Devoid of Empathy: Greece’s Refugee Policy

Devoid of Empathy: Greece’s Refugee Policy

Opinion

Devoid of Empathy: Greece’s Refugee Policy 

Greece Refugee Policy

1st September 2020

 

On 2 September 2015, almost five years ago to this day, the world was horrified as images of three-year-old Alan Kurdi’s dead body emerged, washed up on a Turkish beach. His family, fleeing the Syrian civil war, was trying to reach the Greek island of Kos. Since his picture made front-page news around the globe, media interest in the plight of these refugees has slowly dissipated.  

 

Meanwhile, the evolving crisis is worsening in Greece. As a primary entry point to the EU for those seeking asylum, the country is clearly overwhelmed and incapable of hosting those seeking protection. Facing discrimination and mistreatment at the hands of the Greek government, tensions have heightened during the Covid-19 crisis. Refugees who survive the journey to Europe think that the road ahead of them will be easier than the journey they have left behind. The reality is that suffering is far from over. 

 

Oinofyta refugee camp is located an hour from Athens. In November 2017, the camp was closed as it did not meet the minimum legal standards, yet it reopened just five months later. A source stated that, upon reopening, conditions were actually worse than before, due to reduced outside-support and services offered to the residents. Nonetheless, demand clearly overrode the need for a safe place to house refugees. Mothers, fathers and children are being kept in the camp; a disused chemical factory deemed structurally unsound, which ultimately does not meet the basic needs of humans; there is no clean water, the building is unsanitary, and the toilets have no doors for privacy. The camp is left unattended, with residents locked inside, on the weekends and overnight 

 

Pregnant women who go into labour when the camp is unattended are left to fend for themselves; in one particular instance, it was reported that a woman was assisted by other residents during her labour. The residents called an ambulance, which arrived two days later. Post-delivery, no assistance was provided to the new mother and child, by any official. The sad truth is that the woman would have probably received better medical care in a war zone  than on EU soil in this instance. Residents transferred to Oinofyta from Moria, often described as the worst refugee camp in the world., They stated that conditions had been terrible in Moria, but that at least organisations such as Médecins San Frontières (MSF) provided medical assistance. This is due to the Greek government revoking access to healthcare for asylum seekers. The only way to get out of these camps for medical treatment is to register for an asylum application, and this process presents yet another set of challenges.  

 

Oinofyta refugee camp is truly hell on earth, and it has been left up to asylum seekers to arrange their asylum appointments, which have to be organised via Skype. As you can imagine, this is an impossible task for those who don’t own a smartphone or don’t know how to use the internet. Even those who can navigate these first steps run into roadblocks. Six months after one asylum seeker arrived in Greece, he still has not been successful in organising an appointment, as the line is constantly engaged. People who have suffered in their home country and experienced suffering along their journey do not deserve to be housed in deplorable conditions with no healthcare or legal assistance, in what they expected to be a safe place to exist. 

 

Despite financial support sent to the UNHCR and the Greek government by the EU, conditions in these camps are yet to improve. There have been allegations and investigations into a lack of transparency and possible embezzlement and corruption in relation to funds allocated to Greece to take care of these refugees. The Greek government has adopted an increasingly hard-line approach to those that are refugees and the already inadequate system that attempts to support them. 

 

“Traditionally, the Greek government has given refugees six months to find suitable financial support and accommodation after their asylum application is deemed successful. In March, they reduced this time frame to just one month.”

As Greece welcomes tourists and allows them to roam freely, even if they are from countries with high rates of Covid-19, certain refugee camps have been subject to a continued lockdown since March 23. More than five months on, it has been extended seven times. This embodies the message from the Greek government: the difference between being welcomed and being treated as livestock is your country of origin and your financial means. As camp conditions worsened during the lockdown, many residents said that they felt abandoned and unable to source medication for the sick. The extended lockdown has been deemed discriminatory and unjustifiable in terms of public health by humanitarian agencies such as MSF, violating a long list of national, regional and international laws – notably Article 21 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union and Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The Greek government is using the pandemic to detain and exercise control over refugees, worsening their already dire circumstances. 

 

Traditionally, the Greek government has given refugees six months to find suitable financial support and accommodation after their asylum application is deemed successful. In March, they reduced this time frame to just one month which, understandably, has led to residents refusing to leave their accommodationsparked protests and triggered a dramatic uptake in homelessness. This homelessness is especially prevalent in Victoria Square, Athens. According to organisations such as foodKIND, many residents in refugee camps have had their cash cards revoked due to this tightened timeline.  

