How Immigration Laws Have Changed

This is the third of a three-part series on refugees and immigration by Manji Law.

The United States was built on immigration.

Generally, citizens have been proud of that history. However, anti-immigrant rhetoric has been on the rise, from popular politicians to online rumors and TV news channels. Even the U.S. Customs and Immigration Service changed its mission statement, deleting the line that described “America’s promise as a nation of immigrants.” In many ways, this reflects not merely rhetoric, but also reality.

The promise and hope embodied at the base of the Statue of Liberty – give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free – has long represented the ideal of America’s views of immigration. Changing immigration laws, however, continue to impact people now and are likely to continue doing so in the future.

Over the years, an idealized America presented itself as a welcoming, nurturing land for people from all around the world. Of course, migration to the United States has been marred by racially-prejudiced histories. These included laws that placed heavy or impossible burdens on East Asian and African immigrants whilst labelling many European immigrants as ‘white’ and, therefore, desirable. Jewish, Indian, and Southern European immigrants were excluded, even in the early 20th century.

Photograph courtesy of Luke Stackpoole for Unsplash

It is also worth noting that not all immigration was voluntary. Immigration also included the painful and brutal history of the transatlantic slave trade. Furthermore, while some people migrate for education or economic opportunity, many have been essentially forced to relocate as the changes imposed by economic globalization and climate change have severely affected their own countries. Even more have been forced to seek asylum due to war and oppression.

The Immigration Act of 1965 impacted migration to the United States in a positive way by legally stripping away many of the barriers non-Europeans had experienced when attempting to enter the United States. Now, one out of every five immigrants live in the United States, and their contributions have shaped the way Americans understand themselves, their culture, and their identity.

U.S. immigration law has long favored highly-skilled and educated workers, and many have come to the United States to advance their careers in skilled professions like technology and medicine. Despite benefits to a healthy, growing society and economy, immigration has become increasingly difficult for people around the world. In fact, an anti-immigration movement has been on the rise in Europe and the United States, even as widespread coverage of a ‘migration crises’ is on the rise.

Although the arrival of new immigrants has actually significantly decreased in Europe over the past two years, far-right political parties continue to encourage anti-immigrant sentiment. In some cases, they exploit real economic problems like a lack of well-paying jobs or a rise in housing costs. They highlight immigrants as a scapegoat for these issues, despite the limited effect of migrant populations.

Photograph courtesy of Anastasia Dulgier for Unsplash

Many of the same issues have arisen in recent U.S. anti-immigrant rhetoric, issues that raise uncomfortable similarities to the racist laws that excluded immigrants in the past. Economic anxieties about a changing economy and a loss of jobs are often redirected. Rather than questioning politicians or corporate leaders, the blame is directed at migrants.

The results of these anti-immigrant policies – including Trump’s travel ban – do not only affect those who want to migrate permanently to the United States. The travel ban (commonly referred to as the ‘Muslim ban’) excludes tourists and visitors from seven countries (five of them with Muslim majorities). This means that people from these countries are not allowed in the United States to study, work, perform, or visit their families. Thousands of Iranians have studied and worked in the U.S. before returning to their country, whilst thousands more regularly visit their families. Now, they face exclusion.

Immigrants are facing a tough political climate and changing policies that put even legal migrants and green-card holders at risk. It is more critical than ever for people migrating to the United States to avoid any potential conflict with the laws in place and work with an immigration lawyer in order to give themselves the highest level of protection.

Countries that are concerned about immigration have a responsibility to change their international policies to stop, rather than foster, war and environmental destruction. Many people do not wish to leave their homelands except to travel. The strengthening of welfare-state policies and a productive economy can reduce widespread fear about migration, as well as support for ever-tightening borders.

Author’s Bio

 

Jameel Manji is an immigration attorney in Atlanta, Georgia and founder of Manji Law, P.C. Manji Law was founded in 2016 with the goal of helping people navigate the complicated immigration system. As an immigration law firm, Manji Law helps clients with family immigration, removal defense (deportation), asylum/refugee waivers, business immigration, naturalization, and more.

 

 

If you are interested in reading the first two articles of Manji Law’s three-part series on refugees and immigration, please follow the links below…

  1. The Future of Immigration to the United States: Predictions from an Immigration Lawyer
  2. What Protections Exist for Refugees Worldwide?

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What Protections Exist for Refugees Worldwide?

This is the second of a three-part series on refugees and immigration by Manji Law.

Headlines around the world have recently drawn attention to refugees and asylum seekers, many of whom seek to avoid the spotlight rather than garner press attention. However, in order to understand the roots of what has been labeled a ‘refugee crisis’, it is important to understand who refugees and asylum seekers are, and how they are protected worldwide.

Refugees are individuals who are fleeing their countries because of war, violence, or persecution. They may face persecution because of their race, nationality, religion, political affiliation, or social identity. While many refugees long to return home, they cannot or are afraid of what will happen if they do.

When refugees flee their countries and seek to find sanctuary, they must apply for asylum. Asylum seekers are those who have applied to have their status recognized by another country, and receive material assistance or legal protections. In order to receive asylum and refugee recognition, people must show that their fear of persecution at home is well-founded.

Photograph courtesy of UNHCR

While the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol lay out the framework for refugee protections, not all asylum-giving countries provide the same support. The treaty has been ratified by 145 different countries and commits those countries to its principles. One of the central principles of the Convention is non-refoulement, meaning that refugees should not be returned to a country where they face threats to their lives or liberties. The treaty was initially drafted in response to the massive numbers of European refugees caused by destruction from World War II, and was then limited to refugees created due to events in Europe prior to 1951. The 1967 amendment to the treaty universalized the rights and principles of the document, making them applicable to all refugees worldwide.

While the principle of non-refoulement is central to the treaty, there are a number of other significant rights recognized for refugees. These include the right to work, and access to housing, education, public relief, and assistance. It also includes freedom from punishment due to entering a country illegally to seek asylum.

