Playing today – Brazil, Belgium, Mexico, Algeria, Russia and South Korea
Belgium‘s invasion in two successive World Wars led to an influx of refugees into the UK. A local newspaper reported in 1916 on the celebration in Manchester of the Belgian Day of Independence,when ‘over 700 refugees were entertained by the Co-operative Wholesale Society. They had come from various parts of Manchester and the surrounding industrial towns’. The Bishop of Salford ‘alluded to the trials through which the refugees had passed, and remarked that that day they had shown to the British race how strongly united they were. He assured them that the feelings of the English people for what the Belgians had done in the great European struggle would be always as they were to-day’.
Algeria is ‘home’ to a significant number of Sahwari refugees from Western Sahara. Fadala was born in the refugee camps there and now works as a community outreach officer, particularly with young people in the camps:
I am working with Solidaridad Internacional as a community outreach worker. I am in charge of awareness raising efforts about the use of water. When I arrived here, it was almost a cultural shock. The situation in the camps is extremely difficult. Especially for the youth. There are no opportunities here. If there were no NGOs here, many youths would be out of jobs and would not be able to support their families.
If I did not find this job, I would have been at home. We cannot keep on waiting to receive humanitarian assistance without doing anything. Until when? The humanitarian assistance will not last forever.
I am very concerned about the dependency of Sahrawis to foreign aid and I would like to be a motor for a change in my community. My dream is to work one day as a journalist, to be able to convey the difficult life conditions my people are going through.
Brazil was the first country in Latin America to offer humanitarian visas to Syrian refugees.
Mexico – Martin Gottwald, UNHCR Deputy Representative in Colombia, shares his story for World Refugee Day here.
Russia – after the Revolution, from 1917-22, more than a million people left Russia. Refugees moved eastward to Manchuria and China, via Vladivostok to Canada and the US, and westward, via the Balkans and the Baltic states, to Western Europe, particularly France. Irene Nemirovsky and her family were amongst those who took refuge in France. Irene, who became a highly successful writer, was still there when France was occupied by the Nazis. As a Jew, she was deported to Auschwitz where she was murdered, along with her husband, in 1942. Her final, unfinished book, Suite Francaise, was published in 2006, after her surviving children read the manuscript and realised its importance.
South Korea – Hungarian journalist Csaba Lukács tells his story of Soon-Sil Lee, a North Korean refugee
Playing today, Iran, Nigeria, Ghana, USA, Germany and Portugal
Not all of them obvious sources of refugees, nor obvious havens for them. In fact most are, or have been, both.
The Islamic Republic of Iran continues to host one of the largest and most protracted refugee populations in the world, despite the voluntary return of hundreds of thousands Afghan and Iraqi refugees to their countries of origin over the past decade. But during the Shah’s regime, and the Islamic regimes which have followed, intolerance of political dissidence has also created a flow of refugees out of the country, with a significant group now based in Australia. Koroush came to the UK with his family and describes the pressures of life as an asylum seeker.
The USA‘s history is built on the movements of people fleeing intolerance and violence, from the religious dissidents of the 17th century, to the Jewish communities driven out by pogroms in the late 19th, to the victims of Nazism in the 1930s and ’40s. Recently it has seen a huge influx of unaccompanied child refugees from Latin America. Its history also includes, of course, the displacement of the indigenous Native American populations.
Nigeria in the mid-60s saw floods of refugees, mainly Igbo, driven from the north by massacres, even before the secession of Biafra and the resulting Civil War. More recently the terrorist violence of Boko Haram has driven people from their homes into South Niger, Chad and Cameroon. The UNHCR says that ‘in Nigeria, internal displacement is endemic. Recurrent ethno-religious conflicts and natural disasters have prompted people to flee their homes and seek safety elsewhere. If the general security situation remains unresolved, displacement and the need for a humanitarian response in the north of the country are likely to persist in 2014. Owing to the lack of security and limited access to affected populations, it is difficult to assess IDP numbers and needs.’
Ghana took in many people from Liberia and Sierra Leone during the vicious civil wars which tore those countries apart. Many of these refugees have now returned home, but the Buduburam refugee camp near Accra housed over 40 000 displaced people until recently. Jean fled from Ivory Coast and found sanctuary in Ghana.
Germany, leaving aside the movements of populations arising from war and occupation, drove out many of its own citizens as they were stripped of their professions, their property and their rights, in preparation for taking their lives. German Jewish children were amongst those taken to safety by the Kindertransport.
Portugal became a sanctuary for many refugees from Nazi occupied Europe. Salazar’s nationalist regime was not based on racial theories, and although under pressure from Hitler visas were severely restricted, Lisbon became the doorway to freedom. It’s not clear how many people escaped via Portugal – but Portugal’s own Jewish population, and most of those who came there, survived.
Across the globe, as populations are dispersed by war, famine and persecution, as families are separated in the chaos, around half of those displaced are children. Over a thousand arrive in the UK every year, unaccompanied.
In Syria, in Iraq, in CAR, for example, families fleeing violence find themselves in transit with all of the accompanying hazards, or in camps where facilities are strained to the limit as people keep arriving. How can parents keep their children safe, fed, and physically healthy, let alone attend to their education, and their mental wellbeing? How can we, comfortable and safe as we are in comparison, imagine the choices that those parents have to make? How would we weigh the risks of remaining, against those of abandoning home and community? Could we, should we, send children to safety without us, as many parents in Europe did in 1938-9, knowing that we might never see them again, and not knowing what future they will face in a strange country?
And when they arrive in the UK, after whatever trials and hazards they have encountered on the journey, there are new difficulties to face. Our asylum system leaves many refugee families in destitution while their cases are considered, and parents are unable to work. They cannot choose where to settle, and so education and friendships are disrupted by frequent moves, as well as made more difficult by language and cultural barriers. And at any time, there may be a knock on the door, and a removal to detention, awaiting deportation back to the horrors that they fled.
Just a look through the papers over the last few days indicates what children in so many parts of the world are facing right now.
Vehicles crammed with men, woman and children who are fleeing the threat of violence, kidnapping and rape, were queuing at checkpoints at the frontier of Iraq’s Kurdish region yesterday. The refugees were among about half-a-million people who have fled their homes since Monday (Independent)
Thousands cross the southern U.S. border illegally each year in hopes of better lives. But now the problem has reached epic proportions, with children … fleeing the Central American countries of El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. And they are arriving in the United States alone — without a parent or guardian. (CNN)
Over a million Syrian refugees have arrived in Lebanon, fleeing the conflict in their country. Syrians now make up a quarter of the population of this tiny Mediterranean country. Many were forced to leave with only what they could carry, and are living in desperate poverty. Finding work is difficult, and many families are forced to send their children out to work to make ends meet. (Guardian)
The day after the army attack in Minova, 130 rape victims arrived at Masika’s displaced women’s camp. Seventeen of the girls were under 18. The youngest was 11. (Independent)
Meanwhile Unicef report that six months since intense fighting reached Central African Republic’s capital, Bangui, scores of children have been killed, hundreds have been maimed and thousands have been displaced.
The theme of Refugee Week 2014 is refugee children, ‘different pasts, shared future’. It’s also a shared responsibility. The reasons why people become refugees are many and various, but for the most part, they stem from adult actions which rebound most severely upon the smallest, the most vulnerable, the most helpless. So, over the next week I will be giving my blog space over to refugee stories, past and present, highlighting the work that’s being done by refugee organisations nationally and internationally – those who help refugees to survive, and those who help them to live once they have found a place of safety. Also check out my Refugee Week blogs from 2012 and 2013 via the archive.
Launching this year’s Refugee Week with a contribution (suitably football related) from Nowt much to say’s excellent blog. More from me to follow.
Originally posted on nowt much to say:
I followed Iran during the 2006 World Cup in Germany. Working as a volunteer English tutor at the Refugee Education & Employment Programme in Sheffield, I’d recently met a lad from a Persian speaking part of Afghanistan that has close links to Iran. Me and Hossein (not his real name) chatted about life in Sheffield and football. He loved football and was supporting Iran in the World Cup. His eyes lit up when he recalled how the Iranians had beaten the USA in France ’98. “We win, we win…” he said punching the air. I tried to throw my own love of FC United of Manchester into our conversations but my English skills weren’t up to it. He preferred Liverpool when it came to English football.
REEP offered free English lessons to asylum seekers and refugees in the city and I was one of the volunteer tutors who worked on…
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I’ve been aware of the Everyday Sexism twitter account for some time, reading with anger and despair the seemingly endless reports of verbal and physical harassment, and of the host of ways in which women and girls are dismissed, disparaged and excluded. I thought things had, maybe, got a bit better during the course of the last forty-five years, since I became a teenager and realised that there were men out there who thought I existed in order to please them, and if I didn’t (either by being insufficiently attractive or by spurning their advances) then rather than being ignored I could expect to be insulted and threatened. It appears that little has actually changed.
I’m middle-aged now, past the age of invisibility, and so I don’t get catcalls any more – apart from the odd occasion when someone approaches in a vehicle from behind, and only realises as they draw level with me that they’ve just catcalled someone older than their mum… I do get shouted at sometimes when I’m out running, by people who think it’s hilarious to point out that I’m fat. I have been tempted to respond that whilst I know I’m fat, I’m clearly attempting to do something about it, and ask what they’re doing to address their own evident stupidity, but it’s early in the morning, no one else is around and I feel vulnerable. These things are idiotic, laughable, rather than hugely intimidating, but they anger me still. What makes someone think that because I am female and in a public place that they have the right to insult me, or to intrude on my thoughts?
I have never been the victim of violence of any kind, domestic, sexual or whatever. And yet I have to qualify that, because by the legal definition of sexual assault, of course I have. According to the law (not according to some deranged feminazi), sexual assault occurs when person A
- intentionally touches another person (B),
- the touching is sexual,
- B does not consent to the touching, and
- A does not reasonably believe that B consents.
I’d guess that any girl or woman who has ever been in a crowded pub or club could tick all of those boxes.
I can’t say I’ve been traumatised by my own experiences – I’ve been bloody annoyed by them, however, and at times unnerved and frightened. Even when there’s no physical contact, being shouted at in the street or from a passing car at the very least disturbs, as it’s meant to, and makes you feel more exposed and vulnerable. Cumulatively, these ‘minor’ incidents add to all the other ways in which we (women/girls) are told that our choices are irrelevant, that our bodies are not our own, and that our negative reactions to those messages are inappropriate, humourless, hysterical. And of course, I know plenty of women who’ve been on the receiving end of violence, and am certain that many more have been, but do not talk about it. If we call these experiences ‘everyday’ sexism, we’re not saying that all women experience these things every day, but that all women have experienced these things and, crucially, that they do not regard them as extraordinary.
I’ve never been told that I can’t do the jobs I want to do because I’m a woman. But I have been told that I’m too pushy, too strident, too aggressive. I have had men explain things to me about which I know far more than them, and I’ve spoken up in meetings only to be interrupted, or to have my contribution dismissed or totally ignored, and I’ve seen these things happening to other women in the workplace too. And, on the whole, I’d say I’ve had it pretty good. But many years working as a harassment officer, and as a manager with a predominantly female team of staff, have shown me what lots of women encounter. I’ve had to call men out on the toxic use of ‘banter’ to undermine women’s professional standing and their confidence, or the use of status to bully and demean women, or to pressurise women for sexual favours.
The nature of workplace harassment is that it often involves incidents which in isolation would seem minor and trivial, but which cumulatively have a serious effect on the recipient – this is recognised in harassment policies. The same is true in other contexts. The effect of once having someone shout at you in the street about what they want to do to you might be insignificant (assuming all they did was to shout) – the effect of this happening over and over again is to make you feel constantly insecure. When I was a young teenager, I remember initially feeling quite good about getting appreciative looks. Until I realised that the corollary of the appreciative look is that the looker may well feel that they have the right to do more than look – to comment (favourably or otherwise), to proposition, to touch, to grab, to threaten with rape. Within a very short period of time, the potential for receiving even the look as a compliment was massively diminished as I learned to quickly assess my safety, look for escape routes or potentially sympathetic bystanders.
None of that means that I want to ban men from looking at women. Any sensible and sensitive man, however, knows the difference between a look and a stare, between a look that encompasses a person and one that is riveted to a chest. Similarly with compliments – there are ways of saying you like the way someone looks that are OK. But sensible and sensitive men bear in mind that they have not been asked for their feedback, and that they have no automatic right to give it. They will realise that having given it, they do not then have the automatic right to follow it up and insist on a conversation that the woman may not wish to have, and they will be tuning into the woman’s response, to ensure they don’t intrude or offend. They not only won’t ignore a clear and unequivocal ‘no, I’m not interested’, they won’t pursue it unless the woman does give a clear and unequivocal signal that she wants to talk to them, and will accept it without argument and walk away if she changes her mind. And they will know that the fact that they have noticed a woman does not entitle them to tell her what is wrong with her body, her face or the way she is dressed. It’s really not that tough to get it right. Most men know this, and also recognise how daily interactions between men and women are messed up by the dickheads who don’t get any of this, and/or don’t care.
Whilst I’ve been writing this, two notable things have been happening. First of all, the #NotAllMen trope has been everywhere, initially as the all-too predictable response from so many male readers to women’s accounts of their own experiences, and then as the ironic riposte to that response, showing how it – intentionally or otherwise – derails and interrupts, making yet another conversation about men rather than about women. And the #YesAllWomen hashtag asserts that the more important fact is not that ‘not all men…’ but that ALL women experience everyday sexism, and ALL women are influenced as they go about their daily lives by the knowledge that SOME men represent a threat.
The other major development, of course, has been the Isla Vista shootings and the misogynistic (and racist) manifesto published by the killer. I don’t intend to weigh in with more analysis of this. I’m not qualified to diagnose his mental state from what I’ve read. I know that more of his victims were male than female, that some were stabbed rather than shot, which seems to complicate the simple narratives that emerged initially. But there’s no doubt that (a) his manifesto is overwhelmingly driven by a hatred of women – his hatred of men is linked to it, he wants revenge on men who have had more ‘success’ than he has with women, that (b) he was looking for women to attack and (c) three of his victims might be alive if he hadn’t been able to supply himself with guns and ammunition. It’s also clear that those who are trying to make him a hero, a ‘legend’, see him as someone fighting back against the bitches, the monstrous regiment of women. Sarah Ditum’s blog puts this well:
I know completely that not all misogynists are spree killers. It is self-evident that misogyny is a necessary but not sufficient condition for cases like this to occur, and that sufficiency must include the availability of weapons (a hammer will do) and the existence of particular psychological states. This is obvious. In fact, it is so obvious that I wonder why anyone would think it in any way complicates our understanding of Rodger’s motivation, because none of it alters the fact that misogyny exists and causes violence.
Not all misogynists kill. But all misogyny creates the conditions in which women are killed, raped and abused, and in which women fear being killed, raped or abused. This is not complicated. It is simple, it is deadly, and it is the reason feminism is necessary.
Not all dickheads are misogynists, but on the whole, men who like women, like them as people, recognise them as being human in exactly the same way they are, don’t behave like dickheads towards them. The men who represent a threat to us are the ones who don’t like women because they’re women, whether or not they are sexually attracted to them. Those who aren’t interested in women sexually and who don’t like them probably represent less of a threat to us in terms of violence but a considerable threat in terms of institutionalised sexism. Those who desire women sexually but do not recognise them as people are extremely dangerous, as the Isla Vista killings have reminded us (as if we needed it). One has only to read below the line on any article on any remotely feminist topic to be stunned by the venom directed at us, and how it is expressed in such highly sexualised terms.
The internet, which has allowed misogynists to vent their vileness at any woman who speaks out publicly, with anonymity and a potentially vast audience, may seem to be a threat. But it is also enabling us to support each other, to hear others’ voices and experiences, and to spread our challenges to sexist and misogynist views out to that same potentially vast audience. It’s scary to do so – just think of the kind of attacks that were meted out to Caroline Criado Perez who had the temerity to propose that a woman might feature on just one of our bank notes, or those who supported her campaign. But we can use it, and we must. And if the men who might be tempted to jump in with a ‘not all men’ instead focus on challenging the behaviour of those other men, the ones who catcall and grope and harass, the ones who belittle and dismiss and demean, the ones who hate women, then we really could start changing things. If the men who might be tempted to criticise our tactics and our priorities when we decide to speak out, back us up instead, then we really could start changing things.
Drawing attention to everyday sexism is not about embracing victimhood. Quite the reverse. We accept the status of victims when we keep quiet, internalise our fear and distress, blame ourselves for what others do to us – which we do for a host of reasons that are all too easy to understand. When we shout back, when we say out loud and in public, on our own behalf or in defence of others, THIS IS NOT OK, we reject victimhood, we become ourselves and take charge of our lives.
To quote Maya Angelou, who died today after a life of bearing witness and fulfilling her own ambition ‘not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style’,
There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.
She also said that
You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them.
To quote Laura Bates, ‘the thing about sexism is that it is an eminently solvable problem’. The first step, which is the focus of the project, is to force people to recognise that it’s a real problem. That recognition in itself could be a huge cultural shift. And if anyone thinks such huge cultural shifts don’t happen, or take generations, just think of civil partnerships/gay marriage. Ten years ago I would not have believed that such a change could come about in my lifetime, and the amazing thing is not just that these things are now enshrined in law, but that there has been so little fuss, so little outrage, and that most of what fuss and outrage there was has been perceived by most people as, more than anything, daft.
To redirect the flow of a river, you start by moving small stones. That’s what this project is about – small stones such as each individual testimony that appears on the website and on Twitter, each moment when someone challenges sexism in the workplace, the family, on the street.
We’re speaking out, we’re shouting back, we’re reaching out to each other, we’re choosing not to be victims, or bystanders. We’re saying that whilst these examples of sexism are ‘everyday’, they’re not normal, and they’re not OK. Everyday resistance, everyday solidarity.
Laura Bates – Everyday Sexism (Simon & Schuster, 2014)
It’s rare that I finish a novel that I really haven’t enjoyed and find myself obsessed with it. That’s what’s happened, though, with Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Unconsoled. This is a novel I was strongly recommended to read, and I can see why. I can recognise its beauty and brilliance. I can recognise the things it has in common with works that I love and revere – Butor’s L’Emploi du temps, for example, and W G Sebald’s Vertigo, or The Rings of Saturn.
But the experience of reading it – I so nearly gave up. It was as if I was trapped in one of my own anxiety dreams. Knowing I need to be somewhere, that I’m responsible for something, and finding that time and space are conspiring against me. From the start, the protagonist appears to know, vaguely, that he is here (wherever that is) in order to do something important, but not precisely what, when, or why. As in dreams, the relationship of the people he meets to him and to each other shifts and some who appear at the start to be strangers to him become in the course of the novel his father in law, wife and son. Other people from his past appear, incongruously, whilst his parents, expected throughout the course of the narrative, are never encountered at all. Even the common feature of such dreams that one is inappropriately (or not at all) dressed occurs as Ryder is swept off to undertake high-profile public engagements in his dressing gown (the inappropriateness appears to go unnoticed by everyone else). I read on with such reluctance, fearing that Ryder’s experiences would find their way into and would amplify my own nightly unsettledness – and they did.
It also tied in spookily well with my ongoing fascination with labyrinths and mazes. The city in which Ryder arrives, ahead of his concert, is one in which you could walk in circles indefinitely, as Ryder himself notes. He encounters dead ends – a street blocked off by a brick wall, with no way around it and no opening, but which lies between him and his destination. He is constantly getting lost, his journeys taking him seemingly very far from his destination, only for him to realise he has come back to his starting point. The novel traces ‘an odd, sepulchral, maze-like journey’, through a ‘deterring labyrinth’. But it’s not just a static labyrinth or maze, as baffling and disorienting as they can be, because space is constantly distorting itself, like Butor’s Bleston, which ‘grows and alters even while I explore it’ (Passing Time, pp. 182-3).
But it was only after I had, finally, finished the book that I remembered that I had, some months previously, lent it to someone else, someone who suffers from serious problems with short-term memory, and increasingly with anxiety associated with that condition, needing frequent reassurance as what happened even ten minutes ago is lost in fog. I had wondered idly at other times what impact this would have on her reading – and she does read, making good use of her local library – surely after a few pages she would have forgotten what she had just read, and have to go back again and again, so that she would never actually finish the book? But this book … as she read it, did she recognise her own anxieties in its pages?
It seems to me that living with that kind of memory loss must be like a waking anxiety dream. To have, throughout the day, that sense that you are missing something, that you should be doing something, that you should be somewhere, and to be unable to retrieve the information with any sense of certainty… If you write things down, how do you know for sure whether the writing is telling you that something will happen, or that something has happened? As events from the past float into your memory you have no way of anchoring them in chronology, they could have happened yesterday, or months ago. The gaps are troubling so you may fill them with explanations that start off as speculation but become fixed as you hang on to them for reassurance that you know what happened really. And whilst sometimes you are anxious and you know that the cause of the fear is that your memory is so poor, at other times you don’t remember that you can’t remember, and deny that you need help and can’t see why people keep reminding you of things.
I can’t see that I will want to re-read The Unconsoled any time soon. It simply troubles me too much, taps too accurately into my own anxieties and insecurities, and into the fog of memory loss that I witness second hand. But it’s brilliant, and it’s still in my head, weeks after I reached the final page.
As all this weekend’s football matches kick off seven minutes late, to commemorate the time that the semi-final between Forest and Liverpool at Hillsborough was called off, on 15 April 1989, and as the inquests into the deaths of 96 men, women and children proceed in Warrington, we seem to be within reach of truth and justice at last.
For so long, any time anyone tried to tell the real story of what happened – the failures in planning and organisation, the lies, the callous treatment of the bereaved – they were immediately countered with the narrative that was propagated so assiduously in the days after the tragedy, most notoriously by the Sun. It had become an accepted fact that the cause of the disaster was the behaviour of drunken, ticketless fans, arriving late and forcing their way into the ground, even when the Taylor report scotched so many of these cynical fabrications. Finally, with the report of the Independent Panel, and the overwhelming weight of evidence to vindicate the families’ and survivors’ accounts, that has irrevocably changed.
Too late for too many, and just too bloody late – how could it have taken so long for the truth that was known at the time, even as the events unfolded, to be brought back into the light?
I do not know how the families and survivors have sustained their fight for so long, and at what terrible cost. But I know that a sense of justice has driven them on. Of course they have been fighting for the people they loved who never came back from that football match, of course. But it isn’t just personal – it comes from a deeper sense of what is right, what is fair, and a refusal to let lies stand in place of truth. I was privileged to meet, very briefly, the father of one of the victims a couple of years ago, and what struck me most powerfully was his belief that the values that he held dear, and that he had passed on to his son, were being betrayed, in the vilification of the victims and the deliberate falsification of evidence, in the lack of respect for those who attended the match on that day, and those who loved them.
I am indebted to Gerry, from the wonderful That’s How the Light Get’s In blog, for finding this very apt quotation from Dickens’ Old Curiosity Shop:
the world would do well to reflect, that injustice is in itself, to every generous and properly constituted mind, an injury, of all others the most insufferable, the most torturing, and the most hard to bear; and that many clear consciences have gone to their account elsewhere, and many sound hearts have broken, because of this very reason; the knowledge of their own deserts only aggravating their sufferings, and rendering them the less endurable.
They have, nonetheless, endured. And the seven minute delay and the 96 empty seats remind us again of what was lost, as the inquest testimonies remind us that each of the 96 had names, stories, hopes and aspirations, and people who loved them.
They’re not alone, they haven’t walked alone, they never will.
RIP the 96