 

These cash cards are a monthly financial allowance allocated to refugees. For the majority, this is their only means of feeding themselves and their families. Eligible refugees are subject to monthly verification checks and need to register through the smartphone app Viber – which means that, much like the asylum application process, possessing and being able to use a smartphone and internet access are required. There is a pattern occurring here: the Greek government is actively implementing a process that will make even the most basic and vital support extremely difficult to obtain for those most vulnerable.  

 

This system has led to fears of the financialisation of refugees in Greece, where money can even be deducted from a cash card as a form of punishment. According to estimates, this five-month reduction affects 11,000 refugees in Greece. It is simply not feasible to expect a refugee to find employment within a month in Greece, considering it has the highest unemployment rate in the EU. Organisations such as MSF have stated that no one is exempt from eviction, with Greek officials evicting refugees with serious health and mental health problems. In fact, in June, an MSF patient with existing health issues died from cardiac arrest after being threatened with eviction. This individual was literally scared to death by the actions of the Greek government, and to their benefit, one less refugee lives. Even so, the Migration Ministry’s Secretary-General still came out in defence of the change in law, stating that ‘if they are pampered, how are they ever going to find a job and become part of society?’. It is apparent that, wherever possible, the Greek government seeks to render these refugees despondent, hoping that they will disappear or cease to exist. 

 

Greece has made it near impossible for humanitarian organisations to operate in the country, imposing a multitude of expensive and bureaucratic obligations on them. Organisations offering essential services such as midwifery, healthcare and legal assistance are often ignored or denied entry to the refugee camps. In response, 72 organisations released a statement to Greek officials, urging them to reconsider the rules implemented in July due to the fact that ‘humanitarian work is essential work’, yet this ‘administrative assault’ on civil society groups has yet to be reversed. Legal Centre Lesvos has claimed that there is now constant police presence at their centre, resulting in the intimidation and threat of fines for people trying to access their services. Greek officials have also been harassing MSF, imposing fines exceeding €35,000 and threatening legal action which has directly led to the closure of the Covid-19 Isolation Centre on the Greek island of Lesvos. This centre was set up in an attempt to deter the devastating effect an outbreak in Moria could have on residents, as local health facilities are unable to cope with such an outbreak. The pandemic has only served to accelerate the government’s onslaught on refugees, at a time where countries such as Portugal granted refugees full citizenship rights during the pandemic. These tactics, in light of the Covid-19 pandemic, can be perceived as a ‘cleansing’, as the Greek government is making it clear that they do not care whether these refugees live or die. 

 

The In a New York Times article  New York Times released on August 14, it was reported on August 14 that these hard-line tactics have extended to the sea. More than 1,000 people trying to reach Greece by sea have been turned away by the Greek coast guard, and some were even removed from the detention centres on the Greek islands. These people were often abandoned at sea on overcrowded life rafts in flagrant violation of humanitarian law. Despite the evidence, in the form of survivor interviews, photographic and video evidence, the Greek government has denied that these expulsions even took place. As the world is preoccupied with the coronavirus threat, the tactics of the Greek government have become more extreme and organised; they abandon these migrants around the Greek-Turkish sea border, where their survival is dependent on the compassion of the Turkish coast guard. A doctoral researcher at the Irish Center for Human Rights was among the first to document this unprecedented tactic adopted by the Greek government. Compelling evidence regarding these illegal pushbacks has since been recorded by organisations with a presence on the Greek islands, such as Legal Centre Lesvos and Aegean Boat Report, since March. There have been more recent reports of Greek officials injuring refugees on boats, imitating video evidence which emerged earlier this year.  

 

More than 1,000 people trying to reach Greece by sea have been turned away by the Greek coast guard… these people were often abandoned at sea on overcrowded life rafts in flagrant violation of humanitarian law.

These hard-line anti-refugee tactics are blatantly illegal. The European Union was built on solidarity and as a safe haven for those fleeing persecution and war. In the context of conflict, the mistreatment of civilians is deemed a war crime, so why is the world turning a blind eye to what continues to happen in Greece? As we ourselves are navigating this pandemic, imagine the suffering endured by these refugees, as Greek officials capitalise on the fact that our attention is being diverted elsewhere. Greece’s policies and tactics are entirely devoid of empathy and fail to give even a moment’s consideration for the human rights of these people. They have sought safety and dignity in EU territory and are met with prolonged suffering. Mechanisms in place to help refugees, such as cash cards and the asylum process, are riddled with unnecessary hurdles.  

