For many around the globe, March 2021 marks a milestone. A year since lockdowns began across Europe and further afield. For us in the UK, it marks 12 months of worry, fear and changes to the daily routine. We may have missed family members, celebrated festivals alone or perhaps found ourselves without work. It has been a year of uncertainty and loss.
For Syrians however, it is not one year they mourn this March, but ten. This month marks a decade since the Syrian conflict began and the once prosperous country descended into civil war. While much of the country has returned to relative peace, the nation now faces multiple challenges as it attempts to rebuild and recover from the violence. In what has been labelled by the United Nations as the “worst man-made disaster the world has seen since World War II”, over 5.6 million Syrians have become refugees, with 6.1 internally displaced Syrians and 11 million estimated in need of humanitarian aid. The floundering economy has left many Syrians living in poverty and struggling to survive. The scars of the conflict have not yet begun to heal on the open wounds of the once tranquil land.
For my class of ten year olds, they have only known Syria through headlines and the vocal calls for refugees to be restricted. The Brexit referendum was couched in the language of fear mongering about refugees entering the UK and stealing our jobs, as Nigel Farage advertised long lines of migrants attempting to enter the UK to persuade people to vote against EU citizenship. The conflict has drawn in extremists from across the globe – including the UK. Cases such as that of Shamima Begum continue to conjure up the recent memories of Syria as a violent, dangerous place where all live in constant fear of death. My class has never been given the opportunity to know any different, or to view the country in any other light.
So this week, as part of our studies on ‘Migration and Refugees’, I invited a Syrian friend to speak to my students about life in Syria before the war. She conjured up such an evocative image of serenity, education and freedom, complete with photos of idyllic lakes and mountains, that half of them were considering Syria for their next holiday! We then began a debate on whether the UK should take in Syrian refugees. Before we discussed the issues, we took an initial vote and 19 of my class voted yes, with 6 being unsure and 4 voting no. We discussed the issues and then looked at some newspaper headlines describing the “flood” of “scroungers” and “freeloaders” trying to enter the UK. The impact on the class was instant and visible. Many immediately began repeating the ideas expressed in the headlines. At the final vote only 11 children voted yes. It was like watching their humanitarian instincts die.
Headlines have an impact. Our words matter. We can currently see reality-TV star Katie Price campaigning for anti-trolling regulation and Facebook and Twitter are due to appear before the US Congress in an investigation into “misinformation and disinformation” this month. It is clear that the media needs to address and appreciate its impact on all minds – young minds especially. Current rhetoric relies on snapshots of time and removes the context of history. Looking through the lens of moments can distort perceptions and warp judgement. Truths which are felt to be obvious and just, such as offering help to those in need, become twisted by the bold typeface and the flick of an editor’s pen. The media has a clear role to play in shaping opinions and a moral duty to report the full context of issues, rather than using the bias of their own stance.
My children were fascinated to learn of the rich history of Syria and its ancient libraries. They learned that Syria, before the war, had a long history of receiving refugees from many different countries and integrating them into Syrian life. Yet this respect, for some, evaporated when they viewed the headlines of anti-immigrant sentiment. The powerful influence of the media should not be underestimated. Not one of the headlines sought to explain why refugees were leaving Syria or which global players had a hand in the conflict. These facts and context were irrelevant to the narrative of ‘dangerous migrants coming here to take something from us’. One sided and narrow in their vision, the headlines were certainly effective on impressionable minds.
The next decade for Syria will no doubt be one of struggle and hopefully, growth. Syria deserves to be defined not by the short passage of ten years, but by the strength and resilience of its long, illustrious past. It’s time headlines began to reflect this reality and cease projecting a distorted version of history where centuries are erased in the passage of months. Where educated, dignified people are reduced to nameless, begging migrants. For Syria to move beyond the disruption it has experienced since 2011, its glories must be recalled alongside its struggles.
Exclusive: John Pilger claims Julian Assange extradition is bad news for “truth-tellers”
We spoke to veteran investigative journalist and documentarian John Pilger about what he thought Assange’s looming extradition meant for the state of the press in the UK, and the fate investigative journalists like him
Julian Assange – the investigative journalist and whistleblower spent the last ten years fighting for freedom after having leaked secret documents regarding US human rights abuses. Most of those years were spent holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy in Britain where he was granted asylum by the President of Ecuador Rafael Correa in 2012.
