Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Just Who Is Responsible For UK's Worsening Treatment Of Migrants?

It looks like the Tories claims that Nu Labour's mythical 'open door' immigration policy and their supposed attempts at mass social engineering (read as eugenics) via a policy encouraging 'mass immigration', not to mention the creation of the 'multicultural society' (read as 'diluting our precious bodily fluids'), was as restrictive and mean spirited as the Tories themselves hope to be.

The evidence for this has been coming in in droves recently. Just today we have had the news that Refugee and Migrant Justice (RMJ), the charity that provides legal support to thousands of asylum seekers across England and Wales have been forced into administration because of the changes brought in by Nu Labour to the way that Legal Aid fees are paid. Paul Gray, the chair of RMJ: "It is with great sadness that RMJ's trustees took the decision . . . we are very concerned about the position of our 10,000 clients, and of our dedicated and highly professional staff."

Instead of being paid hourly rates with fixed fees for most cases , the previous government decided that it would be a good idea to save money by only paying the fees when cases were exhausted. The net result is that only law firms with large financial backing can afford to take on Legal Aid-funded cases and charities or small firms that fight social justice issues that do not have that backing have either to face going to the wall or give up on Legal Aid-funded cases altogether, especially those firms specialising in asylum cases. Paul Gray again: "This situation is caused by late payment of legal aid by up to two years, not inefficiency or even lack of income . . . Late payment has an unequal impact on charities because they cannot get bank loans to finance the cash gap."

So that was a good outcome for any government seeking to halt, in their eyes, vexatious claims from refused asylum seekers who might dare to seek full legal redress and use the courts to fully pursue their rights under the law to seek, just like anyone else is free to do, as long as they can afford 'justice'. So, despite extensive lobbying of the new government from across the political spectrum, RMJ have been forced to call it a day, leaving over 10,000 clients, including 900 lone children, in legal limbo and more vulnerable than ever of being fed through the Borders Agency mincer and on to the next deportation flight.

The Ministry of Justice's response when then possibility of RMJ having to close its was first announced: "If RMJ fails, we accept that there will be some disruption while their clients look for help from another adviser. However, [the Legal Services Commission] believe that capacity will not be adversely affected as clients and caseworkers will be able to transfer to other organisations, as has happened in similar situations." Except that they wont be specialists in immigration law and their potential clients wont get the best legal advice possible. Still, they will be cheaper. One up to Nu Labour.

Then there was the Tory-Whig Alliance's announcements both of the resumption of deportations of Iraqi asylum seekers directly back to Baghdad, a scheme that had failed miserably last time it was tried, and the plan to send Afghan children back to Afghanistan in direct contravention of any number of international laws and conventions (this was more of a leak than a planned announcement), a move that was roundly condemned by everyone from the UNHCR though the Refugee Council to Human Rights Watch. The tender for the £4m "reintegration centre" in Afghanistan designed to 'process' 120 adults and 12 boys aged under 18 who had been forcibly returned from the UK. Up to 150 teenagers would be sent back in its first year of operation.

The British plans forms part of a wider European move to plan the return of unaccompanied migrant children to Afghanistan. Norway wants to open their own reception centre in Kabul, whilst Sweden, Denmark and the Netherlands are to follow suit soon. All this is as the direct result of Nu Labour circulated a policy paper on unaccompanied minors in February during a Brussels workshop that called for an "EU-wide presumption" that a child's best interest was to return. It also argued that formal safeguards such as guardianship were "immensely expensive to put in place", emphasising the cost cutting basis of the plan.

According to the Home Office, there are currently 4,200 unaccompanied child refugees in the country and a fair portion of these have had their asylum applications refused by the Home Office on the basis that they are lying about their true age, never mind actually accepting their reasons for fleeing persecution. However, child protection laws guarantee that they will not be left destitute and homeless and many of these children are currently living in care homes across the UK.

Amongst those who are highly critical of the plan is Kamena Dorling, legal and policy officer for the Migrant Children's Project at the Children's Legal Centre: "If a child has no family to whom they can be returned safely, then it is difficult to see how returning them alone to Kabul will be in line with the UK Border Agency's duty, under the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Act 2009, to ‘safeguard and promote the welfare' of that child."

However the government's main interest is solely in presenting a picture of the UK as not being a 'soft touch', hence Damian 'The Omen' Green repeating the same tired old clich├ęs focusing on the 'pull factors', such as they are, rather than the 'push factors': "No one should be encouraging children to make dangerous journeys across the world." Just how trite can one get?

We, and numerous others, have worked with these children who (along with their families) have been so desperate to escape their circumstances that they have spent months (if not years) travelling halfway around the world; often walking hundreds of miles through all weathers; risking life and limb; often being beaten, robbed or raped; often trusting their lives to people traffickers (sometimes paid by their families selling everything they own); all in the hope of reaching the relative safety of a land they have only ever seen on the TV or heard of on the radio. That Green should denigrate them with this tosh would be outrageous if it weren't totally to be expected.

The UNHCR also objected to the forced return of Iraqi asylum seekers that the UK and other EU countries have jointly carried out in the past 2 weeks whilst all that well-known snake oil salesman David Cameron could come up with was praise for "our brave servicemen and women fought and died" in Iraq. Yet the war that those troops have pursued in Iraq (and Afghanistan) is the very reason why many of these people were forced to become refugees. Strikes two and three for Nu Labour.

Days later the UNHCR released a report entitled 'Trees Only Move In The Wind' which further reinforce the general dangers that unaccompanied child migrants face, not only on their journeys to the EU, but also when they reach here. It makes for salutary reading.

On top of all this this week saw a report entitled 'Not Gone But Forgotten' from the Red Cross criticising the government's asylum system as "shameful" and "inhumane", and laying into the 'section 4' hardship provision. A survey carried out by the organisation suggested that 87% of the 11,000 plus destitute refused asylum seekers that it helped last year often lived on one meal a day.* Not particularly good PR for the government but no doubt of more concern to them is news from their own newly created Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) of another report that effectively torpedoes the government's plans to cap migration.

The OBR's message is that the demographic time bomb of a falling birth rate and an increasing elderly population coupled with a massive cut in non-EU migration, the cutbacks, a weakening pound and a slowing economy will lead to a further decrease in migration. The net result will be even less of a tax intake to pay for the growing pensions bill and fewer people to fill the low paid carers jobs in the dwindling public and outsourced private sector care providers. Strikes four and five to Nu Labour but the last one is all down to the Tory-Whig Alliance, and from now on the buck will have to stop with them.

* See also the Guardian article 'The asylum seekers who survive on £10 a week'.

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