Notes from underground

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Archive for the tag “refugees”

22 Britannia Road (book review)

22 Britannia Road22 Britannia Road by Amanda Hodgkinson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A Polish couple is separated at the beginning of the Second World War, and reunited in Britain after the war is over. In the six years that they have been apart their different experiences have made them different people. Then there is the child Aurek, who has only known the life of a fugitive, hiding in the forest. He has to adapt to living in a suburban house in a society where the language, is strange.

The story alternates between the present and the past, starting with their reunion, and going back to their former life, leading up to the present.

I picked this book up on a remainder sale, after reading the blurb I thought it looked interesting for the same reason that I found the The long road home the aftermath of the Second World War interesting (my review here). I’m interested in transitions, in between times, changes from war to peace, migrants, refugees, displaced persons, asylum seekers. How do such people make a transition from one life to another?

And so I bought it and brought it home to read it, and was surprised at how good it was. When I read historical novels, I tend to look out for anachronisms, well, not actually to look for them, but when I spot them I find them jarring, and so I tend to be reading in nervous expectation. In this book I didn’t spot any, or at least none that were jarring. It seemed remarkably authentic and true to life — not that I’ve ever been to Poland, so I might not know anyway, but it didn’t seem much different from novels by Polish novelists that I’ve read.

The characters and their reactions are believable, yet not predictable, and this unpredictability is what makes the novel seem so authentic. It is like the unpredictability of real life, when you never know what will happen next or how people will respond to it.

View all my reviews

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Seeking asylum: varying views from five continents

Asylum seekers seem to keep on making news. In some places, like Australia, asylum seekers are regarded as criminals, and the media sometimes refer to “suspected asylum seekers”, as though seeking asylum was a crime one could be suspected of committing.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which has been signed by most countries, says:

Article 14.

(1) Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.
(2) This right may not be invoked in the case of prosecutions genuinely arising from non-political crimes or from acts contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.

In Canada, it seems, this right has been respected even when it seems contrary to Section (2) above: Row as Canada gives asylum to white South African | World news | The Guardian

Asylum seeker Brandon Huntley claimed he had been persecuted, abused and repeatedly stabbed. But it was the reason he gave for his ordeal that caused a diplomatic rift today. Huntley is South African – and white.

Canada’s decision to grant him refugee status because of his colour prompted accusations of racism from the South African government and a fresh bout of soul searching in a country still scarred by the legacy of apartheid. Some South African whites say they have become a persecuted minority.

But France refused asylum to Vladimir Popov, Yekaterina Popova and their two children, who claimed that they were persecuted in Kazakhstan because they were Orthodox Christians and ethic Russians. French authorities kept them in detention for two weeks and repeatedly tried to deport them to Kazakhstan. That seems to be in line with the treatment of asylum seekers in Australia and, in some cases, South Africa.

But in this case the European Court of Human Rights disagreed Interfax-Religion
reports:

The European Court of Human Rights found France guilty of violating Article 3 (prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment), Article 5 (right to liberty and security) and Article 8 (right to respect to private and family life) of the European Convention on Human Rights, and ordered France to pay the family 13,000 euros.

So here are five different countries — Australia, Canada, France, Kazakhstan, and South Africa — on five different continents, with very different attitudes to asylum seekers and asylum seeking. For some seeking asylum is a human right, for others it is a crime.

Illegal aliens

In September there is to be a synchroblog on Christians and the immigration issue, and here’s a foretaste, so you can start thinking about it in advance.

Teflon Christians, Refugees and an Invitation to a Christ-like Humanity | Peter’s Progress:

Let me introduce you to “Warren” (not his real name). Warren has a wife and three children. Before coming here he helped bury a friend’s wife, who had died of cholera (and was eight months pregnant). Warren slept outside for three weeks near Musina. The first day in Polokwane he approached me because he had heard that the Anglican Church helps refugees.

I said we weren’t much use, but we could give him some food. I know that people sleep down by the train station or the taxi rank and pointed him in the right direction. Warren arrived the next day having been mugged and stripped of everything except his trousers and shirt. Luckily he’d put his asylum papers (legal documents) in his pants.

“Chris” and “Fred” teamed up with Warren the next night and slept at a local garage, because it is well lit. The three of them fear the police. When they walk around town or wait on the side of the road for work, they get harassed or moved on. They’ve heard stories of our police tearing up asylum papers so they can be deported back across the border as illegals.

And its not only the police who are xenophobic, as the mob violence of a couple of years ago should remind us.

If you’d like to participate in the synchroblog, which is on 8 September 2010, there’s more information at Synchroblogging Is Back | Grace Rules Weblog.

Zimbabwe is top in literacy rate in all Africa

In spite of the last decade of misrule, it seems that Zimbabwe’s literacy rate is still rising. Africa Review – Zimbabwe is top in literacy rate in all Africa:

Zimbabwe has overtaken Tunisia as the country with the highest literacy rate in Africa despite the numerous problems that continue to dog its once enviable education sector

According to the UNDP’s latest statistical digest, the southern African country has a 92 per cent literacy rate, up from 85 per cent.

Tunisia remains at 87 per cent.

Post-independence Zimbabwe’s education was heavily subsidised by government, resulting in vast improvements from the colonial system.

Zimbabwean graduates remain marketable the world over.

In 2005 I was involved with some others in planting a new Orthodox Church in Tembisa, in Ekurhuleni. We met in a preprimary school, where most of the teachers were graduates — refugees from Zimbabwe. And it soon became apparent that the Zimbabweans were way better educated than most South Africans. We looked for leaders, who could read the services, and it was the Zimbabweans who were competent and picked it up quickly.

The Zimbabweans had a head start on South Africans. They never had Bantu Education. They never had Christian National Edcuation, which was neither Christian, not national, nor education.

But there are some lessons in this for South Africa.

What did we do to try to counter Bantu Education?

We introduced Outcomes-Based Education.

In theory, that was not a bad idea. The principle of outcomes-based education is a good one — you judge how well it is working by what pupils actually learn, and you remove the excuse of bad teachers: “We taught them that, but they didn’t learn it”.

It aims to replace rote learning with teaching pupils to think.

The problem is, however, that as a complete system it requires teachers who are equipped to run it, and teachers who had been trained in rote-learning under the Bantu Education system simply couldn’t cope.

The best way to reverse the effects of Bantu Education would have been to engage in a massive retraining of teachers, a re-education programme, in fact. Instead, experienced teachers (pre-Bantu Education) were enouraged to take early retirement, and the number of teacher training institutions was reduced.

And who would do the teaching while the teachers were being re-trained?

Zimbabwean and other refugees, of course!

There are hundreds of them, probably working in menial jobs, their skills going to waste, and instead we deport them as illegal immigrants. That is what happened to some of the teachers at the pre-primary school in Tembisa.

Another observation I have made is that at our Catechetical School in Yeoville, johannesburg, we have had a number of refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). They got their education in French, and yet managed to cope with teaching in English far better than most South Africans. It’s another country that has seen turmoil for the last 50 years or more, and yet still seems to manage to produce well-educated people.

OK, it’s possible that the refugees are the smart ones, and the illiterate ones stayed at home. Dictatorial governments usually like to crack down on the intelligentsia, so they are often among the first to leave. But whatever the reason, the fact is that we have their skills in South Africa and we are not using them. If we did, we might soon surpass Zimbabwe in literacy.

Methodists: gays out of the closet and refugees under the carpet?

One of the bigger news items last week was the suspension of Methodist bishop Paul Verryn by his ecclesiastical superiors. This came as quite a shock to many of us who know him, and one of the places I naturally looked to for information was some of my Methodist blogging friends. There are quite a few Methodist bloggers in South Africa, so one hoped to learn something from them.

Paul Verryn has been in the news lately for opening the Central Methodist Church in Johannesburg to homeless refugees, mostly from Zimbabwe.

Dion Forster wrote about him a few months ago in Dion’s random ramblings: Central Methodist Mission, Bishop Paul Verryn and compassion

A couple of years ago Anglican bishop Desmond Tutu remarked that Anglicans seemed to be obsessed with sex, and were discussing sex to the exclusion of more important issues, such as HIV/Aids, Zimbabwe, and the situation in Darfur (see BBC NEWS: Anglicans ‘obsessed’ by gay issue), and indeed some Anglican blogs, not just in South Africa, but in other parts of the world, seem to focus on little else but sexual morality. I blogged about it at Notes from underground: Anglican introversion, and one Baptist blogger (Matt Stone of Australia) remarked “Consumerism, pluralism, spirituality, collapse of Christian credibility and moral authority in the media and public discourse … don’t these issues deserve some attention? I don’t recall Jesus being that sex obsessed” (the link on his blog has changed, and I can no longer find it, but he did say it).

Now it seems to be the turn of Methodists. Several Methodist bloggers have been blogging about homosexuality recently, but I haven’t been able to find any who has mentioned the suspension of Paul Verryn. I blogged about it here, and people from other Christian groups in South Africa have Twittered about it, but there seems to be a great silence from South African Methodist bloggers.

Now perhaps I’m sticking my neck out too far here, but it seems to me that Paul Verryn is the Methodist Desmond Tutu, one of those church leaders who make the “don’t rock the boat” kind of leaders uncomfortable because they “speak the truth to power”. And to me as an outsider the whole thing is beginning to look more and more like a hatchet job. When Jesus was arrested it was a plot hatched by the secular rulers and the religious authorities between them, and a very mixed bunch came to arrest him. And something similar seems to be happening here, with the addition of the media jumping in as well.

In December 2003 an informal group of Johannesburg church leaders of different denominations urged the South African government to be more active in opposing human rights abuses in Zimbabwe. Paul Verryn was one of the prime movers of this. The group was attacked by other church leaders who were close to the government at the time, notably Frank Chikane and Cedric Mayson, and they likened Paul Verryn and the other Johannesburg leaders to George Bush. The comparison is utterly ridiculous, because at the same time Paul Verryn was investigating possible ways of having George Bush charged with war crimes. In the very same week Desmond Tutu appeared on the front pages of newspapers, attacking the South African government for failing to criticise the Mugabe regime for human rights abuses in Zimbabwe.

No one knows how many Zimbabwe refugees there are in South Africa, but very few of them have been granted political asylum, because the South African government does not want to acknowledge the gross human rights abuses that have been taking place in Zimbabwe. One of the South African groups that has been aware of those abuses is Cosatu, the Congress of South African trade unions (the Mugabe regime has been particularly hard on trade unionists), and Cosatu has recently been under sustained attack from the ANC youth league, one of its political alliance partners.

A few months ago government officials and politicans visited the Central Methodist Church in Johannesburg where homeless refugees, most of them from Zimbabwe, have been given shelter, and threatened to close the church, and blamed Paul Verryn for the problems there. The real cause of the problem, of course, is the Mugabe regime in Zimbabwe, from which most of the refugees come, and the secondary cause is the South African government, which fails to acknowledge the problem and make provision for the refugees. People like Paul Verryn try to apply a private enterprise solution, and get attacked for it.

There have been reports of sexual immorality and criminal activity among the refugees staying in the Central Methodist Church. I am not surprised. Just because people are refugees does not mean that they are all necessarily good people.

But the announcement of the suspension of Paul Verryn by the authorities of the Methodist Church made no mention of the disciplinary charges against him, allowing, perhaps deliberately, some very nasty media speculation and innuendoes. On Friday the Johannesburg Star published the most unflattering picture of him they could find, while other press reports practically invited readers to infer that he was a criminal, running a bordello, and deliberately allowing criminals to operate unchecked on the church premises.

So I am really quite anxious to know what Methodist bloggers think of this, rather than abstract questions of sexual morality. The gays may be coming out of the closet, but why are the refugees apparently being swept under the carpet?

Invasion of the Baby-Snatchers

St. Aidan to Abbey Manor: UK Border Agency: Invasion of the Baby-Snatchers:

The thundering knock came early in the morning. It was 6.30am. Without waiting for an answer the security chain across the door was smashed from its fittings. Feet thundered up the staircase. The five children, all under the age of 10, were alarmed to be woken from their sleep by the dozen burly strangers who burst into their bedrooms, switched on the lights and shouted at them to get up.

This is not a police state. It is Manchester in supposedly civilised Britain in the 21st century. There is a clue to what this is about in the names of the children: Nardin, who is 10; Karin who is seven; the three-year-old twins Bishoy and Anastasia, and their one-year-old baby sister Angela.

Their parents, Hany and Samah Mansour, are Coptic Christians who fled to the UK after a campaign of persecution by a group of Islamic fundamentalists in Egypt whose friends in the secret police tortured Hany. But even though six Coptic Christians were shot dead by Muslim extremists only last week in a town not far from their home, the British Government has decided that it does not believe them. And so Britain’s deportation police have launched another of their terrifying dawn raids on sleeping children.

We have similar problems in South Africa. We have the notorious Lindela Repatriation Camp. We have senior people in government visiting a church that has allowed homeless refugees to sleep inside it instead of outside in the street and threatening to close the church (so much for our much-vaunted constitutional guarantee of religious freedom).

And then there is the fascist (no hyperbole — there’s no better word to describe it) Australian press, which routinely refers to “suspected asylum seekers”, as though seeking asylum was a crime. Boat carrying 30 suspected asylum seekers intercepted off Australia’s north coast | The Daily Telegraph:

YET another boat carrying suspected asylum seekers has been intercepted off Australia’s north coast, making it the 60th arrival this year.

The stationary vessel was spotted sometime before 7.30am today about 140 nautical miles (260 kilometres) north of Gove, in the Northern Territory, Home Affairs Minister Brendan O’Connor said in a statement this afternoon.

Britain, South Africa and Australia are supposed to be democratic states, and they at least pay lip service to human rights. But this kind of behaviour is as bad as that found in totalitarian dictatorships. As far as I am aware, each of these countries is a signatory of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states, among other things, that Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.

So why are the Australian media trying to portray a right as a crime by referring to “suspected” asylum seekers? That is how the Nazi propaganda press dealt with Jews, Slavs, Gypsies and other “Untermenschen”. By trying to criminalise the exercise of human rights, the Australian press fully deserves the epithet “fascist”.

Christians have just celebrated the Feast of the Nativity of Christ, and among other things we remember that our Lord Jesus Christ and his family were asylum seekers in Egypt. But many of his followers in Egypt have now become asylum seekers elsewhere. And, as we can see, they receive no better welcome.

Central Methodist Church could face closure

Central Methodist Church could face closure – Mail & Guardian Online:

Johannesburg’s Central Methodist Church, which houses over 3 000 Zimbabwean refugees, could face closure after a visit by the Gauteng legislature’s health and social development portfolio committee early on Friday morning.

‘We will make a recommendation to close the church after witnessing the horror that we saw this morning,’ said committee chairperson Molebatsi Bopape.

‘If I could have it my way, I would close it down today.’

Quite how they plan to “close” the church is not clear. There might be a slight problem with the constitution, which guarantees religious freedom.

But the fact is that Bishop Paul Verryn has been asking the provincial and municipal authorities for years now to do something to help homeless refugees, and they have done nothing concrete. The church opening its door to homeless refugees is “horror” — but what then is the attitude of provincial and municipal authorities, who would prefer them to sleep in shop doorways?

And all credit to the South African Council of Churches, who have not only supported their member church, the Methodist Church of South Africa, but have, in a clear and lucid statement reminded national, provincial and local government of their responsibilities. Reggie: SACC Media Statement on the situation at Central Methodist Church:

It is well known that the living conditions of the refugees at the CMC are poor and often appalling. No one wants to live in an over-crowded situation where there is no privacy, few sanitation facilities, etc. People are not living in these conditions out of choice. They are not living there because Bishop Paul Verryn and the staff at CMC have invited and encouraged them to live there. Nor is this the reason for Medicins Sans Frontier (MSF) camping at the CMC. The people have moved into CMC because it responded to a humanitarian crisis – to which few other people, including the local, provincial and national government responded. It is the calling of the church to provide care and refuge to the destitute and the vulnerable.

While it is easy to turn CMC into a villain in this scenario, SACC warns against jumping to that conclusion. The primary villain, if there is one, first and foremost are such governments as that of Zimbabwe and of those African countries whose nationals live at the church. Within South Africa the primary villain is government; and not the Central Methodist Church.

For far too long the South African government has turned a blind eye to Robert Mugabe’s autocratic and kleptocratic fascist distatorship, which is why millions of Zimbabweans have voted with their feet and fled to neighbouring countries to seek refuge. They are here, in part, because the South African government coddled and cossetted and pampered their oppressor, and doesn’t even want to acknowledge their existence because to do so would expose the unpalatable truth that Zimbabwe under Mugabe is a fascist dictatorship.

Ms Bopape, your government helped to create this situation, and the Methodist Church just responded to it. If you regard it with “horror”, then the best long-term solution is to help make the homeland of the refugees habitable again, instead of turning a blind eye to the repression and gross violations of human rights that are taking place there. And until Zimbabwe becomes habitable again, do something about helping the homeless refugees now.

Reggie Nel quotes the SACC statement in full on his blog, and it is well worth reading.

Want to do something about it? Sign this petition for a start.

Xenophilia versus xenophobia

There have been many media reports of incidents of xenophobia recently, where the homes of illegal aliens and refugees have been burnt down (sometimes with the people inside) that this comment on Roger Saner’s blog Beyond the Boerewors Curtain: Zimbabwe for the weekend comes as a refreshing change:

A few of us have started the 100% tip challenge. It works like this: when we eat at a restaurant we ask the waiter where they’re from. If they’re from Zimbabwe we tip them 100%. It’s amazing how many Zimbabweans are working in Gauteng, serving as a lifeline to their family’s back home.

Of course once the word spreads in the catering industry you’ll probably find that every single waiter in every single restaurant is an expatriate Zimbabwean! But it’s the thought that counts.

Last night at the Vespers of Love at St Nicholas of Japan Orthodox Church in Brixton, Johannesburg, we read the Gospel in several different languages, as is the custom. At the end of the service Azar Jammine, one of the parish leaders, remarked that when we started the parish 21 years ago, we wanted it to be a truly multi-ethnic Orthodox Church, and that vision was being realised right now: the priest, from Kenya, read the gospel in Swahili. A Congolese student read it in Latin. An student Angolan read it in Portuguese. A Greek read it in Turkish.

And somehow some of the words we sang seemed to stand out more than usual:

This is the day of resurrection.
Let us be illumined by the feast. Let us embrace each other.
Let us call “Brothers” even those that hate us, and forgive all by the resurrection, and so let us cry:

Christ is risen from the dead
Trampling down death by death
And upon those in the tombs bestowing life.

We sing it every year. But this year it seemed more real. Let us call “Brothers” even those that hate us. Let us replace xenophobia by xenophilia.

‘Xenophobic’ attacks under the spotlight

Terrified immigrants fled to a church orphanage near Atteridgeville when gangs attached foreigners earlier this week, killing two men. After sheltering in the orphanage, they moved to a school, but had no food, and in some cases their shacks had been burnt.

The priest at the orphanage remonstrated with the attackers. He said they were not local people from Atteridgeville, but had come from Limpopo.

The Times – ‘Xenophobic’ attacks under the spotlight:

The SA Human Rights Commission will embark on a fact-finding mission in Atteridgeville, Pretoria, where two foreign nationals were killed in an apparent xenophobic attack, it said yesterday.

Spokesman Vincent Moaga said the commission would visit the Brazzaville informal settlement to day at 10am.

Two Zimbabwean nationals were killed when a mob burnt their shacks in separate incidents at midnight on Monday…

The department said it was in consultation with stakeholders to find a solution to the ongoing attacks.

Now that last sentence is weird… which “department” is that, and who are these “stakeholders”?

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