Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Department of Health Guidance Ruled Unlawful...

...But 'Failed' Asylum Seekers Are Still Not Entitled To Free NHS Treatment.

The Court of Appeal has ruled that Department of Health guidance which forbids hospitals from providing temporary healthcare to destitute migrants with chronic illnesses is unlawful.

The court case brought by a Palestinian man, Mr. A, with chronic liver disease, who had had his asylum claim refused and, prevented from travelling back to the West Bank by Israeli travel restrictions despite having agreed to return, was refused treatment by West Middlesex University Hospital.

Dept. of Health guidance states that hospitals should not provide treatment to such patients unless they pay for it in advance, ignoring the fact that many of these patients are destitute, many cannot return home, so they are not treated until they require life-saving treatment.

The hospital eventually agreed to treat Mr. A after he started an urgent High Court action. However, he continued the case, arguing that the guidance was unlawful and it was preventing thousands of other refused asylum-seekers from accessing urgent treatment. The High Court ruled that refused asylum-seekers could be entitled to free treatment if they had been here long enough and were following the rules, but the government appealed the decision.

The Court of Appeal, whilst rejecting the High Court’s ruling that refused asylum-seekers could be classed as being legally resident in the country, upheld the decision that the guidance was unlawful as it did not make it clear enough that hospitals must consider providing treatment where a patient cannot return home and cannot pay for the treatment in advance.

However, this still leaves a situation where there is no automatic right to health care for failed' asylum seekers who are unable to return to their country of origin and that it up to individual hospitals to make decisions about treatment on a case by case basis. (See: 1, 2)

Tinsley House Blockaders Sentenced

Seven of the anti-deportation campaigners who blockaded Tinsley House immigration detention centre at Gatwick airport earlier this month (see 18 March post) pleaded guilty to the charge of 'aggravated trespass' at Crawley Magistrates Court yesterday. Six of them locked and glued themselves to the gate of Tinsley House on 17th March in an attempt to prevent Iraqi refugees being taken to Stansted airport to be forcibly deported on a special charter flight to northern Iraq later that day. All seven were released on conditional discharge and ordered to pay the court fees. Two other protesters, who were also arrested on the action, pleaded not guilty and are due in court again soon.

Sunday, 22 March 2009


If a news story in yesterday's Independent is to be believed, it now appears that the new detention centre 'planned' for Calais and currently under discussion by the French & UK governments, will be sited within the UK 'control zone' within the port area. This proposal attempts to exploit the ambiguous legal status of the 'control zone', allowing the UK & French authorities to bypass both their own and the EU's legal strictures that currently prevent them from expelling detained migrants as easily as they would wish.[1]

In February 2004 Home Office immigration controls moved to the so-called 'juxtaposed control zones' within the Calais, Boulogne and Dunkerque dock areas established under the 2003 Le Touquet treaty. Since then immigration officers have operated on 'French soil' and are allowed, under the reciprocal provisions of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum [NIA] Act 2002 (Juxtaposed Controls) Order 2003, to search ships and vehicles and detain 'illegal' immigrants.

When the Home Office was reorganised and the UK Border Agency created, a second version of the legislation was passed, the NIA Act 2002 (Juxtaposed Controls) Order 2006, which "authorise persons other than immigration officers to search a ship, aircraft or vehicle or other thing for the purpose of satisfying himself whether there are individuals whom an immigration officer might wish to examine for the purposes of considering whether the person should enter the UK."[2]

Now this may create a little bit of Blighty in France but UK control ends at the fence around the port.[3] And there is still the small problem of where the deportaion flights for the detainees, from what would potentially be the UK's very own Guantanamo, would fly from. Calais Marck Airport is far too small to take international flights and that means that the deportees would either have to be transported by boat to England, for a flight from there, or they would have to travel via French soil to a French Airport, which would cause legal problems for the French and defeat the whole object of the exercise. Of course they could always put them on a slow boat to Aghanistan or Iraq!

Another interesting recent development have been the reports from migrant support workers in Calais of what appear to be either UK police or UKBA officers on patrol with the French Border Police. If true, this is significant in that it indicates that the UK influence on French soil seems to be expanding even further and beyond the legal limits of the Calais port fence.

[1] France had already fallen foul of the European Declaration on Human Rights when they tried to hold a mass deportation back to Afghanistan last November, and most migrants detained in the North West of France have no papers and their countries of origin cannot accurately be ascertained.
[2] This Act also enables these "persons other than immigration officer", the UKBA's equivalent of Police Community Support Officers, to detain people up to a maximum of three hours in order to escort them to an immigration officer. It also provides for the taking and retention of fingerprints under Sections 141 and 143 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999.
[3] Not strictly true as the UKBA operate visa controls at Paris, Brussels, Lille and Calais Frethun rail stations, as well as on Eurostar trains.

