Friday, 7 December 2012

Lizzie’s experience with STAR- Student Action for Refugees

Leeds University hosts a society of Student Action for Refugees (STAR), a nationwide network of student groups campaigning for refugees and asylum seekers. Funded by various grants and donations, STAR runs projects such as the Bike Project, in which they fix broken bikes to give to the refugee and asylum community, as well as campaigning to raise awareness. The biggest project in Leeds is their Common Conversation classes with asylum seekers and refugees, which one of our Press Gang members Lizzie Scourfield attended to get a greater insight into their work. In her article Lizzie discusses how “Societies like STAR are a fantastic example of projects that work both to integrate and support the refugee and asylum community.” Lizzie expressed that after her excellent experience she would highly recommend any student to get involved. To read more about what Lizzie did with STAR and the friends she made check out the link below to Press Gangs Winter Newsletter:

Book Reviews, By Peter Richardson

Read some very interesting book reviews written by Peter Richardson, Director at LASSN. Peter discusses two very different books on the topic of asylum seekers and refugees; a children’s book that Peter describes as a “fantastically simple read that does not dwell on the difficulties or horrors of asylum seekers.” As well as an academic book, that presented some extremely interesting and unique views with regards to “refugees’ experience of volunteering, and how this has not always resulted in beneficial outcomes.”

To read Peter’s book reviews in full visit the Press Gang Winter Magazine at:

Award winning children's book

The Unforgotten Coat – By Frank Cottrell Boyce

Refugees, Capitalism and the British State: Implications for social workers, volunteers and activists - By Tom Vickers

Friday, 30 November 2012

Leveson inquiry - concerns about reporting of ethnic minorities, immigrants and asylum seekers

A few quotes from the report published today:

"When assessed as a whole, the evidence of discriminatory, sensational or unbalanced reporting in relation to ethnic minorities, immigrants and/or asylum seekers, is concerning."

"[The conclusion that] Muslims, migrants, asylum seekers and gypsies/travellers ... targets of press hostility and/or xenophobia in the press, was supported by the evidence seen by the Inquiry."

"...some newspapers expressed a consistently clear view on the harm caused by migrants and/or asylum seekers (often conflating the two) and ensured that any coverage of the issue fit within that narrative."

"It is important to reiterate that the evidence was not all bad: there were many examples of titles with responsible and positive reporting on these issues, and even within the section of the press identified for criticism, there was evidence showing a complicated picture."

Judge for yourself by reading the section on ethnic minorities, immigrants and asylum seekers here

Friday, 26 October 2012

Happy story to end your week.

Below is a link to a really nice and happy story to give you a smile at the end of your week.

It seemed truly miraculous and a really lovely life story not often heard in the news:

Join the new "Our Day" Campaign?

Link Below:

Friday, 19 October 2012

What do you think?

Below is a link to an interesting article I was interested what our readers think:

  •  How important is langauge and terms when immigrants are discussed in the media?
  • Will these terms every change? 
  • How do they influence stereotypes?

Have a read and comment what you think?


Friday, 5 October 2012

Blog waiting for new co-ordinator

This blog has been quiet for a while now. That's because our previous co-ordinator accepted a place on a Masters degree. I've had over 10 students interested in volunteering to take on various roles in press gang so normal service should be resumed shortly.

Peter Richardson, Director, LASSN

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

New One Planet Leeds Newsletter Available NOW!

Finally, and (just about) in time for Refugee Week, the latest Summer Edition of One Planet Leeds is ready for reading! We've got some paper copies to distribute, but we've also created a very web-friendly edition - even with an additional article - that we're publishing today.


So have a look at the new edition and let us know what you think! There's also a very helpful guide to the different Refugee Week events happening over the next few days at the back of the newsletter.

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Female Asylum Seekers Failed by the UKBA

Over the past few days, we've seen a huge amount of media coverage of Women for Refugee Women's brilliant report detailing the UKBA and Home Office's failure to support and protect women seeking asylum in the UK.

The reported revealed that 74% of women seeking asylum in the UK are refused at first decision, despite the fact that 50% of all female applicants were victims of rape, and another 50% have experienced arrest or imprisonment.

Of those who were refused asylum, two thirds were consequently made destitute. A further 56% of these individuals had to sleep rough, 16% experienced sexual violence and 18% were forced into unpaid labour for food or shelter.

The psychological impact of both detention and destitution is hard to ignore. Half of the women questioned for the report had thought about killing themselves whilst battling with our fickle asylum system.

