UUSC Condemns Horrific Attack in Somalia

This weekend’s bombing in Mogadishu, Somalia is an appalling violation of human rights. Nearly 300 people were killed, and hundreds of others wounded when a truck bomb detonated near a fuel tanker in an apparent attack by the militant group Al-Shabaab. UUSC extends our condolences to the victims and expresses solidarity with all those impacted by the loss of loved ones, the escalation of conflict, and the further destabilization of a region facing violence and famine.

This attack emphasizes the urgency of allowing the safe travel and resettlement of Somali refugees and immigrants at a time when the White House is targeting Somali travelers with increased scrutiny, deportation, and outright bans. Somali refugees in Ethiopia, several who already had U.S. visas, were among the hundreds of vulnerable people left stranded after the administration announced its initial travel and refugee bans in late January. The latest version of Trump’s travel ban, widely referred to as “Muslim Ban 3.0,” extended the restrictions on Somali travelers indefinitely and is set to go into effect this week.

Congress first designated Somalia for for Temporary Protected Status (TPS) in 1991, following the collapse of the Somali central government and the country’s descent into chaos and civil war. TPS has been renewed continuously since then, as the conflict has drawn on, with the current designation lasting through September 2018. However, the Trump administration’s recent decision to revoke TPS for Somalia’s East African neighbor Sudan, which is also experiencing conflict and food insecurity, raises grave concerns about the program’s future. Moreover, TPS only applies to Somali immigrants who can prove presence in the United States since 2012. In April, the Trump administration announced plans to renew deportations of 5,000 Somalis not protected by TPS.

As in many places affected by the administration’s travel ban, the United States plays a role in the violence currently destabilizing Somalia and the region. The conflict between militant group Al-Shabaab and the Somali government dates back to a 2007 U.S.-backed Ethiopian intervention and reports as recent as last month indicate that the Trump administration is planning to further increase the number of unlawful drone strikes in the country.

The United States cannot disclaim its responsibilities to refugees and asylum-seekers, least of all in those places that have borne the brunt of its military actions. UUSC calls on the government to re-designate Somalia for TPS and to abandon all forms of its unconstitutional travel bans. These actions will help ensure that more innocent lives are not lost to callous acts of violence.

UUSC Provides Aid with Dignity

Described by the United Nations as the largest humanitarian crisis since WWII, a widespread and enduring drought in East Africa is putting millions at risk of starvation. As with all of UUSC’s emergency initiatives, our goal is to provide aid with dignity to protect the lives of those affected by the famine but left out of traditional humanitarian relief efforts. We will achieve this goal through our usual partnership model, working with two long-time partners, SoilFarm Multi-Culture Group and the Tanzania Gender Networking Program.

Our collaboration with SoilFarm Multi-Culture Group (SFMG) in Kenya builds upon our previous work together. A number of years back, UUSC funded SFMG’s Food Security Project, which taught families the skills and knowledge needed to plant crops that are drought-resistant. Fortunately, the crops planted through this past program have withstood the extreme conditions facing much of East Africa today. Families that learned to harvest these resilient crops through SFMG’s project are now coming together with whatever surplus they have to assist those most in need, and have even set up five food donation centers that provide food to orphans, widows, and the elderly.

In addition to immediate aid, families are in need of long-term solutions to address food sustainability. With UUSC’s support, SFMG will help 400 households in the larger Kakamega community in Kenya by providing seeds to plant resilient crops (e.g. cassava, sweet potatoes, millet, sorghum), and by leading community trainings on food security, environmental degradation, and proper harvesting techniques. Additionally, members of UUSC and SFMG’s past Food Security Project will visit schools to educate youth on the importance of crop diversity and environmental matters.

In the Dodoma region of Tanzania, UUSC is working with the Tanzania Gender Networking Program (TGNP Mtandao) to provide humanitarian relief and capacity building to women-led households. The prolonged drought adversely affected crop production and livestock development in many parts of Tanzania, but Dodoma was hit particularly hard. With UUSC’s support, TGNP intends to supply three months worth of crops to around 600 female-led families. In addition to this critical support, the project will focus on increasing awareness of women’s rights, economic justice, food security, and alternative agriculture.

Our East African famine projects will be supported through UUSC’s Emergency Humanitarian Crisis Fund, which also provides critical disaster relief for those affected by the destructive cyclone in Burma last May. Please consider making a contribution to this fund today!

