News & Views Monday 10th June to Sunday 16th June 2019


‘Systemic Failures’ at Heathrow IRC Contributed to Death of Immigration Detainee Marcin Gwozdzinski

The inquest into the death of Marcin Gwozdzinski today concluded finding serious failings which contributed to his death at Heathrow Immigration Removal Centre (IRC), including missing “significant warning signs” and inadequate risk assessments by untrained staff. Ultimately the jury concluded the main contributing factor to Marcin’s death was the premature closure of suicide and self-harm prevention procedures (ACDT) days prior to his death.

Marcin died on 6 September 2017, three days after he was found hanging in his room at Heathrow IRC, run by private security company Mitie. Marcin’s was one of eleven deaths of immigration detainees in 2017, the highest number on record. Marcin had been in immigration detention for nine months, and the jury also noted that this “prolonged period of detention” was a possible cause of death.

Marcin was a 28 year old Polish national who had been in the UK for five years and was living and working in South West London. His family describe him as a free spirit who loved travel and was a happy person with no known history of mental ill health.

On 31 August 2017, Marcin told a Detention Officer at Heathrow IRC that he could not take detention anymore and wanted to die. He was placed on an ACDT (suicide and self-harm prevention procedures) where it was noted that his mood was very low and he was worried about his mental health. Marcin was initially subject to hourly observations and a support plan.

The following day on 1 September, after a risk assessment interview lasting just nine minutes and a case review lasting a mere three minutes, the ACDT was closed with detention staff concluding that Marcin’s only problem was toothache. No input had been sought from healthcare staff, contrary to national guidance.

Read more: INQUEST,

Criminalisation of Travel to Designated Areas ‘Serious Abuse of Civil Liberties’

New counter-terrorism measures which could see people who travel or stay in certain areas overseas jailed for up to 10 years are a “serious abuse of civil liberties”, a campaign group has warned. The Campaign Against Criminalising Communities (Campacc) has condemned the Home Office’s 2019 Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Act for making it a criminal offence to travel to areas it designates as necessary for “protecting the public from terrorism” such as northeastern Syria. But Campacc argues that in practice travel to this region has had “diverse reasons”, such as “to visit family, conduct research, document human rights abuses, undertake humanitarian relief and to join the fight against ISIS”.
The act, which came into effect in April, exempts those who travel for humanitarian work, journalistic purposes and to visit family, among other reasons. But Campacc insists that it could still criminalise people travelling for legitimate reasons “given its presumption of guilty motives and terrorist activities”. In a statement, it adds: “Faced with up to ten years imprisonment, should their reasonable excuse not be accepted, some people will simply opt not to travel. This outcome would have a chilling effect on family relationships, academic inquiry, investigative journalism and acts of solidarity.”

Read more: Aaron Walawalkar, Human Rights News,

Creeping Criminalisation of Humanitarian Aid

At the heart of the trial of a volunteer with American migrant aid group No More Deaths that began in Arizona last week lies the question of when humanitarian aid crosses the line and becomes a criminal offence. Scott Warren, 37, faces three felony charges after he helped two undocumented migrants by providing them food, shelter, and transportation over three days in January 2018 – his crime, prosecutors say, wasn't helping people but hiding them from law enforcement officers.

Whichever way the case goes, humanitarian work appears to be under growing threat of criminalisation by certain governments.

Aid organisations have long faced suspensions in difficult operating environments due to geopolitical or domestic political concerns – from Pakistan to Sudan to Burundi – but they now face a new criminalisation challenge from Western governments, whether it’s rescue missions in the Mediterranean or toeing the US counter-terror line in the Middle East.

Read More: IRIN,

Nigeria: Widespread Violence Ushers in President’s New Term

The Nigeria elections in 2019 that brought President Muhammadu Buhari back into office for a second term were marred by political violence, some of it by soldiers and police officers, Human Rights Watch said. Buhari should take concrete steps to address the widespread political violence, and to ensure accountability for human rights abuses by soldiers and police as he begins his second term.
The election period included persistent attacks by factions of the insurgent group Boko Haram in the northeast; increased communal violence between nomadic herdsmen and farmers spreading southward from north-central states; and a dramatic uptick in banditry, kidnapping, and killings in the northwestern states of Kaduna, Katsina, and Zamfara. Security forces have failed to respond effectively to threats to people’s lives and security.

“The lack of meaningful progress in addressing the prevalent political violence, as well as lack of accountability for rights abuses, marked Buhari’s first term in office,” said Anietie Ewang, Nigeria researcher at Human Rights Watch. “He should put these issues at the front and center of his second term agenda and urgently take concrete steps to improve respect for human rights.”

Read moe: Human Rights Watch,

Serco to Restart Asylum Seeker Lock-Change Evictions

Hundreds of asylum seekers are facing eviction after a housing provider announced it was to restart a lock-changing programme. Serco first announced that it was issuing notices to tenants who had been denied the right to remain in the UK last July. It provides free housing to about 300 people in

Glasgow City Council's leader Susan Aitken has warned the UK government the move could lead to "mass destitution". And campaigners have raised fears that vulnerable people could be "man-handled" into the street. In April a legal challenge arguing that evictions would be unlawful without a court order was dismissed by a judge. Govan Law Centre is appealing the decision and has called for the evictions to be suspended in the meantime. Earlier this year it was also revealed that Serco had lost the Home Office contract in Scotland, which will be delivered by Mears Group after September.

The company will now restart the lock-change programme and return any housing it rents in the city to its owners at the end of the leases. It said it was "not a step we have taken lightly". Julia Rogers, Serco's managing director for immigration, added: "We very much regret the distress this will cause, but hope that it will be understood that we cannot be expected to provide free housing indefinitely to hundreds of people who have been unsuccessful in their asylum claims and most of whom have no legal right to remain in the UK.

Read more: BBC Scotland,

UK Should Get Serious About Defending Human Rights

Foreign Office Annual Rights Report Pulls Punches on Saudi Arabia and Yemen

The UK paints itself as a global champion on human rights, and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s annual rights report is a key moment to demonstrate that commitment. Unfortunately, this year’s report fails to do so.
The report contains notable gaps on the UK’s priority countries. Neither Turkey nor the Philippines are mentioned, despite widely documented human rights abuses there. It also fails to identify perpetrators of abuses in Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Burma, and China, and the section on rights defenders fails to mention those currently jailed for their work.
The report’s most striking weakness is on Yemen. While acknowledging the many civilians killed in the conflict, it ignores the Saudi-led coalition’s responsibility for many of these deaths in unlawful attacks. In marked contrast, the report does name the Houthis as being responsible for certain abuses. Indiscriminate Saudi-led coalition airstrikes in Yemen have hit hospitals, funerals, weddings, markets, civilian homes, and even a school bus, killing and wounding thousands. Many of these attacks may be war crimes, but the report treats civilian deaths merely as unfortunate by-products of war.

The report claims the UK does not export weapons to countries if “there is a clear risk” they might by used for internal repression or serious violations of international humanitarian law. But Human Rights Watch has documented the use of UK-made weapons in apparently unlawful airstrikes in Yemen. And a UK Parliamentary committee has found the UK is likely breaching its own arms export rules regarding Yemen. The report does not rebut this criticism but simply pretends it does not exist.

Read more: Human Rights Watch,

Immigration: DNA Evidence

Minister for Immigration (Caroline Nokes): Today I am announcing the publication of the Home Office response to Darra Singh’s review of the Home Office response to the mandating of DNA for immigration purposes. The Home Secretary commissioned this review to provide independent oversight of the effectiveness of remedial action taken by the Department when the incorrect mandating of DNA evidence came to light last year.
The review recognises the considerable efforts made by the Department, once the issue came to light, to assess the scale of the problem and prevent its recurrence, and to identify those affected and take remedial action, including reimbursing DNA testing costs where appropriate. The review acknowledges that good progress has been made to update guidance on DNA and to provide training on this issue.

While the review acknowledges the hard work behind the immediate response, it comments that the effective direction provided by the critical incident process could have been put in place at an earlier stage. The review also identifies areas where the Home Office’s approach to sampling, data collection, and assurance in this instance could have been improved.

The Department accepts the recommendations made in the report and has already taken action on them. Furthermore, beyond this specific issue the Department is focused on meeting the individual needs of the public we serve by improving customer service, ensuring we better protect the vulnerable and focusing on becoming more of a listening organisation.

I will arrange for copies of the report and Home Office response to be placed in the Libraries of both Houses. The Home Secretary and I would like to thank Darra Singh for his considerable effort in producing the report and its recommendations.

Hansard, 10 June 2019 ,

Asylum Research Consultancy (ARC) Country of Information Update Vol. 196

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 28 May and 10 June 2019.