Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Weasel Words Of UK Border Agency

It is not very often that we reprint a story in full from a newspaper but Eric Allison's piece in yesterday's Guardian could almost have come straight out of this blog (except of course for the background research he has obviously put in). Nice one Eric!

Consider these words, spoken by the head of criminality and detention at the UK Border Agency (UKBA), in response to allegations that the nine-year old son of an asylum seeker had been mistreated by UKBA staff:

"Whenever we take decisions involving children, their welfare comes first and we will always seek to act in the best interests of the child. That's why we have transformed our children's policy, enshrining in law a commitment to protect youngsters and keep them safe from harm. Treating children with care and compassion is a priority for the UKBA."

Now compare those words with an account of the arrest and detention of that nine-year old along with his mother and elder brother. The family are fighting removal to Iran, where they fear persecution after police found copies of Salman Rushdie's novel The Satanic Verses at their home. The account was given by the boy himself, speaking through an interpreter:

"I was taking a picture of my stuff for school. Suddenly I saw the officers from the kitchen window, and I said to Mum: 'They are coming to our home'. After that, they came through, about eight people I think, and they said: 'You are going somewhere that you have been before.' They meant detention. I understood that we had to go back to detention."

The boy, who cannot be named for legal reasons, is known as child M, and the arrest came in Manchester last month as he was preparing for school. He knew the visit meant detention because he had been there before, to Yarl's Wood immigration removal centre, where he and his family had been held for a month in 2008. Teachers at his school describe him as a bright, very likable boy, who was recovering from the physical and mental effects of his previous incarceration when the officers called again.

Back to Child M's account:

"Then two of them brought me upstairs and told me to hurry and pack my stuff. I started to be terrified."

The boy was not to see his mother again for several hours. While he was upstairs, his mother fell ill and eventually the officers sent for an ambulance. The last time the boy had seen his father was when he was taken in an ambulance after a road accident in Iraq and subsequently died. "When they wanted to take my mum to ambulance I wanted to see her, but they didn't let me," said Child M.

In the absence of his mother and brother, who travelled to hospital with the sick woman, Child M was questioned about the whereabouts of his sister, who had been staying with friends. Their questions concerned him: "I still thought they wanted to go and arrest her and I was very worried."

Eventually, the boy was taken to the hospital, but not to see his mother. He was detained in a vehicle outside. He thinks it was for seven hours, the UKBA says it was just under three. In their response, the agency said Child M was "relaxed and comfortable throughout and provided with food and drink". The boy saw it differently:

"After that, they keep me for seven hours in the van and they didn't even let me to come out for fresh air. Sometimes they asked me things and they talked to me, but I was frightened because they were so big, like a monster, and I wanted to run away from them. I have never been so lonely in my life, without my friends and family. I was scared of these strangers and wanted to cry, but I couldn't. Suddenly they brought my mum in a wheelchair and they took us to detention. I was so happy to see my mum and my brother again."

Remember the words of the UKBA? "Whenever we take decisions involving children, their welfare comes first and we will always seek to act in the best interests of the child". Was it in this child's best interest to keep him separated from his mother and brother for several hours? Or to question him about the whereabouts of his sister? Remember, this is a nine-year-old. The police would not be allowed to question a child of that age without an "appropriate adult" being present; in his case, two adults held dear to him had gone and he was alone with strangers.

Is it in the best interests of this, or any other child, to be held in custody; for the crime of being born to those who seek a safer life in this country? It happens to hundreds of children every year. It makes me sick and angry and ashamed of this United Kingdom, which mistreats such children in our name.

While researching this story, I tried to contact Phil Woolas, the borders and immigration minister. I was told by his constituency office that he was "having a family day". Good for him, families are important; but I wonder if the minister ever stops to consider the effect the policy and practice he endorses have on asylum seekers and their families? Professionals who know of Child M's ordeal are in no doubt: Sir Al Aynsley-Green, the children's commissioner for England said:

Children in these stressful circumstances should never be separated from their parents, but if there is an exceptional reason why a parent cannot be with their child, then that child should be looked after by a responsible adult who they can trust and relate to. Children should also not be interviewed alone by officials. Children in immigration removal centres have told me about the distress and anxiety they feel during the arrest process and while in detention, therefore any period of separation from loved ones will only make them feel much worse. When a child is deprived of his or her liberty, particular care must be taken to ensure that they are treated with humanity and respect.

Katy Rosario is a teacher at Child M's school and also the safeguarding officer, responsible for children's welfare. She said: "I am deeply concerned that a nine-year-old child was left with strangers for a number of hours while separated from his mother. As teachers, we would not be allowed to do that. The officers concerned should have contacted the school or social services."

The weasel words of UKBA are far removed from their deeds. The agency and its political masters ought to be ashamed of themselves and all right-thinking people should protest at their actions.

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Child Abuse?

Given the government's continued claim that children in detention in the UK are treated with care and respect despite all evidence to the contrary, the fact that a nine-year-old boy was kept locked up in a UK Borders Agency van with a number of strange people in uniforms outside the hospital that his mother had been taken to after she collapsed during an immigration raid.

According to David Wood, head of 'criminality' and detention for the UK Border Agency, the boy spent less than three hours in an unlocked people carrier with a female immigration officer. "Our immigration officers, who are specially trained to deal with families with children, considered this would be a less stressful environment for the child. He was relaxed and comfortable throughout, and provided with food and drink." He also added that the child was attended to by a qualified nurse after vomiting blood and later seen by a doctor.

But according to his family, he in fact repeatedly asked to see his mother and was terrified during the incarceration. His and his family were then taken to Yarl's Wood detention centre, told they would be deported the following day only to be released nearly 4 weeks later after their lawyers forced a review of their case.

Oceanic Viking Tamils On The Move/Merak Update

After a period of uncertainty and delay, the bulk of the Oceanic Viking Tamils have been moved out of the Tanjung Pinang detention centre in Indonesia prior to their resettlement. So far 15 have been processed, with 13 going to Canada and 2 to Australia. Now 47 more are due to fly to their final destinations today, although there is some confusion in the press over who is going where. We understand that there are 2 groups of 16 and 31, who are either going to be flown to Australia or to Romania, for onward settlement in Canada and the US. The Indonesian media claim that the larger group are destined for Australia whilst the Australian media say it is the smaller group. Time will tell which is right.

Meanwhile the Merak stand-off continues. Following the death of one of the refugees last week from what is believed to have been complications from a stomach ulcer, the pressure on the Indonesian authorities to come up with a solution has intensified. The Indonesians at the weekend are understood to have again discussed the possibility of using force to end the situation. At the same time are pressuring the Australians to help them out of their predicament, calling on them to to stick to the spirit of the negotiations over the Oceanic Viking asylum seekers and help deal with the Merak refugees: "The Sri Lankans in Merak, they have some expectations, whether that expectation can be met or not," a Foreign Ministry spokesman is quoted as saying. However, Australia is sticking to their line that it is Indonesia's problem.

The Indonesian government are also refusing to involve the UNHCR in the process until the Merak Tamils let them on board their boat, something that the Tamils are refusing to allow, especially given Indonesia's intransigence involving food and medical aid and the military's previous attempts at intimidating them into leaving the boat (see previous posts). Additionally, the 11 Tamils who have already voluntarily left the Jaya Lestari in October are being held in a single crowded cell in the Jakarta immigration headquarters, despite assurances that they would be held in an International Organisation for Migration hostel, not in detention.

Representatives of the Australian Tamil Congress, who organised a support demonstration yesterday outside the Australian embassy in Jakarta, have visited the detained men and confirm that they spent the first 2 week after leaving the boat in the IOM hostel but were then detained by the Indonesian authorities in "inhumane" conditions.

Monday, 28 December 2009

Libya: More Oil, Less Migrants

We recommend a recent article 'Libya: More Oil, Less Migrants' by Emanuela Paoletti at on the Italy-Libya push-back policy and the changes in Libyan migration policy in recent years.

More Smoke About The Fire

Needless to say, Peter Allen could not pass up the opportunity to earn some more money and sensationalise the story a bit more by writing a slightly expanded piece based on yesterday's news. This of course gave him another opportunity to gloat, as well as embroider the fact a bit more. "'Sangatte II' immigrant welcome centre is torched by arsonists"runs the headline, "Police suspect furious Calais residents" it continues, although the police of course did not use those words, they come from Mr Allen's own fevered imagination.

And what does it tell us that is different from yesterday's Telegraph piece? Nothing much, except from a small quote from the local Green Party right at the end of the piece saying that "the arson attack as 'a deliberate act aimed at putting refugees into an even more dangerous position'."

In fact there is less about the attack than yesterday and instead he pads it out* with 7 paragraphs of 'background' (about 60% of the piece) but it does give him a chance to bang-on about 'Sangatte II' again, and it being sited "a few hundred yards from the site of the notorious 'Jungle'"; linking the facilities to "fears of a humanitarian tragedy involving those sleeping rough as temperatures fell below zero", which it has nothing to do with as he knows full well (the BCMO gym is use regularly as a cold weather shelter during the winter and has nothing to do with the new day-centre); and rubbish about the local council not being able to prevent the new facilities, plus the obligatory rent-a-quote Tory drivel from Damien Green.

Par for the course when it comes to Allen's Daily Mail articles really. "It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing." (Macbeth Act 5, scene 5)

* Rather than actually publish photographs of the units themselves (as the local French newspapers have done [1, 2]), an activity that might just prove waht a load of old bollox the story actually is, we get 2 photos of poster advertising the film Welcome!

Sunday, 27 December 2009

Arson In Calais

It's been a little while since we heard for our reactionary 'friend' Peter Allen, scion of the yellow press. In fact not since his fantasy about 'Sangate II' the other week. And here he is posting another piece of hypebole about the "new Sangatte-style welcome centre"*, news that "arsonists" have "set fire to prefabricated units which were due to house showers at the controversial structure close to the town's ferry port." He cites his usual 'Calais police spokesman' as claiming, "Our fear is that local people opposed to the setting up of the new centre may be responsible." Either that or some British journalist trying to 'make a story'.

Fortunately our sources tell us that only one of the 2 prefabs, each with 2 shower units and 2 toilets, was damaged. Interestingly, the structure had been guarded by a professional night-watch service up until 22 December, when the mayor apparently cancelled it as Secours Catholique were due to take possession of the prefabs. And as Secours Catholique are involved in the running of the cold weather shelter at the BCMO, they had too few people to keep a full-time night guard on them.

* He again claims that the facility was "immediately described as "Sangatte II" - yes, but only by him.

Saturday, 26 December 2009

"I Am The Law"

Two Israeli Border Guards have been indicted on charges of felony kidnapping, robbery, aggravated assault and abuse of police force after they robbed a Sudanese refugee last Sunday. After detaining the man, they stole his stay permit presented as identification, forced him into their police car and drove him to an abandoned building in a secluded location outside the southern city of Eilat. There they stole NIS 700 (about $184) from his his wallet, telling him Judge Dread-style that "we're the law" and told him that he would be sent back to Sudan if he complained. The 2 cops than proceeded to punch, kick and beat the man with a police flashlight, leaving him bruised and unable to walk with wounds to the knee, right hand and pelvis.

Thursday, 24 December 2009

Merak Tamil Dies / Oceanic Viking Tamils & Christmas Island Updates

With the Merak Tamils still holding out for a deal similar to that given the Oceanic Viking Tamils, there has been the first death after 11 weeks on board the Jaya Lestari. A 29-year-old man, who had been vomiting blood for two days had been refused medical treatment until he suffered a seizure yesterday, died after being finally taken to hospital.

Despite the high-profile nature of the stand-off between the Tamils who have refused to come onshore since they were detained by the Indonesian Navy back in October, they still have not seen representatives of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees. Even the eight Tamils who had previously left the boat are currently being refused access to the UNHCR.

This is in sharp contrast to the treatment of the Tamils who were taken on board the Australian Customs vessel, the Oceanic Viking. Because the prolonged stand-off between the Tamils and the Australian authorities was costing the Australian government many thousands of A$ each day, they pulled out all the stops to find a fast-track solution to that particular problem. Additionally, the Oceanic Viking was moored in Indonesia waters and this gave extra leverage to the Australians to pressure the Indonesians into playing a role in that solution.

However, because this group of Tamils are in Indonesia waters on board a rickety old wooden boat that isn't Australian owned, the Australian government , despite the boat being intercepted by the Indonesians after a direct plea from Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd to President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, don't give a damn in this case. Out of site, out of mind. And they certainly aren't going out of their way to help the Indonesians find a solution to a problem that they effectively dumped on Jakarta's doorstep.

Meanwhile, in the past two week the UNHCR has finished processing the Oceanic Viking Tamils' claims, with all being given refugee status, and the organisation is now looking for suitable third countries to take them in. So far 13 have been flown to a UN resettlement centre in Romania, where they will be processed by Canada immigration officials prior to a move to Canada, and a disabled adult male and his carer have been given leave to stay in Australia, the first of a number expected to be granted visas. Norway and New Zealand are also in negotiations to take some of the Tamils, with the US another possible destination.

The deal however has been severely criticised by the Sri Lankan government, with Colombo's high commissioner to Australia, Senaka Walgampaya, saying: "We don't like this sending the wrong signal to Sri Lanka for the prospective asylum-seekers. The fact that these people are taken, of course, sends a bad message, so that may in a way encourage people to come here (Australia)." This public stance is of course to be expected, as the Sri Lankan government does not want to loose the good will (and the heavy financial contributions that the Australians are pumping into the Sri Lankan coast guard effort) or the chance to apprehend the Tamil Tigers that they maintain are 'hiding' amongst the refugees. Yet it is merely window dressing as the more Tamils the Sinhalese majority government can get rid of the better. Just a pity they are paying all that valuable international currency to those people smugglers.

Back on Christmas Island, the overcrowding situation has gotten so bad that the Australian authorities have had to start moving people to the mainland. The island's detention facilities were originally designed to hold 800 but had recently been expanded to 1560 by adding temporary housing and tents. Now, with 114 passengers and crew from 2 boats intercepted by the navy last week expected to arrive on the Island last Monday, 30 Afghan youths (all unaccompanied minors) had to be moved to a Melbourne detention facility at the weekend to ease the overcrowding, leaving 1447 detainees on the island. However, more boats are due and 35 Indonesians who had crewed boats bringing asylum-seekers to Australia were also moved off the Island to a Darwin detention centre to make more space.

Yet this is merely fiddling at the margins of the problem, one that came under severe criticism last week from Amnesty International: The organisation was particularly concerned about "the significant and disturbing levels of overcrowding within the North West Point Immigration Detention Centre, which has led to the use of tent and demountable accommodation, and the lack of ready access to essential services such as adequate mental health care." A situation they described as "completely unacceptable."

They also laid into the isolated nature of the location, which "makes it impossible to implement a humane immigration policy, and is leading to extreme detention conditions that are inappropriate and out of step with the Government’s stated ‘new detention values’." It also expressed concern with the length of time it is taking for some asylum claims to be processed.

The transfer of the 30 Afghan youths was welcomed by refugee support groups, with David Manne, co-ordinator of the Refugee Immigration Legal Centre saying, ''It's a common-sense and humane step to bring unaccompanied minors from what's really harsh and unnecessary treatment in remote detention on Christmas Island, but I'm at a complete loss to understand why it is necessary to lock up in the suburbs of Melbourne children who fled persecution and are about to be granted protection.''

No Compassion At The Inn

Whilst the Anglican Church in the guise of the Archbishop of York criticises cutting back of benefits to migrants to a mere £5 a day*, that other well-known christian Andrew Green, of MigrationBotch, claims that "the Archbishop is surely right to call for compassion and there may be areas where this is needed, but the queues of asylum-seekers at Calais suggest that we are already regarded as a favoured destination.” Is it just us or does this make no sense what so ever? Mean spirited and small minded to boot!

* The same sum he received when he arrived as an asylum seeker from Uganda in 1974. This money (£35 per week, cut back from an already paltry £42.16) is in the form of a weekly sum debited to an e-card that can only be used in certain shops and whose money must be used within the same calendar week or be lost, thus saving even more money.

Two Acts Of Desperation

A 51 year old Algerian man has been sentenced to 10 months in prison for affray (!?) for threatening to set fire to himself in Liverpool MP Louise Ellman's constituency office last September after he feared his 16-year battle to stay in the country had failed. Smelling petrol, the MP went into the corridor outside to find Abdel Zahali doused in petrol and holding a lighter.

In court his barrister claimed Mr Zahali had taken the drastic step because he felt he was “at the end of the road,” that he "had previously attempted suicide... (&) ...believed this was the only way.” Despite Mr Zahali's conviction, it is beleived that he will be given leave to stay after all, not that some of the posters of comments on the newspaper's website concurred. Unfortunately this sort of article is a magnet for all the ignorant closet racists out there, with one even going as far as claiming that the man's action "was point blank terrorism by alternative means"!

Also, last week (18 December) a teenage Afghan, believed to be another asylum seeker, ctually managed to set fire to himself outside the UKBA's Waterside Court reporting centre and short-term holding facility in Leeds. He was taken to Leeds General Infirmary after suffering extensive burns and the latest news is that he is in a critical but stable condition.

No Christmas For The Merak Refugees

25 of the refugees on board the wooden vessel in Merak harbour are Catholic Tamils. They have asked for a priest to help them celebrate Christmas day mass. Needless to say this request has been denied. So no Christmas for them and we doubt whether there will be much Xmas cheer on Christmas island this year either. Especially because the isolated nature of the Island means that everything has to be flown the 1,500 miles to the island and, as there are around 1,500 detainees, 300 detention centre staff and 300 Islanders, that's an awful lot of government-funded fuel!

Friday, 18 December 2009

Iraqi Deportees Abused By Kurdish Police

According to the International Federation of Iraqi Refugees, many of the 55 people deported from the UK to the Kurdish Autonomous Region of Iraq on a flight from Luton Airport to Erbil International yesterday were violently abused by armed police when they landed. One detained who gave his name as Soran said: "A lot of police from the Kurdistan Regional Government were waiting for us when we landed in Erbil. They were very rough with us and beat us. We feel hurt and abused. If even the police are doing this, what are our chances to live a good life here?"

In October the Iraqi Government refused to accept some of the people on previous mass deportation flight, the first to fly to Baghdad. An Iraqi government spokesman at the time told Al-Jazeera News that they would not accept forcible deportations, but in the past week the same government has accepted 80 people deported by force to Baghdad from Norway and Sweden. Many will no doubt have been forced to go into hiding upon their return and will stand little or no chance of finding their relatives, who will have been forced to move from their homes by the daily violence. Some will unfortunately also have been victims of that same violence.

Tinsley House - 'Wholly Unacceptable'

Tinley House detention centre at Gatwick Airport is the subject of a highly critical report by HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, Dame Anne Owers, regarding an unannounced short follow-up inspection on 13–15 July 2009, published today. The report condemned the arrangements for children at Tinsley House as "wholly unacceptable" and criticised the "prison-like culture" and the "limited access to fresh air" of the children imprisoned there.

"When we last visited, we expressed serious concerns at the plight of the small number of children and women held in this largely male establishment. On our return for this unannounced follow-up inspection, conditions had generally deteriorated and the arrangements for children and single women were now wholly unacceptable."

"Since our last visit, Tinsley House had effectively become a satellite of its newly opened neighbour, Brook House. This much larger and more secure removal centre, also run by G4S, provided a single management team for both sites. Managers at Brook House had faced a range of teething problems, which appeared to have been the focus of most of their attention. The consequence, pointed out to us by staff and detainees at Tinsley House, was that services and provision there had suffered, and a more restrictive approach had been introduced." [from the report introduction]

This follows the recent criticism from the Royal College of Psychiatrists, Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, Royal College of General Practitioners and the Faculty of Public Health in a briefing paper entitled 'Significant Harm - the effects of administrative detention on the health of children, young people and their families' [see] and the recent publicity over conditions in Brook House as well [see].

Other coverage: BBC, Guardian.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

End Child Detention Now!

Yet again the administrative detention of children in immigration prisons has been criticised, this time by the Royal College of Psychiatrists, Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, Royal College of General Practitioners and the Faculty of Public Health (and endorsed by the Royal College of Nursing), in a briefing paper entitled 'Significant Harm - the effects of administrative detention on the health of children, young people and their families'. And yet again the Home Office trott out their usual tired response that children held in the asylum system are treated humanely and with compassion, and detention is a last resort. Who are they kidding?

There is a wealth of research and a mountain of published evidence from around the world that locking up children is harmful to their well-being, in both the short and long term. When will the UK government stop this barbaric and inhumane treatment of children and their families, something that they only do for their own administrative convenience?

From the joint press release:

Dr Rosalyn Proops, Officer for Child Protection, Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health:

We are very concerned about the health and welfare of children in immigration detention. These children are among the most vulnerable in our communities and detention causes unnecessary harm to their physical and mental health. The current situation is unacceptable and we urge the Government to develop alternatives to detention without delay.”

Professor Steve Field, Chairman of the Royal College of General Practitioners:

Children in immigrant families are already disadvantaged and at their most vulnerable. Detaining children for any length of time – often without proper explanation – is a terrifying experience that can have lifelong consequences. As well as the potential psychological impact, these children invariably experience poor physical health as they cannot access immunisation and preventative services. As a civilised society, we cannot sit back and allow these practices to continue – they are unethical and unacceptable. GPs work at the heart of their local communities and are well placed to work with families, agencies and the Government to come up with alternatives that will improve the health and life chances of these children and young people.

Dr Philip Collins, forensic adolescent psychiatrist representing the Royal College of Psychiatrists:

"The harsh reality about this country's immigration policy is that we are significantly damaging the mental health of many of the children and young people who end up - through no fault of their own - being detained in a prison-like environment by the UK Border Agency. The evidence is clear: this policy directly harms the mental health of children and young people. That is why the Royal College of Psychiatrists calls on the UK Government to end this practice without delay."

Professor Alan Maryon-Davis, President of UK Faculty of Public Health:

"This issue goes straight to the very heart of social justice and human rights. We believe it is unfair and wrong to exclude these very vulnerable children and young people from equitable access to normal health and social care. The UK is a civilised nation. Let's demonstrate that by ending this discrimination right now."

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Abuse And Torture In Spanish Detention Centres

In a survey carried out by the Spanish Commission for Refugee Aid (CEAR) it was found that 40% of migrants held in Spanish detention centres claimed that they had been "badly or very badly treated", with 4% claiming that they had been tortured. [Link]

MailWatch #7 - 'Sangatte II' or Not 'Sangatte II', That Is The Question

It seemed like old times when the Mail (together with the Telegraph and the Evening Standard*) published yet another tedious Calais migrants scare story courtesy of their 'Paris correspondent' and well-known fantasist Peter Allen.** So we thought we'd take a bit of time out to systematically demolish his tissue of lies and innuendo.

Take the headline 'French to open another Sangatte as Calais prepares new centre for illegal migrants'. Even in the wildest fantasies of the most bigoted Mail reader (who by any measurement would be so far to the right of Genghis Khan as to still be in the Stone Age) could the new Day Centre be compared to a giant converted warehouse previously used for storing equipment used in building the Channel Tunnel. A building that regularly housed more than a thousand people sleeping on camp beds in tents pitched inside the structure, with its own medical centre and canteen. Talk about hyperbole!***

Allen then goes on to claim that the plans for the centre had "closely-guarded", yet the centre has been discussed openly for most of this year in the local papers and open local authority and migrant council meetings.

"It is already being dubbed Sangatte II after the former Red Cross centre which attracted thousands of illegal foreigners before it demolished in 2002." By whom? It is certainly true that the yellow press label any building since 2002 where humanitarian aid is provided for migrants in northern France as Sangatte II, and Allen even labelled the 'Jungle' a 'mini-Sangatte'. All you have to do is look back in the archives. [e.g. 1, 2, 3, 4.]**** Therefore we'll take that as meaning "We are already dubbing it Sangatte II." Oh, and how can a "foreigner" be "illegal"?

Then we get the usual rent-a-quote, this time from Damien Green (what, Alan Green not answering his phone?): "This is another gesture of contempt from France to Britain. The only result of this will be to encourage more potential illegal immigrants to try to break our laws." i.e. sod the French laws. Not particularly in the spirit of the old Entente-cordiale Damien. "The most humane reaction would be for the French authorities to deal with the asylum applications themselves." Which is precisely what they are and have been doing! You really shouldn't believe everything that you read in the Mail and Telegraph you know.

