They are trapped in squalid detention centers on Libya’s front lines. They wash up on the banks of the Rio Grande. They sink without a trace—in the Mediterranean, in the Pacific or in waterways they can’t even name. A handful fall out of airplanes’ landing gear.
As their choices narrow on land and at sea, migrants are often seen as a political headache in the countries they hope to reach and ignored in the countries they flee. Most live in limbo, but recent tragedies have focused attention on the risks they face and the political constraints at the root of them.
A record 71 million people were forcibly displaced around the world in 2018, according to a report last month by the U.N. refugee agency, in places as diverse as Turkey, Uganda, Bangladesh and Peru. Many are still on the move in 2019. Others are trapped like the thousands in detention in Libya, where an airstrike on Tuesday killed at least 44 migrants and refugees locked away in the Tripoli suburb of Tajoura.
Most of those in Tajoura and other Libyan detention centers have been intercepted by the Libyan coast guard, which has become the go-to border force for the European Union, which can’t get 28 governments to agree about migration. Despite the rhetoric about migration crises in Europe and the U.S., the top three countries taking in refugees are Turkey, Pakistan and Uganda. Germany comes in a distant fifth.
A 20-year-old who fled war in his homeland in sub-Saharan Africa two years ago survived the airstrikes, gunfire from militia members trying to keep migrants inside the compound, torture for ransom by traffickers and a sinking boat in the Mediterranean. He is now sleeping outside the Tajoura detention center along with hundreds of other migrants and awaiting a second chance to go to sea.
“I faced death in Libya many times before. I am ready to die again. I already lost my brothers in the war in my country,” he told The Associated Press. He didn’t want his name used because the militia fighters who shot at him are still guarding the compound.
Libya’s interior minister, Fathi Bashagha, pleaded Friday for Europe “to address the problem in a radical way—not to prevent migrants, but to provide jobs and investment in the migrants’ places of origin, as well as in southern Libya ... so as to absorb these huge numbers willing and eager to migrate to Europe.”
Within days of the airstrike, at least two boats filled with migrants sank off Libya’s coast, leaving around 140 people missing. Another group was picked up by a rescue ship and then barred from docking on the Italian island of Lampedusa, touching off the 21st standoff between Italy’s populist government and humanitarian groups. A pregnant woman watching a shipboard ultrasound of her baby smiled broadly, seemingly oblivious to the political furor on land and at sea.
A similar disconnect played out recently when the body of a stowaway on an inbound flight from Nairobi crashed to Earth next to a man sunbathing on a Sunday afternoon in his London garden. The next day, mourners held a lavish burial in El Salvador for a man and his young daughter who drowned trying to cross the Rio Grande into Texas.
As during a 2015 wave of Syrians, Iraqis and Afghanis pouring into Europe, daily reminders of migrants’ plights are back on front pages.
The U.S.-Mexico border has become a flashpoint amid President Donald Trump’s ambitions to build a wall to keep out migrants. Many children caught crossing are stuck in squalid, unsanitary detention centers. Children have also been separated from parents in custody. Critics call such policies inhumane, heartless and “un-American.”
More broadly, advocates for the huddled masses on the move say not enough is being done in the migrants’ home, transit or destination countries. Only international cooperation can help resolve the agonies, they say—a tough sell at a time of rising go-it-alone, populist and nationalist sentiment in many places.
Filippo Grandi, head of U.N. refugee agency UNHCR, said his office has a “dialogue” going with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and “if there is any help that we can provide to the U.S. administration in dealing with this matter, we’re ready to do it.”
But he called for a regional discussion among countries, including the United States—the destination for many—transit country Mexico, and the troubled home countries for migrants and refugees such as El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, where gang killings and lawlessness are rife.
“I have been to Honduras, to Guatemala, to El Salvador,” he told reporters recently in Geneva. “The violence perpetrated by gangs, the inability of these governments to protect their own citizenship, cause part of these flows. So this needs to be addressed in the proper manner—without stigmatizing these people.”
A Janesville company mostly known as a maker of all-natural lip balms and personal-care products could be moving into a new frontier in oil: hemp oil.
John Goepfert, a former gun shop operator but in more recent years the CEO of Simply Solutions, said his company has developed a process that extracts nearly 100% of the oil from hemp plants. The processes used by others extract much less, he said.
The company hopes to create what would likely be the first commercial-scale CBD processing facility in the region.
Goepfert says Simply Solutions, a homegrown company that produces all-natural personal care products, is in the final stages of raising private funding to secure a facility on Janesville’s south side. Within a few months, its dozen or so employees could begin processing hemp to extract cannabidiol, a substance more widely known as CBD.
Both hemp and CBD, the oil the plant produces, are now legal under state and federal regulations after decades of hemp being classified in the same class of controlled substances as marijuana and other cannabis plants. But unlike tetrahydrocannabinol, the mind-altering, high-inducing chemical that’s present in hemp’s cousin marijuana, hemp-based CBD oil is not intoxicating.
CBD can be processed and sold legally and is used for numerous medical conditions and in scores of personal-care products and consumer products, including CBD-infused foods and drinks.
Goepfert said his company plans to extract and process hemp into CBD oil tinctures—concentrated extracts—and sell it to wholesalers or retailers who market CBD oil and other CBD products.
CBD processing would be another leap for Simply Solutions, a company with subsidiaries that have grown and evolved over the past five years out of the Janesville Innovation Center.
Over the last two years, Simply Solutions has branched out from its cornerstone line of personal-care products, including “Lip Loob” brand lip balm. It recently has made serious inroads with a natural, nontoxic liquid Goepfert developed for use in fog machines.
Goepfert said the product, Simply Fog, now is used in training programs by more than a dozen major metro fire departments across the U.S.
The product is an alternative to fog machine liquids containing propylene glycol, a synthetic that’s used in antifreeze compounds.
If Simply Solutions moves forward with its CBD plan, it would operate what the company’s COO, Mark Schweiger, said would likely be the first major, commercial-scale CBD processing facility in the region.
Goepfert and Simply Solutions facility manager Patrick Knilans said the company plans to buy hemp for processing from about a dozen area farmers.
Simply Solutions has a state license to handle hemp and an FDA-approved process it already has used to produce tinctures from other plant materials, such as willow bark and clove.
Goepfert’s foray into CBD production would come at a time when a few thousand people in Wisconsin have applied to grow and process hemp for CBD oil and other products. Many of the growers, according to the state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection records, would qualify as cottage industry farming operations that grow hemp in greenhouses or on plots of 1 acre or less.
Goepfert said his company would use its own science and proprietary extraction processes to create a regional link between local agriculture and a national market for hemp that analysts say already was an $800 million industry in 2017—the year when hemp farming became legal under Wisconsin’s industrial hemp bill.
The market continues to grow.
U.S. retail sales of CBD-related products are projected to reach $813 million in 2019, and $1.15 billion in 2020, according to Statista, a global market analyst.
While the bubble of those seeking to grow hemp continues to expand, there’s a lack of commercialized CBD processors—at least in Wisconsin. That could create a bottleneck between hemp farmers and those who market and sell CBD products.
Goepfert said it’s a good time for his company to become a middleman in a blossoming industry.
He believes CBD oil production could give Simply Solutions a revenue stream to fuel product development in the company’s other divisions. CBD production has proven to be among Simply Solutions’ biggest home runs with some potential investors, he said.
“I’m not a hemp disciple,” Goepfert said. “But when you walk into fields where local farmers are now growing hemp, it’s really hard not to realize the excitement and the promise of this plant.”
In a small laboratory at Simply Solution’s headquarters at the Janesville Innovation Center, employees used a stone grinder to pulverize nuggets of hemp as Knilans looked on in a lab coat and hairnet.
The dark green hemp looked similar to its mind-altering cannabis cousin, marijuana. Like pot, it smelled pungent, green and piney. But otherwise, Knilans said, the hemp strains Simply Solutions is supplied are tested by government regulators to be free of all but trace amounts of intoxicating THC.
Workers moved the ground hemp into containers to steep in ethanol and draw out the oils.
Under a proprietary process using no chemicals and very little heat (Goepfert calls the method “just physics and energy”), a small machine extracted CBD from the mixture, creating a base for a tincture. Workers later would filter out the ethanol and other plant chemicals, such as chlorophyll, which colors plants green.
Simply Solutions claims their extraction process is a cleaner and more efficient way to extract more CBD from hemp. Goepfert, Schweiger and Knilans said third-party testing has shown the company’s methods extract nearly 100% of CBD from hemp it processes.
Methods other producers use extract only 60% to 70% of the CBD, they said.
That’s important, considering that some strains of hemp grown for CBD can net $2,500 to $75,000 an acre, according to New Frontier Data, a cannabis industry analyst.
“A good way to look at it is that other producers have been leaving 30 or 40% of gold in the ground. We know through testing that we’re mining out all the gold possible,” Knilans said.
Knilans said his company’s CBD project started at the behest of a grower who asked if Simply Solutions subsidiary Premium Tinctures could extract hemp oil. The company and its subsidiaries are now working out supply deals with local and out-of-state farmers, including one grower who cultivates and grows 6,000 acres of hemp.
“It’s just wild,” Knilans said.
Gale Price, the city of Janesville’s economic development director, said as far as he knows, Simply Solutions is the first in Janesville—if not the entire region—to float plans for a commercial CBD processing facility.
Price said he believes that despite regulatory uncertainty, Janesville or Rock County might eventually see more than one CBD producer take root.
He said some startups might not find it easy to get into the hemp processing business, particularly if federal or state laws on hemp shift. It’s probably more feasible for a company such as Simply Solutions, which has established other product lines and revenue streams, to pivot into CBD, Price said.
Goepfert said CBD startups face challenges in landing traditional business loans, in part because federal loan regulators still have hemp on the books as being akin to marijuana farming, even though pot and hemp have dramatically different chemical compositions.
Even in states where growing, selling and consuming pot is legal, the marijuana industry still is perceived by lending regulators as an activity that can be tied to money laundering. By proxy, that can make banks skittish toward hemp, Goepfert said.
In Wisconsin, a hemp-farming pilot program is just a year old. Some growers are still learning, and there isn’t yet a regulatory framework to ensure purity of CBD sold by end retailers, said Jeff Van Dam, a Milwaukee-area insurance agent.
Van Dam said he has begun offering insurance policies to CBD retailers and hemp farmers, but most of the deals are brokered through subsidiary insurance companies that Van Dam said are involved in higher-risk, “Lloyd’s of London-type situations.”
It hasn’t helped hemp’s case that some Wisconsin media outlets have found through independent testing that some retail products advertised to contain CBD actually have none, Van Dam said.
“That really bothers the people out there who want to do things legitimately. It’s a black eye. In that way, it still is sort of a ‘wild West’ type of thing,” he said.
Knilans and Schweiger said they’re aware they’re stepping into a new frontier. They hope to do so under the umbrella of science and processes their company has worked hard to develop.
“People who come in here to visit are surprised to see us in lab coats. In other parts of the state, CBD is an industry that can tend to be run by guys walking around in sandals and board shorts,” Knilans said. “We’re pretty excited to be a company that could change that.”
For almost 30 years, Charles Williams served as an officer with the 32nd Division Red Arrow Club of Southern Wisconsin.
The Edgerton man was so proud to wear the iconic Red Arrow patch during his National Guard service with Company G, 128 Infantry, 32nd Division.
Then he was eager to carry on friendships formed during his service.
He joined the homegrown Red Arrow club and became its secretary/treasurer and newsletter editor.
For decades, anyone who wore the Red Arrow patch honorably was welcome to be part of the group, whose creed was to foster the spirit of comradeship that made the 32nd Division so enduring.
But times change, and soldiers age.
“We’re in our 70s and 80s,” said Gary Mawhinney of Janesville, another longtime club member. “Time moves on, and it’s time to say goodbye.”
On Saturday, July 13,, the club will retire its flag with the historic red arrow at Janesville VFW Post 1621.
Ceremonies for Red Arrow club members will honor the official end of the 95-year-old group named after the insignia of the 32nd Division.
Williams said the group will continue to do memorial wreaths at the funerals of Red Arrow members.
After the club disbands, members have the option of joining the 32nd Division Red Arrow Veteran Association or The Red Arrow Old Timers Club of Fort McCoy, if they are not already members.
The regional Red Arrow club began in Janesville in 1924 for World War I veterans who served with the 32nd Division.
The Army created the division with Wisconsin and Michigan National Guard troops in 1917.
The fierce fighting group earned its trademark Red Arrow shoulder patch—a red arrow through a horizontal line—after piercing every enemy line it faced in World War I.
The group was so battle hardened that the French called the division “Les Terribles,” meaning “The Terrible Ones,” because of its indomitable spirit.
During the 1930s, the Janesville National Guard armory was home base for the 32nd Tank Company, a unit of Wisconsin’s 32nd Infantry Division.
Eventually, the division was reorganized and equipped with light tanks. In November 1940, the unit melded with three other Midwestern National Guard units and was redesignated Company A of the 192nd Tank Battalion.
When The U.S. entered World War II in December 1941, members of Company A became the first of more than 300,000 state residents to go into battle.
The company gallantly defended the Bataan Peninsula on Western Luzon in the Philippines for a harrowing four months. But after suffering from a severe shortage of supplies and air cover, it surrendered on April 9, 1942.
Under the searing jungle sun, Janesville prisoners of war took part in the infamous Bataan Death March.
At the end of World War II, the 32nd Division was involved in 654 days of combat, more than any other American division.
Almost two decades later, a Cold War conflict flared between the Soviet Union and the United States over the divided German city of Berlin.
Williams was part of a call-up and stationed in Nuremberg when the 32nd Division was activated in the 1961 Berlin Crisis.
In late 1967, the Department of Defense reorganized Wisconsin’s historic division into the smaller 32nd Separate Brigade, which inherited the proud military heritage of the division.
Mawhinney was in the Wisconsin National Guard from 1964 to 1984.
When he hit 60, he joined the Red Arrow club for “camaraderie and fun,” Mawhinney said.
But club membership kept dwindling.
In 1948, the group had more than 600 members, probably all World War I and World War II vets.
“I’m sure they had their beers and could talk to each other about their war experiences,” Mawhinney said.
Today, Williams estimates membership at around 115.
He has mixed feelings about the end of the Red Arrow club and so many years of business and social events.
“I will miss the camaraderie …” he said, “and all the friendships.”
Anna Marie Lux is a Sunday columnist for The Gazette. Call her with ideas or comments at 608-755-8264, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Richard Addison Murray
Richard “Dick” Rood
Walter James “Walt” Walker
Robert Henry Williams