Manston: The spectacularly ordinary cruelty of England’s abuse of the vulnerable

The past week has demonstrated, once again, if any demonstration was needed, the complete mess that is the English government’s `reception policy’ towards asylum seekers, refugees, and, more generally, migrants. At the center is the Manston `processing center’, located in Kent. Early this week, journalists arrived and were refused entry. Security guards began herding people into the buildings, when a group of children broke through their ranks and ran towards the fence. One girl got close enough to throw a message in a bottle over the fence. The letter describes abuse of pregnant women, children living with disabilities, everyone: “We really need your help.” Manston has a capacity for 1600. At the time of the letter, it housed at least 4000 people. In response to the uproar over conditions, the Home Office took some residents, drove them to Victoria Station, and dumped them there, in the middle of the night, without accommodations, winter clothing, information, or anything. This is what `processing’ looks like.

This weekend, it was revealed that people without any experience in asylum or immigration procedures are being hired off the street and, with little to no preparation, are put in charge of adjudicating asylum applications: “It’s a total disaster. They don’t know what they’re doing”. Meanwhile, asylum seekers who make it through the first rung of `processing’ are often dumped in hotels where they are forced to stay, often for over a year. As one Kurdish Iranian asylum seeker put it, “One, two, three months is reasonable in a hotel, but not 17 months. Expecting us to stay with nothing to do is intolerable.” What is going on? Processing. Processing disaster. Processing the intolerable.

The situation at Manston is so bad that the Border Force union is joining a legal action over “horrendous, inhumane and dangerous” conditions. 4000 crowded into a space where the maximum 1600 would have difficulty. People are not supposed to stay longer than 24 hours. They’re staying for more than 30 days. Infectious disease is spreading throughout the detained population. The sanitation is inadequate, to put it delicately. On Thursday, a minister in the Home Office admitted the center was operating illegally. It is still in operation. Seventeen-year-old Mohammad, who spent 25 days at Manston, put it succinctly, “It is not a situation that humans deserve to live in.”

It is not a situation that humans deserve to live in.

There is a tendency to report this situation as one of “neglect”: “Britain’s asylum system is broken after years of political neglect.” Others argue the system has `failed’ or it’s `broken’. Nothing could be further from the truth. The system wants to produce the public spectacle of cruelty. Cruelty is the point. Asylum originally meant `refuge’, “sanctuary’, `inviolable’. Today, it means both `vulnerable’, on one hand, and `dangerous’, on the other. The Home Office has described asylum seekers as an invasion. The Home Office has been using that rhetoric for over twenty years. So, when you read that children are being tortured, know that that is the intention. The spectacle of cruelty is the intention. It is not a situation that humans deserve to live in. Shut it down.

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Photo Credit: Kent Online)

The spectacularly ordinary cruelty of England’s abuse of the vulnerable

While State cruelty is nothing new, since the advent of neoliberal state practice, the cruelty has become `dignified’ by rendering the objects of the violence both invisible and fully public, through a prism darkly of obfuscating discourse, networked technologies that are both massive and seemingly impenetrable and simultaneously intimately invasive, and a State addiction with policing and incarceration, all in the name of security and something aptly named criminal justice. In the United Kingdom in the past month, this has somewhat garnered attention with the Home Office’s plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda. Yes, Rwanda. This plan has been referred to as callous and torture. Prince Charles, who is headed for a Commonwealth meeting in Kigali later this month, has called the plan, and the entire direction it betokens, “appalling”, and Prince Charles is certainly someone who knows a thing or two about appalling behavior. While all these critiques are apt, they miss the point. The plan is spectacularly ordinarily cruel, and the cruelty is the point.

From the international perspective, the idea of Rwanda is an extension of the global “safe third country” programme. Trump tried it with El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. The United States still has a “safe third country” agreement with Mexico. Australia tried it with Cambodia, Nauru, Manus Island. Sometimes it’s called “safe third country”, other times It’s called “country of first asylum”, as Europe has `negotiated’ with Greece and Turkey. Whatever it’s called, it means “Don’t come here if you really need help.” Also, whatever it’s called, every iteration has been, on the surface, a screaming disaster … unless, of course, cruelty is the point.