Of course he doesn't really believe that, it all part of the public posturing that all politicians do, blame the other side before you get blamed. So we have the mayor of Calais blaming "Britain's lax asylum policies for the influx of migrants." And of course the media are willing dupes in this blame game, as it stops them from really having to engage with the reality of the situation and find a proper solution (more on this later).

"Officials say the situation has deteriorated to such an extent that both the French government and Calais council feel they have no option to build the centre." What else do they expect when the whole demolition of the Pashtun 'Jungle' was a massive PR exercise that wasn't really designed to cure anything. The thing that was meant to 'cure the problem' was the massive wave of repression that followed, where the migrants were subjected to a rising tide harassment: with the CRS being given increased quotas for the numbers of daily arrests; constat destruction of shelters; tents, sleeping bags and blankets being confiscated or destroyed; increased intimidation at the daily food distribution. The list is endless and all this now that winter is here.*****

Then we finally get a couple of sentences about what the centre plans actually entail, not the deranged fantasies of a tabloid hack, "Yesterday local officials insisted it would only be a 'day centre' for foreigners who are in a particularly bad way - including the sick, pregnant women and minors under the age of 18." Doesn't sound too bad after all, but that doesn't fit in with the picture Allen wants to paint, so he goes on: "But the plans agreed by the administrative court of Lille include central heating, hot showers, and a kitchen." Shock horror! Clearly Peter thinks that the French shouldn't be providing these 'dregs of humanity' with any form of humanitarian aid, let alone food and the odd shower. And just in case you had not divined his position he follows it with the following, "The facilities will be made available to those trying to board ferries and trains to England."

"Officials defended the plan as a humanitarian response." Bloody French, eh Peter. And bureaucrats to boot!

According to one of these unnamed bureaucrats: "There are more than 1,000 migrants sleeping rough in the town, and with temperatures dropping their living conditions are getting worse." So the situation is more or less exactly the same as it has been for the last 6 winter then, except that there are no 'Jungles' and very few squats and the migrants' situations are even more marginal.

"He (the same unnamed bureaucrat) said September's destruction of The Jungle, an illegal shanty town full of mainly Afghan young men, had not had the desired effect. "It did not persuade them to leave, so we have to offer them a basic level of support."" Doh! Having given the inhabitants of the 'Jungle' months of warning it was inevitable that those who couldn't go anywhere else stayed and that most of those were juveniles who should already have been given protection (that very same 'basic level of support') under a whole raft of international treaties and accords.

Next we have a named bureaucrat in the guise of the Mail's favourite French mayor Natacha Bouchart who, as mentioned earlier, blames it all on les Rost Bifs. According to her "the council had been forced to accept the new building as part of a compromise deal with refugee charity Secours Catholique."

The truth is that she and her council had prevaricated over plans to replace the showers that the council forced to be closed earlier on in the year and demanded that Secours Catholique could only build new ones if they were well out of town and therefore out of reach of most of the migrants. She was hardly forced into agreeing the deal, after all she had unilaterally moved the site where the food distribution happens and has systematically prevented any attempts to provide aid to the migrants in Calais, even taking part in the hijacking of the joint Medicins du Monde and Medecins sans Frontiers anti-scabies effort. She even created a Migrants' Council without any migrants on it!

"The charity, which will run the centre, had wanted to build one in another part of town, but agreed to remove their planning application in return for the smaller structure." So there we have who it was that really had to compromise?

"Since the closure of The Jungle further migrant camps have sprung up in nearby Steenvoorde, Bailleul and St Omer, with all providing beds, food, clothing shops, medical care and advice on how to claim asylum." You've also missed the Steenvoorde camp you ranted about back in October and as you well know these temporary winter aid efforts have happen for a number of years. But why miss a chance to have another rant.

"But the Calais centre is likely to cause particular outrage, as Mr Besson has insisted there would no official welcome centre in the town." - only amongst you and your reactionary fellow-travellers. By the way, maybe you should take that 'be' out of your bonnet and put it back in the sentence where it will at least make it grammatically correct.

Which thankfully brings us to the end of the article and the only part of the piece that actually makes any sense: "Tory South East MEP Richard Ashworth said: "It is clear that the closure of the Calais "jungle" in September was conducted without an adequate strategy in place to deal with the situation.""

And in typical fashion, the rest of the media world, from Channel 4 to the Scottish Daily Post, has fastened on to this fantasy and have repeated it almost verbatim desperate as they are to fill those column inches and air time and none of them have bother to check their facts.

* And probably getting paid three times for the same rubbish.
** Author of that renown fantasy 'Police arrest 47 anarchists threatening to lead swarms of illegal migrants through Channel tunnel to Britain' during the Calais No Borders Camp and numerous other inventions.
*** Allen even knew himself that this reception centre was going to be built, after all he wrote about it back in March. He also already knew that there was going to be no beds in the centre. See in the Standard article: "A journalist asked him: "So you're constructing mini-Sangattes?" The minister replied: "They won't be permanent sleeping centres."
**** Strangely all written by someone called Peter Allen.
***** See the Calais Migrant Solidarity blog for details of the police operations.

Movement Issue #2 Now Available

Issue number 2 of the UK No Borders network newsletter 'Movement' is now available for download [right click on image and Save]. News covered includes the Jump The Border demonstration, COP15, Arora Hotel detention centre plan and lots more.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Climate Justice = No Borders


The debate over climate change and global warming management at the UN is a struggle among the national ruling establishments for their own interests on the international diplomatic stage. While there is concern that climate change can have unforeseen political and economic consequences, these competing capitalist states have no means of seriously addressing the issue, other than making preparations for cracking down on social unrest.

Elites globally have pushed the criminalization of the movement of people for years now. Their latest excuse for this is climate change. They talk about people migrating for survival and better lives as a security threat that justifies border repression and moves towards a more defined global apartheid. Their reckless pursuit of profit has caused the climate crisis, and now they want to criminalize those who are absorbing the effects of their greed.

The military industrial complex is the epitome of their hypocrisy. The majority of wars fought in the last decades have been resource wars fought to secure government and corporations access to the planets resources.Their exploitation of resources is the cause of the climate crisis. Now climate change has joined their wars as the two major causes of forced migration. At the same time, the war machine is the instrument of the criminalization of migration.

In addition, “The Stockholm Program”, which is set to be passed in December will foster more surveillance of the internet, common access to European police databases and more cross-border police collaboration to fight "illegal migration". It will force countries outside the EU to take back their citizens who enter the EU without a visa and it will push the use of biometrics and radio-frequency identification (RfiD) and enlargement of the police agency Europol and the EU border watchdog Frontex.

In the face of this, refugees act in defiance of the borders when they move for survival and a better life. They migrate and in doing so refuse to comply with laws that put profit and control above life and dignity.

To counter this act of defiance and hope, governments, corporations and elites foster and promoted racism globally. The COP 15 is another instrument for this. Their definition of a 'good target' already displaces hundreds of thousands of people. Their false solutions condemn millions more to suffering to maintain their profits.

It is fitting that Denmark hosts such a conference as COP15. The Danish state actively fostered racism in order to justify the eviction and deportation of the Iraqi's who occupied a church in Copenhagen for three months earlier this year. But like many of the other governments participating in the COP the Danish elites are not confining their racism to the Danish context. The recent Danish Prime Minister, Anders Fogh Rasmussen is now the leader of NATO. He has been pushing for 'security crackdowns' and reinforcement of fortress Europe to prevent migration from places more immediately effected by elite caused climate change. To the NATO alliance an array of threats exist in today’s uncertain world, from terrorism and transnational crime to unrest following food crises, extensive migration to the countries of the NATO alliance and social conflicts as a result of climate change. On a just planet- his job would not exist. The war machine would fold and so would borders.

On December 14th we will take action to create this world. In the context of the COP 15 we will take on the most potent site of their sickness here in Denmark- the Ministry of Defence. We want to breakdown their control, disrupt their surveillance and confront their repression. We will open their offices to the weather they are changing and to the people they lock out. Our action starts at 11am at Israel Plads and will march to the Ministry of Defence!


