Yesterday afternoon, as Prime Ministers Questions was drawing to another unsubstantial close, Lewisham East’s MP Heidi Alexander (Lab), turned the debate over ESOL cuts (English tuition for speakers of other languages) on the mainstream.
Seldom, during the anti-cuts debates, has the issue of language training been raised as a central concern. The plain fact is that the cuts in ESOL training affects that pocket of society whose voices are not represented in Unions or other mainstream groups. Often, the voice of the immigrant and the asylum seeker in Britain is a whisper, often drowned out by louder voices and only heard when being listened to intently . The reason for this is that this sector of society is not seen as a group worthy of complaint; why should people who escape terrible regimes and torture complain about the conditions we in the UK offer them?
The tragic reality is that with the proposed cuts, this quiet and often shunned voice risks being silenced completely. From September this year, the cuts in ESOL will be pronounced. Under the proposed rules, the state will limit free places to people on job seeker’s allowance or employment support allowance (i.e. those who are actively seeking work). For those who claim on other benefits, such as housing, income support, or tax credits, free places will no longer be available. As a qualified EFL teacher myself, I am aware of the prices some centres charge for language courses. The opportunity to learn English from professionals will simply no longer be possible for a huge number of people who vitally need it.
This travesty was finally given mainstream exposure yesterday by Ms Alexander, who followed on from her ESOL Day of Action on 24th March, by throwing this question at the Prime Minister
‘Last week, I had the privilege of meeting a group of 25 women studying English for speakers of other languages courses in Lewisham. They and I share the Prime Minister’s desire that every migrant in the UK should speak the language of their new home. Given the Prime Minister’s belief that the practical things can make a big difference to community cohesion, will he commit today to putting a stop to this Government’s short-sighted cuts to English language courses?’ (http://news.bbc.co.uk/democracylive/hi/house_of_commons/newsid_9439000/9439997.stm; 28.37)
The latter part of the question bears great relevance to the status of asylum seekers and immigrants in Britain today. With Cameron’s condemnation of the failures of multiculturalism in February, and a reassertion of the desire for every aspiring British citizen to have a proficient level of English speaking, Alexander points to the anomaly these cuts present: a government policy which seeks to make access to ESOL training very difficult, whilst insisting every citizen can speak it.
On her website, Ms Alexander states ‘having good English language skills is a must if you want to get a decent job or if you just need to be able to talk to the doctor or your kid’s teacher’(http://www.heidialexander.org.uk/?p=1162). I would go further even than this. For those seeking citizenship status or fighting asylum claims, speaking English can be a matter of life and death. Coupled with the draconian cuts to Legal Aid, it would appear that this government seems intent on placing barriers on everything asylum seekers and refugees require to make it through an already unforgiving system.
For those lucky enough to have been given status or indefinite leave to remain, such cuts are destined to exacerbate feelings of 2nd class citizenship, and will no doubt feed the negative stereotyping of immigrants, already at boiling point in Britain.
Therefore I would commend Ms Alexander for her words in Parliament, and urge all those working in the adult education sector to amplify the rank injustice these cuts in ESOL represent, and force them into the greater anti-cuts debate.
Excellent and detailed article in the Manchester Mule by Michael Pooler here, about James Fallah-Williams, Sierra Leonean human rights activist currently fighting deportation after some outrageous behaviour by the UKBA.
Sign James' petition here
Thanks to all who attended the meeting on Iran & Deportation on Saturday. Keep your ear to the ground for further meetings and activities surrounding this urgent and ongoing issue. Here is the position statement from RAPAR agreed upon at the meeting:
RAPAR’s position on Iran and Iranian refugees
RAPAR stands in solidarity with all those persecuted and oppressed in Iran, and with all who have fled to survive. To live in freedom from persecution, torture and execution is a basic human right. To fight for and promote this freedom is to assert our humanity.
RAPAR joins with all those—everywhere—who are urging the UK government to immediately halt all deportations to Iran being carried out by the UKBA.
RAPAR asks for connection with all groupings who are working for this purpose, so that we can be a part of developing a determined and UK-wide network that stops the deportations and makes its contributions towards the creation of democracy in Iran.
An emergency public meeting will be held on Sat March 12th in solidarity with Iranian refugees currently in the UK, and to urge the UKBA to stop deportation of Iranians back to highly dangerous situations.
We hereby invite all believers in human rights, the Iranian community, and all refugees to attend and bear witness to the widespread opposition to the UKBA's persistence with this inhumane project.
There will be a demonstration in Piccadilly Gardens at 1pm, followed by a public meeting in the Friends' Meeting House, Mount Street, from 2 - 4 pm.
For further information phone 07854765060 or 07875640796, or visit www.rapar.org.uk
Persian society, Green movement, Kurdish society, Iranian Christian society, RAPAR
COUNCIL DEBATE “A SHAM”, COUNCIL LEADER TOLD BY ANTI CUTS PROTESTERS AS MANCHESTER CITY COUNCIL BUDGET IS APPROVEDPress release and protestor report from Manchester Coalition Against Cuts here
Manchester Somali Women's Forum invites you to join them in celebrating the 100th International Women's Day on Friday 11th March. See flyer for details, click here for Google Maps.
The courage of our Iranian member Arash Bayat, who is currently on hunger strike in Stockport (see news post 18/02/11), is shared by around 300 asylum seekers in Greece who are refusing food—the most fundamental mechanism through which the self can control the body—to draw attention to their conditions and catalyze humane reactions. The initial statement of the group is here and more information and updates can be found here. An excellent Guardian article on the subject by Costas Douzinas of Birckbeck University, London, is here.As the asylum seekers’ protest in Greece enters its 37th day, Arash Bayat, likewise, has now gone 30 days without food to highlight the desperate situation the Home Office’s refusal to recognize his political refugee status places him in.
Click here for a brief guide to the Big Society and the responses it necessitates
On Saturday, the Manchester Coalition Against Cuts are assembling for a march
and demonstration to protest against the government cuts to public and voluntary
At RAPAR, we stand in solidarity with the public sector in the face of this
onslaught by the Con-Dem government, and a group of our members and supporters
will be attending the march.
WE URGE ALL THOSE WHO ARE AGAINST THE CUTS TO JOIN WITH US ON SAT 5TH!!
The march will begin at 12 noon, All Saints Park, Oxford Rd, and progress to Manchester Town Hall.
If you would like to attend or would like further information please contact
Jonny at firstname.lastname@example.org
We look forward to seeing you all
Otro Mundo es Posible!