ASYLUM ACCOMMODATION. NEWS ON THE NEW CONTRACT

ASYLUM ACCOMMODATION. NEWS ON THE NEW CONTRACT 

The initial information is coming out on this, and the first can be accessed here.

The situation will change over the next few weeks, so we will try to keep this updated.

Some initial thoughts on what is proposed.

DISAPPOINTMENT

  • That the Home Office is saying there will be very large areas that will be put out to tender. There is no way that smaller, and more local, organisations, or indeed groups of small organisations will be able to tender for the contracts.
  • That inspection of property to ensure compliance with accommodation standards is not going to include talking to asylum seekers in the property, is not going to be done by an organisation independent of the housing provider, and is not going to be independently verified.
  • It is a detail, so not yet known if inspection will include checking the inventory.
  • Whilst there is going to be safeguarding training for housing officers, it does not say that it will include training and support for all staff of accommodation providers dealing with service users around those who are vulnerable in any way. This includes specific issues around sexual abuse, sexuality, torture survivors, and mental health. The training also needs to include awareness of cultural, language and faith issues. All staff, including those who are in the accommodation to carry out repairs, need to have this awareness training.
  • There is nothing to tackle house sharing by people with different backgrounds, that can cause problems for many, however hard they try.
  • There is no funding for local authorities or the voluntary sector to support the work that they do.That there will still be forced bedroom sharing between unrelated adults.

VAGUENESS

  • About the inventory.
  • It says there should be adequate cleaning equipment, but only brooms mentioned
  • About some services like orientation for new arrivals. Whilst it is says it will be better, there is no mention as to how. On arrival into a new area, and new home, there is the need for good signposting for essential services such as GPs and the Post Office, as well as support such as given at advice centres and drop ins, and places of worship, ethnic shops etc. This needs to be given in person, not just pointed to whilst in a van, and in a language understood by the new arrival. Leaflets should only be to back up such information.
  • They say that “vulnerable” people will not have to share, but they have no definition of what is meant by vulnerable, and it will be dealt with on case by case. There is going to be infinite wrangling on this, and it is going to mean that sharing will have to take place before the argument as to what problems are caused take place.

ANGER

  • That there will still be forced bedroom sharing between unrelated adults.
  • They say that “vulnerable” people will not have to share, but they have no definition of what is meant by vulnerable, and it will be dealt with on case by case. There is going to be infinite wrangling on this, and it is going to mean that sharing will have to take place before the argument as to what problems are caused take place.

SOME HOPE, with a NEW SERVICE

  • ‘Advice, Issue Reporting and Eligibility Service (AIRE)’, which will integrate advice and guidance services into a single, nationally operated end-to-end service, and provide a single point of contact for Service User complaints and issues.
  • The service will also contain requirements for the provider to support Service Users (as asylum seekers in accommodation are called) as they move out of the asylum support system, either into mainstream services or returning to their home country.

This could be good, separating out provision of welfare services from providing accommodation, and resulting in more and better individual support.

It also could be good that there will be defined support for whose support ends if they have been given leave to remain and need to find housing, get a job and/or claim benefits. Or if they have to leave to return to country of origin. There is the possibility of it putting an end to destitution at this critical time, but will need to be carefully monitored to ensure that it actually does.

 

STEPHEN MUST STAY, and CHILDREN MUST BE PROTECTED FROM TRAFFICKIN

Please sign the petition to the Home Secretary to support Stephen’s appeal against the original decision to send him back to Vietnam. It is at https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/allow-shildon-s-stephen-to-stay-in-uk?bucket=share, has been promoted by 38 Degrees and so far has 89,958 signatures.

Every Child Protected Against Trafficking, ECPAT, is using this case to highlight the awful problems around children being used as slaves in this way, and there is a Guardian article here too.

The least we can do in the UK is not return young people like Stephen back to the place where they have no family and in danger of being captured again.

One of our member writes :

He is a remarkable young man, not because what he has experienced, but because of what he is. He is graceful, intelligent and kind. Not at all angry, resentful or bitter, which many of us might have become, if we’d been he.

Stephen talked about his life at the November Durham Diocesan Synod.

He was born in Vietnam. His only surviving relative died when he was 8. He lived on the streets and survived as best he could. He was picked up by a criminal gang when he was 10 and at 16, trafficked, as a slave, to the UK. Here he was locked up, enslaved, in various different cannabis farms until the police busted the one where he was. He was fostered into a clergy family in Shildon. A life of abuse, fear, beatings, cruelty and isolation was transformed. His foster sister describes him as an incredible person, one of the kindest and most helpful, sympathetic and humble people she has ever met. He has reclaimed his life, had a basic education and become a member of a welcoming community. He has become a Christian, a factor which places him at risk of state persecution in Vietnam. He wants to be a chef.

