News & Views

Tiger tales and the darker side of Eco-Tourism

tiger

Ella, one of our great volunteers, tells some of her tales from Thailand, as she reflects on eco-tourism and the things you can do to avoid animal mistreatment.

Recently, there has been a lot of media attention concerning unethical tourist attractions that exploit animals in countries like Thailand. Indeed, this is an extremely important issue that needs highlighting. Across Southeast Asia there are countless attractions that boast close contact with tigers, and allow you to ride elephants on dusty tracks through pristine jungles. It sounds too good to be true, and it is.

 

Tourist attractions like the infamous Tiger Temple (which has very recently been shut down) are cruel exploits, reducing magnificent creatures to mere objects of entertainment. The tigers are heavily sedated and beaten into submission. It has been reported that many of these attractions even cut tendons in the tigers legs in an attempt to limit their physical prowess and prevent them from running out of the enclosure or harming visitors. New born cubs are cruelly snatched from their mothers in order to prevent them from imprinting, making it much easier to control and dominate the tigers at an early age. Furthermore, the mere practice of keeping tigers in captivity, as opposed to living wild in the jungle, is detrimental to the indigenous tiger population which is already extremely depleted, if not completely non-existent, in many regions of Asia where they once thrived. Unfortunately tigers are not the only creatures who suffer at the hands of the animal tourism industry.

 

Countless Asian Elephants are ridden by tourists every day, and the process of turning elephants into submissive instruments of entertainment is absolutely horrifying. From an early age, the elephants are beaten, taught to associate metal hooks with pain, restrained in a tiny cage and abused so that they will accept being ridden by humans. This process is called "The Crush" with the main objective being literally to break their spirits. The cruelty doesn't end with this process. The elephants are kept in sub standard conditions throughout the rest of their long lives, in small enclosures tied in chains, with little or no veterinary care and limited access to water. They are forced to breed artificially and their babies are torn from mothers at an early age. Elephants are creatures of vast emotional intelligence and many are known to suffer from post traumatic stress disorder as a result of this treatment.

 

Recently, my travelling companion and I were riding scooters through the jungle near Pai, Northern Thailand, when we came across some sheds by the side if the road. There, we saw a few elephants standing hunched in the enclosure with chains around their feet. The poor animals had barely any room for manoeuvre, and no access to water despite the 40 degree heat. We both pulled over and one particular elephant turned to look at us with soulful eyes, gently reaching out her trunk for us to hold. It was the most touching, beautiful gesture of shared humanity and a moment I won't forget. The saddest part is that despite the trauma and suffering this poor creature had endured, it was still able to reach out, still willing to befriend us. There was almost a flicker of hope in her eyes. My friend told me she was close to tears, so we said our goodbyes and we went on our way. But the moment stuck with us. It was such a contrast to our experience at the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary near Chiang Mai, Thailand.

 

So here is the good news. If you are travelling, there are places where you can see elephants in great conditions, living happy lives amongst their family. One such place is the sanctuary we went to. The elephants were free to roam where they pleased, with no hooks or chains, so at any point they could disappear into the forest if they wanted. (Our guide told us one male teenager had recently done so after being overwhelmed by the urge to find a mate.) At places like this, the humans and elephants have a reciprocal relationship, a mutual agreement if you will. The elephants stay for the free food and the humans get money from visitors wishing for contact with the elephants.

 

Our day consisted of feeding the creatures, walking with them to the river, swimming with them and washing them. Honestly, the elephants seemed genuinely happy, playful and full of life; in stark contrast to the poor beasts we saw by the side of the road. I understand that a lot of tourists unknowingly feed unto the animal tourism trade due to simple ignorance. It dosen’t meant they are bad people, they just haven’t been educated. But after reading this you have no excuses! if you're travelling, or planning on going travelling I implore you to pay a little extra, do some research, and go to a proper sanctuary (one with no chains and no riding as this is actually very bad for their backs and posture). When it comes to seeing monkeys in shows or going to tiger petting zoos please just avoid it. Surely you don't want to contribute to such cruelty? Travelling is about absorbing local culture and enjoying nature, not feeding into negative industries. Thank you!

