Queensland’s Art Gallery is well known for its collection of Aboriginal art. But when we visited it on a day stop in Brisbane what attracted us was a special free exhibition of contemporary Papua New Guinea artists called Kin, reflecting the close relationships among the country’s painters.
It celebrated the work of Mathias Kauage and more recent painters and was a riot of vibrant colours and political messages touching on issues like refugees now right at the heart of debate in Britain. It included a remarkable painting of Captain Cook looking down on residents of Papua New Guinea – see above.
The paintings don’t shy away from tackling political issues particularly on the red hot issue in the UK and Australia on asylum seekers and refugees. A particular striking picture praises Jacinda Arden accepting and helping refugees.
One wonders how the painters would portray Suella Braverman and Rishi Sunak -both brown British politicians deporting largely brown and black asylum seekers from the shores of the UK. Perhaps the UK’s leading art gallery Tate Britain should commission them to paint a series to counteract the baleful influence of Right wing Aussie politician Tony Abbott on stirring up hate and resentment in this country.
Two other striking paintings by the group stand out. One is a painting of the Left v Right Australian general election where the combatants are portrayed as Aboriginal chiefs.
Another is of refugees kept in a holding camp in Papua New Guinea similar to the UK plan for one in France.
Two other striking exhibits in-the exhibition including a remarkable sculpture representing people literally getting under other peoples skins and an amazing collage by an Iranian born artist now living in America using decorative images used by Pakistani lorry drivers to beautify their vehicles .
It was meant to be the highlight of the centenary world voyage of the Queen Mary 2. Cunard chose the iconic site of the Flower Field Gardens at the Bay in Singapore. They promised “ you a night to remember”. Instead it became a night you wanted to forget.
The combination of the chaos at the event and the long bureaucratic Singapore immigration system which meant long queues both took the pleasure out of the evening.
It began with a long 45 minute wait for immigration to allow anybody to leave the ship.When we had cleared immigration we met our next disappointment. Cunard had promised to lay on disability transport to the event for people like my wife who is in a wheelchair. When got there we were not on the list to get any transport.Indeed from what I saw of the list only six people out of hundreds attending the event qualified. They did rustle up a minibus with two high steps which we shared with another couple who was also not on the list and who was hobbling around on two sticks.
Getting to the event added to the disappointment.Cunard had promised that all diets especially diabetics would be catered for . Their FAQs with the invitation said waitress would be”educated” about diets. Well apparently not. Presented with six starters we asked our waiter for advice about which were lactose free. His response was to go and find his manager. Worse was to come when we joined the long queue for a curry. Asking the server which food was diary free I got the brusque response “everything has dairy in it “
Eventually after someone just ordered rice and flatbread I got someone to give me just that – but helpfulness was not on the agenda. No wonder we learned later that one group of guests had spurned the Cunard haute cuisine and gone to the Gardens on site McDonalds to have their meal.
One group of guests spurned the food at the venue to eat at McDonald’s
So we’re there any redeeming features?Yes the Lion Dance was good and the flowers gardens beautifully lit up.
But it was not over yet. Going back we encountered the same problem in getting disabled transport back to the ship as we were not on the list.Luckily a Cunard rep did intervene and she got a shared minibus.
The gremlins at Singapore immigration had their last throw. At customs we were diverted to an empty line as my wife was in a wheelchair to speed us up. What we didn’t realise as we went straight ahead is that we had joined the line to board the Spectrum of the Seas the other cruise liner in port.actually It was only a person checking passengers passports who realised the green sticker on our passport meant that we must be on the Queen Mary and diverted us.
Finally I must thank the kindness of fellow Cunard passengers who took great care to help my wife on and off the minibus and the one kind gentleman offered to take my wife Margaret down a staircase that we had been misdirected to at the venue. We did decline and later found like the rest of Singapore the venue had wheelchair lifts to get to the lower floor.
The Afro Caribbean people who came to the UK in the 1940s to the 1970s-known as the Windrush generation after the first ship MV Empire Windrush that brought them from Jamaica, Trinidad and other West Indies islands- have suffered a lot in the last few years at the hands of successive Tory governments.
They were victims of the ” hostile environment” policy to immigrants set up by home secretary Theresa May in 2012 and continued to this day by Priti Patel ( herself from a family of Ugandan Asian refugees) they wrongly faced deportation, loss of jobs and homes after living in this country for more than 50 years because they were never issued with documents. Many were wrongly deported.
So it was rather good that an inventive Afro-Caribbean artist Everton Wright (Evewright) decided to launch an amazing art and sound installation as a tribute to that generation. He also based the exhibition at the port of Tilbury in Essex – the very place where MV Empire Windrush docked in 1948 and used the original walkway – still there – where what are known as the elders of Windrush made landfall in the United Kingdom.
It is an immersive visual art experience, installed on 432 panes of glass collaged with photographs, documents, original boat passenger tickets and memorabilia. The artwork is installed in an original passenger walkway 55 metres long. As you walk through, you can listen to audio stories about the lives of some of the elders whose images are featured in the installation. See http://www.evewrightarts.org
Sadly vandals this month broke into the exhibition and smashed many of the exhibits and damaged the walkway where it has held. This is some of the damage:
The artist himself is keeping the exhibition open leaving the damage for all those to see.
Everton Wright said: “This artwork is made as a celebration of the lives and endeavours of Caribbean elders, from the Windrush Generation. It has been created through the need to preserve their stories and first-hand accounts so future generations can understand the importance of the contributions they made to Britain. This work has received an overwhelming positive response from the public and those who contributed their stories and images. The feedback from the public is heartfelt knowing these stories where being told. Yet there are a few who choose to damage this beautiful work. ” This is a targeted hate crime targeted towards the Windrush Generation. Who themselves had to show resilience in the face of the racism and barriers many of them experienced. I intend to keep the damage windows in place on the installation as a visible reminder of the hate and bigotry towards those that are seen as “other and foreigner” that still unfortunately still exists in our society today.
Essex Police have launched a criminal investigation: “
Essex Police has urged anyone with information to contact them and said it would “not stand by while people commit crimes in our communities”.
Supt Naomi Edwards, of the force, said: “Myself and colleagues at Essex Police were extremely saddened to hear that such a culturally and historically significant art exhibition has been subject to damage – this is unacceptable on every level.”These offences had not been reported to Essex Police, rather they had been reported to our colleagues at the Port of London Authority Police.
“However, such is our concern at these incidents, that we are working alongside our policing colleagues to support their investigation and are undertaking enquiries to establish who may be responsible in order that we can arrest them and bring them to justice.”
So far nobody has been arrested but the organisation say the police are treating it as a hate crime.
Contrast this coverage with the toppling of the Edward Colston statute
I cannot but contrast the coverage of this event in the media with the national coverage given to the toppling of the statute of Edward Colston, the Bristol slave trader, in a Black Lives Matter demonstration. This was given saturation coverage in the nationals and on TV and was linked to the debate on ” woke” and ” culture wars”.
This incident was only covered on local BBC TV, The Voice and as far as I can see, the Independent. I don’t need to make any further comment.
Migration has always been a controversial issue – even though today’s United Kingdom along with the United States is one of the most diverse countries in the world.
Next Wednesday the Ethical Journalist Network – which aims to improve standards in journalism -is hosting a free top level webinar with outstanding speakers on how the journalists themselves report this issue.
Since most people form their views on migration from newspapers, TV, radio and increasingly from social media, how issues are reported and reflected across the media have never been more important.
If you are interested in the issue or just curious about how the make up of the country is changing post Brexit this webinar is where you can find out what you are being told or what is not being told about today’s migration issues.
It will cover the issue of the arrival of new people to the UK from Hong Kong -probably one of the largest groups of people to come here since the Ugandan Asians were driven out of their country and Afro-Caribbean people were invited to work in Britain from the West Indies.
It will contrast this with the treatment of people who flee across the Channel to the UK- and are now to be housed in substandard conditions and face being exiled to camps abroad under a new Nationality Bill put forward by Priti Patel, the home secretary.
It will also look at the hostile environment that led to the Windrush scandal which could be repeated when European Union people who did not get settled status here are forcibly deported, denied work and health care.
Amelia Gentleman is a multi-award-winning journalist who spent six months working on the Windrush scandal for The Guardian which had led to the illegal deportation of Afro Caribbean people who had settled here for decades. She is the author of The Windrush Betrayal: Exposing the Hostile Environment which details the scandal and the effects it had on people’s lives.
Jamal Osman is a Somali-born award-winning journalist, broadcaster and filmmaker. He is the Africa Correspondent for Channel Four News and has written articles for The Guardian and reported for Al-Jazeera English. His scoops include interviews with Somali pirates, the al-Qaeda-linked Islamist group, Al-Shabab, and an exposure of the illegal trade in UN food aid.
Marzia Rango is the data innovation and capacity building co-ordinator at the International Organisation for Migration in Berlin and is currently managing a project focusing on migration across the Mediterranean to Central Europe. She will be able to give an overall picture of the scale of migration.
Benedict Rogers is the co-founder and chief executive of Hong Kong Watch and co-founder and deputy chairman of the Conservative Party’s Human Rights Commission. He is a human rights activist and a journalist who has written extensively on the plight of people in Hong Kong where democracy is being suppressed by the Chinese authorities.
Chantal da Silva is a freelance journalist who helped expose the appalling conditions asylum seekers face in Napier Barracks despite attempts by the Home Office to hide what was happening. She works for numerous publications including the Independent, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, Channel 4 and many other TV channels. She focuses on immigration rights.
You can register here at the EJN website or directly at Eventbrite here.
Successive governments’ decision to cut drastically the legal aid budget has caused enormous damage to diverse women and girls groups according to witnesses who gave evidence today to the CEDAW People’s Tribunal.
They cover the plight of Muslim women who are forced to seek divorces at Sharia Courts because they cannot afford to go to a civil court, migrants denied access to legal aid and married women fleeing domestic violence going to family courts over the custody of children and divorce settlements. The tribunal is looking at how the Un Convention on the Elimination of all forms of discrimination can be put into UK law.
Legal aid ban putting Muslim women at the mercy of patriarchal fundamentalism
A damning indictment of the drastic effect of legal aid cuts which had created formidable barriers for all women – but especially black and ethnic minority women – was made by Pragna Patel.
She was particularly critical of the plight of Muslim women fleeing a marriage and unable to access the civil courts because of the lack of legal aid. Instead decisions were taken by unofficial religious courts dominated by conservative patriarchal fundamentalists. ” The woman has no status there, no right to keep her children, no property rights and no inheritance rights. This completely contravenes human rights.”
She cited a case of one woman who has only had a religious marriage – which had never been followed by a civil marriage. As a result when she went to a civil court to get her rights – the court could not rule on the marriage as it has never been legally recognised. The case has gone to the Law Commission but it has so far not ruled on it.
She also attacked the funding system – having won a judicial review against Ealing Council – when it withdrew funding. She said most of the money was now given to ” generic services ” based on getting results set by targets rather than specialist services offering long term support to people.
“Domestic abuse perpetrator given custody of children at his former wife’s expense”
Dr Proudman highlighted the lack of legal aid holding back women to defend their rights in family courts after quitting their marriage over domestic abuse. She said there was an inequality of arms when they had to appear as a litigant-in-person because they could not afford to pay a barrister. She also said the courts had the discretion on who should pay and where the children should reside in cases – leaving in one instance a woman who had left her husband because of domestic abuse having to pay for her children to be looked after by her abuser – her husband.
She was highly critical of the lack of training for barristers and judges on handling domestic abuse cases – and the failure of the government after the passing of the Domestic Abuse Act to specify what training will be given. She also said that many of the lawyers eyes glazed over when they the issues of women’s rights and certainly CEDAW were mentioned.
She also thought that judiciary was dominated by elite men -” male, pale and stale” – educated at private schools and Oxbridge. She said most of the women were also from the same elite -privately educated and with Oxbridge degrees – meaning neither knew much about the life of the people who came before their courts. She came from a working class background and had gone to a state comprehensive school.
Equality Act has left people working in silos
Esuantsiwa Jane Goldsmith, from Anona Development Consultancy on International Developments on Human Rights. Esuantsiwa was one of the first black VSO volunteers, serving as a teacher in Tanzania 1977-79. Esua was a leading figure in the UN process for women, attending the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women, Beijing 1995, as a member of the UK Government Delegation representing Development INGOs. She was founder and Chair of the Beijing Forum which co-ordinated the input of UK development NGOs. She was the first black woman Chair of theFawcett Society, Chair and Co-founder of the Gender and Development Network
Esua has highly critical and disappointed by the failure of the 2010 Equality Act. She had great hopes that the Equality and Human Rights Commission by putting all the equality issues together would be a big improvement. But instead she said it was still working in silos and relying on individual litigation.
She thought putting CEDAW into domestic law would create a much more holistic approach bringing together business, politicians, civil society, ngos and the women’s sector together by breaking down barriers.
She was scathing about the lack of progress of BAME women in Parliament – 35 out of 650 MPs. She also attacked the way white males trolled and pursued prominent black women like Diane Abbot, just because they were powerful people.
Dramatic rise in on line sexual abuse during the pandemic
Dr Kelly’s areas of research/expertise include domestic and sexual violence, policing, and more broadly violence against women and girls; including Rape Crisis. She has particular research experience in the policing of domestic abuse, image-based sexual abuse (including ‘cyberflashing’, so-called ‘revenge porn’ and ‘upskirting’) and feminist theory.
An alarming picture of the rise in ” revenge porn” during the pandemic leading to sexual violence against was women during the pandemic left the police unable to have the resources to act to control it, Dr Kelly told the tribunal. She said this caused “significant and devastating harm for women”. Black and ethnic minority men were disproportionately involved and many of the attacks were misogynistic with a sense of male entitlement that they could do what they wanted.
When sexual violence followed this the police were not always able to cope – with basic resources like police cars in short supply – so they couldn’t get out to see people. Perpetrators were getting away scot free and were also using on line dating sites.
She called for long lasting cultural changes including much better education of young boys, teaching them the need for consent.
Media stereotyping of women puts pressure on women politicians at national and local level
Sofia is Co Investigator in the ESCR-funded Representative Audit of Britain project, part of Parliamentary Candidates UK and principal investigator in the Survey of Local Candidates in England. Fields of expertise: Gender equality, Participation, Policy design and delivery
The media were criticised for stereotyping women politicians and putting extra strain on women in public life. Some times they were the victims of a campaign of disinformation or not given the opportunity to reply. She called on journalists to be more accurate and carefujl in their reporting of women ;politicians and local councillors.
She said that though there were more women MPs -originally from a low base – an analysis of candidates standing for Parliament showed they were often given unwinnable seats so never got elected. She praised three countries -Sweden, New Zealand and Mexico – for giving women politicians a pro active role. Mexico was particularly praised for having a gender equal role which saw a massive increase in the number of women politicians.
She thought Parliamentary candidates should have compulsory training in equal rights before they stood for Parliament – as part of an initiative to bring CEDAW into domestic law.
The secret UK world of polygamous marriages
Yasmin has worked for more than 30 years predominantly on violence against women, race, faith and gender, and human rights. She has acted as an expert witness in legal cases providing expert reports on faith based abuse and Muslim marriage practices including polygamy and temporary marriage. Yasmin is chief Executive Officer at JUNO WOMEN’S AID (formerly Women’s Aid Integrated Services).
An extraordinary picture of the unknown scale of polygamous marriages in the UK was given to the tribunal by Yasmin Rehman.
She said nobody knows the scale of the marriages and the government is blind to the problem. It is hidden because Imans often give secret ceremonies for Muslim men who have one civil marriage to marry other women. There is also a ban on sex outside marriage for Moslems, she said, – which is why there are some additional marriages. Other polygamous marriages avoid bigamy laws – as UK men with a wife and family at home, marry another woman in countries where polygamous marriages are allowed.
She said the religious practice was harmful to women who are given a subordinate role – but the real problem was the clash between the freedom of practices allowed by religion with gender and equality issues. Worse there was some evidence that women were trafficked into the UK for forced polygamous marriages.
” The issue is seen to be in the too difficult box which is why there is not a single politician who is prepared to take the issue up.”
She said only one politician – the former Tory Chancellor, Sajid Javid – had raised part of the issue – but only over children being forced to marry an older man.
Baljit Banga, executive director of Imkaam, a UK based black feminist umbrella organisation, gave a detailed run down on what was wrong with the Domestic Abuse Act and why there is a need for a much better alternative and Dr Annette Lawson, chair of the national Women’s Commission, abolished in 2010 on why there is a need for some successor funded body to pull all women’s groups together to implement CEDAW.
The hearings are now over and the next stage is to draw up a report.
The president of the Cedaw People’s Tribunal, and a former judge, Jocelynne Scutt, said today that the decision by the Court of Appeal to turn down the judicial review into the handling of the rise of the pension age for 50s women will be overturned.
She was commenting on evidence to the tribunal from Christine Cooper, chair of accounting at Edinburgh Business School on the plight of 50s women and how CEDAR could redress the issue. She was giving evidence in a personal capacity.
Christine Cooper pointed out that the ruling -part based on the fact that the 1995 legislation allowed the Department for Work and Pensions to say they had no obligation to tell the 3.8 million women about changes to their pension would have wider implications for the rest of government policy if it was applied in other areas. For this reason alone it is likely to be challenged in other cases.
If the UN Convention on the Elimination of all forms of discrimination against women (CEDAW) was part of UK law it would seen as discrimination against a particular group on that ground alone.
Christine Cooper strongly defended the 50swomen saying ; ” This is a group of women who did all what was expected of them in society, brought up families and went back to work when they could. The way they have been treated is mad.”
She said if the government had spent the £6.5 million on an advertising campaign to get people to take out a second private pension instead on informing women about the change in 2001 they would have been more prepared. Instead it had only spent £80,000 47,000 leaflets many going to private finance advisers – the people who were most likely to know about it anyway. She said the worst affected people were those who were in low paid jobs, single women, divorced women, women from ethnic minorities and those who had worked part time.
She it was clear that there had been no impact study in 1995 on the effect it could have on the women and the impact study which covered the 2011 Pensions Act was based on how men would be affected. Most women only had months notice – while men had seven years notice of the rise in the pension age from 65 to 66.
She also revealed that the DWP does not keep any information on the gender pay gap ,the gap between the pension earnings of women and men. Instead a survey is done by Prospect, a Whitehall trade union, which revealed that the difference has remained stubbornly at 40 per cent for the last five years -meaning men will get a pension worth £7,500 more than women.
Occupational pension pots for women aged 65 are at present £35,800 – a fifth of the figure for men at the same age.
Government pressure to get trade deals will hit women’s pay – former civil servant
A former senior civil servant warned that both Brexit and the hostile environment against migrants were going to have a disproportionate effect on women’s rights.
Janet Veitch OBE is a consultant in the UK and internationally on women’s rights, having worked for ten years for the UK Ministers for Women and as Director of the UK Women’s National Commission.
She is a founder member of the End Violence Against Women Coalition; Vice-Chair of ‘Equally Ours’ and an associate adviser on gender for the British Council. Janet was awarded the OBE for services to women’s rights in 2011.
Janet Veitch said that the UK leaving a market of 500 million people would profoundly affect the British economy because it had yet to find alternative markets. Pressure to get trade deals would lead to a downward pressure on wages and labour conditions, which would predominately affect women, as many were already in low paid jobs.
The ” hostile environment ” against migrants would also lead people to start to condone a critical attitudes against people who looked visually different to themselves. CEDAW might not be a complete panacea but it would force the government to do due diligence on a host of issues.
Horrendous statistics on how women are treated over maternity leave and costly child care
A horrendous picture of discrimination against pregnant women was outlined by Joeli Brearley to the tribunal.
Joeil,founder and CEO of ‘Pregnant Then Screwed’, a charity which protects and supports women who encounter pregnancy; maternity discrimination and lobbies the Government for legislative change. This was after being sacked when she was four months pregnant. Joeli was awarded the 2019 Northern Power Women ‘’Agent of Change’’; and is an International Women Human Rights Defender.
She described the appalling position of pregnant women who were often sacked by employers but then found they could get no redress under the employment tribunal system She said they had, while heavily pregnant only three months to lodge a case, found it would cost them £8000 to do so and many had no knowledge of the law. As a result there were very few cases.
She said women were hit by two major issues -facing pay cuts if they lost their jobs as they had to seek part time work on low pay – and paying for the second most expensive child care costs in Europe.
Typical child care costs took 33 per cent of their salary while single mothers, it took 67 per cent of their earnings. The difference between maternity leave and male parental leave of just two weeks meant only three per cent of men took a major part in looking after the new born baby, even though many more men would have liked to do it. Those who did had a 40 per cent more chance of staying together.
She said the situation had worsened during the Covid 19 pandemic. She thought CEDAW would make a big difference.
Loneliness and misery for women in rural Britain
Poor transport and health services, loneliness in the remote areas of the UK were all part of the problems facing women in rural England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales.
Nick Newland is from the Association of Country Women Worldwide The organisation exists to amplify the voices of rural women, so that the problems they face and the solutions they raise are heard and acknowledged by international policy-makers and legislators. Rural women are the backbone of families/communities but they go unheard in legislation, and they remain unprotected and unsupported. ACWW exists to change that.
He hoped CEDAW would lead to women have a much greater say in rural areas – and not just in the odd focus group -so they could get change in their area. He said transport was a major problem for many women – though it was better in Scotland and Wales than England.
He cited an example of one woman living in Monmouth who had to spend seven hours travelling to get a 15 minute jab against Covid 19 in Newport because of the bus timetable.
He also said that loneliness and isolation of women was a major issue – and had been made worse for women by the raising of the pension age. He said getting health care was also a big issue and there was a serious mental health crisis in rural Britain – some times aggravated by their farmer partners committing suicide. There were also cases of brain damage among women who had tried to commit suicide but had not succeeded.
” There is a desperate need for a national strategy , a better quality of life and equality for women in education and health.”
” We have already got one Pakistani here , we can’t take another one” – women’s refuge owner
Rosie Lewis is Director of the Angelou Centre , Newcastle supporting the organisation’s services for Black women and girl survivors and has been involved in social justice activism for more than 25 years.
She has given evidence to CEDAW and to the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse in order to ensure that the findings of both reflect the state response to violence against Black and minority ethnic women and girls.
An appalling picture of the treatment of women from ethnic minorities now migrant women and children had been excluded deliberately by the government from new domestic abuse legislation was given by Rosie Lewis
She said they were now being excluded from access to justice, help from specialists and many professional organisations no longer want to know or help them. She cited the case of one woman fleeing a forced marriage being told by the person running a women’s refuge, ” We already have one Pakistani here, we can’t take another one.”
She said a city like Durham now had no specialist organisation that could help people in the surrounding rural areas.
She thought if the UK did adopt CEDAW in UK law it would raise awareness, and improve access to services for ethnic minorities.
There was also evidence given today from Catherine Casserley, a barrister specialising in employment, discrimination, and Human Rights law. Co author of ‘Disability Discrimination Claims: An Adviser’s Handbook’. She said CEDAW would make a big difference to the plight of disabled women, including increasing awareness, creating a willingness to change and give a proactive approach to achieving equality.
Cris McCurley, who studied Law at the University of Essex and is a Partner in Ben Hoare Bell LLP; and a member of The Law Society’s Access to Justice Committee. gave some damning evidence of the treatment judges gave in family courts towards ethnic minorities.
Rebecca J. Cook from Toronto University who has made a contribution to international women’s rights as an author, legal educator, editor, lecturer, and participant in numerous conferences sponsored by such organizations as the World Health Organization and Planned Parenthood. She gave a video interview on abortion issues facing women.
Lisa Gormley from the LSE Women’s Peace and Security Policy, gave a talk on violence against women and the role of the Istanbul Convention, which the UK has yet to sign up.
She is an international lawyer specialising in equality for women and girls. She has also worked closely for several years with the UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences Lisa a legal adviser in Amnesty International’s International Secretariat (2000-2014).
Finally there was also a video from Professor Diane Elson and Mary-Ann Stephenson analysing how much the government spends on women and the huge pay gap between women and men.
Mary-Ann is the Director of the Women’s Budget Group and has worked for women’s equality and human rights for over twenty years as a campaigner, researcher and trainer. She was previously Director of the Fawcett Society and a Commissioner on the Women’s National Commission.
The Migration Museum – an innovative project to create the first permanent home for a museum in the United Kingdom devoted to a story that probably affects every person in the country – is looking for new trustees.
They will come at a time when the museum – at present in a temporary home in a shopping centre in Lewisham, south London is planning to boost its profile and move centre stage to highlight the issue and all its extraordinary facets.
As the prospectus for new trustees says
” Never before has there been stronger justification for there to be a welcoming and stimulating cultural institution – away from the polarising noise of politics and the media – to explore some of the most pressing issues of the day – migration, race, Brexit and our colonial past among them – in a richly aesthetic atmosphere of calm reflection.”
Aim, Vision and Values
The projects aim, vision and values are summed up in three paragraphs:
“Our Mission is to deliver a popular, high-profile and accessible cultural institution, to which every person in the country can feel a sense of belonging and that puts Britain’s migration story at centre stage.
“Our Vision is of a society in which we all (for we all have migration stories in our family past, if we dig a little) feel connected and represented in an essentially British shared migration story.
” Our Values are to promote tolerance, understanding, respect and participation, and to engender a real sense of representation, both beyond our organisation and within it. This means that we are strongly committed to promoting diversity and representation within our Board, not only to reflect the lived experience of our audiences, but also to deliver role models for those who join, or aspire to join us, as trustees, employees, volunteers or collaborators. “
For the last few years the museum has already put on a number of exciting events – from recreating the Jungle camp ( and all the art) made by migrants in Calais to putting on a concert by Aeham Ahmad, the incredibly brave and talented pianist who played his piano on the streets of bombed out Yarmouk in Damascus until he was forced to flee by the Syrian dictator Assad to Germany.
