Thursday, 30 July 2009

Targetting The Most Vulnerable

In time honoured fashion the Labour Party have decided to target their first cuts at some of the most vulnerable in our society - single asylum seekers. From October single asylum seeker over the age of 25 will have their already meagre subsistence allowance cut by 20% tp £35.13 a week as part of an effort by the government to reduce the size of the 'asylum budget'. According to a parliamentary answer to Chris Huhme in January this year, it costs an average of £130 per day or £47,450 per year to keep a person in immigration detention.

As most people held in 'administrative detention', as it is euphemistically called, are there for little or no concrete reason, with many of them being held for years before ultimately being released because they cannot be 'returned' to their country of origin (nor were they ever likely to be), maybe the government would be better off closing a few detention centres to save the money rather than lining the pockets of the shareholders and friendly directors of companies that run them at such exorbitant rates?

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Italy's Moroccan Slaves

Nearly 1,000 Moroccan migrants are living in what the International Organisation of Migration (IOM), a body not known for its use of strong critical language, says amounts to slavery. The IOM claim the migrants are living in abandoned buildings "eking out a living amid piles of rubbish, without running water or electricity."

The young Moroccans were travelled to Italy on tourist visas having paid up to 8,000 euros per person to a middle-man in their home country for the false promises of contracts regular seasonal labour contracts and regularisation of their status. Once there the employers did no materialize or they refused to give them contracts, leaving them open to being exploited by some of the same unscrupulous employers, who pay them between 15 and 25 euros a day for a 12-hour day labouring in nearby greenhouses and fields. Their employers often charged them for basics like transport and water, in the sweltering summer temperatures of southern Italy.

Each year, Italy sets a quota for the number of migrant workers allowed to enter the country as seasonal workers in its large agricultural sector, which also relies on cheap, illegal labour to maintain its profit margins. Official statistics showing that undocumented labour accounts for between 15.9 percent and 17.6 percent of gross domestic product, mainly in the agricultural sector.

Confused? So You Should Be

In an Associated Press story widely covered in the world's media it is claimed that the current 'Economic downturn stems dangerous boat migration', to use the title of the piece, especially in Spain. As proof of this the article cites 2 main factors: that unemployment in Spain is running at nearly 18 percent, with the construction and services industries particularly hard-hit, sectors that regularly employed migrants clandestinely; and that "not a single immigrant boat was intercepted off the Canary Islands, the first time that has happened in years".

Yet the same article also states that the number of arrivals dropped from 38,180 in 2006 to just 13,424 last year. Additionally, increased naval patrols mean that the Spanish Coast Guard now believed to intercept 99% of all these boats whilst still on the high seas and migrants can now be sent directly back either to their home country or to the country from which they departed because of a series of new pacts negotiated with West African states.

The article then adds further counter-evidence by saying that a similar dramatic decrease in arrivals in Italy is due to the bilateral deal with Libya that sees the Italian navy returning migrant intercepted in international waters back to Africa without first screening them for asylum claims. Greece is also cited as having had a 25% increase in migrant detentions between 2007 and 2008, although it also mentions the widely publicised slight decrease in numbers of intercepts in April and May (which could just as easily be a statistical abberation).

Another recent report show what Romanian Border Police claim to be a significant increase in the number of people caught in the first half of this year trying to cross into Hungary. According to their figures border guards caught 1,164 people trying to enter Hungary illegally in 2007. Last year, the number was 1,628 and so far this year there are said to have been about 800 people arrested.

Now is it just me or is this yet another case of the facts not supporting the conclusions, of lazy journalism and official spin making a mountain out of a molehill? About 800 people in 6 months if continued at the same rate would mean about 1,628 in a year i.e. neither an increase nor a decrease.

Interestingly, Romania acceded to the EU in January 2007 and Hungary also became a member of the Schengen zone in December of the same year. So the fact that both countries had built a large number of new border posts on their common border (as Romania had also done on its frontiers with non-EU countries like Moldova and Ukraine) to coincide with their new status completely changed the dynamics of 'illegal' migration over that period, making it both more difficult to enter Romania and more likely that clandestine border-crossers would be caught. So who can in fact tell whether the statistics prove anything at all?

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Greece: One Way & It's Out

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has called on the European Union to "hold Greece accountable for acts contrary to international and European human rights and refugee law" and said that "it needs to act fast, as the lives of many are at risk." Bill Frelick, the Director of HRW's Refugee Policy Program also said, "It appears Greece is doing everything it can to close the door on persons who seek protection in Europe, no matter how vulnerable they are."

HRW has been documenting the on-going policy of the Greek state to systematically denying migrants access to Internationally agreed asylum rights and of illegally expelling them to third countries. (See: 'Stuck in a Revolving Door' for a previous HRW Report on 'pushbacks') The same organisation has also documented the routine miscategorisation of unaccompanied children as adults, allowing them to be detained in conditions that would be considered to inhumane and degrading, if they had been correctly identified as children, prior to deportation.

In the wake of the far right anti-immigration parties gains in the EU elections last month and an impending general election, likely to take place next year, the Greek government are desperate to occupy some of the moral low-ground and increase anti-immigration repression in order to stay in power.

In addition to an immigration policy that already refuses all but a handful of asylum applications (recent figures show only about 1.3% of applications are accepted*), the government has abolished any meaningful means of appeal against asylum decisions, causing the UNHCR to pull out its previous cooperation in implementing the process, as well as increasing the maximum length of administrative detention for migrants from 6 months to 12 months, and certain circumstances up to 18 months.

