Sunday, February 27, 2005

Death of Amnesty International Founder

Peter Benenson, 1921-2005.

The man who decided it was time for a change..

Peter Benenson remembered by Richard Reoch

The man who lit the fuse of the human rights revolution died this week, having refused all honours and leaving behind him a world changed by the countless protests and petitions he championed.

Peter Benenson, the founder of Amnesty International, was 83. He was born into a world without the United Nations. Not a single international human rights treaty was in existence. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights had yet to be written. There wasn’t a single one of today’s major human rights organizations on the political landscape. Civil society was yet to be born.

Inordinately modest and self-effacing, the one-time lawyer who launched Amnesty International in 1961 would never claim credit for the sea-change of the last 40 years. He was offered knighthoods by almost every successive British Prime Minister but he never accepted.

Each Prime Minister who wrote to him received a personal response from Benenson - who typed his own letters until late in life -- in which he would cite the current human rights violations Amnesty was confronting in the UK. He would suggest, without mincing his words, that if the government wished to take account of his work for human rights, what mattered was to redress those abuses.

In comparison with the world into which he was born, Benenson left behind him one changed so fundamentally that it is hard to conceive of the scale of the transformation. Nearly a hundred human rights treaties and other legal instruments are now in force internationally. Over ninety percent of the world’s countries are now party to the most comprehensive of these, the twin international covenants on civil/political and economic/social rights. Almost all of those states have now formally given the right to their citizens to make international complaints.

In addition to the human rights bodies of the United Nations, there are now regional intergovernmental bodies covering up to three-quarters of the world’s nations.

Women’s rights, child rights, minority rights, workers’ rights, the rights of disabled persons - all of these have been codified and strengthened by successive declarations, conventions and acts of national legislation. Torturers have become international outlaws. As we enter the 21st Century, more than half the countries of the world have rejected the death penalty - either by abolishing it altogether or ceasing to carry out executions.

However, the most extraordinary phenomenon - and the one on which Peter Benenson left his indelible mark - is the birth of what has come to be known globally as "civil society". Today there are well over a thousand domestic and regional organizations working to protect human rights. Among them, his brainchild Amnesty International, is one of the best known, with almost 2 million members, subscribers and supporters in more than 64 countries and territories.

But to think of Peter Benenson merely as the founder of one organization (indeed he started several others) is to misread perhaps the single most distinctive political feature of the period from the end of the Second World War to the present: the emergence of organized, non-violent public opinion as an increasingly powerful force in domestic and international politics. Historians may locate its origins in any number of social changes following the war. But there is one event that will incontestably be told and retold in any social history of that period.

It is the story of a man in a bowler hat reading his newspaper on the London underground in late 1960. He reads a small item about two Portuguese students being sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment for raising their glasses in a toast to freedom. He is outraged, decides to go to the Portuguese embassy in London to make a personal protest and then changes his mind. Instead he gets off at Trafalgar Square station and makes his way to the church of St Martin’s-in-the-Fields. He goes in, sits down for three-quarters of an hour, and thinks.

In his words, "I went in to see what could really be done effectively, to mobilize world opinion. It was necessary to think of a larger group which would harness the enthusiasm of people all over the world who were anxious to see a wider respect for human rights."

That man was Peter Benenson, then a barrister in London. When he came outside into the square, he had his idea. Within months, he launched his Appeal for Amnesty with a front page article in The Observer newspaper.

Nothing quite like it had ever been attempted on such a scale before. The response was overwhelming, as if people worldwide were waiting for exactly such a signal. Newspapers in over a dozen countries picked up the appeal. Over a thousand letters poured in within the first six months. And the post-bags of the world’s heads of state changed forever.

Benenson’s idea was so simple, perhaps that’s why he remained so shy of personal publicity throughout his life. Termed "one of the larger lunacies of our time" by one of its critics, a network of letter writers was set up to bombard governments with individual appeals on behalf of prisoners jailed and ill-treated in violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

In an age of self-aggrandisement, his modesty was almost hard to fathom. He never went forward to receive the numerous accolades showered upon Amnesty, known universally by its candle in barbed wire. His mind was always fixed on what had not been accomplished and the countless victims still to be rescued.

"The candle burns not for us," he declared, "but for all those whom we failed to rescue from prison, who were shot on the way to prison, who were tortured, who were kidnapped, who ‘disappeared’. That is what the candle is for."

In later years, as Amnesty’s impact grew exponentially and went on to harness the power of the international news media, other groups began to adopt and adapt its methods in support of their causes. The extraordinary impact of the environmental movement twenty years later, the women’s rights movement and a host of other single-issue and coalition groups, working in their own countries or across national boundaries, can often be traced to the early examination they made of the methods Benenson’s organization was using.

