Refugee report: February


February 2023

The report for February/January 2023 thanks to group member Andrew for the work on this post.

As we await yet another immigration bill (this time designed to send anyone arriving here “illegally” on their way immediately) let us consider what legal means of arrival still exist.

The Johnson government committed the government to providing safe and legal routes of entry as part of a broader programme of asylum reforms outlined in its New Plan for Immigration policy statement (March 2021).  It wanted fewer people to come to the UK as asylum seekers and more to come through safe and legal routes.

December 2022 statement by the Prime Minister went further.  Rishi Sunak announced that the Government now intends to make further legislative changes so that “the only way to come to the UK for asylum will be though safe and legal routes”.  He said that the Government would create additional legal routes “as we get a grip on illegal migration” and would introduce an annual quota for refugee resettlement.

Refugee rights campaigners have previously called for an annual target for refugee resettlement.  But they have also cautioned that safe and legal routes are not available to everyone who needs protection.  Consequently, they want them to be provided alongside an accessible in-country asylum system.

The other continuing issue about immigration is the endeavour by the government to prevent legal stays to the proposed deportation policy.  Much of the debate has centred on possible appeals to the European Court of Human Rights, which is referred to as a “foreign court”, but is actually an international body on which the UK is represented.  The Home Secretary is keen to leave the ECHR in the event of dispute, putting the UK in a class with Russia and Belarus.  There is opposition to the possibility of this happening, not only in the legal profession but also in the Conservative Party.  Also, the High Court has now allowed appeals against their finding in favour of the government over the legality of the Rwanda plan to go ahead.

Elsewhere, the head of the Windrush inquiry has expressed disappointment after the home secretary confirmed the government was dropping three key commitments made in the wake of the scandal.  The Home Secretary Suella Braverman, told MPs she would not proceed with the changes, including establishing a migrants’ commissioner. They were put forward in the report into the wrongful deportation of UK citizens of Caribbean descent. Wendy Williams said “crucial” recommendations had been scrapped.

Ms Williams’s formal inquiry examined how the Windrush scandal unfolded at the Home Office – when British residents, many of whom had arrived in their youth from Caribbean countries in the 1950s and 60s, – were erroneously classified as immigrants living in the UK illegally.  In a written statement in the House of Commons, Ms Braverman insisted the Home Office was looking to “shift culture and subject ourselves to scrutiny”.  But she confirmed that plans to beef up the powers of the immigration watchdog; set up a new national migrants advocate; and run reconciliation events with Windrush families would be axed.

The government plans to end providing accommodation for Afghan refugees by the end of the year. Currently, 9000 Afghans are living in hotels.

The stories above have contributed to Human Rights Watch, in its annual report, declaring that the actions of the UK government breach domestic human rights obligations and undermine international human rights standards.

Debate about the right to work for asylum seekers has become more prominent lately. Canada allows claimants to work straight away, Germany after 3 months, compared to the UK’s 1 year if the claimant is still waiting a decision.

Asylum support cost in 2022 was £898 million; £5.6 million a day was spent on hotel accommodation.

Final fact: for those applying for visas for partners to come to the UK the cost of the process has been calculated at £8,110 over 5 years and £13,326 over 10 years, not counting lawyers’ fees.  It has been suggested that this money could have been spent into the economy rather than the government’s coffers.

AH

Minutes of November group meeting


We are pleased to attach the minutes of the group’s November meeting with thanks to group member Lesley for the work in compiling them. They contain a lot of interesting material including information about future events, planned or actual, as well as reports on refugees and the death penalty.

Note that the next meeting is December 8th at 2pm. We welcome new members and we hope to see returning ones now that we have shifted to an afternoon slot. We remain concerned about the range of bills and laws the government is planning to pass which will limit our rights to protest and its increasingly authoritarian tone. Refugees remain a live issue receiving much coverage in the media particularly about the boat crossings but who fail to mention the full facts.

Refugee report


November 2022

This is a report on the current situation with refugees, a topic which is causing a great deal of political heartache at present. We are grateful to group member Andrew for the work in compiling this.

Into November and Suella Braverman is back as Home Secretary, which will have implications for refugees and asylum seekers. The plan to send failed asylum seekers to Rwanda has been shelved (and the companies contacted to carry the deportees have all withdrawn or refused), but the Prime Minister has declared himself in favour of the plan.  In his campaign to lead his party he also put forward a 10-point plan on immigration designed to increase the number of deportations. Possible new locations have been posited – Belize, Paraguay and Peru have been named, but all have declared themselves not to be discussing the matter.  Hi Fly and Iberojet are still possible carriers but are under pressure to decline. The future of the scheme remains questionable, as the High Court has still to decide on its lawfulness.

There has been much debate about the numbers of Albanians arriving in the UK in recent months, and particularly about the number claiming to have been trafficked. The Home Office have argued that a) economic migrants have been using this as an excuse and b) Albania is not a state which has security issues.  The Albanian Prime Minister has also attacked the UK government for denigrating his country, but it remains that a large percentage of Albanian claimants have been accepted as genuine. Discussions between the countries continue.  It is worth noting that the countries most detainees assumed to be involved with trafficking are Albania, Eritrea and Iran.

The continuing arrival of refugees and asylum seekers on small boats remains in the news.  With nearly 40,000 arrivals this year, the chief problem is processing the newcomers.  Events at the Manston short term holding facility have been much reported on, but numbers now have dropped back towards a more ”normal” 1600 staying 24 hours, rather than 4000 detained for weeks.  The facility is intended to process all arrivals, not just refugees.  The Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration has been checking conditions here and at hotels used by the Home Office to house new arrivals, and concerns have been expressed that these are not fit to house unaccompanied children.

The IPPR say that the increase in numbers arriving on small boats (which was none in 2018!) is likely due to “a combination of increased securitisation among other routes (e.g. lorries), the UK’s withdrawal from the Dublin regulation and a “snowball effect”’.  The Dublin Regulation made it possible to return arrivals to their first point of landing in the EU, but the UK can no longer employ the provision since Brexit.

On the last day of 2019, there were 307 individuals held in prisons under immigration powers.  By the last day of 2020 this had increased to 519, and a year later it was 602.  As of January 2022 that figure stood at 304, three times the amount it was in 2019.

For an overall perspective on numbers, it is worth noting that the UNHCR estimates the global number of refugees at 21.3 million, plus 4.6 million asylum seekers.  1 .4 million claims for asylum are pending, of which 0.5% are in the UK (for comparison, about half the number for Germany).

Over 90% of people referred to the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) from immigration detention are victims of trafficking, says a new report.  The referrals into the NRM by ‘first responders’ included survivors of slavery, trafficking and torture. Rule 34 stipulates that every detained person must have a mental and physical examination within 24 hours of admission to an Immigration Removal Centre (IRC) – however, survivors have often been overlooked

The Home Office routinely detains people who are subject to immigration control, the majority of whom are released.  However, under the Home Office Detention Centre rules, a person has to undergo screening to be ‘fit’ for detention, as well as to identify survivors of trafficking and modern slavery.

report by the Helen Bamber Foundation, a charity that helps survivors of trafficking and torture, found that survivors are detained either after imprisonment, with many having being convicted for offences they were forced to commit by their traffickers, and/or because they do not have permission to remain in the UK.  Many survivors of trafficking are detained for removal after being picked up during raids on brothels, nail bars and cannabis farms.

The biggest problem with asylum seekers, however, is still the delay in processing arrivals.  As a measure of the extent of the backlog, on the last day of 2019, there were 307 individuals held in prisons under immigration powers.  By the last day of 2020 this had increased to 519, and a year later it was 602.  As of January 2022 that figure stood at 304, three times the amount it was in 2019.  In terms of delays in the system, Home Office figures show that in 2015 80% of cases were decided within 6 months.  By 2018, this had fallen to 56% and by 2022 to 7%.  96% of 2021 arrivals have not yet got an assessment.

Other continuing issues include extending the offer to Ukrainian applicants for refugee status (very few are claiming asylum status) for another year. 140,000 visas have been issued so far, just under half the total (Hong Kong accounts for another quarter).

Amnesty is planning to ring fence much of its income before the end of the year to support its campaign in Ukraine. This is explained in the monthly newsletter.

AH

Refugees, monthly report


Monthly report on the month’s developments in the UK – October 2022

With Parliament in recess over the period under review, little movement in the legal position of asylum seekers and refugees has taken place, but this will change from here on. The legality of the contentious plan to deport “failed” asylum seekers to Rwanda (notoriously a “dream” for the new Home Secretary) should be decided by the end of this month. The last batch of evidence is being heard today (12 October). The issue is expected to go to appeal, whichever way it is decided. A good summary of the position can be read here.

Much ink has been spilt on trying to figure out Ms Braverman’s plans, though her speech to the Conservative Party conference was not strong on detail. She has declared an interest in doing a deal with the French on boats (this may not be as easy as it sounds, but she has claimed that talks with the French have reduced the numbers by half. This is disputed). She is also keen to leave the European Convention on Human Rights (though the PM evidently isn’t).

The Home Secretary is also much exercised by Albania, as the numbers of Albanian asylum seekers has increased dramatically, and Albanians are known to be among the traffickers of migrants. However, more applicants from that country are being accepted than used to be the case, which suggests that Braverman’s claim that a lot of them are criminals pretending to be trafficking victims may not be true. For trafficking victims generally, more are being detained than was the case, but most are then found to be genuine.

Indeed, as noted previously, the rate of acceptance of asylum seekers’ claims is ever higher, from 4% in 1997 (plus 4% of the rest on appeal) to 76% now (plus 50% of the rest on appeal). Technical factors may account for some of this, but the change is remarkable.

Meanwhile, new refugees (now apparently termed “arriving passengers”) continue to land from small boats. This year so far (to 3rd October) 33,573 people have arrived here. Last year’s total figure was 28,526. The three biggest originating countries have been Albania, Afghanistan and Iran.

On the Ukrainian front, as of 4th October, 134,200 refugees had arrived here. A report from the Work Rights Centre has indicated difficulties with the support they are given; the housing scheme has seen a quarter of hosts withdraw after the 6 month initial period, due mainly to cost causing a big increase in homelessness among the community. Following the resignation some weeks ago of the minister in charge of government support for the Ukrainian arrivals, there has been no one in authority, it seems.

On a related topic, Russian men escaping the draft, although few in number, have raised issues of the extent to which refusing to fight is a refugee matter. The EU has a right to be a conscientious objector, but the debate is likely to range around the right to refuse to participate in war crimes.

AH

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

Rwanda flight


Two local group members go to Boscombe Down for the first Rwanda flight

The first flight scheduled to take refugees to Rwanda as part of the government’s refugee policy designed, it is claimed, to deter boat crossings in the Channel, was switched from Stanstead to Boscombe Down in Wiltshire. The airfield is close to Amesbury. It may have been done to make protests difficult to organise because of the distance between the two.

Two members of the local group managed to get to the perimeter of the airfield which gave a view of the runway. There was a large police presence and about half a dozen camera crews as well. The charter flight could be seen in the distance. At one stage the landing lights were switched on and take off was expected. There was considerable vehicle activity on the airfield and around the aircraft. Then the lights were switched off and sometime later the flight was cancelled following a last minute intervention by the ECHR. This is likely only to be a temporary respite however.

The photos show part of the media activity, Amnesty banners and the charter flight in the distance. We apologise for the poor quality due to the low light level.

June minutes


We are pleased to attach the minutes of our June meeting thanks to group member Lesley for preparing them. At 13 pages long they might seem overlong for minutes of a meeting which normally would run to a handful of pages. However, we do not produce a newsletter and many of the items are of interest to a wider public than just those attendees. The various bills being introduced by the government are of great concern and will curb dissent and criminalise various aspects of legitimate protest.

Film


We return to a film event after an absence of three years

We’re delighted to invite you to join us at the matinee screening of the BAFTA award-winning film Limbo, a wryly touching story of a refugee centre in the Outer Hebrides, showing at Salisbury Arts Centre White Room on Sunday 29 May at 2.30pm.

The Arts Centre are giving Salisbury Amnesty a short introductory slot to update the audience on the subject of refugees and we expect to have a relevant petition for audience members to sign.

It would be lovely if as many of you as possible could support this matinee screening, especially as it has been some time since our last public collaboration with the Arts Centre and we would like this to continue into the future. 

Booking is now open on 01722 320333 and also online at www.wiltshirecreative.co.uk.

Tickets are £9 and the film lasts I hour 44 minutes.  There is a lift to the White Room Studio. Masks are encouraged but no longer obligatory and you will be sitting next to other people as this isn’t a socially distanced performance.

We hope you are all well and we look forward very much to seeing you at this witty and moving film.

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.

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