World Wildlife Day: How do our actions impact the environment and the animals that inhabit them?

Our actions, and our conflicts, impact negatively on many habitats and the animals within them. In war the environment suffers exploitation and violence just as people do. Actions which would normally be condemned become normalised and are justified in the context of violence.

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Maintaining armies alone is a huge drain on natural resources but deployed armies use vastly more resources. One report suggests that the US military used 190.8 million litres of oil every month during the invasion of Iraq. As well as this, the destruction of infrastructure in Iraq led to huge amounts of pollutants entering fragile ecosystems.

In the heat of war, it is easy to see how the natural world is not an immediate concern. However, the environment is what keeps us all alive. We are sustained and nurtured by the life around us and if we do not show compassion in return we will not continue to experience the world’s bounty.

Resources are limited and in war the present demands more respect than the future. The future belongs to all of those on this planet, including plants and animals. It is not only pragmatic but also morally right to respect this glorious planet.

It is easy to suggest that humans should have a right to peace, but are we not also animals?  We should extend the right to peace to our fellow animals. They are after all sharing this planet with us and many of them, mammals in particular, are able to experience strikingly similar emotional responses to us. Elephants for example have been recorded as experiencing symptoms of a condition similar to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder following heavy poaching.

Looking after our environment not only protects vulnerable species of plants and animals, it can also help to prevent human conflicts from happening in the first place. Resource scarcity is often the catalyst for violence. Water and food shortages are often exacerbated by man-made climate change. Climate change, resulting from overuse of fossil fuels, produces increasingly volatile and unpredictable weather patterns. This in turn leads to loss of crops and livestock in unseasonal and extreme conditions.

The environment and the animals within it are casualties of war which cannot cry out in pain. We must raise our voices for those animals and plants that are destroyed and disregarded. It is in all of our long-term interests to do so. We must fight to preserve the resources needed for peace, even in times of war.

By Eppie Parker

European Civilians are Being Punished for Providing Aid to Refugees

In September 2016 the Danish high court upheld a verdict, which criminalised humanitarian assistance to refugees. A children’s rights activist was among the three hundred other Danes who were found guilty of breaching Danish law, and subsequently prosecuted for human trafficking.

Shockingly, there is no evidence of human smuggling in any of the cases presented in court. There was no exchange of money, nor were they clandestine in nature.  Benevolent Danes merely picked up refugees after a train from Germany was stopped in the Danish border town of Rødby. At the time, the government was quiet with no proper policy position in place for refugee migration.  This lack of clarity led to extreme confusion, particularly amongst the Police Force about the legality of helping migrants along their journeys. People simply did not know that helping another human in distress was illegal.

These prosecutions have resulted in large fines and prison sentences of up to two years being given. They have successfully deterred many European civilians from providing help to migrants crossing the continent. European civilians are now faced with a dilemma; either abandon their moral compass and remain on the right side of the law or risk breaching the law but maintain universal humanitarian values that connect us all. This is a unique situation in which the law is at odds with decency, empathy and liberty, virtues upon which the European project is predicated.

Unfortunately, there is also large confusion on the definition of migrant smuggling. The United Nations define the act as exclusively motivated by “financial or other material benefit”. This is in sharp contrast to the Council of the European Union definition which broadly stipulates that anyone who assists migrants to “enter or transit across” a country is in breach of national law and can be prosecuted. Discussing and debating the legality of civilian refugee aid becomes much more difficult when many contradictions are present. Uncertainty will continue to rise amongst the public and further indecision will continue from all parties responsible for tackling the migration crisis.

Whilst we must be wary when comparing recent events with the biggest genocide of the 20th century, punishing European civilians for aiding the persecuted is reminiscent of the punitive policies of Nazi Germany. The intent of this comparison is not to trivialise the Holocaust, indeed drastic measures such as death penalty have not been implemented, and over one million asylum seekers have been welcomed in 2015 alone. But it serves as a continual reminder that punishing civilian goodwill and outlawing instinctive humanitarian qualities will only compound mass humanitarian crises.
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Photo credits to TT

People often talk about the dangers of progressive dehumanisation of refugees, but perhaps we ourselves are subtly undergoing a form of dehumanisation led by these faulty laws? Perhaps we are becoming increasingly desensitised to the refugee crisis? It is at moments like these, when we must remember that history is never repeated unintentionally.

Majed Tw 31/01/2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

International Holocaust Day: #neveragain?

Today we remember the Holocaust, a genocide under the Nazi’s which killed an estimated six million Jewish people, two million Romani people, a quarter of a million mentally and physically disabled people and nine thousand homosexual men. Today we honour the memory of these individuals; their personalities, their stories, their hopes, passions and talents, all of which were robbed from them, and replaced with just a number. These individuals were crushed in the name of an ideology, a vision of a pure race and control of a nation.

When the Nazi’s came to power in Germany in 1933, there were large Jewish populations living in Eastern and Western Europe. In the East, Jewish communities were a minority, and kept to their own language, Yiddish, and culture, although younger Jews were beginning to adopt more modern ways to dress. In the West, Jewish communities made up a much smaller percentage of the population and tended to adopt the culture of their non-Jewish neighbours, in dress, language and culture. Jews were found in all walks of European life; some rich, although many poor. They were farmers, tailors, accountants and doctors. And then they were victims.

The Holocaust has significant contemporary relevance and learning from the mistakes made in history should prevent us from making these same mistakes again.

But we haven’t learnt from our mistakes. History is repeating itself. Before the Holocaust, countries had the chance to welcome Jewish refugees into their countries, instead, many tightened immigration restrictions. Today, we continue to shut our borders on those who are seeking freedom from persecution, war and terror. Millions of refugees are currently stuck in transit in Europe. Refugees suffer at the hands of political inaction and a discourse controlled by policy makers which separates ‘us’ from ‘them’. As President Trump begins his time in power, he intends to build a physical wall to prevent migrants crossing the border from Mexico.

We haven’t learnt from our mistakes. History is repeating itself. The recent closure of the ‘Jungle’ refugee camp in Calais left unaccompanied minors with a broken promise. A promise made by the UK to protect them from the cold, the people smugglers, and the many other risks that come with living exposed without the protection of family. The UK took 10,000 Jewish refugees from the Kindertransport before the outbreak of World War Two. That is compared to the 187 Syrian refugees who have been granted asylum in the UK since the outbreak of the war Syria.

We haven’t learnt from our mistakes. History is repeating itself. We said ‘never again’ after the Holocaust. We said ‘never again’ after the Bangladesh Genocide in 1971, the Rwandan Genocide of 1972 and 1994. We said ‘never again’ after the Bosnian Genocide of 1992. And we think we can say ‘never again’ after the loss of so many civilian lives in Aleppo, this year?

We must stop history repeating itself and we must take lessons away from these horrific events. International Holocaust Day give us this opportunity. We must remember the value and the memory of every individual that died in the Holocaust. We must learn to stand up and for what is right, we must defend the rights of minority and persecuted groups. We must have more sympathy towards refugees and not turn away from their cries for help.

Remembering the Refugees

We say goodbye to 2016 which has been the year of war and more war in the Middle East, and in the West the arrival of Brexit and Donald Trump have heralded a new era of antiestablishmentarianism that some have found disconcerting.

2016 has also been the Year of the Refugee. What follows is a statement signed by some of the participants in the conference on Migration and its Genesis hosted by Initiatives of Change and the Next Century Foundation during World Refugee Week 2016. Please take a look at it. We think you may find it of value.refugee-picture-531 December 2016: The following statement is signed by some of the participants in the conference on Migration, its Genesis and Causes hosted by Initiatives of Change and the Next Century Foundation during World Refugee Week 2016. We believe it represents a consensus view of participants:

Action to support Refugees in recently established camps in the Middle East:

  • An effort should be made to recruit and employ teachers, doctors and nurses or others appropriately qualified who are themselves refugees within the camps wherever possible, and government aid funds should be diverted to this purpose, in preference to bringing in Western teachers, doctors and nurses and others to perform these roles. This both lifts morale and provides economic support to key refugees.
  • That greater emphasis be given to delivering education in refugee camps.

General Action by the international community to ameliorate the refugee crisis:

  • That international governments consult local people regarding actions that affect their wellbeing before taking those actions. And that where possible, most particularly in war torn nations, the international community empower local communities to take control of their own destiny, e.g. by giving them a voice in regard to the dispersal of international aid.
  • We support an expansion of the definition of refugee under international law to incorporate those displaced by environmental disasters, in particular those human-caused. Whilst the current definition of refugee encompasses the persecuted (as well as by de facto practice those displaced by war), a new legal framework is needed to also address the needs of communities affected by climate change where that climate change is life threatening as in cases of famine as a result of severe desertification or in cases of population displacement because of rising sea levels.

Recommendations specific to the United Kingdom:

  • That asylum seekers be permitted to work in the United Kingdom whilst seeking asylum, should they wish to do so.
  • That the concept of “temporary protection” including permission to work and / or study in the United Kingdom for a limited period be further extended beyond the current Vulnerable Persons Relocation Scheme.
  • That the concept of “humanitarian passports” and of registration for asylum within the region be developed further. The Lawyers’ Refugee Initiative advocates the extensive use of humanitarian visas – that is to say visas for the specific purpose of seeking asylum on arrival – issued in the country of departure or intended embarkation.
  • In order to speed up the processing of asylum applications and reduce legal costs and emotional strain for all involved, we recommend that the Home Office only appeal decisions in exceptional circumstances, and rarely if the case has been under consideration for more than five years. It should perhaps be a statutory duty that all Home Office appeals must take place within one year and be grounded on strict criteria. The actual asylum application process should have inspectors who ensure that decisions are made on independent criteria that are generous to genuine refugee claims with a mechanism for withdrawing status for five years on conviction of a crime or proven false information – and fast track citizenship after five years.

Recommendations to the international community of relevance to specific nations in the Arab World:

  • IRAQ: That a special task force be appointed to provide aid and support to IDPs (internally displaced persons) in and from Ninevah, Anbar and Salah ad Din Provinces so that the community in Northern and Western Iraq feel a sense of hope and encouragement.
  • LIBYA: The return of the Ambassadors of the United Kingdom, Italy and France to Libya to support the new internationally recognised government of Libya.

That the international community agree to the request from the new internationally recognised government of Libya for help with land mine clearance – or at the very least technical support and training for land mine clearance.

  • SYRIA: That a ‘track two’ conference be convened which participants would attend without precondition and that would welcome members of the government, key international players and those from any faction of the opposition.

Action to reduce levels of extremism:

  • That the communities in refugee receiving countries be encouraged by faith leaders to welcome to their homes people new to the area of other faiths or cultures  with no agenda other than that of befriending them and offering a listening ear. The West needs to rediscover the dynamic of its own rich spiritual tradition.  At best this has been the engine of social advance, just governance and effective peacemaking for our countries.  Too often as a civilisation we project an image of material self-seeking, and miss the active comradeship we could enjoy with believers from other traditions.
  • All nations of the world face a moral and spiritual challenge. This problem is not unique to the Arab World. The vast majority of Muslims do not follow extreme ideologies. That said a disaffected minority have adopted the apocalyptic ideology promoted by ISIS. Alternative expressions of faith exist that engender a sense of belonging. One such ideology is that known in the Middle East as al-tasalluh al-akhlaqi or الأخلاقي التسلح, based on the same principles as Initiatives of Change – absolute love, honesty, unselfishness, and purity and the practice of listening for God’s guidance. “Sufi” doctrines of this kind should be considered in the search for ideological responses to violent extremism. As an example of this alternative approach see https://www.facebook.com/khawatirmovement/

We also commend the international community to regard refugees, whatever their circumstance, with compassion and mercy. It is our duty to our fellow men and women to treat those in distress with compassion. Compassion is love in action. Although we are not legally obliged to accept refugees, we do have a moral duty to significantly help ameliorate their situation so that they can take temporary refuge in countries neighbouring their own. That duty is a duty to humanity that transcends any obligation we may have to accept economic migrants and / or the free movement of labour and should not be confused with any such obligation – and we are not yet doing enough.

Endorsed and signed by the following members and friends of Initiatives of Change and The Next Century Foundation

Amit Mukherjee, Initiatives of Change India

Chris Evans, Initiatives of Change UK

Dan Parry, Filmmaker

Dr Peter Shambrook, Historian

George Butler, War artist

John Bond, Initiatives of Change UK

Professor Dawn Chatty, The Refugee Studies Centre, University of Oxford

Reverend Larry Wright, The Religious Affairs Advisory Council

Sabiha Malik, Founder, Sanghata Global

Siwar al Assad, The Aramea Foundation

Suleiman Fortia, Former Member of the National Transitional Council, Libya

The Lord Stone of Blackheath

William Morris, Secretary General, The Next Century Foundation

Updates from Aleppo

Aleppo’s current situation presents the world with a stark contrast to the former financial and industrial centre it once was. Some of the most recent updates include water cuts and a complete lack of medical care and space in hospitals throughout the entire city.

A dramatic increase in the number of casualties and fatalities in Eastern Aleppo can be linked to the complete absence of doctors (totalling a mere fourteen to be exact), and the lack of safe passages for volunteering doctors from the Western side has only added to the amount of people desperately seeking medical attention. With only six out of twenty-one hospitals currently functioning, Aleppo’s current influx of casualties has resorted to cleaners acting as nurses and first aid being carried out in the middle of the street. The removal of essential services throughout the city, such as water and electricity, has meant that neonatal care is essentially non-existent with incubators not being able to function; an alarming number of mothers having to deliver their babies at home; and a scarcity of basic amenities such as blankets to keep new-born children and patients warm. The fact that it has now reached a point where it is possibly more dangerous to be in a hospital than walking the streets of Aleppo proves to us the willingness of parties to this conflict to attack or damage the sanctity of medical facilities and the most basic needs of the city’s people. Additionally, the day-to-day lives of its citizens have been affected by the 320% increase in fuel prices; a continuous stream of shops and markets closing down due to a gradual non-existence of vegetables and tinned food; and the constant need to flee to collective shelters in order to escape rebel and government attacks.

Institutions such as the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) have openly advertised their willingness to support and act with medical services, but simply cannot step in and help if they are still being viewed as a target or threat. The Red Cross has not been able to deliver aid to Aleppo since April 2016, which has added to their concerns for the safety and well being of the 1.75 million people across the city that had been so deeply relying on such supplies. Urgencies made by the ICRC, and other such institutions, have pushed the idea that aid must be kept separate from the political processes and movements currently existing in Aleppo and throughout Syria in attempts to be granted access to the communities most in need of help. The chief of the International Red Cross, David Miliband, has said that the Syrian crisis has now plummeted to new depths and compared scenes in Aleppo to Dresden in 1945. Despite the tireless and joint efforts of the ICRC, SARC and UN access to key areas is often denied to them, meaning that offering their services and supplies has become increasingly challenging. It has now become absolutely imperative for parties of the conflict to allow help and basic aid to be offered to the citizens of Aleppo as the Syrian conflict continues.

Ellie Davies 11/10/2016

Uncomfortable trio: West, Dictators and Terrorism

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“People talk about the Middle East as if there were only two options: dictatorship or terrorism. However, this is a false dichotomy, both are terrorist groups”.

(Dr Maha Azzam)

This concluding remark by Dr Azzam last night at “Al Qaeda and Beyond: where do Arab dictatorships fit” is a powerful key to interpreting developments in the Middle East. Experts on Yemen, Syria, Egypt and Iraq analysed the relationship between dictators and terrorism, posing the question “why is the West so obsessed with dictatorships?”

In a post Arab Spring world, voices from both Europe and the USA have been advocating a return to dictatorial government in the Middle East. Distant spectators observed democratic revolutions turning into violent uprisings, peaceful protests becoming armed resistance groups and once quiet areas becoming terrorist controlled regions. The focus quickly shifted back home, with many voices denouncing ISIS attacks and asking how all of this could have happened. It is this fear and shock that has lead many to advocate increased support for Assad and Saleh, questioning the possibility of a democratic future in the region.

The history of support for dictatorships by the West is a story as long as colonialism. Even at the time of the Pahlavi dynasty in Persia, Western powers strongly supported dictators throughout the Middle East. A single individual was easier to control than a democratically elected government and his ethnicity could easily be exploited to maintain the divide and rule strategy adopted in colonial times.

It is clear that the West has benefitted from their relationship with dictators since the end of formal colonialism. From the trade deals between Italy and Libya to the military support given to Mubarak by the US, dictators in the region have been strong partners and supporters of Western interests in the area. On the opposite side of the spectrum, whenever an unfriendly government took power, Western democracies resorted to terrorist groups to destabilize the country and re-obtain their control. A classic example was the Taliban in Afghanistan, armed and supported by the US in its quest for a pipeline from Central Asia.

We should not disregard however the use dictators themselves made of terrorist groups. As illustrated by Basher Al Assad releasing jihadist prisoners in the wake of the Syrian revolution, terrorist groups have been widely used by local powers to portray themselves as “the lesser of two evils”. More recently, Sisi has used the threat of ISIS to curb peaceful civil society groups and to justify the brutal actions of Egypt’s army in Sinai. This creates a vicious cycle in which opponents of the government, deprived of their freedom of speech and assembly, resort to armed revolts, justifying increased violence from the government.

Nowadays there are two terrorist movements in the Middle East: state terrorism and religious terrorism. Depending on the time and circumstance, the West has simply opted for one or the other, perpetrating breaches of human rights and the lack of democracy in the region.

By Martina Villa

The Turkish Army’s relationship with the Kurdish people, and its role in Iraq and Syria

The Turkish Government has been shelling Kurdish fighters belonging to the People’s Protection Units, also known at the YPG, who are the armed force of the Syrian Democratic Union Party.  The recent attacks have prompted the US, the UN and EU to call for some restraint.  The degree to which Turkey’s fight against Isis is genuine has also been questioned by Kurdish officials, and doubts have arisen about Ankara’s agenda in both Syria and Iraq.  There have even been allegations about Turkey’s inability or unwillingness to control its borders. They were up until recently, allowing extremists to enter Syria from Turkey, thus helping to establish Isis in the north of the country.

There is of course a deep rooted conflict that has seen hundreds of thousands, if not millions of Kurdish people displaced from their homes or killed.  Centuries of oppression from both the Ottoman Empire and modern day Arab States have ignited the flame for an independent Kurdish state.

The YPG’s role in the fight against Isis is a crucial one.  In fact, the People’s Protection Units are one of the main ground forces battling against the self-styled caliphate.  With Turkey continuing to bomb YPG positions, could they be using the US led coalition against Isis as a cover to attack the YPG in Northern Syria?  The Turkish government certainly have no problem fighting their own people, Turkish Kurds belonging to the Kurdish Worker’s Party (PKK) being a case in point.

However, Turkey does have good relations with Iraqi Kurds belonging to the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG).  The Turkish army are training and arming a predominately Sunni militia called Hasd al-Watani.  The militia group hope that by working with the Iraqi Peshmerga, the armed force of the KRG, they will be able to help retake Mosul, the de-facto capital of Isis in Iraq.

We cannot ignore the complexities of t00he situation in the Middle East.  The number of militia groups belonging to different ethnicities seems to be growing by the month.  Different factions are fighting for territories. A cohesive effort is needed in order to suppress the threat posed by Isis.  Turkey’s role, its cooperation with the rest of the world and with the Kurdish populations needs be far more transparent.

By Nihal Patel