Now he is 19 year old, Stephen is faced with the prospect of being returned to Vietnam, where he has no one and nothing. Like thousands of child victims of modern slavery, he needs long-term support to recover from abuse and rebuild his life.

The Home Secretary will decide his fate on 5th Feb. He wants to stay here, with his family, with the support he has and needs and where he will be a contributing member of our society. “He needs to stay in my family, a family who love and care about him. We can’t loose this case”, says his sister.

IMMIGRATION CONTROL and The DATA PROTECTION BILL

 

IMMIGRATION CONTROL and The DATA PROTECTION BILL

We are grateful for the watchful eye of Liberal Democrats in the House of Lords in protecting our liberties, and working on the fine detail of legislation such as this.

Baroness Sally Hamwee writes:

The Data Protection Bill is making its way through Parliament.  It provides rights for data subjects (you and me) to protect us from the misuse of our personal data.  However, there is an exemption for the Home Office when it processes data for “the maintenance of effective immigration control, or the investigation or detection of activities that would undermine the maintenance of immigration control” (the latter seems to me to allow for great big fishing expeditions). Personal data – information – is at the heart of pretty much all refugee and asylum applications, and the Information Commissioner says that the majority of complaints she receives are from lawyers working on these cases. Now, suddenly, it has become very relevant to the 3 million EU citizens in the UK, whose position in the future depends on correct data.  It’s difficult to ensure the Home Office has correct data if you can’t find out what data they have.

The Liberal Democrats, led by Lord Tim Clement-Jones with Lord Brian Paddick and me, opposed the exemption.  We argued, among other things, that immigration offences attract exemptions as they are criminal offences, but the Government would not agree our amendment to the Bill, and though Labour made some sympathetic noises when I called a vote they abstained – so another honourable defeat for the Lib Dems, but not an issue we will forget about.

 

REFUGEE (FAMILY REUNION) BILL

Refugees (Family Reunion) Bill, Baroness Sally Hamwee writes:

Most cultures recognise the importance of family, not just at significant dates in the calendar but for day to day support, both practical and emotional. Our culture certainly does, but not in every context. Recently a number of parliamentarians heard from two teenage refugees who know what it’s like to be separated from their family: pain, stress, worry about the safety of loved ones.

Maya and Khalil represented the many refugees whose stories are hard to hear without emotion. Like almost every other refugee I’ve met, people who have often survived the most extreme experiences, they talked about how keen they are to get an education and how they are determined to contribute to society: model citizens, who have contended with everything that being a refugee means, and separated from family too.

Shortly before the Christmas recess the House of Lords gave a second reading to the Refugees (Family Reunion) Bill, my private member’s bill which would help more refugee families be reunited. Currently, under the UK’s rules adult refugees are able to sponsor only their very closest relatives – their partners and children under the age of 18 – to join them in the UK. (There is some discretion when the circumstances are exceptional, but what’s “exceptional” is the situation, not people’s individual circumstances.) The recognition of family does not reflect reality.

My bill would expand the definition of family. For example, under the current rules, refugees are not automatically able to bring their adult children to join them, even if that means leaving a 19 year-old daughter, or son, alone in the middle of a warzone. This can present the invidious choice of leaving some family members behind, or putting their lives in the hands of people smugglers and traffickers. A young man who has reached the UK may have lost the whole of his family in war, apart from a brother of 16, but the siblings are left separated.

The bill would also allow refugee children in the UK to sponsor their closest family to join them. The UK is almost alone within Europe in not allowing children who our Government has said are in need of refugee protection to be joined by family members. Despite accepting that it is not safe for these children to return home, the Government prevents them from being with their parents, forcing them to grow up in a new country without the support of their family.

There was support from right round the House in the debate, with the largest representation from the Liberal Democrats. There was a splendid speech from Lord Kerr (he of the article 50 authorship) about the implausibility of the Government’s argument that we would create a “pull” factor if we allowed parents to follow their child to the UK. (The debate was on 15 December, and you can read it here on Hansard )

Sadly, but as I’d expected, the Minister made it clear that the Government would not support the Bill, largely because there was no need for primary legislation; “we already have a comprehensive framework to provide safe and legal routes for family to reunite here”. The Bill may eventually make it through the Lords and into the Commons, where they are more brutal with private members’ bills. And there is a similar bill introduced by Angus MacNeil, SNP, which is due to start in mid-March (subject to Commons’ brutality). This is all part of a long process, both on changing our Rules, and on applying them in practice.

The points made in the debate added up to a loud, clear call on the Government to amend the UK’s rules to allow more refugee families to be reunited; to better reflect the reality for families separated by war and persecution; and to accept that families belong together.

Baroness Sally Hamwee is a Liberal Democrat spokesperson on Home Affairs and Immigration

Write for Rights campaign for YOU to do

We are very pleased to hear from Amnesty International that indefinite detention for immigration purposes has been chosen for their Write for Rights campaign and they are asking us to send a card to a UK immigration detainee.  There are details here  https://www.amnesty.org.uk/files/2017-11/Online%20casesheets%20TIER1%20Immigration%20detainees%20WEB.pdf

Please do send a card to give the recipient detainee some hope and to support the campaign to end indefinite detention and to use alternative case work in the community instead of detention. The suggested message is

Dear friend, You are not forgotten. Amnesty International UK and its partners are calling for the Government to introduce a time limit for immigration detention. We support your aspirations for freedom, dignity and a safe place to live.

You can choose the type of card, and you can add your name, but you advised not to include your address.

If you send the card (s) to Amnesty International, they will send to Individuals at Risk, Amnesty International UK, Human Rights Action Centre, 17-25 New Inn Yard London EC2A 3EA

Speech from Asylum Seeker at Sanctuary in Parliament

SPEECH FROM AN ASYLUM SEEKER TO SANCTUARY IN PARLIAMENT

“Hello everyone, I am originally from Albania and I am an asylum seeker. I am 28 years old and I have a degree in MP Political science and a second degree in Russian language. I speak three languages, Albanian, Russian and Spanish.

I never believed my future would end up like this, but we cannot always control life and we don’t know where we might end up.

Growing up was not easy for me. I have horrible memories from my childhood, memories of abuse and discrimination because of my disability.

I was locked away when we had visitors at home as if I was a monster and would spend days without food or clothes. People called me a “mistake from Allah” and would bully me to do things I did not want.

My disability was also one of the reasons I fell victim of trafficking.

DEAR MPs

Thank you for the opportunity to stand here and talk to you about our experiences.

I would like to ask you to imagine how difficult it can be to live with only 36 pound a week. Because of my disability, £36 per week is not enough as I have more expenses, for example taxi costs to go to some of my hospital appointments. I have not been able to get travel costs reimbursed by the hospital for appointments after an operation I had, and because I was on crutches I could not use the bus but had to have a taxi. It will be the same for others with disabilities, making it hard to use buses.

I need physiotherapy and it is cheaper for me to go to a local gym than go by taxi to the hospital for it, but I have to pay £20 a month for that.

I live in a flat where I have no choice where I live and it is on the second floor, with lots of stairs, which is not only difficult because of my disability, but after my operation I was trapped there for six weeks, not able to use the stairs at all.

Being a woman asylum seeker means that I also have additional personal needs which again cost more. You will know about how this affects all women of my age, but because we have less money, it means that we are affected worse.

Some weekends we might end up without any money, which means we can’t eat.

I am not the only one who is in this situation and I know for others it is even harder. I know other people who are refused by the Home Office and don’t have place where to sleep or food to eat, clothes to wear or items for our personal needs as women.

It is thanks to charity organisations which care about them and try to offer them food, money and safety- a big thank you to all these groups and organisations.

But what happens to those people who are refused? Some of them have disabilities, some have children, or perhaps they are young women like me, who cannot return back to them country as their life will be in danger and unfortunately the only opportunity is to stay homeless in the UK in order to survive.

DEAR MPs

I am waiting for nearly 3 years for one answer from the Home Office and I really fell horrible. I feel disappointed for not being able to work or to be useful and productive, despite having qualifications and work experience in the past.

As a qualified interpreter I could be so very useful and able to earn money that would give me self-respect as well as more income to meet my costs of living. It would save the government money too. When get the right to remain in the UK I would be able to work straight away, and so not be destitute and homeless as many are when they only have 28 days to find somewhere to live, and money to live on.

This situation is putting me more in depression because I feel like I’ve lost it all, no belongings, no friends, no rights, and no personal space- having to share a room with other people who are from a different country and different culture, which can create problems in living together. I suffered abuse from a roommate from another culture and country because of my disability, it was so serious that the police had to be called and take action.

The housing providers were going to give me somewhere else to live because of sharing with the woman who attacked me – not move her – but the place they were moving me to was too far for me to walk, because of my disability, for the counselling that I need, but they were not wanting to take any notice

I am standing here and talking to you in the name of all asylum seekers who have been refused, who have disability, who are homeless and who are waiting and hoping that their lives will be better in this country. I ask you to give us a chance to live a normal life. We are not criminals, we are not here for benefits, yes we have disabilities and may need support, but this doesn’t mean we will stay in benefits forever.

We have ambitions and qualifications, we have dreams and hopes for the future and we want to contribute to this society that has become our new home.

All we ask is to give us a chance to treat us human being and not as an obstacle. Give us a chance to show what we are able to do, without benefits but with the right to work.
Thank you for your time and for listening to what I had to say.”