Submissions for current Refugee Issues UNHCR >> Dadaab Refugee Camp

May 27, 2010

Hi

I received this today. Those who can please send in a submission for the Dadaab refugees.

Below the reminder is the document and submission form.

stavros

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A reminder that the Australian Refugee Rights Alliance (ARRA) is calling for brief submissions from individuals and refugee community groups regarding current issues of concern to refugee populations in and from the Asia Pacific, Middle East and Africa regions.

The due date for submissions is 31 May. Please see the attached information sheet for further details on making a submission. Feel free to distribute this information to your networks. If you have any queries, please feel free to contact me as per the details below.

We look forward to receiving your submissions!

Kind regards, Lucy Morgan Information & Membership Officer Refugee Council of Australia

Suite 4A6, 410 Elizabeth Street Surry Hills NSW 2010 Phone: 61 2 9211 9333 Fax: 61 2 9211 9288 email: info@refugeecouncil.org.au

www.refugeecouncil.org.au

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INVITATION FOR SUBMISSIONS

TO THE UNHCR- NGO CONSULTATIONS

The Australian Refugee Rights Alliance (ARRA) is calling for brief submissions from individuals and refugee community groups regarding current issues of concern to refugee populations in and from the Asia Pacific, Middle East and Africa regions.

ARRA is a coalition of Australian NGOs, refugee advocates and academics. Organisations involved in ARRA include the Centre for Refugee Research of University of NSW, Refugee Council of Australia, Amnesty International and Act for Peace (National Council of Churches).  Each year, representatives from ARRA travel to Geneva to participate in the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ NGO consultations.

Prior to the UNHCR meetings, the group prepares a comprehensive set of documents addressing policy issues of shared concern. This process enables more effective advocacy at the meetings by ensuring coordinated and targeted action by the Australian delegation. In 2010, the meetings will occur in late June.

Individuals and refugee community groups are invited to make submissions on issues they would like to recommend that ARRA put forward during the meetings with UNHCR.

ARRA is particularly interested in current issues of concern to refugee populations in the Asia Pacific, Middle East and Africa regions, however issues of concern to refugee populations in other regions of the world are also invited.

 Some possible themes you may choose to use include:

  • Women at Risk
  • Protracted Refugee Situations
  • Xenophobia/Racism 
  • Families at Risk
  • Urban Refugee Policy

 How Can I Contribute to the UNHCR NGO Consultations?

You can submit a brief submission to us, focusing on any current issue, but it should be limited to one page in length.  We will then read your submission contact you for more information if required and do our best to include your issues in our papers for discussion at the UNHCR in late June. 

 Please return submission application form with your submission to Lucy Morgan at the Refugee Council of Australia (RCOA).

 All submissions must be received by 31 May.

Submissions must be received by 31 MayVia post or email:  
ATT: Lucy MorganRefugee Council of Australia (RCOA)  
Suite 4A6, 410 Elizabeth Street,Surry Hills NSW 2010

Tel: 02 9211 9333

Fax: 02 9211 9288

 
Email: info@refugeecouncil.org.au  
   

 

 

Submission Form        

 

Name:  
Organisation (if applicable):  

 

Contact Information:

 

Address:  
Email:  
Contact Phone Number:  
Country of Origin:  

 

 

Topic of Submission:

 

Regional Focus (Asia, Africa, Middle East, other)  
Country Focus:  

 

Issues Covered in Submission:
1.2

3.

4.

Recommendations to UNHCR  
1.2.

3

 

 

 

* * Please Attach your 1-page Submission


A Voice from the Voiceless >> Dadaab Refugee Camps Kenya

March 9, 2010

Hi

I received the following message from some African refugee workers I am in contact with in my day job. This is stuff you won’t see on ABC, BBC, PBS or written about in UN Reports. It is a Call from those whose voice has been voiceless in Dadaab, Kenya. I have not corrected any grammar, syntax or spelling. I am posting this as I received it.

stavros

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Dear All the concerned Memebers,

With humble respect, on behalf of the refugees living in the camps of Dadaab, we would like to share our grievances with the world and ask for you to help us find our way to freedom.

Our lives in the camps are far worse than you can imagine. We live in an open prison, far away from justice and humanity. We talk, but our voices are never heard. We move, but only inside a cage. We have many skills and talents, but we are denied our chance to maximize our potential. We are chained to a life full of stress and despair; a life for which many would prefer death. We are denied opportunities for education and employment. We live in a condition without adequate water, food, or health facilities. We are arbitrarily beaten or detained by police within the confines of the camp. We lack the ability to freely express ourselves or have control over the decisions affecting our lives.

For those of us lucky enough to obtain employment with the agencies, we are exploited through the payment of mere “incentive” wages, while national and international staff receive much greater payment and benefits. How can you force us to live in a certain place that denies us our human rights and our basic needs?

 This note wishes to express some of the challenges we face here in the refugee camps of Dadaab in the hopes that we will be given a chance to have greater control over our lives, and have our fundamental human rights fulfilled. Although the challenges and abuses we face are numerous, we will only briefly mention some of our main grievances, including restricted movement, exploitative working conditions, poor service deliver, and false information and abuse by UNHCR and other agencies operating in the camps.

For many of us, the restrictions on movement and the conditions in our forced confinement have caused more psychological, economical, and health problems than diseases and wars have caused.

We ask the Kenyan government, the other governments of Africa, and the people of the world to hear our voices, see our condition, and look further into our situation. We only want our chance to thrive, to live our lives, to visit our family members, to attend school, to receive medical treatment, to help support our families, and to have control over the economic and policy making decisions affecting our lives. We only want the chance to live as other human beings live, with a hope for the future.

Please hear our cries, allow us to move freely from this open prison, and provide us the opportunity to live our lives, support ourselves, and pursue our dreams!

Restricted Movement

Some of us have faced the imprisonment of the refugee camps of Dadaab since 1991, while others of us are newly arriving. Although there have been changes and developments over the past nineteen years, our restricted movement has caused and continues to cause our underdevelopment and deterioration. Many people have died from simple diseases because they could not move to get treatment in Garissa (a town only 90 km from Dadaab). Many parents have remained separated from their children who disappeared from the camps because they could not move to search for them or inquire of their whereabouts. Many students have missed their chances for educational opportunities, have failed to take their final examinations, or have been unable to obtain education certificates earned because they could not receive the permission to move. Many people have been forced into greater poverty by being denied the chance to work and by having to pay three times the price of goods in other regions because they can not move to get cheaper goods for consumption or business. Perhaps worse still, many who have tried to move have been beaten, arrested, detained, and/or forced to pay heavy bribes or fines of large amounts of money they never imagined.

Exploitative Working Conditions

Ever since the creation of the refugee camps of Dadaab in 1991 and 1992 and thereafter, UNHCR and the agencies operating in the refugee camps of Dadaab have relied for their operations on the exploited labor of the refugee communities. Whether skilled or unskilled labor, refugee staff members have worked in conditions and received wages that are in violation of national and international labor laws. While many of the refugee staff in the agencies work tirelessly for the agencies and their fellow refugees, they still merely receive “incentives” for their hard work and dedication. Even highly experienced individuals, some of whom have graduated from Universities, colleges, and secondary schools in Kenya, Somalia, Ethiopia, Congo, Sudan, etc., receive unlivable wages, let alone wages commensurate with their experience. In addition to the dreadfully low, unlivable wage, refugee staff members are discriminated against in their payment. Specifically, although refugee staff members work as many hours and complete as many or more tasks as national or some international staff members, refugee staff members are paid significantly lower amounts and are called the derogatory name of “incentive” staff members receiving not wages or a salary but “incentives.” Indeed, though the work load given refugee staff members often exceeds that national/international staff members, refugee staff members are not given their proper respect or payment.

