Asylum Matters update 22.07.21 – Bill second reading, resources for asylum support rates review and more

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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

Nationality and Borders Bill/ New Plan for Immigration
This week the Nationality and Borders Bill passed second reading in the House of Commons with 366 MPs voting in favour and 265 voting against. The Home Secretary, Priti Patel, introduced the Bill by noting that the Government was acting on behalf of the British people who had had enough of “open borders and uncontrolled immigration; enough of a failed asylum system that costs the taxpayer more than £1 billion a year; enough of dinghies arriving illegally on our shores (…) enough of foreign criminals, including murderers and rapists, who abuse our laws and then game the system so that we cannot remove them.”

Shadow Home Secretary, Nick Thomas-Symonds, set out the case against the Bill, noting that it breaches the 1951 Refugee Convention, fails to address the growing backlog of cases and increased costs to the taxpayers, fails to deal with crime groups engaging in trafficking, and fails to re-establish safe routes. He framed the Bill as a “continuation of this Government’s culture war. (…) Last week, the Government refused to live up to their promises on international aid, and they ran away from their own failure to stand with football players against racism. This week, they promote more division with this Bill.” Other powerful interventions came from Stuart McDonald; “the Refugee Council was absolutely right to characterise it as the “anti-refugee” Bill,” and Diana Johnson, “it is strong on populist rhetoric and headline-catching gimmicks, but weak on delivery,” to name only a few.

A number of Conservative MPs from ‘red wall’ seats intervened in support of the Bill, noting they were acting on behalf of their constituents who were fed up with illegal immigration and a costly, broken asylum system. However, there wasn’t uniform consensus among Conservative MPs, a number of whom questioned various aspects of the Bill. As well as questioning the protection given to those identified as modern slaves, Theresa May also said “we must not send the message that somebody genuinely fleeing persecution whose only route out of that persecution is to the UK will automatically be seen as a criminal.” Former Immigration Minister, Caroline Nokes, in her remarks reminded the House that “behind every visa application, every asylum claim and every journey to the shores of the UK there is a personal story – an individual,” and she closed by saying that “I know being pragmatic is not necessarily everyone’s cup of tea, but it is essential.” Ian Duncan-Smith spoke out on behalf of modern slavery victims noting the Bill would perpetuate current arrangements whereby the vast majority of confirmed victims are denied leave to remain in the UK to help their recovery.

You can find the full transcript of the debate here.

Responses to the Bill
  • There have been some great briefings from our partners in advance of Second Reading, which you can find listed in this twitter thread. A few include: the Refugee Council, the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI), the Families Together coalition, Bail for Immigration Detainees (BID), and the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS).

  • Refugee Action launched its #CommitToResettlement campaign that is calling on the Government to announce a target for refugee resettlement. This includes a petition calling on the Government to commit to resettle 10,000 refugees per year, along with a video highlighting the life-changing importance of resettlement to families. Please share the petition and join on twitter using #CommitToResettlement.

  • Across the UK, people continue to mobilise to oppose this legislation. Protests about the bill were held in Glasgow,  Stroud and Manchester. Theatre companies who work with people seeking asylum wrote to the Government to urge them to open travel corridors for refugees and the Law Society warned that the Bill will damage the UK’s global reputation.

  • In Sheffield, faith leaders called the suggestion of removal to safe countries ‘both inhumane and impractical’. Meanwhile, in Newcastle, the leader of the City Council said that creating a divide based on how people try to reach safety would further fuel harassment, violent attacks and hate crimes and stated ‘The Government may have lost its moral compass on this issue; Newcastle emphatically has not’.

  • Shadow Home Secretary Nick Thomas Symonds wrote this comment piece in the Guardian and further coverage of the damaging effects of the #AntiRefugeeBill has also appeared in multiple outlets including the Guardian and the Week.


Home Office announcement on Resettlement

The Home Office also put out a number of resettlement-related announcements including:

  • Offering resettled refugees indefinite leave to remain;

  • Plans for ‘an emergency resettlement mechanism’ which will be piloted in autumn, and which will work with the UNHCR to identify refugees in need of emergency resettlement (ie for medical reasons) and resettle them to the UK in a matter of weeks;

  • Another new pilot scheme which offers highly skilled refugees UK work visas, assuming they speak English and have a job offer in an industry with shortages. It will apply to up to 100 people over two years from Jordan and Lebanon.


Campaigning around the Bill: next steps

Thank you to everyone who contacted their MPs prior to Second Reading to ask them to speak out against the #AntiRefugeeBill. It’s not too late to get in touch as we’ll need more voices of support as the Bill progresses through Parliament! We’re updating our campaigning materials and will be able to share in our next update more resources for contacting local MPs, as well as for lobbying local decision-makers, so that we can get more powerful statements of resistance to the Bill as we’ve recently had from Newcastle. Get in touch if you have any ideas, questions or feedback for us.


Together with Refugees

Please see this campaign update from the Together with Refugees coalition, including plans to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the UN Refugee Convention on 28th July and launch an ‘Orange Hearts Pledge’ campaign.


Westminster Hall Debate on delays in the asylum system

Navendu Mishra, MP for Stockport secured a Westminster Hall Debate on 7th July on delays in the asylum system. You can read the House of Commons library debate pack here, watch the debate here and read the transcript here.

Cross-party MPs shared powerful testimonies about the impacts on their own constituents, highlighting the staggering increase in the number of people waiting for an initial asylum decision in the last ten years and the fact that present Government proposals will make the situation worse. Paula Barker MP observed: “The Home Secretary is more concerned with playing to the gallery than with tackling any of the causes, symptoms or problems that exist in the system. That incompetence fails asylum seekers, fails communities and fails the British people.”; whilst Tim Farron MP stated “The idea that we are being swamped by asylum seekers… does not stack up. What does stack up is a failure of Government.”

The debate also covered the need to lift the ban on work for people seeking asylum, the botched ASPEN transition and inadequate asylum support rates.


Hands Up for Our Health

We are proud to be a member of the Hands Up for Our Health coalition, which has launched this campaign action asking people to write to their MPs to ask them to stand up for medical care for everyone.

As these pieces in the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, The Independent and Channel 4 demonstrate, too many people in our communities are still denied the possibility of registering with their local GP practice. Being refused GP registration removes the option of being vaccinated against Covid-19 by a surgery, and the option to book a vaccine appointment via the NHS website or 119 helpline.  This not only raises questions regarding the efficacy of the vaccine roll-out, but increases the risks for people already at risk. Share this animation on how to register and book a vaccine and take action here.

Home Affairs Select Committee

The Home Secretary has appeared before the House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee (HASC) where she faced repeated questions about previous evidence she had given in relation to the following of advice from Public Health England at Napier and conditions in the barracks; as well as questions about children sleeping in unsuitable conditions at the Kent Intake Unit. She was further questioned about the working relationship between the Home Office and Local Authorities, the Nationality and Borders Bill, channel crossings and Windrush. You can watch the session here and there is coverage here.

An earlier request from the Committee to visit Napier had not been replied to by the Home Office after four weeks, prompting HASC Chair Yvette Cooper to raise a point of order in the House of Commons. Conservative MP Tim Loughton also intervened, stating that the visit was directly related to evidence previously given by ministers, which had now turned out to be “highly questionable”, and that the Committee had been “fobbed off numerous times”. The visit is now unlikely to happen before Parliament’s summer recess. Further coverage is available here. Meanwhile, residents of Folkestone have told Kent Online about how they feel about living alongside Napier.

Day of Action against Immigration Reporting

Last Thursday, campaigners took action outside six Home Office reporting centres in Leeds, London, Liverpool, Manchester, Bristol and Solihull to demand an end to mandatory immigration reporting and protest the #AntiRefugeeBill.

  1. Research and reports

This report by FLEX (Focus on Labour Exploitation) on exploitation in the hospitality sector, finds it to be a high-risk sector for labour abuse, with workers experiencing frequent issues with pay, inability to take time off sick, dangerous working conditions and work-related violence.

The International Commission of Jurists has released the third edition of its practitioners’ guide on migration and international human rights law.

  1. Home Office and Government developments

Asylum Support Rates review

On 5th July the Home Office opened its annual review of asylum support rates. The department has asked for views on the level of allowance provided, and has sent a shortlist of questions for organisational responses. The deadline for these submissions has been extended to Tuesday 3rd August.

We have created a guide and template to assist partners who may want to complete a submission on this important subject. Contact us to receive a copy of the document.

In the guide/template document we provide suggested responses in italics which you are welcome to expand upon and amend. In the sections in yellow (which will need to be deleted before submission) we have added information which we hope will be useful in formulating a response. We encourage you to add as much information, evidence, comments and examples from your own experience, however, for reference and to illustrate your answers, feel free to use our ‘Locked into Poverty’ report from last year which outlines the findings from a survey we carried out where 184 people answered questions about living on asylum support.

Finally we have created an overview of the Home Office’s methodology for fixing support rates to assist. Submissions must be emailed to [email protected] by Tuesday 3rd August. If you have any questions, please get in touch at [email protected]

Resumption of cessations of Asylum Support

The Minister for Future Borders and Immigration has written to Local Authority Chief Executives setting out that from 19th July the Home Office will begin to review and process cases for possible cessation for people who have had their asylum application refused currently in receipt of Section 95 and Section 4 support. This approach will initially apply only to England.

Normal Home Office policies and procedures will apply, subject to these additional factors:

• Anyone who is symptomatic with the virus and awaiting a test result will not be required to leave their accommodation until they receive a negative test result.

• Anyone who has received a positive test will be allowed to remain in their accommodation for a further 10 days.

• Anyone who has been contacted by the NHS track and trace system will be allowed to remain in their accommodation for a further 10 days.

• The notice period given to people that they must leave their accommodation (21 days) will be extended to facilitate the above if necessary.

NACCOM have published a new briefing and template letter for MPs which set out the likely impact of the restarting of evictions from asylum accommodation and the actions the Government must take to protect everyone from homelessness and destitution.

Detention of new arrivals

The Guardian has reported worrying developments that hundreds of people arriving in small boats were being ‘immediately detained’ in immigration removal centres, some since May, raising fears of an ‘apparent undisclosed policy change’ bypassing proper consideration of people’s asylum claims. Meanwhile the Refugee Council warned that the cost to the taxpayer of criminalising new arrivals, as set out in the Nationality and Borders Bill would amount to up to £412 million a year.

CPS guidance – entering the UK in boats and vehicles

The Crown Prosecution Service issued guidance on the prosecution of people entering the UK in boats and vehicles, stating that passengers should not be prosecuted unless they are repeat offenders or have previously been deported, but should be dealt with by administrative removal channels. Coverage here.

This guidance was issued after the RNLI was forced to defend its role saving lives at sea following an attack by Nigel Farage, and prompted discussion on whether the Nationality and Borders Bill would criminalise RNLI volunteers for facilitating peoples’ arrival in the UK.

  1. Resources, events, jobs and training

  • NACCOM are recruiting for a policy and research coordinator, deadline 5 August, details here

  • IMIX are recruiting for a community engagement coordinator to build and support their network of people with lived experience.They are particularly keen to hear from people with lived experience of the asylum system and a good command of English. More details here, closing 29 July.

  • The British Red Cross is recruiting for Health Inclusion Project Coordinators in Cardiff. Closing 25 July details here

  • The Justice Together Initiative will be awarding grants to fund free or low-cost specialist immigration advice and representation work; and for influencing work at a national and local level. More details on becoming a grant partner are here.

  • Oxfam are recruiting a new Head of Oxfam Cymru. Closing date 3 August. Details here.

  • Good Chance productions are recruiting a Production and Outreach Assistant to work with them on the production of ‘The Walk’ from August to December. Details here, deadline 29 July.


5. What we’ve been reading and listening to

CARAG’s Still We Rise podcast, with episode 13 focussing on the Nationality and Borders Bill with guest Sonya Sceats from Freedom from Torture.

WomenCentre have published a new resource, Digital Ways of Women Centred Working, an interactive report that brings together good practice principles for work with women migrants. The report shares practical, tangible examples of the adaption of services and support for digital, remote and blended ways of working and is a very interesting and important read.

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