Since mid July, the Greek authorities have significantly increased their operations against migrants and asylum seekers. The Patras camp has been destroyed and many of its occupants arrested, leaving numerous migrant children who managed to escape the clutches of the Greek police in hiding in abysmal conditions under constant fear of being detained. Numerous ex-army bases have been opened up as detention centres and large numbers of detainees have been moved from major cities and islands in the south and east to camps in the north prior to illegal expulsion to Turkey.

However not all Greeks are content to stand by as the government ramp up the repression. On 23 July activists blockaded the ferry from Lesvos, the venue for a No Border camp at the end of next month, preventing the transfer of 63 migrants to camps in the north. There have also been numerous solidarity demonstrations in Athens, Thessaloniki and other Greek cities with people defending the migrant communities against the numerous vicious attacks from state-sponsored fascist thugs.

In separate news, Arivan Abdullah Osman, a 29 year old Kurdish migrant who had been in a coma since 3 April, died in hospital on Monday. Arivan had been brutally beaten by Hellenic Coast Guard officers after he tried to board a ferry in Igoumenitsa bound for Italy. According to eyewitnesses he had previously been turned away from the port but returned only to be arrested and have his head repeatedly bounced off the cement at the port, causing internal bleeding from which he never recovered.

* Last year only 379 people were granted asylum out of nearly 29,080 applications. The same Eurosat figures showed that Greece had the EU's fifth highest number of applications (the 4th highest relative to population size), with France top with 41,800 asylum applications and the UK second with 30,500 (figure for new applicants only).

Thursday, 23 July 2009

MailWatch #1

The first of an occasional service debunking migration stories in the Daily Mail, self-styled 'Last Bulwark Against The Tide Of Filth That Is Threatening To Engulf Civilisation'™ i.e. those filthy foreigners wanting to steal our jobs, our women and our homes.

Yesterday the Snail published a scoop, 'Calais migrants mutilate fingertips to hide true identity' trumpeting "Migrants massed in Calais in hopes of getting into Britain are mutilating their fingerprints so that their true identities cannot be established, it emerged today." Wrong, this "sinister development" is a widely documented practice that has been going on since Eurodac, the centralised EU computer fingerprint data system, was introduced in 2003. That the Mail has only just found out about it merely reflects the level of 'research' that goes into the smears, sorry 'stories', it publishes about the Calais migrant situation in particular and migrants in general. [See previous post ]

Peter Allen, the paper's Paris correspondent and 'author' of this piece, well known for researching his stories from the comfort of his office desk, claims that "the most common method was to place all ten fingers* on an oven hob and turn up the heat." Of course the migrants all live in nice little pied-a-terres where they have kitchen stoves on top of hot and cold running water and all the other creature comforts that scrounging asylum seekers are meant to have.

He then goes on to conflate Eurodac with Europol and claim that the hiding of fingerprints circumvents a system that "turn(s) back [
known criminals] at borders, preventing them living in countries like Britain on benefits while they claim asylum, or else disappearing into the black economy", especially as "Police in Calais believe that some of the 2000 odd UK bound migrants sleeping rough in the town are repeat asylum seekers with criminal records."

Outstanding, except the logic falls down on a number of points. One, if you have been refused asylum in the UK once, then you are not going to apply for it a second time and therefore cannot be a "repeat asylum seeker". Two, asylum seekers cannot claim 'benefits' in the sense that he and other anti-immigration obsessives believe. The National Asylum Seeker Support Service (NASS) is the only form of 'benefits' open the asylum seekers and it provides low quality housing, mostly in dispersed shared accommodation, and £42.16 per week in cash (or a weekly voucher worth £35 for 'failed' asylum seekers). Hardly the lap of luxury. And NASS assistance is usually only available for asylum claims submitted at a port of entry not 'in country' i.e. will not be available to people smuggling themselves into the UK.

In another story entitled 'Calais migrants ambush Britons at knife-point in terrifying highway robberies', the paper that once said "Hurrah for the Blackshirts" claims that "Migrant gangs in Calais are targeting British holidaymakers in terrifying 'highway robberies'. Would-be illegal immigrants are forming human roadblocks to force motorists passing through the French port town to stop. Travellers are then robbed at knife-point by the migrants, who are desperate for funds to help them sneak into the UK."

Yes, the paper that brought us the Zinoviev letter appears to have landed yet another scoop, this time one that seems to have evaded everyone else including both main papers in the area Nord Littoral and La Voix Du Nord, neither of which would shrink from printing such a story if it were true. They even managed to get some juicy quotes quotes from the local police but then all of the Mail's quotes are not always kosher.

During the run up to the Calais No Border camp Peter Allen managed to interview (again probably by remote viewing as he wasn't actually seen in the area for the entire duration of the Camp) a French anarchist called Thierry who "has already pitched a tent next to the CRS’s temporary quarters next door to Calais port." Strangely, Thierry's location mysteriously disappeared from the story on the Mail's website as quickly as it went up and we were forced to question his existence as no one in their right mind would camp anywhere near the CRS HQ, especially a lone anarchist in the run up to a Camp where 3,000 up-for-it riot police officers were to be deployed.

A third article under the banner 'A million failed asylum seekers will get free NHS care in human rights U-turn' claimed that "NHS treatment will be available for tens of thousands of failed asylum seekers to ensure their human rights are honoured, it was announced yesterday."

