In an attempt to rejuvenate the watered-down offical Refugee Week, with the more serious issues regarding asylum and immigration often being muffled or overlooked, many grassrooots groups throughout the country organised alternative events and actions during and around the Week (19-25 June) to bring these issues to the fore.
On the main day (17 June) of Celebrating Sanctuary, Birmingham's version of Refugee Week, Birmingham NoBorders distributed leaflets exposing The Angel Group, the housing providers who provide "core funding" for the event, and criticising Celebrating Sanctuary for, among other things, being "funded by such dodgy asylum profiteers." On 20th June, the Birmingham Anti-Racist Campaign (ARC) held a vigil in the grounds of St. Philip's Cathedral in Birmingham to commemorate asylum seekers who took their own lives while awaiting the Home Office's decision or incarcerated in detention centres. June 30th saw a day of NoBorders events, starting with the monthly picket of the immigration reporting centre in Solihull, followed by screenings and a Party Without Borders benefit gig in the evening.
Similarly, Leeds Noborders marked the Week by organising a series of activities, including a demonstration outside Waterside reporting centre, which forced the Home Office to contact asylum seekers beforehand and tell them not to report that day; an evening of film and food at the Common Place as well as leafleting hundres in Leeds city centre.
June 22th was a national day of action against reporting centres, called by Newcastle-based Tyneside Community Action for Refugees, who staged a noise demonstration outside North Shields reporting centre in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. There were similar demos outside reporting centres in Leeds, London and Manchester. In London, about 20 people from Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism!, All-African Women's Group, the National Coalition of Anti-Deportation Campaigns and others demonsrtated outside the Communications House in central London, where most people who walk past have no idea what the building is. On 1st July there was another picket at the same place organised by London No Borders. In Manchester, the North West Asylum Seekers Defence Group organised a picket of Dallas Court. They had also held a day of action, with stalls and leaflets, on Market St. in Manchester on 17 June.
On June 24th, a demostration to close down Tinsley House detention centre near Gatwick Airport, called by London Against Detention, was held as part of nation-wide action to highlight the number of deaths in detention centers. This comes at a time when over 100 people are on hungerstrike in Campsfield detention centre near Oxford, and the hungerstrike in Colnbrook detention centre, near Heathrow, is still ongoing since 8 April, 2006.
Other events included an evening to welcome refugees at the Community Base in Brighton on 19th June and a social evening of Nigerian food and music at The Basement in Manchester on the 25th, organised by Defend Eucharia and Timeyi Campaign.
But it doesn't. Instead, it is mainly run by the government and their friends in councils and large charities. The national press release email announcing Refugee Week this year said how Blair, Cameron and Campbell all supported refugees. Our local (council-employed) coordinator added that things are getting better for refugees all the time!
The aim of all this seems to be hardwire groups involved in supporting refugees into government-led 'partnerships' that play down criticisms of the appalling way this government treats refugees. A big part of this is the non-involvement of refugees themselves in running things, certainly where I live.
One reason Home Office apologists are able to control the political direction of Refugee Week is that groups working directly with refugees go along with the pro-government spin because they're too busy doing the real grassroots thing. But this is never enough. It lets the apologists claim to represent a much wider constituency than they really do, speaking on our behalf with us thinking 'never mind, we're doing good work anyway'. The reluctance of some grassroots groups to encourage refugees from talking openly about their situation because of 'confidentiality' (usually decided on by professionals on refugees' behalf) doesn't help either.
Unless Refugee Week is organised in a way that allow refugees to have a voice themselves (and highlights government racism and the reasons why refugees come here - usually after their country has been bombed by the RAF) it will just be PR for the government. But that's not inevitable. Grassroots alliance of refugees and their supporters can blow the spin away if we insist on refugees playing a central role in organising things and don't just turn up with a stall at a council-funded 'celebration of diversity' and say nothing we could build something really important.
Dont let the bastards grind you down!