Asylum Monologues

Posted: September 19, 2017 in "Human rights", asylum, children

Ice and Fire perform the Asylum Monologues in Salisbury

Asylum seekers, immigrants and refugees get a poor press in the United Kingdom especially at the tabloid end of the market.  They are

Daily Express front page: 2014

described in biblical terms as ‘flooding’ into the country, of consuming a large part of the benefits budget, taking jobs and houses from British people and driving down wages.  Immigrants and asylum seekers are labelled ‘illegal’ and a picture is constantly painted of crisis levels of immigration doing harm to the country.  A Daily Express front page is illustrated but many such pages and headlines could be here instead.  It cannot be denied that there are problems arising from immigration but the lack of balance in the reporting is to be regretted.

The benefits brought to the nation rarely get a mention.  Indeed, it was revealed by Sir Vince Cable recently that Theresa May, as Home Secretary, suppressed nine reports showing such benefits.  On balance the economy of the country is in credit as far as the effect of immigrants are concerned.

Ice and Fire

Asylum seekers (who are never illegal asylum seekers) are part of those seeking to settle here.  On Monday 18 September 2017, Ice and Fire performed Asylum Monologues at Sarum College in the Close.  Ice and Fire are a group of actors who tour the country and read testimonies from people who have experienced traumatic events in their home countries who have made it to this country and are seeking asylum.  The testimonies change over time as new events unfold.

Ice and Fire. L to r: Liz; Chris & Emily. Pic: Salisbury Anesty

The first testimony was of a woman who left Uganda.  She had campaigned for women’s rights.  To do so risked being called a ‘rebel’.  Then 20 soldiers arrived in the village one day and took her to an army prison.  There she was severely mistreated, tortured and raped in front of her husband.  After 4 months she – along with four others – managed to escape three of whom were shot.  Recaptured, she was taken to a ‘safe’ house which was quite the opposite for its inmates.  Finally, she managed to escape to England possibly with the aid of her husband (she did not know).  She never saw him again.

She was in such a dreadful physical state on arrival she was taken to hospital and put on a drip.  She was pregnant but it was too late to have a termination.  Then began the process of seeking leave to remain with the Home Office.  This was an extremely lengthy process, and akin to a kind of ‘mental torture’ she said because it went on so long and you never knew how it would end.  At one point she was at risk of being deported back to Uganda and being tortured again.  After a long process of appeals she eventually won her indefinite leave to appeal.  Using DNA analysis she was reunited with her daughter she had seen for eight years.

The second testimony was of a successful businessman from Syria who had seen his businesses looted and finally left the country and via Turkey and Greece made it to the UK.

Border Agency

But arguably the most chilling testimony was of someone called Louise who used to work for the UK Border Agency in Cardiff.  It was hard to believe that the things she described took place in this country and not somewhere in some despotic state.  On her first day her line manager said about children seeking asylum ‘if it was up to me I would take them out and shoot them.’  Conceivably, this could be an example of black humour albeit in poor taste, but it was said in all seriousness.

She was given combat training because some of the claimants are potentially dangerous.  She asked the trainer how many cases in three years have you granted asylum to and the reply was 3.  Just three.

The prevailing ethos of the Agency was not to let anyone in if at all possible.  The most chilling aspect to her story was the ‘Grant Monkey’.  This was not some kind of reward for good work but was placed on someone’s desk if they allowed a claim to succeed.  It was designed as a ‘mark of shame’.  Perhaps the one achievement resulting from her whistle-blowing was that this loathsome practice no longer exists.  One of the problems she said was people were recruited from university with no other experience of life and were put on the front line.  She said there was need for a Macpherson style Report into the Agency.  This was the 1999 report following the murder of Stephen Lawrence which shone light on race relations in the UK and coined the phrase ‘institutional racism’.

Juxtaposing testimonies of people who have experienced terrible and traumatic events in their lives including rape and torture and who may have lost all their worldly goods in the process of escaping, with the attitude of our Border Agency was decidedly shaming.  There is no denying that some people claiming asylum are far from deserving cases and may even people who have perpetrated terrible actions on others.  So there is need for rigorous scrutiny of claims.  This is different from treating all such people in the way they do.  Basic rights are not allowed during interviews of immigrants who may be vulnerable and traumatized.

This was an excellent performance and we hope to invite the group back again in the future.


If you live in the Salisbury area and you would like to join us you would be very welcome.  It is free to join.  The best thing is to come along to an event such as this and make yourself known.  Keep an eye on this site or on Twitter or Facebook if you prefer (salisburyai)

 

 

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Group meeting minutes available

The minutes of the last group meeting are now available thanks to group member Lesley for compiling them.  We discussed the death penalty report, the forthcoming performance on 18th by Ice and Fire, next year’s proposed Celebration of Human Rights and other planned events.

September minutes (Word)


Ice and Fire performed the Asylum Monologues at Sarum College in the Close on Monday starting at 7:30.  This was a FREE event.  A report of the event is on a later blog.


Latest death penalty report available

The latest report is now available thanks to group member Lesley for compiling it.  Note that China remains the world’s largest execution but details are a state secret.

Report (Word)


The DSEI arms fair starts in London

This bi-annual event held in London receives a considerable amount of opposition and is a place for protest against the arms trade.  The description of the event by the organisers is blandness itself:

World leading event that brings together the global defence and security sectors to innovate and share knowledge.

It paints a picture of people coming together in some kind of seminar format to discuss defence issues as though it is a think-tank.  The reality is a little different as it is a place where all kinds of weapons manufacturers can display and secure deals to a wide range of countries who come to visit.  If it is as benign as the description implies one has to ask why organisations like Amnesty are denied access?  The purpose is to sell arms and to quote the organising company:

It’s a model that works well in the Middle East…There’s a lot of money being spent here in the UAE on homeland security technology, so it’s a good market in which to roll out our brand

Among the invitees are countries with highly dubious and questionable human rights records.  These include according to the guest list: Brunei, Egypt, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and UAE.  If we look at Bahrain in particular, a recent Amnesty report on the country published earlier this year concluded, inter alia:

Since June 2016, the Bahraini authorities have dramatically stepped up their crackdown on dissent. As a result, by June 2017, Bahrain’s formerly thriving civil society had found itself reduced to a few lone voices brave enough to speak out.  The majority of peaceful critics, whether they are human rights defenders or political activists, now feel the risk of doing so has become too high. Over the course of a year, the authorities increasingly resorted to a wide range of repressive tactics including arrest, harassment, threats, prosecution and imprisonment to silence peaceful critics.  Amnesty International’s research concludes that the security forces have even resorted to torturing or otherwise ill-treating human rights defenders, both men and women, a practice that has not been prevalent in Bahrain since the height of the crackdown that followed the 2011 uprising.

The report went onto to describe how Bahrain has backtracked on reform and noted that in the period June 2016 to June 2017, 169 critics or relatives have been arrested, summonsed, interrogated, prosecuted, imprisoned, banned from travel or threatened.  Freedom of expression is increasingly criminalised and the opposition party has in effect been dismantled.  The report was compiled after a large number of interviews were carried out including with 52 victims, 58 journalists, lawyers and others, and the investigation of 210 cases.

The British government has worked hard to promote our interests with Bahrain and a Daily Mail article in 2016 detailed the many links from the Queen down through the rest of the Royal Family.  Theresa May visited recently.

As far as the Arms fair DSEI itself is concerned, Andrew Smith of the Campaign Against the Arms Trade which is helping to coordinate protests said:

DSEI will bring many of the world’s most appalling regimes together with the biggest arms companies.  Right now UK fighter jets and bombs are playing a central role in the destruction of Yemen; what will be the next atrocity they are used in?  War, repression and injustice are fuelled by events like DSEI.  It’s time to shut it down for good

DSEI was formerly part of the UK Trade and Industry Department but has now been moved to the newly formed Department for International Trade the minister of which is Liam Fox.

In an interview on the BBC today (11 September) Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the opposition, said “[the UK] sells too many arms to countries which abuse human rights.”

The guest list shows several firms with a Salisbury link who are exhibiting at this fair.  They include Babcock, Chemring’s, QinetiQ and Cubic.

The government has got itself into something of a fix over the question of arms sales.  Whilst claiming to have a strict code and robust procedures, the sale of arms to questionable regimes has increased.  Thousands of jobs now depend on this industry and with future problems likely to arise connected with our withdrawal from the EU, from an economic viewpoint we can ill afford to reduce sales of weapons.  It is thus on a treadmill requiring it to support the sale of weapons to a range of unsavoury regimes who in turn use these weapons to intimidate their own people or to cause suffering of neighbouring countries such as the bombing of Yemen by the Saudis.  It is also important to bear in mind that it is not just weapons that are involved but also security equipment.  Autocratic regimes are keen to keep tabs on their citizens and need all the techniques of surveillance to do so.  This kind of equipment, although not lethal of itself, does enable individuals to be monitored, watched and harassed.

The position is indefensible and some of the arguments echo those used by the slave trade in the nineteenth century where large numbers of jobs were involved in its continuation.


If you are keen to join us then come to the next event we are holding on 18 September and make yourself known.

 

 

 


Fall from grace

The events in Burma have been particularly shocking and the plight of the Rohingya people particularly dire.  Thousands have fled their homes into neighbouring Bangladesh and many thousands have been shot, drowned, tortured, raped or burned alive in their homes as the Burmese army seems to be conducting a programme of what amounts to a crime against humanity.  The violence appears to be indiscriminate and has been condemned by the UN and human rights agencies.  Amnesty has published details giving background to the conflict.

Rakhine state is on the precipice of a humanitarian disaster.  Nothing can justify denying life-saving aid to desperate people.  By blocking access for humanitarian organisations, Myanmar’s authorities have put tens of thousands of people at risk and shown a callous disregard for human life.  Tirana Hassan, Amnesty International’s Director for Crisis Response.

A representative from Crisis Response said:

The Myanmar authorities are obliged under international law to treat all those living in Rakhine State, including the Rohingya, without discrimination.  Instead they have chosen to treat a whole population as an enemy which may be attacked, killed, deprived of homes and uprooted indiscriminately.  The Daily Star (5 September)

Of particular sadness is the role of the Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi who has been silent up to now while these appalling events have taken place and is now claiming that there is a ‘huge iceberg of misinformation’ and that the army are responding to terrorist attacks.  There have been some attacks but the scale and ferocity of the army response is far beyond what is reasonable.

Many of us remember the years we followed the imprisonment and house arrest of Aung San Suu Kyi and were cheered when she was released.  Her peace prize was well merited but there are calls now that it should be withdrawn.  Many Amnesty members would have written letters urging her release.  It is heartbreaking to see her at the head of the government making unsupported claims about what is going on in Rakhine State and not speaking out about the terrible actions against the Rohingya.

As ever the British government seems less than energetic in its approach to this crisis in a former colony.

For far too long, British policy toward Burma has deferred heavily to the views of its de facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi.  UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson was at it again at the weekend, suggesting she use her “remarkable qualities” to unite her country and stop the violence in Burma’s western Rakhine State, which, he said, afflicts “both Muslims and other communities.”  This after a fortnight in which hundreds of Rohingya Muslims have been reported killed, their homes burnt to the ground, and more than 120,000 desperate people have fled for their lives to neighbouring Bangladesh to escape the vicious brutality of the Burmese security forces.  This followed a coordinated attack by Rohingya militants on two dozen police and border posts in late August. Security force operations in response to the attacks last year were described by the United Nations as very likely crimes against humanityHuman Rights Watch (6 September)

The British government could do a lot more including pressing the Burmese to make the Rohingya citizens of the country.  They should also press them to allow aid agencies unrestricted access.  Religious freedom should be allowed.

The Burmese government is hoping to persuade the Russians and Chinese to frustrate any sanctions by the UN and Aung San Suu Kyi was quoted to be in conversation with President Erdogan of Turkey – hardly an exemplar of good behaviour.


If you live in the Salisbury area and would like to join us then a good time would be on Monday 18th at Sarum College where Ice and Fire are performing free.


Urgent action concerning a man about to be executed in Iran

A man, Mohammad ali Taheri has been sentenced to death for ‘spreading corruption on earth’.  This is the second time he

Mohammad ali Taheri. Pic: iranhumanrights.org

has been so convicted having been cleared of the offence by a previous court.  This is in breach of the double jeopardy rules which Iran has signed up to.  Iran is one of the worlds major executioners of its citizens after China.

 

If you can find time to write or email that would be appreciated.

Urgent Action

Read our latest monthly death penalty report.


Picture: thebearpit.org

Play about conscientious objectors at the Playhouse

This Evil Thing is the title of a play by Michael Mears (pictured) which will be performed at Salisbury Playhouse between 18th – 21st October.  The play received four star reviews at the Edinburgh Festival.  Amnesty International judges described it as ‘Magnificent storytelling’ and longlisted it for their Freedom of Expression award at the Festival.  The play tells the story of conscientious objectors during the First World War.  The Link magazine said:

Mears himself is exhilarating to watch. He hares across the stage, convincingly being about four different men at once. And the play is rooted in Mears’ own life. Photos of his father and grandfather are on the sideboard, both of whom served in the World Wars. This is a rich and personal modernisation of a lesser-told tale.

Performances will be from Wednesday 18th to Saturday 21st at 7:30 with a matinee at 2:45 on Thursday.  There will be a talkback after the performances.

Booking details are at the Salisbury Playhouse website.

 

 


If you are interested in human rights issues and would like to join us you would be very welcome.  The best thing is to keep an eye on this site or on Twitter or Facebook (salisburyai) and make yourself known to one of us.  It is free to join the local group.

Yemen

Posted: September 2, 2017 in Yemen
Tags: , , , ,

Article in the Guardian today (2 September) on Yemen.  Unfortunately, the newspaper closed the comments section almost as soon as it was published.

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/sep/01/disaster-texas-america-britain-yemen


Ice and Fire to perform in Salisbury

The performing group Ice and Fire are to perform in Salisbury at Sarum College on 18 September starting at 7:30.  The performance will consist of readings from testimonies of refugees, human rights lawyers and home office workers, to show how the system of asylum seeking and acquiring refugee status works in reality in the UK.  It forms part of Amnesty’s continuing campaign to highlight the plight of refugees and how they are treated here.

There is considerable hostility to refugees and asylum seekers with many stories in our tabloid newspapers of such people abusing the system.  People are led to believe that hoards are arriving here and living in hotels by the seaside and costing the country huge sums of money.  The reality is the UK has only 1% of the world’s refugees and has received around 3% of asylum claims made in the EU.

The event is FREE but there will be a parting collection.

A review by The Cambridge Student of an earlier performance.


If you live in the Salisbury area and are interested in joining us you would be very welcome.  If you can come to this event, several group members will be about so just make yourself known.  It is free to join the local group.  Details of other activities will be on this site and on Facebook and Twitter – salisburyai.