Today we take the power of charities, voluntary groups and people’s campaigns for granted. But before that day in Trafalgar Square - the day on which a single newspaper reader decided it was time for a change - that power had yet to shake the world.

Nothing has ever been quite the same since. As he said in 1961, lighting the first Amnesty candle, "I’m reminded of the words of a 16th century man sentenced to death by burning: We have today lit such a candle as shall never be put out."

Richard Reoch, former head of public information at the organization’s International Secretariat, worked and travelled with Benenson in his later years.

International Homeless Forum Launched

Everybody seems to be online these days, checking out the information superhighway. Information is at our fingertips. Knowledge is power!

Street Seen is delighted to be associated with a new initiative that has began in Australia that uses the power of the internet as a means of communication between homeless people throughout the world and for service providers an area to share ideas and news.

Dominic Mapstone, Social Worker in Sydney Australia and Director of Rebecca’s Community, was the bright spark behind this most needed forum. Rebeccas Community was founded in 2002, a community group whose staff and volunteers work with people who experience homelessness in Sydney, Australia.

According to ‘official’ figures there are over 100,000 houseless people in Australia and their problem seems to be growing, certainly, something one wouldn’t realise when our knowledge is mainly limited from a daily diet of Australian soaps! As they say ‘everyone needs good neighbours’ maybe we should start putting that into practice.

The Website features pictures and real life stories of homeless people, statistics, research, media coverage of homelessness and debate as to how to define homelessness. Their website has been online for 12 months and we believe it is very important to promote the site.

Street Seen caught up with Dominic and posed a few questions to learn more about their work:

So where did the idea for your website come about?

Online we found plenty of dry statistics on homelessness, some policy papers and lots of lame fundraising attempts written by the marketing consultants who know nothing about homelessness.

For students wanting to learn, for people wanting to give money and for a community wanting to understand homelessness it was quite a task to find anything of real substance online. We did manage to find some great sites, but it took a lot of searching.

So when it came to building our own website we started with the standard brochure type info about our organisation, but added a photo gallery of homeless people and the places they sleep, squats and so on Then we added some life stories that were about real homeless people. Mainly because we wanted people to realize homeless people weren’t statistics, they were real people with real stories. Traffic to the site jumped to 1,000 page views per day. We are especially pleased with this as the photos are something mainstream folk just don’t get exposed to. Not just the shocking photos but the pictures of street kids that look like any other kid that age.

Gish, one of the residents at Hospitality House added an online journal writing about his journey through life on the streets to living with us and moving towards his new life off drugs and off the streets. Then we added a directory of other homeless service providers around the world some youth ministry resources and the international homeless forum Then traffic to the site jumped to 2,000 page views per day.

Emails we receive are usually from students wanting help with school or University assignments or children thinking about running away. The emails from future runaways prompted a page dedicated to young runaways, listing some helplines and an email address they could reach us on for a confidential chat

What do you view as the most important aspect of the site?

The homeless forums are where we would like to see the most visitors stop by. A place where we would like to bring homeless people and formerly homeless people online together with the students and people wanting to learn about homelessness.

Moving off the streets and getting a new group of friends is near impossible for many homeless people. People don’t understand you or the world you came from. You feel like a foreigner and people treat you that way. Connecting with other formerly houseless people in the forum will hopefully make that journey easier and less demoralizing.

The forum has the potential to become a meeting ground where currently homeless people can connect with formerly homeless people or even another homeless person in another country.

The traffic to the site is there, we just now need to welcome people into the Forum and get ‘the word on the street’ amongst homeless people around the world (is that even possible). Surprisingly, or maybe not so, a lot of homeless people use the internet, so we will see.

Did you receive any funding for the project?

There isn’t funding for a project like this, but as soon as we realized the opportunity to bring people together we went ahead with it and funded the project ourselves.

In your experience how would you define homelessness?

The crux of homelessness, we believe is social exclusion and disconnectedness.

Houselessness is an inadequate experience of shelter. Some people living on the Streets only need shelter, and then they are back on top.

Real homelessness is intangible and has nothing to do with where you lay your head to sleep. Homelessness we believe is an inadequate experience of connectedness with family and or community.

So it’s not really of any great help if we only house the homeless. They are still completely isolated and very much alone. The feeling of a set of house keys in your pocket will never rival the feeling of connectedness with people who stick with you no matter what happens.

Families are supposed to stick by each other, neighbours and communities are supposed to pull together when a member is in need, but it doesn’t work like that anymore does it?

