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

Conservatives and the ECHR


Suella Braverman, the Home Secretary, wants to take the UK out of the ECHR

December 2022

This post is based on an interesting article in yesterday’s Guardian newspaper, written by Martin Kettle, concerning the Home Secretary, Suella Braverman’s desire to take the UK out of the European Court of Human Rights. Some of the piece concerned his thoughts of the future of Rishi Sunak which is a political discussion upon which we do not comment. Our concerns focus on human rights implications of Braverman’s wishes to take the UK out of the purview of the ECHR.

Kettle notes that the proposed withdrawal is not Conservative Party policy, nor was is it in the latest manifesto in 2019. This indicates that Ms Braverman is operating on her own. The Home Secretary is one of a number of Conservatives (but by no means all) who see the ECHR as a kind of constraint to their ability to manage the nation’s affairs most particularly in connection with refugees and immigration.

This erupted a few months ago with the last minute abandonment of the flight to Rwanda (which was to take place a stones throw from where this post is written), in which the European Court played a key part. Immigrants crossing the Channel in small boats has been a regular news feature over many months and has caused considerable anger among many. As was noted in our last post, by denying safe and legal means to apply to come here, those desperate to escape war or persecution are more or less forced to use these means. When Suella Braverman was questioned about this last week in front of a select committee, neither she nor her PPS, were able to able to provide a convincing answer.

Kettle goes on to say that the arguments around human rights law “encapsulates and stimulates the Tory party’s haphazard retreat into a bubble of English exceptionalism. Whether it is expressed by Braverman or Dominic Raab, the common threads of this are a bogus sense of victimhood (exemplified by the delusion that Britain is uniquely affected by migration) and belief in greatness frustrated (the lies of Brexit) and an impatience with conventional wisdom in favour of reckless contrarianism”.

One of the party’s electoral strengths over many decades was that it claimed to be the party of law and order. Tougher and longer sentencing, crackdowns on this or that crime, support for the police and other actions enabled it to claim that they were the party to vote for if you wanted to sleep safely in your bed at night. Dominic Grieve, the former Attorney General, has noted that today’s ministers seem to display ‘a persistent and almost endemic frustration with legal constraints‘. A combination of rage by some sections of the media about the Channel crossings, combined with their large majority, seems to lead them to believe they can ignore domestic law, international laws and treaties. Laws which stand in the way of ministers pursuing a particular goal are fit only to be ignored or discarded.

In his recent talk to the Judicial Institute (6 December 2022) he refers to the ‘novel constitutional position: that governments are enjoying the confidence of a parliamentary majority have essentially a popular mandate to do whatever they like and that any obstruction of this is unacceptable’ (p10). He points out that this is not the monopoly of the Conservatives – Labour when in power went cold on the HRA and secretly aided American renditions post 9/11. This idea that the law is of value only if it suits the policy position of the government in power is a dangerous one. It goes against the Common Law principle which is key our unwritten constitution. Combined with a belief that a large majority means the public at large are at one with this is also an assumption too far. When there was a Daily Mail assault on the judges putting their photos on the front page under a headline ‘Enemies of the People’ (4 December 2016), because they took a decision their editor did not like, it was noticeable that the then Attorney General, Liz Truss, did not condemn this.

Government’s attitudes to human rights


The new government under Rishi Sunak does not bode well for human rights in the UK

October 2022

Rish Sunak was appointed the new prime minister yesterday (25 October 2022) and it is worth looking at his, and some of his minister’s, approaches to human rights. They are not promising. The key people are, in addition to the prime minister, Suella Braverman (Home Office) and Dominic Rabb (Justice Dept). All three have made a range of statements and speeches which, taken together, set out a decidedly negative attitude to our rights.

Sunak is a keen supporter of the Rwanda policy to deport people to Africa, indeed he wants to double the number sent and one means is to reduce the qualifying gaol term from 12 to 6 months which will apply to immigrants who commit crime. He wants to tighten the definition of who qualifies for asylum in the UK. He wants to increase powers to detain, tag and monitor illegal immigrants.

He is a keen supporter of repealing the Human Rights Act claiming in an interview that ‘human rights law was acting as an obstacle for government’ and ‘making it difficult [for the government] to achieve our objectives’. He also voted against the retaining the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.

Suella Braverman is back as Home Secretary only just having resigned a matter of days ago for having breached the ministerial code. We have reported before on her highly manicured cv including the claim that she had contributed to the writing of a legal textbook, the actual author of which said that she did help with some photocopying.

She too is keen to end the HRA and extricate the UK from the European Court of Human Rights. She claims there is now a ‘rights culture’ and that this has caused confusion and distress in some areas. She wants to introduce a permission stage to claims to ‘limit trivial human rights cases wasting the courts’ time and public money’.

Dominic Raab is back as the Justice Secretary and in a previous post we reviewed his book Assault on Liberty. He agrees with the above policies. The book is useful because it enables us to examine the thinking and beliefs which many politicians share. They have this profound belief in liberty which they see as threatened by protest and human rights. They think that there has been too much focus on individual rights at the expense of collective responsibilities. Sunak seems to believe that these rights prevent good government in ways that are not exactly clear.

They are supported in their beliefs by much of the press with a steady stream of anti-immigrant stories particularly focused on people crossing the Channel in boats. To what extent this represents the views of the general population is a moot point. Among the population at large, according to YouGov, they are not happy with the government’s approach to the boat people. It is however, a much more salient issue among Conservative supporters where there is pressure to limit the crossings.

With all three top positions occupied by politicians with these beliefs we can look forward to further aggressive moves against immigrants and asylum seekers. It is ironic to note however, that two of them are offspring of people who came here from overseas and made successful lives for themselves. Both had parents who, having settled here, were sufficiently successful to enable both to receive good educations and succeed in the law (Braverman) and the City (Sunak). Sunak went to Winchester one of the elite public* schools in Britain.

Note for US readers: ‘public’ schools are in fact private and Winchester is one of the most expensive in the UK.

Sources: Each Other; Save Our Citizenship; They Work for You; the Guardian; Conservative Home; the Spectator; Daily Mail; Refugee Action; Amnesty International

UPDATE: 28 October. The following is a link to EachOther with a more detailed analysis of the above three plus two other members of the cabinet with similar views. Again, we note that two of them are offspring of immigrants welcomed here.

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

Refugees in the UK


Report on refugee and asylum issues in the UK

September 2022

The change of Prime Minister this month has led to changes at the Home Office. The new minister, Suella Braverman, will have initially to deal with the question of sending asylum seekers to Rwanda, the issue of which is still under judicial review. The hearings have started this week.  The new Prime Minister, Liz Truss has declared her support for the plan, indeed suggesting its extension to other countries.  An aide told the Mail on Sunday: “She’s determined to see the Rwanda policy through to full implementation as well as exploring other countries where we can work on similar partnerships.”  It would not seem likely that the new Home Secretary will mark much of a change from her predecessor.

Despite the legal challenge, the government plans to deport 19 people to Rwanda in the coming days. Information shared by charities indicates that six were trafficked or tortured, including one who was detained and beaten for eight weeks at a warehouse in the Libyan Desert.

Medical Justice have this week published “Who’s Paying The Price?: The Human Cost Of The Rwanda Scheme”, a comprehensive analysis of people targeted for removal to Rwanda which details medical evidence of the harm inflicted on them.  The charity says: “The policy is damaging in general for anyone, acutely so for such vulnerable torture and trafficking survivors who are already paying a high human cost even before any flights have taken off to Rwanda.”

As one of the side issues to the debate, the charity Freedom from Torture is directing public attention on to the airlines who are or are intending to facilitate the flights.

Another central element of the immigration plan – the setting up of new processing centres for asylum seekers – also appears to have stalled after the Ministry of Defence admitted to the Observer that, despite evaluating 100 different sites for the Home Office since January, it has yet to publicly identify a new one that might be used. The only site named so far as “asylum accommodation” – in Linton-on-Ouse, Yorkshire – was abandoned after the Home Office failed to move any asylum seekers there and the MoD withdrew from the plan.

The Observer has revealed that the government is considering reintroducing its notorious refugee pushback policy for use against small boats crossing the Channel.  Five months ago, after the heavily criticised policy was officially withdrawn by ministers, documents released under freedom of information laws suggest the government is reconsidering the tactic that has been blamed for drownings in Greece.

The numbers arriving in the country by boat continues to grow, to over 25,000 this year, given the good weather.  3,733 people crossed the Channel during the week to 28 August – twice as many for all of 2019.

Acceptances

What has been notable has been the large number of acceptances by the Home Office of asylum seekers’ claims.  New rules on inadmissibility have added to the time taken to process asylum seekers, but the proportion of acceptances in the long term remains high.

A large number of Albanians has, however been returned on the grounds that the country Is safe.  The government has been endeavouring to set up returnee agreements with other countries to facilitate repatriation; at present they have 5, the latest of which is with Pakistan.

By comparison with other European nations, the total number of asylum applications in the UK since 2012 has been 386,000, the 6th largest in Europe.

Outside of the refugee influx, more work visas have been issued to arrivals from India than any other nation (Ukraine is the next largest).

The Afghan emergency last year resulted in 16,000 nationals being brought over here.  Of these, 9000 are still living in hotel accommodation.

The total number of Ukrainian refugees now in the UK is 115,000.  Visas issued under the Family and Sponsorship schemes total 177,000.  For comparison, Germany has so far taken in 971,000 Ukrainians.  The UK government has, however, indicated that host households will have their “thank you” payments doubled to £700 per month.

AH


Don’t forget that you can listen to this and many other posts on this site by pressing the Spotify button at the top

Further threats to our human rights proposed


Suella Braverman, the attorney general, proposes further action to counter the influence of the European Court of Human Rights, ECHR

August 2022

The onslaught on the UK’s human rights continues apace. In a recent speech to the Policy Exchange thinktank, Ms Braverman argues for radical action to counter the influence of ECHR rules on UK legal affairs. This latest attack is almost certainly triggered by the decision of the European Court to prevent the deportation to Rwanda of a number of immigrants. This occurred almost minutes before the plane was due to take off from Boscombe Down airfield, a mile or two from where this is being written.

The government is evidently determined to reduce several key rights enjoyed by British people sometimes for centuries. A new act will make it harder to protest and gives the police and ministers greater powers to carry curtail them. The ability to seek judicial review is also to be curtailed. The ability to strike is to be subject to yet further restrictions. The Human Rights Act itself is to be abolished and replaced with a Bill of Rights which will be weaker. The weight of legislation, current or proposed, will together amount to a significant reduction in the ability of ordinary people to hold the government to account. We must also add sustained attacks on the BBC, its journalists and its funding, and the intention to sell off Channel 4 which are both seen as irritants.

We discussed in an earlier post, Ms Braverman’s dubious and we argued – quite inappropriate – attitude towards torture, echoing the arguments of Prof Posner of Chicago. We referenced an article in the Observer which showed that several of her claims about her career were of doubtful veracity: no record could be found for example of a supposed contribution to a legal text book. Her claims about the chambers she worked in were also questioned. She was one of the candidates to become Britain’s new prime minister.

In a review of her speech in the Guardian, she is quoted as saying:

[…] a culture where fringe campaign groups, purporting to champion rights, have claimed a moral high ground and have adopted an attitude of intolerance. Often with vastly inflated salaries and armed with a Newspeak dictionary, they have created mighty citadels of grievance across the public sector and made huge inroads into the private sector

Guardian, 11 August 20122, p5

She further claims that the UK now has a ‘rights culture’. One of the problems in discussing her comments and speeches is that few examples are given to illustrate the points she is making. She attacks the judiciary, the human rights community and is vociferous about ‘woke’ matters. She continues in office largely because of her loyalty to the outgoing prime minister, Boris Johnson. As Attorney General, she has to pursue a difficult balancing act. She is both law officer to the government and a member of the government, one of those peculiarly British positions which is fundamentally absurd but previous post holders have acquitted well. Ms Braverman has not, perhaps because of her loyalty to a prime minister who was forced to resign because of one scandal too many.

The concern is that the rhetoric and legislation which comes from it are becoming a danger. Human rights are seen as a threat. Quite how this ‘rights culture’ has damaged the interest of British citizens is never explained. She shares with Dominic Raab a dislike of protest, the judiciary and the European Court and they seek to weaken all of them, eagerly supported by the right wing press. Our system of government, imperfect as it is, is built on the notion of checks and balances. They seek to garner more power to themselves and, by more and more legislation, reduce the opportunity for challenge by protest or via the judiciary.

This post was written without using a Newspeak dictionary.

Are our human rights safe with the new Attorney General?


The appointment of Suella Braverman as Attorney General raises further fears for our human rights

May 2020

The Attorney General is an important legal post in the UK and is responsible for advising the Crown and the Government on legal aspects affecting their decisions.  They are not usually present in Cabinet meetings to preserve a degree of independence although the previous incumbent, Geoffrey Cox, did so because there were frequent matters to do with Brexit to discuss.  The appointment matters therefore and their views and opinions on issues such as human rights are important.

The new person in the role is Suella Braverman and she has strong legal credentials having been a barrister for seven years.  Her views on human rights are worrying however and are worth examinining.  In an article in the Daily Telegraph entitled: Britain is so obsessed with human rights it has forgotten about human duties (16 December, 2015) she sets out her thinking.

