Asylum for Albinos

by Jason Dzubow on April 13, 2011

in Asylum Seekers, Withholding

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In some parts of Africa, Albinism can be a death sentence.  A Canadian organization that advocates for people with Albinism (“PWA”), Under the Same Sun, reports on the dire situation of Albinos in Tanzania:

[The sale of Albino body parts is] driven by the belief (in some areas of the country) that the body parts of PWA possess magical powers capable of bringing riches if used in potions produced by local witchdoctors. Between 2007 & the present, official reports indicate that 68 PWA have been brutally attacked and their body parts hacked off and sold to witchdoctors. Of the 68 attacks, 59 were murders and 9 are mutilated survivors. Leaders in the albinism community believe the actual number of attacks & deaths are closer to 100 or more. Reports also indicate that albino body parts are being exported outside of Tanzania. In one instance, a Tanzanian trader was caught travelling to the Democratic Republic of the Congo with the head of an infant with albinism in his possession. He told police that a businessman there was going to pay him for the head according to its weight.

The problem exists to varying degrees in different countries throughout sub-Saharan Africa.  Earlier this month, an Albino man from Nigeria received Withholding of Removal from an Immigration Court in Florida. 

Franklin Ibeabuchi came to the United States when he was 10 years old.  He grew up in Jacksonville, married, and is raising three children.  In 2003, he was arrested for assault.  The charges were dropped, but he was placed into removal proceedings.  With the help of the Florida Coastal School of Law’s immigration clinic, he applied for political asylum based on his fear of being persecuted for Albinism.  It is unclear why he received Withholding of Removal instead of asylum (asylum is the better form of relief); perhaps because he failed to file for asylum within one year of his arrival in the U.S.  In any case, this seems like an important victory, and may be the first case of an Albino person demonstrating a well-founded fear of persecution based on the particular social group of PWA. 

As an aside, the issue of Albino people seeking asylum has recently gotten some popular attention.  Earlier this year, an NBC show called Harry’s Law, which stars Kathy Bates as a “misfit lawyer,” featured a story about four young people with Albinism seeking asylum from Tanzania.  I must admit that I’ve never seen the show (I am still afraid of Kathy Bates thanks to her role in the movie Misery), but it looks like Matlock with a social conscience.  Anyway, if you are interested, you can learn more about the episode here (and by the way, the immigration trial seems completely unrealistic – the Judge finds that the case is a toss-up, so he will rule based on the current national consensus on immigration – maybe you can guess how it turns out).

Fortunately for Mr. Ibeabuchi, he will be able to remain safely in the United States with his family, and congratulations to the Florida Coastal School of Law on their important win.

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