“We could not just walk by”: eyewitness report from migrant border camp

by John Dunn, ex-coal miner and striker during the 1984/85 miners strike and member of the Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign
“Just back from a week in the South of France, staying in Menton, a Riviera Town a few kilometres from the Italian border. On our first afternoon there Beverley and I decided to see if we could walk into Italy.
We could. Actually it’s dead easy, although it seemed a bit intimidating walking past armed gendarmes standing a few feet away from equally tooled up Carabanieri, but we strolled by unsolicited, neither side asking to see our passports, which we didn’t have.
A hundred yards or so in we saw a few banners and a collection of tents and realised we had stumbled across a migrant camp. Thus was explained the tooled up border guards.
“We could not just walk by”
We could not just walk by, or take photos as if it was just another tourist attraction, so we entered the camp and made ourselves known. A young Italian lad who spoke good English was brought to us and explained the situation, the migrants, I use that term, on his insistence as he refused to call them refugees simply because they were being denied that status, had arrived in July, mainly Sudanese and Eritrean with some Syrians. They had landed on the rocks that line the coast and been left there with nothing, simply sleeping in the clothes they wore. The young man and others from an anarchist group had gone to support them and had stayed there since, being joined by other volunteers of differing political persuasions.
Our first thought was on how well the camp was run and organised. This was nothing like the scenes of Calais assaulting our senses daily, courtesy of our wonderful media. It was as clean as it could possibly be and well laid out and structured. A couple of young migrants kicked a ball about, obviously glad to just be alive. Our interpreter explained that the camp was run as a collective with all decisions being made by meetings of both volunteers and migrants. No sense of a threatening atmosphere at all.
We explained that we were socialists and trade unionists from Britain and told him about the 100,000 demonstrating in London in support of refugees, something about which he knew nothing but promised to share the news with the camp. During all this I was almost overwhelmed with the sense of humanity within the camp and the fact that people were gladly giving up their time to help those less fortunate. I have wasted far too much political energy on organisations that want to ‘talk about it’ but do little else, here were people, mainly young, actually doing something about it!
Not wanting to take up any more of their time we made our farewell. We had not gone out with much cash but gave them 20 Euros which was so gratefully received it was unbelievable. Our interpreter gave us a clenched fist sign of solidarity and left with the words “hasta la victoria siempre” (“until victory, always”)
I have to admit I walked out of that camp emotionally shaken and glad my eyes were covered by sunglasses.
On our last day we visited again, we had some holiday euros left so made another donation. His time we spent more time, talking and listening. One of our young interpreters knew about our strike and had seen the film Pride, she told us that at its peak the camp had housed almost 2000 desperate people and had originally started purely as a protest against the refusal of the French government, that had exploited countries around the globe, to allow these people access.
I shudder to think what would have happened had the camp not been formed.
Most impressive was to see 40 or so migrants in a lesson, learning French, all paying strict attention to a young woman whose only technical aid was a flip chart. We were allowed to take photos but strictly no faces as these people face repression if identified, both in their country of origin and any country they might reach.
Show Support
Determined that our last visit would not be the end of it, this time we took contact details in order to raise their plight upon return. This is their Facebook page, please ‘like’ it and show support – Presidio-Permanente-No-Border-Ventimiglia.
We intend to raise support for them here, details will follow. I cannot help but remember the tremendous solidarity shown to my union, the National Union of Mineworkers, which sustained us through that fateful year. In the name of humanity if we can do just a little of that to aid people who literally have nothing then we can show some of that solidarity. One of the banners said simply that they could not go back because they have lost everything!
Please take note of that anyone who thinks we should not help!
I would never have imagined, when planning the holiday that my belief in humankind would be reinforced by being humbled, and seeing, even in the most desperate circumstances, humanity and compassion expressed so vividly.
The irony is that whilst we could stroll between borders without challenge, human beings fleeing war, torture and starvation are left to rot in a no man’s land.
A better world has to be possible.”

Postscript from John:

“The migrant camp I previously posted about was attacked by police last night during a peaceful demonstration. Where have we seen that before?”
Eritrean refugees carry the Orgreave Justice banner at Durham Miners Gala. ESOL classes are now hosted in the Miners Union HQ in Barnsley

Eritrean refugees carry the Orgreave Justice banner at Durham Miners Gala July 2015.  English as a Secondary Language classes are now hosted in the Miners Union HQ in Barnsley

South Yorkshire says “Refugees are Welcome Here”

How can you help make refugees welcome here? Have a look at How Can I Help Make Refugees Welcome in SheffieldUpDATED


South Yorkshire people are showing that we are part of the growing Europe-wide movement to welcome refugees. A demonstration organised at short notice drew over 100 people from different communities together to say “Refugees are Welcome Here”. The weekend after 150 people gathered outside Sheffield Town Hall at the same time as a massive protest in London and local events in Doncaster and Barnsley (pictured above).


The demonstration outside Sheffield Town Hall heard from refugees themselves and from people who had organised support for Syrian refugees. A video and short report from the Sheffield Star  is here. More pictures of the Sheffield protest are below (thanks to Manuch).



For the last 8 weeks there have been collections of clothes, food, health and hygiene products by Sheffield people who have taken them to refugees at Calais. Those people volunteering to collect, sort and transport donations have been overwhelmed in the last week by the generosity, humanity and solidarity shown by Sheffield people. They need your help! The Calais People to People Solidarity Fund Sheffield is the central body organising support for refugees in the Calais camps. You can donate here


Something Has Changed

We know that, particularly in South Yorkshire, there has always been humanity and solidarity shown to people migrating here. But in the last week or so something has changed. It wasn’t just the picture of Aylan Kurdi drowned on the Turkish beach: there has been an unstoppable movement of desperate and determined refugees demanding safety all over Europe. It has become impossible to ignore. Riot police and sniffer dogs in Calais, razor fences in Hungary and the UK Government’s “Let Them Drown” policy have not stopped refugees moving to safety.

Refugee children watch a showing of Tom and Jerry in Hungary

Recently-arrived refugee children watch a showing of Tom and Jerry in Hungary

And, it seems, this repression is now being questioned by more and more Europeans. Examples of solidarity are everywhere: German football fans with Refugees are Welcome banners; Austrian churches displaying “You Are Safe Here” signs; people in Hungary organising a Tom and Jerry film show for exhausted refugee children; Greek people sharing what little they have with refugees landing on Kos or Lesvos. This has forced European governments, including here in the UK to take some responsibility to support refugees fleeing from war and poverty often caused by European policy. As a refugee at the recent Right to Remain conference said “You do not set a man’s house on fire and then tell him not to run.”


Sheffield says “Refugees Welcome Here” protest on 6/9/15. Pics from Manuch




Pressure grows for review of Serco, G4S Asylum Housing

We want Sheffield Council to join Glasgow Council’s call for a review of the privatised COMPASS asylum housing contact. We’ll be handing in a petition – see below – to this effect at the next Sheffield City Council meeting on Wednesday 2nd September. Join us then at 1.45pm at Sheffield Town Hall to back our call.


On June 25th 2015 Glasgow City Council unamimously passed this resolution:

“Council notes the Home Office’s commercial contract known as COMPASS, which is for the accommodation of dispersed asylum seekers throughout the UK.

Council acknowledges that asylum dispersal is a well-established UK Government policy, stemming from the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999.

Council notes the ongoing concerns with the approach and implementation of the contract in Scotland by Serco and its sub-contractor, Orchard and Shipman as detailed in the Scottish Refugee Council’s report published in September 2014, “The Extent and Impact of Asylum Accommodation Problems in Scotland”.

“Council therefore instructs the Chief Executive to write to James Brokenshire MP, the Minister of State for Immigration, to express Council’s strong concerns at the reported treatment of asylum seekers covered by the COMPASS contract, and call for a review of COMPASS with the well-being and fair treatment of those claiming asylum being its clear priority.”



In August 2014 the Scottish Refugee Council published a damning report on asylum housing in Scotland concluding with “The breadth and severity of the examples of accommodation problems detailed in our research are shocking. We are sure that they mirror wider, endemic problems with asylum accommodation across the UK as a whole.”



Serco run the COMPASS asylum housing contract in Scotland, whereas G4S have the  contract here in Yorkshire and Humberside. Both companies’ performance in operating the COMPASS contract was described by the Public Account Committee as “unacceptably poor”


Take Action

Join us on September 2nd in urging Sheffield City Council to join Glasgow in calling for a review of the entire COMPASS asylum housing contract. We particularly welcome asylum tenants telling the councillors their views.

Download the petition to Sheffield City Council and return to us by 24th August at dignitynotdetention@yahoo.co.uk

COMPASS contract petition 2 Sept 15


Toddlers, rats, asbestos. G4S, asylum seekers’ landlord

SYMAAG’s John Grayson asks why would the UK government let its commercial contractor get away with housing vulnerable asylum seekers in dangerous slums?


Toddlers, rats, asbestos. G4S, asylum seekers’ landlord

Inside Jane’s flat

I went to see Jane in her upstairs flat in Sheffield. She was anxious and panicky. “I put anything I can under the doors,” she said. “The rats run up the stairs, and out of the store cupboard into the living room. I am frightened for the children.”

This one-bedroom slum flat is what the UK government considers good enough for a lone parent asylum seeker from Africa, her three year old child and her baby, aged seven months. Jane’s landlord is the government contractor, G4S, the world’s largest security company.

Jane’s flat wasn’t easy to find. I was directed by a neighbour through a damaged door only a few feet away from the Sheffield Supertram rails and down a dingy passage.

Jane answered her mobile and warned me about the double buggy blocking the steep stairs and her only entrance door. She told me later: “I have to leave it there, I cannot struggle up and down the stairs with it and my two children.”

There were child safety gates on the living room and kitchen sides of the stairs, but none at the head of the stairs. Jane said: “I turned my back one day and I found him [her three year old] swinging on a gate over the drop in the stairs. I can’t let him run around and play properly. There’s a hole in the corner of the living room floor. And it’s dangerous outside.”

Jane showed me exposed pipework and plugs and wires near the hole in the living room. I had already seen the back yard and the abandoned toilet area where the rats were coming from.

Tramlines outside the front door


“It’s dangerous outside.”Jane said: “The G4S worker thought the flat was OK and just told me to store the heavy buggy upstairs, he said it’s dangerous to block the stairs if there is a fire.”

Jane had been in the flat for three weeks. Over the previous two weeks she had been ringing G4S about the flat and the rats.

“Twice they said they were sending pest control – nobody arrived. My neighbour rang for me and still no-one has been.”

After I left Jane’s flat I rang the City Council pest control team. They arrived the next day. The council instructed G4S to send their pest control contractor. They finally turned up almost three weeks after Jane’s first calls.

The Home Office is obliged to provide accommodation for asylum seekers and their families while their cases are being processed.

In March 2012, the government contracted out these services to three companies, G4S, Serco and Reliance. (There’s a useful summary here: PDF)

G4S, Serco and Reliance were known among asylum seekers as the companies that drove them to detention centres and locked them up. Only Reliance (which formed a joint venture with a housing company) could claim any experience of the asylum housing sector.

G4S may be best known for its shambolic work on security at the London Olympics. Among asylum seekers G4S is the company that killed asylum seeker, Jimmy Mubenga.

The new housing arrangements have been a shambles from day one. Over the past three years, here on openDemocracy, I have told of children exposed to health risks in rat-infested homes, lone women intimidated by their landlords, acockroach in the baby’s bottle.

Jane’s flat is just one of the G4S slum properties in Sheffield that asylum seekers have shown me around over the past weeks.

Tony’s bathroom

In a dingy terrace house in a working class suburb of Sheffield I meet Tony, a Palestinian asylum seeker who wearily tells me of his nine years being bounced in and out of immigration detention and around the asylum housing system. Since making his original asylum claim in Bristol in 2006, he has been housed in Cardiff, Plymouth, Birmingham, Peterborough, Ipswich, Nottingham, Rochdale, and a few times in Bristol.

Tony has lost the sight in one eye and is losing the sight in the other one. He was living in Bristol and undergoing treatment for kidney trouble at Bristol Royal Infirmary when he got the Home Office order: “I got the letter that I was moving again. They didn’t tell me where I was going.”

G4S staff brought him 180 miles north to Sheffield to a filthy back street terrace house. “This house is the worst they have given me in all those years,” Tony said.

G4S is obliged to help Tony to travel for essential medical treatment and registration with a local GP, but that hasn’t happened.

It’s a ten mile round trip from his new home to the Sheffield eye clinic. I took him there after he showed me the house. Tony told me that in the week he had been in Sheffield, “I was given a map to find advice places and I walked into the city – I had no cash for the bus”. He had to walk four miles into the city centre to a drop-in advice centre and then another four miles back to his house.

Tony had no cash, only his government-issued Azure card allowing him a little over £5 a day and only useable at specified supermarkets.

How was his new home? “The carpets were dirty, there was rubbish dumped outside at the back, the bathroom was filthy and I was given a room with the furniture broken. They said they wouldn’t take me back to Bristol, I had to stay in the house.”

When I contacted Tony a few days later, G4S had brought a vacuum cleaner for Tony to clean the living room he shared with three other tenants. The day after that G4S called back and took the vacuum cleaner away.

Earlier this year, at a meeting with a Home Office official, local Sheffield voluntary sector workers were given a copy of The Dial, a visual representation of the government’s strategy that treats undocumented migrants as criminals. Part of this strategy is to “Create an environment that makes it harder to enter and live illegally in the UK”.

Tony is a Section 4 ‘failed asylum seeker’ in Home Office terms, living ‘illegally’ in the UK. Tony is also a very vulnerable human being whose failing health after nine years in the UK’s asylum ‘support’ system makes a mockery of claims that the UK has “a long tradition of providing sanctuary for those fleeing persecution”

The Dial, part of the Home Office’s armoury in the fight against “immigration crime”. 

Balbir is an Asian asylum seeker I met in another G4S asylum property. Balbir told me that he’s been locked up in various immigration detention centres – Dover, Dungavel in Scotland, Campsfield near Oxford, and Morton Hall in Lincolnshire. “I was detained in Harmondsworth; that’s a torture centre not a detention centre,” he said.

Balbir constantly protested about his treatment over nine long months and was constantly moved, he says, as a punishment. “I was finally released because I proved that I had been trafficked, and the High Court said that trafficked asylum seekers could not be kept in detention centres.”

Balbir was sent to asylum housing in Sheffield – to a slum property with a history of rats and disrepair. By this time Balbir could only get out of bed with crutches and was suicidal. (He showed me scars from his self-harming).

“My doctors wrote to the Home Office, I had carers visiting three times a day and they officially complained. G4S then moved me to a clean house near to the hospital and my doctors.”

Balbir became distressed and angry as he described how G4S had then moved him again to this shared slum house. “They moved me here from a clean house to this filthy place with real risks to my health.”

I had seen in the entrance hall an asbestos warning notice posted after an inspection by the council. There was a large hole in the ceiling in the kitchen where an asbestos risk had been detected. Balbir said: “My carers immediately wrote in their log that the kitchen was dangerous and I have had only cold food here for two weeks.”

A warning at Balbir’s house

The asylum housing contract demands that when asbestos risks are discovered the Home Office and G4S immediately move people out of the property. That didn’t happen.

A G4S repair man who came to the house called it the “worst house G4S has in Sheffield”, and said that G4S had sent letters notifying residents that they were to be moved out. Meanwhile, G4S moved Balbir in and kept him there despite medical evidence of harm. He told me: “In the last month my doctors have sent five letters to the Home Office about my worsening health and the housing I have been forced into.”

I added my protest to G4S. The company is well aware that I write about these matters here on openDemocracy and that I help local reporters and the housing press.

Balbir has since been moved to staffed accommodation suitable for his conditions, provided by a G4S specialist housing contractor. In a phone call he confirmed to me that at last he felt safe and cared for in his new accommodation.

Every move of asylum seekers around detention centres and from asylum housing addresses has to be pre-authorised by the Home Office. Public servants and corporate executives are complicit in exposing people to shoddy treatment around the slums of Sheffield.

Alan’s ceiling

Alan, a young man from the Middle East, lives in another G4S slum in Sheffield. He and six other asylum seekers – from Ivory Coast, Sudan, Palestine, Kuwait, Iraq, and Afghanistan — each have a single room. Alan claimed asylum three years ago. He’d been detained for three months, then stayed with friends, and finally he was given asylum housing in the Greater Manchester area. “It was really good quality one of the flats I stayed in was new,” he told me. “At home I had a background in the arts so I enrolled on a college course.”

For personal reasons Alan asked for a move to the Sheffield area. “I was shocked when I arrived at this house. There were rats there. I discovered them on the first floor in my room and other rooms. We killed a few and got G4S to put poison down.”

It wasn’t just the rats. “For the past two months there has been a hole in the kitchen ceiling,” Alan told me. “It collapsed after a major leak from a shower above. For the past two weeks the other shower has been out of action and we have all had to get showers at friends, or at the gym at college.”

Outside Alan’s back yard, near the back door, Alan showed me a filthy stagnant pool.

It’s not as if G4S and its subcontractor didn’t know things were this bad. Balbir had lived here. His carers had complained about the conditions, so G4S had moved him on. Alan said the men’s complaints to G4S and the subcontractor were ignored.

Why not provide decent housing?

My years of research and reporting, the conditions I have witnessed and the tenants I have listened to convince me that these degrading and dangerous conditions are not just a matter of incompetence and failed compassion.

It’s worse than that. On paper — the G4S Home Office contract — the company is obliged to provide accommodation that meets the “Decent Homes Standard” that applies to all council and housing association homes.

It’s not a hard standard to reach. A home must meet minimum safety standards. Among the obvious no-nos are broken glass, damaged asbestos, blocked drains, dampness, mould growth, rats, cockroaches. The home must be in a reasonable state of repair, have reasonably modern facilities and services, efficient heating, effective insulation. Any home that does not meet all four criteria fails the standard.

So why does the Home Office allow G4S to house asylum seekers in rat-infested slums?

Here are some clues. In October 2014 Lord Hylton asked the government: “what naval or air-sea rescue contribution they will make to prevent refugees and migrants drowning in the Mediterranean?”

The Foreign Office minister Baroness Anelay gave this written reply: “We do not support planned search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean. We believe that they create an unintended ‘pull factor’, encouraging more migrants to attempt the dangerous sea crossing and thereby leading to more tragic and unnecessary deaths.”

Let’s reflect on that. If rescuing fellow human beings is a “pull factor”, is letting them drown a useful deterrent?

In September 2009, Dave Wood, who bore the title “Director of Criminality and Detention” at the UK Border Agency, was called before the Home Affairs Committee. They asked him: “Why are children detained under the immigration system, because they have not done anything wrong, have they?”

Wood explained that the lack of detention “would act as a significant magnet and pull to families from abroad”.

Letting people drown, locking up innocent children, forcing people to live in slum dwellings with cockroaches and rats, it’s all part of the same shameful game: deterrence.

All photography by John Grayson. Asylum seekers’ names have been changed

This article first appeared on Open Democracy at https://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/john-grayson/rats-asbestos-toddlers-when-security-company-g4s-is-asylum-seeker-landlord

Walking in Pursuit of Justice: Eritrean refugees challenge Home Office lies

At the start of Refugee Week 500 Eritrean refugees marched from the International Slavery Museum to the Home Office in Liverpool . “We are asking the Home Office to be truthful about the regime in Eritrea and not just issue some report about how it is safe there. We are people who have been ruled by fear” said one of the organisers.

A Home Office spokesperson, who met the protesters said: “We are dealing with fluid situations all the time. Circumstances change and that effects people around the world including the United Kingdom.

“We need these type of events to enable us to review our policies” he said.

We hope this protest will enable the Home Office to understand that Eritreans – who risk everything to find safety –  do so for good reasons: they fear persecution and indefinite forced labour in Eritrea.

At the Liverpool protest

At the Liverpool protest 16th June.                     Photo from Right To Remain

More pictures and information from @Right_to_Remain on Twitter

Full report of Liverpool demonstration in the Liverpool Echo

updated on 16/6/15



On Tuesday 16th June Eritrean refugees will march to the Home Office in Liverpool to call for justice. This march is one of a series of events planned by Eritrean refugees in the UK to combat Theresa May’s recent claim that they are in fact “economic migrants”. As part of Refugee Week there is an “Insight into Eritrea” meeting on Wednesday 17th June in Sheffield at 4pm at Theatre Delicatessen.

