Faiths in close quarters

This letter, sent by one of our council members, has been published by the Church Times this week.  We hope it will encourage more people to lobby their MPs to change the rules on forced sharing of bedrooms by unrelated adults.  Maybe others can contact other Faith Publications.

Peace amongst nations is surely high in our minds at the present time.

We have a microcosm of this amongst our asylum seeking communities, where people live and associate together, in peace. Many are people of strong faith, and it shows in how they manage this. Here in Stockton we have people from many parts of Africa, the Middle East, and Indian sub continent, as well as Albania and China.

People are allocated shared houses, which means shared kitchens and bathrooms, with no regard for common language, culture, country or faith. It can be difficult as one man said “In my house there are 7 Muslim men and I am a Christian. It makes it very difficult for me being different all the time, I cannot share anything with them, and there is nowhere for me to be on my own as I have to share a room”. There is the situation vice versa as well of course.

Even worse many people have forced sharing of bedrooms with no commonality at all. It is a small space, and not for overnight or a few weeks, but can be years. To quote two people:

“I am from Iran, and fled here because of the Arab Iraqis but I have to share with one, and it makes me frightened”.

I share with a Muslim man, we get on OK, but it is difficult to share with someone with a completely different background and faith. We do try but have no common language”.

The Home Office is in the process of letting the new 10 year contract for housing provision for asylum seekers, and such shared bedrooms will continue apart from those deemed by the Home Office (with no definition) as “vulnerable”.

Can I urge readers who live in areas where asylum seekers are dispersed to contact their MPs of whatever party to urgently intervene before the contract is actually let.

 

 

MORE ON THE FAMILY REUNION BILL

Thank you to Refugee Council for this image

We are delighted that the important Family Reunion Bill, changing the law to enable families divided by conflict and persecution to be reunited in Britain, has passed its Second Reading in the House of Commons.

There was a debate first in the House of Lords on the EU withdrawal bill, and thank you Baroness Shas Sheehan for your contribution to this debate, staying up late to speak up for children needing to be reunited with their families.

In the House of Commons next day, the Family Reunion Bill was debated.

Ed Davey reminded the House that this Bill follows on from Sally Hamwee’s in the Lords and that there is no way there is a “pull factor” in driving people to seek sanctuary in the UK, just a “push factor”

Tim Farron spoke in what was a passionate plea for children to be reunited with family after the awful trauma they have been through, to get to the UK.

Well spoken, too, Layla Moran on how reunion can help integration in the UK

Ed Davey spoke again on how every other European Country apart from one supports children being reunited with family

The work is only just beginning though. Whilst 129 MPs from all parties voted for this Bill, it has not been accepted by the Government, and 42 MPs voted against it.

Before the next reading, it is very important that all those MPs who stayed on the Friday and voted for it are thanked, so check here if yours is one of them.

when tweeting about this, please use #FamiliesTogether

Lord Roger Roberts on the humanitarian crisis in Syria

Lord Roger Roberts initiated a debate on the humanitarian crisis in Syria in the House of Lords this week. It was a very moving and passionate speech you can read here. https://www.theyworkforyou.com/lords/?id=2018-03-29a.948.1&s=speaker%3A13477#g949.0

He put human stories into the awful facts that 500,000 had been killed and 12 million displaced. He emphasised that we must allow Syria to come to its own solutions, but we must do what we can to facilitate this, and whilst we cannot see an end the situation quoted Nelson Mandela “It always seems impossible until it is done”. He praised the terrific work done by civilians in doing what they could in the conflict, especially the “white helmets” who had saved nearly 100,000 lives, known of.

Baroness Shas Sheehan was moved to speak in an excellent and well informed speech, and she urged the Government to accelerate the rate we are settling Syrians under the UNHCR scheme to settle 20,000 refugees and look again at the numbers. She also spoke of the sharp rise in the number of children killed in the last year :

https://www.theyworkforyou.com/lords/?id=2018-03-29a.948.1&s=speaker%3A25460#g966.0

There were many speeches supporting what Roger said in the debate, including Lib Dem Peers the Earl of Oxford & Asquith, and Lord Dykes.

In Roger’s speech he quoted part of Warsan Shire’s poem “Home”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nI9D92Xiygo It is very well worth listening to. The written version is here https://www.facinghistory.org/standing-up-hatred-intolerance/warsan-shire-hom

 

Tim Farron’s Speech on Family Reunion Bill

Well worth a read!

I will try to be brief, Mr Deputy Speaker, because the most important thing today is that this Bill proceeds. I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Angus Brendan MacNeil), and to all hon. Members who, unusually, are here on a Friday. This is my fourth debate on a Friday in 13 years, because this Bill matters. It is a chance and a test. It is a test of our support for the people who need it most; it is a test of our ability to act with compassion and common sense. It is not a hard test, because this is a modest and tightly defined common sense Bill.

Let us be clear what the changes in the Bill would mean for the refugee children who are already here in the United Kingdom. These are children who have experienced unimaginable things. Nevertheless, I want Members to try to imagine. What horrific set of circumstances might have to happen to a family that would mean that the danger and misery of fleeing across land and sea, as well as the risk of separation, is preferable to staying put? Imagine how you would want your children and your family to be treated at the end of your journey. Imagine that sanctuary, and the kindness that goes with it, and be very clear that that must be the model for how we treat families today.

Separated refugee children in the United Kingdom have already overcome threats and danger in their own communities. They have been split from their families in their rush to find somewhere—anywhere—safe and have then been forced through a terrifying journey by sea and land to Europe, journeys that we know have claimed hundreds of children’s lives. These refugee children are here right now living in our communities alongside us, asking us today to step up and reunite them with their families. The Bill will allow them a future with their families instead of being separated from them. It will mean children growing up with their parents where they should be, at their side, rather than living with the constant worry about the fate of their families, stranded and out of reach. The Bill simply makes that possible.

Let us not lose sight of who these refugee children are. The biggest groups seeking help in the UK last year were from Eritrea and Sudan, two countries torn apart by generations of civil war and violence. In Eritrea, boys can be conscripted into the army from the age ​of 16, sent off to kill and be killed at the whim of their Government. They are sent away from their families as child conscripts to serve wherever they are posted, cut off from home when they are barely high school age. In Sudan, hundreds of thousands of families are starved of food and basic medical supplies, and are at the mercy of warring factions on all sides. For many parents and their children, this is how ordinary life has been for years. These are children who have started life with the worst possible deal. Let us today give them a better deal.

The Bill will not just assert the rights of children to sponsor their families to join them, which is itself long overdue, it will bring immigration rules into line with real life. The rules need to be as flexible as families themselves. That parents can be reunited with some but not all of their children, and younger siblings can be brought to safety but their older sisters and brothers may be left behind, are shocking anomalies. At the moment, the rules obsess over age. If a child falls the wrong side of their 18th birthday when their parents become refugees, the parents have no right to bring them here. They will be left in danger. Can we agree that common sense and compassion should take the place of pedantry?

This is not a question of age, but of family. It is difficult to imagine anything more agonising for a parent than to know that they can keep some of their children safe but not all of them. It is ludicrous that that should be in the immigration rules and I welcome the commitment in the Bill to change them. Common sense is missing when it comes to the Home Office stopping any specialist support, as if reuniting refugee families is simple and straightforward. I disagree, of course. Those families need specialist support. I hope that the Bill, and the debate on it, will help us to take another look at the legal aid available when refugees are trying to reunite across continents and war zones.

It is not a simple process when it involves DNA testing and legal wrangling over birth certificates. Many Members will have seen in their constituency surgeries just how complex it can become. Leaving some of the most vulnerable people in our society to navigate the system on their own is deeply unfair.

There is one last reason to commend this Bill: doing the right thing by refugee families just happens also to mean that we do the right thing by our country’s future. After the horrors that these children have endured and escaped from, I want us to think not just of the pain of the past but of the potential of what could come next. These kids are not just the products of their horrific experiences; they will also become part of our shared future. It is in everybody’s interest that refugee children head off into their adult lives confident and integrated into British society, committed to making the most of ​the opportunities ahead. We all know that the kindest and most effective way of making the best of their futures is to reunite them with their families. So let us pass this test, dismiss the excuses and do what is right—support this Bill.

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.