Over the years, the U.S. has contributed significantly to resettling and receiving refugees. Generally, every year it has offered more refugees asylum than all other nations combined. However, policies advanced by the Trump administration are useating the U.S. from its role as a leader in refugee resettlement and protection.

The U.S. 1980 Refugee Act integrated the international definition of a refugee into domestic law. That same definition forms the basis for today’s U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP). Each year, the President in conjunction with Congress determines a ceiling for refugee admissions. In 2016, the last year of the Obama administration, that ceiling was set at 85,000. The Trump administration has set a ceiling of 45,000 for 2018.

In 2017, American refugee policy went through an abrupt overhaul. The Obama administration had set a ceiling of 110,000 refugee admissions for the fiscal year prior to the change of administrations. The Trump administration promptly sliced it to 50,000 amid pledges of a security overhaul, despite the fact that there was no indication of a security problem with the U.S. refugee admission system.

Photograph courtesy of Jeff J Mitchell for the Irish Times

Family reunification has been a cornerstone of American immigration policy. However, the Trump administration has, in addition to overall pledges to reduce immigration, supported a system more heavily weighted toward highly skilled or employable workers. Some other countries – such as Canada and Australia – already have such a system; however, Canada has also increased its refugee intake in recent years.

Other policies of the Trump administration have also showcased a harsh approach to refugees, asylum seekers, and other migrants. The separation of parents from children in detention centers spawned widespread criticism, especially from those who see this policy at odds with a traditional U.S. approach to migration.

In Europe, children are rarely separated from their families and migrant detention is a less frequent policy overall. On the other hand, poorer nations like Bangladesh and Thailand have imposed extremely harsh conditions on refugees (Thailand is not a signatory of the Refugee Convention). Of course, the geographic proximity to war, as well as the economic realities of these countries vary greatly from that of the U.S.

Policies like Trump’s travel ban – often colloquially called the “Muslim ban” for its disproportionate effect on people from Muslim-majority countries – and the loudly promoted border wall illustrate the rise of anti-immigrant rhetoric in the United States. This comes in parallel with a similar rise of far-right parties in Europe with migration policy at the center of their advocacy. The promise of the United States for refugees and asylum seekers remains alive despite these changing laws and regulations, even as migrant justice advocates push back against further restrictions. This country has been deeply enriched by those refugees seeking freedom. With a bit of help, it can keep that vision of America relevant in today’s new era.

Author’s Bio

 

Jameel Manji is an immigration attorney in Atlanta, Georgia and founder of Manji Law, P.C. Manji Law was founded in 2016 with the goal of helping people navigate the complicated immigration system. As an immigration law firm, Manji Law helps clients with family immigration, removal defense (deportation), asylum/refugee waivers, business immigration, naturalization, and more.

 

 

If you’re interested in learning more about refugees, I invite you to view Invisible Victimisation: The Gendered Politics of the Refugee Crisis and Thoughts on the Guardian’s “Tourists Go Home, Refugees Welcome”. I also strongly encourage that you ready the first part of Manji Law’s refugee and immigration series, the Future of Immigration to the United States: Predictions from an Immigration Lawyer. The third part will be published in the following weeks.

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The Future of Immigration to the United States: Predictions from an Immigration Lawyer

This is the first of a three-part series on refugees and immigration by Manji Law.

The United States has long been a nation of immigrants. However, recent changes to immigration policies may signal a new trend for the country.

In the 1600s, Europeans traveled to North America. Soon after, they began importing African people as slaves. During the 1800s and 1900s, the United States experienced immigration from China, Japan, Ireland, Germany, Italy, and Poland. Although racial, religious, and cultural tensions accompanied these waves, the U.S. nevertheless attained its status as a melting pot where everyone could follow their dreams. In fact, in 2005, the mission statement for the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) specifically recognized this heritage by including the phrase “a nation of immigrants.”

However, under the administration of President Trump, the federal government has eliminated that sentiment.

In February 2018, USCIS removed the reference to an immigrant nation. Instead, its updated mission statement focused on protecting Americans, securing the homeland, and administering immigration laws. L. Francis Cissna, the agency’s director, defended the change and emphasized the focus on serving the American people. This shift in language arose directly from the Trump Administration’s restrictive views on immigration.

Donald Trump’s presidential campaign delivered a strong anti-immigrant message. Since taking office, his policies (which focused primarily on Latin America and Muslim countries) increased procedural barriers for immigrants, people seeking asylum, and international travelers. In addition, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the terms of his travel ban, which denies visas to people from Libya, Iran, Somalia, Syria, Yemen, North Korea, and Venezuela.

Photograph by Marian Carrasqeuro for The New York Times

Trump’s next major shift, in April 2018, created the now infamous family separation policy at the Mexican border. This policy directed border agents to detain or deport all adult immigrants crossing the border, and seize any children, including infants. Within months, nearly 3,000 children had been separated from their caregivers. An intense public outcry forced the president to rescind the policy, but hundreds remain in detention.

These aggressive policies stem from Trump’s desire to build a Mexican border wall, which he claims will protect Americans from drugs and violence. Starting in 2015, Trump made this a primary focus of his presidential campaign. His ongoing verbal attacks depicting immigrants as criminals have translated to concrete changes.

Between 2016 and 2017, the drop in refugee admissions from 84,995 people to 53,716 illustrates the immediate results of his policies. In 2018, the federal government capped annual refugee admissions at 45,000, which is the lowest since the program began in 1980. As for foreign workers, a bill in the U.S. Senate would alter eligibility criteria and apply a points system to evaluate candidates for employment-based green cards. Furthermore, Trump has stated his desire to end the diversity visa program. Since 1995, it has provided a chance for over one million people to enter the country. The current administration has also placed the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) program on the chopping block. TPS allowed over 320,000 people from 10 countries to live in the United States to escape wars or natural disasters occuring in their homelands. The majority came from El Salvador, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Sudan. These individuals can expect to lose their residency and work privileges in 2018 and 2019.

Due to the sudden changes, many lives have been thrown into turmoil, as the harsh rhetoric has stirred up political passions among Americans on both sides of the debate. Ultimately, much of the hostility lacks a basis in facts, and immigration supporters decry this open hostility. They have gone so far as to demand the disbandment of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. Current legal actions by the American Civil Liberties Union strive to uphold domestic and international laws for vulnerable people.

Photograph by Joe Raedle for Getty Images (as seen on Vox.com)

With the American public divided on the issues, the future is uncertain. There are a few predictions that seem unavoidable, at least in the immediate future. As long as President Trump is in office, immigration from local neighbors like Mexico will continue to be more difficult and contentious. Additionally, there could be further restrictions on travel from Muslim-majority countries with an enhanced ‘travel ban.’ If the administration’s actions hold true, we can almost certainly guarantee that the reduction of asylum and political refugee grantees will continue. There are even whispers that the Trump Administration will pursue further action on legal immigrants.

These actions will likely have a negative impact on the world’s view of what was traditionally considered an inviting country, one willing to welcome the tired, poor, and huddled masses “yearning to breathe free.” In fact, as the U.S. under the Trump administration continues to isolate itself, the rest of the world may acquiesce. The U.S. may find it increasingly difficult to find other nations willing to work with.

Long-term predictions are less certain, and are dependant on future administrations. Harsh policies might become entrenched and even expanded. Perhaps, however, immigration law will revert to its former, more accepting positions. Only time will tell.

Author’s Bio

 

Jameel Manji is an immigration attorney in Atlanta, Georgia and founder of Manji Law, P.C. Manji Law was founded in 2016 with the goal of helping people navigate the complicated immigration system. As an immigration law firm, Manji Law helps clients with family immigration, removal defense (deportation), asylum/refugee waivers, business immigration, naturalization, and more.

 

 

If you’re interested in learning more about refugees, I invite you to view Invisible Victimisation: The Gendered Politics of the Refugee Crisis and Thoughts on the Guardian’s “Tourists Go Home, Refugees Welcome”. The second and third parts of Manji Law’s refugee and immigration series will be published soon.

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#StopTrump Protest London 2018: A Photo Series

I had never attended a protest before.

Marching in a protest is such a fundamental thing when it comes to political activism. For all my writings about refugees (see here and here) and social inequality, I felt like a bit of an imposter having not stepped away from behind my laptop screen to actually demonstrate my beliefs. So when I discovered that an anti-Trump rally was to be held in London on the 13th of July, there was no way I was not going to be one of the protesters marching down Regent Street.

In what was dubbed ‘the Carnival of Resistance‘, a grand total of 250,000 people protested Donald Trump’s visit to the United Kingdom. It was Britain’s biggest demonstration in over a decade, and the atmosphere was infectious. I’d heard lots about protests – the Egyptian Revolution in particular comes to mind – but fortunately, this demonstration was not violent. From Portland Place to Trafalgar Square, our fists punched the sky and we chanted in powerful solidarity against everything Donald Trump stands for.

“We are asserting our right to demonstrate, our right to free speech… human rights belong to all of us.”

Jeremy Corbyn’s address at Trafalgar Square

Of course, a recap of the event is incomplete without a nod to the ‘baby blimp‘ that took centre stage that day. For those of you who somehow escaped the media hype, the baby blimp was/is a crowdfunded, 20-foot balloon in the shape of an infantile, nappy-clad Donald Trump clasping his beloved phone in a chubby hand. Whilst I unfortunately did not capture any snaps of this inflated delight, you can rest assured that we have not seen the last of baby blimp.

Some of my highlights from the march included a swollen papier-mâché Trump head and a particularly graphic depiction of Donald Trump and Mike Pence engaged in some friendly activities (*ahem*) – but I’ll let you enjoy that for yourself.

I’ll keep this short; after all, a picture tells a thousand words. As always, a vlog is in the works… ✊

To learn more about the Stop Trump Coalition, visit the website.

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Thoughts on the Guardian’s “Tourists Go Home, Refugees Welcome”

I woke up this morning to an article in the Guardian by Stephen Burgen called Tourists Go Home, Refugees Welcome: Why Barcelona Chose Migrants Over Visitors. The refugee crisis is an issue I am fiercely concerned about; you may even remember an article I published earlier this year called Invisible Victimisation: The Gender Politics of the Refugee Crisis. Reading the Guardian, some spark of motivation gripped me – something that happens all too rarely of late – and I seized my laptop and began to jot down my own thoughts.

I warn you that this is not a polished, introspective response to Burgen’s piece. Rather, this is a somewhat fragmented collection of my thoughts at 9am on a Monday morning before my first cuppa. I haven’t even finished the piece prior to writing this introduction. But that’s what I wanted: something sincere and barefaced. A conversation with you, the reader – and conversations don’t have the luxury of review.

But without further ado!

If you haven’t read the article of which I am writing about, I strongly recommend you do. Nevertheless, I’ll give you some context. Burgen begins by remembering a protest that took place in Barcelona last year targeting Spain’s refugee quota. Around the same time, graffiti began cropping up around the city that read ‘tourists go home, refugees welcome’. The Spanish media quickly termed the phenomenon turismofobia.

What was driving this outcry? As Burgen writes, “… it is tourism, not immigration, that people see as a threat to (Barcelona’s) very identity”.

I harbour many thoughts about identity politics. A lot of those thoughts are still scattered and only half-formed, and for that reason, I will not offer my full opinion until I am confident that I can articulate it well. But what I will say is that I do not believe identity to be productive – at least not in the sense Burgen is appealing to. This is a position that I expressed in my post In Defence of Cultural Appropriation. To paraphrase and truncate this article, cultural identity is destructive because it divides communities and encourages hostility through an us-them mentality. If we are ever going to enjoy a society where people of all backgrounds are treated equal, then I believe that identity is a construct we need to challenge.

However, the plot thickens when we apply this line of reasoning to Burgen’s article. If we analyse the above quote, we understand Burgen to be arguing that refugees in fact form part of Barcelona’s identity, whereas tourists jeopardise it. Here, we observe that the traditional paradigm – whereby refugees are framed as the problem – is reversed. Barcelona’s identity politics are working towards helping an impoverished group who have consistently been demonised for their own suffering and plights. Barcelona sees embracing ‘outsiders’ as integral to its sense of self.

Thus, can I still argue that identity is a bad thing?

The answer is yes.

Even if in some cases identity encourages group altruism, I do not believe it to be constructive if it still comes at somebody else’s expense. Now, that ‘somebody else’ may be privileged tourists who might have spent more time contemplating what colour bikini they are going to wear on Playa Mar Bella than the refugee crisis, but that expense is still an expense.

I am neither arguing that tourism is always a good thing: as a travel blogger, I may be the pot calling the kettle black, but I am not ignorant to the negative impacts tourism can – and does – hold. In the context of Barcelona alone, the city receives roughly twenty times as many tourists as residents. To quote Burgen, this number is “… driving up rent, pushing residents out of neighbourhoods, and overwhelming the public space”. I do not disagree that these consequences are undesirable and should be addressed.

Is the answer to ban tourism? In my eyes, no. One of the major positive impacts of tourism is that it can expose people to the lives of others and teach them that different doesn’t automatically mean bad. It can teach people that their own experience does not reflect the human experience, and that they can learn so much from those they interact with.

“… immigration has changed the city, but tourism is destabilising it”.

Stephen Burgen

One of Barcelona’s district councillors, Santi Ibarra, further argues that “… tourism takes something out of neighbourhoods… it makes them more banal – the same as everywhere else”. I sympathise with Ibarra, although perhaps for different reasons. I also sympathise to an extent with Burgen, although I take issue with some of his claims. For example, he claims that diversity is to be celebrated rather than condemned, and yet he seems to imply that tourism cannot offer that. Part of me instinctively wants to cheer him on. When I think of the word ‘tourist’, my mind conjures images of homogenous white people wearing sandals and brandishing selfie sticks. I mean, I just googled ‘tourist’, and had to actually scroll before I saw any colour representation. Try it. But the reality is that tourists are no less diverse than refugees, and to insist otherwise will help no one.

Barcelona prides itself on maintaining a large immigrant population without interpersonal conflict, but I fail to understand how, in the same breath, it can also pride itself on breeding conflict between residents and tourists. Travellers need to hold themselves accountable for being educating about responsible tourism, and they need to treat the cities they visit with respect. Those that do not should be penalised in some just way. But they should not be banned from certain cities simply for wanting to experience more of the world.

So… what is the answer?

I don’t know. I’m not writing this to offer a solution to Barcelona’s tourism problem. I’m writing this to share my messy, 9am on a Monday, tea-less thoughts. I am feeling optimistic about the council’s 2015 approach to “… impose a moratorium on new hotels… contain the spread of tourist apartments and devise an urban plan… that prioritises local commerce over businesses aimed at tourists”. I can imagine a similarly optimistic outcome for extending these changes to public transport so that residents can actually move within their own city. What I am not feeling optimistic about is an outright ban on tourism in Barcelona – or anywhere else, for that matter.
In his Guardian article, Stephen Burgen reflects upon the palpable tension between Barcelona residents and tourists. I think it is fantastic that Barcelona is challenging the close-mindedness many communities experience regarding the refugee crisis, but what I don’t think is so fantastic is their use of identity politics to ostracise the tourist population. I sympathise deeply with much Burgen has said, and as someone coming from a country that harbours its own resentment towards tourists, I agree that it is an issue that demands urgent address. But Barcelona’s reasons for ostracising tourists is unjustified. Identity should never have come into the equation, and if the city wants to rationalise its animosity, it would do better to look to concrete logistics such as housing shortages and transport issues that simply cannot accommodate the hordes.
If this opinion piece has whet your appetite, make sure to peruse Airline Inequality: A Social Microcosm of Class. I would also love to hear your feedback on the articles I linked above in this post about the refugee crisis and cultural appropriation. Drop a line to my email below.
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Invisible Victimisation: The Gendered Politics of the Refugee Crisis

Foreword: This is an essay I wrote as part of my undergraduate degree. Note that the text has been edited and the references removed to better fit this platform (to ask for a source, please contact me here). I realise that the tone and length may not be everybody’s cup of tea, but nevertheless, I feel that it is important to share this. I fear that with so many dreadful events reported everyday in the media, we will become – if we haven’t already – desensitised to the injustices of our governments.

The global refugee crisis is believed to be the worst humanitarian disaster since the second world war. Fleeing from war-torn countries such as Syria, Afghanistan and South Sudan, we might presume that the only factor influencing the refugee experience prior to these individuals’ resettlement is the degree of suffering they endured. However, many do not reach the point of resettlement because a large obstacle faced when seeking asylum is being legally recognised as a refugee. There are many reasons why immigration officials might reject refugee claims, but these reasons often work to veil underlying motives.

Gender is one of these leading underlying motives for rejection of refugee status. Respective gender narratives for both women and men inform immigration officials’ decisions in dissimilar yet equally devastating ways. Through research and case studies, I argue that if the gender identities of asylum-seekers are inconsistent with Melanie Griffiths’ social construct of the ‘ideal refugee’ (as will be described below), they risk being denied protection by the receiving state despite meeting the conditions listed in the Refugee Convention.

As stated in Article 1A(2) of the Refugee Convention, a refugee is defined as a person who “… owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of the country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence is unable or, owing to such fear, unwilling to return to it”.

To be considered a refugee, applicants must fit into this definition. In many cases, this is straightforward; however, under certain circumstances, gender can be used as a vehicle by which the experiences of some refugees may be discounted.

By regarding the state as a hegemonically-masculine institution, asylum-seeking might be understood as partial to men. That means that men might be more likely to be recognised as refugees than women, and thus receive access to more protection than their female counterparts. Yet, in such an environment, the patriarchal paradigm that rewards men in other institutions can bestow an adverse effect.

The experiences of refugee men navigating the asylum system are characterised by powerful gender narratives. Some even argue that the state’s failed understanding of men as three-dimensional people is more problematic than the disadvantages posed by womanhood. Men tend to be painted as active agents unfailingly responsible for their circumstances; in the words of Ruth Judge, they are “… easily subsumed into the ugly caricature of (the) threatening young male asylum seeker”. Migrant men are often homogenised by the law as immigration criminals, thus rendering their vulnerabilities invisible. By constructing ideas of radicalised and morally deviant men, the state can justify denying refugee status on the grounds that such individuals would not serve national interests. This might be framed as setting men up as ‘better off’ to cope with the situation in their home country, and therefore less deserving of refugee status.

That is not to say that women are immune to typecasting. Not unlike in most arenas of life, they are depicted as naturally passive and vulnerable. According to these constructions, the female body is repeatedly victimised — an image Rutvica Andrijasevic likens to that of a puppet on strings. This metaphor of the ‘human marionette’ conveys how the female body is lifeless, helpless, and able to be manipulated and exploited by the strings on which it is borne. This identity contrasts with the narrative that men pose a safety threat, and perhaps feeds into what many academics call a ‘feminisation’ of the refugee experience.

Photographed by Roger Arnold for the United Nations

Those who have studied sociology and criminology might be familiar with Nils Christie’s concept of the ‘ideal victim’. The ideal victim is defined as an individual who is weak, virtuous, innocent, and attacked by a stranger who is big, bad and powerful. They are also recognised as someone who cannot threaten the interests of those trying to help them. Not unlike Christie’s ideal victim, Melanie Griffiths argues that there also exists an ‘ideal refugee’, with the characteristics of this individual reflecting that of the ideal victim. According to Griffiths, the ideal refugee is “… moralised, feminised, and pacified”, and stands in paradoxical contrast to what men are criticised for, yet are still expected to be. In light of this, the argument that men are more disadvantaged than women when seeking asylum appears reasonable. Gender synonymy — the idea that only women are affected by the gender regime of asylum-seeking — thus lacks conviction.

However, despite constructions around femininity aligning with those of the ideal refugee, female asylum-seekers are affected in other ways. In the Refugee Convention, we observe that the definition of a refugee is problematic because it operates under the assumption that all refugees share the same experiences and treatment regardless of their gendered identities. Issues pertaining to this arise when we consider how individuals more likely to be recognised as refugees are those who visibly participate in political activism. These individuals tend to be men, as women are more likely to engage in supportive roles that might not meet widespread understandings of political activism, and hence fly under the radar of immigration officials. The actions of these women are consequently rendered apolitical and invisible, and this invisibility greatly reduces their chance of being recognised as political refugees.

The invisibility of the political victimisation of women has contributed to the argument that gender should be included as a category in the Refugee Convention. James C. Hathaway insists that gender clearly meets the criteria of a “… social subset defined by an innate and immutable characteristic”, however feminist perspectives are unsympathetic to this. Although they agree that the rights of women are neglected during the asylum process, they also argue that including gender as a social group would only prove disadvantageous to women because of the assumption that women are persecuted purely because of their gender. Such an assumption is dangerous because, by holding their gender accountable, the law depoliticises women’s experiences as political agents. We know that political supporting roles are already rendered insignificant by the state; expanding that invisibility to gender would only regress the second-wave.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees responded to these dissensions by claiming that, “States… are free to adopt the interpretation of women asylum-seekers who face harsh or inhumane treatment due to their having transgressed social mores of the society in which they live… as a ‘particular social group’ within the meaning of… (the) Refugee Convention”. The key feature of this statement is that states can freely interpret what a particular social group entails. This means that they bear no legal responsibility to treat women as belonging to such a group.

Take the system adopted by the United Kingdom: each applicant is assessed as an individual rather than as a member of a social group. Susan Akram considers this to be a perilous gateway into cultural relativism (the idea that moral right and wrongness can be judged according to cultural norms).

Photographed by Sergey Ponomarev for the New York Times

To further illustrate the consequences of this free interpretation, Akram recounts the 1991 case of Nada, who applied for refugee status in Canada after being persecuted in Saudi Arabia for refusing to wear a veil and resisting sexist laws. She explained how she had been stoned, spat on, and hissed at when venturing outside without her veil, and listed repressive laws such as driving, study and travel prohibition that compromised her freedom as a human being. She also noted that, if arrested, the mutawwa’in — the religious police — would beat and jail her for breaching these laws.

Nada’s lawyer cited both her political activism and membership to the social group of women as the grounds for her persecution in Saudi Arabia. Her case was rejected by the Canadian Immigration and Refugee Board because her feminist demonstrations were not considered political, and – quoting from Akram – it was “… not credible that an Arab Muslim woman would disagree with the authorities of a Muslim state”. Here, we observe both the invisibility of female political activism and cultural relativism interacting to weaken Nada’s case and serve the interests of the state.

While female refugees must grapple with the likes of the above, male refugees must deal with obstacles of a different kind. In 2015, Justin Trudeau announced that Canada would no longer accept single Syrian males as part of their refugee resettlement program. That decision impacts the future of refugees such as Adham, a 29-year-old man who left Syria for fear of being conscripted by the army. “There’s a lot of young men leaving Syria because they don’t want to be in the military,” he explained in the Al Jazeera article. “It’s better than being Syrian and killing one another.” Adham’s punishment for evading service is imprisonment and potentially death, and his solution was to apply for refugee status elsewhere. However, his ability to be recognised as such is complicated by the state’s conceptions of masculinity.

The argument many politicians offer as to why young, able-bodied men should not be granted asylum in this context is that they have a duty to stay back and fight for their country. Trudeau’s decision not to accept single Syrian males as refugees has been supported by the likes of Donald Trump, who drew upon the male-migrant-terrorist rhetoric when he quoted, “You look at migration (and) it’s young, strong men. We cannot take a chance that the people coming over here are going to be ISIS-affiliated”. Conscientious objectors such as Adham protest the assumption that young men have a responsibility to sacrifice themselves in a war that they do not support. His case highlights how the state can fail to understand violence directed at men — whether that be inflicted by the home or receiving state — as justification for protection. Both the case studies of Adham and Nada demonstrate how constructions of gender contribute to the difficulty in evidencing a prerogative for refugee status.

There exist many similarities between the experiences of female and male refugees. Their identities are both constructed by gendered narratives that essentialise their trauma, however it would be inappropriate to conflate the two. As explained by Melanie Griffiths, whilst it is far easier for women to fit the passivity and vulnerability of the ‘ideal refugee’, the depoliticisation of their actions and suffering undermines their claims to asylum. For many of these individuals, their womanhood reinforces “… the existing and paradigmatically masculine normative structures of international refugee law” (see Heaven Crawley). Meanwhile, male refugees are disadvantaged by constructs of masculinity that contradict the very meaning of the asylum-seeker. As the case of Adham demonstrates, it is somewhat ironic that states abuse their responsibility to protect male refugees, whilst simultaneously denying these refugee’s rights on the grounds that they have a responsibility to protect their own country.

By analysing the asylum-seeking process through a gendered lens, we can further understand how underlying assumptions preclude the experiences of both female and male refugees from state protection in the wake of this humanitarian crisis. Through such knowledge, we can address this gender discrimination and improve the future prospects of refugees on a global scale.

In the words of Katharine Charsley and Helena Wray, “… gender constructs policy as policy constructs gender.” The ramifications of this are clearly reflected in the asylum process, and illustrates the stronghold gender norms still have over society. Successfully challenging these norms is a process antithetical to all we have learnt, but the best place to start is through the exposure of such biases. If refugees can navigate the asylum-seeking system in the face of gender expectations and ideals, then the impact on their quality of life will be immeasurable.

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WTF Happened to Egypt’s Tourism Industry?!

For me, one of the greatest joys of traveling is the opportunity to expose yourself to diverse cultures and languages, to see how other people live, and to distance yourself from everything familiar and comfortable. It is for those very reasons that places such as the United Kingdom and the United States of America do not naturally draw me.

It is also for those very reasons that without a shred of doubt, I can say that the crown of my travels in 2017 – if not ever – goes to Egypt.

Many things amazed me during my three weeks spent in the capital of Cairo. There were the pyramids, the landscape, the way of life… but perhaps what amazed me most was that there was hardly a (western) tourist in sight.

Why was this? I just couldn’t wrap my head around it. Here is a country with such rich history that places like Paris pale in comparison. Here is a country where you can easily budget for NZD$15 a day. Why am I – a white, western tourist – such an anomaly?

Cue research. Statistics show that Egypt’s tourism plunged from 11 million in 2010, to 9.3 million in 2015, and then to 5.3 million in 2016. I’m not ignorant; I’m fully aware that Egypt hasn’t escaped disaster over the last few years. This is understandably enough to deter anyone from regarding it as a tourist hotspot. To cite personal experience, I myself have rejected flights with Malaysian Airlines after the events of 2014.

Despite being located in North Africa, Egypt is also a Middle Eastern state, and to hold that label comes with certain connotations for us western folk. I’m not saying that these associations are completely false, but neither am I saying that they should serve as well-grounded rationale to veto the Gift of the Nile. For a long time, Egyptian politics have been anything but stable. We can track how statistics nosedive following the 2011 revolution, whereby autocrat Hosni Mubarak was overthrown. This political uncertainty kept tourists at bay.

“The low number of inbound tourists has affected the economy, which looks to the sector as a crucial source of hard currency.”

Quartz

The 2011 Revolution; photograph courtesy of the Atlantic

Further events have dissuaded the hordes. In October 2015, a Russian passenger plane was brought down on Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, resulting in 224 fatalities. In the wake of the tragedy, Russia – a major source of tourists – cancelled all air links with Egypt, and the United Kingdom suspended flights to Sharm el-Sheikh (the Egyptian resort from where the flight had departed). It is estimated that this decision occasioned a loss of 900,000 British travellers.

In January 2016, two German tourists were stabbed to death in Hurghada, and in December that same year, ISIS killed 27 worshippers at a Coptic church. Just two months ago, an attack on a Sufi mosque claimed over 300 lives… I’m probably not supporting my cause here, am I?

Let’s take a look at the UK government’s foreign travel advice for Egypt. Under terrorism, the government warns, “Terrorists are very likely to try to carry out attacks in Egypt… you should avoid crowded places and gatherings… in North Sinai, there are frequent, almost daily reports of terrorist attacks… foreigners have been targeted.” It’s not exactly the most reassuring news for prospective travellers. There is also a lovely little segment on how the government will not pay a ransom to free British citizens in the instance of kidnapping, but for the sake of encouraging people to visit Egypt, I’m going to leave that bit out.

However, the article does continue with, “The authorities in Egypt maintain a significant security presence across the country, including armed security officers stationed at important sites, critical infrastructure, and road checkpoints… extra measures are in place at tourist sites… (and) the Egyptian government’s counter-terrorism campaign has resulted in significant reduction in the number of terrorist attacks on the Egyptian mainland since January 2015.” That’s a little better.

There is a light amongst all of the darkness; in the first half of 2017, Egypt’s tourism rose by 170% to reach 4.3 million. This has been attributed to how Egypt has upped the ante when it comes to security and other incentives for travel. That number doesn’t even come close to the peak of Egypt’s tourism heyday – and it’s not to say the industry isn’t still reeling – though it illustrates how the country is making a slow but steady comeback.

“… we must move away from a ‘green-light’ mentality on travel advisories, and government and travel companies must devise a methodology to inform consumers as to all risks, actual or potential.”

The Independent

My advice to you? Travel to Egypt. The threats certainly exist, but if you take the time to educate yourself on how to best navigate things, you will be greatly rewarded. With a non-existent tourist population, you will probably find you have the sights all to yourself. Al Jazeera described visiting the pyramids as “… like walking on the moon… deserted, forlorn and uninhabited”. Don’t believe them? Just take a look at my experience below…

If you consult terrorism statistics for London, you will observe that there have been five separate incidents in the last twelve months alone. With today’s political landscape, it’s unfeasible to be thinking of places as having safety guaranteed. Nothing is sure in this world.

Did I feel safe in Cairo? Yes. Aside from some minor harassment – which you can read about here – I did not for one moment feel that my protection was under threat. I am not encouraging that foreigners should take their safety for granted. In other words,  don’t be stupid. Use common sense and exercise caution. Dress appropriately for the culture and understand that you have a responsibility to both yourself and others to behave respectfully. But the fundamentals aside, embrace the incredible opportunity that is Egypt.

I’ll see you there.

Need some more convincing for why you should travel to Egypt? Check out the following blog posts…

And last but not least, find inspiration in Hamsa Mansour: The Egyptian Cyclist Showing How It’s Done

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Airline Inequality: A Social Microcosm of Class

When you think of situations in which class is highly visible, the chances are that the example of air travel will not immediately come to mind. Yet this is one of the most relevant environments where we can see the mechanisms of inequality come into play.

“… the modern airplane is a social microcosm of class-based society… the increasing incidence of ‘air rage’ can be understood through the lens of inequality.”
DeCelles and Norton (2016)

When you buy airplane tickets, you have the option to select from a range of different classes. Depending on your chosen airline, these can include economy, premium economy, business or first class. The higher the class, the more your travel experience will be improved. Advantages of upper classes include: more spacious seating areas, gourmet dining, a queue-skipping feature worthy enough to rival Disneyland and much more. The appeal of these factors is only magnified when you consider the cramped, claustrophobic and dingy environment economy passengers must endure for up to eighteen hours at a time.

However – as may seem ludicrously obvious – these upper classes come with a hefty price tag. Even to upgrade from economy to premium economy – a section still far removed from first class – can be at least double the price. I learnt this when I flew premium economy on Cathay Pacific from New Zealand to Spain. Considering the already sky-high (pun intended) prices of airplane tickets, this is no trivial fact.

Air rage is a common byproduct of this visibility of class. A study by DeCelles and Norton support how maddening it is to board a long-haul flight knowing your seat is located right at the back, and that you must sidle your way past the ‘prioritised’ classes to get there. I always find myself gazing longingly at the luxurious fold-out beds and passengers sipping on complementary cocktails, yearning for a spontaneous and unannounced upgrade. The researchers reported how – on a psychological scale – this air rage is the equivalent to a nine and a half hour flight delay. If that isn’t shocking enough, then you might be surprised to learn that this anger is in fact greater in first class passengers who are burdened with those from economy invading their exclusive, personal space (if you are curious regarding my opinion on that matter, you just have to pay attention to my tone).

“… it’s not often you see such a clear visual representation of our collective acceptance of the right of a small fraction of people to consume a very disproportionate percentage of resources”
Elizabeth Berman

The price tag is exactly what prevents a majority of people from the opportunity to upgrade from the discomfort of economy class. I expect most would argue that if you pay for something, then you are entitled to receive it; but the point is that it’s not a fair playing ground to begin with. The income gap is only increasing, and airline stratification systems reflect this. I am no economics expert (I smell maths), so you do not need to worry about me launching into a lecture on societal inequality. But this article framed it in a simple way when it said, “(this) ‘calculated misery’… involves degrading basic service to a level so low that non-masochistic passengers will pay up to avoid the pain. Unfortunately, not everyone can afford to pay these ancillary fees. Those who can’t or won’t fork over more are made to suffer for it”.

Given the consequences of this classist visibility on airplanes, I believe that airlines should be taking measures to try and improve the system. Of course, this outcome would only come to fruition in an ideal world – and unfortunately, we live in the real world, where companies are driven by profit and not morals. Therefore, in light of the fact that I’m not about to change the world anytime soon, I hope this post has at the very least educated you on an issue that all travellers have encountered (whether they realise it or not).

The next time you take to the skies – whichever cabin you are seated in – take a moment or two to reflect on the stark difference of quality between economy and the upper classes. Take a moment or two to reflect on the justness of the situation, and – considering the psychological and physical repercussions – ask yourself whether you think it’s really worth it.

While you’re here, be sure to check out my experience flying premium economy with Cathay Pacific, and my guide to surviving long-haul flights… if you’re in economy class, you’re going to need it ✈

All photographs courtesy of Unsplash

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Open Season: Being a Ginger in Egypt

I arrived in Egypt with little expectations about how I would be treated as a white, unveiled and ‘exotic’ (I use that word liberally) female.

As a student of gender studies – and someone who has an active interest in global politics – I was well aware that the Middle East’s relationship with woman is far removed from what I am familiar with in the west. It was to be the first time in my life that I represented the minority, and that thought both excited and scared me.

The next two weeks would expose me to a side of humanity that very few things could have prepared me for. It disgusted me; not disgust in the sense that I grew reluctant to venture out of the house without completely covering myself – which, FYI, isn’t even enough to stop men who feel entitled to make women uncomfortable in the public sphere – but disgust in the sense that I couldn’t believe people think that this kind of behaviour is actually okay. The argument from relativity suddenly lost its shine that trip.

Over those two weeks, I was subjected to people stopping in the middle of the street and pointing at me, cars honking as I walked down the side of the road, and the making of rude and unnecessary comments in Arabic as I walked past. At one point, I was in the middle of a marketplace when a man riding a motorcycle zoomed past, shouldered me and nearly knocked me off my feet. When I visited the iconic Great Pyramids, I was surrounded by local tourists more interested in taking pictures with me than the actual wonders. It was flattering until they started grabbing me.

Making friends… us gingers gotta stick together.

All of this was just by existing in Cairo and minding my own business. Whilst I did not veil my head, I was dressed conservatively and respected the culture. None of the behaviour was provoked in any meaningful or justified way.

