Archive for the ‘refugees’ Category


Caroline Nokes MP speaks candidly to the Southampton Amnesty group

Immigration, refugees and asylum seekers are a toxic subject in the UK and the situation seems to be getting worse not better.  This week, the home secretary, Priti Patel announced fresh measures to address the ‘problem’ which many have argued are both unnecessary and unworkable.  Immigrants in all forms are seen as a problem despite the many studies showing that they are net benefit to the country.  Many aspects of our society would almost cease to function without their contributions: the NHS would have to scale down drastically; horticulture and agriculture would suffer, food preparation would almost come to a standstill. 

Other countries have problems that dwarf ours – Turkey, Jordan and Greece for example have millions between them.  The number of asylum cases has diminished since 2002, but the government, stoked up by a fairly relentless right wing media campaign of stories real and imagined, has acted in a relentless hostile fashion.  The Home Office has become a byword for inefficiency, harsh decisions and aggressive actions of which the Windrush scandal is just one example. 

The Southampton Amnesty group invited Caroline Nokes MP to speak and this is a note of her talk to them. 

Caroline Nokes MP left the Home Office, vowing never to speak of immigration again.  But after a year her anger at the direction immigration was taking drove her to take action which she set out in a recent article in the Independent Newspaper.  A number of AI members from the Romsey and Southampton Groups had read this article and as a result invited Caroline to a joint virtual meeting.  At the meeting on the 4th March, Caroline gave a frank exposition of her views of the Home Office’s current approach, a summary of which is outlined below.  This article has been read by Caroline and its accuracy confirmed.

Home Office’s Attitude/Approach to immigration

This is very dependent on the attitude/approach of the Home Secretary.  Caroline felt that when Sajid Javid and Amber Rudd had been Home Secretary they were determined to learn the lessons of Windrush and give the Home Office a more “human face”.  More recently, the HO appears not to have made progress on this initiative, and asylum claims in particular seen as “work in progress” not people.  She expressed her concerns about the lack of resources given to the asylum system and that staff were junior.

Determinations

Decisions about whether or not to grant refugee status take far too long.  The target is 6 months, but the reality is closer to several years.  The system does not work well and is poorly served by ineffective lawyers.  She had recently heard young applicants complain about the interpreters available to them, as the issue is not just about language but also “style”.  In Caroline’s view, the system at the moment is too black and white.  No account seems to be taken at this stage that it is possible further documentation may become available.  The only way to consider additional information is via appeals, which prolongs the process.  A system needs to be developed which takes into account the difficulty of getting all the documents together, the trauma that the asylum seeker may be going through and the need for keeping to a six-month limit as far as possible.

Right to work

In her view the right to work would not need to change if the determinations met the points raised above.  She felt that this would be preferable to allowing asylum seekers to work which would cause complications with the benefits system.

Accommodation:

She did not think ex-army barracks were a good option, but were better than the “pop-up” camp being proposed at Barton Stacey*.  The Barton Stacey proposal for 500 asylum seekers in cabins has shown a complete disregard for planning rules. There would be no facilities, all resources would have to brought in, including water, and waste would have to be removed by tankers.  All power would need to be provided by noisy generators.  There are no specific health facilities, it is close to a very busy dual carriageway and close to an army range with the sound of gun fire!  There has been no discussion with local experts such as the Southampton and Winchester Visitors Group.

A motivation for the HO proposing such camps appears to be about making an unattractive destination for asylum seekers.  However, Caroline pointed out that this would be unlikely to happen as there are three factors which makes the UK an attractive destination for asylum seekers i.e. the language, family ties and the fact that the UK still has a positive reputation internationally.

Future

Caroline was asked how she saw the future as far as this area was concerned.  She said she was concerned at the narrative around migration/asylum, which certainly in sections of the tabloid media contained a vein of racism.  For example, Nigel Farage had claimed recently that a boat full of immigrants had arrived in the UK all of them Covid 19 positive. This was not true!  It was clear Ministers believed the country was on their side when they talked tough about changing the asylum system.

