Archive for the ‘immigration’ Category

Despite all the promises, the Government is still achieving nothing with regard to its Iraqi employees. Leave aside, for the moment, the considerable numbers who are being rejected. Even the accepted – in so far as this category means anything yet – are still in Iraq, still on the streets, and still in danger. “I am still in Iraq…I hear nothing from your Government yet!”, wrote one of them to Dan Hardie.

Over at Dan’s, you can read about the fact that according to Bob Ainsworth MP, this man has been accepted; but the Borders and Immigration Agency, the final arbiter, is still doing nothing. You could read about the man who, according to the Government, worked at the Shaibah Logistics Base for two years – and they should know, as he lived on the base itself after being threatened by (as they say) unidentified gunmen until he was served notice to quit before the camp was shut down last year. He’s now in Syria.

But don’t imagine this is anything new. Three days ago, the Second World War secret agent Pearl Witherington died, after a life that included more than a year on the run in occupied France organising the STATIONER resistance network. She had to take over command of the organisation at one point; eventually they were ready in June, 1944 to set the German rear ablaze. She was refused a military decoration, and more importantly (to her) parachutist wings, until the RAF relented in 2006 and issued the badge. But that’s not why I’m dragging her in.

It wasn’t any different in June, 1940, either:

At the time of the German Blitzkrieg into northern France in May 1940, she was working as an assistant to the Air Attaché in the British Embassy, but through being “locally enlisted” was not included in the official evacuation scheme and had to make her way to England through the Vichy-controlled zone (which initially avoided German occupation) then via neutral Spain to Portugal, from where she boarded a coaster to Gibraltar.

And she was a British citizen.

Apparently, part of the delay is because the Home Office – of course, inevitably, them – is responsible for finding accomodation for anyone evacuated. They, in turn, are blaming local authorities. The Foreign Office’s offer of cash looks better and better, frankly; at least it’s actual, immediate assistance.

Well, you know the rules: Please write a letter to your MP. His or her address is The House of Commons, Westminster, London, SW1A 0AA. If you don’t know who your constituency MP is, go here and type your postcode in. When you’ve sent a letter, follow it up with an email: his or her address will normally be SURNAMEINITIAL@parliament.uk – for example BROWNG@parliament.uk

Two or three days after you have written the letter, call the Parliamentary switchboard on 0207 219 3000 and ask for your MP’s office. Repeat your concerns to the secretary or research assistant you speak to (and be nice: most of these people work damn hard for little reward), check that your letter has been received, and politely request that the MP ask questions of Ministers and reply to you. In your email, your letter, and your phone calls, you must be courteous: insulting an MP or a research assistant will discredit this cause.

Full talking points are over here. But here’s one more of my own; if it’s the local authorities who are the problem, let’s find out which ones. Why not call your local council member for housing too? And tell us all about it.

The Foreign Office has finally published some actual instructions about what to do if you are an Iraqi employee of the British Government and you wish to flee. You can read them on the FCO website here; one could have wished for a more memorable URL, perhaps, rather than whatever the JSP servlet randomly generated.

The page includes copies of the latest ministerial statement in British (rather than English) and Arabic(thank God somebody thought of that), as well as an application form. The rules are in the statement, which is here in British and HTML and here as an Arabic PDF. Complete the form and return to IraqLEStaffScheme AT fco.gov.uk, or call one of these telephone numbers:

Official Line: Basra 822 199
Mobiles:+964 (0) 7801 096 865
+964 (0) 7801 096 993
+964 (0) 7801 095 769
+964 (0) 7801 096 687

What all this bollocksing around is when they could just put the text on the sodding website is beyond me, but hell, it’s government IT.

The good news, looking at the statement, is that the 12-month limit is now being applied as 12 months of service, continuous or not. Obviously the limit is itself absurd, and everything is being done to get it lifted, but this is an improvement as it addresses the fact that many (possibly a majority) of the people concerned worked for multiple Coalition organisations.

Further good news is that the scheme appears to be getting a little more generous. Meanwhile, I am told by an expert that there is no chance of a former employee who claims asylum in the UK being returned to Iraq.

So what’s in the server log? Shall we look?

82.205.254.45 [entrypoint #437] 2007/10/october-08-and-out.html Oct 22, 12:07:51 [0:00:00] views: 1
Yahoo ! (where to apply for the assistance to iraqi locally engaged staff)

Yes; you read it all right. That’s someone searching Yahoo! for instructions on what to do if you worked for the British Army in Iraq.

Hopefully it’s a blogger researching a post, right? Or an MP preparing to speak on our Early Day Motion? Surely?

No. Here’s the WHOIS output.

inetnum: 82.205.128.0 – 82.205.255.255
org: ORG-HSSF1-RIPE
netname: SA-HSS-20031117
descr: Horizon Satellite Services FZ LLC
descr: PROVIDER Local Registry
country: AE
admin-c: MS3339-RIPE
tech-c: MA2056-RIPE
status: ALLOCATED PA
mnt-by: RIPE-NCC-HM-MNT
mnt-lower: HSS-MNT
mnt-routes: HSS-MNT
source: RIPE # Filtered

organisation: ORG-HSSF1-RIPE
org-name: Horizon Satellite Services FZ LLC
org-type: LIR
address: P.O.Box 502343,Building No.14
address: n.a.
address: Dubai Internet City
address: United Arab Emirates
phone: +971 4 391 5122
fax-no: +971 4 391 2906
e-mail: subair@horizon-satellite.com
admin-c: NOC23-RIPE
admin-c: MA2056-RIPE
admin-c: MS3339-RIPE
mnt-ref: HSS-MNT
mnt-ref: RIPE-NCC-HM-MNT
mnt-by: RIPE-NCC-HM-MNT
source: RIPE # Filtered

So, whoever searched for that string was on a satellite link into a Dubai-based satellite operator. A traceroute confirms it; the tell-tale is the very high latency on the last hop via the distant satellite. Horizon’s business is centred in the Middle East and Africa.

And what did Yahoo! – it seems rather inappropriate – find? I’m the top result; there is absolutely nothing of any use. There are some delightful press releases from the White House about how well things are going in Iraq, though.

It would be nice if the government showed any sense of urgency about the whole affair, would it not?

So last night we all (well, for small values of “all” – you know who you are) got ourselves dressed up smart and went to bang on the doors of Parliament. And yes, as Dan Hardie claimed, the cops outside it are indeed polite – you’re not going to get much praise for the Met here, so you might as well enjoy it while it lasts.

We were pleasantly surprised to be joined by none other than Chris Bryant MP; he’s a parliamentary private secretary, i.e. nearly a junior minister, so this was an impressive act. Hitherto he’s been best known for being conspicuously Blairite and being a user of Gaydar.co.uk; not any longer if I have anything to do with it.

As well as the member for the Rhondda, diehard Tory paratrooper Julian Brazer dropped in, as did his more Cameronian party colleague Ed Vaizey. And, crucially, Lynne Featherstone, Liberal MP for Hornsey, was the anchor of the whole thing. They came to hear Mark Brockway, a TA Royal Engineer who hired many of the first Iraqi employees in 2003 and who has since become the only point of contact for dozens of people trying to flee Iraq. They came to hear Andrew Alderson, a TA civil affairs officer and Lloyds banker who ran the South-East zone’s economic affairs from 2003-2004, who spoke of how British officials told him nothing was happening in Basra as the family of one of his former staff, people who had been trusted with hundreds of millions of dollars, had to smuggle one of their relatives out of the hospital for fear of reprisals.

They came to hear that the Government, after a 10-week “review”, still hasn’t got a list of the people concerned and can’t say who is responsible for the issue. They heard how staff at the British Embassy in Amman turned away former employees on the grounds that Jordan was by definition safe, while another ex-employee was abducted in broad daylight from the queue outside the UNHCR offices in the same city. They heard that despite spending 10 weeks writing an incalculably illegible statement, the Government has yet to offer any instructions on how to apply or what to do if you feel yourself to be in danger.

Better yet, they heard how civil servants informed one ex-employee that should his application for asylum be rejected, he would never be able to travel to the UK under any circumstances. This is either deeply incompetent, or a lie; they seem to have confused refusal of an application for entry with deportation, which suggests that if this was not deliberate, the people (and who are they?) dealing with the issue know nothing about immigration law.

That, indeed; time and again, it came up that the post-Michael Howard system of deterrence aimed at asylum seekers is the problem. You can’t apply if you have reached the UK; you can’t apply in a third country if this is deemed safe. And obviously, you can’t apply in Iraq, because so doing requires a perilous journey to Baghdad and entry into the Green Zone. Of course, it’s been trouble enough to stop the Government sending people back to Iraq, on the pretext that Kurdistan is safe; it’s a pity, then, that the Kurds are now imposing a requirement of sponsorship on immigrants from elsewhere in Iraq. (They’re not the only ones, either.)

Last night’s key message is this: whatever the detail of the policy, what matters is the tactics. The Government statement actually leaves quite a lot of leeway; the reference to meeting the UNHCR criteria looks rather different given that the UNHCR considers that all Iraqi displaced persons meet them, and the possibility of a grant of exceptional leave to remain (which could include anyone) has been invoked.

But the vital issue, in the real meaning of “vital”, is the practical logistics. We have to send out to Iraq a small group of officials, taken from the Army interpreters cell, the Immigration Service, and presumably MI5, to take names and addresses and assess cases. We have to provide a means of registering, at Basra Air Station, in the UK diplomatic missions, and on the Web (this was a surprisingly frequent request). And we have to draw up a schedule for people to leave on the regular airbridge flights.

I recently read about a Zimbabwean refugee who was sent a letter by the Home Office, which stated that his presence in the UK was “not essential for him to enjoy family ties with his new partner and her family”. The letter went on to demand that he leave “without delay” and that this might be “enforced”. Well, it wouldn’t; the courts having ruled that Zimbabwe is too dangerous to send people back to, their hands are tied.

Somehow, though, the government continues to contend that although the legal test of refugee status is “a well-founded fear of persecution”, the fact that asylum-seekers cannot be returned to Zimbabwe for fear they might die does not imply that their fear of this fate is well-founded. This pernicious fuckery just keeps going; it is one of the most repellent features of the post-Michael Howard Home Office that it has so little respect for legality. An unfavourable judgment is not a fact that should alter behaviour, but an unreasonable caprice to be reversed by superior power as soon as possible.

Therefore, it is still worth menacing “Thomas” in the hope he might bugger off; and if he was to do so, and later die in some unpleasantly public fashion in Zimbabwe, the government would bear no responsibility for it. (Even if they paid for his ticket.)

But what was the official who signed this document thinking when they signed their name to the statement that his presence was “not essential to enjoy family ties with his new partner and her children”? What on earth does this mean? Are we to believe that he could pop around at the weekend? Perhaps videoconferencing might be a solution, if he can find a computer and an operational Internet connection whilst keeping away from the Central Intelligence Organisation and not starving to death?

Clearly, this sentence should read something along the lines of “We are aware of your family, and we are indifferent to them,” or perhaps just “We don’t care.” But this would make it a far harder document to sign; it’s traditional to cite Orwell’s Politics and the English Language at this point. I prefer Vaclav Havel’s parable about the baker, who every year put a sign in his window on Revolution Day that read: Workers of the world, unite! Havel asked if he was actually enthused at all about the idea of unity among the workers of the world – of course not. He did it because the Party wanted him to.

But, Havel wrote, had the Party demanded that he put the sign’s actual meaning there – a sign that said I am afraid, and therefore obedient – he would have been far less indifferent to its content. If we were to rewrite the letter, we might frame it like this:

Dear Sir,
We want you to go back to Zimbabwe because we think you are a liar. Unfortunately, the courts do not agree with us and will not permit us to force you, but this makes no difference to our opinion. We are aware of your family, but we do not care.

If I don’t sign this they’ll sack me.

Yours,

Civil Servant X.

I agree that the tone is harsh, but it could hardly be more distressing for the recipient than the original. I’m not sure what the correct formula of politeness is. (Yours faithfully? Surely not. With kind regards? Nuh. Yours sincerely? That’s more like it, I suppose – this version is nothing if not sincere.) But at least, it is clear to the writer what is meant; it would be considerably harder to sign this without examining your conscience, and you could not sign very many without altering your opinion of yourself.

That such a programme of ruthless honesty, and specifically honesty with self, would be a good first step is a cliché. But sometimes, I doubt it. Consider this column in the FT, by ex-Sunday Torygraph editor Sarah Sands.

So, my Polish builder first worked on my house only a year ago. Seven days a week, 14 hours a day with his crack team. Barely spoke a word in English. Refused tea or coffee, just smoked and consumed Coca-Cola and chocolate biscuits. I was so swelled up with pride at my good fortune that, last December, I recommended him to a liberally inclined film director. I waited for grateful e-mails but none came. I grew a little uneasy.

Then a few months ago, I commissioned my Pole to do a bathroom. He returned without his team. Where were they? He was a little vague; they had disbanded/gone back to Poland/were busy elsewhere, but I should not worry about that.

I didn’t, until it became clear that he was arriving at 10 and knocking off at five. The driven gang was gone. Now he had a baby-faced apprentice who spilt his fizzy drinks on the carpets and broke the window. Every couple of hours they would down amateurish tools for a break. Finally my tight-lipped resentment spilt over.

“What on earth has happened to you?” I cried. “Why don’t you work any more?”

Well, you cannot accuse her of not being conscious of the literal meaning of her words. You could accuse her of class prejudice, exploitation, snobbery, and just being fucking gratuitiously unpleasant because she can, like a dog licking his balls. But you cannot imagine that she was not fully aware of her own meaning, and so, responsible for it.

It’s also hypocritical; by her own lights, why didn’t she put in more time at the Torygraph? Maybe she would still be there – and then, I could more thoroughly avoid the risk of reading her thoughts. Anyway, if you doubt that this little tale is serious, you might read this, published the same day.

Listening to all these experiences, it was as if all the Factory Acts and health and safety regulations had suddenly disappeared in a puff of smoke, along with 150 years of trade union gains. None of this protection existed in the minds of these workers. The government will point to an avalanche of legislation, but the devil is in the detail.

I refer the honourable gentleman to this post, this one, and this one.

British withdrawal from southern Iraq is now in the foreseeable future, with the concentration at Basra Air Station, the impending closure of Basra Palace PJCC, and the departure of the first 500 troops. Therefore, it is high time to consider the fate of Iraqis who took our side during the occupation. Denmark, whose government originally attempted to abandon theirs, has been brought around by the insistence of its army to extract some three hundred people in advance of the Danish battalion’s withdrawal. The US Ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, recently cabled Washington to raise his concern that Iraqi employees feared the US would abandon them. Their fears are far from unfounded.

Whatever your opinion on the war with Iraq, the case is morally and practically incontrovertible. Morally, at least some of these people will have acted because they (however unwisely) thought we really were an army of liberation. But even the ones whose motives were entirely mercenary are human beings. If any have committed crimes, the place to deal with them is in a court. It is usually thought that it is precisely in the worst cases that we must stick to principle, because it is most likely to be violated then. And it is not enough to say (as the Government does) that they can register with the UNHCR, and join the Iraqi refugees in Jordan or Syria (never mind the dangers of travelling from Basra to the Syrian border); because these places are also used by the Iraqi insurgents as rear areas, they would be in as much danger there as in Iraq.

Practically, objections have been raised that this would be a bad example, that it would be a signal of impending defeat, and that it might be a problem of force protection from here to the final withdrawal. Well, the signal of impending defeat is a ship that sailed years ago. And force protection is far more likely to be imperilled if all the Army’s touts in Basra were to realise that their only hope of security would be to rat as soon as possible and as comprehensively as possible. When the Israeli army left southern Lebanon in 2000, they attempted to leave behind the locally-recruited militia they created in this area – unsurprisingly, far from staying in position to cover the retreat, its members either fled or appeared on the Israeli border with their weapons. The result was a far more difficult retreat, and the Israelis had to accept them anyway.

The question will be raised whether we should accept these people instead of other Iraqi refugees. It is invidious. We should of course accept Iraqi refugees; it is morally appalling that we have so far not done so. It follows that refusing to accept people who are in greater danger would be worse still. The total number is probably not great.

So, why not write to them? Them being your elected (and unelected) representatives. Dan Hardie has prepared both a list of talking points and a form letter. It is strongly recommended that you use the talking points and write your own.

Update: There’s also an e-petition to sign.

Making a late challenge for the title of the most offensively authoritarian Blairite, with only a week to go: David Triesman, the former Labour General Secretary and now “The Prime Minister’s Special Envoy for Deportations.” He apparently thinks that nationality can be determined through…yeees..biometrics. Or DNA sampling. Or something, you know, sciency. Perhaps maglev, or nuclear power, or genetically modified oil seed rape.

Apparently it’s neither the Home Office nor the Foreign Office that is behind this little beauty, which leaves the finger of blame pointing, well, at No.10 Downing Street. Or maybe it’s just Triesman – apparently it’s his “special interest”. What possible knowledge he has to evaluate claims on this is left to the imagination.

What would be really nice to know is just how our institutions were conquered by some sort of weird neo-Lombrosian cult, which appears to be the simplest explanation of this nonsense.

Responding to Dan Hardie’s latest BNP screed, I think there are several important points here. First of all, Dan Dsquared is half-right that BNP voters don’t matter. There are not enough of them ever to get elected to run anything, and their candidates usually manage to teach their own electors a lesson about voting for nutcases with impressive speed. He is also right that it is a much more serious problem that there are significant numbers of racists about than that they vote BNP.

He is wrong, though, that this is a nonproblem. Quite simply, you don’t need many people to cause serious trouble, and the BNP as an organisation is good at this. It has repeatedly shown itself willing to advocate violence, and also to use what can only be described as tactical psychological warfare. This is not a serious problem in some places, but it could be a very serious one where there are concentrations of BNP wankers near concentrations of target groups, and a really, really serious problem where there are concentrations of BNP wankers near concentrations of jihadi wankers.

Part of the problem, and something that the usually statistically sharp Dsquared doesn’t pick out, is that even council-level statistical aggregates don’t give enough granularity to track this. Further, the government doesn’t have a good record in terms of situational awareness outside London – the fuel wankers of 2000 caused as much trouble as they did largely because the crisis didn’t begin in London, and the 2001 riots similarly took everyone by surprise.

Not that it was very obvious in the north that something was up – I remember the Bradford Mela a week beforehand going on in near-perfect peace under the usual racing charcoal sky. The reaction loop, though, is a lot shorter than that of national politics or administration.

My own experience of the Bradford riot really bears all these points out. That morning, I was on my way to an ANL demonstration against the planned BNP march. All was reasonably calm, and the main news story in Yorkshire was mild indignation that the Bradford Festival’s last day had been cancelled due to the demo. There are a lot of different stories about the kick-off, but my own recall was this – during the afternoon, there had been no sign of the BNP, but a succession of rumours that They Were Coming!, each of which set the crowd bubbling. I remember that there was a sudden ugly surge as a group of men with short hair appeared, who turned out to be from the No Platforms campaign rather than the BNP.

During the day, the composition of the crowd had gradually altered from a lot of teacherish ANL types, some Pakistanis, and some professional lefties, to a lot of young men and the professional lefties. I don’t remember anyone who looked especially Islamic – most of them looked like they came from your friendly local Subaru tune-up joint. I didn’t, as it happened, see a single fascist all day – eventually, around 4 o’clock, I assumed my civic duty was done and headed for the station. I’d just seen the leader of Bradford Council making a speech, so I figured it must be all over.

It was at that moment that the trouble began. Suddenly the police who had pulled back to their vehicles in Market Street began struggling into their kit, radios quacking. And then there was a horrible yelling, and I saw a crowd dashing out of Centenary Square towards the bottom of Ivegate, led by a folk singer I’d been talking to earlier with his guitar on his back. Then, I looked up Ivegate to see the mob turn and rush back down the hill towards me. At this point I started running away, looking up to see I was running right towards a line of cops with dogs. They didn’t molest me as I swung left into Hustlergate to let the mob pass.

After that, I helped the folk singer, who was complaining bitterly that the cops had grabbed him by his bad shoulder and he was disabled, over to a St John’s Ambulance post, and decided to get out of town on the next train, which turned out to be the last train allowed to leave the station.

The other thing about the day that sticks in my mind was that I had earlier been interviewed by a German TV crew. I made the obvious points that the BNP and the NF before had never been allowed to get a footing in Bradford, etc. The producer suggested they interview me with “any of your Asian friends”, and I had to confess I had none. Which would probably have made the best possible reportage on the whole sad business, had they gone ahead and filmed it.

If you want something more useful, I’d point out that the good news is that in Yorkshire, the BNP’s successes have so far been in the urban-rural periphery. Not to be confused with the suburbs, it’s a feature of Yorkshire urban geography that we have a lot of smaller chunks of industrial or post-industrial town that overlap with the countryside. It’s these semidetached areas, like Cross Flatts as opposed to Keighley, where they tend to do well. I suspect this may be a stabilising factor.

This time, Blair seems to mean it about British troops beginning to draw-down their presence in southern Iraq. All the usual provisos still apply – so far, it’s just part of the extra force that is going, and the last squaddie is scheduled to leave in three Friedman units’ time, like he has been since 2003. But this time we have a timetable within one Friedman and a number.

So it’s time to talk seriously about the people who have worked for us in Iraq. The Americans are only accepting risible numbers of refugees. 50 per cent of Iraqi refugees in Europe are in Sweden. It won’t do to claim that the situation is peachy in Iraq. The interpreters, for example, are marked men.

Back in August, 2005 I said that

Unfortunately, the best form of support the British Left can offer secular Iraqis would be to countersign their applications for political asylum. I think someone suggested this recently – perhaps we could get a Pledgebank going?

The government is still trying to force existing refugees onto aeroplanes to Irbil in Kurdistan, this being the only place not so dangerous that the law would forbid it – apparently, if you get killed between Irbil and home that’s OK. It’s high time that we went operational on this.

This time, Blair seems to mean it about British troops beginning to draw-down their presence in southern Iraq. All the usual provisos still apply – so far, it’s just part of the extra force that is going, and the last squaddie is scheduled to leave in three Friedman units’ time, like he has been since 2003. But this time we have a timetable within one Friedman and a number.

So it’s time to talk seriously about the people who have worked for us in Iraq. The Americans are only accepting risible numbers of refugees. 50 per cent of Iraqi refugees in Europe are in Sweden. It won’t do to claim that the situation is peachy in Iraq. The interpreters, for example, are marked men.

Back in August, 2005 I said that

Unfortunately, the best form of support the British Left can offer secular Iraqis would be to countersign their applications for political asylum. I think someone suggested this recently – perhaps we could get a Pledgebank going?

The government is still trying to force existing refugees onto aeroplanes to Irbil in Kurdistan, this being the only place not so dangerous that the law would forbid it – apparently, if you get killed between Irbil and home that’s OK. It’s high time that we went operational on this.