Thursday, 6 March 2014

Inglehome Talk, Monday 10 March, Boulevard Village Hall

On Monday, Richard Howarth will be giving a talk entitled,
Inglehome - Transforming a typically inefficient Hull terrace into a cosy, low energy superhome

Mon 10 March, 7.45 pm
Boulevard Village Hall, Boulevard, Hull, HU3 3EJ

Richard has made a variety of improvements to his home in the last year and he will describe these. There will be a chance to ask him questions about how he did things and what it cost etc.
The talk is free and has been organised by Transition Hull and Hull Friends of the Earth. Tea, coffee and biscuits will be available.


Exploring from Hull: Experiences of Syrian refugees in Jordan

The situation in Syria had been developing for quite some time before it rapidly spiralled into civil war, and I wondered how the ongoing crisis would affect me and my family, as a British person, in view of the stance of the UK and the Russian alliance of President Putin with Syria's President Assad. 

Would there be a new cold war? Would the ex-Soviet states feel pressurised and review their policy towards NATO? Would nuclear arms and 'new technologies' be strategically implemented? 

I watched a film documentary called 'Syria; Ground Zero' and although not particularly well balanced politically, it inspired me greatly and I decided I needed to do something for the Syrian people.

 I went over to Jordan to meet the SCI Jordan branch secretary Amir to exchange greetings and discuss the situation regarding the Syrian refugees in Jordan.

Spending seven days in Jordan, I got acclimatised, meeting people and familiarising myself with the culture and people. I met families who had been near to the worst of the fighting in Aleppo and Homs. I was also driven to Zaatari Refugee camp, home to 130,000 displaced Syrian people, close to the Syrian border.

In a Jordanian town, I sat with a refugee family in their temporary house. The TV, which was the only fixture in an otherwise sparse and empty room, constantly showed violent images of the conflict, whilst the family talked, argued and gestured provocatively, in a manner that suggested the situation was no longer of their making or within their control. Another family, in a similar room, had the blanket they had taken with them from Zaatari camp neatly on display, above their TV, a memento of their escape from  Syria via Zaatari. A family member showed me a picture of his dead brother on his mobile phone, a victim of the violence. The families kept in contact with family and friends in Syria through a series of mobile phones.

A young man, who had fled Syria, told me he had been held by police in Jordan. They had told him he had two choices: he could go directly back to Syria or he could train to fight with the Free Syrian Army at a camp in Jordan. After training he would be then sent back to Syria to fight the government. The young man took a third option. He is still on the run in Jordan.

A Syrian family

Another family, which has two young boys, a teenage brother, told me how life was normal and relatively idyllic in their home in a village outside a major (troubled) city in Syria. They had a house with land and a car. The father had a good job and was well respected and established within the neighbourhood. I asked if there were any problems before the conflict. The father replied 'No, there were small problems, like the corruption of the police and officials, but,' he said, 'those problems had existed for a long time and although annoying, were pushed aside and forgotten.'

I asked him also, 'Did the Israelis or Nato allied governments cause mischief or initiate any of the problems prior to the demonstrations, as had been reported in some media?' He replied 'No' and he indicated that the global recession had caused the ruling 'Allawites'  (loyal to President Assad) to take the best positions and work and  to cause the 'Sunni' population to work for less pay and harder working conditions. This was the source of the demonstrations. When I asked what had caused him to leave his home, he replied, 'The police had set up road blocks and checkpoints and the situation was becoming increasingly tense, caused by the violence which had taken place from both sides (the government and the rebels) after the initial demonstrations.'

'The police threatened to cut off my head'

‘The police had stopped me many times, going back and forth to work but one day, the police had stopped me in my car, while I was with my family. They asked me to get out of my car and checked my papers. They then produced a military knife and threatened to decapitate me.' They said to me, 'Are you ready to die? We are going to cut off your head.''

The man pleaded and asked for them, for the sake of his family, to let him go. They allowed him to leave but, he explained, he had heard from friends that the violence was becoming worse and that a group of  children who had been caught writing graffiti on walls, criticising President Assad, had their fingers cut off and later, there were also murders of children, including decapitation.

Imminent threat of arrest

His boss had told him, certain people were under investigation and were under imminent danger of arrest and he (the father) was one of them. The family left their home with a few possessions and travelled to Jordan, fearing for their lives. They were directed to Zaatari camp when they entered Jordan. The father explained that Zaatari was like 'Hell'. No one wanted to be there and people were leaving the camp, saying they would rather take their chances in Syria being bombed or shot rather than be in Zaatari.

His children told me they used to play football at home and had a computer but had to leave it behind. I asked the nine year old son could he teach me how to use mine. He said 'yes' but he couldn't format it. I laughed and told him I didn't need an IT expert just someone to teach me how to use it. Their relief to be away from Syria was obvious. Although the family told me they missed their home and friends terribly.

The father used to manage the children's football team at home but now didn't have a football, never mind a team strip to make up a team.

The youngster was working 12-hour days

None of the family was in employment in Jordan, apart from the fourteen year old eldest son. He was missing school and for a twelve hour day, working as a welder's mate, he was receiving two Jordanian dollars per day. To put the wage into perspective, I paid three JD for an average bag of nuts from the local shop.

His hands were dark grey from the oil and material he was using and he complained of being tired because of the long hours.  The father lastly explained that the most uninspiring part of being a refugee was the boredom of being unemployed and the inability to provide for his family. Mother explained, the family had only left Syria with a few possessions and had very little means to even repair or sew clothes or things. I thanked the family for their hospitality and tea and said goodnight. I felt positive about the meeting but unable to see how best to help at that time.