She was very clear that she did not feel the Dubs amendment would pass if it was brought back.

The HO has promised to bring forward a new asylum bill.  The HO appears to have two main reasons why they want to do this.  Firstly they believe the current system is broken and in particular there are too many appeals.  Secondly, since we left the EU the Dublin agreement no longer applies to the UK.  Caroline believes it is indeed broken because determinations take far too long. 

What can be done to ensure a more humane asylum system

The first point Caroline made was that asylum applications in this country were very small approximately 40,000 per year compared to say Germany with upwards of 100,000 per annum.  We need to lobby our MPs write to local press and show that not everyone buys into the negative narrative.

Caroline referred to one positive move that was taking place in Westminster under the Chairmanship of the Bishop of Durham called RAMP.  It is a cross party project.  We must learn the lessons of Windrush and change the negative narrative.

*Barton Stacey is a village north of Winchester and not far from Andover in the UK. 

We are grateful to the Southampton Amnesty group for sending us this text.


While the somewhat absurd leaks from the Home Office about wave machines in the Channel, using redundant ferries as holding centres, or sending refugees to Moldova, Morocco – or at enormous cost even to Ascension Island, 4000 miles away – may not be true, these stories do at least give an indication of the mindset of the authorities charged with dealing with a continuing flow of migrants across the Channel to this country.  It seems likely that these proposals were put out to cause alarm, so that when real ones come out, they will be regarded as relatively mild.

Use of the Navy has also been touted: Steve Valdez-Symonds, Amnesty International UK’s Refugee and Migrant Rights Programme Director, said:

Deploying the Navy to prevent people exercising their right to seek asylum in the UK would be unlawful, reckless and dangerous.  It is wholly legitimate for people to seek asylum in this country – even though relatively few people do – and sadly, for some, these dangerous journeys are the only means available.

Meanwhile, the senior civil servant at the Home Office has stated that “all options are on the table.”  This suggests that either (a) they don’t have a clue what to do or (b) all options are equally valid, so they don’t care.  Ms Patel’s speech to the Conservative Party conference today [4 October 2020] will give a sense of her ideas, but she starts from the assumption that the system is “broken”; it may be that her proposals will take some time to emerge.

The government are believed to be keen to follow the methods employed by recent Australian governments in keeping prospective immigrants in offshore holding camps.  But, as Andonea Jon Dickson explains, “a main function of [the Australian] Operation Sovereign Borders is the interception of boats at sea and their forced return to offshore immigration or their origin.  This conflicts with the Refugee Convention (1951) and Protocol (1967) in a number of ways, not least by denying a right to asylum.

The UK has been removing asylum seekers to France this year as part of a European Union policy that allows one member state to return asylum seekers to another.  When the UK leaves the EU on December 31, however, this policy will no longer apply.  There is nothing yet to suggest France would be willing to continue to accept these asylum seekers.  Lawyers have also recently exposed how the UK has been removing asylum seekers to France illegally without providing an asylum procedure.”

While there are distinctions to be made between refugees, asylum seekers and economic migrants (in terms of the threats they face at home), to the general public they will be seen as one group, dangerous or benign according to taste (and, according to a recent YouGov poll 49% of people here have admitted they have little or no sympathy for those crossing the Channel on dangerous boats).

Once again, an inconvenience has been turned into an existential threat.  In 2019, the average rate of asylum applications in the EU was 14 per 100,000 residents.  In the UK it was 5 per 100,000.  So, although, for example, the universality of the English language is a ‘pull factor’ for migrants, it isn’t that significant, and most migrants have a clear view of where it is best for them to aim for.

Dan O’Mahoney, the preposterously titled ‘Clandestine Channel Threat Commander’ – whose job is to work on “legislative, legal and operational barriers” to migrants – said Border Force is continuing to “crack down on the criminal gangs responsible”.  The total number of migrants crossing the Channel this year is around 7,000 so far (it is reckoned that 84,000 attempts to enter were made in 2015), so the crisis may not be quite as great as suggested.  In any case, putting the blame on the traffickers as procurers is pointless – they may be heartless, but they are not the cause.

