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The summer of 2015 has seen a massing of support for refugees in Europe. If even the typically hostile Daily Mail urges us to think of the lives lost in the Mediterranean, inflammatory and completely dehumanising remarks like those of Katie Hopkins, just seem like a distant memory – and the fear towards ‘the other’ that the media had for so long attempted to smear us all with, appears to finally be well and truly changing.
In this context, and the thousands of people who are joining social media campaigns, setting up groups and organisations, raising thousands of pounds in donations, and making trips to Calais, as well as now also contacting existing organisations to ask to find out more and offer help, and helping to bring existing campaigns (like those of City of Sanctuary, Oxfam and Citizens UK) closer together in a wider spirit of solidarity, we could be heading towards a shift from the ‘little islander’ narrative that parties like UKIP have played on, and create a new narrative of international solidarity and a shared destiny for us as 21st century global citizens. However the next months transpire in terms of the media coverage and levels of support, people will still want to seek sanctuary in Europe from military warfare and the more oppressive regimes, so we must not forget the thousands of people who are still yet to make Britain their home, at least for some time, and show people some of the same welcome that has been so inspiring to see transcribed on banners across football stadiums in cities in Germany, and at the railway stations as people arrive – including now in Budapest, as donated shoes are left for the next to arrive there.
Wales has come together to show its support – the Nation of Sanctuary campaign has been launched and Facebook groups to support people in Calais and beyond have attracted thousands of people. Here are some for west and south Wales:
Cardiff became the city it is today because of immigration. The docks in Cardiff were built by the sweat of the brow of Irish migrant labour in the nineteenth century. They brought people from around the world to settle here and build a life for themselves. We need a 21st century culture of hospitality and welcome across Wales, especially for refugees who are seeking sanctuary from war and persecution.
At midday today, Wales will hold at least three demonstrations to support refugees and migrants, and highlight the need for greater support for Syrians and other asylum seekers already in the UK. The Cardiff demonstration is called ‘Wales says #RefugeesWelcome’ – marking the hashtag that trended as opinions about this summer’s refugee crisis changed. It will assemble at the statue of Aneurin Bevan, as we remember that the NHS wouldn’t be the same without the hard work and dedication of migrant labour in Britain. It will end with a march to the Home Office on Newport Road.
This protest has been initiated by campaigners from Cardiff People’s Assembly, Cardiff Stop the War Coalition. HOPE not hate South Wales, No Borders South Wales, Rumney Forum, UNITE Cardiff Community Branch and others. It is supported by Welsh Refugee Council and Trinity Centre Cardiff. It is part of a European day of action. The activists of Europe can work together, even as the governments of the nation states argue over who is to blame and what principles of the EU might remain after this summer. It is in fact working class solidarity that is needed more than ever, and is a part of the migrant struggle. If the working class is divided, the elite find it easier to exploit us – it is only through solidarity that we can build on what we have in common, then focusing together on the need to challenge those elite powers, that, at the moment, can decide all our lives and our futures – and work together to not be dominated by them. The refugees’ struggle is our struggle, and we’ve got a world to win.
This week there has been a rebellion in the majority of the UK’s migration prisons.
The wave of strikes initially broke out in Harmondsworth IRC in London – the largest of what are increasingly becoming concentration camps, with people held because of their ethnicity and many sent to their death. There have been strikes in at least 8 of the UK’s detention estate. The people on hunger strike are protesting the terrible conditions they must endure in such facilities, with many of them detained for years without trail, having never committed crimes. Seeking asylum is not a crime.
“They can’t send us back. Some people have very bad situations in their countries. So they have to do something with us. That is what we are trying to do.
The home office doesn’t talk with us. Only the officers in here are trying to scare us.”
“The block is a cell with nothing inside no window no nothing and your there on your own. If a dog was in there, I would feel sorry for it. You can only speak to the wall. Nothing in there.”
#END DETENTION! STOP DEPORTATIONS!
NO BORDERS! – FREEDOM OF MOVEMENT FOR ALL – NOT JUST THE RICH AND PRIVILEDGED!
Grant Maimuna Jawo Asylum Now! Grant Josephine Asylum Now!
Women fighting to end FGM must be protected!
The demonstration, at 31-33 Newport Road is due to start at 1:30pm and is supported by No Borders South Wales – some of us will be there in solidarity.
“Maimuna’s fight is a collective fight. It will take building a movement to win, and by winning we will build a stronger and more determined movement. Maimuna’s struggle is our own struggle for freedom, and we know that when we stand together we can build on our strength as fighters and win.”
Sanctuary now for all women who flee FGM!
UKIP are due to open a campaign office in Penarth this Saturday (29th).
No Borders South Wales is working with South Wales Anarchists and others to hand out leaflets and counter their racist lies with a demonstration.
Our leaflet busts some immigration myths that have been peddled by politicians, media moguls and others in an attempt to divide us, and distract us from real issues and problems that they are causing.
Join us at 11am. Phone/text 07512238523 for the meeting point, near the centre.
Emily Yeh has lived in Newport for 18 months, arriving to seek sanctuary from Taiwan. She refused to be an intelligence officer for the Taiwanese government as she became morally uncomfortable with the work she was asked to carry out.
She was detained on Tuesday 10th December, “Human Rights Day”, and held at Newport Central Police Station. As soon as news came out that she was to be forcibly removed from the police station to a detention centre, some 25 friends turned up to show solidarity and kept a presence there for over 12 hours. She is now in imprisoned in Yarl’s Wood, a detention centre run by Serco, on behalf of the UK Home Office, who intend to forcibly remove her from the UK.
Since then, her friends and other activists have set up a campaign (originally referring to her as M.Y. to protect her identity) calling for her to be returned to Newport – where she can continue to build a new life for herself within the community where she has become such an important and valued member. In Taiwan she would face a very uncertain future. There is a website and a Facebook page with daily updated information.
Hundreds of emails and phone calls later – most during a phone blockade of EVA Airways, who were due to fly her out of the UK – Emily is still in the UK, but has been taken ill; with bad stomach pains, blood in her urine, and a diagnosis of kidney stones, and possible epilepsy.
Emily is incredibly grateful for the overwhelming support she has received, and, as she attempts to recover from her illnesses, almost definitely made worse by the stress of her situation, she is in talks with her solicitor, who is also fighting for her to stay in the UK, as is her right under the Geneva Convention and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Her friends have reported that Emily claims that staff at Yarl’s Wood had “pushed (her) off her seat” and that there were “bad things said to her/about her”. If confirmed, this would be a serious allegation against the staff there, especially after when much controversy has already surrounded Yarl’s Wood, after hunger strikes, fires and the recent sexual abuse some of the woman detainees have suffered at the hands of its staff.
The campaign still hopes and plans to continue trying to persuade the airline not to take Emily, and for the Home Office to release her so that she can be returned to Newport where she belongs.
If you want to get in touch with the campaign, you can do so at firstname.lastname@example.org
News arrived on Tuesday afternoon that the Saleh family had been given removal directions for 8am the next morning. Friends of the family immediately scrambled to get to the hated ‘Barnardo’s’ detention centre ‘Cedars’, near Pease Pottage. By midnight we had some idea of numbers – around 20, or 25 tops – and all met up nearby for an impromptu picnic and a chat about what to do. Everyone was on the ball, everyone determined to do whatever they could to hold up that bus.
While we were talking two devastating pieces of news came through. An injunction had been passed to stop the Saleh family’s deportation but after a phone call from the UKBA explaining that the Border Agency had spent £60,000 on chartering a plane to deport the family, Judge Eady had reversed his decision and cancelled the injunction.
While we were reeling from that we were told that Mrs Saleh, a personal friend to some of us and the mother of one of our closest mates, had slit her wrists.
People fell to their knees, weeping. Others held each other tightly. As phone calls were made to scrape together further news, a picture emerged. Mrs Saleh was alive and, despite the mental and physical harm done to her by this situation, was still due to be deported. In her desperation she had written a message in blood on the wall of her cell: “I only wanted to save my children.”
We turned up at Cedars in drips and drabs, approaching on foot from the north in small, discrete groups who could duck into hedges and cover the white of their faces as headlights swelled in the darkness. At around 1.30 the first group was stopped by a police car near the entrance to the centre but others slipped past and melted into shadows and hedges. Police followed, trying to pick people out with torches but couldn’t seem to get a handle on our numbers. People moved up and down the road, drifting around the gates to the centre, and gradually moving to block both gates. A line of police formed up on the left gate but left the other gate alone as a small number of people were already clinging securely to the bars – they stayed there all night.
There was a stand-off for a good hour and a half. More police arrived and blocked the left gate, asking demonstrators to get off the drive but not trying to move them. The right hand gate, with people still clinging on, was further blocked by the arrival of a police car. The atmosphere was tense, as whispered plans were formed and reformed. More cop vehicles arrived on the scene, and a dog unit could be heard, gradually moving around behind the demonstrators at the left gate. People kept milling around, with no consistent numbers on either gate but lots of movement between the two. Police numbers seemed to be around the 30-40 mark.
The bus arrived at left gate around 3am. A line of us linked arms and tried to stand in its path but were roughly pulled apart and moved aside by police – the manhandling was quite intense considering our low numbers and some of the cops seemed rather wound up, barking at us to “back off” while holding us two-on-one in assorted wrist and arm locks.
That was when the screaming started. As the ruck was broken down one of ours was lying face down on the edge of the drive with two pigs on top of her, wailing at the top of her lungs for a medic. The medic was restrained a couple of metres away but the cops would neither let him go, nor get the injured woman the attention she needed. As the bus went into the centre everyone held at left gate except for this woman was shoved onto the grassy area between left and right gate. The medic kept an eye on the injured who was now frozen in a dodgy kneeling position, and kept asking the cops to let him through, call one of their medics, get an ambulance or at least support the person’s drooping head as the back injury could have been some kind of spinal. None of the cops seemed to give a toss but eventually an ambulance was called, although one of ours had already called one.
As the bus pulled through the gates a shadow darted across in front of it, dived beneath the chassis and locked itself on to the vehicle’s front axle. Immediately the call went up NOT to drive or try to drag the hero away. The bus was immobilised!
It was a good half hour before the ambulance arrived for our injured one, during which time no support or first aid was given by the police, no medic was called from Cedars, our medic was prevented from assessing the woman and the cop assigned to ‘looking after’ her pretty much just wandered around with her hands in her pockets.
Then, after around 45 minutes, the Fire Brigade arrived to cut away our lock-on hero. People tried to persuade them they were enabling an illegal deportation and that the family would face honour killing, violence and rape if they complied with the police. Unfortunately the fire crew did not show their usual courage and made no attempt to delay their work. This horrific system is made up of thousands of people ‘only doing their job’. Lock-on guy was busted for aggravated trespass but has now been released on bail without charge. Perhaps the CPS is unsure whether a lock on in this case counts as disruption of a ‘lawful’ activity, as the deportation itself is so dodgy…
Then came a quiet spell. Some of us watched silhouettes – possibly those of the family – waving from a first floor window. Others attempted to engage individual cops with the issue. Mostly we got blank faces, and cowardly rubbish about ‘following orders’. However, we pressed on, talking to them anyway undeterred by their refusal to talk to us. Eventually some of them wavered, clearly interested now. We attempted to persuade them that they, as individuals, had full autonomy at every moment of their lives but were using their energy and choices to protect an activity they couldn’t actually defend in conversation. Another cop was welling up when we explained that Mrs Saleh’s 17 year old daughter now faces FGM, rape and forced marriage. She was wiping tears away as we told her about our friend in Cardiff, desperate for her mother not to be sent away to her death, and wondered aloud what we would do without our own mothers. We explained that her shield of passive aggression, training and discipline was a barrier to her expressing the healthy emotions she clearly felt about the situation, that we were there because we felt something and she was there because she wasn’t allowed to. I hope a degree of soul searching has followed that conversation.
More cops arrived on site, and around 5.30 we got the message that the family had been moved from their rooms to board the coach. This was make or break time.
The cops around left gate had surged and now an escort van was waiting for the bus in the driveway. We were hideously outnumbered. Someone counted 30 cop vehicles on Brighton Road – more than one car for each of us – and who knows how many cops. The bus moved to the gate at around 6.30am, running very late. It had been held up for hours but was now implacable. One of ours tried to stand in front of the escort van and collapsed rather than be moved away. Physically restrained and overwhelmed, we could do nothing but shout and struggle as the coach drove past.
We piled into cars and tore down the motorway but could find no trace of the bus. One car went to Heathrow but no-one would tell us anything, the others went to Gatwick and came up blank but ran into a ton of armed cops, who weren’t too pleased by the sudden appearance of ‘No Borders’ types and gave our crew some hassle. Sadly, the Saleh family was deported at 8am but we couldn’t even confirm this for hours.
We now have more details. The day after the Director of Prisons issued a damning report ordering G4S to stop using force on minors in detention centres, Mrs Saleh’s 17 year old son was beaten up under the noses of sell-out charity Barnardo’s for resisting deportation. The family called us from an airport in Italy before being bundled onto a Denim Air charter flight and landing in Cairo that evening. They received some form of hassle from Egyptian airport staff and are now lying low, waiting for the next move.
Before their plane even touched down an appeal launched by Mrs Saleh’s solicitor was gathering serious momentum. Due process has been undermined in deporting this family before their judicial review hearing. A judge has reversed an injunction based on the cost of the family’s charter flight after being leaned-on at the 11th hour by some UKBA scumhole. And a minor was beaten up at a Barnardo’s-run detention centre within 24 hours of fierce condemnation of such practices by the Director of Prisons. These people are going to learn that they are not invulnerable and there are serious legal consequences to their actions.
Love and rage to all people facing detention or deportation, and to everyone fighting this sick, sick border regime.
PEACEFUL DEMONSTRATION in Support of SALEH FAMILY!
Saturday 27th October, 11.30am
Aneurin Bevan Statue on Queen St, Cardiff.
Bring signs, banners, instruments and friends!
Despite the best efforts of a handful of friends and family who blockaded Cedars detention centre and held up the coach for 5 hours, Mrs Saleh and her children were taken to an airport on Wednesday morning and deported to Egypt. However, the appeal against this course of action is building serious momentum as there have been a huge number of irregularities, illegalities and clear cases of abuse surrounding these events. Watch this space – we will be posting a detailed update really soon.
DEMONSTRATE! In Support of the Saleh Family
11.30am, Saturday 27th October
Aneurin Bevan Statue, Queen St, Cardiff.
Bring banners, signs, messages of support, and of course everyone you know!