A letter to Sajid Javid, Home Secretary, from Liberal Democrats for Seekers of Sanctuary.
Dear Home Secretary,
We are writing to wish you every success as you review the immigration and asylum system you have inherited, and seek to make it more humane as befits today’s Britain.
From our own work specifically on the problems faced by asylum seekers, we feel certain you will be able to use the wealth of information on the workings of the present system, collected over the years by charitable and campaigning organisations such as the Refugee Council, Refugee Action, Detention Forum and Amnesty International who have been working with parliamentarians to secure reform.
Your staff will also be able to put you in touch with NGOs such as AVID and Freed Voices, who can inform you from experience of the reality of immigration detention. As you will no doubt be aware, the UK is the only country in Europe (including Russia), which retains indefinite detention for immigration purposes. This gives the UK the opportunity to play an active role in UNHCR’s `Beyond Detention’ initiative, which is currently looking at alternatives to detention.
The Windrush affair is likely to be the tip of the iceberg, and has highlighted the need for change in the core values of your department. We agree with you, Home Secretary, that asylum seekers, indeed all immigrants, should be treated with compassion, respect and dignity.
Too many Home Office decisions seem to come from the very un-British view that a person is guilty until proven innocent. If those applying to enter this country, especially those who have been through trauma to get here, were offered a sympathetic hearing with knowledgeable interpreters and were believed, far fewer Home Office decisions would be overturned on appeal.
We would ask you to look specifically at:
- The poor level of initial decision making in immigration cases. Only the requisite number of well-qualified, and relevantly trained, Home Office staff can change this.
- The practice of routinely detaining migrants for immigration purposes in prison-like Immigration Removal Centres. Unlike those convicted of a criminal offence, immigration detention is indefinite, doing real damage to detainees’ mental health. We refer to the APPG Inquiry into the Use of Immigration Detention, and the recommendations of the Government sponsored Shaw Report. You may also wish to read `Inside Immigration Detention UK` by Mary Bosworth (ISBN 9780198722571).
- The length of time it takes, for some people years, for indefinite leave to remain to be granted, and the prohibition on taking paid employment in virtually all circumstances; if the length of time taken cannot be reduced, it would reduce the strain on the public purse if asylum seekers were allowed to seek work.
- The high level of forced removals, especially those on chartered flights, and the return of people to unsafe (or unsafe for them) countries; for ex-offenders, please have your staff look carefully at the possibility of rehabilitation.
- The lack of adequate financial support for asylum seekers who have been refused and are destitute but cannot be removed. There are many who exist in the UK only through the kindness of friends and sometimes strangers.
- The less than generous treatment of refugees. It took press pictures of a dead child to persuade the Government to accept 20,000 refugees in 5 years and your own county, Worcestershire, has to date accepted just 50 with a promise of a further 50 this year. We welcome your own generosity in offering to meet members of the local refugee group. Through the SVPRS they arrived safely and legally, and we ask you to create more legal and safe routes to sanctuary in the UK for other similar groups. Also to speed up processes for taking unaccompanied children with established family links in the UK.
Finally we would ask you to take a direct interest in the work of Parliamentarians and especially the Home Affairs Select Committee and the APPGs on immigration and refugees. Members of our group have attended meetings in Portcullis House where ex-detainees and refugees have spoken, but we have never seen a senior member of the Home Office staff nor the Home Secretary there. Such meetings provide the opportunity to hear directly from those who have suffered most from the present immigration system.
We hope that you will succeed in making our immigration and asylum system fit for purpose, and will care more for individual people caught up in it than for removal and migration targets.
John Skipworth, Chairman, Suzanne Fletcher MBE , Parliamentary & External Relationships Officer, Janet King, on behalf of
Liberal Democrats for Seekers of Sanctuary Council.