Refugee report December


December 2022

This is the monthly Refugee report with thanks to group member Andrew. Refugees and immigration remain top of the list of concerns, and sometimes anger, by many members of the public. It’s to be regretted that there is little sign of serious debate among sections of the press and politicians. The Conservatives have made a number of promises to reduce numbers to the tens of thousands. The benefits of immigrants to our society seem lost to view.

As the numbers of asylum seekers arriving in the UK continues to grow, attention is turning to ideas for the future processing of claimants.  Among ideas put forward this month are from the think tank Demos with a suggestion to remove the asylum function from the Home Office to “Sanctuary UK”.

The Centre for Policy Studies has a new report out suggesting that “illegal” immigrants (anyone arriving by informal routes) should be refused, detained indefinitely and/or returned to a third country (e.g. Rwanda).  This is reputed to be the system applied in Australia.  The forward to the report was written by the Home Secretary, implying that she favours the ideas.  The UNHCR has criticised the use of the term “illegal” in the report.

It is also reported that the government is thinking to fast track the “white list” procedure, whereby persons arriving from the list of countries deemed to be safe have no right of asylum.  This is presently the case for Albania, to take a topical example, and the government plan seems to be to speed up the process of return for such claimants.

The problem of illegality was shown by the Home Secretary before the Home Affairs select committee, when she was unable to answer Conservative MP Tim Loughton’s question about what he – as a prospective asylum seeker from Africa – could do to come here legally. The answer from the Secretary and her aides was to go through the UNHCR.  It should be noted that the UNHCR approach was used by only 1,066 people in 2022.

It has been confirmed that £1bn of the UK aid budget has been spent on accommodating asylum seekers and refugees, rather than being spent in countries needing aid.

Looking at numbers, the latest net migration figures (the number arriving less the number leaving) is around 500,000, a larger than normal figure following the exceptional circumstances of Hong Kong and Ukraine, plus a large number of students arriving post-pandemic.

Arrivals in small boats account for 45% of claimants for asylum.

In the last couple of months, a number of cases of diphtheria have been found among Irregular arrivals. The 50 known cases have included 1 fatality.

The Home Office has produced a report on the reasons asylum seekers come to the UK, and their main conclusions are that social networks are important, but that neither economic benefits nor the perceived level of granting rights are particularly pull factors.

Finally, it has just been announced that Refugee Week 2023, the 25th in the series, will run from 19th to 25th June and the theme will be “compassion”…

AH

Death penalty report Nov/Dec


December 2022

The latest death penalty report for November/December is now available thanks to group member Lesley for the work in compiling it. At 8pp it shows there is a lot going on in the world and actions by Saudi authorities with their barbaric executions are particularly noteworthy. The distraction of the World Cup next door in Qatar no doubt helped to act as a shield. Note as ever that China remains the world’s worst executioner with numbers in the thousands but details are a state secret.

Qatar, world cup and human rights


Things have not gone all Qatar’s way in the World Cup

November 2022

Qatar has spent huge sums of money on building stadia and in attempts to promote its image around the world. It was perhaps the most expensive example of sports washing there has been. How successful is it?

Not going to plan

What is obvious is that it has not gone according to plan. Previous nation’s attempts to sanitise their image using sport have, from their point of view, been reasonably successful, one thinks of China. This has been because the sporting community: the sports people themselves, the managers and promoters, the media and many of the supporters – have cared little for the human rights of the countries where competition has taken place. So tennis, golf, boxing, cycling, horse racing, motor sport and other competitions have happily taken place in countries where torture is still practised, opposition is repressed, women have few rights and the death penalty is still a fact of life. Why let a stoning or public amputation spoil a game of tennis? No matter, the money is good and the sports pages of our media do not sully their pages with the sordid goings on outside the field of play. Sport has existed in a kind of bubble making it supremely suitable to be used by autocratic regimes to launder their image.

Qatar has been different. People have noticed and suddenly, some of the sports pages have moved away from sports reporting and are talking about arm bands, protests and footballers not singing the national anthem. The wearing of arm bands has become politically charged. There are pictures of people holding up posters particularly about women’s rights (or should we say, the absence of them). Yesterday, it was the German team covering their mouths. David Beckham who, up till now, has been able to promote himself as the honest Essex boy done good, is now seen in as a somewhat dubious light having accepted a reported £120m fee to be an ambassador for the Qataris. It is said he will not now get his knighthood. When reporters approach him for interview, he is silent. Not yet hero to zero but certainly a damaged brand.

