Posts Tagged ‘refugees’

‘Free the Table’ and more

Saturday, December 12th, 2020

Five years ago on Saturday 12th December I had another busy day travelling to events around London. I began at Stratford on the east of London, the opposite side of London to where I live, but now a relatively easy journey since the opening of the Jubilee line there at the end of 1999.

For the previous couple of years I’d been following the progress and protests of Focus E15, formed when Newham Council planned to close down a hostel for young mothers in Stratford and scatter them to private rented accommodation often hundreds of miles away. They stood their ground and got more local rehousing, but, appalled by the activities of the council and its Mayor Robin Wales, continued to take action over the failure of Newham Council to sensibly address the acute housing problem in the borough, which has around 5,000 people living in temporary accommodation and while 400 homes in the Carpenters Estate close to the centre of Stratford have been empty for up to ten years. They accuse the council of ‘social cleansing’, attempting to force those needing housing out of London.

Apart from various actions, including preventing evictions and embarrassing the Mayor by confronting him at public events Focus E15 had held a weekly Saturday street stall on the wide pavement at Stratford Broadway, handing out leaflets and advice to the public on housing issues.

Although their weekly protest was legal, it clearly annoyed the council, and on Saturday 5th December Newham Law Enforcement officer John Oddie arrived, assisted by several police officers and confronted the campaigners and told them they were not allowed to protest there, and that unless they immediately packed up their stall, sound system, banners and other gear it would be seized. The group made clear that they would not move and following some argument, police seized a table and threw it in the back of their van.

It soon became clear that this action by police and the council officer had been illegal, and the council asked the protesters to come and collect the table. They replied asking the council to return it to them at the following week’s protest, and advertised this widely as a ‘Free the Focus E15 Table’ event, making considerable humorous mileage out of the council and police gaffe. The council didn’t turn up with the table, but there a number of other tables there, celebrating ‘Tablegate’ and although the local newspaper seemed to be boycotting the event (could they possibly attract considerable revenue from publishing official council notices) a BBC local news crew came along to film a few interviews.

Free the Focus E15 Table


I couldn’t stay until the end but caught the tube back to central London where the Campaign against Climate Change were protesting against the inadequacy of the COP21 Paris deal, which sets the target temperature rise too high, has no way to enforce the measures needed and will allow the giant corporations to continue to prevent governments from carrying out effective green measures.

After a short rally in Old Palace Yard the protesters unrolled a 300m length of bright red fabric, carrying it above their heads across Westminster Bridge. It was a tricky to photograph but visually effective reminder of the need of governments to take urgent action to keep fossil fuels – including shale oil, with fracking now shown to be as dirty as coal – in the ground, or at least only to be extracted as chemical feedstock rather than fuel, and an increased urgency in the transition to renewable energy.


As I was photographing on Westminster Bridge, I was surprised to see a group of several hundred Santas on BMX bikes riding across on the opposite carriageway and rushed across to take a few pictures. I later found that this was an annual BMX Charity ride – which I went to photograph in 2019.

Later in the day I went to Trafalgar Square where a completely unconnected Santa-themed event was taking place, with Santas arriving at the end of the annual Santacon, a largely alcohol fuelled festive costume ramble through London.

Pictures from both Santa events are in Santas in London.


In late afternoon, solidarity campaigners and Syrian activists met for a vigil opposite Downing St vigil demanded justice for refugees, opening of EU borders to those fleeing war and terrorism and a much more generous response from the UK government.

It was a candlelit vigil, but a gusty wind blew out the flames as soon as they were lit until someone went to buy plastic cups to act as windshields though these rather hid the actual flames.

The response of the British government to the refugee crisis, particularly from Syria, but also from elsewhere around the world is seen by many to be abysmal. Even after considerable pushing from the British people which forced David Cameron to increase numbers, the UK was only promising to take 20,000 in the next five years, while Canada will take more – 25,000 – in a single year.



Christmas Solidarity Vigil for Refugees
Santas in London
Climate Activists Red Line protest
Free the Focus E15 Table


My London Diary : London Photos : Hull : River Lea/Lee Valley : London’s Industrial Heritage : Flickr

All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated, are taken by and copyright of Peter Marshall, and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.


Nov 9th 2019

Monday, November 9th, 2020

There is good news and bad news over the issues behind the two protests I photographed a year ago on a wet Saturday 9th November.

