Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘refugees’

In Another Life *****

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 12th January, 2018

In Another Life 1In another life, Adnan (Elie Haddad) was a teacher in Syria, but he and his wife Bana (Toyah Frantzen) had to flee as their home city, Aleppo, was destroyed around them. Their flight took them through Turkey to Lesbos in Greece, then braving hostile security guards and dogs in Hungary before arriving in Calais. Bana was successfully smuggled away to England, but Adnan had to face the law of the Jungle — the informal camp where refugees from the Middle East, Afghanistan, Eritrea and other parts of Africa risked their lives trying to board trucks or trains to the UK, harassed by French police, prey to unscrupulous people traffickers, but supportive of each other and grateful for gestures of kindness from people who came from England and elsewhere to help. Though Adnan is the main focus of Jason Wingard’s powerful and at times gut-wrenching film, In Another Life, he is a 21st Century refugee Everyman, his plight one of a million personal dramas and tragedies. He finds solace in friendship, even though his closest friend, Yousef (Yousef Hayyan Joubeh) turns out to be living in a fantasy world in which his parents’ long-distant support is nought but a fantasy. Much of the film takes place in the Calais Jungle — real and constructed — shot in black and white in documentary style, gritty and immediate. Occasionally, there are insights into Adnan’s dreams, including an imagined attempt to swim the Channel, and despite all the setbacks, sordidness and inhumanity around him, hope and his love for Bana drive him on. The acting is powerful, so that at times one forgets that this is not a fly-on-the-wall biopic, and there are moments of real beauty to alleviate the greyness and gloom. The film — largely crowd-funded — was made on a shoestring, but the use of hand-held cameras and drone footage adds effectively to its impact. Doubtless some people will criticise In Another Life for being “political”, maybe even “left wing”, but in fact it is a brilliant portrait of the human condition in our time, in the tradition of Honoré de Balzac and Charles Dickens, depicting those who find themselves at the very bottom of the pile in their contemporary world; as Oscar Wilde put it, in the gutter, but with their eyes firmly fixed on the stars.

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Syria: Think of Reconstruction Now

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 14th March, 2016

Syria destructionIt was striking that in his speech to the Liberal Democrat spring conference in York, Tim Farron devoted a lot of time to the refugee crisis and in particular the Conservative government’s failure to step up to the plate adequately in meeting the needs of the most vulnerable people, especially those fleeing the carnage in Syria. This is something Tim clearly feels passionately about and is also a fine issue on which Liberals can campaign. Moreover, an emergency motion on Syria won the ballot for debate early yesterday morning, emphasizing that the subject is uppermost in people’s minds. The fact that six of the eight LibDem MPs voted in favour of the UK joining in the US-led Coalition’s bombing of ISIS/Daesh in Syria is still a sensitive matter; both Paul Reynolds and I outlined our opposition to that at a fringe meeting of the Liberal Democrat Peace and Security Group the previous evening.

Bashar al-AssadBut in the emergency motion debate in the main hall I stressed how important it is that thought be given already to the reconstruction of Syria, which some UN estimates suggest could require up to US$4 trillion. There will be a difficult period of reconciliation to go through but my impression is that the vast majority of Syrian refugees would like to return to their homeland when it is safe to do so, always presuming the cities are made habitable. The situation is very complex and it is true that some areas of the country, notably those under the Assad government’s control, are relatively intact. But Assad and the Russians have bombed much of the rest to oblivion. I argued that Britain and France have a particular historic responsibility for helping resolve the Syrian mess, preferably as part of an EU diplomatic effort, which would lead to all interested parties being involved, including Russia and Iran. Understandably, much of the debate on the motion centred on short-term measures, but I underlined how vital it is that we learn from the lessons of Iraq and Libya and make sure that there is a proper, workable plan in place for what happens if or when Assad goes.

