A tent camp in Berlin

March 13, 2013

Hello, again, and welcome. I’m Jim Tedder in Washington.

Today, we we’re off to Berlin to visit a tent camp for people hoping to immigrate from Africa and the Middle East. And we’ll hear about medical care in Ethiopia at a special new hospital. But first we travel to Burma.

At one time, Burma had what some educators considered the best universities in East Asia. But years of government control and poor leadership damaged the country’s education system. As a result, many students left Burma to study overseas.  Since she entered parliament, opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has supported efforts to improve Burma’s schools. And now, policymakers are changing their ideas about education.

Some Burmese students recently visited an American college fair in Rangoon. They would like to attend college in the United States. Recent political reforms in Burma have resulted in the end of sanctions against the country. Lifting the measures has made events like this college fair possible.

The Burmese government seized control of the universities in 1964. The government also barred the teaching of subjects such as history and political science. Since reform, however, there has been an attempt to offer classes on sensitive issues like the history of ethnic conflict in Burma. May Nyein Chan is taking this history class at the embassy-operated American Center.

“Before, I don’t think I can have that, it would be something illegal.”

Universities were at the center of student unrest that took place over the past 50 years. The government closed the universities to keep students away from places where they could cause trouble. Thein Lwin formerly studied at Rangoon University. He has set up a committee to advise Parliament on ways to improve education policy. He says the government needs to change its thinking about schools and education.

“Students should be allowed to form freely student union. The student representative should participate in the university governing body. The university should be a place for criticizing the country.”

But he says he knows it will take a long time to overcome the damage done by past governments. For now, students who hope to be able to continue their education still want to leave the country.

Immigrants from Africa and the Middle East often face long waits before they get official approval to work and settle in countries where they have moved. In Germany, Austria, and other places, some immigrants left their detention centers and built tent camps to publicize their cause.

One such camp stayed open this winter in Berlin. As we hear from Onka Dekker, local people and others are supporting this unusual community.

In October, immigrants from across Germany marched to the Kreuzberg neighborhood in Berlin. They were protesting government delays in answering their requests for asylum.

The immigrants themselves operate the tent camp with the support of local people and volunteers like Coco, an American in her 20s. She described services provided by the volunteers.

“A lot of the refugees who are staying here in the camp come and ask if we can help them find a place to sleep, or a place to shower, or someone to wash their clothes.” 

The camp is large. Several tents have metal chimneys with smoke rising from cooking stoves.

Paula Riester is a Green Party councilwoman in Berlin. Her party and its supporters agreed to let the shelters stay right where they are. They are helping to raise money to keep the camp operating.

She says the migrants’ only hope for change is if a new government is elected later this year. But unless the law is changed, the migrants have little hope.

Those whose requests for asylum were accepted by German officials are thought to be the lucky ones. But others who arrived in Germany from third countries face expulsion to that country if they ask the German government for refuge. That is because of a European Union law called Dublin two. Observers say the law is not likely to be changed.

A group of 150 Ethiopian doctors living overseas is building a hospital in Ethiopia. The hospital is meant to reduce the number of Ethiopians going to other countries for medical treatment. Steve Ember has the story.

The Ethio-American Doctors Group plans to build a hospital, a medical school, and a medical research center in Ethiopia. Yonas Legessa Cherinet belongs to the group. He says the new hospital will provide 27 medical specialties not currently offered in Ethiopia.

“There are varieties of fields where service is very limited here. I could mention vascular surgery, urology, pulmonology, neurosurgery and reproductive endocrinology…”

The Doctors Group hopes that fewer Ethiopians will go overseas for medical help if they can be treated inside the country. Many Ethiopians will not have enough money to pay for the treatments offered at the new center. Dr. Yonas says money will be raised for needy patients.

Currently, many Ethiopians who can pay for treatment go to Asia, the Middle East and South Africa. Zelelam Abebe works in a private clinic in Ethiopia’s capital. He says there is a big need for first-class medical services in the country. He has sent several patients abroad.

“I had to refer several people to hospitals abroad for different cardiac surgeries, brain surgery, and advanced cancer cases.”

Dr. Yonas says that caring for Ethiopians who might go abroad means the new hospital will have to be different and better than other hospitals in Ethiopia. He says patients say they go abroad for better quality care and better respect.

Tariku Assefa works at the Black Lion Hospital, the largest hospital in Ethiopia. Dr. Tariku welcomes the idea of a new hospital. But he says he hopes the new research center will place its greatest efforts on diseases that often strike Ethiopians.

The new hospital is set to open by 2016 and employ up to 400 people. Fifty of those people will be doctors. Some doctors will return to Ethiopia to work. Others plan to spend several weeks each year at the hospital. I’m Steve Ember.