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The latest news from Asylum Welcome.

We also contribute to the debates on asylum and detention in the media.

Oxford has a heart – and it’s orange

Monday, May 10, 2021

The UK government seeks to undermine the rights of those fleeing persecution and war. We believe the New Plan for Immigration is driven more by a desire to protect our borders than by our responsibility to offer protection to those genuinely fearing persecution. It is deeply flawed, inhumane and is unlikely to achieve many of its desired aims.

We want to show refugees and asylum seekers that they aren’t alone - we are fighting with them. We’re asking Oxfordshire to show that we oppose the government’s unfair plans and stand in solidarity with refugees.

To do this, we are using the symbol of the orange heart. We want to create a welcoming community by showing the hearts in our front windows, across social media and in public places. We will come together to tell asylum seekers and refugees who live amongst us that, despite the negative voices they hear in the debate over the Plan, there are many in Oxfordshire who welcome asylum seekers.

Please join us and share a photo of yourself with your heart on social media @AsylumWelcome to show the UK government #WhoWeAre

What is the orange heart?

On 10th May, a new national coalition of refugee charities is being launched called Together with Refugees.  Asylum Welcome is part of this coalition. The coalition’s symbol is an orange heart, the colour of the refugee flag, and it is designed to become a unifying visual symbol that all can stand behind to express their solidarity with asylum seekers and refugees.

You can watch this short video to learn a bit more about it by clicking here.

Ashia escaped fighting in her own country to seek safety in the UK and now lives in Oxford. “I had a beautiful life. I did not want to leave. We had no choice to leave and find safety. Our hearts are broken. We will get shot if we go home. We are grateful that the door was opened for us. Why are they shutting it now? My family are doctors here and have been helping to fight Covid. We support and do all we can to give back.” 

We want to show that Oxfordshire welcomes refugees like Ashia, and to help to reframe the argument that there is a public mandate for immigration reform that welcomes asylum seekers rather than provides a hostile environment.

For more information on the New Plan For Immigration, and how to write to your MP, see our resources.


Invitation for people with lived experience to become trustees

Wednesday, May 05, 2021

We have signed up to a programme aimed at helping a more diverse group of people become trustees. We’d ideally like this to include refugees who might become part of our board, but it’s not confined to them.


The programme is run by The Oxford Hub and has a taster date on May 27th from 1-2pm. 


The session will provide some insight into what being a trustee is all about and explain how the programme works. Anyone interested can sign up using this form here.


If you do think this might be of interest to clients, former clients or volunteers, whether they’d be interested in becoming a trustee at Asylum Welcome or elsewhere, do please pass it on.


More background can be found here.


A new programme is starting and they hope to match potential trustees with organisations in July.


In summary:

The Programme is aimed at inspiring and training the next generation of diverse trustees in the voluntary sector.  The aim of the programme is to equip participants with the knowledge and skills to become a trustee and help lead a local charity to tackle social and environmental issues.

The Hub are now working with charities across Oxfordshire, to recruit diverse individuals who they will support to take up trustee roles at local charities. The Hub will match individuals to charity boards aligned with their interests and provide a 12-month training and mentoring support.

If you think of someone who might be specifically interested in and possibly suitable to join AW board, with or without this support programme, do please let us know and we can explore further.

Oxford has a heart - and it is orange

Wednesday, May 05, 2021

Building on our learning and success in 2021.
 
Despite all the challenges that Covid threw at Asylum Welcome and our clients in 2020, we were actually able to support more clients with more services between April and March than in the year before. The profile of our work certainly changed to help refugees and migrants meet their immediate needs. There were fewer new refugees arriving in the U.K. and many Home Office and other services were closed or delayed for much of the year, but we were able to give more people practical help and emergency assistance.





Mark Goldring
AW Director
I’m particularly pleased that through the pandemic we were actually helping more people build for the future with improved education and employment services than we had pre-lockdown. And just a few weeks ago, the first Saturday group language classes, run in collaboration with Ruskin College, started in our office. These were so oversubscribed that we had to add extra classes the following week.

Building on our growth and learning over the coming year
We were wonderfully supported by the generosity of the Oxfordshire public and many institutions, trusts, schools, churches. Now, as we plan for a post-Covid world, our aim – indeed our commitment, as endorsed in April by our board – is to build on our recent growth and learning over the coming year. In such a hostile political environment, it is important that we strengthen our work to help individual clients fight for their rights and get legal status. We expect to extend this work, while continuing to offer practical assistance to those struggling while their cases are heard.
 
We are deeply concerned about plans announced by the Home Office to create even more of a two-tier asylum system, treating those people who arrive on their own and not through an official programme as illegal. We are working hard to raise concerns, helping refugees raise their voices and linking with other organisations across the country to resist these plans. We describe this in more detail below.
 
As well as growing our own teaching work, we plan to do more to take refugee voices into schools. We are also hearing from refugee families that they and their children need more support to understand, adjust to and thrive in our education system. We are already getting more laptops out to those who most need connectivity and are now planning to respond to this need more extensively, helped by research carried out by one of our education volunteers. For those preparing or ready to work, our improving links with local employers, including universities, will offer more opportunities.
 
The first six months of our new programme supporting refugee community organisations has enabled us to benefit more than ten organisations and hundreds of people, both in terms of immediate practical assistance and longer-term plans. These include extra Saturday schools for refugee children and adults, sports clubs for young men, family cultural activities, and groups of women developing their own businesses.  We see this way of working as being even more important and effective this year as we can mix with groups face-to-face rather than just with group leaders online.
 
I’m really pleased with our collaborative work with the City Council, Oxfordshire Homelessness Movement, Aspire, some of the University’s Colleges, Ruskin College, St Edward’s School, Magdalen College School, The Story Museum, Sanctuary Hosting, the Oxford Food Hub (formerly the Oxford Food Bank), BlackRock and many other organisations, notably Refugee Resource with whom we work very closely. One part of our joint planning is to explore the viability of shared premises with Refugee Resource in 2022.

Refugee voices at the heart of what we do
We continue to value the work of our volunteers and want to rebuild and reinvigorate the strength of this work post-Covid. But perhaps the most fundamental of all our plans is to do more to put refugee voices at the heart of what we do. We do now have strong feedback systems and our clients rate our services very positively, but we want to go further and look hard at how we better give voice to people with lived experience to shape all that we do and how we do it.
 
We have really valued your support in 2020/21 and hope you will continue to engage with us this year.
 
With thanks

Mark Goldring
Director of Asylum Welcome
Help fight the New Plan for Immigration
As explained by Mark in the last newsletter, the new plan for immigration contains some very worrying elements. A two-tier system of refugees will be created, not based on need but the route an asylum seeker took to get to the UK. Many asylum seekers will be deemed ‘illegal’. They will be returned to countries that they came from or came through, or even to third-party countries that agree to take them. If they can’t be removed and are recognised as refugees, they will have no entitlement to benefits and their case will be constantly reviewed, leading them to live in destitution, with fear of removal at any time. See more here. We want to fight this plan and, from what we have heard, so do you. Therefore, we're asking you to help.
Ashia, who escaped fighting in her own country to seek safety in the UK and now lives in Oxfordshire, said to us: 

“I had a beautiful life. I did not want to leave. We had no choice to leave and find safety. Our hearts are broken. We will get shot if we go home. We are grateful that the door was opened for us. Why are they shutting it now? My family are doctors here and have been helping to fight Covid. We support and do all we can to give back.”
Oxford has a heart - and it is orange
On 10th May a new national coalition of refugee charities is being launched called Together with Refugees.  Asylum Welcome is part of this coalition and the main focus is to fight this New Plan for Immigration. The coalition’s symbol is an orange heart, the colour of the refugee flag, designed to become a unifying visual symbol that all can stand behind to express our solidarity with asylum seekers and refugees.

We want to invite you to:
1. Show your solidarity with asylum seekers and refugees by taking a picture of yourself holding an orange heart and send it to us at advocacy@asylum-welcome.org. We will combine these pictures to create a mosaic heart to demonstrate that there are people in Oxford who have a heart for refugees. We plan to share this mosaic heart with refugees in Oxford to show them they aren’t on their own - we are fighting with them. We’ll also be taking the heart to decision makers to show them how much we all care about refugee rights and use it to encourage more people like you to speak out.

2. On 10th May, or as soon after as you can, share your picture on social media tagging in @AsylumWelcome and using the campaign hashtag #WhoWeAre and/or put your orange heart up in your window to tell asylum seekers and refugees who live amongst us that, despite the negative voices they hear in the debate over the Plan, there are many in Oxfordshire that welcome asylum seekers.

3. Write to your MP, please see our guidance here.

More details of the campaign will be available on our website from the 10th May until the Sovereign Borders Bill goes to parliament in the Autumn – see New Plan for Immigration 2021.

The consultation on the plan closes on 6th May. If you wish to put your comments into the consultation, please see our guidance here. Some organisations are boycotting this but we think that silence plays into Priti Patel’s hands. We encourage everyone to feed into it.
 
Nicky Barnetson
Employment & Education and Advocacy Coordinator
You will be helping clients like Ali
Ali had to flee his country after members of his family were killed and his own life was in danger. He was less than 16 years old at the time. Ali hid locally, but was found, and strangers helped him to flee his country and get to a refugee camp. The camp was unsafe and Ali was alone. Traffickers gained entrance to the camp and enticed people into situations where they were grabbed. Ali was held with hundreds of others whilst the traffickers traded them. Ali paid no money but was used as a tool to generate money for the traffickers.