Ms Patel may be playing to her gallery, or she may genuinely dislike enterprising Third World migrants, but inhumane policies cannot just be defended on political grounds, as they have a moral context.

Ian Dunt, of politics.co.uk makes the point: 

These proposals are unkind.  They are morally wrong, regardless of their efficacy or legality.  They lack compassion, a basic ethical temperament which it is not fashionable to talk about but forms a fundamental requirement of government decision-making.  2 October 2020

Amnesty International has been working for many years with other organisations, nationally and internationally, in the fields of refugees and asylum seekers.  We campaign for a world where human rights can be enjoyed by everyone, no matter what situation they are in. Amnesty has championed the human rights of refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants for decades.  We campaign to make sure governments honour their shared responsibility to protect the rights of refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants.  We condemn any policies and practices that undermine the rights of people on the move.

Detention Action

Posted: June 6, 2020 in refugees
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We have added Detention Action to our links at the bottom of this site.  The organisation campaigns against the harsh detention regime operated in the UK which deprives people of their liberty often without reason at considerable cost to the Exchequer.


Salisbury group makes donation to refugee groups

The group is occasionally able to make contributions to other human rights organisations, and, in the last month, we have been able to donate to two refugee charities which are having a particularly difficult time under COVID-19.  One of them, Care4Calais, works with refugees stranded in Calais and this is from their latest report:-

Our emphasis in the last few months at Care4Calais has been on getting the refugees through the winter, distributing warm clothing and decent footwear, as well as blankets and sleeping bags.  In the last few weeks this has completely changed, of course.   We have been focusing on how to deal with concerns around the Covid19 virus and now with the situation of lockdown in France.

Obviously, keeping the refugees healthy, with little in the way of washing facilities, and in close proximity, is extremely hard, and also jeopardises the charity workers.  Many charities have ceased operating there. The French government wants to move the refugees to confinement centres, which would be healthier, but more coercive. Shortage of money has hindered food supplies and added to transport problems, so donations are of the utmost importance.

We have also made a contribution to Safe Passage, a charity devoted to helping unaccompanied child refugees across Europe get to a place of safety, as they are legally entitled to do.

 


PAST EVENT

Cathedral Evensong takes place this evening (Thursday 12th) at 5:30.  We are delighted to welcome Ben Rogers to give the address.  There will be an opportunity for participants to sign a petition on leaving if they wish.

Joining

If you were thinking of joining the group, this would be an opportunity to make yourself known even if you do not wish to take part in the service itself (Amnesty is not a religious group).  Several members will be around to great you.


Video of the Salisbury group’s refugee action

A few weeks ago, the Salisbury group mounted a short demonstration in support of a better understanding of the plight of refugees.  Refugees and asylum seekers get a bad press in the UK and the UN criticised the article in the Sun by Katie Hopkins referring to them as ‘cockroaches’ and ‘feral humans’.  A full discussion of the role of media in the debate on refugees and asylum seekers can be found in the 2018 report by the International Organisation for Migration particularly chapter 8 p191ff.

A film of our protest with interviews of two group members, was made by the Salisbury TV station ‘That’s TV’ and this can be seen on YouTube.

We issued a factsheet to passers-by on the refugee situation around the world and our role in it.  In the interview we mentioned the resettlement programme being managed by Wiltshire Council.

Refugee factsheet (pdf)


If you live in the Salisbury, Amesbury or south Wiltshire area generally and would like to join us you would be very welcome.  The best thing is to come along to an event we are running and make yourself known.  It is free to join locally.  Keep and eye on this site, or on Facebook or Twitter if you prefer, to see details of our next event.

Refugee vigil

Posted: March 24, 2019 in Group news, refugees
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UPDATE:

We were filmed by Salisbury TV (Channel 7 in this area) and they say they will transmit at 6pm this evening.

We shall be holding a vigil for refugees today (Monday 25th) starting at 10am for 2 hours.  Outside the Guildhall in the market square.  We would be grateful for any supporters able to spare a minute or two to drop by.

