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

Special 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)
Special 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.


Biden to host Macron for state visit at White House Dec 1

Biden to host Macron for state visit at White House Dec 1
Updated 6 sec ago

Biden to host Macron for state visit at White House Dec 1

Biden to host Macron for state visit at White House Dec 1
  • State visits, which feature more pomp and ceremony than the frequent bilateral meetings hosted by US presidents for foreign leaders, have not taken place so far during Biden’s presidency
  • Asked why France had been chosen for the honor ahead of other US allies, Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said ‘we deeply value our relationship with France’
WASHINGTON: President Joe Biden will host French President Emmanuel Macron at the White House on December 1 for the first full-scale state visit of his administration, Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Monday.
The visit will “underscore the deep and enduring relationship between the United States and France, our oldest ally,” Jean-Pierre told reporters at the White House.
State visits, which feature more pomp and ceremony than the frequent bilateral meetings hosted by US presidents for foreign leaders, have not taken place so far during Biden’s presidency, which Jean-Pierre attributed to Covid pandemic restrictions.
Asked why France had been chosen for the honor ahead of other US allies, Jean-Pierre said “we deeply value our relationship with France.”
The link between the two countries is “founded on shared democratic values, economic ties, and defense and security cooperation,” she said.
Relations between Paris and Washington hit a major crisis last year when Australia abruptly announced it was ditching a contract to buy conventional French submarines in favor of a US nuclear-powered submarine deal.

After floods, thousands displaced in southern Pakistan to move to ‘tent-city’

After floods, thousands displaced in southern Pakistan to move to ‘tent-city’
Updated 12 min 5 sec ago

After floods, thousands displaced in southern Pakistan to move to ‘tent-city’

After floods, thousands displaced in southern Pakistan to move to ‘tent-city’
  • Nearly 1.5 million people are displaced in southern Sindh province
  • Makeshift facility in Karachi will comprise about 1,300 tents, official says

KARACHI: Thousands of people in the southern Pakistani province of Sindh will be moved to a “tent city” in the provincial capital Karachi this week, officials said on Monday, in the aftermath of catastrophic floods that had submerged a third of the country and killed over 1,600 people.

Torrential rains and melting glaciers in the mountains of Pakistan’s north triggered floods that have swept away homes, key infrastructure, livestock and crops, affecting 33 million of Pakistan’s 220 million people since mid-June.

With nearly 1.5 million people displaced in Sindh province, the local government has been using public schools as temporary shelters. In Karachi, thousands of people have taken refuge in 30 schools in the city.

Local officials are preparing to move the victims to a makeshift facility located in the suburbs of Malir, an administrative district in the eastern part of Karachi, with the relocation set to begin this week.

“About 7,000 people living in our relief camps would be shifted and the schools will be vacated,” said Raja Tariq Chandio, deputy commissioner of Karachi’s East District, where the schools currently used as shelters are located.

The temporary settlement will comprise about 1,300 tents, and K-Electric, the city’s sole power distributor, will set up a power transmission line to provide electricity to the camp, Malir’s Deputy Commissioner Irfan Salam told Arab News.

“In the tent city, flood victims will have safe drinking water and cooked meals. It has 20 washrooms and a hospital with men and women doctors and paramedics,” Salam said.

“It will take at least 10 days for K-Electric to set up the power transmission line,” he added. “Within two days, people will be moved to the tent city.”

A charity organization will be providing meals for the displaced people relocated to Malir, he added, while children will get to attend classes organized by the Sindh Education Foundation.

The deadly floods in Pakistan inundated around 15,000 schools across Sindh alone, where classes have yet to resume. Millions of students in the province are at risk of being permanently out of school, Sindh Education Minister Sardar Ali Shah said earlier this month, as the government lacked resources to rebuild the damaged facilities.

Officials said there are plans to restart classes in Karachi after displaced residents are moved to Malir, when the buildings currently used as temporary shelters can again be used for lessons.

“We are happy that classes are going to resume soon,” Javed Shah, a teacher at the Government Boys Primary School, told Arab News. “We will bring the schools to order to resume classes.”

Related


Bangladesh still searching for missing passengers after deadly boat accident

Bangladesh still searching for missing passengers after deadly boat accident
Updated 19 min 58 sec ago

Bangladesh still searching for missing passengers after deadly boat accident

Bangladesh still searching for missing passengers after deadly boat accident
  • Government launches probe as about 30 not found, 35 dead
  • Small vessel packed with Hindu devotees, women and children

DHAKA: Bangladeshi authorities continued their search on Monday for missing passengers after an overloaded boat sank in the country’s northern district and killed at least 35 people in the worst waterways disaster to hit the South Asian nation this year.

The small boat, packed with mostly Hindu devotees, and women and children, sank in the Karatoya river on Sunday. Some passengers were returning from a popular temple in the northern Panchagarh district on the occasion of the Durga Puja celebrations.

Authorities have recovered the bodies of 35 people as of Monday afternoon, comprising 17 women, 11 children, and seven men, Panchagarh district administrator Mohammad Jahurul Islam told Arab News.

“Until Monday afternoon we have found 35 dead bodies,” Islam said. “Still, 20 to 30 people are missing. However, we found some missing people alive today as they were rescued by the locals on Sunday and took shelter in the homes of nearby relatives.”

A committee has been formed to investigate the incident and is expected to file a report within three days, he added.

“This sort of boat capsize is very rare in this region, because these small rivers are mostly calm in nature,” Islam said.

Officials suspect the fatal incident had occurred due to overcrowding.

“It seems that the boat had capsized due to overload(ing),” Shahjahan Ali, who led the search and rescue operations, told Arab News.

“We are conducting the operations in a 15-kilometer radius in the surrounding areas of the river. Now our operations are ongoing in some special areas where few of the bodies might have been floating around. Tomorrow we will also continue the search,” he added.

Bangladesh sees hundreds of people die each year in ferry accidents, due to lax safety standards despite extensive inland waterways in the low-lying country.

At least 34 people died in April 2021 after an overcrowded ferry collided with a cargo vessel and sank on the Shitalakhsya River outside the capital Dhaka.


Cancel Africa’s debts as global crises worsen, Mauritanian FM tells UNGA

Cancel Africa’s debts as global crises worsen, Mauritanian FM tells UNGA
Updated 26 September 2022

Cancel Africa’s debts as global crises worsen, Mauritanian FM tells UNGA

Cancel Africa’s debts as global crises worsen, Mauritanian FM tells UNGA
  • Mohamed Salem Ould Merzoug urges international community to help Sahel region combat instability, terror
  • Emphasizes Mauritania’s support for ‘sovereignty and dignity’ of the Palestinian people

LONDON: Mauritania’s foreign minister on Monday urged the international community to cancel foreign debt for African nations amid the intensifying global financial crisis.

In a speech to the UN General Assembly in New York, Mohamed Salem Ould Merzoug also asked for support for the Sahel region in countering terrorism.

He thanked Secretary-General Antonio Guterres for his “diligent efforts aimed at promoting the UN and bolstering its role” amid “very difficult and complex international conditions.”

Merzoug highlighted a perfect storm of issues, from the Russia-Ukraine conflict to the COVID-19 pandemic, terrorism and climate change-related natural disasters, noting how these events are placing disproportionate pressure on poorer countries, especially in Africa.

“These crises, and the economic, social and humanitarian repercussions of them, are unprecedented,” he said, adding how, for instance, the Russia-Ukraine conflict has affected food and fuel supply lines to developing countries.

He praised the international community for work on securing agreements for the shipment of grain through the Black Sea, but called for “ramped up efforts to find solutions that would guarantee peace, security and dignity for all the peoples of the world,” which, he said, should include canceling African debts.

“The Islamic Republic of Mauritania calls upon the international community to fulfil its responsibilities to developing and poor countries, to assist them as quickly as possible to address the challenges threatening their food security as well as to counter other negative effects of these crises,” he said.

Merzoug added that Mauritania has made progress across a raft of issues, including “re-establishing the values of justice, equity, democracy, individual and collective freedoms, the freedom of the press, and the adoption of dialogue and consultation to manage government affairs with participation by civil society.”

He highlighted the country’s efforts to protect human rights by combating human slavery and child trafficking, as well as illegal migration.

He also discussed government programs to support the poor and youngest in society by building schools and medical centers, and providing clean water.

“We have prepared programs to train youth and to empower youth so that they will be positive elements when joining the labor market. We have also worked to promote women’s participation in political life,” he said.

Merzoug added that Mauritania has taken in and provided assistance to 85,000 refugees from neighboring Mali, but called for greater efforts to resist instability and terrorism in the region.

“Mauritania has always taken care to establish an interlocking approach to combating terrorism in all its forms,” he said.

“We believe that the countries of the Sahel represent a key force to resist terrorism and to establish development throughout the region. Here, we call for support for this group of countries as we move and overcome those obstacles they face today.”

Merzoug reiterated Mauritania’s commitment to the environment and renewable energy, saying the country is focused on sustaining 40 percent of its power from “clean, renewable” sources.

He added that Mauritania will make the most of its “enormous natural resources” in wind and solar potential to expand this weighting in the future. 

“We have achieved significant results in our efforts to address desertification through agricultural reforms in those areas that have been affected by droughts,” Merzoug said.

“We are looking to improve our use of water resources and to protect biodiversity. Here, we are very hopeful about COP27, which is to be held in Egypt from Nov. 6-18, and we hope that all states will respect their commitments there.”

Merzoug emphasized his country’s support for the “sovereignty and dignity” of the Palestinian people, calling for a “political solution that maintains Palestine’s territorial integrity and independence.”

He also called for support for the “legitimate powers” in Mauritania’s “brother country” of Yemen, adding: “We call for a peaceful solution.”


US ambassador praises Abe’s contribution to Japan-US relations

US ambassador praises Abe’s contribution to Japan-US relations
Updated 26 September 2022

US ambassador praises Abe’s contribution to Japan-US relations

US ambassador praises Abe’s contribution to Japan-US relations

TOKYO: US Ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel issued a statement Monday ahead of former Prime Minister ABE Shinzo’s state funeral emphasizing how Abe’s work had brought Japan and the United States together.

“I am honored to be part of the Presidential Delegation and to have the opportunity to pay my respects to the former Prime Minister at the state funeral,” Rahm said in the statement. “As President Biden said on the day of Abe-san’s death: ‘The United States stands with Japan in this moment of grief’.  It was true then; it remains true today.”

Rahm said the attendance of Vice President Kamala Harris at the funeral “demonstrates the respect President Joe Biden has for former Prime Minister Abe Shinzo and his family, and sends a strong signal of our deep commitment to the Japanese people. While we are allies by treaty, we are friends in our hearts.”

Rahm also noted the achievements of Abe in the context of Japan-US relations: “Abe-san lived a life worth living. He was a great statesman with strong connections to America and Americans; he was the first and only Japanese Prime Minister to address a joint session of the US Congress; he accompanied President Obama on the first visit by a sitting US President to Hiroshima; and he was the first Japanese Prime Minister to visit the memorial aboard the USS Arizona at Pearl Harbor.”

“These were historic events that show his unwavering commitment to the US-Japan Alliance and our two countries’ friendship. Abe-san was indispensable for developing the strong relations between us, and his vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific informs strategic architecture across the region.”

Originally published in Arab News Japan