English classes: the key to integration

by Dr Jenny Philimore For many years now politicians and the tabloids have pointed to so-called self-segregation of migrants and their alleged reluctance to speak English as responsible for their lack of integration into economy and society in the UK. As a result much policy focus has been placed on trying to encourage cross-community connections and linking applications for citizenship to ability to speak English. New research from the Institute for Research into Superdiversity, University of Birmingham, and the University of Cardiff provides evidence showing that for refugees at least, there is no reality behind the rhetoric. Using survey data – the [more]

Latin American Regimes

  An overview of a troubled past   By Tania Farias “From the deep crucible of the homeland. The people's voices rise up. The new day comes over the horizon. All Chile breaks out in song…” claims the first verse of We Will Triumph, a supporting song for the Popular Unity coalition led by Salvador Allende in Chile. According to the Revolutionary Democracy journal (2003) the Chilean songwriter and activist Víctor Jara sang this song defiantly after having been violently tortured in the Chilean Stadium (renamed later Víctor Jara Stadium). He had been arrested – and five days later assassinated - because of his [more]

Asylum seeker pregnancy: a very sad situation

By Tania Farias Pregnancy is a very special state for a woman, one which requires complex and specialist care to assure the well–being of both, the mother and the unborn child. Pregnancy is also a time to share and be cheerful with family and friends. However, not every woman can enjoy such a protective support and some of them are exposed to very unstable situations. A pregnant asylum seeker under the support of sections 4, 95 or 98 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 will be offered accommodation and financial support but she won’t be exempt from UKBA dispersal policies, meaning [more]

Reflections: Through the eyes of a refugee

By Mercedes What do I hear when I listen to the city, when I look to the future in this place that surrounds me? I see a neighbourhood of multiple languages, cultures, sounds, and fragrances. I see a woman wishing to tell the city that she and her child crossed the ocean and several continents to feel secure. She did not want to hear the screams of people running from the effects of war, hunger and disease. She wants to explain that she doesn’t understand what happened. Her town was peaceful before the modern tanks and men in strange clothes speaking strange [more]

Each journey entails a hundred possibilities

By Kate Monkhouse Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) works with refugees and other forcibly displaced people, promoting their rights and providing a range of direct services. In London, JRS UK runs a weekly day centre at its base in Wapping, where each week up to 120 refugees come for lunch, some practical help and to share the joys and sadness of life in this country. In carrying out its activities JRS UK works in partnership with like-minded organisations, such as English PEN, a free speech and literature charity that campaigns to defend and promote free expression. English PEN’s trainers have run several creative [more]

From Sri Lanka With Surgical Skills

Vicky Ilankovan interviews her father Since I was eight I wanted to be a doctor. I still remember using pencils as injection cylinders and giving people sachets of powder from the kitchen to make them feel better. The concept of doing something to help people has always fascinated me. However, the year that I was to enter medical school in Sri Lanka was the year the policy of standardisation came into force. This meant that Tamils needed substantially higher marks than Sinhalese in order to get into university. For example, Tamils needed 250 points to get into medical school whereas the Sinhalese [more]

Middle East

Osama Qashoo’s London

By: Ellen Grefberg

Osama Qashoo in London. Photo by Ellen Grefberg


It’s easy to understand why Palestinian filmmaker Osama Qashoo finds it difficult to trust people – after all, he was on the ill-fated Gaza ‘Freedom Flotilla’ in 2010, he’s been shot six times and imprisoned on 28 occasions since he was a boy and first threw stones at tanks.

London has been Osama’s home town since the age of twenty but he’s always travelling following his passion for human rights; demonstrating to bring about regime change. He has travelled across the Middle East in the light of the Arab Spring uprisings and the sweeping changes. These, he feels, are the first stage of a global movement of peaceful change for social justice arising from the experiences in Egypt’s Tahrir Square.

“Before I came to London I didn’t think much of the fact I’d been in prison 27 times in Palestine; it was almost part of everyday life. Then when I came here I thought, ‘this is messed up’.

“I’ve nearly been killed because of my passion for change,” he says, explaining his lack of trust. “My family has been affected, and three of my close friends have died under very suspicious circumstances. One was drowned with his hands tied behind his back. They called it suicide. Have you ever heard of anybody killing himself like that?”

Osama studied at the National Film and Television School in London and is now building a reputation as a filmmaker exploring the power of youth as a force for social change and creativity, in particular in the Arab world.

He has produced and directed a number of films including “My Dear Olive Tree” which drew attention to Israel’s destruction of olive trees in Palestine and which, he says, led to two million olive trees being planted in Palestine. The film came about from “the irony of my existence in London and my discovery of peace doves made from olive trees of the Holy Land.”

His first feature film is currently in pre-production. “Emergency Radio” is a story of two young men coming of age as radio DJs in Palestine.

“You meet the whole world here,” he says of London, “If the whole world wasn’t here, London would be very boring. London is an expensive place and all that, but it is the best place for people who want to feel like they are part of something.

“Like more than 5 million Palestinians, I am forbidden by Israel to return to Palestine.” Osama knew in May 2010 on the Mavi Marmara, one of eight ships in the ‘freedom flotilla’ which sailed towards Gaza, that he would not reach the country of his birth that time either.

“We didn’t expect to reach Gaza,” he says, “but we didn’t expect 25 helicopters, over 60 Zodiacs and four war carriers attacking us on international water either. We did defend ourselves when they came – as we had said. But, where we had pipes and chairs, they had bullets and tear gas.” It became the 28th time Osama had been imprisoned by Israel.

“I lost my faith in humanity on that ship,” he says. His face twists in pain for a second as he remembers the victims of Mavi Marmara; but he is also proud of the results. “Now people talk about Gaza ‘before’ and ‘after’ the ships,” he declares with a crooked smile. “The eyes of the world turned to Gaza; now much more aid reaches the country after Egypt eased some of the sanctions.”

When asked about the future, Osama has his goals figured out, counting them out on his fingers: “I want to make a successful film, learn how to play the piano, drive a car and remove a few dictators.” When asked what the deadline for all of this is: “two years”, he says with a smile.

So what drives a person like Osama to carry on? “I don’t want to be high profile,” Osama explains, “I just want to do what everyone should be doing.”

Does he expect to be arrested a 29th time? “I am not afraid of being arrested but I will face challenges: jail, bullets, harassment. And, if you hear I die in a car accident, it won’t be an accident,” he says with a wry laugh which doesn’t reach his eyes.

Next up for Osama Qashoo is another trip to somewhere in Europe or North Africa – anywhere he feels he can get involved, and make a difference, removing ‘a few dictators’. He has yet to decide where it will be next, and even if he had, I have a feeling he wouldn’t tell me where he was going.