacles concerning the observance of their faith.

One of the main gateways for Muslim immigrants and refugees in Latin America, Sao Paulo, has been receiving people from Southeast Asia, the Middle East and African countries over the past years.




Graffiti in Brazil depicts Alan Kurdi, the Syrian boy who died in 2015 along with his family when their dinghy capsized. (AFP)

“I estimate that 20 percent of all people welcomed by us in 2020 were Muslim,” said Fr. Paolo Parise, who heads a Catholic immigrant center called Mission Peace in Brazil’s largest city.

Parise said that most of the Muslim foreigners assisted by the institution come from countries like Nigeria, Mali and Senegal, besides some groups from the Middle East.

“We have also recently welcomed people from Afghanistan,” he added.

These migrants and refugees have traditionally viewed Brazil as a country of transit, especially over the past five years, a period marked by economic decline and shrinking opportunities.

“They enter Brazil with tourist visas and later they request a refugee status,” Parise said.

After a few months, most of them try to get into the US, using the traditional routes used by Haitians, Venezuelans and other groups.

But every route abounds with obstacles and disappointments. As of July 2021, 70 percent of asylum requests made in Mexico were concentrated in the border town of Chiapas, which receives daily flights of people expelled from the US under Title 42 legislation.




Migrants march on the Mexican capital, demanding ‘justice and dignity.’  (AFP)

The public health order, issued in March 2020 by the Trump administration, justifies the expulsions on the grounds that there is a communicable disease, namely COVID-19, in the migrant’s country of origin.

Consider the case of Ghanian-born Ahmed Usman, 34, now a resident in the Mexican city of Tijuana, on the border with the US. Usman lived in Brazil for one year and eight months.

“I worked in a factory in Criciuma (a city in the South of Brazil). After paying my rent and utilities and sending a bit of money to my family, I had no money left,” he told Arab News.

Criciuma has a small Muslim community, but Usman said he received more help from Christians.

In 2016, he decided to head to the US and began a long trip through Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Guatemala, until he arrived in Mexico.

“We lacked money. We saw many people getting sick and dying along the trip,” he said, exhaustion and disbelief in his eyes.




Migrants travel north in ‘caravans’ along dangerous routes through Latin and Central America. (AFP)

Usman spent eight months in Costa Rica, where he was helped by a Catholic church and a mosque in the city of San Jose.

“We were also helped by a man who would feed us many times. And he understood that we did not eat pork,” he said.

In 2017, he finally arrived in Mexico. He ended up finding work in Tijuana and has not tried to cross the border until now.

Usman’s story is similar to those of many other desperate people who head to Mexico, increasingly seen as a country of transit and asylum.

In 2014, 2,100 people arrived in the country to request refugee status; in 2019, that had risen to more than 70,000.




A US National Guard member keeps watch while on a border patrol operation in La Joya, Texas. (Getty Images via AFP)

The figures dropped in 2020, as travel restrictions imposed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic slowed global migration but, between January and November 2021, the country received more than 123,000 asylum requests from people coming from the Caribbean and Central American and South American countries, such as Haiti, Honduras, Cuba, El Salvador, Chile, Venezuela, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Brazil and Colombia.

Usman’s narrative is also a good example of the plight of Muslim migrants along the Latin American route.

Most of them find little support among the Islamic community and must rely on the assistance given by Catholics or civic organizations.

“Most Muslim communities in the region see those immigrants as competitors or as a problem. Some of them have resources to help them but prefer to avoid what they see as trouble,” said Moroccan-born Sheikh Abderrahman Agdaou, who lives in El Salvador and has intervened in many immigrants’ cases in recent years.

On several occasions, Agdaou helped Uighur, Syrian and Iraqi refugees who lacked the necessary documents to continue travelling to the US, coordinating assistance with Catholic entities and the UN.




Members of the Latina Muslim Foundation building a shelter for migrants in Mexico. (Supplied)

He also had to give support to former Guantanamo prison inmates, who obtained refugee status in El Salvador thanks to his support.

