Blog Archive

Monday, 2 May 2016


Activists send open letter to David Lammy


Press Release: Embargo -Thursday, April 28th 2016 00.01 am
An Open Letter to the Rt. Honourable David Lammy MP concerning the Parliamentary Review of racial bias and BAME representation in Criminal Justice system
On 31st January 2016, The Prime Minister, David Cameron asked David Lammy MP to lead a Review to investigate evidence of possible bias and disproportionate sentencing of African, Caribbean and Asian defendants in the Criminal Justice System. As part of the Equality and Criminal Justice reform. David Lammy MP is to report back in spring of 2017.
The Prime Minister said:
We need to ask the difficult questions about whether the system treats people differently based on race. Charges, courts, prisons and rehabilitation to be scrutinised."
The Rt Hon David Lammy, MP, said:
I've been working in this area for almost 2 decades and am very pleased to accept the Prime Minister's invitation to lead this comprehensive, independent review across our criminal justice system. With over a quarter of the prison population coming from BAME background the urgency is clear. I look forward to leading a team that will evaluate what works in the UK, draw on lessons from abroad and listen to a broad range of voices from the justice system and our BAME communities."
Lord Chancellor and Justice Secretary, the Rt Hon Michael Gove MP, said:
An effective justice system depends on procedural fairness. Equality of treatment at every stage in the criminal justice process is essential. I am very pleased that David, a politician whose intellectual honesty I have long admired, and who is not afraid to confront uncomfortable truths, is pursuing this important work."
There is a need for such a review, as a report entitled Statistics on Race and the Criminal Justice System 2012, produced by the Ministry of Justice found that almost 20% per cent of black and Asian defendants were more likely to be jailed than white defendants for similar offences. The average sentence given to an African Caribbean defendant is seven times longer than that for an average white defendant.
Stop and search figures revealed a similar pattern of over representation, a black person aged ten or older in 2011/ 2012, was 6 times more likely than a white person to be stopped and searched and nearly three times more likely to be arrested.
The same report found that only 26 per cent of white defendants were handed immediate custodial sentences compared to 31 per cent for black defendants and 32 per cent for Asian defendants. Again this differential treatment can be seen in the average custodial sentence for black prisoners was 23.4 months compared to 15.9 months for white prisoners.
Speaking as the Chairman of the Society of Black Lawyers, the former Vice Chair of the Metropolitan Police Authority, and part time Judge, D Peter Herbert OBE said:
the figures showed 'institutional racism' within the system."
We understand that there will be separate but simultaneous meetings of BAME Judges and magistrates to discuss judicial racism and bias.
We as BAME legal groups and the wider BAME organisations and all our various communities would like to collectively express a view and put forward written and oral evidence of anecdotal cases that we know of, and a joint position on solutions, as a way forward. To this end we will be holding a series of meetings to discuss racism and bias in the Criminal Justice System and within our judicial system generally.
We know that there is significant overrepresentation of black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) people in the criminal justice system.
Please see the attached letter to David Lammy MP. Please confirm whether you would be willing to attend such meetings by contacting the numbers shown below.

Note to editors and other interested parties:
D Peter Herbert OBE - Society of Black Lawyers: 07973 794 946
Viv Ahmun - Blaksox: 07985 395 166
Ashlee Gomes - NBPA: 07887 635 375
Earl Smith - ABPO: 07810 854 258

Report on BARAC Humanitarian Aid April distribution in Calais ; Thank you for your support

BARAC's most recent humanitarian aid and solidarity visit to Calais took place last weekend.

Just a few weeks after our March distribution even more of the 'camp' had been bulldozed and cleared. An area near the art school which we had visited in March which was full of tents and structures and families living was beyond recognition.

Our transport and travel in April was sponsored by ASLEF the Train Drivers union to whom we are very grateful.

ASLEF has also donated to our Go Fund Me also towards aid.

We have just received sponsorship for our next distribution travel and transport by Global Justice Now. Our thanks to Director Nick Deardon. 

We are delighted that this year's TUC Black Workers Conference raised £1500 for BARAC Humanitarian Aid through its annual fundraising dance and a motion at the conference moved by the Public and Commercial Services Union called on affiliates and the TUC to support humanitarian aid efforts such as BARAC's,  The motion was carried unanimously. 

Our travel across the channel was not without the usual racial profiling and scrutiny by border authorities.  In the past we have been stopped and searched, delayed, detained, police checked, asked if we are the same people coming back as went out, told that if we are let into France we could get to Turkey and cross the border to Syria.

On this occasion we were asked if we had any 'knives or weapons'. When we responded that we did not, our vehicle was searched with particular scrutiny and attention given to sanitary towels we were taking for women in the camp.  Presumably this is where they thought we kept the knives and weapons. 

As if that was not bad enough, our driver, Hector Wesley, the only black man in our team on this occasion was body scanned. 

No other vehicles received such scrutiny and nobody else was body scanned.

On the way back our vehicle was searched and the authorities searched under my legs to see if I had hidden somebody there.

Police barriers surrounded all entrances to the camp.

As we entered the Eritrean church was like an oasis in a desert. The  burned out frameworks of  structures and items scattered across the earth that were there just a few weeks ago were now gone. 

Despite there being very few tents around, we  decided to distribute some food to the people staying near to the church and there was soon a line. Some young boys asked us for footballs and biscuits.

We distributed at two points, near the church and near the art school. We took food for communities in the camp in bulk form and also made up packs of essential items, toiletries and food.  We had packs for children with books, toys and snacks and baby and women's products. 

After our first distribution, we visited the school where English and French lessons for adults were taking place. We met with some people who were volunteering at the school and gave them the children's packs to distribute for  when children attended during the week.

We then visited the art school and took some supplies and met with some artists based in the camp and looked at the art they had produced.  

We distributed our second lot of aid and then went to the Women's Centre to take feminine hygiene products.

After that we visited with some young Sudanese brothers who welcomed us with kind hospitality, bringing us chairs  and making us coffee. We spoke with them at length about their experiences, their journeys to get to France through several countries and for some the journey had taken years,  some had lost their parents and  when we told them about the work of BARAC in the UK in campaigning against injustice and racism they told us that they would like to join us when they got to the UK which of course we very much welcomed.  Ironically for one of the young brothers we spoke with,  before leaving his home, his job had been supporting refugees,  not expecting that he himself would become a refugee.  One young man told me that my headwrap was the exact same print his mother wore and that she even tied hers the same way.  Most of the  people we have met over the past several months in Calais are young enough to be our children and myself and other women in our team have reminded them of their mothers. 

Over the past few months we have distributed our aid with our sisters and brothers stuck in the 'camp' , the lead brother

coordinating from the camp is Samer who ran the library and other community projects.  Each time I leave I say to him see you next time but next time I really hope you are no longer here and it was too our joy to discover a few days before from Samer that he was now in the UK. We wish Samer all the luck in the world and a positive new start and look forward to meeting up with him in more positive circumstances. We thank him for his community spirit in supporting and helping others. 

To support our humanitarian aid work you can donate here  or directly to BARAC. We are also seeking sponsors for transport and travel and you can take items to our drop off point at PCS HQ.

Contact us at for further info.

Thank you to all who have supported our sisters and brothers stuck in limbo to date.

Zita Holbourne

National Co-Chair BARAC UK

Report on the TUC Black Workers Conference

BARAC had a busy three days at TUC Black Workers Conference with BARAC members attending the conference as trade union delegates and observers, organising a Sarah Reed Justice Campaign fringe meeting and an art exhibition and book launch by Co-Chair of BARAC Zita Holbourne.  

Amongst BARAC representatives at the conference were Zita, Donna Guthrie, Hector Wesley, Antonietta Torsiello and Carol Notice-Hodgson. 

