Refugees news update

This video from Canada says about itself:

Refugees Welcome! March Through Vancouver

6 September 2015

Rally held today on Coast Salish Territories, standing up with the global movement in solidarity with refugees and demanding Canada repeal exclusionary refugee policies. Part of 18 actions across the country.

By Janet Browning and Roger Jordan in Canada:

Canada: Right seeks to whip up backlash against refugees

24 November 2015

A right-wing, fear-mongering campaign has been whipped up in Canada by much of the political establishment and media in the 10 days since the Paris terrorist attacks.

Claiming that Syrian refugees constitute a “security threat,” the Conservatives and other right-wing forces are demanding the new Liberal government abandon its pledge to settle 25,000 Syrian refugees in the country by the end of 2015. Many have baldly declared that “Harper was right,” a reference to the former Conservative Prime Minister who callously resisted demands to take in more than a trickle of refugees and put in place mechanisms to effectively prohibit Syrian Muslims from finding refuge in Canada.

The latest attempt to whip up an anti-refugee backlash has included open Islamophobic appeals and has helped fuel a wave of attacks and threats against Canada’s Muslims.

By Martin Kreikenbaum in Germany:

Thousands of refugees stuck on the Balkan route

24 November 2015

Thousands of refugees have been stranded along the Balkan route with almost no care or accommodation after the Balkan countries Serbia, Slovenia, Croatia and Macedonia virtually closed their borders to refugees last week, only allowing asylum seekers from Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq to cross.

The borders were shut under pressure from Germany and France so as to allegedly prevent Islamist terrorists from entering the European Union (EU). In fact, the measure, which represents a blatant violation of international agreements on the protection of refugees, is aimed at repulsing as many asylum seekers as possible at Europe’s borders.

At the weekend, the aid organisation Doctors Without Borders (MSF) counted up to 6,000 refugees who were temporarily stranded near the Greek city of Idomeni at the Macedonian border and prevented from travelling further. The temporary refugee camp had places for just 900 refugees. Thousands of refugees, including the elderly, children and pregnant women, had to sleep in the open in pouring rain and freezing conditions. There was also no provision of food. Instead, the Greek government deployed additional police officers to the border region to prevent refugees from going further.

When a few hundred refugees nonetheless managed to break through police lines, they were intercepted by the Macedonian border police and sent back. Refugees subsequently occupied the only railway connecting Greece with Macedonia. The camp at Idomeni was transformed into a protest camp.

Some refugees have gone on hunger strike and sewn their mouths shut. They have rejected calls from the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) to return to Athens. “We will cross or die,” they cried. On quickly improvised banners, they demanded to be allowed to continue their journey. “We are not terrorists. We are just looking for a better life. Please let us go,” one stated.

The division of refugees into national groups has produced bizarre scenes. One family was refused the right to enter Macedonia because only the husband could produce an Afghan passport, while the wife and children only had Iranian citizenship. Thirty-year-old Mohammed Mirzam told news broadcaster Al-Jazeera, “We’re trapped. … They won’t let my family across. We have no money, and we’re waiting without any idea of what is to happen.” Other Afghans were not allowed to cross because they were accused of allegedly falsifying travel documents.

The humanitarian crisis now emerging along the Balkan route began on 19 November, when the Slovenian government announced it would not allow any more economic migrants into the country. A police spokesman told Reuters, “More and more people have entered the country over recent days who we have good reason to believe are economic migrants.” Slovenia would thus only accept migrants from countries where armed conflict was taking place.

But it is the governments in Germany and France who initiated the partial border closings. They are exploiting the terrorist attacks in Paris on November 13 to further seal off Europe from refugees.

French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve called for a “significant strengthening of measures to secure European borders” at a meeting of justice and interior ministers in Brussels last Tuesday. The ministers subsequently agreed that refugees would not only be fingerprinted during registration, but also checked against databases of the European security agencies. Police officers from Europol and the border agencies will supervise the registration at the “hot spots”.