FIFA want us to focus just on the football. Never mind the 6,500 worker deaths, the near absence of women’s rights, the silencing of opposition people and the anti LGBQI+ actions and laws. Where once football was to be the means by which nations came together and mutual understanding increased, now we are enjoined not to look outside the stadium itself. FIFA’s Infantino tells us that he understands prejudice because he has freckles and red hair which was a problem for him at school.

Sports washing may not be the same again

One positive thing may emerge from this World Cup and that is the days of sports washing may not be numbered but it will make countries and despots think twice in future. Instead of hundreds of thousands of supporters and spectators arriving to marvel at the spectacle no questions asked, some of them are asking questions. Some might even be a little uncomfortable at being there at all. The sports pages now mention the uncomfortable truths about the regime where the event is held and do not simply report on the sport as though wearing blinkers. Sport has been a willing captive, happy to take the millions and all too ready to claim ignorance of what happens outside the stadium or arena. The media has also followed the money. Perhaps those days are over and future events will bring a greater readiness to question and take account of the human rights situation in the host country.

Minutes of November group meeting


We are pleased to attach the minutes of the group’s November meeting with thanks to group member Lesley for the work in compiling them. They contain a lot of interesting material including information about future events, planned or actual, as well as reports on refugees and the death penalty.

Note that the next meeting is December 8th at 2pm. We welcome new members and we hope to see returning ones now that we have shifted to an afternoon slot. We remain concerned about the range of bills and laws the government is planning to pass which will limit our rights to protest and its increasingly authoritarian tone. Refugees remain a live issue receiving much coverage in the media particularly about the boat crossings but who fail to mention the full facts.

Refugee report


November 2022

This is a report on the current situation with refugees, a topic which is causing a great deal of political heartache at present. We are grateful to group member Andrew for the work in compiling this.

Into November and Suella Braverman is back as Home Secretary, which will have implications for refugees and asylum seekers. The plan to send failed asylum seekers to Rwanda has been shelved (and the companies contacted to carry the deportees have all withdrawn or refused), but the Prime Minister has declared himself in favour of the plan.  In his campaign to lead his party he also put forward a 10-point plan on immigration designed to increase the number of deportations. Possible new locations have been posited – Belize, Paraguay and Peru have been named, but all have declared themselves not to be discussing the matter.  Hi Fly and Iberojet are still possible carriers but are under pressure to decline. The future of the scheme remains questionable, as the High Court has still to decide on its lawfulness.

There has been much debate about the numbers of Albanians arriving in the UK in recent months, and particularly about the number claiming to have been trafficked. The Home Office have argued that a) economic migrants have been using this as an excuse and b) Albania is not a state which has security issues.  The Albanian Prime Minister has also attacked the UK government for denigrating his country, but it remains that a large percentage of Albanian claimants have been accepted as genuine. Discussions between the countries continue.  It is worth noting that the countries most detainees assumed to be involved with trafficking are Albania, Eritrea and Iran.

The continuing arrival of refugees and asylum seekers on small boats remains in the news.  With nearly 40,000 arrivals this year, the chief problem is processing the newcomers.  Events at the Manston short term holding facility have been much reported on, but numbers now have dropped back towards a more ”normal” 1600 staying 24 hours, rather than 4000 detained for weeks.  The facility is intended to process all arrivals, not just refugees.  The Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration has been checking conditions here and at hotels used by the Home Office to house new arrivals, and concerns have been expressed that these are not fit to house unaccompanied children.

The IPPR say that the increase in numbers arriving on small boats (which was none in 2018!) is likely due to “a combination of increased securitisation among other routes (e.g. lorries), the UK’s withdrawal from the Dublin regulation and a “snowball effect”’.  The Dublin Regulation made it possible to return arrivals to their first point of landing in the EU, but the UK can no longer employ the provision since Brexit.

On the last day of 2019, there were 307 individuals held in prisons under immigration powers.  By the last day of 2020 this had increased to 519, and a year later it was 602.  As of January 2022 that figure stood at 304, three times the amount it was in 2019.

For an overall perspective on numbers, it is worth noting that the UNHCR estimates the global number of refugees at 21.3 million, plus 4.6 million asylum seekers.  1 .4 million claims for asylum are pending, of which 0.5% are in the UK (for comparison, about half the number for Germany).

