EMBARGO : Friday, JUNE 19TH 00.01 AM
The Society of Black Lawyers and Association of Muslim Lawyers have assembled a delegation of 12 lawyers, jurists and doctors to visit the migrant camps in Lampedusa and Sicily from June 21st to 24th to investigate the migrant crisis currently unfolding in the Mediterranean and meet all engaged parties, with a view to preparing a report for dissemination to the UNHCR, UK Government, EU Commissioners and the OECD.
The Mission expects to interview up to 100 migrants over the four days and meet with local leaders including the Mayors of Catania and Lampedusa, as well as a number of interested organisations such as Save the Children, the Italian Red Cross and the Italian Migrant Lawyers Group. A subsequent visit to Calais will take place in September 2015.
Recent reports in the media have highlighted the grave humanitarian catastrophe and the wanton loss of life in the Mediterranean; a direct result of the imploding migrant crises which the EU appear to have turned a blind eye to, and Italy have been left to grapple with singlehandedly.
In light of the above, the Mission is extremely concerned about the unpalatable rhetoric emanating from a number of EU states that have declared that migrants should and will be forcibly returned to their ports of origin. The Mission considers this stance to be wholly unlawful and completely contrary to the ECHR decision in Hirsi Jamaa and Others v Italy  (Application No 27765/09, 23 February 2012) which declared that forced returns or “push backs” are illegal.
The Mission also notes the UK Government’s show of shameful indifference by refusing to provide shelter to 1400 “unaccompanied minors” that were identified by Save The Children, and the recent announcement that HMS Bulwark will be pulled out of the Mediterranean after only three weeks.
It is clearly unsurprising that the international migrant crisis has grown dramatically, considering the punitive policies adopted by EU member states and the EU decision to withdraw funding for “Operation Mare Nostrum”, which has led to the deaths of hundreds of migrants off the Libyan coast. Over 1800 migrants are reported to have drowned in 2015 alone, while those that make it to shore are the subject of harsh and demeaning treatment. Many of the migrants being held by the Austrian authorities at Bolzano and the French at Ventimiglia are deemed to be in appalling circumstances that represent a moral and political failure by Europe to address the crisis.
There appears to be little acknowledgement that the civil war in Libya destabilised the region and made the situation a desperate fight for survival for thousands of migrants, as the allied intervention, which has deepened over the last four years, saw the rebel Government “Libya Dawn” controlling the East and the capital Tripoli with the “House of Representatives” based in Benghazi in the West fighting a war against a range of militias including the Islamic State and others.
SBL and AML are vehemently opposed to the forced return of migrants to this dangerous environment as proposed by The Home Secretary, Theresa May and considers the position of the UK government to be inhuman and contrary to the basic principles of international refugee law under the 1951 Geneva Convention.
Recent statistics suggest that over 60,000 migrants have arrived since the start of 2015 with possibly another 250,000 stuck in Libya living in abject poverty or held in appalling conditions awaiting the chance to escape to Europe at any cost. These individuals are often threatened with violence and intimidation, with trafficking gangs using increasingly brutal methods to extort money from those fleeing the civil war, poverty or persecution in their country of origin.
Whilst the Italian, Greek and Maltese Governments have responded with compassion, the United Kingdom and France in particular have been resolute in their refusal to take in any refugees. To date, Germany has taken in over 40,000 migrants, whilst the UK Government appears to be hiding behind its aid budget and continues to make pronouncements that suggest a “laissez faire” attitude to the entire debacle. This is simply unacceptable.
SBL and AML support the stance of the Italian Government in threatening to issue emergency travel documents to those seeking asylum if Europe refuses to do more to help. The SBL and AML also endorse intoto the recommendations published by Amnesty International to deal with the worldwide refugee crisis. We are as concerned about the situation in Syria where only 23% of promised UN aid has arrived and the lack of support for Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey who currently have 4.5 million refugees between them.
Note for editors:
- The SBL, founded in 1973 by Rudy Narayan and Sigbat Khadri Q.C. is the oldest and one of the foremost Black Lawyers group in the UK and represents lawyers of African, Caribbean and Asian origin as well as Judges, Magistrates, Academics, Paralegals and Law Students. SBL has represented people of colour from the Handsworth disturbances to the streets of Soweto having had the late President Nelson Mandela as its patron. www.blacklawyer.org.uk
- The AML is the largest organisation of Muslim lawyers in Europe, established in 1995, and based in the UK, with social justice objectives including representing those in need and being a voice for the oppressed, having led delegations to Bosnia, Palestine and Gaza to highlight human rights abuses. www.aml.org.uk
- In April and May 2015 the SBL reported the Sun journalist Katie Hopkins, the Sun Newspaper Editor, David Dinsmore, Rupert Murdoch and Ashley Tabor, the owner of Global Radio to the Metropolitan Police for Incitement to Racial Hatred and to the International Criminal Court for Incitement to Persecution as a Crime against humanity for making a number of derogatory and racist remarks including referring to migrants as “cockroaches”.
- A lesson from history: 13th May 1939, the SS St Louis carrying Jewish refugees was turned away by President Roosevelt fearing a potential “flood” of immigrants. The ship returned to Bremen where subsequently 250 died in the death camps. (The Holocaust Museum, Washington DC).
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