Thursday, April 26, 2012

Freedom of Movement Restrictions: Coming to a European Country Near You

This week has brought some distressing news for fans of freedom of movement. 

German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung has published a report revealing that the German and French Ministers of the Interior are seeking to modify the Schengen Agreemment, the treaty that allows for passport and visa-free travel throughout most of the territory of the EU. According to the letter, they seek to reintroduce border controls for temporary periods of 30 days in order to "curb illegal immigration". This comes on the heels of some German admonishments of Greece in failing to protect its borders (instead opting for creepy immigrant round-ups that violate human rights) AND results of immigration surveys showing that many persons from Southern Europe and elsewhere continue to seek asylum in Western European countries.

Der Spiegel quotes sources speculating that this is all political posturing to appeal to far-right voters in time for the French election. But is it? Following Sarkozy's adventures in deporting Roma from France (which, as you'll recall, drew comparisons to Nazi Germany's deportations of persons on the basis of ethnic background) its not so clear that conservative politicians aren't willing to put their money where their mouth is and disregard Schengen.(Just look at Denmark!)

And while we have Germany and France promising not to let people out, we have Macedonia promising to keep certain kinds of people in. What kind of people, you ask? 
In 2011, the ERRC documented at least 10 cases in which Romani people were denied the right to exit the country at Macedonian border crossings to Bulgaria and Serbia. Border guards regularly stop Romani individuals who they believe may be seeking asylum abroad, denying them the right to leave the countries.
..You guessed it. The European Roma Rights Centre is calling on the Macedonian government to end discrimination against Roma people seeking to travel outside of their country. (Which, if I remember correctly, is a basic human right.) But this baseline discrimination might be just the beginning- the government has announced that it will introduce measures to prevent persons from leaving the country who have once claimed asylum in another state. This measure as well is more than likely to heavily target Roma.

Between Southern Europe cracking down on immigrant and refugee rights and making it harder to move north, and Northern European countries disregarding their own treaties for politically opportunistic reasons, we have a real problem in Europe right now. The question is, what do the citizens of Europe value more? Their freedom of movement, or their freedom from foreigners?

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

ECtHR backs deportation of settled migrant in Balogun v. UK

Yesterday the European Court of Human Rights released a disappointing decision in the case Balogun v. UK. The headline out of the case is that the UK may deport long-term settled migrants for sufficiently serious offenses without violating Article 8. Let's dig a little deeper and see what the implications of this ruling may be.

Facts: The applicant, B, is a Nigerian immigrant who was born in '86 and has been in the UK since the age of 3 (this is debated a bit, but at least since age 5.) He lived with an allegedly abusive Aunt and was granted indefinite leave to remain after being kicked out of her house, and entered the foster care system until age 18 when he began to live by himself. From then on he has a criminal record of several counts of theft and possession of controlled substances (all occurring before he reached the age of 21). After a final count of possession with intent to distribute, he was sentenced to 3 years in prison and put into deportation proceedings. He appealed on human rights ground, and the first instance court found that, since he didn't have a significant private life in the UK, his deportation was proportional to the crime.
 With regard to his private life, while it was accepted that he had been in the country since a young age and had been educated there, as well as gaining some work experience, it was not considered that these ties were sufficiently strong to render his deportation an interference with his private life. It appeared that his mother still lived in Nigeria and, even if contact had been lost, as claimed by the applicant, there was no reason why it could not be re-established. Whilst the applicant would have practical difficulties in relocating to Nigeria, he could re-establish his private life there.
Several appeals and a suicide attempt later, we end up at Strasbourg debating whether this deportation violates article 3 (prohibition against torture) or article 8 (freedom from interference with family life).

Ruling: Article 3 is thrown out for being "manifestly unfounded" and I don't care to debate that since this is not an issue involving refoulement. 

Article 8, on the other hand, is where it gets interesting. Both the applicant and the UK spend their time arguing about the nature of the applicants connections to the UK. B claims that he has a long-term girlfriend, his Aunt is like a mother to him, and he has friends and employment connections that he may utilize now that he out of jail and off of drugs. The UK meanwhile contends that B has no significant friends and family interests, at least nothing serious enough to outweigh the public interest served by deporting a threat to public order.

The Court more or less agrees. Having a girlfriend and a few scattered relatives with whom you are on bad terms does not amount to a family life (um, guys, isn't that what most families look like?) but it does make a private life. And importantly, the Court recognizes that the length of time spent in the UK, and having grown up almost exlusively in the care of UK social services means that he has significant ties to the country and will be strongly effected by deportation. However, his criminal record ultimately outweighs these considerations.
He was left at the age of three with an aunt who, according to the applicant and to social services, ill-treated the applicant. He was thrown out by this aunt at the age of fifteen and was thereafter taken into foster care. He has therefore not only spent by far the greater part of his childhood in the United Kingdom and been entirely educated in that country, but has been partly brought up in the care of the United Kingdom’s social services. These elements of the applicant’s background contribute significantly to the Court’s finding that his ties to the United Kingdom are stronger than those to Nigeria. However, while the Court views with sympathy the circumstances of the applicant’s formative years, the fact remains that he is responsible for his own actions. Particularly in light of the fact that the majority of the applicant’s offences were committed when he was already an adult, the Court finds that the applicant cannot excuse his past criminal conduct by reference to his upbringing.
 Even with the impact on his private life, the UK's deportation of B does not violate article 8.

Response: It is obvious from the slant of this blog that I would disagree with this ruling. Legally, I don't think this is a totally outrageous ruling (reasonable people can always disagree), but the underlying premise is one that I think is extremely damaging and unfair.

Someone that lived in the UK since the age of 3, and was raised more or less by the system, is a product of that country. Deporting them to Nigeria is a non-sequitor and obliterates the chance for such a troubled individual to ever lead a normal life. It punishes him for the actions of his parents or parents in moving illegally to the UK, that he could not help or influence. It punishes Nigeria by sending back a bitter individual with a criminal history that will have a hard time adjusting to a completely foreign life. It violates the individual's right to a private life, and it encourages the UK to dump problematic foreigners back to countries they have hardly any connections with.

Its a bad decision and is not justified by out-dated drug charges for which the individual has already served time. B was not a drug dealer at age 3, but became one after spending his entire childhood in the UK. This is a home-grown problem, and regardless how many criminals the UK deports, they will find new ones that they cannot.

As ever, it is my opinion that deportation is not the only, nor the best solution.

ECtHR: Case of Balogun v. the United Kingdom 

And here's a nice fear-mongering Telegraph article pushing for more deportations.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Serbia: MoU on birth registration of legally invisible Roma

Min. of Human and Minority Rights Milan Markovic
Between being weeks away from an election and locked into an EU accession process, Serbian politicians are in major suck-up mode, especially on transparency and human rights. However, there's no reason not to take today's news optimistically:
Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Ministry of Human and Minority Rights, Public Administration and Local Self-Government of the Republic of Serbia and the Ombudsman signed a Memorandum of Understanding establishing the basis for closer cooperation to address the issue of birth registration of Roma ethnic minority who are not registered in official records. -(google translate of UNHCR Serbia's release)
The deputy head of EU delegation to Serbia, Adriano Martins, was also in attendance. Serbia has been under major pressure to advance the human rights situation of the Roma, and pledged back in December to try to make citizenship more widely available at the UNHCR conference of ministers. So far, however, they have done exactly nothing to implement the 1961 Convention or improve their poorly organized birth registration laws. As it stands, persons are required to present an identity to card to register the birth of their child and therefore, children of legally invisible persons are rendered legally invisible themselves. Since I am working on this issue right now, I have some unofficial, opinionated recommendations for what they should attempt do with this MoU:

1.)With the help of UNHCR, establish a procedure for determining statelessness of parents in order to comply with Article 1 of the 1961 Convention (requiring that children born stateless are granted citizenship.)

2.) Allow all persons giving birth on the territory of Serbia- with or without documents- to register their children at birth, as required by the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This should apply to all persons giving birth on the territory without any discrimination.

3.) Allow for late registration of persons who never made it into the birth registry books. Allow for a range of evidence to prove the fact of birth, including use of witnesses and/ or DNA tests.

4.) Make birth registration and late registration mandatory and free, and disseminate information about the benefits of the procedure through various means, such as radio ads.

These steps may be more difficult to implement after elections and the accompanying shuffle in characters, but it does seem as though the time is right for focusing on improvements to human rights standards. I think NGO's and stakeholders should use this momentum and the spotlight of the EU to mount additional pressure on the government to do something other than signing agreements and publicizing them.

Regardless, its great to see the Serbian government paying attention to this issue and ostensibly moving forward towards a solution.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Non-Citizen News Roundup

Greece police roundup immigrants this week, via LA Times
There's a lot going on in world of non-citizens this week!

Greece: Last week I noted the alarming news out of Athens, where police arrested some 500 people during an "immigration sweep" in the Capitol that they announced would be continued regularly. Amnesty International has added their voice to the growing concern about the practice, noting:
There are no appropriate facilities at Greece's borders for the identification of those in need of international protection, such as victims of torture and unaccompanied or separated asylum-seeking children.
Detaining people arbitrarily in massive "sweeps" without the necessary protective measures for persons entitled to different forms of protection violates Greece's international obligations and contributes to stigmatization of a group that is already at risk in the country. I said it before and I'll see it again: Greece would be far better off using the resources needed for such massive police actions on clearing through their backlog of immigration cases and regularizing the status of those who are entitled to it.

USA: Despite the Obama administration's ambitious new immigration guidelines for LGBTI persons, they aren't out of the water on gay immigration issues yet. A class action suit filed Monday by 5 same-sex couples will challenge DOMA (the Defense of Marriage Act) - a 1996 law that bars the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages. Since immigration and citizenship are the realm of the federal government, the impact is that even couples who marry legally (e.g., in NY) cannot access immigration benefits such as a green card for the foreign partner. Obviously this causes many heart-rending situations where a married couple may have to constantly fear that one spouse will be deported.

The case is being brought by a non-profit called Immigration Equality, and I will definitely be following it closely here as it proceeds through the legal system. This could be a landmark case for immigration equality in the United States and since the Obama administration has already announced that they consider DOMA to be unconstitutional it could be a slam dunk. I'm excited about this one, guys!
Immigration Equality: Taking our Case to Court

Ghana/ Liberia: There's been talk for years (at least since 2008) of Ghana activating the cessation clause and closing down refugee camps housing Liberians who fled during years of civil war. (Recall that they cessation clause of the 1951 Convention comes into effect when the situation that produced the potential for refoulement to the home country ceases to exist.) Annnnd now the talk continues, with the Ghanaian government planning to activate the cessation clause June 30th but hoping that most refugees will opt for voluntary repatriation before then. For many of the refugees who have lived in the country for years, returning to Liberia is simply not an option, and they will seek options to regularize their status before being kicked out. I'll be sure to post developments. 
Relief Net: Days numbered for Liberian Refugees

Monday, April 2, 2012

"Nowhere People" Opening in Belgrade Highlights Statelessness

The Serbian Speaker of the House introducing the "Nowhere People" exhibit
Monday in Belgrade was the opening of "Nowhere People"- an exhibit of photographs by Greg Constantine whose beautiful and haunting photos of stateless persons have been featured on the blog before. The opening was hosted by the Speaker of the House, Ms. Dejanovic, and by UNHCR who both congratulated Serbia on taking major steps to reduce statelessness by signing the 1961 Convention as well as pledging to help the legally invisible with the law on non-contentious procedure (that would allow legally invisible persons to be registered.)

As could be expected the photographs were amazing, and well-curated with small explanations next to each in English and Serbian. However the proceedings were just a teensy bit odd in my opinion. After all, its exciting to sign a convention and draft a law, but it doesn't mean much if the convention isn't implemented and the law isn't even put up for a vote. The speeches made it seem as though reducing statelessness in Serbia is a done deal, when in fact the real work hasn't even begun.

Nevertheless, the exhibit was well-attended and certainly brought attention to the issue, as seen by the plethora of stories in the Serbian press on the subject. That's all good... but now let's see less talk and more action!

Photographs and attendees

B92: 30,000 People in Serbia have no personal ID