From Baghdad to Britain

They come to Britain fearing for their lives back home, hoping for a new beginning. But for thousands of Iraqi asylum seekers there is no welcome and instead they face misery and destitution before they are deported. Hannah Godfrey hears their stories Hraz is 22, but looks much older. He worked for the Americans in Kirkuk guarding a petrol station, and has a bullet wound in his bottom from where he was shot by Ba’ath party supporters because of his involvement with the occupying army. But that was only the beginning of his troubles. His father joined the militant Kurdish Sunni group Ansar al-Islam and wanted Hraz to fight with him. He refused, because, he says, “I like life, I don’t want to kill people.” His father now wants to kill him, in punishment. His mother told him he had to leave the country to protect himself. The percentage of Iraqis who have had their asylum claims accepted by the British government has plummeted since the fall of Saddam Hussein five years ago. Before the 2003 invasion, almost half of Iraqi asylum claims were successful. Since then, the recognition rate has fallen to an average of less than 3%. This is despite the fact that, throughout the war, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) has advised that Iraqi asylum seekers – particularly those from the central and southern areas – should be either recognised as refugees or provided with another form of protection. In the period preceding the invasion an average of 800 Iraqis were granted asylum each year in this country; since 2003 numbers have fallen to between five and 150, while applications have averaged about 1,500 per year during this period.

Majority of asylum seekers are victims of violence

In an international study carried out in Belgium, the Netherlands, and the UK, data reveals that most asylum speakers are victims of violence when they arrive in Europe. The University of Ghent collected and analyzed the data. 62% of asylum seekers and refugees were confronted with emotional/psychological violence, and 57% were confronted with sexual violence, while 47% experienced some other type of physical violence.

Subsidies for families to host Darfur refugees

The northern Italian city of Turin is offering 300 euros per month as a subsidy to families who host refugees from the war-torn Darfur region in Sudan. The aim of the project is to encourage families or persons to host one or two refugees for six to twelve months, so that the refugees can achieve a certain level of autonomy. Most of the refugees are between the ages of 25-28. Of the 420 refugees and asylum seekers hosted by Turin, only 148 are eligible for the program, due to limited space.

French hold Iraqi duo who smuggled 10,000 immigrants into Britain over two years

Two Iraqi men accused of smuggling over 10,000 refugees into Britain have been arrested in northern France. It is estimated that each of the accused earned half a million pounds, in their commodiification of human trafficking. The prosecution believes that the two men, known only as Bapir and Mamesh, operated the largest smuggling operation along the French and Belgian Channel coasts. Currently being held in custody in Saint-Omer, the two will go begin their trial on December 4th.

Denmark: Creative Integration: Denmark to Immigrants — Let’s Ride

By Josh Ward Immigrants to Denmark have to learn how to become Danish. And if there is one thing the Danes do a lot of, it’s ride bikes. Classes to teach newcomers how to cycle have proven popular. In the summer of 2005, Denmark decided that, if you want to live in Denmark, you have to do what the Danes do. The mandated checklist includes learning Danish, understanding the “fundamental norms and values of Danish society,” and making an effort to participate in the community. Those who drafted that law, however, seem to have forgotten one vital aspect of being Danish — expert command of the humble bicycle. The country’s Red Cross though, is doing what it can to fix that omission. For three years now, the Danish Red Cross has been offering free cycling classes for immigrants, asylum seekers and refugees. Most of the people who take advantage of the program are women from the Middle East, according to Uzma Andresen, a consultant who helps the Danish Red Cross develop and implement integration programs.

Feds Say N.J. Terror Attack Was at Hand

Federal authorities say they arrested six Muslim men suspected of plotting to massacre U.S. soldiers at Fort Dix because they feared the group was on the verge of carrying out the attack. “I think they were in the last stage of planning,” U.S. Attorney Christopher Christie said Wednesday. “They had training, they had maps, and I think they were very close to moving on this. “Our view was they had pretty much gotten to concluding the planning phase of this and were looking to obtain heavy weaponry _ and if not from us, they were going to try to obtain it elsewhere.” Though it was not clear when the alleged attack was to take place, members of the group were arrested Monday night as they tried to buy AK-47 assault weapons, M-16s and other weapons from an FBI informant, authorities said. The men _ four born in the former Yugoslavia, one from Jordan and one from Turkey _ lived in Philadelphia and its suburbs with their immediate and extended families. Three were roofers, one drove a cab, and the two others worked at food stores. One of the six used his pizza delivery job to gain access to the Army base and scout it out, exposing what may be a security vulnerability, a congressman said Wednesday. Serdar Tatar was on the fort’s approved list of delivery people and given access to the base as part of his job with a nearby pizzeria run by his father, according to a Fort Dix spokeswoman. Tatar’s father, Muslim Tatar, 54, denied that his son had made deliveries to Fort Dix. However, Christie said the younger Tatar spoke of delivering pizzas on tapes made by informants. Another susect, Agron Abdullahu, was familiar with the base because it was the first place he landed when arriving in the United States as a refugee from Kosovo, according to a law enforcement officials who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity. The United States allowed thousands of refugees into the United States after it intervened in the 1998-99 Kosovo war. Abdullahu arrived at Fort Dix as a teenager in 1999 as part of a group of about 4,400 refugees from Kosovo, officials said. The six _ Tatar, 23; Abdullahu, 24; Mohamad Ibrahim Shnewer, 22; Dritan “Anthony” or “Tony” Duka, 28; Shain Duka, 26; and Eljvir “Elvis” Duka, 23 _ appeared in federal court Tuesday in Camden and were ordered held without bail for a hearing Friday. Three were in the United States illegally; two had green cards allowing them to stay in the country permanently; and one is a U.S. citizen. The investigation began more than a year ago after a New Jersey store clerk was asked to transfer a videotape onto a DVD. The tape showed 10 men shooting weapons at a firing range and calling for jihad, prosecutors said. The 10 included the six men under arrest, authorities said. Christie would not comment on the identities of the four other men in the video or say whether they were considered suspects. But he said the investigation was still going on. U.S. Rep. Chris Smith, whose district includes Fort Dix, said he has long been concerned about who has access to the sprawling 31,000-acre Army installation located in the Pinelands region of New Jersey, about 20 miles east of Philadelphia. “This whole affair just underscores the vulnerability,” Smith said. “You don’t know who’s on your base. What the pizza delivery man tells me is that when you have access, when you have frequent access, you get the lay of the land, so that if you do a terror attack it will cause that much more damage and loss of life.” The fort considers its policy for screening delivery people adequate for now, but said it could be reviewed in the future, base spokeswoman Carolee Nesbit said. Before they are cleared to make deliveries at Fort Dix, drivers must register in advance, undergo a criminal background check, and obtain an access pass that has to be reviewed every 30 days. Drivers who arrive at the military installation’s gate are greeted by armed guards, who check their identification and issue a pass. The delivery people are not followed or monitored once they clear security, Nesbit said. “There are 16,000 people that come through the gates every day,” she said. “It’s practically impossible to follow everyone.” Nisbet said security is present wherever military personnel are gathered at the fort, even if it is not visible from the road. In addition to the weapons each individual soldier may carry, she said, “There is security on these ranges.”

European Guide to Integration Republished

The European Commission is soon to publish an updated version of the “2004 European Guide to Integration,” listing improved practices and lessons garnered over the past few years. The Guide will be presented to European ministers during a conference in Potsdam, Germany about pathways for immigrant integration, how to deal with newly arrived refugees, and how to encourage civic participation, employment, and entrepreneurial initiative among immigrants. The first edition was published in 2004 at the Dutch suggestion that Islamophobia had seized the EU. It was also a response to American criticism of European approaches to integration that the U.S. government considers to be a security threat.

Sweden: Sweden takes aim at honor crimes

The oppression of women and girls in the name of family honor has become an urgent problem in Sweden with the arrival of growing numbers of immigrants over the past few years, the country’s integration minister said Tuesday. Nyamko Sabuni, herself a Congolese immigrant and Sweden’s first black minister, said in an interview with The Associated Press that Swedes should not accept traditions that clash with the Scandinavian nation’s fundamental values, including equality between the sexes. Sabuni has angered many Muslims in the past by calling for a ban on headscarves for teenage girls in Sweden. “Honor-related violence is an urgent gender equality issue,” said Sabuni, 37. “Everyone who works with it – the police, social services and women’s shelters – say that we’re only seeing the tip of the iceberg. It’s a big problem.” Many European countries have reported so-called honor crimes, in which women are punished or even killed by relatives for committing adultery or violating other sexual mores. But Sabuni, who took office with the center-right government in October, said the problem was much bigger than the handful of murders that have gained major media attention in Sweden in recent years. “I know there are girls who cannot choose with whom to marry. I know there are girls whose genitals are mutilated. I know there are girls whose virginity is checked before they marry,” Sabuni said. “For me it’s unacceptable that these phenomena exist in a democratic country.” About 12 percent of Sweden’s 9 million residents are foreign-born, and the proportion is growing. Last year, Sweden received about 80,000 immigrants – the highest number ever – led by an influx of Iraqi refugees. Many Muslims in Sweden have lashed out at Sabuni, saying they feel unfairly targeted by her campaign against honor crimes. They say such traditions date back hundreds of years in some Middle Eastern and African countries and have nothing to do with Islam. Sabuni, who was raised in a Muslim family but considers herself an agnostic, said: “I’m not that interested in what Islam stipulates. I am very interested in saying that some traditions, some practices are completely unacceptable and illegal.” Sabuni has also angered Muslims by calling for withdrawing state support to religious schools and a ban on headscarves for girls under 15, although those proposals have not won support in the four-party government. “Everything suggests this tradition is emerging here in Sweden, it’s not something you bring from your former home country,” Sabuni said about the Islamic headscarf. “And that brings the question: What is happening in our society that makes parents put headscarves on their children?” Unlike in France, there are no laws against wearing religious symbols in schools in Sweden. Sabuni said Sweden would be able to absorb the growing tide of refugees, but added that discrimination and self-imposed seclusion by some immigrants were hampering integration. “We have a generation today that does not really feel Swedish. Many with an African background, like myself, are not addressed as Afro-Swedes, but as Congolese or Somalis or something else,” she said. “In that respect I feel that we have failed.”

Slovenia: UNHCR says elderly refugees struggle to integrate

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees says that Bosnian refugees living in Slovenia have a difficult time integrating in the country. Groups with special needs are often overlooked when there re mass refugee movements, and those who are above the age of 60 have a much harder time adapting than young and middle-aged refugees. Among the difficulties they experience are adapting to new homes, achieving economic self-sufficiency, legal-recognition, and absorbing the socio-cultural characteristics of the host country.

It’s Business As Usual At The ‘Terrorists’ Breeding Ground’

By Bernard Hare LEEDS – I’ve always liked the Beeston area of Leeds. I was brought up in neighbouring East End Park in the 60s. My first memories are of me and my mum travelling to Beeston early in the morning on the 61 bus. My auntie, who lived there, looked after me while mum went to work. My auntie had guard geese in the garden. I’ll always remember those aggressive, squabbling birds – but it never occurred to me to ask why they needed guard geese in Beeston when we didn’t need them in East End Park. Beeston was always kind of rough. I’m sitting at the Formica tables outside Cafe Mack’s trying to understand how outside perceptions of Beeston (typically, a “breeding ground for terrorists”) differs from the reality of living here. Mick Mac, the co-proprietor, seems to know everyone. “Hey up, Jimmy, have you had them whippets castrated yet? Manjit, where’s them flowers you were bringing round?” I wonder aloud: “And the terrorists?” “There’s a lot of rubbish written about Beeston,” Mac tells me. “People here really do work hard to try to get on.” One popular misconception is that Beeston is primarily an Asian area. Let me quote from an article by “undercover” reporter Ali Hussain published in the Times earlier this month. “Voices babbled in Urdu and Sylheti … Thick-bearded men in robes strolled the streets … This could almost be an Asian city, I thought, rather than Beeston, the suburb of Leeds where two of the July 7 bombers had lived.” True, thick-bearded men in robes do stroll the streets, but so do red-faced men with tattoos and no shirts, hoop-earringed chav girls, introverted Somalis and outgoing Poles. In fact, only 18% of the population of Beeston Hill and Holbeck are of Asian origin (according to the 2001 census). In Beeston, numerous communities live side by side. There are asylum seekers and refugees from all corners of the world, as well as many people of a mixed-race or mixed-heritage background, but the largest part of the population remains the white working class. Disaffected youth, limited opportunities, a sense of social exclusion, maybe even a feeling of betrayal is common across all ethnic groups in Beeston, because Beeston is a poor area on the wrong side of the tracks. Some disaffected Asian youths turn to their Muslim heritage in search of identity. Some disaffected white kids express their lack of identity through self-destructive behaviour and crime. In the late 80s, I worked at the YMCA youth centre on Beeston Hill. We did some innovative anti-racist work with local kids. It closed, along with most of the other local youth provision, in 1990 after a round of Tory cuts. Looking back, it seems a short-sighted social policy. Walking around, I find it hard to get people to talk. The community has closed ranks. Everyone is media-weary and media-wary. “The media flooded into the area after the London bombings and many people felt they were misrepresented,” says Ed Carlisle, as we sit in his terrace-end garden in the heart of the “terrorist breeding ground”. The terrorist threat seems far away. “This street is great,” he says. “There are eight or nine different ethnic groups, including refugees, migrant workers, local working class and even me from down south. People just hang out, swap gardening tips and share ice pops or the odd beer.” Carlisle works for Together For Peace, which makes partnerships to foster understanding between people from different backgrounds. Hamara, Asha, and dozens of other community groups are doing great work in the area, he says, and the festival mela this year was a big success. Thousands came from all backgrounds without a hint of trouble. “Something good might come of this yet. Hopefully, 7/7 should have shaken us all out of our complacency – in Leeds and everywhere. Certainly in Beeston, a lot of people are living and working all the harder to make this place a better and more deeply peaceful place to live.” I like Carlisle’s style and I give him my every support, but somewhere in the back of my mind I can’t help thinking about those guard geese. Bernard Hare is a writer based in Leeds. His memoir Urban Grimshaw and the Shed Crew is published by Sceptre. This is the first in a series of occasional columns.