In the run-up to the election, the Conservative Party is proposing to remove all asylum seekers who exceed an annual quota of 20,000, whether or not their claims are valid. The Labour government has already set a target to deport more people each month than make new claims for asylum that go on to be rejected. Both policies are part of a ‘target culture’ which, when applied to asylum seekers, results in a clear and shameful pattern of human rights violations, according to a new report by the Institute of Race Relations (IRR).
In the words of IRR’s Director, A. Sivanandan, ‘The processes of deportation of asylum seekers here documented are so callous and depraved that they call to account the British values that politicians and the media constantly extol and then proceed to betray.’
Citing over 200 detailed case studies, IRR researcher, Liz Fekete, shows in The deportation machine: Europe, asylum and human rights how opportunist political campaigning puts the lives of asylum seekers at risk. Across Europe the agenda is being set by right-wing anti-immigration parties; it is being followed through by national governments.
Today, at a meeting chaired by Lord Ouseley (IRR Council of Management) and hosted by Jean Lambert MEP, a panel of experts launches the report in the London office of the European Parliament. Refugee organisations and support groups, church representatives, medical practitioners, teachers and trades unionists exchange views on how best to counter the human rights abuses that are being engendered by this European-wide deportation policy.
The IRR’s research highlights how target-driven deportation policies:
- institutionalise brutality by legitimising the use of force in removals, often in violation of domestic law vis a vis powers granted to deportation officers. The harsh methods of control and restraint used to enforce removals have led to the deaths of eleven asylum seekers, mainly from suffocation. There have been countless injuries, ranging from those associated with prolonged periods in handcuffs to severe brain damage and loss of sight.
- remove protection from refugees fleeing conflict and violate humanitarian law intended to protect the traumatised and the severely ill, as laid out in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights. Refugees from war are being targeted for deportation despite the immense difficulties and human rights concerns attached to their removal, and the fact that such removals violate the non-refoulement principle of the Geneva Convention.
- undermine the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child which requires that the child’s best interests be paramount in executive and judicial decisions and actions. Deportation officials, in prioritising families for deportations, are increasingly placing children at risk. Schools are also becoming sites for deportations, despite teachers’ pastoral duty towards all children in their care.
- lead to overcrowding, poor and insanitary conditions in detention centres. Punitive measures carried out in detention centres breach the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which prohibits absolutely inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. The report condemns European governments for ignoring the shocking escalation in suicide attempts amongst asylum seekers detained pending deportation.
IRR deputy director, Liz Fekete, who spent twelve months compiling the report, was shocked at the scale of human rights abuses she uncovered during her research . ‘This is not about the individual failings of individual deportation officers, but about an unaccountable system based on institutionalised brutality and an apparent contempt for international human rights standards. Governments that set targets for deportation seem to view asylum seekers – including torture victims, vulnerable children and those severely traumatised by war – as some sort of unwanted commodity, to be packaged and despatched out of Europe. The EU deportation programme is a juggernaut. If we allow it to continue unchecked, it will violate all basic human values.’
1 The government’s five year immigration and asylum strategy cited above increases the resources of police officers to carry out deportations. The Home Office has also issued a manual advising immigration service officials on the use of control and restraint techniques for deporting asylum-seeker children. Since the compilation of this report, 14-year-old Sebrin Thaha, formally a pupil at Notre Dame School for Girls in Plymouth, has alleged that escort officers assaulted her during the deportation of the Thaha family to Germany.
2 In the UK, where Tony Blair set a target for removals in September 2004, refugees from conflict zones under threat of deportations include refugees from Zimbabwe, Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
3 In the UK, the Home Office manual cited above gives official sanction to the rounding up of children from schools to be detained with their families. And the Children’s Act which places a duty of care on organisations to safeguard the welfare of children excludes immigration and asylum authorities from that duty.
4 In the UK, the government’s national suicide prevention strategy in prisons does not include immigration removal centres. And the home secretary’s five year strategy envisages expanding the capacity of removal centres, despite the fact that prison ombudsman Stephen Shaw’s inquiry into the disturbances at the Yarl’s Wood immigration removal centre in February 2002 concluded that there was so much pressure from ministers to achieve the ‘ambitious’ and ‘unachievable’ target of removing 30,000 failed asylum seekers that the 1,000-bed detention centre, near Bedford, had been built at breakneck speed, leading to a detention centre which was ‘astonishingly flimsy’ and ‘not fit for its purpose’.
Comments on The deportation machine: Europe, asylum and human rights
‘I was appalled but not surprised at the contents of the IRR’s report. It illustrates the callous attitude at the heart of policy-making on asylum seekers. As the pace of electioneering speeds up, I fear that we will see politicians competing as to who can bring out the nastiest policies on asylum and immigration in a bid to compete for tabloid approval on the most sensitive of subjects. This approach feeds the growing trend across Europe.’ Jean Lambert, MEP
‘The human rights violations revealed in this report cannot be divorced from racism,. If an indicator were needed of the dangers of playing the race card electorally, this is it.’ Lord Ouseley, Institute of Race Relations Council of Management
‘This is not about the failings of individual deportation officers but about an unaccountable system based on institutionalised brutality and an apparent contempt for international human rights standards. Governments that set targets for deportation seem to view asylum seekers – including torture victims, vulnerable children and those severely traumatised by war – as some sort of unwanted commodity to be packaged and despatched out of Europe. The EU Deportation Programme is a juggernaut. If we allow it to continue unchecked, it will violate all basic human values.’ Liz Fekete, author of The deportation machine
‘The processes of deportation of asylum seekers here documented are so callous and depraved that they call to account the British values that politicians and the media constantly extol and then proceed to betray.’ A. Sivanandan, Director, Institute of Race Relations