The Yemenis trapped between war and us extreme vetting
New York City - Under dim lights in her apartment, Khulood Nasher clutched two winter coats, with the price tags still on, for her sons trapped in Yemen's war. The last time she saw them, Omar was 13 and Rami 14 years old. That was seven years ago.
"I'm not sure if maybe I'll still be alive when I see them again," Nasher said as her voice wavered. "I really give up."
Years after applying to reunite with their mother, Rami and Omar had a visa interview at the US embassy in Djibouti last winter.
Nasher rushed to buy the coats to ensure that her sons didn't catch a cold after they stepped off the plane in New York.
Two weeks later, President Donald Trump's executive order banned citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries, including Yemen, and pushed for extreme vetting on visa applications. A second ban in June blocked only those without a bona fide US relationship like a family tie, work contract or university admission. The third version, targeting citizens from six of the original countries plus North Korea, Chad, and Venezuela, was temporarily blocked by a federal court in October. But earlier this month, the US Supreme Court ruled to let the government enforce the most recent ban while lower courts debate its legality.
The White House maintains that the ban is intended to target countries that have not provided enough information to allow for the proper vetting of travellers, but rights groups say it disproportionately targets Muslims.
And while Nasher's sons - as the family members of a permanent resident who won asylum - do not fall under the travel ban, they still face extreme vetting procedures and lengthy delays under what legal experts and advocates have called a "ban beyond the ban".
In Trump's America, Yemeni-American women are coming to the forefront as activists and community leaders.
Yemenis Thought They'd Won The Visa Lottery.
Then Came Trump's Muslim Ban.
In March, Abdullah Fadhel left his family in war-wrecked Yemen, traveled overnight by bus through military checkpoints, and flew to Malaysia on a promise: He was eligible to receive a U.S. green card. Seven months and $12,000 later, he’s still waiting, stranded because of President Donald Trump’s travel bans.
Fadhel had been selected in the annual “diversity visa” lottery – last year, 19 million people applied for 50,000 green cards reserved for citizens from countries with low immigration to the United States. Being chosen in the lottery doesn’t guarantee a visa, but the immigration system generally promises applicants a fair chance and timely response in a maximum of 60 days after they have an interview, according to the State Department.
This year, however, for at least 95 applicants from countries listed on Trump’s travel bans, including Yemen, the State Department did not respond to their applications for months. While their paperwork languished, the available visas for this fiscal year ran out. Beginning in late September, Fadhel and dozens of other Yemeni applicants received letters from the U.S. Embassy in Kuala Lumpur stating that the visa cap had been reached. They were out of luck.
Asylum seekers linger longer behind bars
The night that an anti-gay mob burned a man to death on a street corner in Togo, Hafizou Issifou knew he had to flee his homeland, where homosexuality is illegal. The news came from his sister, who texted him a picture of the victim: I think it was your boyfriend, Razak, she wrote. Then Issifou heard that his uncle wanted to kill him as well. He hid in a friend’s house for a year until he received a U.S. tourist visa.
Issifou arrived at JFK airport on March 6 and asked for asylum. Authorities sent him to Elizabeth Detention Facility in New Jersey — where he slept in a room with 43 other detainees for five and a half months, working in the kitchen for a dollar a day, not able to go outside.
A volunteer attorney explained to Issifou that he was eligible to apply for parole under Department of Homeland Security (DHS) policy. He applied in May, but was denied a month later without an interview or an explanation.
“I was completely desperate,” 28-year-old Issifou said in a recent interview. “I knew I couldn’t go back, because I knew that if I went back, they were going to kill me.”
IS DISCRIMINATION AGAINST THE QUEER COMMUNITY INTENSIFYING UNDER MODI?
New Delhi: One night in January 2015, Rovin Sharma left his house to buy water wearing trousers, a baggy sweater, heels and a bindi. It was normal attire for the bearded and lipsticked Sharma, who identifies as neither male nor female.
At 12:30 am, the streets around Kamla Nagar in north Delhi were deserted except for two men in a car at the end of the lane. When the men caught sight of Sharma, they got out and started running after the then 20-year-old. Sharma didn’t know why, but could guess after hearing the story of a gay student raped and killed at Delhi University years back.
“They wanted to assault me because I’m an easy catch,” Sharma said.
Muslim Protesters Dismiss Modi’s Cow Violence Criticism as Hollow
New Delhi: Just three days after Prime Minister Narendra Modi condemned the lynchings in the name of protecting cows, a sea of white-clothed Muslim protesters flooded Delhi’s Jantar Mantar, unsatisfied with his criticism and demanding justice for the victims.
“It is a political statement. It doesn’t have any interest for the people. They who are lynching are members of the ruling parties,” said social activist Afzal Ahmad. “No action will be taken. They are taking political benefit from it.”
High Court Questions Centre on Marital Rape: ‘How Do You Justify The Exception?’
The Delhi high court on Tuesday asked the Centre to provide justification for the exception under section 375 that allows a man to rape his wife if she is more than 15 years old, a law challenged as unconstitutional by three civil petitions.
“How do you justify the exception?” acting chief justice Gita Mittal asked advocate R.K. Kapoor, representing the Union of India, before the packed courtroom.
The three petitions were filed against the Union of India by an NGO, the RIT Foundation, the All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA) and marital rape victim Khusboo Saifi. They challenge section 375, exception 2 as unconstitutional, inhumane and out of sync with the world, where a range of countries from Nepal in South Asia to the United States and Britain criminalise marital rape.
voices of new york
As Trump Arms Saudis To Bomb Yemen, Yemeni-Americans Conflicted and Afraid to Speak Up
When President Trump sealed a $110 billion weapons deal with Saudi Arabia in May, he armed the Saudis to continue their bombing campaign against Yemen’s rebel Houthis. After two years of war, 10,000 Yemenis are dead and seven million starving.
Yemeni-Americans fiercely debate whether U.S. involvement helps or hurts their home country: some welcome the coalition to stop the rebels’ violence, but many blame the airstrikes for killing civilians. The situation grew more complicated this year when President Trump authorized a counter-terrorism raid that killed dozens in Yemen and twice tried to ban Yemenis from entering the U.S.
But some Yemeni-Americans don’t voice their opinions because they fear retaliation from both sides of the conflict. People who protest the Houthi rebels fear that their families back in Yemen will pay for it. Others are quick to slam Saudi Arabia, but less willing to criticize U.S. foreign policy because they worry they'll become targets of surveillance like after 9/11.
New york daily news
Queens landlord pushes DHS tip line to scare immigrants out of rent-controlled units, residents say
A landlord who's faced past allegations of tenant harassment has posted signs touting a Department of Homeland Security tip line in some of his Queens buildings, which have unnerved some tenants.
Between President Trump's push to deport undocumented residents and a spike in immigration raids, the Bangladeshi tenants of a Zara realty apartment building on 168th St. in Jamaica are on edge.
"It's to scare the people," said Abukhar Hossain, whose family has lived at the nine-story brick address for 15 years.
New York City news service
Behind Closed Doors:
Domestic Laborers Make All other Work Possible
winner of eppy 2017 Best University News or event feature
Dianne, 53, is only supposed to work until 7 p.m., but she never knows when she will get a text from her employers: we have an urgent meeting, can you stay late? The Jamaican-born nanny always agrees. It doesn’t bother her after 14 years.
Dianne first held the bleached-blonde boy who became like her own son when he was six weeks old. Whenever his parents traveled for work, it was Dianne who stayed with him for days at a time.
“They are comfortable with me enough to know that they can leave me with their child, day and night,” Dianne said. “Through their financial changes and promotions, I’m here the whole time.”
For 14 years, she has cared for the boy – and now his dog, too – in the ninth floor apartment on the Upper West Side. She earns $640 for a 30-hour work week, studies for her college degree, and supports her daughter and granddaughter whom she left behind in Jamaica.
For Dianne, who overstayed her tourist visa in 2000, President Trump’s inauguration leaves her in anxious limbo.
Private households employ the highest percentage of undocumented immigrants of any American industry. Twenty-three percent of the 947,000 people working in U.S. homes were undocumented, according to the 2014 American Community Survey.
