February 14, 2013 § Leave a comment
On Saturday the 26th January I attended a meeting organised by Tyneside Community Action Against Racism (TCAR). The day was organised by activists to highlight some of the pressing issues within the asylum regime. This blog will reiterate some of the concerns raised, in the hope that it will shed further light on an asylum system shamelessly focused on reducing immigration rather than providing sanctuary and meeting the needs of asylum seekers.
The speakers included Tom Vickers, Frances Webber, John Grayson and Raul Ally.
Tom’s speech ‘Racism and Politics in British State Welfare’ focused on the pitiful support that asylum seekers receive whilst they are in the UK and the racism which pervades the history of welfare provision and remains to this day. His speech can be accessed via his blog, consequently it will not be reiterated here.
I had the pleasure of reading Frances Webber’s book ‘Borderline Justice‘, which gives a comprehensive account of various aspects of the asylum system such as welfare, housing, detention, border control and access to justice. Her inspired speech gave a general overview of the developments in the legal system and the role of asylum seekers, community, lawyers and judges in fighting for a more humane asylum system, reiterating the importance of activism and community support. A video of her speech can be viewed by clicking the link.
The remainder of this blog is co-written by Raul Ally, who explains his profoundly moving experience of detention in the UK. He has also included a video link documenting his experience of seeking asylum
Before examining the deplorable practice of detention in the UK, the blog will examine discussion by John Grayson and the transfer of asylum seeker housing from the UK Border Agency to the privatised company G4S.
Privatised Housing and the shameless disregard for humanity:
Asylum seeker housing in the UK is now 100% outsourced to three multi-national security companies: Clearel (London and the South of England); Serco (North-West and Scotland & Northern Ireland); and G4S (North-East, Yorkshire & Humberside and the Midlands & East of England), who earn millions of pounds through securing provision. These companies cut costs by purchasing sub standard properties and letting them to asylum seekers who are left with little or no other options. Their blatant disregard for the standards of housing provided, the needs of asylum seekers and the suitability of areas of accommodation continue to place asylum seekers in precarious positions where their rights are frequently infringed.
G4S were granted 211million pounds for the seven year asylum housing contract. The company recently hit the headlines for botching security at the London Olympic Games, and more seriously for the death of Jimmy Mubenga in October 2010. Mubenga died after being restrained by G4S guards on a British Airways flight in an attempt to deport him to Angola, he was heard repeatedly shouting ‘I can’t breathe’ and ‘they’re going to kill me’ by fellow passengers and British Airways Crew.
In December 2012, G4S evicted a heavily pregnant asylum seeker from her home on the day she was due to be induced to give birth, expecting her to move all her belongings, register as homeless and travel to hospital herself. The woman was aided by one worker who took pity on her and gave her a lift to hospital.
The standards of housing provided by G4S are described by Grayson as appalling. In one case, a mother who had been housed in what Grayson describes as a ‘slum’, found a cockroach in her five month old son’s milk bottle. Her accommodation was damp and infested by slugs and cockroaches, the back yard was littered with piles of rubbish from previous tenants and the landlord had screwed cockroach traps to the walls, one of which was placed close to her son’s cot. Unlike national citizens who have tenant’s rights, asylum seekers were stripped of such rights via the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999. Despite this, the Government still have an obligation to provide asylum seekers with an adequate standard of living and physical and mental health via Article 11(1) and 12 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
They also have a national obligation to safeguard and promote the welfare of children, which they are bound to consider via Section 55 Borders Citizenship and Immigration Act 2009 and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. However, evidence suggests that the Government is failing to adhere to these obligations.
A recent parliamentary inquiry into the experiences of children within the asylum system found that in relation to housing, “families are living in poorly maintained, overcrowded accommodation which can be damp, dirty, cold and unsafe; infested with mice, cockroaches and other pests, rotting floorboards and locked windows. One submission characterized this as ‘death trap’ accommodation” noting there is little obligation upon housing providers to ensure high quality or appropriate accommodation. During the inquiry, one local authority affirmed that properties issued by private firms “are less well maintained and sometimes lack basic facilities needed for families with young children, such as washing machines. Children and parents have to share bedrooms, or live in flats and hostels with strangers, sharing communal areas.” The accountability of housing standards is thus a major concern.
Racist incidents have also been disregarded by G4S in their selection of accommodation areas, often housing asylum seekers in rough and notoriously racist areas. Grayson discussed the plight of an asylum seeking journalist from Iraq who was dispersed to a G4S property in Stockton in October 2012. On arrival the applicant and four other asylum seekers were overwhelmed by a crowd hurling racist abuse, who proceeded to break down the door and windows to their accommodation before being removed by police. The landlord repaired the door but refused to repair the windows, declining to move the asylum seekers to more appropriate accommodation. The police also refused to register the attack as racially motivated. In fear of reprisals the other four asylum seekers left the property, yet in doing so they also lost qualification for support.
The failure to return or subside at an authorised address constitutes a reason for the discontinuation of financial support to asylum seekers, who are also prevented from working. (See SI 2000/704 and Policy Bulletin 17, Failure to Travel)
Abandonment of address for reasons of racial harassment is classified as a reasonable excuse. In considering whether to discontinue support in these circumstances adjudicators must take into account the nature, degree, frequency, persistence and organisation of the harassment, as well as the effect it has on the asylum seeker and whether police have been informed and taken action. ‘The ‘sufficiency of protection’ test of refugee status itself has even been applied to deciding whether a refusal to return to the site of previous racist harassment was reasonable in the light of the police response. These decisions suggest that there is such a thing as an acceptable level of racial harassment (or a level of harassment which asylum seekers must accept).” (Macdonald’s Immigration Law and Practice 2010, page1104)
Though some asylum seekers are active in their fight for humane and dignified treatment, some are afraid to speak out, worried of the impact it could have on their asylum application. Consequently hundreds of asylum seekers continue to live in squalor and allow racist incidents to go unreported, choosing to remain at home rather than risk racial abuse outside.
Detention: A punitive response to seeking asylum?
Though immigration detention is claimed not to be a form of punishment, Morton Hall detention centre, where Raul was recently held used to be a female prison. At the TCAR meeting Raul described being locked in a cell intermittently during the day and released for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The centre placed restrictions on internet access, which prevented Raul from accessing websites to aid his asylum claim and he claims that staff would intercept his post. Raul reported that the majority of detainees were depressed, one of whom he witnessed stabbing himself with a fork in the dining hall through fear of deportation.
Though asylum seekers have committed no crime, once detained, they are imprisoned and unable to leave. Whereas criminals are imprisoned for a fixed amount of time, there is no time limit placed on immigration detention and no requirement to inform detainees of how long they will be incarcerated. The imprisonment of asylum seekers in the UK has led to countless riots, hunger strikes and suicides.
The National Clinical Director for Health and Criminal Justice at the Department of Health has affirmed that ‘custody causes mental distress and acts to exacerbate existing mental health problems, heighten vulnerability and increase the risk of self-harm and suicide.’ The following case study has been taken from a blog written by Clare Sambrook and provides an insight into the realities of immigration detention and deportation:
“When immigration officers called at his home in Leeds for a ‘pastoral visit’, the man was open and friendly. He let them in, offered them a seat, a cup of coffee, told them of his depression, showed them his medication. The very next day a dozen officers arrived at dawn and broke down his door with a battering ram — (an “absolutely routine pick-up”, they called it). The man and his 13 year old son woke up to find an immigration officer and a police officer in their attic bedroom. They were told to dress and pack, told they’d be flown the following morning to Angola — a country where, the man said, his mother, father and sister had been killed by the authorities.
On the drive to the removal centre — Yarl’s Wood, in Bedfordshire — escort staff from private contractors G4S confiscated a coil of washing line from his bag. At Yarl’s Wood they said he could not keep his medication or the washing line with him, but nobody noted any indication of risk of self-harm in his file. He was found hanged in a Yarl’s Wood stairwell at around 1 AM the next morning. His son was woken up and told the news. The man was Manuel Bravo. He was 35 years old. The circumstances of his death were recorded, with some compassion, by the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman Stephen Shaw in January 2006.”
At the TCAR event Raul spoke of the profound impact detention had had on him, stating ‘I may seem ok on the outside, but really I am not.’
On the 24th of June 2012 I was arrested and held in North Shields police station for 3 days. I was released 3 hours before my prom, I was arrested without committing any crime or doing anything wrong and ordered to sign on (at an immigration centre) every week.
It was Wednesday the 1st of August and I was meant to be watching an Olympic football match between Brazil and Australia, but unfortunately I couldn’t make it because I was rearrested by the UKBA and taken to Morton Hall detention centre in Lincolnshire where I was detained for over 2 months.
My experience in Morton hall has to be the worst experience I have had in Britain. I first arrived there thinking there would only be a few of us, but I was shocked to see how many people were held there, people from all different countries with different circumstances. I expected to see only asylum seekers but there were people being detained for no specific reason which was very sad to see. There were people with major illnesses such as heart disease, people who were blind, those suffering mental illness and people without limbs. It was sad spending time with them, sometimes I wished that they could be released and I remained in there because they didn’t deserve to be held in those conditions.
The staff in Morton Hall were very harsh, I heard one with my own ears saying that they had the hardest job working in a detention centre as we (asylum seekers) were the worst criminals. They treated people like animals, I saw one detainee being forced to move, they strangled and cuffed him, the guy couldn’t even breathe properly and shouted that they were killing him, it was very sad to watch. The nurses lie and say whatever is necessary so people can be deported, there was a Vietnamese person who had heart problems and couldn’t even go to the dining hall to get his food, yet the nurses signed that he was fit to be deported, and they only supply you with pain killers as medication.
The immigration rules say that the maximum someone should be held in detention is 3 months, but some of my friends were held for up to 6 years, some people have even been deported to wrong destinations, just so they can get rid of them. There were a few Somalis who pooed in the plane because they were taken to unknown countries and they used fake documents to deport them. It was hell being in a detention centre, and it hurts me to see people being treated like this. God’s world has no borders. Shut down detention centres!
By Raul Ally
A video documenting Raul’s asylum journey can be viewed at:
October 16, 2012 § 1 Comment
For my first blog I use the foundational reading I am undertaking at the start of my PhD studies in order to discuss the theories of rights, and more specifically, what these theories mean to children as right-holders. There are two main competing theories as to the nature of rights; interest theory and choice (or will) theory. I will start by trying to briefly explain each, pointing out the fundamental differences which lead to the problematic philosophical question of whether or not children have rights.
Developed from Jeremy Bentham’s benefit theory, Joseph Raz’s interest theory focuses on rights arising from our holding of a sufficient interest. The subsequent right then informs a duty or obligation of others, as Raz explains;
[T]he interests are part of the justification of the rights which are part of the justification of the duties. Rights are intermediate conclusions in arguments from ultimate values to duties. They are, so to speak, points in the argument where many considerations intersect and where their results are summarized to be used with additional premises when need be.
From this it can be seen how we move from an interest to a right, and from the right to a duty. Rights are intermediate conclusions between interests and duties, and as such we also see a key point of interest theory; that rights talk can take place antecedent of duties. This means rights ground and justify duties, or are the ‘reasons for the duties to which they give rise.’
The choice theory of rights was propounded by H.L.A Hart in his 1955 paper ‘Are there any natural rights?’ Hart’s core idea is that “if there are any moral rights at all, it follows that there is at least one natural right, the equal right of all men to be free”. The use of conditional language also shows another important aspect of choice theory; the difference between a right, and the right thing to do. The actions of moral agents may be considered as ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ without reference to the exercise or violation of rights, which will be important later. For now it is enough to assert that possessing a right, on choice theory, is to have a moral justification to determine how someone else should act, whether it be to fulfil a duty owed or to waive the claim. The key to a right on choice theory is control and/or autonomy. Rights serve to protect a certain measure of freedom/control the right-holder enjoys by dint of their capacity as an active manager, a choosing agent, within a realm defined by the right.
What the differences mean
As seen above, choice theorists argue that people are the “active managers of their own lives even when to do so will work to their overall detriment”, thus the upholding of autonomy is central to the theory. Contrastingly it is argued that on interest theory individuals become “passive beneficiaries of the services of others”. Interest theory could place autonomy as an interest, which can then put others under a duty not to interfere, but at the same time it can be argued that autonomy is the core and to have interests that are worthwhile, or ‘sufficient’, one must first be autonomous. Autonomy may therefore seem to supersede all other rights and interests, however there does appear some circularity here and possibly an irresolvable intertwining between interests and autonomy. Do we have an interest in being autonomous because we are autonomous? Or does our autonomous nature now makes us realise that it was because people had a duty to protect our interests in the past, that allowed us to become autonomous beings at all? Choice theorists believe a right comes from having control over someone’s duty. Yet here it can be said that they have an interest in controlling someone’s duty, and so such rights may exist on interest theory, if this interest is seen as sufficient. Rights are more likely to conflict with interest theory, but this also ensures that we consider other’s interests when determining duties.
Another important difference is unwaivable rights. Choice theorists, as ‘active managers’, believe any rights we possess can be waived by us, and that if a ‘right’, such as not to be assaulted, cannot be successfully waived, it is not a right. As such there is no right not to be murdered, or not to be enslaved, but choice theorists do not therefore condone murder or enslavement (the difference between what is right, and a right). They argue the language must be different, and that something not being protected by a right, does not mean others do not have a duty against doing it. If we bring this idea out of moral philosophy and into pragmatic legal thought, then it may seem an idea for we which we have more sympathy. Whilst there is no such thing as legal murder, we have the right to medical treatment, but we also have the right to refuse medical treatment – that is to waive our right to medical care. Thus we can control our rights, or at least certain rights. Whilst appealing, this is not without problems in that in order to be able to control our rights, right-holders must necessarily be fully autonomous persons. Thus we come to the debate of whether children have rights.
The Rights of Children
The bestowing of rights upon children and incompetent adults is one of the major advantages of interest theory. Wenar has suggested that choice theory is ‘implausibly narrow’ because it does not give those groups of individuals rights as they do not have the necessary capacity to exercise their rights. “The appeal of the interest theory emanates from the wide range of rights that it can endorse, and from the evident fact that having rights can make a life go better.” “Few would insist that it is conceptually impossible, for example, for children to have a right against severe abuse.” And Hart, subsequently changed his views on the concept of a right in respect of moral rights, reportedly suggesting rights “may be used to focus upon individuals’ needs rather than upon their possessing choices.” This would suggest that Hart agrees that children therefore have moral and legal rights against their parents, to be fed for example, as this is something ‘focused upon their needs.’
Choice theorists however would rebut that such non-right-holders are still afforded protection by non-correlative obligations, that is, obligations that are not grounded from any right. Every right may inform a corresponding duty, yet not every duty therefore is informed by a right. Such non-correlative obligations are necessarily held by the autonomous right-holders. Sumner incorporates relational duties based on a benefit analysis into his view of choice theory, leaving us with a result he hopes will negate such problems;
[A]lthough a theory of rights which adopts the choice model can make no sense of the rights of animals or foetuses or infants or young children or the severely mentally handicapped, it can accomplish essentially the same objective by making them the beneficiaries of our protective duties.
Such protective duties may seem to make the theory more palatable however there is more to the rights of children than negative duties and obligations by adults not to harm them. For example, protective duties may no room for the right to education or even to be cared for. No positive rights for children can exist, as no rights for children exist, which means our children enter a world where moral thought concerning them is that the superior autonomous human beings merely have an obligation not to harm them. It should perhaps go without saying that we as a society have problems accepting this. Children have rights. They may not have always been recognised in law, such as the Roman Republic, yet as MacCormick states, “that only means that some or perhaps many legal systems have been morally deficient, which is scarcely a startling observation.” Thus he seems to propose a blend of the two theories of rights. Interest theory is not without clear problems such as; unwaivable rights; third party beneficiaries, which show a right can be held by one who will not benefit from the duty; and that what a ‘sufficient’ interest is that will ground and justify a right has not been given any more objective description. Yet protecting sufficient interests is vital for children to have rights, and perhaps equally vital to protecting them in order to allow them to become autonomous moral agents. At this ‘cut-off point’, when this may be is another debate entirely, such moral agents may be considered to know what is in their own interests and as such move into a choice theory conception of rights. Such an idea is worthy of further thought, as it bestows rights upon children, yet has the vital aspect of control and freedom for competent and fully autonomous agents as well.
– Dominic O’Brien
July 18, 2012 § Leave a comment
At the beginning of June I took a four week holiday to travel through California. Just before I left I received the fantastic news that my abstract ‘Asylum Seekers and the Welfare State: A Social Dystopia?’ had been accepted for the Critical Legal Studies Conference in Stockholm, in September, a conference that I was particularly keen to attend.
To put my abstract into context, I will present my paper in the welfare stream, the theme of which is the ‘welfare state as a social utopia?’ When I initially read the stream information for the conference I was excited at the prospect of entering an abstract as the ideas floated by the stream organiser’s mirrored topics I wished to explore in my thesis. The stream itself is heavily focused on ideas of solidarity, exclusion, equality and the utopian ideal to which the welfare state can aspire.
Despite gaining experience of presenting conference papers at the SLSA and Queen Mary Postgrad conferences, each conference is unique and presents its own challenges, which continues to test my confidence! Though this is a relatively new area of examination for me, I am enjoying exploring postmodern ideas within literature and forming nihilistic arguments of laws which I find arbitrary, ineffective and inhumane.
After four weeks of Californian sunshine, exhilaration and discovery, returning to research is both exciting and daunting, but I am grateful for the opportunity to present my ideas at such a fascinating and interesting conference. For now, the reading continues and then begins the formidable task of translating my thoughts and ideas into a conference paper.
The abstract for my paper is cited below and I will update the blog with a reflection after the event.
‘Asylum Seekers and the Welfare State: A Social Dystopia?
The redistribution of resources through the English welfare State is fundamentally an expression of national solidarity, which provides for the indigent members of society. However this form of solidarity is stratified on the basis of immigration status which, it will be argued, overlooks social need in defining the responsibilities of the welfare State. As a result, a hierarchy of entitlement and rights exists.
Despite international and European legal verification for the occupancy of asylum seekers within the sovereign State, NGO studies show that this group including those whose applications have been refused, suffer from systematic poverty, prejudice and inadequacy and in some instances abject destitution.
This paper will examine the welfare provision for asylum seekers and refused asylum seekers within this context. The paper will use a hypothetical case study to outline the current support system for asylum seekers and refused asylum seekers, whilst at the same time accounting for the experiences, history and consciousness of applicants. It will stress that applicants are not only discriminated against in their exclusion from the national welfare framework but also experience the detrimental and compounded effects of intersectional grounds of discrimination, which can then impact further upon rights.
It aims to consider the boundaries of ‘solidarity’ within the current welfare system and whether those boundaries should be extended to include asylum seekers and refused asylum seekers. With reference to the case study, human rights and cosmopolitanism I will consider how and why this is necessary even within ‘the factual reality of given society’.