You are most cordially invited to register here. (All registered attendees will receive the zoom link and details in their registration emails).
As the country locked down in March, RAPAR and other organisations started the new Status Now campaign - calling for Leave to Remain for all undocumented, destitute and migrant people in the UK and Ireland, irrespective of their immigration status.
RAPAR believes the call for Status Now is the only way to ensure equal access to health, housing, food and financial support for all in the time of the Covid-19 global pandemic. The Status Now Network is growing by the day and has its official launch on Saturday July 11th.
An Early Day Motion calling for Status Now has been tabled in Parliament. Please ask your MP to support it.
The BBC carried this report about some of our work last week.
At the end of March the Network called on the British Prime Minister and Irish Taoiseach to grant leave to remain, Status Now, to all undocumented, destitute and migrant people in the legal process in both the UK and Ireland, to ensure their and others’ safety during the Covid-19 pandemic. The open letter to the heads of states has received over 65 organisational signatories, the online petition has gained over 3,700 signatories and counting, and an EDM (early day motion) calling for leave to remain has been put down in the UK Parliament.
We can’t #controlthevirus unless we give everyone the same access to healthcare, housing, food and welfare. #StatusNow
Can’t #stayhome if you don’t have one! Grant #StatusNow to all undocumented, destitute migrant people to #savelives
Please encourage others to Join our campaign for welfare, housing and healthcare for all: #HealthAndSafetyForAll
And please add your name to the Open Letter and sign the petition here.
Hashtags: #healthandsafetyforall #StatusNow4all
Homelessness, HS2 and Here to sign the petition #healthandsafetyforall
See ATD Fourth World's new platform for the Open Letter here.
Meanwhile, the UK Government’s Home Office:
1. …Now has the power to enter your home without a warrant and remove any person living there if they think, with reasonable cause, that they are infected with Covid-19 – see police powers here. We are told by a Police Commissioner that "It's a collective endeavour. This is ultimately about saving lives and not putting a strain on the NHS and our other emergency services." Health Secretary Matt Hancock warns us "we cannot relax our discipline now"….
And yet the Home Office…
2. …Did not intervene when Bailiffs and HS2 security failed to maintain social distancing (see film here) during their attempt – under the cover of darkness on Monday night - to dislodge the young British people trying to stop more trees being cut down. Someone involved in Reclaim the Power one of the signatories to the Open Letter Petition initiated by RAPAR says:
‘This pandemic has shown us that business as usual has to change, but the state is pushing ahead with this expensive destruction of ancient woodlands instead of putting all available resources into healthcare and support for those affected. Tree and land occupations already take a stand for human health; as protecting natural spaces gives us cleaner air, and less extreme weather like floods. Evicting environmental protestors at a time of coronavirus and climate crisis means impacts on human health now and in the near future. To protect all of our health - evictions must stop!'
Just this morning, RAPAR was sent this update where activists claim police are citing "the need for social distancing" to justify blocking news outlets filming the HS2 site.
And, if that wasn't enough...
3.… Homeless people are still on the streets despite government calls to house all during pandemic. Debbie from Youth House, based in Greater Manchester Law Centre, has spoken with RAPAR (See previous work with our UK Citizen Homeless People here) about a collective of three non-commissioned agencies who feed the street homeless on Manchester City Centre’s streets.
Debbie says this week they have been telling her of incidents when Manchester City Council Officers threatened the people trying to feed the street homeless with Public Space Protection Orders (PSPO’s). On Thursday, Manchester City Council confirmed that there are in excess of 100 people still street homeless on the city centre streets. See recent Local TV coverage about our Public Health campaign to minimise viral transmission risk here.
And finally last, but most definitely not least, the Home Office is...
4. … Using UK tax payer’s money to pay the private companies that house refugees.