Friday, 20 March 2009

Entente Not So Cordiale

It seems that Phil Woolas has put his foot in in/run off at the mouth/jumped the gun/got hold of the wrong end of the stick/spilt the beans/made a fopar/made a faux pas* yet again when he announced the 'plans' for the building of a internment camp for migrants in the Calais area. (see Wednesday's post)

In response to his pronouncements, there have been what can only be politely labelled as mixed signals coming from France. These range from a rather strange version of 'No Comment' from Eric Besson, where he denied that they were plans to build a new Sangatte(!), to an out right "Not in my backyard" by an unnamed French official.

It seems that, despite courting publicity in the first days after his appointment (see 28 January post), Besson now wants to avoid being associated with the controversy that Woolas' comments have sparked in France.

Of course some of this new reticence may be linked to the publicity surrounding Besson's reaction to the release of Philippe Lioret's film 'Welcome', which makes a direct comparison between the ordeal experienced by many migrants in France and the plight of Jews in Nazi-occupied France during the Second World War. Besson claimed that Lioret has "crossed a red line" using such a comparison, which he claimed was used only in an effort to generate publicity for the film. However the French public don't seem to see it that way, and the film itself has sparked a country-wide debate over the fate of the Calais migrants, as well as being a box-office hit.

*delete as non-applicable.

Thursday, 19 March 2009

Brook House Opens As Tinsley House Goes On Hunger Strike

Yesterday Jacqui Smith ceremonially opened Brook House, the latest privately run (G4S in this case) Immigration Prison to be built in the UK. The 426 bed Category B style building brings the UK detention estate up to 3,038 places, with a further 1300 in the pipeline.

Yet all is not going smoothly in G4S's latest venture. All the inmates at Tinsley House, 750m up the South Perimeter Road at Gatwick Airport, have been on hunger strike for 2 days due to changes in the meal system introduced since Brook House became operational. Their meals are now cooked in the kitchens of Brook House to save G4S a few quid and help maximise their profits.

This has resulted in the Tinsley inmates having to order their meals 48 hours in advance and the food is cold and they receive much smaller portions than they had previously (more cost cutting?). Still, atleast Jacqui Smith can sleep happier in her nice comfortable bed (see BBC news clip for a look inside a Brook House cell - sorry 'room' as the UKBA newspeak labels them) knowing that all those 'foreign criminals' will be getting reduced portions of their just desserts.

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

New UK-Funded Detention Centre For Calais?

Calais is back in the news with the British government's latest attempt to externalise it's migration controls. Plans are afoot to try and rush through a new agreement to build a new large sized detention centre in the Calais area to supplement the Croquelles CRE, ahead of a planned UK-French immigration summit at the end of next month.

Having already won a major victory over the poor deluded Rosbifs with the closure of Sangatte in 2002*, Sarkozy is planning on stiffing les Rosbifs with the majority of the bill for the new detention centre. This detention centre would also be a staging point for mass deportation flights back to Iraq and Afghanistan, this is despite the UK being left standing at the altar the last time that they tried to organise a joint deportation flight back to Afghanistan with the French**

The Labour Party's own junior Enoch Powell, Phil Woolas, broke the news at Monday's session of the Home Affairs Select Committee, "We want to increase the profile of the deportations because we have to get the message back to Afghanistan and Iraq that Britain is not the Promised Land." Clearly the Labour Party no longer plan to build Jerusalem in England's green and pleasant land. Well atleast not for Johnnie Foreigner anyway.

This may also explain the strange 'humanitarian' noises that we reported on 13 March as emanating from Eric Besson. He was obviously trying to sugar in advance a particularly bitter pill for the migrants and the support groups in Calais.

*Basically Sarkozy, who was the French immigration minister at the time, managed to not only get the UK to take the lion's share of the migrants in Sangatte at the time of it's closure, to pay for most of the £4.9M fence around the SNCF depot at Frethum at the same time and to greatly tighten the UK's immigration policy, but he also managed to set a right-wing agenda for the French immigration debate and ultimately landed himself the French presidency.
**see: the 18 Nov 2008 post

9 Arrested After Tinsley Blockade

9 anti-deportation campaigners from the group 'Stop Deportation' were arrested yesterday during the blockade of Tinsley House IRC at Gatwick Airport. 6 of the activists had either locked or super-glued themselves on to the gates at Tinsley to try and prevent the removal of deportees scheduled to be flown back to Iraqi Kurdistan.

The blockade, which managed to stop a number G4S vans from leaving, was ended by police after approximately 6 hours and this unfortunately left enough time for the deportees to be taken to Stanstead for the removal flight.

For more details, see the London No Borders website

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Tinsley House IRC Blockaded

At 7 am this morning 4 women and 3 men D-locked and superglued themselves to the main gates of Tinsley House IRC at Gatwick Airport in an attempt to prevent the forced* mass expulsion of around 50 Iraqi refugees.

A special deportation charter flight is scheduled to leave Stanstead airport to Iraqi Kurdistan (northern Iraq) later today. If it goes ahead, it will be the eighth time in the last eight months that people have been deported to Iraq by charter flight.

Unlike many other European countries, the UK government is refusing to ratify Protocol 4 to the European Convention on Human Rights, which prohibits the collective expulsion of foreigners. The Home Office also claims that Kurdistan is 'safe' but recent deportees have committed suicide, been kidnapped and been killed in car bombs. It is particularly dangerous at the moment as political in-fighting intensifies in the run-up to the regional elections.

One of the protesters, Brian Arcola, said: "Charter flights like this are the latest step in the government's macabre immigration policy. Aside from the ethical implications of handcuffing and deporting innocent people under the threat of the baton, by not telling them when they're going to be deported they deprive many people from adequate legal representation. If there's to be any truth in the claim that Britain is a tolerant, fair country, this has got to be stopped."

One of the deportees, whose real name cannot be used for his own security if he goes back to Iraq, said earlier on the phone: "I've been in the UK for nine years. I have a partner and an 18-month-old son. If I am deported, all this will be gone. I've made a life for myself here, living as everyone else does in this country, but I'm now being treated like I'm a criminal, imprisoned then deported." He added: "I left Iraq originally because my life was threatened by a radical Islamic group. That same group is now more powerful than they were before. I won't be safe, I won't be safe."

Another Iraqi refugees, who was deported last month and prefers to keep anonymous, said: "I don't know when I'll see my partner or my daughter again. I speak to them in tears on the phone every night. I am still in shock after being sent back. I have had to change my name so I'm not targeted by the same people who threatened to kill me before. My entire world has caved in."

*Each deportee is handcuffed and accompanied by two security guards.

Friday, 13 March 2009

"They're Back: Mass Of Migrants Queue Up At Sangatte..."

- Daily Mail Headline

Let me let you in on a secret, 'they' never went away, you just chose (like some many others including the French & UK governments) not to look, as the reality was far too embarrassing to acknowledge.

Eric Besson, in a surprising about face since January this year, when he declared he was going to make Calais an 'immigrant free zone', has said that, "with humanitarian workers and elected officials, we (he must mean the French government here) are moving towards the setting up of light structures around Calais."

Besson also said that the new buildings would "offer to foreigners without papers information services about their rights, but also sanitary facilities, and food points." This is an astounding turn of events, if it is in fact true.

But of course there will be a big catch. The migrants will become even more visible to the authorities and especially the CRS, who are at the forefront of the French state's war on 'illegal' immigrants, regularly attacking the residents of the 'Jungles' with tear-gas and batons, arresting them and burning any structures and the meagre possessions they contain to the ground.

No doubt the International Organisation for Migration will be there in force, trying to bribe the migrants into returning to where they came from with a few magic beans or their equivalent of 40 acres and a mule. Or using scare tactics, with (unfortunately all too true) tales of the terrors of migrant lives in the UK, to induce them into going home to the countries from which they have fled.

Since the new UMP mayor of Calais, Natacha Bouchart, entered office, the situation for migrants and the overstretched volunteers, who provide the far from basic support structures that they rely upon, has deteriorated significantly. Systematic harassment, overstretched resources and official attempts to drive a wedge between groups such as Salam and Belle Etoile, have led in recent times to friction between some of the groups (usually referred to as associations) and to Belle Etoile ceasing to provide lunchtime meals in protest at the local council's lack of support.

Just last month Natacha Bouchart was quoted in the Nord Littoral, a local paper, as saying, "They [the migrants] have a dream life in Calais! See how they are dressed! See how they eat! Four times a day! And all this thanks to us who have put in place a WC, opened places for them in times of extreme cold, established the Council for Migrants, will make available to the Associations the homes of the lock-keepers!"*

And what of this Council for Migrants? It has met just 3 times since it was inaugurated last September and Belle Etoile, the oldest of the Calais associations, is prohibited from attending by the mayor. And no doubt the migrants will be subject to this sort of patronising and ignorant attitude, as displayed by the mayor in this quote, if these 'centres' ever actually open.

