Monday, 30 November 2009

United Colours Of Christmas

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

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

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

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

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

Some Of The Most Perplexing Children In The World?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Migrant Children Should Not Be Held In Detention At All

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

People Smuggling Into Australia or Money Makes The World Go Around

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 23 November 2009

Migrant Boat Arrives Of Sicily

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

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

Christmas Island 'Riot'/Merak Tamils' Humanitarian Crisis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 20 November 2009

UNHCR Hypocrisy?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MSF Pull Out Of Lampedusa

In the six month period between May and October Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) estimate that more than 21,000 migrants landed on the small Italian island of Lampedusa. During the same period this year fewer than 200 migrants have arrived there, as a result of Italy's 'push back' policy. In 2008, MSF treated more than 1,400 migrants who arrived on the docks of Lampedusa in need of urgent medical assistance. Since May this year that figure has been less than 160.

Many of the migrants who made it to Lampedusa were treated for osteo-muscular complaints, burns resulting from exposure to sun and fuel, and dehydration from the prolonged and dangerous sea crossing. Increasingly, children and pregnant women, who are particularly at risk, were among those making the journey.* Now, as a consequence in the steep drop off in numbers MSF is being forced to close down its Lampedusa operation.

The organisation will continue however to try and provide humanitarian assistance to vulnerable migrants on the mainland despite the increasingly restrictive policies introduced recently in Italy. “We have reports that some boats are also being sent to Porto Empedocle, in Sicily,” explained Loris de Filippi, MSF operational coordinator. “We have tried to assess migrants’ conditions upon landing and provide assistance, but we have not been granted authorization by the local authorities.”

All these migrants had originally set sail to cross the Mediterranean to Italy (or Malta) from the Libyan coast. However, since May and the signing of a deal between the Italian and Libyan governments, where the Libyans agreed to accept migrants forced to turn back by armed Italian navy vessels, the numbers even trying the journey have dropped by 90% according to the Libyan Interior Minister Abdelfattah Laabidi. As a consequence Italy can evade their international recognised requirement to offer the opportunity for applying for asylum, whilst sending people who have endured massive hardships to get that far back to an unknown and potential hazardous future, again in contravention of international law.**

“We often hear horrific stories from our patients about what they endure during the journey,” said Antonio Virgilio, MSF head of mission in Italy and Malta. “They have crossed the desert, been locked up in prisons where they have been given no food or water, they have been mistreated, beaten up, women have been raped. They go through hell before they finally manage to get on a boat to Italy or Malta. And now they are being sent back to relive this nightmare all over again. This is a huge threat to their health and even their lives.”

In 2008, round 35,000 migrants successfully made the journey to Italian territory. 75% of these sought political or humanitarian asylum and half of these applications were granted, according to the UN refugee agency. At the same time Libyan jails and detention centres were bursting at the seams. In 2007 there were more than 6,000 undocumented migrants detained in the country. Yet, according to a senior Libyan passport office official "Fewer than 2,000 immigrants are (now) being held in 12 detention centres across the country."

This is because of a massive forced deportation programme, despite Libyan protestations to the contrary, largely financed by Italy. So effectively Italy has outsourced the migration problem possed by the African crossing to the Libyans, a country where even the far from ideal European 'standards' for detention centres and migrant processing are not adhered to (see: Libya: Inside The Detention Centres). "Libya does not have the conditions needed to provide a solution with adequate protection for refugees or asylum seekers at the moment," UNHCR chief Antonio Guterres, said in September. "There are detention circumstances that are appalling and there is an effect that people that deserve and need protection will be sent back to their countries of origin." Out of sight, out of mind as far as the Italians are concerned.

* Also in 2008, one in 10 women seen by MSF were also pregnant.
** And treaties against 'non-refoulement', the forced return of people to places where their lives or freedom would be threatened or where they would face a risk of torture.

Friendship's End

Friendship Park on the border between San Diego and Tijuana, a place where divided families have been able to meet and hold weddings and Christmas parties or where lovers divided by the international border between Mexico and the US could meet since it was opened in 1971 by Pat Nixon, wife of the then US president, as part of her attempts to promote US-Mexican relations. Now it is now a less than friendly place.

Originally planned as a US park with picnic tables and a children's play area where people from both sides of the border could meet without the need to go through immigration control, it suffered its first set back in 1994 when the US put up a mesh fence to stop migrants and drug traffickers. But it was still possible to touch somebody on the other side of the fence, to kiss and hold hands, even under the steely gaze of the border patrol.

Now the park is isolated by a newly finished section of the high tech fence with sensors, radar, lighting and cameras. Now the US side can only be accessed for 4 hours on Saturday and Sunday, but only after vetting by border agents and only then for a maximum of 25 people. Needless to say it is not a universally popular move. According to Katy Parkinson, an American resident in Tijuana who runs a migrant charity "(The building of the fence) was an act of cruelty. Here, grandmothers met their grandchildren for the first time, they took photos, people could find each other again."

'Bosses Exploit Migrant Workers' Shock Horror

The BBC News have a story today, headlined 'Hospital cleaners 'blackmailed''* on their website, about three manages from ISS Mediclean who have been arrested during a raid at Kingston Hospital. It appears that these 'senior managers' were 'blackmailing' junior members of staff by threatening to report the cleaners to the UKBA, we assume because they did not haver the correct documentation and were easy targets for exploitation.

Shock Horror! This goes on all the time. That is the handy role 'illegal' workers have fulfilled for years and, despite all the government posturing and law-making, will fulfil for years to come. It is also prevalent in the service industries and in particular those that have been privatised, where 'outsourcing' companies pay very low wages and employ clandestine workers that they they know they can fire if they 'get out of line', trying to organise in a union or demanding the sort of wages and conditions (e.g.: the SOAS cleaners) that any ordinary worker would consider to be standard. That is how these companies make their massive profits and pay large dividends to their shareholders.

And what does the ISS PR stooge put up to comment on the case have to say? "ISS deeply regrets any adverse reaction this incident may have had on the patients, staff and visitors to the hospital. It is our responsibility to work within the law and to ensure that our employees do the same, which includes demonstrating their right to work legally." Pull the other one!

Racist organisations and dullard tabloid newspapers are also constantly banging on about foreign workers coming over here stealing 'our' jobs, working for cheaper wages. Yet it is the people that run these companies and that are paying the low wages that are exploiting these people for their own ends. The foreign and undocumented workers do not turn up at factory gates and persuade the bosses to cut wages so they can employ them. It is the other way round and it is the bosses that the people should be targeting not scapegoating 'foreign workers'.

* Typically the Mail's take on the incident was 'Hospital cleaning bosses at major firm arrested over 'migrant fraud'', despite using the same Press Association-written story as the basis for their article and the first sentence of their piece being: "Three managers at an NHS hospital cleaning company have been arrested on suspicion of blackmailing foreign staff." Being arrested for blackmail of workers, 'illegal' or otherwise, obvioulsy doesn't make for a Daily Mail sort of headline that arrests for immigration offences does.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Loon-Plage 'Jungle' Bulldozed

The 'Jungle' at Loon-Plage near Dunkerque was bulldozed again yesterday morning. The camp had previously been dismantled by the authorities in May prior to the Calais No Border Camp and in December during the coldest period of last Winter. A large number of workers of the Dunkerque Port Authority (PAD) together with the police moved in early yesterday morning. Using a bulldozer, crane, tractors and a lorry they quickly destroyed the camp whilst the police rounded up and arrested 30 adults & 11 minors, of the 50 mainly Iraqis and Afghanis currently living there.

Fortunately volunteers from MRAP (the People's Anti-Racist and Pro-Friendship Movement), SALAM and other groups including Calais Migrant Solidarity managed to rescue some of the migrants' personal property, sleeping equipment and clothes. These will be returned to the migrants when they have inevitably been released after a day or so in detention and have made their way back to Dunkerque. In fact, the camp was already being rebuilt by some of the migrants that had managed to evade arrest and by local volunteers later that night.

The irony is that just over a week ago the the town council, in agreement with the port authorities, had been given permission to set up showers the very same migrants! This echoes what happened last December when on the 16th more than 40 police surrounded the Loon-Plage camp, then shelter to around 80 Afghan and Iraqis. After numerous arrests, the tents and shacks were razed by bulldozer by order of the Sub-Prefecture. Then, 2 weeks later on the
30th, Loon-Plage's mayor, after a week of pressure from the NGOs and the migrants themselves, without consulting the port, the local community, the Border Police or the Sub-Prefecture, sent a dozen municipal employees to erect a tent heated with gas and provided with meals paid by the municipality.

Meanwhile, the police have been trying to find local land owners in Angres to file complaints so they can officially take action to dismantle the recently rebuilt 'Jungle' there.

Crossing Borders - Technology From Both Sides

Most struggles in Nature between predators and their prey are part of an 'arms race' where the prey constantly strive to find ways to evade capture and stay one step ahead of someone's next meal, whilst the predators seek ways to maximise the size of their haul whilst minimising their effort. It is to a degree the same in the war between clandestine migrants and thos ethat defend borders.

In the USA Ricardo Dominguez, an activist/hacker and professor at the University of California in San Diego, has developed a new tool to assist Mexican migrant workers safely cross over the border into the United States. The simple and easy to use 'Transborder Immigrant Tool' is made from just a cheap mobile phone and a free GPS application.

According to Dominguez, it consists of a "Motorola i455 cell phone, which is under $30, available even cheaper on eBay, and includes a free GPS applet. We were able to crack it and create a simple compass-like navigation system. We were also able to add other information, like where to find water left by the Border Angels, where to find Quaker help centres that will wrap your feet, how far you are from the highway—things to make the application really benefit individuals who are crossing the border."

On the other side of the (electrified) fence, or the Atlantic in this case, is the HERTI, an unmanned air vehicle or drone, developed by BAE Systems and currently being looked at by the South Coast Partnership to check for 'illegal' migrants trying to cross the Channel in currentlu unmonitored shipping.

Monday, 16 November 2009

Daily Mail Going Soft On Immigration?

Two articles in two days that that don't demand an end to all immigration or mass deportation or Alan Green to be made PM or the burka to be banned or all 'foreign criminals' to be hung or birched or castrated. What is the world coming to?

