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 or call him directly 0779 2127843. You can, of course, contact us at any time at



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


“Let them drown is a policy”

100 people demonstrated in Sheffield today to say “Don’t Let Them Drown” and to call for a humanitarian migration policy towards refugees crossing the Mediterranean Sea to Europe.

Some of those on the demonstration were from countries experiencing war and repression. Tesfam from Eritrea spoke, condemning the UK Government’s policy of leaving refugees to drown in the Mediterranean Sea comparing it to blocking a fire exit door – if there’s a fire people will still try to break the door down. He stressed the point that people risked everything to find safety in Europe for good reasons.


The testimony of a Palestinian refugee whose friend drowned was also read out by a member of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign: “I am telling you this because I don’t want it to happen to other people” his statement ended.

The march was organised by SYMAAG but supported by a range of asylum rights groups from South Yorkshire and branches of the Green Party, Labour Party and Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition. There was also support from a range of faith groups, Sheffield Trade Union Council and Unite Community Union.


The demonstration attracted a lot of attention as we marched through up The Moor and past the main market. There was some hostility: one man told me he was “pleased” that Syrian people were drowning trying to reach Europe (before walking away fast) but the majority of people were curious and sympathetic when a conversation got going. One English woman told me that her Syrian friend had crossed the Mediterranean to escape the war, taking her young son with her. Her son had drowned before the boat reached Italy.

We ended at Vulcan House, the regional Home Office HQ for a rally, interviews and to hand in a petition calling for a change in Government policy to recognise that the lives of refugees are as valuable as anyone else’s and for safe, legal routes of migration to be established.


But only yesterday the Home Office made it more difficult for Syrian refugees to claim asylum in the UK and revealed that dozens of Syrian refugees had been either forcibly deported form the UK or were locked in immigration detention awaiting deportation.…/

We know we have a long way to go but today was a good start, a show of solidarity between Europe and Africa.


More photos of the protest at here along with an audio of some of the speeches (with thanks to Chris)

Tesfam, who spoke at the protest in Sheffield speaks to Toby Foster of Radio Sheffield at 52mins 15secs in

The Home Office’s sinister moves to create a “hostile environment” for migrants

First the Go Home vans, the Go Home texts and now this.

Meet the UK’s latest weapon against organised crime…and asylum seekers

This article was first published on Open Democracy on 16th March written by John Grayson, chair of the South Yorkshire Migration and Asylum Action Group

Take a look at this. It’s part of the Home Office’s armoury in the fight against “immigration crime”. They call it The Dial.

It’s stamped with the National Crime Agency logo, and, among others, HM Prison Service, HM Revenue & Customs, and the gigantic international data company Experian.

The Dial is about tactics. They include: “Prosecute and disrupt Organised Crime Groups”, and “Run community engagement surgeries to strengthen the message”.

Huh? Community engagement to tackle organised crime?

It’s all explained on the reverse:

“The Dial is a visual representation of our strategic objectives showing the wide range of tactics that we need to deploy in order to effectively drive down immigration crime. Our collective use of intelligence is at the heart of the approach which we then use to select the most effective responses to any given threat…a flexible system that we can ‘dial up’ in response to emerging threats or ministerial priorities.”

I volunteer among asylum seekers in the north of England. I have never knowingly had any contact with organised crime groups. The asylum seekers and their families I work alongside in South Yorkshire are by no stretch of the imagination “an emerging threat”.

So I was surprised, to say the least, when a senior Home Office official handed out The Dial to some representatives from Sheffield charities at a recent meeting.

Let’s recall who asylum seekers are and why they are here. The 1951 UN Convention ensures protection for people who have a “well-founded fear of persecution” because of their race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership of a particular groups. The Home Office is responsible for deciding whether an asylum applicant should be recognised as a refugee under the terms of the convention.

Protections for refugees have got nothing at all to do with organised crime. That’s something else, something completely different. So why is the government trying to conflate the two?

A meeting with the Home Office

There’s a lot of concern around Sheffield about a steep deterioration in the way that asylum seekers are being treated at the Home Office’s Sheffield base, Vulcan House, an office block by the River Don, where asylum seekers are obliged to sign in regularly.

Volunteers who escort ‘failed’ asylum seekers and people waiting for outcomes of appeals have been  treated contemptuously there.

A retired teacher from Barnsley, who is an experienced volunteer, told me what happened when he accompanied a South Asian family on a recent visit to Vulcan House: “As soon as I entered the building I was shouted at to ‘identify’ myself. One of the staff spoke to me as if I was a child. ‘If you’re not their lawyer what are you doing here? Get over there out of the way and don’t interfere.’”

Graffiti, Birmingham 2011 Adam Yosef / I Am Birmingham

Officials have been handing out compulsory questionnaires (in English) to asylum seekers, demanding comprehensive personal and family information from people signing.

The Home Office wants to know, not just any addresses where the asylum seeker has stayed, but also details of everyone else at these addresses. Asylum seekers are obliged to tell the Home Office if they are doing any voluntary work and, if so, where.

Sheffield asylum rights charities had sought a meeting with Home Office staff from Vulcan House to talk about these matters.

A meeting took place in February on the neutral ground of local MP Paul Blomfield’s office on an industrial estate not far from Sheffield United’s Bramhall Lane stadium.

The representatives were surprised to find that the Home Office had sent along its head of the ‘Reporting Centres’ for asylum seekers across Yorkshire and the North East region of the UK.

The charity people raised their concerns. The senior officer from the Home Office was apparently in no mood to apologise for her staff or give any ground to “you voluntary organisations”. Instead, she brusquely handed out copies of The Dial.

Then she read out a lecture about her exercise of powers under the new Immigration Act of 2014 (checking on addresses and landlords who housed illegal immigrants) and hinting that anyone (not just landlords) giving assistance to illegal immigrants in the future might find themselves subject to the law. She also threatened the representatives with the prospect of an order “at present on the Minister’s desk waiting to be signed off” banning volunteer escorts from all Reporting Centres.

Tackling terrorism

Around The Dial are the four Ps — Pursue Prevent Protect Prepare.

  • This is the language of the government’s anti-terrorism strategy, known as Contest, explained here (PDF): “Our counter-terrorism strategy will continue to be organised around four workstreams, each comprising a number of key objectives:
  • Pursue: to stop terrorist attacks;
  • Prevent: to stop people becoming terrorists or supporting terrorism;
  • Protect: to strengthen our protection against a terrorist attack; and
  • Prepare: to mitigate the impact of a terrorist attack.”
  • When, in 2013, the Coalition government launched its National Crime Agency (NCA) to “make the UK a hostile environment for serious and organised criminals”, there were the four Ps again.