First the bad news: the UK has maintained its racist immigration policies which lead desperate refugees to endanger their lives to enter this country illegally. Although recent deaths among those crossing the channel have not been on the scale of the terrible deaths of the 39 Vietnamese who died in a container in Essex shortly before last year’s protest took place, the rhetoric against refugees has certainly been stepped up, with Home Secretary Priti Patel considering the use of the navy and even wave machines to sink the boats.

The death in late October of Kurdish-Iranians Rasoul Iran-Nejad, 35 years old, Shiva Mohammad Panahi, 35, Anita, nine, and Armin, six when a boat carrying around 20 people sank close to the French coast was a reminder of the dangers than many face. The government’s response was to blame the criminal activities of people smugglers, but these are only in business because legitimate routes are unavailable. Our government has failed to set up proper systems for allowing asylum seekers and refugees with family connections in the UK to come here despite being urged to do so.

Labour MP Yvette Cooper called for “effective support for refugees who’ve fled persecution to stop them getting sucked into the arms of criminal gangs or making such desperate journeys”. The UK and its allies bear a great deal of the responsibility for the wars and exploitation that cause desperate people to uproot themselves from their homes and seek the safety they see at the end of their dangerous journeys.

The second event I attended was a march and protest by Chileans against state violence in Chile. On My London Diary I wrote:

Police attacks on peaceful protesters have over 20 and injured thousands since protests began in mid-October. Many have been blinded and protesters wore with a gauze pads on one eye. They call for President Piñera to go. The protests have met with human rights violations including torture, sexual abuse and rape and thousands have been arbitrarily detained.

The march halted at Parliament Square where a group of women dressed in black performed in protest against the sexual abuses, smearing fake blood on pairs of white pants which they then removed and held above their heads.

Chile’s constitution had been written under the fascist Pinochet regime; Pinochet had come to power in a military coup on 11 September 1973, and in 1980 a new constitution was produced and approved by a rigged referendum. Another referendum in 1988 voted for his removal and led in 1990 an electionwhich removed him from office, though he remained as Commander-in-Chief of the Chilean Army until he retired in 1998.

The brutal repression by police of protests in Chile in October 2019 recalled the terrible human rights abuses of the Pinochet regime, when around 3,000 of his political opponents were killed, and many thousands held in jail and tortured under a US-supported campaign of political repression and state terror. Sickening methods of torture were used, with a huge amount of sexual violence against women. There were notorious cases with over a hundred people being thrown out of helicopters or aircraft. Around 2% of the population were forced into exile, gaining asylum in other countries. Before he left office Pinochet passed a law giving immunity from prosecution for these human rights abuses.

Sparked off by a metro fares increase, police violence soon made last October’s protests into a call for a new constitution and led to a referendum that, delayed by Covid-19, finally took place in October 2020, with a resounding 78% vote in favour, with many Chileans turning out to vote for the first time.

More on the November 9th 2019 protests on My London Diary:
Funeral March for Chile Protesters
Remember migrants who have died.


My London Diary : London Photos : Hull : River Lea/Lee Valley : London’s Industrial Heritage : Flickr

All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated, are taken by and copyright of Peter Marshall, and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.


Three Years Ago

Saturday, October 24th, 2020
Lord Alf Dubs

Three years ago on October 24th 2017 I photographed two protests over stories that have come back into the news in recent days.

This 9th October the House of Lords voted 317 to 223 for an amendment to the immigration bill proposed by Lord Alf Dubs and three other peers to ensure that rights under UK law to family reunion guaranteed under the EU’s Dublin III treaty continue after the transition period. The government used its House of Commons majority to overturn the amendment and it returned to the House of Lords on 21 October. The Lords on 21st October again backed the amendment by a majority of 78, the fourth defeat for the government over attempts to ensure lone child refugees maintain the right to be reunited with their families in the UK. The government will probably use its majority to again strike out the amendment and demonstrate yet again how little they care for others.

Back in 2017, Safe Passage were protesting at the Home Office’s dragging its feet in carrying out their obligations under Dublin III and the previous Dubs Amendment passed in May 2016 to act “as soon as possible” to relocate and support unaccompanied refugee children in Europe. It took four years until May 2020 for the 480 places provided for under this scheme to be allocated and the children allowed to come here. The government then announced it had ended the scheme and had no plans to allow any of the thousands still stranded in Europe to come here.

The second event on October 24th 2017 was a rally by indigenous leaders Guardians of the Forest from Latin America, Indonesia and Africa, on their way to the COP23 UN Climate Change Conference in Bonn, arguing that the continuing maintenance of the forests by their indigenous inhabitants is vital in the fight against climate change, and that the clearance and devastation has to be stopped.

This year, Monday 12th October, known to some as Columbus Day, was celebrated in America and around the world as Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Although first proposed in 1977 and recognised in the 1980s, this year saw a huge leap in its profile, with a US wide billboard advertising campaign featuring work by over 50 artists in what was called ‘The 2020 Awakening’.

Among the indigenous leaders speaking out on climate change is Ugandan activist Vanessa Nakate, who made the news earlier this year when she was cropped out of a photo showing Greta Thunberg at Davos. It made her realise that not just her but the whole of the majority world gets ignored by media coverage. She strongly makes the point that “The Global South is not on the front page, but it is on the front line,” already suffering from the effects of climate change.

At the start of October 2020 Time magazine named Nemonte Nenquimo from the Waorani people of Ecuador of its 100 most influential people of 2020. There is a longer interview with her on Huffington Post.

Facing the climate crisis we need to learn how to live on the Earth in ways that are sustainable and work with nature rather than destroy it. As Nakate puts it:

“People always say that it is hard for human beings to adapt to new ways of living, but the pandemic has shown that we can.”

“If we want a future that is liveable and healthy for everyone, it has to be sustainable, it has to protect the people, it has to protect the planet.”

Vanessa Nakate – Euronews.com

Solidarity with Rojava

Monday, April 6th, 2020

While we may feel cooped up in isolation in the UK, and are mourning the deaths of several thousand from COVID-19, the situation for many around the world is far worse. Particularly at risk are the people of Rojava in North-East Syria, mainly Kurds, at risk both from Turkish invasion forces and from the virus.

Kurds are the largest minority community in Turkey as well as being widespread across the northern parts of Iran, Iraq and Syria. They were promised an independent state at the end of the First World War, but that promise was denied when the boundaries of modern Turkey were defined in 1923.

Since 1923 Turkey has attempted a programme to eliminate Kurdish culture and identity, at times with massive military campaigns as well as repressive legislation. The Kurds, around 20% of the population, have fought back the opposition led since the 1980s by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party or PKK led by Abdullah Öcalan who has been in jail in Turkey since 1999.

In recent years Turkey has been aggressively attacking Kurds outside Turkey and in early 2018 they invaded Afrin canton in northern Syria, part of the territory where Kurds with other minority ethnic groups had established a de-facto autonomous region of Rojava, with a constitution based on decentralisation, gender equality, direct democracy and guaranteeing ethnic minority rights and religious freedom.

Kurdish forces in the People’s Protection Units, the men of the YPG and the women of the YPJ, were the most effective force in fighting the ISIS in Syria, with the help of US air support. But Turkey is second only the the US in military strength in NATO, and has benefited greatly from NATO support and arms supply, and were able to take Afrin from these lightly armed Kurdish forces. Many Kurds were forced out of the area, which had been overwhelmingly Kurdish and they are now a relatively small minority.

President Trump’s announcement of a US withdrawal from Syria gave Turkey’s President Erdogan a green light to continue his country’s invasion of Rojava, and left the Kurds there no alternative but to call on the Syrian government for support, a move which in the longer term seems likely to end their autonomy.

Turkey is now using the coronavirus to threaten Kurds in Turkish prisons for political reasons – including many journalists, excluding them from its plans to release them with other prisoners because of the pandemic. They are also refusing to refer prisoners with COVID-19 symptoms for medical treatment.

For the 4 million inhabitants of North and East Syria, including 600,000 refugees the situation is also dire. The World Health Organisation refuses to support the area directly and little comes to them through the Assad regime. There are no WHO test kits or test machines and only 35 intensive care beds and 40 ventilators.

More pictures from October’s protest: Solidarity with Rojava – Kurdish Syria


My London Diary : London Photos : Hull : River Lea/Lee Valley : London’s Industrial Heritage : Flickr

All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated, are taken by and copyright of Peter Marshall, and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.