Saturday, 29 August 2009

Pagani Detention Centre & Lesvos No Border Camp 2009

The Lesvos No Border camp is currently under way on the picturesque Aegean island, home to the less than picturesque Pagani detention centre. Pagani is, like many other Greek detention centres, a converted warehouse. Sited 5 km from Mitilini, the capital of Lesvos, it was originally designed to hold around 250 migrants but current numbers exceed 1,000, at least 200 of whom are unaccompanied children.

On 19 August, 160 of the unaccompanied minors detained in Pagani went on hunger strike to demand their immediate freedom. All of them are detained in just one room, where they share one toilet, many need to sleep on the floor due to lack of beds. Some of the minors are only eight or nine years old. 50 of them have been detained for over 2 months, the others have been in Pagani for several weeks already. Detention of minors is of course illegal under Greek and International law.

Video footage recorded by some of the children shows the room where they sleep, two or even three together, in a pile of bunk beds or in layers on the floor. In appalling scenes, children with severely wounded legs claim that there is no medical treatment. Other footage shows over 150 women and 50 babies crammed into to a single room 20 x 15 m with little or no exercise, fresh air or access to adequate food and medical care. [Video 1, 2, 3, 4]

Since the beginning of August a MSF team that includes a psychologist and translator has been working inside the detention centre. “We have seen that there is an urgent need for psychosocial support for many detainees inside the center," says Micky van Gerven, head of mission of the MSF project for migrants, asylum seekers, and refugees in Greece. “Most of them have endured a very difficult and perilous journey to reach Greece and are faced with an uncertain future in the country."

MSF had previously operated in the camp provided primary health care and psychosocial support during the summer of 2008 but withdrew after interference from the Greek authorities made it impossible to continue their mission. They have only recently returned after an agreement was concluded with the national and local authorities to ensure collaboration and access for MSF to undocumented migrants in the camp.

However, following the recent new restrictive anti-immigration legislation doubling the length of detention and severely restricting appeals against deportation decisions, together with the mass arrests instituted across Greece, the numbers in the already overcrowded detention centres have gone through the roof.

On 21 August, with tension inside the detention centre escalating, 930 detainees, including women and children, also went on hunger strike demanding their release, hanging on balusters and crying for freedom. This resulted in the release of 38 refugees the same day, including a pregnant woman with little children. However, whilst they were issued with papers they received no other support and were stuck on the island with no ferry ticket and no money for food.

On 24th, the UNHCR director for Greece Giorgos Tsarbopoulos visited Pagani and talked to activists from the No Border camp who had gathered outside. Earlier on in the day he had called for the immediate closure of another camp on the island, the over-crowded Ministry of Health and Social Solidarity facility at Agiassos for unaccompanied minors. The UNHCR later released a statement deploring the conditions inside Pagani and, following representations, the Greek government agreed to remove all unaccompanied minors from the camp by the end of the month.

It is difficult to get a accurate picture of exactly what is going on inside the detention centre, but in the past week roughly 250 migrants have been released. They have been given 30 days to proceed with their journey or face being detained again. That is of course if they can manage to get off the island at the busiest time of the year when everyone tries to travel home from the large cities and all the ferries are booked. News has also reached the No Border Camp today (29 Aug) that 450 people are due to be either released or moved from the camp and that (somehow) ferry tickets have already been booked, but it is still to be confirmed.

To keep up to date with events at the Camp visit the camp website:

Thursday, 27 August 2009

News Digest

Having been out of action for the past week, due to circumstances beyond our control, we return with a digest of some of the news that you may have missed.

Malta, Italy and Libya:

The stretch of the Mediterranean between Libya and the Malta/Lampedusa area has long been a major route for clandestine migration into Europe, and the Maltese and Italian governments have long sought solutions to decreasing the numbers attempting to cross the sea from Libya. Italy and Libya have recently concluded a pact that saw them agree to operate joint naval patrols and for Italy to be able to return migrants (contrary to international law) directly to Libyan waters without processing any potential asylum applications.

At the same time the simmering political row between Italy and Malta over maritime jurisdiction has reached boiling point. The Italian island of Lampedusa is 200km south of Sicily and 130 km west of Malta (Malta itself is only 90 km from Sicily) and there has long been disputes over exactly who is responsible for dealing with migrant boats in the area, each having refused to take responsibility for vessels that they say are in the other's maritime 'search & rescue zone'.

Now both sides are taking an even hard line on dealing with each other, as well as with floundering migrants. Malta has long argued that it bears a burden out of all proportion to its size and its detention centres have been grossly overcrowded for years, whilst the recent increasingly repressive political atmosphere in Italy has seen the Italian navy even less likely to render humanitarian aid to migrants in trouble at sea. Now they merely tow them back to the African mainland.