In a related manner, refugee staff often face harsh and discriminatory treatment by national and international staff of UNHCR and the agencies. Several national and international staff frequently use harsh commands and create a difficult work environment, and are given titles of officers even though they do not have as much experience or strong work ethic as the refugee staff members. As an example of the unfair treatment of refugee staff members, these staff members often have to queue for long hours simply to receive their payments and such long lines often cause staff members to miss the limited opportunities to receive their payment and in turn delay their receipt of their hard earned payments. As another example, refugee staff members have great difficulty receiving transportation services of the agencies, sometimes even when travel is required by their jobs. Also, refugee staff members are often not given opportunities for training or scholarships, or even if they do receive such opportunities they are not given work permits at the end of even multiple degrees. Moreover, refugee staff members are not allowed to take part in decision making about the refugee programmes ironically that the refugee staff members usually must implement and that are intended to benefit refugee beneficiaries. Similarly, refugee staff members are not afforded an opportunity to participate in planning, writing project proposals, or otherwise participating in any other management functions despite in many circumstances years of experience and knowledge about the refugee communities who are supposedly the beneficiaries of the agencies’ programs and the conditions in which they live and operate. Indeed, refugee staff members are not even provided meaningful opportunities to present feedback that is received, considered, and/or implemented. Incentive Wages At the heart of the exploitation of refugee staff members lies the entire system of “incentive workers.”

The agencies in the camps of Dadaab divide staff into three main categories:

§ International staff

§ National staff

§ Incentive staff

While national and international staff have relatively similar salaries, working conditions, and privileges, the so-called incentive staff are barely paid, are discriminated against, and are often treated with disrespect. The national and international staff members have every thing required for the fulfillment of the respective work such as transport, office tools and equipment, refreshments etc. at their disposal. At the same time, the refugee staff generally have no such access despite the fact that the national and international staff often greatly depend upon the refugee staff in order to carry out their duties, gain access to and understand the refugee communities, and break through language barriers and cultural differences. Yet, while the incentive staff are indeed the back bone of the agency operations in the camps, the relationship between these two sets of staff and the treatment of refugee staff members is horrible.

 The agencies and UNHCR continue to simply pay only meager incentives, which are minimal amounts in and of themselves and are not accompanied by any significant bonuses, benefits, allowances, pensions, separation payments, or other components of standard national and international staff contracts even for refugee staff members that have been working for over a decade. An incentive worker will earn as little as 50 – 90 USD per month, regardless of the number of years of experience, seniority in employment or academic qualifications. Indeed, the skills, academic credentials, and experiences varies significantly across the work force of refugees, ranging from primary school leavers to those with multiple Masters degrees and diplomas who have worked for more than a decade. Yet all are subject to harsh conditions and meager payment. In addition, the ill treatment and lack of respect for refugee staff and their tireless efforts has taken its physical and emotional toll on many staff members, and in fact some young professionals have developed psychological problems due to the frustrations they face while others have chosen to even risk their lives to return to their respective homelands in the hopes of finding an adequate means of survival for themselves and their families. Moreover, the vast disparities between refugee staff and national/international staff continues to create envy and hatred among the staff of the same agency.

 The incentive system is often claimed to be necessary because of limited budgetary resources and because refugee staff members are not allowed to officially work under Kenyan law. However, in actuality, these supposed justifications serve only as mere excuses for the agencies to hide behind so that they can continue to exploit refugee labor. With respect to the limited resources, first of all limited resources can not serve as an excuse for exploiting refugee labour. Moreover, the amount of money that is wasted if not skimmed off the top by the agencies reaches huge amounts; if there are indeed limited resources, the agencies could shift resources away from ineffective trainings, corrupted individuals, and high paid national and international staff in order to adequately pay incentive staff members.

In a related manner, in line with the problem noted above of not including refugee staff in decision-making and managerial tasks: the agencies should “open the books” and allow refugee staff members to be a part of resource allocation decisions. With respect to the inability for refugees to work under Kenyan law, again the agencies and not the Kenyan government are setting the amounts of the incentive wages and if the agencies are able to legally provide incentives at all then the agencies can not point the finger at anyone other than themselves with respect to the exploitative amounts that are arbitrarily set by UNHCR and the agencies. Moreover, UNHCR and agencies are able to obtain work permits for refugee staff members in Nairobi and elsewhere when they deem it appropriate. Further, it is the obligation of UNHCR to advocate on behalf of refugees’ right to work and pressure the government of Kenya to follow its obligations under the Refugee Convention to allow for such rights.

We ask members of the international community to step up for this matter and come forward to help us refugee staff members regain our human dignity and equality and fairness for all in terms wage earning, working conditions and decision-making. Furthermore, we ask that international human rights bodies and the International Labor Organization study and scrutinize the years in which our talents, skills and services have been exploited and abused by the agencies in Dadaab. The title “incentive worker” The title given to the refugees working with the humanitarian agencies is itself exploitative and demeaning. Literally the word incentive means something given to some in order that he/she keeps the same spirit in the course of an operation; however the magnitude of the incentive in the camps of Dadaab is negligible. Considering the workload carried out by the staff or employees drawn from the refugee community, it is the case that refugee workers form the backbone of the humanitarian operations in the Dadaab camps. Indeed, without these workers, the agencies would suffer an acute shortage of human resources. Given the fact that the title “incentive” does not actually sound proper, the refugee workers often feel discouraged and humiliated to be called an incentive worker, which even can weaken the productivity and output of the workers. Furthermore the title incentive widens the already expansive gap between the refugee workers and the national and international staff, which further hinders the cooperation necessary to achieve the important goals of the humanitarian operations in Dadaab.

The more favorable the working conditions, the more efficient an employee will be in her/his daily undertakings, and the more cooperative relations amongst different categories of staff members, the more likely the operations in general will be successful. Thus, if only from the point of view of improving operations in Dadaab, the title of the refugee staff should be changed, the disparity in wages must be closed, and the working conditions must be improved. Harmonization Incentive Document for 2010 A memo concerning the “harmonization of refugees incentive workers wages” was developed by UNHCR in collaboration with all of the NGOs working in the refugee camps; some of the NGOs have shown skepticism about the effects of the document but the policy has been passed without adequate input or consideration of the viewpoints of current refugee staff members. While we recognize the potential positive effect of raising the wages of those agencies paying the lowest amounts, harmonization should only result in a harmonization upward. Moreover, we believe that individuals should be paid wages that are both living wages and appropriate for their jobs and their level of expertise and experience. The document is totally contradicting the conventions to the refuges. Indeed this is a practical evidence that UNHCR is violating the international conventions and protocols relating to the provisions and service of the refuges instead of promoting, it.

Furthermore, the UNHCR has not increased a sigle coin to the refguee workers and what it done was a cheating withno consultation to the concerned parties; indeed the amount that was dedected from the fellow refugee workers were increased for the other fellow refguee workers thus, creating envy and hatered among the working refguee workers!. In this world it has never been noticed that somesone’s pay is lowered without proper justifications.