That asylum ended seven years later when Correa’s replacement, Lenin Moreno handed him over to the British authorities. On the morning of April 11th, 2019, Assange was dragged out of the embassy by British police in a brutal show of force, and taken to be locked up in Belmarsh prison, the detention centre known as the British Guantanamo Bay. He has remained there since.
Last week, Assange’s decade long battle was dealt a blow. British Home Secretary Priti Patel signed Assange’s extradition order to the United States, where he faces 18 federal counts of espionage for publishing secret state documents handed to him by the former US Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning; documents which exposed the atrocities, human rights abuses and war crimes committed by The United States, its allies, and their forces in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Middle East.
Besides this, the documents showed the systematic human rights abuses and torture of prisoners in Guantanamo Bay, the controversial U.S Prison located in Cuba that held more than 150 prisoners, who were innocent without charge for years. And most of all, they confirmed that the pretext for the U.S led invasion of Iraq was a farce.
But in a country that lauds itself on its free press, especially when holding up its democratic values against its autocratic Middle-Eastern counterparts, what happens when a journalist exercises his right within the free press and is castigated the way Assange has been and for as long as he has?
“There is no free press as we might imagine or mythologise it. A powerful, almost unconscious self-censorship routinely dominates the media, much of it run or influenced by an augmented extremism called Murdochism. Added to this are draconian laws that constrain our right to know and which allow the ‘intelligence services’ (known in the US as the ‘deep state’) to manipulate the press. Little of this is discussed publicly.”
According to Pilger, it was Julian Assange who “broke down this wall of censorship, on the public’s behalf.” It is no surprise then, that the whistleblower, Manning was pardoned by the US after seven years in prison, while the publisher could face confinement for the rest of his life. Currently, Assange faces up to ten years in prison for each federal count against him. But Assange is an Australian national, and just recently the former foreign minister of Australia, Bobb Carr, wrote for the Sydney Morning Herald that he believed that the Prime Minister of Australia, Anthony Albanese, should request the Biden administration for Assange’s freedom.
Pilger affirms that the Australian government should support their citizen, but that “rights and reality live in two different worlds. We should unite them!”
Despite Carr’s suggestion, Australian Prime Minister publicly affirmed he stood by his previous remarks that Assange had “paid a big price for the publication of the information already” and that “I do not see what purpose is served by the ongoing pursuit of Mr Assange,” but that he would not publicly ask Biden for a pardon for Assange. Speaking to the broadcaster Sky News, he said “We’re not going to conduct diplomacy by megaphone.”
But what is it that makes such prominent world leaders so reluctant to directly support the plight of Assange? For some it is the fact that he published secret state documents through his whistleblower site, Wikileaks. Was this really a violation of the official secret act, as has been alleged, or does the right of the public to know what governments are doing abroad with taxpayers money negate this? Is the country not put at risk when state secrets are made public?
“Wikileaks revealed grave state crimes,” he says, “The law should apply to governments as well as to individuals. Nazi leaders and officials were prosecuted and punished at the end of World War Two because they committed state crimes. The principle is the same.”
If Julian Assange’s team fails in its attempts to appeal and he is sent to the US, what will that entail for him? And what implications will it have on future whistleblowers and investigative journalists?
John Pilger is blunt. “For Julian it will be the end of his life. For truth-tellers, it will mean even greater risk than at present. The shadows of state control will spread until we call, ‘’stop.’
In fact, the veteran journalist is no stranger to censorship of his own work either. In 2014 his regular column for the oft-touted ‘independent’ paper the Guardian was axed, according to Pilger, “Without explanation.”
“I wrote a fortnightly piece for the Guardian which was axed in 2014 with the specious explanation that the paper ‘needed greater variety’: some such nonsense. There were (and are) warring political factions on the Guardian and under a new editor a virulent right-wing took control. At that time, I was writing about the Western-sponsored coup in Ukraine, which had just happened, and the war it beckoned.”