So how do we got from 'tens of thousands' to the figure of 'millions'? Ah yes, it's all down to MigrationWatch (why don't they just say Phillip Green? He is MigrationWatch after all**) who believes "it could open the floodgates to 'up to a million' illegal immigrants." And this story displayed yet another standard Mail trope, the use of a stock photograph of migrants in Calais, now standard practice for almost all articles on migration with the Mail (sort of makes their agenda transparent really).

The piece then continued, "There are understood to be around 450,000 failed asylum seekers who have not left the country, although only 10 or 20,000 are directly affected by the new rules." So where does the millions come from? It's far from obvious. What does Andrew Green have to say? "Sir (sic) Andrew Green, chairman of MigrationWatch, said the rules gave the green light for up to one million illegal immigrants to get free NHS care. This is possible because GPs can put patients on their books without checking if they are entitled to free care."

Er, yes. But again, where does the million figure come from? If there are 450,000 failed asylum seekers in the UK, of which "only 10 or 20,000 are directly affected by the new rules", and last year there were 25,000 asylum applications (30,000 in 2008 and 28,000 in 2007), all people who
previously have had the right to free health care (until the time ones asylum application is denied), where are the extra 550,000 coming from?

The problem with this fiction is not only do the figures not add up but when registering with a doctor, the receptionist (this is the person who actually registers the patient not the doctor Mr Green) will require you to fill out a GMS1 form, as well as
checking to see if you have a NHS Card or number and address of your previous GP. The form asks for date of entry to UK (if non-UK citizen) and would require you to show your passport as a further check of EU citizenship. If not, then one would have to show one's Application Registration Card (ARC), which everyone making an asylum application in the UK receives and which contains a photograph of the holder and fingerprint on an embedded chip. Therefore anyone who has not made an asylum application and does not fall into these categories would be unable to register anyway, irrespective of the new changes.

Green goes on to say, 'This is yet another capitulation to the immigration lobby. No wonder they are queueing up in Calais.' And this from a man who claims he has no political axe to grind. The Mail however clearly does have an axe to grind except it's not obvious whether it is against the migrants or all foreigners. These articles on Calais constantly praise the stance of the Calais Mayor
Natacha Bouchart***, their new Iron Lady, but the French themselves are also a frequent target of the Mail's ire, ''Go back to your disease-ridden country!' What the French said to British schoolchildren with swine flu' and 'Thousands of French chipmunks carrying potentially fatal diseases ready to invade Britain'**** being just 2 of the stories in recent days.

* All foreigners are mutants with an extra finger on each hand!
** Has anyone else ever seen or heard of anyone else from MigrationWatch? They have a list of members of their Advisory Council on their website but as far as one can see no one else is mentioned except this ex-professional diplomat, who since retiring has "devoted his time to voluntary work" including this "independent organisation" with "no political axes to grind." After all, he only presents the a comprehensible form."
*** No doubt we'll be seeing a photograph of her in the paper as soon as they find one of her in a swimsuit.
**** "French experts warn that the animals, which can also carry rabies, could soon reach Calais and sneak aboard vehicles and vessels heading to Britain. Many carry ticks infected with the Borrelia bacterium that causes Lyme disease, a nerve illness that can disable and even kills victims if not treated early enough." No they are not talking about Afghans.

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

The Wizardry of Oz

On Saturday about 1,000 people protested in Tel Aviv against on-going plans for the mass expulsion of migrant workers and refugees by Israel's immigration authorities. This follows the formation of a new immigration police force, the Oz unit, which began operations on July 1, detaining 220 people in its first 2 weeks of existence.*

During the same period there has been a growing opposition movement to the expulsions and Saturday's demonstration was the third in 3 weeks. The march and demonstration was joined by a large number of migrant workers and refugees including some of the Israel-born children facing deportation and who are gaining widespread public sympathy.

The Oz unit is tasked with expelling all of Israel's 'illegals' by 2013, including 20,000 this year with the first mass expulsion due in August. Israel's Interior Ministry estimates there are 280,000 foreigners living in Israel illegally. Of these, 118,000 are foreign workers who entered the country legally and either lost their status or stayed after their five-year permits expired. An additional 90,000 are people who entered the country on a tourist visa and did not leave when it expired. The remainder is made up of 24,000 'infiltrators' and asylum-seekers, and 2,000 minors who were born here to parents from other countries and have no legal status.

Many of these foreign workers were originally encouraged to come to Israel to fill jobs that Palestinian workers were no longer able to fill due to the Infantada and the government continues to grant work permits to thousands of new migrants. One source of the problem is that migrant labourers are often tied exclusively to one employer, and enjoy limited to no freedom in choosing jobs. Once they lose their job, they have only 3 months to find a new one before facing deportation.

One Israeli MP Ilan Gilon said in a recent Knesset debate, "My friends, this is a revolting stock exchange of slaves, slave traders and pimps whom you all serve. That is the reality." Others have compared Israel's policy on foreign workers to that of apartheid South Africa.

Many foreign workers are also exploited by Israeli employment agencies and lawyers who make their living by scamming the ignorant and vulnerable of money for non-existent jobs of work visas.

Some migrants and ordinary Israelis have taken the fight back to the Oz Immigration officers with the head of the unit, Tziki Sela, receiving hundred of threatening phone calls as part of a phone blockade. One message allegedly said, "you've forgotten what it's like to be a persecuted minority." "Coordinators of flights to hell, you'll get there, too", ran another text message. And in recent weeks attempts to detain Sudanese and Nigerian migrants have ended in mass dust ups.

