Schools of Sanctuary

Every year, thousands of children under 14 arrive in the UK without parents or guardians – searching for a safe home. The Government should follow the example some schools are setting in welcoming and celebrating refugees. Then our society would be very different. Perhaps the young people who attend Schools of Sanctuary and other schools who have developed a welcoming environment will be the ones to change society. Bluecoat Primary Academy in Nottingham, for example, has created a caring, nurturing, secure place “that celebrates diversity and enables every member of our school family to be the best that they can be”. At their last SIAMs inspection, they were recognised “for our ethos and curriculum that celebrates and reflects our beautiful diverse context”. 

Schools of Sanctuary have been created by all school staff, parents, governors and members of local communities and offer support to the many thousands in need of sanctuary in the UK. Pupils in Schools of Sanctuary learn about the problems that asylum seekers face, about challenging misconceptions and the need to create unity. These welcoming and inclusive communities include 400 primary and secondary schools, nurseries and sixth forms. Schools that become a School of Sanctuary sign a pledge which includes words that express their hope for our country: “The UK will be a welcoming place of safety for all and proud to offer sanctuary to people fleeing violence and persecution.”

Recently in the news has been the St Saviour’s Church of England primary school in Walthamstow, a School of Sanctuary, which has worked with the local mosque to raise £15,000 to find a new home for a Syrian family who fled from Aleppo. A member of the mosque remarked: “We have so much in common in our faith, and beyond faith, and sharing those humanitarian ideals and knowing there are people out there suffering and we can do something to help them.” And one of the pupils at the school made the comment: “I want to be a welcoming person and I want to make friends with people from different backgrounds.” Simple words from a child who could teach our government so much.

The Amazon faces the worst drought in over a century

Hundreds of thousands of people rely on the Amazon’s rivers and streams for food, transport and income. Last year there was a severe drought which has affected large areas of the Amazon rainforest in Brazil. In September Al Jazeera predicted that 500,000 people would suffer as their access to food, drinking water, medicine and other supplies would be affected by the end of the year. At times the waterways have been reduced to trickles of contaminated water, with huge numbers of dead fish floating on the surface, and many streams, rivers and lakes have alarmingly low water levels, the lowest on record. In Lake Tefé in Brazil more than 150 river dolphins were found dead. However, this was not as a result of low water levels, but probably because the lake had reached temperatures of almost 40 °C.

The drought, largely the result of climate change, has affected northern Brazil, Guyana, Suriname, French Guiana and parts of Venezuela and Colombia. Climate scientists have explained how there has been a knock-on effect of warming in the tropical North Atlantic Ocean and off South America’s Pacific Coast. Trees are dying and they will be likely to die at twice their previous rate. This will release quantities of carbon into the atmosphere which will add to the warming of the climate. Meanwhile the amount of rainfall is considerably lower than it should be. There is little chance of the Amazon recovering for two more years.

President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva of Brazil gave this warning at COP28: “Even if we don’t knock down one more tree, the Amazon could reach its point of no return.” The human race seems incapable of heeding warnings and taking action.

The killing and imprisonment of Palestinian Journalists

“I don’t feel safe at all with the press vest. We are facing death every single moment in the field.” The words of a Palestinian journalist, a number of whom say they feel the press vests make them feel unsafe, and they fear that, if they are identified as members of the press, they and their families could well become targets for Israeli forces. Some journalists in Gaza have seen their whole families slaughtered.

Estimates of the number of journalists killed since 7th October vary slightly, but, according to figures from the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), by 18th January at least 94 journalists had been killed, 87 Palestinians, three Lebanese and four Israelis. In other recent wars and conflict, such as Ukraine, Syria, Afghanistan, and even Iraq, the numbers do not compare to the number killed in Gaza.

Media offices in Gaza have been attacked and ruined, and hundreds of Palestinians and their families have been forced to move south. Reporting equipment had to be abandoned and communications have proved difficult.

Journalists often put their lives on the line to bring us information and shed light on issues that some would prefer remained closely guarded secrets. War zones are clearly the most dangerous places and Gaza at the present time is perilous, but we should remember too that sometimes journalists are killed or imprisoned because they are reporting with honesty and exposing skulduggery in politics, corruption and crime. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) monitors and defends the freedom of the press in different parts of the world and publishes a great deal of information including details of the number of journalists killed, arrested, or imprisoned. A recent post on their website provides the following information: “Israel has arrested a total of 38 Palestinian journalists since the start of its war with Hamas on 7 October and is currently holding 31, most of them without any charge. This unprecedented wave of arrests and detentions, while the war continues in the Gaza Strip, has clearly been carried out with the deliberate aim of silencing the Palestinian media. All of the detained journalists work for Palestinian media outlets such as J-MediaMaan News AgencySanad and Radio al-Karama or are freelancers.”

Watch your step if you work for Transport for London

The London Underground train driver who joined in the spirit of the day, when his train was full of protestors returning from demonstrating against the Zionist attack on Gaza, has returned to work after being suspended and ‘disciplined’. There is some concern on the left that if pro-Palestine comments are made by staff and considered acceptable, Transport for London (TfL) may also tolerate racist or pro-Zionist remarks. The driver has written to faith groups to apologise for his announcing, “Free! Free!” on a Central Line train. Many passengers responded spiritedly with “Palestine”! TfL commented: “It is critically important to everyone at TfL that our network feels, and is, a safe and welcoming place for all Londoners, and we will do all we can to continue to ensure that.” A range of national and local news outlets reported the facts of this story, but the Daily Express had a headline: “Outrage as London Underground driver who led pro-Palestine chants on train escapes sacking”. The outrage came from the Tory mayoral candidate, Susan Hall, and the Campaign Against Antisemitism. We are waiting for the Express, Susan Hall and the Campaign Against Antisemitism to express outrage and horror about the carnage in Gaza, to condemn the merciless killing of the Palestinians and to demand an immediate ceasefire.

Boycotting Israeli goods in Hastings

There are many local events which challenge the status quo and draw attention to the many injustices in our world. Recently large numbers of these have been about Palestine. Hastings & Rye Palestine Solidarity Campaign met earlier this month for a ‘New Year Boycott Tour’ of local shops which sell Israeli produce. Gabriel Carlyle reports that supporters went to Marks & Spencer, Sainsbury’s and Tesco and filled baskets and trolleys with avocados, dates, grapefruit and hummus. They then took these to the management and asked for them to be kept off the shelves. At M&S the manager agreed not to return the items to the shelves. There have been a number of similar actions elsewhere, including a very successful result in Derry where a demonstration was called off after Home Bargains agreed to halt the sale of Israeli products.

The group also visited Barclays Bank, which is heavily involved in the assault on Gaza. A 2022 report from War on Want revealed that Barclays “has substantial shareholdings and provides loans and financial services to at least nine companies, including Elbit Systems, known to be producing weapons and military technology sold to Israel and used in violence against Palestinians.” Further along the south coast the Eastbourne PSC has been very active in opposing Barclays’ support for Israel.

Hastings Online Times, run entirely by volunteers, is not only a valuable local resource but contains a range of articles about world events providing interesting topics for debate.

Looking back in time: The Battle of George Square

After the First World War, the government introduced spending cuts, although it had found large sums of money during the war years. The cuts meant that there was a threat of mass unemployment.

The Scottish Trade Union Congress and the Clyde Workers’ Committee had already made their presence felt, so the Government felt they should keep a watchful eye on Glasgow. There were just grievances that led to strikes and protests during the war years, and the men were now calling for more jobs to be created for returning soldiers. They proposed cutting the working week from 47 to 40 hours to achieve this; otherwise they would call a strike. There were also demands for improved pay and working conditions. On 27th January there was a meeting of 3,000 workers, and on 30th January 40,000 more from the shipbuilding and engineering sectors of the Clyde joined in, followed by others from power stations and mines to the west. The protest developed into a riot, with clashes between the police and the strikers and fighting continuing into the night. Fifty-three people were injured.

Messages were sent to London and there were calls for military aid. Some men were talking of a new revolutionary era, with their eyes on events in Russia, Hungary, Sweden and Ireland, but, within a week of the riot, a compromise was reached.

There was something of a tradition of militant action in the West of Scotland, later known as ‘Red Clydeside’, and these events raised the hopes of Willie Gallacher, the Marxist chair of the Clyde Workers’ Committee: “Had there been an experienced revolutionary leadership, instead of a march to Glasgow Green, there would have been a march to the city’s Maryhill Barracks. We could easily have persuaded the soldiers to come out, and Glasgow would have been in our hands … we were carrying on a strike when we ought to have been making a revolution”.

Gallacher was elected Communist MP for West Fife in 1935 and remained MP until 1950. But Scotland was not fertile ground for the left nor for revolution.

Image courtesy of Radical Tea Towel:

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