DAY 264: New times?

December 14th, 2018 § 0 comments § permalink

4243So today we have some upcoming, boring old news  of what may or may not be decided about the so-called United Kingdom and its future. This story has been going on so long, with so many turns in the plot, that I expect my readers have, like me, lost said plot and forgotten what, if any, were the issues. Who were the good/bad guys? What outcome, if any, might we applaud? Will ‘Great Britain’ remain attached to the so-called continent of ‘Europe’? It is, after all, a relatively short time since ‘Britain’  was separated from the ‘Continent’  by water; a mere 500.000 years ago, our ancestors used to saunter across the 22 miles of the Weald-Artois anticline, Dugue_Tiglienbefore the Anglian Glaciation. [Nit-pickers have been pointing out that the ;phrase 'our ancestors' only correctly refers to people descended from the  Paleolithics, which excludes Anglo-Saxons,and maybe even Celts].   And then, once they’d been forced to cross by water, they started insisting on constructing tunnels to connect the two sides; and then, yet again, having gone to the great trouble of making that connection, they set up barriers and border posts and using the CRS and CS gas  to repel anyone who tried to get across. It is, by now, so difficult to care, as the story becomes increasingly reduced to a fractious squabble among Tory MPs. dnd what is the point of it all? Since there seems to be very little relation to the class struggle, I (like Mr. Corbyn) find it difficult to focus on what might be a momentous decision for our island as I try to think of how it might relate to the concerns of miners in North Yorkshire.

Elsewhere, the important news today  is that in Greece Sarah Ezzat Mardini and her friends Sean and Thanos  are free on bail; remember that they have been unjustly imprisoned for over 100 days on fabricated charges of people smuggling. The charges have not been dropped, so that they could well still face a prison sentence – it’s a  temporary withdrawal by the state only. So where do we go now? I’m afraid I have my own aches and pains, and oncoming operations, and  such like to worry about; and a change in the insularity of Britain will not affect them in the near future. But I wish all the rest of you well as we tread down the slippery slope towards Christmas. Could we hope for the ejection of Old Corruption, and the institution of a rule of the losers, the desperate, the trodden-down, whether in ‘Europe’ or outside it – where solidarity will be rewarded and not punished; where the lonely and miserable will not have to rely on charities and handouts? Could that happen, without Europe ceasing to be ‘Europe’? I’m not clever enough to know the answer to such questions. I look at the future and what do I see? The looming prospect of jail sentences for the Stansted 15 Stansted-15-trial
(in particular), whose crime was to try to obstruct deportation flights

Fight against violent forced removals will go on, campaigners say, because ‘Home Office hasn’t changed its brutal policies’

The Stansted 15 activists at the opening of their trial in Chelmsford. Photograph: Kristian Buus/In Pictures/Getty Images

The Stansted 15 expected to face retribution for their protest. They never expected to be found guilty of terrorism offences.

But on Monday, the group became the first activists involved in a non-violent direct action protest to be convicted under laws that were formulated in response to the Lockerbie bombing. After a judge told the jury to disregard evidence put forward to support their defence that their attempt to stop a deportation flight was intended to stop human rights abuses, the defendants must wait until February to learn if they will face custodial sentences.

Alistair Tamlit and Benjamin Smoke, both from London, told the Guardian that they continued to believe that their action was necessary. Both said their concerns about the hostile environment and the Home Office’s secretive policy of deporting people on charter flights were as strong now as before they decided to take part in the direct action at the Essex airport in March 2017.The Stansted protesters saved me from wrongful deportation. They are heroes<

“We were charged with endangering life but we took the actions at Stansted to try to protect life. That point needs to keep on being put into the spotlight,” said Smoke. “As a result of what we did, 11 people who were on that flight are still in the UK appealing against their removals. That’s something for us to hold on to.”

He expressed alarm at the draconian convictions, the first time activists involved in a non-violent direct action protest have been convicted of such offences. “Our convictions today represent an unprecedented crackdown on the right to protest,” he said. “The Home Office hasn’t changed its brutal policies. The inherent racism and violence of these forced removals remains. He said that activists would continue to fight against the hostile environment. “This fight is about seeing people as people not as collateral damage of the Home Office’s policies. Today is a dark, dark day for the right to protest in a non-violent way.”

Both activists said they had been lucky to not only have a mutual support network among the 15 who stood trial and have now been convicted, but a much bigger support network, too.

‘On a personal level it has been horrendous and has taken a huge mental and physical toll,” said Smoke.

