We must go big, bold & migrant-led, says New Sanctuary Movement

27 January 2017

This is the second instalment of the Still We Dream series, where we’ll hear from grassroots migrant rights and racial justice organisers across the United States. They’ll share how they’re building their movements in Trump’s America and tackling racial privilege not just beyond the movement – but to transform it within. 

The City of Sanctuary movement in the US goes back to 1979, when Los Angeles introduced a policy banning police officers from asking arrestees about their immigration status. Throughout the 1980s this was replicated in many states and hundreds of religious congregations hid and transported refugees fleeing conflict and US-backed death squads in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. At the movement’s height it operated an underground railroad reminiscent of the one that operated during the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. In the 1980s, more than 500 congregations were secretly hosting refugees, moving them from Mexico to find sanctuary in cities across the US.

Today, there are over 200 sanctuary cities across the US; outposts of a principle treasured and upheld by a powerful, national movement. This week, we’re interviewing Peter Pedemonti, co-founder and director of the New Sanctuary Movement in Philadelphia (NSM). This migrant-led, inter-faith organisation is developing a rapid response systems to raids, taking the sanctuary movement on to the streets.

Marienna: It’s been a few days now since the inauguration, how are you guys feeling?

Peter: We had our People’s Inauguration on Friday and it felt really good to focus on something active. We had 20 different groups there: Catholics speaking alongside trans people and former sex workers and it felt really good to see everyone coming together like that. In a way, now Trump’s actually here, after all these months of anxiety and anticipation I feel like we can engage, which is good. But it’s a mixed reaction. There’s a lot of anxiety and fear about what he’s going to do and how that will impact our communities – but the flip side is that we’re seeing more people coming out than ever, ready to fight.

Click here and scroll down to see what the People’s Inauguration looked like

Marienna: How did the NSM get started and how has it evolved?

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Peter: Here in Philly we started in 2007: clergy, immigrant members and folks from other migrant rights organisations. It was all volunteers. No one was organising the faith community even though many congregations were being hit by the fallout of immigration policies. We started with education and accompaniment – walking through the process with families facing deportation, making sure they had trustworthy lawyers and going with them to court, or visiting them in detention. That was all about building relationships. We work with 21 congregations at the moment, half are migrants. And the same with our staff, we make sure at least half the board is migrant and becoming more migrant-led has been really important.

It’s one of our key values: that those affected are the experts in what they need. Ultimately we’re working towards a shift in the balance of power in favour of those most marginalised, and if that’s what we want to see we need to do it in our own organisations.

It’s a solidarity structure we’re continually working on – being a mixed organisation of migrants and allies – but how it’s worked developing strategy is that we start with listening campaigns, interviewing migrant members about what issues affect them. And then for each campaign we do strategy retreats with migrant working groups and they set the direction. Then we found we were creating a lot of segregation, with our migrant members and white allies really working in quite separate spaces and we were like ‘well this isn’t really working, we need to figure out how to bring them together.’ So we did shift a little.

Marienna: NSM was central to ending collaboration between local officials and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). How was that victory won and what did it mean for the community?

Peter: This is something that really started after 9/11. The collaboration between immigration agencies and police started under Bush but really escalated under Obama. At first it was opt-in but they kept changing the rules. In Philly our mayor kept stalling, sympathetic in meetings but never taking action. He wanted piecemeal changes, tied very much into this ‘good immigrant, bad immigrant’ narrative, but we wanted everyone to be protected from the impacts of collaboration, whether people were pulled over for having a broken tail light or had been arrested for violent crime.

Marienna: Here you have some quarters wanting to protect refugees only or ‘good immigrants’ only, so it’s contentious to come out and say: ‘no, this shouldn’t be happening to anyone and we want protection for everyone.’

Peter: It was and it still is. Some of our members still aren’t 100% on board, though being in a faith organisation really encourages us to reflect on the ideas of forgiveness and redemption. I remember, we were working a lot with the Cambodian community, whose kids were getting beaten up in school and formed gangs to protect themselves, and later got involved in drugs and some violence. That also pushed us to challenge this ‘good immigrant, bad immigrant,’and highlighted how many people get left behind by that.

Marienna: Talk about Sanctuary in the Streets.

Peter: Sanctuary in the Streets started under Obama when he announced an escalation of raids against central American communities. The sanctuary offered by a congregation is no good if ICE come and raid your house, you can’t get there. So the idea was to bring the congregation to them, holding an interfaith service outside the house. We have a raids hotline open 24/7, the idea being we get a call and mass-text everyone who’s signed up to show up at the address and show solidarity and shine a light on what’s happening. We had 64 sign up, then Trump won and suddenly hundreds of people were signing up in hours. There’s over 1000 people on the list now. So now we’re running trainings, with people willing to risk arrest also signing up for civil disobedience: to encircle the house or the vans and block their path.

Marienna: what do you think has raised the courage or the determination for so many people to be signing up to risk arrest?

Peter: It was really a response to something much bigger, with Trump coming in and the programme being a concrete way of getting involved in standing up to everything he represents. I think it’s been successful, again because it’s so bold.

It’s disruptive, but in a way that fits with and communicates the peaceful values we hold.