Over 90% of people referred to the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) from immigration detention are victims of trafficking, says a new report.  The referrals into the NRM by ‘first responders’ included survivors of slavery, trafficking and torture. Rule 34 stipulates that every detained person must have a mental and physical examination within 24 hours of admission to an Immigration Removal Centre (IRC) – however, survivors have often been overlooked

The Home Office routinely detains people who are subject to immigration control, the majority of whom are released.  However, under the Home Office Detention Centre rules, a person has to undergo screening to be ‘fit’ for detention, as well as to identify survivors of trafficking and modern slavery.

report by the Helen Bamber Foundation, a charity that helps survivors of trafficking and torture, found that survivors are detained either after imprisonment, with many having being convicted for offences they were forced to commit by their traffickers, and/or because they do not have permission to remain in the UK.  Many survivors of trafficking are detained for removal after being picked up during raids on brothels, nail bars and cannabis farms.

The biggest problem with asylum seekers, however, is still the delay in processing arrivals.  As a measure of the extent of the backlog, on the last day of 2019, there were 307 individuals held in prisons under immigration powers.  By the last day of 2020 this had increased to 519, and a year later it was 602.  As of January 2022 that figure stood at 304, three times the amount it was in 2019.  In terms of delays in the system, Home Office figures show that in 2015 80% of cases were decided within 6 months.  By 2018, this had fallen to 56% and by 2022 to 7%.  96% of 2021 arrivals have not yet got an assessment.

Other continuing issues include extending the offer to Ukrainian applicants for refugee status (very few are claiming asylum status) for another year. 140,000 visas have been issued so far, just under half the total (Hong Kong accounts for another quarter).

Amnesty is planning to ring fence much of its income before the end of the year to support its campaign in Ukraine. This is explained in the monthly newsletter.

AH

Death Penalty report – November


November 2022

We are pleased to attach the latest death penalty report thanks to group member Lesley for the work in compiling it. Includes mentions of Singapore, Iran, USA and elsewhere. Note as ever that China probably executes more of its citizens than the rest of the world combined but details are a state secret.

FIFA and the World Cup


FIFA writes to all contestants urging them to ‘focus on the football’

November 2022

The decision to hold the World Cup in Qatar was always controversial and as the competition approaches, temperatures have risen concerning the state’s human rights record and treatment of the migrant workers who built the stadiums and facilities, around 6,500 of whom have reportedly died. The FIFA president Gianni Infantino has written to the 32 competing nations asking them to ‘focus on the football’. He suggests further that they need ‘to respect all opinions and beliefs without handing out moral lessons.’ The FIFA General Secretary Fatma Samoura goes further and tells us that the food is great and ‘the tea is beautiful!’ She suggests, absurdly, that Qatar can be used as a ‘role model for other countries in the Gulf’.

The essential dispute is whether sport is a useful pressure point to improve the human rights of the host nations where events take place, or whether sport is simply being used to sanitise the reputations of dire regimes, in other words, sports washing. There is an argument for sporting events going to a country where the combination of visibility, media attention and the need to ‘put on a good face’ can have a positive effect on how individuals are treated. While this may be true in principle, it was hard to find such positive examples on a search through a range of sport-based campaign organisations who promote this idea such as the Centre for Sports and Human Rights. The IOC claimed to insert requirements into their contracts but the extent to which they outlast the actual competition has to be questioned.

Qatar has a range of problems on the human rights front. They include the kafala system which ties workers to their employers. We have mentioned the claim that around 6,500 have died building the facilities. The workers are barred from forming a trade union. FIFA has claimed that reforms have been introduced but there seems little sign of them in practice and enforcement seems minimal. Wage theft is common.

Women are treated poorly. The suffer under the guardianship system which means the permission of a male member of the family is needed to marry, travel or study abroad and divorced women are not permitted to be their children’s guardian.

Same sex relations are banned and are a crime. There is no freedom of expression.

FIFA’s statements seem to be at variance to the idea of sport having some kind of ambassadorial role. If the footballers are being asked not to wear armbands, nor to ‘hand out moral lessons’ as they put it and generally keep a low profile, where then is the pressure on the Qataris going to come from? They were joined by the UK’s foreign secretary James Cleverly MP who was quoted at saying, in connection with LGBT football fans heading for the competition, that they should be ‘respectful of the host nation’. Downing Street distanced themselves from this crass comment.

