“I am human” 

A couple of days ago, I finally got round to going to see Dear Home Office – a play that has been on my mind and agenda for a long time. I know it’s only February but it was without a doubt the best thing I have done this year. Unfortunately, they performed their final show on Wednesday night but they already have plans for a second one in the Spring. Not only was it incredible to see young asylum seekers and refugees on the stage acting, speaking in a language that for most, does not come natural to them, it was incredible and so important to hear their stories. It is the first step towards defeating this narrow minded attitude we see far too often and my only wish would be for more people to see it. I probably have quite a reputation among many for my strong opinions and my lack of respect for individuals who simply do not like foreigners and have the ‘we must help people at home attitude’ before we help others. There is not a bone in my body that will let me agree with that. Let me tell you why.

Globally, there are over 60 million displaced individuals who have been forced to leave their homes due to war/violence, political, religious, ethnic or sexual persecution. It is estimated that over half of these people are children. Now, I do not believe that adults have less of a right to flee or seek asylum and live a life free of fear and persecution but I, as I’m sure many would agree, cannot and will not accept that any child should have to live a life in fear with the threat of persecution. Children are often used as pawns in political games, held ransom or exploited in various ways in conflicts or political situations globally and are therefore, often forced to flee. Many young people are sent away alone by their families. This is not an easy decision for anyone to make and I can assure you that many children do not want to leave their families but often parents want their children to have a better life and therefore send them away (using all or most the money they have been able to save) in hope of a better life in Europe.

Due to the current attitudes of western governments (and many eastern countries too), the only route is usually an ‘illegal’ route and therefore requires people smugglers. People smugglers are the pits of society. I will not hold back in calling them vulgar, ungodly beings who simply exploit vulnerable, scared individuals and treat them as commodities to get as much money out of the families of those travelling as possible. But unfortunately, due to the closed boarders and impossibility of legal entry for those travelling without documents and visas, smugglers are left as the only option. The fact that anyone actually makes it to their final destination in Europe is alone a miracle. Many of these journeys are done squeezed into tiny spaces in vehicles where there is no room to breathe or, on foot where the terrain is so rough you could quite simply fall off a cliff. And that doesn’t take into consideration the lack of food, water and sanitisation along the way. For many, its often normal to go days without any food and with minimal water – if not longer.

As if that isn’t bad enough, certain countries have reputations for shooting at ‘migrants’ making the journeys across borders. Sometimes this could be the police (Iran and Bulgaria are both known for this), whilst in other places, it could be mafia groups (such as in Turkey) who also often try to kidnap asylum seekers on their journey and hold them for ransom. Often, individuals end up in prison – beaten and starved – some are released as guards are bribed, some are released only if they pay for their return, escorted journeys. All of this is only made possible by countries desires to prevent asylum seekers and refugees seeking safety in a ‘safe’ way. Safe passages are simply not provided.

So you’ve been through all this, manage to somehow keep going (or repeat the journey you’ve made) and you’ve reached Turkey or, if you’re coming from Africa, you’ve reached Libya. You’re ready to get to Europe – to Greece or to Italy. How do you get there? A rubber dingy full of far too many people in a life jacket that is a fake that you our your family have paid more than an arm and a leg for. We have all seen on the news the tragedies that can happen on this journey. Many do not make it. Images of Aylan Kurdi drowning on the beach horrified all those with a heart. Yet since then, nothing has changed. Thousands of people have been drowning in the sea every year and nothing has changed. Do we think their blood is cheap? That because thousands of people are being murdered in the countries they came from, what does it matter if a few more die on the way to escape? I’ve said it before – the international postcode lottery is all that decides where we are. It could be me, it could be you.

So lets say you survive. You managed to hold onto that boat for dear life, you didn’t fall in and your fake life jacket didn’t let you drown. You’ve reached the shores of Europe. Now what? Trains and buses have sometimes been routes – sometimes even paid for by authorities in a hope that these people won’t settle in their country – I mean who would want such resilient, often smart foreigners anyway hey? So you battle your way through Europe, either by foot, by car, by bus or train. But where is your destination? With the rise of right wing populism, the recent Brexit vote and such a fear of ‘terrorism’ from refugees, where do you go? So many people are so scared of you – I mean they’ve never met you – but you’re foreign and you’re probably Muslim or from a majority Muslim country (which is obviously the same to them). Your smuggler has got you to mainland Europe, each time you get a country further, your smuggler gets more money from your family back home or from you (potentially you’ll have had to do some god-awful work for months in order to pay them along the way) so they’re going to take you to the UK. Yep, the furthest possible place they can think of in Europe. Thats lots of money for them. What a great idea! You don’t know a lot about England – perhaps the football teams, they play cricket and they speak English.

You reach Calais. Theres thousands of others waiting there too. Your told you have to wait to jump on the back of a lorry. You have no idea how long you could be waiting. You thought your wait in Turkey, in Greece was long – those months waiting, scared, nervous to finish your journey. You’re so close. Yet so far. You could be stuck here for a year, maybe longer. Finally, you get the call to go. The latest smuggling agent has found you a lorry to jump on. Its a giant freezer. It could kill you but its the only chance you have.

The next day, you wake up. You’re almost frozen but you’ve done it. You’re in the UK. Next step….. The bureaucratic asylum system. You become a number, your name, your age, your story – does anyone care?

But you are human. Just like me, just like anyone.

On Wednesday 8th February, the British government further let down young unaccompanied asylum seekers as it back tracked on its promise to take in thousands of refugees under the Dubs agreement. The actual figure appears to be around the 350 mark.To stand against government back tracks on helping young refugees and asylum seekers, please sign the following petition http://www.citizensuk.org/dubs_petition

To see information on Dear Home Office: @WeArePhosphoros 

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Dear Donald….

Donald Trump is someone I’m sure we would all rather not have to talk about. I for one wish I did not have to waste my time thinking about the man, let alone let him bring me to writing about him. But it has become unavoidable. It’s time to face the man at the forefront of post-truthism. The concept of a Mexican Wall was bad enough, his so called ‘pro-life’ anti-abortion stance was bad enough. Yet for me, the final straw was his treatment of nationals from those seven particular countries. That sir, was one step too far.

As a proactive campaigner for refugees rights (and as someone who works weekly with refugees and asylum seekers), Donald Trump’s proclamation of banning the entry of anyone from Syria, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Yemen, Sudan and Somalia is an utter disgrace and outrage. Not only is it completely pointless when we come to America’s favourite subject – terrorism, its damn right obnoxious and heartless. So lets take a step back. ‘Terrorists’ that America seems to constantly be so scared about (despite the fact that you’re probably more likely to get shot by your toddler with the gun you casually keep in your house) have tended to be from Saudi Arabia, Pakistan or the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Surprise, surprise they’re not on the list. Of course, we must prevent ‘Islamic Terror’ unless they’re from a country that we’re so reliant on being friends with (I mean oil, hello). Therefore, for Trump to claim this ban to be because of so-called ‘terrorist’ threats is absurd. Yes Islamic State are real but over 90% of the people who have been killed by them are Muslim. In Syria or Iraq. You know, the ones who want to flee to safety?

Second of all, conflict, terror or human rights abuses significantly affect all the states that Trump has taken issue with. Syria and Yemen are both in the midsts of deadly civil wars that appear to have no end in sight. Sudan has experienced political turmoil for as long as can be remembered with past genocides, sectarian issues and human rights abuses. Somalia – after escaping war, has seen itself divulged into a fight against Al Shabab (an offshoot of Al Qaeda). And Libya. Libya, Libya. After overthrowing Qaddafi, has seen itself in civil war as well as fighting off an offshoot of Islamic State. Last of all, Iran. Iran might not have an issue with civil war but the human rights abuses are unreal. Kurds, women, Sunnis, Bahai. You name it.

All because they’re Muslim? Some might be Christian, Jewish, Bahai. Is that even relevant?

So now lets get real. There are millions of people displaced globally right now. Estimates put half of them as children. Yet ‘the land of the free’ calls them ‘terrorists’, or people who are not worthy of being safe or free from oppression. Yet Donald Trump gets up on his high horse proclaiming that he is ‘pro-life’. PRO WHOS LIFE? You don’t care about the millions of people across the globe, persecuted, shot down, struggling to get by. Many of them who have seen their only families die behind their own eyes. Families who send their kids for safety in hope of giving them the future they could never have.

But we will not be silent. The world will not sit back and watch one vulgar human being treat humanity like this. We will not rest until justice is served. We must not rest until humanity is free and these borders that are nothing short of social constructions are destroyed. We are all human beings. We are all one. This is not about politics, this is about humanity. And anyone who cares about humanity will shout until there is no need to shout anymore.

The Arab Spring & Oil

The so-called ‘Arab Spring’ has troubled the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) significantly since 2010.  The protests were a shock to many around the world as no one had predicted such protests and consequently revolutions or wars could or would happen in the MENA region. However, once it became clear that this ‘domino effect’ was happening, people began to question whether there were any correlations between the nations involved.  One of the main things questioned was the role of oil. The majority of states that have experienced significant protest or civil war have not been states in possession of large quantities of oil.  So does rentier state theory explain the failure of mass mobilisation in certain states?

Let’s role it back to how this ‘Arab Spring’ began. In December 2010 in Tunisia Mohamed Bouazizi, a fruit and veg seller set himself on fire in protest against corruption in the country. This led to all out protest in the nation and the overthrow of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. The protests soon spread as in January 2011, they broke out in Yemen and Jordan swiftly followed by Egypt in February 2011 following the Mukhabart beating to death Khaled Said (of which pictures appeared on the internet sparking outrage). A couple of weeks later, Hosni Mubarak resigned. The Libyan people joined the ‘Arab Spring’ in February 2011 too along with Bahrain, Morocco, Oman and Algeria followed by Syria and Saudi Arabia in March 2011 and finally, Kuwait in the summer of 2011. Every protest was different in nature and outcome as some were easily resolved by their leaders, others involved regime change or even counter-revolution and many continue to suffer grave civil war to this day.

Of all the states that were involved in the Arab Spring, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Algeria and Libya were the only states with significant oil assets and Libya was the only state that saw dramatic change.

At first glance, it appears that states involved in the Spring that had oil wealth were able to survive the upheaval. Due to the sheer amount of money that these states make from producing oil, they were able to ‘buy off’ their citizens – which is exactly what Saudi Arabia did. Saudi Arabia put $136 billion into the public sector to help fund housing and unemployment. This undoubtedly prevented citizens from wanting to revolt further – along with the fact that people were arrested and often tried in courts specifically used for terrorism charges. The Saudis were also able to use their oil influence in Bahrain where they helped the Bahraini King suppress rebellion with military force (probably paid for by oil).

Although on the surface oil (rentier-state theory) may be useful in explaining why certain states did not have to deal with the mass mobilisation of their citizens during the ‘Arab Spring’, it doesn’t truthfully represent it. Oil prices fell during the late 1980s and we didn’t see political liberalisation then and also, there were a number of other causes such as the  authoritarian or monarchic (although monarchies can also be authoritarian) nature of governments and the protests themselves.

Arguably, it wasn’t the fact that oil producing states had financial abilities but it was how we used them. The Gulf monarchies attempted to consult and include the vast majority of the population rather than just a particular group of supporters – something that Libya failed to do. Libya did not use their oil wealth to appease their citizens in a successful way which ultimately led to widespread protests that spiralled. When Qaddafi finally attempted to ‘buy off’ his citizens (with $24 billion for housing) it was too little, too late. This just goes to show that some states were a lot more willing to use their oil wealth to buy off their citizens and prevent them protesting than others. Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Monarchies recognised this ability – Libya, did not.

The majority of states in MENA are either ruled by monarchical or authoritarian governments. Its arguable that Monarchies were able to retain power without much issue during the ‘Arab Spring’ due to the nature of their regime and the tradition it entailed. Monarchies sit outside the normal legislative institutions making it easier for them to quell protest and offer reforms in an easier manner – due to the differing factions in the legislature. In Saudi Arabia reforms were granted as women gained certain political rights as well as noted changes to interfaith dialogues and the judicial system. Libya on the other hand played off clan and ethnic differences and held central importance to the army to stamp out process. The army then split into two meaning that civil war broke out. This is something we have also seen in Egypt and Syria – deserters – yet we have not seen it with monarchical regimes as they still retain full support of their militaries. Qaddafi came to power in 1969 following a military coup and played off deep divisions in the country ensuring he followed authoritarian rule. This created a fractured and distrustful society, which ultimately was prepared to rebel against authoritarian rule.

My last point is that the nature of the protests varied significantly. In Saudi Arabia protests were pretty limited – the majority of protests were in the Eastern Province, the Shia dominated region of a Sunni nation. Limited groups were involved in the protest such as the Free Youth Coalition and the National Youth Movement (both Shia). The protests did not call for the direct overthrow of the regime, only for changes to human rights and putting an end to corruption. There were vary few Sunnis who became involved in the protests. This meant that unity and mass mobilisation was not going to happen due to sectarianism being used as a counter-revolutionary strategy. This was the opposite to Libya were protest was widespread and mainstream. Libyan protests expanded nationwide and even set up the National Transitional Council (NTC). There were numerous opposition groups which had grown abroad as well as underground at home such as the Libyan Constitutional Union and the Libyan Islamic Group and, to top it off for Qaddafi, most the Arab world despised him making it a lot easier to overthrow him.

So, although oil wealth helped states that were willing to use their oil wealth to ‘buy off their citizens’, it was very much dependent on whether the state in question was willing to do so. Saudi Arabia was willing to put billions into employment benefits, housing and public sector pay and therefore this, to an extent, helped prevent mass mobilisation. Libya on the other hand, attempted to put a few billion into the state welfare and citizens, in particular housing, but it was very much seen as far too little and far too late. Furthermore, the protests themselves and their demands and the nature of the regime played significant roles. In Libya, a large section of society called for the fall of the regime whereas in Saudi Arabia, a limited sect of society protested. Furthermore, due to its monarchical nature and the support of their armed forces, they were more capable of overcoming unrest in the early stages whereas, in Libya, the authoritarian regime lacked the overall support of the military and therefore, the regime fell.