The Distinction

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.
For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink,
a stranger and you gave me no welcome, naked and you gave me no clothing, ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.’
Then they will answer and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not respond to your needs?’
He will answer them, ‘Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.’
And these will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”
Matthew 25:42-46

I think of this passage every time I hear a politician who rhetorically claims to be a ‘Christian’ expressing hostility, rather than hospitality, towards refugees.

There are many theological issues on which there is a wide range of reasonable diverging interpretations. However, on this point there is absolute clarity and no hermeneutical wiggle room at all:

Jews and Christians who believe there is any truth in the bible at all, even if highly metaphorically expressed most of the time, must welcome strangers, foreigners, refugees and exiles, or expect eternal hellfire.

I’m prepared to interpret eternal hellfire as symbolic and metaphorical, but the intention is clear anyway. In the biblical authors’ cultural terminology, there was no stronger way possible to say: you must welcome refugees. The alternative option, which you are free to choose, means eternal alienation from the divine love, by your own choice to turn away.

Notice what’s not here in the criteria of the Final Judgement: none of the rituals and rules are mentioned, membership of the tribe or conformity with any element of religious tradition is absent, even ‘believing in God’ is absent, but only: did you feed people who were hungry, did you give water to thirsty people, did you clothe the poor and visit the sick, and did you welcome strangers, foreigners, refugees and exiles?

Passive tolerance may not be good enough, positive welcoming hospitality is required. When Abraham saw three strangers suddenly appear walking towards him through the shimmering heat haze of midday at Mamre in Lebanon his first response was to bow and kiss the ground, and then prepare foot washing water and food for his guests. Hospitality to travellers was widely considered in the ancient world, across at least the fertile crescent, Greece and India, to be a sacred moral obligation.

“He who shuts his ear to the cry of the poor
will himself also call and not be heard.”

Psalm 119:44

The fact most of the refugees are Muslim by religious tradition is completely immaterial to the point. Any ‘Christian’ who cannot see the Image of Christ in the face of a Muslim refugee is no Christian at all. And truly there is no god but God (la illaha il’Allah).

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Fundraising appeal for urgent legal information work on Chios

I’ve been back on Lesvos a month, and not asked for anymore donations up til now because I wasn’t confident before that I’d found something really worthwhile to get stuck into this time round, but now I have:

I want to go to Chios on Friday for a couple of weeks to help Chris Trafford and Gabrielle Tan with getting the legal info tent in Vial camp setup up and running well, which they’ve been invited to do by UNHCR and NRC (Norwegian Refugee Council), so I anticipate that access won’t be a problem.

The experience will also help inform the design of the HIAS programme, to make sure it’s adapted to fit the needs across Greece. I’m hoping later to go do another few weeks field work probably in Camp Kineas in northern mainland Greece, where CK Team already have a great rapport with the Greek army camp manager, then I’ll be able to feed that experience from the ground into designing the HIAS Greece programme together with Pare Gerou, who I’m happy to call my boss now.  

Last time (Dec-Jan) I did landings response with @CK Team, built steps up the cliffs with @Sten and @Marcus and installed floodlights with @Alexandra around Korakas pinnacle and infrared heaters inside the lighthouse buildings. This time what the refugees need is less physical and more politically and legally complicated. So I’m focussing on preparing legal information materials (checking with experts before I publish) and volunteer coordination for legal aid.

Refugees in the ‘Hotspots’ (so far, Lesvos and Chios) are desperate because the asylum procedures are so rushed for them, whereas refugees in mainland Greece are desperate because the asylum procedures are so unbearably slow there.

The legal information for refugees on the Asylum Service’s own website isn’t even applicable to the current system since the EU-Tr Agreement (and other pages haven’t been updated since 2013); the information they are supposed to have all received from UNHCR – I haven’t seen it, but I can only assume it must be extremely basic, because no-one I’ve met so far knew more than just some key terms and that they’re supposed to be waiting for some interviews, no idea that they should prepare or write their statements. Currently, EASO is both writing people’s statements for them and then judging them, which seems neither fair nor efficient. None of the refugees I’ve met or heard about so far has received anything like adequate information to enable them to prepare for their asylum interviews.

