£1m has been pledged to support community sponsorship schemes. More than 60 organisations call for an end to the housing of asylum seekers in old army barracks. Further, 40 organisations and lawyers call for the release of immigration detainees from prisons. The Home Office is racing to deport asylum seekers ahead of Brexit.

The Shipiro Foundation, a US based foundation, has pledged £1m to support the community sponsorship scheme that assists the resettlement of refugee families to the UK. Since its launch in 2016, community sponsorship groups have resettled 449 refugees from Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East. The Covid-19 crisis has caused a stall in the UK resettlement schemes but these newly available funds will help give grassroot organisations supporting community sponsorship, a new impetus.

63 organisations working with migrants and asylum seekers call for the Home Office to end the housing of asylum seekers in former army barracks and look for community-based alternatives. A raft of reports about the Napier barracks in Kent and Penally barracks in Pembrokeshire reveal poor access to healthcare, denial of access to lawyers, an overbearing use of confidentiality agreements, in addition to concerns over the safety and privacy of the sites. Hundreds of immigration detainees are being held in jails after having served their prison sentences. Since the start of the pandemic, the Home Office has sought to have fewer people in removal centres for Covid-19 safety reasons and instead have placed many in prisons, where most adult inmates are now locked in their cells for 23 hours a day and legal visits are not permitted. Immigration detainees have been “left to navigate the complex process of challenging their detention and deportation without any form of assistance whatsoever,” states a letter, signed by 40 organisations and lawyers, calling for the immediate release of people held in jail under immigration powers. The letter further highlights that coronavirus is spreading in prisons more rapidly than ever, with more people in prisons testing positive for Covid-19 in October 2020 than in the entire period from March to September.

Scores of vulnerable asylum seekers are due to be deported this week as Home Office ramps up removals ahead of Brexit. From January 2021 the UK will no longer be a party to the EU’s Dublin Regulation which allows the return of people to EU countries in which they already have an asylum claim pending. Two flights to Germany and one to France are planned despite reported evidence of cases being “rushed” and not being processed in compliance with policies for identifying victims of trafficking. Sarah Teather, director of Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) UK, stated: “[T]hey continue to rush people through the process regardless, perhaps safe in the knowledge that the most vulnerable and traumatised asylum seekers are struggling to access legal advice in detention right now. It demonstrates a complete disregard for human life and it is a shameful episode.” JRS is supporting 11 men who recently crossed the Channel in small boat who experienced trafficking, forced labour and torture on their route to the UK, and who’s screening interviews were either cut short or did not contain pertinent questions.

The High Court ruled that the Home Office is failing to prevent potential trafficking victims from being treated as illegal immigrants. The judgment concluded that people waiting for their modern slavery claims to be concluded were being stripped of their immigration status due to an “unlawful lacuna” in policy. Individuals referred to the National Referral Mechanism (NRM), the framework for identifying victims of modern slavery, have been losing their immigration status while the NRM’s decision is pending, due to growing delays in the process in recent years. This has resulted in individuals being unable to access employment and being liable to detention. The judgment stated that the claimant in this case was “branded as a criminal, dehumanized, penalized and deprived of basic services. A spokesperson for Duncan Lewis, the representing firm, said the case highlighted the impact of the “hostile environment” on vulnerable individuals, and how people who enter the UK legitimately can be “deprived of basic civil liberties through failures in policy-making and delayed decision-making”.

Amidst mounting legal challenges against the Home Office, the number of immigration cases heard by the Court of Appeal is to be cut. The Ministry of Justice is consulting on ‘reforms’ so that appeals that have already been heard in both the First-tier and Upper Tribunals in England and Wales would need “reasons of exceptional public interest” to be heard at the Court of Appeal stage. This proposal for tightening the rules is estimated to cull around 600 cases a year from the Court of Appeal’s books.

For further information:

Photo: (CC) Jeff Djevdet, February 2016

This article appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin. You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.