Another factor is how the competition will be reported. Sports reporting lives largely in a world of its own. The narrative is around how the home country is progressing, who is the favourite to win and facile interviews with the various participants about their performances on the field past and future. Life outside the stadium and hotel rooms are unlikely to get a mention. Will any of the sports reporters visit the squalid accommodation that the men who built the stadiums live in? Will the subservient status of women be mentioned? Since freedom of expression is substantially curtailed, none of this is likely to see the light of day. The reporters might reasonably argue we are here to comment on football not on social or human rights conditions.

There seems no escape from the fact that sport is being used by repressive or abusive regimes to enhance their reputations and the sports people are only too willing to play along. It’s not just football of course: tennis; boxing; golf; motorsport; cycling and athletics have all quite happily taken the money. The notion that sporting events are a force for good and the publicity they generate helps those abused by the regimes is fanciful at best. There seems little evidence of sustained benefit deriving from these major international sporting events. Claims are made but the power of money seems to trump any moral considerations and those with the power to make a difference are only too content to look the other way.

Sources: ITV News; HRW; Amnesty; Mirror; Daily Mail; UNSW Sidney

Amnesty webinar: apartheid in Israel


Personal testimony from a Palestinian describing destruction of villages

November 2022

Readers will be familiar with the issue of the apartheid system operating in Israel from a previous post which offered links to reports by Human Rights Watch, the UN, B’Tselem and Amnesty. The reports are detailed accounts of the system operating there which means Palestinians are denied freedom of movement, proper education and suffer from demolitions of their villages and uprooting of olive groves.

An article in the Foreign Policy Journal in 2021 – itself referring to an article in the Haaretz newspaper – describes the extensive use of firing zones and that around 18% of the West Bank is so designated. These Area C ordinances have ‘a degree of control so suffocating that every aspect of Palestinian life – freedom of movement, education, access to clean water and so on – is controlled by a complex system of Israeli military ordinances that have no regard whatsoever of the well-being of beleaguered communities‘. The areas are under military law whereas Israeli citizens are under civil law.

In last night’s Amnesty webinar (1 November 2022) we heard from witnesses as to how this system actually works. Cars are confiscated (and the FPJ refers to the seizure of the only vehicle conveying medical supplies) and people are forcibly evicted from their homes. There are checkpoints everywhere with lengthy delays to get through. The community described is called Masafer Yatta.

If a Palestinian should lodge an appeal in the courts they said, the Army will arrive and demolish homes and clinics before the court has time to sit. Entire villages have been so demolished. No alternative locations are offered it was claimed. The Israelis say the homes have been built without permission but since courts refuse most permissions this seems a somewhat unworthy argument.

We asked what can be done? The main response was to make sure our MPs are aware of the situation. They also pointed to a petition https://www.parallelparliament.co.uk/petitions/625771/take-action-to-prevent-expulsion-of-residents-from-masafer-yatta.

The Israeli government’s response to the Amnesty report in particular has been described in various articles as ‘hysterical’. Whereas the HRW and B’Tselem reports could largely be ignored, Amnesty has a much larger profile and so a major effort had been launched to counter it. An analysis of Israeli responses can be read here. They amount to 1. Amnesty is antisemitic, 2. it denies the right of Israel for self-determination and 3. holds Israel to ‘uniquely harsh standards’ it does not apply elsewhere. The main point is that we were unable to find a detailed response to the findings of the reports pointing out errors of fact in the Amnesty or other reports.

Government’s attitudes to human rights


The new government under Rishi Sunak does not bode well for human rights in the UK

October 2022

Rish Sunak was appointed the new prime minister yesterday (25 October 2022) and it is worth looking at his, and some of his minister’s, approaches to human rights. They are not promising. The key people are, in addition to the prime minister, Suella Braverman (Home Office) and Dominic Rabb (Justice Dept). All three have made a range of statements and speeches which, taken together, set out a decidedly negative attitude to our rights.

Sunak is a keen supporter of the Rwanda policy to deport people to Africa, indeed he wants to double the number sent and one means is to reduce the qualifying gaol term from 12 to 6 months which will apply to immigrants who commit crime. He wants to tighten the definition of who qualifies for asylum in the UK. He wants to increase powers to detain, tag and monitor illegal immigrants.

He is a keen supporter of repealing the Human Rights Act claiming in an interview that ‘human rights law was acting as an obstacle for government’ and ‘making it difficult [for the government] to achieve our objectives’. He also voted against the retaining the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.

Suella Braverman is back as Home Secretary only just having resigned a matter of days ago for having breached the ministerial code. We have reported before on her highly manicured cv including the claim that she had contributed to the writing of a legal textbook, the actual author of which said that she did help with some photocopying.

