Migration

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‘Homes for Ukraine’ and the Two Faces of the British Government

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 04/07/2022 - 9:16pm in

Former diplomat Alexandra Hall Hall follows up on the story of British host Jane and Ukrainian refugee Nadia and the fresh hurdles they have faced around the Government's asylum scheme

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In April, I documented the saga of one Ukrainian woman, Nadia, and her family, who were trying to come to the UK under the auspices of the newly launched 'Homes for Ukraine' scheme. Although Nadia was fortunate to be offered a home relatively quickly by a British woman, Jane, it took many weeks to complete the process and she had to overcome a number of obstacles along the way.

The UK press has reported many similar tales of setbacks and difficulties faced by other British sponsors trying to facilitate the safe arrival of Ukrainian refugees. 

In my view, some challenges were to be expected as such a hastily devised scheme bedded down. However, I hoped to hear better news when I chatted last week with Jane and Nadia’s daughter, Anna, whose English is good enough for her to express herself in her own words, to hear how they were settling in, three months on.  

Before our conversation, I read an uplifting article about the positive experiences of a few other Ukrainian families, who described the warmth of their reception and their appreciation for their British hosts. The hosts, in turn, described how rewarding the experience had been for them; and how they had done their utmost to help their guests settle in and feel at home, while also allowing them personal space. These seemed to be success stories.

So, knowing how much Jane had similarly done to support and welcome Nadia and her family, I looked forward to hearing an equally positive account from them. 

Anna confirmed that “she could not have imagined being made to be feel more comfortable” in Jane’s home. She said Jane and her partner had “done everything for us”. They had provided Anna and her relatives with a safe space; had supported them through every step of the process to get registered with their local authorities, and claim the benefits for which they were eligible. To get her younger cousin into school; and to establish contact with other Ukrainians in their neighbourhood. 

While the two families frequently shared meals and spent time together, Jane had also made sure to give her guests some privacy. Anna told me “I feel like home here”.  

She also said that, in her first few weeks, she was so relieved to be physically safe, after her harrowing departure from Ukraine, that she simply did not have time to worry about anything else. She was just immensely grateful to the British Government for launching the scheme and to Jane for offering her family a safe place to stay.    

But, a few weeks in, Anna said that she and her family started to experience a different set of challenges. With their immediate need for physical safety met, they were now struggling with more emotional and psychological problems. 

New Hurdles Emerge

One of the most obvious issues has been a strong feeling of 'survivor guilt' and constant worry about what is happening back in Ukraine, where Anna’s father is still based.

Although everyone in the village in Cornwall where they are now living has been welcoming, not everyone understands the depth of their trauma. Anna said people are always asking if “we feel happy here” or telling them how lucky they are to be in the UK. Anna certainly appreciates her place of refuge in the UK, but she cannot just forget about the ongoing situation in Ukraine and the friends and family members she has left behind. 

She said these people mean well, but it is a struggle to meet the expectation to always appear happy and grateful. “I like the UK, but I don’t see my future here," she told me. "I want to be back in Ukraine as soon as it is safe.” 

Jane feels that sponsors and well-wishers need to have a better understanding of what Ukrainian refugees have gone through.

“One of the stresses for a sponsor is looking on at the pain of our guests and not being able to do anything to relieve it," she said. "I know that they are frightened every day about Anna’s father. I am aware that Anna knows people who have died. Just sharing the knowledge of their pain but without trying to offer banal words of condolence has its own challenges.”

She offered the following advice for other sponsors: “Don’t parade them on social media, saying 'here is my Ukrainian family, look what I have done'. Don’t expect them always to be grateful and happy. Don’t expect them to be jolly when you try to organise excursions or activities to entertain them. Don’t ask them to talk about their experiences, or about the current situation in Ukraine, because this only puts them under further stress.

"On their shoulders is a massive weight of guilt. Understandably they are angry, frightened and damaged people. Helping them, and not taking any of their anger, frustration, or hurt personally is vital – as is giving them as much agency as possible, as soon as possible. Giving them independence and autonomy is fundamental to the process working. We hear of host families finding it hard to let go.” 

Another worry for Anna and her family has been how to support themselves financially. They are all on the Universal Credit benefit for the time being, but under pressure to find work. They want to do this but are struggling to find the right opportunities in their area. Anna, her mother and aunt are all highly educated, with two degrees each. However, the only jobs which appear to be available at the local job centre are minimal wage roles in cleaning or hospitality. 

Anna is at pains to stress that her concern is not that such work is beneath her. It’s just that the job centre staff, under pressure themselves to get every applicant – not just Ukrainians – into work, do not seem to be able to take into account her previous professional experience or to differentiate between applicants. “I left everything behind in Ukraine," she said. "But it’s stressful to be expected to do the jobs nobody else wants to do.” 

Jane detects a sense in some quarters that Ukrainians are a convenient source of cheap labour, able to pick up the jobs left vacant due to Brexit. There seems to be no recognition that Ukrainian refugees vary just as much in terms of their qualifications and abilities as existing UK residents. But she is aware that, whether due to lack of training, or a lack of good jobs, it's not just Ukrainians who get pushed by job centre staff towards jobs for which they are not suitable.  

Anna and her family are also anxious about what will happen to them in the longer term, if the war in Ukraine drags on. They are genuinely luckier than most in that Jane has promised to let them stay with her for up to three years – the full term of their current visas. But many other host families only signed up for the initial six-month term envisaged under the Homes for Ukraine scheme. What happens next is very uncertain. 

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If the host families decide not to extend their hospitality for another six months, their Ukrainian guests will have to find their own places to live. But Jane noted that there is a massive housing shortage in Cornwall. The £350 a month payment for each hosting family also runs out after 12 months and has not been adjusted to take account of the rising cost of fuel. “Most Ukrainian families are simply not going to be ready to stand on their own two feet," she said. "In three months’ time, there will be a tsunami of problems.” 

In fact, some hosting arrangements have already broken down, leaving some Ukrainian refugees homeless and vulnerable.

Anna and Jane told me that this had happened to one family in their village – the British hosts had apparently expected their Ukrainian guests to work for free in support of their business in return for being offered shelter. The Ukrainians felt they could not refuse, despite being asked to work for no money. Ultimately, the hosts threw them out and the local county council has still not been able to find them alternative long-term accommodation. Jane and Anna clarified that they have not heard the British hosts' side of the story.

According to a recent CNN report, some Ukrainians now face homelessness alone in the UK. But the Government has been slow to anticipate such problems or provide sustainable solutions.

According to the CNN story, local councils do now have access to a 're-matching' process to try to find Ukrainians new accommodation when the relationship with their original sponsor breaks down. But charities told CNN that the process was “inconsistent and difficult to access”. Meanwhile local authorities are left grappling with how to support the abandoned refugees, without enough central guidance or support.  

Such stories make people like Anna fearful about whether the same thing could happen to them. Even though Jane has reassured them that she is committed to supporting them for the next three years, there is nothing to stop her from changing her mind.

“From a sponsor’s point of view, the whole thing is hugely time-consuming," she said. "Not something I begrudge for one second, but I can see the stresses it could add to people with work commitments.”

Anna also noted that difficulties may arise due to cultural misunderstandings. “I think that the British should say more directly what they find inappropriate," she told me. "I know that your nation likes to soften everything with a smile because you do not like open confrontation. But in everyday life it is better to speak directly so that there are no silent conflicts.”

Adding to Anna’s uncertainty is the heated wider political debate in the UK over migration and refugees.

She said she is acutely aware that other asylum seekers feel that Ukrainians are being given special treatment and is sensitive to the risk of a backlash against Ukrainians if they end up staying in the UK for a very long time or ever appear to complain about their situation. 

This risk is even more acute, against the backdrop of a cost of living crisis, in which many British people are also struggling to make ends meet. Resentment against Ukrainians could grow the longer they stay or the more of them that come.  

Anna said she was particularly disturbed by the Government’s new scheme to send migrants to Rwanda to deter them from trying to enter the UK illegally (even though the UK has not established any alternative legal method, making it almost impossible for genuine refugees to apply for asylum).

“Is it a joke?" she asked. "What if the UK gets tired of us and we get sent to Rwanda?” Jane added that this was a real fear among Ukrainians – and that they do not feel they can trust this Government. 

An Unsustainable Scheme?

The Government launched the Homes for Ukraine scheme to great fanfare and has enjoyed taking credit for it as an example of British generosity. However, it has left most of the practical consequences of implementing the scheme to local authorities and hosting families. 

As a result, Jane and Anna described the scheme as “a lottery”. If they’re lucky, Ukrainians will be matched with British hosts who have the resources, time and willingness to help them navigate the bureaucracy and settle in. But it’s luck of the draw. There is no guarantee that the families will be a good fit with each other or that they will be securely accommodated and able to get by once the initial commitment of six months is over. The Ukrainian refugees remain at the mercy of the continuing generosity of their British hosts. 

Jane said that there were bound to be some teething problems with the programme and that her local authorities were doing their best. She shared with me a recent message sent out to all host families by Cornwall Council acknowledging that it needed to start planning for the longer term. It also provided information about access to mental health counselling, English language classes and activities for younger Ukrainians over the summer. 

However, three months on, she feels that the Government could have done more to put the scheme onto a more effective and sustainable footing.

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Ideally, by now there should be a more streamlined, centralised process for matching applicants and families, and guiding them through the settlement process. Local authorities should also be receiving more resources to support the refugees, as it becomes apparent that Vladimir Putin's war is continuing – making it unsafe for most Ukrainian refugees to return home any time soon. 

Above all, Jane believes that the Government urgently needs a plan for looking after those Ukrainians whose hosts ask them to leave either during, or at the end of, the initial six months commitment – rather than just leaving it to local authorities to figure out how to do so.

Her worry is that, if increasing numbers of Ukrainians become homeless as their initial welcome runs out – and the British public sours on the scheme – the Government will not take responsibility but blame problems on the host families or the refugees themselves for not fitting in. 

Anna echoed that sentiment. She said she still feels grateful to the British Government for initiating the scheme, but “its success is only due to the efforts of the individual host families”. She questions whether the Government should have launched it, if it was not prepared to support it properly. But she is afraid to express such thoughts out loud, for fear of appearing ungrateful and generating a backlash.   

Against this background, what sticks in the craw most for Jane is the Government’s continued boasting about its generosity to Ukrainians when, in practical terms, it has taken in far fewer refugees than other European countries, relative to size, and on far more restrictive terms.

The latest figures from the UN’s High Commissioner for Refugees bear this out. They indicate that the UK has granted temporary protection to more than 82,000 refugees from Ukraine. By comparison, Poland has taken in more than one million; Germany almost 800,000; the Czech Republic more than 380,000; and Italy and Spain both more than 100,000 each.

According to an analysis of these figures by the Guardian, this means that the UK has taken in fewer Ukrainians per capita than all but one other European country out of 28. 

Rule Makers, Not Rule Takers

It was distressing to listen to Anna and Jane’s story. It is a 'happy ending' on one level, but it is also a story of government inadequacy, dressed up with false claims. 

The Government can point to the fact that it is doing far more than many other countries in supporting the military effort in Ukraine – for that, it certainly deserves some credit.

But, only last week, the Home Secretary was still boasting in the House of Commons about the UK’s “long, proud history of welcoming refugees” and citing the Homes for Ukraine scheme as an example – without acknowledging any of the problems the scheme has faced or its uncertain long-term future. 

The UK’s record on accepting refugees looks even worse when set against the global picture. According to UN’s High Commissioner for Refugees' figures, low- and middle-income countries currently host 83% of the world’s refugee population. The top hosting countries are Turkey with 3.8 million refugees; Colombia with 1.8 million; Pakistan and Uganda with 1.5 million each; and Germany with 1.3 million. Meanwhile, the UK has taken in less than 140,000 people.  

These statistics, and stories such as Anna’s, are yet another example of the gap between rhetoric and reality advanced by the Government.

It talks about the UK being a global force for good. It boasts about its record in taking in refugees. It prides itself on being a beacon of human rights and democracy in the world. It takes tough stances on these issues at the United Nations and lectures other countries on their standards. It berates Russia for violating international law through its invasion of Ukraine. It recently criticised the US Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v Wade, removing women’s constitutional right to abortion. 

But this is the same government which has just passed a law criminalising certain types of public protest – leading to the heavy-handed police action and threat of prosecution against anti-Brexit activist Steve Bray outside Parliament last week. This is the same government which is trying to send asylum seekers to Rwanda, a country with a human rights record the UK has itself questioned, while making it as hard as possible for genuine asylum seekers to apply for protection in the UK. 

This is the same government currently planning to give itself the ability to reject rulings from the European Court of Human Rights, an institution established to uphold the European Convention of Human Rights which British officials helped to draft. This is the same government trying to circumscribe the powers of judicial review. This is the same government tightening its remit over the Electoral Commission. 

This is the same government which has watered down the Ministerial Code and is trying to pass legislation to override parts of the Northern Ireland Protocol which it dislikes – an act which former Prime Minister Theresa May and several other Conservatives backbenchers openly declared to be illegal. This is the same government which passed draconian lockdown measures during the worst months of the Coronavirus pandemic, but is now apparently unconcerned by the violation of those same codes by its own Prime Minister.

This is a government which applies one standard to itself and a different standard to everyone else. Do as I say, not as I do. No wonder those like Jane remain suspicious, and Ukrainians like Anna are fraught with anxiety. 

Alexandra Hall Hall is a former British diplomat with more than 30 years experience, with postings in Bangkok, Washington, Delhi, Bogota and Tbilisi. She resigned from the Foreign Office in December 2019 because she felt unable to represent the Government’s position on Brexit with integrity

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New Illegal Immigration Deal with Nigeria Raises Human Rights Concerns

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 04/07/2022 - 7:38pm in

A deal on deporting foreign national offenders could have serious implications when the Nationality and Borders Act criminalises certain migrants for how they enter the UK, Sian Norris reports

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The UK Government has agreed a deal with Nigeria to tackle shared illegal immigration, prompting concern from migrant rights activists. 

The deal was signed the same day the UK deported 13 individuals to Nigeria, including a man who had sought asylum on the basis of his sexuality but had his claim refused. 

The agreement forms part of the Home Office’s New Plan for Immigration and was described by Priti Patel as a “landmark” decision to “increase the deportation of dangerous foreign criminals to make our streets and country safer”.

Patel described the deal as “our New Plan for Immigration being put into action”. However, the plan and its associated Nationality and Borders Act have come under much scrutiny and criticism for creating an increasingly hostile environment for migrant people and those seeking asylum. 

The new laws create a tiered asylum system where those who arrive via irregular routes, such as small boats across the Channel, could face criminalisation. This has major consequences for the agreement, which seeks to speed up deportations of foreign national offenders to Nigeria.  

“Under the new Nationality and Borders Act, in theory when the Government talks about ‘foreign criminals’ to deport to Nigeria, they could mean anyone entering the UK via irregular means, such as crossing the Channel,” said Peter Dolby, Director of Operations at Love146, an NGO working with child victims of trafficking.

“Particularly when looked at in the context of the current situation in Nigeria, where human rights violations are rampant, this potentially raises the significant risk of children, deliberately or otherwise, being sent to a country where their lives are put at risk and they are outside of any of the recognised formal protection mechanisms which the UK has in place”.

“This is not some hypothetical,” Dolby continued. “The Home Office has already fought, and lost, a case where it attempted to refuse to bring back a mother and her five-year-old child from Nigeria under previous agreements. Removing people to a country where they face serious threats and risk to life, particularly when that may include young people, goes against the very principles of humanity and human rights we believe the UK should stand for”.

The deal will speed up the removal of foreign national offenders from the UK to Nigeria and vice versa. It will allow for emergency travel certificates or temporary passports to be issued to individuals being returned within five working days of receipt of their passport or biometric details. 

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Patel also claimed that it would help in the fight against people smugglers.

“It is inconceivable that sending people, in particular young people, to a country where people being kidnapped and sold into slavery is well known about could in any way be seen as a means to tackle either trafficking or smuggling,” said Dolby.

Nigeria has long cooperated in deportations, meaning that despite the fanfare over the announcement, not much will change in terms of the relationship. The concern is that the criminalisation of crossing the Channel will lead to vulnerable people being classed as offenders, and therefore deported.

While there is no doubt Nigeria has experienced huge progress in recent decades, with a flourishing literature and cultural scene and a growing economy, particularly in the major cities, social problems and repression remain an issue. As many as four in 10 people live below the poverty line, and parts of the country are still facing violence from the Boko Haram militia group.

According to Amnesty International, people in Nigeria face numerous barriers to freedom of expression and assembly – while women and LGBTIQ people face specific discrimination. In June 2021, President Buhari ordered the shut down of Twitter, after the site deleted one of his tweets. Security forces responded with violence and aggression to protesters in the major cities of Lagos and Abuja, in what became known as the End SARS protests. Those who took part in the protests were arbitrarily detained – including Kemisola Ogunniyi, an 18-year-old woman who gave birth during her eight-month detention.

Homosexuality remains illegal in Nigeria, making it particularly dangerous for LGBTIQ people – gay men can face 14 years in prison while transgender people endure even more severe penalties. Between 2015 and 2020, a total of 898 Nigerian people claimed asylum where sexual orientation formed part of the claim. Of these, 621 were refused. 

And while rates of female genital mutilation in Nigeria have halved in the past few decades, women and girls remain at risk of this and other forms of gender-based violence. 

Earlier this year, UNICEF warned that FGM was rising among Nigerian girls aged 0-14. Rates have increased from 16.9% in 2013 to 19.2% in 2018, something the charity called a “worrying trend”. The national prevalence for FGM in women aged 15-49 is 20%. Nigeria ranks at 139 on the Global Gender Gap Index.

Despite the criticism of the new laws, the Government has remained bullish in its commitment to taking a hardline on migration.

In a statement, Home Secretary Priti Patel said: “The deal will mean that operational teams in both countries will share their expertise to take the fight to criminal people smugglers who are responsible for a wider range of criminality and put profit before people while undermining the security of our two countries”.

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Street mosaic. More

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 26/06/2022 - 9:09am in

Street mosaic. More than half of the Portuguese diaspora in Australia live in Sydney’s Inner West, after a wave of post-WWII immigration. Marrickville.

Swarms, Floods, Invasions: Triggering the Fear of Refugees

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 24/06/2022 - 2:40am in

Anneke Campbell – Boris Johnson's cousin – explores how 'culture wars' aim to demonise and divide and why their language is key

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As a plane sat on tarmac ready to deport people seeking asylum to Rwanda, last-minute action by lawyers and the European Court of Human Rights prevented it from taking off – protecting already traumatised people from possibly terrible fates. This prompted the Prime Minister – my cousin once removed – to renew his threat to withdraw the UK from the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). The Government has now drawn up a Bill of Rights Bill to alter the country's rights framework. It has said it will continue with the Rwanda scheme, even suggesting that some asylum seekers should be monitored by wearing ankle tags in the meantime.

To be clear, the Human Rights Act (HRA) – which incorporates the rights and processes enshrined in the ECHR into British law – does not undermine the UK legal system. UK courts must “take account of” decisions of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg but they are not bound by them and may consider British cultural and legal contexts in order to diverge.

The HRA is a great constitutional achievement, assuring that rights and freedoms are accessible close to home. These freedoms should not be controversial and include freedom from torture, slavery, arbitrary detention, freedom of conscience and expression, the right to a fair trial, and to respect for privacy and family life. 

There can be no question that the rise of UKIP and the Brexit movement both exacerbated, and was enabled by, fears of an immigrant invasion of Britain. It is also apparent that many do not appear to know the difference between the European Court of Human Rights and the EU's Court of Justice – nor does the Johnson's Government make clear distinctions in their public statements about this; a deliberate attempt to manipulate Brexiters’ negative feelings about the European Union to push anti-asylum seeker policies. 

A year ago in the US, where I live, when television news started broadcasting images of thousands of people crowding Kabul airport, trying – and literally dying – to get out of Afghanistan, right-wing commentators bad-mouthed refugees.

“We will see many refugees from Afghanistan resettle in our country in the coming months, probably in your neighbourhood,” a notorious Fox News commentator declared. “And over the next decade, that number may swell to the millions. So first we invade, and then we’re invaded.” 

The use of terms such as “invade”, along with other manipulative slogans, reminded me of the former British Prime Minister David Cameron, who used the word “swarms”.  Such terms dehumanise those seeking safety, intending to 'other' and thereby remove people from our circle of care.  

In recent years, the ratcheting-up of racial and anti-immigrant sentiment on both sides of the Atlantic is reminiscent of what happened in Europe in the lead-up to the Second World War. Politicians and media use the same playbook: divide people by whipping up their biases and fears; direct their ire away from failing policies; find scapegoats and blame them for everything that goes wrong. 

For President Donald Trump, those coming across the US border with Mexico were violent criminals, terrorising law enforcement on their way to wreak havoc. “It’s like an invasion," he said. "They have violently overrun the Mexican border. They’ve overrun the Mexican police, and they’ve hurt badly Mexican soldiers. So this isn’t an innocent group of people."  

As an immigrant from northern Europe, I knew I would not be targeted by such scapegoating personally during the Trump era, but I heard from teacher friends in the Los Angeles public school system of the anxiety ramping up.

A favourite student collapsed in tears: she was an Algerian Muslim asylum seeker who could not return there if she and her mother could not remain in the US. Where would they go? One girl, who had never lived anywhere but in LA, had just graduated from high school and started college on a full scholarship: now she could not only be deprived of this opportunity, but sent to El Salvador and her family torn apart. 

Inflammatory language linking desperate people to terrorism, drugs, trafficking and violent crime drives a perception of refugees, not as normal people fleeing war, persecution and starvation, but as a threat to our (white Christian) identity and our economic security. Such tactics can be effective at a time when so many of our fellow citizens feel insecure due to economic factors, a pandemic and climate disruption.  

Unhelpful Labels

Many in the media do not distinguish between immigrants, migrants, asylum seekers and refugees.

Refugees are defined as those from other countries who are entitled under the 1951 Refugee Convention to seek asylum and citizenship in a host country. That process is arduous and long and requires much vetting.

If they are called migrants, however, they are not entitled to such protection. Often mainstream media uses the term ‘migrant’ to refer to all people on the move who have yet to complete the legal process of claiming asylum. This tendency to refer to refugees as a sub-category of migrants has serious consequences for people feeling persecution and conflict. 

According to the UN Refugee Agency, in 2021, there were 82 million forcibly displaced people as a result of persecution, violence, and human rights violations, among which 35 million are children. Now we can add 14 million Ukrainians to that number. Half are internally displaced, a different category of refugee (as they are not stateless, but homeless, often living in camps). 

The fleeing Ukrainians, Syrians, Afghanis those from failed states or getting away from drug cartels in Latin America, those risking drowning in the Mediterranean fleeing starvation and war in Africa – none of these people are leaving their families, communities and cultures behind as a lark, but because their survival is at risk. 

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There are also increasing numbers of people living on the frontlines of the climate crisis, which has exacerbated their plight and displaced them within or outside of their own countries.

The countries that take in the most number of these people are Turkey, Colombia, Pakistan and Germany. I find it deplorable that the US took in only 12,000 people last year – less than the 80,000 annually in the years before Trump and far less compared to 1980, when America took in 20,000. Comparatively, the UK has accepted a far larger share – around 50,000 yearly, but it has one of the most restrictive asylum and immigration systems in western Europe.

A Stark Choice

It has been encouraging to see that many people have opened their hearts to Afghan and Ukrainian refugees, if less so to Syrian and Africans. But some political leaders seem to have forgotten the lessons from our own past.

The US, for instance, could have saved thousands of Jews from the Nazis. At one point, it turned away a ship of 900 desperate German Jews, shortly after rejecting a proposal to allow 20,000 Jewish children to come to the US for safety. That same boat was refused in Britain as well. And, while the English may remember their embrace of the 10,000 Jewish children from Nazi Germany with pride, they only accepted 16% of the Jews who applied for sanctuary.  

I relate viscerally to the fate of refugees because my own mother escaped from Europe in 1941 on the last boat out of Portugal. She was half-Jewish, living with her new husband – my father – in Nazi-occupied Holland. He was a resistance organiser and knew she was in danger, so found a way to get her to Lisbon. Unlike most, because she had an American parent, she obtained a visa and spent the war years in Princeton, New Jersey, in relative safety. 

On the other hand, my father’s attempt to get away failed. A year later, he and a few other resistance fighters sought by the Gestapo tried to row a boat over the North Sea to England. He was imprisoned, condemned to be executed, but sent to the camps and survived to be liberated by the Russians.

While I was born two years after the war ended, I grew up with the 'never again' warning often repeated, and a journalist father who taught me to see how the manipulative use of language and lies contributed to the citizenry allowing and supporting the horrors that ensued.   

America has spent 70 years atoning for those errors during Second World War by becoming a welcoming country for refugees – a legacy to be proud of.

But Stephen Miller, advisor to President Trumphimself the Jewish descendant of refugees escaping pogroms in Russia – created the family separation policy. Immigration agents forcibly removed children from their parents’ arms, removed parents while their children slept, or simply ‘disappeared’ the children while their parents were in different holding cells – a policy, prohibited under international law, but carried out in order to punish and coerce central American asylum seekers to give up their asylum claims.

While US agents today no longer separate families, many thousands of refugees arriving from central America are refused entry and forced to stay on the Mexican side of the border in tent cities, with little food, amenities or security provided. 

Germany has tried to atone for its horrifying history in offering reparations to the victims over time and recently admitted a far greater quota of refugees from the war-torn Middle East, taking in one million fleeing Syrians and those from other countries. But it has also experienced a backlash.

The media can help, however, by reminding people that refugees and migrants are fellow human beings deserving of help.

Journalists can start by referring to them as  ‘people’, ‘women’, ‘men’, ‘children’, ‘sons’, ‘daughters’ – the terms we use to describe the folks we know on a daily basis.

They can be referred to as ‘the family which fled Syria', 'the Iranian who survived torture', 'the children who walked from El Salvador', 'the engineer who translated for the Americans in Afghanistan' or 'the Ukrainian family bombed out of their home'.

According to social psychologists, people are more inclined to recognise the humanity of someone who is described in a personal way rather than in more bureaucratic terms. 

The media could also focus on the benefits that asylum seekers and migrants bring to host countries, highlight all those refugees who have contributed hugely to our lives and how much poorer we would be without them. Without farm workers, our produce and food would be more expensive; our hospitals and nursing homes under-staffed; our homes and gardens dirtier; our first responders smaller in numbers. 

There is a stark choice. Do we want a future of closing ourselves off from large sections of our fellow humans? Do we want to harden our hearts and live in fear? If not, we will need to find ways to make space for them and find ways to share. And if we want to live in a culture of civility and caring, we need to start by eschewing the language, memes and biases that depict others as less human and deserving than ourselves. 

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Woe to these Charlatans: Deportation and Destruction

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 16/06/2022 - 8:58pm in

The Government's Rwanda plan is not about Rwanda or about ‘solving’ the issue of small boat crossings, says Reverend Joe Haward

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The Government’s scheme to send some people seeking asylum to Rwanda has rightly led to an outcry from a variety of voices. 

Politicians, writers and commentators have spoken out in horror, while more than 160 charities and campaign groups have denounced the plan as “cruel and immoral”. Muslim cleric Imam Qari Asim said it “challenges our human conscience” and Prince Charles is reported to have commented privately that the policy is “appalling”.

Not only that, but the entire senior leadership of the Church of England have written a letter, published in The Times, saying that “this immoral policy shames Britain”.

The letter makes the point that those seeking asylum in the UK are the “people Jesus had in mind as he said when we offer hospitality to a stranger, we do it for him”. In other words, in the face of the most vulnerable people, we see ourselves – indeed all of humanity reflected back. Who is our neighbour? The person seeking asylum. 

These ethical and moral attacks are not the only criticisms levelled at the Government’s plans. The Refugee Council has highlighted that 75% of asylum applications in the UK result in asylum being granted or humanitarian protection. Therefore, the majority of people coming to this country are fleeing war, bloodshed and persecution – directly contradicting the Government’s rhetoric that the majority of people crossing the English Channel in small boats are “economic migrants”.

Questions also remain as to the UK’s obligation and ability to protect the human rights of those sent to Rwanda, with little detail as to how the Home Office will ensure the ongoing safety of those people relocated. Neither has the cost to the taxpayer been adequately justified, with the initial £120 million set aside seemingly well short of what would be needed to deport “tens of thousands” of asylum seekers.  

There is little doubt that this policy will cause further suffering to the lives of already traumatised people seeking refuge in the UK. Rather than “putting evil people smugglers out of business”, as the Home Secretary has claimed, it will punish the victims.

Yet, despite such widespread criticism, Boris Johnson has said that the Government is not going to be “deterred or abashed”. The Foreign Secretary said the first plane leaving for Rwanda would “establish the principle”, even if very few people are on-board. And, in her announcement of the plan in April, Priti Patel insisted that control of national borders was “fundamental to national sovereignty”.

Whatever the Government claims, the Rwanda Plan has nothing to do with helping the most vulnerable and everything to do with political and ideological fulfilment. It reveals the authoritarian racism of this Government.

Divide and Conquer

Ideas that demonise and exclude others ring powerfully in the ears of those who believe identity and nation are being attacked, especially during national economic struggles.

After Hitler published his ideas around racial struggle, the belief that nation belonged to the triumphant races, with mercy a violation of the order of things – including the belief that the weak must not be allowed to reproduce – led to Europeans killing Jews who could not recite the Lord’s Prayer.

When, during his presidential campaign, Donald Trump called Mexican immigrants “rapists” and declared that he would have “Mexico pay” for a wall stretching 1,000 miles, his goal was never a practical, “impenetrable” wall but to stoke the fires of racism.

Those fires actively burned across the US throughout his presidency, supported by right-wing groups, including evangelical Christians. Indeed, during his unsuccessful re-election campaign, Trump repeatedly used the word “invasion” in Facebook ads to describe immigration.

Trump’s wall, like the Government’s Rwanda plan, is not about pragmatic policy. Rather, both serve as the means through which racist policy, conditions and culture can be furthered for populist gain.

The goal is not to find humane and ethical ways to support people seeking asylum, but to punish the most vulnerable quite simply because of who they are.

The Rwanda plan is not about Rwanda – or about ‘solving’ the issue of small boat crossings – but creating division and hostilities within the UK that can be used to oil the wheels of ever-more authoritarian laws. 

There have been a variety of examples of the use of deportation as punishment. 

During the 18th and 19th Centuries, the British penal system sentenced those found guilty of a crime to transportation, sending women and men to America or Australia. The Nazis’ Madagascar Plan – to relocate Jewish people on the island – was designed for the pursuit of Jewish destruction. Between 1929 and 1936, Herbert Hoover’s administration, through unconstitutional raids, forcibly deported an estimated 1.8 million people from America.

The ‘othering’ of fellow human beings to protect the ‘rights’ of others has a long and bloodied history.

Boris Johnson’s Government revels in this ‘othering’; feeding the worst in us and creating Trumpian-Johnsonian disciples – in the Conservative Party, the media and the public. I can imagine a famous Jewish carpenter calling seven woes down upon these charlatans who speak of justice, but are full of hypocrisy and wickedness. 

Reverend Joe Haward is a community and business chaplain

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Setting the Record Straight on Rwanda’s Asylum System

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 16/06/2022 - 6:45pm in

The issue is not about physical infrastructure but the quality of legal provision, practical assistance and the conditions facing refugees in Rwanda, writes Brad Blitz

The decision by the European Court of Human Rights in K.N. v United Kingdom, which put a halt to the Home Office’s attempt to send asylum seekers to Rwanda, gave campaigners a temporary victory.

It was, however, a crucially important moment for both the Iraqi appellant and the other asylum seekers who were due to follow him onto the deportation flight to Kigali.

Following the decision from Strasbourg, their removal was stayed by last-minute injunctions by the Court of Appeal and Upper Tribunal and so far no one has been sent to Rwanda. 

But this is not the end of the story.  The Home Secretary has vowed that the removal flights to Rwanda will go ahead and is gearing up to fight off a judicial review in which the lawfulness of the Government’s policy will be put to the test. In the meantime, it is important to set the record straight about what constitutes an asylum system. 

Over the course of this controversy, UK courts have accepted at face value promises made by the Government about its intentions and the capacity of Rwanda to protect asylum seekers. Indeed, one of the reasons the UK Supreme Court gave for refusing one asylum seeker’s application to appeal the Court of Appeal’s decision on their removal was based on the Government’s ‘assurance’ that anyone removed unlawfully would be returned to the UK. This was one provision included in the memorandum of understanding between the governments of Rwanda and the UK which failed to convince me, given the Government’s history of post-removal follow-up

Since the decision by the ECHR, advocates for the governments in London and Kigali have sought to persuade all that Rwanda has both the will and the ability to receive asylum seekers and could process applications on behalf of the UK. Footage of a repurposed hostel, with fresh bed linen and a bright yellow coat of paint, ready and waiting for the deportees, has featured prominently in news stories.

Leaving aside the ethical and moral arguments against outsourcing, as raised by clerical leaders across the UK, no one should be fooled by Potemkin reception centres in Rwanda. 

The issue is not about physical infrastructure but the quality of legal provision; diplomatic and practical assistance to hand; and the conditions facing refugees in Rwanda.

Even if we accept that Rwanda has made progress in recent years and is willing to host asylum seekers on behalf of the UK, one must ask the extent to which it can process a heterogeneous population, whose histories, needs and claims are more complex than the housed populations drawn principally from its neighbours, Burundi and the DRC.  

The Rwandan Government insists that the deportees will be well treated and that they will have opportunities to seek asylum and, upon receiving refugee status, integrate and secure jobs including in the Government. Yet, a quick review of the 'country policy and information note' from May – which contains notes on Home Office visits and interviews with Rwandan authorities – records that asylum seekers are effectively offered temporary protection that can be renewed after three months. They do not have the right to work, but to apply for a jobseeker visa. 

Accurate and up-to-date statistics on the outcome of asylum claims in Rwanda is difficult to find. The UNHCR has published figures up to 2021, which record numbers in the asylum system. In 2020, the last full year for which we have data, there were just 204 applications.

Refugee status determination figures are even harder to locate. Data provided to the UK Government records that, in 2019, some 62 individuals were granted refugee status, while 124 were refused. Out of 24 appeals, only two saw their decisions corrected. A slightly improved number received refugee status in 2020: out of 489 decisions, 285 individuals were recognised as refugees (58%).  

Yet, this is a tiny number of applications given the 127,369 people of concern reported by UNHCR for 31 May 2022.

The greatest trend in Rwanda's refugee protection has in fact been the return of tens of thousands of Burundians, in line with a voluntary repatriation agreement between Rwanda, Burundi and UNHCR which was restarted just last year. 

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Moreover, if refugees are welcome in Rwanda – as we are told – how does one account for the resettlement to third countries, including Sweden and Canada?

The bottom line is that, given its history, the few economic offerings and the fact that Rwanda can only guarantee a place in a refugee camp for those unable to find work, the prospect of international protection is limited. 

Interestingly, given Rwanda’s importance in the Commonwealth, the UK’s contributions to UNHCR’s operations there are nowhere to be seen – in sharp contrast to other donors who have offered assistance through bilateral and multilateral channels, for example via the EU. 

This is by all accounts, then, an untested experiment and one which raises significant doubts. What we can say for certain, however, is that those seeking international protection stay in Rwanda temporarily. This is not a ‘durable solution’.

Brad Blitz is Professor of International Politics and Policy at UCL

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‘I Am Counting the Seconds’: The Iranian Dissident Set to be Deported to Rwanda

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 10/06/2022 - 11:24pm in

Frankie Vetch interviews a man facing the harsh reality of Priti Patel’s renewed hostile environment

When Bahram (not his real name) refused to fire on the protestors, it changed his life forever.

Last year the Iranian policeman escaped his country. 27 days ago, he entered the UK. Then 10 days ago, he was told he would be deported to Rwanda.

All that now stands between him and deportation is a decision by the UK High Court.

“If I go to Rwanda, considering the relationship between Rwanda and Iran, I will definitely be hunted down,” he told Byline Times. “I’d much rather go to Iran and be taken to my execution immediately, than for it to be drawn out.”

Bahram is just one of 130 people selected to be deported to Rwanda next week. To the Home Secretary, he is an 'illegal migrant'. But for many lawyers and experts he is a legitimate asylum seeker.

This is not the first time that Bahram has faced deportation. He escaped persecution in Iran by going to Turkey. “Iranian officers are known as having free reign in Turkey,” Bahram said. “There have been many arrests and many kidnappings by Iranian intelligence officers.”

Concerns about the safety of Iranians in Turkey have been raised before. In 2020, 33 Iranians were deported back to Iran, where two were killed for their involvement in the same 2019 protests that led to Bahram’s prosecution.

Bahram was only saved by a lawyer who freed him from a deportation centre. After this, having spent around a year in hiding, he felt the pressure on his family would increase. He knew once again that he would have to flee. 

“I contacted my family and they gave money to a smuggler,” he said. “I put my life in the hands of the smuggler.”

Bahram was first taken to a house near the Turkish coast and hidden. The house was dirty and there were 20 people in one small room. They were given a sandwich or two a day. He felt like he was under house arrest.

The night he left, they were shuttled out in groups of four. He walked for half an hour to a small boat. He was then taken to a bigger boat. Around 67 people were crammed into a 10-metre-long ship – the equivalent of fitting six football teams into a boat less than half the length of a tennis court. He had been sold a lie.

“It was not safe at all,” Bahram told Byline Times. “The smuggler had told us that it was about 27 metres in length, and had shown us pictures and videos.”

In the early hours of the morning, they started their three-hour trip across the water. “There were many times we nearly drowned,” he said. “There was a Ukrainian captain on the ship, if it weren’t for him we would have 100% drowned.”

But this was not the last boat he would take or the most dangerous.

When they approached the shore, those who could swim were told to do so. Some women and children were taken on small boats.

On the beach, they were divided into groups again and put into lorries. There was no way to tell the time, but it took Bahram and his four other companions at least two to three days to get to their next destination. Tucked away in a lorry, to eat they had biscuits. For a loo, a plastic container. In this lorry, he travelled an unknown route.

His first night free from the lorry was spent in a forest. It was very cold. At 5am he was taken to a beach. He had arrived on the French coast and was now to make the final and most dangerous part of his journey – the English Channel crossing.

There were around 10 men armed with guns and knives. The boat was a small blow up raft. The five of his travelling companions were soon joined by a growing crowd. 

“There were some people who did not want to get on the boat but were threatened,” Bahram said. “Because of that I decided that I must get on the boat.”

This boat was worse than the one they had taken from Turkey. It was just a life raft, less than 10 metres in length, accommodating at least 40 people. “At that point, you know it is not in your own hands,” Bahram said. “A wave would come over and you would think you would die.”

When a French naval ship dwarfed their raft 10 to 15 minutes into their journey, it stayed there, watching over them. Bahram realised it was trying to protect them from drowning.

After about five hours, Bahram arrived at the British coast. His journey from Turkey had taken between 17 and 20 days. He had escaped two countries and travelled across the world by foot, boat and lorry.

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Welcome to the UK

As part of the UK’s new immigration policy, refugees entering the UK across the Channel or by other so-called ‘illegal routes’ can be deported to Rwanda. Once there, they can claim asylum, but there is no route back to the UK. Priti Patel hopes the plan will “overhaul the broken asylum system and break the evil people smugglers”.

But experts, human rights activists and lawyers doubt the legality of the plan.

Gillian Triggs, an assistant secretary-general at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), has said it is a breach of international law. The UNHCR has also said that the majority of people crossing the Channel are refugees and not migrants.

Between January 2018 and June 2020, more than 50% of people detected crossing the Channel were from Iran. Three other Iranians are reportedly set to be deported alongside Bahram.

Arriving cold, with wet clothes and an empty stomach, Bahram felt very happy to have arrived in the UK. But, just 17 days after reaching safety in the country, he was sent a letter by the Home Office – his application for asylum had been refused. He is now to be sent 4,000 miles – almost two-and-a-half times the distance he travelled from Turkey – to Rwanda.

Lawyers have filed a judicial review for his case today, challenging the Government’s policy of deporting asylum seekers to Rwanda. It could take months for the case to be reviewed and would likely be combined with other applications for judicial review. Bahram could still be deported while the case is being reviewed.

His lawyers, who have only had five days to prepare, will also potentially file for an injunction on Monday. If this is the case, the court could halt his deportation while his case is being reviewed.

Hamid Sabi, a British human rights lawyer of Iranian origin, said it is “absurd” of the Government to argue it is illegal to arrive on a dinghy. Under the 1951 Refugee Convention, if a person arrives in the UK and asks for asylum, they have entered the country legally.

Bahram’s ‘Crime’

In November 2019, protests erupted in Iran over the tripling of fuel prices. In response, the Iranian police and military cracked down on protestors using weapons. Amnesty International estimates that more than 300 people were killed.

The Aban Tribunal – an international people’s tribunal – was set up to assess the killings. Bahram was a witness, explaining how he was ordered to shoot protestors.

As a policeman with 60 people under his command, he told his forces that under no condition must they use firearms. Bahram said the protestors were cooperative, “very polite” and “totally peaceful”. But he said other policemen and members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard started to shoot at people, killing some. 

“I saw snipers target anybody,” he said. “There was no rhyme or reason to it. Peaceful protestors were arbitrarily shot.”

After the protests, Bahram says he was arrested and taken to a detention centre where he spent 97 days in solitary confinement and was “subjected to the most serious types of psychological torture”. In one instance, he was handed a forged report, he says, that claimed his family had died in an accident and were in a morgue. He went on hunger strike and, after weeks, they allowed him to contact his family.

Bahram said he was given a mock trial in a military court, with no prosecutor or jury. It lasted 10 minutes and he was condemned to five years and 10 months in prison. He was accused of acting against national security and collaborating with demonstrators. When he was let out on bail, he fled to Turkey.

Shadi Sadr, a human rights lawyer and organiser of the Aban Tribunal, said that “Bahram’s refusal to fire and his decision to testify against the Iranian regime were acts of conscience" and that he was "punished for it once and is being punished again for trying to escape through the only way available to him”.

Sadr added that the UK Government’s Rwanda deal “is in violation of a number of human rights principles, including right to life" and is a "blatant breach of due process that bars basic rights given to refugees”.

Human Rights Watch has criticised Rwanda’s human rights record and poor treatment of refugees. Lewis Mudge, its central Africa director, has said that the “Government continues to embrace a policy of cruelty by sending refugees to a country with a track record for human rights abuses”.

Hamid Sabi, who acted as counsel to the Aban Tribunal, indicated that Bahram was a serious target for the Iranian state, having been a “very important witness” as one of few policemen to have criticised the Government. He also confirmed that members of his family have been arrested.

Nowhere Left to Escape

Bahram’s life is constantly in the hands of someone else. The Iranian state. The Turkish state. The smugglers. The UK Government. And now its judicial system. Not because he is a criminal but because, when he was in a position of power, he refused to follow orders by killing innocent civilians.

When Hamid Sabi escaped persecution in Iran after the 1979 Revolution, he did not need a visa to enter the UK. He questions whether, in modern Britain, he would be given sanctuary.

“The Iranian community in London are shocked,” he said, “nobody can understand where they found this solution to the problem.”

As Bahram counts down the days until he will be made to board a flight to an unfamiliar land – one in which he will once again be at the mercy of a foreign state – he is left in a prison-like detention centre.

“There are cells, they shut the doors at a certain point at night,” he said. “They let us out half an hour a day in the yard. It’s basically a prison.”

He has no safe way to contact his family directly and has to communicate through a friend. Bahram has not spoken to them for almost a month. Nor, he says, has he been allowed to see a specialist doctor to assess his heart condition. No medication had been provided until yesterday, when he was told he was to be given a malaria tablet.

“Right now, I am just counting the seconds," he told Byline Times. Trying to distract myself and tell myself that this is not going to happen... The only thing I can do these days is just hope.”

Bahram refused the malaria pill and told them he did not want to go to Rwanda; a small act of resistance from a man with nowhere left to escape.

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‘Invisible People’: UK Adopts Greek Approach to New Asylum ‘Reception Centres’

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 30/05/2022 - 9:15pm in

Bea Tridimas reports on the imminent opening of a new type of asylum facility in rural Yorkshire

On the bus from Vathy, the capital city of Samos in Greece, to the mountain top village of Zervou, Zainab (not her real name) watches videos on her phone of the vacated refugee camp she used to live in.

The mass of white tarpaulin tents still stands just 15 minutes’ walk from the centre of Vathy, but its residents have moved on. Many, including Zainab, now live in a new migrant centre near Zervou.

As the bus winds further up the mountain, the houses become fewer and the landscape more barren. Zainab says that she was scared in the old camp, which was infested with snakes and rats. But for her the new centre is no better. She crosses her hands to mimic being cuffed and calls it a prison.

The Closed Controlled Access Centre (CCAC) in Samos is one of five new EU-funded migrant centres being built to replace the makeshift refugee camps on the Greek islands.

The centres have been lauded as potential prototypes for other facilities across Europe, including in the UK, where the first such centre is set to receive 60 people on 31 May.

As part of the Government’s ‘New Plan for Immigration”, Boris Johnson announced in April that people who arrive in the country will be “housed in accommodation centres like those in Greece”.

Opening on Tuesday, Linton Asylum Accommodation is the first new asylum reception facility in the UK. It is located in a re-purposed RAF base in Linton-on-Ouse, a rural village 10 miles outside York, and could accommodate up to 1,500 men while their asylum claims are being processed.

Home Office officials are reported to have said at a Linton-on-Ouse Parish Council meeting that the ‘Greek-style’ of the centre refers to the speed of processing. The Home Office confirmed that residents are expected to be at Linton for about six months.

Suspicion that the Government was planning to introduce Greek-style asylum reception centres arose last summer, after Home Secretary Priti Patel visited the Samos CCAC.

Manos Logothetis, general secretary of reception of asylum seekers for the Greek Ministry of Migration, says that the closed centres on the islands help to speed up the asylum procedure.

“It is a regulated environment and I can easily have access to you and your case, which is helpful, and of course it is safer for everyone,” he told Byline Times. “We spent a lot of time when we developed this new approach to the camps to fill in all the gaps and not have cracks in the system… That’s why [the British] asked for our approach on how you build camps.”

He says that the UK is interested in knowing more about security in the centre – from how to separate men, women and unaccompanied minors; to knowing how many schools there should be; or whether there needs to be an ATM on site.

According to the Home Office, the Linton site has been designed to minimise the need to leave the site. It will have recreational, sports, worship and medical facilities and a shop, in addition to providing residents with full-board accommodation and three meals a day.

However, there are grounds for scepticism.

“An asylum process is not speeded up by the type of centre somebody is put in,” according to Catherine Woollard, director of the European Council on Refugees and Exiles. “An asylum procedure becomes more efficient and possibly fairer if resources are invested in the asylum procedure itself.”

She says that the Greek system on the islands has become “a situation where people have been stuck in limbo in appalling conditions, which are inadequate in every sense”.

“It’s not a model to aspire to,” she adds.

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Trapped Through Isolation

Since its inauguration in September, the CCAC on Samos has been criticised by NGOs for its isolation. It has been likened to a prison.

Located on a mountain about four miles from the island’s main town, the Zervou centre is surrounded by military-style fencing. At the entrance, residents are searched and have to provide fingerprint identification.

“It’s like a jail,” says 18-year-old Abdi (not his real name), who arrived at Zervou in November. “I play football inside sometimes, and we have the container, nothing else.”

In response, Greek Ministry of Migration's Manos Logothetis says: “There is no prison that is open. They are free to come in and go out every day, so this is not a prison.”

In December, rights groups reported that residents of the Zervou centre without valid asylum seekers’ ID cards were unable to leave or re-enter the centre. Logothetis confirms that residents without ID cards are unable to re-enter the centre if they choose to leave, but they are able to leave.

The Home Office says that residents of the Linton centre will be free to come and go, but are expected to stay on site overnight.

Linton-on-Ouse locals have highlighted the remoteness of the village, among other concerns about its suitability for an asylum reception centre.

“They are truly being dumped in the middle of nowhere with no access to social amenities, cultural amenities, fitness facilities, education,” says Kelly Kirby, a member of a local action group campaigning against the centre. “There are no lawyers. There are no translators. This is very much rural North Yorkshire.”

The village has a small shop, a primary school and pub, and a bus that goes to York four times a day. The Home Office says that there will be a shuttle bus to York for residents of the asylum reception centre.

“The Greek centres, which have basically become places of indefinite limbo for people, seem to have as their sole effective purpose the aim of deterring other people and that clearly is the [UK] Government’s intention,” says Steve Symonds, refugee and migrant rights programme director at Amnesty International UK, “including the idea of opening up what it refers to as accommodation centres, but which appear to be designed to be so isolated, so unwelcoming as to look for all intents and purposes, like detention centres.”

The European Council on Refugees and Exiles is similarly concerned that the Government’s wider plans, which are centred on a controversial scheme for offshore processing in Rwanda, focus on removal – which “inevitably leads to detention”, says Woollard.

“I think we should see the creation of these new centres as a continuation of the over-reliance on futile ideas of detention and deportation in the UK asylum system,” she adds.

The Home Office denies that asylum seekers will be detained at Linton, but leader of the Parish Council, Marc Goddard, says he was told by officials that, in the future, there may be a proportion of residents at the Linton site that are detained.

Kevin Hollinrake, Conservative MP for Thirsk and Malton, told Byline Times: “There should be a strict policy if people break the rules of the site or transgress in any way, even minor transgressions, they should be immediately removed from the site and sent to Rwanda to serve as a deterrent.”

The Home Office says the New Plan for Immigration will “fix the UK’s asylum system” while “deterring illegal entry to the UK”.

In February, Cecilia Sanfelici, Aegean advocacy coordinator at NGO Europe Must Act, said that she expected to see a greater reliance on these sort camps, across Europe: “You can see across Europe this tendency of closing people in camps, making sure these camps are really far from towns and cities, like you are invisible."

Despite leaving the EU, the UK certainly appears to be following this trend.

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Home Office Housing Asylum Seekers in Areas of Far-Right Activity

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 26/05/2022 - 6:00pm in

Byline Times investigates why hotel accommodation for those seeking asylum is being provided in areas facing hostility towards migrants

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A report into hotel accommodation for people seeking asylum – published by the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration (ICIBI) earlier this month – suggests that racist and far-right attacks on hotels housing asylum seekers could have been avoided “with better engagement and planning on the part of the Home Office and accommodation providers”.

The inspector found that many of the hotels were in areas with an active far-right presence, with one report stakeholder questioning the decision to use a hotel in an area which they knew to be an “unsafe place for people seeking asylum”. The Home Office justified the decision as the accommodation was needed quickly. 

This accusation is backed by exclusive analysis from Byline Times which has matched hotel accommodation for people seeking asylum with far-right activity and constituencies targeted by far-right electoral candidates.

The analysis examined far-right Telegram channels to identify where hotels were being targeted by groups such as Britain First and Patriotic Alternative. Having identified sites under attack, the history of far-right activity in the area, including during elections, was researched.

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Riots and Rallies

The Britain First and Patriotic Alternative Telegram channels included boasts that the far-right groups had launched attacks against hotels in numerous locations including Nottingham, Scarborough, Seacroft, Rotherham, Southampton, Folkestone, Newcastle, Salford, Epping Forest and Wigan.

The locations had a history of far-right activity that ranged from racist and Islamophobic graffiti, to far-right rallies and threats, as well as attacks on hotels.

Perhaps the most prominent hotel location was Rotherham – a target for anti-Muslim, far-right activity since the 2014 sentencing of gangs responsible for grooming and sexually exploiting 1,400 girls

Far-right groups used the race and religion of the perpetrators to whip up Islamophobia. The movement’s exploitation of horrific abuse led to numerous assaults on the local Asian community including attacks on mosques, while the group Yorkshire’s Finest looked for opportunities to carry out attacks on Asians and Muslims to give themselves a militant image. Rotherham’s Muslim community were forced to set up a Guardian Group to protect people from racist attacks. 

There is little doubt that the Home Office was aware of the troubled history of the town. 

Rotherham is probably the most obvious example of far-right activity taking place before hotels for asylum seekers were housed in the area. But it is one of many. 

In Nottingham, where a hotel was targeted by Britain First, far-right activists had taken part in a march in 2020, with neo-Nazi flags on display.

Numerous hotels in the Yorkshire town of Scarborough were 'visited' by both Patriotic Alternative and Britain First – the seaside resort was the target of a far-right march in 2018, while police investigated far-right “Runic” graffiti earlier this year. 

Another Yorkshire town, Seacroft, was a target of the Yorkshire branch of Patriotic Alternative. The group gathered outside a hotel where they condemned the Government for housing people “from half the world away” repeating the racist 'Great Replacement' conspiracy theory which falsely claims that white people are becoming a minority in the UK. In 2019, racist graffiti was sprayed on a house in Seacroft. 

Other examples of far-right activity in towns where asylum seekers are housed in targeted hotels are Southampton, where in 2015 an Eid event was cancelled due to far-right fears; and nearby Folkestone, where the Napier Barracks have long been a site of protest by far-right actors.

In Wigan, where Patriot Force has a petition to get a “migrant hotel” shut down, a far-right leader was jailed in 2018. 

Electoral Targets

Several hotel targets are in constituencies where far-right candidates stood in May’s local elections. Paving the way for those campaigns are often years of localised far-right activism – and a strategy of concentrating more resources into fewer seats for parties like For Britain and Britain First. 

Those areas include Epping Forest in Essex – long considered a hotbed for far-right activity. This year, the anti-Islam For Britain Party was standing two candidates, both of whom were prominent members of the now defunct British National Party (BNP).  

Standing for re-election was For Britain’s Julian Leppert. He has been accused of inciting racial hatred after he posted a video on YouTube titled The Epping Migrant Hotel Scandal. In the video, Leppert – who was lambasted by Epping Forest District Council for violating the councillors' code of conduct and made to attend equality and diversity training – says the hotel was housing “illegal immigrants” from “perfectly safe countries” to exploit “our benefits system” and they pose a “security risk to local people”.

Essex police debunked Leppert’s claims that petty crime had risen as a result of the arrival of people seeking asylum in the area. Leppert, who has also advocated for a whites-only enclave in the area, lost his seat.

The same hotel targeted by Leppert was 'visited' by members of Patriotic Alternative last February. The group said in a Telegram post: “Today we went to the... hotel in Epping with a clear message for the politicians housing hundreds of migrants there at our expense. We were never asked if we wanted all these economic migrants, adding to the strain on local services – and we don’t!” 

Britain First’s chief of staff stood as a candidate in Salford’s local elections. The region was reportedly home to two asylum seeker hotels, while six hotels were being used for Afghan refugees. Some of them were reportedly transported there with less than a day’s notice, for which the Home Office apologised, saying that the situation was “unprecedented” and that they had to “seek last minute accommodation for thousands of Afghans at short notice”. 

Members of a far-right party had gained access to one of the hotels and “harassed” residents.  

In a Britain First video posted on Telegram, two members can be seen entering the hotel and confronting a security guard. “Is this hotel holding illegal immigrants?” one of them says. “Who’s all the supplies for?”

Before the duo was escorted out of the hotel, the man said to the hotel staff: “You should hang your head in shame.”

This was far from the first incident of racism and xenophobia in the area. In the run-up to a rally of anti-Islam activist Stephen Yaxley-Lennon (known as 'Tommy Robinson') in 2019, graffiti stating “no blacks” was sprayed on the front door of a home just days after a 10-year-old boy and his father had moved in.  

REFUK (Reform UK), the successor to the Brexit Party, heavily targeted Bolton and Derby in the local elections, where the party had six councillors divided between two wards. Derby is home to several hotels housing asylum seekers. Among them was a hotel “exposed” by Britain First – a term the party uses to rally its base and stoke up anger. One of the responses to the video reads “disgusting”, while another user says “no more terrorism”.  

The Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration recommended that the accommodation provider and/or the Home Office should liaise with the local police force or other interested stakeholders to understand whether accommodating asylum seekers in a specific region will cause any issues with the local community.

The Home Office accepted the recommendation to “implement a system to record details of safeguarding issues identified in contingency asylum accommodation, including the accommodation site, issue of concern, and outcome”.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “We take the wellbeing of asylum seekers extremely seriously and to suggest otherwise is wrong. Whenever we seek to use a hotel for asylum accommodation, we engage with the local police and other stakeholders to identify any community tensions. Reports of far-right activity or a threat to an asylum seeker is immediately reported to the Home Office and followed up to ensure action is taken to protect their safety”.

This article was updated at 6pm on 27 May to include a response from the Home Office

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Erika Meitner: “Thumbs-Up for the Mothership”

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 25/05/2022 - 10:00pm in

In Episode 1 of Multi-Verse, poet Erika Meitner reads and discusses her poem “Thumbs-Up for the Mothership” in conversation with host Evangeline Riddiford Graham, touching on themes of climate change, migration, and Whitman vs Dickinson....

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