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.

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.

Refugee Report


We are grateful to group member Andrew for his work in preparing this piece on the important topic of refugees and asylum seekers. There has been a lot of activity on the legislative front this month concerning refugees and related matters .  

There has been much activity on the Nationality and Borders bill, which has reached the report stage, following the detailed discussion in committee, prior to going to the Lords.

Among the changes brought about in the last month, Clause 9 has been the most controversial, allowing the government to remove a person’s citizenship without notifying them, if they consider it in the public interest.  The clause, proposed in July and updated in November, exempts the government from giving notice of a decision to deprive a person of citizenship if authorities do not have the subject’s contact details or if it is not “reasonably practical” to do so.  The clause states that notice would also not be given if such a move is “in the public interest”.  However, the Home Office has said those deprived of citizenship will still have the right to appeal.

A precedent was set in 2019, after Shamima Begum, who was born in London, was stripped of her UK citizenship due to her connections with the ISIL (ISIS).  Sajid Javid, home secretary at the time, argued that although Begum did not have a foreign passport, she would not be stateless because of her Bangladeshi ancestry.  However, Bangladesh, which she had never visited, said she had no claim to the South Asian nation.

Since 2006, the UK has had the power to strip dual nationals of their British citizenship.  The measures were introduced after the 2005 London bombings – four suicide bombings on July 7 that killed 52 people.  At that moment, British anti-terrorism laws changed, and collective security was trumped over protecting civil liberties and freedoms.

Under Tony Blair, who was then prime minister, 12 counterterrorism measures were outlined, also including the expansion of the controversial Prevent programme, which was quietly created in 2003. This required public officials working in schools, universities, hospitals and local councils to report people they found to be showing “radical” tendencies to the authorities.

The ability to deny people citizenship was increased in 2010 by then-Home Secretary Theresa May, who used the powers to strip 20 dual-national Britons who were believed to be fighting in Syria.  In 2014, May took this further, extending the measures to foreign-born British citizens without dual nationality, as long as they were eligible for foreign citizenship and would not be left stateless.  But the new clause – which means people may not be notified of their stripped citizenship – can also be applied before it becomes law, making an appeals process harder.

report by the New Statesman found that almost six million people from ethnic minority backgrounds could be affected by the proposed clause.

The bill also aims to rule as inadmissible asylum claims made by undocumented people as well as criminalise them and anyone taking part in refugee rescue missions in the English Channel.  Moreover, border force staff will be granted immunity if people die in the Channel during “pushback” operations, a matter of concern among immigration lawyers who say the bill breaches international and domestic law.

According to The Guardian, in response to the new clause, the Home Office has said: “British citizenship is a privilege, not a right.  Deprivation of citizenship on conducive grounds is rightly reserved for those who pose a threat to the UK or whose conduct involves very high harm.  The nationality and borders bill will amend the law so citizenship can be deprived where it is not practicable to give notice, for example, if there is no way of communicating with the person.”

The bill is currently going through the House of Commons and will progress to the House of Lords by next year.

The situation with the points-based immigration system

The Government is struggling to manage the demands of its post-Brexit, points-based immigration system, new figures suggest.  Quarterly statistics published by UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) show that waiting times for immigration sponsorship approvals have increased dramatically since the start of 2021, when the UK’s new immigration system came into effect.

From 2018 to the start of 2021, on average, 78.5% of ‘tier 2’ sponsorship applications were processed within four weeks. In the first half of 2021, this figure sank to an average of 24.6%.  This has similarly been the case for ‘tier 5’ sponsorships, 79.7% of which were processed within four weeks from 2018 to the start of 2021.  Since that time, 23.6% have been processed within this time limit.

Tier 2 visas are granted to skilled workers seeking employment in the UK.  According to the Home Office, applicants “must be able to speak, read, write and understand English” in order to gain entry.  Tier 5 visas, meanwhile, are open to temporary workers – with visas granted for between six and 24 months. Both routes require an application fee of roughly £200, and a healthcare surcharge of some £600-a-year – unless the applicant is a health or social care worker.

The average time taken to process a visa application in the second quarter of 2021 was 48.35 days – compared to just 28 days in the second quarter of last year.  There are now 2,202 applications in the UKVI system that have taken longer to process than the average amount of time – compared to just 374 in the final quarter of 2020.

From 1 January 2021, the UK introduced a more stringent immigration policy that allows entry for those who have a job offer in a skilled sector that meets certain salary thresholds – as well as students and temporary workers in applicable industries.  In order for temporary and skilled workers to gain a visa, the UK demands that they are officially sponsored by their prospective employer.  This differs from the UK’s previous immigration system, during its membership of the EU, when European citizens could move freely to live, work, or study in the UK.

Unsurprisingly, the UK has subsequently seen a surge in sponsorship applications, which were previously only required for non-EU migrants.  An average of 1,346 applications were made in each quarter from the beginning of 2018 to the third quarter of 2020 – rising to 2,607 in the final quarter of 2020, 3,566 in the first quarter of the new year and 3,794 in the second.

However, this surge was entirely predictable. Home Secretary Priti Patel announced the points-based immigration system in February 2020, with Brexiters having supported the idea ever since the 2016 EU Referendum campaign.

According to employer solutions law firm Davidson Morris, Home Office staff have also been diverted “away from sponsorship applications to handle EU settlement scheme applications from EEA nationals” – the process through which EU residents have gained the temporary or permanent right to remain in the UK.

“One year on, our new system is making it easier for businesses to hire the skills and talent they need, while incentivising investment in our domestic workforce,” a Home Office spokesperson told Byline Times.  “Valid and complete applications for visas are processed within the published timescales despite a sustained rise in demand.”

However, the lagging performance of the UK’s immigration system risks exacerbating worker shortages that have plagued the country in recent months.  Amid food and fuel shortages, the UK has made 4,700 temporary visas available to HGV drivers, 5,500 visas for poultry workers, and 800 for pork butchers.  The Government also encouraged 300 EU fuel tanker drivers without a visa to enter the country – yet only nine people applied.

These schemes will not solve the fundamental issues with the UK’s new immigration regime – either in the short or the long-term.  Indeed, speaking to CNN, British Chambers of Commerce President Ruby McGregor-Smith likened the Government’s temporary visa schemes to “throwing a thimble of water on a bonfire

Immigration as a concern for voters

Following Robert Peston’s claim that immigration was top of voters’ concerns, YouGov asked adults in Great Britain, most recently on 22 November 2021, to pick up to three of the most important issues facing the country.  The top three responses were health (49%), the economy (40%) and the environment (35%).  Immigration and asylum were fourth with 34%.  (These figures are analysed to remove random fluctuations in the data due to sampling variability.  If this isn’t done immigration and asylum are even lower with 22%).

Ipsos MORI polled people between 5 and 11 November and found climate change was mentioned most as a concern (40%).  Coronavirus and pandemic diseases came second with 27% and Brexit issues and the NHS/healthcare were both third with 22%.  Immigration and immigrants were mentioned by 11%.

Safe Return of Asylum Seekers

While the Nationality and Borders bill moves on, for some reason a new bill has been tabled to help the government return asylum seekers to “safe countries” in an effort to reduce the number of people claiming asylum in the UK.   Introduced by Conservative MP Peter Bone, the Asylum Seekers (Return to Safe Countries) Bill has passed its second reading.

The Bill would “require asylum seekers who have arrived in the United Kingdom from a safe country to be immediately returned to that country”.  This could apply to those arriving directly from countries deemed “safe” by the UK or to asylum seekers arriving in the UK via a safe country such as France or Germany.  This is essentially an attempt to reinstate the Dublin 111

Accord of the European Union, which allowed member countries to return unregistered immigrants to that part of the EU where they first landed.  Post- Brexit, this obviously no longer applies, though the Home Office is trying to return asylum seekers to the Continent wherever it can.

Health issues for refugees

Médecins Sans Frontières / Doctors Without Borders (MSF), alongside other leading healthcare organisations, has written to the Home Secretary in the wake of last month’s tragic loss of life in the English Channel.  The letter outlines their collective opposition to the Nationality and Borders Bill due to its lasting and profound harm to the health and wellbeing of people in need of refugee protection.


Dear Secretary of State,

We write to you in the wake of last week’s tragic loss of life in the English Channel, as organisations representing medical professionals and patients, to raise concerns about the health implications of the Nationality and Borders Bill.

In its attempt to establish a two-tiered asylum system based on the way a refugee enters the UK, the Bill undermines established international protection rules and practices and breaks international law. The United Nations Refugee Agency has described these changes as “a recipe for mental and physical ill-health”.

If passed, the Bill will bring in sweeping changes to the asylum system, including establishing large-scale reception centres in the UK and offshore asylum processing sites, which will cause lasting and profound harm to the health and wellbeing of people in need of refugee protection.

Our concerns are based on a wealth of evidence from individuals held on Manus and Nauru Islands under the Australian Government’s offshore detention policy and our work supporting people in asylum accommodation across the UK.

We strongly oppose the Nationality and Borders Bill as it stands and urgently call on you to establish a kinder, fairer, and more effective approach to supporting refugees, regardless of how they arrive in the UK, including a community-based accommodation system that enables meaningful access to health services.

A group of medical organisations and health bodies wrote to you on 26 November 2020 expressing concern about the use of Ministry of Defence sites to house people seeking asylum.

The letter highlighted the sites’ unsuitability for this purpose due to the lack of access to adequate and appropriate healthcare services, public health risks resulting from a lack of compliance with COVID-19 regulations, and the risk of re-traumatisation triggered by accommodation in former military barracks.

Despite this warning, and Public Health England’s advice against using Napier Barracks because of the coronavirus pandemic, no action was taken.  Residents were left managing health needs alone and reports of suicidal ideation were frequent.

An inspection by the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration found individuals “suffering from serious underlying physical and mental health conditions, including one case of active TB at Napier”, and there have been two avoidable and significant coronavirus outbreaks in the Napier site.

We are deeply concerned by plans to establish large-scale reception centres to accommodate up to 8,000 people, and that Napier Barracks is viewed by the government as a prototype for these  centres.

As medical organisations, our experience of supporting vulnerable individuals in Napier Barracks and Penally Camp, as well as medical evidence from Greece which operates similarly large reception centres, show this type of large-scale accommodation prevents people from accessing medical care and presents a real risk to public health.

This type of accommodation is also inappropriate for people seeking asylum, many of whom will have experienced torture, exploitation and abuse, and are at risk of severe psychological distress and re-traumatisation.

The Bill’s proposal for asylum seekers and refugees to be detained offshore indefinitely whilst their asylum claims are processed is deeply alarming from a health perspective.

Australia has implemented a policy of offshoring refugees and asylum seekers on Manus and Nauru Islands since 2012, resulting in severe and well documented harm to people’s physical and mental health whilst concealing their suffering from public scrutiny.

This must not be replicated by the UK. MSF’s mental health project on Nauru Island responded to shocking levels of mental illness among asylum seeker and refugee patients linked to the offshore processing policy.

Sixty percent of patients had suicidal thoughts and 30 percent actually attempted suicide, while 10 children and two adults were diagnosed with the rare, life-threatening condition Resignation Syndrome, which requires medical care to keep the individual alive.

The policy also perpetuated a system of violence, physical and sexual abuse of those detained and led to more than 1,200 people being medically evacuated from Nauru to Australia to receive medical care not available on the island. Many were evacuated for psychiatric reasons after years of distress on the island.

In light of these serious mental and physical health concerns, we are calling for the government to scrap the plans to establish offshore asylum processing and ensure that all asylum seekers who arrive in the UK remain in the country whilst their asylum claim is processed, by removing clause 28 from the Bill.

We also call on government to withdraw plans to introduce UK-based reception centres and make a full commitment to house people seeking asylum in the UK within our communities.

Yours sincerely,

12 signatures

Beyond Europe

Six months after it moved to formally terminate the programme, the Biden administration is restarting the Migrant Protection Protocols, also known as Remain in Mexico, a border policy that forces vulnerable migrants to wait in northern Mexico as their US asylum cases are assessed.  This project was instituted by President Trump, and the current administration say they are having to reinstitute it due to a federal court injunction obtained by the states of Texas and Missouri.  The American Civil Liberties Union have commented:

“The reimplementation of this illegal and cruel policy will inflict on thousands of additional people seeking asylum the same harms that were well documented under its previous implentation: horrific abuse, including torture, rape, and death; and the denial of any meaningful opportunity to obtain asylum.    

“Secretary Mayorkas himself recently acknowledged that MPP is inherently flawed and cannot be fixed, and that its human costs are substantial and unjustifiable.  Although the Biden administration may claim it has no choice but to restart MPP, there is no question that it has a choice to end Title 42, which causes many of the same harms, and yet it has chosen to continue and even double down on that cruel and unlawful policy that turns people away at the border under the guise of public health. It is imperative that that administration do everything within its power to bring both policies to a complete end.”   
 