*The lock-keepers houses had previously been squatted by migrants and on February 13th this year the CRS tear-gassed the buildings, forcing some of the migrants to escape the gas by climbing on the roof. 20-30 migrants were arrested in this raid.

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Yarl's Wood Demonstration March 21st

On Saturday 21 March London No Borders, Campaign Against Immigration Controls, SOAS Detainee Support Group, No-one is Illegal, Campaign To Stop Arbitrary Detention at Yarl’s Wood, Campaign to Close Campsfield, Legal Action for Women, All African Women's Group and Barbed Wire Britain Network to End Detention have called a demonstration at Yarl's Wood IRC calling for an end to immigration detention.

Yarl's Wood is one of 7 IRC's run by private companies for profit in this country and is currently run by Serco under an £87m contract. In May 2007 (just a month after Serco took over there) women detainees, many of them single mothers, began a hunger strike in response to new measures being introduced by the company. At its height, there were over 100 people refusing food, including a number of children.

The women's 15 demands were:

* Release from detention
* No lock up
* No punishment or retribution against those protesting or on hunger strike.
* Proper access to legal information
* Respect for privacy and the end to male guards entering cells without warning
* An end to violence from staff
* The dismissal of sexist and racist staff
* The right to keep mobiles
* An investigation into money sent by relatives and supporters which disappeared.
* A reinstatement of the 71p daily allowance
* No profiteering
* No fingerprinting of visitors
* A choice of sanitary pads
* Adequate health care
* Edible food we can eat.

This was just one of many examples of attempts by detainees to resist the often brutal detention regimes found in UK IRC's (it was in fact the second hunger strike at Yarl's Wood that month and another followed in September of that year).

Come along and show your solidarity with the detainees there and your opposition to the regime everywhere. Gather at Bedford Town Centre to march from Bedford to Yarl’s Wood Detention Centre, to demonstrate between 12.30 and 2pm.

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Does Every Child Matter?

In a report released today, the Refugee and Migrant Justice, formerly the Refugee Legal Centre, criticises the UK Border Agency's treatment of children in detention. The report, 'Does Every Child Matter?', is the first "comprehensive review of children’s experiences" carried out since the UKBA's first Code of Practice for 'Keeping children safe from harm' was introduction 2 months ago.

The report (as itself says) "paints a distressing [but unfortunately accurate] picture of how children seeking asylum fare in Britain today: their families are consigned to poverty; if unaccompanied, they are subjected to a hostile legal process often marked by a culture of disbelief, sometimes without any adult representation or support; they are left for months and in many cases years without a clear decision about their future, traumatized and in limbo; and they are even locked up, sometimes for months."

"In short, some of the most vulnerable children in the world are routinely denied basic protection that all other children in the UK enjoy, when all they are doing is seeking sanctuary here."

This is just one in a long line of damning reports about their methods and practices, yet the UKBA have of course, as they do in the case of any criticism, denied the report's claims and have stated that treating children with care and compassion was their "number one priority".

Monday, 9 March 2009

Set Our Children Free

In September 2008, the UK government finally removed its immigration opt-out to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and committed to introducing a duty on the UK Border Agency equivalent to section 11 of the Children Act 2004, which requires it to safeguard and promote the welfare of children.

Yet the government continue to imprison children for weeks on end, and at one detention centre (Yarl's Wood) over 40% of children detained are eventually released without being deported. In fact, on 27 December 2008, 40 children were in detention – 20 of them had been in detention for over two weeks despite 'implementing' the Convention in full.

At the weekend, the Welsh Refugee Council hit the headlines highlighting just this point, criticising the government's treatment of the children of asylum seekers in detention as 'abusive' and 'dehumanising' and claiming it continues to be in breach of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Mike Lewis, the chief executive of the WRC, was quoted as saying, "We're not talking about 15 year olds. We're talking about three and four year olds, babies even. We've got stories of children who haven't been fed all day in this process. They then go into these places [detention centres] where they could be there for months while their claims are sorted out. I don't think you could make it any more dehumanising really".

According to Bail for Immigration Detainees (BID), in a "Briefing Paper on Children and Immigration Detention" (Feb '09), every year around 2,000 children (the UK government refuses to release the exact numbers) are detained for the purposes of 'immigration control', under exactly the same conditions as adults. The government justifies their detention by arguing that they would abscond if released or that their removal from the country is imminent.

