View Full Version : America Imports 13,000 New Negroes from Africa

Sunday, December 21st, 2003, 03:53 PM
In the U.S., Africa's Bantu see a reversal of fortune
By Rick Hampson, USA TODAY
BUFFALO They may be the world's closest thing to a truly stateless people: abducted 200 years ago into slavery, relegated in our time to near serfdom, and driven finally into exile by civil war.

Kadija Abdi Idow and grandchildren are among 12,000 Bantu to be resettled in America over the next two years.
By Matt York, AP

Until recently, most had never flushed a toilet, flicked a light switch, climbed a flight of stairs or watched a TV. They had never talked on a telephone, cooked on a stove or ridden in a car, never held a pen or used a fork. Many have never crossed a paved road.

Now, they're coming to America.

They are the Bantus of Somalia, long the least fortunate people in one of the least fortunate nations on the least fortunate continent.

But suddenly, all Africa is talking about the luck of the Bantus.

Their identity, once a curse, has become their passport. The U.S. government has judged their future so hopeless that it has agreed to resettle about 13,000 from refugee camps in Kenya, where they fled in the early '90s to escape the Somali civil war.

The Somali Bantus will be the largest single group of African refugees ever admitted to the USA. Several hundred already have arrived, including Muya Malande, his wife and four children. They are the first of several hundred members of their tribe who will settle in Buffalo over the next 18 months.

Malande is relatively sophisticated he speaks some English and worked in the camps for Western aid agencies. But most of the Somali Bantus are poor farmers from isolated areas with only a passing acquaintance with modern life.

This year stories have come out of Kenya about Bantus who got stuck in a classroom because they did not know how to use the doorknob; who got off the bus at an interim refugee camp thinking they had arrived in America; who asked if they had to go with their luggage as it passed through the airport X-ray machine.

Some question the cost of educating and serving such a people. Plans to cluster Somali Bantu families in Cayce, S.C., and Holyoke, Mass., met with such opposition that resettlement officials canceled plans for Holyoke and will place about half the refugees slated for Cayce in neighboring Columbia instead.

On Buffalo's West Side, where Malande's family and those who follow them are to settle, some residents are worried.

"We can't afford to have a concentration of people who don't speak English, who don't know our culture, and who need handouts," says John Lombardo, a block association president. "Buffalo is having tough times as it is."

The few Americans who know the Bantus, however, complain that they are being inaccurately portrayed as 21st-century cave men. "They're sub-Saharan subsistence farmers," says Kenneth Menkhaus, a Davidson College political scientist who has worked in Somalia. "They're not from the moon."

He says the Bantus are remarkable for their industry, adaptability and resilience; having survived so much, they'll have no trouble learning to use a can opener or brush their teeth.

But it's clear their resettlement will require the most ambitious and complex effort since the Hmong people of Laos arrived a quarter century ago, after losing their U.S.-supported fight against communist forces.

'In a time machine'

Mitch Cummings is on the staff of Journey's End, the local affiliate of a Protestant relief agency, Church World Service, that is settling the Malande's family and hundreds of others in Buffalo. "These families are really flying here in a time machine," he says. "They're traveling 200 years into the future."

Malande's family includes his wife, Arbai Jumale, and their four children: daughter Mame, 6; and sons Osman, 8; Saleman, 4; and Abdi, 2. Although Malande and the children wear Western clothes, Jumale favors a traditional headscarf and colorful wraparound garment and often carries her youngest on her back. Malande and Jumale are 39 and 30, respectively, but they don't know their birth dates; to comply with Western custom, they both have chosen a birthday Jan. 1.

They are living in a three-bedroom apartment whose kitchen is larger than their hut in the camp. "It's nice to have so many rooms," Mame says in her tribal dialect.

The Malande's family represents a shift in refugee resettlement. With the decline in arrivals from eastern Europe and southeast Asia, Africa now accounts for almost a third of refugees coming here.

The family also is the beginning of a new ethnic group in Buffalo, which needs such newcomers to revitalize itself. Mostly because of its abundance of snow and paucity of higher-paying jobs, the city has trouble keeping immigrants who first settle here. In the 2000 census Buffalo had fewer foreign-born residents than in 1990.

Journey's End, the resettlement agency, wants to buy the apartment house where Malande's family is staying and use it as transitional housing for other families of their tribe. Caseworkers jokingly call it "Bantuville."

Buffalo, with its blizzards and its Bills, its factories, museums and 300,000 residents, is a long way from Malande's village, which didn't even have ice cubes.

He lived on the equator in southern Somalia, where everyone farmed a small plot and some worked on plantations. If there was enough rain, there was enough to eat. There was no irrigation system, no commercial fertilizer, no government subsidy.

People lived in mud huts without electricity or indoor plumbing. They could not read or write. They measured time not by hours or years, but by events, such as an epidemic or a drought.

Although they were nominally Muslims, most people believed in spirits and magic, and visited "witchmen" for cures, curses, blessings or prophesies. Pains or maladies were treated by "cupping" applying a hot metal cup to the skin which left scars. Girls were circumcised.

The Bantus had come to Somalia as slaves in the late 18th and early 19th centuries from what is today Mozambique, Malawi and Tanzania. Slavery was abolished in the early 20th century by Somalia's Italian colonizers, but the southern Bantus who had Negroid features and tightly curled hair, unlike the more Arab-looking ethnic Somalis were never really free.

In the 1930s the fascist Italian regime forced them to work on state plantations. After Somalia gained independence in 1960, the dominant ethnic clans that ran the country looked down on the Bantus, who numbered in the hundreds of thousands. They were cheated out of land, consigned to menial jobs and derided as "adoon" slave.

Malande was exceptional: He went to school. But he found that the few jobs available went to ethnic Somalis. When he complained, he says, he was jailed for seven days. He went back to farming.

When Somalia descended into civil war in the early 1990s, the Bantus had no allies among the nation's ethnic clans. Marauding militias forced them to keep farming, then took their crops a cross between sharecropping and slavery.

One day some militiamen with AK-47s came to Malande's home. They confiscated corn, clothing and everything else of value and ordered him and his relatives to carry the plunder to the main road, a two-hour walk. When Malande's uncle refused, he was shot to death.

In October 1992, after his father-in-law also was killed in front of his family, Malande realized he and Jumale had to join the exodus to Kenya. They set off with a few days' food and 10 liters of water. They wore crude sandals made with strips of rubber tires. When a vehicle came along, they dove into the bush so they wouldn't be robbed.

After eight days in the brutal heat, food and water gone, they reached the border. A refugee agency trucked them about 50 miles to Dadaab, a parched frontier town whose makeshift camps became home to more than 130,000 refugees.

The Malande's family, like everyone else, lived in a wood hut with a plastic roof. Over the next decade their children were born, and Malande found work with several Western aid organizations.

Dadaab, with its hyenas and scorpions, was desolate beyond the Bantus' imaginings. The women had to walk hundreds of yards to the nearest wells, and even farther for firewood; some were attacked when they went too far from camp. Masked men robbed Malande twice and cut off the arm of one of his friends. In their hardship, the Bantus found themselves reunited with their old oppressors ethnic Somalis, who also had fled the civil war and now dominated the camps. Again, the Bantus had the worst jobs. Again, they stood at the back of the line. Again, they heard the taunt, "Adoon!"

Still, they refused to return to Somalia. "We did not know what freedom was," an elder said in 1996. "We have been let out of the cage, and we don't want to go back in."

The chosen ones

By now the plight of the Bantus had attracted international attention. In late 1999, the State Department ruled that the Somali Bantus could be admitted to the USA.

Some ethnic Somalis in the camps were outraged: Why would any nation prefer the adoon?

Malande still marvels at the rationale. "We were vulnerable. We had suffered a lot that's why the U.S. looked on us with merciful eyes," he says through an interpreter. "I never knew there were people who cared about us, or even knew about us."

When Malande's family arrived at the Buffalo airport, they were met by Mitch Cummings, the refugee agency worker. Given what he'd heard about the Bantus, Malande's tentative English "you are the man who has brought us to America" had Cummings and another caseworker exchanging high fives. But Malande says those who follow him will not be so familiar with English or modern ways.

This has become apparent as Bantus have settled into more than 20 other communities around the nation. Some of the newcomers have applied deodorant to their foreheads and used a broom to sweep off the kitchen table. A family in Denver was panicked by the explosions on July 4 and frightened by a man in a Mickey Mouse mask and tail who tried to entertain them in a doctor's waiting room.

But resettlement experts say these are the least of the Bantus' problems. The government expects refugees to become self-supporting within a few months and to eventually repay the cost of their air travel. The resettlement agencies and church sponsors provide food, clothes, furniture and the first few months' rent, but Malande's large young family probably will need welfare, Medicaid and food stamps for at least a year. He's not likely to find a first job that pays more than $7.50 an hour; Jumale has neither the skills nor the English to work any time soon.

As Muslims and blacks, the Somali Bantus face discrimination. As communal, tribal people in an individualistic, specialized society, they will have to get used to doctors, lawyers and psychologists filling the roles of elders, sheiks and traditional healers.