Nine problems with the asylum system that Priti Patel can’t blame on anyone else — Page Array – Free Movement


Priti Patel has Been Very Clear that the problems in the asylum system are other people’s fault (including me and my “activist lawyer” colleagues) and that her Package Of New Measures will sort them out. But what do the government’s own experts think? Well, yesterday the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration released a…

Nine problems with the asylum system that Priti Patel can’t blame on anyone else — Page Array – Free Movement

This is a republished post.

Minutes: June


Minutes of the June 2021 meeting via Zoom

We are pleased to attach a copy of the June minutes thanks to group member Lesley for preparing them. It was a full meeting marked by a decision to end the North Korea campaign which has run for over a decade. The group thanked Tony for his work on this campaign over the years. Although no longer a specific campaign, we will carry out actions from time to time if the opportunity arises.

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.

Conservative immigration policies ‘morally wrong’


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.

Group helps refugees


Salisbury group makes donation to refugee groups

The group is occasionally able to make contributions to other human rights organisations, and, in the last month, we have been able to donate to two refugee charities which are having a particularly difficult time under COVID-19.  One of them, Care4Calais, works with refugees stranded in Calais and this is from their latest report:-

Our emphasis in the last few months at Care4Calais has been on getting the refugees through the winter, distributing warm clothing and decent footwear, as well as blankets and sleeping bags.  In the last few weeks this has completely changed, of course.   We have been focusing on how to deal with concerns around the Covid19 virus and now with the situation of lockdown in France.

Obviously, keeping the refugees healthy, with little in the way of washing facilities, and in close proximity, is extremely hard, and also jeopardises the charity workers.  Many charities have ceased operating there. The French government wants to move the refugees to confinement centres, which would be healthier, but more coercive. Shortage of money has hindered food supplies and added to transport problems, so donations are of the utmost importance.

We have also made a contribution to Safe Passage, a charity devoted to helping unaccompanied child refugees across Europe get to a place of safety, as they are legally entitled to do.

 

Rohingya and Covid-19


Hundreds of Rohingya refugees left stranded at sea

The British media is understandably filled with the effects of the pandemic on people’s lives in the UK at present and there are many who are suffering from its effects.  Being in lockdown whilst living in cramped flat with no garden is extremely difficult and distressing.  Those who are in insecure employement in the gig economy are also suffering financial stress.  Care home and medical staff with insufficient or no PPE are daily risking their lives.  Recession is inevitable the effects of which will hurt the poorest the hardest.

While there are many in the country who are suffering these things, there are those in other countries who are suffering more.  In particular the Rohingya.  They suffered cruelly under the Burmese military regime and had their villages burned down and were subjected to mass rape and murder at the hands of the Burmese.  Hundreds of thousands fled to neighbouring Bangladesh and live in one of the largest refugee camps in the world.

There are now reports of boatloads of refugees refused entry into Burma because the Covid-19.   Amnesty has received information concerning up to five boats thought to be carrying Rohingya refugees seen off the coasts of Malaysia and southern Thailand in recent days, with hundreds of people believed to be on board the vessels.  Those in the boats are likely to be fleeing persecution in Myanmar or from overcrowded refugee camps in Bangladesh.

An Amnesty press release said:

On Wednesday, the Bangladesh Coast Guard rescued 396 Rohingya people from a large boat which had been turned back by the Malaysian authorities and is believed to have been at sea for two months.  According to early reports, 32 people on the boat died at sea, but the figure is now thought to be almost double that. UNHCR – the UN refugee agency – has said that the survivors are severely malnourished and dehydrated.

On 5 April, another boat carrying 202 Rohingya people was intercepted by the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency.  Its passengers were brought to safety and are now in COVID-19 quarantine.  18 April 2020

Human Rights Watch noted:

Over 800,000 Rohingya Muslims are currently living in overcrowded camps in Bangladesh, the bulk of whom were driven out of Myanmar by a military campaign of ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity that began in August 2017.  As a result of that campaign, the Myanmar government and military now face accusations of genocide before the International Court of Justice (ICJ).  The estimated 600,000 Rohingya who remain in Rakhine State in Myanmar are subject to government persecution and violence, confined to camps and villages without freedom of movement, and cut off from access to adequate food, health care, education, and livelihoods.  18 April 2020

The genocidal policies by the Burmese have already inflicted misery on these people.  Added to that, they are now subjected to further stress and misery as a result of the pandemic.

Sources: Amnesty; Human Rights Watch; The Burma Campaign; Arakan Project; Guardian

 

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