This is not a UK specific phenomena; female asylum seekers all across the EU are faced with asylum systems that continually fail to acknowledge and protect their rights as weomne. In an article written today by Asylum Aid's Communications and Public Affairs Office, Russell Hargrave, the multiple discrepancies in asylum legislation across European countries were blamed for the EU's inability to provide sufficient support and sanctuary for women fleeing persecution:
Among the nine states researched - the UK, Belgium, France, Hungary, Italy, Malta, Romania, Spain, and Sweden - there are glaring discrepancies in national asylum practice. The protection available to women in one state may be wholly absent across the border. Spain, for example, fails to recognise trafficking as a form of persecution.Neither is Forced Genital Mutilation (FGM) always recognised as persecution in France, Malta, and Romania. 
On a strategic level, fewer than half the states have adopted gender guidelines so are missing a crucial tool for guiding asylum decision-makers on gender-related claims. One country, Romania, fails entirely to publish asylum statistics broken down by gender, despite legal obligations to do so.
For more information about the report, see the following articles:
Women for Refugee Women - 'Refused' (full report).
The Scotsman - 'Asylum 'needs to address rape issue' - 28/5/2012
Left Foot Forward - 'Poor standards persist across Europe for women seeking asylum' - 30/5/2012
Women's Hour, 28/5/2012 (interview withe a woman who was refused asylum in UK)

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Refugee Week Exhibition

In celebration of Refugee Week this year, Invisible Curators will be
holding an exhibition entitled “Home” from the 19th to the 24th of
June in Kirkgate Market.

We will be bringing together artworks from professional artists as
well as from refugees themselves to explore how this notion of “Home”
can help us relate to the experiences of refugees in the UK.

We will present these artworks alongside accurate information about
refugee issues as a means of engaging the general public in thinking
about whether refugees are treated fairly in the UK by the government,
the media and society as a whole.

We will also use the exhibition space to host live music acts and fun
activities to celebrate the passion and creativity that are universal
to all of us, no matter what our background or legal status may be.

If you are interested in contributing your art work, your talent or
your time as a volunteer please email James and Georgina on

Bernard Mboueyeu Update

Last minute legal representation and intervention from many supporters across the country managed to stop Bernard Mboueyeu from being deported last night. 

However, Bernard remains in detention, and is still at risk of another deportation order from the Home Office. We'll keep you updated with any changes to Bernard's circumstances. 

Monday, 21 May 2012

Stop the Deportation of Bernard Mboueyeu

Information and text c/o the National Coalition of Anti-Deportation Campaigns: 

Bernard Mboueyeu is a national of Cameroon and a resident of Sheffield where he lives with his family. He is currently in immigration detention and due to be forcibly removed from the UK on Kenya Airways flight KQ101 from Heathrow at 20:00 hrs today Monday 21st May. Please help us fight to stop his deportation.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Fear and Loathing: Australia's fear of the 'immigrant other.'

Yesterday's Guardian featured an excellent comment piece from Saman Shad on the experiences of migrants in Australia. If you follow coverage of asylum and immigration related news stories, it is painfully clear to see that certain sectors of the Australian media are obsessed with the supposed 'threat' posed by migrants to the country, especially the asylum seeking 'boat people.' My google alerts, emails highlighting any news stories that feature asylum or immigration key words, mainly come from Australian media sources and are often the source of much of my anger.

Featuring much of the inflammatory language and vitriol that we at Press Gang try to confront, the Australian media and government have created what Shad defines as a 'hazy line' between refugees, asylum seekers and immigrants. Rather than trying to shed light on the reality of the situation in Australia, this murky approach only works to heighten an unsubstantiated fear of a generalised immigrant 'other':
Most migrants arrive in Australia through approved channels and not all asylum seekers are boat people. Of the 11,491 people seeking asylum in Australia in the period of 2010-11, 6,316 arrived by air. This means less than half arrived by boat. In fact, asylum seekers arriving by boat make up just 2.7% of the total migrant intake into Australia yet their perceived threat to the community is greatly exaggerated, with 72% of Australians concerned about asylum seekers coming to Australia by boat.
It is exactly this sort of confusion that enables prejudice and bigotry to flourish amongst communities. And it is exactly this sort of confusion that both the government and media should be trying to clarify.

Before the Leveson Enquiry, I'm sure much of the populist British media and government would be quick to saddle the high horse of superiority and laugh at their Australian counterparts. With submissions of evidence from the Migrant Rights Network, Refugee Council and other refugee rights-related organisations highlighting the pertinent issue of poor and inflammatory reportage of asylum and immigration news stories, the British press is hardly free from blame. It only takes a quick search on the Press Complaints Commission website to see the number of cases taken up against the Telegraph and Mail for the misrepresentation of asylum and immigration related stories.

Even comments on stories regarding the rights of asylum seekers in the UK or even more generally, the rights of migrants in Europe, are frequently full of hate-fuelled vitriol that goes unchecked and unchallenged. The 'discussion' that ensued after this Sky News article (about the shocking deportation of 100 Tamils to Sri Lanka despite serious warnings from human rights organisations) found itself eloquently expressed in the loaded language that the PCC claims to challenge.

When media outlets become bastions of both the government and corporations, citizens become the victims of a certain level of cultural conditioning; we read off the crib sheets of some of the most privileged members of society who have entrenched ulterior motives. We then find ourselves in a situation where 72% of Australians are concerned about asylum seekers coming to Australia by boat whilst only 2.7% of the total migrant intake into Australia actually arrive by boat; the media has fabricated a terrifying hologram of the 'asylum seeker'.

If governments and media continue to purport a fear of the abstract immigrant 'other', then we must humanise the abstract. Censorship is never the answer. In fact, the only solution can be exposure. Through the real stories of individuals seeking sanctuary, we can hope to dissolve the shadowy spectre of the fabricated immigrant 'other.'

