Refugee Council Campaigns The Refugee Council wants a fair, humane and effective asylum system that protects refugees and helps them to rebuild their lives in safety.
By supporting our campaigns, you can make this a reality.
By James Drennan, Advocacy volunteer at the Refugee Council
The past year has been a year of challenges for asylum seekers, refugees and internally displaced people worldwide. According to the UNHCR, nearly 34 million individuals are currently considered as not having the full protection of their state. Many are at risk of torture, armed conflict or direct persecution from the authorities that should be defending them.
Taking these numbers in the context of growing global socioeconomic unrest, the climate for those seeking asylum has become increasingly volatile. In the UK, pressures on domestic protection systems have resulted in a growing movement to curtail funding for a number of asylum-based programmes, putting some of the most vulnerable people in our population at increased danger of finding situations upon arrival little better than the ones they were fleeing.
That being said, there have been victories. Campaigns to highlight refugees’ significant, positive contributions to – for instance - finance, innovation and culture have resulted in an enriched awareness of the need for the UK to continue to offer protections for individuals and families seeking asylum. Organisations and individuals are being increasingly proactive at finding new, progressive ways to ensure that the right of asylum is not forgotten in an atmosphere of economic uncertainty.
The following is a snapshot of some of the major events with regard to asylum in the UK over 2012:
King’s College London publishes a report detailing unforeseen costs resulting from the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders (LASPO) [then] bill, stating that if its measures were implemented, government agencies would incur £139m in extra costs to agencies such as the NHS.
The European Council for Refugees and Exiles (ECRE) and Save the Children release research highlighting the need for further investigation into the government’s involuntary return of minors to their country of origin.
An Information Centre about Asylum and Refugees (ICAR) report concludes that media reporting about asylum seekers and refugees is ‘sensationalist and inaccurate’.
The Ay family, detained for 13 months starting in 2002, are awarded damages nearly eight years after their release. The length of detention, as well as the ages of the children, resulted in widespread condemnation and calls for and end to the detention of children from celebrities such as Colin Firth and JK Rowling.
On International Women’s Day, the Refugee Council draws attention to its concerns with regard to women seeking asylum in the UK by publishing a briefing. One third of those seeking asylum in the UK are women, who are under a disproportionate threat of violence, poverty and exploitation.
Renewed calls for investigation into shortfalls created by LASPO, this time with regards to children’s access to legal aid, are made via the Refugee Council and Law Centres Federation.
The Children’s Society publishes a report focusing on the numbers of child asylum seekers living below the poverty line in the UK. At least 10,000 children in the asylum system are estimated to live in an environment of extreme disadvantage.
The Refugee Council launches a campaign asking candidates in the London Elections to sign a pledge to make London a welcoming place for refugees and asylum seekers if they are elected. Several candidates sign the pledge, including former mayor Ken Livingstone. • The Refugee Council releases ‘Not a Minor Offence’ , detailing the continuing incidence of children asylum seekers facing detention upon arrival in the UK. Among its recommendations are calls for independent assessment of age-disputed claimants.
In celebration of the protections offered by Britain to those seeking refuge from persecution, the Refugee Council hold a party in Brixton to commemorate the Queen’s Jubilee – a letter is drafted, signed by many MPs, and published in the Times to highlight the many contributions refugees have made to British Society over the past six decades.
Organisations across the sector, individuals and businesses come together to celebrate Refugee Week 2012 www.refugeeweek.org.uk
A report by the Children’s Commissioner for England highlights the need for further reform in ‘age disputed’ asylum cases. Children are often treated as adults, verified only by tests that are alarmingly inaccurate.
Published Home Office statistics show that the number of children in immigration detention has doubled since 2010. This figure includes dozens of children held in special wings of facilities which also house adults.
An unannounced visit to Dover Immigration Removal Centre (IRC) finds that areas such welfare support, freedom of movement inside the facility and length of access to work were still inadequate, despite moderate improvements as part of the UKBA’s plan to reform IRC facilities.
The Refugee Council launches a new edition of ‘Tell it Like it is’, outlining basic facts about refugees, with the intention of refuting many of the misconceptions about asylum seekers often supported by mass media.
Young Refugee Council Clients give evidence in a major child sex trafficking case. It has been suggested that that, according to government figures, the number of individuals trafficked into the UK is rising, with hundreds being brought into the UK for purposes of exploitation every year.
A report from John Vine, the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, accuses the UKBA of allowing massive backlogs to build up in the asylum system. Of the nearly 450,000 ‘legacy’ asylum cases that were unresolved at the introduction of the New Asylum Model (NAM) in 2006, nearly 147,000 have yet to be cleared.
To honour the Refugee Council Children’s Section’s 18 years of service in direct support of asylum seekers, Penguin books and the Refugee Council release Turning 18, a series of audio stories written and read by refugees. The stories seek to raise public awareness on the issues facing refugees and asylum seekers, and to explain where they are from and why they are seeking asylum in the UK.
An article in the Guardian highlights the work of organisations like Detention Action, who work with individuals – many of whom are failed asylum seekers or asylum seekers in the process of filing a fresh claim – that are still at risk of being indefinitely detained in the IRCs.
The Refugee Council publishes Between a Rock and a Hard Place, substantive research focusing on the plight of failed asylum seekers in the UK. Failed asylum seekers comprise 80 percent of all destitute asylum seekers, and remain some of the most vulnerable individuals in UK society.
Judith, Policy Officer at the Refugee Council, comments on the findings of the Independent Chief Inspector of UKBA's report published today on the backlog of asylum cases:
Charles Dickens’ novel Bleak House describes a long running case costing thousands of pounds and preventing the potential beneficiaries from building a future while they wait, seemingly endlessly, for a decision from on high.
Those following the progress of the UK government to clear the backlog of asylum cases first identified in July 2006 may identify similarities with the Bleak House case. The legacy programme, for most of its life referred to as the ‘Case Resolution Exercise’, was meant to be completed by July 2011; indeed in March 2011 the government announced that it was just about complete. Four months later a significant policy change was announced, resulting in the ironic situation that those who had waited the longest for a resolution of their asylum claim received the much less favourable temporary leave, rather than the indefinite leave granted to those cases concluded in the first five years of the programme.
The ironies do not end there. Recent reasons given for worsening delays included the attention of caseworkers being diverted to correspondence and complaints from legal representatives and MPs on behalf of people in the backlog. The subject of this correspondence – delays. These applicants, having been told to wait for a decision, usually by means of a standard letter, were simply enquiring on the progress of their case. Many of these people were later referred to as having ‘absconded’ or described as ‘non compliant’, as the Border Agency had done all its checks and concluded that it had lost touch with the applicant so could not progress the claim further. In fact these individuals were seeking advice from legal reps, refugee support agencies and community organisations; none of whom were getting any joy in hearing back from the Agency either. The Chief Inspector of UKBA sheds some light on this by revealing that his team came across 150 boxes of unopened correspondence at the time of his inspection earlier this year.
The Chief Inspector describes the UK Border Agency’s ‘poor handling of complaints and ineffective responses’ and concludes that there was a ‘failure to review these cases in accordance with the principles of good administration’. The inspection reveals that in many cases the original birth, marriage and death certificates were held on people’s files for years. Those who were granted leave were often not sent documents informing them of this, so that they were still unable to work or access state benefits.
Why does this really matter? It matters because these are people who had been told their case was in the backlog and that it would be concluded; either they would be removed from the UK or receive a grant of Indefinite Leave to Remain. People at all stages of the process are represented in the cohort of unconcluded cases and each has a different personal experience. For some, not only were they living with the day to day uncertainty of what would happen and when. They were living in conditions that would have shocked Charles Dickens. We will continue to press for the meaningful conclusion of this exercise and hope that the government has learnt its lesson this time.
