Issues & Analysis

AFGHANISTAN NEWS AND VIEWS: Ex-Refugee Who Slept Rough in Rome Now Runs Several Businesses, Dreams of Rebuilding Afghanistan

By Nicole Valentini, 26 October 2017, for Global Voices

Asharaf Barati in Venice with his friend and colleague Yasin Tanin. Photo by Basir Ahang.

On an autumn night in 1994, the Taliban were getting ready to conquer Afghanistan. Only two years before, a terrible civil war had broken out among the different Mujahideen factions that had defeated the short-lived pro-Soviet government, turning the country into a wasteland of terror and despair.

Ghazni, Afghanistan. Photo by ISAF Headquarters Public Affairs Office. Members from Ghazni Provincial Reconstruction Team visited Old Ghazni City April 18, 2010, located in Ghazni Province, Afghanistan. (Joint Combat Camera Afghanistan; Photo by Tech. Sgt. James May). CC-2.0

At that time, in a small village in Ghazni province in central-eastern Afghanistan, Asharaf Barati, a 13-year-old boy from the Hazara ethnic group was having his final supper with his family. Even if his mother didn’t express it, she knew she would not see her son again for a long time—possibly ever. The boy’s departure was set for dawn. His uncle was to pick him up and take to the smugglers.

Abdul Ali Mazari, the leader of the Hazara-dominated Hezb-e-Wahdat political faction had just been assassinated by the Taliban, and many Hazaras felt suddenly vulnerable. The Taliban, renowned for their hatred of the Hazara, was closing in. Hazaras were leaving the country en masse, some for Pakistan, others for Iran.

Days after his escape, Asharaf found himself in Pakistan. For a few years he worked in a coal mine, a job that left him sick and exhausted. After that he took his meagre earnings and went to Iran, where he found himself once more in a foreign land among other refugees, carrying mortar sacks heavier than himself for a living. Then, as now, the plight of Afghan refugees in Iran was one of hardship and exploitation.

“It was a tough situation,” recalled Asharaf in an interview with Global Voices. “We (Afghan refugees) were living in the empty building site we were working on, there were no services and no heat, we put some nylon on the open windows to try not to die from cold during the night.”

After four years, Asharaf left his undocumented life in Iran behind and readied himself to travel to Europe. Following a perilous journey by sea, he found himself castaway on a tiny, uninhabited Greek island. In 2002, after being turned down for asylum by the Greek authorities, Asharaf finally reached Italy.

Asharaf wandered the streets of Rome for a while, homeless, sleeping in parks and having meals in a church that distributed food to the less fortunate twice a day. While it is true that Italy has become something of a second-chance destination for failed asylum seekers due to relatively high approval rates, it is also true that the conditions into which asylum seekers are received are dire. According to the NGO Civil Liberties Union for Europe, “the system suffers from a general lack of transparency. The huge majority of asylum seekers is hosted in the more than 3000 ‘extraordinary reception centers’, which are improvised structures in the hands of unqualified and unprepared staff.”

According to Italian law, asylum seekers can access accommodation centers only after they are formally registered, a process that can drag on for months after an asylum application is initiated. During this period, people who can’t afford to pay for accommodation must seek recourse to friends’ hospitality, or resort to sleeping rough.

This is the fate that befell Asharaf.


But his irrepressible spirit prevented him from being down and out for too long. After years working in

Asharaf Barati in front of”Casa Fiori”, one of the hostels he owns in Venice. Photo by Basir Ahang.

various jobs in the construction sector, Asharaf poured his savings into a establishing a hostel in Venice.  It was such a success that after a while he opened a second hostel and a takeaway restaurant.

Asharaf Barati’s story is now the subject of a documentary called “Behind Venice Luxury – a Hazara in Italy”, directed by Amin Wahidi. The film won the 24th Venice City Award in 2017.

In Italy, entrepreneurs, especially those who are not Italian nationals, face an uphill battle. Red tape, high taxes and access to credit are among the major obstacles.

According to an unofficial estimate, there are around 20,000 Afghans in Italy. For many the country is a stopgap option en route to other European destinations. But in recent years a number of Afghan-run businesses have sprung up, including tailoring establishments, travel agencies, hotels and restaurants. Some Afghan restaurants have won acclaim in the Italian press for their excellent cuisine.

In Venice there is the restaurant Orient Experience, the brainchild of Hamed Ahmadi, where the waiters and kitchen staff are mostly refugees from various parts of the world. They tell the story of their journey to Italy through Afghan, Iraqi, Turkish and Greek dishes on the restaurant’s menu. Afghan entrepreneur Ali Khan Qalandari has established a new restaurant in Padua called Peace&Spice, and Afghans are also behind the Kabulogna pizzeria in Bologna and a Sushi restaurant in Rome.

But Asharaf’s own ambitions stretch far beyond the Italian hospitality and retail sectors, back to the land he left under duress as teenager.

“Where there is risk there is opportunity,” Asharaf says with a smile. “I want to invest in Afghanistan, I have never forgotten my country and I can’t live happily knowing that my people are suffering. I am planning to start a project for the farmers of the poorest provinces of the country, especially women. They comprise half of society and must have the same opportunity as others.”

Asharaf also has plans to open a factory in Kabul where people can to learn packaging and conservation practices. “In this way,” he says, “they will be able to sell their surplus products to the market and improve their financial situation.”

The journey of the successful entrepreneur follows a path from insecurity and doubt to stability and prosperity. Having made that journey himself, Asharaf now wants to help Afghanistan make it too.



AFGHANISTAN NEWS AND VIEWS: Pakistan Mocks US Military Mission in Afghanistan

By: Ayaz Gul, October 26, 2017, for VOA News

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is greeted by Gen. John Nicholson, right, commander of Resolute Support, with Special Charge d’Affaires Amb. Hugo Llorens, as he arrives, Monday, Oct. 23, 2017, at Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, Pool)


America’s security “failures” in Afghanistan are evident from events of the week when visiting Secretary of State Rex Tillerson could not move out of a U.S. military base and invited Afghan leaders to his “bunker” for talks, neighboring Pakistan said Thursday.

“This situation tells the whole story of U.S. failures, despite fighting in the country for 16 years,” Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif said. He was briefing a parliamentary committee on foreign affairs in Islamabad.

Pakistan is seeking “transparent” relations on “equal terms” with the United States and is ready to offer its “full cooperation” in fighting terrorism, but “without compromising its sovereignty” and scapegoating Islamabad would not be acceptable, the minister said.

Tillerson visited Afghanistan on Monday for two hours. He held talks with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and top leaders of his unity government at the U.S.-run Bagram military base, about 60 kilometers north of the capital, Kabul. Officials cited security concerns for arranging the meeting at the base.

On Tuesday, Tillerson visited Pakistan and held detailed talks with Pakistani civilian and military leaders led by Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi.

Tillerson reiterated U.S. President Donald Trump’s message that Pakistan must increase efforts to eradicate militants and terrorists operating in Pakistan and sought Islamabad’s cooperation in promoting Afghan peace and reconciliation efforts.

FILE – Weapons and ammunition seized are presented to the media along with insurgents suspected of being from the Haqqani network at the National Directorate of Security (NDS) headquarters in Kabul, May 30, 2013.

Pakistan is accused of sheltering and maintaining secret ties to the Taliban and the Haqqani network. Both militant groups are waging a deadly insurgency in Afghanistan. Asif said Pakistan’s influence on the Afghan Taliban has lately diminished because it has moved its bases to the Afghan side of the border

​On Wednesday, Asif briefed the lower house parliament on talks with the U.S. delegation, describing them as “frank” and held in a “cordial” atmosphere without an exchange of allegations.

He said Pakistan told the U.S. delegation if Washington provides actionable intelligence, Islamabad will take action against any militant group on its soil, and again denied his country is harboring safe havens.

“However, if they want that we act as their proxies to fight their war … this is unacceptable,” said Asif. He added that Pakistan’s counterterrorism efforts have produced results and led to improved security around the country.

“We told them [the U.S. delegation] there are influential players in the region, which might not have good relations with America but have a stake in the Afghan dispute,” Asif said.

He was apparently referring to Russia and Iran. Both have acknowledged publicly they maintain ties with the Taliban.

The role of those countries has become indispensable as far as solving the Afghan conflict, he added.


ON MIGRATION: A New Era in Cuban Migration

Pulitzer Center Projects


Launched: September 26, 2017

The Obama administration’s decision to end the “wet foot, dry foot” policy has created a migration and humanitarian crisis in Central and South America and a new era in Cuban migration.

The Obama administration’s decision to end the “wet foot, dry foot” policy in January 2017 created a migration and humanitarian crisis in Central and South America. Over 2,000 Cubans found themselves “in-transit” to the United States. They were left in a quagmire. The migrants had no resources to return to Cuba–they sold all of their belonging to set out on their trip to the United States. With the change in U.S. policy, these migrants had no clear way of legally entering the country.

Aid organizations across the region have been strained for resources to support these migrants, governments of these countries have limited resources to process thousands of the deportations, human rights and religious organizations are calling for a resolution to the crisis, and Cuban-Americans in Miami are pressuring U.S. government leaders to help these migrants.

14ymedio, Cuba’s first independent digital news outlet, the Miami Herald/el Nuevo Herald, Miami’s most recognized newspaper, and Radio Ambulante, a Spanish-language podcast that tells stories of Latin America and of Latino communities in the United States and is distributed on NPR, have teamed up to produce a multimedia series to highlight the effect of the new U.S. policy on Cuban migration into the United States.

The team reports on stories directly from Cuba, South and Central America, and the United States. Unlike other stories published about the Cuban migrants in Central America, this series introduces two important differences: first it explains the effect of the new U.S. policy on the lives of the migrants and second it showcases how the change in policy impacts not only the life of the migrants, but also the lives of their families on both side of the Florida Straits.

Read “A new era in Cuban migration: Panama” online at the Miami Herald and at el Nuevo Herald.


AFGHANISTAN NEWS AND VIEWS: How Taliban are evolving to compete in Afghanistan

By: Scott Peterson, October 26, 2017, for CSMonitor

A SHIFT IN THOUGHT  – The once mostly Pashtun insurgency is broadening its ranks, amending its tactics, and seeking political relevance, even as it advances its campaign of violence and intimidation against Afghanistan.

A Taliban insurgent is presented to the media after he was arrested with car explosive devices in Kabul, Afghanistan, October 15, 2017. (Omar Sobhani, Reuters)

The final Taliban threat was the most chilling, the culmination of months of pressure built against a single Afghan policeman – and it worked.

Introducing himself as “the scholar,” the Taliban operative warned that it would be the last phone call, the last threat to convince Ahmad, a veteran of frequent battles with the Taliban with calluses on his shooting hand, to leave the police force.

“He was younger, absolutely illiterate,” Ahmad says of the man who called him a few weeks ago. “He said: ‘If you don’t leave your job in the next two or three days, we will find you and behead you.’ ”

Within hours, the five-year veteran of the Afghan National Police – who asked that his real name not be used, for his own security – told his commander he was going on holiday, and left his base in Logar Province south of Kabul to find a new job in the Afghan capital.

Though the Taliban intimidation campaign was intense, in a region where Ahmad says insurgents are “becoming stronger day by day,” the fact that this Afghan policeman was not killed outright is but one illustration of how analysts say the Taliban have evolved in recent years from the uncompromising hard-liners who in the late 1990s ruled their self-declared “Islamic Emirate.”

Sixteen years after being toppled from power by US-led military forces – and that many years of insurgency later – the Taliban have been attempting to re-forge themselves into a more ethnically diverse and politically relevant national Islamist movement.

Taliban suicide bombers stand guard during a gathering of a breakaway Taliban faction, in the border area of Zabul Province, Afghanistan, in August 2016 (Mirwais Khan/AP)

Once a rural movement almost exclusively rooted among ethnic Pashtuns from the south, the Taliban today are religiously trained fighters, native to an area, who can understand and accommodate local politics and needs.

“This new generation is of course different from the Taliban of the 1990s,” says Obaid Ali, an insurgency expert with the Afghanistan Analysts Network (AAN) in Kabul.

“They are locals, they are more radical, they are more religious-educated young people,” says Mr. Ali. “These people, while they study in religious schools, at the same time receive military training in Pakistan, and from there return to their home town, not only as a mullah, but also as a military commander.”

Battlefield gains

While the evolution has presented challenges as well as opportunities, it has coincided with significant battlefield gains for the Taliban, especially in 2015 and 2016. Today they control as much territory as they have since 2001 and control or contest at least one-third of the country, some estimate far more – including Ahmad’s district in Logar, where he says even his neighbors served as spies, alerting the Taliban when he returned home after work.

Ahmad’s story is far from unique. The Afghan army and police are suffering “disastrously high attrition” rates and shrinking recruitment as a result of Taliban intimidation, infiltration, and attacks, notes one Western official in Kabul.

And even if one facet of the Taliban’s evolution is to spare the lives of captured soldiers and police, the usual Taliban methods of targeting security and government facilities have inflicted record casualties in 2017.

According to numbers tabulated by The New York Times in August, 31 Afghan soldiers and police officers have been killed each day this year on average.

A wave of suicide attacks claimed by the Taliban, carried out on two days last week in every corner of the country, left more than 120 Afghan soldiers and police dead.

“There are two types of people in Afghanistan now, those who will take those risks of joining the security forces, and those who won’t,” says Masood Karokhail, head of The Liaison Office (TLO), a Kabul-based group that facilitates peace and rebuilding efforts. “One reason urban centers are becoming congested is because having a government job and returning to your village is not that easy.”

The Taliban have nevertheless tried to strike a balance between attacking the government for ideological reasons while demonstrating they do not just destroy everything that comes their way, says Mr. Karokhail.

“When the Taliban don’t claim responsibility for mass casualty attacks, like the Islamic State does … they are trying to posture themselves for a political deal at the same time,” he says. “They want to be a relevant political force in this country, so their propaganda mechanism … even announces it will not attack development programs, and large-scale infrastructure like schools and roads.”

A more modern approach

When the Taliban were in power two decades ago, they banned education for girls and even photographs of people. Taliban checkpoints were festooned with billowing clouds of unspooled video and cassette tapes confiscated from drivers. Mosque prayers were compulsory, with beatings as punishment.

Today the new generation is familiar with high-tech means of propaganda, and uses smartphones with social media apps like Facebook, Instagram, Telegram, and WhatsApp.

Since 2008 the Taliban also began to portray themselves as multiethnic, and since 2014 began recruiting ethnic Tajiks, Uzbeks, Turkmen, and even Shiite Muslim Hazaras, says Ali from AAN. Large offensives were launched, even as US and NATO troops withdrew. And with opium smuggling and local taxation already locked down, attempts were made to control mineral and other self-sustaining resources.

Crucially, the Taliban also began “to be more flexible with locals, with local concerns,” notes Ali. That included mediation with elders that resulted in the safe release of captured policemen and soldiers, instead of “killing them straightaway, without mercy,” as had been policy until 2014, he says.

Yet undermining the government has also meant continuing well-honed tactics to intimidate and strong-arm police and army recruits, regardless of any newfound flexibility.

One method especially potent among Pashtuns is to make their target – and the target’s family – feel impure about working for the government or taking any security job, says Rahmatullah Amiri, a TLO researcher focusing on the Taliban and other Afghan militants.

Diversity brings challenges, too

While such mechanisms work among Pashtuns and others as a local tactic, strategically the Taliban’s increasing ethnic diversity has been a double-edged sword.

“They are not as united as they were before, and the more they grow the more they face internal problems,” says Mr. Amiri. “The more they capture areas, the more difficult it is for them to control.… They need more support; there are new people with new ideas.”

Challenges include the growth of the local branch of the so-called Islamic State in Afghanistan, and internal Taliban divisions have been more pronounced since their former leader, Mullah Akhtar Mohammed Mansour, was killed in Pakistan by an American drone strike in May 2016.

Lack of a regional coordinating body and increased reliance on local funding sources – as past channels of cash from Pakistan and Persian Gulf countries dry up, or become more diffuse – have added to Taliban command and control problems.

“The fact that the Taliban continue to take territory out in the districts means that individual Taliban commanders and the Taliban as a whole are richer, because they have more smuggling rings,” says the Western official in Kabul, who asked not to be identified further.

Opium, hashish, white marble, timber, and lapis lazuli can be smuggled out more easily, he says, just as weapons and material can also be brought in more easily.

“That makes it hard to get peace negotiations started, because as much as diplomats and military officials keep insisting that we are in a stalemate, if ordinary Taliban commanders see that last week they had [control of] two villages, and this week they have three, they don’t consider that to be a stalemate – so they don’t have a huge incentive to negotiate,” says the official.

Trump’s new policy

Another challenge to the Taliban, however, is the more aggressive US policy announced by President Trump in August, including the deployment of extra US troops and his declaration that he would not set a deadline for withdrawal before “victory” is attained.

The new US strategy “absolutely gives a window of opportunity to the government. But the government should do its homework, it should win locals’ trust [and] work better for the people,” says Ali, the AAN expert.

That homework is what is lacking in Logar, where ex-policeman Ahmad finally gave in after receiving Taliban threats on his phone each week for months, and where he found letters pasted at night to the front door of his house, warning his family that all would die if he kept his already dangerous job.

“The government was unable to control this area,” says Ahmad. “Now they [the Taliban] are very serious. Many of my friends left their jobs. The Taliban put checkpoints on the main roads; their intelligence is everywhere.”


Thanks for Coming to Meet the Filmmakers, Meet your Neighbors

Thank you very much for attending last week’s Meet the Filmmakers, Meet your Neighbors event hosted and organized by Roxbury-Dorchester Power in Community.  It was great to have you there and to have so many new and familiar faces in attendance. We are especially grateful to Rev. Dee Littlepage, Rev. Evan Thayer, and their team, for all of their hard work initiating, organizing and hosting the event and for providing the food.

I am particularly thankful for your engaging questions and the thoughtful responses provided by the filmmaker/trainees. As you know, most of the filmmakers are in the production phase of their films about the immigrant experience and they were thrilled to have the opportunity to discuss their works-in-progress with you. We look forward to continuing to share their progress with you!

Please join us again, once their films are completed, for further discussion about their stories, the process and the pressing issues facing immigrant and refugee communities in the United States.  The films are scheduled to be completed in November.  We will most likely hold-off on screening them until after the busy holiday season.  Let us know if you have suggestions for screening venues

Many thanks to Jorgy Cruz and Pablo Minier for documenting the event and capturing the spirit of the filmmaker/trainees in their blog post:

The Idea of the Mission from Longwood Media on Vimeo.

We are working to raise $60,000 for the nationwide ‘screen and discuss’ tour that will target communities that have demonstrated a resistance to new immigrants.   Please support this work as generously as you can so that we can maximize the use of these films throughout the US.


From Left to Right: Abdirahman Abdi, Somalia; Wilson Thelimo Louis, Haiti; Mubarak Muwonge Nsamba, Uganda; Mohammad (Roman) Arifuzzuman, Bangladesh; Sayed Hashimi, Afghanistan; Qin Li, China; Rafael DeLeon, Dominican Republic; Katsy Rivera Kientz, Puerto Rico; Braulio Tellez Vilches, Cuba; Kebrewosen (Kiki) Densamo, Ethiopia.



HAITI NEWS AND VIEWS: Tens of thousands of Haitian, Central American immigrants could lose protected status

By: Nick Miroff, October 20, 2017, for The Washington Post

People protest the possibility that the Trump administration may overturn the Temporary Protected Status for Haitians in front of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office on May 13 in Miami. (Joe Raedle)

A form of legal immigration status will expire soon for 300,000 Haitians and Central Americans residing legally in the United States, some for nearly two decades, but the Trump administration has given little indication it plans to renew the benefit.

The immigrants have been allowed to live and work in the United States under a program called Temporary Protected Status (TPS) that shields some migrants from deportation if their nations are stricken by natural disasters, civil wars or other calamities.

Permission to stay must be periodically renewed by the Department of Homeland Security, and in the coming weeks, the agency will decide the fate of about 195,000 Salvadorans, 57,000 Hondurans, 50,000 Haitians and 2,550 Nicaraguans. Once the protections lapse, those immigrantswould be subject to deportation.

Their predicament is not as well known as the “Dreamers” who have been allowed to stay under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), the program that Trump is canceling. But an end to TPS protections could have wide-ranging consequences, especially in cities such as Los Angeles, Miami, Houston and Washington, where many of the beneficiaries and their U.S.-born children reside.

Democratic lawmakers and advocacy groups are urging the administration to extend the TPS protections, warning that the humanitarian and economic costs of expelling so many long-term U.S. residents would be steep.

Moreover, they say, the countries remain crippled by violence, disease and poverty, and the abrupt loss of the cash remittance payments the immigrants send from the United States would deal a heavy blow to those nations’ feeble economies.

DHS officials say the agency’s acting secretary, Elaine Duke, has yet to make a decision and continues to consult with the Department of State, which must provide DHS with specific country-by-country information about whether conditions in those nations have ameliorated.

But administration officials say the TPS program was never intended to be a way for migrants to remain indefinitely in the United States, and they view it as part of a broader culture of lax immigration enforcement they want to remedy.

“We are looking at the fact that temporary protected status means temporary, and it has not been temporary for many years, and we, the U.S. government, have created a situation where people have lived in this country a long time,” DHS spokesman David Lapan told reporters this week.

“Every time, we give an extension, and then give an extension, and soon we have people living here 20-plus years under what was supposed to be a temporary program,” Lapan said. “When do you stop that?”

DHS has until Nov. 6 to announce its plans for the roughly 60,000 Hondurans and Nicaraguans whose benefits will expire Jan. 5. They were allowed to stay after Hurricane Mitch killed 10,000 across Central America in 1998, so many have been in the United States for at least two decades.

Haitians received a similar reprieve after the 2010 earthquake that left at least 200,000 dead. But the roughly 50,000 Haitians who have TPS protections could be forced to return if DHS does not grant an extension in the coming weeks. The deadline for that announcement is Nov. 23, Thanksgiving Day.

In May then-DHS Secretary John Kelly renewed TPS protections for those Haitians for six months, far less than the 18-month waivers granted by the Obama administration. In a statement at the time, Kelly called it a “limited” extension whose purpose was to “allow Haitian TPS recipients living in the United States time to attain travel documents and make other necessary arrangements for their ultimate departure from the United States,” and “to provide the Haitian government with the time it needs to prepare for the future repatriation of all current TPS recipients.”

Immigration policy analysts say DHS could make a similar six-month, start-packing-your-bags extension for Central Americans, including the nearly 200,000 Salvadorans whose protections expire in March.

Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, which seeks to reduce immigration to the United States, said the Trump administration’s big test will be what DHS decides to do with the Haitians, given Kelly’s characterization of the previous extension as a “limited” one.

“That will determine whether it’s more than rhetoric,” Krikorian said. “That’s when we’ll get a sense of how committed the White House is to making sure the ‘temporary’ in Temporary Protected Status is really temporary.”

DHS officials would not say what instruction, if any, they have received from the White House, where officials referred questions to DHS.

Honduras and El Salvador have some of the highest homicide rates in the world, and tens of thousands of their citizens continue to attempt to come to the United States illegally each year.

Haiti, the Western Hemisphere’s poorest country, still suffers from cholera introduced by United Nations troops who were sent after the earthquake, in addition to food shortages and other damage from recent hurricanes.

This week 20 Democratic senators, led by Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (Md.) and Sen. Tim Kaine (Va.) sent a letter to Duke and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson urging an extension of the TPS deadlines. There are about 30,000 TPS beneficiaries living in the Washington area with their families, according to immigrant advocates.

“These individuals are the most thoroughly vetted people in the country,” said Tom Jawetz, an immigration policy analyst at the left-leaning Center for American Progress.

He said TPS beneficiaries are the parents of 190,000 U.S.-citizen children, and the anxiety of not knowing what will happen to their parents is inflicting “devastating emotional, social and educational harm.”

But like the DACA debate, the TPS decision has become a proxy for a broader argument about immigration and the enforcement of U.S. laws. The Trump administration has been signaling it wants to break with its predecessors and appears to want to make a statement, said Doris Meissner, the top immigration official under the Clinton administration,

“The deeper point is they don’t want people here from other countries for humanitarian reasons,” said Meissner, now a senior fellow at the Migration Policy Institute in Washington. “They don’t see these various elements of immigration policy as particularly positive for the U.S., or as a broader expression of our values and image in the world.”


Meet the Filmmakers, Meet your Neighbors

Immigrant filmmakers share stories with neighbors in South End, Roxbury, Dorchester

While Denzel Washington films scenes for his latest movie a few blocks away, ten immigrant filmmakers based in the South End/Roxbury are producing ten short documentary films about the immigrant experience in Boston. You may have seen them around the neighborhood, at Ramsey Park or at SoWa Market, working on their filming techniques and interviewing skills as part of the New Immigrant and Refugee Visions project of Community Supported Film, a local nonprofit organization. While Denzel Washington films scenes for his latest movie a few blocks away, ten immigrant filmmakers based in the South End/Roxbury are producing ten short documentary films about the immigrant experience in Boston. You may have seen them around the neighborhood, at Ramsey Park or at SoWa Market, working on their filming techniques and interviewing skills as part of the New Immigrant and Refugee Visions project of Community Supported Film, a local nonprofit organization.


New Immigrant and Refugee Visions Filmmakers Front: Abdirahman Abdi of Somalia, Braulio Tellez Vilches of Cuba, Kebrowsen (Kiki) Densamo of Ethiopia. Middle: Sayed Hashimi of Afghanistan, Katsyris Rivera Kientz of Puerto Rico, Qin Li of China, Assistant Trainer Samantha Corsini, Mubarak Muwonge Nsamba of Uganda. Back: Wilson Thelimo Louis of Haiti, Rafael DeLeon of the Dominican Republic, Trainer and CSFilm Founder Michael Sheridan, Mohammed Arifuzzuman of Bangladesh.

On Saturday, October 21st these filmmakers are teaming up with the Roxbury-Dorchester Power in Community coalition of Episcopal churches to host a “Meet the Filmmakers, Meet your Neighbors” reception from 4-6pm at the Church of St. Augustine and St. Martin, 31 Lenox Street (near Ramsey Park and Jim Rice Field, and home to Community Supported Film offices).


Each of the filmmakers will share briefly about their personal stories emigrating from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, China, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ethiopia, Haiti, Puerto Rico, Somalia, and Uganda. They will also talk about the films they are making, which will show an insider’s perspective on the challenges immigrants face and the contributions they make to our neighborhoods and society.

As many of the filmmakers are new immigrants, they are looking forward to meeting their neighbors. They know they share similar immigrant stories with many families in the neighborhood and are eager to engage in conversation, in a variety of languages, over refreshments from around the world.

They are also looking forward to meeting the neighbors who have an interest in the arts, in filmmaking, and in social justice issues. All the filmmakers have a desire to advance social justice through the multi-media blend of journalism and art that is documentary film. They know that the South End/Roxbury area has a rich heritage of activism and cultural vitality and hope to meet many of those who have made this neighborhood what it is today – to learn first hand about the history and rich social fabric they are becoming a part of.


Roxbury-Dorchester Power in Community Leaders Front: The Rev. Edwin Johnson, The Rev. Dorothella Littlepage, The Rev. Evan Thayer, The Rev. Rospignac Ambrose. Back: The Rev. Christopher Whiteman

The Church of St. Augustine and St. Martin has sponsored the home office of Community Supported Film for a number of years, alongside the many other community-based organizations and youth programs it supports in conjunction with their partner parishes in Roxbury-Dorchester Power in Community: St. Cyprian’s, St. John St. James, St. Mary’s, and St. Mark’s. Roxbury-Dorchester Power in Community was founded by the Episcopal congregations of Roxbury and Dorchester, in partnership with the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts, to celebrate, connect, leverage, and enhance the abundant gifts of their neighborhoods by fostering deep relationships among the diverse populations.

Meet the Filmmakers, Meet your Neighbors

Saturday, October 21st, 2017 4-6p

Church of St. Augustine and St. Martin, 31 Lenox Street, Boston

Refreshments from around the world. Multi-cultural music.

All are welcome. RSVP is appreciated to Rev. Dee Littlepage at: ">


HAITI NEWS AND VIEWS: U.S. response in Puerto Rico pales next to actions after Haiti quake

After an earthquake shattered Haiti’s capital on Jan. 12, 2010, the U.S. military mobilized as if it were going to war.

Before dawn the next morning, an Army unit was airborne, on its way to seize control of the main airport in Port-au-Prince. Within two days, the Pentagon had 8,000 American troops en route. Within two weeks, 33 U.S. military ships and 22,000 troops had arrived. More than 300 military helicopters buzzed overhead, delivering millions of pounds of food and water.

No two disasters are alike. Each delivers customized violence that cannot be fully anticipated. But as criticism of the federal government’s initial response to the crisis in Puerto Rico continued to mount Thursday, the mission to Haiti — an island nation several hundred miles from the U.S. mainland — stands as an example of how quickly relief efforts can be mobilized.

By contrast, eight days after Hurricane Maria ripped across neighboring Puerto Rico, just 4,400 service members were participating in federal operations to assist the devastated island, an Army general told reporters Thursday. In addition, about 1,000 Coast Guard members were aiding the efforts. About 40 U.S. military helicopters were helping to deliver food and water to the 3.4 million residents of the U.S. territory, along with 10 Coast Guard helicopters.

Leaders of the humanitarian mission in Haiti said in interviews that they were dismayed by the relative lack of urgency and military muscle in the initial federal response to Puerto Rico’s catastrophe.

“I think it’s a fair ask why we’re not seeing a similar command and response,” said retired Lt. Gen. P.K. “Ken” Keen, the three-star general who commanded the U.S. military effort in Haiti, where 200,000 people died by some estimates. “The morning after, the president said we were going to respond in Port-au-Prince . . . robustly and immediately, and that gave the whole government clarity of purpose.”

Rajiv J. Shah, who led the U.S. Agency for International Development during the Haiti response, said he, too, was struggling to “understand the delays.”

“We were able to move more quickly in a foreign country, and with no warning because it was an earthquake, than a better-equipped agency was able to do in a domestic territory,” he said.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has defended its efforts in Puerto Rico, saying it is coordinating a wide-ranging campaign to simultaneously deliver food, water and medicine and to restore power, clear pathways to hospitals and reopen mangled ports and airports.

It’s a monumental task, one that FEMA says has been complicated immensely by a near-complete collapse of cellphone service on the island, as well as years of neglect to power lines and other utility systems.

FEMA and Defense Department officials have taken steps to beef up the response, announcing Thursday that they would elevate the military command structure on the ground in Puerto Rico, sending in a three-star Army general, Lt. Gen. Jeffrey S. Buchanan.

Keen, who was named to lead the efforts in Haiti three days after the quake, pointed to a complicating factor: Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory, not a foreign nation, and that makes a huge difference in the rules of engagement when disaster strikes.

In Haiti, the United States was able to deploy active military combat brigades, quickly install a military commander and militarize the airspace at the invitation of Haitian officials.

In Puerto Rico and other U.S. territories, the nearly 140-year-old Posse Comitatus Act limits the role that active military personnel can play.

Also, Puerto Rico’s aid requests, made under a mutual-assistance compact among the states and U.S. territories, helped shape the response. In recent days, as criticism of the effort has grown, administration officials have repeatedly said they are delivering what Puerto Rico has asked for.

Maj. Gen. James C. Witham, director of domestic operations for the National Guard Bureau, said that immediately after Maria’s landfall, Puerto Rico requested only communications equipment and fewer than 200 military police officers. By comparison, 17,567 guardsmen from 24 states were on duty in Florida a day after Hurricane Irma made landfall.

More than 400 guardsmen from other states had been in Puerto Rico, assigned to help with cleanup from Irma, before Maria. Most evacuated in advance of Maria, and Puerto Rico has made no request for them to return, officials said.

All but about a few hundred of the 2,000 guardsmen now in Puerto Rico are members of the territory’s own Guard unit. The National Guard Bureau has drafted plans to send as many as 6,000 soldiers, but Puerto Rico has yet to request them, Witham said.

“Essentially, everything Puerto Rico has asked for up to and including today we’ve tried to align with and lean as far forward as we can,” Witham said.

What is clear is that, since Maria ravaged the island, there has been a disconnect between the level of aid requested or delivered and the needs of residents who are desperate for water, food and basic necessities of life.

At a hearing Wednesday, Sen. Margaret Wood Hassan (D-N.H.) read from an email in which a former Puerto Rico governor, Alejandro García Padilla, warned that “unless we see a dramatic increase in assistance and personnel reaching the island soon, many thousands could die.”

“We need the Army and the National Guard deployed throughout the island, now, today,” Hassan said, reading from the letter. “This cannot wait another day. Despite federal agencies coordinating in San Juan, there is very limited presence of military personnel assisting people in the streets and throughout our communities.”

Elaine Duke, the acting head of the Department of Homeland Security, responded: “The president, vice president and I talked with the governor yesterday. And that was about 1 o’clock. And we — he had no unmet needs at that point.”

John Rabin, a senior FEMA official in Puerto Rico, denied during a media teleconference Thursday that the federal government is waiting for requests from officials on the island.

“We are in lockstep with those guys, but we also recognize that this is a disaster and we have our priorities,” Rabin said. “We are not in a waiting mode for anything.”

Also Thursday, Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló defended his government’s response to the humanitarian crisis. He said the unprecedented destruction of the storm and logistical limitations have impeded the flow of resources to some of the island’s communities.

Rosselló walked into a daily briefing at the Puerto Rico convention center accompanied by a general or an admiral representing each branch of the U.S. military, displaying a united front a week after the hurricane walloped the island.

The governor emphasized that federal agencies are taking their direction from the territorial government.

“Let’s make this clear — this is an operation of the government of Puerto Rico,” Rosselló said. “We set the priorities. . . . We are taking action, and there are results.”

Rosselló said the island’s geographical challenges — everything must be brought in by boat or air — and the widespread communication failures have complicated relief efforts.

W. Craig Fugate, who was President Barack Obama’s FEMA director for all eight years of his presidency, said that in a worst-case scenario, such as a tsunami, the federal government had long contemplated that Puerto Rico could be completely isolated, with its ports destroyed and all food and water needing to be airlifted onto the island or shuttled by Marine units that could land on beaches.

Fugate said FEMA did not have to wait for a signal from Puerto Rican authorities before activating more military assets.