Tamlit said: “We’re all in a state of shock, sitting around and letting the news filter through. Our action has brought the issue of Home Office charter flights into the public domain in a way that they weren’t before.

“One of the women from a migrant solidarity group told me that her applications to remain in the UK have been rejected for eight years in a row. Hearing about things like that really puts our situation into perspective.

“People like that woman are really at the sharp end of the hostile environment. People are still being rounded up and put on to charter flights, but the fact that 11 of the people who were taken off the charter flight we stopped are still here is something that is going to stay with me. The fight against the hostile environment will continue.”

The Home Office removes thousands of migrants including asylum seekers each year. Following the action to stop the charter flight at Stansted airport, the ministry is increasingly using military bases such as Brize Norton and often uses the services of Titan Airways for these flights. Titan does corporate work as well as operating charter flights for the oil and gas industries and the military.

Tamlit had been involved with activism in support of migrants since his student days, including a few actions prior to Stansted such as supergluing himself to a door and lying in a road to protest.

“Stopping a charter flight is an intervention that keeps people in the country,” he said. “It was very nerve-racking on our way to Stansted but we read out testimonies from Detained Voices, a group of immigration detainees, which gave us strength to do what we did.

“We were singing and chanting when we were locked on. When we were arrested and each of the activists walked out we all felt incredible love and solidarity for the others. We were shocked when the initial charges of aggravated trespass were increased to terrorism-related charges. That made me realise that government don’t want us to be doing these protests.”

Smoke described the ramping up of the charges as “a bit of a curveball”. He said that, as a member of Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants, he knew what it felt like to be scapegoated. “I couldn’t stand idly by,” he said. “I felt it was important to use my voice and my privilege to speak up about how migrants are being treated by th

aside from chaos in the British Parliament, who still can’t make up theit mind over the so-called backstop on the Irish border (where is it?). The sailings of the Aquarius, which has saved countless lives in the Mediterranean, have been stopped via the machinations of the European right and Sig. Salvini and the far far right (see https://www.msf.org/aquarius-forced-end-operations-europe-condemns-people-drown). Some of  my friends, who cling to some kind of a desperate belief in logic, are still trying to make sense of all this nonsense;  but it same to me much more appropriate echo the words of Matthew Arnold on the same Dover Beachdover (at a time, it’s true, when there were neither immigration officers nor migrants, but still well after the Anglian Glaciation had created white cliffs and pebble beaches):

Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.
There will, as Jimmy Cliff reminds us, still be many rivers to cross.

 

DAY 263: The point of it

December 7th, 2018 § 0 comments § permalink

I’m writing from an increasing sense of despair. I read, every day, reports like this:

‘Medical teams working with asylum seekers on Greek islands are seeing multiple cases each week of minors who have attempted suicide or otherwise harmed themselves, the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) said today, calling for the immediate evacuation of vulnerable people, especially children, to the Greek mainland or within the European Union.More than 9,000 people—a third of whom are children—are stuck indefinitely on the island of Lesbos in Moria camp, which has a maximum capacity of 3,100 people. There have been numerous critical incidents highlighting significant gaps in the protection of children and other vulnerable people, MSF said. These include patients who have experienced violence, children who have harmed themselves, and people who lack access to urgently needed medical care. MSF provides mental health care and other medical services to camp residents.moria“These children come from countries in war, where they have experienced very extreme violence and trauma,” said Dr. Declan Barry, MSF’s medical coordinator in Greece. “Rather than receiving care and protection in Europe, they are instead subjected to ongoing fear, stress, and episodes of further violence, including sexual violence.”From February to June, in a group mental health activity for children from 6 to 18 years old, MSF teams observed that nearly a quarter of the children (18 out of 74) had harmed themselves, attempted suicide, or had thought about committing suicide. Other child patients suffer from elective mutism, panic attacks, anxiety, aggressive outbursts, and constant nightmares.The camp conditions also lead to a high risk of infectious diseases and other health conditions. In the first two weeks of September alone, more than 1,500 people arrived on Lesbos. With no space left, they are now sleeping without shelter or sufficient food and only extremely limited access to medical care.”As a result of the unsafe and unsanitary environment, we see many cases of recurrent diarrhea and skin infections in children of all ages,” Dr. Barry said. “At this level of overcrowding and unsanitary conditions, the risk of outbreaks is very high.”MSF has treated many children who have been identified by the hospital as needing care in Athens, but due to a lack of accommodation on the mainland, these children cannot access care. Instead, they are forced to live in an environment where their medical conditions and mental health deteriorate.”This is the third year that MSF has been calling on the Greek authorities and the European Union to take responsibility for their collective failures and to put in place sustainable solutions to avoid this catastrophic situation,” said Louise Roland-Gosselin, MSF head of mission in Greece. “It is time to immediately evacuate the most vulnerable to safe accommodation in other European countries.”MSF has been working outside of Moria camp since late 2017, providing pediatric care, mental health care for minors, and sexual and reproductive health care. MSF has also run a mental health clinic in Mytilene since October 2016.
 It’s easy to get addicted to reading this kind of stuff- a huge amount from the Greek islands, but also from the French coast, of course, from ‘hotspots’ throughout Europe; supplemented by the constant reports of wrecking and drowning in the Mediterranean, of which more later. That is, if you accept that you are reading real stories about real children – and why on earth should they be invented? What motive would MSF have for creating a genre of fiction which deals solely with the suffering of refugee children?
And so, if they are true, we should also feel some human involvement, that these are real people whose suffering is genuine; and that we have in some sense a duty to ‘do something’. The number of migrants – displaced people – who have arrived in Europe in the last four years is in the tens of thousands. Their treatment by governments is often disgraceful; so that they have no housing, and live where they can in conditions of appalling misery. Care for their safety and survival is left to organisations like MSF.
Coincidentally at sea, (well, it’s not an accident, rather part of a pattern of organised repression), MSF with its rescue ship the Aquarius faces imminent lockdown. An extract from their announcement:
  • Since February 2016, the Aquarius has assisted nearly 30,000 people in international waters between Libya, Italy and Malta
  • An estimated 2,133 people have died in the Mediterranean in 2018
  • Not only has Europe failed to provide search and rescue capacity, it has also actively sabotaged others’ attempts to save lives

MARSEILLE – As refugees, migrants and asylum seekers continue to die in the Mediterranean Sea, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and its partner SOS MEDITERRANEE have been forced to terminate operations by the search and rescue vessel Aquarius.

Over the past two months, with people continuing to flee by sea along the world’s deadliest migration route, the Aquarius has remained in port, unable to carry out its humanitarian work.

This is the result of a sustained campaign, spearheaded by the Italian government and backed by other European states, to delegitimise, slander and obstruct aid organisations providing assistance to vulnerable people.

Coupled with the EU’s ill-conceived external policies on migration, this campaign has undermined international law and humanitarian principles. With no immediate solution to these attacks, MSF and SOS MEDITERRANEE have no choice but to end operations by the

_104411698_hi050719578 Aquarius.

“This is a dark day,” says Nelke Manders, MSF’s general director. “Not only has Europe failed to provide search and rescue capacity, it has also actively sabotaged others’ attempts to save lives. The end of Aquarius means more deaths at sea, and more needless deaths that will go unwitnessed.”

Over the past 18 months, the attacks by EU states on humanitarian search and rescue operations have drawn on tactics used in some of the world’s most repressive states.

Despite working in full compliance with authorities, the Aquarius was twice stripped of its registration earlier this year and now faces allegations of criminal activity – allegations which are patently absurd.

Amid these smear campaigns and manoeuvres to undermine international law, people rescued at sea have been denied access to safe ports, refused assistance from other ships and left stranded at sea for weeks at a time.

The forced end to the Aquarius’ operations happens at a critical time. An estimated 2,133 people have died in the Mediterranean in 2018, with departures from Libya accounting for the overwhelming majority of deaths.

European member states have fuelled the suffering by enabling the Libyan coastguard to intercept more than 14,000 people at sea this year and forcibly return them to Libya.

This is in clear violation of international law. In 2015, Europe made a commitment to the UN Security Council that nobody rescued at sea would be forced to return to Libya.

“Today, Europe is directly supporting forced returns while claiming successes on migration,” says Karline Kleijer, MSF’s head of emergencies. “Let’s be clear about what that success means: a lack of lifesaving assistance at sea; children, women and men pushed back to arbitrary detention with virtually no hope of escape; and the creation of a climate that discourages all ships at sea from carrying out their obligations to rescue those in distress.”

Since the start of its search and rescue mission in February 2016, the Aquarius has assisted nearly 30,000 people in international waters between Libya, Italy and Malta.

The Aquarius’ last active period of search and rescue ended on 4 October 2018, when it arrived in the port of Marseille following the rescue of 58 people.

Together with MSF’s previous search and rescue vessels – the Bourbon Argos, Dignity, Prudence and Phoenix – MSF has rescued or assisted more than 80,000 people in the Mediterranean Sea since 2015.

Despite recent efforts of other NGOs at sea, today there are no dedicated rescue boats operating in the Central Mediterranean.

“As long as people are drowning and trapped in Libya, MSF remains committed to finding ways to provide them with medical and humanitarian care,” says Kleijer.

All this is well-known; I have repeated it over and over gain, and so have many many others who have involved themselves in the struggle to ensure the rights of refugees, at all stages of their journey; whether on arrival in some squalid camp like Moria, or during their onward journey, or finally in their attempts to establish the right to make their home in this country. There are many of us, often my friends, or their friends, who have chosen to stand with the refugees and defend their rights. But for every post which I read supporting them, I may read half a dozen which call for them to be sent back where they came, and which call them fakes, healthy adults,  undeserving our support, who should be returned (across the desert?) to the zones of war and starvation from which they have fled. Are these voices (which, I repeat, I read all the time, as can you) in any way representative of our people – or are they simply part of that lunatic fringe which social media are notorious for fostering? I sincerely hope that it’s the second.For our own survival as a nation of civilised people, we have to resist them.
I was lucky enough (and had enough money) last night ti hear Ralph McTell singing ‘The Streets of London‘ for I respect the at leat five thousandth time Lucky that it bears repeating that many times, and still speaks to the dispossessed in out cities.

DAY 262: Old obsessions

December 2nd, 2018 § 0 comments § permalink

It’s encouraging to see that the idea of a  ’one-state solution’ to the problems of the bit of the Middle East formerly lived in by, among others, Abraham, Moses, David, Solomon, Herod

XYqHxOqR_400x400

 Jesus and so on is finally getting more of an airing; the latest spat being the remarks of CNN’s Marc Lamont-Hill (which got him sacked) in which he made the the suggestion that we would be better off with one state from the river to the sea, and that a democratic one. [Many have noted that we do in practice only have one state , but that it's operating what's effectively an apartheid régime.] Let’s see whether the idea spreads to white academics (and beyond).

As we move inexorably though the cycle of festivities from Thanksgiving to the various kinds of Christmas – Coptic, Maronite, Armenian, via Beethoven’s birthday (i7th December, I think) ; not forgetting Hanukkah – I’ve been caught up in a quite different celebration – you guessed it – watching five Palestinian films in three days. I was obviously going to try to get to as many events st the Palestine film festival as I could – not many, sit happened – turning into quite an habitué of rioDalston’s famed ‘Rio’ cinema in the Kingsland Road, and the numerous nearby Kurdish bars for animated post-cinematic discussion where the names of Anne-Marie Jacir and Larissa Sansour jostled this of Laura Mulvey and Peter Wollen in an atmosphere which should have been smoke-filled except that you can’t smoke even in Kurdish restaurants these days. Having missed a number of key events, I was delighted to watch Arab and Tarzan Nasser’s ‘Dégradé’, and Larissa Sansour’s ‘In the Future they Ate out of Finest Porcelain’; but I certainly missed countless other treats.. (I must recommend ‘Speed Sisters’, a tribute to Palestinian women motorbike racers which didn’t make it to the festival.)

At this point I should describe in more  detail than I have so far without being tactless) what I mean by ‘my household’ – .not in the sense of ownership, but in the sense of where I live. This consists currently(omitting cats and dogs)  of two pensioners (who tend to get up in normal time for breakfast, and talk to each other in the way pensioners do) and three members of the younger 16-36 age group (who tend to be around rarely, at completely unpredictable times, but not mostly when I need them e.g. when I’ve lost something which I really need). These, as you can imagine, are mostly on their phones – talking to friends? posting opinionated messages on social networks? Blocking each other for unacceptable behaviour? How do I know? When I need something and shout up the stairs, (‘ Where’s my diary/Capital volume I/the dustpan?’)  dustpanI need to phone or text someone who may answer  if I’m lucky. We sometimes have a meal together, as if by chance, we may even have a conversation but this isn’t apparently the stuff of sharing the same living space. The kind of thing which used to be common in the seventies (‘Comrade! You haven’t cleaned out the toilet in an acceptable way! There will be a special meeting at 3.15 to discuss and correct your behaviour.’) seems to have vanished to a bygone age. And this kind of thing seems to be becoming more the norm, so that my Somali friends too are complaining that they miss that careless sociability which used to  characterise the  family, or qoyska as they call it back home, and the kids are in their rooms on their phones. How the ideology of communal living has changed! Are you, ny friends, having the same experiences? If I try, as I would naturally do, to suggest that we should alll get together to organise a reading of Three Sisters or watch a Korean psychodrama, I can’t be sure of gathering everyone in the same room at the same time. How does your experience compare with mine?

Where am I?

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