Conscience: Taxes for peace Not War

We spoke with Holly Wallis, Parliamentary Officer with Conscience on the #PeaceTaxBill, that is due to be read in May.

Conscience: Taxes for peace Not War campaigns for individuals who want, in all good faith, to contribute their fair amount of tax, yet cannot reconcile their conscience with the deliberate killing the government sanctions and carries out in their name.

Ruth Cadbury MP is introducing a bill to Parliament on behalf of Conscience which would allow for the right of conscientious objection to military tax (COMT). The Taxes For Peace Bill would provide the freedom of conscience to those who are morally, ethically or religiously opposed to war to be able to re-direct the military portion of their taxes towards a fund designated for non-military security – a Peace Tax Fund.

100 years ago this year, the WW1 Military Service Act simultaneously introduced compulsory military service and the inclusive right to conscientious objection in Britain for the first time. Since 1916, the right to freedom of conscience has been recognised in every significant international treaty. The European Convention on Human Rights, United Nations Declaration of Human Rights and the British Human Rights Act all testify that everyone has the right to “…freedom of thought, conscience and religion.”

Modern wars, however, are no longer fought with conscript armies in this country, but with professional armies, high-tech weapons, and the ideology of deterrence - paid for with our taxes. This is financial conscription with no right to object.

At a time when Britain is spending £105,000 of the taxpayer’s money every time it fires a Brimstone Missile, Conscience’s Bill recognises the right to invest in a culture of peace rather than war. It is a government’s duty to keep its people safe and secure, and that is something we should all contribute to financially. This does not mean, however, that this security can only be established through threat of violence and overseas killing. Peacebuilding is a more sustainable, effective and economic form of security. Investment in our planet is a method of prevention rather than cure.

SUPPORT THE #PeaceTaxBill TODAY:

  • Keep up to date with the progress of the #PeaceTaxBill on their Facebook page @ facebook.com/taxesforpeacenotwar/ and Twitter @taxesforpeace


For more information on ways you can get involved in this campaign, please contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

'Maybe this whole situation will sort itself out..' - Impressions from the Camps

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(Photo credit F Romberg)

Francesca Romberg, Social Media volunteer for BPEC recently took the Ferry to Calais hoping to lend a hand in the Jungle and Dunkirk migrant camps. On her return she gives her impressions.

25/03/16 F Romberg (R Freeman eds)

On Saturday at 3am we left the University of Sussex heading to Calais. As drunken revellers roamed the dark streets around us, we filled the car with donations from the Hummingbird Project and a healthy dose of nerves and anticipation. We were going to help, as so many British people have before us, in any way we could. For us, one of the most important purposes of our journey was simply “to bear witness”. To see the realities of the camps, to let the people there know that we care and to let governments know they cannot get away with this, to hear the stories of those willing to talk and to spread the word back home.

 

The camps in Calais and Dunkirk are supported almost entirely by British and French volunteers, giving time, money and great effort. We joined them, aware of the preposterous lack of proper support from the UK and French governments, big NGO’s such as the Red Cross and Oxfam. The only signs of official representation were the hundreds of riot police in Calais - the notorious Compagnies Républicaines de Sécurité- and the tall, white, barbed wire topped fences paid for by UK taxpayers.

On arrival we call in at L’Auberge/Help Refugees warehouse. Here volunteers work like ants to provide aid. Most of the jobs there anyone can, and will, do. We find this out quickly as we chat to other volunteers from incredibly diverse backgrounds. We sort through donations; checking they’re fit for purpose, negotiating a maze of boxes to find the right storage place. The pile of clothes seems never ending; people have been generous - 2 weeks ago the warehouse was practically empty. Food bags and hygiene packs are put together to be sent out into the camps. In the kitchens, run with military precision by professional chefs, volunteers busily chop and wash-up preparing to feed over 2000 people a day.

After two days working in the hive-like warehouse, we head into the camp known as The Jungle.

