29 May 2014

Syrian refugees as Lebanon's latest scapegoat

Middle East Eye

One day last October, hundreds of Syrian refugees were rescued from a shipwreck in the Mediterranean and brought to the European island of Malta. Their reception by the Maltese government was markedly different from that normally offered to asylum seekers who turn up in the country - most of whom are from sub-Saharan Africa and are subjected to a policy of mandatory detention, which involves being held in prison-like conditions for up to 18 months.

Neil Falzon, a human-rights lawyer and director of the Malta-based NGO aditus, told me in an email that the majority of the Syrian shipwreck survivors were not detained and were instead immediately transferred to open reception centres. “Psycho-social support was provided at once,” he said, and every effort was made to “locate family members and support family reunification where possible”. An inter-agency task force was also established, with NGO participation.
Falzon remarked: “This has never happened before, and although we did welcome this excellent and proactive approach, we were somewhat concerned that it indicated a clear divide between Syrian refugees and others who have been fleeing wars and persecution for several years and who have not been given this treatment upon arrival.”
Lebanon, on the other hand - one of the primary recipients of Syrian refugees since the onset of the war in Syria - seems to treat all varieties of refugee pretty much the same, ie poorly. READ MORE AT MIDDLE EAST EYE.

18 May 2014

Detention in Malta: Europe's migrant prison

Al Jazeera

A recent Quartz article about "unexpected and terrible destinations for the world's persecuted" lists Malta as the industrialised nation with the largest number of asylum seekers per capita: 20.2 for every 1,000 inhabitants. On average, 1,500 undocumented migrants turn up in Malta every year.

Most are from sub-Saharan Africa and arrive by accident to the small European island, which is located south of Sicily, while attempting to sail to mainland Europe. It's thus clearly an "unexpected" destination in the majority of cases, but why is it so "terrible"?

For starters, Malta's policy of mandatory detention of migrants means that the travellers - many of them fleeing violence and political and economic persecution - are often detained for up to 18 months in prison-like conditions. A 2012 report from Human Rights Watch (HRW) specifies that this policy "operates in an automated, indiscriminate and blanket manner in violation of international law". Children, elderly people, and the mentally and physically disabled are not spared by the detention regime. READ MORE AT AL JAZEERA.

13 May 2014

'Judicial charades' in Lebanon

Middle East Eye

About five years ago, a Palestinian-Lebanese friend of mine was put in jail in Lebanon for reasons I never quite understood, but that apparently involved a large quantity of fake cement and a fake Somali ambassador.
I was in Argentina at the time and sent my friend a long letter, delivered to the jail by his sister, in which I happened to mention a visit to Buenos Aires by Israeli foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman.
As I soon found out, commenting on the travel itineraries of Israeli officials while corresponding with inmates of Lebanese prisons is not only quite boring for the recipient but also dangerously idiotic - particularly when said correspondence is intercepted by prison guards whose limited knowledge of written English includes the word Israel. READ MORE AT MIDDLE EAST EYE.

07 May 2014


Al Jazeera America

A couple of years ago, a chatty Border Patrol Agent in Texas told me about a recent experience he had near El Paso, a West Texas city near the U.S.-Mexico border. While he was visiting a particular stretch of the border fence that was normally outside his area of operation, he said, a potential threat to homeland security was detected by colleagues on surveillance duty. Attack helicopters were summoned.
The cause for alarm turned out to be a goatherd on the Mexican side of the fence wielding a stick that had been mistaken for a weapon. The helicopters were sent back. As the saying goes, when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.
Created in 1924 to secure the borders of the United States, the Border Patrol is now part of the Department of Homeland Security’s Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency. It currently boasts more than 21,000 agents, up from 8,500 in 2001. (If certain members of Congress have their way, that number will continue to multiply.) READ MORE AT AL JAZEERA AMERICA.

Spain versus Twitter

Al Jazeera

Last week, Spain's Guardia Civil - the Civil Guard or gendarmerie - detained 21 social media users for allegedly "glorifying terrorism" on Twitter and Facebook. Fifteen of them were apprehended in the northern Spanish regions of Navarre and the Basque Country, an area that has long harboured separatist aspirations. Two were minors.

If convicted, the tweeters and Facebookers will face up to two years in prison. Among the alleged glorifications of terrorism, apparently, was a tweeted map of the Basque Country, emblazoned with the Basque word for independence.

Given the nutty news content that has become the norm in this country as of late, many Spaniards perhaps did not bat an eye. First there were the headlines surrounding the proposed Citizens' Security Law, which prescribes fines of up to 600,000 euros ($835,500) for unauthorised street protests - and up to 1,000 euros($1,400) for losing one's identity document more than three times in five years.

Then there was the news that the Spanish interior minister had taken it upon himself to bestow the country's top policing medal on the Virgin Mary. In addition to generally being reserved for human recipients, the award is intended to honour policemen who have been killed or wounded in the line of duty. (The ministry of the interior has now been dubbed the "monastery of the interior" by certain media, and apetition has surfaced at change.org requesting a similar medal for Spiderman.) READ MORE AT AL JAZEERA.

06 May 2014

Israeli apartheid on the US border

Middle East Eye

What did Suharto and Augusto Pinochet - the ex-dictators of Indonesia and Chile, respectively - have in common with right-wing Colombian paramilitaries and the South African apartheid regime?
All benefited, at one time or another, from Israeli arms shipments and/or military training.
As a 2012 report by the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network documents, these are but a few of the entities to which “Israel's government, its military, and related corporations and organisations” have lent expertise over past decades, contributing to a “global industry of violence and repression”.
The US-Mexico border has also attracted Israel’s repressive know-how - albeit of a much quieter variety. Back in 2004, the US Border Patrol - a division of the Department of Homeland Security’s Customs and Border Protection agency (CBP) - began using Hermes drones, manufactured by the Israeli corporation Elbit Systems, which has a Fort Worth, Texas-based subsidiary called Elbit Systems of America. READ MORE AT MIDDLE EAST EYE.