Baroness Hamwee, Detention Campaigner Champion

LD4SOS Chair John Skipworth writes:

Detention Forum https://www.detentionforum.org.uk/ have named Liberal Democrat Peer and LD4SOS Vice-President, Sally Hamwee as one of their ‘Detention Champions for 2018’. 

Those of you who attended our AGM will already know about this but it was mine and Janet King’s privilege to attend the formal presentation to Sally at the House of Lords on Tuesday 4th December.

Suzannah Willcox of Detention Forum presented Sally with a trophy recognising her contribution to fighting for an end to indefinite detention and then Eiri Ohtani thanked Sally for her work. Other tributes were paid by representatives of Detention Action  , Freed Voices and Jesuit Refugee Service.

During a round table discussion we heard how detention had affected individual lives and the consequences that followed!

On a personal note it was great to be able to put faces to names and also further appreciate what esteem Sally is held in.

You can see more detail of the Liberal Democrat polices that Sally and other Lib Dem Parliamentarians have been continuously pursuing for many years now, here http://libdemfocus.co.uk/ld4sos/archives/1439

 

 

Rough Sleeping – and how refugees are affected.

Rough sleeping – its causes and effects, is at last being looked into more. 7% of all street homeless people is caused by those who have been given leave to remain, so are new refugees. One of LS4SOS Council wrote this letter to the Observer after reading one of their articles.

Note that it is Lib Dem Policy, in our information sheet on “When the final decision is made” that we say at least 60 days should be given to vacate a property. The letter has not been published, but you can read it here :

In the well researched article last week on rough sleeping, many of the causes were covered.

There is another category though; People who have had a positive decision on their asylum claim, being given the right to remain in the UK! It is good news for them, but they suddenly, after what can be many years of waiting, have to vacate the property they have been living in, in less than 28 days. It gives very little time for them to find somewhere they can afford, at the same time as trying to sort out work and benefits. Rough sleeping can be the option, and of course that does not help their quest for work.

Increasing the time to vacate a property to at least 60 days, and longer for those who are vulnerable, would make a big difference, and be a better start to those wanting to make a positive contribution to life in the UK.

NB, you may also be interested that Crisis has just released a new policy report, ‘Homelessness prevention: It’s everybody’s business.’

WESTMINSTER HALL DEBATE ON PROBLEMS WITH ASYLUM HOUSING CONTRACTS

This debate on the problems around the existing housing contracts, and the new one’s due to start in September 2019 were debated in Westminster Hall on 10th October 2018.

Lib Dem Ed Davey MP spoke out on the issues, and how badly the new contract was being handled, a huge contract of £4 Billion over 10 years. He demanded to know why Local Authorities have not been asked to provide accommodation under the new contract, they would be able to deliver in a better and more cost effective way.

Also he wanted to know how the new contract will be monitored effectively. LD4SOS think that is key to making any contract work well, and should be able to deal with issues that are not covered in specifications too. The new contract must be legally enforceable, Ed said, for minimum standards.

He pointed out, though, that the Statement of Requirements for the contract ( the real detail that affects who people living in the accommodation are affected every day) has not been put in front of MPs or even the Home Affairs Select Committee.

The problems of forced bedroom sharing were raised. He referred to earlier statements and said “We hear about people who left a country because they were afraid of another group of people in that country or a neighbouring country, and who, in this country, are being asked to share a room with people whom they tried to escape from or who are from a group they tried to escape from. The lack of sensitivity and understanding of the mental health needs of such people is extraordinary, so my second question is, can we go beyond just protecting an undefined group of vulnerable people? Can we not get to a point where people simply do not have to share bedrooms? It does not seem too unreasonable a question to ask or too unreasonable a criterion to have in the new contracts.”

In moving the debate, Alex Cunningham MP for Stockton North, raised the issue of the very poor quality thin duvets being issued in Stockton. One of our LD4SOS council members had been able to discuss this, and take an example to Alex. This is the clip of him talking about it https://www.facebook.com/acunninghammp/videos/306724463249555/.

You can see our polices here http://libdemfocus.co.uk/ld4sos/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2018/10/Life-as-an-asylum-seeker.pdf

“Liberal Democrats would rewrite all future government-tendered contracts for asylum-seekers’ housing, to ensure: that a local authority or group of local authorities can compete for them; that housing conditions which compromise human dignity, such as forced bedroom sharing for unrelated adults, will be grounds for termination; that existing specific laws on rental housing standards will be fully applicable. Every effort will be made to terminate any current contracts that do not meet these last two conditions.

Housing contracts will be monitored more effectively, with more accountability and transparency in their work.

We would abolish all forced bedroom sharing of unrelated adults. It is completely wrong that an asylum seeker has no place for privacy. Also it is wrong that those with no shared language, country, culture, or faith have to share bedroom space.”

Perspective on Right to Work for asylum seekers

Anna Scrivener from Nottingham Refugee Forum writes in a personal capacity :

‘Beyond the right to work’

For all of us immersed in refugee issues it sadly comes as no surprise that they are amongst the most underemployed groups in the UK, finding it hard to transfer their skills into a new environment. However, there is a lot of research to demonstrate that employment is one of the best ways to empower people and help them integrate into their new home, reducing isolation, supporting language development and improving mental wellbeing. 18-months ago I took on the challenge to develop a brand new Employability Programme for this group.

The policy motion passed at Autumn Conference aims to tackle the ‘right to work’ injustice and I strongly support that. Some of the clients we work with at Nottingham & Nottinghamshire Refugee Forum (NNRF) have been in the asylum system for many years before getting this right. One particular lady I worked with received status only after 10-years. This creates many additional barriers to their ability to gain employment later down the track, and can lead to an erosion of skills and confidence. However, I don’t think it is the end of the battle, I want to call on my fellow Lib Dems to DEMAND BETTER.

A large proportion of the clients we work with are from the Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme (VPRS) and so the right to work is granted when they arrive. I see proud, hardworking men arrive to the UK with their families full of hope and I watch them turn into shadows of themselves, falling into the benefit trap and giving up on any real future for themselves as individuals. I have heard people justify this by saying it’s a pattern seen in other migrant communities, the hopes of the parents passed on to the children. But as a Liberal I don’t think we should be giving up on people, and as a Careers Advisor this waste of talent is unacceptable.

So why are so many failing even when they have status? There are many barriers to employment: language, cultural differences, lack of UK education/experience, trauma and depression. But for me there is also something more fundamental to this problem that isn’t solved by simply granting the right to work, this is the issue of identity. How much can they adapt into their new environment without losing their sense of self? Beyond the trauma they have experienced on their journey to the UK, this internal battle creates a new wave of trauma and in my opinion can have a significant long-term impact on mental wellbeing. For many their identity is rooted in their home countries and previous professions, they never envisaged leaving that. Now they are here and forced to reinvent themselves and it can mean letting go of the things that make up who they are. Particularly for older clients, where this is more established, this can be an overwhelming obstacle. So writing a client a CV or practicing interview questions is not enough, we have to help our clients overcome much deeper personal conflicts.

Policy needs to recognise the journey these people are on and that there are no quick wins. Employability Projects like mine, that are tailored to this group, need to be available to support that transition across the country if we want to enable refugees to become contributing members of our society. Mainstream National Careers Services are being consistently squeezed and have all but disappeared for adults. They cannot deal with the complex needs and starting points of our clients with an off the shelf solution anyway. This taps into issues close to the hearts of all Lib Dems: equality of opportunity, fair society and prevention of poverty.

The NNRF Employability Programme combines careers education with 1:1 individualised guidance. We have also worked with external partners on a number of initiatives including a mentor programme with Nottingham Trent University and Mechanics and Construction accredited training, delivered with interpreters, through a local independent school, FUEL. We have found it hard to reach out to women within the community so this year we held the first ‘Inspiring Women Conference’ which was a real celebration of women’s achievements, raising awareness of opportunity. These have been extremely successful projects and we continue to develop our provision based on emerging needs. However, the only reason my team exists is because of the funding attached to the VPRS which limits our reach to the wider Nottingham Refugee Community.

My call to action to fellow Lib Dems lobbying on these issues is that we can’t stop at the right to work, we also need to insist that the structures are in place for people to make the most of that right. That we give people the information they need to have agency in their new lives and to plan for their dreams. In this way they will become integrated and contributing members of our society more quickly. At the moment refugees face a system stacked against them with little or no support, unless they find a local MP willing to fight their case. We need equality of opportunity and a system that levels the playing field. After all refugees are an untapped seem of talent that we might just need more than ever after Brexit.

If you are interested in finding out more about the work of NNRF please visit our website: www.nottsrefugeeforum.org.uk or email: anna.scrivener@nottsrefugeeforum.org.uk LinkedIn: linkedin.com/in/a-scrivener

Anna Scrivener – Employability Team Leader – Nottingham Refugee Forum

*Disclaimer: These are my personal views, made from observations over the course of my work and are not related to the political position of the organisation NNRF.*

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Liberal Democrat policy on Right to Work is here Right to Work for Asylum Seekers

NEW PROGRESSIVE POLICIES FOR SANCTUARY SEEKERS

Following on from the September Conference, Liberal Democrats have now by far the most progressive asylum and refugee policy, with concrete targets, than any UK political party.

you can see a summary of the policies that affect asylum seekers and refugees here NEW POLICIES from 2018 conference

The following have been written or updated on a number, but not yet all, of these issues, and can also be accessed under the “documents” tab of our website

Immigration Detention Sep 2018

Right to Work for Asylum Seekers

When the final decision is made

decision making

Hostile environment

Refugees

 

 

REFUGEE FAMILY REUNIFICATION

One of the many fringe meetings held at Lib Dem Conference was on Refugee Family Reunification, organised by Liberal Democrats for Seekers of Sanctuary, with refreshments kindly provided by Liberal Democrat Voice.