Monday, 30 April 2012

Stop the Deportation of Roseline Akhalu - Update

Watch this small news item on Rose from ITV Calendar, featuring interviews with Rose herself and MP for Leeds North West Fabian Hamilton!

Don't forget to sign the petition and email Teresa May demanding that Rose is given indefinite leave to remain. Deportation to Nigeria is a death sentence for Rose; everyone has right to life.

Sunday, 29 April 2012

Sanctuary Weekend on BBC Radio Leeds

The wonderful Abbe Smith from Leeds City of Sanctuary and Said from Leeds Refugee Forum have been interviewed on BBC Radio Leeds' breakfast programme hosted by Johnny I'Anson! Brilliantly dispelling asylum myths, promoting Leeds as a City of Sanctuary and generally raising awareness, Abbe and Said did Leeds proud.

The interview is from Sunday 29th April and starts at 1:10:00 in the recording. 

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Stop the Deportation of Roseline Akhalu

We've just received an email from the campaigning group No-Deportations, about the potential deportation of Roseline Akhalu. Please take a moment to sign the online petition or send an email to the Home Office demanding that they do not deny Roseline the critical medical help she needs. 

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Le Havre at Hyde Park Picture House

Set in a dusky port city in France, directed by a Swiss film-maker, and following a story of a young Algerian boy trying to reach the UK, Le Havre's tender story of friendship and solidarity across borders  is a lesson to us all. Catch a showing at the Hyde Park Picture House this week.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Finding Freedom

Freedom from Torture's Write to Life programme, a creative writing project that uses poetry and literature as routes out of traumatic pasts, have created an excellent short film - Finding a Voice.

The creative arts, in all their forms, allow individuals to approach difficult issues from new angles. Terrible pasts can become comprehendible, forgotten memories remembered, and new paths written. The success of Write to Life is testament to the incredible power of literature.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Only The Oppressed

It only takes ten minutes to watch this brilliant short film, detailing the experiences of three men fleeing the Iraqi-Kurdistan conflict to find sanctuary in Britain. In a striking portrayal of the precarious lives of three young men, Only the Oppressed is an important reminder of how the UK's asylum process is far from simple. In a poignant moment of clarity at the end of the film, surrounded by the pomp and circumstance of a 'citizenship' ceremony, one of the Kurdish men explains the final ironic hollowness of 'citizenship' (or 'naturalisation' in the words of the UKBA).
"They won't give you permission to stay until you've gone mental. When we can't be bothered with life anymore, then we're granted permission to stay."

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

An Easter Eggstravaganza!

The Refugee Council are organising a lovely Easter Event on the 7th April at the Heart Centre, Headingley, Leeds. Join them between 12-4pm on Easter Saturday and enjoy cake, tea and music whilst supporting a brilliant organisation.

Young People Seeking Safety: the network finds its feet in Manchester

The STAR (Students Action for Refugees) Northern Conference was held on March 17th at Manchester University. The event discussed and emphasised the experiences of both young people claiming asylum and refugees in the UK and informed us all of the reality and issues that young people seeking asylum encounter. The key-note speeches and workshops were particularly useful because they were led by a wide range of people with varying insights on the asylum system. They consisted of practitioners, campaigners and legal experts who all have experience either working and campaigning in this area or seeking asylum in the UK themselves.
Justin Nsenglyuma of Refugee Action addressing the STAR conference
(c) Lora Evans//PressGangLeeds
The event began with a warm welcome by Emma Williams of STAR National and a thank you to Manchester University’s STAR group for hosting and organising the conference. Justin Nsenglyuma from Refugee Action then gave a whistle-stop, explanatory tour of the complicated asylum process and also drew attention to the unhelpful and irresponsible reporting by the mainstream media who regularly fail to make any distinction between people coming to the UK as immigrants or economic migrants, and people who flee their home countries and claim asylum here.

Lisa Matthews from Young People Seeking
Safety (c) Lora Evans//PressGangLeeds
Lisa Matthews from Young People Seeking Safety explained how the asylum system particularly affects young people. She stressed that a significant problem is caused by a person having to fit into a category of the 1951 Refugee Convention in order to receive protection. In many cases the children and young people themselves do not know exactly what circumstances led to their parents or guardians sending them out of the country, and yet this information is demanded by the Home Office. Another massive problem is that the UK Border Agency regularly disputes the age of children, treats them as adults and occasionally detains them with adults. She strongly advocated that the interviewing of young people needs to be child centred; shorter, with more breaks, evidence given the benefit of doubt and with legal representation always present. Lisa concluded by reading a moving poem by a young writer from the English Pen exiled writers’ group about his journey and experiences.

I attended two workshops during the day; the first, ‘Personal Testimony’, was led by a member of WAST (Woman Asylum Seekers Together). She spoke of her journey to the UK with her daughter and the problems they encountered particularly with the Home Office not understanding why they hadn’t brought ‘evidence’ with them. She provided much information about WAST, how the women support each other and share their stories. This was followed by a lively question and answer session. The second workshop, ‘Welfare, Support and Destitution’ led by James Jolly from The Children's Society, looked at how the problem of destitution has been exacerbated rather than alleviated, primarily by the removal of the right to work in 2002.
(c) Lora Evans//PressGangLeeds

The last speech was given by Anita Hurrell from Coram Children’s Legal Centre. Her talk was particularly helpful for those of us without legal knowledge and demonstrated how significantly the law impacts on individuals’ cases. It was interesting to hear her thoughts on the potential for the development of law in the areas of humanitarian protection and discretionary leave, in order to protect more people.

Finally a panel discussion was held with the title 'Access to university is becoming increasingly unequal: where do asylum seekers fit in?’ The struggles people face going to university were talked about, especially the difficulty of demonstrating prior education level and the high international fees asylum seekers have to pay. It was interesting that Manchester University is exceptional for not charging these extortionate fees and the discussion continued to focus on how students can lobby other universities to follow suit.
Final panel discussion (c) Lora Evans//PressGangLeeds
The whole event was really interesting and useful for students and activists who wanted to learn more about young people and the asylum system, where developments are being made and what we can do to create positive change.

By Lora Evans 

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Our "Proud Tradition?"

The UK has a proud tradition of providing a place of safety for genuine refugees. However, we are determined to refuse protection to those who do not need it, and we will take steps to remove those who have no valid grounds to stay here. (UKBA, 2012)

This is an excerpt from the UKBA's introductory page to 'Claiming Asylum in the UK.' In their own words, the UK only protects those it considers to be 'genuine' refugees; supposedly, this is how we have formulated our 'proud tradition' of providing sanctuary to thousands of people fleeing persecution and prejudice. Today, however, the Equality and Human Rights Commission published their review of human rights in the UK. Whilst there were some complements, the criticisms were far more revealing.

Human rights, by their very nature, are applicable to everyone regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, wealth, or any other 'variable.' It is not hard to see how this often does not translate into practice. The EHRC highlighted a multitude of marginalised groups in the UK who - due to what can only be described as difference - have limited access to supposedly 'universal' human rights. Some of the main groups noted by the EHRC were illegal immigrants, suspected terrorists and gypsy and traveller communities.

According to their report, "Immigration procedures can favour administrative convenience over safeguarding individuals' rights to liberty and security. Periods in detention can be unlawful if release or removal is not imminent." Much of the criticism focuses on the new 'Fast Track' asylum application system, highlighting that the current process makes detention more of a frequent choice for the UKBA rather than a last resort.

Equally, the UK is criticised for not following its own procedures when it comes to safeguarding the mental health and wellbeing of individuals in detention:
Detention can also have a detrimental impact on a detainee's mental and physical health [...] The UK government does not always follow its own procedures around assessing and removing people who are particularly vulnerable, such as survivors of torture and people with serious mental illness which risks breaching Article 5 for unlawful detention.
Many NGOs, voluntary organisations and the UNCHR hold the fast track procedure responsible for the unnecessary and harmful detention of vulnerable individuals. Exacerbating this, the report continues to reveal that Immigration Removal Centres provide inadequate mental health support for detainees.

Another group who fail to be eligible for certain human rights in the UK are gypsy and traveller communities. Their right to family life is under threat from local authorities' unwillingness to provide legalised sites for travelling communities. Due to their supposedly 'non-conformist' attitude to bricks-and-mortar housing, they are not afforded the same access to 'universal' human rights.

As only two salient points in a selection of ten areas for improvement, it is worth reading the whole report to see the full picture of the UK's somewhat shaky commitment to human rights in the twenty-first century. It seems that much like the UKBA, the government's general attempts to protect are more often than not undermined by a viciously hardline attitude to those who are supposedly 'exploiting the system.' This 'genuine' vs 'bogus' technique can be seen across all manner of government rhetoric, from JSA (Jobseekers' Allowance) to the asylum system. What the coalition must remember is that access to human rights cannot be dictated or directed by political ideology; the universal cannot become the particular.

Gwilliam's Guardian!

Janice Gwilliam, a faithful Short Stop co-ordinator for LASSN (Leeds Asylum Seeker Support Network) among many other wonderful things, has published her next piece on The Guardian's Northerner Blog. With a lovely mention of LASSN and an account of keeping footpaths open on the Yorkshire Moors, Janice's article is well worth a read.

Janice also writes her own regular blog, detailing her varied experiences of volunteering in Leeds.

Wednesday, 29 February 2012

One Planet Leeds, Spring 2012

Refuge in Film

Refuge in Films 2012 has recently put out a call for short films produced between January 2011 and February 2012. The deadline is 30th March, 2012.

Open to national and international filmmakers from all backgrounds, the organisers have asked for short films (under 30 minutes) with an optional special focus on films made by young people about young people.

Set to be shown at BFI Southbank in June 2012, the films will be part of hundreds of events across the country organised for Refugee Week.

For more information about the competition, see or contact

Monday, 27 February 2012

Still Destitution... STAR and Amnesty Sleep-out

 Braving the blustering Leeds winds, members of Leeds' STAR and Amnesty groups still slept outside Leeds University Union last night, demanding greater rights for refugees, asylum seekers and those seeking sanctuary in the UK. Challenging the government to acknowledge the realities of destitution across the country, students and activists came armed with sleeping bags, fleeces and parkas, setting up camp outside the busy Union building at the heart of the University's campus.

Part of STAR's Action Week, the sleep-out has become a famous demonstration of Leeds' dedication to becoming a City Of Sanctuary. Last nights demo was visited by Leeds' Lord Mayor, the Reverend Alan Taylor, who happily engaged in discussions with the campaigning students. 

Destitution is still a huge problem in Leeds, and across the whole of the UK. Thanks to STAR and Amnesty, the issue is becoming harder for authorities and government to ignore. To learn more about STAR's campaigns and actions, see this recent Guardian article. 

Statelessness in the UK

The UN Refugee Agency, alongside Asylum Aid published a report in November 2011 named ‘Mapping Statelessness in the United Kingdom’, highlighting the struggles faced by the ‘stateless’ individuals in the UK. A stateless individual is defined by the 1954 Convention on the Status of Stateless Persons as a ‘person who is not considered as a national by any state under the operation of its law’. This report aimed to highlight the current problems faced by such ‘stateless’ individuals and make some recommendations as to how their position can be improved.

Despite the United Kingdom's efforts to protect stateless individuals with the ratification of the 1954 Convention, the report still emphasizes some disturbing realities that take place on a daily basis. One of the most fundamental problems faced by stateless individuals is that there is an absence of any formal procedure for which they can apply for their statelessness to be recognized. This has grave practical consequences; with no identity documents, the stateless individual is unable to leave the country. This lack of formal procedure, combined with no leave to remain within the UK, means that individuals are more at risk of having their human rights breached. This is due to the fact that without any formal status they are more likely to be left without residence or separated from their family. However, due to a lack of data surrounding the issue of statelessness, the UN Refugee Agency and Asylum Aid were unable to gain a realistic picture of the scope of such problems in the UK. Nonetheless, it is suggested that these issues already affect many.

Consequently, the report makes some important recommendations to the government and Home Office based on the problems discussed, including a proposal for the introduction of a formal procedure by which stateless individuals can be identified and calls for the reformation of current UK stateless persons law to ensure that it is compatible with human rights declarations. Whilst at present the government does not appear to have acted on these recommendations, it is hopeful that the report will act as the catalyst for such overdue change.

By Ruth Hartley

Monday, 20 February 2012

Migrant Communities and Housing in the UK

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation, alongside HACT (a housing action charity), have today published a report on migrants experience of the private rented sector in the UK. As a section of a three-part report on housing and migration by The Housing and Migration Network, these papers aim to influence policy making in order to accommodate the needs of new migrants to the UK. Working to improve the housing circumstances of recent migrants who are victims of poor housing, whether they be asylum seekers or migration workers, and creating concrete changes to housing policy that is community specific, this report calls for government to include communities in the formulation of proposals and policy.

According to the report, 75% of recent migrants to the UK live in private rented accommodation. Firstly,  this fundamentally dispels the myth that migrants and asylum seekers exploit government provided social housing. Yet the problem remains that the private housing sector is less clearly regulated than public provision. A lot of accommodation inhabited by migrants is either in poor condition or heavily overcrowded, often with irregular tenancies. Whilst the government refuses to tackle the malpractice of exploitative landlords, the impact of this precarious housing situation is often felt in the wider community. Rather than the issue being created by the migrants themselves, the tension between 'settled' and 'new' communities is perpetuated by poor regulation of the private housing market.

As campaigning groups begin to put more pressure on G4S, the multinational security company that is set to take over the social housing contract for asylum seekers in Yorkshire and Humberside, it is important to remember that housing is a huge problem for migrants at large. Those who have precarious lives, whether as refugees or economic migrants, should, like everyone else, not be left to the greedy hands of some exploitative landlords; no-one's rights should become the victim of capital.

Thursday, 16 February 2012

My life is in Limbo – can you tell me when it will end?

Imagine life in limbo, waiting for years for a decision from UK Border Agency, unable to work, unable to study, surviving with no income, no benefits, nothing. That’s the situation for people supported through the Leeds Hardship Fund (, who get just £25 per week for four weeks to help them survive the in the worst of the British winter.

Last week one man in this situation rang UKBA from LRF to ask how long it would be before a decision was made on his case (outstanding since 2004). The UKBA officer said "it would be decided in due course". The man repeatedly asked when that would be - a month, six months, a year?  But was only given the same bland answer – "in due course".  He has had his MP asking on his behalf, his solicitor asking repeatedly, all to no avail.  He was in tears after the phone call. He is not unique in this situation.  

