News & Views Monday 15th June to Sunday 21st June 2020

France: Children Face Abusive, Racist Police Stops

Ethnic Profiling Fuels Distrust, Exclusion: French police use overly broad stop-and-frisk powers to conduct discriminatory and abusive checks on Black and Arab boys and men, Human Rights Watch said in a report released Thursday 18th June 2020. Curbing these powers is key to addressing biased policing, including racial or ethnic profiling, and repairing police-community relations.

The 44-page report, “‘They Talk to Us Like We’re Dogs’: Abusive Police Stops in France,” documents repetitive, baseless police stops targeting minorities including children as young as 10, older children, and adults. These stops often involve invasive, humiliating body pat-downs and searches of personal belongings. Most stops are never recorded, the police don’t provide written documentation or usually tell people why they were stopped, and measures to improve accountability have been ineffective. Several of the children and adults interviewed said police used racial slurs.“There is ample evidence that identity checks in France, in particular because they have a discriminatory impact, drive a deep and sharp wedge between communities and the police, while doing virtually nothing to deter or detect crime,” said Bénédicte Jeannerod, France director at Human Rights Watch. “The authorities shouldn’t keep ignoring the calls for change.”

Read more: Human Rights Blog,

Advocacy in Restricted Spaces: A Toolkit For Civil Society Organizations

Thousands of civil society organizations worldwide find themselves operating in environments where their ability to freely assemble, associate, and express themselves is severely restricted. To support organizations facing these obstacles to fundamental freedoms, the Lifeline Embattled CSO Assistance Fund – a Freedom House-led consortium of 7 international non-governmental organizations supported by 19 governments – is releasing the Advocacy in Restricted Spaces Toolkit. The Toolkit is a new and practical resource that emphasizes that advocacy is possible even in highly restrictive spaces. 

Placing the advocacy planning process within the context of risk assessment and mitigation, the Advocacy in Restricted Spaces Toolkit is intended to be used by grassroots, national, and regional civil society organizations that aim to engage in advocacy in restrictive environments. The Toolkit includes examples and perspectives on mobilization opportunities for democratic progress. The Toolkit provides real-world examples of how civil society can be effective even under significant duress.

In the era of COVID-19 restrictions, the tactics and case studies included in the Toolkit are perhaps even more relevant as growing numbers of civil society organizations find themselves operating in increasingly restrictive space where traditional advocacy tactics may no longer be feasible. The Toolkit is able to provide organizations with a new look at their operating environments to see what opportunities for advocacy still exist.

Download the Toolkit:

Refugees: Children

Baroness Hamwee to ask Her Majesty’s Government whether the Draft Working Text for an Agreement between the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the European Union on the transfer of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children makes it a mandatory obligation to (1) ensure family reunion, and (2) confer rights enforceable through domestic legal systems [HL4979]

Baroness Williams of Trafford: The UK published the draft legal text of our proposed agreement with the EU on the family reunion of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children on 19 May.

Under the terms of the draft legal text, the UK would act on requests from sending states where we are satisfied that the criteria for transfer as set out in the draft legal text are met. It is only right that all transfers are in a child’s best interests and the legal text makes that clear. A transfer could be rejected, for example, where there are safeguarding concerns or failure to establish a proven family link as these transfers would not be in a child’s best interests.

With regards to conferral of rights enforceable through domestic legal systems, the UK will abide by its international agreements and implement it in domestic law as appropriate. An individual’s rights come from the UK’s implementation of an international agreement, not from the agreement itself –this is standard practice for all international agreements.

“Beyond Belief” - Home Office Asylum Interviews Reveal a  Culture Tainted by Prejudgement
Freedom from Torture today publishes a new report on the experience of the asylum interview for torture survivors seeking asylum in the UK. The report argues that the Home Office repeatedly breaches its own guidelines, and calls for a fundamental culture change.

Key findings:
 - Arriving in Britain, traumatised from torture and sexual violence, as well as a harrowing journey, survivors are often prevented from giving a full account of their experiences or are denied the opportunity to explain the relevance of their evidence. The Home Office fails to follow its own guidance and aspiration to create a ‘positive and secure environment’ for the survivor.
- Home Office case workers have been found to employ poor questioning technique and are likely to prejudge aspects of the account during the interview. Sensitivity and professional approach to claimants is not always maintained.
- An experience of torture is not consistently identified at this stage of questioning despite being a critical indicator of both vulnerability and risk of harm on return.
- If done badly, the asylum interview may hamper the caseworker’s ability to make a prompt, fair and safe decision on the claim. This can mean that people desperately in need of protection are sent back to torture and persecution.
-  Many people leave the interview feeling dehumanised, re-traumatised and despairing of getting a fair decision.

Read more: Freedom From Torture

‘Taking Down Statues Does Not Cause us to Forget History’

In American jurisprudence, the ‘fruit of the poisoned tree’ is the principle that evidence which has been acquired unlawfully, regardless of how valuable, cannot be used in court. The original sin taints everything that comes from it. This is a helpful metaphor for how to consider Edward Colston. As many have recently learnt, he was a noted philanthropist, whose money has done, and continues to do, much good. All of this good, however, unequivocally comes from the heinous sin of slavery. It is irrevocably tainted.

