Above: A meeting of RAPAR’s leadership in Manchester
To mark the World Day for Overcoming Poverty, Dr. Rhetta Moran and Evelyn Mbuluku Ayikidi joined ATD Fourth World at the House of Lords to speak about their work with RAPAR (Refugee and Asylum Seeker Participatory Action Research). Below, Rhetta, chair of RAPAR Trustees, recounts how she experienced the day. The views expressed are her own.
On a wet October day, five RAPAR members from the Congo, England, Rwanda and Zimbabwe arrived at London’s Euston Station, en route to the ATD Fourth World event being held at Parliament. We decided to walk and swung into the Natural History Museum for an hour, to wander as we willed, before reassembling and wondering out loud: “What’s the significance of the museum’s placement of its African collection in the basement?”
The security queue at the Cromwell Green Entrance to Westminster Palace looked interminable in the downpour. We worried that it would take too long to get through in time to make our presentation and also, even if we did, by then drowned rats would have nothing on us.
Slowly shuffling, in pouring rain, my eyes fell upon Cromwell’s statue that all must pass to enter here. Looking at his face, gleaming wet-black, I remembered his phrase: ‘To Hell or to Connaght’. My father’s family is from Connaght, the Western Province of Ireland. This particular Cromwell phrase described his 17th century policy to force Catholics from the ‘good’ land in the East and South to the bog of the North West “at the point of a sword in what we would now recognise as ethnic cleansing…. Cromwell was also, in modern parlance, a war criminal too; butchering thousands of men, women, and children as his forces cut a bloody swathe across the country.”1
‘How ironic!’ I thought. (As a short term self-medication, irony is a marvellously fast-acting antidote to my incandescent rage that’s rarely any use if I want to communicate effectively.) ‘Here we are, travelling all this way to explain how being survivors of ethnic cleansing and butchery impacts on our abilities to participate in society; and, in order to reach the place where we will make this explanation, we are subjected to the gaze of one of history’s most infamous Colonisers whose form has been cast in iron to stand, in perpetuity, at the public entrance to the most significant State building in England.’
In 1895, the Commons debated whether they should erect such a statue to Cromwell at all. When the Unionists sided with the Government, they narrowly avoided defeat. Some things don’t change!
Shrugging Cromwell off, we found ourselves immersed in a very well-attended and responsive public meeting. Here we listened and, in turn, our presentation2 was listened to. We talked about how it feels, and what we do with those feelings when we can’t – and when we can – participate in the society where we live. I knew that we had been heard when a member of the public responded to our presentations by sharing his profound, inescapable conviction that we are now living in an era that is like the 1930’s, when fascism stalked the streets of Europe: a 21st century version is here and he wanted to sound that alarm.
I agreed with him. It is. And only collective action by the mass of working class people will stop it. Let’s be clear. This Government is not fascist; but it will unleash far right forces if it thinks it’s in its short term interests to do so and, remember, fascism grows incrementally. For example, Nazis in the 1930’s wanted to be able to easily identify Jewish people for rounding up purposes, but it wasn’t until they commissioned the German arm of IBM3 to develop the technology to generate such lists, that they were able to begin to post names up on the notice boards of public squares where Jewish people lived, ordering them to be at the local railway station the following morning.
In recent times, on this side of the Channel, the sub-population of people seeking asylum have been, and continue to be, used as a test bed for British Government policy. If the State wants to roll out some new control over the poorest UK people, they test it out first on people seeking asylum to see if it embeds as acceptable Government practice: like removing the right of refugees who claim asylum to work – which Labour did back in 2002 – or substituting the weekly cash payment that a person seeking asylum is entitled to, with Home Office issued Aspen Cards that “analyse card usage data”4 – Tories did that in 2017.
2019 has opened with stories about the Home Office analysing people’s Aspen Card usage to argue that some recipients of its £35-36 per week do not “appear” destitute. From July 2019, the government will begin moving nearly three million UK citizens who currently claim legacy benefits over to Universal Credit — a process known as ‘managed migration’.5
Where’s my irony tablet? Or is it time for us, through all our networks, to organise my and everyone else’s incandescent rage, into meaningful collective action directed towards stopping the far right, and their enablers, from growing any more?
RAPAR is a Manchester based human-rights organization, established in 2002. It works with displaced individuals and families from around the world who are financially destitute and street/sofa homeless.
Refugees, people seeking asylum and displaced people from Britain who have been excluded by government institutions face a daunting range of issues in seeking a pathway to integration into UK society. Our objective is for these people to reconnect fully (legally, culturally, educationally and socially, with employment, good health, housing and personal integrity) so that they become safe, and create constructive lives within British society.
Our core ethos is self-empowerment and self-management. We do this by enabling displaced people to accept responsibility for their own cases, to understand how the UK statutory and voluntary systems operate and interact, and to work with guidance and support from our case workers and volunteers to assemble the necessary documentation to present their cases and drive their processes through to completion.
A key measure of RAPAR’s work is the release of the confidence and capacities of its members so that they fully contribute within our society.
2 You can see the powerpoint of RAPAR’s presentation under the 2018 section here.
5  https://www.mind.org.uk/media/23924038/mind-briefing-on-universal-credit-and-managed-migration.pdf; https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/about-us/policy/policy-research-topics/welfare-policy-research-surveys-and-consultation-responses/welfare-policy-research/managed-migration-to-universal-credit-citizens-advice-briefing/