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No sanctuary for migrants

…Undocumented migrants criminalised

UK immigration enforcement

When Moulay fled from torture in West Africa he did not apply for asylum but instead obtained a fake British passport and tried to blend in.

He was caught during a police stop and search, jailed on remand and sentenced to six months – with his wife and child put in detention.

Prison worsened his mental health problems and left him on the brink of suicide.

He said: “I tried attempting suicide on several occasions. I keep on having nightmares. When people talk to me, I sometimes cannot hear what they are saying. The noises of prison, people banging the doors, all run in my head – and my head wants to explode at that time. I get panic attacks all the time. I used to have flashbacks in the past, but prison made it worse for me.”

Moulay – who shared his story with criminologist Monish Bhatia – is one of hundreds of suspected undocumented migrants arrested every year by police in northern England.

Merging systems

Forces detain refused asylum seekers and undocumented migrants for a variety of immigration offences – with Immigration, Compliance and Enforcement (ICE) agents sometimes even working out of police stations. The trend reflects what Bhatia, from Birkbeck College at the University of London, sees as the merging of the UK immigration and criminal justice systems in recent years.

He said: “Using a false passport, for example, used to be a civil offence but now it’s dealt with under criminal law. There are now 89 immigration-related offences on the statute books where a person can go to prison.

“The focus on the inherent ‘dangerousness’ of this group and re-classification of immigration breaches as serious criminal offences mean the system frequently resorts to imprisonment for what are non-violent offences.

“A lot of the people being targeted this way are really vulnerable. Some are asylum seekers, like Moulay, who have been too scared to make a formal claim. Under the hostile environment, state agencies have been drawn
into the bureaucracy and are now doing border control’s dirty work.”

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This year campaigners in Sheffield – the UK’s first designated City of Sanctuary – learned immigration arrests had soared from 67 in 2010 to more than 400 in 2013-2014. The spike followed the introduction of the hostile environment policy in 2012 – which delegated immigration enforcement to employers, schools, the health service and others.

Incentivised arrests

Big Issue North went on to submit similar Freedom of Information requests to other northern police forces.

They showed that in West Yorkshire there were 7,000 immigration-related arrests between April 2010 and March 2019 – with 614 in 2018-19.

Lancashire logged 2,113 arrests between 2010 and 2019 – including 240 in 2018-19. Cheshire Police made 1,244 arrests in 2011-2019 – with 112 in 2018-19.

Police in Merseyside made 1,100 immigration-related arrests between 2010 and 2019, with 112 in 2018-19.

Cumbria’s annual figures are normally in single digits, but peaked in 2013-14 with 40 arrests. Between 2010 and 2019 the force made 224 arrests for immigration offences. Greater Manchester Police did not respond to the FoI request, and North Yorkshire Police could not comply due to cost.

Some forces also admitted that immigration enforcement staff had spent periods based in police stations. ICE agents were stationed in several Sheffield custody suites throughout 2017, as well as several other locations in the area. ICE officers also worked in Carlisle police station in 2017, and two Merseyside police stations between 2017 and 2018.

The UK’s 19 ICE teams carry out various operations including raiding homes and businesses, breaking up sham marriages, and tracking down and arresting refused asylum seekers and people who have overstayed their visas. As recently as 2018, teams were being incentivised to compete on arrest numbers with cake and chocolates.

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In 2017 a Romanian Big Issue North vendor and his partner were arrested by ICE agents at a homeless camp in Sheffield and sent to Yarl’s Wood detention centre.

In February agents arrested and detained three long-standing South Yorkshire residents from Zimbabwe – including a learning-disabled man who had lived in Barnsley for 19 years. They were released following demonstrations and a petition.

As well as police, immigration agents work with HM Revenue and Customs, local authorities and other bodies and encourage tip-offs from the public. So far this year, more than 55,600 reports have been made to the Home Office’s immigration enforcement hotline. MPs have made 134 referrals this year and Barnsley Hospital Trust referred 91 people, according to a recent FoI request.

Councils as border control

In Sheffield the council has stated its opposition to the hostile environment, yet officers have been referring individuals who they find suspicious during housing inspections to the Home Office since 2014.

Campaigners would like the city to join 11 Labour local authorities – including Liverpool – which are actively opposing the government’s policies by refusing to share personal data of migrants with the Home Office over fears it could lead to deportations.

READ ALSO: Europe is telling gay asylum seekers they are not gay enough

John Grayson, of South Yorkshire Migration and Asylum Action Group – who uncovered Sheffield’s arrest numbers – said: “We have exposed the fact that Sheffield is not really a City of Sanctuary resisting government hostile environment policies.

“Sheffield City Council had in effect turned its council officers into border control guards.

‘The council should have known that to be homeless, destitute and living in slums and ‘not have all the approvals’ for residence in the UK is not unlawful or illegal.

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“Our protests have had a real effect on the council, however. They are now convening a meeting in January with asylum rights groups to draw up a strict protocol of how council officers should approach undocumented migrants in the city and stop any reporting to the Home Office and ICE.”

Paul Wood, cabinet member for neighbourhoods and community safety at Sheffield City Council, said: “The council’s Private Sector Housing Team does not have a direct relationship with the UKBA and officers from the service do not check the immigration status of any tenant or individual as part of their role.

“The team works to ensure that vulnerable people are safe, free from harm and to address any illegal activity taking place in private sector housing. Their duty is to ensure that vulnerable people are safe and not being exploited, or put at risk

“However, if the service were to find that that a person is living in the UK without permission and is in a vulnerable situation, they would work with all key bodies and third sector organisations to support that vulnerable person to ensure that they are not being illegally exploited.

(www.bigissuenorth.com)

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Netherlands, IOM launch Global Migration Initiative to protect people on the move

COMPASS will provide vulnerable migrants including victims of trafficking and unaccompanied or separated children access to a broad range of protection and assistance services.

 The International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands launched the Cooperation on Migration and Partnerships for Sustainable Solutions initiative (COMPASS) at the beginning of 2021. COMPASS is a global initiative, in partnership with 12 countries, designed to protect people on the move, combat human trafficking and smuggling, and support dignified return while promoting sustainable reintegration.

The initiative is centred on a whole-of-society approach which, in addition to assisting individuals, will work across all levels – households, communities, and the wider communities – and encompasses the following partner countries: Afghanistan, Chad, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Mali, Morocco, Niger, Nigeria, and Tunisia.

“We want to mobilize families, peers and communities to encourage informed and safe migration decisions, protect migrants, and help those returning home reintegrate successfully,” said Monica Goracci, Director of the Department of Migration Management at IOM.

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“One key component is also undermining the trafficking and smuggling business models through the promotion of safe alternatives and information sharing to reduce the risks of exploitation and abuse by these criminal networks.” Vulnerable migrants, including victims of trafficking and unaccompanied or separated children, will have access to a broad range of protection and assistance services such as mental health and psychosocial support, while migrants in transit who wish to return home will be supported with dignified return and reintegration.

Community level interventions will focus on improving community-led efforts to address trafficking in persons and smuggling of migrants, and support sustainable reintegration of returning migrants. COMPASS will work with national and local governments to enable a conducive environment for migrant protection, migration management and international cooperation on these issues.

“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is pleased to launch the COMPASS programme in cooperation with IOM, an important and longstanding partner on migration cooperation,” said Marriët Schuurman, Director for Stability and Humanitarian Aid of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands.

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“The programme is a part of the Dutch comprehensive approach to migration with activities that contribute to protection and decreasing irregular migration. Research and data gathering are also important components, and we hope that the insights that will be gained under COMPASS will contribute to broader knowledge sharing on migration and better-informed migration policies.”, added Schuurman. The initiative has a strong learning component, designed to increase knowledge and the uptake of lessons learned, both within the programme and beyond its parameters. COMPASS will actively contribute to global knowledge that supports countries in managing migration flows and protecting vulnerable migrants such as victims of trafficking. The implementation of COMPASS is set to start soon.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands, as the donor to the COMPASS initiative, pledges its active support to partner countries to improve migration cooperation mechanisms within its long-term vision. 

IOM, the leading inter-governmental organization in the field of migration, contributes its expertise as the technical implementation partner to the initiative. IOM works closely with governmental, intergovernmental and non-governmental partners in its dedication to promoting humane and orderly migration for the benefit of all. 

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A child, 40 others drown in shipwreck off Tunisia

Photo: Mediterranean Sea

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) are deeply saddened by reports of a shipwreck off the coast of Sidi Mansour, in southeast Tunisia, yesterday evening. The bodies of 41 people, including at least one child, have so far been retrieved.

According to reports from local UNHCR and IOM teams, three survivors were rescued by the Tunisian National Coast Guard. The search effort was still underway on Friday. Based on initial information, all those who perished were from Sub-Saharan Africa.

This tragic loss of life underscores once again the need to enhance and expand State-led search and rescue operations across the Central Mediterranean, where some 290 people have lost their lives so far this year. Solidarity across the region and support to national authorities in their efforts to prevent loss of life and prosecute smugglers and traffickers should be a priority.

Prior to yesterday’s incident, 39 refugees and migrants had perished off the coast near the Tunisian city of Sfax in early March. So far this year, sea departures from Tunisia to Europe have more than tripled compared to the same period in 2020.

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UNHCR and IOM continue to monitor developments closely. They continue to stand ready to work with the national authorities to assist and support the survivors, and the family members of those lost.

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Ethiopian migrants return home from Yemen with IOM support in wake of tragic boat sinking

Yemen: Stranded Ethiopian migrants prepare to board an IOM-facilitated flight from Aden, Yemen, to fly home to Addis Ababa. Photo: IOM/Majed Mohammed 2021

One hundred and sixty Ethiopian migrants have returned home safely from Yemen today with the assistance of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), just one day after a perilous journey across the Gulf of Aden claimed the lives of dozens of people, including at least 16 children.

More than 32,000 migrants, predominantly from Ethiopia, remain stranded across Yemen in dire, often deadly, circumstances.

“The conditions of migrants stranded in Yemen has become so tragic that many feel they have no option but to rely on smugglers to return home,” said Jeffrey Labovitz, IOM’s Director for Operations and Emergencies.

At least 42 people returning from Yemen are believed to have died on Monday when their vessel sank off the coast of Djibouti. Last month, at least 20 people had also drowned on the same route according to survivors. IOM believes that, since May 2020, over 11,000 migrants have returned to the Horn of Africa on dangerous boat journeys, aided by unscrupulous smugglers.

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“Our Voluntary Humanitarian Return (VHR) programme provides a lifeline for those stranded in a country now experiencing its seventh year of conflict and crisis. We call on all governments along the route to come together and support our efforts to allow migrants safe and dignified opportunities to travel home,” added Labovitz.

COVID-19 has had a major impact on global migration. The route from the Horn of Africa to Gulf countries has been particularly affected. Tens of thousands of migrants, hoping to work in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), now find themselves unable to complete their journeys, stranded across Djibouti, Somalia and Yemen.

While the pandemic has also caused the number of migrants arriving to Yemen to decrease from 138,000 in 2019 to just over 37,500 in 2020, the risks they face continue to rise. Many of these migrants are stranded in precarious situations, sleeping rough without shelter or access to services. Many others are in detention or being held by smugglers.

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“We cannot find jobs or food here; Yemen is a problem for us,” said Gamal, a 22-year-old migrant returning on the VHR flight. “I used to sleep in the street on cardboard. I could only eat because of the charity people would give me and sometimes we were given leftovers from restaurants. I never had much to eat.”

Since October 2020, in Aden alone, IOM has registered over 6,000 migrants who need support to safely return home. Today’s flight to Addis Ababa was the second transporting an initial group of 1,100 Ethiopians who have been approved for VHR to Ethiopia. Thousands of other undocumented migrants are waiting for their nationality to be verified and travel documents to be provided.

Prior to departure on the VHR flight, IOM carried out medical and protection screenings to ensure that returnees are fit to travel and are voluntarily consenting to return. Those with special needs are identified and receive specialized counselling and support.

In Ethiopia, IOM supports government-run COVID-19 quarantine facilities to accommodate the returnees on arrival and provides cash assistance, essential items and onward transportation to their homes. The Organization also supports family tracing for unaccompanied migrant children.

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Across the Horn of Africa and Yemen, IOM provides life-saving support to migrants through health care, food, water and other vital assistance.

Today’s flight was funded by the US State Department’s Bureau for Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM). Post-arrival assistance in Addis Ababa is supported by EU Humanitarian Aid and PRM.

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