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Somali “Slave Ship” ICE Detainees Say Florida Guards Are Abusing Them, Ask Congress for Help

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In December, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrested 92 Somali immigrants — many of them longtime U.S. residents with families, homes, and jobs. The feds loaded them onto an airplane, kept the immigrants chained in the sky for 48 straight hours as the plane took off from Louisiana for Somalia, stopped inexplicably in Senegal, turned around, and landed in Miami. The men say ICE guards beat them and harassed them the entire time, and many say they were denied access to the bathroom and forced to relieve themselves in their seats. (ICE denies the claims.)

Though some of the immigrants have been transferred to detention centers closer to their homes, 52 of them are still housed at the Glades County Detention Center just west of Lake Okeechobee.

But the Somalis say their mistreatment hasn’t ended back in U.S. custody. Lawyers for the group filed formal administrative complaints with ICE January 8, which say the detainees have been denied medical care, subjected to racial slurs including the N-word, being illegally thrown into solitary confinement, and even excessively pepper-sprayed.

Yesterday, lawyers for the group — a coalition of human-rights advocates including members of the University of Miami law school’s Immigration Clinic, the Broward County Legal Aid Society, and Americans for Immigrant Justice — also sent a letter to five Florida members of Congress, including South Florida’s Frederica Wilson, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Alcee Hastings, and Ted Deutch, asking for help and alleging the abuse has not stopped.

In fact, the lawyers say the guards excessively pepper-sprayed two detainees again only three days ago.

“The instances of verbal and physical abuse that our clients are having to endure, excessive force including beatings and pepper-spraying detainees who are already in segregation cells, racial epithets including ‘nigger’ and ‘boy,’ the misuse of disciplinary segregation, are all unconscionable and intolerable in a civilized society,’ the lawyers wrote yesterday, according to a copy New Times obtained.

The letter also addresses U.S. Rep. Thomas J. Rooney and Florida Sen. Denise Grimsley because the detention center is located in their districts.

“Quite frankly, if these circumstances existed in another country, the Glades County Detention Center would be on a ‘watch-list’ for humanitarian rights organizations, and yet, this is occurring in your district,” the letter says.

The immigrants’ stories were already harrowing. ICE has still not explained why the original plane carrying the 92 men was forced to turn around without landing in Somalia. According to the New York Times, which broke news of the flight, the men — 28 of them from Somali communities in Minnesota — were being held at a detention center in Louisiana to await deportation. (Roughly two-thirds of the detainees had criminal records, and a smaller percentage had been convicted of violent crimes, but others were simply parents and business owners living in the States on expired visas or after failed asylum claims.)

But lawyers for the group say no one has explained why the men were roused in the predawn hours of December 7, chained on the plane, and flown overseas, only for the aircraft to land early and turn around for Miami. (ICE admitted the men were kept in shackles but denies they were abused.)

“It’s still a big mystery what happened,” Lisa Lehner, a lawyer for Americans for Immigrant Justice, told New Times in December. “Just a strange situation.”

Fearing they’d be shipped off again, the immigrants filed a federal lawsuit December 18, demanding a judge halt their deportations indefinitely. The suit also mentioned that ICE deported the men without consulting any of their lawyers.

Somalia is one of the most dangerous countries in the world, and lawyers for the group argue that sending the immigrants back there would make them targets for kidnappings or robberies and constitute an act of cruel and unusual punishment. On January 30, a federal judge in Miami temporarily blocked ICE from deporting the group again, ruling the immigrants have the right to reopen their asylum cases “based on changed circumstances arising in the country of nationality or in the country to which deportation has been ordered.”

In the meantime, the men say guards at Glades County’s ICE detention facility have been regularly beating, berating, and pepper-spraying them whenever they speak up or ask too many questions.

In court filings, ICE has denied that any of the detainees have been abused. Nestor Yglesias, a spokesperson for ICE’s Miami office, told Minnesota Public Radio in January that ICE investigates any complaints of abuse in its facilities.

