We’re getting in touch with this, our final update to you all of 2021. We’ll resume the updates in January. For now, we wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a happy new year; and we look forward to campaigning with you in 2022!
With thanks and best wishes from all of us at Asylum Matters,
- Ongoing advocacy
On 7-8 December, the Nationality and Borders Bill (or Anti-Refugee Bill) had its Third Reading and Report Stage in the House of Commons, and was approved by MPs by a majority of 67. The Bill now enters the House of Lords, where it will have its Second Reading on 5 January.
More than 80 pages of amendments were tabled in the Commons, including many by Conservative MPs, reflecting the amount of cross-party disquiet about the Bill. An overview of tabled amendments which did not pass is available here. Other interventions from MPs on the Bill included opinion pieces from former Immigration Minister Caroline Nokes in The Times Red Box and Iain Duncan Smith in the Telegraph.
The Welsh and Scottish Governments have written a joint letter to the Home Secretary outlining their shared “far-reaching concerns” about the Bill and calling on the UK Government to urgently engage in discussions with devolved administrations and rethink its approach. Among other issues, the letter highlights concerns about the use of accommodation centres, ‘push-back’ policies in the Channel, differential treatment for refugees based on the journeys they make and family reunion rights.
Advocacy on the Anti-Refugee Bill
Meanwhile, across the country advocates continue to protest the cruel and divisive measures in the Bill:
- MSFUK and Safe Passage hosted a twitter talk to cover the many harms the Bill would cause
- More than 60 organisations signed up to a statement coordinated by Bristol City of Sanctuary to oppose the Bill
- In Hastings and in Tynemouth, rallies and vigils were held to commemorate the recent Channel tragedy and protest the Bill
Asylum accommodation debate
An adjournment debate took place in Parliament led by Labour MP Alex Cunningham on the provision of services to vulnerable women and children in Stockton. The debate covered important questions of substandard and unsuitable asylum accommodation, and lack of transparency over Government contracts on asylum. You can read the debate and watch here (from 16.38)
Urgent Question on RAF Manston
An Urgent Question was this week tabled in the House of Commons by Sir Roger Gale, Conservative MP for North Thanet, as the Government confirmed its intention to use former RAF barracks in Manston, Kent, as a new “processing site” for people seeking asylum.
Minister Tom Pursglove stated the site would be used as “overspill” for Tug Haven for men, women and children for a maximum of five days from next month. The debate can be read or viewed (from 13.16) in full, or read the media coverage.
- Research and reports
‘In a place like prison’: voices from institutional asylum accommodation
Earlier this week, Asylum Matters published a new joint report ‘In a place like prison’: voices from institutional asylum accommodation, alongside Action Foundation, Birmingham Community Hosting, Birmingham Refugee and Asylum Seekers Solidarity (BRASS), Lifeseeker’s Aid Charity and Stories of Hope and Home.
Our six organisations carried out in-depth interviews with fourteen people with recent experience of long stays in hotels, hostels, Initial accommodation and ex-military barracks. Their stories of the harm caused by the segregation and lack of freedom associated with these facilities show why large scale institutional accommodation sites must not be allowed to become a routine part of the UK asylum system.
APPG on immigration detention: inquiry into quasi-detention
The All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on immigration detention has published the full report of its inquiry into the UK Government’s use of large institutional sites, such as Napier and Penally to house people seeking asylum. The APPG found that the sites replicate many of the features found in detained settings – including visible security measures; surveillance; lack of privacy; poor access to healthcare, legal advice and means of communication; and isolation from the wider community.
The inquiry finds these sites are most accurately described as ‘quasi-detention’, and are fundamentally unsuitable to be used as asylum accommodation. The report contains a number of recommendations about both existing sites and Government proposals for new ‘accommodation centres’ and can be read in full here.
HM Chief Inspector of Prisons (HMIP) has published a report on unannounced inspections of detention facilities at Tug Haven and Kent Intake Unit in Dover, and Frontier House in Folkestone, detailing conditions people face when they first reach the UK.
The report detailed instances of women disclosing that they had been raped or sold into servitude, but receiving no specialist support; families with children spending over 24 hours in tents with no sleeping facilities; and people detained in the permanently lit and “wholly unsuitable” holding room at Kent.
The Dover Independent Monitoring Board found an increasing number of peoples’ injuries going unnoticed, and people held in increasingly cold conditions. A year after HMIP’s last inspection, none of its recommendations had been fully actioned by the Government.
- Home Office and Government developments
ARAP scope narrowed
Earlier this week the Government announced it would be narrowing the scope of the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (ARAP), currently the only safe route available to Afghans as the resettlement scheme has not yet opened. Free Movement has provided an overview of the changes made here.
Government review of right to work challenged by MAC
The UK Government announced the outcome of its three year ‘review’ into the ban on work for people seeking asylum, with a deeply disappointing statement. Lift The Ban coalition members, including Asylum Matters, have pointed out that the Home Office has failed to address any of the substantive arguments in favour of lifting the ban, or provide any evidence to support its position.
However, in its just-published annual report the Home Office’s own Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) has challenged the Government’s approach. MAC points to the evidence of the damage to integration resulting from the employment ban; notes the lack of evidence; and calls on ministers to allow people seeking asylum to work after six months, not limited to jobs on the highly restrictive Shortage Occupation List. MAC’s stance is backed today by The Times.
- Resources, events, jobs and training
Webinar for People with Lived Experience: Stop ‘Accommodation Centres’
Asylum Matters and Freedom From Torture are hosting a webinar on Monday 31st January, 2-5pm, for people with lived experience of asylum accommodation who want to take action to stop the development of ‘accommodation centres’ to house people in the asylum system.
As Asylum Matters’ recent report has documented, we do not believe these will be suitable places for people seeking asylum to start to rebuild their lives; and we intend to campaign in 2022 to stop plans from developing any further. In order to succeed we want to work in partnership with people who have experience of the UK’s asylum system, in particular people who have stayed in ‘institutional’ accommodation, such as hotels or military barracks like those at Napier.
If this is you, or someone you know, we’d like to invite you to a webinar hosted on zoom to brainstorm how we can work together to challenge the Government and ensure that people who come to the UK in the future will have a safe and welcoming home. The event will take place on Monday 31 January, from 2-5pm. Register to take part here.