DAY 269: Resurrection

April 20th, 2019 § 0 comments § permalink


I’m trying to celebrate, as many others are, the fact that all three Abrahamic religions are celebrating their jamborees on or near the same day. (I’m passing up the Samaritans, given their uncertain claim to representation in this field, and I don’t think there will be many of them to argue with me.) What is there to celebrate? I think, in fear and trembling, given the dubious natures of the three festivals. At the same time I’m noting the rise of another form of festival, in the form of the ‘Extinction Rebellion’ celebrations on Westminster Bridge. What is being celebrated by these diverse revellers? The sacrifice of Isaac? The Crucifixion? The fall and resurrection of man? It all seems to come down

to a misapprehension about where this planet is headed, and no one has clarified to me exactly where that is. The drafters of the Book of Revelation were unclear about the answer, too, even if it seems to involve unbelievers perishing in a lake of fire. That, one would think, would be an extinction to celebrate.

My friend Isis rather hit the nail on the head, I thought, in pointing out how rapidly the huge sums required to rebuild Notre Dame after its catastrophic fire (in which no one perished), were found in contrast to the contemptible slowness of donors, whether private or corporate, in making any attempt to compensate for the damage to life and property following the fire and major loss of life at Grenfell Towers.

Indeed, one wonders what is the founding myth of XR? given that Easter and Passover seem to be (scholars agree) simply an excuse for running the old spring festival through under a different name. There is an obvious, but rather contradictory hope on the part of XR activists that if you glue yourself to a bus or policeman you will halt the inevitable process whereby this planet is hurtling to its destruction, or at least the loss of all its resources.

On a different if related theme, my colleagues at the Guardian have made a forceful post about the Home Office: not fit for purpose, to put it bluntly. I quote (a much abbreviated version of an indictment which is well worth studying)

‘Rather than trying to reform this sadistic operation, it should be replaced with a new body that respects human rights rather than subordinating them to an ideology hostile to migrants. Demanding the abolition of the Home Office must be combined with a debate on combating institutionalised racism. But as the injustices committed by the Home Office multiply it becomes ever clearer that it cannot be reformed: it must go.’

Please hold your collective breath, as I try to retrain myself for some further interventions.

DAY 268: Revisiting

April 16th, 2019 § 0 comments § permalink


Well, last night a historic church in France was destroyed by fire Screen Shot 2019-04-16 at 13.07.43 – you probably heard about it. And I wept, with many of my French fellow-citizens, as I remembered my past visits to the vast and beautiful church. Of course, the fire which partly  destroyed Notre Dame was probably the result of careless contractors’ failure to take proper precautions; while three churches in Calais were destroyed (two years before) deliberately and violently by the civil authorities who were determined to erase a culture which was trying to establish some feeble roots in Northern France. I’ve been weeping a fair bit about them too, and I recommend you to spend some. time on them. (Since the idea of , for example, an Ethiopian church in Calais seemed intolerable to the citizens.) The Socialist mayor of Paris Anne Hidalgo, who has been. it seems, (in contrast to M. Macron) doing her best to ameliorate the misery of the migrants sleeping rough in the streets of the capital, and has inevitably called for an end to their persecution; is now confronting the disaster of Notre Dame. Fluctuat nec mergitur.

 

 

Screen Shot 2019-04-16 at 12.08.06

No one seems to have been killed in either fire, by contrast to the destruction which has been wrought on the streets of Paris and indeed Calais  by the CRS. And now here we are, desperately trying to shore up some fragments of ourselves in this ruined landscape.

By an odd coincidence, but it’s not just a coincidence, I’ve been renewing acquaintance, at least virtually, with some of the old 2015 gang; the lads and lasses who tramped with me along the Chemin des Dunes as, bit by bit, it was being destroyed. What are we doing now? I hope to find out; in my case, the answer is nothing very hopeful. In this new strange Britain where Jeremy Corbyn and Teresa May link arms to ensure a non-catastrophic Brexit, I can’t see any place for my old comrades; but prescience has never been my strong point. We may meet from time to time over tea and hot cross buns to discuss the possible outcomes for a Europe in which the fascists seem to be everywhere on the ascendant; ;and we are , these days, the discussing the concept of a ‘crime of solidarity’ as it’s increasingly called.

And yet how rapidly things are changing! In Sudan and Algeria, two countries where an ‘old guard’ had clung to power for thirty years, it has been summarily removed in a matter of weeks. I don’t have the knowledge or wisdom to comment to where these immensely hopeful developments may lead, I’ll simply mention them to show I’m not completely ignorant.

And in Paris, the mayor, Anne Hidalgo is trying to avoid the repression which is an inevitable temptation for European governments.

Des tentes abritant des migrants, porte d’Aubervilliers, à Paris, le 9 avril.
Tents sheltering migrants, porte d’Aubervilliers, Paris, the 9th April.

 The Mairie will ‘stop fraudulent dealing and drug trafficking, seven days a week’; and to rebuild a bit of peace, they claim they will strengthen the new  teams of city police.There will be a brigade present  under the aerial metro from Barbes to Stalingrad and around.

Paris, France – Trying to ward off the overnight cold with a blanket donated by volunteers, Muktar Ali was sleeping rough in the north of Paris when at about 4:30am, the police returned. He and several other Eritreans say they were pushed, prodded and kicked by police clearing the area.

“Police took everything I had – clothes, shoes, blanket – and threw it all away,” said Ali, 33, who had fled forced conscription in Eritrea and was held captive by rebels in Libya before crossing the Mediterranean Sea to Europe. Now, he’s among many refugees living on the streets of Paris, who have been subjected to displacement, detention and deportations.

Police raids, at least 30 since last June, and a cycle in which displaced people return to live in squalid camps, have angered residents and prompted them to form groups like Le Collectif La Chapelle Debout, which provide food and shelter that they say the government should be providing.

But recently, as a result of these actions, these activists have been finding themselves in criminal courts across France.

Houssam El Assimi, of Chapelle Debout, was arrested during a police raid on a Paris camp last September. Charged with “violence against persons holding public authority,” he faces up to three years in prison and €45,000 (over $48,000) in fines.

Last week, his trial was adjourned until May. In the meantime, he plans to file charges against the police for using excessive force during his arrest.

He has been translating French and Arabic and helping migrants navigate the French immigration system and told Al Jazeera that he is being targeted because his group protests against the police and government policy.

El Assimi is one of several people pursued in the courts for protesting on behalf of migrants and asylum seekers or providing them with transport and shelter.

Under Article L622-1 of France’s immigration law, anyone who “facilitates or attempts to facilitate the illegal entry, movement or residence of a foreigner in France shall be punished by imprisonment for five years and a fine of €30,000 (over $32,000)”.

Pierre Mannoni was arrested at a highway toll booth while driving three injured Eritrean teenage girls to Nice for medical care [Kyle G Brown/Al Jazeera]

Crime of solidarity

Pierre Mannoni, a 45-year-old geography professor and father of two, was arrested at a highway toll booth while driving three injured Eritrean teenage girls to Nice for medical care. He was acquitted in court, thanks to another clause stipulating that one must benefit from the transaction – a clear reference to human trafficking. But the prosecution has appealed and called for a six-month prison term.

Often referred to as the “crime of solidarity”, the law has been used to prosecute people who support  migrants and asylum seekers.

Rights group Gisti has documented a rise in the number of such cases going to court, and more than 100 NGOs, charities and labour unions signed a manifesto this month calling for an end to the criminalisation of humanitarian activity.

“What we’re seeing is that all of the cases have one purpose,” Claudia Charles, a legal expert at Gisti, told Al Jazeera. “That’s to discourage any kind of support for the foreign population, be they migrants, Roma or asylum seekers.”

Originally aimed at smugglers in 1945, the law was sometimes used under former President Nicolas Sarkozy’s administration to prosecute those who helped immigrants

In 2012, the new Socialist government vowed to turn the page. “Our law cannot punish those who, in good faith, want to give a helping hand,” said Manuel Valls, then France’s interior minister.

Human rights groups accuse the government of betraying its word and say an ever-widening range of laws are now being used to criminalise people for helping new arrivals, from the charge of assault to defamation and “insulting a public official.”

“Since 2015, there’s been a proliferation of cases aimed at intimidating or preventing citizens from expressing solidarity with migrants, refugees and Roma,” says Marine De Hass, of the rights group, La Cimade. “It’s not just article 622-1. A growing number of people are being prosecuted for helping or supporting, undocumented persons,” De Hass told Al Jazeera.

Local Green councillor Jean-Luc Munro described a personal incident that took place as he was riding his bike in a Roma camp near Lille last April.

He said he was thrown off his bike after being told to stop by the police at a roadblock there, and was consequently charged with using his bicycle as a weapon to inflict “violence against a public official”.

“There’s been a real hardening against activists for a year and a half now,” Munro told a local newspaper.

Having documented only a handful of cases against activists between 2012 and 2015, Gisti lists more than a dozen in 2016 alone, with several more going to court in the coming months.

The list is not exhaustive: both Charles and De Hass say there are probably more, unknown, cases.

Bruno Le Roux, the French interior minister, told Al Jazeera, however, that if no one profits from helping refugees and migrants, there is no “crime of solidarity”. “So I can tell you that for all the cases being pursued, in court, they’re cases where we believe there is a violation of the law.”

The ministry has not responded to repeated requests for an explanation as to why cases are being pursued in which no personal gain is apparent. Although the Nice courts concluded as much in Mannoni’s trial, the prosecution appealed his acquittal.

“It’s crazy that we have reached this stage,” says Mannoni. “Where I’ve gone to trial for helping someone who is hurt. The government is criminalising human charity.”

But this is the way it’s been going. Georges Brassens would have understood.

 

 

Day 267: Abling

April 5th, 2019 § 0 comments § permalink

Having been, over the last few weeks, more disabled than I can care to remember, I can pass on a few tips on the long and painful inverse process of becoming abled. if you have become,Nick-and-Vicky-740-x-417-1 disabled, the NHS will spend a certain number of weeks abling you free of charge, with carers to wash you and phystotherapists to try to get your feeble frame back to its former ability. You begin in a spirit of confidence – good heavens, this disabled part of my body seems much more abled than it was last week; I can walk along the hall, and even back with sticks; type a letter, read a tweet, etc etc. But ahead of this, the goal of being actually declared able (and being able in my own mind) seems to have vanished to an indefinite distance. Screen Shot 2019-04-08 at 19.23.21

Me, Virginie and Zimako in happier days, 2015.

And indeed what is it? If the NHS declares me able, can I argue with their conclusions? There seems to be much more to this business of abling than I  had imagined; and the process stretches out indefinitely,there being so many disabled parts of me which need to be abled. Islington has in its kindness been providing something like an army of ablers who will teach me to do for myself what I have forgotten; but like any of the State’s provisions, this is necessarily limited in time, and at a certain point the process of abling will necessarily cease, leaving me, I have to conclude, only partly abled.

o-CALAIS-JUNGLE-facebook

I’d rather be able, and working in the jungle – which of course doesn’t exist any more. When can I shave, or do a crossword, or any of those essential activities which (one doesn’t realise) one couldn’t carry on one’s daily existence without? Most nights I try to watch an educational film by Pasolini or Annnemarie Jacir on the lapt0p, with some difficulty (I”m not sufficiently enabled to get the movie to stream to me), trying to piece together the implications of the social context. What social context, I might ask, am I embedded in? I have left disabled those things which I ought to have abled, and I don’t see where to get help.

It involves, inevitably, exercise, and if you don’t like exercise or can’t face it, you might as well forget it and stay disabled. Bend that knee, lift that right arm. Pain? Gain. Get motivated, for Chtrist’s sake!

Please help me, friends, and that soon.

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!'
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”
Please help me, friends, and that soon.

DAY 266: The friendly bug

February 2nd, 2019 § 0 comments § permalink

Well,I should have done with apologising for my silence. God knows, it has enough reasons; and many of my readers may feel some relief to have been spared this prattle – since a bit before January 11th, when I went (voluntarily) into UCLH (‘requires improvement’ – CQC)uchto have a knee replacement. The operation was certainly well worthwhile, since I could hardly walk; it went through quickly enough and was reported successful. This was on the 11th January; and what I didn’t expect was that I’d then be facing over three weeks of hospital life in its various incarnations. Luckily I’d brought Thomas Mann’s well-known text The Magic Mountain for light reading; and since it’s both about life in a sanatorium and extremely long, it was a pretty good choice, whiling away the endless nights, but the discipline – when can you turn on the light? – and the company haven’t always been to my choice, since I have to recognise that I’m getting old and crotchety. And my chances of thinking coherently for any length of time, and formulating a set of principles, have been slim indeed.

But my lucky break came int the form of my catching the well-known virulent bacterium Clostrioides difficile, known familiarly as C.Diff, and endemic in hospitals. Once it had been1024px-Clostridium_difficile_01 established that I had the bug, (a sample of stool was all it took and I had plenty), there was nothing for it as far as UCLH were concerned but to isolate me in a private room, with a view and my own toilet. I have in the past considered myself a sociable person (particularly in the cheery camaraderie of the Calais kitchen); but this solitude, with only the friendly attentions of doctors, nurses and family, has been very much to my taste and I may find myself forced to rethink my position. And, of course, besides Them Mann’s Meisterwerk, I’ve had a bit of the leisure I lacked to catch up on reading the posts of my allies in the struggle against detention, for MSF, the heroes of sea rescue and against the vicious Salvini mafia and their henchmen. And I learned (six months late) that the High Court had – subject to appeal as usual – made a start on doing away with Detained Fast Track as a way of making things harder for detainees:

‘The High Court has today declared the appeals process for asylum-seekers in detention to be unlawful.  Mr Justice Nicol quashed the procedural rules governing the Detained Fast Track asylum process, under which appeals are processed according to severely truncated timescales.

However, despite this finding the judge nevertheless granted to the Lord Chancellor’s request to stay the ruling until his appeal is heard in the Court of Appeal, on the basis that for the order to take effect immediately would be ‘inconvenient’.

The judgement would mean that the Home Office would no longer be able to assign asylum-seekers to an accelerated appeals process in detention.  Asylum-seekers would therefore no longer be detained throughout the asylum process simply for claiming asylum.  But until the appeal is heard, asylum-seekers will continue to face an appeals system that has been found unlawful.

Detention Action is considering urgently appealing the order refusing the stay – I wish them good luck.

Mr Justice Nicol ruled that the Fast Track Rules ‘do incorporate structural unfairness.  They put the Appellant at a serious procedural disadvantage… because his opponent in the appeal, the SSHD [Home Secretary], has decided that this is what should happen.’

He observed that ‘by allowing one party to the appeal to put the other at serious procedural disadvantage without sufficient judicial supervision, the Rules are not securing that justice be done or that the tribunal system is fair. [The Tribunal Procedures Committee] could not impinge on the minimum level of fairness or the irreducible minimum of due process bearing in mind the appropriate degree of fairness that asylum appeals require. For these reasons, in my judgment, the Fast Track Rules were ultra vires.’’ (So as usual, the Home Secretary is certain to try to reverse the admirable judgment.)

How many other judgments have I missed! But I simply need to catch up, and I count on you, my friends and supporters, to keep me abreast of what’s new; of what our comrades in Garden Court and such places are up to in the defence of detainees and asylum seekers.

In the middle of the night, I think of (what I might say if I got round to addressing a meeting): how lucky I am, bad legs, C.Diff and all, to be still alive and around when there are such transparently good causes to fight for, and such admirable allies I have to stand with me in the struggle. True, there were times in the seventies and eighties when, under the influence of such as Tariq Ali, I thought that I was in the heart of the class war; but such are the tricks which history plays on you.

I should here post the whole of W.E.Henley’s ‘In Hospital’ sequence (1873-5); but it’s not all relevant, and would obviously take up too much space. So here’s a sample, VII ‘Vigil’, which reflects how I’ve quite often felt.

VII

LIVED on one’s back,
In the long hours of repose
Life is a practical nightmare —
Hideous asleep or awake.

Shoulders and loins
Ache – – – !
Ache, and the mattress,
Run into boulders and hummocks,
Glows like a kiln, while the bedclothes —
Tumbling, importunate, daft —
Ramble and roll, and the gas,
Screwed to its lowermost,
An inevitable atom of light,
Haunts, and a stentorous sleeper
Snores me to hate and despair.

All the old time
Surges malignant before me;
Old voices, old kisses, old songs
Blossom derisive about me;
While the new days
Pass me in endless procession:
A pageant of shadows
Silently, leeringly wending
On . . . and still on . . . still on!

Far in the stillness a cat
Languishes loudly. A cinder
Falls, and the shadows
Lurch to the leap of the flame. The next man to me
Turns with a moan; and the snorer,
The drug like a rope at his throat,
Gasps, gurgles, snorts himself free, as the night-nurse,
Noiseless and strange,
Her bull’s eye half-lanterned in apron,
(Whispering me, ‘Are ye no sleepin’ yet?
Passes, list-slippered and peering,
Round . . . and is gone.

Sleep comes at last —
Sleep full of dreams and misgivings —
Broken with brutal and sordid
Voices and sounds that impose on me,
Ere I can wake to it,
The unnatural, intolerable day.

And for contrast, the Rolling Stones’ ‘Dear Doctor‘ – even though the singer’s predicament doesn’t actually seem to be medical at all…

DAY 265: New year.

January 5th, 2019 § 0 comments § permalink

WARNING: The author of this blog is, alas, beginning to run out of steam as his physical strength gives way in almost every direction. I”d better get some words through asap in order to have at least a semblance of having something to say. Every tinpot Pope or dictator has sent his or her people a new year message promising better times in 2019; and while I completely despise and disbelieve such promises, I’d better say something. Moreover, I think it would be a poor year if I didn’t say something to kick it off. I’m feeling so debilitated – I’ll perhaps spare you the gruesome details – that my poor brain is barely up to stringing a couple of sentences together. But who am I, I ask, in these desperately lost and miserable times, to say anything? I look around and what do I see which I could c0mmunicate? The same stories of increasing repression and persistent resistance. This, (below) the latest this morning, arrived from SOS Mediterranee. I read them all the time and they don’t change. Nor does the excruciating pain in my knees which distracts me from stringing a sensible sentence together, and which I’m told will be a as it were magically dispelled by a skilled surgeon in about a week’s time. It seems much too soon for me; I have to collect my thoughts, to make my will, and to see a) if there are any other bits of me which deserve priority in the stitching-up process, b) if I should not give priority to the problems of the world, and put my own on hold. O People, awaiting my new year’s message – what do I have to tell you? In the first place, don’t trust anyone who promises you a short-term solution for your ills. The masses who have fled the killing fields of Syria to end up in the swamps of Calais are likely to die in the cold unless you (we) make a move to end their suffering. And as for those whose, I keep repeating, are turned back by Salvini’s henchmen to drown in the Mediterranean, what hope do we hold out for them? A small ray of light comes from a few mayors of Italian towns who will defy their government; and elsewhere, our best hope seems to be in the people, the small and the local; the volunteers, the newly elected members of Congress, few as they are – Palestinian, Somali, Native American, miles from having the weight of numbers to face up to the rulers of their country, they still represent moral authority. I salute them, and the underground workers all over the world who are defending justice and peace. They know who they are. This new year, they represent a new hope.

Milton, who had no problems but blindness, found a sort of comfort in standing and waiting; will it serve me amid my sea of troubles?
“When I consider how my light is spent,
   Ere half my days, in this dark world and wide,
   And that one Talent which is death to hide
   Lodged with me useless, though my Soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
   My true account, lest he returning chide;
   “Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?”
   I fondly ask. But patience, to prevent
That murmur, soon replies, “God doth not need
   Either man’s work or his own gifts; who best
   Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state
Is Kingly. Thousands at his bidding speed
   And post o’er Land and Ocean without rest:
   They also serve who only stand and wait.”

ROME – Italian migrant rescue ship Mediterranea set off from Malta Friday to bring relief to Sea Watch 3 which has been roaming the Mediterrean for 14 days with 32 migrants aboard.
Meanwhile Naples Mayor Luigi de Magistris reiterated that the port of Naples was open to migrants despite a ban imposed by Interior Minister and Deputy Premier Matteo Salvini.
He said he was determined to save the lives of “children who are dying at sea”.
Salvini said “I’m full of messages from Neapolitans who want de Magistris to deal with the problems of Naples, the rubbish in Naples, the traffic in Naples, jobs in Naples, public housing in Naples; if he wants to be a yachtsman and open the port let him do so, but the interior minister has competence over the port, as he does over all Italian ports”.
Salvini was backed by his ruling partner Luigi Di maio who said Italian mayors can’t open ports to migrants.
“There are mayors thinking of whether they should open or close ports,” said Di Maio, who is the other deputy premier as well as industry and labour minister. “I’d like to remind them that they have no authority by law and this shows that all these statements are part of a great opportunity to wage a little election campaign and ask citizens for some votes”.
The European Commission is continuing its “intense” contacts with member States disposed to finding a solution for two migrant rescue ships carrying a total of 49 migrants for almost two weeks, EC spokeswomen Mina Andreeva said Friday.
The Sea Watch has 32 migrants while Sea Eye has a further 17, making 49 in all.
Andreeva said the EC was trying to find countries willing to “find a solution on the rapid disembarkation of the people on board the Sea Watch 3 and the Sea Eye”.
On Thursday, she said, Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos urged member States to “help this joint effort to safely disembark those on board as soon as possible.
“A series of member States has voiced willingness towards this joint effort and to support Malta”, she said.

 

And, besides saving the drowning, the admirable MSF continues to bring new life into a cod unwelcoming world. I wish them all well – here are  the first.

Afghanistan

Baby Mariam from Afghanistan

Ivory Coast

A new arrival in Cote D’Ivoire

MSF
A new arrival in Cote D’Ivoire

Thirty-four-year-old mother Gninguin welcomed her fifth child, a little boy, at 9:02 am in the morning on New Year’s Day.

The baby was born at Boniéré Urban Health Center in the Cote D’Ivoire and weighed 3.2 kgs.

Although she hasn’t yet given a name to the new arrival, Gninguin says her dream is simply that he “becomes a good person”.

Honduras

Newborn Maria in Choloma, Honduras

MSF

And here to welcome them is John Coltrane playing Naima

 

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?

DAY261: New directions

November 21st, 2018 § 0 comments § permalink

Since yesterday I’ve been cheered by reading the UN special rapporteur David Alston’s damning recent Equality and Human Rights Commission report. ‘Is Britain Fairer?’ (See the Guardian, from whom as usual I stole or borrowed the information.) Take child poverty: the rate in the UK is 30% of children. But that number is 50% for black children and 60% for those of Pakistani and Bangladeshi origin. Ethnic minorities are more at risk of becoming homeless, with worse access to healthcare and higher rates of infant mortality. And yes, the EHRC report restates and adds to the UN’s 2014 findings: women are more likely to be in low-paid work, more likely to be child carers, more likely to be the child carer in a single-parent household, and thus more likely to be the child carer of a disabled child in a single-parent household. All this also puts them at higher risk of violence, with a more urgent need for legal aid that has been slashed, and a higher possibility of falling down the cracks of the immigration system.

Austerity creates not just poverty, but also what the EHRC calls a “two-speed” society, one where certain groups are trapped, excluded from prosperity. The result is an acceleration of disadvantage. Nearly 400,000 more children and 300,000 more pensioners are living in poverty compared with five years ago.

And the more excluded one becomes from society, the more likely one is to become isolated, which means childpovfewer advocates and weaker connections to those in power, who include those who report the news and lobby the government. It is easier for the media and politicians to deny the pain of those who are already invisible. Nowhere is this more clearly shown than in the length of time it took to draw public attention at last to the Windrush scandal, a human rights miscarriage of life-and-death proportions. This is the wreckage which the Tory government has caused in Britain; and which the prospect that no attempt to solve the insoluble Brexit conundrum – Northern Ireland border and all –  has any chance of succeeding. Of course, I may always be proved wrong as I so often am, but it’s nice to feel you”re on the winning side if only for a few hours. But then, I’ve been still more cheered by the news that the Brexit, game, if it ever happens, will be played for another two years.  At his rate I’m  very likely to be dead by that time.  So, I’ve happily set aside current affairs and  got absorbed in

caledonian-rd-and-barnsbury-overground-station-9abbb8d7a7854cfae0e0ba8c1364eb49 reading rather too much, and getting more than usually confused by, much stuff on fifth century Christianity (but you knew I was obsessed with that) and a new interest, literature on LGBT Palestinian grassroots activism which I think my readers will agree is much more absorbing than the intricacies of Tory infighting.  There are naturally several articles in Jadaliyya which draw a firm line, if one was needed, between pinkwashing and pinkwatching, a comradely dingdong which has taken up some space in my sister publication; and I’ve been helped in my understanding, naturally, by Holly Lewis’ ‘The Politics of Everybody’, with its scholarly discussions of what Marx, Engels, Kollontai et al thought – and Holly points out that they thought much more than you thought they thought – of  queer identities (inasmuch as they did). All this, as I say, is a welcome relief., after all this hanging about waiting for something, anything to happen on the Brexit front. You’ll naturally want to know about (or rather listen to) the Palestinian queer music – in particular ji2eto Ela Ahli (‘I came to my family’, from al-qaws) and I’ve  been trying to incorporate the works of this varied and exciting group of people; and somewhat frustrated by my limited ability to actually reproduce their music, in my own  clunky format. I just nonetheless refer you to their pages on “Ghanni A`an Taa`rif” or ‘singing sexuality’, in the hopes that you can find them.

 I was somewhat appalled to find (but there are always new discoveries to be made, after all) that my sister, after all this time, had been living a mere quarter of a mile from Brewery Road without knowing where it was. That road, where a crucial suicide took place in Samuel Beckett’s Murphy (the landlady having had to decide whether to run to the York Road or Caledonian Road police station to report it) is pretty much at the centre of my mental map of literary London; and I’ve had it on my mind, as an old  sweet song might keep Georgia, for over thirty years. But we all have our own obsessions, our tracks along which our minds are destined to run. And who knows what new maps will be drawn by London’s current arrivals? Hard at work they are, at the University of East London, drawing in their minds a new nightmarish country in which, no doubt, London meets Raqqa; and neglecting their more profitable studies on courses in non-abelian categories or antibiotic-resistant bacteria or gender-based violence. to sit and spin yarns for the benefit of idlers in cafes. But who am I to moralise? And where, after Brexit, will this country of the displaced Syrians and Afghans claim as its home?

 

DAY 260: Decline and fall

November 16th, 2018 § 0 comments § permalink


I was thinking these times were unprecedented, what with all this Brexit stuff and other things which I don’t begin to understand; and then I remember (not that I was there) the departure of the Romans from this island in the fifth century, which must have aroused some of the same emotions. With those who were attached to the old empire  and fought to keep the legions, the vino, the bread and circuses none side, against those who hoped for a new start with Hengist and Horsa and such migrants on the other. I hesitate to draw a moral. It is, though, exciting to be living through such times when a drama, half tragedy and half farce (as they usually are) is being played out – with half the Cabinet resigning, and an increasing lingering doubt over whether our poor country can be governed at all – and if it can, who will be governing it by the end of this week How many people really support the pseudo-solution we’ve been offered? The Government, as weight expect, is quick to offer pseudo-statistics:

‘Prisons Minister Rory Stewart found himself performing what may be one of the fastest U-turns in British politics after using a fabricated statistic about public backing for the Prime Minister’s Brexit plan. Mr Stewart, 45, a Theresa May loyalist, was pulled up by BBC Radio 5’s Emma Barnett when he claimed in an interview on Thursday morning that “80% of the British public support this deal”. Asked to back up this claim, he first asked for a chance to “get the language right”, before saying he had been “producing a number to try to illustrate what I believe” because “the people who are rejecting this are 10% on either fringe”.’

. Like C.P.Cavafy, we feel that we need the barbarians, 8267-lec8-1536x865and we don’t have them:

Why this sudden bewilderment, this confusion?
(How serious people’s faces have become.)
Why are the streets and squares emptying so rapidly,
everyone going home lost in thought?
      Because night has fallen and the barbarians haven’t come.
      And some of our men just in from the border say
      there are no barbarians any longer.
 Now what’s going to happen to us without barbarians?
Those people were a kind of solution.

I strongly recommend Prof. Maiani’s article on http://eumigrationlawblog.eu/regional-disembarkation-platforms-and-controlled-centres-lifting-the-drawbridge-reaching-out-across-the-mediterranean-or-going-nowhere/#more-2188, describing the recent evolution of European border control at land and on the sea, its growing illegality and inhumanity. To give an extract:

‘France has been pushing back migrants crossing from Ventimiglia,Ventimiglia Italy for years. This practice is illegal. At present, France is only authorized under EU law to carry out terrorism-related checks on what should be an open border. Furthermore, systematic pushbacks of this kind constitute collective expulsions prohibited by the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Lastly, they contravene due process guarantees established by the EU Asylum Procedures Directive and Dublin Regulation, namely the right to make an application for protection, the right to have the responsible EU MS determined through the application of the criteria laid down in the Dublin Regulation, including those based on family ties and on humanitarian considerations, the right to a personal interview and to a reasoned decision; the right to an effective remedy having suspensive effect against a transfer decision.

Uncontested for years, the French push-back practice is now becoming a model for other European countries. With local elections in view, the German minister of Interior has threatened to follow France’s lead and push back asylum seekers at the border with Austria. The Austrian Chancellor promptly followed suit, announcing border closures with Italy and Croatia while advocating, with an exceptionally bad choice of words, for an “axis of the willing” between Germany, Austria, and Italy against illegal migration. Meanwhile, in Italy, the new government decided to flex its muscles and close its ports to boats carrying migrants rescued in the Mediterranean.

In short: minimum consensus for reforming the CEAS seems lacking, unilateral measures threaten the integrity of the CEAS itself and of the Schengen travel area, and a humanitarian crisis is unfolding in the Mediterranean due to uncertainty and conflict around points of disembarkation.

It fell to the European Council to find political ways forward for a European solution to the unfolding crisis. The conclusions eventually adopted at the meeting of 28 June 2018 placed CEAS reform on the back burner and shifted focus to new measures designed to “prevent a return to the uncontrolled flows of 2015 and to further stem illegal migration on all existing and emerging routes.”’

Where will we go with the post-Brexit border, if we ever see it; and will it indeed contain the border

irishborderbetween Ulster and the Irish Republic? Are the Irish to become barbarians again? We are holding our breath.

Bosnia, Croatia, and the newest violent border drawn by the EU.

Refugees stranded in Bosnia allege Croatian police brutality
This year, more than 13,000 refugees and migrants have so far arrived in Bosnia, compared with only 755 in 2017 [Mersiha Gadzo/Al Jazeera]
  • In 2017, 755 refugees and migrants arrived in Bosnia
  • In 2018 so far, that number has exploded to 13,000
  • Many complain of verbal and physical abuse by Croatian police, including theft
  • Croatian police deny allegations
  • UNHCR has received reports of at least 700 people alleging violence or theft

Velika Kladusa, Bosnia and Herzegovina – Brutally beaten, mobile phones destroyed, strip-searched and money stolen.

These are some of the experiences refugees and migrants stranded in western Bosnia report as they describe encounters with Croatian police.

The abuse, they say, takes place during attempts to pass through Croatia, an EU member, with most headed for Germany.

Bosnia has emerged as a new route to Western Europe, since the EU tightened its borders. This year, more than 13,000 refugees and migrants have so far arrived in the country, compared with only 755 in 2017.

In Velika Kladusa, Bosnia‘s most western town beside the Croatian border, hundreds have been living in makeshift tents on a field next to a dog kennel for the past four months.

When night falls, “the game” begins, a term used by refugees and migrants for the challenging journey to the EU through Croatia and Slovenia that involves treks through forests and crossing rivers.

However, many are caught in Slovenia or Croatia and are forced to return to Bosnia by Croatian police, who heavily patrol its EU borders.

Then, they have to start the mission all over again.

Some told Al Jazeera that they have attempted to cross as many as 20 times.

The use of violence is clearly not acceptable. It is possible to control borders in a strict matter without violence.PETER VAN DER AUWERAERT, WESTERN BALKANS COORDINATOR FOR THE INTERNATIONAL ORGANIZATION FOR MIGRATION

All 17 refugees and migrants interviewed by Al Jazeera said that they have been beaten by Croatian police – some with police batons, others punched or kicked.

According to their testimonies, Croatian police have stolen valuables and money, cut passports, and destroyed mobile phones, hindering their communication and navigation towards the EU.

“Why are they treating us like this?” many asked as they narrated their ordeals.

Karim Abdmeziane, a 34-year-old Algerian, said Croatian police beat him with a baton, kicked him and punched him in the head [Courtesy: Karim Abdmeziane]

 

“They have no mercy,” said 26-year-old Mohammad from Raqqa, Syria, who said he was beaten all over his body with batons on the two occasions he crossed into the EU. Police also took his money and phone, he said.

“They treat babies and women the same. An officer pressed his boot against a woman’s head [as she was lying on the ground],” Mohammad said. “Dogs are treated better than us … why are they beating us like this? We don’t want to stay in Croatia; we want to go to Europe.”

Mohammad Abdullah, a 22-year-old Algerian, told Al Jazeera that officers laughed at a group of migrants as they took turns beating them.

“One of them would tell the other, ‘You don’t know how to hit’ and would switch his place and continue beating us. Then, another officer would say, ‘No, you don’t know how to hit’ and would take his place.

“While [one of them] was beating me, he kissed me and started laughing. They would keep taking turns beating us like this, laughing,” Abdullah said.

Another refugee shows a large bruise, sustained after an alleged police beating, that has been healing for weeks [Mersiha Gadzo/Al Jazeera]

 

 

Muhammad Burada, 16, from Morocco says Croatian police broke four of his mobile phones and beat him with a baton. ‘Everyone here has been beaten. Each officer is like a monster,’ he says [Mersiha Gadzo/Al Jazeera]

 

A refugee shows his bloodied legs after an alleged police beating [Mersiha Gadzo/Al Jazeera]

 

A family leaves the Velika Kladusa camp in the late afternoon in another attempt at reaching the EU [Mersiha Gadzo/Al Jazeera]

 

Shams’ and Hassan’s house, shown in a photo on a mobile phone, that was destroyed in Deir Az Zor [Mersiha Gadzo/Al Jazeera]
A refugee shows his chest injury after being allegedly beaten by Croatian police [Mersiha Gadzo/Al Jazeera]

No Name Kitchen, a volunteer organisation that provides assistance to refugees and migrants on the Balkan route, has been documenting serious injuries on Instagram.

In one post, the group alleges that Croatian police twice crushed a refugee’s orthopaedic leg.

Peter Van der Auweraert, the Western Balkans coordinator for the International Organization for Migration, says he has heard stories of police brutality, but called for an independent investigation to judge how alleged victims sustained injuries.

“Given the fact that there are so many of these stories, I think it’s in everyone’s interest to have an independent inquiry to see what is going on, on the other side of the border,” Van der Auweraert said.

Here’s a https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ADveyY_udz0 from South Sudanese refugees

“The use of violence is clearly not acceptable. It’s not acceptable under European human rights law, it’s not acceptable under international human rights law and it is to my mind also, not necessary. It is possible to control borders in a strict matter without violence.”

A Muslim man prays before attempting to leave the camp for Croatia [Mersiha Gadzo/Al Jazeera]

Hers’s a song by some South Sudanese refugees

 

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