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.

Made in UK: bombed in Yemen


CAAT Webinar focusing on the role of UK arms firms in causing misery and death in Yemen

The purpose of the webinar was to focus on the role of UK arms suppliers in the continuing war in Yemen.  It featured a speaker from the Campaign Against the Arms Trade CAAT; one from Forensic Architecture and thirdly, Emily Thornberry MP.

The UK is not the only, or even the largest, supplier of weapons to the theatre, that role was taken by USA.  We must also not forget the role of the Iranian government who are supporting the Houthi rebels in the conflict.  Half of the Saudi air force is supplied by the UK and that includes spares and maintenance as well to keep them airworthy. US sales have been temporarily suspended by President Biden.

The Saudi government could not continue without UK support they suggested, not just in supplying weapons but diplomatic support as well in the UN.  We reported in 2015 the amazing news that Saudi had a seat on the UN’s Human Right’s Council.  It seems beyond belief that a country which executes people by decapitation with a sword, often in public, denies basic rights to women and uses torture as a matter of course, should have such a seat let alone be supported by the UK government.

The webinar put the role of arms suppliers in the spotlight who refuse to take responsibility for the mayhem their weapons cause.  Thousands have died and schools, hospitals, weddings and funerals have all been the subject of Saudi air raids.  RAF personnel are in Saudi to advise the Saudis yet many of these raids are in breach of International human rights.  There have been 55 airstrikes on health facilities alone. 

Hope for the future

The constant tide of grim stories which emerge from Yemen and the failure of our courts to hold the government to account, might make one despair at change ever being achieved.  The UK depends on the arms industry – and the network of City banks and agents who facilitate the movement of money – for a significant chunk of its exports.  They have been able to continue with this gruesome business because getting news and footage from the country is extremely difficult.  If the carnage was a regular feature of the news on TV things might have changed.  As it is, it can carry on largely unseen.

This might change with the arrival of an organisation called Forensic Architecture.  They are able to use forensic techniques to form linkages between airstrikes and the companies supplying the weapons.  They can show the impact of arms exports and the continuing targeting of civilians.  They can link therefore the sale of a jet to the bombing of a hospital.  Up to now, the companies, supported by the UK government, have been able to claim these violations are isolated incidents following the Court of Appeal decision to ban such sales.  Liz Truss claimed a review had been undertaken enabling sales to continue. Evidence gained by these methods will show complicity and make it harder to argue against complicity in what are war crimes.  This might be a game changer.

Forensic evidence might be a game changer

Emily Thornberry MP

Emily Thornberry is the shadow Secretary of International Trade opposite the minister, Liz Truss MP.  She said there have been 5 years of deceit practised on the British people.  The so called ‘isolated incidents’ based on the curious logic that as they were at different times and in different places therefore they are isolated.  British staff in Saudi ‘were in a different room’ therefore not complicit the minister claimed.  She pointed to the changing statements about the use of cluster munitions.  Her main point was that the UK has come to rely on these sales and it has distorted our policy in the region.  The government is caught in a web of complicity from which it cannot easily escape.  They will never change their position unless forced to do so by the Courts (which on previous experience is unlikely) or public opinion. 

Companies, civil servants and ministers are subject to the International Criminal Court for war crimes.  Will a case against those who were complicit in these crimes or who turned a blind eye, find themselves in front of the ICC?

A CAAT report on the arms trade was published today (14th July)


See also Mwatana and the Yemen Data Project and Human Rights Watch

Amnesty’s annual report: UK element


Aspect of the annual report detailing the UK government’s actions regarding human rights of UK subjects

The government response to COVID-19 raised human rights concerns, including in relation to health, immigration policies, domestic abuse and housing. Instances of racial discrimination and excessive force against protesters by the police were documented. Northern Ireland made progress on same-sex marriage and abortion, but full accountability for past violations remained unrealized. New licences for military exports to Saudi Arabia resumed. Bills on counter-terrorism and overseas military operations endangered  human rights.  Extradition proceedings against Julian Assange threatened the right to freedom of expression. The full report can be accessed from this link (pdf).

BACKGROUND

On 31 January, the UK left the European Union and began an 11-month transition period.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, parliament granted far-reaching emergency powers to the UK and devolved governments for up to two years, subject to parliamentary renewal every six months. Lockdowns implemented to slow the spread of the virus severely restricted freedom of movement, freedom of peaceful assembly and the right to privacy and family life.

At least 74,570 people died in the UK as a result of COVID-19 in 2020. The economic impact of the pandemic caused widespread hardship, particularly for those in insecure employment and people subject to immigration controls.

