Refused asylum seekers are being forced to endure destitution and humiliation at the hands of the Azure card. Together with the Red Cross, I am calling for the government to put an end to this cruel and unusual system.
On the 20th of November the House of Lords will debate the Azure card. I ask my colleagues and other noble members not to remain silent on this issue.
The Azure card is a payment card issued to refused asylum seekers who are destitute and have agreed to return to their country of origin but who cannot return immediately due to circumstances beyond their control. The card was designed to provide short-term support. However, because people who cannot be returned also lack the right to work, many have found themselves trapped in a state of perpetual destitution.
The Coalition Agreement included a commitment to reintroduce exit checks by the end of this Parliament.
But any means of noting or recording who enters and who leaves the UK was removed in 1998 by Labour, who considered the checks, ‘an inefficient use of resources … contributing little to the integrity of the immigration control’. Clearly, today’s debate on immigration has moved on considerably.
Since the early ‘Noughties’, successive attempts have been made to restore some form of border records, principally through the introduction of technology-based checks for anyone departing the UK as part of a new ‘e-Borders’ programme. It was hoped that these checks would limit the escalating numbers of people illegally entering and staying in this country. These e-Borders were originally scheduled to be fully implemented by March 2014, but the programme has, unsurprisingly, fallen behind schedule.
Last week, I was encouraged to see more political parties coming around to the (long-held Liberal Democrat) view that we need to make voter registration easier, accessible and engaging, and allow young people to register from an early age. Only then can we seek to inspire future generations to take a stake in democracy and truly make ‘politics’ open to all citizens.
To this end, today is the formal first reading of my Voter Registration Bill in the House of Lords. I very much hope that Members from all parties (and none) welcome and support its aims.
As honorary President of the non-partisan movement, Bite The Ballot – a fantastic organisation seeking to empower young voters – I know just how enthusiastic young people are about political issues when they are taught about the power they hold at the ballot box. It is this simple premise that forms the basis of my Voter Registration Bill, which has two parts. The first concerns the sharing of information between government bodies and electoral registration officers; the second concerns the duties of electoral registration officers.
This week the BNP released its party political broadcast in the run-up to May’s local council and European elections. The BNP youth has also made its own poisonous contribution to the debate. The BNP have released a hurriedly edited version following complaints from the BBC that the broadcast did not meet its editorial guidelines, which state that such broadcasts have:
‘an obligation to observe the law (for example on libel, copyright and incitement to racial hatred and violence) and [must follow] the BBC Editorial Guidelines on harm and offence’.
The BBC evidently did not believe the video met these guidelines. Instead, it featured caricatured ‘Muslim’ grooming gangs, a woman in a burqa begging, and a bloodied silhouette of Michael Adebolajo, the killer of soldier Lee Rigby. The other half of the video is given over to ‘man on the street’-type interviews with, amongst others, someone dressed as a member of the armed forces, and someone the viewer is meant to assume is a member of the clergy (i.e. a man in apparently clerical garb outside a locked Church). This man is a Mr Robert West, some-time BNP party activist. He is not a vicar.
Among Liberal Democrats at least, the House of Lords is viewed as an institution deeply in need of reform. That said, the potential of this house to monitor and moderate the work of the House of Commons was absolutely evident during the passage of the Immigration Bill, which is due for its Lords third reading on 6 May.
The Lords were responsible for moderating the Bill in several important ways, such as:
exempting student accommodation from the proposed ‘landlord checks
creating ‘guardians’ for potential victims of child trafficking, and crucially
blocking the Government’s plans to grant the Home Secretary the power to strip a naturalised citizen of their citizenship even if that would leave them stateless.
The crisis in Syria, which the UN has described as ‘the greatest humanitarian catastrophe of modern times’ is now reaching overwhelming levels. The total number of Syrian refugees is now estimated to be 2.3m, of whom 0.5% – around 12,000 souls – are spread across the whole continent of Europe. Bulgaria, the EU’s poorest country, is bearing the brunt of this: an estimated 100 Syrians enter Bulgaria daily, many of them illegally. The country simply cannot cope.
