Over 250 individuals representing more than eighty organisations (listed below) attended the Institute of Race Relations’ one-day conference, Racism, Liberty and the ‘War on Terror’ on Saturday 16 September.
Its aim was to unite activists from a broad range of campaigns in an understanding of how racism, imperialism and globalisation interact today. As keynote speaker A. Sivanandan explained, ‘In fighting our specific causes we need also to be aware of the common cause they spring from and address ourselves to both at once’. If this were done, he said, we would forge the alliances we needed to win the battle.
The objective of both plenary sessions and the eight panel discussions was to examine the impact of anti-terrorism legislation on refugees, asylum seekers and the Muslim community. Keynote speaker Gareth Peirce inaugurated proceedings with a stark reminder that the state had learned none of the lessons of the past in relation to criminalising communities, especially with regard to Ireland.
Other topics for debate during the panels included, ‘Campaigning against deportations’, ‘Combating racial violence’ and ‘Liberty and the global war on terror’. Lord Herman Ouseley, Salma Yaqoob and A. Sivanandan spoke on ‘The attack on multiculturalism’ – attracting over ninety participants to a very lively and timely debate.
Passions ran high in the final plenary as former Guantanamo detainee Moazzam Begg gave the chilling details of his ordeal, but also spoke about the continuing unease he felt at being part of a vilified Muslim minority in Britain. Birmingham Respect councillor Salma Yaqoob also spoke about this, but added that White people’s solidarity in the anti-war movement gave her strength and optimism. Journalist and veteran anti-apartheid campaigner Victoria Brittain made a moving plea never to give up hope.
Mindful that the conference needed concrete outcomes as well as fine words, the IRR chose to launch a new publication at the conference. Driven to Desperate Measures, researched by Harmit Athwal, is a 27-page report on the 221 asylum seekers and migrants who have died either in or attempting to reach the UK in the last 17 years.
Organisations represented at the conference included:
Aik Saath, All African Women’s Group, Amnesty International, Asylum Support and Immigration Rescource Team, Bail for Immigration Detainees, B:rap, Birmingham Guantanamo Campaign, Black Women’s Rape Action Project, Borderline Books, Brent Women’s Advice Centre, Brighton and Hove TUC Unemployed Workers Centre, Campaign Against Criminalising Communities, Campaign to Close Campsfield, Centre for Islamic Mediterranean Studies, Citizens International, Community Base, Crossing Borders, Coalition to Stop Deportations to Iraq, Freedom and Justice for Samar and Jawad, Garden Court Chambers, Her Majesty’s Prison Service, Highfields Community Centre, Horisant, Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association, Inquest, Islamic Human Rights Commission, Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust, Just B Me Youth Project, Kent Campaign to Defend Asylum Seekers, Kent Refugee Help, Lewes Group in Support of Refugees and Asylum Seekers, London No Borders, Medical Justice Network, Muslim Parliament of Great Britain, National Coalition of Anti-Deportation Campaigns, National Information Forum, NAZ Projects London, Network for Social Change, Newham Monitoring Project, Nottingham and Nottinghamshire Refugee Forum, National Union of Students, OS Justice Initiative, Save Omar Campaign, Paddington Law Centre, Policy Reserach Institute on Ageing and Ethnicity, Public and Commercial Services Union, Race Equality First, Refugee Therapy Centre, S2S Post, Sante Refugee Mental Health Access Project, Scotswood Area Strategy, Soma Books, Sompriti, South Asian Alliance, South Asia Solidarity Group, Southwark Day Centre for Asylum Seekers, Stop Deporting Children, Stop Political Terror, Support Against Racial Incidents, Sukula Family Must Stay, Tameside African Refugee Association, Transport and General Workers’ Union, Tower Hamlets Council, Voice Solidarity Forum, Women Against Rape, Youth Action for Peace UK.
Listen to Gareth Peirce’s keynote address in MP3 format.
Listen to A. Sivanandan’s keynote address in MP3 format.
Download the report Driven to desperate measures (pdf file, 401kb)
Read the text of A. Sivanandan’s keynote address.