Despite the fact that many other irrlguralies that can not be not be summarized is ongoing on daily, weekly, monthly or annually basses within the confines of the refugee camps of Dadaab.

Poor Service Delivery

The Dadaab refugee camps were established in the wake the devastating civil wars and persecution in neighboring countries, such as Somalia, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Sudan, Uganda, Burundi, Congo, and Eritrea. While we are grateful for the support that has been provided to those who have had to flee from their home countries, it is incredible that nearly twenty years after their adoption, their remains terrible problems in the service delivery and operations of the various agencies operating in the Dadaab camps: UNHCR, WFP, CARE, NRC LWF, IRC GTZ –IS, WINDLE TRUST KENYA, DRC HI, MSF, etc. The food distribution sector, the education sector, the medical care sector, the water and sanitation sector, and the land allocation and shelter sectors provide just a few of the many examples of the continuing and sometimes worsening poor service delivery. Food While the refugees in the Dadaab camps do appreciate the relentless efforts of the international community to ensure that the refugees in the Dadaab camps are given food, we ask the international community if a three (03) kilograms of maize and 50 grams of oil is enough to feed a person for a period of 15 days. This meager amount does not meet international standards. Worse still, a quarter of the amount claimed to be given is often stolen during food distribution, in large part because the workers of the food distribution are not adequately paid and are thus encouraged to steal from the beneficiaries. How can refugees be forced to remain in camps, told for twenty years that they are not allowed to work and raise their own livelihood, and then not be given enough food to feed themselves and their families?

Education

Education in the camps consists of several primary schools and secondary schools and other adult learning literacy institutions. While education, especially at the primary level, is a basic need and right, various factors have limited the quantity and quality of education provided in the camps of Dadaab. At the most basic level, the camps’ population has swollen thrice in recent years, while the capacity has only minimally increased. The focal organization for education in the camps, CARE international in Kenya, has not done a good enough job at increasing the education capacity. Poor quality education is matched with poor infrastructure, as many of the buildings remain the same as those built in 1992 to accommodate some 97,000 refugees while the population has currently grown to nearly 300,000. We have 18 primary schools across the three camps with an average of 3500 pupils per school. These large numbers of learners face many challenges in school. The general ratio of teachers to pupils is 1:80; a situation that has forced many learners to become dropouts, ending up on the market streets. All the 18 mentioned primary school are registered as Kenyan National examination centers while the learners in grade 8 (standard eight) must sit for the national exams in November of each year. The Kenya national examination law states that for a school to be a centre for national examination, there should be a least one trained teacher per class in that school; contrary to this law the schools in Dadaab do not have adequately trained P1 teachers. Yet the ministry of education of the government of Kenya officially has accepted this situation, which has resulted in poor performance in all these 18 schools. Another factor affecting education is the issue of payment. A teacher who is expected to serve as a role model, shape the study and character of various children, and teach the next generation of students, receive some of the lowest wages, lower even than donkey cart riders. The low payment causes more qualified individuals to seek other jobs, and for those who remain as teachers to have little motivation to do a good job in their work. Another problematic feature of the education system is that although as many as 4000 pupils sit for their national exams (KCPE), only roughly 120 students from each camp will have the opportunity to move on to secondary school, and even fewer of those who complete secondary school will have opportunities for further education after high school. Courses in Kenya University and colleges, despite funding by the international community, remains limited.

Medical Care

Medical conditions and nutrition have declined since 1992; down the line diseases are increasing while the interventions are relatively minimal compared to the number of patients in the hospital. In addition, as a result of acute malnutrition in the camps and anemia, child mortality rate is on the rise.

Further, due to ongoing fighting in neighboring Somalia, many refugees continue to come to the camps with numerous diseases, injuries, mental sickness, skin diseases and birth defects, many of which are not able to receive medical attention and are told that their ailment is too complicated to be attended to in the camps. As result many patients will converge at UNHCR field offices for their medical concerns but unfortunately UNHCR protection unit staff will keep refugees waiting and only refer them to the same doctors, nurses, and medical facilities that are already stretched too thins Which are expected to assist roughly three hundred deliveries per month in each of the camps. Currently, we have three medical charity organizations in camps MSF SWIZ in Dagahaley, IRC in Hagadera, and GTZ-IS in Ifo. Yet, especially due to the overcrowding, the medical facilities simply do not meet the incredible medical needs in the camps. Some of the most basic issues in the medical care sector include: – Lack of qualified personnel in hospitals – Lack of medicine/ procured – Lack of emergency equipment / ambulance theatre – Lack of adequate facilities or equipment to deal with many of the ailments Water and Sanitation Water and sanitation services are basic and essential; there are 15 boreholes in the camps which supply safe water to the refugee population since water is chlorinated before being supplied. Those boreholes are managed by borehole attendants or incentive workers who work from 6:30am to 6:30pm ever day, even on weekends or public holidays, since water is needed every hour of the day, and yet only earn minimal wages. Similarly, sanitation, waste management, and carcass collection and disposal, as well meat inspections/hygiene promotion are carried out incentives staff while the national staff seem to sit in the office browsing the internet and pretending to be busy in the offices. (Issues of latrine are handled by NRC whiles other sanitary and hygiene activities are done by CARE – RAP Watsan). In addition, the water crisis in the deeply populated Dadaab camps often results in fighting at the tap stands among families, village mates, and block mates. Sanitation and waste management is also worrying. The current network of latrines is hardly maintained and there are not nearly enough latrines for the Dadaab refugees in general. The latrine system in Dadaab camps is far below internationally accepted and minimum standards, such as 1 latrine for every 20 people.

Land Allocation and Shelter

For security reasons and because of the deterioration of the humanitarian situation in Somalia, many Somali refugees flee and escape ordeals in the war torn Somalia and seek protection in the Dadaab camps. Yet upon arrival in Dadaab, new arrivals often receive little guidance, orientation, or support to find land, obtain food, seek medical screening or vaccinations, etc. For instance, when a family comes to Dagahaley camp, where registration has been undertaken since 2005, the only thing they receive form UNHCR is a food ration card after waiting for around 10 days.

Finding shelter is often left to the good will of the refugees already living in the camps, despite the fact that severe overcrowding and congestion already exists in the camps. Most of the new arrivals simply build make-shift shelters that are susceptible being washed away by the heavy rains, or they resort to a living under the trees or a “house” where they are exposed to the elements. New arrivals thus face problems related to security, cold, wild animals, poor sanitation, etc. In addition, after registration the new arrivals often do not get non food items that they are intended to receive such as plastic sheeting, a cooking set, Jeri cans, and blankets; even accessing food is hard for new arrivals as they will start getting food from WFP up to 10 days after obtaining registration from UNHCR.

