Features

ASYLUM SEEKERS DETAINED —FOR PROFIT

Detention centers hold asylum seekers needlessly, as operators rake in millions

by Peter Gorman, Fort Worth Weekly

In response to 2014's unprecedented number of women with their children caught crossing the border between Mexico and the United States—68,000 families—President Obama expanded on a program of family detention that had nearly been phased out in 2009. Family detention, where a woman is kept with her children until a deportation or asylum hearing can take place, had only 100 beds available daily in a small Berks, Pa., facility between 2009 and 2014. But with the opening of two new family detention centers in Texas and an expansion of the Berks facility, that number will reach about 3,700 in the next month and eventually balloon to 6,300.

The program was shut down when the American Civil Liberties Union and the University of Texas won a settlement in a federal lawsuit against Immigration and Customs Enforcement for deplorable conditions for children at the T. Don Hutto family detention facility, a former medium security prison in Taylor, Tex. Those conditions included locking families in cells for 12 hours daily, depriving children of outdoor recreation, and forcing them to wear orange jail jumpsuits.

Nearly all of the families currently in the detention centers, which are less restrictive than normal prisons, are seeking asylum. The vast majority of those who arrived in the 2014 wave came from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, countries that have seen a huge increase in violence in the past few years, largely due to Mexican drug cartels moving into those countries.

TAIWAN: ONE YEAR LATER

Looking Back and Forward Through Sunflower-Colored Glasses

2014.3.30 黑潮反服貿

by Ian Rowen, American Citizens for Taiwan

Taiwan before the Sunflower Movement seems almost a bad and distant memory. Just a year ago, ruling party Kuomintang (KMT) legislator Chang Ching-Chung was nearly able to ram the Cross-Strait Services Trade Agreement (CSSTA) through the committee review process in 30 seconds. Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-Pyng was facing expulsion from the KMT. President Ma Ying-jeou was still making serious efforts to meet with China President Xi Jinping and push a “peace treaty” that would recognize Taiwan as a part of China, never mind the wishes of its people.

All of that changed on March 18, 2014, when students and civil society stormed the Legislative Yuan. A day later, I climbed a ladder to join them inside the building for what I foolishly thought might be a quick research visit, but instead turned into one of the most harrowing and exhilarating episodes in not only the lives of myself and other eyewitnesses and participants, but in contemporary Taiwanese history. No one could have predicted how different the map would look a year later, after those 24 days of peaceful, student-led occupation led the island in a new direction.

IS TIBET A COUNTRY?

The Case for a Legally Independent State

Tibet

by Michael C. van Walt, Free Tibet

Tibetans say their country is an independent nation: the Chinese government says it is part of China. Who is right? Michael C. van Walt is an international legal scholar and a board member of the International Campaign for Tibet. In this analysis, he finds that Tibet's legal status remains that of an independent state under illegal occupation.

China's Claims
The People's Republic of China (PRC) claims that Tibet is an integral part of China. The Tibetan government-in-exile maintains that Tibet is an independent state under unlawful occupation.

If Tibet is under unlawful Chinese occupation, Beijing's large-scale transfer of Chinese settlers into Tibet is a serious violation of the fourth Geneva Convention of 1949, which prohibits the transfer of civilian population into occupied territory.

WHY DID U.N. ABANDON CONGO OPERATION?

by Christoph Vogel, IRIN

GOMA — This week, a long-awaited military offensive began against a Rwandan rebel group based in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. It had been planned as a joint operation between Congolese government forces and a unique combat unit of United Nations peacekeepers. But by the time the gunfire began on Tuesday (Feb. 24), the partnership had broken down and the UN had been side-lined.

Three days later, the UN mission in DRC, known as MONUSCO, tweeted: "The #FARDC [DRC army] is carrying out the operation alone after rejecting support from #MONUSCO." How did it come to this?

SYRIA'S KURDISH REVOLUTION

The Anarchist Element and the Challenge of Solidarity

Rojava

by Bill Weinberg, Fifth Estate

The north Syrian town of Kobani has been under siege since mid-September by forces of the self-proclaimed Islamic State, popularly known as ISIS. Early in the siege, world leaders spoke as if they expected it to fall. The US took its bombing campaign against ISIS to Syria, but targeted the jihadists' de facto capital, Raqqa—not the ISIS forces closing the ring on Kobani. But the vastly outgunned and outnumbered Kurdish militia defending Kobani began to turn the tide—while issuing desperate appeals for aid from the outside world.

The defenders and aggressors at Kobani are a study in extreme contrasts. ISIS is charged with committing massive war crimes and crimes against humanity in areas under its control—most notoriously, the massacres and enslavement of the Yazidi minority in northern Iraq. Rights for women have been utterly repealed, and a trade in sexual slavery (hideously called "marriage") established.

Kobani lies within the autonomous Kurdish zone in northern Syria (now partially overrun by ISIS), which has issued a constitution guaranteeing equal rights for women in all spheres of life—domestic, civic, labor. An experiment in direct democracy has been launched, with power devolving to neighborhood and village assemblies, where seats revolve and women have a 40% quota. These assemblies also send empowered representatives to canton assemblies. A parallel Women’s Assembly, on the same model, has veto power over the canton assemblies.

OMAR AZIZ: SYRIAN ANARCHIST

His Legacy and Impact on Self-Organization in Syria's Revolution

by Leila Shrooms, Tahrir-ICN

Omar Aziz (fondly known by friends as Abu Kamel) was born in Damascus. He returned to Syria from exile in Saudi Arabia and the United States in the early days of the Syrian revolution. An intellectual, economist, anarchist, husband and father, at the age of 63, he committed himself to the revolutionary struggle. He worked together with local activists to collect humanitarian aid and distribute it to suburbs of Damascus that were under attack by the regime. Through his writing and activity he promoted local self-governance, horizontal organization, cooperation, solidarity and mutual aid as the means by which people could emancipate themselves from the tyranny of the state. Together with comrades, Aziz founded the first local committee in Barzeh, Damascus. The example spread across Syria and with it some of the most promising and lasting examples of non-hierarchical self organization to have emerged from the countries of the Arab Spring.

In her tribute to Omar Aziz, Budour Hassan says, he "did not wear a Vendetta mask, nor did he form black blocs. He was not obsessed with giving interviews to the press… [Yet] at a time when most anti-imperialists were wailing over the collapse of the Syrian state and the 'hijacking' of a revolution they never supported in the first place, Aziz and his comrades were tirelessly striving for unconditional freedom from all forms of despotism and state hegemony."

DEATH OF LITERACY: DIGITAL TOTALITARIANISM

by Bill Weinberg

OK, there's an irony to the fact that I'm writing this on Facebook. I just posted a clip about the terrifying reality that penmanship is being dropped from grade-school curricula nationwide. Massachusetts is apparently one of the last states to keep penmanship lessons in the classroom. To my surprise and dismay, the post was met with a barrage of clueless dismissal and techno-optimism; smarmy comments about bringing back quill pens; and glib assurances that "The world is always changing, sometimes for the better." Although nobody is paying me for this, I feel compelled to spell out the critique, mostly out of sheer alarm at the degree to which my "friends" don't "get it."

Throughout my adult life, I have seen the fields of writing of and publishing radically decline under the assault of ditigital technology. The set of skills we call literacy are deteriorating as our minds are occupied more and more with "programs" and "code" and "apps" and "texting." Anyone who has spent time with Orwell understands that this inevitably means a decline in our ability to think.

WHAT NEXT FOR LIBYA?

by Mary Fitzgerald, IRIN

TRIPOLI — If any further evidence was needed of the importance of ending the power struggle that has plunged Libya into chaos since last summer, it was the reminder this week that sympathisers of the so-called Islamic State (IS) are keen to exploit the resulting power vacuum. In a January 27 attack claimed by IS, gunmen stormed a luxury Tripoli hotel popular with UN officials and diplomats, killing at least nine people, among them five foreigners. It was the deadliest in a series of incidents, which suggest that IS supporters in Libya are growing more assertive as the country's political crisis continues.

Armed groups allied to Libya's rival governments—one a militia-backed self-declared administration that took power in Tripoli after the internationally recognized government of prime minister Abdullah al-Thani fled to eastern Libya—are locked in a battle for control of the oil-rich nation.

UN officials overseeing talks in Geneva aimed at uniting the warring factions hope the hotel attack will help focus minds. It might prove "a wake-up call," said UN envoy to Libya Bernardino Léon, who argues only a unity government can tackle the IS threat. "The country is really about to collapse."

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