By Moulid Hujale
After eight years of a rigorous resettlement process at Kenya’s Dadaab refugee camp, Dahabo Hashi and her five children were due to travel to South Dakota on 10 March. Civil war in Somalia had forced them to flee to Dadaab. But their plans to start a new life in the US are now on hold, after President Donald Trump last week signed a new executive order banning travel from six Muslim-majority countries.
This is the second time that Hashi’s family has been hit by the US president’s travel ban. On 27 January, as their flight was being booked, they were told that all travel arrangements had been cancelled.
When US federal courts blocked Trump’s executive order in February, Hashi was among hundreds of Somali refugees in Kenya who were cleared for travel. But the new revised order means that their case is again on hold – at least for 120 days while the US refugee resettlement programme is suspended.
“This is painful. I cannot believe this is happening to us again. Our hopes and dreams are being shattered,” Hashi said.
“There is nowhere else to turn. We have been enduring a very tough and long process for years, hoping one day to escape the harsh life of the refugee camp, only to be told we cannot move at the last minute. It is devastating.”
Hashi arrived in Dadaab, the world’s largest refugee camp, in 1991 following the civil war in Somalia. She was among the lucky few who received the opportunity for resettlement from the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) in 2009.
Although the US is a favourite destination for refugees, it has a very tough and lengthy screening process, involving extensive background checks by multiple federal security agencies.
AdvertisementAccording to the US state department, “Refugees are subject to the highest level of security checks for any category of traveller to the United States.”
That is why it takes years for refugees to be resettled in the US, with some even deciding to withdraw their applications as the wait drags on.
Omar Jelle, a father of four, was in the final stages of a resettlement process that had started in 2007. He had thought about withdrawing several times but the travel ban made up his mind.
“I was already fed up and was in a dilemma when I heard about the travel ban, and that cemented my decision. It was difficult to explain to my wife as you can imagine,” said Jelle. “But I am a father and have to provide for my children rather than just sit and wait for something that is never coming.”
He was eight when he first arrived in Dadaab from Somalia more than two decades ago. Now, 33, he has been in the camp ever since, going to school and getting married there.
“I was a young high school graduate when I did my first resettlement interview with the UNHCR. I never thought I would marry in the camp and stay that long,” he said.
“During the process, I got married, had my first child and then the second child, the third and the fourth. I sacrificed a lot of opportunities, including several job offers in Somalia, in the hope of getting a better future for my children once resettled in the US. Enough is enough – I have now lost hope,” he said.
His only option was to return voluntarily to Somalia, to hunt for job opportunities he had turned down in the past. Last month, he left his family behind in Kenyaand returned to Mogadishu for the first time in 25 years.
He has been welcomed by old friends from Dadaab who have already settled in the city, working for charities and non-profit organisations. “I had to take the risk of going back to Somalia and I don’t regret it, because I need to move on and, of course, I have a duty to help rebuild my country as well. I plan to bring my wife and children here when the security situation gets a little better.”
Four-year-old Nimo Mohamed has cancer and her application for resettlement is being processed urgently because the treatment she needs is not available at Dadaab.
“I am very worried about what will happen to her. We are trapped here and no one knows of our situation,” said Mohamed Noor, her father.
There has been a question mark over the fate of refugees at Dadaab as Kenyan authorities have been pushing to close the entire camp.
Hundreds of thousands of Somali refugees who live at the camp fear being forced to return to Somalia, a country that is currently on the brink of famine and where al-Shabaab Islamic militants are fighting to overthrow the government.
In the Eastleigh area of Nairobi, Mohamed Osman, 28, had his resettlement interview cancelled last week. He was hoping to join his wife, who lives in the US.
“My case had been active before the order was announced but when I checked online last week, I was disappointed to find that my status update was changed to ‘on hold’. I am stuck in Nairobi where I live in constant fear of police harassment. My wife cannot come to me because she has a green card and is afraid to be denied re-entry to the US if she leaves,” he said.
Osman had lived in Dadaab since 1991 before moving to Nairobi a couple of years ago. He is contemplating taking a dangerous journey to try to reach his wife if his application is not successful.
“As a man, I have to find plan B. There should be some way out even if it means giving my life to smugglers in order to escape this life and meet my wife,” he said.
Commenting on the executive order, the UN high commissioner for refugees, Filippo Grandi, said: “The imperative remains to provide protection for people fleeing deadly violence, and we are concerned that this decision, though temporary, may compound the anguish for those it affects.”
This article was published on The Guardian's website on March 14, 2017.
AS THE Trump administration fought in court to revive its temporary ban on entry by refugees as well as travelers from seven majority-Muslim countries, the president persisted in perversely suggesting that the judicial branch will be responsible for any terrorist attack carried out by what he portrayed as the violent hordes clamoring to enter the country.
By conflating a dangerous fiction about immigrants with blatant disrespect for an equal branch of government, President Trump fans the xenophobic flames he did so much to ignite during the presidential campaign. “Just cannot believe a judge would put our country in such peril,” he tweetedover the weekend, after a ruling by U.S. District Judge James L. Robart in Seattle, who was nominated to the court by President George W. Bush. “If something happens blame him and court system. People pouring in. Bad!”
The president’s calumny and travel ban have been denounced by an array of diplomatic and national security experts, not least former secretaries of state John F. Kerry and Madeleine Albright, who made the point, in a court filing, that the order would endanger U.S. troops and boost the Islamic State’s recruitment efforts.
Amid the furor, it is critical to remember that in recent decades the United States has admitted hundreds of thousands of refugees from the former Soviet Union, Yugoslavia, Vietnam, Iraq, Burma and elsewhere — never with ironclad assurances that those immigrants would love America or its values, though in many cases they clearly did.
Mr. Trump and his chief strategist, Stephen K. Bannon, pledge “extreme vetting” of new immigrants, especially refugees, which would somehow assure their patriotism and adherence to U.S. law as a condition of admission to this country.
It makes sense to scrutinize immigrants, particularly those from terrorism-prone regions, which is exactly what the current rigorous process does by subjecting applicants to multiple security, biometric, document and data checks by an alphabet soup of U.S. agencies. For refugees, the screening is painstaking, often lasting up to two years and involving face-to-face interviews in which factual discrepancies can mean rejection. Even tighter screening may be possible, particularly of social media accounts, although aliases, multiple languages and sarcasm could be pitfalls.
Even if the courts uphold its actions, it is critical that the administration not use the inevitable imperfections of any vetting process as a pretext to ban refugees for more than the 120-day period covered by the Jan. 27 order. Already, Mr. Trump has slashed the current fiscal-year target for refugee admissions to 50,000, from 110,000.
That’s a trickle when measured against the United States’ traditional role as a beacon to those fleeing violence and tyranny, and against global demand. The United Nations counts some 16 million refugees (excluding Palestinians); more than half are children . By far the largest number, nearly 5 million , are Syrians, who are barred indefinitely under Mr. Trump’s order.
“These are not Jeffersonian democrats,” sneered Mr. Bannon, referring to Muslim immigrants who entered Europe. In 2015, he asked, “Why even let ’em in?”
Similar remarks were made a century ago about immigrants from Ireland, Italy, Germany and Eastern Europe, then widely seen as unschooled, unwashed and, often, violent. No one would ask now, “Why did we even let ’em in?”
This editorial was published on The Washington Post's website on February 6, 2017.
By banning refugees from the United States, Donald Trump isn’t just denying them an opportunity. He’s harming the American economy.
BY PHILIPPE LEGRAIN
FEBRUARY 3, 2017
President Donald Trump’s executive order halting refugee resettlement from around the world and barring visitors from seven mostly Muslim countries is wrong on many levels. It is cruel, xenophobic, and arguably unconstitutional. And it wouldn’t have prevented 9/11 or saved the lives of the 94 people killed on American soil by Islamist extremists since then, because none of the terrorists responsible for those atrocities were refugees or, indeed, from those seven countries. But in addition to being morally wrong, it’s economically harmful, because refugees make a big contribution to the United States, as do people originating from Iran, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya, Sudan, and Somalia.
Refugees are a tiny proportion of the U.S. population — some 3.3 million have been admitted since 1975 — but they have had an outsized impact. Google co-founder Sergey Brin was a child refugee from the Soviet Union; Google’s parent company, Alphabet, is now America’s second-most valuable firm, with a market capitalization of $553 billion. WhatsApp co-founder Jan Koum and PayPal co-founder Max Levchin were refugees from Ukraine. The late Andy Grove, who helped start and was later CEO of Intel, fled from communist Hungary. So, too, did hedge-fund manager and philanthropist George Soros; Thomas Peterffy, the founder of Interactive Brokers Group; and Steven Udvar-Hazy, the founder of Air Lease Corp.
Yet nobody could have guessed when they arrived in the United States that those refugees would be so successful. Had they been denied entry, nobody would have realized the opportunity that America had missed. So just imagine what some of the brave Syrians fleeing the barbarism of the Islamic State, President Bashar al-Assad’s brutal regime, and the bombing raids ordered by Russian President Vladimir Putin could go on to achieve in the United States. After all, the biological father of the late Steve Jobs, the co-founder and legendary CEO of Apple, America’s most valuable company, was a Syrian who fled his country for political reasons.
People originating from the seven countries on Trump’s blacklist already have contributed a lot to America. eBay was founded by an Iranian-American, Pierre Omidyar. Its market capitalization of $36.1 billion dwarfs the value of Trump’s unlisted business holdings, while Omidyar’s self-made $8.2 billion fortune is more than twice as big as Trump’s partly inherited one. Oracle Corp., a software giant worth $162.2 billion, was co-founded by the late Bob Miner, who was also Iranian-American. While the communities from the other countries are much smaller and generally more recent, one notable Somali-American is author and activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali, an outspoken critic of both Islamic extremism and Trump’s anti-Muslim policies.
Of course, not all refugees and immigrants turn out to be exceptionally successful. But prejudice is a poor predictor of how they will fare. When Vietnamese “boat people” fled their country in the late 1970s and sought refuge elsewhere, they were seen as undesirable and often turned away. Eventually, many were allowed to settle in America. Most arrived speaking little or no English, with few assets or relevant job skills.
Yet Vietnamese refugees in the United States are now more likely to be employed than people born in America and have higher average incomes.
They have also played a key role in building trade and investment links with Vietnam. One notable entrepreneur is David Tran, who founded Huy Fong Foods. Its main product is Sriracha chili sauce, that big red bottle you see in every Vietnamese restaurant. Most of what he makes is exported to Asia, something that Trump ought to approve of, given his obsession with America’s trade balance.
Refugees contribute to the economy in many ways: as workers, entrepreneurs, innovators, taxpayers, consumers, and investors. Their efforts can help create jobs; raise the productivity and wages of American workers; increase capital returns; stimulate international trade and investment; and boost innovation, enterprise, and growth.
Some do low-skilled jobs that Americans spurn, such as working on farms, cleaning offices, and caring for the elderly. Contrary to fears that they steal jobs, studies show that refugees enable Americans to do better-paying jobs that they prefer.
Higher-skilled refugees — and their highly educated children — provide valuable talent and boost the productivity and wages of Americans with complementary skills. For instance, Syrian nurses can help American doctors provide better care to more patients. Some 28 percent of refugees have a bachelor’s or advanced degree, the same proportion as people born in the United States. Among the immigrants on Trump’s banned list, those from Iran, Libya, Syria, and Sudan are more likely to have a degree than the U.S. average. Many work for leading U.S. businesses, notably in the technology sector, that are now up in arms about the travel ban.
Whatever their skill level, refugees tend to be highly motivated and work hard to rebuild their lives. At Chobani, the company that makes America’s leading brand of Greek yogurt, three in 10 employees are refugees. Chobani founder Hamdi Ulukaya doesn’t just employ them to do good; it also turns out to be good for the bottom line. Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz’s admirable announcement that the company plans to hire 10,000 refugees worldwide in the next five years is likely to be financially rewarding, too.
Enterprising refugees start businesses that create wealth, employ locals, boost growth, and stimulate trade and investment. Like migration itself, starting a business is a risky venture that takes hard work to make it pay off. For those who arrive in America without contacts or a conventional career, it is a natural way to get ahead. A study by the Kauffman Foundation found that in 2012, immigrants to the United States were almost twice as likely to start businesses as people born in America.
Last but not least, newcomers and their children can help spark new ideas and technologies that make all Americans better off. People uprooted from one culture and exposed to another tend to be more creative. Moreover, groups with diverse perspectives and experiences — such as refugees and people born in the United States sparking off each other — tend to outperform like-minded experts at problem solving, which is what most work these days consists of.
Overall, refugees have a higher employment rate than people born in America. While Iraqis and Somalis have lower employment rates, they are mostly recent arrivals, and employment rates tend to rise sharply over time. Refugees who have been in the United States for 20 or more years also have higher median household incomes than people born in America.
A study by Kalena Cortes of Texas A&M University found that among immigrants who arrived in the United States between 1975 and 1980, refugees integrated faster than “economic migrants.” Whereas refugees earned 6 percent less and worked 14 percent fewer hours than economic migrants in 1980, by 1990 they were earning 20 percent more and working 4 percent more hours, notably because in general they improved their English, skills, and education faster over that period.
Of course, welcoming refugees costs money upfront. But it’s a drop in the ocean: Out of the $3.3 trillion federal budget in fiscal year 2015, the budget for the refugee resettlement program was $609 million. That money tends to be spent on local goods and services, benefiting businesses and creating jobs. And like providing public education to American teenagers, it’s an investment that yields further dividends once refugees start working.
In fact, investing one dollar in helping refugees get started can yield nearly two dollars in economic benefits within five years. That’s the key finding of my recent study for OPEN, an international think tank focused on refugee and other openness issues that I founded, and the Tent Foundation, whose mission is to help forcibly displaced people.
A study of greater Cleveland found that while $4.8 million was spent on refugee services in 2012, spending by refugees, refugee-owned businesses, and refugee service organizations boosted the local economy by $48 million, creating 650 jobs and providing $2.7 million in tax revenues to local and state governments.
Refugees’ reliance on public assistance declines sharply over time, although it tends to remain higher than the general population. Even so, refugees tend to be net contributors to public finances over their lifetimes: Two-thirds of new arrivals are of working age (and thus schooled abroad), on average they are in their mid-20s (and thus have a full working life ahead of them), and their taxes help service the huge public debt incurred by the existing U.S. population.
The United States was founded by refugees: The Pilgrims who came over on the Mayflower in 1620 were fleeing persecution in England. Continuing to welcome refugees and immigrants of all faiths — and none — is not just morally right and in keeping with America’s long humanitarian tradition. It is vital for the future economic success of all Americans.
This article was published on Foreign Policy's website on February 3rd 2017.
Another victory for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
The ACLU brought a claim on behalf of detained asylum-seeking mothers and children in order to challenge a Government's policy of detaining asylum-seekers "as a way to deter others from coming to the United States". This policy was described as an "aggressive deterrence strategy".
The claim was filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., which ordered a preliminary injunction that puts an immediate halt to the government's policy.