 

Nothing comes easy for them; so don’t we have an obligation to support these vulnerable people in any way we can? Instead, the already inadequate support system is being used against them as a punitive measure, to avoid them being ‘pampered’. The Greek government is essentially caging these people in, to the detriment of their physical and mental health, taking anything but a humanitarian approach to this crisis. We must remember that these people are fleeing war-torn countries and have, in some cases, been subject to torture and sexual violence. Yet the Greek government has purposefully rendered especially vulnerable refugees homeless, even in the midst of a pandemic. 

 

In a final twist of hypocrisy, Greece is the current chair of the Council of Europe, the EU’s leading human rights organisation. Imagine the consequences of an EU country setting such an example for the rest of the world. 

 

If you would like to help organisations making a difference in the everyday lives of the refugees struggling in Greece please consider donating to the following organisations: 

foodKIND, who provide meals for 700 people a day in the Oinofyta and Malakasa refugee camps in Greece. 1 euro equals 3 meals for a refugee in need, click here to donate. 

Aegean Boat Report, who work to provide neutral, detailed and accurate information concerning boats arriving in the Aegean sea. This organisation has brought a lot of information to light concerning the disturbing practices against refugees arriving to the Greek islands from Turkey. By donating here you will be contributing to a better and more widespread understanding of this ongoing refugee crisis. 

 

 

Featured photo by Fotomovimiento

 
 

 

Tech Giants Reveal the Falsehood of the American Dream

Tech Giants Reveal the Falsehood of the American Dream

Opinion

Tech Giants Reveal the Falsehood of the American Dream
American Dream Falsehood

28th August 2020

Time and time again, we hear of the massive American “big tech companies” and their origins as “rags-to-riches” success stories. We are captivated by the idea of the “self-made man” and those who triumph over adversity, the regular David vs Goliath stories. We have heard that Apple, Google and Amazon were created in garages.

We know that Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg all dropped out of college because they believed that much in their own ideas. We know (or rather, it is drilled into us) that hard work does pay off. This is all part of the American Dream, so instated into our minds as children  the idea that quality of opportunity is available to any American, allowing the highest aspirations and goals to be achieved. 

But the problem we are seeing, now more than ever, is that this American Dream mentality is backfiring. America’s hunger for profit, no matter the costs to sustainability or human rights, is catering to massive businesses and the people behind them feeling justified in practising exploitation. It is pushing the nation to further splinter along class as well as racial and ethnic lines. We also see it encouraging the population to accept the accumulation of unfathomable wealth as normal, even when the lack of wealth taxation goes against their own direct interests.  

A prime example of this is the big tech business model that has been allowed and encouraged to prevail in the US especiallyIn a recent congressional grilling, Amazon, Facebook and Apple proclaimed their credentials as all-American success stories in an attempt to counter claims made that they are unfair stiflers of competition. Jeff Bezos of Amazon, while arguing that he wanted “American workers to get products to American customers”, failed to touch on the fact that Amazon’s share of ecommerce stands at a huge 40 per cent, effectively pushing any healthy competition out of the market Tim Cook of Apple described the company as “uniquely American” before defending its role as gatekeeper to the App Store through setting onerous commission fees and favouring its own apps.

Mark Zuckerberg described Facebook as a “proudly American company”, and defended Facebook’s acquisitions of Instagram and WhatsApp, which critics argued were an attempt to quash growing rivals, by claiming that both platforms benefited from Facebook’s existing technology, infrastructure and ad sales. These are not companies that seem to appreciate or respect the American Dream. They appear to find no problem with squashing the innovation of others for the gain of their company and the acquisition of frightening amounts of money. 

The composition of these firms is also worth having a look at. What is not often discussed is that these companies usually recruit those from Ivy League or other elite colleges like the University of Washington, UC Berkeley and Stanford University – which includes only a slim intersection of the population. A Forbes reporter acknowledged that a head of diversity recruiting mentioned that she was only willing to spend $5,000 dollars of her recruiting budget recruiting a “non-elite” student, compared to the $50,000-$100,000 she typically spends recruiting “elite” students. And this is coming from someone in charge of improving diversity.

The fact that entrance to such schools is highly skewed towards those from more advantaged backgrounds is just the final cog in a vicious circle of elitism-driven-inequality. In this way, big tech firms step over millions of talented and hardworking students that miss the mould. 

 

“Economic mobility is lower in the US than almost every other developed country – it is one of only four high-income economies amongst 50 economies with the lowest rate of relative upward mobility.”

