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]


Latin American Regimes

Photo by Donostia Kultura


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 political beliefs a fate shared by thousands of other people in 1973.

Forty years after the coup d’état led by General Pinochet on 11th September 1973, it is difficult to forget the horrors committed against the Chilean people. In 2011 the Valech Commission recognised more than 40,000 victims in Chile – people arrested, tortured or executed- between September 1973 and March 1990. Among them, 3,065 people dead or disappeared. These figures don’t take into account all of the people who went into exile and the families of all the victims.

Military dictatorship in Chile was characterised by its terror. However, this situation was not a unique case. Around the same time numerous Latin American countries were also ruled by a military dictatorship. In 1976, following a military coup d’état in Argentina, it started an era known as The Dirty War, a dark period of state terrorism aimed to exterminate any group or person associated with communism. During this period, all the succeeding military regimes declared war against the Argentinian citizens punishing any manifestation of heterogeneity. According to human rights organisations 30,000 people disappeared or were assassinated between 1976 and 1983 in Argentina.

Meanwhile, from 1972 to 1979, Bolivia lived under the repressive regime of General Hugo Banzer. In 1980, a group of militaries led by Luis García Meza, along with people connected with drug trafficking and a terrorist cell known as Los Novios de la Muerte, – commanded by some former Nazi and Fascist criminals – took power and imposed what the Council on Hemispheric Affairs (COHA) named “Latin America’s most errant violator of human rights after Guatemala and El Salvador”. In the first 13 months the regime killed more than 1,000 people. This period is also known The Cocaine Coup since corruption, drug trafficking and repression became Bolivia’s reality for three years.

Around the same time, Paraguay and Uruguay were ruled with repressive regimes too. For 35 years – from 1954 to 1989- general Alfredo Stroessner subjected Paraguay’s citizens to his government’s dictatorship. Assassinations were carried out; people were persecuted, imprisoned, tortured, forced into exile and disappeared. It is estimated that during Stroessner’s dictatorship more than 3,500 people went into exile.

Similarly, dictatorship in Uruguay started with the coup d’état led by Juan María Bordaberry (1973–1976) and ended in 1985 with Gregorio Álvarez (1981-1985). During the succession of four leaders any kind of political activity that did not conform to the official party was repressed. Again, during this period people were imprisoned and tortured.

Peru, Brazil, Ecuador, Colombia, Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua were not exempt from having repressive governments. Actually during the twentieth century Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua suffered some of the bloodiest regimes in the world.

But how can we explain the simultaneous occurrence of these brutal regimes in Latin American? To answer this question it is necessary to analyze it in the context of the Cold War; the spread of socialist ideas and therefore, the emergence of anti-imperialist governments all over Latin America. Fearing the expansion of communism in the region, the American government along with the CIA and right–wing parties in every country conceived and imposed totalitarian dictatorships aimed at destroying any seed of communism. In 1992, the Paraguayan activist Martín Almada – he was himself a political prisoner during Stroessner’s dictatorship – came across the Archives of Terror in Paraguay. These documents were a compilation of written exchanges, information and descriptions relating cooperation agreements between leaders and militaries from Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay, Uruguay and later Ecuador, Peru and Colombia with the support of the Unites States, to eradicate any communist idea or Soviet influence in the region. These archives enumerated 50,000  assassinations, 30,0000 disappearances and 400,000 imprisonments under the name of Operation Condor.

After the horrors and terrible consequences of the Second World War, it is difficult to understand why such terror regimes were imposed on this region and probably, we will never have a rational explanation for this level of cruelty. However, we can honor those who have fallen and those who have suffered from the brutality of these regimes remembering the events with respect, learning from our mistakes and not repeating such atrocities again.

Dirty Game

Mugabe and his boys: Why Zimbabwean refugees are in UK

Robert Gabriel Mugabe, president of the Republic of Zimbabwe, sits in the Plenary Hall of the United Nations (UN) building in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, during the 12th African Union (AU) Summit.


The Zimbabwean crisis might have not drawn as much attention from the mainstream media as other similar cases of clashes between civilians and government, but in London there are clear signs that the problem continues. The first time I saw demonstrators outside the Zimbabwe House in Agar Street, was a few weeks ago, only to realise that it has become a common phenomenon, as every weekend protesters are demonstrating against Mugabe’s government. More than that, Mugabe’s dictatorship as recently denounced by Kofi Anan has forced generations of Zimbabweans to leave their country for better conditions, where violence and human rights violations hopefully are not part of life’s daily routine.

Probably this explains why Zimbabwe finds itself near the top of a list of refugeeproducing countries. The example of Zimbabwe gives us ample food for thought with regards to the meaning of Refugee Week in June. Asylum Seekers are testament to the existence of injustice and impunity around the globe. As long as these problems persist, then more uprooted generations will follow and there will always be something to do about it.

Mr Fatso, a Zimbabwean refugee, explains why the demonstrations still continue.

Every weekend demonstrators gather outside the Zimbabwean Embassy in London, rain or shine. They are there to express their discontent with the ruthless and malicious government that has ravaged the former basket of Africa, turning it into a begging orphan.

When the freedom deprived Zimbabweans shout ‘MUGABE MUST GO, MUGABE MUST GO, they mean it. Mugabe must vacate his position one way or another.

There are elements even within the Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front (ZANU–PF) which want to see change at the helm. However, they just follow the rules religiously, considering the experience of Edgar Tekere, Ndabaning Sithole, Duri, Mike Mataure, former Shabani Mine owner- Mutumwa Mawere, James Makamba, familiar names to the Zimbabwean community. There is a circle of greed for power and wealth, people who are taking advantage of the current political situation to enrich themselves at the expense of the masses. They will have to go or face the wrath of law when it comes in the post-mugabe era.

Kofi Anan recently denounced Mugabe as a Dictator, as if he wasn’t aware of that all along. He could and should have acted in a different way when he was still at the helm of the UN. Mugabe should have gone a long time ago. Manicaland Zanu-PF Mike Mataure said, ‘The legs are tired, new pairs of horses are needed to pull the cart’. Since then he has never served in the government again. As things were better at the time, people didn’t take him seriously. Mugabe went from being an aspiring African Father to being called the ZANU PF mobster. He turned governmentcontrolled, yet traditionally non-political institutions into political instruments: the police, army, even some religious groups. The Border Gezi militia, which terrorized, raped, killed and burnt homes, schools and properties of anyone opposing the regime, was formed to strengthen the grip of power. Unfortunately, it was mostly uneducated and unemployed youths who were sent to beat up the opposition across the country, turning schools into torture bases. They were paid with intoxicating substances, so that most didn’t even realise why and what they were doing. Time after time, Mugabe used unconventional tricks to stay in power, aided by those around him. He won back the support of war veterans by printing non-gold backed notes and dishing them randomly, with almost his then full cabinet benefiting – some getting 300% disability benefit. The printing of money brought a steep rise in short-term demand for goods against supply, which triggered the fall of the Zimbabwean Dollar and sparked hyperinflation. As if this was not enough, they sanctioned land grabbing, which kept away even more investors. Zanu PF wants more of these policies, because it will give them more freedom to do deals under the table, such as the forceful acquisition of personal wealth from state coffers. And they will blame everything on the West.

Kofi Anan should be calling Mugabe to the Hague for the atrocities committed against his own people since he came to power. However, this time it will not be in Matebeleland only, but country-wide, with the potential to engulf the whole of Southern Africa. Zimbabwe played a big role in both conflicts before, with the Zimbabwean ministers plundering DRC Diamond in 1998. Mugabe should be stopped to avert the eminent genocide. Many people have died and disappeared under Mugabe’s government. The world is aware of the torture of opposition activists, destruction of the health service which facilitated conditions for spreading diseases, deliberately ignoring the high infant mortality rate. It’s difficult to provide actual figures due to undocumented migration trends but the numbers could be in the millions, more than even the displacement seen in Darfur or Rwanda. Mugabe must go, Mugabe must go. His henchmen should be answerable one way or another.

What future for the children of irregular migrants

by Nando Sigona

More than 120,000 children living in the UK are at risk of isolation and serious crime as a result of their status as ‘irregular migrants’, researchers have found.

The children, 65,000 of whom were born in the UK, often struggle to access basic healthcare and education because their families fear they will be reported to the UK Border Agency. Many families also suffer at the hands of serious criminals, yet avoid turning to the police because of their immigration status.

In a study titled “No Way Out, No Way In: Irregular migrant children and families in the UK”, Oxford University researchers revealed that the UK Border Agency had increased its demands on public service providers and social services to report suspected irregular migrants creating a culture of fear among children and families.

This conflicts with both British and International laws requiring that children are given access to education and healthcare irrespective of their immigration status, and that public authorities put the interests of the child first.

The report comes in the wake of a landmark decision by the Obama’s Administration to pass an executive order that effectively suspends deportation proceedings against young undocumented migrants under 30 years old who arrived in the US before their 16th birthdays.

The passing of the executive order is in part thanks to the DREAM movement—named for the perpetually stalled bill (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Bill) that would create a roadmap to citizenship for young undocumented migrants. The DREAMers campaigned steadily for the change, even occupying Obama’s campaign offices. But while 800,000 thousands of young people in the US finally have peace of mind, the UK children of irregular migrants know no such security.

The Major of London has recently withdrew his support for ‘Strangers into citizens’, a campaign for an earned amnesty for irregular migrants, despite support from a coalition of NGOs, Churches and local authorities .

And while the campaign stalls, tens of thousands of children who call the UK home continue to live without the basic services and protections that all children deserve.

“No Way Out, No Way In: Irregular migrant children and families in the UK”, by Dr. Nando Sigona and Vanessa Hughes, published by COMPAS, is available at:

Venezuelan political opposition abroad

By: Bernardo Rodriguez-Salcedo

Hugo Chávez, President of Venezuela since 1999. Photo by Bernardo Londoy

It was a cold and rainy Sunday even by London standards, but that didn’t stop 290 Venezuelan expatriates in the UK from coming together on February 12th in a central London hotel to take part in one of the most important political events in Venezuela: the first ever opposition’s primaries held abroad.

The primary saw Henrique Capriles Radonski, governor of the state of Miranda, picked to challenge President Hugo Chávez in the presidential election planned for next October.

Chávez, the left-wing president, has governed Venezuela since 1999. His successive electoral victories have caused long-term disarray for the opposition. But the political opposition is now campaigning on a unity platform, trying to mobilise Venezuelan communities abroad before the next presidential elections. Efforts have extended to the UK where there are 1,174 registered Venezuelan voters, the fifth largest concentration of voters abroad and the second largest in Europe, according to the official electoral registry.

“We had a turnout of 24.7 per cent, which is outstanding for a primary election. The participation and enthusiasm of Venezuelan voters in the UK far exceeded our expectations,” said Domingo Lapadula, president of the London Committee of the Primary Elections Abroad Commission, established by the opposition’s umbrella organisation Unified Democratic Panel (MUD).

The high participation rates were the result of long hours of community work that used traditional media and also social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter, explained Lapadula.

“We contacted as many people as we possibly could. The Venenin [Spanish acronym for Venezuelans in England] Facebook group, now with more than 1,800 members, has been very useful for this task. It started out as a way of organising social gatherings, but it has become the first point of contact for Venezuelans arriving to the UK,” he explained.

Voters said they are motivated by a desire for political transformation in Venezuela.

“For me, there is a central reason for participating: I want a change in my country,” said Francisco Perez, a Venezuelan living in the UK for 10 years. Irene Caldentey, another voter, cited her “aspiration for democratic participation” as her motivation for voting.

Once the primary election has been carried out, there is now a bigger challenge, explained Lapadula.

“Many Venezuelans have arrived into the UK during the last six years, and most of them are not registered to vote here. In addition, there are sizable Venezuelan communities in places such as Manchester, Reading, Oxford, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Belfast, yet the only voting centre available is in London,” said Lapadula. “We have to work closely with the Venezuelan consular authorities in order to guarantee no one is left without the opportunity to participate”.