DAY 227: Anniversaries

October 26th, 2017 § 0 comments

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

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


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.



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