Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Clandestino conference

Strangers into Citizens was one of the scheduled presentations at the Clandestino conference on Friday 27 March.

This conference was organised by the
Platform for International Cooperation on Undocumented Migrants (PICUM) an umbrella organisation for over 400 NGOs all across Europe that work with irregular migrants.

150 attendees packed the Amnesty International Human Rights Action Centre in Shoreditch, London, for a day full of valuable information sharing and networking.

At the conference PICUM presented the results of their major research project into numbers of irregular migrants in European countries like the UK, Germany, Spain, The Netherlands, Portugal and others.
You can read more about this on the PICUM website.

Their findings are in line with what we have always claimed: that the number of migrants in the UK is not above the European average; that the percentage of irregular migrants is not on the rise; that there need to be effective mechanisms for measuring how many irregular migrants there are in a country in order to create policies accordingly.

One of the workshops at the conference focused on regularisations programmes, and Strangers into Citizens was leading the debate along with the
International Centre for Migration Policy Development (ICPMD), based in Vienna.

Our colleagues from Vienna had done their own research on a regularisation programmes in the European Union and have given us more evidence to claim that regularisations do not produce more irregular migrants.
You can read more about the report on the ICPMD site.

Our presentation was much applauded and commented on by all attendees - our colleagues over in France were very impressed with the fact that Strangers had pulled 15,000 people to Trafalgar Square back in 2007.

As always, there was a mix of views from the crowd as to what a regularisations would entail in the long run. Our proposal is simple and aims to put forward a model for regularisation that governments can draw ideas from to create new policies.
You can read about our proposal on our website.

Our presentation has put us on the map for the rest of Europe. We cannot disappoint. We need more people than ever to come and rally with us on May 4th, 2009 for our day of Action and Celebration.
Visit our website for more details.

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Caroline's story

Caroline was a political activist in Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo) campaigning against the human rights abuses of the Mobutu regime. She was the president of the women’s opposition inside the Mouvement National Congolais .

In 1994 Mobuto sent forces to Caroline’s home to arrest her. When Caroline’s husband, Jean, sought to defend her, the soldiers killed him in front of her and took her to prison. Caroline spent two and a half years in prison, where she was raped and tortured. She was only released when Laurent Desire Kabila’s coalition of opposition forces the Alliance des forces démocratiques pour la libération du Congo-Zaire forced Mobuto to flee the country in 1997.

After her release from prison fighting broke out between Hutu Rwandans and Congolese ethnic Tutsis. In the chaos, Caroline lost three of her seven children and because her husband was half-Rwandan she had to protect her brother-in-law and his children from reprisals. A year later in an attack on her village, her house was burnt down with two of her grandchildren, aged 10 and 12, inside. They were both burned to death.

Caroline fled to the capital, Kinshasa, with just two grandchildren 2003 where for a time she was sheltered by a friend but she was soon turned out because her friend was too scared of being found out by troops.

Caroline found someone to look after her grandchildren and fled to England with an associate who regularly travelled to the UK on business. She believed her daughter, Helene, was living in London and she had a phone number for her from a family friend. When she got to Gatwick airport in October 2004, she immediately claimed asylum. Later she was re-united with Helene, the only one of her seven children she knows to be alive. Helene, living in Europe for the previous 10 years, was sure her mother was dead.

Sadly this was not the end of Caroline’s troubles. Five years on, she is still waiting for her asylum claim to be processed. She does not know if one day she will be deported. Unable to continue to send money to Kinshasa, her grandchildren were kicked out onto the streets. Through a London charity, she has recently managed to re-locate the young girls, now 12 and 8, and they are now being sheltered in a church. Caroline’s sister was recently killed by soldiers searching for Caroline.

Caroline has been on anti-depressants for the last five years, unable to come to terms with the trauma she has suffered and the violence that has torn her family apart. She has been offered accommodation, but it is two hours from her daughter and four grand children on whom she is so dependent. She is now 63 years old and craves nothing more than a peaceful old age, close to her remaining family. She would like to be able to work to support herself and grandchildren in Kinshasa, without relying on the charity of others.

Read more stories on our website.

Monday, 23 March 2009

It is becoming uncomfortable to be a migrant

Today's post is the first contribution from one of our guest bloggers: Keith Best is the Chief Executive of the Immigration Advisory Service. They provide legal aid and have won major campaigns on behalf of migrants and asylum seekers, such as the campaign to outlaw removals of Zimbabweans from the UK, back in July 2008. Today he speaks of the additional measures placed on migrants who wish to come to the UK.

We learn that migrants and students from outside the EU are now to be charged an extra £50 for UK visas to support communities struggling to cope with migration. The £70m raised by the scheme, announced by Communities Secretary Hazel Blears, will go towards providing more teachers, police and translators it is claimed. Yet this is a drop in the ocean with the £250m the local authorities state that they need to cope with increased numbers of children who do not have English as a first language. So, it is window dressing trying for the quick headline. It is also unfair – the levy will be paid by those from outside the EEA (many of whom, especially those from Commonwealth countries, have good use of English) yet most strains appear to come from the eastern Europeans who, of course, exercising their Treaty rights to come to the UK, do not need visas and so will not pay. More worryingly is the way this will focus “blame” on migrants and further damage social cohesion.

Then there is the recent headline “Most people in major European countries and the United States believe unemployed immigrants should be asked to leave” following the FT/Harris polls published by the Financial Times showing support from more than three-quarters of Britons. Interestingly, if the question had been asked about migrants already in work, even illegally, it could have been very different as previous opinion polls have shown.

The worry is that all this could elevate immigration as a political issue and boost support for far-right parties in the elections this year and next. It is a dangerous game for politicians to play.

Meanwhile, in the House of Lords the Border, Citizenship & Immigration Bill proceeds to its Report Stage. Part of that will establish border controls within the Common Travel Area (Great Britain, Northern Ireland, Channel Islands, Isle of Man and the Republic of Ireland) on air and sea routes (not on the common land border). Another part of the Bill will enable restrictions to be placed on students to remain at the same institution unless permission is given by the UK Border Agency for them to switch. This is on top of the provisions in the UK Border Act 2007 which, for the first time, enabled residence, reporting and other restrictions to be placed on those who have been given leave to remain in the UK (not, as previously, only on those who were granted temporary admission).

It is becoming very uncomfortable to be a migrant.

Keith Best

Chief Executive IAS

Monday, 16 March 2009

Australia cuts immigrant intake - the Brits are affected

So it seems that British workers are not just working in Britain. Ironically, the Australian has decided to cut down on the number of foreign workers in industries like construction by about 14%, reports the BBC.

Apparently Britons were taking their work abroad and tradesmen in the construction industry will no longer be able to benefit from Australia's programme.

How ironic is it that while British public opinion thinks that immigration is unnecessary, there are Britons that are taking off to improve their life, the same way that thousands seek to do so in the UK every year?

Ideas for the 21st century

Compass have collected many ideas for a new 21st century democracy. We have contributed our own idea regarding immigration policies and the lack of acknowledgement for irregular migrants in the present political climate.

How would like to see democracy evolve in the 21st century?

Monday, 9 March 2009

BBC Interview - Breakfast News

Hi all,

as written earlier, Austen was interviewed this morning for BBC Breakfast. We went on air at 6.40am and had a brief debate over irregular migration and immigrant amnesties against Sir Andrew Green of Migration Watch.

There are new figures on irregular migration - an exclusive bit of info passed on to BBC by the team at LSE undertaking research on request of London Mayor Boris Johnson: 725,000 people, up from the estimated 500,000 of the figures published in 2005.

We have welcomed these figures in our
press release.

We were welcomed at the BBC and led into the so-called Green Room, with refreshments and makeup studio - Sir Andrew joined us briefly before the debate went on air and I could tell that Austen and him were old opponents who treated each other with respect.

When the debate went live, things got a bit passionate, as Sir Andrew Green opened with the statement: "An amnesty is absolutely NOT the way to go".

He stated the usual arguments - that levels of migration to this country are too high, that we should not reward illegal behaviour, etc.

When the interviewer asked him what he thought of people who were already here and had been here for a long time, Sir Andrew did not budge. His tactic for dealing with "illegal" migration was to offer free tickets to return home (something the
International Organisation for Migration already does) or, if people were reluctant to leave, have the UKBA chase everyone down.

We stated our support for irregular migrants who have been here for a long time, and we argued that regularisations have happened before in places like Spain. There would be enormous contributions to the Exchequer.

One argument from Sir Andrew's intervention is altogether familiar with detractors of immigration, but it never fails to astonish me for its bigotry: Sir Andrew mentioned that "illegal" immigrants have been undercutting wages for British people for many years and so it would be disastrous to have an amnesty especially when there few jobs to go around.

It always amazes me when I hear this argument, the lack of of concern for people being exploited or for employers who prey on someone's vulnerable immigration status to gain benefit.

If irregular migrants take less money, it's because they are driven into that situation by extreme necessity and because of the lack of regulation in the jobs they have been relegated to agriculture, cleaning, caring and hospitality.

Shouldn't the concern be over employers who repeatedly exploit the system and fail to provide even basic protection to their employees?

What would you do...

  • if your employer refuses to pay you a national minimum wage?
  • if you could not report your employer because of fear of being deported?
  • if the alternative to working were to not be able to provide for your family?

You would probably try and take whatever options were available to you.

That's why many migrants, even if they had skilled jobs back home, take on menial jobs with meagre salaries - and in the case of asylum seekers, they are not even allowed to work.

Behind statistics are always stories. Individuals have shared them with us. Please log on to our website and read through some examples. You will see that the stereotype associated with an "illegal" migrant is not the reality.

New estimates on irregular migration

Hi all,

on this very lovely Monday morning we set out at the break of dawn to be interviewed by BBC Breakfast.

Austen Ivereigh, our campaign Policy Director, intervened in a brief debate over irregular migration and put forth our idea for an amnesty for long-term migrants.

This debate is in preparation for tonight's BBC Panorama programme, and in the context of new estimated figures of irregular migration in Britain. These new figures, drawn from a forthcoming report commissioned by London Mayor Boris Johnson, estimate the number of irregular migrants at a average of 725,000 people. We welcome these figures, which appear more up-to-date and accurate.

The programme is available on BBC iPlayer.

See our press release regarding this new report

Watch out for the next blog entry, where I give you the details of the debate. And as always, we look forward to your comments!

Friday, 6 March 2009

New website

Hi all,

our new website is live! You'll find all the information about May 4th, new stories and new articles.

Check out our new look and tell us what you think!

Thursday, 5 March 2009

Panorama producer makes amnesty comment

Panorama will be airing a programme on irregular migration and Mayor Boris Johnson's enquiry on Monday evening.

The team at BBC's Panorama are preparing the ground for the big show. One of the reporters has commented on the show's blog his views on what it has been like to film irregular migrants. You can find the link to the blog from the title.

The reporter, Raphael Rowe, hints at the main issues that the show will cover and offers his insight. His arguments in favour of regularisation focus on National Audit Office's figures for cost and timeline
of removal of irregular migrants.

Perhaps an acknowledgement to the hardships that irregulars face would have balanced the argument more. Our website offers plenty of examples of individual stories that highlight the hidden tragedy behing irregular migration statistics.

At Strangers into Citizens we are looking forward to the show on Monday night and to your comments on the next day.