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Government Turns Blind Eye to Offshore Migrant Processing Problems Faced by Australia and Israel

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 14/04/2022 - 8:28pm in

The policy of sending people seeking asylum to camps and centres 'offshore' has led to criticism and human rights abuses – but the UK Government is doing it anyway

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Migrant men arriving into the UK via the Channel could soon be removed from the country for processing in Rwanda, if Government proposals announced today become law. 

But the decision to process people seeking asylum and other migrant people offshore shows that lessons have not been learned from other countries which have tried this – notably Australia and Israel. 

The policy of offshore processing for people seeking asylum and migrants has been much criticised by those working on migrant rights. Tim Naor-Hilton, chief executive of Refugee Action, has called the policy a “grubby cash-for-people plan” that is “a cowardly, barbaric and inhumane way to treat people fleeing persecution and war”.

Sonya Sceats, chief executive of Freedom from Torture, said: “Boris Johnson’s plan to imprison refugees in prison camps in Rwanda is deeply disturbing and should horrify anybody with a conscience. It is even more dismaying that the UK Government has agreed this deal with a state known to practice torture, as we know from the many Rwandan torture survivors we have treated over the years.”

An Opportunity for Smugglers

In 2013, Israel signed secret agreements with Rwanda and Uganda to transfer people seeking asylum from Eritrea and Sudan. Although the scheme was billed as voluntary, people from Eritrea and Sudan had to choose between detention in the Holot facility and signing a document to ‘willingly’ leave.

Research by the University of Oxford on Israel’s policy found that those individuals who agreed to leave “were not granted protection in Rwanda or Uganda, forcing them to embark on a dangerous journey in search of safety, ending in Europe”.

The researchers spoke to 19 people who had eventually come to Europe and found that none of them had been given the opportunity to apply for asylum once they left Israel and arrived in Rwanda. All interviewees told the researchers that, on arriving in Rwanda, their travel document produced by Israel – the only identity document in their possession – was taken away. They were held in hotels guarded by armed men. 

Realising that there was little hope of claiming asylum, all of the interviewees said that they only remained in Rwanda for a few days before deciding to take their chances and travel to Europe by so-called 'irregular' routes. They paid people smugglers to take them through South Sudan, Sudan and then Libya, where migrants are routinely jailed in camps, subjected to rape and other forms of violence.

From there, they made the dangerous journey across the Mediterranean to Europe, where 16 were given refugee status. At the time of the research, three more were waiting for asylum decisions to be processed.

The UK Government’s plan for immigration is to deter people from making so-called illegal crossings and only take safe, regular routes into the UK. It hopes that by introducing offshore processing, it can prevent people making dangerous journeys across the Channel. 

But the experiences highlighted by the University of Oxford research show that people in desperate need of asylum will risk taking more dangerous journeys out of Africa to reach Europe. 

Back in 2018, the UN Refugee Agency, the UNHCR, appealed to Israel to end its policy of relocating Eritreans and Sudanese to sub-Saharan Africa after some 80 cases were identified in which people relocated by Israel risked their lives by taking dangerous onward journeys to Europe via Libya. Four years later, the UK Government is mimicking the policy.

The Angry Sun

Lessons have also not been learned by Australia’s much-criticised offshoring processing policy, with vulnerable people seeking asylum held in Manus Island and Nauru – territory owned by Papua New Guinea. The cost of holding people offshore was $2 million per person per year.

In 2014, Amnesty International in Australia launched a campaign to end the detention of children seeking asylum on Manus Island, one of the camps. 

As part of its campaign, it released illustrations created by children held there. All of them depicted massive, angry, hot suns – reflective of how they felt oppressed under the heat in a camp where there was little shelter. Most of the children drew pictures of men crying. 

The Home Office has said that it will only be taking male migrants to offshore processing centres, not women or children. This raises questions for family reunification policy.

But the human suffering of men being held offshore is clear, with Amnesty International finding evidence of men regularly attempting suicide and self-harm on Nauru. Daily violence was also recorded. 

In a joint report by the Refugee Council of Australia and Amnesty International, the camps were described as places where minds and bodies were broken. 

“Australia’s horrific experiment sending refugees thousands of miles away led to rampant abuse in its camps, as well as rape, murder and suicide,” said Tim Naor-Hilton.

Sonya Sceats agreed, saying: “Australia’s experiment with offshore processing camps became hotbeds of human rights abuses, where sexual abuse of women and children was rife.”

In 2021, Papua New Guinea's Supreme Court found that the facility on Manus Island was "illegal". Remaining refugees were either transferred to Nauru or given the choice to stay in the country and start the process to become a permanent citizen there. As recently as 22 February this year, 112 people were still held in Nauru. 

The human suffering documented in Manus Island and Nauru was criticised around the world. Now the UK Government is following in Australia’s footsteps. 

“Ministers seem too keen to ignore the reality that most people who cross the Channel in flimsy boats are refugees from countries where persecution and war are rife who just want to live in safety,” said Naor-Hilton.

“It’s time the Government found its moral compass and started treating refugees with dignity and compassion, creating more routes to safety to claim asylum here and building protection system that’s just and humane.”

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Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 29/03/2022 - 9:20pm in

Dimitris Dimitriadis and Iain Overton consider the ways in which violence in Ukraine may provoke social and economic unrest across the globe

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As the conflict in Ukraine continues to run its devastating course, the chaos of war is spilling beyond its casement. The reverberations of the fighting now seem to be travelling down the Black Sea, into the Middle East and Africa.

Ukraine is known as the breadbasket of Europe, but it is not only Europe’s food security – and, in large part, political stability – that is at stake. When it comes to critical food imports, such as wheat and maize, Europe is relatively sheltered from the conflict. Because, while the same cannot be said of energy and fertilisers – the bulk of which originates in Russia – it is countries in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region that are much more vulnerable to the inadvertent food costs of this war. 

Many countries in MENA import vast quantities of wheat from Ukraine and Russia; they also consume more wheat per capita than the global average and, as such, are vulnerable to the knock-on effects of the fighting.

Global wheat prices have soared to record highs over the last month. Russia’s invasion has made wheat coming from the region either extremely costly or entirely inaccessible. Trade routes have been blocked, infrastructure has been damaged or destroyed, and exports have ground to a near halt. Suppliers continuing to trade face prohibitive insurance premiums – part of the cost of doing business in wartime – and freight costs.

Compounding these issues are a raft of Western sanctions against Russia that have made trading with the country a much more complicated exercise, despite the fact that food does directly not fall under the restrictions.

If Vladimir Putin’s aim was to undermine global food security, Russia could have hardly picked a better target. Together, Russia and Ukraine account for around 30% of the world’s traded wheat. With the conflict raging on, an estimated 13.5 million tonnes of wheat and 16 million tonnes of maize are currently held in the two nations combined. Millions more tonnes are at risk; the harvest season for Black Sea wheat runs in the summer, and planting typically takes place in April. This year, the black fields of Ukraine may well run fallow. 

Just how bad this proves for food markets will hinge on the duration of the conflict. But even if it ended tomorrow, the risks to global food security are unlikely to dissipate. Farmers have been fleeing the conflict in droves and infrastructure has either been decimated or claimed by the invader. In addition, most of the country’s wheat production comes from eastern Ukraine – exactly where the conflict has been most intense. Patching up this breadbasket is going to take time.

Time, though, is a luxury that countries like Tunisia and Egypt cannot afford. The latter is the world’s largest importer of wheat and around 60% of its cereal imports come from Russia and Ukraine. The former is among the top buyers of Ukrainian wheat, accounting for half of its imports in 2019. 

“Bread is the thing that fills the stomachs of the poor and the working classes,” says Fadhel Kaboub, associate professor of economics at Denison University.

For decades, a vicious cycle of import dependency has not been broken. Kaboub traces it back to the EU’s Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) which “forced farmers in the Global South to switch to cash crops which are very water and energy intensive, and gave governments dollar and Euro revenues to pay for energy imports”. 

This, he adds, sustained an external debt trap and meant that poorer countries never developed the food sovereignty that would have shielded them from conflicts.

If anything, their import dependency has intensified. Consider Egypt, whose population has been outpacing increases in domestic production. Now its Government is facing a sky-high bill of $763 million that it may need to add to its bread subsidies programme, following the import disruption.

On the one hand, Egyptian officials have said that bread subsidy reforms may come up in the upcoming budget, and President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has not gone to any great lengths to hide his contempt for the programme.

On the other hand, the Government seems to be desperately trying to contain the fallout. On top of banning staple food exports, it has capped the price of unsubsidised bread – which has soared in recent weeks – and said that its wheat reserves are enough to last for the next four months. It is also paying local farmers more to stimulate local production and diversify its sources of wheat. 

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Tunisia is in a similar squeeze. Even before the conflict, the country was facing severe flour shortages amid difficulties in securing import contracts and paying for shipments. This has in turn undermined its credibility as a trading partner, with “some suppliers now refusing to ship before payment is made,” according to Kaboub. 

Timing is not on the country’s side, either. Ramadan, which is typically when food consumption is the highest, is just around the corner and expectations of more shortages have led to panic buying.  

The country is cornered in another way, too. It will need to commit to “deep reforms” and public spending cuts if it wants a rescue deal with the International Monetary Fund (IMF). So far, axing its own bread subsidy has not been openly raised in the negotiations. 

But that may not come as a surprise. “Since the 1980s,” Kaboub says, “the IMF has done away with the ‘shock therapy’ type interventions of removing bread subsidies. What has replaced that is shrinkflation, whereby the size of the loaf is gradually reduced and its price is gradually increased. We’ve had that in Tunisia for decades.” 

Both countries, he adds, will ultimately need to “build resilience” and switch out of “deficient economic models”. In the short term, they might be tempted to cut bread subsidies to take some pressure off their exploding budgets. But doing so would also cause widespread hunger and possibly pave the way for social unrest.

‘Bread, Freedom and Social Justice’

History tells us that food prices and political instability often go hand in hand. And where food inflation is coupled with rising literacy rates and unprecedented access to information, it can mean the difference between unrest and revolution. 

Consider the year of European revolutions: 1848. The ‘hungry ‘40s’ were a time of privation, famine and disease. In 1847, a Prussian Minister said: “The old year ended in scarcity, the new one opens with starvation. Misery, spiritual and physical, traverses Europe in ghastly shapes – the one without God, the other without bread.”

Trade had come to a near halt, grain crops had been decimated, food prices were through the roof. Protestors in Paris would soon give authorities a choice: “Bread or lead”.

The 1840s were also a time of relative enlightenment, with literacy rates rising rapidly around Europe in the first half of the century. And while the revolutions were largely acephalous and uncoordinated, widespread printed news and presses enabled the dissemination of political ideas across different nations which, in turn, fomented dissent.

This dual role of food and revolutionary information was also central to the Arab Spring uprisings of 2011. Those events, which would unseat a number of tyrants, started with food riots in Tunisia and Algeria, but also coincided with the widespread dissemination of Wikileaks highlighting endemic corruption. Political scandal came at the same time as the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) issued a warning: food prices were reaching record levels.

Arab regimes responded by increasing subsidies – a tactic that autocrats often rely on – but grain prices kept climbing and the release of vast amounts of incriminating and revelatory information on the embattled regimes led people to take to the streets. A popular chant during the uprising in Egypt was: “Bread, freedom and social justice”.

Over a decade later, those chants are more muted but there are familiar grounds for concern. Food prices have recently reached a new all-time high, topping the peaks of February 2011. This pre-dates the Ukraine conflict, so the revised outlook is even bleaker for some of the world’s largest importers of wheat. There has also been a swelling of urban centres in both Egypt and Tunisia – and any increases in the price of bread will stoke existing tensions and discontent.

In Tunisia, thousands of people have already taken to the streets to protest the rule of President Kais Saied, who seized power last year. The country’s economy and democratic transition may be hanging in the balance. The shockwaves of the conflict in Ukraine could not have come at a worse time. 

The longer the conflict in Ukraine draws out, the more pressure these regimes will come under. Whether they or their people crack, remains to be seen.

This article was produced by the Byline Intelligence Team – a collaborative investigative project formed by Byline Times with The Citizens. If you would like to find out more about the Intelligence Team and how to fund its work, click on the button below.

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