(This article also appears in today’s Morning Star, as part of its International Women’s Day supplement):
“Solidarity with our sisters.” This was the message that I chose to write on my postcard to the Home Office this International Women’s Day as part of Women for Refugee Women’s 99 Women solidarity action campaign.
Each woman, each postcard, represents one of the 99 pregnant women who were detained in Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre in 2014. Onlt nine were deported. For the rest, who were released back into the community, their detention served no purpose, yet no doubt had a lasting impact on their mental health.
Women from across different professions — MPs, campaigners, actors, singers, lawyers and academics — are all standing together in support for women refugees. There are two overriding messages to the campaign: Refugees Welcome and Set Her Free. These are inseparable messages of support, which demand that the British government takes more action to support and welcome refugees, and end the incarceration of asylum-seekers.
Last year I went to Yarl’s Wood to speak to women inside. One of the women I met was pregnant. Her story devastated me. She’d left India for Britain with the promise of a better life and a university education. She’d put her trust in the hands of people who turned out to be traffickers, and was consequently exploited. They took her passport. She was depressed and on medication, visibly thin and had not been eating. She had no contact with her family, no idea even of how old she was (although she didn’t look older than 21). And she had no idea when, if at all, she would be released from Yarl’s Wood. This was all no doubt exacerbated by the fact that she was pregnant — something she assured me that Yarl’s Wood staff and the Home Office had known when they detained her. Britain is the only country in the EU not to impose a time limit on detention.
The Home Office states that pregnant women should only be detained in “exceptional circumstances.” Stephen Shaw stated that the practice should be ruled out altogether, as one of 64 recommendations in his damning review into the Welfare in Detention of Vulnerable Persons, published in January 2016. And yet the government remains unmoved. It remains unmoved not only with regard to this specific detention rule, but more generally refuses to adopt a more welcoming stance towards asylum seekers.
The aggressive bulldozing of the Calais Jungle and fears that this will add to the already large number of missing children in Europe did not prompt more action, but simply the stance that this is a French responsibility.
At a time when we should be accepting, the government is instead deporting them. Just last week, on March 3, Theresa May won a significant legal battle to resume the deportation of failed asylum-seekers to Afghanistan, including those who arrived here as children. The life stories I heard in Yarl’s Wood were just a few of many stories of displacement, violence and fleeing specifically gendered violence in their home countries.
In a report by Women for Refugee Women entitled I Am Human, of the 34 women interviewed who disclosed their experiences of persecution, 19 women said they had been raped, 21 had experienced other sexual violence, 28 had experienced gender-related persecution under the headings they asked about: rape, sexual violence, forced marriage, forced prostitution, female genital mutilation.
Female asylum seekers, locked up, are not heard by the outside world and not believed by the system. Our immigration system should shame us all. We are locking up asylum-seekers and we are denying them a voice.
This last year has seen the biggest wave of mass migration since the second world war. It has seen thousands of refugees flee violence and instability, risking their lives to make the dangerous journey to Europe. It has seen them prepared to cross treacherous oceans on boats that traffickers deliberately over-fill, to escape the conditions they are living in. Thousands have died or gone missing on this journey. Europe is still not providing an adequate response to this crisis.
In a twisted irony, the people whose lives have been most devastated by terrorism are feared in Europe for bringing terrorism with them. This dangerous rhetoric and inaccurate perception must end.
This International Women’s Day, I ask everyone to stand in solidarity with female refugees, whatever the stage of their journey. Female refugees deserve to be heard, deserve to be respected and deserve to be celebrated.
As Women for Refugee Women state, “Our vision is a society in which women’s human rights are respected and in which they are safe from persecution.”
Both nationally and internationally, we have a way to go. Today, let’s celebrate the strength and the achievements of women across the world, but let’s not shy away from what more needs to be done, here and abroad, to work towards gender parity.
This is one of the biggest challenges of our generation. Join the campaign today — pledge your support by uploading your own picture and message of support with the hashtags #RefugeesWelcome #SetHerFree #IWD2016
Yvette Cooper, the former shadow Foreign Secretary, later raised a point of order to call on Mr Cameron to withdraw his comment.
AUSTRIAN NATIONAL LIBRARY : a bunch of migrants
Ms Cooper requested that the House of Commons demand the comments be withdrawn but the Speaker, John Bercow, declined and said it was up to Mr Cameron to comment if he chose to.
On Twitter, shadow Home Secretary Andy Burnham said the moment showed the Conservative leader’s “mask slipping”.
“He just dismissed desperate people fleeing conflict as a “bunch of migrants” – on Holocaust Memorial Day,” he added.
From that well-known leftie publication, The Daily Telegraph … and I can’t improve on it:
It’s hard to know where to start with Theresa May’s awful, ugly, misleading, cynical and irresponsible speech to the Conservative Party conference today.
If you haven’t seen reports of it, allow me to summarise: “Immigrants are stealing your job, making you poorer and ruining your country. Never mind the facts, just feel angry at foreigners. And make me Conservative leader.”
And we know that for people in low-paid jobs, wages are forced down even further while some people are forced out of work altogether.
Really? We know that, do we?
Because last year, Mrs May’s own officials carried out a pretty serious review of the evidence.
This is what they found:
There is relatively little evidence that migration has caused statistically significant displacement of UK natives from the labour market in periods when the economy is strong.
And as ministers rightly tell us, the economy is indeed strong right now. In other words, the government’s own assessment is that immigrants are not forcing people out of jobs as Mrs May says.
Read the full article here
While the UK gutter press sinks to new lows of vicious nationalism and racism (giving us a taste of what to expect in the EU referendum) …
…serious and decent people like the author of Obsolete (a blog that I’d wrongly assumed was EU -sceptic) recognise that the only hope of a fair, rational and reasonably humane response has to be Europe-wide – in other words depends upon the EU operating as a trans-national, federal body:
“The only way to deal with the numbers coming fairly is to distribute them evenly between EU member states on the basis of a country’s wealth, size and number of those already settled of the same heritage, to identify just three possible factors to be taken into consideration. This approach would have some major problems: the resettling would have to be done almost immediately after the application is made, to ensure a family or person isn’t then wrenched away from somewhere they’ve come to call home a second time. It would almost certainly have to happen before an application is either approved or rejected, with all the difficulties that entails for cross-border information sharing and language barriers. It would also mean countries that have previously experienced mainly emigration rather than immigration needing to accept some newcomers. As has been shown by both the deal forced on the Greeks and the abortive attempt to do something similar to this earlier in the year, such solidarity is already in extremely short supply.
“None of these problems ought to be insurmountable. It’s no more fair for Italy and Greece to be the front line in both rescuing and providing for migrants in the immediate aftermath of their reaching Europe than it is for Sweden and Germany to bear by far the most asylum applications (if not in Germany’s case by head of population). The main reason Britain would oppose any such change to the regulations is that despite the Calais situation, we would almost certainly end up taking in more asylum seekers than we do now. For all the wailing, Cobra meetings, cost to the economy of Operation Stack and the closure of the tunnel, it’s seen as preferable to any further increase in the immigration figures … “
Snowden: no Daniel Ellsberg
Opinion differs, even on the left (and I use the term in its broadest sense), as to the significance of Edward Snowden’s revelations. Francis Sedgemore reckons it’s a pretty big deal whereas Workers Liberty seems somewhat more sanguine.
But what most of us could agree on, at least until now, was that Snowden seemed to be a well-intentioned and quite brave individual, entirely worthy of our support.
But his decision to flee rather than face the consequences of his actions, has inevitably diminished his credibility. And worse, his apparent willingness to seek refuge in some of the most repressive states in the world, can only make things worse. The hand of the tyrant-lover and arch-hypocrite Assange is obviously behind this, manipulating a second vulnerable, idealistic young man (poor Bradley Manning being the first).