The UN and its NGO and local government partners in the region face many pressures. These organisations are fighting to ensure social stability. In Lebanon, in light of extraordinary population growth, essential resources, space, and labour are all causes of significant social tension. In eastern Lebanon, a makeshift refugee camp providing shelter for hundreds was burnt down last month, and the Lebanese town of Tripoli saw bloodshed mirroring the Syrian conflict in the latter months of 2013. Alarmingly, car bombs in Beirut are once again headline news. The spread of violence will continue, threatening to destabilise the whole region, unless practical and immediate measures are taken to relieve the pressure on Syria’s generous but inundated neighbours.
The international community has responded admirably to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees’ call for financial assistance. As well as the £500m in aid already pledged, a further £16m was promised at the beginning of January. However, it is immediate, practical help that is now needed. We have so far failed to allow any extra space for Syrian refugees. It is now absolutely imperative that we do so.
On Tuesday, the Deputy Prime Minister stated that we have accepted 1,500 Syrians seeking asylum in the UK since 2012. This number, however, requires context to be properly understood. It only represents those who were able to reach the UK independently in first place, effectively precluding the most vulnerable. Indeed, the UNHCR has called for us to take Syrian refugees in addition to our current resettlement quota, in order to assist those with greatest need, and to protect asylum seekers from other parts of the world who would otherwise suffer. A system to do this, created and run by the UN, is already in place.
This week Nigerian asylum seeker Isa Muazu was flown back to his homeland after a lengthy celebrity-backed campaign to stop him from being deported. Lord Roger Roberts, who was one of his most prominent supporters, says the case shows how broken the immigration system is
Yesterday was International Migrants Day. Sadly, celebrations for many were rather subdued. Yesterday morning marked the end of a long, hard and emotionally-charged battle. Isa Muazu, a 45-year-old asylum seeker from northern Nigeria who had been on hunger strike for nearly 90 days, landed in Lagos.Lawyers and campaigners fighting his cause ran out of avenues through which they could challenge the removal decision in the limited timeframe given. The case has been enormously distressing for many of those who have chosen to engage with it, but it has also raised the profile of many long-standing concerns surrounding immigration detention in the UK. I share some of my own concerns with you now.
In 2007, when the then Home Secretary Jacqui Smith put forward plans to extend the detention without trial of terror suspects from 28 days to as many as 90, many citizens shuddered. 90 days under lock and key without trial? The British public were right to be worried about such a flagrant disregard for the liberty that every human being should be afforded. For similar humanitarian reasons, the public has rallied behind the current ‘modern-day slavery bill’, and watched with barely controlled outrage and emotion as the implications of life-long incarceration were played out in South London.
But – and this is an important but’– the UK has a system that makes a mockery of such humane campaigning by the British public: a system of indefinitedetention. Without committing a crime, you can be imprisoned for upwards of six months, in a place where your only access to a hearing is through a system that is seriously compromised. You might be a visa overstayer or an asylum seeker whose claim for sanctuary was rejected. Isa Muazu was both of these. In the end, in the eyes of the Home Office and the UKBA, it doesn’t matter. You are an administrative inconvenience.
The majority of cases within the immigration system are dealt with quickly. This is an improvement on a decade ago, in which cases languished for years in the so-called ‘legacy backlog’. This change raises several important questions. If the vast majority of cases are dealt with within a reasonable timeframe, why are those whose cases last longer subject to detention without limit? And – positive though efficient and fast decisions are in the light of cases that have dragged on for years – at what cost has this sudden pace been acquired?
The announcement by Lib Dem Transport Minister Susan Kramer that the new fast rail link HS2 will need 19,000 construction and engineering employees and a possible 400,000 ‘spin-off” jobs, following construction is the perfect opportunity for us to reduce significantly the 1m unemployed youngsters in the United Kingdom. Last week’s statement with further massive infrastructure proposals added the possibility of further opportunities.
This must be the time to make certain that we have adequate training so that UK youngsters are able and capable of responding to these job opportunities. I would hope that training courses at various levels leading to top-rank qualifications can be discussed and put in place ready for the start of this immense project.
We must spread the opportunities so that youngsters throughout the UK can apply. It could be that 10,000 or more HS2-related scholarships could be established and that local authorities in the jobs’ ‘spin-off’ areas could consider what local training and further action is needed to take advantage of these opportunities.
Let us start preparing now to make a real impact in UK youth employment challenges.