“Once, a Syrian family with four children was taken to El Salvador by a coyote and was abandoned there at the airport. The person just disappeared, and they did not know what to do,” he said.

Agdaou said he intervened and assisted the family in going back to Syria.

FASTFACTS

As of July 2021, 70% of Mexico’s asylum requests were concentrated in the border town of Chiapas.

Chiapas receives daily flights of people expelled from the US under Title 42 public-health order.

Title 42 justifies expulsions on the grounds there is a communicable disease in the migrant’s country of origin.

According to him, Islamic organizations offer more support to immigrants and command more influence in relatively well-off countries with large Muslim communities, notably Brazil, Chile and Argentina.

“But in many countries, Muslims feel like they are foreigners and so they should not meddle in politics,” he said.




Members of the Latina Muslim Foundation take their time out for a selfie photo while working at a migrant center in Mexico. (Supplied)

Agdaou wants regional Islamic entities to improve the level of coordination between them and civic organizations that assist immigrants.

Other problems seem to be of a more serious nature. Some immigrants belonging to sub-Saharan countries reported that they felt discriminated against by Arab Muslims who head mosques in Latin American countries.

With so many difficulties, most Muslim immigrants end up looking to Catholic institutions for humanitarian assistance along the way.

“We do not welcome so many Muslims in Latin America as our European counterparts do in Europe, but a number of them continually pass by our shelters on the route to the US,” said Elvy Monzant, the executive secretary of the Catholic Church’s Latin American and Caribbean Network on Migration, Refugees and Human Trafficking. 




Muslim migrants are welcomed at a shelter in Tijuana, Mexico. (Supplied)

Monzant told Arab News that Catholic immigrant houses try to respect Islamic traditions and are happy to welcome Muslims.

Most of them are careful with food prohibitions and some of them even have special rooms for their prayers.

“But we might make unwanted mistakes in our work with them. So, places managed by the Muslim community could make them feel better,” Monzant said.


Sri Lanka PM warns of looming food crisis

Men wait with their carts at a market, amid the country's economic crisis in Colombo, Sri Lanka. (REUTERS)
Men wait with their carts at a market, amid the country's economic crisis in Colombo, Sri Lanka. (REUTERS)
Updated 20 May 2022

Sri Lanka PM warns of looming food crisis

Men wait with their carts at a market, amid the country's economic crisis in Colombo, Sri Lanka. (REUTERS)
  • Last year’s ban on chemical fertilizer has affected rice production in the country
  • Island nation unable to pay for essential imports as it faces worst financial slump in decades

COLOMBO: Sri Lanka’s prime minister warned on Friday of looming food shortages, with the country unable to secure fertilizer for rice cultivation amid a devastating economic crisis.

The island nation of 22 million people is facing acute shortages not only of food, but also medicines and fuel, as its budget deficit climbs to $6.8 billion, or 13 percent of gross domestic product, leaving essential imports out of reach.

Many in Sri Lanka can hardly afford three meals a day, with the price of some essential food items, such as rice, having risen by 300 percent since the beginning of the year, according to the central bank’s estimates from April.

The country has already defaulted on its debts after missing a deadline for foreign debt repayments on Wednesday. The following day, it ran out of petrol, with no money coming and fuel ships remaining anchored offshore.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, who took office after his predecessor resigned last week, said the looming food crisis was due to a lack of fertilizer for agricultural production.

“From August there is the possibility of a food crisis in Sri Lanka,” he said in a statement, adding that it remains to be seen how the county will survive.

“As Sri Lanka has not had fertilizer for cultivation, the coming rice cultivation season will not have the full production.”

A decision in April last year by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to ban all chemical fertilizer has led to a fall in crop yields. Although the ban was lifted a few months later, no substantial imports have taken place.

The situation is compounded by the war in Ukraine, a leading global exporter of grain.

“The shortage of food in the country is likely not only because of the local production but also due to the scarcity of imports, which were affected by the Ukrainian war,” Prof. Palitha Weerakkody, from the Department of Crop Science of the University of Peradeniya, told Arab News.

