Posts Tagged ‘Priti Patel’


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.


Shamima Begum, who left east London to join IS when she was 15, will be not allowed to return home to challenge the Home Office’s decision to revoke her citizenship, after a decision by the UK’s highest court

[We have used much of the text from Each Other in the preparation of this post.]

There can be few people reading about the Shamima Begum case, who will not recall something they did or said when they were 15 and quietly shudder.  That period between childhood and adulthood is filled with embarrassments, misjudgements and actions best forgotten.  For most, these events were inconsequential and caused no harm.  For Shamima Begum they resulted in the Supreme Court and a life in limbo.  Her three children have all died.  She and two others, left the UK to join ISIS, a barbaric regime which committed multiple acts of terror and carried out multiple executions by beheading.

The Supreme Court has now ruled she cannot return to the UK.  The decision by the Supreme Court follows an earlier ruling where the Court of Appeal said she should be allowed to return.  Currently Ms Begum, now 21, is in a camp controlled by armed guards in Syria, where she is currently unable to speak to her British lawyers.

Announcing the judgement, Lord Reed said the Court of Appeal was ‘mistaken’ in believing that ‘her right to a fair hearing must prevail’ when it came into conflict with the requirements of national security.  “The right to a fair hearing does not trump all other considerations, such as the safety of the public,” he added.

However, the move has been heavily criticised by human rights groups, who say it creates a ‘dangerous precedent’ and is a ‘misuse of extreme power’.

In a statement, Liberty lawyer Rosie Brighthouse said:

The right to a fair trial is not something democratic Governments should take away on a whim, and nor is someone’s British citizenship.  If a Government is allowed to wield extreme powers like banishment without the basic safeguards of a fair trial it sets an extremely dangerous precedent.  If a Government is allowed to wield extreme powers like banishment without the basic safeguard of a fair trial it sets an extremely dangerous precedent.  Rosie Brighthouse, Liberty

Similarly, Maya Foa, director of Reprieve calling the move a ‘cynical ploy to make her some one else’s responsibility’. She added:

The Government should bring the British families back to the UK so that children can be provided with support they need, and adults can be prosecuted where there are charges to answer.  Abandoning them in a legal black hole – in Guantanamo-like conditions – is out of step with British values and the interests of justice and security.

What’s The Background To This Case?

In 2015, Begum left her family in Bethnal Green behind to travel to the city of Raqqa, with two school friends, and marry a Dutch fighter.  She was just 15 at the time, and still legally a child.  She was found, heavily pregnant, by a Times journalist in a Syrian refugee camp in February 2019.  Former home secretary Sajid Javid stripped her of her British citizenship later that month.

Begum and her lawyers appealed the move, arguing it was illegal under international law and exposed her to a real risk of death or inhuman and degrading treatment.

The now 21 year old has given birth to three children in Syria – all of whom have died from illnesses.

Begum and her legal team lost the first stage of their appeal at the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (Siac) – the specialist tribunal which hears challenges to decisions to revoke people’s citizenship on national security grounds – in February 2020

The tribunal decided that Begum was lawfully made stateless because she could turn to Bangladesh, her parents’ country of origin, for citizenship – despite this being refuted by authorities in Bangladesh.  She has never held a Bangladeshi passport.  That is not a perfect solution, as it is not known how long it may be before that it is possible. But there is no perfect solution to a dilemma of the present kind.

Lord Reed

However, the decision was then overturned by the Court of Appeal, who said ‘the only way in which she could have a fair and effective appeal is to be permitted to come to the United Kingdom’.  The Government, however, appealed.  This is the judgement that has just taken place at the Supreme Court.

In today’s ruling, Lord Reed said the ‘appropriate answer’ was not to force the Government to bring her back to the UK – but instead to pause her legal fight over citizenship until she was in a safer position to take part in the appeal.  He added: ‘That is not a perfect solution, as it is not known how long it may be before that is possible. But there is no perfect solution to a dilemma of the present kind.’

What Is Statelessness?

Under international law, a stateless person is someone who is “not considered as a national by any state under the operation of its law.”  This definition derives from Article 1 of the 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons.

The UK uses this definition to provide rules about who can stay in Britain as a stateless person.  Under the Immigration Rules Part 14, a person may not be given permission to stay if they can live permanently in another country or if they have a criminal record.

The United Nations High Commissioner Report (UNHCR) estimates that there are around 10 million stateless people living globally, although the exact figure is not known.

Is Nationality A Human right?

Yes, and it is internationally recognised as such.  The legal instruments that describe nationality as a human right include the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, and many more.

‘Arbitrary deprivation of nationality’, which means deliberately moving to make a citizen stateless, is prohibited under these instruments.   Article 15 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is particularly explicit on this point.

Making someone stateless doesn’t just impact a person’s right to a nationality, it affects their access to other human rights too.  Without a nationality, a person will not be able to travel, to have access to healthcare, employment, and not have any way of supporting themselves.  There is no recourse of any state to help them survive.  They will never be able to involve themselves in education, social security, political discourse or protect themselves legally.

The legal decision was welcomed by the government and the Home Secretary, Priti Patel.  It is likely that the home secretary thought this would be a popular decision with the right wing media but surprisingly, an article in the Daily Mail, pointed out that she was a child when she left and also, that many jihadis have returned to Britain to face trial.  If male members of ISIS can return, why cannot a female member?  The Sun also reported it in less than exultant terms.

We are grateful to Each Other for use of much of their text


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Billy Wardlow was executed in Texas yesterday, 8 July 2020, despite massive campaign for clemency

Billy Joe Wardlow was executed on Wednesday night in Huntsville, Texas for a murder committed in 1993 when he was 18.  The campaign has focused on his age at the time of the murder arguing that at 18, he was still immature.  The campaign on his behalf was turned down by the Supreme Court.  Since 2005, the Supreme Court has held that the death sentence is unconstitutional for those who are 17 or younger, partly because of their ‘still undefined identity.’

The USA is the only country in the Americas which retains the penalty in some states at least.  In fact, the use of the penalty is in steady decline in the States even in Texas, the state with the highest number of executions (548 since 1976).  It is because of a series of factors.  More programmes on TV showing mistakes and miscarriages of justice have had an effect.  The cost of carrying out executions and years of appeals meaning large numbers spend years on death row.  Difficulties in obtaining drugs for lethal injections with European firms refusing to supply them.

According to a 2018 BBC report ‘the death penalty wouldn’t have survived in America if it weren’t for evangelical Christians’.  This is according to Shane Claiborne a Christian activist.  By contrast, the Pope has condemned the use of the penalty.

One aspect of the abolition debate is whether it is effective or not in deterring crime.  Some say it is and some not.  The Death Penalty Information Center has produced statistics comparing murder rates between death and non-death penalty states.  The murder rates between 1990 and 2003 shows a lower murder rate for non-death penalty states.  They conclude that states without the penalty fared better over the past decade.

UK

THE debate is interesting because in the UK the idea of re-introducing the penalty still receives a lot of support for certain types of crime.  A 2019 YouGov poll found that ‘Brits want harsher punishments for criminals’ and a balance in favour of the death penalty of 58% (terrorist offences); 57% (multiple murders); 53% (child murders) and 47% (murder of a police officer).  The current Home Secretary Priti Patel is quoted as being in favour of the penalty although she now denies this.  An extract from a Question Time programme in which she says ‘yes I am in support of capital punishment’ is available on this link from the Independent.

It is noteworthy that in the USA where the penalty is still practised, the mood is shifting against its use whereas in the UK, where the penalty was finally abolished in 1969*, there is still a powerful desire to have it restored.

The death penalty is the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment.  Amnesty opposes the death penalty in all cases without exception – regardless of who is accused, the nature or circumstances of the crime, guilt or innocence or method of execution.

*1973 in Northern Ireland


Sources: Independent; BBC; Texas Tribune; Death Penalty Information Center

 


December 16th is the 50th anniversary of the abolition of the death penalty in the UK

At 8am on 13 August 1964, the last execution took place in the United Kingdom.  Two men: Gwynne Evans and Peter Allen were separately executed in Manchester and Liverpool.  The death penalty for murder was abolished in the following year 1965 and made permanent on 16 December 1969.  Northern Ireland followed in 1973 and the last hanging offence – treason – was abolished in 1998.  In the current climate however, the question has to be asked, how secure is this decision and will it last another 50 years without being repealed?

Many will remember some of the impassioned debates which took place at the time with concerns it would lead to a rise in the murder rate.  Indeed, the vicar of All Saints, Clapton in London, said at the time it would be a ‘wholesale license to kill’.  The police wanted to be armed if the bill was passed.  Despite its abolition, the homicide rate in the UK has remained reasonable static over many years.  The figures for the last 3 years for example are 721 (2016/17); 728 (2017/18) and 701 (2018/19).  (Source: Statistica).  

Amnesty is opposed the use of the death penalty for six reasons:

  1.  It is the ultimate denial of human rights and is contrary to the articles 3 and 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – the right to life and the right not to be tortured or subject to cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment.
  2.  It is irreversible.  Mistakes are made and cannot be rectified.
  3.  It does not deter.  This perhaps is the strongest case made for its continued use yet many studies show it simply is not true.  Violent crime rates are not significantly worse in US states which use the penalty compared to those who do not.
  4.  It is often used with unfair justice systems.  Confessions sometimes forcibly extracted are a feature.  Clive Stafford Smith’s book on a particular case in Florida is instructive.
  5.  It is often used in a discriminatory way and you are more likely to be executed if you are a member of a minority group or if you suffer from mental health problems.  It is also racially biased.
  6.  It is used as a political tool to execute people who are seen as a threat to the authorities.

World wide

There has been a decrease in the number of countries using the death penalty according the 2018 Amnesty Report on the subject.  690 people were executed in 2018 in 20 countries representing a 31% decrease on the previous year.  However, these statistics exclude China – the world’s largest executioner – but where the number of executions, which is known to be vast, is a state secret.  Belarus is the only country in Europe still to have the penalty and executed at least 4 people in 2018.

The five biggest countries which still execute its citizens are: China; Iran; Saudi Arabia; Viet Nam and Iraq.  78% of all executions take place in the last four countries in this list (with the caveat that the China figure is unknown).  It is possible China executes more of its citizens than the rest of the world put together.

The Salisbury group monitors cases around the world and produces a monthly report.

United Kingdom

There has been a noticeable increase in rhetoric around harsher prison sentences and a desire to lock more people up for longer.  The current UK Home Secretary, Priti Patel has made a number of speeches and wants to see longer sentences, more prisoners kept in prisons for longer and generally supports a tougher approach to criminal justice.  She has seemed to support the death penalty although she denies that this is so.  Nevertheless, she is a powerful and insistent supporter of tougher sentencing.

A Parliamentary Enquiry has warned that UK citizens are at risk of the death penalty in the US – or of being sent to Guantanamo Bay – under a fast-track data sharing deal signed by the Home Secretary, as the result of an agreement reached with Washington last month, when the details were kept secret. It is said that the deal will give police and intelligence agencies speedy access to electronic communications sent by terrorists, serious crime gangs and white-collar criminals.   The House of Lords Committee has criticised the ‘asymmetric’ nature of the arrangement, which gives the US far greater powers to target UK citizens than vice-versa, and claims have been made that the UK will not be able to obtain ‘credible assurances’ that extradited suspects will not face execution. (Source: The Independent.)

Among the public YouGov polls reveal a mixed desire for restoring the penalty which depends a lot on what type of murder is involved.  So for multiple murders for example, 57% are in favour and 33% against.  Murder of a child shows 53% for and 31% against.  The ‘all cases of murder’ figure is 45% against and 34% for.

For crime generally in the words of YouGov ‘Voters are united: criminals should be more harshly punished.’  In the general population, 70% believe that sentences are not harsh enough which rises to 87% for Conservative supporters.  Further analysis for gender, age, location and social grade reveals only small differences.  The major difference is between Remain and Leave voters in the Referendum to leave the European Union (Brexit).  The statistic for all cases of murder shows that 64% of Remain supporters oppose the death penalty in contrast to 30% of Leave supporters – around double.  The support figures are even more marked with 51% of Leave supporters in favour of the death penalty and only 19% of Remainers.

It seems therefore that in the UK population, vengeful policies for dealing with criminality and for reintroducing the death penalty for some types of murder are still quite strong.  A conservative MP and former minister, John Hayes, asked the government last year to reintroduce the penalty.

Government policy has long been that we will not grant extradition to foreign countries if there is a risk of the individual being executed.  This policy appeared to be weakened last year by the then Home Secretary Sajid Javid:

Sajid Javid, […] has caused controversy in September by indicating that the British government is prepared to waive its long-standing opposition to the use of capital punishment by foreign governments, in the case of two alleged jihadi terrorists originally from Britain.   He has agreed to provide the authorities in the United States with intelligence evidence to assist in the trials of the two men without asking for the usual assurances that any convictions would not lead to the death penalty being imposed.  Human rights champions have widely condemned this decision as compromising Britain’s principled opposition to capital punishment and as setting a dangerous precedent.  Others, however, claim the two men involved deserve whatever they get.  So was the Home Secretary’s decision right or wrong?  YouGov 24 July 2018

Taken together, with members of the public wanting the return of the death penalty for several types of murder and an increase in harsher sentences; a weakening in the policy of not supporting the extradition to countries which execute people, and a desire to abolish the Human Rights Act, the reintroduction of the death penalty – although unlikely – may not be impossible in this country.  With the Conservative government returned last week with an increased majority, things are by no means certain. That it survives as a wish in many people’s minds is a worrying fact.

Sources: YouGov; Statistica; The Independent; Guardian, Parliament.co.uk, Amnesty International


We always welcome new members and the best thing is to keep an eye on this site or on Facebook – Salisburyai – and make yourself known at an event we are organising.


The death penalty report for October – November is available thanks to group member Lesley for compiling it.  One worrying item is the apparent willingness of the UK government to allow individuals to be sent to the USA with the risk of execution.

October/November report (Word)


No to the death penaltyThe current issue of the monthly death penalty report is now available thanks to group member Lesley for compiling it.  A number of countries are featured including, as ever, the USA, and Japan which has executed several people recently.

Report (Word)


You may want to join a small group by writing one of the urgent actions featured in this report.  We have several members who do this in the privacy of their own hom