Refugees and Humanitarian Space

Dr. Unni Karunakara lectured on the Syrian refugee crisis and the concept of humanitarian space. As a doctor for Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF), Dr. Unni has experienced the harsh realities of living and working in areas of the world in dire need. His presentation outlined some of the facts about the current refugee crisis, as well as information on how humanitarian aid is applied in these cases.

The countries of Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan, and Iraq are currently holding the largest percentage of Syrian refugees. The current crisis is unfolding as these refugees are leaving these countries in order to move to less crowded or dangerous areas. Consider: A mother does not put her child on a boat unless the water is safer than the land. These people are facing incredible threats to their wellbeing and survival; and although the alternative is not much better they are willing to strive for a better life.

Organic refugee camps are growing on the borders of countries, and often times there are altercations between the refugee peoples and the local police at these borders. Although the major media sources are largely focused on the Syrian refugee crisis, millions of refugees are fleeing Ethiopia, Burundi, and Myanmar. The refugee crisis is a worldwide phenomenon. There exist over 60 million refugees in the world – a number that when combined would be relative to the 24th largest country. One in four people in Lebanon is a refugee. More than 80% of refugees flee to other struggling countries.

There are three known ways to solve the refugee crisis: local integration, resettlement, and voluntary repatriation. The right to seek asylum is a universal declaration of human rights. Humanitarian action isa moral activity, grounded in the ethic of assistance to those in need. The aid must demonstrate an ethic of restraint; it cannot be subordinated by socially progressive moves or political interest. The goal is always human lives over human freedoms. While this sounds restrictive to some, the most radical realization is that people are not made to suffer. The very definition of humanity is that all people have equal value and dignity. The need for impartiality is enormous, humanitarian spaces must remain neutral spaces. Those with the most need are tended to first, regardless of affiliation or personal opinion. These spaces provide direct medical care and action, and bear witness to the events around them. In return, these programs face insecurity and indifference, and are challenged with impunity.

There are no humanitarian solutions to humanitarian problems. These spaces are necessary and essential civil society responses to political failure. Humanitarian aid does not allow us to forget the suffering of others.


Kusamira: Ritual Music and Wellness in Uganda

In his lecture “Kusamira: Ritual Music and Wellness in Uganda”, Dr. Peter Hoesing spoke on the intertwined value of music and wellbeing within the Buganda and Busoga regions of Uganda. The music of these peoples supports a creation of social networks of wellness within the community, creating meaningful rituals within the communities.

Of these rituals, the kusamira ritual is a possession ritual, in which an ancestral or patron spirit possesses the human body. This is a spiritual healing ritual, and as Hoesing says: “it takes a literal village to cure people; not just raise children”. Of these rituals, there are many types. The okusiba ebibi and okubasiba abdongo are rituals of binding negative potential. Okubasiba abdongo in particular involves ‘tying the twins’ at birth, which involves shouting obscenities at the young twins while rattling gourds and drumming to a rhythm. ‘Tying the twins’ removes the negative potential from the twins, and must be performed with every set. There are a number of positive rituals as well, a series of unbinding or opening blessings. The okusumulula amakubo is a ritual for ‘opening the paths’, typically performed during the crowning period of birth. Furthermore, the ritual okusumulukuka is a ritual of coming ‘unbound’ in childbirth.

There are musical repertories including forms of music, medicine, and healing. These are the embodiment of oral historical tradition, creating a historical memory. Technical repertories include the ritual order of spiritual healing. These processes begin with ritually consuming two coffee berries –symbolizing the twins- and brewing banana beer. After this initiation of the ritual comes invocation and songs, many of which are twin-focused. This is followed by spirit possession and the use of power objects; objects associated with a deity. Once this portion of the ritual is completed, there is sacrifice and ritual labor. The final portion of the ritual is ‘making ancestors’ and honoring the dead. Sound is important to the diagnostic practices, and it continues throughout the ritual.

Dr. Hoesing’s intensive research sheds light on the complex rituals and spiritual processes within Ugandan communities. The musical aspects of these societies and the correspondence with healing of both body and spirit will continue to shape studies of ritual and the understanding of ritual within Buganda and Busoga.

Kusamira: Ritual Music and Wellness in Uganda


The Global Awareness Forum featured lecture “Kusamira: Ritual Music and Wellness in Uganda” given by Peter Hoesing is scheduled for February 17th at 5:00pm in the Education Center room 112.

For more information, please visit the Global Awareness Forum’s Facebook page for a detailed flyer consisting of all of February’s events.

Global Awareness Forum Official Facebook Page

Political Asylum, Human Rights, and the U.S. Immigration System – Dr. Bill Hoffmann

Dr. Bill Hoffman, Senior Counsel at the Georgia Asylum and Immigration Network (GAIN), lectured on his experience with the political asylum aspect of the U.S. Immigration System. Dr. Hoffman has a Ph.D. in Philosophy and taught at Ithaca College before attending law school. He is a retired partner at the international law firm of King & Spalding and has formerly served as Special Counsel to the Special Court For Sierra Leone, the International Criminal Tribune for Rwanda and the International Criminal Court for the former Yugoslavia. Dr. Hoffmann served as an international elections observer in Kenya; and, through GAIN, arranges and provides pro-bono legal representation for political asylum applicants from Africa, the Middle East, and Asia.

Dr. Hoffmann related the experiences of several of his clients from the Atlanta City Detention Center (ACDC) during his lecture. One of these cases regarded the experience of five Haitian men, all who entered the country legally with valid visas. All were detained at the airport and placed in the ACDC. They recalled horrific conditions, and no time allowed outside. Their case is still pending, with a court hearing approaching. Another of Dr. Hoffmann’s cases involved a Tajik Afghani man orphaned by the Taliban. With no family left and fearing persecution, he flew to the United States. He was immediately arrested, and imprisoned for two years while waiting to face immigration court. He won his asylum case, and now lives freely. Unfortunately, cases do not always have positive outcomes. A Somali was threatened by Al Shabab, who proceeded to murder his brother. Fearing for his own life, he fled. He was placed in detention, but granted parole and worked while awaiting his hearing. He lost his case because there was not reasonable belief that Al Shabab was not acting as a gang and that, despite his brother being killed, he was in danger. Following this, he fled the United States and received asylum in Canada.

The United States of America has accepted 2.7 million asylum seekers since 1980, and more apply every day. Potential asylum seekers can attempt to be granted asylum by following an Affirmative Application.  This process starts by filing with the asylum office of the country they wish to flee to. After this, there is an extensive interview process. Following this can be up to a two-year waiting period, which leads to a grant or denial of asylum. In case of denial, the asylum seeker would be referred to immigration court. Alternately, a Defensive Application can be attempted for asylum seekers who have been detained upon entry to their country of asylum or for those who have been denied Affirmative Application. After a period of parole or detainment, the process begins with an adversarial proceeding in immigration court. Essentially, the person seeking asylum must prove a well-founded fear of persecution on account of: race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or social group. They cannot be fleeing civil war, chaos, poverty, or similar strife.

Once granted asylum, the recipients are eligible for several benefits. They are eligible for resettlement services, from a Refugee Resettlement Services Agency or similar program. People who have been granted asylum are also able to be granted Medicaid and food stamps. Furthermore, they can file an Allied Refugee petition to have their spouse and children under 21 granted refugee status. After a year, they become eligible to file for a green card.

It is important to understand the structure of the system and the lives of those living within it. More people seek asylum every year, and understanding what they go through to live safely is important in understanding what they are fleeing.

Human Rights Roundtable

The Fall 2015 Global Awareness Forum Roundtable on Human Rights featured four members of the College faculty: Dr. Nancy Nenno, Dr. Edward Chauca, Dr. Malte Pehl, and Dr. Chris Day. Each of faculty member has a specialty in a certain area of the world, and knowledge of the human rights issues within that area.

Dr. Edward Chauca spoke primarily about Mexico and Central America, especially on the case of the 43 missing students in Mexico in 2014. These students, protesting the state government, vanished and their bodies were never found. In the wake of the search for these students, many mass graves were uncovered, none of which contained the students. This, however, raises the questions: “Who are these people?” and “How does this happen?”.  Criminals are either sentenced for human rights violations and set free, or they are only suspect of human rights violations but jailed for corruption. Unfortunately, there is a lack in a political movement that goes beyond activism; the change needs to be within the political sphere as well as in the public circle.

Dr. Chris Day focused on the Central African Republic and human rights within the framework that the civil warring creates. Civil war creates breaks between intercommunal bonds. Because of the split, both armed officials and rebels control human rights and resources. Government control extends no farther than the capital because of rebel factions. But without a unified ceasefire, there cannot be elections. Of all the rights, the right to life and security fall above others. The problem lies with the path to reach those rights.

Dr. Nancy Nenno’s main point is that it is harder to identify human rights violations in Europe than in other areas of the world because, like violations within the United States, we don’t want to see it. There are a large number of refugees right now, both economic and political refugees. One of the largest human rights issues in Europe right now is the freedom and safety of religion. Panic continues to spread as more refugees cross into Europe, and those rights should not be tampered with.

Dr. Malte Pehl is well versed in topics regarding India, particularly human rights and the rights of women and children. Within India, it is too often the case that the state is the cause of human rights violations. Unfortunately, the police infrastructure is corrupt to the point that women who are seeking help from abuse or rape are either pushed away or taken advantage of. There are also still cases of caste discrimination and dowry murders. Bonded labor and child labor are still used to pay off debts which are passed down from generation to generation and while this labor is technically illegal, the citizens do not know their rights. India does have open elections, but the problem lies with enforcing the laws and protecting people from the enforcers.

Each of the four faculty members urged the necessity for awareness of these issues in the global sphere as well as at a local level. Give your time to movements with a cause to help and support people in these conditions. Make sure that you are looking at multiple sources, gathering information from widespread viewpoints. The freedom of press is an important factor in making sure a change can come. Use it.

Incarceration Nation – Jamie Fellner

Within the United States, the ‘War on Drugs’ has grown into a massive scale of policing and sentencing. Jamie Fellner, Senior Counsel for the United States Program of Human Rights Watch, is particularly adamant about reducing sentences for non-violent drug offenses and the unequal treatment of people of color in the War on Drugs. Her primary example is a twenty two year old black man who received life without parole for dealing small amounts of cocaine. He was victim to the system, and his loss of liberty – argues Fellner – in not a just punishment for his crime.

Fellner argues that if your right to liberty is taken away as a punishment by the prison and legal system, it should be free of racial discrimination, and without cruel or degrading behavior or punishment. The prison system should place more emphasis on reentry into society rather than racking up a higher count of people in the prison system. Fellner’s main point revolves around the basis that prison should be a last resort.

By using statistics from South Carolina, Fellner really hit home. 26% of the South Carolina population is black, but 62% of the prison population in this state is black. On top of this, 45% of all arrests are drug-related incidents. At $17,000 a year spent per inmate in the SC system, over $66 million is spent per year keeping non-violent drug offenders behind bars – in this state alone. The system cannot continue to behave this way, instead prison should benefit society; not hinder it.

Civil Rights Martyrs and the Cultural Imagination – Brian Norman

As we talk about civil rights and the injustices both past and present, it is important to reflect and question the use of civil rights martyrs in the movement and the media. Specifically, Brian Norman spoke of the presence of Emmett Till as a civil rights mouthpiece. Emmett Till, a fourteen year old boy, was lynched, beaten, shot, and abused after being accused of whistling at a white woman. His body was found in the Tallahatchie River.  His body was displayed in an open casket, throwing shock around the nation.

When dragging the river for his body, several other bodies were found. Which begs the question, what are all of these bodies doing in the river?

To this day, the Emmett Till narrative is used in novels, plays, and poems to posthumously change the perception of the civil rights movement.

Several examples which Brian Norman spoke on were James Baldwin’s Blues for Mister Charlie, and Randall Kenan’s Let the Dead Bury Their Dead. In these stories, Emmett Till is told as a deranged spirit, a silent ghost boy, and a corpse who comes back to life to get justice for his own death. These works, along with over 140 more, utilize Emmett Till’s story and manipulate it to draw questions from their audiences. How do the different types of narratives change the story? Did Emmett Till actually whistle at the woman? Does it matter?

Silence becomes a problem in these cases. Mamie Till, Emmett’s mother, knew this. Her famous words, “I wanted the world to see what they did to my boy”, show her inability to let the world hush her voice, her son’s voice. The open casket funeral gave her a mouthpiece to speak on the injustice she saw.

Our voices allow us to speak for those who cannot anymore. We cannot afford to be silent.

Event – Nicholas Kristof

South Carolina Community Loan Fund invites College of Charleston students, staff and faculty to join us on Monday, October 19th for a presentation from Nicholas Kristof, American journalist, author, op-ed columnist, and winner of two Pulitzer Prizes. The presentation will take place on at 10:00 am at the Charleston Music Hall, and will focus on Kristof’s most recent book, A Path Appears. Blue Bicycle Books will be on site at the event selling copies of A Path Appears and Kristof’s best-selling book Half The Sky, and Kristof will be signing books after the presentation. Tickets for the presentation are on sale to the public for $25, but there are also student tickets available for $15 (use the promo code “STUDENT” at check out).

Mr. Kristof is an extraordinary thinker and human rights advocate, and we hope members of the College of Charleston community will come out to enjoy his presentation. For more information about the event and to purchase tickets visit the website.

Mo Asumang – The Aryans

Mo Asumang’s Die Arier (The Aryans) focuses on the question “What does Aryan mean?” and the origins and reasons behind the usage of the word. She is told by many Germans that Aryan simply means ‘German-blooded’, but these same people refuse to call her an Aryan regardless of her German roots, because of her skin color. The more probing Mo does, the more bigotry she faces. In German Nationalist zones, she experiences a culture where people of color, LGBT+ people, and disabled people are not welcome. And still, these people claim that Aryan means German citizenship and an acceptance of German values and ideals. Linguistically, the word Aryan has roots in the East, in India and Iran; not Europe. A kind of ethnogenesis occurred, where German citizens chose to identify as ‘Aryan’ to elevate themselves over races of people who they considered to be inferior. Upon this discovery, Mo travelled to Iran herself to speak with the true Aryan people, Iranian shepherds. These people were kind and sympathetic and ashamed of how their culture had been twisted into racist ideology. At this point, Mo travelled to the United States to speak with the SPLC about Aryan hate groups within America. Dozens of so-called ‘Aryan’ groups dotted the lists of the SPLC. Speaking with one of the racist leaders of a prominent hate group, Mo was told that she was a product of ‘gene-hijacking’; i.e. when a black person seeks to improve their genes by intermarrying with a white person. Members of the Klu Klux Klan told her that ‘Nobody is a racist in the Klan’. The end of the film showed the beginnings of a transformation of a Nationalist Aryan supporter as he saw his mistakes and began to right his wrongs.

In all of this, Mo Asumang has the firm belief that people are not inherently racist and that their hearts can change. Her own grandmother raised her, abandoning her racist views for one of love towards her granddaughter. Mostly, she experienced subtle racism within Germany, not constant radical racism. Due to racism, she has been kicked out of her home, had her head bashed in, and not known how to identify for most of her life. Only recently has Mo been able to call herself German. She dealt with the racism as if it were within her family, because in reality, Germany is exactly that. Her family.

When I asked Mo about the current civil rights movement within America, she had some very poignant words on the subject. She said, the in the United States there is so much suppressed anger, hundreds of years’ worth. Anger that has been carried over generations. But people cannot deal with that anger and hate, because that is exactly what the racists want. If you rely on anger, they will use it to ‘justify’ their racism. Instead, you must look for any possibilities to be creative. Be creative with your person and your thoughts, be innovative in ways that suit society. We cannot be lazy. We cannot wait for others to change. We have to be the positive change for others.

Continually, Mo Asumang stresses that there is no blonde, blue-eyed master race. We are people. All of us.

The Boy is Gone: Conversations with a Mau Mau General

The Boy is Gone: Conversations with a Mau Mau General is a history of the struggle for Kenyan independence during the Mau Mau rebellion.The anti-colonial movement has been whitewashed and stigmatized throughout history. Laura Lee Huttenbach allows her readers to view a first-hand account of the events of the Mau Mau rebellion through General Japhlet Thambu’s oral history in The Boy is Gone. The General’s words provide an informative view of the rebellion and of his life before and since. During Huttenbach’s presentation, her fondness for the General and his family was evident. During the months she lived with the General and his family, she spoke with them, worked with them, and learned from them. All of these experiences culminate into her perspective of the General and in turn, ours.

Laura Lee Huttenbach has not only provided the experiences of a Mau Mau General, but also an understanding of where his words come from.