 

The American Dream is a mightily compelling way to guide your lifestyle choices. It is an appealing idea and a really, tremendously admirable concept. This enduring myth maintains that if you are willing to work hard for as long as it takes, you can rise up and achieve the “good life”. And we have seen it in action. But these big tech firms, that may have arisen to power themselves due in part to these idealsseem to very quickly forget the origins of their success.

 The power of capitalism is being concentrated ever more in the hands of the few which is having drastic effects on the average American working to provide for themselves and their family, looking to rise up the ranks, looking to reach that level of success that they are promised is achievable through hard work. But this very same average American is worse off today than a decade ago.  

From 1999 to 2016, the employment-to-US-population rate over fell from 64.3% to 59.7% – not counting the recent extreme effects of the pandemic on the economy. Staying in third-level education is now harder than ever – about one-third of undergraduates transfer at one point in their careers, and an even bigger percentage drop out for financial or other reasons. Millions of hardworking, intelligent people are living paycheck-to-paycheck and on the breadline but are stuck in jobs with few opportunities for advancement, and little hope for the future. 

The recession arising from the pandemic is going to show this as clearly, wreaking absolute havoc on small businesses and those living just above the breadline in favour of the biggest and most tech-focused corporations. When so many our people are hurting, it is difficult to accept that corporations are using the global pandemic as an opportunity to continue making outrageous profits. Recent claims by Democratic politician Bernie Sanders state that “While Amazon is denying paid sick leave, hazard pay and personal protective equipment to 450,000 of its workers, Jeff Bezos has increased his wealth by over $70 billion. While 40 million Americans face eviction, Elon Musk has nearly tripled his wealth over the past four months and now has a net worth of more than $70 billion. While millions of Americans are lining up at emergency food banks because they don’t have enough money to put food on the table, Mark Zuckerberg the founder of Facebook has increased his wealth by more than $37 billion during the pandemic and is now worth over $90 billion.” 

The sad truth is that fewer people today are getting ahead and gaining real success or even stability than before. Economic mobility is lower in the US than almost every other developed country – it is one of only four high-income economies amongst 50 economies with the lowest rate of relative upward mobility.  We must remember, though, that it is not the case that the values and beliefs resulting from this concept are inherently wrong, or non-existent, or flawed, or misguided. It is that those individuals, those big businesses who have the power to make the American Dream a real and accessible means to millions of people, are actively opting not to. Not only is this not the American Dream. It is the exact opposite of the American Dream.  

 

 

 

Featured photo by Joe Flood

 
 

 

 

Living Under Quarantine: My Lockdown Experience

Living Under Quarantine: My Lockdown Experience

Opinion

Living Under Quarantine: My Lockdown Experience

Coping with lockdown post it notes

24th August 2020

 

Let’s face it, lockdown wasn’t easy for any of us. On March 27th  Ireland went into full lockdown, but just two weeks before that we began receiving alarming articles and alerts about people getting sick from Covid-19. It was terrifying to think that a virus we assumed was far away was now on our doorstep. I’m still a student at the National University of Ireland Galway and just before we went into an unofficial lockdown, students around the university began sharing disturbing videos of other students being walked off-campus by people in protective suits.

Obviously, we were all terrified, and the day after the video was published many of people I knew decided to skip classes that day. We received an announcement that the students in the videos were not Covid-19 positive but the damage had already been done.

I worked at the University as part of the well crew, we were based in “The Hub” which is a recreation spot for students with a large seating area and kitchen that is free to be used by all.  We had all the signs up about washing your hands and disinfecting but that was all before we knew that it wasn’t just a flu.

It sort of all came crashing down, didn’t it? Once the University closed it was obvious that we wouldn’t be back anytime soon, and that was terrifying. I have lived alone ever since moving away from home at the age of seventeen. I pay my own bills and take care of my own stuff legally speaking.  The Covid-19 crisis made me lose both of my jobs leaving me with my savings and with no option of getting new employment.

I’m originally from Ukraine and have spent the last thirteen years in Ireland away from my family, so when the pandemic reached most of Europe Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky made a public announcement asking for all Ukrainian citizens to return home. I was worried and tempted to go home, wait it out with my father and grandparents but the fear of bringing the unknown virus home to them was more terrifying than not seeing them.

The covid-19 unemployment payments finally allowed students to apply a couple of weeks after the payment was established which was a huge relief. Many students who didn’t have a job were forced to go home and abandon their student accommodation. I live in an apartment which I rent with two other girls and since I moved out permanently, I couldn’t go anywhere. I applied for the payment and was receiving the help I was so desperate for.

The unemployment payments helped with my paranoia too. The fear of getting the virus was getting to my head. I was afraid to leave my home, I was afraid of leaving my own bedroom and interacting with the girls in my apartment. I felt like the first couple of months were easier. Getting some time off after working non-stop on two different jobs as well as having studies on top of that. Now I had all the time in the world to do my best on my assignments and take some time off. I was working in a nightclub, so sleep was a luxury, I think I spent the first week curled up in a little ball sleeping.  But it wasn’t sleeping; I was hibernating.

 

“I was worried and tempted to go home, wait it out with my father and grandparents but the fear of bringing the unknown virus home to them was more terrifying than not seeing them.”

Slowly but surely as time went on things began getting harder. I was becoming restless like I’m sure many of us were. I had finished my college work and started my internship a couple of months early just to keep myself going. I made it my daily responsibility to make sure my family were okay. I would call my grandparents a couple of times a week, sometimes a couple of times a day just to double and triple-check that were safe.

Ukraine doesn’t have the financial luxuries of paying their citizens to stay at home which meant that most Ukrainians had no choice but to keep working, including my grandparents and father. The fact that they were working, and I was sitting on my backside was making me anxious and very upset. I missed home a lot; I missed my family. It seemed that most of my friends had their family close by while I was all alone. Thankfully I had my partner to keep me company and keep me sane.

I think the most terrifying part of lockdown was the emptiness. Every time one would walk down a shop street or through Eyre Square or even Salthill, there were people everywhere, but now it was like a ghost town. Not a soul to be seen, and if you did see someone you would make it your business to stay as far away as possible. It was weird to be asked to wear gloves or sanitize your hands when you entered a shop. It felt nice to walk into a place and feel safe thanks to the limitations of people being let inside and the extra precautions.

Once precautions started easing, I was eager to find a job. I was never one to sit around and not work for my money. I began sending out CVs to places I knew would be safe workplaces and I was slowly adjusting to leaving my home while wearing a mask at all times. I bought reusable ones and my neighbour’s mother made a few reusable masks that I was more than happy to wear around. They’re easy to wash and I find they are less wasteful. I really hated seeing the gloves and masks thrown on the ground like rubbish. It was disrespectful considering most countries and medical workplaces were struggling with gear.

And just like that life was getting back to what it was before lockdown. Of course, some changes to life long waiting lines and mask-wearing, as well as pre-booking, were all new. However, it seemed that people no longer cared for social distancing. Eyre Square was once again overcrowded, and Shop street was flooded. I won’t lie, lockdown PTSD was hitting hard. I was finding it hard to breathe and I would subconsciously avoid everyone in my way and cross the street to avoid walking next to people. The fact that now things were all back to normal after months of what felt like a post-apocalypse movie is weird.

I got a job as a pastry chef in my favourite spot in Galway… I had acquired new skills during quarantine and was happy that I made this change in my career, no longer had to deal with drunk people trying to harass me and no drinks spilt on me.

I felt like my life was getting to a place where I felt comfortable. But I often find myself in the kitchen, just doing my thing, listening to the radio, and the minute Covid-19 is mentioned I feel my eyes tearing up. I get anxious and I get paranoid. I wash my hands a million times a day where I have developed really had eczema on my hands. I miss my family every day.

Talking to them upsets me even more since I was supposed to spend my birthday with them, only to spend it without them. Ukraine is facing a rise in cases and there is little to nothing I can do to help. They won’t accept my financial help and I can’t go to help them. I’m jealous of those who got to spend time with loved ones during lockdown, because I would give anything to be with mine.

With time I feel like Covid-19 will be burned into the back of our brains as something that happened and “wasn’t that crazy?” I feel like after a while I will stop tearing up at the mention of Covid-19 and lockdown but that will take a lot of time. So many people have died, so many have had their lives turned upside down. Our world is still filled with uncertainties. The university is giving us mixed signals and I don’t really know what to do. But I will continue social distancing and wearing my mask, I encourage you to do the same. Keep yourself and your loved ones safe.

 

 

Featured photo by Sarah Kilian

 
 

 

 

Face Masks in Fashion

Face Masks in Fashion

Opinion

Face Masks in Fashion

Cariety of colourful face masks

10th August 2020

 

Over the past few months, people everywhere have had to adopt new behaviours and adapt to new circumstances due to the spread of the coronavirus. The enforced influx of so much that is ‘new’ all at once has inspired an equally forced acceptance of the fact that our lives may not return to what we once considered as ‘normal’ for the foreseeable future. The forced acceptance of the abnormal has produced a population-wide promotion of the ‘new-normal’ lifestyle. 