Daniel Ellsberg, the leaker of the Pentagon papers, has been unstinting in his support for Snowden, but the truth is that there’s a fundamental difference between the two: Ellsberg faced up to the consequences of his actions and stood before his accusers. Come to that, so has Bradley Manning. Snowden has slunk away (and yes, I know it’s easy for me to sound off from the safety of my comfy little home, but the point stands nonetheless).
“It’s a tragedy that Snowden’s made this mistake because what he had to reveal about the US security state was very troubling. But while the message remains important, the messenger has been exposed as unworthy of it. Snowden’s totalitarian tour is an embarrassment to his cause.”
From Abdul M via Avaaz.com
Dear friends across the UK,
The Taliban called me, saying I’m “an infidel spy”, they know where I live and will “punish” me. My crime? To work as a translator for British troops and journalists here in Afghanistan. But together we can get Britain to save me and a few hundred others who have risked everything!
Right now, Foreign Secretary William Hague is wondering whether to give me and other Afghan translators asylum, as the UK did for Iraqi translators — and we’re worried he’ll say no. We’ve worked with the British to help set our country free, and we’ve saved many British lives. But now my family and many others have had to go into hiding: every day we stay here it gets more dangerous.
Hague could decide whether to save or snub us any day now. If enough people call on him, he may grant us asylum. In days it’s the 10 year anniversary of the war in Iraq, and former British servicemen are ready to go to the media then to grab Hague’s attention on this. Let’s demand he does the right thing — sign and share our petition with everyone:
There are roughly 600 translators doing this dangerous work in Afghanistan – not just helping the army, but also helping journalists and aid workers. Many of us have already been killed or injured just for doing our jobs – a few years ago my brother was blown up on a patrol, and was left with horrific scars and 163 stitches. Many more of us have received death threats from the Taliban — and we all desperately fear what will happen when British troops leave soon.
When I went to the British authorities in Afghanistan about the death threats, they told me to go to my local police — the same police force that has a fearsome reputation for corruption, kidnapping and worse! Now, the UK government has said it is reviewing its policy and will assess asylum applications on a case by case basis, but this is a lengthy and difficult process with no guarantee of success – and in that time, I could be dead.
Our situation is desperate. I am the sole provider for my family — my parents are old and I have three young children. They have no way of supporting themselves if something were to happen to me. We’ve already had to go into hiding, and it’s harder and harder for us each day.
Our fate lies in the British government’s hands. Please join our call to William Hague now to free us from the terror that plagues us every day:
For years, my colleagues and I have stood shoulder to shoulder with British soldiers, journalists and aid workers. We’ve risked everything for them, and for our country’s freedom. Please don’t abandon us now, in our hour of need.
In peace and hope,
Is the UK abandoning its Afghan interpreters?
Afghans who served Britain ‘should be allowed to settle like Iraqi interpreters’
Wikileaks founder Julian Assange is seeking political asylum at Ecuador’s London embassy, the country’s foreign minister has said.
“Ecuador is studying and analysing the request,” Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino told reporters in Quito.
Last week the UK’s Supreme Court dismissed Assange’s bid to reopen an appeal against extradition to Sweden over alleged sex crimes he denies.
The Foreign Office says it will work with Ecuador to resolve the situation.
On 14 July the Supreme Court gave him until 28 June before extradition proceedings can start.
He says the allegations are politically-motivated.
Swedish prosecutors want to question him over allegations of rape and sexual assault made by two female former Wikileaks volunteers in mid-2010.
Mr Assange, whose Wikileaks website has published a mass of leaked diplomatic cables that embarrassed several governments and international businesses, claims the sex was consensual.
In a statement, Ecuador’s embassy said he had arrived there on Tuesday afternoon to seek asylum.
“As a signatory to the United Nations Universal Declaration for Human Rights, with an obligation to review all applications for asylum, we have immediately passed his application on to the relevant department in Quito,” it said.
“While the department assesses Mr Assange’s application, Mr Assange will remain at the embassy, under the protection of the Ecuadorean government.”
It said the decision to consider the bid for asylum “should in no way be interpreted as the government of Ecuador interfering in the judicial processes of either the United Kingdom or Sweden.”
NB: Assange’s Afghan victims never had the opportunity to seek asylum:
David Leigh of England’s Guardian newspaper has leveled a shocking accusation against Mr. Assange…
He recalls a meeting he was invited to about the publication of the war memos. He remembers pleading with Assange to redact the names of tribal elders and U.S. informants who were exposed cooperating with the U.S. and could be the subject of deadly retribution. He comments, “Julian was very reluctant to delete those names, to redact them. And we said: ‘Julian, we’ve got to do something about these redactions. We really have got to.'”
“And he said: ‘These people were collaborators, informants. They deserve to die.’ And a silence fell around the table.”
Mr. Assange seemingly denied the allegation calling it “absolutely false… completely false.”
But he qualifies, “We don’t want innocent people with a decent chance of being hurt to be hurt”- from: Daily Tech
I’ve decided to keep my powder dry on the issue of Fabrice Muamba for a couple of days as I was genuinely worried that if I started writing anything by the time I finished it could end up having to be his obituary. Such was the seriousness of his condition following his collapse at White Hart Lane during the FA Cup tie on Saturday. Indeed he remains in intensive care at the time of writing, despite small and encouraging signs of improvement.
The response of the staff at WHL was exemplary and if Fabrice’s condition does improve then they have to take a great deal of the credit.
The reaction of all of us who follow the game has been one of profound shock because it is such a terrifying tale. This all-action, quick and immensely athletic midfielder seemed to be literally at his physical peak and has not yet even turned 24. To be there in the stadium, watching him struck down mid-game, must have been horrifying for those present. The looks in the eyes of players and supporters in the photos told their own story. I was only semi-attentively keeping tabs on the game on the Guardian’s text-based minute-by-minute but even I felt a lump in my throat after news spread of what was happening.
People up and down the country, whether fans, players or celebrities, have been deeply upset by what has happened, largely because Fabrice is such a popular and genuinely nice guy. And he is that most rare of professional athletes, someone with a hinterland beyond his sport.
Fabrice is the son of a political refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo. His father and later his family fled here and sought political asylum as they were in genuine fear of their lives if they had stayed. One can imagine the right-wing press having a field day with such a tale of an ‘immigrant scrounger’…….if Fabrice hadn’t turned out to be a millionaire footballer. Instead he is a hero and a man that the tabloids will now dare not criticise in even the mildest of terms. At every turn he has rejected call-ups from the DRC national team as he considers himself British, and has instead represented England and u-16, u-17, u18, u-19 and u-21 levels.
His case is a timely reminder of the stupidity of the right-wing press and their racist, vitriolic campaigns against ‘foreigners’ that are designed to divide us amongst ourselves. Here we have an ‘asylum seeker’ who has worked damned hard, contributed a huge amount to his new home and conducted himself like an utter gentleman throughout. Like most people who come to Britain seeking a new life in fact. The only difference is that he is famous and has the good fortune to be blessed with a talent that can earn him a massive wage. One would hope that Muamba’s case will make the likes of the Express and the Daily Star reflect on the poison they spread daily. I won’t hold my breath though.
Fabrice first came to my attention nearly 6 years ago when he signed for Birmingham City on loan for the season from Arsenal, along with Nicklas Bendtner and Sebastian Larsson. Although not the most prodigiously talented of players (he has a habit of occasionally giving the ball away and the label of ‘the new Vieira’ was only ever liable to be a millstone around his neck), his workrate, tenacity, honesty and total commitment to the cause made him a fan favourite in Blues’ successful promotion season of 2006-07, and along with Larsson was signed permanently as Blues tried to stay in the Premier League the following season.
I vividly recall reading an interview with him during his stay at Blues where he explained how he devoted much of his week, when he wasn’t training, to studying, and how he intended to gain a master’s Degree. Fabrice met his future wife, Shauna, in Birmingham while she was studying for her master’s. He was something of a child prodigy at school, which is even more impressive when you consider that he arrived in England aged 11 not being able to speak a word of English. Not your average athlete then.
As per usual it was not to be for Birmingham and we were relegated from the Premier League after one season in 2008. Muamba though had done enough to impress Premier League clubs and he was snapped up by Gary Megson’s Bolton Wanderers, where he has been ever since (unlike the hapless Megson). He left with all of the Birmingham fans best wishes. He had given everything to the cause in the previous two years, had conducted himself with complete professionalism throughout and he deserved the chance to keep playing at the highest level.
He has proved to be equally popular at Bolton, winning their player of the year award in 2010 and making 130 first team appearances so far. The reaction of his teammates and fellow professionals (many of whom will have been on the end of his robust challenges over the years) following what happened tells its own story. He is dearly loved and I have trawled through the web trying to find one bad word against him. Aside from a handful of cretins on Twitter in the last couple of days, I have found nothing. He is genuinely one of the nice guys and throughout his career everyone has spoken of him in the highest possible terms. His humility, devotion to his family and consideration for others has always shone through and it was regularly commented on well before the awful events of last Saturday.
Here’s hoping he makes it 131 appearances one day. I’m sure I speak for everyone who reads this when I say that our thoughts are with him and his family.
So apparently there *is* such a thing as a good asylum seeker. Shame not everyone can be a Premiership footballer, I suppose. (And get well soon, Fabrice).
Bob Sutton reports:
At lunchtime on Friday 29 July Women Asylum Seekers Together, a group based in Manchester, marched through Liverpool’s city centre
demonstrating against the treatment of migrants by the UK Borders Agency. There
were at least 60 people, mostly but not solely women, many with children. Their
leaflet agitated against both the ways in which all migrants are oppressed by
immigration controls – denial of the right to work, detention etc. as well as
the ‘double’ oppressions they face as women such as sexual humiliation and
denial of healthcare.
Even though the police seemed to be doing everything
in their power to take us down back alleys, preventing all but four people
getting anywhere near Reliance House – Liverpool’s reporting centre, the
demo was spirited and lively – comrades from Zimbabwe were leading the singing
and a load of leaflets got given out to people on the pavements.
A small group (8-10) with a couple of flags calling
themselves ‘Huyton EDL’ popped up at several points to sneer. They were all
young and most were probably not much older than 14, but the police showed no
intention of preventing them get as close as they liked to the march, and
apparently after we had left there was some pretty vicious verbal abuse directed
at some of the women. When I’d asked them what they thought they were doing
one of the older ones started gabbling about the ‘asylum system not being strict
enough’ – at which point an officer intervened as I had apparently been
intimidating the EDLer!
However overall there were far more people visibly
showing support for the demo, and most people on it ignored the EDL. I imagine
if you’ve escaped political persecution in Sri Lanka or Cameroon, then faced
Britain’s Immigration system, and still had the courage to take part in a
political deminstration, surrounded by police, in the knowledge that doing so
might have massive implications for your case and circumstances, the fairly
pitiful and confused bunch of misled kids that the far right was, on this
occasion, able to mobilise is probably put into perspective.
There was one Unite banner that I saw as well as the Merseyside
Women Against the Cuts International Womens’ Day one…
I’ve got a couple of photos on my phone of the demo
and of a couple of placards saying things like ‘Zimbabwe is no place to be an
NB: it’s a pity we at Shiraz didn’t know about this event in advance; we’ll do our best to publicise future activities by WAST.