As a service provider that means we have to see the person that presents, not the problem they present with and seek an ongoing relationship with people after the problem is long gone. We have to develop relationships and value them as the outcome.

Is it all worth it?

After a decade of pursuing this objective of friendship with people who experience homelessness I can honestly say, it is worth it, to stop and reallylisten. That is when we can meet as fellow human beings and be present with each other.

Anyway, stop by at the forums and introduce yourself, make yourself at home and help put the word on the street. The website has also allowed us to share information with the sector on Homelessness and what we have learnt here in Australia.

The forum has the potential to be a very valuable asset here in Ireland and across the World. A Forum like this is most needed and very important so spread the word and join the discussions as soon as you can…..

Friday, February 04, 2005

While Poverty Exists There Is No True Freedom...Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela helped launched the Make Poverty History campaign on Thursday 6 February at a rally in Central London, what follows is the full text of his speech....

I am privileged to be here at the invitation of The Campaign to Make Poverty History.

As you know, I recently formally announced my retirement from public life and should really not be here.

However, as long as poverty, injustice and gross inequality persist in our world, none of us can truly rest.

Moreover, the Global Campaign for Action Against Poverty represents such a noble cause that we could not decline the invitation.

Massive poverty and obscene inequality are such terrible scourges of our times - times in which the world boasts breathtaking advances in science, technology, industry and wealth accumulation - that they have to rank alongside slavery and apartheid as social evils.

The Global Campaign for Action Against Poverty can take its place as a public movement alongside the movement to abolish slavery and the international solidarity against apartheid.

And I can never thank the people enough for their support through those days of the struggle against apartheid.

Many stood in solidarity with us.

Through your will and passion, you assisted in consigning that evil system forever to history. But in this new century, millions of people in the world's poorest countries remain imprisoned, enslaved, and in chains.

They are trapped in the prison of poverty. It is time to set them free.

Like slavery and apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings.

And overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity. It is an act of justice. It is the protection of a fundamental human right, the right to dignity and a decent life.

While poverty persists, there is no true freedom.

The steps that are needed from the developed nations are clear. The first is ensuring trade justice.

I have said before that trade justice is a truly meaningful way for the developed countries to show commitment to bringing about an end to global poverty.

The second is an end to the debt crisis for the poorest countries.

The third is to deliver much more aid and make sure it is of the highest quality.

In 2005, there is a unique opportunity for making an impact.

In September, world leaders will gather in New York to measure progress since they made the Millennium Declaration in the year 2000.

That declaration promised to halve extreme poverty.

But at the moment, the promise is falling tragically behind. Those leaders must now honour their promises to the world's poorest citizens.

Tomorrow, here in London, the G7 finance ministers can make a significant beginning. I am happy to have been invited to meet with them.

The G8 leaders, when they meet in Scotland in July, have already promised to focus on the issue of poverty, especially in Africa.

I say to all those leaders: do not look the other way; do not hesitate.

Recognise that the world is hungry for action, not words.

Act with courage and vision.

I am proud to wear the symbol of this global call to action in 2005.

This white band is from my country.

In a moment, I want to give this band to you - young people of Britain - and ask you to take it forward along with millions of others to the G8 summit in July.

I entrust it to you.

I will be watching with anticipation.

We thank you for coming here today.

Sometimes it falls upon a generation to be great.

You can be that great generation.

Let your greatness blossom.

Of course the task will not be easy.

But not to do this would be a crime against humanity, against which I ask all humanity now to rise up.

Make Poverty History in 2005.

Make History in 2005.

Then we can all stand with our heads held high.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

After Tsunami: Eyewitness Account From India

EYEWITNESS: India’s fishing villages fight fear of the sea
Anna Jefferys works in Save the Children UK’s emergencies department. She writes from India.

The plight of the 2.7 million Indians whose lives were devastated by the December tsunami never reached the top of the international press agenda.
This is partly due to the overwhelming scale of the tragedy in nearby Indonesia and Sri Lanka, and partly because of the Indian government’s statement that it did not require any external aid.
The Indian government is no stranger to large-scale disaster – it has contended with crises in Orissa, Gujarat, Assam and Jammu and Kashmir as well as ongoing drought in Rajasthan, and is adept at mobilising relief interventions that require vast resources and high levels of organisation.
Initial efforts by the Indian government to clear bodies and debris, to deliver widescale relief, to set up water tanks and provide shelter materials have been impressive.
However, while the crisis in India lies outside the international media limelight, the enormous and complex task of helping people to rebuild their lives here must not be underestimated.
The long-term needs and priorities are clear: reconstruction, supporting people’s livelihoods, and helping communities to provide psychosocial support.
The village of Anichamkupam in Villapuram, Tamil Nadu, resembles a ghost town, with buildings lying crumbled, and others empty and coated with a layer of sand. The debris of daily life litters the floor -- a broken water pot, the remnants of a child’s book, a scrap of clothing.
A few women fan the flames of bonfires where they are burning debris. The voices of children can be heard from a sort distance away, as they sit under a tree learning Tamil, their school building destroyed.


Most of the inhabitants of this village have been evacuated to grim-looking interim shelters across the road.
The state-level government has made a huge effort to build interim shelters quickly in most of the affected villages and hamlets, but its quality is questionable in many areas.
Many of the new shelters I saw in villages along the coast were made of corrugated iron, which absorbs the sun’s searing heat.
In the middle of the day when the sun was at its strongest, most of the structures I saw were empty.
Part of the reason for using these seemingly inappropriate materials is the fire hazards associated with traditional timber and thatch construction.
However, finding a safe, ecologically friendly solution that would abide by the Sphere minumum standards in emergency relief in such a short time frame is hard to replicate on a wide scale.
Meanwhile, houses, schools, businesses, early childhood development centres, and warehouses have been destroyed all along the coast.
In the Andaman and Nicobar islands, which faced the worst of the wave’s fury, and which accounts for over half of India’s 11,000 reported deaths, almost 30 percent of the schools we assessed had been completely destroyed, and 50 percent of those remaining are damaged.
The process of rebuilding permanent structures is being complicated by a government order prohibiting new construction within 500 metres of the sea.
What, ask villagers, will happen to houses that are within the legal requirement when the rest of the village is being moved?


“They can’t just take my neighbours away,” said Fatima, from her doorstep. “What will happen to our community then?”
There is widespread fear that this will also leave planners open to pay-offs from people who are determined want to build on the beach.
Ensuring that communities participate in the rebuilding process, and have a say in the design and materials, is vital.
In the western Indian state of Gujarat, which was shaken by a severe earthquake in early 2001, houses in 11 villages still remain unoccupied because they were made with inappropriate materials and were imposed on communities.
Many members of the fishing and farming communities are helping to construct interim shelters and schools in a bid to keep themselves busy.
A rehabilitation package has been announced to replace the boats and nets of 150,000 fishermen across Tamil Nadu and to support workers associated with the fishing industry.
However, none of the communities that we spoke to had yet received this aid. In Anichamkuppam, 200 people -- a fifth of the community’s inhabitants -- worked in a small-scale jellyfish catching and packaging business with a warehouse on the beach.
The fishermen caught the jellyfish, and people of the dalit caste -- or so-called untouchables -- transported and sold it.
It is a short three-month season, beginning in January. This year, the season never began and the warehouse has all but disappeared, its remnants strewn across the beach.
Supramani, a fisherman who delivered fish to the warehouse, is worried. “I have relief for now, but all I want to do is rebuild our warehouse and start again. I need to go back to the sea. It’s all I know,” he said.
It is vital that the hidden groups and communities who are only indirectly involved with the fishing industry but whose livelihoods have nonetheless been shattered, are not overlooked in government and NGO rehabilitation initiatives.
Some of those our staff spoke to include dalits who transport fish or engage in inland fishing, women who sell fish, and “irulas” -- nomadic groups whose lives are ineitably interlinked with the fishing economy.


Meanwhile, farmers are faced with a bleak future. It will take around two years on average for soil to recover from such high levels of salt.
An immediate relief package to the tune of $375,290 has been released for their support, but people will need concerted assistance in desalinating their land for a long time to come.
The most vulnerable groups are the women who have lost partners, and have been left to run households on their own, with no source of income, and children, who risk losing their ability to return to school in a bid to support struggling family incomes.
“The concern is that we will address those with visible assets such as boats, and overlook those who lost invisible assets, such as educational or employment opportunities. We must ensure this isn’t the case,” said Mike Aaronson, Save the Children’s director, on a visit to tsunami-struck villages in India.
Likewise, rehabilitation initiatives need to address the psychological problems that these communities are facing.
Children and adolescents are particularly vulnerable in emergency settings.
Teenagers face the grim task of taking exams despite losing their notebooks, uniforms, textbooks, and in many cases, their schools.
The experiences that many of these children have been through -- including having witnessed the deaths of their friends and family and having come face to face with their own mortality -- will affect their ability to focus and participate.
In the town of Kaccal in the Nicobars, just one teacher out of 100 remains alive.
“What is so hard is that these people have come to fear the sea which was once the provider that they always trusted. This is very traumatic,” Aaronson said.
In Thirumullaivasal, a village that lost 100 people to the tsunami, I met Parvita playing alone on the beach. She was doing the same thing when the wave struck, and watched her grandmother drown.

She told me: “Even though I am afraid of the sea, I will stay here. I will not leave it.”

Peace at whose cost? Davy Carlin

Peace at Whose Cost?

My partner and I recently travelled to the Odyssey Centre in Belfast to watch a newly released film. It was our first time travelling across to the venue, getting a 'black hack' down the Falls Road and a private taxi across to its doors. This recent venue holds Warner Village amongst other entertainments while others are still in the process of development. It also hosts a variety of restaurants, not your usual sit in cafe as in the Kennedy Centre picture house in Andersonstown but Spanish, Italian, Chinese cuisine and American diners amongst others to tempt your taste buds. Although only about 5pm, many of these restaurants were quite full with families and groups of school friends, and with meals around a tenner a touch there was still a steady flow of punters.

The centre itself was well furnished with the latest technology and designs all geared towards family entertainment, a testament one may say of the peace process. After the film myself and my partner went outside for a walk along the waterfront where we noticed immediately the cleanness and lack of graffiti as council workers busied themselves picking up the smallest of litter. As we walked past the mounted water sprinklers and watched the dazzling of lights reflect off the water along the water front, we looked also at the lines of luxurious apartments and offices that graced it with many others in construction. It was a far cry from even ten years ago and although not many persons from working class estates could afford such apartments or offices at least their kids can find the benefit of such recent venues as the Odyssey - or can they?

As we took a taxi across to a friend's house in South Belfast I started to wonder as to how many families from local working class areas could attend such a venue with regularity. For two adults and two children to watch a film, grab a hotdog, a drink and maybe some popcorn it would cost, in the Odyssey, around fifty pounds, almost a weeks shopping budget in some homes - this not including transport or sitting in for a meal. Such venues of entertainment were once out of reach to many working class children, in part for political reasons. Now ironically with the peace process such venues are still out of reach to many working class children for now increasingly economic reasons as we see still the poverty gap ever widening. Although such venues are welcomed we will still see mainly those families and communities that bore the brunt of the troubles finding it increasingly difficult to appreciate such alternative family entertainments as such are becoming already increasingly financially out of reach for many.

After a quick visit to our friend’s house we decided to dander through our city that recently did not make the 'A' list for the potential of being the City of Culture. Coming down past the infamous Ulster Hall we saw two young men wrapped in a sleeping blanket with a similar situation across the road. We stopped to briefly chat to them and to find out if they had found hostel shelter to stay in for the night. I found from the brief discussion a story of broken homes and abuse while others had more overt psychological problems. These young men in their early twenties knew neither peace or found a process that gave even a glimmer of hope.

As we then cut down by Brunswick street several other persons were lying outside the Holiday Inn again wrapped in blankets with a bowl and a sign of 'homeless please help' - a woman lay on the ground with her arms embraced in sleep to a partner. Coming then into Castle Street we looked up at our right and another young man was begging outside Primark and as we got into our taxi two men lay asleep urine soaked on a cardboard box while a woman drank from a cider bottle.

As I watched and read the fanfare of the possibility of becoming the City of Culture from nationalist politicians and press, from unionist politicians and press I believe such calls to be but a matter of hope rather than realism. As we then travelled up the Falls I saw some aspects of material change in the community in which I was raised. Where once stood the St Augustine's Youth Club were I went as a child now stood an unemployment centre. Just past that my old primary school St Finians where I attended until the early eighties stands now an education centre, and such material change was reflected in small ways all the way up the road. Yet to me it seems many important issues are given but a gloss where priorities are not based on need but directed towards ever increasingly cross party economic consensus which can cope with political differences as opposed to the once mainly political and economic discrimination with virtually no consensus - isn't it interesting though that the aspects of consensus now found is still leaving many of the same peoples behind?

To those who may be surprised that Belfast did not go forward for the City of Culture, walk through our city - see the ever increasing numbers of homeless laying on our streets with their faces getting younger and their numbers more numerous. Go through our working class estates and on 'both sides' you will find in many cases unity in poverty and social deprivation. Check out the statistics for the growing number of our youth taking their lives. The tourist guides of our city may show our new wonderful sites but I believe we have more important sights that need to be urgently addressed - that of those who eke out an existence on our city streets or those increasing numbers of children and families that live in poverty. A new tourist venue or new exhibition would mean little to them but the mindset of our process I increasingly find as one that seeks prosperity and provides development for sections and areas of our society while crumbs are waved to deprived communities and the vulnerable to be fought over - only the most in need or desperate need apply for their share.

As we got out of our taxi and entered our estate we walked down the alley, in which essential street lights remain still broken, and squeezed past the burnt out car that has lain their for several days. Again I wondered how long it would take 'a call out' if one of those dazzling lights along the water front was broken (so spoiling appearance) or indeed could we see a burnt out car lying for several days outside such apartments? I think not. And despite community activists in working class estates working tirelessly for the communities, many persons in such estates are part of the 'other two sides' within this process. That is - the lifestyles of social and economic inclusion as opposed to the life of persons, families and communities and their continual exclusion.

Whether one argues that this is not deliberate or that the peace process is not perfect it has to be said that there is a mindset amongst many within this process that such issues are of rhetorical priority only. Are those increasing numbers of youth that lie on our streets worth less that bailing out a private company? Are those increasing numbers of children and families falling into poverty worth less than looking for tax breaks for the rich? Is is right that on the one hand to continually finance venues to service those who can afford them while on the other hand continually closing local community, youth and educational centres in the most deprived areas for those that need them?

Our politicians spend much time and finance travelling and looking continually for inward investment - they seek also new and prosperous developments as is witnessed along the water front. All this may be welcomed but I wonder if maybe they could also spend more time and finance on our citizens who have benefited not from this process - could they seek new and affordable developments in areas of need, could they provide more affordable housing and facilities instead of closing down centres and cutting funding? While they marvel and speak out at the new skylight buildings that are springing up in sections of our society let them speak out and address the continual closing of vital services in working class areas.

The process as many have stated is not perfect. The political mindset of the governance of our society was for a long time dictated through a political and religious basis of bias with economic and social repercussions. Despite the political change the continued economic status quo has meant little change for many of the most vulnerable. The divide between Catholic and Protestant is often referred to as the 'two sides' yet this process has increasingly highlighted 'the other two sides' that of the 'haves' and 'have nots'. Is it not time that real and important issues that affect many of our society's somewhat 'forgotten' and vulnerable peoples are given the same attention as that of others?

Davy Carlin

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Homeless Iraq Vets showing up at U.S. Shelters

Homeless Iraq vets showing up at shelters

U.S. veterans from the war in Iraq are beginning to show up at homeless shelters around the country, and advocates fear they are the leading edge of a new generation of homeless vets not seen since the Vietnam era.

"When we already have people from Iraq on the streets, my God," said Linda Boone, executive director of the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans. "I have talked to enough (shelters) to know we are getting them. It is happening and this nation is not prepared for that."
"I drove off in my truck. I packed my stuff. I lived out of my truck for a while," Seabees Petty Officer Luis Arellano, 34, said in a telephone interview from a homeless shelter near March Air Force Base in California run by U.S.VETS, the largest organization in the country dedicated to helping homeless veterans.
Arellano said he lived out of his truck on and off for three months after returning from Iraq in September 2003. "One day you have a home and the next day you are on the streets," he said.
In Iraq, shrapnel nearly severed his left thumb. He still has trouble moving it and shrapnel "still comes out once in a while," Arellano said. He is left handed.
Arellano said he felt pushed out of the military too quickly after getting back from Iraq without medical attention he needed for his hand -- and as he would later learn, his mind.
"It was more of a rush. They put us in a warehouse for a while. They treated us like cattle," Arellano said about how the military treated him on his return to the United States.
"It is all about numbers. Instead of getting quality care, they were trying to get everybody demobilized during a certain time frame. If you had a problem, they said, 'Let the (Department of Veterans Affairs) take care of it.'"

The Pentagon has acknowledged some early problems and delays in treating soldiers returning from Iraq but says the situation has been fixed.
A gunner's mate for 16 years, Arellano said he adjusted after serving in the first Gulf War. But after returning from Iraq, depression drove him to leave his job at the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. He got divorced.
He said that after being quickly pushed out of the military, he could not get help from the VA because of long delays.
"I felt, as well as others (that the military said) 'We can't take care of you on active duty.' We had to sign an agreement that we would follow up with the VA," said Arellano.
"When we got there, the VA was totally full. They said, 'We'll call you.' But I developed depression."
He left his job and wandered for three months, sometimes living in his truck.

