COVID-19 & Asylum – 3rd February

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

Asylum accommodation

There have been even more horrific stories of the conditions in both Napier and Penally barracks where people seeking asylum are being housed. Despite repeated warnings about the unsuitability of the overcrowded sites – particularly during COVID-19 – there was an outbreak of the virus in Napier. Immigration Minister Chris Philps claimed that residents’ behaviour was to blame for the outbreak, rather than the unsafe, and unsanitary conditions they were forced to live in. Residents have spoken to the press about the horrific conditions they are living in. Shadow Immigration Minister Holly Lynch has written to the minister to request that people housed in Napier are rapidly transferred to dispersal accommodation; and that the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration is allowed access to the barracks. Former Immigration Minister Caroline Nokes has added her voice to calls to close the barracks, stating that the Home Office is trying to make the UK seem “as inhospitable as possible”, and the CEO of the British Red Cross has called for immediate action in Tuesday’s Times Red Box.

Last weekend, there was further horrific news that a fire had broken out at the Napier barracks. Despite assurances from the Kent fire and rescue services that enquiries about the cause of the fire were ongoing, the Home Secretary appeared to suggest that the fire was set deliberately by residents and asserted that the site was fit for purpose. Ongoing reporting over the weekend found that many of the residents were left at the site without electricity, water and heating – although the Home Office denied that this was the case.
The Independent ran a story on Sunday, after a journalist managed to get hold of the Equality Impact Assessment conducted by the Home Office assessing the potential impact of the use of the barracks as asylum accommodation. The document stated as part of the rationalisation of the use of these sites that: “any provision of support over and beyond what is necessary to enable individuals to meet their housing and subsistence needs could undermine public confidence in the asylum system and hamper wider efforts to tackle prejudice and promote understanding within the general community.”

In an answer to a Parliamentary Question on 18 January, the Immigration Minister suggested that small numbers of people will now be moved out of Penally, in the week starting the 18th January, but he did not confirm whether or not the site would be shut permanently. Meanwhile, Pembrokeshire County Council is reported to be in dispute with the Home Office over the costs incurred by the local authority of the Penally barracks, said to be £55,000 a month.

We believe that people seeking asylum should never be housed in such inadequate accommodation; and that now, more than ever, we must close the barracks. A number of our partners have ongoing campaign actions you can support to help keep up the pressure:

Elsewhere in the asylum accommodation estate, thousands of people seeking asylum remain in hotels across the country, waiting for a decision on their asylum claim. London News Online spoke with an Iranian man who fled his home who has been stuck in a London hotel for months; while ITV London reported on the conditions for people housed in hotels in Earls Court. West London Welcome have also started tweeting pictures of the food received by residents in one hotel to demonstrate the inadequacy of provision. We also recommend reading Jack Shenker’s powerful Guardian piece on the barracks and the Government’s “dystopian” vision for the asylum system.

2. Research and reports

DOTW Covid-19 vaccine advocacy project

Doctors of the World UK (DOTW) has launched a Covid-19 vaccine advocacy project to ensure that everyone in the UK has access to the vaccine, regardless of immigration status. As well as producing translated Covid-19 information resources, DOTW will play a proactive advocacy and coordination role in relation to the roll out of the Covid-19 vaccine programme in the UK. The project, which will run for the next twelve months.

A key objective of the project is to provide migrant and other excluded communities (and the organisations that support them) with the information and resources needed to access the vaccine.

The first of a regular series of briefings from the project (attached) focuses on access to mainstream vaccine services and the role of GP registration and NHS number (and applies only to England). To receive updates when new resources are available (including forthcoming translated information on the Covid-19 vaccine) subscribe here. 

Reminder: HASC supplementary call for evidence – Home Office preparedness for Covid-19
The Home Affairs Select Committee (HASC) has issued a supplementary call for evidence to its enquiry on Home Office preparedness for Covid-19 – with a deadline of 12 noon on Thursday 4 February for submissions of evidence. This enquiry has already produced a useful report and recommendations on Home Office preparedness re asylum accommodation and immigration removal centres during the pandemic. Details on how to submit evidence to the supplementary call are here.
ICIBI call for evidence on use of hotels and barracks.

The Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration (ICIBI) has issued a call for evidence on the Home Office’s use of hotels and barracks as contingency asylum accommodation.

The inspection will focus on a number of aspects of the Home Office’s and the accommodation service providers’ roles and responsibilities in relation to the use of contingency accommodation for people seeking asylum. The call for evidence will remain open until 19 February 2021.

We at Asylum Matters will be submitting evidence to this call – so do get in touch if your group / organisation does not want to make your own submission but there is something that you want to say. We would particularly welcome information on the following areas:

  • Communication and consultation by the accommodation providers / Home Office about the placing of hotels in your particular area;
  • Communication by providers to people in hotels: including on facilities, covid management and accommodation moves.

Contact your regional representative or, if you are in an area where we don’t have one email [email protected]. We’ll cite partners who have been in touch with us (unless you tell us not to). We would need your information by Friday 8 February. 

Hope Not Hate – Migration and The Far Right briefing

Hope Not Hate has published a new briefing, Migration and the Far Right (attached). The briefing reviews far-right activity in recent months around Channel crossings and contingency asylum accommodation; and offers analysis of the aims and tactics behind this activity, and suggestions for responding to these activities.

The briefing  comes as part of the new Response project developed between Hope Not Note and Migration Exchange, which aims to better equip the migration and refugee sector to understand the extent and nature of the threat posed by the far right; and support partners in their short- and long-term responses.

You can sign up to receive further briefings and updates on this theme from Hope Not Hate by completing this form.

Privacy International – the UK’s privatised migration surveillance regime
Privacy International has launched a new guide on how UK authorities track and monitor migrants, and the companies which operate these contracts on the Government’s behalf.
New polling about general public attitudes to immigration

New IPSOS Mori polling has shown that less than half of the public want to see immigration reduced; and that many hostile attitudes towards immigration have softened since 2015.

3. Home Office and Government developments

Home Office criticised for slow replies to MP casework and FOIs 

The Home Office has been criticised for not replying to MPs casework and FOIs in a reasonable timeframe, leaving advocates and parliamentarians unable to progress issues on behalf of their constituents. The Independent covers the story here. 

4. Resources, events, jobs and training

ARI Campaigns Assistant and Coalition Campaign Manager

On behalf of the Asylum Reform Initiative (ARI):

  • British Red Cross is recruiting a Campaigns Assistant. See here for details of the role and how to apply. The closing date is 4 February.
  • Refugee Action is recruiting a Coalition Campaign Manager. See here for details of the role and how to apply. The closing date is 12 February.
ASAP Legal Advisor, Policy and Research Officer

ASAP is recruiting a legal advisor, policy and research officer. Deadline for applications is midnight on 21 February. Read more about the role here.

Inadmissibility rules webinar

Doughty Street Chambers is running an online webinar on Wednesday 3 February at 3pm to discuss the Home Office’s new inadmissibility rules. To attend, register here.

Families Together Digital Organising Training Programme

Oxfam and STAR have put together a Digital Organising Training programme for Families Together campaigners, which is free and open to all coalition members.

The training is a four-part series of sessions to help everyone – from first-time campaigners to seasoned activists – get to grips with the tools they need to campaign for refugee family reunion and beyond. As the sessions link together, attendees are asked to ensure they can attend at least two of the four sessions before booking.

The sessions are as follows:

– Session 1 – Planning Your Campaign to Build & Create Change (6-7.30pm 9th February)

– Session 2 – Using Social Media As A Tool To Change The World (6-7.30pm 23rd February)

– Session 3 – Challenging & Changing The Narrative Through Media & Press (6-7.30pm 16th March)

– Session 4 – Building & Using Power In Communities (6-7.30pm 6th April)

Applications are now open, and are welcome from across the Families Together coalition. An application form and further information is attached. Please contact Sophie Morbey at Oxfam ([email protected]) if you have any enquiries.

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