  • the mission (Universal Declaration of Human Rights) has failed.  She instances the lack of equality for women in the Islamic world, political authoritarians in Turkey, Hungary and Venezuela
  • the treatment of detainees in Guantanamo Bay means the United States has lost credibility on civil liberties
  • the plight of millions of people belies the noble ambitions of the Universal Declaration.

She goes on to explain that the one reason for this is that Universal Declaration was never a treaty in the formal sense and never became international law.  Another reason is that the rights are ‘described in imprecise, aspirational terms which allow governments to interpret them in any way they see fit’.

And there are:

hundreds of international human rights – rights to work and education, to freedom of expression and religious worship, to non-discrimination, to privacy, to pretty much anything you might think important in a perfect world.  The sheer volume and array of rights imply an all-embracing protection.  This is impossible, because there will always be trade-offs in which some rights are sacrificed to uphold others.

She marries this with an approving comment about Prof. Eric Posner of Chicago who has written a book called Twilight of Human Rights in which he dismisses the value of these rights.  It is clear that Suella Braverman has taken his ideas on board since they crop up frequently in her writings and posts.  For example, the comment above about the sheer volume of rights is a Posner point as is the fact it was never a treaty.  But the significant and chilling example is the issue of torture.

Torture

Posner explains that a poor country has a choice or trade off.  So if the police are torturing its citizens to obtain confessions, then the state can decide to spend its entire budget in eliminating this practice by retraining and monitoring the police’s behaviour.  Then it would have insufficient funds to improve the medical care of its people.

Braverman puts it thus in an echo of Posner’s argument:

In Brazil, there have been several cases of the use of torture by the police in the name of crime prevention.  They justify this by putting a general right to live free from crime and intimidation above their rights and those who are tortured.  To wipe out torture, the government would need to create a robust, well-paid policing and judicial services to guarantee the same results.  The government might argue that this money is better spent on new schools and medical clinics, protecting wider rights to freedom of education and health.  These sorts of value judgements, inherent in the practical application of human rights (whether we agree with them or not), undermine their universality.

We should be horrified that someone who has been appointed to become our new Attorney General, one of the high legal offices of the land, promotes the view that there is some kind of trade-off as far as the use of torture is concerned.  She has clearly swallowed Prof Posner’s arguments without pausing for one moment to think of the moral issues or the fact that torture is neither efficient nor effective in getting to the truth.

The practice was abolished in Britain in the long parliament of 1640.  Yet here we have a barrister, a member of parliament and now a senior law officer, responsible for advising the government and cabinet, that, under some curious reasoning, it might be justifiable because the money might ‘better spent elsewhere’ rather than eliminating it.

Her other main complaint is about the judges.  She was a keen proponent of Brexit and in Conservative Home she says:

Restoring sovereignty to Parliament after Brexit is one of the greatest prizes that awaits us.  But not just from the EU.  As we start this new chapter of our democratic story, our Parliament must retrieve power ceded to another place – the courts.  For too long, the Diceyan notion of parliamentary supremacy has come under threat.  The political has been captured by the legal.  Decisions of an executive, legislative and democratic nature have been assumed by our courts.  Prorogation and the triggering of Article 50 were merely the latest examples of a chronic and steady encroachment by the judges.  Conservative Home 27 January 2020  [Dicey was a Whig jurist and wrote an important book on the British constitution]

Clearly, she and others in government are still smarting from the decision of the Supreme Court not to allow Boris Johnson to prorogue parliament.  In August, Prime Minister advised the Queen to prorogue Parliament from the end of 9 September until 14 October.  The Supreme Court subsequently ruled that this advice, (and the prorogation that followed), was unlawful and of no effect because it had the ‘effect of frustrating or preventing, without reasonable justification, the power of Parliament to carry out its constitutional functions’.  Gina Miller has also left her mark.

A review of her comments and articles paints a worrying picture of someone who does not truly value human rights. They Work for You concludes that she consistently voted against laws to promote equality and human rights.  She voted against largely retaining the EU Charter on Fundamental Human Rights for example and for more restrictive regulation of Trade Union activity.

UPDATE:

This blog was written before Nick Cohen wrote about Braverman in the Observer.  It seems her career and claims of experience have been markedly exaggerated.  

UPDATE: 27 July 2022

Braverman stood as a candidate to become the prime minister of the UK following the resignation of Boris Johnson.  She did not make it to the final round however, failing to secure sufficient votes from fellow MPs.

UPDATE: 8 September 2022

She has been made the Home Secretary following Liz Truss’s appointment as the new Prime Minister on 6th.

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: