By Alejandra Cilleruelo, 2021 work experience
You could think that online work experience would be dull, full of glitchy calls and slow communication, but you couldn’t be further from the truth. This past week at René Cassin has been an invigorating experience where I have felt immersed in the campaigns, the ethos and the desire to be an advocate for human rights. Although definitely nervous, I felt motivated by the passion and dedication conveyed to me from the go, and eager to get involved. I learnt the importance of René Cassin’s work – from tackling modern slavery, to ending detention and helping asylum seekers – and was excited for the week ahead.
My first task was to undertake the media tracking for the previous week, research news articles that were relevant to hate crime, women’s rights, slavery and trafficking, asylum and detention and the right to food. Following the racism after England Euro’s Final, I was confronted with the realities of hate crimes and their prevalence, further emphasising the importance of René Cassin’s work in this campaign. Similarly, the pandemic has definitely exacerbated existing inequalities, and their reverberations are felt in the right to food. In researching the National Food Strategy, I was proud of the government’s expansion of free school meal eligibility, but saw its weakness in not implementing systemic changes which contribute to the problem of hunger in the UK.
I was instructed with creating a social media campaign to mobilise sponsors to drop their affiliations with the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, renamed the Genocide Games, in the backdrop of China’s genocide of Uyghur Muslims. Both a creative and a research-based task, I strove to make a powerful and captivating campaign that would deter companies from allying with an oppressor. I was able to deepen my understanding of the crimes against humanity taking place in Xinjiang, and learn about the inhumane treatment of detainees. Listening to the Lord’s Oral Questions Session on curtailing the reliance on Chinese companies linked to their violations of human rights allowed me to see the strides being made to protest against these injustices. The protection of British values above economic advantages highlighted the importance of values, much like those René Cassin holds at the heart of their work, in order to not be complicit to crimes against humanity. Through this task, I was able to perceive the importance of René Cassin’s and other social action organisation’s work in upholding our rights, and mobilising us into action.
My next task was to research the Borders and Nationality Bill that was being debated in parliament, and I was unnerved by the Orwellian measures that threaten to vilify immigrants. Britain’s proud history of providing sanctuary to vulnerable people around the world would be corroded, and the legislation would undermine Britain’s responsibilities under the 1951 Refugee Convention. I was especially shocked by the fixation on the method of arrival into the country as a distinguishing feature between legal and illegal asylum seekers, creating a two-tiered system. This luxury to choose a favourable entryway into the country fails to acknowledge the realities of those fleeing persecution, and paints them as undeserving of our sympathy or protection. An MP at the debate reiterated this quote which said:
“The way a government treats asylum seekers is very instructive because it shows you how they would treat the rest of us if they thought they could get away with it.”
This resonated in me as it gave me an appreciation for why René Cassin’s work is so important in giving a voice to those dehumanised by the asylum process, and safeguarding our human rights.
Following on from this, I also had the privilege of attending a talk with Sephardi Voices UK, and saw the cooperation between organisations in spreading the Jewish story. I especially enjoyed understanding how René Cassin was striving to be more embracing in its narrative, by reflecting also on Mizrahi experiences, and it showed their commitment to being a united Jewish voice for human rights.
This week may have been online, but the experience transcended any screen and has deepened my passion for advocating for human rights. To see the community, the team work, the unity behind these campaigns in the fight for all people’s rights has been eye-opening, and I have been continually awed by the influence of René Cassin.