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Africans Seeking Asylum, in Danger and Targeted in Israel

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By Ashahed M. Muhammad
Special to the NNPA from The Final Call

(FinalCall.com) – The death of former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was the only thing that could slow down massive protests involving thousands of Africans seeking asylum.

After spending 8 years in a coma following a massive stroke, Mr. Sharon was pronounced dead on January 11. In a show of respect to the larger Israeli society, following his death, protest organizers elected to temper their protest while the Israeli people mourn their beloved war hero, whom many believe to be a war criminal.

Organizers announced it was just the first phase of their efforts to resist inhumane treatment and that there are plans to resume protests within the next few coming days.

Large demonstrations were held in front of Israel’s parliament with protestors consisting of Africans from the Sudan, Ethiopia, and Eritrea. On January 7, they protested in Tel Aviv and on January 8 in Jerusalem. In one detention center, Al-Jazeera reports that up to 150 asylum seekers had participated in a hunger strike. The massive demonstrations—described by many as a general strike—began January 5.

The group Freedom4Refugees representing the African asylum seekers have taken to social media to generate support for their cause using their presence on Facebook and Twitter to spread images, make calls to action and to pass on information in their quest for refugee rights.

“International community: we urge you to advocate that Israel stop our imprisonment and starts (sic) respecting refugee rights! Israel’s latest policy of arbitrary detention for endless time without trial continues to humiliate our community,” said a Jan. 5 statement.

In Israel, Africans seeking asylum are described as “infiltrators” by Israeli law enforcement and political officials as an official designation and are accused by many Israelis of being the cause of growing violence. Recently passed legislation now allows Israel to imprison those seeking asylum for up to one year upon arrival in the country. Those Africans already in the country found to be in possession of expired visas could also be detained and possibly deported. According to human rights activists and Israel’s Interior Ministry, there are over 53,000 African migrants currently in Israel.

“We escaped from war, we escaped from genocide, so we are refugees,” protest organizer Dawit Damuz said in a widely broadcast interview with Euronews. “The Israeli government must give us the basic refugee rights including the right to work, the right to social services and welfare. We are living here until the situation in our homeland changes,” he added.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the majority come in through Israel’s southern border with Egypt. Bedouin smugglers are particularly active in smuggling drugs, money and humans. Israel has increasingly become a location for Africans seeking asylum since 2006. The UN’s Convention relating to the Status of Refugees (CRSR) is a multilateral treaty which defines what a refugee is, outlines the rights of those granted asylum as well as the responsibilities of the nations granting asylum.

The CRSR defines a refugee as a person “owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationalality membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country.”

Because of the political instability and fighting in their home countries, many Sudanese and Eritreans have fled their home countries seeking work and stability in Israel.

Immigrants in danger

Going back to 2011, tension-filled protests were led by right wing Israelis with African immigrants as the target. In Israel, the African immigrant community is marginalized, and forced to live in segregated, poverty-stricken neighborhoods primarily in South Tel Aviv.

Unemployment is high and they live under the constant threat of detention and physical harm.

In the summer of 2012, Israeli nationalist thugs formed racist mobs and physically attacked Ethiopian neighborhoods. Towards the end of April of that same year, a Molotov cocktail was thrown into a Sudanese kindergarten in Tel Aviv. Influential rabbis have led campaigns in neighborhoods convincing Jews not to rent apartments to those seeking asylum. A number of Knesset members representing the ruling Likud party of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have spoken at anti-immigrant rallies spewing forth comments laced with xenophobic rhetoric.

During one previous rally, Israeli Knesset member Miri Regev, who once served as a spokeswoman for the Israeli Defense Forces, attacked African immigrants referring to them as “a cancer in our body.” Regev has continued to stridently oppose asylum for the Africans. Another member of the Knesset, Danny Danon, recently reportedly called asylum seekers “a national plague.”

It appears that such venomous statements have not been tempered, but may be on the increase with those views being adopted by more Jews daily. Statements on the Knesset’s English language website reported Eli Yishai of Israel’s Shas party warning “that the protests being held by African migrants who infiltrated Israel illegally may turn violent,” and he also suggested taking advantage of protests “to transfer the migrants to holding facilities.”

Hip-hop activist Jasiri X is currently in Israel and has witnessed the inequality and protests firsthand. He told The Final Call he was in total solidarity with the African immigrants and even stood among them during protests. On January 11, he met some of the women leading protests in South Tel Aviv and marveled at the self-determination they displayed. He delivered a straightforward assessment of what he has seen during his time there.

“Being in Israel for the last week, I would describe their policies as White supremacy on steroids. Everyone who is not a Jew is treated as an invader and less than human by the State of Israel. They are forced to go through humiliating checkpoints daily, have different license plates, and given permits and ID cards that restrict their ability to travel throughout the land. They are even denied access to water and electricity. Arab Jews were forced to speak Hebrew and deny their culture and Ethiopian Jewish women were sterilized to control their population. So imagine being an African and immigrant or asylum seeker in a racist system of oppression, occupation and colonialism,” he added.

While Israeli authorities claim to be working on a peaceful and amicable resolution to this issue, the numbers tell a completely different story. According to Haaretz Daily, a center left newspaper, Israel has examined only 250 of 1,800 asylum requests and approved none by Eritrean or Sudanese nationals. There are also reports that many migrants are complaining that the Administration of Border Crossings, Population and Immigration of the Interior Ministry has been rejecting requests to renew visas. Another part the government’s “solution” includes an offer of $3,500 to those Eritreans and Sudanese in the country who participate in a “voluntary departure” back to their countries of origin.

U.S. Troops Boost Forces in Nigeria, Somalia

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Special to the NNPA from the New York Amsterdam News

(GIN) – U.S. forces, winding down in Afghanistan, are finding new battle fronts in Africa.

According to published reports, a small team of U.S. advisors was sent “secretly” to Somalia to assist with operations against militants. Somalia has been at war with religious fundamentalists, called Al Shabab, but has made little headway against the group which still controls a large swath of the country.

“It is the first time U.S. troops have been stationed there since two helicopters were shot down and 18 American soldiers were killed in 1993,” wrote David Cloud in the Los Angeles Times.

“The U.S. soldiers assist a force of more than 18,000 under the auspices of the African Union, backed by the U.S. and other Western countries since deploying to Somalia in 2007 with logistics help, intelligence and planning,” officials told Cloud.

Although a small presence now, the number of advisors could expand in the coming year, a senior Defense Dept. official told the paper, and become a “permanent presence” on the Horn of Africa. He called it something “that’s been in works for a while.”

On the western portion of the continent, the U.S. and Nigeria have been working on a joint effort against insurgency and terrorism in that country. This week, the Nigerian Army announced the establishment of a Nigerian Army Special Operation Command (NASOC) at a meeting with journalists in the capital city of Abuja.

The Command allows the army to have a special group of “highly patriotic Nigerians ready to make sacrifices in the face of extreme danger,” said the Chief of Army Staff, Lt-Gen. Onyeabo Azubuike Iherjirika.

According to Gen. Ihejirika, the US, through its Africa Command, Special Operations Command Africa and the Office of Security Operations United State Embassy, is providing training assistance towards the quick set up of the NASOC.

At a recent Pentagon roundtable, Army Gen. David Rodriguez, who has led Africa Command since April, said he was “optimistic about the future.”

“Our basic premise is that it is Africans who are best able to address African challenges, and our strategy focuses on developing partner nations’ military forces through a wide variety of programs,” he said.

He acknowledged problems on the continent – Mali, South Sudan, Somalia and the Central African Republic – which require regional and international attention, but added: “I strongly believe our cooperative approach … will make enduring change possible.”

New Cardinals from Africa and Haiti to Help Pope Serve the Poor

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Special to the NNPA from the New York Amsterdam News

Jan. 14 (GIN) – In a further step away from old traditions at the Vatican, Pope Francis named his first batch of cardinals, choosing 19 men from Asia, Africa, the Philippines and Latin America including the developing nations of Haiti and Burkina Faso. The selection affirms his belief that the church must pay more attention to the poor.

His predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, had chosen cardinals mostly from Western countries.

Sixteen of the appointees are younger than 80, and are eligible to elect the next pope. They also serve as advisors to the Pontiff as he re-shapes the institution.

With his selections, the Pope rebalances the Euro-centered representation of countries by cardinals. The Philippines, for example, had just one cardinal representing about 75 million Catholics while the U.S., with roughly the same number of Catholics, had 11. Latin American, with 400 million Catholics and growing, had just 15 voting age cardinals, while Europe, where church attendance is falling sharply, had 57.

Among the newly appointed Cardinals is Chibly Langlois, the Bishop of Les Cayes and the first Haitian Cardinal in history. Cardinal Langlois held several leadership positions in La Vallee, Jacmel, taught pastoral theology, and continues to serve the diocese of Fort Liberte.

Newly appointed Cardinal Jean-Pierre Kutwa of the Ivory Coast was ordained in 1971 and appointed Bishop of Gagnoa by John Paul II in 2001. He places great importance on ecumenical and interreligious dialogue. Mgr. Kutwa is also a music composer.

Finally from Burkina Faso, the Archbishop of Ouagadougou, Philippe Nakellentuba Ouédraogo, was ordained in 1973 and appointed Bishop in 1996 of Ouahigouya, a diocese with both a men’s and women’s contemplative monastery.

In 2010, Ouédraogo was called by Benedict XVI to lead the Archdiocese of Ouagadougou, where he stood out for the work he did in one of Africa’s poorest countries.

Black Unemployment Rate Falls to 11.9 Percent

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By Freddie Allen
NNPA Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – The unemployment rate for Blacks dipped to 11.9 percent in December, according to the Labor Department, largely because likely workers, discouraged after months of searching for jobs with little prospects, have simply stopped looking.

According to the Labor Department, the unemployment rate for Black men over 20 dipped from 12.1 percent in November to 11.5 percent in December and the jobless rate for White men fell at half that rate, from 5.9 percent in November to 5.6 percent in December. The unemployment rate for Black women over 20 was 11.1 percent in November and 10.4 percent in December.

The unemployment rate for White women over 20 remained flat from November to December at 5.3 percent, the lowest rate for all adult worker groups.

“The unemployment rate gave a false impression,” said Valerie Wilson, an economist and vice president of research at the National Urban League Policy Institute. “People have left the labor force.”

Steven Pitts, economist at the Labor Center at the University of California at Berkeley, Calif., agrees.

“A good portion of the drop in the unemployment rate came from people dropping out of the labor force,” he said.

The labor force participation rate, the measure of workers who are employed and actively looking for work, was 62.8 percent in December, the lowest rate since 1978.

Considered a more accurate barometer of the workforce than the unemployment rate, the participation rate for Blacks was 60.5 percent in November and 60.2 percent in December compared to Whites who also experienced a decline from 63.2 percent in November to 63 percent in December. The economy shed more than 300,000 workers in December and only added 74,000 jobs.

December’s jobs report comes on the heels of back-to-back months that added more than 200,000 jobs to the economy.

“This report is disappointing,” said Wilson. “There were a lot of expectations that things would continue on this level.”

The average unemployment rate for Blacks was 13.8 percent in 2012 and decreased to 13.1 percent in 2013. The average jobless rate for Whites was 7.2 percent in 2012 and 6.5 percent in 2013.

The average participation rate for Blacks was 62.6 percent in 2012 declining to 61.2 percent in 2013. The participation rate for Whites fell from 64 percent in 2012 to 63.5 percent in 2013.

“In December there were 20.6 million workers who were either unemployed or underemployed (10.4 million officially unemployed, 7.8 million involuntary part-time workers, and 2.5 million marginally attached),” wrote Heidi Shierholz, an economist at the Economic Policy Institute. “Racial and ethnic minorities have been particularly hard-hit by underemployment.”

According to EPI, the underemployment rate for Blacks was 21 percent and the underemployment rate for Whites was 11 percent.

Not only do Blacks suffer disproportionate rates of underemployment, long-term unemployment, due to a number of factors including discrimination in hiring practices, continues to plague the Black community.

“The biggest challenge besides the labor force participation rate is long-term unemployment that affects African Americans disproportionately,” said Wilson. She said, “It was very short-sighted of Congress to allow unemployment compensation to expire.”

Shortly after Christmas, Congress let the benefits expire for 1.3 million Americans. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, if Congress fails to reach a deal to extend Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) program, almost 5 million jobless workers will lose that economic lifeline by the end of the year.

Some critics of the EUC program argue that it encourages dependence on the government and that workers lack the skills required for available jobs, which increases the unemployment rate.

Shierholz countered that in today’s economy the “lack of demand for goods and services makes it unnecessary for employers to significantly ramp up hiring”

Wilson agreed.

“In order for people to get hired, demand has to increase,” said Wilson. “If people have jobs they will spend more money.”

U.S. Retirement Crisis has 'Racial Component'

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By Jazelle Hunt
NNPA Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – More than three-fifths of Black working-age households – 62 percent – have no assets in a retirement account, according to a new study by the National Institute of Retirement Security (NIRS).

Working-age households contain residents 25 to 64 years old. Even those Black households with assets trail similarly situated Whites. Among the 38.3 percent of Black households age 55 to 64 who do own accounts, the average savings is $34,365. That’s a fraction of the $206,400 saved by their White counterparts.

The report, “Race and Retirement Security in the United States,” is a companion to a broader study of the retirement gap using data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Federal Reserve. In it, researchers examine workplace retirement coverage, retirement account ownership, and retirement account balances among Whites, Blacks, Latinos, and Asians.

“I think what the research shows is that the U.S. retirement crisis has really specific racial dimensions, specifically with access and savings,” says Nari Rhee, manager of research at NIRS and the report’s author. “About 44 percent of Baby Boomers and Generation Xers won’t even have enough saved to meet their basic needs when they retire.”

In the report, Rhee describes the savings gap as “stark,” with the typical retirement account-owning household of color with a balance of $23,000, which is less than half the $50,500 median balance of White households with retirement accounts.

In addition to the gap in savings, a gap in access to retirement options persists, particularly for private-sector workers. In its larger retirement study, the NIRS found that private sector retirement access is near its lowest point since 1979. As of 2010, a little more than half of all Black workers have access to employer-sponsored retirement coverage (54.3 percent), and less than half of them actually take advantage of said plans (43 percent).

There are several causes for the lack access to retirement plans among Black households. For starters, employers are not legally required to provide benefits or financial literacy courses to their employees.

Rhee points out that in other developed nations, employment-based retiree provisions tend to be effective because of an automatic or mandatory component. Additionally, the types of jobs that offer such benefits are in national decline, while lower-wage jobs with fewer benefits are proliferating. Those that do offer retirement benefits are switching from defined benefit (DB) pensions, which are automatic retirement savings, to 401(k), IRA and other opt-in accounts, which depend on what employees decide to save.

Lazetta Rainey Braxton, incoming president of the Association of African American Financial Advisors, sums it up this way: “Access to retirement plans is very tied to industry, level of education, income level…people of color are still catching up to these opportunities.”

The retirement gap is also intrinsically tied to the wealth gap. Both Braxton and Rhee point out that there are societal and historical factors at play. Although African Americans are well represented in the public-sector ranks where DB pensions are still the norm, lagging generational wealth curtails this boost.

“A lot of retirement investment success comes from word of mouth, from transfers, from legacies. Our history doesn’t go back as far with retirement investments, as opposed to just saving what we do have,” says Braxton, who is also the CEO and founder of planning and investment firm, Financial Fountains. “But if you put what you have in retirement for the future, does that leave you with enough for the right now?”

Rhee makes similar connections in analyzing her report’s findings. “The recession did a number on family wealth, especially for communities of color who tend to hold wealth in housing as opposed to stocks, bonds, and other investments,” she explains. “Plus with the shift in structural changes, loss of manufacturing and other jobs…the past few decades have been challenging for Black families.”

Interestingly, workers who deliberately seek or currently have employer-sponsored DB pensions are more likely to also have their own retirement accounts as well. It seems that the more information and opportunity provided, the more workers will contemplate and plan for their financial futures.

“A lot of people just don’t have access to this information. They’re not taught in high school…where are the opportunities to get this information in ways that are easy to understand, and affordable?” Braxton says.

Rhee says the report has national policy implications of the report, including strengthening Social Security, supporting small-business employers’ ability to offer retirement benefits, and calling for state-based retirement systems. Braxton sat those approaching retirement should make adjustments now.

“[Near-retirees] have to look at their lifestyle. Housing, medical, and debt costs are the biggest expenses,” she recommends. “You have to be realistic about where you are, and come up with a plan that keeps income for as long as possible, and really hash out expenses that can be draining.”

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