Covid-19 & Asylum – 11th May

Our fortnightly summary of ongoing advocacy initiatives, new research, government developments and useful resources. Contact us if you’d like to get this update directly into your inbox!

1. Ongoing Advocacy

New Plan for Immigration: consultation closed, and what next?

The consultation on The New Plan for Immigration closed on the 6th May. We’re really interested to hear from you if you responded to the consultation. Please get in touch with your regional campaigns manager, or directly to this email.

There have been a number of very helpful resources produced by partners to help us understand the impact of the New Plan for Immigration on people seeking asylum. For starters, we recommend this quick read from UNHCR which answers some of the most frequently asked questions on these proposals.

Other organisations have now shared their responses to the consultation. Some which may be of particular interest to partners include:

The final version of our guide to the consultation is on our website, alongside our own submission, in case partners continue to find it helpful for reference.

Queens Speech

The UK Government has now outlined its legislative plans to parliament, including its proposals to overhaul the asylum system, in the Queen’s Speech today.

The Government’s briefing note provides more information about what the ‘New Plan for Immigration’ legislation may contain, including the formalisation of a two-tier system where refugees are granted different rights and status based on how they arrived in the UK, and establishing reception centres as asylum accommodation. See pages 91 – 93 for more detail.

Over the next few days, there will be a series of thematic debates in the Commons and the Lords on the proposals in the Queen’s Speech.

Opposition to the New Plan for Immigration continues to grow 
Together With Refugees launch

In response to the damaging proposals from this Government on asylum, a new coalition campaign, Together With Refugees, launched on Monday 10 May, calling for a better approach to supporting refugees that is kinder, fairer and more effective.

Over 100 local and national organisations, refugee-led and community groups have already joined the coalition, including us at Asylum Matters.

You can find out how to join the coalition on the Together with Refugees website, and show support for the campaign, by sharing graphics and suggested messages on social media.

Asylum Accommodation

Following on from the backbench business debate on asylum accommodation on the 27th April, David Simmonds MP has written in Politics Home about how the asylum system – including the way people are housed – creates barriers to integration. The Independent has also reported on the debate, including the calls from certain MPs to remove oversight of asylum accommodation from the Home Office.

2. Research and Reports

JCWI We Are Here

The Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants has launched a new campaign – ‘We Are Here’ – which calls for simple, workable reforms to help break the cycle of insecure immigration status, including:

  • A new simplified route to status based on five years’ residence;
  • British citizenship for children born in the UK;
  • Making visa renewals automatic and affordable;
  • Scrapping the ‘illegal working’ offence, and creating a route to status through work;
  • Making the immigration system responsive to real life.

You can read more about the campaign, and access the full report, here.

Blog on housing inequality, COVID-19 and its impact on refugees

Academics from the University of St Andrews and University of Stirling have written a short blog on how COVID-19 has disproportionately impacted the BAMER (Black, Asian, minority ethnic and refugee) communities, particularly when taking into account housing inequality.

3. Home Office and Government Developments

Court case further suspends evictions from asylum accommodation

Earlier in May, the Home Office announced that they would be restarting evictions from asylum accommodation for those that have their asylum claims refused. This followed on from a series of pauses on evictions throughout the pandemic. You can read the proposed operational guidance and letter to stakeholders from the Minister here.

Last week, a high court judge has strongly criticised the Home Secretary and her department’s decision to evict people from asylum accommodation during the Covid-19 pandemic; and has ordered a further halt to the planned resumption of evictions until the completion of an ongoing legal case. As part of the hearing, the court heard that Public Health England’s view was that it could not advise that anyone “should be enabled to become homeless from a public health perspective” during the pandemic.

The court has adjourned until the end of May; and an injunction is again in place halting evictions until the case is concluded. You can read more about the court case in this Guardian article, or on Greater Manchester Law Centre’s website here. NACCOM have also updated their website and briefing on asylum evictions, which is available here.

Asylum Accommodation

The Home Office have dropped plans to open a new ‘temporary holding facility’ for people seeking asylum on Ministry of Defence land near Barton Stacey, Hampshire, following mounting opposition from politicians, residents and refugee rights organisations.

ASPEN card contract transition

The new ASPEN card contract roll out has begun this week. Letters containing the new pink ASPEN cards will be sent out to people receiving asylum support from 10th May with information about how to activate the card and obtain the new PIN.

The old green Sodexho card will work up until the ‘blackout period’ which is between 5pm on Friday 21st May and Monday 24th May. Over this weekend both cards will be switched off nationally, so those in receipt of support are advised by the Home Office to ensure they have enough supplies and cash (if they are in receipt of Section 95) to cover these days. According to the Home Office, the new pink ASPEN cards will be activated on Monday 24th May.

Further information about the changeover from the Home Office is available here, including an information pack for stakeholders and copies of the poster/leaflet provided to people on asylum support.

4. Resources, Events, Jobs and Training

  • Freedom from Torture has produced a helpful new messaging guide – Changing the Conversation on Asylum – a report based on research into the most persuasive narratives around refuge rights in the UK.
  • Right to Remain has published a new updated toolkit. It provides a free step-by-step guide to the UK asylum and immigration system.
  • On Road Media is recruiting a Migration Project Manager to manage its Media Movers programme. Closing date is 27 May.
  • IMIX is recruiting a Media Director, closing date 20 May.
  • Clore Social Leadership, with a number of partners including Migration Exchange, has launched Leading Beyond Borders –  an intensive six-month online programme designed for emerging leaders operating in the Migration and Refugee sector who seek to enhance and refine their leadership capabilities and make a real and lasting impact within the sector and the communities they serve. The deadline for applications is 31 May, with the programme due to run between September 2021-March 2022.
  • NEON is running its Movement Builders training in July, bringing together activists, organisers and campaigners with lived experience of migration. The deadline for applications is 31 May.

5. What We’ve Been Reading and Watching

People across the country continue to make the case for people seeking asylum to have the right to work, including this brilliant testimony in the Metro.

With the current UK Government looking towards Australia and Denmark as inspiration for their future asylum reforms, we’ve been reading more about the impact of temporary protection status for Syrian refugees in Denmark, and for refugee family reunion in Australia.

And finally, we’ve been inspired and uplifted by stories of refugees voting for the first time in Scottish Parliamentary and Senedd elections following the expansion of the franchise in 2020.

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