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Sheffield takes a stand against G4S

Yorkshire academics, activists and organisations working within the refugee-related sector have had their suspicions of the multinational corporation, G4S, for a long while. Group 4 Securicor, the conglomeration formed when Securicor merged with other security companies, have recently been deemed the 'preferred' bidder for a huge government contract that would see this profitable private company being responsible for the provision of social housing for asylum seekers in the whole Yorkshire and Humberside region. This is not a regional anomaly. All across the country, these housing contracts are being taken away from Local Authorities and offered to huge, multinational security companies such as Serco, Reliance Security and G4S. G4S are responsible for a huge variety of security jobs, from emptying cash machines to providing security guards for multi-million dollar events. Recently, they have been awarded a £100 million contract for running security inside the Olympic Park. Working alongside the British Army and their ammunition, G4S seems to have a very cosy relationship with government authorities. One of its current directors is the former Home Secretary John Reid. Over the past years, G4S has consolidated its position as the preferred private company to manage the practicalities of the UK's justice system. In 2011, G4S managed 675 court and police cells, four detention centres for asylum seekers, and since summer 2011, they have managed the notorious 'family friendly' detention centre at Pease Pottage. The UKBA has confirmed that the new asylum housing contracts will be given to companies with a good reputation. Unfortunately, a comprehensive portfolio of government contracts cannot suffice as a "proven track record". Until 2011, G4S were also responsible for the transportation, forcible deportation and dispersal of asylum seekers, but lost this contract due to the revelation of their appalling treatment of people in their care. This list, compiled by South Yorkshire Migration and Asylum Action Group, proves that G4S has a far from a stellar reputation:

  • 2008: Medical Justice detailed nearly 300 cases of alleged physical assault and racial abuse by private security guards in the deportation process. 
  • March 2010: G4S (and other security contractors involved in deportation) had failed to manage the use of violent restraint. 
  • October 2010: A Colombian deportee was badly injured when forced onto an aircraft by G4S. 
  • October 2010: An Angolan asylum seeker died at the hands of G4S during a forced deportation. Two of the guards face criminal charges and G4S are still waiting to hear whether they face corporate manslaughter charges
  • A report by PAFRAS (Positive Action for Refugees and Asylum Seekers) in 2008 interviewed former detainees about their experiences in detention. Five of them encountered racism from the staff in detention centres. 
  • April 2010: a 40 year old Kenyan detainee died at G4S's Oakington detention centre, partly due to neglect of his medical condition. 
If this frightening list of malpractice is not enough, in 2010 alone, there were a seven hundred and seventy-three complaints made against G4S by detainees. Shockingly, G4S were allowed to investigate themselves under the 'scrutiny' of the UKBA. This is hardly a comforting thought. We cannot allow governments to place profitability over the safety and human dignity of others; political ideology should not put others at risk. As Sheffield activists proved today, now is the time to take action.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Freedom of the Press?

Investigative journalists and reporters are often victims of repressive regimes and as a consequence, seek asylum in more permissive countries across the globe. The international organisation, Reporters without Borders, has compiled their annual World Press Freedom Index for 2011/12. The UK ranks at number 28 internationally, lower than much of Scandinavia, whilst the recurrent crackdown on revolutions in the Middle East have worsened an already limited freedom of press in countries such as Syria.

Check out Reporters without Borders' report and revealing info graphic.

G4S is not a landlord; it's a private security army

After the publication of a letter signed by a multitude of Yorkshire Academics declaring their discomfort with the subcontracting of asylum seekers' social housing provision to multinational corporations - G4S, Serco and Reliance Security - John Grayson, a member of the South Yorkshire Migration and Asylum Action Group and a lecturer at Sheffield Hallam University, has written a striking article that pushes home the importance of resisting government changes to housing provision.

Calling the government's "preferred bidders" for the Yorkshire and Humberside region, G4S, a "private security army" rather than landlords, Grayson details G4S' history of providing poor, and sometimes lethal, services in the detention centres and dispersal procedures that it currently runs. Grayson continues to highlight the dangerous commodification of such critical services:

Although G4S’s slogan is “Securing Your World” its policy and practice is more accurately expressed by a recent description of the US private sector detention and deportation industry: ‘Every prisoner a profit centre, every immigrant a business opportunity’.

As the coalition commits itself to deficit reduction and austerity, its zeal for outsourcing to huge, profit-making, private companies must be kept in check. It has already been reported that the initial contracting of private companies to provide asylum seekers' social housing produced “a housing system which in many instances was poorly regulated, substandard and unsafe” according to the Institute for Race Relations. To grant a private contract which has already been heavily criticised to a company that has a non-existent record of providing dignified and safe services is more than ludicrous; it is highly dangerous. Decisions made by government officials and corporate executives, so far removed from the precarious lives of the people on whom the changes would impact, are set to further endanger the wellbeing and safety of asylum seekers across the country. This is something we must all resist.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Structures of Sanctuary: destitution support in the age of austerity

A derelict working men's pub in the heart of central Manchester could soon be transformed into a support centre for destitute asylum seekers in the region. Volunteers from The Boaz Trust and other supportive organisations will renovate the ageing pub into a shelter for individuals who have been made destitute by our UK asylum system.

The most common cause of destitution for asylum seekers is in the post-refusal limbo created by our immigration laws. Once all avenues of appeal and re-appeal have been exhausted, any previous asylum support - meaning housing, government vouchers, any benefits - is withdrawn within 21 days. The government expects asylum seekers, after months of excruciating legal procedures and recalling trauma, to be able to leave the UK within 3 weeks of receiving their refusal.

Some individuals who fit a difficult criteria qualify for 'Section 4', a post-refusal government support system that is given to those who cannot return to their country of origin due to personal safety or other reasons, but agree to return when it is possible. It is worth noting the slight contradiction in terms that a 'refused' asylum seeker is granted support rather than status when their situation is considered too dangerous to return. According to a study by the Joseph Rowntree Trust, many refused asylum seekers are too scared to apply for Section 4, fearing that further correspondence with the authorities will result in their deportation, not their support. Section 4 only provides quasi-derilict housing and £35 in government vouchers per week, a small fraction of what the government considers adequate income support for 'native citizens.'

A recent report by the Red Cross revealed that 59% of questioned asylum seekers had been destitute for at least 1 year. Unable to work - either when awaiting status or whilst destitute - asylum seekers are forced either onto state support (which is incredibly limited) or into poverty and destitution. In 2009, the London School of Economics estimated that there were 500,000 refused asylum seekers in the UK. With the onslaught of government cuts, these precarious lives are reliant on the support of various charitable organisations, compassionate friends and relatives or on handouts from faith groups. Britain acts as a place of survival, not sanctuary.

Considering the horrific situations many asylum seekers are escaping from, it is not surprising that many are unwilling to immediately leave the UK. It is important to remember that many of the negative initial decisions of the UKBA are overturned on appeal; a quarter of refused asylum seekers were unjustly asked to leave the UK in the last quarter of 2011.

When the coalition is unlikely to make the necessary drastic changes to our asylum and immigration policy, initiatives such as the destitution support centre in Manchester are all the more important. This is not government-sponsered Big Society, but government-enforced Big Society; independent charitable organisations are forced to fill the gaps created by dwindling state support. We should not thank the generous government, but this is not a reason to turn our backs on crucial social issues. We must use this opportunity to create autonomous centres that promote dynamic social change. We do not have to follow Cameron's "big society" narrative; it is time for communities to take back authorial power.

Image (c)AmnestyUK

Friday, 3 February 2012

Yorkshire Academics Reveal Fear Over New Asylum Housing Contracts

A open letter written by a wide selection of academics and researchers revealing their fear over the new asylum housing contracts has been published in todays Yorkshire Post. Signed by academics from all across the Yorkshire region, including lectures from Leeds University and Leeds Metropolitan University, the letter explains that:
As researchers and university teachers in the fields of housing and immigration in the Yorkshire region we oppose the plans of the Coalition government, through the UK Border Agency (UKBA), to award national contracts of around £135 million for managing asylum seeker social housing to the three multinational security companies who manage most immigration detention centres, and forcible deportations in the UK; G4S, Serco, and Reliance.

Continuing to detail the various problems, both practical and ideological, with the contracting of these private companies to deliver crucial social services, the authors focus on the multinational corporation, G4S, that has been awarded the contract for the Yorkshire and Humber region. G4S is the second largest private employer in the world (on a similar level to Serco, another private company awarded a social housing contract for asylum seekers in England) and have numerous government contracts that amount to around £600 million.

Considering that some of these private companies have dubious records in their previous dealings with asylum seekers, it is hardly surprising that these new contracts are being met with such suspicion. The coalition can only remove state support if they are able to seamlessly integrate private companies to fill the gap. We must be critical, sensitive and resistant to these drastic changes to the fabric of social welfare, or we can expect to see it gradually destroyed by an influx of underregulated, profit-hungry private business. In the words of these Yorkshire academics, "We believe few people in Yorkshire if they were told would believe their taxpayers money should be awarded to such a company to manage asylum seeker housing."

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Fortress Europe

A set of statistics gathered by UNITED for Intercultural Action, a European network against nationalism, racism, fascism and in support of migrants and refugees, has shown that between 1993 and 2011, 15,551 refugees died as a consequence of border militarisation, asylum laws, poor accommodation, detention policy, deportations and carrier sanctions (amongst other features of Fortress Europe).

Faced with a terrifyingly detached set of numbers and columns, it is important to remember the people behind the statistics. 15,551 individuals died as a direct consequence of European attitudes to freedom of movement, settlement and identity. Destructive asylum and immigration policy is not an abstract error; it has unmistakably human consequences.

This Week's News

Here's a summary of the last week's refugee-related news, the good, the bad, and the ugly:

Another Daily Telegraph story proving their "guilty until proven innocent" approach when it comes to asylum seekers and refugees. According to their reporter, certain asylum seekers fabricated their ages in order to claim higher benefits from the UK. The Daily Telegraph, February 1st, 2012.

The Irish Times reveal that many LGBT asylum seekers often risk deportation as they are terrified of revealing their sexuality to border officials. Fleeing terrible persecution in their respective countries, many asylum seekers are unaware that they are able to claim asylum on the basis of their sexual orientation. The Irish Times, January 31st, 2012.

