February 2023

Those following events in Yemen – somewhat eclipsed in the news by Ukraine – will know that the UK has been involved in supplying weapons to the Saudis, which have caused immense destruction and thousands of deaths. In addition to weapons, UK personnel, including it is reported from the RAF, are involved in advisory capacities being careful to stop short of becoming mercenaries. The scale of weapons sales is over £20bn.

A clear pattern to the Saudi bombings was the attacks on domestic targets including hospitals, schools, weddings and funerals. Despite this, the UK has been keen to continue to allow arms sales and to sign off licences. The Court of Appeal ruled in 2019 that the UK had broken its own arms export laws by continuing to allow this trade to continue.

The Campaign Against the Arms Trade, CAAT, has been doggedly pursuing this matter through the courts and the High Court has allowed a fresh hearing between 31 January and 2 February 2023. This is hopeful and we await the results of this action.

Group activities

List of activities the group has planned for 2023

This is a list of activities the Salisbury group has planned for you to note in your diaries. If you can offer to help that would be appreciated but coming along to say ‘hello’ is also welcome. If you are thinking of joining the group, coming along to one or other of these events is a good time to make yourself known and to meet some of us.

  • Coffee morning at St Thomas’s Church in the centre of Salisbury on 18 February starting some time after 10 am. finishing at noon.
  • Market stall in Salisbury market on 22 April. Early start and also finishing midday sometime. It would also be helpful if you have any items we could sell, please let us know if you have.
  • The Beekeeper of Aleppo in the Salisbury Playhouse on 21 – 25 March with two matinees. The Playhouse has very kindly allowed us to have a stand in the foyer so we welcome seeing you there. Volunteers to help man the stand would be helpful as well.
  • People in the Park in Queen Elizabeth Gardens on 20 May, all day. This is the postponed event from last year.
  • Our next group meeting is on February 9th at 2pm
  • We are trying to agree a date for Evensong at the Cathedral and we will let people know the date once agreed.

We look forward to seeing supporters at one or more of these events.

Refugee report

January 2023

This is the monthly report on the refugee situation in the UK thanks to group member Andrew for producing it. Immigration and refugees continues to generate fierce debate in the UK particularly the problem of people arriving by boat having crossed the Channel.

In his speech in the New Year, the Prime Minister declared his intention, among other things, to resolve the issue of small boats crossing the Channel by making it illegal to arrive  by such means and to immediately arrest and deport anyone doing so. This proposal, if made into law, will undoubtedly meet opposition from the European Court of Human Rights, not to mention the House of Lords. The year’s total of boat arrivals ran up to 45,000.

The High Court in December declared the proposed removal of asylum seekers to Rwanda to be lawful. The matter is now under appeal, to be decided by the end of this month (January). The ECHR’s original objection to the policy under Article 3 of the Convention may be reactivated once the appeal is over.

The PM also pledged in his speech to abolish the backlog of asylum cases by the end of the year. The number of decision makers at the Home Office is planning to be quadrupled to 2,400 in pursuit of this aim. The biggest problem he may face, though, is that the Home Office is presently more prone to accept claims than to reject them, obviating the PM’s desire to remove most of the applicants.

Immigration from Albania has been in the news due to a spike in the numbers. While the government maintains that the country is safe to return arrivals to (and the Albanian government agrees!), the issue of “blood feuds” has been touted as one of the reasons for the increase. The government’s view is that there is sufficient protection in Albania for potential victims.

This month marks the anniversary of the establishment of the Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme, under which legal routes to settlement in the UK were to be offered. Three pathways were established, 1 for people already here, 2 for those referred by the UNHCR and 3 for those who had worked for the UK. Some 5,000 arrivals were planned for the first year, 20,000 in total. The latest available figures indicate that 6,300 have been given indefinite leave to remain (i.e. pathway 1), four have arrived by pathway 2 and none by pathway 3. Thanks to Caroline Lucas and File on 4 for pointing this up.

The Windrush scandal, the subsequent review made various suggestions, among which was the creation of a Migrants’ Commissioner. It is believed that the Home Secretary is minded to abandon this plan, and also to forego planned extension to the powers of the independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration.

Finally, in a ruling over the Christmas period, the High Court ordered the Home Secretary to increase the weekly support rate for asylum seekers to £45. This was unusual in that the judge used the advice from civil servants to make a mandatory order. There has been no sign that the Home Secretary is likely to appeal.


Death penalty report

We are pleased to attach the death penalty report for December 2022 – January 2023 prepared by group member Lesley. Iran features prominently in this report with a spate of executions planned or already carried out following the widespread protests taking place around the country. Note, as ever, that China is not mentioned despite executing more of its citizens than any other country because details are a state secret.

Iran execution imminent

January 2023

It is feared that Iran is about to execute a British/Iranian man, Alireza Akbari, for allegedly spying. It is reported today (11 January) that he has been moved into solitary confinement which is a possible sign of imminent execution. He claims to have been tortured in prison and forced to confess to spying which he denies. The claim that he did so for a reward of perfume and a silk shirt does seem unlikely.

Iran’s human rights record is dismal and it is currently engaged in putting down protests violently.

Urgent Action: Iran

We attach an urgent action in relation to Iran where the authorities are using the death penalty to silence critics. Iran is already one of the world’s major executioners. In 2021 they executed at least 341 itself an increase on the previous year. If you have time to write that would be appreciated. [don’t forget to put your address on the rear of the envelop and do not use a Christmas stamp].

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”…


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.

Fascinating discussions at Lviv Book Forum

Several fascinating discussions at the Lviv Book Forum organised by the Hay Festival. Serious debate about the role of oligarchs in British cultural and political life

October 2022

If you missed the debates at the Lviv Book Forum you missed some of the best debates this year especially its focus on the role of Russian oligarchs and their dirty money in influencing British cultural and political life. Debates of this nature seldom make it into the open air in Britain, one reason being – as was explained – because of the effective lack of free speech in the UK arising from the punitive nature of our libel laws. Oligarchs and other wealthy individuals can launch what are termed SLAPPs (Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation) which effectively silence critics and frighten publishers and journalists. Costing millions to defend they exert a chilling effect in the UK and make Britain the libel capital of the world.

Why do Russians come to Britain and establish themselves here? This was a major part of the discussion because they are to be found in other parts of the world. There were a number of factors which made Britain particularly attractive it was explained. Firstly, English which was spoken internationally. Secondly, it was the no questions asked culture here: no one asked where the money came from and the agencies which were supposed to check on this kind of thing, looked the other way. Our private schools were another attraction as was easy access to and entry into, the political elite. Members of the Lords for example, were happy to sit on various boards of companies set up by the oligarchs. This easy access to the elite meant all sorts of powerful people were happy to attend parties where political influence took place. Fourthly, Oliver Bullough also spoke of the wide range of services offered in London for example, legal, financial and public relations. The ‘easy come, easy go’ culture combined to make London the key magnet for dirty money and illegal wealth.

One of the participants, Catherine Belton, spoke of the ease with which assets were acquired for example football clubs such as Chelsea. This provided further cultural power and how sports journalists were only too happy to criticise her work in return of favours and interviews with key players.

Misha Glenny explained the origins of the whole process which (as ever) started during Mrs Thatcher’s premiership although he said it carried on under Major, Blair and Brown and is well and truly alive today. Mrs Thatcher’s central plank was to reduce subsidies for the arts and encourage private patronage. This opened to door for wealthy individuals to put money into galleries, museums and orchestras and other cultural institutions. It also gave them influence over the sort of things which are put on.

But more importantly, it gave them a philanthropic reputation which brings us back to the libel issue because, to pursue a libel claim, you had to establish a reputation to defend here. Their philanthropy did this even though the sums involved were peanuts in terms of the wealth extracted from Russia.

The Independent (?) online newspaper, owned by an oligarch was give as an example with a piece it published regretting the non-invitation to Vladimir Putin to the Queen’s funeral.

In the following day’s session, Phillippe Sands spoke of the huge sums given to the Conservative party. He also spoke of the somewhat different opinion in the UK of Boris Johnson to that which he enjoys in Ukraine. The view in the UK was more ambiguous and even sinister. The point being that when Russia first started on its activities in that country, there were many in the UK who were able to downplay its importance and many happy to claim that ‘Ukraine was always part of Russia’.

The combination of these forces, the highly successful political and cultural influence the oligarchs had acquired, the ‘no questions asked’ financial milieu and the ease with which money could be siphoned off to network of tax havens centred on London, combined with massively expensive and oppressive libel laws, meant the UK’s political process has been compromised.

The implication for human rights is clear. Wealth and influence buys silence and complicity.

Matters changed with the invasion in February. Oligarch’s assets were frozen and the plight of Ukrainians could no longer be brushed away. Film of Russia’s activities, the massive number of human rights abuses and evidence of torture together with bombing civilian targets, became obvious to all. Suddenly, things Ukrainian were everywhere, with a concert at the Albert Hall for example and Ukrainian food being more visible. However, the speakers were not convinced this would be permanent. The scale of their financial power and the likelihood of compassion fatigue would probably mean over time, their steady return and influence.

If you missed it then you can access it via this link. Books referred to:

Moneyland, Oliver Bullough,

McMafia, Misha Glenny

Putin’s People, Catherine Belton

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