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.”

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