Covid 19 & Asylum – Update 2nd June

Our weekly summary of ongoing advocacy initiatives, interesting surveys and research, government developments and useful resources. Contact us if you’d like to get this update directly into your inbox!

1. Ongoing advocacy initiatives

Continued advocacy on asylum support rates
Advocacy on asylum support continues, with Refugee Action launching a Twitter e-action to increase the pressure on the Home Office to raise rates. The action enables people to tweet a message, along with a new animation, to Priti Patel and Boris Johnson. Meanwhile Freedom from Torture’s petition to increase asylum support continues to attract support (at the time of writing nearly 18,400 signatures). 
Calls to lift NRPF restrictions 
On Thursday, we joined over 30 migrants rights organisations – coordinated by the Unity Project and JCWI – in writing to the Prime Minister urging him to lift No Recourse to Public Funds restrictions swiftly and completely. The letter stated “Without support, people are forced to work in unsafe conditions, cannot remove themselves from unsafe housing, and are unable to both effectively self-isolate and feed their families.”
This followed an admission by the Prime Minister, in answer to a question by Stephen Timms MP, that he was not aware that thousands of people, including at least 100,000 children with a period of leave but no recourse to public funds, are being pushed into destitution in the course of the pandemic. Boris Johnson undertook to find out how many there are in that position and “see what we can do to help”. There was widespread coverage of the incident including in the ExpressGuardian and Mirror, and Mohammed, made destitute during the pandemic because of the NRPF policy, spoke to the Public Interest Law Centre of his experience.
You can support the campaign to end NRPF conditions by tweeting with the hashtag #scrapNRPF
Experts by experience call on Priti Patel for release of immigration detainees
Spokespeople from the These Walls Must Fall campaign in South Yorkshire, all with lived experience of UK immigration detention, have written an open letter to the Home Secretary, which they are inviting groups, organisations and individuals to sign, calling for the immediate release of everyone held under immigration powers.
Asylum Matters are proud to stand in solidarity with these activists and support this important letter. You can read the letter and sign up here.
Home Office policy on application fees unlawful
The Upper Tribunal has found that the Home Office policy of waiving the application fee for destitute immigrants is unlawful and needs to be widened. Free Movement provides a full explanation of the judgement here.
Independent Board of Monitors reports on removals
The Charter Flight Monitoring team of the Independent Board of Monitors published its annual report for 2019. The report found no evidence that Dublin Convention returnees had been properly prepared for removal from the UK; ill-judged use of restraints in some cases; patchy on-the-spot oversight by the Home Office; lack of continuous access to professional interpreting services for Dublin Convention returnees; returnees enduring long periods of confinement in coaches and being denied dignity and privacy whilst using toilet facilities.

2. Ongoing Surveys 

Asylos and ARC Foundation are asking for help to identify critical gaps in the country information available on the risk profiles of asylum seeking-children and young people in the UK. They want to know about information gaps which frequently act as barriers to protection for young people in the UK, and ask that respondents either fill out this short survey or send an email to strategiccoi[at] listing up to three topics in order of preference by 1st June 2020.
Open Rights Group’s survey on data privacy and new tech in the immigration sector is still ongoing and can be accessed here.

3. Home Office and Government Developments

Statistics on COVID-19 and the immigration system
The Government has released statistics on COVID-19 and the immigration system, highlighting some of the key trends into April on passenger arrivals, visas, extensions, asylum, resettlement and detention, as well as the EU Settlement Scheme. Key asylum related developments are:
  • Although there had been a general upward trend in the number of asylum applications since mid-2018, the number of applications fell sharply in the UK following the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. In the four weeks prior to lockdown, there were around 2,500 applications, however in the first four weeks of lockdown there were less than 800, a fall of 69%.
  • There were around 300 initial decisions made on asylum applications in the first four weeks of lockdown. This was around one sixth of the number in the four weeks prior to lockdown. 
  • Due to COVID-19 related restrictions on movements both overseas and in the UK, it is not currently possible to undertake any resettlement activity. As a result, there have been no refugees resettled in the UK since 12 March 2020, following the outbreak of COVID-19. All refugee resettlement arrivals to the UK planned prior to the current crisis have now been cancelled. Resettlement arrivals are due to restart as soon as conditions allow.

4. Resources

Refugee Week is only a few weeks away, and is holding its first ever virtual edition inviting people to connect across borders and distance, and together imagine a different world. See here for six ways to get involved!

The Institute for Community Research and Development at the University of Wolverhampton alongside Project 17, ASIRT, Migrants Rights Network and PILC has published interim findings on a project aiming to understand the impact of Coronavirus on people with NRPF, and the response of Local Authorities, with the intention of identifying areas of good practice. The interim findings are: a lack of publicly available information for people with NRPF published by Local Authorities; a lack of updated information from Local Authorities re NRPF since the pandemic; a disproportionate amount of those with NRPF likely to get seriously ill; and people with NRPF struggling to access food, shelter and subsistence support during the pandemic. The interim report can be viewed here.

European Asylum Support Office Special Report highlights that the risk of COVID-19 taking hold in lower income countries, as well as leading to more insecurity, could result in increases in asylum applications within the EU in the medium term. There has been a dramatic 43% decline in the asylum applications in the EU+ in March, due to national measures being taken as a result of the pandemic.

Oxford Migration have a free digital conference this week, ‘Reimagining Migration Narratives’, which will bring together academics, researchers, practitioners and artists each day to explore 5 themes through interdisciplinary panel discussions: Migration & the Arts; Representation & Identity; Knowledge Production & Methodology; Storytelling; and Policy & Migration. You can book your tickets here.

4. What we’ve been reading (or watching)…

ITV news reported on how four families living under one roof in asylum accommodation in London are finding it impossible to practice social distancing at this time and the plight of people with NRPF in the city. Meanwhile, Wales Online highlighted a story of refugees in Ceredigion feeding their community.

On ITV’s Calendar news programme for Yorkshire, Frogh – a public health expert from Afghanistan – spoke of her frustration at being prevented from helping in this time of crisis by the Government’s rules on the right to work for people seeking asylum.

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