Refugee Report – June


Refugee Summary

July 2022

Following the frenetic events of the last week, it is probably worth taking a moment to see where we stand on the refugee front, 60 years after the first Commonwealth Immigrants Act began the process of legislating against incomers. The Nationality and Borders Act has now brought into force more of its provisions, including a Home Office explanation of  ”differentiation” between different types of refugee (the proposed two-tier system).  The effect is that it will take longer for some arrivals to be granted residency and harder for them to bring family to join them, but the changes are not huge, according to human rights lawyer, Colin Yeo, who commented:

The policy exemplifies Priti Patel’s modern Home Office.  It pretends to be tough as old boots but in reality it creates genuine but fairly minor problems for very vulnerable people with no likely policy outcomes achieved.  What it does do is make more work for officials, thereby worsening the backlogs in the asylum system.  It is not just pointless; it is actually counterproductive.

However, AI has commented in its monthly report to local groups the effect of the government’s effective withdrawal from the UN Refugee Convention (See foot of page).

The Afghanistan Citizens’ Resettlement Scheme (ACRS), which had opened in January, and is meant to take 20,000 refugees, has now added guidance on those seeking to come via Pathway 3 (mostly employees of UK organisations in Afghanistan).  Three groups have been established; those who had places allocated, but missed out (who will be assisted); those who came via the UNHCR (who can now begin to be referred) and those others at risk, such as women and girls (1500 places allocated).

In May, 2,871 migrants were apprehended crossing the Channel by small boat compared with 1,627 in May 2021, a 75% increase. Similarly, during the first three months of 2022, 4,540 people were detected arriving by small boats compared with 7,432 during the last half of April, May and June after the MoD took over.  The Navy is said to be keen to be let off enforcing control f the Channel, a policy on which they were not consulted.

By mid-June 77,000 Ukrainian refugees had entered the UK and 135,000 visas issued.  It may be noted that Germany has so far taken 700,000 refugees.

Although the courts have not yet decided whether offshoring asylum seekers to Rwanda is lawful, the Home Office plans further flights.  The HO said “No court has actually ruled that this partnership is unlawful and that includes the ECHR.”  Thanks are due to group members Peter and Lesley for protesting the planned flight from Boscombe Down and subsequent press appearances.

On the subject of tagging claimants, a 12-month pilot scheme is planned to test its value as a monitor and for collecting data – it is already in use for those on bail.

On the vexed issue of the actual ages of asylum seekers, the Home Office is recruiting 40 social workers to help assess claimants’ ages using “scientific” methods.

Statistics
  • Asylum claims Jan-Mar 2022 12,508 (for 2021 2,022)
  • Main countries of departure – Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Eritrea
  • Number waiting more than 6 months for a decision Q1 70,000 in 2017 the number was 14,000)
  • 75% of applicants receive grants of protection (Syrians are at 98%).
  • It is worth noting that the equivalent percentage in 2010 was 25% and in 1995 4% (with fewer applicants, iof course).
  • The number of enforced returns in 2020 was 3,000 (in 2010 15,000),
  • And voluntary returns 5,000 (against 30,000).

Clearly, asylum seekers are far more likely to be granted residence now than in earlier years, but are subject to far longer waits for the process to complete. Whether the new Act will alter this is open to debate.

Also: –

The Napier Barracks, which became notorious as an inadequate location for prospective arrivals, has been deemed to have improved since the original aim.  No immigrants now will spend more than 90 days there.

A Lords Committee looking into the document “Life in the UK”, prepared for those seeking settlement or citizenship, have described it as a “random election of obscure facts and subjective assertions.”

Refugee Week was held in late June this year, but passed with disappointingly little media coverage. AI supported a number of events under the umbrella.

