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AYS Daily Digest 21/10/2020 — Home Office Removal Notice Window Unlawful, Court Says

Greek Government Signs Agreement With Afghanistan // ”Sickening” Abuse by Croatian Police During Pushbacks // More Arrivals in Lampedusa

Photo of a man beaten by Croatian police. Photo credit: Danish Refugee Council via The Guardian

The UK Home Office’s 72 hour notice window was struck down in court today.

The suit was brought by the charity Medical Justice, the Public Law Project, and Duncan Lewis solicitors in 2019 and was first denied by the High Court. Today, the Court of Appeal ruled unanimously that Medical Justice’s appeal was correct and that the policy did not allow people enough time to access legal advice and present their case, leading to many situations were a person was deported unlawfully. Under the old policy, people were given only 72 hours notice before a three-month deportation window began, during which they could be deported at any time with no further warning.

Rakesh Singh from the Public Law Project said, “this is a case about access to justice, one of the fundamental values of the British constitution.”

This judgement is a welcome step and hopefully no more people will suffer under this policy, but as lawyer Shoaib M. Khan asks, “what of those who have already been removed from the UK under this unlawful policy?” Before it was suspended, over 40,000 people, including members of the Windrush generation, were deported under this policy. The details emerging in the case paint a shocking picture of systemic denial of legal services, including to those in immigrant detention. MP Alison Thewliss, chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Immigration Detention, has asked Priti Patel to formally apologize for her office’s actions.

At least 15 people died yesterday off the coast of Sabratha in Libya, although a search is still ongoing. Five people were rescued by fishermen.

The Greek government signed an agreement with Afghanistan to make deportations and “voluntary” returns easier. The deal is similar to one signed by Germany and the EU in 2016. Both deals have been heavily criticized by advocates as Afghanistan is not a safe country for returns.

Already, officials have made it clear that the goal is to increase deportations. The minister said that the message is, “to those risking their lives…that even if they do arrive, ultimately their journey will be unsuccessful,” and implied that most people coming from Afghanistan are “economic migrants” instead of people fleeing a country that has been at war for decades (not that people migrating for economic reasons do not also deserve dignified housing and support, but the phrase has become a dog-whistle to paint people as “undeserving”). For context, about 40% of people on the move who arrived in 2020 are from Afghanistan, so thousands could be affected by this deal.

A person from the detention center at Chios was admitted to the hospital for severe tuberculosis. She was sick for three months before she was able to see a doctor, showing the depravity of the medical system in Greek camps. It is worrisome that during the coronavirus pandemic it took so long to get medical care for a woman suffering from a severe respiratory illness. It shows how few precautions have been taken to protect people on the move from the spread of COVID-19 or any other illness. How many more people have gotten seriously ill or died from conditions that could have been treated with timely intervention?

We’ve written a lot about fortifications on the Evros border recently, but for background on the river and its transnational history, check out this great article from E-Flux.

The Guardian published a report about a series of pushbacks in mid-October near Cetingrad. During those pushbacks, the Croatian police whipped, robbed, and sexually abused people on the move. Over 75 people independently reported stories of “inhumane treatment, savage beatings, and even sexual abuse,” according to Charlotte Slente, secretary-general of the Danish Refugee Council that gathered the testimonies. The people brutalized included minors.

A minor from the second group fainted after many blows. His friends took him in their arms, and one of the police officers ordered them to lay him down on the ground. Then they started hitting them with batons. Before the deportation, police told us: ‘We don’t care where you are from or if you will return to Bosnia or to your country, but you will not go to Croatia. Now you have all your arms and legs because we were careful how we hit you. Next time it will be worse’.

More details about the pushbacks, including verification of the photos, can be found in this report by Border Violence Monitoring Network member NoNameKitchen. The pushbacks are part of an overall policy to prevent crossings from the Velika Kladusa area as autumn sets in. Most of these documented attacks took place within the area of one police station whose chief “recently spoke at a training event for 36 new Croatian Border Police leaders on “Frontex-certified” border procedures. All signs point to the fact that these are not the actions of a few rogue police officers, but part of a wider policy.

Stories of the Croatian government’s rampant abuse of people on the move have been coming out for a long time, and the European Union has been complicit in covering up the violence and funding it.

The Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights published a statement on her Facebook page calling the “latest allegations” “extremely worrying.” She called on the Croatian authorities to stop pushbacks, cooperate with independent monitoring, and publish the Committee for the Prevention of Torture’s report on the situation in the country. The DRC shared the report documenting these pushbacks with the European commission, but it has not launched an investigation yet.

Instead of pulling funding from police forces engaged in these violent practices or at the very least launching an investigation, the European Union is more invested in suppressing information. EU Commission Vice President Margaritis Schinas said that “social media and small NGOs” cannot be relied on for information. Anybody who’s familiar with the work of organizations like DRC and BVMN knows that they are meticulous when it comes to gathering and verifying information, and in this particular instance the sheer volume of evidence is staggering. In many areas on the Balkan route, small NGOs are the only people doing work on the ground as larger international organizations are simply not present, so not only are they reliable sources for information they often are the only ones. This is a clear attempt to discredit information from those who are trying the hardest to hold the powerful accountable.

256 people arrived in Lampedusa between Tuesday and Wednesday. Most were from Tunisia, while one boat had people from different nationalities coming from Libya.

In total, about 16,000 people have registered as asylum seekers in Italy this year. So far, the government examined 27,000 applications in total, but only one fifth of them were accepted. There are about 37,400 people with “new irregular” status thanks to Salvini’s decree from 2018.

The body of a young man washed up on the beach of La Ribera in Ceuta.

May he rest in peace, and may there be no more deaths at the borders.

Sammy Mahdi was sworn in as Belgium’s new Migration and Asylum Minister. His father was a refugee from Iraq who came to Belgium in 1970. However, Mr. Mahdi has expressed that one of his priorities is increasing deportations from Belgium, instead of helping people access financial support, health care, and other vital services that they are often shut out of due to irregular legal status.

Unfortunately, Europe has several examples to remind us that someone’s personal background does not necessarily mean their policies will be beneficial to other immigrants. The most famous example is Priti Patel, the daughter of Indian immigrants from Uganda. Denmark’s Mattias Tesfaye, who has become the face of anti-immigrant sentiment on the left in his home country and even advocated for collaboration with the far-right, is another one.

Over the past four years, Sweden has had to reverse 81 deportations, costing taxpayers 16 million SEK. Usually, the deportations “fail” because the receiving country does not accept the deported person, especially if they do not have valid identity documents. This begs the question of how efficient and functional the system actually is, if deportations are carried out without valid documents in place or even confirming with authorities in the other country?

In general, when agencies cut corners in the name of efficiency, it is people on the move who suffer. The Swedish Migration Board has started booking asylum interviews at a much faster speed, however, this does not leave people enough notice to prepare or even the ability to choose their own lawyer. In the end, this bogs down the process even more as lawyers will refuse to take the case when they find out their client wanted representation from somebody else.

Sweden and other European countries should think about the human cost before pursuing efficiency in migration policy.

The Greater Manchester Immigration Aid Unit published a report on positive changes made to the immigration system during the pandemic. These include Home Office acceptance of information submitted electronically, the permanent re-use of stored biometric information, and more. If it is possible to make the asylum application process easier during a pandemic, it can be done so at all times.

This article from the “Death at Borders” series organized by Border Criminologies talks about the way death rates in the Mediterranean have increased as a result of European border policy. For more on the ways government policies around “deterrence” cause harm, check out this program, “Hostile Environments — Designing Hostility, Building Refugia.”

Also worth reading: this article on MSF’s work with Venezuelan returnees.

Lawyers from the US government say that they cannot find the parents of 545 children that were separated by ICE at the border. Thousands of lives, ruined and hundreds of children traumatized as a result of cruel government policy. Child separation is unfortunately a global problem, as shown in the story we shared yesterday about child separation in the Canary Islands.

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Daily news digests from the field, mainly for volunteers and refugees on the route, but also for journalists and other parties.

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Are You Syrious?

News digests from the field, mainly for volunteers and people on the move, but also for journalists, decision makers and other parties.