This cry for familiarity in a world rendered so unfamiliar by COVID-19 is acknowledged through elbow-bumping, selfies of people with their faces covered, and the sharp, clean hint of hand-sanitizer in the unlikeliest of places (read: the newsagents on the corner). A sharp, clean scent hovers over a sharper, cleaner people. Hopefully  soon, a sharper, cleaner world.

These measures have touched every aspect of our lives. From our preferred shopping locations and hours to the socially acceptable number of people now allowed to congregate at the beach, it is unsurprising that the coronavirus has crept into the sleeves of the fashion industry. Where in the 2000s, we had low rise jeans, and in the 70s, we rocked flares, the iconic must-have of this decade by the time 2030 rolls around will likely be the facemask. As citizens across the globe are encouraged to cover up in public places, purchases of this variation of hygiene-fuelled haute-couture have rocketed up. Etsy revealed that searches for face masks have increased 9 times a second since April of 2020.

Fashion is notorious for reflecting the times. During the 1940s, women wore straight, fabric-conserving skirts in plain shades, and drew lines up the back of their legs to give the impression of the hard-to-come-by pantyhose. Trousers and utility-style dresses marched onto the high street as women replaced their male counterparts in the workforce, but then retreated again after World War II when the men returned and fabric became more plentiful – note the trademark 50’s skirt of Sandra Dee in Grease. Yet fashion fell unwittingly out of step with facemasks and is now rushing to catch up.

Since the 1950s, the West has shamelessly dominated global culture. ‘Globalisation’, a word with the whole world within its margins, could have been a pseudonym for ‘Americanization’ (with a z), something that reads with a vast difference. The gradual integration of global traditions and economies over time mostly comes down to the explosion of one culture in all directions. The star-spangled banners of the US and the EU, alongside the UK, have absorbed the cultural and economic limelight for years. With all the fuss in the Western corner, it seemed unnecessary to consult the Eastern, Northern, or Southern corners. For the most part, we paid little attention, unless (or until) they presented as an economic or military threat. Not the most charitable of comrades, the West has been.

In countries such as Japan, Korea and the larger cities of China, facemasks have been common use for civilians since as far back as the 1920s. Originally brought in to combat the spread of diseases such as the Spanish Flu in the early 20th century, SARS in the early 2000s, and incidentally, COVID-19 in 2020, they also serve to filter the noxious air in cities heavy under the smog of pollution. They are not so much a trend as they are a social requirement; masks are worn also out of consideration for the health and safety of fellow citizens.

 

“Where in the 2000s, we had low rise jeans, and in the 70s, we rocked flares, the iconic must-have of this decade by the time 2030 rolls around will likely be the facemask”

​So when the question “How on earth will we integrate facemasks into our daily lives?” – or even “How can we be expected to integrate facemasks into our daily lives?” – arises as an actual issue in our media, we Westerners reveal a sad ignorance and possibly weakness in our nature. Whether we like it or not, the wearing of masks is creeping into a prime position as part of this ‘new normal’ that is replacing the actual normal of our pre-COVID lives. The fashion industry reflects the times perhaps, but in attempting to cater to our ‘new-normal-needs’ needs, it has highlighted the slow-uptake of the West to a custom that has been sitting under our noses (or rather, on top of their noses), for decades.

As a Westerner, I propose that it is time we understand globalisation in all its intended glory: a convergence of many cultures and traditions at one central, compromising point, rather than a dominance of one or a few overwhelming players pushing the others off the field. The war against the coronavirus is a non-contact sport, but it takes place in a global stadium, in which every country is playing a part. For us to succeed against the enemy hidden in the clouds, or more accurately, water vapour, it is vital that we cooperate. And to cooperate effectively, a two-way transmission of communication should take place. Us Westerners should take not one, but two of the leaves blowing from the books of non-Western states: that we should easily integrate facemasks into daily life; and that to listen and learn from those around us is not to be weak but to be aware of all the means available to us in defeating a common adversary. 

If we need fashion to make this concept a more attractive (and possibly palatable) reality to us, then we will sew our way to global victory; not as one of many teams, but as one team of many. The next time we meet that question “How on earth will we integrate facemasks into our daily lives?”, we should remember that what we are really asking is “How on earth will we integrate facemasks into our Western lives?” or Southern or Northern lives for that matter; quite a few members of the far-East have it sorted, and it’s time for us to take note.

