“When people are driven from their homes in the most desperate of circumstances, we must always stand with them and provide sanctuary.” - Afzal Khan, MP for Manchester Gorton, Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Commons
“The threat to force boats in the English Channel to turn back puts already vulnerable people at even greater risk… The whole idea smacks of political posturing.” - Tony Lloyd, MP for Rochdale and one of the first Parliamentarians amplifying the calls for #StatusNow4All
RAPAR began when young Afghan men were dispersed to Greater Manchester in 2001. Twenty years later, and the scenes from Afghanistan and from the boats in the English Channel carrying people from there, alongside other countries, tell us that there are many, many lessons that remain unlearned.
The racist xenophobia underpinning all, including the latest, refugee-rejection manoeuvre by the Home Office - this time declaring that they will use governments powers to command workers to turn back boats carrying refugee people - is always, and only, about attempting to ferment division, and thereby rule, everyone on this side of the English Channel.
In response to this latest government announcement Afzal Khan, MP for Manchester Gorton, Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Commons and supporter of RAPAR’s work over many years says:
“This country has a long and proud history of welcoming those fleeing conflict and persecution. Our rich and diverse society would be considerably poorer were it not for the contribution of refugees and immigrants.
However, this Government appears intent on pursuing a deeply hostile and unpleasant attack on refugees and asylum seekers who have fled their home and sought safety on our shores. When people are driven from their homes in the most desperate of circumstances, we must always stand with them and provide sanctuary. I'm appalled at this new policy which puts the lives of migrants and refugees at risk and hope it is urgently reconsidered."
This sentiment is echoed by the Immigration Services Union (ISU) who immediately rejected the government proposal, which Free Movement has quickly specified would:
‘replace binding international legal obligations with a small, bespoke, national scheme that gives preference to refugees from one country over others and where selection is based on connection to the host country rather than vulnerability. Like the international aid target, it could be scrapped on a whim.'
Only collective action that becomes international in character and composition will stop the human rights violations that are being conducted in the name of the people of the UK. This is why RAPAR is part of a wider campaigns across the UK and Ireland, including StatusNow4All which is dedicated to securing the safety of everyone currently on British soil, including those who have followed in the footsteps of Abdullah making deeply treacherous journeys over so many years in their bid to reach safety.
This afternoon Tony Lloyd, MP for Rochdale and one of the first Parliamentarians amplifying the calls for #StatusNow4All of which RAPAR is a founding signatory, observes:
“We should all work to put a stop to the work of the people traffickers who have no conscience in putting lives at risk. But the threat to force boats in the English Channel to turn back puts already vulnerable people at even greater risk. In practice, it would place a heavy burden on the captains of the British vessels involved to make potentially life-threatening decisions. The whole idea smacks of political posturing when what is needed is building cooperation with the French authorities to weaken the traffickers as well as making available safe routes so that desperate people aren’t thrown into the traffickers’ hands.”
 XENOPHOBIA | meaning in the Cambridge English Dictionary
 Channel crossings: Migrant boats could be turned back in new UK move - BBC News
 Patel’s plans to send migrant boats back to France ‘dead in water’, union says | Immigration and asylum | The Guardian
 Even as Afghans are resettled, refugee protection is under attack - Free Movement
 Status Now 4 All - 'Indefinite Leave To Remain' for people who are undocumented, destitute, and those in the legal process #HealthAndSafetyForAll
Undocumented Workers now looking after British Elders in Care Homes and Irish Carer workers still stuck in Direct Provision Centres
Today, a representative from a Filipino community organisation, which advocates on behalf of frontline nurses and care home workers in the UK, including undocumented workers who lost their jobs in the current crisis and who cannot access any State support, contacted RAPAR. Deaths attributed to the coronavirus have occurred among undocumented workers in the Filipino community.
The representative described how one such worker, Rose, forced to leave her care home job because of Home Office changes to requirements for visas for migrant care worker, is living in a British City with six other undocumented people in cramped accommodation. Rose is surviving from the money she is getting from the children of British elders who are paying her to go into the nursing home where their parents live to look after them.
No one outside of an environment where they can self isolate as needed, stay clean, and maintain social distancing has the power to follow the Public Health directives necessary to limit COVID19 viral transmission to the absolute minimum. Anyone can now sign the Open Letter petition, launched by 37 organisations across Ireland and the UK, with receipt now signed for at Downing Street and the Dublin offices of the Taoiseach, calling upon the UK Prime Minister and the Taoiseach of Ireland to use their vested powers to instruct the British and Irish States to act immediately and in all ways necessary so that ALL undocumented people, destitute people and migrant people in legal process in both the UK and Ireland are granted Status Now: Leave to Remain.
