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Maya with refugee children

Local peace activist, Maya Evans, with children from refugee camp

Local peace activist’s visit to Afghanistan

Local peace activist, Maya Evans, recently returned from Afghanistan, leading the first British peace delegation since the 2001 invasion.  HOTs Zelly Restorick met up with Maya to talk about her experiences.

In 2007, Maya Evans was awarded the Peter Duffy Campaigner of the Year Award by the pressure group, Liberty, ‘for her campaigning work and commitment to the cause of liberty and courage in standing up for our fundamental rights to peaceful protect and freedom of speech’.

I asked Maya where her interest in campaigning and peaceful protest began?

‘With my Mum.  And I think like most people… you start off being a little bit involved, then it engulfs your life more and more.’

Peace delegation women

Women from the first British peace delegation

The British peace delegation was an all female group, focussing on the situation for Afghan women in a country where 85% of women suffer from domestic violence, 1 in 11 women die in childbirth and life expectancy is forty six.

‘An incredible delegation’, said Maya.  ‘All really intelligent, wise women.’

How were they received in Afghanistan?  As women, as British citizens?

‘It varies as to where you go, ‘she said.  ‘I stayed with the Afghan Youth Volunteers in Kabul and was made to feel very welcome.  But if you left Kabul, you’re more likely to be killed or tortured.  People say that Kabul is like a bubble, a different situation to the rest of the country.  Even though there are still suicide attacks on a daily basis, it’s relatively safe compared to everywhere else in the country.’

What are the refugee camps like?

‘I visited two refugee camps.  One was made up of about 60 families of the Kuchi nomadic people, mainly shepherds, who had some livestock.  They’re not too cramped, but are still living in dire poverty, where one in every five children doesn’t make it past the age of five.

Maya teaching

Maya teaching refugees English

‘At the other camp, more in the centre of Kabul, there were around 500 families and the conditions were much worse.  The first thing that hits you is the smell of sulphur, indicating raw sewage.  It’s a very confined area, where some people have lived for ten years.  The estimated number of internally displaced people varies from 250,000 to 720,000… nobody really knows how many there are.  They’re living long term ordinary lives in terrible conditions – lack of sewage disposal, lack of medical care, lack of lots of things we take for granted here.’

Is it possible for someone to leave the camp?

‘It’s very difficult to earn money, when there is such high unemployment – and little chance of saving any money.  If you have a family member outside of the camp, it might be possible, but generally it’s nigh on impossible for people to leave.’

What were the most noticeable differences between life here, as a woman in St Leonards and life for a woman in Afghanistan?

Maya duvet distribution

Maya duvet distribution

‘As a woman, the most noticeable difference to me is freedom.   Here, I can go swimming and running, but these would be a ‘no-go’ for women out there.  They get their exercise from keeping house, washing and looking after the kids.  However, there are some amazing projects. The Afghan Peace Volunteers have set-up an underground school and also a seamstress’ co-operative has been established.  For some of the women, this is their first ever job, it might be the first time they’ve ever left the house, as there are still some women who are not allowed out by their husbands.  It’s very difficult for women to earn a wage.  Afghanistan really is one of the worst places to live on earth as a woman.

Afghan seamstresses

Afghan seamstresses

‘This was one of the big lies perpetuated by the media and the government,’ she continued, ‘that the UK went into Afghanistan to help and liberate women.  But the situation for women has only marginally improved in Kabul and very little in the provinces.  You still hear stories of teenage women being married off as fourth or fifth wives.  Afghanistan under the Taliban has gone back 200 years.’

The situation in Afghanistan seems so complex and multi-layered.  A nomadic and tribal society – and so many other countries involved – Pakistan, the Soviet Union, the US, the UK, Saudi Arabia, Iran – all with their own agendas.  How do people deal with this?

‘The youth group we’re connected with get bogged down with trying to understand people’s intentions.  They’re all under 30 and all they’ve known is war.  It’s hard for them to trust.  For example, this is the third British invasion, the third Anglo-Afghan war.  Loads of countries want to be involved in Afghanistan.  They see it as important to control a country in the middle of Asia, if they want a piece of the economic action. It’s hard to decipher intentions and agendas.  The cleanest analysis comes from the normal person in the street, not influenced or persuaded by money.’

What are the alternatives to military interventions and conflict?

Playing cards

Playing cards

‘65% of the population are under 25 years of age – and as I’ve said, they have only known living in a state of war.  The future lies with the young people.  They don’t want war anymore.  More or less every person has lost someone. Over 32 years of war, it’s a conservative estimate that, out of a population of thirty million, two million people have been killed.  They’ve had enough.  They’re inspired by the Arab Spring.  War hasn’t worked and they want peace and to just get on with their normal lives.

‘Al Quaeda and the Taliban are very different groups, but the media had blurred these differences.  People in general know they were fed a lie about the Iraq war.  It’s not so clear with Afghanistan.  Britain has been at war with Afghanistan for 13 years of war.  People find this hard to believe.’

Maya has instigated four High Court cases or Judicial Reviews, all concerning war crimes in Afghanistan.  Firstly regarding complicity by the British government in the torture of detainees or prisoners.  Afghans, captured by the British, were handed over to the Afghanistan secret police, who tortured them to elicit confessions, which were then used to sentence them to prison, where they were likely to be tortured again.  In 2010, the High Court ruled that Britain needed to put more safeguards into place to prevent any wrong-doings.

Another concerns the government’s withdrawal of Legal Aid for activists, stating that a person can only bring a case if they are personally affected.  Maya won this case, although she says it’s an issue that’s coming up on the government agenda again very soon. Another case concerns the secret shootings of Afghan civilians, which hasn’t come to court as yet.  And the last concerns secret, closed courts and withheld information.

I asked Maya how she was able to bring these issues to the High Court?

‘You have to have adequate standing as a concerned citizen,’ she said, ‘which I have established in my years of campaigning’.

What can we do if we’d like to get involved and help?

‘You can pressurize our government to end support for a corrupt Afghan government, who are taking the funds destined for the people.  Our government is propping this situation up.  And pressurize the government into more transparency, as very little can be found out via the Freedom of Information Act.  For example, we don’t know where the drones go and what they do.  You can write to your MP and say this is not how I want my tax money to be spent.  Or join a protest group.’

Imagining that it must take a lot of energy, determination and focus to do what she does, I asked Maya what keeps her going?

‘When you achieve small victories.  A lot of the time it feels like small drops in the ocean, grains of sand in the desert, but then when you achieve a small victory, you feel the time has been well spent.  Meeting people in appalling living conditions compared to my own life here, it’s the least I can do to give some of my time to try and improve their standard of living.  They’re so grateful.  I hope this spirit of humanity will spread.’

Why are you here on the planet at this time?

‘To live and die.’

Maya is giving a talk at The Explorers’ Club at The Kave Gallery, 8 Kings Road, St Leonards on 16 Feb.  Call on 01424 428223.

To talk to the Afghan Peace Volunteers on the 21st of each month : Global Days Of Listening here.

Voices for Creative Non-Violence [UK] here.

See and “Like” our Facebook page here.

Afghan Peace Volunteers (APV) here.

Links to information regarding the court cases here, here, here and here.

HOT’s ‘St Leonards’ couple on peace mission to Iran’ by Zelly Restorick here.

 

 

 

Posted 11:56 Wednesday, Feb 6, 2013 In: The HOT Planet

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