    Go Home van, touring London boroughs, Summer 2013

  • The term “hostile environment” has a particularly ugly resonance — it has long been part of the language of rodent control. So why is this rhetoric being invoked against asylum-seekers and other respectable, law-abiding people in Sheffield who work with them?

    The hostile environment

In Chapter five of the Labour party’s 2010 election manifesto, entitled “Crime and Immigration” (author: Ed Miliband) you can read this: “We will continue to make Britain a hostile place for organised criminals.”

Then, in the very next paragraph: “Our borders are stronger than ever. A new Border Agency has police-level powers and thousands more immigration officers. . .”

In 2010 a Home Office whistle blower called Louise Perrett exposed the racist culture at the Cardiff UK Border Agency. A soft toy gorilla called a ‘grant monkey’, was placed on the desk of any officer who approved an asylum application, as a mark of shame. One method used to determine the authenticity of an asylum seeker claiming to be from North Korea was to ask whether the person ate chop suey.

In May 2012 Coalition Home Secretary Theresa May told the Telegraph: 

“The aim is to create here in Britain a really hostile environment for illegal migration. Work is under way to deny illegal immigrants access to work, housing and services, even bank accounts. What we don’t want is a situation where people think that they can come here and overstay because they’re able to access everything they need.”

Liberal Democrat MP Sarah Teather in 2013 disclosed that the Coalition government had, “on the explicit instructions of the prime minister”, brought together a group of ministers called “the hostile environment working group – its job being to make Britain a hostile environment to unwanted immigrants.”

In 2013, as part of its hostile environment strategy, the Home Office sent vans touring London boroughs bearing the message: “In the UK illegally? Go Home or Face Arrest.”

That phrase: “Go Home”. Down the decades, migrants and their descendants have heard it from racists.

UK Border Agency Office, Glasgow Broad Street, September 2013

In Glasgow, visitors to the Home Office’s Broad Street offices were assailed by gigantic posters declaring: “Is life here hard? Going home is simple.” Chairs in the waiting room bore the message “Ask about going home.”

Then came the government texts, sent by outsourcer Capita direct to peoples mobile phones, telling them: “You are required to leave the UK as you no longer have right to remain.”

For reasons that have never been satisfactorily explained, one recipient was the civil rights activist Suresh Grover, who has lived in Britain for fifty years and holds a British passport. Another was Bobby Chan, an accredited immigration adviser at a central London law centre.

Home Office text, sent by Capita, October 2013

Then came the Immigration Act in 2014, making doctors, teachers, landlords and health vistors agents of immigration control.

The current induction training programme for immigration staff employed by the Home Office starts with a section labelled “Combat” and addresses the personal security risks associated with contact with immigrants and asylum seekers, according to people who have seen it.

The Sheffield meeting ended with a blunt statement of intent from the senior officer from the Home Office: “We are not going to allow people to have a comfortable life here when they should return to their countries of origin.”


This article was first published on Open Democracy on 16th March written by John Grayson, chair of the South Yorkshire Migration and Asylum Action Group




Notes & references

Decca Aitkenhead ‘Sarah Teather: I’m angry there are no alternative voices on immigration’ The Guardian 12 July 2013 

John Grayson ‘The shameful ‘Go Home’ campaign’ IRR News 22 August 2013 

Bethan Jenkins AM ‘We must investigate UK Border Agency allegations’ @ LGBT Asylum News 20 February 2010

  • CONTEST summary issued in July 2011 (PDF here)


  • The names on The Dial:
  • The National Crime Agency is one of eight government departments and agencies whose logos appear underneath The Dial. The others are: HM Prison Service, the Department of Work& Pensions, UK Visa & Immigration, the Driver & Vehicle Licensing Agency, the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, HM Revenue & Customs.

In among them is the international data company: Experian, which calls itself an “information powerhouse”, with annual revenues of $4.8bn (March 2014), 16,000 employees worldwide and headquarters in Nottingham, England.

ንኽጥሕሉ ኣይትሕደግዎም Don’t Let Them Drown demonstration leaflet Tigrinya

ንኽጥሕሉ ኣይትሕደግዎም
Don’t Let Them Drown
ሰለማዊ ሰልፊ ኣብ ከተማ ሸፍልድ ንሰሉስ 17 መጋቢት
ርእስና ኣብ ሑጻ ምቕባር ደው ነብል::
ኣማኢት ሰባት ኣብ ባሕሪ አንዳ ሞቱ ክለዉ: ሃገራት ርእሰን ኣብ ሑጻ ምቕባር ደው
ከብላ ኣለወን::
መንግስቲ ዓባይ ብሪጣንያን ኤውሮጳዊ ሕብረትን ህይወት ንምድሓን ክወስድዎም
ዝኽእሉ ስጉምቲታት እዞም ዝስዕቡ አማራስትት ኣሎዉ
 ንሓተቲ ዑቕባ ናብ ኤውሮፓ ዝኣትዉሉ ውሑስን ሕጋውን መስመር
 ካብ ሓድሽ መንግስቲ ግሪኽ ተማሃሩ: ንሓተት ኣዑቕባ ናብ ኩናትን
ዓመጽን ደፍእኩም ኣይትምለስዎም::
 ንፎርትረስ ኤውሮፕ በድህዎ: ካብ ኩናትን ዓመጽን ንዝመጹ ስደተኛታት
እንቃዕ ብደሓን መጻኹም ኢልኩም ተቐበልዎም::
ምሳና ኣብ ሰለማዊ ሰልፊ ተሳተፉ: ንመንግስቲ ዓባይ ብሪጣንያ ‘ንኽጥሕሉ ኣይትሕደግዎም
ሰሉስ 17 መጋቢት ኣብ ዕዳጋ ሙር (the Moor) 12:12 ንራኸብ:: ካብኡ ድማ ሰዓት ሓደ ናብ
ምምሕዳር ከተማ ክንበጽሕ ኢና:: ቀጺልና ድማ ናብ ሆም ኦፊስ (Home Office at
Vulcan House S3 8NU )ሰዓት ክልተ ክንበጽሕ ኢና::
Organised by the South Yorkshire Migration and Asylum Action Group
email: web: Twitter: @symaag

Download this leaflet Dont let them drown flyer(1) tigrinyaDont let them drown flyer

لا تدعهم يغرقون بيان مدينة شفيلد -الثلاثاء 17 مارس

Arabic leaflet for Don’t Let Them Drown demonstration Tuesday 17th March Sheffield 12noon


لا تدعهم يغرقون

بيان مدينة شفيلد -الثلاثاء 17 مارس


كل عام  يضطر الملايين من الناس في جميع أنحاء العالم إلى ترك ديارهم رغما عنهم بسبب الصراعات والاضطهاد والفقر. فئة قليلة من هؤلاء تبحث عن الأمان و حياة أفضل في أوروبا.

كل عام هناك المئات من الناس يموتون أثناء محاولتهم الوصول إلى سواحل أوروبا عابرين البحر الأبيض المتوسط.

في يوم واحد من شهر فبراير من هذا العام, غرق 339 شخصا بالقرب من السواحل الإيطالية, معظم هؤلاء كانو (إخوة و أخوات من أسرة واحدة أصغرهم كان عمره 12 عاما.)


يقول محمد من سوريا واصفا حادثة غرق قارب يحمل 400 شخص في البحر الأبيض المتوسط في 11 أكتوبر  2013 ” عندما غرق القارب, لم أستطع ايجاد أصدقائي, تساءلت: أين هم؟ و بعد ذلك وجدت عمر ,أما الآخرين فلم أجدهم في أي مكان. و حاولت مساعدة البقية و لكن لم أستطع. اكتفينا انا و عمر بمساعدة بعضنا البعض و لكن كان صعبا ان نسبح في الماء لساعات.  كان كل منا يبحث عن أهله و أصدقائه.”
في أواخر أكتوبر من العام الماضي, قالت الحكومة البريطانية أنها لم تقم بدعم أي عمليات بحث عن اللاجئين في البحر الأبيض المتوسط. حيث لقى في عام 2014 أكثر من 3400 شخص مصرعم أثناء محاولتهم العبور. و تم انقاذ حوالي 150,000 من خلال شرطة السواحل.

يسعى الإتحاد الأوروبي في الوقت الحالي إلى صياغة سياسة جديدة, بما يسمى ب “دعهم يغرقون”, جاعلا من البحر المتوسط مقبرة جماعية . و هذا أمر غير أخلاقي.


دعونا نتوقف عن دفن رؤوسنا في الرمال

تدّعي الحكومة البريطانية أن إنقاذ الناس من الغرق في البحر المتوسط يشجعهم على القيام بهذه الرحلة ,و لكن لماذا يخاطر هؤلاء الناس بكل شيئ للوصل الى اوروبا؟

كثير من الناس يهربون من الحرب الرهيبة في سوريا، حيث 1 من كل 6 أشخاص يتركون بلادهم, الأخرين في فلسطين فروا نتيجة الدمار الشامل الذي خلفه القصف الإسرائيلي لغزة. و من يأتي من ايريتيريا هربا من أعمال السخرة (في بعض الأحيان يكون عمل هؤلاء مع شركات أجنبية). أما السودانيين فانهم يفرون من الدكتاتورية و أعمال الإبادة الجماعية. .

و بالفعل, في شتاء 2015 زاد عدد من حاولوا عبور البحر الابيض المتوسط باحثين عن الأمان في أوروبا بنسبة 60%,, إن ترك الناس تغرق او بناء اسوار عالية لمنع وصولهم , لم يوقف بحثهم عن الأمان. كما قالت منظمة العفو الدولية: “يجب على الدول الأعضاء في الاتحاد الأوروبي وقف دفن رؤوسهم في الرمال بينما المئات يموتون في عرض البحر.”

هناك طرق بديلة يمكن ان تتبعها الحكومة البريطانية والاتحاد الأوروبي  للحفاظ على حياة هؤلاء الناس:

  •  توفير طرق آمنة وقانونية إلى أوروبا لأولئك الذين يبحثون عن الآمان.
  • مراجعة تجربة الحكومة اليونانية “لا تدفع اللاجئين على العودة إلى الحرب والاضطهاد”.
  • تحدي أوروبا “القلعة الحصينة” .مرحبا باللاجئين الفارين من الحرب و الاضطهاد.

تضامن معنا – قل للحكومة البريطانية: “لا تدعهم يغرقون”

مكان التجمع

Tuesday 17Th . Meet at the bottom of the Moor 12.15. March to Town Hall for a rally at 1pm then to the Home Office at Vulcan House S3 8NU for 2pm.

–الاستماع إلى المتحدثين من مختلف أنحاء العالم ساردين  قصصهم والدعوة إلى العدالة–


منظمة من خلال South Yorkshire Migration و Asylum Action Group

البريد الإلكتروني:


تويتر: @symaag


Arabic leaflet for demonstration to download at dont let them drown arabic leafet1

Don’t Let Them Drown: Demonstrate in Sheffield Tuesday March 17th

The Mediterranean Sea is becoming a mass grave. Join us in our call for a humanitarian policy towards migrants crossing the Mediterranean Sea in search of safety in Europe

Every year millions of people around the world are forced from their homes by conflict, persecution and poverty.  A small proportion of these seek safety and a better life in Europe.

Every year hundreds of people die trying to reach Europe’s shores crossing the Mediterranean Sea. 339 people were drowned close to the Italian coast on one day in February this year. Many were sisters and brothers. The youngest was 12 years old.

“When the boat sank, I could not find my friends. I was asking: where are they? Then I found Omar but another friend was nowhere to be found. I tried to help others but could not. Omar and I helped each other but it was difficult to swim for hours. In the water everyone was looking for family and friends.” Mohammed from Syria describing his boat with 400 people on board sink in the Mediterranean 11 October 2013

med migrant boat

But the UK Government said last October that it would no longer support any search and rescue operations for refugees at sea in the Mediterranean. More than 3400 people died attempting the crossing in 2014.

Around 150,000 people have been rescued by the service which has been withdrawn.

Now, the European Union, including the UK, have a ‘policy’ described by many as “Let Them Drown”. This will lead to the Mediterranean Sea becoming a mass grave. This is immoral.


Let’s Stop Burying Our Heads in the Sand

The UK Government claims that saving people from drowning in the Mediterranean encourages them to make the journey but why do people risk everything to try to reach Europe?

Many people are escaping the terrible war in Syria, where 1 in every 6 people has left the country. Some are Palestinians fleeing from Israeli destruction in Gaza. Some come from Eritrea where people are forced into slave labour (sometimes for western mining companies) for years. People from Sudan are escaping a dictatorship guilty of genocide.

Already in 2015 60% more people than in the same period last year have crossed the Mediterranean, in winter seas, looking for safety in Europe. Letting people drown or building higher fences won’t stop people seeking safety. As Amnesty International say: “European Union member states must stop burying their heads in the sand whilst hundreds keep dying at sea”.

Embedded image permalink

There are life-saving alternatives the British Government and the European Union could adopt:

  • Provide safe and legal routes to Europe for those seeking safety
  • Learn from the new Greek Government: don’t push refugees back to war and persecution
  • Challenge Fortress Europe. Welcome refugees from war and persecution


Demonstrate with us  –  Tell the UK Government:  “Don’t Let Them Drown”

Tuesday 17th March. Meet at the bottom of the Moor 12.15. March to Town Hall for a rally at 1pm then to the Home Office at Vulcan House S3 8NU for 2pm.

Confirmed speakers so far: Lee Jasper (Movement Against Xenophobia), speaker from Sheffield’s Eritrean Community, Cllr Jillian Creasy (Green Party), Louise Haigh (Labour Party), Palestine Solidarity Campaign Sheffield

Organised by the South Yorkshire Migration and Asylum Action Group

You can download leaflets for the demonstration here

English Dont let them drown flyer

Arabic dont let them drown arabic leafet1

Tigrinya tigrinyaDont let them drown flyer


Who killed Jimmy Mubenga?

In 2013 an inquest found that Jimmy Mubenga was “unlawfully killed” while being “escorted” by G4S guards on a forced deportation flight to Angola in October 2010. On December 16th 2014 these G4S guards were found not guilty of manslaughter.


mubenga court protest

Protesting outside Westminster Court during the trial

“I am going to start a campaign to stop this happening again”

Jimmy Mubenga’s widow Adrienne Makenda Kambana said in response “For the last four years I have fought for justice for Jimmy and our five children.  It is hard for me to understand how the jury reached this decision with all the overwhelming evidence that Jimmy said over and over that he could not breathe.” 20 other people on the flight testified that they had heard Jimmy call out “I can’t breathe” and “They’re going to kill me.”

“I am going to start a campaign to stop this happening again,” Adrienne told the Guardian during the trial. “I will ask the Home Office to make sure there is an independent monitor on each deportation so they can observe what is going on. I can’t stand by and watch this happen to another family. I have to do that for Jimmy.”

mubenga protest imd

Protesting outside G4S HQ on International Migrants Day

Racist texts: “Inadmissable Evidence”?

Immediately after the trial it emerged that the judge had ruled as “inadmissible” evidence pointing to endemic racism within G4S. 76 racist texts had been found on the phones of two of the  G4S guards “escorting” Jimmy Mubenga on the deportation flight. Clare Sambrook of Open Democracy (who had been ordered to remove certain website articles critical of G4S during the trial) looks at this issue here.

Around 200 people protested on December 18th International Migrants Day outside the Home Office in London demanding justice for Jimmy. Protesters called. “We can’t breathe”, echoing the last words of both Jimmy and of Eric Garner who was killed by police in New York recently. The protest finished with an impromptu march to the nearby headquarters of G4S.

mubenga i cant breathe

Adrienne Kambana and supporters outside court

Heaven and Earth

Frances Webber writing for the Institute of Race Relations commented: “Should we be surprised at the verdicts? No. In all the dozens of deaths in custody involving undue force researched by the IRR over the last twenty-five years no one has ever been convicted of homicide. And where an inquest jury, after seeing and hearing incontrovertible evidence, has brought in a verdict of unlawful killing (which has happened at least nine times), heaven and earth are moved to reverse the verdict and/or to ensure that the CPS does not bring a prosecution of those involved.”

A G4S spokesman said: “Providing a safe and caring environment for those in our custody or care is a priority for G4S”



G4S i cant breathe logo

The UK and Syrian Refugees: in the ‘proud tradition’?

The total number of Syrian refugees resettled in the UK could fit on a bus.

So far the UK has resettled 90 refugees from the biggest refugee crisis since World War Two.

To put his figure in context:

  • 9 million Syrian people (43% of the total population) have been displaced ie forced to move away from their homes by the uprising, war and crisis
  • 3 million have fled to the neighbouring countries of Iraq, Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon (where they are now about 30% of the total population)
  • 150,000 have sought asylum in Europe
  • European Union countries have pledged to resettle (in addition to accepting asylum applications) another 33,000 Syrians
  • 28,500 (85%) of these resettled refugees will be in Germany. The UK has said it will take “hundreds” over “the next three years”. Moldova, Europe’s poorest, country has resettled 50.

It’s difficult to comprehend the scale of this refugee crisis and what it means for those people forced to leave their homes. If a refugee crisis of this scale happened in the UK it would mean 30 million people on the move. As a useful BBC report comparing the UK to Syria pointed out, the numbers of people leaving the UK would be equivalent to the emptying of the entire populations of Greater Manchester, Tyne and Wear, Merseyside, Glasgow and half of Greater London and their exit from the UK. You can hear this report here.

syrian refugees uk percentage


What Can We Do?

Syrian community organisations in the UK and Syrian people seeking asylum have protested urging European countries – and the UK in particular – to resettle more Syrians. There have been several protests in Leeds at the Waterside Home Office Immigration Reporting Centre and regional HQ.

SYMAAG organised a meeting with speakers from the Syrian Association of Yorkshire and Refugee Council in Sheffield in August which unanimously backed a resolution to resettle Syrian refugees calling for the resettlement of “several thousand” Syrian refugees and for South Yorkshire councils to play their part.

We also wrote to Nick Clegg and Theresa May urging them to resettle more refugees and deal with existing claims quickly and favourably.  One Syrian woman at a protest in Leeds told SYMAAG that she had been in the UK for 5 months and she had not even had her initial asylum interview. This correspondence between SYMAAG, Nick Clegg and Theresa May is at letter to Clegg and belowMay Syria reply

May Syria reply 2

May Syria latest reply

Note that although Theresa May’s letter refers to “over 3000 Syrian nationals and dependents” having been granted asylum this is simply a consequence of asylum claims being granted in accordance with existing asylum procedure (the 1951 Convention) not additional numbers to be resettled through the UNHCR Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme

Sheffield City of Sanctuary?

At a local level a war of words between Sheffield City Council and Sheffield MP/Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has gone on since April this year, each accusing the other of refusing to resettle Syrian refugees. Meanwhile – and despite Sheffield’s status as a City of Sanctuary – the City Council has not resettled one Syrian refugee as of December 2014. Many refugees and campaigners suspect that the prospect of this changing becomes more unlikely as the General Election in May 2015 approaches and the parties compete to look “tough on immigration”. We hope we are wrong and continue to urge South Yorkshire councils to accept Syrian refugees as other councils, like Glasgow, have.

“A Proud Tradition”?

At a parliamentary debate on resettlement of Syrian refugees called by Labour on Wednesday 10th December there was much talk – from Government and opposition –  of Britain’s “proud tradition” of welcoming refugees but no commitment to resettling Syrian refugees. Commenting on the debate the Refugee Council remarked “We are not proud; we are ashamed at the scale of Britain’s woefully inadequate resettlement scheme”. Where is this “proud tradition”? Where are these “Cities of Sanctuary”?

syrian refugees at calais

The Slippery, Cynical Politics of Asylum

With just months to go before the UK general election, John Grayson examines party politics on asylum and what the response of migrants and campaigners might be.


Main picture of is migrants and golfers at Melilla, Spanish enclave in Morocco.


This article is an extended version of one first published by the Institute for Race Relations on November 13th


The Slippery, Cynical Politics of Asylum


by John Grayson



A Home Office spokeswoman said: “The UK has a proud history of offering sanctuary to those who need it” (Channel 4 News 16 October after they disclosed the Home Office had deported over a hundred asylum seekers from Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone in the past three months back to their ‘safe’ countries).

”I feel for those who were with me. They got asylum in the sea”’ survivor from the Mediterranean (quoted in Guardian 20 October 2014)

‘We have the right to claim asylum in England but how do we get there? There is not a legal way to cross.’ Part of a statement from a group of Syrian refugees blockading the Calais port administration October 2013

Is there a politics of asylum in Britain? Do any of the mainstream parties actually have a policy?


The New Statesman has described August 2014 as ‘the summer of blood’, with wars across the world. 2014 was also the year when 3000 refugees died in boats in the Mediterranean fleeing from those wars and carnage.On 2 October Ban Ki-Moon UN secretary general himself a child refugee of the Korean War told the annual meeting of the UNHCR that: “Never before in United Nations history have we had so many refugees, displaced people and asylum-seekers.” Campaigners in Yorkshire have found that in the midst of a xenophobic and racist political debate on ‘immigration’ the politics of asylum are in retreat.

This summer asylum rights campaigners in South Yorkshire have been organising and lobbying with Syrian organisations, and the Refugee Council, to resettle Syrian refugees in the region, and to resettle thousands in the UK now rather than the ‘few hundreds’ over three years agreed by the Coalition government. The campaign coincided with a general increase in numbers of ‘dispersed’ asylum seekers in asylum housing (a few of them from Syria) coming to South Yorkshire towns and cities.


UKIP billboard artDefaced UKIP election billboard in Swansea


The campaign also coincided with the rapid escalation of toxic political discourses unleashed by the emergence of UKIP as a political force in the area. The growing numbers of asylum seekers was used as an issue by media and UKIP in their successful campaigns in the European and local elections in Yorkshire. The party held its annual conference at Doncaster racecourse, next door to Ed Miliband’s constituency. UKIP is at present contesting the now vacant Police Commissioner post in South Yorkshire. All this has had its effects. In Rotherham hate crimes have dramatically increased over the summer, and in Barnsley hate crimes, the majority of them racist, are up by 100%; there have been around 150 reported in the first eight months of the year. For the first time for many years in Yorkshire the term ‘asylum seekers’ is again being demonised alongside ‘illegals’ ‘migrants’, ‘foreigners’, and ‘immigrants’.


Only the mantra is left

Also over the summer SYMAAG like many other asylum rights and asylum support organisations was starting to develop our lobbying strategy for candidates in the 2015 General Election. It became obvious in the campaign for Syrian refugees that British politicians and mainstream parties policies on asylum rights had been reduced to the vacuous repetition of a mantra about a “proud history of offering sanctuary to those who need it”:

David Cameron said at the beginning of Refugee Week in June 2014:

The UK has a long tradition of providing sanctuary for those fleeing persecution. I am proud that the UK offers genuine refugees and their children an opportunity to build a new life.


Deputy Prime Minister and Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg said:

. The UK has a long and proud tradition of providing refuge to people at a time of crisis. I am proud that this legacy continues,


In April 2014 Yvette Cooper Labour’s shadow Home Secretary setting out the party’s Immigration policy claimed the party

“Believe it is right to offer safe haven to those escaping rape, torture, genocide or the midnight knock on the door from the secret police. That’s always been the British way.”


In fact the mantra, if it ever had substance, is now long out of date. Now the soundbites of ‘illegal immigrants’ and ‘evil traffickers’ have replaced it in the narratives politicians use to define asylum policy. The current narrative has its origins in earlier electoral moral panics about ‘bogus asylum seekers’ before the June 2001 election. Here is Tony Blair from February 2001 in an Observe’ article entitled ‘Closing Europe’s back door’ (in the previous June fifty eight Chinese migrants were found dead in the back of a lorry at Tilbury docks).


“We Will Honour Our Obligation”

“Every day we hear of the horrors illegal immigrants endure at the hands of the people-traffickers. The catalogue of death in recent times speaks for itself……. hundreds drowned annually crossing the Mediterranean to Spain, Italy, and Greece. There is evidence that traffickers have thrown women and children, many of whom cannot swim, into the Adriatic to avoid detection by police patrol boats. In all that we do, we will honour our obligation to provide protection to those fleeing persecution. But we must not allow such tragic loss of life to continue”


Blair’s pledge to ‘honour our obligation’ was soon discarded. In February 2003, he went on Newsnight and dramatically announced his abandonment of policies under the 1951 UN Convention on Refugees, and an immediate cut in asylum claimants by 50 per cent over the next eight months ‘by making it extremely difficult for people fleeing from persecution to reach the shores of the UK’. The UK abandoned its international obligations, its only gesture being acceptance in 2004 of a ‘Gateway’ programme of ‘resettlement’ of ‘very vulnerable’ refugees from UNHCR camps. At first only Sheffield and Bolton local councils were willing to cooperate. The programme continues with an annual average now of around 750 refugees per year.


The Blair governments also supported the establishment in 2004 of FRONTEX,the EU agency funded to keep the borders of Fortress Europe secure from ‘illegal’ migrants. Labour governments also used the agency for controversial mass deportation flights to Iraq, Nigeria and Sri Lanka. Blair and the UK never fully signed up to all the EU asylum policy and the UK is only on the advisory body directing FRONTEX but has actively contributed to its deportation flights and has contributed personnel to secure borders initiatives in the Mediterranean area. . Tony Blair famously characterised the UK’s selective participation as giving it ‘the best of both worlds’ as the UK was not obliged to take on EU commitments in the asylum and immigration context but could opt in to measures in order to “make sure that there are proper restrictions on some of the European borders that end up affecting our country.”

frontexit mapMap from anti-FRONTEX group Frontexit showing deaths of migrants around Fortress Europe 1993-2012. See


And that is where we stand today; the political mantra about ‘our obligation’ is trotted out by Home Secretary after Shadow Home Secretary – but it is a lie. Our obligation has gone, scuppered by a secure borders policy with steel fences and riot police at Calais; and a lethal sea and land border in the Central and Eastern Mediterranean. The familiar sound bites and the media and political discourses have been repeated over the last ten years to cover for this vacuum in asylum policy. For instance, the Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg on 5 August used the crude stereotype of migrants and refugees as burglars slipping inside Blair’s ‘back door’. Calling for further clampdowns on illegal immigration he claimed that

“Illegal immigration isn’t just about people sneaking in in the back of a lorry”.

Later in August The Daily Mail headlined a story by Sue Reid on the cross Europe routes of migrants as ‘Back Door Britain’.


So what passes for ‘asylum policy’ these days?

Essentially, apart from the gesture of the UNHCR Gateway programme, there are two aspects to asylum ‘policy’:

  1. ‘Strong borders’ – in recent years a fortified UK border at Calais and a FRONTEX land and sea border around Fortress Europe
  2. Asylum procedures and institutions designed as a deterrent to future asylum seekers


Strong Borders: Calais

The Red Cross set up a centre at Sangatte near Calais in 1999 to accommodate refugees from Kosovo and the Balkans who were attempting to gain asylum in the UK. On Christmas Day 2001 500 refugees stormed the Channel Tunnel entrance. Eurotunnel spent more than £6m on security measures to protect the 1,700-acre terminal site, including 20 miles of outer fencing, six miles of razor wire and 300 video cameras. This pattern of protest and organising by refugees and migrants followed by evictions, police brutality and increased security has characterised the last fifteen years. David Cameron recently offered the French authorities £12m to strengthen security at Calais port and the high security fence erected in Newport for the NATO summit. This was in response to September events according to the Press Association ‘where 250 illegal immigrants recently stormed the ferry terminal’. Refugees and migrants had earlier in the summer produced a manifesto of demands and sought negotiations with British and French authorities, or as the Sunday Express put it ‘Hundreds of illegals demand the French send them to Great Britain’ Once in Britain they will claim asylum and all the social security and other benefits that entails…which is why the migrants continually try to sneak aboard lorries headed here’ – asylum seekers as benefit tourists ! The image of asylum seekers ‘sneaking in’ by Britain’s ‘back door’, if they survive the Mediterranean crossing. has become embedded in media and political narratives


French-police-detain-a-mi-001French police attack migrant at Sangatte refugee camp


On 19 August the Daily Express headlines continued the theme with ‘Camp to be bulldozed to stop migrants sneaking in’. There obviously was little embarrassment at the Express that these headlines appeared two days after a death occurred in a container with refugees ‘sneaking in’ from Afghanistan.

When thirteen children were discovered alongside twenty two adults, one of whom had died, in a container at Tilbury on 17 August the media were puzzled by what to call them – the I settled for ‘Afghan stowaways’, although the piece appeared in the ‘Crime’ section and was covered by their Crime Correspondent. The Daily Mail decided on ‘cargo stowaways’ although they were described as ‘migrants’ later in the piece.   Other editions of the Mail quoted officials describing the people as ‘these poor people’ and ‘victims’. The Telegraph fell back on ‘Illegal immigrants in Tilbury shipping container’ and put the story in their Crime section. The Guardian followed with a more guarded ’35 suspected illegal immigrants’. By Monday 18 August Channel 4 News was reporting ‘Afghan Sikhs claim asylum in Britain’.

The Tilbury container death and the fact that there were thirteen children involved did, as direct contact with asylum seekers always does, evoke human sympathy; and press reports settled into this vein. Richard Littlejohn in the Daily Mail cut through the sentiment

‘Basic humanity requires that we give them medical treatment and temporary accommodation…There were thirteen blameless children among those packed into what has been described as a ‘metal coffin’…Why didn’t they seek asylum in Russia, or Turkey, or any of the countries that they crossed en route to Zeebrugge?…I know there is supposed to be free movement within Europe, but surely that privilege applies only to EU citizens not illegal aliens…However heartbreaking some of the stories, we can’t go on giving asylum to all the world’s waifs and strays’

UKIP and Syrian refugees at Calais

The views of UKIP’s politicians, and their policy on refugees gathering at Calais, is very much in line with the Littlejohn view of the world. Janice Atkinson a UKIP MEP, visiting Calais thought that the ‘French authorities might start to think seriously about repatriating the thousands crowding around the Eurotunnel entrance rather than tolerating the countless attempts to violate our borders’. Her UKIP MEP colleague Steven Woolfe agreed: “The people being thrown out of the camps are not going to give up…It is essential the UK Government makes it absolutely clear we will return illegal migrants to their ­countries of origin.”


syrian refugees at calaisThe verdict of well-read Syrian refugees on UK immigration policy


The fact is of course that many of the thousands of refugees and migrants who have gathered at Calais over the past two years are Syrians and Eritreans often with family or friends in émigré communities in the UK. Already in October 2013 65 Syrians blockaded gangways on ferries and 40 staged a hunger strike. The Daily Express recognised their protest as one from ‘refugees’ and ‘asylum seekers’. The Guardian described them clearly as ‘Syrian refugees seeking asylum in the UK’, and quoted a statement they had prepared:

‘We have the right to claim asylum in England, but how do we get there? There is not a legal way to cross.’

Labour and Calais

When in April 2014 Yvette Cooper Labour’s shadow Home Secretary set out the party’s Immigration policy she again turned to the asylum mantra, and claimed rather implausibly that Labour:


“Believe it is right to offer safe haven to those escaping rape, torture, genocide or the midnight knock on the door from the secret police. That’s always been the British way.”


Labour’s ‘new’ smart and progressive policy on asylum claims to distinguish between asylum and other types of immigration. Refugees (not of course asylum seekers) along with university students will not be included in caps and target numbers – for asylum seekers it will be made even more difficult to enter the UK to claim. Cooper spelt this out looking at Calais:


We need stronger controls at the ports where the most problems arise. Particularly in Calais, [my emphasis] where we’ve seen not just abuse but tragedy. Awful cases of young men camping by the roadside then leaping onto the wheel arches of passing lorries, only to be crushed and killed. So yes, it is progressive to call for much stronger enforcement at Calais. And we will bring back finger printing for illegal migrants caught stowing away at Calais – something the Government has refused to do.”


 ‘take back the immigration discourse from the right wing’

At a fringe meeting at the Labour conference Cooper pledged to ‘take back the immigration discourse from the right wing’ and presumably responding to lobbying on Syria said that Labour policy on refugees would create’ a more flexible system for when major international crises like the current situation in Syria happens again.’ Cooper is careful to distinguish between refugees and ‘asylum seekers’. Moreover campaigners have found in their present attempts to resettle a handful of Syrian refugees, it is mainly Labour councils who are unwilling to resettle them even though the terms are slightly better than the Gateway programme which many of them are signed up to. The reason is of course – that same right wing ‘discourse’ which makes them all nervous before an election.


In any event the near defeat in Heywood and Middleton and the demands of Labour M.P.’s like Simon Danczuk has meant another new strategy on UKIP (and Yvette Cooper is in charge of this). Labour now seems to be returning to its default positions on asylum and ‘strong borders’ Ed Miliband ‘s response to UKIP delivered in Chatham on 23 October, as part of the by-election campaign in Rochester and Strood, certainly suggests this. The ‘I’ banner headlines perhaps says it all.


‘Deportation, Deportation, Deportation: Miliband toughens Labour’s immigration policy to counter UKIP’


blunkett sangatteRefugees make their views of Mr Blunkett known in 2002



This impression of a Labour ‘Groundhog day’ on immigration is strengthened by David Blunkett’s outburst supporting Tory minister Michael Fallon in his assertion that immigrants are ‘swamping’ communities. Blunkett in his article for the Daily Mail, looked back to the times when he had used the term ‘swamping’ before:

‘This storm [over Fallon’s outburst] echoed the experience I went through 12 years ago when I, too, used the word ‘swamped’ to describe the anxious feelings of people who were facing the dispersal of large numbers of asylum seekers into their own hard-pressed Northern communities’.
Of course both outbursts deliberately echo the ‘swamping’ rhetoric of Margaret Thatcher. Blunkett himself obviously realises why the term is offensive:

‘That is because the term ‘swamped’ is so loaded with political history. It was famously uttered by Margaret Thatcher in a World in Action television interview in 1978, when she was still Leader of the Opposition.’


Labour having abstained on votes on the Coalition’s 2014 Immigration Act – the most racist piece of legislation in years – is also apparently determined to start a Miliband government with a new Immigration Reform Act. Last time they were in office Labour managed six Immigration Acts We no doubt will be re-entering what Steve Cohen called the ‘Orwellian world of Immigration controls’.


The Liberal Democrats


In the Liberal Democrat’s policy on Immigration ‘Making Migration Work for Britain’ passed at their recent Annual Conference, of the 45 ‘Policy Points’ only one obliquely deals with ‘strong borders’:

Liberal Democrats propose to accelerate the delivery of full monitoring of all UK border entry and exits


The Lib Dems see ‘illegal immigration’ as a criminal activity, and want more deportations

Liberal Democrats propose an intelligence-led approach to tackling illegal immigration, with more investment into investigating criminal gangs, the black market, and others who support illegal migration with a robust returns policy.


Labour in its 2010 election manifesto similarly had a section headed ‘Crime and Immigration’


In the main document the issue of asylum is dealt with by restating a commitment to the 1951 Convention

Liberal Democrats want an improved asylum system which both strongly upholds the UN Convention and minimises the potential for abuse (p.45).


The ambiguities in this position are hinted at in other sections. Falling numbers of asylum claims from ‘people arrived in the UK claiming asylum’ to just 5% of total immigration is seen as a good thing…. Nevertheless it is still an area of public concern [bold in original] (p.44).


Clegg: “The asylum system is uniquely unfair” Sheffield Town Hall, 2008

Those were the days…Clegg: “The asylum system is uniquely unfair” Sheffield Town Hall, 2008


There is no analysis of extensive ‘strong border’ policies and EU border controls which brutally breach the UN convention and have to a large extent produced the fall in numbers. In fact EU asylum control measures are praised in the document – apparently the ‘Eurodac Regulation’ on fingerprinting ‘has led to the removal of 12,000 asylum seekers from the UK since 2004’ (p.47).


The Greens

The Green Party divides its ‘Migration Policy’ (revised in September this year), into Principles, Medium and Short Term policies. Amongst the Principles:’The Green Party is opposed to both ‘forced migration and forced repatriation’. The Short Term policies include


Migrants illegally in the UK for over five years will be allowed to remain unless they pose a serious danger to public safety


Transport providers must not be penalised for bringing people without the required visas, etc. to the UK.


And under ‘Immigration and the EC’, and perhaps ten years too late:

We will resist all attempts to introduce a ‘barrier round Europe’ shutting out non-Europeans or giving them more restricted rights of movement within Europe than European Nationals.


Political silence on deaths in the Mediterranean


The political parties’ silence on the carnage in refugee and migrant boats in the Mediterranean is deafening. Handwringing and rhetoric about evil traffickers and criminal gangs seem to be the limits of politicians’ interest. In her speech to the September Labour Party Conference Yvette Cooper failed to even mention the tragedy of 500 asylum seekers (including 100 children) mainly from Syria and Palestine dying only a few days earlier off the coast of Malta.


This time the mantra mentioned Syrians – but only the handful the Coalition had agreed to admit over three years.

“We will never turn our backs on those fleeing persecution and I’m proud our party forced the Government to accept vulnerable Syrian refugees.”


At present (October 2014), there are around 50 Syrian refugees in the UK, under this scheme, most of them accommodated by a housing association in West Yorkshire. There is a commitment to around 500 Syrians over three years. Germany has committed to around 24,000 over the same period, and unlike the UK where ‘irregular’ Syrians wait months for interviews Germany accepts the UNHCR view that Syria is manifestly unsafe, and was accepting Syrians a few months ago without interviews simply on application.


In the same speech Cooper returned to familiar territory

“That’s why a Labour Government will bring in stronger border controls to tackle illegal immigration (and)….to stop the growing crisis at Calais”


We should note that ‘our’ EU border force FRONTEX describes ALL migrants crossing the external borders and the Mediterranean as ‘illegal’ or ‘irregular’. The problem is that a large percentage of those crossing and dying in the Mediterranean, as recent analyses[1] have demonstrated, may be ‘irregular’, they may have used ‘traffickers’ but they are most definitely refugees seeking asylum in the EU, some aiming to join relatives and émigré communities in the UK.


