Blog

Image: Dangers of a Hostile Environment

03/08/2018

Sarah Teather, former MP and Director of the Jesuit Refugee Service UK since January 2016, made a passionate presentation about the treatment of asylum seekers and refugees at the recent Justice and Peace England & Wales conference (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KfJOPCsoZPU&list=PL5UUtVasGFc86xfJa4vp-uhh6jSE3bhq5&index=5 ). Justice & Peace Scotland’s vice chair, Marian Pallister, was there and reflects on the dangers of a ‘hostile environment’.


A powerful resignation letter dated July 16 2018 has been shared on social media.
 
It is signed by Elizabeth Holtzman and addressed to Kirstjen Nielson, Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Washington DC. Elizabeth Holtzman was co-author, with Senator Robert Kennedy, of the US Refugee Act of 1980. She tells Nielson that she and President Trump have violated that Act by their treatment of refugees and that it should be Nielson who resigns.
 
That Act enabled impressive numbers of refugees to be welcomed to the US from Cuba and Vietnam, and 100,000 Jews fleeing the Soviet Union.
 
Holtzman accuses the Trump administration of ‘making war on immigrants and refugees’ through the ‘ethnically and religiously motivated travel ban’ and the mass deportation of ‘undocumented aliens’. She describes as ‘the final straw’ the separation of children from their parents.
 
Where does this slippery slope lead?
 
Scrolling further through my news feed on Facebook, I saw a photograph of a protester whose banner read: ‘The people who hid Anne Frank were breaking the law. The people who killed her were following it.’ The Jewish schoolgirl, and the millions of men, women and children who died with her during the Holocaust, were innocent of any crime other than her religion.
 
But is all this just someone else’s dirty linen? Chillingly – no.
 
The Westminster government is deliberately and cynically creating what politicians admit is a ‘hostile environment’ for refugees and asylum seekers. Follow the link above to Sarah Teather’s speech and see just how hostile.
 
Sajid Javid may be considering ending indefinite immigration detention, but the hostility faced by those seeking asylum in the UK is ugly.
 
Yet Pope Francis said earlier this year that it isn’t a sin to fear newcomers to our countries. ‘The sin,’ he said, ‘is to allow these fears to determine our responses, to limit our choices, to compromise respect and generosity, to feed hostility and rejection.’ He added, ‘The sin is to refuse to encounter the other, the different, the neighbour, when this is in fact a privileged opportunity to encounter the Lord.’
 
Teather says that when official interviewers encounter ‘the other’, they are required to prove that they are fabricating, merely seeking a better life in the UK. They must discredit someone who claims they have been tortured, fought on the ‘wrong’ side of a war, or been subjected to unspeakable discrimination in their home country – and would indubitably die if returned there.
 
Teather’s disturbing disclosure that interviewers are offered Marks and Spencer’s vouchers to ‘lose’ the evidence presented by asylum applicants is stomach-turning. Who issued that order? ‘Give them M & S vouchers to slip those files in the back of a drawer.’ Who dishes them out? ‘Here you are, lads – get the wife a bottle of wine and a meal for two on your way home on Friday. And there’s the shredder, nod, nod, wink, wink.’ And can you imagine strolling round M & S with those vouchers in your wallet, considering which of the array of goodies you can enjoy on the back of someone’s deportation and possible violent death? I can’t.
 


Image: Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking - Hidden Crimes

27/07/2018

Alister Bull works with the charity Hope for Justice. Here he reflects on modern slavery in Scotland and his efforts to change lives.


Hope for Justice exists to change lives and end slavery. I work for this charity in Scotland as their training and development officer – because human trafficking exists in Scotland too.

 

In 2017, it was recorded that victims of slavery in Scotland originated from 32 countries. Significantly, out of all these countries, Vietnam accounts for 43% of those who came to our nation that year. Also, the United Kingdom had the highest figures in Europe for human trafficking victims from Vietnam. Scotland, as a home nation, has proportionally the highest figure for Vietnamese victims of human trafficking.

 

When we become attuned to this issue we become more alert to the proliferation of nail bars in the high streets, which have amongst them unscrupulous traffickers posing as legitimate businesses. They undercut competitors, use harmful chemicals and pay young women little or no wage.

 

A hidden crime such as cannabis cultivation is another way Vietnamese victims are used as slaves. This accounts for nearly 60% of recorded cases in the UK. It is an issue on our streets and behind closed doors and yet a Scottish Government survey revealed that less than 4% of us considered it a local problem. Hope for Justice believes there is a need to change that perception and by doing so help others see that action for justice starts on our doorsteps. It is one reason why Hope for Justice offers a free training awareness session to other charities so we can raise awareness of the signs and indicators.

 

When I discovered an increasing link between Vietnam and Scotland I developed a deep conviction to make a difference not only where I live, but also to the world in which I live. However, it is hard to know how to direct that conviction so something can be achieved. So when I heard that Hope for Justice was running an Extreme Challenge: Vietnam in order to raise funds for a Safe House in Vietnam to support girls who are victims of modern slavery, I volunteered.

 

Hope for Justice already do remarkable work in Cambodia in its Lighthouse project and through the support of the Vietnamese Government we are replicating this successful model in Vietnam.

 

The figures above indicate how Scotland and Vietnam are inextricably linked through human trafficking. In order to raise awareness and raise funds I will cycle 240 miles from Phnom Penh in Cambodia to Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam. It is a privilege to represent Scotland and contribute in some way to changing lives and ending slavery both in Scotland and Vietnam.


I have cycled at many stages in my life for different reasons, whether as a child free to play, cycling with my family, as a middle aged man trying to stay fit, or to exercise and relieve the stresses of life's pressures. One thing common to them all, I have been free to do so. What a gift!


Now in this Extreme Challenge, I would like to ride my bike so others could be free.


If you would like to hear more, please reach out to me so together we can raise awareness and raise funds. Please follow the link: https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/AlisterBull to help change lives and end slavery.



Image: Dungavel Immigration Removal Centre

20/07/2018

Chris Afuakwah reflects on his work as a visitor with Scottish Detainee Visitors to Dungavel Immigration Removal Centre.


Our destination is a 19th century hunting lodge in the Scottish countryside. A group of men stand outside smoking as protection against the midges in the cool June air, looking out over the vast landscape from behind a barbed wire fence.
 
Welcome to Dungavel Immigration Removal Centre, Scotland’s indefinite detention centre, deep in the back of nowhere.

Barbed wire and grey fencing surround the forgotten lodge. We wait a little too long for a guard to let us in. There are locked doors at every turn. We’re fingerprinted and patted down before entering the visiting room.

There’s a coffee machine. The guards are nice enough - just doing their job. We call some people down to make sure they have lawyers; to make sure they’re ok. There are over 200 people currently being held here, with women considerably outnumbered by men.

Immigration detention is designed as a holding facility for administrative purposes. It may be to facilitate a person’s removal from the UK, to ensure that they don’t run away while a claim is being resolved, or to establish somebody’s identity. It is an administrative process rather than a criminal procedure, and so it is the Home Office, not judges, that have the power to detain.
 
The UK has one of the largest detention estates in Europe, and is the only European country with indefinite detention. You don’t know when you are going to get out - it could be days, weeks, months, years.
 
Detention was designed as a last resort, but is increasingly being used as a holding facility for people who don’t even need to be removed from the country. Of the 27,809 people who left detention in 2017, 52% were released back into their communities. For around 14,000 individuals, detention was probably not justified.
And the other 14,000? They included victims of trafficking and slavery, sent back to home countries; homeless European nationals; students who overstayed their visas, or arrived on the wrong one; people who just showed up for a standard check-in at the Home Office, as they have to do every week or sometimes every day, or those who missed a check due to lack of funds or illness. Some sought asylum, some were transferred into detention after serving the punishment of a prison sentence.
The mental strain is palpable. People don’t know how long they will be held or whether they’ll be taken from their families and lives. Some feel that prison would be better – at least they’d know when they would be getting out. Tears burst to the surface easily. Increasingly, people are released into homelessness and destitution, with no support.

A small number of people have been held in detention for over three years, but any length of time is too long. Dungavel may be better than other such facilities, but we must end indefinite detention and the need for these centres.

Diane Abbott has called for a time limit on detention, which hopefully will get that ball rolling. Caroline Lucas takes a stronger stance, naming Yarl’s Wood – the women-only indefinite detention centre – as a place of psychological torture. But we need practical community-based alternatives that work for individuals caught up in this broken system, which eventually remove the need for detention at all.



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