Bob Hughes - No-One Is IllegalBob is one of five activists who formed No-one Is Illegal in 2003, modelled on similar groups in continental Europe where the anti-border-control movement is much more developed. No-one Is Illegal regards all immigration controls as intrinsically inhumane, and contrary to a basic human right to freedom of movement. Bob detailed cases of suffering and death generated both by border controls in general, and by unjust asylum law: he argued that there was no moral distinction between movement for political and economic reasons, both of which were attached to a fundamental right of freedom of movement, and both of which might be a matter of life or death. By making this distinction, the system forces people to lie: Bob detailed the case of several migrants who had misrepresented their nationality out of a desperation to claim asylum: a desperation made evident when they took their own lives after being refused leave to remain. Bob also made a powerful economic case against border controls, which he argues allows exploitation of illegal workers by big businesses like supermarkets, who are able to exploit workers working in terrible conditions for subsistence wages precisely because border controls make many economic migrants illegal. --> He thus argued that we must challenge not only detention, deportation, borders, ID cards etc. but also the whole "apparatus of complicity" (including corporations exploiting migrant labour).
- 'Failed' asylum cases whose country of origin, ironically, is too dangerous to return to, and yet experience little support and welfare, eroded by new asylum and immigration law.
- In many cases this results in homelessness: CRSG often has to turn people away onto the streets of Cambridge, or try to find individuals willing to accommodate refugees for a few nights until more permanent accommodation can be found. We heard about a Chinese client with no support and nowhere to live, due to give birth next week.
- New benefits rules make the support that does exist confusing and difficult to access, since it is provided by several sources at various stages in the asylum process, including the DSS and the National Asylum Support Service (NASS)
- Absurd administrative rules, like the family amnesty (announced last year) which allows certain families whose asylum claims have been outstanding for over three years to be given permission to live and work in the UK; yet often does not apply to those whose children are less than a year old
- Substantial language problems.
- More space, which would enable volunteers to be used better. CRSG is currently looking for buildings and organisations willing to provide rooms for advice sessions etc.
- They are always looking for new volunteers, particularly ones willing to be flexible and responsive to last-minute requests for help.
Louise Pirouet - Cambridge Oakington ConcernEstablished when the refugee detention centre at Oakington was established in 1999, CamOak exists to raise questions about the use of Oakington Barracks as a detention centre, and to campaign for safeguards and human rights for detainees. Members visit the centre, monitor conditions there, campaign through MPs and government officials, and publish a newsletter. Louise Pirouet, who founded the group, told us that basic conditions in Oakington were acceptable, except for the segregation wing, where people were sometimes moved prior to deportation. A well-equipped nursery exists for children, who are nonetheless imprisoned there in contravention to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child which the UK signed in April 1980; against the advice of the chief inspector of prisons; and despite growing evidence that detention even for short periods affects the physical and especially mental health of children. The UK circumvents the illegality of child detention by an administrative trick: parents are given the choice of taking their children with them into detention, or losing them to the social services when they are detained. In addition, unaccompanied youths whose minor age status is uncertain are supposed by law to be given the benefit of the doubt, but rarely are; unaccompanied children are thus also sometimes imprisoned in Oakington, although Adrian Matthews of the Cambridge Bail Circle confirmed that this situation has recently improved due to greater cooperation between Oakington and the local child protection services. Finally, Oakington has recently begun to be used for `detention overspill' of `illegal immigrants' as well as refugees. Louise argued that the fast-track system of which Oakington is the centrepiece is demonstrably unjust. Although nearly all those `fast-tracked' through Oakington have their asylum claims initially rejected because their countries of origin are on a `white list' of supposedly safe countries, nearly 40% are allowed to stay after appeal: clear evidence that the first layer of fast-track decision making is massively inaccurate. Illegal deportations by the Home Office prior to appeal, and moves to make this layer of appeal only accessible to claimants AFTER deportation, suggest that so many refused claims being shown to be valid at appeal is a substantial embarrassment for the Home Office. Oakington is due to close in 2006, but until that time requires continued monitoring and pressure to prevent further abuses of human rights.
Adrian Matthews - Cambridge Bail CircleAdrian Matthews, formerly of the Refugee Legal Centre (RLC) at Oakington, established the Cambridge Bail Circle in 2003 as a way of freeing refugees referred from the RLC and other lawyers. Volunteers stand surety (usually around £200), and build up a relationship with the detainee, many of whom also have children. The scheme has had limited success due to relatively few people being willing to participate, and may also perhaps become less urgent if since detention times at Oakington decrease. Nonetheless it remains a fantastic opportunity to make a huge difference to one vulnerable individual’s life.
B. DiscussionThis focussed on practical things local campaigners and the public might do:
- Volunteer at CRSG (also suggested that CRSG liase with student groups like Student Community Action)
Write to MPs, asking them to ask questions to ministers about particularly abusive aspects of the asylum and immigration regime (remember to ask them to forward your inquiry to the relevant minister, and to ask for a reply)TARGETED campaigns on specific issues. Suggestions included:
- Bob Hughes (NOII) argued that street campaigning is a massively effective way of engaging with people, and was effective for the campaign against asylum vouchers
- Bob also suggested a week of monitoring and questioning drivers and staff working for Wachenhut, the private contractors used to transport deported detainees to and from Oakington
- A local campaign for the rights of migrant workers, many of whom work in terrible conditions for subsistence wages, particularly in the food supply industry in East Anglia (e.g. large numbers of Portuguese, Chinese and Russian workers around Thetford, with whom a local network association around King’s Lynn does some work)
- Inform ourselves
Cambridge Action Network - mikey-meister