Monday, 17 January 2011

Glasgow CITIZENS for Sanctuary celebrate a positive first meeting with UKBA Regional Director for Scotland

An alliance of faith, community, trade union and refugee groups in Glasgow celebrated a milestone on Monday in their campaign to make the UK Border Agency in Scotland more accountable.

Glasgow Citizens for Sanctuary, which includes members from Church of Scotland, Justice and Peace Scotland, Roman Catholic Church in Scotland, Action of Churches Together in Scotland and Quaker Meeting House Glasgow, met for the first time with the Regional Director of the UK Border Agency in Scotland and Northern Ireland, Phil Taylor to set up a series of meetings to review their concerns with the asylum system.

Citizens for Sanctuary aims to build a fair, effective, humane and transparent system for those who seek sanctuary in the UK, based on the recommendations of Independent Asylum Commission, a comprehensive review of the whole asylum system that concluded in summer 2008.

In their first meeting, delegates from Glasgow Citizens for Sanctuary won a commitment from Mr Taylor to attend a meeting to discuss their practical proposals for reform and heard his interest in finding constructive solutions to existing concerns. “I’m the man responsible if anything goes wrong in Scotland”, Mr Taylor explained. “If there’s something we can do, we’re very happy to do it”.

The next meeting will be held outside the UK Border Agency offices to ensure that those who are going through the asylum system can attend and share their stories.“This has been a sticking point,” explained Pol Yates, who has been coordinating the group. “We were originally meant to meet in March last year, but the meeting was cancelled. Since then we’ve been trying to get Phil Taylor to a meeting outside of Brand Street. We’re glad he’s now said he’s very happy to meet us outside”.

Glasgow Citizens for Sanctuary first wrote to Phil Taylor at the end of 2009, following their Which?-style monitoring of a new payment card (‘Azure’), which was introduced for those on Section 4 support. From their findings the team produced a report with several recommendations to improve the system. Monday’s meeting was set up in December 2010 after the intervention of high-profile supporters, including the Archbishop of Glasgow, Bishop-President of the Justice and Peace Commission, the Convenor of the Church of Scotland’s Church and Society Council, the Scottish Parliament’s Cross-Party Group on Refugees and MP Ian Murray.

Glasgow Citizens for Sanctuary will meet again with Mr Taylor in the next couple of weeks to discuss the group’s practical proposals for improving the Azure card. This includes broadening the card so it can be used in charity shops so that people can buy big items like winter coats on a budget of £5 a day.”That’s something I’d be very happy to work on”, said Mr Taylor, “and I know there are other issues you have raised.”

“I’m feeling positive”, Rev David McLachlan, Minster of Langside Church and member of Church of Scotland’s Church and Society Council, who chaired the meeting said. “We made a good start.” A member of the group, who fled violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo, agreed, “I’m happy after that meeting because I now believe Mr Taylor will give us what we want. I didn’t expect such a welcome or such a positive meeting.”

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

CITIZENS for Sanctuary take on cowboy legal advisors.

CITIZENS for Sanctuary made the headlines before Christmas with our citizen action to root out the cowboy lawyers who are exploiting people seeking sanctuary. The piece, featuring Barbara Nalumu, a leader in the Ugandan community and with South London CITIZENS, went out on ITV London News and you can watch it here:

The issue of poor legal advice was raised repeatedly during the Independent Asylum Commission and came up at several our immigration workshops where CITIZENS worked with local trusted lawyers to provide a workshop for good advice and training. We want to identify the cowboy lawyers and, with the power of citizen action, we want to root out the lawyers and advisors taking advantage of people trapped in the immigration. Already, we have heard some horrifying stories about fake visas, incorrect advice and advisors charging extortionate sums of money to the most vulnerable members of our community.

So, at the South London CITIZENS Assembly, we launched our response to the testimonies of leaders who had suffered at the hands of cowboy immigration advisors. We are working name and shame poor legal advisors and work to build a positive relationship with those providing a good service. Not only do we want to take these unscrupulous advisors head on, we also want to train our leaders to be better at spotting issues and sign-posting people through the complicated immigration system.

Every good organizing action is judged on the reaction and we are seeing this campaign start to cause ripples through the sector. We are developing a relationship with the Office for Immigration Services and met last week with the Commissioner, Suzanne McCarthy. But we have also had the backing of Immigration Minister, Damian Green, who said "I am glad that London Citizens are going to play a part on driving the con artists out of the system." You can see the full interview here: