News & Views Monday 7th Feruary to Sunday 13th March 2016  

Government Suffers Two Defeats in Lords on Immigration Bill

Peers voted to allow asylum seekers the right to work if their claims have not been processed within six months. They also voted to allow overseas domestic workers to change employers without risking immediate deportation. Opponents had argued the latter provision would create "a wide open door to the UK" that could be abused. Peers voted by 280 votes to 195 in favour of a Labour, Lib Dem and crossbench amendment to the Immigration Bill on the rights of asylum seekers to work. Lord Alton of Liverpool, who proposed it, said it would end the "enforced workhouse destitution" currently experienced by asylum seekers. "They are frustrated at being forced to remain idle and survive on benefits. How many of us could exist on just over £5 a day while an asylum application was being considered? This is way below the poverty line. Where is the justice and fairness in that?"

 BBC News, 10/03/2016

Peter Clarke HMCIP: Highly Critical of Reception Conditions for Migrants Entering the UK

Longport Freight Shed, Dover Seaport and Frontier House Short-Term Holding Facilities – Lacking Basic Facilities

Inspectors were concerned to find that:

•           the Longport freight shed was a wholly unacceptable environment in which to hold people, even for short periods, yet more than 500 people were held there in just over a month, including 90 children. Detainees had insufficient food, and conditions lacked decency and were unhygienic;

•           Dover Seaport was crowded and poorly ventilated, was not designed to hold people for more than a few hours and had no sleeping facilities but from July to September, more than 2,700 detainees were held there for an average of over 18 hours, including 381 children; and

•           the overflow facility at Frontier House was only used to accommodate adult male detainees without any apparent complex needs, had no showers and nowhere to rest, and was only suitable for stays of a few hours but was used on 30 days between July and September, accommodating 822 detainees, 17% of whom had been held for more than 24 hours.

The Home Office and Tascor’s response to high numbers of migrants arriving through the Channel Tunnel over the summer and early autumn was inadequate, said Peter Clarke, Chief Inspector of Prisons. Detainees did not have their basic physical needs met and conditions fundamentally lacked decency, he added. Today he published the report of an unannounced inspection of the short-term holding facilities at Dover and Folkestone in Kent.

Download the full report here . . . . .

Continuing Conflicts that Create Refugees – February 2016

Eight Deteriorated Situations: Afghanistan, Chad, Korean Peninsula, Mozambique, Somalia, Turkey, Venezuela, Zimbabwe

February saw conflict continue to rage in Turkey’s south east between Ankara and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), looking likely to further escalate in March. Afghanistan and Somalia both saw armed insurgencies capture new territories. In Africa, political tensions rose in Chad, Mozambique and Zimbabwe, while in Venezuela, deadlock between the opposition-held parliament and government has brought the country closer to political and economic implosion. In Asia, North Korea’s announcement of a satellite launch in violation of UN Security Council resolutions prompted international condemnation and calls for tough new sanctions. On a positive note, the coming month brings the possibility of a final agreement to end Colombia’s decades-old insurgency.

Violence continued to intensify in Turkey’s south east between the PKK and security forces, while a car bombing in Ankara on 17 February left 29 high-ranking military officials and civil servants dead. The Kurdistan Freedom Falcons (TAK), an ultra-radical PKK offshoot, claimed responsibility for the Ankara bombing, which further weakened already slim prospects for peace overtures between Ankara and Kurdish insurgents. The PKK has previously warned it will increase its activity come spring, while the TAK has vowed to carry out further attacks in western Turkey. In our December report A Sisyphean Task - Resuming Turkey-PKK Peace Talks, Crisis Group called on conflict parties to urgently end violence and agree on ceasefire conditions to enable a speedy resumption of peace talks. February also saw Turkey start shelling Kurdish People’s Protection Unit (YPG) targets in northern Syria after the group began gaining ground against Turkey-backed rebels in late January.

In Afghanistan, fighting continued to worsen ahead of proposed peace talks between the government and the Taliban in early March. National security forces pulled out of Helmand’s Musa Qala district after dozens of police and soldiers were killed across the southern province mid-month, while the governor of Badakhshan province reported two districts had fallen completely under Taliban control.

In Somalia, Al-Shabaab upped terrorist attacks and recaptured locations across south-central Somalia, including in Lower Shabelle, Bay and Jubaland regions, killing over 60 people. As Crisis Group has long recommended, military pressure can only sustain progress against the group within durable political settlements. The Somalia Federal Government (SFG) and external allies should pay particular attention to parallel national and local reconciliation processes within Somali society, and address the local political grievances that enable Al-Shabaab to remain and rebuild.

In Venezuela, political tensions spiked in February amid a spiralling economic and humanitarian crisis. President Maduro’s government continued to act in defiance of the opposition-held legislature, arguing that the National Assembly’s decisions are subject to approval by the government-controlled Supreme Court (TSJ). The opposition Democratic Unity (MUD) alliance began examining constitutional options for Maduro’s removal, including the possibility of both a recall referendum and a constitutional amendment. As the risk of an extra-constitutional response by either side or a military coup increases, Crisis Group has called for the Organization of American States (OAS) to prepare an emergency political and humanitarian initiative to prevent serious violence and a collapse that would bring regional instability and deepen the misery of the Venezuelan population.

In Chad, civil unrest and a police crackdown worsened ahead of the 10 April presidential vote. Following several anti-government demonstrations, civil society created the “ça suffit” platform which called for a ville morte national strike on 24 February protesting President Idriss Déby’s fifth term bid. Although declared illegal by the government, the strike was widely observed in major cities. In Mozambique, armed opposition Renamo ruled out in early February a face-to-face meeting between its leader, Afonso Dhlakama, and President Nyusi to restart long-running talks, citing Dhlakama’s fears for his safety. Renamo’s renewed attacks on security forces and civilian vehicles left several dead and injured throughout the month while military operations to disarm its militants in Tete province continued to force thousands to flee. In Zimbabwe, rivalry within the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) intensified between First Lady Grace Mugabe and Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa, both jockeying to be President Mugabe’s successor. Grace Mugabe’s harsh rhetoric against security chiefs and war veterans aligned to Mnangagwa on 12 February further polarised the two camps. Later on 18 February police used water cannon and tear gas to disperse a war veterans’ protest in Harare. In Zimbabwe: Stranded in Stasis, Crisis Group called on international actors to seek common ground and support political reform that promotes an inclusive, sustainable economic recovery.

On 7 February, North Korea announced the launch of an earth observation satellite in violation of the UN Security Council ban on ballistic missile tests, prompting wide international condemnation and calls for tough new sanctions.

The prospect of an end to Colombia’s decades-long insurgency draws closer as negotiators from the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) are scheduled to resume talks on 2 March to address pending issues on the termination of the conflict, ahead of the country’s 23 March deadline for a final agreement.

February 2016 Trends -  Improved Situations: None

March 2016 Outlook
Conflict Risk Alert: Turkey, Venezuela
Conflict Resolution Opportunity: Colombia

Crisis Watch Issue 151, Published 03/03/2016

Anxious Dictators, Wavering Democracies, Freedom of the World 2016

The world was battered in 2015 by overlapping crises that fueled xenophobic sentiment in democratic countries, undermined the economies of states dependent on the sale of natural resources, and led authoritarian regimes to crack down harder on dissent. These unsettling developments contributed to the 10th consecutive year of decline in global freedom.

The number of countries showing a decline in freedom for the year—72—was the largest since the 10-year slide began. Just 43 countries made gains.  ·  Over the past 10 years, 105 countries have seen a net decline, and only 61 have experienced a net improvement.  ·  Ratings for the Middle East and North Africa region were the worst in the world in 2015, followed closely by Eurasia.  ·  Over the last decade, the most significant global reversals have been in freedom of expression and the rule of law.

Front and center was the democratic world’s inability to present a unified and credible strategy to end the murderous war in Syria and deal with the refugee crisis triggered by the conflict. Having failed to support the moderate opposition to authoritarian president Bashar al-Assad in the conflict’s early stages, the United States and Europe are now confronted with a crisis of global proportions. With its bewildering interplay of regional powers, proxy forces, jihadist groups, and urgent humanitarian priorities, Syria represents the most complex challenge to peace and stability in years, and thus far the leaders of the free world have fallen short even as fundamental democratic principles come under threat in their own countries.

The democracies of Europe and the United States struggled to cope with the Syrian civil war and other unresolved regional conflicts. In addition to compounding the misery and driving up the death toll of civilians in the affected territories, the fighting generated unprecedented numbers of refugees and incubated terrorist groups that inspired or organized attacks on targets abroad. In democratic countries, these stresses led to populist, often bigoted reactions as well as new security measures, both of which threaten the core values of an open society.
The year also featured the slowdown of China’s economy and a related plunge in commodity prices, which hit profligate, export-dependent authoritarian regimes especially hard. Anticipating popular unrest, dictators redoubled political repression at home and lashed out at perceived foreign enemies.

However, in several important countries, elections offered a peaceful way out of failed policies and mismanagement. Voters in places including Nigeria, Venezuela, and Myanmar rejected incumbents and gave new leaders or parliaments an opportunity to tackle corruption, economic decay, and corrosive security problems. These fresh starts suggest that democratic systems may ultimately prove more resilient than their brittle authoritarian counterparts.

Read more: Freedom House, 09/03/2016

Asylum Research Consultancy (ARC) COI Update Volume 120

This document provides an update of UK Country Guidance case law, UK Home Office publications and developments in refugee producing countries (focusing on those which generate the most asylum seekers in the UK) between 23 February and 7 March 2016.

Theresa May's New Immigration Rules Labelled 'Ludicrous' And 'Simplistic'

MPs have lambasted Theresa May’s proposed £35,000 pay threshold for skilled migrant workers as a “ludicrous” and “simplistic measure” during a Parliamentary debate scrutinising the divisive change to immigration rules. The debate was held at Westminster Hall on Monday after more than 100,000 people signed an online petition against the measure, which could lead to thousands of teachers, charity workers and NHS staff being deported from the UK if they fail to meet certain financial requirements. Many of those in attendance raised concerns over the security of the nursing profession's place on a list of occupations exempt from the thresholds.

Read more: Alexandra Sims, Guardian, 08/03/2016

Myrtle Cothill: 92-Year-Old Widow Will Not Be Deported

A 92-year-old widow living in the care of her daughter has been told she can remain in the UK after the Home Office dropped its threat of immediate removal to South Africa. Myrtle Cothill, a native South African who has heart problems, failing eyesight and is unable to walk unaided, is looked after by her only daughter, Mary Wills, in Poole, Dorset.  The widower had been booked on to a flight to Johannesburg two weeks ago after her bid to stay in the UK was rejected on appeal.  After an outcry from the public, the Home Office postponed her removal to give the family more time to prove claims that Cothill’s poor health meant she was unfit to travel and care for herself. Fresh medical evidence by consultant psychiatrist Dr Benjamin Robinson from the Maudsley hospital subsequently showed removal could have fatal repercussions for Cothill, who came to Britain in 2014.

Read more: Nadia Khomami, Guardian, 05/03/2016

Afghanistan Ruled Safe Enough to Deport Asylum-Seekers

Hundreds of failed asylum-seekers, including former child migrants, are to be sent back to Afghanistan after the Court of Appeal ruled that deportations can be resumed. A blanket ban on deportations back to the war-ravaged country was imposed in August last year amid concerns that it was too dangerous. Swathes of territory are controlled by the Taliban, and Isis is establishing a foothold. But Home Secretary Theresa May won a significant legal battle to restart the flights – even though last year was the bloodiest on record for civilian casualties in the country.
According to leaked documents obtained by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, even the Afghan government pleaded with the UK not to resume deportations. The blanket ban imposed last year resulted from a case brought by a group of Afghan asylum-seekers, including HN, who was 14 when he entered the UK alone in 2007.   The Upper Tribunal had ruled that, while several provinces in Afghanistan were not secure, the capital Kabul was safe enough for returns. HN’s lawyers appealed and while the courts assessed this decision, judges agreed a rare blanket ban on all deportation flights to Afghanistan. Removing that injunction, Court of Appeal judges emphasised they were making their decision for legal reasons – because HN’s appeal had been dismissed – and not because the security situation had changed. 

Read more: Maeve McClenaghan, Independent, 03/03/2016

'Impending Shortage' of Asylum Seeker Homes

There is an "impending shortage" of housing for asylum seekers in the UK, the home affairs committee has warned.  The issue is being made worse by a lack of "fair and equal dispersal", with some areas taking hundreds of people and some taking none, its MPs said. They condemned an "appalling" episode where asylum seekers were told to wear wristbands, and an instance where their doors were all painted one colour. The Home Office said it was committed to providing safe and secure housing.
"The dispersal system appears unfair, with whole swathes of the country never receiving a single asylum seeker," said committee chairman Keith Vaz. The majority are being moved into low-cost housing in urban areas such as Glasgow, Stoke, Cardiff and of course Middlesbrough, where the ratio is 1 asylum seeker per 137 people. However, on the data we have received, local authorities in areas such as Maidenhead, Lincoln and Warwick have housed none." Other areas listed in the report as having no-one in receipt of aid given to asylum seekers - known as Section 95 support - in the final quarter of 2015 included Cambridge, Cornwall, Midlothian and York.

BBC News, 04/03/2016

Last updated 11 March, 2016