News of the Year 2012

News

News stories from the world of asylum, immigration, human rights and NCADC.  Look out for our campaign review of the year in January!

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JANUARY

human rightsThe year commenced with an important legal victory for human rights, as explained by Rosalind English on theUK Human Rights Blog:
People who make unsuccessful claims to enter or remain in the United Kingdom cannot be removed without being given sufficient time for a lawyer to prepare a proper challenge to their claim. 
The government has failed in its appeal against the Administrative Court’s finding that government policy unlawfully provided for expedited removal procedures in certain pressing circumstances – for example where there was a risk that the person concerned, if given advanced notification of his removal, might attempt to frustrate those measures of removal. The policy was quashed because it interfered with people’s right of access to a lawyer.

The Home Affairs Select Committee reported on enforced removal contracts, which raised concerns that the potentially lethal ‘head-down’ restraint technique is used during enforced removals, that racist language is used by escort staff, that there are too many escorts used in operations, and that risk assessments focus on the risk to escort staff rather the individual being removed.

FEBRUARY
Detention featured heavily in February, with a particular focus on the outrage that is the detained fast-track system (DFT).The independent Chief Inspector issued his report on the DFT,  and NCADC agreed with Detention Action that is was a somewhat muted affair:

“John Vine, fails to draw the conclusion that fundamental reform is needed. In contrast to today’s ringing condemnation from the UN High Commission for Refugees, John Vine’s report is curiously muted.
The main reason for this is his remit. A key question for the Chief Inspector is whether the Detained Fast Track removes people quickly. There is no question that it does: hence its popularity with Ministers and the UK Border Agency. But how does it achieve these quick removals?
John Vine appears to give the quality of decision-making in the process a clean bill of health. The reason for this is his focus on appeals upheld as a marker of quality. 93% of refusals are upheld by the courts, he reasons, so the quality of initial decisions must be high. Yet this misses the point about how the Detained Fast Track denies access to justice: detained asylum-seekers find it just as difficult to present their cases effectively in the courts as they do to the UKBA. It is necessary to consider the quality of the whole process, not of the initial decision in isolation.”
The UNHCR’s representative in London, Roland Schilling, on the other hand, lambasted the UK’s detention of torture victims as ‘inhumane‘.
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MARCH
YPSSThe end of March and the beginning of April saw a fortnight of events to celebrate Young People Seeking Safetyweek, the second national, annual celebration.Events took place in Leicester, Cardiff, Norwich, Glasgow, London, Manchester and Sheffield.  There were graffiti workshops, poetry writing and reading, art exhibitions, parties, conferences and more.

YPSS is a network of young people, groups and individuals who support young people seeking safety in our local communities.
YPSS provides a formal platform for local and national groups across the UK to communicate, meet and work towards ensuring the care and human rights of young asylum seekers in the UK

YPSS fortnight 2013 will take place from March 22 – 5 April.  Contact lisa@ncadc.org.uk if your local group would like to take part!

APRIL
In April a new blog was launched, written by ‘T’, a young Afghan who had been refused sanctuary in the UK.

“Whilst being in detention, T has had his ticket to return to Afghanistan cancelled 6 times by UKBA. That means that six times he has been moved to the removal wing of the detention centre, and had to face the thought of returning the next day. Then usually at the last minute, the ticket is cancelled and they are not told why.
What’s it like and how does it feel when they keep changing and cancelling your tickets? 
This is ridiculous, they always give me a ticket but they change it again and again for no reason. Also we don’t know if the tickets are real or not, because people going to the same place have different tickets for different days and I believe most of them are fake and they are just playing with us! It’s really bad and intolerable to wait for another ticket 2 or 3 weeks later. Some of us have contact with solicitors but some have no one to help them. When they change our tickets they just keep us here for no reason.
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It’s a strange situation to be in, because although T doesn’t want to go back to Afghanistan, the constant uncertainty in the detention centre is incredibly unsettling, and he never knows whether this time the removal will really happen or not.”T has now been released from detention, and his blog is so popular that it’s moved to a new site: Lifeafterdeportation.com

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MAY
In May, charter flights were once again the issue of the month:”The enforced removal of foreign nationals on charter flights operated by private airlines and enforced by private security companies to countries such as Afghanistan, Nigeria, and Sri Lanka continue. These flights leave unseen and the exact information as to where they leave from and what airline carrier is taking them is unknown. NCADC calls on the UKBA to end this awful practice–one in which entire planes are filled with those often terrified to be left at its final destination. With no supervision of the practices of these private companies, just what exactly occurs on these secretive flights is unknown and the dangers the individuals who are on them are left to face are not accounted for.”

SriLankaadvert

The concern about deportations by charter flight to Sri Lanka – where there is credible evidence of torture of refused asylum seekers on return – was widespread and on 29 May, Human Rights Watch called for an end to deportations to Sri Lanka:

“The United Kingdom should immediately suspend deportations of ethnic Tamil asylum seekers to Sri Lanka and review its policies in assessing these claims …

Investigations by Human Rights Watch have found that some failed Tamil asylum seekers from the United Kingdom and other countries have been subjected to arbitrary arrest and torture upon their return to Sri Lanka. In addition to eight cases in which deportees faced torture on return reported in February, Human Rights Watch has since documented a further five cases in which Tamil failed asylum seekers were subjected to torture by government security forces on return from various countries, most recently in February 2012.

“The British government’s asylum procedure is failing to identify Tamils at risk of torture upon return to Sri Lanka despite growing evidence that torture of Tamil activists deported from abroad occurs,” said David Mepham, UK director at Human Rights Watch. “Until the government can fairly and thoroughly assess asylum claims based on up-to-date human rights information on Sri Lanka, it should suspend returns.”

Also in May, Medical Justice released their report The Second Torture, revealing that victims of torture are routinely being held in immigration detention centres in breach of the government’s own rules, a new investigation has revealed.

The report found that Rule 35, which should prevent torture victims being locked up in all but exceptional cases, is routinely flouted. This report s uncovered systemic failures on the part of UKBA and its contractors to follow statutory law and provisions.

JUNE

The story that was to dominate immigration news for the rest of the year broke in June – the changes to the immigration rules, particularly those affecting family migration and Article 8.

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Stark choice under new immigration rules: exile or family breakup
Alan Travis, The Guardian, 8 June 2012

British citizens with foreign-born partners are to be given the choice of indefinite “exile” in countries including Yemen and Syria or face the breakup of their families if they want to remain in the UK, under radical immigration changes to be announced next week, MPs have been told.
The home secretary, Theresa May, is expected to confirm that she will introduce a new minimum income requirement for a British “sponsor” without children of up to £25,700 a year, and a stringent English speaking test for foreign-born husbands, wives or partners of UK citizens applying to come to live in Britain on a family visa.
Immigration welfare campaigners say that the move will exclude two-thirds of British people – those who have a minimum gross income of under £25,700 a year – from living in the UK as a couple if they marry a non-EU national. They estimate that between 45% and 60% of the 53,000 family visas currently issued each year could fall foul of the new rules.
Ministers have also been considering extending the probationary period for overseas spouses and partners of British citizens from two to five years and introducing an “attachment test” to show that the “combined attachment” of the couple is greater to Britain than any other country.
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JULY
Owen Bowcott, The Guardian, 2 July 2012

The Iraqi parliament has banned the forced return from Europe of tens of thousands of failed asylum seekers and threatened to fine airlines that take part in deportation programmes.  The unilateral declaration has already resulted in deportees being turned back at the border, according to the London-based refugee support organisation that has lobbied for the policy change.  

Despite this ruling, many Iraqi detainees in the UK still fear deportation to Iraq where their lives are at risk.  Hindi Abed told her husband’s story in a further Guardian piece (“If he is sent back to Iraq, he will be killed”):

A few days later, we heard how Home Office officials planned to worsen the health of an Iraqi asylum seeker who had a mental illness in the hope of putting pressure on him to leave the UK” (Diane Taylor, Guardian, 5 July).

On a more positive note, NCADC held a double documentary screening:Denied, Detained, Deported.  We screened the films – How Long is Indefinite? and Hamedullah: The Road Home at 93 Feet East in London where we were joined by a packed audience and the films’ directors.

It was also a big month for crucial legal judgements:

  • in RT (Zimbabwe), the Supreme Court held that asylum seekers cannot be expected to lie or dissemble in order to achieve safety in their own country.
  • and KA (Afghanistan) was a ‘significant step forward for young asylum seekers’ which could be relevant to the cases of many asylum seekers who claimed asylum under the age of 18 (not just Afghans).

AUGUST


Eritreaflagcarryingrunner
Unsurprisingly, the Olympics dominated the headlines in August.  As well as garnering some pro-immigration coverage, some high-profile asylum claims received attention.

The first news reports were of ‘an East African athlete’ entering a police station in Leeds to claim asylum, and suggestions that three Sudanese athletes who had gone missing will be seeking asylum in the UK.

Cameroon was next though The Guardian coverage of the story failed to emphasise thehuman rights abuses in Cameroon that lead people to seek safety in the UK:

Seven Olympic athletes have disappeared amid fears they have fled the London 2012 Games to claim asylum, according to team officials.  Five boxers, a swimmer and a footballer from Cameroon were reported missing earlier this week leading team officials to suggest they had “defected.

Then Weynay Ghebresilasie, Eritrea’s flag-carrying runner  and three other Eritrean athlestes, sought asylum in UK to flee Eritrea’s “repressive regime”.

SEPTEMBER

toolkit coverIn September, NCADC held our annual conference and general meeting, which included the official launch of our campaigning toolkit.

The Campaigning Toolkit is a comprehensive printed and online resource for people at risk of removal, and the groups working to support them.
The Toolkit aims help migrants understand the asylum and immigration systems, to know their rights, and to be as well-equipped as possible to make a successful application. In the case of a refusal, we hope the Toolkit enables migrants to know what a campaign is, whether it’s right for them, and to be at the centre of the campaign and of all of the decisions made.
OCTOBER
In October, the story of refused asylum seekers facing eviction in Glasgow continued to develop:

The private company Serco assumed responsibility for housing asylum seekers in Scotland and Northern Ireland last month, having previously won a lucrative contract from the UK Border Agency (UKBA) worth some £175 million. In Glasgow, the consequences could well be enforced homelessness and destitution.
Since 2000, housing in the city has mainly been provided by the charity Ypeople (formerly YMCA Glasgow) and, previously, the organisation frequently operated a practice of delaying the evictions of its tenants. Speaking to IRR News, Jock Morris, of the Glasgow Campaign to Welcome Refugees (GCtWR), said: ‘They went back on this when they lost the contract to Serco and made arrangements to hand the properties over to them. All of their properties have now been handed over except for those with people in them, and it’s these who are facing eviction.’
Leading up to the contract handover, Ypeople’s solicitors issued thirty-two ‘Notices to Quit’ to asylum seekers living in its properties, of whom several have since been issued with legal papers for ‘action of recovery possession’. It is these people who were required to attend a summary hearing on 17 October, with campaigners in tow offering solidarity and support. If the tenants are to be made homeless, the impact would be ‘appalling’, Jock says. ‘They have no right to work, no income whatsoever, and will have no shelter. They will be utterly destitute; their health may well suffer and they will be vulnerable to attacks from people in the street.’At the time of writing, while some evictions have taken place, a court in Glasgow has halted a large number of evictions while the case continues.

At the end of October, there was the sad news of another death in immigration detention. Prince Ofosu, a 31 year old Ghanaian man. According to a member of the detention centre staff, Prince was ‘stripped naked at the block [rule 40] and the heating system was turned off. He was left in the cold without even a duvet till his death 24 hours’ later.’

NOVEMBER
November saw the full failings of UKBA brought under the spotlight.

Alice through the UKBA looking glassOn 8 November, the UK parliament’sHome Affairs Committee published a report of its latest Inquiry into the work of the UK Border Agency. The Committee has now published their report online with the headline “Border Agency’s backlog spiralling out of control”, and that was the angle taken up by the media – that and the terrible spectre of an amnesty for “illegal immigrants”.
Less widely reported were other serious issues of concern at the Border Agency: the poor quality of decision making, the increasing detention of children and use of force against them, detainees “falsely imprisoned and subject to inhuman and degrading treatment … despite a clear and documented history of mental illness and against the advice of mental health professionals”, and so on.

Although it highlights some issues of real, pressing concern, this report in fact hardly touches on the human misery perpetuated by a Border Agency more concerned with targets than human rights, legal process or even it’s own rules. The focus, as always, is on bureaucratic ineptness, the scandal of missed targets.

Rt Hon Keith Vaz MP, Chair of the Committee, said “entering the world of the UKBA is like falling through the looking glass. The closer we look the more backlogs we find, their existence obscured by opaque names… They need to get a grip.”
Contrariwise, just imagine how it must feel for those who live their lives on the wrong side of the looking glass.

Also in November, a new report – A Prison in the Mind –  from Gatwick Detainees Welfare Group highlighted the mental health implications of  immigration detention.

DECEMBER
In December, the true face of G4S as asylum accommodation landlords was exposed, leaving asylum seekers living in ‘squalor’, and in one case a cockroach found in a baby’s milk bottle.  The Independent also reported on a heavily pregnant asylum seeker removed from her house by a company working for security company G4S despite them knowing that she was being induced to give birth on the same day.  G4S’ response to having left mothers and their babies suffering in cramped, stuffy, indecent conditions? ‘We were just following orders‘.As the year drew to a close, campaigning against immigration detention went up a gear.

Detention Action’s campaign to end indefinite detention hit the headlines, and the Detention Forum of which NCADC is part, published its strategy document ‘Roadmap for change – how we will challenge immigration detention’.

Plus, Santa paid a visit to the UKBA Brand Street office in Glasgow to protest against dawn raids and child detention.

Santa at Brand St



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