REFUGEE FAMILY REUNION DEBATE

REFUGEE FAMILY REUNION DEBATE   Westminster Hall, 29th November 2016 

This debate was secured by Thangam Debbonaire MP, who chairs the All Party Parliamentary Group on Refugees.

There were many contributions, mainly centred on the fact that children now in the UK should be able to be with family. Time after time MPs made this point, referring to the fact that those under 18 did need to have family with them. They have gone through so much to get to the UK, and then successfully claim refugee status in their own right.

As Alistair Carmichael said “ ….for most people, actually getting refugee status and getting here is only part of the beginning of the story, not the end …….. people need to rebuild their lives from the ground up, and there is no better context in which to do that than the family environment.”

Much is being said now about the importance of integration, and surely being able to be with close family is the step to be able to build from.

Others raised the issue were that cuts to legal aid mean no specialist support is there, and most cases are not straightforward. Added to this they are not told why they have been turned down for legal aid and relevant questions are not being asked. Legal Aid must be reinstated.

Descriptions were given of how families still in countries of origin were needing to make visa applications that were fraught with danger, as unsafe zones had to be crossed to do so at times. It would be so much simpler and safer for this to be done from the UK.

Those working in Churches and the voluntary sector were praised for the important work they did to help separated families. Without them there would be even more desperate straits for many.

Another said about the toxic atmosphere in the UK is making matters worse and only obeying UNHCR guidelines in letter not spirit .

The alleged “pull factor” was dismissed, there was no evidence to support it.

The important point was made about the crucial need for “Safe and legal routes that cut out people traffickers “ and of course “All of us want families around us at times of difficulty”.

The debate was summed up by the Minister, Robert Goodwill. It was very disappointing indeed to hear him speak. There had been so many good contributions with facts, real stories and positive, workable suggestions for the way forward. He appeared to have listened to none of it as he read his prepared speech.

The gallery I had sat in was packed, and we all left concerned progress would not be made. We have to live in hope, and continue to campaign for real and humane family reunions, just as we would want within our own families. Debates like this need to be called for, to let government know what strong feeling there are on the situation, and at least not let it get worse.

You can see an excellent briefing by Refugee Council here, and follow the full debate on this link.

Dream snatching

WOULD THE GOVERNMENT DARE DO THIS ADVERT ?

Christmas adverts from the big stores are full of themes around hopes, expectations and dreams. Very lovely. Young people who have been through trauma, danger and awful conditions to reach the UK have had that hope too. When it was announced the Calais Camp would close our government said it would take half of the children there, and they would be assessed for this in the 160 centres in France by Home Office officials. But nothing is happening, and now the Government has announced that it will not take any 16 or 17 year old’s and for those aged 13 to 15 years old, only those from Syria or Sudan.

Imagine the reaction if the government put out an advert where it offered hope, fulfilled expectations and dreams to children. Then came and snatched it away, just as they thought such might actually happen.

CITIES OF SANCTUARY WORKING ON BRINGING INFORMATION TOGETHER.

The City of Sanctuary movement is growing in the number of towns and cities that are part of it and the work that they do. They are a movement logo for City of Sanctuarycommitted to building a culture of hospitality and welcome, especially for refugees seeking sanctuary from war and persecution

Also they are organising their 3rd “Sanctuary in Parliament” event, ”Standing up for the right to asylum” on Tuesday 29th November so that MPs and Peers can hear the issues from both those who are in or been through the asylum system, and those working on and behalf of them.

EDINBURGH CITY OF SANCTUARY – MAPPING EVENT 

On the ground, one of the jobs local groups are tackling is working out just what relevant services are where – not as easy as it sounds !

Jacqui Bell photoJacquie Bell, as Scottish member of LD4SOS Council, attended a Mapping Event arranged by Edinburgh City of Sanctuary on 19th November. Edinburgh is a new member of the City of Sanctuary family and is seeking to co-ordinate the many groups helping to support refugees in the City.

The event was oversubscribed. There were representatives from churches, community groups and Scotland’s Syrian Community who are based in Edinburgh. Most were from Edinburgh but Jacquie lives in East Lothian and has connections with East Lothian Welcomes Refugees and another attendee was from Scottish Borders.

