COVID & Asylum – 27th 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

Leeds City Council calls for the Home Secretary to #StopAsylumEvictions

Despite the continuing rise in COVID cases and increasing restrictions in many local areas, the Home Office is still pushing ahead with plans to evict people who have been refused asylum. However, many voices from across the UK are continuing to oppose the Home Office’s decision, including the Leader of Leeds City Council who has written to the Home Secretary to call for the Home Office to halt evictions. This letter comes after brilliant advocacy work from local partners in Leeds, who worked together to send a joint letter to the Council from 17 local organisations working with refugees and people seeking asylum, asking for them to take up their concerns with the Home Secretary and call for a further suspension of evictions from asylum accommodation. 

Special shout out to the Leeds Migration Partnership and partners across Leeds for this brilliant bit of work!

If you haven’t already written to your MP or local authority, it’s not too late! You can find a number of resources prepared jointly with NACCOM on our website

If you have already taken action, thank you! Now that we are planning next steps for the campaign, we are keen to hear from you about any responses you’ve had to these letters and to work with partners, MPs and local councillors on follow-up actions. 

Please let us know about any responses you’ve had or if you’d like to discuss next steps locally by replying to your regional campaign manager, or this email directly. 

Lift The Ban

On 21 October, the Lift the Ban coalition handed in an incredible 181,339 signatures to the Home Office from people all over the country asking the Home Secretary to #LifttheBan!

A group of living statues, dressed as people from different professions, appeared in Westminster to show how people seeking asylum are frozen out of work and left in limbo by the system. Elsewhere, groups such as Maryhill Integration Network made their voice heard, whilst the efforts of campaigners meant that #LifttheBan trended on twitter and the petition hand in also was covered in the Metro and Forbes.

The petition is now closed, but you can still email your MP to tell them why giving the right to work to people seeking asylum is common sense.

Asylum accommodation and unsuitable short term holding facilities 

We and others continue to be extremely concerned by the increasing use of wholly unsuitable facilities to accommodate people seeking asylum.

In Kent, communities and activists came together as more than 200 people showed their welcome for people being housed in unsuitable barracks in Folkestone, with ‘heart warming’ scenes reported. In the same week, there were reports of plans to repurpose a former industrial welding site into a processing centre for people seeking asylum in Dover. In Wales, First Minister Mark Drakeford made a further statement criticising the Home Office for not addressing serious issues at the Penally site, and called for “the use of the camp to end as quickly as possible.”

Meanwhile, HM Inspectorate of Prisons published its report on unannounced inspections of Tug Haven and Kent Intake Unit in Dover, Frontier House in Folkestone, Lunar House in Croydon and Yarl’s Wood in Bedford, used primarily to hold people who have arrived from France on small boats after undertaking sea crossings from Calais. The report found a litany of problems, in particular describing Tug Haven as ‘unsuitable’ and ‘resembling a building site’ and stated that conditions there ‘were not the result of a large number of people arriving. It was simply that there was inadequate provision.’ It stated  ‘it is hard to understand this failure to prepare properly for what must have been a predictable increase in.[..] .numbers’.  The Inspector’s report also voiced concerns over the treatment of unaccompanied children, causing the Children’s Commissioner to call on the Home Office to urgently review its processes.

Elsewhere, Abia described her experience of being held in the Kent intake centre in overcrowded conditions, unable to sleep, and having been left in wet clothes. Additionally, May Bulman has reported on dangerous conditions in asylum accommodation in West Yorkshire and Wales, and the persistent barriers faced by individuals and organisations trying to rectify the situation.
Victory at court of appeal for detention campaigners 
Medical Justice and others won an important victory at the Court of Appeal, which unanimously quashed the Judicial Review and Injunctions Policy (JRI), which allowed a very short notice period of removals without further notice during a ‘removal window’ of three months. The Court found that the policy allows for ‘no adequate opportunity’ for individuals to take advice and stated ‘The right to access the court is an absolute and inviolable right’. Coverage can be found here.
Windrush – Lessons Not Learned?

Wendy Williams, who carried out the Windrush Lessons Learned Review, has voiced concern at the lack of speed and ambition in the Home Office’s work in response to her recommendations on the compliant (or hostile) environment.

“The department has a choice. It can really embrace my recommendations or it can pay lip service to my recommendations, and not institute that fundamental cultural change,” she told the House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee.

She also told MPs that it is “absolutely essential” that the Home Office used the “right language” when talking about migration, in relation to the department’s recent tweet referring to “activist lawyers”.

Lawyers call for an apology from the Prime Minister and Home Secretary for comments on the legal profession
Over 800 ex-judges, lawyers and legal professionals have signed a letter criticising the Prime Minister’s and Home Secretary’s recent inflammatory comments on the legal profession. The letter, published last weekend in the Guardian, makes the point that recent hostile language towards lawyers representing migrants and people seeking asylum has endangered the safety of lawyers and undermines the rule of law.

2. Research and reports

Info hub survey on hotels, barracks, hate crime, destitution and evictions and access to justice 

Migration Hub and Refugee Action are collaborating on an Information and Data Hub aimed at sharing information on the needs of people and organisations in the immigration system during COVID-19. As part of this they are particularly keen to hear from organisations currently working to support people in contingency asylum accommodation, and the experiences of those working with people at risk of destitution, or those who have experience of working on hate crime / access to justice. A survey on these subjects has been compiled and can be accessed here. The survey is open until 6 November. Any organisations wishing to receive further updates on the Information and Data Hub can sign up here.

New Doctors of the World Report

A new report from Doctors of the World reveals the impact of immigration rules on migrants’ access to healthcare.

‘Delays and Destitution’ reveals medical charges are being applied and care withheld, resulting in lengthy treatment delays for migrants already living in extremely vulnerable circumstances, including those with life-threatening or serious health conditions who are having ‘immediately necessary’ or ‘urgent’ NHS services withheld for months and, in some cases, years.

DOTW’s audit shows that in many cases, care was incorrectly denied due to incorrect application of the rules.

New report from GMIAU on six positive changes to the immigration and asylum system during the pandemic

GMIAU have detailed six changes to preserve practices initiated in the immigration and asylum system during the pandemic, in order to enable more efficient, agile working going forwards. Whilst not underestimating the challenges of digital inclusion, the report argues that the shift towards digital processes could ultimately enable more timely, thorough and evidence based applications.

3. Home Office and Government Developments 

Rough sleeping to be grounds for cancellation of permission to stay 

Last week, the Government laid before Parliament a Statement of Changes to the Immigration Rules, running to over 500 pages. The Statement and its Explanatory Memorandum can be found here. It focuses on various changes across wide areas of the immigration system; a summary of important changes can be found on FreeMovement.

Notably, the rules include a new discretionary ground, to come into force as of next year, for refusal or cancellation of an individual’s permission to stay in the UK on the basis of rough sleeping. This provision, which could see people with an existing right to remain in the UK lose it simply for being street homeless, has been widely condemned as a ‘huge step backwards’, ‘completely unreasonable’ and ‘immoral’.

Government to publish tender for ‘reintegration services’ 

The Government has published an ‘early notification page’ of a £28m contract ‘to work with commercial partner(s) to provide reintegration services for people returning from the UK to their countries of origin.’ stating it wants to ‘support a range of returnees (voluntary or enforced) from across the immigration system, potentially including Foreign National Offenders (FNOs).’ This comes before a formal notice for contractor bids which the notice states is envisaged for the beginning of next year, and signals changes in the administration of  ‘voluntary’ and enforced returns.

4. Resources and what we’ve been reading …

This long read in the Observer looks at the wider context around the terrible incident at the Park Inn in Glasgow. Meanwhile, supporters in the city have been counting the cost of providing extra support to people currently accommodated in hotels, in order to help them meet essential living needs.

Free Movement report on a judgement following judicial review proceedings after a new mother, who had been a victim of trafficking, was forced into wholly unsuitable accommodation with her baby. The judge found in favour of the claimant, describing the Home Office’s fallback position that there were ‘numerous people in a far worse position’ as “chilling.”

Lift The Ban coalition member Hastings Community of Sanctuary maintain their brilliant campaigning on Lift The Ban, with an article and podcast for Hastings in Focus, where they talk about the need for reform and about their campaigning locally, which has made an invaluable contribution to the overall national push.

5. Events

  • Lloyds Bank Foundation is hosting a discussion on systems change and sharing learning from its new report ‘Changing Lives, Changing Systems’. The discussion takes place via Zoom on 4 November between 11am-1pm, and you can find out more and register here.
  • Nominations for the 2021 Community Integration Awards are now open. The awards will recognise how projects, initiatives and individuals have responded to Covid-19. Nominations close on 30 November.
  • Help Refugees is recruiting a Policy and Advocacy Officer. Full details are available on their website, and applications close at 9am on 5 November.
  • Detention Action are recruiting a Lived Experience Campaigns Coordinator to join their campaigns team. Details are here, closing date 3 November
  • Refugee Council are recruiting for a 3 month full time Regional Coordinator for their Infoline, with a focus on Yorkshire & Humberside. For more information on the project, see Refugee Council’s website, and to apply, email [email protected] with your CV and cover letter by 5pm on Thursday 29th October.
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