Posts Tagged Jo Cox

Refugee Week 2017 – reflections

We’re living in strange times.  Last year’s Refugee Week took place in the aftermath of Jo Cox’s murder, and midway through, we found out the outcome of the EU referendum, which for so many of us, perhaps falsely reassured by the predominance of Remain sympathies in our social media bubbles, was profoundly shocking, as well as filling us with dismay and fear about the future.  Our world was further shaken in November by the outcome of the US election – again, we were unprepared for a Trump victory, and fearful of the impact it would have – we still are, although straightforward incompetence and inefficiency seem to have mitigated some of the potential harm so far.

This week Refugee Week takes place in the aftermath of terrorist attacks which have claimed innocent lives in Manchester, on Westminster and London bridges, in Borough Market and Finsbury Park.  And then there’s Grenfell Tower, a human tragedy of unbearable proportions.  That’s not even to mention a General Election and the start of the Brexit talks.

This time last year I wrote these words, which are still pertinent:

I said a week ago when I started my annual Refugee Week blogathon that it felt different this year.  As Refugee Week draws to a close it feels unimaginably different again.  We are in, as so many people said during the long hours as the result of the referendum emerged, uncharted territory.  We are in uncertain times.

For refugees and asylum seekers there is no charted territory, there are no certain times.  But as anecdotal evidence mounts of racism and xenophobia seemingly legitimised and emboldened by the vote to leave the EU, as we wait for those who would lead us into this brave new world to give us a clue as to what it will be like, I know I am not alone in being afraid. …   But many of us do share the belief that how we treat people who seek sanctuary from war, persecution and starvation is a measure of what kind of country we are, what kind of people we are.  And many of us do believe that generosity, empathy, compassion are qualities that represent the best that we can be, individually and collectively.

So as this Refugee Week ends we will be continuing to say that refugees are welcome, saying it louder if we need to, if the voices against us are more numerous or more vociferous.

I’ve returned this year to some of the themes I regularly write about.  I’ve revisited the work of Cara with at-risk academics, for example, prompted by my own University’s engagement with their current campaigns and its funding of scholarships and fellowships for refugee academics and students.  I’ve talked again about child refugees – remembering the Kindertransport in light of this government’s shameful reneging on the Dubs amendment.

I’ve tried to celebrate the work of so many superb organisations, large and small, who are working to support refugees around the world and here in the UK, addressing the politics and the practicalities, making a huge difference against the odds.

Each year I approach this entirely self-imposed task – to post every day during Refugee Week about some aspect of the crisis faced by so many millions of people forced to flee their homes – with a certain amount of trepidation.  Who do I think I am, really, to speak about these things?  I’m no expert, I’m merely a keyboard activist, I have no direct personal experience of the things I write about.  And who am I writing for?  Preaching to the choir, surely, given that my readers, my social media contacts, by and large are people who share my world view.

But as much as I berate myself for hubris in taking the task on, I cannot relinquish it.  I write, that’s what I do.  I use this blog to talk to whoever might be listening – and if I change no one’s mind, perhaps the information and ideas and links that I gather for each piece will be useful to someone else, somewhere along that chain of communication that we build as we share and retweet – about the things I care about and the things that trouble and grieve me.  And this issue is something I care about, passionately.

Perhaps it is personal, after all.  My first Refugee Week blogathon recalled events which, even though I cannot claim to have directly witnessed them, or even to truly remember them, still shaped me:

Nigeria, 1966

During the series of coups and counter coups leading up to the secession of Biafra and the Nigerian Civil War, thousands of Igbo people were killed in the northern territories of Nigeria.  Many more fled to escape the massacres.   Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie‘s Half of a Yellow Sun gives a harrowing account both of the pogroms and of that flight, from a number of perspectives – the Igbo heroine, in Kano as violence explodes, who escapes on a train along with many others, traumatised, lost and bereaved; the Englishman who finds himself at Kano airport as Igbo staff and travellers are identified and killed; the people meeting the trains as they arrived, searching for their own friends and family afraid to find them and not to find them.

As I read her account, I found myself shaking and weeping.  I lived in the north of Nigeria at this time.  I was a young child, 9 years old, and my parents shielded me and my younger siblings from as much as they could.  But I knew that people were being killed because of their ethnicity.  I saw the mob which approached our home looking for Igbos, knew that my father and a friend had gone out to speak to them, to try to calm them and deter them but without success.    I knew of westerners arriving at Kano airport, to witness scenes of horror, some of whom got back on the plane as Richard does in the novel.  I learned later of the people who my parents found hiding in the unoccupied house across the road from us, who my father took in the back of our car, covered with blankets, to the army compound where others had taken refuge, and of the train organised by another expatriate to take them all to safety but which was ambushed, its passengers dragged out and killed.

 

As a teenager I pieced these stories together, from the recollections that my parents were finally willing to share without holding back, and the fragmentary memories that I did have suddenly made sense.  And I’ve been piecing it together ever since, as I see the people who fled from the town I lived in over and over again, in the faces of those seeking refuge from war and persecution today, as I see them in the faces of those who fled war and persecution generations ago.

And once you do that, you become aware of the connections, of the way in which everything that is happening around the world is interlinked.

As Daesh suffer military defeats and the loss of their territory, they increase their terrorist attacks in the west but far more often in the Middle East and Africa, killing ‘Crusaders’ but far more often Muslims who happen to be the wrong sort of Muslim.  And as one of the major forces creating refugees, they are also used as a reason to mistrust those very refugees.  Because, so they say, they could have pretended to be refugees, paid a fortune to traffickers, risked drowning in the Med, lived on minimal rations in a refugee camp, simply in order to launch attacks in European cities…  The uncomfortable truth, that attacks in European cities have been carried out by long-term residents of those cities, isn’t allowed to disturb the anti-refugee narrative, and the call in the wake of every attack for borders to be closed, etc.

The first officially confirmed casualty of the Grenfell Tower disaster was Mohammad Alhajali, a refugee from Syria, who had survived civil war and the perilous journey to the UK, only to die in his own home as a result of an accidental fire and the criminal neglect of fire safety in social housing.

_96508608_9440b75c-6bd9-4667-ba94-3f140264954d

And we learned that one reason for the difficulty and delays in identifying the dead, or even coming up with a reliable total of those who perished, was that there may well have been people living in Grenfell Tower who were ‘off the radar’, worried about their immigration status, unable to afford their own accommodation and so unofficially staying with friends or family but not on any list of tenants.  People like asylum seekers (those waiting for a decision, and those who have been refused), and those newly granted refugee status who have not yet got the paperwork together to get a place of their own.  Grenfell Tower sheds a harsh light on so many aspects of our society – the calls for a ‘bonfire of red tape’, the mockery of ‘health & safety gone mad’, the contempt of the wealthy and privileged for those on the margins – the culture of ‘us and them’.

I think of this, from a rather wonderful Twitter account:

5 Oct 2016

“Citizen of nowhere. You must pick an ‘us’ to be.”
“I did.”
“All humanity? Nonsense. That leaves no ‘them’.”

There is no us and them. It’s us and us. It’s all us.

them and us

That really is the heart of it all.  We can refuse the ‘us and them’, we can assert that it’s all us.  It’s the only way to be human, really.
jo cox plaque

Refugee_week_2017_A2_poster_08-1

 

, , , , , , , , ,

Leave a comment

2016 – what the actual??

It’s been a funny old year.  Not so much of the ha ha, either.  Is there anything to be said that hasn’t already been said, better probably?  I doubt it, but I can’t write about the books, films and other cultural pleasures of the year without acknowledging the seismic changes and alarming portents that it has presented.

Reasons to be Miserable:

Daesh initiated or inspired terrorist attacks clocked up more deaths and more terrible injuries than the mind can encompass.  As always, most of these were Muslims, in Muslim countries, although our news media inevitably foregrounds the attacks in France, Belgium and the USA.  As appalling as those murders were, on my very rough calculations, Iraq was the worst hit, with over 450 deaths, followed by Pakistan.  I tweeted the names of the dead from Brussels, Nice and Orlando, but will never know the names of most of those murdered in Kabul, Istanbul, Jakarta, Baghdad, Ouagadougou, Quetta, Grand Bassam or Aden.

According to the UNHCR, the number of migrants dying whilst crossing the Mediterranean reached 3800, a record. Fewer are making that journey, but they are making it via the more perilous routes and in flimsier boats. Worldwide, over 65 million people are forcibly displaced, over 21 million are refugees, and 10 million stateless.    The vast majority of those displaced are hosted in neighbouring countries in Africa or the Middle East. Six per cent are in Europe.   Over half of the world’s refugees came from just three countries – Afghanistan, Syria and Somalia.

With regard to Syria, anything I say here may be outdated before I press Publish, but there can be no doubt that we are seeing one of the greatest tragedies of our times unfold, and that war crimes are happening there which will be remembered with shame and horror.

 

I’ve been told to shut up about Brexit, that the people have spoken and they’ve said we must leave Europe and that’s that.  As if democracy means that once the votes are counted, those whose views did not prevail must be silent or be regarded as traitors, as if, had the vote gone the way everyone (including Farage and Johnson) expected it to, they would have shut up and let ‘the will of the people’ prevail.  Firstly, whilst a majority of those who voted said we should leave Europe, that is all they said.  They were not asked and so they did not vote on whether we should leave the single market, what should happen about immigration controls, what trade agreements should be in place outside the EU, what would happen to EU citizens based in the UK or vice versa, what would happen to those employment and wider human rights and other legal provisions currently under the EU umbrella.  And so on.  All of that has now to be negotiated and worked out, and that’s a job for Parliament.  How else could it possibly happen?  If anyone thinks they understand how the EU works and thus what are the implications of hard or soft Brexit, they need to read Ian Dunt’s book – Brexit- What the Hell Happens Now? Dunt isn’t talking about the arguments pro or con Brexit, but about what could happen now, what the options are, what the most likely consequences of each option are, and so on.

The US election outcome was described to me by an American colleague recently as ‘somewhere between a mess and a catastrophe’.   I am (for once) holding back from comment – I know how deeply this is felt by US friends, some of whom are now seeing fault lines in their families and friendships as some support what others find inexplicable and irrational.  We’ve seen a bit of that here since June. A left-wing Brexiter said to me recently that his view was that the EU was so compromised and corrupted that we had to break it in order to fix it.  My fear is that some things that get broken simply can’t be mended.  Something of the same feeling seems to have prevailed in the US – and that’s one of the reasons why the arguments against Trump failed to stop him winning.

trump-obama

This is the year when I’ve felt closest to despair, for all the above reasons, and because the Labour Party, which I’d thought was my natural home politically, has been so ineffectual in opposition.  I took the hard decision to resign my membership – I doubt that I will join another party, perhaps I have to accept that there is not, and never will be, a political party to which I could sign up without caveats and qualms.  In that case I have to be led by my principles and values and be willing to back, vote for, work with those politicians and activists who seem closest to them, whether they be Labour, Green, Lib Dem, Women’s Equality or any combination of the above.

 

13501689_200243640376474_2899634929177730254_n

On the other hand…

The Hillsborough inquests returned their verdict, and concluded that planning errors, failures of senior managers, commanding officers and club officials, and the design of the stadium, all contributed to the disaster.  The behaviour of fans did not.  Thus the tireless, dignified campaign fought by the families, survivors and their supporters, was finally vindicated, fully and unequivocally.  Read Phil Scraton’s Hillsborough – The Truth, updated in light of the inquest verdict, and Adrian Tempany’s account of that day and what followed, and his excellent book exploring the broader picture in contemporary football, And the Sun Shines Now.

Too early to say whether Standing Rock will turn out to be a victory for the Native American and other environmental protestors – but it was truly remarkable to see the army veterans who had joined them on the site asking for and receiving forgiveness for the long history of oppression and genocide against the indigenous peoples.

Too early to say, too, whether Gambia has taken a historic step towards democracy, or wheher the defeated dictator will be successful in his attempts to overthrown the result of the election.  (Meantime in Ghana another peaceful general election brings about a change of government ).

Too early to say whether hard right parties in Europe will prevail, or whether the tide will turn against them before people go to the ballot, but at least the Austrian electorate rejected the Freedom Party’s presidential candidate in favour of a former leader of the Greens.

 

If 2016 leads us to expect the worst (after two nights spent sitting up waiting for election results which delivered the outcome we feared most, against the predictions of the pundits), then we have to remember that this does not mean that the die is irrevocably cast.

So, reasons to be anxious, reasons to be angry, reasons to be sad – but not reasons to lose all hope.

I’ve tried, throughout this hard year, to hold on to my own brand of faith. It’s not been easy, and it won’t be easy.

In all of this, though, I have found joy in family and friends, in working for Inspiration for Life and in our extraordinary 24 Hour Inspire, in books and film and music and theatre and opera and TV, in my PhD research, in walking in the lovely countryside on our doorstep.  I’m bloody lucky, and I do know it.

If I’m going to sum up, somehow, what I want to say about 2016, I think I will leave it to Patti Smith, singing Bob Dylan’s A Hard Rain, at the Nobel Prize ceremony.  She stumbled, apologised, and began again.  In her performance, and in Dylan’s song, there is humanity and hope.

 

View story at Medium.com

View story at Medium.com

View story at Medium.com

View story at Medium.com

, , , , , , , ,

Leave a comment

Safe Haven

RW-Twitter-Cover-photo-2

Magnus Wennman’s heartwrenching series of photos,  “Where The Children Sleep,” , shows what happens to the children fleeing the conflict in Syria.  He says that whilst the conflict and the crisis can be difficult for people to understand, “there is nothing hard to understand about how children need a safe place to sleep … They have lost some hope.  It takes very much for a child to stop being a child and to stop having fun, even in really bad places.”

where-children-sleep-syrian-refugee-crisis-photography-magnus-wennman-6

The recent debate about offering sanctuary to unaccompanied child refugees was constantly and powerfully connected to the story of the Kindertransport.  As the Nazi threat to the Jews of Europe became clear, a number of individuals, including Sir Nicholas Winton, negotiated and organised transport for children to places of safety.  Their parents sent them onwards, with small suitcases or rucksacks packed with care and love, with the things they thought they’d need and the things that would remind them of home.  Some parents managed to get away separately, and were subsequently reunited with their children.  Most were too late, and perished.

The children who arrived in the UK were welcomed by a variety of organisations, Jewish and Quaker amongst others, and provided with foster homes.  There was a brief window of opportunity – once war was declared, borders closed, and no more trains could leave Germany, Austria or Czechoslovakia.  Other trains would take many of the children left behind to other, terrible destinations.  Some children got no further than France or the Netherlands, and many of those were deported from the homes they’d found there after those countries were occupied.  Gerda-Sophie Klein was born in Vienna in 1935, and came to the Netherlands early in 1939.  She survived until 1944, when she was deported to Auschwitz and murdered, on her 9th birthday.

In the House of Commons, on 21 November 1938, Sir Samuel Hoare (then Home Secretary) told Members of Parliament:

I could not help thinking what a terrible dilemma it was to the Jewish parents in Germany to have to choose between sending their children to a foreign country, into the unknown, and continuing to live in the terrible conditions to which they are now reduced in Germany. I saw this morning one of the representatives of the Quaker organisations, who told me that he had only arrived in England this morning from a visit to Germany and a visit to Holland. He inquired of the Jewish organisations in Germany what would be the attitude of the Jewish parents to a proposal of this kind, and he told me that the Jewish parents were almost unanimously in favour of facing this parting with their children and taking the risks of their children going to a foreign country, rather than keeping them with them to face the unknown dangers with which they are faced in Germany.

No one claims an exact equivalence between the circumstances in Nazi Europe and those we face now.  But equally no one would doubt that in desperate circumstances children are the most vulnerable, least able to defend themselves, most open to abuse.

It is often asked, below the line, what kind of parents would abandon their children to such a fate.  Firstly, it is a huge assumption that these children have been abandoned.  Many will be orphaned.  Many will have become separated from their parents in the chaos of flight.  And some parents, faced with the desperate choice to save some but not all of the family will have chosen to send their children on to at least the chance of safety, as those parents did 80 years ago.

It’s also often claimed that the children are a sort of Trojan horse – if we allow our hearts to soften and give them sanctuary here, their parents and older siblings will then emerge from the shadows and demand to join them. Or that they are not in fact minors, just young-looking adults.   It takes a particularly determined brand of cynicism to look at these children in such need and see only threat and deceit.

Most of us will see instead both vulnerability and potential. If we take them in we can both protect them from the dangers they currently face, and allow them to fulfil the potential they have, to contribute to the country and the community that gives them sanctuary.

The children of the Kindertransport gave back, richly.  Four are Nobel prize laureates, others have built distinguished careers in all branches of the sciences and arts, in politics and business.

One of the Kinder, Dame Stephanie “Steve” Shirley, explicitly linked her philanthropic work to her history:  ‘I need to justify the fact that my life was saved.’

We can’t know who amongst the children currently stranded in war zones or in refugee camps might prove to be an outstanding scientist, writer, composer, or entrepreneur.  We can only know that whilst they live the half-life of the refugee camp, deprived of stability, education and adequate healthcare, they cannot be the people they have the potential to be.

The last words on this are those of the late Jo Cox. who would have been 42 years old today.

We all know that the vast majority of the terrified, friendless and profoundly vulnerable child refugees scattered across Europe tonight came from Syria.

We also know that as that conflict enters its sixth barbaric year that desperate Syrian families are being forced to make an impossible decision: stay and face starvation, rape, persecution and death or make a perilous journey to find sanctuary elsewhere.

And who can blame desperate parents for wanting to escape the horror that their families are experiencing. The reality in which children are being killed on their way to school, where children as young as seven are being forcibly recruited to the front line and where one in three Syrian children have grown up knowing nothing but fear and war.

These children have been exposed to things no child should ever witness and I know I personally would risk life and limb to get my two precious babies out of that hell-hole.

cropped-cropped-Poster-2

Migration Matters Festival – Wednesday 22 June

Howl Yuan – The Invisible Guest (6.00 pm and 7.00 pm): A drop-in, one on one performance followed by a full audience show, exploring how we are changed by our names, the places we live, the languages we use

Eclipse Theatre Company & Amaal Sharif – Rather: A Work in Progress (7.30 pm): One man’s journey to understanding humanity and the bonds that tie us together more than land, blood, language or creed

Rachel Munro-Fawcett – To Walk in Your Shoes: a documentary exploration of asylum, giving a voice to the voiceless

 

 

 

Kindertransport survivors urge Government to bring children to UK in time to start school in September

http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/commons/1938/nov/21/racial-religious-and-political-minorities#S5CV0341P0_19381121_HOC_448

http://www.scotsman.com/lifestyle/the-little-boy-who-escaped-from-hell-1-1259947#ixzz4CE9bnFYL

http://www.dokin.nl/deceased-children/gerda-sophie-klein-born-6-mar-1935

http://kindertransport.org/voices/schmeid_newHome.htm

New Calais census released – 700 children in Calais, 78% on their own

, , , ,

Leave a comment

Faith

I do have faith.  Not in any god or gods, but in people.  Sometimes that’s hard to sustain.  It gets bashed about a lot, and this last week it has been kicked in the teeth and the guts.

Sometimes hanging on to one’s faith is an act of will.  I refuse to despair of humanity.  I refuse to believe that hate will win.

That’s not based on some rose-tinted view of the world, some sanitised suitable for small children version of history.   I am currently reading the late David Cesarani’s book on the Final Solution.  I have read so many accounts of the Holocaust and of the Rwandan genocide.  I know what human beings can do to one another.

But I also know, from those same accounts that there are always people who stand up to be counted, people who risk their lives to protect others.  I know there are people for whom love and compassion are such powerful principles that they will act upon them even when the whole of their society seems to be in opposition.  Everywhere that there is hate, there is also love.

The poison that seeps out daily from the front pages of some of our tabloids, that oozes from the comments below the line on any newspaper article about refugees/migrants, has its effects.  If people only ever hear that message, why would they not begin to believe it?  Who hasn’t been told, by a stranger or a family member, that we aren’t allowed to celebrate Christmas any more? (I was told that on Christmas Day, in a room filled with the usual festive debris, after a splendid traditional Christmas dinner, so there you go).  Or that Sharia law is now in force here, or that ‘they’ can jump the queue for housing, benefits, etc.  In the face of all the evidence, these lies take hold, as lies so easily do when they tap into deep insecurities and fears.  Insecurities and fears that are nurtured and fed every day.

In the face of the lies we have to keep speaking and showing truth.  In the face of hate we have to keep speaking and showing love.  In the face of the horrors that seem to happen daily – in Paris, in Kuda, in Orlando, in Birstall – we have to keep speaking and showing faith.

Keep on keeping on.

Sometimes – Sheenagh Pugh

Sometimes things don’t go, after all,
from bad to worse.  Some years, muscadel
faces down frost; green thrives; the crops don’t fail,
sometimes a man aims high, and all goes well.

A people sometimes will step back from war;
elect an honest man, decide they care
enough, that they can’t leave some stranger poor.
Some men become what they were born for.

Sometimes our best efforts do not go
amiss, sometimes we do as we meant to.
The sun will sometimes melt a field of sorrow
that seemed hard frozen:  may it happen for you.

Hang on to your hat. Hang on to your hope. And wind the clock, for tomorrow is another day (E B White)

 

Theirs is a land with a wall around it
And mine is a faith in my fellow man…

Sweet moderation, heart of this nation
Desert us not, we are between the wars

(Billy Bragg, Between the Wars)

We are building up a new world.
Do not sit idly by.
Do not remain neutral.
Do not rely on this broadcast alone.
We are only as strong as our signal.
There is a war going on for your mind.
If you are thinking, you are winning.
(Flobots – We are Winning)
The simplest and most important thing of all: the world is difficult, and we are all breakable.  So just be kind.
Caitlin Moran – How to Build a Girl
If there’s no great glorious end to all this, if … nothing we do matters … then all that matters is what we do. ‘Cause that’s all there is. What we do. Now. Today.  … All I want to do is help. I want to help because I don’t think people should suffer as they do, because if there’s no bigger meaning, then the smallest act of kindness is the greatest thing in the world.
Joss Whedon – Angel

We are, almost all of us, in the flesh merely odd shaped, damp-eyed vulnerable human beings in constant need of love. There is, we must remember, more love and unity than hate in this world. Sometimes it takes a death to force us out into the streets and admit it

Grace Dent

 

 

https://www.gofundme.com/jocox

https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/big-walk2016

 

,

7 Comments