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

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.

FIRST DOSE Covid-19 Vaccinations for the Homeless Population of Oxford City Centre

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

FIRST DOSE Covid-19 Vaccinations for the Homeless Population of Oxford City Centre

A drop-in clinic giving FIRST DOSE Covid-19 vaccinations will be taking place on the following date/time:

Date: Tuesday 16 March 2021

Location: 1 Floyd Row, Oxford, OX1 1SS

Drop-in Time: 1.30 – 3.30 pm

A queuing system will be in place for the drop-in clinic so please be aware you may have to wait for your vaccination.

Please ensure that you wear a mask.

Please maintain social distancing whilst waiting to enter Floyd Row.

For further information, please contact Luther Street Medical Centre: 01865 901571 or speak to us via the intercom.

Census day is March 21st!

Thursday, March 11, 2021

Census day is March 21st!

Translation support is available for the following languages: Arabic, Portuguese, Urdu, Farsi, Pushtu, Albanian, Polish and many others:

If you can’t find your language, or need more help, please call our free language helpline on 0800 587 2021.

Lisa Stead and Sinead Leach are census engagement managers for Oxfordshire. They would really appreciate your support by sharing census messages and encouraging your networks and communities to get involved. 

The census benefits everyone. Without census data it would be more difficult to understand the needs of your community and for the government to allocate funding and provide services such as schools, housing, bike lanes, apprenticeships etc.   

Here's how you can get involved to ensure your community counts:

If you are a primary or secondary school you can still sign up for the census schools programme with lots of curriculum based lesson plans, resources and competitions. You could also encourage parents to complete the census and perhaps provide support to those who need it most:

If you are a language school you could help students to improve their English by teaching key census terminology and helping them to navigate the census in your lesson. 

There is census guidance in 49 languages and a free language helpline on 0800 587 2021:

If you are a housing association, charity, community group or any other type of organisation, you can support your residents and communities by sharing census communication material in newsletters and mailings and on social media.You could put up posters, give out leaflets or invite Sinead and Lisa to give a presentation or provide training on, 'How to help others complete the census'. They can also provide a census completion event to help individuals and groups complete their census

A variety of communication materials and resources are ready to download at:

Guidance on how to help others complete the census can be found here:

Please get in contact if you need support, further information or resources:

Thank you so much for your support!

Lisa and Sinead

Vaccines For All campaign to mark the anniversary of the pandemic

Thursday, March 11, 2021

Vaccines for All - Campaign Briefing

This briefing document sets out the background for the campaign calling on the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) to take action to ensure access to the Covid-19 vaccine for everyone in the UK, regardless of immigration status, proof of address or ID.

The campaign calls on the DHSC to:

  1. Guarantee a firewall that prevents any patient information gathered by the NHS or Test and Trace being used for the purposes of immigration enforcement.
  2. End all Hostile Environment measures in the NHS, including charging for migrants, to combat the fear and mistrust these policies have created.
  3. Provide specific support to all GP surgeries to register everyone, including undocumented and underdocumented migrants and those without secure accommodation, and ensure that all other routes to vaccination are accessible to everyone.
  4. Fund a public information campaign to ensure that communities impacted by the Hostile Environment are aware of their right to access the vaccine and the steps taken above.


Over 340 organisations have signed the call to the DHSC, including Oxford, Haringey and Bristol Councils, health institutions such as the Royal College of Midwives and the Faculty of Public Health, migrant and homelessness charities, GP surgeries and primary care networks, and trade unions including the Trades Union Congress. You can view the full list of signatories at

The call responds to the Government announcement on Monday 8th February that the coronavirus vaccine will be available free of charge to all adults in the UK regardless of immigration status, and that immigration status will not be checked when registering for the vaccine. In this document, we evidence why the current policy does not go far enough to guarantee that everybody living in the UK will be able to access the vaccine.


The current policy - as laid out in the NHS Entitlements Guide - is that access to coronavirus testing and treatment (including the vaccine) is free for everyone, regardless of immigration status. NHS providers have been instructed not to check patients’ eligibility for free NHS care or share patient data with the Home Office when someone is undergoing treatment for coronavirus. The Government has also advised that access to GP services remains available and free to everyone regardless of immigration status, and that lack of proof of address or ID should not prevent someone from registering with the GP.

Nonetheless, many people are still likely to be excluded from accessing the vaccine. This includes those without immigration status (undocumented migrants), those with precarious immigration status, migrants housed by authorities, people experiencing homelessness, people not registered with a GP, and people who do not have ID or proof of address.

The policies designed to ensure testing and treatment for coronavirus is available to everyone do not mitigate the wider deterrent of wider Hostile Environment immigration policies in the NHS, including charging, data sharing, and ID checks. Nor will they go far enough to challenge practices promoted by these policies that lead to migrant and BME patients regularly being challenged about their entitlement to care, or facing delays and outright denial of access, often in contravention of national policies.


The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) have raised concerns about existing health inequalities are likely to exacerbate poor access to the vaccine for certain groups, including undocumented migrants, and that “to reduce health inequalities, targeted action focussed on some population groups is required.” Public Health England’s report “Beyond the Data” has also highlighted the negative impact of the Hostile Environment on BME communities. They note that the policies deter and delay migrants and BME communities from seeking care, and create mistrust between these communities and the NHS.

In a recent survey of migrants’ experiences trying to access the NHS, the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI) found that 43% of migrants were fearful of seeking healthcare for fear of having their status tested, or being charged. Of those with refugee status, 56% were wary of accessing healthcare because of fears about data-sharing between the NHS and Home Office, rising to 81% for those with no official status.

Research from Medact, Migrants Organise, and the New Economics Foundation that found 57% of migrant support organisations surveyed reported that migrants have avoided seeking healthcare, both before and during the pandemic, because of fears of being charged for NHS care, data sharing and other migration enforcement concerns. This was the case even when they had been told by trusted support workers that treatment and testing for coronavirus was exempt. These findings are supported by research from the Equality and Human Rights Commission that shows fear of data sharing prevented asylum seekers and refugees accessing care despite being exempt from charging, and are denied care.

Doctors of the World research has also shown that, even when supported by an NGO, around 1 in 5 migrants are wrongly refused GP registration, highlighting the frequent deviation of GP registration policies from NHS England guidelines and GP contract obligations. In 2019, Haringey Welcome also conducted local research which found that approximately two-thirds of the GP practices surveyed in Haringey refused to register a patient who either had no UK residency status, no formal ID or no recognised proof of address. Only one practice agreed to register such patients with no prior conditions.

Why Are We Making This Call?

In light of the evidence above, it is vital that the Government act now to address the fear, deterrence, and exclusion created by Hostile Environment immigration policies in the NHS, even for primary care services that are not included in these policies, and despite exemptions for coronavirus. The call to the DHSC sets out clear recommendations to tackle these problems and promote access to the vaccine for everyone, regardless of immigration status.

Ending NHS charging and data-sharing is the first step to ensuring people can access the NHS safely and without fear, accompanied by a public information campaign that aims to directly address the fear and mistrust created by these policies and begin to restore confidence in the NHS for the communities that have been excluded from care.

GP registration remains the primary route to access the vaccine for most people. The Government must support GP surgeries to register patients and ensure that people are not being denied registration in contravention of national guidance. Simultaneously, the Government must also provide resources, support and guidance for all organisations involved in the vaccine rollout to ensure that undocumented migrants and other excluded groups are not prevented from accessing the vaccine through exclusionary policy and/or practices (such as asking people to bring ID when it is not needed). This must include non-GP vaccine delivery sites and centres that allow people to self-register for the vaccine when these centres become operational.

For this to be effective, the Government must take the lead from and work with local and community organisations delivering the vaccine, including the Public Health Teams and community leaders already involved in vital vaccine outreach and hesitancy work. This is why we are encouraging local organisations across the country to sign on to the call, particularly those involved in the vaccine roll out.

We invite you to join the campaign and sign the call to the DHSC. You can see the full list of signatories at For more information and to sign, please contact Aliya Yule ( and James Skinner (

Migrants' Rights to Healthcare and access to Covid vaccinations: do you know your rights?

Thursday, March 04, 2021
Migrants' Rights to Healthcare: do you know your rights?

This page contains some useful resources on how to help undocumented migrants access Covid vaccinations. These resources can greatly assist with encouraging undocumented or migrants who are as yet unregistered with GPs to access the Covid vaccine,namely:



Dr Emma Sidebotham’s video in Tetum on the importance of the Covid-19 vaccination

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Dr Emma Sidebotham’s video in Tetum on the importance of the Covid-19 vaccination

This video is in Tetum. The translation to English below was kindly provided by Dr Emma Sidebotham.

Hi everyone. I am Emma and I am a doctor that has previously lived and worked in Timor Leste. This message is to help ensure that as many people as possible from the Timorese community are vaccinated with the Covid-19 vaccination. This is the best way we to protect ourselves, and others, from the virus – and it is an important tool to help stop the pandemic.

“Any COVID-19 vaccine approved for use via the NHS has to meet strict standards of safety, quality, and effectiveness. 

“Multiple vaccines are being developed. They will only be available on the NHS once they have been thoroughly tested to make sure they are safe and effective.” 

“Ultimately, the COVID-19 vaccine gives you the best protection against coronavirus.”

I have had the vaccine already without any problems or serious side effects.

“Remember:– the NHS will contact you when you are eligible.”

I would like to say that I am grateful to the scientists and researchers, who have worked tirelessly to develop vaccines to stop this terrible pandemic. And I hope that all of you can get the vaccine quickly. 

Please continue to follow govt guidance – maintaining social distancing, wearing a face mask and washing hands regularly, to ensure that you and your loved ones remain healthy.  

Take care, keep well and keep safe.

Thank you.

Dr Emma Sidebotham

We must #EndTheHostileEnvironment so everyone can access the Covid-19 vaccine safely

Tuesday, February 09, 2021

In the interests of human rights and the health and safety of the population, the Hostile Environment in the NHS must end. Temporary offers of safety are not enough to undo the decades of harm caused by policies that have embedded immigration controls into public services. We signed this call to the Department of Health and Social Care so everyone can access the Covid-19 vaccine safely, regardless of their immigration status. Very grateful to Cllr Dr Hosnieh Djafari Marbini and proud that Oxford City Council is only one of two councils to have joined.

“Coronavirus ‘amnesty’ to get undocumented migrants vaccinated will not be enough, ministers warned. Coalition of 140 organisations write to ministers urging concrete action to end 'hostile environment'.” 

Full press release here below:

The Government must go further to ensure undocumented migrants come forward for the coronavirus vaccine, warn local authorities, GP surgeries, charities and public health institutions

      140 migrants rights’ charities, faith groups, local authorities, health institutions and trade unions have issued a statement to the Department of Health calling for an end to Hostile Environment immigration policies in the NHS so that all migrants can access the vaccine without fear.

      Signatories include: Oxford City Council, Haringey Council, six GP surgeries and primary care networks, the Faculty of Public Health, the Faculty of Homelessness and Inclusion Health, the Refugee Council, Doctors of the World, and over 120 migrants rights charities, faith institutions and civil society organisations.

Following today’s announcement that the Government will not check immigration status for undocumented migrants, charities and health groups have warned that these measures do not go far enough.

The statement calls for the Department of Health and Social Care to guarantee a firewall that prevents any patient information gathered by the NHS or Test and Trace being used for the purposes of immigration enforcement; and an end to all Hostile Environment measures in the NHS, including charging for migrants, to combat the fear and mistrust these policies have created.

The call was initiated by the Patients Not Passports campaign, including charities Medact, Migrants Organise, Doctors of the World, and Docs Not Cops.


Aliya Yule - 07960163915 -

James Skinner - 07952915870 -


James Skinner, former NHS Nurse and Programme Lead for Health and Human Rights, Medact, said:

“Today's announcement by the Government is a clear admission that the Hostile Environment is incompatible with public health. At the start of the pandemic we warned that the fear created by NHS charging and data sharing would prevent migrant communities accessing treatment for coronavirus, yet it has taken almost a year for the Government to even acknowledge the harm these policies are causing. It will be hard for anyone to trust these assurances from the Government while the rest of the NHS continues to charge people for care and share patient data with the Home Office.”

Aliya Yule, Access to Healthcare Organiser at Migrants Organise, said:

“The experiences of our members at Migrants Organise have shown that the Hostile Environment fosters a culture of discrimination in the NHS, and creates fear and mistrust. Temporary offers of safety are not enough to undo the decades of harm caused by structurally racist policies that have embedded immigration controls into vital public services. The only viable solution is the immediate repeal of all Hostile Environment policies and the creation of an NHS that truly lives up to the principle of universal access for all.”

Anna Miller, Doctors of the World UK Head of Policy and Advocacy, said:

“While we welcome the government proactively encouraging migrants to come forward to register with a GP and receive the vaccine, and GP practices to register patients, this exemption doesn’t go far enough to undo the fear and mistrust created by the hostile environment.


“The migrant charging policy has done great damage to the relationship between migrant communities and the NHS, creating a situation where patients don’t trust nurses and doctors and avoid healthcare services.

“All the evidence shows that removing charges and status checks for a specific health service is not enough to make sure people with insecure immigration status access that service. Primary care has always been free regardless of immigration status, yet most people without status are not registered with a GP. When rolling out the vaccine we really must learn the lessons from this.

The government also needs to do more to get the message to healthcare services. Doctors of the World is still seeing GP practices wrongly turning patients away because they can’t provide documentation, and NHS trusts trying to carry out immigration checks on people attending vaccination appointments.

Munya Radzi, founder of Regularise, said:

“In the last few weeks, several undocumented migrants have reported to Regularise that they haven’t been able to register with a GP, and that people are scared to come forward for the vaccine. The fear is still present even after the news that undocumented migrants will be included in the vaccination programme with people asking how they can trust the Home Office. Whilst it is important that the Government have acknowledged that undocumented migrants have been excluded, they must do more to ensure our communities are included and engaged with in a pro-active way in order to access the COVID-19 vaccination, and to ensure that people are not discriminated against when trying to access healthcare.”

George Miller, Public Health Registrar working for Public Health England, said:

“Being inappropriately asked to provide ID when registering with a GP is not the only barrier to accessing the vaccine. The Government needs to directly address the fear caused by the Hostile Environment in every aspect of the vaccine roll out, from work on vaccine hesitancy, to ensuring that people are not told to bring their ID or NHS number when they register.”

Andy Hewett, Head of Advocacy at the Refugee Council, said:

“We are concerned that many people seeking asylum, currently being accommodated in hotels and other forms of short term accommodation, may not have been registered with a GP and may struggle to do so without support.  It’s imperative that the government put in place a mechanism to enable this group to access the vaccine.”

Susan Cueva of the Kanlungan Filipino Consortium, said:

"Although the Government have said they there will be no immigration checks for the Covid-19 vaccine, we still believe that information gathered in this process could be used by the Government to track and trace people who are undocumented with potential backlash later. People will still not trust the vaccine offer because of this. One of the solutions to the pandemic vaccination programme is to regularise the status of all undocumented migrants and those in legal process to keep us all safe.”

Dr Tony O’Sullivan, retired paediatrician and co-chair Keep Our NHS Public, said:

“There must be no barrier of fear from accessing Covid vaccinations and NHS treatment. In the interests of human rights, the health and safety of the population and undocumented people, the hostile environment in the NHS must go now, and access to vaccines is a huge step along this road.”


  1. Full list of Signatories
  2. The Demands to DHSC

  1. Signatories:

  1. The Faculty of Homelessness and Inclusion Health
  2. The Faculty of Public Health
  3. Greater Manchester Health & Social Care Partnership
  4. The Arch, Homelessness GP surgery
  5. The Corner Surgery
  6. Tower Hamlets CEPN (Community Education Provider Network)
  7. Tower Hamlets GP Care Group
  8. Townships Primary Care Network
  9. Haringey Council
  10. Oxford City Council
  11. The NRPF Network
  12. Asylum Welcome
  13. ATLEU (Anti Trafficking and Labour Exploitation Unit)
  14. AVID (Association of Visitors to Immigration Detainees)
  15. Bail for Immigration Detainees (BID)
  16. Birth Companions
  17. Birthrights
  18. Brighton & Hove Housing Coalition
  19. Bristol Defend the Asylum Seekers Campaign
  20. Bristol Project Mama
  21. Bristol Protect Our NHS
  22. Bristol Refugee Festival
  23. Bristol Refugee Rights
  24. Bristol Student Action for Refugees
  25. British HIV Association (BHIVA)
  26. CARAG – Coventry Asylum and Refugee Action Group
  27. Choose Love
  28. Citizens Advice Staffordshire North & Stoke-on-Trent
  29. City of Sanctuary - Birmingham
  30. City of Sanctuary Sheffield
  31. CRIBS International
  32. Daikon
  33. Defend Our NHS Wirral
  34. Docs Not Cops
  35. Doctors in Unite
  36. Doctors of the World
  37. Donate4Refugees
  38. DPAC – Disabled People Against Cuts
  39. English for Action (EFA) London
  40. Every Doctor
  41. Freedom From Torture
  42. Friends of the Drop In for Asylum Seekers and Refugees (FODI)
  43. Gatwick Detainees Welfare Group
  44. Good Chance Theatre
  45. Grassroots Black Left
  46. Greater Manchester Immigration Aid Unit
  47. Greater Manchester Law Centre
  48. Hackney Migrant Centre
  49. Haringey Welcome
  50. Hastings Community of Sanctuary
  51. Health Campaigns Together
  52. JCWI
  53. Kalayaan
  54. Kanlungan Filipino Consortium
  55. Keep Our NHS Public
  56. Lambeth Healthwatch
  57. Lancet Migration
  58. Latin American Women's Rights Service
  59. Leeds Asylum Seekers’ Support Network
  60. Lewes Organisation in Support of Refugees and Asylum Seekers (LOSRAS) 
  61. Lewisham Refugee and Migrant Network
  62. Liberty
  63. Liverpool Migrant Solidarity Campaign
  64. Manchester Refugee Support Network
  65. Maternity Action
  66. Medact
  67. Medact Dorset
  68. Medact Manchester
  69. Medact Oxford
  70. Medact Sheffield
  71. Médecins Sans Frontières UK Take Action Group
  72. Merseyside Pensioners Association
  73. Migrant English Project
  74. Migrants Organise
  75. Migrants' Rights Network
  76. NACCOM
  77. National Aids Trust
  78. New Economics Foundation
  79. NHS Staff Voices
  80. Nilaari Agency
  81. North of England Refugee Service
  82. Nottingham and Nottinghamshire Refugee Forum
  83. Nottingham HOST
  84. Notts Keep Our NHS Public
  85. Notts Stand Up to Racism
  86. Officers of The Socialist Health Association - Liverpool City Region
  87. Oxford Mutual Aid
  88. Pathway
  89. Patients Not Passports Birmingham
  90. PHM UK
  91. Polish Migrants Organise for Change (POMOC)
  92. Positive Action For Refugees and Asylum Seekers (PAFRAS)
  93. Race & Health
  94. RAPAR (Refugee and Asylum Participatory Action Research)
  95. Refugee Council
  96. Refugee Resource
  97. Refugee Support Society
  98. Refugee Youth Service
  99. Regularise
  1. Right to Remain
  2. Save Lewisham Hospital Campaign
  3. Save Liverpool Women’s Hospital Campaign
  4. Sheffield Flourish
  5. Socialist Health Association London
  6. Solidarity Knows No Borders - Merseyside
  7. Southall Black Sisters
  8. Southwark Day Centre for Asylum Seekers
  9. St. Augustine’s Centre
  10. STAR - Student Action for Refugees
  11. STARCH (South Tyneside Asylum Seekers and Refugee Church Help)
  12. Steve Owen
  13. Stockport Alliance for Equality (SAFE)
  14. Stockport Stand Up to Racism (SSUTR)
  15. Stockport United Against Austerity
  16. The Helen Bamber Foundation
  17. The Jewish Council for Racial Equality (JCORE)
  18. The Refugee Buddy Project: Hastings, Rother & Wealden
  19. The Voice of Domestic Workers
  20. Voices in Exile
  21. Waltham Forest Citizens
  22. West London Welcome
  23. Zero Covid Campaign
  24. Chorlton Central Church
  25. Deep End Scotland
  26. Deep End Yorkshire & Humber
  27. Easton Jamia Mosque
  28. Fairhealth
  29. Faiths in Lambeth Together
  30. Gipsy Hill Labour Party
  31. Hastings & Rye Constituency Labour Party BAME Branch
  32. International Child Health Group
  33. Katherine Low Settlement
  34. KoniMusic
  35. Noor Ul Islam
  36. St Barnabas Church
  37. Stockton Baptist Church
  38. The Bristol Council of Mosques
  39. The Mary Thompson Fund
  40. Waltham Forest Council of Mosques
  41. Avon Fire Brigades Union
  42. East London Unite Community
  43. Liverpool TUC
  44. Manchester Trade Union Council
  45. Nurses United UK
  46. South West TUC
  47. Waltham Forest NEU
  1. Waltham Forest Trades Council
  2. Manuel Bravo Project
  3. The Royal College of Midwives North Bristol Branch

