Refugees are not just for Christmas – how “advocacy” is going to cause harm

Posted on April 6, 2022

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This is a story about how the war in Ukraine was used to gain attention, without apparent regard to the harm it is/will cause.

While I do share some information obtained while working as the Deputy-CEO of FAME, everything presented here are my own thoughts and not that of any of my employers.

Bad Ideas

After I posted about how getting refugees on work visas is bad, I reached out to those pushing and asked them to stop. They claimed it was never their intent, and that it is to encourage organisations to help archaeologists to join the Ukraine Sponsorship Scheme (USS). After reviewing that idea I can say it is probably 20x, 30x, worse, maybe more.

What is the Ukraine Sponsorship Scheme?

The Ukraine Sponsorship Scheme (USS) is a program to let people in the UK to sponsor refugees from Ukraine for a visa and house them. But, you have to know the person you are sponsoring to bring them over and:

  • most people don’t know a Ukrainian;
  • if you do know someone, they might not be interested in coming to the UK or there is no space to host them, etc.

You can imagine many other barriers. In response to these limitations, people have been setting up refugee blind dating systems – where people are matched with a Ukrainian to sponsor them. Ministers have even encouraged people to do this; Gove told people to use Instagram to find someone to host. This is what that “campaign” I discussed in my last post is encouraging, but for archaeologists.

The problems, oh so many problems

USS has been roundly criticized by refugee organisations like Refugee Action, Refugee Council, Positive Action in Housing and Stand for All (this has increased significantly since I started to write this – 16 organisations have pinned a letter to the Government).

Note – If you are interested in helping refugees, these organisations you can donate money. ONLY donate money, more on that below.

This Twitter thread from Daniel Sohege, Director of Stand For All, is a good starting point to learn about the issues:

Take a moment to mull that over – ‘If traffickers were to design something to maximize ways to exploit people it would potentially look like this’.

Why? The safety checks are security theater. For refugees, they will be checked against a Police National Computer database, a UK database – commit a crime somewhere else, most will likely have never been to the UK, they will likely pass. Hosts will get a DBS (Disclosure and Barring Service) check which is based on reported incidents (Advance) or convictions (Basic). ‘Reported’ is the weak link, ‘5 in 6 women who are raped don’t report – and the same is true for 4 in 5 men.‘ Only people taking on children will get the advance DBS, everyone else will get the basic DBS, which only covers convictions – less than 1 in 100 of reported rapes lead to a conviction. Likely 99% of rapist will be able to be a host an adult and the majority a child.

There will be no normal child/valuable adult protection processes in place i.e. you must have two adults present at all times when working with children. No, people will just be dropped off and left alone with a stranger. We believe that because we are good that all archaeologists are good… I am aware of at least one archaeologist in prison for child sexual assault (if one is convicted that means…).

‘Pace and scale are typically the enemy of safety.’

Refugee Action

Centralized locations for refugees, like asylum hotels, makes it easier to check in on people, but a child goes missing every week from the asylum hotels. If kids are being trafficked out of the places they are more easily watched, can you imagine what will happen when they are dropped off at random dispersed locations? Assuming the Council will even know they need to be watched.

Lord Harrington, Minister for Refugees has said ‘We’re going to have to – we’re going to have to find school places and we’re going to have to find extra social workers’ but there is already a shortage of social workers in the UK, 6500 positions are unfilled and rising. While, the current wait for access to English classes for refugees is up to 3 years. Years of cuts has destroyed the social care system, it will not be fixed quickly as it takes time to train people.

The government currently don’t provide enough mental health support to refugees and refugees are 10x more likely to suffer from certain mental health issues than the general population (links to data here: 1 2 3). Without a proper support system, which that data indicates there won’t be, hosts will have to take on the carer duties. Your average archaeologist does not have the skills or experiences to do that.

“We are also worried about ensuring the safety and wellbeing for Ukrainians who have fled bloodshed, and the level of support available for their sponsors. We are talking about very traumatised women and children whose experiences are unique, and the level of support needs to match that. It’s like asking people to be foster carers without any robust checks, training or having a social worker in place to support them.”