Correspondence sent on Wednesday from UNHCR to the British Red Cross and shared with RAPAR, sets out UNHCR's awareness of a lack of provision of cleaning products… they say that “many are experiencing anxiety over not being able to disinfect communal and personal, particularly given the difficulties in social distancing in shared accommodations and HMOs” and others “report that they are either unable to afford the level of cleaning products and hand soap needed to regularly disinfect the communal areas and to wash their hands…”. UNHCR also observes that information is not in the public domain about the sub-contracted companies who manage the day to day running of the accommodation for people-seeking asylum. Contractual obligations are outlined here.
A recent individual signatory to the open petition wrote to RAPAR saying “I support this petition...it's the truth". Another new signatory, Baobab Women's Project in Birmingham told us they signed because "Human rights should apply equally to all, and this is especially important in times of crisis. We all should have equal access to resources in order to stay healthy. It is the same blood in our veins, we are human not numbers."
Call for refugee Doctors to be fast-tracked into the NHS- two years after RAPAR launched a similar campaign.
12th April 2020 Update
Our Campaign leader, Professor Esmail was quoted yesterday in the New York Times. Today he tells us:
"The COVID-19 pandemic had laid bare the reliance of the NHS on migrant labour. Nearly 40% of doctors are from BME backgrounds (the majority qualifying abroad). They are currently bearing the brunt of the burden in terms of deaths in the workforce probably because they work in the most deprived and therefore under resourced parts of the NHS. When this emergency is over the sacrifice of these people should be acknowledged and the contribution of all BAME staff to the NHS recognised and rewarded. The NHS represents the best of Britain because it is so international and diverse."
Refugee doctors say:
"LET US WORK TO HELP CORONAVIRUS PATIENTS IN THE UK"
More refugee doctors have come forward to offer their skills to the NHS during the increasingly grim battle with the Coronavirus pandemic.
Two years ago, RAPAR joined refugee doctors to launch a campaign which called for the unrealistically high levels of English language testing to be reviewed and relaxed so that many more highly qualified doctors, nurses and other medical professionals could work in the NHS.
See ITV news item this week which features a Syrian doctor.
The group of medical professionals we have been campaigning with have signed an Open Letter sent by 37 organisations to Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Nearly 1,000 individuals, groups and organisations have signed the petition.
Dr Aneez Esmail, Professor of General Practice at Manchester University Medical School, has backed our campaign from the start. Read his article here in the medical magazine Pulse.
"It is deeply disappointing that just as the NHS faces an acute shortage of medics, hundreds of doctors, including potential GPs, are being excluded from joining the workforce because of an arbitrary change in English language proficiency standards.
At a press conference to raise this issue, I spoke to four doctors in the audience all of whom are legally entitled to live and work in the UK because they are refugees or have been given leave to remain.
They are all highly experienced having worked in Sudan, Iraq and the Congo in very difficult situations. They spoke fluent English – conversing easily with me as they explained their background. Yet none are practising as doctors in the UK because they failed the first hurdle in trying to get registration to work as doctors in the UK.
Current regulations require them to score 7.5 in the International Language Testing System (IELTS). All had previously sat the exam and scored 7, but in 2016 the GMC raised the bar for people wanting to register for the next stage of the registration process – which requires doctors seeking UK registration to sit the Professional and Linguistic Assessments Boards (PLAB) test – to 7.5.
The test does not reflect the skills required for good communication in medicine
It might seem an inconsequential change, but this has barred hundreds of doctors seeking registration in the UK. The IELTS test is graded in bands and skills are assessed in speaking, listening, reading and writing. At Band 7 the person’s standard of English is considered ‘Good’ – meaning they would handle complex language well and understand detailed reasoning. To give an idea of the standard, students from non-English language speaking countries wishing to study in the UK would be required to have an IELTS score between Bands 6 and 7 by most Russell Group universities.
It is essential that everyone seeking to practice medicine in the UK has excellent communication skills – it’s a central skill in medicine and it is right that language skills are assessed and only those shown to speak English at a high standard should be allowed to register and practice medicine.
But the IELTS is designed for academic study and does not properly reflect the skills required for good communication in medicine. It’s partly in recognition of this that the GMC has recently introduced the Occupational Exam Test (OET), which more accurately reflects the level of English needed to practice medicine.
The OET was developed in Australia (where the IELTS requirement is Band 7) and many doctors believe it will be a better assessment of English required to practice medicine here. However, the exam is prohibitively expensive for doctors in this situation, costing three times as much as the IELTS – which many have already paid to sit.
Interestingly, the UK regulatory bodies for pharmacists and dentists set the level of IELTS at 7 and 6.5 respectively.
In the UK, we face a shortage of doctors in a range of specialties including general practice. We have a group of doctors, the majority of them highly experienced, who have ended up in the UK and who are desperate to contribute their skills and expertise.
Setting the standard at an arbitrary level (there is no evidence that having a score of 7.5 as opposed to 7 makes the doctor any safer or better) is not the best way of determining whether someone is able to practice medicine. This approach subordinates people to policy, denying employment to a group of people who almost certainly have the experience and talent to help us deal with an acute shortage of doctors.
We need to support this group of doctors through tests that we have set – most of them legitimate – so that we can use their skills to contribute to the NHS. We could help by offering dedicated training to learn the conversational skills required for medicine in the OET, offering loans so that they can attend the courses to help them do this. We should also avoid setting arbitrary test scores that don’t test the specific requirement for language skills for the practice of medicine.
This is a waste of talent that we need now. Amongst the many hundreds of doctors caught in this state of limbo, there are doubtless a large number of GPs who with the right help and training could help relieve the acute shortage that we are facing, rather than waiting for the promised 5,000 new GPs in five years’ time."
For more information about the campaign see here.
On 26th March 2020, RAPAR blogged:
As tonight’s call went out for the country to Clap For the NHS, health workers and MPs were clamouring for the Government to fast track the registration of refugee doctors in the UK.
Instead of using their skills to care for people who have been hospitalised because of the Covid-19 pandemic, refugee doctors and other health professionals have been forced to work as taxi drivers and in takeaways because the re-accreditation process in the UK is lengthy, expensive and onerous.
Dr Mohammad Haqmal, a refugee from Afghanistan, told The Guardian newspaper that his background in public health and specifically HIV meant he had a lot to offer in the fight against the pandemic. He works in medical research but did not go through the re-accreditation process as a doctor because of the difficulties and expense. He knows many qualified doctors who are driving taxis and working as shopkeepers when they would rather be treating patients.
Under pressure and with an increasing number of health workers falling ill themselves, Health Secretary Matt Hancock has said he will look at the proposal to expedite qualified doctors from overseas into the NHS.
Yet just over two years ago, when NHS cuts continued to threaten the lives of patients and the well-being of health workers, RAPAR worked with a group of medical professionals to launch a campaign calling for the registration process to be less complicated, less onerous and less expensive.
Five hundred medical professionals signed up to the campaign and hundreds more signed a petition. Despite coverage in the medical press and widespread lobbying of MPs, the call was ignored – to the frustration of the refugee doctors themselves and leading NHS medical staff.
Dr Aneez Esmail, Professor of General Practice at the University of Manchester’s Medical School, backed the campaign and said at the time: “When the NHS is really desperate for extra staff, it is strange that there is a failure to recognise the contribution that refugee doctors and other medical professionals from outside the UK can make.”
Dr Hiba Alzamzamy, one of the campaign founders, produced research exposing the unrealistically high level of English testing set by the General Medical Council – one of the barriers to re-accreditation. She said: “We are highly skilled people who want to help patients at a time when the NHS is in crisis.”
It has taken a pandemic for the Government to be forced to listen to that plea.
For more information about the campaign see here.
In the last 48 hours RAPAR members who are destitute - no secure shelter, no money and no right to legal work - have been:
... "Send applications via post or email"
... "We have decided to pause face to face substantive interviews"
without any guidance on how they are supposed to access computers to email or printers to print paperwork, or to pay for any of the above, or postage. It's no surprise then that, just now, led by the Runnymede Trust, race equality and migrant rights organisations have begun to call for independent review into institutional racism in the Home Office.
