Thursday, May 18, 2006

Strange immigration parallel

Sudan and California, albeit far fetched and worlds apart, may be running a strange immigration parallel?

Although over-shadowed by Iraq warring, petty politics and lately the Iranian nuclear threat, the recent news on Sudan has actually been a continuous but muted headline for over three years. As many as 400,000 people have died and two million more have been driven from their homes since 2003 in the western Darfur region. "It's been described as the world's worst humanitarian crisis and threatening to get worse," Fred De Sam Lazaro—PBS.

Sudan's recent crisis dates back to their long-standing, illegal immigration policy and a unforeseen drought. Illegal immigration into Sudan from neighboring impoverished countries was not only ignored but invited as a national tradition, as long as times were good. Then the drought came and the people's attitudes suddenly changed. While I have yet to declare a firm position on immigration, I did find a strange parallel between Sudan's crisis and our own looming illegal immigration problems here in California, and quite possibly across the US.

Could a similar crisis happen in California?

We definitely have an illegal immigration problem in the Golden State, but until recently it didn't seem to be much of a problem, "as long as times are good." Now... what happens if we have our own drought, as Sudan experienced? It doesn't have to be a weather related drought, it could be an economic drought, an employment drought or any number of unforeseen catastrophes. Would our attitudes also change, as they have with the Sudanese people?

Maybe we are immune to such third-worldish problems like drought, but it's worth considering in light of recent stories—all great empires DO eventually fall.

Some history on Sudan's crux...

Once regarded as the potential bread basket of the Arab world, Sudan has in four years gone from being an exporter to an importer of its sorghum, a grain like staple crop. Through a combination of bad weather and overgrazing of arable land production fell from 3.4 million tons in 1981 to 1.3 million tons in 1984. The result has been bread shortages throughout the country, even in the capital of Khartoum.

When a rising tide of refugees briefly provoked rioting in the city of Port Sudan in 1982, Sudanese President Gaafar Numeiry came under mounting pressure from some members of his government to close his nation's borders. Numeiry would have none of it. During a climatic Cabinet debate on the issue, he dramatically invoked the ancient Arab tradition of hospitality toward strangers. "They are the guests of Sudan", he said.

By February 1985 there were about 1 million refugees in the country, and their number could swell beyond 2 million, in 1986, according to relief officials. A spokesman for the United Nations High Commissioner of Refugees has described the situation as rapidly becoming "a disaster of major proportions".

By March 1985, some 500 metric tons of relief goods have been airlifted into Eastern Sudan on flights financed or provided by the United States of America, Sweden and by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Items delivered include 20,000 tents, 83,000 blankets, 19,000 water containers, 7 water tanks, 6 water storage tanks (50,000 litre capacity), 61,000 doses of oral rehydration salts, disinfectants, 10 emergency relief kits (to cover the needs of 100,000 persons for three months), refrigerators for medicines, 100,000 doses of measles vaccine 3,500 drums of fuel, 65 tons of high protein energy foods, 3 pre-fabricated warehouses and 10 additional vehicles. Further items have been made available in kind, particularly by agencies currently working in Sudan.

On the basis of the present caseload estimates, the United Nations high Commissioner for Refugees's financial requirements (other than basic food) for the relief program amounted as of 11 January 1985 to US$ 14,526,000.

One of President Numeiry's trickiest political problems has been the arrival among the refugees of Ethiopian Jews, called Falashas (the Amharic word for strangers). The remnants of an ancient tribe that has kept alive Jewish religious practices, these Ethiopians became the object of a secret evacuation by Israel, code-named Operation Moses. According to various estimates, between 3,000 and 7,000 of them reached Israel before word of the rescue operation leaked out. Numeiry, whose government is a member of the Arab League and has no diplomatic relations with Israel, was embarrassed by the spotlight on Sudan co-operation in the re-settlement and ordered the airlift cut off. That left several thousand Falashas still in Sudan, many with relatives in Israel.

Numeiry quickly came under intense pressure from Western governments to find a way to help the Falashas on humanitarian grounds. In February 1985 a senior Sudanese official got in touch with the refugee commission in Geneva to discuss its possible role in evacuating the Falashas. One major setback to the program is the fact that the Falasha refugees in Sudan have blended into the anonymity of the camps and are sharing in the tragic fate of its occupants.

In the troubled southern Sudan, an almost three-year old guerrilla war waged by the members of the Southern Sudan People's liberation Army has spread from the Upper Nile and Bahr El Ghazal regions to Equatoria. The rebels, who are mostly Christians and animists, have chafed under domination for years and especially object to the Islamic law imposed by Numeiry in 1983.

Their major victory has so far been to interrupt, by killing, or by capturing non-Sudanese workers, two major economic projects: oil fields under exploration by Chevron Oil Co., and the Jonglei Canal in southern Sudan.

Now... fast-forward back to events in 2006

Up till now, Washington has kept a scrupulously correct distance from any involvement in the insurgency problem. This is despite the fact that it views the Sudan as a strategically important nation, both as protector of the southern flank of Egypt its primary Arab ally, and as a possible staging ground for any military operations mounted to protect the Middle East's oil fields.

In California, and the US, we have our own immigration woes and are desperately seeking solutions. Seems nobody but "Michael Savage" has been complaining during the last ten years, while many people were enjoying those low-cost lawn jobs and $6 an hour nannys. Now that the public has heard there are some consequences attached to the lax immigration policies, they're up in arms against the "illegals".

I'll be watching to see where this goes, while hoping we don't have a drought soon.