Uncertain futures

People are still very fearful of talking and having photographs taken because of the fear of recriminations from the police if they return to Syria. They are now unsure of their futures and feel there are problems with the Jordanian people because of their numbers. They are being extorted by bad business people. The refugees are trying to blend into the local community but have no means to do so. Apart from Amir, the branch secretary of SCI Jordan, they have few friends amongst the Jordanians. Amir is their hero, has their confidence and is treated like a brother. He sits like a chief family member in their community.

There is an oppressive mood toward the refugees in Jordan and government is aggressive toward them mainly because of the numbers and financial upkeep. Amir is sometimes reluctant to communicate electronically because of the problems he has had with the Jordanian police and their interference with his work.

The intervention of volunteers from modern democratic states will help change the status of the refugee and will be embraced by the Jordanian government and the people because it will introduce greater governance and stability without further financial cost to the host people.

Zaatari camp

We decided to drive to Zaatari camp and from a distance it came into view, a great swathe of white tents spread across the landscape. As we got closer, the size of the camp (home to 130,000 people) became very impressive. There seemed to be a mixture of simply built buildings and tents. We came into the area close to the main road into the camp. There were lots of people on the road trying to hitch a ride into town. There were also a group of children trying to steal iron from a building site. Police were nearby but didn’t intervene.

Amir pointed to a family packing items into a car and explained they were escaping from Zaatari. How did he mean escaping?  He said people were climbing over the fence and escaping because they were disturbed by the poor camp conditions. Bad water, no beds, poor sanitation, prostitution and violence were not uncommon on the camp. The man at the car looked around as we passed by him and he looked petrified with fear.

Teenage girls as young as fourteen were being sold

We went to the gates and a Jordanian guard told us we could not enter. He also told us we could not take photographs. We turned around in the car and headed back to the main road. Back at the main road Amir stopped to give a ride to a family. They had just a few bags and as Amir drove he asked them questions.

They had decided to leave because of the problems on camp. Stories were being told of the trafficking of young women to highest bidders in Saudi  for quick marriages. Old men were paying a fee to marry women thirty, forty, fifty or even sixty years younger than themselves and claiming they were helping the family. Many marriages have been annulled because the man just wanted to take the woman's virginity. The family in the car had a teenage daughter and were desperate to be away from the camp. Teenagers as young as fourteen were being sold.

- Hull aid worker.

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Fracking will lead to contaminated water, ground, and radioactive materials being transported along rural roads.

Letter from Shan Oakes, Hull and East Riding Greens , to the Hull Daily Mail.

Fracking will not lead to 'growth, jobs and energy security', but to contaminated water, ground, and radioactive materials being transported along our rural roads.

Graham Stuart, MP for Beverley and Holderness, accused me of scaremongering about fracking (HDM 22.2.14). I accuse him of scaremongering about energy security to try to justify this appalling process. Scraping the barrel for the last fossil fuels will not give us energy security. Far from it. The only way to get energy security is to move firmly and confidently into renewables. I would also accuse Mr Stuart of culpable complacency and disregard for his constituency if he does not take seriously the very real threats from fracking - especially to our water supply.

Renewable energy (from sun, wind, tides etc) alongside reduction in the vast amounts of energy currently wasted in our systems would give us more than we need – safely and forever, as well as creating swathes of local jobs (prospecting companies are not local and import their own people). Shale oil and gas will run out however many wells they drill (and once started, they drill hundreds of them - very deep as well as horizontal). When they have poisoned the area, destroyed the integrity of our aquifer and destabilised the geology (earthquakes have been clearly linked with fracking) the companies will pocket the cash and run. Our energy bills will not be reduced. Other states, e.g. France, have banned fracking on their soil.

Our Tory MP seems more interested in glibly stating that fracking is fine rather than addressing the facts. ' Trust the system' he is saying. Is he really unaware of what has happened where fracking has taken place? If so he should inform himself, as he is in danger of a gross betrayal of his constituents - and their children and grandchildren. Just one well could poison the drinking water for 30-40 miles as we depend on an artesian (underground) reservoir in this region. His letter is full of phrases such as the 'regulatory roadmap' (!)...things being 'robust and comprehensive', licences, planning permission, permits and consent. So he tries to convince us that we can trust the 'authorities' but neglects to mention that his Party 'worked hard' to persuade the European Union to relax its regulation of fracking! The trouble is that no amount of 'permits' and 'licences' will guarantee that our water remains uncontaminated by an extremely nasty cocktail of carcinogenic chemicals pumped at high pressure into our underground water system. Wells all leak eventually.

And we know that local councils are, in general, ignorant of the implications of fracking. Councillors have been heard to say they know nothing about it and in the next breath allow licences for fracking companies to go ahead! They cannot be trusted on this issue and nor can the Government, since both are responding to intensive lobbying and incentives from the fossil fuel industry.

As far as companies 'engaging with local communities' – yes, Rathlin, for example, is very busy mounting a charm offensive in the villages around Beverley – to the point where some villagers of Bishop Burton refused to admit one solitary anti-fracking speaker into their recent meeting ... I call this heads in the sand. What were they scared of? ... And Rathlin got their original licence to drill on the promise that they would not frack. But now they have changed their minds - as we knew they would. ... But if some residents of Bishop Burton and other villages are a pushover for the frackers, they are likely to find themselves responsible for the contamination of the water for the whole of Hull and the East Riding

Mr Stuart purports to stand for rural communities. If fracking goes ahead in East Yorkshire there will not be much 'rural' left. Fracking will not lead to 'growth, jobs and energy security', but to contaminated water, ground, and radioactive materials being transported along our rural roads. It will also put paid to tourism and the rural splendour of the Wolds.

Unlike Mr Stuart I do not trust a system which is clearly causing mayhem on a planetary scale, and I will fight it on my patch.

Shan Oakes
Candidate for the Greens for Yorkshire and the Humber in Europe 2014