2017: the year of refugees

Submitted by admin on Thu, 12/28/2017 - 22:48
Brazilian photographer Sebastião Salgado in the Korem Refugee Camp in Korem, Tigray, Ethiopia


Dear Friends,

The picture above could have been taken yesterday. Instead it was taken in 1984 by the great Brazilian photographer Sebastião Salgado in the Korem Refugee Camp in Korem, Tigray, Ethiopia. It is a picture that has long haunted me. It seems the quintessential image of refugees in the Sahel region of Africa.

2017, like 2016 before it, seems to me to have been the Year of the Refugee. The UN Refugee Agency now says that the total registered displaced people amount to over 65 million. There are others who are not registered and outside the UN system. The number of those registered form a population larger than the total population of the United Kingdom (the 21st largest country in the world). They come from places of great desolation - economies destroyed, countries at war.

I want to share with you my 'notes from the desert', a report from the Sahel region of Africa, which is one of the main arteries for the movement of refugees towards Europe. The essay came in the travel section of The Hindu. You can read it here. Much of the material had already appeared at Alternet as news reports.


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In refugee camps, children are often asked to draw pictures as part of therapy. One of the things I noticed about these pictures is the attempt by the children to capture noise - the thunderous and unending sound of war in so many parts of the world.

At Alternet this week, I wrote of noise and the impact this has on children in war zones. I wrote too about the way in which people in the West wonder about these wars and imagine that these wars have nothing to do with them. When, in fact, the weaponry for these wars comes from the West. A new report from SIPRI shows that the majority of arms dealers, merchants of death, are Western-based firms, such as Lockheed Martin and Boeing. Children are the victims of these war profiteers. 'Western arms dealers are by far the greatest purveyors of violence in the world', I argue in the essay which you can read here.


Lula and the MST at the ENFF


Our times are ugly, but there is always struggle. Humans are far too stubborn to surrender to the ugliness.

Take the case of Brazil, for instance, where despite the soft coup, Lula continues to lead in polls for the 2019 elections and continues to travel the country to stand with the dispossessed against the oligarchy. Recently, last week, Lula helped the Movement of the Landless (MST) inaugurate a new football field near their ENFF school. The picture above, with Lula in the centre, is from that day. I wrote a short report about the football match, about Lula and the Worker's Party. You can read it here.

I recently met Phakamile Hlubi, the spokesperson of the National Metal Workers Union in South Africa (NUMSA). At Dawn News, there is a lovely interview done with her about her union and its struggle against contemporary forms of apartheid in South Africa. You can read the interview here. It was conducted before the election that brought Cyril Ramaphosa to the leadership of the African National Congress. Ramaphosa played an ugly role in the murder of the South African miners in Marikana on August 16, 2012. This, in an attempt to throw Marikana off the agenda, he apologised for the massacre. Marikana played a major role - as Hlubi says - in the move of NUMSA away from the alliance that includes the ANC. It remains the touchstone for South Africa's politics. The picture below is from a NUMSA gathering.

From India, at Newsclick, Pranjal has started an important series called 'We Protest'. The basis theme is that the corporate media simply does not properly report on the myraid protests that take place across the country. These are short segments. This is the third.

Finally, this is the last newsletter for 2017. You'll hear from me next in 2018. I wish you a happy new year and hope that the good side of history prevails more next year than it did in the last. Please visit us at LeftWord Books. We have some lovely new offerings, including the volume by John Reed, Ten Days That Shook the World, with an introduction by Sainath. I'll write about it again in the new year.

Warmly, Vijay.


National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa) members demonstrate during a march for jobs in Johannesburg
National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa) members demonstrate during a march for jobs in Johannesburg (photo Werner Beukes/SAPA)