This is destitute RAPAR Member Jenny DaCosta from the Democratic Republic of Congo, this morning, on the steps of the Friends Meeting House, the site of the 1819 Peterloo Massacre.
He accepted a small amount of cash from RAPAR because "Yesterday I had to speak with the court service to find out if my hearing is postponed to a later date, taking into account the period we are going through, to my great surprise I was invited to appear in court on the date initially planned because no change or modification is planned, the hearing will indeed take place. So I had to contact the organisation ... ".
After giving Jenny a small amount of cash this RAPAR volunteer drove out of the city centre and, while they were waiting at a red traffic light, photographed this homeless man near Piccadilly Station...
RAPAR's lead caseworker Dan Isaac has been running a series of casework co- learning sessions examining all aspects of the asylum and immigration system.
Twenty people completed the course and have continued to volunteer for casework, enabling RAPAR to take on more cases. There has also been a significant improvement in the depth and quality of evidence based development of cases - and this has made it easier for our members to find legal aid lawyers to take on their cases and, hopefully, ensure their safety.
Dan says: "The popularity of the course was such that a range of people are clamouring for more opportunities to undertake RAPAR's Casework Co-learning and we are keen to secure further funds to repeat the course and to develop it as a model that is offered externally for other organisations."
The popular sessions were attended by RAPAR members who have been working on their own asylum cases and by our volunteer casework team.
RAPAR would like to thank the cosmetic firm LUSH for the funding which covered the co-learning sessions and also enabled a film to be made of the 'Moot Court' which ended the course.
The participants enjoyed displaying the knowledge they had acquired during the course at the final Moot Court session - a "mock" court with RAPAR members and volunteers playing the parts of appellant, judges, immigration lawyers and Home Office representatives.
Many thanks to Sandra Chapman for the filming of 'Moot Court'.
You can watch the film here.
RAPAR member who was on the plane stopped by the Stansted protesters shocked by their conviction under anti terror laws
Rally at 5.30pm-6.30pm
St Peter's Square,
December 18th 2018
Manchester-based human rights organisation RAPAR will be at the city centre rally today (December 18th) to show support for the 15 peaceful protesters convicted under anti terror laws after they stopped a Home Office charter flight taking people seeking asylum in the UK to Africa.
A RAPAR member was on the plane protesters prevented taking off at Stansted Airport in March 2017. He was one of 60 refugees who were on the charter flight bound for Nigeria, Ghana and Sierra Leone – he informed the escort officers that he did not come from any of those countries but was told that the country he was being sent to was near to his home country and that he could “get a bus”.
Our member, whose case had not been resolved, was one of the unlucky people on the flight which eventually left Stansted the following day. But the courageous action of the protesters prevented 11 people seeking asylum from being removed from the UK. The delay meant that those 11 people were able to access their lawyers and their removal was stopped.
RAPAR's member, who wishes to remain anonymous, said he was very shocked by the conviction at Chelmsford Crown Court which could see the 15 protesters facing life imprisonment.
Today is International Migrants' Day and there will be rallies throughout the UK and Ireland to protest about the conviction of the Stansted protesters. In Manchester, there will be a demonstration from 5.30pm-6.30pm in St Peter's Square and RAPAR urges everyone to attend.
The charges facing the Stansted 15 were unjust. Commenting on the use of anti terror laws against the Stansted 15, former Guantanamo Bay detainee Moazzam Begg (who was released without charge) said: “Despite being imprisoned under terrorism laws by both Britain and America, I have no convictions. The Stansted 15 on the other hand are convicted terrorists in Britain today.
“One day, as a nation, Britain will look back and ask itself 'What have we become?' Sadly, that day is not today.”
Dr Rhetta Moran, of RAPAR, said it was “intensely ironic” that all the refugee people on the Stansted 15 plane were being removed to one of three former British colonies – Ghana, Nigeria and Sierra Leone.
“As our refugee members often remark: 'We are here because You were there',” she said.
Dr Moran added: “This conviction is the latest attempt to criminalise public protest that RAPAR first detected - and successfully resisted - in 2010 in Bolton.
“Then, the State sought to prosecute anti-fascists for exposing and stopping the English Defence League from running amok in Bolton.
“Now, their use of anti-terror laws to criminalise young British citizens who take peaceful, direct, solidarity action with Refugees is the latest in a long line of backward and cynical moves on the part of the prevailing politico-legal elite.
“It demonstrates an abject failure to confront the fact that young British people are deeply and increasingly concerned about what the British State is doing in the name of its people.
“It is not the Protesters or the Refugees who are the dangerous ones here.”
LGBTIQ refugee conference calls for end to sexual abuse, sexual exploitation of LGBTIQ refugees and high standard of proof sexuality policy
Rhetta Moran from RAPAR attended the African Rainbow Family's annual conference in Manchester on August 11th.
Read their press release calling for an end to sexual exploitation of LGBTIQ refugees and an end to the Home Office's policy of demanding a high standard of proof of sexuality.
Manchester will host again, the second LGBTIQ people seeking asylum and refugee conference today [11th August], shining the light on the extent of active and subtle sexual and domestic abuse, sexual exploitation, modern day slavery and trafficking that exists in the LGBTIQ people seeking asylum's community in the UK. Mostly perpetrated by people who owe them duty of care.
The conference will, following the #METOO movement, feature LGBTIQ refugee speakers telling their personal experiences of abuse, exploring how the hostile environment which seeks to deport as many people as possible in order to meet Home Office's set targets, such as in the Windrush Generation; has reinforced a high standard of proof sexuality policy in the Home Office leading to many LGBTIQs being refused asylum and highlighting the plight still faced by LGBTIQ people seeking asylum today.
In many countries, particularly in Africa, homosexuality remains illegal and violent attacks on LGBTIQ people are common. Many are forced to flee, some to the UK, after being publicly ‘outed’.
Gay people seeking asylum coming to the UK face significant barriers. The Home Office culture of disbelief has meant that it refuses to accept that any LGBTIQ seeking asylum are homosexual unless they provide ‘proof of sexuality’. This position is an extremely toxic shift towards high number of deportation following the ruling in 2010 which prohibits the Home Office from deporting LGBTIQ people seeking asylum on the grounds that they could ‘be discreet’ about their sexuality in their home country to avoid harm.
We know that the Home Office has and continues to illegally and forcibly deport many LGBTIQ people seeking asylum through its brutal charter flight methods.
'Experimental' data released by the Home Office in November 2017 for LGBT+ asylum cases (01/07/15 - 31/03/17) shows that over two third of 3,535 asylum applications made partly as LGBT+ were rejected.
2,379 clear LGBT+ claims were rejected, with only 838 approved.
The conference is being organised by African Rainbow Family (ARF), a charitable group that supports LGBTIQ people of African heritage and wider BAME in the UK. ARF works with the growing African LGBTIQ people seeking asylum and refugee communities including wider BAME who face harassment, hate crimes and discrimination.
It will see a call on the Home Office to abandon its ‘high standard of proof sexuality policy, which ARF says is demeaning, humiliating, dehumanising, cruel and a driver of the culture of sexual abuse and sexual exploitation in their community.
Speakers will include:
Aderonke Apata, Founder of the ARF and a long-term campaigner on LGBTIQ asylum, who is also speaking at the conference, said:
"We are starting a cultural revolution which forms a platform to inspire LGBTIQ people seeking asylum to come forward, tell their experiences of sexual abuse and sexual exploitation and let their voices to be heard in order for us to see consequences in terms of their perpetrators who owe them a duty of care to be brought to justice.
"The Home Office's high standard of proof policy drives a culture of sexual abuse, sexual exploitation, domestic abuse, modern day slavery and all forms of emotional, psychological and mental problems in the LGBTIQ people seeking asylum's community
"I ask that the Home Office drops their high standard of proof in sexuality policy as well as the wider asylum applications."
A Guinean man who has made his home in Manchester for the last 12 years has been caught up in a Home Office "whirlpool" of bureaucracy.
Nestor Sylla, who is vice-chair of RAPAR and is involved with other charitable organisations in the city, came to Europe at the age of 26 looking for his mother after the death of his father and the murder of his sister in Guinea.
Nestor did not find his mother but discovered new friends in Manchester who are now his family. He met Quaker Elizabeth Coleman through a hosting scheme for people who have come to the UK seeking asylum and have ended up destitute and homeless. Later, he helped Elizabeth and others run the Boaz Trust winter night shelter based at the Friends' Meeting House in Manchester.
Elizabeth, who is retired, said: “Nestor's home is England. He is like a son to me and has a lot to contribute to our society.” When Elizabeth was ill, Nestor visited her in hospital and was a vital carer for her when she was discharged.
Nestor also supports another friend and her five children, helping with homework, taking them to school and the dentist, and attending parents' evenings. He says: “All these people are now my only family.”
Nestor arrived in Europe looking for his mother, a French citizen who left the family home after the death of his father. His travel was paid for by a woman who said she was a friend of his mother's and a passport for him was arranged.
When he came to the UK, Nestor went to the job centre to find work and showed them his passport. He was accused of having a false travel document and was arrested and imprisoned in Strangeways but was cleared of the charge and released.
Nestor was advised to apply for asylum and his case was being considered under the old Legacy system but his immigration solicitor missed a Home Office deadline. His complaint against the solicitor was upheld.
Last year, Nestor was unlawfully detained at Brook House Immigration Removal Centre at Gatwick Airport – which featured in a BBC Panorama investigation and led to 10 members of staff being suspended.
He was detained despite having submitted a Further Leave to Remain application and having proof of postage and delivery. When his solicitor applied for bail, the Home Office misled the judge saying a decision would be made on the case by July 21st 2017 and, because of this assurance, Nestor remained in detention at Brook House. He was finally released the following month after it became apparent that the Home Office had not even looked at the application.
Earlier this year, the Home Office wrote to Nestor rejecting his application because they said he had used the wrong form. He enlisted the support of his MP Lucy Powell to show that the correct form had been used. The Home Office then claimed they had not received an application, despite the fact that they had also written to Nestor advising him that his fee waiver application, which is included in the Leave to Remain application, had been accepted. RAPAR asked how the Home Office had rejected a Leave to Remain application and accepted a fee waiver request on a document they claimed not to have received.
One solicitor has described the Home Office as having Nestor in a “whirlpool” of bureaucracy. RAPAR believes there are many queries over this case which have not been answered satisfactorily. Last week, the Home Office rejected Nestor's Leave to Remain application and have said he must now leave the UK or risk detention and removal.
“Nestor has been unjustly treated and unlawfully detained. The Home Office has made numerous errors and is not answering an important request for information,” Elizabeth says.
A RAPAR spokesperson said: “Nestor is a refugee who came to this country when his life had been threatened and he had lost his immediate family. On arrival in the UK, he was wrongfully criminalised and remanded in prison for several months. Yet, despite all this, he has led an exemplary life volunteering for organisations like the Red Cross and Mustard Tree, as well as RAPAR and the Boaz night shelter. He has helped care for Elizabeth and the children of his friend Marie and all these people are now his family.
“In their refusal letter, the Home Office says Nestor can go back to Guinea – where his life was at risk and his sister was murdered – and suggests that people whose immigration status is 'precarious' should not be making close personal relationships in the UK.
“Is it the Home Office's position that people who have fled death threats, torture and persecution should be making preparations to return to their home country while they are seeking asylum and safety in the UK? That I have cared for people while living here? Does the Home Office expect that a person can spend 12 years in a country and not form attachments to others and they form attachments to me?”