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Shas Sheehan’s Plea for Refugees

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 12th February, 2016

Refugees are human beingsThis is the time of the year when Liberal Democrat local parties organise sessions to discuss the agenda for the Party’s forthcoming Spring conference, but Hackney LibDems decided instead at their Poppadoms and Politics last night to focus more directly on the burning issue of refugees, and in particular those who have been fleeing the last five years of carnage in Syria. Shas outlined the evolution of the Syrian conflict, which I have also been following on a day-by-day basis, and highlighted the fact that a quarter of Lebanon’s population is now made up of Syrian refugees, most of them housed in local peoples’ homes or out-buildings, or in makeshift accommodation. There are another million Syrian refugees in camps in Jordan and more than two million in Turkey, and tens of thousands continue to attempt a perilous crossing to Europe. The photos of the lifeless body of 3-year-old Syrian Kurd Alan Kurdi certainly brought home that reality to the British public, but David Cameron has only promised to take in 20,000 Syrian refugees, over a period of five years, and all from camps in the Middle East. As Shas said, the situation will only get worse, as Assad’s forces and the Russians further their advances into rebel-held districts of Aleppo. Moreover, this is a problem that is going to be with us for years not months, as happened with the refugee flows after the Second World War. That makes all the more necessary a coordinated and compassionate, long-term strategy on the part of the European Union.

refugees 1Inspired by her own trip to Dunkirk, Shas encouraged others to be part of relief efforts for people stuck there or in the Calais “Jungle”. But she was rightly insistent that only the right sort of aid should be delivered. Médecins sans Frontieres is working the the camps and absolutely does not want people self-miedicating on drugs brought over by well-meaning Brits. Similarly, most types of clothes and shoes are similarly not appropriate, nor tinned soup. What is needed, and could indeed be organised by local political parties or even at next month’s York LibDem conference, are items such as batteries, wind-up torches, sleeping bags, good quality tens and a limited range of foodstuffs and beverages, including tinned tuna, chickpeas, tomatoes, lentils, beans and fruit (preferably in ring-pull tins), cooking oil, spices, tea, sugar and salt.

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Standing up for Syria

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 4th February, 2016

Syria war damageOn the first day of the Syria conference currently taking place in London billions of dollars have been pledged to help Syrian refugees, including $1.7bn from Britain. That’s the good news and the UK Conservative government, which rarely gets praise from me, deserves it in this case. However, the bad news is that the Syria peace talks that were being held in Geneva earlier this week were suspended yesterday while fighting on the ground in Syria has intensified. It is of course essential that the millions of refugees who have fled their homeland, notably to Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan, be given help, but such assistance can only be a form of band-aid relief rather than a solution so long as the civil war goes on. Moreover, yet more refugees will be created in the meantime; Turkey estimates that another 70,000 are fleeing the current Syrian government and Russian assault on rebel-held areas in and around Aleppo. The only solution as such can come from an internationally-agreed and implemented peace settlement and associated ceasefire. I opposed British airstrikes in Syria because there was no comprehensive peace agreement on the table and I do not believe that simply bombing necessarily helps. Of course, I despise ISIS/Daesh, but the situation in Syria is much more complex than just an attempt to curb self-styled Islamic State. Similarly, I dislike the Assad regime in Damascus, which has been responsible for egregious human rights abuses, both in its notorious prisons and in its use of cluster bombs and other weaponry against its own civilian population. Only through a proper peace settlement, at Geneva or wherever, can a way forward be mapped, which would include an end to hostilities and a transitional political arrangement leading to free and fair elections with sufficient international supervision.

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Refugees and Brexit

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 24th October, 2015

YEM panelSeveral recent opinion polls relating to Britain’s forthcoming IN/OUT EU referendum have shown a swing to the “leave” side, though still predicting that “remain” will win. One explanation mooted for the shift in opinion has been the current refugee and migrant crisis, to which the response from EU member states has been mixed, to put it mildly. Angela Merkel rolled out Germany’s welcome mat, while Hungary (shamefully, given how other European nations welcomed Hungarian refugees in 1956), slammed the door in the refugees’ face. Britain’s Conservative government refused to be part of an EU-wide response and not for the first time the EU got blamed for the chaos that was actually a failure of its member states to pull together. So will public concerns over the refugees and migrants lead to a British withdrawal from Europe? That was the question at the centre of debate last night at a well-attended meeting put on by the London branch of the Young European Movement in King’s College last night. With unfortunate timing the fire alarm went off just just as the meeting was about to get underway, as if a UKIP gremlin had put a spanner in the works, which meant that we had to evacuate into the street, but later we reconvened to hear Nick Hopkinson (Chair of London4Europe), Anjuja Prashar (a Liberal Democrat candidate in May’s general election) and Elliot Chapman-Jones (from British Influence) share their views. As a Canadian, Nick could draw some comfort from Justin Trudeau’s sweep to power in Ottawa the other day, showing that hope can overcome fear and Conservative isolationism, while Anuja, originating from East Africa, emphasized the positive contribution immigrants have made to Britain, not least to London. Elliot interestingly predicted that the “leave” side in the Brexit referendum campaign will not focus on immigration, as one might assume, as they have the anti-immigration votes already in the bag; instead, he believes, their arguments will be economic. Economic arguments, of course, involve statistics, and as we saw in the TV debates between UKIP Leader Nigel Farage and the then UK Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, it is hard to combat lies, damned lies and statistics in political debate. Rather, I maintain, we will need to focus on emotions, showing why we in Europe are stronger together and poorer apart, especially in the globalised world of today.

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Responding to the Refugee and Migrant Crisis

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 13th September, 2015

imageYesterday, along with tens of thousands of others, including a sizable Liberal Democrat contingent with leader Tim Farron, I took part in the London march in support of refugees. But in the evening I facilitated a discussion with the Lewisham local party on what can and should be done about the current refugee and migrant crisis. Britain has an historic responsibility regarding Iraq and Syria, not only because Tony Blair joined George W. Bush in ousting Saddam Hussein in 2003 and dismantling Iraq’s predominantly Sunni security fores but also because of the Sykes-Picot Agreement, the secret Anglo-French deal of 1916 that carved up the Arab lands of the Ottoman Empire to serve the colonial interests of London and Paris. That is also why Britain should be at the forefront of pressing for a settlement of the Israel-Palestine conflict, as Palestine was part of the British Mandate in the Middle East.

imageHowever, in my presentation last night I emphasized how we need to work with our EU partners to respond to the current massive increase in refugees, including guaranteeing safe routes into Europe. David Cameron ought to have joined Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande in launching an EU strategy instead of sitting on the sidelines and only coming up with a still rather vague timetable for Britain’s taking Syrian refugees from camps in the Middle East. I deplored the Conservative government’s ongoing closeness to the Saudi regime, which not only has an appalling human rights record but also is partly responsible for Islamist extremism and the growth of groups such as ISIS as Saudi has exported its own fundamentalist interpretation of Islam as expounded by Muhammed bin And Al Wahhab in the late 18th century. The Saudi intervention in Yemen, as well as devastating that already impoverished country is further destabiising the region. Nonetheless, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Russia, the US and the EU all need to be involved in some sort of peace conference, preferably sponsored by the United Nations, that could negotiate an end to the Syrian civil war. But given such developments as the rise of ISIS and the Kurds growing demand for an independent homeland I do believe we are witnessing the unravelling of the borders as set down by Sykes-Picot and that that is not necessarily a bad thing given their arbitrary nature.

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The London March for Refugees

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 12th September, 2015

imageimageMany tens of thousands of people, of all ages and ethnicities, marched from Marble Arch to 10 Downing Street in London this afternoon in solidarity with refugees, especially those from Syria. The main chant and slogan on banners was “Refugees Welcome Here!”, echoing the actions of citizens in Germany and calling Prime Minister David Cameron to account for not being more generous — or indeed, precise — about how many refugees Britain will take and when. There were a good number of Socialist Worker Party members present, celebrating the triumph of Jeremy Corbyn in Labour’s leadership election and also a few genuine Trots, who made up for their small number by employing a mobile sound system that enabled them to drown out some of the pro-refugee messages with their diatribes against capitalism and all the “corrupt” mainstream political parties (including the Greens!). There was an excellent turnout of LibDems, not just from London, and Tim Farron was one of the keynote speakers. We were blessed with the most perfect Indian summer’s day, which added to the festive atmosphere. A sizable proportion of British people are ready to respond to the current refugee and migrant crisis, however hard media such as the Daily Express tries to poison minds against them. But clearly this is an issue which Britain cannot solve on its own, which is why the British government should be cooperating more closely with France, Germany and other EU member states that have taken a lead, as well as boosting global action by the United Nations. Some Syrian refugees are being driven by hunger to return to Syria from refugee camps in neighbouring countries, because the World Food Programme has had to halve rations as it has run out of cash. Saudi Arabia, for one, could fund what is needed there without blinking an eye.

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EU’s Green Light to Franco-German Refugee Plan

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 7th September, 2015

Merkel Hollanderefugees 1The European Commission has today endorsed a plan put forward by the German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the French President Francois Hollande over the weekend in response to the current refugee and migrant crisis. Germany has agreed to take in 40,000 refugees and France 30,000. Smaller quotas have been allocated to several other richer European countries such as Austria. However, despite receiving the Commission’s imprimatur the Plan is still rejected by a number of formerly Communist central and eastern European member states, notably the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary. Poland has said it will take up to 2,000 refugees, though the Commission is asking the Poles to take in six times that many. You might be wondering where Britain is in all this. Well, as so often, it is outside. Britain, Ireland and Denmark have an opt-out from EU arrangements on refugees and asylum-seekers. Ireland, to its credit, has nonetheless offered to take in 600 asylum-seekers. Denmark, to its shame, has launched a campaign in ten different languages discouraging asylum-seekers from applying to settle in Denmark. Mr Cameron this afternoon brought moral dignity back to Britain’s tardy response by announcing that the UK will take in 20,000, though staggered over a long period. He is to be quietly congratulated for that, though he would have done himself and Britain far more credit if he had gone along to meet Ms Merkel and Mr Hollande to make this a trilateral Plan instead of a Franco-German one. Alas, Mr Cameron does not really “do” Europe, which is why under his watch the UK is becoming increasingly marginalised from the EU and seemingly ever nearer the exit door.

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Britain Must Do More for Middle East Refugees

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 3rd September, 2015

Refugees are human beingsJF at Newham LibDemsThe British public has become more sensitised to the plight of refugees fleeing conflicts in Syria and Iraq with the publication today of pictures of two little boys who died  (along with their mother) when their father tried to take them from Turkey to Greece, en route to Canada, where his sister lives. But until this evening the Conservative government had failed to step up to the plate on the issue, unlike Germany and several other EU member states. However, Prime Minister David Cameron has now bowed to public and media pressure and agreed that the UK will take in several thousand refugees, over and above the few score that have been admitted already. This is a very welcome development.The British government has also been very generous in providing aid to refugees in countries neighbouring the conflict zones and Mr Cameron says it is important to focus on finding a solution to the Syrian civil war, in particular. That is true, but with the best will in the world, including organising an international peace conference involving Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, the US and the EU, among others, as well as the warring parties, there is not going to be a solution in the short term. So Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande were right to call for an EU-wide plan, with quotas, to deal with the refugee emergency. It is a matter of regret that Britain was not in there at the time. But better late than never. At a meeting of Newham and Barking & Dagenham Liberal Democrats at View Tube in the Olympic Park this evening, I pointed out that Britain has an historic responsibility for some of the current troubles in the Middle East, from the secret Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916, by which Britain and France decided how they would divide the spoils after the inevitable collapse of the Ottoman Empire, to the 2003 Iraq War. But Britain can also give a moral lead; it was after all in London that the first meeting of the infant United Nations was held and British human rights lawyers were central to the formulation of the European Convention on Human Rights. Mr Cameron’s Conservatives are very wobbly on human rights, thinking it more important to cosy up to Saudi Arabia and President Sisi’s Egypt than to stand up for values. As I said this evening, this situation poses for Liberal Demorats the moral duty as well as the political opportunity to campaign hard on these issues, to be seen to be taking the lead, above all because that is what is right.

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