Archive for the ‘refugees’ Category

Refugees

Posted: December 11, 2018 in refugees
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Talk by Daniel Trilling organised by the Salisbury group

The 10th December was the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Salisbury group decided to mark the occasion with a talk on the subject of refugees.  This is a hot topic since one of the contributory factors which led some people to vote to leave the EU in 2016 was the worry about immigration in all its forms.  At the time of the Referendum, there were nightly images of people fleeing Syria and others fleeing wars in Eritrea, Somalia and Mali trying to cross from Libya to Italy in highly unseaworthy boats. 

We were delighted to welcome author and journalist Daniel Trilling who began by talking about his own family’s journeys to these shores from Russia and Kiev.  His grandmother had managed to leave the Ukraine and get into Poland at the time of the civil war in Russia which started just after the revolution.  She made it to Berlin but had to leave again in ’39 because of the Nazis.  She came Britain 3 days before war was declared.  Britain was hostile to letting in adult Jews, as was the USA and Canada, and the ship MS St Louis found it difficult to find anywhere for them to disembark.  There was a book and a film Voyage of the Damned of harrowing attempts by the fugitives seeking somewhere to land .   Much was made recently of the Kinder transport coming to Britain but these were of course children, not adults. 

After the First World War, there was considerable turmoil in Europe with local wars and revolutions.  The Russian revolution left many millions stateless and there were great movement of peoples as the nation states became dominant.  The two main groups of stateless peoples were Armenians and Russians.  The League of Nations created passports for the stateless but only between members of the League.  In 1951 the Convention on Refugees was the foundation for the protection of refugees in Europe.  

His family history therefore was one reason why he became interested in the refugee question and in researching his book, travelled to Sicily, Greece, Calais, Germany and Bulgaria.  Wars in various parts of the world, Afghanistan, Iraq and the collapse of Libya for example, have created huge numbers of people fleeing to seek refuge in another country.  He noted of course that the countries most affected are often those with the least resources to handle the vast numbers involved, Jordan is a case in point. 

Europe has ‘militarised’ its border in an attempt to keep people out.  The problem was the Dublin Treaty which makes the state where refugees first set foot responsible for them.  This again puts great strain on Greece – which experienced severe financial crisis following the 2008 banking collapse – and Italy which is also under considerable financial strain.  Other European nations – with the exception of Germany – are reluctant to play much of a part.  In Greece, the rise of the neo fascist Golden Dawn party made life very difficult for refugees with frequent attacks.  This led to people living in limbo for many years.  

Effects on people 

The media he said tended to focus on the most dramatic cases, for example the boatloads fleeing across the Mediterranean from Libya.  They tended to give an impression of experiences which were over quite quickly when the reality is that people live in limbo sometimes for many years.  In one of the examples he writes about in his book, an 18 year old Sudanese boy lived on the streets of Athens for 3 years living on his wits. 

He spent some time describing the desperate attempts to hide under or in lorries.  One woman lived for 5 months in Calais.  

Perhaps the most significant question to ask is why do people suffer such privation and take such risks to leave their homes and undertake perilous journeys to an unknown country?  It is no accident that most, indeed nearly all, come from war-torn countries such as Afghanistan, Syria, Libya, Mali and the horn of Africa.  In nearly all cases, western powers have played a part in the problems being experienced.  Whether it be as a result of colonialization, war or exploitation of the countries’ mineral wealth, we – the rich countries – have had a deleterious effects yet do not want to take responsibility for the results.  

Britain has had a history in the past decade or so of treating people harshly as a matter of deliberate policy.  Largely, this was as a result of tabloid newspaper stories, using biblical language to describe hoards of refugees pouring into the country and living in luxury at others’ expense.  This Daily Express story (one of many) is fairly typical of the genre.  Trilling also pointed out that the government had privatised asylum housing which meant refugees ended up in remoter and poorer areas.  This only increased tensions.  The system was adversarial and complex.   There was no legal aid which has been withdrawn. 

Northern local authorities have the most problems but had born the brunt of the cuts.  By contrast, Theresa May’s constituency, affluent Maidenhead, had no asylum seekers.  

On the other hand the Scottish system was more positive and humane which was encouraging he said.  In answer to a question about how prejudice and hostility could be tackled, he said MPs had to face the hostility head on and not just accept the misinformed prejudice.  He recommended looking at Refugee Council’s web site and Buzzfeed for better information on the subject.  

Daniel Trilling. Pic: Salisbury Amnesty

This was a very interesting and enlightening talk on this most difficult of subjects.  Daniel’s book is called Lights in the Distance published by Picador (2018).

The next meeting of the group is on Thursday 13th at 4 Victoria Road at 7:30.  

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A talk by Daniel Trilling on the subject of refugees is tonight (10th) at 7:30 in the Methodist Church in Salisbury.  It is free with a parting collection to help with our costs. 


Salisbury group welcomes Daniel Trilling to Salisbury on 10 December

The author and journalist Daniel Trilling is speaking at the Methodist Church in St Edmund’s Street Salisbury on 10 December on the subject of refugees.   He has recently published a book Lights in the Distance which has had a number of favourable reviews (see below).  The talk begins at 7:30 pm and is FREE with a parting collection to help with our costs.  Copies of the book will be available for sale.

The refugee problem has caused immense problems particularly in Europe.  It has crucially affected elections in Hungary and Poland and some think that it was one of the driving issues in the Brexit referendum in the UK.  The American elections are currently taking place with president Trump making all kinds of claims about immigrants from Honduras now travelling across Mexico to the Texas border.

Lights in the Distance calmly portrays the reality of life for people trying to enter a Europe that largely doesn’t want them … If knowledge is the foundation of action, then [Trilling] has done us a great service by turning masses and numbers into people whom we like, who we can see are like us. (New Statesman)

Brilliantly researched and written Lights in the Distance is, above all, a book of witness … Trilling [brings] his reader as close as possible to the actual circumstances of those who have found their way to Calais, or to Catania in Sicily or to London or to Athens, only to find themselves condemned to occupy space, rather than live. (Observer)

A compelling account of the individual stories of refugees on the move … Its driving characters are nine migrants, and the book is almost entirely dedicated to their personal stories.  In a terse and powerful introduction and afterword, the author’s mastery of the details of his subject shines through. (Financial Times)

Subtle but effective … This is what makes Lights in the Distance such a powerful book. In the midst of an escalating crisis, Trilling manages to keep his lens focused tightly on the people who are most intimately affected by the geopolitical catastrophe taking place around them. (Irish Times)

Humane and illuminating, Lights in the Distance is a vital examination of what the new era of border control and deportations really means, what it costs, and who pays the price. (Olivia Laing)

Combining forensic enquiry with moral passion, Daniel Trilling has emerged as one of our most intrepid and resourceful reporters. In Lights in the Distance, he illuminates the vast human tragedy behind newspaper headlines about refugees, forcing us to confront Europe’s legacy of imperialism and nationalism. (Pankaj Mishra)

A deeply moving and much needed reminder of the human tales which are so often obscured by political rhetoric on migration. (Fatima Manji, Channel 4 News)

We hope this talk will shine some informed light on this vexed area.  There has been considerable interest in this subject recently especially in the light of Theresa May’s deliberately hostile immigration policy from when she was home secretary.  This was under the spotlight when numbers of the Windrush generation were caught up in after having lived here for several decades.


This would be an opportunity to meet members of the local group if you are interested in joining us

@wilts4refugees

 

 


Local protest planned

The local group is planning a short demonstration against the visit by Donald Trump to the UK.  It will take place in the market square on 13 July starting at 11am for an hour.  The purpose is to highlight his attitude towards immigrants and the decision to withdraw the USA from the Human Rights Council.

Readers are welcome to join us.


UPDATE: 26 January

There is now a Change.org petition highly critical of the government and the lack of any response from the Home office minister Caroline Nokes,  The comments are worth reading and mostly supportive of his case.

UPDATE: January 25: 15:30

Reza now in Afghanistan  Salisbury Journal 25th

UPDATE: January 23, 18:00

Reza is reported to be in Kabul see https://www.change.org/p/home-office-stop-deportation-of-reza-to-afghanistan

UPDATE: January 22, 18:00

Latest news is the Reza is due to be deported at any moment.

 

Further developments with Reza Maghsoudi

Readers may recall an earlier post about a refugee from Afghanistan who has been living in this country for some years and Salisbury for 2, who went to Melksham police station for a routine appointment, whereupon he was arrested and sent to a Detention Centre prior to a planned deportation.  Reza Maghsoudi gained some local publicity and there was a follow-up item on BBC Wiltshire last month.

In today’s Salisbury Journal (4 January 2018), the Salisbury MP Mr Glen, in his View from the Commons piece, devotes some space to Reza’s case:

I was in my office at 9am on January 2nd to plan my latest intervention on behalf of Reza Maghsoudi, the young Afghan national who is facing deportation.  His many allies in Salisbury have been fighting compassionately and tirelessly to help him regularize his immigration status so that he can continue with his life he has built here – the dear friends he has made and the skills he has learned.

A decision is due and I have been keen to once again to ensure that the case in on the personal radar of the minister so that the significant new evidence that has come to light in recent week can be taken into account.

This is of course encouraging and we hope that the combination of publicity and political pressure bear fruit.

Why are we here?

But why do we have a situation like this in the first place?  Why do we have a series of policies whereby someone like Reza is held in a detention centre and is under constant threat of deportation?  The answer of course is because for some years now the government has pursued aggressive policies in an attempt to reduce immigration.  These have included:

  • plans to reduce immigration to the ‘tens of thousands’
  • tightening of work visa eligibility
  • greater scrutiny of students concerning their eligibility to stay and study
  • reducing benefits to the lowest level in Europe
  • provision of sub-standard housing and is what the home affairs sub-committee described as ‘disgraceful’.
  • introducing bureaucratic delays which regularly force people into destitution according to the Refugee Council.

The benefit reductions came about because it was claimed by David Cameron, when he was the prime minister, that our benefits were a ‘magic pull’ to people wishing to come here.  There was no evidence for this.  This led to cuts trumpeted to save £500m.  These attitudes have been stirred up by some of the media who have great influence on government policy.  One media commentator called refugees ‘cockroaches’ in the Daily Mail for example.  Despite research evidence to show that immigrants are of net benefit to the UK economy, politicians and some media editors constantly refer to them as a ‘problem’ and a drain on the economy.  They are seen as another form of scrounger.  People seeking asylum – like Reza – have been conflated with immigration as a deliberate policy (Migration Policy).

So Reza is a small part of a concerted programme of demonizing immigrants and asylum seekers by legal restrictions, benefit reductions and detaining them in detention centres.  It is interesting to contrast the plans being prepared by Mr Glen in the Salisbury Journal piece with a rather different speech he made in the House Of Commons:

One aspect of that reform, referred to in the Queen’s Speech, is access to benefits for immigrants. It is right that the Government are considering limiting access to housing benefit and health care for people who have not earned the right to it. It is not enough to keep ignoring that uncomfortable truth because we are frightened of being too right wing, too nasty or too unpleasant. The routine experience of people up and down this country is that on the front line, at the point of delivery and at the point of receiving public services, they are too often displaced by people who, apparently, should not have the right to access those services. I am pleased that the Government will address that in legislation.   (Source: Theyworkforyou.com, May 2013 Queen’s Speech debate (our highlight)

Mr Reza’s case is not about benefits but it is about the attitudes of a government who have adopted an aggressive approach based upon misinformation and media attacks.  We wish Reza every success.

xenophobic-headlines

Sources: BBC; fullfacts.org; Refugee Council; Migration Policy; UCL; Guardian; Independent

 


The ‘I Welcome’ exhibition which has been running through most of December in Salisbury Library, ended today.  We have no means of knowing how many people attended but a number of people signed the visitors book and some of their comments are shared below.

We do not know how lucky we are in the UK.  We moan about the silliest of things.  Just think!  We could have been born on a rubbish tip, then we would know we had problems!

Love not hate, be thankful for what we have.

I am ashamed of us Europeans leaving people freezing on the streets who are refugees from wars we started or sold arms for.  Hundreds of children sleep under hedges at Calais now.

Excellent exhibition and shaming.

Well done Salisbury Amnesty, excellent exhibition.

Excellent exhibition very well done.

Amnesty International – what a brilliant exhibition of photos and words.  We need more of this.  How we react to other’s needs is what defines us and our ‘civilised’ society.

Excellent exhibition but shaming to ‘civilised’ states – what has changed?  Keep up the good work AI!

Required viewing by all (including politicians).  All going on while we ‘want, want, want’ on our mobiles.  We’re asleep.

Well done AI Salisbury Group – excellent exhibition of photos and thought provoking commentary.

Powerful images that shame the world, and us in our comfortable city.  Thank you Amnesty International for putting this on.

Thank you Salisbury Amnesty group for raising awareness and for [the] call to action.  Shocking statistics on your host map.

Our thanks to all those who took the trouble to comment.  All comments were favourable.


If you would like to join the local group you would be very welcome.  The best thing is to come along to an event and make yourself known.  Details of what is happening will be posted here or on Facebook and Twitter if you prefer those platforms. It is free to join the local group.  For further details see our latest minutes.

 


UPDATE: 22 February

Reported in the Salisbury Journal that Reza in ‘in a really bad place’ physically and mentally.  See the Journal article.

 

A Salisbury refugee has been arrested and is under threat of deportation

A refugee who has been living in Salisbury for 2 years was back in the news this week following his arrest in Melksham.  He was scheduled to be deported back to Afghanistan, the second most dangerous country in the world according to the FCO.

Reza Magsoudi fled Afghanistan in 2004 when he was 13 and travelled alone to the UK.  Early in November 2017 he was summoned to Melksham police station for the routine procedure of declaring his whereabouts in the UK, whereupon he was arrested.  He was taken to Tinsley House in Gatwick from where he was due to be deported.

He was granted leave to remain in 2008 and has applied for asylum but for the most part without legal assistance.  His English is said to be poor.  There is now to be a judicial review.  A Change.org petition has achieved 73,000 signatures.

He has been supported during his stay in Salisbury by Derri Southwood who has had considerable difficulty in making contact since his incarceration in Gatwick.  BBC Wiltshire had several pieces on this topic on their morning show this week and a reporter has gained access to Tinsley House but was unable to tape an interview with him.

Issues

The case raises a number of issues concerning asylum policy in the UK and highlights the country’s poor record in offering a home to those fleeing war-torn countries.  The UK does however contribute a great deal of aid to those countries who have high levels of refugees but is reluctant to help those who come here.

Part of the reason is the myth that large numbers of people are ‘flooding’ into the country.  The facts do not support this myth.  Countries such as Turkey, Pakistan and Jordan have a much, much higher numbers in their countries out of a world wide population of around 14 million refugees.  By contrast, in quarter 2 of this year for example, there were 6,172 applications for asylum of which 65% were refused.  This sort of statistic is fairly constant quarter by quarter (Source: Refugee Council).  This is a tiny number of people in view of the world wide figure yet the impression created by some sections of the media is that we are somehow the principal port of call for refugees.

The UK no longer has a welcoming attitude to refugees and successive policies have sought to make it tougher and tougher to achieve leave to remain.  An analysis of statistics and policy by four newspapers (Guardian; Le monde; Der Spiegel and El Pais) found that:

The analysis found that Britain takes fewer refugees, offers less generous financial support, provides housing that is often substandard, does not give asylum seekers the right to work, has been known to punish those who volunteer and routinely forces people into destitution and even homelessness when they are granted refugee status due to bureaucratic delays.

This was worse than any other country except Italy.

What is often overlooked in these debates is that the reason why there is conflict and a country riven by war is partly the result of our colonial and imperial activities in the past.  Most obviously the Israeli and Palestinian conflict; the division of lands in the middle east after the fall of the Ottoman Empire following the Great War; the Yemen conflict today where we continue to sell arms to the Saudis causing enormous hardship to the people there, and our invasion of Libya which has led to instability, violence and also allowed people smugglers to prosper.  So we had a major historical impact and continue to do so by supplying arms which increases the level of conflict.

Looking at the below the line comments in the Salisbury Journal article, one gets a taste of the vitriol that the whole question of refugees generates.  Someone who calls him or herself ‘art91e’ says:

He has no right to be here, he serves no useful purpose, he’s illiterate after 13 years here, so he certainly did not do an apprenticeship … that is a lie!  Send him home asap.

The great majority of comments were sympathetic however.

Mr Glen, the Salisbury MP, has become involved and has promised to make contact with the minister’s office and to do what he can.  The problem – not unique to MPs like Mr Glen – is that the Home Office is carrying out government policy which has been supported by him.  It illustrates the problem of myths in the media being left unchallenged but which have a huge influence on how people think.  This drives policy and has created a harsh environment for asylum seekers.  They have become a problem best solved by keeping them out in the first place and then throwing them out if at all possible if they do make it here.

We await developments.


Don’t forget to visit our refugee photo exhibition in the Library which is running until the end of December.  Please sign or comment in the visitor’s book if you do go.  Follow us on Facebook and Twitter, Salisburyai.

We shall be card signing in the Library passage on Saturday morning 16th between 10 and noon.


The ‘I Welcome’ exhibition is now open in the Salisbury Library and will last until the end of December.  It focuses on the plight of refugees and consists of a series of 30 powerful photographs from the Magnum agency.  Refugees get a poor reception in the UK and the numbers we take in is a tiny proportion of the total.  Rich countries generally take in a very small proportion.  The exhibition is free and visitors are invited to make any comments in the book provided.


Exhibition on refugees in the Library – 2nd to 29th December

Throughout December we will be hosting an exhibition in the Library with a display of 30 evocative panels entitled I Welcome.  There are 30 panels and they represent the experience of millions of refugees, people of all ages, faiths and walks of life.  The exhibition was first shown on the South Bank a year ago and attracted considerable media attention.  Refugees get a bad press in the UK and there is considerable hostility to them coming here.  Some of this hostility is whipped up by the media.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It will be on display upstairs (a lift is available) and is free.  All the photographs are by Magnum photographers.

The Library is open:

Monday:  10 – 7pm

Tuesday/Friday:  9 – 7pm

Wednesday/Thursday/Saturday: 9 – 5pm

The exhibition is FREE

Refugee Vigil

Posted: September 29, 2017 in asylum, refugees
Tags: , , , ,

Members of the Salisbury group held a vigil in front of the Guildhall in Salisbury in support of refugees and asylum seekers.  We were delighted with the response which was not huge but even so, several came forward and thanked us for our efforts which was gratifying.  A number signed our petition.  Refugees and asylum seekers get a poor reception in this country and the negative nature of coverage by the tabloid press cannot help.  We reported in a previous blog, Sir Vince Cable’s observation that Theresa May, when she was Home Secretary, suppressed a number of reports which showed the benefits of immigration.  She is also famous for the statement to a Conservative party conference about a man unable to be deported ‘because he had a cat’: “I’m not making this up” she famously said.  Only she was.

For another picture of this event go to this link on the Salisbury Camera Club site.


Some group members at the Guildhall

If you live in the Salisbury area and are interested in joining us we would be pleased to see you.  The best thing is to keep an eye on this Website or on Twitter or Facebook (salisburyai) for our events and come along and introduce yourself.  It is free to join the local group.