We held our annual market stall in Salisbury Market, Saturday 22 April and it was a success. We stayed until nearly 1 pm and there was a steady flow of customers throughout the morning. It’s surprising to note what sells and doesn’t sell each year: this year saw books sell well whereas there was little interest in CDs for example. Pictures all cleared. One picture is off to hang is a café in Oregon and another was going to Virginia. Thanks to supporters for coming and helping.
We are pleased to attach the minutes of the April meeting thanks to group member Lesley for producing them. It contains a number of activities and reports of interest. We shall be holding our annual fund raising stall in the market place this Saturday 23rd and if members and supporters have any thing to sell that would be appreciated. Bric-a-brac is popular, good books, china and pottery are also wanted. No electrical goods.
It will also be an opportunity to make yourself known if you are interested in joining us.
We are pleased to attach this month’s death penalty report for the period mid March to Mid April thanks to group member Lesley for compiling it. Note that China is believed to execute more of its citizens than the rest of the world combined but details are a state secret.
Refugees summary for the period mid March to mid April.
With the third reading of the Illegal Migration Bill due on the 25th April, the main centre of debate this month has been over the accommodation problems for refugees awaiting processing by the Home Office. With the cost of hotels soaring, other possibly cheaper options are being considered. The most notable suggestion has been for housing applicants on the barge Bibby Stockholm off the Dorset coast.
Asylum seekers will be housed in the most basic accommodation possible, including disused army bases, airfields and possibly ships, to save money and to dissuade people from coming to the UK, the government has said. Conservative MPs with possible sites in their constituencies are not happy; one suggestion to use an airfield in Essex has been opposed by Priti Patel, so the plan looks fraught. On the Home Office’s calculations the planned accommodation would take on a total of 5400 single men.
In a Commons statement setting out the next stage in the plans to reduce asylum claims in the UK, Robert Jenrick, the immigration minister, said the plans would meet legal requirements to ensure that those who arrived were not made “destitute”, but nothing more. “We must not elevate the wellbeing of illegal migrants above those of the British people,” he told MPs.
After falling by 17% on last year’s figures, the number of boat arrivals was at a record 1000 last week.
It has been noted that up to one third of the overseas aid budget is now being spent on the domestic asylum system.
Arguments continue about the methods of assessing the age of arrivals claiming to be children. The government intends to continue with its “biological” checks although these have been dismissed as not working. Presently about 15% of those claiming children status are found to be adults.
A 2021 report by the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration on an inspection of asylum casework found poor workplace culture, low morale and high attrition. According to a recent letter to the Home Affairs Select Committee the annual attrition in the 2021/2 financial year was 46%. The Inspector cited pressure to meet targets, the downgrading of the decision-maker role in 2014 and poor career progression as key contributing factors to this problem.
A decline in productivity is borne out in official statistics, with the Institute for Government calculating that there has been a 62% decrease in asylum decision making rates between 2011/12 and 2021/22, despite an increase in the number of caseworkers. This demonstrates that simply increasing the number of caseworkers, as proposed by the Prime Minister in December 2022, will not alone address the productivity issues.
Reducing unnecessary processes in the asylum decision-making system could help reduce the asylum backlog. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees have recommended that the UK better triages cases to “enable those with vulnerabilities and/or meritorious claims to obtain the protection they need on a timely basis”, as well as recommending the introduction of simplified asylum case processing, for example through the use of “pre-filled caseload specific templates for interviews”. Applications from countries that have been identified as having high grant rates, such as Afghanistan, Syria, Libya, Eritrea and Yemen, could be suitable for such processes.
The Home Office has been accused of “blocking” MPs from helping desperate asylum seeker constituents despite the backlogs in the department. Labour MP Kate Osamor has been seeking to help a family of five, including a newborn, facing imminent homelessness in her Edmonton constituency. They submitted an asylum application last September and are in the usual state of limbo. Ms Osamor says when she contacted the Migrant Help charity on their behalf she was told they were unable to deal with MPs directly. Migrant Help is an advice charity and is the Advice Issue Reporting and Eligibility provider appointed by the Home Office.
When contacted by The Independent, a Migrant Help adviser said: “I am afraid Migrant Help are not contracted to respond to MPs correspondence and have forwarded the attached to the MP correspondence team. Our call handlers will reach out to the service user to see if there is any further support they can provide. I would like to clarify that not responding to MP enquiries is not a Migrant Help policy but a directive given to us by the Home Office as part of our work under the advice, issue reporting and eligibility (AIRE) contract. I have expressed concerns regarding this process”.
