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

Marine Le Pen is building her campaign on fear of difference, we must unite around our common humanity

Marine Le Pen, leader of the French National Front Party (Front National), has launched her campaign to be the next President of France and she has done so with unflinching ferocity. At her rally in Lyon on Sunday she stated that “what is at stake in this election is the continuity of France as a free nation, our existence as a people”. She is asking the French people to not only prepare for an election, but also for an ideological battle against an imminent existential threat.

So, what could possibly be heralding in the end of freedom and French identity? According to Le Pen, “Financial globalisation and Islamist globalisation” together “aim to bring France to its knees”. Le Pen’s rhetoric of fear has struck a chord in the hearts of many disillusioned and disenfranchised French citizens. Indeed, the Front National is as close as it has ever been to holding power.

But are we really entering a new era of populism, heralded by Brexit and the election of Donald Trump? In much the same way as cliff edges are known to instil a desire to jump, this political precipice might just have the same mesmerising effect, so let us step back, and explore the most constructive options available to us.

There is undoubtedly huge change happening in Europe. Unprecedented numbers of refugees have fled from insecurity and conflict to Europe and indeed concern about immigration is the most common reason given for supporting Le Pen. French citizens are being implored by Le Pen to stand strong and fight against demographic change, but is it not more fitting in our present context to accept that human beings have moved and will continue to move across borders? Perhaps having acknowledged this we will be better able to work towards facilitating a peaceful, sustainable and managed internationalism.

Populations and other groups will naturally reimagine themselves and try to consolidate their identity, especially in challenging times. However, this can be balanced out through emphasis on our common human story. This is not to deny the importance of national and religious heritages but instead to view them within a broader context that perhaps better facilitates unity and empathy. Calls for change cannot be condemned. Instead we must condemn those who promise to liberate one group at the explicit expense of another.

 

International Holocaust Day: #neveragain?

Today we remember the Holocaust, a genocide under the Nazi’s which killed an estimated six million Jewish people, two million Romani people, a quarter of a million mentally and physically disabled people and nine thousand homosexual men. Today we honour the memory of these individuals; their personalities, their stories, their hopes, passions and talents, all of which were robbed from them, and replaced with just a number. These individuals were crushed in the name of an ideology, a vision of a pure race and control of a nation.

When the Nazi’s came to power in Germany in 1933, there were large Jewish populations living in Eastern and Western Europe. In the East, Jewish communities were a minority, and kept to their own language, Yiddish, and culture, although younger Jews were beginning to adopt more modern ways to dress. In the West, Jewish communities made up a much smaller percentage of the population and tended to adopt the culture of their non-Jewish neighbours, in dress, language and culture. Jews were found in all walks of European life; some rich, although many poor. They were farmers, tailors, accountants and doctors. And then they were victims.

The Holocaust has significant contemporary relevance and learning from the mistakes made in history should prevent us from making these same mistakes again.

But we haven’t learnt from our mistakes. History is repeating itself. Before the Holocaust, countries had the chance to welcome Jewish refugees into their countries, instead, many tightened immigration restrictions. Today, we continue to shut our borders on those who are seeking freedom from persecution, war and terror. Millions of refugees are currently stuck in transit in Europe. Refugees suffer at the hands of political inaction and a discourse controlled by policy makers which separates ‘us’ from ‘them’. As President Trump begins his time in power, he intends to build a physical wall to prevent migrants crossing the border from Mexico.

We haven’t learnt from our mistakes. History is repeating itself. The recent closure of the ‘Jungle’ refugee camp in Calais left unaccompanied minors with a broken promise. A promise made by the UK to protect them from the cold, the people smugglers, and the many other risks that come with living exposed without the protection of family. The UK took 10,000 Jewish refugees from the Kindertransport before the outbreak of World War Two. That is compared to the 187 Syrian refugees who have been granted asylum in the UK since the outbreak of the war Syria.

We haven’t learnt from our mistakes. History is repeating itself. We said ‘never again’ after the Holocaust. We said ‘never again’ after the Bangladesh Genocide in 1971, the Rwandan Genocide of 1972 and 1994. We said ‘never again’ after the Bosnian Genocide of 1992. And we think we can say ‘never again’ after the loss of so many civilian lives in Aleppo, this year?

We must stop history repeating itself and we must take lessons away from these horrific events. International Holocaust Day give us this opportunity. We must remember the value and the memory of every individual that died in the Holocaust. We must learn to stand up and for what is right, we must defend the rights of minority and persecuted groups. We must have more sympathy towards refugees and not turn away from their cries for help.

Reflections after the Nice massacre

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The 14th of July, or Bastille Day, is the French National Day. What is supposed to be a day for family and celebration was quickly turned into a day for death and mourning this year. It is deeply saddening and unsettling that one man was able to take 84 lives on that night in Nice by crushing down pedestrians with a lorry. This was taken place on the Promenade des Anglais – a highly popular destination for tourists.

It is sad, yet expected, that this tragedy that has been labelled as an act of terrorism will incite more discriminatory language against Muslims around the world. The perpetrator, Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel, is a French Tunisian man. Being Muslim by origin, it has been reported by his family that he was never religious and had always been disinterested in religion. Under false pretences, his actions will fuel the narrative that terrorism happens solely in the name of Islam. People will not know that more than a third of the victims were Muslim. I firmly believe that Islamophobic language, whereby we think ISIS represents the values of Islam, is deeply poisoning to our Western liberal societies.

Five years ago, on the 22nd of July in Norway, Anders Breivik mass murdered 77 members of the Workers’ Youth League on the Island of Utøya. Due to a blind focus on Islamic extremism, this act of far-right radicalism has not merited to be called an act of terrorism by western media. Whilst the Nice perpetrator had an Arabic name, he did not identify himself as religious. Therefore, we should not paint all Muslims with a broad brush. We should not be accepting of Trumps language to segregate a portion of the American population, just because they share the same religion as fanatics. As we act and speak, let us not become the terror that we deplore.

A Biased Media — Us vs Them?

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The tragic attack in Nice on Thursday 14th of June, Bastille Day, is one of utter heartbreak. Currently, 84 citizens are dead including 10 children, with 202 more civilians injured. Already the Western world is provoked and sympathetic towards the situation in France, with landmarks such as the Palace of Westminster to be lit up in the French colours to show the British people’s solidarity with the French, and the growing rise of Facebook’s “flagtivism’. This notion of solidarity is something which should be praised, as it highlights humanitarian support.

However, it must be noted that there was a considerable lack of solidarity, flagtivism and landmarks draped in national colours when just as horrendous bomb attacks occurred in places such as Turkey and Iraq. The most recent terrorist attacks in Iraq similarly happened on a national holiday, Eid, and during the holy month of Ramadan. Yet where was the media coverage? The bombings in the capital of Iraq killed over 200 people two weeks ago, but on the media it seemed to be less important than the terrorist attacks that happen here in the West. When media coverage has a greater focus and emphasis on what happens in the West it almost seems to suggest that the deaths of Westerners are far more significant than the deaths of those in Middle Eastern countries.

This is not to say that the tragic deaths of those in Nice are less important than those in the Middle East — they were equally as shocking and devastating. The media now needs to combat such acts of cowardly terror through pushing aside ancient orientalist notions of Us vs Them, and truly take up the belief of “#AllLivesMatter” by reporting with equal concern of those closer to home as well as further away. The only way we can fight such attacks is we support each other in solidarity — ethnicities aside.

Etrange climat en France

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Vue de l’extérieur il semblerai qu’un climat assez particulier règne en France en ce moment. En marge de l’Euro 2016 que la France accueille, de nombreux événements viennent traduire cette ambiance. En effet, l’équipe de France a remporté jeudi son second match de groupe se qualifiant ainsi pour les quarts de finale  pour le bonheur des supporters français et l’INSEE a annoncé une reprise économique  (reprise fragile mais, reprise quand même) pour l’année 2016. Néanmoins, le pays traverse des crises : une loi sur le travaille qui suscite une forte opposition dans tout le pays, Marseille sous tension, ou encore un état d’urgence maintenue jusqu’au 26 Juillet qui nous rappelle que les séquelles du 13 Novembre sont encore loin d’être oubliées.

Pire encore, la nuit du Lundi 13 Juin, la France subissait une nouvelle attaque. Larossi Abballa, rappelle à la France qu’elle  reste dans la liste de l’EI des pays à abattre. Connus des services de police, la nuit du lundi 13 juin à Magnanville, Larossi se dissimule derrière le portail du domicile de Jean-Baptiste Salvaing, 42 ans, et de Jessica Schneider, 36 ans, tous deux fonctionnaires du ministère de l’intérieur. Alors que le commandant de police Salvaing rentre en civil chez lui, il est attaqué, lardé de plusieurs coups de couteau.

