Sunday, 18 June 2006

Britain and I.O.M. Criticized for Putting Refugees at Risk

The British government and the International Organization for Migration (I.O.M.) have been criticized for returning people to war zones, dictatorships and areas of famine.

Under the Voluntary Assisted Return and Reintegration Program (V.A.R.R.P.) run by the I.O.M. and funded by the British government's Home Office and the European Refugee Fund, asylum seekers are being offered financial incentives to get them to return to their countries of origin.

Between January and April this year, a total of 1,956 asylum seekers took up the £3,000 that is being offered and returned to countries which include Afghanistan, Congo, Iraq, Lebanon, Rwanda, Somalia, Sudan and Zimbabwe.

Immigration minister, Liam Byrne said, "A significant amount of work continues to promote voluntary returns, and there is a high level of interest to take up the scheme."

The Home Office publicized the scheme by writing to all the 54,000 asylum seekers whose applications for refuge are still being processed and who are currently receiving benefits and accommodation from the National Asylum Support Service.

The scheme was also advertised in government-funded centers that have contact with refugees and asylum seekers as well as in all immigration detention, reporting and removal centers.

Former immigration minister, Tony McNulty said the £3,000 that is being offered asylum seekers to make them leave Britain voluntarily was "good value for money" when compared with the £11,000 cost per person of a forced deportation.

No Borders Glasgow, a support group for refugees and immigrants, reported that Kath Sainsbury of the National Coalition of Anti-Deportation Campaigns (N.C.A.D.C.) described the voluntary assisted return and re-integration program as a cynical bribe.

"Instead of using the stick of enforced destitution and poverty to discourage asylum seekers, the Home Office have started using carrots — a scheme offering cash to asylum seekers to give up their claims, but no guarantees on either their safety or whether they'll get the money if they do return," Sainsbury said.

She added that giving people incentives does not make them safe.

"We know that in some countries, failed asylum seekers are put in prison on return and can only secure their release if they pay a bribe. We could now be exposing them to the possibility of further extortion if there is a perception that they have money," Sainsbury said.

At a conference organized by the I.O.M. that was held in London in May, I.O.M. chief of mission, Jan Wilder revealed that he was aware of a Zimbabwean returnee who was questioned "for a while" by that country's dreaded secret police, the Central Intelligence Organization.

"It was a woman from Bulawayo in March 2004. We brought this incident to the attention of the government. The government was satisfactorily responsive," Wilder said.

Wilder, however, would not discuss security issues despite repeated questions about the safety of returnees.

Established in 1951, the I.O.M. describes itself as "a pro-active, responsive and results oriented intergovernmental organization dedicated to promoting humane and orderly migration worldwide by serving the policy and program needs of governments and migrants."

No BordersGlasgow observed that in recent years, the I.O.M. has moved from managing the movement of economic migrants to assisting states to control forced migrants.

"Unlike the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), the I.O.M. has no humanitarian remit and its move into controlling the movement of people seeking asylum has raised alarm among human rights, refugee and aid agencies," the N.C.A.D.C. said.

In May 2003, Amnesty International criticized the role of the I.O.M. as an "alternative agency for states" where states prefer to avoid their human rights obligations.

"Given that I.O.M. does not have a protection mandate for its work with refugees and displaced people, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch recommend that I.O.M. should refrain from taking a role in situations which fall squarely under the protection mandate of other international organizations, such as the UNHCR," Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch said in a joint statement.

Ed Schenkenberg van Mierop, coordinator of the International Council of Voluntary Agencies (I.C.V.A.), pointed out that in 1996, the I.O.M. was asked to truck a group of 6,000 Zairian Tutsis from North Kivu, where extremist Hutus were creating a Hutu-land and carrying out a policy of ethnic cleansing among Tutsis. The I.O.M. brought the Tutsis across the boarder to Rwanda thereby aiding the extremist Hutus achieve their aims.

Two years earlier, in Rwanda, between April and July 1994, extremist Hutus slaughtered an estimated 800,000 to 1,000,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus who opposed the ethnic cleansing.

Van Mierop said, "much more must be done in order to increase I.O.M.'s accountability especially when it sees itself as providing 'assisted and orderly migration services.'"

This article was first published in the World Press Review.

Sunday, 11 June 2006

Social Exclusion and Poverty: Britain Sending Mixed Signals

At first glance, the agenda of Britain's social exclusion minister, Hilary Armstrong, sounds impressive. It gives the impression that the British government has a genuine interest in enabling the poor to lift themselves out of poverty.

Armstrong has a cabinet-level responsibility for early identification of at-risk children and families, improving the outcomes of children in care, tackling teenage pregnancies, partnership work with other agencies and taskforces in dealing with problem families and for finding routes into employment for those with mental health problems. All of this is in an effort to reduce poverty as well as the social exclusion these groups experience.

Sue Stirling, director of the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) North, welcomed the creation of the social exclusion cabinet post and Armstrong's appointment as minister responsible for leading cross-departmental work on tackling social exclusion. She said that the IPPR anticipated the most challenging issues Armstrong will face would be to improve the life chances of looked after children and those with mental health problems, and to expand action for people who live in the very poorest areas and who are furthest removed from decent jobs.

"Increasing accountability and developing the right incentives across all departments will be the key, instead of looking for new interventions or eye catching initiatives," she said.

She emphasised that there was need to find policy solutions that work at a local and regional level.

"On the ground, it is not just a matter of delivering ministerial priorities but reconfiguring services to meet local need. We should be brave enough to support radical local solutions to entrenched problems. Otherwise the casualties will keep coming," Sue Stirling said.

In the United Kingdom, groups that are particularly vulnerable to social exclusion include children and young people, families in no-work households, children and young people who no longer attend school, those who may be additionally disadvantaged by racism and other forms of discrimination, as well as asylum seekers, refugees and illegal/irregular immigrants.

The Open University publication, "Care and Communities" (2003), observes that current efforts to reverse the effects of social exclusion on communities are currently being driven by government through its Social Exclusion Unit and other related national, community-based campaigns like Sure Start and Barnados as well as by communities themselves through grassroots initiatives like the St Matthew Project and the Longberton Lads.

In its 2004 report, "Breaking the Cycle: Taking stock of progress and priorities for the future," the Social Exclusion Unit says since 1997 major initiatives have been implemented to: tackle key economic causes of social exclusion such as unemployment and poverty, particularly child and pensioner poverty; promote equal opportunities for all; support communities, particularly in deprived areas; reintegrate some of those who have experienced more extreme forms of social exclusion, like rough sleeping; and to improve access to advice and services.

It maintains that these policies have resulted in significant progress particularly in tackling poverty and it lists the following as some of the achievements that have come out of the policies: a reduction in child poverty; large-scale expansion of nursery education and childcare services; there are now 1.85 million more people in work than in 1997 and there have been faster than average increases in employment among disadvantaged groups; educational attainment has risen in all key stages; the number of homeless people sleeping rough has fallen by 70 percent; there has been a reduction in crime and the fear of crime, including among older people; and there are early signs that the gap between the most deprived local authority areas and the rest of the country is narrowing on some indicators such as rates of unemployment, educational attainment, and teenage conceptions.

However, in an article that appeared in The Guardian in 2002, researcher Peter Kenway says research by the New Policy Institute think tank and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation suggests that in the UK employment alone does not guarantee an escape from poverty and that while the breadth of poverty was declining, there was no reduction in the depth of poverty.

Kenway analysed 1996/7 and 2001/2 household incomes and said: "The government's anti-poverty strategy rests on the idea that employment should be the way out of poverty for all those who can work.

"These figures show that, for millions, work is not yet providing an escape from poverty."

In 2005, researchers Guy Palmer, Jane Carr and Peter Kenway found that despite the importance of employment in bringing poverty down, employment, even with the help of tax credits, does not guarantee an income above the poverty line and they pointed out that 50 percent of children in poverty are living in households where someone is doing paid work, most of them in two adult rather than one adult families.

They argue that other policies will be needed that will ensure higher wages and higher out of work benefits. They also suggest that the government could also exercise more control over the level of council tax and rents in the social housing sector.

Another major shortcoming of the government's current efforts to combat social exclusion can be found in its treatment of asylum seekers. In passing laws that prohibit asylum seekers from working, accessing legal representation, education and primary health care, the British government is in effect legislating for the social exclusion of asylum seekers and the perpetuation of prejudice and discrimination against them.

The Social Exclusion Unit in its 2004 report, for example, identifies asylum seekers and refugees as falling in one of three broad and overlapping groups of people for whom policies consistently seem less effective.

"Poverty and Asylum in the UK," a joint study by Oxfam and the Refugee Council (2002) showed how the asylum system is institutionalising poverty among asylum seekers. The report revealed that 85 percent of the asylum seekers in the UK experience hunger, 95 percent cannot afford to buy clothes or shoes and 80 percent are not able to maintain good health.

Asylum seekers receive benefits below the poverty line. A single adult receives 37.77 pounds per week in addition to accommodation and utilities -- this is around 30 percent below the basic level of income support for a UK citizen, which is generally considered as the minimum level of income necessary to maintain an acceptable standard of living (Oxfam, 2005). Those with additional needs (such as pregnant women, families with young children, people with disabilities, victims of torture and the elderly) are also not entitled to additional special needs provision or "passported" benefits on the same level as UK citizens.

In addition to this, Section 9 of the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants) Act of 2004 removes or significantly restricts the welfare entitlements of families who have reached the end of the asylum process and who have "failed to take reasonable steps" to leave the UK.

In "The End of The Road: The impact on families of Section 9 of the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants) Act 2004," Nancy Kelley and Lise Meldgaard (2005) reveal that a recent investigation by Barnado's and the Refugee Children's Consortium found that the removal of basic support from families who have reached the end of the asylum process and have had their applications turned down is leaving refugee families destitute.

"Refugee children often come to this country traumatised by what they have seen. Unfortunately arrival in the UK rarely marks the beginning of a safe and comfortable life; indeed they are likely to experience continued stress, hunger, poor health and extreme poverty. Whatever the intention of Section 9, it is being implemented in a way that runs the risk of causing life long damage to children and families who are already some of the most vulnerable people in society," Kelley and Melgaard said.

The Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu and other church leaders, in a letter published in The Times (December 3 2005) argue that it is inhumane and unacceptable that asylum seekers are being made destitute by government policies.

They maintain: "All those within our borders -- including people seeking asylum -- should have the opportunity to help themselves and society through paid employment. Where this is not possible, people seeking asylum, whatever their status, should be given the necessary rights to food, clothing, housing, medical care and necessary social services."

The British government's public announcements on its commitment to tackle poverty and social exclusion are impressive but they are being contradicted by legislation such as the Asylum and Immigration Act of 2004 which has the effect of targeting asylum seekers and condemning them to a life of social exclusion, destitution and poverty.

This article was first published on OhmyNews international.

Saturday, 3 June 2006

Trade Unions and Religious Leaders Call for Illegal Immigrants Amnesty

Trade unionists and religious leaders are calling on the government to consider an amnesty for illegal immigrants living and working in the United Kingdom.

It is estimated that there are between 310,000 and 570,000 illegal immigrants currently living and working in the U.K. If the British government does not allow them to settle and if the immigrants do not leave the country of their own accord, it could take over a decade for the government to trace and deport them.

"Assuming we can find them, and assuming that people aren't going away of their own accord, it would take some time," former immigration minister, Tony McNulty told the BBC (May 18, 2006). He went on to calculate that it would take at least 10 years, at a rate of 25,000 per year.

A leading trade union official called for debate around granting amnesty to the half a million immigrants living and working in the U.K.

Jack Dromey, deputy secretary general of the Transport and General Workers Union said the Government should acknowledge the contribution the immigrants are making and adopt a sensible approach towards them.

He told the BBC (May 20, 2006): "The economy needs migrant labour. They are the backbone of the service economy, cleaning, catering, looking after the old, the sick and the dying, and of food and agriculture.

"Yes, it is true that there are probably half a million here without documents. The question is what do we do about that?"

He said the government should stop criminalising illegal immigrants.

"They live in fear of the knock at the door and they are exploited by too many employers.

"What we need, therefore, is a sensible approach which does not criminalise those good men and women."

Dromey said it was neither practical nor sensible to seek to deport all the illegal immigrants.

"You can't deport half a million workers -- who would clean, who would cook, who would pick in our fields?

"The time has come for a debate around an amnesty for those workers," he said.

Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor also called for the government to consider an amnesty for illegal immigrants.

The Cardinal said that although the Catholic Church does not encourage or approve of illegal immigration, it could not ignore the plight of people without legal status.

"While our nation benefits economically from the presence of undocumented workers, too often we turn a blind eye when they are exploited by employers," he said.

"Is it not time to consider, as other countries have done, ways of regularising their situation? those who are working in the country and do not have a criminal record - to the benefit of our economy and to enable them to play a fuller part in society?"

A leading think-tank said the move would raise over £1bn in tax revenues annually which could them be spent on public services.

In its study, "Irregular migration in the U.K," the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) said £1.04 billion in potential fiscal revenue could be raised if the Britain regularised illegal immigrants and allowed them to settle, work and pay their taxes.

The IPRR said trying to remove the almost half a million people living in the country illegally is could cost as much as £4.7 billion annually and was "simply not feasible, nor is it desirable."

"Nobody likes illegal immigration and the subject is a deeply difficult one for politicians. But the bare truth is that we're not going to deport hundreds of thousands of people? our economy would shrink and we would notice it straight away in uncleaned offices, dirty streets and unstaffed pubs," said IPPR director Nick Pearce.

"So we have a choice: make people live in the shadows, exploited and fearful for the future, or bring them into the mainstream, to pay taxes and live an honest life."

In 2002, a House of Lords report called for an amnesty for the "growing underclass of people" who cannot be removed, whether failed asylum seekers or "illegal" migrants.

The report entitled "A Common Policy On Illegal Immigration," emphasised that some form of regularisation is unavoidable if a growing underclass of people in an irregular situation, who are vulnerable to exploitation, is not to be created.

It said more could and should be done across the EU to increase the opportunities for legal immigration in order to meet identified labour shortages.

It urged government to manage migration in a way that controls illegal immigration effectively while bearing in mind that they are dealing with people, most of whom are motivated simply by a desire for a better life for themselves and their families.

It also emphasised that in devising measures to control illegal immigration the Britian must ensure that it scrupulously observes its human rights obligations.

The report said it was disappointing that the government, while enthusiastically endorsing measures designed to improve the enforcement of immigration controls, had consistently chosen not to opt into positive immigration measures, such as those relating to admission for employment and self-employment; family reunion; and protection for the victims of trafficking.

This article was first published on OhmyNews International.