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… http://www.citizensuk.org/2010/12/nick-cleggs-message-to-citizens-uk-on-ending-child-detention/

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: http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2010/dec/01/nick-clegg-announce-timetable-ending-child-detentions

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 that...as 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!

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Things start to move at Becket House reporting Centre

A diverse alliance of faith, refugee and civic groups have been working extremely hard over the past 8 months to improve reporting conditions at Becket House reporting Centre, and it is starting to pay off.

What was an hour and half queue on a Monday morning has now been reduced to 20 minutes as many peoples reporting arrangements have been reduced. Also, to mark Refugee Week, Becket House are hosting the “Saving Sanctuary” photography exhibition which tells the story of the Independent Asylum Commission along side stories of those who have fled persecution and British Citizens and where they find sanctuary to escape the hecticness of everyday life.

In September 2009 a group of leaders carried out a listening campaign which identified the issues which could be acted upon. A report was then presented to Tony Smith the then Regional Director for South East London for UKBA and CITIZENS for Sanctuary entered into a dialogue around reporting issues. Since January 2010 the team, have been meeting with Becket House to look at how they can work together to improve reporting conditions as well as working with members of staff to introduce a more relational culture at Becket House.

One of the biggest wins for the team, was to see peoples reporting frequency reduced. The team heard stories from people reporting up to three times a week. This has now been changed, with many people reporting just once a week. The team was also concerned about those waiting in line for up to an hour and half on Monday mornings come rain or sun. Because people are now reporting less frequently, the queue is considerably shorter and 20 minutes is the longest waiting time that people are experiencing.

Becket House also agreed to provide umbrellas so individuals no longer have to wait in the rain, and agreed for Friends of Becket House to serve free tea to the queue every Monday.

Lucky from DRC, who has been reporting at Becket House for many years is one of the volunteers who serves free tea said that “We serve about 70 cups of tea every Monday. It is very popular and the people are very grateful. It has also started people talking to each other in the queue. People tell me that no one ever looks out for them, so they are glad that we are taking small steps to change their experience of Becket House”.

CITIZENS for Sanctuary has also been working with Becket House to provide a more relational culture in the reporting centre. Regular “friends” events will take place, which will encourage members of staff to meet with those who report and members of the local community to ask questions about Becket House and the role that they carry out.

For more information that is being done with other reporting centre’s around the UK please contact carina.crawford-rolt@cof.org.uk

Immigration Minister Damian Green recognizes Citizens for Sanctuary as one of the most effective lobbying organisations ever.

Speaking at CITIZENS for Sanctuary Garden Party Minister Damian Green gave massive recognition to the work of CITIZENS for Sanctuary at the same time stating that there would be no more children and families detained by the end of summer and certainly not by Christmas 2010.

The event was organized to celebrate the successes of CITIZENS for Sanctuary over the past year and half and to pay tribute to the leaders and partners who have worked together over the past 6 months to bring about an end to detaining children and families for Immigration Reasons.

Around 80 leaders, partners and funders gathered at Westminster Abbey to celebrate and to meet other leaders from around the country. A number of MPs who had signed the pledge were also present as well as Sharon Flannery, Director for London and South East region for UKBA.

Amongst the celebration, there was still politics to be done. CITIZENS wanted to hear when the new coalition government would stop detaining children and families.

Minister Damian Green stated “It was not just a duty but a pleasure to end the practice. This will be a better country when we don't detain children for immigration purposes", he said, adding: "There is no getting away from the fact that if you are a civilised decent human being the sight of young children locked up behind bars should make you feel profoundly uneasy."

Referring to widespread press coverage at Christmas last year over the refusal by Yarl's Wood to allow CITIZENS for Sanctuary leaders to give Christmas presents to the children locked inside, Neil Jameson, Citizens UK executive director), asked Mr Green if he could confirm there would be no children there by next Christmas.

