Fast-Track Deportations of MigrantsAre ‘Safe’ Countries Really Safe Countries?
Media reports that people will face fast-tracked deportations to countries considered safe missed one big question: are these countries, in fact, safe? Sian Norris reports
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When The Times reported on 28 November that the Government was planning to resurrect the so-called ‘white list’ – the countries it considers safe to fast-track deportations of migrant people and people seeking asylum – there was one question that remained unanswered: are these countries, in fact, safe?
The Home Office was swift to point out that no policy was being resurrected and that there has long been a list of designated countries which are considered safe – as opposed to countries, for example, which are designated as having human rights concerns.
It also is clear that asylum claims are decided on a case-by-case basis, with the onus on the person seeking asylum to evidence why they are not safe in their country of origin.
A Home Office spokesperson said that “asylum claims from countries deemed safe are considered in the same way as any other” but that they are “presumed to be clearly unfounded unless proved otherwise by the applicant with evidence put forward via interview or other means”.
“As a result of the Nationality and Borders Act, the effect of certifying a claim as clearly unfounded from 28 June 2022 is that there is no right of appeal, for claims before this there is only an out of country right of appeal,” they added.
But what does it mean for a country to be safe? Is any country safe for every citizen? And what are the threats to human rights in countries which might not be designated as of concern but where individuals may face persecution, violence, even armed conflict?
The online news website National World listed the countries on the so-called ‘white list’ as Albania, Jamaica, Macedonia, Moldova, Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, South Africa, India, Mongolia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Mauritius, Montenegro, Peru, Serbia, Kosovo and South Korea. The list also includes countries considered safe to deport men: Ghana, Nigeria, Gambia, Kenya, Liberia, Malawi, Mali, and Sierra Leone.
Byline Times now asks: what does it mean for a country to be ‘safe’?
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Safe for Who?
The inclusion of countries such as Mali, Brazil, Albania and India on the white list are clear instances where countries deemed to be ‘safe’ are experiencing multiple human rights issues.
Mali – which is listed as a country for fast-track deportations of men only – has been engaged in a violent and bloody conflict since 2012.
In the decade since, military forces and armed groups have continued to commit human rights violations and abuses against civilians, including war crimes. Extrajudicial killings are common, and as recently as this summer, 51 civilians were murdered by Islamic State for Greater Sahara.
In April, accounts emerged of Malian troops and suspected Russian mercenaries killing approximately 300 people in Moura, in Mali’s central region. Human Rights Watch described the incident as a “deliberate slaughter” of people detained in the town.
The UN recorded that 600 civilians were killed in the fighting last year. Deaths have not slowed down – data from the charity Action on Armed Violence found that, in 2022, 195 people had been killed by an IED or mine.
While it is clear that Mali’s status as a safe country is debatable, making it easier to fast track deportations of men back to the country would have little impact on overall asylum figures.
In the past year, Home Office data shows that there were 10 applications of which one was refused, two were withdrawn, and seven were granted leave to remain. Of these, three were female, and four were male.
Alongside Mali as a safe country for men were other sub-Saharan African countries such as Kenya, Gambia, Malawi, Sierra Leone and Nigeria.
There are significant human rights concerns in all countries, including in Kenya where the police were recently found to have unlawfully killed 167 people.
Last year in Nigeria, more than 3,494 people died in inter-communal violence and bandit attacks, and more than 5,290 people were abducted for ransom by bandits and other gunmen. Human rights charity Amnesty International has raised concerns about violations of rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly and association.
In the third quarter of this year, the Government granted asylum to 12 Nigerian nationals, as well as other forms of leave to remain to a further seven. Four of those granted asylum were male, including two under-18s.
As in Kenya and Nigeria, extrajudicial killings are common in Brazil, with police violence in the ‘war on drugs’ killing 6,416 people in 2020. More than half of the victims were black men.
The country has high rates of gender-based violence and feminicida, although the white list considers it safe for both men and women. Human rights defenders and environmental campaigners are targeted with violence – with those wishing to repress human rights emboldened by four years of far-right rule by former President Jair Bolsanaro. One female under-18 was granted asylum from Brazil between June and September 2022.
Although India’s human rights record had been improving for decades, recent sectarian violence has provoked concern from international human rights observers. There has been widespread violence against students by nationalist groups, and the Muslim minority has seen their properties and livelihoods destroyed in the face of rising Hindu nationalism.
Rates of gender-based violence remain high. Women have in the past been able to claim asylum from the country on the basis of men’s violence, including domestic abuse and so-called honour violence. A man and a woman were granted asylum in quarter three of this year.
Stopping the Crossings?
The inclusion of Albania on the list as a country where it is safe to deport people is also controversial, not least because currently 55% of those seeking asylum from the country are granted leave to remain.
Albania has a reputation of being Europe’s only ‘narcostate’, with issues around drug gangs and corruption, human trafficking, and blood feuds. While it has been defended by those who seek to deport Albanian nationals from the UK as a holiday resort which is part of NATO, the UK Government’s own country notes state that “Albania is a source country for the trafficking of women, men and children to other European countries, including the UK”.
It adds that “much of Albanian society is governed by a strict code of honour which not only means that trafficked women would have very considerable difficulty in reintegrating into their home areas on return but also will affect their ability to relocate internally. Those who have children outside marriage are particularly vulnerable”.
The Albanian Ambassador Qirjako Qirko told UK Parliament that his is a “safe country“.
Fast-tracking Albanian migrants for deportation is seen as a way to meet rising public anger about Channel crossings. This year, Albanian people made up the majority of those successfully attempting the dangerous journey for the first time. Previously, Iranians made up the largest cohort of Channel crossings.
Seven of the eight nationalities of those who arrive in the UK via the Channel come from countries that are listed by the UK Government as a place of “human rights concerns” – i.e. they are not considered ‘safe’. They are Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Eritrea, Sudan and Egypt. People from these countries make up 60% of Channel arrivals.