First we have Vince Cable slumming it and being very reasonable and very liberal:
"The politics of immigration is a minefield. Most politicians, therefore, avoid it, except for those on the extreme fringes who want to detonate a bitter argument on race."

He points up the misconceptions about lack of housing ('right to buy' policy to blame), Poles blamed for lack of building jobs (recession to blame), people who complain about 'illegal immigrants' when they mean black and Asians.

You can tell he's a politician when he brings out his "late wife was of Indian origin" to show what a caring, unprejudiced and experienced person he is, especially as he brought up a young family in the sixties and seventies when there were "Enoch Powell’s speeches and widespread hostility to non-white immigrants." Even though there was net emigration then, "the concern was really about the changing make-up of the British population."

But even now, "while most people are more comfortable about a diverse society, there is anxiety that immigration is ‘out of control’." Who's to blame? The government of course - claimed immigration was good for the economy, keeping wage inflation down and fuelled the economic boom.

Then he's back to the myths:
"One is that our ‘overcrowded’ island is absorbing population from the rest of the world. The opposite is true. There are more Britons living overseas – about 5.5million – than foreign-born people living in Britain.

A second myth is that the population will keep rising to 70million by 2030. But in periods of recession, as in the Seventies, as many people leave as arrive. A lot of East European construction workers have already gone back.

A third myth is that the immigrant population is an economic burden. Most, however, are young and of working age, so pay more in tax and take out less in healthcare and benefits. Many new arrivals create employment for others."

Then he points out both the students are the largest group on 'arrivals' (good for the economy again) but just in case you thought you'd stayed onto the comment page of the Guardian, we get a strange section of what can only be badly edited text (must be the Guardian): "But public anxiety is not without foundation. Illegal immigration is too high. In the decade to the end of 2008, only 114 employers were prosecuted for hiring illegal immigrants." Yes, employers do get away with employing undocumented workers, despite the Labour government's claims to be putting the onus on the employer to police their own workforces' immigration status. But that is what undocumented workers are for sure? Keep the wages down.

But Vince thinks we shouldn't tolerate these 'illegals', its not cricket after all. They are "cheats". They shouldn't be "cheats getting away with it" and that's why "a blanket amnesty wouldn’t be acceptable." But then he goes and contradicts himself by claiming that "to avoid a permanent illegal underclass, there has to be scope for earned citizenship."

And his solution for this "far more tolerant country than it was" and that has "anxieties about immigration (that) have to be addressed"? The "politicians must engage with the issue." Er, but isn't that what they have always done?*

The second, rather longer, article 'Welcome to heaven, how about a cup of tea? Mail on Sunday special investigation into why asylum seekers head to Britain'. It features a David Suchet look-a-like (very photogenic and not 'off putting' in a Daily-Mail-photo-of-foreigner-sort-of-way) telling his story of why he fled Afghanistan.

We get a fairly accurate picture too of his journey half way around the world to England. But then it gets rather surreal. The lorry he and the other migrants had crossed the Channel in is stopped by police: "As we stepped off the truck, they shook our hands and said, "Welcome to England." I was given 13 cups of tea as I was so thirsty. I was happy."

And it isn't till a third of the way through the 3,000 word piece that MigrationBotch get a mention, which is a definite relief for a Mail article. But we wont spoil it for you. Just read the article but DON'T read the nasty vituperative and just plain stupid comments ("The reason Asylum figures have dropped, is because they are near enough all here in the UK").**

* By the way, there are some great comments on this article on-line, and not all your usual standard BNP-lite tripe (though there are a few of those). Its great when the Mail reader tries to engage their brains rather than their knees or spleen. Our two favourite short put-downs (for various reasons) are: "When I need advice from a Liberal, I'll ask, but don't hold your breath." & "There are lies, damned lies and statistics and your article contains lots of statistics." Outstanding.
Oh, and there's even an idiot who comes out with the line, "Just go to Migration Watch for the correct figures."
** A selection of two more favourite comments on the second article:
"what about our human rights?
what about the human rights of my diabled nephew and my sister who cannot be houses because of lack of housing caused by immigrants?
what about the human rights of british people to be proud of our nationality?
what about our human rights that we must allow everyone elses freedom of speech yet remain silent ourselves?
what about the human rights to display our religeon proudly yet be told we can't?
what about our future when there are not enough schools, hospitals, housing and prison places when were stretched to the limit already?
what about our budget deficit yet we pay for all these people who have no right to be here?
Britain has failed the British people."
"The hidden agenda is more scary than we think. They appear to be following the 1928 manifesto of The Frankfurt School. [Note: A sort of modern version of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, except for communists rather than Jews]

1. The creation of racism offences.
2. Continual change to create confusion
3. The teaching of sex and homosexuality to children
4. The undermining of schools' and teachers' authority
5. Huge immigration to destroy identity.
6. The promotion of excessive drinking
7. Emptying of churches
8. An unreliable legal system with bias against victims of crime
9. Dependency on the state or state benefits
10. Control and dumbing down of media
11. Encouraging the breakdown of the family
The outrageous truth slips out: Labour cynically plotted to transform the entire make-up of Britain without telling us"

Indonesian Navy Fires On Migrants/Updates

A group of Afghan asylum seekers have alleged that the Indonesian coast guard fired on their boat, wounding two, when a second coast guard vessel tried to stop them after they had handed over a $US50,000 ($54,206) bribe to a previous coast guard vessel. The 61 Afghans and 5 Indonesian crew, thinking they were in International waters, refused to stop and the Indonesian boat opened fire. The skipper, Jimmi, was shot once in each arm and wounded in the chin. The Afghan asylum seeker, Mr Heider, 21, was shot in the left shoulder.

