Tag Archives: refugees

Covering immigration: How U.S. and German media approach the story

When most news consumers think of immigration or refugees, they think of specific geographies — the U.S.-Mexico border or Western Europe receiving people from Africa or the Middle East. But the movement of people is global, and the issues across geographical regions are more similar than different.

Opinion pieces about security and immigration published in a newspaper in Nairobi could be reproduced almost word for word in Washington; Sicilian advocates’ concerns over Frontex are almost identical to what Texas activists say about the Border Patrol; and when businessmen in Greece talk about Islamization and Sharia law, they echo concerns of Southern Arizona ranchers.

Migration has once again jumped to the top of the news agenda on both sides of the Atlantic — fueled by the Trump administration in the United States and by the arrival of more than a million people seeking refuge in Europe — but is the media giving this issue the right coverage?

I have focused on the topic of diversity and migration for the last 10 years and every election cycle, as politicians trot out immigration to motivate voters, we hear about the importance of reporting on this issue. That enthusiasm is almost always short-lived, though, and we find ourselves back where we began. Ideally, immigration should be treated to constant coverage that captures the nuance in the issues, much like education or health care. Instead, the media in general seems to cover it like a natural disaster.

One could argue that coverage in the last decade or so has been hampered across the board, as newsrooms in North America and Europe face shrinking resources while expectations to be faster and do more with less continue to rise. But the use of stereotypes, and the focus on crime and terrorism in immigration coverage by some media outlets, is hardly novel.

While in Germany the media is largely credited with the overwhelmingly positive reaction seen in  the beginning of the so-called refugee crisis, earlier (and subsequent) coverage has been problematic. In the United States, coverage on immigration,  according to researchers, has contributed to polarization on the issue.  

If anything is different in this new wave of coverage, it is the climate in which news is being received. Now, on top of immigration being a hot-button and highly-politicized issue, we are living in an era when everything some people don’t like gets called “fake news” and where the term “lügenpresse,” the lying press, has come back in use. The distrust of the mainstream media is high and growing — especially in the United States. Among President Donald Trump’s supporters, nearly nine in 10 respondents to a new University of Virginia Center for Politics poll said that media criticism of the president reinforces that he is on the right track. The same percentage agreed with Trump’s assertion that the press is “the enemy of the American people.” In Germany, a poll conducted by the Allensbach Institute found 40 percent of respondents described the reporting on refugees as “one-sided.”

Immigration touches on issues of identity, human rights, justice and fairness — all against a backdrop of real and perceived economic impact. And based on the current picture researchers paint of how we in the media are doing, there’s plenty of room for improvement.

The stories we cover or don’t cover, the language we use, the voices we choose to represent, play a major role in shaping the public policy debate on immigration.

Continue reading.

A crisis within a crisis: Refugees in Lesbos

Amani and Aliya, 10-year-old twins, fish in the port of Mytilene in Lesbos, Greece. Their family fled Iraq after ISIS killed their uncle and have been stranded in Greece for more than a year as their asylum case is processed.

Two families – one Greek, one Iraqi – come together in a Lesbos hotel, looking for stability amid their own crises.

Lesbos, Greece — Upstairs in the Blue Star hotel, Iman* cooks a large pasta dish and makes tea; a luxury after going without her own stove for more than a year. After dinner, the Alsamaray family* disperses.

Khalil, Iman’s husband, catches up on the latest news from the family’s hometown of Mosul, Iraq. Jamil, 13, goes out, while his sisters Amani and Aliya, 10-year-old twins, lie in bed and watch YouTube videos until they fall asleep.

The family had lived for 10 months in an overcrowded migrant centre in Lesbos, Greeceuntil January, when they moved in to the hotel as part of a United Nations initiative to place vulnerable refugees in better housing during the winter.

Since 2015, more than a million refugees have come through Greece, often on their way to western Europe. Like the Alsamarays, thousands remain stranded until their asylum claims are processed; they find themselves in a crisis within a crisis, fleeing violence only to often spend more than a year in a country stretched thin over the past decade by a financial crisis.

