DAY 227: Anniversaries

October 26th, 2017 § 0 comments § permalink

I find myself summoned to perform the worthy task of lecturing a diverse audience (mainly, I think, refugees, a project of a group at the University of East London which stems from their teaching

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in the jungle) on the dreary subject of statistics. Which I’ve perhaps misguidedly tried to make relevant by bringing in – why not ? – the numerous statistics of deaths  at sea which surround us. Today, I can think of almost any number of things I’d rather be doing, particularly as explaining statistical reasoning (have you tried, reader?) tends to get you tied in knots. I’d like to reproduce Izzy Tomico Ellis’ moving epitaph for Souda camp; but it seems I have to try to coerce my poor old head into making hypothesis testing a) understandable and b) relevant, preferably (why not?) with reference to deaths at sea.

And I’d like to meditate on two broken British government promises whose anniversaries fall today, or near enough. First, one year ago (25th October 2016) the Calais jungle was demolished, in a confusion of fires, police violence and sheer bewilderment. A number of children were successfully passed through checks to be – eventually – reunited with their families. This was the face-saving operation which made it possible for the British and French governments to claim ‘success’. It was clear from the start that they hadn’t nearly dealt with the full number of asylum claims, under ‘Dublin’ or ‘Dubs’, for children to be evacuated safely to Britain. The following things were also clear to any intelligent analyst of what was going on:

1. The intention was that the new centres for housing
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refugees were meant to be strictly short-term, and the French authorities had no serious plans for how to deal with them in six months’ time.

2. The Calais/Dunkerque region would continue to draw refugees simply from its geographical position, some who had abandoned the new ‘centres’, others who were new arrivals.

And so it is; but the outcome is, as I and others have been pointing out, still more horrendous; since the coastal strip has become the scene of large-scale semi-military repression. Terrified refugees including children hide in the woods, their tents are slashed nearly every night with knives and sprayed with toxic gas to make them uninhabitable. Volunteers, in a ludicrous to-and-fro, then have to collect donations for new tents for the police to destroy again. Where is the logic, never mind the humanity?

I and so many of you, my friends, have become exhausted from repeating these obvious points, from reiterating the human rights violations along the coastal strip – and elsewhere in France, notably in Paris. On this dismal anniversary, all we have to celebrate are:

1. The survival, generosity and persistence of the refugees who continue for whatever reason to place their faith in a community which will welcome them, and to fight for the acceptance which is their due;

2. The strong and continuing spirit of an organised movement which rejects borders, boundaries and racism and is prepared to combat them – whether by raising impressive sums to keep the still thriving Refugee Community Kitchen going; or by assuring that those who are separated from their families can keep in phone contact via the admirable Phone Credit for Refugees; or by providing networks of help in Britain (education, health, legal, housing, you name it) for new arrivals.

At which point, you might think, enough had been said about the duplicity, hardheartedness and treachery of the British Government, of the May-Rudd axis. But there’s another anniversary coming up, equally shameful, and which many are preparing to celebrate: the centenary of the Balfour Declaration of 1917. A moment when Britain, afraid of losing the First World War and anxious to attract allies by any means, made contradictory promises to three different parties about how it would dispose of

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Palestine (which of course didn’t belong to it in the first place). The dreadful duplicity involved here, and the terrible consequences for the Palestinian land and people, are too much for this post; I refer you to the recent authoritative work by Jonathan Schneer.

We have to place hope in the land and people of Palestine, constantly generous and surprising, and as such the opposite of the British ruling class.

 

 

DAY 226: Destitute

October 12th, 2017 § 0 comments § permalink


“At this festive season of the year, Mr. Scrooge,” said the gentleman, taking up a pen, “it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the Poor and Destitute, who suffer greatly at the present time.  Many thousands are in want of common necessaries; 20f33aff85hundreds of thousands are in want of common comforts, sir.”

Always the keen learner, i’ve found myself enrolled (sort of) for a course in being destitute; and what the Scrooges of the present government believe should be done about it. Not that I’m even near it, myself; I can still keep myself in gruel and lentils, and I’m cared for by friends, family and odd corners of the surviving state. But I’ve learned its importance in the state’s thinking, by way of a vicious institution called NRPF.

Oh no not another acronym, I hear you groan, btw, lol. Yes, and the story is this. If you’re lucky, fleeing from persecution somewhere, or even coming as a student, you may have asked some bit of the state if there was a chance you could stay a while and contribute your skills (or company, or conversation) to this island, which probably needs them. The state becomes frightened in case you and your squalling brat,or brats, may become that dreadful thing – a Burden on the Taxpayer. They are happy to take your taxes while you’re working, but they can’t bear the thought of paying anything back; a natural point of view if ungenerous.

So it’s decided that you (and family) may stay here on condition that you have No Recourse to Public Funds, or NRPF as it’s called in the trade. You may enjoy thebeans view, or even the food, on condition you don’t expect us taxpayers to subsidise your lifestyle. You accept this condition, although it seems rather mean; get a job, marry, have children,… and then WHAM! the day comes when you lose your job, or your partner, or become disabled, or all of them. Naturally, you wish you could access some of those benefits you carelessly signed away. If you could get (say) housing benefit, you might be able to deal with the £3000 back rent, and they’re planning to evict you in ten  days.

I’ve learned – this is the real point of this post – that the Scrooges of the Home Office will ‘lift’ the NRPF condition and allow you some pitiful benefits if you or your lawyer can convince them that you’re destitute, as in DESTITUTE, no money at all; out of college, money spent, see no future, pay no rent (cf the Abbey Road song ‘You Never give me Your Money‘). Alternatively, that while only ‘nearly’ destitute you don’t have enough to support both yourself and the child/children; since if the Home Office allowed your children to starve they’d run afoul of Article 8 of the ECHR (‘Right to Family Life’ -a particular bugbear of Theresa May, I believe). You therefore only need to tell them exactly what you need to spend, and on what. They need to see ANNOTATED bank statements for the last six months – I’ve seen a  letter for the HO turning down an application because there were only four months’ statements and they weren’t annotated. And all your receipts from Lidl or the corner shop, or the butcher, baker and candlestick maker. And are you claiming that you can’t work, and so can’t earn? Better produce a doctor’s certificate.

This mass of paper has to be  topped up with an eloquent letter explaining how desperate your state is, and how you can survive and become a hardworking and useful subject (nay, a taxpayer) if, and only if, the H.O. will lift the NRPF condition. You do your best – but what a mountain of resistance you’re up against. It will take three months for the Home Office to give you a positive answer. By which time you may have had all your possessions seized by the bailiffs, your children may be near death because of your appalling housing conditions.  William Blake, as so often, knew how hard is the life of destitution,

‘NOUGHT loves another as itself,
Nor venerates another so,
Nor is it possible to Thought
A greater than itself to know:

‘And, Father, how can I love you
Or any of my brothers more?
I love you like the little bird
That picks up crumbs around the door.’

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The Priest sat by and heard the child,
In trembling zeal he seiz’d his hair:
He led him by his little coat,
And all admir’d the priestly care.

And standing on the altar high,
Lo! what a fiend is here,’ said he,
‘One who sets reason up for judge
Of our most holy Mystery.’

The weeping child could not be heard,
The weeping parents wept in vain;
They stripp’d him to his little shirt,
And bound him in an iron chain;

And burn’d him in a holy place,
Where many had been burn’d before:
The weeping parents wept in vain.
Are such things done on Albion’s shore?’

 

never mind proving that you’re destitute and need a few crumbs of support. I suppose the lawyers really do work for their money, particularly if they’re pro bono and it’s only a pittance anyway.

So here is Meredith Monk’s ‘Walking Song‘; the lady’s 75th birthday is coming up, I believe, and the admirable vocalists of ‘Juice’ were belting out a selection of her oeuvre in St John St last Tuesday. Anything to make our lives less miserable, in the current climate. Still more cheering is the news of the Supreme Court’s decision that torture by non-state actors is still torture, whatever the Home Secretary says.  La latte continue!