In an amusing footnote, Micky Louis Mayon, a high-profile Ku Klux Klan member wanted in the US on charges of racist assaults, setting fire to vehicles belonging to federal agents and a host of violence incidents, was arrested at his Tel Aviv hideout on Monday by the very same Oz enforcement unit.

* 64% were asylum-seekers from Sudan and Eritrea who were arrested for violating an Immigration Authority order that forbids them from residing in the centre of the country, 16% were migrant workers and 20% were people with expired tourist visas or people who had crossed the Egyptian border illegally.

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Besson Claims There Is "No Crime Of Solidarity In France"

In a sop to the humanitarian groups that provide daily assistance to the migrants across France that the French state only seems able to demonise and persecute, the French Immigration Minister Eric Besson proposed to look at Article 622-4 of the code of entry and residence of foreigners and asylum (CESEDA) which makes it a crime to provide aid and assistance to 'illegal' immigrants.

Besson said in his meeting with the associations on Friday that he would set up three working groups to examine these proposals, which the associations are invited to participate in and they would make their conclusions "at the end of the year." He also advocated the creation of a "guide of good practices" for members of humanitarian associations so they would not cross the line between 'legal' aid provision and 'illegality' and promised to send a circular to prefects on the intervention of the police "in places where humanitarian aid was being provided".

Some of the associations welcomed this as a first step, though many were seceptical about just what would be achieved. This is because Article 622-4 only prohibits the spouse or partner of an 'illegal' alien being prosecuted for having hosted or assisted them in their daily life and the association will continue to call for the repeal of Article 622-1 which prohibits any assistance to 'illegals'. Besson may declare that there is "no crime of solidarity in France" as much as he wants but no one in the associations will feel safe until CESEDA is history.

Calais Update

Following a noisy and successful demonstrations outside the French Embassy in London yesterday and outside the meeting* between the chief of police for the Calais area and the humanitarian associations, which let the French authorities know that the migrant support networks will not let them get away with further brutalisation of the Calais diaspora, last night in the Jungles passed relatively quietly.

From activists in Calais: "We spent the night in the main jungle with migrants who were more visibly shaken than usual by the deportation threats. Some patrolled other jungles in cars in an attempt to monitor the police. It has been a night of people arriving from Netherlands, Belgium, UK and other parts of France to show solidarity with the migrants in Calais. Early in the morning CRS riot police shot tear gas into the Pastun jungle and beat up and removed five people. Unfortunately this is nothing new in Calais these days.

"Some UK and Dutch press arrived. The morning saw Eritrean and Iranian migrants being stopped and detained on the streets of Calais; again nothing new. Whether this meant 48 hours detention or deportation for the Iranians we don’t know. The racism of police actions was visible in their removal of black sans papiers while white activists refusing to show ID were let go as we watched our friends being taken away giving us the thumbs up from the windows of the unmarked police van. We condemn these acts of terror. As the repression continues the links between migrant activists and resident activists grow.

"We are tired and angry at what we see and learn, but for the migrants and activists dealing with this situation this is a daily test on the nerves. Maybe this ‘rehearsal’ by the police is to test our limits. But it only seems to strengthen people's resolve as more of us arrive to support the jungles."

* Where the sous prefecture sought to reassure the associations that the clearing of the Jungles was not imminent but refused to give any further information.

Sunday, 19 July 2009

UNHCR Protest New Greek Asylum Process

The Office of the United Nations for Refugees (UNHCR) said Friday it was withdrawing from the procedures* used in Greece to grant asylum to migrants applying in protest against new rules set by Athens.

In a press release the UNHCR said it "notes with great concern that the structural changes introduced by the new Presidential Decree 81/2009 do not sufficiently guarantee efficiency and fairness of the refugee status determination procedure in Greece as required by International and European legislation."

"The new PD decentralises asylum decision making at first instance to over 50 police directorates across the country which are faced with serious shortcomings related with expert personnel, interpretation services and legal aid. It also abolishes the existing appeals’ board, which was the decision-making body at second instance, and only maintains a limited judicial review before the Council of State, thus not guaranteeing the right to en “effective remedy”. Furthermore by designating the Alternate Minister of Public Order as the decision-making authority for the pending appeals (backlog), it would not be compatible with EU Legislation that requires an independent organ from the first instance decision-making body."

“These new developments are likely to make protection in Greece even more elusive for those who need it,” stated Laurens Jolles, UNHCR Regional Representative.

* The Advisory Refugee Committees for the examination of the asylum claims at first instance and the Advisory Appeals’ Committees for the examination of the backlog of some 30,000 pending asylum appeals.

Friday, 17 July 2009

Rift Between the North and the South

The rift between the northern and southern EU states is set to grow larger as yesterday's meeting of EU Interior Ministers in Stockholm postponed any re-examination of the Dublin II Regulation till 2014. The Dublin II Regulation, which stipulates that migrants must apply for asylum in the first EU member state they enter, has resulted in what southern EU states claim is disproportionate pressure on the immigrant reception services in Cyprus, Greece, Italy and Malta.

Roberto Maroni, Italy's interior minister and member of the right wing Lega Nord, demanded that the issue of 'burden-sharing' should be one of the top priorities in the EU's new five-year plan on justice issues. As a result, the EU Justice Commissioner Jacques Barrot agreed to make the European Refugee Fund applicable to all incoming migrants, not just those successfully claiming asylum and that several million euros in aid will be given to the Mediterranean states to spend on additional reception centres, food and social support for migrants.

This comes against the backdrop of a number of other recent developments. On Wednesday, the Greek and Italian Prime Ministers met and agreed on a common front to push for EU policy to curbing the numbers of illegal migrants, negotiating repatriation pacts between Brussels and the migrants’ states of origin and transit countries and increasing the role of the EU’s border monitoring agency Frontex.

Wednesday also saw the deportation of 90 migrants by air to Pakistan and Afghanistan, the latest in a growing number of flights from Athens as Greece seeks to remove the 99% plus of migrants whose asylum claims the Greek state routinely turns down.

Earlier in the week the UNHCR criticised both countries for their immigration policies. Greece was criticised for the decision to destroy the Patras migrant camp and deport some of the migrants before their asylum claims had been examined. It also appealed to Greece to avoid so-called “push-backs” of migrants originating from war zones (Greece regularly buses migrants back to Turkey without any due process).

Athens has recently accused Ankara of failing to stop clandestine immigration through Turkish territory, which the Greeks, and now even the EU Justice Commissioner Jacques Barrot, say has pushed their resources to the limit and is destabilising "Greek democracy" (a reference to the recent election of extreme right wing LAOS MEPs). Interestingly, new figures from the Greek coastguard show a pronounced drop in migrant interceptions over the past few months.

Greece officials have also been examining disused army barracks to open as temporary reception centres for the thousands of migrants awaiting the processing of their asylum applications. One likely choice is a disused military site on the island of Evia.

Italy has also been the recipient of forceful criticism from the UNHCR about its use of force when intercepting 82 mainly Eritrean migrants on July 1st 30 miles off the Lampedusa coast, who were then returned to Libya under Italy's own 'push-back' immigration policy. A ''significant number'' of people on board the boat, including nine women and six children, were returned illegally as they had legitimate claims to asylum status, the agency claimed.

In an astonishing fit of pique, Italy's EU Affairs Minister, Andrea Ronchi, rebuffed the criticism, saying the UNHCR ''should be ashamed of itself'' and should ''apologise to Italy'' over the allegations. ''These are hasty, false, demagogic, offensive and repugnant accusations that offend our armed forces, who every day demonstrate their morality, their dedication, humanity, competence and sacrifice''.

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Protest Against Destruction of Calais Jungles

The French Government are planning the destruction of the main Pashtun Jungle in the Dunes area of Calais on 21st July, prior to a mass deportation flight to Afghanistan. Campaigners are calling for solidarity actions on both sides of the Channel.

Demonstration at the French Embassy in London, Monday 20th July 12.30pm - 2:00 pm.

French Embassy,
58 Knightsbridge
London SW1X 7JT

Tube station: Knightsbridge (Piccadilly line)

No Borders Brighton
London No Borders
Detainee Solidarity London

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Deforestation Calais Style

In a trend that appears to be spreading across Europe [see: Patras post], news has leaked of plans to destroy the biggest Jungle in Calais next Tuesday 21st July. Back in January Eric Besson, the French Immigration Minister, declared his ambition to effectively make Calais and the surrounding area a migrant-free zone come the summer.

A start has already been made with the bulldozing of migrant camps up the coast from Calais court orders being secured for the clearing and demolition of a number of squats in Calais itself. Now the main Afghan squat on the dunes near the port area is due to be cleared and, it is to be assumed, the Afghans detained prior to attempts to deport them back to Afghanistan on a mooted joint French-Belgian-Dutch deportation flight. This would swiftly be followed by the dismantling of the rest of the camps and squats in the area.

Interestingly, the French and UK governments had been in discussions recently to resume a joint deportation flight project that had previous failed to get off the ground last November when French human rights activists won a decision in the European Court of Human Rights against the "collective expulsion of foreigners". It remains to be seen whether the French government ignore that decision and go ahead with a deportation flight. If not, then the already overcrowded French detention centres will be unable to hold many of the migrants, many of whom have no documentation and whose country of origin it would be impossible to determine.

The other options open to the French government are:
- persuade the migrants to apply for asylum in France, except almost all want to go on to the UK and recent attempts by the UNHCR to get them to do this have shown a distinct lack of enthusiasm on the migrants' part;
- remove them to a 'Safe Third Country' i.e. the first 'safe' European country they entered, in the case of Afghans this is likely to be Greece but Greece has a tacit understanding with other EU countries that 'illegals' will not be returned there and even if they were they are unlikely to find much of a welcome;
- or just do what they did when they forced the closure of the Red Cross centre at Sangatte - nothing and just hope the situation goes away. Except that it wont until the 'push factors' are removed. [See: previous posts]

However much the French and other EU governments make it know to the world at large that (the wrong sort of) foreigners are not wanted in the EU, even if they don't go as far as Nick Griffin's own version of waterboarding and simulate drownings of 'illegals', the 'problem' is not going to go away. In fact, Besson is just like the little Dutch boy of legend who sticks his finger in a hole in the dyke to prevent a leak and saves the day. Except this is not leak and no matter how many fingers the EU uses to put in holes in the dyke of Fortress Europe the flood (to borrow a particularly pernicious image from the racists) will not be held back.

