Tag Archives: 1951 Geneva Convention

Asylum Seekers on Hunger Strike

It’s not the first time recently that ‘failed’, detained asylum seekers have taken matters into their own hands in protest against their terrible treatment by Britain’s inhuman asylum system. And again it’s happening at Yarl’s Wood:

For two days, Tuesday and Wednesday, more than 100 women detained staged a hunger strike to protest the way they are being deported to their countries of residence. Some of them are deported the day following their arrest, without even being allowed to get a lawyer, inform their family and friends of their status or even just keep their belongings.

Women arrested are from China, Pakistan, India, Latin America and other countries. Every day a minimum of six women are deported, wearing the same clothes they arrived in because they were not allowed to get their own clothes. In addition, many of them did not have time to hear the answer to their appeal. Many of them don’t speak English and are unable to implement their rights.

It is reported that a woman tried to commit suicide. She cut her veins of both hands but a guard stopped her and took her to the hospital. This is something that is happening on a daily basis. Depression, anxiety, fear, anxiety, uncertainty … “It is a psychological torture. We are conscious we have nothing to lose. They bring the TV to show all the comforts we have, but they do not mind that we have no rights, even to know how our cases are developing.”

According to them, their appeals are not being studied in a reasonable length of time and many are deported without having a response from the Home Office. Inmates also complain that the food they receive is inadequate.

These are people who are in detention, without having committed a crime. They do not have access to legal aid, are not being given the opportunity to prove their cases, and face violence from their guards. Yet the mainstream media isn’t interested in such constant, mainstreamed abuse. It’s far from unusual. Why should anyone, let alone people who haven’t committed a crime, have to resort to a hunger strike in order to be able to access adequate health care, proper food and highlight the detention of children?!

Amnesty International protested yesterday in support of asylum seekers’ rights. You can see the photos here.

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Jacqui Smith is a Killer

It should surprise noone, given her track record as Home Secretary, but today Jacqui Smith proved once and for all just how ruthless she can be. Having received limited kudos for her finally granting asylum to Mehdi Kazemi, the question remained – would she institute a moratorium on deportations of gay asylum seekers to Iran and similar Middle Eastern (and other) countries, where to be gay is to court the probability of death? After all the Netherlands proved they could do it. The answer was ‘no’:

“With particular regard to Iran, current case law handed down by the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal concludes that the evidence does not show a real risk of discovery of, or adverse action against gay and lesbian people who are discreet about their sexual orientation.”

Sorry but she’s fucking retarded. I’ve tried to use more temperate language about this woman until now, but this is just ridiculous. Ben Summerskill, Stonewall Chief Executive quite rightly pointed out her stupidity:

“You only have to listen to people who were terrorised by the Metropolitan Police in the 1950s and 1960s to know that telling gay people to live discreetly is quixotic.”

It’s a cavalier and inhuman means of avoiding living up to the human rights obligations she’s tied into, as well as the European Commission’s ruling in January that:

“Member States cannot expel or refuse refugee status to homosexual persons without taking into account their sexual preferences, the information relevant to the situation in their country of origin, including the laws and ways in which they are applied.”

And why would she refuse a moratorium (other than to prove her political brutality, lining up behind her boss, having proven his ‘strength’ with his pyhrric victory on 42 days)? Does she believe there’ll be some sort of ‘flood’ of asylum seekers, to ‘swamp’ the notoriously bad UK Border Agency? Paul Canning of Gayasylumuk points out:

“The Dutch experience shows that a proven, tested model exists of how to operate a humane asylum policy for gays and lesbians – and they haven’t had a ‘flood’.”

“Similar policy and practice exists in the United States, Canada and Sweden – why is the UK alone in being inhumane and disregarding international law?”

Opposition parties have lined up to condemn the Home Secretary. Stephen Crabb, the Chairman of the Conservative Party’s Human Rights Commission said:

“Asking minorities to live their lives discreetly is to give in to the tyrants and bullies who sustain their positions through fear and coerced conformity.

“It demonstrates both an unelevated view of the importance of human rights and cowardice in championing our own system of values.”

Whilst Phelim Mac Cafferty, media spokesperson for LGBT Greens said:

“Her claim that as long as people are “discreet” a regime notorious for its treatment of LGBT people will somehow stop persecuting them is misled at best and homicidal at worst.

“Instead of this macho posturing from the Home Office on keeping asylum figures down, we desperately need a Home Secretary prepared to look the Iranian regime in the eyes and stand up for what’s right for LGBT people.”

And this is what it’s all about. It’s why Peter Tatchell’s claim about the treatment of gay asylum seekers is more salient than ever. The New Labour government has been attacking the 1951 Geneva Convention since 2003 and they’ll do whatever they can to keep it that way. It’s an outrage essentially to blame gay people for their own persecution and it deserves the most thorough condemnation. This is what Iran does to gay people, a fact which the Home Office denies.

Save Prossy Kakooza

It’s been days since the five-year asylum reprieve for Mehdi Kazemi was granted by the British government, but they’re already at it again. This time Prossy Kakooza’s application for asylum has been rejected, the Home Office again suggesting that there is no evidence to suggest she is at risk of persecution for her sexual orientation in Uganda. It’s the same garbage as with Mehdi’s situation, with the identical issues highlighted by Peter Tatchell still in play:

  • No training on sexual orientation issues for asylum staff and adjudicators
  • No explicit official policy supporting the right of refugees to claim asylum on the grounds of sexual orientation
  • No action to stamp out the abuse of LGBT refugees in UK asylum detention camps
  • No accurate, up-to-date information on the victimisation of LGBT people in violently homophobic countries
  • No access to adequate legal representation for LGBT asylum applicants

The government again denies the likelihood of persecution because of her sexual orientation, yet either chooses to ignore or is unaware of the Ugandan penal code as regards homosexuality, as well as:

you cannot settle in a new town without a reference from your previous village, and on the basis she is a lesbian, Prossy would be subjected to similar persecution wherever she went.

Is the Home Office ignorant of this social practice or, as in the case of many asylum seekers, was her case turned down because she’d been denied legal aid, making a fully nuanced case to the immigration tribunal almost impossible, as per Tony Blair’s policy in 2003? Either way, it’s a reminder that Mehdi’s reprieve didn’t represent any improvement in the asylum system whatsoever, it was down to having exploited a weakened Gordon Brown, nothing more. How very New Labour to hide bad behaviour under isolated good deeds.

Uganda outlaws male homosexuality, under laws originally imposed by the British colonizers in the nineteenth century. Offenders can face a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. Lesbians and gays are subjected to vigilante violence by homophobic mobs, especially in rural areas where most of the population live. Civil rights groups, including Amnesty International, have been critical of the Ugandan government for allowing the abuses to go on.

Clearly the Home Office’s information is at the very least not up-to-date, either wilfully or through incompetence. When people’s lives are at stake, neither is acceptable. Stay mad.

IGLHRC is concerned for the safety of leaders and supporters of the LGBT community in the East African nation of Uganda, after senior officials went on the public and private radio stations to call for the arrest of leaders of the country’s LGBT movement this morning. Deputy Attorney General Fred Ruhinde and Minister of Ethics and Integrity Nsaba Butoro, were showing their solidarity with a coalition of conservative Catholic, Protestant, Muslim and Bahai congregations—the Interfaith Coalition Against Homosexuality—that has called for the arrest, deportation, and even murder of gays and lesbians.

Does this really not represent persecution?

Animals, Lock-Up Time

It really is inconceivable to me that something as significant as the protests and repression at the Harmondsworth Immigration Removal Centre aren’t getting picked up by the mainstream media at all; it’s shameful really. On April 1st a majority of detainees went into the exercise yard to protest against their detention and the poor conditions they face (which include universally inadequate legal representation, which I’ve mentioned in previous posts). The following day they followed up with hunger strikes. Be aware that asylum seekers are not locked up at Harmondsworth for having committed any crime, and that protests such as this have occurred there many times before, each time having been broken up violently by the police.

This too was broken up by police violence. On April 5th about 50 riot police broke the hunger strike, putting detainees into solitary confinement and other prisons in order to stop them from communicating with each other and the outside world. The mainstream media ignored this too, and the whereabouts of about 30 detainees are currently unknown. State violence is not supposed to be happening in the United Kingdom, nor is it supposed to be allowed to happen by the mainstream media. This has gone on in November 2006, April 2006, January 2006 and July 2004 merely at Harmondsworth, not to mention Yarls Wood in 2002 and 2004:

Arbitrary detention, dispersal, vouchers, deportations, self harm, suicides, racist attacks, snatch squads, are all part of the daily life of asylum seekers in the UK.

That’s not just a quote, as confirmed by Harmondsworth’s most recent inspection by the Chief Inspector of Prisons:

Over 60% of detainees said they had felt unsafe at Harmondsworth. This was much higher than the comparator for other centres. More worryingly, the main fear was of bullying by staff: 44% of detainees (compared to 28% in other IRCs) said they had been victimised by staff. In structured interviews, five of the 10 most common concerns about safety related directly to staff behaviour. Detainees described custody officers as ‘aggressive’, ‘intimidating’, ‘rude’ and ‘unhelpful’, especially to those without English – though they found senior officers better, and were extremely complimentary about education staff. Some staff also expressed concerns to us about language and behaviour they had witnessed from colleagues. We ourselves saw relationships that were often distant, and evidence of a lack of care or understanding of detainees’ situations and anxieties.

We attributed these poor relationships, which were worse than any we have seen elsewhere, at least in part to the centre management’s over-emphasis on physical security and control. Many of the rules and systems would have been considered over-controlling in a prison, let alone a removal centre. Detainees were unable to have basic possessions, such as tins, jars, leads for audio equipment and nail clippers. Their movements were strictly controlled. Use of force was high, as was the use of temporary confinement in segregated conditions – sometimes as a response to poor behaviour rather than for reasons of security or safety as specified in the Detention Centre Rules. The incentives scheme operated rather as a punishment system, sometimes depriving detainees of basic entitlements, such as the ability to attend religious services.

By contrast, the systems that should exist to support detainees were underdeveloped. Suicide and self-harm work was weak, in spite of the efforts of a good and committed coordinator. Reviews did not involve healthcare, support plans were poor, and night staff had limited access to ligature cutters. Most worryingly, a so-called action plan, to deal with problems identified by the inquiry into the recent self-inflicted death, had been shared with neither the suicide prevention team nor the staff in the centre. It was a purely bureaucratic exercise which had had no impact on the centre’s practices. Equally, the complaints system was distrusted and ineffective. It was not sufficiently confidential and tracking systems were ineffective. This was of particular concern as a third of complaints were about staff, and some that raised serious allegations had not been investigated properly.

If it seems the greatest problem is the management of the centre, I wonder also why noone seems to be asking why it’s run by Kalyx, a subsidiary of Sodexho, whilst known by the government to underperform. In 2006 it was fined £5 million for undisclosed ‘performance failures’. Baroness Scotland said in December 2006 that ‘rigorous attempts to manage the situation (in Harmondsworth}’ had been put in place. Without being able to confirm this either way, the treatment that these latest protesters have received suggests the opposite, and the Independent Asylum Commission found the UK’s asylum system as a whole ‘marred by inhumanity’. It’s pointless trying to improve conditions within one centre, if the system under which it operates is ‘inhuman’, and this seems to be the principle grievance which triggered the latest unrest. The evidence:

“They are denying asylum to people who needs protection without giving them the opportunity to prove their cases. Legal representation is of bad quality and some legal representatives work for the Home Office, not in the interest of the asylum seekers.
In the meantime people are kept in detention, some have been there up to 21 months.
The fast track system is unjust and unfair, it is not practical becuse it gives decisions in 5 days and two days to appeal. People cannot prepare they cases in such short time.
Some people are in fear to go back to their countries where they were persecuted because of their sexuality, political opinion or religion, some are victims of torture, that’s why they are seeking asylum and the UK are sending them back.”

All common refrains, being picked up from numerous sources, not just Harmondsworth. The Mehdi Kazemi case, the repeated attacks on legal aid, the poor training of immigration officials, inadequate country information and ignorant attitudes by senior Home Office officials all point to a system geared up to abuse the most vulnerable, in flagrant defiance of the 1951 Geneva Convention.

The food is disgusting.
The medical facilities are appalling.
Some people have mental problems and should not be kept with the others and some are going crazy because they lock them up too long in deteintion.
We are not treated like human beings.

People get beaten at airport and they come back full of injuries. People are deported illegally when they still have cases pending.

Apart from the barbarous deportation of Ama Sumani (who died as a result of it), these further complaints are backed up in yet another damning report to precede the latest unrest at Harmondsworth. The report commissioned by the Border and Immigration Agency itself found:

The centre was found to be under-performing against any of the Race Relations standards that were set. … Only 2 managers were felt to represent principles of good practice in the way that they treated detainees with dignity and respect, whereas the rest of the managers treated detainees with disdain. It is this culture that causes the centre problems in terms of relationships between custody officers and detainees. There is a ‘taunting’ of detainees by some custody officers and a distinct lack of flexibility in treating detainees as individuals.

The detainees that were interviewed all reported either personally experiencing or witnessing harassment and intimidation perpetrated by staff. Banter and taunting of detainees was not seen as discriminatory behaviour or harassment, but as part of the natural relationship between a detainee and custody officer. This demonstrated a distinct lack of understanding and concern for the detainee’s situation.

Both staff and detainees reported incidents of detainees being taunted by some officers. There was no reason to disbelieve these reports, as an auditor overheard a senior officer saying to the CRALO, who is of Asian descent, ‘talk proper I can’t understand you.’

This behaviour wasn’t confined to Harmondsworth, although it scored the worst in the race relations audit of all immigration detention centres.

This petition has been sent to John McDonnell MP and the European Court of Human Rights, as well as other agencies. The hunger strike appears to be over, but with the evidence from official, unconnected reports and interviews with detainees showing no improvement either to the institution or the system it’s part of, it’s only a question of time before this happens again. The Border and Immigration Agency’s own conclusion says:

The audit findings highlighted areas for improvement with regards to race relations, but did not support serious allegations of racism or mistreatment of detainees.

even though the audit did support serious allegations of racism and mistreatment. It’s not to say that good practice doesn’t exist within the asylum detention system – that would be unfair and inaccurate. But Harmondsworth is a demonstrable problem, the Border and Immigration Agency has shown itself again and again not to be interested in its improvement, and government policy and attitudes only entrench and justify their failings, whilst sending ever more people who deserve only compassion and asylum into their hands.