Posts Tagged ‘asylum seekers’


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.


‘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.


UPDATE: 22 February

Reported in the Salisbury Journal that Reza in ‘in a really bad place’ physically and mentally.  See the Journal article.

 

A Salisbury refugee has been arrested and is under threat of deportation

A refugee who has been living in Salisbury for 2 years was back in the news this week following his arrest in Melksham.  He was scheduled to be deported back to Afghanistan, the second most dangerous country in the world according to the FCO.

Reza Magsoudi fled Afghanistan in 2004 when he was 13 and travelled alone to the UK.  Early in November 2017 he was summoned to Melksham police station for the routine procedure of declaring his whereabouts in the UK, whereupon he was arrested.  He was taken to Tinsley House in Gatwick from where he was due to be deported.

He was granted leave to remain in 2008 and has applied for asylum but for the most part without legal assistance.  His English is said to be poor.  There is now to be a judicial review.  A Change.org petition has achieved 73,000 signatures.

He has been supported during his stay in Salisbury by Derri Southwood who has had considerable difficulty in making contact since his incarceration in Gatwick.  BBC Wiltshire had several pieces on this topic on their morning show this week and a reporter has gained access to Tinsley House but was unable to tape an interview with him.

Issues

The case raises a number of issues concerning asylum policy in the UK and highlights the country’s poor record in offering a home to those fleeing war-torn countries.  The UK does however contribute a great deal of aid to those countries who have high levels of refugees but is reluctant to help those who come here.

Part of the reason is the myth that large numbers of people are ‘flooding’ into the country.  The facts do not support this myth.  Countries such as Turkey, Pakistan and Jordan have a much, much higher numbers in their countries out of a world wide population of around 14 million refugees.  By contrast, in quarter 2 of this year for example, there were 6,172 applications for asylum of which 65% were refused.  This sort of statistic is fairly constant quarter by quarter (Source: Refugee Council).  This is a tiny number of people in view of the world wide figure yet the impression created by some sections of the media is that we are somehow the principal port of call for refugees.

The UK no longer has a welcoming attitude to refugees and successive policies have sought to make it tougher and tougher to achieve leave to remain.  An analysis of statistics and policy by four newspapers (Guardian; Le monde; Der Spiegel and El Pais) found that:

The analysis found that Britain takes fewer refugees, offers less generous financial support, provides housing that is often substandard, does not give asylum seekers the right to work, has been known to punish those who volunteer and routinely forces people into destitution and even homelessness when they are granted refugee status due to bureaucratic delays.

This was worse than any other country except Italy.

What is often overlooked in these debates is that the reason why there is conflict and a country riven by war is partly the result of our colonial and imperial activities in the past.  Most obviously the Israeli and Palestinian conflict; the division of lands in the middle east after the fall of the Ottoman Empire following the Great War; the Yemen conflict today where we continue to sell arms to the Saudis causing enormous hardship to the people there, and our invasion of Libya which has led to instability, violence and also allowed people smugglers to prosper.  So we had a major historical impact and continue to do so by supplying arms which increases the level of conflict.

Looking at the below the line comments in the Salisbury Journal article, one gets a taste of the vitriol that the whole question of refugees generates.  Someone who calls him or herself ‘art91e’ says:

He has no right to be here, he serves no useful purpose, he’s illiterate after 13 years here, so he certainly did not do an apprenticeship … that is a lie!  Send him home asap.

The great majority of comments were sympathetic however.

Mr Glen, the Salisbury MP, has become involved and has promised to make contact with the minister’s office and to do what he can.  The problem – not unique to MPs like Mr Glen – is that the Home Office is carrying out government policy which has been supported by him.  It illustrates the problem of myths in the media being left unchallenged but which have a huge influence on how people think.  This drives policy and has created a harsh environment for asylum seekers.  They have become a problem best solved by keeping them out in the first place and then throwing them out if at all possible if they do make it here.

We await developments.


Don’t forget to visit our refugee photo exhibition in the Library which is running until the end of December.  Please sign or comment in the visitor’s book if you do go.  Follow us on Facebook and Twitter, Salisburyai.

We shall be card signing in the Library passage on Saturday morning 16th between 10 and noon.


Ice and Fire to perform in Salisbury

The performing group Ice and Fire are to perform in Salisbury at Sarum College on 18 September starting at 7:30.  The performance will consist of readings from testimonies of refugees, human rights lawyers and home office workers, to show how the system of asylum seeking and acquiring refugee status works in reality in the UK.  It forms part of Amnesty’s continuing campaign to highlight the plight of refugees and how they are treated here.

There is considerable hostility to refugees and asylum seekers with many stories in our tabloid newspapers of such people abusing the system.  People are led to believe that hoards are arriving here and living in hotels by the seaside and costing the country huge sums of money.  The reality is the UK has only 1% of the world’s refugees and has received around 3% of asylum claims made in the EU.

The event is FREE but there will be a parting collection.

A review by The Cambridge Student of an earlier performance.


If you live in the Salisbury area and are interested in joining us you would be very welcome.  If you can come to this event, several group members will be about so just make yourself known.  It is free to join the local group.  Details of other activities will be on this site and on Facebook and Twitter – salisburyai.