DAY 219: The separation of powers

July 28th, 2017 § 0 comments § permalink

Oh, my dears, back to reality! Which bit of it would you like to be in? Having done a brief tour d’horizon  of places one would rather not be (I mentioned Ferguson, Calais of course, Raqqa, Mosul, a few days ago, and you can add others as you like – Jerusalem?) I’ve been reading a fascinating digest of what’s wrong with everywhere – which partly arises out of my new ‘job’ as a compiler of digests for the ecthr European Database of Asylum Law, first time I‘ve put the Ll.M. to use. Idly reading through law digests, as one does, I found the obviously essential work of a somewhat obsessive lawyer by the name of Kester Ratcliff  (; and don’t blame me if you find you’ve exceeded your bandwidth). This work looks like it’s only got 58 pages, and so is much shorter than Mirzakhani and Eskin’s ‘Isolation, equidistribution, and orbit closures for the SL(2,ℝ) action on moduli space’ referred to in the last post; but its (the listicle’s) multi-layered structure has you constantly wandering though hyperlinks of hyperlinks to recent arguments on the ‘EU-Turkey EU--TurkeyAgreement’ -which is the basis for returning thousands of already miserable refugees from Greece and elsewhere to Turkey.

For example, you find yourself inexorably drawn to, inter alia, Birgit Sippel’s pertinent question

DEBirgit Sippel (Germany)

in the European Parliament  (March 2016):

“According to the Lisbon Treaty, an international agreement having an impact on ‘ordinary’ ‘EU legislation should be negotiated by the Council or the Commission in compliance with Article 218 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) and approved by Parliament, which ‘shall be immediately and fully informed at all stages of the procedure.’ (Article 218(10) TFEU). The very aim of these provisions is, on the one hand, not to put Parliament under pressure to transpose into EU legislation measures which have not previously obtained its consent and, on the other hand, to implement the ‘bona fide’ principle with the third country concerned. Notwithstanding these clear provisions at Treaty level, a so-called ‘EU-Turkey Agreement’ has been negotiated by some Member States (with the participation of the Commission) and then finalised by the Heads of State and Government of the Member States meeting with the Turkish Prime Minister. Despite its generic title (‘Statement’), the agreement provides for several obligations on both sides and a mutual monitoring mechanism.

1. Does the Council consider that the ‘EU-Turkey Agreement’,refturkey which covers domains currently under EU exclusive and shared competence, is binding under international law and/or EU law?

2. If so, why was the Agreement not negotiated and concluded in compliance with Article 218 TFEU?

3. If not, has the Turkish counterpart been informed of the non-binding nature of the Agreement and of the fact that some aspects may not be implemented as expected?”

Pretty tough question, eh? The natural conclusion (I don’t think there was a satisfactory answer) is that the EU-Turkey Agreement is illegal; an executive action, like so many we’ve seen lately in the US, without legislative sanction; and that refoulements of refugees to Turkey – and the designation of Turkey as a ‘safe third country’ come to that are equally contrary to international law, and to EU law come to that. Another link (in Ratcliff, are you still with me?)will lead you to the leaked France-Germany note of last February which proposes ‘that (implicitly) all those entering the EU would be removed to non-EU countries willing to host them, and kept there in conditions which minimally guarantee their survival and non-removal to unsafe countries.’

What Ratcliff concludes, and I think his argument is hard to fault – but in a way we all knew it anyway – is that the whole of Europe, fearing a right-wing backlash in home countries if they were anything but uniformly repressive to refugees, have done their damnedest, bent or broke the rules, made up law as they went along – so as to avoid that generosity to the stranger which the Gospel (along with other world religions not to mention Kant) teaches.

So back to particular places and what can we do, apart from not doing harm? I’ll past in an appeal from Izzy, but you’re likely to find enough other ones for different dark places.

‘I have been on the ground of the refugee crisis for nearly two years, but most of my time has been spent on the island of Chios; an open air prison for those fleeing war-torn countries via Turkey.

As time has rolled on, money and support have dried up. The situation is entering a chapter of darkness we haven’t yet seen, unlawful detention, beatings, fear and overall neglect is growing at a huge rate.

We have totally run out of the funding we use for emergencies which can be anything from housing for those not considered vulnerable but indefinitely so, for food or clothing in special situations or transport among other things.

The people we try to reach are the ones that are often forgotten, your support and donations have never been more needed.

Please give what you can and share this post.

Thank you.

I should add that the air of crisis is shared by most organisations working it the field – MSF, Amnesty, RRDP, as well as smaller grass-roots organisations – all doing what they can to deal with the enormous indifference of the world.



DAY 218 – The magic wand

July 22nd, 2017 § 0 comments § permalink

So today, considering the complete disasters surrounding us all, which range from Grenfell Towers to Calais to Chios, and farther afield to the starvation in Gaza and Yemen; and to the slaughter in Mosulmosul and Raqqa; it seemed like a good time to turn this blog’s attention to more long-term, nay eternal questions. There is no more poignant illustration of what I’m talking about (how’s that for a flowery phrase then?) than the juxtaposition of Maryam Mirazakhani’smaryam monumental and timeless ‘Magic Wand’ theorem with her recent death from cancer at the age of 40. It seemed the least I could do to abandon. for today, the daily trivia of massacre and brutality, and try to explain the theorem to those of my readers who aren’t already familiar with the MWT. The theorem is clearly credited as joint work with Alex Eskin, but I hoped that Alex  – and indeed Amir Mohammed, also credited – would forgive me for concentrating on their beautiful and prematurely lost collaborator, as I tried to dash through the main points of their 204-page paper.

A long time ago when I was in analysis (did it work? does it ever? what does that mean?) my analyst asked me to explain my work, i.e. what was it to ‘do’ algebraic topology, which was the racket I was in at the time. Can you give me a session? I said; and, in what I still think was an amazing feat, I produced a passable explanation of what algebraic topologists do for the mathematically illiterate inside a 50-minute analytic hour. Who paid? Who do you think? Analysis, the ‘talking cure’, works on the basis that the analysand pays to talk, about n’importe quoi. Why would the analyst pay, even if he/she learned something?

Anyway, back to the 204-page paper. The more I tried to explain, indeed understand it, the more plain it became to me that I was hopelessly out of touch with today’s mathematics; so that even the neat 15 page summary by Anton Zurich in Gazette des mathematicians 142 left me struggling amidst measured laminations and other heavy stuff unfamiliar to me. So while I refer you without hesitation to Zurich who  adds a biography of Mirzakhani, and a character study, and much more, I decided to see where I got with her earlier work – as one might prefer to present Beethoven’s Razumovsky quartets rather than, say, the C minor op. 131 to folk who don’t really get on with chamber music in the first place; his account of the theorem (when he gets to it) is still a tad opaque to those of us who are quite happy dealing with the fine points of LGBT+ oppression or intersectionality or appealing expulsion decisions on the grounds of Article 8 of the ECHR but who go all weak at the knees at the mention of non-ergodic flows and such.

So, what’s the picture? You have a surface. You cut it up into bits. You’re cutting it up along ‘straight lines’, or geodesics as they’re called in the surface trade. Screen Shot 2017-07-20 at 09.08.55How many are there? Well, the longer they are, the more there are (is this obvious?) How long are they? And do they divide it it up – i.e. if you cut the surface along one, does it fall apart? Many of these questions, with their ramifications, are some of the things which preoccupied Maryam; you can see and hear her talking about them rather excitably here.

In her early work, such as, or ‘Growth of the number of simple closed geodesics on hyperbolic surfaces’ (and you can get it free, compared to all the evil social science journals which force you either to pay Sage loads of money or to be an academic if you want to read their stuff), she still wants to know how many of these curves there are, how many of them split the surface, and so on. And, rather than tire my poor brain and overstretch yours, I thought we could zoom in on one – to me – astounding statement near the end of that paper: ‘Roughly speaking, on a surface of genus 2, a long, random connected, simple, closed geodesic is separating with probability  17‘ . Note how precise we mathematicians are, with our ‘roughly speaking’ and ‘long’

Screen Shot 2017-07-22 at 12.00.48A surface of genus 2, and some rather short simple closed geodesics on it. The one  in the middle is separating, the one on the right isn’t – OK?

and think of a long random connected simple closed geodesic on a surface of genus 2. Is it separating? My picture is supposed to help with the concept, if not with the reasoning; and you’ll have to picture a long nonseparating closed geodesic for yourself.

But what you’ll find in the paper which leads to that weird figure 17, is an actual calculation (pp. 122-123) of the number of (non)separating closed geodesics – or the volume of the space of such, which looks equally magical. If I could have mastered the typography, I’d have given you the formula. Pretty cool stuff, eh? Go off and think about it; and stop trying to create wi-fi systems for refugee camps  or unburn-out burnt-out aid workers, if only for a moment. That limiting ratio of long closed simple geodesics will still be there, like Kepler’s laws or Darwish’s poems or the chromosome number of the fruit-fly, when you and I and the Home Secretary and the refugee camps and the volunteers and the NGOs and the UNHCR, and the PMLA for that matter,  are the shadow of a shadow, the memory of a memory.

I have been thinking about it, and I can’t say it really helps me much; but it’s worth thinking about such things, and I recommend it to you. And then we’ll return to the old rants.

And here – with no particular relevance – is the troubadour Guillaume of Aquitaine’s ‘Song of Pure Nothingness’; or at least the beginning.

Screen Shot 2017-07-22 at 13.05.42  

Which, ideally, would be a cue for Tansy Davies’tansy setting of the song (which I heard at the Victoria in Dalston which I’m ceaselessly recommending as a music venue); except that Tansy hasn’t put it on Youtube or anywhere else that I can find. We’ll have to be content with about two minutes of female troubadour music from her ‘Troubairitz‘.




DAY 217: Coffee

July 15th, 2017 § 0 comments § permalink


Of course , coffee is bound to lead to innumerable other reflections. (But why start with  coffee? It could be tea, currently being distributed to refugees in Paris by a group inevitably called Solidarithé, It connects with education, naturally, since I’ve just learned to make passable Turkish or Greek or Arabic coffee in the classic little pot; and I’ve been assigned the task of finding out all that’s been written – on refugees, in the last three years – and enter it into what will be a formidable database. My education, reader, will connect with yours.) But back to Calais. (Eh?) It seems inconceivable – but it’s the case – that despite constant arguments and court decisions that the clearing of the jungle was chaotic, unjust, and a general abuse of human rights, conditions there go on every day getting worse: As Médecins Sans Frontières, who should know, declare: ‘Calais has become a cage in a jungle’ I quote:

‘From 12th to 16th June 2017, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) teams visited Calais to provide medical care. While there, they witnessed the extent to which public authorities are tracking and harassing migrants and those who try to support them.

Several hundred Afghans, Eritreans, Ethiopians, Sudanese and Somalis are currently in Calais, waiting to make the perilous and uncertain journey to Great Britain. Initiatives by local and national charities, whose access to the site has been bitterly negotiated with Calais town hall and the prefecture of the Pas-de-Calais department, offer them some respite.



Most of the ‘officially tolerated’ assistance (i.e. food and clothes) is provided in a distribution area, almost entirely fenced off since 13th June, not far from the site of the ‘Jungle’ that was dismantled in October 2016. Only one round of distribution was until very recently permitted by the town hall each day. It started at 6pm, under heavy supervision by the security forces; the gendarmerie, which guards the site during the day to prevent any gatherings before 6pm; the riot police (CRS, Compagnies Républicaines de Sécurité); the national police, the crime squad, and the border police (PAF, Police aux Frontières).

Assistance is offered by local and national groups working in the area (Utopia 56, l’Auberge des Migrants amongst others), British groups such as Refugee Youth Services and Refugee Community Kitchen, and individuals. Medical consultations run by Médecins du Monde and Gynécologie sans Frontières take place at the same time, while phone charging stations are set up by private citizens.

The sudden emergence of hundreds of people from the woods at distribution time makes for some surprising scenes. The migrants talk about being treated like animals. This feeling couldn’t be better illustrated than by the fenced distribution area, which resembles a cage, whose door is opened from time to time, ensuring that migrants don’t get too close and can’t escape.

Distribution lasts a little more than an hour and is clearly inadequate for providing food to all. A priest at St Joseph’s church allows Secours Catholique and Refugee Community Kitchen to prepare and provide a second meal, water and a place to rest to those who dare to venture into town. There is no tap to use for drinking and washing.

Beyond these two schemes – one authorised, the other just about tolerated – any attempt to provide assistance in the town is banned. Groups of migrants are dispersed by the police to prevent them from gathering and staying in one place (what the French authorities call ‘fixation points’); alongside any attempts to offer them additional help. Our team was present at one of the police’s attempts to prevent the distribution of sixty or so meals. The officer in charge of the operation, questioned by a member of our team, said ‘One meal a day isn’t enough, but I have my orders.

The migrants, some of whom are still only teenagers, sleep in the forest, in the marshes, or on the sand. They are generally in good physical shape, but they are exhausted and suffering from skin diseases linked to the disastrous sanitary conditions, eye infections due to tear gas exposure, sprains, and flesh wounds. Sometimes the police come in the night to drive them away, spraying their clothes and sleeping bags with tear gas as they do so.

The extreme precariousness of their living conditions, combined with psychological fragility, addictions and personal tensions, sometimes result in violence. Early in the week of our visit, for example, two migrants were slightly injured when an altercation arose at the end of a distribution line. The police didn’t intervene: according to an officer at the scene, they are specifically ordered not to.

By the end of our visit, our observations echoed those of the French human rights Ombudsman (Défenseur des droits), who criticised ‘the inhuman living conditions suffered by exiles in Calais’ in a press release issued on 14th June 2017. While institutional practices of hostility have become commonplace in recent years, rarely have the authorities seemed so determined to subject migrants to harassment.




Within this context, we would like to express our solidarity not only with the migrants, but also with local associations and individuals trying to offer much needed assistance. We also call on the authorities to respond positively to the recommendations made by the human rights Ombudsman, and we support the emergency legal appeal (the ‘référé liberté’ procedure) brought before the Administrative Court by charities on 15th June, aimed at forcing the State to provide the necessary services. Unfortunately, it seems that the French public authorities are only capable of acting when put under pressure by the public and the law.

On 16th June, one day after the emergency legal appeal by charities and the same day this piece was first published in Le Monde, the state police informed local aid groups that distributions would from now on be authorised all day, until 8:00pm, on the predefined distribution site. Nonetheless, the pressure on migrants remained high, as both local and national authorities showed no tolerance for permanent settlements or distribution of aid on any other sites. Distributions continue to be interrupted by the police.

On June 26, 2017 the administrative court, while ruling against creating a new centre for migrants, stated that migrants should have access to food, water, showers and toilets. Within an hour of the ruling, Calais mayor Natacha Bouchart declared that she would appeal. Arguing that the decision was unacceptable to her, she stated that she would not comply with the ruling. She justified her decision by saying that ‘solutions exist outside of the Calais region’. Six to seven hundred migrants are currently in Calais, almost three hundred are sleeping in the bushes in the neighbouring town of Grande-Synthe, and several hundred more can be found on the streets of Paris and Saint-Denis. No doubt more migrants will arrive in France in the coming months; for some of them, their only plan will be to get to Great Britain. Dispersing them and making them invisible through violence, on the one hand, and hindering solidarity efforts, on the other, should not and must not be the defining features of the French state’s reception policy.’

Amen. But why am I quoting this? Partly to fill up space, obviously; also, because it’s of concern to me and should be to you. We seem to be, across Europe, a permanent ‘state of exception’, to borrow a phrase from some fashionable lefty philosopher (Agamben?) where the law is no-law. And yet, lawyers persist in arguing, with the help of interpreters, for the hopeless hungry refugees and sometimes seem to gain a stay in the advancing tide of inhumanity. As in UKUT262 ,


The Tribunal

‘R (on the application of AM (a child by his litigation friend OA and OA) v Secretary of State for the Home Department (Dublin – Unaccompanied Children – Procedural Safeguards) (11 May 2017)’. Here, you may remember, the Home Secretary has been trying to keep out a suicidal 16-year-old Eritrean whose uncle is settled in the UK. As the judge observes:

“I am in no doubt that [the Applicant’s] current situation is both causative and exacerbating of his psychiatric disorders. It does not meet his developmental needs of adult support, social relationships and stable accommodation. His needs are only being met in a very basic way – make shift accommodation, some level of education and food. It is clear that [the processes] have had a detrimental impact on his mental state, as seen as his increased suicidality with plan on how he would act. This shows his state of desperation and hopelessness .

The delay is having a significant exacerbating impact on his mental state causing him increased distress and increasing his despair. [He] is severely struggling with the delay in being reunited with his uncle.

This relationship has particular meaning, given his orphan status. A withdrawn state indicates a decline in his mental state.

Existing in this dissociated state over a chronic time period is very detrimental for children. In my professional experience, it worsens prognosis over time and makes it harder to treat young people as this emotional functioning becomes their norm despite it actually being maladaptive and pathological for them.

[He] is at risk of becoming actively suicidal if prompt reunification does not occur as his mental state will deteriorate further.

[His] prognosis would be significantly improved with a prompt transfer to the UK so he can be with an adult he identifies as supportive and whom he trusts, ie his uncle.” And so – you’d think reasonably – the Upper Tribunal decided that OA should be allowed in.  I strongly encourage you to make a strong coffee (see earlier) and read the whole judgment. In such narrow chinks in the state’s armour, it seems, we have to trust.

In the words of  No Doubt, (who I thought I was going to hear this week but didn’t) ‘I’ve asked myself/How much do you commit yourself?‘. Or, as Aperghis put it – brilliantly interpreted by Heloise Werner – well, I’m not quite sure how he put it, but it was dead eloquent.

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