COVID-19 & Asylum – 8th December

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

Stop asylum evictions

In light of the pause on evictions from asylum accommodation for people who have been refused asylum following the lockdown in England and ongoing legal action, we have updated our briefing paper with NACCOM on the situation, Everyone Out? preventing migrant homelessness during Covid-19 and beyond. Please feel free to share the briefing with your networks, MPs and local decision makers.

We have also updated our joint resources that you can use as templates to write to your MP or local authority to ask them to join the call to #StopAsylumEvictions and protect everyone from homelessness and Covid-19 this winter, regardless of immigration status.

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 replying to this email or contacting us at [email protected].

Asylum accommodation

The many and severe problems experienced within asylum accommodation continue.

Medical professionals have written to the Home Secretary to call on the Home Office to close the two military barracks currently housing people seeking asylum in Kent and Pembrokeshire.

They claim that both sites are unsuitable due to the lack of access to healthcare services and risks from a lack of compliance with Covid-19 regulations. Furthermore, the group – which includes Doctors Of The World, Helen Bamber Foundation, Freedom From Torture, the Royal College of Psychiatrists and Faculty of Public Health – voice their concerns of the risks of trauma for those in the barracks, who may have been detained in similar environments in their home countries.

They also fear the military environment will trigger further trauma for the men, many of whom will have fled conflict, militia and may have been detained in similar environments in their home countries.

Meanwhile, there have been reports that volunteers attending the barracks to provide support to people living in them have been required by the Home Office to sign confidentiality agreements before entering the sites. Recent reports have also indicated that lawyers are struggling to access the sites to provide crucial legal advice. The Independent has also reported on ongoing legal action challenging the suitability of the barracks as accommodation for people seeking asylum.

Refugee Action Chief Executive Stephen Hale has set out the many problems in the asylum accommodation system and their impact on those affected by them in a recent article.

Asylum Matters has produced a set of new resources to provide guidance to people working with asylum seekers living in institutional accommodation – see ‘resources’ below.

Chris Philp MP gives evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee

On the 2nd December, Chris Philp MP (Minister for Immigration Compliance and the Courts) gave evidence to the House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee as part of its inquiry into channel crossings. Most of the session was focused on questions about post-Brexit arrangements for family reunion and safe and legal routes to the UK for people seeking sanctuary. You can read the transcript here.

Stuart McDonald MP (Immigration Spokesperson for the SNP) questioned the minister on whether the Home Office would protect people seeking asylum from evictions over winter. Chris Philp affirmed that the Home Office was still developing its approach following the recent pause, but that any end to cessations must be done in a safe manner and they would on recommence in a “careful and phased way.”

Yvette Cooper pressed the minister for reassurances that the two Ministry of Defence sites for accommodation were safe and adequately supported. The minister committed to sharing a response in writing, but stated that he was confident that the measures were appropriate and mentioned visiting Napier and talking to the onsite nurse. When pressed specifically on whether the Home Office was still exploring offshore processing models, the minister confirmed that there were no current plans to offshore processing.

Deportation flight to Jamaica

The planned deportation of 50 British resident Jamaican nationals has dominated the news and there have been a number of actions to try to stop it from taking place.

Detention Action launched a letter from over 90 high profile public figures, calling on airlines to cancel the deportation flights to Jamaica, generating coverage in the Guardian and ITV.

More than 60 MPs and peers signed a letter to the Home Secretary Priti Patel, calling for the deportation flight to be cancelled. There was a flurry of support of this campaign on Twitter under the hashtag #StopthePlane

The flight did take off and the Home Office stated that 13 people were on the flight after a number of last-minute legal challenges were launched by human rights lawyers and campaign groups which meant a number of people who were due to be deported were granted a last minute reprieve. This met with opposition from the Telegraph among others.

Lift The Ban media coverage

The Lift The Ban coalition, which campaigns for the right to work for people seeking asylum, continues to generate strong media coverage:

SW Londoner published coverage of the campaign, including an interview with Rukayat who explained how her life would be different if she were allowed to work.

BBC News covered the story of two doctors who were forced to flee from Iraq. Since claiming asylum in the UK, both have tried to work and volunteer for the NHS during the pandemic but were unable to secure permission from the Home Office to do so.

Bright Blue’s Ryan Shorthouse and Refugee Action’s Stephen Hale co-authored a piece on the CapX website.

Over the weekend the Birmingham Mail published an interview with Anabelle on her experience of being banned from working; and the impact on her family of having to live on £5.66 a day while she waits for a decision on her asylum claim.

Judicial review: Changes to Immigration Rules around non UK national rough sleepers

On 1st December the Immigration Rules were amended to include a discretionary ground upon which the Home Office can refuse a non-UK national leave to enter or remain in the UK if they are rough sleeping. The Home Office will also have the power to cancel leave to remain in the UK on the basis of rough sleeping.

The Public Interest Law Centre (PILC) is preparing a judicial review challenge to this policy on behalf of RAMFEL (Refugee and Migrant Forum of Essex and London) As part of pre-litigation research funded by the Strategic Legal Fund, they are conducting a survey of organisations working with homeless non-UK nationals.

The link to the survey is here and should take around 10-15 minutes to complete. PILC would appreciate any information partners can provide that could support the challenge ahead of the deadline of 11th December 2020.

Joint letter: Deportation of rough sleepers and risk of exploitation

Regarding the same policy as the above, Anti Slavery with Focus on Labour Exploitation (FLEX), Doughty Street Chambers and Hope for Justice, Anti-Slavery International and The Anti-Trafficking Monitoring Group compiled a letter to ministers. This letter urged them to revoke the new policy that will make rough sleeping grounds for removal from the UK.

They brought together a coalition of 150 charities, trade unions, lawyers and local authorities, to warn that these new rules will have severe consequences for victims of modern slavery – and will put the wider homeless population at significant risk of exploitation. The letter was covered in an exclusive with the Independent here, as well as an op-ed co-written by FLEX and Anti-Slavery International for Reuters, here.

2. Research and reports

British Future Barriers to Britishness report webinar

British Future will be launching the “Barriers to Britishness” report of their citizenship inquiry next week. The inquiry was chaired by Alberto Costa MP, and looked at the aims of citizenship policy, fees and the application process, the Life in the UK Test and English language requirements, and citizenship ceremonies. It makes a number of recommendations,  including on birthright citizenship and fees.

The launch webinar will be held from 12.30-1.45 on Thursday 10 December.

Panellists include:

  • Alberto Costa MP, Chair of the independent inquiry into citizenship policy

  • Ryan Shorthouse, Director, Bright Blue

  • Alexandra Bulat, the3Million and new British Citizen

  • Sunder Katwala, Director, British Future (Chair)

You can sign up to the webinar here or by visiting their events page. Once you have registered, you will receive a confirmation email from Zoom with the details of how to log in and join the webinar.

Project Play new report

Project Play is a small grassroots NGO which works with displaced children at the UK border in Northern France. Beginning in October, with the support of Refugee Rights Europe and other organisations on the ground in Calais and Grande-Synthe, they began publishing a series of monthly advocacy reports.

These reports document the children’s rights violations which are occurring in Northern France everyday. The first report analysed the barriers to accessing education which exist the second, focuses on the impact of the cycle of evictions on the children they work with. You can read them here.

3. Home Office and Government Developments 

Immigration statistics

The UK Government recently published the latest immigration statistics for the period up to the end of September 2020, which reveal some alarming trends. The figures show that:

  • More people than ever are having to wait long periods for a decision on their asylum application. Of the 60,548 people waiting for an initial decision, more than three quarters (46,108, or 76%) are waiting for more than six months. This is the highest number and proportion of people waiting more than six months for an initial decision since records began.

  • There were 10,315 people in receipt of Section 98 support (i.e. for those in contingency accommodation, such as hotels or Initial Accommodation, and only intended for short-term use). This is the highest number on record – at the same point last year there were less than a third of this amount (3,049 people) on S98 support; and the latest figure has almost doubled in just the three months since the last published data (for the period up to the end of June 2020). It means that almost one in five (17.5%) of people seeking asylum who are accommodated are now in some form of institutional accommodation.

  • There were 31,752 asylum applications in the UK in the year ending September 2020, an 8% decrease on the previous year.

  • Some form of status was granted for around half of all decisions. Of the 15,733 initial decisions made on asylum applications, 49% were grants of asylum, humanitarian protection or other forms of leave.

You can see further analysis of the figures on the Refugee Council website.

In response to the record high proportion of people waiting for longer than six months for a decision on their claim, we and other partners were interviewed for a story on HuffPost.

4. Resources, events, jobs and what we’ve been reading

Resources

Asylum Matters’ new resources on contractual requirements in full board accommodation
We have produced a new guide to the Asylum Accommodation and Support Contract (AASC) and what it says about full board and initial accommodation. The resources we have created are intended primarily for frontline organisations helping people seeking asylum navigate the system, as well as for those agencies that are engaging in advocacy with providers and the Home Office around the contracts.

You can access the summary, and full guide, on our website here. If you have any questions about these documents, please contact Julia Savage ([email protected])

Hospital Access Project

Doctors Of The World’s Hospital Access Project currently has capacity to support people who have been denied (or asked to pay upfront for) NHS secondary care (hospital) services and other relevant NHS community services (non-primary care) due to their immigration status. They are also able to provide support and advice where individuals have been billed for treatment in relation to Covid-19, for example people being billed for hospital admissions or treatment for Covid-19 or subsequent complications, or being refused/asked to pay upfront for ongoing/rehabilitative care.

 The project can be reached at [email protected]uk or via the Advice Line on 0808 164 7686 (Monday-Friday, 10am-12pm). It may be possible to arrange a call back with an interpreting service for anyone who doesn’t speak English. If there is a high volume of cases, support will be prioritised based on clinical urgency, and the team will try and advise organisations referring on how they might take steps to support the client themselves.

Events
JCWI ‘Work It Out’ Campaign launch

JCWI  are officially launching their new campaign Work It Out, this Friday, 11th December, 5–6.30pm. They’re calling for an end to the hostile environment, scrapping of NRPF and the decriminalisation of work, as part of a broad, vital levelling up of migrant workers’ rights.

They will be hosting an incredible panel, chaired by Nadia Whittome MP, with Lucila Granada, CEO, Focus on Labour Exploitation (FLEX); Aké Achi, Founder and Director, Migrants at Work; and Wilson Ayala, Chair of the Cleaners and Facilities Branch, Independent Workers Union of Great Britain (IWGB) with translation by Laura Barroso, IWGB.

Register for a ticket at here and you can read more about the campaign in the Work It Out manifesto, here 

Vigil for Human Rights Day

Please find below details of a vigil that the No Accommodation Network (NACCOM) has planned for next Thursday, December 10th, to coincide with Human Rights Day.

At the end of what has been an incredibly challenging year, this will be a space for people to come together and remember, reflect, and bear witness to lives lost this year, and in previous years, to injustice in the immigration system, and to stand in solidarity with those who continue to suffer. All are welcome to take part, for either the short opening or closing sessions, or throughout the day, Further details are available on the website here.

What we’ve been reading

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