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CreditBasil Childers for The New York Times
The rickety raft made of empty oil drums and a wooden tabletop rolled and pitched with the waves while tied to the side of the Dona Liberta, a 370-foot cargo ship anchored far from land in the Atlantic Ocean off West Africa.

“Go down!” yelled a knife-wielding crew member, forcing two Tanzanian stowaways overboard and onto the raft. As angry clouds gathered on the horizon, he cut the line.

Gambling on a better life, the stowaways had run out of luck. They had already spent nine days at sea, most of the time hiding in the Dona Liberta’s engine room, crouched deep in oily water. But as they climbed down onto the slick raft, the men, neither of whom knew how to swim, nearly slid into the ocean before lashing themselves together to the raft with a rope.

As the Dona Liberta slowly disappeared, David George Mndolwa, one of the abandoned pair, recalled thinking: “This is the end.”

Through debt or coercion, tens of thousands of workers, many of them children, are enslaved on boats every year, with only occasional interventions. On average, a large ship sinks every four days and between 2,000 and 6,000 seamen die annually, typically because of avoidable accidents linked to lax safety practices.

Ships intentionally dump more engine oil and sludge into the oceans in the span of three years than that spilled in the Deepwater Horizon and Exxon Valdez accidents combined, ocean researchers say, and emit huge amounts of certain air pollutants, far more than all the world’s cars. Commercial fishing, much of it illegal, has so efficiently plundered marine stocks that the world’s population of predatory fish has declined by two thirds.

The Dona Liberta has been among the most persistent of scofflaws, offering a case study of misconduct at sea, according to an examination of shipping, insurance and port records, and dozens of interviews with law enforcement, maritime experts and former company associates. The vessel not only cast off stowaways — Jocktan Francis Kobelo, the second man ordered onto the raft, died from the 2011 ordeal — but has also been accused of a long list of other offenses over the past decade.

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Path of the Dona Liberta

From 2011 to 2014, the rusty refrigerated cargo vessel traced the coasts of Africa and Europe, abandoning crew members, abusing stowaways, dumping oil and committing other crimes along the way. Port calls were often the only means of locating the ship, which frequently turned off its required satellite tracking signal. Source: SkyTruth

As the rusty refrigerator ship moved across two oceans and five seas and among 20 ports, it routinely abused, cheated and abandoned its crew, caused an oil slick nearly 100 miles long, and drew citations from a half-dozen countries for other environmental violations. Creditors chased its owner for millions of dollars in unpaid debts, and maritime watchdog groups listed its parent company as an illegal fishing suspect. Still, the ship operated freely and never lacked for work or laborers.

“In the maritime world, it’s far easier for countries to look the other way with problem ships like the Dona Liberta than to do something about them,” said Mark Young, a retired United States Coast Guard commander and former chief of enforcement for the Pacific Ocean.

Vessels that disappear over the horizon tend to vanish not just from sight but from oversight, a New York Times investigation found. Countries have signed dozens of maritime pacts, the shipping industry has published reams of guidelines and the United Nations maritime agency has written hundreds of rules, all aimed at regulating ships, crews and safety. But those laws are also often weak, contradictory and easily skirted by criminals. National and international agencies usually have neither the inclination nor resources to enforce them.

The modern flagging system, which allows ships to buy the right to fly the flag of a country as long as it promises to follow its laws, provides good cover for the unscrupulous.

Usually, a ship may be stopped on the high seas only by a law enforcement or military vessel flying the same flag. The world’s navies, though, have been scaling down for decades. Most nations, including the Bahamas, whose flag the Dona Liberta flew, have no ships that regularly patrol beyond their national waters. (Some landlocked countries like Mongolia and Bolivia offer flags for cheaper costs.)

When wrongdoing occurs, no single agency within a country or specific international organization typically has a sufficient stake in the matter to pursue it. The stowaways on the Dona Liberta, for example, were undocumented immigrants from Tanzania, living in South Africa and brought to shore in Liberia. The ship was owned by a Greek company incorporated in Liberia, crewed primarily by Filipinos, captained by an Italian, flagged to the Bahamas and passing through international waters. “Who leads such an investigation?” Mr. Young asked.

There is much at stake: A melting Arctic has expanded trade routes. Evolving technology has opened the deep seabed to new mining and drilling. Maritime rivalry and piracy have led to more violent clashes. And, with an ever more borderless economy, sea commerce is vital to many countries. “Without ships, half of the world would freeze and the other half would starve,” Rose George, a British nautical writer, said.

In recent months, the United States has said that it intends to take a bigger role in high seas governance. “We ignore the oceans at our peril,” said Secretary of State John Kerry, who has pushed for more marine conservation globally and in May brokered a landmark dealwith Russia to regulate trawling in Arctic waters.

Mr. Young pressed for urgent action. Asked to describe the world’s oceans today, he said: “Like the Wild West. Weak rules, few sheriffs, lots of outlaws.”


As the storm set in, 20-foot swells seesawed the 7-by-8-foot raft. To avoid flipping over, the two Tanzanian stowaways splayed flat on their backs. Their hands chafed from grasping a piece of rebar poking up from one of the rusty blue drums.

Weather is more punishing on the open water because it comes from above and below. Mr. Mndolwa compared it to experiencing an earthquake and a hurricane at the same time. For eight pitch-black hours, the men stared upward in a driving rain, keeping their mouths closed because waves kept washing over them and squinting because shutting their eyes intensified the seasickness.

Mr. Kobelo had stowed away on ships three times before in search of work wherever he landed, according to his brother, Michael. He went to Angola, Senegal and then Singapore, where he spent a year as a night watchman and firefighter in a small dry dock. Though he could have faced prosecution, most countries do not bother to charge stowaways. Immigration authorities eventually sent him back to Tanzania.

To Mr. Mndolwa, who is barely literate and had never before left Africa, Mr. Kobelo’s descriptions of his time in Singapore — free hospital visits, restaurant meals, beaches where the police never shooed him away — sounded far better than his life in Cape Town. By day, the two men roamed the sidewalks near South Africa’s Table Bay, selling knockoff watches and soccer jerseys. By night, they slept in a makeshift lean-to under a bridge.

For those seeking escape, few routes are as perilous as the sea. Roughly 2,000 stowaways are caught each year hiding on ships. Hundreds of thousands more are sea migrants, whose journey involves some level of complicity from the ship’s crew. In interviews, these travelers compared the experience of stowing away at sea to hiding in the trunk of a car for an undetermined length of time, going to an unknown place across the most brutal of terrains. Temperatures are extreme. It is impossible to bring enough food or water. And if you try to flee en route, one former stowaway in Durban, South Africa, said, “the ground swallows you whole.”

To get on board, some stowaways pose as stevedores or deck cleaners. Others swim under the stern and squeeze through a space where the rudder meets the ship. Many scale the side, helped by “stowaway poles”: long bamboo sticks with toeholds and a hook. “Love boats,” which are common in ports and deliver prostitutes, drugs and alcohol to large ships, sometimes also bring uninvited passengers. After sneaking on board, they hide in hulls or shipping containers, crane cabs or tool trunks.

But concealed corners that might look inviting often turn deadly once ships set sail. Refrigerated fishing holds become cold, exhaust pipes heat up, shipping containers are sealed and fumigated. Maritime newsletters and shipping insurance reports offer a macabre accounting of the victims: “Crushed in the chain locker,” “asphyxiated by bunker fumes,” “found under a retracted anchor.” Most often, though, death comes slower. Vomiting from seasickness leads to dehydration. People pass out from exhaustion. They starve.

In May 2011, Mr. Mndolwa and Mr. Kobelo got their chance at a new life. They overheard a deckhand in port mention that the red-bottomed ship waiting dockside with no night watchman was leaving soon for England. Carrying their passports, a loaf of bread and a plastic bag filled with orange juice, the men shimmied across the ship’s mooring rope that night, crept down to the engine room, and stayed there, whisperingly still, for the next five days.

But their hiding spot soon proved unbearable. The turbines left their ears ringing. The fumes made them lightheaded. The heat “stole our breath,” Mr. Mndolwa recounted. Within two days their food ran out. Creeping through the mazelike lower levels of the ship up to the deck, they found crackers and bottled water in an enclosed lifeboat. They were discovered there four days later. Locked in a room below deck, they waited while the captain and crew determined their fate.


Though small, Greece is a superpower in the maritime world, with many shipping lines and a disproportionate number of the wealthiest shipowners. Nearly half of the best known shipping families hail from Chios, a tiny Greek island five miles off the coast of Turkey that was long prized by successive empires and nations.

Proud of its nautical pedigree, Chios claims as native sons (not without dispute) two great men of the sea — Homer and Christopher Columbus. It is also home to George Kallimasias, whose family has been in shipping for three generations. By most accounts, he runs Commercial S.A., which operated the Dona Liberta and a fleet of about two dozen similar ships.

Even in a struggling economy, Greece’s shipping magnates benefit from favorable government treatment, including an exemption for shipping firms from certain taxes. Shipowners control most of the country’s major oil companies, soccer teams and television stations, and played a major role in bailing out its banks in recent years.

The nation’s major shipping families also have a reputation for noblesse oblige — many of the island’s soccer fields, schools and hospitals bear plaques with their names. Mr. Kallimasias, though, is decidedly invisible.

“He is nothing like the others,” said a dockworker at the Chios marina. He pointed to Mr. Kallimasias’s 107-foot yacht, Something Wild, which the worker said is always guarded and rarely used. Mr. Kallimasias’s seaside house in Chios sits behind a 15-foot wall. When he drives around, he is typically accompanied by bodyguards, according to a former employee and associates in Athens.


George Kallimasias’s yacht, Something Wild, in the port of Chios, Greece. CreditEirini Vourloumis for The New York Times

Mr. Kallimasias’s home in Chios is surrounded by a high wall. A former employee said he is usually accompanied by bodyguards. CreditEirini Vourloumis for The New York Times

“The guy is smoke,” said Lefteris Kormalos, a ship engine parts dealer. Last year, Mr. Kormalos won a court decision for $30,000 in unpaid debts from Mr. Kallimasias, who is named in at least 15 similar lawsuits in Greek or American courts. Legal documents variously describe him as owner, consultant or managing director of Commercial S.A., another business called Fairport Shipping and the Dona Liberta.

Built in Japan in 1991, the Dona Liberta was operated or owned by several British and Japanese companies before Commercial S.A. acquired it in 2004. It had variously been named the Emerald Reefer, the Sanwa Hope and the Sun An. Over the years it has flown the flags of Panama, the Bahamas and Kiribati, a tiny island nation in the Central Pacific.

A slow, powerful workhorse, the steel-hulled vessel has more than 20,000 cubic feet of refrigeration space, enough to carry the equivalent of more than 25 million cans of tuna, the Dona Liberta’s main cargo.

Known more commonly as “reefers,” this type of refrigeration ship is a dying breed that has been squeezed out of the business of transporting fruits and vegetables by container ships that are more than three times their size and have superior temperature-control technology. To survive, many reefers have shifted in recent years to moving fish, much of it illegal, and other contraband like counterfeit cigarettes and drugs, according to maritime insurance officials.

Mr. Kallimasias did not respond to interview requests. A clerk at the office of Commercial S.A. and Fairport Shipping in Athens shouted at a reporter through a front-gate intercom that it was inappropriate to have visited there, a point reiterated later in an email from Fairport’s lawyer, Alexandros Papalamprou.

In the 1980s, when one of Mr. Kallimasias’s companies failed to repay a loan of more than $11 million to the National Bank of Greece, members of the Greek Parliament investigated. They found one ship of his worth seizing, but it caught fire at sea and sank, in what was believed to be a deliberate act to collect insurance on it, according to legal documents provided to The Times by a Parliament member.

Dinos Anargyrou, a former Kallimasias supplier and litigant, recounted how the courts were unable to seize Mr. Kallimasias’ assets in 2013 for another unpaid debt. At the last minute, his company moved its corporate address from a two-story luxury building in an upscale section of Athens to a 100-square-foot vacant apartment in an aging downtown high-rise.


In whispered phone calls or surreptitious notes, crew members from the Dona Liberta regularly contacted the international seafarers’ union, pleading for help. They described safety violations, harsh conditions, wage theft and abandonment, union records show.

By 2012, the mistreatment led the union to warn mariners against working for the Dona Liberta and other ships owned by Commercial S.A., according to union officials based in London.

“Lack of winter jackets, hard hats and safety shoes,” one union inspector wrote, describing crew members working outside in Norway in November. In Spain and South Africa, the crew complained that the captain routinely doctored the log books to show wages that were never paid and ship repairs that never occurred.

“When your contract is over, they send you home, saying they’ve transferred the money,” Yuriy Cheng, a Ukrainian, wrote in an undated post in Russian on a mariners’ online forum about the Dona Liberta’s owner. “You get home, and there is nothing there.”

Mr. Cheng described a standoff on his ship between management and the mostly Filipino crew members, who stopped work after a year of not being paid despite threats that they would be jailed if they failed to deliver the cargo. “These guys are 40 or 50 years old,” he wrote, “and they were crying like babies out of frustration.”

In June 2011, George Cristof, a veteran sailor, knew something was wrong from the moment he stepped on board the Dona Liberta in the Port of Truro, England. Hired by a maritime employment agency in Galati, Romania, he had been instructed in a brief call with Mr. Kallimasias’s shipping company to fly immediately to England because a full crew was waiting, ready to launch.

But when he arrived, Mr. Cristof found the situation far different, he recalled in an interview. The provisions were gone, the cargo hold empty, the crew departed. The Dona Liberta had barely enough fuel to power the wheel room’s overhead lamp, much less run the ship’s 5,600-horsepower engine.

Mr. Cristof was soon joined by another Romanian, Florin Raducan, and for the next several months the two men survived by fishing over the side and begging for canned goods and bottled water from passing ships. Some days they did not eat. They lacked the money and documents needed to disembark and return home. Their phone cards were drained, their cigarettes were all but gone. The men had no heat, running water, functioning toilets or electricity. They collected rainwater to clean themselves.

“It wasn’t enough,” Mr. Cristof recounted. He soon developed a severe fungal infection on his chest, his medical records show.

Each day the men waited for orders that never came. “Jail with a salary,” Mr. Cristof said, reciting a common expression about work at sea. “Except the salary isn’t guaranteed.”

More than 2,300 seafarers have been similarly stranded by their employers over the last decade, United Nations data shows. A ship’s cargo is often better protected than its crew. The industry only recently imposed rules, taking effect in 2017, mandating that shipowners carry insurance or show other proof that they can cover the costs of sailors marooned in port, as well as seafarers’ death and long-term disability entitlements.

In England, an aid organization came to the rescue of the two Romanians. “They did not want to stay but they refused to leave,” Ben Bailey, project manager of the group, Mission to Seafarers, said of the men’s predicament. Each sailor had paid more than $1,000 to the employment agency to get the job on the Dona Liberta, he said. Abandoning the ship forfeited any chance of recouping that money or collecting the wages promised to them.


George Cristof was stranded on the Dona Liberta at the Port of Truro, England, in 2011. Along with another man he survived for months by fishing over the side and begging for canned goods and bottled water from passing ships.CreditCristian Movila for The New York Times

After five months, though, Mr. Cristof and Mr. Raducan gave up. They flew back to Romania. For Mr. Cristof, the breaking point had come when he learned his children could no longer afford school. For Mr. Raducan: finding out that his wife had resorted to begging in public.

Few crimes are tougher to investigate than those that occur at sea. There are no cameras on the corner, no phones to tap, usually no weapons to retrieve. Crew members are often changed mid-voyage, so witnesses are scarce. “The crime scene is moving,” explained Mr. Young, the former Coast Guard official who is now senior officer of conservation enforcement at the Pew Charitable Trusts.

Complicating matters is what industry officials call the “maritime merry-go-round.” Asked about investigating the Dona Liberta’s possible crimes on the high seas, a United States Coast Guard official said it was not its jurisdiction. “Try Interpol,” he suggested. The authorities there said that its role was mostly to pass information between countries.

Officials at the International Maritime Organization, a United Nations agency, said that the country whose flag the vessel flies is supposed to investigate any allegations. An official at the Bahamas flag registry program said that any inquiry by his office would be referred to the I.M.O.

Early one morning in April 2012, the three-person staff at SkyTruth, an environmental watchdog group based in West Virginia, huddled over satellite footage sent from the European Space Agency. Their attention was quickly drawn to a half-dozen black slashes — what looked to them like intentional dumping from ships — in waters off the coast of Africa.

The longest gash in the ocean imagery stretched about 92 miles from Cabinda, Angola. On the leading edge of the slick, the Dona Liberta was headed northwest.

Ships have several options for handling the large amount of oily wastewater and fuel sludge that their engines produce during voyages. They can incinerate it on board, pay to unload it at a waste depot or — cheapest of all — use a “magic pipe,” a jury-rigged hose that illegally pumps the waste directly overboard or underwater.

CONGO REP. GABON Kinshasa Atlantic Ocean CABINDA DEM. REP. OF CONGO Matadi Visible in satellite image AFRICA Luanda DETAIL ANGOLA

Colorized satellite radar image from April 6, 2012 CABINDA (ANGOLA) Dona Liberta Congo River Trail from suspected oil dumping DEM. REP. OF CONGO 20 MILES

Source: SkyTruth; Envisat ASAR image courtesy European Space Agency via SkyTruth

That episode of dumping was not an isolated event. In February 2012, British environmental authorities had to clean up a slick caused by the Dona Liberta in the River Fal. Eight months before that, the ship was cited by Russian inspectors for having doctored its oil logbooks, a telltale sign of illegal dumping at sea. The Dona Liberta was cited for the same offense by Spanish inspectors in July 2009, Dutch inspectors in 2005, and British inspectors in 2004.

Most of these citations did not result in fines, most likely because few countries beyond the United States and Britain consistently prosecute such violations.

This time, no investigation was even opened. When other environmental groups alerted United Nations maritime officials, Interpol and the United States Coast Guard about the oil slick, officials said they had no jurisdiction. “Of the few people watching, even fewer do anything to stop it,” said John Hocevar, the oceans director at Greenpeace.


Stowaways have long been forced to walk the plank, subjected to the rough justice of the oceans. Though often victimized, they are also trespassers, usually desperate, occasionally dangerous, but by no means a new problem in the maritime world.

More humane captains put stowaways to work before dropping them off at the next port. But in recent years, European immigration laws have tightened, terrorism fears have grown and port authorities around the world have responded by raising the penalties for ships arriving with people not listed on the manifest.

The rules on land, though, often conflict with the realities at sea. Captains are prohibited from jettisoning stowaways, but they are blocked or fined if they bring them to shore. Nations have generally shifted the responsibility of handling stowaways onto the shipping industry, putting pressure on shipowners, captains and crew, said Paloma Maquet, an expert on stowaways based at Université de Poitiers in France. Captains sometimes tell their deckhands: “Make the problem go away.”

In 2014, two Guinean stowaways, one of whom soon drowned, were pushed or leapt overboard off the French coast after several African countries would not let them disembark, according to media accounts and human rights advocates. Police investigators said the fees were a factor in the episode. Two years earlier, a crew threw four African stowaways into the Mediterranean (all survived) after the captain was told the costs of repatriation. These expenses can run to $50,000 per stowaway, or double that if cargo delays are involved.

On their raft in the Atlantic Ocean, Mr. Mndolwa and Mr. Kobelo woke up the morning after the storm to an azure sky. They sat up, untied themselves, and began passing the time talking about soccer and their families. Malnourishment, dehydration and the frigid ocean spray had sapped them. By sunset, panic set in as the temperature began falling.

“Words dried up,” Mr. Mndolwa explained. He began saying the Lord’s Prayer, first in his head, then aloud. Mr. Kobelo joined in until he began coughing, and vomiting blood.

Hope soon appeared as a speck on the horizon. A 10-foot wooden boat with a loud outboard motor was approaching. “Why are you there?” a fisherman yelled in broken English as he tossed a rope to the raft. “I don’t know,” Mr. Mndolwa replied.

A half-day later, the stowaways arrived at a fishing pier several miles outside the port city of Buchanan, Liberia, where they were soon detained for being undocumented. “Why do you put us in jail and let the crew go?” Mr. Mndolwa recalled asking a Liberian immigration official. “The authorities deal with crimes on land, not on the water,” he said the official responded.

Six days after reaching land, Mr. Kobelo, whose coughing had grown worse, died. He was 26. Sitting in a one-room house in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, his brother, Michael, 37, said he blamed the Dona Liberta for the death.

His brother broke the law by stowing away, he conceded. “But even here in Tanzania we are told if you catch a thief, you don’t beat him,” he said. “You don’t throw him into the sea.”

The Dona Liberta arrived in the Port of Truro, near the southwestern tip of England, in June 2011, about a month after the stowaways were set adrift. The British police, apparently alerted by Liberian officials, boarded the ship and interviewed the captain. They later closed the investigation for lack of evidence, according to port officials. (They cited privacy reasons in declining to release the names of the Dona Liberta’s captain or crew, as had Liberian port and immigration officials, who also refused to be interviewed.)

Capt. Mark Killingback, the harbor master for the Port of Truro, said that it was clear from its weatherworn appearance that the Dona Liberta had fallen on hard times. He added that his office had received several requests from foreign creditors to detain the ship.


David George Mndolwa, sitting outside the lean-to that is his home in Cape Town, South Africa. This encampment, which includes other stowaways, can be a dangerous spot. CreditEd Ou for The New York Times

After his arrest, Mr. Mndolwa remained in his cell for five months before being flown to Tanzania, and eventually returned to Cape Town. Now 27, he lives near the same bridge as he did before boarding the Dona Liberta. The encampment, which includes other stowaways, is a dangerous spot. (A Times videographer was robbed there at knifepoint and beaten.)

