The autumn has arrived, so happy New Year to all Jews, Muslims and Copts. I know that Keats liked the autumn, but I prefer the summer. I prefer it so much that I failed to produce a newsletter in either July or August. I am sorry about that. Just because yours truly was slacking, it does not imply that everybody else was not working very hard (too many negatives?). The big headline news is that we are now just shy of £2500 a month. One thing which we need to do in the New Year is work out how to take a fundraising to the next level because the need is only going to grow.
Even more exciting than the financial data is the belated arrival of the other half of one of the families you have been supporting. The male and the female half of the family are now back together. It’s been a real struggle (although again, one that yours truly has skived off), but finally everybody can start to move on with their lives. It’s not quite over yet. The Home Office have to be persuaded that grandma is an integral part of the family. It is still a major victory. We will put all the details into another newsletter. But thank you all of you who have made it possible.
We had a wonderful ceilidh. It is becoming an annual event. I think we should call it the T4 ceilidh. It was full of fun love and silly dancing. Don’t worry if you couldn’t make it. There is an evening of friendship, prose, poetry and music at Exeter Street Hall on 6 October. Tickets are available here. (If you want more moving writing, the Friends Meeting House is hosting an evening of Syrian food, music and poetry on Fri 5 October. I am afraid I can’t find any links to online publicity, but it is happening). You can also drop into the Jollof Cafe at the Cowley Club on any Tuesday lunchtime to hang out with some of the gang.
The ceilidh included a very moving address by two sisters who were kind enough and brave enough to out themselves as asylum seekers and talk about the mystifying meanness of the UK’s asylum process. It remains shocking that this country forces those seeking protection into destitution. One thing that made the address so powerful for me was just how clearly bought out the kind of soul destroying nature of a system that treats people seeking protection as worthless and as liars. It doesn’t have to be like that and hopefully this project and similar projects are the start of a lasting change.
Although I have mostly been on holiday in Asturias, I did take a trip down to the Straits of Gibraltar to meet up some people working in a project called, “Alarm Phone” to get a sense of what is happening on the Moroccan-Spanish border. It was an eye-opening experience. It was the first time that I have actually been to the coalface, so to speak. Being the fortunate possessor of a maroon passport, we were able to make the crossing to Morocco in safety despite the terrifyingly rough seas. It is a pretty uncomfortable crossing a large ferry. To do it in a small rubber dinghy ought to be inconceivable.
We were able to link up with people working on both sides of the border. That experience brought home to me something that perhaps I should have already realised. European states are doing everything in their power to hide refugees from view. There are around about 400,000 sub- Saharan Africans in Morocco waiting to make the crossing into Europe. You don’t have to have your eyes open to see it in Tangers. People are in the city trying to raise a bit of money or to find food or medicine. What we didn’t see are the squatted encampments in the hills around the border where, in the words of the activists we met from the Ivory Coast and Senegal, “it’s war” with the Moroccan authorities. It’s important to remember, of course, that those Moroccan police and military are being paid large sums of money by the European Union to keep sub-Saharan Africans away from the border.
On the Spanish side of the strait, where in August, sometimes hundreds of people were arriving every day, you couldn’t see a thing unless you went looking for it. Arrivals are taken to temporary detention facilities. They are held for 72 hours, fingerprinted, given medical checkups, showers, food and then released. It seems that people are given a bus ticket to other places in Spain if they can show they have a connection there. Many people seem to be bused to the greenhouses in Almeria. We met a few people who had been through the process and nobody had any complaints about it.
It’s not that I’m objecting to a process that rescues people at sea and gives them a shower and a medical. That’s definitely a good thing. What I do think is that when it’s combined with a no holds barred approach to preventing people entering that process, you have to see it in a different light. It seems to me that what happened in 2014 was profoundly dangerous for the status quo. Suddenly people who had been systematically excluded from anywhere on earth were visibly in limbo in Europe. The resulting outpouring of sympathy and solidarity was exactly what you would expect from human beings.
We hear a lot about the problem of immigration, but the real problem, it seems to me, is that there are very large number of people who have no right to live anywhere. That problem has been created because of the legal frameworks which have been adopted in this country and elsewhere. The consequences of that problem need to be hidden from sight otherwise there is too much pressure to change the legal framework. It also means that when we are trying to find somewhere for someone to exercise their right to life, we have to work collectively. The problem is not the people leave, but that they are not allowed to arrive. We have to make that problem visible. I like to think that, by mobilising communities to make homes out of our spare change, T4K does just that.