Treatment of migrants in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland

The Next Century Foundation submitted the following a written statement to the Human Rights Council in accordance with its special consultative status at the United Nations. Thirty-sixth session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva. Agenda item 6. Universal Periodic Review of the UK:

“It is the humanitarian duty of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland to offer migrants, who are often refugees from war-torn states, a fair chance to rebuild their lives. The Next Century Foundation notes the concerns expressed in the 2017 Universal Periodic Review. There are major shortcomings on the part of the British government.  Specifically:

  • The UK government is sometimes a poor listener, which can result in inefficient and ineffective dispersal of aid money. Increased communication with refugees, both in the camps to which they have been displaced in the first instance and subsequently in the UK, would inflate their esteem, morale and resolve. Most particularly with regard to those coming from war torn states, the international community in general and the UK in particular could empower local communities in the region to take control of their own destiny by giving them a voice in regard to the dispersal of international aid.
  • An effort should be made to recruit and employ teachers, doctors and nurses or others appropriately qualified who are themselves refugees within the camps wherever possible; and government aid funds should be diverted to this purpose in preference to bringing in Western teachers, doctors and nurses and others to perform these roles. This both lifts morale and provides economic support to key refugees.
  • Within the UK, there are initiatives such as Herts Welcomes Syrian Families, Refugee Action, and the Refugee Council, whose support of the Vulnerable Persons Relocation Scheme has positively affected thousands of migrants. However, the “temporary protection” which this programme permits is inadequate. Under this programme, migrants are offered the chance to study or work for a limited five year period only. We urge that this time period be extended or that they are offered fast track citizenship after five years.
  • Trained migrant professionals are often not permitted to work in the UK whilst seeking asylum. Asylum seekers should be permitted to work in the United Kingdom whilst seeking indefinite leave to remain, should they wish to do so. The asylum seekers allowance is only £36.95 a week, which is evidently very small, especially when compared to the job-seekers allowance of £73.10. It makes life incredibly tenuous and is utterly unfair, given that they are then unable to work legally and become a burden on the taxpayer. However, whilst it is extremely important that refugees and asylum seekers should have the opportunity to work in the UK, it is also important to bear in mind that safeguards need to be put in place to see that they are not exploited by employers and that they are paid a fair wage for the job that they are doing. This is of importance in preventing bad feeling and resentment on the part of indigenous workers (the “immigrants” should not be perceived as a threat to the jobs and terms/conditions of employment of UK citizens).
  • To be granted university places, all migrants whose status has yet to be determined must have lived half of their lives in the UK in order to apply as if they were native citizens. This denial of university education to the majority of young migrants whose status has yet to be determined prevents migrants from rebuilding their lives, and retaining their dignity.
  • The Lawyers’ Refugee Initiative advocates the use of humanitarian visas, or “humanitarian passports” – that is to say visas for the specific purpose of seeking asylum on arrival – issued in the country of departure or intended embarkation. We urge that this procedure be used extensively by the United Kingdom.
  • In order to speed up the processing of asylum applications and reduce legal costs and emotional strain for all involved, we recommend that the Home Office only appeal decisions in exceptional circumstances, and rarely if the case has been under consideration for more than five years. It should be a statutory duty that all appeals by the Home Office take place within one year and be grounded on strict criteria. The actual asylum application process should be based on criteria that are generous to genuine refugee claims with a mechanism for withdrawing status on conviction of a crime – and fast track citizenship after five years.

We should regard refugees, whatever their circumstance, with compassion and mercy. Compassion and Mercy are moral virtues which elevate humanity and therefore our obligation to refugees transcends any obligation we may have to accept economic migrants and / or the free movement of labour and should not be confused with any such obligation – and the UK is not yet doing enough”.

Note: The Next Century Foundation acknowledges the help of Initiatives of Change, an organisation that co-hosted the migration conference that contributed to the preparation of this submission.

There is Always Hope

Wars wreak havoc, death and seriously disrupt the socio-economic equilibria of countries. And the European people have borne the brunt of two bloody conflicts in the early 20th century. And today is Remembrance Day. The political, social and economic impact of two World Wars fought primarily in the heart of Europe weighs heavily upon our shoulders. A death toll of countless millions of lives on European soil, along with poverty, starvation and the utter destruction of social and cultural structures as well as incalculable damage to our environmental heritage.

To come to terms with some of the darkest days in Europe’s history is never easy. War is inevitably related to negative feelings in a person’s mind, bringing out strong emotions, unacceptable truths and grim memories. However, even in the starkest of moments, the world has witnessed outstanding signs of humanity that have reminded us how kind the human soul can be, despite all the odds and circumstances they are faced with. What I am going to tell you now is not a legend or a myth but an event that actually took place about 103 years ago on European soil.