The latest flare-up stems from an incident on 20 August when a boat with 5 exhausted and weakened Eritreans, including a 7-year old boy, landed on Lampedusa. The Eritreans claimed that they were the only survivors and that the other 73 passengers had all died of lack of food and water and been thrown overboard. The boat had left Libya 3 weeks before but had run out of fuel 3 days into the voyage. They had been given bread and water by a passing fishing boat at one point but apparently had refused assistance, other than life jackets and fuel, from an Armed Forces of Malta (AFM) vessel 2 days before they arrived at Lampedusa, saying they wished to continue on to Italy.*

Both the UNHCR and the Vatican were quick to express their outrage and blame both sides. However, that did not stop the Italian opposition from claiming the migrant's arrival on Italian territory as a failure of the Berlusconi regime's immigration policy, a policy that will see the migrants face a fine of €10,000.

Franco Frattini, Italy's Foreign Minister in turn blamed Malta, claiming it's search & rescue zone was "too large for tiny Malta", sparking a war of words with Maltese officials. He also turned his fire on the rest of the EU for not doing enough to stop the migrants from reaching Italy and not sharing the 'burden' of those that did. In response the EU's duty president, Swedish Premier Carl Bildt, promised that the matter would be discussed by EU foreign ministers at the end of October. A relocation project is also due to be unveiled in September by the EU justice commissioner, Jacques Barrot.

The mainstream Italian media were also not slow to get involved in the controversy, whipping themselves up into a frenzy, with Il Giornale claiming that Malta is the "most racist country in Europe." And, in an act of rank hypocrisy, the paper also warned of the threat of growing far-right and police brutality against immigrants in Malta. [video link]

In recent day more boats have been intercepted in the area. Two days ago 57 migrants were rescued by Italian coastguards off of Lampedusa. One was evacuated to the island suffering from dehydration whilst the remainder were taken to Sicily. And just today 79 Somalis landed in two groups on Malta, with one dead migrant from one of the groups being recovered from the sea.

It seems that however much the Italians and Maltese want to bicker over who is responsible for the migrants that make it across the Mediterranean alive, no one wants to take responsibility for the ones that fail in their quest for a better life. Migrants from across the world will continue to want to come to Europe however high EU governments high they build the walls of Fortress Europe and however loud they trumpet their desire to keep them out.

* The AFM has also released a photograph of the 20 August boat casting doubt on the migrants' story and claiming that it is far too small to have set sail with 78 passengers.


On 24 August G4S announced that its profits have soared since winning new contracts to run Brook House and Tinsley House IRCs at Gatwick airport. The 2 detention centres are expected to generate £10 million and £5m a year respectively for the company over the next five years.

In other news G4S was fined £5,000 after UK Border Agency officers found the firm had employing an illegal worker at its Glasgow offices. A spokesman for G4S claimed that it was an "isolated incident" after it was found an employee was working in excess of the 20 hours a week permitted for a resident on a student visa.


In the early hours of 23 August part of the construction site of a new detention centre at the Fairoaksbaan, Rotterdam Airport in The Netherlands was set on fire. On-site offices used by the management of the planning and construction companies responsible for the construction were targeted in protest against the continuing construction of Fortress Europe and was planned to coincide with the start of the international No-Border Camp on the Greek island of Lesvos.

Canada, Roma & Fingerprints:

Canada has imposed swingeing visa restrictions on Czech citizens in an attempt to prevent Roma people form going to Canada to claim asylum. Canada's Immigration Minister, Jason Kenney, claimed the aim was to stop “economic migrants jumping the queue” who could easily move to “26 other Western democracies in the European Union.” He also paid lip-service to the fact that the Roma faced social and economic discrimination but that the Czech Republic was “in compliance with the European human rights law" and that there “is no policy of state-sponsored persecution against the Roma.”

This clearly ignores the fact that, whilst the Roma have the right to free movement within the EU, their chances of finding work in other countries is severly restricted because of widespread anti-Roma prejudice. And in the Czech Republic itself, despite recent anti-discrimination legislation designed to put the country in step with European Union human rights law, persecution of the Roma is on the increase.

Amnesty International recently said that, “Roma in the country continue to suffer discrimination at the hands of both public officials and private individuals, including in the areas of housing, education, health care and employment. Not only do they face forced evictions, segregation in education and racially motivated violence, but they have been denied justice when seeking redress for the abuses against them.”

Other recent news sees the signing of a data sharing agreement between the UK, Canada and Australia to share fingerprint data of people applying for asylum or resisting deportation. New Zeland and the United States are expected to sign-up in the near future, mirroring the type of cooperation between the five states that operates under the UK-USA Security Agreement on signals intelligence. It is not known whether this agreement will give the 4 non-EU countries access to Eurodac fingerprint data system.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Australian Detention "Extreme And Inhumane"

Amnesty International has reiterated its condemnation of the Australian government's continued use of a high-security offshore detention centre on Christmas Island 1000 miles off the Australian mainland (and only 225 miles from West Java).

This comes the day after the Australian parliament's joint standing committee on migration said that it was "appalled at the extraordinarily high level of security... and considers this security to be inappropriate and inconsistent with the current immigration principles," and that "the level of security in terms of the height of the electrified fences, surveillance and the segregation of staff from detainees was considered to be excessive and inhumane and bordering on ludicrous."

Immigration Minister Chris Evans said the Government remained committed to detaining and processing illegal arrivals at the facility and refused to remove the electrified razor-wire fences and caged walkways as recommended by the committee, saying major alterations would be financially unfeasible. [See also: 'Australia ends detention regime for asylum seekers' & ''Tis The Season Of Good Will...']

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Footnote to MailWatch #3

We spoke too soon! A day after the MailWatch #3 post flagging up the lack of Calais migrants stories in the past week or so, up pops the Mail with a bit of barrel-scraping in a revisit of its 'Migrant hid in Border Agency bus to reach UK... and twenty immigration officers failed to spot him' story.

'Stowaway express: Border agency coach waved through every day could have brought hundreds of illegals into UK' trumpeted the headline of a story yesterday claiming that a "source close to the Border Agency" had told it that the coach in question was "a 'magnet for illegals' trying to sneak into the UK" and that it "could have provided a route for hundreds of illegal immigrants into Britain."

The paper did miss one trick however. After claiming that 2 hiding places, each big enough for 2 people, had been discovered under the coach and that it has "been ferrying border officers between Folkestone and Coquelles, at the Channel Tunnel entrance near Calais, for 365 days a year since 2006", it could have calculated that potentially more than 4,300 'illegals' could have entered the country via this route (allowing for the odd day when only one migrant chose to take advantage of the "secret hiding place" that the Mail's informant thought might have "been common knowledge among illegals for years").*

Oddly, the paper chose to illustrate the article with a new Calais migrants photo, courtesy of Reuters suggesting that their photographer had indeed been scared off (see MailWatch #2 & 'Bloody siege of Calais'), captioned 'Asylum seekers wait outside a medical tent near Calais. Authorities believe illegal immigrants may have been using the coaches to get into the UK for years'** What the paper fails to say is that the migrants are queueing for medical treatment and the chance of a shower and change of clothes as part of an attempt to combat an outbreak of scabies amongst the migrants brought on by the appalling conditions they are forced to live in. [See: 1, 2]

Calais authorities have systematically thwarted attempts to either refurbish or replace the already inadequate provision of showers by the charity Secours Catholique and the only source of water for the main Jungles in the east of Calais, which has only recently been installed after a prolonged period of pressure from the local humanitarian associations, is routinely contaminated by the CRS with tear gas when they are not being otherwise physically prevented from using it. On top of that what few clothes the migrants may have are destroyed by the police in their routine destruction of living structures. No wonder scabies is rife amongst a poorly fed and traumatised population forced to live in unsanitary conditions in their desire to make a better life for themselves, something we all desire for ourselves and those we care about.

* Strange isn't it that the day that only one migrant chose to make the trip was the day that the route ended up being discovered?
** It is their 'informant' that suggests this and the Head of Border Force for the UK Border Agency, Brodie Clark, interviewed in the article suggests nothing of the sort.

Monday, 17 August 2009

Detainee Escorts And Removals: A Thematic Review

Everybody knows it happens, the brutalisation of immigration detainees when they are being forcibly removed from the country (the clue is in the use of the term 'forcibly'). Just last year a major report 'Outsourcing Abuse' by Birnberg Peirce and Partners, Medical Justice and the National Coalition of Anti-deportation Campaigns highlighted the routine violence and racism that detainees are subjected to by employees of private security companies carrying out removals on behalf of the state. Even the BBC have gotten in on the act with 'Asylum Undercover - The Real Story?', made by two BBC journalists worked for 3 months undercover in the Global Solutions Ltd-run Oakington detention centre and for GSL's detainee transport arm.

Yet those actually involved in the removal process, the UKBA, IRC and escort staff, have always denied brutality occurs or have excused it as being the fault of those detainees who refuse to cooperate in their forced ejection from land that they had until recently called their home.

Now a HM Inspectorate of Prisons report published last week* not only confirms that routine use of force occurs but that it is actually detrimental to the stated purpose for its use: use of force decreases the chance of a removal being concluded successfully! The report by the Inspectorate on the so-called 'detainee escort services' of SERCO and G4S found a litany of problems:

long exhausting consecutive journeys;
denial of access to prescribed medication;
use of abusive and forceful behaviour;
lack of follow-up medical attention or prompt medical intervention to such incidents;
a total lack of information about complaints procedure at some detention centres;
failure to provide detainees with their property prior to removal, exacerbating already highly stressful and dramatic situations;
inconsistent or poor escort staff practice with regard to use of force and incident reporting;
failed removals mainly caused by the use of force, others due to lack of staff or incorrect documents.

We can only hope that 'official' recognition of this long festering sore will receive some urgent medical attention and that the practice of the routine use of force by 'detainee escort services' is ended as soon as possible, if not sooner!

* The report has yet to be posted [a.m. 17/08] on the Inspectorate's website (hence the delay in publishing this article) but is now available from Medical Justice and bizarrely from the 'Information for local government' section of the DirectGov website.

Somali Migrants Rescued From Drowning

A group of 115 life jacket-less Somali migrants were rescued off the Maltese coast on Saturday by local fishermen. The migrants' boat was in imminent danger of sinking and 5 of them had already been rescued from the water. The 34 women and 51 men on board the sinking dingy were eventually taken by a Navy vessel to the Maltese mainland.

The current policy on migrant boats sailing from Libya to southern Europe is to deny them landing rights and to turn them back to the African mainland, as happened 2 days earlier when 84 migrants were forced to turn back to Africa after being intercepted by the Italian Navy. This was only after a Maltese helicopter had ferried a mother and her new-born baby from the boat to hospital.

Recently the numbers of migrants attempting to make the crossing from Libya to southern Europe has dropped off significantly since an agreement between the EU and Libya to cooperate on anti-migration patrols was negotiated. However, these 2 boats may be the beginning of a new spike in boat numbers following the mass killing of Somali detainees in a Libyan prison a week ago. Reports coming out of Banghazi indicate that on 10 August Libyan prison guards opened fire on Somali prisoners causing at least 20 deaths and wounding 50 others.

The Maltese rescue comes a week after a stand-off between 3 boats carrying migrants and coast guards off the Algerian coast. At least one man is reported to have drown and 11 others were missing after 2 of the boats sank, one after colliding with a coast guard vessel.

Sunday, 16 August 2009

MailWatch #3

Instalment number three of our occasional service debunking migration stories in the Daily Mail, self-styled 'Last Bulwark Against The Tide Of Filth That Is Threatening To Engulf Civilisation'™

Since the last edition of MailWatch, the intervening two weeks have been incredibly quiet on the vilification-of-Calais-migrants’ front. In fact there have only been two Calais-related stories, 'Migrant hid in Border Agency bus to reach UK... and twenty immigration officers failed to spot him' [02/08] and 'Calais people smugglers 'more likely to be British'' [03/08], and both of those were at the beginning of the month. Of course that doesn't normally stop the Mail reminding its reader that there are still 'dangerous hordes of filthy foreigners' just waiting to cross the Channel to 'steal our jobs/homes/benefits/women/etc.'. So on 4 August, in a story entitled 'Lesson One in Britishness: Migrants taught how to claim benefits', there was a photo of, yes you've guessed it, Calais migrants.

Now forgive us for being obtuse, but where is the link between the following:

"Immigrants are to be given instructions on how to claim benefits as their first step in a new life in Britain…The instructions were set out in a Home Office paper on how immigrants will in future be asked to qualify for a British passport by earning points and credits." ... “At present those allowed entry into Britain gain citizenship almost automatically after five years.”

and a photograph with the caption 'Asylum seekers in Calais: The government is suggesting a points-based system for migrants who want citizenship (file picture)' that appeared between the two sections of text?

If the article is meant to be about so-called 'legal' migration, those arriving through official channels or who have legal status as approved asylum seekers, why put a photograph of Calais migrants in it?
Obviously some of the migrants in Calais will be applying for asylum status when they make it across the Channel (and many are likely to fail as they will already have been fingerprinted in France or a third country and, as a consequence, will be denied asylum in the UK). However, the vast majority will not bother to gain 'official' status, either because they have some naive belief that Britain is a land of freedom and opportunity or, more likely, because they know that they have not got a snowball's chance of remaining in the country legally. So we ask again, why put that particular photograph in the article?

Anyway, in the ten days since those three articles the paper has been suspiciously quiet on the Calais migrants’ front. Why, you might be asking? Well, as we understand it, at least one complaint has been submitted to the Press Complaints Commission about the very same areas of press coverage that we have been highlighting in this blog. Now this may just be coincidence but the fact is that the Mail has turned its target of
xenophobic spleen from the Calais migrants on to gypsies/travellers and bloody foreigners in general.

So we get, 'Councils spend £250,000 on consultants because they can't find anywhere to put travellers' [03/08]; 'How gipsies got £5m of Lottery cash to beat planning rules... and fund course on assertiveness training' [11/08]; 'Gypsy convoy invades site... just hours after council evicts travellers following six-year battle costing £400,000' [14/08]; and '£1m neighbours from hell: Meet the gipsy family terrorising an entire street' [15/08], four gypsy-related stories in less than 2 weeks
instead (as opposed to three in the whole of July).

Then of course there are the usual items such as 'Top judge faces sack for speaking out about immigrants abusing benefits system' [05/08], about their favourite Judge of the moment Ian 'Itchy Finger' Trigger (immigrants are always a good alternative to hoodies and hanging for a judge to publicly pontificate on); more foreigners-are-the-bane-of-our-existence stories like 'English-speaking pupils are a minority in inner-city London primary schools' [12/08] and the usual rampant sensationalism: 'Illegal immigrant rapes woman twice after escaping from Heathrow cell' [08/08]. And last but not least, the inevitable can-you-believe-those-crazy-foreigners stories; 'Merde! Paris reveals the reason it lost the 2012 Olympics to London... dog poo' [12/08] and 'Muslim woman banned from wearing a 'burkini' in a French swimming pool' [13/08]. The latter is a classic Daily Mail-style story, as it hits so many of the right buttons: crazy foreigners, Muslims, the French, the nanny state and, on top of all that, the chance to publish 2 pictures of women in swimwear, although I'm sure the average Mail reader would not rate the burkini particularly high in the titillation stakes.

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Brook House Tops Self Harm Figures

The latest quarterly figure for self harm in the UK immigration detention estate show not only that incidents of self harm requiring medical treatment have increased by 51% compared to the previous quarter, but that Brook House, which opened in March this year, has leapt into the charts at number one with 24% of all reported incidents.

The previous quarter's figures (Jan-Mar) were 41 incidents of self harm, with 369 individuals on Assessment Care in Detention and Teamwork (i.e. formally registered as at risk of self-harming). The figures for April - June were 62 self harm incidents with ACDT figures down 1% at 365! Dover, Harmonsworth and Yarl's Wood were the other IRCs contributing significant percentage increases to the overall figures.

Brook House opened on the 18th March this year and is run by the private security firm Group 4 Securicor (G4S). In its' first full three months of operation there have been an increasing number of incidents, ranging from food distribution problems to staffing problems. The latter is believed to have contributed to the serious disturbance at the IRC on Friday 12th June.

The final spark appears to have been the issuing of removal orders to a number of Iraqi detainees resulting in a group of detainees refusing to be locked down. The handful of Duty Custody Officers on the wing* quickly lost control the incident and left A wing in the control of the detainees who had not already been locked down. In the 11 hours this riot squads retook the wing, the wing office and many of the cells were damaged. Mattresses and bedding were burnt and a large fire set in the exercise yard.

Roits squads regained control at about 9 a.m. Saturday morning but many of those already locked down when the disturbance broke out remained confined to their cells with little more than an apple and a Kitkat, and no medication, till the evening, a period of more than 24 hours. They were finally moved on to other wings and A wing closed for extensive repairs.

* The privately run detention centres are notorious for their low staffing levels and poorly trained and paid staff - after all, these multinational firms have got to make a profit somehow!

Monday, 10 August 2009

'Legal' Migrants Now Being Targeted In Greek Clampdown

Whilst the hunger strike on Samos against the forced removal of migrants from Greece continues, news has leaked of further attempts by the Greek state to rid Greece of as many foreigners a possible. And it is not just those foreigners considered to be in the country 'illegally' that are now being targeted, families that already have a residence permit and legal status are under threat.

The Greek newspaper Kathimerini has revealed that a Greek law that stipulates that, in order for a migrant’s family to be allowed to remain in Greece, the head of the family must declare an income that is 20 percent more than that of an unskilled labourer, which amounts to 10,200 euros per year before taxes.

This is an almost impossible task for most migrant families and campaigners estimate that atlest 3,000 of the already 9,000 applications already made to remain will be turned down. It is of little comfort that the Interior Ministry have said that migrants can appeal the decision, especially given that the appeals system for asylum applications has already been severely restricted.

The recent massive clampdown on migrants in Greece is having unexpected consequences. It seems that so many migrants have been arrested in the past months, 2550 in July in Athens alone, that police cells are becoming over crowded. Senior officers in Attica and other parts of Greece have written to their superiors to complain.

The Interior Ministry has responded that is attempting to speed up the construction of three new 2,500 place detention centres (Aspropyrgos, west of Athens; Ritsona, north of Athens, and Evros, north-eastern Greece). Sources at the ministry said that the Ritsona center could be ready in October, although local officials and residents have vowed to keep up protests against its construction. Another detention centre to be sited near Kavala, northern Greece, has also run into local opposition and plans have been put on hold.

Thursday, 6 August 2009

Samos Detention Centre Hunger Strike

The 580 migrants currently being held in the new €2.6m detention centre on the eastern Aegean island of Samos, designed to accommodate less than half that number and known locally as 'Guantánamo', began a hunger strike Wednesday to protest their possible deportation following the forced deportation of 26 fellow migrants to Turkey earlier in the week. The previous detention centre on the island, a converted tobacco factory and itself the venue of a notorious hunger-strike in 2006 where Iranian detainees sewed-up their lips with wire, was forced to close following protests from European Parliament MPs and the UNHCR after conditions there were slammed as being "an insult to human dignity ... and a downright violation of human rights."

In recent months the Greek authorities have significantly stepped up their attempts to detain and remove migrants from the country, most of them being deported illegally* across the Turkish border, where most are assumed to have entered Greece from. In 2001 Greece-Turkey signed a bilateral readmission protocol as part of the process that could lead to Turkey gaining EU membership. However, the functioning of this protocol has been less than smooth. Amongst the complaints made by the Greeks are that, of the 6 border exchange locations agreed, the Turks are only allowing deportations via the Maritsa crossing in northern Greece. This imposes considerable transport and logistic costs on the Greek state and has led to a preponderance of clandestine deportations.

The Greeks claim that 60,000 or 40% of all 'illegal' migrants reaching Greece have travelled via Turkey and, of the cases submitted by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for return under the protocol, only 12% were agreed upon by the Turkish authorities and only half of those have actually been readmitted via the process. Turkey in turn demands that Greece accepts significant numbers of 'illegals' that they claim have crossed into Turkey from Greece. Whilst a small number of Europe-bound migrants may have accidentally crossed the River Mariç in the wrong direction, most are understood to be illegal Greek police 'push-backs'. Migrants are also known to have drowned in the river after being denied access to both Greek and Turkish territory.

Just as the French authorities have in recent years come to blame the UK government for the costs they claim they have to bear because of the large numbers of migrants trying to cross the English Channel, so the Greek government now complain that it cannot be expected to bear a disproportionate burden of what is an EU problem. So the Greeks try to blackmail its Northern and Eastern neighbours into bear more of its 'pain and suffering'.

The Turks, on the other hand are caught in a cleft stick; caught between a desire to join the EU but at the same time not wishing to end up where the Greeks are now, shouldering an unequal share of EU migration prevention costs**, even before it joins the EU! On top of that is the on-going clash of rampant nationalisms that will inevitably see the 2 states continuing to trade insults and expelled migrants across their common border.

* Greek police have also been systematically denying migrants access to asylum procedures. In one example, 45 Kurdish refugees at Chania on Crete, despite 17 having signed asylum applications in front of Amnesty International representatives and local lawyers, the police representatives present refused to process the documents. Instead the migrants were herded on to a bus and taken to a detention centre in Athens, prior to removal to the North.
** It has recently built seven new reception centres able to accommodate 750 people each, with 6 more at planning stage, adding to the 30 plus detention centres and informal holding facilities it already has, as part of the accession process.

Monday, 3 August 2009

Points Based Or Points Scoring?

On the Today program on Radio 4 this morning that nice Mr Woolas was talking about the Labour Party's latest bit of tinkering with immigration system, a new 'points based' citizenship test.* Responding to a question about the controversial suggestion that it would count against prospective citizenship candidates if they demonstrated against British troops as happened recently in Luton, he let slip that whilst the right to freedom of speech is protected by the law, this only applies to UK citizens.

He then went on to admit that effectively non-UK citizens have no right to demonstrate in this country, and if you do and you are planning on applying for citizenship then you can forget it. Interestingly he is also, despite claiming that none of this was based on party political or election positioning, trying yet again to steal some of the BNP's moral low-ground. He suggested that the new system should also have regard to the impact that UK migration policy has on the developing world by posing questions like "Are we causing a brain-drain in Western Africa?", echoing the BNP's new line on not 'profiting from the theft of skilled workers from the developing world'.

* Why there will not be a 'points based' test.

Sunday, 2 August 2009

The Prison Of The Brave In The Land Of The Free

On Wednesday this week, the same day that the Department of Homeland Security decided to reject a federal court petition after a two and a half years delay calling for legally enforceable detention standards, detainees in the immigration detention centre in Basile, Louisiana have started their 5th hunger strike in the past month to protest substandard conditions.

Over 60 detainees are participating in the staged waves of three-day hunger strikes at the privately run 1,002-bed facility operated by LCS Corrections Services Inc. and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. According to the New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice six men at the immigration prison have been put in solitary confinement as a result of their participation in the hunger strike. They and around 100 other detainees have been playing roles as human rights monitors, speaking out about detention conditions and contributing to a damning report published by the Workers' Center. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the federal agency in charge of immigrant detention, has claimd that the solitary confinement isn't disciplinary, but precautionary "medical isolation."

Five inmates said they had been placed in the "hole" on the morning of July 23 for planning a hunger strike. The next day they were brought out of the "hole," cuffed at the ankles and wrists, and interrogated for two hours

Detainees have complained of rats, mosquitoes, flies, and spiders inside their cells. One Jewish detainee, Manuchar Khalhaturov, has said he was denied a kosher diet, while others said the detention centre's food routinely made them sick. Others complaints include that the phone cards that take a week to be issued once purchased regularly fail to work and that the jail ran out of soap and toothpaste for 3 weeks in July.

These conditions would put the facility in violation of several standards issued by the Department of Homeland Security for immigrant detainees, but federal officials responsible for the detainees flatly deny they have been subjected to any mistreatment. In fact, Philip Miller, acting field office director in New Orleans for ICE, visited the Basile facility on July 16 and said he found its maintenance and pest control program satisfactory.

All this follows the issuing of a highly critical report, 'Jailed Without Justice', in March this year from Amnesty International claiming that thousands of immigration detainees in America are being held in violation of international law.

Saturday, 1 August 2009

MailWatch #2

Instalment number two of our occasional service debunking migration stories in the Daily Mail, self-styled 'Last Bulwark Against The Tide Of Filth That Is Threatening To Engulf Civilisation'™

In MailWatch #1 we pointed out the the paper's claims that "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" and that the local police had issued a public statement warning "the nine million Britons a year who pass through Calais ... to keep their windows closed and doors locked until they are safely inside the ferry terminal."

Strangely, no confirmation of these claims could be found in either of the main local Calais papers, Nord Littoral or La Voix Du Nord, on the police website or anywhere on any French websites despite exhaustive searches. The local police station denied all knowledge of it and so far the Mail has failed to respond to requests for copies of the statement and their sources for the car-jacking story.

Now, the Nord Littoral itself has waded into the argument with their own article on the veracity of Mail stories, saying that Anne-Sigrid Catton, Deputy Commissioner of Police, denies the Calais police had issued any public warning to UK tourists. Nearby Coquelles detention centre is also quoted as saying that it has no records of any incidents involving migrant violence against tourists.

The Nord Littoral article also goes on to point to other occasions when the Mail also played fast and loose with the truth. On Tuesday the paper alleged that Calais migrants were now squatting empty council houses, quoting one Philippe Bouvard, the president of a Calais association of residents, as saying: "Many families in Calais are furious that homes meant for French families have been overrun with migrants." Except no one at the Office Public de l'Habitat de Calais has ever heard of this person. On top of that, they have only one empty council house on their books and they state that, even if the squatting story were true, it is impossible for the migrants to have illegally reconnecting the utilities as the Mail has claimed.

Now the paper that the Association of Chief Police Officers has in the past accused of misquoting information about immigration and warned that its "racist expressions towards asylum-seekers appear to have become common currency and 'acceptable' in a way that would never be tolerated towards any other minority group"*, likes to print at least one story a day vilifying the Calais migrants or asylum seekers in general. But that day they had two such articles, the second bemoaning the fact that tax payers money was being used to bribe migrants via the IOM assisted returns policy to return home for £1,700 and a free flight.

Another non-story. In fact, this program was originally set up in 2007 and the fact that it was receiving additional funding from the UKBA's Returns and Reintegration Fund and France's Office Français de l'Immigration et de l'Intégration had been announced back in May. Why publish a story about this now? Maybe it was because it "emerged last night that the Government is reconsidering funding joint flights with the French to take failed migrants home." Except this in fact came out of the recent Evian summit at the beginning of the month, not on Monday night.

On Wednesday the Mail took a slightly different tack in that this story was based on fact: 'Calais migrant cried rape as revenge against people smuggler who failed to get her into Britain'. Now we don't mean to minimise the seriousness of any rape allegation, however this one was in fact only 'newsworthy' in the eyes of the Mail's editor because it happened in Calais and involved migrants, conveniently provided another stick to beat them with. Had it not involved migrants, even if it had occurred outside the Mail's own offices, it would not have rated the column inches given this Calais story.

The most amazing Mail story of the week however, and not just because of its length, was 'Bloody siege of Calais: The violent new breed of migrants who will let nothing stop them coming to Britain', by one Paul Bracchi. In it he relates the story of how the Mail's very own intrepid photographer Will Leach was allegedly attacked on 22nd of July by irate migrants using lumps of concrete to smash his car windows; the Mail's reputation obviously precedes it, even amongst the migrants!

Whilst trying to get "dramatic footage" of two "would-be asylum seekers "climbing into the gap between the cab and trailer of a lorry, the sun glinting off the giant telephoto lens of our slumming-it paprazzo appears to have alerted the migrants that yet another bloody tabloid journo was on their case. So they did a Pierce Brosnan/Alec Baldwin/Lindsay Lohan/Hugh Grant/Lily Allen/Robbie Williams/Pete Doherty/Britney Spears/Kayne West/Amy Winehouse [delete as applicable] and saw him off in a less than friendly fashion.

This incident provoked 2,000 plus words of vituperation in response from the paper. Unfortunately, like most of the Mail's diatribes, it was shot through with prejudice and errors. After a little riff on the name of the 'Jungle', "where fights and feuds between rival factions are commonplace", "a godforsaken 'community'" more "akin to the trenches", the article mentioned "a security guard at an American owned company on [Rue des Garennes] was clubbed over the head with an iron bar a few weeks ago." This clearly refers to an incident at the Thioxide plant, also the site of a meeting that the article claims the French immigration minister Eric Besson attended "a few weeks ago to listen to the views of those who work and live near the Rue des Garennes."

The big problem with this is that the meeting actually occurred on 23th of April, with the attack on the night-watchman happening on the 16th of March. That's 14 and 19 weeks ago respectively, hardly "a few weeks" in anyone's book. But this is typical of the Mail's fast and loose way with the facts.

Here's another Mail classic from the same piece: "A single raid by the CRS in April resulted in 194 arrests of suspected people traffickers. In other words, nearly a quarter of those living in this sprawling cardboard and tarpaulin city had possible criminal links." Yes, 194 people were arrested in Calais on 21st of April in raids, which was ostensibly aimed at traffickers, many of them children. However, despite the 194 "suspected people traffickers" being dragged off to police stations in 3 nearby cities, the prosecutor's office in Boulogne-sur-Mer found no one to hold on trafficking charges and almost all were eventually released, a fact that was widely covered in the French press and even made it in to the pages of the Daily Mail!

Further on in the article, after all the babbling about police having "now stepped up patrols" (apparently "not just a story spun by the local council's public relations department." What can he mean by this, even if he and his cameraman "had seen the evidence for themselves"?) and nonsense about migrants willing to "mutilate themselves to conceal their identities" (referring to removing their fingerprints** to avoid detection, which is hardly mutilation), we get some crocodile tears.

Then, having reluctantly conceded that many of the Calais migrants are children (so they are not all money-grabbing 'economic migrants' or even people traffickers), the article tells some of the children's "pitiful stories" and says "equally tragic examples of forgotten youngsters were standing in the long, winding queue for the twice-daily soup kitchen (sic) in Quai de La Moselle". Yet more lazy journalism. The Quai de La Moselle is in fact the site of a food distribution operation at lunchtime run by Belle Etiole, one of two volunteer-run projects in Calais. The second evening distribution however is run by Salam, a completely separate humanitarian organisation, and takes place half a mile away at the Hanger Paul Devot on the Boulevard des Allies.

Now, the incident with the photographer was meant to have occurred on the 22nd, with the article being published on the 25th, but Salam stopped operations on the 17th of July to give their exhausted members their annual summer break (with Belle Etoile stopping on the 31st). So this highly paid and supposedly observant journalist does not seem to know that his "twice-daily soup kitchen" occurs in 2 separate places and that only one was still operating when his and his photographer's skirmish in the "Bloody siege of Calais" was meant to have taken place.

So what are we to conclude from all this? Good old-fashioned stupidity? Genuine mistakes? Lazy mealy-mouthed journalists trying to beat a deadline? Or just the standard yellow journalism we have come to expect from the sort of mendacious hacks that are employed by this tub-thumping right-wing anti-immigration rag? We'll leave you to make up your own minds.

* Which ACPO held was increasing the risk of "significant public disorder."
** Interestingly the Mail has consistently failed to mention one of the most common means of removing fingerprints used by the migrants, sanding them down with glass-paper. But that is far less dramatic than burning the tips of ones fingers. [See also: MailWatch #1]