Lords Victory on Detention Amendments

Tell Your MP now to support Amendments 

The Amendments

We were all terribly disappointed last June when, despite an impassioned debate, the House of Commons rejected the amendments to the Immigration & Social Security Bill put forward by David Davis which would have placed a time limit on detention. Lib Dem Peers Sally Hamwee and Sarah Ludford picked up the fight when the Bill went into the Lords and tabled a number of amendments regarding detention including setting a time limit to detention. This stated that “individuals cannot be detained longer than 28 days unless the Secretary of State is satisfied that there is a change in circumstances and that the initial criteria for detention is met”. Another amendment set out those criteria as: “the person can be removed shortly, detention is strictly necessary, and detention is in all circumstances proportionate”. These amendments can be seen here. https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/bills/lbill/58-01/121/5801121-R-I.pdf.  Whilst they apply to f EEA and Swiss nationals in the UK after the Brexit transition period it is expected that they will also be applied to asylum seekers.

Lords Victory

Sally and Sarah did a fantastic job of getting cross party support for these amendments.   When first putting forward the amendments Sally spoke very passionately and was supported by a range of peers who made powerful speeches referring to the humanitarian, medical and practical grounds that support the amendment. You can see the speeches here. https://bit.ly/33pzmay.

It was, therefore, not a surprise that around midnight on 5 October the Lords voted 184 to 156 to accept the key amendment putting a time limit of 28 days on detention with robust judicial oversight. The other detention amendments were seen as being consequential to that amendment (House of Lords speak meaning that they would be supported if the Time Limit amendment was).   Despite the late hour Sally, and others, made the case for reform very passionately. Roger Roberts said “I ask the Government to take another look. Let it be a humanitarian look and let us go on to be rather proud not of what we have done in hostility but of what we have done in caring and hospitality.”

You can read the debate here https://www.theyworkforyou.com/lords/?id=2020-10-05a.487.1&s=speaker%3A13477#g495.0

Speaking to the Independent before the voting took place Sally said “Locking people up for months on end without giving them any idea how long they’ll be detained – is clearly inhumane. They are not criminals, just human beings seeking sanctuary.

“That is why the Liberal Democrats are determined to amend the Conservative government’s legislation and limit the time an asylum seeker can be detained to a maximum of 28 days.” https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/boris-johnson-brexit-immigration-lords-priti-patel-refugees-b743060.html

 Why This Matters

Having a time limit to immigration detention is necessary because currently people can be detained indefinitely and, also re-detained again when, for instance, they report to the Home Office. Many of these individuals will not have been convicted of a crime in the UK – they are only seeking sanctuary. Unless individuals can get lawyers involved there is no oversight by the judiciary – the rule of law is effectively abandoned. In the year ending March 2020 26% (some 6000) of those leaving the UK were detained for over 28 days; 475 had been detained for more than six months. In the second quarter of 2020 (at the height of co-vid) there were 28 detainees who had been detained for 12-18 months.

Indefinite detention can have a major detrimental impact on individuals who are already vulnerable. The uncertainty of not having a release date is very damaging to the mental health of detainees as highlighted in recent research done by the British Red Cross (“Never Truly Free; the humanitarian impact of the UK immigration detention system” file:///C:/Users/User/Downloads/Never-Truly-Free-March-2018%20(5).pdf).   Many detainees say that they would have preferred to have had a prison sentence as at least then they would then know when they would be released and don’t have to live with constant uncertainty that, even when released, they may be detained again. People with underlying physical health conditions may not get the treatment they need when in detention.

Some Tories have argued that unlimited detention is necessary to protect the country against foreign national offenders who are waiting to be deported and “too dangerous” to be released.   It is correct that a number of people being detained are foreign nationals who have been convicted of crimes and are then deported. But they have already served a custodial sentence the length of which is based on a risk assessment, and, if a British citizen, could have been released on licence subject to supervision measures. There is a whole series of arguments about why deportation may not be the right action but it also needs to be recognised that some of the most vulnerable people in detention are foreign nationals with serious mental illnesses which may be linked to their offending history.