SYMAAG has supported both events, following our Annual General Meeting where we discussed Eritrea and the Don’t Let Them Drown demonstration which involved many Eritreans in South Yorkshire.

The march in Liverpool on Tuesday 16th is the first major national demonstration ever called by Eritreans in the UK. This is the press release in support of the protest :


1pm Tuesday 16th June 2015, Merseyside Maritime Museum, Liverpool

Eritrean refugees call on the Home Office to improve the country guidance reports used to assess asylum claims and ensure that people seeking safety from persecution in Eritrea are given the protection they need.
In March 2015, the UK government introduced new country guidance on Eritrea which relied on a Danish Immigration Service report as the most ‘up-to-date’ information on human rights abuses in Eritrea. A key author of the Danish report, Dr Gaim Kibreab, has since distanced himself from the report. Moreover, the guidance report has relied on information obtained from the top politicians of the government inside Eritrea. These politicians, nevertheless, are the very architects of the regime a June, 2015, UN investigation report accuses of ruling the people but fear rather than law and also crimes against humanity including a shoot-to-kill policy on its borders
Eritrean refugees from across the UK will be presenting the Home Office in Liverpool with a letter written in collaboration with Dr Gaim Kibreab calling for this discredited guidance to be taken out of the UK Government’s country guidance reports.
Please join us at Merseyside Maritime Museum, Liverpool at 1.00pm marching to the Home Office, Union Street.
Contact Kate Jennings (07784194431) or Kidane Kiflezgi (07950820997) for further information.”

Leaflet for Liverpool "Walking in Pursuit of Justice" protest 16th June

Leaflet for Liverpool “Walking in Pursuit of Justice” protest 16th June


“A political effort to stem migration”

The discredited report on Eritrea from the Danish Immigration Service (rejected by pretty much everyone except Theresa May and the Eritrean dictatorship) can be read here. According to Human Rights Watch “The Danish report seems more like a political effort to stem migration than an honest assessment of Eritrea’s human rights situation,”  Key author Dr Gaim Kibreab has since disassociated himself from the published version. Since then, an exhaustive 484-page UN Commission of Inquiry report on systematic human rights abuses in Eritrea has been published which finds “systematic, widespread and gross human rights violations” in Eritrea. It also states that “a large proportion of the population is subject to forced labour and imprisonment” and helps to explain why one in ten of the entire population of Eritrea has left the country. A summary and link to the full report is here.

But the UK Home Office have, since March 2015, been using a Country Guidance report on Eritrea based on already discredited information.

For Eritrean refugees such reports can be a matter of life or death, influencing European governments’ policy regarding accepting them as refugees or deporting them to the country they have risked their lives escaping.

Eritrean speaker at Don't Let Them Drown protest in Sheffield, March 2015

Eritrean speaker at Don’t Let Them Drown protest in Sheffield, March 2015


Are Eritrean Refugees really “economic migrants”?

It could have been ignorance which led to Theresa May recently describing people fleeing Eritrea as “economic migrants”. Or it could have been the fact that Eritreans made up about 10% of those crossing the Mediterranean to find refuge in Europe this year, according to UNHCR reports. Desperate to evade responsibility for accepting migrants crossing the Mediterranean – and make it possible to deport those already in the UK –  Theresa May seeks to discover evidence that little threat of persecution exists in Eritrea.


Gold, Copper, Zinc

In addition to showing hostility to Eritrean asylum seekers, the UK – and other western states – have important mining interests in Eritrea. The UK’s colonial adventures and exploitation in Eritrea are not just in the past (it was, incidentally, the Yorkshire regiment of the British army that fought against the Italian colonialists for control of Eritrea’s resources in 1941). The discovery of gold, copper and zinc in Eritrea have sparked renewed contacts with the Eritrean dictatorship, along with public relations exercises by the mining companies, for example Nevsun mining PR push. Indeed ex-Conservative Party chairman (Lord) Michael Howard recently led a business delegation to Eritrea. Howard appears to be closely linked with one UK mining company Andiamo Exploration. In December 2014 41 British MPs stated their opposition to the use of forced labour by mining companies in Eritrea.

Michela Wrong's book: Essential reading to understand Eritrea's legacy of colonisation

Michela Wrong’s book: Essential reading to understand Eritrea’s legacy of colonisation


“National Service” / “Abject Slavery”

As well as minerals Eritrea has near endless supplies of forced labour for western mining companies as part of the country’s infamous “national service”, described as “abject slavery” by Human Rights Watch. On the pretext of imminent war with Ethiopia all Eritreans are conscripted into “national service” for an indefinite period, despite Eritrean Government claims that it is only for 18 months. The UK Government appears satisfied with a statement from an Eritrean minister to that effect as opposed to United Nations, Amnesty, Human Rights Watch reports and the testimonies of hundreds of Eritreans fleeing indefinite slavery in their country. According to the UN report on Eritrea published in June 2015: “on the pretext of defending the integrity of the State and ensuring its self-sufficiency Eritreans are subject to systems of national service and forced labour that effectively abuse, exploit and enslave them for indefinite periods of time”.