It’s not the whole answer, though. Stuff like Sanctuary in the Streets, which is very defensive, is also very draining and hard to sustain. Moving forwards we need to make sure that while we’re fighting back against Trump we’re doing something positive locally. We learned under Bush that even when things are terrible at the federal level, we can have a real local impact. For example, we have another campaign to stop migrants’ cars being towed because they’re not allowed to have a driver’s license. We had people being left on the side of the road with their kids at 2am. Plus it costs like $1000 to get the car back, which for many of our members is a month’s wages. And we were able to get the city to reinterpret the law in a softer way, to at least give them 30 minutes to call someone to come and get the car. Again, that’s solid, concrete results for people in the here and now and that balance is important: between fighting back but always pushing for something positive.

Marienna: You’re organising across not just boundaries of race and class but also faith, and one of your next priorities is incorporating more mosques into Sanctuary in the Streets.

Peter: We have not been successful in organising mosques. It’s something we’ve been trying for a couple of years, and I think I’ve learned some big lessons about the importance of who you have in the room when you start, because that does form the culture immediately, whether you want it to or not, and many of the things facing the Muslim community are quite unique. To form something and then invite other people and groups into it is much harder.

We are building relationships with mosques but it’s very challenging also because of the level of government spying and intimidation of the Muslim community. There was this one mosque I was working with and I’d swing by for Friday prayers and then suddenly this big story broke about the New York Police department infiltrating mosques in New York and Philadelphia and there I am, this random white dude walking around probably looking like a cop, which wasn’t very helpful. There are very high levels of mistrust, and for very good reason. I think we’d really need to start with that tried and tested method of a listening campaign within the Muslim community to identify what they want to work on, and work on that rather than bringing them into what we’re already doing. We haven’t had capacity for that yet, but it’s something we’re trying to figure out.

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Marienna: What’s going on in American hearts and minds? How did we go from Obama to almost-Bernie to probably-Clinton to Donald Trump?

Peter: When Trump came on the scene 18 months ago, we dismissed him as a clown who’d have his moment and then go away.

Marienna: – that’s what a lot of people here said about Brexit.

Peter: Exactly. I remember reading about UKIP and the resurgence of neo-Nazis in Germany and right wing nationalist groups popping up in Europe, and here we just have Republicans and Democrats, but watching that enabled us to put a name to it, to see: ‘oh, Trump, he’s a nationalist if not a fascist,’ and after that we started taking him a lot more seriously. It’s been a challenge for us to name what he is, but listening to Europe has really helped us to see what’s happening here in the US with a clearer lens.

To answer your question, there’s these census reports showing that in 20 years white folks will lose majority in the States and that has a lot of people very scared. They’re scared of losing their power, and there’s been this trend recently in poor white communities getting that life spans are getting shorter, there’s a lot of drug addiction and for the first time the next generation’s quality of life is worse, not better. People see themselves as victims, somehow.

Marienna: Looking forwards, where do you think the movement needs to be a year from now and what are the key principles that are likely to get us to that critical mass moment?

Peter: Wow, that question makes me realise that with managing crises like we are right now we’re maybe a little too stuck in the moment, putting out fires – Trump, the election – and we do need to keep looking forwards, too.

We’ve been talking about the importance of going beyond defence, beyond ‘Trump’s terrible’, to put forward an alternative vision.

Marienna: Trump’s terrible, but here’s something beautiful.

Peter: Yeah, I like that! And nobody’s really moving on this because it’s really difficult and really contentious, but there are a lot of poor, white people that voted for Trump, and who’s going to start organising them? The trade policies that allowed all the factories in the US to go abroad, they left a lot of people here unemployed and are also devastating the global south, so they migrate to the global north and come up against a really hostile environment. So someone needs to reach out to them and start effecting change there. And nationally, I think we need to do some soul searching, especially with so many people coming out onto the streets for the first time, we need to know: what are we really fighting for? And how do we channel all this energy in a way that’s sustainable?

Marienna: What’s your message for migrant communities over here, and their allies, who might be looking at what you’ve achieved and wondering: how do we get there?

Peter: I feel what’s been most important for us is to be deeply grounded in our values and take risks based on those, whether it’s Sanctuary in the Streets direct action or hiring people who are undocumented. Looking back at the things I’ve been most proud of in our past, we’ve been at our best when we’re really bold. Bold things that connect with people’s values and give people the space to play that out.

Also we recently went to a racial reconciliation workshop, evaluating organisations on a spectrum from ‘no people of colour’ through tokenising through to being led by people of colour and having authentic engagement. Now in our history we definitely moved across that spectrum, and prioritising that and being ready to slow down to protect and strengthen those principles, in the long run we’ve built a stronger organisation because of it. What’s helped more than anything is listening and being ready to change. I mean really make big changes to our organisation according to what migrant members and communities are saying.

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Originally published by Red Pepperand produced for Right to Remain

The extended interview transcript is available on the Right to Remain website

Still We Dream: learning from the US migrant rights movement

19 January 2017

Throughout the Still We Dream series, we’ll hear from grassroots migrant rights and racial justice organisers across the United States talk about how they’re building their movements in Trump’s America and tackling racial privilege not just beyond the movement – but to transform it within. 

phoenix

The election of Donald Trump as the next US president has shaken the world. Not that Hilary Clinton was much of a champion for migrant rights, but what Trump’s victory reflected in the hearts and minds of the American people has been a sobering wake-up call. Even here, the few days after the US election were dark, with activists and community organisers visibly shaken. As with Brexit, we had all been warning of the danger but when it actually arrived, found we couldn’t believe. How could such a brazenly racist and sexist figure be elected the most powerful position in world politics? And now, what?

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Over the past three years in the United States, in the face of a record 2.5 million deportations under Obama, the nationwide Dream Movement has been heading towards the most significant victory the immigrant rights movement had seen in 40 years’. It had gone far, alongside Black Lives Matter, towards restoring faith in the enduring power of social movements to shake the ground and change the world – even in the USA. The election of a president who has declared war, not just on a movement but on a people, could have been a death blow. But there are encouraging signs that this movement is rising like a phoenix from the ashes, learning, mobilising and connecting faster than ever before.

In this series of blog posts, we’ll be interviewing migrants and organisers from across the United States, who’ll share experiences and insights from this extraordinary moment in their movement’s history. They’ll talk about everything from winning the public debate to building rapid-response systems to immigration raids. And we’ll be thinking about what might work for us, to meet the challenges ahead for UK movements against racism and for migration justice.

“I am genuinely afraid, but I firmly believe in the power of the people. I am heartened by all the people, especially young people in the streets. That is the movement I come from. We must disrupt, obstruct, hold each other, strategise, organise, and fight like we never have before. “

– Cindy Wiesner, national coordinator for the U.S.-based Grassroots Global Justice Alliance

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During a presidential campaign dominated by scandalous allegations of sexual assault and racial slurs against immigrants, refugees, Muslims, Mexicans and the Black Lives Matter movement to name a few, Trump’s intentions for his first 100 days in office have been gut-wrenching. He has pledged to begin his first term with the forced removal of more than two million undocumented people from the country and completely close US borders from ‘terror-prone regions’ and impose ‘extreme vetting’ on all people coming to the United States. He has pledged to introduce a two year mandatory minimum federal prison sentence for anyone illegally re-entering the country having been deported and build a ‘deportation force’ dedicated to expelling a jaw-dropping 11 million people.

Kevin Appleby, senior director of international migration policy at the Center for Migration Studies of New York, told the New York Times that:

“[Trump] would have to conduct a sweep, or raids or tactics such as those, to reach the numbers he wants to reach. It would create a police state, in which they would have to be aggressively looking for people.”

Sarah Lazare writes: “In interviews with grassroots organisers who work with undocumented people across the country, AlterNet was repeatedly told that the task, now, is not to petition or persuade the Trump government, but to fortify communities on the local level and coordinate resistance nationally, in order to levy the most effective and strategic defence of people at risk. At a time when many are upset, scared and willing to take bold steps to protect their neighbours, communities and families, these organisers are working to develop infrastructure for a nationwide fightback.”

This movement has a long and rich history of solidarity activism stretching well beyond the more famous examples of the civil rights movement – most notably the Cities of Sanctuary, which will be the topic of next week’s blog. Sanctuary cities offering asylum and protection for exiles and migrants date back thousands of years and have been associated with religious traditions from Christian, Islam and Judaism to Buddhism, Hinduism, Sikhism.

In the United States the tradition goes back to 1979, when public pressure saw Los Angeles ban police officers from asking arrestees about their immigration status. Throughout the 1980s this was replicated in many states and hundreds of religious congregations hid and transported refugees fleeing conflict and US-backed death squads in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. According to Puck Lo, writing for the Nation, “At the movement’s height, more than 500 congregations nationwide hosted refugees and operated an underground railroad that moved migrants from Mexico to cities all over the United States and as far north as Canada.”

Today, there are over 200 sanctuary cities spanning the United States. In the next Still We Dream blog, we’ll look at Trump’s tactics to intimate and eradicate these sanctuary cities, and interview Peter Pedemonti, co-founder and director of the New Sanctuary Movement in Philadelphia, about how people are responding: how communities are building their own sanctuary spaces, challenging churches, mosques and other religious buildings to return to their sanctuary roots and ultimately taking the sanctuary movement back to its beginnings – in the streets.

In the meantime, you can show your opposition to President Trump tomorrow, on the day of his inauguration, by joining one of many Bridges Not Walls actions happening across the UK and around the world. Find out more at the website bridgenotwalls.uk or on facebook.

Published by Right to Remain

Read More of the Still We Dream series

  1. The New Sanctuary Movement says we must go big, bold and migrant-led interview with Peter Pedemonti in Philadelphia

 

 

Refuse. Retract. Resist borders for children!

18 January 2017

The fight against borders in our schools stepped up a notch this week. Against Borders for Children (ABC) hosted its first open conference on Saturday and yesterday they sent an nationwide email, in conjunction with renowned civil liberties group Liberty, to every headteacher in England. The letter requests parents be informed of their right to opt out of the new nationality questions in the census, which even the House of Lords admits has “all the hallmarks of racism”, and retract any data already given without full knowledge of those rights.

To opt out of the nationality data collection on behalf of your children, complete this form and submit it to your child’s school by Thursday this week. For more information, take a look at ABC’s frequently asked questions.
#BoycottSchoolCensus

On Saturday parents and teachers came together with students and campaigners for the 100 strong, first open conference of ABC. The coalition, started in August 2016, has launched for a national boycott of the Department of Education census collecting the country of birth and nationality data of 8 million children. The census promises to make our schools part of Theresa May’s ‘hostile environment’ and would subject children as young as five to the census – and its potentially devastating consequences.

Thanks to public scrutiny brought to bear by ABC, in November the government agreed to remove children under 5 years old from the ‘foreign children database’. But the campaign continues , and is also calling on the government to commit to safeguarding children “from the stigma of anti-immigrant rhetoric and the violence that accompanies it.”

Parents reminded of their rights and schools of their obligations under the Human Rights Act

The Guardian reports that Department of Education officials have an agreement, since June 2015, to share the personal data of up to 1,500 schoolchildren a month with the Home Office.”

Since this policy has come into force, some schools have asked only non-white pupils to prove their nationality, also others to bring in their passports – which updated guidance has confirmed is not only unnecessary, but not allowed.

The letter reads: “The Government provided inadequate and confusing guidance to schools about their duties to provide this data and this has led to misunderstandings between schools, parents and pupils about what they are and aren’t legally obliged to do.”

Martha Spurrier, Director of Liberty, said: “It shouldn’t have fallen to campaigners to inform schools and parents about their right to refuse to give this information – but the Department for Education wasn’t going to step up.

“Parents and guardians deserve to know they do not need to be complicit in this Government’s ‘foreign children list’ experiment, which uses children’s education to enforce border controls. If enough of them take a stand, we can make the playground off-limits to border police, defend every child’s right to education and begin to reunite our communities.”

ABC adds: “According to the DfE’s own guidelines, providing this data is optional and does not affect school funding. By the DfE’s own admission, if large numbers of parents refuse to answer the new questions in the January and May censuses, the data collected will be useless and they may be forced to scrap the data collection entirely. This means parents and schools can legally work together to stop this information going to DfE and the Home Office.

If a significant minority continue the boycott then this policy will fall.”

The conference: building a movement against borders for children

As well as raising awareness of these issues and planning future actions, ABC’s first open conference featured broader discussions about ‘the hostile environment’, imaginative discussions about how race and migration should be covered in schools and the grave civil rights implications for everyone’s data privacy rights slowly but surely disappearing.

Representatives spoke from a range of organisations including Liberty, Latin American Women’s Rights Service, Freedom from Torture, the National Union of Students (NUS), defenddigitalme and Southall Black Sisters, giving some indication of how widely the census is seen as a threat to civil liberties and to children’s wellbeing.

NUT general secretary Kevin Courtney highlighted the corrosive effects of government policies that co-opt schools and universities into the surveillance of people they are supposed to be educating, warning of a “culture of fear & compliance” taking root in schools. He also commented on the high proportion of Jewish teachers who object to the data collection on children’s ethnicity, often with reference to the rise of Nazism in pre-war Germany and sentiments like: “this has happened before.”

Both he and NUS president Malia Bouattia linked the census to PREVENT, the government’s ‘counter-extremism’ strategy which co-opted schools to root out ‘radicalisation’ in the same way they are now being drafted in to root out undocumented migrants. Malia strongly condemned both programmes as part of a wider shift to a total surveillance state. Pragna Patel, director of Southall Black Sisters, put it in no uncertain terms: ‘the powers the police are going to have are similar to those in apartheid South Africa.’

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Stories were shared of the enormous impact this has on children’s education; of grades ‘falling off a cliff’ following the deportation of parents or children being taken out of school for years at a time because of their mothers’ fear of Home Office surveillance. Another teacher condemned some schools that have bypassed parents altogether and asked children to submit the data themselves and making teachers ‘unwittingly complicit’.

Young migrants from Let Us Learn, Jawaab and Sin Fronteras shared their experiences of discrimination and their struggles to overcome it, and Ajay from Freed Voices shared his letter to his pre-detention self, adding:

“on paper, this government calls for integration. In reality, they cause division.”

There was also a sobering discussion about the astronomical rise in discrimination and hate crime since the Brexit vote, and the day ended with a strong international focus: a photo taken in solidarity with the Dreamers movement in the USA, ahead of Donald Trump’s inauguration on 20th January.

To opt out of the nationality data collection on behalf of your children, complete this form and submit it to your child’s school by Thursday this week. For more information, take a look at ABC’s frequently asked questions. #BoycottSchoolCensus

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Migration Messaging and the Silence of Africa

12 January 2017

“I am an invisible man…I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fibre and liquids – and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me.”
– Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man

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Take all the lives lost in Bosnia, Darfur and the Rwandan genocide, then add the 2005 Asian tsunami, plus a 9/11 every single day for 356 days; then go through the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Put all of those together, double your total and you still don’t reach the number of lives lost in just one of Africa’s silent conflicts.

“Most people aren’t forced out of their homes, they choose to go. Most people could, should and don’t stay in their home countries or neighbouring countries. Africans need to stop fighting each other. Africans need to stop wasting our aid money.” These are just a few of most stubborn and baseless ideas I spend a frustrating portion of my Facebook life arguing against and factual back-up from other journalists is often harder to find than it should be, thanks in part to a growing orthodoxy that information just doesn’t change minds these days. But after four years studying international politics and economic development, six years campaigning and a year working with migrants and refugees, I remain convinced that unless we find a way to change minds while challenging propaganda in the name of truth, we will never make the world a safer, fairer, freer place: not in Britain, not in Africa, not anywhere.

“Information just doesn’t change minds.”

This is familiar phrase to anyone involved in campaigning for change. When it comes to migration, the government and mainstream media have successfully projected the image of Britain as a ‘soft touch’. And the disastrously inaccurate impression many are left with is that every year, countless people risk Europe’s dangerous and difficult migration routes to reach Theresa May’s ‘hostile environment’, skipping over a host of safe alternative countries on the way, almost out of spite.

The ‘no-numbers argument’ is starting to gain traction in civil society and amongst progressive NGOs, particularly on immigration, where any mention of the historic numbers of people being forced from their homes often do frighten British people taught to hold migrants and refugees responsible for our social and economic woes. So, the argument goes, even though the British public is overwhelmingly misinformed about immigration, we mustn’t correct them.

The argument came from a good place: a desire to humanise vulnerable groups of people, too often reduced to mere statistics. It has an important role to play; we do need to tell peoples’ stories and they are a powerful way of creating connection between those we talk to and those we talk about. Numbers can frighten people – reality is sometimes frightening. But that doesn’t mean the truth – the whole truth – no longer matters, or that we don’t have a right to it. The numbers are important for the same reason personal stories are important; because they’re not really numbers at all; they’re people – they’re us, our families, our communities, but for a random lottery of birth. Erasing them silences the human stories of millions; nowhere more so, than Africa.

“What’s happening in Africa?”

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In Africa, well over half of those displaced are staying in their own countries (contributing to a total of 40.8 million internally displaced people worldwide.) In December, the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre released its report on displacement and forced migration in the African continent. Muted by a media more concerned with the Queen’s Christmas flu, it was announced that in 2015 alone, conflict, violence and other disasters forced 3.5 million Africans from their homes.

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DEFINITION: Internally Displaced Person (IDP) – someone who is
forced to flee their home but who remains within their country’s borders. They are often referred to as refugees, although they do not fall within the current legal definition of a refugee, who must have been forced beyond their home borders by conflict, violence or persecution. 

Let’s take just two of the more prominent examples.

Snapshot: the El Niño Drought

37 million African people started 2017 without food. And no one seems to know about it. As Ian Johnston writes, during the last drought in 2010: “women bound their waists with rope to deaden the pangs of hunger as they gave what little food they had to their children. In stark contrast to such selfless acts, the international community stood back and watched until it was too late for the 260,000 people who starved to death.”

Stories like this one expose the ‘bogus asylum seeker’ narratives – and the increasingly tenuous distinctions between migrants and refugees – for what they are: privileging some lives above others. Are you any more free to choose whether to flee a war, than mass starvation? Would our fear for our children, for our future be any less? And given that since 2013 climate change rivals conflict as the leading cause of forced migration, how morally meaningful is that distinction in today’s increasingly unstable and unequal world? The answers to these questions all reinforce the value of the approach taken by forward thinking organisations like Right to Remain, which rejects this moral distinction. The frightening truth is that in the absence of a significant political shift, as the driving factors of forced migration worsen, the migrant/refugee distinction will become increasingly meaningless and policymakers will either get up to speed on that, or let millions die. So it falls to civil society and all people of conscience to get policymakers and fence-sitters up to speed.

The hypocrisy deepens when we look at what’s driving these disasters, deep down. This drought was triggered by one of the strongest El Niño events ever recorded, impacting weather patterns and spreading disease the world over (yes, it will affect us too); part of a global warming process driven by greenhouse emissions for which the richest nations in the global north – particularly the UK – are overwhelmingly responsible.

Snapshot: Africa’s world war

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We hear a lot about Syria, where over 400,000 people have been killed since 2011. But how much do we hear about ‘Africa’s world war’? We hear a lot about Daesh, but how much do we hear about the decades of equally brutal (and often, Western-backed) violence by government troops as well as armed rebels and private militias in this war?

Conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) saw six million people killed and 2 million displaced between 1998 and 2003. To make that number mean something: take all lives lost in Bosnia, Rwanda 1994 and Darfur then add the 2005 Asian tsunami, then add a 9/11 every single day for 356 days and then go through the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Put all of those together, multiply by 2 and you’re still not even close.

Successive British governments bear considerable historical responsibility for the state affairs in DRC as well. British corporations continue make a killing from what Amnesty International describes as ‘plunder and slavery’ in the country’s £15.5 trillion mineral sector, which operates business as usual while the people of the country remain the third poorest in the world. I believe there are certain things journalists have an obligation to report, even if it makes some readers uncomfortable. And this is definitely one of them.

In Defence of Numbers – and People

There is a problem with how NGOs and journalists talk about the vastly complex challenges the world faces today but it won’t be resolved by avoiding numbers any more than by avoiding the real human experiences of conflict, climate change, poverty and the quest for progress. The problem isn’t with statistics themselves so much as it is with their source. People are, rightly, suspicious of where numbers are coming from, with public trust in the establishment – that’s politicians, charities and the media – at an all-time low. And there are solid grounds for that, I think many of us can agree. So those of us campaigning for change need to stop relying on those institutions to truth-tell for us and start challenging them, because no one believes in them anymore.

Secondly, there is an obvious contradiction in the media and civil society’s new-found passion for ‘personal story telling’. If the life experience of these people is so valuable, why is there so little expert-by-experience testimony in the media? Why are black and migrant communities so under-represented in the press, civil society and even the charities meant to represent them? And why when migrants’ stories are heard in the media do they so often lose control of them, sensationalised and commodified with no regard for the teller? Meanwhile, projects like Unlocking Detention, which produces a wealth of powerful, personal testimonies from migrants detained in Britain, reaches a comparatively small audience.

Finally, these different ways of communicating have been segregated from each other. Cold statistics are used to persuade the powerful, distancing them from the human cost of their policies, while emotive ‘human interest’ stories are exclusively relied upon to sway the public an elitist press either considers incapable of learning, or is uninterested in teaching. We need to break down that barrier, bringing humanity to news and policy while restoring facts to their rightful place in the public debate. When truth fails to strike a chord with people, we need to find a way to make it mean something instead of surrendering it to silence, along with the stories of those who struggle hardest to be heard.

Published by Right to Remain

Stop Charter Flight Deportations: international weeks of action launch today

9 January 2017

The forced removal of over 50 people from their homes on a charter flight to Jamaica in September last year renewed outrage over the mass forced removals being carried out via charter flights – and heated debate. Those with young children were advised by the Home Office to “do their parenting via Skype” 4,500 miles away. Most had spent their formative years in the UK and have British families. One of the fathers from that plane writes:

“I feel like I’ve been kidnapped.”

“I was one of the 42 people deported, taken from my partner and kids to a country where I have nothing and know no one. I lived in the UK for 17 years, since I was 14… The lawyers in the UK took all my money, and now I have so little I can’t even afford a bed to sleep on. I can’t find a job and I have no family here. My kids in the UK need clothes and food that my wife can’t afford with the small support given to her. I don’t care about myself I just want to help my kids. Why hurt my kids too?” – anonymous blog post, Deported Voices

But stories like this one have galvanised grassroots resistance to charter flight removals and today marks the beginning of two consecutive and international weeks of action against this government’s policy of mass deportation.

What’s it all about?

Charter flights are about the routine and systematic removal, by force, of large numbers of people to a select list of countries, decided and enforced at the highest political level. As many immigration raids and arrests will occur as needed to fill up these massive planes, in order to minimise costs. According to the Corporate Watch report, these mass removals are a motivated by: the need to meet immigration targets; stifling rebellion; as a so-called ‘deterrent’; and as a bargaining chip in foreign policy negotiations with destination governments.

“Charter flights are targeting long-established African, Asian and Caribbean communities in Britain – dividing families and deporting people who have built lives in the UK, who have parents, partners and children here, people who have lived most of their lives in Britain, students who have not finished their courses, those who have sought asylum and protection, people with serious health problems and others who are long-term carers to elderly and disabled relatives. Targeting so many people who are integrated members of their communities and wider society is a divisive act of racist discrimination.” – End Deportations

Forced removal charter flights currently run to Nigeria, Ghana, Jamaica, Pakistan and Albania. Afghanistan is soon to be added to the list. In August 2015 there was an emergency ban on charter flights to Afghanistan due to escalating conflict in the country, but it has now been lifted. As former barrister and renowned immigration expert Frances Webber writes, this is the first formal ‘deal’“to stipulate the return of citizens whose country is in the grip of an intensifying war” although the British government admits that since 2007, “over 3,000 child refugees had been forcibly returned to countries at war once they turned 18 – including 657 to Iraq and over 2000 to Afghanistan.”

What’s going on during the weeks of action?

Several migrant-led demonstrations have been called at key sites across London and are listed below. If you cannot join the protest, please help spread the word.

There are also protests planned in Nigeria and Jamaica, and various actions planned in local communities across the UK. In addition, organisers are appealing to independent groups and individuals to target and apply pressure to Titan Airways, which provides many of the charter planes, and Tascor who provide the ‘escorts’ which independent investigators have found to be employing ‘inhumane’ practices including lying to detainees about whether and when they will be forcibly removed.

TAKE ACTION: See below for the list of key actions planned, but the End Deportations events calendar is being constantly updated – to check for updates click here. You can also email watchdeportations@riseup.net

LEARN MORE: to find out more about charter flights and mass removals, check out our summary of Corporate Watch’s 2017 factsheet based on its report: Collective Expulsion: the case against mass deportation charter flights.

 

Published by Right to Remain

 

Blurring the line between slavery & migration: Operation Magnify goes public with 97 workers arrested

5th January 2017

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Image: The Asian Post

Trigger warning: rape

Trafficked to the UK as a slave, you live an invisible life. Not only are you subjected to slavery by the traffickers, as an undocumented migrant you have very limited rights to healthcare, housing or any social support. If you are being exploited, beaten or abused and you go to the police, you face being arrested, imprisoned and deported back to a home country you risked all this just to escape. And what happens to the perpetrators, who traffic human beings as slaves? They will be “warned that they could face fines.” So, not much.

Just after Christmas, the government revealed 97 arrests had been made at 280 nail bars in London, Cardiff and Edinburgh as part of ‘Operation Magnify’. Most of those arrested were Vietnamese nationals, along with people of Pakistani, Indian, Nigerian, Mongolian, Chinese and Ghanaian origin. The operation is a government initiative to crack down on illegal and slave labour in what the Home Office identifies as ‘risk sectors’ including construction, cleaning, agriculture, car washing and domestic work. It led to 65 companies being threatened with fines of up to £20,000 per worker: that’s less than the maximum fine for fly-tipping.

In 2015 there was a 40 percent increase in the number of people referred to British authorities as potential victims of slavery: over 3,200 people, almost a third of whom are children. But even those referred and recognised as victims are usually just detained and deported in debt and crushing poverty, vulnerable to being enslaved all over again. Globally, nearly 46 million people remain are subjected to slavery and the government estimates there are over 13,000 people enslaved in Britain.

As Tansy Hoskins writes for Vice: “People trafficked to the UK could typically have been promised a job or a new life abroad, but once they arrive they are told they cannot stop working until the debts they have incurred have been paid off. The International Labour Organization estimates that the total illegal profits obtained from the use of forced labour worldwide amount to over $150 billion per year.”

Many expert commentators have complained that the prevailing attitude of one of denial, with immigration officers incentivised to ‘find any possible excuse’ not to identify victims of trafficking. “The problem is it gives traffickers yet another tool of control over their victims,” Jakub Sobik, spokesperson for Anti Slavery told VICE News. “They can tell them ‘if you don’t do what I say I’ll report you, and not only will you be deported but you’ll be prosecuted too’.”

This attitude will be familiar to anyone familiar with the UK asylum process, where the Home Office finds any excuse possible not to identify someone as a refugee. This is due to a shared conflict of interest: the job of immigration officials is to send people home, not find the truth and uphold human rights.

Yet, in service to this anti-immigration agenda, the lines between migration and human trafficking or modern-day slavery are increasingly blurred. Fiona Mactaggart, co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on human trafficking and modern-day slavery, says the Modern Slavery Act passed in 2015 is not being enforced. “The Home Office still sees trafficking as an issue of immigration … these are people who are being sold, they are slaves, but we just look the other way. The state is completely failing in basic human responsibility to these victims.”

The legal merging of slavery and immigration forces some of the most vulnerable into an unforgiving system. Ahmed Aydeed, from law firm Duncan Lewis, describes the repetitive cycle of deportation and enslavement trapping many of his clients. One such client, a young Vietnamese woman, was deported after being found working in a nail bar in 2012 “despite clear indicators that she had been trafficked, which were not explored.”

Just 11% of Vietnamese workers referred to the government as at risk of slavery were offered any kind of support or protection, according to the National Crime Agency, even though they are identified as one of the most vulnerable groups. Mr. Ayeed told the Guardian his client was re-trafficked to the UK the following year, raped and forced into a British brothel. She escaped following a miscarriage and was detained for 16 months without being assessed as a trafficking victim, despite scarring on her body consistent with torture and the fact she told authorities she had been forced to work in a nail bar and brothel where she was repeatedly raped.

“I have seen a lot of women being raped and sold as sex slaves,” she said. “We left Vietnam with the promise that we could find work and make a lot of money. We didn’t know we would have to have sex with anyone … If I was ever sent back to Vietnam [again] … I’d rather die here.”

General Secretary of the Trades Union Congress Frances O’Grady said: “Victims of trafficking should be freed, not arrested… We want bad bosses arrested and fines raised so they are a genuine deterrent. Unions and victims of modern slavery should be helped and encouraged to blow the whistle on exploitation.”

As long as the criminalisation of undocumented workers takes precedence over punishing the people who exploit them, modern-day slavery will continue. Simply condemning it as “the greatest human rights issue of our time” is not enough to clean the hands of a conservative party that, let’s not forget, opposed the abolition of the slave trade back in the 1800s. Its arguments haven’t changed much over the past two centuries, either. The owners of the West Indies slave plantations once held as much sway over parliament as today’s international corporations and high street banks; then, it was the plantation owners considered ‘too big to fail’ or for that matter, to jail.

The global financial crash of 2008 – billions of pound worth of fraud, millions of jobs lost, whole economies ruined – shows where corporate immunity gets us. Undoubtedly, it’s time for governments to stop protecting those with wealth and power at the expense of vulnerable workers, be they British or foreign, documented or not. And what better place to start than providing a sanctuary for those enslaved right here in Britain – something it’s hard to even comprehend the need to ask for in the year 2017?

Bringing Solidarity Home – Comment Is Free

Until she saw her baby, the mother would not eat, drink or move. She sat soaked and trembling, looking out across the Aegean for a rescue boat we knew wouldn’t come. Three hundred people had been on her boat when it sank. All night, we volunteers had been seeing in the rescue boats, providing urgent care and gathering names of the missing. We’d had reports that two newborns were flown to hospital in critical condition. Chances were that one of them was hers, but the police wouldn’t let us drive her to the hospital. Rescued at sea by the authorities, she was formally “in detention” until she registered. “No papers, no hospital,” they said.

Hours before, I’d performed CPR for the first time in my life, on a little boy who hadn’t survived. I was in shock too and haunted by the notion that this mother’s presence might somehow make the difference between life and death for her child. At the very least, she was being robbed of her chance to say goodbye. We sat shoulder to shoulder, in silence, with her relatives around her. “Where do you hope to go?” one of the other volunteers asked in a weak attempt to dent the silence.

“To Britain,” a relative replied. “To live free.”

The refugee camps have always been there, swelling quietly with the very human consequences of the political system that governs our lives. But with the age of televised warfare, the lights came on. War is becoming real for us, for the first time in a long time. Here are its orphans, its exiled freedom fighters and grieving mothers, camping out right on our doorstep. Conflict, climate change, globalisation: it can’t be some grisly reality TV show after all; here are its refugees, real human families throwing themselves on the southern steps of Fortress Europe.

What happened next was extraordinary. There’s the side of the story we know: politicians scapegoating, talk of swarms and cockroaches in the press; a thundering Brexit vote followed by a spike in hate crime so sharp it gave the nation whiplash. But then there’s the other story, less often told: that well below the radar of the mainstream media, tens of thousands of people from all nations, of all ages, cultures and political persuasions, started giving up jobs, studies, relationships and reliable wifi and heading for the borderlands to do their part. They flooded in to do what politicians and aid agencies wouldn’t: from illegal ocean rescues and calling out police brutality to running art therapy classes, feeding thousands and sorting sky-high piles of donated clothes across the continent from Norway to Calais.

I feel enormously proud to have been part of that movement. I learned a lot as a solidarity volunteer in Greece. Some of those lessons were traumatic – I still have nightmares a year later – but I think I learned as much about politics in weeks in Camp Moria as I did in years at university. The most personally challenging and painful lesson was a simple one: it will never be enough. However many volunteers we have pulling 15-hour shifts, politicians in halls of power far away are doing more damage in a week than we could undo in a lifetime. For all their summits, resolutions and deals, in 2015 one in 269 people crossing to Europe died; this year it’s one in 88.

With deprivation and incarceration systematically inflicted on people in the name of border control, when we say “refugees welcome” that is a commitment to campaign for radical change here at home – or it’s meaningless.

In December 2015 I was taken out of action by a serious spinal injury. Being forced home was infuriating. I started providing online support, fundraising, anything to fight the creeping sense of powerlessness, to stay connected. I started following the news again, watching in horror as governments closed the Balkan route and levelled camps at Calais and Dunkirk. Autonomous humanitarian aid was being criminalised, camps sealed off from independent observers and mass deportations introduced. Meanwhile, the EU-Turkey deal started edging “the refugee crisis” off our front pages; it was someone else’s problem now. Europe had paid a handsome price to make it so.

Coming home, it’s strange trying to figure out where you used to fit in. Media headlines about immigration stop being abstract and become about people we know. Apathy and discrimination start to hurt instead of just irritate because we’ve seen their casualties starving and cold and the empty orange lifejackets floating in the sea. We know what it costs. We’re not supposed to just fit back in when we come home. We’re supposed to be opening eyes. The fight for refugee and migrant rights out there can’t be won without a radical political shift here, in the heart of Fortress Europe.

The solidarity-based approach developed and demonstrated by the best of the independent volunteers has enormous potential to achieve this. It has the power, not just to save lives, but to change lives; to heal the divisions in our communities torn by politicians scapegoating the poor and the undocumented for a crisis they created.

It’s not about charity. It’s about recognising shared responsibility for the state of our shared world; understanding we have always been connected.

By refusing to provide safe passage, refusing its fair share of refugees and detaining over 30,000 undocumented people every year, the British government is reinforcing the precedent that black and brown lives don’t matter. If that passes unchallenged, we are all forced into a more dangerous, divided and desolate world. And with states cracking down on independent solidarity work, simply saving lives is becoming a political act.

Humanitarian aid without a political movement is like trying to extinguish a forest fire with water one teacup at a time. Every time they raze Calais to the ground I am reminded of that painful truth.

One of the most urgent battles for asylum and immigration justice in the UK is against detention. This pointless, brutal practice is the most harmful aspect of the system. It cripples the ability of detainees to fight their own legal cases or speak out for justice. With a growing protest movement at detention centres such as Yarl’s Wood, ending detention is a fight we can win right here at home. That means everything from raising awareness to the direct action of the fearless grandmas who brought immigration raids to a halt in Glasgow. A movement that broad is ambitious; but ambition and vision are all that will stop our descent into barbarism.

Work that builds practical solidarity infrastructure and political resistance which work together, from the heartlands to the borderlands, outlines the way forward: projects such as These Walls Must Fall, which combines campaigning with a solidarity-based approach to migration and asylum support to empower those affected to fight back for their rights as part of our community. We’re taking on a multi-million-pound industry which profits from the system and has close ties to the government. But if we win, that victory would be felt well beyond our borders.

If walls can fall in Fortress Britain – they can fall anywhere.

Originally published by the Guardian online & in print, 29th December 2016