Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Forced sterilization of Africans in Finland: a racist suggestion

Finland is by no means Nazi-Germany but there are politicians in the Nordic country who, if given a chance, would gladly implement policies and practices that are reminiscent of Adolf Hitler's reign in Germany. One of such politicians is a member of the populist True Finns Party who suggested that African immigrants should be forcibly sterilized.

On Tuesday 27 May 2015, Olli Sademies, a reserve councilor for the Finns Party in Helsinki suggested in a Facebook status update that African men in Finland should be forcibly sterilized so as to curb what he thinks is a high birth rate among immigrants. According to Yle, the politician suggested that the number of children born by immigrants should be limited to a maximum of three, and that in order to limit birth rate, African men should be forcibly sterilized.


Yle reports that the leader of the group of Finns Party councilors in Helsinki condemned the remarks and described the Facebook update as "fascism" and "completely mad." The party's secretary said reserve councilor Sademies' comments are not the party's.

My view  

Although Olli Sademies is an obscure politician who, according to Yle received only 462 votes in the parliamentary elections in spring this year and did not make it to parliament, his despicable view on how immigrants should be treated must be taken seriously. Adolf Hitler, an epitome of man's inhumanity to man, was once obscure before his rise to power where they implemented horrific policies, including forced sterilization of people deemed "abnormal", and the extermination of Jews and people from other minority groups. It is therefore important to nip in the bud dangerous views expressed by politicians irrespective of the amount of power they wield at any point in their political career.

The Finns Party "distanced itself" from the racist statement, but distancing itself from the statement is not enough. The party, which already has a reputation as a xenophobic, populist, anti-immigration and anti-EU, must do more to get rid of individuals who hold and express horrendous views in its ranks - if the party truly does not share the views or does not benefit from such utterances that seem to energize its base.

It is not a coincidence that many, if not most, racist political scandals in Finland are linked to the Finns Party: from Teuvo Hakkarainen who used the n-word to refer to Africans on his first day in parliament, to Helena Eronen who suggested that foreigners should be forced to wear armbands in order to ease identification by the police, and to James Hirvisaari and  Jussi Halla-aho who were convicted by Finnish courts for inciting hatred against an ethnic group. The Finns Party clearly attracts people with racist, xenophobic views. It will take more than political statements by the party's leaders to clean up the party's sullied reputation.

People of African descent around the world are constantly on the receiving end of racism, discrimination and abusive policies - sometimes sanctioned by state institutions. According to the World Health Organization, in some countries, people belonging to certain certain population groups, including ethnic minorities continue to be sterilized without their full, free and informed consent. Israel for instance admitted in 2013 that it covertly sterilized Eritrean Jews without their consent. Although forced sterilization is required for transgenders in Finland, the practice is unlikely to be extended to people of African descent or any other minority group without their consent. But Africans must be vigilant, especially when a politician starts floating the despicable idea around. There is a negative precedent as in the case of Israel.

Of course, the suggestion that Africans have too many children even after moving to Finland is not true. A report by Helsingin Sanomat revealed that immigrants' birth rate falls upon arrival in Finland and is not very different from the birth rate of ethnic Finns. Hence it is both racist and uninformed to suggest that African migrants should be sterilized because they continue to reproduce at the same rate after moving to Finland.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Netanyahu late on racism in Israel

Violence or any form of attack or discrimination against an Israeli often meets massive public outcry, wide media coverage and accusations of antisemitism. But minorities in Israel, including Israelis of African descent face discrimination and racist abuse, including police brutality with little or no outcry or strong condemnation by Israel's ruling elite or members of the public.

Thousands of Israeli Jews of Ethiopian origin took the streets in the centre of Tel Aviv to protest against racism against black Israelis in Israel. The anti-racism protest, according to Reuters, was sparked by a video showing two Israeli policemen punching and beating a black Israeli soldier. Prime Minister Netanyahu met the soldier who was assaulted by the police, and said he was "shocked" by the incident. According to The Jerusalem Post the Prime Minister's office announced after a meeting between government officials and members of the Ethiopian-Israeli community that a plan to deal with the problems facing the community will be brought to the new government.


While the incident involving the police brutality incident acted like a catalyst for protests, it worthy to note that cases and reports of racism and discrimination against minorities in Israel are abound and span many years. Many people around the world are familiar with reports of discrimination against Arabs in Israel -- stock in a system that many people like the Guardian's award-winning Middle East correspondent Chris McGreal say bears resemblance to apartheid in South Africa. But the plight of black Israelis - predominantly from Ethiopia - isn't as widely covered and discussed like the plight of Arabs, although Israelis of African descent struggle with "deep-seated" race problems in Israeli society.

Over the years, politicians in Israel, including Prime Minister Nathanyahu have played the race card in an attempt to win votes. Most notably, on the day of Israel's election which took place March 17, 2015, Natanyahu said "Arab voters are coming out in droves" to vote in a bid to inspire Jewish voters. Now, pause for a second and imagine what would happen if a world leader somewhere says that "Jewish voters are coming out in droves" in a bid to energize his base.

Israeli officials confirmed in the 1990s that they threw away blood donated by Ethiopian Israelis out of fear that it could be infected with HIV and other diseases. In 2012, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said refugees, whom he referred to as "illegal infiltrators flooding the country", threaten the identity of the Jewish state. In 2013, Israel admitted that it sterilized Ethiopian Jewish women without their consent. The aforementioned are all offensive instances where people were targeted because of their race or colour of their skin.

Another Israeli politician in the name of Eli Yishai who served in Netanyahu's government once called for mass arrest, imprisonment and deportation of all African migrants on trumped up claims that they are all criminals.

My View

It is a good thing that Prime Minister Netanyahu seems to have come to senses and has taken a stand against racism suffered by black Israelis. Meeting the Isaeli soldier who was beaten by police, and convening a meeting between representatives of the Ethiopian-Israeli community and top government officials were all moves in the right direction. But expressing "shock" over blatant racism against black Israelis is not enough. The Prime Minster should also take steps to redress despicable discrimination and inequality against Palestinians and Arabs in Israel. Racism in Israel goes beyond the Ethiopian- Israeli community.

Natanyahu must take responsibility for the spread of racism in his country. His well-documented comments about Arabs and African migrants sent a wrong to the majority Israeli population that minorities, including Arabs and people of African descent pose an identity threat to the Jewish state. His irresponsible comments incited racism and hatred in Israeli society hence he should not be "shocked" by the outcome.

The Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's new-found commitment to "fix Israeli society" after anti-racism protest in Tel Aviv is welcomed. Concrete steps must be taken to curb latent racism and discrimination against Israel's ethnic minorities, Jews and non-Jews. Words won't be enough. Concrete steps should include the Prime Minster and other politicians and government officials refraining from making comments that fuel racial, ethnic and religious hatred against minority groups.

Minority groups in Israel on their part should continue to demand equal treatment. Where there's silence injustice thrives. They should continue to speak up and protest if need be, peacefully of course. Violence should be avoided and condemned by both protesters and security forces responding to protests.

Israel often tries, in vain of course, to justify discrimination and segregation within its borders by pointing to security concerns and the threat of terrorism. But the punching and beating of an Israeli soldier of African descent by Israeli policemen clearly had nothing to do with national security or fending off terror. It had everything to do with deep-seated racism in Israeli society. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's impressive reaction to the incident was long overdue. The Prime Minister has been part of the problem for years by fostering an atmosphere of "us and them."

Mindful of the fact that people who condemn Israel's actions in one way or the other run the risk of being dubbed antisemitic or accused of incitement against Jews, it's worthy to highlight in closing that I am not antisemitic. I merely oppose domination and oppression of one by another, Jew or non-Jew, black, coloured, white or whatever, Christian or non-Christian, Muslim or non-Muslim.

  

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

African Union's share of responsibility for Mediterranean deaths

Whenever a boat carrying migrants goes down in the Mediterranean, a scenario which happens too often nowadays, criticism of the European Union (EU) and its role in the ongoing humanitarian disaster in the high seas is swift and strong. The African Union (AU) on the other hand is too often treated with kid gloves - even by advocates of "African solutions to African problems," despite the fact that most of the people who die in the course of the perilous journey across the Mediterranean originate from the African continent, a continent under the stewardship of the AU.