On a portside slope strewn with trash and excrement, Mr. Mndolwa’s thatch and stick lean-to contains a soiled blanket and dozens of losing lottery tickets, dangling like a mobile. One recent day he tried to sell a couple packs of gum and some hair braids to drivers waiting at a nearby stoplight, later bartering his faux-leather belt for shoelaces from another homeless man.

He will try to stow away again, he said. “I just believe the ship is going to change my life.”




For much of last year, the Dona Liberta disappeared after turning off its location transponder. Though illegal under most conditions for large ships, disconnecting the device is easy and especially common on vessels carrying contraband.

Then in November, the rusty reefer reappeared in the Gulf of Thailand. When approached by a reporter eight miles off the coast, the Chinese captain explained that his ship had a new owner — a Chinese company — and a new flag — Kiribati. The ship’s new name, Sea Pearl, was painted on its forward hull, alongside a shadow of its old one. (The ship has since changed its flag, again, to Vanuatu.)

Asked about the ship’s past misdeeds, the captain demurred. “Different company, different company,” he said.


South Sudan – How did we get here?

Over the last few weeks news broadcasts have shown the grave violence that is occurring in South Sudan.  Having detailed the effect of this violence in UN camps where more and more Internally Displaced People (IDP) keep streaming in, IRIN also made the short video below to examine the reasons for the present conflict in South Sudan. What are your thoughts on this video and the happenings in South Sudan? Do let us know!


Kenya to repatriate Somali refugees

The Dadaab refugee camp, Oct 2013

The Dadaab refugee camps are now more like towns.

More than 500,000 Somali refugees in Kenya are to be given the opportunity to return home after the UN refugee agency signed a tripartite agreement with the two countries’ governments.

Under the agreement, the Somalis will be repatriated voluntarily over the next three years.

The Somalis have sought refuge in Kenya from war and poverty.

Two of the camps they live in, Dadaab and Kakuma, are now so large they are more like towns, correspondents say.

There is also a suburb of the capital, Nairobi – Eastleigh – that is known as “Little Mogadishu” because so many Somalis live there.

‘Terrorism threat’

The refugees fled Somalia after the collapse of the central government in 1991.

Many of them were born in camps and have never set foot inside their home country.

The two governments and the UN hope to introduce a reintegration programme to help the refugees start new lives in Somalia and take part in the reconstruction of the country.

Somalia’s Deputy Prime Minister Fowsia Yusuf Adam said her country was preparing for the safe return of its refugees.

“Terrorism is still a major threat to our region. The federal republic of Somalia is committed to creating conditions that will allow for the safe and dignified voluntary repatriation of the Somali refugees in Kenya and other neighbouring countries.”

The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) said refugees would decide whether they wanted to return.

“No-one wants to see refugees go home and have to flee again, or become displaced inside Somalia,” said Alessandra Morelli, the UNHCR representative for Somalia.

Somalia’s ambassador to Kenya, Mohammed Ali Nur, told the BBC the agreement would be implemented over three years.

It gave refugees the chance to rebuild their lives, he said.

“They can’t be begging… for food all their lives,” he told the BBC’s Newsday programme.

The BBC World Service’s Africa editor, Richard Hamilton, says the main problem with the agreement is that most of the refugees know that Somalia is still not safe and probably would not want to return.


Our correspondent says that, while Kenya has been praised for offering help to a neighbour in need, the country is becoming disgruntled with having to bear the burden of the refugee population.

Kenya’s Deputy President William Ruto says refugees have become a shield for those who pose a security threat to Kenya.

Kenya has been concerned about further threats of terrorism following the attack by suspected Somali militants on the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi in September.

The Somali Islamist al-Shabab group – which is linked to al-Qaeda – said it was behind the attack.

It said it was taking revenge after Kenya sent troops into Somalia to help the UN-backed government seize territory from militants.



Ahmed Omar Isaak, Somali migrant: “I never dreamed I would end up in the sea”

OHANNESBURG, 11 November 2013 (IRIN) – Ahmed Omar Isaak, 31, fled the conflict in his home country of Somalia in January 2012. His intention was merely to move to a place of safety, but that proved much harder than he had imagined. Over the next 16 months, he travelled nearly 5,000km in trucks, buses, boats and the boot of a car, enduring detention, beatings and being stranded in the Sahara desert. He told IRIN about his journey over the phone from Malta.

“I’m from the Medina District of Mogadishu region. I left the country because of so many reasons – lack of security and tribal fights. At first, I just wanted to go to the nearest country for safety, and that was Kenya. I stayed in Nairobi for two months, but without any documents, I couldn’t do anything. I couldn’t survive, and I was afraid that the Kenyan police would arrest me. So I went to the Ugandan border by truck. From there, I went to Kampala and stayed one month, but life was very hard because I didn’t know anyone to help me. Someone told me that I should try Libya because it was easy to get from there to Europe.”
Crossing the desert

“I passed into South Sudan and took a bus to Juba, and from there went by boat up the River Nile to the border with Sudan, and then I took a bus to Khartoum. Then, I started my journey through the Sahara desert. I paid US$360, and

there were 80 Somalis squeezed into 12 Land Cruisers travelling in a convoy for three days and three nights. We ran out of water, and the sun was terribly hot. In the desert, there was a big smuggler who works between the two countries [Sudan and Libya]. He kept us for three weeks. He told me to call my parents and ask for $800. I became sick; I nearly died. There were 200 of us there, and five of them died. By the help of Allah, there was a Good Samaritan, a fellow Somali who gave $200 from his pocket to pay for me.
“We came from there to Libya with smugglers, but before we reached Kufra [near Libya’s south-eastern border], we were met by militias. They arrested the smugglers and left us there in the middle of the Sahara. There were 99 of us, and we stayed there for 24 hours without water, food or shade before the militia came back for us. They put us in a lorry and took us to Kufra. That’s where we were jailed for four months and beaten, day in, day out.

“One day, I told them that I wanted to go to the toilet. The main gate was open and there was no guard at that time, so four of us escaped. We didn’t know where to run; we just went into town and hid ourselves in a building that was still being constructed. Then we went to a part of town where Africans were living, and they helped us and gave us food.

“I called my parents and friends, and they sent me $500, which I used to pay a smuggler to take me to Benghazi. He took me to the Red Cross there, and they gave me blankets and somewhere to sleep. I stayed there for two weeks, and then smugglers took a group of us to Tripoli in a private car. They dressed me up like a Libyan woman with my face covered so the police would not question me. Other times, they put me in the boot of the car.

“In Tripoli, the police stopped me to ask for documents, and when I spoke English to them instead of Arabic, they beat me with sticks and the back of a gun and took some money from me and told me to go. The next time I was stopped, I was jailed for two months. Finally, the Somali ambassador came and got us released.”

