Refugees have always been part of the UK – it’s #WhoWeAre.
Today, with over 350 other organisations we’re calling for a better approach to supporting refugees that is kinder, fairer and more effective. #TogetherWithRefugees
How we treat refugees is about who we are. At our best, we are welcoming and kind to those facing difficult times. If any one of us feared for our lives or for our loved ones, we’d want to know that others would help us to safety.
Together, we are calling for a better approach to supporting refugees that is more effective, fair and humane. This means standing up for people’s ability to seek safety in the UK no matter how they came here and ensuring people can live in dignity while they wait for a decision on their asylum application. It means empowering refugees to rebuild their lives and make valuable contributions to our communities. And it means the UK working with other countries to do our bit to help people who are forced to flee their homes.
We are campaigning against the Home Office’s Nationality and Borders Bill because it will put many people at grave risk.
- They may be prosecuted for using so-called “illegal” routes to come to the UK – although the government has closed all safe and legal routes other than through resettlement schemes.
- People deemed “Inadmissible” may be put in Reception Centres for up to six months without their asylum claim even being considered.
- They may be removed to so-called “safe third countries”.
- They may only get temporary protection for 30 months in the UK, with reduced rights.
What we’re calling for.
The Bill fails to address the real problems in the UK’s approach to refugees. Instead we are calling for a more humane, fair and effective approach that:
- Stands up for people’s ability to seek safety in the UK no matter how they came here.
- Ensures people can live in dignity while they wait to hear a decision on whether they will be granted protection as a refugee.
- Empowers refugees to rebuild their lives, and contribute to their communities.
- Means the UK works with other countries to do our bit to help people who are forced to flee their home.
What we are asking you to do
- Identify friends, organisations and well-known people in your community who you can ask to support the campaign. Maybe you can do this together with other SWVG members who live near you.
- Do the SHOW YOUR HEART photo yourself or in a group, and send a copy to Gail Johnson. Also send a copy with a message of support for refugees to your MP.
- Ask other people and organisations to do the same (see the instructions in the Together with Refugees Campaign Pack). If they agree to do this, please let us know. Alternatively, please suggest organisations we could contact (to William Brook-Hart).
- If you use social media, then post it along with the hashtags.
The orange hearts can be made in various ways: e.g. print out the TWR one which we will send you, or make your own.
Resources: For more information click here.
UK Immigration and Asylum Plans – Some Questions Answered by UNHCR – this is a very useful and up-to-date summary: – link
Campaigning update by Asylum Matters (MSWord document) – click here
Briefing Notes for SWVG – click here
Together With Refugees Campaign Pack – link removed , please go to TWR website
JCWI’s briefing on the Nationality and Borders Bill – includes commentary and constructive proposals – click here
Freedom from Torture’s briefing – includes commentary on particular clauses in the Bill and constructive proposals – click here
South East Strategic Partnership for Migration Response to the New Plan for Immigration – click here
SWVG slides (General Meeting 6-Sept-21) – click here
SWVG notes to go with the slides – click here
SWVG Frequently Asked Questions – click here
Guidance about how best to communicate your message – click here
Together with Refugees HEART symbol for download and printing
Together with Refugees HEART symbol with words for download and printing
Last Updated: 23/10/2023 – Next Update Due: 23/10/2024
SWVG is campaigning against the Home Office building a camp at Barton Stacey for people seeking asylum.
Good News, the Home Office has announced that it has dropped plans to build a camp at Barton Stacey, ahead of local elections in May 2021. But we still have to reject the use of Napier Barracks in Folkestone and other possible camps.
People who are seeking asylum should not be put in an isolated camp at Barton Stacey nor in former barracks, they need decent community-based accommodation.
Please click here to find our petition and send it to the Home Office and to your MP and Councillors. The page has guidance and FAQs to help you.
In March 2021 we have contacted local and national organisations with the following appeal. Please support us by send this appeal to the Home Office and to your MP.
As a local charitable organisation in Hampshire working with asylum seekers and refugees, Southampton and Winchester Visitors Group (SWVG) are very concerned at the proposed development of an isolated camp for those seeking asylum at Barton Stacey, Hampshire. We believe this is a deeply inappropriate form of accommodation for people who may be suffering the effects of war, state brutality and incarceration. We seek your support in calling on the Home Office to house those seeking asylum humanely and to address the backlog of asylum cases in a fair and just way.
In addition to emailing the Home Secretary and the Home Office minister we would ask you to also email your MP and councillors on this matter. You may wish to adapt the Appeal text below to suit your particular perspective. Please add your name and address, and the name and logo of your organisation (if relevant). We would appreciate it if you would also please scan or photograph it and email it to: firstname.lastname@example.org or let us know that you have contacted the Home Office and your MP.
We regard this as a humanitarian issue and not a matter for party politics.
Appeal text: Do not house asylum seekers in an isolated camp at Barton Stacey.
An isolated camp in a field near Barton Stacey next to the fast A303 trunk road and 7 miles from the nearest town of Andover in Hampshire is being considered by the Home Office to provide accommodation for 300 people seeking asylum.
MPs, peers, doctors, psychiatrists, lawyers, church leaders and refugee support workers have spoken out against putting people in such camps. These camps are a deeply inappropriate form of accommodation for people who are often physically or mentally vulnerable and who have often suffered the effects of war, state brutality and incarceration. Where large numbers of people have been put in former barracks sites in the UK, there has been an increase in reports of self-harm and of those on suicide watch as well as high numbers of Covid infections.
A better option is to provide Covid-safe, community based housing where people seeking asylum can access support for their physical and mental health needs and legal advice. They also need English lessons, libraries, shops and other services. At Barton Stacey, there are almost no facilities nearby which can be safely accessed on foot.
We call on the Home Office to:-
- stop the opening of all camps including the one at Barton Stacey
- provide community based housing for those seeking asylum
- address the backlog of asylum cases
We call on the government to work towards creating a fair and effective asylum system based on humanity, compassion and the rule of law.
Guidance on contacting your MP
Guidance on contacting the Home Secretary Priti Patel MP (Home Secretary)
Guidance on contacting Chris Philp MP (Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office)
Useful further information about barracks and camps
Frequently Asked Questions (click on link below for pdf)
SWVG is among many organisations that believe it’s ridiculous people can’t work while waiting for an asylum decision.
On 21 October the Lift the Ban petition signed by 181,399 people was presented to the Home Office.
Fairness not Fares
Did you know that people who are seeking asylum must travel to Liverpool to submit fresh evidence for their claims?
For people living in Southampton, this means a 470-mile round trip, and possibly an overnight stay. Sometimes they are only at the Home Office’s further submissions unit (FSU) in Liverpool for five minutes, where they had over a sheaf of documents to an official.
For most people this would not be affordable since they have little money and are not allowed to earn any through employment. It is a serious injustice as it may prevent them submitting evidence to validate their claim and discriminates against those living in the south of England.
SWVG supports our clients travel at a cost of around £190 per person. Over the last two years, SWVG has spent over £2,100 supporting asylum seekers who would otherwise struggle, or be entirely unable, to submit evidence in Liverpool. On occasions, where a person is vulnerable or unfamiliar with the UK, an SWVG member accompanies them – so increasing the cost.
The situation could be avoided relatively easily if the Home Office allowed 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.
We have spoken about this injustice on Radio Solent and in articles in the Southern Daily Echo. We are also seeking support from local MPs, Government Ministers and political parties. Making asylum seekers travel to Liverpool is not necessary or justifiable, it is a punitive measure to deter them from exercising what is their legal right.
Because of Coronavirus, people cannot now submit their Fresh Evidence in person; instead they are required to email or post their evidence. Submittal by email or post (or to a local office) is what we have been campaigning for and this needs to remain the case in future.
Last Updated: 04/09/2023 – Next Update Due: 04/09/2024
Fairness for asylum seekers
SWVG believes asylum seekers should have:
- A fair hearing
The government makes it extremely difficult for people to claim asylum in the UK. On arrival, asylum seekers generally lack legal representation and may be treated with suspicion or worse by the UK Border Force. They may not have necessary evidence with them to back up their asylum claim.
Legal aid cuts since 2010 make it harder for asylum seekers to present their case with the support of a solicitor. On top of this, the government requires those wishing to make a second claim to travel to Liverpool at their own expense (unless supported by an organisation such as SWVG).
We say: Give asylum seekers a fair hearing, both when they arrive in the UK and at any subsequent claim once they have properly prepared their case.
- Fair treatment
Asylum seekers waiting for a claim to be determined by the Home Office may qualify for an allowance, but this is just £37.75 per week. They may not be offered anywhere to live. The government has also made it much harder for asylum seekers to receive free hospital treatment.
At the same time, the wait for the Home Office to make decisions is getting longer. About half of the 34,000 people awaiting an asylum decision in June 2019 had been waiting more than six months. Nearly half (42%) of asylum decisions are overturned on appeal.
We say: Don’t force asylum seekers into destitution by denying them housing or money for food and other living expenses.
- Fair opportunity
While waiting for a Home Office decision, asylum seekers cannot undertake paid employment – even if they have skills that are needed to help the UK economy. We strongly support asylum seekers being able to work if their claim has not been decided after six months (as many claims are not).
We say: Treat asylum seekers with respect and allow them to earn money by working while they are waiting for their asylum claim to be determined.
It is hard enough for most asylum seekers to gain permission to remain in the UK. But the problems don’t generally stop there.
In April 2017, the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Refugees published the “Refugees Welcome?” report outlining many of the difficulties faced by people claiming asylum after they are granted refugee status. The report is a valuable reference that made strong recommendations to the government at the time.
You can read an evidenced based report produced by SWVG on the asylum system here for detailed analysis of the current challenges.
Out of the Fire and Into the Frying Pan
People whose asylum claims are approved can face major problems within weeks.
Asylum seekers receive subsistence funding and accommodation from the government while their claim is being assessed by the Home Office. But once their asylum claim is approved and they are granted refugee status, they have just 28 days’ notice to vacate their accommodation, at which point their funding stops.
This is where, for many, problems start. While they are eligible to work and receive benefits, they require a biometric residence permit (BRP) and a national insurance (NI) number. There is often a gap between asylum support ceasing and the BRP and the NI number being issued.
As a result, many people become destitute with nowhere to live, no funding and no means to earn a living. SWVG offers temporary funding for our clients to bridge this gap but for many people life is grim, just at the point where they should be feeling more positive and optimistic.
We supported Baroness Lister of Burtersett with evidence of our clients’ experiences so she could 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.
English for speakers of other languages (ESOL)
Many asylum seekers struggle to find classes where they can learn English.
There is little doubt that being able to speak English is key to integration, and not just for refugees.
However, according to Refugee Action, ESOL funding has shrunk by 55% in recent years. As a result, several training providers report refugees waiting more than a year for lessons. In some areas of the country, they wait up to two years.
Some providers have been forced to cut the number of ESOL hours by more than half in recent years. Limited childcare provision is also a barrier to women attending classes.
SWVG supports national campaigns to lobby for the creation of a fund to specifically support refugees learning English, and for the publication of an ESOL strategy for England. This would ensure full access to ESOL, particularly for women, and provide asylum seekers with the right to access free English language learning.
Reporting to a local police station
Clients are no longer asked personal questions in front of other people
Almost everyone who is seeking or has been refused asylum is required to report regularly to the Home Office. This is normally done at 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 asked in public personal questions about their health and medication and about their case and circumstances. On one occasion a Home Office official publicly denigrated a well-respected local solicitor.
SWVG took up this matter with the Hants and Isle of Wight Strategic Migration Group. We had a quick response from the Home Office to confirm the problems had been addressed. We were then pleased to hear from our clients who have seen a definite improvement and who are now being invited into a separate room if anything of a personal or private nature needs to be discussed.
Trafficking: delays in decisions on trafficking status
Some asylum seekers are victims of modern slavery as well as other traumas.
If it is thought a person may have been a victim of trafficking, their case is initially assessed by the Modern Slavery Human Trafficking Unit (MSHTU) – a multi-agency organisation led by the National Crime Agency (NCA).
A framework called the national referral mechanism (NRM) is used for identifying victims of human trafficking or modern slavery and ensuring they receive appropriate support. When MSHTU receives a referral relating to someone who is subject to immigration control, they will refer the case to the Home Office, which makes “reasonable and conclusive grounds decisions” as to whether the person has been trafficked.
The NRM team has a target date of five 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 was still awaiting a decision after 18 months (as at December 2017), while a former client has been waiting several months for a decision.
The Home Office says it cannot consider a person’s asylum application before the NRM decides on their trafficking status. These delays can have severe effects on individuals’ well-being, particularly if they have already been through traumatic experiences.
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|
|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|
Last Updated: 23/10/2023 – Next Update Due: