Pregnant asylum seekers navigate birth and bureaucracy in Germany

Sadaf and Rohullah Aziz’s son Zedna was born in Berlin 20 days after they arrived in Europe in 2014. Photo by Shane Thomas McMillan.
Sadaf and Rohullah Aziz’s son Zedna was born in Berlin 20 days after they arrived in Europe in 2014. Photo by Shane Thomas McMillan.

When Sadaf Aziz got married she had a firm idea about how her life would unspool. She knew children would follow marriage, and she imagined giving birth with her mother by her side, guiding her and helping take care of the baby while she recovered. Instead, Sadaf finds herself more than 3,500 miles away from her native Afghanistan unsure of whether her young family will be able to stay in Berlin.

Sadaf was seven months pregnant when in 2014 she and her husband Rohullah left everything they had behind: the new crib for their baby, the three-story home they built, their extended families. His job as an interpreter with American contractors and the U.S. military had put their lives in jeopardy, so they fled with two suitcases, a laptop and his work commendation certificates.

In two months, they were in Europe seeking asylum and 20 days later she was giving birth to their son Elham, with her husband interpreting for her.

It is not known how many asylum seekers like Sadaf have given birth in Europe since more than a million people from countries in the Middle East and Africa came to seek refuge. But in 2015, about 28 percent of those seeking asylum in the European Union were women, according to Eurostat data. In Germany, the share was slightly higher at 32 percent.

Berlin’s state office of refugee affairs doesn’t track the number of pregnant asylum seekers or those who give birth due to the number of other agencies involved throughout the process, said its spokesman Sascha Langenbach. Instead, the organization relies on estimates from shelters and makes educated guesses based on the demographics they do have available. In 2016, the “under 4” group of asylum seekers nationwide was about 80,000—nearly 11 percent of those seeking asylum that year.

About 79,000 came to Berlin in 2015 and 55,000 have asylum claims being processed, Langenbach said, with another 17,000 arriving last year. Out of those, about 25 percent are women, “we then have to deal with the fact that some of these women are going to be pregnant or could get pregnant and the existing medical infrastructure must also be altered to deal with this.”

Continue reading at Coda Story.


In other news…


The Robert Bosch Foundation fellowship kept me busy for the latter half of 2016 but I did have the opportunity to participate in U.S. election coverage on Deutsche Welle’s Spanish-language broadcasts. I’ve added them to the list below.

Latino USA: Build! That! …Fence?
English. Radio. National Public Radio. Nov. 18, 2016.

Cuadriga: Trump y el mundo: ¿socios o enemigos?
Spanish. Television. Deutsche Welle. Nov. 10, 2016.

Cuadriga: Sexo, mentiras y video: ¿el fin de Trump?
Spanish. Television. Deutsche Welle. Oct. 13, 2016.

Poynter: No matter the era, covering immigration means helping people see nuance
English. Q&A. March 23, 2016.

University of Arizona: “Besieged Borders” panel
English. Panel discussion. Feb. 18, 2016.

Metro Week: Woman Banned from US; Children Stay
English. Television. Arizona Public Media. Sept. 26, 2015.

Arizona Week: Journalists Who Journeyed with Immigrants Tell Their Story
English. Television. Arizona Public Media. July 30, 2014.



German Volunteers Surmount Refugee Backlash

Malte Bedürftig, the founder of GoVolunteer, volunteers at a refugee shelter at the Berliner Stadtmission in Moabit in February. Photo Courtesy of GoVolunteer.

Last year, hundreds of Germans lined up to welcome and distribute food and water to the thousands of refugees who arrived by train and foot from the Middle East and Africa. They immediately self-organized via Facebook and created shifts around the clock. Doctors, organizers, and first-timers responded to radio calls for volunteers. So many donations were received, local and national media reported, that the police had to tell people to stop.

A rise in anti-immigrant sentiment in the country since the arrival of about a million migrants and asylum-seekers has not deterred many from continuing to help in some form. About nine percent of Germans are still volunteering in some way, researchers have found; that’s roughly seven million people.

“My general impression is that the overall number did not change that much,” said Malte Bedürftig, co-founder of GoVolunteer, which connects projects and initiatives working in refugee relief and integration with people who want to help.

Although there are those who grew frustrated with the system or the refugees themselves, Bedürftig said, and there is an expected backlash generated by the recent Berlin Christmas market truck terrorism. In general, those who were ready to help in 2015 are still ready today, even if not in the same way.

Read more at Coda Story.

Beyond the Wall: Shifting challenges on rugged Arizona line

The international border as seen from a Customs and Border Protection helicopter west of Nogales, Arizona. Photo by Mike Christy / Arizona Daily Star.

Arizona’s border with Mexico is desert, wetlands, jagged mountains and cities that depend on their neighbor to the south.

It has rivers that flow north, an Indian reservation the size of Connecticut and some of the nation’s largest and most remote wilderness areas.

About 70 percent of the state’s border is known as the Tucson Sector, which includes seven mountain ranges that reach thousands of feet high.

As Tucson Sector Border Patrol Chief Paul Beeson sees it, “Two hundred sixty-two miles might not sound like a lot, but when you get out there and you see the ruggedness, the mountain ranges, the dense brush, everything that goes on with this place — it is not a place without challenges.”

Apprehensions in the sector are the lowest they’ve been since 1991, but how many get through is unknown. Increased enforcement in the urban areas pushed traffic further into the punishing desert where there’s less fencing and the terrain itself is the international barrier.

As more fencing, agents and technology made it harder to smuggle through here, the lines dividing the human and drug trafficking businesses blurred. The Sinaloa Cartel, one of the world’s most notorious drug-trafficking rings, took control.

Residents of remote areas don’t see large groups trekking through anymore, nor loaded cars flying by. Now people cross a few at a time, often dressed in camouflage and wearing carpet booties to hide their tracks.

Continue reading at the Arizona Daily Star.

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Beyond the Wall: Border fence cuts Tohono O’odham Nation in half

Francisco Valenzuela Sr. presents his tribal identification to U.S. Border Patrol agent Carlos Ortiz, before crossing back into Mexico through the San Miguel gate on the Tohono O’odham Nation on Thursday June 2, 2016. Valenzuela says he crosses into the United States twice a week to bring water, food and other supplies back to his home. Photo by Mamta Popat / Arizona Daily Star

TOHONO O’ODHAM NATION — Steel barriers line most of the 75 miles of the Tohono O’odham Nation’s southern boundary. But a wall?

“Over my dead body,” says Verlon Jose, the nation’s vice chairman.

“We have animals that migrate back and forth, and when you start affecting one animal, it’s going to change the entire ecological system,” says Tribal Chairman Edward Manuel. “The plants that grow here rely on some of those animals, the animals rely on each other and we have to rely on all those in order to survive in our way of life.”

Besides, “artificial barriers are never going to stop human trafficking, they’ll find a way to get through,” he adds. What he hopes is that the government comes up with comprehensive immigration reform.

Over the years, the reservation has been caught in the middle of illegal trafficking and enforcement.

The reservation, roughly the size of Connecticut, is sparsely populated with about 30,000 members and thick vegetation of tall saguaros, mesquite trees and creosote.

Before the fence, dozens of loaded trucks used to barrel through daily on their way north.

Then came 9/11, followed by the 2006 Secure Fence Act, which aimed to add barriers along most of the border. The three-strand, barbed-wire fence was replaced by waist-high metal posts.

“We are older than the international boundary with Mexico and had no role in creating the border,” former Chairman Ned Norris Jr. testified before Congress in 2008. “But our land is now cut in half, with O’odham communities, sacred sites, salt pilgrimage routes and families divided.”

The traffic, the cartels and the hundreds of agents and technology that followed have changed the O’odham way of life.

Some members stopped crossing the border to avoid the hassle. Trips to ceremonies in Mexico got longer. Tribal members can’t hunt without running into a Border Patrol agent.

Apprehensions are down, but the western corridor is still busy, especially for drugs. Besides, how many get through is unknown.

Now, a plan for 15 surveillance towers within the Chukut Kuk and Gu-Vo border districts is underway.

Continue reading at the Arizona Daily Star.

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Border Patrol pledges quicker disclosure of use-of-force incidents

U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner R. Gil Kerlikowske. Photo by Associated Press.

The largest law enforcement agency in the country has made progress in sharing information after use-of-force incidents but there’s still work to be done, the head of Customs and Border Protection said.

“We are doing better but I wouldn’t say that given the vast geography and size of the organization that it’s all running as smoothly as I would like to see it,” R. Gil Kerlikowske told the Arizona Daily Star a day before the agency held a news conference to discuss its latest shooting incident in Southern Arizona involving a Border Patrol agent.

Since Kerlikowske was appointed to head the agency, which oversees the Border Patrol, he has pushed for greater transparency and accountability by releasing its use-of-force policy. More recently it also publicly disclosed the number of use-of-force incidents, which it said it will start to update monthly broken down by sector, agency branch and other measures.

After a use-of-force incident, a high level CBP official is now supposed to make a statement to the public and release as much information as possible, even when the investigation is ongoing, he said, and cited recent examples where that has been done.

During a Q&A with the Star, Kerlikowske — who has 40 years of law enforcement experience, including nine as chief of police in Seattle — talked about his push for accountability and current hiring challenges.

Continue reading at the Arizona Daily Star.

Use of force by Tucson sector border agents among highest in Southwest

Border Patrol agents have shot their guns five times this fiscal year, including two incidents in the agency’s Tucson Sector, newly released data show.

Customs and Border Protection released sector-specific use-of-force statistics Thursday, six months after reporting national numbers without sector-specific information. The largest law enforcement agency in the country will now update the number of incidents on a monthly basis, broken down by sector and by branch.

CBP also said Thursday it is seeking industry input on body and vehicle-mounted cameras. The fiscal year 2017 budget calls for $5 million to be spent on, among other things, the camera system and development of the agency’s policy for their use.

Continue reading at the Arizona Daily Star.