The latest British iteration is marked by deception and investment. The Home Office spent £14,273.32, or $ 17,593.79, to develop “branding and messaging.” The spent an additional £38,000 to £50,500, or up to $109,000, on Facebook and Instagram ads. This is only a partial accounting. All of this in a time of rampaging inflation and government calls for austerity, for “the public good.” The Home Office informed asylum seekers that the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees was intimately involved and working with the Rwanda plan. That was not and is not true, as the UNHCR has stated publicly.

In its implementation and design, the Home Office refused to consider the particular dangers to LGBTQ+ refugees. It refused to consider the particular dangers to refugees living with disabilities. For those asylum seekers who reported that, due to past trauma as well as the prospect of being shipped off to Rwanda, they were at serious risk of suicide, the Home Office provided a “trauma handout pack”. Here’s their considered advice: “Do a crossword or Sudoku”. “Ask the officers for a job”. “Punch a punching bag”. “Do some colouring or paint”. “Try aromatherapy”. In other words, just die already. Cruelty is the point.

In the past month, reports have shown that, between 2016 and 2021, more than half of the 5,403 incarcerated people in England assessed by prison-based psychiatrists to require hospitalization were never transferred. That’s an 81% increase over the preceding five years. The situation is particularly dire for and prevalent among incarcerated women. Women who should be in treatment are left, often in solitary, at places like HMP Styal, where 18-year-old Annelise Sanderson was sent in the summer of 2020. From the outset, Annelise Sanderson said she was unwell and wanted to die. The staff did less than nothing, and in December 2020, Annelise Sanderson killed herself, or better was executed. According to Shell Ball, a formerly incarcerated woman, speaking of her time at HMP Styal, where, despite being diagnosed with anxiety, depression, PTSD and borderline personality disorder, she never saw a psychiatrist, was never transferred to any medical facility, said, “About 90% of the women in there had mental health issues – most probably that’s why they were in there in the first place.”

In 2020, a woman at HMP Styal endured a stillbirth, in her cell. When she had cried out, saying she was in excruciating pain, she was given two aspirins and told to chill out. Do a crossword or Sudoku. Months earlier, a woman at HMP Bronzefield, England’s and Europe’s largest women’s prison, alone in her cell, gave birth to a child. The child died. In both institutions,  self-harm is rampant. No matter. Pregnant women are sent there anyway. Looking at this situation, some ask, “How cruelly they must have been treated. And for what?

From the “Rwanda plan” to HMP Styal and HMP Bronzefield, the message to the vulnerable, to those living with trauma, mental health, grief and sorrow, is as it has been, “Do a crossword or Sudoku, and then just die”. Cruelty is the point. The point is cruelty.

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Image Credit: Raluca Bararu, “Anatomy of Cruelty” / Artsper)

France contracts the epidemic of “tough on immigration” laws

Some issues come back to the scene of “democratic” states at the time of neoliberal battles. In this time of globalization, there is a disparity of sanctions between movements of vulture capital and movements of people, themselves often victims of the economics of globalization.  While no one of late has offered a bill against vulture venture capital, in France, the Minister of the Interior Gérard Collomb has offered Parliament a new bill on asylum and immigration, nicknamed the law of shame.  Fitting into the European Union eagerness to crack down on the rights of people in exile, the bill aims to cut down the appeal time for asylum seekers as well as increase the time in immigration detention center. With an eye to society-market language, the bill promises “controlled immigration, effective asylum rights, and successful integration”.

While the Minister of the Interior claims the bill is balanced, NGOs involved in immigration services, such as la Cimade, warn of the danger of increasing levels of dehumanization with a law that treats everyone reaching France with suspicion. The Minister responds, repeatedly, that France cannot receive all the misery of the world. Remember the Geneva Convention? The Geneva Convention defines rights for refugees, not rights for countries to get rid of refugees.  This “controlled immigration”  bill has already passed the first chamber.

