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.