“WE WANT FREEDOM” Alice Wanju-Maina being held in solitary confinement

July 18, 2015 by  
Filed under Indefinite detention, News, What can you do

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2015 June 6 YarlswoodEmergency campaign from Black Women’s Rape Action Project: A woman in Yarl’s Wood IRC has been put in solitary confinement for refusing to remove a t-shirt with the slogan: “We want freedom”.

Alice Wanja-Maina was ordered this morning to take off the T-shirt by officer James Brown who claimed that the Home Office had told Serco to stop women wearing the T-shirts because it “incites” them.  Ms JS who witnessed the incident said that six guards surrounded Ms Wanja-Maina and she was videoed.  When Ms Wanja-Maina was threatened with being taken to the punishment wing (Kingfisher) she took all her clothes off to protest. She had written “freedom” on her body too. Read more

Home Office has been ‘egregious and cynical’ on question of child asylum seekers

July 17, 2015 by  
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2015 July 16 AfganistanCOMMENT Home Office has been ‘egregious and cynical’ on question of child asylum seekers, says UK academic

 by Dr Liza Schuster 

Dr Liza Schuster, a sociology academic at City University currently working in Afghanistan

According to work by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism published today, more than 600 former unaccompanied asylum seeking children have been sent back to Afghanistan since 2009 – their claims and appeals rejected. Read more

The millionaire who rescues migrants at sea Appalled by migrant deaths in the Mediterranean, Chris Catrambone bought a boat and launched his own rescue mission. But as he discovered, there are pitfalls to going it alone

July 14, 2015 by  
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guardian_logo1In late June 2013, Christopher Catrambone, a garrulous 31-year-old American entrepreneur who had spent almost a decade travelling the world to build a multimillion-dollar company, decided to take a break. Tangiers Group, which Catrambone runs with his Italian wife Regina, provides insurance in conflict zones – to US military subcontractors, NGO workers, journalists and missionaries, among others. The business, rooted in such war-wrecked countries as Iraq and Afghanistan, was flourishing. But that summer, Catrambone decided, the company could take care of itself for three weeks.

Catrambone and Regina, along with Regina’s teenage daughter Maria Luisa, set off from their home on the Mediterranean island of Malta, aboard a glistening white 24-metre chartered motor yacht with Burmese teak decking and varnished Tanganyika walnut joinery. As they motored out of Valetta’s spectacular Grand Harbour – past the Che Guevara 2, a sleek 30-metre super-yacht that belonged to the family of the deposed Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi – a Maltese armed forces veteran, Marco Cauchi, was at the wheel, and an old friend of Catrambone’s, the Texan chef Simon Templer, was there to cook and have a holiday. “I love going out on these yearly cruises with my family,” Catrambone said. “We can’t escape each other and get on our iPhones.”

Malta, one of the European Union’s most southerly points, was an ideal starting place for a three-week cruise to Tunisia and along the coast of Sicily, not far from Calabria, the southern toe of Italy. This is where Catrambone met Regina nine years ago. He had gone to search for his family roots in the place his great-grandfather left for America in the early 19th century, and ended up living down the road from Regina’s mother.

On 7 July, they sailed away from Lampedusa, a small Italian island south-west of Malta that lies even closer to North Africa. A business meeting in Tunisia prevented them staying to see Pope Francis celebrate a mass on the island,devoted to the migrants who made the dangerous crossing to southern Europe from Libya in cheap inflatable motorboats and rickety fishing vessels. Some 500 had drowned en route in 2012 alone. Pope Francis lambasted the rich world for its indifference to other people’s suffering: “It doesn’t affect us. It doesn’t interest us. It’s not our business.”

As they headed south, Regina spotted a beige winter jacket bobbing in the water. Cauchi, who had once run Malta’s maritime search and rescue operations, told her it may have come from a sunken migrant boat. Such tragedies were not new, and only a few months later, the pope’s warnings would be confirmed yet again, when 380 refugees – many from Syria and Eritrea – drowned over the course of only eight days, most within a quarter-mile of Lampedusa. Migrant deaths became an obsessive topic of conversation on the yacht, and Catrambone, typically, found himself looking for a solution. “It makes you think like: ‘Wow! Look at me out here cruising on my boat, at the same time people are out there dying,” he said. “So our heaven is their hell, right? Our paradise is their hell.”

Catrambone’s business includes, he says, both caring for “heroic” wounded conflict-zone workers (including multiple amputees) and being part of the “financial arm of war”. He is coy about his worth, but Bloomberg reports he made his first $10m by the age of 30. His company covers everything from healthcare to emergency evacuations to kidnapping, while Catrambone styles himself “a humanitarian, entrepreneur and adventurer”. Friends describe him as a compulsive, energetic and tenacious producer of ideas and solutions, who enjoys the drama and challenge of working in some of the world’s toughest spots. A former Roman Catholic altar boy in Lake Charles, Louisiana, Catrambone once considered becoming a priest. Growing up, he tracked natural disasters, coups and the movements of his oil engineer father on a large world map pinned to his bedroom wall. After graduating from a local university, McNeese State, at the age of 20, he was hired and trained by a company that investigated insurance claims. By 26, he had worked as a private eye, a political campaign manager for a Louisiana court official, as an aide in Congress, and as the co-owner of a Cajun riverboat bar serving high-octane bloody marys, jambalaya and gumbo in the US Virgin Islands.

Chris Catrambone and his wife, Regina, who run Moas.

On the yacht, Cauchi – an amiable, stocky, sun-weathered 48-year-old – told Catrambone stories of rescues. Bodies fished out of the sea can haunt you. Martin Xuereb – a former brigadier who had been Cauchi’s boss as head of Malta’s armed services, and would later work with the Catrambones – still recalls watching a body bag being unzipped on a patrol boat several years ago. “It was this child, maybe seven or eight, with his fists clenched next to his face and his eyes wide open,” he told me. But what could one individual, or one wealthy family, do? Money buys many things, but can it stop people drowning in their hundreds and thousands?

By the end of the cruise, Catrambone had decided to set up his own search and rescue operation. “I said: ‘Chris, this cannot be done. This is impossible’,” Cauchi recalled. “But he kept persisting.” As Catrambone saw it, he was already in the business of saving lives in conflict zones: “I rescue people for money in my other job,” he told me. “I know what to do.” His Tangiers Group is privately owned, making it hard to check his claim that it gives “the best medical treatment in the world”; he brushed off questions regarding a few old complaints I had found on the internet from employees of US defence contractors about his company’s investigative methods, citing confidentiality.

But there is certainly nothing phoney about Catrambone’s passion for saving migrants. He, too, once lost a home in a natural disaster, when Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans’ Ninth Ward in 2005, flooding the building beside the St Charles Avenue tram line where both he and Templer lived. (The two men used their compensation money to open the Cajun riverboat bar, but Catrambone still laments the disappearance of the bohemian, racially mixed lifestyle he once enjoyed in his old neighbourhood.)

Catrambone saw the migrants as either desperate, entrepreneurial, or both – not too different from his own great-grandfather. He also knew many of the places they were escaping from. “Every major economy has had their hands in Africa, and they have had their hands in the Middle East as well,” he told me. “Our policies have an equal and opposite reaction. You go in. And now they come in.” But Catrambone is not interested in politics or advocacy. For him, the problem is saving lives, based on a simple and typically candid analysis. “If you are against saving lives at sea then you are a bigot and you don’t even belong in our community. If you allow your neighbour to die in your backyard, then you are responsible for that death.”

* * *

On a warm afternoon in June 2014, Cauchi steered a 40-metre, steel-hulled boat called Phoenix out of Portsmouth, Virginia, for his first ever Atlantic crossing. Built in 1973 to pull trawler nets off the coast of Canada, it had been chartered as a US military training vessel, but for the previous 18 months it had been laid up and colonised by rats. (Someone had left food in the ship’s freezers.) The vessel needed a major overhaul, which would be finished off in Malta. Catrambone was on board for the rough crossing: as Atlantic gales stirred up the ocean, the Phoenix proved how tough it was, even surviving a collision with an unidentified object that took a chunk out of its propeller.

Catrambone was determined to start rescuing people in 2014 and had set a hectic repair schedule. “It cost a crazy amount of money,” said Cauchi. The boat was bought and repaired, for a total of $5.2m, by the Tangiers Group (and still sits on the company’s books) but would be operated by a foundation Catrambone namedMigrant Offshore Aid Station (Moas). He hired Martin Xuereb as director in February 2014, after cold calling to invite him for coffee. “I am not in the habit of meeting for coffee with someone I don’t know,” Xuereb, now 47, told me, but he and Catrambone ended up talking for five hours. “I wasn’t expecting him to be so young. What hits you straight away is his vision, his perseverance and his determination.” No volunteers had done anything similar since 1979, when a group of Germans chartered a freighter named Cap Anamur to rescue migrants fleeing Vietnam. An attempt by the same group to rescue 37 people off Italy in 2003 ended with crew members put on trial for facilitating illegal entry into the country; they were found not guilty, and the migrants were deported.

As he attempted to raise funds for Moas, Catrambone found donors sceptical. The Italian navy had launched the Mare Nostrum operation, at a cost of €9m per month, after the October 2013 shipwrecks, to pick up migrants as they left Libyan waters. (“Italians are frickin’ heroes, man,” Catrambone told me.) This, at least, made it unlikely that Catrambone would be prosecuted for doing the same. Still, no NGO had become involved at sea, and many European governments complained rescue operations were a “pull factor” that would increase both migration attempts and deaths. Setting up Moas was not cheap, with monthly operating costs of up to €600,000. Two rigid-hulled inflatable speedboats with twin 70-horsepower engines were bought to ferry migrants to the Phoenix. Catrambone hired an experienced search and rescue crew as well as leasing two helicopter drones and their operators from the Austrian company Schiebel. He was determined to get out to sea, however, and Regina agreed that they could cover the 10-week operation in 2014 with a further $2.3m of their own money.

With Catrambone on board, the Phoenix left on its first mission late in August 2014, heading for international waters close to Libya. The migrant crisis was continuing to intensify. That year, mostly during the migration “high season” that runs from March to October, 100,000 people squeezed into the overcrowded vessels that pushed off almost daily from the shores of Libya; at least 3,419 died en route.

Moas was planning to act under the instructions of the Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre (MRCC) in Rome, which covers the zone crossed by migrant boats from Libya and can order any vessel to undertake a rescue. Given how well suited to the task the Phoenix was, it was inevitable that MRCC would eventually ask it to help. Cauchi was a recognised search and rescue expert, and the Phoenix’s 1.2-metre freeboard (the space from the waterline to the open deck) made it a far safer vessel to scramble on to than the lumbering tankers and cargo carriers that sometimes lower long rope ladders to already exhausted migrants, some of whom are pregnant or too young to even walk. A doctor was on board and the vessel was equipped to look after 400 people.

Moas rescuers throw bottles of water to refugees in a rubber raft near Malta in August 2014.

The first call came through after four days, on 30 August. The Moas team quickly found itself involved in the simultaneous rescue of two migrant boats, including a wooden fishing vessel with 350 people – many of them families from Syria – that was slowly sinking. By the end of the rescue, water was flooding onto the main deck of the fishing boat, and many of the migrants were in the sea. So many small children were rescued that the Phoenix almost ran out of baby formula. “That was a shock for most of the crew,” Catrambone recalled. “We were a bit overwhelmed with the thought that this was really happening. These children and mothers were at the hands of the sea, at the hands of death.”

The Phoenix rescued 1,462 people in 10 weeks and helped a further 1,500 onto Italian navy vessels. (There were also lulls when the crew fished for bluefin tuna.) The Phoenix operates in international waters that start just 12 nautical miles from the shores of Libya – now one of the world’s most violent places, where two separate governments have only tenuous control over their territories. An American consultant hired to advise on security fretted that the ship’s unarmed crew was too close to Libyan waters, but Catrambone decided he was overreacting – after long periods working in Iraq and Afghanistan (and a narrow brush with death during a missile strike in Israel), Catrambone felt he knew how to calibrate risk; the success of his own business, he says, is based in part on the tendency of others to exaggerate danger. “We are not afraid to go where others are [afraid],” he told me. “We don’t need a military convoy to take us.”

While Catrambone joined the speedboat crew on rescue missions, Regina and her daughter Maria Luisa helped care for the migrants when they arrived on the Phoenix. One night Maria Luisa found herself talking to a fellow 18-year-old – a cultured, English-speaking Syrian girl named Rasha, who was travelling on her own after both her parents were killed. “I looked at her and I looked at me, and I said: ‘What if I was Rasha? What if I had to see people being killed by snipers every day, seeing my parents killed right before my eyes?’ I would want to leave,” she explained. “She was so brave. She travels, she gets on a boat. And she says: ‘Either I am going to make it, or I am going to die trying.’” The more the rescues went on, and the more stories they heard, the deeper the family and crew found themselves bound to the mission. “You might not get on the Phoenix as a humanitarian,” Catrambone said. “But you are one when you get off.”

* * *

In October, a few days after their final mission of 2014, I met Catrambone at a small restaurant in Malta. He appeared on a Vespa scooter, looking distinctly unlike a millionaire. (There are expensive cars in his driveway, I later found, but he is still taken to the airport in a tiny old Peugeot 106 by a retired Maltese taxi driver named Charlie.) In the photographs I had seen, Catrambone sported a spiv’s moustache, though he was starting to add what would become a thick, tightly curled beard. Passionate, single-minded, and slightly unnerved by the press attention Moas had just begun to receive, Catrambone talked up his business but was disarmingly modest. (“He says he is the thinker, and I am the doer,” Regina told me later. “Everything that we have done together has been successful,” he added.) He larded his conversation with colourful Louisiana slang, which he then apologised for. He delivered riffs about the millennial generation being tired of huge corporations, excess and greed. He worried that capitalism had lost its soul by eliminating trust. “Wealth can be very short-term,” he said. “We are not trying to be crusaders. We’re just being humans, keeping hold of our dignity.”

At the time, Catrambone was worried that the “pull factor” lobbyists had won the argument over European migrant policy. Italy, under pressure from the rest ofEurope, had announced the end of Mare Nostrum. Yet the pressures pushing people out of places such as Syria and Eritrea had not disappeared, while Libya remained a perfect operating base for smugglers. When the winter winds settled in the spring, and the sea calmed, migrants would set out once more, he told me; on fine days, that would mean more than a thousand people in numerous boats. The Phoenix, with space for just 400, was set to be the only dedicated rescue vessel.

It took the Mediterranean’s worst modern marine disaster, and some 850 deaths, to finally discredit the “pull factor” theory. On 18 April, as the Catrambones were preparing Phoenix to sail again in May, a large Portuguese cargo boat called the King Jacob was sent to rescue a smaller, steel-hulled cargo vessel carrying up to 900 migrants about 17 miles off Libya. The King Jacob stopped 100 metres from the marooned boat, whose captain – believed to be a Tunisian – manoeuvred clumsily in the dark, ramming the Portuguese boat. The migrant vessel rapidly sank, taking those below decks with it and tipping the rest into the black night sea. Only 28 people survived. The two dozen corpses pulled from the sea were sent to Malta, where on 23 April, the Catrambones sat at an interfaith funeral before rows of dark wooden caskets, and a single white child’s coffin marked “Body No 132”. Within days, a few wilted flowers on an anonymous common grave at the Addolorata cemetery were the only sign that the dead had ever existed.

A few days later, I sat with Catrambone on the quay in Marsa, Malta as the Phoenix was loaded for its first mission of this year. Individual bags of emergency rations and basic clothing were being prepared by their new partners from the Dutch branch of Doctors without Borders, who would care for the migrants on board. One cardboard box was marked “body bags”. Catrambone was angry about the King Jacob tragedy, but it had shamed Europe’s politicians and he was hopeful that something was changing. Naval vessels, including the Royal Navy’s HMS Bulwark, were on their way. He had even heard Jean-Marie Le Pen, the rabidly anti-immigrant founder of France’s Front National, praise the Phoenix’s work. Some still disagreed. “We will only encourage more and more people to set sail in upturned bath-tubs and patched-up lilos,” Rod Liddle wrote in the Spectator a few weeks later. “Among them will be maniacal jihadis and assorted criminals, all expecting to be rescued by the countries which, in some cases, they wish to destroy.”

Catrambone fretted that Moas was overstretching family resources – both time and money – and, with only €1m pledged, he could not understand why there had been so few donations from rich individuals, especially in the Middle East. “It is mostly Muslims who are coming, and there should be help from these rich Arab people that are sitting there, that don’t know what to do,” he said. But separating politics from rescuing migrants is tough: after announcing they would join the Phoenix this year, Doctors Without Borders in Holland lost some of its donors, who were apparently happy to help mitigate damage from war, famine, or Ebola, but did not want their money spent on rescuing people heading for Europe.

* * *

By the time I stepped on board the Phoenix to join a week’s mission on 14 June, it looked like 2015 was set to be another record-breaking year for Mediterranean migration. We sailed out past the ancient forts overlooking Valletta’s Grand Harbour and into a two to three-metre swell that pushed the short, sharp Mediterranean waves above the height of a man. It was hard to imagine any migrant boat daring to launch in such conditions. But several days of bad weather, when the smugglers rest, were coming to an end.

That same evening, as we were heading south towards Africa, Robel Buzuneh and Misgina Tsigay sat in a warehouse, in what they believed was the Libyan navy’s dockyard in Misrata – a space shared by two smuggling gangs. Like them, most of the 620 people there were Eritreans fleeing a 20-year-old dictatorship known for torture, extrajudicial killings, and forced military service. Buzuneh, a 27-year-old former business student, and Tsigay, 30, were both deserters and, for different reasons, traumatised by the trip. Buzuneh thought he would die in the desert after having been abandoned by his traffickers and running out of food and water. Tsigay had witnessed two of his party, and three Libyan drivers, being shot by an Egyptian border patrol. In the warehouse they ate a monotonous diet of pasta, while men with guns watched over them.

As the Phoenix’s reinforced steel bow ploughed through the swell towards the Libyan coast, the Eritreans were shepherded into groups of 50 to 100 and put into motor skiffs that carried them through the dark towards two fishing boats that, to their dismay, were both very old and very small. “We did not know the captain and did not know what the boat would be like,” Buzuneh said. The Libyans distributed them around the boat, trying to keep it even. Buzuneh ended up stuffed – his knees against his ears – in a space below deck that was just over a metre high.

Further along the coast, Bakory Jobe, a 20-year-old from Gambia, in west Africa, was part of a group of 109 who took turns carrying a large inflatable boat with a Libyan smuggler sat atop, “like on a throne”. Fifty minutes after setting out from a forest clearing where several hundred sub-Saharan Africans were gathered, they reached the sea and pushed off in the packed rubber vessel, heading for international waters where they expected to be rescued. “My legs were trembling and I was praying the whole night,” Jobe said.

Both boats yawed and rolled in the swell. In Buzuneh’s overstuffed fishing boat, people vomited over each other. Heat from bodies packed tightly together and from the engine added to the fear, thirst and claustrophobia. “Everyone was very frightened,” said Buzuneh. “They told us we would be rescued in six hours … After 11 hours we were very scared. With this small boat it is impossible to go for a long period of time, or for a long distance.”

The next morning, below deck on the fishing boat, Buzuneh had a small satellite phone thrust into his hands. The smugglers’ men on the boat had called MRCC Rome, and ordered him, as one of the few English speakers, to transmit their coordinates. Soon a call came through to the Phoenix, directing it to find the boat, which was 30 nautical miles away. Catrambone’s team had already launched a camcopter drone, which now headed towards the location Buzuneh had specified, and soon the drone was close enough to make out a blue fishing boat packed with people, doing the characteristic drunken zig‑zag of a small boat struggling to maintain a steady course in a big sea. “They just move like ants out there, being pummelled by the waves,” Catrambone told me later. With the position and direction of the boat established by the drone, the Phoenix set out to intercept it. Soon a small yellow dot appeared on the radar screen; Cauchi peered through his binoculars to see the blue hull appear on the horizon. The boat sat low in the water, a sign that it was bearing the weight of hundreds of people.

Cauchi directed the rescue operation from the bridge of the Phoenix, which stopped about a mile away from the overladen fishing boat. He ordered the speedboat lowered and it soon sped off with three crewmen, a doctor and a huge sack of life jackets on board. “Every time we are sent to an operation, I think sooner or later I will have a heart attack, because you are always thinking what will go wrong,” Cauchi said. “It needs to be done carefully.” The speedboat approached from the back, to prevent people lurching to one side and capsizing their boat.

They were ordered to sit down and to allow the women and children off first. A group of teenage girls, alternately smiling nervously and grimacing with fear, were lowered onto the speedboat. The Phoenix’s deep hull acted as a barrier, calming the waves on the lee side, where the girls were pulled aboard. On a second run, smaller children appeared, as young as three, dwarfed by their orange life jackets and clinging to their mothers. A smooth routine followed: the speedboat went back and forth, carrying 15 people at a time. The fishing boat rose slowly in the water as it was emptied, though the upper deck kept filling as the cramped human cargo below deck crept out of the narrow, square hatches.

Back on the Phoenix, one girl, her trousers covered in vomit, collapsed as soon as she got on board. Mostly there was quiet relief as energy snacks, water bottles, blue towels, woollen socks and thin white, wind-blocking protective overalls were handed out. After a few minutes of stunned silence the small children, miraculously, began playing.

* * *

Later in the day, when 106 survivors from Jobe’s inflatable boat were transferred onto the Phoenix from a rescue boat chartered by the Belgian branch of Doctors Without Borders, it became clear how successful our first rescue had been. On Jobe’s boat, which had called the MRCC on a satellite phone that morning, the rescue effort had gone badly wrong: three people drowned at the last moment, and as air leaked out of the inflatable boat, he had watched a panic break out as five or six people fought to grab the rope ladder lowered to them. Unable to swim, he decided to sit still, but more than a dozen people fell into the sea. Another Gambian, Abubacarr Gibba, aged 27, fought to get onto the ladder, fell in the water, climbed out and then fell back in. “I can’t swim. I always said I was like a big stone,” he said. But the sea refused to drag him down and when he broke surface a second time and began vomiting gasoline-tanged sea water, a friend urged him to reach a life jacket that had been hurled into the water. “I managed to swim, which I had never done in my whole life.” The inflatable boat, he thought, would not have lasted another hour.

For the next 48 hours, a small sample of 21st-century African migrants to Europe – with the addition of a few Bangladeshis – lived squashed together on the Phoenix’s two outside stern decks, telling their stories. For some, the sea had been a minor hardship compared to what happened before. “Libya is hell for black people,” said Jobe, who still had wounds on his knee from a beating. On his first day in Libya, 40 of his group were kidnapped by armed men who robbed them. “They shot a friend in the leg,” he said. Buzuneh and the other Eritreans had each paid $4,000 to travel via Khartoum, in Sudan. “I didn’t think it would be this difficult,” he said. “People think Europe is heaven.”

Teenage girls, possibly from Eritrea, who were rescued by the Pheonix off the coast of Libya.

 Teenage girls, possibly from Eritrea, who were rescued by the Pheonix off the coast of Libya. Photograph: Tom Silverstone

The teenage girls remained quiet about their ordeal. Jobe knew why. “Every night Libyans come with their guns and take three or four of our women,” he said. “If you cry he will beat you. Then maybe after he will give you one packet of biscuits.” On deck a couple of teenage girls – no older than 15 – saw Maria Luisa as a confidant. “Men not good,” one explained, pointing at her own body. After two summers of regular missions and taking professional seafarer’s exams, Maria Luisa has matured beyond her years and learned to hide her own horror at the stories she hears. “Sometimes it is too overwhelming, and you just want to say: ‘I can’t believe they are really doing this to you.’ But you can’t say this because they need to talk, and they need to be heard.”

The Phoenix’s upper deck was packed. Men trod on each other, argued briefly over the tiny spaces available to stretch out, and continued to vomit. Mostly, though, they slept, ate the freeze-dried Adventure Food vegetable hotpot that had been heated up with boiling water, and wondered about the future. “I don’t know what will happen tomorrow,” said Gibba “But we think we will feel safe in Europe.” Some wanted to go to Britain, because they knew the language. “It will be easier, because we in Gambia were colonised by England,” reasoned one man with a brother in Leicester. Others wanted to go to Germany, or Switzerland, or simply did not care.

After the second night, they awoke to see the low coastline of Sicily before the Phoenix entered the harbour at Augusta. A dizzying array of Italian organisations waited on a cargo dock beside a mountain of scrap metal. The migrants stepped down the gangplank to touch European soil and walked on to a tented processing camp with doctors, fold-out beds, food and tents proudly bearing the name of Italy’s “Ministero Dell’Interno”. UNHCR officials were ready to help process asylum petitions, which Eritreans can expect to have accepted. They were moved on to permanent camps by the morning, though many flee these immediately, knowing that EU rules mean that if they were to be fingerprinted by Italian police, other European countries could send them back there. Further along the coast, Eithne, an Irish naval service patrol boat, was delivering a similar number of people. Another thousand migrants had made it to Europe in a single, not very remarkable, day.

* * *

We sailed back to Malta through rough sea, the white-tops occasionally dumping their froth on the deck, while Cauchi stared out of a window and marvelled at how stable the boat remained. By the time we docked in Malta again, the European Union had adopted a more aggressive stance, agreeing to establish a €12m military operation to sink boats used by smugglers. Catrambone likens military and law enforcement attempts to stop migration to the war on drugs. The problem will not go away, he says, until there are no users. “It just don’t look like there’s any fricking chance of any alternative happening right now,” he said. “There is no easy answer. That is why I am saying you really have to focus in on saving people’s lives first.”

Catrambone says he would close Moas’s Mediterranean operation if Europe had something better to offer, but that does not seem likely to happen soon. He once told me that he could have replaced the whole Mare Nostrum operation with something similar for a third of the cost, and he continues to think in ever bigger terms. He would like to have $10m a year to charter a new boat, a 45-knot Australian-built catamaran ferry named HSV-2 Swift, which is two and half times the size of the Phoenix. It could make the trip from the rescue zone to Sicily in just five or six hours. That may seem fantastical – but it is no more so than the idea of MOAS seemed less than a year ago. Catrambone did not rule out the possibility that Moas would operate elsewhere – a similar migrant tragedy, after all, is occurring off Myanmar, as the Muslim Rohingya minority flees persecution.

Whatever the future holds, nothing can change the fact that the Catrambones – initially self-financed, freelance operators – have set both a precedent and, having never lost a life, a standard. Those who care about migrants drowning, Catrambone insists, no longer have to wait for governments to act. They can turn, instead, to Moas or other NGOs. He had already told me that if the family business ever went down, he and Regina would have no regrets about spending so much time and money on Moas. “A lot of people say: ‘Oh, look at the millionaires! They’ve spent a lot of money’,” he said. “I’ve invested my life into this and my family has invested our savings. This is important for us and we believe in it. And you know what, if I am poor one day and I’m out in the street, well so be it. But we did this. And we are proud of it. I will never take anything back.”

Abraham_Ibrahim Inter-Faith Tent on Harmondsworth Moor

July 8, 2015 by  
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under canvas smallSunday July 5 (Ramadan and 17th of Tammuz) on Harmondsworth Moor

The UK is the only European country not to have a limit on how long someone can be kept in immigration detention. The result is an expensive, ineffective and unjust system that:

  • wastes millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money
  • fails to achieve its goals
  • treats vulnerable people inhumanely, often causing physical and mental health problems. Read more

Migreurop: Bridges, not weapons!

July 4, 2015 by  
Filed under EU Borders, News, What can you do

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MigreuropAn appeal for a migrant, asylum seeker and refugee reception policy

It is estimated that over 20,000 people have lost their lives along Europe’s borders over the past 20 years, with almost 2,000 of them perishing in the Mediterranean since the start of 2015. The Member States of the European Union (EU) will address the issue of these repeated tragedies at the 25-6 June European Council meeting. Read more

UK’s fast-track asylum system ruled unlawful

June 23, 2015 by  
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IMG_6701Government appeal system for processing asylum seekers’ applications, which has been in use for a decade, must be quashed, high court rules

A fast-track immigration appeals procedure under which thousands of asylum seekers have been locked up each year has been declared unlawful by the high court.

Mr Justice Nichol said the process under which rejected asylum seekers arriving in Britain are detained and given seven days to appeal was “structurally unfair”. Read more

Pope Francis: Immigrant Children Must Be ‘Welcomed And Protected’

June 23, 2015 by  
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Pope FrancisPope Francis confronted the “racist and xenophobic attitudes” that often face undocumented immigrants by addressing the thousands of unaccompanied childrenincluded in their ranks.

In a message delivered to the Mexico-Holy See Colloquium on Migration and Development on Monday, the pope drew attention to these migrant children who he said often undertake the dangerous border crossing alone in order to escape violence in their home countries: Read more

Self-Harm in Immigration Detention January Through March 2015

June 19, 2015 by  
Filed under Indefinite detention, News

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harmondsworth detnetion centre19% Increase in Suicide Attempts of Immigration Detainees Q1/2015

There were 70 suicide attempts in Harmondsworth IRC, January through March 2015, a 311% increase over the previous quarter October through December 2014 in which their were 17.

Yarl’s Wood recorded 26 attempts 5 more than the last quarter of 2014, one individual made more than one attempt but UKHO would not specify the number of attempts.

In Total there were 160 recorded incidents of Self-Harm requiring medical attention. Read more

Release ‘critical’ reports into privately run immigration centres, ICO orders

June 19, 2015 by  
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 Harmondsworth immigration removal centre near Heathrow, west London. Photograph: Adrian Dennis/AFP/Getty Images.

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Potentially damaging reports into the running of two immigration detention centres by private contractors must be released by the Home Office within weeks, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has said.

The documents will give detailed breakdowns and insight into the running of Harmondsworth, Britain’s largest immigration detention centre, and Colnbrook, both near Heathrow in west London. Read more

Compass: Safeguarding Children from Destitution:

June 19, 2015 by  
Filed under Destitution, News

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2015 June 18BASW: Local Authority Responses to Families with ‘No Recourse to Public Funds’

Implications for policy and practice: There is a range of steps which could be considered to address this situation.
The use of the ‘No recourse to public funds’ restriction as a means of immigration control – whether it is necessary and proportionate or alternatives could be deployed – is beyond the scope of this study. We suggest only that our findings should be taken into account in any review of the extent to which the NRPF restriction is used, not least for people who will be in the UK for long periods, recognising the implications for children in the small minority of families that become destitute and financial consequences for local authorities. Read more

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