Mr Green also congratulated CITIZENS for Sanctuary campaigners for securing a more humane reception centre at the immigration processing centre at Lunar House in Croydon."I'm pleased to say that when I went there last week it now looks like an entry point for human beings rather than cattle. So that's one significant thing you chalked up even before the issue of children in detention," he told the gathering at Westminster Abbey.

Jeff Sango, leader with CITIZENS for Sanctuary said that “The build up of the campaign against child detention by CITIZENS for Sanctuary , the pre-election debates at the CitizensUK party leaders accountability assembly on 3rd May 2010 and an immediate action to stop child detention by the new coalition government ,through the personal commitment by Minister Damien Green , shows how the power of organising communities by CitizensUK can bring about effective policy changes in government. As a Zimbabwean community leader, I am very excited and encouraged by Minister Damien Green`s immediate response and a call to action by the new coalition government. There can be no better route to good government than constructive engagement between the governed and those who govern them.”

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

CITIZENS for Sanctuary welcomes commitment to end child detention in Queen's Speech

2010 Queen’s Speech: My Government will …end the detention of children for immigration purposes.”

CITIZENS UK and the leaders of the Sanctuary Pledge campaign, having secured the commitment by David Cameron to end child detention, are now looking forward to helping the government to put in place alternatives.

Three days before the election, David Cameron told the 2,500-strong CITIZENS UK General Election Assembly:
“It is not acceptable what happens at the moment [child detention], not acceptable at all. We will look at it closely and I will make sure that CITIZENS UK is part of that process.”

Cameron’s pledge came after a meeting between CITIZENS UK leaders and the Conservative Party leader’s aides a few days before. This followed the year long Sanctuary Pledge campaign, supported by eighteen faith and civil society institutions, which convinced local prospective parliamentary candidates to support policies to end the detention of children and families for immigration purposes.

The Liberal Democrats, who also pledged to end child detention at the CITIZENS UK assembly, were persuaded to include this commitment in their manifesto by a delegation of leaders from CITIZENS UK and the Sanctuary Pledge campaign at their party conference in 2009.

The Immigration Minister, Damian Green MP, recently promised to end the detention of children within months and has announced a wide-ranging review.

Jonathan Cox, Lead Organiser of CITIZENS for Sanctuary and the Sanctuary Pledge campaign, said:

“We are delighted that the coalition government is fulfilling the promise that David Cameron made to us on May 3rd. We look forward to working with the government as part of its working party to ensure that the new policy is family-friendly and results, as swiftly as possible, in the release of captive children. There are many alternatives to child detention. The important thing is that the solution matches the different circumstances of each family. What we need to avoid is a bureaucratic ‘one-size-fits-all’ answer which would create new problems.”

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Time to end the detention of children for immigration purposes

By Dr Austen Ivereigh

Each year the UK Border Agency (UKBA) detains around 1,000 children in immigration removal centres (IRCs). The reason: their parent or parents have been identified for forced removal from the UK.

They range in age from babies to older teenagers, but are mostly in the age range of 10-12 years. Most have spent many years in the UK while their parents’ case for asylum has been processed, and speak with British accents after being educated at British schools.

They have committed no crime. Yet suddenly they are arrested and imprisoned – for weeks at a time, out of sight of the press and the courts. Some spend only a few days in detention at Yarl’s Wood in Bedfordshire, the main IRC with family facilities; others many weeks, or even months. The average is 15 days – described as “unacceptable” by the children’s commissioner for England, Sir Al Aynsley-Green. When they are released, less than half of them are put on a plane back to their parents’ country; most go back to where they were before they were detained. Many are detained more than once.

Mark Easton, the BBC home affairs editor, wrote in April 2009: “What sort of country sends a dozen uniformed officers to haul innocent sleeping children out of their beds; gives them just a few minutes to pack what belongings they can grab; pushes them into stinking caged vans; drives them for hours while refusing them the chance to go to the lavatory so that they wet themselves and locks them up sometimes for weeks or months without the prospect of release and without adequate health services? My country, apparently.”

