Londoners The New
Building understanding between communities JUNE 2009
Garden therapy 20
BEN affLEck Banksy
The Oscar-winning actor and director focuses his camera on the plight of the refugees in the Democratic Republic of Congo Story, pages 6-7
ThrEaT To ProTEsT in Parliament Square Style
The return of Biba
by Harriet Grant The continuing protest by Tamils in Parliament Square could be the last of its kind if a proposed change in the law goes ahead. Westminster council, which controls the square, wants MPs to bring in new laws that would bring an end to long demonstrations and stop people camping in the square at night. Protesters have been trying to draw attention to the plight of Tamils in Sri Lanka since April. Thousands have been involved in the demonstrations, leading to roads being closed and police mounting a round-the-clock operation to watch over the tents that sprang up
around the square. Sivendran Natarajah, 20, is a student who has been in Parliament Square for the past two months. he insists the protests are peaceful and will continue as long as they have to. Ò We want the international community and our own British government to take responsibility for the Tamil people in camps in Sri Lanka. Nobody wants to be in Parliament Square as long as this, we all have other things to be doing, but we have to be there to promote our cause.Ó he said the council is in constant communication with the demonstrators. Ò The police are happy with us,
the council come and check every day and if there is a problem we sort it out with them. We will stay in the square as long as we have to.Ó Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson told a home Affairs Committee that it cost £8m to police the demonstration, leaving the force overstretched in other parts of the capital. As the protest continues, Westminster council has been holding emergency meetings with the home Office, the Greater London Authority and the Metropolitan Police to push for tougher regulations on protests in the square. Threat to protest, page 2
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2 The New Londoners | News The New Londoners
Plight of refugees within Sri Lanka by Marie Colvin ALThOuGh the fighting in Sri Lanka has ended, the nightmare for the 280,000 ethnic Tamil men, women and children driven from their homes by the hostilities has just begun. They are being held by the government in internment camps, without access to international aid agencies, who have voiced deep concern. Many are traumatised after spending months in the
editor-in-chief Nazek Ramadan editorial manager Anne Stoltenberg editors Anne Mullee Maeve Hosea Mary Sakho production editor Renata Rubnikowicz designer Carol Hansen
jungle where they lived in appalling conditions in handdug trenches to escape almost daily shelling. Others are malnourished or in need of medical care. While they were trapped in the so-called no-fire zone on a sliver of land on the northeast shore of the island, only the International Committee of the Red Cross had access to the civilians. This access was intermittent because aid could only be delivered by boat, and either the fighting or the Sri Lankan government would frequently prevent landings. Civilians are living four
families to a tent in the overcrowded camps. One doctor who was allowed to visit described to me dire living conditions that include lack of adequate sanitation, limited medical care and lack of treatment for the severely malnourished. A visit by the uN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon last month was the only time journalists were allowed access. Their images of starved elderly men and women, some of them appearing near death, were heartbreaking. The camps are ringed by barbed wire and sur-
Tamils from page 2
rounded by the Sri Lankan army. None of the refugees is allowed to leave, nor are relatives allowed to visit. Families have been separated. Tens of thousands are desperate for news of missing family members. human rights groups have expressed serious concerns about a number of younger girls and boys who have been abducted from the camps, allegedly by pro-government Tamil paramilitary groups. Nothing is known of the fate of many young Tamil fighters, both men and women, who surrendered when the
With thanks to all the volunteer journalists, contributors and media group members who took part in the production of the paper.
ce Cen our tr es
25 Cel ebrating
Colin Barrow, leader of Westminster council, said: Ò We all support peaceful protest, but it is completely unacceptable for parts of our city to be occupied and turned into no-go areas by vociferous minorities, however laudable each cause might be.Ó The talks between Westminster council and the home Office come as the Government is looking generally at the issue of the right to protest around Parliament. The right to protest near Parliament has been a subject of much debate since 2005 when the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act came into force. The act made it an offence to demonstrate within 1km of Parliament without police permission that required six daysÕ notice. There was widespread criticism of the law, which was seen as an attack on the right to protest peacefully. The act has since been repealed, but the home Office is looking at new ways of managing protests in the area surrounding Parliament. One man who has remained untouched by the law is Brian haw, an anti-war protestor who has spent the past eight years living in a tent in the square. Despite several attempts over the years by the government and Westminster council to get rid of him, successive high court judges have ruled that he can stay. The changes in the law that Westminster council hopes to bring about would also be aimed at moving him and his supporters, many of whom camp next to him. Maria Gallastegui protests alongside Brian haw and has also been helping the Tamils in their demonstration. She says no
change in the law will persuade them to move. Ò Trying to stop us is a waste of energy and time. They canÕ t get rid of us, we would keep coming back or they would have to arrest us every Brian Haw time. It would be chaos.Ó She argues that it is vital for protestors to stay in Parliament Square and aim their message directly at MPs. Ò We are right opposite the very seat of power Ð to balance that power we have the people on the other side of the road saying what they believe. The Tamil protest is the ultimate example of how peaceful protest should work. ItÕ s so powerful because itÕ s so hard to have your voice heard nowadays.Ó So for now, the demonstrators remain in the square. The battle to remove them has only strengthened their resolve.
PHOTOGRAPH: TOM KinG
My colleagues and I were heartened and overwhelmed by the wonderful response to our previous issue which brought together a wealth of articles, stories and celebrities, including the award-winning writer Mark Haddon and the actor Colin Firth.
I hope you will enjoy reading the paper as much as we have enjoyed working on it. This edition is particularly significant for us as it falls during the Migrants Resource Centre’s 25th year of operation, accompanying newcomers on their journeys to making London home. We are grateful to the following organisations for their invaluable contribution and practical and financial support: MRCF, OneWorld UK, Refugee Council, UNHCR, The Guardian, City Parochial Foundation, Barrow Cadbury Trust, Lloyds TSB Foundation, Epim and Oxfam. Media & Policy Project wishes
to thank our funders:
PHOTOGRAPH: bRunO PAivA
A free annual newspaper bringing Londoners new and old together in productive conversation, The New Londoners carries the voices and tells the stories of members of London’s newest communities and has become an established platform for intercultural dialogue. More volunteers are joining the paper to engage in this dialogue and to assist new Londoners telling their stories and dispelling the myths that surround them.
The New Londoners is planned, written and produced on a voluntary basis by migrants, refugees and asylum seekers who are members of the Migrant and Refugee Media Action Group at the Migrants Resource Centre as well as British journalists and other Londoners.
Our changing population IT IS OFTeN assumed that migration is the key factor to the capitalÕ s growth. however, data analysed in a new report, LondonÕ s Poverty Profile, launched by the independent City Parochial Foundation and the think-tank New Policy Institute, challenges this. In 2007, 162,000 international migrants had London as their intended destination and 92,000 people left London to live abroad. This resulted in a net inward international migration of 70,000. however, over the same period, 248,000 people left London to live in other parts of the uK, while 167,000 people from other parts of the uK migrated into London. Combining domestic and international migration, 11,000 more people moved out of London than moved in. In five of the past six years, more people
Support grows for right to work campaign by Harriet Grant and Rachel Stevenson TeNS of thousands of asylum seekers could get the right to work after a landmark court ruling. The Court of Appeal has ruled that a person whose claim is turned down but who has launched a fresh bid for asylum does come under european rules which give some rights to work. Asylum seekers are not usually allowed to work while their claim is being processed but, since 2005, under a european union directive, asylum seekers who have not had an initial decision on their claim within a year are allowed to apply to the home Office for permission to work. The home Office had claimed the eu directive did not apply to an asylum seeker who had submitted a fresh claim, but Lord Justice hooper said that there was nothing in the wording of the eu reception directive to exclude subsequent asylum applications. The ruling will have implications for thousands of asylum seekers from countries considered too dangerous to return people to,
such as Zimbabwe and Somalia, who have made fresh claims. Solicitors have been advising asylum seekers who qualify to begin applying for permission to work immediately. The decision was taken in the case of a Somali woman known as ZO, who arrived in the uK in 2003. She was refused asylum in 2004 and an appeal was dismissed. In 2005 she put in another application for asylum, which she argued was a fresh claim based on new evidence about the situation in Somalia. Nearly four years later, she has not been told whether or not her claim can be considered. In the high Court in December, Mr Justice Blake ruled the blanket ban on permission to work was Ò unlawfully overbroad and unjustifiably detrimental to claimants who have had to wait as long as this claimant has.Ó he said denying the ability to seek employment for an indefinite period breached the Ò right to respect for private and family life.Ó The home Office is challenging the decision, but opposition to the ban on asylum seekers working has been
growing. The european Commission published proposals in December which include the right to work six months after applying for asylum. The Joint Committee on human Rights has called for the policy to be reviewed, as has the Church of england. The Let Them Work campaign, led by the Refugee Council, now has more than 20 trade unions and community refugee organisations, faith groups and charities such as Shelter and BarnardoÕ s clamouring for action. Patrice was an engineer in Africa, highly skilled and a manager of more than a dozen people. But his involvement in his trade union and local politics led to several beatings, nights in prison and even death threats. Patrice paid an agent to get him out of the country. Since he arrived in the uK in 2003, Patrice has not worked at all, despite his skills and experience. Ò I want to work, believe me,Ó he said. Ò I want my self-respect, to get up on Monday and think Ô Oh, another long week at work.Õ But the government wonÕ t let me because IÕ m an asylum seeker.Ó
have left London to live elsewhere in the uK and abroad than have arrived. LondonÕ s population has grown due to high numbers of births and low numbers of deaths. www.londonspovertyprofile.org.uk
employment rights in the uK allows unscrupulous employers to exploit hard-working migrants and force them in into often inescapable poverty. Kate Wareing, OxfamÕ s director for uK poverty said: Ò Our report reveals shocking exploitation of vulnerable migrant workers across the uK, in a range of vital industries and services. Oxfam is calling for greater regulation on industries employing migrant and vulnerable workers to bring a swift end to these abuses.Ó www.oxfam.org.uk
unclaimed by these communities, according to the Migrants Resource Centre. The centre runs the hMRC (the uKÕ s customs and tax department) Better Off Project to raise awareness of benefit entitlement among LondonÕ s ethnic minorities. It said other reasons for low uptake of benefits are lack of knowledge of entitlement to benefits and of the system. Better Off Project: 0845 241 0961
Migrant workers still exploited A NeW report to be published by Oxfam in July will reveal continued widespread exploitation of migrant workers in the uK. The report looks at the employment of migrant workers in agriculture, construction, care and the hospitality industry. It reveals workers are regularly paid less than the minimum wage, work in conditions which flout health and safety standards and frequently suffer verbal and physical abuse. Poor and fragmented enforcement of
Minorities miss out on benefits LARGe sections of the ethnic minority communities are not claiming the benefits and family tax credit to which they are entitled, for fear they will affect their immigration status. Millions of pounds go
Europe’s action against poverty MIGRANTS Resource Centre and The european Anti-Poverty Network, england are planning a number of activities to mark the european Year Against Poverty, 2010. As part of a project funded by the Barrow Cadbury Trust, MRC will launch a report of the findings of research into the lives of undocumented migrants in the uK.
Hundreds of refugee children put at risk by government funding cuts
A warm welcome to the third issue of The New Londoners, the paper that strives to build understanding between the newcomers who are making London their home and the city’s long-standing communities.
The New Londoners invites you to travel the amazing journeys of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers, and to share their lives, pain, hopes and successes. New Londoners play an important role in London’s diversity, vibrancy and success – their contribution is celebrated in this paper.
PHOTOGRAPH: TOM KinG
photographers Beth Crosland Tom King Bruno Paiva Jose Souto
Nazek Ramadan editor-in-chief
last stand of the Tamil Tigers was overrun by the Sri Lankan military. Ò The international community must, and I mean must, get into those camps,Ó said erik Solheim, Norway's minister for international development. Ò They have to say to Sri Lanka, Ô If you want reconstruction and aid money, you will open the camps.Õ Ó A human Rights Watch spokeswoman, who works in the organisation's emergency section, criticised the Sri Lankan government's actions. She said the government had promised to resettle the ethnic Tamils in the northern region of the country but it had not begun to do so. The fate of the Tamils in the camps has angered and embittered the large Tamil community in the uK. Most have relatives in Sri Lanka they are desperate to contact but are unable to do so because of lack of access to the internment camps. British Tamils feel that the international community stood by while thousands of civilians were slaughtered, and that, even now that the fighting is over, it is allowing the Sri Lankan government to continue mistreating their fellow Tamils with impunity.
ThrEaT To ProTEsT in Parliment square from page 1
illustrator Ching-Li Chew
News | The New Londoners 3
Money doesn’t grow on trees, you have to run for it: Penny McLean successfully completed a 10K fun run in Crouch End in 58 minutes to raise funds for The New Londoners
Fundraising is a piece of cake: Diane Heath organised a cake sale day at work to raise money and also arranged a party where her colleagues burned up the calories on the dance floor while piling up pounds for The New Londoners
by Hannah Ward huNDReDS of refugee children will be at risk because funding to the Refugee CouncilÕ s ChildrenÕ s Panel is being cut this month. The news has prompted outrage from childrenÕ s charities, refugee groups and the ChildrenÕ s Commissioner for england, Sir Al Aynsley-Green. The panel helps children who have come to the uK without their parents and claimed asylum. Funding has been withdrawn specifically for the work it does with children whose age is Ò disputedÓ . Some of these children will now have to fend for themselves in the adult system, without specialist support and without the protection of the procedures set up especially for vulnerable children. According to Judith Dennis, policy adviser on unaccompanied children at the Refugee Council, the panel will no
longer be able to intervene to prevent children going through the asylum system as adults. She explained: Ò The advisers on the childrenÕ s panel play a vital role in identifying those children who have been wrongly assessed as adults. They are able, in many cases, to get the initial decision overturned. We have seen children as young as 14 being classed as over 18.Ó As well as being housed with adults in unsecure accommodation, some of these children can end up in detention, locked up with adults. Judith Dennis added: Ò It is appalling that there is even a remote chance that children are imprisoned with adults, and it is shocking the number of times the Refugee Council has had to intervene to get them out. Without the work of the childrenÕ s panel more children will end up wrongly imprisoned.Ó In 2008, almost 4,000 children from
countries such as Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Somalia and eritrea came to the uK alone and claimed asylum. Another 1,390 arrived claiming to be under the age of 18 but had their age questioned by immigration officials and often social services as well. The Refugee CouncilÕ s ChildrenÕ s Panel worked with 365 of these young people, and more than half were found to be children. These are cases that the Refugee Council says will fall through the net once their funding ceases completely.
PHOTOGRAPH: RefuGee COunCil
The home Office has argued that there are procedures in place to make sure that this doesnÕ t happen. however, Judith Dennis said: Ò We know from experience that these procedures are flawed, and many children slip through the net. This is why itÕ s vital that the work continues Ð these children will have nowhere else to turn.Ó
4 The New Londoners | Report
Report | The New Londoners 5
‘Let’s bring people out of the shadows’
Thousands gathered in Trafalgar Square on 4 May to call for action on the plight of the “invisible”. Austen Ivereigh on the undocumented migrants among us
breaking the law and more that the law is breaking him. The law is out of synch with reality. Joshua’s fellow parishioners instinctively understand that membership of a society does not depend upon legal permission, and that the moral right of states to apprehend and deport irregular migrants erodes with the passage of time. That is the starting point of the Strangers into Citizens campaign: the need to acknowledge that hundreds of thousands of people in the UK are citizens in practice, yet are not acknowledged as such by the law. Above all, this is a moral issue, which n a smart part of London, Catholic parishoners are aiding and is why the churches have taken such abetting an illegal immigrant. a strong lead. On 4 May, prayers for Joshua lost the skilled job he regularisation were said at Westminhad been doing for many years when ster Cathedral, Westminster Abbey and his employer suddenly asked to see his Methodist Central Hall. “Out of darkness into light, out of degradapassport. Since then the paristion into dignity – strangers honers have been making into citizens,” prayed the sure that he has enough Catholic bishop presidwork so that he can ing at Westminster send money home Cathedral. to Africa, keeping You don’t need him in good health religious belief to and good cheer. spot a policy that Joshua is always is founded on a on hand to help lie. No one – not in the church and even the Home is much loved by Michael, Office – claims that all. The priests and litigation solicitor it is realistic or desirparishioners know him able to attempt to deport well: he has been in the 450,000 people (the number parish for nine years. identified by the London School That is why they support him without for a moment thinking that of Economics as being eligible under they are assisting a criminal. They the Strangers into Citizens proposal for know his story; they know him. They regularisation). Yet government policy know that it is less a question of him pretends that it is.
Against this dehumanising, bogus policy, we propose a humanising “pathway into citizenship” for those that have put down roots in this country. Once they have been here five years, irregular migrants acquire a moral claim to have their social membership of our society legally recognised. So we propose that those who have been in the UK for at least four years should be eligible to apply for a two-year work visa. At the end of that time, applicants would pass an English test, demonstrate a record of no serious criminal offences and prove, by their references, their commitment to the UK. Work and
Chris civil engineer
paying taxes is an important expression of that belonging; but so is contributing to public life through activity in a church, mosque, charity or association. Regularisation benefits everyone: it levels the playing field for workers, brings huge tax revenues which more than offset the costs of social security entitlements, and enables people to obey the law and contribute to society. To the benefit of society as a whole, it extends to sub-citizens, who are nevertheless part of society, the legal protections which the native-born take for
The Lib-Dems and London’s Mayor granted. It spreads rights and responsibilities, ensuring that migrants are have given our campaign significant less likely to be scapegoated as rivals. political backing. And we know that Combined with border enforcement the campaign created the political presmeasures, it makes “illegal immigra- sure which allowed the Home Office tion” – arriving on the back of a lorry to give status to tens of thousands of outstanding “asylum legacy” – much harder. That is why cases on the grounds of Spain did it in 2005 – their “long association regularising 700,000 with the UK”. people at a stroke We have created – and why, in hope that people the following like Joshua will years, immigraone day get the tion to Spain same recognition decreased. And from the law as that is why Preshe does from the ident Obama is good ladies of in favour of simiSabrina, his parish. It’s the lar action in the primary school kind of hope that led United States. teacher Maria, originally from Since we began our Latin America, to email campaign in early 2007, us the day after the rally on people have been surprised 4 May. “I have lived through 12 by how far, and how quickly, it has advanced. We have defeated the years of Cavalry, yesterday I felt for three MigrationWatch UK objections the first time hopeful and happy about that it would be unpopular (a general the future,” she wrote. “Thank you for amnesty would be, but our proposal has a wonderful day of faith.” the backing of two-thirds of the population), expensive (the costs and benefits more or less cancel out) and would Austen Ivereigh is policy director of only encourage more migrants to come the Strangers into Citizens campaign: www.strangersintocitizens.org.uk (wrong, as Spain shows).
“If they are working legally and paying taxes, they should be allowed to stay”
A day for hope
“Can’t see a reason why they shouldn’t stay. Send the politicians elsewhere”
PHOTOGRAPH: TOM KinG
PHOTOGRAPH: TOM KinG
London Mayor Boris Johnson sets out his view on the role of migrants in the capital
“ I think people should be allowed to stay in the country of their choice”
i have been here for seven years. back in uganda, i could not support my wife and four children with my job as CCTv supervisor and chief of security in a nightclub. My wife was working as a teacher but it was not enough. i arrived in 2003 with a visiting visa. it cost me a lot. i raised the money from friends and from my savings. i got fake papers and started on a cleaning job here. All the while i was working i was sending money home. i was earning about £600 a month and sending £400 back to my family to support them. Sometimes i would borrow money
I BeLIeve we must address the problems created by the existence of two categories of people in the capital: one group who live normally and another who live in the shadows unable to contribute fully to rest of society. This is why I have commissioned a study to investigate the potential benefits of an amnesty for long-term unregistered migrants. It is vital that everyone has access to opportunities to live, work and contribute to the success of our great city. hundreds of thousands of migrants and refugees will benefit from the work we are doing to tackle crime, deliver value for money and improve the quality of life in the capital. I have introduced a series of measures including a £3bn economic recovery action plan to help get London through the financial downturn. To make London safer, I have brought in an extra 440 transport police to improve safety on the capitalÕ s buses and launched Time for Action to address the complex long-term causes of youth crime and violence. To increase the number of affordable homes we have launched a £5bn housing strategy to deliver 50,000
from friends to be able to pay for transport. My accommodation at a friendÕ s house cost me £70 a week, sharing the room with three other people. After two years, the company told us that its contract had ended so we were let go. i had to leave my accommodation as i had no money. for more than three years, i lived on the streets. for two years i did not contact my family and i cried when i thought about them. i could not write letters to them as in my country you have to pay if you want to have a postal address. i have not been back to uganda since i came
affordable homes. And thanks to £100m efficiency savings we have made this year, I was able to freeze the Greater London AuthorityÕ s portion of the council tax for the first time after a rise of 152 per cent under the previous administration. As to the Rise festival: we think that the £551,000 to stage last yearÕ s Rise is an enormous sum of public money to spend on a single music event, particularly during a recession. ItÕ s better to fund a multitude of events and grassroots activities to bring people together and celebrate the many things that help define us a city and as Londoners. London is an extraord i n a r y city, which has drawn people from across the globe and we support events throughout the year that reflect the mix of communities in the capital. WeÕ re also creating new ones that help define us a city and as Londoners, like this monthÕ s Story of London festival. It has more than 350 events telling different tales in many different ways about this fantastic city and its people. There are huge benefits from immigration for our economy, society and the cultural life of our capital. Just look the amazing range of restaurants in London, they are the best in the world thanks to the incredible innovation and entrepreneurship of immigrants from all corners of the world. To recognise the contribution of immigration to London, I organised the first citizenship ceremony at City hall last year. The ceremony was an important way of encouraging new citizens to play a full part in the communities they live in and contribute to their new country. As told to Garvan Walshe
here. i used to call my family but now i donÕ t have the money to do so. in 2006 thanks to my church i was able to move back into accommodation and to feed myself. i have been working for the last four months for a new agency, which tells me to work on contract. There may be times when i donÕ t work for weeks, especially recently with economic situation. A regularisation would mean that i could go back to school and learn new skills to support my family. Given my past experience in security, i would like to join the police force.
PHOTOGRAPH: TOM KinG
Migrants in figures l 725,000. undocumented migrants resident in the uK, as estimated by the london School of economics in March 2009 l 450,000 undocumented migrants who would apply for regularisation under the Strangers into Citizens proposal backed by boris Johnson, the mayor of london l 60,000 Irregular migrants that the Home Office claims to deport each year l 35 years How long it would take forcibly to remove the uKÕ s undocumented migrants at current deportation levels
l £11,000 Cost of each forced removal, as estimated by the institute of Public Policy Research (iPPR) l 94 MPs who signed the Strangers into Citizens early day motion of 5 february 2009 l 688,419 irregular migrants regularised in the space of three months by Spain in 2005 l Û 12.7m Cost of the Spanish regularisation of 2005 l Û 190m Additional income in social security payments generated by SpainÕ s 2005 regularisation l £1bn extra revenue from taxation which iPPR estimates will flow to the Treasury from UK regularisation
l 67 per cent Proportion of uK adults who believe it is wrong to class an immigrant as Ò illegalÓ if they have been in the country for more than four years and are working and paying taxes. (Opinion Research business [ORb] opinion poll, April 2007). l 44 per cent Proportion of uK adults who believe people should be able to earn citizenship over time (ORb opinion poll, April 2007)
6 The New Londoners | Report
Report | The New Londoners 7
Ben Affleck returns to directing to support the Gimme Shelter appeal for Democratic Republic of Congo
‘The suffering and loss is beyond belief’ War is just a shot away for refugees in the Democratic Republic of Congo, moving Hollywood star Ben Affleck to show their plight in a film set to the Rolling Stones’ classic, Gimme Shelter, say Stuart Drakes and Peter Kessler
hile the world is familiar with the phenomenon of film stars using their fame to promote their pet causes, few are as savvy as director and actor Ben Affleck, who has been quoted as saying that he wants to use his celebrity Ò currencyÓ , for good rather than squander it. having thought Ò long and hardÓ about how he might make the best use of his position, Affleck became interested in the plight of civilians in the Democratic
Republic of the Congo (DRC) who have been uprooted from their homes because of continuing conflict in the country. After visiting the country three times since 2007, documenting one trip for the American current affairs show Nightline, Affleck decided to use his directing skills to make a short film to help draw attention to the crisis when the uNhCR, the uN refugee agency, approached him to lend his support. visiting the war-torn country again late last year, Affleck equipped himself
with a video camera, this time to make his moving film to draw attention to uNhCRÕ s Gimme Shelter campaign. his visit took in the refugee camps in the North Kivu province, where those affected by war and horrific violence are attempting to rebuild their lives. Getting behind the camera, Affleck used his film-making expertise to support the uN refugee agencyÕ s efforts to raise funds to help the estimated 1.8m displaced Congolese civilians in the DRC, and spoke at the launch of the global Gimme Shelter campaign at the uN headquarters in New York. Ò I was really moved by what was happening in the Democratic Republic of Congo and uNhCR was already involved in doing a tremendous amount of work,Ó he says. Ò We made this film in order to focus attention on the humanitarian crisis in the DRC at a time when too much of the world is indifferent or looking the other way. The suffering and loss weÕ ve all seen first-hand is staggering Ð it is beyond belief.Ó
AffleckÕ s film, Gimme Shelter, captures the suffering of internally displaced Congolese families who fled the fighting with next to nothing and are now forced to find refuge in makeshift shelters. British rock star Sir Mick Jagger and his band the Rolling Stones are also involved with the campaign. They have donated the song Gimme Shelter, one of their best-known classic hits, for the year-long effort and AffleckÕ s film uses its title and soundtrack for his film. Jagger describes the human suffering in the DRC as appalling and expresses strong support for AffleckÕ s awareness-raising efforts. Ò The Rolling Stones are very happy to contribute Gimme Shelter in support of BenÕ s efforts to raise the profile of the conflict in the Congo,Ó he says. Ò I hope this video will help highlight the plight of the hundreds of thousands of displaced people and also the thousands of innocent people who are needlessly losing their lives there.Ó
PHOTOGRAPH: JennifeR GRAylOCK/unHCR
Affleck welcomed the chance to be part of the project. Ò I was honoured to be asked to be involved with uNhCRÕ s campaign. The Rolling Stones had already given their music to the campaign, so I had the chance to be involved with both uNhCR, which is doing extraordinary work, and the band of which IÕ m a big admirer.Ó On the making of the film itself he says: Ò The task was to show people the extraordinary work uNhCR is doing, the scope of it, and the importance of it. All in the 4 minutes and 20 seconds of the song Gimme Shelter.Ó Affleck points to the campaignÕ s twin objectives Ð to raise awareness of the humanitarian emergency in the DRC and to raise funds to assist those caught in the middle of the violence. Thanks to uNhCR, Affleck says, Ò people are being fed, people are being given clean water, people are being sheltered, literally, and being moved to areas that are safer than where they came from Ð and that work does not get done without money. In times when money is more scarce, paradoxically, it becomes more importantÓ . Of his own lobbying intentions he says: Ò IÕ m going to raise awareness and when it is raised, there [must be] a public policy agenda behind it. What weÕ ve tried to do through the film is to answer the question, Ô What can I do to help as one individual?Õ The answer to that is to care.Ó Affleck also urges more public awareness of this and other conflicts in which millions of people have been forced from their homes. Ò If someone is suffering in their country and their nation is not able to provide the means to ameliorate that suffering, the broader world community must step in,Ó he says. Ò IÕ m urging people not to look the other way, not to turn off their Tv when news of the violence in the DRC comes on. We all need to stand up and support the work of organisa-
tions like uNhCR who are on the ground offering protection and working hard to ensure the rights and wellbeing of refugees,Ó he says. Ò One of the things that was impressive to me about uNhCR is they use local staff who understand the communities and understand what is going on.Ó The Gimme Shelter film has been distributed worldwide via the web, television, mobile phones, cinemas and hotel chains to raise awareness of uNhCRÕ s global work for refugees and to encourage donations for displaced Congolese. The UN refugee agency, one of the world’s leading humanitarian organisations, is almost entirely funded by voluntary contributions. www.unhcr.org.uk
PHOTOGRAPH: JennifeR GRAylOCK/unHCR
The situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is still unstable, and since January this year repeated attacks in north and South Kivu have driven more than 370,000 people from their homes and into the forests or to other places of refuge. unHCR estimates there are now some 1.8 million internally displaced people (IDPs) in North Kivu as a result of fighting and instability since late 2006. While at least three-quarters of them live with host families, about 100,000 of the displaced people are temporarily accommodated in 11 unHCR-run sites across the province. The displaced people in the camps are receiving high-energy biscuits, plastic sheeting, construction materials and a plot on which to erect a provisional shelter. Some 30,000 others have fled to neighbouring Uganda and are also receiving help from unHCR.
UNHCR Gimme Shelter video: www.unhcrshelter. org
Shakira helps kids shine Renowned the world over, especially for her mega-hit Hips Don’t Lie, the singer-songwriter has also channelled her energy into helping displaced children in her native Colombia. By Maeve Hosea In a whitewashed classroom in a dusty village in the depths of the jungle in the province of Choco, north-western Colombia, an international pop star is taking part in a maths class with a group of displaced children. Like the children, Shakira is a native of Colombia, but she is in a position to use her international fame to highlight their situation. Shakira has headed Pies Descalzos, the education and welfare charity helping displaced children, since 1995, when she was just 19 years old. Its name, which translates as Ò BarefootÓ , is the same as that of her breakthrough album launched the same year. For more than 50 years, a civil conflict has raged in Colombia, forcing three million Colombians to flee their homes. Of these displaced people, the ones that suffer the most obviously are the children, many of whom live in destitution on the street. Ò Growing up in Colombia has given me the clarity of mind to recognise that education can help break the cycle of poverty,Ó says Shakira. Ò It unlocks every childÕ s potential, and teaches them that they can have whatever they want in life.Ó Often, these children have lost family members or witnessed violence. In addition, they have often been forced to travel hundreds of miles and
miss months of school. They arrive in a new place traumatised, malnourished, angry and behind their classmates in their work. ShakiraÕ s charity, whose counterpart in the united States is The Barefoot Foundation, helps these children recover with counselling and one-to-one help. Children get to be children again through fun, recreational programmes. Families leave behind everything when they flee and the charity helps them begin again through vocational training and job opportunities for parents. Now, with the international expansion of her foundation, she hopes to bring the attention of a global audience to the long-lasting problems that come with displacement. Globally, 72 million children do not attend primary school and another 226 million are not in secondary school. In addition, hundreds of millions of children attend some version of school but cannot access the quality of education that yields real results. www.barefootfoundation.com; www.fundacionpiesdescalzos.com Shakira with barefoot foundation students in Choco, Quibdo
8 The New Londoners | Youth report
Getting an education when seeking asylum is tough. Jennifer Reddock meets some determined students
t the Leading edge projectÕ s after-school homework club run by the ChildrenÕ s Society in Bristol, 15-year old Mili* remembers her first day at school in england. Ò I was afraid because I didnÕ t know anyone. I didnÕ t know much english and everyone was asking my name and why I was there.Ó She left eastern europe more than three years ago with her mother and two younger siblings, escaping what she knows was a bad situation. She doesnÕ t want to be identified. Now the homework club provides an opportunity not only for her to do school work but also to meet other young asylum seekers who have become her friends. For young people who come to england seeking asylum, getting an education isnÕ t as easy as one, two, three. Progressing from one stage to the next in the educational system is not guaranteed and the transitions are not always smooth. They have to juggle immigration issues, psychological stresses and the financial challenges of whether they can pay for their education. Rachael Bruce of the ChildrenÕ s Society says, Ò Refugee children often find it harder to access education than other children because of a shortage of school places, unwillingness by some schools to admit refugee pupils, high housing mobility and confusing admissions procedures. We work with children in immigration removal centres and in the community.Ó The ChildrenÕ s Society works with children across the uK regardless of their immigration status and also helps young refugees and their families
rebuild their lives in new communities by providing help in accessing housing, support, legal advice and education. It also lobbies Parliament on behalf of young asylum seekers and refugees. Mili looks like a happy teenager but occasionally slips into quiet wistfulness. After arriving in england, she stayed home for a month until she was given permission to start school. Fortunately, one of the teachers knew her native language and was able to translate, helping her survive at school. SheÕ s haunted by what happened one morning about a year ago. Ò It was seven oÕ clock in the morning, when I was getting ready for school,Ó she says. Ò I heard someone banging on the door. I thought it was my friend because we were going to go to school together. I opened the door. Some police officers were standing outside. They pushed me away from the door and told my mother Ô Pack your stuff.Õ Ó It was an immigration raid, for which the family still has no explanation. They were taken into custody in what would become a harrowing five-day ordeal. Treated the same as the criminals who were also inmates at the detention centre, they faced inspections and searches of their living space at the centre several times a day. The officers told them they were going to be deported to another eastern european country. With the help of friends and community activists, they avoided that. The Children’s Society works with an organisation called Bail for Immigration Detainees, whose Outcry! advocates work on behalf of the children who are locked up each year in immigration detention. “Children seeking asylum are the only group of minors who can be locked up solely for
administrative purposes, without a time limit or judicial oversight. The negative consequences are severe, including mental and physical health problems and lack of access to education,” says Bruce. “Government guidance makes clear that all young refugees should be treated like any other child in the provision of services and accommodation, but this guidance has been consistently undermined by immigration law, policy and practice.” When Mili went back to school, her friends asked where she had been. She says she is OK now, but is concerned that her younger brother still bears psychological scars from the incident. As someone who came to England seeking asylum, she can attend secondary school and is allowed to go to college. Beyond that, she has no real plans, except that she knows she wants to be a dentist. In London, 20-year-old Loyce* has been granted “discretionary leave to remain” in the UK which she is now seeking to extend. She applied to the Home Office two years ago but is still waiting for a decision. Like her fellow asylum-seeker in Bristol, she knows the uncertainty that goes with her immigration status. She is anxious for a sense of belonging and has been in counselling for several months as a result of the trauma she faced in her home country. Loyce was 14 when she came to england from Africa alone. Ò When I arrived here, classes had already started. The school did not admit me at first, because of my status. But my foster parents fought for me.Ó having progressed from foster care to living on her own, Loyce has now learned how to fight for herself.
As a person with faith in God, she says trying to get into university has taken a lot of prayer. After two months of phone calls to the schools, and letters and faxes between the solicitor and the student loan company, she finally got her loan request approved. This was after she eventually found a university that was willing to admit her. Ò I had an interview with another university that didnÕ t admit me because I did not have papers from the home Office yet,Ó she says The funding question comes up every year, but does not get any easier. Ò In the queue waiting for enrolment my heart is always pumping and IÕ m praying, Ô O God, O God, help, me. Let there be no problems.Õ Ó She tries not to think about the possibility of being denied student funding at the start of the next academic year: Ò I would be in denial if I said I do not worry about it. I try not to think about it. You can never study if you think about it,Ó she says. Loyce may not get an answer to her asylum resquest until 2011. Rebecca Murray, of Brighter Futures, explains: Ò For asylum seekers wishing to go to university, the key challenge is the financial cost. Asylum seekers and refugees are charged the rates for overseas students, yet are not allowed to work. This means that it is very difficult to take up a place at university.Ó LoyceÕ s experience has influenced her career choice. having received counselling herself, she says she wants to be a psychologist. She has the grades she needs. Ò I would have a good job definitely, I would be paying my taxes.Ó her appeal is simple. Ò Just give us seekers a chance. We just want to feel safe.Ó She has a friend who came to england seeking asylum who is not at university, although she had good grades. her friend does volunteer work to keep busy. The difference between the two? Ò I donÕ t give up,Ó Loyce smiles.
New light on British history Reluctant Refuge: The Story of Asylum in Britain by Edie Friedman and Reva Klein british library £14.99
ReFuGeeS fleeing to Britain is not a recent phenomenon. There have been others before, as the first half of Reluctant Refuge shows, by exploring the predicaments of huguenot, Jewish, ugandan, Somali and Roma people. Throughout history, people have sought refuge in Britain to avoid political, religious, social or ethnic persecution. edie Friedman and Reva Klein reveal how the antiasylum attitudes shown today by some in British society are nothing new, as refugees throughout history have often been met with disregard and suspicion.