Attempts to qualify Colston’s legacy, such as through a plaque acknowledging his culpability in the slave trade, came to nought. The democratic means of clarifying history and recognising wrong failed, in no small part due to the intervention of societies like the ‘Merchant Venturers’, who were inexcusably determined to ensure that the people of Bristol were left ignorant of Colston’s history as a slaver. Dragging him from his plinth and dumping him in the river was no more than he-  and his modern-day defenders – deserved.

Statues are not mere decorations, pleasant distractions from the monotony of the high street. Nor are they a record of our history – indeed, as Robert Saunders has noted, they curate it. They demonstrate our values and principles as a society. It is no little thing to fund and commission a statue – who we carve in marble is as revealing as who we do not. Cecil Rhodes looms over Oxford High Street, his presence there dictated by the terms of his bequest. Much like Colston, this bequest – and all the other creditable causes that Rhodes funded and founded – was gained inhumanely, through oppression and brutality. That Rhodes Scholarships are now awarded to black students from Africa does not absolve Rhodes of the pain and suffering that he inflicted upon the African peoples.

Colston’s dunking in Bristol Harbour has reinvigorated calls for other statues to be de-plinthed, as a way of our modern society atoning for the sins of our forefathers. The ‘Rhodes Must Fall’ campaign has resurged, with the netting intended to protect Rhodes from desecration from pigeons now serving to protect him from the even greater ignominy of crashing to Oxford’s High Street.

Read more: Nicholas Reed Langen, Justice Gap,

White Privilege' is a Distraction, Leaving Racism and Power Untouched

The transformation has been bewilderingly swift. Six years ago, most Americans thought that police killings of black suspects were “isolated events”. Now, three out of four accept that there exists a systemic problem. Support for Black Lives Matter has risen more in the past two weeks than over the past two years. And far from feeding Donald Trump’s base, the flames consuming US cities have diminished the stature of the president while, so far, not exacerbating the polarisation of the nation. The attitudes not just of the public but of major institutions, too, have metamorphosed. The NFL, which for the past four years has condemned players “taking the knee” to the national anthem in protest at racist killings, now acknowledges it was wrong. Nascar, that most Trumpian of US sports, has banned Confederate flags. Corporation after corporation has publicly affirmed support for Black Lives Matter. In Britain, too, the ground has shifted. From nationwide mass protests to a new national conversation about statues and history, from footballers and politicians taking the knee, to Yorkshire Tea telling a critic of Black Lives Matter “Please don’t buy our tea again”, public life seems irrevocably changed. When demonstrators toppled the statue of slaver Edward Colston in Bristol, only a minority of Britons supported their actions. A majority, however, thought the statue should be taken down legally, something unimaginable even a few months ago.

Read more: Kenan Malik, Guardian,

Judicial Review of Home Office ‘Permission to Work’ Policy for Asylum Seekers

On 5 June 2020, the High Court granted our client, (‘the Claimant’), permission to judicially review the legality of the SSHD’s (‘the Defendant’) immigration rules and current Permission to Work policy for asylum seekers. Paragraph 360 of Part 11B of the Immigration Rules (together with the Defendant’s Permission to Work (‘PTW’) policy) enables asylum seekers to apply for PTW in the UK if they have been waiting for a decision on their asylum claims for over a year. However, successful applicants can only be granted PTW in jobs restricted to the list of highly-skilled professions set out in the Defendant’s Shortage Occupation List (‘SOL’). This means that many asylum seekers are essentially prevented from working whilst they experience significant delays in the determination of their asylum claims.

As a result of previous litigation brought by the Claimant, the Defendant agreed to reconsider her application for PTW in employment not included within the SOL on a discretionary basis. Despite this, she went on to make a new decision and restrict the Claimant’s PTW to jobs on the SOL, alleging that the Claimant had not raised any exceptional circumstances to justify discretion being granted in her favour.

Read More:

Refugees: Families

Lord Hylton to ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they intend to expand the eligibility criteria for family reunion refugee status to include adult refugees sponsoring their (1) adult children, (2) parents, and (3) siblings under the age of 25; and whether they will allow unaccompanied children now in the UK to sponsor their parents and siblings under the age of 25. [HL4993]

Baroness Williams of Trafford: The Government already provides a safe and legal route to bring refugee families together through its family reunion policy. This allows a partner and children under 18 of those granted protection in the UK to join them here, if they formed part of the family unit before the sponsor fled their country.

Refugees can also sponsor adult dependent relatives living overseas to join them where, due to age, illness or disability, that person requires long-term personal care that can only be provided by relatives in the UK. There are separate provisions in the Rules to allow extended family to sponsor children to come here where there are serious and compelling circumstances.

Further, there is discretion to grant visas outside the Immigration Rules, which caters for extended family members in exceptional circumstances –including young adult sons or daughters who are dependent on family here and living in dangerous situations.

 It is the Government’s view that if children were allowed to sponsor family, this would risk creating incentives for more children to be encouraged, or even forced, to leave their family and risk hazardous journeys to the UK. This plays into the hands of criminal gangs who exploit vulnerable people and goes against our safeguarding responsibilities.

Immigration: What is an Offence Causing “Serious Harm”?

This deceptively simple question was the subject of the Court of Appeal’s decision in the three joined cases reported as Mahmood v Upper Tribunal (Immigration & Asylum Chamber) & Ors [2020] EWCA Civ 717. Sending a picture of your penis to a 15-year-old girl and causing her to send an “intimate” picture in return does qualify as serious harm. As does a road rage assault with an unidentified “quite long” and “blunt edged” weapon, causing two cuts to the scalp, four superficial cuts to the back, and bruises and grazes on the cheek. Possessing a fake ID and making a “bogus” asylum claim does not qualify. These three facts, together with some guidance of more general application, are what we learn from the decision in Mahmood.

Why does it matter whether an offence has caused serious harm?
It matters because someone who is not a British citizen, who has been convicted of an offence that has caused serious harm, is a “foreign criminal” as defined in section 117D(2)(c)(ii) of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 and can be deported.

There are two other ways to obtain the unflattering designation of foreign criminal. The first is being sentenced to a period of imprisonment of at least 12 months. This is the most common one in my experience, and certainly the most straightforward. All three offences in Mahmood attracted custodial sentences of under 12 months. The second is being a “persistent offender“.

Read more: Freemovement,

Online Petition:  Everyone has a Right to Safely Access Healthcare in the UK

The government should urgently end the Hostile Environment and make the the NHS safe and free for everyone, by: 1. Stopping all NHS charges for migrants, so no one is left to pay unaffordable fees for medical care. 2. Ending all data sharing between the NHS and the Home Office, meaning that patient data will no longer be used for immigration enforcement. 3. Launching a public health campaign to ensure NHS staff and the public are aware of these changes.

Why is this important? A man, known only as Elvis, who had lived in the UK for 10 years and worked as a cleaner, died at home of coronavirus, after having severe symptoms for two weeks. He did not seek help from the NHS because he was scared he’d be landed with a huge, unaffordable bill for his treatment, or that he would be reported to immigration authorities. The Government’s hostile immigration policies mean that many migrants are too afraid to access the NHS, even if they have coronavirus symptoms. The NHS was founded on the principle of universal healthcare, that everyone could access for free, regardless of background, nationality, or ability to pay. The Hostile Environment means this is no longer the case.

No one should avoid healthcare because they are scared of the debt they’ll incur, or that they’ll be deported, especially not during a public health crisis like Covid-19. The nature of coronavirus means that we are only as protected as the least protected amongst us. A recent report published by Migrants Organise, Medact, and the New Economics Foundation, told stories of many migrants avoiding accessing healthcare services during coronavirus because they fear being charged, or facing immigration enforcement. It clearly shows that adding Covid-19 to the list of conditions exempt from charging is not enough to ensure people can access care.

There is widespread and growing outrage over the policy. Seven health institutions in the UK, including the British Medical Association, 100 civil society organisations and community associations, and 60 MPs, have all demanded that the government ends NHS charging for migrants and data sharing with the Home Office. It’s time for everyone to join this call for the Government to take emergency action to end NHS charging and data sharing during the coronavirus crisis.

To defeat coronavirus we must stand together, support everyone in our communities, and ensure the NHS is free and safe for all who need it.

It is our NHS. It should treat #PatientsNotPassports

Home Office Ordered to Pay For Hotel For Family in Unsafe Accommodation

A high-court judge has ordered the Home Office to pay for a hotel for a vulnerable asylum seeker and her two young children, after twice placing them in unsafe accommodation over the past 10 months. The woman and her two children aged eight and nine were placed in Home Office accommodation last August, but made repeated complaints about the conditions. Concerns were raised about the risk to the woman and her children of remaining in that accommodation by the children’s school, social services, lawyers and charities.

After almost 10 months they were finally moved last Friday to a dirty, insect-infested hotel in east London where, the woman told the Guardian, physical distancing was impossible and she witnessed prostitution. In an emergency high-court Skype hearing on Wednesday Mr Justice Choudhury ordered the Home Office to pay for a hotel close to the children’s school which is clean and safe until more suitable long-term accommodation in the area can be found. The woman’s barrister, Raza Halim, told the high court: “This hotel is not fit for habitation, let alone during a pandemic. There is prostitution there in plain sight.”

Home Office barrister Zane Malik told the court that the government was unable to find the family alternative accommodation in east London and wanted to move the family to Plymouth. He said that the hotel the family had been placed in complied with Public Health England guidelines. The judge rejected the Home Office’s plan to uproot the children from their school and move the family to Plymouth and said in his judgment the accommodation provided was not suitable and that the evidence provided by the mother about the poor conditions in the hotel the Home Office moved the family to last Friday seemed credible and reliable.

Diane Taylor, Guardian,