Support The Mitie Cleaners

Yet again a company that profits from knowingly employing undocumented workers has used the tactic of grassing its own workers up to the UK Border Agency when it needs to get rid of them rather than having to go through the nasty process of telling them they are sacked. [See: SOAS cleaners]

Yesterday the cleaning firm Mitie Cleaning & Environmental Services invited some of the cleaners it employs in the Willis Building, a large office tower in the City of London, to a 'chemicals training course'. Once the cleaners were settled in Immigration officers burst into the room and detained 3 workers, 1 Ecuadorian and 2 Bolivians. No doubt they are now languishing in Harmonsworth detention centre.

A solidarity demonstration in front of the Willis building, for the reinstatement of the 4 previously sacked cleaners and against the immigration raids has been Friday 17 July 1pm. in front of Willis Building, 51 Lime Street, London EC3.

Monday, 13 July 2009

Patras Migrant Camp Raised To The Ground

Across Europe many governments are ratcheting up their repression of migrants and migrants communities following an upsurge in right-wing electoral successes. We have already seen an increase in attacks by riot police on the squats housing migrants in and around Calais following pledges from French government ministers, egged on by their UK counterparts, to remove all migrants from the area this summer. In Italy things have gone even further with what amounts to re-enactments of Mussolini-era fascist legislation with mass fingerprinting of the Roma, mob attacks on Roma camps, the legalising of vigilante patrols and plans for mass expulsions of 'foreigners'.

Greece also seems to be going down the same road as the Italian state towards a resurgence of fascism, whilst also taking a leaf out of France's book. Yesterday Greek police attacked and destroyed the refugee camp near the port of Patras. The 13 year old settlement was surrounded at 5 a.m. by about 100 riot police, who then started arresting undocumented refugees inside. At the same time fire broke out at one end of the camp and it was allowed to rage for a number of hours, burning large areas of the camp to the ground. The rest of the camp was bulldozed flat. Greek citizens who tried to show solidarity with the migrants were arrested.

Those migrants with legal status were taken to local hostels, many of which are already overcrowded, and at least 40 under-age migrants were believed to have been removed to the detention centre at Konitsa, near the Albanian border. The remaining undocumented adults were detained and dispersed to other detention centres around Greece.

Greece has earned a particularly bad reputation for the inhumane conditions that prevail in its detention centres. Most are sited in the east of the country on the islands of the Aegean, near the Turkish border on Crete. Many are converted warehouses and have routinely been criticised by the EU and organisations like Médecins Sans Frontières and the UNHCR as not fit for purpose.

Despite being on a major migration route into Europe, Greece is also notorious for refusing asylum status to refugees. For example, 12,000 - 13,000 people annually apply for asylum in Greece. In 2004 only 11 were given asylum status and only 3 in 2003. Greek police and immigration officials also have a reputation for illegal deportation such as towing boats back into Turkish waters or herding Albanian migrants back across the Albanian border,

All this comes against the background of the social rebellion at the end of last year, major gains by the far right Popular Orthodox Alarm (LAOS) party in the European elections, the recent upsurge in fascist street violence and new restrictive anti-immigration legislation. The new legislation, rushed through parliament in less than a month, doubles the length of detention to 6 months before migrants are issued deportation papers. This can be quadrupled to a year if the authorities consider that migrants fail to cooperate, or documents necessary for their repatriation are missing.

Anti-foreigner sentiment is also increasing in Greece, much of it whipped up by groups such as LAOS and the Golden Dawn, a fascist organisation with many members in the police. On Saturday fascists in a car opened fire on a group of migrants standing near the Golden Dawn offices in Athens, wounding three. The same day on the island of Simi the Pakistani community took to the streets in protest at the brutalisation of 3 Pakistani men by local police. These are just two of numerous incidents that have occurred in recent years and will no doubt not be the last.

Thursday, 9 July 2009

Gunboat Deplomacy?

Oh dear, il Duce Nick Griffin, in what appears to be a fit of pique after the Northern League had rebuffed his approaches on forming an EU parliamentary bloc, turned his ire and obvious ignorance of what is actually going on in the region on migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean to Europe.

"If there's measures to set up some kind of force or to help, say the Italians, set up a force which actually blocks the Mediterranean then we'd support that," Griffin told a BBC interviewer. Yet this is exactly what the Italians are doing. Having given Libya 3 patrol boats in May, pushed the Libyan navy in to conduct joint naval patrols as well as intercepting and returning around 400 migrants to Libya in last 3 months, it hardly looks as if the Italians aren't trying to block clandestine immigrants.

Maybe it's just jealousy on Griffin's part. After all Italy is fast becoming the sort of fascist wonderland that he and his neo-nazi acolytes have been dreaming of ever since they bought their first copy of Mein Kampf.

He then added, "But the only measure, sooner or later, which is going to stop immigration and stop large numbers of sub-Saharan Africans dying*... Frankly, they need to sink several of those boats." Then, after the interviewer suggested that the RU wasn't in the business of murdering people he tried to backtrack, "I didn't say anyone should be murdered at sea – I say boats should be sunk, they can throw them a life raft and they can go back to Libya".

But that is exactly what he did mean. After all, most of these boats are detected near to Lampedusa, which is 160 miles off the Libyan coast, so a life raft is hardly going to be of much use. If you can see Lampedusa 10 miles away you are hardly going to swim of paddle the 150 miles back to Africa and it's hardly likely that the Italian navy, even in the current rampantly xenophobic atmosphere, will go back to the days of letting migrants drown as was alleged to happen in the early part of this decade.

And how is he going to sink the migrants' boats other than by shelling them?

