Sad news for refugees in Greece.
Deportation of refugees from Greece to Turkey begins today under the EU deal. According to this agreement people who apply for asylum in Greece and have their applications refused, will be returned to Turkey. Today 200 migrants from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan were sent back to Turkey.
One reason behind this deal is to stop human trafficking across the Aegean and The Mediterranean and therefore to stop death toll in the most deadliest sea crossings. It has been said that so far this year, the death toll has climbed at an even faster rate than over the same period in 2015. However, following the belated decision by Europe’s leaders in late April to reinstate an effective search and rescue mission, this has for the time being been stemmed.
Those migrants who are attempting this perilous journey to Europe mainly come from Eritrea, Afghanistan, Somalia and Nigeria. But by far the single largest number by nationality is Syrian.
The EU is paying Turkey more than £4 billion over the next three years to contain 2.5 million refugees. However the deal to send people back across the Aegean Sea has been fiercely criticised by rights groups on ethical grounds. The Spectator leading article reiterates that ” the problem, is that Turkey is being offered more than money. The EU, in its desperation, says that within a few months it will offer Turkey’s 77 million citizens the ability to travel to any of its 28 member states without the need for a visa. Worse, it will fast-track Turkey’s application to become a full member of the EU — and turn a blind eye to the human rights abuses of Recep Erdogan’s regime. Not that he wants to join the EU: he just wants to show his domestic audience that can behave how he likes, lock up who he likes, and have the EU eating out of his hand.”
This article was originally featured on Fereshteh's blog. You can see the original article here.
A delegation of Manchester based activists and supporters from a variety of different organisations, including MiSol, RAPAR and anti-fascist groups came together on March 19th to join the 'M19' demonstration called by Stand Up To Racism in support of refugees fleeing to Europe.
The 20,000 strong nation-wide demo was one of many marches happening around the world.
Migrant Echoes' Project Worker, Sophie Gardiner, who has conducted many of our interviews for the Migrant Echoes' podcasts since the project's inception, volunteered to cover the events from the perspective of the Manchester convoy as they marched from Portland Place to Trafalgar Square, where a rally, chaired by anti-racist campaigner Weyman Bennett, saw speeches from many inspiring individuals including 'Campaigner Maz', actress Vanessa Redgrave, Lee Jesper of 'BARAC UK', the mother of Sarah Reed and members of the refugee community.
The rally saw the attendance of a huge variety of organisations from across the country; trade unions of various cities and counties, student unions from universities across England, the 'Black Lives Matter' movement was a very strong and vocal presence, 'Free Palestine' campaigners, Kurdistan Solidarity groups, Socialists, Labour Party members, LGBT rights activists, Anti-War protesters, and so on.
About the march, Sophie said; "I've been to the Stand Up to Racism national demonstrations for the passed couple of years, but I was interested to see how this one would go, taking into account the Refugee Crisis, and there was definitely a huge number of new comers. Some of the girls I interviewed at the rally from the Manchester group said this was their first protest, and I think there were a lot of first timers there who've seen what's going on, with the Refugee Crisis, with Islamophobia and the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement- it's really got people coming out and protesting more than we have seen previously- Weyman Bennett said this was much bigger than last year, so I think people are by no means losing faith in these movements."
Recording for Migrant Echoes' podcast, Sophie spoke with Stand Up To Racism Campaigner, Nahella Ashraf as well as fellow protesters on the road to London and fellow marchers at the rally such as former asylum-seeker and Sudanese rights campaigner for the Beja Congress, Mohammed al-Halengy.
"I know Mohammed, he was a case with us at RAPAR where I've also volunteered for some years now, before he got his status and moved down to London. You always run into someone at these events."
"It was also great to see LGBT rights people and NHS folk there, especially because xenophobes and right-wingers, they often like to use the NHS and gay rights issues as arguments against immigration claiming that migrants exploit or burden the National Health Service, and have this perception that migrants- particularly Middle Eastern migrants, are all homophobic, so this show of solidarity is very important in proving these stereotypes and inaccurate perceptions wrong, when the NHS relies on migrants to function and many refugees, Muslims and people of Middle Eastern origin, are also members of the LGBT community!"
"There was some good speakers as well this year. There was a really energetic young Kurdish woman who is seeking asylum, she was great. Vanessa Redgrave spoke really well, comparing the current crisis with WW2, I got really excited because she mentioned my hero, Sylvia Pankhurst, and how she campaigned for Jewish refugees to be given visas to escape the Nazis but they were refused. The comedian Jeremy Hardy spoke as well, he's always very good. The mother of Sarah Reed, a young black woman who died in Holloway, she spoke and it really struck a cord with everyone. Lee Jesper of BARAC UK, he was fun, everyone liked him. I tried to record as much of the speeches as I could with the time we had before we had to get the bus back to Manchester."
The 'Refugee Crisis' was the central theme of the march. Stand Up To Racism has been a central movement in support of the refugees fleeing Africa and the Middle East, and has organised a number of fundraising initiatives and events as well as delegations of solidarity to the refugees currently trapped in what is known as 'The Jungle' refugee camp in Calais, that has been repeatedly destroyed in recent weeks by French authorities, harassed by French police and attacked by racists.
"Everyone was really optimistic at the end of the day. Nahella spoke to the coach about how successful it was and all the future activities from SUTR. A few right-wing nationalists have been saying we achieved nothing, and everyone's just laughing at us and no one wants refugees in the UK, but all I can say is, 20,000 people protesting alone- not to mention everyone we know who support us but couldn't come along to the march, and all we saw of anyone opposing the march was like, 20 'Britain First' protesters near Piccadilly Circus. The outpour of support for refugees has been so much more than I expected."
Many thanks to Sophie for covering the events of the M19 march for Migrant Echoes through photography, video and audio interviews which you will soon be able to enjoy in our upcoming podcast.
To honour International Women's Day, Fereshteh Mozzafari introduces us to just some of the brave Iranian women fighting for freedom of speech, reproductive rights and the limits of women's freedom under the current regime.
Another 8th of March has arrived and the international woman's day is cherished in many counties around the world. However while we , in the west, celebrate this day, there are millions of women in developing or dictatorship countries who can't commemorate simply because their government sees it as a political act and a threat against itself.
I want to take this opportunity to introduce you a few brave Iranian women who fight for women rights in Iran and have been in jail for that matter. Some still in jail as Prisoners of Conscience. Because 8th of march is their day as well and it's true that without such brave women and their fight for equal rights we would not have had what we got now.
Nasrin Sotoudeh is a human rights lawyer and activist in Iran, the winner of many human rights awards.
She has represented imprisoned Iranian opposition activists and politicians following the disputed June 2009 Iranian presidential elections as well as prisoners sentenced to death for crimes committed when they were minors.
Nasrin's first work in the field of women's rights was a diverse collection of interviews, reports, and articles for the journal Daricheh. The editor-in-chief of the publication rejected the collection which "made Sotoudeh even more determined in her work for women's rights". She is one of the key leaders of one million signature.
One Million Signatures for the Repeal of Discriminatory Laws, also known as Change for Equality, is a campaign by women in Iran to collect one million signatures in support of hanging discriminatory laws against women in their country.
Nasrin has been arrested a few times. Last time she was arrested in September 2010 on charges of spreading propaganda and conspiring to harm state security and was imprisoned in solitary confinement in Evin Prison.
In January 2011, Iranian authorities sentenced her to 11 years in prison, in addition to barring her from practicing law and from leaving the country for 20 years. An appeals court later reduced Sotoudeh's prison sentence to six years, and her ban from working as a lawyer to ten years.
In jail, she went on hunger strike two times. First strike was to protest being denied visits and phone calls from her family which last four weeks. Again on 17 October 2012, she began an indefinite hunger strike in protest of new restrictions placed on her family visits. She her hunger strike after 49 days following a short visit of some parliament members at Evin prison where they acknowledged and implemented her requests on lifting her daughter's travel ban.
Nasrin was released on 18 September 2013 along with ten other political prisoners days before an address by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani
to the United Nations. She has been active since her release and is being threatened by hardliners.
Narges is a human rights activist and the vice president of the Defenders of Human Rights Centre, headed by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi.
She is one of the key leaders in "One Million Signatures for the Repeal of Discriminatory Laws", also known as Change for Equality, which is a campaign by women in Iran to collect one million signatures in support of changing discriminatory laws against women in their country.
Narges has been in and out of prison for more than a decade for her support of human rights in Iran. She was first arrested in 1998 for her criticisms of the Iranian government and spent a year in prison.
In April 2010, she was summoned to the Islamic Revolutionary Court for her membership in the Human rights Centre. She was briefly released on US$50,000 bail but re-arrested several days later and detained at notorious Evin prison.
Narges's health declined while in custody, and she developed an epilepsy-like disease causing her to periodically lose muscle control.
Narges has a twin and they have moved to France to live with their father who is an activist in exile. She wrote a letter last year to explain what it means to be apart from her children. "
One night I was sleeping in my cell. Twas near sunrise. My dear daughter, who would always give the loudest kisses, gave me a kiss on the cheek. I felt her warm body and her small lips on my cheeks. It was Kiana. I opened my arms to hold her close to me. I opened my eyes, it wasn’t Kiana. I cried for so many hours. I cried to a point where I thought my tears would soon run out.''
You can read this beautiful and sad letter in the amnesty website.
Atena Farghadani, 29, is an Iranian artist and political activist, who is currently
imprisoned. Amnesty International considers her a prisoner of conscience.
In her cartoon, in which she criticized a draft law which would outlaw voluntary sterilisation and restrict access to measures of birth control, she portrayed Iranian government officials as monkeys and goats.
After publishing her artworks on Facebook, she was arrested and jailed for three months in Evin Prison on charges of spreading propaganda, insulting
members of parliament, and insulting the Supreme Leader!
She was released in November.
Atena sent letters of protest over her treatment to the authorities, but did not receive a reply. She then posted a video online in which she explained to the public about her experience in Evin prison and that she was being strip-searched, beaten and verbally abused by guards.
In January 2015, she was arrested again. Three weeks later, she went on a hunger strike to protest against conditions at the prison and following that she got a heart attack.
On 1 June 2015, judge of the Tehran court found her guilty on these charges and sentenced her to 12 years and nine months in prison. In September 2015, Atena was charged with an 'illegitimate sexual relationship short of adultery' and 'indecent conduct' after shaking the hand of her lawyer, who visited her in prison after her trial; her lawyer was also charged.
Atena Daemi, 27, is a young activist sentenced to 14 years in prison for facebook postings and peaceful protests.
Atena was held for several months under “temporary detention” despite her lawyer’s repeated requests for her release on bail, was prosecuted under four charges: “assembly and collusion against national security,” “propaganda against the state,” “insulting the Supreme Leader and the sacred,” and “concealing crime evidence” by a Tehran Revolutionary Court. Atena did not accept any of her charges and has since appealed the court’s ruling.
She was released last month in the midst of her 14year sentence on $232,000 bail while the sentence is still in effect.
If I want to add to include all female activists , free or in jail, it w ill soar to hundreds.
Despite the fact that hardliners do not enjoy women's participation in society and force laws to suppress them and keep them out of sight, women made up 60% of university students.
They are good athletes (Iranian Women Futsal team won Asian championship in 2015), merchants, engineers, scientists and so on.
Although that is not an easy battle, but there will be no stop until their rights is recognised in law. The latest campaign of women was initiated against compulsory Hijab started on facebook by Masih Alinejad a journalist in exile.
The page called my stealthy freedom, has nearly one million followers and women posting their pictures to protest against compulsory hijab.
The fact that many men also supporting this campaign show that Iranians are willing to stand “shoulder to shoulder” with the women of their country.
GUEST POST BY FERESHTEH MOZZAFARI - 20.2.2016
Have you ever seen a refugee cat? Well I have known one recently thanks to Guardian.
According to the Guardian’s story, Kunkush the cat has become a refugee in Norway. Kunkush who separated from its Iraqi family on the way to Europe, was found and fostered in Berlin, where an international online search was co-ordinated in the hope of reuniting him with his family.
What the video:
News circulated this week that the EU is writing up legislation meaning that people who help to rescue drowning refugees will face prosecution, criminalising them as smugglers.
The news comes from Statewatch, who say that interior EU ministers were drawing up the plans to deter the flow of refugees trying to make the life threatening journey across the Mediterranean, many aiming to reach the shores of Greek Islands such as Lesvos, and southern Italy.
The Director of Positive Action in Housing, the refugee homelessness charity, Robina Qureshi, said in response in a recent statement: “If the EU plans to criminalise charities and volunteers who help refugees arriving on Lesvos or any of the Greek islands, does this mean that are also going to criminalise and arrest the UNHCR, OXFAM, Doctors of the World, Doctors of the World, International Rescue, the Spanish Lifeguards, the Greek Lifeguards, Ai Weiwei, Eric Kempson, Philippa Kempson, Ken Loach, Susan Sarandon, Jeremy Corbyn, Trade unions, politicians, old age pensioners, students and medics as well? So they are going to let refugees drown and imprison the world’s humanitarians? And how will the history books record it. The fact is we have a growing movement of charities and volunteers from across the world who are in danger of being criminalised for doing the right thing and resisting the EU's de facto genocide of refugees. We are making a significant difference on the island by supplying funds for lifeguards, medical facilities and shelter, as well as doctors, volunteers, clothing and medical supplies. We need voices from across the world to speak out and challenge the EU’s secret plans. We are not going to stop helping.” 
Other public figures and commentators responded to the news with outrage at the notion of criminalising aid workers, volunteers and well-meaning public trying to assist refugees who have just overcome a harrowing, incredibly dangerous journey from the shores of North Africa, many calling for opposition to the plans and urging European citizens to continue to help vulnerable people who's lives are at risk.
WATCH: Football players in Greece delay match with sit-down protest against 'brutal indifference' of migrant deaths
AEL Larissa and Acharnaikos players (and coaches) staged a sit-down protest consisting of two-minutes of silence at kick-off to show solidarity with refugees crossing the Mediterranean to escape the Middle Eastern conflicts. On Saturday, 39 migrants were killed while attempting to reach safety in Europe.
The protest was called to highlight the 'brutal indifference' of EU and Turkish authorities to the plight of refugees taking the dangerous voyage.
The protest has gained international attention as the video of the players engaged in two minutes of silence to remember refugee children who have been killed crossing from North Africa has been shared across the media.
Today's podcast features Nahella Ashraf, one of the leaders of Stand Up To Racism, an organisation campaigning against racism, Islamophobia and xenophobia in Manchester and across the country.
In the wake of the attacks in the Middle East and Paris, Nahella explains how migrant communities suffer from racism and xenophobic policies and scapegoating.
"I don't think the scaremongering that we're seeing around the bombings in Paris is helping. You see this huge media frenzy around this idea that they could be Syrian refugees, it's a ridiculous idea that the Syrian refugees are involved in what happened in Paris, and even the Parisian authorities are saying they weren't involved, but it doesn't stop the press from linking the two together." Ashraf explained that equating Islam and refugees with terrorism makes their work harder. "It creates a fear in society as well, that isn't helpful for anyone."
Ashraf also talks about Stand Up To Racism's recent delegation to the Calais 'Jungle'. "It's not fit for anyone to be staying in." She stressed the importance of fundraising for the charities on the ground in Calais, but more importantly, to campaign against the government's policy to deny entry to the refugees.
"Our country's rich enough to take these people in, we can accommodate these people and we also have to take responsibility for some of the reasons why they're here." She cited conflicts in the Middle East that have been caused or exacerbated by Western interventionism and funding.
When discussing the similarities between current events we are seeing in the Middle East and World War 2, when many Western European countries and the US shut their borders to refugees fleeing the Third Reich. Nahella reminded us of the story of Anne Frank, who's family applied for a visa to flee to America "but because they decided that she might be a Nazi spy or a German spy, they didn't give her a visa- it's very similar to what we're seeing with the refugees in Calais presently."
When asked if a rise in hate crime was expected in the wake of the attacks, as well as the 'refugee crisis', she said "there's no denying the fact that what we've seen in Paris has resulted in people feeling more suspicious about Muslims and about refugees and the 'other' within society, and we have seen more attacks on individuals- especially on women out and about - and this isn't out and about in dark corners late at night, we're talking very much out in the open on public transport." She also advised that people who see or are the target of hate crime should report incidents to the police "I understand why they don't, because a lot of people don't trust the authorities right now, but it's important that it's reported and we hold our police force to account and say what have you done about this?!"
Ashraf stressed the importance of 'pushing back' when the media spreads misinformation that targets migrant and faith groups, whether through complaining, fundraising, protesting or boycotting, citing the campaign against The Sun after the Hillsborough disaster as an example; "Up to this day, the people of Liverpool don't buy The Sun, it's not delivered in Liverpool, it's not in any of their shops."
She emphasised the importance of independent media and social media in the fight against mainstream misinformation; "social media has a massive influence on what people think, and see, and learn about these issues. So when the media goes on about stuff like, you know, there's been a passport found near one of the bombers in Paris, the amount of people on social media that will say, so what? He blew himself up and the passport survived? It's really interesting that the narrative that the media is trying to put out there can be countered by social media. It's that independent media that's absolutely key, if we support our independent media, it sends a clear message to the establishment that we're not going to buy into their poor journalism."
Migrant Echoes also spoke to Roxana, a young Roma woman from Romania, who tells her story of migrating to Manchester and growing up the past few years in Greater Manchester.
"I'd been living in a place called Slobozia, it's a really nice place, it's just that we can't get proper work there, and the education is not as good as here."
"I'd first been in France, I stayed there for two years- Spain, for two years and something... then I was coming here." Roxana explained her family chose to come to Manchester as they already had lots of relatives residing in the area. "Manchester is a really nice place, we like it. This is the reason. The people are really friendly. I have lots of friends here."
When asked about the political scapegoating of new Eastern European Migrants, Roxana denied that she or her family had experienced hate crime.
"No, everyone here are good people. I like Manchester. When we first arrived, people were helping us with getting into schools."
"They were just helping us when we need something. I never get this like... 'go back to your country' or something."
Roxana highlighted the importance of education in her life, explaining her desire to attend university to study drama and her own enthusiasm for writing and performing arts, and her wish that other young people in her community will pursue education in the future; "for my culture, I just want them to be in the place with everyone. I want them to be able to do what they want. Especially the girls and the boys that are in education."
She agreed it was important for people to hear stories from her community "because people think that Gypsy tradition is strict tradition, but that's not right. That is why I made that play about Roma people."
You can listen to the full podcast here>>>