Wednesday, 28 January 2009

The Situation In Calais

The situation for migrants in Calais is reaching crisis point. Since the agreement between the UK and French governments to close the Red Cross ran Sangatte camp in 2002 conditions have gone from bad to worse.

The Sangatte camp was housed in an old Eurotunnel building close to the tunnel entrance 3 miles from the main port. Designed to hold 900 migrants, it held 2,000 at its peak, most coming from the near and middle east but all heading for the UK.

The agreement itself was designed to reinforce the Dublin convention, under which asylum seekers are meant to apply for asylum in the first 'safe' country they enter. The practical consequences were the extension of UK border controls to the French side of the channel, a rapid increase in the UK detention estate together with joint UK-French deportation flights.

For migrants the channel became an even narrower bottle neck. So-called 'illegal immigrants' detected entering Kent from Calais fell by 88% from more than 10,000 in 2002 to 1,500 in 2006. The conditions they have to endure have also deteriorated significantly, with the French government upping their repression of migrants in the north east of the country. It was already against the law to aid 'illegal immigrants' in France, but it became policy to send newly recruited police and CRS officers to the Calais area to 'blood' them.

According to the French 'humanitarian' groups (local ad hoc associations that organise in defiance of the law to help feed and aid the migrants) there are around 800 migrants in Calais itself, mostly staying in the makeshift camp called the 'Jungle'. There are also many more in the surrounding area and in the towns along the coast that have crossing points to England, such as Dunkuerque.

At the weekend a group of UK No Borders activists visited Calais on our way to a meeting in Lille to organise a trans-national No Borders Camp in Calais planned for June this year . We visited the only 2 groups, Belle Etoile & Salam, still providing, food for the migrants in the town in defiance of the authorities. And in the jungle we found a Kurdish family with a 3 year old child having to survive in the freezing cold. Such desperate conditions have lead to a renewed call for the opening of a new centre to provide shelter for these people having to survive there.

Yet the new French immigration minister, Eric Besson, can breeze into town a couple of days ago, in what was a national media event, with news crews fighting for the best space, to announce that he wants to see an "exclusion zone" for immigrants in this region of France.

This will be greeted with a sigh of relief by UK ministers as they had lobbied hard for the French government to not reopen humanitarian shelters in the Calais area. No doubt when Besson meets his British counterpart, Phil Woolas, in the UK in February they will get on like a house on fire. That is until the French ask the UK tax-payers to help pay for the increased costs of the new regime.

Lampedusa Update

Of the 78 women who have already been transferred to the new Cie ('centre of identification and expulsion') camp under construction at the ex- NATO Loran base on Lampedusa, 16 (12 from Tunisia and four from Morocco) have gone on hunger strike against their possible expulsion.

In Lampedusa itself, there was a general strike on Tuesday 27th and around 50 migrants, who have not returned to the 'reception' centre, are still sheltering on the island and the locals are feeding them. The Italian government also launched a public attack on Lampedusa's mayor, saying that he was guilt of leading the protests!

Meanwhile, in Massa, Tuscany police and carabinieri in riot gear attacked a demonstration of refugees, mainly from Somalia and Eritrea. Some refugees were injured and others were forcibly taken by the police back to the Red Cross centre where they were housed. About 50 people, many of them women, were protesting about delays in processing applications for refugee status and permits to remain. They occupied the centre of the town, blocking traffic and refused to move, asking to see a representative from the UN. Meanwhile they declared they were starting a hunger strike. Many of these refugees were part of a group of 104 persons transferred in August from Lampedusa.

Monday, 26 January 2009

Migrants Escape Detention Camp in Lampedusa

The blatantly racist and truly appalling treatment of migrants in Italy continues a pace in Italy in places such as Lampedusa, a small island south of Sicily which houses a 'Centre of First Reception' (Cpa), that also functions as a 'Centre of Identification and Expulsion' (Cie).

Nearly 2000 persons are crammed in the centre, which can barely contain 850, after a series of arrivals of boats from the African coast. Many are sleeping out in the rain because of the overcrowding (see video for an example of the conditions in the camp). The Interior Minister Roberto Maroni has refused to move them to other centres operating in Italy, insisting they must be processed and eventually deported directly from Lampedusa, which is the first point of arrival for many migrants, especially since increased immigration controls at the Spansh border have changed the migration routes.

Amnesty International, Save The Children, Cir, Asgi, Medicines Sans Frontieres have all denounced the situation in Lampedusa and the possibility of serious human rights violations. The UNHCR had also expressed their concern, since many of the men women and children confined in Lampedusa are refugees.

The situation reached breaking point on Saturday 24th, when approximately 1300 migrants forced open the entrance gates and got past police controls. They then proceeded to form a demonstartion, marching towards the square in front of the Town Hall shouting slogans: 'Freedom, Freedom' and 'Help us'.

The day before the break-out, local residents had stopped a bus with 110 migrants enroute to the new camp and held a demonstration against a new Cie camp being built at the Loran ex-NATO base on the island and against conditions inside the Lampedusa camp, with some 4000 people taking part. The local Mayor, Bernardino de Rubeis was quoted as saying, "The people of Lampedusa are out on the streets to say to Minister Maroni that we are against the creation of an open air prison."

The most striking fact is that the local residents and the migrants have come together in solidarity and on Saturday, when the residents went on general strike, the locals and migrants held a joint demonstration. They have been eating and drinking together, with locals feeding the migrants after their mass escape. Things have been peaceful and the days of protest have gone without incidents, apart from on Saturday, when the police attacked demonstrators. In one incident an ambulance drove into the crowd and a cop also kicked a local resident for no apparent reasons. In both cases the people reacted and the police charged the crowd. A 16 years old local boy was also injured during the demonstration.