False Information Provided to Community Representatives and Visitors

Although there are the above problems and many more in the refugee camps of Dadaab, often visitors come to Dadaab and are shown a very different picture than the actual reality. Indeed, visitors of various high positions and organizations visit the worlds’ largest refugee camps of Dadaab in north eastern Kenya. Dadaab has in some ways become like a circus display or tourist attraction, with so many visitors coming in and out to see the camps and meet with refugees. Most visitors come with the intention of evaluating how the funds they have donated have been implemented for the target refugees. Visitors who individually only infrequently and occasionally pay visits to the refugee camps are thoroughly misguided about the real information on the ground. Visitors are often taken to pre-arranged places and meet with special people organized to supposedly speak on behalf of the refugees, who often give information that does not inform the visitors of the real circumstances of refugees’ conditions. It is believed that some agency staff members use bribery and other means of influence with refugee leaders whom they think can give substantial and fabricated information to the visitors that will protect and promote the agencies and their supposedly humanitarian work. It is believed that some agency staff members make false promises to such leaders, such as offering resettlement opportunities or contracts in order to entice these leaders to hide the true information about how agencies deal with refugees when high profile visitors come to the refugee camps. In addition, often when high profile visitors come to the camps, their time is scheduled such that they do not meet with many of the true leaders, intellectuals, young leaders, women’s groups and other stakeholders from the refugee community to hear and know from them directly without the presence of the Agency’s representatives. Moreover, the security guards (AGK) are given instructions to be on high alert and only allow those who had been chosen by the agencies to meet with the visitors. For instance during a recent visit by 17 embassies to the refugees camps, our community leaders, intellectual, young leaders and other stakeholders from the refugee community were only given an opportunity to present all of their pressing problems in a mere 45 Minutes, with agency representatives present who could note which refugees spoke and potentially deal harshly with those who spoke after the visitors had left. In addition, on the onset of the arrival of various visitors, agencies attempt to undertake various preparations intended to deceive visitors about the situation in the camps, such as intensive cleaning campaigns, having even senior officers wade through the rubbish, adding new/temporary infrastructure of all sorts (tables, seats, wall hangings/messages, computers, etc.), painting walls, putting up boards and signs to show orgnanized residential and office compounds, and so forth. As but one example, when some high profile visitors were coming to visit the camps in mid-2009, new buildings were constructed, walls were painted, old equipment was hidden, and intense cleaning efforts were undertaken at a surface level in order to deceive the visitors. If the amount of hard work that was taken to make these preparations was done on a daily basis to actually address the problems facing those in the camps rather than simply providing surface level window dressing to please visiting donors and officials, the situation in the camps could much improve. As another example, when an envoy of ambassadors visited the WFP food distributed centre, all of the former containers used for distributing food (which had been cut in size in order to limit the amount of food given to each refugee) were set aside and every individual was allowed to receive a full ration. But these measures only existed during the few minutes when the visitors were present.

 Taken together, the agencies make significant efforts to hide the truth of the situation of refugees in the camps of Dadaab when visitors arrive. We therefore make a heartfelt request to the Intentional Community, high profile visitors, media, government officials, human rights bodies, independent journalists and other concerned parties to always think beyond the box while visiting the Dadaab refugee camps, to be skeptical of what they are being shown, to try to ensure that they take some time to talk privately to a number of different refugees, and to visit unplanned areas in order to uncover the true living situation of the refugees and hear their voices longing to determine their uncertain future! Abuse from UNHCR Officers in Dadaab against refugee youth advocating for their rights. National and international staff members of UNHCR and other agencies in the camps of Dadaab often attempt to harass and intimidate refugees who advocate for their own rights. As a recent example, the UNHCR Head of Sub Office, in the presence of elder witnesses, threatened various refugee youth who intended to attend a meeting at his office, shouting that in case any youth came into his (UNHCR) office he would call the police and arrest them. Similarly, the senior Protection Officer has often failed to protect the rights of the refugees while allegations of harassment and human rights abuses flood his office in Dadaab. If UNHCR jeopardizes and denies the basic rights of the refugees in Dadaab Refugee Camps and denies the opportunity for refugees to advocate for their own rights; who will then advocate for the rights of the thousands of the disadvantaged societies in Dadaab camps? It can only be concluded that the UN and other agencies do not wish to see a community who can manage their own affairs independently. It can only also be concluded that the agencies in Dadaab are more political agencies than they are humanitarian agencies, with many agencies undertaking similar tasks and doing little to actually assist refugees as they claim. Moreover, the reports shared by the agencies with the donors often provide false information and figures, including but not limited to false information about living conditions, security, service delivery, movement, education, development, health, water and sanitation, food, and services they allegedly provide but often either do in a sub-standard manner or never have even undertaken at all. While agency staff often argue that refugees have no right to complain because the services they receive are free, it must be noted that agency staff also receive free of charge much better services than the refugees receive, including in the areas of water, medical care, food, housing, electricity, etc. We request from the international community and other concerned parties to help us mange our own affairs and that affect us by giving us a chance to get the jobs we can do for own selves.

Conclusion

 In sum, we wish to reiterate that we hope that the international community will hear our cries and undertake efforts to end the exploitation and abuse we face by pressing for an end to restricted movement, a reform of exploitative labor policies, an improvement in service provision, a greater allowance for participation in decisions about service provision to the refugee communities and refugee staff members, and the end to the deception and abusive practices of the Kenyan government, UNHCR, and the other agencies operating in the camps of Dadaab toward the refugees and the international community. Furthermore, the International community and the concerned goverments should watchout carefully the actions of the govermentof kenya, UNHCR and the other Agenceis opertaing in the region decissively and should held account for any inhuman acts. Thanks and looking forward to your immediate durable solutions.

Kind Regards,

Refugee Silent Welfare Committees


From the Archives – Newcastle, Australia becomes a Welcome Town for Refugees

September 11, 2009

 

Way back in 2002 I was part of two groups which had a focus on human rights and refugee issues.

The more “operational” and lobbying aspect had expression in the group Newcastle Action for Refugee Rights (NARR). My more “cultural jamming” and “Situationist – Anarchist” aspect had its expression in HOPE Caravan. It was through HOPE Caravan that I was involved in the Easter Actions at Woomera Detention Centre in 2002 and Baxter Detention Centre in 2003. It was also as part of HOPE Caravan that the Flotillas of Hope found expression.

Hope Caravan logo we used on our now absent website.

Hope Caravan logo we used on our now absent website. The drawing was based on an original pencil drawing made by a prisoner at Woomera Detention Centre. He gave us permission to use it.

As part of NARR, I, along with others presented a proposal to Newcastle City Council to make Newcastle, Australia, an official Welcome Town for Refugees. Here’s the link to the whole proposal we presented at Newcastle City Council >> Welcome Town Presentation – thanks Jack for taking the time to make it available on your website.

Now that the dark years of the John Howard’s Decade is over in Australia, it is important that we are reminded that there were people in Australia (many, many of us) that were ashamed at the opportunistic tickling of the xenophobic underbelly of the Australian people that Howard’s genius did. People say that he was not a racist. Maybe he wasn’t in a way that Hitler was, but his myopic vision and policies that demonised innocent people who were seeking a new life were.

Anyway, I don’t want to go on about him here, suffice to say that there were Australians around during the Dark Howard Decade who stood against his crap.

My social conscience is clear and I’m proud to say that I was one of them.

NARR conducted a sympathy fast with the hunger strikers at Woomera Detention Centre in 2002. This is the tent we lived in at Civic Park, Newcastle. The head on the corner is a paper mache of Philip Ruddock, the Immigration Minister at the time.

NARR conducted a sympathy fast with the hunger strikers at Woomera Detention Centre in 2002. This is the tent we lived in at Civic Park, Newcastle. The head on the corner is a paper mache of Philip Ruddock, the Immigration Minister at the time.

 


Introduction to Flotillas of Hope Sky Map

April 28, 2009

 

Below is the introduction to the Horoscope of the Flotillas of Hope Project in 2004. I sent this out to a few supporters of the Project around the world who I felt would not laugh at the idea of an astrological – magical approach to a human rights campaign. Now, since the Action is complete and Nauru Detention Centre is shut down I feel that I can reveal my own inner stance to such external actions publicly.

I will also upload the complete reading of the Flotillas horoscope to a storage site. When I do I will give you the link.

Here’s the Intro……

Sky Map

 

Flotillas of Hope 2004

 

“If there is dust on our lense, we see dark spots in the heavens.”

                                                                                       Carlos Suares

 

Flotillas of Hope Horoscope (Sky Map)

Flotillas of Hope Horoscope (Sky Map)

 

“..the apparently lifeless data of astronomy can be used to produce a calculated and objective emotional effect.This is astrology. But it is an astrology quite unlike astrology today.”

 

John Anthony West and Jan Gerhard Toonder

 

I feel like experimenting with my beginner’s astrologer mind on the Flotillas of Hope. Part of me is uncertain as to how it will be taken by you and in what spirit. My concerns revolve around the bad press that astrology has received since the Age of Reason. I am not going to justify the working rationale of such an ancient method of making sense of the world. Astrology is one of the oldest science – arts in the world, globally used by the first great civilisations of humanity, in Egypt, India, China, Americas, Africa, and Australasia. Written history shows that the Babylonians or Chaldeans developed it to a fine art. In fact “Chaldean” was synonymous with “astrologer” in those days because the practitioners of that country were considered the best practitioners of the art. Abraham, the root of Judaism, Christianity and Islam was a Chaldean. In those days the dichotomy between science and art did not exist. One could argue that our 21 St Century “West” is schizophrenic when we compare ourselves to the unitive vision of the ancient worlds. Check out Jaynes “The Origin of Consciousness and the Bicameral Mind” to see where I’m coming from. Sure we’ve got Eye of Hubble taking and transmitting beautiful images of the heavens from the edge of our Solar System to us on ground zero. However, we cannot see ourselves as an integral part of a living organism we call the Universe. We don’t believe that the Eye of Ra looks over us. Funny that, because the Sun still shines and that is what the Eye of Ra is – the Sun. This reminds me of William Blake’s response to someone who said that the Sun was just a guinea coin shape in the sky, “For you the Sun is a guinea disc, for me it is a chorus of Angels singing Alleluia! Alleluia!”

 

I want to reclaim that sense of wonder. Astrology helps me ponder the interconnection between myself and the universe, between all of us and the universes.

 

I want to experiment to see if Astrology as a symbolic language can demonstrate the noumenal underpinning of reality. This two way communication between mind and symbol may help manifest the Flotillas of Hope.  I’m more comfortable in using the French “symbolique “ in the Schwaller de Lubicz  sense than symbolic. The difference is so small yet it adds another world of meaning. Symbolic in the usual sense means a sign that stands for something. Symbolique means (from my beginner’s mind) that the sign is the represented ie the symbol is alive in its own essential meaning – it is in itself what it symbolizes. The aliveness is the symbolique.

 

The underpinning I am referring to is not a static slab of concrete but rather a cluster of “energetic” patterns. If David Bohm is right about  implicate and  explicate orders of the universe then  the pattern crystallizing between the implicate and the explicate orders as pin pointed at the moment of sending the Flotilla email is the Sky Map – a particle of the Holographic Universe . That moment carries with it space and we enter the zone of descriptions, associative tracings dancing across nervous systems and neuronal connections making “realities”. The Horoscope/email did not cause the journey of hope to Nauru. We are not talking about Causes here but rather Acausal resonances, synchronicities, patterns of what is.

 

It is a fundamental premise in this reading that there are multiple descriptions of reality and that these descriptions have an equal being status.  Consensus reality, in which we are embedded, is not the only one around. Australian Aboriginal people can discern over twenty different words for different kinds of desert sand where through Western eyes only one sand word exists “SAND”. The same applies to the ground. Original Australians see sacred ground where Western consensus reality only sees a potential dollar making resource.

 

The more you look into it, with a beginner’s mind, you find that the macroscale physics of relativity is in contradiction to the micro scale of the quantum universe. The humble electron orbiting around the nucleus of an atom cannot be placed. The electron cannot be pinned down as to where it will be at any moment. Its location is probable only. Picture the journey of a car in the centre of a city. You will see the car stop and turn, make its way in a continuous action. The car moves through space in a certain amount of time. This is the macroscale, however in the microscale, within the heart of matter it is a different picture. The analogous image of the car-electron travelling through the city centre, is the discontinuous location of the car. Instead of moving and turning around a corner for the car to be at a particular place, the quanta car first appears in one place and then another and then another  without the “journey”. It is this discontinuity which is the quanta – a time –space packet of probabilistic matter.  In fact, it seems that the micro universe of probabilistic matter is in closer concert with Astrology than the macro scale of “separate” stuff in an open universe.  That moment, according to astrology encompasses the position of the planets and stars and the time the email was sent – it is all an Event Organism. The astrological hypothesis is based on a resonance between that which is above (the heavens) and that which is below (the everyday world of our existence – Earth). In other words there is a coincidence between the positions of the stars at that moment and the event. I won’t even try to enter synchronicity’s whirlpool to explain the connection. Check out Carl Jung’s Introduction to Richard Wilhelm’s translation of the I Ching. It is the best summation of the synchronicity idea. Rupert Sheldrake’s morphic resonance comes to mind applying its theme to a time body. The Flotillas of Hope may even be tapping into morphological roots in archetypal memory …..Jason and the Argonauts on a quest for the Golden Fleece.  By the way, Jason is pronounced Yiason and when Greeks say “Yiasou” it means “long life and health to you”. Yia and as it means “hygia” as in hygiene…it also means to make Whole and is the Earth – Gaea = Yia both in pronounciation and in meaning. Gaea Mind – Hive Mind.

 

In other words the emerging pattern from the invisible world into the visible 3 D world of what is called  “Flotillas of Hope” may be revealed in a symbolique exploration of a Sky Map. Not necessarily the future but the potential trends and cycles of an emerging future. Kind of like seeing the lineaments of a living time body. Seeing the curve of the Flotillas time sail, tiller and anchor may indicate certain needs. Sure, its not prediction pure and simple but it is better than nothing at all. This kind of astrology is as far removed from fortune telling as Reality is from Reality TV.

 

 

The Flotillas of Hope was conceived as an event organism when the “SEND” button was pressed. The idea entered the web-mind-womb and the flotilla was conceived. We know it was at that moment because we have witnessed its embryonic movements and now, at the time of writing, 4 boats – 3 from Australia, one from Colombia are here in the 3 – D World of our senses. The baby is kicking in the womb waters of both the web and the earth. On World Refugee Day, 20 June, 2004, the Flotilla of Hope will be born at Nauru, Longitude 166 E 55, Latitude 00 S 32. 