Refugee Council.

What damage will be caused by untrained individuals asked to take care of fragile people?

It won’t be over by Christmas

The government is asking for a commitment of 6 months; that is widely optimistic. Less than 3% of refugees returned to their country of origin country each year. There are refugee camps that have been around for 70 years, where generations are born, live and die without ever returning. There are Ukrainian refugees who have not returned to the Crimean or those Russian “republics” in eight years, since Russia first invaded in 2014. The US is expecting the war to last years. Russians are leveling cities – even if the war ended tomorrow, millions will not have a home to return to, for years. All the research says that most refugees that come to the UK, will stay in the UK, either permanently, or for years.

They will need get a job to move out. According to the charity Breaking Barriers, which helps refugees find jobs (you should consider donating), refugees unemployment rate is 4x higher than the national average. If the unemployment rate is 5%, it will be 20% for refugees. Even getting a job may not mean moving out. Most of the refugees will be women and children, as men of fighting age can’t leave the country, so single income. The average cost of a full-time nursery place in the UK is £263 a week, ~£1000 a month. Average rental rate of a two-bedroom in England, £900. They will need to bring it roughly £27,000 per year (b/c -£5k in taxes) to just cover rent and childcare. Median pay for all UK workers – £26,000. The average refugee will have to be paid more than half of UK workers to have a roof and childcare, only.

Another option is they move to a different host but each change in hosts is a role of the dice and increases the chance that the refugee will be trafficked. Assuming there will even be hosts:

‘..how many people who have expressed an interest via the Government’s website will have to withdraw because they later realise they do not have “the physical or mental room”’

Positive Action in Housing

Most refugee charities are predicting homelessness.

‘Without a clear idea of where people will live longer term, homelessness is a risk.’

Refugee Action

Homelessness is up 140% in England since 2010, which does not inspire much confidence in the current government to stop homelessness among refugees.

This assumes you can even take on a refugee for six months. What if you get a job, or lose a job, and need to move? What if you don’t get along with your refugee – you are being asked to take on a complete stranger you have not met, and hoping you get along.

This is not a good comparison but I can’t think of a better one, this is like those adverts – puppies are not just for Christmas i.e. people shouldn’t buy puppies for Christmas because many find taking care of them too much and so the dogs get killed. Refugees are not just for Christmas – If you shouldn’t take on a puppy, then 1,000,000% you shouldn’t take on valuable individuals, suffering from mental health issues, have lost everything, might not speak any, or limited, English, all while receiving limited government support, if any. You are looking at probably a several year commitment to a potential tough situation – else they may end up homeless, trafficked, etc.

Morally Bankrupt

Even in the best possible scenario – the host and refugees are not bad people; the refugee beats the odds and does not need any additional help e.g. speaks perfect English, no metal health issues, etc. the host can have them for years and/or they get a job and move out, etc. – participating in USS is morally reprehensible.

There is already a system set up to deal with refugees, this progamme is not needed:

This programme is being created because the Government is under pressure to do something but the current and future laws, their laws, make it illegal to do so. Currently, you can’t claim asylum in the UK if you have passed through a “safe” third country. All the airlines stopped their flights to the Ukraine so Ukrainians will have to pass through countries like Poland, Moldova, France etc. to get to the UK, all of which would likely be considered safe third countries.

Moreover, the government is currently pushing through the Anti-Refugee Bill (Nationality and Borders Bill) which makes it a crime to come to the UK for most refugees. It is a cruel piece of legislation, the UN thinks so. Roughly a handful of Ukrainians could stay under the current regulations and in a few months time almost every Ukrainian refugee would also get four years in prison before being deported.

With wall to wall coverage the Tory Government had to do something but instead of changing the rules for everyone, they are creating a special programme so they can still deny asylum to 99.9% of all refugees. Worse, to make it happen the government is black mailing people into taking refugees – you either take them in, or Putin will kill them. This is Big Society all over again – you don’t want people to starve, donate to a food bank.

I can’t believe I need to write this, but ones ability to claim asylum should NOT be based on how popular the war is they are fleeing from. Participating in this programme means being an accomplice in the government’s work to criminalize refugees.

Hope is not a strategy

Even if you could find an archaeological organisation with no moral qualms about being handmaiden to destroying human rights, it is a non-starter from a liability point of view. Imagine if an employer set up a system to encourage their staff to be involved in a programme that will facilitate the trafficking of valuable people and what the lawyers will do to them when it goes wrong?

To avoid liability organisations would need to create a system to mitigate these known issues. Does any archaeologist have experience vetting potential hosts for refugees? No, and the organisations that could, are overwhelmed. Positive Action Housing is, ‘…receiving around 40 calls and up to 150 emails an hour from Brits wanting to offer accommodation to Ukrainian refugees.‘ I have worked in public/community engagement/ social issues for ~20 years and I have seen the same process repeated. A topic becomes trendy and suddenly everyone floods in wanting to help. That is incredibly damaging to the organisations already working in that area, as they spend all their time fielding calls and not working, then everyone stops caring and they are left with nothing. This is why you should give money, only money. Those organisations can use the money right now, they can’t deal with requests to help.

There will be no support available to help archaeologists and no archaeological organisation has the skills needed. Our professional code of conduct says archaeologists should not undertake work they are not qualified for, it only applies to archaeological work, but from a liability point of view, it applies to all work. No lawyer would let any organisation set up a formal or informal work programme like this… there are different standards for non-employers doing this.

Statements are not Neutral

Maybe the pressure campaign is not informed about the UK immigration system and this was a fluke bad suggestion of theirs? Let’s dissect another of their calls to action – making a statement. Nope, under scrutiny it falls apart too. A quick three reasons that is bad:

1. Ukrainians are not asking for this, they have been quite clear in what they need – anti-tank weapons, aircraft, body armor, food, money, sanctions against Russia, or first aid supplies, medications and protective clothing for archaeologists serving in the Ukraine territorial defense forces. Even those asking for support related to heritage are asking for money – see the GoFund me to support the journal Arheologia. Ignoring their requests to deliver platitudes … this is the drowning high-five meme:

Four cartoon panels. First is a hand reaching out about the water with the person under the water. 2nd is a hand coming in from the side looking like it will help. 3rd is that "helping" hand giving the other hand a high five. 4th is the one hand sicking below the water as the person drowns.

2. Attention is a finite resource, it is why Netflix says their biggest competition is sleep, people do not have unlimited time to read through organisation’s fluff statements. And it would be fluff as there is nothing these organisations can say that won’t already be known, there is wall to wall coverage of this event. Any statement by CBA, CIfA, or FAME would be taking up valuable attention that could go to Blue Shield, UNESCO, any of the above mentioned refugee charities, or the thousands of organisations more deserving of the attention right now.

3. Actions indicate values, whether we mean them to or not, and statements are actions. FAME did not comment on Afghanistan, nor Ethiopia, both happening right now and for years, or any of the places around the world that are/have endure conflicts/war. FAME did not comment on Timbuktu – when there was deliberate and planned destruction of cultural heritage.

If we comment on Ukraine, how do we answer the question, ‘why did/do we not comment on issues in countries where the majority of people have more melanin than us?’ UK Archaeology already has a diversity problem, while the rest of the UK working population has diversified, archaeology has not. There is no action we could point to or justification we could make where FAME does not look like ‘bandwagoning racists’.

That is what happens when you outsource your decision making to an outside systems, such as the news cycle – you inherit all their issues. In my last post, when I said there was racism in advocating for visas just for Ukrainians, its because there is. The people doing the advocating themselves aren’t racists, hopefully, but the news cycle is highly biased and driven by racism, sexism, basically all the -isms. So if your decision making is being driven by the news cycle… 1

I say this as someone who is firm in the belief that archaeology has a role to play in social issues – I can’t see a way that this helps to do that. There is no conceivable way FAME, or many organisations, can get involved in making a statement that will not cause harm, either to Ukrainians, those supporting them/their heritage or all the groups we don’t comment on.

What went wrong?

This is already a very long post so I am going to stop after taking apart the first 2ish ideas (points 2&3 are similar) and simply sum it up as – a cluster of bad ideas. How did this campaign put together by Marc Barkman-Astles of ArchaeoSoup and Andy Brockman of The Pipeline – PipeSoup for short – go so wrong? Did they not think it through?

Apparently not. Marc appears to have put the list together quickly, when challenge on social media, as a post hoc defense to justify their actions of harassing CBA, CIfA, and FAME.

That is basically what they launched with:

With all that I am discussing, I can only draw conclusions from observable actions. It is possible Marc spent days thinking about this but I only observed the above behavior. Moreover, it appears their actions are a pattern of escalating questionable behavior, not primarily about helping Ukraine.

Why CBA, CIfA, and FAME?

To see this pattern of escalating questionable behavior you need some background. My first contact with Andy Brockman in relation to Andy was at the end of March 2020 as COVID 19, was starting to take off. He started sending emails to the CEO of FAME’s email to try and get FAME to comment on what was happening with COVID. Being in charge of FAME communication there were several red flags that kept me from responding right away. It was the beginning of 2020 and his profile picture was/still is of Mortimer Wheeler, a/the Harvey Weinstein of UK Archaeology. The name Mortimer was also in his email, a gmail account. My first impression was this must be some sort of bad joke – gmail account, not an email from his site, a sexual predator as their profile pic (normal people wouldn’t have a profile pic of Harvey Weinstein or Jimmy Savile), etc. Almost binned it right then and there but a search came up with a video of presentation he had done at a conference, that I had filmed (the conference, not Andy per se, with large conferences there is several of us filming), so I was pretty sure he was a real person – just to be clear in my video work I have had contact with maybe 5000+ people, I don’t remember them all, I didn’t remember Andy.

But further investigation did not allay my concerns. His “news” site was just a personal website and not a constituted/registered news organisation/company/charity. He called himself a journalist but I could fine no evidence of him working as one – not on his LinkedIn either. He has never listed any press badge or professional journalist organizations he was/is a part, in emails or elsewhere. The world was imploding that week, so decided to hold off on responding until it could be instigated further.

Then the next week he ran a April Fool’s “joke” article mocking FAME and PPE for COVID, saying FAME was advocating things like bin bags for COVID PPE, poor taste given the circumstances of the world at that time. To FAME it looked like he was punishing us because we were too busy, during the collapse of life as we had known it, to respond instantly to what looked like a troll account. A no engagement policy with Andy was set up, his actions indicated that he was not a person to engage with.

Since then we have received multiple requests for comment on various stories but have not responded. He teamed up with Marc to run joint up blog posts/vlog posts. A pattern of behavior has emerged over the last two year, that I will surmise as this post is already too long – PipeSoup appeared, to me and others I have talked to, to want to ‘stick it to the man’, even if no man exists e.g. an article critical CBA for doing their due diligence. Their preferred targets are CBA, CIfA, and FAME because they seem to believe we ‘run the sector’, but that is divorced from reality. The best description of all of these organisations is herding cat herders, that are herding cat herders, that are herding cat herders that are herding cats. None have any statutory roles and membership in all of the organisations are voluntary. They have no real power over their members – people can and frequently do resign from CIfA before being sanctioned for bad behavior and FAME has no sanctioning process.

I learned that Andy had previously run some sort of archaeology ‘promotional’ campaign called – Mortimer, details are scare on it. His profile pic of Wheeler was from that, in fact, the Pipelines website was just the Mortimer website, with a new name. Andy’s behavior just looked like he was still running a campaign but now in the form of partisan journalism, like Fox “News”. That is where he/they soft peddle people they like and go hard on those they don’t, but call it “journalism” e.g. when they wrote about the Campaign to Save British Archaeology it was framed as CBA doing something wrong for not instantly reaching out to a non-archaeologist former fringe party politician’s project (which now appears to be defunct after less than a year), instead of asking why that person did not contact CBA first, as they had no experience in professional archaeology, which should have been a question, if it was balanced journalism.

The Change

This situation, of FAME sending their emails to spam and them running their “news” about other organisations ended when CBA, CIfA, and FAME did not respond to their questions about Ukraine. They resorted to their old habits, an April Fools piece though this time FAME was in the company of CBA, and CIfA. If it had just stayed with that, Se La Vie, but it didn’t. The lead of the story was not about Ukraine and what could/is being done. It was about how CBA, CIfA, and FAME ignored them. When that did not elicit a response right away, they start trying to “shame” them on Twitter into responding. For two weeks them memed those organisations and then someone called them out on that and the campaign was launched. CIfA then caved, after some CIfA members picked it up, and tweeted a response. Then things returned to normal. They basically stopped tweeting about it for ~48 hours, they had got what they wanted, attention from those organisations.

But, then the cycle started repeating itself; they decided to write another article. At FAME, I blocked more explicitly this time – an auto response email asking them to stop contacting FAME. I also changed them from Mute to Blocked on Twitter. Then the emails really started. First, they started emailing the main FAME email from a different unblocked email account, I blocked that. Then they emailed one of my non-FAME emails and the CEO’s non-FAME email. I asked them to not email me or contact me on social media. They did so again. I then had to send them an email quoting sections of the Protection from Harassment Act 1997, and how any further emails would constitute harassment.

This is classic bullying/abuser/predatory behavior – instead of accepting the choices of others, they first lash out and when that does not work, they escalate.

Is that not advocacy?

They have framed their tactics not as a pattern seen in abusive/control based-relationships but as advocacy for Ukraine but their actions indicate that helping Ukraine was not the primary goal, here are a quick three:

  • Why ask CBA, CIfA, FAME – organisations with limited geographic remits about Ukraine? CBA is England and Wales, FAME – UK and Ireland, CIfA – UK. The also have no remit to protect heritage from conflicts. Historic England is even more specific, they can only work in England. I don’t ask my plumber to do my radiocarbon dates because that is not what they do. Why ask non-conflict, UK/Ireland-only remit organisations for comment on something they don’t do in a country they don’t work in? They didn’t ask RESCUE for comment, a UK organisation that specifically have a remit to protect heritage and abroad as well. This is not to throw RESCUE under the bus, I hope they don’t contact RESCUE but to ask the question, if the goal of the articles/vlogs was to discuss Ukraine and heritage under threat from war, why not talk to organisations with experience and remit in this area? If the goal was to just talk to “sector bodies” why were all the other ones left out – HES, Cadw, Archaeology Scotland. Searching the Pipeline website finds the only connection appears to be an Englandcentric view of UK archaeology and being critical of CBA, CIfA, and FAME.
  • The focusing of their first story and several subsequent stories about CBA, CIfA, and FAME and not about organisations that are helping in Ukraine. If they were interested in helping the Ukraine then why are most of the articles not about organisations helping in Ukraine? This is not just limited to the articles/vlogs either. Between February and March, Andy tweeted four times about the subject of helping people/heritage in Ukraine – once to push EAA tweet, once to plug a refugee charity and once to a project to save digital heritage, and if I am being generous a link to a round up from the The Museums Association, all before their campaign. Since their first article, Andy has tweeted 24 times (excluding responses) about their campaign and CBA/CIfA/FAME response (includes pot shots e.g. look who published a statement, where’s CIfA’s). Marc has tweeted 18 times (excluding responses) since February with the term Ukraine (most of Marc and Andy’s tweets on the subject are news items), none about how people can help, but 12 times with the FAME handle.2 This is based off of a Twitter search using the term ‘Ukraine’. Maybe they have posted not using the term Ukraine but searching the terms ‘donate’, ‘help’, found no other tweets in which they were directing people to organsations or ways to help Ukraine. The majority of their effort has gone into attacking these organisations, which have no remit to work in the Ukraine and have no real connections to it.
  • When challenged about only focusing on Ukraine and the implications of that, they claim it is because Ukraine needs their help now but that they care about all wars. Again, their actions indicate something different. Why haven’t they published their piece on Afghanistan? They contacted FAME about it last year, like they did Ukraine, but no article was published. I searched the Pipeline for the term – ‘Afghanistan’ only two articles have that word in it – both published recently about Ukraine and the context is to discussion about why they are not racist, after my post called them out. FAME, as per the policy, did not respond so why was there no attack on us then? They have published other articles since, so they have time and resources to do so. The threats in Afghanistan have only got worse as time has gone on – millions are starving and rights are being rolled back but yet there is no concern about archaeologists working in Afghanistan or the heritage. They have had more than half a year to do something. The only difference between Ukraine and Afghanistan appears to be that Afghanistan fell out of the news-cycle quite quickly while, Ukraine did not. This indicates their priorities are about the attention of the news-cycle, but not the content of it.

I think any reasonable person would look at these actions and draw the conclusions I have – these are not the actions one would expect with helping Ukrainians and their heritage as the primary goal.

Escalation

The reason why escalation is so dangerous is because the abuser is showing their partner that they can use new and more damaging tactics to continue to hoard power and control in the relationship.

– National Domestic Violence Hotline

Myself3, CBA, CIfA, and FAME are all grown-ups and we can handle some harassment on the Internet. I am not looking for any sympathy here. However, it is not these organisations that will feel the impacts of their escalation – it is refugees. Who will it be next time? Will they harass staff at those organisations like they did FAME staff? Will they use another valuable groups/tragic situation to attacked CBA, CIfA, and FAME. Will they push an idea that is worse that creating a traffickers paradise?

I can’t see how this won’t happen. They have already shown they will lash out, repeatedly, when ignored. FAME is never going to respond, looks like CBA won’t either. And CIfA won’t respond without a pressure campaign. All good will at these organisations is gone so their only option in the future is more escalation.

So I am calling this out – STOP Marc and Andy. Your actions are harmful to valuable people. You pushed a system that is a trafficker’s paradise. You pushed sending out empty platitudes that would either hurt Ukrainians, those helping, and/or everyone else left out.

GROW UP – if people don’t want to talk to you, that’s their business, leave them alone. Don’t be that metaphorical dude who won’t accept a girl is not into you. If you believe yourselves to be journalists – ‘The Editors’ Code says that journalists must not continue to question, contact, or photograph people once they have been asked to stop.

RECOGNIZE – if you keep doing this, you will harm more people, none of whom will be CBA, CIfA, or FAME. I suspect you see yourselves as the good guys in this story, so be the good guys, stop your toxic behavior.

  1. Does this mean no can comment on anything unless they comment on everything? No, but to avoid the perception of bandwagoning your actions need to show a previous connect. Will this limit earnest people from commenting? No, Black people have been discriminated against for centuries, Russia invaded Ukraine eight years ago (Wiki it). A lot of problems don’t just happen, they are years, decades, centuries in the making. You have plenty of time to engage with a topic outside the media cycle. Can you think of no problem that just appears sight unseen? If so, can you think of 10, 20, 100? An edge case does not invalidate this.
  2. Is counting tweets petty, yes, but I also have to protect myself against their attempts at retribution, including slander lawsuits. I would rather explain why I drew the conclusions I did based on overwhelming evidence than a pay a lawyer £100 per hour to do it for me.
  3. See point 2, given their past behavior I expect some sort of retribution for this call out given their past behavior.

NOTE: This is not to say that CBA, CIfA, and FAME should not face criticisms – god knows I have many of my own. This is to say harming vulnerable people is not the way to do it. Also, as already stated, with all that I am discussing, I can only draw conclusions from observable actions. These are the opinions I have drawn based on the actions I have observed. I am not purporting to know what Marc and Andy think, I am only giving my opinion on what their actions indicate to me.

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