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Monday, May 23, 2016

Somali president overrides parliament on election process


In what likely is a new showdown between Somali president and the parliament, Somali president Hassan Sheikh Mohamud used an executive order and called for an election in Somalia, bypassing the parliament which delayed the vote process submitted by the government last month.
The country’s outgoing parliament has delayed a vote to approve the election process multiple times, with the last one being on Saturday, raising concerns by the international community over the protracted process for the forthcoming presidential elections.
Speaking at a press conference in Mogadishu Sunday, Mr. Mohamud announced that the country would hold an election in line with a recent deal by the country’s stakeholders to hold timely elections in the country.
Held in Mogadishu in April, the national consultative forum which sought ‘guiding principles’ to enable the transfer of power when the government’s mandate expires in 2016.
The country’s major donors including European Union and the United States warned that failure to act quickly would ‘jeopardize’ the Somali political process and set Somalia several years back."
According to Somalia’s Provisional Federal Constitution, adopted in 2012, the mandates of the Somali Federal Parliament and of the government would come to an end in August and September 2016, respectively.
The international community which is spearheading efforts aimed at restoring peace and order into the Somalia which is recovering from decades of war mandated the current government to lead the country into general elections following the election of President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, a new parliament and the adoption of a new constitution in 2012.

Feature: Somali National University back on feet from civil war

Newly reconstructed SNU building in Mogadishu's Hamar Weyne District. [Abdi Moalim/Sabahi]
Newly reconstructed SNU building in Mogadishu's Hamar Weyne District. [Abdi Moalim/Sabahi
More than two decades after it closed doors due to break out of civil war and disintegration of the state, the Somali National University is back on its feet and determined to reclaim its position as the premier institution of higher learning in Somalia.
The university, which re-opened in 2014 following the flushing out of Al-Shabaab extremist militants from Mogadishu, now has a student population of 755. It has six faculties and a team of masters and PhD holders who steer the academic and administrative functions.
The faculties include Education and Social Science, Health Science, Economics and Management Science, Law, Agriculture and Veterinary and Animal Husbandry.
The university's rector, Professor Mohamed Ahmed Jimale, told Xinhua in a recent interview that Somali National University (SNU) is fast resuming its position as the source of qualified human resource and research as well as a driver of change in the country.
"The aim of this university is to develop skilled professionals who can design and implement development programs for the rebuilding of the nuova Somalia (the new Somalia)," said Jimale.
He said given Somalia is a largely agricultural and livestock driven economy, the university is keen on training professionals in agriculture, animal husbandry and economists.
With a strong teaching fraternity, most of whom acquired higher education in China through scholarship programs, the rector says SNU is poised to offer tuition free quality education while at the same time contribute to peace and state building.
"The number of enrolment increased a lot because many young people that cannot afford to pay the tuition fee for private universities find a good chance here at SNU, the only public and tuition free university," he said.
Access to university education still remains a big challenge in Somalia since most of the secondary school graduates cannot afford private university education, a scenario Jimale says pushes the youth to illegal activities out of desperation.
But SNU, Jimale said, aims to reverse this trend by scrapping tuition fees.
"I believe that the revival and the expansion of Somali National University will contribute to the security, peace and the stability because a large number of desperate youth that now have no access to the higher education, because of economic reason, will access to higher education and that will strengthen their hope to a prosperous future," he added.
Chinese ambassador to Somalia Wei Hongtian, himself alumni of the university with a fluency in Somali language, has played a critical role in facilitating scholarships and providing equipment to the university.
Through this, Jimale said China is contributing in building the country's human resource and ensuring peace and stability.
"We believe that the Ambassador is doing his best for granting Masters and PhD scholarships for the lecturers of our university. Also, the ambassador is helping our university in other areas such as donating teaching aid materials, furniture and other useful and necessary equipment," said Jimale.
Before its closure in the early 1990s, SNU had a student population of 15,672, with about 700 academic and non-academic staff, and consisted of 13 faculties.
But the university is determined to grow even beyond these numbers. Jimale said they intended to set up campuses in regional federal states such as Puntland, Jubbaland and Somaliland.
He said the introduction of the centralized grade 12 exam system and subsequently universal free primary school under the "Go to School" program, was re-institutionalizing formal education in Somalia.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

22 Percent of Resettled Refugees in Minnesota Test Positive for Tuberculosis

Jim Mone/AP

One of every five refugees resettled in Minnesota by the federal government tested positive for latent tuberculosis in 2014, according to the state’s Department of Health. 
Only 4 percent of the general population in the United States tested positive for latent tuberculosis in the most recent report provided by the Centers for Disease Control.
The April 2016 edition of the Refugee Health Quarterly, published by the Minnesota Department of Health reports that:
Minnesota had 150 cases of TB in 2015, compared to 147 cases in 2014 (a 2 percent increase). The most common risk factor for TB cases in Minnesota is being from a country where TB is common.
TB screening is offered to all refugees during the domestic refugee health exam.
In 2014, 22 percent of refugees screened tested positive for LTBI (latent tuberculosis infection).
26 percent of all foreign born cases of tuberculosis in Minnesota were from people born in Somalia. Somalians almost exclusively enter the state through the refugee resettlement program.
More than 70,000 refugees have been resettled in the United States annually for the past three decades by the federal government. It’s not just tuberculosis being brought in by these resettled refugees. Measles, whooping cough, diptheria, and other diseases that were on their way to eradication are also coming in across the borders of the United States.
A recent outbreak of measles in Memphis, Tennessee, a center for refugee resettlement, began at a local mosque, as Breitbart News reported previously.
The alarming public health report from Minnesota comes on the heels of news from the Centers for Disease Control that in 2015, the incidence of tuberculosis in the United States increased.
“Data from 2015 show that the number of TB cases has increased (by 1.7 percent) nationally [in the United States] for the first time in 23 years, with a total of 9,563 TB cases reported,” the Minnesota Department of Health reports.

As the Star Tribune, Minnesota’s largest daily newspaper, reports:
The CDC is still trying to determine the reason for the uptick.
The goal set by the CDC, in 1989, of eliminating TB by 2010 — defined as less than one case in a million people — remains elusive. Even if the trend of declining cases had continued, the United States would not have eliminated TB by the end of this century, the CDC said.
“We are not yet certain why TB incidence has leveled off, but we do know it indicates the need for a new, expanded approach to TB elimination,” said Dr. Philip LoBue, director of the CDC’s Division of Tuberculosis Elimination, in an email.
A dual approach is needed: continue to find and treat cases of disease and evaluate their contacts, as well as identify and evaluate other high-risk persons for latent TB infection, he said.
There may be a positive correlation between the increase in the number of refugees resettled in the United States during this period and the sudden increase in the incidence of tuberculosis, a disease that many thought was on the path to eradication in the United States.
As the Centers for Disease Control report:
In 2014, a total of 66% of reported TB cases in the United States occurred among foreign-born persons. The case rate among foreign-born persons (15.4 cases per 100,000 persons) in 2014 was approximately 13 times higher than among U.S.-born persons (1.2 cases per 100,000 persons).
“Today four states – California, New York, Texas and Florida – have more than half the nation’s active TB cases, though they have only a third of the country’s population. The four states have the highest numbers of foreign-born residents,” according to the Star Tribune.
A person with latent tuberculosis is not infectious and does not have symptoms of the disease. A person with active tuberculosis is infectious and has symptoms of the disease.
Ten percent of those with latent tuberculosis develop active tuberculosis if not treated,according to the World Health Organization.
As the Star Tribune reports:
TB is an airborne infectious disease caused by bacteria that spreads through the air, person to person, when someone coughs or sneezes. One in three people worldwide have latent TB, according to the World Health Organization. In the United States, up to 13 million people have been exposed to TB and could develop the disease.
Every year, tuberculosis claims 1.5 million lives worldwide and 500 to 600 in this country.
“Tuberculosis (TB) has surpassed HIV as the leading cause of death from infectious disease worldwide,” the Minnesota Department of Health reports.
Tuberculosis is airborne and can be spread when a person active tuberculosis coughs, sneezes, or otherwise transmits the infection to a previously uninfected individual.
Treatment for tuberculosis is long and expensive. If caught early, it typically takes about nine months for a person with active tuberculosis to improve to latent tuberculosis. Not everyone diagnosed with active tuberculosis, however, improves. Mortality rates for those with active tuberculosis are much higher than health professionals would like, even in the United States.
According to the Star Tribune:
Treating TB patients is labor intensive. To ensure that TB patients complete the course of drugs that lasts six months or longer, Directly Observed Therapy programs require a health care worker – not a family member – to watch patients with active TB swallow every dose. If a patient cannot get to a clinic, a health care worker goes to the person’s home. The worker monitors patients for side effects and other problems.
Care also involves communication and cultural challenges. In Michigan, where the number of active TB cases rose from 105 in 2014 to 130 last year, the health department reaches out to Detroit’s large Arab and Bangladeshi populations. In other parts of the state, Burmese immigrants have different needs, said Peter Davidson, Michigan TB control manager.
“Some local health departments have strong partnerships with translation services. Some rely on a less formal mechanism – a private physician or someone on staff at the hospital who speaks the language,” Davidson said.
The cost of treating an active TB case that is susceptible or responsive to drugs averages $17,000, according to the CDC. Care of patients with drug-resistant TB, which can result from taking antibiotics prescribed before TB was properly diagnosed, costs many times more: $134,000 for a multidrug-resistant patient and $430,000 for an extensively drug-resistant one.
Minnesota public health officials point to the high treatment rate of those refugees diagnosed with latent tuberculosis as a reason for optimism.
“Eliminating TB in the U.S. will require increased attention to the diagnosis and treatment of latent TB infection (LTBI),” the April 2016 Refugee Health Quarterly reports.
“Minnesota’s LTBI treatment completion rate for refugees who start treatment is one of the highest in the nation at 86 percent in 2013,” the report adds.
An alternative public health policy–one that the United States used for decades in the latter part of the nineteenth century and early twentieth century–is to test immigrants and refugees for infectious disease before they are allowed into the country.
In that earlier era, those who tested positive were sent home. Today, however, many are welcomed in and pose a risk of infecting the rest of the American population.
(Note: Valley News Live in Fargo, North Dakota was the first broadcast outlet to report on the 22 percent incidence of latent tuberculosis among refugees in Minnesota.)

Suitcases full of cash leaving Sea-Tac Airport


Travelers pulling suitcases full of cash started showing up at Sea-Tac Airport last year holding tickets for flights headed out of the United States.
Transporting large amounts of cash overseas isn’t illegal. But it was who was carrying the money … and where it was going that caught the attention of security officials.
“It’s not against the law.  You can travel outside the United States with as much money as you choose, as long as you declare it,” said Mike Bol, who heads U.S. Customs and Border Protection operations at the airport.
The people carrying the cash didn’t hide the fact from Customs. Just the opposite, they reported it. Anyone traveling out of the United States is required to declare any amount over $10,000 and fill out a one-page federal form.
These reports are what caught the attention of terrorism investigators in Seattle.
“The thing was the amount, the staggering amount,” said Glenn Kerns, who was assigned to the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) at the time.
The couriers were working for Seattle-area hawalas – businesses that derive their name from the Arabic word for “transfer.”  Hawalas are part of a traditional system of informal bankingin Muslim communities.
Seattle and King County are home to tens of thousands of immigrants and refugees from East Africa, many of whom use the hawalas to send much-needed money back to loved ones in their homelands. Given the presence of active terrorist organizations in Somalia, investigators worry that some of the money shipped home by Somalis up in the hands of the Al Qaeda affiliate active there.
“(They) have Al Shabaab, which has been designated a terrorist organization, and our concern is how much money is going to them?” said Kerns.
Kerns said the first cash shipment rolled through Sea-Tac early last year. A man carrying $750,000 in cash told Customs officials he was transporting the money overseas.  Over the next several months, couriers carrying as much as $2 million boarded commercial flights at Sea-Tac.
“One hawala – Seattle hawala – sent out $20 million last year,” said Kerns.
Hawalas have been under intense scrutiny by the federal government since the Sept. 11 attacks. The federal government has pressured banks to monitor and report suspicious activity by hawalas.
Over the years, U.S. banks have been shutting refusing to wire money on behalf of hawalas – worried that the bank could be held liable for failing to report suspicious activity.
In March 2015 the last bank serving hawalas – Merchants – shut down the last remaining accounts of hawalas that wired money to Somalia. That left the hawalas with no other option but to ferry cash overseas on behalf of their customers.
“We, the people that live here in America, are sending money back home to people that are suffering,” said Ikran Abdullahi as she stood outside a hawala in the City of SeaTac.
Abdullahi is one of many Somali immigrants who is worried that the increasing pressure on hawalas will stop her from sending money to her family.
“My grandfather. My brother. My uncle. My cousins. They’re all depending on me. So if that is cut they’ll all die,” said Abdullahi.
Representatives from the Seattle-area’s Somali community say most immigrants send some money home to their families on a regular basis – usually $20-$50 at a time.
Kerns was a Seattle police officer who retired last December after serving 14 years on the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force.
He uncovered something suspicious when he analyzed financial records that the hawalas are required file with the Washington Department of Financial Institutions.
He researched the names of the ten clients who transferred the most money through hawalas last year.
“All ten of them were on welfare benefits. DSHS benefits,” said Kerns.  “It’s fraud. Straight up fraud – every one of them.”
Kerns said he, along with an agent from a federal agency he would not disclose, took their case to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Seattle.
“They don’t want to touch it,” said Kerns.  “My opinion – I believe it’s because it will look like they’re targeting a certain population.”
Hassan Diis believes that Somali’s are already being targeted.
Diis has been working with lawmakers to try to restore banking services for Somali hawalas. Diis says banks and law enforcement have placed unfair restrictions on hawalas that are harming ordinary, hardworking people.
“Delivering money is one of the biggest challenges people face,” Diis said.
Diis says it’s common for East Africans to pool their money to send overseas. The transfer may be attributed to a single individual who aggregated the funds, which are then distributed among many recipients on the other end. In other words, large amounts attributed to a single sender don’t necessarily mean that the person is a terrorist or committing welfare fraud.
“So if they have a specific issue with one person, that doesn’t mean it fits all the community,” said Diis.
Hawala owners declined to speak about the issue when contacted by KING 5.
Sources within the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Seattle, who spoke on the condition that they not be named, disputed Kern’s version of why the case hasn’t moved forward.
Sources say Kerns case was not developed enough to proceed with criminal charges against any specific target. They say he was advised to follow up with an assistant U.S. attorney who handles fraud cases, but he never did.
Meanwhile, some banks are working with lawmakers to try to restore money transfers to Somalia.
Washington Bankers Association President Jim Pishue says his members know that hawalas are struggling under the scrutiny of international regulators and anti-terrorism agencies.
However, he said federal laws make it “very burdensome” for any bank to send money on their behalf to countries like Somalia.
Pishue said it’s expensive for banks to monitor the accounts, and there’s the risk of being held liable if the feds determine a bank hasn’t done an adequate job. He said congress need to create a better environment for Somali money transfers.

Monday, May 16, 2016

War-Weary Somalis Flee for Europe as Rebuilding Too Slow


>Young Somalis see poor economy, insecurity as push factors
>Efforts to curb flight after report hundreds died in transit

MAP: SOMALIA

When hundreds of Somalis were reported drowned in the Mediterranean last month, Abdi Deeq didn’t rethink his plans to flee the Horn of Africa nation and risk the illicit crossing to Europe.
More than two decades of Somali civil war and a bloody al-Qaeda-aligned insurgency have left the 22-year-old student with little hope his country is becoming safer or more prosperous. Even as the capital, Mogadishu, rebuilds and elections are scheduled this year, near-daily bombings, rampant corruption and few career opportunities mean he’s one of many young Somalis who see moving abroad as their only choice.
“Many students who were my classmates risked their lives going to Europe -- some died in the sea and others survived,” Deeq said in an interview in the city. “I am ready to join those friends.”
The exodus doesn’t bode well for Somalia, a country of an estimated 10.5 million people that has been mired in conflict since the late 1980s and is trying to use advances against the Islamist militants to attract investors to rebuild the economy. The departure of youth, who should be playing “a pivotal role in Somalia’s socio-economic progress,” will have a “negative impact” on the country’s development, according to Fadumo Abdi Warsameh, chairwoman of the Somalia National Youth Organisation.
Somalis are adding to Europe’s biggest wave of displaced people since World War II, with 1.26 million of all nationalities arriving last year. Of the estimated 153,842 people who crossed illicitly to Italy in 2015, more than 12,400 were Somalis, according to the Kenya-based Regional Mixed Migration Secretariat. Somali immigration officials say they don’t have an exact number of people that have fled in the past year, but that the rate of departures has almost quadrupled in the past six months. Some Somalis also fled across the sea to Yemen, even as conflict engulfs that country, RMMS data shows.
Somalia’s government on April 19 banned its citizens from traveling to Sudan, a popular transit route for undocumented immigrants, after it said hundreds who’d crossed the country died when their boat capsized in the Mediterranean. More than 3,500 people of all nationalities have been killed making similar crossings in 2015, according to the International Organization for Migration.
Data from an RMMS project that interviewed Somalia migrants shows Europe named as the preferred final destination by 44 percent, ahead of South Africa with 34 percent and the U.S. with 16 percent.
Rampant Unemployment
“Some say it’s because of insecurity, but others rationalize their departure due to rampant unemployment,” the head of Somalia’s immigration and naturalization department, Abdullahi Gafow Mohamud, said in an interview.
That’s the case for Ali Hassan Abdi, who graduated from university two years ago and hasn’t found a job. The 25-year-old says endemic graft -- Somalia is ranked joint-bottom with North Korea on Berlin-based Transparency International’s global Corruption Perceptions Index of 168 countries -- is “the number-one cause of mass migration.”
“It is absolutely hopeless to find work if you’re not a relative of one of the government ministers or members of parliament,” he said in an interview.
Among Somalia’s development plans are for oil and gas output to begin by 2020 after exploration work showed the potential for large offshore deposits. Companies including Royal Dutch Shell Plc, Exxon Mobil Corp. and BP Plc are in talks about returning, according to President Hassan Sheikh Mohamoud.
‘No Hope’
RMMS data shows 30 percent of Somali migrants citing economic factors as the main reason for leaving, with unspecified political issues accounting for 15 percent, and conflict for 11 percent. Thirty-six percent of those interviewed said they had no formal education.
African Union official Francisco Madeira on Sunday said in a statement that the country’s youth have a “big role to play in shaping a future of Somalia without violent extremism and terrorism.” He urged a boost in support for unspecified “youth initiatives.”
“There is no hope in this country,” said Da’ud Qaliif, who married recently and plans to travel abroad with his wife. He lamented the “constant conflict and corruption that’s made our lives miserable.”
“We can’t secure a better life to raise our children,” said the 38-year-old. “There is no other option but the dangerous journey across the sea.”

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Somali grad 'leaving with much more' than a degree


FARMINGTON — It’s been a long time coming for Abdirahman Ahmed Hussein, who graduated Saturday from the University of Maine at Farmington.
Originally from Somalia, he and his family left his birthplace to live in Kenya. From there, Hussein said, “We took the opportunity to come to the U.S.” He added that he believed without that move, “none of this would be possible.”
First settling in Salt Lake City 10 years ago for just two months, Hussein said he and his family did not know anyone and didn’t speak the language.
"The city was a fast pace,” he said. "We needed a slower place where our transition could be smoother.” They eventually resettled in Lewiston.
From their beginnings in Maine, he said, his family “saw Lewiston from a different perspective,” alluding to the city’s long reputation of being one of Maine’s rougher places. To him, the opportunity seemed to outweigh any downside. It just meant that they “had to work even harder to get a job,” he said.
During his junior year in high school, an opportunity arose with Tree Street Youth, a free drop-in program for inner-city children and youths in Lewiston.
“They were looking for Street Leaders, which were role models for kids in the community,” Hussein said.
“I was one of the first Street Leaders," he said. "It was a 24/7 job.” As a Somali immigrant, he understood the work needed to move one’s life in a positive direction and enjoyed being a role model for younger kids. Hussein is the first Tree Street alumni to graduate from college and a first-generation college graduate from his family.
Looking back, he spoke about being a Somali on campus.
“I’m not sure people were ready for it, but as time went on, I built relationships that made a bigger impact than I thought,” he said, adding that being on UMF’s soccer team helped him make friends, many of whom brought him home to meet their parents.
“Some say I really changed their life,” he said of those who had never met a Somali or a Muslim.
Asked about the current political climate surrounding the Muslim community, he said, “It bothers me, but I am more disappointed. I was born into a Muslim family and never really questioned it. It made me who I am today.” He added, “I have to be a better human being. It’s part of who I am.”
Hussein graduated with a B.A. in business economics and is looking forward to taking the summer to think about his next steps while searching for a job.
"I came to UMF for a college degree, and am leaving with much more,” he said

Helsinki University to offer degree in Somali language

Starting in autumn 2017 the University of Helsinki will offer Somali philology as a full study programme, complete with a pathway to a master's degree. Two new study paths are in store, one for native Somali speakers and another for non-native speakers.

Helsingin yliopisto

A Somali language degree programme will be launched by the University of Helsinki in autumn 2017. A briefer, 15-study point package is already set to begin at the beginning of the autumn semester this year.
In future, the Somali language may be studied all the way through to a master's degree at the Helsinki University.
Somali language courses will be organised as hourly instruction at first, but Faculty of Arts Dean Arto Mustajoki says that a vacancy for a contract Somali language teacher will soon be established.
The number of students who will get to begin their Somali studies is not yet set, but Mustajoki estimates that some 6-8 students will be accepted to the programme annually.

Need based on size of the minority

Mustajoki says that Finland's Somali-speaking minority is now so large that including it as a subject at the University is more than reasonable.
"It will not be solely language instruction either, as the teaching will also include cultural elements," Mustajoki says.
The University of Helsinki also aims to increase the number of students it admits to its Chinese and Arabic philology programmes by 15 places each year, and the number of students studying English philology will be increased by 20-25 people, according to demand.
Admissions to German and French language study programs will in contrast be cut in future, due to a lower demand.
Sources: Yle