Listen to the Refugee's Story
How UK Foreign Investment Creates Refugees and Asylum Seekers
by Ilisu Dam Campaign Refugees Project, The Corner House and Peace in Kurdistan
first published 2 November 2003
The vast majority of refugees today flee conflict, or social or economic oppression. In many cases, British companies, taxpayers and the government directly and indirectly support the human rights abuses that accompany British investment and policies abroad. Many of these abuses ultimately force people to flee their homes and then their countries. These investment include not just weapons exports but also oil and gas pipelines, mines, and large hydroelectric and irrigation dams.
This 132-page publication includes stories, poems and drawings from refugees and asylum seekers, including Kurds, Colombians, Afghans, Nigerians, Burmese and Somalis, about why they have been forced to flee their countries. The book highlights broader links between enforced migration and global economic processes, poses key questions about trade and development policies and corporate accountability, and addresses the effects of the current “war on terrorism” on different communities.
- Refugee stories
- I am on a journey
- The persecuted should be protected
- Decades of war creates refugees
- Another Day -- Another Life
- Financing warlords in Afghanistan
- Small Mirrors (extract)
- What use am I to anyone dead?
- They are probably hoping that we die with the weapons they provided
- A Tale
- Please use your liberty to promote ours
- And I Cried
- Another migrant forced out of Nigeria by a foreign company
- Victim Number 48
- My only crime was to sing in Kurdish
- Close to the Truth
- We should try listening to the refugee's story
- Generating refugees: UK and international policies and practices
- How UK foreign investment creates refugees and asylum seekers
- Export credit guarantees and the displacement of people
- Wars and conflicts create refugees
- The real democratic deficit: BP, the Baku-Ceyhan oil pipeline and public funding
- Trouble in the pipeline
- Dams and displacement
- "They're all dammed"
- British-based mining companies displace communities in Colombia
- The dimensions of environmental refugees
- Defining and recognising refugees, evacuees and migrants
- The environmental dimension of contemporary refugees
- Environmental refugees from developing countries
- Environmental refugees from industrialised countries
- Worldwide environmental refugees from climate change
- There should not always be refugees
- The environmental and water crisis in the Panjaab
- Creating Sri Lankan political refugees
- Refugee women: Victims of the New World Order
- The political economy of migration
- Calling time on corporate globalisation:Putting people before profits
- Issues and campaigns
- End Note
Refugees and asylum seekers who manage to come to Britain are increasingly being demonised in the popular media as "welfare scroungers", "illegal immigrants" and "bogus applicants" or as "criminals" and "terrorists". Such labels mask not only the immense contributions that migrants have long made to British culture and the economy, but also the reasons why they come here and why many long to return home but feel they cannot.
The vast majority of refugees today are fleeing conflict or social or economic oppression (and the vast majority of the world's refugees live in the countries of Asia and Africa; less than 2% make it to Britain). In many cases, British companies, taxpayers and the government are directly and indirectly supporting the multitude of human rights abuses that accompany or follow British investment and policies abroad. Many of these ultimately force people to flee their homes and then their countries. In recent years, the highest number of asylum seekers to Britain have come from Iraq, Zimbabwe, Afghanistan, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Turkey, the Congo and former Yugoslavia.
These investments have not just been the more obvious ones, such as waging war or allowing the export of weapons. They also include support for large infrastructure projects, such as large hydroelectric and irrigation dams, oil and gas pipelines, and mines. Some of these policies and investments are one-offs, others continue for many years, if not decades.
One such project that the British government has considered supporting was the Ilisu dam in south-eastern Turkey. If it is built, the dam would affect 78,000 people, the majority of them Kurdish, and heighten the risk of "water wars" with the downstream countries of Syria and Iraq. A broad coalition of human rights and environmental organisations and Kurdish refugees in Britain -- the Ilisu Dam Campaign -- opposed the project on these grounds. Its sustained campaign argued that £200 million of British taxpayers' money should not support the British construction firm, Balfour Beatty, which had been contracted by the Turkish government to build the dam, and brought some of these issues clearly onto the public agenda. As a result of the campaign, Balfour Beatty withdrew from the Ilisu dam project in November 2001 (see pp.108ff).
Those active in the Ilisu Dam Campaign thought it was important, however, to draw public attention to the wider impacts of British investment and policies and to reframe the debate about refugees and asylum seekers. As an initial start, the Campaign joined with other refugee, human rights and environmental campaigners, academics and politicians to hold a public seminar in December 2002 at a Kurdish Community Centre in north London on "How UK Foreign Investment Creates Asylum Seekers". Speakers from several asylum communities told their stories as to why they had been forced to flee their countries. Other speakers explored how the UK supports human rights abuses through some of its overseas investments and trade, and highlighted more broader links between enforced migration and global economic processes. They also addressed the effects of the current US and UK-led "war on terrorism" on different communities. The seminar aimed to develop and strengthen links between refugee communities and other organisations.
This publication is a compilation of the presentations made at the seminar, together with other articles and contributions from supporters of the initiative. Since the seminar, various groups concerned about the marginalisation and criminalisation of refugee communities and the abuse of public money have continued to meet to explore how they might work more effectively together.
I can't wait, it's late
I am on a journey, I'll go
Before me is a fight and a struggle
I am on a journey, I'll go
No matter how far it is
Say from the North to the South
Even if it is like travelling
on the edge of a sword
I am on a journey, I'll go
Even if enemies are on that road
If the very soil and stones turn into snakes
if all envenomed strike at once
I am on a journey, I'll go
Even if the bullets rain down
If the enemy comes like shedding leaves
If the army of the oppressor comes
I am on a journey, I'll go
Even if the collaborators conspire
With the traitors against me
If so many thorns are on the road
I am on a journey, I'll go
I will defend that road
I can witness the liberation
I am slowly drawing near
I am on a journey, I'll go
A road with crests and valleys
For freedom and independence
I will never return
I am on a journey, I'll go
I am on a journey, the road lies before me
My enemies have increased
Should even all the world attack me
I am on a journey, I'll go
I will never stop, never return
I have but a single road, not two
The road is that of my motherland
I am on a journey, I'll go
Summer, Winter and Fall
I do not tire at all
This road is the road to Kurdistan
I am on a journey, I'll go
Adar Jiyan is a poet from the Kurdish region of Turkey now living in exile. This poem is from an Anthology of Contemporary Kurdish Poetry, published by Kurdistan Solidarity Committee and Yashar Ismail, December 1994.
It is important to understand what forces people to flee from their countries of origin.
In recent years, the subject of refugees has become a high profile political issue, one on which most people have a view. Unfortunately most of these views are based on misconceptions. I believe it is important to understand the reasons why people are forced to flee from their countries of origin before making judgements or assumptions.
After spending many years in exile, I understand what it means for those who are forced to flee from persecution and thus lose their land. But it's not only a piece of land they lose: they also lose their family, friends, relatives, society, culture and background.
My views on refugee issues are based on my personal experience, the experience of the people I work with and simple facts of life. To discuss these issues, it is important to understand international conflicts, civil wars, other forms of human rights violations and the political and economic problems facing those who flee from their country of origin. To understand the reasons why people flee, it is important to listen to people from different refugee-producing countries talking about their experiences. Only then will people realise how important the 1951 Geneva Convention is to those who are forced to flee their country.1
The international community signed up to the Geneva Convention because of the crimes committed against so many innocent people during the Second World War. This Convention is as relevant today as it was then, because similar crimes are still being committed today against individuals and social, religious and political groups in many different countries just as they were more than 50 years ago. I strongly believe that as long as people are subjected to human rights abuses, this Convention is important and relevant because it is the only international framework that provides protection to those who are fleeing from persecution.
If we believe that the right to be free from persecution is a fundamental human right for every individual, then we should provide this right to everyone on this planet, regardless of his or her race, culture, religion or background.
If we want to stop or to slow the flow of refugees to the West, then we have to stop selling arms to countries with poor human rights records. More often than not, these weapons are used in internal oppression, burning villages and destroying people's lives and hopes for the future.
In Britain over the past decade, four different pieces of legislation governing asylum and immigration have been introduced.2 Each time the government changes its policy, refugees are deprived still further of their liberty and dignity. Many of their rights and entitlements are either denied or restricted; these include their rights to legal advice and to appeals, provision of support, education, training and health care. In a civilised society, these rights are fundamental to human existence.
I believe that as long as we allow people to be persecuted, then we need an international law to protect them. If we can't protect people in their country of origin, then we need to provide them with protection and treat them with human dignity and respect in the country of refuge.
Fazil Kawani works with Asylum Rights Campaign.
1. The 1951 Geneva Refugee Convention is the foundation of international protection of refugees. It defines a refugee as someone outside their own country unable or unwilling to return owning to a well founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion. It sets out the kind of legal protection, other assistance and social rights a refugee should receive from the 141 states that are now party to the Convention. It was the first international agreement that spelled out a set of basic human rights that should be at least equivalent to freedoms enjoyed by foreign nationals living legally in a given country and, in many cases, those of citizens of that state. These include freedom of religion and movement, and the right to work, education and accessibility to travel documents. A key provision stipulates that refugees should not be returned to a country where they fear persecution. It also spells out people or groups of people who are not covered by the Convention. For more information, see www.unhcr.ch/1951convention/51qanda.html
2. The 1993 Asylum and Immigration Appeals Act made provision for people claiming asylum in the UK and their dependants; amended the law concerning certain rights of appeal; and extended immigration legislation to transit passengers.
The 1996 Asylum and Immigration Act removed benefit entitlement to in-country asylum applicants and restricted access to housing. It introduced a "white list" of countries that the Home Office considered did not pose serious risks of persecution. It introduced restrictions and offences concerning employment.
The 1999 Immigration and Asylum Act created a separate system of housing and welfare provision for asylum seekers, including the introduction of vouchers instead of cash, equivalent to 70% of income support. It introduced a special asylum detention regime, and the government began to disperse asylum seekers around the country.
Under the 2002 Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act, anyone convicted of a crime carrying a sentence of more than two years can be excluded from refugee protection as a "danger to the community". It allowed the government to enact measures to segregate asylum seekers from the rest of society.
Two other pieces of legislation affect asylum seekers and refugees. The 2000 Terrorism Act narrowed the definition of refugee and widened the exceptions to refugee status by reference to a broad definition of terrorism. The 2001 Anti-Terrorism Crime and Security Act granted the police and Home Office further powers of surveillance. It authorised the indefinite detention of non-UK citizens who are suspected to have "terrorist" links, but who cannot be safely returned to their own country.
The rivalry between East and West has been played out in Afghanistan for the past two decades. The resulting war, instability and human rights abuses have created over six million refugees.
I used to be the Deputy Editor of Voice of the Fatherland, a journal published by and disseminated among Afghan refugees. Afghanistan had one of the highest proportions of refugees per head of population: nearly six million people were struggling in appalling conditions in Pakistan, Iran and neighbouring countries. The journal was targeted at them, inviting them to come back and participate in the reconstruction of Afghanistan. The regime had a reconciliation policy and was trying to find an Afghan solution to the Afghan crisis. To some extent, credit is due to that regime for introducing law and order to the country and for considering issues of women's equality. Their intentions were good: to help Afghanistan find a respectable place in the international community and to kick-start the economy.
But in 1992, the Government collapsed, and the crisis and chaos in the country deepened. At the time, I was abroad on a short holiday and, as Deputy Editor of a journal linked to the Government, was told that it was not advisable for me to return to Afghanistan, so I came to Britain.
Afghans have not been lucky in recent decades: they have had 23 years of continuous civil war. The rivalry between East and West during the Cold War, between the Russians and NATO, was acted out in Afghanistan. Different sides supported different factions. The scale of the problem created is easy to see. Before, the Ministry of Defence found it difficult to afford 1,000 rifles or shoes for its soldiers; but then suddenly the country was armed to the teeth. For every Afghan, there was a landmine; almost one in two Afghans had a Kalashnikov. In Afghanistan, you could find an enormous quantity of weapons from different countries -- Russia, China, Egypt, America, Britain, Czechoslovakia and Bulgaria. Nearly 1.5 million Afghans lost their lives or were maimed as a result of clashes between the different groups opposed to the Government. The tragedy was never-ending, and the main losers were Afghans themselves.
After the withdrawal of Russian troops in 1989, international interest in Afghanistan absolutely vanished. The Afghans were left to come to terms with their grief and to put the pieces back together. But Afghanistan did not have the ability to put its destroyed infrastructure back together, to revive its economy, to create the fabric of society. Its difficulties were compounded by additional issues: the local players and neighbouring countries all became active in different parties and groups, creating a power struggle, all fighting for different reasons.
Disaster struck when the Taliban emerged in Pakistan and came to Afghanistan. Life was appalling under the Taliban, particularly for women. No information came out of Afghanistan as journalists were barred. But nobody from the outside world was interested anyway -- the international community no longer considered Afghanistan relevant after the influence of Russia there had been checked. As a result, lots of people from different parts of the world found sanctuary in Afghanistan. They could hide there and carry on whatever activities they wanted. Resistance was impossible: the people of Afghanistan were struggling to find just a little piece of bread on which to survive. Resistance from the West would not work: it has to come from inside Afghanistan.
For Afghanistan to survive, it is imperative that the international community take its responsibilities seriously and not withdraw from the country. If it does, there is a real danger that Afghanistan will plunge into a third epoch of civil war. The warlords are still very active.
A country like Afghanistan, ruined by international players, not by Afghans, which has been at war for 23 years and which has no infrastructure, cannot recover within a month or even a year. It will take years to recover and require a strong, genuine commitment from the West. So far, that commitment has been just in words. Lots of financial assistance has been offered to Afghanistan, but it has never materialised. Even then, most of the help promised has been humanitarian hand-outs -- not the kind of long-term projects that will empower and enable the Afghan economy.
Afghanistan has never had a proper industry or infrastructure to help build its economy. Any investment in projects that bring prosperity, money and jobs is welcome. The imminent task for Afghans is for them to put down their guns and pick up a shovel and start rebuilding the country.
I was extremely lucky when I came to Britain. I had no difficulties when I arrived here, I was not the victim of any sort of racial harassment. As a community representative now, I had deep concerns about a backlash or reprisals against Afghan asylum seekers and refugees after September 11th. But apart from a couple of minor incidents, the public response has been very good. I received more than ten 'phone calls making sure that we were okay, and the Afghan Association has received more volunteers. It indicates that public support is there and that people are understanding: it's not as though all of them believe the tabloid newspapers. Public opinion generally believes that people who need protection should be offered protection.
Indeed, the media campaign against refugees makes a mountain out of a molehill. My main recommendation would be more to politicians than to the media. Politicians should not use words that provoke people and they should be brave enough to stand up against racists and some elements in the media, who are damaging the peaceful and tolerant way of living in this country.
Sami Aziz is director of the Afghan Association of London.
This road that everybody follows
For me is just a path.
And this light, which is for me
Only a shadow
For them is a precious life
There are no words spoken
As you grow like a special tree.
There is no way
Which is their own way.
You will always reach the end.
Only the death at the end
Will remain in each case the same.
Then you see the clock,
It's midnight just for those
Who write and yet it's another day.
Amna Dumpor (Bosnia) Translated by Gianna Salkovic. From Crossing the Border -- Voices of Refugee and Exiled Women, edited by Jennifer Langer, published by Five Leaves
The international community bears much of the responsibility for the ongoing deterioration in Afghanistan
Dr Mohamad Akbar Helmandi
During the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan from 1979 to 1989, Western countries, especially the United States, funded a number of separate groups in the country who were opposed to the Soviets. These groups were not united, however, and had no overall strategy. The ensuing war between them and the Soviets led to extreme suffering, the destruction of infrastructure and the emergence of warlords.
After the Soviet withdrawal, Afghanistan was left in the hands of competing warlords. The world outside largely ignored what was happening and simply stood by as the warlords brought further suffering to the people, destroying the capital, Kabul, and parts of other towns in the process. Different warlords continued to attract support from Iran, Russia and other countries.
The Taliban emerged as part of a national uprising against the warlords. Their takeover in 1996 was bloodless in most areas. As they were highly religious, the international community was reluctant to help them reconstruct the country and they gained an increasingly bad press, partly because journalists from many Western countries had contacts only with the various dominant warlord groups of exiles. Criticism was particularly strong of the Taliban's policy towards women. The US was hostile towards Taliban rule, and many stories were generated that it was financed by heroin. In the meantime, the country deteriorated further as schools, roads, hospitals and agriculture were destroyed.
The present regime in Kabul, which was been imposed from the outside, does not represent the people of Afghanistan. Indeed, the international community is now financing the very same warlords who helped to destroy Afghanistan in the first place. Today, there is a continuing great need for solidarity with the Afghan people.
Dr Mohamad Akbar Helmandi is a long-term activist in Afghanistan and the UK with a special focus on education and human rights.
When I touched the bough of a tree
it trembled in pain
When I held out my hand to the branch
the truck started to weep
when I embraced the trunk
the soil under my feet shuddered
the rocks groaned
this time when I bent down and collected
a handful of earth
all Kurdistan screamed.
Twelve midnight exactly
two mated hands
like Kurds and sorrow
Twelve o'clock midnight
like my imagination
a clean bright dinner table
and only one key word
After one o'clock
two separate hands of the clock
like me and the eye of my country
After two o'clock
like exiles and asylum seekers
pen, paper, and items on the table
all disparate and confused
After three o'clock
ashtrays full of butts
and tobacco ash
a room full of smoke
a sleeping poet
a vigilant poem.
Sherko Bekas is a poet from the Kurdish region of northern Iraq. From Anthology of Contemporary Kurdish Poetry, published by Kurdistan Solidarity Committee and Yashar Ismail, December 1994.
Lawyer Marta Hinestroza acts for farmers in Colombia who say their livelihoods were ruined by a pipeline part-owned by UK oil company BP. After death threats from paramilitaries, she's had to flee the country.
Marta Hinestroza, a 37-year-old lawyer and recent arrival in Britain from northwest Colombia, never imagined she would leave her country. But then she never imagined that her legal battles with British Petroleum, on behalf of peasant farmers who claim their livelihoods had been ruined by the construction of an oil pipeline, would lead, however indirectly, to death threats from paramilitary organisations. Nor did she imagine that these threats -- which a spokesman in BP's London office described in December 2002 as "a disgrace" -- would eventually drive her out of her home country.
"When your work might make all the difference for more than 200 helpless and impoverished families, it is difficult to walk away," she says. "But in the end you have to ask, 'What use am I to anyone dead?'"
The final straw came when, on a trip to visit her clients, she was told that her name had appeared on a paramilitary hit list. Hinestroza packed her bags and her files and, with help from the London-based Colombia Solidarity Campaign, arrived in Britain in November 2002 with her 14-year-old daughter, Mayra. While their asylum claim is being processed, they feel disorientated, wrenched from all that is familiar and, above all, cold; but they do at least feel safe.
Hinestroza's decision to leave Colombia was not taken lightly. "I'd already had to move my office in the city because the people I shared with were frightened by the vile phone calls I was receiving," she says. "I'd only been in the new place a few days when they began again, and then a couple of very dodgy characters turned up on the doorstep."
The daughter of a miner and a seamstress, Hinestroza grew up in El Bagre, in the state of Antioquia. At the age of 12, she moved to the city of Medellin to complete her secondary education and stayed there to study law at university. Then, in 1991, just around the time she graduated, came an event that would have an untold effect on her life, and those of thousands of others.
Hundreds of kilometres away to the east, BP struck oil. More precisely, the company found itself sitting on reserves of about two billion barrels of high-grade crude. It was initially pumped through the Oleoducto de Colombia (ODC) pipeline, the construction of which had wreaked havoc with local eco-systems and made many farms along its route unworkable. Then, in 1995, a new company called Ocensa was set up -- in which BP took a 15% stake -- to construct and operate an 800-kilometre pipeline passing from the Cusiana-Cupiagua fields through four states, 40 municipalities and 192 villages to the port of Covenas in northwest Colombia. Following the original ODC route, the new pipeline passed through the municipality of Zaragosa, not far from Hinestroza's hometown of El Bagre, and where she was employed as the local ombudsman.
It had been BP's responsibility to obtain environmental licences for the pipeline, and to compensate farmers along its route for the loss of a 12-metre strip of land at a price of 400 Colombian pesos (at today's exchange rate, about 10 pence) per square metre. But in Zaragosa alone, farmers claim, the construction of the pipeline destroyed hundreds of water sources and brought on landslides that ruined local farmers. Security was brought in to protect the pipeline from the guerrillas, who were angry at the fact that, far from improving the lot of local people, construction of the pipeline was making their lives a misery. An exclusion zone was enforced 100 metres either side of the pipeline. The farmers lost more land.
Hinestroza began to hear complaints from the likes of farmer Horacio Gaviria, who claims his land became unworkable without water sources and, because of its proximity to the pipeline, heavily militarised. He told her that 25 members of his family eventually abandoned their land and fled to Moravia, a shanty town built on a rubbish dump on the outskirts of Medellin. They now live in abject poverty, the children selling sweets and cigarettes on buses and at traffic lights instead of attending school.
As she investigated, it became clear that there were hundreds in Zaragosa and neighbouring Segovia who were unhappy. But Hinestroza did not stay long in her job. The construction of the Ocensa pipeline coincided with a surge of paramilitary activity in the region under the governorship of Alvaro Uribe, now the Colombian president. During 1995 and 1996, the United Self Defence Forces of Colombia (AUC) went on the rampage, torturing and massacring civilians it accused of collaboration with the guerrillas.
Four of her colleagues -- ombudsmen in neighbouring municipalities -- were assassinated, and Hinestroza began to receive threats. The AUC turned up at the home of her aunt. They dragged her out, tied her hands behind her back and made her kneel down. Then, in front of the villagers, they shot her through the back of the head.
Hinestroza resigned, but continued to represent her clients. BP refused to pay further compensation. She says an Ocensa employee offered her £7,000 to drop her cases. The paramilitaries also had an offer -- they would back off if she quietened down.
BP has since paid out £180,000 to 17 families affected by the ODC pipeline. But its offer of compensation of less than £100 per person to other claimants is rejected by virtually all those whom Hinestroza represents. A few have accepted, but most -- and there are some 1,600 people involved -- are holding out for claims worth a total around £20 million. BP is defending the claim and believes its offer is fair and reasonable.
The farmers received a further setback in December 2002 when their appeal was thrown out of court -- the result, according to BP's spokesman in Bogota, Pablo Urrutia, of farmers' lawyers failing to turn up to a conciliation hearing.
Hinestroza waves a resigned hand over the piles of paperwork around her. She has no intention of giving up her fight. "It's frustrating," she says. "Everyone knows that security is a headache for multinationals operating in war-torn countries like Colombia, but had the company settled with these people in a decent and prompt manner, it might have helped to defuse rather than inflame an already tense situation."
How much or how little responsibility BP should bear for any of this is, as is the way of things, unclear. "If such threats have been made, we utterly condemn them," its London spokesman said in December 2002, but he would not comment on other aspects of the case.
Edited from an article of the same title by Jeremy Lennard in The Guardian, 18 December 2002, www.guardian.co.uk
The international community has fought over Somalia because of its strategic position. Refugees Warsan Fowzi and Abdul Rasak reflect on the changes in Somalia in recent years that have brought them to the UK.
