Deportation and child removal threats – just for living legally in the UK | Politics

A Japanese woman living in London with her Polish husband has been threatened with deportation, had her child benefit stopped and driving licence revoked even though she is lawfully in the country under EU law, it has emerged.

In a two-year ordeal, photographer Haruko Tomioko, was also threatened with separation from her eight-year-old son.

She told the Guardian how her life was turned upside down, how she was ordered to pay back £5,000 in child benefit for their son and report to a Home Office immigration centre every month. If she did not comply with the reporting order, she was told she was liable to detention, a prison sentence and/or a fine of up to £5,000.

Despite several protests and futile phone calls to the Home Office, two weeks ago she was given seven days to leave the country.

“This means they can come and arrest me. I was really frightened,” she said. “I was afraid I would just get a knock on my door and I would be separated from my son and, with my husband working, who would look after him,” she said.

Lawyers say the ordeal throws the spotlight on the human cost of the “hostile environment” policy operated by the Home Office and is a taste of what could be to come for EU nationals post Brexit.

“She has been treated like a criminal,” said her husband Greg, a gaffer in the film industry, who asked that his surname was not used for fear of reprisals.

After her child benefit and driving licence was stopped. Haruko sought advice from an EU helpline, Your Europe Advice, who confirmed she was entitled to be with her husband provided he was economically active.


Guidelines from the Home Office regarding family members of EU citizens in the UK. Photograph: Home Office

She said she could not understand why she was “bullied” by the Home Office when its own website states the same.

She said she was repeatedly asked she why she ”did not go back to Japan” by enforcement officers in Becket House in London even though she explained to them she was married to an EU national exercising his rights.

Immigration barrister Jan Doerfel said Haruko could now have a case against the Home Office as they had acted unlawfully and she should never have been made to report to Becket House.

“I hated going there, it was very depressing, it made me sick. Sometimes you have to queue up outside of the building with people passing by look at you as an illegal immigrant,” she said.

The deportation order was cancelled just last week after Haruko, 48, phoned the “returns preparation team” who had sent the letter to protest that she was the spouse of an EU national. The woman she spoke to was the first person who “listened” to her in two years. When Haruko told her she was married to an EU national, she should not have received what was a “standard letter”.

She said officials at Beckett House treated her poorly.

“All of my experiences show how disorganised the Home Office is; officers don’t know immigration rules. Where are the all information I provided? “ she said.

Doerfel said the authorities’ conduct “constitute repeated violations of EC law” and their “very heavy-handed approach is indicative of the hostile atmosphere surrounding immigration”.

He said “enforcement machinery” in the Haruko case was triggered far too readily” without “scrutiny of the facts”.

Haruko and Greg met in London in 2003 and and married in 2005. For 10 years, she opted to get five-year entry clearance stamps on her passport and was not concerned about her status until David Cameron announced he was going to hold a referendum on the EU in 2015. She decided to apply for a permanent residence card for peace of mind.


Documents sent to Haruko in relation to her immigration status. Photograph: Linda Nylind for the Guardian

After that, she was bombarded with threatening letters, emails and texts which started to roll in like, she says, “a tsunami”.

In October 2015, she was told to “make arrangements” to leave the country when her application was refused.

“I was devastated. I remember the day well because I was supposed to go to a Halloween party with my son, but I couldn’t go I was so upset and shocked. I thought I would be separated from my family and sent back to Japan,” she said.

Three months later, she received a text from Capita indicating enforced immigration procedures were under way.

This was followed by an email telling her she must make “immediate” plans to leave, followed by a letter from the Home Office ordering her to report to Becket House immigration centre with little explanation other than warning her she was liable to detention, prison and a fine if she failed to comply.

Text from Capita on behalf of Home Office to Haruko Tomioka

Text from Capita on behalf of Home Office to Haruko. Photograph: The Guardian – Lisa O’Carroll

Five months later, the DVLA wrote to her to say they had cancelled her driving licence. Three weeks after that, her son’s child benefit was stopped with a demand from HMRC for £5,044 in back payments.

“I was really scared because I thought I would have to pay them £5,000 and we didn’t have that kind of money,” she said. “I tried not to cry in front of my son, but sometimes I just couldn’t stop myself. It’s been really really tough.”

Reporting to Becket House last month was a frightening experience, she said, because an official threatened to separate her from her son. “I remembered clearly when I was called for an interview to the back of office, the officer told me: ‘We can remove you from the UK anytime. We can separate you from your family’ when my son was in the waiting room,” she said.

But Haruko eventually found a volunteer lawyer who wrote to the Home Office telling them she had entered the UK lawfully “as a wife of an EU citizen exercising his treaty rights”.

Within days, her driving licence and child benefit were reinstated. Now the Home Office has admitted she will not be removed from the country.

After a Guardian inquiry, the Home Office said: “Ms Tomioka is not subject to removal from the UK. We are currently working with her to explain how she can make an appropriate application should she wish to do so.”

Lawyer Doerfel says the Home Office should not have triggered enforcement proceedings because Haruko had informed it twice in 2016 and again in 2017 that she was married to an EU national. He said she was “subjected to unlawful reporting requirements, within five weeks had her driver’s licence unlawfully cancelled, and received a shocking letter from HMRC cancelling and reclaiming child benefits to which she was lawfully entitled.”

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Migrant death toll rises after clampdown on east European borders | World news

More than 22,500 migrants have reportedly died or disappeared globally since 2014 – more than half of them perishing while attempting to cross the Mediterranean, according to a study by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).

A clampdown on Europe’s eastern borders has forced migrants to choose more dangerous routes as the death toll in the Mediterranean continues to rise despite a drop in the overall number of arrivals, data compiled by the UN refugee agency shows.

“While overall numbers of migrants attempting to cross the Mediterranean by the eastern route were reduced significantly in 2016 by the EU-Turkey deal, death rates have increased to 2.1 per 100 in 2017, relative to 1.2 in 2016,” reads the IOM report which is released on Monday. “Part of this rise is due to the greater proportion of migrants now taking the most dangerous route – that across the central Mediterranean – such that 1 in 49 migrants now died on this route in 2016.”

Since 2014, more deaths have been documented on this route than any other migration route in the world. In the first half of this year, the IOM said at least 3,110 migrants have died or disappeared globally, which is lower than the figure in 2016 (4,348), but the risk of dying has increased in the Mediterranean even though fewer migrants crossed into Europe.

“The central Mediterranean route, ending at Lampedusa or the main island of Sicily, accounts only for about a quarter of almost 1.5 million people who have arrived since 2014 on all routes, but for 88% of all migrant deaths in the Mediterranean,” it said.

Last month, Amnesty International criticised Italy for taking measures to keep migrants away from its shores, which it said leads “in their arbitrary detention in centres where they are at almost certain risk of torture, rape and even of being killed”. The IOM’s report also complained about smugglers in Libya and Italy increasingly using less seaworthy vessels.

Jean-Guy Vataux, head of mission in Libya for Médecins Sans Frontières, told the Guardian nearly all the people rescued from drowning in the Mediterranean have been “exposed to an alarming level of violence and exploitation: kidnap for ransom, forced labour, sexual violence and enforced prostitution, being kept in captivity or detained arbitrarily”.

According to Vataux, the majority of migrants in Libya live clandestinely “under the yoke of smugglers or – for the most unlucky – kidnapping organisations”.

He added: “Migrants going through Libya to reach Europe are facing impossible choices: getting on a boat is very risky, many die before they reach the European coast or a rescue ship. Remaining in Libya, whether in detention centres run by the administration or a criminal organisation, exposes them to unbelievable levels of violence and exploitation. There needs to be other options made available very quickly, like safe passage to other Mediterranean countries.”


Restrictions on the eastern route meant the number of arrivals in countries such as Croatia, Serbia and Macedonia had dramatically dropped. The three countries, which are not a part of the EU border-free Schengen zone, restricted migrants’ access in late 2015.

In the first half of this year, at least seven migrants have died of hypothermia during the winter months in the western Balkans. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has recently published a report warning of the dangers in the route. A mother and son who successfully crossed the Evros river – along the border between Turkey and Greece – both later died of hypothermia.

More than 120,000 people have arrived in Europe by sea so far this year – most departed from Libya bound for Italy, from Turkey bound for Greece or, more recently, from Morocco bound for Spain. About 82% of all migrants were travelling to Italy from Libya. In June, the Italian coastguard rescued about 5,000 people in one day in the Mediterranean.

The IOM report covers the period from January 2014 to the end of June and thus does not reflect the recent developments in Myanmar, where atrocities against the country’s Rohingya Muslim minority has led to an exodus of thousands to neighbouring Bangladesh.

The IOM report, titled Fatal Journeys, has been compiled by the Berlin-based Global Migration Data Analysis Centre (GMDAC). It is the only existing database on migrant deaths at the global level, collected through various means including official records, medical examiners and media reports.

Ann Singleton, senior research fellow at the University of Bristol’s school for policy studies, said: “For the families left behind it could make a real difference if they are able to find more information on their missing relatives. Better data on migrant fatalities can also help inform policies aimed at reducing migrant deaths.”

Global figures for the first half of 2017 show that northern Africa also had high fatalities and disappearances, with at least 225 recorded deaths. The majority of incidents occurred along routes from western Africa and the Horn of Africa towards Libya and Egypt. Sickness or violence are the main cause of death in those cases.

At least 150 deaths were also recorded in the US-Mexico border crossings since January. “Along the border, irregular migrants avoid coming into contact with authorities in well-patrolled areas and are often forced to cross natural hazards such as the desert of Arizona or the fast-running Rio Grande river,” IOM said. More people have died attempting to cross the border compared with last year despite an ease in border apprehensions of migrants.

Recent clampdowns on the Libya-Italy route have also led to the increase in attempts to reach the continent via Morocco. The IOM has said the number of people arriving in Spain by sea this year is likely to outnumber the number arriving in Greece.

Francesca Friz-Prguda, UNHCR representative in Spain, who recently visited the port cities of Tarifa and Algeciras, where refugees are arriving almost daily after crossing the strait of Gibraltar from Morocco, said Spain was underprepared and lacked an integrated national strategy. More than 14,000 migrants have arrived by sea – a 90% increase compared with last year. Arrivals in Andalusian ports have tripled.

“While this is really not an emergency situation if you compare it to Italy, there are no adequate structures and procedures in place to deal even with the current level, let alone with more arrivals,” she said.

“It’s a myth to assume that people arriving here are all economic migrants, sub-Saharan Africa is one of the most refugee-producing regions in the world, so even statistically there’s a likelihood that these mixed flows are refugees travelling,” she said. “A lot of media have not dealt with the issue in a very responsible way, talking about avalanches and storms, flood, and God knows what – there’s a clearly a perception which doesn’t seem to sufficiently understand that first there are many refugee-producing countries in sub-Saharan Africa.”

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These Europeans came to live a British dream. Is it all over? | John Harris | Opinion

On the southern edge of Peterborough is a new residential development called Cardea – a huge expanse of housing served by a solitary Morrisons supermarket and a self-styled “clean, modern pub” called the Apple Cart – which has become a byword for the more affluent elements of the city’s Polish population.

On roads called Jupiter Avenue, Hercules Way and Neptune Close, newly built homes extend into the distance. A three-bedroom detached will give you change out of £250,000, and put you in close proximity to the expanse of warehouses, distribution centres and retail outlets which power a big part of the local economy. The openings such places offer tend to fall one of two ways: management positions and tech roles for people who have either worked their way up or arrived with the right qualifications; or, at what the modern vernacular calls entry level, more uncertain roles for people who are prepared to put in the graft, and who often shoulder the burden of mind-bending shift patterns and low wages.

From a leftie perspective, all this might suggest some awful neoliberal dystopia. But to many people from EU countries, Peterborough has offered the prospect of self-improvement and hard-won comfort. Individual career histories often defy not only the more doomy critiques of the modern job market, but the idea that human beings can be neatly divided into “low-skilled” and “high-skilled”. They instead present a picture of people who have determinedly moved from one category to another.

One of my most reliable contacts is a fortysomething man who arrived in 2005, began stacking shelves for Marks & Spencer, and now runs his own photography business. In the recent past, I have met people who started packing crates for Ikea and became middle-managers, or initially found low-grade work in supermarkets, only to eventually open their own shops.

Such stories are built around a set of aspirations: property ownership, relative affluence, and as much stability and security as the modern economy can deliver. Hearing them first-hand, I have felt at least some of my ingrained scepticism and jadedness melt away: it might be easy to scoff at such an idea, but at least some people in this part of England have lived out a kind of British dream.

But no more, perhaps. Since 24 June last year, the signals emanating from Whitehall and Westminster have been clear. If the United Kingdom once offered an open door and an array of opportunities, such things are now almost completely obscured by mistrust, bad faith, and the sense that a majority of people in England and Wales (including the 61% of voters in Peterborough who supported Brexit) have had enough.

Such is the upshot of those leaked proposals from the Home Office, reportedly reflective of the views of Theresa May herself, and loudly endorsed by the rightwing press. In symbolic terms, this is just one more burst of nastiness and delusion to add to an ever-expanding pile. But in the sense of practical policy, what has been proposed represents something quite remarkable: confirmation that post-Brexit Britain will put the demands of economics – or, put another way, national prosperity – well below the emotional stuff of belonging and nationhood, with no end of consequences.

Certainly, if it all comes to pass, there will be no more Cardeas. For any would-be migrant from mainland Europe, the kind of career ladder scaled by people in Peterborough will be snapped in two. Supposedly low-skilled workers will only be able to stay for up to two years; even the high-skilled will have their stays capped at five. In that sense, the British dream will be over: migration from the EU will be subject to the kind of guest worker system that institutionalises prejudice and mistrust, and puts up huge barriers to some of the most basic elements of human existence.

Britain will be no place to start a family, or buy a home; as with people from outside the EU, anyone wanting to come and work here will be subject to an almost incomprehensible regime of income requirements, residency permits and immigration checks.

As far as I can tell, the mood among many people from EU countries remains stoical and hard-headed, perhaps reflective of a sensibility ingrained under communism, when the people in power regularly lost their minds but life had somehow to continue. “You are leaving the EU, so I guess some sort of restriction is inevitable,” said one of my Polish acquaintances this week.

But at the same time, there is a sense of a collective anxiety that has been slowly growing since last summer. On that score, I think of a woman I met in a Peterborough delicatessen back in February, who told me that her Facebook feed had recently filled with rumours that after the triggering of article 50, people from EU countries would be barred from re-entering Britain. “There are fears that they might chase us out of here, fears of deportations,” she said. Then she shrugged. “But life goes on.”

What all this says about the state of British Conservatism is very revealing. Post-Thatcher, the Tories have never resolved the tensions between the politics of nationalism and base prejudice, and the most basic principles of free-market economics. But if May has her way, the first will decisively trump (a good word, that) the second.

In that sense, the fate of a lot of people from mainland Europe will be hugely symbolic. Most of the EU citizens I have spoken to in Peterborough do not have a leftwing thought in their heads; they believe in a credo of self-reliance, hard work and home ownership. In a British context, these ideas are as Tory as they come. So how come so many Conservatives now want to slam the door on their most devout adherents?

And what of the economy? Peterborough is one of the largest urban centres of a region of England in which unemployment is below the national average; and in a city of nearly 300,000, a mere 1,770 people are currently claiming out-of-work benefits. Its successive waves of migration from the EU – first Poles, Latvians and Lithuanians, then Bulgarians and Romanians – have fed a job market in which most British people are barely interested. Nonetheless, all of us have come to expect the benefits: cut-price food; consumerism-on-tap; the confidence of knowing that an online click today means a delivery tomorrow; the idea that if the worst comes to the worst, some or other army of care workers will be there to look after us.

No more, perhaps: if a good deal of the explanation for Brexit is about a denial of the future and some misplaced vision of the past, we may be about to find out what all that means in practice.

Terrified of the more irate elements of its core vote, the Labour party currently seems little interested in loudly raising the alarm. Whether Tory unease will boil over is uncertain, at best. But what we could be about to lose is obvious. Frozen into the brickwork of those newly built houses in Peterborough is a whole host of stuff – hard work, persistence, ambition, stoicism – that has played a huge role in keeping an increasingly fragile country in business. To throw all that away would be madness. But amid the general lunacy of Brexit, will that be enough to stop it?

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Emmanuel Macron seeks extra EU funding to tackle migration crisis | World news

The French president, Emmanuel Macron, is hosting a “major European powers summit” on Libya also attended by three African nations, in an attempt to raise more funds to tackle the migration crisis.

The EU has struggled to agree on a coherent answer to the influx of migrants fleeing war, poverty and political upheaval in the Middle East and Africa, and the crisis is testing cooperation between member states.

The mini-summit in Paris provides a chance for the major European powers to coordinate their Libyan policy after individual countries, especially France and Italy, started to mount separate initiatives to create political unity in Libya.

Macron wants the EU to offer an extra €60m (£55.5m) to help African countries handle asylum seekers who have returned from Europe and to prevent further migration flows.

Over the summer, Macron sought to take the initiative on managing the flow of migrants crossing the Mediterranean from Libya, mainly into Italy. He proposed hotspots in Africa to handle asylum requests.

European and African allies questioned the viability of such centres and an official from the Élysée Palace said on Monday the idea was no longer under discussion.

“The hotspots announcement was nonsense and neither Chad nor Niger were consulted beforehand,” a west African official said. “Macron is trying to make up for that mistake.”

Although the number of migrants reaching Italy from Libya by sea dropped by nearly 70% in July and August compared with the same months last year, it is felt the numbers could easily rise again without further measures.

There has been a small increase in flows from Morocco to Spain, a point of concern for the Spanish government dealing with sensitive public opinion in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks in Barcelona earlier this month.

The fall in the number of refugees leaving Libya raises questions about the management of the makeshift camps where those still seeking to reach Europe are being held either before attempting the perilous Mediterranean voyage or after being turned back by the Libyan coastguard.

The Paris summit is expected to propose a stronger role for the UN in the administration of the Libyan detention camps and endorse extra cash for countries such as Niger and Chad from which many of the migrants on the Libyan shoreline originate.

The four European leaders attending the summit are the Italian prime minister, Paolo Gentiloni, the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, the Spanish prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, and Macron himself. The three African countries taking part are Libya, Niger and Chad.

The UK – despite leading the military engagement that led to the fall of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 and the subsequent power vacuum – is not among the attendees, a possible sign of Britain’s gradual marginalisation ahead of Brexit.

The foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, visited Tripoli last week, but the bulk of the diplomatic work on reaching a political solution in Libya has been left to the former colonial power Italy, or to France.

The political crisis in Italy over migration continues, with clashes at the weekend in Rome between migrants and police over living conditions.

The total number of migrants who reached Italy from Africa between January and 23 August this year was 98,072, according to the International Office for Migration (IOM), the UN migration agency, a fall of only 7,000 from the same period last year.

But this small drop masks a collapse of more than 70% in the number of migrants reaching Italy in July and August. The IOM figures show 14,177 African migrants reached Italy by sea in between 1 July and 20 August, compared with 45,000 over the same period last year. The figures for August alone are likely to show a fall of more than 75% on August 2016.

But the IOM estimates the number of people reaching Spain from Africa is starting to increase, exceeding 8,300 by 9 August, higher than the total number of migrants that reached Spain during the whole of 2016.

Although the Italian government is taking some credit for the sudden decline in the number of migrants reaching its shores, the fall appears to precede implementation of its tough measures, which include a restrictive code of conduct for NGO ships patrolling outside Libyan coastal waters, as well as stronger efforts by the Libyan coastguard to turn the smugglers’ rafts back. It is possible that changes in the power dynamics in key Libyan ports had already made it more difficult for the smuggling networks to operate.

The Italian government has been providing help to the political leadership in key ports such as Sabratha, west of Tripoli, and this in turn could be seen as an incentive to local militia to forgo people smuggling in return for western grants.

But the decline in numbers reaching Europe may lead to tens of thousands becoming stranded in camps in north Africa, with little oversight by the weak Libyan government.

The Paris summit will nevertheless welcome the NGO code of conduct, as well as measures by African countries to do more to police migration flows.

In a further sign that European leaders are starting to look at the root cause of the crisis, the Italian interior minister, Marco Minniti, met 14 Libyan mayors for a second time on Saturday to talk to them about their needs, including funds to ensure there were economic alternatives to human trafficking.

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How big brands including Sports Direct unwittingly used slave labour | Global development

Sports Direct has been named in three separate modern slavery trials in Nottinghamshire courts within six months this year, all relating to Polish migrants sent to work through recruitment agencies at the corporation’s warehouse in Shirebrook.

The courts convicted members of three separate criminal groups for modern slavery, after hearing that they had sent migrants to work through agencies that supplied labour to the headquarters of the sportswear company. Some migrants were also sent through an agency to work for a leading vegetable producer, which supplies – directly or indirectly – nearly all the UK’s major supermarkets.

Although neither the companies nor the agencies were accused of any wrongdoing, the three trials have revealed how the modern-day slave trade has taken root in the UK economy, as big-brand companies have become unwitting users of slave labour. The cases also reveal the pre-conditions necessary for slavery to flourish in modern Britain: first, a supply of vulnerable people; second, labour outsourcing that diffuses responsibilities; and third, communities that fail to recognise the circumstances in which their neighbours are living.

The way in which recruiters targeted the homeless, heavy drinkers, people with previous convictions and the unemployed was a recurrent theme of the Nottingham trials.

The trial last month of Polish national Dariusz Parczewski, who was convicted for forced labour and fraud, underlines just how transparently modern-day slavery exists in Britain’s neighbourhoods and industries. The Parczewski family relied on slave labour and used their victims’ identities to carry out nearly £1m in benefit fraud. One of their workers, Jaroslaw Kilian, described in court how he had been ensnared in the family’s net.

Parczewski, along with his wife and son, relied on spotters to trawl the streets of the picturesque northern Polish city of Toruń for workers. Kilian, who was discovered outside a pub, was offered a job in England earning £260 a week with accommodation provided – twice what he could earn in Poland. Kilian expressed an interest and the recruiter called his contacts: a car soon arrived to take his identity documents; within a few days, he had been given food, tobacco, and a coach ticket for Nottingham.

Parczewski met Kilian at Nottingham bus station and took him to one of two small caravans the family had squeezed into the drive of their home in Tiverton Close, Aspley. Seven or eight men lived in the caravans at any one time. Their only toilet and washing facilities were in an unheated garage they had to share with hens and pigeons.

Kilian became distressed when he recalled how he had been made to live. The workers carried out hours of domestic labour for the family, whose back garden they were forced to keep immaculately clean and whose small house was reportedly decorated in a style that suggested delusions of Versace grandeur. Bank accounts were opened in workers’ names but controlled by the Parczewskis. The workers’ identities were also used to carry out benefit fraud for more than five years, netting the family nearly £1m.

Kilian was taken to a large agency and sent to work at Sports Direct, where he spent about nine months at its Shirebrook warehouse packing shoes and clothes for dispatch. Speaking little English, he could not communicate with other workers at the site, which was exposed in 2015 for alleged poor working conditions. Leaving his cramped bunk early in the morning and arriving late at night, he survived on dried soup rehydrated with boiled water. Every Friday the Parczewskis would take him to the bank and force him to hand over half his weekly wages. Asked why he had not left the abusive conditions, Kilian said he had witnessed violence against another man who had dared to challenge the family, and he feared he would not be able to get another job.

Although high fences mostly hid the men from sight, people in the surrounding houses could still hear them. “You couldn’t not be aware of them,” said Heather Mawer, a neighbour. “The [home] owner was treating them like crap. The garden was spotless and he had lots of flash cars, but you’d see them scavenging in the street. I’d say hello but you couldn’t talk to them – they didn’t speak English.” Mawer recalls reporting the situation to the authorities, although she wasn’t sure if she had spoken to the police or immigration officials. “We never heard anything back.”

A neighbour on the other side of the street, Ana McColvin Dodsworth, said that with hindsight a few puzzling details now made sense, such as the path “full of human excrement” next to the Parczewskis’ house.

A few weeks before Dariusz Parczewski’s trial – which also found his son guilty of fraud and his wife of forced labour and fraud – another Polish man, Sajmon Brzezinski, had pleaded guilty to trafficking and forced labour offences. Two of his victims were identified. They had also worked through an agency for Sports Direct at Shirebrook between 2011 and 2013, before being moved on to agency shifts for a leading vegetable supplier to the big retailers. Both were highly vulnerable: one of the men had learning difficulties and had been raised in care homes, the other had lost his parents and appeared to have limited understanding.

In Nottinghamshire’s third modern slavery case naming Sports Direct, Polish brothers Erwin and Krystian Markowski were convicted of trafficking men from Poland, some of whom they put to work through another agency supplying the Shirebrook site. Eighteen victims were identified. The modus operandi was like that of the Parczewskis: spotters in Toruń trawled the streets and bars for people who looked vulnerable, making false promises of work. Travel was arranged for the men and on arrival in Nottingham, victims were taken to the agency to sign on. The Markowskis kept their identity documents, controlled their bank accounts and took most of their wages. They had to sleep on urine-soaked mattresses on the floor, and the men were kept under control by an enforcer who watched the house and imposed a 10pm curfew. As in the other two cases, victims described witnessing violence against others, and were afraid to challenge their traffickers.

The union Unite, which has been campaigning for years against working conditions at Sports Direct’s Shirebrook site, said subcontracted employment structures were contributing to the phenomenon of modern slavery. “Big workplaces, which rely on intermediaries and agencies to provide workers, are more open to worker abuse and exploitation,” said regional officer Luke Primarolo.

A spokesperson for Sports Direct said modern slavery was “often deeply hidden” and hard to detect. “We have policies in place that aim to prevent these types of behaviours, which, according to government research, may affect over 10,000 people in the UK. The conditions in the warehouse were described in open court as being of a proper nature during the case of the Markowski brothers. We are proactive in reporting anything suspicious to police in order to send a strong message that we will not tolerate these abuses.”

Case study: ‘I thought my business was squeaky clean’

Tomasz Filinski, a 44-year-old man with learning difficulties, was trafficked from Poland to the UK by the Brzezinski family in 2006 or 2007. He never knew his parents, and had been brought up in children’s homes until a tutor took him in. He started cleaning for the Brzezinskis as a young teen in return for pocket money. When his tutor died, leaving him homeless at 17, the Brzezinskis offered him lodging in return for chores. When they resettled in the UK, he was put to work by their son Sajmon Brzezinski, who registered him with an agency supplying workers to Sports Direct.

Filinski began working there from 3pm until midnight, often earning more than £300 a week, but Brzezinski controlled his bank account and took all Filinski’s wages and the working tax credits the family had applied for. Filinski was given just £20 a week spending money and bought his clothes for £2 from the Sports Direct rejects shop.

After nearly two years at Sports Direct, he was transferred to another agency and sent to work at Hammond Produce, a leading grower and packer of vegetables, which supplies almost all the major UK supermarkets. Filinski worked 12-hour shifts there starting at 7am, and walked an hour each way to and from work, which often left him too exhausted to eat once he’d returned home. His reprieve came when Hammond’s staff organised a Christmas get-together in a local pub, where a fellow victim – also an orphan, who struggled to read and had been left severely anxious by an operation to remove a brain tumour – confessed to their plight.

The discovery of slavery within his own operations came as a deep shock to Jon Hammond, owner of the family business. He said he had thought his business was “squeaky clean”, regularly turning away “Romanians who turn up in the yard in big Mercedes offering to supply four or five cheap workers”. Like Sports Direct, he had believed he had robust procedures in place to prevent such exploitation. He used a small local recruitment agency he knew well to supply line staff. Looking back, however, there had been signs: people’s lunches sometimes went missing, which he now realises might have been an indication that the men were hungry; they looked scruffy, and they always seemed to need to do overtime.

“It was absolutely gutting to find these people being exploited under your nose without your noticing. It is abhorrent,” Hammond said. The company immediately phoned the authorities, and the site is now full of posters in different languages advising staff on how to recognise and report labour abuse.

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‘We would rather die than stay there’: the refugees crossing from Morocco to Spain | World news

On the hilltops of Tarifa, the Spanish city that faces Morocco across the Strait of Gibraltar and mainland Europe’s southernmost point, gusts of wind power the turbines dotting the landscape.

For the surfers who pack the city’s hotels, the wind is a welcome sign of challenging waves. But for the Spanish coastguard and NGOs, the gusts are a warning that the record numbers of migrants and refugees attempting to cross the 10-mile strait are in grave danger.

The number of refugees and migrants risking the sea journey between Morocco and Spain has been rising sharply, and last week was an exceptionally busy one for rescuers.

On Wednesday, Salvamento Marítimom, Spain’s maritime safety and rescue agency, together with the Spanish Red Cross rescued nearly 600 people from at least 15 different vessels off the coast of Tarifa – the largest figure for a single day since August 2014, when about 1,300 people landed on the Spanish coast in a 24-hour period.

Migrants arrive on board a Spanish maritime rescue boat at the port of Tarifa

Migrants arrive on board a Spanish maritime rescue boat at the port of Tarifa. Photograph: Marcos Moreno/AP

Most attempt the crossing using paddle boats, but others use jetskis, inflatable vessels and rickety fishing boats. According to Frontex, the EU’s border agency, more migrants are dying at sea this year than in 2016. And most who continue to cross know the risks they are taking.

“We prefer to die than to stay there. Death happens once but we prefer to risk our life than stay there,” said Abdou, 29, of the ethnic Amazigh community in the impoverished northern Rif region of Morocco, where hundreds of people have been arrested after recent protests against the state. He was rescued last week along with seven others from an inflatable Zodiac boat they had bought for €4,000 – a cheaper option that avoids the need to pay people-smugglers for passage.

Zakaria, 30, said he was saved by a helicopter last week after coastguards spotted him and others attempting to cross the choppy waters in another Zodiac boat. “I was afraid. If the helicopter didn’t come we would have died,” he said.

Recent clampdowns on routes to Europe via Libya have led to the increase in attempts to reach the continent via Morocco. The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) has said the number of people arriving in Spain by sea this year is likely to outnumber the number arriving in Greece.

According to IOM, 11,849 irregular migrants and refugees reached Spain by sea between 1 January and mid-August. A further 3,500 have made it to two Spanish enclaves in north Africa, Ceuta and Melilla, the only EU land borders with Africa.

Though Spain’s numbers are dwarfed by those of Italy, which has seen 97,376 arrivals so far this year, there is significant pressure on Spanish authorities to make sure it can protect, register and accommodate those arriving on its shores.

Concerns are also growing over the potential for militants to exploit migrant routes into Europe in the wake of terror attacks in Nice, Brussels and most recently Barcelona – all claimed by Islamic State.

Rosa Otero, of the UN’s refugee agency in Spain, said the country was not yet in an emergency situation, particularly when compared with Italy, but authorities were struggling to cope.

“Given the current rise … there are no adequate structures and procedures in place to deal with more arrivals and to swiftly identify international protection and other protection needs,” she said, adding that the shortcomings left migrants – especially children – vulnerable to traffickers.

Every day, between three to four dark green buses marked Guardia Civil arrive in Tarifa to transfer new arrivals to the nearby city of Algeciras, where the Centro de Internamiento de Extranjeros (the alien internment centre) is located. Most arrivals are originally from the west African countries of Nigeria, Guinea and Ivory Coast.

The Red Cross, one of many NGOs active in Algeciras, provides asylum seekers with food three times a day and a place to sleep. On Saturday the centre’s rooms were packed with children using computers. Women washed clothes outside.

Abdou was one of the men being housed at the Red Cross facility. He said the thought of the trip across the Strait of Gibraltar had frightened him, but he had been determined to make it.

“What is important is that I’ve left Morocco, nothing else is important. We had a lot of fear, because the sea was sometimes peaceful, sometimes not,” he said. “There’s war. The state of Morocco has conflict with [the Amazigh] people. It’s not like Syria but they put us in jail for political reason. There’s no right[s], no economy, nothing.”

Two brothers, 28 and 19, and their two cousins, both 21, were among those rescued on Wednesday. Like Abdou, they too belong to the Amazigh community.

Last month their city, al-Hoceima on the northern edge of the Rif mountains, was the scene of a million-man march. Moroccan security guards used batons and teargas to quell protesters. Human Rights Watch said at least 185 people had been arrested in connection with the protests and at least 46 of them had been sentenced to 18 months in jail after forced confessions.

The hand of a Moroccan Amazigh refugee, scarred after being beaten by Moroccan police

The arm of a Moroccan Amazigh refugee, scarred after being beaten by Moroccan police. Photograph: Saeed Kamali Dehghan for the Guardian

The four men made the six-hour, 105-mile journey from Plaga Soaan in el-Hoceima to Motril, on Spain’s south coast, on one jetski. They were kept in custody for two days upon their arrival before being taken to the Red Cross in Algeciras.

Those seeking asylum in Spain can wait anything from six months to two years to receive a decision, and a growing backlog means the processing time is getting longer. Local police say local temporary detention centres are so overwhelmed by the number of asylum seekers that they are relying on NGOs to help find accommodation.

Albert Bitoden Yaka, a centre coordinator at Fundación Cepaim in Algeciras, which shelters refugees and migrants in eight different houses in the city, agreed there was a lack of resources to deal with the new arrivals.

“In my opinion, I think the authorities and European states are proving to be inefficient when it comes to addressing this phenomenon, especially the arrival of refugees,” he said.

The Guardian visited one Fundación Cepaim house on Saturday, where seven refugees were sheltered in four rooms in a flat in a large residential block. Residents receive monthly payments of €50 to spend as they wish and €170 for food, until Spanish authorities reach a decision on their asylum application.

“Algeciras is a city of more than 120 nationalities, they know how important it is to live together. It is in moments of like this [after the Barcelona attack] that we realise the impact of having experience in diversity to prevent hostility,” Yaka said.

Larri, a 22-year-old English-speaking refugee from Ghana, lives in a Cepaim house. He said he first tried to reach Europe via the Libya-Italy route, but nearly died when the boat carrying 35 people capsized an hour after their departure.


Larri: ‘Here, it’s 100% better than Ghana.’ Photograph: Saeed Kamali Dehghan for the Guardian

“Only 12 people survived, the rest all died before our eyes, among them children and women,” he remembered. “I swam and caught the boat, until the next day fishermen came and saw us. They went back and brought help. We were crying, they went back, people came with a boat. I was in sea for one day until 11am.”

Undeterred, Larri travelled to Morocco in an attempt to reach Spain across the strait. He said he belonged to Ghana’s Bimoba ethnic group, which is fighting a long-running conflict with the rival Konkomba group. He had left Ghana for Libya as soon as he finished junior high school, in search of a better life.

“I didn’t know Libya was also fighting,” he said. He worked in Libya for three years before going to Morocco, where he paid 1,000 dinars (£82) to get on a dinghy with women and children.

“In this weather, a lot of people die,” he said. “It’s up to God, some people don’t reach, some people reach. The moment you’re in the boat, you’re selling your life, but there’s no solution. [The] only solution [is to] pray God to save you, [to] reach the place, but it’s not easy to enter this sea.”

Asked whether it was worth taking the risk, he said: “Here, it’s 100% better than Ghana. I was suffering, sometime beaten up on my way from Niger to Libya. When I see everything now that I’m in Europe, it was 100% worth taking the risk.”

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Solidarity must extend far beyond the victims of terror | Editorial | Opinion

Spain has been a model of solidarity in the three days since the terror attacks that killed 14 people in Barcelona and Cabrils. That number is now known to include the seven-year-old Julian Cadman, who had dual British-Australian nationality and whose engaging image has been on front pages. He had been missing since the savage vehicle attack on Thursday afternoon. On Sunday morning the king and queen led the mourners at a service in La Sagrada Familia, Barcelona’s cathedral, which, perhaps paradoxically in the circumstances, was conceived by Antoni Gaudí as a paeon to faith and nationalism. More than 1,500 people packed the church, while nearby Las Ramblas continued to be a focus for grief and resistance.

But behind the solidarity, Spain’s national cohesion faces more stresses than in most European countries. At least eight of the terrorists appear to have grown up in one small town, Ripoll. Their horrified families are blaming Abdelbaki Es Satty, the imam of one of the town’s mosques, for radicalising their sons. The small community, where one in 10 residents is a migrant, is in a state of shock to discover that football-loving kids who appeared entirely comfortable with their Spanish identity set out on such a murderous course. Police, who are investigating what they now say was a plot to launch a huge terror attack, are trying to establish whether the imam died in a gas explosion that destroyed a house last Wednesday.

Yet this is a region that is uncomfortably familiar with conflicts of identity. Catalonia’s president, Carles Puigdemont, attended the Sunday service with the king and queen, but it was a rare joint appearance with the monarchs for the republican politician, who is the architect of the unofficial referendum on independence that is scheduled to take place in less than six weeks’ time. Madrid continues to insist the plebiscite is illegal and that it will do everything it can to stop it happening. The last Catalan president who organised a similar referendum has been banned from public office for two years.

Thursday’s attack is likely to be used by Madrid to add to the pressure on the regional government. The argument has already been rehearsed in the national capital’s newspaper El País, which said it was a wake-up call for the Catalan government, described independence as a fantasy and called on the regional politicians to “ditch the democratic nonsense … and start working for our real interests”.

There are plenty of people, not just in the darker corners of social media, who believe there is a link between terror and refugees. Late last year, Europol reported Islamic State was deliberately trying to radicalise vulnerable refugees in order to inflame the migration crisis and turn EU citizens against refugees seeking asylum. That makes the challenge Barcelona faces now, to sustain the qualities of a multicultural cosmopolitanism, the youthful and open approach that has made it so beloved, the more important. It has a fine record: its recent hostility to rapidly growing tourism, partly aggravated by the way Airbnb has driven up rents in the city, is more than matched – as banners during anti-tourism protests showed – by its readiness to welcome refugees. It describes itself as a “refugee city” and it has an impressive plan for comprehensive reception and resettlement facilities. But Barcelona’s offer of welcome is not shared absolutely everywhere in Spain, and, last week, the UN refugee agency warned the country was struggling to cope with the 9,300 refugees who have already arrived this year. That number will only increase as the route from Libya becomes ever more dangerous and some of the tens of thousands who risk the crossing to Italy seek a safer route.

The past year has seen terror strike half a dozen European countries. Events in Spain were still unfolding when a man went on the rampage in the Finnish town of Turku, murdering two women. His ethnicity, like that of the Spanish terrorists, was Moroccan. These brutal murders have played a part in poisoning the atmosphere against migrants. While Angela Merkel of Germany stoutly upholds her commitment to refugees, the EU collectively has failed at every turn, unable even to ensure that members honour the commitments they have already made to ease the burden on the frontline states of Greece and Italy. This is a desperate tragedy for millions fleeing endemic violence and insecurity. It threatens, too, the precious cohesion of neighbourhoods. And it is a kind of victory for the terrorists of all sides who seek to undermine Europe’s universal values.

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Spain lacks capacity to handle migration surge, says UN refugee agency | World news

Spain lacks the resources and capacity to protect the rising number of refugees and migrants reaching it by sea, the UN refugee agency has said.

The warning from UNHCR comes as the Spanish coastguard said it rescued 593 people in a day from 15 small paddle boats, including 35 children and a baby, after they attempted to cross the seven-mile Strait of Gibraltar.

The number of refugees and migrants risking the sea journey between Morocco and Spain has been rising sharply, with the one-day figure the largest since August 2014, when about 1,300 people landed on the Spanish coast in a 24-hour period.

About 9,300 migrants have arrived in Spain by sea so far this year, while a further 3,500 have made it to two Spanish enclaves in north Africa, Ceuta and Melilla, the EU’s only land borders with Africa.

Chart of child refugees and migrants arriving in Europe after crossing Mediterranean

María Jesús Vega, a spokeswoman for UNHCR Spain, said police were badly under-resourced and there was a lack of interpreters and a shortage of accommodation for the new arrivals.

“The state isn’t prepared and there aren’t even the resources and the means to deal with the usual flow of people arriving by sea,” she said.

“Given the current rise, we’re seeing an overflow situation when it comes to local authorities trying to cope at arrival points.”

Vega said the agency was seeing a very high number of vulnerable people including women, victims of people-trafficking, and children.

“What we’re asking is for there to be the right mechanisms in place to ensure people are treated with dignity when they come,” she said.

Last week, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) said Spain could become more popular than Greece as a destination for people seeking to enter Europe, as some look for alternatives to Italy.

About 12,440 people have arrived in Greece so far in 2017, according to UNHCR. The numbers heading to Spain and Greece are dwarfed by Italy, which has seen 97,376 arrivals so far this year. Although this is a reduction on the 101,512 people who arrived during the same period in 2016, the issue continues to cause problems for the authorities, with almost 5,000 people reaching Italy on one day in June.

William Spindler, a spokesman for UNHCR in Geneva, said: “There have been three main routes into Europe for many years, for decades: the central Mediterranean one, the eastern one from Turkey to Greece, and there has always been Spain.

“What is true is that when efforts are made to clamp down on one route, another tends to open up.”

UNHCR figures show that most of those arriving in Spain by sea set out from Morocco, although some also embark from Algeria. The majority of the migrants are from Cameroon, Guinea and the Gambia.

Vega said the continuing instability in Libya meant people trying to escape the war in Syria were trying to reach Europe via Ceuta and Melilla.

She said the agency had noticed an increase in the number of Moroccans travelling to Spain, coinciding with the end of Ramadan and unrest in the Rif region.

Although Vega stressed that the situation in Spain was hardly comparable with Italy, she said Madrid needed to do much more.

“This could be managed quite simply if it were properly addressed,” she said.

“[But] if there isn’t a proper response, we could see people who have fallen into the clutches of people-traffickers becoming merchandise. We’re going to see people who should have international protection facing danger if they’re returned home.”

Statistics compiled by the IOM show that more than 113,000 migrants and refugees have entered Europe by sea this year. To date, more than 2,300 have died in the attempt, 119 of them while trying to reach Spain.

Migrant and refugee arrivals in Europe chart

Italy has embarked on a flurry of initiatives to reduce numbers, including a diplomatic campaign to persuade tribes in the south of Libya to clamp down on people smugglers.

Marco Minniti, the Italian interior minister, has insisted that NGOs involved in sea rescues sign a code of conduct, which was sharply criticised by the UN-backed IOM.

Several aid groups refused to sign the code of conduct because they thought their neutrality would be compromised by taking armed police officers on board. At least three organisations signed it.

The Italian government remains under pressure, as neighbouring countries have tightened border controls, meaning refugees and migrants are unable to head north to France or Austria as they have done in the past.

On Wednesday, 70 Austrian troops were deployed to the Brenner pass to help police with border checks, the Italian news agency ANSA reported.

UNHCR said it was too soon to tell whether the recent drop in arrivals in Italy represented a downward trend or a temporary fluctuation.

Under pressure from the EU, the Libyan coastguard has stepped up interceptions of boats, while some NGOs have suspended work in the central Mediterranean because they felt threatened by Libya’s coastguard.

Both could explain the recent fall in sea crossings, but Spindler said: “We don’t have any hard evidence. We could see an increase in the next few weeks.”

Vega said the international community needed to do more to tackle the root causes of migration, such as conflict, climate change and economic instability, to reduce numbers.

“It’s clear that walls and fences aren’t going to deter anyone who’s desperate enough to risk their life and those of their children. Whatever lies ahead of them, it can’t be worse than what they’re leaving behind. They know they could die,” she said.

The Spanish government did not respond to a request for comment.

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Beachgoers watch migrant boat land on Spanish shore | World news

Bathers on a southern Spanish beach watched in amazement when a large dinghy carrying as many as 20 African migrants came ashore in broad daylight before its occupants fled into the surrounding countryside.

The landing, caught on video, took place on Wednesday afternoon in Zahara de los Atunes near Cádiz, 7.7 miles from the coast of north Africa.

Heavy police and coastguard patrols have in recent times forced migrants to use the much longer and more hazardous route from Mauritania to the Canary Islands, but lately there has been an upsurge in crossings via the Strait of Gibraltar.

The Spanish coastguard had earlier received an SOS call from another dinghy and rescued all eight people on board. The Moroccan navy rescued seven people from another vessel.

According to the EU’s Frontex border agency, 7,500 immigrants made the crossing to Spain in the first three months of the year, compared with 3,600 in the same period last year. In June alone, 2,200 attempted to cross the strait on vessels ranging from inflatable toy boats to high-powered launches.

A Frontex spokesman said the route across the strait had been revived because it was the shortest and because powerful launches of the type employed by drug smugglers meant it was possible to ship a large number of people over in a matter of minutes.

The spokesman said the closure of migrant camps in Morocco and Algeria may be driving migrants to take greater risks.

More than 1,600 people have been rescued off the coast of Cádiz since January. According to the Red Cross, more than 90% are from sub-Saharan Africa.

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