According to a report published by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the majority of migrants who died in transit - 64 per cent - in 2014 came from Africa and the Middle East, and the majority of them die while crossing the Mediterranean. Between January and September 2014, 30% of those who died originated from Sub-Saharan Africa. Other deaths include people from the Middle East and North Africa, the Horn of Africa, south East Asia and Central America.


More than 800 people drowned in the Mediterranean on Sunday 19 April 2015 bringing the number of deaths in the Mediterranean this first three and the half months of the year to 1,750, according to the BBC. According to Amnesty International, the Mediterranean claimed 3,500 lives in 2014.

The Italian coast guard told Amnesty International that it had rescued a total of almost 10,000 people since 10 April. According to the human rights group, there has been a more than 50-fold increase in migrant and refugee deaths in the Mediterranean since the beginning of 2015. On 12 April the Italian coast guard reportedly retrieved nine corpses from a capsized wooden boat.

Condemnation of the European Union's role in the crisis is, justifiably, strong and unequivocal. Amnesty published a briefing, Europe's sinking shame: the failure to save refugees and migrants at sea, urging European governments to take immediate and effective action to end the catastrophe in the Mediterranean. John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International's Director for Europe and Central Africa described the crisis as a "humanitarian tragedy of titanic proportions", and said Europe's failure to save thousands of migrants and refugees who run into peril in the Mediterranean has been akin to firefighters refusing to save people jumping from a towering inferno. Governments' responsibility must clearly be not only to put out the fire but to catch those who have stepped off the ledge,"

My view

I share Amnesty International's view of the humanitarian crisis in the Mediterranean. European governments must do more to save people in distress in the Mediterranean. Securing Europe's borders shouldn't take precedence over innocent human lives. People in migrant boats should not be pushed back without due process under Refugee law. I also share the view that the AU must take its own share of responsibility for migrant deaths. Strong condemnation of the EU's inaction or insufficient action to save lives is justifiable and well-founded. But the AU and African governments must be condemned as well and urged to shoulder their share of responsibility.

It's true that migrants and refugees are jumping from a proverbial inferno, and European government's refusal to save them could be likened to firefighters refusing to save lives. However, focus shouldn't be solely on catching people jumping from the towering inferno. Some focus should be on putting out the fire so that it doesn't spread and claim more lives. This is where the AU comes in.

While the EU should do more to bolster search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean, the AU and governments in countries of origin on their part should ensure that people don't feel the need to embark on clandestine life-threatening journeys that end in the Mediterranean, which is now a mass grave for Africans and other people from the Middle East and elsewhere. The thousands of people dying in the Mediterranean are fleeing conflict, persecution, violence and poverty. In order to stop or at least reduce the number of people trying to reach safety in Europe these problems must be addressed.

As far as I'm concerned, if blame for the loss of African lives in the Mediterranean should be apportioned, the lion's share falls squarely on the shoulders of the AU and governments whose failed policies force people to seek safety and greener pastures across the Mediterranean. But now is not the time to apportion blame. International cooperation is needed to stop the carnage.

It's worthy to mention that the EU cooperates with Africa on migration on bilateral, regional and continental levels. In fact, a summit was held in Brussels on 22 April co-chaired by the president of the European Commission and the chairperson of the African Union commission to discuss migration. But efforts to stop the humanitarian crisis in the Mediterranean must go beyond rhetoric, political declarations and summits. Concrete action is needed, such as countering human traffickers, creating jobs on the African continent, stopping persecution and human rights violations that force victims to flee, and bring perpetrators to book.

It's true that as long as Europe doesn't offer adequate safe and regular routes to the continent people seeking asylum and better life for themselves and their children will continue to choose unsafe alternatives. But it's also true that as long as African governments and governments in other regions of origin don't respond to the needs of their people, more people will continue to seek economic and political safety elsewhere - with a good number of them dying in the process in the Mediterranean.

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