Blog Archive

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Sarah Reed - Say Her Name - Because Black Lives Matter - Because Sarah's life mattered

Art produced by Zita Holbouren 

Yesterday I participated in, spoke and performed poetry at a candlelit vigil organised by Blaksox for Sister Sarah Reed outside Holloway prison where Sarah died last month.

The vigil took place on the same day that Sarah was laid to rest by her loved ones.

Sarah's life was plagued by tragic circumstances and events, ending with her being brutally physically abused by a police officer which was caught on camera  and subsequently being imprisoned when what she needed was support and care not punishment, ultimately ending with her life being taken. 

If it were not for the persistence of my co-founder and co-chair of BARAC UK, Lee Jasper, Sarah's story would have gone untold as far as the mainstream media were concerned. 

Co-founders of BARAC UK, Lee Jasper and Zita Holbourne 

You can read his article that broke the story here.

If any of us had to go through all the awful things that Sarah went through which included her sadly losing her baby, it would impact on our mental health and state of mind.  The authorities that ought to have protected and supported Sarah, instead categorically failed her. 

The prison claim that Sarah strangled herself to death in her own bed, as Lee points out, this is physically impossible.

Hundreds of people  attended the vigil braving the storm because Sarah could have been our sister, daughter or mother.  In unison we called out Sarah Reed, Say Her Name, Black Lives Matter. 

There was strong representation from black women at the vigil, which was MC'd by Patricia Lamour,  who spoke and performed, sharing their own experiences of mental health, abuse, brutality, pain and racism, these accounts were not unique - they were sadly too familiar because we live in a society where black women face double  and multiple discrimination and disadvantage. 

This experience is amplified by austerity, as essential services are cut, jobs security is reduced and poverty deepens. 

Singer Alex Watson, Co-Chair of BARAC Zita Holbourne,  BARAC National Women's Officer, Donna Guthrie 

Patricia Lamour, Blacksox, Vocalist and songwriter Alex Watson 

In a world where black women were valued in society, where we had equal chances and opportunities, where institutional racism and sexism did not exist Sarah's story would not be a familiar one.

There is power in words but the vigil ended with a few minutes of silence,, as we  paid our respects to Sarah in our own minds, that collective quiet period was deeply moving, emotional and powerful. 

Sarah's family have asked that her story is told, they need answers and they need justice. 

BARAC is supporting the campaign for justice for Sarah and we encourage you to join the facebook campaign page to stay updated and to demonstrate your solidarity.   join here and #sayhername #SarahReed because #blacklivesmatter and Sarah mattered, what happened to her matters to her family, those who knew her and loved her and the categoric failures by the State, she encountered in her young life and the way in which she died should be a concern for all of us. 

BARAC Humanitarian Work: Report on our January aid distribution in Calais and Dunkerque


On Saturday 30th January  BARAC UK distributed the food, blankets, hair and skin products, sanitary towels and other toiletries we purchased with your donations in Calais. We took a mixture of traditional foods, fresh vegetables and fruit and basic food supplies. We also had toiletries supplied by Lush, sleeping bags, clothes and toiletries donated by Maria Ishfiaq who wrote about her fundraising efforts for our distribution in previous update and adult and children's books donated by Newham Bookshop. 

On arrival the 'camp' in Calais was unrecognisable due to people being crowded into a smaller space due to government imposed exclusion zones. We saw far more young children than before. 

BARAC distributed the food and toiletries/ clothes packs with the help of some friends living in the 'camp' who are refugees. The food was divided between the community kitchens at the 'camp.'

The sleeping bags and blankets were distributed to new arrivals , the Lush supplies and sanitary towels went to the women's centre and the books to the 'camp' library. 

After distributing the items we filled our van with family sized tents which had been donated to L'Auberge des Migrants to take to another 'camp' in Dunkerque. Police surrounding the camp refused to allow tents to be taken into the camp although they were much needed and searched everyone going in and out. Conditions there were even worse than Calais , extremely muddy, many families with young children, people cooking on open fires and just a handful of toilets and a couple of showers. We discovered that there are no facilities to wash clothes and due to the mud, clothes soon become dirty and have to be discarded. 

We aim to take aid going forward to both Calais and Dunkerque. 

Our transport and travel costs were met for this humanitarian visit and the previous two by the Public and Commercial Service Union. If you are interested in sponsoring a future distribution please contact us. Sponsorship of travel and transport means that the money we raise here goes directly towards food, toiletries and essential items. 

Please continue to donate and share details of our work to bring aid and solidarity to our sisters and brothers fleeing war, poverty, persecution and climate change. 

We appreciate everyone who has contributed, be this financially, with donations or by giving their time. but without donations we would have nothing to distribute. Our  next humanitarian visit to the camps in France will be in March.

 If you want to donate items please contact us so we can provide you with details of our drop off point.

 If you want to make a financial contribution to the items we purchase, please use the link at the top of this article.

The CWU union and GMB union at CWU have agreed donations to sponsor our transport and travel for the next distribution. If you would like to sponsor please contact us by email

Please keep giving what you can so that we can do what we can to ensure our sisters and brothers have some shelter, warm clothing and food.  But please also continue to challenge myths and lies about refugees and migrants fleeing climate change, persecution, poverty and war, designed to scaremonger and spread hatred. 

Thank you and Solidarity 


Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Refugees, Migration and Climate Change - support us to support our sisters and brothers in Calais

New Year Greetings from BARAC UK 

We are starting the year by  once again returning to Calais  taking food and essential items to our sisters and brothers  who are having to contend with harsh winter conditions, fires and threats of removal from the shanty town they find themselves in after long and hard journeys escaping dangers to get there. 

We appreciate your support with previous donations of items and money. 

We are also grateful to the Public and Commercial Services Union who are sponsoring our transport and travel to Calais so that all the funds we raise will go directly towards food and essential items and to all those who have worked with us to raise money and donate items and products.

We know that distributing aid is not the solution for those stuck in Calais and camps around Europe so we must combine this with political campaigning regarding the root of war, persecution, poverty and climate change. 

Last month our Co-Chair Zita Holbourne spoke at the Paris Climate Change conference about the links between climate change, migration and refugees. 

In November Zita joined a delegation from the London Interfaith Network, visiting Calais in solidarity and met Maria Ishtiaq.  Since this visit to Calais, Maria has been working to raise funds and purchase essential items, below is a message from Maria about the important of coming together and supporting our sisters and brothers:

In November of last year, I was fortunate enough to visit the refugee camp in Calais; I journeyed with the sole expectation of seeing victims, broken people who had given up all hope. Instead I found what I believe to be the most truly resilient members of our society. The fact that they had developed a whole community from the literal dump that they were thrown into is beyond comprehension... they had built shops, houses, churches and mosques from nothing but a few logs of wood and plastic tarp!

Having said that, the sanitary conditions there were despicable and with winter coming, the refugees were contemplating whether they would be able to survive the cold. 

Before even having returned to the UK, I had the intention to go back soon with supplies... I was lucky enough to have met some wonderful individuals whom I wholeheartedly believed to be deserving of the simple asylum they sought; remember these are not immigrants, they actually have no-one and nothing else to go back to. There are even children with no families with them, 'unaccompanied minors' as they are referred to!

Unfortunately the day after I returned from the camp, terror struck at the heart of France and my mother was no longer comfortable with me returning to the camp so soon after. However, I did not let this dampen my determination to help the people of 'The Jungle' (as the media refers to the refugee camp), instead I set my mind to raising money in order to purchase winter wear and other essential items to send via Zita and the other wonderful people at BARAC UK. I was able to raise almost £350 through friends and family and this was used along with funds of my own to buy thermal hats, scarves, gloves, socks and sleeping bags as well as various toiletries to be distributed amongst the refugees.

This is an ongoing issue in which I would urge everyone to get involved; this is not a Muslim issue, or a Christian issue, or a Jewish issue... this is an issue of basic humanity. Please help your brothers and sisters. 

Maria Ishtiaq

Our thanks go to Maria, Lush and Newham Book Shop for their support and donations but we need more support.  

There are two key ways in which you can support:

1. donate to our GoFundMe:

2. drop essential items to our distribution point at PCS HQ,

Please email is: for details and to let us know what items you have first. 

Items needed include: blankets, warm waterproof coats, thermal socks, thermal hats, gloves, scarves, thermal vests and undewear, emergency blankets, 2 to 3 people tents, sleeping bags, tarpaulin, tent pegs, fire extinguishers, hoodies, fleeces, rain coats, sanitary towels, large cooking pots and utensils, large plastic storage containers with lids, toiletries including African hair and skin products such as coconut oil and cocoa  / shea butter, cornmeal flour, dried fish, wheat flour, seasonings, water, oil, tinned beans and pulses, rice, tea, coffee, sugar, long life milk. 

We will also take some fresh fruit and vegetables as people don't get enough access to fresh produce but these will need to be purchased the day before.

We will need to receive any items and donations by 28th of January at the latest.  

Thank you for your ongoing support.

Best Wishes 

Saturday, 5 December 2015

Zita Holbourne speaking at Paris Climate Change Conference; on Migration, Refugees and Climate Change

Zita Holbourne; PCS

Migration, Refugees and Climate Change

What Trade Union Response?

Watch first ten minutes of the speech here

Some people are forced to spend their entire lives as climate change refugees – people of the Solomon Islands are one example.

Extreme weather, drought and floods have led in part to the migration to European countries from the Middle East and African Continent.

If we don’t address the issues of climate and global warning there will be increased refugees heading towards Europe and other parts of the globe. Not out of choice but because they have no choice.

We have seen increasing demonisation and labelling of migrants and  refugees as benefit tourists and economic migrants coming to steal jobs and responsible for lack of housing and jobs and services by governments with no consideration for the effects of climate change. Wednesday was the UN day for the abolition of slavery but Western governments are fast to forget their colonial pasts, stripping resources from many of the countries most impacted by climate change.

For the past 3 months I have been involved in coordinating and organising aid distributions in Calais.

The so called Jungle in Calais is not a camp – it is a shanty town where people live in inhumane conditions:

30 or so toilets for around 5000 people, 2 showers, inadequate clean water,  dealing with climate issues right there as high winds and storms and heavy rains destroy tents and camping structures – made of tree branches, twigs and tarpaulin / plastic sheets,  Having no mains electricity supply mean that people are walking 2 to 3 hours to collect fire wood, making fires to cook and for heat, using candles for light in the evenings and dependent on generators and gas cylinders – this has led to frequent fires- often very bad – destroying everything they have – including documents and personal items.

Illness is spreading due to inadequate conditions, lack of hot food etc and if you look at the countries those there and in other camps across Europe they are from countries impacted by the effects of climate.

Sudanese make up the majority of people in Calais – 60% - Sudan is the largest African country – arid land and desert impact on food due to climate impact on agriculture – one of the most vulnerable countries to drought in the world.

Syria has had several droughts meaning that people have to leave farmland / rural areas to overcrowded cities.

Other groups include Ethiopians and Eritreans and Iranians who have also experienced drought. Afghanistans are the second biggest community there,  cold winters and hot summers, droughts and floods has led to loss of crops with  6.7 million Afghans impacted by  disasters and extreme weather  between 1998 and 2012.

In turn the countries most responsible for climate change are usually the ones rejecting, demonising and labelling those fleeing its effects.

The countries most responsible for historical emissions from 1850 to 2007 are in order

USA 28.8%
China 9.0
Russia 8.0
UK, Japan, France, India, Canada, Ukraine

Consumption footprints – from import /export of goods put Belgium at the top with 21.99%, followed by USA 20.2, Ireland 16.2, Finland, 15.1, Australia 13.8, UK, 11.5

Principally it is the the developed world that creates the conditions for climate change

Emissions per person

Luxemburg 1429 tons UK 1127, US 1126, Belgium 1026, Czech 1006 followed by other mainly Western countries

Migrants and refugees from the poorest countries contribute little to the causes of climate change in turn suffer disproportionately from its effects.

Higher temperatures and heavier rainfall cause drought and floods, this in turn leads to greater food and water insecurity, deepening poverty and furthering social inequality.

This leads to mass migration, displacement, conflict and millions are forced to move in order to survive.

Human instinct is to survive, human beings have been migrating since the beginning of time.  When those in the West move to other countries they are ex-pats and seen as acceptable, legitimate and respectable, whilst stigmas and hatred are attached to those from poorer countries, not moving as a choice as those in the West usually do, but because they have no choice.

Climate change also threatens rights – rights to safe adequate water and food, access to health services and housing - this has a knock on impact on child poverty and deepens race and gender discrimination and inequality.

Economic instability means opportunities and rights are reduced.

Governments, trade unions and civil society have a responsibility to address and minimise the consequences for human beings of rapid global warming.

We need equitable, just and binding agreements with developed countries acting first and financing for climate change initiatives plus
Adaptation of strategies for capacity building and research.

Social inequality created by the effects of climate change must be addressed as all other social inequality should be.

We need to look at the link to austerity and cuts because there is one.  Economic instability combined with climate change impacts on the poorest but also in times of austerity racism increases and the far right grows as we have seen across Europe.  Racism and islamophobia is deepening every day – I have experienced and witnessed this first hand as an anti racist, equality and justice campaigner. So if you are a migrant / refugee who is black, a person of colour or Muslim you face an added level of discrimination and attack.

An issue for those seeking asylum or a new home and new start in a safe place is that they are not recognised legally as refugees if they are migrating because of climate change.

1951 Geneva Convention regarding the status of refugees says you must prove fear of persecution. The 1950 European Convention on Human Rights says it is not legally possible to apply for asylum from outside the country so for all those refugees in Calais, stuck in limbo between France and the UK, the only chance they have is to risk their lives every night trying to get on trains and in trucks - many have died and even more have serious injuries and disabilities from their attempts to get to the UK.

Those fleeing climate change do not meet the legal definition of refugee.

The UNHCR, UN Refugee Agency says that camps should be the exception for those in forced displacement and they should be permitted to exercise their rights and freedoms.

In Calais there is not even a refugee camp in the proper sense - just a makeshift shanty town on asbestos infested waste land and refugees are frequently brutalised by police in an attempt to keep them boxed into this land.

The UN  says that there should be links to host communities with access to the local economy and infrastructure and service delivery to live peacefully without harassment.

Complete opposite is true in Calais – last month a high court ruled that the Calais authority must provide adequate toilet facilities and collect refuge – it is charities on the ground like L’auberge, and secour catholique together with individual voluntary groups such as my own org BARAC UK that are provided food, essentials, volunteers to sort the warehouse of donations, distribute, clean and build.

There is a gap in international law in terms of protection for climate change migrants who would need to characterise climate change as persecution. Extreme weather is harmful but does not generally meet the high threshold of persecution and they have to identify a persecutor – could be argued that developed countries, industrialised countries or the international community is the persecutor.

But they still have to meet the criteria of persecution being due to race, religion, nationality, political opinion, social group etc.

Climate change does not distinguish but does impact disproportionately – more likely to be black, people of colour, indigenous.

There is an impact on human rights and the right to life, right to adequate standard of living, food, clothing, and housing are all impacted.

For those who have got through the system but are rejected and facing removal they have to show they will be removed to a place of torture, inhumane or degrading treatment, physical or mental suffering.

Refugees in Calais are all suffering from post traumatic stress due to the war, poverty or persecution they fled in the first place and in addition the journey they endured, dangerous, exhausting and frightening – many I spoke had survived the Mediterranean on perilous terrifying journeys and have lost their families, parents – mostly young 18 to 24 and many unaccompanied minors.

 But despite this the level of severity required in article 3 is difficult to prove.

Trade Union Response

Things unions can do:

Lobby governments

Work with orgs supporting refugees and support them

Fight racism and islamphobia

Include refugees and migrants in policies, strategies and campaigns on climate change, anti austerity and anti racism/ anti fascism work.

Lobby and strengthen human rights and immigration laws – campaign against racist immigration laws such as the UK Immigration Act which seeks to create an apartheid state -

Recent landlord pilot – means not only those who are actually migrants but those perceived to be because of name or colour will be rejected for housing or exploited – I am part of the Movement of Xenophobia and one of the organisations that form MAX,  JCWI, research identified threatening, rogue landlords would exploit migrants with a disproportionate impact on women – asked to perform sexual favours and threatened with reporting to the home office if they go to the police.

In addition because landlords are expected to be immigration police and check papers, if papers are with the home office then they can’t access housing.

But not just housing, access to other services, such as driving licences, NHS, medical services, marriage license are more.  Impact on students from abroad.

So support for migrants and refugees should not stop when they get asylum, because the labelling, demonisation, discrimination and disadvantage continues.

Form trade union policy on this internationally, regionally and nationally.

Support orgorganisations like my own taking aid to refugees - BARAC and MAX campaigning on issues like the immigration act.  Most of us have little or no funding at all – another impact of austerity and rely on people power – I am proud my union does this and is affiliated to both orgs,  example:  PCS has been  sponsoring our  aid  distribution travel and transport to Calais.

Put pressure on govs to provide humane faculties for refugees and camps.

Its winter and many could die – this is about humanity. Humanity and equality should be at the heart of our union movement.

Countries like the UK who are agreeing to woefully low numbers of asylum seekers need to be lobbied and shamed.

Speak about these issues to your union members. We know that our memberships represent a cross section of society – some of them will hold racist, biased, negative views about refugees and blame and scapegoat fuelled by government and media narrative.

We have a responsibility to provide a counter narrative and educate, mobilise and organise from a position of truth  on an ongoing basis and also to form policy through our democratic structures – model motions, articles, briefings all help.

This week Indigenous Peoples released a joint statement to the UN talks.

Extract; World leaders in Paris must lead us away from the commodification of mother earth which places our lives and future on an unstable foundation based on money greed and power.

I support their position, Western countries that have benefited and profited from colonial rule, Empire, enslavement, taken from African, Asian, Latin American, Indigenous etc people now seek to bar and block the descendents of those people after they have stripped them of everything. They have a collective responsibility to act.

Climate Change will continue to displace people and so it's totally outrageous to then demonize and ostracise the victims and blame them.

Those nations that hold the most power and privilege cannot be allowed to create a climate of fear racism and displacement and must be held accountable and stand up to their responsibilities.

Trade Unions have a key role in holding them to account but also ensuring these issues are on the agenda when working and campaigning on Climate Change.

Zita Holbourne, PCS Union National Executive, BARAC National Co-Chair

4 December 2015, Le Bourget Climate Change Conference, COP21, Paris