Monday, 22 December 2008

'Tis The Season Of Good Will...

...Unless Of Course You Are A Migrant!

It seems fitting that in the week leading up to Xmas, and against the backdrop of the global financial downturn, that a number of so-called Christian countries should be putting up the "no more room at the inn" signs.

In Spain the recession is beginning to bite and unemployment is starting to rise. And of course the easiest and most populist option for the government is to target migrants. To this end they are proposing new legislation to limit immigration, that also allows police to hold sans-papiers for longer prior to expulsion and that will make it harder for foreign-born residents to bring relatives into the country.

Currently 10% of the Spanish population are legally entitled residents and a fair portion of these were once so-called 'illegal immigrants', cornerstones of the building industry boom in the late 90's and early '00's, together with the agricultural labourers that the Costa del Polythene depends upon, that were granted residency during the 2005 amnesty. These people have brought enormous wealth into the country but as times are getting hard they are going to be the first to suffer.

Further east, Italy has already seen widespread repression and attacks on the Roma and migrant populations (see the 1st & 5th October posts), with the Army being sent onto the streets following a state of emergency being announced in the South of the country.

In Greece during the on-going civil uprising (which, if the BNP are to believed, has been caused entirely by 'asylum seekers') there have been a series of savage attacks on migrants carried out by the police in concert with fascists from the Golden Dawn organisation. The police have also been carrying out mass arrests of migrants and an unknown number of these are currently remanded in custody, and can be held up to 18 months before they have to be tried or released. Many have also been tried in flagrante delicto [in a police or Magistrate's court] and convicted in the absence of adequate interpreting facilities.

Greece has a long history of deaths of migrants at the hands of the police, many of whom are Golden Dawn members and sympathisers. [See] Just a week before Alexandros Grigoropoulos was shot, a 29-year old Pakistani named Mohammed Ashraf was killed by the riot-police in Athens as they dispersed a group of migrants waiting to apply for green cards.

The current picture is confused but atleast 50 migrants have received 18 month sentences (without the right to parole). There are also reports that there has been an increase in the number of migrants being rounded up and suffering forced illegal deportation.

The Southern hemisphere is also lacking in seasonal good cheer for migrants. In a rapid about turn, the Australian government have gone back on their decision to end the so-called "Pacific Solution" of using remote Pacific islands to house detained asylum seeker (see the 1st July post). Kevin Rudd's government, one of whose members labeled it a "stalag", have decided to open the £180M detention centre on Christmas Island, 1,000 miles from the Australian mainland.

Meanwhile, we have slightly better Xmas news here in Brighton. Kandazi and Harvey Sisya, 13 & 15 years old respectively, and their mother Gift Mubanga, have been bailed from Yarl's Wood IRC and will spend Christmas back in Hove, which had been their home since 2001 until they were detained on 28th November. Their attempted deportation back to Zambia on 16th December was stopped following a last-minute court injunction, a full judicial review of which is due to take place on 9th January. In the meantime the campaign for them to remain in the country started by Kandazi and Harvey's fellow pupils at Hove Park School continues. We wish them well.

Monday, 15 December 2008

Tories Claim UK Asylum Process Inhumane

In an interview on the BBC's Today programme Iain Duncan Smith has claimed that the government's asylum process is inhumane. "The British government is using forced destitution as a means of encouraging people to leave voluntarily. It is a failed policy," he said.

He was presenting a new report from the right-wing think tank Centre for Social Justice, which estimates that at least 26,000 so-called 'failed asylum seekers' are subsisting on Red Cross food parcels in the run-up to Christmas. The same report also claims that hostility at the start of process prevents the proper submission of asylum claims and compares the UK system to Sweden's, where 80% of 'failed asylum seekers' return voluntarily to their country of origin compared to only 20% for the UK.

Does this mean that the Tories are suddenly becoming the Party of Compassion? Needless to say at the heart of the report are claims about the major possible financial savings that a change in the asylum process could bring, as the cost of forcibly removing a 'failed' asylum seeker is £11,000 compared to just £1,100 for voluntary removals.

Interestingly, this comes on top of a recent landmark legal ruling that has paved the way for thousands of asylum seekers in the UK to be allowed to work. The High Court, in case brought on behalf of an Eritrean asylum seeker, whose application for entry to the UK was refused, has ruled that current laws preventing him from taking a job are incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights. This ruling could also affect asylum seekers who are also currently destitute and in limbo as they are from countries including Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Somalia and Zimbabwe which are also considered too dangerous to return to.

Friday, 12 December 2008

Oakington IRC Condemned As Unsafe

The latest HM Chief Inspector of Prisons (HMCIP) report in to Oakington Immigration Reception Centre in Cambridgeshire, the government's flagship "fast-track" asylum centre, had "lost direction and purpose and is not performing well, especially in the areas of safety and respect". In fact, the relationships between the Global Solutions Ltd (GSL) security staff running the centre and the 328 detainees had deteriorated to the extent that they are significantly worse than at any other removal centre.

"Half the detainees, compared with a third last time [2005], said that they had felt unsafe. Only 60%, compared with 89% last time, and 94% in 2004, said that most staff treated them with respect. These are significant and troubling slippages." The use of force to control detainees had also increased at the centre from 53 incidents last year to 34 in the first six months of this year. The number of detainees put on segregation for breaching rules has also risen, from 328 times in the whole of 2007 to 220 in the first six months of this year.

The report also states the management and staff take so little interest in individual detainees that they were unaware of the fact that they had been holding one Chinese man for nearly two years. The Chinese authorities had said that the remote village he came from did not exist and it took 16 months before an immigration officer bothered to check on the internet and found it was genuine. "After 16 months, a member of the UK Border Agency team at Oakington established through the internet that the village did indeed exist and sent a copy of the map showing the village to the case owner. She also reported to the case owner that he appeared compliant and would like to return as soon as possible."

When the information was then passed on to the relevant case worker, the man was issued with a notice of non-compliance with the authorities and threatened with legal action and his monthly review also continued to claim that he had given false information about his address. On top of this "he had already served a short custodial sentence for having a false document and was now at risk of a further custodial sentence," the report said.

Interestingly, Global Solutions Ltd is the company that, in addition to already running Tinsley House, will be operating the latest addition to the Detention estate when Brook House at Gatwick Airport opens at the end of February or the beginning of March next year. We can only hope that the GSL staff make a better fist (if that's the right phrase) of their duty of care that the law imposes upon them. But given the number of complaints from staff about the way that management are forcing them to cut corners and disregard the welfare of the detainees in their custody (see "Outsourcing Abuse", the latest publication by Medical Justice) we somehow doubt it.