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Concept of Globalization has opened the windows of the compact minds of the people of the entire world. Numerous people have started to migrate abroad from their home country to elsewhere in search of sources of income for happy family life. Some migrate merely to bring change in their present living and settle abroad permanently for pleasure. Thus, the migration may be either for commerce or pleasure, for whatever it may be, it is good in all respects.
But ….. my ‘but’ is not at all intended to discourage you, my Readers. I have just tried to make you well prepared in advance for further more migration, God save you all – the migration that may be forced upon you.
The countries of the world being ruled by any style of Government like Democratic, Monarchy or Dictatorial; may face any revolutionary or political crisis at any time. They may be put in any critical and unpleasant situations of some false demeanors such as intolerance of others, confessional hatred, racist attacks, the slaughter of innocents, so-called ethnic cleansing or other forms of oppressions. Such man-made disasters either derived from the Rulers or the Ruled may happen anywhere, anytime. We people are like a singing bird which has nested and hatched her young ones in the mouth of a cannon. All of a sudden, the scenario changes; and smooth going public life gets disturbed.
God save you-us all, but in such circumstances; one must be mentally prepared to take hard decision of migration to protect life, prestige, self-respect and one’s own faith. One must be ready to accept the challenge of destiny and be courageous for ‘Come what may’.
Here, I would like to introduce a gentle friend of mine – Mr. Jafferali Soonasra (Jeff), born in Uganda (Africa), studied (only primary education) in India and now settled in U.S.A.. We are friends; but more than that, it can be said that we are like brothers since 1959. Mr. Jafferbhai’s odyssey of 22 years will follow next to my preface of this blog and you will yourselves evaluate his patience, struggle and many more qualities of his personality.
In the News paper – “The Morning Call”, on November 6, 1994; an article prepared by Bob Wittman was published under the Headline mentioned below. This article is represented here for all my Readers for their reference and knowledge to get inspiration to stand straight like a rock to face any kind of adversity in life.
My good Readers, please proceed further and be witness of a struggle faced for more than two decades by one more – a Gentle Giant:
“Stateless” Ugandan’s 22 – year Odyssey will end
“Twenty-two years ago this month, Jafferali Soonasra stood in a queue a thousand people long on an air-port tarmac in Kampala, Uganda. When he reached the head of the line, a stern looking man in a uniform took Soonasra’s Ugandan birth certificate and pressed a rubber stamp against it. As the indelible purple ink dried beneath the searing African sun, Soonasra read the single word that it would take him more than two decades to overcome. The word was “Stateless”.
On that day began a three-continent odyssey for Soonasra that will really, finally, only draw to a close on Thursday in the courtroom of the Old Leigh County Courthouse, when the 61-year-old man raises his right hand to swear allegiance to the United States and becomes U.S. citizen. At least 48 others are expected to become citizens of the United States in the 4 p.m. naturalization ceremony, according to Bernadette Carwell, LeighCounty’s naturalization clerk.
Growing up, Soonasra never could have anticipated that his life would take him to a place called Allentown (PA). Soonasra was born to a prosperous family of merchants and businessmen in the equatorial country of Uganda. His grandfather emigrated there from India when East Africa was ruled as a British colony. The British encouraged Indian settlement of the region to help Great Britain administer its possession. Eventually, tens of thousands of Indians settled there to fill civil service jobs and manage the nation’s businesses.
After completing his schooling, Soonasra went to work in 1957 for the Northern Province Bus Co. in the city of Lira, Uganda. Through the years he worked as ticket examiner, mechanic and traffic manager before becoming a stockholder and a director in 1965.
In 1960 Soonasra married a girl from Madras, India, and in time the couple had three daughters and a son. Soonasra owned a four bedroom home, three automobiles and took regular fishing holidays to Lake Albert. By any measure, he was a success.
But in 1971, Army Field Marshall Idi Amin seized control of the government, and the country plunged into chaos. There was guerrilla fighting in the country-side, and police inflicted terror upon the citizenry. Fearing for the safety of his family, Soonasra sent his wife and children to Madras to live with his wife’s family until the strife in Uganda settled down. Little did he know when he said goodbye to them that he would not see them for 16 years.
Still, sending them off to safety turned out to be a prudent move because Amin reserved his harshest treatment for the country’s Indian minority. Indeed, at one point Soonasra was arrested and held for three days of questioning in an armed camp. The bus company’s chief executive officer was arrested at the same time and was never heard from again. Soonasra was released unharmed, but life for him was never the same. He never returned to his office, and the company disintegrated. He lived in hiding with friends and relatives, never spending two nights in the same place.
Then, in August 1972, Amin announced that the Indians living in the country would have to leave. The United Nations organized a hasty evacuation program, and Soonasra and his family and 45,000 other members of the minority were flown to resettlement camps all over Europe. They were not allowed to take any cash or possessions out of the country, and before they left, Ugandan officials stamped each of their birth certificates with the word “stateless”. The United Nations eventually resettled Soonasra to Norway. The Norwegian government gave him an apartment in the coastal town of Bergen and a laborer’s job in a ship yard. Soonasra’s family, meanwhile – his mother, brother, sister-in-law and their children – were resettled to the United States. St. John’sLutheranChurch in Allentown became their sponsor and brought them to the LeighValley.
Soonasra disliked Norway. He could not adjust to the cold. He found the people unfriendly. And he was unused to physically strenuous manual labor. He decided this was no place to bring the family, so he told them to remain in India until he worked something out.
Soonasra is a reflective man, not afraid to acknowledge his mistakes, and one of the gravest he made was his decision in 1976 to travel to the United States and never return to Norway. He received an 11-week travel visa to visit his mother and brother and never went back. Soonasra knew he was violating U.S. Immigration law, but he did not realize how inflexible those laws could be. He figured his refugee’s story would compel U.S. Immigration authorities to realize the desperateness of his plight and allow him to become a permanent resident.
It turned out nothing could have been further from the truth. When he laid out his story in a letter he wrote to President, Jimmy Carter early the next year, he received a terse letter in return from the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service saying the president had “no authority to modify the law in any respect.”
On the other hand, the INS never came after Soonasra, even though he had by now long over-stayed his visa. Meanwhile, a friend gave him a job behind the counter of what was then called the 7-Eleven Food Store on College Heights Boulevard. The years drifted by. Soonasra missed his wife and children terribly, of course, and it was in their interest that he finally acted. In 1980, he traveled to Philadelphia and turned himself in to Immigration officials. They responded by handing him a deportation order.
But there was no place to deport him to. Although Amin by this time had been deposed, Uganda was still in chaos and unwilling to take him back. Norway would not allow his return, either, since he had left after authorities had given him the chance to make a life there. Even India, where his wife lived, had no obligation to take him in. So Soonasra was the United States’ problem now. Soonasra’s lawyer won an extension of the deportation order. Then another and another and another. Finally, in 1984, the INS notified Soonasra that it would grant no additional extensions and that he should report to its offices with his personal belongings on Feb.21.
To what country the INS might have deported Soonasra is an interesting question, but matters never go that far. In the nick of time, Soonasra’s name had threaded its way through INS quota system, and with only days to spare he became eligible for permanent residency under the sponsorship of his brother, Liaquatali. That was not the end of the story, however. Going by the book, the INS still required Soonasra to enter the country legally so it could process his papers and open a file on him as a permanent resident.
But in a bureaucratic Catch-22, Soonasra could not leave the country because he had no valid travel documents. The United States could not give him the documents because he was still, technically, an illegal alien. Only after a chance meeting in New York with an old friend from his boyhood who happened now to work for the Uganda consulate in Manhattan was Soonasra able to get temporary travel papers. With them, he flew to Norway, processed his application for permanent residency at the U.S.Consulate in Oslo, and flew back to New York, a legal resident alien at last.
Almost immediately, Soonasra flew to India for a reunion with his wife and children after 16 years of separation. During their years apart, his oldest child, Mohamed, had grown into a 26-year-old adult. His youngest, daughter Naseem, a 15-month old baby when he last saw her, was now completing high school. Soonasra stayed more than a month. That spring, the whole family moved to Allentown.
Since then, daughter Rukshana had married. She lives in Chicago with her husband and a daughter, the Soonasra’s first grandchild. Another daughter, Shaheda, works for Meridian Bank, and Naseem is a student of CedarCrestCollege. She plans to become a dentil assistant. Mohamed helps run Don’s Food Store at Harrison and Leigh streets in Emmaus. Soonasra and his brother, Liaquatali, are partners in that store as well as what is now renamed the 7-Ten Food Store on College Heights Boulevard.
Five years after, Soonasra became a permanent resident of United States, he became eligible to apply for U.S. citizenship.He passed the naturalization test a few months ago, and has been looking forward to the dignified ceremony this week at the Old Courthouse that makes his citizenship official.
Jafferali Soonasra feels at last that he has come full circle.”
Lastly, I quote a dialogue from the play – “Abraham Lincoln” written by John Drinkwater. It is this: “When it comes, it seems so simply.”
– Valibhai Musa
Dtd. : 6th June, 2007
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