Write to Your MP Now

These amendments now go back to the House of Commons who have the final say – probably in the week of 19 October. Please write to your MP (particularly if they did not support these amendments last time) and ask them to do the right thing and vote for them. You can find briefing material on https://www.detentionforum.org.uk

 

 

 

 

 

LD4SOS at LIB DEM CONFERENCE, video and other info

After the online Lib Dem conference we are giving some information for those of you that were not able to attend, or did so, and were not able to access the “booth” which was instead of the actual stall that we usually have at conferences.

This is the video that played, it is only 2 minutes, and do have a look at it, as it explains so well what we are about. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o3vCFkN4hVE&feature=youtu.be

We are usually able to hand out documents that give a concise summary of our many Lib Dem policies affecting asylum seekers and refugees, as well as a useful document on facts. You can access them here: https://libdemfocus.co.uk/ld4sos/archives/category/documents

We had an excellent well attended fringe on “The plight of LGBT+ Asylum Seekers”, and you can see the write up of that here: https://libdemfocus.co.uk/ld4sos/archives/1898

As always our regular newsletters are here https://libdemfocus.co.uk/ld4sos/archives/category/newsletters

We are always pleased to hear from you, so please do get in touch if you have any queries or want to know more. Also if you would like to be on our supporters list to receive our monthly newsletter, sent by mailchimp, do send us a message, and even better join us via this link! https://libdemfocus.co.uk/ld4sos/join-us

The Plight of LGBT+ Asylum-Seekers

“The Plight of LGBT+ Asylum-Seekers”

Report of LD4SoS Fringe Meeting held on 26 September 2020

Over 80 people attended our online Fringe on the Plight of LGBT+ Asylum-Seekers. Our speakers were Leila Zadeh (Director of UK Lesbian & Gay Immigration Group – UKLGIG), Alistair Carmichael MP and Christine Jardine MP (current and former Home Affairs spokespersons), in moderated discussion with LD4SOS council member Dr. Ruvi Ziegler (Associate Professor in International Refugee Law, University of Reading). Gareth Lewis, Chair of LGBT Lib Dems (which co-hosted the event) chaired the event.

Setting the Scene

Ruvi Ziegler (RZ) kicked off by suggesting focusing on 3 themes – the challenges facing LGBT+ asylum seekers in proving their case because of the ‘culture of disbelief’ in the Home Office (HO); the additional challenges posed by Covid-19; and what Lib Dems can do. He shared a map which showed that 70 countries in the world discriminated against individuals who were LGBT+, and 12 of those countries inflicted the death penalty on these individuals. He noted that many countries which generated high numbers of asylum seekers namely Iraq, Iran, Pakistan and Eritrea also persecuted LGBT+ individuals. He presented Home Office experimental data suggesting that, in 2019, only 1,211 asylum applications noted LGBT+ as a ground for their application, roughly 3% of the total number of applications (45,000). He posed the question whether this is an under-representation driven by the stigma and shame that some applicants feel and whether they are safe to do so within their diaspora communities.

Challenges faced by LGBT+ asylum seekers

Leila talked powerfully of “the layers of marginalization” that LBGT+ asylum seekers experience in addition to those experienced by the refugee population in general. As well as being discriminated against because of their immigration status they may also face discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender characteristics. Unlike many migrants they can be very isolated here as they often can not count on the support of their families – their own families may have threatened them. We discussed how challenging it was to demonstrate that you are LBGT+ and convince the HO you were at risk of persecution, particularly for individuals who have grown up needing to conceal their identity. Criminal laws create horrific environment as not just the police, but families and friends may also persecute someone who is LBGT+. The HO has stereotypical pictures of how LBGT+ people behave and will ask very intrusive questions about sexual behavior and practices. They can’t recognise that the reason the individual is seeking asylum is that these behaviors are persecuted and, therefore, aren’t practiced. It is also assumed that all LGBT+ people behave the same way – individuals may be refused asylum because their emotional and development of identity does not fit the HO stereotype. They can’t describe their journey (using a second language or an interpreter) in a way which satisfies the HO.  But not everyone behaves the same way particularly in an environment of fear. Christine Jardine (CJ) stated that “logic and compassion does not appear to be applied to (HO) policy”. Priti Patel has acknowledged the problem of attitudes in the HO and that people needed to be retrained or moved on. But CJ felt this was unfair as attitudes came from the top. Alistair Carmichael (AC) said that the barrier (for acceptance) had been set very high by the current government making it particularly hard for LGBT+ asylum seekers but they were building on what had been in place for decades. It will be a massive effort to turn it around not least because the HO is always getting hammered by the right-wing press and that feeds into a culture of disbelief. He told a shocking story of one applicant he had assisted who was told by the HO official “not to bring any stinking food with you”. It’s a toxic culture.

Impact of Covid-19

Accommodating asylum seekers in hotels had been a positive move but it has also be dangerous because people could be trapped in buildings with homophobic individuals, Asylum seekers live on less than £40 and didn’t benefit from the increase of £26 in universal credit – they only got 26p. UKLGIG had had to deliver food, buy clothes etc. for people in need. Loneliness has also increased, and more people need more emotional support. The HO had suspended face to face interviews so there will be a lot of interviews to catch up on. Worryingly they are going to contract private companies to do the interviews. This highlights a key problem – the HO thinks the interview are simply evidence gathering exercises; but they need skilled people to encourage people to open up – not ticking off the stereotypical standard type of proof.

What can Lib Dems do ?

Ruvi asked whether the Lib Dems should be more proactive in supporting LGBT+ asylum seekers given their special predicament, including through support for private schemes (like in Canada) and prioritizing them in the UK resettlement programme through special quotas. AC felt the root problem is poor decision making and the root cause the culture of disbelief so that any ambiguity is constructed to the disadvantage of the applicant. There are multi layers of contradictions in our foreign policy – Saudi Arabia still uses the death penalty for people convicted of sexual acts; our government excuses this because of wanting to sell them arms. We shouldn’t underestimate the importance how the Tories have changed – they have translated into the Republican Tea Party. We need to call out the hostile environment. CJ said we had to recognize that the media will jump on us – some people want to hear tough language, but we have a duty to call it out. Quotas can be a double-edged sword and used against us.   A number of people called for cross party working – could Lib Dem AO and SAO organisations complement each other and work together on this issue. AC said it was up to all of us to give it priority – LD4SoS, the LGBT+ Network, ALDC should all look at it. We can also look for allies in other places, for instance there were examples of cross party working with SNP on asylum issues.

 

 

Protecting Safe and Legal Routes for Refugee Children Post-Brexit.

Bradley Hillier-Smith writes:

An important amendment has been proposed to the Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill 2020.

In effect, this bill will end freedom of movement between the UK and EU member states.

Yet, the important amendment to this bill (Amendment 48) would commit the UK to maintain two legal routes for refugee children in Europe to access asylum in the UK. The first legal route is Section 67 of the Immigration Act 2016 which allows provisions for the transfer of vulnerable unaccompanied refugee children from Europe to the UK. The second is family reunion provisions within Dublin III regulations, which allow refugee children in Europe to be transferred to the UK to be reunited with relatives here. The amendment therefore aims to maintain these two means for refugee children to find safety in the UK.

There are very few safe and legal routes for refugees to find safety in the UK. Refugees (in particular refugee children) also face serious dangers in Europe. Therefore this amendment is crucial in maintaining legal routes to access safety in the UK, away from the dangers of perilous channel crossings and trafficking operations for example.

There will most likely be a vote on this amendment in the House of Lords in the week commencing 28th September.

If passed, this amendment will then be voted on in the House of Commons in the week commencing 5th October.

If and when it is passed in the Lords, LD4SOS will seek to organise a letter-writing and social media pressure campaign, asking MPs to vote in favour of the amendment and thereby guarantee a lifeline for refugee children at risk in Europe.

The full text of the amendment, and subsequent debate in the House of Lords (14th Sept) can be found here: https://bit.ly/3mjTrHT

Lib Dems Peers Leading The Fight For Changes in Immigration Detention

We were all terribly disappointed last month that, despite an impassioned debate, the House of Commons rejected the amendments to the Immigration & Social Security Bill put forward by David Davis which would have placed a time limit on detention. Lib Dem Peers have picked up the fight as the Bill makes its way through the Lords and have tabled a number of amendments. The amendments, which were debated on Monday 14 September, can be seen in this link:   Sally’s speech is here.

They include setting a time limit to detention stating that individuals cannot be detained longer than 28 days unless the Secretary of State is satisfied that there is a change in circumstances and that the initial criteria for detention (set out in another amendment as: the person can be removed shortly, detention is strictly necessary, and detention is in all circumstances proportionate).

Having a time limit to detention is necessary because currently people can be detained indefinitely and, also re-detained again when, for instance, they report to the Home Office.  Unless individuals can get lawyers involved there is no oversight by the judiciary – the rule of law is effectively abandoned. In the year ending March 2020 26% (some 6000) of those leaving the UK were detained for over 28 days; 475 had been detained for more than six months. 600 people have contacted Bail for Immigration Detainees (BID) for help with bail whilst in such detention.

It is terrible that anyone coming to this country is detained when they have not committed a crime. Also that anyone who has committed a crime has not been released when their sentence is spent, just the same as any UK citizen. Agencies working with victims of detention have been particularly concerned by its impact on people who are already vulnerable. The uncertainty of not having a release date is very damaging to the mental health of detainees as highlighted in recent research done by the British Red Cross (Never Truly Free; the humanitarian impact of the UK immigration detention system).   Many detainees say that they would have preferred to have had a prison sentence as at least then they would then know when they would be released and don’t have to live with constant uncertainty that, even when released, they may be detained again. People with underlying physical health conditions may not get the treatment they need when in detention.

Sally and other Lib Dem Peers have done a fantastic job of getting cross party support for these amendments.   In putting forward the amendments Sally spoke very passionately. and the next week when the debate was resumed, was supported by a range of peers, with great speeches from Sally Hamwee again, Sarah Ludford, and Liz Barker as well as cross benchers, Labour and Green peers, and the Bishop of Durham.  They made powerful speeches referring to the humanitarian, medical and practical grounds that support the amendment. They emphasised that the current system is inefficient, expensive and harmful. There was very little support for the government’s position who argued that – there was no policy of indefinite detention and that there must always be a realistic prospect of removal and various safeguards in place; a time limit would encourage abuse of the system; public safety would be compromised if serious criminals were automatically released after 28 days. The amendment will be re-tabled at the Report Stage when it will be voted on by the House of the Lords.

The fight will continue, for as long as it takes, and you can see the strong policies that Lib Dems have on immigration detention here.

URGENT NEED FOR ACTION ON SAFE ROUTES FOR REFUGEES

Since March 2020 the UK hasn’t welcomed a single refugee through its resettlement programme – the safest route to escaping war and rebuilding lives. That was understandable at the start of the coronavirus crisis, but with air travel for foreign holidays running throughout the summer there is no good reason these life-saving flights can’t resume.

Will you email your MP and pressure the Government to reopen safe routes to safety and commit to a resettlement programme welcoming at least 5,000 refugees a year? https://act.refugee-action.org.uk/page/67081/action/1?ea.tracking.id=qfqy9jch&ea.url.id=4910869&forwarded=true.

It is Lib Dem policy to “Offer safe and legal routes to the UK for at least 10,000 refugees each year by expanding the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme, both to help a greater number of people from that region and to cover other conflict zones such as Myanmar.” As in our policy document here http://libdemfocus.co.uk/ld4sos/archives/1685