In 1991, Warsan Fowzi's stepfather decided that it was no longer safe to live in Somalia. A few months after the civil war started there, the family fled to Nairobi, the capital of neighbouring Kenya. Yet there was no sanctuary there either. Somali women were subject to the constant threat of rape while police harassed the family continually. Warsan describes the two years she spent in Nairobi as "unspeakable". Her family then sought refuge in Britain.
Although there is oil in Somalia, its main significance to the international community is because of its position: the exit of the Suez Canal, the gateway to the Middle East (and its oil) and to Africa; and a route through to India and the Far East. "Everything in Somalia is not as valuable as its strategic point," says Warsan. "The people there simply occupy a piece of land that everybody wants."
Before the Cold War, Somalia was divided into three between Britain, Italy and France -- the only time that the dominant Imperial powers in the region agreed between themselves. "Then the Cold War had a direct impact on us," says Warsan, "fluctuating between the two rival powers of East and West". In 1972, the Russians began arming the Socialist Republic of Somalia. The country became militarised and developed the strongest army in Africa -- and the people suffered. Since Somalia's "divorce" in 1977 from the Soviet Union, the US, World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) supported the regime in every way. "This was not popular at all in Somalia. It helped maintain the dictatorship until it was no longer of use to them. The US was the original cause of the civil war. It created a vacuum in the country like what has happened in Iraq."
The UK's support for the regime in Somalia was a bit different. "They are experienced in Somalia," says Warsan. "They have been there before so they know how to act."1 The different Western powers support different warlords: the US, and its Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in particular, support two of them, while Italy supports another. Their support in turn "leads to a conflict of interest between the European powers and the US," points out Warsan. "There is disagreement about how best to secure the country. It's like with Iraq -- it's not as if France and Russia were opposed to military action simply for the sake of the Iraqi people."
In 1993, the United Nations proposed to take over and run Somalia. Its plan was so unsuccessful that Western countries have now all but given up hope for Somalia's redevelopment. Warsan comments, "The US evacuates people -- from Kenya, Egypt, South Africa and Somalia -- and plans hundreds of factories back in Minnesota, for example. The factories there are taken over by Somalians. Families in these countries think 'what nice Americans' and agree to go -- but really it is a new slavery.
"The situation in Somalia now is a disaster. I've read that in many places 'the people are struggling to become a nation'. The truth of Somalia is that we are a nation, not by wanting nationhood, but by resisting things being imposed on us. We had to choose between the dominant powers, so that one of them would defend us or provide protection, although we probably need protection from all of them. We have to choose to be nowhere or to be with one of the powers."
Abdul Rasak, another Somalian refugee, adds that "Western countries used to provide humanitarian aid to Somalia. But now there is civil war, there is no Government, there is no aid."
Warsan thinks that up to half of all Somalis now live overseas in exile. Indeed, Somalia is now one of the biggest sources of asylum seekers not only in Britain, but throughout the world. Abdul emphasises that all people fleeing from Somalia are "genuine" refugees. "People flee because of the civil war. They have money, houses and cars, military ranks and good salaries in Somalia. Why come to Britain to live on income support? People become mentally ill here because they can't get a job, but if the situation in Somalia was better, everyone would go back."
Both Warsan and Abdul condemn the British government's failings in its handling of refugees. "In the UK, engineers, doctors, pilots and lawyers are forced to live on welfare, income support, or to work in warehouses," says Abdul.
Warsan feels that comments linking refugees with terrorism by David Blunkett, the UK Home Secretary responsible for government refugee policy and actions, are not helpful. "I feel he is a very angry man who has found some very weak people and is scapegoating them. I don't get how asylum seekers are supposed to be terrorists. Why would an asylum seeker be a terrorist? They are too tired, too weak; we left all this rubbish behind. If we wanted to kill, we could have done it in Somalia. Refugees contribute a great deal in every way to British society.
"Even the term 'asylum-seeker' is problematic -- 'asylum' has the connotation of a mental institution. It's implying that we're crazy, dangerous people. I have no problem with the term 'refugee' as that is accurate -- we are seeking refuge, sanctuary.
"If Somalia had peace, we wouldn't be here in our tens of thousands. Maybe a hundred, but not tens of thousands. Everywhere in Somalia, a weapon made in Europe or America is haunting me. They don't let us live in peace and we're persecuted here as well. They are probably hoping that we die with the weapons they provided."
This article was written by Rochelle Harris for this publication, based on her interviews with Warsan Fowzi and Abdul Rasak.
1. Britain was one of Somalia's several colonising powers (together with France, Italy, Egypt, and Ethiopia) in the last quarter of the 19th century. Britain and Italy dominated the country for much of the 20th century; after the Second World War, each ran a separate part of the country until Somalia's independence and unification in 1960.
At last I am going there
To the country of liberty
I have read the guidebooks
On the country of liberty
The pictures, the dreams
Will become reality
At last liberty
No more nightmares
I will be able to breathe freely
I am here, my Lord, I am here
Everything is delightful, everything is beautiful
Better than in my wildest dreams
Never have I seen anything like it
Everything is novel
The land of wonders
Like no other
Definitely unlike the one I left behind
Nothing here is the same
I have just to settle in
It won't take long
I just need to wait a little
I am a foreigner so must be patient
I will end up being happy
They are not all nasty
As my people here say
Despite the sniggering and jeering
They will eventually give me
It should not be long
In the meantime I can't do anything
There is nothing to be done
Other than go round in circles
And watch the others
When I arrive here
That's all I hear
Throughout the day
When I reach here
So I remain isolated
And in my head the insults
The abuse resound
They insult me, are aggressive
In my head despair
Point the finger of scorn at me
I am trapped like a deer
My dreams disintegrate
I never imagined it
I believed I would lead a good life
I believed those guidebooks
I had read about it in books
They had deceived me
Now my eyes are opened
It was nothing but a nightmare
The land of wonders
Was only a nasty story
Dieudonnee-Marcelle Makenga (Democratic Republic of Congo). Translated by Jennifer Langer. Published in Crossing the Border -- Voices of Refugee and Exiled Women, edited by Jennifer Langer, published by Five Leaves, www.fiveleaves.co.uk
For four decades, many people in Burma have been opposing a military dictatorship, which is internationally renown for its human rights abuses.
My name is Ko Aung and I am a political refugee who has been forced to leave my country, Burma, which has been in a "nightmare state" for more than four decades. Since 1962, a military dictatorship, supported by foreign investment, has brutally oppressed the Burmese people and ethnic minorities.
Since 1962, each generation of students has been fighting for freedom and democracy in the country. We would like to restore the dignity of the human person and to meet peoples' hunger for justice, freedom and equality. I was involved in the students' movement in 1988 as one of the leaders of the All Burma Federation of Students Union (ABFSU). At the time I was in my final year of studying industrial chemistry.
On the 8th of August 1988 -- 8-8-88 -- millions of people took to the streets and demonstrated against the military government all over the country. This was a significant achievement for the students' movement. During this general uprising, three presidents were forced to resign.
In the uprisings that took place in 1988, between 5,000 and 10,000 peaceful demonstrators were killed by the military regime and about 20,000 students fled to neighbouring countries, such as Thailand. I was arrested on 22nd September 1988 for protesting against the military regime, interrogated in several military intelligence centres over six months before being sentenced to seven years hard labour of which I served almost six years before being released. During this time, I continued to fight for rights within prison and was punished with leg irons three times and kept in solitary confinement for a total of three years.
I cannot tell you all I have experienced during my interrogation, the beatings, tortures and inhuman treatment because it is too painful. I would like to tell you, however, about the worst torture I experienced. The place where it took place is called Yea Kyi Aing, one of most infamous military intelligence centres in the country. One night, I was blindfolded and chained and taken from my cell by the military intelligence officers to a shed. By this time, I was really scared every time they came to my cell, even if they came only to feed me. Once inside the shed, they took off my blindfold and told me to get into a circular pond about eight foot in diameter and six foot deep. The pond was full of maggots breeding on human shit. I had to climb down the brick steps into the pool up to my neck. When I got about three steps down, I began to feel and smell the liquid. Although I could not see anything because there were no lights at all, I knew it was the maggot pond. I was so scared I refused to go in any further, but they forced me to. The whole night I shouted and screamed. I said, "I am a student, please don't treat me like this". I don't know how many times I shouted to them.
In the morning, I saw the maggots: different sizes, different colours, some tiny, others half an inch long. They began crawling up my face, mouth, nose, eyes and ears. My body itched and shuddered and cringed with crawling maggots. Every now and then, I tried to brush them off my face.
The pond was covered by a wire mat, which a military intelligence officer opened to give me food and drink while he interrogated me. But I had lost all appetite and could not eat anything.
After three days or so of this horrific experience -- I don't remember how long exactly -- I became weak and delirious. My mind went blank. I woke up in hospital, under guard and chained hand and foot to the bed. I think I must have answered their questions about my political activities and other ABFSU members because the military intelligence officers showed me a confession I had signed. After almost a month of these tortures, after they had succeeded in forcing a confession out of me, I was taken to the Insein Jail, known as "the darkest hellhole in Burma".
Soon after my arrival in this prison, I and other student political prisoners started to demand our rights. We went on hunger strike on 1st May 1990. We refused to do "poun san"1 as it destroys human dignity. We demanded to be allowed to read newspapers and other literature. We demanded an end to the beatings of all prisoners. We asked for better food in the prison (for example, a regular supply of meat). Just one hour after we had started our hunger strike, we were taken out of the block and forced to stand in the sun. A number of other political prisoners joined us, and we became 40 altogether.
When the prison governor arrived some time later, he told us to crouch down and said we were breaking prison rules. He told us to call off our strike, but we refused. Then the guards put hoods over our head, and fixed eighteen-inch leg irons between our ankles and attached chains to the irons so that we could hardly walk. Finally, they beat us and put us in solitary confinement.
Prisoners were taken out of solitary twice a day and beaten, once in the morning and once in the evening. We were not allowed to bathe. Three days later, when we were still on hunger strike, the guards told us to give up or they would not give us drinking water. We said, "We will go on until we get our demands." They broke the water pot in front of us. We were all kept in leg irons and beaten badly.
In the end, after nine days, we had to give up and agree to eat. But we were so weak and dehydrated that when we were released we were taken to the prison hospital where our injuries were treated. I had lost the proper use of my legs and suffered excruciating pains as I walked. One of the student prisoners was permanently crippled. He has since died in Insein Jail as a result of the ongoing beatings.
Someone once asked me, "How did you survive during those terrible times?" I replied that my beliefs and ambitions sustained me, as did my respect for, and sense of duty to work for, all those who had given their lives for freedom and democracy. A lot of students died in front of me. I remember carrying many dying students to the hospital. That gave me strength. In those difficult days, I tried to use all sorts of ways to keep myself physically and mentally strong.
In my country, students, ordinary people and ethnic minorities are still denied even the most basic rights. I believe that if we, as ordinary people, stand up, we can attain the freedom and rights, which are rightfully ours. Please help in our struggle for freedom and rights. As our leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has said, "Please use your liberty to promote ours."
Ko Aung is a former political prisoner in Burma who now has full refugee status in Britain.
1. "Poun san" refers to the regulations in Burmese prisons, which include different physical positions that prisoners have to adopt at various times. The main position is sitting cross-legged with arms straightened out and both fists on knees, holding the body absolutely vertical with the face downward. This position is for the counting of prisoners and for inspection by prison officials.
And they were torturing children, mother
They were stretching their bones, mother
And giving them electric shocks, mother
Hour upon hour, mother
Interminable ages, and then ages again, mother,
And their shrieks were all round me, mother
And to blackest black the demented world, mother
Whirled giddy with grief.
And I cried as I have
Never cried before, mother
I cried in a frenzy, mother
Desperate to my last fibre, mother,
And the children screamed, mother
In more and more anguish, mother,
And I cried mother
As I will never cry again
As long as I live.
Maria Eugenia Bravo Calderara (Chile) Translated from Spanish by Dinah Livingstone, published in Voices of Conscience -- Poetry of Oppression, edited by Hume Cronyn, Richard McKane and Stephen Watts, Iron Press, 1995
Some foreign investment can turn people into migrants.
In Nigeria, it is bad news if your land is rich in oil or is agriculturally fertile. The government will forcibly dispossess you and hand the land over with title deeds to the foreign company that offers it the fattest envelope. Two laws in Nigeria governing the compulsory acquisition of land and compensation empower these practices.
First, under the Petroleum Act 1969, the entire ownership and control of all oil and gas on any land in Nigeria or under its territorial waters and continental shelf is vested in the state. Second, the Land Use Act 1978 permits a State Governor, if he is of the opinion that land is required for a "public purpose", to acquire it compulsorily, and makes it a criminal offence to obstruct such acquisition. Although these two Acts provide for payment of compensation, it is usually for "unexhausted improvements" made on the land, not for the land itself. The expression refers to the value of farm crops, trees and house, calculated according to a government rate fixed in 1969 or 1978 (depending on which Act is being applied), less depreciation from use. In practice, however, compensation is rarely paid.
Foreign companies understand these laws well and the inherently militarised system that accompanies land acquisition in the country. Consequently, they use and abuse the system by bribing government officials to implement the laws, albeit illegally or inappropriately.
Human rights groups have established that foreign companies have direct links to some of the worst human rights violations in Nigeria. For example, in May 1994, an internal Nigerian military memo stated that: "Shell [oil company] operations are still impossible unless ruthless military operations are undertaken for smooth economic activities to commence."1 This document suggested that 400 soldiers should begin "wasting operations against Ogoni leaders who are especially vocal individuals." Twelve days later, Ken Saro-Wiwa was arrested; he and eight other activists were executed on 10th November 1995. Could the Nigerian army have done this if someone didn't pay the bill? Both before and after Saro-Wiwa's death, however, countless Nigerians fled the country into exile.
I had a law firm in Benin City and had been appointed Chair of the Board of the State government radio and television company.
A village of peasant farmers called the Obagie-Nokenkporo Community briefed me in 1999 to sue a foreign company called Presco Industries plc, a Belgian agro-industrial subsidiary of Siat NV, which is registered in Brussels. Presco had been occupying a small area of land in the farmers' community. Without prior notice, it suddenly embarked on a massive land-fencing project covering about 15,000 hectares. Families lost their homes, farmlands and means of livelihood. No compensation was paid to them, and upon being challenged, the company claimed that the government had given it a right of occupancy over the entire land.
Dissatisfied, the villagers went peacefully to the company premises in Benin City to protest, but armed policemen guarding the premises set upon them. They were beaten, whipped and shot at. Driven in Presco vans, the policemen went to the village, raping women and looting. Villagers were arrested indiscriminately, charged with armed robbery and remanded in prison indefinitely. Many who managed to escape arrest then fled the country in fear.
I found out that the certificate giving Presco the right of occupancy of the land had been irregularly issued. The State Commissioner of Lands had advised the government that Presco did not require the land for public purpose, as defined by the law -- public purpose excluded the pursuit of profit by a private company.
After I filed a suit in May 2000, instead of a response from the company, the State Deputy Governor, Mike Ogiadonmhe, immediately suspended me from the Board of the state radio and television. Then, I received a visit from the leader of a paramilitary group, who accused me of being against the government.
On 5th June 2000, I received a letter asking for a meeting between the State Governor, my clients and myself on the Presco issue. On our arrival, however, we were directed to see the Deputy Governor instead. While we were waiting, we saw the General Manager of Presco leaving. When he met us, the Deputy Governor waved a document at us, which, he said, had been prepared by the Nigerian State Security Service and accused my clients of various criminal acts. The Deputy threatened to use the might of the Government unless we withdrew the lawsuit against Presco. Nonetheless, we continued with the lawsuit and appeared in Court in June 2000, although the matter was adjourned procedurally for an exchange of pleadings.
Surprisingly, after the case, I was removed from the Board of the state radio and television, and the security around my house withdrawn. Two nights later, armed men stormed into my house. One held a gun to my head while another grabbed my 3-year-old daughter, put a pistol to her head and threatened to shoot her. My mother, who was visiting, begged for our lives. Miraculously, they let us live. I left Nigeria on 22nd October 2000.
Dele Igbinedion is a lawyer from Nigeria who is now living in Europe. He has recently been admitted as a Solicitor in England.
He was lying dead on a stone.
They found in his chest the moon and a rose lantern,
They found in his pocket a few coins,
A box of matches and a travel permit.
He had tattoos on his arms.
His mother kissed him
And cried for a year.
Boxthorn tangled in his eyes.
And it was dark.
His brother grew up
And went to town looking for work.
He was put in prison
Because he had no travel permit:
He was carrying a dustbin
And boxes down the street.
Children of my country
That's how the moon died
Mahmoud Darwish (Palestine) Translated from the Arabic by Abdullah al-Udhari, published in Voices of Conscience -- Poetry of Oppression, edited by Hume Cronyn, Richard McKane and Stephen Watts, Iron Press, 1995
In Turkey, it was illegal until recently to sing openly in the Kurdish language, and in spite of recent reforms, those who do so can still be prosecuted. Renown Kurdish singer Nawroz describes his life of resistance through song, starting in his youth in Iraq.
Kurdish singer Nawroz is one of a large number of artists whose work has been censored. His music has been banned in Turkey because he defied restrictions imposed on singing openly in Kurdish. As a result, he has been imprisoned, tortured and eventually exiled and has been living in Britain since 1989.
Celebrated throughout the Middle East, Nawroz says he was born a singer. "I didn't choose to sing -- singing chose me." A gentle and charming man, Nawroz carries his politics lightly, disguising a fundamental commitment to his music, his right to fundamental freedom of expression and to his native Kurdistan.
"I was born like any other human being with a tongue to speak freely ... but I was not allowed to sing in the Kurdish language or express my feelings freely. I had hands but I was not allowed to write in Kurdish, to write about Kurdish history. As a teenager I would sing for love but basically my songs were political, though I was not allowed to sing these openly or I faced being caught and jailed and tortured. So we used symbols. For instance, if I sang about a red poppy, it meant Martyrs, a shepherd meant a Leader, a tree represented Life and a mother symbolised the whole country, Kurdistan."
It was Nawroz's popular songs of resistance, broadcast on regional radio, copied on audio cassettes and circulated around Kurdistan that led to his arrest. Discovered whilst still at primary school, Nawroz was imprisoned at the age of seventeen and tortured for singing against the Iraqi regime.
"Singers should never be the mouthpieces of repressive fascist regimes, betraying their nations out of fear or for gain: singers should rather be mirrors reflecting their nation's courage in resistance and the conscience of humanity. The first time I was caught, I had been under surveillance by the Iraqi secret police, security force members, who controlled all of Iraq at that time. I had sung a song called Kengi, which simply means When? about the freedom of Kurdistan and the freedom of the Kurdish people. The song included the word Kurdistan. I was detained for 22 days and forced to sign a declaration that I accepted the death penalty if I ever sang again. The state banned all my songs from the radio and TV.
"After my arrest my whole life changed. I could no longer leave the town without permission of the regime. I felt them watching me and realised I could no longer live there. It was like being in jail. Saddam Hussein's regime was very strong in those days."
The following year, 1979, Nawroz left Iraq to join the Kurdish revolution, which meant going to the mountains. "I did not carry guns. My weapons, wherever I went, were the words of my songs. From that time on, I knew my life was in grave danger. I could have been executed immediately. Indeed, they did execute some singers including one of my closest friends, a popular man with a beautiful, beautiful, strong voice. I was also very afraid for the safety of my family, but being a teenager I was very enthusiastic about my country and people loved my songs and encouraged me, so I was ready to do anything for my nation.
"For the next ten years I was part of the Kurdish revolution, travelling between Turkey, Iran, Syria and the Lebanon. Those years were very difficult, but I was still singing even without equipment or facilities. Instead of reverbs and studios, I had the mountains of Kurdistan. But as a refugee moving from one country to the next, I had to speak the language of the people of those countries and find jobs to feed myself. And, of course, I was not made welcome by the regimes in those countries either. I was trouble there, too."
Nawroz was twice more detained and tortured, the first time for a month by the Iranian regime in 1983/4 and the second in 1981 by Turkey. "In Turkey I was detained for three months and 17 days and tortured daily. My only crime was to have been a Kurdish singer singing in the Kurdish language. Although Turkey has over 20 million Kurds, it wants to be seen as a democratic state and join the EU, unfortunately it is still oppressing my people. We are not allowed to speak Kurdish or sing in our language."
Leaving the Middle East in 1989, Nawroz was granted asylum in Britain. "To come here to England it was like a gift, like being a lucky person to finally escape from war and chemical attack and weapons and all those things. If I ever wished to return to Kurdistan, I would have to travel through certain countries where I am denied entry because of my political songs. For me, the only route home is unsafe and illegal. I took that risk two years ago when I returned to Kurdistan because my mother was dying. I was able to see her briefly before she died and during my two-day stay I recorded four new songs. They are being broadcast on Kurdish radio and satellite TV established since the 1991 Kurdish uprising and establishment of the so-called 'Safe Haven'.1 This is the first time in Kurdish history that we have been allowed to sing freely, to express ourselves freely and to say what we want to say."
Despite his experiences, Nawroz still maintains that peace can be found only in compromise: "I don't want to defeat my enemy in order to destroy him: I would like him to win with me." Asked what inspires him, Nawroz grins. "I am influenced by so many things -- I just follow my senses, my feelings." Still writing and performing, Nawroz has performed all over Europe and across the UK and looks forward to producing another album and working with musicians from different traditions. "I am a collector of many things," he says. Ultimately, though, Nawroz has dedicated his life to music because "music is in my blood, in my veins. It's everything: it's real life. And home is the whole earth. A world without music is a world without feeling or imagination: a dead world."
This is an edited text of an interview broadcast by the BBC World Service Outlook programme in October 2002.
1. During the Gulf War in March 1991, there was a Kurdish uprising in Iraq. Around 1.5 million Kurds fled northwards before an Iraqi onslaught, but Turkey closed the border, forcing hundreds of thousands to seek refuge in the mountains. In April 1991, the US and UK-led coalition forces announced the creation of a "safe haven" or protected zone on the Iraqi side of the border for Iraqi Kurds. International aid agencies launched a massive aid operation to help the refugees. Subsequently, the US and UK established a no-fly zone to guarantee Kurdish safety further. Since the US/UK invasion of Iraq in 2003, the US has promised to the Kurds of northern Iraq that they will be given significant representation in the unfolding new political system. Turkey, however, wants to pre-empt any form of "federalism" that might encourage demands for autonomy from Turkish Kurds, and the US is still keen to secure access to the oil fields in northern Iraq of Mosul and Kirkuk.
I'm me today
And life is curling around me
I can spin
I can jump and reach the sky
I'm full of beauty today
I love the glasses
I sit among the flowers
And add one
To the number of flowers
I feel the soul of a tree
And notice the presence of a stone
I whisper to the wind
And whistle at the dancing leaves
I am full of songs
And life is accepting the darkness
And yet still searching for the light
I'm full of freedom today
illusions of love
and this face
once reminded me of my mother
it is not her
it is all me today
I smell like a newborn tree
I smell wet
like earth after the rain
and my little hands
can achieve the unthinkable
I am full of happiness.
