The Migration Business

Taking part in a panel on European border control at the LSE last autumn, I found myself saying that the behaviour of people smugglers over the last twenty years or more was as worrying as the increasing number of migrants and asylum seekers using their services. Cecilia Malmström, then the European Commissioner for Home Affairs, nodded vigorously. She described the mechanics of getting people in danger across frontiers in the last century as an innocent process, a ‘cottage industry’. I remember hearing a similar remark about the older coyotes from an NGO worker on the US-Mexican border in 2011.

I haven’t met a people smuggler for 16 years: my evidence that they treat their charges more harshly than they used to comes from sources we can all access – mainly accounts in the press about migrants and asylum seekers who have suffered at their hands, and briefings from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime. More »

A Headteacher Writes

Dennis O’Sullivan, the headteacher of a secondary school in Hertfordshire, has written an open letter to David Cameron setting out the funding crisis facing schools in England and Wales: ‘a school like mine needs to find £500,000 in savings on an income of just under £6,000,000 in each of the next three years.’ This is because: More »

On the Road

I am writing this in the car on the way from Haifa to Ramallah. Cell phones beep as we cross between Israeli and West Bank coverage. The view out the window has changed from the dark green mountains and manicured landscapes of northern Israel to the rocky textures of the West Bank mountains.

On 23 May, more than a dozen writers will arrive in Ramallah from different parts of the world to take part in the Palestine Festival of Literature, which I help organise. Every year since 2008, it has put on public literary events with Palestinian and visiting writers in different cities in the evenings. Over the course of the week, it also aims to show the visitors something of Palestinian history and present-day reality. A lot of time is spent on the road, travelling through the geography of occupation: the checkpoints, the walls, the segregated motorways. More »

Who are the Rohingya?

There was a sign on the floor of one of the boats abandoned off the coast of Aceh this week. ‘We are Myanmar Rohingya,’ it said in white capital letters. Its occupants may have been picked up by Indonesian fishermen, or they may have drowned. In the last couple of days, Malaysia and Indonesia have agreed to give temporary shelter to 7000 or more people stranded on boats in the Andaman Sea, some for as long as four months. The Malaysian navy has also begun to look for boats in its own waters. Thailand won’t be joining them, though it has agreed not to turn the boats away for the moment. ‘Our country has more problems than theirs,’ the Thai prime minister said. He may well be right: a mass grave was discovered in the south of Thailand earlier this month, containing the bodies of 26 Rohingya. There are probably more. On 29 May, there will be a meeting in Bangkok of 15 countries including the US, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Bangladesh and Burma, which is attending on condition that no one use the word ‘Rohingya’. More »

Labour’s Fight

The crisis that now confronts the Labour Party is difficult to overstate. Had forthcoming boundary changes been in place for the general election, the Conservatives would have won a parliamentary majority of around 50 seats. The SNP has wiped Labour out in Scotland. The rise of both the Green Party and Ukip in England and Wales looks set to continue, and the Liberal Democrats may well take back a few seats in five years time. Labour may well struggle to maintain its current footing in 2020, let alone build on it. More »

Der britische Historikerstreit

The German word Historikerstreit, meaning a quarrel between historians, gained popularity in the 1980s, to describe arguments over whether Nazism represented a continuity or rupture in the German story, or over the comparative evils of Fascism and Stalinism. Historical debates over questions bearing on political decision-taking – such as Greece’s debt to Germany (or vice versa), or whether Turkey is a European country – have kept the practice going in the 21st century.

The British historical guild has been slow to emulate the European model, but the self-styled ‘Historians for Britain’ in October last year launched a manifesto using a selective reading of the past to argue for British uniqueness and superiority vis-à-vis the EU. More »

The Segregation Wall

Shuafat refugee camp in East Jerusalem. © Karen Zack

Shuafat refugee camp in East Jerusalem. © Karen Zack

Some people call the wall in the West Bank a ‘security fence’; others refer to it as an ‘apartheid wall’. The International Court of Justice, in its 2004 advisory opinion declaring the construction illegal, called it simply ‘the wall’. Media style guides tend to suggest ‘West Bank barrier’ or ‘separation barrier/wall’.

But the wall doesn’t only separate; it segregates. In 1963, Malcolm X gave a speech in which he spelled out the difference: separation is between equals; segregation is forced on the weak by the strong. A segregated community is ‘regulated from the outside by outsiders’. More »

That Handshake

For the first time in longer than I can remember I agreed with Gerry Adams. It was political of course – calculated as well as choreographed – but that much photographed and much commented-on handshake with Prince Charles was a human, even – to unload the word – disarming moment. More »

Sandwiches at an Impeachment

The seven-year trial of Warren Hastings for high crimes and misdemeanours while governor-general of Bengal began in 1788. ‘There have been spectacles more dazzling to the eye,’ Macaulay wrote in 1841,

more gorgeous with jewellery and cloth of gold, more attractive to grown-up children, than that which was then exhibited at Westminster; but, perhaps, there never was a spectacle so well calculated to strike a highly cultivated, a reflecting, and imaginative mind… More »

Netanyahu’s Joke

Yesterday, on the 67th anniversary of the establishment of Israel (Palestinians commemorate the Nakba today), Binyamin Netanyahu was sworn in as prime minister. It’s taken him a while to put together a governing coalition of 61 seats, against 59 in the opposition. It’s worth watching the first minute of Netanyahu’s speech to the Knesset. You don’t have to understand Hebrew. ‘Tonight with God’s help,’ he begins, ‘we will create a government in Israel.’ He pauses for a second. ‘We will defend Israeli security.’ Another pause. ‘And we will strive for peace.’ At the word ‘peace’ (‘shalom’) many members of the Knesset couldn’t contain themselves. Bursts of spontaneous laughter broke out from the opposition benches. Led by Arab MKs from the Joint List, the contagious laughter carried away more and more members of the opposition. The word ‘peace’ in Israel, especially spoken by Netanyahu, is a joke. It is indeed funny to watch. Yet it is the tragic story of Israel.

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