Monday, 26 July 2010

The Flag of Pride and Terror.


The rush hour had passed and the roads were now being cleansed with torrential rain. The journalists with luck on their side were safely inside, whilst the less fortunate arrived completely soaked. None of this lessened the desire to hear the stories of two Ethiopians seeking asylum in the UK after publishing objective accounts of cultural life back in their home countries. Unlike the leadership of Mugabe in Zimbabwe, we hear little of Ethiopia, which the British and American governments tend to portray as a place for rights and democracy. However this portrait is much idealised. Back in 2005 the Ethiopian electorate voted overwhelmingly for a new government, but since the military are closely associated with political parties this vote for change was simply ignored. It’s hard for Ethiopians to protest peacefully about this situation since it’s practically impossible to establish an impartial and independent press. Newspaper funding is needed from somewhere and this often comes through advertising. If the paper publishes an article that is critical of the government, then those advertising would be accused of dissent by association. Opposition against the government’s sovereign ideologies is now an imprisonable offence since the introduction of various civil society and anti-terrorism laws. Prominent international journalists might be spared intimidation for fear of international criticism, but lesser personalities will have their voices beaten into submission, and their businesses and homes vandalised. The government makes astonishing claims that most private media companies are funded by foreign bodies with terrorist associations, and without the support of the judicial system to provide security and support journalists speaking out publicly are right to worry.

The speakers voiced their desire for there to be less political struggle for power within government and more focus on improving issues that would truly benefit society. They asked that young people follow their own consciences, to be the change that they wanted to see.

There are many reasons for which Ethiopians are proud of their country. Ethiopia was never colonised and is known as a very significant place of early civilisation. It has amazing spiritual heritage where Haile Selassie was revered among the Rastasfari movement as well as abroad for his diplomacy. All over the world we also enjoy the taste of Ethiopian coffee.

Change is possible, but more than likely it will be a generational one. Young adults now have limited access to global discussion through internet forums. Gradually Revolutionary Democracy and the memories of the Ethiopian Red Terror will fade.
In the mean time asylum seekers battle with a new front of social change, adapting to ways of life in the UK. The weather is unstable. No kidding, the unexpected summer rain outside is still so loud we can hardly hear ourselves talk. Gender roles are very different in Britain, as is the English language that the problem of regional accents only exacerbates. Many professional qualifications are not recognised between countries, and so many cleaners or security guards might have been your doctor, nurse or courtroom judge in different circumstances.

Support and celebration of Ethiopian life continues here through Leeds Refugee Forum, LASSN and Lucy Amharic Radio. Tune in and find out!

Friday, 9 July 2010

"Why do you choose to be homosexual when its illegal in your country?"

It doesn’t take much for the media to reveal its true colours and this week they have exemplified this in the incredibly bigoted and misinformed reaction to the fantastic decision to grant asylum to two homosexual men who face persecution in their own countries for their sexuality. The headlines are hardly surprising, its not that often that the tabloids get to combine their homophobia and racism in a single article. The Daily Star running with ‘No Room For Gays’ is almost unbelievable, The Sun also runs with ‘Gay Illegals Can Stay’ but even the BBC News 24 reporter’s instant reaction was essentially; ‘Well, surely now they will all just say they are gay so they can stay’.

Not only did this case point the the bigotry of the media (which it of course doesnt take a genius to uncover), it also highlights a couple of other points, the pathetic methods of the UK Border Agency (which a previous article has already outlined the potential affects of) and also the media’s contradictions.

Firstly, in the Refugee Action email out after the ruling, they highlighted how the UKBA staff who assess cases such as this were focusing not on the persecution but on the sexuality, for example the following question was asked:

“Why do you choose to be a homosexual when it is illegal in your country?”

Its difficult to know where to start in trying to dissect the faults in this question. It presupposes that one chooses their sexuality, suggests that if you are homosexual you should not do it if its illegal and thereby legitimises the concept of criminalising a sexuality (but in another country). Their previous ruling that people should go back to their home countries and ‘be discreet’ about their sexuality continues to display an utter lack of understanding. Would they send a member of the Zimbabwean opposition party the MDC back and tell them to be discreet about their politics?

Lastly I want to point out the striking contradiction of the tabloid press which has occured simultaneously to their disgust at the granting of asylum to the to men concerned here in the campaign to prevent the stoning of Sakineh Mohammadi-Ashtiani (I have provided The Sun link here). Its very positive that people are questioning the state repression of the Islamic Republic and have decided to campaign against the stoning of a woman accused of adultery. However the contradiction lies in the fact that one of the homosexual men which apparently there is not room for is also Iranian. So, they will campaign to stop the persecution of a woman awaiting a terrible fate in Iran, but they will condemn the ruling which keeps a man from returning to a different kind of persecution in the same country. Is it that he is homosexual, or that he is an asylum seeker that they don’t support him? Or is it another way to maniuplate anti-Islamic sentiment and an easy way to score points over the barbarism of the Muslim regime?

In order to understand the contradiction of the press, try this. Think about what would happen if the stories were reversed; if the court had ruled that a woman who committed adultery would not be returned to Iran because of the persecution she would face and a homosexual man was going to be stoned to death in the same country. What would be the reaction then? ‘No room for adulterers?’ I think not.

Saturday, 3 July 2010

Red Hand Campaign

Amnesty International Leeds Group rounded off Refugee Week with a stall in the busy centre of Leeds. 224 members of the public signed an eye-catching petition made of red hand-prints to support the Red Hand Campaign, which aims to persuade every country to ratify the United Nations Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict. The Protocol exists to stop countries from forcing anyone under 18 to participate in military hostilities. It is crucial that all countries ratify it: children forced into conflict have been known to be sent into minefields and sometimes even used for suicide missions. Some of the child soldiers living in countries yet to ratify the Protocol are as young as 8 years old.

The Amnesty team will send the petition to the UK embassies of the 61 countries that are yet to ratify the Protocol. Petitioners took away information about the plight of refugees and asylum seekers in the UK, including myth-busting booklets, a DVD about destitution, and a summary of the Convention and Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees. The stall also had a quiz to identify some of the main countries that produce refugees (many of which are also yet to sign the Optional Protocol), and children were given official (and very popular!) Refugee Week balloons and stickers to take home.

Many of the children who are forced into armed conflict become refugees. It is only this year that the UK government has promised to end the detention of children in immigration removal centres, some of whom may have been child soldiers in their home countries. It is vitally important to encourage every country to sign the Protocol to prevent children from being forced into dangerous and traumatic situations, which could in turn force them to leave their home countries to seek uncertain refuge elsewhere.