By Aimé Claude Ndongozi, Team Manager, Refugee Council Leeds One Stop Service
Whitby beat to the sounds of world music on the 5th, 6th and 7th October. The Musicport 2012 generously offered a mix of everything beautiful about music: the rhythms and the dances; the warm voices singing life, peace and love; and the fun and togetherness. There was a high positive energy-charged ambiance among the audience, the artists and the organisers.
And what a décor the little sea side town was! Whitby Pavilion – the festival venue – is a stone throw away from the majestic and awe inspiring North Sea. Just step outside and your senses are treated to a natural feast. In the cool breeze, you lose yourself into a spectacle of wonders. And as you catch your breath, the waves from the indigo sea waters crush nonchalantly onto a clean sandy beach, at the bottom of the cliff. The icing on the cake was the glorious sunshine under the purest blue skies for the entire weekend.
Do not be carried away though. Musicport is not a just another purely hedonistic event on the calendar. It is a unique, friendly, socially conscious music festival. This year, amid its own financial uncertainty, it teamed up with Refugee Council to put the spotlight on refugees.
So, we were given a free publicity place in their programme booklet. “Refugees shouldn’t be forced to scavenge to survive”, our advert said, supported by a hard hitting picture. That was not all. The main stage shamelessly displayed our “proud to protect refugees” message. “Go on Musicport!” I gushed when I set my eyes on the stage display for the first time. I tell you, it was a pretty sight! Just imagine hundreds of people, as diverse as the peoples of the earth, having fun and… “proud to protect refugees”. One youngster on a print journalism course came to our stall with a twinkle in his eye. “I am interested in your work. I think it’s fantastic. Can I take a leaflet please?” He said. “Of course”, I replied, pointing to our stall star, the little “Tell it like it is: The truth about asylum” leaflet. We chatted a little bit. He promised to check out our website and Facebook page.
On Saturday afternoon, the festival compere introduced Yvonne Cass, our vice-chair as “a very important person from Refugee Council”. In front of a packed audience, Yvonne spoke for three minutes about our work and called people to support us. She was applauded warmly. In the evening, a technical glitch spoiled the viewing of our 60th anniversary film. Oh no, it did not dampen our spirits. We kept on engaging, explaining, giving out information and fundraising material. Our Refutea cards raised interest and some people promised to try Refutea parties for us.
Musicport really put Refugee Council on the map in that part of England. Virtually every ticket holder saw our stall and poster- prominently set up in the foyer. And people took us home in every festival programme sold – perhaps 2000 of them. Not a bad first step, venturing into the unconverted world, engaging and sowing seeds. Overall, we were very satisfied with the weekend.
We owe a massive thank you to Jim, the festival organiser and his team as well as to the many volunteers and stewards. They made us feel home and were supportive throughout. Thanks also to Yvonne who stayed throughout the weekend. Thanks to Patricia who came as volunteer to lend a hand on Saturday and Sunday. Thanks to Amilee who travelled from Hull with her family to support Team RC on Sunday. Our fundraising team, especially Cristiana and Rebecca provided us with excellent support throughout. Thank you guys!
No doubt, that was the taste of more things to come. Next time, we will be more prepared to maximise fundraising activities.
I saw a lot of famous people – I rubbed shoulders with Ed Miliband, Harriet Harman, Ed Balls, Chris Bryant, Paul Kenyon from the BBC, John Prescott, and Chukka Umunna. We saw the end of Ed Miliband’s speech on the Tuesday.
I met with Anna from the Refugee Council and we went to a few fringe events. We attended the Liberty event and I was pleased that one MP’s researcher asked a question about whether they think human rights are abused in the UK, and about making the asylum system more compassionate. But I was disappointed that none of the MPs on the panel (Emily Thornberry, Sadiq Khan, Keith Vaz) answered the question.
We went to the fringe event for the All Party Parliamentary Group on Migration and it was good to hear Chris Bryant MP emphasising the importance of protecting refugees. He said: “Foreigners are humans”. I was surprised to hear that from a shadow immigration minister.
I was a speaker at the Refugee Council fringe event,No Fate Like Home: why refused asylum seekers do not return. Also speaking on the panel was Chris Bryant MP, Paul Kenyon from BBC Panorama, as well as Mike Kaye from Still Human Still Here. I was really pleased when Chris Bryant said there was no evidence that asylum seekers come here for benefits, and we should be proud Britain protects people from persecution.
I talked about the reality for asylum seekers, when decisions are wrongly made by UKBA, especially people who can’t go back to their countries. I talked about how it is difficult for them living in limbo for several years. I gave an example of when a woman is made destitute she could end up in exploitation by friends, or end up in a violent relationship, even end up in prostitution just for a few pounds to feed herself. It’s more tough for a woman than a man.
I talked about Women Asylum Seekers Together, the organisation I volunteer for, and explained what we do in WAST, that we are open to anyone going through the asylum system in Manchester. I also explained most of our members are destitute and at the end of the asylum process, sofa-surfing with friends, supported by local charities. I understand how it is, because I have been in that situation myself. I can be sympathetic to them.
There was a question and answer session from those who attended the event. One really good question was whether £5 a day was enough for asylum seekers to live on. Chris Bryant wouldn’t commit to changing any policies that will stop people from coming destitute, neither would he acknowledge that £5 a day was too little for anyone to live on.
There was a doctor from Freedom From Torture in the audience who asked how the Labour government would improve UKBA’s decision-making process. Chris Bryant did commit to improving decision making on asylum claims so that decisions are right first time. We also liked the doctor’s suggestion that Freedom From Torture trains UKBA caseworkers in looking for evidence of torture.
Overall, it was a really great experience. Its good to remind people that destitution for asylum seekers is a situation going on all the time – people might know about the situation, but forget it is a reality for many people, going on every day.
Here James breaks down the changes to checks that will make it even harder for refugees and asylum seekers to work or volunteer, as of this week:
The Home Office has proposed changes to background checks for people applying to work or volunteer with vulnerable people, which are set to come into force on 31st August. The new regime could place refugees and asylum seekers at increased risk of unemployment, even in fields where they may already be qualified.
What is a CRB? The Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) is the Home Office body that checks the background of individuals for any criminal history. Such checks are undertaken to ensure vulnerable people are not subjected to increased risk, and the number of agencies using them has been growing steadily over the past decade. In 2011, approximately three million CRB checks were requested from both private and government agencies.
The identification process as it stands Currently, any person that wants to apply for a job where they would be working with vulnerable people (e.g. schools, mental health, and security) would be expected to supply a document such as their passport or driver's licence. If this is not possible, a person can substitute documents from a ‘supplementary’ list, including bank statements, NHS cards and so on.
How this will change As of August 31st, a new, 'enhanced' process will be used in ways that make it harder for refugees and asylum seekers to apply for these jobs. For instance, Individuals must now provide a document from a smaller list: a passport, driver's licence, Biometric Residence Permit (BRP) and Birth Certificate (for UK Subjects).
How this unfairly discriminates against refugees and asylum seekers Whether they have a criminal record or not, they will be at a disadvantage, as it is likely they will be unable to produce the listed documents. Those seeking asylum often do so without the knowledge of their government, and frequently travel either without the ability to apply for identity documents or the safety of applying without being put in danger of further persecution. Asylum seekers rely on Application Registration Cards (ARCs), or, after a successful claim, Convention Travel Documents for identification purposes, both of which are excluded from the new regime.
The result? Poor prospects and increased cost... Those who come to Britain fleeing persecution may find themselves unable to use valuable skills they may have learned before coming to this country, and therefore find themselves out of work and relying on the state for support. Asylum seekers are not allowed to work, but are often able to contribute their skills and talents by volunteering. Its likely many will also lose out on the opportunity as a result of this policy change.