Some Key Questions on Forced Migration.

Why are people forced to migrate? The causes are many and complex.  Each persons reasons for migration are a unique combination.

One example. A couple with their two children who fled from Eritrea to Sudan, Eritrea has one of the most oppressive regimes in the world.. He is a member of a Pentecostalist church which is not registered with the state. Only Churches that are registered are allowed to practice. He went ahead of the family to seek sanctuary in the UK. His application for asylum was refused. The Home Office immigration officer did not believe he had faced persecution because of his religion. The office of the lawyer who had advised him had closed.  He lost his minimal asylum support payments and was homeless. He was forbidden to work.  When I met him he was sleeping in train stations, churches and occasionally with friends. He was under Hammersmith Hospital for diabetes.  

Spare Room were able to find a compassionate Baptist family in South London to give the man from Eritrea shelter.  I helped him get a new Lawyer. His hosts helped him link up with a nearby Pentecostalist church. He is hoping eventually to be allowed to be joined by his wife and children.

The main causes of forced migration are;

  • Environmental disaster combined with a recent history of ethnic, religious or economic conflict,
  • Interstate war and invasion as Iraq and Afghanistan and Yemen, have suffered.
  • Civil war as in Syria which is also the scene of escalating interstate war. The Democratic Republic of the Congo is similarly a scene of civil and interstate war. It is also the scene of mass rape and other gender based violence.
  • Poverty and extreme inequality. According to Oxfam. Eight men own the same wealth as the 3.6 billion people who make up the poorest half of humanity. Since 2015, the richest 1% has owned more wealth than the rest of the planet. According to the UK Development Programme ‚ÄúOne person in nine in the world is hungry, and one in three is malnourished. Very few of the really poor can get to the UK.
  • Persecution by state authorities like Eritrea, Saudi Arabia or North Korea, Terrorist organisations like ISIS or Boko Haram, or mafia like gangs as in Albania.
  • Gender based persecution including domestic violence and the persecution of LGBT people. India and Pakistan are bad examples of the former, Uganda and Nigeria of the later.
  • Chemical or nuclear disasters as occurred in Chernobul, Fukashima and Bhopal.
  • Major infrastructure projects such as dams, roads, railways, oil pipelines, ports, airports, mining, deforestation, office and factory development.

How many forced migrants are there in the world. Over 63 million according to the UNHCR. They do not directly count environmental forced migrants.

Where do most forced migrants flee to? Either other parts of the same country or to neighbouring countries. EG Syrians fleeing to Lebanon.  Only a small minority of the worlds forced migrants make it to Europe and an even smaller minority make it to the UK. Within Europe most go to countries with struggling economies such as Greece, Italy and Spain or to Germany with its more humane response to forced migration. Increasingly they are sent back to or contained in Turkey an increasingly authoritarian state.

Can forced migrants be prevented from seeking sanctuary in the UK? Not unless we become a closed society like North Korea or Eritrea. The British Government has repeatedly failed to bring down the numbers of migrants to their target figures. David Cameron committed his government to reducing net migration to the tens of thousands when elected in 2007.  Net immigration has exceeded 100,000 every year since.  Attempts to impose targets have lead to some in great need being excluded and immigration control methods which abuse the dignity and human rights of people forced to flee. They have not prevented the really desperate few getting here and have helped create a growing business of illegal human trafficking.

What are the elements of the ‚Äúhostile environment‚ÄĚ intended to deter immigration? Militarisation of borders. Repeated evictions at Calais. Indefinite detention. Denying rights to work or claim benefits, Charges to access NHS( but not to see a GP or get emergency care), ¬†Immigration Enforcement raids. ¬†¬†How effective is it?¬†¬† Enforced returns from the UK decreased by 11% to 12,193 in 2016 compared with 13,690 in 2015. This includes 10,706 enforced removals and 1,487 other returns from detention. In 2016, there were 24,202 voluntary returns (excluding returns from detention) compared to 28,189 in the previous year. The number of passengers refused entry at port and who subsequently departed has been mainly increasing since 2012, but fell by 1% in 2016 to 17,395 from 17,636 in 2015.

Is there a prospect of UK government and communities being overwhelmed by the arrival of a large number of forced migrants? In the immediate future, this is unlikely. Most forced migrants cannot get to the UK. They do not have the money, the knowledge, the physical ability or endurance. Some wars and environmental disasters make it even more difficult to flee to an island in northern Europe. Most either move to another part of the same country or to a neighbouring country in the poorer majority world.   Asylum applications in the UK from main applicants decreased by 7% to 30,603 in the year 2016, the first annual fall in asylum applications since 2010 (17,916). Home Office.  People migrate from the UK as well as too it.  According to the ONS. Net long-term international migration was estimated to be +273,000 in YE Sept 2016 (down 49,000) from YE Sept 2015); comprising +165,000 EU citizens, +164,000 non-EU citizens and -56,000 British citizens.   This was in part due to a small increase in emigration from the UK.  Emigration was estimated to be 323,000 in YE Sept 2016 (up 26,000 (not statistically significant).

In the longer term as the pressures from the diverse causes of forced migration increase, digital information sharing overcomes some of the lack of knowledge and more manage to either get the money or sell themselves to traffickers numbers of forced migrants who manage to reach the UK are likely to get higher.  Government and communities need not be overwhelmed if the willingness of many to welcome refugees is translated into planned reception programmes. If the spirit of compassion and respect for the equal dignity of all as reflected in the Minute from the QARN conference is also reflected in local and central government policy then we will not only cope, British Society will be richer spiritually and materially.   City of Sanctuary and Citizens UK groups are showing how this can be done.   Increased arrivals of forced migrants will be a moral challenge. What is needed is planning positive welcome and settlement processes. Ever harsher immigration enforcement procedures are neither morally acceptable nor likely to be effective.  They push more and more people into desperate measures like crossing the seas in unseaworthy boats, holding on to the underside of heavy good vehicles or trains, even holding onto the undercarriages of aircraft.  More are driven to rely on unscrupulous  traffickers.  They can see no safe alternative.

Should humanitarian smuggling of forced migrants be criminalised or is it a moral imperative? How can those forced to migrate to the UK be enabled to have safe passage?  Securing safe passage is one of the aims of QARN members.

Should the main focus of government and civil society initiatives be on tackling the causes of forced migrationand does this mean not welcoming the minority who do seek sanctuary in the UK? Can this be morally justified?

How can they be helped to integrate? The halving of ESOL class provision and how to reverse it is a Refugee Action priority campaign. The poor quality of asylum support accommodation, and the dispersal policy disproportionately to poorer boroughs  do not  aid either recovery or integration.

Refugee Status once granted used to be for life. Now Refugee Status and Humanitarian Protection under the European Convention on Human Rights is normally only for five years. What are the human consequences of this? How can it be justified?  Can people be helped to return to the country they have fled from safely, if they really want to. People are being sent back to DRC and China.

How can the rising tide of racism, xenophobia and fear of immigration be reversed? Appeal to that of God in all who blame immigrants for the lack of decent paid secure jobs, decent housing and properly funded public services. Listen with understanding without endorsing hatred and fear. Campaign for good jobs for all who need them. Immigrants are needed to fill gaps in both skilled and less skilled jobs. The UK needs more immigrant research scientists, medical practitioners, artists, students, seasonal agricultural workers. We need young energetic people from overseas to do the jobs that an ageing settled population are no longer able or willing to do.  Empower the marginalised who are feeling they are loosing their identity and their power to address the real causes of their problem change things to the benefit of all. Appeal to their sense of  justice and compassion on not to their fear and hatred.

How can Quakers respond? The choices may be found in the Minute from the QARN conference the QARN website, and the report from the London Quakers Conference on Forced Migration London Quakers Facebook page. Examples include supporting QUNO;s  amd QCEA work , supporting the Refugee and Migrants Project in Newham, Walthamstow Migrants Action Group, Redbridge Citizens Refugee Welcome contact mob 07816 068947.   A 2016 survey found Quakers hosting people at home, providing legal support, volunteering in Calais and Dunkirk, campaigning for local change, providing English lessons, holding anti-racism events at meeting houses and even knitting patchwork quilts as welcome presents for newcomers.

Chris Gwyntopher 5/5/17