The first thing to hit is the smell. The fumes from the nearby chemical plants are one of the many reasons the Jungle is completely unfit for human habitation, they cause many camp residents to suffer serious health problems. As we enter the destruction caused by the evictions that took place only a week before is plain to see. Shelters torn down and belongings left strewn across the site. Clothes, toys, books, food, blankets, all left behind - a testament to how little warning was given. The only buildings still standing in this half of the camp are community spaces - a church, a mosque, a youth centre, the Hummingbird Project’s Safe Space, Jungle Books (a community library and language centre) and the information centre, where the Iranian men who have sewn their lips together, protesting appaulling camp conditions are housed.

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But beyond this there is still life in the Jungle. There is the highstreet. Shops, restaurants, and shisha bars are all open, we talk to everyone that we can. Give someone a smile and a greeting, and they’re often extremely happy to talk to you along with much tea and hospitality. We chat about life in Brighton, life in the camp, how long people have been here, why they want to cross the channel. Mostly it’s about family - mothers, brothers, fathers, children who live in the UK. This simple human connection is one of the most powerful aspects of meeting these people, one which is entirely overlooked by statistics, and political and media rhetoric.

Chatting our way around the camp we meet several boys in their early teens, mostly unaccompanied. It is impossible to fathom how these young boys have made the journey alone and on foot from places as far away as Afghanistan. The Jungle is an unbelievable place for anyone to live, but in leaking shelters, with little warmth and nightmarish sanitation, surrounded by highly dangerous crime and heavily-armed people-smugglers, these boys are making their way into adolescence.

With the recent destruction tensions are higher than ever as the conditions become more cramped. A terrible fight over a five Euro bike a few days before had resulted in a man having to be hospitalised. The legal centre had been burnt down in dubious circumstances, but it’s rumoured fascist far right groups could be behind it. As we headed to the local supermarket, just five minutes away, to pick up dinner, its cleanliness and orderliness illuminated by strip lights felt a world apart from where we had just been.

(photo credit F Romberg)

The Jungle cannot be ignored any more. Fences and police are not working. These people need love, compassion and real action. What is the point in having a life of comfort and security, if those down the road from us do not? Humanitarian aid is just a sticking plaster, hiding the issues at play here. The Jungle is the manifestation of the disastrous effects of colonialism, globalization, greed, war and inaction from global leaders.

 

Humanitarian aid is just a sticking plaster, hiding the issues at play here.

 

The following day we went to Dunkirk - a completely different story. The local Green Mayor has defied all odds and tried to create a camp which is fit for purpose, buying local farmland with dreams of warm shelters, schools and communal areas. But bulldozers closed in on the Jungle and in just three days they had to rush to prepare the camp for its new inhabitants.

The difference is instantly apparent; no makeshift shacks or leaking tents, no oppressive police presence, no piles of rubbish, putrid green pools of pollution or foul smells from poor sanitation and noxious chemical plants. Children cycle around on bicycles, purpose built wooden shelters decorated with little fences, or posters, fly Kurdish flags (the majority of the residents at the Dunkirk camp are Kurdish people from Northern Iraq) and the ground has been flattened and gravelled to minimise flooding.

Stationed in the women and children’s distribution centre for the day, comprised of brightly painted shipping containers, we are opposite another container to be turned into a communal kitchen. Our coordinator told us, “This is not a beggars can’t be choosers situation. These people have had their human rights violated repeatedly. If we can give them something they want, then hell yeah we will give them what they want.” Unclean, ripped or broken donations are kept back. This ethos of providing dignity as well as aid is uplifting to see. Throughout the day women and children come in looking for clothing, soap, baby wipes and formula and we do our best to provide. Smiling, kind, friendly and polite, some look through the boxes of clothes and try things on.

 Camp4child

This is not a beggars can’t be choosers situation. These people have had their human rights violated repeatedly. If we can give them something they want, then hell yeah we will give them what they want.

On the day of the terror attacks in Brussels we are outside, enjoying the sunshine, chatting and playing with the children. A man comes up to us and insists on giving us a big bar of chocolate and a badminton set for the children. His people, the Bedoon, are from Kuwait where they are not legally recognised by the state. Bedoon are not entitled to the same rights as Kuwaiti citizens, despite making up 40% of the army. He wants to move to England because people there understand the situation of his people better than in other countries. His English, learned from films and a dictionary is very proficient. He offers truly sincere condolences to our Belgian colleague. Talking to him, hearing his story and seeing his kindness is truly humbling - if anyone can empathise it is the residents of these camps.

The conditions in Dunkirk are far better than in the Jungle, but still, it’s by no means perfect. It cannot accept many more people, internal politics of running the camp have created difficulties and there is still a lack of professional support. Above all, it is a refugee camp, not a proper home.

 

(photo credit F Romberg) 

On our way home we drive through passport control. We are ushered through with nothing but a smile, a glance at our passports and a quick check of the car boot. We remember the friends we’ve made. The ones who would be resting now after a long night of facing riot police, tear gas, fences and barbed wire for a chance to get to the UK. Even if they make it, their problems are far from over. In the UK they face destitution, squalid housing, drawn out asylum claims, people who prey on the poor and vulnerable, racism and the horrors of prisonlike centres where they can be detained for an unlimited amount of time.

Sitting here, recounting this, I think of all the times I’ve moaned about the UK- the weather, the government, the people, the mundane British lifestyle. Yet for many of the people I met on the border it is their dream. Of all the thoughts and feelings my time there evoked, the most pertinent was the amount of privilege we have. Privilege granted for no reason, it’s just the place we were born and the luxurious rights that it affords us.

If Fran's story touched you and you would like to lend a hand feel free to click the links below.

http://www.hummingbirdproject.org

http://www.helprefugees.org.uk

http://mepbrighton.com

https://brighton-and-hove.cityofsanctuary.org

http://brightonvoicesinexile.co.uk

http://techfugees.com

http://prosper.community

https://www.facebook.com/brightonshelterbuildproject/

http://www.refugee-action.org.uk

http://www.gdwg.org.uk

Jon's Brighton Marathon Fundraiser

Jon wallace cropped

Jon Wallace, one of our great Glastonbury volunteers is kindy running at this years Brighton Marathon raising valuable funds for BPEC.

Jon tells us a bit about him and what inspires him to help us fund our peace and education projects. If you could help suport Jon please donate via Paypal off our homepage (in the top right) saying "Jon" in the payment title. Our JustGiving page will soon be live also - so watch this space!

A bit about me

I’m 30 years old and I’ve lived in Brighton for the last 3 years. I enjoy the outdoors, long walks, historic buildings and animals (I’m a cat person and a dog person, even though I’ve never owned a dog). I love cooking and eating Vegetarian, Italian, Thai and Indian food, I like a drink, European beers and spirits mostly (my favourite is Jagermeister). I like rock music and going to see live bands big and small. I have only recently experienced festivals but having now tried it, I am keen to experience more. My other interests are sports (particularly tennis and football), reading books (mostly classic novels) and messing about with computers.


How I got involved with BPEC

My first involvement with BPEC was with the Glastonbury voluntary programme in 2013. As a Brighton resident, I was proud and privileged to support a small independent charity in striving to educate and contribute to sustainable causes. Having learnt a great deal personally in university and through my work training as a Building Surveyor, I felt a great sense of responsibility in promoting the charity’s aims and objectives to festival goers.

My love for running
I’ve been running for over five years now and I really enjoy it which is a rare thing as far as exercise goes. I’ve steadily improved and I’ve done a couple of charity runs in that time (for MacMillan who did some great work for my mother and for my favourite football team Arsenal who’s charity support the homeless of London). It was an ambitious step to do the Marathon, having only done 10K in an event, but when I had the chance I decided to take it.

Trident renewal

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(Image source: http://www.medact.org/campaigns-actions/open-letters/trident-take-action/)

Trident- what is it?

Trident very much is a relict of Britain’s Cold War nuclear deterrence strategy. It consists of four British submarines carrying nuclear weapons, up to 8 missiles and 40 nuclear warheads each. According to CNDUK (Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament UK) these are 8 times more powerful than the atomic bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima in 1945, which killed at least 129.000 people.  

One of these submarines is floating somewhere in the oceans of this world at all times while the other three are either in maintenance or used for training. Trident was decided on in the early 1980s by the Thatcher government and came into use in the 1990s. Already back then BPEC opposed the use of Trident. In the last year or so the debate around Trident has livened up again and once more it is important to oppose it.

 

Why now?

If Trident was to be kept in use it has to be renewed soon. The decision to renew it has already been made by parliament in March of 2007, when 409 MPs voted for the renewal, to 61 votes against it. Since then there has been some planning and conceptual work going on and the “Initial Gate” phase, which is the Project Approval Stage of the renewal process, has been approved. However, in October 2010, the government chose to delay the ultimate decision if the renewal process should continue and how many submarines should be ordered until this year, 2016.

 

What are the political positions?

The Conservative Party have always supported the renewal of Trident with the argument that the UK needs nuclear weapons as an “insurance policy” against attacks on the UK. They pledged for replacing Trident in their manifesto in the general elections last year.

Labour has backed the renewal of Trident until now, stating that it is a cornerstone of peace and security. This position could change, though. After the election of Jeremy Corbyn, who opposes Trident, as leader of the Labour Party it is in doubt if Labour will stick with its support of Trident.

The SNP heavily oppose Trident’s renewal and their campaign against it was a fundamental part of their campaign in the general elections last year. They have described Trident as “unusable and indefensible”, explaining that “the plans to renew it are ludicrous on both defence and financial grounds”.

 

What’s the argument for renewing Trident?

Supporters of Trident say that it is an integral part of the UK’s security. Because of new threats, for example from “rogue states” and terrorist groups, there is a lot of uncertainty of how attacks on the UK could be dealt with. Nuclear weapons could help with deterrence. Furthermore, some say that the UK’s global influence would shrink without nuclear weapons. Besides the defence industry is a big employer, according to the BBC 15.000 jobs could be lost if the renewal of Trident doesn’t go ahead.

 

And the opposition?

Even though the renewal of Trident might cause the loss of some jobs, scrapping it could actually create a lot more jobs. The costs for Trident are enormous. The government estimated the costs between £15bn and £20bn, but Greenpeace has calculated that it might be more like at least £34bn and Jeremy Corbyn of the Labour party quotes £100bn. With this money Accident and Emergency departments across the country could be fully funded for 40 years, 150.000 new nurses could be employed, 1.5 million affordable homes could be built, 30.000 new primary schools or the tuition of 4 million students could be paid (numbers according to CNDUK). In short, there are better things that could be done instead of wasting money on nuclear weapons that might never be used.

The use of Nuclear Weapons is questionable, as it is illegal under international law. In 1996, the International Court of Justice has ruled that the threat or use of nuclear weapons is contrary to the rules of international law. Thus, Trident is not much more than a status symbol, as Tony Blair even has admitted in 2007, when the Labour Party committed to the renewal. In Blair's words, “the expenses are huge and the utility non-existent in terms of military use”, however, giving it up would be “too big a downgrading of our status as a nation”.

If an outdated, useless nuclear weapons system is more of a status symbol than a functioning health care or education system, there is clearly something wrong with our value system. And do we really STILL need a submarine-based system that was designed during the Cold War against threats from the Soviet Union? Nuclear weapons are extremely dangerous and deadly and should not be kept just as a status symbol.

 

What can be done?

Now more than ever it is important that we show the government that the majority of the British people does not want Trident. If you want to become active you can sign this petition. BPEC was at the national demonstration called for by the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament UK to scrap Trident in London on the 27th of February with a stall, and hosted a Chalktivist protest outside the centre before the demo (watch the video here). Keep your eyes and ears open for the next demo, where we would love to see as many Brightonian faces as possible!

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The office is normally open to the public at the following times:

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Outside of these hours please leave a message on 01273-766610 or email info@bpec.org and we will contact you as soon as possible. 

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