Amnesty’s comment on the new refugee legislation:

On 28th June, the UK’s interpretation of the definition of a refugee and the rights to which every person who is a refugee is entitled will significantly change from that required by the Refugee Convention. What does this mean? It means the government is unlawfully rewriting its shared obligations under international law. To the extent, it is dangerously undermining what our country, not only agreed to, but helped draft and negotiate in 1951. 

These changes are lawless and reckless.  Its consequences directly contradict our values of shared humanity and compassion and have been rightly rejected by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, leading lawyers, and former senior judges in the UK.

Here are five things you need to know:

  1. The evidence refugees need to provide will become overly obstructive and wrongly prevent some refugees from proving their status and rights, making the lives of people that have fled war and persecution even harder.
  2. People who claim asylum based on their sexual identity or orientation being the cause of the persecution they face, will need to meet extra tests.  This will exclude thousands from the asylum they are entitled to and that they need to safeguard them from persecution.
  3. Refugees that arrive or enter the UK without prior permission will be penalised, both by criminal prosecution, imprisonment and by exclusion from their full rights to asylum in the UK, directly violating the Refugee Convention. 
  4. It will lead to the government refusing asylum to those who arrive or enter the UK without prior permission, presenting a grave risk that people are sent back to torture and other forms of persecution.
  5. It will discriminate between refugees in the UK by denying many of them their full and equal rights to asylum under the Refugee Convention. It will leave them:
  6. Insecure by periods of short-term permission to stay that must be constantly renewed by formal application
  7. Impoverished by exclusion from public funds
  8. Separated from family by denying or delaying family reunion rights.

Andrew Hemming

Nationality and Borders bill to become law


The Nationality and Borders bill was passed by parliament yesterday

Despite widespread criticism – including from its own backbenchers – the Nationality and Borders bill was passed by parliament on 27 April 2022. The bill has been contentious from the start and there were doubts that it would actually reach the stature book.

One of its principle aims has been to reduce people smuggling. It is highly unlikely to achieve that. Indeed, several of its aims, according to a wide range of critics, are unlikely to be achieved and even made worse.

It is truly a bleak day for refugees fleeing conflict and persecution

Amnesty International

By making it next to impossible to claim asylum from outside the UK, the government has created the perfect conditions for smuggling to survive. The idea that you cure a problem by simply outlawing it seems to be deep rooted in the Home Office and by the Home Secretary. The experience of banning alcohol in the US – which led directly to a massive increase in crime and bootlegging – and declaring drugs illegal, which has led to a multi-billion pound/dollar drug industry, seems lost on the government. The harder the government makes it for people fleeing conflict or persecution, the more the smugglers will step in to sell their wares. Yet Priti Patel seems to believe the opposite.

People arriving on the coast of Kent in flimsy boats and dinghies, led to a tabloid outrage and as ever, prompted the government to introduce bills such as this and to propose the Rwanda programme.

The Salisbury MP, John Glen, voted in favour of the bill.

Migrants to be sent to Rwanda under new scheme


Priti Patel launches new scheme to transfer migrants to Rwanda

The government is caught in pincer movement as far as immigration and asylum seekers are concerned. On the one hand are those seeking to cross the Channel in small boats or dinghies, who are to be deterred at all costs, and on the other are those fleeing the war in Ukraine who the public want to be treated sympathetically.

The Home Secretary Priti Patel announced today (14 April 2022) a scheme with an initial cost of £120m to fly immigrants to Rwanda where they will be ‘supported to build a new and prosperous life in one of the fastest growing economies recognised globally for its record on welcoming and integrating migrants’. Home Office press release 14 April 2022.

Perhaps there are two Rwanda’s: one in the imagination of the Home Secretary and the other which exists in the real world. The real world version is a long, long way from the idyllic country Ms Patel and the prime minister seem to imagine. The Amnesty country report in 2021/22 has a long list of human rights abuses which include disappearances and the use of torture. The case of Paul Rusesabingina has attracted some international attention. He was abducted from Dubai, tortured for 4 days, held incommunicado for a further 3 days and denied access to his lawyers for 6 weeks. Confidential documents from his lawyers were illegally confiscated.