There are 4-5 foreign legal aid NGOs about to arrive ‘soon’, but that probably still means they won’t be operational for a few more weeks. 3 Greek NGOs are currently providing legal aid in Lesvos, but they can only manage appeals and specially vulnerable cases. There are many more Greek legal aid NGOs for refugees in Athens. However, Chios so far only has two super-dedicated and super-exhausted Greek lawyers, who can only afford time to fight appeals, not to help everyone prepare their statements before their interviews. I’ve been communicating with Chris and Gabi for a month preparing the information materials and connecting urgent cases with local lawyers, including some who were deported to Turkey. In a few weeks while the foreign legal aid NGOs get organised and ready, another 300 or more people could be deported without really having had adequate legal information to enable them to represent their own cases fairly. The most blatant abuses of the asylum procedures in Greece I’ve heard of so far mostly came from Chios, see https://insidevial.wordpress.com for some examples.

I want to try and test in practice whether informing and enabling people to prepare themselves better for their admissibility interviews really has any effect on the outcomes. I’m not certain that however strong the evidence and reasons presented that people’s claims will be judged fairly in the ‘fast-track’ system now, or that the individual interviews really mean truly individual assessments. However, I believe we have to at least try first treating the system as though it’s bona fide and the best version of what it could be, in a pragmatically optimistic way, because that might be a good strategy to influence it to actually become a better version of what it already claims to be.

I’m spending faster than my rental income from my house in Bristol and have gone through the donations I was sent with in the last month. Those of you who know me in person will know I’m fairly frugal by nature, but I had to hire a car (18€/day), and, because of the ferry strike, had to fly rather than get the ferry to Athens for a Greek Asylum Service conference, which was hugely valuable for information which is not in the public domain elsewhere yet and contacts, but doing both has tipped me over my budget for this month. I know I’m going to be employed by HIAS soon (co-writing my job description next), and I might even officially be a HIAS person by the time I make this trip, hopefully along with the FRA and ECRE fact-finding mission to Chios and Samos, but I doubt any money will come through from NY in time for me to go to Chios on Friday.

HIAS is a refugee legal aid NGO from America, with operations in 14 countries and an implementing partner for the USA resettlement programme through UNHCR. It’s a Jewish organisation, founded in 1881 in the USA, originally was for Jews escaping persecution in Europe, but now serves any human person in the same sort of situation – http://www.hias.org/

Specifically what I plan to do in Chios next week and the week after:

  • Help physically set up the information tent – I’m not sure whether to take my power tools as well as my legal textbooks, but I have both here;
  • Try to set up a psychosocially safe, private and dignified environment in which to ask people to recall what happened to make them flee their homes and countries;
  • Discuss with them through the Guide I’ve prepared on how to prepare for asylum interviews, clarify their answers with them, and write down their statements ready for them to take in with them to their interviews (this should assist both the refugees and EASO/ the Greek Asylum Service, making the process both fairer and more efficient for everyone).
  • If there’s enough time, practice mock interviews with people.
  • Connect people whose cases I can’t deal with as a non-lawyer to the network of pro bono refugee legal aid lawyers I’m in contact with now, across NGOs.
  • Get a more detailed realistic sense of what’s needed and what works, to feed into the design of the HIAS Greece legal aid programme.

What I have already done to prepare:

  • I initially compiled and continue to develop a recommended reading list for non-EU trained lawyers and for non-legally trained volunteers to prepare themselves to to accurately inform refugees about their rights and current Greek asylum procedures legal information sources;
  • I am developing the “Information Point for Refugee Legal Support Volunteers” to become an independent coordinating forum, across NGOs and volunteers, like Information Point for Lesvos Volunteers, and like the many other independent coordinating discussion groups on Facebook which have enabled the volunteer movement to grow and gradually become more efficient in the long-term.
  • I’ve produced a guide: How to Prepare for Your Asylum Interviews
    (N.B., list of caveats: I am publishing this just as me, not as a HIAS publication, because I sincerely believe the people who need it can’t wait weeks for official checking and sign-off. I have met too many refugees now who are feeling suicidally desperate or turning to smugglers again because of lack of adequate legal information which could give them back at least some predictability and control about their own future. I am not a qualified lawyer, as most of you probably know, just a biologist. I have checked it with one professor of EU law and Human Rights, handed a paper copy to one professor of refugee law asking her to check it for accuracy, a Greek asylum expert lawyer has agreed to check it next week for completeness and accuracy about the current Greek implementation system (I can’t read Greek yet and the official translations by UNHCR into English of the new Greek legislation have not been published yet), two very experienced refugee communications volunteers, one Arabic translator, have given me many amendments to improve the readability and translate-ability, and I have integrated all their comments. Of course, any errors that remain are my responsibility.
    I am reasonably very confident now after nearly two weeks checking and editing that there are no gross legal inaccuracies, but I admit it can still be made more accessible and easier to translate, so more feedback on that aspect would be very welcome.)

 

This is definitely stretching the original scope of what CK Team was about – I leave it up to you whether you think that’s ok. If you want your donation to be earmarked for one project or area of work or another, you can leave a comment to that effect on the online donation page.

http://mydonate.bt.com/fundraisers/ckteam

 

First three weeks back in Lesvos

Apologies for such a long delay in writing any update!

I’ve felt most unsettled and wondering what to do next for the past three weeks. HIAS has not yet hit the ground, CK Team is in an transition phase because we used to do mainly transportation and landing response but there has only been one landing in our area in the last three weeks. What’s needed now is much more politically complicated and much less physical, so it’s been slow to get going.

I’ve been attending all the Legal Aid Coordination and UNHCR Protection meetings, which have been very interesting, preparing information materials for HIAS and discussing what form the client information database should take, some bits of guerilla legal information provision at the fence in Moria and writing down bitlinks to legal information for refugees in Kara Tepe because they really don’t get any adequate legal information otherwise but I don’t yet have official permission to do so.

At last I have found something concrete to do in between the bits of HIAS preparation work until Pare arrives and HIAS Greece is established on the ground: from tomorrow on I’ll be volunteering most daytimes in MSF Mantamados camp contributing to activities for 170 unaccompanied minors (teenagers, 14-17). I’m hoping I’ll get a chance to do some science lessons (there are proper qualified and experienced teachers designing the activities and education programme), in response to whatever the teenagers want to learn about, but I would love to break out a drawing of the electrical formulae wheel and my older brother’s visual analogy (this is how he explained it to me when I was revising for physics gcse, and it made so much sense to me suddenly at last that I’ve remembered it ever since): a drawing of a waterfall and a dam to illustrate what the four electrical quantities mean. I drew these on the wall in the childrens’ tent in Moria before when I went to go and fix their lights and worked out they’d fried their lights by mistaking charge capacity for voltage, so fixed their lights and then left them with a physics lesson on the wall too. This will be until I have enough HIAS work to do to fill my days.

I’m also hoping to go to a conference this weekend in Mytilene called: “The European Refugee Crisis: Liberal Answers to Challenges on Sea” organised by the European Liberal Forum, and then going to Athens for another conference on Monday convened by the Greek Asylum Service “The Future of Asylum in Europe” https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B2Q3UFiMZDTpamw2bG4xTFRZWTg/view I didn’t expect to be going to conferences this time, but it seems like a good way to make contacts which may be useful for HIAS Greece work.

I recommend this JRS Europe policy and legal analysis of the EU-Turkey Statement – http://jrseurope.org/news_detail?TN=NEWS-20160503033549

 

Here’s a summary of the situation I wrote a few days ago:

Lack of legal information – only very basic information is presented, too briefly and infrequently, so in my experience no-one I’ve spoken to really had a clue about the legal context they’re in, and no-one is remotely adequately prepared with legal advice for their interviews.

Because first instance asylum decisions are treated as administrative decisions, there are no published verdicts, so no systematic monitoring is possible, so there could be very wide variations in quality of decision making between Examining Officers, we’ve heard of some really bad cases of misleading questioning leading to unbelievably unfair decisions, but we can’t possibly know how common those are or assess generally how realistic or fair the processes or decisions are. I believe asylum decisions are inherently a judicial matter, not an executive or administrative matter, and are only being legally treated as administrative decisions as a method of precluding any independent systematic monitoring or public transparency about how realistic and fair asylum decisions are.

Admissibility interviews before substantive interviews, as allowed by Article 33 of the APD2013, are being carried out here. Most people receiving rejection decisions in the first instance administrative decision are receiving decisions of inadmissibility, which means their claim is considered inadmissible in Greece since they could have had or did have sufficient protection in Turkey. This is usually based on presuming Turkey to be a Safe Third Country (alternatively, if someone had previously registered for Temporary Protection Status in Turkey then the authorities could apply First Country of Asylum as a basis for a decision of inadmissibility), as defined by Article 38 of the APD, which is completely implausible as Turkey does not remotely objectively meet any of the legal criteria in Article 38(1) of the APD2013 for that designation. I have heard that over 100 decisions of inadmissibility have been issued, mostly to Syrians, because Syrians can get Temporary Protection Status in Turkey, so it is marginally more plausible to claim Turkey could be a Safe Third Country for them, all have appealed, some so far have received positive decisions on appeal.

Two key requirements of the legal definition of a Safe Third Country are that there must be no risk of refoulement and that the returnees who have not had their substantive claims assessed in the second country must be guaranteed to have their substantive claims properly assessed in the third country. The EU is relying for evidence in support of the presumption of Safe Third Country status for Turkey on Turkish assurances on these two points in an unpublished letter sent on the 26th April, despite the facts Turkey has never yet actually done what it has promised specifically not to refoul anyone and to allow non-Syrians returned from Greece to have their substantive claims properly assessed and to receive Temporary Protection Status if their claims are found to be true and match the criteria for Temporary Protection Status, which should be equivalent to Refugee Status, and I have seen evidence in nine cases that Turkey has in fact continued doing the very opposite since it signed and sent that letter of assurances. Promises in an unpublished letter with no evidence of application in practice yet and a track record of doing the opposite in large numbers of cases cannot reasonably count as evidence to outweigh the evidence of actual refoulement in thousands of cases, the Turkish governor of Izmir having publicly stated that non-Syrians returned from Greece would be immediately deported to their countries of origin, that having been documented as what has actually happened by Turkish human rights organisations in hundreds of cases of Afghans refouled from Turkey, and continuing denial of access to substantive asylum claim assessment and refoulement even since (26/4) the Turkish government made assurances that it would do the opposite.

What is the constitutional legal status of the EU-Turkey Statement? The European Parliament has officially asked this question of the European Council, to explain what it thinks it has done. The EU-Turkey deal has only been published as a Press Statement, but it clearly has had legal effects, i.e. it is functioning as legislation, yet it has not gone through any constitutionally valid legislative process. If the European Council considers it not legally binding or not to have legal effects, then does Turkey know this? If it is intended to have legal effects, why did it not go through the Special Legislative Process required by Article 90 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, which requires at least the consent of the European Parliament before the European Council concludes an international treaty on matters including asylum and migration policy? Additionally, if it is functioning as an international treaty, why has it not been registered with the United Nations, as required by Article 103 of the UN Charter? If the letter of assurances by Turkey that was required to make the implementation of the return of non-Syrian asylum seekers to Turkey legal is functioning as a legally binding contract between States, i.e. an international treaty, is that a secret treaty, since it remains unpublished, which would contravene Article 103 of the UN Charter in another way, as well as it being unregistered with the UN. The EU-Turkey deal has in fact directed changes in domestic legislation in multiple EU countries now, so it is clearly functioning as a Council Decision, but has not gone through any of the constitutionally valid legislative processes, so if it is an international treaty, it could be invalid because of being contracted by a State party acting ultra vires, and it could also be invalid ab initio if it in practice violates a peremptory norm of international law, namely non-refoulement, and if it is presented as a Council Decision, it could be invalid because it has not gone through any form of legislative process involving the consent of the European Parliament, as required by the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.

I since found this- http://eulawanalysis.blogspot.gr/2016/04/is-eu-turkey-refugee-and-migration-deal.html?m=1 which raises the same questions but better. f

Positive alternative proposals

A lot has happened the last few days. Even after the first batch of deportations this morning, it’s still not clear what the government is actually doing.

The Greek Europe Minister, Nikos Xydakis said:
“Deportations in the immediate future will be limited to those have agreed voluntarily to return to Turkey.”

in comments to the Guardian, in the best piece of investigative journalism on EU-Turkey deal since it happened.

Patrick Kingsley, EU-Turkey refugee deal: staff shortages and rights concerns pose twin threat, The Guardian, 1st April 2016.

What governments are still obfuscating about is:

  1. Voluntary deportations – if they are voluntary, why do they need one Frontex guard per deportee plus riot police? If there is nothing shameful about what they’re doing, why screen the whole operation from media with tarps? Why are lawyers being excluded, and why have EASO left the detention centres along with UNHCR?
    http://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/apr/04/first-moves-to-deport-refugees-from-greece-to-turkey-underway
  2. Greek and EU officials claim that the people being deported this week have not asked for or applied for international protection – but this is not what the people themselves are saying to volunteers who can still get in or who are still in contact with them by phone (despite Greek police stopping refugees from buying phone credit top-ups or new SIM cards, which has been allowed for the last year) and threatening volunteers with arrest on the mere suspicion that they even might be bringing phone credit vouchers in to give to the refugees. Volunteers on Chios reported yesterday that Greek officials had ripped down Greek Asylum Service information posters put up by UNHCR. That shows deliberate intention to prevent persons likely to be in need of international protection from being informed or enabled to access the asylum procedures, contrary to Article 6 of the Asylum Procedures Directive 2013.
  3. At various points there’ve been fleeting mentions of ‘inadmissibility’, which implies presuming Turkey to be a Safe Third Country or First Country of Asylum, which is not remotely plausibly objectively true, i.e. it does not meet any of the five criteria in Article 38(1) of the Asylum Procedures Directive 2013. The Greek parliament voted last Wednesday on legislation which transposed the conditions to presumptively designate countries so according to Article 38(1) of the Asylum Procedures Directive 2013 into Greek law. We still do not know whether they intend to or have actually started rejecting claims based on presuming Turkey to be a Safe Third Country or First Country of Asylum. We hoped we’d know for definite one way or the other after the legislation last week, but Greek officials correctly said that presumptions of safe country status should be examined on an individual basis, but that means it’s even harder to know how they’re applying it in individuals cases.

Overall I think the cumulative evidence that the incoherence and un-clarity, which could have just been ineptitude at first, is really a deliberate obfuscation tactic to try to get away with establishing illegality in practice by making reassuring claims without substantiating them or allowing independent monitoring and pretending the complete opposite of what is actually happening is now overwhelming, beyond reasonable doubt.

In response to volunteers getting organised to observe and record the first deportations this morning, Greek and EU officials started at 3am instead of the pre-announced 8:30am and strung up tarps, which of course only made it even more suspicious.

There’s a lot of despair around this week. My friend Ariel Ricker described watching the boats of returned migrants arriving in Dikili in Turkey this morning:

Flipping over some memories of these past 10 months of all kinds of refugee aid and crisis, this is without a doubt the absolute shittiest I’ve felt.

This place is teeming with police, medics, locals, reporters, but everyone is silent, only an occasional newscaster speaking into his camera.

There is bright sun, stunning blue and green of the sea, and quietly expensive cafes around. It’s the frame of perfect human peace. But this is the shittiest I’ve felt in a very, very long time.

The refugees don’t resist, the guards don’t shove, the police don’t yell. No one speaks unless necessary, even the usual journalist gossip and chatter is muted.

Everyone is miserable. Everyone is devastated at this absolute failure of a system to respect human dignity, human life. And the heaviness of this failure hangs over every individual crowded here on the rocks.

I feel like I’ve failed each of these people, there’s no apology ever good enough.

God, I’ve been watching this horror for three hours and it’s the most gut wrenching, God awful three hours in my memory.

I think this is the toughest moment, to remember I have a job here – apologizing isn’t enough. This situation is not over yet. I’m a lawyer and it’s time for the best lawyering maybe I’ll ever have to do.

When policy fails, law and its adherents must step up. Apologies just aren’t enough… because tomorrow, even more ships will arrive.

There are comprehensive sets of better alternative practical proposals, but quite rightly, they’re complex, systematically radically different, meticulously researched, evidenced and reasoned, so selling them to the public is going to be a long hard slog.

EU scale solutions:

European Parliament Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs, report and complete alternative set of proposals, they have an 8 point summary of their proposals: www.europarl.europa.eu/committees/en/libe/subject-files.html?id=20151019CDT00421

Leaked probably-or-almost-final version: statewatch.org/news/2016/mar/eu-ep-libe-report-situation-in-the-mediterranean-03-16.pdf

The proposals are pp.13-31, evidence supporting the proposals pp.1-13, and pp.32-79 is comments, amendments and votes (massively in favour) by other European parliamentary committees of MEPs.

I think this set of proposals is excellent. I haven’t yet found any problem with them. The problem is getting them into the mainstream public discourse.

More detail on the proposal for a centralised Common European Asylum System run by EASO – http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?type=IM-PRESS&reference=20160315IPR19462&language=EN&format=XML to put an end to the Tragedy of the Commons situation with some EU member states free-riding and abusing the Dublin System more than others, and to ensure better protection of refugees.

The European Parliament tends to be the best and the least powerful part of the EU political system, despite the fact it’s the directly elected legislative assembly so it really ought to be the most powerful part. It was the European Council of heads of government which decided on the ‘EU-Turkey deal’, which in my view is intrinsically more a legislative than an executive matter, so it is really an  ultra vires (acting beyond its proper role) affront to the separation of powers that the European Council did this.

Global scale solutions

Global solutions to a global refugee crisis  – https://opendemocracy.net/openglobalrights/james-c-hathaway/global-solution-to-global-refugee-crisis which is a relatively short summary of –

Making International Refugee Law Relevant Again: A Proposal for Collectivized and Solution-Oriented Protection,  James C. Hathaway & R. Alexander Neve, 1997 http://repository.law.umich.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2621&context=articles

These proposals would provide much more effective humanitarian protection for refugees and also cost less. As far as I can see, the only major obstacle is massive public ignorance.

So far I’ve only read pp.13-31 of the LIBE proposals and the summary article on the global solution proposals, but hope to print them and take with me to read more thoroughly on the plane to Izmir and then ferry to Lesvos. I was really excited by the LIBE proposals, so I’m sure I’ll write more about them when I’ve read them again more carefully and probably discussed more with Ariel.

Prophecy of justice

Perfect justice is coming, but it is manifesting gradually, because in order to become perfect among us justice has to be realised by just means, without coercion of those who do not yet understand and consent to its end, its telos.

Melius enim iudicavit de malis benefacere, quam mala nulla esse permittere.
He judged it better to bring goodness out of evil than not to permit evil to exist in the first place.” (Augustine of Hippo)

Justice without the freedom to err and freely to return would not be consistent with where true justice comes from, “justice is what love looks like acting in public” (Cornel West), nor would it achieve its end and purpose “when truth and mercy will kiss, justice and peace will embrace” (Ps85:10).

I believe in natural justice, but also in law posited and established by general consent. I believe the two are not really essentially incompatible theories of law, because natural justice is the source and the end, socially posited law is the means and the way, but the means and way of realising justice socially and in the world has to be consistent with its source and goal, or else it would not really be itself.

Never ever despair.

Parliamentary Q&As on Asylum by my MP

I consider myself very fortunate to have Thangam Debbonaire as my MP, and she also happens to be chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Refugees. She has asked 70 parliamentary questions so far this term, at least 16 of which related to refugees, despite having six months off work for cancer treatment: Parliamentary written Q&As by Thangam Debbonaire MP. I have started suggesting some questions and providing her with info from the frontlines of the volunteer network.

(re. previous correspondence, a suggested parliamentary question: how is the term “individual assessments” promised in the EU-Turkey deal being interpreted? Are these individual assessments examining admissibility first on the basis of a sham designation of Turkey as a Safe Third Country or an effective First Country of Asylum (terms defined in Article 38(1) of the Asylum Procedures Directive 2013) or are they really assessing individual substantive claims for protection?”)

sorry, I have since read this- http://www.tovima.gr/en/article/?aid=788133
So it seems this question will be answered publicly by the Greek parliament soon.
Time taken for those who are ultimately recognised as having refugee status to be assessed and accepted by the UK asylum system 

(re. previous correspondence: “Suggested brief wording of the question: “Can the Home Office minister please provide the statistical data to enable a proper analysis of the overall time taken in recognising asylum seekers with refugee status, including mean average time from first application to recognition and acceptance of the asylum seeker as having refugee status, the interquartile and max+min range, and as much as possible breakdown of these statistics by nationalities, genders and, if possible, which of the five reasons for persecution the asylum seeker claimed asylum on the basis of, for those whose claims were ultimately found to be valid, whether by the ministry or by the judiciary, in the years 2014 and 2015?” )

The Home Office’s published data below only show proportions recognised and rejected overall, but not the time taken for those ultimately successful cases to be recognised overall.