Members of the Salisbury group attended the conference in Exeter
It was good to get back to having a conference after a two year hiatus because of Covid. It was extremely well attended with over 60 people coming from all over the region including Penzance in the west and ourselves and people from Southampton in the east. To open, there was a video from Agnès Callamard, the Secretary General of Amnesty International.
Among the speakers was Tom Davis who addressed the subject of protecting the protest. A series of bills have been introduced by the present government, some in advanced stages of enactment, which individually and collectively will have a serious effect on the rights of citizens to protest. There is no direct right to protest but it is inherent in the right of free speech and the right of assembly. It is sometimes forgotten that the protests of people in the past have brought much needed social change to our nation. Women would not have the vote without it; workplace laws would not have happened without it. The riots after the Peterloo massacre brought change and the Great Reform Act. Throughout our history there has been protest, sometimes violent, in an attempt to force change.
Recently, Extinction Rebellion have mounted a series of protests in their campaign to promote more attention to climate change and, in their view, insufficient and inadequate action by the government to tackle it. Many have objected to the inconvenience their actions have caused. Almost certainly, the succession of bills have had as a focus, giving police the means to frustrate these protests. For example, introducing the crime of ‘locking on’ to make it an offence to glue oneself to the pavement or link arms. Have we forgotten that the suffragettes chained themselves to railings?
Tom said the Public Order bill, currently weaving its way through parliament, was “deeply, deeply, concerning”. The police will be able to prevent people from attending protests in certain circumstances. The intention appears to be to so limit the ability to protest to those which no one notices. It is disappointing to note that Sir Keir Starmer is supporting some of the measures.
It seemed appropriate that another speaker was a journalist from Nicaragua. She is currently at the University of York, but were she to return to her country she will be arrested. Nicaragua is the only country in the Americas which has no newspaper she said. All have been shut down by the government. Daniel Ortega runs a brutal regime, any protest results in arrest and long sentences. The prisons are dangerously overcrowded and violent. The Pope recently described the state as a dictatorship resulting in Ortega cutting off diplomatic relations with the Vatican.
Photos show a quick demonstration in front of the Cathedral and people getting ready for the conference at the Mint in Exeter. Photos: Salisbury Amnesty
All praise to the Exeter group of Amnesty for hosting and organising this event.
New British/Israeli agreement opposes use of the word ‘Apartheid’ to describe Israeli actions against the Palestinians
On Tuesday, the UK government signed an agreement with the Israeli government part of which agreed to oppose the use of the word ‘Apartheid’ to describe Israeli’s actions in the occupied areas. Three substantial reports have been published describing the system in operation: one by Human Rights Watch, one by Amnesty and one by B’Tselem in Israel itself. We provided links to each in a previous post. Each is a closely argued and evidenced document and to our knowledge, has not received a detailed rebuttal from the Israeli government. Haaretz and other news organisations described Israel’s reaction to the Amnesty report as ‘hysterical’. The Israeli government described Amnesty as ‘anti-Semitic’.
The agreement says that it will also seek to confront anti-Israel bias in international relations including in the UN. The Palestinian Ambassador said it represented ‘an abdication of the UK’s responsibilities under international law and the UK’s unique responsibility to the Palestinian issue’.
President Netanyahu is on a visit to the UK this week and was met by a demonstration of Jewish people when he visited 10, Downing Street for a meeting with the prime minister. Banners and cries of ‘Dictator on the run’ greeted his arrival. There have been months of demonstrations in Israel itself over proposals to prevent Netanyahu being deprived of office if he is found guilty of corruption and other crimes (which he denies). The agreement’s description as a ‘freedom loving and thriving democracy’ seems extraordinary in view of these events.
The evidence of Israel’s mistreatment of its Arab population has been well documented. Many Israel politicians and writers have warned of the steady slide towards apartheid as has the Israeli group Yesh Din who gave a legal opinion that ‘the crime against humanity of apartheid is being committed on the West Bank’.
Israeli politicians have become increasingly worried that the unquestioning support the country received from the US is beginning to waver. More and more Americans are beginning to doubt Israeli actions and protestations of a desire for peace. The unquestioning and uncritical support by the UK government by contrast will be very welcome therefore. In addition to the Conservatives, Sir Keir Starmer is quoted as saying that ‘Israel is not an apartheid state’. Labour has experienced severe problems concerning alleged anti-Semitism and the party is keen to ‘root out’ the problem to use Starmer’s words. Neither party seems able to look at the evidence and they deny the facts, if for different reasons.
This is yet one more action by the UK government which seems to demonstrate an almost wilful neglect of human rights norms both within the UK and overseas. Its desire to get rid of the Human Rights Act as well as other legislation limiting the ability to protest or seek judicial review represent an increasingly authoritarian view. An official was quoted as saying that moral considerations now come a poor second to business and diplomacy.
Sources: International Centre for Justice for Palestine; Haaretz (English); Human Rights Watch; Amnesty International; Middle East Eye; Daily Mail; Guardian; Jewish Chronical.
This week, the Playhouse is performing the Beekeeper of Aleppo and members of the Salisbury group will be present before the performance and during the interval. It will be a good opportunity for anyone interested in the group’s activities to make themselves known.
Journal publishes forthright piece on the subject of refugees
The Salisbury Journal is a local paper in the United Kingdom and is fond of publishing self-promoting puff pieces by our local MPs, so a forthright article by Martin Field in the March 16 2023 edition is worth highlighting. It concerned the controversy surrounding the suspension, and subsequent reinstatement, of Gary Lineker who presents the Saturday night BBC programme on football called Match of the Day. It arose following the publication of Illegal Migration Bill the previous week and Gary’s tweet comparing aspects of the bill to the actions of the National Socialists in ’30s Germany. The tweet caused a huge outrage against both Lineker and the BBC by a number of Conservative politicians together with sections of the right wing media.
Several commentators have wondered, like Field, whether the intensity of the furore was intended to be a distraction from the underlying issue. Field reminds us that the bill proposes that people who are fleeing persecution, who may have a legitimate claim for asylum and have family and relatives here, will never be able to have their claim heard and will be deported.
He says that they [refugees] are not being treated as individuals, as fellow human beings but classified generically, as members of a group, defined not by human characteristics, but by their manner of arrival in the UK.
“Make no mistake. This is a slippery slope. Removing people’s humanity through language is the first step; through law which criminalises them and takes away their rights the second; extremists emboldened the third; [then] inhumane and degrading treatment will follow. The lesson from history is unequivocal”.
In the same paper was a piece by Tom Bromley also referring to the Lineker affair and wider issues around allegations of impartiality by the BBC.
Refugees, and the boat people in particular, have raised great passions in the UK so it is interesting – and encouraging – to read of two commentators in the Journal expressing doubts about the bill and the subsequent events at the BBC.
The Archbishop of York, Stephen Cottrell, declared the bill ‘[it] amounts to cruelty without purpose’ and to be ‘immoral and inept’.
To note that Salisbury MP John Glen and Devizes MP Danny Kruger both voted for the second reading of the bill on 13 March.
These are the minutes of the group’s meeting in March thanks to group member Lesley for preparing them. There are a number of forthcoming events at which anyone thinking of joining us could make themselves known. Of special note is the annual market stall so if you have items which you can donate that will be appreciated.
NOTE: there is an error under ‘matters arising’ – 15th May should read 15th March that is this Wednesday.
This is a short list of some of our forthcoming activities. Fuller details will be in the minutes which will be posted up in the next few days. These are all events where, if you’re thinking of joining us, it would be a good chance to come and say hello. It is free to join the local group but to get the full benefit of Amnesty then there is a fee to join AIUK in London.
Next week there is the annual evensong at the Cathedral starting at 5:30 on 16th March. COMPLETED
We shall be present at the Playhouse between 21st and 25th March during performances of the Beekeeper of Aleppo. We shall be handing out leaflets on the subject of refugees – an especially hot topic at present with the government’s proposed laws to curtail the boat crossings. COMPLETED
We shall be holding our market stall on 22nd of April in the Market Square. If you are able to bring anything for sale that would be appreciated. Quality books, plants, bric-a-brac, jewellery and china ware all popular. No electrical goods please. We shall be there early. COMPLETED
People in the Park on 20th May in Queen Elizabeth Gardens where we shall be for most of the day. Not sure what the theme will be yet but probably around one or other of the bills the government is pursuing to curtail protest and opposition to their policies.
We look forward to seeing at one or more of these events.