Friday, 30 July 2010

Damian Green: As of 19th July there were no children in detention

CITIZENS UK, the nation's largest civil society alliance which hosts the CITIZENS for Sanctuary campaign, welcomes the statement by the Immigration Minister in the Home Affairs Select Committee Meeting on Tuesday 20th July of progress towards ending the detention of children for immigration purposes.The issue was raised by Dr Julian Huppert MP and Alun Michael MP, who both signed the Sanctuary Pledge under pressure from local CITIZENS for Sanctuary teams.

Damian Green, Minister for Immigration explained to the Home Affairs Select Committee,
“[CITIZENS UK] said that last year they had sent Father Christmas to parade outside Yarl’s Wood to make the point that there were children in there. I made the possibly rash commitment that if anyone had to do it this year I would dress up as Father Christmas... I am confident that we will have this sorted well before Christmas.”

He added,
“We have already stopped overnight detention of children at one of the two places where it happened...Dungavel in Scotland. The numbers at Yarl’s Wood are markedly down. I believe of yesterday there were no children in detention.”
On 22nd July Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg announced that the family unit at Yarl's Wood Detention Centre would close, confirming Damian Green's commitment that there would be no children in detention by Christmas.

Nick Clegg and David Cameron committed to ending the detention of children at the CITIZENS UK Assembly on May 3rd.

Since the election, CITIZENS UK has played a key role in the working group coordinated by The Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund to help implement the commitment in the coalition agreement to "end the detention of children for immigration purposes" and advise on alternatives to child detention.

The statements conclude the review that was set up by the government to make good on its May 3rd commitment.

Neil Jameson, Executive Director of CITIZENS UK said:
“This is a victory for civil society and democracy – proving that ordinary citizens working together can persuade the government to make its policies more decent and humane at a national level. We are one step closer to ending the shame of locking up innocent children."We recognise that the government needs to be able to find safe and sustainable ways of removing families who have had a fair hearing and do not have protection needs. There are no easy answers here, and we need to draw on expertise and experience from civil society help solve this problem. That is why we are putting together a Taskforce to advise the government on appropriate alternatives to the detention of families that ensure that the welfare of children is paramount.”

Note: Neither witnesses nor Members have had the opportunity to correct the record of the Home Affairs Select Committee Meeting. The transcript is not yet an approved formal record of these proceedings.

Thursday, 29 July 2010

Transport for London on board for CITIZENS for Sanctuary campaign

Two years ago, the Independent Asylum Commission recommended that people seeking sanctuary who are required to report regularly to the UK Border Agency should be provided with cash or a travel card to pay for public transport. At present, there are 322 people in London whose claims have been refused but who are unable to return home, and who live on £35 a week on an ‘Azure’ card – a form of payment currently unrecognized by London’s transport providers. Some are forced to walk for miles across the capital to report.

Last week, a diverse delegation of CITIZENS for Sanctuary leaders - including faith leaders from the Jewish and Roman Catholic community, a trustee of CITIZENS UK, the director of the Migrant and Refugee Communities Forum and leaders from the refugee community who are issued the Azure card - met Mr Shashi Verma, representative of Transport for London. The negotiation brought the IAC’s recommendation a step closer to reality. Not only did Mr Verma agree to look at the possibilities of allowing those who currently live without cash to use London transport – either by signing TfL up to the Azure scheme, or by initiating a ‘Freedom Pass’-style system – he also agreed to accompany CITIZENS for Sanctuary to their next meeting with the UKBA.

One member of the negotiating team, Father Thomas O’Brien, remarked that ‘It was encouraging to come to a meeting in which the person with whom we sought to make a relationship... was both open and excellently prepared’, and that Mr Verma will be a ‘valuable ally’ in fighting this cause. Rabbi Jeremy Gordon, who chaired the meeting, explained, “he was willing to listen to us and share the benefits of his experience and insight – I look forward to being able to continue to work together”.

CITIZENS for Sanctuary are delighted to have begun building a relationship with TfL, and believe that together they can help ensure that London transport is for all Londoners – including those forced to live without cash.

UPDATE: four leaders from different refugee communities who use the Azure card ran a successful negotiation with Jenny Jones, London Assembly Member yesterday. The women shared powerful stories of how their experiences of persecution, sex trafficking and violence led them to the UK, before outlining the many difficulties of living without cash: such as being unable to buy phone cards to call family members in danger back home or to use the bus.

The testimony had a great affect on Jenny Jones, “We need to get your voice out there”, she said. “As a Green Party member I care about not just the environment but people and social justice. I’ve been in a position where I haven’t been able to afford the bus, so I understand a fraction of what you are going through – but I can’t imagine how you cope”.

Polly, who chaired the meeting, explained, “We had a very successful meeting – Jenny Jones needed to hear those issues and will be a powerful ally. She agreed to ask the Mayor, Boris Johnson, what he has done to fulfill his commitments to providing travel expenses for people seeking sanctuary in London and will put pressure on Transport for London. She invited us to City Hall to hear Boris Johnson’s reaction”.

Monday, 26 July 2010

'Local reporting for local people'

A Campaign which started with a Walk of Justice in July 2009 has achieved an important milestone in the campaign to promote justice for vulnerable people seeking sanctuary in our local area.

It is now a year since Tees Valley Citizens for Sanctuary – an alliance of faith, refugee and citizen groups - met with UKBA North East Director, Jeremy Oppenheim to call on him to put an end to people having to walk up to 12 miles to Stockton Police Station in order to comply with UK Border Agency reporting requirements. Following that meeting, travel expenses were provided for those receiving asylum support, and a pledge given that an alternative venue in Middlesbrough would be secured. During the year various venues had been explored but none was forthcoming.

Following a constructive meeting with Katherine Hierons, UKBA Assistant Director for Teesside on Tuesday, an assurance was given that the system for reporting in Middlesbrough aims to be up and running for the week beginning Oct. 4th.
Katherine Hierons also agreed that she would continue to work with Tees Valley Citizens for Sanctuary to resolve this and other issues. During the meeting, issues were raised concerning the process of detention and removal of vulnerable families.

Barbara Hungin, a Leader from Tees Valley Citizens for Sanctuary, said:
We are encouraged by our recent meeting with Katherine Hierons, and delighted that a year's campaigning has had a positive result. We look forward to future meetings so that we may continue to campaign on behalf of some of the most vulnerable in our community.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Nick Clegg announces end of detention for families at Yarl's Wood

Yesterday at Prime Minister's Questions, Nick Clegg announced the end of child detention at Yarl's Wood immigration removal centre.

This is fantastic news - and a major step forward towards ending child detention altogether. Mr Clegg promised a fuller statement in the near future which would offer more details.

It is less than a year since Canon Jim Rosenthal and Canon Nick Sagovsky were infamously turned away from Yarl's Wood when trying to deliver gifts for the kids dressed as St Nicholas. Now it seems likely that this Christmas there will be no children locked up in Yarl's Wood, or anywhere else for that matter.

Don't forget that you and people like you made this happen: ordinary citizens who persuaded your prospective parliamentary candidates to sign the Sanctuary Pledge, and who won the commitment to end child detention from Nick Clegg, and to set up a working group to advise on alternatives from David Cameron, at the CITIZENS UK Assembly on May 3rd. That was evident in the fact that the MP who asked the question at PMQs, Dr Julian Huppert, was one of sixty MPs who signed the Sanctuary Pledge. He was convinced to do so by a hard-working CITIZENS for Sanctuary team in Cambridge.

Since then leaders from CITIZENS UK have played a key role in the working group set up to advise on alternatives, and have helped to ensure that the coalition government sticks to its promise to end the detention of children for immigration purposes.

Much of the hard work of finding humane and robust alternatives to child detention is still to be done, but thank you for supporting the Sanctuary Pledge campaign thus far. And for now let's celebrate this important step, tell our friends the story of how organised citizens made this happen, and count our blessings that the Immigration Minister will not have to dress up as St Nick this year!