Friday, July 13, 2012

The Politics Of It All - Keynote Speech at LGBTI Asylum Conference, London

Being a keynote speech by Godwyns Onwuchekwa delivered at Double Jeopardy, the LGBTI Asylum Conference held at University of Greenwich, London, July 4 -6, 2012

Thank you everyone for sharing and work so far. It’s been two wonderful days and I have listened to some amazing reports of immense passion, selflessness and dedication and it makes me proud.
In the words of one of the most humble work shared in a workshop yesterday, “we are ready, we have the resources.” Thank you Lisa Hebert from Canada for that.

The truth is I am short of words for many reasons but still, I am optimistic.

After a very tasking one and half days, my soul is shattered, my head grinding and my heart full of anger. Not that it is the first time or a new experience, but each time I listen to the distressing trouble that  fellow human beings go through in the search for safety – but worse still – in the very place they thought they would be safe, I cant but shudder and cry. My heart was crunching fast and uncontrollably yesterday after watching “Getting Out” which trailed the story of 5 LGBTI asylum seekers in the UK.

Thanks to Chris Dolan and his producing team of ‘Getting Out’. I know one of the featured refugees, John Bosco and I pay tribute to him today, and to all the others as well as many other wonderful people in this audience that have gone, or are still going through the problematic asylum process. My friends, you are strong and I implore you to hold on.

John Bosco who you saw in Getting Out is one of the strong pillars of Justice for Gay Africans (JfGA) and continues tirelessly to support other asylum seekers and his fellow refugees even with his personal resources; time, money, energy, and all he can afford. John is an angel. And that is what I would encourage us all here to keep doing. No input is too little.

Without berating or ignoring the amazing work all of you do, my wonder is, what is the way forward when we live here? For me, all the time and even in this gathering, one thing is glaring; there is a need to push out. Every time we come together and talk to each other and share what we do, we also notice that one stream is not being worked at as should be or is just difficult; the so-called mainstream.

Could we engage the wider society more?
However, resentment of asylum seekers or refugees, molestation, hatred, isolation, racism, and a lot of negative reaction comes from the wider society… and you’d agree with me, even the immigration officers we talk about are part of that mainstream. My query then is; how do we push change to that fold?

Don’t get me wrong, I do not think it is the only way out. Just to underline the traditional tendency in our circle that may attack this  suggestions and blame proponents for speaking of a particular missing strand as if it is the only solution. But the truth is that for any problem, there could be various strands of a solution that cracks it. Yes, what we do is important, and needed, but this other part is also very important and thus must not be ignored.

But I do admit that it is not easy.

As agreed, there is no easy way to this safety that persecuted people seek. If I may mimic how Ali Hili put it across in the drama we watched last night, directed by Sam Rowe – thank you Sam for creatively putting that message out, raw and real -, Ali asked, “what is the difference between a country that torture you physically and one that do the same through mental frustration and emotional torture?” Your guess is as good as mine.

Engaging the wider polity
And that brings us to the next issue I want to call our attention to. 

During the presentation by dear Nicole LaViolette – thanks for that alert Nicole – we saw the conflicting decision-making going on in Canada, once (if not still) the beacon of light on asylum and refugee. My fear is not so much as what we’d lose in Canada, but the wrong message it would pass to countries that are lagging behind in living up to their signatory to the Refugee convention and other such instruments. In Britain, we are aware of the internally raging war on the ever-changing immigration policies. What leaf would UK borrow from Canada with such changes?

But the issue I want to point out is the political aspects and connotations of these reforms. As is clear through history, subtle xenophobia is always a response to economic and financial crisis. This is understandable. Humans are competitive and when the worse appears on the horizon, survival of the fittest becomes the game.
Yet, the same history teaches us that diversity makes any place successful. Because with diversity comes intelligence, ideas, opportunities and genius. A cursory look at the world tells you that the most successful and developed countries in the world – well, as far as economic and social civilization go – are countries with a lot of diversity in them. 

Yet, when you explore the origin of that diversity, it is usually and barely linked to controlled or deliberate migration. But to those running for safety and survival, turn the opportunity to be safe into opportunity to succeed. And when you look at the economic landscape today, this is etched all over it. Take for example, the famous ‘British’ store, Marks & Spencer, was founded by a polish migrant… I will just stop there.

So what was I going to alert us to? It is that we must not be complacent, hence narrow-focused on the issue that concerns us alone; just the asylum process and survival of refugees. If we do so, we fail to see and work on all other factors that influence the deplorable policies that continue to gnarl at us.
We must be as politically savvy as we are charitably savvy. We must engage, participate and explore. We cannot just ask governments to change and to improve without understanding what is behind the reasons they ignore us. 

As much as we have understood their ideologies, we also need to understand and explore other factors, including theories, pressures, worries, and all others that make them deviate.
As we are aware, those who are not for us are also hard at work to make sure they thwart any humane decision that is necessary for a better society to achieve international protection, not just for LGBTI people but for all others. 

It is clear the amount of hatred and thus the amount of pressure premised on votes and instigated through racists and economic accusations, even through faith and indoctrinated hatred.
Today in Britain, the immigration debate is no more focused on the immigrants from farther across the oceans but also on domestic EU migrants. 

So without engaging deeply – and I repeat, deeply – in the political argument and the wider polity, then we will not have the opportunity to provide answers to the very lies, fears, and of course, understandable concerns that fuel these bad policies. 

In the current economic climate, the slogan, ‘no decision about me without me’ has become common. However, you cannot control decisions about you if you are not in the room where it is made or be involved in the making of it. In fact, clever influencers in the world across the ages have had informants (or what is sometimes known as insiders)… And that is the clever way to go at all time. But I am not suggesting informers in the criminal way or as stealing information. But informants in the sense of being part of our world, not just by informing policies but by also being there as they are finally formulated, written and implemented. Because, simply put, there is nothing wrong with being involved in every sinew that contributes to it.

As we leave here with the knowledge of the ‘double jeopardy’ that the life of majority of asylum seekers and refugees across the world are in, it is time to ask ourselves,
  •     Are we seated at all the tables we need to be at?
  •     Do we have all the information we need?
  •     And can we influence the players and core policy-makers that decide our lives and environments?
  •     Are we involved and participating in the decision-making that finally decide our own concerns?

If the answers to these questions are no, then we would be going far more slower, if not going nowhere slowly, in the long run.

Don’t get me wrong please, I do not want to discourage you nor do I have any intention of discrediting the entire wonderful work we are doing. But when the tide changes, the sailing tactics itself surely, must change. And that is a fact.

As Nicole kindly alerted us yesterday of the developments in Canada, in her words, “I am sceptical” she said. As for me, I am even more [sceptical].

Having been involved in local politics in the UK, I can share with you that political discussions around issues affecting the society is talked about and considered differently. While party politics have a lot of input for their own success and victory at the polls, funders’ and voters’ ideas and standpoint determine a lot of how policy are shaped and put in manifestos; it is a market.

So I will repeat, do not be discouraged. But ask yourself, we do we need to be that we are not and how can we fill that gap. Yet, we cannot be in those places if we do not go out and be involved. In faith groups, in our local communities, in our local politics, in education, in business, and wherever discussions about the general polity is had and influenced from.

Anything we can put in and however we can achieve it in a legal means, we must not put. We must maintain the pace of what we have achieved so, are doing but not ignore the wider society, the general polity and this is the core of the so-called mainstream.

However you can help, whatever you can do. Remember, every little action matters. And remember, the fear of immigration is based on false assumption and disillusions but the truth is that, the diversity of any place increases and improves the diversity and extent of its output. But we have to provide these answers to those who are worried and debunk the myth that they are fed by those who do not want to see a better human race.

I urge you to go out and take a fresh look at things and find where else you as an individual can chip in something. 

Remember, every little helps.

Godwyns Onwuchekwa

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