* This is a feature of the new media-savvy BNP, false concern and crocodile tears for their targets such as 'British theft of African workers leaves health care and nurses close to collapse' and "We intend to impose punitive taxation on those companies, individuals and corporations in Britain who have profited from the theft of the most skilled and essential people from the Developing World." [check out the BNP's response to the '85 Questions']

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

The Social Housing Controversy

How can the same story throw up such different headlines? In the Mail it was 'How ten percent of state housing is taken up by immigrants', everywhere else is was some version of 'Immigrants do not get housing priority, study shows' [courtesy of that bastion of liberal thought the Telegraph]. The facts: "Only 1.8% of social tenants had moved to Britain within the past five years. Some 87.8 per cent were British-born and 10 per cent of foreigners who had been living in Britain for more than five years", to quote the Telegraph again.

Yes, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) study, conducted by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), certainly puts a lie to Gordon Brown's idea about giving priority to 'local' people with regard to social housing uptake (even if his idea would have proved to be against current legislation).

Of course that didn't stop the BNP scrunching up their rather narrow collective foreheads as they tried to tackle the statistics and come up with a refutation of the IPPR figures. They turned directly to the original 2007 IPPR study and came to some rather stupid conclusions, needless to say.

After quoting from figures for country of birth vs. percentage living in local authority or housing association housing that show that 80% of Somalis, 49% of Turks, 41% of Bangladeshis, 39% of Ghanaians, etc. live in public housing (they leave out figures for Republic of Ireland 17= with Uganda at 17% and Italians at 10%) their piece says "Despite these figures showing clearly that immigrant groups occupy a massively disproportionate amount of public housing compared to their percentage of the population". The problem is that the figures say nothing about the actual amount living in public housing only the relative numbers of those who have qualified for it and taken it up.*

They then go on to argue, "In the 2007 IPPR report, a study was made of the immigrant groups’ percentage claims for child support. The higher the percentage, the greater the number of children". Wrong again, it is far more likely to be related to age. The migrant population constitutes a much younger population than the aging UK one and OAP's don't clain Child Benefit.**

Which brings us back to the Mail. After trying to have its cake and eat it by both showing what an appalling lot these foreigners are (occupying nearly 400,000 homes, more than 50% of whom live in London, and that 40% of those born abroad who live in the capital are living in subsidised housing i.e. roughly one million "immigrant family members" as they put it) and by laying into Brown, they have to concede that there is no queue jumping. They also take a dig at the Home Office for its dispersal policy which means that migrants awaiting a decision on the right ot remain tend to get concentrated in run-down social housing which tends to be on sink estates which tend to be the BNP's most fertile recruiting grounds. Which is of course justifies, the problem is that they use it not as a stick to beat the Home Office with but as one to beat migration and migrants in general.

* Most of the groups quoted represent only 0.1% of the total population as opposed to 89.9% of the UK-born population. Maybe they should try cross referencing the figures for actual population size (Table 4.2) with those for social housing uptake (5.13). Another obvious point they might try taking in to account is that more UK nationals will own their a home than will people recently granted leave to stay in the country (Table 5.7).
** See also the figures for average household size in Table 4.3.

A Sense Of Deja Vu

In 2002, after reams of column inches (is there a metric equivalent?) hostile to the migrants in Calais trying to cross to England and after numerous news stories quoting politicians from both countries blaming each other for the 'problem', all focusing on the IRC centre at Sangatte,* a series of mini migration summits were held in London and France. On that occasion the resulting deal between the two governments, in the guises of Sarkozy the then French Interior Minister and the Home Secretary David Blunkett, saw the French agreeing to close down Sangatte and the Brits agree to pay £5m for increased security (in the guise of the double fence around the SNCF rail facilities at the Coquelles entrance to the Channel Tunnel) and to take the lions share of the then residents at the IRC centre.

Now we have a deal between Besson and Woolas, against a backdrop of the Sarko-Brown summit in Evian, where the UK agrees to pay £15m in increased security measures (more hi-tech detection equipment) to defeat the so-called people traffickers, with France agreeing to come into line with the UK policy of joint deportation flights, despite previous French refusals to comply with this policy after hostile European Court of Human Rights decisions against such mass forced deportations.

The first policy did not result in the desired out come. there were hundreds of migrants in northern France before Sangatte and there were hundreds after Sangatte, and the new policy is doomed to fail too. The French may destroy all the Jungles as they have pledged to do, they may increase the daily repression of the migrants as has already begun, they may detain and deport every single migrant they can lay their hands on (even though this in many cases would be against EU law) but they ultimately will not stop people from coming.

However much they would like us to believe that it is the so-called 'pull factors' that draw people to risk their lives and liberty in travelling half way around the globe, often taking years to reach their preferred destination. It is the 'push factors' that western governments have to address; it is the arms trade that drives conflicts in the third World; it is the World Bank and IMF deals that sees the annexing of Third World resources or having vast infrastructure programs that they do not need forced on them, driving those countries even further into structural debt and environmental degradation; it is the international 'police actions' i.e. wars that seeks to maintain the West's security at the expense of other people's, it is the neo-colonialism that sees rich countries buying up whole tracts of Third World land to protect their own food security or to produce vast mono-cultures of out of season flowers or non-essential foodstuffs like tea and coffee. Not to mention the ravages of global warming that is already severely disrupting weather patterns in Africa and Asia and will continue to drive mass migration beyond the problems that at present remain internal to those continents.

