Friday 4 November 2011

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:

Tuesday 14 December 2010

Nick Clegg's message to CITIZENS UK

Over the past year, you have all been working extremely hard to end the detention of children and families for immigration purposes. Many of you were with us at the historic event of May 3rd, when the party leaders pledged to us to end this cruel practice. The Coalition Government then announced its commitment to end the detention of children.

In July, Immigration Minister Damian Green MP confirmed their commitment to us, by stating that there would be no child in detention by Christmas.

Ending this practice not only needed a change in policy, but also a massive shift in culture. Something that needed time, and patience!

You will also be aware that back in August, CITIZENS UK established a Taskforce that would look at safe, sustainable and humane alternatives to Child Detention. Although originally set up to look at the most difficult of cases, those families who refused to comply, the Taskforce put forward recommendations for the whole ensured return route. Please click here to download a copy of the report.

Last week, the recommendations of the Taskforce were submitted to the Deputy Prime Minister’s Office.

The Deputy Prime Minster Nick Clegg was due at our South London CITIZENS Assembly on December 2nd at Queen Elizabeth Hall. Unfortunately, at the last minute he was called out of the Country. Luckily, he was able to send us a video message which stated that they would be making an announcement before Christmas as to how and when Child Detention would end for good. Please see here for the video message…

There was also massive recognition for CITIZEN UK and all those who had been involved in the Sanctuary Pledge. We were also blessed with the presence of Sarah Teather MP Minister for Children, who confirmed that there will be an announcement before Christmas.

Last Thursday’s Guardian carried an article which gives more background to the process:

The next step is for the Deputy Prime Minister to announce how and when they will end Child Detention. We are expecting this to happen next week, and will keep you informed as to how and when.

Thursday 14 October 2010

CITIZENS for Sanctuary Away Day

Dear all,

On Saturday, CITIZENS for Sanctuary held an away day for leaders to help decide the priorities for the next 12 months and to start conversations about how CITIZENS for Sanctuary will function after the initial funding runs out at the end of 2011.

It was a productive afternoon and we are grateful for the leaders who joined us from the Tees Valley, West Midlands, Solent, Tyne and Wear, Plymouth, Greater Manchester and Nottingham Regional Campaign Action Teams as well as members from across London CITIZENS and the New Citizen Academy. However, we are aware that not everyone could be there and so this email briefly outlines some of the decisions and strategies that came out of Saturday’s event.

As with all Community Organising, we started with a discussion of power. How can CITIZENS for Sanctuary build its power to make us more effective at bringing about the change that we want? Each RCAT and chapter of London CITIZENS needs to consider this at a local level – whether the team needs to be more diverse, build relationships with the local media, recruit more volunteers or have their organizer run more training with them.

We also considered what issues we should be prioritised over the next 12 months. Each RCAT and team should be setting its own agenda but it was agreed that pooling our power makes us more effective and that having a joined up strategy around the problem of legal advice should be a top priority going forward this year. Leaders also considered issues around the transition period for people once they have been granted status and how the cuts will impact us locally, for instance in West Midlands the Council have decided to withdraw its provision of housing for people seeking sanctuary.

Finally, looking ahead to the next two years, the group considered the future of CITIZENS for Sanctuary. It was overwhelming felt that CITIZENS for Sanctuary should not fold at the end of this current funding stream (end of 2011) because of the effective work we have done so far, from a new reporting centre in Tees Valley to housing action in Manchester and of course ending the detention of children and families at the national level. However, leaders recognised the need for CITIZENS for Sanctuary to be learning and evolving. So, the plans for the future will consider the need to be more regionalised, to expand RCATS (some teams want to develop sponsoring committees for future broad-based organisations like London CITIZENS), to build more relationships between RCATS and chapters of CITIZENS UK and to find more nationalised action that has an over-arching target but that can be carried out at the local level.

We hope this is a helpful update. If you have any additional thoughts please email us. We have interesting times ahead so it’s important that teams are looking to develop their own unique plans for the work of CITIZENS for Sanctuary in each region. We need to build on the many successes of last 18 months and make sure we continue to develop new leaders and take on more action.

Best wishes,


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.