The morning was spent mapping support and services that are available across Edinburgh on large tablecloth size maps. There was a discussion about common issues e.g. transport, housing, learning English, mental health, access to health and social care.

In the afternoon the topics were themes around tables for further discussion. Jacquie sat in on transport and housing. Some issues were common to the wider population e.g. finding suitable housing for tenants with health and mobility problems. Others were more specific e.g. Edinburgh is leasing properties from private landlords and there can be issues for housing benefit if refugees get work or take up a course. This contrasts with East Lothian where the 5 families who have come so far have all been given Council properties to live in. There was also discussion with people like Mohammed and Ameer from Homs who had come to Edinburgh via the Asylum route. They had experienced the issues of the Green card and restrictions on work and noted differences in their experiences to that of those brought to Edinburgh via the Government resettlement scheme.

Edinburgh has about 100 refugees/asylum seekers which allows some peer support. In general discussion, Jacquie noted the issues for those who have been resettled areas like East Lothian with smaller numbers, especially as public transport across the county is very poor. The Borders attendee noted the reluctance of Scottish Borders Council to take refugees. There was discussion about how people in the rural areas around Edinburgh might link in to some of the services and activities on offer in the capital.

People Jacquie spoke to were interested in the work of LD4SOS as a national campaigning group attached to a political party. They were interested that our politicians like Tim Farron, Baroness Shas Sheehan and Lord Roger Roberts are working so hard including making visits to France and Greece rather than just talking about the crisis within the walls of Westminster.

Part of a group that wants to sponsor Syrian Refugees ?

Part of a group that wants to sponsor Syrian Refugees ?

There are a number of groups around the UK that would like to sponsor some Syrian Refugees, but just have not got the capacity to meet all the requirements yet.

The Syrian community sponsorship scheme was launched earlier this year, enabling community groups including charities and faith groups to take on the role of supporting resettled refugees in the UK.  Sponsors are responsible for supporting the resettled family integrate into their life in the UK.

They are responsible for supporting the resettled family from their moment of arrival: they meet them at the airport, provide housing, arrange English language tuition, help them access medical and social services and support them towards employment and self-sufficiency. Sponsoring organisations must have status as either a registered charity or community interest company, the consent of the local authority in which they wish to operate, and a comprehensive plan for resettlement.

Although sponsored refugees are eligible for state benefits, sponsors must have ring-fenced funds of £9,000 and access to housing for two years in order to apply for the scheme.

This survey: https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/community_sponsorship will help to identify the needs of a local group.  Please do take part or pass on, it will only take 10 mins max.

What is happening to the children who have been in the Calais Camp ?

What is happening to the children who have been in the Calais Camp, now the camp is cleared ?

They have been taken to around 160 centres around France, being told that they would be properly assessed to be able to come to the UK. They complied with the move, surprising the authorities that there was no violence, in the hope that they were finally going to be at the end of their long, traumatic, and dangerous journey, enduring horrors and conditions that none of us would want our children to have to go through.

However over the last few weeks, children are telling charities on the ground that they still have not seen a Home Office official since they arrived at their centre. Others report their friends have already run away having lost hope, and all are deeply anxious. They don’t know what their future is, and many have nothing at all to do, there are no activities, and they just sit.  Children leaving the centres will be at risk of exploitation and vulnerable to traffickers. We know many are already unaccounted for in Europe.

This week the Government has slipped out its guidance on which children it will take from the now demolished Calais Camp.

In brief, the Home Office Ministers are saying that under the Dubs amendment, they will take no 16 and 17 year old’s. They will only take 13 to 15 year old’s if they are from Syria or Sudan. This is on the basis that asylum seekers from these 2 countries will have the best chance of success. Ignoring the fact that, for instance, 89% of Eritreans are granted leave to remain.

Tom BrakeThis led to an angry row in Parliament, led by Lib Dem Tom Brake MP, as he challenged the Minister on the chaotic demolition of the Calais camp. He reminded him that “In the days running up to the demolition, the Home Secretary made statements that pointed to the UK offering a home for up to half of the children in the camp. It is unclear how that will be achieved given the criteria in the guidance document, so I hope that in answering my questions the Government will be able to explain how that will be done.​” He ended his speech with “This House agreed to the Dubs amendment and our Government must now set out how they are going to honour its letter and spirit.”

You can see the debate here, or read the Hansard account, and listen to other MPs telling the Immigration Minister that the Government was betraying the spirit in which the Dubs amendment was debated and passed.

Leaflet pic re calais deliveryIn the House of Lords, Baroness Shas Sheehan expressed her shock about the new guidance “It will come as a bitter disappointment to all those voluntary organisations that have worked so hard with children, during the demolition of the camp in Calais, to keep them in the system and stop them absconding and going missing.”

Charities have hit out at the Home Office too . Representatives from Citizens UK, Calais Action, Refugee Action and Help Refugees say the government is breaking its promises.

Bishop Peter Hill, Citizens UK leader, said: “Citizens UK’s safe passage team estimates that 40% of children in the Calais camp at the time of the demolition were Eritrean or Afghan.”

Stephen Hale, chief executive of Refugee Action, said: “We’re frankly appalled that the government appears to be backtracking on its commitment to protect unaccompanied child refugees from Calais. The government must amend this guidance and meet its responsibility to all unaccompanied child refugees, regardless of their nationality.”

Josie Naughton, co-founder of Help Refugees, added: “The release of these criteria only continues to penalise some of the most vulnerable unaccompanied children in the crisis. As a result children as young as 13 are just as at risk as they ever were. An Afghan child of this age is no less deserving of safeguarding than a Syrian one.

“We have equal responsibility to them all.”

What can you do ?

It is important that as many of you reading this as possible write to the home secretary Amber Rudd and the Home Office demanding that it immediately amends guidance on “s67 of the Immigration Act 2016” so that it does not discriminate by age or nationality.

During the demolition the Home Secretary said that she thought it would be a good result if the UK ultimately took in ‘half’ of the children in the camp. At the time, it was thought the total number was perhaps 1200, however we now know that figure was closer to 2000. As many as possible need to be taken right now, a sizeable number before Christmas and promises to be kept of 1,000 to be taken overall.

This briefing from Sanctuary Seekers gives a lot of facts needed.

We need pressure on every single MP to help us hold Amber Rudd to this promise! Contact your own MP, encourage others to too, and contact Amber Rudd on

Amber.rudd.mp@parliament.uk; public.enquiries@homeoffice.gsi.gov.uk;  privateoffice.external@homeoffice.gsi.gov.uk;

Also the Ministers who were questioned about this in Parliament last week: Robert Goodwill (robert.goodwill.mp@parliament.uk) and Baroness Williams of Stafford (williamssb@parliament.uk)

 

 

A VIEW FROM BRADFORD AND WHAT CAN BE DONE TO WELCOME REFUGEES NOW.

A VIEW OF BRADFORD, ITS PAST, PRESENT, AND WHAT WE CAN ALL DO FOR THE FUTURE.

JanetteAt a meeting “Refugees Welcome Here”, between the Association of Liberal Democrat Councillors and Liberal Democrats for Seekers of Sanctuary at the autumn Lib Dem conference chaired by Baroness Kath Pinnock. We heard from four speakers. Cllr Jeanette Sunderland, Bekele Woyecha from Citizens UK, Baroness Shas Sheehan, and former LD4SOS chair, Suzanne Fletcher.

Lib Dem Bradford Cllr Jeanette Sunderland told of the history of Bradford and the people from around the world it had welcomed over the years. She moved onto the contributions they had made, and how the truly multicultural City was welcoming people today from the present refugee crisis. She ended with what we can all do in our own communities. Please do take note of these (highlighted further down) and do what you can.

The History

Bradford has a proud history of accepting people fleeing from persecution. The first evidence found of this relates to a group of French Protestants who suffered torture and death in the 17th century. Some people say the word refugee derives from these people who sought refuge in Protestant countries, such as England. They were usually well received, not least because they were artisans and professionals and were seen as making a positive contribution, whilst France suffered one of the earliest recorded ‘brain drains’. Many historians say they were probably the first people to introduce new techniques into various parts of Bradford’s textile trade in its preindustrial revolution days. And so began a proud tradition of welcoming “Folk not like us” – whatever “us” looks like.

Many people in Bradford can find links to the thousands of children who were received by the City from war torn Europe in 1930s and 40s The 1950s brought the families from South East Asia whilst the eighties saw the Vietnamese Boat people settling in the local Council estates; their families are still making a contribution to this day.

More recently 44 Rohyinga, who were ethnically cleansed from Burma, have found themselves a welcome in Bradford after being abandoned without status in a refugee camp in Bangladesh. Now they campaign to raise awareness of the plight of the Rohyinga people left in Bangladesh.

The Syrian Resettlement Programme has seen Bradford also give a home to 1900 people, some of which I am landlord to through a local social enterprise who also help with financial inclusion work so people can settle.

In 2014 34% of all new births in Bradford were born to mothers who themselves were born outside the UK. In 2015 new migrant workers totalled 4,700. It is a place of welcome.

The Challenges

We are proud of Bradford’s cultural literacy. However we would be foolish not to recognise the tensions.

By their very nature most people fleeing persecution or poverty are poor. They go to the poorer areas where housing is cheaper and services are already under pressure.

This means it’s really difficult to change the nature of life in some parts of our City. There are three large wards where almost 50% of families live in poverty – that’s approximately 35,500 children. It is in these neighbourhoods that refugees and asylum seekers tend to move to.

Alongside all the expected indicators of deprivation – ill health, poor life chances, shortened life expectancy – many ( if not all) additionally suffer from mental and physical ill health as a result of their journey.

So it’s a challenge – against budget reductions of over £300 million – making the arguments for the dispersal of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children is difficult.

The formula used to calculate the “share” an authority should take is 0.07% of their young population. For Bradford that equates to 93 unaccompanied children over the next two years. Each child comes with an additional £31,000 which we hope will enable us to provide a good level of care.

Bradford has decided to take 16-17 year old young people because we do not have space in our children’s homes to take younger children. We also have a massive issue with school places and it would be very difficult to place them into school. We have already settled 20 young people who are making good progress.

The next 10 young people (all boys) are coming from Kent before Christmas. The Lib Dems have requested that 65% of the children in Kent are 16-17 year old males. We are concerned about girls, who are particularly at risk from trafficking. Therefore we have asked that Bradford takes direct from the camps.

What you can do?

So in the face of all this complexity, tension and political pressure what can you do?

  • At a Councillor level –take your share! Find out when they will arrive and what preparations have been made.  
  • Promote the City of Sanctuary resolution. Join your City of Sanctuary movement and if you haven’t one – start one.
  • Encourage your local school to become a School of Sanctuary or your business to be one.
  • Publicise opportunities for voluntary work with asylum seekers or provide volunteer placements for suitably qualified asylum seekers or refugees.
  • Offer be-friending or advocacy for asylum seekers.
  • Offer English tuition to asylum seekers ineligible for state funded classes.
  • Host short or longer term accommodation to homeless asylum seekers
  • Raise money for your local organisations supporting asylum seekers.
  • Consider appointing refugees to positions of responsibility in your community.
  • Invite refugee groups to your community events.
  • Display a “We welcome asylum seekers and refugees” outside your building, place of worship or office.
  • Hold a “Thank you” event so that asylum-seekers can say thank you to the host community
  • Promote a manifesto for refugees and asylum seekers.
  • Most importantly – get involved, get knowledgeable and get campaigning.

Since this speech the Lib Dems in Bradford have tabled a further motion for debate calling on the Government to speed up the process of unaccompanied minors coming to the UK.

We also want to ensure that the young people who arrive in Bradford are provided with proper legal representation from the minute they arrive. This is just as important as their physical, social and spiritual needs although not perhaps as immediately obvious.

I’d like to thank Geoff Reid, a Lib Dem Councillor in Bradford (and currently the Lord Mayor) for his research and to Bradford City of Sanctuary for all of their work and ideas.

You can find out more about their work here: https://bradford.cityofsanctuary.org/

You can also find out more about the work of the Bradford Ecumenical Asylum Concern who work alongside other groups in the city to support refugees and asylum seekers with their spiritual needs. http://beaconbradford.org/about-us/