Several parliamentarians, faith and non-faith, human rights and refugee rights groups and unions have voiced their criticism and opposition to several aspects of the government’s Nationality and Borders Bill and its ‘hostile environment’ approach towards Kurdish and ‘Othered’ asylum seekers. Part 1 of this series has already detailed a number of concerns that have been expressed over the Bill.
In response to the Home Office Minister Priti Patel’s account of high ‘migrant’ numbers attempting to enter the UK, and her parliamentary statement on 22 November that “the number of people coming into our country illegally on small boats is unacceptable,” Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, in a House of Lords debate that took place the day after the deaths of the 27 boat people in the Channel, stated: “First, overall refugee numbers are currently running at about half of where they were 20 years ago” – hardly an ‘unacceptable’ number.
“We are” also, he clarified, “not the preferred destination in Europe” as is often suggested. “We are (…) well down the list of preferred destinations.” As Baroness Hamwee noted, citing official figures, the UK received just 8% of the total asylum applicants across the EU+ and UK combined over that period, placing it 17th on the countries list when measured per head of population.
“Secondly,” Lord Kerr noted, “Yes, small boat numbers are up, partly for the reason the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, adduced – the fences, patrols and heat sensors around the train tracks and marshalling yards mean that people are now driven to the even more dangerous sea route. But the principal reason clandestine numbers are up is that official resettlement routes are shut.
“Our schemes,” he pointed out on 25 November last year, “in practice, no longer exist. We have closed the Syrian scheme, we have scrapped the Dubs scheme, we have left Dublin III and we have not got an Afghan scheme up and running.”
As Julie Hyland has reported, “between 2015 and 2019, less than 5,000 people a year were able to come to the UK through official channels.”
Victoria Atkins, indeed, confirmed in the House of Commons only on 6 January that the Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme (ACRS), “designed to offer sanctuary to ‘vulnerable people, including women and girls at risk, and members of minority groups at risk’ after the fall of Kabul to the Taliban” and announced with much fanfare by the government last August, had now opened.
However, “the Home Office has been accused of failing to prioritise the most vulnerable people in Afghanistan after admitting that some of the first people to be accepted under a resettlement scheme are already living in the UK. (…) Yvette Cooper, the Shadow Home Secretary, questioned why the government was counting UK nationals on a scheme meant to prioritise those trapped in Afghanistan,” reported the Guardian.
Enver Solomon, chief executive of the Refugee Council, expressed his deep concern that “the government could be limiting the numbers given access to the scheme by including those already in the UK. (…) Ministers are also facing claims that women, girls, and religious and other minorities are no longer being prioritised after Atkins implied they would not be among the first tranche of evacuees admitted in to the UK.”
Tim Farron, the Liberal Democrat MP and former party leader, stated that “this represents a total betrayal of people in grave danger.”
For Zoe Gardner, policy manager at the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants: “Over almost six months, we’ve seen this government repeatedly kick the can down the road when it comes to resettlement” via ACRS “and abandon the Afghan people. Even now, the confusion and lack of planning is clear.”
Just last December, furthermore, it was revealed that “the Home Office has tightened the criteria allowing Afghans to enter the UK despite promises from Boris Johnson to give a ‘warm welcome’ to those who assisted British forces or worked with the government.
“The department announced changes to the Afghan relocations and assistance policy (ARAP) which narrows the criteria from that used during the Operation Pitting evacuation in August 2021. (…) Minnie Rahman, the interim chief executive of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, said the change was another example of how the government had ‘slammed the door’ on Afghan people.
“‘The narrowing of the ARAP scheme and the failure to open the Afghan resettlement programme means that Afghans with links to the UK are now stuck in an impossible bind. ‘People can stay in Afghanistan and risk death, or make their own perilous journeys here and face prison, detention or removal under this government’s new Borders Bill,’ she said.
“The changes to the rules mean those directly employed in Afghanistan by a UK government department on or after 1 October 2001 must now have a ‘high and imminent risk’ of threat to their life to be able to come to the UK. Under the previous rules, they only needed to show there was an ‘imminent’ risk.”
Zoe Bantleman, the legal director of the Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association, stated: “It is unclear why the rules for entry clearance for Afghans who helped the UK are being narrowed at this time.” This is even as “Afghans who fled the Taliban risk dying in freezing temperatures in Calais, NGOs have warned,” as they attempt to seek asylum in the UK and have a “hope of reaching the UK by crossing the Channel in dinghies.”
Lord Dubs in a parliamentary debate at the end of November last year made the following point: “We need safe and legal routes for people to come here. When the Government closed their borders on child refugees in northern France, they did an enormous service to the traffickers” – thereby increasing, not lessening, the possibilities of further boat drownings and abusive practices against them – “because the one way in which they get business is if there are no safe and legal routes for people to come here. (…) The Government closed that door and, in the Nationality and Borders Bill, seem to be even more intent on closing it in the future. That will not help at all.”
Calls for use of sonic weapons and jet skis to ‘turn back’ asylum seekers?
Dinghies and really small boats – which make the crossings more perilous – are being used by the traffickers as surveillance and other security measures in place by the UK and French governments make more significant objects/boats/vehicles through which to transport people more safely more liable for interception. The UK Home Office has reportedly instructed its Border force – even before the passing of the Bill – to already turn back small seafaring craft using jet skis.
As reported by the Times: It has “emerged that Border Force is on standby to deploy ‘turnback’ tactics against the next wave of crossings. Senior Home Office sources said the force had been operationally ready to deploy the tactics, which involve three jet skis surrounding a migrant boat and directing it back to France, on at least two days last month when the right weather and maritime conditions were met. However, as there were no crossings on those particular days, the tactics were not used.”
This is even as “a legal challenge is under way against Priti Patel’s plans to use jet skis to turn back small boats mid-Channel” and Imogen Hardman, operations manager for Care4Calais in northern France, “said the situation was dire and deteriorating. ‘The weather is awful at the moment. (…) We are seeing an increase in the Afghan community here, people who fled after the Taliban took over have now arrived in Calais. Every single person here is a human being who has experienced really horrible things.”
On 18 January, Sky News also reported that “No. 10 policy bosses have explored the use of powerful sonic weapons to force ‘migrants’ to turn around in the English Channel. (…) The Long-Range Acoustic Devices (LRAD) are already installed on two Border Force vessels. (…)
“Downing Street policy experts” have “called for them to be used as sound cannons which emit loud, high-frequency noise powerful enough to induce vomiting. (…) Labour’s Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper said ‘Number 10 seems to have lost any sense of respect or humanity. (…) Targeting sonic weapons at people in small boats will not stop criminal gangs from profiting, it will just put more lives at risk.”
There would appear to be provisions in the Bill aimed at attempting to provide immunity from prosecution for Border Force personnel who may be accused of contributing to drownings through their ‘push back’ actions: “Schedule 4A, part A1, paragraph J1 of the bill (…) reads: ‘A relevant officer is not liable in any criminal or civil proceedings for anything done in the purported performance of functions under this part of this schedule if the court is satisfied that (a) the act was done in good faith, and (b) there were reasonable grounds for doing it.’”
Militarisation and hi-tech targeting refugees and migrants
Isobel Cockerell has detailed the mechanisms and militarised initiatives in place to deter asylum seekers and migrants from crossing France into the UK: “Before they can board a ferry, trucks are scanned with X-rays, heartbeat monitors, carbon dioxide detectors and, finally, checked by dogs. (…) The roads leading to the [Calais] port, where ferries loaded with trucks depart for Dover, are now surrounded by new, high-strength fences. Along the beachfront, every 50 feet or so, new Chinese-made Hikvision CCTV cameras watch over passersby.”
At truck stops just outside Calais, “razor wire, 360-degree cameras and spotlights circle the vehicles. Police vans are stationed there (…) 24 hours a day.”
Moreover, “in both France and the UK, the [joint] operations” that are being conducted at sea “are presented as a multi-million-euro rescue operation. But the life-saving argument was significantly diminished earlier in 2021 when Priti Patel ordered British officials to rewrite maritime law, so that the UK Border Force could carry out ‘pushbacks’ in the Channel, forcing migrant boats headed towards British shores to turn around and go back where they came from. In September, it was revealed that Border Force staff were being trained to drive small vessels back into French waters using jet-skis, a move condemned by the French government.”
