DAY 221: Turn of the screw

August 10th, 2017 § 0 comments

To stop worrying about how well I’m writing…

It was only a matter of time, I suppose, before the ‘respectable’ media adopted the same language about refugees as that used every day by a) e.g. the Daily Mail, b) the many people who post remarks about refugees, Muslims, for that matter women, gays, minorities in posts on Facebook which make your flesh creep.

Now Clare Foges in the Times (always supposed to be the voice of the ruling class) has come out with an open call: migrants should be left to drown in the Mediterranean or be tortured to deathdeath in Libya, for the sake of Europe.  To quote:

‘The migrant crisis of the past few years has been a lesson in the dangers of allowing heart to overrule head.

 Turning back the boats might not be a palatable proposal short-term but until and unless the central Mediterranean is viewed as a route of no hope, the numbers will increase, along with the profits of the people traffickers. ‘For the sake of Europe and the developing world a much harder line must be drawn in the sand between them?

The second great pull factor is the UN’s woefully out-of-date Refugee Convention.

Its definition of an asylum-seeker as anyone with a “well-founded fear of persecution in their own country” is elastic enough, with a little imagination, to cover many millions of people.’

There is so much dreadful, poisonous rhetoric (and it goes on) in this piece that I can only hope that some decent person on the Times (lol) intervenes to stop its spread. Let’s remember when the Refugee Convention was drafted – in the aftermath of a catastrophic war which left millions starving, with their homes destroyed, often their families killed, and having a reasonable fear of persecution – from Nazis or Stalinists or some other ruthless authority. The word ‘persecution’ was not put in the Convention by bleeding heart liberals who were allowing heart to overrule head as they always do; it was put there because Europe was full of people were being persecuted, and some idea of justice prevailed. And the persecution goes on.. Does Clare think that when Yazidis claim to be persecuted by Daesh (say) or Eritreans claim to be living under a dictatorship, they are spinning a tall story to appeal to  gullible soft hearts? Is that why they cross the sea in leaky boats? Did she watch – for example – the video of the girl who left Kobane in such a boat?

If the Convention is out of date, it is because the west has continued to find ways of circumventing it – the Dublin Regulations come to mind. Which parts of the Convention, I wonder, are to be amended or scrapped? Foges suggests that the definition of a refugee as  ‘someone who is unable or unwilling to return to their country of origin owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion’ is woefully outdated  and elastic; and yet rights groups in this country will testify that it’s extraordinarily difficult to establish a claim, at an interview where the Home Office inquisitor has been trained to disbelieve. The Convention further says that if you are such a frightened person a) you should not be penalised if you’ve entered the country illegally and b) you shouldn’t be subject to refoulement or being sent back. (Remind me how many Syrians have so far been taken into the U.K., as opposed to Jordan? and what the respective GDP’s of those two countries are.) The U.K. accepts all the provisions of the ‘woefully outdated’ Convention;but it’s almost impossible to gain the status of a refugee here. Notably, to become a ‘Convention refugee’ you have first to be in the U.K., and (since we’re a fortified island) it’s  almost impossible to get in – a friend of mine, after bribing smugglers, spent a terrifying 24 hours shut in a container on a ship from Belgium to Newcastle. Once you’re foolin, for the moment you’ll possibly be accepted as a refugee if you’re Syrian, although not if you come from a different war zone. In order to be accepted you have to go through the gruelling interview process, and we should spend some time on that, although it’s less traumatic than being thrown into the sea. A caseworker for the Home Office – describing the other side of the process – wrote about the changing standards of this work in the Guardian recently:

‘Our asylum system is nowhere near adequately staffed and resourced. I worry how my former colleagues are coping after years of cuts, and changes to immigration rules which have been accompanied by very little staff training on how to implement them properly.

The work was hard, sometimes harrowing, but often rewarding. Like many areas of public service, there is no typical day for an asylum caseworker. Cases are radically different and so is the trauma suffered by the people you interview. One day you might be dealing with female genital mutilation, the next someone who has lost a family member to the Taliban.

New recruits routinely deal with claims involving murder and torture, with little or no emotional training, preparation or support. Decision makers are now less prepared for this type of work than they were a decade ago because the initial training is about half as long as it should be.

It would be stupid to pretend that everyone who works in the Home Office is motivated by the same public service ethos that drove me and the vast majority of my colleagues. There were undoubtedly some who would all too often trivialise and belittle the experiences of the people who came to us for help. But by far the most pernicious factor was the politics of it. Regardless of how idealistic you are, you learn quickly what is expected. A great deal of my initial training was about establishing “credibility” – largely, how to explain that you disbelieve someone’s story. We would use example claims as case studies and practise writing refusal letters.

Managers back then were reasonable about allowing time to decide cases, but ultimately we have always been moulded from day one to be sceptical. This has its merits in the job, but isn’t entirely healthy.

And the danger of that scepticism was brought more sharply into focus as time went on. A restructuring in 2013 resulted in several hundred years of collective experience walking out of the door. We had been told the job was being downgraded and, in essence, their days were numbered. Some who left got other Home Office jobs; many did not.

After that, targets increased to the point that almost everything became subservient to the end-decision. We were set a target of 220 “units” a year. Only an interview or a decision would count as a unit – any casework would not.

If I had to call social services because I was concerned about a child, it didn’t count towards this target. It might be an afternoon’s work to do all the right referrals, but ultimately this wouldn’t be credited. That sort of work was disincentivised.

If you wanted to do the right thing, you would have to take the productivity hit and risk performance management procedures, ultimately with the threat of dismissal.’

Have we let our hearts rule our heads, and are we letting too many asylum seekers in? What would be the cost of financing a massive change in the culture of this country which gave the migrant or refugee a positive profile? Of countering the hateful propaganda emanating from the likes of Foges, or from the Daily Mail? We throw away vast amounts of money on pointless weapon systems, and can’t find the pennies to make blocks of flats safe,brokenhouse to prevent the incineration of masses of poor people – because otherwise, we’d be allowing our hearts to rule our heads. This has always been the logic of the ruling class; it’s just becoming more so.

Recently, I’ve found a new occupation on a slightly different front of the war against what we used to call the repressive state apparatus; working with those who are in the unhappy position of being ‘NRPF’ or no recourse to public funding. The point being that if you’ve succeeded in forcing the hard faced minions of the Home Office to allow you what’s called ‘Leave to Remain’ (for example because you have a British passport and it would be difficult for them to keep you out) they make it (the remaining) conditional on your never asking the state for any of the money e.g. benefits they’d give the free born Englishman. As time goes on, you marry, have children, your spouse leaves you and refuses to contribute  as spouses do; so you become destitute. Because it’s against the European Charter of Human Rights or some such bleeding heart liberal instrument that your children should be thrown on the streets and starve, you are allowed to appeal to the Home Secretary (lol again) to lift the NRPF condition. As you can imagine, this involves lawyers, petitions, sheaves of documents proving how destitute and deserving you are. I’m volunteering with a delightful bunch of people in a hall down Upper Street one day a week, fighting these battles; taking statements or editing petitions or cooking a wholesome vegetarian lunch or minding the children. It’s all essential work (else the families would be on the streets; and it takes the busy Home Secretary three months or more to make up her mind; and if she decides you’re an undeserving case you have to go for an appeal. So we’re back withhamlet Hamlet, didn’t I quote him the other day?

For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
Th’ oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely,
The pangs of despised love, the law’s delay,
The insolence of office, and the spurns
That patient merit of th’ unworthy takes,
When he himself might his quietus make
With a bare bodkin?

I refer you to Thomas F. Hargis’ seminal article ‘The Law’s Delay’ in The North American Review Vol. 140, No. 341 (Apr., 1885), pp. 309-315 (it’s on JStor but you can find a way to work around that). As for the pangs of despised love, the Times thankfully hadn’t got round to finding a way to legislate for them.

Leave a Reply

What's this?

You are currently reading DAY 221: Turn of the screw at Luke Hodgkin.