The country has failed to ratify the Convention against Enforced Disappearance and there has been a lack of independent investigation into a number of deaths in custody.

There has been extensive use of the Israeli firm’s Pegasus Spyware which has been used against activists, journalists, political opponents, foreign politicians and diplomats.

Human Rights Watch report a lack of credible investigations into enforced disappearances or suspicious deaths in custody. They report the use of arbitrary detention, ill-treatment and torture in official and unofficial detention facilities and fair trial standards are regularly flouted.

The Conservative MP Rory Stewart, interviewed on the BBC’s PM programme, doubts if anyone will be sent to the country. The idea is intended, he believes, to be a stunt to detract attention from the government’s woes at present with both the prime minister and the chancellor having been issued fines by the Metropolitan Police as part of the ‘partygate’ scandal. Let us hope he is right although it is reported Priti Patel flew to Rwanda yesterday (13 April) to seal the deal. The long term costs are not known.

It is not clear who will administer the places where the migrants will be housed: the UK or Rwandan authorities. If it is the latter, then there is a high risk that they will be subject to abuse and mistreatment if their record with their own population is repeated.

The policy is reprehensible on many fronts and panders to popular opinion. The Daily Mail online has a number of below the line comments including ‘I think this is a great policy’ and ‘Great idea, well done government, its (sic) time to do something about it.’ The most popular, attracting 13,362 likes [accessed circa 18:15] from Jaygee in Bucks UK: ‘Let’s put it to a referendum. Probably 75% in favour, snowflakes 25%’. The overwhelming level of comments was favourable for the policy. Several comments refer approvingly of the Danish scheme to send people to Rwanda – which is no doubt where the Home Office got its ideas from – but whether the Danes have actually sent anyone is not at present clear. A similar scheme where Israel sent migrants to Rwanda was abandoned.

The migrant problem is greatly exaggerated. Britain receives many fewer refugees and asylum seekers – around 0.02% of the global total – than other comparable countries. We make it almost impossible to come here legally (hence the fuss over difficulties for Ukrainians) which leads to desperate measures in the Channel. Overall, migrants are a net benefit to the country as a number of Home Office studies have shown. As a wealthy country we have a moral obligation to ‘do our bit’ for the international crisis of people fleeing conflict, war or persecution. The government has allowed itself to be driven by tabloid stories which are often exaggerated and overtly hostile to those seeking to come here.

A shameful policy, of doubtful legality, expensive and very unlikely to work in practice. It is very revealing of a mindset however and is unworthy of a country which aspires to be an influence for good in the world.

CORRECTION: Rory Stewart is no longer an MP.

Sources: BBC; Amnesty International; HRW; Home Office; Daily Mail

Refugee developments


Issues to do with refugees and immigrants continue to make waves in the UK

The main development post-Christmas 2021 on the UK refugee front has been the announcement of plans for the proposed Afghan Citizens’ Resettlement Scheme, originally promised in the Summer. Ministers confirmed that the resettlement scheme will open this month, providing up to 20,000 Afghan women, children, and others most at risk with a safe and legal route to resettle in the UK.

The ACRS will build upon the UK’s continuing efforts to support those at risk, alongside the relocation of British nationals, and those who supported our armed forces through the Afghan Relocation and Assistance Policy (ARAP).

The ACRS will prioritise:

  • those who have assisted UK efforts in Afghanistan
  • extremely vulnerable people such as women and girls at risk and members of minority groups

Minister for Afghan Resettlement, Victoria Atkins, said:

“We are committed to supporting everyone we have evacuated from Afghanistan to make a success of their new life in the UK. I’m very grateful to everyone who has stepped forward to help. The Afghan citizens resettlement scheme provides a safe and legal way for the most vulnerable and at-risk people from Afghanistan to come to the United Kingdom and rebuild their lives, as part of the New Plan for Immigration. Operation Warm Welcome is a huge national effort which could not succeed without the compassion and determination of our partners in local government, the private sector, voluntary organisations and the great British public. “

Further details will be set out this month, but a row has immediately broken out about how many of the refugees are among those already in the UK and whether the “most vulnerable” will be able to be resettled before 2023.

