Monthly Archives: January 2013

For failed asylum seekers, life on section 4 is a nightmare worse than Kafka: Whether the motivation is malicious or politically manipulative, government cannot continue to treat failed asylum seekers like this

, The Guardian, Wednesday 30 January 2013 20.30 GMT

Matt Kenyon

Illustration by Matt Kenyon

The first person I met on section 4 asylum support lived in Stockton-on-Tees, with her daughter who was nearly two. I hadn’t heard of the Azure card, or any of the mean-minded hassles that went along with it – that your benefits, such as they are, come in vouchers rather than cash, so you can’t get a bus or make a phone call, can’t post a letter or buy a pint of milk from your corner shop. You have to be housed three miles from a shop that takes your Azure card; that can mean a six-mile walk every time you want to buy something.

She lived in a hostel, where her baby was constantly ill, and so were all the other babies, and an ambulance pulled up outside at least once a week. Her English was so fluent, and her qualifications so varied, and her manner so dispassionate and composed, that it was easy to forget she was an actual case study. It was more like talking theoretically about a really inhumane system; we were just two regular joes tapping at an aquarium, wondering if the octopus looked stressed.

The fact that she and her daughter were a case study was brought home rather forcefully last week, when she was evicted, rendered homeless and without support, by the UK Border Agency. The given reason was that she hadn’t returned a form (she’d returned it twice). It seemed to me more likely that this was a punishment for the fact that she’d spoken to two newspapers and given evidence to a parliamentary inquiry (which published its findings today).

But who could prove anything? She couldn’t even prove she’d posted her form – she had no money to register postage. A kerfuffle ensued: Sarah Teather, who led the inquiry, contacted the asylum seeker’s MP; a journalist on the Independent called the UK Border Agency; a petition went up on the campaign site The eviction was retracted. She remains on section 4, and has no way of knowing what her next misdemeanour will be, in the eyes of the Border Agency. You’d call it Kafka-esque, except for the deficiency of that nightmare – Josef K, of course, didn’t have a two-year-old to worry about.

The findings of that inquiry are chilling to read. A family slept for months on the floor of a mosque. A woman had twins prematurely, lost one and had to walk to and from the hospital to keep appointments for the other, carrying the baby and an oxygen cylinder. A woman gave birth while her benefits were delayed, and had to carry her newborn home in her arms, because she didn’t have buggy or any money for a bus. Another woman died of a brain condition brought on by being HIV positive, and her baby starved to death.

None of this reflects very well on any government – indeed, on any society – but sometimes the razzle-dazzle of grotesque tragedy drowns out an obvious question: what is the point of section 4? Why would anyone devise a system so fraught with needless difficulty, in which hardship is so inevitable that it must be deliberate?

While their claims are pending, asylum seekers are on section 95, which was set at 70% of income support (since utilities are covered, as part of housing), and is paid in cash. If their claim is refused, but they can’t be repatriated because the country is too dangerous (I know, it sounds illogical – but the criteria for asylum are far stricter than “my country is too dangerous to live in”), they go on to section 4, which is lower and paid on a card.

There’s no rationale behind it – you don’t need less money when your claim has been refused, it’s not as though you’re suddenly allowed to work – unless it functions as a deterrent, or as a spur to return home. It never does. Asylum seekers don’t window- shop for the best place to flee to – that decision is usually made for them, by the agent – once here, whatever the deprivations, it’s usually not as bad as being tortured or killed.

If it doesn’t deter people, does it at least save money? Probably not. It isn’t cheap, having a whole department to administrate a benefits system used by relatively few people with all sorts of abstruse rules (they can’t buy condoms, on an Azure card – why not? So they’ll get pregnant, and everything will become that much harder, and the hardship will provide even more incentive to return to a war zone … hang on …). Teather has asked the public accounts committee to report on costs.

If it doesn’t save money, the purpose is either vindictive – a genuine malice borne by the home secretary towards foreigners in need – or it’s political, Theresa May backing up her tough, tough talk about how human rights are rubbish because someone she heard about at the Ukip Conference of Made Up Case Studies couldn’t be deported because he had a cat.

Asylum is a private fiefdom of the Home Office. May doesn’t have to report to parliament on the conditions of asylum seekers, and whether their benefits are uprated or frozen. As a result she’s said nothing, and for 2012-13 they’ve de facto been frozen. Part of me thinks it doesn’t matter whether her purpose is malicious or manipulative, and you could send yourself mad trying to climb inside the minds of these people. But another part of me thinks that if there is no point at all to section 4 which a reasonable person would admit to, that does matter.

Twitter: @zoesqwilliams

“Britain: it’s rubbish. Don’t come here. Move to Italy or Germany instead, the weather’s much nicer and the transport infrastructure isn’t on the verge of collapse”…

Over the weekend The Guardian ran a story that the British Government was reportedly considering a negative ad campaign to discourage would-be immigrants. Yesterday, James Walsh, a columnist for The Guardian invited readers to respond to the ludicrous idea with their own tongue-in-cheek suggestions. Check it out! Below are some of the contributions submitted by the public.










Haitian refugees in Brazil

Close to 500 undocumented Haitians enter Brazil in three days

Brazil has issued humanitarian visas to hundreds of Haitians

[Translation of an article by the Spanish news agency Efe as published on January 2 in Listín Diario of Santo Domingo, the Dominican Republic. See original here and related article here.]

Some 500 undocumented Haitian immigrants entered the Brazilian city of Brasileia, on the Bolivian border, in the last three days of 2011, joining the approximately 700 who live in an improvised shelter in this Amazonian city of 20,000 inhabitants, official sources reported yesterday.

The immigrants arrived in mass over a few days in the midst of rumors that Brazil is studying the possibility of restricting the entry of Haitians across the Amazonian borders beginning this year, a source in the government of the Brazilian state of Acre told Efe.

In the past two years, since the earthquake of 2010, Brazil has taken in hundreds of Haitians who entered the country illegally in search of better living conditions and has given them humanitarian visas, since they cannot be considered political refugees or to be seeking asylum..

“The Haitians seem to have been gathering on the other side of the border and entered as a group out of fear they would be prevented from entering Brazil,” the source added.

The government of Acre, on the Bolivian border in the extreme west of Brazil, reported that it had sent food and water to aid the immigrants, who settled in the plazas of Brasileia, since this small city does not have facilities to assist them.

“The situation is complicated by the fact that the state had already constructed a shelter for the immigrants that turned out to be too small for the 700 Haitians who were already in Brasileia,” according to the source consulted by Efe.

The adjunct secretary for Justice and Human Rights in Acre, José Henrique Corinto de Moura, traveled to Brasileia on Monday to coordinate aid for the numerous undocumented immigrants.

Despite the fact that the National Committee for Refugees of the Brazilian Ministry of Justice admitted last December that it was studying measures to staunch the flow of immigrants across the Amazonian borders, so far no decision has been announced.

According to the international organization Jesuit Refugee Service of Latin America, different networks dealing and trafficking in persons recruit Haitian citizens with promises of work in countries like Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia, who, once abandoned, end up traveling to Brazil in search of better living conditions.

In 2010 alone, Brazil issued 475 humanitarian visas to Haitian immigrants but the number of undocumented immigrants increased significantly in 2011.

The government of Acre estimates that at least 2,300 Haitians entered the state last year.

In addition to humanitarian visas, the immigrants receive documents that permit them to work in Brazil and some are sent to larger cities like Porto Velho and Manaos, also on the Amazon, where the opportunities for employment are greater.

“Health 4 All” Demonstration at Ontario Health Ministry.

Health 4 All Demonstration At Ontario Health Ministry*

By Dwight Gordon — Member of the Jane and Finch Action Against Poverty  (JFAAP), Toronto.

On January  23, 2013 Health 4 All as well as some community activists and medical students spent over an hour braving the harsh weather elements to try to convince health minister Deb Matthews to commit to more accessible health care for refugees.  The argument was that provinces such as Manitoba and Quebec have made health care more accessible to  refugees, so why  shouldn’t Ontario.   Physically the demonstrators were ice cold but it was as if our hearts were warm and the determination to express the message was  red hot.  Word was that Deb Matthews made no commitments to demands but apparently would watch to see what Quebec and Manitoba are doing.  At the protest there was talk of the federal government’s tough anti-immigration efforts and that the anti-immigration stance among some Conservative MPs was strengthening.  There were also tales of refugees who badly needed health care but had a hard, if not impossible time getting it.  I guess it remains to be seen how influential were the protestors who stood out in the cold for well over an hour.  There was also talk of the Idle No More movement being an influence on the demonstrators.

Will the contagious momentum keep up?  Hmmm. One thing I’ll say is, I’ve heard all sorts of talk like that this group of immigrants want to take over and cater to their own kind. Or that group of other immigrants are taking over this country by committing crime. Another group is supposedly just draining the countries resources and services.  Are no government officials or politicians thinking like this ?  These ignorant attitudes need to stop because I don’t want any race or ethnic riots here like what some are actually predicting.

Thank you, from Dwight Gordon ( * These views are the opinion of the author).

Dwight Gordon — I am a Canadian of Jamaican descent from Toronto, living in Scarborough particularly.  I’m very active in the black and Jamaican communities, and I also participate in causes dealing with racialized communities, poverty, health and disabilities. As I became a teenager, I got some very eye-opening lessons of the problems in society and the world we live in. And the eye-opening lessons never did stop. Me being black of Jamaican heritage definitely indirectly contributed to those lessons. Hence, my activism. Thank you

Support Health for All!

Find out more about Health4All at : + Watch a video of this demonstration here

LIVE ONLINE: Aaron Swartz and the battle for Open Access


by Lauren O’Neil Posted: January 17, 2013 7:10 PM Last Updated: January 17, 2013 8:10 PM Read 7comments7

 Aaron Swartz was considered a “Robin Hood” type hero among many, involved in the open access movement, which advocates the free, unrestricted dissemination of information through the internet.(Noah Berger/Reuters)It’s nearly one week since the tragic death of Aaron Swartz, a digital pioneer and activist who took his own life at the age of 26 under the shadow of a federal court case for “liberating” academic journal articles. If convicted, he was facing up to 35 years in prison and $1 million in fines.Prosecutors allege that in 2010 Swartz illegally gained access to millions of articles through the database JSTOR after breaking into a network interface closet in the basement of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. They say he had plugged his computer into the network and downloaded millions of articles before campus and local police caught him.Some say that he was intentionally ruining the economic value of the information, but supporters of the “open access movement,” which advocates the free, unrestricted dissemination of information, disagree.

Swartz was considered a Robin Hood-type hero among many academics and internet freedom fighters. They maintain that he was not stealing, but liberating the information kept in JSTOR for the public good.

With his death, one of the causes Aaron fought so passionately for has gained new momentum. More than 40,000 tweets have already been posted with the hashtag #pdftribute in honour of Swartz’s memory. Many of these tweets have links to academic researchers’ articles that have been posted for free online — the very issue that got Swartz into legal trouble.

We spoke to three experts about these issues via webcam in this week’s episode of Live Online:

Eva Vivalt: Orginator of the #PDFTribute hashtag and development economist.

Sarah Kendzior: Digital media analyst and communications scholar whose recent article about Swartz, titled “Academic Paywalls Mean Publish and Perish” argues for more access to academic information.

Theodore Claypoole: An expert in internet law and intellectual property.

The video can be viewed here


Impacting the World One Paper Upload at a Time


by Courtney Quirin

Sarah Kendzior

With one paper uploaded on, Sarah Kendzior helped Uzbek refugees find a safe haven abroad. With another upload she brought the world of contemporary Uzbek literature into the lives of Midwestern teens. A firm believer that in-depth scholarly research is of value to every kind of person, not just the academic, Sarah Kendzior is committed to publishing her works online free-of-charge so that they might make a real impact on current affairs.

“There’s this idea that people outside of academia, or with less education, are less interested in academic topics or ideas, and I don’t think that’s true,” says Kendzior.

Kendzior’s story proves her point. Made possible by posting her work on, even her often overlooked line of work on Uzbekistan and central Asia has sparked unexpected attention as well as helped save the lives of the politically oppressed.

“This kind of scholarly in-depth research is really valuable to people.”

Whenever there is a crisis, explains Kendzior, people flood the internet in search of answers. But for many, they are stopped dead in their tracks, denied access to research databases or confronted with hefty fees. Some subscription-based journals charge up to $50 per article, according to Kendzior.

“If I were me 10 years ago— just starting out and trying to get information about this part of the world that I’m interested in— I would be stuck, finding these articles and not being able to access them. Think about all the kinds of people, ordinary people with an interest, trying to learn about the world and what kind of contributions they might be able to make if their interest was allowed to develop.”

Bypassing the limits of paywalls, Kendzior sees great potential in “I think is very useful for people outside of academia seeking basic knowledge. It’s also encouraged academics to post their work online and make it more accessible to the public.”

In Kendzior’s experience, open access to her research has provided more than just a continuing education; it’s also provided critical information to refugee asylum cases.

One such case happened in 2010 when the UN High Commission on Refugees used one of Kendzior’s papers to win Uzbek refugees asylum in Australia. By posting her paper online, Kendzior unlocked proof that an alleged Uzbek terrorist group had been fabricated by the government, thus giving attorneys and the UN High Commission on Refugees the evidence they needed to grant these unwarranted “terrorists” asylum abroad. Easy access to Kendzior’s work saved lives— the Uzbek government had been threatening “members” of this fabricated group, as witnessed by the 2005 massacre in Andijon.

Open access to her articles also frequently lands Kendzior on the bench as an expert witness in asylum cases. Browsing through her research on, lawyers easily assess her expertise and contact her for her help.

To Kendzior’s surprise, her work has also made a mark on English students in several high schools across the Midwest. Finding Kendzior’s article on Uzbek political poetry on, one teacher in particular has incorporated Kendzior’s work into her general poetry unit.

“I really like this idea that there are young people viewing Uzbekistan not as some foreign, obscure weird place, but as part of the contemporary world, as a culture that has a contribution to literature,” says Kendzior.

By posting her papers on, Kendzior has afforded those stuck in the “grey zone”— such as attorneys, NGOs, policy groups, educators, and journalists who lack access to subscription-based journals and databases— with contemporary scholarship needed to do their jobs.

Kendzior strongly believes that academics and their research can hugely impact the world, but the path to doing so is blocked by both paywalls and a “careerist” mindset focused on publishing infrequently in prestigious (and expensive) journals.

“We need to start thinking, why are we doing this? Why are we bothering with this research? Is it to advance our own careers or is it to possibly influence the world and change it for the better? I think if we look at it that way, then it becomes clear that works should be open because if nobody can read them, then we don’t have a chance to make any kind of impact.”

To Kendzior, publishing is about “sharing knowledge and sharing research with the world,” which is why she always makes her papers free to everyone on

Academic Bio:
Sarah Kendzior is an anthropologist and communications scholar who specializes in Uzbek language and political online media. She also collaborates with Katy Pearce, University of Washington, to study how Azerbaijanis use the internet for political change. In addition to producing academic works, Kendzior writes regularly for Al Jazeera as well as other media outlets.

Kendzior completed a PhD in Anthropology from Washington University in Saint Louis and an MA in Central Eurasian Studies from Indiana University.

Sarah’s work can be viewed here.

“The Migrant Manifesto” by Musa Okwonga



We have been called many names. Illegals. Aliens. Guest Workers. Border crossers. Undesirables. Exiles. Criminals. Non-citizens. Terrorists. Thieves. Foreigners. Invaders. Undocumented. Our voices converge on these principles:
1. We know that international connectivity is the reality that migrants have helped create, it is the place where we all reside. We understand that the quality of life of a person in a country is contingent on migrants’ work. We identify as part of the engine of change.

2. We are all tied to more than one country. The multilaterally shaped phenomenon of migration cannot be solved unilaterally, or else it generates a vulnerable reality for migrants. Implementing universal rights is essential. The right to be included belongs to everyone.

3. We have the right to move and the right to not be forced to move. We demand the same privileges as corporations and the international elite, as they have the freedom to travel and to establish themselves wherever they choose. We are all worthy of opportunity and the chance to progress. We
all have the right to a better life.

4. We believe that the only law deserving of our respect is an unprejudiced law, one that protects everyone, everywhere. No exclusions. No exceptions. We condemn the criminalization of migrant lives.

5. We affirm that being a migrant does not mean belonging to a specific social class nor carrying a particular legal status. To be a migrant means to be an explorer; it means movement, this is our shared condition. Solidarity is our wealth.

6. We acknowledge that individual people with inalienable rights are the true barometer of civilization. We identify with the victories of the abolition of slavery, the civil rights movement, the advancement of women’s rights, and the rising achievements of the LGBTQ community. It is our urgent responsibility and our historical duty to make the rights of migrants the next triumph in the quest for human dignity. It is inevitable that the poor treatment of migrants today will be our dishonor tomorrow.

7. We assert the value of the human experience and the intellectual capacity that migrants bring with them as greatly as any labor they provide. We call for the respect of the cultural, social, technical, and political knowledge that migrants command.

8. We are convinced that the functionality of international borders should be re-imagined in the service of humanity.

9. We understand the need to revive the concept of the commons, of the earth as a space that everyone has the right to access and enjoy.

10. We witness how fear creates boundaries, how boundaries create hate and how hate only serves the oppressors. We understand that migrants and non-migrants are interconnected. When the rights of migrants are denied the rights of citizens are at risk.

Dignity has no nationality.
Immigrant Movement International

November 2011

The Mali refugee crisis

The refugees fleeing Mali tell aid agencies that they have seen executions and amputations, have had family members “disappear” and have seen rebel armies recruiting children.A Mali gendarme directs traffic on the military side of  Bamako's airport Wednesday Jan. 16, 2013. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

A Mali gendarme directs traffic on the military side of Bamako’s airport Wednesday. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

Mali has seen an increase in both internal and external refugees over the past year — ever since Islamists moved into the northern regions and imposed harsh sharia law, with forced marriages, amputations and public whippings. But after the French military entered Mali to try to drive out the Islamists, there’s been an uptick in the number of people crossing into neighboring countries – almost 1,500 have crossed into Niger, Mauritania and Burkina Faso since last week, according to the UN Refugee Agency.

“Refugees are telling us they fled the ongoing military intervention, the absence of subsistence opportunities and basic services, and the imposition of Sharia law,” UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards said in Geneva this week.

As of Tuesday, the Commission on Population Movements reported that almost 230,000 people had been forcibly displaced in Mali since early 2012. There are also an estimated 144,500 Malian refugees in the region, including 54,000 in Mauritania, 50,000 in Niger, 38,800 in Burkina Faso and 1,500 in Algeria. Small groups are also in Guinea and Togo, UNHCR reported. Here’s a map of where they are now, with darker red representing more people:

Olga Khazan/UNHCR

Olga Khazan/UNHCR

Some 700,000 more Malians are expected to be displaced in coming months — 300,000 inside Mali and 400,000 to other countries, the UNHCR said Friday. Mali’s total population is about 15 million.

Now, international aid groups are warning of a coming crisis as camps in neighboring countries already lack enough food and shelter for the swelling populations of displaced people. A survey by MSF in Mauritania found that nearly one in five Malian refugee children are malnourished and 4.6 percent are in danger of dying.

Meanwhile, the UN’s World Food Program said on Friday that its distribution of food aid in northern Mali was still suspended because of a lack of security, and many Malians in the south are housing several other families who have fled the conflict in the north.

UNHCR has said it is still struggling with a severe lack of funding, despite a recent $10 million donation from the United States and other donors. The agency has so far received $49.9 million out of the $153 million needed for the emergency operation, the organization said in a news release.

One problem seems to stem from the fact that the countries that are absorbing the refugees are themselves poor and not particularly stable.

“When you have over 250,000 people in semi-desert areas of landlocked countries, with huge logistic problems, and when those countries themselves are facing exceptional challenges, not only in relation to development but also in their capacity to feed their own people, it is obvious that all the resources that we can find are not yet in proportion with the needs we face,” The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres, said in a recent visit to a camp for Malian refugees in Burkina Faso.

The numbers may not sound like much compared with other big, recent conflicts. Millions of Sudanese fled their homes throughout the last decade as Darfur was ravaged by civil war. And there are more than 650,000 Syrian refugees registered in Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt, with numbers growing by about 3,000 a day.

But that just shows how quickly refugee flows can spiral out of control, swelling crowded camps where thousands endure disease and hardship. Mali is now facing, as Refugee International calls it, three growing and interconnected emergencies: a food crisis, armed conflict, and the political crisis. It’s a familiar story for African conflicts, and one that  doesn’t get any easier for aid agencies to solve.

Sourced from the Washington Post:



Check out the Invisible Borders Film!

“Invisible Borders Trans-African Photographic Initiative is an art-led initiative, founded in Nigeria in 2009 by passionate Nigerian artists – mostly photographers – with a drive and urge to effect change in the society. It was registered in 2011 under the Cooperate Affairs Commission (CAC) of Nigeria as Invisible Borders Trans-African Photographers Organisation. The vision of the initiative is to become a symbol of networking and trans-border associations within the arts and photography in Africa, but also to become a stepping-stone platform for young immerging talents in the continent in such a way that it creates a breeding ground for young artist to be thinking beyond borders at the beginning stage of their creative quest.

The mission of the Initiative is to tell Africa’s stories, by Africans, through photography and inspiring artistic interventions; to encourage exposure of upcoming African photographers towards art and photography as practiced in other parts of the continent.; to establish a platform that encourages and embraces trans- African artistic relationships within the continent, and to contribute towards the socio-political discourse shaping Africa of the 21st Century.

Their goal is to constantly spread and share knowledge and information, cutting across the demarcating lines of classes and proficiency in literacy, thereby expanding the art public to include more of the local audience and the “layman”.

Their activities aim to cut through the local, national and international, and to create points of interactions between these levels, hence the name Invisible Borders. The main activity /project of the Initiative since its foundation has been The Invisible Borders Trans-African Road Trip Project, a project where about a dozen artists/photographers collectively take road trip across Africa to explore and participate in various photographic events, festival and exhibitions while engaging on a daily basis with the environment and the people encountered. The emphasis is primarily on the collective journey of the participating artists who, during their momentary stops in capital cities, create photographic, video and textual works that often reflect their individual approach to engaging with local artists, art practitioners and the inhabitants. They also collaborate intensively with colleagues from each of the countries involved.

Participants of Invisible Borders are dedicated to creating works, which portray the dynamism, richness as well as contradictions of the various modes of existence of the African people. In doing this, they reject a simplified notion of Africa nor a tidy definition of it, but instead hopes to create an archive of works which “complicates” the depiction of contemporary Africa, one which sees the continent as work-in-progress, rather than a foregone conclusion.

We can therefore see the Invisible Borders Road trip as a workshop of artistic creation and a performative social intervention all rolled into one. Moreover it offers that unique experience of “learning in motion” and discovering oneself through interactions with diverse encounters by constantly altering one’s own reality through constant movement. Check out their film!