Monday, 7 December 2009

Merak Monsoon

The sit-in by the Tamil asylum seekers on board the Jaya Lestari, moored at Merak in western Java, is still going strong despite the start of the monsoon season in South-East Asia. Many of the 240-odd people on the rickety wooden boat may be wavering, especially those with children, but they know that they will inevitably end up in an Indonesian detention centre with little chance of improving their asylum chances, according to the Tamil's spokesperson Sanjeev "Alex" Kuhendrarajah. He cited the fact that the 8 people who had already left the Jaya Lestari and ended up in detention had yet to be seen by the UNHCR. This is also reinforced by the fact that none of those who left the Ocenanic Viking four weeks ago has had their refugee claims fully processed, despite the 'fast-track' deal hammered out between them and the Indonesian and Australian authorities stipulated processing within 4-6 weeks.

On the Australian mainland, amid the news that digital face and fingerprint scanning of asylum seekers living in Sydney and Melbourne is being introduced, comes the news that China is now officially the biggest source of migrants, eclipsing both New Zealand and the UK. In the four months to October 6350 new settlers arrived from mainland China, ten times the numbers of 'boat-people' that ended up on Christmas Island.

The main cause for this change in migration patterns is the large drop in UK migration cause by the Australian government's decision in March to cut 18,500 places from the skilled migration program for 2009-10. This significantly cut immigration from Britain as skilled migrants account for 80% of flights booked from the UK. Chinese migration on the other hand is dominated by family reunions and suffered less.

No Christmas At Yarl's Wood This Year?

The police were called by Serco staff at Yarl's Wood detention centre on Friday to deal with a rather dodgy looking character dressed in red and white carrying a load of gifts for the children imprisoned there. It seems that St. Nick, the patron saint of children and the imprisoned, was not welcome there despite the church group-arranged visit being approved by the Home Office and Yarl's Wood staff.

Saint Nick was met at the gates by a group of unidentified security guards who barred his entry and ordered him to leave the area. They also snaffled the £300 worth of presents and refused to provide a receipt or even give their names or any other form of identification. Then, when Nick returned later that afternoon to make a pre-arranged and approved social visit to two families currently detained there, he was informed at the gates that their visit had been cancelled. He was then handed a letter from Dawn Elaine, the Contracts Manager at Yarl’s Wood, informing him that permission had been revoked because of “concerns about your conduct” when the gifts had been deposited that morning. Maybe he should stick to tradition and just sneak in via the chimney next time?

Calais Today

In Calais repression has escalated to unprecedented levels and the police are on the hunt for migrants day and night.

Arrests have increased dramatically since the end of November, as well as raids on squats and jungles. The new Pashto jungle is being raided over and over, with dozens of people arrested every time including several unaccompanied boys, some as young as 11 or 12. Police brutality is on the increase for beatings – a 13 years old boy has been injured in a leg by being hit with a truncheon. The CRS have been seen again using gas.

All new camps have been destroyed. After arresting everybody who does not manage to run or hide, the police slash the plastic covers with knives and destroy blankets and people's possessions. Two large urban squats are also under constant attack and police patrol the beach and the park arresting people there all the time.

Usually people are released after a few hours, or they have to spend 12 hours or more in the police station. They have to walk one hour to go back, including under age children, sick and injured people and people with papers (who have applied for asylum in France). Increasingly people are detained for longer, lately often taken to deportation centres other than Coquelles. They are routinely threatened they will be deported if they do not apply for asylum in France - to Afghanistan or other countries. Many people have finger prints in other ‘safe’ counties from where they have transited – such as Greece – and they may sent back there according to the Dublin2 agreements.

(note: there is evidence of police torturing migrants in Greece, two have been killed; illegal deportations from Greece to Turkey are a common occurrence –and from Turkey eventually to the countries the people are escaping from, in flagrant violation of the 1951 Convention on Refugees).

The migrants of Calais want to go to England and eventually make a claim for asylum there. They want to live without constant fear of arrest. Shakir said: "the public of Calais are good but the police are a problem". His friend Tariq said: "If I am in England I will celebrate Christmas, but I will probably spend my Christmas in the police station. "…Shakir is under 16. He is alone in Calais, on his journey from Afghanistan.


Calais Migrant Solidarity have been present on the ground all the time since the No Borders camp in Calais (end of June).We now have an office space and a space where people can sleep – it can get pretty crowded though! More support is needed, especially since the repression is escalating. With Besson’s threat to make Calais ‘a migrant free zone’ by the end of the year in mind, we are calling for more activists to come and support.

If you want to get involved or just would like more information, please call 0634 810 710 or email
For more details and updates see:

Notes on the situation of the migrants in Calais after the 'humanitarian' and 'dignified' destruction of the migrants' camps:

Migrants: still here. At least 300 people go to food distributions in Calais . An estimate 2000 migrants have spread around the coast to safer places, or down South. The most visible result of the repressive immigration policies implemented by the French government is that life for the migrants has become unimaginably hard.

Smugglers: still here. In fact the price of a journey from Calais to England has pretty much doubled since the destruction of the jungles: the average cost for a 'guarantee' journey to the UK in the back of a truck is now 1500 euros. This is another remarkable result of the new immigration policies, despite the French immigration minister's worthless claims that the destruction of migrants camps was done 'with dignity' and for ‘humanitarian reasons’, and to defeat people’s smugglers. In fact the smugglers are profiting from people's misery and people are pushed further into the 'mafia’s' hands by the desperate conditions they are forced to live in.

Jungles: still here. The Pashto jungle has been razed to the ground, trees included, but people are sleeping in the woods nearby. The new camps have also been destroyed by the CRS (riot police) and people just shelter under bits of tarpaulin. The CRS keep going there and arrest all those who do not manage to escape, any time day or night. After, they slash the plastic covers with knives and destroy the blankets and people's property. It rains a lot. Hazara jungle: similar situation.
Iranian jungle: similar situation.
Kurdish jungle: similar situation.
Sudanese jungle: camp destroyed again and again, most people have gone to the beach (shelters have been destroyed also there) or to squats or they are trying to sleep rough in various places.

Bridges: gone. All the people who were sleeping under bridges, where at least they had some shelter from the rain, have moved elsewhere due to excessive police harassment and repeated destruction of tents and blankets.

Squats: still here. Africa house has been razed to the ground. Ethiopia house still here but under attack by the CRS. Recently evicted, everybody who did not manage to run or hide arrested and all blankets and people's property destroyed. People returned having nowhere else to go. Calais Migrant Solidarity and than Salam gave them new blankets and warm clothes. Later the police returned and arrested people again... and again
Another large squat inhabited by Egyptians, Palestinians and other Arabs plus many Afghans is also under attack.

Conditions At Brook House 'Worse and Worse'

This is a repost of the Corporate Watch article 'Conditions At G4S Immigration Prison 'Worse and Worse'':

Since it opened earlier this year, the UK's newest and biggest immigration prison has barely had a day without trouble. However, Corporate Watch has learnt that things have become "much worse" lately, both for the detainees and for their visitors. Meanwhile, the G4S management is apparently recruiting new security guards as staff shortages have led many detainees to repeatedly miss doctors' and court appointments.

Troubled start

Brook House was opened in March 2009, located about half a mile from Gatwick's other detention centre, Tinsley House, on the south perimeter of the airport. With 426 bed spaces for single male detainees, it was the UK Border Agency's latest step in its plans to expand Britain's detention estate by 60 percent. The purpose-built, category B prison is run on behalf of UKBA by private security giant Group 4 Securicor (G4S), which recently acquired the original contractor Global Solutions Ltd (GSL) (see this Corporate Watch article for more details).

In September 2007, while Brook House was still under construction, the No Borders UK network organised a protest camp near Gatwick in protest against the new immigration prison. Various demonstrations took place during and around the camp, including a mass demonstration on 22nd September, which saw some 500 people marching from the town of Crawley to Tinsley House, near the building site of Brook House. A campaign was subsequently formed by campaigners and local residents to try to stop the construction of the detention centre, but the plans went ahead regardless.

As soon as Brook House was opened, detainees in adjacent Tinsley House went on hunger strike over the new food system, as meals were now cooked in Brook's kitchens, then brought down the road to Tinsley. This meant that breakfast was reduced to two pieces of toast and one egg, which detainees were not happy with. They now also had to order their evening meals 48 hours in advance and the portion sizes became much smaller (see here).

Security measures

A number of visitors have separately told Corporate Watch that security measures at Brook House have increased significantly over the last couple of months. For instance, the windows in the reception area have now been covered; searches on entry are much more thorough than before; and visitors are no longer allowed to take toiletries and other items in with them as they used to be able to. The centre's management claims this has been prompted by alleged drugs smuggling; others said it might have been related to recent fights between inmates.

A new sign at the entrance to the reception area last week threatened visitors: "15 visitors have been banned from visiting; don't be the 16th." The number has now gone up to 28, in what appears to be, as one visitor put it, "a terror campaign against visitors."

Again, the centre's management claims that the repressive measures are due to "inappropriate behaviour" and cases of drugs smuggling. However, visitors have in the past been banned from detention centres for 'making a fuss' or protesting against arbitrary rules imposed by the management or security guards. Visitors from the SOAS Detainee Support Group were banned from visiting Yarl's Wood in July for being 'confrontational' after they complained about waiting for too long. Anti-deportation campaigners who took part in a blockade of Colnbrook detention centre, near Heathrow, in May were also banned from visiting adjacent Harmondsworth. For detainees who do not have any other connection with the outside world, this could have devastating consequences.

'No visits today'

To visit someone in Brook House is "becoming a nightmare," one visitor describes, “You need to make the booking at least five-six days in advance now." The reason for this, given by the centre's management, is that the waiting room is apparently too small and "cannot cope" with the number of visitors. For solicitors and relatives of detainees due for imminent deportation, this could mean they are never able to see their relative or client again. They are in effect denied a last meeting.

"You would have thought that the biggest detention centre in the UK would have a bigger visiting area," adds the visitor, who preferred to remain anonymous. "But there you go, cost-efficiency seems more important than making sure they provide enough space for visitors."

Other visitors, however, argue that the visiting room is rarely full and that this is "just an excuse for the management to limit visits as some sort of punishment." In one case, a man wanting to visit his brother, who had been taken to Brook House the previous day and was due to be deported the following day, was told that "the place was full" and that he "could not visit." Other people visiting that same day testified that the visiting room was not in fact full.

Shop inside

As noted above, Brook House visitors are now not allowed to take any toiletries or tobacco in for detainees as they used to until about a month ago. The management claims this is to prevent suspected smuggling of drugs into the centre and says the decision was taken by the UKBA and had nothing to do with them. However, some detainees said it is aimed at "forcing them to buy" these items from the centre's shop.

"So if you don't have money and don't have visitors who can give you cash," one detainee complained, "you are basically deprived of these essentials." Many visitor groups have rules against giving cash to detainees.

Unlike prison canteens, which are usually subcontracted to other companies, Brook House's shop is run by G4S itself, which claims that profits made through the shop are 'reinvested' in the centre. It is also no secret that, besides making profits, prison canteens are used by prison managements for punishment and disciplinary purposes (see this Corporate Watch article for more details).


Corporate Watch has learnt that a number of formal complaints have been made by detainees and visitors to the UK Border Agency against Brook House's management. Most of them seem to centre around detainees' missing medical or court appointments due to alleged lack of escorts or transport. Both the management and the Home Office would not comment but, according to insiders, the Brook House management is blaming the Home Office and the Home Office is blaming G4S.

In one case, a detainee with serious medical problems missed two hospital appointments in a row due to "lack of staff," as he was told. Another detainee had his court hearing cancelled twice because there was "no transport available." Of course, there are more than enough escorts and transport available when it comes to deportations - on the first mass deportation flight to Baghdad, Iraq, on 15th October, there were at least 100 escorts and security guards to accompany 43 deportees. Brook House has a couple of its own vans for transporting detainees and G4S is the UKBA's main contractor for detainee escort services.

Interestingly, G4S, employer of around 40,000 people around the world, was earlier this month advertising in local papers for 'detainee custody officers' vacancies at Brook House. Call 0844 891 3333 to discuss the nature of the company's work.... Bear in mind, though, that some G4S security guards at Brook House are apparently working up to 15-hour shifts, from 6am to 9pm.

Friday, 4 December 2009

This Septic Isle

A new poll has revealed just how ingrained anti-immigration sentiment is in the UK. In the latest Transatlantic Trends survey on immigration carried out by the German-Marshall Fund in 6 European countries, including the UK, plus USA and Canada, the Brits come out 'top of the racism pops' or, as the Guardian would have it, "more anti-immigrant and xenophobic than the rest of western Europe".

In he survey, 55% of UK citizens felt there were too many immigrants, the highest in the countries polled. 66% also felt that immigration was more of a problem than an opportunity, the highest of all countries (up from 61% in '08). 54% of Brits also agreed with the statement "immigrants take away jobs from native-born workers", and the UK was the only country where a majority thought this. 48% also agreed that immigrants bring down wages, one of only two countries (the other being Spain) where a majority held that view.

When asked to estimate the number of immigrants living in their country, British citizens estimated there to be 27%, while in reality it is 10% i.e. 2.7 times higher than the true picture. In fact all countries overestimated the numbers of migrants but only France, who estimated. 2.9 times and Italy (3.5) had higher percentage errors than the UK.

On the crime front, the UK was towards the bottom of spectrum when it came to adverse perceptions of the effects of immigration, with 36% feeling legal migration increased crime and 59% for illegal migration. In comparison, Italy and Spain were much more concerned about the effects of illegal migration on crime with Germany and the Netherlands most fearful of both.

Despite that fact that 71% said the government had dome a bad job managing migration (against 27% who had said that they had done a good/fair job), the highest in Europe (versus a 71% approval rating in Germany), 53% still wanted that government (or more likely one with more restrictive immigration policies) to retain control of immigration policy. Needless to say, the UK was the only European country polled that did not favour an EU formulated immigration policy (30% for as opposed to an European average of 56%).

This anti-European sentiment was further reinforced by the 47% that said that there are “too many” citizens of other EU countries living in the UK. And not being a Schengen member correlated with the fact that reinforcing border controls was seen to be the most effective means of combating illegal migration (44%, nearly 50% higher than in the USA and 76% higher than in the next highest EU country, the Netherlands).

Other stand-out statistics were:
  • 20% in the UK and 15% in Italy thought that immigration was the most important issue facing their country (versus 30% and 34% respectively who thought that the economy was more important);
  • the Italians and British were most against giving 'illegal' migrants opportunities to normalise their status;
  • apart from Spain and Italy, UK correspondents were most worried about illegal immigration (68%) but the most worried about legal migration (36%);
  • along with the Netherlands, the UK was the least in favour of migrants being granted permanent leave to remain;
  • the also UK had the lowest support rate (50%) and the highest opposition (47%) for the granting of social benefits to legal migrants, with 28% “strongly opposed” to the policy (Italy's figures were 87/11% pro/anti);
  • but Britain had the lowest percentage (47%) of those who thought that “immigration negatively affects national culture” (whatever that is).

One of the few bright lights in the survey was that most people support allowing individuals displaced by events linked to global climate change to settle in their countries. However, the country with the lowest level of support (57%) and the highest opposition (38%) is, yes you guessed it, Britain - though the majority still support such migration, so we have something to be grateful for.

So, apart from having such expected truisms 'as those who had suffered increased financial problems in the past year claiming that they were now more worried about immigration' (except in the USA for some reason) and that 'contact with immigrants is the most important predictor of opinions about integration' confirmed, we now also know that the 'Little Englander' stereotype is true. And that the country* that in the past has "welcomed Danes, Angles, Saxons, Jutes, Frisians, Franks, Jews, Lombards, Roma, Huguenots, Palatines, Africans, West Indians, Pakistanis, Indians, Chinese, Belgians, Poles and many others", to quote the Spectator, is even more racist than Italy!

* Or "This sceptical isle" as the Economist put it (more like septic isle if you ask us). Their take on some of the graphs is quiet amusing too...

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Merak / Christmas Island Updates

It looks as if the Indonesian military are set on trying to intimidate the nearly 250 Tamil asylum seekers still in the 8th week of their stand off against the Indonesian authorities on board a rickety wooden vessel in the West Javan port of Merak. Having previously backed down from their threat to forcibly deport the Tamils back to Sri Lanka, the Navy have recently tried to board the vessel and are buzzing it with inflatables full of armed personnel.

Meanwhile there was a solidarity demonstration in Sydney on Sunday organised by the Refugee Acton Coalition, which denounced Prime Minister Rudd’s “Indonesian Solution” as “racist” and called for the closure of the Christmas Island offshore detention centre, which has only just come off of a week long lock-down following a large scale disturbance last month. Also in the Australian media recently has the news that the Australian government have been forced to erect tents on Christmas Island to cope with an anticipated overflow of asylum seekers in the coming months rather than the previously floated idea of transfers to the mainland.

Monday, 30 November 2009

United Colours Of Christmas

Wishing for a White Christmas has taken on a sinister new meaning in Coccaglio, Lombardy after the mayor Franco Claretti, a member of the anti-immigration Northern League, decided to "start to do some 'cleaning' despite Coccaglio being a country where immigration has never been a problem of security or public order".

The extensive house-to-house checks by immigration officials ostensibly to ensure migrants' papers 'are in order', with residents unable to produce residency papers or found to have overstayed their visas facing deportation, have bee going on since 25 October. They are due to finish on 25 December, hence the name.

The initiative has been hailed by fellow party member Interior Minister Roberto Maroni and Reform Minister Umberto Bossi, the head of the Northern League, claimed that "the municipality was just applying the law, even if there was no need to call the initiative 'White Christmas'. They could have called it 'Christmas Regularity Control'."

Other see it differently with one local politician claiming that the Northern League has shown ''racism worthy of the Ku Klux Klan'' and Saturday saw a 'United Colours Of Christmas' demonstration organised by more than 30 anti-racist and migrant support organisations and political parties against what some have called a pogrom.

So just as Joseph and Mary were supposed to have had to return to Bethlehem to take part in a census in the bleak mid winter, a census of a very different sort is happening in northern Italy and some will suffer an even bleaker mid winter. To quote Claretti, "Christmas isn't the celebration of hospitality but, rather, of Christian tradition and our identity."

Some Of The Most Perplexing Children In The World?

Teachers across Ontario, Canada have labelled the large numbers of refugee Roma children that have enrolled in the schools in cities such as Toronto and Hamilton as 'some of the most perplexing students in the world'. They have no English, limited education and an often shaky regard for school routines and mores. Puzzled teachers say their Roma students can seem lukewarm to learning, even suspicious and skip school for days at a time.

Is it any wonder because for centuries the Roma have been discriminated in all parts of European society, and especially in what is now the Czech Republic. Even today, according to a recent article in the weekly Czech news magazine Respekt, "Roma children get inferior educations and thereby permanently lose any prospect of securing a decent job. That in turn costs the state money because unemployed Roma do not contribute to the economy, do not pay taxes and live on social welfare.

The majority of Romani children come from socially disadvantaged backgrounds, often have difficulties with the Czech language early on in first school as a result of their educational segregation are a third as likely to make it to secondary school as their 'white' counterparts. Add to that the fact that a disproportionate number of Roma are sent to special schools for children with learning disabilities, it is clear that they are being groomed to fail.

This educational apartheid is fed from 'below' by parents wanting a 'problem-free' education for their children. In many towns 'gypsy' schools and 'white' schools are sited near to each other, as Catholic and Protestant schools are in many towns and cities in the UK, but recent attempts at integrate them have led to 'white flight' of pupils to non-integrated schools.

The state educational-psychological counselling system also does it's part, producing a steady stream of recommendations for the transfer of Romani students from standard to special schools, renamed “practical elementary schools” four years ago in a PR exercise that changed little else. The first ever sociological survey conducted for the Education Ministry recently found that 30 percent of each annual cohort of Romani children attended schools for the mentally disabled. Only about 2% of 'white' Czech children receive this diagnosis.

Recently even the EU have started to pay notice following a European Court of Human Rights landmark judgement that this pattern of segregation had violated non-discrimination protections in the European Convention on Human Rights in the case of eighteen Roma students, born between 1985 and 1999, who were placed in special schools in the Ostrava region* of the Czech Republic.

Now the Czech government have earmarked €170M, much of it from EU funds, to support equal opportunities in education and the education ministry is preparing its National Action Plan for Inclusive Education to be introduced in January next year. However the task is massive, with some estimates for the number of children at risk of being wrongly assigned to special schools annually are as high as 10,000, with some claiming it is three times that number. Until those levels of discrimination and the social apartheid that Roma suffer from are ended, Roma will continue to try and make a new life for themselves elsewhere in the world.

In the words of one of the Canadian teachers, "One student wrote the most touching composition about how great it is they're not beaten up in Canada just for being Roma."

* The Ostrava region was amongst the worst in the republic, with more than half of all Roma children placed in "special schools". Over half of the population of "special schools" were Roma and a Roma child was at least 27 times more likely to be placed in a "special school" than a non-Roma child.

Migrant Children Should Not Be Held In Detention At All

The home affairs select committee in a new report claims that:
  • on average, children spend over a fortnight in detention (15.58 days) and that it "is not uncommon" for children to be detained for up to 2 months*;
  • “nearly 1000 children a year remain in detention”, and ... that at any one time up to 35 children are detained; and
  • the UKBA do not keep figure on the numbers of families detained merely the numbers of individual children.

They also note that “there is no evidence that families with children systematically disappear” when judicial reviews and other legal appeals are pending. Therefore they conclude that migrant children (and this includes the children of migrants that have been born in this country despite the report not making this clear) are being held 'too long'. After all, as Keith Vaz the committee chair states, "These children have done nothing wrong. They should not be being punished. The Yarl's Wood detention centre remains essentially a prison, and is no place for a child."

So then why are children detained at all? The UK should stop this barbaric practice now.

The committee also points out that “the National Audit Office (NAO) found earlier this year … [that] over 90% of judicial reviews do not even get leave for hearing” and that the NAO also suggest that “the low level of success and impact of removals suggests that the Judicial Review is used to block the UKBA from taking removal action”. The committee of course except this argument unquestioningly but there are other reasons why this is happening.

Firstly, the whole asylum system is orientated to minimising the number of people successfully claiming leave to remain in the UK. This is the essence of the 'fast track' system and, just like the home affairs select committee, asylum seekers maintain a naive belief in the efficacy of the UK's judicial systems. In addition, there is one major problem that few seem to be willing to talk about - the large number of lawyers out there practising asylum law that are no better than people traffickers, exploiting migrants because they are vulnerable easy targets. The poor advice and representation they provide migrants is something that migrant support activists come across on an almost daily basis.

* As “it costs £130 a day to keep a person in detention ... detention between 4 and 8 weeks ... can mean that the detention of a family of four costs over £20,000."

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

People Smuggling Into Australia or Money Makes The World Go Around

A new light has been shone on the murky world of people-smuggling into Australia by a Tamil recently granted protection after flying into the country on false papers. This is the most common route used by asylum seekers arriving in Australia, with the numbers who arrive by plane dwarfing those that arrive by boat by about 10 to 1. Also, according to the Refugee Council of Australia, typically 45% of asylum applicants arriving by plane end up being granted protection, compared with 90-95% of boat arrivals.

Yet it is the 'boat people' that are routinely demonised in the media and because of the widespread media coverage the average Australian is well acquainted with the prices of the typical people smuggling 'fee' for a boat trip from Malaysia (with Indonesia the most common set off point for Australia) - around US$15,000. Now we have learnt via The Australian newspaper that the typical people smuggler's air 'fare' is US$40,000, including false passport and visas.

Thus, the ill-informed racist rhetoric of the politicians and mainstream media that the 'boat people' are undeserving chancers, who obviously must be so because they can afford to spend so much money getting to Australia, has been holed below the waterline. Instead, as asylum support groups have long argued, they are some of the poorest most vulnerable people who chose to flee conflict zones by some of the most hazardous routes imaginable on journeys that can last for years and cost the lives of thousands trying to make it to a better future.

The bottom line is that having money makes it so much easier for you to move freely around the globe and the more money you have the easier it is. It is only the poor and vulnerable that have barriers put up against their freedom of movement.

In other news on Australia, Kevin Rudd is seeking to raise the issue of Tamil asylum seekers at the forthcoming Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Trinidad and Tobago later this week. He fears that the Sri Lankan governments announcement that that the remaining 136,000 Tamil refugees, held in the squalid and overrun government internment camps since the war ended six months ago, will be free to return to their villages after the beginning of December, will spark a new 'wave' of 'boat people' trying to get to Australia*.

More news about the 'riot' incident on Christmas Island on Saturday night has leaked out despite a long-standing ban on contact with detainees on the island. It appears that the fight broke out during a game of pool and a total of 43 detainees were injured, with 10 detained in the Island's hospital and 4 flown to the mainland for treatment. Five Serco staff receiving minor injuries. Immigration Minister Chris Evans has dismissed claims that the trouble was over the disparities in the frequency of the granting of protection visas to different ethnic groups** and claimed that two Afghans refusing to give up a pool table sparked the incident.

Interestingly a number of recreational spaces have recently been turned into accommodation areas to cope with overcrowding and the detainees have complained about the lack of activities. Recently Serco has also cut back access to the internet to 40 minutes a day. Whether this is down to 'security issues' as Serco have claimed, or their recent cost cutting exercise that has seen the allocation of tea bags cut to 2 per person per day, we do not know.

* Earlier today the Sri Lankan navy seized four fishing trawlers carrying 142 people heading for Australia. As was the 46th asylum seeker boat intercepted in Australian waters this year, and the second in as many days.
** 544 Afghans were granted protection visas this year against a total of only 21 Sri Lankans.

Monday, 23 November 2009

Migrant Boat Arrives Of Sicily

A boat with around 200 African migrants, including 48 women and 5 children has arrived in the Sicilian port of Pozallo. The significance of this is that it doubles the number of migrants to arrive in Italy over the past 6 months since the introduction of their 'push back' policy in May cut the number of arrivals by more than 90%.

It is not known where the boat set sail from but the migrants, who all claim to be from Eritrea, have managed to avoid the extensive anti-migrants patrols carried out by the Italian Navy and the Libyans Coast Guard, using Italian supplied fast patrol boats. It seems likely that the boat left from Eastern Libya away from the normal patrol zones and the normal route to Lampedusa.

Christmas Island 'Riot'/Merak Tamils' Humanitarian Crisis

A special team of five reassigned Australian immigration officers has been assembled to 'fast track' the Oceanic Viking Tamils' asylum claims following the ending of their stand-off with the Indonesian authorities. The remaining Tamils holding out on the Customs vessel left for Tanjung Pinang Detention Centre after more than 4 weeks after their rescue.

Immediately it appeared that Indonesia reneged on assurances that the 5 women and 5 children would not be held in the detention facility and would be free to come and go. Instead they being held in a locked room in the older part of the detention facility. Despite the hasty new sign saying "Temporary Holding Room", the women's building is exactly the same as the men apart from a razor wire fence.

It also appears that the fast-tracking of the Oceanic Viking asylum claims has led to some dissension and increased tensions between different groups of migrants in detention, both in Indonesia and on Christmas Island, where a riot broke out on Saturday night.

The half hour long disturbance involved 150 Tamil and Afghan detainees armed with pool cues and broom handles. 40 detainees, including 3 that were flown to Perth on the mainland 2,600 km away for treatment on broken bones, and 5 staff were injured. In addition to the conflict over perceived differences in treatment, the overcrowding situation on the island is also being blamed along with tension over the forced return of a number of Tamils last week.

Currently 975 people are being held in accommodation that has been expanded from an initial 400 places to the present 1028 places by adding extra bunk beds. Some additional building outside the centre's fence are also used as overspill for holding children but are not classed as being part of the camp. The riot comes just a few days after renewed calls by Amnesty International for the closure of the island's facilities.

Meanwhile the Jaya Lestari 5 stand-off in Merak harbour continues and tensions remain high as the humanitarian crisis mounts. The 255 Tamils on board have been there even longer than their Oceanic Viking cousins and their vessel is an aged wooden hulk compared to the modern Oceanic Viking.

Last week the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), after weeks of suffering restricted access to the boat because of the high levels of security dockside which had severely restricted their humanitarian activities, finally withdrew citing the possibility of the increasingly desperate Tamils taking some of their staff hostage. This followed fights between the Tamils over access to the limited water available on the boat and complaints from the UNHCR about their being unable to visit the Tamils.

Generally, the Indonesian authorities do not seem to know how to handle the situation. After having threatened to send troops in to forcibly remove the Tamils and put those that did not already have refugees status on board an Indonesian Navy vessel for forcible deportation back to Sri Lanka, an act that would ave violated a number of international treaties and protocols, they have backed down and said they are willing to allow the UNHCR access to the boat, a long-standing demand of the Tamils. Exactly when this will occur is anyone's guess.

As monsoonal rains lashed the boat at the weekend, the latest news from Merak is that conditions on the vessel continue to deteriorate. There is only one toilet and at least 60 on board, including children, are suffering from severe diarrhoea and vomiting. Some have had to be taken to the local hospital. And with the withdrawal of the IOM, the only medical aid they are getting is from Australian refugee advocates providing advice over the boat's mobile phone.

Friday, 20 November 2009

UNHCR Hypocrisy?

In a startling piece of double-think Wilbert Van Hövell, the regional representative of the UNHCR in Western Europe, claimed yesterday that “the situation of the migrants in Calais improved overall”* in the 6 months since their Calais office has been open. What planet is he living on?

He claims that “since the end of the 'Jungle', one notices that the number of migrants in Calais fell, which is a positive point”, and that “the fact of preventing very new squat also plays in the favour of this fall...The situation improved since October and the care is always accessible to the migrants… it is well.” What care? Being brutalised and detained every night by the CRS? Loosing all your possessions, your sleeping bag, clothes, money, mobile phone, etc. Only to be turfed out on the cold and wet streets the next day with only the clothes on your back. That's progress?

"Moreover, the town hall will place at the disposal a room for the great cold plan. It is positive…” But that happens every year and only operated when the daytime temperature remains below OºC.

And of course the UNHCR is having more migrants through their doors forced to contemplate taking the 'voluntary' repatriation grants offered and return to the various war zones around the globe that they fled originally because they have gotten the incredibly heavy-handed 'message' that they are not welcome...and of course it justifies all those UNHCR jobs in to the bargain. Its even been busy in the Loon-Plage 'Jungle' recently, prior to its destruction this week, running the gauntlet of the traffickers as the try to persuade the migrants to take the offer of voluntary assisted return. Its either that or forced repatriation somewhere down the line unless they can make it across the Channel, or die trying.

So what does he think are negatives about the 'Jungle' destructions? Not enough 'reception facilities', especially for minors, unlike Belgium apparently, where he is based. Not enough charter flights of course, and the fact that there are fewer migrants in Calais "from one point of view is a positive. The concern is that the problem is in the process of moving not only in France but also Belgium, the Netherlands and the Scandinavian countries. The situation is not resolved." Now that's a bit of realism on his part. As is the contradiction he highlights in saying "We urge these people to stop illegality by asking them to engage in, proceedings to which they will no doubt be refused. This is proof if any (were needed) of the difficult in applying EU asylum policy." Exactly.

In Wilbert Van Hövell's home city of Brussels some of those displace Calais migrants will no doubt be staying in the tent city recently built by 5 migrant aid groups in a public park near the city's Gare du Nord railway station. The action to erect the 15 tents to house refugees forced on to the streets by the lack of adequate housing is being "tolerated" by city authorities. There are a dozen "family" tents capable of sheltering 50 people, three tents for health care, legal and social advice, and food support. And by mid-afternoon Wednesday around 100 people were trying to enter the camp.

Belgium is obliged under its own laws to provide housing for asylum seekers but more than 1,000 asylum seekers currently have nowhere to go but the streets with winter rapidly approaching but the NGOs accept their camp is hardly the solution. "Days and nights have gone by, and still no assurance has been given for taking care of people who are sent out into the streets every day, as a result of lacking capacity to house them," a joint press statement from Medecins Sans Frontieres, Medecins du Monde, Caritas International, CIRE and Vluchtelingenwerk Vlaanderen claimed.

* Apologies for the poor French-English translation through out.