The Indonesian police version is different. They claim that they only shot the two people after refusing a 20 million rupiah ($2,290) bribe from the Afghans and they tried to "escape". The police gave chase in their Australian-supplied fast patrol boat. When, after an hour, the Indonesian drew close they claim they could see the Indonesian skipper was being beaten and held hostage by an Afghan man, who was forcing him to keep heading for Australian waters. After repeated calls to stop and warning shots, police apparently fired at the skipper and the man forcing him to pilot the boat to "disable them". The police also claim that the Afghans were threatening to throw all the crew overboard.

In other news, Indonesia appear to be using a carrot and stick approach with the Oceanic Viking Tamils. For those that remain on board the Customs vessel, the Indonesian authorities have promised those that leave the ship voluntarily will have their permits to remain, most of which have previously been extended twice before prior to their leaving Indonesian territory, extended for a third time.

At the same time however, they have said that the 22 already in detention in Tanjung Pinang, must be resettled within a month if they have already been recognised as refugees by the UNHCR, thereby putting pressure on the Australians to process their asylum applications even swifter than the very public promise they made the Tamils. Meanwhile, notes have been thrown into the sea from the Oceanic Viking claiming that some of the remaining 56 Tamils were still terrified of returning to detention in Indonesia.

This coming weekend also sees yet another crisis meeting between the Australian and Indonesian heads of government, this time in the wings of the APEC leaders' summit, to try and clear up who is responsible for what. With no resolution to the Oceanic Viking saga in sight, it should be a tense affair.

The Indonesians however appear to be taking a much stronger line with the Jaya Lestari 5 Tamils in Merak harbour. According to a senior Indonesian Foreign Ministry official. "If Australia doesn't want to accept them and they don't want to come off the boat, we will ask the IOM (International Organisation for Migration) to return them to their country." Of the 7 Tamils who have already left the boat during the past month it has been moored off the West Java coast, one has already been deported and the other 6 are awaiting decisions on their UNHCR refugee status. Alternatively, they could forcibly deport the Tamils that do not have UNHCR status using an Indonesian Navy vessel.

The 6 Sri Lankans men mentioned in the previous post as having been held in the 'red block' on Christmas Island have been deported back to Sri Lanka together with 30 others who asylum applications were turned down.

Quote Of The Year

David Blunkett to ABC Television in Australia on Friday:

"We always wished that we had a Christmas Island because it would have made it (processing) simpler and easier to deal with. Processing claims offshore makes sense because asylum seekers do not have the same access to appeal mechanisms as those who make it to the mainland."

"If you can do it (process claims) elsewhere, you can then return people more easily to their country of origin. It would have avoided a situation ... where they could prolong their claims and counter-claims for months, in some cases years."

For those of you who do not know about Christmas Island, it is 50 sq km of Australian territory 2,600 km north west of Perth, but only 500 km south of Jakarta. It has long been a landing zone for migrants intent on reaching Australian territory and applying for asylum. However, in 2001 it was excised from Australia's 'migration zone', the terriroty where it was neccesary for a non-citizen to hold a visa in order to legally enter and remain. Thus asylum seekers on the island have no right to apply for a visa or recourse to the Australian courts. They may however apply for UNHCR refugee status.

Thus Christmas Island, together with other excised territories such as Papua New Guinea and Nauru and Manus Islands, were able to be used for the rapid processing and easy exclusion of unwanted asylum seekers. It also allowed successive governments to portray the 'boat people', even though they remain a small minority of Australia's asylum seekers, as asylum bogeymen and women.

Friday, 13 November 2009

Oceanic Viking Update

The 3 way stand off between the Australian and Indonesian governments and the 78 Sri Lankan asylum seekers on board the MV Oceanic Viking that has been going on for almost a month appears to be slowly drawing to an end.

The Tamils were rescued by the Australian Navy in the Sunda Strait on 18 October trying to sail from Indonesia to Australia. A deal was struck between the 2 governments for the Tamils to be returned to Indonesian territory and they were transferred to the Oceanic Viking for the journey. But they have stood off the Indonesian coast for almost 4 weeks, with the Indonesian military describing the Australian ship's presence as "disadvantaging" their sovereignty.

The Tamils meanwhile refused to be sent to Indonesian detention centres and have been on hunger strike and threatened suicide to back up their refusal at various points. For their part the Australian government have tried hard to persuade the Tamils to disembark (keeping their customs vessel at sea all this time is costing a lot of tax dollars) by continuing to claim that "discussions not yet finalised" as to where the refugees would ultimately go. The Indonesians however have claimed all along that they must go into Tanjung Pinang, the Australian-funded detention centre on Bintan in the Riau Islands.

To add to the confusion, New Zealand recently entered the fray, when Green Party MP Keith Locke urged the New Zealand Immigration Minister Jonathan Coleman to help break the deadlock by taking some of the refugees, as happened during the MV Tampa saga in 2001. Apparently some informal discussions between the 2 governments were forthcoming but the New Zealand government didn't want to set a precedent and "encourage queue jumpers".*

Now 22** of the 78 asylum seekers have agreed to leave the Oceanic Viking and have been taken to the Tanjung Pinang detention centre following a breakthrough deal. This deal appears to involve expediting the Tamil's asylum claims within 3 months, rather than the 6 months it would normally take on Christmas Island, together with other benefits such as English language classes and financial assistance. In return the asylum seekers agreed to leave the Oceanic Viking and go to the detention centre on Bintan. Needless to say the other 56 Tamils are wary of the Australian promises and still appear to need to be persuaded to accept the deal.

Meanwhile, the even longer running stand off in Merak harbour also continues. There have also been negotiation taking place around the fate of these asylum seekers. However, the Indonesian government are still refusing to allow the Tamils to meet UNHCR representatives*** until they leave the Jaya Lestari 5. The Merak harbour Tamils have also been using the hunger strike tactic, with the latest involving 10 of the women amongst the 250-odd passengers having just been called off following a meeting with the Indonesian Human Rights Commission representatives.

* Coincidentally 6 Sri Lankan men intercepted by the Australian Navy and now being held on Christmas Island are staging a protest in the Island's 'red block', a small fenced off area with metal cells that is used for punishment and control purposes.
** It is not known if any of these are among the 30 or so Tamils that already have UNHCR refugee status.
*** It is understood that nearly half of this group of Tamils already have UNHCR refugee status or have documents stating that their refugee assessment is in its final stages.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Humanitarian Aid Effort Today In Northern France

Since the end of summer there has been a mounting humanitarian crisis in the North of France. The 'Jungles', migrants camps and squats are all being destroyed; migrants in Paris are banned from sleeping in the parks overnight; migrants are constantly suffering routine harassment, being arrested and having their property destroyed, only to be dumped back on the streets with no shelter or money and only the clothes on their backs. Hundreds find themselves living in the greatest destitution, homeless, without food and depending entirely humanitarian aid.

So, with the approach of winter humanitarian associations and activists have decided that they will hold a simultaneous collective distribution of survival equipment for about 500 migrants today at 14:00 hrs in both cities. The equipment will consist mainly of basic necessities: plastic sheets, jackets, backpacks, jerry cans for carrying water, hygiene kits, sleeping bags and clothing. It is hoped that by doing this en masse and in a very public manner that this might prevent the police from destroying this equipment as part of the French government's on-going campaign of harassment against the migrants this winter.

The groups involved include Médecins du Monde, Médecins Sans Frontières, Terre d'Errance, Salam, C'Sur, Collectif de Soutien des Exilés du 10ème, Calais Migrant Solidarity and No Borders.
Issue number 1 of the relaunched UK No Borders newsletter is currently available for download (click on the image). The newly renamed Movement will now be available monthly.

Monday, 9 November 2009

Forced Returns To Zimbabwe Suspended Again

Just days after the Home Office announced that it now considered Zimbabwe safe enough to resume forced deportations and that it was to offer an enhanced version of its Assisted Voluntary Return (AVR) package for Zimbabweans, the UK Borders Agency has apparently quietly suspended scheduled deportation flights following strong protestations from the MCD-UK.

The standard AVR package is administered by the International Organisation for Migration and consists of £4,000 for vocational training, assistance in setting up a business and the cost of a flight home. Since February the package for Zimbabweans has been supplemented with an extra £2,000 of reintegration assistance, made up of £500 cash on departure, an extra £1,000 ‘in kind’ assistance for business set-up, a £500 basic subsistence package and cholera prevention kits. The new plans replace the £1,000 ‘in kind’ assistance with a phased series of cash payments over 6 months.

Those who refuse to accept these 'voluntary' packages of course are forcibly returned with no 'assistance' at all. Now the MDC's chief representative in London, Jonathan Chawora, has persuaded the UK government that the situation in Zimbabwe is not as stable as they had claimed and that "the situation is not yet ideal for any Zimbabwean to be deported because of the renewed surge in violence perpetrated by ZANU PF." The situation will be reviewed in January 2010.

What Rational Debate?

Alan Johnson, the Home Secretary, wants a rational debate about migration. What real chance is there of that when the default setting is that migration is a problem. Full stop. And that it is only a question of how few damned foreigners 'we' let in the country.

Of course he has only come to this conclusion because he thinks that the Labour Party faces meltdown at the next election because of mass defections of previously 'loyal' so-called white working class Labour voters to the BNP. Really he has only got himself and his avowedly racist party to blame. The Labour Party has long played the race card, slamming foreigners (especially 'foreign' prisoners) and 'illegal immigrants' whenever it suited them.