“Rice is the staple food here and there will be around 30 percent reduction in its harvest in July since the farmers have not got their imported inputs to boost their cultivation.”

Dayan Jayatillake, Sri Lanka’s former envoy to the UN in Geneva, said the anticipated food crisis will be the “greatest tragedy in the annals of Sri Lanka.”

Jayatillake told Arab News: “The ban on chemical fertilizers has jeopardized not only the paddy cultivation but also our tea plantation, which is our cash crop. Our dollar income from the export of tea is also dwindling.”

He said:  “Denial of food security in the country cannot be taken by the common man, and it can lead to a severe uprising.”

Sri Lanka’s devastating economic crisis — the worst since independence in 1948 — has triggered widespread demonstrations across the country since March, with protesters demanding the resignation of Rajapaksa and his family, whom they blame for the worsening situation.

Mahinda Rajapaksa, the president’s elder brother, quit as prime minister on May 9, after clashes between government supporters and protesters left nine people dead and almost 300 injured.

 


Fears abound at Afghanistan’s largest bird market that swansong is nearing

A man sits beside a cage of partridges in a shop at Ka Faroshi bird market in Kabul, Afghanistan, Jan. 18, 2018. (Reuters)
A man sits beside a cage of partridges in a shop at Ka Faroshi bird market in Kabul, Afghanistan, Jan. 18, 2018. (Reuters)
Updated 20 May 2022

Fears abound at Afghanistan’s largest bird market that swansong is nearing

A man sits beside a cage of partridges in a shop at Ka Faroshi bird market in Kabul, Afghanistan, Jan. 18, 2018. (Reuters)
  • Kah Faroshi, also Kabul’s oldest such market, sells thousands of species from around the world
  • Few Afghans can now afford the traditional pastime of bird fighting or to keep songbirds as pets

KABUL: Mohammad Zahir was sitting alone at his shop at the Kah Faroshi market in the heart of Kabul’s old city, surrounded by parrots, partridges, quails and other birds that used to attract crowds.

Not long ago, visitors would throng to the oldest bird market in the Afghan capital, where entering the narrow, congested lanes was like a journey two centuries back, to the city’s corners untouched by war.

But now the people are gone, as few can afford the traditional pastime of bird fighting, or to keep songbirds as pets.

For Zahir, who in the good times would earn as much as $70 a day, business has almost dried up.

“Sometimes, I don’t make any sales for several days,” he told Arab News.

An Afghan woman stands in front of a shop at Kah Faroshi bird market in Kabul, Afghanistan, Jan. 18, 2018. (Reuters)

“I get embarrassed when beggars come to my door and ask for help, but I am not able to give them something as I don’t make any money.”

The 53-year-old — a former member of the national football team — started working at the market under the first Taliban regime, in power from 1996-2001. He said he was even briefly imprisoned during their rule for disobeying a ban on bird fighting, an ancient Afghan sport.

As the Taliban retook control of Afghanistan last year, it is not the prospect of the ban being re-imposed that affects his sales, Zahir said, but a financial crisis that came with international sanctions slapped on the country since their return.

“The Taliban are not eating anyone,” he said.

“It’s the economic challenges that hinder people from continuing their hobby.”

Kah Faroshi, also the largest bird market in the country, sells thousands of kinds of birds from around the world, ranging in price from as little as $1 to as much as $1,000.

Before the Taliban takeover in mid-August, it would see visitors come from across the country, as well as foreigners for whom it was a colorful tourist attraction, and a perfect background for social media posts.

“We had good sales every day before the economic situation worsened,” Mohammad Shafi, another seller, said.

“Now, we don’t make any sales on some days.”

The future of the market, which has outlived all Afghan governments, is now uncertain.

For Mohammed Marouf, who has been selling birds for nearly six decades, its downfall would end hopes that good times could return.

“I was seven when I started working at this shop with my father,” he said.

“I had the most comfortable life in the old Kabul.”

His sales have already been affected by the economic crisis, but his main customers — men who buy quails, partridges, cocks, and canaries for fighting — still allow him to stay afloat.

If a ban on the sport takes effect, he knows the business, into which he has already brought his three sons, would practically disappear.

“We will continue until it’s banned,” he said, closely inspecting the beak of a quail. “The day it’s banned, it’s banned.”

 

Related


Ukraine apartment residents suffer war in different ways

Ukraine apartment residents suffer war in different ways
Updated 20 May 2022

Ukraine apartment residents suffer war in different ways

Ukraine apartment residents suffer war in different ways
  • The inhabitants of two of the blocks, which sit barely 100 metres apart across an overgrown lot, could be living in different worlds
  • Across the lot, where abandoned cats nose through the long grass and children once played around a set of rusting swings, the contrast in the conditions could not be more stark

SLATYNE, Ukraine: The only 10 residents left in the Commune, an apartment complex in the eastern Ukraine town of Slatyne, share the hardships of Russia’s invasion, from relentless shellfire and exploding rounds to a lack of power and running water.
But the inhabitants of two of the blocks, which sit barely 100 meters apart across an overgrown lot, could be living in different worlds.
Inside Vera Filipova’s gloomy, grimy home, blackened pots litter the messy kitchen and rumpled comforters sit on unkempt beds.
“It’s like hell,” the 65-year-old retired shop clerk told Reuters. She lives with her friend Nataliya Parkamento, a former shoe factory worker who moved in after her own home was destroyed.
This block is largely intact — unlike many buildings in Slatyne, the Commune has escaped a direct hit from the nearby fighting of a Ukrainian counter-offensive that has driven Russian troops away from the city of Kharkiv over the last two weeks.
But Filipova and Parkamento only have enough humanitarian aid to eat once a day. They cook outside on an open fire of shattered wood they pull from other destroyed homes, shielding the flames from rain with corrugated cement sheeting blown off a roof.
“I have nowhere to go and nobody to take me out of here,” said Parkamento, who fetches drinking water in a plastic bottle from a nearby well.
Across the lot, where abandoned cats nose through the long grass and children once played around a set of rusting swings, the contrast in the conditions could not be more stark.

’WINDOWS ARE BEING SMASHED’
There, Larissa and the six other residents tend neat gardens of roses, peonies, carrots and spring onions. They wash with buckets of water drawn from Slatyne’s many wells. Laundry dries on lines outside their tidy apartments, beds draped with colorful covers, house plants growing in glassed-in balconies.
The conditions are just as challenging. “Windows are being smashed, walls are being destroyed and there is nothing we can do about it,” Larissa, 46, said. But she and the others in her block have tried to make the best of it.
The seven residents — none would give their last names – said they share the humanitarian aid delivered to the complex by volunteers from the nearby town of Dergachi, supplementing it with pickled vegetables stocked in a basement.
Alla, 52, who managed a subway station in Kharkiv, 28 km (17 miles) to the south down a remote, shell-blasted road, cooks for everyone in her kitchen on a stove powered by a gas bottle. When shellfire eases, she ventures out with her husband, Volodymyr, 57, a railway worker who acts as the block’s handyman, to an abandoned home to make meals on a brick grill.
No one in either of the blocks could say why their experiences were so different. “I don’t know,” Filipova responded when asked why she and Parkamento put up with their bleak living conditions.
When the war came, some just found the energy to organize and surmount the hardships together while others languished in despair.
“We’ve tried helping them,” said Anna, 66, a tenant of the second block who has lived for 19 years in the complex built in the early 1970s. “When the humanitarian aid deliveries arrive, we visit Vera and Nataliya to bring them their aid.”
She and some of the other residents said a key to their resilience was maintaining a strict routine, cooking enough food for two days of breakfasts and dinners, eating the former at noon and the latter at 4 pm.

’WE CARE FOR EACH OTHER’
In between, they said, they haul water, read, and tend their gardens and chat, sitting on sunny days at a makeshift table in the shadow of their block, trying to ignore frequent blasts and occasional far-off small arms fire.
“All of the people who have stayed here for the last three months are like family,” Anna said of her companions. “We have got close to each other. We care for each other.”
Gardening is especially calming.
“I love the soil,” said Alla, whose family hails from a farming village in a Russian-controlled area north of Slatyne. “My soul would ache if I could not plant anything in that earth. It distracts you. How is it not possible not to love your soil?”
For all the differences in how they cope, the war is ever present for the seven friends, Filipova and Parkamento, and Volodiya Stachuk, a 34-year-old tractor driver who lives in the basement of another block next to that of the two women.
None can forget being jarred awake the night that a Russian missile plunged into an adjacent house earlier this month.
The explosion blew out that building’s walls and roof, shattered many of the Commune’s windows and shredded Stachuk’s apartment with shrapnel, forcing him to move to his basement.
The blast also killed Filipova’s cat, Gina, she said, and left Alla with a memento of the exact moment of her brush with death.
“The explosion knocked a clock off my wall and broke it,” she recalled. “It stopped at 12:05 am.”


Russia prosecutes veteran rock star for criticizing Ukraine conflict

Russia prosecutes veteran rock star for criticizing Ukraine conflict
Updated 20 May 2022

Russia prosecutes veteran rock star for criticizing Ukraine conflict

Russia prosecutes veteran rock star for criticizing Ukraine conflict
  • Shevchuk faces a maximum fine of $800 if found guilty
  • A case has been launched against him for "publicly discrediting the use of Russia's armed forces"

MOSCOW: Soviet rock legend and outspoken Kremlin critic Yuri Shevchuk has been charged with “discrediting” the Russian army after condemning Moscow’s military campaign in Ukraine during a concert.
Shevchuk faces a maximum fine of 50,000 rubles (770 euros, $800) if found guilty.
A case has been launched against him for “publicly discrediting the use of Russia’s armed forces,” a court in the city of Ufa in central Russia told the RIA Novosti news agency.
RIA Novosti said the case would be transferred to Shevchuk’s hometown Saint Petersburg.
On May 18, the 65-year-old performer told his audience in Ufa that it “is not the president’s ass that needs to be licked and kissed,” according to videos posted online.
“Now people are being killed in Ukraine. Why? Our guys are dying in Ukraine. Why?” he told a cheering crowd.
The frontman of the 1980s Soviet rock band DDT, Shevchuk has over the years publicly criticized President Vladimir Putin and opposed the annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.


France, Germany, Belgium report first monkeypox cases

France, Germany, Belgium report first monkeypox cases
CDC microscopic image shows monkeypox virus particles. (Reuters)
Updated 20 May 2022

France, Germany, Belgium report first monkeypox cases

France, Germany, Belgium report first monkeypox cases
  • France, Belgium and Germany reported their first cases of monkeypox, joining several other European and North American nations in detecting the disease

PARIS: France, Belgium and Germany on Friday reported their first cases of monkeypox, joining several other European and North American nations in detecting the disease, endemic in parts of Africa.
Monkeypox was identified in a 29-year-old man in the Ile-de-France region, which includes Paris, who had not recently returned from a country where the virus is circulating, France’s health authorities said Friday.
Separately, the German armed forces’ microbiology institute said it has confirmed the virus in a patient who developed skin lesions — a symptom of the disease.
And in Belgium, microbiologist Emmanuel Andre confirmed in a tweet that the University of Leuven’s lab had confirmed a second of two cases in the country, in a man from the Flemish Brabant.
With the growing number of detected cases in several European countries, Germany’s health agency Robert Koch Institute has urged people returning from West Africa to see their doctors quickly if they notice any chances on their skin.
The rare disease — which is not usually fatal — often manifests itself through fever, muscle aches, swollen lymph nodes, chills, exhaustion and a chickenpox-like rash on the hands and face.
The virus can be transmitted through contact with skin lesions and droplets of a contaminated person, as well as through shared items such as bedding and towels.
Cases of monkeypox have also been detected in Italy, Portugal, Spain and Sweden as well as in the United States and Canada, leading to fears that the disease — normally concentrated in Central and West Africa — may be spreading.
Monkeypox usually clears up after two to four weeks, according to the WHO.