Slovenia, unlike the neighbouring EU member Croatia, is also part of the Schengen zone. In border management, it works closely with the Austrian and German governments. It is therefore likely that the idea of a partial border closing originated with German Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière, who has been agitating for stronger restrictions on the inflow of refugees for weeks. This is also suggested by the justification offered by the Slovenian government. It declared that only refugees from countries at war or in military conflict would gain asylum in Germany and other European countries, while all others would be rejected as “economic migrants”.

The Slovenian government’s move was part of a domino effect in Serbia, Macedonia and Croatia. According to a report by German public broadcaster ARD’s “Tagesschau”, the European Commission in Brussels pressed for the borders to be closed. “That is the intention of Juncker’s plan, that the humanitarian aspect, meaning any assistance, is limited to those affected by war.”

Serbia’s labour and social minister Aleksandr Vulin said his government had no other option but to follow the example of Slovenia and Croatia. “We need to protect our country, and that is why we have brought in reciprocal measures toward those for whom Croatia and Slovenia have no room. We will not allow into Serbia anyone who cannot continue their journey.”

Since the change in course by Slovenia and Croatia was so obviously agreed with the European Union and Germany, Macedonian Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski also announced the closure of the border. At the same time, he warned the EU against exploiting his country as a buffer zone against “economic migrants.”

Gruevski recently was informed at a meeting with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban about the Hungarian approach of sealing its borders. Macedonia subsequently also began the construction of a barbed wire fence made available by the Hungarian government.

The sealing of the borders for refugees not from Afghanistan, Syria or Iraq represents a serious violation of human rights, since everyone is entitled to an individual review of an asylum application. For refugees who cannot produce any papers, which is hardly unusual after several weeks of travel, face checks are used to determine who will be allowed to travel further.

“What is taking place here is racial profiling instead of the individual reviewing of each case in accordance with the law,” stated Hagen Kopp from Project Moving Europe. It remains completely unclear why refugees from Eritrea or Somalia are being turned away at the borders, even though they are among those whose need for protection is high within the EU.

The spokeswoman for the UNHCR in Athens, Ketty Kehayioylou, in the Guardian criticised the claim that the rejection of refugees was a necessary measure to prevent terrorists from entering Europe. “This business of placing restrictions and erecting fences to keep terrorists out when terrorists are already in their countries makes no sense whatsoever. Profiling by nationality defies every convention”, she said.

In addition, human rights activists are contending that the conditions facing refugees worsen considerably when borders are closed and they are left in a legal no man’s land. “We fear that precisely at the onset of winter, people will be stranded without accommodation, food or assistance,” a spokesman from MSF said in Serbia.

Thousands of refugees already live homeless on the streets and squares of Athens. … Instead of accepting the refugees who are in need of protection, the EU is using batons and barbed wire against them, leaving them to their fate as winter begins.

Britain: TENS of thousands of refugees and migrants will lose English language lessons as a result of the government’s adult education cuts, it was revealed yesterday: here.

Canadian couple cancel wedding to help Syrian refugees

Samantha Jackson and Farzin Yousef had a smaller wedding at Toronto City Hall. Photo: Jim Martin

From daily The Independent in Britain today:

Canadian couple cancel wedding to donate money to help Syrian refugees

‘It was definitely the perfect way to start our marriage,’ the pair say

Ashley Cowburn

A couple have cancelled their expensive wedding to donate money to help the plight of Syrian refugees settling in their country.

Canadians Samantha Jackson and Farzin Yousef decided to give the cash they would have spent on thier nuptials to charity after being moved by the photo of Aylan Kurdi, the three-year-old Syrian boy found dead on a Turkish beach in September.

The couple, who got engaged in the summer of 2014, had already booked the venue, hired a caterer and drawn up a guest list of 130 people. But instead of going through with lavish wedding, they cancelled it all and had a small reception at Toronto’s City Hall last month.

Speaking to ABC News, Mrs Jackson said: “We were in the midst of wedding planning in September when that devastating photo of 3-year-old Aylan Kurdi found on a beach came out.

“Like so many other people, we became acutely aware of how bad the situation was getting and how important it was to act and do something positive, so we cancelled the wedding and redirected the funds.”

