Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Victory for Tees Valley CITIZENS for Sanctuary as UK Border Agency pledges ‘local reporting centres for local people'

An alliance of faith, refugee and citizen groups has today won an important victory in their campaign to stop vulnerable people seeking sanctuary in the Tees Valley being forced to walk from Middlesbrough to Stockton to comply with UK Border Agency reporting requirements.

Tees Valley CITIZENS for Sanctuary met with Jeremy Oppenheim, North East Regional Director for the UK Border Agency, at the Trinity Centre in North Ormesby, Middlesbrough.

Mr Oppenheim had agreed to come to the local area to discuss the issue following a symbolic ‘walk of justice’ by 50 local citizens from North Ormesby to Stockton on 9th July which was organised by Tees Valley CITIZENS for Sanctuary.
At the meeting a team of 16 trained citizen negotiators presented Mr Oppenheim with a copy of a report, ‘The Long Walk to Stockton’, which revealed the human impact of the UK Border Agency’s reporting requirements, and called for ‘local reporting centres for local people’. ‘The Long Walk to Stockton' report found that 77% of people who report at Stockton Police Station actually live in Middlesbrough and called on Mr Oppenheim to put an end to people having to walk up to 12 miles in order to comply with UK Border Agency reporting restrictions.

During the meeting Mr Oppenheim was brought face-to-face with a number of people seeking sanctuary who make the regular walk from Middlesbrough to Stockton and whose stories feature in ‘The Long Walk to Stockton’. Through these testimonies he heard of the impact of the regular walk to Stockton on people’s health, welfare and finances.
After the presentation of the report and the testimonies, Tees Valley CITIZENS for Sanctuary then put a series of requests to Mr Oppenheim. They first asked him to agree that no one should be required to travel more than 3 miles to report without being provided with travel expenses. In a major development, Mr Oppenheim responded by agreeing to bring the Tees Valley into line with the rest of the UK, so that travel tickets will be provided to people receiving asylum support who have to travel more than 3 miles each way. This system will be up and running by 14th September.
In response to concerns about the human consequences raised in the ‘The Long Walk to Stockton’, Mr Oppenheim agreed to minimise the impact of the UK Border Agency’s reporting requirements on people’s health, welfare and family life.
When asked to provide ‘local reporting centres for local people’, so that people can report at North Ormesby and Middlesbrough police stations as well as at Stockton, Mr Oppenheim agreed that in the future people should report to the UK Border Agency as locally as possible. He pledged to end the practice of people having to walk from Middlesbrough to Stockton. In order to achieve this he promised to secure alternative venues for people to report in Middlesbrough, in addition to Stockton Police Station, and hoped to have these in place by 14th September 2009.
Mr Oppenheim also agreed that he and his staff would continue to work with Tees Valley CITIZENS for Sanctuary to resolve this and other issues, with a first meeting to review progress scheduled for mid-October, a month after the new reporting arrangements are due to begin.
Barbara Hungin, a Leader from Tees Valley CITIZENS for Sanctuary, said:
"We are delighted that Mr Oppenheim came to Middlesbrough today. He read our report, listened to the stories of people who regularly walk to Stockton to report, and responded positively to the issues we raised. We are doubly delighted that he has promised to introduce ‘local reporting centres for local people.’

"This is a victory for common sense and decency - and for the power of ordinary citizens to work together for change. We look forward to the commencement of the new reporting arrangements in September. Tees Valley CITIZENS for Sanctuary is already preparing to monitor the impact so that we can be sure that no-one has to undergo the ‘long walk to Stockton’ in the future.”

UK Border Agency Regional Director Jeremy Oppenheim said:
"We are making every effort to ensure that asylum seekers can report to the nearest UK Border Agency building or alternative office.

"Reporting is an essential part of our immigration system and offers an alternative to detention. Foreign nationals who are genuinely in need of our protection deserve a quick decision so that they can learn English, get a job and look forward to a safe, positive future. Equally, those who don't need sanctuary in the UK are expected to leave the country as soon as possible.

"We are looking into alternative reporting centres in the Middlesbrough area and, from 14 September, will offer to buy bus tickets for people entitled to our support.”

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