Marcelo Biglia in collaboration with Caoimhe Butterly – of The Border fame – recently travelled to Morocco to document the young feminist rapper Youssra Oukaf.
In a regional context, in which inter-generational struggles for gender equality continue, Moroccan rapper Youssra Oukaf – popularly known by her stage-name Soultana – is an uncompromising voice of dissent.
Using her lyrics as platform, she spotlights movements for gender and social justice in Morocco and grassroots feminist organising for change.
Through work and art that causes creative challenge to conservative religious and political currents, Soultana defines rap as a means through which to “talk about issues: poverty, violence, abuse, societal contradictions”.
Through holding the tension between challenging gender-based discrimination while maintaining vocal pride in her identity and roots, she has gained the respect and support of a loyal following in Morocco and beyond.
In response to a media environment in which much coverage of the Middle East and North Africa perpetuates reductionist gender stereotypes, Soultana narrates the struggles of women who are active in movements for equality, emancipation and political change.
Resolutely non-commercial, her consistency in speaking out sees her experiencing times of precariousness, as do other emerging artists who receive little support or funding.
“To be an Arab woman artist is to be consistently strong- to live with pride. To work with limited resources and sometimes limited rights but to continue to love, to struggle, to create,” she reflects.
Though facing sporadic societal and political censure in Morocco, Soultana’s vocalisation of her identity as a nuanced, self-empowered Moroccan woman and lyricist is a source of inspiration to many and her work has served as mentor to younger emerging MCs.
Reflecting on her work and sources of emotional strength, she explains: “I’ve faced through some difficult times, personally and professionally, but like they say, ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’. Everything still gives me hope, though I try to keep my hope in a different world alive. I want to see change in this world – to turn on the television and not watch more wars, bombs, guns.
“Of course I want to see democracy, freedom of speech, access to healthcare, happiness, love, friendship, but all of this can be summarised by saying that I just want to see people to be able to live with dignity.”
The following pictures have been taken by Marcelo Biglia
Training rooms at the youth centre in Meknes in which FMUD (Freestyle Maroc Urban Dance) has a base and which also acts as a gathering point for hip-hop, graffiti and dance artists, some of whom Soultana helps to mentor
Graffiti artists and break-dancers are amongst the young artists who use the centre
Sports facilities at the youth centre in Meknes, in which FMUD train and organise some of their annual events. Its grounds serve as the only local facility in the area for young performers to practice and interact
Soultana, lacking ongoing funding or support, stays in the apartment of friends on the outskirts of Meknes and writes daily as she prepares to record her next album
Meknes outskirts, Morocco
At the medina in Marrakesh
Portrait of King Mohammed VI of Morocco at a framing shop, Marrakesh
Tearoom reflection at Djemaa El Fna Square in Marrakech
As Morocco’s urban youth navigate high levels of unemployment, increased migration to Europe and nascent social movements for socio-economic parity, gender equality and political plurality, Soultana’s lyrics speak to the contradictions and beauty of a collective home-land. At the medina, Marrakesh
At the makeshift refugee camp in Calais, France, which is currently being demolished.
Caoimhe Butterly writes:
“Large parts of the camp have been burning since last night, residents have been leaving in large groups since 3am with others sleeping outside in the cold and now, in the immediate aftermath of three more explosions (of canisters of cooking gas), riot police mobilise and forcefully block First Responders, medics, child protection volunteers and others from entry to peripheries of the camp that remain undamaged.”
“Families are separated with members on either side of CRS [riot police] lines and police threatening to tear-gas those trying to account for those inside.”
As well as observing what is happening in Calais, Caoimhe is part of a solidarity group which is trying to respond to the basic and immediate needs of some of the women, men and children in Calais.
They are accepting donations which will be used to buy hiking/durable shoes and rucksacks, sleeping bags, phones and phone credit, medical supplies, etc. Additional funds will be passed on to projects which have been doing long-term work with unaccompanied youths.
