On Friday 29 June an event in Bristol, co-organised by Disabled People Against Cuts, was held with the aim of bringing together disabled campaigners, refugees and our organisations to examine the systemic barriers that continue to oppress both groups and explore how we can organise together to fight for change. The impetus behind the event was a desire to build something positive from the appalling racist murders of two disabled men, Kamil Ahmad and Bijan Ebrahimi, both of whom came to Britain in search of sanctuary and were appallingly failed by both the police and social services.
We were not expecting to change the world overnight. The event represented just one very small step in just initially bringing together communities, those of Deaf and Disabled people and of asylum seekers and refugees, who within Britain have very little previous experience of joint organising, to explore points of commonality and opportunities to unite our resistance.
Just managing that we thought would count as something of an achievement. In the daily struggle for survival that both groups face, meetings on wider issues easily take a back seat. This extends to organisations working respectively in the disability and asylum sectors who are rarely confident in both issues. Many refugees are afraid that involvement in campaigning will negatively affect decisions about their status while sadly there are some disabled people who have fallen for the scapegoating of refugees and migrants, misguidedly blaming them for the cuts they are experiencing.
Both groups however have much in common. We are used to restricted choice and control over our own lives, to living in fear of harsh government policies whether inflicted by the Home Office or the DWP and subject to a hostile environment and scapegoating. As disabled academic and activist Rebecca Yeo will argue at the event, the policies now being rolled out that are targeting and adversely impacting on Disabled people were trialled on asylum seekers.
As disabled activist, academic and friend of Kamil, Rebecca Yeo, argued at the event, the policies now being rolled out that are targeting and adversely impacting on Disabled people were trialled on asylum seekers.
Rebecca Yeo, who co-organised and spoke at the event, says:
It appears that policies are often tested on asylum seekers before being brought to the wider population. When rights were taken away from disabled asylum seekers in 1999, there was little response from the disability movement. More than a decade later similar policies were extended to disabled citizens. If we had responded more strongly in 1999, perhaps we would be in a very different position today.
Support for the event came from a diverse range of organisations and individuals within both the disability and asylum sectors as well as campaigns and trade unions, including Bristol Disability Equality Forum, Bristol Council of Mosques, the University of Bath and many more, showing a widespread desire for peace and unity. Alongside members from DPAC Bristol and South West, DPAC members had travelled from Manchester, Birmingham and London to pay their respects to Kamil and Bijan.
The event started in Bristol City Hall with a memorial and unveiling of a reproduction of a mural made by Kamil and other disabled asylum seekers which will be hung in City Hall for the term of the current Mayor, Marvin Rees. The Mayor made a formal apology to Kamil and Bijan’s families and there were words from Kamil’s brother, Kamaran and friend, Esam, and a poem read on behalf of Bijan’s sisters by Bristol poet Miles Chamberlain. A procession chanting “Refugees are welcome here!” then led from City Hall to “We the Curious” for talks, discussion, food and music. Two films were shown, one of Kamil taken during his involvement in the disability murals project talking about his experiences as a disabled asylum seeker, and another of other disabled asylum seekers sharing their stories and showing how Kamil’s experiences were sadly far from unique. Space was then given for disabled citizens, disabled asylum seekers and our allies to discuss how we can come together and take action to stop hate and build unity.
Through the event we heard that there are at least three disabled asylum seekers in Bristol who have recently had their support from social services ended. The fine words of the Mayor and resolve of those who supported the event will now be put to the test as we challenge these situations which could lead to yet more avoidable tragedy.
To watch the film of Kamil speaking in his own words about his experiences of disability and forced migration go to:https://dpac.uk.net/2018/06/bristol-dpac-honouring-kamil-exploring-disability-and-migration-fri-29-june/