In May and June, Black Lives Matter protests drew attention to systemic racism and discrimination against Black people.

RIGHT TO HEALTH

The UK death toll due to COVID-19 represented one of the highest death rates from the virus in Europe. Health and other essential workers reported shortages of adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) to minimize their risk of contracting COVID-19. By 25 May, 540 deaths involving COVID-19 had been registered among social care and health workers. The authorities violated the right to health and right to life of older people resident in care homes, including by failing to provide adequate PPE and regular testing, discharging infected or possibly infected patients from hospitals to care homes and suspending regular oversight procedures.

In June, an official investigation found that people of Black and Asian ethnicity were disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. In particular, Black and Asian health workers were significantly over-represented among COVID-19 related deaths of health workers.

The government resisted calls from over 70 organizations to immediately launch an independent public inquiry into its handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, stating that an inquiry would take place at an unspecified time in the future.

DISCRIMINATION

In March, a review of the so-called “Windrush scandal” was published. The review identified serious failings in the government’s treatment of the Windrush generation, who settled in the UK as British nationals from the Caribbean and other Commonwealth countries before 1973 but who, along with some of their descendants, were later treated as if they had no permission to be in the UK. Although the government promised to act on the far- reaching recommendations of the review, the proposed changes failed to address the root causes of the scandal, including the racism embedded in nationality and immigration laws and policies.

Discrimination in the exercise of police powers continued to be a concern. Data on fines issued for non-compliance with the COVID-19 related lockdown revealed that Black and Asian people were disproportionately fined. In May, during the first national lockdown, police in London conducted a record number of stop and searches: 43,644, of which 10,000 targeted young Black men. Racial disproportionality specifically against Black people continued to feature heavily across various policing issues, including the use of force and of Taser. Police figures published in 2020 showed that Black people were up to eight times more likely to have Taser used against them than White people in 2018/19. High-profile cases of Taser use against Black people in London and Manchester, including one case in the presence of a child, highlighted this issue.

FREEDOM OF ASSEMBLY

In June, police used excessive force against Black Lives Matter protesters in London, including the confinement of people to a narrow space (“kettling”) and the use of horses to disperse crowds. Police issued approximately 70 infringements of COVID-19 restrictions to peaceful protesters at Black Lives Matter demonstrations in Belfast and Derry-Londonderry and initiated criminal investigations against the organizers, relying on COVID-19 related enforcement powers that came into force on the eve of the protest. In December, the Northern Ireland Policing Board found policing of the protests to have been “potentially unlawful”, while the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland found it to have been “unfair” and “discriminatory”.

REFUGEES, ASYLUM-SEEKERS AND MIGRANTS
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the government failed to adequately modify immigration policies and practices to safeguard public health. People continued to be held in immigration detention for the purposes of removal from the UK, despite the heightened risk of infection in detention and obstacles to effecting removal. Asylum claims were required to be made in person.

Statutory exclusions or restrictions on access to employment, welfare, accommodation and health care for people subject to immigration control undermined their ability to protect themselves from the virus and maintain an adequate standard of living. The government resisted widespread calls to suspend the “no recourse to public funds” policy, which restricts access to benefits for many migrants, during the pandemic.

Parliament passed a new immigration law in November which granted exceptionally broad legislative powers to the Home Secretary and ended free movement rights under EU law. Children entitled to British citizenship continued to be prevented by government policy and practice from registering their entitlement. Children of EU nationals became particularly at risk because of their loss of free movement rights in the UK.

RIGHT TO HOUSING

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the government introduced some measures, albeit only short-term, to protect the right to housing. It suspended court proceedings for evictions in England and Wales from 27 March until 20 September and temporarily increased the minimum notice period prior to eviction for most tenants.

By September, 29,000 rough sleepers and other vulnerable people had been supported into accommodation during the pandemic, according to official figures. Homelessness charities reported a sharp increase in demand for their services since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

RIGHTS OF LESBIAN, GAY, BISEXUAL, TRANSGENDER AND INTERSEX (LGBTI) PEOPLE

In February, the first same-sex marriages took place in Northern Ireland after the success in 2019 of a long-running campaign for marriage equality. Religious same-sex marriages were permitted from September, and the conversion of existing civil partnerships was allowed from December.

Amid growing transphobic rhetoric and fear-mongering in the media, the government’s proposed amendments to the outdated Gender Recognition Act in England and Wales fell short of human rights standards. A second consultation to reform gender recognition law in Scotland ended in March.