The panel on last night’s Tonight with Vincent Browne
On TV3’s Tonight with Vincent Browne.
The panel was comprised of Syrian lawyer and Dublin restaurant owner Ghandi Mallak, Irish human rights activist and documentary maker Caoimhe Butterly, legal advisor to the Irish Refugee Council Maria Hennessy, and Áine Ní Chonaill, who founded the Immigration Control Platform party in Ennis, Co Clare in 1998.
The panel discussed the war in Syria; the 9 million Syrians who have been displaced – around 5 million within Syria and 4 million who have fled the country; and how, last year, 1.3 million people seeking refuge, not just from Syria, came to Europe, which has a population of 500 million.
A clip from Ms Butterly’s award-winning documentary, The Border, was shown in which two teachers from Aleppo spoke to her from a makeshift refugee camp in Idomeni, on the border of Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, at the beginning of this year.
While introducing it, Ms Butterly said:
“Although this clip focuses on these two Syrian women, these two survivors, I think it’s important also to widen the frame, in terms of migration, out past Syria and not just to exceptionalise the Syrian experience because, horrific as it is, there are people seeking refuge from Congo, from Eritrea, from Afghanistan, from Mali, from multiple other contexts. And conflict is only one one frame with which to view this. There’s also, as you know, climate change and resource grabbing and sectarian persecution, etc. So I think to have a more nuanced understanding of, you know, the determinants of forced migration and to recognise that this is a new reality that the EU has to deal with in a less myopic way and a more human way.”
After the clip, Mr Browne asked Ms Ni Chonaill if, on a humanitarian level, Europe should welcome more refugees – given that countries such as Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey have taken the greatest numbers of Syrian refugees and, more importantly, given that Europe had a part of play in the political unrest in some of the countries from which people are fleeing.
During her response, Ms Ni Chonaill said people who left Syria and entered Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey had “already fled the bombs and bullets” and were only moving on for economic reasons.
She said: “Europe has had enough of this.”
From the discussion following this…
Caoimhe Butterly: “I’d just like to respond. I mean, I think for a lot of us who are engaged in refugee solidarity and migrant justice work, or work with the undocumented and with asylum seekers in direct provision, living through the unjust direct provision in Ireland, the xenophobic discourse we’ve just heard, is nothing new to us. I have to say, at this stage, I think we’re all quite used to it, I think to the inhumanity of it, to the complete lack of empathy of it, to the other-ing, and to the selfishness of it ultimately. I think of an approach which prioritises, you know, really excluding those who have every right to seek refuge and lives of dignity in our homes. But, while listening to that, I’m just, I’m back from Calais a couple of days and all I could think of are the families, the women, the men and the children there, of such deep dignity and integrity and bravery, you know, who have risked so much to build lives of safety and I think it’s just a profound shame that this discourse is, you know, given time, that it’s given space…”
Aine Ni Chonaill: “Just listen to that now. What a democracy we live in…”
Butterly: “It’s not about censoring..”
Ni Chonaill: “Those who oppose you must not be heard?”
Butterly: “It’s not about silencing, it’s about widening that window of empathy and actually looking at the consequences of…”
Ni Chonaill: “You just said the discourse shouldn’t take place.”
Butterly: “…of responsibility. No, I think a discussion in which the lives of people who are condemned to death by these policies, at sea and in the backs of airless refrigerated trucks will be continued to be condemned to death by that lack of empathy. I just find it deeply sad and I really wish that those who hold these opinions could go and see, and interact, with these people and listen to their stories.”
Ni Chonaill: “I, particularly since Caoimhe has mentioned Calais, the people in Calais are in a safe country, France, but they have the brazen unadulterated cheek to say, ‘oh that won’t do, it’s got to be Britain. Nowhere else will do us. We’re going to Britain.”
Butterly: “They have families, they come from post-colonial contexts in which they speak English.”
Ni Chonaill: “Oh how, they speak English. ‘Oh I’m not going to go to the trouble to speak French. I’m going to Britain.’ They are in safe country and they have the brazen cheek, backed up by idiots like yourself, to say it’s got to be Britain.”
Maria Hennessy: “They actually have legal rights that aren’t being respected, under the Dublin Regulation, in order to be able to arrive in the UK because they have family members.”
Ni Chonaill: “And they only have to go through the asylum process in France and I’m quite sure that they can communicate with Britain..
Talk over each other
Ni Chonaill: “The right of family reunification is the right of the people in Britain to say ‘I want my relative in Calais to come’, it isn’t actually, I think you being a lawyer, will know that. It isn’t the right of the person in Calais to say ‘I want…'”
Hennessy: “I think you’re confusing now, we’re talking about family reunion under the Dublin Regulation…”
Ni Chonaill: “So am I…”
Hennessy: “…which happens before you’re through an asylum procedure. Well you’re incorrectly quoting it there when you talk about it because…”
Ni Chonaill: “Well I’ll stick to what I’m correct about. They have a brazen cheek to say ‘I’m in France but France won’t do’.”
Hennessy: “They have a right to be reunited with their family members. You have to remember about the principle of family unity within the right to seek asylum with your family members.”
Ni Chonaill: “I consider Britain a decent country and I’m happy for them to do their regulations.”
Vincent Browne: “Do you not feel there’s some obligation on the part of us, as members of the human race, to assist people who are in dire straits, such as the people in Syria, such as the people in parts of Africa, such as the people in Afghanistan, in Pakistan and elsewhere and that we should do our bit to assist those people.”
Ni Chonaill: “No, and on and on and on with your list. And, as Caoimhe said, it was very interesting to listen to her, we must not exceptionalise Syria, neither must we, we must think of all these others ones, including the climate change and she seemed to imply the economic difficulties as well. It is neverending. And the rights you talk about…”
Browne: “I didn’t talk abut rights.”
Ni Chonaill: “No, no, no, sorry…”
Talk over each other
Ni Chonaill: “This right to asylum. Well, really, it’s too much to go into this evening but the Geneva Convention that was set up in 1951 said, and these people know that, it said this applied, I’m putting lay language into it, this applied to, it was a mopping up operation, after world war two, this applied to people displaced after world war two. It applied to nobody else and no other circumstance and in 1967 with the New York protocol, because of the Cold War, and having no idea what was coming down the line in the future, they stupidly expanded it and both of, they never, ever, ever would have signed it, the countries of the west, if they knew what it would mean.”
Browne: “Ok, Maria wants to come in…”
Ni Chonaill: “And there’s an opt-out clause in both of them.”
Hennessy: “I just hope you never have to flee conflict..”
Butterly: “I was just thinking the same thing..”
Hennessy: “I really, really hope that you never do because it’s such an inhumane response. I just can’t believe it. It’s truly shocking.”
Ni Chonaill: “Never mind the playing the man, not the ball, stick to the policies..”
Browne: “You’ve been playing the man, you called them stupid a few minutes ago.”
Hennessy: “Okay, so we have our international legal framework within the Geneva Convention, as correct, you referred to the 1967 protocol as well. We’re also part of a Common European Asylum System. And, as part of the Common European Asylum System, we’ve signed up to a number of obligations under the charter of human rights…”
Ni Chonaill: “Which my organisation opposed precisely for this reason…”
Hennessy: “Well, we’re a member of the European Union, we’re part of the Common European Asylum System. Ireland is one of the main, when we talk about the Dublin Regulation, it’s always been signed under the Irish presidency of the Council of the European Union…”
Ni Chonaill: “So what..”
Hennessy: “So we have opted into that Common European Asylum System, it is grounded in international human rights..”
Ni Chonaill: “We have done all these foolish things, yes..”
Hennessy: “…in many ways, but not in all ways. And you just really need to look at the right to asylum being really being guaranteed in practice as well as in law. And I just really hope that you never are in the situation where you have to flee your home.”
Ni Chonaill: “The Geneva Convention should have never been interfered with. It should have been what it said, purely as a mopping up operation after world war two. And both of those things, the convention and the New York protocol have an opt-out clause. Of course the EU would be a different kettle of fish but any country that signed up, as we did in, I think it was 54 whatever, every country can give a 12 months’ notice and withdraw from it and if we’d any cop on, that’s what all the countries of the west would be doing.”
Butterly: “Who is we? What constituency do you represent? I mean, really, who is we? Because I would say that there is a deep core of empathy and humanity and compassion in Ireland and I’ve seen that on so many expressions, from the grassroots up and I really hope that, that you can bear witness to some of that, whether it’s on the ground in camps or face to face with people who are prioritising empathy. We can go into policy but I think the core of this is having the basic humanity and decency to see people in times of need and to do the right thing by them.”
Ni Chonaill: “There will be no end to times of need. Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Eritrea. And on and on and on.”
A short documentary, by Irish activist Caoimhe Butterly, filmed at the makeshift refugee camp in Idomeni last month – the camp which the Greek authorities began to evacuate yesterday.
The Border — الحدود is one of three short films directed and created by Ms Butterly.
Two more films, about the Piraeus port and Eko camp will be released soon.
Meanwhile, earlier today Taoiseach Enda Kenny fielded questions in the Dáil about his most recent European Council meetings.
The EU-Turkey deal and the humanitarian crisis regarding refugees were raised.
Readers may wish to note that a) there is videofootage which seemingly shows the Turkish coastguard attempting to sink boats crossing the Aegean Sea; b) it’s generally understood that smugglers are not present on the vast majority of boats that arrive in Greece but would rather be found on the shores of Turkey; and c) concerns have been raised about the camps to which people who have been subsisting in Idomeni are being moved.
Mr Kenny said:
The real argument at the European Council was because of the endless flood of people coming from Turkey, in particular, due to its proximity to Greece. Be they from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria or elsewhere, these people have paid large amounts of money to get on inflatable rafts.
It is fine until one hears the Prime Minister saying that they are loaded onto these boats and as soon as they are out on the sea and the first ship appears, in many cases the inflatables are knifed and sunk so they end up in the water and have to be rescued. That is why there is a NATO operation under way off Turkey. It has been successful to an extent but not in the way it should be.
The reason for the European deal with Turkey in the first place was because they wanted to focus on dealing with people smugglers. One can deal with them in an effective way by patrolling offshore while being able to return people entering Europe illegally to where they came from, whereas others who have arrived in Turkey and are based in camps but who wish to be relocated to a European country have whatever the categorisation might be to say they want to be legitimately recognised as refugees or asylum seekers and they want to live and go to Europe.
Those who have paid money to people smugglers and are sent across the short distance to the Greek islands do not have the same intent, whether they are in a camp in Turkey or wherever.
In addition, Fine Gael TD David Stanton also spoke about the humanitarian crisis – after he was asked about the evacuation of the camp at Idomeni by Independents 4 Change TD Mick Wallace.
The Deputy [Mick Wallace] also referred to the closing of the refugee camp in Greece. It is my understanding that no official camp exists in Idomeni. Exploitative people smugglers have encouraged desperate asylum seekers to congregate on the Greek border with Macedonia by spreading misinformation to suggest the border crossing will soon re-open and allow them continue their journey to destination countries, including Germany and Sweden.
The Deputy pointed out that the conditions where many vulnerable women and children have gathered are unsanitary and unsafe. I understand from Greek authorities that their intention is to move asylum seekers to reception centres, where their needs, including food and medical care, may be adequately met.
Police arriving at the makeshift refugee camp in Idomeni this morning
You may recall a post from March, written by Emma Spence, from Glasgow, Scotland, in which she described the conditions of the makeshift refugee camp at Idomeni, at the border of Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.
She wrote it just before the EU/Turkey deal was struck in late March, around the time the border became shut indefinitely to those hoping to cross and continue into Europe.
There are reportedly around 8,000 people currently seeking refuge based at the camp.
But, this morning, the Greek authorities have started to evacuate the camp and move those living there to other army-run camps in Greece.
Damian Mac Con Uladh, an Irish journalist who lives in Greece, spoke to Audrey Carville on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland this morning about the evacuation.
Audrey Carville: “Damian, you like many other journalists, they’re not allowed in or near the camp this morning while this process is going on, why not?”
Damian Mac Con Uladh: “Well the Greek government clearly don’t want too much attention to be drawn to the actual operation. They’ve only allowed journalists from the state TV and from Greece’s news agency although there are some foreign journalists in there. There is a small number in there, some of them are undercover and they intend to report on this operation which has begun this morning and is expected to take a few days.”
Carville: ‘Yeah because there are thousands of people there, aren’t there? Can you take us through generally what’s been happening at the camp today?”
Mac Con Uladh: “Well, news kind of came through in the last two or three days that the site would be evicted. There’s about 8,500 refugees on the border at Idomeni, on the border with Macedonia, and the government says they will be taken to what they say are better-run camps in northern Greece. This has been their position for a long time but most of the refugees are quite reluctant to go to these camps – fearing that once they’re out of public view, they’ll be forgotten about and their chances of moving on to Europe, of rejoining their families in other parts of Europe become more and more difficult. This morning we hear there’s about 1,500 police in the area of Idomeni, including riot police. About 600, up to now, six buses have left the camp with about 350 refugees, taking them to the camp near the city of Thessaloniki.”
Carville: “And what were conditions like at Idomeni, Damian? Were they similar to ‘The Jungle’ at Calais?”
Mac Con Uladh: “Well certainly in the last few days, yes. The weather’s been quite bad in Idomeni so the camp has kind of reverted to these very muddy conditions that characterised it earlier in the Spring. There are NGOs there trying to do, they’re trying to make the best of a very bad lot for the people there but the Government’s argument – that the camps that they will be taken to are better – is disputed by many NGOs. They’ve visited these camps – many of which are run by the army and conditions there are also quite bleak. Some of them are quite remote, the food being provided there is sub-standard in many cases and this is something that the refugees know about and they fear that once they go there, and they’re out of the public view, their plight will become even more difficult.”
Meanwhile, this weekend…
A screening of Caoimhe Butterly’s documentary The Sea Between Us, filmed in Lesbos, Greece, will take place at The Sugar Club on Lower Leeson Street in Dublin at 1.30pm on Saturday.
It will be followed by a 12-minute sequence entitled “The Border” that reflects the impacts of border closures and the narratives of some of those who have been stuck at Idomeni; a Q&A with Ms Butterly; and a panel discussion with Ronit Lentin, Hassina Kiboua and Ellie Kisyombe, chaired by Betty Purcell.
Pizza and drinks will be provided at the event while tickets (€13) can be purchased here or at the door. All proceeds will go towards grass-roots refugee support projects in Greece.
Also on Saturday, people who have volunteered with refugees across Europe and elsewhere will meet at 12 noon in Houricans pub, beside The Sugar Club – before the film screening – to share their experiences and ideas about how Ireland can respond to the humanitarian crisis.
Listen back in full to Damian Mac Con Uladh’s interview here
Last October Caoimhe Butterly reported on working with refugees in Greece, Serbia, Croatia and Calais and the work she planned to do – specifically bringing a medical team out to Lesbos to help the people arriving on the island from Turkey.
Further to this, Caoimhe writes:
“For the past weeks, I’ve been editing a film of sorts – or vignettes- of those seeking refuge and lives of less precariousness. While in Lesvos the last time, we (myself and the great compañero Marcelo Biglia) interviewed folks from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan and some of those working in solidarity with them – lifeguards with Proactiva, self-organised camps and places of respite.
…Our emphasis was on not contributing any further to an often reductionist framing of those on the move – one that emphasises vulnerability but not strength, endurance, dignity and the fragile, precious hope of being able to re-build lives of safety and meaning.”