(CHA0053)

Supplementary written evidence submitted by UNHCR, The UN Refugee Agency (CHA0053)

 

  1. I would like to thank you and the Home Affairs Select Committee once again for inviting my colleague Vincent Cochetel and me to give evidence to the committee’s inquiry on the channel crossings.

 

  1. Throughout our testimony, we indicated several points where we would write to the committee with further information.

 

  1. Please find details in response to these points below:

 

(Further to Q249) Smugglers and social media use

 

  1. Facilitated by UNHCR, the ‘Telling the Real Story’[1] initiative aims to communicate with communities about the dangers of onward irregular movement. By reaching out to people on the move, in their native languages, through social media, community leaders, volunteers and diaspora, Telling the Real Story aims to combat misinformation about the journey towards Europe and inform people about other options available to them.

 

  1. As UNHCR stated in oral evidence, children are being targeted through various means (people-to-people, social media posts, WhatsApp) with a “go now, pay later” pitch appearing on the East/Horn of Africa routes to allow separated children and other people with no financial resources to move without realizing the consequences for their families (such as having to sell their homes) until much later in the journey when they are held for ransom.[2]

 

  1. In Somalia (Somaliland), colleagues working as part of Telling the Real Story received information from school principals that smugglers were targeting school going children, a break from past practice where they targeted desperate parents. In addition to approaching students in their last year of high school or college, it was reported that smugglers were using other students to recruit their peers. Schemes such as ‘go now pay later’ are used to entice students using falsified stories of successful students who have been trafficked to Europe and are already furthering their education there. Children in education in IDP camps are particularly vulnerable due to the already desperate situation they are in. Such schemes started targeting children in 2018[3]

 

  1. Similar schemes are used in Eastern Sudan with initiatives like “Travel now for free and work when you arrive in Libya”, “Get three friends to pay and you travel for free”, and “Collect five people and you can all travel free and work on arrival” being reported with smugglers using children to “recruit’ or recommend a particular smuggler. For instance, a child in a refugee camp would receive a call from a friend that has left saying that they are in Europe and the smuggler they used is to be trusted. UNHCR also received disturbing reports from our colleagues in Eastern Sudan of the presence of smugglers in the reception centre at Shagarab where smugglers come and go and openly advertise their services.

 

  1. In Ethiopia, smugglers are targeting children who they know have close relatives in Europe and are eligible for family reunification. Children are required to have a guardian when approaching embassies and reportedly smugglers approach these children claiming to have been assigned as guardians by their parents or are family friends. Eventually, they would then lure the children out of Addis Ababa with promise of getting additional documentation before trafficking them towards Europe. These children with relatives in Europe are especially targeted given an assumption from smugglers that their families are more likely to pay ransom fees.

 

  1. In Addis Ababa, UNHCR has received reports from members of the community that sometimes smugglers themselves attend ‘Telling the Real Story’ public awareness-raising sessions with the aim of familiarizing themselves with the content and messages used. Smugglers then modify their tactics accordingly to counter these messages. Additionally, there are reports of smugglers targeting such meetings and openly criticizing the facilitator of the session claiming that the sessions are part of a ‘’European agenda’’, challenging the authenticity of the awareness raising material. 

 

  1. At the Endabaguna reception centre for unaccompanied or separated Eritrean refugee children located close to the four refugee camps in Shire (Ethiopia), smugglers have forced the local NGO manager from IHS to systematically erase images of people dying at sea on paintings displayed on walls (as an awareness raising tool on the dangers of going to Libya). An example is included below:

 

 

 

 

 

  1. In Eritrea, the diaspora has informed UNHCR of Eritrean smugglers advertising their services on social media and targeting parents in Eritrea persuading them that their children would have a better life in Europe. This triggered an unprecedented “Breath” campaign by the Eritrean diaspora to discourage Eritreans from Eritrea from listening to smugglers’ false narratives.

 

  1. These are a sample of screenshots from Facebook of Eritrean diaspora talking about the #Breath campaign. The messages focus on informing Eritreans not to take the risk of traveling to Libya. They say, "let us give our testimony/messages so that lives won't be lost in Libya and let us share these messages."[4]

 

 

  1. On social media, UNHCR had been contacted by Eritrean traffickers in Libya claiming that the testimonies provided by UNHCR (‘Telling the Real Story’ project) “defamed” them and that they were better than Libyan traffickers and had higher success rates in terms of the number of persons trafficked to Europe.

 

  1. In 2014, UNHCR started a social media monitoring project in various languages to better understand the dynamics among smuggling rings and their engagement with local/refugee and diaspora populations. Unfortunately, due to financial constraints, UNHCR had to stop this successful project and hand over to the European Asylum Support Office (EASO) in January 2017. EASO ceased this reporting after it was found to be in breach of EU data protections laws in September 2019[5]. UNHCR would like to resume this project if and when funding can be secured.

 

  1. Some of the EASO reports referred to Facebook posts by smugglers advertising imminent departures of boats from Libya for children and families.

 

  1. These extracts are taken from EASO Social media reports from February and July 2019, attached as annexes to this submission.

 

  1. Extracts: EASO Social Media Monitoring Report No.74 11-17 July 2019

Central Mediterranean Route

A user announces the imminent departure of two boats from Libya, with 130 migrants/asylum seekers (including 12 children) on-board. Another user announces the departure of a trip from Libya on Tuesday, 16 July. A third user announces the departure of a trip from Libya on Thursday, 18 July.

 

  1. EASO Social media Monitoring report No. 1, 20-26 February 2019

Central Mediterranean Route

A user advertises trips from Libya to Italy for Sudanese nationals. He states that further communication takes place in a WhatsApp group. Another user announces the departure of a trip from Libya to Italy on Wednesday, 26 June. A prominent user announces the imminent departure of a trip for families and for Libyan nationals exclusively.

 

  1. UNHCR no longer systematically collects social media posts related to offers made by human traffickers/smugglers targeting refugee children or others. However, it has been noted that such posts do not stay up long on social media platforms and are quickly removed. Many are then recycled using other social media accounts. Whenever UNHCR discovers a case, we communicate them to the competent law enforcement authorities. Often these social media adverts/posts are referred to us by users of the multilingual ‘Telling the Real Story’ platform. We have observed the efforts of the Eritrean community to unmask smugglers and traffickers on social media. See screenshots below.

 

 

 

 

 

 

  1. In the post below an Eritrean female refugee who had crossed the Mediterranean Sea courageously posted pictures of a man she identifies as a trafficker alongside pictures of part of her and her son’s bodies with torture scars that she reports were inflicted by the trafficker. In the post, she says the man in the picture kidnapped her and her son, torturing and sexually abused them. In a response the man allegedly threatened to post sexually explicit photographs of her unless she agreed to marry him. To avert future harm, she has been seeking the help from the Eritrean community to identify the man and hand him to authorities.

 

 

(Further to Q259) Comparative grant rates UK and France

 

  1. It is important to consider that average asylum grant rates in different countries can be difficult to compare because the most common nationalities claiming asylum will differ between countries, and within the same nationality, different ethnic and religious communities may claim in different countries. For example the average first instance grant rate in France (23%) is brought down by a higher number of asylum claims from Albania, Georgia, Guinea and Bangladesh – all countries which have similarly low recognition rates in the UK and the EU as a whole but represent fewer claims proportionally in the UK. There remain however significant differences. That said, there is no indication that most asylum seekers know of, or are guided by grant rates when deciding where to seek asylum, and the tables below show that in several cases countries with a lower grant rate receive a larger number of applicants.

 

  1. The tables below show the asylum grant rate at first instance and on appeal for nationalities reported to be prominent amongst those crossing the Channel[6]. Note that for most of the nationalities listed below, the differences in the grant rate between France and the UK at first instance reduce after appeals are considered.

 

Iran Grant Rate 2019 – first instance decisions

 

Positive decisions

Rejections

Total

Grant rate % (positive / rejections)

France

108

380

488

22

United Kingdom

2771

1353

4124

67

EU-28

7570

11145

18715

40

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Iraq Grant Rate 2019 – first instance decisions

 

Positive decisions

Rejections

Total

Grant rate % (positive / rejections)

France

709

410

1119

65

United Kingdom

882

2134

3016

29

EU-28

13595

19290

32885

41

 

Syria Grant Rate 2019 – first instance decisions

 

Positive decisions

Rejections

Total

Grant rate % (positive / rejections)

France

2473

579

3052

81

United Kingdom

717

72

789

91

EU-28

59625

10135

69760

85

 

Eritrea Grant Rate 2019 – first instance decisions

 

Positive decisions

Rejections

Total

Grant rate % (positive / rejections)

France

1156

255

1411

82

United Kingdom

1794

274

2068

87

EU-28

9,135

2,005

11,140

82

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sudan Grant Rate 2019 – first instance decisions

 

Positive decisions

Rejections

Total

Grant rate % (positive / rejections)

France

2596

1470

3983

66

United Kingdom

1640

280

1920

85

EU-28

4385

2655

7040

62

 

Pakistan Grant Rate 2019 - first instance decisions

 

Positive decisions

Rejections

Total

Grant rate % (positive / rejections)

France

65

1997

2062

3

United Kingdom

501

834

1335

38

EU-28

3,085

21,935

25,020

12

 

 

Afghanistan Grant Rate 2019 – first instance decisions

 

Positive decisions

Rejections

Total

Grant rate % (positive / rejections)

France

4532

3134

7666

59

United Kingdom

1172

623

1795

65

EU-28

19,410

16,305

35,720

54

 

 

Total  Grant Rate 2019 – first instance decisions

 

Positive decisions

Rejections

Total

Grant rate % (positive / rejections)

France

22295

73105

95400

23

United Kingdom

15080

13,495

28,575

53

EU-28

221,030

348,660

569,690

39

 

 

(Further to Q264) Statistics relating to age disputed cases

 

  1. In the year to June 2020 Home Office figures show[7]:

 

 

  1. Taken together these data suggest that the vast majority of those claiming asylum as children are, in fact, children - with around 93% of those claiming to be children having their age accepted.[8]

 

 

  1. UNHCR hopes that the above information is of use to the committee in its inquiry. Should you require any more information on this or any other issue, please do contact our office and we will be happy to be of assistance.

 

 

Rossella Pagliuchi-Lor

UNHCR Representative to the UK

 

November 2020


[1] https://www.tellingtherealstory.org/en/

[2] This report has some information on the various modalities of payments to smugglers (see page vii) - https://globalinitiative.net/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/global-initiative-human-smuggling-from-the-horn-of-africa-may-2017-web.pdf; See also this news article has some information about young people going on the go now, pay later scheme and being convinced by smugglers to move and also about the high profile arrests in Ethiopia - https://www.irishtimes.com/news/world/africa/inside-the-smuggler-s-warehouse-africa-s-21st-century-slave-trade-1.4224073; This article too has information about children being enticed to move on the go now, pay later basis - https://time.com/5510517/facebook-smuggling-libya-ransoms/; and in this report on page 3 and elsewhere there is reference to children from East Africa being only asked to pay once in Libya and being subjected to violence - http://www.mixedmigrationhub.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/REACH_ITA_Report_MMP_MHub_Youth-on-the-move_Final.pdf 

[3] https://radioergo.org/en/2018/10/30/hargeisa-smugglers-reveal-insights-into-the-sordid-business-of-human-trafficking-of-somali-migrants/

[4] See also https://www.facebook.com/abrham.fa/videos/2838305712880028

 

[5] https://euobserver.com/investigations/146856

[6] https://committees.parliament.uk/publications/2333/documents/22962/default/ . For the tables show EU level data are from Eurostat https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/databrowser/view/MIGR_ASYDCFSTA__custom_89413/default/table?lang=en  , UK data are from Home Office Statistics. France data on first instance decisions are from the ‘Office Français de protection des réfugiés et apatrides’ (Ofpra): https://www.ofpra.gouv.fr/sites/default/files/atoms/files/rapport_dactivite_2019.pdf

and France data on second instance decisions are from the National Court of Asylum (Cour Nationale du Droit d'Asile - CNDA): http://www.cnda.fr/content/download/168271/1684126/version/3/file/RA2019-CNDA.pdf. Positive decisions include refugee recognition as well as grants of subsidiary and humanitarian protection. 

 

 

[7] https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/910552/age-disputes-datasets-jun-2020.xlsx

[8] It is important to recognise that this figure is an estimate. The above data sets cannot be directly compared because they are not subsets.  Asylum claims, initiation and conclusion of age assessments may be counted in different quarters.