In 2021 a total of 28,300 refugees and asylum seekers arrived in England by boat, three times the number for 2020. The largest number arrived in November, many of them from Afghanistan. The sharp increase in numbers is at least partly accounted for by the reduction in ferry crossings post-COVID and the tighter control of lorries using the Channel Tunnel.

Government figures show that only 1,171 refugees were granted protection through resettlement schemes in the year to September.

Border Force officers are threatening to strike in response to Home Secretary Priti Patel’s Channel “pushback” tactics. The Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) said it was “totally opposed” to Patel’s tactics, which would see Border Force jet skis block and redirect migrant boats in the Channel back toward France. Both PCS and the Care4Calais charity have announced they’ll take the Home Office to court over the policy, while PCS General Secretary Mark Serwotka said his members could go further by striking and refusing to implement it.

Home Office policy

The Independent revealed that the government has given more than £700,000 to a “migration behaviour change” company that runs communications campaigns targeting asylum seekers in their home countries.

The Home Secretary ‘s latest thinking on asylum seekers seems to be directed at keeping even tighter control of those awaiting decisions. Under the Home Office’s “new plan for immigration”, Patel is expected to announce early in the new year that small boat arrivals will be electronically tagged.

Ministers also hope tagging working-age people will make it harder for them to work illegally while their asylum claims are processed, and make it easier to remove those whose application for asylum has failed. The plan has been described as “desperate and draconian” by the chief executive of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants.

New bill

The Nationalities and Borders bill continues its progress, having now had a second reading in the Lords. The government’s current emphasis was expressed by Home Office minister Tom Pursglove, who said that the government was reforming its approach to asylum through its new plan for immigration.

“Seeking asylum for protection should not involve people asylum shopping country to country, or risking their lives by lining the pockets of criminal gangs to cross the Channel,” he said. “The nationality and borders bill will make it a criminal offence to knowingly arrive in the UK illegally and introduce life sentences for those who facilitate illegal entry into the country. It will also strengthen the powers of Border Force to stop and redirect vessels, while introducing new powers to remove asylum seekers to have their claims processed outside the UK.”

Free Movement have concluded that the changes to the bill have made it worse, mainly in the area of making it more difficult for asylum seekers to get hearings: “This Bill will entrench existing problems: people with a legitimate basis to stay in the UK – and genuine grounds to fear removal – can be removed without effective access to justice. Making it legally easier to remove people from the UK in principle does nothing to make the system any more efficient in practice. Greater effort should be made to increase the quality and accuracy of Home Office decision-making in the first place.”

Bridget Chapman, a blogger and refugee charity worker has noted the Home Office’s claims about the ages of migrants – her comments follow (courtesy of Free Movement)

  1. The Home Office has suggested that over 1,100 adults have lied and pretended to be child asylum seekers over the past year
  2. The Home Office has weaponised this claim and has used it to undermine sympathy for young refugees, saying they are not genuine children but predatory adult men
  3. Actually the figures are misleading anyway because of the completely inappropriate and inadequate ways in which assessments are made after young people arrive
  4. They are also misleading because many of the age assessments which find them to be adults are subsequently overturned (those pesky activist lawyers again, damn them)
  5. The Home Office is now promising ‘scientific methods’ for accurately assessing young people’s ages
  6. These methods don’t exist
  7. Much of the media are reporting on these ‘scientific methods’ and uncritically regurgitating Home Office press releases
  8. We should all be really cross about that
  9. There is a real danger to the many asylum-seeking children who are wrongly assessed as adults and have their safeguarding put at risk as a result
  10. Those of us working on the ground with young refugees have serious and growing concerns about this.