Crossing the sea

“Two weeks later, I decided to take a boat to Europe. I never wanted to stay in Libya because life there is hell. Others paid $400 or $500 to the smugglers, but I didn’t pay

because I didn’t have money. I told them that in school I was taught how to navigate and knew how to use a compass, and they trusted me. It wasn’t true, but when I was in Tripoli I went to the internet and looked up how to use a GPS [global positioning system] and which settings to use.
“We were 55 Somalis in one inflatable boat. They just gave us

a compass and a GPS and told us which direction to go, and then they put us in the sea and told us to go. We were aiming to go to Malta because the sea is very big and wide and that was the nearest place to get to. Around 160km away from Tripoli, the boat started taking on water. Everybody was screaming, some people wanted to go back to Libya, but I told people to keep taking the water out while we waited for a ship to come. But no one came to rescue us. After about 10 more hours, we drifted to just outside Tripoli, near the border with Tunisia. Some militia saw us and asked us where we were from and if we were trying to go to Italy. They beat us and took us to a detention centre, where we spent three weeks. Some ladies were pregnant and vomiting, and some of the militia felt sorry for us and decided to let us go, but said if they saw us going in the sea again, they would kill us.
“I came back to Tripoli, and after another month, found another smuggler with a boat. I had to go back to the sea again. It was another inflatable boat, and we only had biscuits and a little water, which [were] finished after two da

ys. I drank some of the seawater because I was so thirsty. But after three days and three nights at sea, we came safely to the land of Malta.
“We were taken to detention, but it was an open centre, a nice place, and UNHCR [the UN Refugee Agency] met us there and registered us. I requested refugee status, and after staying there for three months, I got my protection. Now I’ve settled in town and I get a little money from the government and from doing some interpretation.

“Malta is a small country, and I like it, but I want to continue legally to another country, to be resettled in a country like America. I left Somalia because of Al-Shabab, and so many problems, but if I had known that’s how it would be, I would never have left. I never dreamed I would end up in the sea or the distance I would cross in the end to get protection and opportunities.”

Creating a military-industrial-immigration complex

How to turn the US-Mexican border into a war zone.

Todd Miller
 Todd Miller writes on border and immigration issues for the NACLA Report on the Americas and its blog “Border Wars”.

The Senate’s immigration bill calls for adding 1,100 additional kilometres to the US-Mexico border wall [AP]

The first thing I did at the Border Security Expo in Phoenix this March was climb the brown “explosion-resistant” tower, 10 metres high and 3 metres wide, directly in the centre of the spacious room that holds this annual trade show. From a platform where, assumedly, a border guard would stand, you could take in the constellation of small booths offering the surveillance industry’s finest products, including a staggering multitude of ways to monitor, chase, capture, or even kill people, thanks to modernistic arrays of cameras and sensors, up-armored jeeps, the latest in guns, and even surveillance balloons.Although at the time, headlines in the Southwest emphasised potential cuts to future border-security budgets thanks to Congress’s “sequester”, the vast Phoenix Convention Center hall – where the defence and security industries strut their stuff for law enforcement and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) – told quite a different story. Clearly, the expanding global industry of border security wasn’t about to go anywhere. It was as if the milling crowds of business people, government officials, and Border Patrol agents sensed that they were about to be truly in the money thanks to “immigration reform”, no matter what version of it did or didn’t pass Congress. And it looks like they were absolutely right.

All around me in that tower were poster-sized fiery photos demonstrating ways it could help thwart massive attacks and fireball-style explosions. A border like the one just over 161 kilometres away between the United States and Mexico, it seemed to say, was not so much a place that divided people in situations of unprecedented global inequality, but a site of constant war-like danger.

Below me were booths as far as the eye could see surrounded by Disneyesque fake desert shrubbery, barbed wire, sand bags, and desert camouflage. Throw in the products on display and you could almost believe that you were wandering through a militarised border zone with a Hollywood flair.

To an awed potential customer, a salesman in a suit and tie demonstrated a mini-drone that fits in your hand like a Frisbee. It seemed to catch the technological fetishism that makes Expo the extravaganza it is. Later I asked him what such a drone would be used for. “To see what’s over the next hill,” he replied.

US-Mexico border security beefed up


Until you visit the yearly Expo, it’s easy enough to forget that the US borderlands are today ground zero for the rise, growth, and spread of a domestic surveillance state. On June 27, the Senate passed the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act. Along with the claim that it offers a path to citizenship to millions of the undocumented living in the United States (with many stringent requirements), in its more than 1,000 pages it promises to build the largest border-policing and surveillance apparatus ever seen in the United States. The result, Senator John McCain proudly said, will be the “most militarised border since the fall of the Berlin Wall”.

This “border surge”, a phrase coined by Senator Chuck Schumer, is also a surveillance surge. The Senate bill provides for the hiring of almost 19,000 new Border Patrol agents, the building of 700 additional miles of walls, fences, and barriers, and an investment of billions of dollars in the latest surveillance technologies, including drones.

In this, the bill only continues in a post-9/11 tradition in which our southern divide has become an on-the-ground laboratory for the development of a surveillance state whose mission is already moving well beyond those borderlands. Calling this “immigration reform” is like calling the National Security Agency’s expanding global surveillance system a domestic telecommunications upgrade. It’s really all about the country that the United States is becoming – one of the police and the policed.

Low-intensity war zone

The $46bn border security price tag in the immigration reform bill will simply expand on what has already been built. After all, $100bn was spent on border “enforcement” in the first decade after 9/11. To that must be added the annual $18bn budget for border and immigration enforcement, money that outpaces the combined budgets of all other federal law enforcement agencies. In fact, since Operation Blockade in the 1990s, the US-Mexico border has gone through so many surges that a time when simple chain link fences separated two friendly countries is now unimaginable.

To witness the widespread presence of Department of Homeland Security agents on the southern border, just visit that international boundary 161 kilometres south of Border Security Expo. Approximately 1,127 kilometres of walls, fences, and barriers already cut off the two countries at its major urban crossings and many rural ones as well. Emplaced everywhere are cameras that can follow you – or your body heat – day or night. Overhead, as in Afghanistan, a Predator B dronemay hover. You can’t hear its incessant buzzing only because it flies so high, nor can you see the crew in charge of flying it and analysing your movements from possibly hundreds of kilometres away.

Each further tightening of the border is a death sentence passed on yet more Latin Americans.


As you walk, perhaps you step on implanted sensors, creating a beeping noise in some distant monitoring room. Meanwhile, green-striped Border Patrol vehicles rush by constantly. On the US-Mexican border, there are already more than 18,500 agents (and approximately 2,300 more on the Canadian border). In counterterrorism mode, they are paid to be suspicious of everything and everybody. Some Homeland Security vehicles sport trailers carrying All Terrain Vehicles. Some have mounted surveillance cameras, others cages to detain captured migrants. Some borderlanders like Mike Wilson of the Tucson-based Border Action Network, a member of the Tohono O’odham Nation (a Native American people and the original inhabitants of the Arizona borderlands), call the border security operatives an “occupying army”.

Checkpoints – normally located 30 to 80 kilometres from the international boundary – serve as a second layer of border enforcement. Stopped at one of them, you will be interrogated by armed agents in green, most likely with drug-sniffing dogs. If you are near the international divide, it’s hard to avoid such checkpoints where you will be asked about your citizenship – and much more if anything you say or do, or simply the way you look, raises suspicions. Even outside of the checkpoints, agents of the Department of Homeland Security can pull you over for any reason – without probable cause or a warrant – and do what is termed a “routine search”. As a US Border Patrol agent told journalist Margaret Regan, within a hundred kilometres of the international divide, “there’s an asterisk on the Constitution”.

Off-road forward operating bases offer further evidence of the battlefield atmosphere being created near the border. Such outposts became commonplace during the US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, where they were meant to house US soldiers deployed into remote areas. On the border, there are high-tech yet rudimentary camps that serve the same purpose. They also signal how agents of the Department of Homeland Security are “gaining, maintaining, and expanding” into rural areas traversed by migrants and used by smugglers, though to this point never crossed by a known international terrorist.

These rural areas, especially in Arizona, are riddled with migrant causalities. More than 6,000 “remains” have been recovered since the mid-1990s, deaths not for the most part from bullets but from exposure. The US borderlands, according to sociologist Timothy Dunn, started to become a militarised zone as early as the 1970s, in response to the Pentagon’s low-intensity conflict doctrine. With Congressional immigration reform, if it passes the House of Representatives, it may very well become a full-fledged war zone.

Since the 1990s, the strategy of the Border Patrol has been termed “prevention by deterrence” and has been focused on concentrating agents and surveillance technologies in urban areas, once the traditional migrant routes. The idea was to funnel migrant flows into areas too dangerous and desolate to cross like the triple-degree-temperature (Fahrenheit) desert in Arizona. Deadly yes; impossible to cross, no. Although unauthorised border-crossings have slowed down in recent years, tens of thousands continue to cross into the United States annually from Mexico and Central America, thanks in part to the continuedhavocof the North American Free Trade Agreement, which left more two million Mexican farmers unemployed.

Deported Mexicans forced to live in tunnels


I met Adira, a 21-year-old from Oaxaca, Mexico, in early June. She told me a story all too common in Arizona. As she described her experience, I realised that I was talking to somebody who had probably died and been brought back to life. We were only a few blocks from the border. Homeland Security had formally deported her only days before. Still reliving the trauma of her experience, she stared down, her face colourless, as she talked.

I had heard the basics of her story so many times before: to avoid the militarised surveillance apparatus, she and her companions walked for at least five days through the southern Arizona desert with little – and then no – water or food. By the fourth day, the mountains began to talk to her, so she told me, and she suspected she was coming to the end of her young life. After she couldn’t walk any more, the guide dragged her, telling her constantly: “We just have to make it to the next point.”

When they reached a road on the American side of the border, she remembers convulsing four times (just as she remembers blood bursting spontaneously from the noses of her companions). And then she remembers no more. She woke up in a hospital. There were scars on her chest. Medics must have used a machine, she thought, to shock her back to life. She found out later that somebody had lit a fire to attract the Border Patrol. She’s lucky not to be among those remains regularly found out in that desert.

In other words, each further tightening of the border is a death sentence passed on yet more Latin Americans. According to a statement by a group of Tucson organisations, including No More Deaths and the Coalición de Derechos Humanos, the border build-up in the immigration reform bill promises more of the same: “Make no mistake: this bill will lead to more deaths on the border”.

The laboratory

In early March, DRS Technologies set up its integrated fixed-tower technology at the University of Arizona’s (UA) Science and Technology Park, just south of Tucson, an hour from the border, and very close to where Adira almost lost her life. The company was eager to show off the long-range surveillance technology it had been developing for borders in places like Egypt and Jordan.

It set upa mock operational control room to do a dog-and-pony show for the local media. Four of its IT guys then focused their cameras on an elevated railroad spur more than six kilometres away in the middle of the desert where two men were approaching each other to consummate a fake drug deal. One handed the other a backpack. It was all vividly watchable on DRS’s video screens. Although the odds of such a scenario actually happening ranged from slim to none, the demonstration was a reminder of just how fertile the US-Mexico borderlands are for defence and surveillance-related companies. It’s here that new generations of surveillance technology are regularly born and developed.

The word ‘surge’, last heard in relation to the US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, actually fits the immigration reform bill perfectly. It’s almost as if a domestic war is about to be formally declared.


For almost a decade, the Department of Homeland Security has been attempting to build a “virtual wall” along the border – not a physical barrier but a high-tech surveillance masterpiece, a complex web of technology, radar, unattended ground sensors, and camera systems meant to detect anyone crossing the border anywhere. The last attempt to install such an experimental system along part of the border was in 2006. Then the Department of Homeland Security awarded Boeing Corporation a multi-billion-dollar contract to develop such a “wall”, known as SBInet. That contract was abruptly cancelled in 2011, after the costly and delayed programme advertised as offering “unprecedented situational awareness” misfired regularly in the rugged terrain of the Arizona borderlands. Now, companies like DRS are standing in line for the next round of potentially lucrative contracts, as Homeland Security wants “to finish the job”.

The UA Tech Park is one place in the southern borderlands where surveillance technology can be developed, tested, evaluated, and demonstrated. It has 6,000 linear metres of fencing surrounding its “solar zone”, a solar-technology-centric research area ideal for testing sensor systems along a future border wall. On any of the roadways in its 1,345 acres (5.44 square km), it can set up mock border-crossings or checkpoints to test new equipment and methods. It draws on faculty and graduate students from the college of engineering. In “rapid-response teams”, they offer third-party evaluations of border control technology. Some of this same technology is also being created on the UA campus, thanks in part to millions of dollars in DHS grants.

Here, too, as Tech Park CEO Bruce Wright tells me, they can test new technologies “right in the field” – that is, on the border, presumably on real people. One of the tech park’s goals, he says, is to develop the first border security industry cluster of its kind in the United States. In southern Arizona alone, they have already identified 57 companies, big and small, working on border policing technology.

The Tech Park’s director of community engagement Molly Gilbert says, “It’s really about development, and we want to create technology jobs in our border towns.” These are sweet words for the economically depressed communities of southern Arizona, their poverty rates usually hovering at around 20 percent. With projected global revenues of approximately $20bn in 2013 and a 5 percent growth rate that has withstood a worldwide recession, the global border security industry was flourishing even before the latest immigration reform proposal. Now, it’s poised for a potential bonanza.

The key, as Wright stressed in a 2012 interview, is that the products developed for the US-Mexican borderlands be marketed in the future for the US-Canada border, where “defences” are already being upgraded, for other international borders, but also for places that have little to do with borders. These might include the perimeters of utility companies and airports, or police forces with expanding national security and immigration enforcement missions.

“There’s a huge market for this technology worldwide,” Wright told me then, “because borders exist everywhere. There’s the Palestinian-Israeli border, there’s the Syrian-Israeli border, there’s the German-Polish border… Take it around the world and wherever you want to go there are borders, so the technology is very adaptable and has a market worldwide.”

The surge

The word “surge”, last heard in relation to the US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, actually fits the immigration reform bill perfectly. It’s almost as if a domestic war is about to be formally declared.

After all, the bill would come close to doubling the number of Border Patrol agents, bringing their ranks to 40,000 – the size of a small army – stationed, according to Senator Lindsey Graham, every 300 metres along the nearly 3,200-kilometre border. To put that in perspective, the Border Patrol, created in 1924, took close to 70 years to reach 4,000 agents. In 2006, at 10,000 agents, it had its first major hiring surge, doubling its numbers. Many of the new agents were veterans from our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. This new surge will mean collateral benefits for all sorts of businesses – more uniforms, more guns, more vehicles, more maintenance. And that’s just to scratch the surface of what’s likely to happen.

The reform package calls for “persistent surveillance” and 24/7 drone flights, although the areas of these flights are not specified. Even before the Senate reform bill came into view, San Diego-based General Atomics was awardeda contract that would add 14 more drones to the current fleet of 10 used by Customs and Border Protection (CBP, the parent agency of the Border Patrol). CBP plans to have 18 drones in flight by 2016 and 24 in the years to follow patrolling US skies over cities such as San Diego, Tucson, and El Paso – not to speak, in the north, of Seattle, Detroit, and Buffalo.

Bodies of migrants found daily on US border


Some of these drones will be equipped with the VADER “man-hunting” radar system, made by Northrup Grumman, used to detect roadside bombers in Afghanistan. Now, even more of this technology will be put to use in the borderlands, where, according to CBP, it is alreadylocating unauthorised border-crossers. Recently declassified documents also show that CBP has been considering upgrading its drones with “non-lethal” weapons to be able to take down “targets of interest”.

According to the New York Times, other military-industrial behemoths like Raytheon and Lockheed Martin are actively looking for “revenue flows” as “wars wind down”. Teams of lobbyists, including former New York Senator Alfonse D’Amato, have been pressing the Department of Homeland Security on behalf of their corporate clients. D’Amato lobbies for the United Technologies Corporation, which stands to make millions off an immigration bill that will okay the purchase of 15 of its Blackhawk helicopters. This is but one example of the increasingly powerful set of corporate interests eager to see immigration reform pass now in the House of Representatives. A vote could come as early as Labour Day.

But whatever happens, it’s time to stop thinking of all this as “immigration reform”. It represents what may be the most intense concentration of the surveillance state in a single location ever witnessed – a place where the Constitution has an asterisk, which means that anything goes and dystopian worlds of all sorts can be invented.

The Los Angeles Times has written that, if passed, the bill “would also be a boost to defense contractors and an economic stimulus for border communities, creating thousands of jobs that could raise home prices and spur consumer spending around border security stations”. It sounds like Keynesian economics, but of a whole different sort.

In a world where basic services are being cut, an emerging policing apparatus in the borderlands is flourishing. As Mattea Kramer and Chris Hellman reported at TomDispatch in February, since September 11, 2001, the United States has spent $791bn on “homeland security” alone, an inflation-adjusted $300bn more than the cost of the entire New Deal.

In those borderlands, we are seeing the birth of a military-industrial-immigration complex. It seems destined to shape our future.

Todd Miller has researched and written about US-Mexican border issues for more than 10 years. He has worked on both sides of the border for BorderLinks in Tucson, Arizona, and Witness for Peace in Oaxaca, Mexico. He now writes on border and immigration issues for NACLA Report on the Americas and its blog “Border Wars,” among other places. He is at work on his first book, Border Patrol Nation, for the Open Media Series of City Lights Books.

A version of this article first appeared on TomDispatch.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.

“Passage: A moving Experience” @ The CPT Summer Peace Camp!

Ever heard of the Children’s Peace Theatre? If not you need to!


CPT Round Logo -Transparent - small

Children’s Peace Theatre is an award-winning community arts organization that offers numerous theatre and arts programs and projects for young people in the Taylor Massey (formerly Crescent Town) community, a designated priority neighbourhood in Toronto’s East End.

Under the guidance of Artistic Director Karen Emerson, Children’s Peace Theatre delivers our programs through carefully selected young professional artists each year who not only reflect the diversity of the children and youth we serve but also bring an exciting range of artistic talents including theatre, music, and visual arts. Programs include a three-week summer theatre camp, after-school programs, youth leadership projects, in-school workshops and youth-led initiatives.

This year for their Peace Camp program this summer they will be producing a play entitled Passage: A moving Experience. This year’ original show is an exploration on the theme of global migration, and the real life struggles and joys faced by immigrants and refugees living in Toronto told by children and youth.

Check out the media release for the play! CPT Media Release 2013


Gala Performance
Saturday, July 27, 2013
5 p.m. followed by a reception
$25 Adults $15 Students & Seniors $10 Children 13 and under

Thursday, July 25, 2013 & Friday, July 26, 2013
1:30 p.m.

Pay What You Can
305 Dawes Road, Toronto, ON M4B 2E2
(or at Harmony Hall at 2 Gower Street if weather does not permit an outdoor show)
For tickets, please contact:

Ahnaf Tahmid, Special Events Coordinator
Tel: 416-752-1550

The Health Toll of Immigration

Sabrina Tavernise


BROWNSVILLE, Tex. — Becoming an American can be bad for your health.

A growing body of mortality research on immigrants has shown that the longer they live in this country, the worse their rates of heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes. And while their American-born children may have more money, they tend to live shorter lives than the parents.

The pattern goes against any notion that moving to America improves every aspect of life. It also demonstrates that at least in terms of health, worries about assimilation for the country’s 11 million illegal immigrants are mistaken. In fact, it is happening all too quickly.

“There’s something about life in the United States that is not conducive to good health across generations,” said Robert A. Hummer, a social demographer at the University of Texas at Austin.

For Hispanics, now the nation’s largest immigrant group, the foreign-born live about three years longer than their American-born counterparts, several studies have found.

Why does life in the United States — despite its sophisticated health care system and high per capita wages — lead to worse health? New research is showing that the immigrant advantage wears off with the adoption of American behaviors — smoking, drinking, high-calorie diets and sedentary lifestyles.

Here in Brownsville, a worn border city studded with fast-food restaurants, immigrants say that happens slowly, almost imperceptibly. In America, foods like ham and bread that are not supposed to be sweet are. And children lose their taste for traditional Mexican foods like cactus and beans.

For the recently arrived, the quantity and accessibility of food speaks to the boundless promise of the United States. Esther Angeles remembers being amazed at the size of hamburgers — as big as dinner plates — when she first came to the United States from Mexico 15 years ago.

“I thought, this is really a country of opportunity,” she said. “Look at the size of the food!”

Fast-food fare not only tasted good, but was also a sign of success, a family treat that new earnings put in reach.

“The crispiness was delicious,” said Juan Muniz, 62, recalling his first visit to Church’s Chicken with his family in the late 1970s. “I was proud and excited to eat out. I’d tell them: ‘Let’s go eat. We can afford it now.’ ”

For others, supersize deals appealed.

“You work so hard, you want to use your money in a smart way,” said Aris Ramirez, a community health worker in Brownsville, explaining the thinking. “So when they hear ‘twice the fries for an extra 49 cents,’ people think, ‘That’s economical.’ ”

For Ms. Angeles, the excitement of big food eventually wore off, and the frantic pace of the modern American workplace took over. She found herself eating hamburgers more because they were convenient and she was busy in her 78-hour-a-week job as a housekeeper. What is more, she lost control over her daughter’s diet because, as a single mother, she was rarely with her at mealtimes.

Robert O. Valdez, a professor of family and community medicine and economics at the University of New Mexico, said, “All the things we tell people to do from a clinical perspective today — a lot of fiber and less meat — were exactly the lifestyle habits that immigrants were normally keeping.”

As early as the 1970s, researchers found that immigrants lived several years longer than American-born whites even though they tended to have less education and lower income, factors usually associated with worse health. That gap has grown since 1980. Less clear, however, was what happened to immigrants and their American-born offspring after a lifetime in the United States.

Evidence is mounting that the second generation does worse. Elizabeth Arias, a demographer at the National Center for Health Statistics, has made exploratory estimates based on data from 2007 to 2009, which show that Hispanic immigrants live 2.9 years longer than American-born Hispanics. The finding, which has not yet been published, is similar to those in earlier studies.

Still, the data does not break down by generation. Ms. Arias cautioned that subsequent generations — for example, grandchildren and great-grandchildren — may indeed improve as they rise in socioeconomic status, which in the United States is strongly correlated with better health.

Other research suggests that some of the difference has to do with variation among American-born Hispanics, most of whom still do better than the rest of the American population. Puerto Ricans born in the continental United States, for example, have some of the shortest life spans and even do worse than whites born in the United States, according to research by Professor Hummer, dragging down the numbers for American-born Hispanics. But Mexican immigrant men live about two years longer than Mexican-American men, according to the estimates by Ms. Arias.

Why is a harder question to answer, researchers say. Some point to smoking. Andrew Fenelon, a researcher at Brown University, found in 2011 that half of the three-year life expectancy advantage that Hispanic immigrants had over American-born Hispanics was because they smoked less. The children of immigrants adopt health behaviors typical of Americans in their socioeconomic group. For second-generation Hispanics, the group tends to be lower income, with higher rates of smoking and drinking.

Other researchers say culture contributes. Foreign-born Hispanics are less likely than American-born Hispanics to be raising children alone, and more likely to be part of large kinship networks that insulate them from harsh American economic realities that can lead to poor health.

“I’d love to have my wife at home taking care of the kids and making sure they eat right, but I can’t afford to,” said Camilo Garza, a 34-year-old plumber and maintenance worker whose grandfather immigrated from Mexico. “It costs money to live in the land of the free. It means both parents have to work.”

As a result, his family eats out almost every night, leaving his dining table abandoned.

“It’s a decoration,” said Mr. Garza, who is overweight and a smoker. “It’s a place where we set groceries before sticking them in the refrigerator.”

The lifestyle takes its toll. The county in which Brownsville is situated, Cameron, has some of the highest rates of obesity and diabetes in the country. The numbers are made worse by a lack of physical activity, including walking. Immigrants said they felt so conspicuous during early attempts to walk along the shoulder of the roads that they feared people would suspect they were here illegally. Ms. Angeles recalled that strolling to a dollar store provoked so many stares that she felt like “a bean in rice.”

“In Mexico, we ate healthily and didn’t even know it,” said Ms. Angeles, who has since developed diabetes. “Here, we know the food we eat is bad for us. We feel guilty. But we eat it anyway.”

Still, immigrants have better health outcomes than the American-born. A 2006 analysis by Gopal K. Singh, a researcher at the Department of Health and Human Services, and Robert A. Hiatt, a professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of California, San Francisco, found that immigrants had at least a 20 percent lower overall cancer mortality rate than their American-born counterparts.

Mortality rates from heart disease were about 16 percent lower, for kidney disease 18 percent lower, and for liver cirrhosis 24 percent lower.

“When my daughter was born, my doctor told me that if I wanted to see her 15th birthday I needed to lose the weight,” said Gerry Ortiz, 37, a first-generation Mexican-American in Brownsville. He managed to lose 75 pounds, motivated in part by his grandfather, a farmer in rural Mexico who at 93 still rides his bicycle every day. He stares down at the family from a black-and-white photograph hanging in Mr. Ortiz’s living room. Four of the family’s six siblings are obese and have diabetes.

And health habits in Mexico are starting to look a lot like those in the United States. Researchers are beginning to wonder how long better numbers for the foreign-born will last. Up to 40 percent of the diet of rural Mexicans now comes from packaged foods, according to Professor Valdez.

“We are seeing a huge shift away from traditional diets,” he said. “People are no longer growing what they are eating. They are increasingly going to the market, and that market is changing.”

Joseph B. McCormick, the regional dean of the University of Texas School of Public Health in Brownsville, said, “The U.S. culture has crept across the border.”

Perhaps more immediate is the declining state of Hispanic health in the United States. Nearly twice as many Hispanic adults as non-Hispanic white adults have diabetes that has been diagnosed, a rate that researchers now say may have a genetic component, particularly in those whose ancestry is Amerindian from Central and South America, Dr. McCormick said.

Hispanic adults are also 14 percent more likely to be obese, according to 2010 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The rate is even higher for Hispanic children, who are 51 percent more likely to be obese than non-Hispanic white children.

“We have a time bomb that’s going to go off,” said Dr. Amelie G. Ramirez, a professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio. “Obesity rates are increasing. Diabetes is exploding. The cultural protection Hispanics had is being eroded.”

But at least for now, the older generation is still enjoying its advantage. In the De Angeles snack bar, a favorite meeting place for elderly Brownsvillians, one regular who is 101 still walks across the bridge to Mexico. Maria De La Cruz, a 73-year-old who immigrated to the United States in her 40s, says her secret is raw garlic, cooked cactus and exercise, all habits she acquired from her father, a tailor who died at 98.

“He had very pretty legs, like mine,” she said, laughing. “You want to see them?”

Check out the New Scholars Network Blog!

Here is the link to the NSN blog. And featured below is a new post from the NSN blog by Petra Diop.  We look forward to featuring/sharing many more resources from this great blog!

Reflections on Relocation, Resettlement, and Respect

By Petra Molnar Diop

“Migrants are heroes.”

This is a sentiment that I heard in passing at a conference not too long ago, but one that has stayed with me as I continue my work in forced migration research and refugee settlement in Canada. I think it is an interesting conceptualization because migrants and refugees are often reduced to simplistic tropes: they are either hapless victims of violence who must flee their native lands and seek asylum and hand-outs somewhere in the Global North; or else they are construed to be scam artists and bogus claimants, out to fleece the so-called benevolent immigration and refugee determination systems of rich and powerful Western countries.

For me, what matters in my work is recognizing the immense sacrifices that people make when they face dislocation and relocation, and when they deal with the precarity that comes with the life-altering decision to move across the globe with immense grace and strength. As a migrant myself, I too know the longing one continues to feel for one’s homeland, culture, and familiar surroundings; even decades after making a new home someplace else, the pain of relocation is still fresh. Nonetheless, what is important to recognize is that migrants have agency and they exercise it in their movements across the globe. With protracted refugee situations rampant across the world and refugee warehousing paradigm sequestering migrants in refugee camps or precarious internal displacement settings for decades at a time, asylum seekers who flee autonomously and seek refugee status abroad should not be vilified for this, but their ingenuity and resourcefulness should be celebrated.

For me, the people I work with are heroes because they inspire me to work towards a better world every single day. Whether from Albania, Colombia, or Zimbabwe, these people truly show me what it means to be a respectful, kind, and open-minded citizen of the world. They remind me how paramount respect is in all human interactions and how you can go a long way when you check your biases and prejudices at the door.

Coming to Canada has blown my own mind wide open and I am so privileged every single day to be able to work with people from every corner of the globe. However, I think my favourite moments are when I get to witness children playing together – children for whom it does not matter that they are of different ages, speak different languages, wear different clothing, or that their skin is a different colour. For them, what seems to matter is that they have found new friends in this strange new land. They are able to see past cultural and societal differences and just play together and learn from each other. There is something so pure and beautiful about this and I feel profound sorrow that adults are unable to trust each other this way. Somehow, we allow differences in culture, wealth, power, and religion to obscure the fact that we are all human beings.

I truly do hope that one day I do not have a job in the field of refugee and forced migration, because that would mean the time is over for millions of people who are displaced, fleeing conflict, and making difficult journeys to strange new lands to escape violence and persecution. It would mean that the world is a safer place, one in which people from different backgrounds and cultures can co-exist and learn from each other, a time when refugees are not “guilty-until-proven-innocent”, a time that is hopefully in the not too distant future.