Tuesday, June 21, 2022

An Ethical Asylum Solution

Whether you see them as refugees and asylum seekers fleeing war and oppressive regimes, or simply as economic migrants looking for a better life - for now I’m just going to refer to them as people, ok? - there’s no denying that the number of people crossing the English Channel in flimsy inflatable boats to enter the UK over the last few years has increased dramatically.

In 2018 the number was less than 300; in 2021 the number was almost a hundred times that.

Why such a huge increase?

Well, it’s all down to the actions of the UK Government over the last few years.

Before 2021 the UK was signed up to the Dublin Agreement, because we were in the EU. 

Most people know of this as the agreement among EU (and a number of other, non-EU) countries, which allowed us to send asylum seekers back to the first country within the agreement, that they entered in their journey from their original homeland.

As a result many of the people reaching the UK could be legitimately transferred back to their first country of entry. The people knew this, and this served to limit the number of people travelling across the EU into France, with a view to coming to the UK.

Leaving the EU effective as of 31st January 2021 meant we were no longer able to return such people from the UK to their first country of entry. 

This suddenly added a massive incentive to those people travelling across Europe and into the UK via France - if stopped in the UK they couldn’t be sent back. As a result of this incentive the numbers of people multiplied by almost a hundred in just two years.

Brexit supporters will tell you that Brexit was necessary in order for us to to take back control of our borders, and that losing access to the provisions of the Dublin agreement was necessary in order for us to leave the EU.

Except that’s not true.

The real reason we are no longer covered by the Dublin Agreement, is that when negotiating our eventual exit agreement from the EU, the UK Government was not willing to fulfill its obligations under another part of the Dublin Agreement.

Remember the Agreement’s purpose is to ensure that an asylum application is only considered by one of the participating states (the EU member states plus Iceland, Norway, Liechtenstein and Switzerland).

However, it’s not quite as simple as specifying the first country of entry; instead it sets a hierarchy for determining which state should be responsible for processing an asylum application. 

As well as setting out transfer processes and timelines, the Regulation gives greater importance to family reunion than which country an asylum seeker first entered.

The terms of the Agreement are less strict that the UK Government immigration rules on what constitutes close family, and so a few more people were granted asylum in the UK under the Dublin Agreement’s definition of family than would have been the case under UK rules.

The UK Government therefore chose to ditch the terms of the Dublin Agreement when drawing up the agreement to exit the EU.

In the UK Government’s own words, taken from its own House of Commons Library briefing document:

“What future UK-EU co-operation did the Government want?

The Government did not want to replicate the provisions of the Dublin Regulation.

It proposed two draft agreements with the EU which related to certain specific aspects of the Dublin Regulation:
  • an agreement on the transfer of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children for family reunion purposes
  • a readmission agreement for accepting returns of irregularly residing UK/EU citizens and third country nationals

Unsurprisingly the UK was asking for the benefits of the Dublin Agreement without the drawbacks, and as a result the negotiation with the EU was unsuccessful.

When the Conservatives are criticised for their inhumane and unethical Rwanda Policy, and their false arguments are exposed (see my blog post here), the Conservative Government asks “Ok, so what would Labour do?”.

The answer to that question is simple.

Thom Brooks, Professor of Law and Government at Durham Law School, has outlined how the UK would have a truly world beating, fair immigration system under a Labour Government, in his article https://labourlist.org/2022/06/britain-can-have-a-world-leading-asylum-system-but-only-labour-will-deliver-it/

As Brooks says, “A more effective way of ensuring control is a new cooperative arrangement with France and the wider EU for returns, alongside a joint anti-trafficking taskforce.”

“We should have border controls, and only a Labour government can ensure they are fit for purpose by preventing abuses and fulfilling our humanitarian obligations for which we should be proud.”

“As a former shadow immigration minister and shadow Brexit minister, Keir Starmer understands this. We need Labour in power to deliver it. Britain can have a world-leading plan, but not while the Conservatives remain in government.”

Friday, June 17, 2022

Rwanda - The Real Truth

The handful of asylum seekers dragged onto the plane that eventually failed to fly to Rwanda this week included a former Iranian policeman who was sentenced to jail in Iran for refusing to use firearms at peaceful protestors in 2019, and a 54-year-old Iraqi who has previously been tortured.

Right wing media outlets would have you believe that those crossing the channel in flimsy inflatable boats are mostly economic migrants and not true refugees - backed up by Home Secretary Priti Patel having claimed that as many as 70% of channel crossings are economic migrants - yet data released by her own department, the Home Office, exposes this claim as a lie.

Overall last year 75% of all asylum seekers were given asylum, the highest since 1990.

The biggest group of people crossing the Channel in the early part of 2022 were Afghans, representing one in four of all crossings.

Over 90% of Afghans last year were given asylum, together with 98% of Syrians, 97% of Eritreans, 95% of Sudanese and 88% of Iranians.  76% of claims from young men aged 18-29 were granted.

So why send asylum seekers to Rwanda?

Pro-Government media including the BBC will report they are being sent to Rwanda for “processing” - as if we are simply delegating the administration of asylum seekers to another state, leaving many to draw the inference that successful applicants will be allowed to settle in the UK. 

Except the successful applicants WON’T be allowed to settle here - they are being sent to Rwanda to apply for asylum IN RWANDA.

The UK Government says the Rwanda scheme will act as a deterrent to those crossing the channel, and thus disrupt the business model of the people traffickers they are paying to help them do so - yet at the same time the Government is claiming that Rwanda is a sanctuary and the refugees will thrive.

So is it a deterrent, or is it a sanctuary? It can’t be both!

There is no evidence to support the deterrent argument - experts suggest that, instead of deterring people, it will simply mean these desperate individuals will attempt to make the long journey back from Rwanda to the UK. They have done a similar journey once – the prospect of living in a different continent, with no communal or cultural links, which far from being a sanctuary has deeply concerning human rights records and a lack of infrastructure, is unlikely to deter them now. 

When Israel entered into a similar agreement with Rwanda in 2014 and 2017 almost all of the 4,000 detainees sent there left for Europe again, opening up a huge market for people traffickers in Libya.

So, the Rwanda policy is a deterrent that won’t deter; shipping asylum seekers to a sanctuary that isn’t a sanctuary; and supposedly penalising people traffickers in one continent by rewarding people traffickers in another.

And let’s not forget that it’s massively expensive, costing hundreds of millions; this week’s cancelled flight alone cost £500,000.

So - why IS the UK Government pushing ahead with its ridiculous Rwanda policy?

It’s not to penalise people traffickers - why would they? they don’t penalise tax dodging billionaire corporations and fraudsters.

It’s not to save peoples lives, either - the average right wing voter banging on about boats in the channel is more bothered about the number of people who successfully make it to our beaches, than those who perish on the way.

So the Government is basically deporting people, most of whom would successfully be awarded asylum if they were allowed to apply for it here.

They’re not deporting all of them - they don’t need to - just a token number to fill the headlines and throw red meat to their baying mob.

Their measure of the success or failure of this policy is not the number of people deported by it, or the number of boats crossing the channel - but the number of voters taken in by it.

The reality is that the UK Government is using people who are mostly innocent victims of war, torture and the acts of hostile states, as commodities in its cynical attempts to divide the British public by demonising refugees and immigrants. 

It is the ugliest of political moves, designed to stir up a culture war that splits the population by emotional response and personality type as much as it does by political conviction.

It’s no surprise to them that there have been legal challenges, or that the legal challenges have been successful - it helps their populist narrative of lefty lawyers and judges as enemies of the state.

A few archbishops and church leaders speak out against it - lovely, even more controversy, even more enemies of the people.

The key to effective propaganda is in using messaging that appeals to the emotional state of the target audience. 

Reflecting an emotion currently felt by the target audience, has a higher likelihood of succeeding in persuading them.

They know there is no legitimate justification for their policy - when challenged and their feeble arguments crumble, they always come down to their bottom line “ok, so what would Labour do?” - I’ve answered that question here.

It’s not the first time they’ve done this, and it won’t be the last - think weights and measures.

They’re already starting to stoke up the trans debate in time for the next election, too. 

Populist governments thrive by sowing division.

Mark my words, before the election they’ll be slipping out “feeler” articles in the right wing press asking why we should be spending good money protecting future generations from the effects of man made climate change when there’s a cost of living crisis.

Then it’ll be “hey - look over there - another dinghy full of foreign scroungers crossing the channel, coming over here to steal our benefits / jobs / whatever! Rwan-da! Rwan-da! RWAN-DA!!!”… “Sieg- Heil! Sieg-Heil!  SIEG-HEIL!!!”