Dr. Reuven (Ruvi) Ziegler, Associate Professor in International Refugee Law and member of LD4SOS Council writes :
In the area of asylum, the UK government’s Brexit white paper is an alchemy of cakeism and Chutzpah:
It seeks to retain the elements of the ‘Dublin III’ system of allocation of responsibility for determining protection claims that the government likes, namely the general ability to retain refugees to their first EU country of entry (via the EURODAC identification system); and to remain involved in EU controversial engagements with third countries that prevent asylum-seekers from reaching Europe.
All the same, as the government repeatedly states, it refuses to commit to European Court of Justice jurisdiction, presumably including over matters of asylum; and there is no mention of the UK’s continued adherence to other Common European Asylum System standards that it is currently bound by e.g. in respect of the grant of subsidiary protection status.
In general, and contrary to the spirit of the Global Compact on Refugees, the paper frames asylum as a security threat and seeks a role for the UK in fending off that threat.
He says that the paper should cover :
- ongoing operational cooperation, for example working with Frontex to strengthen the EU’s external border, and Europol to combat organised immigration crime;
- a new legal framework to return illegal migrants and asylum-seekers to a country they have travelled through, or have a connection with, in order to have their protection claim considered, where necessary. People should be prevented from making claims in more than one country, and on multiple occasions. A clear legal structure, facilitated by access to Eurodac (the biometric and fingerprint database used for evidencing secondary asylum claims) or an equivalent system will help achieve this; c. new arrangements that enable unaccompanied asylum-seeking children in the EU to join close family members in the UK, where it is in their best interests and vice versa;
- a continued strategic partnership to address the drivers of illegal migration by investing and building cooperation in source and transit countries;
- continued UK participation in international dialogues with European and African partners, frameworks, and processes, such as the Rabat and Khartoum Processes, to tackle illegal migration upstream; and
- the option to align and work together on potential future funding instruments through the cooperative accord on overseas development assistance and international action outlined in chapter 3.4.
Extract from the White Paper :
2.5.1 Asylum and illegal migration
- Properly managed migration brings benefits to local communities and economies. But high levels of illegal migration present a global challenge, enabling organised crime, people trafficking and modern slavery to prosper.
- The UK has a significant presence overseas, conducting capacity and capability building in source and transit countries and deconstructing criminal business models, through participation in development programmes and through seconded national experts. It is vital that the UK and the EU establish a new, strategic relationship to address the global challenges of asylum and illegal migration.
- The UK therefore proposes a comprehensive, ‘whole of route’ approach that includes interventions at every stage of the migrant journey and ensure no new incentives are created to make dangerous journeys to Europe.
The British Red Cross has recently published its report on the humanitarian consequences of detention “Never Truly Free”.Never-Truly-Free-March-2018 (3)-ilovepdf-compressed (3)
The report focuses particularly on the impact on mental health. The service users detained were caught in a state of uncertainty which was incredibly distressing. They did not know if they would be deported to the country from which they had fled; nor when they would be released. Two of the service users saw others try to commit suicide; 4 had considered it and 5 actually had attempted suicide. 25 of the 26 had had no access to mental health services. Most reported they left detention feeling as if they had been treated like criminals – that being in prison would actually have been better as they would know when they would be released. After release they were often unable to get asylum support; they still had to report frequently and lived in fear of being detained again.
The report was raised by Sally Hamwee in a House of Lords debate https://www.theyworkforyou.com/lords/?id=2018-06-27b.220.0&s=speaker%3A13422#g224.0 when she quoted extensively from it about the awful health, particularly mental health long term consequences on those detained “Immigration detention has a known negative impact on mental health. Most detainees will have experienced some form of trauma in their life before detention, the effects of which can be exacerbated in detention”. It also stated: “The damage done by detention does not simply go away once someone is released and the negative impact on mental health persists long after detention”.
She went on to challenge how the Government were assessing how vulnerable people were when deciding whether they could be detained or not. (people are not supposed to be in immigration detention under rule 35 if they are deemed to be “ particularly vulnerable”). It is a complex argument, and she made the point that by their very nature, so many who arrived in the UK had undergone trauma.
The report makes a number of recommendations most of which are part of our Lib Dem policies. They include using detention only as a last resort, statutory maximum length of detention being 28 days, and vulnerable people should not be detained. It also recommends that the onerous and traumatic experience of immigration reporting should be overhauled including never detaining people when they attend to report, and providing end to end asylum support.
Child refugees should be able to join their families after Brexit – but we need to act now.
NEW STOP PRESS (9th June 2018, afternoon)
There is now a new amendment, since this letter was drafted. The Government has now accepted quite a bit of what the original amendment says, BUT their draft says that children can only reunite with nuclear family (ie not uncles and aunts) and there’s no mention of adults benefiting. Please ask your MP to support the new amendment, and not the watered down Government one. NEW LETTER pasted at end of this and at this link.New letter to MPs re Dubs 111 amendment
In a matter of days, MPs will vote on an Amendment * that could keep open a vital family reunion route for refugees, including unaccompanied children, after Britain leaves the EU.
Currently, refugees who reach Europe can request to be reunited with members of their family who are living in another European country. This means that if a lone child arrives to Greece, and they have a close family member living in the UK, they can be safely brought here – without having to take a perilous journey across the continent, sleeping rough and at grave risk of exploitation.
This route has given safe passage to hundreds of unaccompanied children – and in doing so, it has kept them from the hands of exploitative smugglers, and has allowed them to rebuild their lives in the care of their loved ones. Rather than growing up in a refugee camp, they can live in safety with a parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle or sibling.
But Britain’s exit from the European Union could result in our exit from this scheme – and so, on behalf of unaccompanied children and refugee families, we need your help.
An Amendment put forward by Lord Alf Dubs and supported by Lib Dem Baroness Shas Sheehan, will be debated in the House of Commons. The Amendment will enshrine this route (currently part of the EU’s Dublin III Regulation) in law – and give refugee families, fleeing war and persecution, the chance to rebuild their lives together.
Will you write to your MP, and ask them to vote for Lord Dubs’ Amendment when it comes to the Commons?
There is a template letter you can use, accessed here, letter to MPs dublin III,
OR you can copy and paste the text from below,
OR you could use the link on http://safepassage.org.uk/get-involved/support-dubs-2-amendment/
*(‘Maintenance of refugee family unity within Europe’)
The amendment aims to preserve “Specified effects” of the “Dublin Regulation” (Regulation (EU) No. 604/2013), namely those provisions, and associated rights and obligations, that allow for those seeking asylum, including unaccompanied minors, adults and children, to join a family member, sibling or relative in the UK.
TEXT of suggested letter to your MP:
Dear [recipient name and position will go here],
I need you to support the amendments from Yvette Cooper and Lord Dubs to the EU Withdrawal Bill on Tuesday. [submission:values:your_story_will_go_here]
Britain’s departure from the EU, shouldn’t put children’s lives at risk. But that’s what could happen if we don’t ensure safe and legal family reunion can continue.
This week the Government tabled a concession on Lords amendment 24 that agrees to ensure unaccompanied children can continue to reunite with some family members in Britain after Brexit.
This is a big step forward and wouldn’t have happened without the support of MPs from Parties across the Commons.
But although a step forward this doesn’t go far enough.
The Government’s amendment in lieu would prevent children from reuniting with uncles, aunts and minor siblings after Brexit, something they can currently do under EU Dublin rules.
This isn’t just a minor issue.
Many of the children who reunite with family in Britain from Europe each year, reunite with uncles and aunts. It is often because their parents are missing or dead that they are alone in the first place.
That’s why I’m asking you to support Yvette Cooper’s amendments that would ensure child refugees aren’t prevented from reuniting with uncles, aunts and siblings in Europe.
And will you speak in the debate to ask that any future arrangement to make sure family reunion is kept open not just to unaccompanied children but for spouses and dependent children too?
This Bill will determine the kind of society we want to be after we leave the EU. With your support, we can ensure that Britain is a welcoming country to refugees and does not close down their legal routes to safety.
[your name will go here]
[your email address will go here]
This practice is where asylum seekers are given no option but to share a bedroom with others, potentially of a completely different faith or culture, and with no shared language to communicate with each other. There are problems where those of different ages are put together, and from places at war with each other. Worse still are other incompatibilities. Because of trauma gone through, those that need the light on all night and those that need darkness. Those with a range of mental illness and those with physical difficulties with particular needs. Gay and straight. There is no choice and the situation can last for years. Most of these issues have been recorded in evidence given to Tees Valley of Sanctuary this year, in this document (link). Evidence from last year, drawn up for the Home Affairs Select Committee is here (link).
We now know that Newcastle Council has lost the tribunal case to landlord Jomast on forced shared bedrooms for asylum seekers, so room sharing there can continue, and everywhere else in the North East where Jomast is the landlord (subcontracted from G4S, who have the Home Office contract). We are unclear where else in the country this is happening and welcome feedback.
In the meantime Sheffield Council has been able to ban all forced room sharing in rented accommodation in the city, through adaptations to its HMO regulations.
The new contract for provision of accommodation for asylum seekers is currently out to tender, in a contract that will last for 10 years. It allows for such room sharing, except for vulnerable people. There is no definition of what they class as vulnerable. Questions as to how this will be managed, and other issues around this, are not being answered by the Home Office.
As Liberal Democrats we strongly believe in the need for those seeking sanctuary here to have differences respected, and to be able to live with dignity. We condemn forced bedroom sharing of unrelated adults for anyone living in our country.
We urge all local authorities who have asylum seeker accommodation under the dispersal contract in their area to look closely at the Sheffield scheme, and adopt policies that put an end to this degrading practice that benefits nobody, except the landlords who are paid by the Home Office for the number of people they can accommodate.
Whilst the issues around housing for asylum seekers in Home Office dispersed accommodation is changing rapidly, we have updated our information sheets on both the housing situation in general, and the new contract.
Do note that nearly all areas in the UK are due to receive some asylum seekers under new dispersal rules, so do watch out what is happening in your area, and get in touch with us if there are any problems with the housing.
The updated housing document is here Housing issues for asylum seekers June 7th 2018
and the latest news on the new Housing Contract is here Asylum accommodation update 21 05 18
these are also added to our “documents ” section on this website.
STOP PRESS ! The news has just come through that Newcastle Council has lost the tribunal case on forced shared rooms, to landlord Jomast.
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.