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?

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