Friday, October 28, 2005

AI says EU cannot retain 'keep out' policy much longer

"EU Member States must recognize that the political and economic pressure they are exerting on neighbouring countries to "keep people out of Europe" is contributing to a chaotic situation. There is a need for a global strategy that ensures that the human rights of some of the world's poorest people are protected regardless of whether they qualify as refugees or not."

The current response? "You are nothing but Negroes. You must not ask questions."

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Kaczyński to lead Poland

The news that Kaczyński will be Poland's next President has generally been met with a fair deal of concern by the rest of the EU. His tags 'social conservative' 'pro-American populist' and 'Polish nationalist' indicate the areas in which he will clash with many human rights activists.
First there's the social conservatism. He has pledged to get rid of corruption and bring back good old fashioned values to society. Unfortunately for us* this involves underlining the importance of the traditional family unit and demonising homosexuals. Most people are well aware that it is due to Kaczysnki that the Gay Pride parade has been banned in Warsaw for two years running.
Kaczyński also wants to bring back the death penalty for the worst crimes. Fortunately the EU will prevent him from doing this, but that just gives him another reason for not being in favour of the EU.
The pro-American populism risks meaning Polish troops will be kept in Iraq despite the last Prime Minister's pledges. Which in turn means the continued support for an occupation which is killing civilians every day.
Polish nationalism is another worry. He was endorsed by Andrzej Lepper. Lepper is a scary, scary man, who plays on fear and is openly xenophobic. Not good for minority rights. Not good at all.

*us includes all people who consider human rights to be central to a properly functioning society.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Morocco admits shooting migrants.

This month Moroccan security forces killed four migrants trying to enter the Spanish enclave of Melilla.

It was described as 'regrettable' by the Moroccan Foreign Minister.

Regrettable? I don't think that's quite the word.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Migration Benefits

I have to admit my heart leaps when I find any evidence to dismiss xenophobes' worries about 'foreigners coming to our country and taking our jobs'.
This suggests that despite many more Eastern Europeans flocking to the UK than conservative estimates expected, the newcomers have been successfully absorbed, with the economy strengthened in the process.
How satisfying.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Commission sets out plan to fight human trafficking

The details.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Integration Centre

Integration Centre for Asylum Seekers, Refugees and the Polish community living in the Mazowieckie region

Last month the Association for Asylum Seekers and Refugees opened the doors of its integration centre in ulica Oleandrów. The centre will be open six days per week and will provide a space for encouraging integration activities. For example, meetings; information exchange and language programmes for asylum seekers, refugees and Polish citizens who are unable to pay for such lessons or who are having problems in school.

The centre is being run by the Association for Asylum Seekers and Refugees in Poland: members of its ethnic council (made up of representatives from each country from which refugees living in Poland come) and a team of volunteers.

The integration centre aims to add to the association’s activities by providing a direct contact point between the local community and the asylum seekers and refugees community. It also aims to provide information about the country in which the asylum seekers and refugees have chosen to live as well as breaking communication barriers between people of different nationalities by providing several free of charge language programmes.

We are looking for financial support to enable us to run such a centre. As well as rent and other running costs, refreshments will be provided to users and workers in the centre.

If additional support is available, we intend to initiate further activities in the centre. We will add a computer terminal allowing users of the centre to improve their computer skills as well as access the internet free of charge. We would introduce cultural activities such as playing traditional instruments and dancing from various countries from which asylum seekers and refugees come. Eventually it is our hope that we could develop a multi-media centre to allow us to show films and documentaries about various countries as well as teaching material.

If you are able to provide us with any support for our centre, or would like to meet us personally for more details please contact us:

Bank account: ING BP LPW 65 1050 1038 1000 0022 7326 4214

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Who is the UNHCR really interested in?

On 29 September 2005, the UNHCR’s Warsaw office held a meeting, which involved representatives from the UNCHR Budapest office and the Polish Ministry of the Interior to collect information about the situation of refugees, asylum seekers and people holding tolerated stay permits in Poland.

The Association for Asylum Seekers and Refugees in Poland, the only grassroots organisation run by and for refugees in Poland, was not invited. Representatives of other NGOs were invited, Polish Humanitarian Action and their friends, as well as individuals in the categories concerned.

The kinds of questions that were asked of participants included when they arrived in Poland; what the situation is like for them and refugees they know; what their relationship is like with the Polish community; their experience of racism; whether they are working; and whether they received legal assistance if it was needed.

The Association for Asylum Seekers and Refugees in Poland was very disappointed at having been excluded from the meeting as members of the association include many different nationalities and the association could have provided a broad base of individuals to take part in the information gathering.

The UNHCR has been aware of the association since its birth and is kept well informed of current events and activities. It is regrettable that the UNHCR seems unwilling to involve the association in their activities. Surely, the association is an organisation the UNHCR should be eager to cooperate with, as we are all working for common goals.

It is to be hoped that the UNHCR’s approach will become more inclusive and demonstrate willingness to cooperate with the people it was set up to help.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

People-smuggling racket 'smashed'

Police in Britain have arrested ten people suspected of being involved in Europe's biggest people-smuggling networks.

Having listened to interviews with the Police and watched journalist reports I'm worried that many people in the UK will focus on the fact that the smugglers were former asylum seekers who had been given indefinite leave to remain. More ammunition for those who want to close UK borders to asylum seekers.

The important fact that increased cooperation with other European countries led to this breakthrough may also be sadly overlooked.

Oh, and I have to point out that smuggling is not the same as trafficking. You'd think the BBC would know that.

1st Update: The BBC news website has now taken out all references to trafficking :-)

2nd Update: It's now 19 people who've been arrested

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Case Study: Applying for Asylum in Poland

I am always shocked at examples of intolerance and discrimination, but the thing that shocks me the most is when this comes from a government body, and especially those government bodies that should be sensitive to the rights of those they are discriminating against.

I have been in Poland for five months and have been made aware of many unfortunate incidents involving racism, intolerance, lack of sensitivity, overt discrimination and prejudicial attitudes. This week however, I heard a story which left me at a loss for words.

I have now had time to collect my thoughts and find the words to express my outrage, so I will share them with you.

An asylum seeker from Burundi has been waiting for a decision on her application for a year. She had her interview some time ago and was supposed to receive her decision last week. Instead she received a letter. In the letter it stated that since she revealed during her interview that she was the victim of female genital mutilation, or circumcision, she had been booked an appointment at a gynaecologist to verify the statement.

Now, I don’t know if she was circumcised or not. All I know is that she left her entire family behind in Burundi, young children included. I know she misses her children and her country, and wants more than anything to start a new life which would enable her to provide for her family back home. Her year-long wait in a refugee centre has been far from a holiday.

I know that she is a person who should be treated with respect and not as a piece of evidence that has to be verified or discarded.

Let’s consider the various scenarios that could follow.

Let’s assume she was not circumcised and lied about it to try and make her story all the more powerful. This is clearly what the authorities suspect. If this is the case then does this give the authorities the right to dismiss her case and reject her application on the basis that one lie discounts her entire case? Or does it suggest that she is clutching at anything she can to stop her being returned to the country from which she is seeking refuge?

Let’s assume she was circumcised but refuses to go to the appointment. Does this entitle the authorities to conclude that she lied and wishes to conceal her lie? Or might she simply feel her right to privacy protects her from having to strip off during an appointment she didn’t make, in front of a person who does not necessarily speak her language, to verify a fact that is a result of something very painful and potentially psychologically damaging? Personally, I am not a victim of genital mutilation, but if I were, I imagine it would be a very sensitive issue for me to deal with and revealing the proof on demand would humiliate and deeply offend me.

In the third scenario, the circumcised woman feels pressured enough to go through with the appointment to back up her story, may be forced to relive the trauma that comes with such genital mutilation, and as a result has several of her rights trampled underfoot.

I would like to take a closer look at those rights. Rights that Poland has agreed to, rights that the Office of Repatriation and Aliens (despite its name) should be more than aware of when sending such letters to asylum seekers who have been forced to put their lives on hold.

I would like to highlight three rights in particular. I’ll go by the order that is in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union. Yes, Poland is now part of the European Union.

Article 1: Human dignity. Human dignity (which, according to the charter is inviolable and must be respected and protected) surely applies to a woman not being forced to remove her clothing and have her genital area inspected against her will.

Article 4: Prohibition of torture and inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. I would not go as far as saying the gynaecologist appointment amounts to torture, but I certainly would argue that the person subjected to the appointment could consider it a degrading punishment for daring to ask for asylum in this country.

Article 18: The right to asylum. This article states that the right to asylum shall be granted with respect to the Geneva Convention on refugees. This is what the office dealing with the application should be focusing on. The individual in question has presented her case for staying in Poland and being granted refugee status. The office knows the rules according to which they should assess the application and they have been reviewing the case for long enough. What is the justification for this demand?

Burundi is a country in which vast human rights abuses are carried out on a daily basis. In Amnesty International’s report of this year it is stated that the reported abuses included unlawful killings, torture including rape and other sexual violence, abductions and unlawful detentions.

The bottom line is that the question of whether this individual in question has been the victim of genital mutilation or not is irrelevant. A year should be long enough to consider the case of an asylum seeker, and it should not include subjecting that person to potentially humiliating and inhumane treatment.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

How Euro are you?

Test your attitude to all things euro with this quiz. Apparently I'm a euro-enthusiast and like all things European from going on holiday to sun-dried tomatoes and good red wine. But then I knew that.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Remaking multiculturalism after 7/7

Last week Tariq Modood wrote about multiculturalism in the light of the recent London bombings. It’s quite a long, academic essay but brings some fascinating considerations to light about what is needed to make a multicultural society function.

One thing I think that’s worth highlighting, which I admit I hadn’t properly considered before is the fact that a nation without a strong national identity faces additional problems for ‘pluralistic integration’. How can a member of a minority experience a feeling of belonging, when nationals themselves have a weak identity?

I have on occasion thought that defining myself in terms of Britishness, as Modood writes, could be considered ‘racist, imperialist, militaristic and elitist’ but as he points out, ‘if the goal of wanting to become British, to be accepted as British and to belong to Britain is not a worthwhile goal…what then are they supposed to integrate into? And if there is nothing strong, purposive and inspiring to integrate into, why bother with integration at all?’ Good point.