 

Rights Reading

Our weekly roundup of what we’re reading in human rights and social justice! As Pride Month comes to a close, we’re sharing articles on LGBTQI rights. This week’s Rights Reading includes articles about intersectional identities, the LOVE Act, gay oppression in Tanzania, and photos from Pride celebrations across the world.

Something Radical Happened When Eid and Pride Fell on the Same Day, Hawa Arsala, Fader, June 26, 2017

The “something radical” was that Arsala took the chance to celebrate two important parts of her identity. Here, Arsala shares a conversation that she had with the LGBTQ workshop moderator at an Afghan-American conference, Bilal Askarar, who realized that they were related. As the Pride celebration in Washington, D.C. and Eid – a Muslim celebration marking the end of Ramadan – occurred on the same day, Arsala and Askarar took the opportunity to have an open dialogue about what the coinciding celebrations means to them, as well as what it’s like to be queer Muslims in the United States in this moment.

Askarar said, “the past couple years I thought of it as like a separate thing, there’s Ramadan and Pride, and I can’t celebrate Pride because it’s Ramadan. I have to be good. It brings up all the juxtapositions and contrasts and dichotomies within myself. What’s the definition of a good Muslim? Can you be a messy Muslim and do you still get to celebrate Eid too?” It’s refreshing to read about people having honest conversations like these, where they can discuss and inhabit the intersectionality of their identities, the privileges they have living in America, and their continuing struggles as members of these communities.

Senator Tackles Cold War-Era ‘Lavender Scare’ with LOVE Act, Medardo Perez, NBC Out, June 26, 2017

During the “Lavender Scare” of the 1950s and 1960s, thousands of federal employees suspected of being gay were fired, based on a belief that they were more susceptible blackmail and could pose a security risk. In the last few years, Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) has led the push to bring justice for these ex-employees. Last year he successfully called on then-Secretary of State John Kerry to officially apologize for the Lavender Scare on behalf of the State Department, and this year, he introduced The Lavender Offense Victim Exoneration Act of 2017 – the “LOVE Act,” for short.

Perez writes, “In addition to rectifying past discrimination against LGBTQ State Department employees, the LOVE Act would also establish a permanent exhibit on the ‘Lavender Scare’ in the State Department’s National Museum of American Diplomacy and provide guidance for the State Department on issues of assuring visas for same-sex spouses of personnel posted overseas.” The passage of the LOVE Act would be a step towards retribution for the gay employees who lost their jobs over half a century ago and would bring more awareness to this overlooked moment of the Cold War era. UUSC applauds these and other efforts to rectify the mistakes of the past and, along with many others, joins in solidarity with those still feeling the effects of anti-LGBTQI stigma and discrimination.

Gay in Africa: ‘Even Cows’ Disapprove of Homosexuality, Says Tanzania President Amid Crackdown, Conor Gaffey, Newsweek, June 27, 2017

LGBTQI equality still has a long way to go in the United States, but it’s important not to forget that the fight for equality is a global one.

In Tanzania, homosexuality is a crime punishable by fines and up to 30 years in prison. Oppression against the LGBTQI community is nothing new for the country, but President John Magufuli has recently “signaled a crackdown.” His administration has disappointingly ramped up efforts to suppress gay rights activists, called on the medical community to expose people suspected of homosexual sex, and even banned sexual lubricants from the country. All of these efforts are based on pseudoscience and false perceptions of the LGBTQI community. These misconceptions result in the continued persecution of LGBTQI communities in Tanzania and many African countries, and are often the result of funding and propaganda campaigns from the U.S. religious right that promote and reinforce homophobia on the continent.

However, there is hope—UUSC Program Leader for Economic Justice Philip Hamilton recently attended Changing Faces, Changing Spaces, a conference that drew LGBTQI activists from across to share their work, stories, and strategies for how they are supporting their respective communities and working to advance LGBTQI rights throughout the continent. Read, “Celebrating Pride: Reflecting on SOGI Rights in Southern Africa” to get the full details.

 

People celebrated Pride across the globe. Please check out these beautiful and inspiring photo essays from this month’s celebrations and don’t forget to show your support by posting your own on social media!

 

Celebrating Pride: Reflecting on SOGI Rights in Southern Africa

Every June we celebrate Pride, taking a moment to recognize, and recommit ourselves to, the ongoing struggles of LGBTQI communities around the world. In the spirit of Pride, I was fortunate to attend UHAI-EASHRI’s “Changing Faces, Changing Spaces” (CFCS) conference in Kenya, and to reflect on the importance of the work of our Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) program partners in Southern Africa.

CFCS provides a unique space in which activists from across Africa can come together to share their work, stories, and strategies about how they are supporting their respective communities. With donors in the room, the activists are empowered to share their perspectives and priorities and to drive a spirited conversation about how to advance the rights of LGBTQI communities across the continent.

Pride Flag waving in the sunlight

Resisting the Marginalization of LGBTQI Identities

One of the discussions that surfaced time and time again was how to resist policies and practices that are designed to erase or marginalize the identities and histories of LGBTQI communities, in response to efforts to frame homosexuality as “un-African” or “un-religious.” For many participants, there was no tension in being LGBTQI and African or LGBTQI and religious. In fact, as several pointed out, many African languages do not address gender as a binary and cultures across the continent have historically been accepting of LGBTQI communities. With this in mind, it is worth asking, how homosexuality became framed as “un-African” or “un-religious”?

As many participants noted, citing research by Kapya Kaoma, a Zambian researcher and Anglican Priest, the U.S. religious right has provided significant funding on the continent to promote homophobia. They have worked to frame homosexuality as a Western concept that has been imposed on Africa, that is “un-Christian” and “un-African.” This agenda has been reinforced through relationships with conservative religious leaders across the continent.

Asserting and Reclaiming Identity

Given the promotion of homophobia across Africa by the U.S. religious right and the ways in which religion is being used to marginalize and erase the contributions and histories of LGBTQI communities, much attention was given to the role of faith communities in asserting and affirming LGBTQI identities and narratives. UUSC’s SOGI rights partners have been engaging in such efforts in Southern Africa, working with allies in faith spaces to promote a narrative and create safe spaces that promote the rights of LGBTQI communities.

While the strategy is one of winning hearts and minds is a long-term change, it is necessary to challenge the dominant and incorrect narrative that homosexuality is “un-African” or “un-religious.” Just as no one lives single issue lives, CFCS participants made it clear that no one person has only one single identity. Rather, everyone possesses a wide array of identities that comprise who they are, such as being LGBTQI and African, or LGBTQI and religious.

In this regard, UUSC’s partners Inclusive and Affirming Ministries, Al-Fitrah Foundation (formerly The Inner Circle), and TULINAM have been doing critical work to collaborate with progressive faith allies to promote respect for the rights of LGBTQI communities in Southern Africa. Through collaboration with progressive faith allies, UUSC’s partners are actively challenging the rhetoric of U.S.-based religious conservatives and creating a space for LGBTQI individuals to assert and reclaim their identities. After spending several days with the activists carrying working on the ground to support the rights of LGBTQI communities, I cannot help but feel that the work of UUSC’s partners is as relevant and important today as it ever has been.

Continuing the Struggle

In the true spirit of CFCS, activists working to promote LGBTQI rights have come together to connect and to reclaim their space. By centering their voices, struggles, and priorities at this conference, it was possible to deeply reflect on the way forward. As June comes to a close, it is important to continue this act of deep self-reflection on the contributions of LGBTQI communities in Africa and around the world–not just for one month, but all year long. This way, we are better equipped to support their struggle as allies and partners, moving forward together.

We Can Do So Much Together

As the end of the fiscal year swiftly approaches, we are working to reach our goal for the 2017 Annual Fund. UUSC has set an ambitious goal of $300,000 and we need your help! Donations of any amount are greatly appreciated by the UUSC team, our partners, and those whose rights are threated around the world. We need to meet our $300,000 target by June 30, 2017, so please considering making your gift today!

Your Annual Fund gift will help projects like the ones listed below and more. Please consider making a donation to support our work today.

Provide Legal Assistance to Immigrants and Asylum-Seekers on the U.S. Border

UUSC is continuing our work with RAICES (Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services) to provide legal assistance to vulnerable women and children fleeing dangerous conditions in the Northern Triangle. Due to the current political climate, immigrant rights and safety are at risk, so UUSC’s partnership with RAICES is even more important. With your continued support, RAICES is able to provide Central American refugees with much needed resources.

Work to End Human Rights Abuses in Burma

UUSC is partnering with grassroots organizations in Burma (Myanmar) to raise awareness and take action against the on-going (and startlingly under-reported) violence against the Rohingya minority. The Rohingya, a religious and ethnic minority in Burma’s Rakhine State, are being denied basic human rights and have had their sense of security stripped away.

Earlier this year, thousands of UUSC supporters joined us in calling on Secretary Tillerson to support a Commission of Inquiry to investigate these abuses. That investigation is now underway, but due in part to a lack of global outrage and governmental accountability, the Burmese government has been able to continue carrying out horrific human rights violations. UUSC is committed to working with our partners on the ground to document violence and advocate for change in the region.

Support LGBTQI Rights

In many countries in southern Africa, homophobia remains embedded in political, religious, and social spheres–often with violent consequences. Countless LGBTQI individuals are denied safety, freedom, and dignity simply because of who they are. UUSC is working with our local partners on grassroots advocacy and faith-based tolerance trainings, which will be integral in dismantling institutionalized prejudice in countries like Namibia, Botswana, Zambia, and South Africa.

If you are able, please consider making a gift in support of this important work. Whatever you can contribute will be greatly appreciated. Nothing we accomplish would be possible without you—our committed supporters—and for that, you have our deepest thanks.

Rights Reading

Our weekly roundup of what we’re reading in human rights and social justice! In honor of World Refugee Day on  June 20, this week’s wrap-up includes articles about how technology is helping to address the crisis, climate refugees in Somalia, and education access for refugee children.

The current humanitarian crisis is the largest since World War II. UUSC is dedicated to fighting for the human rights of refugees. Learn more about our partner organizations working in Croatia to provide humanitarian aid for and protect the rights of refugees.

Refugee hackathons and 3D printing: apps for the world’s displaced people, Tazeen Dhunna Ahmad, The Guardian, June 20, 2017

Although humanitarian aid provides refugees access to the essentials, like food, clothing, and shelter, refugees also need access to opportunities to improve their situation. This is where technology comes in and has helped “to transform conditions and empower more than 22 million refugees worldwide.”

The majority of refugees have mobile phones, which has made travel and global communication easier. However, it’s tech initiatives, like the ones Ahmad highlights in this article, that are really helping to create education and employment opportunities for refugees. Ahmad shares the story of, Admir Masic, a former refugee who is now an associate professor at MIT, who recently launched a global hub, Refugee ACTion Hub (ReACT), to provide refugees with education. 3Dmena, another tech partnership, is providing refugees with access to prosthetic limbs, “custom-built and cheaper” due to advances in 3D printing technology.

Hackathons and other tech-centric competitions provide refugees with an innovative platform to solve the problems their communities face and to find job opportunities – from solving water leakages on camps to employing refugees to take on a backlogged recycling system.

It’s rare to find stories about refugees that aren’t grim. Technology and the opportunities it brings for human creativity and collaboration can change the conversation.

Amid Drought, Somali Pastoralists Watch Their ‘Sources of Life’ Perish, Samuel Hall Research Team & Ashley Hamer, News Deeply, June 20, 2017

The number of climate refugees is growing, and is set to grow at a higher rate as the impacts of global warming accelerate. Despite this, efforts to address climate forced displacement have been lacking and even avoided, meaning climate refugees “remain on the fringes of humanitarian support.”

Due to drought in the Horn of Africa, over 739,000 people have been forced to leave Somalia since November. Most are pastoralists who have watched their livestock die of starvation and dehydration and who have no other means of livelihood. Climate forced displacement can have, and already has had, a global ripple effect of economic disparity and violence, namely because of the damage that displacement does to families and communities. Addressing the needs of climate refugees will not only save hundreds of thousands of lives now, but can curb the more widespread conflicts that will likely come in the future.

UUSC has highlighted climate refugees as a marginalized group who are not receiving the help they need, even within the sphere of humanitarian aid providers. This is why our Environmental Justice portfolio is focusing its resources on communities at high risk of climate forced displacement.

What we owe refugee children, Elias Bou Saab, Gulf Times, June 22, 2017

Fifty-one percent of the world’s refugees are children, and without access to education, there are concerns that this group will be a “lost generation” growing up without the skills needed to rebuild their communities or to thrive. Saab, former Lebanese education minister, points out the benefits education access has for children: “Education is also a vital instrument for combating violent extremism, which can capture the minds of young people with no hope for the future. And school attendance is essential for children’s welfare, because it gives them access to basic healthcare services and protects them from the horrors of child labour and prostitution.”

World leaders have recognized the need to educate refugee children, but efforts on the part of host countries to provide education haven’t been enough. Education access has been delayed by poor organization, violence, and strained resources. Saab signifies how important it is that governments and organizations meet their monetary pledges – which many have not – but also calls on them to step up their funding for programs that make remote and online education possible. No child should grow up without an education. Visit the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to learn more.