Refugee factsheet (pdf)


The group will be holding a brief vigil outside the Guildhall on Monday 25th March starting at 10am for 2 hours.  Refugees are a contentious issue in this country and indeed, concerns about immigrants and refugees were a key issue in the Brexit debate.  Although the UK takes in a miniscule number compared to the 25 million or so refugees in the world, they loom large in our political process and in the tabloid press.  Biblical terms like ‘swarms’, ‘hordes’ and ‘floods’ are regularly deployed to describe those fleeing here.

Protest guildhall

Some group members at the Guildhall

We would welcome any support you can give even if it’s just to come and say ‘hello’.  We sometimes feel a little exposed at these events and there are some people who have forcefully held views so shows or support are welcome.

This would also be a good moment if you are thinking of joining the group to make yourself known.  The picture shows a similar event last year.


‘I Welcome’ photos on display at the Methodist Church

The plight of refugees entered the news again this year with the attempts by them to cross the Channel in small boats. This prompted the home secretary Sajid Javid to declare that a ‘major incident’ had occurred and he received considerable favourable coverage from the tabloid press. About 221 attempted the crossing between the beginning of November 2018 and the end of December. This compares with the hundreds of thousands who have entered Italy and Greece. To compare the 221 attempts to cross since the beginning of November with the hundreds of thousands who have entered other European states and calling it a ‘crisis’ is absurd.

The Daily Express for example, under a headline ‘Migrant Crisis’ quotes a former home office chief as saying that ‘Britain faces a humanitarian crisis unless it sends back migrants’.

As Roy Greenslade discusses in the Guardian:

For the past couple of weeks, in a period we like to call the season of goodwill, Britain’s newspapers and broadcasters have been reporting on the arrival of desperate men and women on our shores as if they are criminals unworthy of charity or understanding

Guardian 7 January 2018

The Refugee Council regrets the action Sajid Javid took and his reported doubts that these were genuine asylum seekers and that they should be deterred from crossing to make it harder to claim asylum. In response to these comments, Dr Lisa Doyle, Director of Advocacy at the Refugee Council, said:

The comments made by the Home Secretary today are deeply concerning. The outcome of an asylum application cannot be pre-judged before it has been made and must be processed on its individual merit, irrespective of how that person reached the country. Let us not forget that we are talking about people who are in desperate need of protection, having fled countries with prolific human rights abuses. What is more, we are hearing time and again that the conditions in France do not make people feel safe, with migrant camps being razed from the ground and people experiencing violence from the authorities. It’s a shame that the Home Secretary seems to need reminding that seeking asylum is a right and the UK has an obligation to assess claims fairly and grant protection to those who need it.

Refugee Council 2 January 2018 [accessed 7 January]

Immigration, asylum seekers and refugees raise considerable passions in the country and it was a key issue behind the 2016 Referendum. It is likely that many people voted in favour of leaving the EU because they believed it would end immigration of all kinds into the country.

The Salisbury group has mounted a photographic exhibition in the Salisbury Methodist Church during January featuring award winning pictures of refugees in various locations around the world. There are around 40 million internally displaced people and 25.4 million refugees according to UNHCR. The images show some of the desperate situation many of these men, women and children live in.

Part of the exhibition at the Methodist Church

We are grateful to the church for letting us use their space for these photographs.

Refugees

Posted: December 11, 2018 in refugees
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Talk by Daniel Trilling organised by the Salisbury group

The 10th December was the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Salisbury group decided to mark the occasion with a talk on the subject of refugees.  This is a hot topic since one of the contributory factors which led some people to vote to leave the EU in 2016 was the worry about immigration in all its forms.  At the time of the Referendum, there were nightly images of people fleeing Syria and others fleeing wars in Eritrea, Somalia and Mali trying to cross from Libya to Italy in highly unseaworthy boats. 

We were delighted to welcome author and journalist Daniel Trilling who began by talking about his own family’s journeys to these shores from Russia and Kiev.  His grandmother had managed to leave the Ukraine and get into Poland at the time of the civil war in Russia which started just after the revolution.  She made it to Berlin but had to leave again in ’39 because of the Nazis.  She came Britain 3 days before war was declared.  Britain was hostile to letting in adult Jews, as was the USA and Canada, and the ship MS St Louis found it difficult to find anywhere for them to disembark.  There was a book and a film Voyage of the Damned of harrowing attempts by the fugitives seeking somewhere to land .   Much was made recently of the Kinder transport coming to Britain but these were of course children, not adults. 

After the First World War, there was considerable turmoil in Europe with local wars and revolutions.  The Russian revolution left many millions stateless and there were great movement of peoples as the nation states became dominant.  The two main groups of stateless peoples were Armenians and Russians.  The League of Nations created passports for the stateless but only between members of the League.  In 1951 the Convention on Refugees was the foundation for the protection of refugees in Europe.  

His family history therefore was one reason why he became interested in the refugee question and in researching his book, travelled to Sicily, Greece, Calais, Germany and Bulgaria.  Wars in various parts of the world, Afghanistan, Iraq and the collapse of Libya for example, have created huge numbers of people fleeing to seek refuge in another country.  He noted of course that the countries most affected are often those with the least resources to handle the vast numbers involved, Jordan is a case in point. 

Europe has ‘militarised’ its border in an attempt to keep people out.  The problem was the Dublin Treaty which makes the state where refugees first set foot responsible for them.  This again puts great strain on Greece – which experienced severe financial crisis following the 2008 banking collapse – and Italy which is also under considerable financial strain.  Other European nations – with the exception of Germany – are reluctant to play much of a part.  In Greece, the rise of the neo fascist Golden Dawn party made life very difficult for refugees with frequent attacks.  This led to people living in limbo for many years.  

Effects on people 

The media he said tended to focus on the most dramatic cases, for example the boatloads fleeing across the Mediterranean from Libya.  They tended to give an impression of experiences which were over quite quickly when the reality is that people live in limbo sometimes for many years.  In one of the examples he writes about in his book, an 18 year old Sudanese boy lived on the streets of Athens for 3 years living on his wits. 

He spent some time describing the desperate attempts to hide under or in lorries.  One woman lived for 5 months in Calais.  

Perhaps the most significant question to ask is why do people suffer such privation and take such risks to leave their homes and undertake perilous journeys to an unknown country?  It is no accident that most, indeed nearly all, come from war-torn countries such as Afghanistan, Syria, Libya, Mali and the horn of Africa.  In nearly all cases, western powers have played a part in the problems being experienced.  Whether it be as a result of colonialization, war or exploitation of the countries’ mineral wealth, we – the rich countries – have had a deleterious effects yet do not want to take responsibility for the results.  

Britain has had a history in the past decade or so of treating people harshly as a matter of deliberate policy.  Largely, this was as a result of tabloid newspaper stories, using biblical language to describe hoards of refugees pouring into the country and living in luxury at others’ expense.  This Daily Express story (one of many) is fairly typical of the genre.  Trilling also pointed out that the government had privatised asylum housing which meant refugees ended up in remoter and poorer areas.  This only increased tensions.  The system was adversarial and complex.   There was no legal aid which has been withdrawn. 

Northern local authorities have the most problems but had born the brunt of the cuts.  By contrast, Theresa May’s constituency, affluent Maidenhead, had no asylum seekers.  

On the other hand the Scottish system was more positive and humane which was encouraging he said.  In answer to a question about how prejudice and hostility could be tackled, he said MPs had to face the hostility head on and not just accept the misinformed prejudice.  He recommended looking at Refugee Council’s web site and Buzzfeed for better information on the subject.  

Daniel Trilling. Pic: Salisbury Amnesty

This was a very interesting and enlightening talk on this most difficult of subjects.  Daniel’s book is called Lights in the Distance published by Picador (2018).

The next meeting of the group is on Thursday 13th at 4 Victoria Road at 7:30.