WOMEN’S RIGHTS

There was an increase in reported cases of domestic violence during the COVID-19 pandemic. The government lacked a fully coordinated plan to tackle the foreseeable risk of domestic violence during the pandemic and failed to provide sufficient and timely emergency funding for frontline services. None of the additional funding was ring-fenced for specialist services for ethnic minority women, despite an increase in referrals to these services. Migrant women whose immigration status excludes them from most government benefits faced compounded challenges in obtaining support for domestic violence.

The Domestic Abuse Bill lacked provisions to ensure safety and access to justice for migrant women. The bill did not meet the government’s stated intention of bringing domestic legislation in line with the Istanbul Convention, which the UK had yet to ratify.

The criminalization of sex work and denial of sex workers’ labour rights meant that they were particularly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and related measures. The government maintained a five-week waiting period for social security payments, despite previously acknowledging that it was a factor in some women resorting to sex work.

SEXUAL AND REPRODUCTIVE RIGHTS

After the decriminalization of abortion in 2019, regulations governing the provision of abortion services in Northern Ireland took effect on 31 March. The government allowed both abortion pills to be taken at home during the COVID-19 pandemic in all regions of the UK except Northern Ireland, where a local temporary service providing early medical abortions began in April, allowing one abortion pill to be taken on health and social care premises, and the second one at home.

Whilst abortion services in Northern Ireland were legal and running to varying degrees, by year’s end the authorities had yet to formally commission abortion services that were adequately resourced, sustainable and fully accessible to all who need them.

NORTHERN IRELAND – LEGACY ISSUES

In March, the government issued proposals to address the legacy of the conflict in Northern Ireland which were not compatible with human rights standards and departed from commitments made in the 2014 Stormont House Agreement and subsequent government statements and agreements. The proposals would limit prosecutions of those suspected of criminal responsibility for crimes under international law and human rights violations and abuses during the decades-long conflict.

The government refused to launch a public inquiry into the murder of Patrick Finucane, a Belfast lawyer killed in 1989, despite a 2019 Supreme Court ruling, which found that his murder was not effectively investigated in line with human rights standards.

IRRESPONSIBLE ARMS TRANSFERS

The UK resumed issuing licences for military exports to Saudi Arabia in July, after a court ruling in June 2019 required the government to suspend new licensing of military equipment to Saudi Arabia.

In response to the excessive use of force against US Black Lives Matter protesters, members of parliament and several organizations, including Amnesty International, called on the UK to suspend exports of crowd control equipment, such as tear gas and rubber bullets, to US law enforcement agencies. In September, the government stated that it had re-assessed export licences of such equipment to the USA in response to these events and concluded there was “no clear risk” of misuse.

STATE OVERREACH

The Counter-Terrorism and Sentencing Bill proposed a major overhaul of the sentencing regime for counter-terrorism offences, including the removal of some key safeguards on the use of already concerning administrative control measures known as Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures (TPIMs). The proposed changes included lowering the standard of proof for the imposition of a TPIM.

IMPUNITY

In March, the government proposed a new law which would seriously restrict prosecutions for offences committed by British soldiers overseas, including torture and other ill-treatment as well as other crimes under international law. The proposed law would create a “presumption against prosecution” after five years.

FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION

Hearings to consider a US extradition request for Julian Assange began in February and resumed in September. Assange remained detained at Belmarsh prison and faced prosecution in the USA for the publication of disclosed documents as part of his work with Wikileaks. Amnesty International called on the USA to drop the charges and on the UK to halt his extradition to the USA where he would face a real risk of serious human rights violations.

Annual Report

Human Rights Watch report


This is an extract of the HRW 2020 report for Europe focusing on the UK.  Seeing all the issues grouped together in this way makes for shameful reading.

The UK’s planned exit from the EU (Brexit) strained democratic institutions and put human rights and the rule of law at risk.  In September, the government was forced by parliament to publish a key planning document outlining potential impacts of the UK leaving the EU without an agreement (known as “no-deal” Brexit).  Its publication raised serious rights concerns including those related to access to adequate food and medicine, fuel shortages, interruptions to social care for older people and people with disabilities, possible public disorder, and the risk of increased dissident activity in Northern Ireland. The government accepted that a “no deal Brexit” would have the greatest impact on economically vulnerable and marginalized groups.

In September, the Supreme Court ruled unlawful the government’s five-week suspension of parliament earlier the same month, leading to parliament’s recall.  The government was forced by law adopted by parliament in September to seek an extension to the UK’s membership of the EU aimed at avoiding a no-deal Brexit.  Government sources criticized the Supreme Court ruling and threatened to ignore the binding law requiring an extension request.

The extension was granted by the EU27, and the Brexit date at time of writing was the end of January 2020 (now taken place).  Parliament was dissolved in November after opposition parties agreed to a December 2019 general election (which had yet to take place at time of writing).

In May, the UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty published a report on the disproportionate negative impact of austerity-motivated spending cuts, combined with social security restructuring, on the rights of women, children, older people, and people with disabilities living on low incomes.

Reliance on emergency food assistance grew.  The country’s largest food bank charity network, the (Salisbury based)Trussell Trust, reported distributing 1.6 million parcels containing a three-day emergency supply of food across the country.  The Independent Food Aid Network reported that, at time of writing, at least 819 independent centres were also distributing food aid.

The UK continued to detain asylum seeking and migrant children.

In October legislation passed by the UK Parliament to decriminalize abortion and provide for marriage equality in Northern Ireland in 2020 came into force when the region’s devolved government failed to reconvene having been suspended since January 2017.

More than two years after the deadly Grenfell Tower fire in London that killed 71, there has been little accountability for the deaths or the fire.   In October, the findings of the first phase of the public inquiry into the fire were published, focusing on the day of the fire.  A criminal investigation was ongoing at time of writing.

In February, a new counterterrorism law entered into force, including measures that criminalize viewing online content, overseas travel and support to terrorism and could result in human rights violations.  UK authorities continued to exercise powers to strip citizenship from UK nationals suspected of terrorism-related activity.

In July, the government refused to establish a judicial inquiry into UK complicity in the CIA-led torture and secret detention.  At time of writing, no one in the UK had been charged with a crime in connection with the abuses.  In November, a media investigation found evidence of a cover up by UK authorities of alleged war crimes by UK forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. (Human Rights Watch)

August – September death penalty report


The latest death penalty report is now available thanks to group member Lesley for compiling it.  It contains information on death penalty matters in Bangladesh, Turkey, USA and other countries.  The report, as ever, is unable to include any information about China where details of executions are a state secret.  It is believed to be the world’s largest executioner.

August – September Report 2019

No to the death penalty

Yemen: UN report


UN Human Rights Council publishes a report yesterday (3 September 2019) on human rights infringements by Britain France and USA

The UN’s panel of eminent experts on Yemen has today published a damning report on the activities of the UK government and others into the atrocities being committed in Yemen.  They conclude that international human rights law has been infringed.  The most damning conclusion is:

The Experts found reasonable grounds to believe that the conduct of hostilities by the parties to the conflict, including by airstrikes and shelling, continued to have an extreme impact on civilians and many of these attacks may amount to serious violations of international humanitarian law.  The Experts further found reasonable grounds to believe that, in addition to violations related to the conduct of hostilities, the parties to the armed conflict in Yemen are responsible for arbitrary deprivation of the right to life, arbitrary detention, enforced disappearances, sexual violence, torture, ill-treatment, child recruitment, violations of fundamental freedoms, and violations of economic, social and cultural rights.  These amount to violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law, as applicable. Subject to determination by an independent and competent court, many of these violations may result in individuals being held responsible for war crimes.

The Campaign Against the Arms Trade has waged a long legal battle with the UK government which was successful in June  persuading the Court of Appeal that the Secretary of State’s actions were ‘irrational and therefore unlawful.’

Further background on the UN report can be found in a Guardian article 3 September.

Another extract from the report details activities we have previously highlighted:

The report notes that coalition air strikes have caused most direct civilian casualties.  The airstrikes have hit residential areas, markets, funerals, weddings, detention facilities, civilian boats and even medical facilities.  Based on the incidents they examined, the Group of Experts have reasonable grounds to believe that individuals in the Government of Yemen and the coalition may have conducted attacks in violation of the principles of distinction, proportionality and precaution that may amount to war crimes.
“There is little evidence of any attempt by parties to the conflict to minimize civilian casualties. I call on them to prioritise human dignity in this forgotten conflict,” said Kamel Jendoubi, chairperson of the Group of International and Regional Eminent Experts on Yemen.

The UN report can be accessed here.


If you live in the Salisbury, South Wilts/North Dorset area we would and would like to join us, you would be very welcome.  The best thing is to keep an eye on this site or our Facebook and Twitter pages and come to an event.

July – August death penalty report


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

Report (Word)


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

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