Archive for June, 2016

More in Common

I’m glad I waited a bit before blogging about the outcome of the Referendum.  Anything I wrote on Friday would have been an incoherent outburst of grief and anger.  Not that I’m in a position to write a more informed and balanced piece now – we still, on day 7 of our ‘independence’, know nothing, and it appears that those who purport to lead us are no clearer than we are.  We have neither government nor opposition, we have voted to leave the EU but have taken none of the necessary steps to set that process in motion.

In this vacuum Nigel Farage presents himself as the voice of Britain, jeering at the MEPs, taking his revenge for having been laughed at for so long.  In this vacuum those who voted Remain earnestly debate whether to sign the petition for a re-run of the referendum, or to lobby for a General Election, or whether we’re worrying about nothing because nobody will actually press the red button, since nobody (other than Farage) actually wants to.  In this vacuum those who voted Leave are frustrated that nothing is happening, that the Remainers are still whingeing on about the result, and that the leaders of the Leave campaigns are rowing back vigorously on the promises made during the campaign.  Some of them are saying that they didn’t really mean it, that they’d vote to Remain if there was a re-run.  Some of them are saying that what they meant by it was that all foreigners should get out, now.

Meanwhile our European erstwhile partners are shaking their heads, and reminding us that freedom of movement is inextricably linked to trade deals and that we can’t have one without the other.  They’re reminding us that our membership of the EU is as the United Kingdom and therefore that if Scotland and Northern Ireland want to honour their population’s vote to Remain, they would have to break away from the UK which, overall, has voted to Leave.  Marine le Pen, of course, is rejoicing.

I’m not going to speculate about what happens now – there are people far better informed than me who are doing that and I’ll leave them to it.  And I’m not going to rant about or criticise those who voted Leave – they did so for many and various reasons, some at least of which I might respect and understand, however profoundly I disagree.  My response is a personal one – now that my emotions are less raw, I can begin to explore why I felt such grief, as well as such anger, and why I felt, and feel, afraid.

eu flag

In the early hours of Friday, having felt increasingly pessimistic as the results came in with such dismaying consistency, I saw that Sheffield had voted Leave.  That was when I felt that we’d lost, not just the referendum but so much more.  That was when I wept, and despaired.

I have always felt at home in this city – I’ve lived here for over forty years, and since I got here I haven’t wanted to live anywhere else.  I’ve always loved it – its hills, its greenery, its culture, its friendliness.  But in the light of that decision I felt as though I didn’t know it after all, wasn’t as much a part of it as I had believed.

Of course, the vote was close – Leave and Remain were separated by just 6,000 of my fellow Sheffielders.  But what it confirmed is that the city is polarised, more so perhaps than some of the other big northern cities.  We have one of the wealthiest political constituencies in the country – but nearly one-quarter of the local areas used to assess deprivation are in the most deprived 10%.  This polarisation has increased since 2010.  My Sheffield voted Remain.  But my Sheffield is dark blue.

IMD 2015 deciles

I don’t have a detailed breakdown of how different areas of the city voted.  But a new article by Charles Pattie, Professor of Electoral Geography at the University of Sheffield, has looked at data on the proportion of graduates, amongst other indicators, in different areas of the city.

All of this paints a picture of a city deeply divided; a city where class, education and opportunity have shaped the political understandings of its people. And although we’re still waiting on a demographic breakdown of the results, it’s highly likely that such divisions will have cut through the rest of the UK, too. The case of Sheffield shows that the fracture lines in British society do not just run between north and south, Scotland and England, or rural and urban areas. They run through every community in the country.

It’s still my city, my home.  Burt I forgot those fracture lines.  Those fracture lines are dangerous.  People like me tend to live next door to, work and socialise with people like me.  People like me hear from our social media contacts and our colleagues the echo of our own views.  We can be oblivious to how the world looks when employment is hard to find or insecure and when your wages aren’t enough to support your family, when debts are unmanageable and creditors importunate, when housing is inadequate and schools are failing, and benefits are sanctioned – and when the party in power tells you that you are a skiver not a striver, a scrounger rather than a hard-working tax payer.  We can be oblivious to how tempting it is to find scapegoats, the scapegoats offered up daily on the front pages of the Mail, the Express, the Sun (people like me don’t read those papers, of course).   We can be oblivious to how easy it is to believe that this daily struggle is the result not of austerity but of immigration, that others are not struggling but are being given an easy path to housing and jobs and prosperity. If we’re to heal we need to stop being oblivious, stop listening just to people like us.

What that does not mean, however, is to continue with the mealy mouthed refusal to challenge racism.  Gary Younge makes this point powerfully:

Labour tends to condemn outright bigotry before clothing it in the cosy blanket of understanding and concern for the bigot.  It protests and then it panders.  It routinely points out that racism is bad, but is rarely brave enough to make the case for why anti-racism is good.  This leads to the worst of all worlds.  Racism and xenophobia are condemned but never challenged, which leaves those who hold such views feeling silenced and ignored, but never engaged.

Some of those who have been silenced, ignored but not engaged now feel legitimised and emboldened by the referendum result.  Everyone but Farage may have been insistent that the referendum was not about immigration, but the sub-text was often clear, and in the Mail, the Express, the Sun, it was not sub-text, not even text, but screaming headline.

Of course the recent spike in racist abuse may be in part down to more of these incidents being reported post-Brexit. But the accounts have something specific in common – the assertion that ‘we’ won, that ‘we’ have our country back now and that therefore ‘they’ should be packing their bags because ‘they’ will have to go.  No distinction is made between those who have lived here all their lives, whose families have lived here for generations, and recent arrivals.  No distinction is made between those who have come here thanks  to the EU’s freedom of movement and those who have Tier 2 sponsored posts here.  Because of the hostility to white European immigrants, no distinction is made on the basis of colour (although of all groups facing this viciousness, hijab-wearing Muslim women are probably the most at risk).  Either they have not yet realised that Brexit could never mean that EU nationals already here would be expelled, let alone that British citizens of non-British ancestry would be deported, or they do not care, their narrative is suddenly dominant, they have got their moment and are seizing it.

Why this sudden explosion? Paul Bagguley, a sociologist based at the University of Leeds, points to the gleeful tone of the racism: “There is a kind of celebration going on; it’s a celebratory racism.” With immigration cited in polls as the second most common reason in voting for Brexit, “people are expressing a sense of power and success, that they have won,” he says. “People haven’t changed. I would argue the country splits into two-thirds to three-quarters of people being tolerant and a quarter to a third being intolerant. And a section of that third have become emboldened. At other times, people are polite and rub along.”

It is this ‘celebratory’ aspect to the racism that is particularly horrifying.  It didn’t start with Brexit, of course, but those who might always have felt this way now feel they can express it.

It may die down. Or, if one wished to take a less sanguine view, as people realise that Brexit is likely to mean no reduction in net migration, that it will not result in anyone being ‘sent back’, they will be bitter and angry and rather than blaming the politicians who allowed them to believe such things in order to win their votes, they will continue to blame the migrants and the refugees in their communities.

And so we find ourselves talking about how we can counter racism on our streets, in our schools, on the tram and the bus, in the pub.  We wear safety pins in our lapels to indicate our support for those who are under attack and our willingness to stand with them, to stand up for them.

safetypin

Will this do any good?  Who knows.  But when someone launches a tirade of racist abuse on the bus, if I’m wearing my pin the first thing I will do is to look around to see if I have any allies.  If two of us stand up, I believe others will follow.   As to what we might actually do, that depends upon the situation.  The aim must be to defuse rather than to inflame, focusing on the victim rather than the aggressor, making them feel safer, letting them know the hatred is not shared by all of us.  But we do also need to speak, to let not only the victim but the aggressor and those who are fiercely staring at their newspapers or their phones and pretending they can’t hear or see what’s happening know that this is not right.

The thing is, I want my country back too.

I want to wake up tomorrow in a country where people are kind, and tolerant, and decent to one another. A country where people – all people – can feel at least a little bit safe. I want to rub the sleep of neofascist nightmares from my eyes and find myself in a country where we do not respond to the killing of a politician by voting against everything she stood for. A country where we are polite to our neighbors. A country where we have dealt like adults with the embarrassing fact that we once conquered half the world, instead of yearning for a time when our glory was stolen from enslaved people a convenient ocean away and large parts of the map were the gentle pink of blood in the water. I want to go back to a Britain where hope conquers hate; where crabbed, cowed racism and xenophobia don’t win the day; where people feel they have options and choices in life and are less likely to press the big red button to bring the house down on top of us. I want my country back.

The country that Laurie Penny wants back is, she acknowledges, fictional.  But so is Farage’s – and which would we rather live in?  The country I want back was conjured up memorably and brilliantly in the opening ceremony to the 2012 Olympics. Funny, celebratory and bonkers, it gave us a vision of ourselves now, not as we used to be, and it set the scene for our collective joy and pride as a succession of medals were draped around the necks of our athletes, who themselves represented Britain now, in all its rich diversity.

That seems a long time ago and very far away.  But we have to try to find it again.  In Europe or out of it – we may not be able to reverse that decision, but we can work to make things better now, here, for all of us.  Meantime, remember:

13501689_200243640376474_2899634929177730254_n

 

 

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jennifer-saul/brexit-resist-the-simple-_b_10702820.html

http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/jun/29/frenzy-hatred-brexit-racism-abuse-referendum-celebratory-lasting-damage

https://secure.avaaz.org/en/uk_reject_racism_/?wLhJdab

http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/uk/2016/06/i-want-my-country-back

, ,

4 Comments

Refugee Week 2016

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.

I’ve been told that the referendum result is democracy in action, and that I should stop whingeing about the outcome.  Certainly I have no intention of endlessly bemoaning it, or berating those who voted Leave.  But there is plenty to be said, plenty that must be said.

I know that I cannot assume that all of the 48% who voted to remain would endorse the message that refugees are welcome here, any more than all of the 52% would want to send them all back.  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.

And we’ll keep saying it in memory of Jo Cox.

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.

#LoveLikeJo #MoreInCommon #The48% #RefugeesWelcome

1 Comment

Assist

RW-Twitter-Cover-photo-2To celebrate Glastonbury weekend, check out the Orchestra of Syrian Musicians, with Damon Albarn.  “When there is violence in the world, you have to make more beautiful music, and make it more intensely.” Music in exile becomes a kind of homecoming.

2016_1_Gastonbury2016_DamonAlbarn_Syrian Orchestra_LP_240616.hero.jpg

We don’t know what impact there will be from Britain’s withdrawal from the EU on refugees and asylum seekers.  We can be certain, however, that people will continue to flee war and persecution, and that those who get here, by whatever routes, will continue to face bureaucracy, prejudice, detention and destitution.  So the work of charities who dedicate themselves to campaigning and fundraising and organising to support them will continue to be vital.

assist

Assist Sheffield is one of those organisations.

ASSIST Sheffield is currently the only Sheffield charity focused on destitution among asylum seekers.

Our aims

  • To provide accommodation, food and support for asylum seekers in Sheffield who are in conditions of need, hardship or distress
  • To advance the education of the public, and other statutory and voluntary organisations, in order to assist the inclusion of asylum seekers into the wider community
  • To raise awareness about the plight of asylum seekers in our city

Who we help

We help asylum seekers whose initial claims have been rejected, and who are therefore destitute.

We only give support to people who can demonstrate their situation.

Unfortunately, we cannot support everyone who needs help. We prioritise those who don’t have any other means of support from friends or family, those who do not have somewhere safe to sleep or regular access to food and those who are particularly vulnerable, for example because they are unwell, elderly or pregnant.

If you can, support this work by donating or volunteering.

 

sheffield welcomes refugees

 

 

cropped-cropped-Poster-2Migration Matters Festival

Saturday 25th June

Rudio, by Lucy Haighton
12pm-2pm

A ‘meet and greet’ movement based workshop.

NB: This workshop will take place in the Adelphi Room at The Crucible Theatre (55 Norfolk Street)

The Art of Migration Showcase, featuring Bashar Farhat (poet), Mina Salama + Special Guest
12pm-2pm

Performances from a vibrant mix of talented regional artists with migration and refugee backgrounds. Commissioned by Arts on the Run.

Puppetry Worskhop, by Vertebra Theatre
2pm-4pm

Exploring immigration through puppetry!

Silk Road, by Incomplete Collaboration
4pm-5pm

Migration explored through poetry, sound and art.

Eastern Europeans for Dummies, by There There
6pm-7pm

Brutal beginners guide to Eastern Europeans.

Tanja, by Strawberry Blonde Curls
7.30pm

Locked up. Shipped around. Sold as sex.

, , ,

Leave a comment

8 Decades of Refugees

RW-Twitter-Cover-photo-2We may be preoccupied at present with the refugee crisis that has brought so many thousands across the Mediterranean and across Europe, displaced by war in Africa and the Middle East.  But looking back over the decades, this is really nothing new.

In 1936, refugees were escaping from flooding in Shantung, in China, and were fed and housed by the provisional government in Tsinan.

 

In the USA, the Dust Bowl and resulting drought forced tens of thousands of families to abandon their farms. Many migrated to California in the hope of finding better conditions. Meanwhile in Europe, the Spanish Civil War led many to flee, often heading across the border into France, which proved only a temporary haven, and in Germany Jews who had been subjected to anti-semitic legislation were taking whatever opportunities they could to leave before things got worse.  CARA (under the name of the Society for the Protection of Science and Learning) was working to find posts in British universities for academics thrown out of their posts at institutions in Germany.

1946 saw displacement on a massive scale, across most of Europe.  Germans were forcibly expelled from the territories that had been occupied during the war and now fell under the Soviet remit.

Many citizens of Eastern European countries were desperately trying to stay in the West.  And the survivors of the concentration camps were making their way to the homes they had once known, or waiting for the possibility of passage to Palestine, or the US.

In 1956 the brutal Soviet suppression of the uprising in Hungary led to around 200,000 people fleeing the country, initially to Austria and West Germany.

hungary

In 1966 Vietnamese were fleeing ahead of the Vietcong advance.  The New York Times reported that nearly half of the 10,000 inhabitants of the An Lao valley had chosen to leave, pleading desperately with withdrawing US troops for help.

vietnam 1966

In 1976 in Lebanon the civil war created a wave of refugees, around 900,000, or about one-fifth of the population.   On 12 August 1976, supported by Syria, Maronite forces managed to overwhelm the Palestinian and leftist militias defending the Tel al-Zaatar refugee camp in East Beirut, and  1,000-1,500 civilians were massacred.

In 1986 the ongoing civil war in Sri Lanka generated thousands of internally displaced people as well as refugees, mostly Tamils. Many fled to neighbouring India and western countries such as Canada, France, Denmark, the United Kingdom, and Germany.

In 1996, the refugee crisis in the aftermath of the 1994 Rwandan genocide became increasingly unstable.  Hutu militants in the camps were now well organised, and led attacks into Rwanda and eastern Zaire.  In what became known as the First Congo War, around half a million people were herded by the militants into the border areas, and subsequently fled back into Rwanda, or further into Zaire. Tens of thousands were killed, or died of exposure or starvation.

 

great lakes

Ten years ago, refugees came primarily from Sudan, DRC, Somalia and CAR, as they do currently. In addition,  Cote d’Ivoire and Liberia generated significant numbers of refugees following their civil wars, and the ongoing crisis in the Great Lakes area added Burundi and Rwanda to the list.

2016more than 1,200 people have died of starvation and illness at an aid camp in north-east Nigeria that houses people fleeing the Islamist militant group Boko Haram, according to the medical charity Médecins Sans Frontières.

It goes on, and it always will.  There will always be wars, and rumours of wars.  There will be, increasingly, natural disasters as a result of climate change.  There will be persecution and oppression and terrorism.  People will leave because they have to, because home is the mouth of a shark.  And we will have to find better ways of helping them, we must be braver, more generous, more open.  Today of all days that seems a forlorn hope.  But we must hang on to it,  nonetheless.

cropped-cropped-Poster-2

Migration Matters Festival

Friday 24th June

To Walk in Your Shoes, by Rachael Munro-Fawcett
10.30am-6pm

Exhibition.

The Scar Test, by Untold
5.30pm-6.15pm

“I came to England, scarred for life.”


Deaths by Rescue, by SYMAAG with Dr Simon Parker
6.30pm-9pm

Film & discussion on the refugee crisis.

Iftar with Open Kitchen
9pm

Food and conversation!

 

 

,

Leave a comment

One in 113

RW-Twitter-Cover-photo-2One person in 113 worldwide is displaced from home due to conflict or persecution.  That’s the highest it’s ever been.  We’re talking about forced displacement, not people choosing to leave home because they fancy a better life somewhere else.  Warsan Shire’s poem expresses this with immense power:

no one leaves home unless
home is the mouth of a shark
you only run for the border
when you see the whole city running as well


you have to understand,
that no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land
no one burns their palms
under trains
beneath carriages
no one spends days and nights in the stomach of a truck
feeding on newspaper unless the miles travelled
means something more than journey.

The UNHCR says that Syria at 4.9 million, Afghanistan at 2.7 million and Somalia at 1.1 million together accounted for more than half the refugees under its mandate worldwide. Colombia at 6.9 million, Syria at 6.6 million and Iraq at 4.4 million had the largest numbers of internally displaced people.

Commentators have often shown an uncanny ability to scan the faces of the people in the boats or waiting at border posts and determine where they have come from, and then to use these conclusions to argue that they are not ‘genuine’ refugees but economic migrants.   Better to turn to the data gathered by UNHCR.

These tell us that the countries producing the highest number of refugees are, in order,

  1. Syria
  2. Afghanistan
  3. Somalia
  4. South Sudan
  5. Sudan
  6. DRC
  7. CAR
  8. Myanmar
  9. Eritrea
  10. Colombia

One does not have to be an expert on world affairs to be aware that the majority of these countries are, and in some cases have been for many years, riven by vicious civil wars, often spilling over into neighbouring countries.  The accusation that the young males amongst the refugees should be fighting for their country is nonsensical in these chaotic and volatile situations – who should they be fighting with, or against?  An oppressive government or an extremist rebel force?   Often both official and unofficial forces bolster their fighting strength by forcing boys and young men to join them.  In Sudan and CAR there has been at least the threat of genocide, in DRC disease and famine as well horrific violence and rape on an unthinkable scale.  In addition, IS and its affiliates are active in many of these areas.

Given all that, why do we even wonder about the motivations of those who flee?

The other accusation that is often made is that ‘they’ should have sought refuge in neighbouring countries – the nearest safe place – rather than heading to Europe.  Most do.   In all, 86 per cent of the refugees under UNHCR’s mandate in 2015 were in low- and middle-income countries close to situations of conflict. Worldwide, Turkey was the biggest host country, with 2.5 million refugees. With nearly one refugee for every five citizens, Lebanon hosted more refugees compared to its population than any other country.

Peace Talk Hopes Raised By Cease-fireBut in these countries, those who have fled genocide, famine, war and persecution find themselves in refugee camps.  These are, by definition if not in practice, temporary holding spaces, transitory, a stop along the road to a place to call home.  They are likely to be desperately short of food and medical supplies, sanitation is often rudimentary at best, and there is little prospect of education for the children.  Many of the countries that host most of the world’s refugees are barely able to support their own citizens.  When we say we are full or that we do not have the resources to support a pitifully tiny percentage of the desperate displaced people who need our help, we are demonstrating our own complacency and ignorance.

Here in Europe we can afford to feed, clothe, house and heal our own AND more.  The statistics tell us that we are not doing our bit, nowhere near.

 

cropped-cropped-Poster-2Migration Matters Festival – Thursday 23 June

Verse Matters – a Feminist Arts Event (19.30 pm) An inclusive, supportive space for poetry, spoken word, storytelling, music and comedy.  Performers include Khadijah Ibrahim, Rae Burgess and Chijioke Ojukwu.

 

 

, , ,

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

Welcome – Refugee Week 2016

RW-Twitter-Cover-photo-2What is it they want, all these people?

What do we want?   What do we hope for, for ourselves and for our children?  We may hope for prosperity, for a nicer house in a nicer part of town, a better job, for our kids to be successful as well as happy.  But if what we have was taken from us, what then?

We’d want to be safe.  If our home, our street, our place of work, the school our children go to, the hospital they were born in and where we go if we’re sick, are bombsites and warzones, we’ll take our chances to go somewhere that perhaps just might be safe.

We’d want to be safe from violence and the constant threat of violence, because we believe in the wrong god or in no god, because we love the wrong people, because we support the wrong political movement, because we are the wrong race.  We’d want to be safe from rape and the constant threat of rape, from abuse, from mutilation in the name of tradition.  We’d want to be safe from the constant threat of starvation and disease, the desperate quest for enough food to just stay alive, the desperate quest for help when we or our children are sick.

But we’d want more than that.

We’d want to have a place where we can shut our door and hang up our hats, and sleep without fear, and be with the people we love.  We’d want the chance to work, to use our skills to earn enough to provide for ourselves and the people we love, to prepare healthy meals, to buy new shoes for the children as they grow, to be warm enough in winter.  We’d want the chance to learn, new languages and new skills, and we’d want our children to go to school and learn all that they need to make their way in the world, and to make friends and play.

We’d want to become part of a community.  Paying our way, making a contribution, chatting to our neighbours, free of the threat that there will be a knock on the door early one morning and we’ll be sent away, back where we came from, or just away, to anywhere that’s not here.

And with all of that we’d want not to be told in the headlines of the newspapers that we’re a threat, that we’re terrorists, that we’re spongers, that we’re liars, that we’re cowards.  We’d want not to see in the eyes of the people we meet that they wonder whether that’s true.

We’d want to be welcome.

dover

cropped-cropped-Poster-2

Tuesday 21 June – Migration Matters Festival

British Red Cross Refugee Awareness Workshop (2.00 pm): find out about their work, and how you can get involved

Displace Yourself Theatre – Free to Stay (7.30 pm): An exploration of life without nationality, through physical theatre and projection, telling the stories of individuals with first-hand experience of statelessness

 

 

, ,

Leave a comment