Published and promoted by Tim Gordon on behalf of the Liberal Democrats, both at LDHQ, 8-10 Great George Street, London, SW1P 3AE.
Yesterday I met Mr Isa Muaza who, until last night, was due to be forced on to a plane to Nigeria this evening. Though his removal directions have been moved – and set – for 29 November he remains at death’s door.
Isa is a failed asylum seeker who has been held in detention at Harmondsworth Immigration Removal Centre. The case is one of enforced removal, although very little real force will be necessary in his case. He has been on hunger strike and has lost 40% of his body mass. He is close to death.
Isa was not well when his period of detention began, immediately following rejected leave to remain and failed asylum bids. He suffers from Hepatitis B, kidney problems and stomach ulcers. The failure of the conditions of detention at Harmondsworth to meet his dietary and health needs was his first cause to reject food. Not then a grand, well-publicised, considered political gesture but administrative inadequacy. From this sad and banal inception his strike has continued in protest at what he argues are the inhuman conditions at the centre for all detainees.
Perhaps the death of seekers of sanctuary like Isa will become as mundane as the administrative system he has been condemned by. Staff at Harmondsworth IRC have been warned to expect the death of those who engage in hunger strike as a form of protest as the Home Office enforces a clampdown on what it deems to be a form of‘playing the system’. As Isa told me yesterday that he’d ‘rather die than be deported’, I suggest it’s the system that’s playing him and his life.
Perhaps though the Home Office will take account of those voices that have come out against such disregard for human life – voices that put life before administrative convenience or short-term political point-scoring; voices that condemn Theresa May’s vision of Britain as a ‘hostile environment’ for so-called illegal immigrants.
To borrow the words of one Elie Wiesel, Nobel Laureate and holocaust survivor, ‘No human being is illegal’. Sadly, what should be the guiding principle of an immigration system in any civilised society is instead a small reminder of a compassion that we are quickly losing and, perhaps, we have already lost.
Writing to Theresa May MP (for the third time) yesterday evening, in a letter co-signed by more than forty other MPs and Peers, I argued that the decision to continue Mr Muaza’s detention and pursue his imminent deportation is deeply flawed. Despite compelling evidence to act otherwise, including a medical examination which deemed him unfit to fly, his ongoing detention and removal contradicts expert advice and shows no regard for the intrinsic value of his life. I have appealed to Ms May to show clemency and free Mr Muaza who is now on the verge of death.
This letter has, at the time of writing, gone unanswered. There are other avenues by which a Peer may raise an issue s/he feels is of the utmost urgency, amongst them Private Notice Questions and Topical Oral Questions. Despite several attempts, leave has not been granted to me. Julian Huppert MP has similarly been denied Urgent Questions in the Commons. Although a judge indicated on Monday that Isa’s appeal would be dismissed, no formal decision has been issued and the matter remains sub judice. Though I’m glad that Isa’s lawyers are seeking judicial review (or an injunction preventing removal) I cannot raise the case directly in the House – a depressingly grim case of ‘Catch 22’.
However, I am pleased to report that a Government e-petition (founded by Julian Huppert MP and myself) is now live. Please do sign and please share.
Even before this protest began – and before he ever came to the UK – Isa Muaza was a deeply vulnerable person. He fled Nigeria fearing for his life at the hands of the terror group Boko Haram, a group he says have already killed several members of his family and as he told me yesterday, if returned this week he will have no one to meet him off the plane. He is penniless, blind and incapable of standing on his own. In his current state this on its own is a death sentence.
In deporting Mr Muaza on Friday the Home Office seems to be seeking to avoid another death in immigration detention. But the Home Secretary cannot – and should not – escape responsibility for her actions. In this case, for forcibly detaining a man the system so evidently could not care for. Those held in the thousands of beds in immigration detention centres across the UK are some of the most vulnerable people in the country. Striking out at them is not the sign of a strong immigration system, but a desperately weak one.
I call for clemency in this case. The Immigration Minister, Mark Harper MP, insists Isa has no legal basis to remain in the UK. But I urge you all to act quickly in persuading the Ms May to release Isa, at the very least, so that another death in immigration detention may be avoided.
Published and promoted by Tim Gordon on behalf of the Liberal Democrats, both at LDHQ, 8-10 Great George Street, London, SW1P 3AE.