Choman Hardi (Kurdish region of northern Iraq). Published in Crossing the Border -- Voices of Refugee and Exiled Women, edited by Jennifer Langer, published by Five Leaves, www.fiveleaves.co.uk
Asylum seekers are all very different, with very different stories to tell. They have in common great suffering.
What is an asylum seeker? To a lot of people in this country, "asylum seeker" has become a term of abuse. Not so long ago I even heard a girl use the phrase "asylum creeper" about someone. I asked her what she meant. She said that an asylum creeper was someone who hung out with asylum seekers. It reminded me of when I was young and some women were called "black man lover", simply because they happened to be friends with someone with black skin.
This made me think again about the debate we are having in this country about immigration, which is very muddled and concentrates too much on the numbers game. It also reminded me, as a writer, about what that debate is doing to our language.
When Ruud Lubbers, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, talks about Britain taking more than its "fair share" of asylum seekers, I wonder what he can mean by that. He is right to say we should talk to other countries about the issue, but I think he is wrong if he means that we can simply divert many asylum seekers to, say, Portugal or Finland or France.
Many want to come to Britain because they have existing friends and families in this country, because they speak some English and because they can get on and get some work and make a life more easily in this country. Different countries have always had different traditions when it comes to immigration, such as the Moroccans and Algerians who went to live in France or the Turkish workers who went to Germany or the Jamaicans, like my mum, who responded to the posters and were asked to come and work in the "mother country" as nurses. I think it was Enoch Powell1who was behind that plan, before he changed his mind. Britain has always been a safe haven for asylum seekers, and it shouldn't be surprising that it still is.
And these people do need a safe haven. I know what an asylum seeker is because many of them are my neighbours in my part of London. They are all very different, with very different stories to tell. They have in common great suffering. Like the boy from Sri Lanka I met who was having problems at school. He was a Tamil and his family became caught up in the civil war. Sri Lankan soldiers shot his mother in front of him. They then forced his father to have sex with the body, and then they shot him.
He ran away, and then met some Tamil Tiger guerrillas. They gave the boy a choice: join the guerrillas as a boy soldier or accept their help to go into exile. He became a refugee and I defy anyone to say there is anything bogus about his plight. The strange thing is not that he has been spoiled by the authorities over here, but that he has had so little help in dealing with his trauma.
When I was the poet in residence at the barrister Michael Mansfield's chambers, I witnessed a judge saying to a Roma woman from Poland that, although he did believe her story that she had been repeatedly gang-raped, he couldn't accept her claim for asylum because rape is not a form of persecution. And yet rape has been used as a weapon of war for centuries, and more than ever recently, in places such as Bosnia and Rwanda.
She was not in a civil war, but I doubt she would have suffered in that way had she not been a Roma. This is what I wrote in a poem, "Appeal Dismissed", about the judge's statement:
You have been the victim of an act of depravity
And you may never love again,
Nevertheless you have only been raped
And in the books that I have read
Rape does not constitute torture,
Not within the ordinary meaning of the word,
So go home
And take your exceptional circumstances with you.
These stories are much more powerful than any of the statistics that I hear, which I don't think mean very much. I like to imagine how I would explain to a man from Mars about how we all came to live on this island. Once upon a time, I might tell the man in the spaceship, it must have been all but uninhabited, but then came Angles and Saxons and Celts and Norman French and Huguenots and Jews and West Indians and East African Asians and Indians and Chinese and many more. The Martian would say "wow, a place like that could never have racism". And yet, of course, somehow, that is precisely what we have managed to do.
I think we need to remind ourselves that most people in the world would rather not move from where they know. But if they have to suffer persecution or torture, or if the chances of getting a job or just surviving are so minuscule, then, of course, they will try to find a better life. All of us would. And there is no bigger factor in creating desperate circumstances than war.
We have got our priorities wrong. Instead of spending billions of pounds on a war with Iraq that will create thousands more refugees, we should spend that money on making peace. And politicians such as [UK Home Secretary] David Blunkett should spend a lot more time explaining to people why the refugees are here and what they have been through. Then, perhaps, we would put compassion before numbers.
Benjamin Zephaniah is a poet. This article was first published in The Independent, 28 December 2002.
1. Enoch Powell (1912-1997) was a Conservative MP and cabinet minister who is infamous for his controversial "Rivers of Blood" speech on immigration in April 1968 demanding both a halt to immigration and voluntary repatriation. The speech gave white racism a respectability it had not previously had in postwar Britain and resulted in violence on the streets directed against black people and those defending their rights.
To boost UK exports, millions of people in other countries have been forced to make way for large dams, oil pipelines and agricultural plantations. UK aid money has often supported UK companies in such projects.
Let me start with start with a Tale of Two Meetings. Both took place in June 2000 within days of each other and both were meetings at which I was present.
The first took place in a small village near where I live in Dorset in the south-west of Britain, the second in the ancient city of Hasankeyf in the Kurdish region of south-east Turkey.
The first meeting was held in the village hall to discuss plans to plant genetically-engineered test crops on a nearby farm. The second was intended to raise concerns about the planned Ilisu dam, a hydroelectric project that would flood Hasankeyf and forcibly evict 78,000 Kurds from their lands (see pp.108ff). Export credit agencies from eight countries, including Britain's Export Credit Guarantees Department, were considering support for the project.
At the first meeting, there were no police and no permission was required from any government agency to hold the meeting. At the second, no one knew until the very last minute whether or not the Governor of the region, which at the time was under Emergency Rule, would allow the meeting to go ahead -- or whether police would be sent in to break it up.
At the first meeting, local activists handed out a petition opposing the trials of the genetically-engineered crops. At the second, all petitions were banned.
At the first meeting, press were present and people were free to say what they wanted. At the second, no press interviews were permitted, secret police took notes of what people said and there was a ban on any Kurdish music being played. Many were afraid to speak out against the proposed dam: this, after all, is a region in which dissent is ruthlessly crushed, disappearances and extra-judicial killings are common and where torture is so routine that, according to the European Court of Human Rights, it should be considered state policy.
The meeting in Hasankeyf tells us much about political oppression and the lack of democracy in Turkey. But it also tells us about the failure of democracy in Britain and about the distribution and workings of power in our own country. And it tells us about the role that UK foreign policy and investments abroad play in forcing people to leave their homes and seek asylum.
In the pursuit of boosting UK exports -- and corporate profits -- millions of people in other countries have been forced to move in order to make way for infrastructure development projects -- from dams to oil pipelines and large-scale agribusiness enterprises -- from which they derive little or no benefit. Where they object to being moved, they are frequently subject to repression by regimes that are backed and frequently armed by the UK with our taxpayers' money. Dams alone -- many of them backed by Britain, either through its bilateral aid programme or through the World Bank -- have displaced an estimated 80 million people since the Second World War. The result is a cycle of enforced migration that leads eventually to many seeking refuge abroad.
For every Kurd that comes to Britain, millions of pounds of UK taxpayers' money have been spent on supporting the Turkish regime that forced them to flee their homeland. For every Congolese that comes here, millions of pounds of UK pensioners' money are invested in the companies that fuel the civil wars in the region through their extraction of minerals. For every Tamil, millions are spent on arms exports to Sri Lanka and infrastructure schemes like the Mahaweli project, which displaced hundreds of thousands of people through a series of dams, exacerbated politically-manipulated ethnic tensions and caused conflict (see pp.81ff).
But Britain's role in creating asylum seekers rarely gets a mention in parliamentary, press or public discussions on immigration. Instead asylum seekers and refugees are subjected to a double insult. It's not just that our money frequently causes them to have to migrate: it's also that our governments and institutions are framing the debate in a way that criminalises them and casts them as "overpopulation" or welfare scroungers.
The Sunday Times of today, 8th December 2002, is typical of the genre. Here's the headline: "Asylum seekers at the gate". And then the inevitable sidebar: "Welfare costs soar under pressure of numbers". And over here, an "investigative" piece that itself cries out for investigation: "New Breed of Gangster Takes Grip Of Britain". The message: asylum seekers are not only welfare scroungers, but also criminals.
The challenge I see is to start shredding those arguments. The Sunday Times doesn't mention the role of the UK in creating enforced migration. It doesn't mention the corporate welfare that UK companies receive in the form of export credits and other subsidies. It doesn't mention the gangsterism of British companies -- the bribes they pay to gain contracts and the way in which such corruption helps keep murderous regimes in power.1 It doesn't mention the willingness of successive UK companies and successive UK governments to turn a blind eye to torture and repression in order to boost export earnings. And it doesn't mention the contribution that migrants make to this country.
Much work is already being done to challenge the racist myths that surround asylum seekers. My hope is that, by bringing together groups from a wide range of social movements who are working on different but related aspects of enforced migration, this work may be strengthened.
My own work focuses in large part on monitoring the impacts of UK government aid and UK investment abroad. In the past, I have looked in particular at the impacts of projects backed through Britain's bilateral aid programme and through Britain's contributions to the World Bank.
More recently, I have been monitoring the support to UK companies provided by the Export Credits Guarantee Department (ECGD). It's a very small government department, but it happens to fund £4 billion of British exports per year -- a budget that is on par with that of the Department for International Development (DfID). Indeed, internationally, export credit agencies are now the single largest source of taxpayer support for infrastructure development projects in the developing world and in Eastern Europe -- underwriting projects worth several times the entire annual funding distributed by all the World Bank and other multilateral development banks.2
The ECGD operates with absolutely no binding human rights, environment or development standards -- and lacks transparency. If you're a Member of Parliament or a member of the public, you can find out which companies are being supported by the ECGD only if the company getting the support gives its permission for the information to be released. And although the government has recently introduced some "Business Principles" for the ECGD -- including a commitment to "ensure that ECGD does not contribute to human rights abuses or violations" -- these principles lack any enforcement mechanisms and their application is entirely discretionary.
Much of the money spent by ECGD underwrites arms deals -- frequently to regimes with poor human rights records. But it also supports anti-democratic regimes in other ways, primarily by backing damaging infrastructure projects such as dams, pulp and paper mills and so on that, without the financial support provided by UK taxpayers, might not otherwise be built. Many of these infrastructure projects have played a part not just in displacing people from the land but also exacerbating and generating conflict.
I want to give two examples drawn from campaigns in which I have been involved. The first dates back to the 1980s and concerns a series of dams that were built in Sri Lanka on the Mahaweli River (used as the location for the film, "The Bridge on the River Kwai"). Two of the dams -- the Victoria Dam and the Samanalawewa Dam -- were built by British companies Balfour Beatty and Alexander Gibb and were backed by the British government through its bilateral aid programme. Thousands of people were displaced -- 100,000 people in the case of the Victoria Dam -- many were not paid any compensation whatsoever. Those resettled have suffered severe economic and social hardship: the land they were given was of very poor quality; they were promised electricity from the Dam but have never received it; they were supposed to have houses built for them but had to build their own.
And worse still, Sinhala nationalists within the Mahaweli authorities, operating in league with militant Buddhist priests, deliberately used the resettlement programme to drive a wedge between those from the Sinhala majority and those from the Tamil-speaking minority by skewering the distribution of land in favour of one group over the other. The result was open conflict, with massacres on both sides.
My second example involves a project that has not yet been built. We have heard of the human rights abuses that have resulted from BP's pipeline in Colombia (see pp.20ff). Now BP is seeking money from the UK government for a new pipeline -- this time stretching from the Caspian Sea through Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey -- that is likely to bring new human rights abuses and new sources of conflict. BP has said that the pipeline, known as the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline, cannot be built without "free public money" -- which means money from all of us. None of the oil will be used in those countries, and the entire route will be militarised. In Turkey, the route, which skirts the Kurdish region, will be policed by the Turkish gendarmerie, which the European Court of Human Rights has repeatedly censored for its record of torture, rape and other human rights abuses. Yet again, UK public money looks set to be used to fund a project that will foment conflict and generate abuse -- which is why The Corner House has joined with other groups, from the Kurdish Human Rights Project to Platform to Friends of the Earth to challenge the project (see p.54ff).
Refugees and asylum seekers have much more pressing priorities than trying to campaign against the ECGD or the companies that are getting this sort of money. But I do hope that by working together -- and by organising politically -- we can expose the human rights and environmental abuses that result from UK public money being used to back damaging projects. In the case of the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline, I hope that those of you from the Kurdish region can work with us to let your relatives and friends in the area know about the pipeline and the risks. I hope that by joint actions we can expose the companies and governments that are benefiting from these projects -- and at all of our expenses, not just in money but in suffering. And that by doing so, we can help dismantle and dismember the racism that lies behind articles like those in today's Sunday Times.
Nicholas Hildyard works with The Corner House.
1. For more information about bribery and corruption carried out by Western companies, see Sue Hawley, Exporting Corruption: Privatisation, Multinationals and Bribery, Corner House Briefing 19, June 2000, and Sue Hawley, Turning a Blind Eye: Corruption and the UK Export Credits Guarantee Department, The Corner House, June 2003, both available at www.thecornerhouse.org.uk.
2. For more information about export credit agencies, see Nicholas Hildyard, Snouts in the Trough: Export Credit Agencies, Corporate Welfare and Policy Incoherence, Corner House Briefing 14, June 1999, www.thecornerhouse.org.uk.
The EU's Common Agricultural Policy and the World Trade Organisation's agreements are just some of the international trade policies that are "pushing" people to leave their countries.
In debates on migration and asylum, governments are usually unwilling to look at what they do to create "push" factors, while they are only too willing to look at deterrence and control.
The terms of global trade, for example, are stacked against poorer countries. We expect them to liberalise their economies and open their markets as if there was equality between trading partners. Most of these countries still suffer an appalling burden of debt, yet are required to limit public spending in areas such as health and education, which are vital to economic development.
The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) of the European Union (EU) is widely regarded as a real problem for developing countries. EU farmers receive guaranteed prices for much of their food production; other farmers do not and find it difficult, therefore, to compete with them. More importantly, because of the CAP, EU products can be exported or dumped at subsidised prices on to the global market, practices that undermine local production and markets and thus force people off the land.
Our way of life in the EU also contributes to environmental degradation elsewhere. Climate change, with its associated extreme weather conditions, makes crop production unpredictable. Flooding and drought render land unworkable, again forcing people to move. The United States and the EU are the world's major emitters of climate change gases.
Our governments subsidise unsustainable development through export credit guarantees, often for arms sales to questionable, if not oppressive, regimes.
If we look at the proposed Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) oil pipeline, we find written into the agreement between the countries and companies requirements for the land involved in Turkey to be guarded by the Turkish government (see pp.54ff). There are requirements for the necessary water supply to be maintained at an adequate standard. We already know from the Ilisu Dam campaign that water, and projects which physically divide peoples, can be a practical weapon.
A key theme arising from this seminar is the issue of transparency, whether that concerns export credit guarantees and the basis upon which decisions are made, Corporate Social Responsibility and the behaviour of major companies, or renegotiations of the global trading framework (such as the World Trade Organisation's General Agreement on Trade in Services [GATS]) in which our governments are involved.
At present, the UK has no clear public policy on the sort of projects it will underwrite or the social, economic and environmental criteria that will be used to inform decisions. We could expect that, if projects such as the BTC oil pipeline were so positive, there would be no problem in publicising the criteria and the benefits involved, but this is not the case. I am still waiting for a letter from Patricia Hewitt at the Department of Trade and Industry concerning the government's final position on the Ilisu Dam project -- after all, Balfour Beatty might reconsider its position.1
In the light of government and NGO support at the World Summit on Sustainable Development (the "Earth Summit" held in Johannesburg in August-September 2002) for so many public-private partnerships with big business, Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) has become even more of a crucial issue. The European Commission (and the UK government) prefers a voluntary approach to CSR rather than a legislative framework. It is crucial to have information about company performance and policy in the public domain.
In terms of trade, we want transparency in the WTO renegotiations of GATS as this will affect the ownership and the delivery of public services in both rich and poor countries. Consultations have been under way at national level and in the EU. What are the criteria for decision-making? What will the likely effects be? Are poor countries going to be further exploited?2
As regards the granting of asylum, we must also demand transparency within the current system. Who makes the decisions and on what background information? I want to condemn particularly the current UK policy of removing asylum seekers from the communities in which they're living and educating their children separately. This is part of a deliberate policy to break connections between people and to render some people invisible. It is more difficult to defend anonymous strangers than your child's best friend. Again, we need visibility and transparency.
Knowledge is power and power should be shared.
Jean Lambert is a Green Party Member of the European Parliament for London.
1. Balfour Beatty withdrew from the Ilisu Dam in November 2001, but the Turkish government still plans to go ahead with the project. As the Export Credits Guarantee Department has a statutory duty to consider all applications for its support, it has stated several times that it would still consider applications for export credit support to build the Ilisu Dam.
UK government support for arms sales encourages overseas governments to implement policies that force people to flee their homes.
Arms and weapons may not in themselves cause war, but they can certainly prolong one and make it bloodier. Nor do arms necessarily lead to human rights violations, but they can assist them. Indeed, if it is a human right that everyone should have the essentials of a civilised life -- housing, education, health care and the like -- the massive global expenditure on military equipment is one of the biggest violations of them all.
But some military equipment has more direct human rights implications than others. Over the years, Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) has worked with refugee and exile groups from many of the countries to which the UK has supplied arms and from which people have fled -- Chile under General Pinochet, Iran, Iraq, Indonesia, South Africa under apartheid rule, Sri Lanka and Turkey, to name but a few.
Sometimes, protests have forced UK governments to take action. Notably, the UK sale of "torture equipment" is now largely a thing of the past. Electric shock prods, for instance, were last on display at a UK government arms export exhibition in 1982. Cynically, however, one reason why governments have bowed to public pressure on "torture equipment" is because it is low technology and there is not much money to be made from its sale.
Where major companies are manufacturing equipment and their profits are threatened, however, human rights considerations tend to go out of the window. UK governments withstood massive criticism to defend the sale of British Aerospace (now BAE Systems) Hawk jets to Suharto's Indonesia in the late 1990s despite evidence that jets supplied on a previous occasion had been used to intimidate the people of East Timor.
Alarmingly, in July 2002, the UK government under Prime Minister Tony Blair changed its rules to allow the export by BAE Systems of components for F-16 fighters being made by the US airplane company, Lockheed Martin, and then sold to Israel. F-16s have been used against Palestinian civilians. In a briefing to Labour MPs, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw justified these changes by saying:
"The Government has judged that the UK's security and defence relationship with the US is fundamental to the UK's national security ... Defence collaboration with the US is also key to maintaining a strong defence industrial capacity."
No mention was made of human rights, or the plight of the Palestinian people who might be killed or rendered homeless as a result of his decision.
Arms exports don't just violate human rights directly. Such sales are used by governments of supplier countries as instruments of foreign policy. Military equipment is sold to "friends", for instance, and with the equipment goes a message of political approval for the recipient government. Again, UK governments have accepted this argument in cases in which UK companies have not stood to lose out financially. In 1991, for instance, the UK imposed an embargo on the sale of all military equipment to Burma, not a major customer for UK arms companies.
But where money might be made, the desire to sell arms can result in a mixed message. In 2002, for example, Prime Minister Tony Blair was urging India to back down from a (possibly nuclear) confrontation with Pakistan, yet he continued to press the Indian government to buy BAE Systems' Hawk jets. Should there be a war between India and Pakistan, a massive exodus of refugees from the region affected would almost certainly result.
The UK government wrings its hands over the refugee "problem", but through its support for arms sales actually encourages overseas governments to pursue policies that make it more likely that people will be forced to flee their homes. In 2002, CAAT calculated that the UK government subsidised arms sales to the tune of £760 million a year. The Defence Export Services Organisation (DESO), part of the Ministry of Defence, has 600 civil servants encouraging UK military exports. Such exports also account, on average, for about one-third of the export credit guarantees issued by the UK. The picture is similar in other arms exporting countries. Incidentally, the profits from the sales go to the companies, not UK taxpayers.
The news, however, is not all gloomy. More and more people are challenging arms exports and the government's promotion of them. The new Head of DESO told Defense News that one of his tasks was to counter the bad press military sales were getting. CAAT's job is to make sure he does not succeed.
Ann Feltham works with Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT).
Oil companies are asking for taxpayers' money to build a pipeline that could disadvantage thousands, create a militarised zone and exacerbate existing conflicts.
BP, Britain's largest company, is planning to build a pipeline over one thousand miles long, stretching from Baku in Azerbaijan through Georgia and down to Ceyhan on the Turkish Mediterranean coast, to bring Caspian oil to the West.
The impetus for the Baku-Tblisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline comes from many directions. The United States, desperate for oil supplies from non-OPEC, non-Arab sources, has pushed remorselessly for years for this route, as opposed to shorter, cheaper paths through Russia or Iran. The governments of Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey look forward to oil revenues and more intimate links with the world's only superpower. BP has staked much of its financial credibility on the BTC project; only by promising big increases in oil and gas production in 2005, the year BTC is scheduled to start, has the company assuaged the concerns of oil analysts over its recent repeated failures to meet its own growth projections.
Yet none of these august bodies will be providing the majority of the money to build the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline; you -- taxpayers' -- will. If the BTC consortium gets its way, the bulk of the debt funding, up to $1.2 billion, for this supposedly "commercial" project will come from public sources. Some of it would be provided by international funders like the International Finance Corporation (IFC) and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), authorised by governments to lend public money directly to private companies. And some would come from the national export credit agencies (ECAs) of the companies involved: those of the US, Norway, Japan, Germany, France, Italy and, of course, from the British ECA, the Export Credits Guarantee Department (see pp.44ff). As John Browne, the Chief Executive Officer of BP, has noted, without billions of "free public money", BTC cannot go ahead.
One might assume, therefore, that serving the public interest, both locally and in its funding countries, would be pre-eminent in BTC's priorities, and BP has repeatedly emphasised to funders the supposed "poverty alleviation" and "regional development" aspects of the project. And yet the Inter-Governmental Agreement (IGA), the framework legal agreement for BTC, explicitly states that "the Project shall not involve the provision of services to the public at large in its Territory ... [It] is not intended or required to operate in the service of the public benefit or interest."
Puzzled by this discrepancy, the Baku-Ceyhan Campaign -- an international coalition of environmental and human rights groups -- organised a seminar in October 2002 at the House of Lords to give BP the opportunity to justify its demands publicly. The company refused several times to attend.
A closer look at the specifics of BTC perhaps explains this reluctance; the potential negative impacts of the pipeline are immeasurable. In Turkey, the route passes through areas that until recently were caught up in a desperately brutal war between the state and Kurdish guerrillas, in which up to four million people were displaced, their villages burnt. Now the pipeline may well produce a form of "double displacement", preventing refugees from going back to their homes, perhaps permanently. Certainly that has been both the effect and the intention of other major infrastructure projects, notably dams, in the region.
A Fact-Finding Mission to the pipeline areas conducted by the Baku-Ceyhan Campaign in August 2002 found massive discrepancies between BP's claims about the consultation and compensation plans it must by law compile, and reality.1 Less than one-quarter of our sample of concerned parties had been officially informed about BTC; one village, Haçibayram, listed by BP as consulted by telephone, was an abandoned wreck of shattered walls. Many of those who had received information remained confused and unsure of their rights. The idea of free consultation in the Kurdish regions is, in any case, chronically disingenuous, as anyone familiar with the Kurds' political situation (a situation which is notable in BP's literature by its total absence) must concede.
As for compensation, the BTC consortium insists on setting up bank accounts in the names of those that appear on the decades-old land registries; in doing so, BP will be paying the dead and depriving the living, their children and grandchildren, of their livelihoods.2
Were the pipeline to be built in such a politically volatile area, security would be a major concern. That prospect has led Turkey to grant BP unrestricted rights to land all along the pipeline; in other words, the very same territory it fought the Kurds so brutally for, it has now freely ceded to a multinational company. BP in turn has chosen the Turkish gendarmerie, militarised police implicated in some of the very worst atrocities inflicted on Kurdish civilians, to guard it. This effectively amounts to the creation of a militarised corridor down the centre of Turkey, self-confessedly serving the interests of a private company.
And it is not only politics that are volatile here; the pipeline lies literally on top of the North Anatolian faultline, responsible for no less than ten major earthquakes in the last 60 years, coincidentally the likely duration of the BTC pipeline.
The situation in Georgia is, if anything, worse. The pipeline passes close to or through several active conflict zones; it also cuts through the Borjomi-Kharagauli National Park area, near to the Borjomi mineral water plant, one of Georgia's most significant sources of foreign income. In Borjomi, as anywhere, oil and water really don't mix. Even the Georgian government itself published a list of 32 questions it wanted to ask BP about the implications of its choice of route. Pressure to keep to its timeline on the project means that those questions will now go unanswered. BP wrote to President Edouard Shevardnadze in November 2002 instructing him "to inform experts who visit with you ... that [alternative] routes are unacceptable." Shortly thereafter, following a visit from the US envoy to the Caspian, Georgia approved the route. It seems that consultation for BP, even at the governmental level, is rather like the pipeline: everything flows one way.
The impact of BTC in Azerbaijan likewise reveals the spuriousness of BP's regional development claims. Criticism has been raised over the plan to use the Azeri Oil Fund, set up by the World Bank and IMF expressly to promote the use of BTC oil revenues for socially useful investment, to pay 25% of the Azerbaijan State Oil Company's share of the pipeline construction costs. Azerbaijan was also recently voted the world's third most corrupt country by Transparency International, so allegations (denied by BP) of serious corruption, involving hundreds of millions of dollars and the Azeri President, Heydar Aliyev, are of considerable public concern.
But what has genuinely shocked the NGOs involved in the BTC campaign is the colonialist nature of the Host Government Agreements (HGA), the agreements signed between BP and the host countries which underpin the entire project. The Turkish HGA stipulates, among other extraordinary clauses, that it overrides all conflicting domestic law, both present and future, bar the Constitution. This means that should a future Turkish state less in thrall to the West decide to pass more stringent environmental, human rights or social laws to regulate the pipeline regions, BP will be exempt from them. Except in extraordinary circumstances, only BP and its consortium can terminate the HGA.
There's more. Should the new laws affect the "Economic Equilibrium" (BP's sonorous-sounding term for profitability) of the project, Turkey must pay BP compensation. And speaking of blank cheques, Turkey has indemnified any extra cost of building its section above the $1.4 billion that BP gave the Turkish state construction company, BOTAS. Not only was the general construction estimate at least $2 billion, but also pipeline costs normally spiral after the actual construction begins: BP's Alaska pipeline went 10 times over budget. So Turkey, a country deep in its most serious economic crisis since the 1940s, is potentially facing a bill of many billions of dollars, one that might very well breach the guarantee ceiling imposed by the IMF as part of its bailout package.
And that is not the only significant legal obstacle BTC may pose for Turkey: there is a very real possibility that the HGA and IGA will lead to breaches of Turkey's obligations under the European Convention of Human Rights, and that the agreements will seriously imperil the process of Turkey's EU accession towards which Turkey has recently made such stringent efforts. The greatest sufferers from that will, ironically, be the Kurds, who now look to Europe to restrain the continuing excesses of the Turkish military.
This, then, is the project that your money will be making possible. The Baku-Ceyhan pipeline symbolises the real democratic deficit of the twenty-first century: the unaccountable and unrestrained use by ECAs and funders of billions of pounds of the Northern public's taxes to finance massive infrastructure projects in the South. These neo-colonial projects benefit Northern and Southern elites at the expense of ordinary people everywhere, and in the process cause horrendous damage, add immeasurably to Southern debt burdens and generate thousands of migrants and refugees. Our position on the Baku-Ceyhan campaign and projects of its ilk is simple: we do not believe that any public money should go to them until the myriad of doubts that surrounds their public utility are answered, fully and publicly. We look forward eagerly to BP taking up our offer this time.3
Anders Lustgarten works with the Baku-Ceyhan Campaign. This is an edited version of an article that first appeared in The Observer On-Line, 1 December 2002.
2. BP has since said it will correct this. Nonetheless, significant problems with compensation still remain.
3. The major potential funders of the proposed Baku-Ceyhan pipeline have now opened the project to public comment. The Baku-Ceyhan campaign has submitted a protest under the OECD Guidelines on Multinational Enterprises. It has also made a legal submission to the European Commission arguing that the pipeline breaches Turkey's accession agreement with the EU. For more information, see www.bakuceyhan.org.uk
BP is held up as a model of "corporate social responsibility", yet seems to want to exempt itself from national legislation and democratic social control in its proposed oil pipeline in the Caspian region.
In September 2002, the United Nations claimed that something had been rescued from the wreckage of the Johannesburg World Summit on Sustainable Development -- the "Earth Summit". Governments may not have delivered, but big business did. The world's biggest corporations, with the UN's blessing, negotiated a series of "partnership agreements" -- voluntary commitments obliging those companies to respect the environment and defend human rights -- which will be recorded as official outcomes of the summit. These, they claim, will show that international law is not required to make corporations respect human rights and the environment. Governments appear to agree, which may be one reason why they have seemed so relaxed about the survival of the planet: why legislate if the world can be saved by promises?
But just as the chief executives congratulate each other, a new report suggests that the partnership agreements are worthless. The company most clearly associated with "corporate social responsibility", which has launched one of the new partnerships and sponsored some of the key events at the Summit, appears to be saying one thing and doing just the opposite.
In a survey conducted by the Financial Times, BP was named as the firm which commands the most public respect for its environmental record. The energy company claims to run its operations according to a set of strict "business policies", which have enabled it to become "a power for good in the world". BP, the policies state, will "respect the rule of law", defend "basic human rights and fundamental freedoms", "be held accountable for our actions" and "will not choose business partners to do things on our behalf that contravene these commitments". As an example of good practice, the company cites in its statement on environmental and social reporting the "major stakeholder consultation exercises" carried out in preparation for the Baku-Tblisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline project.
Last week [August 2002], an international coalition of environmental and human rights groups, the Baku-Ceyhan Campaign, published the results of their fact-finding missions along the route of this pipeline. Their report suggests that, far from being a model of good practice, BP's showcase project breaks both the commitments BP has published and the promises business leaders have made in Johannesburg. Their findings imply that those who imagine we can rely on trust to save the world are deceiving themselves.1
The pipeline would run from the Caspian Sea, through Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey to the Mediterranean. It would carry one million barrels of crude oil a day. One of the most important energy projects on earth, it would reinforce Turkey's position as a key strategic ally of the West. The 1,000 kilometres of pipeline running through Turkey would be built by the Turkish company, BOTAS, on behalf of a consortium of oil firms led by BP.
BOTAS, which is responsible for the "major stakeholder consultation exercises" of which BP has boasted, claims to have distributed information "to all stakeholders" in the project, and to have consulted most of the villages along the route of the pipeline and nearly everyone else who might be affected by its construction. These assertions, the fact-finding mission to Turkey suggests, are untrue.
The mission visited eight of the villages BOTAS claims to have consulted. Four of them, it discovered, had not been contacted at all. In the mission's report there is a photograph of the village of Haçibayram, which BOTAS says it "consulted by telephone". The houses are little more than piles of rubble: the entire village was deserted years ago. It has no telephones.
The consultations that did take place appear to have been designed to manufacture consent. The people BOTAS visited were asked what they felt the benefits of the pipeline might be, but were not questioned about the potential costs. BOTAS brought in "university professors", who told the villagers, incorrectly, that there were no safety or environmental risks associated with the project. The questionnaire noted that the pipeline is a Turkish government project "of high economic and strategic importance" to the country. The people who live along the route (some of whom are Kurds) are likely to have interpreted this as a coded warning that they speak out at their peril. Even the fact-finding mission was stopped and questioned by police.
Violations of this kind have been common practice in the oil industry for years, but what is new and astonishing about BP's project is the contract struck between the oil companies and the government of Turkey. The contract suggests that, far from being a model project led by an "accountable" corporation, the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline sets new standards for corporate impunity and domination. The pipeline's "host government agreement" effectively grants the corporations executive power over the government.
The contract overrides all Turkish laws except the constitution. It insulates the oil companies from any change in either Turkish law or international law: if, for example, new taxes or new environmental or health and safety rules are introduced, the agreement takes priority. In effect, it forces Turkey to flout international law in order to protect the consortium. BP appears to be legally exempt from paying compensation to anyone affected by oil spills or other impacts of the pipeline project. Turkey has promised that its security forces will defend the consortium from "civil disturbances", but neither the government nor the companies are obliged by the agreement to respect human rights. BP may terminate the contract at any time. Turkey may not.
What BP and its partners have done, in other words, is to negotiate a contract which has the same effect as the Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI), the charter for corporate rights drawn up in secret by governments and corporations five years ago, but dropped when it caused an international outcry. The company which promoted itself in Johannesburg as the exemplar of corporate responsibility, which has promised to respect the rule of law and "be held accountable" for its actions, has exempted itself from effective democratic control.
If BP -- by common consent the most environmentally and socially responsible of all big companies -- is to play by these rules, it is hard to see why we should believe any of the promises made by big business in Johannesburg. Corporations will take what they can: when there is a conflict between profitability and the environment or human rights, the profits come first. Voluntary agreements, this case suggests, simply do not work. Big business will protect human rights and the environment only when it is forced to do so.
George Monbiot is a journalist. This is a shortened and edited version of an article that first appeared in The Guardian, 26 February 2002.
Millions of people in India have been displaced in the past few decades by large dams.
In the 50 years since India's Independence, after Nehru's famous "Dams are the Temples of Modern India" speech (one that he grew to regret in his own lifetime), his footsoldiers threw themselves into the business of building dams with unnatural fervour. Dam-building grew to be equated with Nation-building. Their enthusiasm alone should have been reason enough to make one suspicious. Not only did they build new dams and new irrigation systems, they took control of small, traditional systems that had been managed by village communities for thousands of years, and allowed them to atrophy. To compensate the loss, the government built more and more dams. Big ones, little ones, tall ones, short ones. The result of its exertions is that India now boasts of being the world's third largest dam builder. According to the Central Water Commission, we have 3,600 dams that qualify as Big Dams, 3,300 of them built after Independence. One thousand more are under construction. Yet one-fifth of our population -- 200 million people -- does not have safe drinking water and two- thirds -- 600 million -- lack basic sanitation.
Big Dams started well, but have ended badly. There was a time when everybody loved them, everybody had them -- the Communists, Capitalists, Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists. There was a time when Big Dams moved men to poetry. Not any longer. All over the world there is a movement growing against Big Dams.
In the First World they're being de-commissioned, blown up. The fact that they do more harm than good is no longer just conjecture. Big Dams are obsolete. They're uncool. They're undemocratic. They're a government's way of accumulating authority (deciding who will get how much water and who will grow what where). They're a guaranteed way of taking a farmer's wisdom away from him. They're a brazen means of taking water, land and irrigation away from the poor and gifting it to the rich. Their reservoirs displace huge populations of people, leaving them homeless and destitute.
Ecologically too, they're in the doghouse. They lay the earth to waste. They cause floods, waterlogging, salinity, they spread disease. There is mounting evidence that links Big Dams to earthquakes.
Big Dams haven't really lived up to their role as the monuments of Modern Civilisation, emblems of Man's ascendancy over Nature. Monuments are supposed to be timeless, but dams have an all too finite lifetime. They only last as long as it takes Nature to fill them with silt. It's common knowledge now that Big Dams do the opposite of what their Publicity People say they do -- the Local Pain for National Gain myth has been blown wide open.
For all these reasons, the dam-building industry in the First World is in trouble and out of work. So it's exported to the Third World in the name of Development Aid, along with other waste like old weapons, superannuated aircraft carriers and banned pesticides.
Over the last 50 years India has spent Rs 87,000 crores [£13 billion/US$ 21 billion] on the irrigation sector alone. Yet there are more drought-prone areas and more flood-prone areas today than there were in 1947 [at the time of India's Independence from Britain]. Despite the disturbing evidence of irrigation disasters, dam-induced floods and rapid disenchantment with Green Revolution agriculture (declining yields, degraded land), the government has not commissioned a post-project evaluation of a single one of its 3,600 dams to gauge whether or not it has achieved what it set out to achieve, whether or not the (always phenomenal) costs were justified, or even what the costs actually were.
The government of India has detailed figures for how many million tonnes of food grain or edible oils the country produces and how much more we produce now than in 1947. It can tell you how much bauxite is mined in a year or what the total surface area of the National Highways adds up to. It's possible to access minute-to-minute information about the stock exchange or the value of the rupee in the world market. We know how many cricket matches we've lost on a Friday in Sharjah. It's not hard to find out how many graduates India produces, or how many men had vasectomies in any given year. But the government of India does not have a figure for the number of people that have been displaced by dams or sacrificed in other ways at the altars of "National Progress". Isn't this astounding? How can you measure Progress if you don't know what it costs and who has paid for it? How can the "market" put a price on things -- food, clothes, electricity, running water -- when it doesn't take into account the real cost of production?
According to a detailed study of 54 Large Dams done by the Indian Institute of Public Administration, the average number of people displaced by a Large Dam in India is 44,182. Admittedly, 54 dams out of 3,300 is not a big enough sample. But since it's all we have, let's try and do some rough arithmetic. A first draft.
To err on the side of caution, let's halve the number of people. Or, let's err on the side of abundant caution and take an average of just 10,000 people per Large Dam. It's an improbably low figure, I know, but ... never mind. Whip out your calculators. 3,3000 x 10,000 = 33,000,000.
That's what it works out to, 33 million people displaced by big dams alone in the last 50 years. What about those who have been displaced by the thousands of other Development Projects? At a private lecture, N. C. Saxena, Secretary to the Planning Commission, said he thought the number was in the region of 50 million (of whom 40 million were displaced by dams). We daren't say so, because it isn't official. It isn't official because we daren't say so. You have to murmur it for fear of being accused of hyperbole. You have to whisper it to yourself, because it really does sound unbelievable. It can't be, I've been telling myself. I must have got the zeroes muddled. It can't be true. I barely have the courage to say it aloud. To run the risk of sounding like a 1960s hippie dropping acid ("It's the system, man"), or a paranoid schizophrenic with a persecution complex. But it is the system man. What else can it be?
Fifty million people.
Go on, government, quibble. Bargain. Beat it down. Say something.
I feel like someone who's just stumbled on a mass grave.
Fifty million is more than the population of Gujarat. Almost three times the population of Australia. More than three time the number of refugees that Partition created in India. Ten times the number of Palestinian refugees. The Western world today is convulsed over the future of one million people who have fled from Kosovo.
A huge percentage of the displaced are Adivasis (57.6 per cent in the case of the Sardar Sarovar dam). Include Dalits and the figure becomes obscene. According to the Commissioner for Scheduled Castes and tribes, it's about 60 per cent. If you consider that Adivasis account for only 8 per cent and Dalits another 15 per cent of India's population, it opens up a whole other dimension to the story. The ethnic "otherness" of their victims takes some of the pressure off the Nation Builders. It's like having an expense account. Someone else pays the bills. People from another country. Another world. India's poorest people are subsidising the lifestyles of the richest.
Arundhati Roy is a Booker-prize winning author and writer. This is an edited extract from "The Greater Common Good", one of two essays in her book, The Cost of Living, Random House, 1999.
Despite being criticised for contemplating financial support for the Ilisu Dam, the British government subsequently considered funding another Turkish project, the Yusufeli Dam, which would flood thousands of Kurdish homes.
Events in isolation do not establish that a government is corrupt. To suggest that a government is corrupt, you must first detect a pattern of behaviour.
Three months ago [in November 2001], human rights and environmental campaigners waon a famous victory. The Turkish government, with the help of the British company, Balfour Beatty, had been planning to drown the ancient city of Hasankeyf, in Anatolia. The Ilisu dam was presented to the public as an electricity scheme, but for Turkey there were certain collateral benefits. Hasankeyf is the cultural capital of the Kurds, whom the authorities have been seeking to crush and assimilate. By submerging it, the government would displace some 78,000 Kurds from their homes. And by damming the river Tigris it could hold its troublesome neighbours Syria and Iraq -- whose survival depends on the river's water -- to ransom.1
Scandalously, the British government planned to underwrite this project. The export credits guarantee department (ECGD), which is a division of the Department of Trade and Industry, would provide £140 million of insurance for Balfour Beatty. If Turkey had failed to pay Balfour Beatty on time, the department would have given the company the money it was owed, then added the deficit to Turkey's national debt. As companies will not proceed with projects like this without guarantees from their governments, the ECGD's backing was critical to the construction of the Ilisu dam.
So the UK's Labour government, which has made so much of its commitment to international human rights, peace-keeping and environmental protection, was preparing to support a project which would assist Turkey's ethnic cleansing programme, destroy one of the most archaeologically important cities on earth, and threaten armed conflict between Turkey and its southern neighbours. The Department of Trade and Industry hid key documents from the public and offered evasive answers to parliament.
Activists from the Ilisu Dam Campaign, the Kurdish Human Rights Project and Friends of the Earth spent three years fighting both the ECGD and Balfour Beatty. The comedian, Mark Thomas, toured Britain with a stand-up show devoted to the campaign against the dam. At Balfour Beatty's annual general meeting, Friends of the Earth persuaded investors holding 41% of the companies' shares not to vote against a demand that the firm adopt ethical guidelines for dam building. In November 2001, Balfour Beatty buckled and announced that it was pulling out of the Ilisu dam (see pp.108ff)
But the UK government learned nothing from this fiasco. It is now preparing to start again, with another dam, another company and another ethnic cleansing operation.
The Coruh river runs from the Mescit mountains, through north-eastern Turkey, into Georgia and down to the Black sea at Batumi. The ethnic Georgians who inhabit its valley live among thousands of medieval buildings and archaeological remains. The river's catchment is a key transit point for migrating birds of prey, and the habitat of bears, wolves, lynx, ibex and some 160 endemic plants.
The Turkish government intends to flood most of the valley with a series of dams, the biggest of which is the 540 megawatt barrage downstream of the town of Yusufeli. Local officials estimate that it will drown the homes of some 15,000 people, and displace a further 15,000, as their roads and fields are submerged.
At Hasankeyf, the Turkish government made the mistake of leaving the city standing, and therefore worth defending. It will not repeat this error. It intends to bulldoze Yusufeli in July 2002, whether or not the dam is ready to be built, in the hope that its people and their supporters will give up once there is nothing to be saved but rubble.2 The people of Yusufeli and the surrounding villages will simply be dumped elsewhere. Were they to be provided with adequate homes and new roads, one Turkish newspaper estimates, the costs of resettlement would be greater than the value of the electricity the dam will produce.
In Yusufeli, just as in Hasankeyf, no one dares to speak out, as the secret police are everywhere. The barrage will affect the supply of water to Georgia, and (as it prevents the river's sediments from reaching the sea) cause serious erosion on the Black Sea coast.
The consortium hoping to build the Yusufeli dam is led by the French company, Spie Batignolles, 41% of which is owned by the British firm, AMEC. Like Balfour Beatty, AMEC is one of the companies pioneering the British government's private finance initiative. The ECGD is now considering whether to underwrite its contribution to the Yusufeli project with £68 million of guarantees. The people who opposed the Ilisu scheme are now contesting Amec's dam. They have been met with precisely the same obstruction and obfuscation as they confronted before.
When its complicity in ethnic cleansing was exposed, the ECGD was forced to publish a set of "business principles". These are now supposed to govern the decisions it makes. Unfortunately they remain "discretionary", which means, in practice, that they are never applied. Of the first 200 applications the ECGD has screened, not one has been rejected.
For the past two months, campaigners have been writing to AMEC and to ministers at the Department of Trade and Industry, in the hope of obtaining the key documents -- the environmental impact report and the resettlement plan -- which the ECGD claims will be used to decide whether it will back this scheme. Under the environmental information rules, citizens of the UK have a legal right to see these papers. The government has refused, on the grounds that they belong to AMEC.
AMEC has responded that the studies cannot be seen as "none of them are complete". But 15 months ago, it told the Trade and Industry Select Committee that it had provided the ECGD "with extensive information on the project including a full environmental study". The campaigners are hardly reassured by the fact that the new chair of the ECGD's advisory council is Liz Airey, who also happens to be a director of AMEC.
Now the British government appears to be ready, once again, to support the original ethnic cleansing scheme. Last month David Allwood, a senior official at the ECGD, told the press that the department would "consider any new application for the Ilisu project on its merits".
There is a pattern here, which suggests that the government is not making mistakes, but conspiring against the principles by which it claims to work. This is not the work of rogue officials, but reflective of systemic corruption. In December 2001, the Foreign Office minister Peter Hain boasted to the Confederation of British Industry that "governments and businesses working together can be unstoppable." It is up to us to prove him wrong.3
George Monbiot is a journalist. This is a shortened and edited version of an article that first appeared in The Guardian, 26 February 2002.
1. For more information on the potential downstream effects of the proposed Ilisu Dam on Syria and Iraq, see Downstream Impacts of Turkish Dam Construction in Syria and Iraq: Joint Report of Fact-Finding Mission to Syria and Iraq, published by the Ilisu Dam Campaign, Kurdish Human Rights Project and The Corner House, 2002, www.khrp.org/publish/list02.htm
2. The Turkish authorities, however, have not as yet bulldozed the town, partly because they have neither the financing nor a construction company contracted to build the dam.
3. In March 2002, AMEC withdrew from the Yusufeli project and thus withdrew its application for ECGD support. In early December 2002, AMEC increased its shareholding of Spie to take over 100% of the company. In mid-December 2002, Spie also withdrew from the Yusufeli project and withdrew its application for support from the French export credit agency. The Turkish authorities still intend to build the dam when they have the financing and a construction company willing to do so.
The biggest coal strip mine in South America has caused massive disruption and displacement of Indigenous and rural communities in northern Colombia. The majority of the coal is exported to the European Union.
Richard Solly and Aviva Chomsky with Roger Moody
British-based mining multinationals Anglo American and BHP Billiton each hold a one-third interest in a consortium that owns and runs Cerrejon Zona Norte, the biggest coal strip-mine in South America and one of the biggest in the world. (The remaining third is owned by Swiss-based mining company Glencore.) This mine has been responsible for massive disruption and displacement of Indigenous and other rural communities in the area.
The mining project began in 1977 with an agreement between the Colombian State mining company, Carbocol, and Intercor, a company owned by the US oil giant, Exxon. The project included not only the mine itself covering 38,000 hectares, but also a 150-kilometre railway from the mine to the coast, and a port. The railway was designed for three locomotives, each pulling 100 wagons carrying 100 tons of coal each. The port, Puerto Bolívar, is the largest port in Colombia. After exploration and construction, production was planned to start in 1986 and run until 2009. In 1999, Intercor obtained a 25-year extension on its lease, taking the project up to the year 2034.
The Anglo American/BHP Billiton/Glencore consortium bought Carbocol's share of the mine in October 2000 for $384 million, a price that the Colombian miners' union, SINTRAMINERCOL, and other Colombian organisations believe to be well below its true value. Enormous quantities of public money had been pumped into the mine's infrastructure, especially the railway, without which the project would not have been profitable. Because of its resulting massive debts, however, there was no way that the Colombian State could recoup its costs during the projected 50-year lifetime of the mining concessions. Moreover, Carbocol itself was sold under pressure from the IMF to open up the Colombian economy to greater foreign corporate control and to cut the state's losses. In February 2002, the Consortium purchased the remaining half of Cerrejon Zona Norte from Exxon at a much higher price.
The European Union imports over 70% of Colombia's coal, with Denmark, The Netherlands and Britain being among the biggest customers. The Cerrejon mines now have an annual capacity of 22 million tonnes (just under one-quarter of BHP Billiton's total annual production), which the Consortium plans to increase to 40 million tonnes at a measured pace, most of it intended for Europe.
From the beginning of the operations at Cerrejon Zona Norte, local communities were forcibly removed. The railway cut through the heart of the traditional territory of the Wayuu people, causing massive disruption to livelihoods and violating sacred sites such as graveyards. Around the mine itself, the small farming village of Manantial was violently broken up and the people dispersed without compensation.
In 1992, lawyer Armando Perez, representing the local villages of Caracoli and Espinal, brought a suit against the Colombian Ministry of Health, claiming that contamination by coal and other dust, and the constant noise of the mining machinery, were damaging the health of local residents. After several appeals, the court ruled in favour of the local people and ordered the company to guarantee their protection. But with the collaboration of the head of the Office of Indigenous Affairs in the area, the company's "solution" was to remove people from their homes to lands designated as an indigenous resguardo (reserve or reservation). At Espinal, police trucks arrived one day to remove the villagers to this resguardo. Those who co-operated received some funding for new community facilities. Those who refused were forcibly removed at night to an agriculturally unproductive, waterless place a few kilometres from the new site.
Residents in other villages close to the mine continued to suffer from the effects of blasting, coal dust pollution and loss of pasture land. Villagers in the African-Colombian community of Tabaco established a Relocation Committee in the 1990s to secure a formal relocation agreement with Intercor. They wanted not simply to be compensated financially, but also moved to a new site where they could continue living together as a community and farming the land. Intercor offered inadequate financial compensation only. The company attempted to persuade the residents to accept its offer by making life in Tabaco intolerable. The church was ruined: Intercor/Carbocol bought it from the local bishop (even though it was the local people who had built it and paid for it) and wrecked it. The communications centre and the clinic were closed by the local authority at the company's insistence. The company hoped that the villagers would simply give up and leave.
In August 2001, Intercor workers, accompanied by hundreds of armed police and Colombian troops, moved in to Tabaco and demolished the houses of those residents who had vociferously resisted removal without an adequate relocation package. Unarmed villagers who attempted to stop the operation were injured. The company continued the demolitions in December 2001 and January 2002, by which time when the village's school, clinic and communications centre had been destroyed and the cemetery of village ancestors desecrated and bulldozed. The community's lawyer, Armando Perez, spent 37 days during December 2001 and January 2002 under house arrest for denouncing the complicity of a local judge in the company's actions.
Anglo American, BHP Billiton and Glencore already owned half of Cerrejon Zona Norte when Tabaco was destroyed, but they have attempted to avoid blame and responsibility by pointing out that Intercor, not the Consortium, operated the mine. The final destruction of Tabaco was Intercor's self-interested parting gift to its parent, Exxon, and its colleagues in the consortium. It meant that consortium partners could deny responsibility for the demolition while Exxon could say that it was no longer involved. This is exactly what the company argued at the ExxonMobil annual shareholders' meeting in Dallas, Texas, on 28th May 2002.
On 9th May 2002, the Supreme Court of Colombia ruled that Tabaco must be reconstructed on a new site, as the villagers had been demanding. The ruling has not been obeyed. The community believes that only continued international pressure will ensure that the Supreme Court's decision is implemented. Other communities face displacement as the mine expands.
Richard Solly works with the Colombia Solidarity Campaign and the Mines and Communities Network.
Aviva Chomsky teaches Latin American History at Salem State College, Massachusetts, USA.
Roger Moody works with Nostromo Research in London.
Many people leave their homes and lands against their will because their options to remain have been exhausted. This may be because their lands have been destroyed.
Stuart M. Leiderman
Today, millions of people are fleeing or have been forced from their communities and lands because of sudden catastrophes or the accumulated effects of land abuse, overcrowding, industrialisation, pollution, severe weather and climate change, and other assaults on ecosystems.
These effects are often intensified by social prejudices, war, terrorism, chronic poverty, economic failures, unsustainable development, faulty technology and the ignorance or wilful violence that defiles, wastes and depletes precious natural resources.
Those who flee are becoming known as environmental refugees, even though "refugee" has until now been internationally defined and limited to those who have fled their countries because of a well-founded fear of persecution by reason of race, religion, nationality, social group or political opinion.
But people fleeing the environment also fear for their lives. Further, traditional forms of persecution may also be part of their predicament; worse, they suffer a singularly bleak future because their lands may be utterly destroyed, contaminated or transformed, and they may never be able to return.
There already may be at least 25 million environmental refugees worldwide, and millions more "proto-refugees" suffering from near-disaster conditions that could happen any time.
Environmental disaster episodes are place-specific: people flee villages, cities, districts or bioregions within countries. Some nations and many relief agencies now recognise the existence of these "internal refugees". Their total numbers are likely to equal those who have actually crossed frontiers. Relaxing the traditional definition of refugee helps non-refugees grasp the true magnitude of humanity's uprooting.
Refugees need to make critical decisions. They have to draw on past experiences, their best guess about the future, and their sense of responsibility for each other's welfare. Their decisions come from 1) what is known for certain about the consequences of not fleeing, 2) what is not known for certain but is suspected to be true, 3) what is not known for certain but is overridden by the fear of staying or being left behind, and 4) what, if anything, can moderate, reverse, eliminate or adapt to the situation quickly enough to avoid disaster. This is the fundamental predicament of people preparing to flee.
Refugees are "pushed" from danger, whereas migrants are "pulled" or attracted toward more viable destinations. Refugees are fleeing some place they would rather not leave, but migrants are primarily drawn to where they expect better conditions. Without careful study, however, it may be difficult to make distinctions between them.
There is an important time element involved as well. If Chernobyl had been simply a large industrial fire, residents may have returned soon after it was extinguished, without fear, and resumed their lives. It would have been an "evacuee" event, no less consequential in the short-term, but much less so in the long-term. But because Chernobyl was a massive radioactive explosion, the chances for safe return approached zero. Hence, those who fled were refugees.
Refugees not only flee from danger: they also cannot expect or depend upon their government's support or protection. Instead, they experience abandonment, ambivalence, indifference, incompetence or outright antagonism. Sometimes, governments refuse to address the cause of problems, or they take advantage of disasters to drive unwanted populations away, even out of the country. In recent years, Somalia's answer to its subsistence crisis was to orchestrate the brutal mass-transfer of tens of thousands of people into the Sudan, many of who were coincidentally government opponents.
When does a refugee stop being a refugee? Usually after war or persecution ceases and people can go back, recognising, however, that refugees have the human right not to be forced back. But for environmental refugees, it may be generations before they can return -- or never, if their lands have been logged, flooded, depleted, mined, polluted or irradiated.
Worldwide, refugee numbers are sharply climbing. Each new crisis leads to longer resettlement times, the children of refugees born in camps or on the run, and the recurrent uprooting of refugees. The reality for most may be, "Once a refugee, always a refugee."
Refugees have life-stories to tell, if they survive. Today, refugees are predominantly women and children, as many as four out of five of all refugees. But they are only the surviving fraction of each crisis; others die or are killed en route while others may not be able to flee at all. Thus, relying on refugee counts alone greatly understates the severity of episodes.
Whole communities become refugees: parents and children, teachers, labourers, scientists, artisans, professionals, soldiers, farmers and politicians. Thus except for certain tragic circumstances of time and place, refugees share many characteristics with non-refugees.
Today, millions of people are having trouble staying where they are while their safety and resources disappear.
There are an estimated 25 million environmental refugees. There may be more than double this number by 2010, and 100 million or more by mid-century if global warming causes higher sea levels, stronger floods and storms, and generally less-favourable weather patterns.
These numbers firmly support the argument that environmental refugees should be included in official estimates of refugees kept by governments, refugee organisations and the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR). Official counts are important because they influence the level of effort expended to anticipate, find and protect refugees, and trigger diplomacy against human rights violators, polluters and other unscrupulous actors on the international stage. Today, official tallies neglect not only environmental refugees, but also economic refugees and all internal refugees regardless of why they flee.
Scientists are now reaching consensus on what conditions produce environmental refugees. They include landlessness, deforestation, desertification, soil erosion, salinisation and water logging of irrigated lands, water deficits and droughts, agricultural stress, biodiversity depletion, extreme weather events and climate change, local population pressures, diseases and malnutrition, poverty, governmental shortcomings, ethnic and cultural prejudices, war-making, toxic chemicals, waste disposal, radiation and a host of pollution problems that plague ecosystems. Many of the factors are complexes of problems that cannot be simply dealt with as one would fight a bacterial infection. They are the end-stages of norms and practices developed over centuries at great expense to the environment and the well-being of billions of people.
There are environmental refugees everywhere in the world, but there are some very large concentrations: four million people in the Horn of Africa, two million in the Sahel, up to three million in rural areas of central China and perhaps half a million in Mexico and Central America. Their presence is the legacy of years of land abuse, agricultural collapse, drought, starvation and civil war, and of pressures to sell resources abroad for currency.
Refugees are predominantly driven from rural-agricultural areas that have intense poverty, poor soils, malnutrition, and food and water shortages. Many refugees appear in cities, some of which already hold millions of jobless people, living on bare subsistence diets, surrounded by filth and contagion. Refugees are also forced from areas targeted for their mineral and coal deposits, dense forests, and rushing rivers and valleys, all suitable for fossil fuel or hydropower plants. In India, an estimated 20 million people have been displaced by official projects including dams, mines, forests preserves and irrigation. In Egypt in the 1970s, more than one million hectares of soil were stripped from productive farms to make bricks for the Aswan Dam.
For years, Saddam Hussein waged a vicious war against the Marsh Arabs in southern Iraq. Under the pretence of agricultural development, his army drove out and killed the inhabitants, some of whom were opposition Shiite Muslims, and drained and burned this 17,000 square kilometre emerald remnant of the fabled Fertile Crescent. During the 1991 Gulf War, US troops swept right around the marshes, providing no haven for the thousands of people trapped there or fleeing towards Iran.
In the vast Asian desert further east, the former Soviet Union's thirst for water to irrigate and expand cotton growing has almost totally intercepted the headwaters of the Aral Sea. The sea has precipitously shrunk from 60,000 square kilometres in the 1950s to less than 50,000 square kilometres; salinity has trebled since the 1960s, wiping out fisheries that once caught 50,000 tons annually. Generations-old villages have been abandoned; many of them are now as much as 40 to 50 kilometres from the retreating shoreline.
During the Vietnam War, US forces conducted environmental warfare against the North Vietnamese, dropping defoliants and other toxic chemicals throughout the war zone. A 1982 United Nations study reported that 15,000 square kilometres of mangrove forest had been destroyed. Other researchers found that countless bomb craters not only halted farming but also harboured the stagnant-water habitat necessary for mosquitoes and other disease vectors. Millions of peasants suddenly became environmental refugees.
In Eastern Europe, during Soviet rule, more than 100 villages and the town of Most in Northern Bohemia (now in the Czech Republic) were obliterated and 200,000 people lost their homes to stripminers questing for low-grade coal.
At present, fewer environmental refugees are found in industrialised countries than in the Third World, but in many ways, they signal the additional grief in store as the rest of the world industrialises.
In industrialised countries, exposure to chemicals, air pollution and contaminated water supplies are among the most serious threats. In 1991, the US Environmental Protection Agency estimated that 3.3 million people in the US lived within one mile and 41 million within four miles of 1,134 locations on the National Priority List of major toxics sites. The Congressional Office of Technology Assessment variously estimated that the list of sites could readily exceed 10,000 and might be as much as 439,000. Poor rural and urban communities, especially in the southern US and near Native American reservations, are especially vulnerable to waste disposers and other handlers of toxic substances. The practice of siting pollution-prone activities in or near these communities has become known as "environmental racism".
Outside the US, a complete accounting of refugees fleeing the vicinity of dumpsites, landfills, refineries, incinerators, military installations and factories has not yet been conducted. Nor have estimates of numbers that could possibly be affected by future nuclear accidents, a pressing concern as plants age and spent fuel rods pile up on-site. Worldwide, there are more than 500 commercial nuclear power stations.
Ominously, effects from future climate changes that could cause sea level rise, severe storms, coastline erosion and surges and very difficult growing seasons, may totally overshadow all other refugee causes experienced in the world to date. There could be large-scale displacements in both rich and poor nations, the difference in severity being that the former will be "susceptible" but likely able to afford timely protection, while the latter, with most of the world's population, will be extremely "vulnerable", not being able to afford the protection or the time to adapt quickly enough or escape disaster. Scientists have forecast 13 million climate-change environmental refugees in Bangladesh, 16 million in Egypt, at least 73 million in China, 20 million in India, one million or more from small island states, and 50 million additional from agriculturally-dislocated regions by the year 2050.
World refugee numbers have probably crossed an important threshold that renders conventional disaster relief assistance (blankets, tents and water bottles) completely and embarrassingly inadequate for both the magnitude and the complexity of this crisis as it is now developing.
Beyond the terrible misery and suffering experienced, contemporary refugees, no matter what kind, are basically "people out of place." "Place" and "environment" are synonymous. Incredibly fast-growing numbers of environmental refugees confirm that the environmental roots and uprooting of humanity has been neglected for too long. We have to advocate the right to secure lands and environments for all people.
Stuart M. Leiderman is an environmentalist at the University of New Hampshire, USA. This is a shortened and edited version of an article written for the Encyclopedia of the Future, Macmillan, New York, May 1995.
Several decades of Green Revolution agriculture -- the intensive use of water and chemical pesticides and fertilisers on hybrid crops to increase crop yields -- has degraded much of the land and water in north-western India, making it difficult for people to live there.
Pardeep Singh Rai
Panjaab, the famous land of five rivers, is a semi-arid landlocked region in the north-western part of South Asia. The very existence of this vulnerable region depends on the waters of the five rivers, all tributaries of the Indus River. This highly productive region is known as the breadbasket of both India and Pakistan, and it was here that the Green Revolution was considered a success.
But various practices have led to the environmental degradation of the Panjaab. Industrial agriculture, involving the excessive use of pesticides and fertilizers and intensive irrigation, was implemented in the region through pressure from the government and multinationals. The planting of rice, a non-traditional crop in this semi-arid region that requires intensive irrigation, is causing an environmental crisis. The International Rice Research Institute has questioned to what extent rice cultivation should be permitted in the Panjaab. Price ceilings on agricultural produce and restrictions on its export imposed by the government on Panjaabi farmers have prevented them from planting other crops that use less water. Despite the intensive irrigation, river water is diverted to less productive regions in Haryana and Rajasthan, leaving the Indian Panjaab with only about one-quarter of the water from its rivers. This diversion means that the Panjaab does have the water it needs for irrigation. Panjaabi farmers have had to dig tube wells to extract groundwater and have done so beyond sustainable levels. The construction of dams on the Panjaabi rivers has served the elite only and has altered both the volume and the course of the rivers. Many are now dry sand beds, especially the smaller streams.
As a result of all these practices, in just four decades, the Panjaab is extensively degraded.
Groundwater has been pumped out at a much faster rate than it has been replenished. As a result, farmers have deepened their tube wells, and the entire irrigation process has become much more expensive. In future, village wells might dry up as they depend on the same aquifer. This would cause immense hardship to rural people who have little or no piped water supply. The annual State of the World Report produced by the World Resources Institute in Washington, DC, estimates that the gap between water usage and the aquifer's sustainable yield is so high that the aquifer under the Panjaab could be depleted by the year 2025.
Deforestation along the banks of the rivers is also having a dramatic impact on the aquifers under the Panjaab. Because of less rainfall because so many trees have been cut down, they are not being recharged. In addition, because of the accompanying soil erosion, about 60% of rainwater is lost due to runoff.
Aquifers become polluted when they are recharged with irrigation water contaminated with agricultural chemicals and fertilisers. During the monsoon, heavy loads of silt, along with large quantities of dissolved salts, nutrients, organic material and bacterial contaminants, are washed off the land into the aquifers.
Due to increased mechanisation and inadequate drainage, seepage from unlined canals and over-watering of fields have raised the underlying water table. This has led to increased health (especially malaria) and environmental problems.
In the drier climate of the Panjaab, water evaporation near the soil surface leads to a steady accumulation of salts in the land that eventually results in kalar (soil affected by salt) and reduced crop yields. An estimated 21% of irrigated agricultural lands in the Panjaab are affected.
Streams and ponds are now running dry, affecting aquatic and wetland habitats and resulting in reduced biodiversity.
The land has been intensively cultivated at the expense of grazing and traditional long fallow periods. Few conservation measures have been followed. In this semi-arid region, moreover, wind erosion is also a serious threat to water balances.
The Himalayan glaciers that feed Panjaab's five rivers have been receding faster than in any other part of the world. In addition, changes to the monsoons are likely to reduce the water sources of the Indus River system and directly affect the people of Panjaab
The very survival of the Panjaabi people in a sustainable environment is at risk. Continued excessive use of groundwater for agriculture in India and Pakistan could well result in the Panjaab becoming a desert in the early 21st century. Before this, however, water scarcity might well lead to confrontation and armed conflict between India and Pakistan, which both have nuclear weapons, with disastrous consequences for the Panjaab, particularly for the poor and the environment.
The socio-political problems plaguing this region need to be tackled. Moreover, integrated water resource management in the Panjaab must encompass the needs of the poor, women, landless and tenant farmers. Irrigation should be made more efficient by adopting micro-irrigation techniques, and crops that need a lesser amount of water should be planted. Programmes governing the use of water need to incorporate ecological sensibility, and need to start at the village level to develop holistic solutions that meet people's needs.
Pardeep Singh Rai works with Defenders of the Environment and Ecology of Panjaab.
British colonial land and agricultural policies, followed more recently by free market policies, have ensured that fertile land in Sri Lanka is now owned by a few business interests.
Children to the motherly, that they prosper,
Carts to good drivers, that they be driven well,
The valley to the waterer, that it yields fruit.
Land to the tiller
Caucasian Chalk Circle
The British, the third band of European Empire builders after the Portuguese and the Dutch to set foot on Sri Lanka (then called Ceylon), landed in the country in 1796. They started changing the social fabric of the Ceylonese (Sri Lankan) society in an entirely different way from the previous European rulers. The British introduced a new social structure: capitalism.
The lush green hills of this Indian Ocean Island caught the eye of its new ruler, not for its beauty, but for the gold it could generate. The earth was stripped off its evergreen cloak and an alien crop was planted: the soil that nurtured the greenery was a godsend to cultivate tea. But as an alien crop was brought in, so the people of that land were alienated from it. They were left with the "choice" of either in effect becoming slaves on the newly created tea plantations until their death -- or fleeing.
The first up-country rebellion of 1818, the first organised political mass uprising against the new rulers, was the response of people who faced the danger of being chased off their land. This uprising was brutally crushed, drowned in blood by British firepower and ruthlessness. The first displacement of Sri Lankan people because of Western intervention had commenced. Politically crushed and hounded from their homeland, the up-country Ceylonese fled to other areas, mainly to the South of the country. The rulers went on to acquire the land of the up-country people by a cunning piece of legislation, the Land Requisition act of 1833 -- everything was done legally.
The up-country peasants' rehabilitation commission, set up after the British officially left Ceylon in 1948, found that the number of people living on one acre of land in the hill country was far more than in the South, even though many people had left the hill country en masse. Why? Because vast areas of land had subsequently been given to British planters and would-be planters who brought in shiploads of Tamils from India to work more or less as slaves in their tea plantations.
In 1948, the British had handed over their colony of Ceylon to the elite of the country. The new Sinhala and Tamil rulers feared that these plantation workers would join hands with the left-wing movement and thus they disenfranchised Indian Tamils, taking them away from any decision-making process. Most plantation workers did not have the means to leave the country and seek refuge elsewhere. Some left Sri Lanka to go to India, most had to comply.
The first armed political uprising in post-colonial Sri Lanka1happened in 1971. The children of the peasantry rose against the rulers but mainly against impoverishment. Although they were the sons and daughters of peasants, they did not have the land on which to farm. Since the mid 19th century, the majority of land had been owned by a few foreign and local business interests. Although this uprising was forcibly crushed, the government was forced to institute some land reform, aimed at limiting land ownership to 50 acres per person. A new constitution was introduced in 1972 that for the first time had a chapter on human rights.
In 1978, another new constitution was adopted, which for the first time in Sri Lankan history allowed people to go to court if they felt that their human rights had been violated. But this constitution also had provisions to override peoples' fundamental rights: the Emergency Regulations and the Prevention of Terrorism Act. At the same time, the constitution stripped the Tamils of their right to claim their homeland. It introduced the notorious sixth amendment, barring any one from having a separate state. The Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF), the leading opposition party in the Sri Lankan parliament, had to leave the party political process -- they had campaigned for a separate state through parliamentary means.
Tamil farmers in the North of the country also had to contend with economic difficulties resulting from the free market economy, introduced by the government in 1977. The government opened the gates to outside investment, but closed the doors to employment. The most ambitious single venture of the free market economy was the damming of Sri Lanka's longest river, the Mahaweli. It was widely proclaimed that this project would help the country's agriculture, but its main goal was to provide electricity to multinational companies in the new Free Trade Zones. This was in a country in which two-thirds of the people had no electricity. The main dam, named after the 19th century British monarch, Queen Victoria, and built with British aid money, was declared open by the then British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher. Hundreds of thousands of people were displaced.
With the market flooded with imported food because of the open economy policy and Tamil politicians defeated in parliament, the Tamil youth took up arms in a popular uprising, the breeding ground for the Tamil Tigers as well as many other Tamil armed groups. Tamil farmers had lost the markets for their products in the South and thus could not give their sons and daughters a proper education, while those who did have a high standard of education were marginalised. Many young people thus felt they had no other option. In 1983, a government-sponsored pogrom saw Tamils killed in their hundreds in the South that was dominated by the Sinhala majority. Tamil militants retaliated by attacking the government forces, and tensions that had been brewing since the late 1970s at least erupted into war. The first mass exodus of Tamils began.
But the free market economy was not popular with the Sinhala majority in the South either. Working people all came out on general strike in July 1980, and once again, the rulers used force to crush the rebellion, but this time with unprecedented terror. They shot and killed to assure their entrepreneur masters that foreign investment is here to stay. The Sinhalese started seeking political asylum in other countries as well as Tamils.
Because the Sri Lankan army was busy in the South, the government had sought help from India, which sent its army in to the Tamil areas in the latter part of 1980s. Indian firepower could not bring the Tamil uprising to heel, but did increase the numbers of asylum seekers in leaps and bounds.
Moreover, while waging a war in the North to acquire the land of the Tamils, the government was also busy giving away the land of the Sinhala peasantry to multinational companies. A prime example is its handing over of more than 18,000 acres of fertile land to the Booker company to plant sugarcane. Self-sufficient farmers were turned into labourers in the big factories. The Ceylon Tobacco Company (a Sri Lankan subsidiary of multinational British American Tobacco -- BAT) is using thousands and thousands of acres of land to grow tobacco. In general, paddy fields that have long supplied the staple diet for all Sri Lankans have given way to cash crops such as tobacco, gherkins and butternut squashes. After a few years, farmers are left with barren land and no livelihood. It is these farmers and their sons and daughters who are demanding a better living standard and who oppose the free market giant that robs them of their land.
The political and economic measures introduced by the government and backed by the Western sponsored World Bank and the International Monetary Fund have always bred opposition. The government has met this opposition with oppression, and then the opposition has invariably resorted to armed struggle. Those who were persecuted by state forces and were still lucky enough to flee the country sought political refuge in faraway lands, ironically in one of the countries that caused all these problems in the first place, the UK.
Today, the Sri Lankan government is engaged in talks with the Tamil Tigers in search of a negotiated settlement. But it has not eased its military pressure in the Jaffna peninsula, the capital of the Tamil homeland. Thousands of Tamils who fled Jaffna cannot return because of the huge military installations called High Security Zones, which now take up one-third of the Jaffna peninsula. People who live around those areas live in constant fear and their movement is strictly limited by government forces. Thousands of Tamils who are eager to return cannot do so. They are still fighting for their right to their land while racist Sinhala forces march on the streets in the South calling for Tamils to be denied rights.
But while talks with the Tamil Tigers go on, the government is still hell bent on selling off the country's assets to multinationals and foreign companies. For instance, it has sold off the bus and transport system to Ibis Transport Consultants and Transbus International, part of the giant Mayflower Corporation of the UK. Redundancies will surely follow. In the Tamil homelands, an oil farm running into millions of barrels of oil has been given to India. The main aim of re-opening a highway running from the capital, Colombo, to Jaffna is to open the North to investors.
So when government talks with the Tamil Tigers come to an end, with or without a political settlement, part of the Tamil homeland will be under military occupation while another major part will have been sold off to multinationals. What will the Tamils be left with except another struggle to wrench their land back? Indeed, the main aim of the Sri Lankan government in the talks is to attract foreign investment into the country.
The government has brought in 36 pieces of legislation to help foreign investors exploit Sri Lankan labour without hindrance. The Alliance for the Protection of Natural Resources and Human Rights (ANRHR), which is opposed to the privatisation of the country's assets, points out that the main thrust of these laws is to enable the employer to hire and fire at will. The Sri Lankan worker has enjoyed secure working conditions since the turn of the 20th century, thanks to numerous struggles. Even after the workers' defeat in the 1980 strike, the government was unable to take that security away. But today, eager to please their Western masters, the government has resorted to these drastic measures. ANRHR has already started massive demonstrations to reverse this dreadful trend that would end with Sri Lanka once again becoming a colony under the rule of Western interests.
Both Tamils and Sinhalese in the North and the South have started voicing their dissent to what is happening. The State has already responded with force several times, shooting demonstrators dead, and attacking journalists and demonstrators during an anti-peace march.
Rulers taking measures today to deny people their right to land have always met with resistance, which they have countered with brutal force. What can those who are not put behind bars or buried under the soil do? What can a people who have been robbed of their land do? Either abide by the laws of the victor and become a beggar, or run and run and seek political refuge in another land, even a land that generated the culprits who created those conditions in the first place.
Yamuna Bandara is a journalist
1. Ceylon gained independence from Britain in 1948, but officially changed its name to Sri Lanka in May 1972.
The majority of refugees and asylum seekers are women
A summary glance at the world reveals the intolerable situation of refugees and asylum seekers in general and women refugees and asylum seekers in particular. There has been an all-out war against asylum seekers not just since the aftermath of the September 11 tragedy, though the assault was stepped up post 9/11.
It all began at the end of the Cold War when Western governments no longer needed to portray themselves pro-human rights vis-à-vis the Eastern bloc. Since then, asylum seekers have not only become "illegal migrants" and "criminals", but are now also deemed "terrorists". In this all-out war, women are among the most adversely affected, shut behind closed doors, dying of the freezing cold, suffocating in containers, drowning in seas and languishing in abject poverty and misery. Most women can't even get to a safer place to apply for refugee status based on "membership in a particular social group". Routes to safety are either shut tight or shutting.
This intolerable situation is also an aspect of the New World Order and the USA's attempts to establish a unipolar world and its complete hegemony and dominance. The September 11th tragedy and the subsequent war on terrorists have been the means to intensify this attempt and establish naked barbarity in the world. In this era, anything is permissible. The US government can round up all non-immigrant men and boys over 16 born in the Middle East and detain thousands. The EU can propose to make refugee status a temporary one. With the impending war on Iraq, Turkey can send in troops to Iraqi Kurdistan with the specific aim of stopping the refugee flow. Despite continued insecurity and misogyny in Afghanistan, all borders can be closed to those fleeing and EU governments, the UNHCR and border countries such as the Islamic regime in Iran can begin deportations or so-called "repatriations".
Even in their so-called war against terrorism, they don't even feign to adhere or respect rights. Western governments have left the people of the region at the mercy of political Islam, which incidentally they helped strengthen and maintain. In fact, they have been stepping up the war on the people and women of the Middle East: they are stopping victims from reaching safety while colluding and supporting Islamic states and movements. They have established a Loya Jirga in Afghanistan to ensure that women's rights do not go beyond the anti-woman Islamic framework. In Iraq, they have gathered a bunch of misogynists and Islamic and other reactionaries to administer Iraq post Saddam Hussein. In Iran, the EU is pursuing a "human rights dialogue" with one of the most oppressive states in human history. And when women flee and manage to reach a safer place to apply for asylum, they say that "the Islamic Republic of Iran's constitution grants women equal rights" or that "Article 21 guarantees women's rights in all respects" (reasons given for UK refusal of asylum).
Women and women asylum seekers are among the first victims of this policy and practice. They are the victims of political Islam and Islamic terrorism, US/NATO terrorism, including bombings and economic sanctions, closed borders and the denial of the right to asylum and also cultural relativism. All standards, norms, rights are relative according to this racist notion. So Iranian prisons are "satisfactory for third world standards" (according to the Dutch government) and peace in Afghanistan is satisfactory according to "Afghan standards" (according to The Economist). This means that women can continue to be stoned, flogged, beheaded, veiled and mutilated under sexual apartheid in the Middle East and can continue to be segregated, veiled, killed in the name of honour and live under different standards and rights even in the West itself, resulting in the murders of the Pelas and Fadimas (killed in the name of honour in Sweden). The "Left", too, is not immune to this racism. It excuses political Islam in its fervour to be, and only be, anti-imperialist. It holds rallies with Islamists rather than progressives and segregates men and women in anti-war meetings. It, too, leaves women at the mercy of Islamic states and movements.
This is an edited excerpt from a speech given by Maryam Namazie of the International Federation of Iranian Refugees at a conference entitled "In Commemoration of Fadima Sahindal: Honour killings and oppression of women: culture and politics or cultural politics" held in Stockholm, Sweden in January 2003.
Maximising profit out of labour is one of the major goals of the current industrial system. It creates the pressures both to "push" and to "pull" people to migrate towards industrialised centres.
The industrial system seeks to maximise profit. This always has a strong international dimension: there is a periphery or "South" from which value can be extracted with even less constraints than is normally the case.
There are two sources of this profit: nature and labour. The industrial countries have always sought to grab the "resources" of the world, waging wars to control them and allowing the physical environment to deteriorate. This contributes significantly to the factors that cause people to flee their homelands (see pp.72ff). This short contribution, however, concentrates on labour.
Firms compete by cutting labour costs. One obvious way of doing so is by shedding labour, supposedly making the few remaining workers more productive. But if this process goes too far, the rate of profit will fall because less labour is employed. Hence firms have strong incentives to invent new ways of introducing cheap labour as well as developing new technology.
The South is the reservoir of this labour. There are two main ways of incorporating it: either workers are imported into the centre itself and given the dirtiest jobs, maintained by racism in a position of inferiority; or they remain in the periphery and are exploited within their own countries.
It seems, at least on the surface, that the international economy has been evolving increasingly in the direction of the latter. Most obviously, this is achieved by direct investment -- employing people in TNC subsidiaries. But any South-North export of cheap goods fulfils the same function: transferring the value of the labour.
Under today's system, such transfers are most typically conducted through an elaborate structure of chains of production in which many processes are carried out by small subcontracting firms and the informal sector. The dominant firms can ensure their control by monopolising the high-tech core, the software and brand identities and by getting it all policed through intellectual property rules. According to the jargon of the new management systems, peripheral workers are "flexible", that is, expendable -- they can be sacked when demand fluctuates. The whole economy and society of the periphery is "structurally adjusted", for example, by IMF conditionalities, to serve the dictates of this system.
To keep this labour cheap, the North-South divide is rigidly enforced. In recent years, the trend has been to liberate one factor of production -- capital -- but to restrict the other -- labour. The process of liberalising trade, for instance, through the agreement of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), has gone hand-in-hand with increasingly harsh immigration controls. People are being imprisoned in a system of "global apartheid".
This generates immense pressures, the most obvious one being the "push" factors for migration. With their economies restructured to serve global accumulation, the "flexible" labour force of the South faces insecurity, unemployment, the under-development of regions, even the bankruptcy of whole countries. Pushed beyond the limits, people will either try to escape starvation by moving somewhere else, or they will struggle to improve conditions in their own country. If they do the latter, they are usually answered with political and military repression: their own rulers may gain some benefit from the global economy and think better labour conditions would damage competitiveness; or a particular regional or "ethnic" elite may seek to monopolise scarce resources and reserve an even harsher persecution for excluded national groups. If "normal" repression doesn't manage to keep order (that is, in current jargon, if a country becomes a "failed state"), the North might even invade directly. All these political and military factors force people to flee their countries.
It therefore makes little sense to distinguish between "economic" and "political" refugees, because the two causes are totally intertwined: human rights encompass both.
Although the "push" factors generated by the global economy are the most obvious, it would be a mistake to neglect the less obvious, but equally important, "pull" factors. The economies of the centre cannot rely only on exploiting cheap peripheral labour in situ; they also depend increasingly upon having, within their own frontiers, a large informal, partly clandestine, sector where working conditions are extremely exploitative. In this sense, the underlying function of immigration restrictions is not really to prevent labour coming in. Their function is to create a climate of massive insecurity and therefore enable a huge accumulation to be made from the contribution of those people who do come in.
Robert Biel is a lecturer at University College London, and author of The New Imperialism -- Crisis and Contradictions in North-South Relations, Zed Books, 2000.
The current nature of the world economy has been designed and created by international institutions that are aiming to remove all barriers and control over the activities of corporations.
"The rising tide of the global economy will create many economic winners, but will not lift all boats. [It will] spawn conflicts at home and abroad ... [its] evolution will be rocky, marked by chronic financial volatility and widening economic divide. [Those] left behind will face deepening economic stagnation, political instability and cultural alienation. They will foster political, ethnic, ideological and religious extremism, along with the violence that accompanies it."
Who is the author of this outlook of a more divided, unjust and unstable world under globalisation? A street protester in Europe? An anti-privatisation campaigner in Asia? A left-wing academic in Latin America? A poverty worker in sub-Saharan Africa? No, the US Central Intelligence Agency -- the CIA.
The current form of globalisation experienced by almost every nation is not a historic inevitability, but is primarily a result of the economic policies designed by governments of the rich nations in support of their multinationals. As the Secretary-General of UNCTAD (the UN Conference on Trade and Development) Rubens Ricupero, has explained, "Globalisation is by no means an inevitable phenomenon -- it is, at least in part, a work of deliberate construction."
The nature of the global economy is not only determined by technology and cheap transport, but also by governments opening up the economies of countries around the world to unrestricted trade, foreign investment and the free movement of financial capital.
These changes have been implemented through international institutions such as the World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Trade Organisation (WTO). Their approach is to remove all barriers to the activities of global corporations. Despite their rhetoric about managing globalisation in the public interest, these institutions are writing the rules that remove the ability of democratic governments to manage global corporations.
The principle agents of globalisation in the poorest countries and many of the middle-income countries have been the IMF and World Bank,1 generally supported by aid donors. Policy-based lending of the World Bank and IMF, until recently called Structural Adjustment Programmes, have been, according to the United Nations, the dominant influence of economic policies in the developing world since the early 1980s, through loans in over 90 developing countries.
The approach has been standardised across very different countries: opening up trade, removing controls on the movement of money, removing regulations on investment and business, reducing subsidies, introducing user fees for services such as health care and education, and privatising state-owned and run enterprises. These policies, inspired by neo-liberal economic theory, have had disastrous impacts in the real world.
It is striking to compare development outcomes between the supposedly inefficient era of import substitution and active state intervention during 1960-80 with the period of globalisation from 1980-2000. Even though foreign investment flows to the developing world increased more then ten-fold in the past decade, growth in all regions of the world fell markedly, except for China which maintained a highly restrictive economy. Average income in sub-Saharan Africa has fallen by 15% per person over the past two decades, a sustained fall in income exceeding that of the Great Depression of the 1930s in the industrialised world.
As the legitimacy of the World Bank and IMF has come under challenge, their rhetoric has changed. Now it is apparently the role of these institutions to promote poverty reduction, and developing nations have been allowed to develop their own economic plans -- even so, core economic policies have not changed. The pressures to adopt neo-liberal policies, particularly to privatise services around the world, is, if anything, intensifying through agreements such as the African Growth and Opportunity Act,2 the Cotonou agreement,3 the Free Trade Area of the Americas4 and a plethora of bilateral treaties.
The WTO is now being used to lock in these changes and make them irreversible. The WTO has referred to this as being one of the benefits of its General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS), and points out that GATS can "overcome domestic resistance to change". This directly undermines the role of democratic governments and the massive protest movements around the world that are challenging the privatisation of basic services such as water and electricity.
The injustice of global rules is underscored by gross hypocrisy. The rich nations, while forcing countries in the developing world to open up to exports and investment by their multinationals, have protected their business interests in sectors where developing countries are most competitive -- notably textiles and agriculture. Further, they have operated differential tariffs that locked developing countries into commodity exports and prevented them from building local industries to process their raw materials. As a result of commodity over-production and the dominance of multinationals in supply chains, commodity prices have plummeted, throwing millions of small farmers into even deeper poverty.
Trade rules, as with the liberalisation policies of the IMF and World Bank, have prioritised the opportunities for multinationals from the rich world. The EU has been proclaiming the current WTO renegotiations as a "Development Agenda", but changes to redress the imbalance in trade agreements are being strongly resisted by the US, EU and other rich countries in these renegotiations. The pressure to establish new agreements in services (accounting for most of the global economy), investment and government procurement would extend the basis of unfair, pro-corporate rules throughout the global economy and further into the lives of all.
Some of the East Asian economies and China have been able to continue their export-led growth after state intervention facilitated their competition in global markets. But for most of the rest of the developing world, economies in transition and some middle-income countries, the result of unjust global policies has been to create a dual economy. A small elite benefits from modern consumer enclaves, mainly foreign-owned and financed, while most of the people struggle to survive in the rural sector and in the urban informal economy. The result is a widening gap between rich and poor, massive unemployment and even higher underemployment, and a dismal future for the majority of the world's people: those who are under 15-years-old.
The burden of massive restructuring of societies under reform programmes has fallen most heavily on the poor. The average income of the poorest fifth of the population in sub-Saharan Africa fell by 2% per year over 1980-2000, with much of the decline falling on the rural poor whose livelihoods have been wiped out by massive declines in commodity prices.
For many countries, the result has been a vicious cycle of poverty. The erosion of the state's capacity to act in the public interest, continued foreign debts that squeeze out social spending and massive economic restructuring has resulted in further marginalisation of the poor. The resulting internal migration, changing family and community ties, and conflict has, in turn, accelerated the spread of HIV/AIDS and further contributed to economic decline.
There are credible and well-researched steps that could redress these injustices: an end to the debt crisis and IMF and World Bank conditionalities; fundamental reform of the rules governing international trade; political space for societies and communities to strengthen their local economies; tough regulation of international corporations and capital; and an equitable transfer of resources from the rich to the poor. These campaigns are being mobilised at the local as well as international level. There are common agendas shared by millions of activists fighting privatisation and liberalisation in the South with the growing number of campaigners in the North.5
The diverse social movements and NGOs campaigning for economic justice are also creating alliances with liberation struggles, human rights campaigns and the anti-war movement to challenge the political and military domination by the rich nations as well as economic injustice. In terms of economic justice, there is now a broad public understanding of the depth of collusion between governments and corporations, and new opportunities to mobilise public pressure for change.
Barry Coates is director of the World Development Movement (WDM)
1. In July 1944, the United States, committed to establishing a framework after the Second World War to ensure economic development and stability, sponsored the UN Monetary and Financial Conference in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire. Forty-four countries attended and agreed a plan to establish an International Monetary Fund to help stabilise currencies and promote international trade and to establish an International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, which later became known as the World Bank.
2. The US Africa Growth and Opportunity Act 2000 promises some African countries duty-free and quota-free access to the US market for certain products, primarily those that will not negatively affect US producers. Thus coffee and sugar are not covered. It does offer access for African textiles and clothing, but in practice only those products using fabric and yarns produced from the US itself. In return, African countries are expected to:
(a) eliminate barriers to all US trade and investment in Africa in goods and services;
(b) pursue further privatisation, remove government subsidies and price controls;
(c) not do anything that undermines US national security and foreign policy interests.
The Act proposes the establishment of free-trade areas, but only among "growth-oriented" economies. African Ministers of Trade have pointed out that this will undermine regional economic co-operation.
3. The Cotonou Agreement is a 20-year trade accord between the members of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) group of states and the European Community (EU) and its member states. It was signed in Cotonou, Benin, on 23 June 2000. It replaces and supersedes the 1975 Lomé Convention, which was regularly adapted and updated until it expired in February 2000. The objectives of the Agreement's economic and trade cooperation are to promote the smooth and gradual integration of ACP economies into the world economy; enhance production, supply and trading capacities; create new trade dynamics and foster investment; and ensure full conformity with WTO provisions.
4. The Free Trade Area of the Americas is a US proposal currently being discussed and negotiated by governments to integrate all 34 countries of North and South America (except Cuba) into a single free trade arrangement. If enacted, it would create the world's largest free market zone, affecting 650 million people and $9 trillion in capital. The draft text has not been made available to elected representatives or to ordinary citizens.
5. For examples, see WDM's annual reports, States of Unrest, which document protests against IMF and World Bank policies, particularly cuts in government expenditure, privatisation of state-run industries, and the removal of price controls and subsidies. Protesters include peasant farmers, indigenous peoples, the unemployed, teachers, civil servants, priests, doctors, public-sector workers, trade-union activists and owners of small businesses.
Immigration controls do not work and cause human rights' abuses.
I believe that people should be able to move freely around the world, to live and to work wherever they chose to -- as they can within countries, within the United States and (more or less) within the European Union. I think to say this is common sense -- just as most would say it is common sense that people should be able to move from Manchester to Oxford if there are more jobs in Oxford.
Immigration controls may seem to many like an unavoidable reality, but they impose huge suffering, require escalating repression and abuses of human rights. They are also relatively recent. They were first introduced in Britain against "aliens" in 1905, and against Commonwealth citizens in 1962. They were introduced as a result of agitation by racists and the far right. They are explicable only by racism, and they legitimate and feed racism. Government lies about immigration and asylum seekers are the British National Party's best recruiting agent and provide fodder for the Daily Mail.
The attempt to enforce immigration controls makes many thousands of innocent people suffer. For example, refugees and migrants are detained without trial or time limit, reduced to destitution, and made to suffer and sometimes die in the backs of lorries and the holds of ships.
The arguments for and against immigration controls tend to be conducted in terms of the economic self-interest of the current inhabitants of the rich countries. I think this is wrong. But all the same, it is the case that (as even the UK government now admits) immigrants have contributed hugely to British prosperity, including the prosperity of workers and the protection of their jobs, wages and conditions, and especially the survival of public services. They also, according to Home Office research, make a net contribution of about £2.5 billion a year to public finances (that is, they contribute more in taxes than they take out in services).
In addition, the money they save from their wages and send back (so-called remittances) are larger than official foreign aid and better because, unlike foreign aid, it comes without conditions and does not have to be repaid. They make a small dent in the extreme polarisation of wealth internationally.
Immigration controls should be abolished, and they probably will be sooner or later because they don't work. When controls are abolished, migration may increase, but not a lot because most people don't want to uproot themselves and leave their families and communities. In any case, the numbers are tiny. Migrants and refugees come to Europe only if they are exceptionally enterprising, usually young, fit, educated and skilled, and have some money, or if they are exceptionally desperate. Britain is, of course, lucky that they come here. Even the government is now saying Britain needs more immigration (while contradictorily cracking down harder than ever on people who come here without permission).
But there is a refugee problem. There are many millions of refugees worldwide, the vast majority of them in countries neighbouring their own, such as Iran, Pakistan and Guinea. The problem is not that a few have made it to Britain, but that most of them do not migrate out of choice. They are forced to migrate by wars, political persecution and economic necessity. Imperialism bears direct responsibility for creating some of the largest flows of refugees. The West:
- supports and supplies weapons to right-wing repressive regimes (examples are Nigeria, Zaire and Turkey);
- intervenes to crush rebellions against such regimes, to overthrow progressive governments and to support military coups (Angola, Mozambique, Chile and Indonesia are a few);
- sells weapons, sometimes financing sales with official loans, to participants in civil wars and throughout the world;
- has engaged in military intervention in all the countries from which there have been the largest flows of refugees in recent years (Iraq, Afghanistan, Kosovo and Somalia).
More indirectly, the poverty created by imperialism (partly through its agencies, the World Bank and the IMF) is almost certainly one factor causing the wars, conflicts and political persecution from which people are forced to flee. The most obvious recent cases are Sri Lanka and the former Yugoslavia.
So, if the rich industrialised countries object to migration, they should stop causing it.
I believe that in an ideal world, everybody would be free to migrate if they wished to (and be welcome to migrate), but people should not be forced to migrate by the actions of imperialism.
Teresa Hayter is a member of Barbed Wire Britain and of the Campaign to Close Campsfield. She is the author of Open Borders: The Case Against Immigration Controls, Pluto Press, 2000, and The Creation of World Poverty, Pluto Press, 1981.
Changes in the law in Britain over the past few years mean that many refugees find themselves classed as terrorists and thus refused asylum.
After suffering displacement, immiseration and political repression at home, refugees who manage to get to Western Europe in defiance of all the laws, practices and barbed wire fences erected to keep them out now find themselves treated as criminals and terrorists.
Refugees have been equated with terrorists before: in the 1980s, the opening up of internal borders within Europe was predicated on fortifying the external borders against "drug traffickers, refugees, terrorists and other undesirables" (in the words of a Home Office memorandum).
In the early 1990s, the French cracked down on Algerian FIS (Islamic Salvation Front) activists, many of whom were rounded up and deported to poor African states such as Burkina Faso. When Tansu Ciller was Turkey's prime minister, she went around Europe buying arms and telling governments to ban the PKK (the Kurdish Workers' Party), which the German government did. In Britain, the PKK weren't banned in the 1990s, but Kurdish refugees were quite closely monitored. There were a number of famous raids on this Kurdish Community Centre under anti-terrorism legislation.
But in the aftermath of September 11th, it has become much easier to tar refugees with the "terrorist" brush, and to use the label to begin the process of closing down protection of refugees altogether. The 1951 Geneva Convention on refugees has never applied to people who can genuinely be described as "terrorists": the Convention excludes from protection anyone guilty of the sort of actions that create refugees.1
In Britain, the government has narrowed the definition of refugee and widened the exceptions to refugee status by reference to a broad definition of "terrorism" in the 2000 Terrorism Act. The Act defines "terrorism" so widely that it embraces street protest, and denies that there is such a thing as legitimate political violence in support of self-determination, although self-determination is held by the UN Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to be a fundamental human right.
Offences under the 2000 Act include supporting or inviting support for a banned organisation, which carries a maximum ten-year sentence; failing to report suspicions about others' activities; and wearing or displaying anything suggestive of support for a banned organisation. The Proscribed Organisations Order made under the Act banned a total of 21 organisations in Britain, including not only Al-Qaida but also organisations like the PKK and the Tamil Tigers, groups that started off at least as genuine liberation organisations and symbolise for hundreds of thousands of non-violent supporters the right to self-determination.
The 2000 Terrorism Act has had a huge impact on asylum seekers, particularly those from, for example, Algeria, Egypt, India, Sri Lanka and Turkey, whose fear of persecution is based on their support of a liberation movement in their country. If they tell the immigration officer of their support for what has become a banned organisation in the UK, they risk Special Branch investigation and possible arrest. If they don't, they have no asylum claim. Additionally, the banning of these organisations in the UK legitimates their own governments' ill-treatment of them in the name of counter-terrorism. The UK Home Office line on Kurdish, Tamil and Sikh appeals is that what these asylum seekers fear back home is prosecution, not persecution; their own government, it argues, is perfectly entitled to detain and investigate them and if in the process they are beaten or subjected to other physical brutality, well, that's a regrettable lapse but doesn't amount to persecution. (Other harsh reasoning for refusing asylum includes the twisted logic that survival itself proves the absence of risk.)
The argument that indefinite detention without trial of a political opponent is perfectly justifiable on national security grounds received even more impetus with the internment provisions of the 2001 Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act (ATCSA). This authorises the indefinite detention of foreigners who are "suspected international terrorists" (according to a formula known only to Home Secretary David Blunkett and the MI6 intelligence agency) and who cannot be deported. To push this law through parliament, the government had to derogate from the right guaranteed by the European Convention on Human Rights and the UN Covenant not to be detained without trial. This can be done only if there is a "public emergency threatening the life of the nation". This derogation has now been in place for over a year, and about a dozen foreign nationals against whom there is insufficient evidence to charge with criminal offences have been detained ever since. Their status as suspected terrorists excludes them from having any claims to refugee status determined.
The climate created by these measures has infected the adjudicators and the courts. One of my cases involved a Kurdish man who had been arrested and tortured by Turkish police and charged (and convicted and sentenced in his absence) of support for terrorism after some friends who were in the PKK (its political, not armed, wing) stayed in his house for a couple of nights. The UK adjudicator, hearing his appeal, expressed her concern that as a "war criminal" he ought to be excluded from refugee protection.
The 2002 Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act extends the exclusion from refugee status still further by providing that anyone convicted of a crime carrying a sentence of more than two years can be excluded from refugee protection as a "danger to the community". In addition, the climate of panic has also permitted the government to enact measures in the 2002 Act designed to segregate asylum seekers completely from the rest of society in "induction centres", "accommodation centres" and "removal centres". The purpose of this segregation and detention is to render asylum seekers invisible in society and to prevent them from integrating in local communities, so as to make their removal easier, an objective pursued single-mindedly and without any thought for the consequences on traumatised individuals or for the communities.
All these measures are part of the new national security culture permeating decision-making. The breadth of the definition of "terrorism", the creation of offences based on association with "proscribed organisations" rather than on actual involvement in illegitimate political violence, and the failure to distinguish between terrorism and non-violent political activity all contribute to the erosion of refugee protection.
The aim of all these measures is deterrence and exclusion of asylum seekers. It has nothing to do with threats of terrorism, and everything to do with the demands of globalised capital, for which the free movement of poor people is anathema. David Blunkett's predecessor as Home Secretary, Jack Straw, spoke of plans to export asylum processing altogether, as the Australian prime minister, John Howard, did when he prevented the ship, MV Tampa, with its humanitarian cargo of 400 Afghan refugees, from landing in Australia in September 2001 and sent it to the Pacific islands instead for refugee processing, later changing Australia's laws to legalise the process. Straw noted the potential of keeping asylum seekers in camps abroad and having their claims processed by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), only allowing in to Britain those deemed by UNHCR to be genuine. He justified the plan by pointing out that this would redress a complaint campaigners have had for many years -- that there is no legal way that refugees can get to the UK because of visa controls and carrier sanctions. But likely drawbacks include a tight annual quota and, eventually, summary refusal at the border and removal of asylum seekers who try to bypass the system.
The 2002 Act contains provisions to implement this process, with no appeal rights for those rejected by UNHCR. These camps could be a re-run in Pakistan, Turkey and Russia of the dreadful, overcrowded and squalid camps of Hong Kong where Vietnamese boat people languished for years waiting for refugee determination and resettlement.
Frances Webber is a barrister specialising in refugee and immigration law and active in the Campaign Against Racism and Fascism (CARF).
1. The 1951 Geneva Convention is the foundation of international protection of refugees. It defines a refugee as someone outside their own country unable or unwilling to return owing to a well founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion. The Convenion gives refugees residence and civil, economic and social rights in the country of refuge. In terms of security concerns, a person responsible for situations or events that produce refugees -- someone who has committed war crimes, serious non-political crimes before arrival, or acts contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations -- was always excluded from protection under the Convention. At the same time, under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and in Europe, under the European Convention on Human Rights, states are obliged not to send anyone to a country where they face a real risk of torture or inhuman or degrading treatment.
Britain's banning of 21 foreign organisations in April 2001 may well have hastened rather than prevented terror being committed by various states.
The practice of legally banning terrorist organisations has always seemed as pointless as it is inconsistent. If UK Home Secretary David Blunkett were to ban organisations that represent the interests of ideological dogma-driven minorities who take peoples lives, large sections of Britain's railways would have been banned years ago. Railtrack would issue a statement renaming itself "The Real Railtrack (continuity wing)". Maintenance contractors would have to hold their Annual General Meetings in secret, and company directors would be hurried into the room in balaclavas and shades before announcing that year's dividend. I know some of you are already muttering "Mark, Mark, you can't compare railway companies to the IRA or the UVF." You are right, of course: the IRA would normally phone in a warning before they killed a member of the public.
Surely it must have occurred to Blunkett and previous home secretaries that potential terrorists are not going to be put off joining terrorist groups by the fact that the groups are banned. As a rule, people who are prepared to plant bombs and commit murder generally have a disregard for legal niceties. Expecting banning orders to reduce terrorism is a little bit like expecting the Highway Code to prevent drive-by shootings. When was the last time anyone saw groups of armed men speeding away from a killing shouting "Mirror, signal, manoeuvre! For God's sake, do you want to lose points on your licence?"
The banning of 21 foreign organisations in early 2001 by the previous Home Secretary, Jack Straw, led the way for much of Europe's over-reactive anti-terror laws, which followed in the wake of the attacks upon New York's World Trade Center. However, it was perhaps the inclusion of the PKK (the Kurdistan Workers' Party) on the list of 21 that caused most concern. The PKK have fought a cruel war against the Turkish state, over 30,000 people have been killed, between 3-4 million Kurds have been displaced and about 3,500 Kurdish villages and towns have been destroyed. The PKK are not angels and they have undoubtedly committed atrocities, but three years ago they declared a ceasefire, which has by and large held.1 They also announced their intentions to seek a Kurdish state through non-violent democratic means. Had the PKK been Irish republicans or Northern Irish loyalists, their behaviour would not have seen them banned. On the contrary, by now their leaders would be running education departments or stomping around in a sash pretending that thuggery in a bowler hat amounts to culture.
So why did New Labour ban the PKK in April 2001? The answer, as it is with many questions of New Labour, is money and business. Turkey is the Richard Desmond [multimillionaire publisher of pornography magazines and donor to the Labour Party] of the British arms and construction worlds. It might attract bad publicity, but it does put its money in the right places. New Labour may well be embarrassed in taking pornography's profits. They may even flinch at the thought that men up and down the country are helping finance the Blair project by purchasing materials to masturbate with. Although I imagine many porn fans feel just as tainted knowing their money could end up in Labour's coffers. However, when it comes to working and promoting trade with a state that has the worst human rights record this side of Iraq, Labour have no qualms. Perhaps if the Turkish authorities published "Hardcore pictures of torturers wives!", New Labour might be less keen.
Quite simply, the PKK were banned to please a valued client. The rest of the European Union followed suit on 2nd May 2002, adding the PKK to the list of terrorist organisations, despite the fact that the PKK disbanded itself in April.
Turkey is enjoying its new-found international muscle and is about to take command of the 18-nation UN security force in Afghanistan. Saudi Arabia's reluctance to allow US planes to operate from there has left the field open for Turkey to play host to Bush's bombers, which is especially important if Iraq is going to be invaded.2 None of this will be lost on the EU.
The day after the EU decision, 3rd May, Turkish police arrested 11 members of Egitim-Sen (the Education Union) in Mardin. Their crime was learning the Kurdish language. According to Egitim-Sen, the 11, including a pregnant woman, Sermin Erbas, were subjected to beatings, denied food for three days and nights, had plastic bags forced onto their heads, were left naked and assaulted with pressurised hoses. Sermin Erbas fell into a coma as a result of this treatment and she is still in a critical condition.
That same day, emboldened by the EU action, the Turkish military began operations in the Kurdish areas with their customary arbitrary detention and torture. On 25th May 2002, the Turkish military entered the Kurdish region of Metina in Iraq. According to local reports, thousands of soldiers deploying tanks and rockets on the ground and cobra helicopters in the air began their attack at around 3.30am. It is claimed at least 17 people have lost their lives. The EU's actions, far from preventing terror, appear to have hastened it: they have given Turkey the green light for its human rights abuses.
Now Turkey is calling for KADEK (the political party formed by the PKK) and HADEP, a long-standing pro-Kurdish democratic political party, to be banned in Europe. To most Kurds, this is the equivalent of trying to outlaw Sein Fein and the SDLP. To ban the PKK as terrorists is bad enough, but in doing so, the UK and the EU have actively encouraged Turkey's own state terror.
Mark Thomas is a comedian and co-founder of the Ilisu Dam Campaign. This is an edited version of an article that first appeared in the New Statesman, 10 June 2002.
1. On 1 September 2003, however, the PKK announced that it was ending its ceasefire because of the Turkish state's failure to observe it and that the ceasefire could only continue bilaterally.
2. In March 2003, however, the Turkish parliament refused to grant US troops access to the country's bases for a possible invasion.
A range of alliances and actions obliged a multinational construction company to pull out of a controversial project.
Kate Geary, Nicholas Hildyard and Kerim Yildiz
Few infrastructure development projects have caused as much international controversy in recent years as the proposed Ilisu dam in the Kurdish region of south-east Turkey. Scheduled for construction on the River Tigris, the dam is intended to generate 3,600 gigawatt-hours of peak hour electricity a year and is Turkey's largest planned hydroelectric project. The dam would displace over 78,000 people, the majority of them Kurds, who suffer repression and human rights abuses under the Turkish state. The project would disrupt downstream flows of the Tigris to Syria and Iraq, jeopardising agricultural production and heightening tensions in an already explosive area. Famed as the "cradle of civilization," the region would lose much of its ancient cultural heritage, such as the 10,000-year old city of Hasankeyf, to the dam's vast reservoir.
Plans to build the Ilisu dam were first mooted in 1954. Although the design for the dam was approved in 1982, the project remained on the drawing board until the late 1990s, partly due to a lack of financing. Immersed in a war with the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) in the 1980s, the Turkish government could not afford to finance the project. The conflict was also one reason why the World Bank was unwilling to finance the infrastructure project.
In 1996, the Turkish government sought to raise the necessary finance by offering Ilisu to the private sector. A Swiss turbine manufacturer and a British construction company, Balfour Beatty, were contracted for the project. The rest of the consortium of construction companies was made up of companies from Italy, Sweden, and Turkey. With approximately half of the construction costs made up of imports from Western Europe and the United States, the companies in the consortium sought government-supported export credit guarantees from the export credit agencies (ECAs) of Austria, Germany, Italy, Japan, Portugal, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States. Export credit agencies are government bodies that use taxpayers' money to promote a country's foreign trade by insuring companies against the main commercial and political risks of operating abroad, in particular the risk of not being paid by creditors.
The vast majority of ECAs have no mandatory environmental standards and, like the World Bank, all lack mandatory human rights guidelines. Yet ECAs are now among the most powerful players in international business. In 2000, ECAs issued $58.8 billion worth of new export credits. This compares to a total of $60 billion given out globally in overseas development assistance and $41 billion provided as loans by multilateral development banks, such as the World Bank or the Asian Development Bank. Thus, a large part of global capital investment is not regulated. ECAs remain among the least accountable and least transparent of publicly-funded institutions. For example, despite recent reforms, the UK Export Credits Guarantee Department is still not obliged by law to release details of the projects it finances. It does so only for certain projects -- and then only with the permission of the client company.
Concern over the construction of the Ilisu dam has centred largely on the failure of the project to meet international standards for infrastructure projects involving forcible resettlement and shared rivers. As planned, the dam would flood an area the size of the UK city of Manchester (313 km2), submerging or partially submerging some 183 villages and hamlets. Yet, at the time that the project was provisionally approved by the supporting ECAs, no resettlement or compensation plan had been drawn up for the estimated 78,000 people, mainly ethnic Kurds, who could be affected by the dam. The dam was not held to any international standards relating to resettlement -- including those of the World Bank, the OECD Development Assistance Committee, the World Commission on Dams, and the US Export-Import Bank. There had not been any consultation whatsoever with potentially affected people or their elected representatives; indeed, until late 1999, local mayors had not even been informed that the project was going ahead. Finally, the dam's environmental impacts were also largely unassessed.
In the UK, a coalition of environmental and human rights groups, including the Kurdish Human Rights Project (KHRP) and Friends of the Earth, quickly emerged to oppose UK funding for the project. Together the groups formed the Ilisu Dam Campaign. Initially, Ilisu was seen as primarily an environmental issue. In that respect, the campaign marked a departure from the usual work of the KHRP, which focuses on cases involving the abuse of civil and political rights. However, the routine abuse of basic human rights in the Kurdish region of Turkey rapidly emerged as a major issue, centring on the right of affected people to express their opinions about the dam, their rights to be heard and to receive information, and their rights to security, culture, land and livelihood. The Ilisu Dam Campaign thus presented the opportunity for human rights groups to forge alliances with environmental groups, archaeologists, academics and trade unionists. Given the number of global actors in the project -- from dam-building companies to private banks and government bodies -- the campaign necessitated an international, multi-pronged approach.
The Campaign generated widespread public support and action -- achieving extensive media coverage -- and used many tactics, including the credible threat of legal action, missions to the region, press coverage, political work, communication between the Campaign and local groups, grassroots letter-writing, demonstrations, public meetings, coalition-building, international networking, and shareholder activism.
Key to the Campaign's success was its careful documentation of the situation on the ground, made possible by numerous fact-finding missions to the Ilisu region. This enabled campaigners to challenge the "official" reports presented by proponents of the dam regarding the number of people affected, lack of consultation, and broader social, environmental and cultural impacts.
The injustices of the Ilisu project struck a chord with the UK public, engaging many who had never campaigned before. On the one hand, people were disgusted that the UK government was backing the project in their name while refusing to allow public scrutiny of the project's "Environmental Impact Assessment and the Resettlement Action Plan for Ilisu." On the other hand, people were outraged that the dam would visit further oppression on an already uprooted and traumatised people -- the Kurds.
The groundswell of public furore in the UK helped to make Ilisu so controversial that even a huge multinational like Balfour Beatty was forced to listen. In 2000 and 2001, Balfour Beatty saw its Annual General Meetings dominated by challenging questions from irate shareholder activists. The Campaign had distributed hundreds of shares to its supporters, but also to others campaigning against the company's activities -- from the railway workers' union to anti-road protesters. This not only built solidarity between diverse campaigns -- Janine Booth of the railway workers' union RMT says, "We saw a link between Balfour Beatty's profiteering in the UK railway industry and its planned profiteering in the Kurdish area of Turkey. We took part in each other's protests" -- but also highlighted one of the Campaign's key arguments: that the lack of adequate corporate standards embroiled the company in reputation-damaging projects. On 13th November 2001, in a major victory for the Campaign, Balfour Beatty announced its withdrawal from the Ilisu project on social, environmental and economic grounds. Its Italian partner, Impregilo, has since also pulled out. The companies' withdrawal effectively means that the Ilisu dam project no longer has the financial support of the UK, US or Italian governments.
One core campaign objective still remains to be met, besides that of seeing the dam stopped once and for all: to force the UK and other export credit agencies to take on board the lessons of Ilisu. The Campaign will continue to push for ECAs to adopt binding standards on human rights and the environment by informing parliamentarians, the press and other opinion makers, by working with trade unions and non-governmental organisations, and, above all, by reaching out to the public. While mandatory standards will not in themselves prevent destructive projects, the Campaign believes that they are a vital tool in pushing for broader structural change that aims not only to ensure that development serves the poor but also to reclaim public institutions for the public good.
Kate Geary is an environmental and social justice campaigner who coordinated the Ilisu Dam Campaign. She is currently working with the Baku Ceyhan Campaign to challenge British Petroleum's new oil pipeline from the Caspian to the Mediterranean.
Nicholas Hildyard works with The Corner House, a UK research and advocacy group focusing on human rights, the environment and development, which was one of the co-founders of the Ilisu Dam Campaign.
Kerim Yildiz is Executive Director of the Kurdish Human Rights Project, one of the co-founders of the Ilisu Dam Campaign.
To challenge corporate globalisation, corporations need to be held accountable not just to their shareholders or owners but also to people, communities and governments. They need to be legally responsible and liable for all their activities.
The problems we and our planet face today didn't happen by themselves. They're the result of economic, social and political decisions made over the years. And whether these problems are environmental or social, they often have the same or overlapping causes and can be intricately connected.
This might be best illustrated by means of an example. The Ilisu dam was planned to be built on the River Tigris in the Kurdish region of south-east Turkey. This region has been torn apart by armed conflict between the Kurdish people and the Turkish military and by prolonged periods of emergency rule.
The dam was conceived in order to generate electricity for the Turkish cities of Istanbul and Ankara, but is seen by many as the next step in an ongoing process of "ethnic cleansing". Why? The Ilisu dam would flood Hasankeyf, an ancient centre of Kurdish culture as well as many surrounding towns and villages, and would make up to 78,000 people homeless. Turkey's record on resettling people who have lost their homes due to the creation of large dams is unsatisfactory, to say the least. Many people end up homeless, landless and forced to move to the slums of large towns and cities.
The construction consortium planning to build the Ilisu dam was being led by a UK company, Balfour Beatty. Because of some financial risks, Balfour Beatty had asked the UK government, through its Export Credits Guarantee Department, to provide an export credit guarantee of about $200 million. This would act as insurance for the company's involvement in the project -- if Turkey was to default on its payment, Balfour Beatty would be paid by the UK government and the amount would be added to Turkey's bilateral debt burden to the UK.
The UK government was thus preparing to use public or taxpayers' money to subside a UK company to build a politically sensitive dam which would make tens of thousands of people homeless, destroy a cultural centre and cause environmental damage.
The Ilisu Dam Campaign, a strong alliance of environmentalists, human rights campaigners and trade unionists, succeeded in forcing Balfour Beatty and several other companies to withdraw from the project, which is now on indefinite hold. This example is an inspirational story of a people whose voice was finally heard in high places and a company that was forced to listen (see pp.108ff).
But this one project is just a drop in the ocean -- the number of other destructive projects that could damage the environment, threaten people's human rights, and cause social unrest is overwhelming. For example, British American Tobacco continue to operate in Burma despite massive opposition because of the oppressive regime and human rights abuses. Barclays has funded deforestation of wildlife rich rainforests in Indonesia. BAE Systems continues to make money out of war and conflict selling military equipment all over the world, including to oppressive regimes and states in conflict (see pp.52ff). BP is pushing ahead with the Baku-Tiblisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline, which will have little benefit for local people and will contribute to more global climate change (see pp.54ff).
Climate change is obviously one of the biggest problems we all face today. The extreme weather that climate change brings can cause devastation with people losing their homes and livelihoods. During the floods in the Indian State of Orissa in 1999, for example, over 10,000 people were washed away and agriculture was totally destroyed by salt water contaminating the land -- people lost everything from their seeds to their homes. It's most often the world's poorest people that suffer and the world's richest that are largely to blame. For example, the UK with 1% of the world's population produces 2.3% of the world's carbon dioxide, while the US, following heavy pressure from companies such as Esso, has pulled out of the Kyoto protocol, the global agreement on climate change.
As the list of UK companies involved in destructive projects and practices grows, the UK government is handing these companies more and more rights to trade and better and easier access to markets through the World Trade Organisation (WTO).
The WTO is the international body that deals with the rules of trade between nations. It is pushing forward with global free trade or trade liberalisation. The WTO and the trade system it promotes are intrinsically flawed, abusing the democratic process, threatening human rights and undermining environmental protection. The WTO's main beneficiaries are multinational companies. Some 70% of world trade involves multinational companies. This trade generates a huge amount of wealth for companies, and the old axiom, "wealth is power", rings true and holds strong. Power is moving away from national governments into the hands of big business.
This political and economic system has been called "corporate globalisation". It represents pretty much the opposite of sustainable development, and it is causing and fuelling increased wealth gaps between rich and poor, social unrest and environmental destruction. These things in turn can all contribute to the conditions that force people to take the dramatic and desperate step of leaving their countries, their homes and seeking refuge in other places.
Part of the problem with corporate globalisation is that it is a "one-size-fits-all" model. The flip side of this is that there is no single "solve-all" answer. Friends of the Earth's ideas for challenging corporate globalisation are based on the principles of democracy, equity, rights and standards, and we're tackling the issues on several fronts.
First, we are challenging the current neo-liberal free trade approach. This means we're fighting for a halt to the current WTO renegotiations in the first instance, followed by a comprehensive review of the WTO and global free trade impacts. Ultimately, fundamental changes to global trade rules are needed to ensure a commitment to people and the environment takes priority over the profits of big business. World trade should be governed in a fair, democratic and transparent way to ensure that this happens.
Second, we are directly challenging the power of multinational companies and campaigning for them to be held accountable for their actions. Multinational companies have a multinational reach and so global agreements are needed to control their activities. We are campaigning for a global mechanism to control the activities of multinational companies and to put the environment and people's and communities' rights first.
Such an agreement would focus on the rights of people and communities and on the duties of companies and directors to uphold these rights and to operate to high standards. It would be enshrined into law and penalties for corporations not complying would be severe.
Of course, the creation of a global agreement wouldn't be a fix-all solution. We all know that global agreements are all very well and good if they're implemented. But in real, practical terms, they are easily undermined by irresponsible governments, and it can be very difficult to translate an agreement into concrete action.
However, Friends of the Earth still feel that it is important to establish the principles of international corporate accountability and to push for governments to uphold these principles. We know that it is possible to have enforceable global mechanisms -- after all, this is what the WTO is -- the issue is getting the right ones and creating the political will and public pressure to make it happen.
This is why we're also pushing for the UK government to introduce better controls on corporations at a national level. As part of the Corporate Responsibility (CORE) coalition, we're campaigning for parliament to pass new laws that would begin to introduce some controls over and responsibilities on British corporations.1
Finally, Friends of the Earth also strongly believes in the need to rejuvenate sustainable local economies and to support fair trade in order to balance and challenge the power and wealth of multinational companies. Local farmers markets, for example, can challenge the dominance of supermarkets and provide an alternative for consumers who prefer to support their local economies than to line the pockets of supermarket shareholders. Fair trade products ensure that farmers and producers aren't forced into a race to the bottom and receive a fair price for their products.
Hannah Griffiths is the Corporates Campaigner at Friends of the Earth (England & Wales), which was one of the co-founders of the Ilisu Dam Campaign. See www.corporates.org.uk for more information.
1. The founding members of CORE are Amnesty International, Christian Aid, Friends of the Earth, New Economics Foundation and Traidcraft. The coalition is now supported by over 50 organisations, including non-governmental organisations, church groups and trade unions. For more information, see www.corporate-responsibility.org
- Afghan Association of London
Suite 1, 84-88 Pinner Road
Middlesex HA1 4HZ
Tel: 020 8861 6990
This Association was established in 1995 to work for London's Afghan community. It now offers a variety of services: a drop-in advice service for asylum seekers and refugees; mother tongue classes; after school classes for children; summer holiday schemes for young people; sports and leisure activities; and English as a Second or Other Language (ESOL) classes at all levels. It has a health worker to identify health problems, and can offer work experience to volunteer helpers.
- Asylum Rights Campaign
c/o 3 Bondway
London SW8 1SJ
Tel: 020 7820 3067
Asylum Rights Campaign is a consortium of faith, refugee and community groups, agencies and human rights organisations working on behalf of asylum seekers and refugees. It now has 53 member organisations. The Campaign has two working party sub groups focusing on specific areas: detention and wider European developments. From time to time, it commissions research reports on aspects of asylum policy and practice.
- Baku Ceyhan Campaign
266 Banbury Road
Oxford OX2 7DL
Tel: 01865 200 550
The Baku Ceyhan Campaign aims to raise public awareness of the social problems, human rights abuses and environmental damage that would be caused by the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline, which is planned to run through Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey. The campaign argues that public money should not be used to subsidise social and environmental problems, purely in the interests of the private sector, but must be conditional on a positive contribution to the economic and social development of people in the region. Copies of the book, Some Common Concerns, detailing the background to the proposed pipeline and the experience of the companies involved are available from the Campaign, price £11.50.
- Banner Theatre
220 Moseley Road
Birmingham B12 0DG.
Tel: 0121-356 2035/0121-440 0460/-121-682 0730
Banner Theatre, formed in 1973, is currently working with communities of asylum seekers and refugees living in different parts of the United Kingdom to make their experience the basis of a new piece of multimedia theatre -- Migrant Voices -- that will tour the country in early 2004. Each project begins with interviews with community members and uses their stories as the core of the resulting production, informing the lyrics of songs and the structure and content of the entire piece. Migrant Voices I explored the experiences of Iranian asylum seekers and refugees living in the West Midlands, to find out why they had left Iran, what had made them come to Britain and what they had found here. This led to an exploration of British involvement in Iran and how the country's development and its people's lives had been affected by this. Migrant Voices II has been taking place in Salford in Greater Manchester with a community of Iraqi Kurd asylum seekers and refugees. Migrant Voices III will work with asylum seekers and refugees who have been detained at the Yarls Wood Detention Centre in Bedford.
- Barbed Wire Britain
A network to end migrant and refugee detention. Over 1,800 people, nearly all of them asylum seekers, are locked up in detention camps and prisons in Britain, without trial, without time limit and with no automatic right to bail. The government is planning to build new detention centres to hold 4,000 people. The asylum seeking process is arbitrary and punishes innocent refugees in the hope of deterring others from exercising their right under the Geneva Convention to claim asylum in Britain. The Barbed Wire Britain network aims to stop this shame.
- Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT)
1 Goodwin Street
London N4 3HQ
Tel: 020 7281 0297
Fax: 020 7281 4369
CAAT was set up in 1974 by peace and other organisations concerned about the growth in the arms trade after the 1973 Middle East war. It is a broad coalition of groups and individuals working for the reduction and ultimate abolition of the international arms trade and for the progressive demilitarisation within arms-producing countries. The arms trade has a negative effect on humans rights and security, and on global, regional and local economic development. CAAT's priorities are to: end government subsidies and support for arms exports; end exports to oppressive regimes; end exports to countries involved in an armed conflict or region of tension; end exports to countries whose social welfare is threatened by military spending; and to support measures in the UK and internationally to regulate and reduce the arms trade, leading eventually to its end. CAAT supports the promotion of peace, justice and democratic values, and the use of the United Nations and civil society to resolve international disputes by peaceful means. CAAT also encourages policies to reorientate the UK economy away from military industry towards civil production.
- Campaign Against Criminalising Communities (CAMPACC)
CAMPACC publicises the effects and implications of the UK's anti-terrorism legislation introduced over the past few years and used against a wide range of groups and individuals. It campaigns against the use of the excessive state powers to criminalise political activity contained in the 2000 Terrorism Act and the 2001 Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act, for the repeal of these Acts and monitors the use of their powers. It is opposed to measures that attempt to criminalise mere association with a political organisation, or that involve detention without charge or restrictions on freedom of speech, association or publication. It works to defend the democratic freedom to dissent and to resist oppression, nationally and internationally. It works in close association with affected communities so as to build the broadest possible alliance for civil liberties, human rights and universal values.
- Campaign Against Racism and Fascism (CARF)
BM Box 8784
London WC1N 3XX
Tel: 020 7837 1450
CARF, Britain's only independent campaigning anti-racist magazine, documents resistance against racism from black and refugee organisations, monitoring groups, anti-deportation campaigns, football fans, to name but a few. It has consistently reported on suspicious black deaths in custody, followed up racial violence attacks and supported local campaigners. For five years, CARF has researched, collated and analysed the number of black people, undocumented workers and asylum-seekers in Europe who have lost their lives because of racism. CARF has documented the racism within the media, which is intrinsic to images and reports on Africa and Asia and which tends to refer to conflicts in these regions as "tribal trouble", thereby reinforcing the superiority of the West over the "Rest". CARF has highlighted the plight of asylum seekers through the dangerous and degrading "human trade" that brings them to Europe and the discriminatory treatment (including incarceration and deportation) they face once here.
- Campaign to Close Campsfield
Campsfield House is an Immigration Detention Centre near Oxford run for private profit by the Group 4 security company as a high-security prison and supervised by Home Office immigration officials. It holds about 200 detainees, most of them political refugees fleeing danger, torture and death from countries such as Nigeria, Algeria, Ghana, Turkey, India and Zaire. They are held without charge, without time limit, without proper reasons given for their detention, and without proper access to legal representation. Amnesty International report that these are breaches of internationally recognised human rights. The aims of the campaign are to close Campsfield, other detention centres and detention wings in prisons; stop immigration detentions and imprisonment; stop racist deportations; and repeal immigration laws that reinforce racism. The campaign believes in peaceful protest and has three priorities: to build up local public support and awareness of the issues; to give detainees moral support and show that they are welcome here; and to work with other organisations nationally to achieve the aims of the campaign.
- Colombia Solidarity Campaign
PO Box 8446
London N17 6NZ
Tel: 07743 743041
The Colombia Solidarity Campaign is an anti-imperialist organisation campaigning for a socially just and sustainable peace in Colombia based on respect for the human rights and diversity of the Colombian people. Its specific objectives are to: oppose any US, British or foreign military intervention, believing that this will only escalate problems in Colombia; oppose the policy of chemical fumigation and work for a solution to the coca problem based on the real needs of the people; draw attention to the role played by multinational corporations in violating workers' rights and exploiting the people and the environment of Colombia; draw attention to the horrific human rights situation in Colombia, and to the fact that the overwhelming majority of atrocities can be attributed to the actions of the army, police, Colombian state organisms or paramilitaries, which together constitute a policy of Colombian state terror; and oppose the criminalisation of social protest. It supports the right of Colombian refugees to asylum, and campaigns actively to defend them.
- Committee to Defend Asylum Seekers (CDAS)
BCM Box 4289
London WC1N 3XX
Tel: 07941 566 183
CDAS demands: the right to work for asylum seekers; income support for asylum seekers; abolition of detention centres; no forced dispersal of asylum seekers throughout Britain; full legal rights and representation; no to deportation; and the scrapping of the Asylum and Immigration Act.
- The Corner House
Dorset DT10 1YJ
Tel: 01258 473795
The Corner House is a UK research and advocacy group focusing on human rights, the environment and development and is one of the founders of the Ilisu Dam Campaign. Since its founding in 1997, it has aimed to support democratic and community movements for environmental and social justice, and aims to pay constant attention to issues of social, economic and political power and practical strategy. As part of its solidarity work, The Corner House carries out analyses, research and advocacy with the aim of linking issues, of stimulating informed discussion and strategic thought on critical environmental and social concerns, and of encouraging broad alliances to tackle them.
- Creative Exchange: The Network for Culture and Development
18 Percy Road
London E11 1AJ
Tel: 020 8532 8870
All over the world, arts and culture are helping people to overcome hardship, conflict, ill-health and abuse and to build a better future. Creative Exchange is a national and international network connecting people and organisations worldwide who are working with arts and culture to achieve social development and inclusion. It collects, stores and distributes information related to this field; sends out information about training, jobs and funding opportunities; promotes best practice; and runs networking events. Creative Exchange lobbies for appropriate and effective use of arts and culture to achieve social change and promotes better awareness and respect for cultural rights.
- Exiled Writers Ink
31 Hallswelle Road
London NW11 0DH
Tel: 020 8458 1910
The organisation facilitates the wider dissemination of work by writers in exile and ensures they have a platform. It aims to raise awareness of their literature by organising seminars, workshops, conferences, interactive performances and festivals, and by facilitating publication of their work, including addressing translation issues. The organisation aims to develop literary creativity in the broadest sense within refugee communities, to work in schools and colleges, and to form links with other literary/arts groups. It also aims to act as a pressure group against racism and the abuse of human rights worldwide, and to develop dialogue through literature.
- Friends of the Earth
26-28 Underwood Street
London N1 7JQ
Tel: 020 7490 1555
Friends of the Earth is one of the leading environmental pressure groups in the UK. It is a unique network of campaigning groups, comprising local groups working in 250 communities throughout England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and forms part of Friends of the Earth International, which has member groups in over 60 countries. It commissions detailed research and provides extensive information and educational materials. It has contributed towards bans on ozone-destroying chemicals, reduced trade in rainforest timber and increased support for cleaner energy technologies. Its campaigns on corporate issues stem from the belief that governments are losing control to huge multinational corporations in a process that is endangering basic human rights and vast areas of the natural world.
- Halkevi Community Centre
92-100 Stoke Newington Road
Tel: 020 7249 6980
The Halkevi Kurdish and Turkish Community Centre provides a "safe haven" for Kurds and Turks of all ages and diverse circumstances in Hackney, one of the most deprived areas of London where many Kurds and Turks now live. It offers a range of support services and activities including training programmes and advice on key issues such as education, housing, drug abuse, asylum and social services, all in its members' and clients' own language. The Halkevi has a lively youth club and organises many sporting and cultural events. It also provides a space for older people to get together and for social gatherings, which are crucial in countering the isolation and depression that many migrants experience, particularly those who have been separated in exile from their families and friends.
- Ilisu Dam Campaign
266 Banbury Road
Oxford OX2 7DL
Tel: 01865 200 550
The Ilisu Dam Campaign worked to stop British involvement in the proposed Ilisu dam in south-east Turkey and to highlight the wider implications of Britain's ethical foreign policy, sustainable development and its effect on peace and security in the region. The campaign exists to: raise public awareness of the environmental and human rights issues raised by the proposed construction of the Ilisu dam; conduct research into the implications of the proposed dam; communicate with officials (including government officials and elected representatives) in Britain and abroad about the implications of the proposed dam; expose any double standards on the part of companies involved in the Ilisu dam and press for them to act abroad as they would at home; press for the UK Export Credits Guarantee Department and other national export credit agencies to adopt mandatory environmental and development standards so that similar projects do not receive public support in the future; and to publicise the Ilisu dam's potential to exacerbate existing tensions in Kurdish areas and the threat it poses to peace and security in the region.
- Information Centre about Asylum and Refugees in the UK (ICAR)
c/o School of Social Science and Public Policy
King's College London
London WC2R 2LS
Tel: 020 7848 2103
E- mail: email@example.com
ICAR is an independent centre set up in 2001 to collect, record, compile and disseminate up-to-date, comprehensive and academically credible information about refugees and asylum seekers in the UK. It aims to raise the level of public debate on asylum and refugees in the UK context; to promote better understanding of the issues based on the best available information; and to help assemble evidence to promote evidence-based policy-making. ICAR is an advocacy organisation only to the extent that it presses for further research, better data, and more comprehensive and illuminating statistics on asylum and refugee issues in order to raise the level of public debate.
- Institute of Race Relations
2-6 Leeke Street
London WC1X 9HS
Tel: 020 7837 0041/ 020 7833 2010
The Institute of Race Relations was established as an independent educational charity in 1958 to carry out research, publish and collect resources on race relations throughout the world. Since 1972, it has concentrated on responding to the needs of black people and making direct analyses of institutionalised racism in Britain and the rest of Europe. It is at the forefront of the research and analysis informing the struggle for racial justice in Britain and internationally. It seeks to reflect the experience of those who suffer racial oppression and draws its perspectives from the most vulnerable in society. Its investigations have covered racism and the press, police racism, deaths in custody, the plight of asylum seekers and exclusions from school. The IRR conducts research on racism in other European countries, examining the rise of racial violence and fascist parties, asylum and immigration policies, human rights violations, policing and security policies.
The IRR news network aims to provide professionals in the voluntary sector, activists, students and interested individuals with a rich and dynamic news and information resource, distributed via the web and through emails, on race and refugee issues in the UK and the rest of Europe. It also aims to provide easy access to related organisations through an online database.
- Kurdish Human Rights Project
2 New Burlington Place
London W1S 2HP
Tel: 020 7287 2772
Founded in 1992, KHRP is an independent, non-political human rights organisation dedicated to the promotion and protection of the human rights of all persons in the Kurdish regions of Turkey, Iraq, Iran, Syria and the former Soviet Union, irrespective of their race, religion, sex, political persuasion, or other belief or opinion. KHRP's supporters include both Kurds and non-Kurds. Its five core projects are: human rights advocacy and training; trial observations and fact-finding missions; research and publications; public awareness; and an environmental project.
- Kurdistan Solidarity Committee and Peace in Kurdistan
44 Ainger Road
London NW3 3AT
Tel: 020 7586 5892
Founded more than a decade ago, the Kurdistan Solidarity Committee works for the recognition of the national rights of the Kurdish people through political lobbying, joint campaigns with Kurdish people in the UK and co-operation with sympathetic NGOs. Unfunded and working on a voluntary basis, it acts as a source of information for researchers and journalists; helps co-ordinate delegations to Kurdistan to provide eyewitness reports of human rights violations and to meet Kurdish activists resisting various forms of oppression in their homeland; and publishes regular reports and a magazine, Kurdistan Report. More recently, the Committee has become involved in asylum rights and against anti-terrorism legislation; it is a leading force in the Campaign Against Criminalising Communities (CAMPACC). The Committee publicises and works on individual cases involving Kurdish refugees and more general problems facing the wider Kurdish community.
In 1994, the Committee established Peace in Kurdistan in 1994 to press for a political solution to the Kurdish question. This initiative has won distinguished international backing from Noam Chomsky, Arthur Miller, Harold Pinter and Julie Christie.
- Mines and Communities Website
41 Thornhill Square
London, N1 1LE
Tel: 020 7700 6189
The Mines and Communities Website is the major communications project of the Mines and Communities network, a group of Indigenous and solidarity NGOs. The website seeks to empower mining-affected communities so that they can struggle successfully against damaging mining proposals and projects. It is acknowledged as the leading website of its kind because of the breadth and depth the information it provides and because its material is presented and selected by a truly international editorship.
- National Coalition of Anti-Deportation Campaigns (NCADC) (National office)
110 Hamstead Road
Birmingham B20 2QS
Tel: 0121-554 6947
Unjust and inhumane deportations tear families apart, force asylum seekers back to countries where they face persecution, and deny gay and lesbian couples the right to their relationship. These facts motivated the formation in June 1995 of the National Coalition of Anti-Deportation Campaigns. The Coalition provides practical help and advice to people facing deportation. It provides objective and confidential advice on the pros and cons of campaigning, and practical help with doing so. The Coalition provides a network for campaigns throughout the country so they can support each other. It communicates and works constantly with other organisations involved in campaigns for social justice and against immigration injustice and deportation. The Coalition lobbies to amend law and practice which leads to unjust or inhumane deportations, and assists in mounting campaigns against such legislation.
- Panjaab Watch
PO Box 968
East Berkshire SL1 7YP
Tel: 07971 489775
Panjaab is a semi-arid landlocked region in the north-western part of South Asia through which five rivers flow, giving the region its name. This campaign group highlights the injustices perpetrated on the Panjaab and its people, land, natural environment, heritage and culture by the Indian state. It campaigns for Panjaabi national self-determination and home rule. Some of the issues it covers include: human rights atrocities; environmental damage and destruction; Panjaabi cultural freedom and expression; and self-determination.
- Refugees and Asylum-seekers and the Media (RAM) Project
c/o PressWise Trust
Easton Business Centre
Bristol BS5 0HE
Tel: 0117 941 5889
The Project promotes best practice in media representation of refugee and asylum issues. It produces regular email bulletins about efforts to improve media coverage of refugee and asylum seeker issues. The PressWise Trust, set up in 1993 by "victims of media abuse", journalists and media lawyers, exists to promote high standards in journalism.
- Somali Community Centre
1-2 Lismore Circus
London NW5 4QF
Tel: 0207 267 8897
The Somali Community Centre offers a range of services including an advice line, outreach support to Somali families, housing and welfare benefits support and legal advice, and support to parents with children attending schools in the north London borough of Camden. These services are backed up by interpreting and translation support and weekend activities. The Centre has links with most Camden schools and runs a weekend supplementary school. It organises various events, such as a consultation day when some 300 Somalis participated in workshops to clarify their needs and the difficulties they face.
- Tamil Action Committee
11 Keightley Drive
London SE9 2HF
Tel: 020 8859 3600
The Tamil Action Committee is a human rights and ecological foundation established in June 1962. Its main purpose has been to raise international awareness of the plight of the 3.5 million Tamil speaking people of Sri Lanka and to win support for their struggle for self-determination and co-existence with all people in Sri Lanka. The organisation is committed to defending and protecting the rights of Tamil refugees in the UK, particularly those affected by recent legislation. It has also given consistent support to other peoples fighting for self-determination, including the Kurds, the Eritreans, and the indigenous peoples of North America and South America, Burma and India, and has helped to expose the atrocities perpetrated against them. The organisation aims to continue to give support to all people struggling for peace and freedom.
- War on Want
Fenner Brockway House
37-39 Great Guildford Street
London SE1 OES
Tel: 020 7620 1111
War on Want fights poverty in developing countries in partnership and solidarity with people across the world. It campaigns for workers' rights to counter the causes of poverty, inequality and injustice. The overriding philosophy of War on Want, founded in 1951, has been to empower communities in the under-developed world to overcome conditions that invariably lead to the creation of economic migrants and refugees. It recognises the need to support organisations working in areas that are experiencing political violence and conflict, conditions that frequently go hand-in-hand with poverty and huge levels of inequality and that create internal displacement and refugees. War on Want's participation in lobbying the UK government on its trade policy is governed by Core Labour Rights: the principle codes laid out by the International Labour Organisation, aimed at achieving safe and sustainable standards of living for workers. In the developing world, these standards have historically not always been recognised. If implemented, these standards could end the current race to the bottom in lowering workers' wages and working conditions, a race that invariably leads to displacement and the search for a viable life.
- World Development Movement
25 Beehive Place
London SW9 7QR
Tel: 020 7737 6215
The World Development Movement tackles the underlying causes of poverty. Founded in 1970, WDM is a democratic movement of individual supporters, campaigners and local groups. It lobbies decision makers to change the policies of governments and companies that keep people poor, and researches and promotes positive alternatives. It mobilises consumers, shareholders and governments to hold multinational companies accountable for abuses of power. It works alongside people in the developing world who are standing up to injustice.
- World University Service (UK)/Education Action International
14 Dufferin Street
London EC1Y 8PD
Tel: 020 7426 5825
The refugee diaspora in the UK can play an important role in ensuring that the British public becomes better informed about the reasons why people become refugees, and about the responsibilities of the UK (and all governments) to support human rights. Their attempts to do so are often frustrated because of cultural incompatibility, prejudices, and a lack of knowledge and skills for effective advocacy. These often hinder from integrating into their adopted communities and thus they easily become the victims of prejudice.
World University Service (UK) has developed a training programme to help refugees overcome some of the many barriers they face in raising awareness of human rights abuses in their home countries and to develop their advocacy skills and capacity. After completing training, over 100 asylum seekers and refugees from 23 countries in Africa and the Middle East have become more involved in a wide range of advocacy work, often within their communities, focusing on economic, social and cultural (as well as civil and political) rights.
Listen to the Refugee's Story: How UK Foreign Investment Creates Refugees and Asylum Seekers, compiled and edited by Estella Schmid, Rochelle Harris and Sarah Sexton, co-published by the Ilisu Dam Campaign Refugee Project, The Corner House and Peace in Kurdistan, UK, November 2003.
Unless otherwise indicated, the articles are based on presentations at a December 2002 public seminar organised by the Ilisu Dam Campaign Refugees Project or were written for this publication. Extracts may be freely reproduced as long as the source is acknowledged. Whilst every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of all articles, the publishers can accept no responsibility for any errors or omissions or incorrect insertions. The views of the contributors are not necessarily those of the publishers.
All illustrations are by Kurdish artist Rebwar Saeed. www.kurdishart.net/rebwar