The bill doubles the maximum number of days spent in detention center from 45 to 90 days. Ostensibly, that gives the authorities more time to find solutions other than allowing the person in exile to stay in France, in other words, reaching an agreement with the refugee’s original country about the possibility for return.

According to Mireille Delmas-Marty, French law scholar and professor, before the end of the 1970s there was no separate notion of immigration, and no detention center existed for administrative detention, but, over time, the confusion between immigration, being illegal and delinquency has changed with changes in the law. In 1980 the “Bonnet Bill” marked the beginning of the criminalization of immigration. The bill allowed 7 days of administrative detention under specific conditions. France’s Supreme Court ruled that was too long and censured the bill. In 2018, 90 days is described as a reasonable length of time behind bars for non-criminal people. “Administrative” incarceration for people who are accused of nothing other than traveling without documentation should be challenged in the context of a record number of incarcerations in French prisons with 70,367 behind bars, 21 000 awaiting trial, and 120% occupation rate.

French civil society has resisted the principle of administrative detention on immigration issues. Recently, parents, students and teachers united to demand and obtain the liberation of the father of two high school students from Kosovo who was placed in administrative detention for his immigration status. Such acts of resistance have occurred repeatedly.

Collomb’s bill accelerates asylum procedures so people will have to apply for asylum within 90 days instead of the current 120 days. If their application is denied, they will have 15 days instead of 30 to appeal. The asylum process is already extremely difficult to maneuver for most people in need. Many NGOs, such as the Primo Levy Center, describe the process as too fast and shallow to be fair. Right now, judges and employees of the court of appeal for refugees and the immigration lawyers’ guild are on strike, denouncing the impossibility of treating everyone given the lack of resources.

The bill contained some progressive elements such as a better protection for women victim of sexual mutilations, stateless people, reunification with their family for minors traveling alone, and removing countries denying rights to homosexuals from the list of safe countries.  But the debate in Parliament revealed a larger resistance as the positive sections didn’t make up for the overall lack of protection for the dignity of people in exile. Many MPs from the majority opposed the bill and denounced the absence of necessary altruism and benevolence. With the bill, France is neither a land of integration nor of hospitality. Christiane Taubira remarked that the bill catered to a certain sector of French voters rather than taking into account the human reality of the migrations of our time.

Can numbers change the suspicious side of the law of shame on immigration? At a recent conference on migration, refugees, and exile, French historian Patrick Boucheron argued that more statistics are necessary to understand the human reality of today’s migrations. The world is made of 244 million migrants, with 100 million forced to migrate, 21 million refugees under the status of the Geneva Convention, and 3 million migrating to developed countries. The 10 countries that receive over 50 % of people migrating make up 2 % of the world’s GDP. Boucheron explained that in a time of capitalist crisis accompanied by environmental crisis, hospitality becomes a key political question.

What will transform the vision and understanding of people who are migrating from the perspective of the people who migrated before them?  President Emmanuel Macron’s nickname is Jupiter, a mythological god that reigned over other gods. Jupiter was also the god of hospitality. We should remind the young President of France of that. How can people and the government transform distrust into trust?  What will make a politics of hospitality possible?

 

(Photo Credit 1, 2: La Cimade)

For Europe and beyond, there is no alternative: Asylum or barbarism

There is no beyond for the people who are fleeing wars and conflicts. They are caught in the net of inhumanity with borders erected to remove human rights, political representation, citizenship, and any existence from racialized women, men and children. The European inhabitants once believed that the Schengen zone was a place of no borders; of course, it was a false promise, at least for people. Nonetheless, the circulation of goods and merchandise has remained unaffected.

More borders than before the Schengen zone have been put in place. More walls and barbed wire have been installed around dubious borders to control the movements of people, whose status has evolved from the wretched of the world to the undesirables. Now, Europe is comprised of about 500 000 unwanted/undesirable people who live in camps around various borders of Europe, with 53 000 stranded in Greece.

We are watching the regularization of dehumanization and the deregulation of human rights and women rights. Refugee women are particularly in danger, an Afghan journalist who escaped brutal death after having been shot by the Taliban talks about her life in a Greek refugee camp with Amnesty international: “We are treated like animals. I’d rather be shot again than endure these conditions.” Additionally, sexual harassment is a constant issue in these camps.

With its numerous islands, Greece has been the main country of entry. Greece was also the target of Troika-managed neoliberal structural adjustment programs. The result is a dismantling of the social and political Greek society. While the undesirables are landing on the Greek islands, many of those same islands are now for sale to satisfy luxury investments and speculations. The European Union has created a hypocritical hell for human conditions, on one hand impoverishing an entire population in Greece under the aegis of fabricated debt economy and on the other hand stopping refugees on Greek soil.

Journalist and photographer Bulen Kiliç has been covering the refugee exodus since the beginning of the Syrian conflict, and, recently, he wanted to talk about the reality of living in these camps, the pestilential odor, the rain, the absence of sanitary conditions, the lack of food, the extreme precarity in which children are brought up or should we say brought down. He talked about and showed the “utter despair” that is being organized in the middle of Europe. 11000 to 12000 people, among them countless children, are stuck in the camp of Idonemi, in Greece. The camp of Idomeni is at the border with Macedonia. It is a ‘waiting’ camp, formed after the Macedonian government closed the borders violently, despite the condemnations of the Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras. The people had nowhere to go. They may have escaped death, unlike the 2892 women, men and children who died in the Mediterranean Sea in 2015, but they live with no hope, treated like human waste, creating the perfect conditions for depression that leads one to lose one’s mind.

A group of international intellectuals and activists have signed a document “pas d’alternative, droit d’asile ou barbarie” ‘No alternative, asylum or barbarianism’. Indeed, there is no alternative. Europeans must organize to have asylum rights respected or they will face more barbaric reactions including their own. According to anthropologist Michel Agier, who signed the petition, one of the ways to fight this situation is to make these camps famous, because invisibility is an instrument of oppression.

In that spirit, here is Bulen Kiliç’s testimony about the camp of Idomeni: Losing their minds.

 

(Photo Credits: AFP / Bulen Kiliç)

This Easter, spare a thought for refugee women and children in detention

 

Greece’s Amygdaleza detention camp near Athens

Concerns about the detention of children have become an international issue. International human rights legislation provides that child migrants should not be detained for immigration-related reasons. Detailed information about un-accompanied children is not available; however, it is known that within some countries children are routinely being detained. For example, in November 2015 more than 100 countries criticised Australia for detaining women and children within offshore facilities.

The detention of children, even for short periods is understood to be harmful. The United States has the largest number of immigration centres and some of these detain families. #ShutDownBerks is campaigning to stop this Pennsylvania detention centre operating illegally and violating not only human rights but also domestic civil law.

Concerns about the welfare of women and children in immigration detention centres are shared by campaigners around the world. In the United Kingdom, Women for Refugee Women has organised a campaign called #SetHerFree. This campaign not only highlights that women are being detained indefinitely without their friends or family but are also pregnant.

In April 2015, the government of Greece said that people were being held in horrendous conditions and their continued incarceration was unaffordable. United Nations Human Rights High Commissioner’s European representative Jan Jarab explained, “There has to be facilities of a non-prison type character and it is clear that to create all this will require a kind of redirection of the government’s energies”. This is clearly needed within all countries around the world, especially within the most developed countries where there are many examples of acts against humanity for refugee women and children in detention. In the report about the release of refugees from immigration centres in Greece, a detainee said, “This was like prison, this was not a centre, at centres you can go outside, you can play ball, this was like a prison.”

 

(Photo Credit: SBS)

#ShutDownBerks: The mothers of Berks Family Detention Center demand justice!

The United States built a special hell for immigrant women and children, Berks Family Detention Center. While U.S. immigration policy has swung between hang-em-high and hang-em-higher, the one constant since 2001 has been Berks Family Detention, which from the beginning has been criticized for inhumane treatment and general brutality towards its prison populations, largely women and children. Last year, the women inside Berks turned up the heat, and the Center’s license was revoked. That hasn’t mean the prison closed, though. It continues to operate, without a license, while appealing the decision. Meanwhile, the brutality continues. The most recent turn is an outbreak of what could be shigellosis, which would be particularly dangerous for children. Despite documented symptoms, the Center has refused treatment. The response of ICE has been, “Go back to where you came from.” Increasingly poor health and more and more damaged bodies is part of the plan, especially for immigrant women and children.

