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Are You Syrious?

AYS Daily Digest 27/04/2021 — More Details on Cruelty of Home Office’s New Plan for Immigration

Upcoming Syrian Presidential Elections Illegitimate, Rights Groups Say//Statements on Closure of Kara Tepe Camp//Plenary Debates Frontex Budget

Photos of some of the people who died last week in a shipwreck that killed 130 people. Collection via Avvenire

Last month, the Home Office revealed its New Plan for Immigration, which would make a system that has already been characterized by the impossibility of its “hostile environment” even crueller. Now, more details have trickled out about the unsuitability of the New Plan as well as other ways that the British immigration system has become more hostile to people on the move since Brexit.

One of the ways in which the UK has failed people on the move has been in its abandonment of family reunification laws. Its previous family reunion law was implemented by the EU, and the government has not drawn up a new one since Brexit. It has also stopped responding completely to requests from lawyers about renewing permissions and arranging travel. This has stranded many people, including those who already had legal permission to settle in the UK but whose arrivals were delayed due to COVID-19 disrupting travel.

Some lawyers think that the Home Office is deliberately ignoring them, because there is a six-month deadline for arrivals after a family reunification case has been accepted. There is a strong possibility that the Home Office is hoping that it can reject people once its initial acceptance expires due to its own failures to provide people with a route to the UK.

Specifically in the New Plan, the Home Office is looking to make a difference between people’s methods of arrivals when deciding their asylum cases. However, legal routes for applying to asylum before reaching the UK are almost nonexistent, and people have a right to request asylum once they reach a country’s borders no matter how they get there. Learn more, including how you can take action, from Care4Calais.

The new agreement would also deteriorate the already terrible condition of accommodation for asylum seekers. The New Plan for Immigration would house more people in reception centres, even though existing ones have been widely criticized for terrible conditions. A new report published by the Red Cross analyzed the failures of current and planned accommodation and recommended that people live in community-based accommodation that could actually meet their needs.

In one aspect, some of Priti Patel’s plans have been stopped. The new immigration plan would punish people seeking asylum that arrived by traveling through “safe third countries” such as EU member states by deporting them. However, several European countries have already said they will not sign returns agreements with the UK. Now that it is no longer part of the EU, the UK cannot rely on the Dublin Regulation to legally justify deporting people.

While this seems like a satisfying sticking point in the Home Office’s plans, unfortunately it will probably result in people languishing in indefinite detention, as we have seen happen elsewhere when people cannot be deported but governments refuse to grant them residency. Already the Home Office is attempting to use the possibility of deportation to Europe to scare asylum seekers by sending threatening letters, even though it knows it cannot carry out deportations at the moment.

The Home Office is using the political confusion, particularly when it comes to migration laws, caused by Brexit as an opportunity to curtail the already fragile rights of people on the move in the United Kingdom. The plan is in consultation until May 6th. Once (if) it passes, the Home Office will have given itself even more impunity to ignore basic human rights.

In May, Syria is set to hold its presidential election. Groups like Syrian Network for Human Rights are pointing out that the election is illegitimate, as president Bashar al-Assad has been implicated in war crimes and is violating a 2015 resolution that only allows elections after a new constitution.

The very structure of the presidential elections are rigged against the opposition, without accounting for the physical violence political opponents face. Candidates must have lived in Syria for the past 10 years, even though millions of Syrians have been displaced, and need the approval of a parliament controlled by Assad’s party. The Syrian regime also does not control 30% of the country’s territory.

Assad’s last “victory” in a presidential election was in 2014. Since then, almost 48,000 people have died and millions others have been injured and displaced. This week alone 49 people have died in the violence.

In a dramatic rescue, SOS Mediterranee’s Ocean Viking rescued 236 people near Libya, including 114 unaccompanied minors. Several people had suffered injuries as they attempted to cross the Mediterranean in small rubber dinghies.

The Ocean Viking is luckily not alone in carrying out SAR duties. The Sea-Watch 4 is returning to the central Mediterranean.

Although NGOs like the two mentioned above do their best despite legal persecution, they alone cannot prevent deaths on the Mediterranean. As last week’s tragic deaths show, there needs to be a more robust, organized search and rescue mission. Instead, European governments pass the responsibility on to NGOs or the indifferent Libyan authorities, or simply ignore calls for distress. The ICCPR occasionally persecutes such cases of indifference, but in this case its ability to punish Libyan authorities is not so clear-cut.

This article shares some of the photos of the people that we lost last week, and recreates the timeline of the failures in response that led to such a tragic death.

Over the weekend, we shared the news that the Greek government had begun evicting people from Kara Tepe, a camp for more vulnerable people, and moving them all to Moria 2.0. People were pulled from their beds early in the morning and taken to a camp that is unlivable for strong, able-bodied people, let alone disabled people, traumatized children, or other vulnerable groups.

The International Rescue Committee, which has been operating in Greece since 2015, issued a statement condemning the transfers. The 600 people will be moved to a place that doesn’t have basic living conditions such as stable shelter or running water. From IRC Greece director Dimitra Kalogeropou:

Although expected, the closure of Kara Tepe is still a blow to the wellbeing and dignity of asylum seekers arriving at Europe’s shores. Following the closure of the independently run shelter, PIKPA, last October and the upcoming closure of ESTIA accommodation in November this year, asylum seekers on Lesvos will have no choice but to live in a tent amid appalling conditions. Once again, Greece and the EU are failing to provide dignified reception conditions. The IRC urges the Greek authorities to guarantee safe and dignified shelter for everyone, and ensure extremely vulnerable people can have access to shelter that does not put their health at risk.

Others have also criticized the move to close Kara Tepe. MSF psychologist Maria Eliana Tunno called the situation on the island “absurd” and said that the prospect of moving to Moria 2.0 has caused at least one patient to suffer a serious relapse. The artist Yorgos Konstantinou pointed out the difference between Mitsotakis’ promises in 2019 to guarantee decent living conditions compared to his government’s current actions.

Translated text from the artist Yorgos Konstantinou’s work: Mitsotakis 2019: “We will guarantee decent living conditions at all the welcoming facilities, with special care for families and other vulnerable groups” Mitsotakis 2021: “We close the only decent facilities for refugees ( Pikpa and Kara Tepe 1) on Lesvos. We are responsible of the fact that 85% of refugee children have no access to school. We have hundreds of families living in tents. On muddy ground, without heating, electricity or water. We stop providing cash assistance to refugees and their families. We invest millions in barbed wires, fences and building closed camps.”

It is a difficult world where art can travel more freely than its creators. 12-year-old Jamal’s drawing was exhibited in the MUCEM museum in Marseille and on the front pages of Le Monde. However, Jamal himself cannot even go to Germany to be with his father, and is now detained in the Pre-Departure Detention Center with the rest of his family on the island of Kos. Jamal and his siblings are suffering under indefinite detention, with no access to education or the outside world.

While Europe gawks at his artwork and pats itself on the back for handing such opportunities to a displaced child, Jamal and his family have been abandoned.

New closed reception centers on the Greek islands will have partly-automated surveillance systems funded by the EU, which raise concerns about people’s privacy rights. The system, called Centaur, would rely on cameras, drone flights, and AI motion behavioral analysis among other surveillance technologies. This surveillance will only further isolate the people and make conditions in the camps more like prisons, even though the people inside have done nothing wrong.

Some of Golden Dawn’s insolence is chipped away—convicted MEP Ioannis Lagos lost his diplomatic immunity. Hopefully he will face justice soon.

Today is the second day of Khora Asylum Support Team’s fundraiser. Learn more about their work and how to donate here!

Photo credit: Muhammad Afridi

The above photo is what people on the move in Lipa camp receive for all 24 hours of the day during Ramadan. This is unacceptable!

17 people were found dead off the coast of the Canary Islands. Three others who survived were transferred to a hospital.

Over the weekend, two people died trying to reach Spain via Ceuta. Today, the Moroccan authorities set up a boat along the coast, ostensibly to rescue people trying to swim the dangerous passage, but really to prevent arrivals.

Vox, Spain’s far right party, recently launched a disgusting ad campaign claiming that unaccompanied minors, or MENAs, received thousands of euros in government assistance at the expense of Spanish grandmothers. In response, advocacy groups, unaccompanied minors, and former wards are trying to show the truth of their situation. Vox’s ads are just part of a wider climate that adultifies children who are not white and allows the legal system to violate their rights.

Spectres of the same xenophobic sentiment that motivated those ads broke out on Fuerteventura on the Canary Islands. A group of local businessman and the mayor protested in front of a hotel housing people on the move completing their mandatory quarantine period. They claimed that housing the people in the town would affect the tourism industry’s recovery.

49 people arrived in Salerno, including 15 unaccompanied minors. This is the third arrival in the area in the past 24 hours.

Danish Minister for Development Cooperation Flemming Moller Mortensen signed two memorandums of understanding with Rwandan Minister of State Prof. Manasseh Nshuti as Immigration Minister Mattias Tesfaye looked on. The agreements contained details on “political consultations and cooperation on asylum and migration issues.” Although precise details of what is in the agreements are not available yet, it is probable that much of the memorandum on immigration contains details on possible externalization of people on the move from Denmark to Rwanda.

Local protesters and international critique are not enough to make Danish Migration Minister Mattias Tesfaye and his government change their mind about returning people to war-torn Syria. Several other European countries such as Sweden and the UK, have decided that conditions near Damascus are better, but Denmark is the only one who has begun the process of returns. This is despite criticism from leading voices in international human rights, such as Amnesty International, who have pointed out that no part of Syria is safe. Many will face harsh interrogation upon their return as part of the regime’s official “security clearance.”

EU Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson criticized the Danish government and said that nobody should return to Syria. However, the EU has no power to enforce her words since Denmark is not part of the institution’s asylum acquis.

Denmark cannot even carry out deportations until it reestablishes diplomatic relations with Assad’s regime. Instead, people are forced into detention centers.

Ireland’s Ombudsman for Children noted several failures of the state in its organization of direct provision, which exposes children to abuse. In their report, they found that staff were not trained in child protection, did not report cases of child abuse but threatened competent parents with child removal to ensure compliance, and did not have proper interpreters in place. The system also did not properly cooperate with the state’s Child and Family Agency.

It’s always a good day when fascists look silly! Britain First, the xenophobic group that threatened people in hotels last summer, was looking to resume its campaign of terror. Instead, people gathered together to bombard them with decoy hotels where there are no people on the move. The would-be vigilantes wound up on a wild goose chase through empty hotels.

The European Parliament discussed the institution’s 2019 budget today, including a recommendation from the Budgetary Control Committee to postpone approving Frontex’s budget due to the agency’s lack of transparency. Results of the vote will be published on Thursday.

Frontex’s seemingly unchecked powers and budget have led to an expansion of the agency’s surveillance and technology. For example, it increasingly uses chartered planes for surveillance missions. However, this expansion in surveillance has not been accompanied by an expansion in rescues.

Besides the lack of transparency, Frontex should also be defunded because of its complicity in pushbacks at European borders. Throughout the day, our friends at Border Violence Monitoring Network tweeted reminders of Frontex’s complicity. Here are a few of the stories they shared:

For more on the impact of chain push-backs, which Frontex is complicit in, go here.

Despite the evidence of Frontex’s wrongdoings, some EU politicians bent over backwards to defend the agency.

While we are hope that Frontex will not get more money, at least for the time being, the change in treatment of people on the move on a European level needs to be systematic. This includes the rhetoric of EU officials towards people. It is unacceptable that Ylva Johansson used last week’s awful news about 130 people drowning in the Mediterranean to—present a strategy on voluntary repatriation. Using people’s deaths to justify policies that will cause even more harm is callous, particularly when thinking about how often voluntary repatriation leads to coercive situations and broken promises.

Although EU officials have criticized Denmark’s decision to repatriate people to Syria, as mentioned above, the bloc is still involved in efforts to send people back to Afghanistan. It is planning to extend the Joint Way Forward, a deal which makes aid to the country contingent on Afghanistan accepting returns. This is despite the fact that terrorist groups like the Taliban often target returnees, minority groups like the Hazara still face astonishing levels of persecution, and unchecked environmental devastation is causing more displacement and food insecurity.

Hundreds of local municipalities across the continent have expressed their readiness to welcome people on the move. However, they are often ignored by those with higher power. This video aims to highlight local initiatives to build a grassroots movement across the continent that can affect legislation.

ECRE’s Press Review highlights relevant news from across Europe, for more reading.

Berlin-based friends, there will be a demonstration against Denmark’s asylum policy next weekend. More details here.

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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.