 

 Astrology for me is a means of exploring the edges of rational thought as it touches the unknown. The  horoscope is  like a semi permeable membrane, it can suspend the ordinary associative processes of the mind and allow a different kind of attention to manifest. This attention striking off from the symbolique elements of the horoscope gives a different kind of mind environment. Psychologists call it imagination. Sometimes, in flickering moments it can be vision. A vision – feeling into another dimensional world that is holographic in structure, energetic and alive. In these glimpses, a human and the universe are seen as the same organism. As above so below, as Hermes Trismegistus says. A different  relationship exists between things – or at least that is what appears when astrological Sun glasses are worn.

 

Astrology for me is a mantic science with an intuitive technos.

 

In political or judicial astrology the beginnings of any event is deemed to hold its potential futures. Note the plural for it shows that there is no predetermined single end but rather multiple futures resonant to a common end. It was believed in ancient times that a study of the stars could ascertain the rise and fall of  kingdoms and dynasties. It has also been recorded that the birth of Jesus was predicted by astrology when the three magi in a caravan crossing the Middle Eastern desert followed the Star of Hope to Bethlehem.   Astrologers were employed to chart possible battles and voyages trying to predict what may happen and advise accordingly. Someone wrote, “In my beginning is my end and in my end is my beginning”  Judicial or mundane astrology (mundanus from the Latin meaning “material world”) sees events in the same light – in a beginning is its end and in its end is its beginning. Judicial or political astrology deals with events in the social sphere. It is not as well known as the personal natal astrology  but it has been of enormous influence in shaping history up to the Age of Reason. Some say, even until today.

 

Art of Manifestation

 

Another aspect to this reading is that the actual exercise of casting a chart, reading it and writing out the interpretation can be an intentional act of manifestation. Well, according to all the stuff I’ve read and been told, it can be. If the miraculous or the lyric by Leonard Cohen, “God is alive, Magic is afoot “ irritates your sensibility then so be it. I take those words literally. The secret seems to be “not doing” and “resting”; in knowing “how to wait”. It is a contradictory state >>> manifesting an intention by not doing. Something like Tao and the process of “From Little Things Big Things Grow” Paul Kelly and Kev Carmody.

 

Look, I am new in this kind of work. One of the main things anybody has to do when learning a new skill is to apply it, try it out – practice. So, this effort of mine is a beginner’s effort. It may all be fantasy but at least I got another chart out of the way for my personal target of 1000 completed practice charts. It is an experiment in using a different model of the world to see if it can have an effect. Who knows what powers lie both within and outside ourselves when we remain open to different modes of apprehension.

 

“When positive, equational logic rejects feeling, it makes as great a mistake as when intuitive feeling rejects logical control.”

                                                                                   Schwaller de Lubicz

 

If the interpretation is all mere fantasy with no true moments of seeing, do not blame the stars. Blame my faulty vision. If astrology has no objective reality, it may yet have a reality in the subjective world.

 

In many ways, this reading is an experiment in communicating a social – political event and its intentions  using categories that are Astrological. Whilst every attempt has been made to keep the Astrological technical language to a minimum, no prior knowledge of Astrology is required to understand its intentions.

 

The Flotillas not only sail on physical oceans they also sail in peoples’ hearts as courage and compassion  bringing an end to the heartless and inhumane incarceration of refugees on Australia’s Islands of Shame.

 

This is just my small effort to do something, armed with a computer and a sense of wonder at the oneness of it all. As you read the interpretation you are also helping to manifest by reinventing and recreating the Flotillas of Hope in your own imagination. In effect you are creating your own vision of what may be.

 

Any other astrologers both beginner and advanced please send me your comments. I‘d be interested in hearing your views and interpretations of the Flotillas of Hope Sky Map.

 

Final word to those who know:

 

Somehow you’ve come to the conclusion that at the very heart of matter, at the turning point of decisions, at the core of bone marrow, molecule, atom, neutrino and pepperino there is an intelligence operating. You know that Earth is a stone with a lick of moisture on its surface orbiting about a type G star we call the Sun. You don’t disdain science and you also know that there is a blueprint of the whole of Creation. This blueprint, this plan , this informational map is embedded within every atom, cell, organism and living whole from a sand flea to Andromeda, from a child playing with a ball to the Milky Way.

 

How you came about this knowledge is your business. It could have been through a book. It could have been a friend who told you. It could have been a certain altered state of mind that led you to this knowledge. It doesn’t really matter where you got your knowledge or even how. The important thing is that you know that there is an imperishable spirit in every piece of matter, in every volume and in every measure. This means that there is an imperishable immortal part of human nature. It is here and now, we only have to slice through the onion layers of conditioning to see it. This knowledge we are speaking about is certain knowledge. It is an X ray vision of  the imperishable in matter. It is not a mere belief and neither is it an open conclusion of faith. It is certain knowledge based on direct experience…nothing is in the way. Having this knowledge gives a different spin on the Earth as a stone orbiting a medium sized type G star.

 

In fact having this knowledge makes words like Sun, Moon, Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto mean something different to hunks of rock gravitationally stuck in orbits about the Sun. They are verbs in one context and gods in another. They are as far removed from the astronomical planets and Sun as green cheese is to the moon. This is where the possession of this knowledge instead of bringing fame and fortune will  bring instead  ridicule and laughter, sometimes scorn and banishment. The possession of this knowledge has marked you as an outsider. Even though it is invisible, your mark of Cain is your knowledge. If you are lucky you may have found a way to manifest secretly and keep a semblance of an ordinary householder life. Being an invisible outsider gives you great opportunities to observe and learn how to be a partner in creation. For this is what it comes down to. In essence humans are not a symbol of the Universe – we are the Universe and in this kind of partnership we all do our bit or we get flushed out of existence. Where’s our immortality then? It’s still there waiting for another to clothe it.

 

The denial of human rights of one is the denial of humanity for all.

 

Method of Approach

 

I’ll try to see if I can delineate the “soul” of the event as if it was a living organism, you know, the “Flotillas of Hope”. It is my way of considering the project in a holistic manner. I will try to place this Organism within the context of the socio – political world. One moves from the particular to the general – a person to a nation. – a local event to a national and global context. Astrology allows you to zoom in and out of the various contexts within contexts like a telescope . It can sometimes be time free and so indicate trends invisible to the naked eye. Trends seen through a time free zone? A contradiction and yet possible.  Pataphysics and the Third Mind juxtaposed by situational poetics, the poetry of the moment shown not only in words but by the signs of the stars and our living motions.


A Palestinian Belt with Badges

March 29, 2009

 

Below is a photo of a hand woven belt given to me as a gift when I was in Palestine in 2000. I have attached a number of badges to it. The Hope for Refugees badges were made from images downloaded from my first website for Woomera. The others came from all sorts of experiences.

palestinian-belt-badges


From the Archives >> Baxter @ Easter, 2003

February 19, 2009

 

 

After Easter at Woomera in 2002 the Government decided to move people to Baxter. The detention centre in Baxter had an extra deterrent for those seeking to break out – electric shock razor wire. So now we had an electric barrier as well as razor wire to keep innocent women and children and men incarcerated. At Woomera, in 2002, human rights activists could get close to the wire, at Baxter the protests were just symbolic as the Darth Varder clothed police with their shields and batons, their horses and their helicopters overhead kept us far away from the detention centre.

 

Darth Vader from the Star Wars movie saga. Look at the pictures at the end of the post. Can you see similarities?

Darth Vader from the Star Wars movie saga. Look at the pictures at the end of the post. Can you see similarities?

The Baxter protest also witnessed for the first time, police in riot gear pointing machine guns at Australian citizens’ heads. This wasn’t reported in the corporate media. However, we have photos and videos to prove it. The freaky thing was that some of us had helium filled balloons. One accidental bursting of a balloon and we would have seen Sharpeville on Australian soil. Where was the outrage by the media? No where. Quiet as a mouse.

 

The Baxter @ Easter 2003 also witnessed for the first time a close connection with the local indigenous people who supported our Action. Closer connections were made by the various affinity groups which made it more possible for the Flotillas of Hope Action to Nauru happen the following year.

 

Anyway, read the following account as it appeared on the Baxter Watch  website and in the ImaginePeace Update.

 

stavros

 

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A Story from Baxter Detention Centre, Easter, 2003

 

 

The corporate media told people that we had broken through the first barrier, about 3 kilometres from the Concentration Camp after some confrontation with police. Then, according to the corporate media we raced down to the second barrier about 2 kms away from the Concentration Camp where the police had formed a line with mounted police ready to lend a hand in stopping us getting through. Even though we could see the massive presence of the riot squad we, in our enthusiasm for a battle with the police decided to breach the police line. This time our brave riot squad with all their gear stopped us. They stopped us by riding their horses into us and dismantling our tents. So, the heroes of the State warded off a few hundred of us refugee activists determined to fight the Empire. That’s their version and if you don’t believe me check out The Australian’s story. 500 refugee activists vs the 357 police and riot squad and a helicopter surveillance. One cop per protestor along with their weapons of mass intimidation.

Sacred Fire lit by the local indigenous Bungalla People.

Sacred Fire lit by the local indigenous Bungalla People.

Where to begin? In many ways for me the real beginning of the story is on Good Friday night, when we gathered around the Sacred Fire lit by the Elders of the Bungalla people – Harry and Noelene. This is a beginning the corporate media won’t tell you about and I believe that what happened around the Sacred Fire at the Baxter Protest Camp marks a new synergy with refugee and Aboriginal rights movements. The Baxter Convergence when seen in this light shows the deeper convergence that occurred at Easter. Hopecaravan yahoo group’s website logo says: “The denial of rights to anyone is the denial of humanity to all.” We were welcomed to the land that Baxter Concentration Camp is built on by the Aboriginal Elders – Noelene and Harry. As far as I was concerned my presence was legal within Aboriginal Law no matter what Howard and Ruddock say. But before I begin the story with this bigger beginning I will tell you what happened when we arrived at the Western road block.

 

 

Protectors of the Electric Fence

Protectors of the Electric Fence

What really happened? The police allowed us to pass through the first barrier with all of our camping gear and to walk about a kilometre down the hill. As we walked down towards the Concentration Camp we saw police in riot gear making a line. We put down our gear and proceeded to set up camp. No one tried to stop us, so we thought that this was going to be our camp site. The commander of police, with headphone radio contact then made an announcement. He told us all to pack up our gear and return to the top of the hill in 10 minutes or we will be arrested. Many went and pleaded with him to be reasonable, including myself. He wouldn’t budge. The troops were ready to arrest us. Meanwhile from behind us in the hills, like a B grade western movie, there was the calvary of mounted police charging towards our camp site. When the ten minutes were up the riot squad charged into our site and along with the mounted police they took away tents and trampled on peoples’ property. Lucky no one was trampled. There some chafed shins and someone got arrested for carrying a kite. The cops then made us go back up to the hill. Meanwhile, above us, a helicopter choppered away. By the way, I have video footage of all this.day01_28

We walked back up to the hill and here we set up camp. That night (Good Friday) we had a spokes council meeting around the Sacred Fire which the Aboriginal Elders had lit especially for our protest. It was the only fire allowed on our camp and whenever we gathered for meetings we gathered around the Sacred Fire. Harry, Elder of the Bungalla people, the people of the local land we camped on, welcomed us as did Noelene. In silence we stood and sat around the Sacred Fire while Noelene and Harry told us their stories and why they supported refugees incarcerated in the Concentration Camps. “Simply because,” Harry said, “Our people experience the same incarceration as the refugees.” They not only felt for the refugees but also totally empathised with their plight because their own people have also suffered the same injustices.

Harry and Noelene told us, as we felt the warmth of the Sacred Fire, that the only way to affect change and help those inside the Concentration Camp was through peaceful and compassionate ways. They told us that to keep in the spirit of the land we had to manifest peacefully. They gave us the blessings of the Bungalla people and its land. I asked permission to record an image of the Sacred Fire, which they gave. HOPE Caravan told the spokes council of the FREEDOM banner, signed by Newcastle people and invited all of the Baxter Convergence people to sign it as well. Noelene and Harry offered to take the FREEDOM banner with all the signatures and well wishes of our protest camp and Newcastle to the refugees in Baxter. This banner was made from a queen sized sheet with the word FREEDOM sewn on in black material in the Farsi language – AZADI. The next day people in the camp signed it at the Sacred Fire and around the Caravan’s camp. On Sunday morning HOPE Caravan gave the banner to Noelene and Harry. I have footage of their words to all of us. They will take our gift of FREEDOM and HOPE to those behind the electric razor wire.

AZADI - Freedom in Farsi with signatures by well wishers from Newcastle and from the Baxter Action people. This was given to the detainees at Baxter by Noelene, a Bungalla Elder from the country on which the Baxter Detention Centre was built.

AZADI - Freedom in Farsi with signatures by well wishers from Newcastle and from the Baxter Action people. This was given to the detainees at Baxter by Noelene, a Bungalla Elder from the country on which the Baxter Detention Centre was built.

We decided at that night’s spokes council meeting around the Sacred Fire that some of us would go down later that night. We didn’t know how far the cops would let us get to the Concentration Camp but we were determined to get as close as possible so that we could make contact. To make sure that they could hear us some of us brought bongos and maracas, saxophones, drums along with kites and whistles and pots and pans. At around 9PM we met up on top of the hill and began our walk down to the centre. The moon was full and the desert night cool, silhouettes of hills contrasted with the glare of the Concentration Camp lights a couple of kilometres down the gas pipeline.

Throughout the day we noticed the helicopter that flew overhead in circles watching over us. At night the same thing became a one eyed alien creature scouring the night earth with a column of light descending on our tents, our shadows and the Sacred Fire. Like Apocalypse Now, this time in the desert, the chopper chopped the air as we walked down to the centre its cone of light going over and around us. To my right I noticed a young brother flying a kite while walking on the gas pipeline. The landscape and the images of the Darth Vader STAR cops we had already faced brought to mind Star Wars and here was Luke Skywalker flying his kite under the moonlight. He balanced his sprightly steps on the huge pipe line. The orange kite fluttered above him and occasionally I saw the kite’s bird profile against the round moon. This was one of 26 kites we brought with us from Newcastle. The kites were made from DIMIA plastic sheeting that promotes Harmony Day. Newcastle made the kites to fly at Baxter. We transformed DIMIA advertising into Kites of Peace. As Luke flew his kite, one hand holding the string and the other held out to his side for balance the helicopter made another swoop, its searchlight swept over us and the kite glistened in the air. When our moon shadows returned I looked at the hills around me – I could have been on another planet. The detainees at Baxter will never see these hills because they cannot look out. They are only allowed to look up at the sky. They see the same Southern Cross we do but their horizon ends with electric razor wired walls.

