Statement for NYC Council Committee on Immigration Hearing and Open Arms Press Conference, June 27, 2016

Here's how I spent my day. 

Mojúbàolú Olufúnké Okome, founder, #BringBackOurGirlsNYC
Professor of Political Science, African & Women's Studies
Leonard & Claire Tow Professor, 2015/2016
Brooklyn College, CUNY
3413 James Hall
2900 Bedford Avenue
Brooklyn, New York 11210
(718) 951-5000, ext. 1742; fax:  (718) 951-4833
Ìrìnkèrindò: a Journal of African Migration 

I stand here today as an African immigrant who came to the US 35 years ago. I give unequivocal support to the statement by the New York City Council Committee on Immigration that “In New York City, we reject anti-immigrant sentiments and welcome displaced people with compassion, respect, and generosity.”

I also support the two resolutions before the Council:
·         Resolution 1105, calling upon the President and the State Department to resettle at least 10,000 Syrian refugees in the United States of America by the end of fiscal year 2016 and to increase such number to 65,000 by the end of fiscal year 2017.

·         Resolution 1103, calling upon the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security to designate Ecuador for Temporary Protected Status to provide temporary immigration relief to eligible Ecuadorian nationals in the wake of a devastating earthquake.

As is evident from statistics, wars, conflict, and persecution worldwide caused 59.5 million people to be displaced. Only 1.2 million of them are asylum seekers, 7.6 million Syrians are internally displaced and 4.1 million are refugees.  According to the Migration Policy Institute,

In response to this humanitarian crisis, the Obama administration proposed to significantly increase the number of refugees the United States accepts each year—from 70,000 in FY 2015 to 85,000 in FY 2016 and 100,000 in FY 2017—and scale up the number of Syrian refugees admitted to at least 10,000 for the current fiscal year, which began October 1. 
I support this decision and applaud the Obama administration for continuing to make the US a place of refuge, because:

For people living in repressive, autocratic, or conflict-embroiled nations, or those who are members of vulnerable social groups in countries around the world, migration is often a means of survival and—for those most at risk—resettlement is key to safety. In fiscal year (FY) 2015, the United States resettled 69,933 refugees and in FY 2013 (the most recent data available) granted asylum status to 25,199 people (Zong and Batalova 2015).
According to the Bureau of Census, there were 1.6 million foreign born Africans in the US in 2012.  Majority are in NYS, which has 164,000 people. The NY Metropolitan area also has the largest African-born population, with 212,000 people (US Bureau of the Census 2014).  However, “nearly a quarter of all immigrants from Africa to the United States in 2010 entered as refugees or received asylum as a result of ethnic conflict or civil war, particularly in countries such as Somalia, Liberia, and Sudan” (Gambino, Trevelyan and Fitzwater 2014, 2). 32% of refugees in the US are African (Anderson 2015).

Like Syrian refugees and asylum seekers, African refugees and asylum seekers are also fleeing genocidal violence, as is evident in places like Darfur, Sudan, from where we have fellow New Yorkers who have sought refuge in the United States along with their brothers and sisters from South Sudan, the Nuba Mountains, and Blue Nile. 

Among the Syrian refugees, there are also the Yazidi women, subjected to abduction, brutality and sexual servitude by ISIS, just like thousands of Nigerian women and girls, including our Chibok Girls, 276 of whom were abducted by Boko Haram, the violent insurgent group, from their school in Borno State on April 14 2014.  218 of these girls remain in the hands of their brutal abductors, who like ISIS (to whom they have declared allegiance), keep them in sexual and domestic servitude under appalling and horrendous conditions where sex is used as a "weapon of war".  When such women escape and seek refuge, it is only right that they are allowed into the US and welcomed.

On April 16, 2016 when the 7.8 magnitude earthquake killed hundreds of people and injured over 2,600, Secretary of State Kerry promised that the US would help and support the affected population and the country (US Department of State 2016).  According to the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), at least 350,000 people, including Colombian refugees in Ecuador, need urgent help (Sonia and Gaynor 2016). The US has done some work on the ground. It should also designate Ecuador for Temporary Protected Status to provide temporary immigration relief to eligible Ecuadorian nationals in the wake of this devastating earthquake.

Like the Ecuadorian refugees, many Africans are forced to flee from their countries of origin and communities by natural disasters. Some are fleeing from dreadful pandemics.  The 2014 Ebola crisis devastated Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia.  While it is gratifying that the US government granted Temporary Protective Status (TPS) to West Africans from these countries, given that the 2014 Ebola epidemic destroyed the already weak healthcare systems. Instead of giving only a 6-month extension to the TPS offered, the regular 18-month extension offered other refugees should be given. 

When devastating and cataclysmic conditions push people out of their countries and cause them to ask for American help, they should be helped, welcomed and offered refuge, not rebuffed. They should be given humanitarian help, and urgently too.  For all these reasons, the NYC Council should pass Resolutions 1105 and 1103.  

Thank you.


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