Some faith in humanity restored

A few quick notes to cheer up your Sunday:

6 tons of donations (food, medicine, hygiene and other supplies) collected in Sarajevo were yesterday taken to Belgrade to be handed out to the refugees currently sleeping in the city’s parks. Donations were collected by the organisation Komšiluk (Neighbourhood), which also had help from the organisation Pomozi.ba (Help).

The Facebook group “Calais – People to People Solidarity – Action from UK” currently has over 5,500 members. It’s a very active group and many of the members are collecting donations and driving to Calais. A member recently wrote that whenever she goes to buy groceries to take to Calais, the grocers throw in an extra kilo of whatever she’s bying for free. :)

Have you seen these ‘Refugees welcome’ banners at German football matches yet?

And that video of Germans waving a welcome to a bus full of refugees just arriving?

Two days ago, this article with the headline ‘Belgrade had breakfast with refugees in the park’ appeared on Vice, describing how volunteers and various bakeries and small businesses brought food and shared it with the refugees.

Telenor Serbia has provided free wifi in one of the parks where the refugees are and a tower for another one is underway.

I will keep an eye out for more, because I’m sure we’ve all had enough of the other news to bring anyone to their knees.

Peace, love and no borders,

Amila

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What country, by the nature of your error, should give you harbour?

I was recently reminded of this performance by Sir Ian McKellen which I was fortunate enough to watch in person back in 2012 at the book launch for The People Speak. As to why I was reminded of it—have a look at European news and take your pick…

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Let me tell you a war story

When I was 12 and war was raging in my country, I lived with my mother in a block of flats. One day, as we entered the front door, we were stopped by the old lady who lived with her husband on the ground floor. In her hands she had a bowl of flour which she held out to my mother. ‘Here, you have a little one. Bake her a bread.’

My mother, struck dumb by the gesture, accepted the bowl, shared a silent moment with the old lady who then slowly made her way back into her flat. It wasn’t even a time for smiles, because we all knew why we were in this situation in the first place.

You have to understand, this was food from their own table at a time when we hadn’t seen a full meal in months, flour was incredibly scarce, and you never knew what you would be eating next week. I’d stopped growing. And this was one of the ways you got by. Many people made it through the war because a neighbour hid them or helped them out. Your best chance of survival were often those closest to you.

‘Here, you have a little one.’

Most of my Facebook friends live in Europe, and their friends probably do too. Your countries are being taken over by people whose reaction to a humanitarian crisis is to hysterically scream ‘Swarms! Fences! Sic NATO on their boats!’ Especially the wealthy ones. It’s true of Denmark where I lived most of my life, and it’s true of the UK where I live now. Somehow, this has become an acceptable way of treating fellow human beings. Maybe because it is too often left unchallenged?

So let me ask you a question. Are these the kind of people you want to be in the same boat (!) with in a time of emergency—people without a shred of empathy? Yes, their vitriol is racist today, but it could be directed at you tomorrow, trust me. War and disaster can happen to anyone and anywhere; you only have to go back to your grandparents’ generation and there was war in your own countries. You’re not guaranteed eternal safety. I realise you don’t really understand this, even though you’ve read about it, so maybe just consider listening to those of us who know it in their bones.

Do you think the people screaming about refugees today would ever offer you food from their own table to feed your child?

Then how about the next time they open their mouths, you shut them the fuck up. Thank you.

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‘Best country in the world. Don’t tell anyone.’

A few weeks ago I wrote about a planned anti-promotion that the Danish integration minister had announced as a deterrent against refugees. Before I launch into the myriad of things that have happened since, here are some numbers for you to keep in mind as you read on:

Sweden has received 37,000 refugees this year. Germany currently receives about 70,000 per month. Denmark has received 3,000 since the beginning of the year.

The above numbers are from Michala Clante Bendixen, chairman of Refugees Welcome, a humanitarian organisation in Denmark. (Full disclosure: Michala is a friend and I’ve done some minor work for the organisation a couple of times.) Michala recently published an op-ed in The Guardian—a pre-emptive welcome to refugees before the minister’s ‘Keep Out’ campaign. Naturally, it sparked a media storm, which was good because Michala then got air time on practically every media in Denmark and was able to relay some facts that rarely get presented to the broader public.

But sadly there was also an avalanche of hate directed toward her. You would not believe the vitriol you can get for writing in an international newspaper what an awesome country Denmark is. The sentiment seems to be, ‘it’s the best country in the world, natch, but you’re not supposed to tell outsiders that; it’s just something we like to smugly talk about amongst ourselves.’

You can say it like this though.

You can mask it like this though.

Because ‘we don’t have room for the entire world’ (never mind that the entire world doesn’t even know that Denmark exists, let alone wants to leave everything they know just to live there), and ‘who is going to pay for all this, the sick and the poor?!?’

I tried to point out that if the sick and the poor are the first to be thrown under the bus, Denmark probably has more serious problems than refugees, but I got nowhere.

A while after the op-ed, a group of citizens published a pro-refugee advert, also in The Guardian, stating that whatever the minister has going on certainly isn’t happening in their name. It’s a heart-warming text, you should click the link and check it out.

This was around the same time that there were clashes between refugees and police in Calais (and even fatalities as people tried to get to the UK) and David Cameron talked about a ‘migrant swarm‘, so everywhere you looked there was a lot of panic about refugees. It made me feel like—

220px-Attackofthe50ftwoman

Of course, the satirists were bound to have a field day with this. The other day I saw this video (mimicking a similar Australian one) called “Hjælp Inger” (Help Inger [Støjberg, the integration minister]) explaining to the world why it can’t come to #SmallDenmark. (tl;dw Fuck off)

Inger herself is currently in Jordan where she’s gone to see for herself what the refugee situation is like. From what I understand she’s also there to tell the people she meets not to be tricked into trying to go to Denmark. Behold, possibly the most clueless person in the world.

I’m not even kidding. She got her post as thanks for her loyalty to the current Prime Minister of Denmark during a time of internal turmoil in their party. Not for any skill, not for any intellectual prowess, but for being a loyal soldier. Also, it probably pleased the xenophobic extremists (Danish People’s Party) since she’s been known to make some incredibly ignorant and hateful public statements about minorities in Denmark.

I’m afraid to imagine what she’s capable of saying to Syrian refugees if any are unfortunate enough to be exposed to her.

Most of all, she is the epitome of the clueless privileged. I honestly doubt she is capable of processing the thought that that could have been her. That anyone on the planet can become a refugee, anyone can be caught up in war, anyone can starve. Of course it can’t happen to her; she’s from the correct kind of country!

sure glad

Europe.

While refugees are sleeping in the parks of Belgrade and little children are wearing bandages instead of actual shoes, while Hungary is building a fence on the border to Serbia, while people are dying in the Eurotunnel and the situation in Greece is so extreme that a thousand refugees have been locked up inside a stadium, Inger of Denmark—the best country in the world which has received 3,000 refugees this year—is in Jordan, taking tourist photos.

Her caption reads: I am currently in the Middle East to get a first-hand impression of the refugee waves from Syria and to look at the regional efforts. I am accompanied by among others Rasmus Tantholdt from TV2, and as the experienced correspondent that he is, he quickly took us to what is supposedly the bedst shawarma bar in Jordan.

Screen grab 17/8/2015. Her caption reads: I am currently in the Middle East to get a first-hand impression of the flux of refugees from Syria and to look at the relief efforts in the region. I am accompanied by among others Rasmus Tantholdt from TV2, and as the experienced correspondent that he is, he quickly found what is supposedly the best shawarma joint in Jordan.

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There goes the neighbourhood

There once was an estate called Heygate near Elephant & Castle which housed around 3,000 people. It’s no longer there; it was demolished as part of the social cleansing gentrification of the area. The tenants and leaseholders were scattered far away and Southwark Council made a deal with a private developer (from what I understand, at a loss!) who is now building expensive flats on the site—flats which are advertised in places like Malaysia and Singapore. London is not being managed as a place to live, but as an ‘investment opportunity’.

I pass the site every day on my way to work and home. Throughout the demolition and building work, a lone red telephone box has stood on the side toward New Kent Road, neatly protected by a tall screen. I know some telephone boxes are listed as protected, but I don’t know whether that’s the case here. At any rate, it’s a jarring contrast, isn’t it—the way care is taken that a telephone box doesn’t get damaged by the debris of the destroyed homes of 3,000 people.

Makes you look at the iconic box a little differently.

New Kent Road

From New Kent Road, 1/8/2015

Priorities

1/8/2015

Next on the list to be sold off by the council appears to be the Elephant & Castle pub just across the road from the site pictured above. A tavern of the same name has been on the site for the past 250 years, and now it may be turned into a Foxtons, of all things—an estate agents regarded by many as a beacon of gentrification.

A few weeks ago, the pub was squatted, but the squat has already been raided and the windows boarded up.

Meanwhile, around the corner from where I live a bit farther south, a smaller new build has sprung up. A two-bed is being advertised for £700 a month more than the one I live in… Another great investment opportunity for the millionaires of Singapore.