The Irish Examiner runs a story on recent criticism of the 'draconian' asylum and immigration system in Ireland. Responding to statements made by the Justice Minister Alan Shatter speaking in advance of the National Holocaust Memorial Day on Sunday, the reporter highlights the fact that rather than learning from the "inconvenient truth" that Ireland's doors were firmly closed to German Jewish families fleeing the Holocaust, Ireland's 21st century approach to asylum is little different. The Irish Examiner, February 1st, 2012.

The controversial deportation of Lydia Beesong, a highly acclaimed writer, and her husband has been delayed. High profile authors, such as Michael Morpugo, wrote to the Home Office in her defence. Speaking to the press, Morpugo stated:
"How this country treats asylum seekers is the measure of what kind of people we are. Lydia was oppressed in Cameroon. That there is a risk she will be imprisoned and abused again seems undeniable. Her stand against oppression is clear."
This is North Devon, January 31st, 2012.

The incredible stories of the Afghan boys who, seeking safety and sanctuary, walked to Europe. The Guardian, January 29th, 2012.

A school near Heathrow Airport bucks national trends with excellent exam results. Educating many asylum-seeking children, and with 66 different languages spoken between them, the rest of the country has a lot to learn from this school of sanctuary. The Independent, January 27th, 2012.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

The Express, The Telegraph and MP Priti Patel

One of David Cameron's new ministers, Priti Patel, has received a large amount of attention from The Express and The Telegraph over the past few days.

Presenting a written question to the current Minister of State (Immigration), Damian Green, she demanded to know how much the running of Morton Hall immigration removal centre cost the "public purse" in the last financial year. These figures, coupled with the "revelation" that only 9% of people detained in the centre over the last 5 months have been deported, has sparked inflammatory articles from both The Express and The Telegraph bemoaning the "stranglehold" of the European Human Rights Act.

Quoting the Home Office, both papers revealed the heavily euro-sceptic and isolationist approach of the current Coalition towards the rights of migrants and asylum seekers. Claiming that "foreign offenders" are abusing the rights given to them by the Human Rights Act, a Home Office spokesperson stated that "we will shortly be changing the immigration rules to reflect the public interest in seeing the removal from the UK of those who should be removed."

Priti Patel, MP for Witham and one of the Conservative Party's 'bright young things', has already made a name for herself as a hard-line, quasi-Thatcherist. In one of her earliest TV appearances on BBC's Question Time, she stated her controversial support for the re-introduction of capital punishment as a "deterrent" in the UK's penal system. In a similarly brash approach to human rights, she revealed to The Express and The Telegraph that "[illegal immigrants] should be put on the first plane out of Britain with no additional costs to taxpayers."

Whilst this traditionalist Conservative Party view is hardly surprising, Patel's careless approach to the clear differences between illegal immigration, seeking sanctuary and criminality suggests a deeper cancer in the Conservative New Wave's approach to migration. Morton Hall is an all-male facility that houses foreign national prisoners, failed asylum seekers and migrants who no longer have 'right to remain' in the UK. Those incarcerated at Morton Hall, therefore, are under different charges and require very different legal approaches and support. To state that those detained at Morton Hall are all illegal immigrants and should be treated as such is both inflammatory and false.

This confusion is symptomatic of an underdeveloped asylum system in the UK that penalises, rather than supports, those seeking sanctuary. Asylum seekers ‘illegally’ enter this country because there is no legal way to travel to the UK specifically to seek asylum, something that was recognised in the 1951 Convention on the status of refugees. There is nothing illegal about filing a claim for asylum and it is impossible, in legal terms, to have an "illegal asylum seeker." Yet the Home Office’s Five Year Strategy for asylum and immigration published in 2005 revealed their pledge then was to “… move towards the point where it becomes the norm that those who fail can be detained”.

Considering that in the last quarter of 2011, 27% of appeals made by refused asylum seekers were granted, it would suggest that some of those refused asylum seekers incarcerated in Morton Hall have been unfairly denied sanctuary. With the recent revelation that many failed Congolese asylum seekers who had been returned to the Democratic Republic of Congo have either 'disappeared' or have reported instances of torture and intimidation, Priti Patel's approach to repatriation is shockingly ill-informed.

In an interview before the Conservative Party Conference in 2011, Iain Dale, a political commentator, said that Priti Patel was a hard-nosed member of the "hang 'em and flog 'em right." With a myopic protectionism defining her approach to the global question of migration, I can't help but agree. To dismantle a cross-country agreement on unified Human Rights sets a uncomfortable precedent for further erosion of the rights of vulnerable people in the UK and Europe.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Happy New Year!

Only slightly belatedly, Press Gang would like to wish you all a happy new year! As we trundle into the 31 overcast days of January, it's always good to remember that the days are getting longer, the nights are getting shorter, and it is gradually getting a little bit warmer in Yorkshire.

You may notice that our blog looks a little different... We've combined a few web-pages we had into a single site, hopefully making it all a lot easier to manage. Keep an eye on our News Page for a regularly updated selection of the best and worst articles on refugee related issues and our Events Page will let you know what's happening with Press Gang over the next few months.

Our next meeting is on Wednesday 18th January at 6pm - check your emails for the location. For those of you new to Press Gang, please drop us an email and we'll get back to you.

Hope to see you all there,

PG x