News & Views Friday 1st January to Sunday 10th January 2016

Early Day Motion 930: Freedom of Information Act 2000

This House believes that the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act 2000 exists to, amongst other things, help hold the Government account and improve the public's understanding of what it does; notes that a 2012 Justice Committee inquiry applauded the Act as significant enhancement of our democracy and that, in 2010, the Prime Minister expressed the intention that the Government should become the most open and transparent in the world; further notes that the existing FOI framework has led to the exposure of significant wrongdoings and information including the MPs' expenses scandal, how care home residents suffer dehydration-related deaths, police use of tasers on children, the degrading treatment of detained migrants, and how many NHS contracts are awarded to private companies; applauds the way in which the FOI Act has been used by newspapers and local and national journalists to shine a light on the workings of government and public authorities; is concerned at reports that the Government wants to water down FOI legislation with measures making it easier for authorities to refuse requests on cost grounds, introducing fees for requests and new restrictions on the release of information relating to internal Government discussions; considers that strengthening the Ministerial veto will not improve the FOI Act but will instead encourage secrecy and undermine accountability; and calls on the Government to drop its plans to amend the FOI Act on the basis that there is no value in fixing something that is not broken.

Sponsor: Lucas, Caroline / House of Commons: 07.01.2016

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Healthcare: Yarl’s Wood IRC

Kate Osamor (Edmonton) (Lab/Co-op): I am grateful for the opportunity to debate this issue today. Access to healthcare is a human right that is not adequately offered to the women of Yarl’s Wood. I formerly worked as a practice manager in the NHS, so I have seen for myself the importance of delivering good quality healthcare to communities, including providing access to consultation rooms where people are treated with respect and dignity. That is particularly important for detainees, who often have to undergo intimate examinations to document past torture.

Across immigration detention centres, there have been six High Court findings of inhumane and degrading treatment and nine deaths in custody in the past three years. According to Her Majesty’s inspectorate of prisons, the situation in Yarl’s Wood has worsened since G4S took over the contract for providing healthcare in September 2014. I want first to highlight the poor standard of healthcare provided, and secondly, to draw attention to the limitations that have recently been placed on independent doctors who are trying to work in Yarl’s Wood.

My demands to the Minister are as follows. First, the Government must lift the restrictions on access to Yarl’s Wood for independent doctors. The restrictions were put in place in October 2015, in contravention of detention rules. Secondly, they must ensure that legal rooms are refurbished, as has been done in other detention centres, to make up the extra space that Yarl’s Wood management says is necessary to accommodate independent medical visits. Thirdly, they must ensure that rule 35 is properly used. Rule 35 processes are meant to protect people from detention when they have been tortured, traumatised or are extremely vulnerable in other ways. I share the British Medical Association’s view that rule 35 reports should be written only by clinicians with relevant medical experience or appropriate training in identifying, documenting and reporting the physical and psychological signs of torture. Lastly, the Government must end the detention of pregnant women and those who are detained under the Mental Health Act 1983.

Read the full debate: House of Commons, 6 Jan 2016 : Column 143WH

Continuing Conflicts that Create Refugees - December 2015

5 actual or potential conflict situations around the world deteriorated and none improved in December 2015, according to CrisisWatch 149

Deteriorated Situations: Afghanistan, Burundi, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Niger

Improved Situations: None
January 2016 Watch list
Conflict Risk Alert: Burundi
Conflict resolution opportunities: Libya

Download the full report: Crisis Watch 149

Migrant Crisis: UK Government Response Branded 'Inadequate'
In a letter to the PM, the group of 27 charities - including Oxfam and Amnesty International - say the UK should take a "proportionate" share of refugees. The letter, coordinated by the British Refugee Council, asks Mr Cameron to show a "new resolve" to deal with the crisis, which saw nearly 4,000 people drown last year and hundreds of thousands more face danger and hardship while fleeing violence.
The group, which also includes the International Rescue Committee, Liberty and ActionAid, wrote: "Last year's announcement that the UK will resettle 20,000 Syrian refugees over five years was a welcome first step, but given the numbers of people searching for safety across the globe, this response is clearly inadequate: it is too slow, too low and too narrow. The UK can and should be doing much more to ensure that refugees are not compelled to take life-threatening journeys or forced into smugglers' hands." They endorse principles set out by 350 former judges and lawyers in October which include taking a fair share of refugees and establishing safe and legal routes to the UK for those seeking protection.
Read more: BBC News, 04/01/2016

Guardian View on Asylum in Europe: The Closing North
The comment was chilling and memorable, but it came not from Saga Norén or Sarah Lund, but a real-life Scandinavian police officer. Commenting on the closing of Scandinavian borders against refugees, Michael Hansen, a policeman at the central railway station in Copenhagen, told a Swedish newspaper that if he were ordered to pull the gold teeth from the mouths of refugees he’d do it. As a policeman, he said, he could only follow the law. It is not – yet – the law that Danish policemen should do that, although the Danish government is considering a law that would confiscate all the valuables that a refugee brings into the country to help pay the costs of granting them asylum. But Mr Hansen’s cheery boast shows just how far the discussion has moved from last summer’s Europe-wide flood of generosity towards the Syrian refugees. It also suggests, sadly, the direction of future travel. Although there remain millions of people across the continent who are happy to welcome those fleeing war and persecution, as the success of the Guardian’s Christmas appeal shows, the main line of political calculation has swung towards brutality.

Read more: Guardian Editorial, 04/01/2016

The Case for Open Borders

The discretionary control that states exercise over immigration is unjust. People should normally be free to cross borders and live wherever they choose. Borders have guards and the guards have guns. This is an obvious fact of political life but one that is easily hidden from view—at least from the view of those of us who are citizens of affluent democracies. If we see the guards at all, we find them reassuring because we think of them as there to protect us rather than to keep us out. To Africans in small, leaky vessels seeking to avoid patrol boats while they cross the Mediterranean to southern Europe, or to Mexicans willing to risk death from heat and exposure in the Arizona desert to evade the fences and border patrols, it is quite different. To these people, the borders, guards, and guns are all too apparent, their goal of exclusion all too real. What justifies the use of force against such people? Perhaps borders and guards can be justified as a way of keeping out terrorists, armed invaders, or criminals. But most of those trying to get in are not like that. They are ordinary, peaceful people, seeking only the opportunity to build decent, secure lives for themselves and their families. On what moral grounds can we deny entry to these sorts of people? What gives anyone the right to point guns at them?
Read more: ?Joseph H. Carens, Open Democracy

Iranian Faces Deportation After Home Office Rejects Safety Fears
An Iranian asylum seeker is facing imminent deportation after the Home Office rejected calls from his MP to delay his removal amid concerns over his safety. Kaveh Ghandizadeh Dezfuli, who has lived in London for five years, is being held at Harmondsworth immigration removal centre near Heathrow airport until he can be put on a flight back to Tehran. Friends of Dezfuli, 37, who has become well known in the south London folk music scene, told the Guardian he fears persecution by the Islamic republic for performing with Iranian musicians who have criticised the regime. Matthew Pennycook, the Labour MP for Greenwich, attempted to delay Dezfuli’s removal on Friday with an appeal to James Brokenshire, the immigration minister.
Read more: David Batty, Guardian, 01/01/2016

MPs Say Britain Should Resettle 3,000 Refugee Children

Britain should welcome 3,000 lone children from Europe on top of its Syrian refugee resettlement programme, the international development committee has said. The report calls for more to be done to prevent children becoming victims of child labour in the near permanent refugee camps on the border of Syria. The report warns: “We are very concerned about the plight of unaccompanied refugee children in Europe, particularly as reports suggest they are falling prey to people traffickers.” Ministers have promised to make a decision on taking more unaccompanied children in Europe, but no announcement is imminent.
Read more: Patrick Wintour, Guardian, 05/01/2016

Freedom on the Net 2015 
Finds internet freedom around the world in decline for a fifth consecutive year as more governments censored information of public interest while also expanding surveillance and cracking down on privacy tools.

  • Content removals increased: Authorities in 42 of the 65 countries assessed required private companies or internet users to restrict or delete web content dealing with political, religious, or social issues, up from 37 the previous year.
  • Arrests and intimidation escalated: Authorities in 40 of 65 countries imprisoned people for sharing information concerning politics, religion or society through digital networks.
  • Surveillance laws and technologies multiplied: Governments in 14 of 65 countries passed new laws to increase surveillance since June 2014 and many more upgraded their surveillance equipment.
  • Governments undermined encryption, anonymity: Democracies and authoritarian regimes alike stigmatized encryption as an instrument of terrorism, and many tried to ban or limit tools that protect privacy.

Source: Freedom House

The Year in Human Rights: Best and Worst of 2015
Elections offered a way out of dismal misrule for several countries in 2015, but the year was otherwise dominated by war, terrorism, repression, and bigotry.

The Best 
1. Victory for voters in South America
2.  Democratic progress in Southern Asia
3.  Nigeria’s first-ever peaceful rotation of power

The Worst
1.  Disaster in Syria, international refugee crisis
2.  Expansion of ‘Islamic State’
3.  Rise of the demagogic right
4. Iran’s post–nuclear deal crackdown
5.  Saudi Arabia’s aggression, at home and abroad
6. Assault on dissent in China


Last updated 8 January, 2016