One of the Kites we made in Newcastle from Dept of Immigration's orange plastic Harmony Day promotional banner.

One of the Kites we made in Newcastle from Dept of Immigration's orange plastic Harmony Day promotional banner.

As we got closer to the Concentration Camp we started to chant and play our musical instruments. Our rhythmic chants together with the beats of the drums and the sounds of whistles and sax resonated through the night air – AZADI – FREEDOM – AZADI – FREEDOM – AZADI – FREEDOM and on it went. When we got to the main gates to the Concentration Camp many sat down on the ground and others shoulder to shoulder swayed to the songs we sang. The police stood still in their Darth Vader STAR wars get ups. A couple of us were arrested, one a young woman. Does it take a million dollar Star Wars riot squad to protect an electric razor fence? It seems it does in Australia today when people carrying musical instruments, kites and balloons, banners and flags, their passionate compassion in action voice a dissenting message.- FREE THE REFUGEES! END MANDATORY DETENTION! AZADI !

We went silent for a while to hear a response from those behind the electric wire. The first couple of silent moments between our songs and chants did not reveal anything. Then in one break between AZADI and FREEDOM we heard the faint reply AZADI from behind their walls. It was muffled by the barriers of ACM BUT we had made contact – they heard us and we heard them!

Heart Kite flying high.

Heart Kite flying high.

On the way back we were pushed by a line of visar STAR war cops – on the road they drove a car with full beam lights in our direction slowly. This meant that your peripheral vision was stuffed and this way couldn’t see if a cop in dark is going to nab you. One of us got arrested with his back to the police. All he was doing was sitting on the gas pipe – away from others. On either side of the car the STAR cops were lined up moving in short robotic movements. About a third of the way back to our camp another group ran towards us through the desert from our left. They went to the other side of the Concentration Camp because they had information from inside the camp that the detainees had been moved there. Two fronts, two determined efforts to make contact with the refugees. The robocops chased them and they finally merged with our group uncaught. About half way up the hill we could just hear the Rock On Against Racism (ROAR) Concert. As we got closer the beats and the music got louder.

The next day we met back at the Sacred Fire where HOPE Caravan brought the FREEDOM / AZADI Gift for people to write their messages on. A decision was made to march back down to the Concentration Camp in the morning. Some members of the Caravan remained behind at the camp site. We came to Baxter to fly our kites and to fly our FREEDOM banner.

But that story’s for another time as are the many other stories that are going to be told by all of us who were at Baxter this Easter.

On Sunday we left about 10AM. There were many buses also leaving about 12PM so there would have been very few of the 500 left when the STAR cops raided the camp with their machine guns. I wasn’t there when that happened AND what I know is that we could have all been there. When they pointed their machine guns at the people left at our camp, they pointed it at my head as well. In fact the machine guns were pointed at every Australian’s head.

Kites against Uzi machine guns!

Kites against Uzi machine guns!

The act of dissent in Australia can now bring machine guns bearing at peoples’ heads for carrying camera tripods, arrest for placing yellow stars on rotting wooden fences and for flying a kite. Australia – where are we going? There were helium balloons at the camp when the STAR War cops raided it carrying machine guns. One tiny little mishap, like a balloon bursting at the most inopportune time, who knows how many of our children would have been massacred by machine gun fire. Would the government then argue “collateral damage done by friendly fire” on its own people! The lack of outrage at such an intemperate use of force speaks volumes about the Culture we are swimming in. It is crystallizing into a Police State and our right to dissent will be associated with terrorist activities. What else can explain the overkill at Baxter?

day03_02

I want to say how proud I am to be associated with everyone of you who were at Baxter and those who supported us. Our passionate compassion carried musical instruments, kites, balloons, songs and chants of freedom as our messages of hope to the detainees. There were 500 of us with 357 of the STAR cops and when you include their helicopter and other weapons of mass intimidation you can see that the equation is not equal. Our protest was a complete success in that we made contact with the refugees imprisoned in the Concentration Camp and we have highlighted the draconian methods that are in place to stop frredom of speech and dissent in Australia. Think about it – a machinegun against a kite.

Then think about the message of peace given to us around the Sacred Fire by the Elders of the Land.

stavros

Stavros with Hope (in Farsi language) flag at the Baxter Camp.

Stavros with Hope (in Farsi language) flag at the Baxter Camp.


Lance Gowland, 1935 – 2008, Skipper of Eureka

January 1, 2009
Lance Gowland, Skipper of Eureka on the way to Nauru with the Flotillas of Hope.

Lance Gowland, Skipper of Eureka on the way to Nauru with the Flotillas of Hope.

 

On Saturday, November 22, a celebration of Lance Gowland’s life was held in Sydney. I couldn’t go because of my broken leg but I did send some photos and and some words to be recited as the photos appeared in the appropriate space of Lance’s life in the slide show.

I first met Lance when he answered the Call to Action, for the Flotillas of Hope, to bring hope to the refugees imprisoned on Nauru. He wrote me an email saying he had a boat and he was willing to sail it to Nauru. For him very simple words to utter, but for me, they were miraculous sounds that further crystallized the dream of going to Nauru. Now we had at least 2 boats – Eureka and One Off in Brisbane. When the Call to Action was sent on its email trajectory, there were no boats, no money, no technology, no crew. All there was, was a dream quickening into life any time someone offered some support for the dream to manifest.

Lance also asked me later on the phone if there was another experienced sailor that was going on the trip to Nauru. He wanted to know because he had a terminal illness and he didn’t want the people like me who had never sailed, to be stranded out in the deep blue ocean with no way of returning to Australia. He also asked me to not say anything to anyone about his condition until we returned safely.

Luckily I could answer with a resounding YES!

Ruth Boydell on Eureka.

Ruth Boydell on Eureka.

 

Ruth Boydell, a Maritime Teacher at Newcastle TAFE, was not only an experienced sailor who had sailed solo from India to Australia but was also a TAFE teacher of sailing and other maritime esoterica. Ruth and I both work in TAFE at Newcastle. I work in Multicultural Education.

(By the way, we are campaigning to save TAFE , so click here to check out the blog.)

The words below were recited on 22 November, 2008 at the Celebration of Lance’s Life.

It was a windy night, the Southern Cross flag flapped behind us, we the crew of Eureka, sat listening to Lance telling us the story of the Eureka Stockade. We were about 400 miles away from Nauru out in the deep blue without any certainty that we would arrive safely and even if we did whether the Nauruan people would greet us peacefully or with the Australian Federal Police armed with their guns.

The Souther Cross flag on Eureka. Photo taken on the night that Lance told us the Eureka Stockade story.

The Southern Cross flag on Eureka. Photo taken on the night that Lance told us the story.

After a short spell of silence, with the wind blowing, Lance with great feeling quoted these words from the Eureka Stockade:

“We swear by the Southern Cross to stand truly by each other and defend our rights and liberties”.

For most of us, it was the first time we heard these words and on Eureka out in the deep blue, sailing to Nauru to bring hope to imprisoned refugees, hearing our Skipper, Lance say them, made it an unforgettable moment.

Lance, our Skipper, thank you for standing by me and the crew.  Thank you for your courage and generosity of spirit standing by the impoverished refugees who sought hope on Nauru. 

You, Lance,  are a man who will live on in any action done by any person for the cause of social justice.

stavros