CONSULTATION ON ASYLUM ACCOMMODATION IN THE UK

There is a consultation on issues around accommodation for asylum seekers being run for the voluntary sector and NGOs, currently taking place. The document was only released by UKVI (UK Visas and Immigration) on 20th December, and the responses need to be in by 31st January 2017, so time is short.

We are sure that all who are involved in anything connected with accommodation for asylum seekers will have comments and suggestions to make, so please do have a look at this document, spread the word around other interested people, and make a submission before the end of January.  You can access the document here AAST- NGO and Voluntary Sector written exercise Dec 2016 (Final) (2)

For those not familiar with how Asylum Seekers are housed in the UK, there is more detail in this document, and briefly, the responsibility for housing asylum seekers in the UK is with a contractor for the area, such as G4S covering the NE and Yorkshire. They usually subcontract out the actual housing provision to a housing provider, in the NE that is Jomast. The contract between the Home Office and contractor is referred to as the Compass Contract.

Suggestions of questions for using with asylum seekers can be accessed in this document. consultation draft 10 q it is important that asylum seekers know that they cannot be identified in any submissions made to the consultation.

Any feedback that you would like LD4SOS to see can be sent to us via info@LD4SOS@org.uk

SANCTUARY IN PARLIAMENT November 2016

logo for City of SanctuarySANCTUARY IN PARLIAMENT November 2016 

Personal view from Suzanne Fletcher from Tees Valley of Sanctuary.

 

This event drew together over 200 people including 43 MPs and Peers to listen to powerful refugee testimony on “Standing up for the Right to Asylum”.

 

Shas and SF outside parlThe evening before I met up with Baroness Shas Sheehan and gave her an outline of the issues that concern us.

These included problems around destitution; the short length of time between getting refugee status and support ending; lack of facilities for learning English; removals to unsafe countries; some housing issues, and the situation faced by some Christians fleeing from Pakistan.

Not part of the S in P agenda, but she told me about the situation in France after the Calais Jungle had been cleared from her experience there.

 

The Sanctuary in Parliament event was opened by our host Thangham Debbonaire MP. “This is your parliament; it belongs to you not the government”

 

I didn’t hear all the speakers as I was in and out of the room quite a bit ensuring people met those they needed to. A number from Stockton were able to meet Alex Cunningham MP and talk to him. James Wharton MP met with some from Stockton South. I called in briefly to talk about the 28 day after getting status issue and how it affected one of his constituents.

Sanctuary in Parliament Brian Paddick with TLord Brian Paddick came and listened to what a number of our TVOS delegation had to say on the Prevent issues, shared rooms, and other issues raised with him I was not party to. Baroness Shas Sheehan came too and listened to a lot of our people. They both said they were taking some of the issues up both for individuals and in general. Brian Paddick asked if it was a representative sample that had come down from Tees Valley, he was taken aback by the number of problems, and I told him there was worse that had not come. He said “thank you for the opportunity to hear for myself what they have to go through, it has been so illuminating”. Baroness Hamwee was only able to make it towards the end but had an emotional meeting with Emad and Emmar (her family is from Aleppo, and as she said, “it could have been her in that situation”. Lord Roger Roberts took a number for tea in the House of Lords and listened further there. He spoke of some of the things he had heard at an event I attended with him that evening.

 

In the meeting itself, our own Emad Raad was the first speaker and there was applause as we hear his twin brother has arrived.  He told us how he was now a support worker in Hartlepool making refugees from Syria welcome and support.

He hopes to be able. Go back one day. He spoke of support for other asylum seekers in need; right to work; need to be properly updated by case worker in asylum claims; Need resettlement programme for ALL Asylum seekers

 

sanctuary in parliament 1_edited-1Mayen Mazoor originally from Aleppo, Refugees for Justice spoke, hoping that the nightmare would disappear.  He went through his issues – Was it right to leave his family? But looking for sanctuary for them too. Granted leave to remain.  Wanted family unification but not covered by legal aid.  Cost £1000 nearly.  Didn’t know people to ask for help. His charity is far too stretched and needs more funding for cases not covered by legal aid.

 

Steve simmonds Amnesty international.  “We have not enough family support ” said minister re children in education.  AI Reminded him of asylum children who need to be reunited with families and so many barriers out there.

 

George Gabriel, Safe Passage and Citizens UK spoke of situation in Calais.  U.K. is only country not to take share in Europe from those arriving Greece. By Jan not one child reunited with family in UK. Desperately need safe passage for refugees.

 

Sabin Zazal. Director of Coventry organisations including City of Sanctuary.  From Afghanistan.  Talked of journey from fear to hope.  Then welcome. Those who came under resettlement programme are now helping and supporting others. it shows the resilience of refugees. He said we had enough of stats, numbers and politics, so good now to listen to real people.

 

Ambrose Musiyima from Zimbabwe read from “The man who ran through the tunnel.” “When I heard/ how he ran/…/and through tunnels/ how could I fail/ to be inspired?” The story officials don’t want to be spread and inspire others to make such bids for safety. He spoke of the irony of the UK only securing borders so British can go safely on holiday.

 

Sohail Ali from Pakistan.  Told how Pakistan is not the safe country we think it is. Asylum process starts with screening interview, you are offered legal aid so you think it is nice, helpful and wise.

Initial conditions in Cardiff terrible he would not wish on an enemy.  No respect, awful food.  Should have been there no more than 4 weeks but there for 90 days.  On Legal Aid he said, lawyers just take the case but not very good. Told 95% of cases refused and if you need to appeal they won’t be able to do.  Legal aid lawyers must be well equipped and experienced to take on cases.

 

Lily spoke of the impact of destitution. She became homeless and had to sleep in a park.  Then when leave to remain given no NI number so destitute again but this time luck to be hosted.

Because dispersal is up north, local councils in the south have no understanding at all.  No support services.  Should have right to work, not have to use food banks for food and sanitary wear.  Such a long time to get status and then not get NI number.  Teaching qualification from Zimbabwe not recognised here so not able to teach here.

 

Dave Smith NACCOM talked of the difficulty in getting an NI number and then getting jobs.

200,000 bed nights have been offered. Stories of those helped in his book.

Jonathan Ellis, Red Cross spoke of the humanitarian crisis.  3724 last year were in crisis, destitute.  Should never happen.

28 days not enough, they were told by minister it will be reviewed but it hasn’t been.

Nobody getting status should be destitute.  Increased challenge now and it will effect children.  Impact on those who cannot return, new act will support less people.  Must make humanitarian stand on destitution.

 

Freed Voices (linked with Detention Action) speaker told how the group he was with lost 20 years of life. U.K. only country in Europe that has indefinite detention.  Most are there for no purpose as released anyway. Treated like prisoners whilst in detention. No journalists or cameras are allowed in, so nobody hears your voice.  Detention Centres are in the middle of nowhere, so it is very difficult for visitors. But he ended saying “We are part of a strong and powerful meeting, So much important work is being done “.

Maurice Wren from refugee Council summed up at the end

Take strength, energy and commitment out of this room to society, we are all hurting not just about refugees about all who are marginalised. Having heard those speak today, people are not defined by being a refugee but as an engineer, a dad, a doctor, a carer, a poet, a real person.”

 

LORD ROGER ROBERTS SPEAKS OUT

Lord Roger RobertsAfter a long day in Parliament, which included taking some asylum seekers for tea and listening carefully to their issues, Lord Roger Roberts, President of Liberal Democrats for Seekers of Sanctuary, spoke at a dinner with Lewisham Liberal Democrats with passion, vision, ideas and most important of all, and gave us hope. He reminded us that we must all be ambassadors of hope to those who must be feeling that there is no hope left for them. He referred to the tragedy of Aberfan 50 years ago, and suggested that it would be a tribute to those children who died to welcome with compassion and love those who were making lone journeys across Europe, seeking refuge with us. It is up to us to embrace those who are vulnerable, and to speak up for those with no voice, referring to that day’s Sanctuary in Parliament where asylum seekers had gone along to voice their concerns. We were reminded of the much quoted poem by Pastor Martin Niemöller that is more and more relevant today “first they came for the Jews……. And then there was nobody left to speak for me” Referring to the many troubles and concerns in the world today he reminded us that we were not a party looking for issues, but issues looking for a party! Climate change was next. He pointed out what should be obvious to all, that climate change is going to really hit many of those who are already living in poverty, hunger and areas of conflict well before it hits the western world. We need to be campaigning on the issue, not for ourselves, but for them. Moving on to the future he talked about the organisation he is President of, Bite the Ballot. Which exists to encourage young people to get involved, and to register to vote. As he said, we have a large youth population, and 16 year olds got involved and voted in Scottish referendum. He urged us to support automatic registration of young people when they leave school to make sure they did get onto the voting register. It is their future after all. And they are our hope.

REFUGEE FAMILY REUNION DEBATE

REFUGEE FAMILY REUNION DEBATE   Westminster Hall, 29th November 2016 

UPDATE, request for action

City of Sanctuary have put out this message calling on people to act before Tuesday 13th December to contact and lobby their MPs on family reunion rights for unaccompanied refugee children in the UK. Please do act if you can.  https://cityofsanctuary.org/2016/12/09/follow-up-on-sanctuary-in-parliament-iii-family-reunion/

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.