Ali’s journey took nearly a year and a half, during which time he was made to work, transferred between people. Ali says: my life was not my own. I did not choose where I went.” Ali was then left near Oxford. He was taken to a police station and held there for 24 hours. He spoke no English and could only communicate through a telephone translator.

Ali was taken into care and his world began to change. However, there was one more hurdle to be overcome. There was doubt regarding his age and Ali had to undergo an age assessment – 2 hours of interrogation. Ali had known of others being told that they were 18 and being sent to live in different parts of the country – young people who were now isolated and distraught. Ali was frightened.

However, despite these traumas, Ali now has status. He is an incredible person who is giving back to our community. Ali is a son that we would all be proud of.

Under the new rules, Ali – if eighteen or considered to be eighteen – would not be allowed into the country and would have been deemed “illegal.” He would have been taken to a holding camp; if you want to know more about what these are like you can click here to read a refugee’s experience of Napier Barracks. The government would have tried to return Ali to the country he had fled from, or the countries he had been taken through by traffickers. There’s even talk that people might be transferred to a remote island or third country. Even if Ali had been granted status, he would have remained uncertain of his fate and been unable to study like he is now. Ali would have had no recourse to public funds and would only be entitled to stay here for 30 months at a time. Ali’s life would be so much harder.

You can hear Ali tell his story himself here in David Prever’s BBC Radio Oxford Breakfast Club (15/04/2021, short version from 1:17:49 to 1:23:45 and a longer piece from 2:18.05 to 2:26:56).
Please draw your orange heart and hold it up; then take a photo of yourself in support of Ali and the many like him who come to our shores seeking safety.

Please send us your photos to: advocacy@asylum-welcome.org and/or share them through social media by tagging @AsylumWelcome.

*Please note that by sending us your picture we will take it as consent to use it to form the mosaic heart which may appear in our public communications.
Thank you for supporting us through these dark times
We are incredibly proud of and privileged to live in Oxfordshire, a place that truly cares about the livelihoods and human rights of refugees and asylum seekers, working together in solidarity to help make them feel welcome, safe and confident after all the challenges they have gone through - and are still facing.

Thank you all for your generous response to our Spring Appeal 2021 and for your continued support of Asylum Welcome. Your donations help to improve the lives of refugees and asylum seekers like Ali and Ashia, but also of people like Ruth and Yvonne – people who seek sanctuary in the UK and who face so many complex challenges. If you have not already done so, you can read a bit more about how Asylum Welcome is helping Ruth and Yvonne and many others like them here. Please support us if you can.

With your help, we can continue providing a range of assistance including legal immigration advice, family reunion support, food donations, hardship grants, and help with language learning, education and employment so that our clients are able to move forward with their lives.

As one client recently told us:


With our deepest thanks and warmest wishes to you and your loved ones.

All at Asylum Welcome
With the New Plan for Immigration and the ongoing pandemic, we need your support more than ever!

There are several ways you can help Asylum Welcome:

 Make a donation here.
 Please donate food to Asylum Welcome's Food Bank: food@asylum-welcome.org
 We urgently need laptops and tablets to support clients' home learning and to help them to stay connected. Please email laptops@asylum-welcome.org if you can donate one.
 Join us in opposing the new Sovereign Borders Bill and make your views known by sending us an orange heart, writing to your MP and submitting your response to the consultation here.
 Become a member.
 Share this newsletter with your friends and family.

Consultation on the New Plan for Immigration closing this Thursday 6th May

Tuesday, May 04, 2021
We are deeply concerned about the government’s New Plan for Immigration. Please see here for more information. 

The consultation on the paper closes at 11.45pm on 6th May. You can respond to the paper and contribute to the consultation here. You may find Asylum Welcome's guidance on responding to the consultation useful here.

New Plan for Immigration: a brief explanation and information sessions

Tuesday, April 06, 2021

Dear Friends,

To read this in Arabic click here.

To read this in Farsi click here.

To read this is Urdu click here.

As you may know, on 24th March the government published a plan to reform the immigration and asylum system. We have until 6th May to respond to this plan.  The government will then take steps to implement the final plan. We don’t know how long it will take but some parts will happen before others.

Asylum Welcome are concerned that these plans will make it harder for asylum seekers to come in the future, and harder to stay, other than through official resettlement schemes such as the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme (SVPRS) that has just finished. We are challenging the new government’s plans and encourage you to do so too.

The plan is over 50 pages long and we can’t summarise it all here. Among the parts that cause us concern, are the intention to:

-       Treat people who don’t arrive through official resettlement programmes as “illegal.”