From my observation, about 85-90% of the women I saw in the streets were veiled. It is also worth mentioning that – compared to their male counterparts – very few women even venture into the public sphere. I counted the occasions I saw people who represented tourists, and the number might amaze you: seven. Just seven – over two whole weeks. Egypt’s tourist economy has plunged from 14.7 million to 5.4 million per year, and it is noticeable. Tourists have become something of a commodity, only fueling the attitude towards them.

The irony of the whole trip was that the occasion on which I felt most comfortable in public was when I visited a nightclub. I remember thinking that there is definitely something wrong with a culture where you receive more unwanted attention on the streets than in a freakin’ bar.

I’m not comfortable arguing that it is easier being an unveiled woman than a veiled woman in Egypt, as other travel bloggers have. There are cultural forces at work there that someone like me can’t even imagine, and it isn’t a competition of oppression. I’m also aware that my experience was far more benign than that suffered by other females. I’m just writing this blog post to share my personal experience so that if you are a woman with intentions of visiting this incredible country, at least you’re not walking in blind.

I never once felt unsafe or threatened whilst I was in Egypt. I think a large part of that is because I mentally prepared myself for the attention and was always in good company. But I can wholeheartedly understand why the experience would be enough to deter someone from the Middle East altogether. It’s a shame, because the two countries I have traveled to in this region so far – Egypt and the United Arab Emirates – left me with rich knowledge and positive memories that surpassed my wildest expectations.

You don’t have to lose all sense of identity in Egypt to avoid harassment. Even if you were wearing a niqāb, the chances are, you would still receive some form of it. After all, studies reveal that 99% of Egyptian women have been subjected to misogynist behaviour on the streets of Cairo (what is being called a ‘moral epidemic’).

But what you can do to prepare is educate yourself on the culture and understand that there is nothing you are doing to deserve this treatment. There is nothing morally justifiable about it. It it simply the result of a lack of education, public safety, poverty and dangerous cultural ideas. The only way it can be challenged is by standing up to it and raising awareness about the injustices served.

 All of the photographs in this post were taken at the Mosque of Mohammed Ali in the Citadel of Cairo.
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In Defence of Cultural Appropriation

About a month ago, I wrote a blog post called Cultural Appropriation (Or Why that Bindi is Racist). Without rewriting the original article, allow me to briefly summarise my key points.

Cultural appropriation is defined as when “people from a dominant culture take cultural elements from a marginalised group without knowing or caring about how their actions affect marginalised people.” I later stumbled upon a slightly more detailed definition that I think also fits the bill: “Cultural appropriation… is a form of oppression for members of an identifiably dominant social or ethnic group to make use of the history, personages and/or habits of another, for the purposes of literature, music, art, entertainment, fashion. In short, for culture.”

Since publishing my blog post, I have shared a number of thought-provoking conversations with friends that have challenged my perspective on the issue. Dissatisfied, I decided to update my opinion — a part two, if you will — and to argue against what I originally wrote.

To begin, I am going to explore the difference between cultural appropriation and cultural exchange. There is a tendency to conflate the two, a misunderstanding which is arguably as dangerous as cultural appropriation itself. Whilst cultural appropriation tends to concern the power dynamics between two unequal groups, cultural exchange refers more so to the sharing of practices between two different yet balanced groups. In many — I’d even go as far as to say most — cases, cultural exchange is criticised for being cultural appropriation. Whilst I myself am persuaded that cultural exchange is justified, cultural appropriation is still something of a delicate matter.

Should we amend cultural appropriation to cultural misappropriation? Maybe it is possible that this whole discourse hinges around semantic specificity. From henceforth, I shall use cultural appropriation as somewhat interchangeable with cultural exchange, and refer to the detrimental kind as cultural misappropriation.

One of the central arguments for cultural appropriation is that it offers an opportunity for people to be educated about the rich diversity of human culture. After all, isn’t a more connected and compassionate society an objective goal? The topic of cultural appropriation also opens the door to what it truly means to own something. In my previous article, I discussed how it’s dangerous because it is as though a dominant group has ‘stolen’ a practice that belongs to a marginalised group. But do practices really belong to someone? Cultural practices are meaningful because of the ideas attached to them — can someone really claim ownership over an idea?

“Cultures are not intrinsically valuable, nor should they be preserved by virtue of their uniqueness. Cultures emerge from different groups of people trying to best navigate the world.”

The author of the above quote also put into words my exact thoughts: “… cultural ‘pride’ is absurd… there’s nothing to be proud of. (Cultures) aren’t superior or inferior to any other. You have nothing to preserve.” This message ties into the flaws of group identity. If you consider major conflicts between different groups of people, you’ll observe that that main source of conflict is the (often symbolic) trespassing of identity politics. We cannot abolish this discord without challenging our relationship with cultural pride.

By maintaining the mentality that cultural appropriation is in and of itself a ‘bad thing’, we are only causing further destruction. Through reinforcing exclusivism, some would even go as far as to say that it is as racist as cultural appropriation itself claims to be. If we cannot explore other cultures through participation, how are we — as a collective civilisation — expected to evolve and develop?

Perhaps cultural appropriation is indeed a positive thing, and participation in diverse cultural practices ought to be encouraged throughout society. Perhaps it’s the most constructive path to a more global, shared culture. “It is not an evil but rather a public good when different cultures are assimilated into the mainstream”, writes J. Wilson.

I have expressed why I believe cultural exchange should be condoned, and (hopefully) no one needs reminding that this should always be done respectfully. We know that malicious intent – whether that be through racism or whatever have you – is never acceptable. We know that there’s nothing respectful about dressing up as a ‘slutty Indian’ for Halloween in a costume you bought from Walmart, and we know that there’s nothing respectful about mockery. The key therefore is to strike a balance whereby different cultures are accessible and celebrated whilst still bearing courtesy and consideration for their history.

To what end does maintaining divisions between people serve? Cultural misappropriation can be harmful and leave devastating effects on persecuted peoples by reducing them to an idea. But cultural appropriation might be the answer to societal segregation rooted in identity politics.

Photographs sourced from Unsplash.

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