Legally and morally questionable ‘pushbacks’ of Kurdish and ‘Othered’ refugees are therefore set to not only take place along the Polish, German and Greek borders, and the Mediterranean, leading to their further brutalisation, traumatisation and even deaths, but also in the Channel.
Isobel Cockerell also revealed that the UK Home Secretary in August 2020 “appointed a new ‘Clandestine Channel Threat Commander’ (…) tasked with ‘saving lives by making dangerous Channel crossings unviable.’ As of January 2021, a new command centre, based in Dover, has been using drones to keep a watchful eye over the sea and search for people arriving by boat.
“The Ministry of Defence has provided the UK Border Force with state-of-the-art hardware including three planes and the Thales Watchkeeper winged drone. In August 2020, the Ministry of Defence announced it had deployed a Boeing P-8 Poseidon maritime plane to spot migrant vessels. Later that year, former British Army officer James Cowan told a UK parliamentary committee that the deployment of large aircraft like the Poseidon, which has a quoted flying cost of £35,000 ($47,000) per hour, was like using ‘a very expensive hammer’ to crack a walnut.”
Government bid to offer ‘red meat’ to Tory MP’s?
On 17 January, Priti Patel confirmed that she had asked the Ministry of Defence (MoD) to put the Royal Navy in charge of policing small boats in the Channel: “Under the plan, a navy rear admiral will have the power to ask Border Force, fisheries protection, the coastguard and customs and excise to carry out surveillance or intercept dinghies.”
“The current details,” Richard Wheeler, Elizabeth Arnold, David Lynch and Eve Watson report, are believed to have been announced as part of a cynical “Government bid to offer ‘red meat’ to Tory MPs in a bid to drive attention away from Downing Street party allegations” and to save Boris Johnson’s premiership.
Nicola Sturgeon, the SNP leader, called the initiative “dangerous,” adding that “the policy of involving the military was also being used as a diversion tactic by the UK Government to stop people talking about the ongoing ‘partygate’ scandal and threat to Boris Johnson’s premiership.”
The initiative, “reportedly part of ‘Operation Red Meat’ – the announcement of populist policies designed to take the heat off the Prime Minister,” was condemned by a number of refugee charities even as Ms Sturgeon as First Minister said: “The UK Government, though, its plans to divert vessels in the Channel are dangerous and I think it is important that we are all clear that they will significantly increase risk to life.
“Medecins Sans Frontieres stated, and I’m quoting again, that pursuing a policy of forced returns and engaging in pushback tactics is dangerous, inhumane and in breach of international law and puts lives at risk at sea. (…) We should not be using the BBC” to also leak such initiatives “and we should absolutely not be using refugees and asylum seekers in that way.
“I say we, the UK Government should not be using refugees and asylum seekers in that way. It is utterly despicable and I think another sign of the moral decay at the heart of the UK Government.”
Baroness Hamwee: ‘People are not illegal and neither is seeking asylum’
Referring to the Home Office Minister’s reference to “people coming into our country illegally,” Baroness Hamwee also stated in a parliamentary debate: “It distresses me how easily language is adopted. People are not ‘illegal’ and neither is seeking asylum. (…) I am not sure what the legal basis is for turning back small boats. We are told there is one, and my big question (…) is to ask the Minister to explain (…) the legal basis for turning back small boats.
“Those who are so desperate as to pay smugglers are not accessories to the crime, although by being called ‘criminals,’ that is what they are badged as. (…) What are we doing with policy? The new plan for immigration has drawn such criticism from the UNHCR,” the UN’s Refugee Agency.
The government additionally proposes that “people arriving in the UK without an electronic travel authorisation” – i.e., those engaged in dinghy/small boat Channel crossings and other unofficial modes of entry because official modes of entry have been essentially closed to them – “could receive up to four years in prison under amendments added to the Nationality and Borders Bill. (…) The amendments were put forward by the government” in late October “and come on top of proposals in the original version of the bill to make it possible to imprison individuals who arrive in the UK without ‘entry clearance’ – either a visa or an entry certificate. (…)
“The proposed new offences are part of the ongoing crackdown on ‘Channel migrants’ (…) but would apply across the board. (…) Stuart McDonald, a Scottish National Party MP, remarked: ‘We are putting in statute a law that criminalises the overwhelming majority of asylum seekers coming into the United Kingdom. (…) [A] clause (…) places in an already bleak bill an extraordinarily broad criminal offence that will criminalise pretty much everyone who seeks asylum – many of whom are refugees – as well as survivors of trafficking.’”
He added: “Lots of refugees who come to seek asylum in this country will be criminalised by the provision – a good 60% or 70%, even according to the Home Office’s explanatory memorandum. How can [the Home Secretary] possibly feel comfortable about criminalising them through an offence that could see them imprisoned for up to four years? (…)
“It is unbelievable that should a Syrian, a Uyghur, a persecuted Christian convert, an Afghan interpreter, or a victim of the horrific crime of trafficking arrive seeking our protection, instead of being championed, they would be prosecuted and imprisoned by the regime put in place by the clause. Taken alongside the removal of the protections in the Convention for asylum seekers in Clause 34, this is a hugely retrograde step. It is also, again, utterly against the spirit and the letter of the Refugee Convention and the Convention on Trafficking.”
Even as early as October 2020, WSWS reported that UK government proposals included “the detention of ‘migrants’ on disused ferries, abandoned North Sea oil platforms, and remote islands. (…) Labour peer Lord West, Baron West of Spithead, a retired Royal Navy Admiral” and former Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Security and Counter-Terrorism at the Home Office in Gordon Brown’s Labour government, “called for the construction of migrant concentration camps. In September 2020, the first such camp was opened by the Home Office at the Folkestone Army Barracks in Kent. The facility will hold up to 400 ‘Channel arrivals’ with similar military sites being established in Wales and Dover,” WSWS reported.
The United Nations, meanwhile, has described the Bill as a “neo-colonial approach.”
WSWS: ‘Unaccompanied child refugees will no longer be granted sanctuary in the UK’
In January last year, WSWS reported that “the government announced that unaccompanied child refugees will no longer be granted sanctuary in the UK. Immigration Minister Chris Philp said that regardless of the previous commitments made in the Dubs Amendment of 2016, which required the government to support asylum seeking children, the British government will no longer offer a legal route to the UK for these children.
“The Dubs scheme was initially meant to offer settlement to 3,000 child refugees, but was eventually capped at just 480 places. This figure was reached by May 2020.
“The only children able to seek the assistance of the UK,” WSWS confirmed, “will be those with relatives already residing in the country. (…) Vulnerable children will have no legal alternative to placing their lives in the hands of smuggling gangs in an attempt to reach the UK.”
The UK government’s policies and practices in place were such that, on 6 February [last] year, the Independent “reported that ‘scores of child refugees’ were illegally detained by the UK authorities after making it across the Channel in small boats last summer. (…) 80 unaccompanied minors, one fifth of those who attempted the journey, were” even “jailed” temporarily in a processing centre.
Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner for England asserted that the UK government was “‘wilfully ignoring the plight of vulnerable children.’ There was a ‘pressing need’ to improve processes for minors arriving in Kent, as well as safer, legal routes of entry. ‘These are vulnerable children who have often lived through unimaginable horrors, and they should be treated as such,’” she stated.
Charalambous: ‘The Bill also fails to introduce safe and legal routes to claim asylum’
The MP Bambos Charalambous further noted that: “The Government’s proposals criminalise the act of seeking asylum in the UK. (…) First, clause 37 breaches Article 31 of the Refugee Convention, which prohibits penalisation for irregular entry or stay when people are seeking asylum. The new offence of unlawful arrival is designed to – and will in practice – penalise refugees based on their mode of travel. That goes against everything that the Convention stands for.
“Article 31 of the Refugee Convention says that states ‘shall not impose penalties, on account of their illegal entry or presence, on refugees (…) where their life or freedom was threatened (…) provided they present themselves without delay (…) and show good cause for their illegal entry or presence.’ Clause 37 clearly violates the non-penalisation clause in the Convention and is therefore in breach of the UK’s obligations under international law.
“When taken in combination with Clause 12, which excludes UK territorial seas from being considered a place of claim, Clause 37 has significant implications for access to protection and the risk of refoulement. Under the proposed changes, those who arrive irregularly, including through a safe third country, could be prosecuted and imprisoned for between one and four years. That is because it is not possible to apply for entry clearance for the purpose of claiming asylum in the UK, and yet an asylum seeker must be physically in the UK to make a claim.”
In practice, Charalambous clarified that “someone with a well-founded fear of persecution arriving in the UK intending to claim asylum will be committing a criminal offence if Clause 37 is implemented. Even if they have a visa, they will be committing an offence because their intention to claim asylum will be contrary to the intention for which the entry clearance or visa was issued. We have heard the example of students: if a student entered on a student visa and claimed asylum in the UK, they would be in breach of that visa.
“The clause will (…) lead to people with legitimate cases serving time in prison for these new offences, followed by continued immigration detention under immigration powers. In this context, the Government is proposing to criminalise asylum-seekers based on their journey – which, in all likelihood, was the only viable route available to them. (…) While criminalising those we should be seeking to protect, the Bill also fails to introduce safe and legal routes to claim asylum.
“Clause 37 comes amid a glaring lack of lawful routes for claiming asylum in the UK. Although we welcome things like the resettlement programmes, they are not a solution for those claiming asylum because they are so limited. They cover those who are already recognised as having the protection they need.”
Regarding the need to not criminalise “those in need of international protection who reach the UK’s shores,” he expressed concern that, “under the Government’s proposals, they will be because they have pursued the only viable route available to them. The fact that an individual is proved to be a genuine refugee and had no option but to arrive in the UK will provide them with no statutory defence.”
Such “proposals,” he noted, “are inhumane, unenforceable and break international law. (…) They also fail to achieve the Government’s reported aims. The proposals (…) will push refugees into the hands of the trafficking gangs the Government say they want to stop. They will increase the number of journeys made by unsafe routes” – thereby increasing the possibility of more drownings at sea – whilst “allowing smugglers to charge more for yet more dangerous journeys.
“The Bill will not, as the Government have claimed, break the business model of smuggling gangs; it may even help them. It is shocking that there is not a word in the legislation about increasing safe and legal routes – something that would break the business model of the smuggling gangs and prevent unsafe journeys.”
Lord Kerr: The Home Secretary’s claim that 70% of Channel crossers are ‘not genuine asylum seekers’ is ‘plainly not true’
As more Kurdish and ‘Othered’ refugees continue to risk their lives crossing the Channel in dinghies and small boats (given that most official ‘safe routes’ have been shut and barred to them), rather than commenting on this distressing fact, Dan O’Mahoney, Clandestine Channel Threat Commander, chose to state to the BBC on 18 December: “Unbelievably, these [trafficking] gangs continue their deadly trade with more crossings taking place today, shamelessly putting lives at risk.” No reference was made by the BBC in the reported article or Dan O’Mahoney to UK government policy makers “shamelessly putting lives at risk.”
Lord Kerr observed that: “The largest group crossing the channel in the last 18 months, by nationality, were Iranians.” Kurds, Baloch, as well as Ahwazi Arabs and Iranian ‘Others’ continue to be harshly persecuted and many – to escape genocidal actions, torture, disappearance, extra-judicial killings, executions in prisons after forced confessions after being tortured – continue to flee the repressive Iranian regime.
For Ahwazi Arabs, as with ‘Othered’ indigenous peoples in Iran, repression was institutionalised with the British backed reign of Reza Pahlavi. The Ahwazi Arab population, note Benjamin Minick and Irina Tsukerman, has a “2,500 year history of an independent and semi/independent (autonomous) emirate which” was “forcibly annexed by Reza Pahlavi in 1925 with the help of the British. Ahwaz, at the time, was a geopolitically strategic entry way into the Gulf, and a chokepoint of bitter rivalry between Russia and Britain.”
Once backed by Britain to serve its imperialist interests, “the region came to be known for containing most of the oil in what became Iran. Reza Pahlavi’s ultranationalist ideology denied unique Arab culture, history, and language to the Ahwazi Arabs, as the monarch sought to impose ‘Persian’ identity on the entire population.” Genocidal initiatives were undertaken against the Ahwazi Arabs.
Since the Islamic Revolution, genocidal initiatives have continued: “The Islamic Republic’s policies are aimed at depopulating the region through ethnic cleansing, population transfer, discrimination, and abuse. At the same time, Tehran is counting on the ignorance of the rest of the world about this community and its fate. The policy inside Iran is to deny that any Arabs live there, only Persians. (…)
“The ‘international community’ recognises its sovereignty while the Iranian government wishes to steal their lands and essentially ethnically cleanse them. (…) These people’s ancestral lands comprise approximately 80% of the oil in the region. So why wouldn’t the government want to remove them altogether? They are rounded up in droves and imprisoned throughout Iran in absolutely deplorable conditions.”
‘Others’ are also targeted in the following manner: “In 2007, Iranian parliamentarian Mohsen Yahyavi stated that ‘gays deserve to be tortured, executed, or both.’ He continued: ‘We do not have any opposition to this type of behaviour as long as it is done behind closed doors, but those who engage in this behaviour in public should be put to death.’ Astonishingly, this statement was delivered to British parliamentarians at a peace conference. Yahyavi’s words were further echoed as recently as June 2019 when Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif endorsed the execution of homosexuals.”
In these types of repressive conditions in which Kurds, Baloch, Ahwazi Arabs and targeted ‘Others’ have fled seeking sanctuary, “in the last 18 months,” Lord Kerr confirmed, “3,187 Iranians came [to the UK]. In the same period, one got in by the official route. How many came from Yemen” – where the world’s worst current humanitarian crisis is taking place – “in these 18 months? Yemen is riven by civil war and famine. None came by the official route – not one.”
Concerning the fate of ‘failed’ asylum seekers who are sent back to Iran from Europe, inclusive of the UK, it needs to be appreciated that a February 2020 report by the Danish Immigration Service (DIS) has concluded that “failed asylum seekers returning to Iran from Europe are at risk of being interrogated, arrested and in some cases tortured and killed if connected to political activism by the Iranian authorities. (…) The Iranian governments͛ security approach tends to suspect all Kurds of activism. Therefore, if a Kurd leaves the country without permission, there is a risk that the suspicion towards the person is heightened and the act of leaving can be seen as evidence of their activism. (…)
“Arrests take place for many different reasons, including actual or perceived membership of or support for the Kurdish opposition parties. Torture is most frequently used during the pre-investigation phase and is used to compel confessions. Harsh sentences such as long term imprisonment and the death penalty are more likely to be given to members and perceived members of the Kurdish political parties.”
A source consulted by the DIS “opined that an individual, who has applied for asylum in a foreign country, will face difficulties upon return to Iran. The authorities will subject her/him to questioning related to the reason for the asylum claim as well as what actions the individual has taken against the government of Iran.
“The sources highlighted a number of cases where Iranian citizens, who had applied for asylum in European countries, were arrested upon return to Iran: In 2015, the Iranian Kurd … was arrested by the Intelligence authorities. He had previously sought asylum in Denmark in 2015. When his asylum claim was rejected, the authorities sent him back to Iran in spring 2018. Upon his arrival at the airport in Tehran, he was arrested by the Iranian authorities” and was shortly afterwards, “according to local sources, (…) interrogated and tortured whilst in detention. (…) He has not had access to a lawyer, nor visits from his family.”
The DIS also cited a UK-linked example: “In another case, an Iranian Kurd (…) was sent back to Iran from the UK after his application for asylum was rejected. He applied for asylum in 2016. After two years, his request was rejected and he returned to Iran in September 2018. Upon arrival at the airport in Tehran, he was arrested and taken to jail by the IRGC” and “was sentenced to four years of imprisonment,” during which time he was denied “access to a lawyer” and “his family.”
The report by DIS also states that: “In Iran, any sort of political or civic activism that falls outside the purview of the Government creates suspicion. In particular in the Kurdish region, any activity is seen through a security lens; even civil and cultural activities are often interpreted as political. Therefore, individuals conducting civil or cultural activities are suppressed. (…)
“The Kurdish area is militarised; there are about 1,800 checkpoints, a number of military compounds and a high security presence. The authorities monitor the population through these checkpoints and arrest individuals that are suspected of being politically affiliated.
“Furthermore, and as already mentioned, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) created a cyber army consisting of an estimated 45,000 personnel whose main task is to monitor and collect information on people opposing the Iranian government, including critics, academics, intellectuals, students and activists.”
It also noted that a “separate department by the IRGC Intelligence Service” has additionally “been established in the Kurdish area” where, “as part of this monitoring, the authorities monitor individuals͛ phone calls and use of social media. (…) The authorities,” DIS concludes, “assume that every active Kurdish individual is connected to a political party. People who are arrested are therefore often accused of membership of such. Many individuals, who are accused of having ties with Kurdish political parties, can in fact be innocent” of any such connections.
Lord Kerr, in his critique of the Home Secretary’s assertions and rationale for promoting the Bill, further added: “My third set of facts is as in the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett. The Home Secretary says that 70% of Channel crossers are ‘economic migrants, (…) not genuine asylum seekers.’ That is plainly not true.
“Her own department’s data show that, of the top 10 nationalities arriving in small boats, virtually all seek asylum – 61% are granted it at the initial stage and 59% of the rest on appeal. The facts suggest that well over 70% of asylum seekers coming across the Channel in small boats are genuine asylum seekers, not economic migrants.”
“That,” he noted, “is hardly surprising because the top four countries they come from are Iran, Iraq, Sudan and Syria. (…) These people are fleeing persecution and destitution” – for the situation regarding Kurds and Baloch in Iran, and Kurds in Iraqi Kurdistan, refer to previous podcasts of mine – “and the sea route from France is the only one open to many of them. Why not have a humanitarian visa?”
In Syria, destabilisation caused by fundamentalist extremist militias – many supported by the Turkish government and armed forces – as well as by the UK, US, Saudi Arabian governments in often covert interventions over the past few years, have contributed towards creating refugees.
“Britain’s covert operations in Syria to overthrow the Assad regime,” Mark Curtis has documented, “began with the deployment of MI6 and other British covert forces in 2011. (…) British covert action, mainly undertaken in alliance with the US and Saudi Arabia, has involved working alongside radical and jihadist groups, in effect supporting and empowering them.
“These extremist groups, which cultivated Muslim volunteers from numerous countries to fight Assad, have been strengthened by an influx of a massive quantity of arms and military training from the coalition of forces of which Britain has been a key part. At the same time, Britain and its allies’ policy has prolonged the war, exacerbating devastating human suffering” that has also led to massive refugee movements.
As many of the refugees from Syria have made their way across the Channel only to be referred to by the Home Secretary as “illegal migrants” (alongside refugees from other countries), we should not forget the UK government’s role in destabilising the region and helping to create many of the refugees.
Curtis confirms that “UK support for Syrian rebel groups long focused on the Free Syrian Army (FSA), described by British officials as ‘moderates’. Yet for the first three years of the war, the FSA was in effect an ally of, and collaborator with, Islamic State and al-Qaida’s affiliate in Syria, al-Nusra. (…)
“Some of the militants who joined the Syrian insurgency with British covert support were Libyans who are believed to have been trained by British, French or US forces in Libya. (…) Some went on to join Islamic State and also al-Nusra,” creating significant destabilisation and terror, leading to substantive refugee movements.
“Britain appears to have played a key role in encouraging the creation of the Islamic Front coalition in Syria in November 2013, which included groups which regularly worked with al-Nusra. … The UK role in Syria has not been minor but has been an integral part of the massive US/Arab arms and training operations, and British officials have been present in the control rooms for these operations in Jordan and Turkey,” Curtis explains.
In Afrin in Syria, now “occupied” by Turkish backed militias, Margaret Owen OBE, Director of Widows for Peace through Democracy and also a Patron of Peace in Kurdistan, a UK barrister and an international women’s human rights activist, states: “There is no rule of law. (…) Afrin has been ethnically cleansed.” Yazidis and women are not safe or protected. “It is the most violent place” and is now one of the most dangerous places in the world, particularly for women, she noted.
Lord Kerr: ‘Unless we provide a safe route, we are complicit with the people smugglers’
Lord Kerr argued in parliament: “Unless we provide a safe route, we are complicit with the people smugglers. Yes, we can condemn their case and we” can “mourn” those who died on 24 November, “but that does not seem to stop us planning to break with the Refugee Convention.
“Our compassion is well controlled because it does not stop [the UK government] planning, in the Borders Bill, to criminalise those who survive the peril of the seas and those at Dover who try to help them.
“Of course, we can go down that road. But if we do, let us at least be honest enough to admit that what drives us down that road is sheer political prejudice, not the facts, because the facts do not support the case for cruelty.”
Lord Rosser also made the following appeal: Instead of intensifying ‘push back’ policies that endanger the lives of refugees and migrants, “we need action to establish safe and legal routes, such as by re-establishing the Dubs scheme to help unaccompanied children to escape war zones.”
Even as there has been a scandalous closure of most safe and legal routes, the UK government’s commitment to intensifying ‘push back’ practices in the Channel, we should further note, appears to have ‘form’ in the sense that the UK government has already been complicit via its EU membership in ‘push back’ policies and practices in Libya that have targeted refugees unethically.
As Ian Urbina has reported: “In the past six years, the European Union,” which the UK had been an active member of until 31 January 2020 (in other words, for five of the past six years that Urbina refers to), “weary of the financial and political costs of receiving ‘migrants’ from Sub-Saharan Africa, has created a shadow immigration system that stops them before they reach Europe. It has equipped and trained the Libyan Coast Guard, a quasi-military organisation linked to militias in the country, to patrol the Mediterranean, sabotaging humanitarian rescue operations” – leading to numerous drownings of refugees and migrants – “and capturing migrants.
“The migrants are then detained indefinitely in a network of profit-making prisons run by the militias [in Libya]. (…) International aid agencies have documented an array of abuses: detainees tortured with electric shocks, children raped by guards, families extorted for ransom, men and women sold into forced labour.
“‘The EU’” – note, when the UK was a key member – “‘did something they carefully considered and planned for many years,’ Salah Marghani, Libya’s Minister of Justice from 2012 to 2014, told me. ‘Create a hellhole in Libya, with the idea of deterring people from heading to Europe.’”
Through ‘pushback policies,’ resulting inevitably in several drownings of refugees and migrants, the UK as a key EU decision making member state has been complicit in supporting EU structures and networks that unethically have resulted in extreme human rights violations of refugees and migrants.
Urbina noted that in 2017, when the UK was part of the EU, “Italy, backed by EU funds, signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Libya, affirming ‘the resolute determination to cooperate in identifying urgent solutions to the issue of clandestine migrants crossing Libya to reach Europe by sea.’ (…) Marghani, the former Justice Minister, told me that the goal of the programme is clear: ‘Make Libya the bad guy. Make Libya the disguise for their policies while the good humans of Europe say they are offering money to help make this hellish system safer.’”
Now, of course, rather than looking at its own unethical and scandalous UK policy that closes as many safe and legal routes to asylum seekers as possible, the focus of the UK government’s ire has shifted to additional ‘bad guys’: those ‘traffickers’ facilitating ‘illegal’ routes across the Channel and using dangerously ‘small’ and ‘unsteady’ dinghies and boats (to evade detection from UK ‘push back’ systems in place) and those ‘illegal migrants’ and ‘frauds’ masquerading as ‘refugees’ and ‘asylum seekers’ trying to exploit ‘British hospitality’ and the British economy for their own ‘selfish’ ends.
As Rae McGrath has noted: The Home Office’s “latest plan” is “to tag and subject to curfew all asylum-seekers, thus further criminalising innocent people. The Home Office referred journalists to a comment from Tom Pursglove, a largely unknown junior immigration minister, who said: ‘The nationality and borders bill will make it a criminal offence to knowingly arrive in the UK illegally and introduce life sentences for those who facilitate illegal entry.’”
Just this week, it was announced that “every single male migrant who crosses the Channel in small boats will allegedly be detained in a bid to contain the crisis under Boris Johnson’s crowd-pleasing border clampdown. (…) The Prime Minister has reportedly given Home Secretary Priti Patel the go-ahead to develop new powers that would allow male asylum seekers crossing the Narrow Sea to be held in Immigration Removal Centres.”
*Desmond Fernandes is a former Senior Lecturer in Human Geography at De Montfort University who specialises in studies focusing on the criminalisation of communities, the targeting of the ‘Other’ and genocide studies.