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.”

Friday, 17 July 2009

Cardiff gets the ball rolling...

The Wales Regional Campaign Action Team, who are already successfully exchanging over £1000 per week of Sectoin Four supermarket vouchers, have decided to take on the challenge of setting up an Internship Scheme for local people seeking sanctuary.

Deskilling, depression and boredom has become a major problem amongst people seeking sanctuary in Cardiff. Many people have shared stories about missing their life in the work place, and have been left feeling that their talents and skills are being wasted. They broke this large problem down into the tangible issue of people being deskilled because they are unable to work.

The RCAT gathered to discuss this issue and agreed that building on the Zimbabwean pilot internship scheme in London would be one innovative citizen subversion to the problem of people not being able to work. The group are going to set up a head quarters, linked to Oxfam Wales, to run an internship for local people seeking sanctuary to get skills and experience in local businesses, charities and service providers. The interns need to be provided with a lunch and travel expenses but otherwise they will volunteer their time and expertise. However, despite being voluntary, the internships will try to provide meaningful tasks and hopefully references in the long term for people seeking sanctuary.

It's an exciting new project that can also help with the local integration and it will be interesting to see how the team and the interns develop over the coming months.

Poems from the Cardiff RCAT

I still remember
That very moment in my life
When I decided the unknown
Over the little known
Booking a place in a plane
Leaving behind the family
And close ones at home; and
Deciding to be part of the unknown
With optimistic view of the day
Having some hope
Which are yet to be dashed.
Leaving the home airport was frustrating
As it involved a lot of risk
I remember those prayers
Which I had done time and again
A prayer to escape home
A payer to keep the hungry lions silent
The journey was full of thoughts
Thoughts from childhood to present age
Thoughts that took me back and forth in time
Thought where hope and despair
Had to face one-another.
The arrival wasn’t bad
Though I didn’t know
Where I would finally end up
As destination was unknown
Life has now changed forever
For worse or better.
The airport was as huge as usual
Embracing people of all colour
Some looked familiar
While others confused
The way to the city wasn’t easy
Using the underground trains
To a place not booked before
It is all keeping going
Going, going, going. going.
Following instincts and thoughts
How tough is it to prefer the unknown
Over the little known
To keep life on hold
On hold for unknown time and future
On hold for reasons little known.

Bekele Debela

"Friends of Lunar House" expands to second day!

Following the successful running of our "Friends of Lunar House" service which offers a friendly face to those seeking sanctuary when they report to Lunar House, a group of local volunteers and members of South London Citizens, will be expanding the service to two days a week. "Friends" has been running for two and a half years just one day a week, but has proved to be a success in improving not only the individuals visit, but Home Office staff also claim it has improved relationships between civil servants, citizens and people seeking sanctuary.

Expanding the service also demonstrates the relationship that has been created with the UKBA and their willingness to engage with our work. Plans are on the way to establish "Friends" services at other UKBA buildings. For more information on how to get involved in the project or in any of the other projects CITIZENS for Sanctuary is running, then please contact Projects Organiser Carina Crawford-Rolt at

Monday, 13 July 2009

"Shows Promise - Must Try Harder in 2010" - Annual Audit and Report Card of the implementation of the Independent Asylum Commission's recommendations

It is a year since the Independent Asylum Commission, the most comprehensive review of policy, practice and public attitudes relating to people seeking sanctuary in the UK ever undertaken, published its recommendations to secure justice for people fleeing persecution and to rebuild public support for sanctuary.

Today, CITIZENS for Sanctuary has published the first Annual Audit and Report Card of the implementation of the Independent Asylum Commission’s recommendations by the UK Border Agency. As well as showing exactly which recommendations have been implemented, the report also includes an audit of the human outcomes – providing an update on the stories of people who gave evidence to the Commission. The Audit highlights unresolved issues of particular concern and sets out key priorities and targets for 2010. You may have heard the report discussed on BBC Radio last night.

You can download the Annual Audit and Report Card here. The full appendices will be available on our website soon.

The Annual Audit also marks the start of an important year of negotiation, with the UK Border Agency recently signing a Protocol with CITIZENS for Sanctuary to negotiate on all of the Independent Asylum Commission’s relevant recommendations, and meetings arranged with Ministers in Wales and Northern Ireland to discuss implementation of the recommendations there.

Victory for Walk of Justice as UKBA Regional Director agrees to meet Tees Valley CITIZENS for Sanctuary

An alliance of faith, refugee and citizen groups is celebrating tonight after a ‘walk of justice’ from North Ormesby to Stockton resulted in a commitment by the UK Border Agency’s Director in the North East, Mr Jeremy Oppenheim, to come to the Tees Valley and discuss the issue of people seeking sanctuary having to walk from Middlesbrough to Stockton police station to report.

In an unexpected personal phonecall to the marchers, Mr Oppenheim promised to come to the local area and meet with leaders from Tees Valley Citizens for Sanctuary who were concerned that vulnerable people seeking sanctuary in the local area were being asked to make a round trip of up to 12 miles in order to comply with UK Border Agency reporting restrictions.

A group of 50 citizens made the symbolic walk from North Ormesby to Stockton. The walk took a dramatic twist when Mr Oppenheim made the call, responding to press coverage and public support for the cause. As the local citizens chanted “Local reporting centres for local people” Mr Oppenheim offered to shift existing diary commitments to deal with the issue and offered a firm date. His offer to come to the Tees Valley for the meeting was greeted by a chorus of cheers from the marchers, who had by this time reached Stockon police station.

The meeting has been fixed for 28th July at 14:00. Leaders from Tees Valley Citizens for Sanctuary are preparing a dossier of evidence detailing the stories of those who live in Middlesbrough and have to walk to Stockton police station on a weekly, monthly or quarterly basis.

Barbara Hungin, a leader from Tees Valley Citizens for Sanctuary, said:
“We are pleased that Jeremy Oppenheim has now agreed to meet with us, here in the Tees Valley. No-one should be asked to walk so far when there are so many other police stations nearby in Middlesbrough. Working with Mr Oppenheim, Tees Valley Citizens for Sanctuary now have an opportunity to consign this injustice to the dustbin of history.”

Jeremy Oppenheim, Regional Director of the UK Border Agency, said:
“I take this issue seriously and I would be delighted to meet with Tees Valley Citizens for Sanctuary. I look forward to finding out more at our meeting on 28th July and hope we can find a way forward.”