Larossi Abballa s’engouffre ensuite dans le domicile et séquestre Jessica Schneider et son enfant de trois ans. Elle sera assassinée également, atteinte par plusieurs coups de couteau au niveau du cou. Le RAID interviendra plus tard dans la soirée, Larrossi sera abattu et l’enfant sauvé. Par l’attaque d’Orlando et celle de Magnanville, L’EI en difficulté au Moyen Orient, prouve encore une fois que là où il excelle le plus, reste la guerre asymétrique.

Alors que Larossi était surveillé par la police le gouvernement risque de faire face a une opposition blâmant ce dernier d’un manque d’ineficacite. En effet, comme Adama Coulibaly, Merah, ou encore les frères Kouachi, Larossi a échappé à la vigilance des autorités. Avec les grèves répétitives sur la loi du travaille, les récents évènements à Marseille, l’Euro 2016 où encore l’état d’urgence, la police ,sur tous les fronts se voit, encore une fois, porté un coup dure.

On recent events in Paris and Beirut

The death toll from Friday’s action by eight ISIS killers in Paris has now risen to 132 with some 99 very seriously injured. That most of those killed were young men and women adds to the poignancy of the night’s gruesome events.

There are no words that can sufficiently convey our sadness at this inhumanity. We are also deeply saddened by the ISIS suicide attack in Beirut on Thursday which left 43 dead and 200 seriously wounded.

What is all the more saddening is that these attacks are predicated on a misguided millenialist ideology that avows we are living in the last days. We attach our recent NCF report on the ideology of ISIS in case you have not seen it.

In retribution for the French attacks, understandably, the ISIS capital city and stronghold, Rakka in Syria, is tonight being bombed by the French.

Was there any link to the killing by drone of the Briton Mohamed Emwazi, a.k.a. Jihadi John on Thursday? Unlikely. Our sources in French Intelligence suggest that a sleeper cell of fifty persons was activated over a period of weeks to set this attack up.

Was there any link to the liberation of the Yezidi town of Sinjar by the Kurdish forces on Friday? Possibly. This was a major blow for ISIS. More than 17,000 Kurdish Peshmerga walked into the town Friday, almost all of the five hundred ISIS defenders having melted away overnight. In fact just one ISIS soldier remained behind in the town centre and shot dead a single Kurdish soldier before himself being shot dead. Those two men represented the only fatalities. Retreating when faced with a major attack is standard ISIS practice.

But Sinjar was vital because it sits astride the only highway between the ISIS stronghold of Mosul in Iraq and the key strategic town of Deir al Zour in Syria. It cuts the ISIS supply lines. There are of course minor roads ISIS can use and they are inumerable. But with winter coming on the minor roads will be far harder to negotiate.

IN CONCLUSION: Our NCF Board Member, Reverend Larry Wright, issued a statement in his capacity of Convenor for the independent Religious Affairs Advisory Council and we reprint it below as we echo his sentiments.

Regarding events in Paris and Beirut

Thursday’s terrorist operation in Beirut and Friday’s in Paris are an affront to humanity and run counter to fundamental Islamic values. We are deeply saddened by these terrorists operations. God be with the people of both Lebanon and France . We stand united against terrorism and support peace:

In the aftermath of such carnage and bloodshed emotions are understandably roused. Feelings of outrage and demands for action are inevitable.
At such times many will empathise with the innocent while being utterly perplexed at the motives of the perpetrators. Such irrational hatred is hard for most sane people to comprehend.

No ideology, no deeply felt grievance, no religious belief or political cause can justify the shedding of so much innocent blood.

Such acts will be judged by God and reckoned in the light of history as yet another example of our violent capacities when moral constraint and fellow human feeling are suppressed or, through some twisted mental process, denied.

History also shows us that vengeful over-reaction to such events plays into the hands of the perpetrators. Terrorism met with a ‘vigilante’ mentality for retribution is likely to increase the levels of hatred and provide nothing other than a fleeting feeling of gratification when one, or more, of “them” are violently punished, maybe by a drone strike; the cycle of violence grinds on.

Is there a better way?

The major world religions, at their best, sustain an intrinsically hopeful view of humanity while recognising our immoral capacities. World scriptures, when read in the light of a merciful God, entreat every human heart to be merciful and as Abraham Lincoln said “listen to the better angels of our conscience”.

While the best of human legal processes must be brought to bear on those behind the Paris outrage we must also be mindful of God’s law which calls to higher feelings and prayerful responses:

  • To break the cycle of violence,
  • To decrease the levels of hatred,
  • To master our capacities for vengeance
    And,
  • Kindle the embers of forgiveness.
          

Father Larry Wright, Convenor, The Religious Affairs Advisory Council