Asylum Matters Advocacy Update – 16 September 2021

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

#Anti-Refugee Bill

Campaigners and others continue to point out how the measures in the Government’s Nationality and Borders Bill – or anti-refugee bill –  will impact on all people seeking sanctuary in the UK, including those now fleeing Afghanistan:

  • Experts by Experience from the Voices Network have given compelling expert evidence alongside other advocates to the Joint Committee on Human Rights – read here. The Committee’s call for evidence on the Bill remains open until 17 September.

  • The Scottish Government has published a detailed letter from Shona Robison, Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice, Housing and Local Government to the Home Secretary setting out objections to the Bill.

  • Motions of welcome for Afghans including strong objections to the Bill have been carried in Glasgow City Council (motion here) and Newcastle City Council (motion here), and members of the City of Sanctuary Local Authority Network also called on the Prime Minister and Home Secretary to rethink the Bill.

  • The Anti-Slavery Commissioner has written to the Home Secretary to stress that the Bill would make the identification of victims of modern slavery ‘harder’ and ‘create additional vulnerabilities’

  • 12 CofE bishops have written an open letter calling the Bill ‘an affront to justice’.

TAKE ACTION

As the Committee stage of the #AntiRefugeeBill approaches, it is vital we continue to stand together against this legislation and call for it to be scrapped. You can take action in many ways, including:

  • Write to your MP using our template letter. You can download a Word version of the letter, or open it as a Google Doc.

  • Write to a local newspaper using our template letter to the editor to make sure other people in your area know about this Bill and the harm it will cause. You can download a Word version of the letter, or open it as a Google Doc.

  • Call on local leaders to speak out against the bill using our local lobbying kit.

  • Sign and share the Refugee Action petition against the bill.
Save the date for a Week of Action!

We are calling on all local organisations, grassroots groups and activists to come together for a week of action to oppose the anti-refugee bill during the week of 18 October, just as the Bill reaches its next crucial stage in Parliament. By mobilising resistance in towns and cities up and down the country, we can demonstrate that the harmful proposals in the bill do not represent the culture of welcome in our local communities. We are inviting anyone who is interested in organising an event, rally, stall, gathering, or action in their local community to get in touch with the Asylum Matters team!

Events can take any form, from large rallies or protest events to smaller gatherings bringing together local charities, experts by experience, MPs or other local leaders. It can take the form of a visual stunt or activity for local media, or simply involve setting up a campaigning stall at a local market or high street to inform members of the public about the anti refugee bill and capture petition signatures or encourage people to write to their MPs.

Asylum Matters will be producing resources to support these events, including campaigning placards, badges, stickers, postcards, and social media assets to ensure our partners can take part in campaigning online as well.

Get in touch to learn more! At this stage we want to hear from partners who would like to organise something in their local community as part of the Week of Action. Our team is on hand to support our partners and ensure that events around the country are linked up and presented as part of a single movement for a more compassionate asylum system.

We’ll also aim to hold a webinar for organisations thinking about organising an event for the Week of Action, to swap ideas and hear from others on their experiences. We’ll be in touch in our next update with more details on this; on events already scheduled to take place; and how you can get involved.

Westminster Rally

Alongside the Week of Action, a Refugees Welcome rally will take place in Parliament Square in London between 4.30-6.30pm on Wednesday 20 October.

Refugees and people with lived experience of the asylum system are organising the event, with support from Solidarity With Refugees, Women for Refugee Women and IMIX. All are encouraged to attend. See the Facebook page to register and for further information.

Afghanistan crisis

It has been a busy time in Parliament following the return from recess on 6 September, with one of the first items of business a statement by Prime Minister Boris Johnson on the situation in Afghanistan. Concerns cited by MPs from across parties included the impact of the Nationality and Borders Bill, and the question of whether Afghan nationals coming out of quarantine would now face long periods in holding hotels. You can read the statement and debate here and see the debate here.

On 13 September, a statement was given by Victoria Atkins MP (Minister for Safeguarding and Afghan resettlement), setting out further details of the arrangements for leave under the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (ARAP) and Afghans Citizens Resettlement Scheme (ACRS).

The minister stated there would be an offer of immediate indefinite leave to Afghan nationals and family members who were evacuated from Afghanistan or called forward for evacuation. She said that the Government intended to work with UNHCR to identify people eligible for resettlement who have fled the country and intended to work with non-governmental organisations in the region to put in place a referral process where safe passage could be arranged. She announced that local authorities would receive a core tariff of over £20,520 per person over three years to support integration. The associated policy statement released by the Home Office can be found here.

MPs raised issues on the lack of response to MPs’ enquiries, the use of inappropriate bridging hotels, and poor Home Office consultation. There were also calls for the number of resettlement places to be increased, for immediate grants of leave for Afghans already in the UK, a widening of the refugee family reunion rules and the scrapping of the Nationality and Borders Bill. Watch here and read here, or read further coverage here.

Meanwhile across the UK acts of welcome continued, with messages of welcome broadcast in Piccadilly Circus and across the TfL network. As charities across the country were overwhelmed by the scale of the public response, there were reports of councillors and MPs citing a ‘lack of coordination and information from central government’ in respect of procurement of ‘holding’ accommodation for people leaving quarantine, with reports of people being placed in hotels without essential items, access to cash or sanitary products, in the first instance. A number of local leaders and councils, including in Greater Manchester, and Middlesbrough made a connection between their role in supporting Afghan arrivals and existing arrangements in asylum dispersal, calling on all councils across the UK to play a role in supporting refugees, and prompting further scrutiny of the arrangements for asylum dispersal in the UK.

Up to 3000 Afghans remain in limbo along with others in the UK’s asylum system. On 9 September Minister Kevin Foster stated in answer to a Parliamentary question that the Government had ‘temporarily paused asylum decision making for Afghan nationals’ whilst country policy and information notes were updated. He further stated all asylum appeals from Afghan nationals would be reviewed ahead of any individual hearing and that enforced returns of those who were appeal rights exhausted were currently paused.

Meanwhile, amidst further reporting on ‘Channel crossings’, Boris Johnson stated ‘it is high time that people understand there is a price to pay if they come to this country in an illegal fashion’ and Priti Patel became embroiled in a public row  with France over UK plans to employ ‘turnaround’ tactics in the Channel, prompting the Mayor of Calais to state ‘This suggestion tears apart the UN Geneva Conventions giving the right to everyone to apply to any country for asylum’. There are also reports of deleted tweets from the Ghanian Foreign Ministry reporting discussions on ‘third country asylum partnerships’ with the UK.

 

Asylum Accommodation

The All Party Parliamentary Group on Detention has published the interim report of its inquiry into quasi detention, focused on the Government’s use of large scale institutional accommodation sites like Napier and Penally since April 2020. The report noted that witnesses had reported many issues and concerns, including unsanitary, crowded, ‘prison-like’ conditions at the sites; chronic levels of sleep deprivation; ineffective safeguarding; inadequate access to legal advice and healthcare; problematic changes in the processing of residents’ asylum claims; and intimidation and mistreatment of both residents and NGO workers supporting them. Much of the evidence also highlighted the profoundly negative impacts the sites were having on the mental health of residents, many of whom were already vulnerable.

The report states: “evidence gathered raises questions not only about the government’s operation of the sites, but about the sites’ fundamental suitability for use as asylum accommodation’ and expressed “deep reservations about the introduction of these changes, and more generally about the government’s overall direction of travel in terms of asylum policy”.

Despite the continued damning evidence of the harms caused by facilities at Napier, Home Office Minister Kevin Foster has confirmed that Napier Barracks is acting as a test-run / pilot for the government’s proposed new asylum centres and other planned changes to asylum processing.

Legal challenge on accommodation for unaccompanied minors
Detention Action has launched a legal challenge  against the Home Office and Kent County Council over the accommodation of children in the Kent Intake Unit and in minimally supported hotel accommodation in the South of England. Meanwhile, elsewhere there have been further reports of contingency hotels in the asylum accommodation estate being stood up without prior consultation.

  1. Research and reports

New joint briefing on asylum and the right to food

Working in collaboration with Sustain: the alliance for better food and farming, Asylum Matters has created a briefing ‘Covid-19 Briefing: Asylum Seekers and the Right to Food’

It outlines the different types of asylum support, how the Home Office decides the amounts they are set at and how asylum support harshly affects food security for those seeking asylum. Using data from the survey we carried out last year (outlined in our 2020 report Locked into Poverty) it highlights how Covid-19 severely exacerbated this food insecurity and digital exclusion. Finally, it defines the provisions in international human rights law on the right to food for those seeking asylum. We hope this resource can be used in more in-depth conversations about asylum support and how it prevents people from accessing healthy and sustainable food.

Child Poverty Action Group factsheet on benefits for resettled Afghans

CPAG has produced this useful factsheet on the framework for financial support for Afghans coming through the ARAP / resettlement routes, which may be of particular use to welfare advisors.

IPPR report on NRPF

The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) has published a report, Locked out of a Livelihood: the case for reforming ‘no recourse to public funds’ which provides an overview of the NRPF polic. As the Government seeks to expand the NRPF condition to further cohorts of people via the Nationality and Borders Bill, the report lays out the harmful impacts on the everyday lives of those subjected to it. The report calls for NRPF to be suspended while coronavirus remains a major risk in the UK, and for longer term practical reforms, including:

  • Guaranteeing people with NRPF access to more forms of help such as free school meals and local welfare assistance;

  • Easing pathways for NRPF conditions to be lifted, in particular for those facing domestic violence and destitution. If they apply to get their visa conditions changed, they should not be punished by having their path to settlement derailed;

  • Increasing funding for local authorities with large populations of people with NRPF conditions and allowing local authorities to play a greater role in decision-making on change of conditions applications;

  • Central government should provide greater clarity on councils’ legal powers and duties to support those with NRPF.

You can read the report here

ICIBI stakeholder survey

The Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration (ICIBI) is conducting a survey to gather views on how it can better target inspections and how its engagement with stakeholders could be improved. Anyone who has engaged with the ICIBI through forums, interviews or by submitting evidence for an inspection are invited to participate. You can read more and complete the survey here, and direct any questions to [email protected].

  1. Home Office and Government developments

Afghanistan Resettlement and Immigration Policy Statement

On 13 September the Home Office published this policy statement, which gives an overview of its current policy positions on ARAP, ARCS, family reunification, Afghans on work or study routes, people in the asylum system and Afghans without status in the UK.

ASPEN transition

The Home Office has confirmed that it is currently gathering data about the numbers of supported people who received an overpayment during the transition to the new ASPEN provider and the amounts of these overpayments; and has indicated that it does not intend to pursue the recovery of overpayments (claw-backs) where accommodation providers have issued an overpayment during the transition which overlapped with a payment made on a person’s ASPEN card. It has also stated that if a supported person receives an overpayment notification, they should not generally have to pay the whole amount back at once, and should have the opportunity to make representations before any reductions in weekly support begin.

We would be interested to know if you see anyone receive a letter requesting repayment due to the ASPEN transition.

  1. Resources, events, jobs and training

  • IMIX has produced a guide on how to work effectively with journalists, and a safeguarding checklist for use by organisations working on media alongside people in the asylum and immigration system.

  • Maternity Action is running a webinar on 17 September between 12.00-13.30 to coincide with the launch of a new report ‘Breach of Trust’, which will discuss widespread poor practice and errors of law by NHS Trusts in implementing the NHS charging regulations. The event is relevant to those engaged in maternity care with migrant women. Register here.

  • Migration Mobilities Bristol is hosting a webinar on 21st September 4pm with Colin Yeo, barrister and founder of the Free Movement blog, where he will share an evaluation of the Nationality and Borders Bill. You can register here.

           Jobs
  • BiD (Bail for Immigration Detainees) is recruiting trustees who are passionate about justice and liberty. More info on the roles here, deadline 18 September

  • PRAXIS is recruiting for a new chair to lead their board of trustees, details here, deadline 20 September

  • JRS is recruiting for a senior press and media officer ad a part time digital communications officer closing 24 September

  • The Race Equality Foundation is recruiting for trustees and a Chair of Trustees. See here, closing 30 September

  • GMIAU is recruiting for an operations manager. Info here, deadline noon on 4 October

  • Project 17 is recruiting a policy coordinator for a 12 month maternity cover contract. Details here deadline 4 October

  • Migrants Rights Network is recruiting for a policy manager and for a programme coordinator to lead the Migration Aspiration Programme to guide and support emerging migrant leaders. Both close 4 October

  • RESET is recruiting a Communications Officer to help grow Community Sponsorship in the UK; info here.

  1. What we’ve been reading

This long read on the uncertainty around resettlement and the plight of those still in Afghanistan and this diary of an Afghan family arriving in the UK

 

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