A mother of a five-year old daughter wrote, “My daughter has been having diarrhea for about three weeks now and we went to see a doctor but they did not give us any medication not even serum. With every passing day her behavior is getting worse and the psychologist just tells me to be patient. I need you to give me the adequate medication and that you give me the opportunity to take my case outside of here. I am not a criminal. You gave the opportunity to other persons that have been deported to leave, why did you not give it to me. It has been more than four months that I have been detained.”

ICE responded, “Thank you! You may dissolve [sic] your case at any time and return to your country. Please use the medical department in reference to health related issues.”

You may dissolve your case at any time and return to your country, which means, “Die here, in custody, or at home. It’s all the same to us, and thank you! Have a nice day.”

This week, mothers inside Berks petitioned to be heard, concerning the license issue and more. They want to describe the conditions inside and the impact on their children and on themselves. According to Pennsylvania State Senator Daylin Leach, “As the minority chairperson of the Senate Judiciary Committee, I am intimately familiar with lawful and appropriate detention conditions and protocols. While the Berks facility is not a state prison under my purview, it is a facility in our Commonwealth that is currently holding human beings, including children, against their will in conditions that seem negligent, abusive, and tragic. Though the legal status of the facility is in question, the treatment of human beings should not be.”

The treatment of human beings should not be in question, but it is. The very humanity of human beings, Central American women and children, is continually denied and diminished, by the “humane treatment” of Berks Family Detention Center. Berks is a prison designed as a house of the dead, with a cheerful “Thank you!” over its entrance door.

Last month, thirty mothers in Berks wrote an open letter: “Our children have suffered psychological damage, and many of them have suffered health-wise, because of this confinement, and not to mention the racist abuse and poor treatment from certain members of the staff in this detention center, but especially by the agents of ICE that play and mock our dignity as immigrants. We came here seeking refuge. We came to this country to save our lives and the lives of our children.”

They came as refugees and were dumped into cages, where they were told to rot or return. This is the syntax of asylum: you may dissolve your case at any time and return to your country. #Not1More #ShutDownBerks #SetHerFree

(Photo Credit: vamosjuntos.org)

Australia is proud of its routine torture of women and children asylum seekers

Yesterday, Australia’s high court ruled that `offshore’ detention of asylum seekers, including new born infants and children, is fine. Australia is no longer `shocked’ at the routine torture of women and children asylum seekers. Instead, Australia is now fine with the routine torture of women and children asylum seekers, from sea to shining sea and beyond. Australia routinely throws asylum seekers into prisons, mostly in remote areas or, even better, on islands, “an enforcement archipelago of detention … an archipelago of exclusion.” Australia has proudly refashioned the gulag archipelago for modern times, that is, for asylum seekers and refugees. Australia was once “shocked” by reports that children represent the greatest percentage of self-harm and suicidal behavior. Then Australia was “shocked” but not ashamed to find that sexual violence against women asylum seekers and refugees occurs regularly. The days of shock are over, and now it’s glory times of pride in State torture. Immigration Minister Peter Dutton says he’s ready to ship 162 adults, 33 babies and 72 children to Nauru. The Australian archipelago of exclusion produces its own Voyage of the Damned.

The case involved a Bangladeshi woman, known as M68, who claimed that her incarceration at Nauru violated Australian law. In the past year, since that case was filed, Australia has performed all sorts of shenanigans, including passing retroactive laws, to avoid any dilution of its sovereign right to torture those who come seeking asylum or help of any sort. Whatever the high court decided, Australia’s actions are indefensible.

More significant than any violation of law is the reign of terror. M68’s real plea was that, having lived on Nauru, she was terrified to return, terrified for herself and for her one-year-old child. Another woman facing deportation to Nauru explained, “It’s like dying. It’s waiting for dying.” A woman known as Durga added, “I am too scared to go back to that place, my life will not be safe. If I am sent back to Nauru, I will commit suicide.”

The State response to expressions of terror, death-in-life, and suicidal despair is succinct: Good. This is democracy in the current world order. To ask for help is to give up citizenship. If you are a woman and you ask for help, you give up your humanity. The gulag archipelago never left. It became the democratically elected global archipelago of exclusion and erasure, and now, thanks to Australia’s high court, we know it’s perfectly legal.

 

(Drawing credit: abc.net.au)

Australia is “shocked” by the routine torture of women and children asylum seekers

Australia routinely throws asylum seekers into prisons, mostly in remote areas or, even better, on islands, “an enforcement archipelago of detention … an archipelago of exclusion.” The gulag archipelago didn’t end; it became the intended end-of-the-road universe for asylum seekers and refugees. Last year, Australia was “shocked” by reports that children represent the greatest percentage of self-harm and suicidal behavior. Now, Australia is “shocked” once again to find that sexual violence against women asylum seekers and refugees occurs. Australia is shocked … but not shamed.

The incidents this time involve three women, two Somali and one Iranian woman. The Iranian is in hospital. One of the Somali women is pregnant as a result of the rape. It took the police four hours to arrive, and then … pretty much nothing happened. None of this is new or surprising. In July, the Immigration Department heard again of rampant violence against women and children, and then … pretty much nothing happened. Advocates Pamela Curr and Daniel Webster know that these three women are “the tip of the iceberg.” Despite the State trying to keep the media away from its penal colonies, none of this is secret or surprising. A week ago, the mother of the Iranian woman, despondent at the entirety of the situation, attempted suicide. Apart from placing under surveillance, under the guise of a suicide watch, nothing changed.

Pediatricians in Melbourne are organizing, refusing to send children back to detention centers, because the situation is so dire. The situation was always dire. It was meant to be. Study after study suggests that the problem of health care for asylum seekers in detention is not inadequate health care. The problem is detention. Study after study shows that children in detention breathe sadness and fear, trauma, that will stay with them, for many forever.

The news this weekend is that the Somali woman may be brought to the mainland to receive an abortion … and then what? Nauru said it would process everyone within a week and now backtracks on that. Australia is planning on moving some or all of the asylum seekers and refugees on Manus Island to the Philippines, and none of the refugees or asylum seekers has a heard a word about this from the State. Across Australia, many marched this weekend to protest the treatment of refugees and asylum seekers.

This is democracy in the current world order. To ask for help is to give up citizenship. If you are a woman and you ask for help, you give up your humanity. The gulag archipelago never left. It became the democratically elected global archipelago.

 

(Photo Credit: The Guardian)

Yarl’s Wood’s “appropriate vulnerability” is violence against women

Every year or so, a new report uncovers the programmatic abuse of women asylum seekers in Yarl’s Wood. In 2006, Black Women’s Rape Action Project (BWRAP) and Women Against Rape (WAR) released Misjudging rape – Breaching Gender Guidelines and International Law in Asylum Appeals, which examined 65 rulings by immigration judges. The judges rejected rape claims in 65% of the cases, arguing each woman had failed to mention the rape early on and so must be lying. Since then, the reports have continued, and each shows the situation has, if anything, worsened. If everything stays the same, or declines, what’s new?

“Appropriate vulnerability.”

The most recent study, “Reason to disbelieve: evaluating the rape claims of women seeking asylum in the UK”, finds “the structural and practical obstacles faced in establishing credibility, and the existence of scepticism about rape claims and asylum-seeking more generally, mean that decision-making can often be experienced as arbitrary, unjust, uninformed or contradictory, making it difficult for women asylum applicants who allege rape to find refuge in the UK.”

In a more popular article this week, the author’s explained, “The structure of the asylum system, as well as working cultures around decision-making, can negatively impact women whose asylum claims involve rape allegations. Evaluations of credibility are often influenced by dubious assumptions regarding culture, gender, and sexual violence, and draw upon limited experience of, or empathy with, the peculiar challenges faced by ‘others’. The structural and evidential demands of the asylum process, as well as the political controversies that it attracts, do little to facilitate improvements in the handling of disclosures of rape. Ultimately, success in securing refugee status continues, for too many women, to depend upon their ability to position themselves as ‘appropriately’ vulnerable victims.”

Though grim, the report is in no way surprising. We know that asylum seekers who have been raped must struggle for justice, and, more often than not, don’t get it. We know that such is the case for women generally, and so even more so for the poor and the stranger in our midst. We know the misogyny that informs dismissal of claims of sexual violence. We know that the State and Civil Society built and maintain Yarl’s Wood, where survivors of sexual and domestic violence are not only routinely but brutally denied care services, as are their children, children who have often witnessed the violation of their mothers. We know that from before the beginning to beyond the end, the conditions are designed to further violate women asylum seekers, “this is a journey haunted by silence.” None of this is new, none of this is news, and we know and have known all of it for some time now.

“Appropriate vulnerability” suggests much more than “the treatment of those who come to the UK seeking protection from sexual abuse often remains inadequate.” It’s not inadequate. It’s designed to brutalize women. It is time; it is way past time, to stop analyzing the brutality of Yarl’s Wood as a lack or absence. The State wanted, and wants, a house of non-national women held in a state of perpetual and intensifying violence, and it built it, named it Yarl’s Wood, and called its light Day and its darkness Night, and behold …

Who aspires to “appropriate vulnerability”? No one should, but the State forces women to do so. We have had enough reasoned and balanced reports. We know it is time to end State violence against women, committed in our names. Do it now! #ShutDownYarlsWood #SetHerFree

 

(Photo Credit: CavaSundays) (Woodprint by Jacob Steinhardt, at Velveteen Rabbi)

Myriam El-Khomri, one more woman in the French government

The appointment by President Hollande and Prime Minister Manuel Valls of Myriam El-Khomri as Minister of Labor came as a surprise. The position became vacant when the former minister left to become mayor of Dijon, a medium sized French city. The presumed good candidates for the position were all men.

With this appointment nine of the sixteen senior ministers are women, a precedent in French politics certainly.

Myriam El-Khomri, who had been in the Paris council and worked closely with Anne Hidalgo, the current mayor of Paris, made her way working on urban policies. She was elected in the vibrant XVIII district that regroups Montmartre, the tourist attraction, and la Goutte D’Or, where over 30% of the population is of West African and North African descent. She was praised for her sense of dialogue, enabling urban and social improvements in this district. She carried this expertise to her next employment as State Secretary to the Minister for Urban Affairs, which she held until now. She clearly opposed ghettoisation and supported programs to promote social diversity.

Why was she appointed in this rather liberal socialist government? Surely, sending an image of progressive young government is part of the strategy as this government is contested on its left. Then, she is going to be in charge of preparing the next social roundtable between the unions and an unfettered business/corporation leadership. With the strong hand of Manuel Valls on his ministers, she will need a lot of diplomacy if she wants to remain true to her belief that employment policies have to be approached from fairer urban public politics angle.

In addition, Manuel Valls and President Hollande have already expressed their desire to “simplify” the labor code, and that is what scares the unions. France has rather good social and labor protection compared to many other European countries that have seen their labor regulations crumbling. What will be her role in these contradictory discourses? On one hand, drastically cutting public spending and on the other one, pretending that public services and social programs will be maintained, even improved, as neoliberal policies in France like anywhere else generate increased inequalities.

Lastly and remarkably, since the Prime Minister Manuel Valls, who was born Spanish, took office, he has promoted two women who were born in Morocco. Najat Vallaud-Belkacem left the Ministry of Gender Equality to become the Minister of National Education, Higher Education and Research and now Myriam El-Khomri. He declared that these two women represent diversity, the reality and the strength of France. Although this appointment is encouraging, it is definitely not enough to strongly establish that diversity is the reality and strength of France.

Wouldn’t it be a good move to change asylum policies, as 75% of asylum demands are denied annually?

(Photo Credit: Alain Guilhot / Le Monde)