This is a write up of the meeting,

‘How should the UK change its refugee family reunification policies’: LD4SOS at Brighton Fringe meeting

There were plenty there to hear our panel of speakers and enjoy the refreshments provided courtesy of Lid Dem Voice despite us clashing with a big consultation on the supporters scheme.

Tim Farron MP started off with a review of the overall position and welcomed the approval earlier in the day of policy motion F16 with all 5 amendments, most notably amendment #1 (LD4SOS). He reminded us that in debates we are not just talking about policies but real people who are affected. He talked about the experience of visiting Calais, where it was clear that what people were looking for was safety, not a nice life on benefits.

Then there were people entering Europe. When he was helping on a Greek Island   as a boat full to overflowing of refugees landed, one woman told him “Stop handing out bottles of water and accept some ****** refugees.” Hearing stories from a family with good job and business back in Syria he asked himself “What makes such a family flee and put their much loved children at risk?”.

The refugees then hit a wall. In Thessaloniki they could get no further.

Baroness Sally Hamwee has piloted the Refugees (Family Reunion) Bill through the Lords, and Tim hopes to see it through the Commons; it may be that a similar Bill, proposed by Angus MacNeil, which passed second reading in the Commons on 16th March, will ultimately prevail: it is the end result for those affected that matters most.

In Cologne he found quite a different from pictures painted from what was portrayed in the media recently, and he wished that our country could be the same in accepting refugees – they were contributing to society in different ways, and it is us that are missing out here.

Tim further spoke of the broad breadth of experience people brought to the UK (in contrast to the shame of UK expats in southern Spain not integrating!) and how much more they could do if given the right to work and were able to learn the English language.

Jon Featonby from the British Red Cross told us how they help people through the process of applying for asylum, and then when they are successful, they want to know how to unite with others in their family.

Because of the set rules that we have, there are very difficult decisions to make when a family leaves a war-torn area. What to do with siblings, under and over 18 years old? Leave them at home or bring them with them ?

Jon noted that, whilst 6 months ago that day, there was a victory in Parliament, families are still apart. Amnesty, Oxfam and Refugee Council all have petitions and campaign details on their websites. Amnestyare working on a giant photo album to show to the Home Office about the impact of Family reunification.

He argued that the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme has been huge success so far, but it should not be cut off in 2020, but extended and more countries be included (as in the F16 Policy paper).

Finally, Jon noted that, the current rules that restrict state assistance in housing and welfare to 28 days post-recognition, is a huge issue for those given leave to remain. He similarly lamented the fact that refugees are only granted temporary rather than indefinite leave to remain.

Dr Ruvi Ziegler (Associate Professor in International Refugee Law at the University of Reading) discussed the UK’s policies on family reunion in European and international perspectives. He emphasised that the absence of safe and legal routes to asylum in Europe inevitably leads individuals to seek refuge and subsequently wish to reunite with their family and noted that the number of persons resettled globally is dismal – less than 1% of the total refugee population.

He suggested the European human rights law, especially the right to family life, as well as the principle of the ‘Best interests of the Child’ in the Convention on the rights of the Child could help bring about policy change in the UK.

He argued that, a liberal (and Liberal) policy for integration and family reunion is desirable, including extending political rights to refugees. In respect of the European refugee ‘crisis’, Ruvi noted that the fault lies in large part with the “Dublin” system, under which the ‘burden’ is borne by economically weaker states in Southern Europe, and that part of the solution for the EU lies in extending intra-EU freedom of movement to refugees and other beneficiaries of protection.

The meeting ended with a Q and A session – never enough time for a good discussion, sadly, and thanks for the food, LDV!

(note, the new policies in the Policy Paper 131 and LD4SOS amendment #1 as adopted as part of F16 mean that we do now have policies on Family Reunion, restoration of Legal Aid, the Right to Work, Learning English, extension of the SVRPS scheme, and having 60 days grace to move out of accommodation when granted leave to remain.)

and this article was published here, where you can join in the discussion.

‘How should the UK change its refugee family reunification policies’: LD4SOS at Brighton Fringe meeting