People smuggling and border policy

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On Saturday 16th August, the Norstream, a P&O Ferries commercial ship, arrived at Tilbury Docks in the British county of Essex. The ship, which had come from the Belgian village of Zeebrugge, was loaded up with 64 containers. Around 6am, dock-workers heard “banging and screaming” coming from one of the containers. It was opened. There were 35 people crammed inside. One man, in his 40s, had died on the journey. It turned out that the group – which included 13 children – was entirely made up of Sikhs fleeing from Afghanistan.

I wrote a piece for the German outlet Deutsche Welle about the case, explaining the background:

Currently, a European law known as the Dublin Regulation dictates that someone seeking refugee status must make their claim in the first country that they land in. This means that there is a disproportionate strain on countries on the southern and eastern borders of Europe; countries such as Greece, Italy, and Poland. Many of these countries have overstretched asylum systems and struggling economies; therefore, many migrants want to remain under the radar until they can reach Germany, Sweden, or Britain.

I also blogged on the story for the New Humanist:

The Independent points out that just 0.23 per cent of the British population is made up of asylum-seekers. The horrific plight of the 35 found at Tilbury should serve as a reminder that immigration policy is not simply a political hot potato over which to trade inflammatory rhetoric; seeking to make these policies more humane, to accommodate the world’s most vulnerable, is a matter of moral obligation.

 

The UK and Syria’s refugees

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Syrian refugees in Spain.

The Syrian refugee crisis has been described as the worst since the Rwandan genocide in 1994, with 6.5 million internally displaced and more than 2 million seeking refuge abroad. The UK has been reluctant to offer sanctuary to a significant number of refugees, a decision that should be seen in the context of a dominant anti-immigrant political mood. While the British government has agreed to rehome 500 Syrian refugees, a small number have claimed asylum here already. Two of them told me their stories.

Ruqaiya was in her final year of university when she realised she couldn’t go home. In London on a student visa, she had missed the worst of the fighting in her hometown of Damascus: after the revolution began in March 2011, her family had told her not to come back for the holidays.

In May 2012, gearing up for her exams, she received terrible news. “My brother, who works in Germany, called to say that our father had been killed in an airstrike and the house destroyed. My mother had fled with my aunt to Jordan. Suddenly I didn’t have a home.” On the advice of an uncle living in the UK, Ruqaiya claimed asylum.

You can read the full article over at the New Statesman website, and here’s the (shorter) version that appeared in the magazine:

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Domestic slavery in the UK

Pakistani bride Najma Khalil folds her hI’ve written a feature for the November issue of the New Internationalist magazine. It looks at the phenomenon of women, sent to the United Kingdom for arranged marriages from India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan, who are then subjected to domestic slavery. It is a distressing but important topic, and I spoke to campaigners – including Southall Black Sisters – about the progress that has already been made, as well as to two women who managed to escape from this nightmarish situation.

Campaigners say that around 500 women every year face a similar situation. Brought to the UK as the wives of British citizens, these women – primarily from India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan – face brutal domestic violence and enslavement. Domestic violence is always under-reported, but in this instance this is compounded by the uncertain immigration status of these women. If someone has come to the UK on a spousal visa, the marriage must last for two years before that person automatically has the leave to remain in the UK.

Here’s the cutting, and I’ll post a link when the piece is online.

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Writing and speaking

Members of the Free Syrian Army.
Members of the Free Syrian Army.

I’ve had a really busy few weeks back in the UK, so thought I would share a few links to some of my recent work.

New Statesman

Why are we still relying on decades-old stereotypes when we talk about the Middle East?

This blog looks at the stereotype of the “angry Arab”, arguing that such media narratives matter because they shape the way the world understands events.

Ending child marriage

On 30 September, I took part in a New Statesman/World Vision fringe event at the Conservative Party conference in Manchester. It was an interesting panel discussion, at the Town Hall, and I’ll post audio when it’s available.

New Humanist

I’ve recently started blogging regularly for the New Humanist, which is the magazine of the Rationalist Association (and hosted at their website).

Britain’s fear of being seen as a soft-touch has led to inhumane asylum policies

This post, written after my trip to the Tory conference in Manchester, looks at Theresa May’s new immigration bill.

Pakistan bombings are an attack on everyday life

After the fourth bombing in Peshawar in just a few weeks, I wrote a piece about Peshawar, the targeting of polio vaccinators, and the aims of terrorist violence.

Middle East Monitor

I blog regularly for MEMO, but here are a couple of longer pieces I’ve written recently.

What is there in common between General Musharraf and General al-Sisi?

This piece compares the 2013 Egyptian coup and the 1999 Pakistani coup.

“In a sense, the continuation of the Palestinian Authority has itself become an obstacle”

I interviewed Alvaro de Soto, the former UN special envoy to the Middle East whose leaked “end of mission” report in 2007 caused a stir.