MMB Blog

No more ‘back to normal’ – ‘normal’ was the problem. Thoughts on corona

By Bridget Anderson 

(Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash)

We are facing an unprecedented challenge and opportunity that we are not simply observing as social scientists but experiencing at personal, institutional and professional levels. We are living a natural experiment whose reagents include multiple types of mobilities, clashing across different scales.

The COVID virus is a human infection of animal origin, and the outbreak is likely to have originated in a market selling dead and live wild animals as food. It is very important we appreciate the political, economic and geographic factors that collide in such markets and challenge lazy assumptions about cultural practices and finger pointing at China. Across the world, big business has undermined local food security, pushing smallholders off their land and fisherfolk from their fishing grounds, increasing the cost of food and making subsistence more difficult. As the price of protein has risen the urban poor have turned to ‘bush meat’ and rural people have moved to land that is more difficult to cultivate, sometimes encroaching on areas previously uninhabited by human populations, exposing them to new animal harms and disturbing previously resilient ecosystems 

Factory farming too has driven the emergence of new diseases. The mass ‘production’ of livestock crowds together millions of farmed animals in breeding grounds for disease and species jumping. Most recently Rob Wallace has co-authored this must-read article that describes brilliantly how, for viruses to survive, they must let their hosts live long enough to enable them to spread, but that in factory farming they must jump to the next host before the first host is slaughteredand the next host is genetically the same, further facilitating spread. Livestock production and multinational agribusiness are owned and controlled by a handful of multinational corporations – JBS, Tyson Foods, Cargill and Smithfields (the last owned by the Chinese WH Group) 

The multiple intersections of (im)mobilities of capital, of food, of humans, of animals, of the microbiological have produced the contemporary situation where the ‘cure’, it seems, is human immobility. This is only a temporary cure, though, and ultimately, we will have to attend to the connection between the socio-economic and the biological that lies at the heart of human reproduction, but which has become, quite literally, toxic. Wallace et al. describe how human epidemics, including Ebola and SARS, have been multiplying and will continue to do so unless we change the structure of global food production. 

To see the virus as originating in China, therefore, is to miss the powerful transnational forces at play. This is not to let the Chinese government off the hook. In a really interesting article the Chuang collective argues that China’s unregulated industries, rapid urbanization and low public spending on health, combined with the massive growth in livestock production (the world’s largest dairy farm is the Mudanjiang City megafarm with an acreage roughly equivalent to Portugal!) and the formalization of the wild food sector all contributed to the emergence and propagation of the virus.  

But we desperately need a politics that sees through and beyond the scale of the national. The national is implicit in appeals to citizenship and the ready mobilising of images of being ‘at war’: this not only obfuscates the sources but also the consequences of the virus. Western media attention has focussed on the rich world, but it is people in areas of the world that have long borne the burden of resource depletion, exploitation and global inequality, who are set to carry the cost of COVID-19. Their conditions risk being further worsened by global, national and camp specific lockdowns, the cessation of donations, the impossibility of moving for livelihoods. Spare a thought for the Rohingya people under lockdown in camps in Bangladesh and Myanmar and remember that those who are malnourished or who have diseases of poverty have compromised immune systems, which mean they are more likely to become seriously ill. Those ‘migrants’ from the Global South who are resident in the rich world may fare scarcely better think about the refugees in Lesbos expected to wash their hands but sharing one tap between 1,300 people.  

The scale of the national does matter, of course. It is crystal clear that where we are living matters, as national governments are responding quite differently to the public health crisis. But this does not mean that those residing on the same territory are ‘in it together’. True, in the UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Prince Charles have both tested positive. The virus does not recognise passports, wealth or power. Yet it is precisely this that highlights the existent inequalities that mean that some of us are more likely to develop mild symptoms than others. Some of us are also far more protected from the economic ravages that this epidemic will cause 

There are so many ways in which the current crisis is related to our work at MMB and we will be exploring them in future posts – so please get in touch with Emily (mmb-sri@bristol.ac.uk) with texts and ideas. We will see how we can take this forward in a different format in the coming weeks so watch this space. Some starters for our research challenges these are what are crossing my mind as I write – some ideas to put out there: 

Trade Labour Capital: we can think about the movement of animals and the movement of people. And let’s not forget the movement of capital. After the 2008 financial crisis Goldman Sachs bought into Chinese poultry farms – reservoirs of avian flu.  

Bodies Borders Justice: we can think about how human movement into new areas has affected zoonotic transmission (importantly let’s not blame the ‘migrants’ here but look at the forces behind such movement). Frustratingly MMB have had to cancel the activity we planned to hold jointly with the Bristol BioDesign Institute and the New School for Social Research on ‘Biomia’, exploring microbiological mobilities – seems we were ahead of the curve on that one! 

Control Conflict Resistance: we can think about the surveillance and mobility controls being ramped up and normalised across the world – what is the risk of these ‘sticking’ after this phase has passed? 

Imagination Futures Belonging: how can we think relationally, enabling us to locate the origins of the crisis not in a single animal in a wet market in Wuhan, but in entanglements whose ‘knots’ are not only in Beijing and Hong Kong but also in global cities like New York, London and Paris? 

In the recent uprisings in Chile one of the slogans was ‘We won’t go back to normal because normal was the problem’. Normal was indeed the problem. What can we start learning from the current situations to move towards a better, more just, normal? 

Bridget Anderson is Professor of Migration, Mobilities and Citizenship at the University of Bristol and Director of Migration Mobilities Bristol. 

 

Filling the legal aid gap

By Ella Barclay

An asylum seekers future can rest upon the translation of a single word. One such case was a man whose refugee status was rejected in the UK because he told the Home Office he had travelled to the Turkish border in a taxibut later used the word private car. The asylum office interpreted this as an inconsistency undermining his claim. He was forced to leave his home at an hours notice and return to the country he once fled. 

When Tiara Sahar Ataii, founder of the charity SolidariTee, heard his story it highlighted for her the essential role of legal aid in ensuring that asylum seekers receive refugee status. A lawyer could help, for example, to ensure a consistent narrative for someone who has been so traumatised by their experience that such details are impossible to remember. The EU refugee crisis is a legal crisis, Tiara realised, and the solution is therefore legal aid. So in 2017 she founded SolidariTee, a student-led charity, to fundraise for legal aid and raise awareness of the ongoing refugee crisis. It now spans over 40 universities in 6 different countries and has raised more than £40,000 for legal aid providers. 

What was the address of the people who helped you get your papers?” “What date did you finish secondary school?When did you first get your passport? (Crawley, 1999, p.68). These are all real questions that have been asked in asylum interviews, with the individuals expected to recount every possible detail of their story, no matter how traumatic the event. The ability to answer such questions should not cost someone their refugee status, and yet, in so many cases, it does. 

Legal aid is critical for guiding people through this strict process of claiming asylum, but such aid is desperately scarce. On the Greek islands, for example, state lawyers are so overworked they rarely meet with their clients and therefore routinely miss out essential details, which could be the difference between a successful and unsuccessful claim. Psychiatrists are similarly overworked, with the result that they are often unable to produce medical reports in time for asylum interviews. Consequently, mental health issues are rarely diagnosed or confirmed, again leading to asylum applications failing unnecessarily. 

Most asylum cases would be successful if claimants were provided with sufficient legal aid. A lawyer would hear if they had a stutter, for example, and ensure that this does not undermine their credibility. Or they would take the time to write a narrative that clearly shows the individuals well-founded fear of persecution. But with the current lack of provision in countries such as Greece, this kind of support is simply not possible. 

Asylum seekers throughout Europe are currently engaged in a lottery: refugee status, which may be the difference between life and death, depends on luck. And yet, legal aid remains critically underfunded.  

Perhaps one reason for this lack of funding is that it is much harder to market legal aid in comparison with other forms of refugee support. Such aid is often intangible whereas raising money for food and shelter can be illustrated quite easily on a poster. Legal aid may take years to reap benefits and its impact is incredibly difficult to explain in a 280-character social media post 

While the more marketable forms of aid are vital, they remain short-term solutions that are merely treating the symptoms not the cause. Across Europe, 50% of failed first-instance asylum cases are accepted upon appeal, even though their stories and reasons have not changed (Henderson, Moffatt and Pickup, 2019). The only difference between a first application and an appeal is access to legal representation. 

At SolidariTee our aim is to help fulfill this urgent need for legal aid. We have a vision that feels realistic. Imagine if every asylum seeker was properly informed of the application process and understood its key terminology before their first interview: those who have a legitimate claim to asylum would be accepted. As a consequence, the refugee camps would begin to free up, meaning asylum seekers sleeping rough would suddenly have accommodation. The rate of appeals would fall, meaning waiting times would fall too. 

Legal aid is not fashionable but its the most realistic and sustainable solution we have for supporting the asylum-seeking process. 

SolidariTee is currently running a campaign to protect refugees from Covid-19. Read its open letter to European leaders and find out how you can support the campaign here.

To donate money or buy a signature T-shirt to help SolidariTee, please visit the website. And join the SolidariTee Facebook page to stay updated on upcoming fundraisers and awareness events. 

Ella Barclay is a student on the MSc in Migration and Mobility Studies at the University of Bristol and Bristol’s current Head Representative of SolidariTee.

 

A moment of opportunity? Britain and the maritime security challenge

By Tim Edmunds and Scott Edwards

On 28 February 2020, SafeSeas hosted an IdeasLab in Bristol on UK maritime security after Brexit, with the kind support of PolicyBristol, Migration Mobilities Bristol, and the Bristol Global Insecurities Centre. Titled ‘Securing Britain’s Seas’, the goal of the day was to ask how maritime insecurities and blue crimes impact on UK interests, explore how current governance arrangements work in response to these, and consider how these may be challenged and transformed both by a rapidly changing security environment and the challenges of Brexit.

The IdeasLab provided an opportunity for policymakers, practitioners, and academics from a wide range of disciplinary backgrounds, including security studies, law, social policy and politics, to engage with one another. Participants from all major UK maritime security agencies, including high level participation, exchanged views and knowledge with leading academics in order to advance understanding of the UK’s maritime security environment.

A battleship rests in harbour, a British flag flying from the bow
HMS Bristol. Photo by Random Acts of Language, licensed under Creative Commons

Panels focused on three core themes of importance for British maritime security. The first covered ‘Threats, risks and opportunities’, chaired by SafeSeas Co-Director Professor Timothy Edmunds, and featured Dan O’Mahoney (Director, Joint Maritime Security Centre), James Driver (Head of Maritime Security and Resilience Division, Department for Transport) and Dr. Sofia Galani (University of Bristol). Discussions revolved around the complexity of maritime security governance in the UK context. This complexity is visible in relation to the diversity of challenges at hand – including the protection of maritime trade routes, the prospect of a terrorist attack at sea, threats to marine critical infrastructure, human trafficking and movement of people, the smuggling of illicit goods, the maintenance of public order at sea, and marine environmental management including fisheries protection – and also to the web of different authorities, departments, agencies and private actors engaged in the UK maritime space.

These challenges are often ‘invisible’ in the sense that the general public and politicians are often less invested in the maritime arena than other areas of public policy. Gaps also exist in the legal framework governing the maritime domain – for example around port management – and more work needs to be done to encourage inter-operability and coordination between agencies. However, the panel also highlighted a moment of opportunity in this area too, with a renewed focus on maritime security issues following the 2019 oil tanker crisis in the Straits of Hormuz, the implications of the Brexit process and the prospect of a new UK Maritime Security Strategy in the near future.

The second panel, chaired by Professor Bridget Anderson (University of Bristol), focused on ‘Boundaries, borders and maritime regions’ and featured Professor Sir Malcolm Evans (University of Bristol), Joe Legg (Maritime desk, Foreign and Commonwealth Office), and Ann Singleton (University of Bristol). The discussion raised interesting questions on what should be considered British seas, and how these boundaries have been, or are being, constructed. Panellists agreed on the fundamentally transnational nature of the UK maritime region, incorporating UK home waters, but also critically important maritime spaces such as the North Sea and Mediterranean as well as overseas territories and the international maritime trade routes.

Above all the panel emphasised the need to manage the UK’s maritime boundaries and borders humanely and with proper regard to safety at sea, particularly in relation to the movement of vulnerable people and migrants. There was also intense discussion over the extent to which security responses are appropriate for such issues and the inter-linkages between maritime security and other areas such as migration policy.

Finally the third panel, chaired by Professor Christian Bueger (University of Copenhagen & SafeSeas co-director), addressed  ‘Governance and coordination’ and featured Caroline Cowan (Fisheries Lead, Scottish Government), and Professor Richard Barnes (University of Hull). The panel and discussion highlighted the need for coordinated and inclusive governance in the maritime domain, and for more work to be done on the inter-connected nature of many maritime security threats and scalable nature of responses across these. The panel also highlighted the potential for localised issues (such as conflicts over fisheries access) to escalate to national or regional level problems (and vice versa).

A large metal boat with radar on top
Hirta (Marine Fisheries Vessel) Arriving Aberdeen Harbour June 2019. Photo by Rab Lawrence, licensed by Creative Commons

Discussions again emphasised the broad and diverse nature of the interest groups engaged in maritime security and the difficulties of ensuring fair and effective governance across these and their various identities and interests. Participants highlighted the importance of Scotland in the UK maritime security picture, with 62 per cent of the UK’s (home) Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) located off the Scottish coast, the remote nature of much of this territory, and the devolved nature of many marine environmental management and policing issues. Moreover, and even within government, there is sometimes a lack of understanding over jurisdictional issues between national and devolved authorities engaged in UK maritime security governance.

Overall, the IdeasLab discussions were extremely rich and productive. They highlighted the complexity of the maritime security challenge, the multiple, diverse and sometimes conflicting nature of security governance in this area and the potentially transformative impact of the UK’s exit from the EU on existing practices, arrangements and relationships.  Insights from the ideaslab will be expanded upon and presented in an upcoming policy brief produced by SafeSeas.

Tim Edmunds is Professor of International Security and Director of the Global Insecurities Centre at the University of Bristol. Scott Edwards is an Associate Teacher and Research Associate for the Transnational Organised Crime at Sea project at Bristol.

SafeSeas is a network of academic institutions that studies maritime security governance and efforts to support it through capacity building. This post is republished from the SafeSeas blog.

 

Climate-change displacement: a step closer to human rights protection

By Ignacio Odriozola 

On 20th January this year the United Nations Human Rights Committee (Committee) released a landmark decision on people seeking international protection due to the effects of climate change. The decision did not include specific guidance as to where the tipping point lies, but it nevertheless remains highly relevant to future similar potential cases around the world. 

The case and the plot twist 

The case deals with the individual communication made by Ioane Teitiota, a national from the South Pacific country of Kiribati, under the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Based on this Protocol, he claimed that New Zealand had violated his right to life by rejecting his request for refugee status and returning him and his family home in 2015.  

Children sit on sand bags by a flooded sea wall on a Pacific Island
Flooded sea wall by a village on Tarawa, Kiribati (UN)

Teitiota argued in his case that the effects of climate change, such as sea-level rise, had forced him to migrate from Tarawa (the principle island in Kiribati) to New Zealand. He claimed that freshwater on Tarawa had become scarce due to salinization and that eroded inhabitable lands had resulted in not only a housing crisis but also land disputes. These, combined with social-political instability, created a dangerous environment for him and his family. 

New Zealand’s judicial system did not find evidence that Teitiota had been involved in a land dispute or that he faced a real chance of being harmed in this context that he was unable to grow food, find accommodation or access to potable water; that he faced life-threatening environmental conditions; and that his situation was materially different from other residents of Kiribati.   

The Human Rights Committee supported the decision adopted by New Zealand and rejected almost all arguments brought by Teitiota. However, it specifically acknowledged that “without robust national and international efforts, the effects of climate change in receiving states may expose individuals to a violation of their rights under Article 6 or 7 of the Covenant, thereby triggering the non-refoulement obligations of sending states […] given that the risk of an entire country becoming submerged under the water is such an extreme risk, the conditions of life in such country may become incompatible with the right to life with dignity before the risk is realized.” (Parag. 9.11) 

This paragraph has caught international attention. To be clear, the Committee is not expressly banning the return home of someone requesting international protection due to the impacts of climate change. But it indicates that states, individually and/or collectively, could be prohibited from sending people back to life-threatening conditions if they don’t cooperate to tackle the adverse effects of climate change in those countries. If the conditions in those countries are not thoroughly analyzed before discarding risk, they could breach the powerful international obligation ofnon-refoulement. 

Landmark decision or a passing storm? 

Despite delivering an important message, the Human Rights Committee ruling does not provide explicit guidance for its implementation. Nevertheless, assumptions can be extracted from the document that shed light on its relevance and growing significance. 

To begin with, it is the first-ever ruling adopted by a UN Committee regarding the claim of a person seeking refuge due to climate change. It also reinforces the idea that environmental degradation, climate change and unsustainable development can compromise effective enjoyment of the right to life, as stated previously in the General Comment No. 36and the case ofPortillo Cáceres et al. v. Paraguay 

Furthermore, despite not being legally binding, the decision is based on international legal obligations assumed by the 172 States Parties to the ICCPR, and almost 106 States Parties to the Optional Protocol. The latter allows individual claims against the ICCPR such as Teitiota’s. 

Contrary to media reports, such as those by CNNandThe Guardian, the Human Rights Committee did not address Teitiota as a climate refugee. Instead it considered him a person under the protection of the ICCPR whose life could be at risk of being exposed to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment due to the impacts of climate change. This means that the Committee´s examination was based on factors and standards intended to consider if there was a threat to Teitiota’s life in Kiribati from the perspective of International Human Rights Law, which is wider and more inclusive than that of International Refugee Law.  

Huts above a sandbagged sea wall on a Pacific island
Sand bags attempt to prevent village huts flooding on Tarawa, Kiribati (Brad Hinton)

The Committee established that individuals seeking refugee status are not required to prove that they would face imminent harm if returned to their countries, implicitly relaxing the probatory standard required for pursuing international protection under a human rights scope. It argued that individuals could be pushed to cross borders looking for protection from climate change-related harm, caused not only by sudden-onset events but also slow-onset processes (Parag. 9.11).  

The Human Rights Committee has continually raised the standard of states’ analyses of protection requests. In this ruling, it recognised that New Zealand’s courts carried out a careful and in-depth examination of both Kiribati’s and Teitiota’s situations before proceeding to deport him. But alongside this it highlighted factors that must be considered in future similar cases: for example, the prevailing conditions in the person’s country of origin; the foreseeable risks; the time left for authorities and the international community to intervene; and the efforts already underway (Parag. 9.13).  

In this way, the Committee’s ruling represents a significant step forward. It has established new standards that may lead to the eventual international protection of people impacted by climate change. From now on, states should examine in detail the climatic and environmental conditions of a migrant’s country of origin under the possibility of breaching the non-refoulement obligation. As the former UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment, John Knox, said: “If the crisis continues to worsen, a similar case in a few years may reach a very different result. 

Ignacio Odriozola is studying the MSc in Migration and Mobility Studies at the University of Bristol. He is a lawyer for the Universidad de Buenos Aires and a researcher for the South American Network for Environmental Migrations (RESAMA).

 

New writing on race, migration and forgetting

By Bridget Anderson 

As another shameful deportation charter flight has just left for Jamaica, I wanted to reflect on three books I’ve read recently that connect to this horror in different ways. The first is a short book by David Andress called Cultural Dementia (Apollo 2019). Andress is a historian and as he wrote the book he was dealing with the destruction that Alzheimers was wreaking on his father, so he does not use the term ‘dementia’ lightly. He describes how Europe, and more particularly the UK, France and the USA are experiencing a terrible forgetfulness or at best a half-remembering of the past, resulting in a tremendous disconnect and a deep confusion and misunderstanding about the present. 

A self-confessed Remainer, Andress sees the symptoms of cultural dementia in the ways that Brexit calls on a golden age of the welfare state, and a fantasy of a nation state imagined as on the one hand hermetically sealed and on the other dominant and expansionist.  

To be frank, I am not sure that the memory of ardent Remainers is particularly sound either, and even the shortterm memory of the Greek vote, Portuguese austerity politics and the EUTurkey deal seems to have vanished in a fantasy of the European Union as a bastion of social democratic redistributive justice.  When it comes to the longer term, I would be tempted to diagnose Cultural Lobotomy rather than Cultural Dementia as people’s potential to understand our history has been deliberately excised. Remember Operation Legacy (Sato 2017), the destruction of colonial documents amounting to ‘one of the most spectacular destructions of historical records known in our time’.  

And this lobotomy has terrible consequences for all of us including long term British residents born in the UK’s former colonies, the so-called ‘Windrush generation’. Earlier this week, Home Office Minister Kevin Foster, claimed that The Windrush generation should be defined by the midwife who delivered hundreds of babies, the person who travelled thousands of miles to work hard and provide for their family for decades (PoliticsHome, 10/2/20). This was a matter, he told the House of Commons, of ‘criminality not nationality’.  

Cultural lobotomy wreaks havoc with one’s sense of justice, ignoring the fact that Jamaica was an English colony from 1655, that is BEFORE England’s Act of Union with Scotland. Yet it was not the fact that the Windrush generation had come to the UK as subjects and citizens, residents of islands which Britain had ruled as an imperial power, materially connected through slavery, expropriation and primitive accumulation, that gives them rights, but rather, to use then Prime Minister Theresa May’s phrase ‘they have made a contribution’. Despite these connections in the past and the present, rights associated with membership are framed as deserved, rather than assumed.  

There are cures for cultural dementia that help us unpack the relationship between racism and hostility to migrants, and relatedly between the politics of race and the politics of migration. There are some fantastic scholars who have been arguing this for a while – people like Gargi Bhattacharya, Alana Lentin, Luke de Noronha and Nira Yuval Davis. But frustratingly little attention has so far been paid to the role of ‘nationality’.  

Nationality can be read as both a legal status, consonant with citizenship, AND as signifying belonging to the nation of the nation state. Nationality in both legal and social senses is traced through ancestry and in this way, nationality is sutured to race. This is the key insight of the second book I’ve been reading, Radhika Mongia’s Indian Migration and Empire (Duke University Press 2018). She examines the efforts to control the movement of Indians to Canada in a climate of hostility to ‘Asiatics’ who nevertheless were British subjects. How to stop negatively racialized bodies from entering, without naming race? The answer was through mobilizing nationality via the passport. A blurring of the vocabularies of nationality and race is a founding strategy of the modern nation-state that makes it impossible to inquire into the modern state without attending to its creation in a global context of colonialism and racism 

It is not simply that migration is wrongly imagined as disturbing a previous national homogeneity, but that migration precipitated the emergence of nationality as a territorial attachment. Thus, migration is not an external challenge to state development and rule but is central to it; and racism is not an unfortunate characteristic of immigration enforcement but is absolutely baked into immigration controls. 

And there is a fantastic third book, just out, by Nandita Sharma, called Home Rule (Duke University Press 2019) that you’ll be hearing more about in the next few months. Nandita explores the making and separation of the categories of ‘native’ (people in place) and ‘migrant’ (people out of place). I’m very pleased to say that she will be joining us on a Benjamin Meaker fellowship in May and we are planning a number of events during her stay. Nandita’s work is the antidote to cultural dementia not only her fantastic scholarship, but also her creative collaborations and political activism. Watch this space for some really interesting upcoming activities… 

Bridget Anderson is Professor of Migration, Mobilities and Citizenship and Director of Migration Mobilities Bristol. 

 

Eritrea and Human Rights: Conflict and Mobility

By Angelo Martins Junior

In November we held a panel and photographic exhibition on ‘Eritrea and Human Rights: Conflict and Mobility’ at the University of Bristol. Through these talks and images we explored the grave human rights violations faced by Eritreans at home and on their journeys of escape, and the continuing rights violations they face on arrival in Europe. The event was part of the activities of the ERC research project ‘Modern Marronage: The pursuit and practice of freedom in the contemporary world’ and the MMB research challenge Control, Conflict, Resistance.

Three women sit at a table, one is addressing the audience
From left to right: Thangam Debbonaire MP, Helen Kidan and Yodit Estifanos Afewerki

The speakers included: Thangam Debbonaire, MP for Bristol West, Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Refugees and Co-Chair on the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Eritrea; Helen Kidan, co-founder of the Horn Human Rights and Eritrean Youth in the UK, executive member of the Eritrean Movement for Democracy and Human Rights and member of the Network of Eritrean Women and Eritrea Focus; Yodit Estifanos Afewerki who works with migrants, asylum seekers and refugees and is currently employed by the French NGO Médecins du Monde in Rome, where she manages a project on access to healthcare for migrants in informal settlements; Dr Sarah Ogbay, member of the Eritreans for Facilitating National Dialogue, Languages in Africa–British Association of Applied Linguistics, the Network of Eritrean Women and the Eritrean Snit Study Group; and Habte Hagos, founding member and Chairman of Eritrea Focus.

The photographic exhibition, ‘Eritrea in the News’, revealed a series of fascinating images captured at pivotal points in the country’s history, from Italian colonial rule through to the struggle for independence and the repression of dictatorship that followed. The photographs featured a mix of archive material and personal collections and showed the trajectory of the country in a visual snapshot of the places and people that have shaped Eritrea, from the present day back as far as 1882. Today, after decades of repression, there is a glimmer of hope as Ethiopia has reached out to Eritrea: their leaders have met and there is the prospect of reconciliation. Yet Eritreans still long for true freedom.

A man points at a photograph on the wall
An Eritrean audience member points at himself in one of the photographs in the exhibition

The exhibition was organised by Eritrea Focus, an association of NGOs, human rights organisations, exile and refugee groups and individuals concerned with the gross abuses of human rights in Eritrea. It is an open and inclusive organisation that welcomes members from all sections of the Eritrean communities both at home and in the diaspora as well as non-Eritreans who are concerned with the dictatorship and the complete absence of rule of law in the country. It is funded through voluntary donations from members.

Helen Kidan’s talk can be read here and Yodit Estifanos Afewerki’s here.

MMB in 2020 – forging new partnerships

Happy New Year from the MMB team!

We have exciting plans for 2020 as MMB continues to develop its dynamic research remit and build an ever-stronger community of scholars. Our four research challenges are running a range of workshops, seminars and networking events in the coming months, which will showcase the breadth of approaches to migration and mobilities studies among our members. We will also be organising a public lecture by a prominent international activist and scholar – identity to be revealed soon. 

New this year is the MMB film group, in motion, which will be screening films about migration and movement on the last Tuesday of each month. We are also starting a regular MMB research seminar for members to share their work and receive critical feedback from colleagues. And one of our PhD students is running a series of workshops on the logistical, ethical and intellectual challenges of fieldwork. Keep an eye on our website for details of these and other events coming up. 

Don’t forget, the website is a place where you can showcase your research. Do contact us if you have any questions or would like help in developing your text and illustrations.

At the end of last year we published the MMB 2018-2019 Annual Report to show our progress in building an interdisciplinary network of scholars and supporting the wide range of migration-related research across the university and city of Bristol. The report outlines the focus of each of our research challenges, which bring people together from diverse disciplines to think about migration and mobility in new ways. The report features many of the research projects of these challenge members as well as highlighting some of the key events organised by MMB in the past year. 

In 2019-2020 we will continue to consolidate and support our internal community while also developing closer partnerships with institutions and organisations outside the UK. These include The New School in New York, the European Public Law Office in Greece and the Universities of Linkoping and Malmo in Sweden. We are also delighted to be liaising with a network of University of Bristol scholars working in Latin America to support their research on movement and migration in the region. 

Do get in touch if you have any news about relevant events, publications or research ideas. We also still have a small amount of funding for networking events and activities, so if you have an idea that will take place between now and the end of July 2020 please complete the application form. We will next review applications at the end of February. 

We look forward to working with you in 2020! 

Bridget, Emma and Emily 

 

 

Bristol Colombia Week 2019: Truth-seeking and the Colombian Diaspora

By Mary Ryder

Three years on from the negotiated peace agreement between the FARC-EP and the Colombian state, MMB co-hosted members of the Colombian Truth Commission (CTC) to participate in ‘Truth, Memory and Diaspora: The Seeds of Peace in Colombia’, a week of transnational dialogue and collaboration between UK and Colombian institutions. 

The University of Bristol has been working with the CTC through a variety of different collaborative projects including ‘MEMPAZ: Bringing Memories in from the Margins’, funded by AHRC, Newton and Colciencias, which supports the creative memory practices of local organisations to bring memories from the margins into Colombia’s transitional justice processes; and ‘Transitional Justice as Education’, funded by AHRC, which works to support the gender and pedagogy work of the CTC by connecting it with feminist and educational expertise from around the world. 

The week of events provided a unique opportunity to hear directly from the CTC about the achievements, innovations and challenges of truth-seeking both within and beyond the national border at this pivotal time in Colombia’s history. In this blog I highlight the key messages shared. 

Conflict, exile and truth-telling of the ‘Colombia outside Colombia’ 

The Commissioner stands in front of MEMPAZ and MMB posters speaking
Commissioner Carlos Martín Beristain speaks about the critical importance of including the diaspora in the process of the CTC

Forced displacement has been recognised as a major consequence of the armed conflict in Colombia, sometimes forcing victims to leave the country and go into exile. According to the National Victims’ Registry, there are more than 8,500,000 victims of the armed conflict and 7,500,000 victims of forced displacement in Colombia. It is unknown exactly how many of them are living abroad but the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates it to be approximately 400,000 it is likely to be even higher. 

In an evening of talks onThe Truth Commission and the Colombian Diaspora,’ Commissioner Carlos Martín Beristain discussed the work being done to collect testimonies in the ‘Colombia outside of Colombia in order to investigate how the armed conflict has been experienced by the Colombian diaspora and uncover why so many people were forced to leave. The scale of this work is unprecedented in international Transitional Justice experience. 

Another fundamental aim of the CTC is to make the experiences of the Colombian diaspora, which are relatively unknown within Colombia, visible within the country’s historical memory. 

How can a diaspora be involved in a truth commission? 

In its first year of operation, the CTC, led by Beristain, has been working with civil society and victims’ organisations across the world to help build trust, to educate people about the CTC’s mandate and process, and to learn more about the expectations, needs and concerns of the victims. More than 120 people have been trained so far, operating within country specific ‘nodes’, to interview Colombians living in exile. 

Beristain was joined in Bristol by members of the UK Truth Commission hub to reflect on their efforts to encourage UK based Colombians to give their testimony. Five of these members, including a lawyer, an academic and a priest, gave deeply poignant accounts of the stories they have heard and the challenges they have faced in encouraging people to come forward. Andrei Gomez Suarez, one of this UK based team, called on the audience to become the channel of communication between people who may want to give a testimony and the CTC. Through the discussions it was recognised that documenting so many traumatic accounts can take its toll on those carrying out the interviews. 

The challenges of working in a polarised context 

Beristain also outlined clearly the obstacles facing the truth-seeking processes in such a polarised context, where lies have been institutionalised, pain internalised and social fractures run deep in society.  In another event that week, Gonzalo Sánchez, the former director of the Colombian National Centre for Historical Memory and a member of the Advisory Board of the Truth Commission, reflected on historical memory and peacebuilding in times of such polarisation.  

Sánchez discussed the question of who produces memory work and for whom. He raised concerns that in Colombia today, memory and truth are being threatened by toxic narratives made up of hatred, vengeance and fear, built up over years of conflict and driven by those who oppose the negotiated peace agreement. A key challenge for the CTC is to ensure that marginalised voices, which have historically been excluded and discriminated against, are heard and taken seriously by the Colombian state.  

The opportunity for reconciliation 

A man holding an infant close stares straight at the camera
Poster for the campaign, Let’s Defend the Peace, showing one of Abad Colorado’s photographs: a member of the Bojayá community, Chocó, following the 2002 massacre

The final event of the week was a screening of ‘The Witness’ (El Testigo, 2019), a new documentary about the photographer Jesús Abad Colorado who has documented violence in Colombia for over 25 years. It tells the inspiring human stories of the people in Abad Colorado’s photographs, exploring the pertinent themes of resilience and forgiveness, and what they mean to those for whom so much is at stake. The film generates a strong emotional connection with the conflict, felt even by those who experienced the violence indirectly or from a distance.

Following the screening, Gonzalo Sánchez and Lina Malagón, a Colombian human rights lawyer teaching at the University of Bristol, reflected on whether Colombia is now ripe for reconciliation. It is time to know the truth, said Malagon, because we all have a story to tell and we need to move on.   

Lessons learned 

Bristol Colombia Week 2019 provided a valuable opportunity for many Colombians and friends of Colombia to learn more about the CTC and to connect with the country’s transitional justice process, and with one another, so we can support peacebuilding from afar. Truth-seeking in Colombia will not end with the culmination of the CTC’s three-year period. It is hoped that the final report produced by the Commission will create the conditions conducive to peace and will be accompanied by meaningful efforts to promote dialogue, reconciliation and coexistence on a local and national level, and beyond the national borders. 

Mary Ryder (mr12859@bristol.ac.uk) is a PhD researcher in the School of Education, University of Bristol. Her research explores the conflict narratives of rural farmers in drug-producing regions of Colombia, within the country’s transitional justice processes.

 

‘So far from justice’: On the frontline of the Hostile Environment

By Natasha Carver

‘Esther, can you see Amir. He’s been refused Section 95 support …’

‘Samira, I need you to do an urgent HC1 for this chap with kidney failure …’

‘Mariana, we’ve got a young boy off a lorry just turned up. He has nothing. He’s with Muna in the main hall just now getting a cup of tea and some warm clothes …’

Harriet, the Caseworker Coordinator, is allocating appointments. If the work sounds complicated, it is: Section 95, Schedule 10, Section 4, Pre-Action Protocol, HC1. Anyone could be forgiven for thinking that Harriet’s team were hot-shot lawyers, well-remunerated for their extensive knowledge and experience. But this is Bristol Refugee Rights (BRR), and Harriet’s team are all volunteers.

A teenager holds a mask he has made in front of his face
A young migrant shows his craft work at BRR

Some years ago, when I worked in the sector, there were specialist providers who received statutory funding to help asylum-seekers – who are not permitted to work – to apply for financial support and accommodation. But government policy put an end to that funding and now, in Bristol at least, those seeking access to the little to which they are entitled come in despair to the advice team at BRR. I’m an academic now and a trustee of BRR, and I’ve come to find out about the everyday impact of the Hostile Environment on its intended targets.

When she was Home Secretary, Theresa May enacted a policy aimed at creating an environment ‘so hostile’, that those seeking safety and security in the UK would abandon their quest, give up fighting for their rights and entitlements, and leave the country. This policy has not been successful: the number of those removed voluntarily and by force from the UK has fallen year by year, while recent research estimates that for every ‘authorised’ migrant in the UK, there is another ‘unauthorised’ one.

But the policy has caused untold harm to many. The national media has reported on some of the casualties. The plight, for example, of the highly-skilled, recruited with the hope that they would make the UK their home and then subsequently refused leave to remain after many years on the spurious basis of tax return discrepancies. The abrupt curtailment of the visas of tens of thousands of students following evidence that an unspecified number had cheated at an English test. And the terrible injustices and hardships suffered by many of the (often British) children of the Windrush generation.

These groups of ‘authorised’ migrants and/or their children are portrayed as being the innocent victims of the Hostile Environment Policy; collateral damage caused by confusing unlawful with undocumented. But what about the toll of this policy on its intended targets – asylum-seekers, failed asylum-seekers and the ‘unauthorised’? And what about the damage to British justice and reputation? Can we really still claim to be a welcoming society?

Once Harriet has finished allocations, she asks the team if there are any issues that need to be discussed. Esther relates that she gave up after spending two and a half hours waiting in a telephone queue last week on a routine call to Migrant Help, the charity awarded the Home Office contract as the ‘point of call’ for migrants who have questions about their applications or need to inform the Home Office about a change in circumstances. I’m aghast. Two and a half hours! But Esther is not complaining about the length of the wait. Kafkaesque-style government bureaucracy has become so normalised for this team that waiting – the very condition of being an asylum-seeker – is no longer noticeable as an outrage. She is complaining instead about Migrant Help’s recent decision to remove the indication regarding the position you are in the queue and therefore the potential length of the wait.

Later, Advice Team Manager Elinor explains to me that before the introduction of the Hostile Environment Policy, asylum-seekers and caseworkers could contact the Home Office directly about their applications for the basic support to which they are entitled: £37.75 per week and accommodation. The whole process of applying usually took a few weeks, and if further evidence was required, the Home Office would call and request it. Now, applications typically take twice as long, and then have to be chased and actively pursued by BRR volunteers. For a new claimant that usually means 6-8 weeks of living on the streets or sofa-surfing. Migrant Help is the only point of contact for everything support-related, including numerous housing problems such as broken boilers, rat infestations, major damp problems, no locks on the door. One BRR member spent six months with no running water.

‘They would be better called “Migrant Barrier”,’ says one volunteer. ‘They do not help.’

Volunteers recount experiences of waiting for hours, only to be cut off when they get through; of staff who seem to have little to no understanding about the process and who mis-advise. Complaints about the atrocious service fall on deaf ears: this is after all one aspect of how an environment is made hostile. Meanwhile the process of claiming financial support has become more complex and more bureaucratic. The volunteers give me examples where the Home Office has sent out a request for a different document week after week, or even the same document, repeatedly causing delay to applications. Or worse, refusing applications outright over failure to tick a box, meaning that they need to be appealed which takes more time.

I ask them to describe the system to me:

‘So far from justice.’

‘Insanely complicated.’

‘Chaotic but also cruel.’

‘Hostile. Deliberately hostile.’

A young man draws a picture
A young migrant at BRR draws about his experience as a refugee

These are applications made not just for the welfare of the migrant who will be destitute without this basic entitlement, but also for the welfare of our communities and the streets where we live. Street homelessness takes a terrible toll on the mental and physical health of the individual involved, but it also has a financial and social toll on all of us.

After the meeting I am given the opportunity to observe Esther as she talks with Amir, the BRR member who has been refused ‘Section 95’. He had applied for just the financial element because he was staying with a local family. They themselves were on a very low income and struggled to feed an extra person. The decision to refuse Amir has led the family to decide that they can no longer offer him accommodation. They have written a letter explaining their circumstances: feeding Amir on their very tight budget means they have had to scrimp on heating and clothing. They add that Amir often wakes up screaming, which disturbs them and their children.

Amir must now apply for both the financial element and accommodation. He has nowhere else to go. He is softly spoken, apologetic and deeply sad. He tells Esther that he has not seen his own family for ten years. Esther takes him through the application patiently and slowly. She says everything of importance at least three times. She tells him right at the outset that he is unlikely to be housed in Bristol. He tells Esther that he has friends here and a support network, and his mental health is bad and it would be too difficult to move somewhere else. Esther explains that she understands all this but if he applies for accommodation, he will be housed somewhere else, possibly far, far away.

While the asylum support system has justifiably been described as ‘disabling’, Esther is consistently enabling. She and fellow advice volunteers are just one part of BRR’s aptly named ‘Welcome Team’, a 30-strong group of volunteers who do all they can to provide hospitality and warmth to counter the overt government hostility.

‘Sometimes there’s not much we can practically do,’ explains Mariana, ‘but just listening to the person and treating them like a fellow human being goes such a long way.’

By the time I leave, the line of silent, crushed and despairing faces that waited outside the hall on my arrival has gone. In its place, the hall reverberates with the noise of chatter, games, crafts, cooking and laughter.

If you would like to help Amir and others affected by the Hostile Environment Policy any money you donate to Bristol Refugee Rights between 3rd and 10th December will be doubled as part of #ChristmasChallenge19 as part of The Big Give: https://www.bristolrefugeerights.org/news-and-events/urgent-appeal/.

Note: The names of the BRR volunteers and members have been changed in order to protect identities.

Natasha Carver is a Research Associate at Cardiff School of Law and Politics. She is currently researching criminal prosecutions involving migrants.

 

The hostile environment confuses unlawful with undocumented, with disastrous consequences

By Colin Yeo

If a policy that deprives residents of jobs, homes and money is going to be introduced, one would hope it would be targeted using the best available data with strong failsafe mechanisms in place to reverse any errors. It would, you would have thought, be a disaster if innocent individuals ended up being forced into penury and out of the country as a result of incorrect information.

In reality, Home Office data on the immigration status of residents of the United Kingdom is often wrong and this has become increasingly clear in the years following Theresa May’s announcement in 2012 of her intention to make Britain a ‘really hostile environment for illegal immigrants‘. Public confirmation was provided as early as 2013 after a contract was awarded to the private company Capita to track down 174,000 suspected unlawful residents on the Home Office database. As soon as the company started sending out threatening text messages, though, it became clear that lawful residents and even British citizens were somehow on the database (Dixon, 2018). In 2016 it emerged that hostile environment bank account checks were throwing up incorrect results as much as 10% of the time (Bolt, 2016). In these cases, people were wrongly being refused permission to open a bank account. Officials admitted that relevant changes to a person’s status might not be entered on the relevant database ‘until some months after the event, and that data was often entered in the wrong field, commonly as free text.’

Similar issues arose with the new duty on the DVLA to cancel driving licences. The Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration examined the use of these powers in 2016 (Bolt, 2016). The Home Office made 9,732 revocation requests to the DVLA in 2015, all but meeting the target set of 10,000 per year. Some of these licences were wrongly revoked, though. The same year, 259 licences had to be reinstated after complaints. In the meantime, those affected would have been unable to drive or would have committed the strict liability criminal offence of driving without a licence. As the Chief Inspector said, ‘the Home Office did not appear to appreciate the seriousness of such errors for the individuals affected.’

Diagram showing who the hostile environment affects

As well as getting the facts wrong on people it does know about, there are many people living in the UK the Home Office does not know about. The vast majority are lawful residents and many are British citizens. They just do not have documents yet, perhaps because they did not really need them until the hostile environment was launched in 2012. There is currently no population database or register for the UK, nor is there a central register of British citizens. There are plenty of British citizens who have never applied for a passport, for example. The last census showed that 17% of UK residents (about 10 million people) do not have passports, the majority of whom are likely to be British citizens. There is simply no reason for the Home Office to know about these people and, traditionally, it would be considered none of the Home Office’s business to know about them. There are also plenty of foreign nationals living in the UK unknown to the Home Office, millions of whom are lawfully resident. Some have been resident for decades and were granted status many years ago, before Home Office computer records began. Nevertheless, they are all potential victims of the hostile environment.

One of the fundamental flaws in the whole conception of the hostile environment scheme is that it is intended to affect unlawful residents but it is actually aimed at undocumented residents. Sometimes these things overlap and a person who has no documents is also unlawfully resident. But that is very far from always being the case.

This leads us to the most famous victims of all of the hostile environment: the Windrush generation. Broadly speaking, this is the label that has been attached to lawful long-term residents from Commonwealth countries. Many either came to the UK themselves when they were in effect British citizens or are the children of those who did so (before the British Nationality Act 1981 there was no such thing as a ‘British citizen’, just ‘Citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies’). Typically, they are lawfully resident because they were granted a status called Indefinite Leave to Remain many years ago, sometimes automatically by law and sometimes in the form of a stamp in a long-expired passport. For decades, they lived in the UK without anyone asking them to prove their right to be here. That started to change as the hostile environment geared up from 2012 onwards.

In 2014, Fiona Bawdon researched and wrote a report entitled Chasing Status for the Legal Action Group (names were changed for the purposes of the report). The report highlighted the plight of thousands of long-term UK residents who were unable to prove their immigration status or have ‘irregular’ status, despite having lived legally in the country for most of their lives. Bawdon called these residents ‘surprised Brits’ because they felt British, many thought they actually were British, and yet they had been caught out by the new hostile environment laws.

The Chasing Status report seemed to sink without trace. After the Brexit referendum in 2016, though, the media found a new appetite for stories critical of the Home Office following a string of articles about generally white, middle-class EU migrants who were facing difficulties proving their permanent residence. A journalist at the Guardian, Amelia Gentleman, started to investigate the cases of destitute Commonwealth migrants. Realising that the examples she was seeing must be the tip of an iceberg, she unearthed a shocking series of similar cases (see Gentleman, 2019, for the full account). As Bawdon had earlier shown and predicted, lawful residents were finding themselves turfed out of jobs and homes, denied life-saving NHS care and threatened with deportation to a country they barely knew.

In April 2018, what became known as the Windrush scandal finally received the attention it deserved. Immediately before a Commonwealth heads of government meeting, Prime Minister Theresa May refused to meet with a delegation of twelve Caribbean high commissioners to discuss the situation of long-term residents facing immigration difficulties. An article about this diplomatic snub appeared on the front page of the Guardian. Suddenly, as Gentleman writes, ‘ministers who had shown no interest were falling over themselves to express profound sorrow.’ Home Secretary Amber Rudd was forced to appear at the Commons dispatch box to make the first of two comprehensive admissions that the Windrush generation had been treated ‘appallingly’. Theresa May herself was forced repeatedly to apologise, although her initial efforts were weak attempts of the ‘sorry-not-sorry’ variety. Belatedly, the special unit that Bawdon had advocated in 2014 was set up, along with a compensation fund for those affected.

The fundamental flaw in the design of the hostile environment persists, though, and this will have major consequences if or when the UK leaves the EU and scraps free movement rules for EU citizens. This is because the majority of lawful residents without status papers are citizens of EU countries who entered the UK under free movement laws. Immigration officials are literally forbidden from stamping the passports of EU citizens entering and leaving the UK and have no idea why an EU citizen is entering the UK or for how long he or she stays.

Brexit therefore represents a huge challenge; no-one knows how many EU citizens live in the UK but estimates go as high as four million. When EU law ceases to apply in the UK, all of these EU citizens and their family members need to have acquired a new immigration status under UK law. If they do not apply by the deadline, they will become unlawfully resident. No registration campaign around the world has ever achieved a 100% success rate and it is estimated that as many as hundreds of thousands of EU citizens will miss the deadline. Some will be elderly residents in care homes, some will be young children, others will not speak good English, some may be afraid of applying and some will have believed the Leave campaign promise that their rights would be protected. Some will just be disorganised or unaware; a lot of people miss the deadline for filing their tax return every year even though they get fined for doing so. Some may refuse on principle.

No matter their reasons, the effect of being exposed to the hostile environment will be the same. Their jobs will be lost, their bank accounts closed down, their tenancies terminated and access to the NHS and welfare benefits ended.

Colin Yeo is a barrister, writer, campaigner and consultant specialising in immigration law. He founded and edits the Free Movement immigration law blog.