Our weekly roundup of what we’re reading: a few select articles from the front lines of human rights that we don’t want you to miss.
1. “Refugees share personal stories with members of Congress” Samantha-Jo Roth, KCRG-TV9, Cedar Rapids, IA, September 29, 2016
A group of refugees from all 50 states met with members of Congress in Washington, D.C., this week, sharing their stories in an effort to change opinions and encourage Congress to support increased refugee resettlement in the United States. They represent the Refugee Congress, an organization supported by the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees, Church World Service, the Refugee Council USA, and other nonprofits and NGOs.
Roth’s video and print coverage of the event includes stories from individual refugees such as Kalisa Ndikumwimana and Fidel Nshombo of the Congo, who now live in North Dakota and Idaho, respectively. Using his personal story to advocate for continued admission of refugees and asylum-seekers into the United States, Fidel says, “We cannot stop something to fix it. We fix it as we go, because that’s how you learn, and that’s what I want the senator to do.”
You can add your voice to those of Fidel, Kalisa, and others by writing your own senators and representative to urge them to defy hate speech, fully fund programs to admit refugees as authorized for FY 2017, and ensure that the United States makes us proud by standing up for human rights.
2. “New Report: Poor Americans of Color Drink Filthy Water and Breathe Poisonous Air All the Damn Time,” Julian Lurie, Mother Jones Magazine, September 29, 2016
The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, a government watchdog group, issued a report detailing multiple failures by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to enforce its own anti-discrimination policies in communities of color from Richmond, California to Flint, Michigan, and Uniontown, Alabama. These anti-discrimination policies are based on the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prevents the spending of federal dollars from being used in a discriminatory fashion.
“EPA does not take action when faced with environmental justice concerns until forced to do so,” the report reads. “When they do act, they make easy choices and outsource any environmental justice responsibilities onto others.”
Lurie’s reporting shows that while the EPA has received 300 discrimination complaints since 1993, it has “never made a formal finding of discrimination and has never denied or withdrawn financial assistance from a recipient in its entire history.”
The report documents a case in which toxic coal ash was removed from a spill in a predominantly white community in Tennessee and dumped in a landfill less than a mile away from Uniontown, Alabama, a town that is 90% black. Uniontown residents soon reported breathing problems, rashes, nausea, nosebleeds, and other symptoms. They filed a complaint with the EPA three years ago, and have not received a response despite regulations requiring action within six months.
UUSC has been advocating for the human right to clean and affordable drinking water and sanitation for years, including publication of its 2016 research report, “The Invisible Crisis: Water Unaffordability in the United States,” and other efforts to advocate for the human right to water. Watch for additional UUSC research and advocacy efforts regarding the human right to water in the coming months.
3. “Myanmar Refugees, Including Muslim Rohingya, Outpace Syrian Arrivals in US,” VOA News, September 20, 2016
The startling news that more refugees are admitted to the United States from Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, than from Syria is both an indictment of U.S. policies on refugees from the Middle East and an eye-opening insight into the suffering of the Rohingya people at the hands of their government.
The VOA News article reports that from October 2015 through September 15, 2016, 11,902 Myanmar nationals were resettled in the United States, compared with 11,598 from Syria. It also notes that the Rohingya are persecuted because they are viewed as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, despite the fact that many have lived in Myanmar for generations. Ironically, ncreased freedom of speech since the end of military rule in 2011 has permitted the expression of long-held anti-Muslim sentiment.
Aung San Suu Kyi, the current State Counsellor of Myanmar, is widely respected for her stance in favor of human rights, for which she was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize. However, 125,000 Rohingya residents are currently detained in internal camps in Myanmar, and there are continued reports of demolitions of their mosques, residences, and other buildings.
UUSC has worked in Myanmar on behalf of human rights since providing humanitarian relief in the wake of Cyclone Nargis in 2002, and again following the earthquake of 2011. Since that time, UUSC has supported longer-term efforts with several peace-oriented projects after the country’s transition to civilian rule. More recently, UUSC has been working with partners focused on promoting religious harmony and cultural tolerance. Relief efforts aimed at the Rohingya people in 2015 included health education and child nutrition programs along with mental health care, language training, and advocacy for women’s empowerment.
UUSC partners in Myanmar have identified the need for additional national and international awareness of Rohingya issues, and engagement of international NGOs concerning stateless Rohingya people. A delegation of UUSC staff and volunteers plans to visit Myanmar in the coming months to assess the situation first-hand.