More recently during the pandemic there has been a digital exhibition of migrants contribution to the NHS and a series of digital exhibitions telling the story of emigration from the UK and those who were left behind.
For those who might be interested the deadline for applications is May 3 and the prospectus and all the details are here.
I am one of 120 Distinguished Friends of the Migration Museum and am a strong supporter of the project. I have also written a number of stories on this blog on some of their past exhibitions. Here are a few of them.
” Let the Queen of England collect a great fleet, let her stow away all her treasure, bullion, gold plate, and precious arms; be accompanied by all her court and chief people, and transfer the seat of her empire from London to Delhi. ”
This is a quote from Tancred, a novel by former Tory Prime minister Benjamin Disraeli, written in 1847. In it he also said; ““England is no longer a mere European power; she is the metropolis of a great maritime empire . . . she is really more an Asiatic power than a European one”.
I suspect that the world view of Disraeli, who later made Queen Victoria Empress of India, might now be similar to the world view of Boris Johnson and Elizabeth Truss, the international trade secretary and the new Empress of the Pacific.
Of course neither are going to do anything as crude as reconquering India nor are they going to emulate Tancred, Prince of Galilee, the Norman who led the first successful crusade in the Middle East in the 12th century.
But what they are doing by planning to join the Asia Pacific free trade pact and create – with the offer to 5.2 million people in Hong Kong to come to the United Kingdom – potentially the biggest migration of people for centuries that is going to change the nature of this country for good.
Since at the same time it will far more difficult for Europeans to settle here the UK will become in Disraeli’s words ” more an Asiatic power than a European one.” It will be backed up by pressure from countries like India, Malaysia and Vietnam for the UK to concede more immigration into the country as part of any future trade deals.
Foreign student numbers from China and India are booming
What is interesting is that it has already started. The moment the UK voted in 2016 to leave the EU the young started voting with their feet – with students from EU countries no longer so keen to come while applications from China and India started soaring. Figures released this week by a London property company show it even had an effect on the capital’s rental market as wealthy overseas students were happy to rent or even own new flats. And this is all before the ink was dry on the withdrawal agreement which came into force on January 1. The biggest rise is China -over 20 per cent in one year with India recording a 15 per cent increase.
One reason for this surge also appears to be ex President Trump and his ” America First” policy which has deterred Asians from going to the US.
Andrew Weir, CEO of LCP, the London property company, comments “The UK’s safe haven status, diverse and liberal culture has attracted overseas students who would have previously studied in the US. The US has not seen growth rates above 5% since 2017, this contrasts with a 15% growth rate in the UK in 2019/20.”
“Despite fears Brexit may impact the UK and London’s status as a global city, the number of first year overseas students from the Asia region now vastly outnumbers the total number of students from all EU countries combined.
“There has been a recent surge in students from India enrolling into UK higher education establishments, almost doubling in 2019/20 compared with the previous academic year. A new generation of overseas students view the UK as a desirable place in which to reside and study.”
Falling numbers of German and Irish students
Indeed the number of students from Germany coming to the UK is now falling as are the number of students from the Republic of Ireland our nearest neighbour. Cyprus and Greece are also falling slightly. This has been balanced by a rise in the number of students from Portugal – always a low number – and Romania. You can read in more detail on this website which not only gives a bigger picture but also a breakdown for each university. Of course since then there has been the pandemic, but if there is a fall, it will only be short term. It is quite clear what the trend is. And when students come others will try to follow.
There is a supreme irony in all this. Many people who voted for Brexit were also against mass immigration – remember Nigel Farage and the warning of millions of Turks getting free movement to come to the UK. Well we may not get millions of Turks – in fact there was not much danger of that anyway as it takes years to join the EU. But we are going to get a major reset in the composition of people who make up the UK population. I actually welcome more diversity and Asian and Chinese people have a great record as entrepreneurs. But I wonder whether people thought when they voted for Brexit that Britain was on the way to become an Anglo-Asiatic nation.
Author and Poet Michael Rosen, recently recovered from Covid-19, narrates this short video on the exhibition
Migration Museum reveals the huge contribution of people overseas who came to the UK to work in the NHS
The NHS has been in people’s minds ever since the Covid-19 pandemic began and will continue to be so if there is a second wave of the virus.
During the worst part of the pandemic people came out in their thousands to clap and cheer the nurses, doctors, paramedics, care workers and ambulance drivers who work long hours in difficult circumstances to try and save people’s lives.
The Heart of the Nation exhibition puts a human face on the thousands of people who come to work and settle in the UK and take jobs in the National Health Service. People often say without them the NHS could not function and this exhibition rather proves the point.
It is not a sentimental account of the role of migrants helping the NHS to provide services for the last 72 years. It is a hard hitting. Some of it is “in your face”. It doesn’t pull punches about what it is like to be an immigrant in the UK.
It illustrates how migrants have over the years faced racial prejudice, hostility from landlords and even includes a racist cartoon in the national press. that would never be published now. It highlights migrants who found the traditional British diet tasteless and too heavy in carbohydrates which nowadays would be no problem with such a modern diverse range of cuisine in the UK. It includes some very tragic stories – including migrants who died in the Covid-19 outbreak while working in hospitals valiantly trying to save the lives of dying patients.
And it goes behind the scenes in the NHS to show the large number who work as porters and in the labs and stores.
But it is also a celebration – including a Spotify playlist of the music the migrants chose – and tales of young nurses dressed up to the hilt dancing all night to reggae and R & B only to shower and rush back to work at 7.0 am. And one of them was a founder member of a Notting Hill Carnival band designing the first colourful costumes that are a trade mark of that event.
As Allyson Williams said: “Carnival means so much to me. It has always been a celebration of our freedom and emancipation and acknowledgement of our ancestors. Here in London it’s all about family, community and inclusivity. “
“A story that needs to be told “
Aditi Anand, head of creative content at the Migration Museum and curator of the exhibition, said:
“Heart of the Nation highlights the vital role that migrants have always played in the NHS and the extent to which, just like the NHS, migration is central to the very fabric of who we are in Britain – as individuals, as communities and as a nation. Now more than ever, this is a story that needs to be told.”
You can download the digital exhibition here. As a Friend of the Migration Museum myself I am a supporter. But I think you will not be disappointed. It is an eye opener and reminder in times when populist nationalism is on the rise that Britain is also a very diverse and international country and all the better for it.
It is one of the more curious facts revealed by Bermuda’s national museum. Bermuda may be the inspiration for Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Seafarers tales told in Southwark taverns at the turn of the seventeenth century are thought to have inspired the playwright to create a story about a magical island.
Bermuda is named after an Spanish sea captain Juan de Bermudez who sailed past them in 1503 but never claimed them. It was a British ship the Sea Venture en route to Virginia which hit a storm- just like the Queen Victoria on this trip – but in this case was wrecked off the island in 1609 that led to the country becoming a British colony. But unlike other islands it was uninhabited and the sailors believed that just like in the Tempest that it was haunted by spirits and couldn’t wait to build new ships to get off it. Only three years later was it settled.
The history of the island is outlined in an eclectic collection of artefacts housed in a former British Royal Navy commissioner’s nineteenth century mansion overlooking the Dockyard abandoned by the British in 1951. The mansion remained derelict for 20 years until restored by the Bermuda government.It is worth a visit see picture above.
The museum tells a warts and all history of the island, its role in two world wars, the development of tourism, its racist and slave ridden past and the rush to recover sunken treasure from the numerous ships wrecked on the rocks . It also houses in the old keep ponds a conservation project to save dolphins.It has an extraordinary mural t
Depicting the island’s history by a contemporary artist covering a whole stairwell.
The story of the island’s racist and slave past is graphic. At first there was little racism but the rise of the slave trade in the eighteenth century lead to the removal of rights and restrictions put on the Portuguese who settled there from the Azores . Slavery was abolished in 1834 but attitudes remained. As late as the 1960s the now closed Bermuda Railway had an apartheid system reserving the best seats for whites. The Portuguese settlers ,mainly farmers,were barred from taking some top professional jobs until as late as the 1980s.
Tourism attracts more Americans than Brits with the island being originally popularised by US author Mark Twain who raved about it. The development of air travel, low income taxes and the American connection fostered by new bases set up in the Second World War to fight the German U boat menace, made it a big destination for US tourists. Wealthy Hollywood film stars moved there. So although officially British it is far more American and celeb orientated.
Mind you if history repeats itself it could end up as a new home for Prince Harry and Meghan who have abdicated their Royal roles. Any vacancy coming up soon for the governship of Bermuda?