The Italian interior ministry, trying to hide their embarrassment at the situation, said there had been "no escape of illegal immigrants" because it was a camp for assistance rather than expulsion, "so there is no obligation to stay there". Italian PM Berlusconi, who is largely to blame for the conditions created by the new laws that seek to speed-up expulsions, also had the bare-faced cheek to try and reassure locals by saying "The situation in Lampedusa is absolutely a contingency. The residents of Lampedusa need to remain calm and tranquil and know the situation is under control but that, above all, we will do something to compensate them for this inconvenience."

Thursday, 15 January 2009

News Round-Up

Immigration Minister Calls For Changes In 'Outdated' Geneva Convention.

Yes our old friend Phil Woolas, the immigration minister, has been at it again. He has called for the Geneva Convention to be scraped, as he claims that "a significant number of people who claim asylum" are abusing the 58-year-old convention, which enshrines individuals' rights to asylum from state persecution. His proposals closely mirror those of that other fine upholder of liberal democracy the French president Nicholas Sarkozy. [See: Guardian 10 Jan]

From Belsen To Zimbabwe: Sorry Minister, But To Call The Geneva Conventions Outdated Traduces 60 Years Of Torture And Abuse.

In an article in the same paper 3 days later Helen Bamber, founder of the Helen Bamber Foundation, a UK-based human rights organisation that works with survivors of genocide, torture, trafficking and rape who seek safety and refuge, attacked Woolas' ignorance of the "documented fact that patterns of migration mirror patterns of global conflict." [See: Guardian 13 Jan]

Campsfield: 'Staff Ignored Suicide Threat'.

Detainees at Campsfield House Immigration Removal Centre claim wardens repeatedly ignored warnings an inmate was going to commit suicide.

Brice Mabonga, a 33-year-old detainee from Congo, tried unsuccessfully to kill himself on New Year’s Day, after spending more than a week on hunger strike.

It is believed Mr Mabonga, who had been in the Blue Wing of the Kidlington facility, attempted to slit his throat with a sharpened plastic knife in order to avoid deportation on January 2. [More on this story: Oxford Mail 13 Jan]

Lack Of Accountability Is At Heart Of The Mistreatment Of Asylum-Seeker.

In an article in the Independent, the paper's Law Editor, Robert Verkaik, argues that "a disturbing feature of Britain's record on immigration is the treatment of failed asylum-seekers (sic). Successive governments have overseen the establishment of a system that is best suited to meeting deportation targets, rather than the care of some of the most vulnerable members of our society. Immigrants who have committed no criminal offence can be locked up for as long as three years. Failed asylum-seekers have few rights and often know very little about the legal system in which they are held. In such a climate, it is easy to see how those employed to guard them are in a position to abuse their power." [See: Independant 14 Jan]

[Courtesy of NCADC]

Thursday, 8 January 2009

No Borders UK Newsletter Jan 2009 (No. 5)

The latest newsletter for the UK No Borders Network is available for download from here. Issues covered include I.D. cards, Amey and the cleaners strike in London and a short report on the last No Borders UK gathering in Newcastle last November.

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Deaths On The Walls Of Fortress Europe

According to an article on the Fortress Europe blog at least 13,341 people have died since 1988 along Europe's external frontiers. Some of their figures follow:

In the Mediterranean sea and through the Atlantic Ocean on the crossing to Spain, 9,409 migrants have died. In the Sicily channel 3,128 people died along the routes from Libya, Egypt and Tunisia to Malta and Italy, this includes some 2,051 missing presumed drowned. 125 other people are known to have drowned sailing from Algeria to Sardinia.

1.066 people died in the Aegean sea, between Turkey and Greece, including 592 missing, and 603 people died in the Adriatic sea, between Albania, Montenegro and Italy, including 220 missing.

Most of these deaths have occurred on makeshift craft or in overloaded craft supplied by people smugglers but migrants have also died sailing hidden inside registered ferries and cargo vessels, with 152 men being asphyxiated or drowned.

At least 1,677 people have died since 1996 crossing the Sahara along the tracks between Sudan, Chad, Niger and Mali from one side and Libya and Algeria on the other one. The data includes also the victims of the collective deportations practised by Tripoli, Algeri and Rabat Governments, accustomed to abandon groups of hundreds migrants in open desert border areas.

In Libya serious migrants abuses are also recorded. There is not any official data, but in 2006 Human Rights Watch and AFVIC accused Tripoli of arbitrary arrests, beatings and tortures in the migrants detention centres, three of which are financed by Italy. In September 2000 in Zawiyah, in the north-west of the Country, at least 560 foreigners were killed during racist putsches

In Eastern Europe 352 people have been found dead, travelling as stowaways in the trucks. 208 migrants drowned crossing border rivers, the majority in the Oder-Neisse, between Poland and Germany; in the Evros, between Turkey and Greece; the Sava, between Hroatia and Bosnia; and the Morava between Slovakia and Czech Republic. At least 112 other people have frozen to death in their tracks through the icy mountains frontiers, especially in Turkey and Greece. In the Greek border region with Turkey there are still mine-fields along Evros river and atleast 92 people have died there trying to enter Greece.

207 migrants were shot dead by border police: 35 of them were killed in Ceuta and Melilla Spanish enclaves in Morocco, 50 in The Gambia, 55 in Egypt and 32 in the eastern Turkey, along the Iranian and the Iraqi borders. Others have also been killed by French, German, Spanish and Swiss policemen, as well as in Morocco and Libya.

41 men have been found dead hidden in the undercarriage of the planes, and 27 people died in Calais or under the trains in the Channel Tunnel trying to reach England, while another 12 people died under other trains at other Europen borders and 2 are also known to have drowned crossing the English Channel.

See also: