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to send failed asylum seekers to Rwanda has been shelved (and the companies contacted to carry the deportees have all withdrawn or refused), but the Prime Minister has declared himself in favour of the plan.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

Rwanda policy


August 2022

A judge has ruled that six passages redacted from a policy statement concerning the removals policy to Rwanda must be revealed. Ten passages had been so redacted and the Foreign Secretary, Liz Truss, had applied to the court for them not to be released using public interest immunity. Several newspaper groups have applied to the court and today (17 August 2022) they were successful.

The human rights situation in Rwanda is poor. Several human rights groups have described excessive state control, political opposition not being tolerated and the arbitrary mistreatment of children, sex workers and street vendors. Torture is practised and there are suspicions of people being murdered.

The government hopes to use the deportations to Rwanda as a deterrent for the people crossing the Channel, a problem which has increased month on month.

The first flight was planned to go from Boscombe Down airfield a mile or two from where this is being written. The European Court overruled the government and the plane left the following day, empty. It will be interesting to read what the redacted passages contain. It is known that Foreign Office officials raised concerns and recommended that we do not get involved with the country.

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.

Migrants to be sent to Rwanda under new scheme


Priti Patel launches new scheme to transfer migrants to Rwanda

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CORRECTION: Rory Stewart is no longer an MP.

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

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