Month: February 2011

Sleep out to end destitution of all asylum seekers

More than 30 sleep-outs in support of destitute asylum seekers are being organised around the country beginning this week and continuing into March by Amnesty UK, Student Action for Refugees and Still Human Still Here.

The aim is to raise awareness and show solidarity with the thousands of asylum seekers all over the UK who are made destitute when their refugee statuses are refused. With no support or money they often become homeless; this action is part of ‘Still Human Still Here‘, an ongoing campaign to end the destitution of asylum seekers.

Those taking part in the Cardiff and York  sleep-outs on 25 February (details of the York event coming soon) will be signing Keep Your Promise postcards and sending them to Cameron and Clegg as a reminder of the coalition’s promise not to put any more children in immigration detention.

ECDN response to proposed cuts in legal aid to the most vulnerable

Dear Secretary of State

We write on behalf of the campaign organisation, End Child Detention Now (ecdn.org), a citizens’ initiative that has been closely involved in the campaign to end the detention of children in the immigration system in the United Kingdom.

As part of our submission to the Home Office review on child detention that was initiated by your colleague Damian Green, we explained that any scheme which aimed at improving the treatment of asylum seeking families must have proper regard to the provision of good quality legal advice at each point of the asylum application process.

The availability of adequate legal advice and representation to those seeking the protection of the United Kingdom is an obligation under our international treaty agreements and human rights legislation as the consultation paper acknowledges in 4.37-4.42. In section 4.38 of the document you say that

Legal aid currently funds Legal Help and Representation on issues relating to asylum. This includes legal advice for nearly all asylum applicants at the application stage, representation for most asylum appeals before the First-tier and Upper Tribunal (Immigration and Asylum Chamber), and advice on appealing to higher courts.

However, that has not been the experience of many of the asylum seeking families with whom we are involved in the York area, or of our fellow refugee advocacy organisations around the country.

In the case of a 2 year old boy who was detained with his mother and father for over a fortnight in Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre as recently as 2009, we had to telephone 31 separate solicitors and legal advice providers before we could find a legal representative for the family. Thanks to the legal intervention that we were able to secure they now have indefinite leave to remain, and the boy is a British citizen.

There are many hundreds of families and individuals who, even under the existing system, have no opportunity to make a proper asylum claim because the number of firms and charities who are able and willing to provide immigration law representation under the current Legal Services Commission funding arrangements has fallen off dramatically.

For example, the collapse of Refugee and Migrant Justice has been a disaster for those organisations like us, based outside of London, which often need to find emergency, expert legal help to assist a family issued with removal orders but now we are frequently unable to find even a single practitioner to take on a case unless it can be privately funded.

In short, many of the families with who we are in contact face a Catch-22 situation. They have often had their initial claims refused due to non-existent or incompetent legal advice, and consequently they face destitution as ‘failed asylum seekers’. Forbidden from the right to work and without recourse to public funds their only hope of being able to submit an appeal which might help to expose the flaws in the initial casework decision or poor quality representation is to find a legal aid lawyer in their immediate vicinity. This is rarely possible because in York and in many other parts of the country outside London there are no sources of free qualified immigration law advice. Instead such families have to rely on charitable help for the funds to travel often-considerable distances to find an advocate.

As a consequence of the proposed reforms, we anticipate that the few remaining providers of publicly funded legal services to refugees and asylum seekers will have to withdraw from this area of the law. Local authority funded legal services are also on the point of collapse and the Citizens Advice Bureaux (which in any case often lack case workers qualified to provide specialist immigration advice) are massively reducing the services that they are able to offer the public due to cuts to their budgets.

A particular concern that we identify is the proposal to discontinue funding for Article 8 claims (even in the First Tier of the Immigration Tribunal). The idea that individuals who for immigration purposes wish to make an Article 8 claim, including even young children, can represent themselves against experienced Home Office Presenting Officers before a judge and understand the intricacies of the relevant statutes and case law is simply untenable.

In many cases the appellant may not have adequate English skills and will have to rely on an interpreter—presumably at the potentially destitute appellant’s expense. It must be obvious that in these circumstances the ‘equality of arms’ principle, which the European and British courts have accepted as fundamental to the administration of justice, would be fatally undermined.

The injustice of the proposed reform is further compounded by the proposal to remove all opportunities for public legal assistance where an asylum seeker is appealing against a decision to deny support under sections 4 and 95 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999. Families applying for support under this legislation are doing so on grounds of destitution and there are often serious safeguarding issues involving children to which local authorities must pay due regard. It cannot be right that a public authority should be able to avoid a challenge to a potentially perverse or unlawful decision simply because the individual or individuals subject to that decision do not have the means to challenge it.

In conclusion, we support the view expressed by the late Mr Justice Hodge, then President of the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal, who told the Constitutional Affairs Select Committee that

(The AIT) and its judges, whenever they have been asked, have always said that we value representation and we want as many people to be legally represented as possible, and whenever we discuss these matters with the Legal Services Commission, which we do periodically, that is entirely what we say….—the change in representation has been very much driven by the Legal Services Commission’s worries about the total cost of their budget rather than anything to do with us

The Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, rightly said that in relation to the care of children under immigration control we need to effect a ‘culture change’ in the Home Office. Such a culture change would mean that those who seek asylum in this country are not automatically disbelieved, but are given a genuine, professional and fair hearing and ample opportunity to present their case through a qualified and well-prepared advocate. Numerous judges and Home Affairs Select Committee reports have found that the UK Border Agency is needlessly generating expensive legal appeals because of inadequate and inconsistent decision-making.

By ensuring that early, good quality legal advice is available to all asylum seekers, the downstream savings in terms of lost Home Office appeals, expensive arrest and detention bills, and large compensation claims will more than offset the savings that the Legal Services Commission expects to make by further restricting access to justice for some of the weakest and most vulnerable members of our society.

Keep Your Promise on Child Detention Campaign launches in York

Supporters of York-based End Child Detention Now launched their ‘Keep Your Promise’ postcard writing campaign on Saturday 5 February with help from local children who are urging David Cameron and Nick Clegg to honour their pledge to end the detention of children without delay.

The group’s spokesperson Esme Madill explained that

Children have continued to be detained as recently as Christmas Day despite Nick Clegg’s promise that no child would spend Christmas in an immigration detention centre. We are worried that plans for a ‘pre detention facilility’ near Gatwick will merely be a re-branding exercise and that children who are to be forcibly removed from their schools and communities will continue to suffer as a result.

The hotel group Arora International is thought to have acquired a residential school previously used for children with behavioural and learning difficulties, which they intend to convert into a secure detention facility complete with a perimeter fence.

Dr Simon Parker, a coordinator of End Child Detention Now commented,

We have real concerns about the lack of staff with appropriate child care and safeguarding qualifications both at Tinsley House and this new proposed facility at Pease Pottage near Crawley. Security companies and hotel groups cannot be considered fit and proper bodies for the safeguarding of vulnerable children. The UK Border Agency, which failed to tell the Deputy Prime Minister it had broken his pledge by detaining a child over Christmas cannot be trusted with the well-being of children, and the task must now be urgently passed to an independent professional body that has the confidence of child care professionals.

Arora Hotels Back in Deportation Business

From London NoBorders 31 January 2011

London NoBorders has received information that THE hotel Company Arora
International [1] has started a second attempt to make money from the
Home Office’s deportation business. The company plans to use the site
of a residential school for children with behavioural and learning
difficulties in Pease Pottage, Crawley, Sussex owned by the Arora Group
subsidiary “The Crossroads Childrens (sic) Education Services Ltd.”,
into an immigration detention facility. It is the second attempt by
Arora Hotels to extend their business into detention following the
company’s failure to gain planning permission to turn one of their
hotels in Crawley into a holding facility for immigrants in 2010. [2]
Crawley Forest School has been told to vacate the property by 1 April
2011.

The facility is located in Pease Pottage just outside Crawley.
According to the letter from consultant firm CGMS Consulting [3] the
location would be excellent due to its close proximity to Gatwick
airport. Locals will be surprised to learn that Arora plans to push the
whole planning process through within the next few weeks, filing the
application this week and expecting the facility to be open by 11 May.

The letter makes no secret that the facility is planned to replace the
use of Yarl’s Wood and nearby Tinsley House detention facilities for
holding families and children, and explicitly refers to this fact as an
explanation of the need for urgency. The letter also explicitly refers
to children inside the holding centre. Not only is the UKBA extending
their detention capacity, but the government is also breaking their
pledge to end the detention of children.

Rosie Young of London NoBorders stated: “Arora seems to be attempting
to move into the immigration detention business at any price. this time
they want to do it quickly and silently.”

Thomas Harburg of London NoBorders added: “”It is obvious what trick the
Home Office is playing here.It does not matter what they call
this facility, if you are forced to be held in a building with a fence
around it, waiting to be deported, it is another immigration detention
facility. All that talk about the ending of the detention of children
and families was just a media stunt”

London NoBorders, who have campaigned against Arora in 2009/10,
announced today that they will immediately start a campaign against the
new facility. “If Arora thought they get this through without anybody
noticing it,” says Rosie Young, “they have failed”.

For any further enquiries, please contact:
Email: noborderslondon@riseup.net
Tel: 07535319119
http://london.noborders.org.uk

[1] www.arorahotels.com
[2] http://london.noborders.org.uk/arora
[3] a copy of the letter can be found at:
http://london.noborders.org.uk/sites/default/files/Crawley_Forest_School_Letter.pdf

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