While their refugee guests dine upstairs, the Makris family tries to wind down after a long day. They clear the table from the catering delivered to feed asylum seekers and hotel owner Dimitrios Makris fields calls. There’s a long list of tasks to be completed in time for the tourist season, even if in recent years fewer tourists have been arriving.

At a time of unprecedented economic strife when Greeks are struggling to get by, the refugee crisis adds to the pressure on Greece – while also providing some locals with much-needed income.

Inside these crises, the Alsamarays and the Makrises each fight to survive. Both families know that life can be upended overnight and what it means to be exiled, and both fear their best days are behind them. But, at least for a moment, under one roof, they also give each other what they desperately need: a measure of stability among the uncertainty.

Continue reading at Al Jazeera.

Wie der Ausnahmezustand auf Lesbos zum Alltag wurde

After marching themselves, a brother and sister watch the Greek Independence Day parade in downtown Mytilene. Photo by Talitha Brauer.
Nach der Flüchtlingskrise erholt sich die griechische Insel Lesbos langsam. Doch der Bürgermeister fürchtet, dass die echten Herausforderungen noch bevorstehen
Mayor Spyros Galinos at work in his office at the new town hall in Mytilene, Lesvos. Photo by Talitha Brauer.

Keine Zelte mehr, keine Müllhaufen – auch die vielen Freiwilligen sind verschwunden. Die Not der Flüchtlinge auf der griechischen Insel Lesbos hat die kleine Hafenstadt Mytilini einst auf die Titelseiten von Zeitungen in der ganzen Welt gebracht. Jetzt erinnert in der historischen Altstadt kaum noch etwas an die humanitäre Krise, die das Leben hier so lange geprägt hat. Und dennoch: Wer heute an Lesbos denkt, denkt an die Flüchtlinge, sagen sie auf der Insel.

Dabei kommen längst nicht mehr so viele Flüchtlinge wie noch vor zwei Jahren. Die Balkanroute ist geschlossen, das Rücknahme-Abkommen von EU und Türkei nach wie vor in Kraft. Doch bei den Migranten, die dort sind, wächst die Verzweiflung.

„Die Lage scheint sich derzeit zu entspannen, aber wenn man genauer hinschaut, ist es nicht so einfach“, sagt Achilleas Tzemos. Er ist Projektkoordinator von Ärzte ohne Grenzen auf Lesbos. Viele seien in überfüllten Lagern untergebracht – mit ungewisser Zukunft, was zu schweren psychischen Problemen führe. Vor wenigen Wochen zündete sich ein Syrer auf der benachbarten Insel Chios an – er überlebte nur knapp. Drei Tage davor hatte sich ein anderer in der Nähe von Athen erhängt.

Seit 2015 sind mehr als eine Million Flüchtlinge über Griechenland nach Europa gekommen. In der Hochphase landeten an einem Wochenende bis zu 10000 Menschen an Lesbos’ Küsten, hungrig und erschöpft von der Überfahrt. In der Regel warteten sie ein paar Tage, bevor sie eine Fähre Richtung Festland bestiegen, von wo aus sie nach Schweden oder Deutschland weiterreisten. Nun müssen sie bleiben, bis ihre Asylgesuche entschieden sind.

Continue reading at Der Tagesspiegel.

Europe, Germany Brace for African Migrants as Record Numbers Land in Sicily

In past years, bad weather meant people stop making the dangerous Mediterranean route from Libya, but not this year. There were three landings in just two days in one bad-weather weekend. Photo by Anke Trojan.
As European countries pull back from past commitments to accepting refugees, tens of thousands linger in Italy as they navigate an overwhelmed asylum system.

News started to spread on a Friday evening that a sea landing with nearly 600 people — including more than 100 minors — was expected next morning at Sicily’s port of Catania. It was the middle of January and an unusually cold, rainy week, but none of that mattered. More people kept coming and more continued to die.

That weekend alone, nearly 2,000 were rescued. Half a dozen others arrived in white plastic bags. In Messina, an imam and a priest led prayers for two of them as their relatives mourned their loss, shivering under blankets.

Others, burned from the mixture of fuel and salt water, were taken directly to the hospital, where those who made the trip before them brought them a phone to call their families and reminded them that they should be grateful to be alive. Since January, 602 people have died or gone missing trying to cross the central Mediterranean route, following the deadliest year yet with 4,600 deaths in 2016.

The reasons behind what pushes this group of mostly Sub-Saharan Africans to risk death and endure beatings, rapes and exploitation on their way to Europe are as complex as the individuals themselves. Yet their fate often comes down to a binary decision: they are either refugees where they happen to land, fleeing war or persecution, or they continue their journey and are economic migrants looking for jobs.

And even as the line between both conditions becomes blurrier, it also keeps moving.

Outside immigration centers, migrants and asylum seekers insist they want to keep heading north. “Germany is my country,” one man from Senegal said. “In Germany they like African people,” he insisted.

What they don’t know or talk about is how European countries are erecting fences to stop people from going north and governments are making deals with countries in Africa, including quasi-states such as Libya, to send people back. Now with rising anti-immigrant rhetoric and upcoming elections, politicians and citizens increasingly say countries like Germany can’t take everyone who comes in, especially the Africans.

So far this year, nearly 25,000 people have arrived in Sicily, a trend that if continues could break last year’s record of 181,000. And just as thousands arrive almost weekly, tens of thousands linger in Italy as they navigate an overwhelmed asylum system, appeal their rejected claims or are stranded here — unwilling or unable to go back.

Continue reading at Coda Story.

Schicksalsroute Libyen – Sizilien

Sicherer Hafen. Seit Anfang des Jahres sind mehr als 13.400 Flüchtlinge nach Italien gekommen. Foto: Anke Trojan.
Vergewaltigungen, Prügel, willkürliche Haft: Wer es als Flüchtling über Libyen nach Sizilien schafft, berichtet von furchtbaren Erlebnissen. Ein Bericht aus Catania.

Am Freitagabend verbreitet sich das Gerücht, dass am nächsten Morgen bis zu 600 Menschen in Catania, der zweitgrößten Stadt Siziliens, ankommen werden – darunter mehr als 100 minderjährige Flüchtlinge. Alle werden über Libyen nach Europa gereist sein, und viele von ihnen werden auffallend ähnliche Geschichten erzählen, über Schläge, Vergewaltigung, Erpressung in einem faktisch gescheiterten Staat.

Mitte Januar. Es ist ungewöhnlich kalt und regnerisch. Doch das ist unwichtig: Allein an diesem Wochenende werden fast 2000 Flüchtlinge aus dem Meer geborgen und nach Sizilien gebracht werden. Ein halbes Dutzend von ihnen in weißen Plastiksäcken oder Särgen. Ein Imam und ein katholischer Priester werden in Messina für sie beten, während ihre Verwandten – trotz Wärmedecken vor Kälte zitternd – ihren Verlust beklagen.

Seit Jahresbeginn kamen mindestens 440 Menschen auf dieser Flüchtlingsroute ums Leben, 2016 waren es im gleichen Zeitraum „nur“ 97. Mit dem EU-Türkei-Abkommen ist die zentrale Mittelmeerroute wieder zur meist genutzten Flüchtlingsroute geworden. Seit Januar sind bereits mehr als 13 400 Flüchtlinge in Italien angekommen, 9000 waren es im gleichen Zeitraum 2016 – einem Rekordjahr. Die meisten fliehen vor Krieg, Verfolgung und extremer Armut. Andere haben auf der Suche nach Arbeit zunächst jahrelang in Libyen gelebt, bis die Zustände dort unerträglich wurden.

Libyen steht im Zentrum einer Diskussion darüber, wie man die zentrale Mittelmeerroute abriegeln kann. Beim Gipfel in Malta einigten sich die EU-Staats- und Regierungschefs darauf, ihre Zusammenarbeit mit Libyen zu intensivieren, etwa über Ausbildungsmissionen für die Küstenwache des Landes oder Auffanglager.

Continue reading at Der Tagesspiegel.

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.

Chirango found refuge and hope in education

Abdirahman Chirango shows some of the garments in the clothing section of Tork's Cafe. Photo by Mike Christy/Arizona Daily Star.
Abdirahman Chirango shows some of the garments in the clothing section of Tork’s Cafe. Photo by Mike Christy/Arizona Daily Star.

Recently I spoke with Abdirahman Chirango, a 29-year-Somali native, about the current situation for refugees in Kenya.

In the article,  I briefly touch upon how as a 6-year-old, Chirango had to flee on foot from his home country of Somalia to the Kenyan border. His village in lower Juba was raided and his mother was killed in front of him and his siblings by four masked men because she refused to be raped. There was nothing they could do but run.

There is much more to his story than what I could include in the article. His is a story about determination and perseverance. Of finding refuge and hope in education.

Chirango and his family walked for about 15 days to get to the Kenyan border. His aunt and uncle carrying his siblings, then 3 and 1 years old, in their arms. Back then he assumed his father was dead (he found out he was still alive many years later, when he was already in the United States).

“It the end only some survived,” he said inside the University of Arizona library, wearing a crisp white shirt, dress pants and pointy shoes. “Some people got tired and couldn’t walk anymore.”

Their feet would swell and even though their mind was telling them to go, he said, they just couldn’t walk.

They were so thirsty some would drink their own urine. In some cases, friends or relatives would offer their urine to another under the promise that they return the favor later on.

From 100 families traveling together, Chirango estimates only 20 made it.

“It was sad,” he said.

Even fathers gave up on their children.

Chirango lived as a refugee for 13 years in Kenya’s two camps, Dadaab and Kakuma, before coming to Tucson, Arizona, in 2005.

When asked about life in the camp, he repeatedly said it was “really, really hard.”

“I had to go to school during the day, then come back home and find ways to provide for me and for my grandma,” he said.

His grandmother used to fetch wood and weave baskets, fans and mats to sell, but Chirango had to assume the responsibility of providing for the family when he was about 12 years old, when his grandma could no longer work.

He would offer his services to other refugees in the camp. At one point he fetched water for a family for an entire month, earning a little more than $1.

Sometimes they would only have boiled beans and corn to eat, but they were lucky, he said, some families didn’t even have that.

“A lot of my peers left the refugee camp to go to neighboring towns in Kenya, but for me, inside my heart I know life is hard, but I can’t just walk away like this,” he said. “For me, I thought, no matter what happens I don’t want to give up my education because it’s the only way out.”

Chirango speaks with immense pride of his accomplishments in school.

He was always No. 1, he said. He might not have had clothes, shoes or books, but he was always No. 1.

Kenya taught him how to be a strong person, he said, to not walk away from his problems, but to instead find long-term solutions.

As a Bantu Somali, he said he was discriminated against by other Somalis. He was beaten until he bled. Forced to sit on the floor. Made to beg to borrow a classmate’s books. Robbed of his awards. Called slave. Dog.

But none of that mattered if he could continue learning to speak English, to write the ABCs.

“I had to learn to adapt,” he said. “If they told me to go and sit down on the floor, I did. If they beat me, I took it like a man.”

When he transferred from primary to secondary school, he had 805 points – 32 more points than the student who had held the previous record.

How does he remember the precise number, so many years later? “It was a very glorious moment in my life,” he said.

Today Chirango is working towards a bachelor’s degree in political science at the University of Arizona. After that he wants to earn a master’s degree (he still doesn’t know in what, though). All while helping run Tork’s Café and Grocery and, together with his wife, raising four young children.

To say I was impressed by what he has accomplished despite all the challenges he has faced would be an understatement. It definitely gave me something to think about. It was a great reminder of what we can do if we set our minds to it.