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Human Rights Campaigns

Once upon a time on a small island off the coast of Cuba…

…Or more precisely in 2002, a detainment camp was set up to hold al-Qaeda and Taliban terror suspects. Since its opening, Guantanamo Bay has been famous for flouting the rules of the Geneva Convention with torture, water boarding and awful human rights violations a part of day to day life for the detainees.

Some 779 prisoners have been held in Guantanamo Bay against their will even after being cleared of any charges. Many of the legal challenges against this continued detention have been led by Reprieve, an organisation dedicated to “delivering justice and saving lives, from death row to Guantánamo Bay”.

During the last few years Reprieve have secured the release of 65 inmates from Guantanamo, including two British Citizens. This leaves just one remaining British Citizen: Shaker Aamer.

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Shaker Aamer continues to be held in Guantanamo Bay, despite never being charged with a crime or given a trial for 11 years. He has been cleared for release yet is still being kept there and subjected to extended isolation and abuse.

Shaker is a British citizen with a wife and four children, one of whom he has never met before. His family has had to live without a father, a husband, a son, whilst knowing he has been locked up as an innocent man in one of the most notorious prisons in the world.

In 2005, Shaker went on hunger strike with 300 other prisoners, after another prisoner had been beaten during his prayer time. As a result, he was thrown into solitary confinement; a room 6ft by 8ft with no windows that he still inhabits to this day. These injustices have received a lot of attention from the public and press alike, who have continued to fight for the release of Shaker Aamer with rallies, petitions and events.

Tomorrow will see a Free Shaker Aamer rally held outside Westminster at 9am, before an open parliamentary debate begins on his case at 11am. Please join them. More details here.

 

Tar Sands are the big issue for climate change as John Kerry; the man responsible for deciding the fate of the Keystone XL Pipeline comes to London for a G8 meeting tomorrow, to be greeted by a vocal ‘No to Keystone XL’ demo.

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Tar sands are an extremely viscous type of petroleum; Tar sand oil is the worst type of oil for the climate, producing three times the greenhouse gases of conventional oil production.

Kerry has met opposition worldwide for the KXL pipeline that will run from Alberta, Canada all the way through to Texas carrying harmful tar sands oil. The pipeline will run for approx 1,700 miles(2,750km) through multiple states.

To build the pipeline through the proposed route will mean destroying large amounts of forest and natural beauty spots. Tar sands are extremely hazardous; if there was damage to the pipeline or oil tankerwhilst being transported across the Atlantic, it would be catastrophic for wildlife, water supplies and agriculture.
Tar sands are non renewable, furthering our dependence on fossil fuels and putting more profit into the pockets of the large oil companies, whilst we should be looking for alternatives.

A number of groups will be protesting along the route that John Kerry will be taking to the G8 summit tomorrow in London, including the UK Tar Sands Network. Apologies for the late notice but if you’d like to join in or find out more here’s a link to the event on good ol’ Facebook.
LUSH have campaigned with UK Tar Sands Network previously If you’d like to know a little more here’s a link to that.

Apologies for the lateness of this post about International Women’s Day (better late than never).

A month ago yesterday was 8th March, also known as International Women’s Day. The day is historically an opportunity to celebrate women’s equality, rights and show solidarity with women struggling to improve their position globally.

In some of the London shops, we decided to support the Phoenix Project, who work with refugee and asylum-seeker women in the city, many of whom have fled war-torn countries or the threat of violence for loving someone of the same sex. Their lives can become dominated by the dehumanising process of claiming asylum, isolation or being stuck in a limbo lasting years without a decision being made.

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Here are some questions we asked the group to shed some light on their work:

Why did you decide to start Phoenix Project?

We had volunteered with the Red Cross Women’s support group (set up for asylum seekers and refugees who were victims of gender based violence) and saw, through that, how crucially important the weekly social contact and interaction was for the participants. 

The great majority of these women were isolated, lonely and chronically depressed; many were ill. Unable to work, living way below the poverty line, unable to make any significant decisions – waiting to hear whether they would be returned to the country from which they had fled, their lives are incredibly bleak. 

Having the chance to socialise, regularly to meet other women and form friendships, to spend significant time together, share learning, and creating, and laughter, was life enhancing.  Participants could however only attend the Red Cross group for a year.  We therefore decided to start a follow-on women’s group for these and other women in similar positions.

What are the challenges of working in London?

The Phoenix women live scattered all round the periphery of this vast city (Ilford to Heathrow, Croydon to Waltham Cross) and on the few occasions when they can afford to travel can only take buses … some spend 5 hours getting to and from a meeting.

It is incredibly difficult to maintain face to face contact with each other, to sustain friendships and the essential support that social contact provides. With virtually no money even maintaining phone contact is difficult.

What has been your biggest success so far?

Seeing people who were isolated, withdrawn, depressed, become alive, begin to express themselves and make connections with each other.  Knowing that the Phoenix Project has made a difference.

What are your plans for the future?

To extend our reach – to provide groups for more asylum seeking women, and to extend our activities – to run dance and singing sessions, to do day trips, even time away. Our sessions are run in such a way that everyone gets the opportunity to contribute to setting up and planning; over time the participants will develop the skills, knowledge and confidence to organise and run their own groups for other women.

To support us, join the Facebook group, or for any other information, please email phoenixproject11@gmail.com or visit our website.

You can also help by spreading awareness of the difficulties faced by those who have sought sanctuary here; the circumstances in which they live and the difficulties they face will increase in the next round of cuts as their access to much needed services becomes more and more restricted.

Asylum seekers are often scapegoated in the press as being a drain on the economy, but the reality is that these people are refused the right to work and are forced to live on 70% of the benefits their British-born equivalent would receive. The best way of improving conditions for asylum seekers is making yourself aware of the issues they face and supporting campaigns for their better treatment. An easy way to start is by signing up for email updates from Refugee Action, and following these groups on Twitter:

@RefugeeAction

@freefromtorture

@RefugeesIntl

@STARnational

@refugeecouncil

@4refugeewomen

What seems evident is that often the daily struggles of these women (and men) go largely unnoticed as life gets tougher for lots of people in the UK, which is why it is all the more important that groups like the Phoenix Project exist.

We hope to continue supporting PP in the future by running an event in June for Refugee Week. If you know of any similar sized groups working with refugees in the UK, please share them below.

Last Wednesday, I was lucky enough to join the Sock Mob on one of their weekly walks in central London. The name Sock Mob comes from when the group first started meeting and taking to the streets with socks to handout to the homeless of London.

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There are still socks in abundance but also gloves, jumpers, hot drinks and food for anyone who wants it. The idea is that four groups meet in different parts of London at the same time and walk an area for a couple of hours spreading cheer, warmth and friendship to the homeless.

At Lush, we had supported the group over Christmas by collecting clothing and donations in all the London shops. It had proved very popular with staff and customers but we had yet to embark on one of the mobbings (where donations are given out).

So it was that I waited patiently outside a large fastfood chain on the Strand and looked for likely fellow mobbers to emerge streetside. It didn’t take long before I met Richard and Richard – a SockMob regular and the Strand meet-up organiser, and then Robert and then Anna and then Mikey. All were very friendly, ladened with donations and eager to get going!

We made our way along the busy 7 O’clock Strand and headed towards Covent Garden. Despite this usually being an area where lots of street friends can usually be found, we failed to find anyone at first. Having been here quite a lot before I moved to London, it was noticeable how much the area has changed even in the last few years. There was a side-street that been roofed, swankified and made very private-looking. Everywhere looked forbidding and sanitized unless you had money to spend!

Later, we met a man behind the Royal Opera House who was very peacefully listening to the radio through headphones and looking after his two friends’ sleeping bags. He gratefully accepted a hot drink and a KitKat and chatted to us for a bit. He mentioned that the BAFTAs had happened in the opera house just that weekend and he had been cleared from his spot as the whole road was sealed off for security. Hardly surprising but also not the best advert for a British film industry so embracing of films like Slumdog Millionaire and Mike Leigh’s social realism.

As we walked towards theatreland, we met and struck up conversation with a few other guys on their own. I was surprised both by people’s openness and happy-go-lucky attitude. No one we spoke to seemed angry or resentful at their situation, inspite of the huge frustration that must go with trying to secure things like accommodation or a job.

Writing this, I realise it is impossible to generalise about those we met on the street. People’s stories were all very different and whether they choose to live on the street (as some do) or not, most appreciate a smile, a cup of tea or a chat like anyone else.

Sockmob do just this every week and you can join their meet up page here.