That is why Eritrean people in the UK are organising a national protest in Liverpool on Tuesday 16th June against a cynical Home Office policy. This new policy – if implemented – would abandon the UK’s commitment to the 1951 Refugee Convention which commits states to providing refuge for those with a “well-founded fear of persecution”. It would be replaced by a policy which shows more respect to racist anti-immigration sentiments and corporate mining interests than it does to the lives of Eritrean people.



******   Insight into the Eritrean Situation meeting Wednesday 17th June   ******

Come to a Refugee Week meeting in Sheffield on Wednesday 17th 4-6pm at Theatre Delicatessen, find out more and have your say. The Theatre is at 17 The Moor, Sheffield in the old Woolworths’ building.
Come to hear Tesfamhret Tsegazghi from Eritrea talk about the history of the country, colonisation by the British and Italians, war and Eritrea’s fight for independence and why 1 in every 10 Eritrean people have left their country in search of safety and human rights.
And find out what historical event links Rotherham and Eritrea…




SYMAAG AGM 20th May: Life in the “hostile environment”

“Illegal” ex-Immigration Minister Mark Harper has been appointed Conservative Chief Whip. Harper resigned from his post after he was found to have illegally employed Isabella Acevedo last year. Harper was given another ministerial job days later.

Isabella Acevedo (who Harper employed to clean his flat for £22 per week) was seized by immigration police at her daughter’s wedding, sent to Yarls Wood and deported to Colombia.

Third Parties

Though protests did not stop Isabella’s deportation it became clear, after an unprecedented Home Office admission, that Isabella’s original deportation flight was changed because of “potential disruption by third parties”.

The Dial: Home Office resources to fight "immigration crime"

The Dial: Home Office resources to fight “immigration crime” and resistance from “third parties”.

During the next 5 years the protests and organisation of “third parties” will play a big role in combating the “hostile environment” for “illegal” migrants which Theresa May and the Government aim to construct. May continues as Home Secretary convening meetings of the aptly-named Hostile Environment Working Group    

Come to the SYMAAG Annual General Meeting on Wednesday 20th May 7pm to discuss how we can organise support for migrants’ rights over the next 5 years.

In particular we will look at how to take forward the Don’t Let Them Drown campaign for Mediterranean migrants. The situation is urgent: The UK Government along with other European Union countries is seeking UN backing to send warships to “neutralise” ships to carry migrants across the Mediterranean. Our guest speaker at the AGM is Tesfamhret Tsegazghi from Eritrea who will speak about why people leave countries like Eritrea looking for safety and security in Europe and how we can support them.

The meeting starts at 7pm at Central United Reform Church on Norfolk Street, opposite Crucible Theatre (doors open at 6.30 for a cup of tea).


Support Asylum and Migrant Rights on May 7th

We asked the General Election candidates in South Yorkshire if they supported our Asylum and Migrant Rights 6-Point Pledge:

  • Those seeking asylum should have the right to work whilst in the U.K.
  • Replace Azure cards with adequate cash support for asylum seekers whilst in the U.K.
  • End the indefinite detention of asylum seekers and migrants without time limits; and introduce judicial oversight for immigration detention. End the detention of children.
  • Give those seeking asylum full access to healthcare and to English courses.
  • Restore and give adequate legal aid for immigration and asylum cases; and enough time to make legal representations.
  • Keep families together, whatever their income, by abolishing the income threshold for family members’ visas.

These are the candidates who confirmed that they did support the six pledges for the 2015 General Election:




Peter Garbutt

Sheffield Hallam


Jillian Creasy

Sheffield Central


Mike Driver

Sheffield Central

Workers Revolutionary Party

Louise Haigh

Sheffield Heeley


Rita Wilcock

Sheffield Heeley


Alan Munro

Sheffield Heeley

Trade Unionist & Socialist Coalition (TUSC)

Ian Whitehouse

Sheffield South East


Maxine Bowler

Sheffield Hillsborough & Brightside


Dave Gibson

Barnsley Central


You can find out more about the parties’ policies on asylum and migrant rights at

With thanks to Migrants Rights Network



What the Candidates Said Last Time…

For your information, the table below shows the responses to a similar Asylum and Migrant Rights Election Pledge in the 2010 General Election. Those candidates marked with * indicates those who are standing again in the election and who supported some or all of the 2010 Pledge but did not in 2015.


Constituency Candidate Party
Sheffield Hallam Nick Clegg * Liberal Democrat
Sheffield Hallam Steve Barnard Green
Sheffield Hallam Martin Fitzpatrick Independent
Sheffield Central Jillian Creasy Green
Sheffield Central Paul Scriven Liberal Democrat
Sheffield Brightside Maxine Bowler Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition
Sheffield Heeley Simon Clement-Jones* Liberal Democrat
Sheffield Attercliffe Clive Betts * Labour
Rotherham Rebecca Taylor Liberal Democrat
Rother Valley Kevin Barron * Labour
Barnsley Central Eric Illsley Labour
Barnsley East John Brown Liberal Democrat


Whatever the result of the election one thing is for certain: the fight for life and dignity for migrants will continue. We hope you will join with us and other asylum and migrant rights groups in doing this.

Our Annual General Meeting will be held in Sheffield on Wednesday May 20th 7pm at the Central United Reform Church on Norfolk Street, Sheffield. Get involved.







Asylum Rights Election Question Time Sheffield 16th April 7pm

Will any political party will stand up for the rights of refugees and people seeking asylum?

Do the votes of refugees, anti-racists and supporters of human rights and migrants rights count? Do the candidates support the creation of a “hostile environment” for some people coming to live, seek safety or work in this country? How will the candidates challenge racism and xenophobia towards refugees and migrants?


Asylum Rights Election Question Time

SYMAAG has organised an Asylum Rights Election Question Time event on Thursday 16th April at 7pm in Sheffield where you get the chance to question representatives from most of the parties standing in the general election in South Yorkshire. The event is also supported by all of the major asylum/migration organisations and charities in our region: the Committee to Defend Asylum Seekers; Sheffield City of Sanctuary; South Yorkshire Refugee Law and Justice; ASSIST and Northern Refugee Centre

The meeting is at 7pm Victoria Hall S1 2JB in the centre of Sheffield, opposite the Crucible Theatre (see Get directions to Victoria Hall Methodist Church, Sheffield). The meeting starts at 7pm but doors open at 6.30pm for a cup of tea and a chance to look around the information stalls.

After short introductions to the main issues facing refugees and people seeking asylum from the vice-chairs of SYMAAG, the politicians will make short speeches, leaving plenty of time for your points and questions.

If you want to ask a question but can’t get to the meeting use the Twitter hashtag #asylumrights and we will try to put your point to the politicians

"Don't Let Them Drown" protest at the Home Office last month in Sheffield

“Don’t Let Them Drown” protest at the Home Office last month in Sheffield

Election Pledges

By the time of the meeting, candidates in South Yorkshire will have all been asked to support 6 key migrants’ rights election pledges.

  • Those seeking asylum should have the right to work whilst in the U.K.
  • Replace Azure cards with adequate cash support for asylum seekers whilst in the U.K.
  • End the indefinite detention of asylum seekers and migrants without time limits; and introduce judicial oversight for immigration detention. End the detention of children.
  • Give those seeking asylum full access to healthcare and to English courses.
  • Restore and give adequate legal aid for immigration and asylum cases; and enough time to make legal representations.
  • Keep families together, whatever their income, by abolishing the income threshold for family members’ visas.

For more information on the background to these Election Pledges see SYMAAG General Election Pledges May 2015 Briefing which has also been sent to candidates.

For a record of the candidates in the 2010 general election who supported our Asylum Rights Election Pledges see here.

2012 protest against G4S in Sheffield. G4S still get public money for forcing adults to share rooms in asylum housing

2012 protest against G4S in Sheffield. G4S still get public money for forcing adults to share rooms in asylum housing


Here is the full list of speakers for the meeting on Thursday 16th April:

Chair Sarah Eldridge (Sheffield City of Sanctuary)

Introductions and SYMAAG Election Pledges by Violet Dickenson (vice chair SYMAAG)and Phillis Andrew (vice chair SYMAAG)

Parliamentary Candidates and speakers from the

Conservative Party: (speaker invited)

Green Party:   Jillian Creasy (Prospective Parliamentary Candidate Sheffield Central)

Labour Party:  Paul Blomfield (PPC Sheffield Central)

Liberal Democrats:  Joe Otten (PPC Sheffield Central)

Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC):  Maxine Bowler (PPC Sheffield Brightside and Hillsborough)

United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP): (Steve Winstone PPC Sheffield Heeley)


Facts on which countries refugees go to are available should any candidate wish to use them  orihttp://www.star-network.org.uk/index.php/refugees/facts_figures

Facts on which countries refugees go to are available should any candidate wish to use them orihttp://www.star-network.org.uk/index.php/refugees/facts_figures

“I am one of the lucky ones who survived this journey”

This is the personal testimony of Sunday from Nigeria. Sunday is in a detention centre in Malta. A representative of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees put SYMAAG in touch with Sunday. We had intended to read it out on the Don’t Let Them Drown demonstration in Sheffield on March 17th but Sunday – for understandable reasons – wasn’t able to send it to us in time.

dontletthemdrownimage2SYMAAG received this message from Malta on 20/3/15

“My name is Sunday, I am from Nigeria. I came from Libya by boat to Malta. And this journey through the Mediterranean  sea to that part of Europe is a risky journey, and it is not an easy journey. Many people have lost their lives during this journey through the Mediterranean sea to any part of Europe.

In my own case, we spent four days in the Mediterranean sea, but many people spend more days than I did. I am one of the lucky ones who survived this journey  to give my testimony. During this journey many people lost their lives, many were sick and many fainted.

We knew the journey was risky but still we embarked on this journey. But there are things in our countries which make us take this journey. We don’t care what will happen. I am happy today because I am one of the lucky ones who made it. We spent four days in the Mediterranean sea before we got to Malta. Many people have died, some people fainted , we ran out of water and we ran out of food. Also we ran out of petrol. We ran out of everything, we were hopeless in the sea, the wind was just taking us from one point to the other.

