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Photo: Christie’s
Alireza Hosseini, a refugee from Afghanistan, says of his 2019 painting “Embrace God”: “I was a man who did not know a god. I went to a sage and he told me to imagine two chairs: one for me, the other for God.” (Story at the
Guardian,)

It can be discouraging being a refugee if your new countrymen see you more as a concept than an individual. That is why a program in France, though struggling itself, has been determined to do something that opens minds.

PBS NewsHour‘s “Arts Canvas” recently posted a report by Jeffrey Brown on letting refugees tell their stories through their art.

“JEFFREY BROWN: Portraits of migration, the troubles faced along the way, the trauma of making a new home.

“ABDUL SABOOR: I’m from Afghanistan, but, sometimes, I say from nowhere.

“BROWN: Photographer Abdul Saboor experienced it himself. In Afghanistan, he says, he worked in transportation for the U.S. Army, but fled when the Taliban began threatening him and his family. During a harrowing two-year journey, part of it spent in an abandoned train station in Serbia, he began taking pictures with a donated camera.

“SABOOR: When I show to the people, I say, that’s not normal, how we lived there.

“BROWN: His photographs became a bridge to overcome language and other barriers and raise awareness about the plight of refugees, which he continues to do in Paris. … Saboor is one of some 200 refugee artists from more than 40 countries now getting support from the Agency of Artists in Exile.

“On our visit to its makeshift building off the Seine River, an Ethiopian man belted out a traditional song with accompaniment from this phone. Across the hall, a Yemeni woman used her vast trail of official asylum-seeking papers, accumulated over two years of navigating France’s legal process, to create an art installation. … And a Kurdish actor who fled Turkey practiced a monologue about his first days in Paris. …

“Judith Depaule is director of the studio, which opened in 2017 with funding from the French Ministry of Culture.

“JUDITH DEPAULE: In the beginning, you are, like, in the state of shock. … because nobody wants you there. It’s difficult. You have to do a lot of papers. … It’s like a panic. …

“BROWN: President Emmanuel Macron has sought to criminalize illegal border crossings, while tightening restrictions on asylum, even as far-right parties in the country call for more.

“But France also has a long tradition of being a sanctuary for artists, including Pablo Picasso and James Baldwin. The idea here was to give artists a place to connect with one another, to work on and exhibit their crafts, and to help with all the practical challenges of living as a refugee.

“ARAM TASTEKIN (through translator): First of all, they helped us find a place to live. Secondly, they helped us get a work visa, find a lawyer. Some people needed psychologists, things like that.

“BROWN: Kurdish actor and drama teacher Aram Tastekin fled Turkey in late 2017. So, why did you leave Turkey?

“TASTEKIN (through translator): Because it’s complicated living there. I’m a conscientious objector. I am anti-military. I’m an artist who tries to make art and theater in the Kurdish language, to protect the Kurdish language. But when we make Kurdish art or theater, they always say it is terrorist propaganda. And that really hurts. How can a language be terrorist propaganda?

“BROWN: In 2018, graffiti artist and painter Ahlam Jarban fled her native Yemen amid its years-long civil war. She says she faced added persecution for her family’s Somali and Ethiopian roots and for her wanting to be an artist as a woman. She left everyone and everything behind, and says she still doesn’t know if it was the right decision.

“AHLAM JARBAN: Because, all of us, we are we are without our families. So we feel lonely. We feel — there is a lot of problem. But when we are together, when we speak, when we share this story, it makes us a little less stressed, make us little — keep fighting. So it is good to have this place. …

“BROWN: To further make its case and showcase its artists, the agency recently presented its third annual month-long festival titled Visions of Exile. …

“JARBAN: When they see our artwork, they don’t see it as a refugee. This see it as artist, and artist make this thing. We do all this journey to be something. We have hope, and we are human before we come.” More here.

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arrival-of-colonists-at-jamestown-in-virginia-colony-1607-adwcha

As you know from your earliest history classes, the first immigrants arrived in Virginia in 1607.

For good or evil, depending on how much you identify with an indigenous heritage, immigrants have made America what it is today. The migration started as early as 1607 in Virginia.

That’s what came to mind when I read this news story about the contribution of immigrants to the economy of present-day Virginia.

Katie O’Connor writes at the Virginia Mercury, “A new report from the Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis says immigrants are key contributors to the state’s overall economy, despite challenges that include health insurance access, discrimination, language barriers, ‘brain waste’ and housing costs. …

“As many parts of Virginia struggle to find enough workers, many immigrants are ‘relatively young, well educated, fluent in English and more likely to participate in the workforce.’

“The one million immigrants in Virginia make up 12.5 percent of the state population. … And while immigration from Mexico tends to dominate the national debate, Virginia’s immigrant population comes from a wide variety of countries.

“ ‘Mexican immigrants make up just 5% of all immigrants in Virginia, fourth after people born in El Salvador (11%), India (9%), and Korea (6%),’ the report says. ‘Looking at continent of birth, rather than country of birth, there is a similar diversity. Forty-three percent of Virginia’s immigrant population was born in Asia, the largest group from any continent.’ Most of them are also between the prime working ages of 25 and 54. …

“ ‘Immigrants participate in Virginia’s workforce at a much higher rate than U.S.-born residents — 72 percent compared to 65 percent — and at a rate six percentage points higher than the national participation for foreign-born residents.’

“But the report also points to public policies that would help address the challenges immigrants face. More than one in three noncitizen residents lack access to health insurance in Virginia, ‘even worse than in the country as a whole,’ the report states. …

“Immigrants face all the challenges that come with lack of health insurance, like large medical bills and a lack of preventative care. Virginia is also one of only six states to require legal, noncitizens to work for at least 10 years before they qualify for Medicaid.

“Housing and poverty remain problems for the state’s immigrants, as does what’s called ‘brain waste’: when people aren’t working jobs that match their educational attainment.

“ ‘In Virginia, 21 percent of college-educated immigrants 25 and older are working in low-skill jobs or are unemployed. This is well above the average for U.S.-born Virginians,’ the report states. ‘Lawmakers, employers, and workforce development officials all have a role to play in reducing this needless inefficiency and maximizing opportunity for the state.’ ” More.

When a much-needed resource is right under our noses, it’s penny wise and pound foolish not to help it flourish.

Hat tip: Economic Policy Institute on twitter.

P.S. I can’t resist adding this poem by Emily Dickinson from today’s Boston Globe:
“These Strangers, in a foreign World,
“Protection asked of me—
“Befriend them, lest Yourself in Heaven
“Be found a Refugee—”

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Photo: Jason Margolis/PRI’s The World 
The Refuge Coffee Shop in Clarkston, Georgia, a town that has been welcoming to refugees, with a mayor who recognizes root causes of mass migration and aims to do his part.

More and more people are recognizing that the mass migrations we’re seeing today — and the wars that seem to be the main cause — are tied to climate change.

Here is a story about a small city in Georgia, home to many immigrants, that has put two and two together and is determined to be part of the solution.

Writes Jason Margolis at Public Radio International’s show The World, “Clarkston, Georgia, is often referred to as the Ellis Island of the South. Some 60 languages are spoken in this city of 13,000 just outside of Atlanta, and perhaps half the population is foreign born. Many are refugees.

“Felix Hategekimana is a refugee from Rwanda, a soft-spoken man who doesn’t talk much about his backstory, except to say that he fled violence back home: ‘We have political issues and security [issues].’

“But Hategekimana says there’s more to the troubles in Rwanda. Droughts and floods have plagued his country in recent years, and that’s led to more people migrating.

“ ‘Some people lose life in the disaster of the rain,’ Hategekimana said. ‘Some people lose life, others lose their homes and they lose their property, like their farms where they plant their vegetables.’

“You hear a lot of stories like this from refugees in Clarkston. Legally, there’s no such thing as a ‘climate change refugee.’ Refugee status is only awarded based on a well-founded fear of persecution due to race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a social group — not because your home got wiped out by a flood, or your crops were destroyed by a drought.

“But Clarkston’s mayor, Ted Terry, says the impacts of more extreme weather are woven throughout the lives of many new residents here. …

“Climate scientists agree that storms are becoming more severe, and the trend is only going to continue. Case in point, the Category 4 cyclone that struck southern Africa recently has left at least 600,000 people displaced. The immediate needs there — food, clean drinking water and shelter — are stark. After that, a big question: rebuild or relocate?

“It’s a dilemma that many people across the globe are facing, which will inevitably lead to more people on the move. But the world still hasn’t agreed on what to do with so-called climate refugees. Take a place like Syria.

“ ‘It becomes more drier, I think,’ said Malk Alarmash, a Syrian refugee now living in Clarkston. … But Alarmash can’t say that a lack of rainfall led people to flee Syria.

“ ‘I don’t know. I don’t have any information about that, like climate change,’ Alarmash said.

“An inability to pin the seeds of conflict on climatic shifts isn’t unusual; the relationship between climate change and forced migration is immensely complicated. … A drought can destroy people’s food supplies and livelihoods. That can lead to internal migration, inflame tensions and maybe even contribute to conflict and a refugee crisis. But all of this can unfold over years. …

“ ‘The climate is the last thing in their mind. They know it’s all related, but they just say, “This is from God,” ‘ said Omar Shekhey, a Clarkston resident who is originally from Somalia. …  ‘It goes together — the civil war, the war and the climate, you cannot separate them.’ …

“Shekhey says most Somali refugees aren’t connecting the dots to climate change. But as global temperatures continue to rise, Mayor Terry, who also works with the Sierra Club, believes that those dots will become clearer, even in the US.

“ ‘We’re looking at a future, I think, if we don’t take steps to reverse global warming, we’re looking at potentially hundreds of millions of people around the world, including you know, in America, Louisiana. Their coastline is disappearing,’ Terry said. ‘And so, at some point, there has to be some sort of recognition and define what it means to be a climate refugee.’ …

“Clarkston’s mayor [wants] to address the root of the problem, starting in his own community. It’s one reason Clarkston is committing to 100 percent renewable energy — instead of fossil fuels — by midcentury.

“ ‘In some way, we’re trying to alleviate future calamities. We just have to do our part; we have to consider ourselves part of the global community.’ ”

More at PRI, here.

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If the five unexpected salmon are a sign of a comeback in the Connecticut River, this could be really exciting.

Nate Schweber writes at Al Jazeera America, “By the fall of 2015, the salmon of the Connecticut River were supposed to be doomed. The silvery fish … went extinct because of dams and industrial pollution in the 1700s that turned the river deadly. In the late 1800s a nascent salmon stocking program failed. Then in 2012, despite nearly a half-century of work and an investment of $25 million, the federal government and three New England states pulled the plug on another attempt to resurrect the prized fish.

“But five Atlantic salmon didn’t get the memo. In November, fisheries biologists found something in the waters of the Farmington River — which pours into the Connecticut River — that historians say had not appeared since the Revolutionary War: three salmon nests full of eggs.

“ ‘It’s a great story,’ said John Burrows, of the Atlantic Salmon Federation, a conservation group, ‘whether it’s the beginning of something great or the beginning of the end.’ …

“The streamlined wild Atlantic salmon, genetically different from their fattened domesticated counterparts, which are mass-produced for human consumption, are so rare that anglers spend small fortunes chasing them across Canada, Iceland and Russia. …

“The stocked salmon continued to die off through the early 1970s. Gradually, scientists began to learn the importance of different strains of salmon and their close relatives, trout. In 1976 the program was able to acquire Atlantic salmon eggs from the Penobscot River in Maine, the closest surviving population both physically and genetically. This strain was still different from the lost native strain of the Connecticut River, but less so than their Canadian cousins, previously stocked there. In 1978, 90 fish from the Maine strain managed to make the two-year, 6,000-mile migration out to the food-rich Labrador Sea off of Greenland and then return to the Connecticut River. …

“As only 54 salmon returned to the Connecticut River in 2012, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service pulled out of the restoration program. New Hampshire, Vermont and Massachusetts followed. Connecticut opted to continue stocking a small number of salmon …

“Then in the fall of 2015, biologists found five adult Atlantic salmon swimming past the Rainbow Dam on the lower Farmington River. On a hunch, they searched likely upstream spawning habitat and there found the three nests full of eggs.

In the spring of 2016 they will hatch the first wild salmon into that river in two centuries.”

More here.

Photo: Design Pics Inc / Alamy Stock Photo
In North America, Atlantic salmon migrate up rivers and streams to reach spawning grounds in New England and Canada.

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Sometimes I wish I lived closer to where the migrants are pouring into Europe. When I read, for example, about all that Germany is doing, how organized the country is about getting people acclimated, helping with housing and language, it makes me want to sign up. In Samos, Greece, Suzanne’s friend’s family spent weeks buying and distributing food, diapers, and other necessities.

Mark Turner writes at UNHCR Tracks about a chef who acted on his impulse to do his bit. He “packed his knives, drove to Croatia and started cooking.

“After serving up 6,000 piping-hot meals for refugees, the Swedish chef’s big wooden spoon is looking worse for wear.

“ ‘It wasn’t broken when I began,’ says Victor Ullman, a 27-year-old from Lund, displaying a large wedge-shaped hole as he pulls it from a simmering pot.

“But long days and nights serving stew to thousands of Syrians, Afghans, Iraqis and many others have taken their toll. ‘As long as I am awake, I am cooking,’ he says. …

“We’re in Bapska, Croatia, a few hundred metres from the border with Serbia, where tens of thousands of refugees have [crossed], seeking safety in Europe.

“They arrive by foot, in baby strollers, in wheelchairs, hour after hour, day after day, wet, hungry, exhausted, on an epic trek towards the unknown.

“And all along the way they are met by an army of volunteers from across Europe, drawn by an overwhelming desire to help.

“There’s Florian, the small farmer from Austria; Ghais, a Syrian who made it to Europe last year; Livija, a trainee pizza maker from Berlin; Stefan, a long-distance walker (‘3,200 kilometres in 82 days!”’); Danjella, a former refugee from Bosnia.

“There are activists and BMW workers, students, sociologists and physiotherapists, sporting fluorescent yellow waistcoats marked with their name and spoken languages, reassuring the crowds, united by a sense of shared humanity.”

Victor “also feeds the aid workers and the Croatian police, who he says are good guys doing their best. ‘They call me the crazy Swede,’ he adds.

“Victor shows me a pair of boots given to him by one policeman, after he’d given his own shoes away to a refugee. ‘I love these shoes,’ he says. ‘They’re like a memory from here – one of them. Spread the love!’ ” More here.

(Jane D: thanks for the lead on twitter.)

Photo: Igor Pavicevic

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I’ve never managed to catch the herring run, but I’d like to see it with grandchildren sometime. The celebration for the Mystic River herring migration offers all sorts of extras, as I learned from the newsletter of the Mystic River Watershed Association, or MyRWA. (I’ve been receiving the newsletter since John’s stint on the board some years back.)

“The annual Herring Run and Paddle includes a 5K run/walk race, three paddling races (3, 9, and 12 miles), educational booths, children’s activities, and more. All events are held at the [Department of Conservation and Recreation] Blessing of the Bay Boathouse in Somerville.”

MyRWA reports, “The Mystic River Watershed supports two species of herring: Alewife (Alosa psuedoharenous) and Blueback Herring (Alosa aestivalis). Both species, collectively called river herring, are anadromous. This means they spend most of their lives at sea and return to rivers—like the Mystic—to spawn, or lay their eggs.

“In colonial times and earlier, herring in the Mystic River were extraordinarily abundant.  But from the 1900’s until today a much smaller population of river herring is present. …

“According to the Herring Alliance some river herring runs on the Atlantic Coast have declined by 95% or more over the past 20 years. In 2006 the National Marine Fisheries Service designated river herring as a species of concern. Population decline may be associated with numerous factors including by-catch [catching them by accident when fishing for something else], habitat loss and degradation, water pollution, poaching, access to spawning habitat, and natural predators.”

Read more here. And remind me next May that I want to visit a fish ladder.

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Photo: PA/Owen Humphries
Murmuration of starlings over Gretna, Scotland

Starlings swarm in flash mobs over Scotland every November and February, and they don’t even need social media to remind them it’s time.

According to an article at the BBC, “Tens of thousands of the birds are regularly seen around this time of year near the Dumfries and Galloway town. It is one of the most famous locations for the natural spectacle, the reason for which is not definitively known.

“A survey of the birds across the UK is currently under way with members of the public urged to record sightings. The poll, conducted by the University of Gloucestershire and the Society of Biology, is the first of its kind and has already received more than 600 reports from Cornwall to John O’Groats.

“Dr Anne Goodenough, reader in applied ecology at Gloucestershire University, said: ‘One of the theories behind the murmurations is that it means they are safer from predators such as hawks and falcons.

” ‘Another theory could be they are signalling a large roost and it could be a way of attracting other birds to that area to build up a big flock as it would be warmer. It’s much warmer to roost as a big group rather than a smaller one and the murmurations can be as big as 100,000 birds.’ ”

More here. Don’t miss the other amazing photos at the BBC site.

YouTube video: DylanWinter@virgin.net

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