 

 

 

Featured photo by Vera Davidova

 
 

 

 

The Riot as a Legitimate Form of Protest

The Riot as a Legitimate Form of Protest

Opinion

The Riot as a Legitimate Form of Protest

Honk Kong riot police

6th August 2020

 

What is it about the mention of riot that makes a lip curl? A movement for social justice becomes one of mindless thugs in the eyes of the condemner. Yes, rioting is violent that cannot be disputed, but riots work. What option is left for those oppressed and constrained within the very systems that claim to protect? What use is peaceful protest when your very human rights are violated, when your cries fall on deaf ears?

Riots have rocked the world. From the Stonewall Riots of 1969 to Hong Kong 2019 and most recently, the wave of rioting accompanying the Black Lives Matter movement in response to the murder of George Floyd. Rioting is the result of years of tension and mistreatment; a cry to be heard.

Rioting is an effort to enforce societal reform when all peaceful means have been exhausted or ignored. Their legitimacy is questioned due to the violence and destruction of property that ensues, but at what stage does property take privilege over social justice? Mainstream media can be quick to condemn rioters, for example, before it does a regime rife with systemic racism. A corporation can afford the bill for damages – but  a human life cannot be restored. In the capitalistic society within which we reside, we have been taught to value economic productivity and property as paramount. Our values have become materialistic while our privilege allows a disconnect, making us more likely to condemn rioters as mindless thugs.

 

“Rioting is an effort to enforce societal reform when all peaceful means have been exhausted or ignored”

The mainstream media plays a huge role in framing rioters in a negative light. Riots challenge the status quo, and the majority of the time these news outlets have a pro-government stance due to their foundations. Rioting then becomes synonymous with chaos and violence, which can envelop the actual meaning of the protest. The media may try to portray the rioting as mindless, lacking substance, when in reality it is the burst of anger after years of oppressive and unjust treatment, a manifestation of accountability.

We’re well versed in the images played across our screens, of burning husks of cars and looters dragging valuables out of electronic stores. This distortion removes the rioters from civil society – we see them as merely violent and criminal. And yes, some of their actions may be, but they are a reaction to mistreatment by a structure that has failed them. 

In the age of social media, however, the free flow of information allows images and videos to seep across the globe. Support can grow online, and propagandist outlets are no longer the only valid sources of information. Accountability is now more possible than ever. We saw this with the most recent wave of riots arising out of the BLM movement, which the mainstream media stopped reporting on as apparent interest dwindled.

On social media, though, the fire continued to burn. Social media helped to hone a global movement, inspiring protests around the world. It forced the Minnesota police department to take action and opened a plethora of related cases in regard to police brutality, which will hopefully result in a more just system. Rioting may be a violent last resort, but it works.

 

 

 

 

 

Featured photo by Geoff Livingston

 

 

Why Veganism Cannot Solve All, but Some, of this World’s Problems: The Virus and the Consumption of Animal Products

Why Veganism Cannot Solve All, but Some, of this World’s Problems: The Virus and the Consumption of Animal Products

Opinion
Why Veganism Cannot Solve All, but Some, of this World’s Problems: The Virus and the Consumption of Animal Products
Supermarket butcher's counter
5th August 2020

 

The term “veganism” and the lifestyle affiliated to it, namely the complete abstention from animal products, especially in diet, is growing in international importance. A vegan diet has been fundamentally proven to lead to better health, by lowering blood pressure, cholesterol, and rates of heart disease. Veganism is also globally renowned for its positive environmental impact, such as reducing the carbon footprint of an individual by up to 73%. This clearly makes it a superior sustainable way of living. However, what we talk about far less is the fact that a shift to a plant-based diet is the only guaranteed way to prevent pandemics such as COVID-19 from occurring in the future. Of course, your economical self might ask “What are the negative externalities of a plant-based diet?” The answer: there are none.

 

Individuals with a meat-based diet incentivise mass livestock farming that is incredibly destructive to the conservation of natural habitats and the preservation of millions of lifeforms, such as in the Amazon Rainforest, while also allowing for dangerous pathogens such as the COVID-19 virus  to emerge. This mass farming strategy that underpins our entire world economy today creates a close physical proximity between humans and wildlife, enabling disease  to be a consistent threat to global and local health systems – not to mention  the approach used for animal farming, which gives rise to such filthy, unethical conditions.