Hector Wesley, PCS NEC and BARAC International Officer

Donna Guthrie, National Women's Officer BARAC UK and Unite the Union rep

A motion moved by the PCS Union called on the TUC and affiliates to make links between campaigns on supporting refugees, against climate change and on anti racism and anti fascism and to support the work of organisations such as BARAC coordinating aid convoys to refugees in France.

The motion was carried unanimously.

An emergency motion calling on affiliates and the TUC to support the Sarah Reed Campaign for Justice, also proposed by the PCS Union was carried unanimously.  Both motions were moved by Zita.

Marilyn Reed, mother of Sarah Reed was due to address the conference on Saturday morning was due to being unwell was unable to. Instead Donna McKoy from the Sarah Reed Campaign for Justice read Marilyn's speech and received a standing ovation.  You can watch an extract of her presentation here

Donna McKoy, Blaksox and Starah Reed campaign

A bucket collection for the campaign collected £150.

left to right, Betty Joseph, Chair of Conference , Donna McKoy, Zita Holbourne

A motion put forward by the POA called on the TUC Black Workers Conference to change it's name to BAME.

Like Black Workers Conference, Society of Black Lawyers, Southall Black Sisters and countless other organisations BARAC uses the term black in its political sense to include all those that identify as being black and from the African and Asian diasporas.

Zita spoke against the motion on behalf of the TUC Race Relations Committee and several unions spoke in opposition.  You can watch Zita's speech here

The motion was heavily defeated.

The BARAC Fringe Meeting in support of the Sarah Reed Campaign for Justice was sponsored by the PCS Union for which we are grateful.

The meeting was chaired by Zita Holbourne and speakers  were Donna McKoy  who spoke about the next steps for the campaign and how people could help and Donna Guthrie, BARAC Women's Officer who spoke about the wider context of  Sarah's tragic death and the combined impacts of racism, sexism, black mental health, institutitional racism and austerity. 

Donna Guthrie, Donna McKoy and Zita Holbourne 

Each year the TUC Race Relations Committee choose a cause to support through their annual fundraising dance at the conference. This year they chose BARAC Humanitarian Aid Convoys. The dance raised £1500 through ticket sales. 

More information and donate here

In addition Zita curated the Roots Culture Identity art exhibition at the conference  featuring the art of young, black and migrant artists with Zita's art and she launched her new book Striving for Equality Freedom and Justice. BARAC member Antonietta Torsiello had art featured in the exhibition and Donna Guthrie with Antonietta ran  a stall at the conference.

Tuesday, 15 March 2016

Climate migration discussion incl Zita Holbourne, Richard Black + others

Image by Zita; Poet~Artist~Activist 

BARAC UK was a co-sponsor of a film launch and panel discussion organised by creative director Kooj Chuhan on climate change and migration. 

Climate migration discussion incl Zita Holbourne, Richard Black + others

Video of panel presentations from ‘Linking Climate Change with Migration’ public event 7th March 2016 at Kings College, which began with a screening of the film ‘Crossing Footprints’ by Kooj Chuhan.  The climate migration discussion also included Andrew Baldwin and Alex Randall.  The ‘Crossing Footprints’ film will be available to watch online soon, once it has been fully signed off after final proofing.  This video of the panel presentations is approx 40 mins long:

Watch here

The leading  climate migration discussion panel included speakers:

Richard Black, leading scholar at SOAS on migration in the context of climate change
Zita Holbourne, community, union and human rights activist, writer, artist and curator; co-founder of Black Activists Rising Against Cuts
Andrew Baldwin, chair of international Climate Change and Migration research network based at Durham University
Alex Randall, UK Climate Change and Migration Coalition
Kooj Chuhan, artist, filmmaker and curator of the ‘Footprint Modulation’ exhibition exploring climate migration and justice
+ Public launch and screening of the film ‘Crossing Footprints: Human Migration and the Environment’ by Kooj Chuhan / Metaceptive Media, about both the Human Migration and The Environment Conference and the Footprint Modulation art

