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

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.

Germany Unbowed by Terrorism

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This past week Germany has suffered from four minor terror attacks; three in Bavaria and one in Baden-Wuerttemberg. On July 18th, a teenage Afghan refugee attacked passengers on a train in Wuerzburg with an axe and knife, wounding five. He was later shot dead by police. On July 22nd, an Iranian-German teenager shot nine people dead in a Munich shopping centre, killing himself afterwards. On July 24th there were two incidents: a 21-year-old Syrian refugee murdered a woman with a machete and wounded five other people as he fled before being arrested. Later that day in Ansbach a 27-year-old Syrian — whose asylum application had been rejected —  blew himself up outside a bar. The Wuerzburg attack was claimed by the so-called Islamic State, and the Ansbach bomber had videos of him pledging allegiance to Abu Bakr al Baghdadi. The other two attackers have been singled out as a ‘one-off’, and both have a history of mental illness. These attacks have definitely shaken German civilians, particularly those in the south of Germany where the attacks occurred.

However, there is still strong determination to maintain the motto of “this cannot happen here”. Refugee’s have taken to the streets to protest that these attacks are “not in my name”, politicians have vigorously stated that this is not Angela Merkel’s fault and the Germans are staying steadfast in refusing to be afraid of what might happen next. As a half-German it is truly heartbreaking that, in my opinion, the only Western country that has been genuinely kind-hearted towards the vulnerable is now being faced with the frightening reality of terrorism. Angela Merkel’s stance of “this cannot happen here” has always stirred up the courage of the German’s to continue to stand in solidarity with refugees, to continue to fight xenophobia, sexism and our differences, and to work together as one whether we are German or Syrian, brown or white. Amidst the fears of another terrorist attack, I am proud of the fact that the German people – as best as they can – are being rational and are remaining calm. Terrorism, fear and hate will never conquer compassion, courage and love.

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.

The EU-Turkey Deal: Between a Rock and a Hard Place

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Syrian Refugee Camp on the Turkish Border

In 2015 1.2 million people entered Europe from countries as disparate as Syria, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq. With further displacement and migration forecast for the coming years, an existential crisis is now threatening the very foundations of the European Project. In a mood of desperation and political expediency negotiations to curb migrant numbers have been accelerated with Turkey, culminating in a deal that now faces severe legal, ethical and practical difficulties.

In a nutshell, the agreement attempts to mitigate refugee flows that may otherwise overwhelm frontier European states, relocating the exigencies of asylum processing back to the Middle East and providing space to devise a more tolerable, long term solution. In principle, it also aims to undercut and degrade the mechanics of an extensive trafficking economy now proliferating across the Mediterranean. The commercialisation of people smuggling has exacerbated the number of refugees travelling, and sometimes even perishing, along sea routes. By adopting a hardline stance on ‘boat-people’ and diminishing the pull factor of assumed European altruism, people trafficking will, in theory, devolve into a high-risk low-reward enterprise that depresses demand and channels refugees towards more easily regulated outlets.

Under the auspices of a ‘one in one out’ system, any ‘new irregular migrants’ arriving in Greece after March would be deported to Turkey and relegated to the back of the queue of those seeking asylum. In return, EU member states are obligated to resettle properly processed Syrian refugees from Turkey and expedite visa liberalisation for Turkish nationals wishing to visit Europe.

There are obvious benefits to this approach. On a human level, the sharp fall in individuals traveling to Greece in the aftermath of the deal will hopefully translate into lower mortality rates for those refugees seeking entry into Europe. It also relieves pressure on Frontex, the underfunded European border management agency, and allocates new resources for efficient processing schemes. In the face of perpetually gridlocked EU institutions, the political intransigence of Eastern European governments, rising right wing populism and the resurrection of internal border controls, it provides a palatable alternative for European publics that may be able to preserve the cosmopolitan values of Schengen while also delivering immediate results. Perhaps most importantly, the agreement alleviates the burden on Ankara. Supplemented by an aid package of €3 billion earmarked for improving ‘the lives of refugees’ in the region, and a series of concessions with regard to Turkey’s prospective membership in the EU, it is hoped the agreement will deliver desperately needed investment to fund accommodation, education initiatives and welfare services for the two million refugees in Turkey itself.

However, despite the humanitarian rhetoric espoused by its proponents, the broader implications of the deal remain a cause for concern. Any claims suggesting the authoritarian tendencies of the Erdogan regime may be ameliorated by visa-liberalisation and closer political cooperation between Turkey and the EU are spurious to say the least. As negotiations concluded, the government has shown no sign of slowing its crackdown on independent journalism, seizing control of the national newspaper Zaman in March and tightening its grip over civil society. The fact these excesses hardly elicited any reaction from the West, and that German authorities are now considering the prosecution of a local comedian for ‘insulting’ Erdogan, allude to the leverage Turkey currently enjoys. As such, by colluding with autocrats the EU may paradoxically be compromising its liberal values on another front, namely free speech and free expression.