 

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 75% of emerging infectious diseases originate in animals. Thus, most pandemics are human-made, emerging in animals raised for human consumption and jumping the species-barrier to humans, and not the uncontrollable natural disasters we perceive them to be. Our enormous demand for meat means that animals are living cramped together in squalid conditions, giving rise to the development of viruses and other diseases which can eventually become dangerous for humans as well. In short, raising and killing animals for food threatens human health. COVID-19 specifically is the result of gross animal mistreatment, as it most likely emerged in an Asian wet market where live animals are housed in constricted, unsanitary conditions.

 

The demands made by Singers and Cavalieri, a team of philosophers devoted to animal rights to close such wet markets in China, is more than justified – but we also must look at our own animal production conditions in Europe, which unfortunately reflect a similar picture. Animals are violently fitted to the husbandry system, leading to the brutal removal of horns, tails, or teeth. The basic needs of the animals are ignored: they are drastically restricted in their freedom to move around and routinely fed antibiotics to be kept alive, leading to the emergence and the rapid transmission of dangerous pathogens. To live in a vegan world would mean that those sordid conditions, and the associated emergence of disease  with pandemic potential, would discontinue. This would lead to the elimination of situations like a pandemic altogether.

 

 

“According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 75% of emerging infectious diseases originate in animals.”

Regrettably, this is by no means a new discovery, and COVID-19 is not the first virus which developed out of the shocking animal farming conditions and overconsumption of animal products around the world. HIV most likely originated from SIV, crossing the species barrier through non-human primates killed for human consumption. The Creutzfeldt Jakob syndrome developed from BSE (mad cow disease), which arose out of the consumption of infected cattle. Although it is no secret that the way we are currently treating animals for consumption drastically affects our own physical health, there has been no active movements to a more sustainable way of eating. Veganism is “trending” at the moment, yet in day-today life vegans are still the subject of eye rolls and scoffs by greater society.

 

Put it this way, an average meat-based diet requires 17 times more land, 14 times more water and 10 times more energy than a vegan diet. So, to meet the demand of animal products endless hectares of rainforest and other natural habitats are destroyed, creating an imbalance in the environment – yet another cause for the emergence of zoonotic diseases such as COVID-19. For example, bat-associated viruses have emerged due to the loss of bat habitat from deforestation and agricultural expansion. The destruction of such habitat leads to closer proximity between wild animals and humans, again facilitating the jump of the species-barrier. Veganism drastically reduces the amount of destruction to the environment, as less agricultural space and energy is used to feed populations, which encourages the retention of natural habitat. Wild animals would stay wild in their natural habitats and would not live in close proximity to humans. As a result, the diseases that they carry are not able to exploit humans as a host. This facilitates a more natural, balanced relationship between wild animals and humans.

 

The solution to a pandemic-less future then, is theoretically simple: we need to reconsider and reject our consumption of animal products in every form. But in practice, of course, this will be far more complex – this largely global issue requires global cooperation (something that is rarely, if ever, actually achieved). It is a constant battle between politics and economics. Many people argue that the advocacy of a plant-based diet infringes on their freedom of choice, that everyone has the individual right to make the decision to eat animal products or not. Yet, looking at the current pandemic and the drastic consequences it has had and will continue to have for all of humanity, in every part of the world, from losing loved ones to the disease over destroying career prospects to restricting our very freedom of movement, we must  ask ourselves if the consumption of animal products truly is, or should be, an individual decision.

 

And even if moral, health and environmental reasons are still not enough to convince the majority of the population to reconsider their eating habits, the current pandemic is hard proof that it is past time to do so. It must be made clear that eating habits are not an individual decision but a collective one –  we all suffer the consequences of animal production and consumption, never more visible than during the current pandemic. Lockdowns worldwide show that we are willing to make sacrifices when our own lives are in danger. So should we not be equally willing to shift to a more plant-based diet in order to prevent such situations from even occurring in the first place, instead of merely fighting them tooth and nail as they arise? We do not need a few perfect vegans. We need millions of people trying to reduce their consumption of animal products to prevent the emergence of pandemics. It is important to have understanding, and to recognise that it takes time to make this type of change. We must encourage people to make this important shift through educative means and support. That said, veganism is not, by any means, the magic solution to this world’s problems; but a movement towards a plant-based, vegan diet is the only way of avoiding the emergence of future pandemics, and the best shot we have available to us to combat them at this time. We must rally together and unite to fight the good fight.

 

 

 

 

Featured photo by Inigo de la Maza