However, the biggest attacks on the bill have been about Clause 9, the ability of the Home Secretary to remove British citizenship more easily than at present. It has been suggested that this leaves up to 6 million citizens in jeopardy of such an eventuality.

On campaigning, note that the organisers of Refugee Week will be holding their planning conference online on two dates:

Monday 7 February 1030am – 1245pm
Friday 11 February 1030am – 1215pm

Places are available.


Other bills which will have an effect on human rights were discussed in a previous post.

Immigration talk in Southampton


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.

Salisbury firm alleged to be selling spyware to Bahrain


Firm based in Porton accused of selling spy equipment to harsh regimes

Considerable interest has been aroused in the last month or so concerning the use of Huawei technology to provide 5G connectivity in the UK.  Other countries in the ‘Five Eyes’ group – USA, Australia, Canada and New Zealand – will not use this equipment because of fears of intrusion by the Chinese state.  The worry is that the Chinese will gain a backdoor entry into our messages, emails and the like thus compromising our security.  For weeks, the issue has been discussed and could well have repercussions as far as our relationship with the Americans is concerned.

It was not that long ago that the UK and USA were revealed to be invading people’s messages on an industrial scale via the Prism and Tempora programmes.  21 petabytes of data are downloaded a day and there is huge process involved in sifting and selecting the messages which have been intercepted.  It therefore seems inconsistent to be worrying about Chinese intrusion when our own governments are heavily involved in doing the same thing.  The difference is one is our own people and the others are Chinese.  It is claimed that only metadata is collected by GCHQ.

The UK government sponsors an exhibition of security equipment at an event called Security and Policing held at Farnborough.  It is a similar exhibition to DSEI which takes place in London – also supported by the UK government – where arms firms exhibit their wares.  The guest list of both events reveal a range of authoritarian regimes as customers keen to get access to weapons and security equipment with which to maintain their hold on power.  Huawei has achieved considerable publicity for something they claim does not and will not happen while, by contrast, surveillance which is happening receives almost no coverage at all.

What do we mean by … ?

Of course, a lot depends on what we mean by ‘police’ and ‘security’.  Police forces around the world need equipment with which to tackle organised crime, drug smuggling, people trafficking and the like.  Countries might legitimately need equipment to intercept and interdict attempts to commit terrorist offences or attack their citizens.  The difference occurs when this equipment is used to silence critics of the regime, arrest and mistreat them or cause them to disappear.  If people who are peacefully protesting, seeking democracy, acting as human rights defenders or pursuing human rights, have their communications, emails and computers intercepted and compromised using UK manufactured kit then it can be argued this is wrong.  The government goes to great lengths to keep this activity confidential running the only closed event in the country, suggesting it knows that it is potentially damaging.  A member of the parliamentary Arms Export Committee, Lloyd Russell-Moyle, was barred from entering the 2019 exhibition which he said was deeply alarming.

Meanwhile, here in Salisbury …

In the village of Porton, just outside Salisbury – the same village as in Porton Down – is a firm, Gamma TSE which makes this equipment Finfisher and the aptly called Finspy.  What it does was hard to discover exactly but thanks to Wikileaks, details of its equipment are available for all to see.  A pdf which provides comprehensive details of the firm’s spying capabilities to covertly extract data from a computer system, bypass password protection and obtain information from a bank are all described in great detail.  Examples of its extensive interception capabilities are described in information sheets:

The FinIntrusion Kit was used to break the WPA encryption of a Target’s home Wireless network and then monitor his Webmail (Gmail, Yahoo, …) and Social Network (Facebook, MySpace, …) credentials, which enabled the investigators to remotely monitor these accounts from Headquarters without the need to be close to the Target.

Several customers used the FinIntrusion Kit to successfully compromise the security of networks and computer systems for offensive and defensive purposes using various Tools and Techniques.

The password ‘sniffer’ is described thus:

LAN/WLAN Active Password Sniffer
Captures even SSL-encrypted data like Webmail, Video Portals, Online-Banking and more.

It’s ability to gain access remotely:

Usage Example 1: Covert Operation
A source in an Organized Crime Group (OCG) was given a FinUSB Dongle that secretly extracted Account Credentials of Web and Email accounts and Microsoft Office documents from the Target Systems, while the OCG used the USB device to exchange regular files like Music, Video and Office Documents.

After returning the USB device to Headquarters the gathered data could be decrypted, analysed and used to constantly monitor the group remotely.

A worrying feature is the ability of Finspy to operate around the world:

FinSpy has been proven successful in operations around the world for many years, and valuable intelligence has been gathered about Target Individuals and Organizations.
When FinSpy is installed on a computer system it can be remotely controlled and accessed as soon as it is connected to the internet/network, no matter where in the world the Target System is based.  [our italics]

Since many dissidents or people in opposition to a particular regime have fled to Europe including the UK, it leaves open the question of whether this equipment is being used to monitor people now living in the UK.  This was a point made by Privacy International.

The firm also offers training and the list of courses tell their own chilling story:

Sample Course Subjects

· Profiling of Target Websites and Persons

· Tracing anonymous Emails

· Remote access to Webmail Accounts

· Security Assessment of Web-Servers & Web-Services

· Practical Software Exploitation

· Wireless IT Intrusion (WLAN/802.11 and Bluetooth)

· Attacks on critical Infrastructures

· Sniffing Data and User Credentials of Networks

· Monitoring Hot-Spots, Internet Cafés and Hotel Networks

· Intercepting and Recording Calls (VoIP and DECT)

· Cracking Password Hashes

The literature refers several times to ‘organised crime groups’ and this equipment is likely to be of value to police forces acting to stop such activity in their country.  The problem is that countries like Bahrain are likely to use these methods against democracy and human rights campaigners.

Implications

The law firm Leigh Day in London launched a claim in 2019 on behalf of four Bahraini nationals who had been targeted using information obtained using this technology.  Privacy International identified Gamma as having sold this technology to Bahrain:

In 2012, Citizen Lab, a think-tank operating out of the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto, came across evidence suggesting that Gamma International, a multinational technology corporation with offices across the world, sold a form of malware called FinFisher to Bahrain. Bahraini activists, amongst others, were seriously concerned: FinFisher gives its operator complete access to a target’s computer and mobile phone. That kind of technology in the hands of a state like Bahrain, with its record of human rights abuse, would put at risk a great many people’s lives.

Gamma emphatically denied selling this kit to Bahrain.  However, documents subsequently discovered provided evidence that they had already done so.   The cruel treatment of these elderly individuals is described in an Amnesty report and includes the denial of medical treatment and medication.  A solicitor acting for Gamma says there is no evidence of the firm being involved in human rights abuses and they will defend the claim being made against them.

Gamma are not the only firm selling this equipment.  The UK government has been, and is planning to again, to run the secretive exhibition keeping close control over who attends and keeping anyone away who might question its ethics.  The UK government has made no comment on the actions of the Bahraini authorities, or the allegations of Gamma’s alleged involvement.  If the surveillance by the Bahraini authorities is carried out on computers located within the UK, it is unlawful.

It appears to be a worrying sign of increasing indifference by the UK government of the effects on ordinary people living under oppressive regimes who suffer from the use of arms and surveillance equipment supplied by firms based here in the Britain.  It is inconceivable that GCHQ is unaware of what this firm is doing and its client list around the world which includes several of these regimes.  This indifference is damaging to our reputation and parliamentarians should be asking searching questions of the minister.  The British government has many relationships with the Bahraini royal family.  The Queen and other members of the royal household meet quite regularly.  Today, (10 February 2020) it was reported that Liam Fox met the Bahraini crown prince to lobby on behalf of Petrofac, the owner of which is a major Conservative party donor (£800,000).  It seems quite clear that trade considerations trump human rights issues in government thinking.

Sources:  Amnesty International; Campaign Against the Arms Trade; Citizen’s Lab (Canada); WikiLeaks; Gamma; VICE; the Guardian; Privacy International


If you want to join the Salisbury group you would be most welcome.  We meet every second Thursday (except August) in Victoria Road at 7:30.  Otherwise keep an eye on this site, on Facebook or Twitter and make yourself known at one our events.

 

 

Sajid Javid breaches death penalty policy


Sajid Javid proposes allowing ISIL individuals to be sent to the USA with the risk of torture and execution

UPDATE: 1 August.  Article by Bharat Malkani in British Politics and Policy published by LSE which goes into the wider aspects of British policy in connection with executions on foreign soil. 

UPDATE: 26 July.  Following considerable protest over this decision, the government today announced a temporary suspension of the cooperation with the US over the case.

It has been widely reported today that the Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, is withdrawing the long-standing objections the UK has had to sending people to the USA where they risk being executed. The USA is the only country in the Americas which still has the death penalty. We continue to document cases in our monthly reports.

The two individuals who are involved are Alexanda Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh, both from West London.  They were part of a group of individuals from the UK who joined ISIS and allegedly perpetrated some dreadful crimes including beheadings.  They allegedly murdered two US journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, British aid workers David Haines and Alan Henning and aid worker and Iraq war veteran Peter Kassig.  Investigations have been continuing for 4 years and the question has arisen of where they should be tried.

The UK government has a long-standing policy of opposing the death penalty abroad in all circumstances.  It has also been active in trying to persuade those countries which continue to use it, to stop.  Amnesty is opposed to the practice as it has a number of serious flaws.  It is ineffective in preventing crime and it is not a deterrent.  Mistakes cannot be put right.  In the case of terrorists, it risks creating martyrs and spawning others who want to avenge the executions.

It is therefore particularly depressing to see our home secretary acceding to the request.  The full text shows that it is because he believes a successful federal prosecution in the US is more likely to be possible because of differences in their statute book and the restrictions on challenges to the route by which defendants appear in US courts.  In his leaked letter to Jeff Sessions, the US Attorney General, he says on the matter of sending them to the States:

[…] All assistance and material will be provided on the condition that it may only be used for the purpose sought in that request, namely a federal criminal investigation or prosecution.

Furthermore, I am of the view that there are strong reasons for not requiring a death penalty assurance in this specific case, so no such assurances will be sought.  From the letter published in the Mail Online [accessed 23 July 2018]

The decision has received widespread criticism.  Alan Howarth, the head of advocacy and programmes, at Amnesty International said:

This is a deeply worrying development.  The home secretary must unequivocally insist that Britain’s longstanding position on the death penalty has not changed and seek cast-iron assurances from the US that it will not be used.

A failure to seek assurances on this case seriously jeopardises the UK’s position as a strong advocate for the abolition of the death penalty and its work encouraging others to abolish the cruel, inhuman and degrading practice.

Other criticisms have come from Shami Chakrabarti, Labour’s shadow Attorney General and Lord Carlile who said on the BBC the decision was extraordinary and:

It is a dramatic change of policy by a minister, secretly, without any discussion in parliament.  It flies in the face of what has been said repeatedly and recently by the Home Office – including when Theresa May was home secretary – and very recently by the highly respected security minister, Ben Wallace.

Britain has always said that it will pass information and intelligence, in appropriate cases, provided there is no death penalty.  That is a decades-old policy and it is not for the home secretary to change that policy.  BBC Today programme 23 July 2018

There is also the question of the use of torture.  Will either or both of them be sent to Guantanamo Bay to receive abusive treatment including water boarding?  Coming so soon after a select committee roundly criticized the government for its role in torture and rendition, this is a surprising and disappointing development.

