Seven things the government did in 2016 to devastate the lives of migrants and refugees

Anti-migrant politics have defined the year


If there is one issue that defines 2016, it’s immigration.

This has been the year of the anti-migrant headline. We’ve been warned of ‘migrant invasions’ and even been told that migrants are to blame for the country’s housing crisis.

We had a referendum on the country’s membership of the EU was turned into an ugly fight about UK border controls, epitomised by that UKIP poster, and a government that refuses to give any assurances to the 3 million EU nationals currently in the UK about their future ability to remain.

We have also witnessed a tragic two-fold increase in anti-migrant hate crimes, leading many to raise alarm bells about a pending rise in the racist far right.

And all the while, draconian policy decisions have been feeding this anti-migrant frenzy. Here’s a snapshot of what they’ve done.

1. Agreed to send more refugees back to Afghanistan

2016 is set to be the most dangerous year on record for civilians in Afghanistan.* Latest UN figures show a steady increase in civilian casualties, with child casualties witnessing the highest rate of increase, up 18 per cent from last year.

With total disregard for these figures, and with little fanfare or media interest, in October the UK, along with its EU counterparts, brokered a deal with the Afghan government to send unlimited numbers of refugees fleeing Afghanistan’s on-going conflict back to the country.

Under the Joint Way Forward deal, refugees can now be forcibly returned to  Afghanistan. Forcing people back to a country they fled for their lives is not only the highest degree of inhumane policy making, but the deal also exposes the double standard given to the value placed on human life, based entirely on what passport one holds.

While the UK is happy to send back Afghanis, it maintains the country is far too dangerous for its own citizens; the FCO currently advises ‘against all or all but essential travel‘ to Afghanistan.

2. Signed a deadly deal with Turkey

The UK’s part in the deal cooked up between Turkey and the EU in March is probably the deadliest of the government’s decisions this year. In an attempt to reduce the number of people travelling from Turkey to Greece, EU governments set aside their duties under international refugee law and made a deal with the Turkish government to send migrants back to Turkey.

The closing of this route has not deterred the thousands of people trying to reach safety in Europe, it has only forced them to take a far more dangerous route across the Mediterranean to reach Italy instead. This has resulted in what is now the deadliest year ever for migrants in the Mediterranean. As of November, 4,663 people had died in 2016, up from 3,771 in 2015.

The tragic increase in deaths in the Mediterranean is a result of government policy and was entirely avoidable. Since the deal was first proposed many have warned of its dangers. The medical organisation MSF was so outraged they rejected tens of millions of EU funding.

These criticisms were ignored and Europe’s decision makers have ploughed on with this deadly deal and callously watched thousands of human lives unnecessarily perish at sea.

3. Sent military ships to the Mediterranean

With the Mediterranean providing the stage for such a tragic crisis, one could have expected a humanitarian response from our government, sending life boats perhaps. Instead the UK sent the military.

As part of a Europe-wide plan called Operation Sophia, in September the UK sent its second Navy ship to the seas near Libya with the intention of bringing down a supposed vast network of criminal smugglers, with the primary tactic of destroying their boats.

A House of Lords report on Operation Sophia found that the project was ultimately unsuccessful as it had made migrants’ journeys more dangerous as smugglers shifted to using rubber dinghies as the more expensive wooden boats represented a ‘significant financial loss’ when destroyed.

The operation was also criticised for only tackling low-level smugglers. According to findings from a new MEDMIG project, however, shows that the focus of European governments on tackling smugglers may be totally flawed as the large criminal networks they are targeting may not even exist.

The report shows that most smugglers are found through migrants’ own social networks and communities. In any case, if the UK was genuine about wanting to stop smugglers then they would stop pursuing policies that effectively close borders and leave migrants with little option but to be smuggled across.

4. Extended the ‘Great Wall of Calais’

Faced with a growing population of people in Calais trying to reach the UK, the government responded with a £17 million package to prevent them making it across the Channel. Money that could have been used to help house people for example, was instead spent on making their lives even more precarious and their journeys even more dangerous.

This package included £1.9m to extend the 4m high, 1km long wall at the Calais port. The construction contract for which was awarded to the private multinational company Vinci, further boosting the profits of Europe’s private border security industry, now estimated to be worth a whopping €15billion.

5. Assisted in sending refugees from Dadaab back to Somalia

Outside of Europe, the UK helped spread its novel approach of responding to refugees by sending them back to the very country they fled from.

In her maiden speech to the United Nations, Theresa May declared the UK’s commitment to assist in returning Somali refugees from the world’s largest refugee camp in Kenya. She promised ‘£20m from the aid budget to encourage refugees who fled the country to return home from the Dadaab camp.’

Plans to return refugees to Somalia are highly controversial given that it is one of the most politically unstable countries in the world, and so dangerous that the UK government advise all British nationals to leave the country.

And claims that the return of refugees from Dadaab is entirely voluntary has been debunked by aid agencies who point out that people living there have little choice given the Kenyan government’s plans to close the camp in a matter of months. A move, incidentally, that was inspired by Europe’s approach to refugees.

6. Locked up more migrants than ever before

For any migrants who actually managed to make it to the UK in 2016, thousands of them found themselves locked up. The UK system of immigration detention means innocent people are put behind bars for doing nothing more than having crossed a border.

This year, more people than ever before entered the immigration detention system in the UK. Latest figures to March 2016 show an all time high of 32,163 entering the system.

Unlike a prison sentence where people know their release date, people in immigration detention are held indefinitely. Only 63 per cent are released in less than 29 days, the rest can find themselves locked up for months or even years.

7. Introduced new hostile anti-migrant legislation

In order to make it crystal clear that the current UK government wants to make life as difficult as possible for migrants in the UK, they introduced the Immigration Act 2016.

The bill criminalises migrants in more ways than ever before. People can now have their driving licences seized as it becomes a criminal offence to drive while unlawfully in the country, and they can also have their bank accounts frozen.

The bill also makes it harder for people to have secure homes as landlords face being locked up for up to five years if they’re found renting  to anybody without the correct immigration status. And it’s not just landlords who are being turned into immigration officers, recent policy proposals suggest that the Home Office also wants teachers and health care professionals to begin checking on pupils and patients immigration status.

By turning all of us in to immigration officers in this way, the government is ensuring that the UK will become an ever more hostile place for migrants.

Aisha Dodwell is campaigns and policy officer at Global Justice Now

*UNAMA began systematic record keeping in 2009

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5 Responses to “Seven things the government did in 2016 to devastate the lives of migrants and refugees”

  1. GodfreyR

    We have absolutely no responsibility for these people.

  2. Imran Khan

    I agree GodfreyR. The most ridiculous part of this article is claiming that warships were sent to the Med to bring down a supposed network of criminal smugglers. The ships saved thousands of people who were then brought to Europe where they remain and the peeople themselves admit they all paid the criminal smuggles who the writer claims don’t exist! Even by the standards of this blog unbelievable.

  3. Anon

    The author is one of the many who are undermining democracy and claiming otherwise.

    Global Justice Now is not an accountable or elected body, and are therefore not democratic.

    She, and her colleagues, are not above any national law – some of the ‘issues’ that she raises are illegal, and the bodies that are enforcing the law are perfectly reasonable in doing so.

    This website is not representative of the working UK people – it is the mouthpiece of open borders ideology.

    If Aisha Dodwell wishes to change the world, put herself forward for election and persuade the population to vote for her policies.

  4. Imran Khan

    Global Justice Now is a financial scam. Check them on Wikipedia and They are all on whacking great salaries.

  5. Martin Grubb

    Aisha Dodwell should not be criticised for expressing concern over the appalling problem of refugees and there is much in what she said but she does deserve criticism for damaging her own case by the failure to understand the difference between the mass movement of refugees/asylum seekers, which is a moral issue, as opposed to the mass movement of labour which is an economic issue, which for the UK continues to have distorting economic effects, particularly for housing. For many years this has had the effect of making the moral political climate for accepting refugees/asylum seekers increasingly difficult, particularly if the pressures on housing that economic migration brings are denied. Evidence of these pressures is documented in an enormous range of academic and government reports generally only read by those of us who contribute to them and certainly never by politicians or the commentariat who would therefore be unaware of the findings of the recent major report (Building More Homes July 2016) from the the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee (with a Labour/Lib-Dem majority). This very substantial report took expert submissions from all academic institutional and government sources and eventually reaffirmed the already academically unchallenged conclusion that population demographics, of which immigration is the most substantial constituent, would increasingly be the major exacerbating factor in the housing shortage, especially in London. The evidence also indicated that no effective solution to the housing crisis via building would be found for decades as no rate of housebuilding could either practicably or statistically keep pace with the ONS predicted demographic growth. The result is that desperate constraints on household formation will continue to get worse with consequent increasing social disruption and overcrowding. It is instructive to note that both Labour and Lib-Dem MPs have chosen to ignore the existence of this research by their party colleagues in the Lords.

    Therefore in response to Ms Dodwell’s incredulous observation that she had even heard the claim that migrants contribute to the housing crisis she should know that the rumours are correct. All evidenced based research has, without exception, already come to that conclusion for some time. Therefore a policy which acknowledges a UK housing crisis but then says ‘if you come to the UK we will build you a house’ is totally beyond parody but in this age of the total disregard of expert opinion in favour of preconceived baseless opinion it will probably continue to flourish.

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