In the Christmas Eve night 1914, in the region of Ypres, Western Front of World War I, German troops suddenly stopped fighting against British troops and started decorating the area around their trenches with candles and Christmas trees. British soldiers soon followed on the initiative and a tide of emotions swiftly swept over the entire battlefield ending up with both fronts singing carols and shouting Christmas greetings to each other all night long. And then, the next morning something magic happened. It is still unclear how or who started but suddenly, along both fronts, soldiers started emerging from their trenches into no man’s land. Men in different uniforms spontaneously walked off their trenches and met in the middle of the battleground to exchange gifts and take photos, release prisoners and help the wounded, to mourn their friends and hold joint burial services. That day, the football match which took place between the two warring sides was the culmination of a day where the humanity prevailed over the unnatural and cruel fabrications of power.

It does not really matter how short that truce was, nor how easily the two sides viciously started killing each other again with the resuming of the fight. It does not matter how long that moment lasted. What matters is that for a moment, something unexplainable happened to those men. For a moment, a magic spell was cast from Ypres all along the Western Front affecting more than 100,000 British and German soldiers who spontaneously decided to give up the fight and be human again. For a moment, rifles stopped firing and the artillery in the region fell silent. For a moment and for some reason, those men suddenly realised the real nature of mankind. A nature based on love, compassion and fraternity. A nature that no war or conflict can cancel. Sometimes we need the magic of Christmas to remember this, to remind ourselves who we really are. We are humans, not soldiers.

Try to bear that in mind while you commemorate Remembrance Day. Remember those men, their faces. Remember who they were.

#remembranceday #christmastruce #thereisalwayshope

Banksy - "There is always Hope"

Veritas Omnia Vincit

On 13 September 2017, Italy’s ambassador Giampaolo Cantini was sent back to the Egyptian capital after more than one year of soured relations between the two countries over the death of the Italian PhD Cambridge student, Giulio Regeni, in Cairo in January 2016. The 28-year-old student was tortured and killed in Egypt, allegedly by the Egyptian security services who, since the very outset of the affair, have denied any involvement.

The issue quickly triggered an open diplomatic crisis between Egypt and Italy due to al-Sīsī’s government’s repeated avoidance of their responsibility to investigate the murder in the face of hard evidence implying that the Egyptian security services were culpable. For more than one year, faced with the hardline stance taken by the Italian government as they strove to obtain the names of those responsible and the reason for this abhorrent act, the Egyptian authorities have been trying to cover up the truth, forging documents and misleading Italian magistrates with false trails. This misdirection is the umpteenth deplorable act of a state whose crackdown on human rights is going down in history as one of the worst in years. And while everything seemed to suggest the diplomatic deadlock was unlikely to break, out of the blue the Italian ambassador was sent back to Cairo and the crisis magically resolved, as if it had never happened.

No change of strategy, official apology or acknowledgment of guilt was issued by the Egyptian authorities. Likewise, no clear explanation was provided by the Italian government on the matter. So, what led the Italian government to take the incongruous decision to give up its legitimate right to pursue the truth about the brutal death of one of its citizens in a foreign land? Interestingly, the solution to this conundrum may not lie too far away. And with a subtle combination of imagination and cynicism, we might be able to find it.

If the world ran according to a Machiavellian conception of politics, then one might think that everything happens for a reason and nothing in politics is left to chance. Accordingly, one might think for instance that the investigation into the death of Giulio was sidelined in exchange for a halt of the migration flow from Libya to Italy, given the strong friendship that binds Al-Sīsī to Haftar, the Libyan strongman in control of the eastern part of the country. Indeed, the bizarre coincidence of the sudden halt in migrant influxes to Italy on those same days when the Italian ambassador was sent back to Cairo, after years of unsuccessful attempts to curb them, might represent enough evidence to a more cynical mind. Or, equally, the complacency of the Italian government in not taking action when confronted with some “explosive evidence” on the case provided by the Obama administration could serve as a further clue in this respect.

Nobody will ever know what happened on those days for it is no longer the intention of the Italian government to unravel the truth. People will never know for sure why Giulio was killed, who tortured and assassinated him; neither will they know why the Italian government abruptly sent its ambassador back to Cairo, forever waiving the right to justice for one of its citizens, a son of Italy. The truth will be covered up, wiped out according in the Italian tradition of state secrets.

And now only sorrow is left. Sorrow of a girlfriend in losing the love of her life. Sorrow of a family in losing a son. Sorrow of a nation in losing its future and its honour. Yes, its honour. Honour because Giulio is not just a human viciously slaughtered on foreign soil. Giulio represents a vision, a feeling, an idea. The idea that unites men and women of different countries and different cultures; the idea that human rights violations in Egypt are real, raw and ruthless, and affect men and women whatever their nationality; the idea that Italy is a country whose leaders had no hesitation in selling the truth, trust and hope of its own citizens as well as its own dignity in exchange for some political or economic payoff; the idea that western democracies “fill their mouths” with nice words on human rights but that after all it is a mere façade, as they continue to aid and abet such crimes and violations where convenient.

There is a Latin saying whose power and meaning has always struck me. It expresses the universal principle of a vision, a feeling, an idea. The Truth. “Veritas Omnia Vincit”, truth conquers everything. And Giulio represents the Truth, for his death has shined a light on the lies, the falsehood, the cruelty and the wickedness of a global system that brings together democracies and dictatorships, thus rendering them accomplices. It does not matter that the official version will never admit the existence of any deal, agreement or negotiation between Italy and Egypt in exchange for silence on the death of Giulio. For the conspicuous silence on the part of Italian government speaks louder than any official statement.

And hence, Veritas Omnia Vincit: we will know when a state betrays its own citizens, its own values and future for its own gain;

Veritas Omnia Vincit, when public outcry spreads across the world after Giulio’s death, against al-Sīsī’s authoritarian rule, thus uniting men and women who, just like Giulio’s family, have lost their loved ones.

And again, Veritas Omnia Vincit, when the mask of this self-proclaimed democracy is removed revealing the true face of power.

I recently visited a Banksy exhibition at the Moco museum in Amsterdam. I was taken aback by how the author emphasised the existence of a thread that connects sorrow to hope and love. In suffering and grief people can gather and unite, taking solace from the shared experience of finding justice, truth or stillness. Such feelings bring them hope. And being able to connect and to hope means being able to love. This is what is happening in Egypt, Italy and elsewhere in the world at the moment. The sorrow caused by the circumstances of Giulio’s death has spread across the globe, uniting people in hope for justice, for “truth” and for a better world.

“Only in the darkness can you see the stars”, (Martin Luther King Jr).

Giulio is your son, your brother, your cousin; Giulio is your colleague, your neighbour, your friend; Giulio is a vision, a feeling, an idea.

Giulio is hope, love and truth, and he has already won.

Veritas Omnia Vincit.

Ciao Giulio

#veritàpergiulioregeni

Poland’s authoritarian turn?

The recent decision by Poland’s government to pass a law that weakens the judiciary’s independence raises concerns on the overall soundness of the Polish democratic system. The law by which the government acquires de facto control of the Supreme Court represents a heavy blow dealt to one of the fundamental principles of the rule of law, the independence of the judiciary.

Such a decision is a cause for great concern as it represents the pinnacle of a more general trend of recent reforms that are dismantling the democratic tissue of the Country. Since 2015, Law and Justice, also known as PiS – the ruling right-wing populist party in Poland – has been implementing policies and reforms aimed at limiting civil liberties, controlling media and dismantling some of the major checks and balances in place since the end of the Soviet era. While the European Union is closely looking into this delicate issue and threatening the activation of a sanctions mechanism, protests broke out all over the country in response to this illiberal conduct from the Polish government.

Such an immoral turn for Polish politics, however, was hardly unexpected. The PiS is an unorthodox populist party whose members are unpredictable mavericks with no sense of responsibility. Playing games with people’s rights is standard procedure for them. The most glaring example is the controversial immigration policy in force in the country since 2015. Hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing from Syria, Afghanistan or Iraq have been progressively denied asylum in Poland on a simple matter of religious belief. Poland indeed is one of those eastern European countries which has recently engaged in the contentious strategy of favouring Christian refugees as eligible for their resettlement scheme.

While a blade, a bullet or a bomb does not make any distinction between a Christian or a Muslim refugee making all men equal when faced with war or persecution, the enlightened leaders of Poland cynically reserve the right to decide on the fate of thousands of innocent lives on the grounds of their religious faith. Fairly odd for a country which suffered similar discrimination and illiberal laws not such a long time ago and whose social identity is proudly claimed to be based on Christian values. But as we all know, people have a bad memory and they learn very little from history. Do not be surprised if democratic countries such as Poland in 2017 still impose limits on civil liberties, still exert control over media or judiciary, still discriminate against people on grounds of religion. Sit down and make yourself comfortable, a new era of populism is about to start.

The British Election

20170609_May_reuters_article_main_image

The outcome of the British elections, hung parliament though it may be, is in many respects encouraging. Though the Brexit issue may not have been in the forefront of all voters’ minds, this is a vote against hard Brexit, and thus a vote for less disharmony between Britain and the other nations of Europe. Furthermore the unique vote in Scotland, one place in which the Conservative Party did better, was a vote, in part, against the concept of Scottish independence. And we see too much micro-nationalism in the world today. A world in which we all need to work together, rather than working against one another for our own selfish interest.
The true winner of the elections was democracy. The United Kingdom, in the face of terror and fear, provided the world with a prime example of how to respond. People went to the polls to participate in a peaceful democratic process. There is an example here for many nations across the globe, when faced with tyranny, a genuine respect for democracy is of the utmost importance. For if we resort to the ballot box rather than the bullet, to resolve our differences we build a safer tomorrow – and a better world for our children.

And the hidden plus was that this vote was a vote led by the young. The youth of Britain had felt dissempowered by the Brexit vote. This was payback time. it has implications for democracy in the future.

May´s snap election: the facts

Although Theresa May was hoping to strengthen her leadership with a snap election and thought to increase her mandate in Britain´s negotiations with the EU regarding Brexit, the actual election results did not meet her expectations. The Tories lost 13 seats in the House of Commons and thus their parliamentary majority, while the Labour party on the other side gained 30 seats, leading to a hung parliament. This rather unexpected election outcome has forced the Conservative Party to enter into discussions with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) of Northern Ireland in order to form a DUP-Tory alliance.

Brexit talks in the aftermath of the elections

Undoubtedly however, a hung parliament signifies uncertainty for Britain´s future relationship with the European Union. A soft Brexit, meaning that Britain would after all remain a member of the European Economic Area, is more likely than before due to the loss of MPs on the conservative benches, and negotiations with Brussels are thus likely to become messier and longer. European politicians and diplomats are starting to worry about the disastrous effect that a hung parliament could have on the UK-EU future relationship and perceive a weak prime minister as a threat to Brexit talks. Article 50 is triggered, the clock is ticking and Brexit talks need to be concluded in 2019.

Diversity within the new parliament

Yet, no matter how uncertain the future between continental Europe and the UK may be, there is something positive to focus on: diversity within the newly elected House of Commons. Never before has a British parliament been so diverse. The statistics speak for themselves. While the 2015 election brought 191 women into parliament, in 2017 women represent almost 32 %, an increase of 9 %. The number of ethnic minority MPs has also increased by 41 since 2015. Moreover 45 members of parliament consider themselves part of the LGBT community, while the number of disabled MPs and of those who went to state schools rose as well.

 

European Civilians are Being Punished for Providing Aid to Refugees

In September 2016 the Danish high court upheld a verdict, which criminalised humanitarian assistance to refugees. A children’s rights activist was among the three hundred other Danes who were found guilty of breaching Danish law, and subsequently prosecuted for human trafficking.

Shockingly, there is no evidence of human smuggling in any of the cases presented in court. There was no exchange of money, nor were they clandestine in nature.  Benevolent Danes merely picked up refugees after a train from Germany was stopped in the Danish border town of Rødby. At the time, the government was quiet with no proper policy position in place for refugee migration.  This lack of clarity led to extreme confusion, particularly amongst the Police Force about the legality of helping migrants along their journeys. People simply did not know that helping another human in distress was illegal.

These prosecutions have resulted in large fines and prison sentences of up to two years being given. They have successfully deterred many European civilians from providing help to migrants crossing the continent. European civilians are now faced with a dilemma; either abandon their moral compass and remain on the right side of the law or risk breaching the law but maintain universal humanitarian values that connect us all. This is a unique situation in which the law is at odds with decency, empathy and liberty, virtues upon which the European project is predicated.

Unfortunately, there is also large confusion on the definition of migrant smuggling. The United Nations define the act as exclusively motivated by “financial or other material benefit”. This is in sharp contrast to the Council of the European Union definition which broadly stipulates that anyone who assists migrants to “enter or transit across” a country is in breach of national law and can be prosecuted. Discussing and debating the legality of civilian refugee aid becomes much more difficult when many contradictions are present. Uncertainty will continue to rise amongst the public and further indecision will continue from all parties responsible for tackling the migration crisis.

Whilst we must be wary when comparing recent events with the biggest genocide of the 20th century, punishing European civilians for aiding the persecuted is reminiscent of the punitive policies of Nazi Germany. The intent of this comparison is not to trivialise the Holocaust, indeed drastic measures such as death penalty have not been implemented, and over one million asylum seekers have been welcomed in 2015 alone. But it serves as a continual reminder that punishing civilian goodwill and outlawing instinctive humanitarian qualities will only compound mass humanitarian crises.
refugees-walking

Photo credits to TT

People often talk about the dangers of progressive dehumanisation of refugees, but perhaps we ourselves are subtly undergoing a form of dehumanisation led by these faulty laws? Perhaps we are becoming increasingly desensitised to the refugee crisis? It is at moments like these, when we must remember that history is never repeated unintentionally.

Majed Tw 31/01/2017