Ms. Jones on Albino Asylum

Last semester my seminar student, Courtney Jones, wrote a brilliant paper on the plight of people in African who suffer from albinism. Since these people are so often persecuted as a result of of their condition it appears that they should be allowed to gain asylum in other countries. Have you ever heard of this? Most of us have not. Ms. Jones has given me permission to share her excellent paper with a wider world. Read it and learn.

Albino Asylum: Africans on the Run

Courtney S. Jones

  1. Introduction

As a fourth grader in elementary school, I had many friends. One friend I will never ever forget was named Henry. He moved to Chicago from St. Louis, and though his parents looked similar to mine, his skin did not. This was my first encounter with a melanin free person, also known as a person with albinism. The Mayo Clinic describes albinism as a group of inherited disorders that are characterized by little or no production of the pigment melanin.[1] To me, he was handsome, smart and friendly; very aware of his blackness, though his skin did not reflect such traits. Many years would pass before I realized the many struggles that persons with albinisms face both genetically and socially.

In the country of Tanzania, the social struggles of persons with albinisms are more troubling than anything one could ever imagine. In Tanzania, about 1 of every 1400 people born will be affected by Albinism, which is the highest occurrence of any place in the world currently.[2] Due in part to misinformation, witchcraft, and the higher than normal occurrence of persons with albinisms in this region, persons with albinism now live day to day in fear of discrimination, persecution and death by the hands of shamans.[3] The question remains, why exactly are African persons with albinisms on the run?[4] The answer is simple, yet shocking. In some African regions, persons with albinisms are thought to have magical powers.[5] The magical powers differ from Houdini; they are more likened to a lucky rabbit’s foot – except Africans are seeking to dismember persons with albinisms for a lucky persons with albinism foot, hand, or worse. All over the continent other people hunt them like wild game, hoping to receive power, money, good luck, fame, or fortune.

Some Africans that struggle with HIV/AIDS, and other life threatening diseases, have sought out African persons with albinisms, under the guise that their unique features have made them immune to the virus, so having sex with them would be a cure for existing patients with the virus. For these many reasons, African persons with albinisms have fled their homes, in hopes of fleeing imminent persecution and in search of finding a safe haven for themselves and their families. Being that their external features put African persons with albinisms in such imminent danger, there is an increased and immediate need for asylum.

This topic is of great importance to the international community, with respect to incoming and current legislation dedicated to their protection and the immediate conviction of their torturers. There is no way that Americans can fight for civil rights for African Africans, gays, and transgender individuals, yet turn a blind eye to another group of people commonly penalized for the color of their skin. Though legislators have introduced measures to help the African persons with albinism issue, it is imperative that the United States and other countries around the globe not only pass, but implement legislation to protect person with albinisms, along with swift consequences for those trying to expedite their demise.

 

  1. History

Albinism is a defect of melanin production that results in little or no color (pigment) in the skin, hair, and eyes. Albinism is an inherited condition present at birth, characterized by a lack of pigment that normally gives color to the skin, hair, and eyes. Many types of albinism exist, all of which involve lack of pigment in varying degrees.[6] Albinism is a rare disorder found in fewer than five people per 100,000 in the United States and Europe. Although albinism can affect all races, other parts of the world have a much higher rate; for example, albinism is found in about 20 out of every 100,000 people in southern Nigeria.[7] Tanzania has a rate of 1 out of every 1400.[8]

Tanzania is thought to have more persons with albinisms than anywhere else around the world.  This is primarily because persons with albinisms live in such seclusion, many times only interacting with those similar to them and their families, resulting in a very homogenous gene pool in terms of marriage and reproduction.[9] Additionally, persons with albinisms encounter various physical challenges, such as extremely sensitive skin due to lack of pigmentation, as well as delicate eyes and poor vision.[10] These factors in and of themselves make African persons with albinisms a moving target for criminals that have set their sights on harming them for profit.

Being that most African persons with albinisms suffer economically, they usually take outdoor jobs in an attempt for a normal life.[11] These decisions, coupled with their lack of information about their condition hurts them directly, as it is well established that persons with albinism, of any kind, are at an increased risk of skin cancers due to lack of protection from sunlight.[12] Melanin is a substance that the body uses to protect the body from the sun’s harmful rays, and without melanin and/or sufficient clothing and sun block, persons with albinisms are now fighting a multi front war with the environment and delinquents trying to harm them.

 

  • The African Persons with Albinisms’ Dilemma

There is a misconception amongst many of the people of East Africa that persons with albinisms are supernatural beings: ghosts, demons, or individuals with cursed souls.[13] As a result of these folklores, the families of persons with albinism are often targeted and encouraged to give up their relatives for fear of death. Due to the myths and misconceptions surrounding albinism, African persons with albinisms are often kidnapped, beaten, sold into slavery, raped, tortured, dismembered, forced to live in exile, and/or killed.[14] To a person living outside of Africa, these myths and rituals may seem asinine and archaic. Let us not forget that our great nation is not beyond the bounds of historical ignorance in the remembrance of the treasured Christopher Columbus. For decades textbooks have been filled with the good news of Christopher Columbus crossing the sea to discover America, while simultaneously rescuing the Native Americans from a savage existence.[15] The tales were so widely spread that Americans still celebrate Columbus Day every year on October 12th.[16]

In reality, as most Americans grew up and became better educated, most realized that Columbus, the explorer though noble, was not the first person to discover America nor was he charitable as the Natives learned upon receiving blankets contaminated by smallpox[17]. Having to modify an integral piece of history as one learns it is a difficult but attainable task. But just as Americans accepted the truth of Columbus, Africans can accept the truth of albinism.

Another analogous American misconception was found in the Japanese internment camps, and the notion of their necessity. In 1942, thousands of Japanese Americans living in the United States were required to report to war relocation camps. [18] A few months after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, ordering all Japanese-Americans to evacuate the West Coast.[19] Not only did Executive Order 9066 violate basic civil rights set out by the Constitution, which was made to protect all citizens, but it also punished established American residents with no regard to the loyalty or citizenship of the persons in question. Citizens of the United States were forced to leave their homes, face an unnecessary stigma and relocate to an unfamiliar place because of actions and people they had no established ties or bond with. Though the Executive Order was questioned on constitutional grounds in both Hirabayashi v. United States and Korematsu v. United States, the Supreme Court of the United States, one of the foremost super powers in the world, chose fear of an unknown enemy and imaginary espionage over individual rights and liberties.

A more timely issue pertaining to misinformation lies in the War on Terrorism. After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the Bush administration declared a worldwide “war on terror,” involving open and covert military operations, new security legislation, efforts to block the financing of terrorism, and more. [20]  In the days after 9/11, Americans watched the nation transform in an attempt to regain the safety and security found before the attacks on World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Washington, the capital of the United States, called on other states to join in the fight against terrorism asserting that “either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.”[21] Many state and local governments joined this campaign, often adopting harsh new laws, lifting long-standing legal protections and stepping up domestic policing and intelligence work. Many years later, Muslim and Arab Americans are still suffering from the stereotypes associated with terrorism.[22] The country has faced even more acts of terrorism and the debt incurred by the nation over this war has skyrocketed, pushing the nation into trillions of dollars’ worth of debt.[23]

In looking at these examples now, one is able to see how misinformation and lack of information can be both dangerous and deadly. It is now time to turn our eyes and attention to the African countries in hopes of helping to educate them to the truth of albinism, especially with respect to the health care that is so desperately needed. Fundamentally, in order to help resolve the African persons with albinism killings, understanding and knowledge are necessary. Culturally, the continent of Africa is known as the Dark Continent, as it is filled with a rich history of diversity: ethnically, religiously, linguistically, and architecturally. Now is the time for change and unity, in the hope that future persons with albinism can avoid the terror of their predecessors.

  1. What Can We Do?

The United States along with various other countries have laid out a vigorous regimen in dealing with foreign affairs and international policies, regarding people that have left their home country for any number of reasons. Amid these were the 1951 Refugee Convention and 1967 Protocol.[24] Amongst the many necessities that African persons with albinism need, one of the top request is simply a safe place to exist.  A place where they are free to live, learn, and develop their skills and education, without fear of imminent harm or danger based on their melanin or lack thereof. Later this paper will discuss in great detail a plan or proposal from legislative changes that will include instantaneous asylum for African PWI[25] refugees, but first to break down the integral elements of refugee law with respects to refugees and asylum.

The first element of the refugee definition necessary for asylum adjudication is that the asylum seeker “is unable or unwilling to return to, and is unable or unwilling to avail himself or herself of the protection of, [his or her] country.”[26]

Next, a person must prove that they have a well-founded fear of persecution in their country of origin.[27] Lastly, said person must prove that they indeed have a membership of a particular social group.[28]

At this time, there is a large continental market for, not only kidnapped persons with albinisms, but for their separated body parts. A “complete set,” inclusive of both arms and legs, genitals, ears, tongue, and nose, can bring in up to $75,000 USD on the black market, according to a 2009 report by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.[29] With this knowledge, it is easy to see why a person would be fearful to return to a region that literally places a numeric value on their limbs. Not only are they in danger from fellow citizens, but also targeted by current and future politicians. Additionally, PWIs can contest the fact that their government is not yet well equipped to protect them, being that many are attacked and hunted around governmental elections, because even legislators are not outside the scope of misconceptions and will send people to obtain a good luck charm in the form of a PWI, their blood, or their limbs.[30]

In the United States, legislators have recognized the need for immigrant assistance and enacted the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act. This Act grants shelter to individuals who face persecution in their homelands and/or country of origin. Explicitly, The U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act § 101(a)(42) provides that the U.S. may grant asylum to:

 

Any person who is outside any country of such person’s nationality or, in the case of a person having no nationality, is outside any country in which such person last habitually resided, and who is unable or unwilling to return to, and is unable or unwilling to avail himself or herself of the protection of, that country because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.[31]

Franklin Ibeabuchi was a person that fit that description word for word. After almost being attacked for his limbs in Nigeria, Franklin’s mother and grandmother snuck away in the dark of the night and headed to Jacksonville, Florida.[32] Their plight was a direct correlation to his skin color.  Statistics show that in much of sub-Saharan Africa, persons with albinisms become targets because they are feared, while their body parts and bones are believed to be powerful in traditional medicine. In 2003, Franklin was arrested for assault.[33]  The charges against him were dropped, but as a result he was placed into removal proceedings.  With the help of Florida Coastal School of Law’s immigration clinic, he applied for political asylum based on his fear of being persecuted for Albinism.[34]  Ibeabuchi received help from the Florida Coastal School of Law’s immigration rights clinic and Peter Ash, a Canadian businessman.[35] Ash, who is also a person with albinism, founded an organization called Under the Same Sun, after he saw a documentary about persons with albinisms in Africa. As a result, the judge refused to order Ibeabuchi deported. The success was based on need and resources and should be one heard more often than not.

  1. Immediate and Long Term Needs

With over one hundred African person with albinisms being killed, maimed, and tortured on a regular basis, there are basic needs that Americans take for granted that would help PWIs tremendously. First and foremost, persons with albinisms need ample security in areas that they congregate together and/or with their families. In smaller villages, sometimes villagers are able to come together to ensure the safety of the local person with albinisms, but for some this is not the case. Most countries may not be able to afford a completely new police department, but they can use a portion of their existing officers solely for watching and protecting persons with albinisms at the times they need it the most, or when crimes are likely to occur against them.

Second, all Africans need health education on how to prevent skin cancer using protective clothing, hats and sun block; optician services would also be a great asset being that albinism affects the ocular system as well. The Red Cross has made strides assisting those that have expressed a need, but there is only so much that can be done by one organization dealing with thousands of people across a vast continent.

Third, there is a tremendous need for assistance in participating in mainstream primary and secondary education. Being that persons with albinisms are often in hiding and seclusion, they are often unable to attend school on a regular basis, causing them to fall entire grade levels behind their peers. Vocational training is also needed to maximize their chances of indoor work, out and away of the sun. Programs geared to assist with reintegration into society after displacement or time spent in hiding and seclusion would also help after the misconceptions, allowing PWIs to come back to the homes and villages they left, should they have the desire.[36]

 

  1. Help is On The Way

The Federation of Disability Association in Malawi (FEDOMA) is pushing for the enactment of a legislation meant to protect people living with albinism in the wake of incessant killing and kidnapping of persons with albinisms in the country.[37] Alshaymaa Kwegyir is a Parliamentarian and activist who was appointed by President Kikwete. She is actually the first person with albinism to be appointed at this time. Upon her appointment, Kwegyir also made a decision to sit on the Tanzania Constitutional Review Commission, which was established in compliance with the Constitutional Review Act of 2011, to collect public views on a new constitution for Tanzania.[38] Hopefully she is able to revamp the Constitution in Tanzania and provide more liberties and protections to persons with albinism.

