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Part 2.

NB: This is a personal reflection, not an official Amnesty statement.

F- off back to your own country

Many people seen as immigrants or foreigners have experienced a rise in hate crimes, from crass verbal abuse or twitter trolling, to being made to feel unwelcome even by colleagues, their partners’ relatives or those they thought were friends. Amnesty has produced an official report (Centre for Hate Studies, University of Leicester, 2017). Elena Remigi and others have edited an impressive, distressing collection of testimonies from citizens of other EU countries living in the UK, resulting from a set of blog posts (Remigi, Martin and Sykes, 2017, Our Brexit Blog, 2017). The lack of any effective UK Government response to the hate crimes following the referendum is as shameful as the crimes themselves, and is compounded by the continuing ambiguity of official statements on the actual status and related rights of those citizens. This is against the background of a government led by a Prime Minister preoccupied to the point of obsession with reducing net migration figures into the U.K. to the tens of thousands (Kent, 2017). Such a government can easily interpret and use a referendum vote, where immigration topics were highlighted so much, as a mandate to prosecute anti-migration policies even further.

Detain, demoralise, deport.

Around 30,000 people are kept in immigration detention centres (grade B prison standard blocks) in the UK, despite having committed no crime. They can be detained indefinitely (Bail for Immigration Detainees, 2017), the UK being possibly the only European country where this is the case (Detention Action, 2017). These are used essentially for victims of the Hostile Environment: asylum seekers whose claims are rejected, and other migrants such as EU27 citizens who have become homeless, some with mental health problems, some with minor offences such as traffic infringements (Townsend, 2017b). Others may have lived in the U.K. for decades but have simply lost or not had documentation now required by the Home Office. There are some truly distressing human stories here, of threatened or actual deportation, and mentally destructive and unnecessary detention. Paulette Wilson, who has lived in Britain since 1968, when she was sent from Jamaica as a girl, now with a daughter and granddaughter here, but was still taken to Yarl’s Wood Detention Centre in 2017 (Gentleman, 2017). A young Polish man, Marcin Gwozdzinski, who tragically died this year in detention after a suicide attempt. The government attempts to downplay the fact that deaths occur in detention and obscure the numbers of deaths (Townsend, 2017a and 2017b). There are basic Human Rights here which are under threat.

Part 3 will follow shortly. A Conclusion will also have a full list of the references used.

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Part 1.

The Background of Rights.

NB: this is a personal reflection, not a statement by Amnesty.

Human Rights are for everyone and there to provide a basic set of values, common decency, to protect against the outrages of cruel regimes and their henchmen, to give those living in a country protection and redress against those governing those countries.

Concepts of International Law and Human Rights were developed against the background of Europe’s descent into the murderous State-led crimes in the 1930s and 40s. Hence the Universal Declaration Of Human Rights (United Nations, 1948) and the European Convention of Human Rights (Council of Europe, 1950) on which there is a useful commentary in Rights Info (no date). For a fascinating and very timely history with a personal note, see Philippe Sands’ account of how progressive laws sprung from atrocities in Nazi-occupied Poland and beyond in his account East West Street (Sands, 2016).

However, we have been encouraged to think of Rights as a bad thing, the domain of the irresponsible and those who want to take and not give – benefit cheats, bogus asylum seekers and other mythical groups created by a hostile press to stoke up fear and prejudice (Stop Funding Hate, 2017; Berry, Garcia-Blanco and Moore, 2015).

In recent years there has been a move to restrict Human Rights for those from other countries in particular, and there is real concern that the effect of Brexit in the U.K. is to continue this trend.

Save the HRA ? Rights for Some Only.

In Britain we have the Human Rights Act (HRA) (Liberty, 2017). This enforces most of the European Convention on Human Rights in British Law and makes it easier for those such as the representatives of the Hillsborough families to obtain justice for their loved ones after so many years and such pain, as well as many other individuals seeking Justice (Amnesty International, no date).

Theresa May and then Michael Gove have stated a wish to abolish the HRA and replace it with a British Bill or Rights and officially proposed this in the Queen’s Speech In 2016 (Sankey, Robinson and Ogilvie, 2016). There is a strong suspicion that, in reality, this would mean fewer rights for fewer people, in the hands of an ever-more controlling central government. The word “British” is significant too in the wake of repetitively hostile reporting or invention of anti-migrant stories and the Hostile Environment (see following paras). Anyone with less than full nationality or citizenship would be liable to serious restrictions at any time (The 3 Million, 2017a and 2017b).

Leaving the EU does not have to entail leaving the European Convention. However, following a withdrawal from the EU, an abolition of the HRA would be closer to reality in the hands of a government using the referendum result as a mandate to do so. The continuing refusal by the UK to fully guarantee Rights for citizens of other EU countries here offers a signal of how the government sees Human Rights in this country.

With the agreement between EU27 negotiators and the U.K. on the 8th December 2017, citizens’ rights have not been guaranteed, with time limits placed on stays abroad (5 years) and the oversight of the European Court of Justice (8 years), and doubts over rights to family life for those wishing to care for elderly relatives in the same country, for example. This disrupts lives, families and future plans (The 3 Million, 2017a).

Some pro-Leave campaigners and press have shown resentment that EU27 citizens could have greater Rights than U.K. citizens post-Brexit, if their Rights were guaranteed at their current status. This only serves to highlight potential future restrictions of Rights for U.K. citizens themselves, not least for Freedom of Movement across the EU. The impetus seems to be against freedom, against movement, for others and themselves, by a small-minded nationalism based on fear, suspicion and outright aggressive hostility which is already isolating Britain on the world stage.

A Really Hostile Environment

This was announced by Theresa May in 2012 with the aim of reducing net migration to the UK and has had significant impact on the lives of many from other countries or with partners, family or connections elsewhere.

The ‘Hostile Environment’ is a set of measures, both administrative and legislative, to make life so miserable for anyone without immigration status, that they will ‘self-remove’. It includes limiting access to employment, housing, healthcare, confiscating a driving licence, freezing bank accounts, restricting rights of appeal against the Home Office’s decisions. At the same time rules are made ever more complex (they have been called Byzantine in the Court of Appeal). And the Home Office has a tendency to appeal decisions then delay the appeal process unnecessarily, and there is even a history of non-compliance with orders of the courts. (The 3 Million, 2017b).

Parts 2 and 3 will follow shortly. A Conclusion will also have a full list of the references used.

You are warmly invited to our January Meeting where the focus will be:

AmnestyBrum Annual General Meeting

Thursday 11th January 2016 at 7:30pm

at Peace Hub, 41 Bull St, Birmingham, B4 6AF

Please note the venue, and that there are stairs up to the meeting room.  If you have any accessibility needs, please let us know at amnestybrum@gmail.com and we will make sure we can meet your needs.

We’ll be looking back at our work in 2017, considering the present, including choosing who will hold our major volunteer roles for 2018, and looking ahead to a year of human rights campaigning.

Everyone is welcome to join us – we look forward to seeing you there.

If it’s you first time, why not drop us an email at amnestybrum@gmail.com so that we know to look out for you and to be extra friendly!  If you’d  like to join us for a friendly chat beforehand we’ll be having  a pre-meeting from 7:00 on the ground floor of the Peace Hub,

A reminder that it’s our annual card writing event this Thursday:

Write for Rights

14th December between 6 and 8 pm

at  Java Lounge cafe in Colmore Row.

It’s our main meeting for December: we’ll be writing greetings cards in support of Human Rights defenders around the world. Read more…

Thank you – and look forward to seeing you there!

Vigil Postponed

Due to uncertainty about the weather tomorrow (Sun 10th Dec), we have decided to pospone our vigil for Ali, which had been due to take place at 4pm.  We will instead include a photo action for Ali at our Write for Rights event on Thursday.

Apologies for any inconvenience, stay safe if you are out and about in the snow.

Our friends at Amnesty Bournville & Freedom from Torture invite you to their annual:

Christmas Concert for Human Rights

9th December, 2017 – 11:00 to 13:00

at Carrs Lane Church, Birmingham City Centre, B4 7SX

Enjoy brilliant world music and inspiring words plus traditional Christmas fun all in a warm and welcoming atmosphere in the heart of Birmingham.

With home made refreshments, fair trade gifts and Christmas cards for sale there’s everything you’d hope for at Christmas

Everyone’s welcome so be there and bring family and friends.

Tickets: Adults £7 Under 16s Free

Our monthly letter signing for human rights defenders around the world.

From 6pm this Tuesday, 28th November, for about an hour.

Java Lounge café is at the Council House end of Colmore Row (no. 124) in the city centre, near the top of the Frankfurt Christmas Market.