Blog Updates.

October 17, 2011

Avid readers of this blog will note it hasn’t been updated in a good while. I’m temporarily ‘missing in action’ whilst I engage with other writing projects. So please note due to the passing of time this blog is in need of an overhaul. You can still contact me at the email address on the right of the page.

See this piece published by the Guardian online today:

Israeli air strike overnight

Yarl’s Wood detained baby for 100 days according to a report due to a report published tomorrow and quoted in “The Guardian” newspaper today.

Chief Inspector of Prisons Anne Owers said:

“”What was particularly troubling was that decisions to detain, and to maintain detention of, children and families did not appear to be fully informed by considerations of the welfare of children, nor could their detention be said to be either exceptional or necessary,” she says.

 See this link for more: Yarl’s Wood detained baby for 100 days

and this BBC report http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/beds/bucks/herts/8583601.stm

Verna Joseph’s letter which I’ve now found online in the Socialist Worker contains an important statement indicating that she won her case. This tallies with what Verna told me at the weekend. Read the Socialist Worker letter here.

Hunger Striker Verna Joseph calls for dignity and support

If Verna is right – this appears to indicate that Meg Hillier’s letter contains inaccuracies. Namely - Meg is telling us that all detainees have failed in the courts.

See this link:  http://london.noborders.org.uk/node/307 London NoBorders calls for the immediate release of the hunger strikers and an end to immigration prisons and is calling for a demo in solidarity with the hunger strikers on Friday 26th February at 2.30pm outside Serco’s offices at 18-22 Hand Court (off High Holborn), London, WC1V 6JF. Please bring banners and instruments. A list of demands can be found here: National Coalition of Anti-Deporation Campaigns.

At a hunger strike solidarity demonstration outside SERCO HQ in London on Friday February 19th. a Black Women’s Rape Action Volunteer gives an account of the beatings at Yarl’s Wood. SERCO is the private company that runs the detention centre. 19.02.10                      Picture by Frances Laing

On Saturday and Sunday I spoke to four women on hunger strike at Yarl’s Wood Immigration Detention Centre in Bedfordshire.

The interviews have at last been published in “The Friend” the international Quaker weekly journal online today. See this link:

 WHAT YOU CAN DO TO HELP

Demonstrate: Black Women’s Rape Action Project, Women Behind the Wire, Communities of Resistance , Feminist Fightback , No Borders the National Coalition of Anti-Deportation Campaigns and the Campaign Against Immigration Controls are just some of the movements upholding solidarity protests at SERCO HQ in London and at Yarlswood in solidarity with the strikers. On March 1st. there will be another protest at SERCO HQ. (the private company that runs Yarl’s Wood) 18-22 Hand Court , Holborn, London (WC1V 6JF). 

Write to Minister of State Phil Woolas MP woolasp@parliament.uk or Privateoffice.external@homeoffice.gsi.gov.uk  to condemn the detention of victims of rape and other torture, of mothers separated from their children and anyone who does not face imminent removal.  

Write to women inside.  Contact Black Womens’ Rape Action if you can write to women who want to receive letters.

Help find legal representation for women to lodge or appeal an asylum claim.  Most women don’t have lawyers or their lawyers do nothing. Some demand extortionate fees. Most women’s cases are not “straightforward” so many lawyers won’t take them. 

Legal aid cuts have reduced the paid time that lawyers can spend on each case. -The All African Women’s Group (AAWG) and Black Women’s Rape Action Project (BWRAP) need help with money to pay for phone calls to keep in touch with lawyers and supporters.

For two weeks they have  been taking and returning calls to over 20 women a day (calling out from Yarl’s Wood is very expensive) trying to stop deportations, posting updates, and faxing legal and other information in to women. AAWG is unfunded and BWRAP operates on a shoestring budget.   Email: AAWG aawg02@gmail.com  BWRAP bwrap@dircon.co.uk 

All women have compelling cases to be released because they are: mothers separated from their children; survivors of rape and other torture, detained contrary to Home Office rules; not facing imminent removal. 

 Endorse OUTCRY http://www.qarn.org.uk/homepage/wp-content/uploads/2009/12/outcry.jpg  The coalition working to end child immigration detention. Send an email at together@outcrycampaign.org.uk with details of the organisation you represent -Join the Quaker Asylum and Refugee Network:  http://www.qarn.org.uk/homepage/

For anyone who is tempted to say I’m being one-sided in my coverage – read the lengthy Home Office email interview I did last week. See:

http://franceslaing.wordpress.com/2010/02/19/home-office-responses-to-the-womens-hunger-strike-at-yarls-wood-february-2010/

In that interview the Home Office Press Office made the following statements:

“We believe that children should not be separated from their parents”.

“We only detain families as a last resort”

“We always release families where advised it is in their best interests by independent social workers and specialist medical professionals”.

“Independent monitors were at the scene to witness the women’s protest. The demonstration remained passive at all times and there was no use of force”.

My response: I have yet to see evidence of a sustained presence of “independent social workers” “specialist medical professionals” or “independent monitors”.

Placard at solidarity demonstration. SERCO HQ. 19/02/10 Picture by Frances Laing

See this link.

A letter and declaration published in the Guardian today contains an important link to a petition calling for an end to the detention of families with children. Click here to access the links.

The Refugee Council’s statement on Yarl’s Wood including a link to the Children’s Commissioner’s Report on Yarl’s Wood. At this link.

Communities of Resistance (CoRe) is a new grassroots initiative that aims to stop prison expansion in Britain. CORE say:

“We oppose building new prisons, because prisons do not make our communities safe. Our long-term aim is to build a vibrant and broad-based movement to end the violence of incarceration. We support and believe in developing effective, community-based solutions to social problems that do not rely on models of imprisonment”.

As part of the long-standing opposition to unsafe conditions in immigration detention centres Communities of Resistance have called a demonstration for this Friday 19th. February, 2010.

The demonstration will take place at the SERCO offices in London, England. SERCO is the private company responsible for the administration and running of Yarl’s Wood.

Demo at Serco Offices – Friday 19th February 2010 – 2.30pm at 18-22 Hand Court, Holborn London WC1V 6JF

A Guardian report gives some indication of the scale of restrictions being imposed on activists and mainstream lobbying groups. See this link.

SL272748

See you there? 8.oo p.m. Hiroshima and Nagasaki Flower Memorial at the Groves, Chester.     Co-ordinated by the Testimony in Action Committee of the Wirral and Chester Quakers.

Breaking the siege?

July 15, 2009

Word has just reached me that:

 “The Viva Palestina U.S. convoy entered into Gaza with half of the aid (the Egyptian authorities stopped it in Alexandria). The Egyptian police pushed Palestinian families away from the Rafah border by force and denied them entry into Gaza”.

Menwith Hill from sky. Yorkshire CND. June, 2009

Menwith Hill from sky. Yorkshire CND. June, 2009

What is Menwith Hill? And who is Lindis Percy?

 Starting with the basics(and I’m good at asking ‘stupid’ questions..). Menwith Hill is a place in Yorkshire, England. Seen from above, it has certain similarities with a golf course (see photo). I asked someone at random here (in Britain) what they thought Menwith Hill was for.

“An early warning’ system” (‘Joe Bloggs’ said). “An early warning system for what?” I asked.

Well, if someone attacks us with missiles - Menwith Hill picks up on it and tells us, so that we can ‘zap’ the missiles before they get here”.

Right. That’s not what Yorkshire Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) thinks it is. They say it’s:

“…the largest electronic monitoring station in the world. Run by the National Security Agency (NSA) of the United States, it is one of a global network of Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) bases, which monitors the world’s communications and relays information to NSA HQ at Fort Meade in Maryland, USA.

Until a few years ago, the existence of the NSA was a secret and its charter and any mention of its duties are still classified. The American people know very little about it – and they know even less about Menwith Hill”.

 Is it really true that the American people know very little about this? Difficult to tell. I sought enlightenment in the first instance at the Federation of American Scientists.

FAS have an intelligence resource program and even a dedicated web site on ‘Reducing Government Secrecy’. Fascinating. FAS explain the White House has announced an online process for receiving public comments and recommendations for changes to classification and declassification policies.  (I’m right on trend with this one – a public consultation and discussion of declassification policy begins today here.)

I digress. The title of this blog post is ‘Menwith Hill, Lindis Percy and the Right to Protest’. Here is what the Federation of American Scientists  have to say about what Menwith Hill does:

“In the early 1960s Menwith Hill was one of the first sites in the world to receive sophisticated early IBM computers, with which NSA automated the labor-intensive watch-list scrutiny of intercepted but unenciphered telex messages. Since then, Menwith Hill has sifted the international messages, telegrams, and telephone calls of citizens, corporations or governments to select information of political, military or economic value…

…Initially, tapes containing data collected at Menwith Hill were returned via air to the United States for analysis. The Post Office installed two wideband circuits to Menwith Hill in 1975 which were connected to the nearby Hunters Stones microwave radio station, a part of the country-wide microwave network which carried British long-distance telephone calls during the 1970s and 1980s. Starting in 1992 British Telecom [BT] added digital optical fiber cables, which by 1996 were capable of carrying more than 100,000 simultaneous telephone calls.

Let me get this straight. My emails, phone calls, and internet traffic are being intercepted and the information is being shipped to the States without my permission. How did that happen?  And if ‘Big Brother’ is reading all my emails anyway, what’s the point in fretting about Firewalls?

According to the FAS:

“The official cover story is that the all-civilian base is a Department of Defense communications station. The British Ministry of Defence describe Menwith Hill as a “communications relay centre.” Like all good cover stories, this has a strong element of truth to it. Until 1974, Menwith Hill’s SIGINT specialty was evidently the interception of International Leased Carrier signals, the communications links run by civil agencies — the Post, Telegraph and Telephone ministries of eastern and western European countries. The National Security Agency took over Menwith Hill in 1966. Interception of satellite communications began at Menwith Hill as early as 1974, when the first of more than eight large satellite communications dishes were installed.”

Blimey. I’m going to need more than one blog post to chew this one over… 

To read more about what the the FAS say about Menwith click here.

If you’d like to air your views on this, I’d be interested to hear them. Leave a comment at the link.

I received a Father’s day mailing from Mrs. Michelle Obama at the White House which was genuinely appreciated. It’s possible that Mrs. Obama thinks I’m a bloke – still we all agree fathers have a crucial role to play in creating and maintaining peace in society, don’t we?

 With my journalist’s hat on, and conscious of needing to examine both sides of the story – I took the opportunity to send a reply back with a link to this blog – asking the White House for a position statement on the Rafah border protests. 

Picture June 20th, 2009. International Movement to Open the Rafah Border.

Picture June 20th, 2009. International Movement to Open the Rafah Border.

I know the President and his family have a great deal of expertise in blogging and social networking, so I hope that some sort of useful dialogue emerges. Sometimes ‘no response’ is a response in itself, but you never know…I enclosed a news update from the International Movement to Open the Rafah Border. Here’s IMORB’s latest message and photos:

“In the ninth day of a sit-in camp at the Rafah, Egypt border gate, the International Movement to Open the Rafah Border (IMORB) rejects President Obama’s rationale for the siege of Gaza and the limited access through the Rafah gate. In his address to the American-Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) last month, US President Obama said that arms shipments to Hamas must stop.”

 “The Rafah gate is not a point of transfer for weapons, but a through-way for Palestinians and commerce,” said Paki Wieland of Northhampton, Mass, USA. “Through our extensive interviews we have heard again and again, from aging parents, families, and students, that they want to visit with family in Gaza, attend weddings or return home; this is so normal,” continued Ms. Wieland, ” and when they are denied, the emotional stress and economic strain brings sadness, anger, and devastating despair.

 “The technology is available to monitor for potential weapons shipments through Rafah,” said Don Bryant of Cleveland, Ohio, USA. “This siege is just an excuse to strangle Gaza to death,” he said.

 The IMORB will continue the sit-in and fasting at the Rafah gate indefinitely. On a daily basis, IMORB challenges the closed border and escorts people seeking entry to Gaza.. 

One Palestinian-American family from Texas USA has been waiting over two weeks, like hundreds of others, to enter Gaza. “This is so humiliating,” said the Texan mother of four.

http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=9986479902

Picture by International Movement to Open the Rafah Border. June 20th, 2009

Picture by International Movement to Open the Rafah Border. June 20th, 2009

Picture by International Movement to Open the Rafah Border June 20th. 2009

Picture by International Movement to Open the Rafah Border June 20th. 2009