* All names have been changed Brighter Futures, Save the Children (London): 020 7012 6542 www.abrighterfuture.org.uk Bail for Immigration Detainees Helpline for people in detention: fax 020 7247 3550 www.biduk.org www.outcrycampaign.org.uk
When the hunter kills an elephant, no one asks any questions about who is the killer, because it is big enough that everyone can get a piece of meat - Congolese proverb
Drawn and written by Martin, 18
School’s not out
PHOTOGRAPH: TOM KinG
Youth report | The New Londoners 9
Their book dissects the many varied and controversial issues surrounding asylum in Britain, and, considering that many people are not aware of what it means to be a refugee, it is a surprisingly easy, enlightening and accessible read. By incorporating the voices of asylum seekers and refugees into their history, the authors demonstrate how most asylum seekers and refugees are regular people enduring tragic and extreme circumstances. The book emphasises how and why these migrants are among the most vulnerable people in the world, though the British government may prove an ambivalent and disobliging host. We learn that many refugees once had a decent standard of living in their homeland and many have given up everything to start again in a new country. Friedman and Klein focus on the uncomfortable truth that refugees and asylum seekers are often regarded as spongers and are treated as lesser human beings. The reader is made aware of how the media are often irresponsible in lumping together economic migrants with refugees forced out of their homelands, susceptible and often powerless people who have in many cases suffered traumatic experiences. The book also shows how the prevailing belief that Britain and its resources are being guzzled up by refugees is untrue, and that twothirds of the world’s refugees actually live in the Middle East and Africa.
It’s clear that the root causes of why people may feel the need to flee their home country must be tackled, and Britain must willingly open its arms to refugees and asylum seekers. However Reluctant Refuge also illustrates that just as there is not one single cause to the vilification that some refugee and asylum seekers suffer, there is also no easy way to remedy the controversial issues surrounding asylum in Britain. PAuLA PENNANT
Another win for the Glasgow Girls AT the Press Gazette regional press awards in May, the winner of the ChildrenÕ s Society Award for reporting on asylum and refugee issues went to The heraldÕ s Alison Campsie for her September 2008 feature about the activist group the Glasgow Girls. In her article, “All I want to do is help people,” Campsie detailed the efforts of Amal Azzudin from Somalia, who started the group three years ago aged just 15, to draw attention to the Home Office’s dawn raids, detention and deportation, which she feels jeopardise the wellbeing of other young asylum seekers. A delighted Campsie said, “The story of the Glasgow Girls is an inspirational one. They are a brave, articulate and determined group of young people speaking up against all the odds and are a true credit to themselves, the city and Scotland. Not only did they bring the issues facing asylum seekers to light, they also represent how constructive and passionate young people can be.” Azzudin started the Glasgow Girls when one of her classmates didn’t show up to school after an immigration raid that resulted in her family being held in a detention centre for three weeks. Subsequent raids on her school saw more classmates being deported to the countries from which they originally fled. JENNIFER REDDOCK
If you spend all your time meddling in other people’s business, your own business will suffer - Georgian proverb
10 The New Londoners | Life
Life | The New Londoners 11
by Bruno Paiva
‘I want to be self-sufficient’ Jawad talks to James Smith
Alphonso Ð Congo
Aarif Ð Afghanistan
Ahmad Ð Iran
Invisible Citizens is a photo-documentary project that explores the lives of asylum seekers who are having to face a long wait, in most cases more than five years, for an answer from the Home Office regarding their chances of staying and leading a normal life in Britain. During this waiting time they are not allowed to work. Most live on £35-worth of vouchers a week. These can only be used to buy food. In some cases, these asylum seekers are helped with accommodation and in other cases they are not helped at all. www.lightstalkers.org/brunopaiva
Jawad spends many of his days sitting around in a dank north London bedsit, wondering about the fate of his native Afghanistan. In 1999, still in his twenties, Jawad fled the Taliban to seek asylum in the uK. his parents had been murdered by the Mujahideen when he was a teenager. Jawad is afraid to return home. Yet the government refuses to grant him refuge. Following years as soldier, being incarcerated and losing friends and family, Jawad started planning his escape from Afghanistan, using money given to him by his uncle. The total journey Ð from writing to his uncle for money to leaving Karachi Ð took over three months. But more waiting was to come. On arriving in Britain, Jawad consulted a doctor about the constant pain in his feet, only to be prescribed paracetamol, even though he could only walk on crutches. After six years of tests, paperwork and visits to specialists, Jawad was finally given a date for his operation. Then, on the day itself, it was cancelled. While the surgeon claimed he needed to run yet more tests, the complaints manager at the hospital confided to Jawad that the real reason he couldnÕ t be operated on was that his asylum application had been refused. Still in chronic pain, Jawad put in a fresh claim for medical treatment. This led to a further series of fruitless appointments, this time at high Barnet hospital, two hours away from his temporary accommodation, before a doctor finally again decided he should have the op. Constantly moved around by the home Office, Jawad has lived in 10 places in and around London in seven years and has found it very difficult to cultivate community ties or develop meaningful relationships. his application for a work permit, submitted in 1999, is still pending. The law states that someone in JawadÕ s situation is fully entitled to one. Without one, even work experience is difficult to come by. Ò I have studied for many certificates [including electronics, plumbing, painting, nursing, car servicing, food hygiene, and computing] Ð and I do lots of voluntary work with Christian organisations, but I really want to be self-sufficient,Ó he says. JawadÕ s ordeals, both past and present, have left him increasingly depressed, anxious and unable to sleep. From 2003 to 2005 he was given no state assistance at all because of his refused asylum application. If it hadnÕ t been for his local church, he could well have ended up on the street. Jawad has renewed his claim for asylum. Ò In September 2007 I started receiving £41 a week in cash, instead of vouchers, but I donÕ t just need food, I need to cut my hair, brush my teeth, wash. Without a job, itÕ s impossible to afford these things. I came to the uK to save my life, and start a new one, not just to survive.Ó
12 The New Londoners | Food
Money | The New Londoners 13
Tastes of home
The Gay Hussar
ver the past three decades, LondonersÕ tastes have experienced a makeover. Influenced by waves of immigration from culturally rich locations all over the world, our palates have changed and developed, encouraged by the variety of new eating places opened by the newcomers. In bringing us their individual cuisines, many of these restaurants also tell a story of how the people who founded them found refuge here.
In 1971, the young Marouf Abouzaki fled war-torn Beirut for London, where he began to work as a chef in Lebaneseowned restaurants before setting up on his own in 1981 on the then traditionally British edgware Road. Abouzaki says he was the first Lebanese restaurateur on the London street now dubbed Ò Little BeirutÓ . A clutch of some of his 16 restaurants in their various Maroush incarnations sits at the southern end of the busy throughfare. Ò When I started in the 1980s, Lebanon was in a bad state. I wanted to create a second home for the
Lebanese to make them feel like they were at ease,Ó he says. Marouf sits me down at a table next to a palm-fringed pool full of koi carp. The interior of Maroush Garden, with its black marbled floors, fancy light fittings and venetian glass mirrors, reflects LebanonÕ s Mediterranean heritage. The extensive menu, which features about 50 starters, grills and stews, and the thoughtful wine list, show how the country of the cedar tree has long been a culinary crossroads, a result of successive colonisations by the Romans, the Ottoman Turks and the French.
My fattoush salad with a zesty lemon kick, tasty tabbouleh laced with fresh parsley, smoky aubergine dip, feta cheese pastries that melt in the mouth and glass of delicately scented Chateau Ksara chardonnay are perfectly suited to a long, escapist lunch. At the end my meal, I taste more of the abundant spirit of Lebanese hospitality in the form of indulgent honey-soaked pastries and a huge bowl overflowing with glistening apples, grapes and succulent peaches. Marouf says since coming to London he has worked from eight in the morning to after midnight, six days a week, to build up his business. he has no regrets about the hard work and respects the city
that gave him refuge. Ò Life has taught me that things become more flavoursome if you get them the hard way.Ó Zigni House
Through a large plate-glass window on Stoke NewingtonÕ s essex Road, you can catch a glimpse of an intriguingly bohemian African lounge replete with traditional carved furniture and richly woven textiles. Zigni house is the creation of Tsige haile, who came to London as a refugee in 1998. After studying to be a chef here, she was inspired to create an eatery serving her native eritrean cuisine, opening for business in 2005. Maroush
Specialities such as slow-cooked lamb stew and spinach garnished with hard-boiled eggs are delicately flavoured with eritrean berbere spice mixes, typical combinations of chilli, ginger, cloves, coriander and allspice. After the fiery subtlety of the dishes, your senses are reignited by the coffee ceremony, in which beans are roasted and their scent wafted towards you before they are ground into a rich drink. Zara
In a cosy corner at the back of the Zara restaurant in hampstead, where decorative patterned tiles suggest a place with sunnier climes, a mezze of delicious starters confronts me. These include homemade hummus, welltextured falafel, fresh yoghurt and freshly baked bread. Tulip-shaped glasses of sugary Turkish tea complete the picture. Turkish-style lamps and padded benches to stretch out on make for a relaxed setting from which to enjoy the simple pleasures of rural Turkish cuisine. Ò We donÕ t see the people who come as customers. All my clientele have become like my family members. I spend very good times with them. Sometimes I joke with them, they joke with me. It is like a village restaurant,Ó says hasan Demir, the restaurantÕ s owner. hasan came to London in 1986 in search of a new life. As part of the persecuted Kurdish minority within Turkey he had been forced to flee. he worked in kebab shops for years before conjuring up this homage to the cuisine of his homeland. The food served at Zara is Anatolian, from a part of Asia Minor has been ruled over by a fascinating mix of overlords throughout the centuries. Ò We call the restaurantÕ s cusine Anatolian, because in Turkey there are Greeks, Arabs, Caucasians, Kurds and the cuisine belongs to all these people culturally,Ó says hasan. Gay Hussar
PHOTOGRAPH: beTH CROSlAnD
They may have arrived with nothing but their culture and their cuisine, but refugee restaurateurs have greatly enriched culinary choice in the capital. Maeve Hosea hears the human stories behind the menus
PHOTOGRAPH: beTH CROSlAnD
On its website, the Gay hussar tells prospective customers it has served hungarian national specialities and the finest hungarian wines for more than 50 years. And wild cherry soup to start, followed by goulash stew with sweet cheese pancake for dessert certainly make an authentic line-up. The sense of post-war eastern europe is reinforced by the decor, which is
all dark wood panelling and smoky mirrored walls. Tables are decorated with small dishes of bright red chillies, while and row upon row of books with serious titles set the tone for intelligent conversation. Cultural diversity was a glimmer of a concept in 1953 when victor Sassie, the son of a Swiss immigrant to Wales, expressed his love of hungarian culture by opening the Gay hussar in Greek Street, Soho. Gay in the name here denotes cheerful and jolly, while a hussar is one of the elite of the hungarian army. Sassie learnt the art of cooking at the acclaimed Gundel restaurant in Budapest, and went on to rule the roost at his Soho institution for decades. here he employed and supported a host of the hungarian diaspora who fled the blood-covered streets of Budapest after the failed 1956 uprising against Soviet rule. From its beginnings, the Gay hussar has been wrapped up in the world of newspapers and current affairs, serving up its dishes with a dash of politics and a pinch of paprika. Legend has it that members of New Labour hatched their rise to power in the private room upstairs. It is still frequented by BritainÕ s leading political figures, journalists and artists, and its customers have left their mark in the form of framed cartoon portraits lining the walls. Maroush Gardens 1 Connaught Street W2 2BH 020 7262 0222 www.maroush.com (about £40) Zigni House 330 essex Road n1 3Pb 020 7226 7418 www.zignihouse.co.uk (about £20) Zara 11 South end Road NW3 2PT 020 7794 5498 (about £20) The Gay Hussar 2 Greek Street W1D 4NB 020 7437 0973 www.gayhussar.co.uk (about £40) (prices are for a meal for two, without drinks)
Anne Mullee explains how some refugees are defeating the economic gloom with the help of special scheme WhILe economic forecasts continue to predict dark clouds and stormy weather, one enterprising London organisation has been quietly building a cleverly empowering model for lending to asylum seekers and refugees. The London Rebuilding Society (LRS) began piloting its Mutual Aid Fund (MAF) three years ago, creating a lending model which benefits those in need while at the same time building an investment fund that underpins the MAF itself, similar to the oldstyle banking co-op or credit u n i o n s which used to grow savings in the days before r e a d y credit. The crucial difference is that the LRS scheme is aimed at community groups and their members who find it difficult to borrow money from high street banks. The Mutual Aid Fund may not set City boardrooms alight, but thereÕ s no denying that itÕ s expanding Ð its capital has now reached nearly £500,000, a tidy sum which is slowly growing as investors from other quarters contribute to the pot. The scheme works by allowing community groups and migrant organisations to invest their money, becoming shareholders in the MAF. Then these member organisations, or community mutuals, can Ò on-lendÓ money to individuals to promote what economists call social enterprises. embedded in the community, the LRS then offers additional support and training in how to lend to the community mutuals, so the organisations benefit from learning to
make their most of their money as well as being able to offer financial assistance to people who need it. The LRS spokesperson Rumbi Tarusenga explains, Ò This means that refugees and migrants have easier access to credit, and donÕ t have to worry about discrimination as the borrowers are also the members of the fund.Ó Going against the grain of the kind of finance models that have crippled economies all over the developed world, the main objective of MAF loans is not the enrichment of the individual. Instead, the money is used in ways that can empower migrant organisations or even help refugees in their struggle to establish uK citizenship. This is a potential lifeline for many who simply wouldnÕ t even get a meeting with the bank manager of a conventional bank, whether they are a Rwandan doctor who needs funds to retrain to work in the uK, or a woman who has suffered domestic violence and wants to start a new business to become independent. The basic m o d e l designed by the LBS has been so successful that it has inspired much bigger Anton Ogosa organisations to get on board. Now global banks such as Barclays are getting in on the act, creating similar funds to support grassroots businesses in countries such as Ghana. Ò It works well for us, as we can also manage repayment for the loan,Ó says 38-year-old Anton Ogosa of the African Family Support Group in hillingdon. he and his team were able to hire a hall thanks to a loan from the charity Widows and Orphans International, allowing the group to provide afterschool support and some tutoring in reading and numeracy to children aged between five and 10. heÕ s relentlessly enthusiastic about the scheme, adding: Ò ItÕ s a fantastic opportunity for those who canÕ t access normal loans.Ó PHOTOGRAPH: TOM KinG
PHOTOGRAPH: beTH CROSlAnD
capitalism lends hope to refugees
14 The New Londoners | Life
Life | The New Londoners 15
Forget me not active politically and socially, setting up reading groups and walking groups. I was also part of the Fadaian organisation. Launched in about 1970, the Fadaian originally modelled itself on Che GuevaraÕ s paramilitaries. But after the revolution, the group renounced its earlier aim of military insurrection in favour of social democracy, and initiating change through writing and speaking out. I was naturally this way inclined, so I agreed with the change Ð as did the majority of members. however, another more militant wing broke away to pursue the dream of violent conflict. Revolution and terror
Since fleeing persecution in Iran 14 years ago, activist and writer Efat Mahbas has become more and more concerned with the lives of women the world over. She talks to James Smith Getting political at an early age
When I was a child, I was a very inquisitive student. By the age of 13 or 14 I was thinking about politics Ð why are people poor, unequal, and so on. At that time, in the early 1970s, the Shah ruled Iran. he put lots of people in prison. There was a lack of democracy. Young people demonstrated in the streets. I was very political. I was also influenced by the small northern city where I lived, Langerood,
When the revolution came in February 1979, it helped the Fadaian to see that the military way of doing things was not OK. Tens of millions of people came onto the streets, changing the ShahÕ s view of his own country. he finally saw the extent of popular feeling against him and his regime. It was a surprise to me, too Ð and I am still surprised. The leaders of all opposition groups were released from prison Ð albeit briefly. My experience of the days of the revolution was a very happy one, culminating a year later when I met a guy who became my lover, and future husband, Shapoor. I first saw him in the spring of 1980 at a university lecture attended by many student members of Fadaian, of which he was the leader. I thought he was so responsible, there was an instant spark. eight months later we were married. everything happened so fast in those days. everyone was very open; talking about the books, films and music they werenÕ t allowed to have before the revolution. But the government soon started taking these things away. Then the arrests and murders began. Six months after the revolution, student groups such as ours, Pishgam [meaning forward thinking] were banned. Others, including the Mujahedin [social Muslim] and Tudeh [communist] groups, suffered similar fates. Throughout 1981, government forces were clamping down on student groups, capturing members, taking them to prison, and in many cases beating, torturing and executing them. The first to be captured and killed were the ShahÕ s former ministers, including his prime minister, Amir Abbas hoveida, but the victims also included children as young
“When the secret police first came for me I was 15”
near the Caspian Sea. As well as being a very green and beautiful city, it had very strong women. My father let me do what I wanted which was not very common in the country at that time. One day the secret police took me away because I wrote an inflammatory poem at school about lack of freedom in Iran. I was 15. They asked why I was questioning the system. It was a type of inquisition. I lied to them about what I was reading. For example, I told them I was reading Tolstoy and hemingway, not Gorky and Samad Behrangi [an Iranian political writer]. I was in prison for a day. When I came home, neighbours said I was a political activist. After that I was known as Ò lady partisanÓ [guerrilla]. It was meant as an insult, but I liked it. In 1977, aged 17, I went to Tehran university to study english Literature, then medicine. I was very
as 14 and 15. Most were sent to the notorious evin prison. Around that time I saw lots of photos in the papers of executed former government officials. I later discovered that none of them had been to court or given due legal process to defend themselves. But I donÕ t think at the time I understood what was going on. Killed for being human
Then, in August 1981, I went home one day and my husband wasnÕ t there. My mother-in-law and I looked everywhere Ð the prisons, the hospitals full of dying people, and the parliament Ð but to no avail. After two months of searching, KhomeiniÕ s Revolutionary Guards, the Pasdaran, informed us that my husband was alive, but had been sent to the evin prison. Four months later he was freed Ð but meanwhile, in September, my brother had been incarcerated, having been taken from the laboratory where he worked as a doctor. In a cruel irony typical of the time, my brother had previously been jailed under the Shah (from 1975 to 1977) for the same reason he was now being arrested Ð being a member of Fadaian. In November, someone from evin called my sister to inform her that our brother was no longer our brother. he had been executed. As members of the Fadaian, our (legal) campaign consisted of going to factories to teach illiterate workers to read and write, or going to poor areas to help improve health services and water supplies. But these things were not important to the new government which, hearing that my brother had been in prison under the Shah, assumed he was a troublemaker. My brotherÕ s wife said the real problem was that he had treated members of the Mujahedin in hospital; in other words that he had behaved like a human being, not a political animal. In 1981 many other secular Iranians suffered the same fate as my brother. The year before, thousands of Mujahedin had been massacred. It soon became clear that we were in the middle of a cultural revolution, with dire consequences for anyone that did not agree with the authorities. The government prevented me from studying The government banned me from studying laboratory medicine because of my political activism. Imprisoned for thought crimes
Like many other intellectuals, my husband and I felt our lives were in danger from government forces, so we went into hiding in Tehran. At around 10 oÕ clock on the morning of 21 March 1983 (Iranian New Year), my husband and I were captured. Someone had alerted the police of our whereabouts and told them that we were active in politics. There were
No chador, just a black blanket An extract from Forget Me Not by Efat Mahbas ROOM 7, a closed cell in Section 216, housed 35 to 40 inmates. everybody was out; it was bathroom break and time to clean the room. everybody was busy doing something in the ward corridor; one was walking, another brushing her teeth, the third quickly carried the washed dishes to the room. The overseeing guard was only a shadow there; she was probably preoccupied with her lonely child at home. When the section superintendent shouted from the bottom of the corridor: Ò Wear full veil!Ó , our time was not yet over. But that meant we had to leave everything and go into the room. It took only a few minutes for all the prisoners to put on their chadors and go to sit in the room. Mojtaba halvaei was coming to call the roll and utter a few reminders. Somebody whispered in my ear: Ò Shahla is not here yet.Ó I grew anxious. They would call the roll and the absentees would be given a hard time. Moreover, it was worrying that she was not around. I rushed to the door and explained to the guard that one of our roommates had been left behind. She grumbled, but she knew that she would also many spies and informants during the cultural revolution. That day, my whole family was in Tehran because my niece was getting married that night. The police took us to the evin prison on the outskirts of the capital. It was raining torrents, as if the sky was crying for us, saying goodbye. In prison we were separated and interrogated. Later, my husband was tortured. The guards hung him up by his arms for many hours at a time, deprived him of sleep, and constantly questioned him to reveal the names of other political activists. At one point the guards damaged his feet so much that he was unable to wear shoes. They didnÕ t want us to relinquish weapons or violent plans because they knew we didnÕ t have any. They just wanted the names of people like us, in order to put them in prison too. I was also abused. I was hit about the face and threatened with the same treatment as my husband. At first, I was in a small cell with other prisoners, but then I was kept in solitary confinement for 11 months. Being alone for so long was one of the worst things to happen to me, worse than torture. Life in prison
In my cell I learned how to pass the days with almost nothing Ð no newspaper, no pen or paper. But I learned from the other prisoners how to sneak stuff into our cells in our cushions Ð including the materials to make tapestry, such as cloth, needles, thread and different coloured towels. One of my tapestries shows my mother and me as a child, working in the rice fields. It took two yearsÕ work, and I did many others. My husband also made tapestries, which I now have as reminders of him, including one showing flowers getting bigger and bigger, symbols of our life together. he also gave me money in prison, just as a memory of him, so I wrote on it showing the dates he gave it to me.
be held responsible if an inmate was missing. She let me go after Shahla, saying: Ò Be quick! Brother Mojtaba will be here any minute.Ó I went to the toilets first and called her aloud: Ò Shahla, Shahla, where are you?Ó There was no reply. I went to the showers. All the doors were shut. I was losing hope, when I noticed prison slippers under one of the doors. happily, I called out: Ò Shahla!Ó her quiet and shaky voice relieved me. I went to her and opened the door. Ò Why didnÕ t you come? DidnÕ t you hear them?Ó Ò Yes, but I wasnÕ t finished yet.Ó Ò OK, but why are you still in the shower?Ó helpless and distressed, she replied: Ò I didnÕ t have a chador and I couldnÕ t come into the room without a veil.Ó She was right. While we were talking, Mojtaba halvaei, whose name alone meant torture to our eyes, was sitting in Room 7. We couldnÕ t afford to lose much time. What could we do? I looked around and noticed a black blanket that doubled as the curtain to one of the showers. There was no time to think twice. I grabbed the blanket and gave it to her. Shahla was a tall young woman.
Saying goodbye to my husband
Over five years I only saw my husband once every three or four months. The last time I saw him was during the first month of summer in 1988. I asked him if it was possible that he would be taken away to be executed. he said he couldnÕ t say what was going to happen. he tried to act normal, asking about my family, but the situation was not normal. I told him how much I loved him, and he reciprocated my feelings. We were both very sad, but we tried to remain happy. I didnÕ t want our meeting to end. We touched our hands together against the glass, then someone took me away. After a few minutes, I had to put my blindfold back on. Three days later I received a letter from my husband [prisoners were only allowed to write five lines]. he wrote about our love and our last meeting, about how brave I was. he said he appreciated seeing me for the last time and to say goodbye to everyone we knew.
her height was rather unusual among us Iranians, since she was somewhat taller than 6ft [1.8m]. Reluctantly, she took it. Ò Me with my height?Ó I laughed: Ò You have no choice, you have to!Ó Shaking the blanket, she pulled it over her head. She assumed a really funny pose. I forced my laughter away and pulled her towards the room. When we opened the door, all heads turned toward us, smiles came to the faces, but they bit their lips. Mojtaba halvaei eyed Shahla all over. About 18 inches [50cm] of her legs was not covered Ð she wasnÕ t fully veiled. he felt like laughing, but with his awesomeness and his whip, he wouldnÕ t and couldnÕ t laugh. Perhaps that was the reason why he let us sit without asking any questions. Shahla in that shape, wrapped in a black blanket, was a real cause for laughter. With her tall body and hair that spilled out from under the blanket, she seemed to play with and ridicule the veil. everybody was biting their lips and looking at her with laughing eyes. We were lucky on that day, and for us that humorous memory remained.
there, we were told to sit down and remove our blindfolds. In front of me were five men, including two of those who had tortured us. We were asked our names, our family names, and whether we were Muslim. I said that my parents were Muslims. I was asked whether I prayed (I said Ò noÓ ); which party I belonged to (Ò the Fadaian MajorityÓ ); whether I believed in their ideas (Ò yesÓ ). So no questions about what we had done, or planned to do, just what we thought. The judge concluded that I should be beaten five times a day, during prayers. Around that time the 80 or so women in the prison started to realise that many of the male prisoners had been executed, and we became worried. Meanwhile, the united Nations, Iranian political activists, and other humanitarian agencies who knew about our situation also became worried. As a result, they began a human rights campaign to try to get us released from evin. eventually, we were told we could leave temporarily to visit our homes and families. These were very hard times for me. I had originally been sentenced to prison for five years, but ended up serving seven.
“ The judge concluded I should be beaten five times a day, during prayers”
Now begins the hard time
A month later, the loudspeakers announced my name and those of six other women prisoners. We all looked at each other and said, Ò Now begins the hard time.Ó We were told we were to appear in court, but we knew it would not be a real court. It was a normal room, with no lawyers or other ancillary staff, just an Islamic judge, Mullah, and four other men. We all had to wear a scarf and chador in the court. Once
been buried after the massacre was particularly difficult. earlier it had been a Ò normalÓ piece of ground. The mothers and other relatives of the victims re-named the area the Khavaran, which means Ò non-placeÓ . I was a rebel so it was very hard for me to live in a small city again. In Tehran I had lived with my brother and sister-in-law for more than two years. After the revolution, it was very difficult for women to find flats to live in by themselves. It was also a very worrying time because the authorities might have taken me back to prison at any time. So eventually I applied for a passport to leave the country, but this was refused because I hadnÕ t signed the earlier Ò confessionÓ . For a while I worked as a teacher for deaf students. Later I got a job as a technician in a chemical laboratory. Then, in 1994, I sought political asylum in Germany where I had a good Iranian friend as well as other friends from my past. eventually, after many years working in the country, I was granted German nationality. I initially went to Cologne, where I learned German, which was very difficult. Since arriving in the uK almost four years ago, I have immersed myself in British culture, studied for an NvQ in Advice and Guidance, and worked with the Refugee WomenÕ s Association, and become part of the Media Group at the Migrants Resource Centre. I wrote my book because I want to show what happened in my country as basic human rights were violated.
Re-building a shattered life
After my temporary release it was very hard to be free because I was back in a world where I had been happy with my husband and family and friends Ð but now everything had changed. Going to the cemetery where my husband and so many others had
Efat’s memoir, Forget Me Not, was published earlier this year in Farsi by Baran, Sweden. German and English translations are anticipated in the near future. Copies are available direct from the author: Efatmahbas@hotmail.com
16 The New Londoners | Life
Life | The New Londoners 17
l Mariam, Ethiopia Trafalgar Square Ò it is a place of history. There is nelsonÕ s Column. like MandelaÕ s statue in Parliament Square, it represents freedom for me. They have made history in the way in which they communicated with the world. These statues remind me that there is only one world and we are the solution, by sharing and communicating with each other. i feel peace when i go there and sometimes there is music which makes me very happy.Ó PHOTOGRAPH: TOM KinG
l Jaafer, Sudan LondonÕ s open spaces Ò i like the open spaces as they remind me of Sudan, where i was born.Ó
PHOTO GRAPH : TOM K inG
My secret London
l Efat, Iran Isabella Plantation, Richmond Park Ò This is my heaven on earth. it is so beautiful and there are so many flowers. The colours of the flowers are a work of art. The plantation has history and prestige. i love its name, too.Ó
“W Green hen I go to relaxin Park, it i to get t g. Also it is vs very also w o. If I feel lik ery easy Palace alk up to Bu e it, I can Park a . I love goin ckingham l g a bencone. Sometim to Green someti h in the sun es I sit on mes I g shine a o f o r weath a run i nd er is ni f the c e .” Anas s, Ir
The New Londoners share their favourite places
Villa villa by Nela Milic
And the guards pull us in, then slam the door with an iron buckle. We’re all cramped like in a gas chamber Waiting, anxious, terrified. We smell each other squeezed like in a tube, feeling goose pimples rising hair on our bodies, children calling their parents as the light goes down. Silence. Then the water comes, sprinkling slightly like the first drops of rain
and we see a white sheet spread above us like a large cloud. But imagine. This cloud has shadows of toys growing into life-size bicycles, hats, hairclips, flowers, cars and children suddenly go AAAAAAAAH! hands up in the air. And the music starts – liquid as the smoke spreads creating puffy balloons that turn into real ones flying about, touching people’s heads,
PHOTOGRAPH: beTH CROSlAnD
PHOTOGRAPH: TOM KinG
PHOTOGRAPH: beTH CROSlAnD
l Francesca, Italy The Island Queen, Islington Ò There is much character inside here. Although it is not a mainstream pub, the crowd is pleasant and the environment is very relaxing. The playwright Joe Orton used to come here.Ó
l Karina, Venezuela Forbidden Planet Ò inside there are many cult classics, like manga. i love Shaftesbury Avenue forbidden Planet because i can spend a long time there. i can stay in there for an hour just browsing through the variety.Ó
starting a play among the crowd. And from time to time, we see people above the sheet, hanging on ropes, changing the sides in this floating ring whizzing from left to right, from right to left dropping sparkles in buckets like stars as the cloud rips apart and we see faces with smiles like birth marks waving and sending kisses: “Hello down there, welcome to the show!”
The prisoner of an old institution by Ayar Ata I am the angry storm that never reached the shore I am the light that is forbidden to appear I am the seed that is fallen on dry land I am the voice that is under mind I am the talent, the passion the potential the anger, the smile the desire
14th Street by Mariam Behrang We left the mountain scene behind And all the snow melted soon after The sunshine we could not take away Will still shine whether it snows or not The snow and the sun will go on But you have gone. In the 14th street you asked me The why of another flight I had no answer in words Only my tears spoke You almost cried too And we both left the nest behind.
It was this song We were listening to then It is this song I am listening to now You are not hearing this But the singer knows not. Sorry mother But as you asked the question again Just before you left all behind I can only answer So used to running away I did not know better. You were right It was my doing then It was my doing when you last asked It is my doing now No easy answers sometimes You told me.
l David, Georgia The National Gallery Ò The gallery is very important as it stores a lot of fine art. it is so big that it takes away my daily pressures. i love leonardo Da vinciÕ s The virgin and Child with Saint Anne and Saint John the baptist.Ó
“I just lov Covent Gar e den. There are so m you can do. any things I sit down fo Sometimes r drinks. Or s a meal and I have a str ometimes sure exactlyoll. I am not about Cove what I love nt G but I love it.arden, ” Nas hwa, Egyp t
Compiled by Paula Pennant
Hope by Valmont Hope one day we shall encounter In some globe where there’s no ache Our souls pensive echoes For wounded hearts In this world’s torment There is no need for remorse Nor for foolish pride Only souls sweetly fondle Love always prevails I crave to see you again With eyes freed from blindness The heart wholly recovered from fear
Rejoices what it belongs from heavens In the other world we are lights Without chains that imprison happiness Freely flutter in the universe Without tears, bitterness or greed Only you, love and I I yearn to kiss you again, With parched lips, Tenderly melted in delight In the endless world We’ll say no words The love will speak for you and I
18 The New Londoners | Politics
Politics | The New Londoners 19
Laying down the party line The immigration issue – and the treatment of asylum-seekers in particular – has become a political hot potato. The New Londoners asked the main political parties to clarify their positions
Should people seeking asylum be given the right to work while their claims are being processed?
Most European countries limit the length of time asylum seekers can be detained without trial, Britain does not. Shouldn’t Britain introduce a time limit?
How many people are there in the UK who have been refused asylum, are not allowed to work or claim benefits, but cannot be sent back to their countries of origin?
What steps would you take to ensure that asylum seekers have adequate access to healthcare?
In a report from April 2009, Sir Al Aynsley-Green, Children’s Commissioner for England, concluded: “Each year in the UK, we detain nearly 2,000 children subject to immigration control for administrative purposes. This has to end.” What is your party’s position on detention of the children of asylum seekers?
by Neil Gerrard MP *The New Londoners approached the Conservative Party who declined to answer
Green Party MEP
and immigration minister
Do you support the plan, endorsed by the Mayor of London, for an amnesty for irregular migrants?
labour is committed to building immigration and asylum systems in which people can have confidence, which protect the security of the united Kingdom, are fair to legal migrants and the british public and prevent abuse of our laws. We will continue to welcome those migrants who have come to britain, played by the rules and become a valuable part of London’s vibrant communities. We oppose the idea of an amnesty. labour is taking tough action against employers who knowingly hire illegal workers, often exploiting them and undercutting the minimum wage.
We should have an earned route to citizenship for irregular migrants, but that right should be earned, not given out. People should have to do community service, show they speak or will learn english, and demonstrate a clean criminal record. That way we will bring hard-working people and families out of the shadows and can focus deportation efforts on criminals, peopletraffickers and gangs.
yes, absolutely. it was Green london Assembly Member, Darren Johnson, who first called for this amnesty and I fully support the plan. The Mayor had to be pushed to support this, but thankfully he has now endorsed it.
britain has a long tradition of providing a safe haven to those in need. We are proud of this and we will continue to provide a place of refuge for the oppressed and those legitimately seeking asylum. Many who seek sanctuary in the uK are skilled and want to make a positive contribution to society and we passionately believe that those who deserve asylum should have it quickly granted, and be awarded the right to work and access to the benefits system.
far too many asylum seekers are being forced into destitution because they are unable to work. This leaves them at the mercy of unlawful employers who can force them to work for low wages and in dangerous conditions. if we allowed asylum seekers to work it would generate an additional £1bn in taxes. it is inhumane to leave people without any means to earn a reasonable wage. itÕ s disgraceful that the government is opting out of the european unionÕ s directive on reception standards in housing, food, clothing, health care, financial benefits, freedom of movement and access to work. As the Green Group spokesperson on asylum and migration and Member of the Civil liberties committee, i have been involved in its development.
faster decisions are often fairer decisions and labour is on track to conclude the majority of asylum cases within six months by the end of the year. We have ramped up performance in dealing with the asylum legacy cases and are now resolving several thousand every month. The uK adheres to the european Convention on Human Rights, which prevents us sending someone to a country where there is a real risk they will be exposed to torture, or inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. if someone does not qualify for asylum but we think there are humanitarian or other reasons why they should be allowed to stay in the uK, they may be given temporary permission to remain here.
We need to have a much quicker system so people arenÕ t detained for too long. We’d make that happen by transferring responsibility to an independent agency as they do in Canada. People who canÕ t be returned because the country they came from is too dangerous Ð like Zimbabwe Ð should be released, not detained indefinitely.
We will take steps to remove those who are found to have made false claims. Our ability to return people who have no right to be here also depends on successfully repatriating them. That is why we will continue to work to secure agreements with key countries to take their nationals back.
We don’t know, that’s part of the problem. ThatÕ s why we need a whole new, independent system, on the Canadian model, so government can have a much better grasp of the figures. We will only be able to help refugees if we can keep track of them properly.
The short answer is far too many and we need an agreed status for those people in that situation. i have fought for this in the european Parliament and gained support for it and will continue to press for those people to be recognised and supported.
like other uK residents, persons with an outstanding application for refuge in the uK are entitled to use nHS services without charge. We are also reviewing the availability of healthcare for failed asylum seekers and other foreign nationals.
We’d do all we can to reduce barriers to adequate healthcare, and increase the number of mental-health practitioners in britain so people who have had traumatic experiences get the help they need.
i would make it clear to nHS providers that asylum seekers should have access to the full range of healthcare and that they donÕ t need asylum status for this. i also believe that the government should reinstate Hiv/AiDS as a sexually-transmitted disease and therefore ensure that refugees are given access to treatment.
Labour is reforming the asylum system to ensure that it is firm, fair, protects the vulnerable and exploited, and is not subject to abuse. We will ensure that up-to-date information from human rights organisations and NGOs will be taken into account. We will commit to implement fully House of lords judgments and ensure compensation and sensitivity for families and children within the immigration system. Wherever detention is needed, labour will ensure it is conducted to the highest possible standards of humanity and dignity. Asylum hearings and their administration will be made more accessible to detainees and their representatives.
It should stop right now. We shouldn’t lock up innocent children: itÕ s that simple.
As it said in our party manifesto for the Euro elections: “We want a humane and just asylum system in which minors should never be detained.Ó i have witnessed the terrible psychological strain to which youngsters are subjected when they are pulled from their ordinary life and transferred to a detention facility. We must not go on putting children through this trauma and i will continue to push for measures to ensure this practice comes to an end.
yes, britain should make sure that the time is kept as short as possible. i have visited many detention centres in the uK and across europe and have frequent communication with people who are being detained. i have found that far too often detention is a convenience for the authorities. in france, for instance, detention is limited to 30 days and i believe that a similar limit should be put in place here.
Chair of the all-party parliamentary group on refugees Getting to know the reality of the lives of asylum seekers and refugees over the years has convinced me that there is a cause worth fighting for, and that the vilification of asylum seekers has to be opposed vigorously. In some ways asylum has in recent years been overtaken as an issue by immigration, especially since significant numbers of people have come to the uK from eastern europe to work. But many of the same prejudices are evident, with people believing myths about asylum seekers and migrants having preferential access to benefits, housing and jobs. For many asylum seekers, destitution is still a fact of life, and has been deliberately used in the belief that this will deter others coming to the uK. I feel strongly that it is inhumane and immoral to treat people in this way. For the future, the most important task is to keep alive the concept of sanctuary, to keep to the spirit of the uN convention on refugees, and to ensure that we change the systems which currently lead to destitution and isolation for too many asylum seekers coming to the uK.
“Queen Elizabeth I ordered the exclusion of all ‘strangers’ ” by Professor Gary Craig Professor of Social Justice at the university of Hull Migrants have been coming to this country for more than 2,000 years, usually to be met with hostility and claims that they would Ò swampÓ our culture, drain Ò our resources, and take Ò ourÓ jobs. But our cultures are the result of continual inmigration over hundreds of years. What, for example, to quote Monty Python, did the Romans ever do for us: apart that is from central heating, roofed buildings, paved roads, metal working and military organisation? We continue to live in fear of the Ò otherÓ , of the Ò dark strangerÓ , and this not only allows the media to play on our worst unconscious fears, but governments to exaggerate them, thus contributing to the racism which continues to infect our societies, most of all inside government itself. Migrants have received a hostile reception particularly when, as now, times are hard. The Jews in 12th-century York were imprisoned in a tower and burnt to death so the worthy burghers could avoid repaying their debts. In 1600, Queen elizabeth I, at a time of economic hardship, ordered the expulsion of all Ò negroes and blackamoorsÓ and the exclusion of all Ò strangersÓ from any state support. Does this sound familiar? For hundreds of years, Britain depended on the labour of captured blacks Ð supported in this by state power and justified theologically by the church Ð perspectives underpinned by racism. Although the transatlantic slave trade has gone, other forms of slavery remain, usually associated with racism. Racism is probably the most enduring legacy of slavery.
20 The New Londoners | Gardening
Life | The New Londoners 21
Imagine suffering trauma so intense that even beginning to deal with the experience is next to impossible. This is the reality for many refugees who arrive in the uK after years of imprisonment, abuse and torture. But in a small corner of North London some of these victims find a sanctuary devoted to helping the healing process through interacting with nature. Initiated by the Medical Foundation for the Care of victims of Torture in 1992, the Natural Growth Project offers severely damaged and vulnerable individuals a way to begin rebuilding their lives, using the cycle of nature as a metaphor and as a practical tool for healing. here the small Peace Garden resonates to birdsong and the sound of water gurgling into a small pebblefilled pond, while aromatic herbs, vines, fig trees and flowerbeds bloom in the summer sunshine. This garden, some allotments and a new garden being built are the heart of the project, and provide the foundationÕ s fragile clients with a different environment to stuffy medical consulting rooms which may sometimes hamper their recovery. here they can
grow food, plant seeds to grow living memorials to lost loved ones or simply meditate on the cycle of life and death. Psychotherapist and project coordinator Mary Raphaely passionately believes that simply getting outside can offer immeasurable help. Ò We always take people straight outside to see how they get on,Ó she explains. Ò I believe that for people from many of the cultures that we are dealing with itÕ s extremely peculiar to sit in a tiny room with one other person and talk about the most intimate and difficult things if youÕ ve never met that person before. To be outside immediately facilitates something different.Ó She tells me about Brenda* a young trainee midwife from an African country whose twin sister was murdered during a demonstration. Their father, a doctor, was also killed as he tried to find out what had happened. A few weeks later BrendaÕ s mother also died. Determined to seek justice, she campaigned for truth, and was twice arrested and repeatedly raped by her captors. When she finally reached england, she visited an induction talk at the Natural Growth Project, but didnÕ t speak as she could not stop crying. After the meeting, Mary met her in the greenhouse and offered her a plant. She chose a pot with two geraniums, because, she explained, Ò I am a twin.Ó
This tiny step was just the beginning of BrendaÕ s new life. Seven years later, she has a partner and two children and is trying to get back to university to complete her midwife training. ItÕ s not easy, but she says that now she knows she simply faces the same problems as many english people, and her challenges are no longer those of an asylum seeker. Brenda is a good example of clients who buck the accepted profile of many of the projectÕ s clients Ð and of many asylum seekers Ð as she is not from the countryside and was brought up in a city in an intellectual family. For people like her, the project can offer a new and profound experience. Ò ItÕ s a misconception that [asylum seekers] often have a rural background. There are doctors and lawyers and all sorts of people,Ó Mary says. She believes the common thread is that we all have some sort of relationship with nature. Ò This project is to do with nature being a healing place.Ó But nature can also be cruel, and Mary feels this fact can, in a way, also help some clients come to terms with their circumstances. For Susie*, a ugandan woman who had been kidnapped and raped by the LordÕ s Resistance Army, it was her attempt to grow peanuts in London which ultimately helped. having tried and failed to grow a peanut crop in the uK
“Here they plant seeds to grow living memories to lost loved ones”
The Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture is the only organisation in the uK dedicated solely to treating survivors of torture and organised violence. Every year, the independent charity sees thousands of men, women and children who have fled persecution from some 100 countries across the world. Since its inception in 1985, more than 45,000 people have sought help from the foundation.
climate, she was at home one day when someone knocked on the door. Terrified that it was her kidnappers come to recapture her, she was about to flee by jumping out of her window when she remembered her failed peanut crop. her peanuts had died Ð she was safely in england, not in uganda. When she summoned the courage to open the door she found the visitor was her social worker. Sometimes, itÕ s not the gardening that provides the route to healing. When Amo* was referred to the project he was on crutches due to an injury he received while serving with Kurdish rebels the PKK. Despite his initial disability, he joined a menÕ s group on one of the allotments, but expressed more of an interest in repairing the shed than planting seeds. It soon transpired that heÕ d been charged with building the PKKÕ s shelters in the mountains. Today heÕ s a linchpin of his group. This summer, as every year, August and September will offer what Mary calls the Ò joyful momentÓ of harvest in the shared allotment and gardens of the Natural Growth Project. With any luck, the long-awaited new garden will also be ready. Within these small patches of green lie the dignity and hopes of many people Ð and sadly, perhaps many more to come. Ò I have a profound belief that it is nature doing the work of healing,Ó Mary tells me. Ò ItÕ s not always a gentle experience, but itÕ s part of life.Ó * Names have been changed www.torturecare.org.uk
Last year, more than 2,000 people were referred to the foundation, mostly men aged between 25 and 34. Most had fled from Iran, Sri Lanka, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Afghanistan, Zimbabwe, Iraq, Eritrea, Somalia, Nigeria and Pakistan.
Patricia Patricia left Sierra Leone for the uK Patricia 15 years ago at the outbreak of the war. She now mentors a British woman. I had always wanted to give back but was thinking, what have I got to give? I wanted to help somebody, to show that in every gloomy situation, something positive
can come out of it. It is mostly about having a chat and getting her out of the house Ð different scenery can just make you a bit more relaxed. It is about being a friend. People might think listening is easy, but it is not. But I am learning. You want to run in and tell them, this is what to do or not to do, and I learned that the relationship is not like that, you have to follow your menteeÕ s lead. One time my mentee was feeling really low and she said to me: Ò I should just kill myself, nobody will miss me.Ó I said: Ò how do you know? Why would you want to do that to your daughter? I lost my mother when I was eight and it never came to me until I was giving birth to my son, the importance of having a mother.Ó That made her think. SlAnD eTH CRO RAPH: b PHOTOG
A North London garden provides a healing space for victims of torture writes Anne Mullee
Mohsen Mohsen is an asylum seeker who came from Iran four years ago. his mentor is a medical doctor from Afghanistan. I remember the first time I met my mentor. I was in a very bad situation. No money, no friends, no place to stay. My mentor was an asylum seeker like me, a long time ago, and he tells me what happened to him, and tells me, Ò DonÕ t worry, it will be OK.Ó We sometimes go to a cafŽ , buy a drink, talk about life. We talk about practical things, letters I need help with. My mentor helped me to find a solicitor and went with me a few times to see him. I felt stronger with him there. So many things are different for me since meeting my mentor. I feel more part of the community now. Before this, I was homeless and my problems made me feel crazy. Now I am studying and I want to be a sports trainer and a businessman. When I am British, I will not refuse anyone who needs help.
Didier and Merinde Didier, a lecturer in international relations in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), came to the uK to join his wife who was a refugee. here he finished his MA with distinction and has now applied for a PhD. his mentee, Merinde, a computer analyst and programmer, also from DRC, has
Merinde and Didier
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Interviews with members of the Migrant and Refugee Communities Forum mentoring project by Anne Stoltenberg
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Where nature nurtures
How to make friends and influence people
Mary Raphaely of the Natural Growth Project
been waiting to hear a decision on his asylum claim since 2002. Didier: Merinde has left his family behind in DRC and that makes life stressful for him, so we go out where he can relax a bit. The last time we went to the British Museum to see Congolese art. Another time we went to an internet cafŽ and Merinde showed me what he can do. he can make computer programmes for you, you wouldnÕ t believe, he can even fix computers. But because of his status he cannot do anything here. Merinde: Because of the language barrier I took computer courses in London and started all over again learning the things that I already knew, but in english. When I finished, they told me that I couldnÕ t go to the next level because of my status; so I had to stop. It has been seven years since I have seen my wife and children. I have only talked to my wife twice since I left DRC. I miss them a lot, so I am happy when I am with Didier because we talk about football and life in London and I relax a bit. With Didier I am learning so many things, especially about London life. I knew there were museums in London, but I had never been before. There are so many places you can go see, but you donÕ t know if you are allowed to go inside.Ó
Here are stories of friendship and support, of learning from people you never expected to meet, testimonies to being open to new encounters – you never know the friends you might make Ô Another candle in my dark nightsÕ Juliet: I used to be the editor of Time and Tide. IÕ ve just had my 74th birthday. Our reverend told us in church about AfshinÕ s struggle so I started writing letters, stories, postcards to him at the church where he goes to worship. I am delighted that Afshin can now stay after a long time suffering. he has applied to university to do his MA on human Rights which I am glad to hear. I believe people who need protection should be given it, and we have to try to help them bringing democracy and good governance to their own country so they donÕ t have to flee in the first place. Afshin: I used to be a professional footballer in Iran as well as a political activist. I love sport and travelling: we have a saying in Persian that seeing the world is better than owning it. I have been one of the longest-running asylum cases in this country and after nearly 14 years of hard battle I got my status. I have received so much hatred from the system but I got so much love from ordinary British people. Juliet and many more like her showed me kindness, love, affection, compassion, care and more.
I always looked forward every Sunday at church to my pastor telling me that I had another letter from Juliet. It was another candle in my dark nights. I felt so much love from her letters. They came at the time that I needed it most. As I have been away from my family for 14 years she became my second mum. It only takes a piece of paper and a pen to save a precious life. I met my guardian angel in person few weeks ago, after years of receiving her letters, and I am planning to visit her whenever I can. Tim and YurikÕ s friendship Yurik: I am a doctor from Armenia and I came to the uK in July 2004 as an asylum seeker. When I came here, not only was I unable to speak any english but I was alone, without my family, friends, relatives or anyone. I became homeless. I had no choice but to sleep in parks and bus stations and found myself out in the rain much of the time. Through the Migrants Resource Centre (MRC), an organisation helping people like me, I took part in a film to raise awareness about how asylum seekers were being treated in the uK. I became friends with the director of the film, Tim
Langford, who introduced me to many wonderful places in London. We went to the National Gallery and he took me to Royal Albert hall to listen to the symphony orchestra. he gave me a CD player and many CDs. Tim is always ready to help me even though he leads a busy life. In the beginning, he gave me books including encyclopedias and dictionaries. he also helped me improve my language because we were always speaking english together. Tim came to see me in hospital, talked to the doctors for me and contacted my MP [about my case for asylum]. he is like a relative to me. Tim is the kind of person who I can talk to about anything. Although a deeply serious person, he can be light-hearted. If I am feeling down, he always has something to say to encourage me and to make me see the positive side of life. Tim: I first met Yurik as a subject for the documentary Torn. At the time I objectified him in terms of what he could offer the film. he was less a Ò realÓ person, than a Ò filmed personÓ , his life framed by a camera lens. But then, I recall watching his face in the edit suite, listening to his broken
english, the pregnant pauses of his speech. It was as if every note of the piano soundtrack seemed to resonate with the timbre of his voice. To echo his soul. For me, Yurik became the heart and soul of that film. When we made our first trip to an art gallery together I decided beforehand that if I could do anything, then it was to bring some beauty into his world. he has experienced so much ugliness, I wanted desperately to reveal that there was also the possibility of rays of beauty. There are times I feel I have let him down. his hopes have been raised, then cruelly quashed. I ask myself, how does my world fit with his? The absurdity of our situation, where I can hop on a plane tomorrow and visit his wife and children, while he is trapped and endlessly waiting, waiting for official permission. Yurik is so stoic. he has such innate dignity and strength, a graceful, handsome face, melancholia behind the eyes. I feel I want to put my arm around this big Armenian man, in my awkward english way, like a parent to a child. But when he smiles that is the moment to behold. My heartfelt wish is for joy in his life.
22 The New Londoners | Life
Life | The New Londoners 23
Golden years spent far from home
organised the Latin American Golden Years Day Centre. I set it up because I was receiving a lot of calls from elderly people who were desperate and couldnÕ t communicate in english. They had suicidal thoughts, were lonely, rejected by their own children and grandchildren because they didnÕ t fit into this society. They were left, like pieces of old furniture. Our centre is a place where elderly people of all nationalities can talk to one another, get advice and do creative things like sewing and painting. We donÕ t advertise, we function through word of mouth. A lady comes every Wednesday to give advice on housing and money matters. If our people need help at the hospital I ask for an interpreter for them, or I do it for them over the phone. WeÕ ve made the centre as homely as possible. everybody knows one another. IÕ m 68 but youÕ re only old if you feel old. One British lady is 93 and sheÕ s so wonderful. her face lights up Ð she canÕ t come to the centre any more but I go to visit her. They are beautiful people who have such nice
stories to tell. everyone has a culture to pass on and thatÕ s what we are doing. Last week at our centre, some elderly people were telling each other stories about their youth Ð and they were laughing so much. Someone has been recording their stories so
they can be played in schools to educate the younger generation. We have things to give. Latin American Golden Years Day Centre, 1-29 Cancell Road, SW9, www.latinamericangoldenyears.org.uk
‘You’re only old if you feel old,’ says one of the self-sufficient Latin Americans who tell their stories to Penny McLean Ramiro urbano, 75, is volunteer with the latin American elderly Project
I came to London in 1997. My neighbours were involved in the FARC [the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia guerrilla movement], and the army thought I was involved, too, and wanted to kill me. It was a case of mistaken identity Ð I wasnÕ t involved. I had one week to leave my country. I had no choice or I would have been killed or kidnapped. I had had a shoe shop there and IÕ d lost my business. I came here and worked and then I got a pension, thankfully, because I paid my national insurance here. You realise that you have to adapt, and you have to keep struggling to survive here. For me the saddest part of leaving my country was losing my friends and not having anyone I know of my age around me. IÕ m very lucky however as I have my sons here, so that was consolation. I think your family has a responsibility to take care of you and to support and help you.
You canÕ t rely on the system, you have to look after yourself. In Colombia, you have to rely solely on your family. ItÕ s important that people get together to support and protect each other, to campaign or petition the government and request that they protect those asylum seekers who are in need. Because one person alone can do nothing to change their situation, they need support. The key barrier for me, integrating in London as a mature person, was not knowing the language. There are more opportunities in London for people my age, and so it is possible to integrate if you can speak english, more so than in my own country. I do voluntary work every day at the Latin American elderly Project and little by little I am trying to learn english, I never stop learning. IÕ ve been to english classes here, too. The problem at my age is my memory! The centre also provides photography classes, dance classes, keep fit Ð lots of activities to combat isolation among the elderly. Groups like ours help different communities within London to mix with one another through the activities we organise. I think IÕ m a role model for Latin American men, as lots of people think that Latin American men are macho but I do everything at the our centre. I clean, wash up, I help women to get the bus, collect people from different places, I go to the bank, I help with
the accounts, IÕ m the secretary on our management committee, I do anything that will help. I come here early every day to open the centre for the volunteers. Sometimes IÕ m so busy I forget to have lunch. IÕ m very happy here in London. At the beginning I found the cold weather very difficult, but now global warming seems to have changed that. I love the museums and all the monuments, because I used to read a lot about British history in Colombia, and so itÕ s great to see in reality. One of my favourite places in London is my local pub in Ladbroke Grove where I play snooker and mix with the locals. Now I consider myself a British Colombian Londoner.
month-old son, following the 1973 coup. I was a councillor and well known for my leftwing views. Because I was a nurse and social worker and knew and worked with the community, one of the policemen warned me that the military were coming for my family that afternoon. A taxi came to collect us and our dog, on the taxi roof, started barking, so the military stopped and searched the taxi. I covered my son up with my hand over his mouth, so they wouldnÕ t hear him. They shot our dog, looked inside and said, Ò These are not the ones weÕ re looking for Ð weÕ re looking for the one with a baby.Ó We travelled across the Andes in a small taxi. We reached Argentina, whose military presence was even worse than Chile. The military police came looking for us. The hotel owner saved our lives by sneaking us out of the back door to uNhCR staff at a local church. The uNhCR gave us an ID card with a number, not a name. We had to remember this number from then on. I said, Ò Are you going to tattoo it onto our bodies as well?Ó They said, Ò You
“People think Latin American men are macho, but I wash up”
The Latin American Elderly Project, Claremont, 24-27 White Lion Street, N1 Amada Vergaro, 68, from Chile, founder of latin American Golden years Day Centre
I fled Chile with my husband, mother and four children, including my seven-
Power of a holy huddle An asylum worker for more than a decade, Puck De Raadt has seen the often harmful effects of changes to British immigration law – she has some better solutions, she tells Meghna Manaktala and Cristina Vaccaro In 1997, there was a hunger strike of 24 Algerians in Rochester prison. At that time there was no legal aid for bail and asylum seekers could spend years in detention. A network of volunteers was set up by the local Anglican bishop to stand surety for asylum seekers in detention. A year later, I was asked to take it over and I have worked for Churches Together in Britain and Ireland ever since. Since then, we have seen frequent changes of often badly drafted legislation, a steep rise in numbers detained and drastic reductions in legal aid. Now, Britain ostensibly complies with international law, but in fact frequently breaches uNhCR principles and even its own laws. It is more and more difficult to get people out on bail. Access to competent solicitors is also getting harder and harder. In 2000, when the National Asylum Support Service (NASS) was set up and began to disperse asylum seekers around the uK, I began to get calls from churches in cities to which people had been dispersed with all sorts of questions: about legal procedures, access to lawyers, destitution, medical referrals, appeals, detention and removal. We built up a network of contacts with lawyers, barristers, NGOs and foreign agencies, and in doing so learned a great deal about the (mal) functioning of asylum procedures. This brought me to the second part of my work: the ChurchesÕ Refugee Network, which provides assistance to destitute asylum seekers throughout the country. The work is not faith-based; many of those we work with practise other religions. But church groups
been waiting up to 10 years. The home Office calls these Ò legacy casesÓ . Many became destitute after NASS support was stopped. The new legislation criminalised them all. There were intemperate public and media outbursts about Ò all these foreign criminalsÓ . Yet many are just Ò paper crimiPuck De Raadt nalsÓ . They worked illegally simply because they were destitute. Is that a crime? under international conventions, the perceived need and right of a country to maintain immigration controls can override all other national laws or humanitarian considerations. The big conflict today is between the growing universality of human rights law and the national specificity of immigration laws. each has its moral aspects, and these are often very hard to reconcile. Growing up among Dutch Jews in the 1950s and 1960s, I learnt what racism, prejudice and discrimination meant from seeing the effects on the lives of others, even years later, and it made me very angry from very early on. I wasnÕ t Christian then, but later I realised that Christian values are also the teachings of other religions. ThatÕ s where my motivation comes from. In the past few decades, British society has become more and more unwelcoming, as indeed has europe. A church call for an independent enquiry into all aspects of asylum resulted in 2006 in an independent asylum commission. Its recommendations need to be brought before the government. My main wish is to see asylum decisions taken out of the political arena and transferred to an independent, decisionmaking refugee commission, a body such as that in Canada, whose decision criteria are framed within a politically independent human rights context and which offers a above all, and to love your neighbour as yourself. It much wider pre-decision evaluation of each case. In should make no difference if your neighbours are such a model not only is decision-making generally asylum seekers or locals. more humane, it also provides a range of other viable Politically, the situation has become critically sen- options and solutions. sitive. There is a large backlog of undecided cases Ð some of whom, such as some Zimbabweans, have www.ctbi.org.uk are not just Ò holy huddlesÓ as the government likes to think. Rather, these are practical networks of local people supporting those in their local community. The basic Christian teaching is twofold: to love God
PHOTOGRAPH: TOM KinG
PHOTOGRAPH: TOM KinG
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should be grateful, we are saving you.Ó I said, Ò Not really Ð we donÕ t want to be refugees.Ó We arrived in 1977 and were sent out of London. Our family was not welcome. In Sutton Coldfield, our neighbour kept shouting, Ò Shut up, you piece of shit,Ó whenever our kids played in the back garden. I bought a dictionary to find out what this meant Ð the first words we learnt. In Dundee, our initial experiences were not much better Ð my son was bullied and hospitalised for three days. The locals didnÕ t understand where these Indianlooking people were from. My husband Fernando and I took action: started learning english, made a cotton patchwork map of all the South American countries and took all our kids with their musical instruments to play at the local community centre and schools. We educated people about Chile and why we had to flee. From then on our lives improved. When we were forced to move from Scotland to London in 1986 we couldnÕ t get work. We had to live on benefits for a year. I had been a social worker with the elderly in Chile, so I
24 The New Londoners | Report
Graffiti | The New Londoners 25
The people stuck in no man’s land
Romola Garai on location
Up-and-coming star Romola Garai tells Peter Kessler of UNHCR why she has made a film telling the stories of displaced people
ctress Romola Garai, star of the film Atonement, has a keen interest in humanitarian affairs and recently visited Iraqi refugees in Syria and displaced Palestinians on the Iraq-Syria border with the help of the uN refugee agency uNhCR Ð this time on the other side of the camera. For the film No ManÕ s Land, Garai shot rare footage of the lives, suffering and courage of those she came across in the arid and cramped Al Tanf camp, which is located in the no manÕ s land between Syria and Iraq. When did you become interested in refugees?
I live in London and am lucky to have many friends from school, university and work who are from diverse backgrounds. Some of my closest friends are the children of refugees and I have always been fascinated by their stories and the struggle of how they came to the uK and assimilated into society. I first heard about the plight of Palestin-
ian and Iraqi refugees after attending an event for last yearÕ s World Refugee Day in London. What did you learn during your visit to Syria and the Iraqi border?
A lot, but here are some of the things that stick out. I learned about the troubled histories of three different groups: the Palestinians from Iraq, the Iraqis themselves and the Syrian people. This was a lot of information for someone who is no expert on the Middle east to take in, but it was all absolutely necessary to understanding the situation in Syria. I learned incredible things about what is important to people. It was amazing to me to discover the extent to which being in a supportive community, feeling part of a group, is such an essential part of any personÕ s ability to cope with displacement. The most isolated people I met always seemed the most desperate. I learned to listen. When someone is telling you the personal details of their life, show them respect and feel
honoured to be given access to their stories. Always ask their name, look them in the eye, show you are trying to understand. I learned how to use my video camera!
are huge, complicated issues that will take years of diplomacy to unravel. This is a problem that could be fixed today.
How did your experience on this trip compare with your day job?
Yes. I would love to do the same sort of thing again and maybe make a short follow-up film to chart the changing situation of the Iraqi and Palestinian refugees.
ItÕ s very different. Firstly IÕ m an actor, not a filmmaker, so my experience of shooting and editing film is very small Ð mainly picked up from watching others on film sets. I had to learn how to make a film from scratch basically, but it was great fun failing, failing again, but failing better! What do you hope your film about the Palestinians in Al Tanf and your advocacy on behalf of the refugees in Syria will achieve in the uK?
Relocation. The uK should be taking a lot of the people in the camp. ItÕ s a small number, only 800, and they have already proved themselves willing and able to make a huge contribution to a society. So many problems in the Middle east
Do you plan to do more to raise awareness about refugees?
Should the British be doing more to help?
Yes. It was our war, too. It is unquestionably our moral responsibility to help the people who have had their lives destroyed by the war in Iraq. What are you working on now?
IÕ m filming a four-part adaptation of Jane AustenÕ s emma for the BBC Ð IÕ m playing emma. See No Man’s Land at: www. guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/ mar/19/iraq-syria-refugees
Stranded with no solutions Palestinians in Iraq Following the 1948 war, tens of thousands of Palestinians who fled their homes were relocated to Iraq, while others have moved to the country in the intervening years. But with the fall of the Saddam Hussein regime many were targeted by militia groups. Most Palestinians have now fled Iraq, many to Syria, where they live at two desolate border camps. Al Tanf, located in the no manÕ s land on the Syria-Iraq border, is a rag-tag gathering of tents and makeshift shelters housing some 800 Palestinians, including hundreds of children. The BaghdadDamascus highway runs right past the settlement on the Iraqi side. A child was killed by a vehicle in 2006. Conditions within the camp are extremely tough; aside from sandstorms, fire risks and extremes of cold and heat, the area is infested by snakes and scorpions. Many of the Palestinians, who cannot enter
Syria except in an emergency, suffer from severe trauma and a range of ailments, yet the nearest hospital in Iraq is 400km away, while the nearest medical facility in Syria is 270km from Al Tanf. Another 1,400 Palestinian refugees live at a nearby border camp in the desert area, Al Waleed. Few Palestinians in the border camps have been accepted for resettlement or offered shelter in third countries. Only some 300 Palestinians have gone to nontraditional resettlement countries such as Brazil, Chile and Iceland. Several dozen may be relocated to the uK in coming weeks under the Gateway Protection Programme. uNHCR continues to advocate for alternative humane solutions in the hope that all these Palestinians will be able to leave the harsh conditions of the camps. Their relocation would in no way jeopardise their
right to return at any stage, if and when such a possibility arises.
IraqÕ s refugees uNHCR has less than half the funding it needs for its £181m operation in Iraq this year. It may not be able to implement certain programmes if more money is not received soon. While security conditions have improved, they are not yet sustainable enough to have encouraged substantial numbers of Iraqis to return. More than 1.5m Iraqis are still outside the country Ð mostly in Syria and Jordan, and another 2m are internally displaced. uNHCR believes that Iraqis should not be forced back. Outside Iraq, asylum countries continue to carry a huge burden and are increasingly concerned over what they fear is gradually becoming a protracted refugee situation. They need and deserve continuing international support. source: uNHCR
PHOTOGRAPH: unHCR/b. AuGeR
Revealed: the mysterious story of Banksy’s pants e n o t s n Hatte n o m i S y b IÕ ve only met Banksy the once, but ever since I have had a deep and disturbing relationship with the anonymous graffiti artist who this month smuggled a secret show into BristolÕ s City Museum. For years I regarded Banksy as my albatross. I couldn't stand him. Little did I realise that he would eventually become the saviour of a drop-in centre that I help run with New North London Synagogue for destitute asylum seekers. It all goes back to 2003 when he agreed to be interviewed by the Guardian. I never knew why. Still don't. At the time, I'd barely heard of him. All I knew was that there would be no photos, and I'd have to trust his word and my instinct that he really was Banksy. We met in a pub in east London, and got on well Ð particularly after a few pints of Guinness. I went back to the office and wrote up the article about the artist who stencilled girls with bombs and smiling coppers and seemed to be pretty cool and zeitgeisty. he was talented and likeable, but I was sure he'd be a passing fad. The interview went down well, apparently lots of people read it in the paper and particularly on the internet. I got a pat on the back and didn't think again about Banksy for a good while. It was about a year later that the calls started coming. From the New Yorker, from all over europe, from Asia, from just about every art student in the country. Ò Can we come and talk to you about Banksy? What's he like? What does he look like? Is he real? how dÕ you know?Ó Apparently, I was the only person to have interviewed the artist in the flesh. It was a coup, a feather in my journalistic cap, and great to be known for something. And the calls didn't stop coming. Two years on from the interview, I was beginning to resent them. I couldn't remember much about Banksy apart from the silver tooth and that he looked like a cross between Jimmy Nail and Mike Skinner, and it was going to be the only thing I was ever remembered for. On my gravestone it would say, Ò he once spent a couple of hours with the anonymous artist Banksy.Ó At one point I became a hostage negotiator for Banksy when a former admirer stole his statue The Drinker after deciding that the artist had Ò sold outÓ to the mainstream art world. The requests started to small me down rather than
big me up, every call reminding me how insignificant I was in the greater scheme of things. I was wholly defined by Banksy's anonymity. I began to feel, quite irrationally, used by the artist. It felt so unfair to say no to all the students and journalists when I was their only link with Banksy, yet the more times I told my story, the more insignificant I felt. I unwittingly became the public voice of Banksy, while he continued to live in the luxury of his own privacy, becoming ever more famous and wealthy. I never met or talked to Banksy again. Last year I got such a downer on him that I decided to make him the anti-hero of a novel in which a journalist ends up attempting to murder him. Six months ago I decided to raise money for a dropin centre for destitute asylum seekers I help run by collecting and auctioning celebritiesÕ pants, signed with messages and their own artwork. Why pants? Because underwear not only keeps you warm, it's symbolic. ItÕ s one of the basics many asylum seekers cannot afford. Progress was painfully slow, but gradually Daniel Day-Lewis, Jordan, emma Thompson, Jarvis Cocker and Nick hornby handed in their pants. Then I started to get more commercially minded Ð if only we could get artists to create art pants for us. So Steve Bell, Marcus harvey, Robert Crumb and Marc Quinn all kindly coughed for us. Then I started to get even more commercially minded. If only Banksy would give us something. After all, he owed me, I reasoned perfectly unreasonably, I'd suffered for him all these years. I got in touch with his people. his people said they'd ask him. I got a message back saying he didn't fancy doing pants but he was interested. Then nothing.
Bloody artists. Worst of all, bloody graffiti revolutionary artists who won't do anything to make the world better. I started to stalk his people. BanksyÕ s thinking about it. Ò That's brilliant,Ó I said, muttering under my breath, Ò It's all very well thinking, howÕ s about bleedinÕ doing something?Ó The auction went up on eBay, and still nothing from Banksy. It was months now since I'd first approached him. IÕ d thought of everything Ð a friend at work who knows him spoke to him, a photographer who took pictures for a related exhibition on asylum seekers and had once shared a house with him, spoke to him. Nothing. Two days after the eBay auction started, I got another call from another of Banksy's people. Ò Great news. he's doing something for you.Ó Pants? Ò Sorry, not pants.Ó You know when we might get it? Ò Nope, sorry.Ó Don't want to rush you, but the auction is already up. Ò We'll try to hurry him up.Ó Monday afternoon, another call. ItÕ s ready. Great, can I call for it? The voice at the other end went dead. No, of course I couldn't call for it, IÕ m not allowed to know where heÕ s based, if he is based anywhere, if he exists in the first place. TheyÕ d send it to me at the Guardian. An hour later an excitable woman on security called. Ò Package for you, Simon. All in bubble wrap. It's rather large.Ó I rushed downstairs, tore the bubble wrap off, and there it was Ð a toilet door with the most beautiful picture of children raising the flag. It was a copy of an earlier stencil heÕ d done with one crucial difference Ð instead of the children pledging allegiance to the Tesco flag, they were pledging allegiance to a pair of union Jack pants. It was soon apparent that Banksy had not lost any of his wit. he said he thought it was important to do his bit for the swan-eaters (a reference to a Daily Mail classic news story which revealed that asylum seekers were so monstrous they ate swans from good, decent and true British lakes) and explained why: Ò I think itÕ s the duty of any civilised country to provide refugees with the basics of human survival. Just because I personally only change my pants once every six weeks doesn't mean every asylum-seeker should have to do the same.Ó Not only has the painting exorcised my Banksy demons, with a bit of luck the £30,000 raised from the auction will keep the drop-in running for the next year.
26 The New Londoners | Success
Success | The New Londoners 27
Immigrants to icons
Lucie Trinephi is a cartoonist and artist whose life journey started in Vietnam and continued in France, Germany and Denmark. She talks to Zrinka Bralo You are originally from Vietnam, how did you leave?
I left in 1975, hours before the end of the war. I was eight. We left at one o’clock in the morning and Saigon was gone by five in the morning [the city was captured by the North Vietnamese army, ending the Vietnam War]. One of my uncles was in the South Vietnamese navy and he phoned my mother: “You have to come to the dock now, before they close the gate,” and we were off. So with my mother, four sisters and one brother I found myself on a landing craft carrier with two large cannons crammed with people.
So you joined your father in France. How was that?
And what did you do?
We were on a housing estate in a rough area outside Paris. I missed Vietnam badly for the first two three years. I kept asking my mother when we were going back. It was a year or two before I understood the abnormality of growing up in a war-torn place. I started school and was bullied. It took me 10 years to learn French properly and to feel that I could fit in. Losing all your references as a child is tough. It got better from secondary school. My older sisters started in secondary school and their experience was very different to mine. They were very popular and exotic. Boys had crushes on them.
Soon after a one-year foundation art course I started working in London as an au-pair, waitress, cashier and secretary. I carried on painting. I also drew a lot in my early twenties and did my first comic book, Olli X and Septimus: A Tragic Romance, a love story.
What did your parents do in exile?
Did you connect your experience of exile and your art at the time?
My dad was a surgeon, and in France he had to study again to be allowed to practise medicine. While studying he worked as a laboratory assistant, not earning much. We did not get refugee status automatically and we had to sort out many administrative demands to enable us to stay.
What did you think was happening?
I was told that the Communists were coming, and I was brought up to believe that they were the bad guys. I did not know where we were going. Nobody knew, we just fled. Who was looking after all of you?
The army was in charge. They took all the food brought by passengers and distributed it to make sure everyone had some. One packet of instant noodles a day. We were seven of us, one bite a day each. I was hungry and cold at night. In the Philippines we changed boats, leaving the Vietnamese military ship for an American one. We became political refugees as soon as we left Vietnamese waters. When we arrived at Guam, the US army put us in a refugee camp and started sorting out where people wanted to go. My dad was convalescing in France after major heart surgery a year before all this happened. He had no idea where we were. My mother phoned him from Guam to start organising papers for us to join him. We were in a refugee camp for a few months with thousands of other people, living in tents, waiting to leave for Europe and America.
When you are among the crows, you have to crow as they do - Polish proverb
It was a very difficult time for my parents, much more than for us kids. My mother also started working, but soon had to stop to look after we six kids. My father got his degree and started working as a doctor again in large public hospitals and clinics, but was often a victim of discrimination so he decided to open his own private practice. We moved from the estate to a house with a garden outside Paris. Only then did I understand that we would be settling in France. Slowly our economic situation improved.
Not at all. I just did not think about that part of my life. I had an identity crisis in my early twenties after having lived in France, Germany and the UK. That’s when I felt a strong urge to go “back” to Vietnam. But, of course, even there I did not feel like I belonged. I went back to Vietnam for the first time when I was 25. During that trip I worked as an interpreter in a Vietnamese refugee camp in Hong Kong. That was in the 1990s and my job was to encourage refugees who lived in camps for many years to consider going home. Some called me communist and made fun of me because I was telling them it is a good idea to go back. My Vietnamese being very basic, it was difficult to discuss politics or economics. After a year travelling through poor countries, Vietnam was by far one of my favourites, but I came back more confused than ever. That experience was a bigger shock to me than I first realised. I moved to Copenhagen and started working as a cartoon colourist. I experienced a flashback on one windy afternoon riding my bike along the sea shore in Copenhagen. I felt a panic attack imagining a helicopter would land right there and squash me. I hurried home and calmed down. Only then did it all come back to me. So what did you do with this experience?
I started to work on my memory, interviewing my mother and my siblings and asking them what they
remembered. That was the first time it all came out for them. We had a good laugh talking about it 20 years later. I wrote it all down, put it away and forgot about it again. I discovered the text years later while tidying up. I was working as a web designer at the time and wanted to get back to drawing. An old friend of mine advised me that my story would make good material for a comic book, though the more I work on it, the longer it gets. I am now looking for a publisher. I’ve just finished Where Strangers Become Friends, a book that tells the story of a young Iraqi refugee who arrived in London after travelling for three months and includes his mentoring experience at the Migrant and Refugee Communities Forum in London. So how was it to tell the real-life story of another young refugee in a comic book?
PHOTOGRAPH: beTH CROSlAnD
Real lives to be read between the lines
Unpromising and even tragic beginnings are no barrier to success – as fashion designer Barbara Hulanicki and businessman Theo Paphitis show. By Maeve Hosea Barbara
In 1964 London was swinging and LondonersÕ green feather boas and spangly mini-dresses came from Barbara hulanickiÕ s boutique Biba. Fast forward to this summer and high-street fashion chain Topshop has recreated that spirit with its much anticipated Barbara hulanicki for Topshop collection and revived the designerÕ s profile for a new generation. As the daughter of a Polish diplomat, Barbara hulanicki was always destined to live an itinerant life. When she was just three, at the outbreak of the Second Barbara Hulanicki
World War, her father was posted to Palestine, where family lived until 1948, when her father was assassinated. hulanicki remembers: Ò Most of my friends went to refugee camps in Cyprus. I was brought up with children who were starving and thought nothing of eating dead dogs.Ó her mother moved the family to Brighton and a very different life to that in cosmopolitan Jerusalem. Ò It was incredibly different in england then because you didnÕ t really have foreigners,Ó hulanicki remembers. Ò everyone laughed at my name and I was terrified of having to read out loud in class.Ó Growing up with a chic mother and an aunt who lived at BrightonÕ s Metropole hotel, where hulanicki got her first glimpses of glamorous girls in wonderful clothes on jaunts from London, fash- Theo Paphitis ion was a natural fit for her. She came into the industry after art school by way of doing fashion illustrations for glossy there and the next it was full of girls magazines. Inspired by her husband, trying them on.Ó From its beginnings as a tiny boutique ad man Stephen Fitz-Simon, the Biba brand was born after a sassy gingham in a Kensington side-street, Biba grew dress she designed was publicised in the over the years to become a cult label and fashion destination, eventually occupyDaily Mirror and sold 17,000. Ò I opened a shop,Ó she says, Ò and it ing all five floors of a glamorous Art was really organic the way it worked Deco department store on Kensington Ð one minute I had all these smocks in high Street. It was the place to go and Biba clothes were worn by celebrities from Mick Jagger to Brigitte Bardot. having lost control of her Biba fashion empire in the mid-Seventies, hulanicki started a fashion business in Brazil. She and her husband later moved to Miami, where she designs hotel interiors and now lives alone since her husbandÕ s death 12 years ago. Ò My childhood has influenced me not to plan but to just live from one thing to the other,Ó she says. Ò The minute you really care for things you lose them.Ó Theo
Businessman Theo Paphitis, best known for his appearances on the Tv series DragonÕ s Den, has made a career out of reviving the fortunes of high-street names such as the stationers Ryman and the lingerie retailer La Senza as well as boosting Millwall
I really felt for this young man. I know how difficult it is to leave home, arrive in a new place, not speaking the language, not knowing anyone, and start from scratch, especially as a penniless refugee. I feel that my story is not very traumatic compared with his. And you are now settled in London?
I have been living here for 10 years; my son was born here; he is a Londoner. I’ve had exhibitions of my paintings in London and I also design bags that I sell at Spitalfields Market on Sundays. I also recently started a shop online. I will pursue painting and comics – I can see myself as a 70-year-old still finishing my story, but I am also looking forward to drawing other stories. To see Lucie Trinephi’s work visit her website: www.vovchic.com For a copy of Where Strangers Become Friends or to get involved in mentoring please contact the Migrant and Refugee Communities Forum: www.mrcf.org.uk
Football Club with his chairmanship. Born in Cyprus in 1959, PaphitisÔ s childhood was marked by economic hardship. his parents decided to make a fresh start in england in 1966. After Manchester, where his father found work seven nights a week as a bouzouki player in a Greek restaurant, he and his parents moved to London where the family broke up and Paphitis struggled with dyslexia. The road to becoming a self-made millionaire started for Paphitis at the age of 16 when he became a tea boy and filing clerk with Lloyds of London. Taking opportunities to move into the worlds of insurance, property and retail, and feeling that business success is possible for anyone who is bright and keen, Paphitis is now the retail apprenticesÕ champion of the government-funded Skillsmart Retail scheme which advocates an apprentice training system for young employees. Paphitis says: Ò It is imperative that you have an idea that you really believe in, and you also have to be absolutely determined you can make it work. But if you donÕ t attempt to do it, it will never happen. DonÕ t let your idea be the one that got away.Ó
Happy endings come to Hackney Thirty years ago, a British merchant ship rescued hundreds of Vietnamese refugees from drowning in a terrible storm. The BBC’s Kurt Barling hears from some of the survivors Paul Tran, who was just four at the time, remembers being desperately seasick during the early part of the journey, mostly over his mother. There were more than 300 people on his boat. PaulÕ s brother Gabriel remembers the captain struggling to get the support he needed to land the unexpected passengers on British soil. Paul and GabrielÕ s family were among several thousand vietnamese boat people who were allowed to settle in the uK. Many now run their own businesses. vu Khanh Thanh left vietnam without his family. he had been a teacher and elected councillor in South vietnam. At the end of the war he was marked out as a collaborator by the new regime. he says the situa-
tion became increasingly intolerable. he was only reunited with his family a few years later in hackney. Resettlement was not easy. The An viet Foundation emerged from the vietnameseÕ s communityÕ s collective effort to secure a firm footing for themselves. It continues to run a day centre for the older generation and offer advice from everything from benefits to job training. Between 2002 and 2006, Thanh became the first member of the vietnamese community to become a local councillor in Britain. vietnam is a changed country since this group of refugees left in 1979. Some have already renewed links with the old country. A few have become suc-
cessful entrepreneurs trading between Britain and vietnam. Nam clothing company, based on Mare Street in hackney, is probably the largest, and has contracts to supply Primark and other British supermarkets with ladiesÕ fashion. Now there is a sense that the refugees can make a positive contribution to the country they fled and enhance the relationship between the new homeland and the old. It is clear from talking to members of the vietnamese community that there is a deep sense of loyalty to the country that took them in and gave them a second chance. Fate, they believe, dealt them a kind hand.
28 The New Londoners | Crunch busters
Life | The New Londoners 29
Our journeys to the big Smoke
For creative ways to make your money stretch further, look to London’s refugees, asylum seekers and migrants – they are experts in living on a tight budget . Compiled by Yasmin Salem
Refugee Mariam Ahmed finds out how and why some of her friends made the journey
• Charity shops and second-hand stores: markets can be a good place for hidden gems and why not try to haggle? Pound shops are good, too. • Car-boot sales: sometimes overlooked as good for shopping around. For car boot sales around London see: www.carbootjunction.co.uk. • Ask for discounts: donÕ t be shy, wherever itÕ s appropriate, check if you can get a discount.
• Travel on the cheap: London buses are the cheapest form of public transport. A bus pass can get you all around London. Or just walk. ItÕ s healthy and youÕ ll discover interesting corners of the capital.
• Try to avoid ready meals. They might seem cheap, but the price will soon add up.
Buying food • Do an evening supermarket shop for good deals on products that have nearly reached their use-by dates.
• Why not keep your bread in the fridge or in the freezer? It will last longer.
• Local markets are a good alternative for cheap vegetables, fruits and even meat. • Always make a shopping list and prioritise week by week. Take your time and compare prices.
• use cash instead of cards: try to pay with cash wherever possible. YouÕ ll keep a better track of your outgoings
• DonÕ t shop when youÕ re hungry as youÕ ll end up buying food that you donÕ t need.
• Saving energy saves you money: use energysaving bulbs and make sure lights are switched off in unoccupied rooms. Keep doors shut and use a draught-stopper to contain the heat.
Smart cooking • Research recipes: youÕ ll be able to cook a nutritious meal for four for the price of a fast-food meal.
• Socialise for free: why not volunteer at an NGO? You can acquire new skills and youÕ ll meet new people.
• Prepare ahead: cook for two days or more and freeze portions for another day. YouÕ ll save a bit of time and energy next time.
• Take a home-made meal with you when youÕ re out and about. YouÕ ll avoid the temptation to spend your money on snacks.
Leisure in London Many London museums and galleries offer free entry Look out for free concerts on the South Bank over the summer months. Some park festivals are free as well. Research and plan your outing well. YouÕ ll be surprised how much you can do free around London. All the big parks are free. Sit down and enjoy. Or just walk around town and marvel at LondonÕ s architecture.
I made my journey to London to seek protection from persecution in my country of origin Ð ethiopia. The journey was full of fear and uncertainty. Now I have been living in limbo for seven years, not knowing what the future could hold for me and my family. I asked friends from different countries who also made their journey to London if they felt as I did. Mr and Mrs J from eritrea: Ò We reached London by crossing the high deserts of eritrea to Sudan, paying money to save our lives from war and arbitrary detention by our own government. We crossed the Sahara desert to Libya and then jumped on to the insecure smuggling boats to Malta.Ó
My first visit to London was in the mid-Sixties. I saw few Londoners from different ethnic minorities living here. I visited London often after that date but finally arrived for good in 1997. This time I chose to join our Sudanese national community. London had changed a lot. It had become common to see different costumes, have different kinds of food, join social cultural events presented by many ethnic minorities. London became cosmopolitan, receiving more residents from different races bringing their culture, giving the city the taste and flavour of multiculturalism.
Coffee and love taste best when hot
PHOTOGRAPH: JOS e SOuTO
How to find bargains • Go to sales at any time: during peak time, but also just after the sale rush is over. You still might be able to pick up a great bargain.
- Ethiopian proverb
Flavour of Bangladesh
There’s no better way to fight your recession blues than with a few easy beauty tips. Members of the Migrant Resource Centre from as far as iraq and Sudan have put their heads together and shared with us some culturally diverse beauty tips. best of all, the ingredients can all be found in your kitchen cabinet or at your nearest market. So the recipes are not only natural, but they will make you feel salon-gorgeous without spending much.
Eyes After youÕ ve brewed yourself a nice cup of camomile tea, keep back some of the brew. let it cool down. Take two pieces of cotton wool and dip in the cool camomile tea. Squeeze them out a little and let them rest on your eyes for a few minutes. Wipe off with some water. This soothes tired eyes. Sunburned skin Take a cup of vinegar and mix with two cups of cool tap water. Dip a cloth into the mix and squeeze it out a little before placing it onto the sunburned area for about five minutes. Then wash off. It will provide some relief, but do not use this remedy on your face. Hands Mix a few drops of olive oil with a few drops of lemon juice. Apply to your dry or chapped skin. it will leave your skin feeling wonderfully soft.
Please note: as with any beauty treatment, test on a small patch ﬁrst, take care if you have sensitive skin, and if a product irritates you, wash it off or stop the treatment immediately. Hair Take a ripe avocado, mash it and put it in your hair for about five minutes. Then wash out normally with shampoo. it will leave your hair beautifully soft.
Face mask Mix a few droplets of lemon with a bit of cornflour and one or two spoonfuls of rosewater to create a mask. Apply it to your face, keeping it on for up to 30 minutes. Then wash it off in the shower. it will leave your skin looking radiant.
illuSTRATiOnS: CHING-LI CHEW
you can save money, create a nourishing meal while exploring eclectic recipes from around the world. A Moveable Feast is a healthy living centre in Westminster that has brought together a group of Arab and bangladeshi locals to cook their favourite family recipes. A community dietitian gave the recipes a healthy makeover to ensure they are balanced meals. Their book of recipes, Shop and Cook Arab and bangladeshi Healthy Meals (£5) is available from: www.amazon.co.uk. Tuna roti wraps A favourite with families from towns in north bangladesh
Avtandil shopping list 4 teaspoons vegetable oil 2 medium onions, chopped 1 green chilli, chopped and deseeded W HDvSRRQvDO W 4 teaspoons mild curry powder 1 teaspoon tumeric 320g can tinned tuna 2 diced peppers 1 chopped tomato 25g chopped fresh coriander W HDvSRRQJuRX QGeO DfnSHSSHu 4 medium grilled tortillas Heat vegetable oil in a saucepan. Add onions, green chilli and salt. Stir until onions are golden brown. Add curry powder and tumeric. Stir for two minutes. Add tinned tuna, peppers, tomato and two tablespoons of water. Cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add fresh coriander and black pepper. Stir for one minute. Serve in tortillas with salad.
Sparks of Recession by Handsen Chikowore Day after day, the flow of redundancy erodes our hope as our minds can’t capture what the heap for tomorrow is Even the economists are swimming in swampy streams as their education has failed to give birth to fruitful solution The destination to breakthrough is nowhere near our reach as the pathway is dazzled with a dark heap of sorrow
e SOuTO PHOTOGRAPH: JOS
The withering economy cannot withstand the pressure whilst the storms are leaving no stones unturned An avalanche of debris lies beneath the banks and factories as their lifeline has been ground to a halt The pain has penetrated deeper into everyone’s pockets and the global solution has failed to soothe our wounds
u from Somalia: Ò I fled death and insurgency to reach the blessed land where humans are treated with equal rights and dignity is respected, but it is not believed that I am Somali and I am living in limbo. I am no-lands woman.Ó S from Zimbabwe: Ò I fled the brutal regime, and left my green and beloved country to be rescued from imprisonment. but I am in exile. I have waited for a decision for eight years, neither working nor studying.Ó I from Zambia: Ò I feel that I am a British citizen, but I have been waiting for a decision for nine years. I am sitting idle, which is a mental torture.Ó C from Iraq: Ò I fled the Sunni and Shia insurgency, but I am told that it is safe and am advised to return voluntarily.Ó e and G from uganda and Tanzania. Ò We fled the ethnic war, but have been waiting for a decision for seven years.Ó Yes, all of us are fleeing persecution but can fall into destitution or life in limbo. human suffering is not acceptable to Britons, because their forefathers laid the stone of equality, humanity and tolerance. So I and my fellow travellers are appealing to the minds that built democracy and equality. We have ideas and skills to contribute to the society protecting us.
London is not all I expected it to be. When I was growing up under the Soviet system in my country, Georgia, I learnt about Britain and London from pictures in magazines which were illegal in my country. I was very keen on bands like Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd; those famous British poets Byron and Shakespeare; painting and sculpture; and, of course, politics. I read all about Britain. I wanted to understand how a capitalist system worked, and from our perspective we thought it was much better. These positive memories still stay with me but they donÕ t mirror my experience here. Maybe you have to be free and to be born here to experience the things I had read about, the things that make BritainÕ s reputation abroad. My time here as an asylum seeker has been very tough. My first week in London was strange. London was a very big, bewildering city. I saw Tower Bridge open and close, which was impressive. I like the parks. Without them London would be a completely different urban experience. I also admire how, when you get to know it, London is not just one city but many small cities.
You donÕ t know how many times I have starved in this country. Because I had no money, I didnÕ t eat most of the time. I was very grateful to people who gave me their sofa so I could have a place to sleep. But I did not want to impose further, so every day when they were getting ready to eat, I would put my coat on and stroll up and down the road until I knew they would have finished eating. As a woman, I was especially afraid of ending up on the street. What would I
do if I needed to go to the toilet or take a shower? I was afraid of having an accident. One day I was hit by a bicycle. The cyclist wanted to call an ambulance and take me to the hospital but I was very scared because I am an asylum seeker without papers. I had bad bruises, but I panicked and refused to go. I am always scared when I get ill. Ten years of struggling is frustrating. We are like prisoners, afraid to go out. It feels as if people look suspiciously at us because we are so conscious that we are not supposed to be here. I canÕ t wait to be free.
Gealas inspired by PlatoÕ s Republic, i am dreaming of A beautiful world, so different from our present world Where mothers give birth painlessly Where scientists discover medications to relieve one’s pain Where each child is born with good health, education and safe places to play Where the air is clean and unpolluted A world clear of any epidemic disease and illness Where people move freely without the restrictions of passports and visas Where gardens full of trees and flowers replace military camps and bases Where our homes are places of safety and security Where all nations will be speaking one language Where jails become institutions of the past and arms and missiles are destroyed Where the words unfairness, killing, lying, violence, envy, hatred, grudge, failing, depression, poverty, illness, ignorance, corruption and greed are deleted from dictionaries Where schools teach the principles of love, peace, co-operation, generosity, and honesty Where no one suffers from injustice and poverty My imagination went wild while writing those dreams, but when i return to reality, i wonder how much effort is needed to make those dreams true.
30 The New Londoners | Arts
Arts | The New Londoners 31
PHOTOGRAPH: PAul H. RObinSOn
What happens when ordinary Britons meet people who are running for their lives? Christine Bacon has turned the answer into a play, Asylum Dialogues Before John, a 66-year-old Birmingham accountant, met Angela, a 40-year-old Jamaican woman who cleaned his office, he admits he fell for the spin about asylum seekers perpetuated by the tabloid press and the government. Ò I honestly used to say Ð send them all back home. They shouldnÕ t be here. Taking all our money.Ó he was even considering voting for the BNP. Ò Then,Ó he says, Ò this woman Angela turned up to clean my office and turned the world upside down.Ó John soon discovered that Angela had been brutally attacked in Jamaica and, after trying to hide from the political gang members targeting her, had come to the uK to save her life. he started to understand first-hand how brutal the uKÕ s immigration policies can be. John helped Angela get out of immigration detention where she was held for five months, and made sure she wasnÕ t deported, despite five often violent removal attempts. Now he has become a vocal advocate for the rights of asylum seekers. John and AngelaÕ s story is one of three included in iceandfireÕ s play Asylum Dialogues. The script is made up entirely of interview material and tells the inspiring stories of ordinary British people who have come face to face with asylum seekers and become personally involved in their battle to be accepted by the home Office. We conceived the idea for this play after touring Asylum Monologues, a play which tells the disturbing news about the asylum system in Britain. We wanted to document and celebrate some the many acts of solidarity we were constantly hearing about. Incidents which are reported in local papers then forgotten. We wanted to demonstrate the distinction between the relentless negative spin about people seeking sanctuary in the uK and the actions of countless British people when they meet people who have run for their lives and need help. Asylum Dialogues was launched last year and has been on a rolling tour ever since. Our outreach network, Actors for human Rights, can go anywhere at any time to give rehearsed readings of the play. This year, we are joining forces with pioneering national movement City of Sanctuary to bring the play to cities such as London which are trying to build a culture of hospitality for people seeking sanctuary. Why not help us do that and come along? If you canÕ t make it, invite us to come to you. Christine Bacon is co-artistic director of iceandfire theatre www.iceandfire.co.uk Asylum Dialogues, New Players Theatre, WC2, 21 June, 7.30pm, £6, unwaged free: www.ticketweb.co.uk
England People Very Nice Described as a Ò riotous journey through four waves of immigration from the 17th century to todayÓ , Richard beanÕ s controversial play examines recurring anxiety over waves of migrants Ð whether they be french Huguenots, irish, Jews or bangladeshis. Olivier Theatre, National Theatre, South Bank, SE1, many seats £10, until 9 August, www.nationaltheatre.org.uk
MongoliaÕ s Rich Cradle: Master Craftswomen of the Kazakh Diaspora As well as gorgeously coloured textiles made by Kazakh women living in the remote Altai Mountains, this exhibition features photographs, films and musical events, with a finished yurt Ð where the women gather to make work Ð taking centre stage. Brunei Gallery, SOAS, Russell Square, WC1, free, 9 July-19 Sept, 10.30am-5pm Tue-Sat, www.soas.ac.uk/gallery Bitter Fruit images of Afghanistan down the decades, including eve ArnoldÕ s early investigative work on the customs of the veil, Thomas DworzakÕ s found portraits of Taliban fighters, beautified through make-up, and Steve McCurryÕ s popular Afghan Girl. Magnum Print Room, 63 Gee Street, EC1, free, until 31 July, 11am-4.30pm Wed-Fri, www.magnumphotos.com
of the waves of immigration that shaped Spitalfields seen through the eyes of todayÕ s children from six local schools. 19 Princelet Street, London E1, free, check www.19princeletstreet. org.uk for opening times Living Ancestors Almost 100 people on the Caribbean island of Dominica are centenarians, many more are in their nineties and most are women. Gabrielle le RouxÕ s portraits celebrate their remarkable lives and staying power. Museum of London Docklands, West India Quay, E14, £5 for a year’s ticket, until 31 July, 10am6pm, www.museumoflondon.org. uk/docklands Still Human Still Here Abbie Trayler-Smith reveals the underground world of destitute asylum seekers, with photographs of men and women from the Democratic Republic of Congo, iran, iraq, Somalia, Zimbabwe and other countries with serious human rights violations. Gallery in the Crypt at St Martinin-the-Fields, Trafalgar Square, WC2, free 19 June-31 July, 10am-6pm Mon-Sat, 12 noon-6pm Sun, www.stillhuman.org.uk Living in Exile: Iraqi Refugees in Syria in the summer of 2008, british photographer Tom Saunderson worked with a group of young refugee iraqis in Damascus, teaching them photography. Their work gives a glimpse into the hopes and fears of their uprooted lives. Foyer at St Martin-in-the-Fields, Trafalgar Square, WC2, free, to 21 June, 8am-8pm Mon-Sat, 12 noon-6pm www2.stmartin-in-the-fields.org
Music World Music Day featuring African drumming lessons and performances by professional musicians from Africa, Turkey, eastern europe, brazil and elsewhere, on two stages in a garden setting. bring your own instrument and play. Forest Farm Peace Garden, Hazelbrouck Gardens, off New North Road, Hainault, free, 21 June, 11am-5pm, www.forestfarmpeacegarden.org
Talks Suitcases and Sanctuary In Europe’s first migration museum, a Hugenot silk merchantÕ s home with a hidden victorian synagogue, an exhibition of the history
War, Refugees and Testimony Marking the 70th anniversary of the Wiener Library’s move to london, a seminar examining the arrival of refugees as a result of war, their contribution to britain and the historical
importance of the stories and testimony they leave behind, followed by the launch of Refugee voices, an audio-visual testimony project featuring interviews with 150 Holocaust survivors and refugees. There will be an opportunity to see the collection and hear from one of the contributing survivors The Wiener Library Institute of Contemporary History, 4 Devonshire Street, London W1, 18 June, from 2.30pm, booking essential, www.wienerlibrary.co.uk
DepARTures Architect eva Jiricna, poet Alev Adil and writer Gillian Slovo discuss how being a refugee has influenced their work in a discussion chaired by journalist and broadcaster yasmin Alibhaibrown. Hochhauser Auditorium, Sackler Centre, Victoria & Albert Museum, Cromwell Road, London SW7, free, 17 June, 7pm-8.30pm, www.vam.ac.uk
Fashion show African fashion show Traditional and contemporary African wear for women and men, made by the students of eleonore MensahÕ s sewing workshop, presented by notre Dame Refugee Centre and Resonance fM. Leicester Square Basement Theatre, 5 Leicester Place, London WC2, free, 18 June, 2pm-5pm, 0207 440 2668 or email@example.com
World crafts workshop A workshop to learn the craft of islamic glass painting is one of the v&AÕ s free events – including concerts, films, talks and tours Ð to celebrate Refugee Week. Arts Studio, Sackler Centre, Victoria & Albert Museum, Cromwell Road, SW7, free, 18 June, 10.30am-4.30pm, www.vam.ac.uk
Writing competition The Alfred fagon Award, set up to commemorate the life of the late Jamaican playwright and actor, is seeking submissions from playwrights of African or Caribbean descent who are resident in the uK. The winner gets £5,000 and a staged reading of their work at the Cottesloe Theatre at the national Theatre. Deadline 1 August, www.alfredfagonaward.co.uk More Refugee Week events nationwide: www.refugeeweek.org.uk
Music is a source of harmony and strength Classical musician Mansour Mortezaee explains to Marjan Esmaili how his Iranian background influences his work Mansour Mortezaee is a musician and teacher who has been living and working in the uK for 31 years, who believes that music is a Ò source of harmony which can build the bridge for people to reach one another.Ó
Love changes everything Love in the Sky, a show opening later this month at the ICA, asks us all to reflect on the true meaning of love. One of the artists involved is Sara Shamsavari, a photographer, musician and arts activist of Iranian origin who now lives and works in London. Ò We are living in an uncertain time of change, social, political and economic,Ó she tells The New Londoners. Ò But throughout these changes, love endures as a constant force Ð itself a driver of change.Ó her collaborators on the musical and visual pieces are the acclaimed singer-songwriter and vocalist for The Streets, Kevin Mark Trail, and the collage artist Colin Barnes. Sara believes: Ò If you can change the way someone feels, you can change the world,Ó and tries to depict her subjects in a true and positive light, especially those who have been marginalised by society, thus encouraging a transformation in the way people view society and themselves. Born in Iran, in the midst of the Islamic Revolution, to an Iranian BahaÕ i mother and AzerbaijaniKurdish father, Sara survived childhood cancer and moving from her country before finally settling with her family in the uK at the age of two. her miraculous gift of life, against all odds, is what motivates her. Ò I hope to inspire people towards the message of love, equality and acceptance in this troubled world we live in,Ó she says. Love In The Sky opens at the ICA on 30 June: www.ica.org.uk
Tell us about your music
I am qualified as a conductor and also teach and write music. I am familiar with the Iranian music but my training is in Western classical music, which I listened to from the age of 10. Do you see the impact of different types of music enriching your work?
I am a citizen of the world. My music is Western but I bring touch of Iranian music into it. This kind of fusion is exciting, for example in the work of musicians such as Shahrdad Rohani and Kambiz Roshanravan. Do you think music is a means of understanding about other cultures?
Definitely yes. Music is a universal language. It is a source of harmony which can bring people together and is close to everyoneÕ s heart. I have worked with every nationality you could think of. Music has always been a source of strength. I believe that classical music is more of a universal language than popular music. Popular music is all angled to the local needs, while in classical music you have to go beyond that boundary of human self. What do you think are the benefits of a multicultural society in the uK?
If we develop an enabling environment, everyone would benefit, migrants as well as the host country. Some musicians
PHOTOGRAPH: TOM KinG
begin by imitating their host country, but after a while everyone adds his own unique interest and character to the music and makes it flourish. If you look at history, the cultures became enriched by attraction to one another, not by living in isolation. How do you think the experience of exile has influenced your work?
To separate yourself from your land is a very painful experience. I still find it very difficult to think that I am not part of Iran. Although I am making the uK my home and there have been great opportunities here for me, I always feel very strongly about my country. My intention was definitely to return home but there was the Iranian revolution and things changed beyond my expectation. As a musician, how do you think you can contribute to society and what are your future plans?
to music education. Most of my work has been used to teach at universities. I have developed methods in rhythmic and pitch development. Since I was from a different culture, I could see the problems within Western music better than someone from inside the culture. And that was a point of strength for me. I hope to publish this work one day. I am planning to publish two albums one for piano and one for violin. I am also planning to publish some works especially for Iranian audiences.
You can cage the flower, but you cannot take away the fragrance - Iranian proverb
My hope has always been to contribute
New ideas contradict old labels: challenging British views of the Balkans Nela Milic tells Avtandil Lortkipanidze and Anne Stoltenberg about her recent exhibition London-based Nela Milic is a producer who works across theatre and visual arts. She is a PhD student at Goldsmiths university where she has staged the exhibition Balkanising Taxonomy. What inspired you to stage this show?
PHOTOGRAPH: SARA SHAMSAvARi
Who says they should go home?
I was invited by Goldsmiths university to curate an exhibition of Balkan textiles donated by Jane Page. I wanted to question what we know about the Balkans and suggest the information that I have put in front of you might not provide you with all the answers but that that can be OK. I realised that the owner of the collection had a different perception from someone like me, who is from the region, about what is Balkan. The collection gave me a vehicle to explore how the region is viewed in the West and how the perception differs from the reality.
So what did you do from there?
Inspired by the seminal work of post-modern philosophy Ways of Seeing by John Berger, I wanted to show that if we donÕ t look at things properly, we wonÕ t see them at all. Also I wanted to deconstruct the ways we categorise and exhibit things. Through my academic reading, I had come across the two terms Ò balkanisingÓ and Ò taxonomisingÓ . Ò BalkanisingÓ means fragmenting, and I was very upset that this word is used at all because you are attaching this characteristic to a whole region. In the media in particular, it is used to mean something degenerated. I was also investigating Ò taxonomisingÓ something Ð labelling and shelving it in order to understand it. This done a lot in Britain. I wanted to rebel and say that when you label something you are failing to understand it. There are a lot of things about the
Balkans that are related to the war and violence. This is relevant and important especially for the people of the Balkans to reckon with, but there are beautiful and wonderful things about the Balkans, too. So I feel that I need to start re-balancing the books, to bring good things from the Balkans rather than just erase the negatives. What is the significance of being a Balkan artist curating an exhibition of Balkan artefacts?
It is a pleasure and a problem. You are questioning yourself: are you ever going to be asked to do anything else? I am seen either as a refugee artist, or a Balkan artist. This is part of taxonomising of course. You hear someoneÕ s accent and then you need to categorise them rather than just letting them be. It is not so important on some occasions, but for this particular exhibition, it was important that I had the knowledge of the area. Nela is reading her poetry in Norwich for Refugee Week on 21 June: www.writerscentrenorwich.org.uk
Hands-down winner The inspirational paralympian Shaho Qadir talks to John Domokos TheRe are few better ways to announce yourself as a New Londoner than completing the capitalÕ s iconic sporting event, the London Marathon. But 34-year-old wheelchair athlete Shaho Qadir has done it in style. Last year, ditching his racing chair, he walked over the finish line on his hands, wowing the crowd and clocking a time of 1hr 56sec Ð good enough to win the event not so many years ago. The Daily Mail called him the Ò true star of the raceÓ . You know youÕ ve arrived as a refugee in Britain when you receive praise from the Daily Mail. Shaho actually arrived in 2003, smuggled into the country in a lorry from his native Kurdistan. he lost his legs at the age of 13, when Saddam husseinÕ s forces attacked his hometown halabja. Shaho was granted asylum in the uK in 2004, and got his first wheelchair the same year. he remembers early struggles in hostel accommodation where there
was no wheelchair access. But he soon became notorious with other residents for zooming up and down the local streets in his wheelchair. Then he wheeled himself into the gym at the end of his road, and met his current trainer, Charlie Browne. Ò he was beaming with enthusiasm and an unbridled desire to complete the marathon in his wheelchair,Ó Brown remembers. Shaho began an intensive training regime, and a long-standing partnership with Brown. Ò Apart from the immediate loving, caring, generous and kind personality that meets you the moment you come into contact with him, Shaho has an amazing determination and focus,Ó his trainer adds. Shaho puts his positive attitude down to the troubles he has seen in his past, and the freedom and opportunities he now enjoys as a resident in Britain. Ò So many people in the world are suffering, so how can we complain about life here in London. This is one of the greatest cities, in one of the greatest countries. We can do whatever sport we want, and live any life we want.Ó Today six years, countless marathons, charity fundraisers and a pair of prosthetic legs later, Shaho has become a sporting icon
in London, and an inspiration to all who come into contact with him. he has even conquered New York, completing the marathon last year on prosthetic legs, in an amazing time of 6 hrs 40 mins, carrying the Kurdish flag with him: Ò I felt like I owned the world,Ó Shaho said at the time. his love of his homeland brought him back this summer to Kurdistan to complete a documentary called Finding My Legs. But it is here in London that ShahoÕ s competitive sporting career could reach its pinnacle, at the 2012 Paralympics. his coach Charlie Browne says that once he turns his focus back to training, Ò Shaho has all the ingredients and local support to become world class Ð 2012 should be a great opportunity for him to inspire.Ó Shaho himself prefers to look past that event to a more varied future of participating in different sports and charity races Ð raising money and inspiring young people to choose sport over drink and drugs: Ò For me, that is my gold medal,Ó he says.
How football saved my life
PHOTOGRAPH: TOM KinG
Afshin Azizian was a professional footballer from Iran, alone, homeless and unable to speak English, when he kick-started his life in London My name is Afshin Azizian. I come from Iran. My anti-establishment views, my political activities against the current regime and my religious beliefs Ð I am a Christian Ð led me to prison and torture. It came to the point that I had to flee for my life. I arrived in the uK in 1995. It was February 1996 when I was released from the immigration detention centre at harmondsworth. I was given a room in a very dirty hostel which was for people who had drug and alcohol problems but I had none of those problems. I could not understand the language. I had no idea what to do. I was a professional footballer in Iran, so I went to a park near to where I was living and watched people playing football. I wanted so much to play a game with them but I could not speak any english. I sat there in Fortune Green Park in West hampstead every day from morning till evening and then I left, going home disappointed. One day they had one player less. By that time they had become familiar with my face as they had seen me sitting there every day. So one of them approached me and asked me whether I wanted to play. I could not understand what he was saying but I could
see the inviting hand. I replied, Ò Yes.Ó he pointed at my feet, indicating that I did not have shoes or boots on. I was wearing flip-flops. I replied, Ò It is OK, I will play.Ó All this was communicated in sign language. So I started playing and I scored two goals in my bare feet, one of them with an overhead kick, which was my special technique. They became very interested in my style of playing, and after the game they asked me where I lived. So I showed them my place as it was very close to the park. They asked if it would OK with me that they come and take me to different places to play football with them. I gladly said yes. A few days later they suggested that if I taught them how to do the overhead kick they would teach me the english language. They said that every time I scored an overhead kick goal they would teach me 10 new words. For many months this continued and my english was improving very fast as a result. After the games they used to take me to pub and buy me a drink. They became my friends. Football took away all the language and cultural barriers between us and enabled me to mix with the local community.
Street football World Cup in Milan will help the homeless by Anne Mullee Changing lives through sport is the aim of the homeless World Cup, founded by Mel Young, a Glaswegian who came up with the idea for the tournament after an evening trying to put the world to rights over some beers with an Austrian colleague. Both had spent many years working with homeless people. Ò ItÕ s the international language of football,Ó explains Young. After their first Ò Scotland v AustriaÓ match in the 2003, the street-style soccer event has become an annual challenge involving teams from 60 countries. Ò The key thing is the psychological change, and what happens with football is that itÕ s easy to get involved and quickly become part of a team which is like a family,Ó he says. Players in training are given help by the homeless World Cup charity. More than 70 per cent experience a big improvement in their lives Ð they come off drugs, get homes or further their education Ð and many go on to coach new teams. This yearÕ s tournament takes place on the streets of the Italian city of Milan from 6-13 September and all matches are free to spectators. www.homelessworldcup.org.