LOCAL councils are pledging not to co-operate with the Tories’ Home Office and its proposed ‘policy that will see non-UK national rough sleepers deported’.
They are refusing too to co-operate with the Home Office’s ‘new immigration policy that makes rough sleeping grounds for deportation’.
‘We are really worried that people will just be pushed underground or they’ll shy away from approaching services and put themselves more at risk of exploitation,’ was the comment of @HomelessLink#UKhousing.
And the Greater London Authority (GLA), alongside Southwark, Islington and Lewisham Labour councils, have signed a pledge that they will not refer any individuals under the new rules.
The pledge is part of a campaign by membership body Homeless Link, and has been signed by more than 40 homelessness organisations, including St Mungo’s, The Salvation Army and Crisis.
In January, the Tory government’s immigration rules came into force, and included a new policy that stated rough sleeping ‘could be considered’ grounds for refusing or cancelling an individual’s leave to remain in the UK.
Last month, the government published guidance that clarified the policy should only be used in cases where someone ‘has repeatedly refused suitable offers of support and engaged in persistent anti-social behaviour’.
But the guidance also states that local authorities can refer individuals to the Immigration Enforcement National Command and Control Unit ‘because of their offending or anti-social behaviour and where the person has failed to cooperate with offers of support’.
Homelessness charities, consequently, have warned that such rules ‘could still deter vulnerable rough sleepers from seeking support from either their local authorities or charities due to fear of deportation’.
Fiona Colley, director of social change at Homeless Link, said the organisation is asking councils to pledge not to co-operate with the Home Office ‘so that people aren’t afraid to come and ask for the help that they need’.
‘We want them to shout about it,’ she continued, ‘because we are really worried that people will just be pushed underground or they’ll shy away from approaching services and put themselves more at risk of exploitation.’
Consequently, Homeless Link is calling for the new rules to be scrapped entirely, while Fiona Colley has also warned: ‘It’s clear that even if they aren’t scrapped, a lot could be done by local authorities and our service providers if they would pledge not to refer individuals to the Home Office under the rules.’
Tom Copley, deputy mayor of London for housing and residential development, said: ‘I’m proud that the GLA is standing alongside other local authorities and homelessness organisations in opposing these divisive and damaging policies while continuing to support non-UK nationals who need our help.
‘Ministers must listen to those on the frontline of our homelessness crisis and scrap these draconian laws before working with all of us to find ethical, sustainable solutions.’
Paul Bell, cabinet member for housing and planning at Lewisham Council, and Kevin Bonavia, fellow cabinet member for democracy, refugees and accountability, said the rules represented a ‘cruel attack on the most vulnerable in our society’.
Stephanie Cryan, cabinet member for council homes and homelessness at Southwark Council, added: ‘It is wrong to deport people who desperately need our help, some who have genuine leave to remain and for whom this is a deterrent in them seeking the support they are entitled to.’
And a spokesperson from Islington Council said the rules are ‘likely to play into the hands of exploitative landlords and employers’ and vowed not to collaborate.
In response to that the Refugee Council has put out the following statement on the eviction of asylum seekers from their accommodation:
‘We’ve been calling on the government to protect people seeking asylum and refugees at risk due to the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic. We are particularly concerned for people who are unable to access accommodation or support, those on limited support and those in shared accommodation who may be unable to self-isolate.
‘A summary of the government’s response to date: cessations of support and evictions.
‘Following a review of the pause on evictions at the start of the pandemic in March 2020 and a period of engagement with local authorities, the Home Office have confirmed that they will begin to resume cessations of support, including evictions from asylum accommodation for people who have been granted status. (News Line emphasis)
- People who have been granted status will receive their 28-day move-on letters.
- The Home Office have provided local authorities with data on the people who will be issued letters in their area.
- People who would be eligible for priority housing under homelessness law will be housed by the local authority itself. Non-priority cases will receive advice and assistance to secure housing in the private rented sector. Whilst the local authority may not have a duty to house non-priority cases, they have been provided with the details of each of the cases in advance to help them plan.
- Migrant Help and its move-on partners will keep in touch with people and assist them to claim benefits and let the Home Office know when they receive payments.
- We were informed that the system of continuing asylum support payments until UC or other benefits have been paid was introduced as a temporary measure while the Home Office worked to clear the backlog of “positive cases” (people who had their asylum claim accepted). As such, we were told it is no longer in place.
- The above process will be closely monitored and kept under review.
‘As we continue to live through Covid-19, it is unsurprising the pandemic is still having an impact on the UK asylum system. The latest immigration statistics illustrate this impact on applications, decisions, asylum support and resettlement. You can also see a summary of the findings we have picked out as most interesting, here.
‘The statistics reveal that once again, and as expected, asylum applications fell, with application numbers being 24% lower than in the previous 12 months.
‘The UK is behind 16 other countries in Europe in terms of the number of asylum applications per head of the population. This clearly calls into question attempts by the Home Office to limit asylum applications to this country, notably through the recently announced New Plan for Immigration.
‘Not only this, the fall in the number of people claiming asylum stands in contrast to much of the media coverage and political commentary of recent times, which very often suggests the contrary.
‘One area of real concern is the high number of people who have been told that their claims may be inadmissible, (1,503 people), following the introduction of new inadmissibility rules in December 2020.
‘This represents over 1,500 having been told by the Home Office that they may be sent elsewhere, despite this government having made no agreements whatsoever with any other country to make this possible.
‘It is particularly alarming that thousands of people have to wait years for a decision on their claim, leaving them in limbo and unable to plan for their futures.
‘The backlog in cases awaiting an initial decision continued to rise to another record high.
‘At the end of March 2021, 66,185 people were waiting for an outcome on their initial claim for asylum. Of these, a staggering 50,084 – three quarters have been waiting for more than 6 months.
‘Also of note is the fact that the Syrian resettlement scheme met its 20,000 target in February, though it is a failure on the part of this government that the new resettlement scheme that started in March has been given no new target.
‘Targets are essential for running a refugee resettlement programme, to provide certainty and advance notice on the length and scale of resettlement ambitions so that they can properly plan multi-year services.’
Enver Solomon, CEO of the Refugee Council responded to the latest figures, by saying: ‘People fleeing war and persecution have no choice but to risk their lives on perilous journeys to reach safety in the UK.
‘For decades they have been given a fair hearing on British soil, but under new rules, the government is harshly seeking to send them back.
‘This is cruel and unjust, sending a message to the world that we are a country without compassion for our fellow humans who have experienced great trauma and suffering through no fault of their own.
‘This has been happening when the numbers of people who seek safety in the UK is in fact decreasing, which calls into question the kneejerk and harmful proposals by this government to limit asylum applications and effectively slam the door in the face of the relatively low number of people coming to the UK to claim asylum.
‘We remain deeply concerned by the record high numbers of people waiting in limbo on news of their fate, unable to begin new lives. This could easily be resolved through additional resourcing and more effective decision making, however, we fear it is only set to worsen as the new rules continue to have an impact on asylum cases.’
• At the same time A Festival of Solidarity has taken place at Napier Barracks in support of asylum seekers. The ex-army barracks in Folkestone have been a point of controversy over the past year, with refugees saying they have been forced to live there in ‘prison-like’ conditions.