Covid 19 & Asylum – 1st September

Our fortnightly 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

Channel Crossings

Coverage of the perilous channel crossings has continued at pace over the last two weeks, following the tragic death of a Sudanese teenager who drowned when attempting the journey. In the face of increasingly hostile coverage, colleagues across the sector have responded in force calling for a humane response, and crucially, the restoration of safe and legal routes.

JCWI have created a briefing outlining the case for safe and legal routes into the UK. As we outlined in the last update, you can take action with their write to your MP action and the City of Sanctuary Stand up for Sanctuary campaign.

Key developments have included:

  • Led by Donkeys made a very emotive and powerful video starring  Hassan which they projected onto the Dover cliffs.
  • Kent County Council have reported that they can no longer accommodate or support any further arrivals of unaccompanied young people seeking asylum. Reports have suggested that unaccompanied children and young people will be taken into the ‘care of Border Force’ before being transferred to alternative local authority care.
  • There have also been brilliant displays of local welcome, from Refugees Welcome protests in Falmouth to a local football team in North Wales challenging hateful rhetoric from local politicians.
  • Another area of concern is that over 40 Conservative MPs who are members of the new ‘Common Sense’ Group have called on the government to overhaul asylum laws including sending anyone back who has travelled through the a safe country to get to the UK. This gathered coverage in the Express and the Telegraph among other outlets.
  • The Home Office’s response to the criticism over channel crossings has been to publicly state they are deporting people back to EU countries. A tweet which was highly criticised by the legal profession berated ‘activist lawyers’ for frustrating the process was later taken down, with the Home Office’s Permanent Secretary confirming that it should not have been used on an official government channel. Twelve people were deported to France and Germany but a second flight was halted due to legal challenges. Some of the people detained at Brook House awaiting deportation went on hunger strike. Detained Voices has published statements gathered from detainees about their experiences
Asylum Accommodation

There has been a rise in far-right demonstrations and harassment of residents in hotels housing people seeking asylum. Coverage has included articles in HuffPost and the Independent.

Hotels have also received coverage in the local media, and one which countered this negative portrayal of those seeking asylum was an Essex Live piece about the hotel which briefly housed people seeking asylum in Home Secretary Priti Patel’s constituency.

The Guardian has published a Q&A on the use of hotel accommodation to address some of the claims.

Glasgow’s seven SNP MPs have withdrawn from discussions with Home Office, stating they have no confidence in the department’s operation of the review of accommodation in the city for people seeking asylum during Covid-19. The MPs claim that they are unable to engage with the Home Office in good faith due to a lack of transparency about the proposed review.

Asylum support survey update

We received nearly 200 responses to our survey and we are currently collating the data. We would like to say a massive thank you to all who completed it, promoted it and supported people to complete it!

If you took part in the survey, or supported service users to do so, and would like to remain involved in Asylum Matters’ work on asylum support rates in the coming months, do let us know at [email protected].
Destitution / NRPF

West Midlands Mayor Andy Street and Andy Burnham, Mayor of Greater Manchester, have both spoken publicly about the need to tackle homelessness, and given their support to Crisis’s call for emergency homelessness legislation, which would guarantee temporary accommodation to all those experiencing homelessness over the next 12 months, regardless of their immigration status.

The Welsh Government has published a feasibility study on accommodation and support options for people who have been refused asylum. The accompanying ministerial statement speaks of funding and support for legal advice and guidance for local authorities, but ministers are yet to confirm which of the recommendations they will be taking forward.
Lift The Ban
For the third time in two years, the House of Commons library has published a briefing paper on the right to work for people seeking asylum. You can read the briefing at the House of Commons library website.
There has been some great engagement with resources for the campaign from a wide range of coalition members and partner organisations, including Merton Citizens, Southampton Action, City of Sanctuary, the Millside Centre and Esmee Fairbairn.

There has also been lots of really strong media coverage, including:

  • Campaigners in Wales spoke to the BBC about the importance of the right to work, with expert by experience Mostafa courageously sharing his story and his experience of living on asylum support rates.
  • In Coventry, coalition members spoke out in support of the campaign, with Coventry City Council continuing to throw their weight behind it after successfully passing a council motion in March.
  • In Leicester, Lift the Ban spokesperson Anju spoke about her experience of waiting nine years for the right to work.
  • In Bradford, Diana Flores spoke on BCB radio about her own experience of waiting eight years to be able to work in the UK, explaining why she is campaigning to change this for others.

Finally, printed copies of the new campaign report and local activism pack can be requested by coalition members by contacting us at [email protected].

 2.   Research and reports
Groundswell Research paper on the impact of Covid, Homesslessness and Immigration

We have enjoyed working closely on this briefing with Groundswell. It focuses on the impact of Covid-19 for people who are in the asylum system, refugees or those who have no recourse to public funds (NRPF).

NRPF and Local Authority Report

Public Interest Law Centre, along with the University of Wolverhampton, has published a report into local authority support for people with NRPF during the pandemic that may be of interest.

The report can be read and downloaded here. There was also coverage in the Independent.
UN report on the use of private actors in immigration systems

This report shines a light on the role of private military and security services in immigration and border management.  Privacy International have written a great overview.

Online launch of young people’s guide to age assessments

Members of GMIAU’s All4One youth group – all with experience of seeking asylum in the UK as children and having their ages disputed – have worked on a guide to age assessments. They want to share their experiences and pass them on to other young people facing similar situations.

Their work is being launched online at 5pm on 9 September, live streamed from the GMIAU Facebook page – see here for details.

In advance of the event, GMIAU is also running a series of blogs on age assessments.

3. Home Office and Government developments
Eviction ban extended in England and Wales

The eviction ban for those in the private rented sector has been extended to 20 September in England and Wales. This follows a decision in Scotland to extend protections from eviction for those in the private rented sector to March 2021, and significant pressure from devolved administrations and health bodies.

We believe that now, more than ever, it is not right for people to be evicted into homelessness. We continue to call on the Home Office to issue sufficient safeguards to prevent newly granted refugees from being forced into homelessness following the restarting of cessation notices.

No-one should be forcibly evicted until we see a proper plan to keep people seeking asylum safe from homelessness. Beyond this, we maintain the call for
a triple lock of protections to prevent the homelessness of people seeking asylum.

Repurposing of Yarl’s Wood Detention Centre
Yarl’s Wood Detention Centre is no longer to be used as a women’s immigration removal centre. Instead, it has been temporarily repurposed to house people who have arrived on small boats from across the Channel.
The end to the detention of women at Yarl’s Wood is an incredible victory for those campaigning against indefinite detention. However, the news that the centre is being repurposed rather than closed, is incredibly concerning. In the words of Women for Refugee Women: “let it not become a symbol of further injustice.”

Immigration statistics

Last week the UK Government published quarterly and annual immigration statistics up to the end of June 2020. The data set covers a wide range of themes, but some of the headlines include:


  • In the three months to the end of June 2020, 4,732 people claimed asylum in the UK. This marks a 40% decrease on the same period in the previous year.
  • Between April-June 2020, the number of main applicants and dependants waiting over six months for a decision on their asylum claim rose for the ninth consecutive quarter. Of the 54,073 main applicants and dependants waiting for an initial decision, 38,756 waited over six months. This means 72% of people waiting waited over six months for a decision.
  • No refugee resettlement took place between April-June 2020, as a result of the suspension of flights.
  • In the same period, just 131 family reunion visas were granted, a 94% drop compared to the previous quarter.
Several partner organisations, including the Refugee Council and Refugee Action, have provided detailed analysis of the data; while we spoke to BBC News about the impact of the growth in delays in asylum decision making and the case to restore the right to work.
Home Office reinstates cash payments to those in NRM
The UK Government appears to have backtracked on its policy of removing cash support to people in the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) who are being temporarily housed in hotels or Initial Accommodation. As reported in The Independent, the move by the Home Office came ahead of a planned legal action; and will see victims of trafficking and modern slavery who are housed in contingency accommodation have cash support reinstated at £25.40 a week, backdated to when payments were halted in July.

4.   Resources and what we’ve been reading

New factsheets from ASAP

The Asylum Support Appeals Project (ASAP) has prepared two new factsheets on changes to the Asylum Support Tribunal procedure during Covid-19:

ASAP has advised that the factsheets cross-refer to one another and should be read together.

In the media


Stuart McDonald MP, the SNP’s immigration spokesperson, has authored an op-ed calling for a review of how Mears, the housing provider in Glasgow, has been operating and for there to be an extension on the no-cessations of support and accommodation in the asylum system.

5. Events, jobs and funding opportunities

Resist, protest, imagine: Art for a new deal on migration
On 2 September JCWI are holding an event with three incredible artists and activists, who will talk about their work and how they can use it to tell new stories and inspire others. The event takes place tomorrow (Wednesday 2 September) between 4.30–6pm, with more information and the option to sign up here.
JCWI are commissioning artists

JCWI are also looking for illustrators, graphic designers and other visual artists to work on three briefs to help launch a new campaign (which has a working title of ‘a new deal on migration’). They are looking for:

  • A series of illustrations of some of the undocumented workers they have been speaking to;
  • An infographic that illustrates how people become undocumented, the harsh realities of the hostile environment, and how difficult it is to get status back again;
  • Poster/s that encapsulate the ideas/messages of the new deal and encourage others to get involved

Plus they have a bonus ‘open’ pitch if people have other ideas that tie in with what they are trying to do! If you know anyone who might be interested, please send them this link.

Jobs at Refugee Action
Refugee Action is currently advertising for an Experts by Experience Co-ordinator (closing date 8 September) and a Head of Business Development (closing date 16 September). See the Refugee Action website for more information on these roles and to apply.
Barrow Cadbury Covid-19 support fund reopens
Barrow Cadbury Trust has reopened its Covid-19 Support Fund for a second round with expanded criteria. Organisations with income between £10,000 and £3 million and those that have a track record of providing support to refugees and migrants, as well as organisations whose entire focus is on working with these groups, are now eligible to apply.  Full details of the programme can be found here.
Lloyds Bank Foundation fund for influencing welfare reform
Lloyds Bank Foundation has launched a new fund open to organisations with a track record in working and influencing on welfare issues. The fund will support influencing work in the welfare space that is focused on issues that have been highlighted by the Covid-19 pandemic, or where there are particular policy influencing opportunities. Further information on the fund, and how to apply ahead of the closing date on 30 September, can be found here.
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