THE METRO - Rebecca Yeo: "Before he was murdered, here is what a disabled asylum seeker had to say about Britain’s ‘hostile environment’" >>>
THE GUARDIAN - Steven Morris : "Memorial to murdered refugees unveiled in Bristol " >>>
Human rights campaigners in Bristol pay tribute to Kamil Ahmad who was brutally murdered after suffering racist abuse.
Ahmad was one of the participants of the Disability Mural that brought to light the struggles faced by disabled asylum seekers, amongst them, RAPAR members Manjeet Kaur and Mary Adenugba.
Now the mural will grace the walls of Bristol City Hall in remembrance of both Kamil Ahmad and Bijan Ebrahimi who were both murdered in brutal racist attacks.
“By putting the artwork on the walls of City Hall I hope it sends a message that their lives mattered.” - Marvin Rees, Mayor of Bistol
Both the case of Ahmad and Ebrahimi showed that though both had been the victims of serious racist abuse, deep systematic failings and institutional racism meant that the authorities failed to protect both Kamil and Bijan resulting in their murders.
Learn about the Bristol Disability Mural here >>>
RAPAR raises concerns about new Immigration and Voluntary Returns “surgeries in the community”
RAPAR is querying the Home Office's new policy of introducing immigration and voluntary returns surgeries into the community.
We are currently gathering questions about voluntary returns to send to the Home Office. Questions already put forward, most of them from refugees and people seeking asylum, cover a range of concerns about voluntary returns – including asking how the Government can be sure that people being encouraged to “go home” can be truly safe.
The Home Office claims there are now 30 voluntary returns surgeries in the community including one in Manchester which is running twice monthly sessions at the Transformation Community Resource Centre in Longsight.
One of the aims of this initiative is to persuade refugees to return to their home countries under a Government scheme which offers up to £2,000 for people to “voluntarily” return.
Julie Ward, North West MEP, has added her voice to questions being raised by RAPAR about the surgeries which are also operating in London, Birmingham and Slough.
“This new development is very worrying and comes hot on the heels of an insidious government policy that used homelessness charities as a means to identify and deport EU migrants before Christmas. The Home Office has a duty to uphold international norms regarding the treatment of vulnerable people such as refugees and asylum seekers. This should mean ensuring adequate and tailored support for a range of options. By locating voluntary returns surgeries in community spaces government policy may appear to be more benign than it is.
“I am very concerned that taxpayers' money is being used in a targeted and unbalanced way, with an emphasis on persuading vulnerable people to return to the very places that they were forced to flee for good reason. We need to question why this is happening in an increasingly hostile and xenophobic environment with a Conservative government that has failed in its basic duty regarding unaccompanied child refugees, let alone wider issues appertaining to the asylum process.”
People seeking asylum have pointed out to RAPAR that the Home Office's voluntary returns service is already easily accessible and, if people want to take advantage of it, they can. There is no need for “community surgeries”.
Sanctuary seekers in the UK have been forced to flee their home countries because their lives were at risk and they are among the most vulnerable, impoverished and traumatised groups in our society. They should not be pressured into returning to a situation where their safety cannot be guaranteed.
Dr Rhetta Moran, from RAPAR, said: “People seeking asylum - and those who have decided to stay in the UK undocumented after their cases have been failed by the Home Office - are here because they feel they are still in danger. Completing a 'voluntary' return form in a 'community' setting does not alter that danger.
“We have asked the Home Office to explain how they can ensure people's safety if they return. The Home Office knows it cannot do this. Community immigration surgeries are not offering people a real and free choice. There is nothing 'voluntary' about 'voluntary' returns.”
RAPAR also questions how impartial and non directive advice about voluntary returns can be given by Home Office staff in community surgeries when they are employed by a Government department which has been charged with driving down net migration.
On Wednesday 28th February 2018, at 1pm, we will be outside the Transformation Community Resource Centre, Richmond House, 11 Richmond Grove, Ardwick, Manchester, M13 0LN to communicate to people who may use the surgery why there is no such thing as a ‘Voluntary’ Return.