Video of Sarah Reed fringe meeting at TUC Women's Conference and Black Lives Matter Bloc M19 Demo

Last week at the TUC Women's Conference, BARAC UK  organised a fringe meeting on the Sarah Reed Campaign for Justice, which was sponsored by the GMB union.  The meeting was addressed by Marilyn Reed, mother of Sarah Reed,  Patricia Lamour, Blak Sox and was chaired by National Co-Chair of BARAC and member of the TUC Race Relations Committee Zita Holbourne.

You can watch a video of the meeting in three parts below.




Thanks go to Sharon Edwards of the PCS Union for recording the meeting.

BARAC together with Blak Sox and the NUS Black Students Campaign have organised a #BlackLivesMatter bloc on the UN Anti Racism Day National Demo on Saturday 19th of March.

Marilyn Reed, together with Co-Chairs of BARAC, Zita Holbourne and Lee Jasper, plus a speaker from Blak Sox are speakers at the demo.

Report on BARAC humanitarian aid visit to Calais and Dunkirk, March 2016

Since Summer 2015 BARAC has been coordinating humanitarian convoys and taking solidarity and aid to refugees in Calais and more recently Dunkirk.

Saturday 12th of March was our most recent visit, we were blessed to be accompanied by The Black Fathers Support Group who brought much needed essentials and food and played a key role in distributing aid on the day.

We were also joined by Ray Rakaba, Documentary Film Maker, who made a film of our first solidarity and  fact finding visit to Calais. Our transport and travel was sponsored by the CWU union and the CWU staff branch of GMB for which we are truly grateful. Our thanks also go to the PCS union for providing a drop off and storage point for donations and booking our transport.

Our key coordinating team for humanitarian work consists of Hector Wesley, BARAC National Steering Group, Donna Guthrie, BARAC National Women's Officer, my son  and myself,  but we are joined by different volunteers on each visit from  BARAC, other black community organisations and the wider community.

Each distribution has its own challengers from Border Control and police delaying and questioning us to adverse weather and break downs but what ever the challenge we meet our key objective of taking much needed food, toiletries and essentials - responding to the cultural, dietary, religious and gender needs of those in the 'camps'.

This distribution was no different. We were questioned about the nature of our visit to France by Border officials having watched the car full of people in front of our vehicles being waved through without so much as looking at their passports, we  faced racist negative stereotyping from another volunteer and then several lots of police barriers blocking our entrance into the Calais shanty town, followed by hostility, difficulties in reaching our contacts in the 'camp'  and barring of aid at the Dunkirk camp.

It took a long time, driving around before we eventually found an entry point into the Calais shanty town that police did not block our entrance to. Ironically we were allowed to enter by police via what used to be the South Side of the 'camp'  before it was demolished by French authorities accompanied by riot police just over a week earlier.

What used to be a space homing thousands of refugees in fragile structures, complete with make shift cafes, shops, places of worship, a class room and a library was now a post- apocalyptic smouldering waste land of asbestos infested mud land.  Embedded in the uneven ground were items people were forced to leave behind in their haste to reach a place of safety in the face of the brutal demolition of their temporary living spaces.

Here and there were people searching through the mud for items lost.  In the distance we spotted a team in white coats combing the area.

In the midst of this sea of  mud and lost items was an oasis - the church and library still standing, inside the church was serene, clean and orderly,  in stark contrast to its surroundings. Outside a young woman we knew from the Eritrean cafe  which served as an eatery and resting place for young Eritrean, Sudanese and Ethiopian women and men, was using an outside grill to make tea and food for the few refugees remaining in the area.

A few months back we had brought clothing, African hair products and cooking equipment for the people using this place, now it no longer existed.

Before the demolition 

After the demolition

Even though we had seen all the reports of the demolition nothing could have prepared us for what greeted us.  We had difficulty meeting the brothers and sisters, refugees who usually work with us to do our distributions because nothing and nobody was where they used to be and places we could have driven to before could not be reached.

We stopped near the art school which being over the other side of the shanty town had not yet been targeted by  the authorities for demolition.  A young brother invited me into the art school to see the latest art and his own skilled work creating sandals out of rubber tyres. Several people stopped to speak with us and asked us for clothes. Many people had lost their clothes when the south side of the 'camp' was destroyed - we had brought a range of clothes but had dropped these to the warehouse for sorting and distribution. We regretted not bringing it with us to give to the people there who needed it so they would not have to wait.

We had brought a mixture of individual packs with essentials, food and toiletries as well as traditional foods for the community kitchens but due to the destruction of the camp the community kitchens were not running as usual. We distributed what we had brought at two points and were helped in organising and managing queues by refugees as usual.

After leaving Calais we went straight to Dunkirk, keeping a few items to take there only as we had been told that the officials running the new government camp were not allowing aid to be brought in - in stark contrast to our visit to the old Dunkirk camp weeks before where essentials and food were desperately needed.

Before going to the new Dunkirk camp we went to the old camp - at a glance you might think it was still in use as tents, essentials, clothes had all been left behind on the advice of the authorities in an attempt to prevent any disease spreading to the new camp.

It was surprise therefore, given that people had had to leave everything behind that same week that we were told that nothing could be taken to those inside the new government camp.

It was like the end of time at the old camp - as if all civilisation had been wiped out suddenly leaving or like a city that was hastily evacuated.

At the new camp we were not allowed to drive in but were told by security stationed at the door that we could park and go in.  We were banned from taking in the few items we wanted to give as gifts to children and women as we had been warned.  No explanation was offered for this refusal.

The security guard said we could leave the items with him until we returned and made us sign in one by one  registering our names and organisations. He told us that people there did not need any aid as they received a hot meal every day. There was no mention of what they ate or drank during the rest of the day. He told us that the class room was not yet open so we could not take the educational items for children in, although we saw lots of children playing around the camp who we felt would have welcomed the items we had if they had been given a chance.  A class room is important but it is not the only way that children can appreciate books.

The new Dunkirk camp was in stark contrast to the old,  Solid structures made of wood housed families in neat rows in  place of flimsy tents soaked in mud, damaged by adverse weather.   There were leisure activities and mobile phone points. I  managed to take in some toiletries in my bag which was not noticed by the Security Guard and gave these to some women and young girls I met.

An Irish volunteer informed us that aid was banned only if people from Britain were offering it and that French people were allowed to bring aid. I asked him why. He said that those running the camp did not like British people. He advised us on a place we could drop the items off nearby to be brought in by authorised volunteers later on.

We spotted a fast food van with a sign announcing that chips would be served at 6.30pm.  It wasn't clear if this was just an optional snack or the evening meal.

On our way out what he had said became very apparent as I spotted some French women carrying some of the kitchen utensils we had been made to leave outside.

I asked her what she was doing with them given we had been banned from bringing them in. She explained that she was taking them to the kitchens and that she had been allowed to take them in because she was French. She advised us in future to hide items in rucksacks, pointing to her own back and 'smuggle them in'.

Our next distribution will be in a few weeks time.

If you would like to support our humanitarian work you can do this in a number of ways.

You can sponsor or co-sponsor our transport and travel to France, contact us directly  and make a payment directly to BARAC.

You can donate  to our GoFundMe account  - you contribution will go directly towards food, toiletries and essential items for refugees in France.  DONATE HERE

You can drop off essential items, tinned  / non perishable food, clothing, camping equipment etc to us at PCS union HQ, Clapham Junction, London, addressed to Zita Holbourne, C/O Harvey Jacobs.