COVID & Asylum – 13th October

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

Destitution and the campaign to #StopAsylumEvictions  

Over the last fortnight, we’ve seen people take a stand against the Home Office’s decision to resume evictions for people who have been refused asylum. From NACCOM’s online day of action on the 7th October, to joint letters and statements, voices across the UK have been calling on the Home Office to #StopAsylumEvictions.

To everyone who’s taken action – signing the letter, posting on social media, contacting your MPs, or local authority – we’d like to take this opportunity to thank you. Our collective voice could not be clearer: everyone must be protected from homelessness during this public health emergency. Here’s a quick rundown of highlights from last week, and actions you can still take!

  • Alongside NACCOM and Migrants Rights Network, we were proud to help coordinate a letter to the Prime Minister from 225 organisations, asking for him to immediately reverse the decision and keep everyone safe from COVID.
  • People seeking asylum at risk of eviction have also spoken to the Guardian about their fears of facing homelessness in the middle of a pandemic.
  • Three directly elected Mayors – Andy Burnham, Steve Rotheram and Jamie Driscoll – published a public statement on the 7th October, demanding further protections from eviction for people who have been refused asylum and for an end to discriminatory No Recourse to Public Funds conditions. In their words, “everyone should have access to a safe and stable home.” You can read the full statement here.
  • Concerns have been raised by Hull City Council in its evidence to the Public Accounts Committee, describing the decision to resume eviction proceedings – particularly in the context of rising rates of COVID-19 – “irresponsible.” Glasgow City Council have also written to the Home Secretary saying that to resume evictions “in the current climate in the city would be dangerous, would put numerous people at risk and would be disastrous for community relations in the city.” Liverpool City Council have reportedly written to the Home Office demanding for a further pause on evictions.
  • There has also been concerning news that people are facing eviction notices in areas of local lockdown. Speaking to the Liverpool Echo, Siobhan from Merseyside Law Clinic explained, “it’s a public health issue, and the situation now, it’s just such chaos.” May Bulman at The Independent covered this issue in full over the weekend, our partners Asylum Link were featured in a Big Issue North article, and GMIAU have published a great blog on the issue.
  • Similarly, medical bodies and homelessness charities have warned that without urgent Government action to protect people forced to sleep rough this winter, lives will be at risk. Politicians have also started calling for the resumption of ‘Everyone In’ to keep people safe from COVID-19 over the winter.

It’s more important than ever to take action to keep people safe. People who have sought sanctuary in our towns and cities are still facing the threat of evictions into homelessness, in the middle of a public health pandemic, and with winter around the corner.

Use our joint resources for writing to your MP or Local Authority to ask them to join us in taking action to #StopAsylumEvictions. Do let us know if you get a response from your MP or councillors, or would like to get involved in the campaign in any other way, by emailing us at [email protected].

Hands Up for Our Health

We are proud to join the Hands Up for Our Health campaign coalition, a new coalition of organisations fighting for everyone in the UK to have the chance to access healthcare, during COVID-19 and beyond.

If you would like to support the campaign or join the coalition, get in touch with the coalition on their website or via [email protected].

2. Research and reports

New Commons Library Report on hotels being used as asylum accommodation

This briefing provides background information on the reasons why hotels are being used and data on how many people are housed this way.

Windrush Lessons Learned Review 

The Home Office has published a Comprehensive Improvement plan in response to the Windrush Lesson Learned Review. In it the Home Secretary stated: “My ambition is to build a fairer, more compassionate, Home Office that puts people first and sees the ‘face behind the case’. I expect to see nothing less than a total transformation of our culture.”

However, some Windrush victims are skeptical and have accused the Home Office of “playing lip service” (as covered in the Guardian article).

3. Home Office and Government Developments 

Priti Patel’s Speech to the Conservative Party Conference 

On Sunday 5th October, the Home Secretary gave her speech to the online Conservative Party Conference. In this speech, she spoke about her intention to reform the ‘broken’ asylum system to ensure it is both ‘fair’ and ‘firm.’

The speech (full text here) was light on detail, but two articles in The Times (£) give a clearer indication of what is under consideration for the proposed ‘Fair Borders Bill’ next year (text below copied from second article):

  • “Migrants arriving illegally will face the presumption that they are refused asylum, although each case will be considered on its merits
  • New legal routes will be created for those who are at genuine risk of harm
  • Those applying for asylum will be banned from making “endless” appeals if rejected
  • New facilities will be opened to house and process asylum seekers
  • Courts will be told to send asylum seekers back to safe countries they had passed through on the way to the UK
  • Foreign criminals and asylum seekers who are not at risk will be deported.”
Immigration Bill: Detention & Family Reunion

A number of key amendments to the Immigration Bill were successful in the House of Lords last week. Peers approved a number of amendments, including the ‘Dubs amendment’ (to keep current rules for unaccompanied child refugees after the end of the transition period) as well as proposals to introduce a 28 day time limit on immigration detention.

The Bill will now return to the House of Commons, where MPs will vote on the new amendments.

Asylum Accommodation

We are increasingly alarmed by recent news from the Home Office and Number 10 about proposals to radically change the way in which people seeking asylum are housed whilst they wait for a decision on their asylum claim.

Over the past weeks and months, we’ve seen a marked increase in the use of large scale facilities to house people seeking asylum. Military barracks are currently being used as initial accommodation in Penally (Wales) and Folkestone (Kent). Recently, there have been additional abhorrent proposals to introduce offshore processing, on islands or disused ferries.

People accommodated in large scale facilities, and in barracks, continue to be a target for the far right. This piece from the Independent talks to people accommodated in these facilities about what it feels like to be targeted. Further stories about the dire provision in these new facilities emerged last weekend, including this piece in the Observer, and news that a Home Office representative in Wales apologised for the lack of communication before housing people seeking asylum in the Barracks in Pembrokeshire.

Asylum Matters strongly believes that the use of military facilities to house people fleeing persecution is completely inappropriate, and that outlandish proposals recently reported on have no place in a just and fair asylum system. People need homes in communities, not warehousing in barracks or detention centres on far away islands. We will continue to advocate for safe, and appropriate, housing for people seeking refugee protection.

Westminster Hall Debate on NRPF 

On 8th October Stephen Timms MP secured a Westminster Hall debate in the House of Commons on NRPF, where MPs called for the NRPF conditions to be lifted.  You can watch it here and this is JCWI’s briefing paper provided to MPs.

Public Accounts Committee interrogates the Asylum Accommodation and Support Contracts 

On the 1st October, the Public Accounts Committee questioned officials from the Home Office as part of its ongoing inquiry into the Asylum Accommodation and Support contracts. This follows the report from the National Audit Office into the contracts in early July.

Committee members talked about the extensive evidence they’d received from NGOs, local authorities and MPs about serious problems with the way the HO and Providers continue to run these contracts and the impacts this has on people seeking asylum. PAC members talked about local authorities not being consulted about new large scale accommodation facilities; about people seeking asylum being left in poor accommodation or destitution due to delays; and complete breakdowns in provision during transition.

The issues highlighted by the Committee come as no surprise to people living in asylum accommodation and reliant on asylum support; or those who support them. These contracts have been plagued by systemic problems since their inception, as outlined in our joint report ‘Wake Up Call’, which members of the Committee referred to during the session.

You can read the evidence submitted to the Committee – including from Asylum Matters – here, as well as read the full transcript here.

Updated Home Office ‘factsheet’

Following the restart of evictions from asylum accommodation, the Home Office has now updated its online “factsheet” to reflect this.

4. Resources and what we’ve been reading …

The Daily Mirror carried a powerful interview with Tamil Siva, who as a twenty-year-old in 1987 was one of the asylum seekers who was ‘housed’ on the Earl William passenger ferry. To escape the dire conditions on board the ship moored just off Harwich in Essex he jumped off the ship. Three decades on, Siva, is a married bus driver with full UK citizenship and three children. This seems poignant considering housing people on ferries is back on the agenda

5. Events

Reminder: virtual Lift the Ban petition hand-in, 21st October
We’re on track for the virtual hand-in of our incredible 150,000 petition signatures on Wednesday 21st October. If you haven’t already, please keep the 21st October free to support Lift the Ban via your social media channels where possible and help us get this moment the attention it deserves. Until then, please do keep promoting the petition if you can- the more signatures we can get to the Home Office on the 21st the better!
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