Crucially, there are also significant legal and practical issues that need to be considered. Human rights organisations have cited grave problems with the agreement. They argue it not only contravenes international law and its underlying humanitarian norms but also fails to exert pressure on Turkey to improve the protection it offers Syrian refugees. Amnesty International (AI) in particular maintains “the EU is…incentivising the opposite’, referencing a concerted effort by local Turkish authorities to expel asylum seekers back into Syria and close the Southern border to stop any further influx. While the ‘one in one out’ system explicitly circumvents controversy over blanket returns by certifying a right for refugees to make individual asylum claims, there is no doubt that the testimonies collected by AI deliver a damning indictment of Turkish migratory policy. It also undermines the fallacy that any claimants deemed irregular by the EU are being deported to a ‘safe third country’. To assume Turkey is safe is to ignore the Kurdish insurgency waging in its Eastern periphery and the horrendous conditions refugees are currently living under. Non-Syrians face the threat of further extradition back to dangerous home nations under the conditions of independent bilateral agreements between Ankara and, for example, the Afghan government. For those remaining in Turkey, many lack work permits and are forced into unregulated black market jobs for little to no salary. Perhaps more worryingly, 400,000 of 700,000 school age Syrian children aren’t receiving any formal education. There is simply no opportunity for integration, leading to societal tensions that will exponentially grow as the crisis gets worse. Unless this trend is radically altered, the EU’s refugee policy as it stands today is giving rise to a disenfranchised, socio-economically marginalised and uneducated ‘lost generation’ completely at odds with the humanitarian virtues the organisation claims to champion. On a practical and moral level this is untenable.

Europe is therefore between a rock and a hard place. Its migratory infrastructure cannot manage a crisis of this magnitude and it does not have the institutional or democratic flexibility to deliver an equitable scheme for effectively distributing shares of refugees across its membership. But as Kenan Malik, a London based lecturer and broadcaster, argues, by ratifying this deal with Turkey the EU seems to be regressing back to its antiquated mentality of the 1990s; ‘criminalising’ migrants, militarising its external borders and paying peripheral states to ‘operate as immigration police’. Outsourcing the problem and pretending it isn’t there is not a viable option. There needs to be a substantive, systemic transformation in how Europe both conceptualises and engages with the refugee problem. Anything short of this is simply not sustainable and the EU risks having its moral authority irreversibly damaged.

Migration in 2016

Refugee_march_Hungary_2015-09-04_02As ISIS continues to wage war in Iraq and Syria, and security threats persist in Afghanistan, hundreds of thousands of people continue to flee the region, seeking asylum. The xenophobia this has generated has resulted in tensions within Europe. There has been a backlash against EU countries not seen to be doing their part to help ameliorate the refugee crisis. Hungary arresting and deporting those who make it through holes in the barbed wire fence does not help the situation. Nor does the hostility displayed by the UK towards migrants trying to leave Calais in search for a better quality of life. However, it seems that we are in a catch 22 position. The German government, which only a month ago received praise for Angela Merkel’s willingness to help, is now being pressured to decrease the numbers of migrants accepted. They have begun sending more migrants back to Austria. This stems largely from the New Year’s Eve attacks on women in Cologne and other cities. Yet this week, pictures have surfaced depicting the dire situation of some who remain in Syria. An aid convoy brought the first food and medical relief for three months to the besieged town Madaya, where thousands of people are suffering malnourishment. Understandably there are risks involved in welcoming refugees, but we are honour bound to foster a peaceful attitude towards migrants, who might otherwise be suffering like those left behind in Madaya.

Goodye to Helmut Schmidt

Jonathan Mueller writes:

So Helmut Schmidt died.

I heard him speak once, during the 1980 election campaign. One thing he said has stuck with me:

If self-determination is right for everybody else, why not for the Germans?

Well the Germans finally got their self-determination, but isn’t corollary one:

If self-determination is right for everybody else, even the Germans, why not for the Kurds?

More on Netanyahu’s ridiculous Holocaust Statements

Amin al Husseini und Adolf Hitler

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sparked controversy on Tuesday at the World Zionist Congress in Jerusalem, when he accused a Palestinian religious leader of being behind the idea of the Holocaust. Netanyahu insisted that Hitler had only wanted to expel Jews from Europe until he met Mufti Haj Amin Al-Husseini in 1941, who inspired and convinced Hitler to exterminate European Jews instead.

Netanyahu told the audience:

“Hitler didn’t want to exterminate the Jews at the time, he wanted to expel the Jews and Haj Amin Husseini went up to him and said if you expel them, they’ll all come here (Palestine)…’So what shall I do with them?’ he (Hitler) asked, ‘burn them’ (Husseini responded).”

Extremely inaccurate and inflammatory, Netanyahu’s rhetoric has received great attention from world leaders and from the public through social media. His claims have been mocked and were met with outrage all over the world, as well as in Israel and among the Jewish community.

It is clear that Netanyahu is exploiting a terrible historical crime for a political advantage and to further spread his anti Palestinian propaganda. This dangerous historical distortion that Netanyahu has created, does not sit well with leading scholars and historians of the Holocaust and with the German government. German chancellor Angela Merkel later went on to clarify that Nazi Germany was very much responsible for the Holocaust which is apart of German History and nothing could change that. By attempting to put Palestinians at the center of the Holocaust, Netanyahu continues to demonize the Palestinian community and more dangerously, tries to change history for political purposes.

Mufti Haj Amin Al-Husseini was the former grand mufti of Jerusalem and a Palestinian nationalist leader from 1921 to 1937, he was known for his anti Zionist view and although he allied himself with Hitler, there is no evidence to suggest that he told Hitler to persecute Jews. Not only have scholars and historians examined the minutes and transcript of the meeting between Hitler and Al-Husseini where there is no mention of exterminating Jews, but also Hitler only met Al-Husseini in November 1941, months after the mass killing of Jews in concentration camps had already begun. So where exactly did Netanyahu get these words from? Or is he fabricating dialogue?

The uproar caused by Netanyahu’s remarks continues as he currently visits Berlin to meet U.S. secretary of State John Kerry and Angela Merkel to discuss the recent rise in violence between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian protesters.

It is unlikely that Netanyahu’s words will be forgotten and it is clear that he will have a hard time fixing what he broke.