Thursday, 17 November 2011

LASSN at the Leeds International Film Festival

At the beginning of November, a total of around 100 people attended two events that had been organised between LASSN and the Leeds International Film Festival, to highlight some issues regarding refugees and asylum seekers and to provoke discussion about whether we do enough as communities to support asylum seekers and refugees.

The first event was the showing of the feature documentary Sierra Leone's Regfugee Allstars. A story of a band formed by refugees from Sierra Leone in Guinea and their return home.

The second event, attended by about 60 people was an evening of short film and discussion entitled 'Do We Do Enough?'. There were 3 short films and 2 talks from refugees who kindly shared their experiences of the asylum system with the crowd. The films we showed were the following and you can watch them here.

The Destitution Trap, by Refugee Action:

Sanctuary, by Lovejit K Dhaliwal: (this is not the full version)

Sanctuary from Lovejit Dhaliwal on Vimeo.

And 1000 Voices, by Tim Travers Hawkins:

Ctrl.Alt.Shift Film Competition Winner: 1000 Voices from Ctrl.Alt.Shift on Vimeo.

It sparked some interesting discussion in an almost full room and was successful in drawing in lots of new faces not already involved with refugees and asylum seekers in Leeds. Thanks to LIFF for facilitating our events at their festival this year.

Thursday, 29 September 2011

Amnesty International

Amnesty International

by Judy Kessler

AI has been working for 50 years to promote Human Rights. It was started in response to a lawyer reading a newspaper article about two Portuguese students who had been arrested and imprisoned for making a toast, in public, to democracy.

Prisoners of Conscience are any person who has been imprisoned for making statement or performing actions which would lead to more justice for their group. They must never have used or advocated violence. PoC are adopted and supported by local Amnesty groups * by means of writing letters to the government, public officials who are concerned with the case, the prisoner themselves and their family. This can be a long term affair ! When PoC are eventually released they say how grateful they were to receive such support as they felt they were not alone. Knowing that the case has been recognized by Amnesty can, in many cases, improve the conditions of the PoC.

AI is a worldwide organization with a membership in excess of 3million people who work quietly and persistently for Human Rights and Justice.

Letter writing to governments is a key way of working. The letters are unfailingly polite and diplomatic but uncompromising in their demand for justice. When thousands of letters arrive asking for the same thing it can have a profound effect. It also means the plight of that PoC can no longer be hidden.

AI also demonstrates peacefully to raise awareness of issues. For instance each year, in Leeds, AI holds a public display to collect signatures to try and have all the countries of the UN recognize the rights of the child by banning the use of child soldiers. The Leeds group have also worked to promote awareness of violence against women and the irresponsible way in which oil has been extracted in West Africa leading to pollution of the environment.

A huge campaign was held to try to prevent the execution of Troy Davis in the USA recently. AI is very much against the death penalty. A group will be going to Strasbourg in October to lobby for specific Human Rights causes.
A key role of AI is to have international researchers to get to the truth of situations.

If you want to find out more please look up and for the local group.

* The Leeds group has adopted a prisoner of conscience from Indonesia called Johan Teterissa

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Country Profiles - Eritrea

Our friends at RETAS have started this series of blog posts on the top 30 countries that asylum seekers come from to the U.K, beginning with the African country Eritrea. The original can be found HERE..

Imagine living in a country rated as having less freedom of the press than North Korea. A one party state holding a country in a continual repressive regime, using war as an excuse to rule by force.

The State of Eritrea split away from Ethiopia in 1993, though its border is still disputed, leaving the country in a perpetual state of war. Ruled by the ironically titled People’s Front for Democracy and Justice, the government that was created to set up a democracy have repeatedly postponed and cancelled national legislative elections. Over the last ten years President Isayas Afewerki’s leadership has overseen a steady erosion of human rights, fair justice and press freedom.

The population of Eritrea is the second most militarized in the world according to the International Institute of Strategic Studies, both men and women are required to undertake in a minimum of 18 months national service, however this is often extended indefinitely. There are reports of army labour being used to maintain property owned by generals or government employees, and the pay for military service is a pittance.

Most disturbingly of all, thousands of Eritreans are detained in known and secret detention centre’s, often without charge or trial, and no idea if they will ever be released.

People ‘disappear’ into these prisons for opposing the unelected leaders. Religion is also strictly controlled, people are only allowed to believe in approved faiths, and their place of worship must be registered and approved by the state.

No record is released giving the number of Eritreans incarcerated, and many detention facilities are in secret locations. Exiled citizens have spoken about being held in underground bunkers, regular beatings, even being tied up under the blazing sun or hung by their arms from trees. There is a shoot to kill policy if people are seen escaping across the border.

Leeds has a large Eritrean community, and various charities to help with asylum application, counseling and integrating into British life.

RETAS is based in Harehills and believes that every refugee that comes to West Yorkshire deserves help and support in finding training and employment, to begin a new life in the U.K

Article by Jake Davies, Journalism student and RETAS volunteer

For more information take a look at these sites

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Immigration Advisory Service- 'gone into administration'

From Bristol Indymedia:

The Immigration Advisory Service, the UK’s largest charity providing representation and advice in immigration and asylum law, has gone into administration leaving hundreds of people without access to the legal representation -that they are entitled to.

The closure is a shock to clients and staff alike, offices have closed without warning, leaving much urgent and time specific work hanging. Staff in Bristol were informed by cleaners in their building late last Friday that bailiffs had been in to seize assets. There are an estimated 650 active cases affected in Bristol alone, including asylum, human rights, domestic violence, with thousands more accross the country.

People who are legitimately trying to pursue their claim for asylum will be left anxious and unsure what will happen next. Bristol Refugee Rights manager Caroline Beatty, who works at a local drop in service for asylum seekers and refugees said, "It would be a devastating blow if the service cannot continue.”

Local caseworkers are determined to try and re-open somehow but currently have no access to files and the offices are closed. The Bristol office represents about 70% of the case load of the three legal aid asylum advice providers in the area with the Law Centre and South West Law.

The LSC, Legal Services Commission said in a statement today they were, “Identifying alternative advice provision in the areas affected and arrangements for case transfer will follow as soon as possible.” But even if the contract currently held by IAS is made available to another provider, there will be a gap in service with disastrous impact on clients and their cases, and the loss of expertise held by the current staff at IAS would be immeasurable.

If however, this enormously important resource is not replaced at all, it would turn the already extremely difficult UK asylum process, into a “fiasco”.

Caroline Beatty explained, “Without representation claimants have almost no chance of the positive decision they can hope for when the case is properly constructed, and which they so desperately need."

Letters of support of service to MPs have been requested by local staff. Please write to your MP TODAY and support IAS caseworkers attempts to stay open in Bristol.

More info on campaign actions will be posted as soon as it is available.

Anyone who needs immigration advice should contact the Community Legal Advice helpline on 0845 345 4 345.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Proud and Disappointed of the UK

By Peter Richardson, Director of LASSN

Over the past 12 years more than 1,100 journalists and media staff have been killed in the line of duty. None of them in the UK. We can be proud of our country, the freedom of our press and our record on human rights. But I'm also disappointed.

Last night's Refugee Week event in Leeds included talks from two prominent journalists from West Africa (see also). We heard accounts of personal imprisonment and beatings, and saw disturbing pictures of violence.

Charles Atangana was detained in Cameroon for 40 days. In this first period of detention he was beaten and tortured. He was later detained for a further 52 days - this time in the UK. He wasn't beaten or tortured in the UK but how can it be right for us to lock him up simply for seeking sanctuary here.

James Fallah has been in the UK for 12 years. For 9 years he was an active member of society with full legal rights. He studied, he worked and he paid tax and national insurance. Suddenly last year his permission to work was revoked, his asylum claim refused and James now faces an uncertain future.

The evening finished with a song from Women Asylum Seekers Together. A refused asylum seeker sang to us, telling us "How beautiful you are" and telling us "your handouts are a hope to our needs." I know she has been destitute in the UK, with not a single penny of support. She only survived because of the local church providing food and a place to sleep.

We can rightly be proud of the UK. In our country it is safe to express discontent and safe to challenge the government. A recent survey showed that we are proud to be British. It also showed that almost all of us (82%) believe that protecting the most vulnerable is a core British value.

We should be proud but I can't help feeling disappointed at how we treat some of the most vulnerable people who seek sanctuary here.