Yet "there is no evidence that families are systematically at risk of absconding if they are not detained. The education and health needs of children, friendship ties and the desire to be granted status in the UK all work against families ‘disappearing’."

The BID report goes on to list a number 'Key concerns about the detention of children':

  • The impact of detention on a child’s physical and mental health
  • Safeguards to keep children from harm in detention are not meaningful
  • Decisions to detain are not subject to automatic judicial oversight
  • Detention is not used as a last resort or for the shortest possible time
  • The detention of children is not properly monitored.

As a sop to these concerns, shared by amongst others the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, the Children’s Commissioner for England, the UK Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons and the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights, and in an attempt to postpone the inevitable, the government has been piloting so-called 'alternatives to detention for families' in Ashford, Kent (which ended in summer 2008) and Glasgow (to start spring 2009).

Already there are a number of reports about the adverse effects of this scheme on those families that were involved in the first pilot. As BID conclude in their report, "until these commitments lead the government to accept that the detention of children in itself is incompatible with the promotion of their welfare, we believe that the continued detention of children in the UK is contrary to these obligations."

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

1 In 9 People Can't Be Wrong?

Last Wednesday the Office of National Statistics released, as it does most days, a whole tranche of statistics - 22 in all to be exact. In amongst them was a news release entitled "Population by Country of Birth and Nationality from the Annual Population Survey". Now, the fact that the right wing press took up the statistic that roughly 12% (more than 1 in 9) of those resident in the UK being born in foreign countries is clearly uncomfortable for someone who clearly see's himself as Labour's very own Enoch, Powell that is. However, his lack of a clear grasp of the situation so obviously shows that he lacks the old Tory despot's intellectual credentials.

In the same report, the ONS also released figures for the estimated population resident in the UK by nationality (roughly 7% or 1 in 14), at the same time as making it perfectly clear the reasoning behind the ONS' own preference for the figures by country of birth: "It is possible that an individual’s nationality may change, but the respondent’s country of birth cannot change. This means that country of birth gives a more robust estimate of change over time." Perfectly clear as a far as we can see.

On top of that Woolas has made a number of other accusations against the ONS:
  • about a press release running to 9 pages highlighting the 1 in 9 figure as the main finding (surely he can't be refering to the very same 8 page excel spreadsheet and 1 page of accompanying notes containing these figures but that nowhere highlights anything?);
  • something about them "out of schedule, highlight(ing) the figure two weeks earlier because it was "topical"". (Where did they highlight this Phil? Please tell us.);
  • and that the release was "at best, naive or, at worst, sinister."
Me thinks Phil Woolas doth protest too much.

Now it goes against the grain to say this, but you have to agree with what Andrew Green of the hated MigrationWatch said, “To imply that there is some sinister motive in simply telling the truth is astonishing” (most of the rest of what Green also had to say on the subject was of course complete twaddle). Maybe the reason that the ONS was 'highlighting' this Phil was because they were only set up on 1 April 2008 and that this was the first time they had released an analysis of this type? And that it's you that's the fool not them?

It just seems that every time Woolas opens his mouth, he appears to be saying that "it's everyone else that's the racist, not me". Get a grip Phil, these are statistics. It's you and the right wing tabloids that are putting them to sinister use, not the ONS.

But then again, he's right to be worried the implications as it's likely that he'll loose his seat at the next election if the BNP take away sufficient numbers of the 'traditional' Labour voters that voted for him last time round; even if he is, as on blog described him, "one of those delightful left-wing racists history throws up from time to time"?

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Terre D'errance Update

On Saturday evening Terre D'errence called a meeting in Norrent-Fontes to show solidarity with their arrested member Monique Pouille. Monique was arrested on Wednesday apparently as part of an investigation into a network of 'people traffickers' operating at the truck stop at Saint-Hilaire-Cottes. [see 26 Feb post]

Present at the meeting were members and officials of Terre D'errance, C'SUR, La Belle Etoile and a number of the other migrant support groups that operate in the North West of France, local Green MEP Hélène Flautre and the mayors of Norrent-Fontes, Lillers and Isbergues. Strong statements of support for Monique and against the harassment of local humanitarian groups by the police were made.

Since her arrest, it has been discovered that the police had been monitoring the phones of the entire local Terre D’errance group, and as a result Terre D’errance has officially declared war on the government, police and judicial authorities. "I had always co-operated with the police and the RG [Renseignements Généraux - similar to the Special Branch], when they wanted information about the camp, but with the problems I have had, I have nothing to say to them!", as Monique stated at the meeting, raising loud applause.

[from: Lille newspaper Nord Éclair]