There were nearly 100,000 domestic workers in New York City in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor. Most, like Dianne, are foreign-born women of color. Through their labor, these women enable thousands of other workers to contribute to New York City’s economy.
“Domestic work is the work that makes all other work possible,” said Patricia, an undocumented 57-year-old immigrant from Trinidad and Tobago and domestic worker for 15 years.
“Behind the scenes these are the women that allow things to really happen in America,” said Alene Mathurin, an immigrant from St. Lucia, former nanny, and founder of a non-profit supporting domestic workers. “Through nanny care, the doctor who’s a parent can deliver a baby tonight. Through nanny care, the person in Wall Street can go to the meeting early in the morning. Because of nanny care, the CEO is in Japan.”
the local sweden
What's it like being homeless during Sweden's winter?
Amayd, a Nigerian mechanic, Thomas, a Swedish former bus driver, and Zina, a Roma magazine vendor, have only one thing in common: struggling to find a place to sleep in Stockholm.
“It's hellfire,” says Amayd, describing his life on the streets. A short man with a slow gait, grey-speckled beard, and blood-laced eyes, he is a 42-year-old father from Nigeria. After 13 years as a permanent resident in Spain, he arrived in Stockholm two weeks ago, in search of work.
Every night, he's entered the lottery for a bed at a Salvation Army-run centre with success. But on Sunday, his name wasn't drawn – and so he had nowhere to sleep. He stayed in Stockholm's Central Station until it closed, then spent the night walking through snow-blown streets.
“I only have one coat,” Amayd told The Local. “I was afraid to die of the cold.”
the jerusalem project
ABUSED PALESTINIAN WOMEN FACE MORE THAN JUST VIOLENCE
In an unassuming gated building on a sun-bleached hill on the outskirts of Bethlehem sits one of three shelters in the West Bank that support the estimated 375,000 women who are survivors of domestic violence.
“There are a lot (of stories). I don’t know where to start,” said Maysoon Ramadan, director of the Mehwar Center for the Protection and Empowerment of Families. Shaking her head, she lit her third cigarette in an hour and sighed.
Abused women must overcome stigmas when speaking out about violence, seeking help at a shelter, and re-integrating into their communities
Ramadan has worked in the field of women’s rights since 1998 and for the Mehwar Center since 2000. Her experience seems to show in her deep-set features, weighty voice and empathetic eyes.
Taking another drag on her cigarette, she began to share a story of a young woman who arrived at the shelter a couple years ago.
Only 19, the girl had been sexually abused by her father since she was 11.
“She said she didn’t realize what was going on,” said Ramadan. “He convinced her it was a normal relation between fathers and daughters.”
Only after her father refused to let her marry the man she loved did the young woman realize she was being lied to and abused.
To spite her father, she tried to commit suicide and then succeeded in running away. She was found and brought to Mehwar by the police.
“It was a very, very difficult case,” said Ramadan. “Every time she opened the experience, she collapsed. She didn’t sleep well or eat well. She used to have nightmares that her father was choking her and wake up screaming.”
Maysoon Ramadan, director of Mehwar, has stood in solidarity with abused women for 15 years. Behind her is a portrait of a women in the shelter as photographed by another resident in a 2012 UN Women’s empowerment project.
The young woman stayed at the shelter for a year before returning to her mother’s home. Ramadan said she is 21 or 22 years old now and married.
“I am sure that things are not well,” Ramadan said, a flicker of tears showing in her eyes. “But she’s trying to live.”
the lo-down new york
The Freedom Swimmer
Ming Chung swam from China to Hong Kong to escape communism when he was 19. In 1974, he made it to New York City as a refugee. Now a U.S. citizen who believes in President Donald Trump's "America First", he’s back at school to learn English.
voices of new york
Madani Halal: aFter the Founder's Death
Four days after Bangladeshi community leader Riaz Uddin died of a heart attack, his only son Imran was back to work at the family’s halal slaughterhouse in Ozone Park, Queens. Uddin strode in on a Saturday afternoon, the busiest time of the week, and grabbed the ringing phone.
