Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Friends of Northumbria House?

By Carina Crawford-Rolt

"What needs to change?” was the question on our lips as Tyne & Wear CITIZENS for Sanctuary carried out their first action outside Northumbria House, the UKBA reporting centre for the North East.

An alliance of faith, citizen and refugee groups gathered together today to collect evidence from those who are forced to report to Immigration Authorities, whilst offering a friendly face and free cup of tea. Northumbria House situated in North Shields, is currently the only reporting centre for Tyne and Wear which forces some people seeking sanctuary, to travel an average of 11 miles round trip.

Because of where it is situated some reportees had an extra half an hour added to their journey, because they had not been told that they could get from South Shields to North Shields using the ferry service across the Tyne.

The team of leaders identified the issue of reporting following a meeting in late September where several people seeking sanctuary shared their testimonies and experiences of reporting at Northumbria House. Today the team spoke to 50 reportees and listened to their experiences.

One mentioned that: “It is impossible to change your allocated time. You are given a four minute slot in which you have to report in. This makes it difficult to carry on with a normal life. I am attempting to attend a local college, but my timetable is interrupted with my weekly appointment at the reporting centre. Today I am sick, and I had an appointment at the hospital. When I rang the UKBA to see if I could change the time of my reporting, I was told very rudely that I could not, and if I did not attend they would put me in prison.”

Another reportee was too scared to stop and talk to us, not because we were intimidating, but because he believed that the staff were watching him and would target him next week. Overall, the team were overwhelmed by the willingness of those seeking sanctuary to engage in the action. Many people stopped and talked for about 10 minutes and some were keen to get involved in the future, perhaps even becoming part of the negotiation team for the North East.

During the action it was clear what was needed, and just as though it had been pre-organised, the minister from the church across the road informed us that she had been thinking about doing something about the people who passed her church to report each day.

Could a “Friends of Northumbria House” service be on the cards?

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Nottingham Public Support Call for ‘Local Reporting for Local People’

Over 150 Nottingham residents turned out to ‘report’ to a mock immigration reporting centre set up in the Market Square on Saturday to call on the regional head of the UK Border Agency, Gail Adams, to meet to discuss reporting arrangements for local people seeking sanctuary.

The action was organised by Nottingham CITIZENS for Sanctuary, an alliance of faith, refugee and citizen groups, and asked Gail Adams to establish a reporting centre in the city so that the disabled, destitute and women with children would not have to make the regular 32-mile round trip to Loughborough to report to the UK Border Agency.

The call was backed by community leaders who reported to the mock reporting centre including the Dean of Nottingham Cathedral, Father Michael Brown, and by Nottingham South MP Alan Simpson.

Nottingham CITIZENS for Sanctuary sent letters to over 60 citizens from the Nottingham area, ‘ordering’ them to report at set times at the mock reporting centre in the Market Square. In the event, double that number responded to the call, with over 150 people overwhelming the mock reporting centre in a two hour period.

When local people arrived to report they were treated exactly as people who have come to the UK seeking sanctuary from persecution are treated by the UK Border Agency: they were asked to present their documents, wait in a queue in the freezing cold, undergo a security search and then sign at the desk. In reality, an estimated 2,000 people who live in Nottingham, having fled persecution abroad, are regularly forced to make the 32-mile round trip to Loughborough every time the UK Border Agency requires them to report.

The organisers of the action are collecting evidence on the difficulties faced by vulnerable people who have to make the journey. Most people in this situation are prevented from working and many of them receive no support from the government – and yet they are still expected to report to get to Loughborough without their travel costs being reimbursed. The research shows that some local people seeking sanctuary are begging and others are spending half of their total monthly food budget on transport, in order to comply with the law. The members of the alliance are also angry that local Nottingham residents are having to provide lifts or cash to vulnerable people because the UK Border Agency is not providing travel reimbursements.

During the mock reporting session, leaders of Nottingham CITIZENS for Sanctuary called for people seeking sanctuary to be able to report in Nottingham instead of travelling to Loughborough. The Regional Director of the UK Border Agency, Ms Gail Adams, has responded to their request for a meeting to rectify the situation, but no firm date has yet been offered.

Karen Rooms, Vicar of St Ann with Emmanuel Church, St Ann's, and a leader from Nottingham CITIZENS for Sanctuary, said:
“It is ridiculous that in a civilised country like ours we ask people who have just escaped from persecution and are now often living in destitution to make a 32-mile round trip to another county at their own expense when it would be much easier for them to report here in Nottingham. We want those who live in Nottingham to be able to report in Nottingham and we look forward to working with Gail Adams, the UK Border Agency’s Regional Director, to find a solution.”

Nottingham South MP, Alan Simpson, said:
“Today is one of those rare occasions when I have to be in London rather than Nottingham at the weekend - I realise were I to be faced with the sort of reporting restrictions imposed on those seeking sanctuary in the UK, no degree of urgency would suffice to allow you to skip or move your reporting appointment. Only criminals out on licence face similar restrictions. But people seeking sanctuary are victims not criminals. This is not simply about justice; it is a measure of our common humanity.”

Preacher Prince Muguza, who fled Mugabe’s regime in Zimbabwe and has to report to Loughborough weekly said:
“When I fled the Mugabe dictatorship I thought I would find sanctuary in the UK. I have been living in Nottingham for 3 years and have contributed a lot to the community. I am happy to report to the UK Border Agency, but why can’t I do that in Nottingham rather than spend hours travelling to Loughborough?”

Konnie Lloyd, who co-ordinates Nottingham CITIZENS for Sanctuary, said:
“Imagine having to travel all the way to Loughborough when you have no car and no cash. The UK Border Agency is turning a blind eye to the consequences for very vulnerable people – like the women and children who I sometimes have to give a lift so they can report in Loughborough. Gail Adams, the local head of the Border Agency, is the woman who can sort this mess out. Gail has shown a willingness to meet with us to discuss this, but we need more than willingness. This is a serious issue that has serious consequences, as our forthcoming report will show, so we need a firm date for Gail to meet us in Nottingham before Christmas.”

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Power developed, relationships secured, and public support for sanctuary beginning to be rebuilt in the West Midlands

By Jonny Scott

Before boarding the train back to London from Birmingham I was asked by a lady with a clipboard if I could spare a moment to let her know how my day in Birmingham had been. She was from the tourism board. I don’t think she was expecting me to launch into a moment-by-moment evaluation of today’s very successful action!

I am pleased to report that our CITIZENS for Sanctuary team in the West Midlands has secured negotiations with both the Department for Children Schools and Families (DCSF), and Ofsted, to ensure that no child in their region leaves education without a strong understanding of the UK’s long and proud tradition of providing sanctuary to people fleeing persecution.

This is one of the key recommendations in the Independent Asylum Commission’s Saving Sanctuary report. We know that this is vital to rebuilding public support for sanctuary - and the DCSF and Ofsted see it as the logical next step for their community cohesion agenda.

The whole issue of education was central to our CITIZENS for Sanctuary Action Team from the start, and all credit must go to Clare Daley of the migration partnership for masterminding the action along with the Children’s Society. Our strategy team met several times over the last months to consider how to get our targets there, how to build our power – and how to rebuild public support for sanctuary whilst executing our action.

Elly Tobin of the College for International Citizenship hosted the session, which was focusing on Community Cohesion in Education, and brilliantly chaired the panel session, where our leaders made their ask. It is a testament to the planning that went in that everything went so smoothly, and now we must plan the negotiations so as to ensure we achieve our aims.

Power developed, relationships secured, and public support for sanctuary beginning to be rebuilt in the West Midlands.

We were really grateful to all the schools and colleges that were there (children and teachers) to help put the pressure on, and see the result of all their hard work. And to all those who took away copies of ‘10 Ways for CITIZENS to Save Sanctuary’, I hope you enjoy the read – but don’t forget I’ll be chasing you up to know which actions you tried, and how they went!