Systematic Injustice

by: November 16th, 2010 comments: 6

Update: Zack has his visa! After some kind of intervention by friends, Zack was called by the High Commission to receive his visa today! Thanks very much everyone for the support. We now have our best hopes in place for Douglas to have a successful application. And as Kepha noted in the comments, even with friends to push for Zack, the underlying problems remain in a prejudiced system, and we will continue to advocate for fairness in the international system of development.

I’m not sure if it’s appropriate to raise our predicament publicly, but an injustice has been done. I must try all avenues available to right this situation. If after reading this, you have any ideas on how to proceed, please get in touch.

One of our participants, Zacharia Wambua, applied for and received a travel scholarship to attend the ICTD Conference next month at Royal Holloway, University of London. Zack is one of our brightest mappers, and shows great promise to take on this work as a career (Zack is standing to the right of US Ambassador to Kenya Ranneberger in this picture). The conference was going to be an opportunity for him to network, especially with UK universities, and take part in our panel focused on citizen mapping and media projects. He was to be joined by fellow mapper, Douglas Namale. For Zack, this would be his first time traveling outside Kenya, and I’m sure a life changing experience for a highly intelligent young man from Kibera.

As required, Zack submitted an application for a business visa (ref NAIROBI\323731), and took great care to fill out the application honestly and comprehensively. Yesterday, he received noticed that he was refused entry, with no opportunity to appeal. The decision gives no weight to our organization, the Map Kibera Trust, and draws attention to Zack’s economic situation as the primary evidence for the decision that, in the view of the UK Border Agency, Zack is not genuinely seeking to attend this conference.

To me, this is a deep systematic failure, based on probabilities. Zack is impoverished, it’s true. But he is working very hard to improve himself and situation, partly through participating in our programs. Despite having very little financial ties, or having family with a bank account, he is in fact very tied to his family, church and community. I’m not sure how you are supposed to show evidence of strong relationships to your family in a visa application. Zack is volunteering with a program, that among other things, has been featured on the BBC, is the subject of a DFID funded and UK university led research program, and he’s been invited to a prestigious conference organized by UNESCO and the University of London, that focuses on social and economic development through technology. Yet he is denied entry by the UK Border Agency. This is a terrible contradiction.

Frankly, if being poor is a barrier to taking part in these kind of activities, then the intentions of the entire conference, the work of DFID, etc, are completely negated.

We understand that an incorrect decision could have been made. However, Zack has been denied the right of appeal, the right to an interview, and the right for his supporters to speak on his behalf. Therefore, I ask, if there’s anything you can see we can do in this situation that could lead to a change of decision, we’d greatly appreciate the advice and action.

§ 6 Responses to “Systematic Injustice”

  • Some of these decisions make no sense at all. Like you so powerful put:

    Frankly, if being poor is a barrier to taking part in these kind of activities, then the intentions of the entire conference, the work of DFID, etc, are completely negated.

    It sounds like the left hand (UK Border Agency) has no idea what the right hand (DFID) is doing.

    Let me ask around to see if there is anything we can do to help Zacharia go to ICTD.

  • Erica Hagen says:

    This is also the second unfounded rejection for one of our participants to get a visa to travel to a conference (Regynnah was rejected for OpenStreetMap conference by Spain). What kind of a message does this send from the “developed” world – we’re willing to pour money into NGO’s in Kibera, laud their achievements under our programs, but unwilling to let them come near us in OUR home countries?? The last bastion of serious racism.

  • This happens to us all the time with both youth and staff and it is a huge injustice after all the hard work that people put in to do positive things and they are slapped in the face by this sort of immigration policy. It’s really sad. Sometimes we avoid hosting events in the US or the UK due to the difficulties and the huge let down for the kids when that happens. We organized eg for 2 well prepared youth to attend high level meetings in NYC so that they could input into Haiti’s reconstruction plan and even with support of several INGOs and the UN they were denied visas to enter the US.

  • Kepha Ngito says:

    This is brutal.

    but it is real. There is a rooted tendency for some’developed’ countries to imagine that every poor african travelling there is going to add an extra mouth to their welfare and subsidies… or to look for odd jobs and never come back.This is insulting and quite backward. Though there may have been such occurences in the past, not every person from Kibera or africa goes there to disappear and never come back.

    I could have thousands of words to write to the proponents of such an uncivilized school of thought, including to empirically remind them that africa and Kibera’s ‘under development’ is what feeds their ‘development’. I will conserve my energy for another day.

    Pole sana to Zack and Regyna, but they must understand that the world is not what they think. Truth is there is a glass ceiling of racism and economic discrimination. It is a long way to go for poor africans.
    And while this continues to happen, those from ‘developed’ countries continue to come to africa at pleasure… they get work permits and jobs without question, i have even seen some of them hawking on the streets of Nairobi.

    Never mind, someone connected might be able to push. but this still doesnt solve the problem. how many poor young people have those connections? BULLSHIT is what i would call it.

    Never tire though, let us build.

  • This is impunity of the highest level. When will negative perception/thoughts ever stop being part of human life.

    Life is a riddle for sure but sincerely speaking someone should up his/her game in making sure that there is hygiene in
    the Visa application premises.
    It suck a great deal!

  • Anne Babcock says:

    I’m very sorry to hear that so many people have been denied visas.

    I’d recommend sending this letter to the media – The Guardian has blogging pages, they might pick this story up, BBC, the Independent etc. I could send this story to my MP…do you know other UK residents who could write their MP.

    Have you written UK Border Agency? They should be informed. They might not do anything, as they are a large, bureaucratic government office, but there is a chance they will reverse there decision. Regardless, if they receive enough letters about this and similar situations it might help someone else get a visa down the road.

    Are there any bigger orgs…DFID even that Zach could align himself to or who could supply a reference for Zach’s application?

    Good luck! Keep on!

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