These are the factors that force people from the relative safety of their homelands and onto the road to an unknown and far from safe future, not the glossy synthetic worlds of Hollywood and the BBC. People traffickers have not created this problem as the yellow press like to think, the people traffickers (like all good capitalists) merely exploit a situation where migrants are only judged by the value they can bring to the countries that deign to let them enter these promised lands.

* The French Interior Ministry invited the Red Cross to open the centre in an attempt to make the migrants less visible, by moving them out of Calais itself, and basically passed the buck on to the IRC, thereby avoiding having to deal with what was an obvious humanitarian crisis and allowing the government to effectively carry out a blanket denial of refugees status to the migrants without actually having to process any asylum applications from them.

Monday, 6 July 2009

Strange Times?

Well it's nice to know that the UNHCR, by opening a new office in Calais, has done a major service for the estimated 2,000 plus migrants in Northern France by highlighting their plight. Never let it be said that lazy journalism and old news can't be useful, even if it ignores months of effort on the part of hundreds of No Borders activists in organising the Calais No Border Camp - after all the mobilisation of 3,000 police and the imposition of a near curfew in Calais itself to quell a non-existent rebellion is was so obviously a non-event.

The facts: the UNHCR had been working with France Terre d'Asile in Calais for a month and they also decided to open an office in the town, a fact that had already been press released this earlier this month. In that time had only persuaded 17% of the 120 migrants they had seen take up their offer to help them start asylum applications to remain in France.

Hardly major news! So why have the British news papers started devoting their column inches to stories from the 'Jungle'? [1, 2, 3] Why suddenly stories about English speakers who worked for the military in Afghanistan but who have had to flee Taliban threats when the military abandoned when their services were no longer needed; about 15 year olds who fled the same country when they refused to be suicide bombers and their families sold their house to pay for the smugglers' fee to get him to safety in the UK? These migrants' stories have been there waiting to be 'discovered' for years. Why now?

Clearly it couldn't be that there had just been No Border Camp in the area, a fact that was largely ignored except for whatever sensationalist copy could be wrung from it*. What is it that has got journalists engaging with what is really going on in and around Calais and why are they beginning to write stories that do not conform to their usual yellow press agenda? Even the Telegraph, one of the paper that managed a fantasy story about the Calais Camp's Saturday demonstration ending in a riot**, has finally gotten in on the act by publishing a story entitled 'Migrants are going to Britain, come hell or high water' has allowed a glimpse of the reality of situation to creep on to its pages. That said there is the usual rubbish about people wanting "to go to England because the people smugglers tell them it is a beautiful place" (this courtesy of a UNHCR spokeswoman). Strange times indeed.

* The Mail printed 3 stories in the week leading up to and during the camp, with the Sun chipping in with 2.
** When nothing happen during the Saturday march, they left the field to the Telegraph (1) and the Express (2) to invent tales of riots and "British tourists (being) caught up in the violence". [see Camp website for coverage]

Friday, 3 July 2009

Italy Approves New Anti-Immigration Bill

Yesterday the Italian Senate gave final approval to legislation allowing unarmed citizen patrols and creates tough measures aimed at fighting 'illegal' immigration. The legislation, already passed by the Chamber of Deputies, makes entering or staying in Italy without permission a crime punishable by a fine of €5,000-€10,000 and lengthens the amount of time migrants can officially spend in detention from two to six months.

The new law, which even the Vatican has condemned, also creates an offence of knowingly renting housing to an 'illegal' immigrant at the time a lease is signed or extended punishable by up to three years in prison. It also makes it a imprisonable offence to force children to beg, a measure obviously targeted at gypsies and Roma people. And to top it all off it officially sanctions mayors to form unarmed vigilante patrols ostensibly to help police and soldiers fight crime on the streets but the provisions have widely been flagged up as 'anti-foreigner' patrols - back to the days of the Black Shirts it would seem.

This comes a day after another boat holding 89 migrants, including nine women and three children, had been intercepted 30 miles off the island of Lampedusa when their boat got into trouble and they activated a distress signal. An Italian naval vessel transferred the migrants to an oil platform near the Libyan coast late Tuesday before being handed over to the Libyan navy.

As part of a pact concluded earlier this year Libya agreed to curb the number of migrant boats leaving its shores for Europe, to take back migrants picked up by European navies in the Mediterranean and to hold joint naval patrols with Italy. This policy has resulted in a sharp drop in the numbers of migrants making it to Malta and Lampedusa, the 2 main landfalls for migrants sailing from Libya. For example, during April and May only two vessels carrying a total of 99 migrants arrived at Malta compared to 872 African migrants in the same period in 2008. In Lampedusa arrivals have declined 33 per cent and 95 per cent in April and May respectively, compared to the same period in 2008, according to UNHCR figures.

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

UNHCR Returns To Calais

In a move that appears to herald the agency taking on the role of the 'good cop' to the International Organisation for Migration's 'bad cop', the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has announced that it is formally establishing a full-time office in Calais. The UNHCR had previously operated in the Calais area when the Sangatte Red Cross centre was open and had returned in June to work alongside France Terre d'Asile, a French migrant support organisation working allowed to work in detention centres.

Part of their new remit seems to be to take over the propaganda program that the IOM had been operating recently, painting as dark a picture of the chances of the migrants getting to the UK, and of getting a job and surviving here, even if they managed to get across the Channel. This would then allow the IOM to pursue their main task, offering migrants financial inducements to get them to return to their country of origin. However the way this operates often leaves no real alternative for the migrants other than accepting the offer as the IOM work in the French detention centres, and if their offer is not accepted the migrants are deported anyway.