-      Where possible send “illegal” arrivals back to countries through which they have passed on their way to the UK or to other “safe” countries (note, they can only do this if these countries agree to accept them, and at the moment none have).

-  Tighten the definition of having a “well-founded fear of persecution” which is the fundamental test of who is allowed to stay.

-       House all illegal arrivals in new accommodation which is still to be built.

-       Reduce benefits and appeal rights for “illegal” arrivals, give them only temporary leave to remain, which is reviewed regularly, and reduce their right to reunify with their family members.

-       Increase the number and speed of deportations.

If these policies are introduced, they will apply to all new arrivals who seek asylum, other than the people coming on resettlement schemes. They won’t affect people who already have status. We don’t know if or how they will be applied to people who are already here whose cases are still being heard. Nothing will happen in the next few months and we would then expect the government to publish more detailed plans.

As Asylum Welcome we know that many refugees fleeing harm or persecution have no choice but to travel on their own and to enter the U.K. by what are being called “illegal“ means. We reject the two-tier system for people being treated as legal and illegal.  We intend to work with clients, supporters and other organisations to challenge the plans.

If you can read English you can see the full plan here. This includes a link to the consultation where everyone is able to give their views.

We also want to be able to publish your views and stories so you and the voice of refugees can be heard. If you want to be part of this, please email us at advocacy@asylum-welcome.org or speak to your contact in Asylum Welcome who will help.

If you have specific queries or for more information ask one of us, email advocacy@asylum-welcome.org or look at our website.

Finally, please don’t be alarmed. Nothing is going to happen immediately, and we don’t know how the rules will affect people already here whose cases are already being processed.

Key documents
-24th March 2021, Priti Patel speech and the debate here.
-The paper is here.
- Summary of the paper is here.
- How to write to your MP is here.
-Contributions to the consultation can be made here.
-Asylum Welcome's guidance on responding to the consultation can be found here.

In solidarity

All at Asylum Welcome

We can see Joy even in the darkest of times

Monday, April 05, 2021

Hello,

The last 12 months really have been the darkest of times. I joined Asylum Welcome in April last year – just as the pandemic took hold. So many of our clients were facing exceptional difficulties – unprecedented legal, housing and financial worries, unemployment, isolation, domestic violence, and of course Covid-driven health challenges.
 
I’m truly proud of the work that we’ve been able to do; our community really has come together to reduce adversity and suffering. I want to sincerely thank you for the incredible help and support that you, and hundreds like you, have given Asylum Welcome in the last year.
 
Asylum Welcome has risen to the challenge at every turn – we stayed open even during the worst times of national lockdown and we ran a skeleton service for clients who had to see us in person, or we supported them remotely. We maintained vital food deliveries, helped with crucial legal claims, and brought comfort and assistance to clients old and new.
 
When we are able to step in and help clients, we know that it’s truly valued: “Asylum Welcome is like a home to me! It is where I started my journey to rebuild my life in the UK. I decided a long time ago that I needed to help refugees the way that Asylum Welcome helped me.
 
I have witnessed some of the joy and relief that we have been able to provide, and I want to share one exceptional heart-warming story with you.
 
Ruth arrived in the UK from Kenya in 2018 and made a claim for asylum. However, she quickly found herself struggling to afford even basic necessities whilst waiting for the results of her claim. She sought help from Asylum Welcome; we were able to help with access to our hardship fund, to cover those basic needs.
 
We continued supporting Ruth and helped her apply for asylum support. Her claim for asylum was successful, granting her refugee status and ensuring that she could begin an ordinary life away from persecution.
 
With refugee status secured, we referred Ruth to a local legal firm to apply for family reunion visas. This was successful, and, after three very difficult years apart, Ruth will finally be reunited with her children this month.
 
Ruth would like to be a nurse. Our education and employment teams have helped her to apply for jobs and college courses, and we have helped her access public funds that are available for training. We were delighted to hear that she is now employed as a care assistant for people with learning disabilities, enabling her to support herself.
 
This is a real turn-around for Ruth and she looks brighter and happier every time we see her. We are so delighted to see these positive results but we couldn’t achieve such positive outcomes without our supporters’ unswerving backing.
 
"Asylum Welcome has been very supportive of me and is like a family to me. I am very grateful to everyone at Asylum Welcome." Ruth

Ruth’s circumstances have improved so much but we know that there are hundreds of people who are only on the first rung of the ladder in terms of seeing their lives improve. We need your help to see more success stories like Ruth’s in the year ahead. 

It can take years for many of our clients to sort out their legal status, secure housing, take on education or paid work, and begin to see real progress. There are some terrible examples of hardship and adversity where our work is so desperately needed. Yvonne’s case illustrates this:

Yvonne was born in Jamaica and came to the UK as a young girl as part of the Windrush generation. She is now 62 years old. We have been supporting Yvonne for the last 18 months but sadly she is still in great need, after years of hardship.
 
Windrush policies resulted in all of Yvonne’s benefits being taken away, including her right to work and her legal status in the UK. She was at serious risk of being deported.
 
We lost touch with her for a few months last year, despite making increasingly desperate efforts to maintain contact by phone, text and letter, and trying to get food delivered to her.
 
We discovered that Yvonne had been in hospital and our support was reinstated immediately. We were also able to arrange for a district nurse to visit as she needed follow-up care once she was back home.
 
Despite having a legal representative and being vulnerable, Yvonne is still awaiting the outcome of her asylum claim. She lives alone, in arrears, in her rented flat – and her current accommodation is unsuitable given her age and her fragile health.

Yvonne has no legal status, no benefits, she cannot work and she is ill. Hers is a heartbreaking story, one of unfairness and a lack of basic human rights. As with all our clients, Asylum Welcome is determined to help her as much as we can. 
 
When I go into the office and see other clients who are still just at the start of their journey, I know that I must ask you to help us do more.
 
We cannot be complacent. Many people still need support to find permanent accommodation. They have been street homeless during the last year and whilst they’ve been provided with temporary accommodation, we’re looking for longer-term solutions (we’re working with local partner organisations such as Sanctuary Hosting). And we still need to provide weekly hardship payments of £30-£40 for approximately 50 people every single week.
 
With your support today we will help many more people like Ruth and Yvonne.

Right now, as lockdown eases and vaccinations continue at speed, most of our clients remain particularly vulnerable and they will often need longer-term help. So please, can you help keep our services going to the fullest possible extent? Please make a donation today, of £20, or £40, or whatever you can afford.
 
Our ability to support clients who are so vulnerable at present is only possible because of the continued concern, solidarity and support of people like you. I am hugely grateful for your support and I hope that stories like Ruth’s inspire you – as they do me, my colleagues and our wonderful volunteers. Thank you.
 
If you have not already, would you consider making your donation a standing order? This really helps us plan for the future.
 
With kind regards and deep gratitude,
 


PS: We at Asylum Welcome are deeply concerned by the plans to reform the asylum system announced on 24th March. The plan, as laid out by Home Secretary Priti Patel here and which you can read in full here clearly divides refugees into welcome and unwelcome according to how they arrive in the UK, rather than based on the legitimacy of their claim for asylum. These proposals would make it even harder for people like Ruth and Yvonne to claim asylum and to live in safety and with dignity. To find out more about the New Immigration Plan and to keep updated about what you can do, please visit our Borders Bill 2021 page on our website. 

You can also read here a powerful and personal reflection on what the New Plan for Immigration will mean for those seeking sanctuary in U.K. by our Services Director, Almas Farsi, also known as Navid, who fled persecution in Iran: "How can people who are being persecuted and in danger possibly benefit from this firm but not fair policy?"

Thank you.

‘The New Plan for Immigration’: Asylum Seekers Not Welcome Here?

Thursday, April 01, 2021

‘The New Plan for Immigration’: Asylum Seekers Not Welcome Here?

A personal reflection from Asylum Welcome’s Services Director, Almas Farzi (known as ‘Navid’).

About thirty years ago, fearing for my life, I fled Iran. I certainly fitted the UN Refugee Convention description of having a well-founded fear of persecution – so immediate was it, that even though my wife was eight months pregnant we made the difficult and dangerous journey overland across Europe to seek sanctuary in the U.K. On arrival, our claim was assessed and we were granted asylum. Under the Home Secretary’s new plan, we would have arrived “illegally”, have had fewer rights and opportunities, and less security. There would be a presumption that we shouldn’t be here at all.

Having now worked in the immigration and asylum field for more than two decades, I have seen countless others in similar positions to my own, and many in even worse situations. I am therefore deeply saddened and angry about the Home Secretary’s new immigration plans announced on Wednesday 24th March. These plans target asylum rights that should be considered at the heart of human rights and that are a fundamental part of recognising a shared humanity.

It is especially distressing for me as a refugee to see the rhetoric coming from a Home Secretary whose family were themselves migrants. It furthers the impression that to succeed as a person of colour in this country, you must shut the door behind you and deny institutional racism in our system. Would her family have been able to come here under these plans? This dangerous approach puts the lives of refugees at risk, despite her claims of the opposite.

The Home Secretary claims that she is trying to rescue migrants and asylum seekers from people smugglers. She refers to the Kurdish family from Iran whose lives were destroyed while trying to come to the U.K. But should they really have waited with 30,000 other Iranian refugees living in Turkey in terrible conditions, many still being pursued by the Iranian authorities, hoping beyond hope that they would be among the 5,000 refugees a year – out of 26 million globally – to be selected to come to the U.K. under official resettlement programmes?

For years, asylum seekers have wrongly been called “illegal” and have been told that they should stay in the first safe country through which they pass, neither of which are true under the Refugee Convention. What we are not told is that the reason that people’s lives risk being destroyed is because they are left with no realistic option but to make the dangerous journey to Britain, as our government is not allowing safe routes to be created on any meaningful scale.

We are told that the new plans will protect those who flee persecution, oppression and tyranny. But the plans contain no detailed commitments or proposals as to how to actually better protect people. How can people who are being persecuted and are in danger, even outside of the country that they have had to leave, possibly benefit from this firm but not fair policy!?

All of the resettled Syrian families around Oxford that we work with will tell you of their many relatives stuck in camps in desperate situations who are struggling to survive and who have so little chance of ever being resettled. Even when the new resettlement scheme eventually starts, will they really take their remote chances on this?

The Home Secretary indicates that reforming the asylum system is the focus of her plan. In fact, I would argue that the plan is to get rid of the asylum system altogether by creating two definitions of refugee – deserving and undeserving; legal and illegal. This is wholly against the principles of the Refugee Convention and lacks any understanding of why people flee their country and of the suffering and discrimination already built into the asylum system.

As someone who has myself gone through the system and who works closely with people who are affected by it on a daily basis, I know that the new plan fails to address the misery that this system creates for asylum seekers – its wastefulness, inefficiency and perceived bias towards the ideological approach deployed by the government. The system has for many years eaten away at human rights and put enforcement before compassion and humanity. Instead of recognising human rights and bringing much-needed efficiency to the system, the new plans will increase the pressure on and fear of refugees. The new plans prevent them from feeling safe and able to get on with their lives. This is not just a continuation of the hostile environment but an extreme escalation which should bring shame to us all in the U.K.

Government credibility around asylum and migration issues is very much in question. There are legal, inspectorate and public health challenges to the use of former military barracks to accommodate asylum seekers in what are inhumane and dangerous situations. The victims of the Windrush scandal are still seeking justice whilst asylum seekers are not allowed to work and are forced to live in miserable conditions on just £39 pounds per week. The hostile environment created for migrants and refugees by successive governments pervades every aspect of their lives.

The New Plan for Immigration could hit several short-term targets for the government, but, as have many other attempts by successive Home Secretaries of various parties in the past, it will fail to stop a steady flow of people arriving. The countries where so many asylum seekers come from – Syria, Afghanistan, Eritrea, Iran, Iraq and others – are so dangerous that people will take risks, and people will have to take risks, to get out and to get here. And which countries will accept the U.K. sending refugees back to them – countries that have far greater numbers of people coming in than ever come to the U.K. – simply because they have passed through those countries on their journeys? The current plan fails to recognise these realities. There are plenty of other things that we do need to do to develop a fair, efficient and accessible immigration and asylum system that treats people with dignity, respect and fairness, rather than criminalising them. We should get on with making these happen.

Human rights organisations, and refugee and charitable organisations, along with many other groups that care about human rights, need to work together with people across the spectrum, and with politicians and the public, to improve these plans. Crucially, we need to do much better than we have so far in terms of expressing our views, mobilising support and offering alternatives. Only then can we create the humane, tolerant and respectful society that we all deserve.

Almas Farzi – Navid
Services Director

Plans for reform of the asylum system

Thursday, March 25, 2021

Plans for reform of the asylum system


We at Asylum Welcome are deeply concerned by the plans to reform the asylum system announced on 24th March by the Home Secretary. We welcome the commitment to change the asylum system and to reduce the huge and increasing delays within it, but are worried that it will do this by reducing the rights and opportunities that people seeking sanctuary need and have a right to.


The overall tone of the Plan, as laid out by Home Secretary Priti Patel yesterday here and which you can read in full here, is one of the UK being flooded by “illegal” refugees, when we actually receive far fewer than most European countries. The implication is that the limitations of our asylum system are their fault rather than ours. That is far from our experience. The Plan very clearly divides refugees into welcome and unwelcome, according to how they arrive in the UK rather than based on the legitimacy of their claim for asylum. We know that such an approach would have risked excluding some of most desperate clients.


The document includes the following key proposals on asylum reform:

  • Repeating the government’s commitment to resettling refugees without outlining any targets on numbers to be resettled.

  • Providing enhanced levels of protection to resettled refugees, including permanent leave to remain and enhanced family reunion rights.

  • Reducing the level of protection for refugees who arrive via irregular routes, by limiting their access to welfare benefits and family reunion rights, and requiring them to be reassessed by the Home Office every 30 months.

  • Replacing current arrangements for accommodation with reception centres in the south of England.

  • Removing the current margin of error policy whereby Immigration Officers decide to treat those claiming to be children as adults make age assessment decisions about people seeking asylum.

  • Changing the way that asylum decisions are made and fast-tracking appeals for certain categories of applicants.

  • Keeping the door open to allow offshore processing in the future.

Asylum Welcome is very supportive of the commitment to continue organised resettlement programmes, though we are disappointed at the lack of detail in terms of scope, numbers and timing. Under these schemes, refugees already in countries such as Lebanon and Jordan are identified by UNHCR as being particularly needy, then selected through the Home Office to come to Britain. They are a valuable part of our system but many people fleeing violence or persecution won’t ever be able to access them and they will only help a small minority of people in need of, and if they get to the U.K., entitled to sanctuary. We are disappointed not to see progress on family reunification or accepting unaccompanied children.

The desire to reduce dangerous cross channel crossings is shared by all, but the increased presumption that anyone who comes to the U.K. other than through official routes is illegitimate is a dangerous and damaging one. Some commentators are suggesting that it is unlawful in that it breaches the UN refugee convention requirement not to judge a claimant’s claim based on how they come to the country.

We will make our views known through the official consultation process and encourage you to do the same. The consultation is short and only lasts for six weeks. The link to the consultation document is here. You can respond on line.

But it won’t be enough to only work through the Home Office official consultation. We will talk to our clients and seek to amplify their voices and will work with other organisations to apply whatever pressure we can. We are already in touch with local MPs and we ask you to express your own views to them and through any other channels you are able. 

We will update our website in coming weeks to share more detailed analysis and case studies and to help and encourage our supporters to make their views known. The recruitment of our new Policy and Advocacy Coordinator could not have been timelier.

To find out more about the New Immigration Plan and to keep updated about what you can do, please visit our Borders Bill 2021 page on our website. 


Mark Goldring

Director


A Letter to the People of the UK: Speaking from the Heart about Napier Barracks

Friday, March 19, 2021

A Letter to the People of the UK: Speaking from the Heart about Napier Barracks

Taken from Hastings Community of Sanctuary, on 16 March 2021, at: https://hastings.cityofsanctuary.org/2021/03/16/a-letter-to-the-people-of-the-uk

On 15th February, HCoS Campaigns Team and Hastings Supports Refugees co-hosted an online event to inform interested participants about the circumstances and conditions surrounding the use of Napier Barracks in Folkstone. Over 60 people attended; you can follow up here, and read our report of that event here (Challenging the Barracks, p6). You can also watch the recording of the event here, using the Passcode ^=E^4Su&

Our three speakers were Clare Moseley the founder of Care4Calais, Jay Kramer of our Campaigns Team, and “Ethan” – a former resident held in Napier Barracks for nearly 6 months, and who was one of the nearly 200 people who contracted Covid in the massive outbreak in the barracks in January.

Ethan has written a powerful letter to the People of the UK. We are honoured to share it here.

Dear People of the UK,

You may know me from the letters which were written on behalf of the Napier barracks residents. I am now outside of the camp and cannot talk on behalf of my other friends. However, I personally would like to say a few important things about what I have seen and learnt during my stay at Napier Barracks and the United Kingdom.

I was moved to Napier Barracks in October 2020. Being in an unhygienic, prison-like place with so many people from different backgrounds and traumatic experiences living with each other, can affect anyone mentally. Moreover, by sharing a block with 28 people each and 2 toilets and showers in total, it is obvious your physical health can also deteriorate from Covid-19 and any other kind of contagious diseases.

400 people had to share their dining room and bedrooms together, which subsequently made half of the population become infected with Covid-19. Apart from the effect on their physical health, vulnerable people who fled war and persecution had to bear the prison-like atmosphere of the camp. Victims of torture, hostility and aggression had no mental support or access to a specialist or someone who at least is trained to deal with vulnerable asylum seekers. One nurse on site was for sure not adequate for all the 400 residents, and asylum seekers were relying on painkillers to calm their dental pains and any other pain.

The lack of information has also been a great cause of frustration. No one knows for how long you are going to be there. And when you will receive an update about your asylum process.

Our complaints have always fallen on deaf ears. Several peaceful protests, one hunger strike and so many suicidal attempts were not important enough to catch the Home Office’s attention. Over time, residents became more and more depressed and distressed. Everyone lost their motivation to socialise with one another.

I was tested positive with more than 170 other residents in January. No one checked on me to ask if I am alright or if I need any medication. Isolation was impossible and people were not able to ask for vitamins or anything that can help them to improve their immune system. I had severe pain in my chest, ribs and head for a week. Having fever, shivering at nights and being fatigued and completely energyless were other symptoms that I experienced.

The fire made the conditions even worse, with two full days and nights without power, heating and hot water. The conditions were so unbearable that everyone was suffering. Sleeping in your cold and dark bedroom for two nights was agony.

Two weeks before the inspection by the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration took place, I and many other residents were moved out, including those who spoke English. There are currently fewer than 50 residents still there, who remain in limbo, feeling increasingly hopeless.

It seems that the attitude that asylum seekers are currently experiencing in the UK is due to some politicians’ view of immigrants which are either ignorant or discriminative. They are spreading misinformation across the country to their citizens, students and children. I would like to raise some points about their statements.

Firstly, there is no such a thing as an ‘illegal immigrant’. When your life is in danger, you cannot just go to an embassy or sit behind your laptop and apply for a visa – which is almost impossible to get for non-privileged European citizens – and then simply book a flight ticket and come to the UK. You have no other choice but to leave everything behind and go to another country which can protect you.

However, there are also people who came to the UK to study, to visit their family members or to work and then faced problems in their own country, which made them unable to go back; and then they had to claim asylum, as persecution and punishment, and in many cases, torture, would be an expected consequence for them on their arrival back in their country. Some people also do manage to apply for a visa as they have a different economic status or have enough time to flee. I have seen so many asylum seekers in the camp who came to the UK with a visa and not by boats: we all suffered from the same vile and hostile policies.

Although the UK is one of the European countries which hosts asylum seekers, the numbers are not that remarkable in comparison to other countries in Europe. While Germany and France receive more than 100K asylum applications, Greece and Spain more than 70K, the United Kingdom received 29,456 asylum applications last year (an 18% drop from the previous year). Yet this is being discussed as if this country is having a migration crisis and the asylum system is broken. I think the UK could learn from other European countries which are hosting much larger populations of asylum seekers, about how to handle so many asylum applications; and also, about avoiding significant problems about how the asylum seekers are treated or how their asylum accommodation is. But it is of course cheaper for the government to follow the Australian approach which is condemned by all international bodies as being completely inhumane.

People seeking asylum, like all the members of a community, will contribute to the society that gave them safety, freedom and refuge. Some of them may become a professor at a Scottish university; some of them will study and choose to have a professional, insightful career and choose to contribute to the society and economy. Discriminating against them and making them suffer will subsequently affect the next generation of this country. Words do matter. Asylum seekers are not invaders, criminals, savages or ‘illegals’. They are humans like you, but with a different background. They did not have the privilege to be born in a safe, free and democratic country and when you have it for free, with no effort – just by the place you were born in – it is easy to blame them for the things that they have not been responsible for.

It is truly shocking, that now in 2021, in a country like the UK that the government is promoting the xenophobic and racist side of its country which is surely not the majority of the people’s way of thinking: a country, in which 50% of its capital’s population is not originally British. Just imagine how this kind of attitude from the Home Office, the propaganda of Nigel Farage and Britain First can affect the people who are originally immigrant, and how their safety and rights will be preserved, after such spreading of hatred and bias.

By making these points, I want to urge everyone to be sensitive about what has been happening to the asylum seekers now. It is not just about the people seeking asylum, it is about how the politicians think about immigrants. When it comes to disrespecting a human’s dignity and decency, everyone must know that there is no end to it, and that others can be next. Because this view of immigrants is not about seeing you as a human. It is about the passport you hold, the language you speak, the religion you practise and your hair and skin colour. It is about being in a hierarchy, and if you are not already, you are going to be the next victim sooner or later.

I hear politicians repeatedly saying that the United Kingdom has a proud history of protecting the vulnerable people, but the question is; will the United Kingdom have a proud future of protecting those who are in need? Will the students and children of this country be proud or ashamed by what has been happening now?

“Ethan”

Policy and Advocacy Coordinator vacancy at Asylum Welcome

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Policy and Advocacy Coordinator

Do you want to make Britain and Oxfordshire more welcoming for refugees and migrants? Help Asylum Welcome work with others to change law, policy and practice.

Working with our clients, staff, volunteers and partners, making refugees voices and experience heard to improve legislation, policy and practice, if you’ve experience in policy, advocacy or campaigns, you could have a real impact on refugees lives.

The postholder will lead the efforts of our small, Oxford based, volunteer powered charity, working with others internally and externally to improve policy and practice, locally and nationally.

Role status and duration: Permanent role, part time, (2- 2 ½ days a week, to be mutually agreed)

Salary:  £29,350-£31,350 pro rata, according to seniority and experience.

Closing date: 02 April 2021

To read the Policy and Advocacy Coordinator job description and to apply click here.