They carry the burden of years of prejudice. "They've always been told they're the lowest of the low," Menkhaus says. "Can they break free of that?"

Souvenir of Somalia

Malande's family arrived at the airport with one piece of luggage, a blue-and-white plaid plastic bag. A week later, Malande is asked what was inside. The children's old clothes, he says, and the family's newly issued toothbrushes.

And something else, he says, something he smuggled out and kept hidden. He gets up from his dining room table, goes into the bedroom and returns with a clear plastic folder. He removes a piece of paper, yellowed, slightly crumpled, tattered at the edges.

It is a high school diploma, signed and sealed, with the photo of a hopeful face Muya Malande, class of '82.

He's asked if the luck of the Bantus has finally changed.

He pauses, perhaps because luck is a tricky concept for a man who has seen relatives murdered; who in 11 years has not heard of or from his mother, left behind in Somalia with his elderly grandmother; whose father and relatives remain in a refugee camp, their entry to America slowed by post-9/11 entrance policies.

Finally he replies: "Now that I am here, my luck has changed."

July 20, 2003
U.S. a Place of Miracles for Somali Refugees

UCSON The white wooden door swung open and the dazed African villagers stepped into their new home. It was a modest apartment with secondhand furniture and a stove in need of repairs. But to Osman Yarrow, his wife and five children, refugees from Somalia's civil war, it seemed like a place of miracles.

Clean water coursed out of gleaming faucets, an astonishing luxury for a rural family who had spent more than a decade in mud huts without indoor plumbing. "Red for hot," Mr. Yarrow repeated wonderingly as he held his fingers in the steady stream. "Blue for cold."

There were flush toilets instead of pit latrines and beds instead of straw mats. But what Mr. Yarrow treasured most on his first day in his American home was a sense of security. In Somalia, he witnessed the execution of his father and son by marauding militias. In Kenya, his family huddled in bleak refugee camps while bullets sang in the night.

Here, he listened to the squeals of his children and the hum of a contraption called an air conditioner. "We will sleep without hearing gunshots," he said. "We're finally living in a safe place."

Mr. Yarrow, 40, represents the changing face of America's refugees. Since May, more than 200 members of his tribe, the Somali Bantu, have been flown to 22 cities across the United States, the first wave of one of the government's largest recent refugee resettlement efforts.

By the end of next year, officials plan to resettle nearly 13,000 Bantu, who were enslaved and persecuted for generations in Somalia until civil war scattered them to desolate and violent refugee camps in Kenya in the early 1990's.

Over the past decade, State Department officials have increasingly shifted their focus toward Africa as wars there have displaced millions of people. The end of the cold war has resulted in a sharp decline in refugees from the former Soviet Union and Vietnam. Africans are among those filling the gap.

State Department statistics show that Africans made up 3 percent of the refugees resettled in the United States in the 1990 fiscal year. By 2001, that figure was nearly 30 percent.

The pace of refugee resettlement has slowed sharply since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Thousands of refugees are awaiting security clearance because they are fleeing countries like Somalia and Sudan, which have been accused of sheltering terrorists. Even so, State Department officials say they hope to resettle more than 1,000 Somali Bantu by Sept. 30.

Families have arrived in Houston, Salt Lake City, Nashville, St. Louis, Rochester, Concord, N.H., and other cities like Tucson, where the cost of living is relatively low and entry-level jobs are available.

For the Bantu, it is a journey in both space and in time. They are members of a tribe that was forcibly transported to Somalia from Mozambique, Malawi and Tanzania by Arab slave traders two centuries ago. In Somalia, they were often denied access to education and jobs. Today, they are mostly illiterate and almost untouched by Western life.

As refugees, they farmed, cooked, cleaned and labored in backbreaking construction jobs in the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya. But most had never flipped a light switch, operated a stove, opened a bank account or flown in an airplane.

Members of the tribe began the long process of adapting to a new culture earlier this year when the International Organization for Migration began familiarizing them with English, American culture and modern appliances while they waited in the Kakuma camp in Kenya.

Mr. Yarrow and his family stepped off Delta Flight 3912 here this month, carrying little more than their dreams. They plunged into a sea of white faces in the airport, past the shops selling Cheez-Its and leopard-print umbrellas and the passersby who gawked at the colorful Somali dresses of Mr. Yarrow's wife and daughters.

They were welcomed by officials from the International Rescue Committee, a New York agency contracted by the government to help refugees adjust to American life. A caseworker who spoke Somali translated while other officials helped the family collect their small bags and drove them to their new home.

It was a 30-minute journey through a dizzyingly unfamiliar landscape. There were paved roads full of hurtling cars instead of dirt paths traversed by donkeys. There were strip malls and billboards instead of anthills and thorn trees.

In the apartment, the family was introduced to appliances they had never used before: a gleaming sink, a refrigerator and a stove without a working pilot light. (The landlord fixed the stove the next day.) After their flight and lessons, the Yarrows were so exhausted that caseworkers decided to leave explanations about the dishwasher and air conditioner for another day.

But before the refugee officials left, Mr. Yarrow reiterated his biggest priority. "I want to work," he said. "I want to learn English. I want to leave all my problems behind in Kenya."

His enthusiasm is clear, but challenges await him. The Bantu here are practicing Muslims in a country that has become increasingly ambivalent about Arab and Islamic immigrants.

Mr. Yarrow and his family do not speak English and cannot read or write in their own language. They are farmers looking for jobs as cleaners and fast food attendants in a slowing economy.

Some communities have expressed reluctance to accept the new arrivals. In Cayce, S.C., hundreds of people met last month at the City Council to question the decision to resettle refugees there, arguing that they would strain the city's social service agencies and schools.

State Department officials, who are responsible for refugees, say most communities welcome them. Nationally, these officials say, more than half of refugees find some form of work within six months.

Here, four Somali Bantu adults arrived seven weeks before the Yarrow family. Of those, two have found full-time jobs that pay $6.75 an hour and include health benefits, as housekeepers at a local hotel.

Officials at the International Rescue Committee say such progress is common. From the beginning, instructors prepare refugees with English classes, interview skills and job training, along with lessons about how to shop, where to bank and how the local bus system works.

These lessons are crucial. Refugees here receive assistance from the federal government for four months. After that, they are expected to support themselves. Needy families can continue to receive federal refugee assistance for several months and more from the state after that, but that is discouraged.

"When they realize our support is going to stop, that's when they will feel the pressure," said Miro Marinovich, the Tucson coordinator for the International Rescue Committee.

"But I am very positive about this group," Mr. Marinovich said. "Their willingness to learn and their willingness to work: That's what I believe will carry them through."

Abkow Edow and his wife, Madina Idle, who arrived seven weeks before the Yarrows, offer a glimpse of the thrills and frustrations of ordinary life here. They have opened bank accounts, taken the bus and learned to operate their stove.

They have also learned about the minimum wage and the 40-hour workweek. Mr. Edow, who was a truck driver in Somalia, seems poised to get a job as a steward in a hotel. He has two children and a grandson and all three have fallen in love with strawberry ice cream and American cartoons.

But the family still tiptoes around some of the appliances.

"The oven, we're still afraid of it," confessed Mr. Edow, 55. "We're still afraid of the dishwasher. We have never seen such things in our lives."

Mr. Edow dreams of owning an auto-repair shop someday. He wants to shed his old life, just as snakes shed their skins. But at night, he still returns, in his dreams, to the violence in Somalia. Like Mr. Yarrow, he saw his father executed. The killer, he said, used a hammer and nails. He buries his head in his hands at the memory.

"We want to move forward," he said. "We want to forget the past."

On the day the Yarrow family arrived, Mr. Edow was in high spirits. He watched as Mr. Yarrow and his wife, Khadija Hussein, practiced using their first can opener on some Campbell's chicken soup and sampled their first taste of blackberry jam on white bread.

Ms. Hussein looked at the fruit spread hesitantly. Then she took a bite and smiled.

Sunday, December 21st, 2003, 03:58 PM

Sunday, December 21st, 2003, 05:51 PM
There is really nothing positive about this news, so the reports choose the "oh isn't that neat, they don't know how to open a door/they're afraid of their dishwasher" angle.

This is the work dumbass American 'Christians' (http://www.charleston.net/stories/050503/wor_05somali.shtml).

I'm all for idiotic missionaries going to the wilds of Africa to make life better for the people there, and hopefully getting cut into pieces and eaten, thus removing them forever from our genepool. However, any sane society would see the Bantu as uncivilized and unassimilable self-mutilating barbarians with retard IQs and ban them entry. The American blacks aren't enough for "diversity," I guess we need the authentic bone-in-the-nose hut dwellers for the real black experience.

I hope their planes crash right into one of the churches sponsoring them. >:-P

Sunday, December 21st, 2003, 06:32 PM
I like this part:

The family also is the beginning of a new ethnic group in Buffalo, which needs such newcomers to revitalize itself.

Yeah, Buffalo needs 3rd-world savages to revitalize itself. That makes a lot of fking sense. Time to put the boots on, it's getting deep.

Mac Seafraidh
Sunday, December 21st, 2003, 09:49 PM
What The Fawk !!!?!?!?!??!?!!!!!!