However, their playing of this 'trump card' has been even less sophisticated (or maladroit as Johnson puts it) than the BNP's. In their drive to occupy the (right of) middle ground (read: bottom of the heap or lowest common denominator) as the New Labour project, to try and be all things to all men (& the odd woman), they have ended up appealing to none; and in the meantime they have abandoned their core constituency.

In doing this they have taken on the language, and sought to occupy the battlegrounds, of middle England (read: The Sun). 'Tough on crime and tough on the cause of crime' and all those other hackneyed New Labour sound bites. Needless to say, one key battleground has been immigration, though thankfully their racism has never been as naked as The Sun's (remember the 'SWAN BAKE: Asylum seekers steal the Queen’s birds for barbecues' story from 2003?).

So of course New Labour have "shied away" from the debate about immigration, participating in it would show up the poverty of their position (the Emperor's new clothes) and just how much they have taken on the reactionary position of rags like the Mail and Telegraph. Even if Johnson were to stand up and argue that "immigration has been a good thing for this country – culturally, socially and certainly economically", no one would really believe him as he has left it 12 years too late.

Friday, 6 November 2009

Thoughts On Woolas' Weasel Words

Having reflected on the weasel words of Phil Woolas overnight, and having looked at the available UNHCR statistics for asylum applications of Afghans in 38 out of the 44 industrialised countries*, we can see that there was a steady but accelerating rise in numbers till a peak in 2001. After that there is a rapid drop down to 2005, when the numbers start to rise year on year. [Graph 1 & 2: See below]

This pattern is mirrored by the UK asylum statistics, but with something of a time-lag. This can be explained simply by the time it takes to travel (6-12 months) by land from Afghanistan to the UK. [Graph 3 & 4: See below]

Now, we all know that the Afghan War began on 7 October 2001 and at first glance it would appear that this provides some circumstantial support for Woolas' 'thesis'. However, the Afghan situation is much more complicated that say that of Iraq or Somalia, current conflicts that have been subjected to extensive study and statistical analysis.

Normally the pattern for population movements during a large-scale armed conflict, is for an increase in numbers of externally displaced peoples. This is the norm for conflicts on the African landmass. In Afghanistan, however, the opposite appears to have occurred, with numbers falling rapidly during 'Operation Enduring Freedom', the first phase of the war. So why could that be?

Firstly, this hi-tech form of war is very different to those that regularly occur in the Horn of Africa for example. The amount of ordinance used and the lack of combatants on the ground initially would have led to a different sort of conflict. Estimates for the numbers of civilians killed in Afghanistan vary greatly but conservation numbers appear to show that at least 4,200-4,500 were killed by mid-January 2002 as a result of the U.S. war and air-strikes, with some claiming up to 20,000 Afghans dying as a consequence of the first four months of U.S. air-strikes. In the first 2 years estimates for direct and indirect civilian deaths range between 6,300 - 23,600, with the total from 2001 to the present from 12,460 - 32,057. This is as part of a population estimated to be 26,813,057 in July 2001 and currently 28,150,000.

Secondly, the major part of the conflict was fought in the much more densely populated East of the country, where the population can and do freely cross the border into Pakistan. As we have seen in the recent Pakistan army operations, large scale population movements readily occur across state/regional boundaries and these most certainly do not lead to asylum applications. If you are hopeful that Western involvement in your country will lead to societal improvements, surely you would take the short trip to relative safety in neighbouring countries rather than travel halfway across the world? On top of this Iran effectively closed its border with the country in the run up to the War and kept it closed, cutting off the main smuggling route to the West.

So initially it would appear reasonable that the numbers of asylum seekers making to the industrial countries would show a dramatic decrease. It would probably stay that way for a while with a multi-national occupying force in the country offering the potential of economic and developmental aid and employment. And who would be the people most likely to remain? Those who would probably be most likely to seek a life in the West. Those who could speak one of the myriad of languages of the occupiers.

In the meantime, the Taliban has become more and more active as the local population have come to realise that the Knights in camouflaged armour have not turned out to be quiet what they claimed they would be. Increased insurgency, the inability to protect the people that put their lives on the line to work with the UN and NATO** and the lack of real developmental progress, coupled with widespread political corruption has led many people to consider a long and perilous and expensive journey to uncertain life in a country they know next to nothing about as the better option when compared to what their life in Afghanistan is and might become.

So why has the recent increase in numbers of asylum seekers been relatively small when compared to pre-war levels. The simple answer is that it is so much more difficult, not only to make it to your country of choice and make an asylum application, but also to have that application accepted. The walls of Fortress Europe for example have become more fortified and refugees are being much more readily deported if they manage to scale those ramparts. Britain for example carries out weekly deportation flights to Kabul, and this at a time when the UN has cut its international staff in the country by more than a half because of the deteriorating security situation.

So there is some anecdotal evidence that the correlation between the presence of NATO troops in Afghanistan and the levels of Afghan refugees. Yet Woolas appears to be claiming that the government has something a bit more substantial than mere anecdotal evidence. Yet any scientist knows that real evidence must be able to be subjected to statistical analysis and one needs a 'control' for that. We have data for asylum application rates for before the war and during the occupation, but that is it. For a control, we need a country almost exactly the same economically and socially as Afghanistan but that wasn't invaded and occupied by the US and it allies, not of course forgetting a Taliban-style 'insurgency'. One that could provide meaningful data that could then be compared to what has happened in Afghanistan to show what would happen if NATO pulled out. Or even such a country that had recently been subjected to such a war and occupation and had been evacuated of troops. Know of an example of a country like either one of those Phil? We thought not.

