Category Archives: Causes

Human Rights and Wrongs (Blog Action Day 2013)

Every year, thousands of people try to enter Europe without permission. The last two years the numbers have increased. War, civil war, terrorism, famine, drought make their livelihoods untenable, their lives precarious. One of the major routes to the continent used to be via Evros, the river boundary between Greece and Turkey. Since 2012, however, when a fence was erected to block this entry point and after Frontex police increased their presence, new routes were followed: sea routes to Italy and Spain that are even more dangerous and deadly.

BeFunky_keeping out.jpgThe rickety boats these refugees use to come in often sink; the borders they try to cross get more hazardous than the journeys. The European countries they enter, ignore or criminalize them, and often send them to holding centers where they are subjected to demeaning, abusive situations, torture, or worse; or sent back to the countries they fled from. And yet, they keep coming.

I saw some of those who made it. In Venice, Italy, without support, they bend down hiding their faces, and beg.

city of masks
the beggar hides
her face
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They hide and live in fear, yet they find this preferable to staying in countries where torture or death awaits them. Unlike those chosen to enter in one of the rare legal, though miniscule, programs of some European countries, these people exist in dire and life-threatening circumstances.

promising the earth
lone star
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This odyssey is acted out all over the world, sometimes by people seeking work to improve their situation in places where they would not normally be entitled to work; most often by people fleeing conflict and persecution. In the Mediterranean countries, the recent conflicts have multiplied the magnitude of this problem.

Lately, hundreds of people arrived in Lampedusa and the Italian shores:* alive or dead, they reached this other country where those who survived the journey would have at least the opportunity to fight for a chance of a better life. Wouldn’t you too, in their position?
BeFunky_Ve Chains.jpg
Wouldn’t you? If chance or circumstance placed you in such a predicament? The European Union, though, would not look favorably on your efforts to enter its borders with need and despair as the only passport. For instance, while the talk of new urgent measures is all about increasing funding towards detection of people in flight, as well as (allegedly) improved rescue at sea,* there is also the urge to repatriate and keep the refugees in the place they come from. An out of sight out of mind approach. Except that the situation in their home countries is so desperate that repatriated people try crossing the sea again, and again.
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promising sign?
clouds part
for hunter’s moon
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A lot more is needed for the nations that make up Europe to acknowledge and accept the plight of the people affected by extreme poverty and poverty-driven wars, often the result of our aggressive policies, economic exploitation, and environmental abuse.

Out of this awareness, the Europeans themselves would be able to develop better policies than this drive to isolate, separate, and remove the perceived problem: a concerted European asylum seeker and immigration policy, grounded on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (and the full United Nations Charter), with a budget and facilities for care and integration (rather than just border control) to back it up.

BeFunky_flower colours.jpgThe first models to help us think and plan are already here: A tiny Italian village opened its doors to migrants who braved the sea offering them jobs and homes, creating in the process jobs for the entire village. Even though there is no ideal solution, and new problems arise in new situations, the will, the means, the examples, the aspiration are already here.

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– This post is written for Blog Action Day, 2013 on 16 October 2013. Bloggers from different countries, languages, and interests will have a global conversation about Human Rights. I have published elsewhere a number of stories featuring refugees and their plight – including stories from refugees crossing the Aegean in 1922 – some of which are included in my short story collection: Feeding the Doves, Neusaess, Fruit Dove Press, 2013.

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*Gazmend Kapplani, Albanian-born journalist, poet, and writer, in one of his FB posts suggests the least the EU could do would be to erect a Monument of the Unknown Refugee. Kapplani’s excellent book, A Short Border Handbook, relates the experiences of Albanian people crossing the border to Greece.

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**Frontex, the European Agency for external border control, according to a statement of its site, “promotes, coordinates and develops European border management in line with the EU fundamental rights charter applying the concept of Integrated Border Management.” Unfortunately, what this comes down to is that the management of borders takes precedence over human rights.

Frontex has expanded the number of countries where it can send the people it ‘rescues’. “Nobody, however, is monitoring what exactly Frontex is doing in these countries of transit and origin with the goal of “stemming migration”. There is a serious risk of human rights simply being breached or refugees dying in places that are farther away from our attention.”

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See also Spiegel online
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Festival of the Trees

Olive
Olive

The Festival of the Trees is “a periodical collection of links to blog posts and other online sites, hosted each month on a different blog.” Bloggers, poets, writers with an interest in arboreal matters post related material on their own blogs and submit the links to the host of each month’s co-coordinator. This month’s host was Arati, of the Bangalore-based blog Trees, Plants and More.

My own contribution to this month’s Festival of the Trees, I wrote some time ago. In “If Trees, then Olive Trees,” I use the olive tree, a precious, almost sacred tree in the Mediterranean, western Asia, and northern Africa countries; a symbol of peace and hope, connecting to the “olive branch,” and the sighting of land after the biblical flood.

Short, gnarled and twisted, the olive tree even looks appropriately old. It is said to live for hundreds of years, as its roots are capable of regeneration even if the trunk above ground is destroyed. Radiocarbon dating has confirmed 2000 year old trees in several countries! A tree known to be situated in the grounds of Plato’s Academy, in Athens, lived till the 1970s. An olive believed to have been planted by Peisistratus, the tyrant of Athens in the 6th century BC, is still to be found in Athens. Even older trees have been found in Israel and Arab lands, dating from 3000 and 4000 years ago. The trees of the Garden of Gethsemane are said to be dating from the time of Jesus.

In literature too, we know of several millenary trees: Homer featured olive trees in his poetry. Remember Odysseus bed?

My own poem is about putting down roots, both literally and metaphorically. You can read it here.

My novel “Alexandrias 40: In the Shade of the Lemon Tree” is also set around a tree, and it includes a number of surprising uses for its fruit. Not long now till the book is out. Watch this space.

For instructions on how to submit to the next Festival of Trees here.

 

David vs Goliath

Niyamgiri Victory
David vs Goliath

A tribe in India has won a stunning victory over one of the world’s biggest mining companies. The Dongria Kondh, a tribe of 8000 people, with the help of Survival International and others, has won a victory over a multibillion company which proposed to mine bauxite on the sacred hills of the tribe. The Dongria Kondh’s struggle had a happier ending than that of the film Avatar, in which a tribe was pitted against a ruthless mining company. The Dongria Kondh’s perseverance, courage, and victory will encourage indigenous tribes everywhere.

Well done to Dongria Kondh, their supporters, and to Survival!

Hope in a Changing Climate

Two lakes inside old volcano, Africa. on Twitpic

Creative Climate is a media and research project about climate and the environment run jointly by the OU and the BBC.

The Creative Climate website is full of interesting information from experts around the world: videos and articles to take your breath away – though not literally! On the contrary, there is a lot of hope in the contributions.

The documentary Hope in a Changing Climate drawing on success stories from China, Ethiopia and Rwanda, demonstrates how barren and decimated land that was thought to be beyond redemption could be brought back to life by local residents. Planting trees and selected vegetation in patterns that encourage the soil to retain water, they managed to transform within five years the arid plateaus to lush, fertile and life-sustaining land. The film of the work carried out by the locals in the Loess  Plateau in China, is both beautiful and inspiring.

Restoration of the environment is possible; the process of decimation is not irreversible. As if proof were needed that it is a matter of belief, determination, and dissemination of knowledge… all to do with the climate of opinion influencing the climate!

For lack of pictures of these areas to show what has been achieved, I include the photograph of Two Lakes in a Volcano taken from space and tweeted live from the international Space Station by Soichi Noguchi http://twitpic.com/1exv5i Thank you Soichi Noguchi for this gem of a picture! It also attests to what can be achieved through co-operation, ingenuity and determination.

Looking and Seeing

The Observer’s John Vidal, in his article ‘How food and water are driving a 21st century African land-grab,’ 

http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2010/mar/07/food-water-africa-land-grab

wrote about what is now often referred to as ‘the 21st century new colonialism.’ Bigger/richer countries, companies, pension funds, individuals and others acquire or lease land in Africa cheaply on which they grow food and export it back to their home markets.

In Ethiopia, for instance, farm land twice the size of the UK is being used to grow food, flowers, as well as crops for biofuels. At the same time, millions of Ethiopians threatened by hunger and malnutrition, displaced, are not even being told of the existence of the farms or the plans to extend them. There is a similar situation in over 20 other African countries, and more and more projects are given the go-ahead, profiting the richer countries, companies and individuals at the expense of the indigenous population and local farmers.

Lorenzo Cotula, of the International Institute for Environment and Development, in his ‘Deals can be good news when not made behind closed doors,’

http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2010/mar/07/africa-land-grab-food-water

argues that this need not be the only outcome. Rather, some of the development can be good news for the people involved, if there is proper consultation and negotiation of terms that are mutually advantageous. This is a good point – and something to aim towards. At present, unfortunately, not enough support is forthcoming for those affected, neither from their governments nor from abroad, that would enable them to become involved in such negotiations.

Turning a blind eye to the practice of using poorer countries as farms for the richer ones, while their people are starving, is becoming an urgent, practical as well as moral concern. And the implications and consequences of this practice are snowballing. Survival International is campaigning for the tribes of the Omo Valley, in south-west Ethiopia,

http://www.survivalinternational.org/tribes/omovalley/novoice#main

where a massive hydroelectric Dam is being built which will end the Omo River’s natural flood cycle. The tribes along its banks cultivate the fertile silt it leaves behind. Their fragile livelihoods are threatened as their farming is dependent on the river and its floods. However, these tribes have high illiteracy levels and lack the resources and infrastructure needed to employ the legal teams to negotiate terms on their behalf. Their government has so far ignored their plight.

If we don’t ‘see,’ who will?

http://www.stopgibe3.org

On the Omo Valley: Survival International is working jointly with International Rivers, Friends of Lake Turkana, Counterbalance and Campaign for the Reform of the World Bank on the Omo Valley.

Survival International has a number of articles on these issues and various options available for those wishing to help with their campaigns.

www.survival-international.org

What is Creative Climate?

Photo: Constantina Pierides

Creative Climate is an online diary project set up jointly by the OU and the BBC to chart the ways in which people see and respond to environmental change over the next decade. Through the diary, people from all over the world, will be able to share their views on the changing environment, as well as their ideas on how to meet the coming challenges. In this sense, the Creative Climate diary, will become “a huge living archive of our experiences and ideas in one of the most important decades in human history.”

For a sustainable future, we will need all the creativity, determination, will-power and strength we can master – and as many perspectives as there are. I will be reading the entries and following the diaries.

http://www.open2.net/creativeclimate/about.html