REFUGEES: No room for today’s ‘tired, poor, huddled masses yearning to breathe free’ — By Mohamed Hamaludin

By MOHAMED HAMALUDIN

The number of free African Americans increased from around 60,000 in 1790 following the Revolutionary War to about 300,000 in 1830 and European Americans feared they would help the still enslaved to escape or revolt and believed anyhow that they were an inferior race who would be better off elsewhere. The American Colonization Society and others came up with this solution: send them to Africa.

African Americans, in general, objected strongly, with some pointing out that they had lived in the United States for generations and were “no more African than white Americans were European,” as Wikipedia puts it. Shame upon the guilty wretches that dare propose and all that countenance such a proposition,” abolitionist and scholar Frederick Douglass declared. “We live here—have lived here—have a right to live here and mean to live here,”

Still, 4,571 African Americans were relocated between 1820 and 1843 to West Africa, in a collection of settlements with names such as Mississippi in Africa, Kentucky in Africa and Republic of Maryland that formed the nation of Liberia by 1857. Because of diseases, only 1,819 survived.

In Britain, the Committee for the Relief of the Black Poor decided in 1786 to establish a Province of Freedom colony — Sierra Leone — also in West Africa, for the “black poor” of London. The British government supported the plan, adding “Black Loyalists” who had resettled in Nova Scotia and had to contend with racism, along with Maroons from Jamaica and slaves freed by the Royal Navy after Britain abolished the slave trade in 1807.

Why the history lesson? Because it is happening again, this time with some of the millions of refugees fleeing violence in Africa, Central America and the Middle East. Britain signed a relocation agreement with Rwanda — where up to one million citizens were massacred in an eight-month genocidal civil war 28 years ago – under which in the east-central African nation will accept deported asylum-seekers in exchange for up to $148 million.

Prince Charles criticized the plan, deeming it “appalling,” The Times of London reported, citing unnamed sources, which would be a departure from the practice of the royal family staying out of politics. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, who is head of the Church of England, said the plan raised “serious ethical questions,” adding, in an Easter address, “The principle must stand the judgement of God and it cannot.” As a Christian nation, Britain cannot “sub-contract out our responsibilities, even to a country that seeks to do well like Rwanda” and it “is the opposite of the nature of God,” Welby said.

British Home Secretary Priti Patel – herself a daughter of Ugandan-Indian immigrants — who is overseeing the plan, justified the agreement, saying that it “will reduce illegal migration, save lives, and ultimately break the business model of the smuggling gangs.” That rationalization, however, merely mirrors the fairy tale which the British tell themselves so often, that their treatment of non-European people is purely altruistic is, in fact, “self-serving hypocrisy,” Columbia University graduate professor Howard W. French wrote in Nation magazine while reviewing “Legacy of Violence: A History of the British Empire” by Harvard professor Caroline Elkins.

Al Jazeera reported last Wednesday that some of the refugees slated to be flown to Rwanda this Tuesday went on a hunger strike, a few saying they would rather kill themselves than be deported. Three British judges rejected requests from several human rights groups for an injunction to stop the deportations but the first flight, scheduled to leave Tuesday night, was blocked, at least temporarily, by the European Court of Human Rights.

Meanwhile, Denmark, another former colonial power, signed a similar agreement with Rwanda. It, too, has run into strong criticism. The Danish Refugee Council described it as “both irresponsible and lacking in solidarity.” And Amnesty International’s Europe Director Nils Muižnieks stated, “Any attempt to transfer asylum-seekers arriving in Denmark to Rwanda for their asylum claims to be processed would be not only unconscionable but potentially unlawful. Denmark cannot deny the right of those arriving in Denmark to seek asylum and transfer them to a third country without the required guarantees.”

At least three other nations are also forcing refugees to leave for third countries, ostensibly to await processing. All three have a history of being created through replacement of native peoples: Australia, where a fleet of 11 British ships carrying convicts landed on Jan. 26, 1788 and where Indigenous peoples were brutalized; Israel, whose modern establishment came with the expulsion of up to 750,000 Palestinians; and the United States, where official policy led to the population of up to 15 million Indigenous peoples declining to fewer than 240,000 after the so-called “Indian Wars.”

Australia began deporting refugees in 2001, relocating those arriving by sea to “offshore detention centers,” the BBC reported. More than 4,000 were deported between 2012 and 2019 to places such as Nauru, Manus Island and Papua New Guinea, the BBC said, citing the Australian Border Force. The deportation is continuing, with a three-year deal announced in March for up to 450 refugees to be sent to New Zealand.

Israel deported around 4,000 asylum-seekers, mainly from Sudan and Eritrea, to Rwanda and Uganda between December 2013 and 2018, The Times of Israel reported.  Asylum-seekers were required by law to leave or face imprisonment. During one demonstration, protesters held up placards whose messages included “Do Black Lives Matter in Israel?”

The United States, under then President Donald Trump, reintroduced relocation as official policy, sending refugees from Honduras and Salvador to Guatemala in November 2019, the Associated Press reported. Mexicans were added to the list of those barred from entry, along with El Salvadorans, Nicaraguans, Guatemalans and Brazilians. Asylum-seekers were to be sent to Honduras under bilateral “Asylum Cooperation Agreements” signed in 2019.

At a time when so-called “white” people say they fear being “replaced” by “non-whites,” it can be expected that this trend will continue as a means of dealing with a tsunami of more than 20 million refugees caused by past and current destabilization of their homelands. But, as Amnesty’s Muižnieks pointed out about Denmark, “The idea that rich countries can pay their way out of their international obligations, stripping asylum-seekers of their right to even have their claims considered … is deeply worrying.”

Mohamed Hamaludin is a Guyana-born journalist who worked for several years at The Guyana Chronicle in the 1970s and on publications in the Cayman Islands and Turks and Caicos Islands before emigrating in 1984 to the United States, where he worked at The Miami Times, the Miami Herald and the South Florida Times.  Though now retired, he writes a column for The South Florida Times (sfltimes.com) in which the above column first appeared. He may be reached at hamal1942@gmail.com.

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Comments

  • Emily  On 06/17/2022 at 3:26 am

    What Priti Patel is condoning will make persons of Indian descent become more of a target in Uganda and other African countries like Kenya, Tanzania and South Africa.

  • Chris  On 06/17/2022 at 7:43 pm

    The world’s refugee crisis will only get worse.

    • Emily  On 06/18/2022 at 3:38 pm

      Climate change is a huge reason.

      Also the Abrahamic wars in the Middle East will encourage NATO to invade those countries and further destabilize already destabilizing countries.

      Don’t think that Guyana isn’t immune to this. Heard that there was a very bad flood which inundated all 10 regions last year.

      The tides are getting higher and higher, yet the Guyanese government is filling in the trenches to build promenades and large hotels. Coastal Guyana will continue to flood, and the majority of the population will support the PPP even if their homes are flooded every day because “is we time”.

      Don’t get me started on the very high risk that an oil spill will happen offshore Guyana, and the flaring which is contributing to extreme temperatures in the ocean.

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