The Home Office requires that a large number of asylum seekers in the UK must regularly report to immigration reporting centres. However, with the introduction of the lockdown the Government temporarily removed this requirement. Similarly, as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, many asylum seekers have been released from detention facilities from March 2020, as it was deemed unsafe to continue keeping them there due to the risk of infection.
Human rights activists have pointed out that despite the UK Government’s telling people for decades that the above measures would inevitably lead to the collapse of the immigration system, this has not proved to be the case. In fact, according to some defence representatives, the lockdown has exposed how irrational the system truly is, especially when dealing with refugees coming to this country.
For many years human rights activists have urged the UK Government to relax the unnecessarily draconian and often damaging measures in place for asylum seekers, many of whom have fled from war, torture and unfair prosecution in their home countries.
Until March this year, Maimuna Jawo, a Gambian asylum seeker and female genital mutilation campaigner, had to report to the Home Office on a monthly basis. She says that she often felt so anxious in the days leading up to her visits to the Home Office that she could not sleep. “I don’t know what will happen tomorrow. Maybe they might deport me. Maybe they might put me back in detention,” she explained. “You’re going to face somebody who you know can harm you. It’s like there’s a rope around your neck; every time you go to sign the rope is pulled”. For Maimuna and many others in similar situations, the lockdown has become a blessing in disguise, and she is afraid that once the lockdown is lifted her fears of the regime imposed by the Home Office will resume.
Toufique Hossaini, director of Duncan Lewis Solicitors, argues that refugees who have been released from immigration detention facilities as a result of the pandemic “are already out here, they haven’t committed criminal offences, they haven’t disappeared”. Thus, rather than “re-detaining” them once life returns to normal, the Government should focus on not “resurrecting the broken system”.
Another issue that many believe is of critical importance and has to be addressed by the Home Office without delay, is allowing refugees to work and contribute to helping the UK out of the current crisis. “There’s a lot of talent in the asylum community”, says Frederick Kkonde, who fled torture in Uganda to come to the UK. A few years ago, he was granted asylum and now works in a rehabilitation centre whist studying for a master’s degree in adult nursing. He campaigns with Movement for Justice and believes it is both cruel and wasteful not to allow asylum seekers the dignity of contributing to the country they live in.
Maimuna Jawo agrees with him: “Everybody here can work and wants to work but we’re not allowed to. We could be cleaners. We could be carers”. Since 2012 Maimuna has lived in a 17-bedroom house provided by the Home Office with 17 adults and nine children. No one is permitted to work. Instead they subsist on a government allowance of £35 each per week.
It’s incredibly wasteful of the UK government to fly in a whole group of fruit pickers to pick fruit and vegetables whilst there are so many potential workers who are already in the UK eager to work, in both skilled and un-skilled jobs. With the NHS at breaking point and people dying because of shortages and existing staff completely exhausted, what is the point of stopping asylum applicants who have health case experience from working? Who is being punished? What is the gain?
However, the mentality of the powers that be is to impose punitive measures on prospective asylum seekers rather than addressing the issues with a view to solving the problem for the UK at large. Dealing with this effectively could bring benefits across the board by giving asylum seekers an opportunity to contribute to the UK and the economy by working and paying taxes, by alleviating the shortage of skilled and unskilled labour in certain areas and by curbing illegal working and exploitation.
Time will tell if the existing immigration system will indeed be changed in a way that may not only benefit the wellbeing of those currently subject to stringent immigration control procedures, but also help the UK survive the ongoing crisis. So far, there has been no indication of any such changes. A Home Office representative has confirmed that “Face-to-face reporting requirements will return as soon as practicably possible”.
This current methodology is a hangover from previous Home Secretaries who tried to make life as difficult for asylum seekers as possible in the hope of deterring further asylum seekers from coming to the UK. The lack of understanding of the misery a large number of applicants experienced (which may have included substantial violations of their human rights) and which prompted a substantial number of asylum seekers to travel to the UK, was never going to be less punishing or oppressive than the treatment meted out by the Home Office. It is time to come to terms with the reality of the problem and engage objectively with those who wish to solve it, rather than leaving it in the hands of those who need to address all the issues but who continually bury their heads in the sand in the hope it will go away or pass to the next Home Secretary, minister or the next person responsible at the Home Office. I have been practicing in this area since 1979 and the parcel has been passed from pillar to post. The parcel is now in danger of disintegrating.
Some examples of the punitive measures in place include the following:
1. Making asylum seekers report to reporting centres – this often incurs costs to travel to reporting centres – an expense for those with limited funds to feed themselves and their children;
2. Prohibiting asylum seekers from working for a year from the date of application, and then allowing only limited employment – some of these people are carers, doctors etc. This could be a resource to support the NHS;
3. The delays in dealing with asylum applications running to months and years is evidence that the system is not working and there appears to be no realistic prospect of resolving the issue other than by periodic chaotic amnesties which often result in regularising individuals without properly checking their backgrounds.
Gherson have extensive experience in dealing with the entire spectrum of human rights and asylum applications. If you have any questions regarding asylum or human rights issues, please do not hesitate to contact us. We continue to monitor all aspects of UK immigration law which may be impacted by the coronavirus closely, so please do keep updated with further blogs and articles which we will be posting on this site.
The information in this blog is for general information purposes only and does not purport to be comprehensive or to provide legal advice. Whilst every effort is made to ensure the information and law is current as of the date of publication it should be stressed that, due to the passage of time, this does not necessarily reflect the present legal position. Gherson accepts no responsibility for loss which may arise from accessing or reliance on information contained in this blog. For formal advice on the current law please don’t hesitate to contact Gherson. Legal advice is only provided pursuant to a written agreement, identified as such, and signed by the client and by or on behalf of Gherson.