Almost every child who is detained suffers some injury to their health, physical and mental. Being arrested, transported and locked up is, in itself, traumatic: they recall with horror being woken early in the morning by uniformed officers breaking down the front door, told they have just minutes to pack their most essential belongings, then watching their parents being handcuffed. “Children, even the youngest, are deeply affected and traumatised by these events,” Sir Al reported in 2008. “Many of them have recurring nightmares about them, and they often demonstrate changes in behaviour. They can become persistently withdrawn, cling to their parents, refuse food or wet the bed. Children's best interests appear to me to be entirely invisible during the arrest and escorting process.” Many of these children have put down roots in Britain after many years, and are torn from their friends and belongings. “I speak to these children in places like Yarl's Wood Immigration Removal Centre,” Sir Al wrote, “and they answer my questions in regional British accents acquired over many years of integration into our communities and schools. It seems positively cruel to rip up the hopes and aspirations of these young people, who have become settled and enjoy close ties with friends, teachers and neighbours, due to the historic problems of managing the asylum system inefficiently.”

The children’s commissioner wrote a report on Yarl’s Wood in 2009, noting certain improvements but calling for the practice of child detention to end. “We stand by our contention that arrest and detention are inherently damaging to children, and that Yarl’s Wood is no place for a child”.

The health profession has been queueing up in recent years to denounce the practice. A coalition of royal medical colleges said in a joint report in December 2009 that mental health problems, self-harm and even suicide are some of the consequences of detaining children. They say that the practice exposes children to “significant harm”, a term used to trigger child protection policies.

The Guardian, New Statesman and the Observer have long called for the practice to end. Petitions have been signed and parliamentary motions tabled. Faith and civic leaders and many NGOs have called for an end to the detention of children, which is incompatible with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, and is at odds with the Government’s own statutory commitment to safeguarding the welfare of children.

There is a consensus that the practice must end.

The Government says that it doesn’t want to lock up children but sees no alternative. "If people refuse to go home then detention becomes a necessity,” the immigration minister, Phil Woolas, told the BBC last year. “We don't want to split up families, so we hold children with their parents.”But this assumes that families who have reached the end of their claim process do “refuse to go home”. On the whole, they don’t.

The real purpose of locking up families is to make the removals process more efficient. Bureaucratic considerations are being put before human dignity. Sweden and Australia are among the countries which have now put an end to the practice without in any way undermining the removals process. (Swedish law retains the right to detain children, but for a maximum of three days). In Canada and Australia, schemes in place make detention very unusual - -and compliance with removals are around 90%. When a group of MPs looked into the matter in 2006, they found no evidence that families with children would be less likely to allow themselves to be removed, and concluded that “the most obvious alternative to detention is simply not to detain”. There is a strong case that children who have spent many years in the UK and have been educated in British schools should be given the right to remain in the UK. In August 2004, the Home Office made Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) available to families who had at least one child under 18 in the UK on 2 October 2000 or 24 October 2003, and whose principal applicant had lodged their asylum claim before 2 October 2000. The rationale driving the one-off exercise was both moral and pragmatic: where families have been in the UK for a substantial period of time, their children are likely to have integrated into UK society, may have little or no meaningful links with their country of origin and removal would have a significant impact on their well-being. Claims are now processed much faster and people returned to their countries more quickly. But many of those children who are detained are part of an administrative backlog, the product of the breakdown in the Home Office’s ability to process claims around 2001-2003. They should be given ILR on a similar basis to the 2004 initiative.

In those very rare cases where the Home Office could, hypothetically, demonstrate that there was a significant risk of absconding, there are still alternatives to detention: a bail scheme, for example, where the family seeking sanctuary might agree to live at a certain address, with friends agreeing to act as surety.

As a last resort, electronic tagging of the parents is at least preferable to detaining their children.
The time to end this shameful practice is NOW.