She too is keen to end the HRA and extricate the UK from the European Court of Human Rights. She claims there is now a ‘rights culture’ and that this has caused confusion and distress in some areas. She wants to introduce a permission stage to claims to ‘limit trivial human rights cases wasting the courts’ time and public money’.

Dominic Raab is back as the Justice Secretary and in a previous post we reviewed his book Assault on Liberty. He agrees with the above policies. The book is useful because it enables us to examine the thinking and beliefs which many politicians share. They have this profound belief in liberty which they see as threatened by protest and human rights. They think that there has been too much focus on individual rights at the expense of collective responsibilities. Sunak seems to believe that these rights prevent good government in ways that are not exactly clear.

They are supported in their beliefs by much of the press with a steady stream of anti-immigrant stories particularly focused on people crossing the Channel in boats. To what extent this represents the views of the general population is a moot point. Among the population at large, according to YouGov, they are not happy with the government’s approach to the boat people. It is however, a much more salient issue among Conservative supporters where there is pressure to limit the crossings.

With all three top positions occupied by politicians with these beliefs we can look forward to further aggressive moves against immigrants and asylum seekers. It is ironic to note however, that two of them are offspring of people who came here from overseas and made successful lives for themselves. Both had parents who, having settled here, were sufficiently successful to enable both to receive good educations and succeed in the law (Braverman) and the City (Sunak). Sunak went to Winchester one of the elite public* schools in Britain.

Note for US readers: ‘public’ schools are in fact private and Winchester is one of the most expensive in the UK.

Sources: Each Other; Save Our Citizenship; They Work for You; the Guardian; Conservative Home; the Spectator; Daily Mail; Refugee Action; Amnesty International

UPDATE: 28 October. The following is a link to EachOther with a more detailed analysis of the above three plus two other members of the cabinet with similar views. Again, we note that two of them are offspring of immigrants welcomed here.

Saudi sports washing


Open letter from Reprieve to Sebastian Vettel

October 2022

Saudi Arabia is using its vast wealth to attract a range of sports and sports competitors to its shores as part of a programme to improve its reputation. They have also poured large sums into Newcastle United football club as part of the same exercise. The money seems to work and sports such as tennis, golf, equestrianism, boxing and formula 1 racing have all eagerly taken part and accepted the Saudi millions. They have invested in US sports such as baseball and basketball. The sports people seem not to be concerned at the lack of women’s rights, the use of torture, suppression of free speech and barbaric executions which go on there. In addition, Saudi Arabia has been involved in the war in Yemen which has resulted in considerable loss of life.

Below, is a letter from Reprieve to the racing driver Sebastien Vettel asking him to speak out –

Dear Sebastian Vettel,

We wanted to tell you, as an F1 driver for Aston Martin, about the Saudi Arabian government’s human rights abuses and the fact that Saudi Arabia has just invested in the company you drive for.

The Reprieve community may not be experts on cars or racing, but we are experts in the case of Abdullah al-Howaiti – a child defendant at risk of the death penalty in Saudi Arabia.  

Abdullah was arrested when he was just 14 years old and tortured “confessing” to crimes he did not commit. 

Just last year, the Saudi Arabian regime that has been allowed to invest in Aston Martin, executed child defendant Mustafa al-Darwish, who was 17 years old at the time of his so-called crime. Having a photo on his phone was amongst his alleged offences. If you speak up, you can stop Abdullah facing the same fate.  

The Saudi Arabian Government is doing what is known as sportswashing. They’re appointing tourism ambassadors such as Lionel Messi, creating the LIV golf tournament, and buying sports clubs like Newcastle FC. This is a regime trying very hard to distract people from its human rights abuses. 

We are asking you to follow Lewis Hamilton in speaking out against human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia. You can use your platform as one of F1’s most famous drivers and representing a team part-owned by Saudi Arabia’s government to save lives.

We read that you said, “there are certain values we must stand up for because they outweigh financial interests” and “you also have responsibility and you should make sure you go ahead with the right values and symbols.” Today we’re asking you to exercise your responsibility, value Abdullah’s life, and speak out for him before you retire at the end of the year. Your voice could make the difference. 

Will you speak up for him? 

Thank you,   

The Reprieve Community   


You can sign this petition by following this link. Please help us and the Reprieve community in trying to stop Saudi using its wealth to smooth over its appalling human rights record. Thank you.

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: