Saturday, June 18, 2011

War, Genocide, Refugees, and a Somali-American Helping Rwandan Refugees

For two days now, I've been writing about World Refugee Day. Also Minnesota, the United Nations, turkeys, Antarctica, jobs, and getting along with neighbors:
'Getting along with neighbors' can mean anything from dealing with a neighborhood association led by a control freak with an aversion to inflatable Santas, to deciding not to kill the family next door - even though they don't have the 'right' ancestors.

Rwanda - It Could be Worse

My guess is that there are several places on Earth that are in worse shape today, than Rwanda. Somalia and the Darfur region of Sudan come to mind. Even so, there are reasons why quite a few folks decided that it was time to move.

If you're familiar with Rwanda's recent history, go ahead and skip to Knowing When to Run. If not, here's a look a revolution, counter-revolution, counter-counter revolution, a not-quite-successful genocide, and a lake that may explode, sort of. I'm not making that last up:

Rwanda is a territory in central Africa. It's a little smaller than the state of Maryland, there's a large lake on its western border that's a geological time bomb waiting to asphyxiate anyone caught nearby,1 and folks living there have had a really rough half-century.

Longer than that, probably, since being a Belgian colony doesn't seem to have gone smoothly, either. One ethnic group, Tutsis, ran the country - which didn't sit well with the majority of the folks living there, the Hutus. The Hutus kicked the Tutsi king out, killed thousands of Tutsis, and drove about 150,000 Tutsis into exile.

Perhaps not, as it turned out, the most prudent thing for the Hutus to do.

Rwandan Genocide: Bad Situation; Bad Response

Exiled Tutsis had kids - and some of those kids formed a rebel group with a catchy name and acronym: RPF, for Rwandan Patriotic Front. They started a civil war back in Rwanda in 1990, then - cutting a long story short - the Rwandan government started a state-organized genocide in April of 1994. Eventually killing about three quarters of the Tutsis.2
"...The genocide ended later that same year when the predominantly Tutsi RPF, operating out of Uganda and northern Rwanda, defeated the national army and Hutu militias, and established an RPF-led government of national unity. Approximately 2 million Hutu refugees - many fearing Tutsi retribution - fled to neighboring Burundi, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zaire...."2
This time, about 2,000,000 Hutus took off for Burundi, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zaire: countries bordering Rwanda. Many returned home.

A few thousand stayed in Democratic Republic of the Congo - that's what Republic of the Congo / Zaire's been called since 1997, and that's another story.3 I get the impression that territories aren't getting re-named quite so often in Africa these days - and that's another topic.

That genocide, by the way, is supposed to be the fault of the Catholic Church. And that is yet another topic.4

Knowing When to Run

On the whole, I think it's better to face disagreements with neighbors, and talk things over. Sometimes, though, it's a good idea to wait until nightfall, take your family out the back door and over the fence - and make for the nearest border. Or make a run for it right now.

Today, Aden Batar is Catholic Community Services of Utah's director of Refugee Resettlement and Immigration. Back when I was writing advertising copy and doing graphic design for a small publishing company, He and his family lived in Somalia.
"...When their son died, Batar told his wife he would try to find a safe place for them and their second son, who at the time was only a few months old. He headed toward Kenya, walking across lands controlled by tribes that killed strangers who didn't speak their dialect.

" 'If you're not armed, you will be victimized,' said Batar, who had nothing with him, not even a change of clothing. 'All the odds are against you.'..."
(Intermountain Catholic)
Aden Batar made it into Kenya, hidden in a cattle truck, bribed a pilot to fly his family to Nairobi, was "the first Somali refugee to be settled in Utah through Catholic Community Services" - and that's yet another story.5

It sounds like Aden Batar, Somali-American, takes the "love your neighbor" part of Matthew 22:36-40 seriously: he's helping refugees settle in Utah. Rwandan refugees.5

'There Goes the Neighborhood?'

I'm no more upset that folks who made it out of Rwanda are finding a home in Utah, than I'm sorry to see folks moving to Minnesota from Somalia. It's not that I'm 'open minded' in the contemporary American sense of the word. I'm a practicing Catholic, and there are (what else?) rules about neighbors. Basically, I must love my neighbors - and everybody is my neighbor:Since I must love my neighbors, doesn't that mean that
  • I should be concerned about injustice and oppression?
    • Yes
  • Take arms against plutocratic oligarchs until the blood of oppressors runs in the street?
    • No
I've been over this before, and liberation theology is a bad idea - also yet again another topic.

Related posts:In the news:
1 Lake Kivu is on the western border of Rwanda, in the African Rift Valley. Over 2,000,000 people live near its shores. Geological processes charged the lake's waters with carbon dioxide - a whole lot of carbon dioxide. For the moment, Lake Kivu's waters are stable, but it's a little like a can of soda that's been shaken - if something disturbs the balance of the water, a whole lot of people will probably die of asphyxiation as the gas spreads.

Something like that happened in 1986, around Lake Nyos:2 Source: "Rwanda," CIA World Factbook (page last updated June 14, 2011)

3 Source: "Congo, Democratic Republic of the," CIA World Factbook (page last updated June 14, 2011)

4 There's a (very) little truth to the story that the Catholic Church is responsible for the 1994 Rwandan genocide. About 56.5% of all Rwandans are Catholic. Some of them are priests. And some - not all - Catholic clergy were personally involved in the 1994 genocide. As individuals.
"The bishops of Rwanda have issued an official statement demanding the media cease from implying the Catholic Church bears some responsibility for the killings in 1994 that took the lives almost 500,000 people.

" 'To accuse the Catholic Church of not recognizing its share of blame in the spreading of a genocidal ideology in Rwanda is without basis. The Church is right to not acknowledge a crime it did not commit, said the bishops...."
(Catholic News Agency (September 23, 2004))
And see:5Excerpt from Intermountain Catholic:
"Refugees tell their tales of terror and hope"
Marie Mischel, Intermountain Catholic (June 10, 2011)

"Fleeing war-torn countries and political persecution, refugees from all around the world come to the United States to find peace and to prosper. Through the years, 30,000 of them have been resettled in Utah.

"On June 20 – designated as World Refugee Day by the United Nations – some of them will tell their stories at an event sponsored by Catholic Community Services [CCS].

" 'Refugees: The Real Story' will feature stories from a Rwandan refugee and a teenager who is in the refugee foster care program. Bishop John C. Wester, immediate past chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Migration, will be a keynote speaker....

"...[director of Immigration & Resettlement for CCS, Aden] Batar knows first-hand the impact of such stories. The first Somali refugee to be settled in Utah through Catholic Community Services, he tells his story at schools and other venues, and 'the response is always positive,' he said. 'It's eye-opening for a lot of people.'

"In 1992, when civil war broke out in Somalia, Batar was a recent college graduate with a wife and son. Fearing for their lives, he and his family moved from place to place. 'You have to make a decision within a second to decide where to go, because that could save your life,' he said. 'The next day, you don't know where your meal's going to come from or whether you will be alive or dead.'

"When their son died, Batar told his wife he would try to find a safe place for them and their second son, who at the time was only a few months old. He headed toward Kenya, walking across lands controlled by tribes that killed strangers who didn't speak their dialect.

" 'If you're not armed, you will be victimized,' said Batar, who had nothing with him, not even a change of clothing. 'All the odds are against you.'

"At one point, he was given a ride in a truck. A militia man stopped the truck and told the 10 passengers to separate themselves by tribal origin. Batar realized from the way the armed man spoke that he was a member of the same tribe as the others in the truck, so Batar joined the others, and the militia man told them to go on their way.

"To cross the border from Somalia into Kenya, Batar squeezed himself into a cattle truck. The smell was horrible, he said, but he didn't care; the cattle prevented the guards from seeing him.

"Once in Kenya, he bribed an airplane pilot to bring his family to Nairobi. Two years later, a family member in Utah sponsored them to come to the United States...."

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What's That Doing in a Nice Catholic Blog?

From time to time, a service that I use will display links to - odd - services and retailers.

I block a few of the more obvious dubious advertisers.

For example: psychic anything, numerology, mediums, and related practices are on the no-no list for Catholics. It has to do with the Church's stand on divination. I try to block those ads.

Sometime regrettable advertisements get through, anyway.

Bottom line? What that service displays reflects the local culture's norms, - not Catholic teaching.