The full text of the letter can be seen here.

Sources: Amnesty; BBC; the Guardian; Mail on line


If you live in the Salisbury area and are interested in human rights issues please feel free to join us.  Keep and eye on this site and Facebook for events and come along and make yourself known.  It is free to join the local group but there is a joining fee to join AIUK.

 

 

Asylum Monologues


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.

Salisbury firm involved in spyware


A Salisbury based firm, Gamma TSE, has been accused of supplying spyware to enable Bahraini activists to be arrested

UPDATE 15 March 17

Extract from a recent University of Toronto report:

[…] Far from using this spyware solely to track what might be considered legitimate targets, these countries and their shadowy agencies have repeatedly used them to get inside the computers of human rights activists, journalists, opposition politicians, and even health advocates supporting a soda tax in Mexico. Some of the victims of these campaigns have found themselves arrested and tortured. Leaked emails from certain companies reveal that, despite public assurances by executives, the vendors seem cavalier about these type of abuses, have few internal checks in place to prevent them, and, indeed, knowingly court the clandestine agencies responsible for such abuses. Despite these alarming incidents, however, the dynamics of and participants in the market at large remain opaque. 

While arguments rage in the USA concerning the alleged interference by Russia of the

Porton Business Centre
Porton Business Centre

presidential elections, a secretive Salisbury based firm, Gamma TSE, has been accused by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development of supplying software called FinFisher or FinSpy to the authorities in Bahrain and elsewhere.  This software enables intelligence agencies to insert Trojan software into computers and mobile phones.  This in turn enables people critical of the regime to be tracked and if necessary arrested by the security services.  The University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab is documenting the widespread use of this spying software.

Privacy International, Bahrain Watch, the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights and Reporters Without Borders lodged a complaint with the European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights.  They allege that the equipment is used by repressive regimes to harass and target dissidents, politicians and human rights activists.

Our involvement with repressive states – especially those in the Gulf – is well-known and Theresa May recently visited Bahrain to promote business interests in the kingdom.  As we have noted many times before, there seems little interest in the consequences of our arms and security companies activities on the ordinary people who live in those countries, the death and destruction in Yemen being particularly awful.

Part of the units occupied by Gamma in Porton
Part of the units occupied by Gamma in Porton

Gamma is again in the news today (9 January 2017, p13) in a Times article entitled ‘No 10 linked to spyware in human rights row’ which reveals that despite the criticism by the OECD, they have been invited to the Home Office sponsored International Security and Policing exhibition in London.  Amnesty reports show that the human rights situation in Bahrain is very poor with reports of torture and other forms of abuse:

[it] details dozens of cases of detainees being beaten, deprived of sleep and adequate food, burned with cigarettes, sexually assaulted, subjected to electric shocks and burned with an iron.  One was raped by having a plastic pipe inserted into his anus.

It said the report showed torture, arbitrary detentions and excessive use of force against peaceful activists and government critics remained widespread in Bahrain.

The OECD report was not conclusive about Gamma as it was a ‘reluctant participant in the proceedings refusing to productively engage in a September 2013 mediation and employed stalling efforts.’

Privacy International say:

Gamma has proven itself to be and irresponsible corporate actor that is indifferent to the human rights impacts of its activities.

The Amnesty report also says:

The government [of Bahrain] continued to curtail freedoms of expression, association and assembly and cracked down further on online and other dissent. Opposition leaders remained imprisoned; some were prisoners of conscience. Torture and other ill-treatment remained common. Scores were sentenced to long prison terms after unfair trials. Authorities stripped at least 208 people of their Bahraini nationality. Eight people were sentenced to death; there were no executions.

A firm helping regimes with a record of mistreating its citizens and regularly using torture, is based in the village of Porton, near Salisbury, Wiltshire.

 

 

 

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