I also started reading some of your parliamentary Q&As and following the links to the data tables –
NATO participation in returning ‘irregular migrants’ who may in fact have refugee status when apprehended in Turkish territorial waters to Turkey and how will this not be an illegal push-back under Article 31 of the Geneva Convention 1951. 
This is a question I’m still reading up on together with Ariel Ricker: How close to the EU external border do you have to be to count as ‘at’ the border and for it to be illegal to push you back without first allowing you access to asylum procedures? Prima facie refugee status can legally be presumed positively but not negatively.
I’m quite shocked at how government ministers respond with totally irrelevant fobbing-off answers even to an MP acting as the chair of an APPG asking parliamentary written questions about the subject of the APPG. That seems like an abuse of process which the Speaker ought to intervene in.
“The choice of destination will be guided by international law and consideration for the safety of the migrants”
That’s a total non-answer! I understand that interpreting maritime law,  where the contested Greek-Turkish territorial waters boundary ‘really’ is, and combining that with fulfilling Article 31 of the Geneva Convention 1951 is complicated, it would probably require a maritime law specialist, an asylum law specialist and an international boundary disputes specialist to be able to interpret the law on that reliably, but between the FCO and the Home Office they surely already keep those lawyers in house. And as they are already applying the policy they are obliged to know whether it is legal first. If they haven’t done that due diligence of checking whether their policy proposal would be legal then that would appear to be grounds for an administrative judicial review. If they have done the legal due diligence then they should have replied with that report attached.
What is supposed to happen when ministers respond with totally irrelevant fobbing-off answers even to MPs through the parliamentary questions procedure?
Transit Visas for Syrians 
Those figures are outrageous! They know perfectly well transit visas will be used by Syrians to access the border and claim asylum at the border – as is their absolute human right, and that is the only plausible reason why they have reduced the numbers of transit visas granted while the need for access to asylum was becoming more severe. If they will not even allow people to claim asylum *at the border* legally and safely using a regular flight and paying their own way, then to effectively penalise asylum seekers for illegal entrance, which is anyway illegal under Article 31 of the Geneva Convention 1951 (http://www.unhcr.org/3bcfdf164.pdf), is also ‘a case [which] ought not to be heard from one who relies on the facts of his own guilt to accuse another’ (nemo auditur propriam turpitudinem allegans).
UK asylum claims rejected and returned to ‘Safe Third Countries’ 
Which countries are they counting as having ‘Safe Third Country’ status there? I checked the data table referred to, it doesn’t say in the data table the government’s answer referred to – https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/immigration-statistics-october-to-december-2015/asylum
For any country to be legally designated a Safe Third Country it must objectively fulfil the five criteria in Article 38(1) of the Asylum Procedures Directive 2013. If EU law, in particular the Common European Asylum System, was applied consistently, then all EU countries would automatically fulfil Article 38(1), but since that is obviously very far from being the case, it is not reasonable to presume that countries such as Bulgaria and Hungary objectively meet the conditions in Article 38(1). If, despite being designated a Third Safe Country or First Country of Asylum, the country to which an asylum seeker is returned from the UK does not objectively meet the criteria, then that would be refoulement. The law on presumptions of safety about third countries is not a matter of government fiat but of objectivity. They cannot just deem objective reality to be different because they would like it to be.
Apologies for the length of my email.

booked my return to Lesvos

My whole to-do list now has a deadline – I just booked my flight to return to Lesvos via Izmir on the 9th. If I get the MSc place I’m interviewing for on the 7th then I’ll stay volunteering in Lesvos til it’s time to return and move to Uppsala in Autumn, or if not then longer.

Flying back via Izmir is less than half the price and I get to hangout with Ariel Ricker​ and her cats for the weekend and geek out over EU Directives and UNHCR background notes together. B-)

I’ll be re-joining CK Team Lesvos Refugees​ as much as they want me, and hopefully, if the grant application I’m drafting part of now for Pare Gerou​ is successful, then when not busy with CK Team (refugees mostly arrive 1-8am and we’re usually done by midday ish), then assisting a new HIAS (www.hias.org) legal support team in Lesvos.

We have a new fundraising page thanks to Help Refugees​ which will save 26% on all donations compared to gofundme by avoiding crowdfunding fees and automatically gaining Gift Aid, and I’m working on setting up TransferWise and then a Greek bank account so we avoid almost all of the foreign bank transfer and currency exchange fees too. Saving about 30% on all donations long-term may hopefully add up to a Toyota Hilux which will then save us 1050 per month on vehicle hire costs (if that many vehicles are still needed then). https://mydonate.bt.com/fundraisers/ckteam

My living expenses are covered because I’m renting out my house, some friends I volunteered with before have offered to sponsor me, plus friends in Kleio have offered to host me, so my living and basic working expenses (mainly my contribution to the team’s shared vehicles costs) are already covered, so this money is going to CK Team funds which mainly go on transporting refugees from rocky remote landing points in the north-east of Lesvos, between Korakas and Palios, safely up to Borderlines Europe welcome and transit centre, the ‘RefuCheese Factory’, in Kleio, or directly to MSF transit camp at Mantamados.

You can see the whole range of what CK Team has done so far here- https://www.facebook.com/theckteamrefugeeslesvos/?fref=photo

My main write-up of the month I was volunteering in Lesvos with CK Team before over Christmas is here – https://kesterratcliff.wordpress.com/2016/02/28/ten-personal-encounters-with-refugees-on-lesvos/