29th January 2018
The Rt. Hon. Chris Davies, MP
Houses of Parliament
Thank you so much for meeting with us on 26 January and listening so patiently to what we had to say.
We thought it might be helpful to sum up and clarify some of the points of our discussion:
Detention of asylum seekers
We provided (without names) several instances of asylum seekers known to us who have been detained, sometimes several times, in immigration detention centres. These detentions appear not to comply with the guidance accompanying the 1971 Immigration Act, which suggests that detention pending removal from the UK should only happen when removal is imminent. This and other stipulations are enshrined in the so-called Hardial Singh principles set out by Mr Justice Wolf in 1983 and endorsed by the Supreme Court in 2011. 1 Our cases include those where the use of repeated detention, and/or the subsequent failure to remove, suggest that detention is being used inappropriately and, apparently, punitively. There is a useful one-page summary from Liberty. 2
We reported that, despite assurances given by the government in 2010, children are still being held in detention centres, as well as pregnant women and people with mental health problems.
We expressed our belief that there should be an end to indefinite detention and would welcome any action on your part to work towards that outcome.
Finally, we mentioned recent widely publicised instances of inhuman (and illegal) maltreatment of people held in detention centres by employees of the companies contracted to run them. Cases include those at Brook House (run by G4S) which were featured in a Panorama programme in September 2017; and Yarls Wood (run by Serco), described by the Chief Inspector of Prisons in August 2015 as ‘a place of national concern’ especially in regard to the detention of women there.
Destitution of asylum seekers
We expressed our strong concerns about the destitution of many of the asylum seekers we meet. They are affected by desperate poverty, continual uncertainty about their future and frequent delays in handling of their applications by the Home Office. Some have had their passports or other papers ‘lost’ by the Home Office for long periods, or indefinitely. The effects on their mental health are significant, and in the case of Eyob Terefa, a young man well-known to us, led him tragically to take his own life in September 2017.
Eyob Terefa’s case was taken up by Geraint Davies MP, who brought to the attention of the Home Secretary a number of ‘institutional failures’ in dealing with Eyob’s case. Mr Davies highlighted “the Home Office policy of withdrawing support from failed asylum seekers without utilising measures to support them in either returning to their country of origin or seeking to regularise their stay in the UK, leading to people in Eyob’s situation living in poverty and destitution for an unacceptable amount of time.”
We informed you that the Home Office’s standard target for asylum decisions is six months and suggested to you that it would be both fair and economically advantageous to allow asylum seekers still waiting longer than that period to be allowed to work.
Finally, we alluded to the costly wastefulness of this system, especially as it prohibits asylum seekers from working, despite the fact that many have skills and qualifications and great willingness to make a contribution to the country which is now their home.
Home Office incompetence
While we and you differ about government policy in regard to refugees and asylum, we stressed that in our view the Home Office is failing badly even to implement existing government policy. The Home Office is clearly under-staffed and under-resourced for this task. Immigration applications are regularly subject to unacceptable delays, loss of documents and other inefficiencies. These lead to costly and wasteful delays in procedures, legal costs and have inhumane and often cruel effects upon the refugees and asylum seekers. In a literal sense the Home Office immigration departments are ‘not fit for purpose’. You agreed to look into this and we look forward to hearing from you in due course as to what improvements will be made.
Welcome for Teresa May’s recent statements on child migrants
On a positive note we welcomed the Prime Minister’s recent undertaking (following her meeting with President Macron) to speed up the admission to the UK of asylum-seeking minors at present in France who have the right of reunion with family members in the UK. However, we expressed concern as to whether the 25-day limit for processing would be met, given our experience of Home Office delays, and it is unclear from what point in the process the 25-day limit will run. We said that it would be very helpful if you could kindly clarify this for us and let us know the relevant details.
We also welcomed the removal of the time limit imposed upon the Dubs Amendment, which means that more unaccompanied minors will be legally be enabled to find sanctuary in the United Kingdom.
Our welcoming communities
We tried to convey to you the enormously positive experience of Hay, Brecon and Talgarth Sanctuary for Refugees in channelling the humanitarian instincts of our local people and communities. We have more than 420 members and have held more than 30 refugee respite days, hosted in different towns and villages of South Powys. In the past 12 months we have raised over £31,000 in donations, as well as quantities of donated food, clothing, toiletries and household goods (more than a carload a week going to Swansea).
We noted the fears of Powys County Council of encountering significant opposition when it first agreed to resettle Syrian refugees in Ystradgynlais and Newtown. Those fears had proved largely groundless and our own experience of community reaction to our work has been overwhelmingly positive.
The lesson we draw from this is that our country has the potential to accommodate and welcome many more refugees than it does at present. The fears of government and politicians, we believe, are based on too pessimistic a view of the warmth and humanity of their constituencies and our communities. As we expressed to you when we first met, in 2016, we believe Britain’s response has been extremely parsimonious, indeed shamefully so.
Finally, we noted that you would like to be kept more informed of our work and to be notified further in advance of our activities. You will always be welcome to these, and we have respite days organised in Llangorse (Sunday 11 February) and Llangynidr (Sunday April 15). In particular, we invited you to bring your family with you to our picnic at Craig-y-Nos Country Park on Saturday 9th June. On 6-8 July, we will be hosting 80 young people (both Welsh school children and refugees) from Cardiff, Newport and Swansea who will spend a weekend of teambuilding and leadership-enhancing activities at PGL Tregoyd.
Thank you again for meeting us: we look forward to greeting you and your family soon at one of our respite days or other activities.
In the meantime, we will be posting this letter on our web site (hbtsr.org.uk) as a record of our meeting so that our more than 400 members and the wider public may be aware of the useful discussion that we had with you.
With best wishes,
The Rev. Margaret Blake,
Chair: Hay, Brecon & Talgarth Sanctuary for Refugees
1 See ILPA Information Sheet Detention 2. http://www.ilpa.org.uk/data/resources/13347/11.06-Detention-2.pdf
We also presented Mr Davies with a copy of our Annual report and a copy of the briefing from Sanctuary in Parliament 2017and a summary of Sanctuary in Senedd 2018.