It is a grim state of affairs to which the future of journalism seems to be hurtling towards, painted darker by recent events. What hope does that leave to budding journalists who would wish to pursue a career like that of Pilger’s and other investigative journalists and whistleblowers, like Assange, who in their fearlessness can speak truth and expose the crimes and excesses of those in power? How can the fear of reprisal by the authorities be abated?“Keep going. Be resolute and follow your star. The times are difficult, but there are more independent outlets,online, than when I began. Try and stay away from the mis-named ‘mainstream’ which used to have space for independent minded journalists, but no more. Journalism is a wonderful craft: how it is practised and honoured is up to you.”
World Food Programme suspends food assistance to 1.7 million in South Sudan
Conflict combined with poor weather in South Sudan has led to 7.74 million people facing a hunger crisis.
Despite the country facing food insecurity, the World Food Programme (WFP) has suspended food assistance to 1.7 million people in South Sudan. They require $426 million to be able to feed 6 million people in South Sudan throughout 2022. At the start of 2022, the WFP projected that it would be able to assist 6.2 million people in the country but has failed at achieving this target. This suspension of funding comes at one of the worst times for South Sudan, a newly independent country which not only has been facing internal conflicts for many years but also faced three years of flooding, a localised drought and like the rest of the world, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and soaring global food prices. Therefore, not only is food not available in the country, but it also comes at a much higher price making the country food insecure. This cut also comes at a time where South Sudan is facing lean season, which is the season between planting crops and harvesting them. During this season, food is already scarce.
The suspension of aid by the WFP is due to a funding shortage of $426 million. It is important to note that the primary source of WFP’s funding comes from governments around the world. This funding is entirely voluntary, meaning that the countries have the freedom to cut anytime they wish.
The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), a human rights group recently ruled that the world’s 10 most neglected crises are all in Africa with South Sudan being the 4th most neglected crisis. The Secretary General of the NRC, Jan Egeland said “The war in Ukraine has demonstrated the immense gap between what is possible when the international community rallies behind a crisis, and the daily reality for millions of people suffering in silence within these crises on the African continent that the world has chosen to ignore,”
The hunger crisis the people of South Sudan face is not new, rather food insecurity has been a challenge for years now. In 2017, South Sudan faced a famine and now another famine is predicted by the WFP this year if funding is not organised. Furthermore, South Sudan has recently been facing unrest which has only intensified the issue, leading to brutal violence upon civilians, including targeted attacks, gender-based violence, kidnappings and murders. This has led to nearly 2.3 million people fleeing to neighbouring countries whilst 1.87 million people remain internally displaced. Displacement continues to exacerbate the hunger crisis in South Sudan as many rely on food from their own land, something which is not possible during displacement. Internal conflict has thus meant that people have had to rely heavily on food assistance.
There have been many attempts for a peace agreement in the country, but so far, all these attempts have failed.
Is Rwanda a dumping ground for the UK?
The UK is planning to send its illegal immigrants to Rwanda. In return, the country is paying the Government £120 million in the form of an economic development program. This controversial decision was made to deter any future illegal immigrants from entering the country via dangerous routes.
The East African country suffered genocide and civil war in 1994 and has been trying to recover since. The effort made by the country, however, was halted due to the pandemic.
Only recently, authorities in Rwanda prosecuted opposition members, commentators, and journalists for voicing their opinion. Anyone who doesn’t agree with the government is thrown in jail and threatened, and people have even mysteriously disappeared.
Rwanda is also one of the smallest countries in the world and the rate of population growth is already more than the country can handle. With 10,000 square miles and a population density of more than 1,000 per square mile, starvation and malnutrition is prevalent because the country struggles to feed its growing population. Accusations abound that the government has burned farmers’ fields that could not produce an adequate amount of crops. The country is obsessed with modernising whilst ignoring its internal issues.
Poverty is a huge concern. Its true extent is unknown as the government has been accused of misinterpreting the actual data. Similarly, the education level of children is low with a high drop-out rate.
It’s plain to see that Rwanda is struggling with its own domestic problems, and now the UK is turning the country into a dumping ground for illegal immigrants which will surely set the economy back. The plan has been accused of being unethical and cruel.
The UN Special Rapporteur on Trafficking in Persons, Siobhán Mullally talked about the dangers of increased human trafficking when large numbers of people are transferred from one country to another and how easy it is for traffickers to pick vulnerable victims in this situation when they have no control over where they are going. “People seeking international protection, fleeing conflict, and persecution, have the right to seek and enjoy asylum – a fundamental tenet of international human rights and refugee law,” she said. Even Prince Charles, heir to the British throne criticised the decision made by the government calling it “appalling”.
There have also been accusations that the UK is not playing its part in its handling of its refugee problem. Chief Executive of Refugee Action, Tim Naor Hilton said that the government was “offshoring its responsibilities onto Europe’s former colonies instead of doing our fair share to help some of the most vulnerable people on the planet”.
Meanwhile, UK-based non-profits run by Congolese nationals in the Diaspora sent a letter to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, in which they expressed their fear that the money sent by the UK government could be used to propagate the war in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo instead of improving Rwanda.
According to Phil Clark, Professor of International Politics at SOAS University of London, the government of Rwanda could use this deal as leverage. So whenever the government is accused of human rights violations they can threaten to pull out of the deal. Already once, the country has “threatened to pull its peacekeepers out of Darfur when foreign donors were threatening to pull foreign aid out of Rwanda.”
Whilst the focus is on Rwanda violating human rights, the country is known however, for looking after its refugees well enough. The problem is that the UK is using the country to shed itself of its own responsibility while Rwanda is not equipped to deal with a large number of refugees.
The irony of the situation cannot be lost to global observers as, “Only a couple of hundred years ago, the situation was reversed. Ships full of Africans were being forcefully deported from their homeland to Britain, Europe, and the Americas. Now, the descendants of slave traders are paying the descendants of their would-be slaves to take a burden off their hands.”
The world is ageing at a rapid pace and there will be consequences
There are more old people in the world than there are young people. Both developed and developing countries have to be ready to take the huge burden of the rising population of older people.
According to 2019 data from the UN, the proportion of people aged 60 and over will be 1 in 6 by the year 2050. However, a more recent observation by the WHO shows that the world might reach these statistics much sooner; that is, by 2030. And by 2050, the population of over 60 will double to almost 2.1 billion people.
This demographic change has already occurred in some developed countries. In Japan, the median age is 48 years old, and this makes Japan’s population the oldest in the world. By 2060, there will be one elderly person for each person of working age.
Similarly, there are already more people aged 60 and over in Europe and North America than young people under the age of 15. Germany is another example. It is predicted that by 2050 the population of the income-generating population will fall from 55 million to less than 40 million.
The change is greatest in developed countries because of low mortality rates as well as low fertility rates. This means new children are not being born while the healthcare of the country is improving, so people and children live longer.
The data for the population of the world in 2020 already shows that the population aged 65 and older is 727 million, whereas the population under 5 is 677 million.
There are many consequences of this change. The biggest is the increase in the dependent population, which will affect the economy of the country. Most people over the age of 60 are retired, so they depend on pensions while the younger income-generating population is responsible for providing the money through taxes. The taxes will need to increase to meet the demands of the older generation. Not only that, the government has to spend more money on the older generation who don’t earn on their own rather than invest in developing the country.
There will also be a rise in chronic illnesses which will affect the allocation of healthcare facilities as right now there is more focus on infectious diseases. Since there will be an increase in the older generation, there will be even less informal care from the remaining younger family members. Elderly abuse is already an issue, but there will be a rise in this form of abuse as well.
Christopher Murray, director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, said, “There will be very few children and lots of people over the age of 65, and that makes it very difficult to sustain global society.”
Adding, “Think of all the profound social and economic consequences for a society with more grandparents than grandchildren.”
For many reasons, in America, most women are staying child-free or having children later in life. The biggest reason is the expense required to raise children. Since 2007, the birth rate for women in their 20s has fallen by 28%, shows data.
Similarly, in England and Wales, the percentage of women in their 30s without children rose from 18% in 1975 to 50% in 2020.
Unless more work is done to replace the population and prevent population shrinkage by encouraging people to have more children, the economies of many countries need to prepare for a boost from the older population.
“No, Rwanda is not an uncivilised well of darkness”
As deportations go, being shipped off to Rwanda sounds like the lower end of the scale. It has the echoes of Paddington bear’s Darkest Peru.
And yet, all those who have seen the live action film can probably agree that the fictional bear’s Darkest Peru wasn’t really that dark; luscious greenery in a thriving jungle, trees weighed down with oranges perfect for making buckets of marmalade, constant sun, and blue skies. It’s the perfect description of a luxury holiday.. in Africa? Rwanda maybe?
To be clear, Home Secretary Priti Patel’s policy of sending asylum seekers to Rwanda is not within the confines of British values or even human sense or reason. To spend millions and millions of pounds to deport vulnerable refugees seeking safety four thousand miles away from the apparent beacon of democracy and human rights – that is Britain, by using taxpayers money, seems to defeat the very purpose of sending them out of Britain in the first place. Rwanda, if one is familiar with the events of 1994, and the ever constant threat to the lives of journalists, activists, and opposing political rivals of the government, isn’t exactly a beacon of human rights, democracy, and freedom.
That’s why the European Court of Human Rights – not to be confused with the super-villain that is ‘Europe!’ according to a very loud group of Tory backbenchers – blocked the flight which was to fly seven refugees off to the East African country. Cue the cries of ‘Europe Telling Us What To Do Again’, and lets opt out of that one too – several Conservative MPs called for ties to be cut with the Strasbourg based body.
But just because the legality of a sovereign policy was disputed by the highest court of human rights on the continent, does not mean Britain’s leaders need to throw a strop and exit yet another institution that can hold it accountable for its actions. And just because a policy is draconian and ethically wrong – even the heir to the throne and the Church of England bashed the plans as ‘appalling’ and ‘immoral’ – does not mean that the country which happens to be the designation for said unethical deportation, should be viewed as the uncivilised backwater of the world. It’s almost as if most of the hand wringing of the liberal wing is doubled on hearing that Rwanda is the intended destination.
Patel herself, biggest pusher of the policy, and perhaps in order to justify it, accidentally blurted out some truth to that matter; talking about Rwanda’s past of genocide and recent human rights abuses to the Guardian newspaper, she said that, “It’s scarred the country in the sense that they are rebuilding. If it was France, if we were sending people to Sweden, New York, Sydney, would they (the critics) change their mind? That actually speaks of inbuilt prejudice and, I would even go as far as to say, racism.”
Indeed Patel might have struck gold in identifying the underlying thoughts that exist in the media coverage, and even through the many demonstrations and online petitions which speaks of Rwanda’s less than forgiving record of the impending deportation of refugees.
In the last few days, the word Rwanda has become synonymous with the abuse of human rights, just as Africa has become the poster child for third world poverty and lack of civilisation. Much of that is because poverty is high on the continent and Rwanda does have a murky human rights record; but a lot is because of the portrayal of African countries in Western literature and media dating back to the slave trade of African people. The ‘orientalising’ of Africa is something that is always so unconsciously done. After all, being known not so long ago as the ‘dark continent’ never created the image of a comfortable life, nor of a ‘civilised’ society.
It is true that the leadership of African countries have much to be wished for. But it is precisely in a democracy – one where the votes aren’t rigged by the highest bidder – that a government can reflect the mindset of its people. And for many African nations, including Rwanda where political opposition is often violently quashed, that is not the case. Why is it that the poverty caused by western appeasing, tax guzzling African governments is then applied as a blanket term for the countries as a whole?
Because the perception of poverty – and of education, literacy, all components of ‘civilisation’ – in the eyes of western statistic charts is a number. A man in Uganda with twenty goats and chickens, acres of land with trees producing fresh fruit, sugarcane, and vegetables, probably isn’t very ‘educated’. But he’s able to send all his kids to school and have a heaving table of food with organic homegrown things and without any price tags, for himself and his family every night, without any money leaving the palm of his hand, nor any money entering it. The fact he wakes up at five a.m. isn’t a sign of his difficult uncivilised, impoverished situation, it’s a sign of his work ethic and strength to live a comfortable life that is just different from the western way of living. Lack of money isn’t the only sort of poverty – reliance on it for a comfortable life is too.
In Britain where jobs are getting harder to find and the unemployed are stuck on state handouts, with too much reliance on the latter to make any move towards leaving the cycle of dependence, it is unimaginable that a woman in a place like Kenya can collect hard grass from the sidewalk and bind them to make brooms which she then sells – it’s not much, and there is no way you can glorify capitalism through that. Maybe she won’t have enough to feed her children every night, nor herself. But she is able. Her face, her manners, her way of living does not reflect lack of civilisation or humanity, it does not dignify being labelled as an unable, helpless, illiterate African in dire need of Western rescuing – as is portrayed through western media.
Yes it is true that governments in Africa should spend more on alleviating the result of low or no income, and lack of affordable education – rather than filling their own stomachs – but that doesn’t negate the fact that even without all the comforts of British welfare, the strength and entrepreneurial spirit of the people in countries like Kenya, Uganda, or Rwanda, and so many other ‘underdeveloped’ African countries is unmatched against the ‘civilised’ West who rely on help from the state and without which the cost of living makes it impossible to have a comfortable life.
Only a couple of hundred years ago, the situation was reversed. Ships full of Africans were being forcefully deported from their homeland to Britain, Europe, and the Americas. Now, the descendants of slave traders are paying the descendants of their would-be slaves to take a burden off their hands. It’s not something you can make up and the taste left over is sour to say the least.
Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie put it right:
“If I were not African, I wonder whether it would be clear to me that Africa is a place where the people do not need limps gifts of fish but sturdy fishing rods and fair access to the pond. I wonder whether I would realise that while African nations have a failure of leadership, they also have dynamic people with agency and voices.”
The answer to Adichie?
No, none of these things are so easily realised by those so programmed for centuries to look down upon, enslave, and brutalise the inhabitants of the cradle of civilisation itself.
Illegal Maasai eviction for wildlife hunting
Tanzania to forcefully evict indigenous community in illegal move for wildlife hunting ground
The government of the United Republic of Tanzania is currently planning on removing the Maasai people from their ancestral land in 2022. The land is being cleared so it can be leased to wildlife hunting firm Otterlo Business Corporation (OBC) owned by Dubai Royals and for tourism reasons.
The 1,500 km2 area is located in the Loliondo Division of Ngorongoro District, Arusha Region. Known as the Ngorongoro Conservation Area (NCA) it is home to many locals who do not want to leave.
If the leasing plan is passed, it will displace around 70,000 indigenous Maasai people and more than 200,000 livestock, according to an urgent alert by the International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA). The Maasai were told of this plan in January of this year by Regional Commissioner for Arusha, John Mongella. The forceful eviction is also being condemned by the Indigenous Peoples Rights International (IPRI) organization.
But the land of the NCA is also under threat from other international organisations such as UNESCO and safari businesses. Allegedly posing a threat to ecological sustainability and wildlife tourism, the government of Tanzania believes that the area is overpopulated which could impact surrounding wildlife. The Multiple Land-Use Model (MLUM) was previously developed so the land could be used for more than one purpose. However, there is evidence that in the past this plan has led to serious problems for the locals.
Current protests against the proposed evictions and demarcation of land for conservation have been met with violence. On June 10th police fired on at least 18 men and 13 women, and 13 were wounded with machetes with one person confirmed dead. The protests began back in January.
The eviction of the indigenous peoples is illegal according to Tanzania law and international law and a violation of the Village Land Act of 1999. According to international law, forced evictions are a violation of human rights and can only be allowed in extreme conditions whilst strictly complying with specific standards and legal processes. However, a representative of the Tanzanian government, Malik Hassan Shafi refuted claims of enforced evictions stating that the government would “never hurt its own people it has sworn to protect”, and that anti-government agitators were to blame for the discord.
But a local Maasai leader attending the protest insisted, “We have nowhere else to go. Losing this land will mean the extinction of our community. We have taken care of our environment and lived in harmony with other living and nonliving things. And we are not ready to lose our traditional lifestyle we have lived for times immemorial. ”He added, “Over 70% of our homelands has been taken for conservation and investment reasons. We are appealing to human rights organizations, media and other citizens who value Indigenous human rights to share our plight and put pressure on the government of Tanzania to respect the rights of its citizens, and particularly indigenous people.”
As well as protesting, the Maasai community has also written a letter to appeal to Western leaders for support to stop the forceful eviction, but so far there has been little response. There are fears it could mirror the forceful eviction of Palestinians which was approved by an Israeli court earlier this year.
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