SWVG plans and manages campaigns to improve the lives of asylum seekers and refugees, drawing from our direct practical experience working with asylum seekers and refugees in Southampton and Winchester.
Our campaigns may involve contact with our local MP’s and other political parties, letters and articles for newspapers, going on radio and TV, and joining demonstrations.
We participate in national campaigns (such as those led by Refugee Action and the Refugee Council) where these are relevant to our local issues.
If you are interested in supporting any of our campaigns please contact: email@example.com
In April 2017, the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Refugees published the “Refugees Welcome?” report which outlines many of the difficulties faced by people claiming asylum and when they are granted refugee status. The report is a valuable reference which makes a number of strong recommendations to Government.
Fairness not Fares
Asylum seekers who wish to submit fresh evidence to support their claim for asylum are required to travel to Liverpool to submit their documentary evidence in person at the Home Office’s Further Submissions Unit (FSU). On arrival at the FSU, submittal of the documents may only take five minutes in order to hand over a sheaf of documents to an official. For people in Southampton this means a 470 mile round trip which may include, for some, the need to stay overnight. For most people this would not be affordable since they have little money and are not allowed to work to earn any. This is a serious injustice since people seeking asylum who do not have the money are unable to submit evidence that might validate their claim. It also discriminates against those living in the south of England. Currently SWVG supports our clients at a cost of around £130 per person and those who are unfamiliar with the UK or otherwise vulnerable may need to have an SWVG member accompany them which increases the cost.
We understand that the Home Office considers the location of the FSU in Liverpool to be efficient from their point of view; however there is a significant cost to asylum seekers and volunteers which makes life even more difficult for them. This could be avoided relatively easily if the Home Office were to by allow people who are seeking asylum to have their identity and documents verified at their local police station or by a local solicitor, and then send the documents to the FSU.
Certain people are already allowed to submit their evidence by post or fax: those who are disabled or ill and unable to travel, or in prison or in detention, or are an unaccompanied asylum-seeking child. It would be fair to extend this to all asylum seekers.
In summary: making asylum seekers travel to Liverpool is not necessary or justifiable, it is a punitive measure to deter them from what is their legal right We have spoken about this on Radio Solent and in articles in the Daily Echo. We are seeking support from local MPs and political parties on this issue. We will continue to lobby for the cessation of this meaningless and unfair policy by publishing articles using personal case studies as examples.
Out of the Fire and Into the Frying Pan
People seeking asylum receive subsistence funding and accommodation from the Government in the form of Asylum Support whilst their claim is being assessed by the Home Office. Once their asylum claim is approved and they are granted Refugee status, they have just 28 days’ notice to vacate their accommodation and their funding ceases at this point. This is because they become eligible to work and receive benefits. However, in order to seek work or receive benefits they need to receive their Biometric Residence Permit (BRP) and a National Insurance (NI) number. But there is often a gap between the support ceasing and the BRP and the NI number being issued. As a result many people become destitute at this point without accommodation, funding or the means to earn a living. SWVG offers temporary funding for our clients to bridge the gap but for many people life at this point (when it should be positive and optimistic) is grim.
We supported Baroness Lister of Burtersett with evidence of client experiences in order for her to take this up with the Government. We are now awaiting the outcome of a pilot study by the Home Office and the Department of Work and Pensions, which is being monitored by the Red Cross.
Trafficking: delays in decisions on trafficking status
If it is thought that person may have been a victim of trafficking, then their case is initially assessed by the Modern Slavery Human Trafficking Unit (MSHTU), which is a multi-agency organisation led by the National Crime Agency (NCA). The National Referral Mechanism (NRM) is the framework used for identifying victims of human trafficking or modern slavery and ensuring they receive the appropriate support. When MSHTU receives a referral relating to an EEA or non-EEA national who is subject to immigration control, they will refer the case to the Home Office Competent Authority, who will make the “reasonable and conclusive grounds decisions” as to whether the person has indeed been trafficked.
The NRM team has a target date of 5 working days from receipt of referral in which to decide whether there are reasonable grounds to believe the individual is a potential victim of human trafficking or modern slavery.
The expectation is that a Conclusive Grounds decision will be made as soon as possible following day 45 of a “recovery and reflection period”. There is no target to make a conclusive grounds decision within 45 days. The timescale for making a conclusive grounds decision will be based on all the circumstances of the case.
There appear to be significant delays in the NRM process: SWVG has one client who is still awaiting a decision after 18 months (as at December 2017) and a former client has been waiting several months for a decision.
The Home Office has stated that they could not consider a person’s asylum application before the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) had made a decision on the trafficking status.
These delays can have severe effects on the individuals’ well-being, particularly if they have already been through traumatic experiences.
The NCA website states that “Human trafficking and wider aspects of modern slavery remain a high-priority threat to the UK. Referrals of potential victims of trafficking (PVoT) to the National Referral Mechanism have increased year on year for the past three years, a trend which is likely to continue. The Home Office estimates that there may have been as many as 10,000 to 13,000 PVoTs in the UK in 2013.”
It is therefore essential that the NRM has sufficient staff and resources to support these most vulnerable people quickly and compassionately.
The evidence that English language is key to integration is without doubt. Successful integration is essential for both the refugees and for the UK as a whole. However, according to Refugee Action, ESOL funding has shrunk by 55% in recent years. As a result, several training providers have reported refugees waiting over a year for English lessons, and in some areas, can wait up to two years. Limited childcare provision is also a barrier to women able to attend classes and some providers have been forced to cut the number of ESOL hours by over half in recent years.
SWVG will support the national campaigns to lobby for the creation of a fund to specifically support refugees learning English, for the publication of an ESOL strategy for England, to ensure full access to ESOL particularly for women, to provide asylum seekers with the right to access free English language learning and to facilitate a national framework for community based language support (Refugee Action 2017).
Refugee Family Reunion Bill
An MP has introduced a private members bill, which will receive its second reading in March 2018. The bill has been co-sponsored by a cross-party group of MPs who feel the current refugee family reunion rules are too restrictive. Amnesty International UK is working with the British Red Cross, Oxfam, the Refugee Council, Refugee Action and others to make these changes happen. SWVG will support this. Separation of families can have a devastating impact on individual lives and we would like to see the Government restrictive rules amended.
Right to Work
Normally, people seeking asylum are not allowed to work in the UK. However, this has recently changed in Southern Ireland and in most other EU member states. The only asylum seekers that are allowed to work in the UK are those who have been waiting over 12 months for a decision on their asylum claim. Those who are allowed to work are restricted to jobs on the shortage occupation list published by the Home Office. The jobs on this list are restricted to certain skill sets (e.g. specific types of engineer or health professionals) which would not be held by most people seeking asylum.
SWVG will support national campaigns in lobbying for a change in policy. The benefits of allowing people seeking asylum to work include:
- Benefitting the UK economy and reduce the costs to the taxpayer of supporting asylum seekers.
- Alleviating some of the difficulties individuals face during the sometimes lengthy asylum procedure, such as social and economic exclusion, de-skilling, low esteem, poor mental health and reduced integration.
- Reducing asylum seekers vulnerability to exploitation through working illegally.
- Enabling better integration if they are granted refugee status.
Reporting to a local police station
Almost everyone who is seeking or has been refused asylum is required to report regularly with the Home Office. This is normally done in a local police station.
A client raised serious concerns about the total lack of privacy where she reports and about inappropriate remarks made by the Home Office officials. People are very publicly asked personal questions about their health and medication and about their case and circumstances. On one occasion a Home Office official publicly denigrated a local well-respected solicitor.
SWVG took up this matter with the Hants and IOW Strategic Migration Group. We had a quick response from the Home Office to confirm that the problems had been addressed. We were then pleased to hear from our clients that have seen a definite improvement and are now being invited into a separate room if anything of a personal or private nature needs to be discussed.
The Injustice List
This is a list of some of the problems and injustices faced by people seeking asylum.
|No recourse to public funds||Legally removing asylum seekers’ access to public benefits|
|Reduction in NASS support for children||From £52.96 to adult rate (£36.95)|
|Removing concessions to families where permission refused||Aligning families with individuals – if refused L2R, support withdrawn after 28 days|
|Removal of right to free secondary health care|
|Removing ability to rent accommodation||Making it illegal for landlords to provide accommodation to tenants who do not have the right to live in the UK|
|Making work without L2R a criminal offence||Unable to work even if well qualified in own country. Sanctions against employer and employee|
|Making it illegal to open a bank account|
|Making it illegal to hold a driving licence|
|Requirement to deliver a fresh claim in person to Liverpool||This is merely handing in. There is no interview, so the purpose is unclear & the economic benefits dubious.|
|Substantial increase in appeal fees||From £80 to £490/person for paper hearings|
From £140 to £800/person for oral hearings
|Increasing powers to prevent “in-country” appeals||If you have to return to your country of origin to lodge an appeal, it defeats the object of seeking asylum!|
|Increase in charges for L2R||Reduction in period from 5 yr to 2 ½ yr; cost is £811 [increased as well?]|
|Introduction of £200 annual health levy (payable in advance) for people with L2R|
|Assisted Voluntary Return – removal of free confidential interview||HO cancelled contract with Refugee Action which provided this service|
|Removal of NASS support 28 days after grant of L2R||Repeatedly criticised by Select Committees. Asylum seekers have no ability to accumulate savings prior to L2R (cannot work, cannot have bank account) so this sends them directly to destitution|