Article by Bradley Hillier-Smith, Council member of Liberal Democrats for Seekers of Sanctuary and former volunteer in the Calais camp, refugee host and political campaigner advocating for the rights and settlement of refugees in the UK. Published in the Independent https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/migrants-refugees-latest-english-channel-major-incident-sajid-javid-a8703551.html?fbclid=IwAR0IBcT2dL0WUtkm1PNvz0ciAPDHw2468OM8VrKkIfF-0PRvPNx8R8Qgm4w
An informed and Liberal perspective.
The last few months have seen a growing number of refugees and migrants attempting to reach the UK by making a perilous crossing over the English Channel from Calais in small inflatable boat – 82 were intercepted on Christmas Day alone.
In response, Home Secretary Sajid Javid declared the situation a “major incident”, giving the impression that the migrants and refugees are to blame for this unprovoked affront to our borders. It assumes this has come out of the blue and the UK are innocent victims of this “threat”.
Yet this blatantly and conveniently ignores the fact that the UK is in part responsible for this so-called major incident. We must ask what has driven these people to risk their lives to make such dangerous journeys to try and reach the UK. The answer will reveal that it is not the migrants or refugees that are to blame.
We are not innocent victims. The UK over the last few years has been actively involved through policy and practice in creating a dire situation in the Calais area. The British government has invested millions on security measures including fences capped with razor wire in attempts to prevent refugees attempting to reach the UK. This has been supplemented by the so-called “Great Wall of Calais” – a £2.3m, 14ft concrete wall surrounding the port.
These border defences make any journey to the UK that much more dangerous. They mean that refugees facing limited options face greater obstacles to find safety in the UK and are thereby confined to live in squalid conditions in the surrounding areas. They are vulnerable to exploitation by traffickers in order to get to the UK and any attempted journey to the UK carries increased risk of death or injury, with reports of lives being lostand life-changing injuries being suffered.
As part of the French-British Le Touquet agreement we have invested millions in funding CRS riot police who man these border defences armed with tear gas, batons and rubber bullets. Human Right Watch reported last year that there are numerous instances of violence and human rights abuses by CRS police at the border. The police can use extreme violence in evictions of camps where they use batons, water cannon, tear gas and rubber bullets, including against women and children, as they did in the eviction of the southern zone of the Calais camp in February 2016.
Since the demotion of the Calais camp in October 2016, over a thousand refugees and migrants now reside in appalling conditions without adequate food, water, sanitation and shelter in the surrounding area. The police roam the area and repeatedly use pepper spray and tear gas in unprovoked attacks often while refugees are sleeping in makeshift shelters. The CRS also confiscate and destroy personal property such as phones, documentation and medication. In some cases as witnessed myself, police will confiscate just one shoe from refugees, seemingly in an attempt to humiliate them as they walk around with a limp.
The CRS destroy tents and makeshift shelters – the number of eviction rates is higher than ever before – and as a recent report carried out by human rights groups and charities on the ground has shown, the brutal methods used to clear these small camps has led to a rise in illegal crossings.
Once we see the severity of the situation in Calais and the active involvement of the UK through policy and practice in contributing to that situation, is it any wonder why people feel they have little choice but to risk their lives on a crossing to try to find adequate safety and human rights protection in the UK? The UK is actively involved in creating conditions so desperate in Calais that refugees and migrants are compelled to do anything to escape them and to try and find safety and hope, yet it is they who are vilified for resorting to what seems like the only option.
The “major incident” is not refugees and migrants trying to find safety in the UK. The major incident is thousands of refugees and migrants left in appalling conditions in the Calais region without adequate food, water or shelter and where they face extensive violations of their rights.
It is vital to stop the targeting of migrants and refugees as threats and burdens. Just yesterday we saw the release of an outrageous Home Office video announcing plans to charge EU nationals who have made the UK their home to apply for (not even be guaranteed) a right to stay in this country simply because of their nationality. That this was considered an appropriate video to share shows the problem with the way this government views migrants.
This rhetoric needs to change. We cannot ignore the fact that the conditions that refugees and migrants endure in Calais are so intolerable that they are driven to make such a dangerous journey to escape them. We cannot ignore the fact that the UK is in part responsible for that intolerable situation. The targeting and scapegoating of migrants and refugees we’re seeing today cannot go unchallenged.
Liberal Democrats for Seekers of Sanctuary welcome the report of the Home Affairs Select Committee on Asylum Accommodation released today (17 November 2018).
We share the huge disappointment of the Committee that very little progress has been made by Government, despite recommendations in previous Committee reports (to which we had submitted evidence).
The recommendations of the Committee make a strong case for closer working with local authorities on inspection and standards.
Although there is supposed to be rigorous inspection by housing providers and the Home Office, we very much welcome proposals for inspections of accommodation, including the power to sanction, to be appropriately funded and given to local authorities.
It is Liberal Democrat policy that “Housing contracts will be monitored more effectively, with more accountability and transparency in their work.” The monitoring being delivered by locally accountable, democratic bodies will be able to make a huge difference to substandard accommodation, equipment, and poor responses to repair requests. Government funding for inspections will be better spent in this way, too, and ensure increased value for money spent by Government on the housing contracts.
A genuine partnership, as called for by the Committee, between the Home Office and Local Authorities, where they can share information and plans, will enable much better preparation for asylum seekers arriving locally, as well as continuing support.
The report identifies that the next few weeks are crucial to reset relationships. It is crucial that joint working with Local Authorities and the third sector takes place urgently, and that Local Authorities should have the full details of proposed contracts. Liberal Democrats will be pressing for this to happen.
We also note that the committee says that the 28 days “Move on period” is not sufficient and is a cause of destitution, by not giving local authorities time to process applications for housing. Liberal Democrat policy is “Increase the timescale for them to find their own accommodation after receiving a decision from 28 days to 60 days, and remove the time limit entirely for vulnerable people.”
This is the summary of the report. https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201719/cmselect/cmhaff/1758/175803.htm
This is the conclusions and recommendations https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201719/cmselect/cmhaff/1758/175808.htm
This is the full report, that the statement is based on https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201719/cmselect/cmhaff/1758/175802.htm
LD4SOS Chair John Skipworth writes:
Detention Forum https://www.detentionforum.org.uk/ have named Liberal Democrat Peer and LD4SOS Vice-President, Sally Hamwee as one of their ‘Detention Champions for 2018’.
Those of you who attended our AGM will already know about this but it was mine and Janet King’s privilege to attend the formal presentation to Sally at the House of Lords on Tuesday 4th December.
Suzannah Willcox of Detention Forum presented Sally with a trophy recognising her contribution to fighting for an end to indefinite detention and then Eiri Ohtani thanked Sally for her work. Other tributes were paid by representatives of Detention Action , Freed Voices and Jesuit Refugee Service.
During a round table discussion we heard how detention had affected individual lives and the consequences that followed!
On a personal note it was great to be able to put faces to names and also further appreciate what esteem Sally is held in.
You can see more detail of the Liberal Democrat polices that Sally and other Lib Dem Parliamentarians have been continuously pursuing for many years now, here http://libdemfocus.co.uk/ld4sos/archives/1439
Rough sleeping – its causes and effects, is at last being looked into more. 7% of all street homeless people is caused by those who have been given leave to remain, so are new refugees. One of LS4SOS Council wrote this letter to the Observer after reading one of their articles.
Note that it is Lib Dem Policy, in our information sheet on “When the final decision is made” that we say at least 60 days should be given to vacate a property. The letter has not been published, but you can read it here :
In the well researched article last week on rough sleeping, many of the causes were covered.
There is another category though; People who have had a positive decision on their asylum claim, being given the right to remain in the UK! It is good news for them, but they suddenly, after what can be many years of waiting, have to vacate the property they have been living in, in less than 28 days. It gives very little time for them to find somewhere they can afford, at the same time as trying to sort out work and benefits. Rough sleeping can be the option, and of course that does not help their quest for work.
Increasing the time to vacate a property to at least 60 days, and longer for those who are vulnerable, would make a big difference, and be a better start to those wanting to make a positive contribution to life in the UK.
NB, you may also be interested that Crisis has just released a new policy report, ‘Homelessness prevention: It’s everybody’s business.’
This debate on the problems around the existing housing contracts, and the new one’s due to start in September 2019 were debated in Westminster Hall on 10th October 2018.
Lib Dem Ed Davey MP spoke out on the issues, and how badly the new contract was being handled, a huge contract of £4 Billion over 10 years. He demanded to know why Local Authorities have not been asked to provide accommodation under the new contract, they would be able to deliver in a better and more cost effective way.
Also he wanted to know how the new contract will be monitored effectively. LD4SOS think that is key to making any contract work well, and should be able to deal with issues that are not covered in specifications too. The new contract must be legally enforceable, Ed said, for minimum standards.
He pointed out, though, that the Statement of Requirements for the contract ( the real detail that affects who people living in the accommodation are affected every day) has not been put in front of MPs or even the Home Affairs Select Committee.
The problems of forced bedroom sharing were raised. He referred to earlier statements and said “We hear about people who left a country because they were afraid of another group of people in that country or a neighbouring country, and who, in this country, are being asked to share a room with people whom they tried to escape from or who are from a group they tried to escape from. The lack of sensitivity and understanding of the mental health needs of such people is extraordinary, so my second question is, can we go beyond just protecting an undefined group of vulnerable people? Can we not get to a point where people simply do not have to share bedrooms? It does not seem too unreasonable a question to ask or too unreasonable a criterion to have in the new contracts.”
In moving the debate, Alex Cunningham MP for Stockton North, raised the issue of the very poor quality thin duvets being issued in Stockton. One of our LD4SOS council members had been able to discuss this, and take an example to Alex. This is the clip of him talking about it https://www.facebook.com/acunninghammp/videos/306724463249555/.
You can see our polices here http://libdemfocus.co.uk/ld4sos/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2018/10/Life-as-an-asylum-seeker.pdf
“Liberal Democrats would rewrite all future government-tendered contracts for asylum-seekers’ housing, to ensure: that a local authority or group of local authorities can compete for them; that housing conditions which compromise human dignity, such as forced bedroom sharing for unrelated adults, will be grounds for termination; that existing specific laws on rental housing standards will be fully applicable. Every effort will be made to terminate any current contracts that do not meet these last two conditions.
Housing contracts will be monitored more effectively, with more accountability and transparency in their work.
We would abolish all forced bedroom sharing of unrelated adults. It is completely wrong that an asylum seeker has no place for privacy. Also it is wrong that those with no shared language, country, culture, or faith have to share bedroom space.”