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Oscar Webb

Oscar WebbOscar Webb is a freelance journalist and photographer. @owebb

From The Blog
2 December 2016

‘Everyone I know who has been political in Gambia has ended up in jail or dead,’ says L., who came to Italy nine months ago. ‘The army spends its time and resources arresting and torturing anyone who speaks or acts against the president.’ L. showed me a photo on his phone of what he said was an execution he'd been sent by a friend in Gambia two days before: soldiers stand over a man in a pit, his hands together in the air. ‘My parents did not educate me to end up in prison and my first loyalty is to them. I was so angry at everything but to be angry in Gambia means to get arrested or killed. I had to leave.’ L. spoke to me on Wednesday, the day before Gambia's presidential election. ‘Now is our best chance to get rid of our president because for the first time all of the opposition parties are united,’ he said. I asked how it affected him personally. 'My father does not keep quiet during elections. I inherited his anger.’

From The Blog
23 November 2016

The Hotel Belvedere is on a hillside a kilometre or so south of the Sicilian town of Corleone. The north-facing rooms have expansive views of the town below and the valley below that. The Belvedere shut its doors to tourists in late 2013 after a couple of decades of business; one of its last reviews on TripAdvisor described it as ‘totally empty’, with a ‘stale’ continental breakfast and ‘towels thin enough to read through’. A few months later, the hotel’s fortunes changed. Reopened in 2014 under new management – a co-operative that also runs care homes in Sicily – the hotel became an ‘extraordinary reception centre’ for migrants, one of about 3000 in Italy.

From The Blog
14 April 2016

Two weeks ago, a group of several hundred refugees, most of them Syrian, fled a crowded detention camp on Chios, where violence had broken out between Afghans and Syrians. ‘I woke up with a rock coming through my window,’ a young Syrian man told me. ‘They were shouting “Syri! Syri!” They hit people with sticks. An old man has cuts all over his head. So the next day we left.’ Five hundred Syrian and Pakistani refugees broke through the camp’s flimsy fence, walked to Chios town and set up camp in the port, hoping to get on a boat to Athens. Last Thursday, a crowd of angry locals gathered around the port.

From The Blog
29 March 2016

Up to 190 shipping containers are on their way to Lesvos, Samos and Chios, to be used as offices by 600 EU asylum officials and 430 interpreters. According to the terms of the deal between the EU and Turkey that came into effect on 20 March, 'all new irregular migrants crossing from Turkey to the Greek islands … will be returned to Turkey'.

From The Blog
8 March 2016

Outside the Greek village of Idomeni, near the Macedonian border, about 15,000 people are living in small recreational tents and a few UN emergency shelters, waiting to continue their journey to Western Europe. The Macedonians shut the gates a week ago. They enforced their decision with tear gas and the threat of water cannon. The frontier occasionally opens and few dozen people cross, but more arrive every day than leave. In the camp, small signs of permanence have started to appear.

From The Blog
1 December 2015

A refugee camp has sprung up at Idomeni on the Greek-Macedonian border. Just over two weeks ago, Macedonia closed the border to certain non-European nationalities. If you’re not from Syria, Afghanistan or Iraq, you can’t cross. Around 2000 people, mostly from Morocco, Iran and Bangladesh, are stuck. They live in poor and deteriorating conditions, waiting, in hope, for the border to reopen to them.

From The Blog
4 November 2015

I met J. at the central railway station in Belgrade, where he was waiting among a handful of Syrian and Afghan refugees. The only English speaker in his group, he introduced me to his family – parents, brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews – as we waited for a train towards Croatia. They were from Homs and had been on the road for several weeks: they’d landed on Samos, taken the ferry to Athens and headed north, on their way to Germany, where their brother had lived for several years. ‘These people,’ J. said, motioning to his family and leaning in, almost whispering, ‘think they can trust all Europeans – but here they cannot. It is dangerous. Serbia is fucked up.’ He had seen refugees being robbed; a Syrian family, who, like many, had spent the previous night in the station, had had their money taken from them as they slept. ‘It’s up to me to look after these people. I've hardly slept for the last week,’ J. said. ‘I carry a knife just in case.’ He leaned back into his chair and looked me up and down. ‘I want to tell you something so you see how hard this journey is for people,’ he said. (I've changed some details to protect his and the others' identities.)

From The Blog
9 October 2015

If you look out the window as you come in to land at Mytilene airport on Lesbos, the coast appears to be outlined in orange; the lifejackets and deflated black dinghies are distinguishable just before you touch down. I took the last charter flight of the tourist season from London, on Saturday 3 October; my ticket cost £50 and the plane had barely two dozen people on it. If you’re coming from Syria or Afghanistan, getting to Lesbos is more difficult.

From The Blog
10 September 2015

I caught up with the group of around 1000 refugees leaving Budapest on foot as they were crossing the Danube on the Elisabeth suspension bridge. We walked west along a dual carriageway. Families wheeled their belongings in pushchairs, with babies teetering on top. People were in flip-flops and beaten-up loafers. A woman pointed at my walking boots: ‘Very good,’ she said. Hungarian drivers stopped to offer people water and food. One man gave a family two pushchairs. At service stations, attendants rushed to the doors to stop people from entering, though they handed out bottles of water. A man on crutches overtook me, his friend carrying his prosthetic leg. It was about 150 miles to Vienna.

From The Blog
24 March 2015

On 4 March the UK Supreme Court ruled that police surveillance of John Catt, a law-abiding 90-year-old peace campaigner, was legal, and that a detailed record of his movements would remain in the national domestic extremist database. ‘The composition, organisation and leadership of protest groups,’ Lord Sumption said, ‘is a matter of proper interest to the police even if some of the individuals are not themselves involved in any criminality.’ Using the data protection act, Catt obtained a copy of his police file in 2010. At one protest, it recorded, he ‘sat on a folding chair... and appeared to be sketching’. At another, ‘he was using his drawing pad to sketch a picture of the protest and police presence.’ Another entry noted he was clean-shaven. The Network for Police Monitoring said that the ruling ‘allows the police extraordinary discretion to gather personal information of individuals for purposes that are never fully defined’.

From The Blog
19 December 2014

Last month Hungary’s teachers were out on the streets of Budapest. Thousands marched, demanding the government reduce child poverty and increase their wages: they earn 53 per cent of the average pay for university educated workers, the second lowest among OECD countries. Teachers’ salaries have decreased drastically since 2005 and government spending on primary and secondary education has dropped 14 per cent since 2008.

From The Blog
22 October 2014

The property industry met at Kensington Olympia last week. MIPIM (Le marché international des professionnels de l'immobilier), held in Cannes for the last 25 years, came to London for the first time, gathering together ‘all professionals looking to close deals in the UK property market’. Tickets cost £500. (I had a press pass.) Day one kicked off with the announcement of a deal 'to deliver the £400 million Kirkstall Forge development in Leeds'. The large sums of money and vague management speak remained a key feature for the three days of the conference.

From The Blog
7 October 2014

A poll at the weekend gave the Tory defector and Ukip candidate Douglas Carswell a 44-point lead in the Clacton by-election. He looks set to become Ukip’s first ever MP on Thursday. One of the first people I saw as I came out of Clacton-on-Sea train station on Saturday was carrying a Douglas Carswell poster. He said his name was Tristan, and he’d just been at the Ukip campaign office with his son. He’d never voted before but was backing Carswell because of Ukip’s stance on immigration. He thought that David Cameron’s weak policies on immigration were to blame for the state of the country.

From The Blog
26 September 2014

Barnet Council and Barratt Homes are in the early stages of knocking down a housing estate in West Hendon, to replace it with a new development. Their aim is to create ‘high quality new homes in a pleasant environment and make the area a desirable place to live, work and spend time in’. But not for most of the current residents: nearly 400 homeowners and non-secure tenants, along with their families, are being ‘decanted’ off the estate. Twenty-six non-secure tenants have already been made to leave. Those remaining are not going quietly.

From The Blog
10 February 2014

On Wednesday 29 January, 150 students from around the country met at Birmingham University to discuss the next steps in their campaigns against the privatisation of education, outsourcing of university services and selling off of student debt. After the meeting, the students picked up red and black flags, put on masks and marched around the campus. Some unfurled a banner from the top of Old Joe, the university's clock tower named after Joseph Chamberlain. Others spray painted and chalked slogans onto the red brick walls: 'Occupy, Strike, Resist'; 'No more 1984.' When protesters tried to enter university buildings, security tried to stop them. There was some pushing and shoving. Soon the police arrived. A university spokesperson later said that 'the university had no choice but to ask the police for assistance in restoring order and protecting students, staff and university property.'

From The Blog
12 December 2013

Last Wednesday a peaceful occupation of Senate House in protest against outsourcing and privatisation at the University of London was broken up by force by university security and police. Security pulled and pushed students to the ground and dragged them out of the building, where around 100 police were waiting, holding off a crowd that had gathered in support of those inside. An officer punched a student in the face. Some were violently bundled to the ground and arrested. Protesters blocked the street as the police tried to drive those they’d arrested away. A woman was thrown to the ground screaming and her friends told they’d be arrested if they tried to help her.

From The Blog
6 August 2013

For the past year, outsourced workers at the University of London have been demanding 3 Cosas – pensions, sick pay and holiday pay on the same terms as directly employed staff – and staging regular protests at Senate House with the support of students. Last week the university tried to put a stop to them.

From The Blog
8 February 2013

It emerged last month that the GP surgery on University College London’s Bloomsbury campus is to be closed. ‘UCL has informed us that it has no plans to renew our lease when it expires in 2014,’ Dr Clare Elliot, a partner at the Gower Place Practice, told me. ‘It does not wish to provide a space for the NHS practice on the UCL campus.’ The closure is part of the £500m ‘Bloomsbury Masterplan’, approved by UCL Council in July 2011, which will transform the central London campus over the next decade. (There's an abridged version online.) The provost of UCL, Malcolm Grant, describes the plan as a ‘coherent vision’ to ‘enable institutional growth’.

From The Blog
7 December 2012

On 29 November, forty students entered and occupied a room at University College London in protest against the college’s plan to build a new campus in East London. UCL Stratford will see the demolition of the Carpenters council estate to make way for a new 23-acre campus costing £1 billion. After a year’s negotiations the plans were given the green light by Newham Council in late October. All of the housing on the site will be flattened and the 700 residents ‘decanted’. Their ‘right to return’ promised in the residents’ charter published by the council ‘will remain subject to availability’.

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