  1. Proposed Solutions

In the United States there has been much talk as of late, in regards to helping immigrants and other stateless individuals. The House of Representatives developed H.Res.1088:

Recognizing the plight of people with albinism in East Africa and condemning their murder and mutilation. Diplomatic pressure on Tanzania’s federal and local governments to end these crimes against humanity and to provide education to dispel the myth that the body parts of those with albinism have supernatural properties. [39]

 

Additionally there is House Resolution 406 — 114th Congress (2015-2016) H.Res.406:
Introduced in House (07/31/2015) which commends the governments of East Africa that have made advances in improving the lives of people with albinism.
Urges the U.S. government to work with the governments of East Africa and non-governmental organizations to address violence against people with albinism.
Calls upon governments in East Africa to: (1) ensure the prohibition of torture and ill-treatment of people with albinism; (2) promote access to adequate health care, employment, education, and justice for individuals with albinism; and (3) take measures against human trafficking of people with albinism.[40]

Proposed Legislation: The aforementioned legislation in theory is a step in the right direction. My proposal would simply add the implementation and asylum portion that has been omitted, and attempt to turn the resolution into law, giving persons with albinism a place to exist freely without fear as long as they abided by the law.  The proposed legislation would also include:

  • Harsher penalties for poachers and conspirators seeking to harm persona with albinisms singularly and systematically
  • Rewards for information on those paying and offering to harm Person with albinisms for ANY reason even and especially public officials
  • Push for mandatory asylum for persons with albinism in non-African countries including but not limited to the United States, United Kingdom, Ireland…..
  • Specialize and separate policing for and around persons with albinisms
  • Increased education for the “sameness” of persons with albinisms with respect to dispelling myths
  • Creation and establishment of specific legislation calling for equal rights and better protection in EVERY African country

Conclusion

In closing, the killing and torturing of African person with albinisms are not simply an African issue, but an international issue. Only in coming together with decisive legislation, education, and protection, can Africans expect to see a decline with the number of persons with albinisms attacked annually. Improved health and social education for all Africans, including and especially governmental figures, would help to change the misnomers associated with persons with albinisms, giving them the opportunity to live a normal life, free from worry and fear. Advanced training for adult persons with albinisms would also be sufficient for placing persons with albinisms in jobs and careers that do not require them to be in the sun for extended periods of time. To obtain asylum in the United States, one must be physically present in the United States, and must show that they face persecution because of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or particular social group. A person with albinism should qualify for asylum under “particular social group,” giving them a chance to live the life they deserve, in a country that can assist them.

[1] Mayo Clinic. Diseases and Conditions: Albinism. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/albinism/basics/definition/con-20029935?utm_source=Google&utm_medium=abstract&utm_content=Albinism&utm_campaign=Knowledge-panel

[2] Tanzania’s Person with albinisms Face Constant Threat of Attack. John Burnett. November 30, 2012.http://www.npr.org/2012/11/30/165643518/tanzanias-person with albinisms-face-constant-threat-of-attack

[3] Preliminary Report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Persons with Albinism, 12 September 2013, available at www.ohchr.org [“UN Preliminary Report”], at para 12.

[4] The term “person with albinism” is preferred to “albino”, which is often used in a derogatory way. For the remainder of the paper PWI will be used instead of albino.

[5] Cruz-Inigo, A.,Ladizinski, B., Sethi, A., Albinism in Africa: Stigma, Slaughter and Awareness Campaigns, Dermatol Clin 29 (2011) 79–87.

[6] Sims, Judith; Turkington, Carol. “Albinism.” Gale Encyclopedia of Children’s Health: Infancy through Adolescence. 2006. Retrieved November 21, 2015 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3447200025.html

[7] Id.

[8] Tanzania’s Abinos Face Constant Threat of Attack. John Burnett. November 2012. http://www.npr.org/2012/11/30/165643518/tanzanias-person with albinisms-face-constant-threat-of-attack

[9] Id.

[10] Id.

[11] International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, (2009), Through Albino Eyes. The Plight of albino people in Africa’s Great Lakes region and a Red Cross Response, Advocacy Report, accessed, April 6, 2014, https://www.ifrc.org/Global/Publications/general/177800-Albinos-Report-EN.pdf, at page 5 [“Red Cross Report”].

[12] Kiprono, S. K., Chaula, B. M., & Beltraminelli, H. (2014). Histological review of skin cancers in African Albinos: a 10-year retrospective review. BMC cancer, 14(1), 157.

[13] Kiprono, S. K., Chaula, B. M., & Beltraminelli, H. (2014). Histological review of skin cancers in African Albinos: a 10-year retrospective review. BMC cancer,14(1), 157.

[14] Stewart, Pamela J. and Andrew Strathern. Witchcraft, Sorcery, Rumors, and Gossip, Cambridge Press (2004), at 7.

[15] Churchill, Ward. “Indians are us? Culture and genocide in Native North America.” (1994).

[16] Columbus Day. History. 2010. http://www.history.com/topics/exploration/columbus-day

[17] Id.

[18] Japanese-American Relocation. History. 2009. http://www.history.com/topics/world-war-ii/japanese-american-relocation

[19] Id.

[20] Jonathan Hafetz. Global Policy Forum. Targeted Killing and the ‘War on Terror’. 2011.https://www.globalpolicy.org/war-on-terrorism.html

[21] Id.

[22] Backlash against Middle Eastern and Muslim Americans. (2009). Backlash against Middle Eastern and Muslim Americans. In Backlash 9/11: Middle Eastern and Muslim Americans Respond (1st ed., pp. 1–31). University of California Press. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/j.ctt1pngn5.6

[23] Pianin, Eric. The Fiscal Times. The Endless $1.6 Trillion War on Terror.2014. http://www.thefiscaltimes.com/2014/12/23/Endless-16-Trillion-War-Terror

[24] UNHCR. The UN Refugee Agency. The 1951 Refugee Convention. The 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees is the key legal document in defining who is a refugee, their rights and the legal obligations of states. The 1967 Protocol removed geographical and temporal restrictions from the Convention. http://www.unhcr.org/pages/49da0e466.html

[25] PWI is simply an abbreviation for Persons with Albinism as it was previously discussed that Albino is often seen as a derogatory term.

[26] 8 U.S.C.S. § 1101 (2011).

[27] Id.

[28] Id.

[29] Through Albino Eyes. The Plight of ablbino people in Africa’s Great Lakes region and a Red Cross Response.Advocacy Report. International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.2009. http://www.ifrc.org/Global/Publications/general/177800-Albinos-Report-EN.pdf

[30] Oduah, Chika. Love in a Time of Fear. Huffington Post. October 2013.http://www.huffingtonpost.com/chika-oduah/love-in-a-time-of-fear_b_4154057.html

[31] INA § 101(a)(42), 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(42).

[32] Dzubow, Jason. Asylum for Albinos. The Asylumist. April 2011.http://www.asylumist.com/2011/04/13/asylum-for-albinos/

[33] Id.

[34] Id.

[35] Id.

[36] Through Person with albinism Eyes. The plight of person with albinism people in Africa’s Great Lakes region and a Red Cross response. https://www.ifrc.org/Global/Publications/general/177800-Person with albinisms-Report-EN.pdf

[37] Malawi: Disability Body Pushing for Legislation to Protect Person with albinisms. Charles Chitengu Jnr . March 2015. http://allafrica.com/stories/201503031296.html

[38] http://albinism.ohchr.org/story-alshaymaa-kwegyir.html

[39] H.Res.1088 – Recognizing the plight of people with albinism in East Africa and condemning their murder and mutilation. (2009-2010)

[40] H.Res.406 – Recognizing the progress made and challenges still faced by people living with albinism in East Africa.(2015-2016)

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