“ICE is firmly committed to the safety and welfare of all those in its custody,” Yglesias said. “ICE has a strict zero-tolerance policy for any kind of abusive or inappropriate behavior in its facilities and takes any allegation seriously. ICE ensures facilities operate in compliance with its rigorous national detention standards through an aggressive inspection program.”

A 2015 New Times investigation revealed cases of “widespread abuse” at a similar ICE detention center in Miami, the Krome Processing Center. New Times reviewed hundreds of pages of detainee and guard complaint documents — the files revealed similar cases of guards allegedly shoving, beating, and yelling at detainees.

According to the initial complaint from the Somali immigrants, the beatings, body-slammings, and pepper-sprayings are alleged to have been severe. On Christmas Day, one detainee, Said Jamale, says he was pepper-sprayed so excessively that the chemical drenched his clothing and the fumes forced nearby detainees into coughing fits. He says he was denied a shower and forced to live with a soaked, stinging face for two days. The initial complaint also alleges that multiple detainees were intentionally beaten and injured, including one man who says guards used a handcuff to slice his wrist. The complaint alleges men were left bleeding, bruised, and covered in pepper spray and denied medical care. Some men say guards pumped pepper spray into their solitary cells until they vomited.

The complaint also alleges that a University of Miami doctor examined the detainees after the flight landed and noted that multiple deportees had injuries from being shackled for too long or too tightly. The doctor said others showed signs of being beaten, including one man with a broken arm, another with a broken hand, and one who suffered from a “likely” eye abrasion that had not been examined. The complaint also alleged that ICE was denying men basic confidential phone calls with their lawyers.

Another man, Agane Warsame, says that after guards began cursing at him, he demanded that they speak to him with basic decency. The complaint alleges the guard laughed at the idea.

“This is Glades County,” the guard allegedly replied. Warsame says a second guard joined in and called him a “nigger” and told him not to speak up.

On January 9, one Minnesota-based lawyer who toured Glades told Minnesota Public Radio that guards stomped on his client Mohamud Hassan’s back — intentionally choosing a spot where the man was still healing from back surgery. (ICE has denied these claims in court filings and instead reportedly alleges some men were placed in solitary confinement after assaulting guards.)

The new letter sent to members of Florida’s congressional delegation says the abuse has not stopped in the month since the complaint was filed. Lawyers for the group say some men have been trapped in solitary confinement for more than 30 days at a time. Last Tuesday, the lawyers also claim, two men were severely pepper-sprayed once more — including one man who says he was sprayed, began suffocating, and was then sprayed again as punishment for screaming, “I can’t breathe!”

“These practices must end,” the lawyers wrote yesterday. “We are calling on your offices, and the others that are copied with this letter, for an investigation into the abuse of immigration detainees at the Glades Detention Center.”

Crime

Two Somali men stabbed to death in north London as 2018 toll reaches 15

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Two men have been stabbed to death within two hours of each other in the same London borough, bringing the number of people fatally wounded with knives in the capital in 2018 to at least 15.

The Metropolitan police launched two separate murder investigations into the killings on Tuesday night but said they had not ruled out the possibility of a link between them.

The first victim was found with stab wounds in Bartholomew Road, Camden, at about 8.30pm. He was pronounced dead at the scene. He was named by family members as 17-year-old Abdikarim Hassan.

Officers were later called to reports of a disturbance in Malden Road, Camden, at about 10.15pm, and found 20-year-old Sadiq Adan Mohamed with serious stab wounds. He was also pronounced dead at the scene.

No arrests have been made.

Hassan came to the UK from Somalia when he was two years old and was the eldest of six children, his uncle Yusuf Ahmed said.

He was a student at Westminster college and was a “good guy” who was “always smiling” and liked playing football, he said.

Elsewhere in London, a 24-year-old man who was shot in the head in Westminster on Tuesday night remains in a critical condition in hospital. Two people were arrested at the scene on suspicion of attempted murder.

Reacting to the most recent stabbings, Commissioner Cressida Dick said: “London must come together to make it clear that this cannot continue. We will not police our way out of this problem. There is a role for all of us – London’s public, our partners and the police.

“There will be young people out today who are carrying knives. Stop and think: do you really want your life to end?”

Police deployed extra patrols across Camden overnight, while a section 60 order – which gives police the right to search people in locations where they believe serious violence will take place – was in force until 7am on Wednesday.

Official figures show 2017 was among young people since at least 2002. Forty-six people aged 25 or under were stabbed to death in London, 21 more than the previous year, according to police figures.

The mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, who has faced criticism for his handling of knife crime, said: “This morning I am asking the prime minister and the home secretary to urgently meet with me, my deputy mayor for policing and the commissioner of the Metropolitan police service to discuss what more can be done across government – including policing, youth services, sentencing, health services, probation and prisons – to tackle the evil of knife attacks on Britain’s streets.”

The latest phase of a Met police operation to fight knife crime resulted in nearly 300 arrests and the seizure of more than 250 weapons. Throughout the week-long operation officers recovered 265 knives, six firearms, and 45 other offensive weapons.

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Columbus, Ohio

Ismail Mohamed Wants To Be Ohio’s First Somali-American Legislator

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Ismail Mohamed, a candidate for Ohio's 25th House District, would be the state's first Somali-American legislator. CLARE ROTH / WOSU

Home means a few different things for Ismail Mohamed.

Right now, Mohamed works in Cincinnati as a staff lawyer at Baker Hostetler. He was born in Somalia, a country his family was forced to flee in the early 2000s as the civil war unfolded. But he feels his deepest connection is to the Columbus neighborhood where he was raised.

Mohamed graduated from Northland High School about a decade ago, earned a Bachelor’s and a law degree from The Ohio State University, and returned to the Northland last spring. Now, he’s running to represent the 25th District in the Ohio House.

“I reached out to a lot of different politicians to kind of get answers on some of the concerns that are going on, and I was not getting the answers that I thought were really addressing the issues. So that’s what prompted me to run,” Mohamed said.

Mohamed will challenge Democratic incumbent Rep. Bernadine Kennedy Kent in the May primary. If he wins that election, and the subsequent general in November, he’d be the first Somali-American state legislator in Ohio and the second in the country.

Mohamed says his district includes a lot of New American communities, including from Somalia, Nepal and other foreign countries.

“It’s critical we’re promoting such communities to really advance our goals and our policies in the future,” he says. “I’m so honored to be that poster-child and push that forward.”

But Mohamed says those groups are part of the larger fabric of the 25th District, and the issues they face are largely the same.

“The biggest issue in our community, I would say, is lack of economic development. The 25th [House District] has the lowest income rate — I think median income is $31,000,” he says. “A little more than half have high school diplomas. So there’s lack of educational attainment as well, which is driving the poverty issue.”

Mohamed is only 25 years old, far younger than the average age of Ohio lawmakers. But he said he doesn’t believe his lack of political experience will get in his way.

“Someone who doesn’t have a lot of ties to a political party, doesn’t have ties to the political machine, and is able to directly touch our constituents — I think that puts me in a better position,” he says.

And as tensions over immigration rise all over the country, Mohamed says local politics are more important than ever.

“It’s not just a national arena that’s defining us,” he says. “It’s more us defining what’s going in the national arena.”

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Canada

Canadians call for return of relative held in Ethiopia

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AL JAZEERA — A Canadian family is calling on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to negotiate the release of a citizen imprisoned in Ethiopia saying “there will never be a better time than now to get him home”.

Canadian Bashir Makhtal, 49, has been imprisoned in Ethiopia since January 2007 on charges of “terrorism”.

Authorities in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital, accuse Makhtal of being a ringleader for the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) – a rebel group pressing for self-rule in Ethiopia’s eastern Ogaden region – and he was sentenced to life in prison.

Ethiopia classifies the ONLF as a “terrorist” organisation.

The United States, United Kingdom, Canada, and the European Union, however, do not.

Makhtal, whose grandfather was a founding member of the ONLF, has always declared himself innocent, saying he was in the region to promote his clothing business.

Now, more than a decade on, the Ethiopian government’s recent release of thousands of political prisoners and peace talks with the ONLF have given Makhtal’s family further impetus in campaigning for his release.

‘There is hope’
Asiso Abdi, Makhtal’s wife, told Al Jazeera that Ethiopian authorities could be persuaded to include Bashir among those freed, if Canada applies adequate diplomatic pressure.

“If the government of Justin Trudeau is willing to get Bashir home, there will never be a better time than now,” Abdi said. “When there is a life, there is a hope.”

Canadian officials say they are exploring every possible option to bring Makhtal back to Canada.

Omar Alghabra, parliamentary secretary to Canada’s minister of foreign affairs, met Makhtal during a diplomatic visit to Ethiopia in April 2017.

Negotiating Makhtal’s release is a priority for the Canadian government, he told Al Jazeera.

“Our objective is to see this happen as soon as we can… At every opportunity, the discussion with Ethiopian officials regarding Mr Makhtal happens,” Alghabra said.

“[But] these conversations are not easy… The Ethiopian government see him as someone who has been convicted and is serving a sentence.”

Despite mounting diplomatic pressure, Ethiopian officials continue to deny Makhtal is a political prisoner and block his release from jail.

Metasebia Tadesse, Ethiopia’s ambassador to Qatar, told Al Jazeera recent prisoner releases were specifically intended to “create a broader political space within the country”, and will not affect Makhtal’s status.

“Bashir Makhtal is not an Ethiopian, he is imprisoned due to the terrorist crimes he committed,” Tadesse said. “One cannot mix his case with the current measures taken by the Ethiopian government.”

When questioned, Tadesse refused to provide Al Jazeera with further details regarding the nature of the “terrorist crimes”.

‘An unfair trial’
Rights group Amnesty International said Makhtal has been detained unfairly.

“Once charges were laid against Makhtal we pressed for him to be provided with a fair trial and an opportunity to mount an effective defence, such as by having full access to allegations, evidence and witnesses against him,” Alex Neve, secretary-general of Amnesty International in Canada, told Al Jazeera.

“That was not the case, nor was his appeal hearing a fair process,” Neve said.

Lorne Waldman, Makhtal’s Canada-based lawyer, told Al Jazeera that Ethiopia had subjected his client to a number of extrajudicial measures: including an illegal extradition and torture.

“Bashir’s version of events has been the same since the beginning, that he was in Somalia doing business … [and] when there was the [Ethiopian] military incursion into Somalia he, like thousands of others, fled to the Kenyan border,” Waldman said.

“He was detained at the border and taken into custody in Nairobi, and from Nairobi he was illegally spirited on a private plane to Ethiopia without any formal extradition proceedings,” he added.

“Then he was tortured and charged under the anti-terrorism provisions in Ethiopia, before being prosecuted in what people generally felt was an unfair trial, convicted and sentenced to life in prison.”

Extraordinary rendition
Amnesty said Makhtal’s transfer to Ethiopia was “tantamount to an instance of extraordinary rendition”, adding it was “very likely” he had been subjected to torture or other forms of cruel treatment in Ethiopia.

The prevalence of torture in Ethiopia – described as a “major problem” in Human Rights Watch’s 2018 report – and Makhtal being held incommunicado at the beginning of his detention support Amnesty’s concerns regarding mistreatment, Neve said.

Authorities in Ethiopia did not acknowledge they had imprisoned Makhtal until July 2007, six months after his arrival in Addis Ababa, his relatives told Al Jazeera.

Nearly 11 years later, Makhtal’s family still has little clarity about whether Ethiopia will release him.

Some 12,000km away from his prison cell in Ethiopia, Makhtal’s absence in Canada continues to be felt every day, Abdi told Al Jazeera.

“They took my husband and with him my future happiness,” she said.

“I have already missed 11 wedding anniversaries with him, 11 years of my life have gone. I’m missing a half of me deep inside the dark cell of an Ethiopian prison.”

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