We were lucky enough that Malta rescue team came to rescue us. I left my country because of persecution. Many people leave their countries because of this reason.  So I’m speaking in this video to beg European governments, UK government, to please, not to stop their rescue missions, not to stop their funding. Please continue the good work that you have been doing before. Thank you, and please don’t let them drown.”

tesfamukbaAt the end of the ‘Don’t let Them Drown’ demonstration  a petition was handed to the Home Office at Vulcan House. It called for measures to rescue migrants in the Mediterranean who – unlike Sunday – were not “one of the lucky ones”

Sheffield, Leeds, Stockton: G4S asylum tenants speak out against overcrowding and WIN!

Latest news Wednesday 25th March: SYMAAG presented evidence of asylum tenants of G4S in Sheffield living in overcrowded conditions to the full meeting of Sheffield City Council. In one case 9 men (all strangers) were forced to share 5 rooms. We petitioned the council, lobbied councillors and spoke at the meeting.

We asked the question: will Sheffield City Council ban G4S (or any other asylum housing contractor) from forcing adults to share rooms? Will the Council join others in our region – like Leeds, Bradford and Hull – in amending its housing licensing guidelines to stop this abusive practice? The answer of Councillor Mazher Iqbal Cabinet Member for Communities & Public Health was “Room sharing in asylum housing will not happen in this city. That practice will stop”. He explained that the necessary changes regarding Council policy and regulations on Houses of Multiple Occupation were being made.

This is some good news for asylum tenants in Sheffield. If you are an asylum tenant with G4S or if you know someone who is, or work with them, there should be no more forced sharing of rooms. If G4S have forced you to share a room and you would prefer your own room, it is your right to demand that.

If you have any problems with G4S about this, contact Sheffield City Councillor Mazher Iqbal at mazher.iqbal@sheffield.gov.uk or call him directly 0779 2127843. You can, of course, contact us at any time at dignitynotdetention@yahoo.co.uk



Back in early 2012 G4S senior management requested a meeting with SYMAAG and other critics after the Home Office handed them the £150 million COMPASS contract to house people seeking asylum in Yorkshire and Humberside.

G4S – having recently lost the contract to deport asylum seekers after the death of Jimmy Mubenga – wanted to persuade us to end our opposition to them running asylum housing. When questioned on their motivation for this new business move their response was honest: “our primary concern is to make a return for our shareholders” in “the asylum market”.


 “the asylum market” in Leeds

In 2013 Leeds Council ordered G4S to review all of its asylum properties after the brave testimony of asylum tenants highlighted cockroaches, mould and G4S bullying.

One small room one family

Leeds: One small room one family. Photo by John Grayson

Two years later, G4S shareholders might be reaping benefits but asylum tenants are not. A recent report from John Grayson and Violet Dickenson from SYMAAG identified dangerous and unhealthy overcrowding in asylum housing in Leeds – in one house 12 women and 11 babies share one bath (G4S are paid per tenant per house). The story was investigated by BBC Radio Leeds (listen again at 2 hours 10 minutes in). According to Leeds City Council G4S asylum accommodation is “legal but not acceptable”.


9 men 5 bedrooms in Sheffield

It seems that overcrowding – in addition to squalid and dangerous housing – is G4S’ latest attempt to keep its shareholders happy. In one property in Sheffield 9 men were sharing 5 rooms. Forcing people – sometimes traumatised – to share bedrooms with strangers seems to be on the increase. But, despite bullying and threats, G4S tenants are speaking out.

We are calling on Sheffield City Council to amend the regulations for landlords of Houses in Multiple Occupation to ban the sharing of bedrooms by unrelated adults, unless tenants have expressly requested this.

SYMAAG and the northern Stop G4S group will present a petition to the Sheffield City Council meeting on Wednesday 25th March and address the councillors on this issue. We will begin by lobbying councillors from 1.30pm outside Sheffield Town Hall.

'Mary said the whole house was “impossible” for babies and small children'

‘Mary said the whole house was “impossible” for babies and small children’

Stockton on Tees: overcrowding and racist attacks

Stockton on Tees is fast becoming a favourite place for asylum tenants to be uprooted and sent too, despite numerous incidences of violent racist attacks. Again, overcrowding is rife, in houses at the bottom end of acceptability managed by sub-contractor Jomast and its millionaire owner. The infamous mother and baby hostel with its rooms described as “cells” still operates despite protests from the women housed there. A recent BBC Inside Out report dealt sympathetically with the issues facing asylum tenants in Stockton and is well worth a listen.

“unacceptably poor” / “substandard”

The latest news from Leeds and Stockton confirms what the Public Accounts Committee concluded a year ago from the evidence on G4S asylum housing provided to them by ourselves and others: that G4S (and Serco) asylum housing was “unacceptably poor”. This was after an investigation by the National Audit Office which found that G4S (and Serco) were failing to meet “key performance targets” and placing people in “substandard” housing.

In a pre-election period where political parties exploit people’s concerns about the low quantity and quality of social housing we think a light should be shone on those giant companies which receive hundreds of millions of public money to house people seeking asylum and fail to do so. Lowering housing standards for asylum seekers lowers standards for all who need social housing and is an issue that concerns us all.

We repeat our call to local authorities, the Home Office, to this government and the next: listen to what asylum tenants are saying:

  • cancel the COMPASS housing contract
  • provide good quality social housing in the public sector for all, including people who seek asylum
  • compensate asylum tenants for the abuse and disrespect they have endured
  • no more public contracts to G4S