Civil Society in South Africa Deplores Failure to Give Visa to Dalai Lama

October 6, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Johannesburg. 4 October 2011.  The South African government should stand by its founding values by granting a visa to the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of the Tibetan people, urged civil society in South Africa today.

The Dalai Lama was due to visit South Africa from 6-8 October to attend the 80th birthday celebrations of fellow Nobel Peace Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu. He was expected to deliver the inaugural Desmond Tutu International Peace lecture at the University of the Western Cape. Delay in granting him a visa by the South African government has now resulted in him cancelling his trip to the country.

In 2009, the Dalai Lama was denied permission to visit South Africa under apparent pressure from the Chinese government which strongly opposes his support for the human rights and freedoms of the Tibetan people.

“In many regions of the world civil society members are being persecuted for their beliefs and impeded from engaging with the international community due to restrictive visa regimes,” said Ingrid Srinath, Secretary General of CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation. “… it is highly disturbing that this can happen in democratic South Africa, a number of whose leaders also had to wage their struggle for human rights in exile.”

Enhancing democracy and human rights as well as upholding justice and international law in relations between nations are important pillars of South Africa’s foreign policy. South Africa is also a founding member of the India, Brazil and South Africa (IBSA) trilateral of multi-ethnic and multicultural democracies, which is committed to the establishment of a new international architecture. Recent violent attacks on peaceful protestors by the police, proposed curbs on the freedom of information through impending legislation and the current controversy generated around the visit of the Dalai Lama are marring South Africa’s reputation as a vibrant democracy and human rights leader.

“It is untenable and hypocritical for the South African authorities to even consider denying the Dalai Lama a visa under pressure from a foreign government,” said Srinath.

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US Silencing Palestinian Journalist Mohammed Omer

March 25, 2010 by · 1 Comment 

Haymarket Books

Effectively canceling a planned speaking tour, the US consulate in the Netherlands has put an extended hold on the visa application of award-winning Palestinian journalist and photographer Mohammed Omer, scheduled to speak on conditions in Palestine, on 5 April in Chicago.

In 2008, Omer became the youngest recipient of the prestigious Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism, for his firsthand reportage of life in the besieged Gaza Strip. As his prize citation explained, “Every day, he reports from a war zone, where he is also a prisoner. He is a profoundly humane witness to one of the great injustices of our time. He is the voice of the voiceless … Working alone in extremely difficult and often dangerous circumstances, [Omer has] reported unpalatable truths validated by powerful facts.”

Upon attempting to return to Gaza following his acceptance of the Gellhorn award in London, Omer was detained, interrogated and beaten by the Shin Bet Israeli security force for over 12 hours, and eventually hospitalized with cracked ribs and respiratory problems. He has since resided in the Netherlands and continues to undergo medical treatment there for his subsequent health problems.

The US consulate has now held his visa application for an extended period of time, effectively canceling a planned US speaking tour without the explanation that a denial would require. In recent years, numerous foreign scholars and experts have been subject to visa delays and denials that have prohibited them from speaking and teaching in the US — a process the American Civil Liberties Union describes as “Ideological Exclusion,” which they say violates Americans’ first amendment right to hear constitutionally protected speech by denying foreign scholars, artists, politicians and others entry to the United States. Foreign nationals who have recently been denied visas include Fulbright scholar Marixa Lasso; respected South African scholar and vocal Iraq War critic Dr. Adam Habib; Iraqi doctor Riyadh Lafta, who disputed the official Iraqi civilian death numbers in the respected British medical journal The Lancet; and Oxford’s Tariq Ramadan, who has just received a visa to speak in the United States after more than five years of delays and denials.

Fellow Gellhorn recipient Dahr Jamail, expressed his disbelief at Omer’s visa hold. “Why would the US government, when we consider the premise that we have `free speech’ in this country, place on hold a visa for Mohammed Omer, or any other journalist planning to come to the United States to give talks about what they report on? This is a travesty, and the only redemption available for the US government in this situation is to issue Omer’s visa immediately, and with a deep apology.”

Omer was to visit Houston, Santa Fe and Chicago, where local publisher Haymarket Books was to host his Newberry Library event, “Reflections on Life and War in Gaza,” alongside a broad set of interfaith religious, community and political organizations.

Rather than cancel the meeting, organizers are calling on supporters to write letters and emails calling for the US consulate’s approval of Omer’s visa. They are also proceeding with the event as planned, via live satellite or skype, if necessary.

U.S. consulate information:

Ambassador Fay Hartog Levin
U.S. Embassy in The Hague
Lange Voorhout 102
2514 EJ
The Netherlands
T: +31 70 310-2209
F: +31 70 361-4688

ConsularAmster@state.gov

Background on Mohammed Omer:

Mohammed Omer was born and raised in the Rafah refugee camp in the Gaza Strip. He maintains the website Rafah Today and is a correspondent for the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs. His home in Rafah was crushed by an Israeli bulldozer while the family was inside, seriously injuring his mother. Yet, as Omer explained in an article he wrote upon winning the award, “My ambition was to get the truth out, not as pro-Palestinian or anti-Israeli, but as an independent voice and witness.” His reportage features interviews with regular Palestinians in Gazan attempting to survive amidst bombing, home demolitions and the crippling economic blockade, which has created devastating shortages of electricity, water, fuel and other necessities for survival.

Omer was to visit Chicago to discuss, with Ali Abunimah, Chicago-based author of One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, his reportage, personal experience, and the struggle for Palestinian rights. If the delay on his visa continues, he will take part in the event via live satellite connection or Skype.

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The Terminal

August 6, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS) Middle East Correspondent

terminal Academy-Award winning actor Tom Hanks wowed audiences back in 2004 with his movie ‘The Terminal’. In the film he portrays Viktor Navorski, an eastern European immigrant coming to America so that he can fulfill a wish of his late father. But things take a turn for the worse as his homeland breaks out into a civil war and is no longer recognized by any government while he is en route. Not only is he stateless by the time he lands at New York’s JFK Airport, but he is also stuck in a political limbo which forces him to make the airport his new found home as he waits for the US government to either grant him entry or send him to another country to seek refuge as a political refugee. The film has innumerable funny moments as Hanks struggles to communicate his needs for money, food and clothing in his native language and broken English. It also has many heart rending ones as the audience is gripped by the plight of a stranger in a strange land.

For many Southeast Asian immigrants that descend upon the Middle East each year to work as laborers in some of the richest countries in the entire world, living in an airport terminal is often a reality that they have no choice but to accept as they embark upon a new phase in their lives to serve others as chauffeurs, office boys, janitors and housemaids.  In almost every Gulf State, there exists a sponsorship system, which states that no foreign immigrant can live independently within the country. All immigrants must have a citizen sponsor to vouch for them and co-sign on their residency documents. Herein is the problem . Out of the sponsorship laws has grown a new breed of criminals known as ‘visa traders’. They lure unsuspecting immigrants from agencies in their own homelands to the Gulf with the promise of a better life. The visa traders sell thousands of visas per years and it is a booming business.

Immigrants pay the traders thousands of dollars for their sponsorship that translates into a work visa. The moment the transaction begins and the cash changes hands, the immigrant is at the mercy of the sponsor. Many sponsors have developed the habit of leaving the new immigrants at the airport for days on end. They are either too busy or heartless to care. For this reason, many airports in the Gulf have developed special waiting areas specifically to cope with the influx of immigrants waiting to be picked up by their sponsors. The areas are well away from paying passengers view but are filled with human cargo simply left to wait. Men and women are mixed together often sprawled within close proximity as they try to sleep on the cold hard floors. Most immigrants only arrive with the clothes on their backs and not even a blanket to shield them from the central air conditioning that is pumped throughout the terminal around the clock. They have nowhere to shower and can only utilize the airport bathroom. As for nourishment, they are at the mercy of whatever the airport can provide.

maids It is common to see women crying and begging airport officials to simply go back home. Many of the immigrants do not know Arabic and yet the airport requires that they fill out processing paperwork in Arabic. While others make futile attempts to call the recruiting agencies that hired them or their individual sponsors. In most cases, the sponsors eventually do show up either several hours or several days after they were supposed to pick up their charges. The sponsors are not reprimanded by airport officials and suffer no ill consequences. Once again, the immigrants pay the price as they are not compensated for the wasted time and are usually forced straight to work without even a chance to rest after the long ordeal.

Many residents in the Gulf have long petitioned for an end to the sponsorship system. Nowhere have the voices been raised as loud as in the State of Kuwait, with even citizens publicly declaring shame that their own country would be a willing collaborator in the exploitation of others. This past month the Kuwaiti government has given hope to thousands by pushing for the annihilation of the sponsor system to curb visa trading and improve Kuwait’s standing on human rights in the global arena. The Kuwaiti government also promises to develop a new set of laws to deal with visa traders fiercely and decisively.  Other Gulf nations are expected to rethink their sponsorship systems as well so as to be seen as champions of human rights by the rest of the world and not exploiters bowing to the almighty dollar.

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