“As-salāmu ʿalaykum, this is Madani Halal, how can I help you?” He repeated the caller’s order for a 10-pound duck, swiped a customer’s credit card for diced chicken, and took $422 in cash for a whole goat before slaughtering it for the family.
Only in a moment of calm behind the closed office door did the 39-year-old show his emotions. “My father was my best friend,” Uddin said of the man who died of a heart attack on Jan. 10 at the age of 81. “He was so wise and I’m going to miss not being able to ask him for advice.”
His voice gave out, eyes bleary. “When I went to the mosque yesterday, they said, ‘Imran, without your father, this whole community’s going to crumble. You have to take over, you have to replace him,’” he said. “So I told them I’ll do whatever I have to do.”
He emigrated from colombia and transitioned to his true self
When Mateo Guerrero immigrated to Queens in 2010, he was a queer undocumented teenager called Katherine. When he came out to his mom shortly afterward, she pleaded with Guerrero not to become a man. When his father found out that Mateo wanted to transition, he left the family and returned to their home in Colombia.
voices of new york
CRACKDOWN ON ROOSEVELT AVENUE BARS QUESTIONED
Romano insists he doesn't frequent El Tucanoza, a bar on Roosevelt Avenue, where customers pay $2 a dance, to take a woman home with him. Instead, the Mexican immigrant who declined to give his last name, visits to drink with friends after an exhausting 15-hour work day.
Inside the bar, he said he feels safe because: "Immigration doesn't come, police don't come."
That might not be true for long. In August, state Sen. Jose Peralta introduced legislation to crack down on prostitution by targeting establishments he believes are guilty of promoting the crime. Peralta's bills would beef up police patrols, limit liquor licenses and double fines for dance bars like El Tucanoza which operation without cabaret licenses.
But many Jackson Heights residents debate whether targeting bars will fix the decades-old problem and whether extra policy will make immigrants feel safer - or more threatened. President-elect Donald Trump's recent pledge to deport at least 2 million undocumented immigrants heightened fears in the neighborhood, where 73 percent of the population comes from Latin America.
"Deportations are at a record high and people get stressed out when they see the police," said Tania Mattos, 33, founder of the nonprofit organization Queens Neighborhood United. Mattos, who was born in Bolivia, grew up undocumented in the area.
"Peralta saying 'let's bring the police in' is like saying 'let's bring in an army.' For us it's not going to solve the issue," she said. "I don't think hitting the establishments will fix the problem."
HIJABI WOMEN FEAR HATE CRIMES AFTER TRUMP'S ELECTION
Donald Trump's xenophobic rhetoric and a rise in Islamophobic hate crimes sparked fear for many Muslims who call this country home. After the election, some women who wear hijab wrestled with whether to keep on traditional head covering out of fear for their own safety. For many, donning it became an act of bravery.
operation black vote
Victims battle Over Caste Discrimination
London: Aneil Jhumat looks like any other 29-year-old British professional carrying himself with confidence in a sleek grey suit, a silver wedding band on one hand and gold ring on the other.
But there is one difference, impossible for most Brits to see, which has caused him to suffer discrimination in the UK: his caste.
As a third generation Punjabi Ravadasi Sikh of a so-called lower caste, Jhumat has endured derogatory abuse throughout his life.
In university, Jhumat’s close friends, when they found out his caste, decided he wasn’t good enough to be their friend anymore, and in his last job with the Government, visiting higher-caste contractors told him that: "If we were in India, you would be picking up my shit.”
But Jhumat, internal audit manager for Barnardo’s Children Charity, says he is just one victim of caste-based discrimination among countless in his community.
He knows elderly people who have not been properly cared for by assistants or patients whom doctors have refused to serve because they were “untouchable”.
Among his family, his shop-owning uncle experienced a dramatic loss in milk sales when women in the local community discovered his caste, and his aunt who works for the NHS is continually denied overtime opportunities in favour of upper-caste nurses. Jhumat said: "But what can she do? Caste means you’re born with a label that sticks with you and you can’t escape it. It’s not dying out; it’s alive and kicking and affecting people like me.”
Refugees polarize rural sweden, but most far-right critics stay silent
Åsljunga: When Gisela Hector’s brother invited his village neighbor to play football with newly arrived refugees, the neighbor refused, saying he ‘would never have anything to do with them’.
“Many people are positive and helping refugees, but some are very against,” said Gisela, 67, a blunt and wiry physical therapist. “They’re a minority, though, so they’re afraid to do anything.”
Gisela and her husband Per, 69, built their sprawling home beside a serene lake when they moved to Åsljunga with their six children in 1976. The population of the traditionally Lutheran village, nestled among quintessential red farmhouses in the southern municipality of Örkelljunga, hovers around 700 - but not for much longer.
So far this year, Åsljunga received 102 asylum-seekers and Örkelljunga 332, compared with 90 in 2014.
These arrivals are just a fraction of the tidal wave of asylum-seekers entering Sweden. From September to November 2015, the country’s migration agency reported 80,000 new arrivals, the same as all of 2014. They predicted a total of 190,000 by the end of the year. Most refugees are Syrian, although many of the estimated 30,000 unaccompanied minors originate from Afghanistan, Eritrea, or Somalia.
The massive influx has overwhelmed a country famed for its historically open-armed generosity and polarized opinions in every municipality, including Örkelljunga.
“The town is divided on the issue,” said Hector's nephew Andreas Giselsson, 32, who works in a home for unaccompanied minor refugees in Åsljunga. “But in the public forum in Sweden, we like to be politically correct and don’t talk about it.”
On the national stage, the only vocal critics are the far-right Swedish Democrats, ostracized by other parties for their anti-immigration policies. The nationalistic party boasts a stronghold in Örkelljunga: in 2014’s general election, 26 percent of the municipality – the highest in the country – voted for them.
Although immigration critics are an undeniable presence in Örkelljunga, they’re largely silenced by cultural fear of disagreement and social pressure to accept diversity. Instead, a more vocal majority has rallied to welcome refugees.
Eager Local Volunteers Set Example for Swedes
When Åsljunga opened its refugee center in August 2015, 200 locals attended an informational meeting; 50 volunteered to help asylum-seekers.
Boel Skoglund, 55, deacon of the Lutheran church, organized volunteers to give rides and Swedish lessons to refugees – a scheme so successful that neighbouring towns followed their example.
Skoglund believes it’s easier for refugees to meet locals and learn language in the rural area.
“It’s better to come to a small place because people know each other,” she said. “It’s also easier to mobilize people to volunteer, because they want to do something good for the village.”
For Åsljunga locals Gisela and Per Hector, helping refugees was natural. “We have such a good life,” said Per. “Many of the refugees have also had this life, and then they come here and they have nothing.”
After the refugee center opened, Per pioneered a second-hand shop for refugees that received so many donations he gave 90 extra bags to relief work abroad.
Gisela started teaching Swedish lessons at her kitchen table. Two of her students are Syrian refugees Salma Jabri, 24, and her husband Hasan, 31.
In August, the couple crossed from Turkey to Greece on a 10-meter boat with 45 fellow refugees and followed smugglers by ferry, car, train, and on foot over countless European borders until reaching Åsljunga
“We knew we wanted to come to Sweden, because we think we’ll have more opportunity,” Hasan said. The Jabris are now looking for their own house and interviewing for jobs – which proves to be the greatest challenge.
Refugees Fear Joblessness
According to the Swedish Public Employment Service, unemployment in Örkelljunga was 8.7 percent in 2015. In the greater region of Skåne, it was 10.1 percent – the country’s highest.
Finding a job is especially difficult for asylum-seekers. Refugees have the right to work while they wait for asylum, but they’re barred from government-sponsored Swedish classes until they're granted permanent residency - and without language, chances of employment are slim.
In one house in Örkelljunga, nine Syrian men and a family of three live together; some of them have been waiting to receive asylum for over a year. During the day, they attend informal Swedish classes; at night they play cards or watch TV - but what they really want is to work.
“We want to find a job,” said the oldest, who declined to give his name. “We Syrians like to study; we like to work hard.”
The speaker, who entertained guests from all over the world in a 5-star hotel for 25 years, would like to work in hospitality again. A medical student dreamed of finishing his degree and developing cures for cancer. Another man would take any job so his family could join him in Sweden.
The fears of unemployed refugees echo the concerns of immigration skeptics like Kristian Svensson, 35, who grew up in Åsljunga. He said taking in refugees was a good thing – up to a point.
“The problem here is there are no low-qualifying jobs,” Svensson said. “The sad truth is that no refugee can find a job.”
Critics Say: ‘We’ve Taken Enough’
Unemployment is just one reason Örkelljunga’s parliamentary representative Mikael Eskilandersson (SD) believes the municipality can’t support asylum-seekers.
“We have problems in elderly care and schools because there is not enough room,” he said. “All these things cost money, but while our population has grown, our taxes income hasn’t.”
Annette Mårtensson, Örkelljunga’s refugee coordinator, confirmed that space in the municipality was very short, reflecting a national crisis that prompted Sweden to impose border controls in November. Eskilandersson advocated to close borders completely.
“We’ve taken enough,” he said. “Whether they’re refugees or not, we must stop the inflow of migrants. They need to go somewhere else.”
Anti-immigrant sentiment in Sweden sparked a string of suspected arson attacks – ten in October alone – against planned refugee centers. In response, the migration agency made their locations secret.
Recently in Åsljunga, perpetrators broke windows and set off fireworks at refugee housing. The director of the main center declined an interview, fearing negative attention. Residents now take turns patrolling the premises at night.
“I feel afraid all the time,” said Amar Amer, 19, who arrived alone from Syria two years ago. “But if I compare it to war, it’s nothing.”
Activists Envision Integration for All
In the face of animosity, some locals are committed to overcoming prejudice.
“I don’t think that everyone is racist,” Skoglund said, “but they’re afraid. If you’ve never met a person from Baghdad, you only see the differences. It’s important to see every human being the same, not look at borders and nationality.”
In 2013, Skoglund partnered with Turkish immigrant Necmettin Meletli to found IFALL (Integration for All), an organization that now has 23 volunteers and multiple weekly activities including a language café and sports games.
“We try to create a meeting place where people can understand cultures,” said Meletli. “Refugees are willing
to integrate, but the main challenge is for Swedes to integrate refugees into society. Being Swedish is not about ethnicity, it’s about values and how your behavior reflects those values.”
IFALL’s goal is not only to integrate communities but also to develop refugees, like Syrian Mazen Hossni, 36, (left) into leaders.
After two years waiting for asylum, Hossni, his wife, and pair of young daughters received permanent residency two months ago.
Formerly a luxury shoe store manager in Dubai, Hossni now works at McDonalds. In his free time, he volunteers as a translator at the refugee center and serves as IFALL’s Vice-President.
“I feel that Sweden is my home,” Hossni said. “Because they helped me and my family, I want to help.”
More Families Struggling to Feed Children Reach Out for Help in Queens
Three weeks after Thanksgiving, Rosana Borges sat at her dining room table and picked at the last piece of turkey in a Styrofoam bowl as she cradled one of her five children. John, 2, snored against her chest while Dayna, 6, wriggled past her to reach a box of
donated apple pastries. In the living room, Borges' mother paced with 1-month-old Roy crying in her arms. Bryan, 17, and Rosy, 14, hunched on the couch watching the TV bought with the family's tax refund. In December, Borges was still stretching the Thanksgiving turkey gifted from her local state senator, Jose Peralta in Jackson Heights, Queens, to feed her family of eight.
"I've been cooking different styles with only what we need," Borges said. She wrapped the last piece of meat in tinfoil and opened the fridge; a sour smell exuded from the half-empty shelves.
"It's broken," Borges said, shaking her head. "It would take $50 to fix it, but we can't afford it right now." She is 34 and immigrated from the Dominican Republic seven years ago.
Three months later, she still grapples daily with the decision between need and want to provide for her family.
"I am stressed all the time because I am the head of the household," Borges said. "Even though my husband earns wages, I am at home and struggling with the things I can't afford.'
2017 Inauguration protests
Donald Trump's presidency ignited a revolution across the country: from angry mobs charging Trump Tower in New York City the night after election, to anarchists blockading the inauguration, to crowds taking over Washington D.C. a day later, to masses of women walking out of work in March.