So in the end it looks like your evidence is not worth the empty fag packet its scribbled on the back of.

* The sample base used by the UNHCR for their statistical analyses.
** Interpreters have been particularly badly treated. After having survived years of the Taliban, where a knowledge of a foreign language could quiet easily get you killed, they are often now in daily fear for their lives as many fail to meet the stringent resettlement criteria of NATO and the UN.

Graph 1

Graph 2

Graph 3

Graph 4

A Question

If it is not safe for more than half of its 1,100 international staff in Afghanistan, people that have round-the-clock armed guards, why is the country still considered safe enough to continue returning asylum seekers against their will, people who have fled political/religious/sexual persecution and who remain in fear of their lives?

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Weasel Words From Woolas?

Immigration Minister Phil Woolas has intervened in the controversy over recent deaths of military personnel in Afghanistan by claiming that one of the roles for the military is to prevent people fleeing Afghanistan and becoming asylum seekers! Talk about scarping the bottom of the barrel.

The Afghan war, which the Labour Party started in 2001 in concert with the US*, is surely the biggest 'push factor' involved in creating Afghan asylum seekers and a Talibanised country after any withdrawal of British troops would hardly make the situation worse.

He claims that "our (the government's) evidence is that the number of asylum seekers coming to the EU would significantly increase." What is this evidence Phil? Please publish it.

* Woolas was a lowly Treasury-funded Assistant Whip back then.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Latest News From The 'Indonesia Solution' Saga

Sunday night saw the loss of another boat of Sri Lankan asylum seekers off of the northern coast of Australian. The boat, carrying 39 people, sank 350 nautical miles north-west of the Cocos Islands, an Australian territory (1000 km NW of the mainland). 39 members of the crew have been rescued by a LNG tanker and a Taiwanese fishing boat, but the remaining 11 are all feared dead. The survivors are currently aboard the LNG Pioneer, which will take them to Christmas Island 1000 km east of the Cocos for medical checks, immigration processing and mandatory detention.

Meanwhile, the 2 week old stand-off aboard the MV Oceanic Viking continues, with some of the 78 Tamils on board are continuing to threaten suicide if they are forced to return to Indonesia. They claim that conditions on board the Australian customs vessel are continuing to deteriorate and the 9 month old baby amongst them is suffering particularly.

The Tamils have continued to be able to phone the outside media and have claimed that if they cannot go to Australia: "We'd like to go to another resettlement country, otherwise we can't live in the world". It has also emerged, from a note thrown overboard, that at least 37 of the Tamils have already been issued refugee status certification* by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) office in Jakarta.

According to Pamela Curr from the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre in Melbourne,
"Most of these people have been in Indonesia for years waiting for a place to call home. They are recognised as refugees but this is no guarantee of resettlement. Refugees have been warehoused in Indonesia since 2001 by first the Howard and then the Rudd Government." she said. "Eventually people realise that they must help themselves as no one else will help them. This is why the boats will continue to come from Indonesia where there are currently 2,107 people registered with UNHCR who are going nowhere."

The other asylum seeker boat recently in the news also continues its stand-off with the Indonesian authorities. The Jaya Lestari 5 has been anchored off the Indonesian port of Merak harbour for more than 3 weeks with 255 Tamils on board, most originally from the notorious Manik Farm concentration camp in Sri Lanka. Pamela Curr again: "They are deeply traumatised and fear being returned to camps if they hand them selves over to the Indonesian government. 3 people from this boat have been hospitalised and 5 people with little children have left the boat because of the children. Last week water was restricted and no medical care given for conjunctivitis which was sweeping through the boat. Over 30 cases reported on Friday."

"IOM and Indonesian officers are pressuring the people to disembark. However after living in camps in Sri Lanka these people are not ready to commit to camps in Indonesia. This boat has dropped out of the media gaze - please watch carefully as they need us to ensure that their rights are respected."

In other news. the report, ‘Behind Australian Doors: Examining the Conditions of Detention of Asylum Seekers in Indonesia’, drawn up by lawyer and refugee advocate Jessie Taylor after visiting 11 places of detention in Indonesia in July, and interviewed 250 people, has been released and is causing a stir in Australia. She found that asylum seekers in Indonesia are routinely beaten and denied clean water and medical care in detention centres paid for in part by Australian taxpayers.** "Beatings usually occur after escapes from detention facilities, as a 'punishment' of remaining detainees for the escape of others"

''Detainees suffer malnutrition, depression, anxiety, skin diseases, vomiting and diarrhoea, and have been subject to violent beatings by Indonesian authorities."

“Conditions in asylum seekers’ accommodation ranges from acceptable to appalling”, said Taylor. “In the worst places, we saw babies and children behind bars, with filthy drinking water, deprived of basic education, malnourished and very, very frightened”.

“Particularly confronting were conversations with unaccompanied minors, many of whom are housed in immigration jails with adult male populations.”

Commenting on the report, Jack H Smit from WA Human Rights group Project SafeCom said, "We cannot do otherwise than point the finger of this indictment fairly and squarely at the following - and in this ranking of order as placed: (1) the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Indonesia, (2) the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) in Indonesia, (3) Australia as the only country that has signed the Refugee Convention and that funds operations of IOM and UNHCR in Indonesia, and (4) Indonesia - as a country that has an intent to become a signatory to the UN Refugee Convention and that strives to advance further in signing and ratifying other International Conventions."

One consequence of the MV Oceanic Viking saga and this report is that the Australian trade unions have put out a call for the 78 Tamil asylum seekers to be allowed to go to Christmas Island*** so they can be processed in Australia. And the Australian Council of Trade Unions even took out a newspaper advertisement on Monday, calling on the government to take a more humane approach to asylum seekers. Needless to say the rightist opposition have seized on these incidents to attack the government's position, claiming that the news of the Oceanic Viking Tamils having been in Indonesia for up to five years prior to there recent attempt to get to Australia puts paid to the government's claims alleged recent increase in 'boat people' is due to push factors in Sri Lanka.

To cope with the apparent failure of the government's 'Indonesia Solution', the capacity of the Christmas Island detention facility is being increased from 1200 to 2000 beds, with some sources claiming as high as 2300 places. Chris Evans, the Immigration Minister, has also reiterated their commitment to mandatory detention on the Island and claimed that the children held there are not in fact held in the Islands detention facilities, they are being held in building purpose built for construction workers on the island and includes a range of recreational facilities and en-suite rooms. That's alright then?****

Serco, the company that took over the running of Christmas Island and all of Australia's detention facilities on a 5-year contract in October, have also come under criticism for announcing tough new visiting restrictions that require 24-hours notice and security screening to airport standards.

* Having refugee status, they are unable to be returned to Sri Lankan due to international agreements on 'non-refoulement'.
** Among the 2000 people held in prisons, detention centres and compounds across the country, there are refugees who had previously been granted temporary protection in Australia.
*** According to Pamela Curr, there are currently 50 people in Christmas island detention centres who hold UNHCR refugee cards.
**** The Christmas Island facilities and the offshore immigration processing project has recently been subject to a scathing report from the Australian Human Rights Commission prior to Serco staring their contract.

Stop Deportation Network Public Forum

This event will be held in Room V221 at the Vernon Square Campus of the School of Oriental and African Studies (Penton Rise, WC1X 9EW)

Monday, 2 November 2009

Belgian Detention Centres Blockaded

Saturday morning saw the simultaneous blockade of the Belgian detention centres at Merksplas, Bruges and Vottem (Liege). Around 150 protesters from across Europe were involved, with many locking-on to gates to prevent vehicle movements. 50 people were arrested inside Vottem after scaling the fence, but were later released without charge.

Pagani Update

The Pagani detention centre on Lesvos has finally closed its door (for the time being). The Camp was the location of a No Border Camp this summer and has been the focus on an on-going campaign to close it down ever since. The final straw appeared to be the joint visit two weeks ago by a junior minister (from recently renamed 1984-style the Citizen's Protection Ministry) and a UNHCR delegation. The minister and the UNHCR both condemned conditions there and the new Greek government put a plan into operation to free many of the detainees and transfer the remainder to other centres.

Last Thursday saw the first releases, with people just being pushed out of the gates onto the cold streets. Many queued for ferry tickets but, as the next ferry wasn't until the next day, they faced the possibility of sleeping out in the streets. No Borders activists however, squatted a University building to allow migrants to spend the night in from the cold. Saturday saw the last 120 migrants issued with their registration papers and leave the camp for good. No doubt the Greek authorities will give it a quick makeover, a swift lick of paint and a new name, and it will be reopened for business in the near future but activists will continue to struggle against all detention prisons.

Child Detainees In The Limelight Again

Figures just released show that more than 1,300 children were held in immigration prisons around the country between July 2008 and September 2009, 328 being held in Tinsley House at Gatwick Airport between September 1 2008 and August 31 2009.* It was also revealed that between April 2004 and September 2009 a total of 889 children had been detained for more than 28 days, which can only be expressly ordered authorised by ministers.

The continued detention of children by the UK Borders Agency has been the subject of widespread condemnation, including the Children's Commissioner for England Alan Aynsley-Green, in a report entitled The Arrest and Detention of Children Subject to Immigration Control, and Refugee and Migrant Justice, formerly the Refugee Legal Centre, in the Does Every Child Matter? report. Yet, despite finally signing the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child last year, the UK continues this abhorrent practice.

In other news relating to the detention of children, Kent County Council has refused to comment on allegations that five staff have been suspended from Ashford’s Milbank Centre following allegations of ‘inappropriate behaviour.’ The Millbank Centre, and a £1m pilot scheme run by Migrant Helpline to house families prior to deportation, was the focus of strong criticism from the Children's Society back in June.

* The figure for the staggered 15 month period include 884 children at Yarl's Wood, Bedford (July 2008 - July 2009) and Dungavel, Lanarkshire (October 2008 - mid September 2009).