Two U.S. defense officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive operation, said the inability to communicate readily with Puerto Rican officials immediately after the storm delayed the response. Another limiting factor, they said, was that FEMA officials did not have a full understanding of the devastation and the challenges until Director William “Brock” Long visited the island Monday. The next day, Long announced outside the White House that the military would deploy to Puerto Rico the 1,000-bed hospital ship USNS Comfort.

At least two other Navy ships, the USS Iwo Jima and the USS New York, responded to Hurricane Irma earlier in the month off the Florida Keys and could have been used to respond to Maria. Defense officials said they were instead sent back to Mayport, Fla., and remain in port there on ­prepare-to-deploy orders. They may yet be called upon to join the response.

On the day the quake rocked Haiti, one bit of happenstance may have sped the U.S. response. Keen happened to be on the island, at the residence of the U.S. ambassador. Keen watched dust rise across the countryside as buildings collapsed. A member of his staff was killed when the hotel where they were staying crumbled.

Keen relayed his firsthand account back to the head of the U.S. Southern Command, who was traveling in Washington. That night, Obama called USAID’s Shah and told him to spare no expense in responding. “He said it was a chance for America to demonstrate our moral character,” Shah recalled.

Air Force combat control teams were in the air the next morning. The airport, which became “the island’s lifeline,” Keen said, was secure and operational by nightfall. Troops began arriving every couple of hours.

Keen began organizing officers to conduct assessments and distribute food. Three days after the quake, his unofficial role became official — he was named Joint Task Force commander, with USAID taking the lead in coordinating the broader government response. Time magazine would later call Keen the de facto “king of Haiti.”

Keen said for the seemingly slow start, the U.S. government can still correct course.

“The real test of leadership,” he said, “is now what do we do about it now that it’s clear that Puerto Rico is going to need help for a long time.”


NIRVana: Another way to resist hate

NIRV Highlights, Issue 3, September 9, 2017

PDF, 3mb | Project Details | Issues: Training BeginsEditing and SalsaNIRVana – Screening NIRV Films

For this issue of NIRV Highlights, Community Supported Film is delighted to share the story of one of our donors and volunteers, Christine Arveil, herself an immigrant from France. She has cooked delicious meals for our training sessions, served as training photographer, and provided support for our French-speaking trainee from Haiti. On the day of the protests against hate and white supremacy in Boston on August 19th, she contacted us to see if we could use her help. Below is her own story of that day.

By Christine Arveil,

Human beings are dangerously obstinate in lashing at history with whips that none of us would like to feel on our skins. On the morning of the 19th of August, I was about to join peaceful marchers gathering in Boston to protest hatred and white supremacy when it came to my mind that I should rather make myself available to those who were at work on developing shared respect and appreciation.

Boston, August 19, 2017. Spanish sign: “We are all immigrants and we have no fear!”


Upon offering my time and energy, I was immediately invited to Community Supported Film (CSFilm) where ten recent immigrants to the United States, tracing roots to Africa, Latin America, and Asia, were completing their fourth week of documentary filmmaking training.

NIRV Trainees at SoWa Market

CSFilm provides free professional documentary film training, enabling local immigrants to tell untold stories relevant to their communities. CSFilm helps to express voices that are usually silent, stereotyped in mainstream media, or little noticed in the relentless flood of information on social media.

As I arrived at CSFilm, I could not help thinking how one same word can represent opposite perspectives. The day before, I was with twenty two hundred people enjoying the bliss of a magnificent concert on Tanglewood greens in Lenox, MA. But that Saturday, on Lenox Street in Roxbury, a lonely old man was painfully trying to simply get up from the narrow steps where he had found some rest, so I could climb up to the door of CSFilm.

I tiptoed to the back of the room, hoping not to disturb the class in process. Ten young men and women, half the world around the table and probably several religions, were attentively focused on their teacher’s words. Their command of English was impressive, especially for some who had been in America only a few months. Now and then, however, I noticed their cultural differences in little things like the titles they chose to respectfully address their instructor, Michael Sheridan. He was, in turn, “Professor,” “my Colleague,” “Mr.,” or “Mikey.”

I felt comfortable with them, with their positive, somehow elegant, energy. Myself an immigrant to America from Europe, I know how difficult it is to leave everything behind to integrate with a new land. Forever will I remember the worker who unloaded my small trunk with my few possessions and said: “Here’s your stuff, Ma’am. Welcome!” That day, I understood that my true belongings were my energy, my brain and my passion for creating things of beauty and value to society.

Abdirahman Abdi (Somalia), Mubarak Nsamba (Uganda), Kiki Densamo (Ethiopia), Rafael DeLeon (Dominican Republic)

Michael Sheridan leading class.

As Sheridan projects films onto a white board covered with diagrams and notes, I recognize both the professor from Mass Art and the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum documentary filmmaker I have observed before. He creates an atmosphere of comfort, ease, and respect. Everyone calmly engages in turn. He answers each question with precision and deep attention. The room seems to vanish as Sheridan focuses on each individual, his words somehow managing to address the person beyond the student. His hands enact the filming process, with fingers running as he explains how the camera should swiftly move, while his love of his chosen art animates everything. Sheridan becomes something more like a mountain guide: one of the tireless rock climbers who walk ahead of those who will claim new summits; a mountaineer who keeps walking when oxygen rarefies.

Today, the focus is on sound. A music lover, sound is Sheridan’s love as much as the moving images. He introduces the students to the manipulation of the microphone along with filming: “This is when this mighty fine device comes into use” (the boom microphone). He invites them to consider how sounds influence the narrative and affect the capture of images. The story will depend on intricate technicalities that the filmmaker shall master – but only through practice.

This Saturday, the afternoon assignment to practice new skills takes us to the SoWa Open Market just up the street. In teams of two, the trainees share a camera and assist each other in recording images and sound. My volunteer role is to document their process in still photographs.

Kiki of Ethiopia and Abdi of Somalia stop at a luxurious rug store, sit for a moment in leather armchairs, and joke that they feel like movie stars. But after a short while, it is “Let’s go back to work!”

Sayed of Afghanistan teams up with Qin of China and they relentlessly search for quieter environments. They retreat to the guts of a building where a designer weaves a Moroccan inspired coat. The space is small and packed. Sayed: “Qin, allow me to crawl where we need the camera.”


Mubarak of Uganda and Thelimo of Haiti set the camera in a flowers and butterflies booth. Intense discussions for the shot contrast sharply with the soft and playful setting. “Filming is serious business!”


Rafael of the Dominican Republic and Braulio of Cuba film an elegant coffee-making pushcart from a variety of angles. while Michael chats with the owner about the enjoyment of coffee, far from the fields where it grows.

Katsyris of Puerto Rico and Roman of Bangladesh: her solid calm balances his driving eagle eyes riveted to the viewfinder. They take turns handling the camera to shoot a giant game of Jenga that alternately rises and crashes.












The shooting feels professional, especially considering that most haven’t used a video camera or microphone 4 weeks ago. It is fascinating for me to watch the perspective of the vendors and shoppers shift from indifference or slight annoyance toward the film crews to curious engagement when they discover that it is a group of new immigrants learning a new form of communication with infectious purpose, dedication and laughter! Smiles are never long to appear and patience is surprisingly everywhere. As I document their learning, the trainees talk with me about how remarkably different filming a story is from capturing amateur video. They also tell me how heavy the equipment feels by the end of the day, but the quality they get is worth the discomfort, they say.

Late afternoon, after a hard week working in their day jobs and a long day learning to film, everyone relaxes. Laughs, spirited snippets of stories and jokes, feet moving to a dance step, youth, and conviviality combine to vanquish the sordid reality of hate that had clouded the day elsewhere in the city and the country. It feels so natural to be together though we were born in a dozen different countries: why do we allow ourselves to be taught otherwise? Terror has no space where creativity and fresh perspectives bloom and when we listen to those who speak softly.

As we head back from SoWa, I ask around to see what the word “immigrant” means for them. The answers shouldn’t have surprised me: Hope, Peace, and Misunderstandings. (I have hope for the future here. No peace in my homeland. So many misunderstandings about immigrants here.)

CSFilm calls the program NIRV for “New Immigrant & Refugee Visions,” but here again, the same term has another meaning for me. My time spent supporting these dedicated and optimistic people was definitely a day of enlightenment – NIRVana!

View NIRV Highlights Issue 4: Help Organize a Screening >>>


Boston-based artist Christine Arveil has been integrating painting and writing in her creations for 35 years. Born in France in 1958, Christine Arveil became the first of her working-class family to enter university, graduating with a master’s degree in Classics and French literature and later an MBA in Art management. In 1997, Arveil permanently moved to the United States. She integrates her life and artistic experiences into semi-abstract expressionist images for which she devised a unique painting technique and medium based on violin varnish. She is married with master bow maker and MacArthur Fellow Benoît Rolland. She has two children and twin grand daughters.

Photo Gallery Below

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Thank you to all the Friends of CSFilm, and to: Jeanne Steig, Teryl Euvremer, Viren and Amita Mehta, Patrica Davis and Wesley Callender, The Pathfinder Fund, The Marika Foundation for Social Action, and The McMillan Stewart Foundation.

Thanks to The Church of St Augustine and St Martin for donating the training space and to editor Peter Rhodes and trainer Pat Goudvis for donating their time and experience.

Thanks to those who have volunteered to feed our training team (contact us to help):
Christine Arveil, Kate Carpenter Bernier, Anu Desai, Sayed Hashimi, Qin Li & Fresh Food Generation

Protest photo by Stephanie Keith/Reuters. All other photos by Christine Arveil.

Community Supported Film strengthens the documentary storytelling capacity in communities where the dissemination of balanced and accurate information is essential for development and conflict resolution.

Christine captured “portraits” of our trainees that day. We thought you’d enjoy the results. (click on any image to view all in a slideshow)


HAITI NEWS AND VIEWS: Hurricane Irma effects are one more reason to extend TPS for Haitians, lawmakers argue

By: Anthony Man, September 18, 2017, for the Sun Sentinel

The South Florida congressional delegation and both of the state’s U.S. senators issued a bipartisan plea to the Trump administration on Monday to extend temporary protected status for Haitian nationals in the U.S., partly because of the impact of Hurricane Irma.

Irma hit northern Haiti on Sept. 7. It caused flooding, destroyed crops and homes and further damaged infrastructure, cutting off rural villages from nearby cities, the lawmakers said in a letter to Trump’s Department of Homeland Security.

Not mentioned in their letter is a looming potential threat: Hispaniola, home to Haiti and the Dominican Republic, is in the cone of uncertainty for Hurricane Maria in coming days.

Last year, Haiti suffered severe damage from Hurricane Matthew, which devastated its main food-growing region. Earlier this year, the Trump administration said TPS, which was granted and has been renewed repeatedly since the devastating 2010 earthquake, would end early next year.

With population growth, Haitian community in South Florida sees more political clout

It prevents deportation but does not grant a path to permanent residence or citizenship. TPS has been repeatedly extended as the country recovered slowly, often with setbacks. Haiti has experienced an epidemic of cholera introduced to the country by United Nations forces brought in to help after the earthquake.

On May 24, then-Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly announced a six-month extension of TPS, until Jan 22, 2018, and advised Haitians in the U.S. to use the time to get their affairs in order. Kelly is now Trump’s chief of staff in the White House.

Kelly said Haiti has “made progress across several fronts.” He cited multiple signs of progress including the closing of the vast majority of camps for displaced residents, the plan to rebuild the Haitian president’s residence in Port-au-Prince and the withdrawal of the U.N. stabilization mission.

South Floridians with ties to Haiti and elected officials with lots of Haitian-American constituents said there hasn’t been much progress on recovery. And, they said, there is no way the country can absorb the return of 58,000 people who have protected status. An April report from the Immigrant Legal Resource Center said the largest concentration of Haitians with temporary protected status were in South Florida. The New York metropolitan area was second.

Haitians in US get slight reprieve but worry about future

The only representative from southeast Florida not on the list is U.S. Rep. Brian Mast, a Republican who represents northern Palm Beach, Martin and St. Lucie counties.

The lawmakers asked Duke to grant an additional 18 months starting Jan. 22.

Haitian community leaders press to continue protected status as deadline looms

They said TPS “is central to our country’s commitment in providing safe haven to individuals unable to securely return to their home country due to ongoing violence, environmental disasters, or other extraordinary conditions. Haiti continues to face such conditions.”

In their letter, the lawmakers also said that “some statistics may look encouraging at first glance, a closer look shows a country still struggling significantly to recover from the extraordinary conditions” caused by the earthquake and Hurricane Matthew.


AFGANISTAN: This 1972 Photo of Women in Miniskirts Convinced Trump to Remain in Afghanistan

By: Mattie Kahn, August 28, 2017, for Elle


Last week, hours after President Trump announced in primetime that he would—despite his initial instincts—recommit American troops and resources to the war in Afghanistan, news broke that it was this 1972 photo that had swayed him.

According to The Washington Post, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and H.R. McMaster, Trump’s national security advisor, had for months cautioned the President that withdrawal from Afghanistan would have disastrous consequences. McMaster, the Post explains, effectively framed his appeal to Trump, well, culturally. Desperate to prove Afghanistan wasn’t doomed to its current circumstances, McMaster showed Trump a black-and-white photo of Afghan women, strolling through Kabul in miniskirts.

Every few years, photos like this one ricochet across the web, especially on Facebook and Twitter, where they’re shared both by the well-intentioned who’ve watched with horror the erosion of women’s liberties in Afghanistan and across the Middle East, and by arch conservatives, who, as The Guardian points out, express concern for women in the Middle East in order to better silence progressive feminist voices at home.


And yet while the images predictably crop up on social media, they’re seldom used as cornerstones of foreign policy. Rosa Brooks, professor at the Georgetown University Law Center and the author of the book How Everything Became War and the Military Became Everything, isn’t surprised. Perhaps, she muses, McMaster knew he needed to frame the situation in terms Trump could understand—that is, miniskirts. And it’s rather horrifying, but admit it, Brooks presses, isn’t it possible that “the only [factor] that could motivate this particular President is a little thigh”? Couldn’t it be that, “Donald envisions a happier Afghanistan where everyone looks a bit more like Melania?”

Still, Brooks concedes that there’s a more generous read. When she served in the Pentagon under President Obama, photos like the one McMaster showed Trump weren’t uncommon. “Not only that particular picture, but also pictures of [young women] sitting in classrooms and of women doctors and of women giving lectures at conferences and pictures of Afghan men, too, engaged in ordinary activities in mixed groups,” Brooks recalls. The photos were meant to demonstrate that “the Afghan people are people like everyone else,” she says, and that the current “quote-unquote” culture in Afghanistan has been imposed on its populace by the Taliban. It’s an important reminder. “It’s just false to say Afghanistan has always been the way the Taliban wanted it to be,” Brooks continues. “It hasn’t. it changed before; it could change again.”


Within Afghanistan, the point stands. Rina Amiri, who was born in Afghanistan, served as a senior advisor to the late U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, and is now a scholar at the NYU Center on International Cooperation, explains that well before 2001, even before the Soviet invasion in 1979, “there was a robust debate” between the country’s moderates and traditionalists over whether to experiment with democratic ideals, including the full enfranchisement and civic participation of women. That’s why, according to Amiri, so many Afghans open up their own family photo albums and insist, “Look, this is already who we are. You’re not necessarily bringing democracy to us. You’re not creating this. We have an authentic history that’s our own.

“These were the lives of our mothers and fathers,” Amiri continues. “They couldn’t have dreamt that Afghanistan would be where it is now.” To wit, when Amiri’s mother visited her in Kabul while she was dispatched there for the U.N., she didn’t recognize her own childhood home. “It had changed so drastically,” Amiri says. “She was just dumbfounded.” The photos are talismans, Amiri continues, proof that the situation in Afghanistan now may be just an “aberration.”

Of course, that appeal of this visual call to arms, however well-meaning, isn’t a plan—much less a military strategy. A photo doesn’t tell us how to win a war or how much it will cost or how successful the United States can be overseas, whatever the motivations of the official who brandishes it. But it can at least push back on the narrative that Afghanistan is somehow beyond repair. Maybe it’s a paternalistic approach, Brooks allows. But it resonates.

And yet whatever spurred Trump to rule as he did, whatever it was in the women’s lives or looks that “moved him,” it didn’t elicit a real commitment to advancing women’s circumstances under the Taliban. Last week, Trump emphasized the United States would not be “nation-building” again, but “killing terrorists.” And when Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was asked point blank whether the United States would demand that the Taliban restore women’s freedoms in any potential peace settlements, Tillerson countered that “it’s not for the U.S. tell them that it must be this particular model, it must be under these conditions,” adding, “I think that’s what the President says when he means we’re no longer nation-building.”

That is, a photo of women in 1972 may have convinced Trump to remain in Afghanistan, but it failed to inspire him to seek a course of action that would take into account the condition of women there in 2017.

Amiri, for one, would have preferred McMaster show Trump photos of those who battle for women’s freedom now. “He wouldn’t have to date back,” she says. “Today, you could find thousands of pictures of Afghan women in government, Afghan women in senior positions, Afghan women as ambassadors and leadership positions at the local level. These pictures exist.” And the women in them don’t need to be stripped or saved. They need to be supported, to be empowered to decide for themselves what future they want.

Brooks, too, stresses that the United States should seek the perspectives of women in Afghanistan, precisely because a misogynistic culture has made it so difficult to publicly hear from them. She cites a recent New York Times story on a female-led social media movement under the hashtag “#WhereIsMyName,” a catchall initiative that aims “to challenge women to reclaim their most basic identity, and to break the deep-rooted taboo that prevents men from mentioning their female relatives’ names in public.” Especially in Kabul and in bigger cities, Brooks maintains, there are many, many Afghan women who want to be heard. Amiri sums up the frustration: “So many of the discussions are actually a very narrow debate” about say, troop numbers, drone strikes, or deployment: “But where do the Afghans themselves come in?”

“We’ve been having the same limited conversation,” Amiri continues. “We’ve been talking about the same limited course of action, and there isn’t a quick win.” Trump may claim that he’s interested only in “killing terrorists,” but those who’ve worked in Afghanistan for decades know that there is no annihilation without support for institutions that can fill that vacuum. “This is the work that doesn’t get attention,” Amiri says. And certainly not from Trump.

Since he was elected, Trump has demonstrated an almost total disinterest in the health, wellness, and enfranchisement of women not only in Afghanistan, but around the globe. In his first week in office, he expanded the anti-abortion Mexico City Policy. Later, he cut off funds to initiatives that benefit women in the world’s most vulnerable areas, including one housed at the U.N. that reached nine million people in crisis situations in 2016 alone, providing “HIV/AIDS prevention services, domestic violence counseling, pregnancy checkups, safe childbirth as well as midwife training, prenatal care and safe delivery services.” And while the White House eventually retreated, in May 2017, a memo circulated that suggested the administration was prepared to end Michelle Obama’s landmark “Let Girls Learn” education initiative. So: relative peace in Afghanistan at the expense of women’s freedom—how could we be surprised to see Trump strike that deal?

For what it’s worth, Brooks and an entire school of research warns against that thinking. The evidence, she explains, “suggests very, very strongly that when you try to buy stability or peace at the price of women’s rights, it does not endure, whereas there’s a ton of research on the direct correlation between the enfranchisement and inclusion of women and girls in politics, in peace negotiations, in education, and reduced levels of internal and external conflict.” What Trump and Tillerson have proposed now—”it’s a short sighted tradeoff,” not to mention “a real betrayal” of the Afghan women whom he supposedly recommitted to this war to protect.

But then, it wouldn’t be the first time he used women as a prop.


ON THE MEDIA: America’s Local Newspapers Might Be Broke – But They’re More Vital Than Ever

Local journalism is doing great work across the country while fighting cutbacks and tight budgets. But we need people to stop expecting news to be free

By: Kathleen McLaughlin, September 11, 2017, for The Guardian

The Texas Tribune’s coverage of Hurricane Harvey wasn’t a magic trick; it was the result of truly persistent beat reporting. Photograph: David J Phillip/AP

More than a year before Hurricane Harvey crashed into Houston, the Texas Tribune dug deep into how climate change and unchecked growth created a sprawling city vulnerable to devastation if the perfect storm hit.

In their investigation, the Tribune explained the factors behind Houston’s dangerously heightened exposure to hurricane disaster. In the days since Harvey flooded the city, ruined homes and businesses and killed at least 70 people in its path, the Texas Tribune’s work has been hailed as “oddly prescient”.

In fact, it was the natural outgrowth of great journalism by reporters who know their subjects and communities well and have covered these issues extensively.

One of the Tribune’s reporters, Kiah Collier, explained that she and her colleague Neena Satija reported at length on Houston’s debate “over how, and whether, to build some kind of storm protection system to block the devastating storm surge that would accompany Houston’s ‘perfect storm’”. When Collier moved to the Tribune from the Houston Chronicle in 2015, Satija was already in talks with Pro Publica about the project and she jumped aboard.

“This previous coverage was definitely important; I had a grasp on the issue from the get-go and a bunch of sources,” Collier told me over email.

Collier says she and her team knew the story would be predictive, but not so soon. Rather than being spooked by the Tribune’s accuracy and ability to foresee what was coming to Houston, let’s consider instead the years of hard work, digging and trust-building it took their reporters to get to that story. It wasn’t a magic trick; it was the result of truly persistent beat reporting.

In the face of massive cutbacks and tight budgets, this kind of reporting is happening all over America. I’ve been working this summer with the Guardian and the Economic Hardship Reporting Project on their new On the Ground project and I’ve been doing what might be the most fun part of the work. My job has been to create partnerships with local and regional news outlets like the Texas Tribune.

One of the goals of the project is to get these important stories about inequality in front of the people affected by them. We know that nobody does that better than local and regional press. Talking with dozens of editors, from Atlanta to Wyoming and Texas to Tulsa, has reaffirmed my belief that a massive share of the most important journalism done in America today is from reporters and editors committed to improving their own communities, not in amassing empty praise or followings on Twitter.

From beautiful new magazines to old-fashioned small-town daily newspapers, local journalism is still fighting a tough financial battle, but doing incredible work.

Missoula, Montana. Photograph: Education Images/UIG via Getty Images

In Atlanta, the Bitter Southerner has turned gorgeous reporting, writing and editing, wrapped under a killer brand name, into a battle against negative stereotypes about the American South. In Fargo, North Dakota, the alternative weekly newspaper High Plains Reader is investigating racism and violence in one of the only states in America without a hate crimes law. In Oklahoma, the online outlet Oklahoma Watch picks one or two topics each year that its top-notch staff can dig into at great length, with consequential reporting and insights.

These are just a few of the outlets I’ve had the pleasure of exploring this summer. All across America, I’ve spoken with journalists who are committed, working their butts off and forever looking for new ways to keep their organizations going financially. There’s no shortage of the will to do solid journalism, to help people better understand what’s happening in their towns and cities. But with the death of traditional newspaper funding and the ongoing corporate consolidation of American local press, the situation can seem grim.

Even over the course of the summer, the media landscape in my home state of Montana changed yet again. (I wrote about Montana’s media and the dire state of local news in America earlier this year). Missoula’s only independent newspaper – the Missoula Independent – was bought by Lee Enterprises, the Iowa-based company that already owns four of the state’s largest daily papers and several smaller outlets.

The Independent was probably Montana’s lone remaining widely read critic of Lee’s cutbacks and coverage in the state and though its management has promised to keep it independent, the truth remains to be seen. Separately, the Lee chain scaled back yet again on its political coverage, moving one of its two remaining state reporters into a local education beat. The change went unreported in their pages.

Montana’s shrunken press is but one example of what happens to journalism when the ultimate motive is profit. In a report last fall, researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill found that since 2004, more than a third of US newspapers had been sold at least once, and that the largest newspaper companies continue to buy up papers and squeeze out cash.

“Concerns about the role and ownership of newspapers have been voiced and debated since the founding of the country,” they wrote. “However, the dramatic shift in ownership of newspapers over the past decade – coupled with the rapidly deteriorating finances of community papers – brings added urgency to a new version of an age-old question: In the digital age, what is the civic responsibility of newspaper owners to their communities?”

Yet it’s wholly unclear whether non-profit models are better at serving the public good. A new report from New York University questions whether foundation-funded journalism is just creating more reporting for those who already have journalism – the wealthy (sorry, I can’t use the word “elite” as it’s almost always a misnomer), who live in clusters of America where media remains relatively strong.

So what can you do? The simple solution lies with you, dear reader. Find a news outlet valuable to your life and pay for it. Plain and simple. It’s not a long-term solution, but we need people to stop expecting the news be the same as air and sunlight – absolutely free.

On Sunday, we got some very sad news that a potential partner for On the Ground was going away, for an indefinite period. The editor of Indian Country Today – an invaluable source of news and information and the Native American diaspora in the United States – has gone on hiatus to figure out a new funding model. This month, the Guardian published a beautifully reported and written piece by one of their journalists on violence against Native women. Without her deep grounding in the issue, built through years of reporting, it’s hard to imagine how writer Mary Pember could have done the issue such justice.

ICT editor Chris Napolitano told me he thinks there are ways to get people to support journalism again, but we may be well beyond the era of subscriptions supporting reporting. What lies ahead, he suggests, is in adding value, going beyond the headlines and daily news.


ON MIGRATION: Disposable Africans – Migration and its Consequences

By: Nanjala Nyabola, June 21, 2017, for IRIN

Much ink has been spilt trying to make sense of the migration flow across the Mediterranean, a stretch of sea that has become the frontline of capitalism’s most urgent question: What’s more valuable – a human life, or the fraying concept of the sanctity of state borders?

Journalists and commentators have largely framed the boat crossings as a European crisis, and yet the vast majority of the migrants using the major route from Libya to Italy are Africans. They are also the majority of the nearly 2,000 people recorded to have died or gone missing in the Mediterranean so far this year.

Why do young Africans choose to risk all for the attainment of a precarious existence in Europe? Why is Africa home to me, but uninhabitable to my peers?

I went to Palermo, the largest city on the Italian island of Sicily, to try to get some answers.


The day I visit Palermo’s docks, volunteers anxiously await the arrival of a commercial vessel – the Tuna I – that has just rescued 470 people from the sea and is heading to port.

The energy is a little unnerving. It’s heartening to see so many people give up their time to welcome the people who have been rescued, but when the boat arrives many volunteers take selfies in front of the hungry and disoriented people hanging listlessly over the railing of the ship.

While the volunteers scream and wave their welcome to the Tuna I, the response from the ship is far less enthusiastic. There’s something perverse about this, consistent with the voyeurism that has characterised the global response to the drownings at sea.

Most of the people who disembark the Tuna I are clearly broken in ways I may never truly understand. Many weep or struggle to walk. Some have to be carried off.

Their clothes are ripped and worn, and almost none are wearing shoes. Almost none. A few stand out: An Arab man in shoes and socks is quickly cornered by the police.

There is damage here beyond the physical. Many look but don’t seem to see, moving among the volunteers as if in a trance.

Where did they break? Who hurt them?

At a halfway house in the suburbs of Palermo, I ask a group of young people who survived the same journey months earlier. They all give the same answer: Libya.

The devil and the deep blue sea

Mediterranean rescue by Jason Florlo for IRIN

“Libya is not good. A person can’t live there. Africans are nothing to them [in Libya],” says Amir from Senegal. “[But] you can’t turn back once you’re in Libya, even if it’s not easy to come here.”

Everyone is scarred by Libya. Mention the name and eyes well up. In many ways, the reaction gets to the heart of what I went to Italy to engage with – what drives the momentum towards Europe, even when the journey becomes grotesque.

It turns out that once people are in Libya, going back is not an option. Libya is the devil to the Mediterranean’s deep blue sea.

Yet under Muammar Gaddafi, Libya was a prized destination in itself for Africans from throughout the region, a place of well-paid employment. Gaddafi’s removal in 2011, helped by a European-led coalition, changed that.

For black Africans, Libya has gone from haven to hellhole in the shadow of the bloody conflict and political vacuum that followed Gaddafi’s death. Africans have been crossing through Libya for decades, but there is a tinge of vengeful anti-blackness in the horrors they survive today.

Slave markets where black bodies are displayed and bartered are popping up in Libyan towns. Many people testify to being held in dark, windowless rooms, sometimes for months on end, while waiting for relatives to pay ransoms to facilitate their crossing.

Young women will almost certainly be raped, and it is not uncommon for people to be shot for complaining about any aspect of their detention.

When I ask Amir why he didn’t just turn back once he got to Libya, he says: “Whatever I saw in Libya was worse than anything I have ever seen in my life. And the thought of going back to Libya – back to the desert – was enough to keep me going.”

No home from home

But Italy offers only a meagre respite from racism.

“I have faced many difficulties,” I hear from Boubacar, a young Gambian. “I don’t have my independence like I want to.

“To me it’s not worth leaving my home and coming to a place like this to be discriminated [against], to be insulted, to be isolated.”

Italy does more than most for Africans who survive the crossing, but it is less than a full life with few prospects of becoming home.

The people who disembark the Tuna I get a pair of shoes, a bag with food, and a medical check-up. But they will almost immediately be shipped to reception centres around the country for interviews, and many will be deported. Only minors qualify for a substantive, automatic protection of two years.

Any services provided at the dock are primarily provided by non-profit organisations like the Red Cross. European governments deliberately punish survivors by withholding key services to make a point to anyone else considering the journey.

But national policies don’t always capture what’s happening on the ground. Local politicians like popular Palermo mayor Leonluca Orlando, who insists that diversity fuels the vibrancy and success of his city, resist Brussels.

“In 50 years, I am convinced that current European leaders will be facing charges of crimes against humanity,” Orlando tells me, as he personally greets some of the people disembarking from the Tuna I.

Palermo’s lessons

A popular narrative in European capitals is that if there was less migration there would be more opportunities for Europeans. But people in places like Sicily see things with more nuance.

Orlando’s welcome of rescue boats – he welcomes each one – has not dented his popularity in Palermo, even though Sicily is one of Italy’s poorest regions.

That’s partly because of a demographic crisis – Sicilians are producing fewer children. So, the subsidised labour of migrants has become invaluable.

At the Centro Astalli, a one-stop service centre for migrants and refugees in a disused church, I meet Veronica who provides a personal insight into the situation in Sicily.

The conversation begins as an introduction to the centre. But as soon as we realise we are the same age, it becomes a familiar millennial exchange on how much harder it is to attain conventional markers of success today than it was for our parents.

“I started here as a volunteer,” she tells me, “but when we got funding to expand the project they took me on full time. But my sister is 28, and she graduated almost three years ago and still hasn’t found work.”

Astalli offers one year of free Italian lessons, access to a laundry and showers, a free breakfast and afterschool activities for children. The centre also runs an arts programme with local volunteers that brings together Italians and migrants in projects designed to foster assimilation and understanding.

The programmes are funded by the Jesuit Refugee Services and the European Union. But some Palermitanos resent that so much is available to migrants for free.

“For me, I understand because I work here,” Veronica says. “Many of the asylum seekers are my friends. But for people like my sister, it’s very difficult to understand.”

“Why do they still come here when they know it’s so bad here?”

This leaves structural racism as an enormous challenge for Astalli’s clients. Asylum seekers find it impossible to rent houses or find meaningful work. Only one of Astalli’s clients to date has completed university.

A young Gambian man, like Seydou, who I met, would rarely experience the kindness that I experienced as a tourist with an American twang.

“Maybe no one is going to fight you on the streets, but when it comes to real integration we have many problems,” Veronika says. “The Sicilians will stay with the Sicilians, and the refugees together in another place, but they don’t mix.’’

It’s a dynamic that leaves many people like Seydou vulnerable to exploitation. He was forced to move when he threatened to report one of his first halfway houses for siphoning money from the municipality intended for supporting migrants.

“Why do they still come here when they know it’s so bad here?” Veronica wonders. It’s a question I put to the people I interview.

Gambian migrants celebrate arriving in Italy, unaware of what is likely to follow. Photo by Jason Florlo for ISIN/MOAS

Seydou and the others tell me it’s about a chance at life – to escape a violent family or conflict, to being able to have optimism for the future.

None of the young people I encounter would encourage other Africans to attempt the crossing to Europe. But what European bureaucrats call pull factors, they call hope.

Cold war nostalgia

“Borders and barriers, which enclose us within the safety of familiar territory, can also become prisons and are often defended beyond reason or necessity,” wrote Edward Said in 1984.

The world then was paradoxically more and less open than it is today. On the one hand, in the shadow of empire, African and Asian citizens of various nationalities could travel to Europe and beyond without the burden of invasive, derogatory visa procedures.

For much of Africa, the Cold War opened Europe up in ways that may never be experienced again. The ideological blocs competed for influence by showering African students and technocrats with fully funded opportunities to work and travel.

In cities like Berlin, African students like my father could drink beer with their West German counterparts while East Germans like 20-year-old Michael Schmidt were shot dead for attempting to scale the wall.

African students had not yet felt the sting of authoritarianism or economic austerity at home. Struggling with racism in Europe, many treated their stay as a necessary, temporary step to professional achievement rather than a shot at staying.

Only after structural adjustment hollowed out African economies and the establishment of the new, hyper-connected European Union, did visa restrictions for non-Europeans become common. At first, they were simply administrative hurdles, but today they are laborious and dehumanising processes designed to deter all but the most tenacious.

New realities

Yet Europe still needs migrants, especially in the south where dwindling populations have aggravated labour shortages in agricultural sectors that resist mechanisation.

Italian grapes, Greek olives, and Spanish oranges all need bodies to plant, process and harvest them. By 1992, the architects of a single Europe realised that wealth disparities between various European countries – not just along the East-West axis but also North-South, the struggling economies of Greece, Italy, and Spain – required creative interventions for successful management.

“Borders and barriers, which enclose us within the safety of familiar territory, can also become prisons and are often defended beyond reason or necessity”

And so for much of the last 25 years, the Eurozone has both aggressively courted and turned away migrants: punishing people legally seeking asylum at airports and embassies, and more or less ignoring clandestine migration across the Mediterranean, until the European economy was pummelled by the 2007-2008 financial crisis.

Migration, or fear of migration, is today the bogeyman of European politics that might yet break up the European Union. Not because of the lie that a flood of refugees and migrants is on its way, but because of what Said observed: that the irrational and unnecessary over-policing of Europe’s borders is throwing up contradictions and triggering an existential crisis.

The impulse to keep people out at all costs leaves Europe with a paradox: While preaching humanitarianism abroad, politicians threaten to prosecute NGOs for saving migrant lives at sea because leaving people to die is considered a deterrence.

Europe is now trying to reconcile that gap with security-focused development aid. In late 2015, EU governments at the Valetta Summit promised African governments, including autocratic regimes in Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Sudan, up to two billion euros in funding to help stem African migrations.

People move

After watching the Tuna I dock, I wander into some of Palermo’s museums and encounter three fascinating exhibitions.

The first is a tour that takes you past centuries-old churches with dome-shaped towers – mosques converted into Catholic churches and a testament to Palermo’s Muslim past.

The second is an installation at the museum of contemporary art featuring family photographs intertwined with yards of jute and rope. The artist set it up to evoke drowning, and perhaps the idea that – given a different set of circumstances – any one of our family members could have drowned trying to cross the sea.

The third is an exhibition at the Royal Palace featuring art from countries banned from the United States under President Donald Trump’s executive order.

These three exhibitions challenge Palermitanos to rethink simplistic narratives about migration. To me, they evoke the timelessness of human mobility, echoing Mayor Orlando’s vision that in 50 years the world may have a different set of moral values. Perhaps freedom of movement will be claimed as a universal value. Or perhaps it will be lost forever.


ON MIGRATION: The Stories Behind DACA, the Now-Ended Program for Young Undocumented Immigrants in the US

By: Amanda Lichtenstein, September 11, 2017, for Global Voices

Activists protest the end of DACA in Los Angeles, September 5, 2017. “Deport Hate, Not Dreamers” and “United We Dream/#DefendDACA.” Photo by Molly Adams on Flickr, permission under CC BY 2.0.

United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions recently announced that the Trump administration would terminate a program that grants two-year renewable work and study permits to immigrants who were brought to the country as children without papers.

In the days following the policy shift surrounding Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACAprotestswalkoutspetitions, “resistbot campaigns” and calls for impeachment have flooded the internet and the streets of the US. Critics accuse the White House of being cruel, as many DACA recipients self-identify as Americans.

DACA was put in place through executive action by President Barack Obama in 2012. A legislative version of the policy, known as the DREAM Act, has repeatedly failed to pass in Congress.

Nearly 800,000 DACA recipients, who are often called “dreamers” in reference to the DREAM Act, now face the possibility of deportation when their permits expire in six months if Congress does not act.

The decision triggered a renewed debate on the very definition of what it means to be an “American,” in this case referring to a citizen of the United States, with organizations like Define American at the forefront, using stories to put a face to the numbers.

Founded by journalist Jose Antonio Vargas, who is himself undocumented, Define American’s mission is to use the power of story to “transcend politics and shift the conversation about immigrants, identity, and citizenship in a changing America.”

Define American also invites undocumented people and their allies to create and upload text and video testimonials about the immigrant experience in the US.

Giovanni Amado, 23, arrived in the US in 1998 from Mexico City when he was just 3 years old. In his video testimonial, published a few days before the Trump administration’s announcement, Amado talks about his work as a fraud specialist in a bank and says he does not understand how terminating DACA helps anyone:

“The term American should not be defined by a document or the lack of one. It is more so the willingness to contribute to the country and help others out whenever possible.”

And Denea Joseph, a 23-year-old woman from Belize who came to the US at the age of 7, says DACA allowed her to finish her university studies. She defines American as:

“ individual — immigrant or otherwise — who has lent their skills, knowledge, education, business acumen as well as labor that lends to this nation’s positionality as a hegemonic power.”

In addition to crowd-sourced testimonials, Define American recently launched#UndocuJoy, a social media campaign designed to combat victimizing representations of undocumented people by “flooding the media with authentic images of happiness.”

The campaign features a video in collaboration with poet Yosimar Reyes who narrates his poem “I Love Us” throughout a series of images of everyday undocumented people getting up, going to work, dancing, making breakfast, and being human:

“I love us / because we have constantly had to prove our humanity / and constantly done it beautifully / Because to stay human / Under these conditions / you have to have an understanding of / Beauty.”

The struggle for permanent sanctuary

In Attorney General Sessions’ speech announcing DACA’s termination, he referred to DACA recipients as “mostly adult illegal aliens.”

His choice of wording recalled Define American’s campaign #WordsMatter, launched in 2015, which urges journalists to stop using the word “illegal” to refer to people:

“Phrases such as “illegal immigrant” and “illegal alien”  replace complex legal circumstances with an assumption of guilt. They effectively criminalize the personhood of migrants, instead of describing the legality of their actions.”

“Being in the US without proper documents is a civil offense, not a criminal one,” the campaign continues.

Given Trump’s past disparaging comments about people of Mexican origin, as well as a series of controversial executive orders, pardons, and proclamations that involve minority communities, the move to end DACA and the language used to justify the decision have reinforced accusations that Trump is purposefully stirring mistrust and hatred in society.

Even before Trump’s rise to the presidency, the federal government’s deportation priorities led certain areas of the country to limit their cooperation with US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Currently, four states (California, Colorado, Connecticut and New Mexico), as well as 37 cities and counties, have declared themselves as so-called sanctuary cities.

Following the DACA decision, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel doubled down on his city’s commitment to offering sanctuary, going so far as to declare Chicago a “Trump-Free Zone.”

But sanctuary cities aren’t a permanent solution for DACA recipients. Their fate now rests with Congress. Perhaps hearing the personal stories published by initiatives like Define American will remind lawmakers that there are real people behind the statistics and that being American is more than just a piece of paper.


ON THE MEDIA: U.N. Human Rights Chief Condemns Trump’s Attacks on Media

By: Nick Cumming-Bruce, August 30, 2017, for The New York Times

Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, the United Nations human rights chief, said the president risked inciting violence. Photo: Denis Balibouse/Reuters

GENEVA — The United Nations human rights chief said on Wednesday that President Trump’s repeated denunciations of some media outlets as “fake news” could amount to incitement to violence and had potentially dangerous consequences outside the United States.

The rebuke by Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, the high commissioner for human rights, at a news conference in Geneva was an unusually forceful criticism of a head of state by a United Nations official.

Mr. al-Hussein was reacting to Mr. Trump’s recent comments at a rally in Phoenix during which he spoke of “crooked media deceptions” in reports of the violent clashes at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va., that resulted in the death of a counterprotester.

In Phoenix, the president’s words also appeared to whip up audience hostility toward journalists.

“It’s really quite amazing when you think that freedom of the press, not only a cornerstone of the Constitution but very much something the United States defended over the years, is now itself under attack from the president himself,” Mr. al-Hussein said. “It’s a stunning turnaround.”

Asked for comment, the White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, said in an emailed statement, “We believe in free press and think it is an important part of our democracy, but the press also has a big responsibility to the American people to be truthful. Their job is to report the news, not create it.

“Is it not ‘dangerous’ for the media,” she continued, “to create false narratives and overzealous attacks against the president that the American people chose to be their leader? The president is focused on growing our economy, creating jobs, securing our border and protecting Americans. Since those are also the priorities of most Americans, hopefully the media will make covering them theirs.”

In an attempt to deflect criticism that he had stoked racial divisions by failing to unequivocally condemn the actions of neo-Nazis and white supremacists in Charlottesville as racist, Mr. Trump had accused the news media of giving a platform to hate groups.

He singled out by name The New York Times, CNN and The Washington Post.

Mr. al-Hussein said that the violence in Charlottesville was “an abomination.” The Nazi salutes, the display of swastikas and the anti-Semitic chants had no place in the United States or anywhere else, he said.

“To call these news organizations fake does tremendous damage,” Mr. al-Hussein added. “I believe it could amount to incitement. At an enormous rally, referring to journalists as very, very bad people — you don’t have to stretch the imagination to see then what could happen to journalists.”

Mr. Trump’s relationship with the news media has veered from lobbing labels like “dishonest” and “enemy of the people” at certain companies to agreeing to cordial sit-downs with those very outlets, like a wide-ranging interview with Times reporters in July.

President Trump speaking in Phoenix last week. Photo: Tom Brenner/The New York Times

He was criticized for retweeting a short video meme showing him wrestling with and punching a figure whose head had been replaced by the logo of CNN, a network he has called “garbage journalism.”

But the president has shown a strong preference for programs on the Rupert Murdoch-owned Fox network, like Sean Hannity’s program and “Fox & Friends.”

Before the presidential election, Mr. al-Hussein had warned that Mr. Trump could be a danger to international stability, but on Wednesday, at a news conference to discuss Venezuela, the human rights chief focused mainly on more recent domestic events.

Mr. al-Hussein said the president’s demonization of the news media was “poisonous because it has consequences elsewhere.” If a journalist were to be harmed, he asked, “does the president not bear responsibility for this, for having fanned this?”

Countries that did not recognize the essential role of the news media could be inspired if journalists in the United States were attacked, he said. He noted that Cambodia’s government, for example, had withdrawn licenses from the news media and it had cited Mr. Trump as an inspiration for doing so.

Mr. al-Hussein also condemned the president’s comments regarding Muslims, minorities and transgender people as “grossly irresponsible.”

“It emboldens those who think similarly to sharpen their assaults on these communities,” he said.

The number of anti-Semitic attacks in the United States in the first three months of this year was 86 percent higher than in the same period last year, he said, citing figures from the Anti-Defamation League.

Mr. al-Hussein compared Mr. Trump to a bus driver “careening down a mountain path.” From a human rights perspective, he said, “it seems to be reckless driving.”


ON HAITI: Welcoming Haitian refugees to Canada isn’t about generosity but justice

By: Martin Lukacs, August 29, 2017, for The Guardian

Canada has a hand in the misery Haitians are fleeing. Asylum should serve as reparations.

A family from Haiti walk to the US-Canada border to cross into Canada from Champlain, New York, U.S. August 11, 2017. Photograph: Christinne Muschi/Reuters

The minders of Canadian PM Justin Trudeau’s brand are surely displeased. He’s spent two years cultivating an image of Canada’s refugee system as the political equivalent of airport hugs and teddy-bears. And now the pressure is on him to act like that were remotely the truth.

The image of the country as a welcome haven was pitched to win the support of millions of people in Canada who rightly feel two things: compassion for the plight of refugees and disgust for the antics of Donald Trump. But refugee rights advocates had warned what would come to pass: desperate people would take Trudeau at his word.

Hence an influx of thousands of Haitian refugees from the United States—afraid of being deported back to Haiti by Trump—now await an uncertain fate in Canada. The Liberal government may have been happy to reap the political benefits of Trudeau’s PR posture. But apart from accepting a small number of Syrian refugees, they have dumped hundreds back in Haiti since they lifted a ban on deportations to the country in 2016. And they have studiously avoided removing other barriers that would make Canada a truly welcoming country.

The current debate has so far focussed on one such barrier: a 2004 agreement with the US that bars almost all refugees from making an asylum claim at a Canada-US border post. That’s why they are increasingly turning to precarious crossings—at which point they can at least get a hearing. This agreement—whose basis is the indefensible notion that the United States is safe for refugees—should long ago have been scrapped.

Instead Trudeau has turned to admonishing Haitians, dispatching a minister to the United States to warn Haitians against seeking asylum in Canada. “For someone to successfully seek asylum it’s not about economic migration,” Trudeau warned. “It’s about vulnerability, exposure to torture or death, or being stateless people.”

“Economic refugees,” of course, are not entitled to asylum. And this is where the base ranting of right-wing tabloids and anti-immigrant racists, who have stoked hate and fear of “selfish queue-jumpers,” dovetails with the high-minded reasoning of elite pundits and Liberal policy-makers preaching pragmatic limits and strict refugee criteria.

Both adhere to a brand that is much more enduring than this latest Prime Minister’s: the brand of an innocent Canada, whose benevolence is indisputable, whose humanitarian impulse is never in doubt. What they disagree about is whether Canada should bestow it on refugees.

Astonishingly, what has merited not a single mention in mainstream discussion is that Canada doesn’t stand at a remove from the misery that Haitians are fleeing: we had a direct hand in it. Ignoring this history—and absolving Canada of responsibility for Haiti’s situation—has created the greatest barrier of all to refugees receiving the welcome they deserve.

Haiti’s long-suffering people, who have endured a line of dictatorships, had a brief respite in the last quarter century: a popular democratic wave that swept priest Jean-Bertrand Aristide to power. He raised the minimum wage from mere pennies, disbanded an army that bullied the population, and started providing education and medical care to the poor majority.

Defying the agenda of the Haitian elite and multinational companies who used the country for cheap labour made Aristide enemies—the US, France, and sadly, Canada. in 2003, the Liberal government of the time hosted US and French officials to plot Aristide’s ouster. They cut aid to his government. And when US marines invaded the country, Canadian soldiers guarded the airport while they flew out Aristide and dumped him in Africa. A United Nations military force, commanded for a period by Canadians, occupied the country, providing cover for the regime installed after this coup d’état. Thousands of Haitians were killed.

The Canadian government’s role was hardly based on humanitarianism: having refused a full role in the US war on Iraq, they needed to get back in the good graces of George Bush. In a moment of candour out of sync with our humanitarian brand, ex Liberal Foreign Affairs Minister Bill Graham explained: “Foreign Affairs view was there is a limit to how much we can constantly say no to the political masters in Washington…eventually we came on side on Haiti, so we got another arrow in our quiver.”

The cost to Haitians of this cynical calculus was incalculable. Since the coup, Haiti has lurched from disaster to disaster, compounded by governments more accountable to the US than its own people. The devastating earthquake of 2010 was shaped by inequality and deliberate under-development that Haiti was plunged back into after Aristide’s ousting. The impact of similar storms on neighbouring Cuba—whose measures to lift people out of the most impoverished infrastructure have not been blocked by western governments—was a fraction of what it was in Haiti.

Western governments have tried to wash their hands of their victims. In the wake of the earthquake, Obama’s administration built a fortress around Haiti: coast guards cruised the waters to prevent any from fleeing; air force bombers dropped messages in the country, warning that “if you leave, you will be arrested and returned”; and a US private prison company started setting up a detention centre in Guantanamo Bay, while Haitians had not yet dug themselves out of the rubble.

And the reconstruction effort that millions of people around the world compassionately contributed to? Botched by the U.S. and Canada, it left Haiti with plenty of industrial parks for sweatshop employers and luxury hotels for tourists and NGO officers, but virtually no new housing for the million Haitians who had been made homeless. To make matters even worse, the occupying UN force introduced the world’s largest cholera epidemic into the country — it has killed 30,000, infected 2 million people, and rages on.

Canada has “slapped some make-up” on the situation to justify deporting people to the country, says Haitian human rights lawyer Patrice Florvilus, who fled to Montreal from Haiti in 2013 after facing death threats. “Canada claims things have returned to normal. They have not. There is criminalization of homosexuality and dissent, assassinations, a corrupt justice system. So much suffering has flowed from the coup onward, and the state now has no capacity to protects its citizens. Canada should assume responsibility for the chaos and injustice it helped create.”

Haiti is today sliding back toward dictatorship: disastrously bad elections, sanctioned by the US and Canada, have produced a parliament packed with thugs and drug dealers, the old army is being revived, and leading figures in the current government have links to the dictatorships of old.

All of this could hardly be a better example of the slogan repeated by migrant justice movements around the world: “We are here because you were there.” Western government’s wars, their ransacking of resources, the manipulation and impoverishment of poor countries, has led to an inevitable flow of displaced and persecuted to our shores.

“If Canada wants to become a real beacon for refugees, here is an opportunity prove it,” says Florvilus, who believes Canada should grant special refugee status to the arriving Haitians.

He’s right. After all of our crimes toward that country, asylum should serve as the barest of reparations. The refugees arriving are hardly a “flood,” or “unsustainable” — they are drop in the bucket alongside the immigrants that arrive every year. As climate change wreaks devastation around the world, these numbers are sure to grow.

In past decades, mobilizations led by the Haitian community in Montreal have forced the Canadian government to act more in line with its rhetoric. That can happen again. Now is the time to fight for the values that will govern how we address the graver refugee migrations to come.

In the final account, welcoming refugees isn’t a matter of generosity, or burnishing Brand Justin — it’s a matter of justice.





ON MEDIA: Sheffield International Documentary Film Festival

By Nick Rice for Clash, 17-07-17

Clash – DocFest 2017, Strong Island

Inspiration overload at one of the international film industry’s most important annual events…

The Sheffield International Documentary Film Festival, or Doc/Fest as it’s widely known, is a welcome highlight on the international calendar of any filmmaker or documentarian and for the vastly growing audience of compelling and crucial non-fiction films.

For six days in June, Sheffield city centre becomes a cosmopolitan heaving hub of activity that celebrates and elevates a palette of film work that is as rich as it is relevant. With swanky boutique, brand spanking multiplex and cosy old favourite cinemas across the city all involved, alongside other venues such as the Crucible Theatre, City Hall and Town Hall – plus free outdoor screens with deckchairs dotted around – the Doc/Fest requires some careful navigation. Thankfully, everything is within walking distance, so every talk, masterclass, screening, live performance, workshop, exhibition networking party or piss-up, is only a quick march away.

For one itinerary-busting week festival-goers are exposed to the latest works of internationally acclaimed veteran filmmakers and vital emerging voices that reflect the world we share. As the CEO and Festival Director Liz McIntyre succinctly puts it, “We’re reeling from seismic change as we witness events that we know will become the most pored over scenes in future documentaries. Doc/Fest 2017 is brimming with documentaries that are funny and quirky, powerful and influential, heart-stopping and heart-breaking”.

The Opening Night film of the 24th edition was the world premiere of Daisy Asquith’s Queerama, coinciding with 50 years since the passing of the Sexual Offences Act, which marked the slow process of the decriminalization of homosexuality in the UK. Given unlimited access to the British Film Institute’s archives, with some material dating back to 1919, Asquith has crafted an eye-opening and entertaining account of gay experiences in the last century.

Clash – DocFest 2017, City of the Sun

With a soundtrack by John Grant, Alison Goldfrapp and Hercules & Love Affair the film transports us into the lives of gay men and women throughout the 20th Century. Black and white footage and testimonials from homosexuals in the 1940s and ‘50s offer a rarely seen glimpse into the intensely difficult challenges that society once imposed. The film and its playful editing (staggering given it was accomplished in months rather than years) shines a welcome light on how far society has progressed in the face of ugly prejudice. After the premiere John Grant performed several tracks used in the film and joined Asquith and the prominent creator of contemporary British queer cinema Campbell X for a lively Q&A.

The Talks & Sessions are one of the most popular elements of Doc/Fest and this year the stellar bill continued. Louis Theroux interviewed one of his heroes, Nick Broomfield – the acclaimed filmmaker who during his forty years in the industry has made films such as Biggie and Tupac, Aileen Wuornos: The Selling of a Serial Killer, Kurt & Courtney and the hotly-anticipated Whitney: ‘Can I Be Me which premiered at the Doc/Fest. Broomfield and Theroux made for an infectious duo and after a riveting tour through the elder’s career one City Hall audience member shouted out the suggestion that they should collaborate, which quickly received noisy cheers of concurrence.

The redoubtable and always likeable Ian Hislop was also at City Hall in conversation with the BAFTA-winning actor and satirist Jolyon Rubinstein (The Revolution Will Be Televised, Revolting). The pair were intensely amusing bedfellows and unpicked the world of post-truth and satire, lambasting prime targets like the excruciatingly smug Piers Morgan and the sickeningly repellent Katie Hopkins in their stride whilst presenting the modern media landscape encountered by the long-time editor of Private Eye and the only panel member of Have I Got News For You who has never missed a single episode, even when requiring an urgent operation for appendicitis.

Clash – DocFest 2017, A RIVER BELOW

At the Crucible Theatre the legendary director and artist Peter Greenaway CBE, whose work stretches back to the 1960s and includes The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover, gave an uncompromising speech in which he slammed the need for writers in filmmaking and called instead for a “painter’s approach” to the art. In a densely-filled hour Greenaway championed non-narrative styles of storytelling and urged for more pioneering forms of artistic approach to respond to the febrile social and political changes at hand.

One of the most enlightening talks came from the explorer, BAFTA-Award winning presenter and skilled documentarian Bruce Parry, who discussed his extraordinary career to date with journalist and presenter Katie Puckrik. The Showroom Cinema hosted a packed session and screened sneak previews of Parry’s latest project – the result of four years of work, pleasure and pain – the new feature length documentary Tawai – A Voice From The Forest (due for release in cinemas this Autumn), in which he returns to reconnect with the tribes from his amazing adventures when making the ‘Tribe’ BBC series. Returning to India, Malaysia and the Amazon and to the Penan tribe of Borneo, Parry discussed the film and how his fascinating documentary work and journeys have brought him to a fully rounded re-evaluation of his views on human nature and how humankind relates to the natural world.

The Marketplace segment of Doc/Fest offered a huge programme of initiatives and pitch opportunities for anyone either already making films or eager to do so. TV stations, Production company’s and content providers such as Channel 4 and The Guardian hosted live pitching sessions where audiences observed the entire process from a candidate’s pitch through to the final decision making and filmmaking prizes. This is another one of the numerous fantastic things about Doc/Fest – it’s such an inclusive and supportive environment. Whether you are simply a keen documentary fan, a fledgling filmmaker or a bonafide legend, there is always something to engage and inspire.

Not least the actual films. A total of 60,856 attendances were enjoyed by everyday cinema-goers and international and UK industry delegates, with a record 250 screenings at 14 screens across the city.

Clash – DocFest 2017, City of Ghosts

In its first year at Doc/Fest, the Art Doc Award, which has been created to celebrate new forms of storytelling and recognises bold, innovative non-fiction films, was given to ‘City of the Sun’ by first-time filmmaker Rati Oneli (United States, Georgia, Netherlands, Qatar, 2017). The film moves seamlessly between fact and fiction and lays bare the honest realities and ups and downs of four different sets of lives in what remains of a small mining town in Georgia.

The Environmental Award was taken by A River Below (Dir: Mark Grieco, Brazil, 2017), which highlights the alliance between a renowned marine biologist and a reality TV star who are both campaigning to save Brazil’s pink river dolphin, whilst also posing questions about the ethics of activism in the modern media age.

The Tim Hetherington award, given to films and filmmakers that resonate with the late journalist Tim Hetherington’s legacy, was won by Strong Island (Dir: Yance Ford, USA). Through unflinching testimonials and stylish cinematography we bear witness to the grief endured by a family whose son was murdered on Long Island, New York, and the disinterest of the police in bringing to justice the killer of a young black male.

The Grand Jury Award went to City Of Ghosts (Dir: Matthew Heineman, USA). The film centres on the citizen journalist group Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently (RBSS) and in a heart-pounding 90 minutes it exposes the unspeakable horrors of life under ISIS rule.

Festival Director Liz McIntyre mentioned that “we strive to increase the visibility and accessibility to documentary story-telling for inspiration” and Doc/Fest does that and much more in extraordinary fashion.
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An early bird price of £159 + VAT for a ‘Lightning Pass’ – giving access to all of next year’s films and events – is available HERE.

The 25th edition of Sheffield Doc/Fest will open on Thursday 7 June 2018 and close Tuesday 12 June 2018, with the Annual Awards’ Ceremony and Closing Night Film.

Sheffield International Documentary Film Festival report

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