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Success for Tyne and Wear CITIZENS for Sanctuary!

An alliance of faith, citizen and refugee groups have established a relationship with the UKBA Assistant Regional Director North East England, Mr Colin Flynn following a successful negotiation last week. Mr Colin Flynn responded positively to the call for improvements in reporting procedures in the Tyne and Wear region. Currently, individuals who live as far away as Sunderland are forced to report at Northumbria House, North Shields, which is approximately at 24mile round trip. The team gained a commitment from Mr Flynn to develop the prospect of a having a more central reporting centre as well as commitments on improving conditions at the current reporting centre.

Tyne and Wear CITIZENS for Sanctuary presented Colin Flynn with a report card based on findings from a listening campaign that they carried out in November 2009. The findings revealed that for the majority of people reporting at Northumbria House, the location of the reporting centre wasn’t the most convenient. Northumbria House is situated in North Shields, a residential area north of the River Tyne however, most people seeking sanctuary are accommodated in Newcastle or South Shields or even further afield in Sunderland. As the crow flies, South Shields is less than three miles from North Shields however; individuals must travel first into Newcastle before making the trip up to North Shields.

B, from Zimbabwe is due to start studying in September but says the 2 ½ hour round trip that he has to make, will disrupt his studies. B was able to present his story in the meeting with Colin Flynn, which resulted in Mr Flynn agreeing to set up a working group to explore buildings that could be used for a more local reporting centre. Mr Flynn agreed that 2 ½ hours is a disruption to someone’s day and agreed that a more central location would make more sense.

In the meeting, Mr Flynn also agreed to work towards improving conditions at Northumbria House ensuring those eligible for travel funds are aware that they are eligible. This will be done through introducing a more relational culture at Northumbria House encouraging staff to communicate more effectively with those who report.

Introducing a more relational culture, will also encourage staff to inform those with physical disabilities that there is a disabled entrance which previously was not used resulting in many individuals struggling with the steps at the entrance to the building.

Dr Paddy Harrigan leader from CITIZENS for Sanctuary Tyne and Wear said: “The team found Mr Flynn to be very welcoming to talk to us and the meeting was incredibly useful for local citizens and people seeking sanctuary in the area. We look forward to the progress that will be made at Northumbria House, but also to a healthy relationship with the UKBA North East. We now feel that we can do business with them.”

Friday, 26 March 2010

South Wales CITIZENS for Sanctuary enjoy second successful negotiation

CITIZENS for Sanctuary in South Wales is a diverse alliance of churches, community groups, drop-in centres and refugee organisations. On Wednesday, a team of leaders from South Wales CITIZENS for Sanctuary held a meeting with Phillip Smith, UKBA Chief of Operations for Wales and South West England which was a great success.

Phillip Smith, who is also head of the Wales Local Immigration Teams, was met at Trinity Methodist Church in Cardiff by a team of seven including leaders from the church, the local Labour Party, the Tenavus charity and Displaced People in Action. The team of leaders had drawn up an agenda to follow-up on the first negotiation with Mr. Smith back in January but also to discuss some new concerns that have been raised and researched by members of the South Wales group.

South Wales CITIZENS for Sanctuary made real steps to changing the Azure card scheme on Wednesday when Mr. Smith was introduced to Alan Bagshaw, a volunteer with Tenavus the cancer charity based in Wales. Alan and Frances, a leader of CITIZENS for Sanctuary and a trustee of Cytun, have been working hard over the last few weeks to get Tenavus to sign up to the Azure card scheme. Signing up a charity shop to the Azure card was deemed a vitally needed change after the action CITIZENS for Sanctuary held in Cardiff which highlighted the poor quality and expensive items currently available at Azure card stores, especially in comparison to the good value for money available at charity shops. Because of the negotiation, the UKBA is now going into talks with Tenavus to make this a reality and, hopefully, to reduce some of the burdens people seeking sanctuary face on the Section 4 support system.

As well as signing up one of the first charity chains to the Azure card, the South Wales CITIZENS for Sanctuary team conducted research within their communities about the continued problems associated with the card. Synne Hathway from Cardiff University STAR compiled a report on the evidence she had gathered since our last meeting with Mr. Smith. Her work revealed a number of continually problematic stores in Cardiff, whose staff were inadequately trained to use the card and as a result had been causing embarrassment and humiliation to people attempting to use their card in the shops. At the meeting Mr. Smith was informed of these problems and is now going to personally submit the information to the contract provider to address the training issues.

Mr. Smith also agreed to investigate the lack of information amongst schools in South Wales, after Lina, a mother from Congo who is seeking sanctuary, told of the difficulties she has experienced trying to tell her son's school that she is without cash and therefore unable to contribute towards school trips or the fruit and veg scheme at school. The CITIZENS for Sanctuary team is simultaneously going to push the Local Education Authority to better educate school staff about the circumstances for those seeking sanctuary in Wales.

Finally, the negotiation team also raised concerns about the UKBA policy for providing emergency travel. Only one person asked in the survey by STAR knew that they were entitle to travel expenses from their Housing Provider for emergency travel and when we raised this with Mr. Smith he was shocked about the lack of knowledge amongst the communities and the Housing Providers of this contractual obligation. The team managed to convince Mr. Smith to write a statement on behalf of the UKBA about the rights and entitlements for people seeking sanctuary to claim travel expenses. South Wales CITIZENS for Sanctuary looks forward to publishing this on the blog and within the communities in Wales to ensure that people seeking sanctuary are able to access the help that has been promised.

The negotiation was a very productive meeting and has been a good building block for strengthening the relationship between the leaders and the UKBA in South Wales. The team was really pleased to capitalise on the promises made at the first negotiation and to see changes beginning to happen in Wales.

Sr. Ruth O'Neill, a leader with CITIZENS for Sanctuary and volunteer at Asylum Justice, said it was "great to speak to someone who has the power to improve things for us".

Frances Ballin, trustee of Cytun, said that she was really pleased by the outcome and, after the meeting, she concluded that "good team work really has begun to show results".

Tuesday, 9 March 2010


An alliance of faith, citizen and refugee groups is celebrating success after the UK Border Agency’s Regional Director of Operations, Eddy Montgomery, agreed to take action on substandard housing conditions for people seeking sanctuary in Greater Manchester.

Greater Manchester CITIZENS for Sanctuary presented Mr Montgomery and the UKBA’s Head of Contracts, Mark Blackledge, with a report showing the shocking results of a citizen inspection exercise in January, when local people visited houses provided by private accommodation providers on behalf of the UKBA.

The Unhappy Homes report documents some of the horrifying conditions people seeking sanctuary in the North West are forced to endure, and the failure of private housing providers to fulfil their contracts and deal effectively with problems in the houses. In 70% of the houses visited, there was no access to either a washing machine or a laundrette. In 65% of the houses the residents had not been provided with the means to clean their home. Pest infestations were a particular problem in the twenty houses visited – rats were present in 2 houses, mice in 3 houses, ants in 2 houses and cockroaches in 3 houses. In one case featured in the report, a woman resorted to sleeping with the lights on to stop the cockroaches crawling onto her bed. Despite complaining to her housing provider nearly every day for the last four months, nothing has been done to eradicate the cockroach infestation.

In addition to promising swift action to resolve issues such as the cockroach infestation, Mr Montgomery agreed to work with Greater Manchester CITIZENS for Sanctuary to improve the induction process for people who have fled persecution and who move in to Manchester, and to explore the idea of a ‘Sanctuary Mark’ which would be awarded to housing providers who provide good quality housing and customer service.

Reverend John Simmons, a leader with Greater Manchester CITIZENS for Sanctuary, said:
“We were delighted that Mr Montgomery at the UK Border Agency is taking the Unhappy Homes report seriously. He has promised simple practical actions that will make life better for people who live in these homes - for example, ensuring that the housing providers know that they need to provide a lockable bedroom door or a lockable wardrobe so that people can protect their belongings. This is a great achievement for Greater Manchester CITIZENS for Sanctuary.”

Daniel Murphy, of the UNITE trade union and a leader with Greater Manchester CITIZENS Sanctuary, said:
“As a taxpayer, I want my money to be used effectively and at the moment the housing providers are breaking their contractual agreement with the UKBA. It’s a scandal that we’re paying these landlords to do provide such an appalling service. I’m glad the UKBA is now listening to our concerns and we are going to monitor the complaints system over the next few months to ensure housing defects, infestations and faulty appliances are being dealt with quickly and effectively.”

Eddy Montgomery, Director of Operations for the UK Border Agency in the North West, said:

"We are always keen to hear the views of our stakeholders and I am pleased with the constructive nature of discussions with CITIZENS for Sanctuary. The UK Border Agency treats asylum seekers with dignity and respect and as such we require accommodation providers to comply with a comprehensive statement of requirements for all accommodation which includes an obligation to comply with Local Authorities housing standards.”

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Education is the way forward to safeguard our long term future of providing sanctuary

An alliance of 18 teachers, education consultants, ex immigration officers and migrant leaders came together last week in the first step to ensure that: No child is to leave education without an understanding of our past and present role of providing sanctuary and that they are given an opportunity to develop their own minds in the great migration debate.

"The Migration Conundrum" is an exciting new resource being produced by London CITIZENS, a partnership of CITIZENS for Sanctuary and the Schools Alliance. The resource aims to bring compelling, discursive and active teaching and learning around the issue to every classroom. We believe that every young person should be entitled to experience a high quality, evidence-based exploration of this issue.

The resource is designed in a flexible resource to teach this issue, but also associated issue to fit the curriculum. There are four key parts to draw from:
Real Lives - Case studies of some of our young leaders.
Activate - Ideas, activities and resources to bring the issue alive in the classroom.
You Can Tool Kit - A tool kit to help students make a difference and take action.
Evidence Bank - A bank of supporting facts, figures and evidence.

The team will bring a wealth of skills, experience and knowledge to the resource as well as painting a clear picture of the situation.

Jon, 27, fled Zimbabwe 2 year ago "It's a shame that the media tend to tell a negative story when it come to issues around sanctuary and immigration. This resource will help students understand what individuals really go through and who they can become whilst seeking sanctuary in the UK. It will encourage them to make up their own minds, and hopefully take some action."

The resource, is currently being trialled in 4 of our London schools and will be available for the start of the new year 2010/2011 however, if you would like to trial it in your school please contact carina.crawford-rolt@cof.org.uk

Monday, 8 February 2010

Cold, Confused and Cashless: South Wales Citizens celebrate successful negotiation with the UKBA to help bring the cashless out of the cold'

Before Christmas South Wales CITIZENS for Sanctuary, an alliance of faith, citizen and refugee groups, held an action in Cardiff to test out the new Azure card and to monitor the impact of the card on people seeking sanctuary. Local communities formed Citizen Monitoring Teams to assess the impact of the new Section 4 payment card on dignity, stigma, travel, access to food, clothing and healthcare, ease of use and value for money. The Citizen Monitoring Teams who braved sub-zero temperatures for the action found the card to be poor value for money, inadequate to meet the needs of families and unacceptably difficult to use.

The action was a media success and the inadequate provision for people seeking sanctuary on Section 4 was covered by the Western Mail, BBC Radio Wales, BBC Radio Cymru and on BBC1 Wales 6 o’clock News.

The findings of that action have now been collated and published in the South Wales CITIZENS for Sanctuary report, ‘Cold, Confused and Cashless’. And, on Friday 29th January Mr. Philiip Smith, UKBA Regional Chief of Operations for Wales and the South West, met with a team of leaders from South Wales CITIZENS for Sanctuary to discuss possible solutions to the many problems they had been recording since the introduction of the Azure card to Wales in early December. The CITIZENS for Sanctuary team in South Wales presented Mr. Smith with the 'Cold, Confused and Cashless' report which outlined their requests to address some of the pressing concerns around the Azure card.

The South Wales CITIZENS for Sanctuary negotiation with Mr. Smith was a cause for celebration. The team was really pleased to hear that Mr. Smith would work with them to sign up local charities shops and businesses to the Azure card, providing they meet UKBA requirements. He also agreed to join CITIZENS for Sanctuary to meet with Cardiff Bus to discuss signing them up to the Azure card scheme in Wales. This would make an enormous difference to people like Constance and her family who have to survive on the Azure card. Constance said “trying to look after my two young boys with no access to the bus is so hard. I was forced to walk back in the driving rain over three miles with my young children and our shopping bags which left me and my family ill for several days. All because I couldn’t get on the bus. So now I am really pleased that Mr. Smith has now agreed to work with us on the issue.”

Sister Ruth O'Neil and Edie who is seeking sanctuary from Zimbabwe, both leaders from South Wales CITIZENS for Sanctuary, raised concerns about staff training. Edie’s powerful testimony about the loss of dignity she feels using the Azure card, especially when shop assistants don't recognise the card or she is unnecessarily forced to show ID, moved Mr. Smith to agree to work on reminding stores of their obligation to train staff. Mr. Smith even agreed to meet with Cardiff City Council to discuss children accessing school trips if their parents are on the Azure card. It was a very successful morning and gave citizens and people seeking sanctuary the chance to hold the UKBA to account and to look together at solutions for some of the problems associated with the Azure card.

However, the team was most impressed by Mr. Smith’s agreement to build a relationship with South Wales CITIZENS for Sanctuary. Reynette Roberts, who chaired the meeting, said:

"This is a really positive outcome and I am looking forward to working with the UKBA to address the concerns of local citizens and people seeking sanctuary in Wales".

Tuesday, 26 January 2010


An alliance of faith, citizen and refugee groups is celebrating success after the UK Border Agency and Nottingham City Council responded positively to their campaign for local reporting for local people seeking sanctuary, at a meeting in the Council House on 22nd January.

Nottingham CITIZENS for Sanctuary gained a commitment from the UK Border Agency’s Regional Director, Gail Adams, and the Leader of Nottingham City Council, Jon Collins, to work with them to develop the prospect of a local reporting facility in Nottingham. A new facility in Nottingham would help the hundreds of people living in Nottingham who currently have to make the regular 32 mile round-trip to a reporting centre in Loughborough.

Nottingham CITIZENS for Sanctuary presented Gail Adams with a report entitled ‘Signing for Justice’, based on a sample of over 50 people who have to travel from Nottingham to Loughborough to report to the Border Agency. The report found that the journey caused serious difficulties for some vulnerable people and that the burden for assisting people to reach Loughborough often falls on local residents who provide lifts or expenses.

Also in attendance at the meeting were people seeking sanctuary for whom the regular trip to Loughborough is a reality. Christian, who fled persecution in the Democratic Republic of Congo and now lives in Nottingham, told Gail Adams that he had resorted to begging in order to raise the bus fare to Loughborough. Vera, from Malawi, explained that she had to pay for a childminder every month because her appointment in Loughborough requires her to leave the house before the children have gone to school.

The proposal for a local reporting facility in Nottingham had attracted high profile support from Alan Simpson MP, the Bishop of Sherwood, the Bishop of Nottingham, and the Leader of Nottingham City Council, and over 150 local people had demonstrated their support when a mock reporting centre had been set up in the Market Square in November 2009.

Gail Adams explained that the establishment of a local reporting facility in Nottingham would not be easy, but that she was prepared to explore the idea. In the meantime, she also committed the UK Border Agency to providing more flexibility to alter reporting times in order to minimise disruption to their family lives, and to consider piloting a voice recognition system in Nottingham as an alternative to travelling to Loughborough for vulnerable people.

Rev’d Karen Rooms, a Leader from Nottingham CITIZENS for Sanctuary, said:
“We were delighted that Gail Adams came to listen to what we had to say – and even more delighted that she has agreed to work with us to develop a local reporting facility in Nottingham so that people seeking sanctuary here do not have to travel to Loughborough.”

Cllr Jon Collins, Leader of Nottingham City Council, said:
“It makes sense for a city the size of Nottingham, that is proud to welcome those who have fled persecution and seek sanctuary in the UK, to have its own reporting facility. We will work with the UK Border Agency and Nottingham CITIZENS for Sanctuary to see what we can do to make this happen.”

Gail Adams, Regional Director of the UK Border Agency, said:
“I was pleased to be invited to meet with Nottingham CITIZENS for Sanctuary. Reporting is an essential part of our immigration system and offers an alternative to detention. Foreign nationals who are genuinely in need of our protection deserve a quick decision so that they can learn English, get a job and look forward to a safe, positive future. Equally, those who don’t need sanctuary in the UK are expected to leave the country as soon as possible.

“When we become aware of difficulties in reporting, we will work to overcome these problems. That’s why we are looking into alternatives for reporting in the Nottingham area. But it remains the responsibility of the individual to stay in contact with the UK Border Agency and reporting centres are an important part of this process.”

Monday, 18 January 2010


An alliance of faith, citizen and refugee groups conducted an inspection of the homes allocated to people seeking sanctuary across Greater Manchester on Saturday 16th January to identify and highlight poor treatment at the hands of private housing providers with government contracts.

Local citizens from more than 20 organisations participated in the Greater Manchester CITIZENS for Sanctuary campaign which they hope will result in decent housing for people seeking sanctuary from the three private housing providers. Happy Homes, United Property Management and Priority Properties North West are contracted by the UK Border Agency to provide housing to people seeking sanctuary in the North West of England according to agreed standards and response times for repairs.

But a listening campaign run by Greater Manchester CITIZENS for Sanctuary has revealed that housing problems are consistently ignored. These have included a cockroach infestation, a raw sewage leak, overcrowding and broken heating and hot water systems in the middle of winter.

Eve, from war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo, is living in a house swarming with cockroaches. They are present throughout the house, including in the kitchen and in her bedroom. She keeps all her belongings zipped up in plastic bags as they get into everything, and she is too afraid to use the kitchen for cooking. Eve and another resident have reported the problem repeatedly for 8 months but her housing provider has not done anything to deal with the cockroaches.

Frustrated at seeing vulnerable people in their community being treated unfairly, residents from across Greater Manchester joined together to form their own Citizen Housing Inspection Teams to assess the quality of housing against the UK Border Agency’s own guidelines. They have written to the UK Border Agency’s Regional Director, Jo Liddy, requesting a meeting to discuss the results of their Citizen Housing Inspections.

Father Peter Conniffe, priest at Our Lady of Dolours in Salford and a leader with Greater Manchester CITIZENS for Sanctuary, said:

“As local citizens, we want to make sure that our taxes are being spent wisely and that we are not giving lots of money to irresponsible landlords who force slum housing on people who have come to the UK seeking sanctuary. The three housing providers have a responsibility to meet the terms of their contracts. We hope that Jo Liddy, UKBA Regional Director, will meet with us to find ways that we can sort this problem out.”

Esther, a Zimbabwean doctor who fled the Mugabe regime, explained:

“We had a very old toilet in my house which was always breaking. They finally replaced it after two years but didn’t fit it properly. In October, sewage water started leaking through the ceiling into our living room. We kept on reporting the problem but we were left in this situation for an entire month. Eventually they came and fixed the pipe but did nothing about the soiled carpet. I don’t want any special favours – but nobody likes living in a house that smells of sewage.”