II. The Demands to DHSC

In order to address the coronavirus pandemic and strengthen public health efforts, the coronavirus vaccine must be safely accessible to everyone, regardless of immigration status, ID or proof of address.

The Government has stated that everyone is able to access the coronavirus vaccine, but in practice, people are being asked for ID, are unable to register with a GP, and are afraid to access services because of longstanding and entrenched barriers to healthcare.

Without further action, the pandemic will continue to have a disproportionate impact on all marginalised groups, including migrant communities, people experiencing or at-risk of homelessness, and BME communities.

We therefore call on the Department of Health and Social Care to ensure the vaccine programme works for everyone, and seeks to address the specific barriers faced by these communities in line with calls from the JCVI.

The Department of Health and Social Care must:

  1. Guarantee a firewall that prevents any patient information gathered by the NHS or Test and Trace being used for the purposes of immigration enforcement.
  2. End all Hostile Environment measures in the NHS, including charging for migrants, to combat the fear and mistrust these policies have created.
  3. Provide specific support to all GP surgeries to register everyone, including undocumented and underdocumented migrants and those without secure accommodation, and ensure that all other routes to vaccination are accessible to everyone.
  4. Fund a public information campaign to ensure that communities impacted by the Hostile Environment are aware of their right to access the vaccine and the steps taken above.

Dignity and respect: Is it really too much to ask for those seeking asylum in the U.K.?

Friday, January 29, 2021

Dignity and respect: Is it really too much to ask for those seeking asylum in the U.K.?

By Mark Goldring, Director, Asylum Welcome

The people who visit Asylum Welcome’s offices in Oxford come from across the world and from all walks of life. A university professor fleeing persecution, a boy whose parents entrusted him to strangers in the hope of safety thousands of miles away, a young man running from war, a woman coming to join her husband, then being abandoned with No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF).

One man who recently knocked on our door soon after landing at Heathrow feared persecution for his sexuality and was desperate to claim asylum. A woman who fled communal violence has just obtained refugee status after thirteen years and has moved into a flat of her own, having lived on the streets for far too long since her arrival.  The vast majority who call on us for help are somewhere in between: caught in months and years of interviews, hearings, rejections, appeals, but mostly just waiting. Waiting in limbo while officials, in their own good time, make decisions about their lives.

What our refugee clients do have in common with each other is their knowledge of fear. Many lived in fear in their home country, most felt it daily on their difficult, often dangerous journey to the U.K. Despite having reached what should be safe shores, too many still live in fear for their future when they get here. They cry out for certainty, timeliness, transparency and most of all, respect and dignity.

It’s no accident that the very first line of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights insists on the inherent dignity of all people. Recognising a common humanity and treating people with respect doesn’t depend on any law, eligibility for a benefit or even on a country’s right to decide who lives in it. It’s about how we as a society choose to engage with people who have often suffered torture and trauma, and are still trapped in fear. We add insult to injury when we ignore their dignity.

Coming new to the refugee sector in 2020, I expected to hear from refugees and asylum seekers that their biggest challenge was the impossibly low level of financial support available while their claim is being heard, or not being allowed to work. Or being told where to live and who to share a room with. Or the impact on their health, education and wellbeing of their designation as ‘NRPF’; or, after the all too common rejection of their first asylum claim, the challenge of getting legal aid and the time of the few overstretched lawyers available.

But, without understating the seriousness of these and other practical difficulties that make up the “hostile environment” so proudly launched by Theresa May as Home Secretary and continued, almost gleefully, by her successors, what we hear most is much more elemental:  a simple plea for respect.  

Our clients describe long waits to meet rushed officials who are trained to disbelieve, to pick holes or find inconsistencies in stories first told in traumatic circumstances en route or on arrival. These officials have boxes to fill and deadlines to meet. There’s no room for the complexities of real lives or the impact of unrecognised PTSD.  Whether it’s the Home Office requiring  expensive travel to a hard-to-reach office simply to be kept waiting then ticked off a list; or a panel assessing whether someone really is a child, cross-examining them as if they had committed a crime; or a Council  challenging why a claimant can’t  continue living on a friend’s sofa indefinitely - those claiming asylum too often describe a starting-point  of disbelief, suspicion, open or implicit hostility, and of officials wanting a quick, simple answer. An answer that fits their box and their all too limited time and patience.

We can see this hostile approach vividly demonstrated on our tv screens, as former military camps, fenced in and distant from local communities and services, are repurposed to house the handful of people arriving after the terrors of their small-boat Channel crossing. We can sense it in the grandiosely titled ‘Clandestine Channel Threat Commander’, appointed to keep our shores safe from those desperate enough to risk their lives in the hands of smugglers. But what we don’t see is the impact of every bureaucratic challenge, hostile question or snide remark, every detention and delay, on the dignity and wellbeing of people who have already suffered hugely.

We do see some examples of sensitive engagement from individuals at all levels and in all organisations. Recently we’ve seen quick and positive national and local efforts to house refugees living on the street during Covid. But these actions are not the norm. Too rarely are respect and dignity recognised as the vital prerequisite for engaging with refugees. As we face up to the likelihood of a challenging year ahead for people seeking asylum in the U.K., we could begin by reminding ourselves of the deep meaning of Article 1 of the Universal Declaration: a powerful starting point for showing our own humanity as well as our respect for those who need our help.

Volunteering with “foreign” nationals in prison

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Guest blog in AVID: Volunteering with “foreign” nationals in prison

AVID is the network of voluntery organisations providing support for people in detention. 

You can find the original blog hereFor an extract, please click here.

Asylum Welcome's Huntercombe Visiting Project is possible thanks to the support from The Bromley Trust.

Clara Della Croce, Prisoner and Detainee Project Co-ordinator at Asylum Welcome, writes about their pilot project visiting people in HMP Huntercombe following the closure of Campsfield House IRC in late 2018. Twitter:@AsylumWelcome (Approximate read time: 10 mins)

It was a busy Friday afternoon in the office; on the 9th November 2018. The volunteers and myself were trying to finalise multiple tasks, including contacting people detained at Campsfield House immigration removal centre, when the telephone rang. It was the office of the MP representing Kidlington, on the outskirts of Oxford, where Campsfield  House was. I am told that the Home Office had decided to close Campsfield House by May 2019 and this is the first time I am hearing about the closure:  I listen quietly, not quite grasping the extent of what is being said.

For a decade, I had been going to see the men in Campsfield; people who were incarcerated under an unfair and hostile detention system. Many had committed no criminal offence but were detained for ‘administrative convenience’; others, who had been in prison and already paid for the crimes they had committed, were being held indefinitely under immigration powers because they were deemed as “foreigners” and were not welcome in the UK.

I, alongside many others, had been campaigning for the end of immigration detention. So I was thrilled to hear of the closure of Campsfield, but yet, I found myself thinking a million thoughts at once. What about the people currently detained in Campsfield? Many were so vulnerable; I knew of their testing stories, where were they going? If, according to the Home Office statement, Campsfield’s closure was part of its 40% reduction in immigration detention numbers, what was next for the people affected? A happy thought also occurred to me: all detention centres will be eventually closed - was that possible?

We stood back in celebration. People around me, Asylum Welcome colleagues, and volunteer visitors to Campsfield House, all had similar feelings of incredulity and elation, but we were foremost concerned with the welfare of the people held there. Volunteers reported mixed feelings of joyfulness to see a detention centre closing but also apprehension for the men who could end up in a worse situation. These were people who explained to us that being in Campsfield was terribly depressing and stressful but that being in other detention centres, where the regime was stricter, treatment harsher and food ‘disgusting’, was far worse. At least in Campsfield, they said, some staff cared for their wellbeing. We, volunteers and people detained at Campsfield, were so familiar with the Home Office practices of moving individuals between prisons and among detention centres, and the level of distress that this practice raises for peoples’ welfare as well as the detrimental impact on their mental health. We were all very apprehensive about their future in immigration detention.

In Campsfield, volunteers provided continuous help and support to every man who sought our assistance. There was no distinction regarding their background or immigration status, we helped asylum seekers, refugees, victims of trafficking, overstayers as well as people with past convictions coming out of prison. Our visitors came from a diverse range of backgrounds and training (medical training, social workers, lawyers, aid workers, students of different subjects, and affiliations). They spoke a wide range of languages, which helped when providing emotional support in someone’s own language.  From the office, we followed cases, communicating with a wide range of people and agencies on behalf of people detained such as lawyers, probation services, family, friends, and doctors.  We also liaised with other agencies such as social services and the police on their behalf. Our volunteers with medical training saw first-hand the long-lasting effects of immigration detention on the mental and physical health of people detained and sought to provide more specialised support to our clients. We helped in practical ways and financially too by collecting belongings from police stations or previous accommodation to be reunited with someone prior to their removal or deportation, and by topping up their phones to allow them to talk to family and friends and to their legal representatives. Stories of help, support, compassion, solidarity, and lessons of resilience abounded throughout the 25 years Asylum Welcome was present in Campsfield House, sometimes every day of the week. 

By mid-December 2018 Campsfield house was empty. The remaining few people detained there were transferred to other immigration removal centres and a few got bail.  We kept in touch with some of our clients, primarily those whose bail had been granted in principle but had no suitable accommodation by the closure date. We continued to liaise with their probation officers and lawyers early into the new year. Our volunteers showed great compassion towards their ‘visitees’. When we knew where former clients were sent to, we also referred them to other visiting groups around the UK. In some cases, it was very frustrating as we did not get to know what had happened to them after Campsfield.

In the new year, everyone, volunteers and staff in Asylum Welcome were all resolute that we needed to continue supporting people experiencing detention; it was important to us to provide support to those who were excluded, isolated and often forgotten. We were aware that there were two prisons near Oxford which held ‘foreign’ nationals: HMP Huntercombe and HMP Bullingdon. The possibility of offering our support in a prison environment made volunteers rethink their rationale for volunteering; one said to me: “I have never considered those in Campsfield as people who had committed a crime, although there were many. However, I have now to be conscious of the fact that this is the case for a prison.” Above all, I personally think that what moved each one of us towards replicating our solidarity with people incarcerated in a prison was a shared sense of compassion; the thought of the “men locked up, isolated, cut off from their families, with no certainty about their futures and limited legal support. Many with poor English and so are even more cut off.” These thoughts showed us, volunteers, and staff, including myself, how crucial human contact and practical help had been and could be for many of them.

After getting consent from our board of trustees for a pilot project to get started, we contacted HMP Huntercombe whose governor was very positive about our potential support to the men there. Drawing upon our experience in Campsfield House we hoped to provide human contact and a bridge to the outside world.

Huntercombe is a Category C prison with an exclusive foreign national population where some people do not speak English at all, hence there was a particular interest in the wide-ranging language skills of our volunteers who are often able to support prisoners in their native language - a great comfort to many of them.

Huntercombe, as opposed to Campsfield, is a quieter, more orderly place, giving the impression of a calmer environment; possibly because inmates know why they are there, and when their sentences finish. In Campsfield, like all immigration removal centres, I saw people who had to cope with the uncertainty of being held indefinitely, provoking a strong feeling of anxiety regarding their future. In Huntercombe, I see that same uncertainty as to whether they would be released at the end of their sentence or transferred to an immigration removal centre and held for an indefinite period of time or if they are going to be put onto a plane back ‘home’. Huntercombe is often the last stop, within the criminal justice system, a foreign national prisoner has before deportation, hence, the anxiety and serious concern about their unclear future is equivalent to being in an immigration removal centre. Thus, the need for visitors and some human and outside contact is very similar, if not greater in the prison setting.

Even if the needs are similar for so-called ‘foreign’ prisoners and other people in immigration detention, our way of working in Huntercombe has both differences and parallels to the work we did in Camspfield.  A distinct difference is how we can attract new clients. As the prison system is much stricter, there are no open drop-in sessions like those we used to hold at Campsfield. Instead in Huntercombe, we hold group visits where we meet a group of people and explain the background of our work in the community and in Huntercombe. These group visits are facilitated by prison staff who invite individuals to meet the group in accordance with the language spoken by the volunteers present on the day and the urgency of support they require. During these group visits, we take peoples’ details and ascertain their needs; thereafter we match them with our volunteers to follow up with future one to one visits.

In recent months, since lockdown, when groups visits were suspended, prison staff have helped us to ‘advertise our support’ by spreading our flyers throughout the prison.

Communicating with someone in prison is rather difficult as they do not have easy access to telephones or internet and the number of visits and visiting times are more restricted. We soon discovered that individuals are entitled to only a couple of social (physical) visits a month but, if they don’t have a social visit, they can apply for telephone credit instead to call their family and friends in other parts of the world. Whilst some people were very eager to receive the one to one support of our volunteers, the possibility of not having credit to call their families because they received our volunteer’s social visit was a not a fair choice for them. This was only resolved when we started seeing prisoners during empty legal slots, not to give legal advice, but as a concession for a face to face support without affecting someone’s right to telephone credit.

Last March, as our one to one visits had finally begun flourishing, the threat of the pandemic and consequent lockdown suddenly made it impossible for face to face visits to continue and our services were suspended. News that people in Huntercombe during the pandemic had to cope with a very strict regime atypical for a Category C prison made our volunteers determined to help them at this difficult time. Our perseverance and determination to make the project work coupled with the prison management’s forthcoming and supportive attitude led us to re-start our services in a virtual format. Since last June, we have started video calls with our clients trying to bring some comfort and solidarity to the men who are coping with the new rigid regime. This has not come without tribulations as connections are sometimes poor, though this has improved of late. Volunteers say: “communication is not ideal, it is slow but I think this is better than no contact and the men seem to appreciate it, especially as they are having to spend a lot of time in their cells.”

Another difference between visiting in a prison as opposed to a detention centre is the stringent Ministry of Justice vetting procedure volunteers and staff must go through in order to provide long lasting support to prisoners.  The vetting is necessary for continued visits. Although all our volunteers are extremely dedicated and committed to supporting the men,  they are foremost volunteers, people willing to give their time and valuable skills, many retired from busy professional lives. Some were surprised, at least in the beginning, with the length of time that it took to gain clearance, the rigor, and strict timeline of the vetting procedure: very different from an immigration removal centre.

For some volunteers, so far, visiting/having contact with this group of men is not very different from an immigration removal centre. “Yes, they had all committed offences but quite a few of those we saw in Campsfield were in a similar position but what was important was that these men were isolated. Some have poor English and so were even more cut off. Although the men are often desperate for immigration legal advice, I think that just having contact with someone from outside who may be able to speak their language is what is important. To be non-judgmental is the first lesson, and patient, and remain hopeful that my very small contribution is of help!”

Overall, for us, who have visited both Campsfield and Huntercombe, the support needs of those we have had contact with are similar and yet the difference lies in what we are able to do. Although we provide primarily emotional support, we also signpost people we work with in prison to different agencies, raise their physical and mental health issues with prison staff and, on occasion, act as a link to immigration advisors (as immigration advice within the prison is rather limited compared to legal representation for criminal cases). But there is a degree of limitation on what is possible to do for them at present.

It has been a learning curve for me and our volunteers in different aspects, for example, prison procedures and rules and thinking through our attitude towards people who are imprisoned. I agree with a volunteer who says ‘there is a lot to learn still’ and “ I am hoping that, as a pilot project, we can still demonstrate that we are improving the lives of those we do speak with and that, with time, our support will expand and will be better tailored to the men’s specific needs.” Undoubtedly, working at Campsfield equipped us with an understanding of the isolation and anxiety experienced by people in detention as well as their limited access to legal redress and other services. We are learning that in a ‘foreign’ national prison, these challenges are even greater. While people must serve their sentence, any support someone facing additional barriers can get whilst doing so can be of help, and may potentially decrease their chances of reoffending and improve the likelihood of their reintegration into society, wherever that may be.

This article was written as part of our Human to Human Winter Appeal which you can donate to here.

COVID-19 vaccination guide for older adults in English and Arabic

Thursday, January 21, 2021

This leaflet explains about the COVID-19 vaccination, who is eligible and who needs to have the vaccine to protect them from Coronavirus. Please read and help us spread the word.

COVID-19 vaccination guide for older adults, English version

COVID-19 vaccination guide for older adults, Arabic version