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Guest Blog: Asylum Matters

Regular readers will recognise this excellent newsletter/briefing produced by Andrea at Asylum Matters. 

Short, sweet and to the point, it’s one of the most helpful briefing notes we can think of. To subscribe, please email Andrea and ask to be added to the list  

1)      Update on NHS Charging Regulations: New Guidance & Campaigning Next Steps

Following the Open Letter to Jeremy Hunt regarding changes to the NHS Charging Regulations, there was extensive coverage of the charging regulations last week, coinciding with the implementation date of the charging rules on Monday 23 October. This was based on new research by Doctors of the World and King’s College London which showed the deterrent effect of charging for healthcare, particularly for vulnerable groups, and new research from Medact Manchester which found a gap in the knowledge of healthcare professionals in the North West in identifying asylum-seekers and refugees, who would be exempt from charging.

The Department of Health has also recently updated the guidance on implementing the overseas visitor charging regulations. This guidance now includes a new category of services, referred to as ‘not relevant services’, which only includes school nursing and health visiting, which will not be chargeable – described as ‘a victory for campaigners’. Unfortunately, drug and alcohol services are now confirmed as chargeable. 

We’re continuing our outreach to MPs and Peers, calling on them to challenge the regulations before the praying period runs out on 5 November. In the House of Lords, a Regret Motion has been tabled by Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, though we are still waiting on a date to be set for the debate. In the House of Commons, we are writing to MPs about the regulations, particularly calling on the Labour frontbench to take on the issue before the praying period ends. Please join us in contacting Peers – we’ve put together a model email you may find helpful and you may wish to share our briefing. We also encourage you to follow up with your MPs and have put together a model email that can be adapted according to which party your MP is from. 

Any awareness-raising you can do with Parliamentarians will be valuable and will provide a solid foundation for continuing to make the case against these damaging regulations, as well as strengthening future campaigns challenging the extension of charging. We should be ready to respond to further developments to the Department of Health’s previously stated intention to explore the feasibility of charging for A&E care and ambulance services, in addition to primary care. Please also join the conversation online and tweet using #PatientsNotPassports.

2)      Asylum Accommodation: Guardian Investigation

A recent report in the Guardian has revealed that UK asylum-seekers are living in ‘squalid, unsafe slum conditions’. Testimonies from asylum seekers and frontline workers detail accommodation that is infested with vermin, insecure, damp and dirty. The Local Government Association commented, “vermin infestations and damp are things that would stop a local authority from considering that accommodation for placing UK homeless families. That same minimum standard should apply consistently.” The report comes 10 months after the publication of the Home Affairs Select Committee report on Asylum Accommodation, noting the lack of progress on many of the recommendations put forward, and the lack of a Government response to the report. It notes as well that the new asylum accommodation contracts are due to be published next week.

Please join us in sharing the article with your networks and on social media with some suggested tweets below.

 3)      Bring Families Together: Refugee Council Supporter Action on Family Reunion

The Refugee Council has just launched a new supporter action as part of their campaign to change the UK’s restrictive rules surrounding refugee family reunion. They are asking supporters to email their MP and ask them to save the date for the second reading debate, which will take place on 16 March next year. Although the debate is still a fair way off, we need to make sure as many MPs as possible take this opportunity by turning up to parliament that day and supporting this Bill. You can find the action here. Please consider sharing with your networks and spreading the word on social media using #BringFamiliesTogether.

4)      New Guidance to Banks Carrying Out Immigration Checks

Changes coming into force today will require banks and building societies to check 70 million current accounts each quarter. People whose visas have run out, failed asylum seekers and foreign national offenders facing deportation should then have their accounts closed down or frozen under the new legislation. The Home Office has published guidance for those whose current accounts become locked or closed, and guidance for the banks who are carrying out the checks. Campaigners have warned of concerns that the checks will not be properly carried out, given that the Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration found that in 2016 the Home Office database wrongly listed 10% of cases as ‘disqualified persons.’

5)      New Data Protection Law to Limit Privacy and Data Protection Rights of Migrants

Campaigners from Liberty and JCWI have warned that a clause smuggled into the Government’s new data protection law would create a two-tier, racially discriminatory data protection regime and undermine millions of people’s privacy rights. The widespread sharing of personal data collected by frontline agencies with the Home Office is the cornerstone of the hostile environment and this Bill proposes to remove data protection rights from people whose data is processed for “the maintenance of effective immigration control” or “the investigation or detection of activities that would interfere with effective immigration control”. If passed, this clause would strip migrants of the right to have their personal information processed lawfully, fairly and transparently when it is being processed for immigration control purposes, regardless of their immigration status. You can read more about the changes from Liberty and JCWI and in their briefing to Peers.

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