Nearly 300,000 veterans are homeless on any given night, and almost half served during the Vietnam era, according to the Homeless Veterans coalition, a consortium of community-based homeless-veteran service providers. While some experts have questioned the degree to which mental trauma from combat causes homelessness, a large number of veterans live with the long-term effects of post-traumatic stress disorder and substance abuse, according to the coalition.
Some homeless-veteran advocates fear that similar combat experiences in Vietnam and Iraq mean that these first few homeless veterans from Iraq are the crest of a wave.
"This is what happened with the Vietnam vets. I went to Vietnam," said John Keaveney, chief operating officer of New Directions, a shelter and drug-and-alcohol treatment program for veterans in Los Angeles. That city has an estimated 27,000 homeless veterans, the largest such population in the nation. "It is like watching history being repeated," Keaveney said.
Data from the Department of Veterans Affairs shows that as of last July, nearly 28,000 veterans from Iraq sought health care from the VA. One out of every five was diagnosed with a mental disorder, according to the VA. An Army study in the New England Journal of Medicine in July showed that 17 percent of service members returning from Iraq met screening criteria for major depression, generalized anxiety disorder or PTSD.
Asked whether he might have PTSD, Arrellano, the Seabees petty officer who lived out of his truck, said: "I think I do, because I get nightmares. I still remember one of the guys who was killed." He said he gets $100 a month from the government for the wound to his hand.
Lance Cpl. James Claybon Brown Jr., 23, is staying at a shelter run by U.S.VETS in Los Angeles. He fought in Iraq for 6 months with Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 2nd Marines and later in Afghanistan with another unit. He said the fighting in Iraq was sometimes intense.
"We were pretty much all over the place," Brown said. "It was really heavy gunfire, supported by mortar and tanks, the whole nine (yards)."
Brown acknowledged the mental stress of war, particularly after Marines inadvertently killed civilians at road blocks. He thinks his belief in God helped him come home with a sound mind.
"We had a few situations where, I guess, people were trying to get out of the country. They would come right at us and they would not stop," Brown said. "We had to open fire on them. It was really tough. A lot of soldiers, like me, had trouble with that."
"That was the hardest part," Brown said. "Not only were there men, but there were women and children -- really little children. There would be babies with arms blown off. It was something hard to live with."
Brown said he got an honorable discharge with a good conduct medal from the Marines in July and went home to Dayton, Ohio. But he soon drifted west to California "pretty much to start over," he said.
Brown said his experience with the VA was positive, but he has struggled to find work and is staying with U.S.VETS to save money. He said he might go back to school.

Advocates said seeing homeless veterans from Iraq should cause alarm. Around one-fourth of all homeless Americans are veterans, and more than 75 percent of them have some sort of mental or substance abuse problem, often PTSD, according to the Homeless Veterans coalition.
More troubling, experts said, is that mental problems are emerging as a major casualty cluster, particularly from the war in Iraq where the enemy is basically everywhere and blends in with the civilian population, and death can come from any direction at any time.

Interviews and visits to homeless shelters around the Unites States show the number of homeless veterans from Iraq or Afghanistan so far is limited. Of the last 7,500 homeless veterans served by the VA, 50 had served in Iraq. Keaveney, from New Directions in West Los Angeles, said he is treating two homeless veterans from the Army's elite Ranger battalion at his location. U.S.VETS, the largest organization in the country dedicated to helping homeless veterans, found nine veterans from Iraq or Afghanistan in a quick survey of nine shelters. Others, like the Maryland Center for Veterans Education and Training in Baltimore, said they do not currently have any veterans from Iraq or Afghanistan in their 170 beds set aside for emergency or transitional housing.

Peter Dougherty, director of Homeless Veterans Programs at the VA, said services for veterans at risk of becoming homeless have improved exponentially since the Vietnam era. Over the past 30 years, the VA has expanded from 170 hospitals, adding 850 clinics and 206 veteran centers with an increasing emphasis on mental health. The VA also supports around 300 homeless veteran centers like the ones run by U.S.VETS, a partially non-profit organization.
"You probably have close to 10 times the access points for service than you did 30 years ago," Dougherty said. "We may be catching a lot of these folks who are coming back with mental illness or substance abuse" before they become homeless in the first place. Dougherty said the VA serves around 100,000 homeless veterans each year.
But Boone's group says that nearly 500,000 veterans are homeless at some point in any given year, so the VA is only serving 20 percent of them.
Roslyn Hannibal-Booker, director of development at the Maryland veterans center in Baltimore, said her organization has begun to get inquiries from veterans from Iraq and their worried families.
"We are preparing for Iraq," Hannibal-Booker said.

Deported to be Mutilated? Make FGM Grounds for Asylum.

Deported to be Mutilated?

Make Female Genital Mutilation Grounds for Asylum

The Irish government is currently trying to deport women and children under the threat of female genital mutilation (FGM), which frequently results in death. Asylum in Ireland can be sought on the grounds of religious or political persecution. However, the government refuse to acknowledge FGM as a political act and therefore women and children cannot apply for asylum on the basis that they have suffered or will suffer female genital mutilation if deported. Unlike other European countries, Ireland does not have legislation to protect these women as FGM is not strictly prohibited under Irish law.
This urgently needs to be addressed and Comhlamh and the well known Professor of Law Ivana Bacik presented draft legislation to the previous Minister of Health Michael Martin but this was not acted upon. The current Minister for Health Mary Harney seems to be taking the same stance on the proposed legislation as her predecessor. In an increasingly multicultural Ireland FGM is being encountered by health professionals, anti-racism groups and women's groups from women who have suffered FGM and also from others who want to know where FGM is performed in Ireland.
The group Residents Against Racism (RAR) has, over the past few years, helped women and families who have fled to Ireland due to the threat of FGM and face deportation back to their country by the Irish state. Here are just some of the stories of the people facing deportation. In 1999, Elizabeth Onasanwo left Nigeria with her children after watching her home being burnt down by tribal elders and family members when she refused to allow her daughters be circumcised. Elizabeth who witnessed her own sister die from FGM, did not want to see her daughters meet the same fate.The Minister for "Justice" ordered the deportation of the Onasanwo family. Elizabeth could not handle the stress and suffered a nervous breakdown. Since then her eldest daughter Christina has reapplied for asylum on behalf of the family but they are still awaiting a decision on their case.
Juliet Imiruaye, a Nigerian midwife, fled from persecution six years ago. Juliet is a survivor of FGM and was working in her community to try to prevent the practice of FGM. Since her arrival Juliet has worked with Comhlamh, anti-racism groups, and other NGO's to highlight the practice of FGM in Nigeria. In Ireland she has also helped raise awareness among Irish health professionals and Irish midwives who may not have dealt with FGM before. This is important as women and children are arriving in Ireland who have been mutilated and they may not wish to talk about their experiences and midwives may not be fully aware of the dangers that arise from FGM which can be life threatening.
Juliet has recently received a deportation order courtesy of Michael McDowell. Because of Juliet's amazing work in Ireland she has a lot of support behind her and RAR has vowed to help fight the unjust decision. Elizabeth Salako fled Nigeria four years ago with her children. Elizabeth feared for the safety of her children because Sharia law (based on strict Islamic principles) is in force in certain parts of Nigeria and would have subjected her daughter to early marriage and FGM. Since arriving the family have settled well into the community in Birr, Co. Offaly and despite having a large amount of local support Elizabeth still received a deportation order. Pressure from the local community and an intervention from a local TD resulted in the family being granted another three years to remain in Ireland on humanitarian grounds.

The government are treating women asylum seekers appallingly.

Women flee from persecution for many reasons but one of the most serious is FGM. It is not only a women's issue - it is an issue of human rights. Only two women have ever been granted refugee status on grounds of FGM in Ireland and this is a disgrace. Residents Against Racism has started a campaign for women asylum seekers to gain refugee status on the grounds they have suffered or will suffer FGM if deported. We hope to work with other groups and organisations to raise awareness and want people to get involved and support the campaign.

by Emma

For More Information on FGM Contact Residents Against Racism (RAR) at

What is FGM?

Female Genital Mutilation is the removal or part removal of the clitoris. In Nigeria, where most asylum cases of FGM in Ireland are from, there are three main types perfomed. They are: Clitordectomy (also known as sunna) where the clitoral hood with part or all the clitoris is removed. Excision (the most common practice) where both the clitoris and part or all the labia minora are removed. Infibulation (the most severe form of FGM but the least common) is where the clitoris and parts or all the labia minora are removed and incisions are made on the labia majora creating a raw surface. These surfaces are sewn or pinned together leaving only a tiny pinhole opening to let out urine and menstrual blood.

What are the Dangers of FGM?

The horrendous conditions of FGM often result in death; the operation in the majority of cases is performed by an untrained midwife in the most appallingly unhygienic circumstances. Blunt and unsterile objects such as razor blades, broken glass and sharp stones are used which can lead to infection and HIV/AIDS. The age of women subjected to FGM varies from a few days old up till marriage or childbirth.

Why is FGM practiced?

It is believed FGM is a rite of passage into adulthood, often in the child's community a ceremony will take place to celebrate her transition into womanhood. It is believed that FGM will promote chastity and help maintain her virginity before marriage and prevent her from becoming sexually active.