By Kam Sandhu @KamBass
On 30th January, pro migrant and anti-fascist protesters were met with violence before they reached their Dover destination, where a rally against refugees was due to take place.“I was at the service station. Some of them had to stay there and didn’t make it down to Dover because their coaches were so smashed up.” Only 2 of 5 coaches from London were able to continue after a bus load of staunch fascists and neo-nazis hurled bins and chairs at a stop off. ‘It was strategic, so that we were outnumbered by the time we reached Dover’, says Dan Glass, who attended the protest.
With members of the National Front and Combat 18 – a leaderless neo nazi organisation;‘The 1, 8, is derived from the initials of Adolf Hitler…so they’ve come back out the woodwork,’ there was some extreme violent intent. Dan himself has a swollen eye, after being punched in the head and kicked to the floor when being separated from his group and not hearing the calls to run as ‘at least 50 nazis’ approached. Police confirmed weapons found included knuckledusters, knives and homemade weaponry. (You can see a video report here.)
Nazi salutes and insignia were on show, and one of the coaches was daubed with a swastika drawn in blood. Still, strong opposition was ensured and organised by the Anti-Fascist Network, and on top of the 5 coaches from London alone, others from around the country met in Dover. The fascists were outnumbered and humiliated by AFN, but the use of rhetoric which encourages these displays is worrying:
“They use anti-migrant rhetoric to promote their fascist agenda and we’ve got to be very careful about that…. I think it’s really scary what happened in Sweden the other day.”
Over the same weekend in Sweden, 200 neo nazis dressed in all black and balaclavas targeted a train station with the purpose of attacking children, ‘beating up refugees and anyone who didn’t appear to be ethnically Swedish.” Witnesses saw men handing out ‘leaflets urging the infliction of “deserved punishment on children of the North African street.”
The attacks came after the fatal stabbing of a social worker who looked after unaccompanied youth. She was killed by a Somali teenager.
Sweden has recently made moves to strengthen it’s ID systems, plunging the numbers entering after initially adopting a generous stance and accepting one of the highest rates of refugees per capita in Europe. Now the country is moving to expel thousands of migrants over several years, as fears grow of overcrowded asylum facilities.
This follows some similar sentiments across Europe, where once images of three year old Alan Kurdi caused heartache, the loss of 10,000 refugee children in the EU – potentially to traffickers, and following images of dead children are not puncturing the same emotions. In Germany, reports have circled that nearly 40% of Germans want Angela Merkel to resign over her handling of the refugee crisis. Denmark also announced it would ‘seize valuables’ (or ‘assets’ as one article reported), as payment in order to ‘seem less attractive to refugees.’
Political language has sought to neuter the urgency of refugees during the biggest crisis since WW2. The likes of UKIP speak of the need to separate economic migrants from refugees whilst doing all they can to muddy these references. The use of removed and business-like terminology such as ‘assets’, the reasoning of ‘seeming less attractive’ projects that refugees have choices and means, while Denmark is supposedly ransacking the only belongings of people fleeing war, for their own good.
This rhetoric spurs on fascist attitudes says Dan;
“Why are they suddenly becoming so emboldened and it’s because of the rhetoric coming from politicians like David Cameron, because you’ve got these ridiculous people like Katie Hopkins calling migrants cockroaches, who are allowed to get away with that explicit hate speech.
“And this all happens without looking at why people are becoming migrants in the first place, and not challenging the government’s priorities with spending money on heavy warfare which leads to more migrants, spending more money on increased heavy industry which will lead to more environmental refugees…Of course what’s very relevant to me, and part of the reason I was there was this was also the week of Holocaust Memorial.’
Dan is the grandson of 4 Holocaust survivors, and has a long history of activism against all forms of hate and prejudice for refugees, migrants, LGBT community, and through his own campaign group Never Again Ever. Comparisons and parallels between the current crisis and post WW2 have become more common as the refugee crisis toils on.
Just days before the clashes in Dover, stepsister of Anne Frank and Jewish refugee Eva Schloss criticised the handling of the refugee crisis by the US and the UK:
“The theme of this year’s Holocaust Memorial Day is “Don’t stand by”. This is particularly important now with the refugee crisis going on as more people than ever are being bystanders. We haven’t really learnt anything—I’m depressed by the current situation. The experience of the Syrian refugees is similar to what we went through.”
For Dan, the comparisons are relevant;
“What we’ve been saying with Never Again Ever is that memorialisation without action is part of the problem. The Holocaust isn’t happening now, but the infrastructure that enables it to happen like racist border policies, racist detention centres, racist right wing media propaganda shows the infrastructure is still alive and well.”
Recently, a Gallup poll from 1938 went somewhat viral. Tweeted by historian Paul Schulmann, it had asked Americans whether they should allow refugees from Germany and Austria into the country. The results show an overwhelming majority (67.4%) chose not to let refugees in.
“Often people like to take credit and say ‘we let the Jews in, we let the survivors in.’ My grandparents only survived because underground resistance movements in Germany, Poland and Holland connected to the UK, who risked their lives – my German grandmother for example – to save them, and it wasn’t the government who we should allow to take credit for it, it was people on the ground who risked their lives.
“And of course 71 years later, holocaust survivors are held in the highest esteem.”
Dan has also been vocal about action on ‘inherited trauma’, where children and grandchildren of survivors from the Holocaust suffer the psychological impact of being re-told horrific stories of what happened to relatives.
For Dan, this manifested in different ways in his parents. In an article on the call for action, Dan told the Guardian that his father had a ‘wall of books on the subject of the Holocaust‘ and ‘it was a daily conversation in my teens and early 20s and even though I profoundly understood his pain, one day I had to say to him, ‘Dad, I can’t talk about this anymore.’
His mother on the other hand could not bring herself to speak about it.
“My mum was brought up with the mantra ‘emotions don’t pay the wages’ because her family never talk about emotions, because they never want to talk about what happened.”
“The manifestations of trauma go down generations, some say psychologically and then there’s the debate about genetically. I see the impact of my parents who were second generation, they’re so traumatised because they were brought up with such a deep war psychology. And then I think about the survivors of Calais and Dunkirk camps. It’s not going to be okay when they get here, their children, and their children’s children will have inherited trauma. Wars don’t finish when governments say they do, the mental war that happens after is rife. I’m third generation of war survivors who are just that bit further away, that they have that breathing space and can be like what the hell happened. What can we do?’
“At the minute, what’s happening in Yemen, the hypocrisy of the government’s support for the arms trade is so clear because you’ve got the department for international development giving a few millions worth of aid to Yemen, and you sit on the underground with posters saying we need to send blankets to people in a conflict zone, and then you’ve got the UK government selling weapons to our biggest customer Saudi Arabia, who is currently bombing Yemen. You’ve got the British government sending military advisers to work alongside Saudi Arabia which is directly fuelling this conflict.“
Three days after the events in Dover, on 2nd February, another protest took place. This time, at the Hilton Hotel, Park Lane as guests arrived in black tie for an annual dinner.
“The UK government is complicit in that war. British bombs are being dropped and it’s causing a really severe humanitarian crisis. Whereas at first it was campaigns and rights groups talking about this, last week the UN Security Council put out a report saying that there is evidence of repeated and systematic abuses of International Humanitarian Law which means Saudi Arabia has been targeting civilians and civilian objects which is illegal.
“So Mosques, schools, weddings, MSF hospitals are being bombed kind of indiscriminately – the UN said that last week. And just this week, the UK Parliament International Development Select Committee has called for the suspension of arms sales to Saudi Arabia on the same day these arms dealers are wining and dining MPs.”
The event was the ADS dinner – ADS is the arms industry trades body, who host several events throughout the year. This dinner was their ‘big annual extravaganza’ says Sarah Reader, an anti-arms trade activist. Tickets were £250-a-head for ADS members and £450 for those not.
“I think it’s really important to take action at these dinners because it’s very easy for the people there to insulate themselves from the impact of these weapons, so when you’re inside the Hilton off Mayfair and everyone’s dressed in bow-tie and drinking champagne, I feel like it’s easy for them to pretend this is just another business with a luxury dinner.”
The second reason for targeting these dinners is finding out who the government ministers and MPs in attendance are. Last year a list of 40 were present and exposed by Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT). While arms companies are private sector, ‘they can’t function without UK government support,’ says Sarah – through government subsidies, civil servants tasked with export sales and the furnishing of political legitimacy for the trade, that comes with government endorsement.
In 2011, David Cameron toured the Middle East in order to ‘promote democracy’ by becoming the first foreign leader to visit Cairo. Cameron even spoke of being ‘inspired’ by protestors during the uprisings of the Arab Spring. However, this was overshadowed when it was revealed that Cameron was to make several stop-offs in a scheduled defence tour in undemocractic Gulf States, and that his delegation would include 8 large British arms manufacturers such as BAE Systems, in a bid to boost British arms sales. ‘It’s not wrong to sell arms,’ he said in response to criticisms.
Since Cameron came to power, Britain has sold £5.6bn worth of arms to Saudi Arabia.
‘We have probably the toughest set of export rules probably anywhere in the world. It is obviously difficult to get it right on every occasion.’ David Cameron
Selling the legitimacy of the arms trade to the British public is a case of binding it to emotive issues, explains Sarah:
“It’s largely based on this false narrative around the economy and jobs. Just last week we published a new report laying out how a transition from weapons productions to renewable energy is really possible and actually wouldn’t take that much financial investment, so factually, arguments around jobs and the economy are not true but they are really emotive issues and they play on people’s fears, like loss of jobs, especially when the economic climate is a bit unstable. So a big part of our role is to debunk those myths.
Many trident and arms industry workers are ‘having those conversations about what a transition to socially useful technology would look like. The nature of the UK Arms trade is that we do specialise in very technical, complex weapons systems and the technology is transferable to the systems that are needed for wind and wave.’
“So there’s this whole false narrative around jobs and exports. And if you look at, on an anecdotal level, graduate recruitment, you go to universities, engineering or science fairs, and it’s arms companies or oil who have the best graduate schemes. Or you look at the science fair and it’s sponsored by all the big arms companies and it’s all about selling this ‘it’s a really exciting industry where you get work with very cool technology’ image.
“That’s the way it tends to play out – through jobs, economy and us being like the US.”
CAAT’s next target is Security and Policing – a three day conference and ExPo held in Farnsborough on March 8-10 – an event which brings together arms, security and surveillance companies; ‘last year tear gas manufacturers were there..it’s all those who supply the systems needed for borders, detention, policing and military – from security cameras, finger printing machines, to fences, to alarm systems, to hacking, to IT based infiltration,’ says Sarah.
The event is hosted by the ADS industry trade group, the Home Office and the UKTI DSO – the government department responsible for export arms sales, also tasked with the role of inviting international delegations.
“It’s not just something relevant to national policy and national institutions but also governments like Saudi Arabia and Bahrain are invited to come and browse technology and also be trained in police tactics and systems that we use here. So at the meeting we had two weeks ago we had Bahrain activists who talked about being tortured and exiled from Bahrain, arriving in the UK and being put in detention, and then living here and watching what the government is doing, because Bahrain is another country that the UK government has a kind of privileged relationship with.”
In 2011, Bahrain was subject to a an official commission of inquiry after protests against the Sunni-led government gained ground. The report revealed that various forms of illegal torture were regularly used on dissenters, detainees and prisoners during interrogation.
Bahrain is a close ally of Britain, and following the report, the relationship was defended under the assurance that the Bahrain government was working on reforms to police, prisons, judicial systems and security in line with the recommendations of the Bahrain independent investigation commission. The UK Foreign Office said UK policy is “to support Bahrain in its return to a stable and reformist state with a good human rights record.”
In August 2013, Bahrain’s King Hamed visited David Cameron at 10 Downing Street to thank him for his ‘supportive stances,’ and also to initiate talks on buying Eurofighter Typhoon jets.
At the end of last year, Human Rights Watch released a report documenting the same sorts of abuses and torture in interrogation as found in the 2011 inquiry including beatings, strip downs, cold and sexual abuse, electric shocks and forced standing. It was also documented that guards and Bahraini personnel bragged about their abuses. The report came three weeks after foreign secretary Phillip Hammond ‘inaugurated’ a new British naval base near Manama, the capital.
“The arms trade intersects at so many different issues; borders, racist policing, detention, climate change, all-sorts. So a big part of what we’re working towards is to try and build a movement where people can plug in on the issues that they’re working on, and Security and Policing is a really good moment for that in which it provides a concrete target… And it’s important for us to mobilise in a cross cutting inter-sectional way.”
One of those groups is Movement For Justice By Any Means Necessary who have been leading the growing and powerful demonstrations to ‘Shut Down Yarl’s Wood’ – a detention centre run by private security firm Serco since 2007. There have been a raft of complaints of violence and sexual abuse meted out on inmates by guards, forcing an investigation. Firms like Serco will be in attendance at the Security and Policing Conference.
“The reason I got into arms trade campaigning was because it represents so clearly what is wrong with our economic and political system. It’s the epitome of how messed up capitalism is…It’s definitely a manifestation of bigger problems which draws in a history of imperialism and plays on people’s fears of the other.
“If you look at the government’s response to terrorist attacks in Paris, or the migrant crisis, the response is militarised policing, stronger borders, armoured police on the streets but then what you also see is while all that is happening through the government and through the media, you’ve got big exhibitions happening like Security and Policing in March, these big commercial ventures that bring it all together – none of this is conducive to more security.”
On 3rd February, RAPAR (Refugee and Asylum seeker Participatory Action Research), a human rights organisation based in Manchester, sent out a press release with news and photos from the Calais camp.
“The use of tear gas, rubber bullets and physical force, such as I experienced, is insupportable when dealing with people who are dispossessed.” Julie Ward, North West Labour MEP
The press release was titled ‘Never Again – A Rhyming Echo,’ and detailed that rubber bullets were being fired on the ‘bunch of migrants’ at Calais adding ‘this now forms part of the ‘squalid and dangerous conditions’ described on the Pledge, that are being endured by 6000 children and adult refugees living in this white-asbestos riddled, open sewer, bordering Britain.’
“I’ve been three times. It’s obscene and it needs to not exist,” Dr Rhetta Moran is the author of the press release; ‘the people trapped there are unsafe.”
Around 6,000 refugees are in the Calais camp at the moment, though the numbers can fluctuate, ‘at the same time they are bulldozing the people that are arriving.’ says Dr Moran, though she avoids at any point speaking on behalf of refugees and their experiences.
Bulldozing of parts of the camp happen at any time. There are also severe problems with sanitation – dysentry, gangrene and infections are common. Cold weather and heavy rain exacerbate problems. There is a crowdfund seeking to raise £10,000″to provide proper sanitation for refugee camps because you can’t send portaloos/clean water as donations.”
A report by Joseph Charlton from the Independent at the end of September said;
“Is the fear of death credible? The answer, in my three-day experience of the camp, is yes. Most of the migrants and refugees I speak to have spent their savings getting to this point, and a return journey home is as undesirable as it is financially impossible. Saddiq, a former landowner and farmer from Sudan tells me: “I do not have a cent. I can’t go back to my farm on the Sudanese border. It’s in the heart of the civil war.”
David Cameron’s ‘bunch of migrants’ quip warrants a strong response from Dr Moran;
‘It’s racist filth, is what it is. You can put me on record on that. Designed to divide and rule and give the green light to fascists and racists. I think it’s completely understandable and connectable from the point of view of psychology to recognise a relationship between Cameron making those kinds of renouncements and the treatment that you would have witnessed on Saturday in Dover. And the violence that was meted out. And the accommodation of that violence.
“I think it’s extremely important that everybody identifies themselves as anti-racist and is unashamed and public and out are there about that.”
RAPAR as an organisation comprises of people who are refugees and displaced peoples, ‘self-activity’ makes change within the organisation, which has been going since 2001; ‘we don’t do things for people or on people, only with them.’ Part of their recent work has been to debunk the stereotype of the ‘dangerous’ refugee;
“It’s not new. Historically, the othering of somebody who comes from a different place is a very tried and tested manouevure on the part of people who are controlling the dominant ideas that are circulating at any given time in a society. Ironically, the 1905 Aliens act, which was the first formal legal tool, instrument, that came into existence to control migration into Britain was actually created specifically to stop Jewish refugees who were fleeing from Pogroms in the East.
“It’s contested but I would locate the 1905 Aliens Act as the beginning of border control in the UK.”
Despite the perpetuation of these stereotypes for refugees, Dr Moran points to the economy within our borders, for the greatest threat to security – which continues unimpeded;
“It’s the drive to war which is an inevitable part of the maintenance and perpetuation of global capital. The warring brothers, which is the rich, they fall out. And in a global marketplace the tendency of the rate of profit to fall means a shrinking marketplace, which means shrinking profits, so war is a very convenient manouevre to inflate the potential for profit again.”