Also today, MASI (Movement of Asylum Seekers in Ireland) told RAPAR “People seeking asylum in Ireland who work as care givers are risking their lives to protect the Irish people and are still having to return to over-populated rooms in Direct Provision Centres. The number of people in the Centres who are presenting with COVID-19 symptoms keeps on growing, yet no one from the Irish Government is disclosing the number of people living in Direct Provision who are testing positive. We call on the Irish Government to house Carer Workers alongside everyone else currently in Direct Provision, in safe places from which they may continue their exceptional work caring for others.”
The Irish and British Governments have the power to enable undocumented people, immediately, to care and protect themselves, their loved ones and their living and working communities. RAPAR asks “When will they stop moving the deckchairs*, use their power and save lives?” (*move (the) deckchairs on the Titanic’: To partake in or undertake some task, activity, or course of action that will ultimately prove trivial or futile in its possible effect or outcome.
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...
On the Leap Year Day of 2020, we approached the Edge and in a bid to awaken our own and each other’s creativity.
For RAPAR, I sit between Ola Mustafa, a stunning mother of three children, aged between 11 and six, who claimed asylum from Nigeria almost as long ago as the birth of her youngest child, and who waits for the State to decide: is it accepting her right to make herself and her children safe? Alongside over 200 other people seeking asylum, she lives in Ballyhaunis’s former Convent, now her ‘Direct Provision’ home, privately run on behalf of the Irish Government .
To my left is Farah Elle a singer songwriter who will complete our discussion with her performance of two hauntingly beautiful compositions that fuse Libyan and Irish streams from her culture clash into a unique river of sound.
Our Facilitator, Dr. Christopher Kissane, poses the question “What is our experience of migration like, in Ireland?” and Ola shares first. Her children are bussed away to school. Her description of her feelings about not being able to bring and meet them from there is pain-filled. It crystallizes how the asylum system, in the UK and in Ireland, debars the People who have fled here from those taken for granted public spaces: like the school gates where Adults meet Others who are both different from, and the same as, Themselves. There are 47 children, excluding babies, living in the Ballyhaunis Direct
Provision Centre with their Families, but only one child goes to the local school. Alongside being denied the right to work for money - and pay tax and insurance like everyone else who works legally – and the very existence of Direct Provision, this educational apartheid separates the Person Seeking Asylum from the indigenous Irish... or English... or Scottish... or Welsh, and away from shared places where We may experience our Humanity together.
And Farah, as she touches her heart, describes how creative expression springs from her need to unpack some aspect of oppression that has become internalised within her. In so doing, she helps us to think about how each of us might find a way to release and convert our own alienations into creative visions. Who wants a future where all the children go together to their local school and all their parents can witness them,
running in and out, with smiling faces? I do.
Prophetically, when keynote speaker Diarmaid Ferriter posed his morning question about the notorious Mother and Baby homes of the 1930’s, 40’s and 50’s Ireland, “What sustained the architecture of containment?”, he offered us a framework for beginning our afternoon interrogation of a 21st century version: Direct Provision. While on this very same leap year day, from one pillar of its British counterpart, the privatised Detention Centre industry, the story is about to break of a man from Jamaica, partially blind and left with an untreated broken ankle in a cell for four days.
The roots of colonialism and imperialism burrow so deeply. Writing from my paternal family’s ‘Homeplace’, how fortunate am I to stand and look upon on the fruits of my ancestor’s labour? The Hawthorn Hedge that I know my Grandmother planted. The world where all such Hedgerows are honoured and their Planters’ Descendants stand free to marvel at the hope, shelter, and porous boundary that the Hedgerow represents, wherever it is: that’s where I want to live. It is a very different world from this global-climate-biodiversity crisis breeding fascism within every vacuum that we strive to fill.
RAPAR thanks Ireland’s Edge for holding the space of the extraordinary Jackie Clarke Museum so that we might sit, together, at the Edge of what Mayo County Council Chief executive Peter Hynes described as a Hilltop. It’s the Edge that only exists on the Hilltop for that hair’s breadth before we tumble or we fly, the Edge that affords us the optimum perspective. Where next? Whose coming? Thank you.
The views expressed are personal. Dr Rhetta Moran, RAPAR Chair of Trustees.
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.