The squat, 27/6/2015. Click to enlarge.

The squat, 27/6/2015. Click to enlarge.

The squat, 27/6/2015. Click to enlarge.

27/6/2015

The squat, 27/6/2015. Click to enlarge.

27/6/2015

27/6/2015 (weirdly, there's a sticker in Danish here)

27/6/2015 (Weirdly, there’s a sticker in Danish here—the boycot G4S one)

27/6/2015

27/6/2015

1/8/2015

1/8/2015

1/8/2015

1/8/2015

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‘Best country in the world. You would hate it.’

The new (anti-)integration minister in Denmark, Inger Støjberg of Venstre, wants to put adverts in foreign newspapers warning refugees against going to Denmark to seek asylum. Apparently, someone from that nice agency Frontex, which not too long ago worked closely with Gaddafi because he was good at keeping Africans out of Europe, says migrants—including straight up refugees from war zones—take things like benefits and rules for family reunification into consideration when leisurely choosing which promised land to go to.

Denmark dodges another bullet.

Denmark dodges another bullet.

Because, of course that’s how that works. When shells are raining down over your children, of course you’re going to take the time to study your dream destination. You’re certainly not just interested in fleeing from war and mayhem; you have to think way more long-term. Where can you increase your overall portfolio?!?

In Germany they know whaddup. Source: http://on.fb.me/1GLeBAS

In Germany they know whaddup. Source: http://on.fb.me/1GLeBAS

The extremist right-wing party, Danish People’s Party (extremist in terms of policies, not as in they have few supporters—they’re actually the second largest party in Denmark as of the latest election), wanted to go further and actually film an anti-advert for Denmark. It seems someone in Australia did a similar thing, and now the extremists want to emulate it. I guess they haven’t heard about this deadly island yet. I wonder how they would reconcile the anti-advert with their mantra that Denmark is the best country in the history of countries?

‘This is the best country in the entire world. You would hate it here.’

Anyway, I fiddled with some text and have come up with a suggestion for the governing party Venstre:

Keep your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
I only want the ones to improve my score.
Send these, the rich, young and white to me
I bolt the door to any fleeing from war!

They could put that in their adverts, but also, they could have it ingraved on a little (or big, if that’s how they want to roll) plaque and put it up by the Little Mermaid, just like the one in the Statue of Liberty. It would get on all those tourist photos and get spread around the world for free!

And everyone would know.

Am I an anti-marketing genius or what.

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Filed under asylum, denmark

‘It’s not a human right to [insert human right here]’

A pretty awful letter to the editor appeared in the Danish daily Berlingske yesterday, of all days, penned by a lady with a very Bosnian sounding name. The title is “Denmark should close its borders entirely”, and the author, who writes she arrived in Denmark 22 years ago—ie. same year as I did—starts off by stating:

Many make the mistake of assuming it is a human right to settle down in Denmark. It is not.

While I in my years of working in the asylum rights movement in Denmark never met anyone who claimed they believed any such thing, and this is nothing but a straw man fallacy, let’s have a look at Article 14 (1) of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to which Denmark is a signatory:

Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.

So… I mean, not to be nitpicky, but looking at the actual human rights, it kind of is a human right to seek asylum in another country. And even enjoy it, if you get it.

I’m consciously focusing on asylum here, even though the author avoids mentioning it by name, because she specifically lists refugees among those who pose a problem to Denmark. You see, it’s en vogue these days to portray refugees as basically lazy tourists out to live off benefits in hard-working nations of simple folk, and I’m sorry, but that cannot be left unchallenged.

Fun fact: Until your status is resolved, you’re not allowed to work.

Another fun fact: When the text of the declaration was adopted in 1948, Denmark voted for, while the People’s Federal Republic of Yugoslavia abstained.

A fun fact that’s even closer to home: Back in 1993, when both the author of the above letter to the editor and yours truly came to Denmark, we were barred from applying for asylum. (Applying, not getting it.) This particular human right remained suspended until mid-1995 while the authorities hoped the war in ex-Yugoslavia would be resolved quickly enough for us to go back and not need any asylum.

You’d think the author would remember this. I, for one, remember those two years in the Red Cross centre vividly. We were as suspended as our human right to seek asylum. And now, all these years later, she rejects it entirely for others?!

You’d think having been in a situation would make you more understanding of those living it today. At least enough to not be saying, ‘Well, I’m safe. Phew! You can bolt the door now, thx.’

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Filed under asylum, bosnia-herzegovina, denmark