The couple volunteer for Ryerson University Lifeline Syria Challenge, which has been raising money to help cover essential costs for Syrian families resettling in the area. So far the newlyweds have raised $17,500 towards the cause.

Mrs Jackson added: “Our family and friends were absolutely thrilled and supportive… and rather than giving the traditional gift, they made donations to help fund our sponsorship of a Syrian refugee family.”

“Our wedding was perfect…and it was definitely the perfect way to start our marriage.”

“These are people who are fleeing the very destruction of Daesh [ISIS] that we have seen in Paris”: here.

Winnie-the-Pooh’s skull on show in London

Winnie-the-Pooh’s skull

From the Royal College of Surgeons in London, England:

Real Winnie-the-Pooh’s skull displayed at the Royal College of Surgeons

20 November 2015

Winnie-the-Pooh fans will have an opportunity to see the skull of the bear that inspired the much-loved character in A.A. Milne’s stories, at the Royal College of Surgeons’ Hunterian Museum.

Milne, who wrote one of the most popular collections of children’s stories: Winnie-the-Pooh and later The House at Pooh Corner, was a regular visitor to London Zoo. His son, Christopher, named his teddy bear Winnie after a Canadian black bear who lived in the zoo. Named Winnipeg, and Winnie for short, she was the inspiration for Winnie-the-Pooh.

This video from London days about itself:

The bear who inspired Winnie-the-Pooh

18 January 2014

Ever wondered how Winnie-the-Pooh got his name? This is the story of Winnie the bear, who arrived at ZSL London Zoo a hundred years ago and who inspired AA Milne‘s iconic honey-loving character.

The RCS article continues:

Visitors to the Royal College of Surgeons’ Hunterian Museum in London will be able to see Winnie’s skull and learn more about her.

Sam Alberti, Director of Museums and Archives at the Royal College of Surgeons, said:

“Winnie-the-Pooh remains one of the most popular children’s stories ever since Pooh Bear was brought to life on the pages of A.A Milne’s book in 1926.

“Children and adults who visit the Hunterian Museum will now have an opportunity to learn about the real Winnie and how she inspired A.A. Milne.

“Her story and presence in our collection are a reminder of how learning about animal health can enhance our understanding and care for species around the world.”

Soldier and trained vet, Captain Harry Colebourn bought Winnie when she was a bear cub, and he was en route to fight in the First World War. He had enlisted to look after the cavalry units and named her Winnipeg after his home city in Manitoba, Canada.

Cpt Colebourn’s regiment travelled to Europe at the beginning of the war and he brought Winnie as their mascot while they trained on the Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire. When the regiment was deployed to fight in France in 1914, he left Winnie at London Zoo.

Winnie lived through the war and was visited by A.A. Milne and his son Christopher. Photographs from this time show that Christopher was allowed in Winnie’s enclosure at the zoo. After the war, Cpt Colebourn donated Winnie to London Zoo, where she remained a popular attraction until she died of old age in May 1934.

During a recent review of the RCS’s collections, curators identified Winnie’s skull and the story of this treasured bear. Documents show that when Winnie died at the zoo, her skull was donated to Sir James Frank Colyer (1866-1954) the then curator of the Odontological Museum, which was part of the RCS collections. A dental surgeon, he was the first to report on dental variations and diseases in bears. He analysed a number of animal skulls from the Zoological Society of London to compile his comprehensive book on dental disease in animals (Colyer 1936. Variations and diseases of the teeth of animals).

At the time, Colyer noted in Winnie’s skull the loss of teeth, thickening of the alveolar process and sockets filled with bone. He associated this with Winnie’s extremely old age and her food habits. Recent examination of the skull shows that Winnie suffered from chronic periodontitis (an inflammation and/or loss of connective tissues supporting or surrounding the teeth). Colyer’s book, and the skulls featured in it (including Winnie’s), have now become valuable research specimens for biologists and zoo vets who need to treat captive animals for dental diseases.

See also here.

Canadian elections, Adbusters video

This Adbusters video from Canada says about itself:

1 September 2015

Most Powerful Attack Ad Ever! Based on an actual incident, by Adbusters.

Adbusters write about this:

For generations, we Canadians were seen as peacekeepers, as mediators and as the inspired environmental stewards of a vast country — for much of the 20th century we were a force for good in this world. We wore the Maple Leaf with immense pride, and were welcomed everywhere with open arms. You may remember American travelers wearing our flag patch on their backpacks to protect themselves from scorn.

Today Canada has lost its purpose, lost its soul. Wearing the Maple Leaf is no longer a badge of honour. After nine years in office, Stephen Harper has decimated Canada’s reputation on the world stage. We are no longer the proud nation we used to be.

With the upcoming federal election, we have a chance to change all that.

Give Steve the Heave, October 19 Adbusters has crafted a powerful and controversial 30-second TV spot, based on an actual incident, to spark a deeper nationwide conversation about what it means to be Canadian. Our strategy over the next few weeks is to give millions of Canadians an honest, unflinching wake up call.

A commenter on YouTube wrote about this:

Someone in one of my groups suggested this was a little ‘over the top’ ….. Possible I guess, maybe a little, but it is how a large part of the world views us now, seriously! Harper has absolutely done the best job in making Canada/Canadians unpopular and disliked, in the same way he has disgraced us regarding the environment, the hellish attacks by police during the G20 in Toronto, the treatment of First Nations, specifically regarding the Kelowna Accord, and their general neglect, manipulation, and extreme abuse re their housing, water, schools, living conditions etc. – the bombing of Libya and killing how many innocents?, involving us in wars we have no business in.

And now – Syria and the refugees ….. and even with provinces, cities and towns offering to take in various numbers – he stands there, his hatred almost palpable while he smirks when talking about ‘being cautious and keeping Canada safe’. IMO It’s only ‘over the top’ until you start thinking about the hellacious abuses he has subjected Canada – and us to!

Canadian Conservative government against Syrian war refugees

This video from Canada says about itself:

Justin Trudeau calls PMO role in refugee resettlement ‘disgusting’

9 October 2015

Liberal [party] leader made the comments at a campaign stop in Toronto close to Stephen Harper’s boyhood home in Leaside, Ont.

By Roger Jordan and Laurent Lafrance in Canada:

Conservative government intervened to halt Syrian refugees entering Canada

12 October 2015

Canada’s Conservative government called a halt to the processing of government-assisted refugee applications in June, claiming security concerns. The order came directly from Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s office, the PMO.

The move targeted United Nations selected refugees, who are some of the most vulnerable. The PMO directive stated that all UN approved refugees from Syria would first have to be vetted by the PMO. In addition, Harper ordered a review of all Syrian refugees referred by the United Nations in 2014 and 2015.

No public announcement was made at the time of the audit, and it remains unclear when the halt on application processing was finally lifted. So far this year, Canadian authorities have themselves accepted only a little more than 300 Syrian refugee applicants.

While Harper sought to deny that his officials were involved in approving applications, it is clear that his intervention was motivated by political considerations. The government has made no secret of the fact that it has intentionally directed its minuscule refugee resettlement efforts to Christians and other non-Muslims, in what amounts to a sop to its far-right, Christian fundamentalist supporters.

According to a CTV report relying on anonymous sources from within Citizenship and Immigration, the PMO implemented the audit to ensure that Christian refugees were being accepted over Shia and Sunni Muslims. Another official told the broadcaster that the Conservatives were targeting people with links to communities in Canada so that the party could win political support from these communities, and that Citizenship and Immigration was actively discouraged from accepting Muslim refugees.

A further exposé in the Globe and Mail Friday uncovered how the Harper government makes use of so-called areas of focus to select refugees. The areas include religion, the number of children, whether the individuals have owned a business, and whether they speak English or French. No mention of such restrictive and blatantly discriminatory criteria has ever been made publicly.

The government is likely flouting Canadian law, according to human rights lawyer Paul Champ. “My view is that it’s clearly unconstitutional,” Champ told the Globe. “When we are choosing from that group of refugees, we need to do so in a manner that’s compliant with our constitution and our charter of rights … Why are certain ones being processed as a priority? It has to be legitimately connected to the individual being at greater risk.”

Reports indicate that Harper’s intervention was in part a response to US intelligence claims that refugees posed a security risk. As part of his far-right election campaign, the Conservative leader has stoked deeply reactionary Islamophobic sentiments, including the claim that there is a serious security risk posed by Jihadi terrorists entering the country as refugees.

Such claims are thoroughly disingenuous. Experts around the globe have recognized that the hundreds of thousands of refugees trying to reach Europe are ordinary people, many of them women and children, desperate to escape war and social breakdown.

The latest revelation makes a mockery of the Conservatives’ attempt to pose as a party committed to aiding the millions of refugees from the Syrian civil war. The Conservatives recently announced a plan to accelerate the intake of refugees from Syria and Iraq, saying they will allow the placement of a total of 10,000—government and privately sponsored refugees—by September 2016 rather than over the coming three years.

Harper has committed to resettle another 10,000 people over the next four years. Yet even this commitment, which amounts to nothing more than a drop in the bucket, was forced out of him in the wake of a public outcry over the death of three-year-old Alan Kurdi on a Turkish beach. The anger provoked by the photograph of his corpse was strengthened still further by the revelation from a Vancouver woman that he was her nephew and that Canada was partly to blame for his fate. (See “Death of Syrian infant exposes Canadian complicity in refugee crisis”)

An Ottawa Citizen report published Friday revealed that by the time of Kurdi’s death, a backlog of over 7,000 Syrian refugee applications had built up, including 2,000 especially vulnerable UN-approved refugees.

Canada has accepted only 2,347 Syrian refugees since 2013, even though millions have been displaced in the civil war. Only a small minority of these have been brought in on the government-sponsored program, with the vast majority arriving via private sponsorship by a relative or voluntary organization—a process which takes up to 18 months and is often overseen by churches and other religious institutions.

From the outset of the refugee crisis, the Harper government has adopted a bellicose line, insisting that the best and only solution to help the refugees, who are fleeing their war-torn countries in North Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia, is to broaden and intensify the war against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

While Harper tries to paint ISIS as the evil source of the refugee crisis, the reality is that the emergence of ISIS and the largest refugee crisis since World War II result from the drive of US imperialism to subjugate the Middle East and North Africa to its unfettered domination in pursuit of its economic and geopolitical interests.

Canadian imperialism has aligned itself with a series of US-led wars and US-regime change operations that have incited religious and sectarian conflicts while destroying entire societies, including Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and now Syria. Washington and its allies have manipulated religious divisions, relying openly on Islamist forces in the overthrow of the Gaddafi regime in Libya and in fomenting armed opposition to the Assad government in Syria. It was out of these forces that ISIS grew, only becoming a concern to the US and Canada when it came into conflict with its interests in Iraq.

Both the New Democrats (NDP) and the Liberals seized on the PMO audit to denounce the Conservatives for their failure to aid refugees. “Now, we learn it was Stephen Harper, himself, who prevented the arrival of Syrian families into Canada in the worst Syrian refugee crisis since World War II,” declared NDP leader Thomas Mulcair at an election campaign event in Toronto Thursday.

Liberal leader Justin Trudeau focused his criticism on how Harper’s audit supposedly sullied the PMO’s sterling reputation.

The NDP recently said that if in power, it would fast-track private sponsorships and respond to the United Nations’ appeal to resettle 9,000 government-sponsored refugees each year for the next four years. The Liberals declared they are aiming to accept 25,000 by next January and promised a $200 million fund to help refugees.

The NDP and Liberals are staunch supporters of Canada’s imperialist foreign policy, having backed the bombardment of Yugoslavia in 1999 and Canada’s leading role in the invasion and neo-colonial occupation of Afghanistan. Both conflicts, begun by the Liberal government of Jean Chretien, produced masses of refugees as the destruction wrought by the imperialist powers laid waste to entire societies. In the current campaign, Mulcair has defended the NDP’s support for the air war in Libya, and both the NDP leader and Trudeau have embraced Harper’s aggressive stance against Russia in alliance with the US and NATO.

The Libyan conflict not only turned tens of thousands more into refugees, many of whom have subsequently risked their lives to cross the Mediterranean to Europe. It also strengthened the Islamist militias which, with CIA support, later shifted to Syria to participate in the ongoing civil war.

When Harper accused both Mulcair and Trudeau of endangering “national security” by wanting to open Canada’s doors to Syrians without proper security screening, Mulcair quickly reassured that “it’s completely false to affirm that any of the parties in Canada would want to throw open the doors to people without any regard to security.”

Successive Liberal and Conservative governments have tightened refugee regulations, with the Conservatives in 2012 moving to make it virtually impossible to apply for refugee status if an individual is deemed to have entered Canada from a “safe” third country or a “democratic” state.

FROM REFUGEE TO CABINET MINISTER “Canada’s newest democratic institutions minister is a 30-year-old woman who fled Afghanistan with her widowed mother and two sisters when she was a child.” [HuffPost]

Britain: MORE than 300 lawyers, including a former Supreme Court president, have condemned the government’s offer to take in just 20,000 Syrian refugees over the next five years as “too low, too slow and too narrow”: here.

The rhetoric used by politicians surrounding the refugee crisis is comparable to that used in 1938 to describe Jewish refugees fleeing Germany and Eastern Europe, before the Holocaust, according to a UN official. Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the UN high commissioner for human rights, said the language used reminded him of the 1938 Evian conference, where a number of countries, including the UK, refused to take in large numbers of Jewish refugees fleeing parts of Europe, where they were facing persecution under Adolf Hitler’s regime: here.

Canadian Conservative says don’t vote for racist Prime Minister Harper

This video from Canada says about itself:

5 October 2015

Danny Williams launched his latest scathing attack against Stephen Harper and the Conservative Party of Canada. To read the full story: here.

By James Tweedie:

Canada: Harper accused of racism by leading MP in his own party

Wednesday 7th October 2015

Top Tory slams Islamophobia and urges voters to back rivals

A LEADING Canadian Tory urged voters on Monday not to back his party’s “racist” leader Stephen Harper in this month’s elections.

Former Newfoundland and Labrador premier Danny Williams laid into the current prime minister’s Islamophobic policies in an interview with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

Mr Harper’s government has launched a campaign against the Muslim veil and what he calls “barbaric cultural practices.”

“He doesn’t care if he isolates the issues of women or if he isolates the issue of minorities and even crosses, possibly, that racism line,” said Mr Williams.

On Friday, the Conservatives unveiled their plans to set up a $20 million (£10m) dedicated hotline to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

Under the plan, citizens would be urged to report such “cultural practices” as polygamy, forced or child marriage, sexual slavery, genital mutilations and “honour killings,” all of which are illegal in Canada and can be reported, like other crimes, by dialling the normal emergency number 911.

On Monday, the government lost its appeal against an earlier ruling overturning its requirement that Muslim immigrant women remove the veil while swearing the citizenship oath.

Just two women out of more than 650,000 people have chosen not to proceed to the citizenship ceremony based on the requirement to remove their face coverings. However, it’s not known how many women have been put off seeking citizenship because of the measure.

“Why is that a national issue?” asked Mr Williams.

“It’s all about getting elected, at the end of the day,” he said. “If that’s the price we have to pay in order to have Stephen Harper as our prime minister, then we should not vote for Stephen Harper.”

Mr Williams urged Canadians to vote for other parties or to abstain in the October 19 general election, saying: “If you can’t vote Liberal or New Democrat, then don’t vote for him, don’t vote at all, because he’s bad for the country.”

The Liberals and Tories are neck-and-neck in the polls, with the New Democrats — who have a strong base in French-speaking Quebec — trailing in third place.

Last month, Mr Harper faced flak for references to “old-stock Canadians” and his government’s refusal to grant asylum to the family of drowned Syria toddler Aylan Kurdi.

With “old-stock Canadians” Harper did not mean native Canadians who are discriminated against.

Canada’s Conservatives stoke anti-Muslim bigotry: here.