The chilling verdict of Frances Webber in a recent Statewatch article on EU programmes and law, should be compulsory reading for politicians and their special advisers.


EU migration policy is ever more firmly anchored in the imperative of exclusion, causing the deaths of thousands at its borders and subjecting migrants to “institutionalised detention”. This quasi-criminal framework for migration empties of meaning the ideals on which the EU claims to be founded.
The images conjured up when we think of migration to Europe are of boats – drifting, leaky and overcrowded; bodies – drowned, washed up on beaches and caught in fishermen’s nets; fences topped with razor wire; camps – squalid places of misery and desperation. They are images of exclusion and death.

Deterring asylum seekers –the ‘monstrous’ UK asylum system


Theresa May in May 2012 told the Telegraph

“The aim is to create here in Britain a really hostile environment for illegal migration,” she declares.

Work is under way to deny illegal immigrants access to work, housing and services, even bank accounts. “What we don’t want is a situation where people think that they can come here and overstay because they’re able to access everything they need,” she says.

The ‘Go Home’ vans campaign followed in the summer of 2013, and the Immigration Act in 2014.


liberty go home vanLiberty parody of the infamous “Go Home” Home Office campaign


Back in March 2007 the Home Office published Enforcing the Rules: A Strategy to Ensure and Enforce Compliance with our Immigration Laws, The BBC reported:

A clampdown has been launched targeting “foreigners [who] come to this country illegitimately and steal our benefits”, home secretary John Reid has said. The plan is to stop illegal immigrants getting housing, healthcare or work. He said the UK was now “throwing out” record numbers of asylum seekers and he hoped to make life “constrained and uncomfortable” for illegal immigrants.


In March 2008 Liam Byrne, Labour Immigration Minister told the Telegraph

The enforcement budget is going to be doubled; the number of detention places increased and the rate of deportations stepped up. A fleet of mobile detention vans is being sent out. “They’re big trucks with cages in,” Mr Byrne explains. “Once upon a time an illegal immigrant who was picked up would be given a map to Croydon and told to turn themselves in. That was nonsense. Now we detain people immediately.


Tory myths on deterrence

Ann Widdecombe, as a junior minister to Home Secretary Michael Howard in 1995, was an early advocate of a deterrent asylum policy. Her crude argument (reproduced in her 2013 autobiography) was that rapid air travel, and TV available in the ‘mud huts’ of Africa meant that

‘Any African eking out an existence in a makeshift hut, with a tarpaulin for a roof, if lucky, can see daily images of the west and its splendours. That understandably is what they want for their own families.’ (pp 284-285)

Widdecombe now a columnist for the Daily Express has long been an advocate of ‘detention on arrival’ for all asylum seekers. She was recently (25 September) quoted in the Sunday Express on the Home Office putting new asylum seekers in hotels (owned by a hotel chain described by Which? as ‘the worst hotel chain in UK’), as overspill from London’s detention centres, saying hotels are not ‘secure accommodation…You have to automatically detain all new asylum seekers…People don’t think we are a soft touch, we are a soft touch’.


Deterrence at Calais and in the Mediterranean

The Coalition Government’s obsession with deterrence does also overlap with their narrative of ‘strong borders’. Matt Carr recently reported on the police actions and the evictions in Calais and argued that:

The result is an unacknowledged policy of deterrence in which both the British and French governments are complicit. It is intended to make life in Calais as harsh for migrants as possible, without actually killing them, in the hope that they will stop coming.

It has also now emerged that British policy on the Mediterranean border means that the Italian navy’s Mare Nostrum rescue programme which rescued most of the 85,000 refugees who landed in Italy from January to July, will not be continued or supported; it did not deter refugees effectively enough. This policy

‘was quietly spelled out in a recent House of Lords written answer by the new Foreign Office minister, Lady Anelay: “We do not support planned search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean,” she said, adding that the government believed there was “an unintended ‘pull factor’, encouraging more migrants to attempt the dangerous sea crossing and thereby leading to more tragic and unnecessary deaths”.

Tony Bunyan of Statewatch called the government’s attitude “cynical and an abdication of responsibility by saying that not helping to rescue people fleeing from war, persecution and poverty who are likely to perish is an acceptable way to discourage immigration.”

David Cameron in the House of Commons on Monday 27 October spelt out this crude philosophy of deterrence arguing that the search and rescue approach “almost encouraged people to get on the boats”.


A mountain of evidence


Over the past ten years refugees and asylum seekers, campaigners, academics, asylum rights and asylum support organisations, government inspectors, Parliamentary select committees, and UN inquiries, have produced a mountain of reports and evidence on the callous and brutal asylum and immigration detention system. We already know from the Conservative’s legislation and actions that it is highly unlikely that they will propose any reform measures in their manifesto. What about the rest?


Labour policy on asylum for 2015


Labour has said little about how it would reform the asylum system – after all they created most of it and its abusive institutions and practices. Mehdi Hasan has pointed out that Labour

Is ‘willing to apologise only for being too soft on immigration and immigrants, not for being too tough….Enough with the apologies. Week after week, senior Labour figures queue up to express regret over the party’s record on immigration. …If Miliband and his pals are bent on apologising for their record on immigration, there are better places to start. …..Why not express regret or remorse for the pernicious rhetoric around immigration and asylum during the New Labour years? …..Then there is child detention, perhaps the most obscene domestic legacy of the New Labour era, rightly described as “state-sponsored cruelty”.


Chris Bryant when he was appointed Labour Shadow Immigration Minister in 2011 said the first thing he wanted to do was “treat migrants like human beings”. Bryant publicly criticised Labour’s past record on asylum housing along with current abuses by G4S. Yvette Cooper in her April 2014 policy speech gave one sentence to the brutality of the asylum system


‘And when deportations are needed, they should be conducted according to proper standards of respect and humanity so we never tolerate the awful abuse seen by staff at Yarl’s Wood. April 2014’


Chris Bryant was replaced in 2013 by David Hanson. Hanson has recently contributed a chapter to ‘Why Vote…Labour’, where he fails to mention the asylum system at all – it is all part of the Labour way of moderating markets


‘Labour believes in making markets work, and that free and unlimited markets don’t work well. This is just as true for the labour market, and free movement of labour…There is nothing in Labour history, values, or traditions that require us to be in favour, in principle, of unlimited immigration. We are not and never have been, we have and always will be for managed immigration. (p86)


Liberal Democrats

In office the Liberal Democrats have supported all the legislation and regulations in the field of asylum passed by the Tory led Coalition they have been part of. Nick Clegg is currently calling for even stronger borders and accelerated deportations as part of the election rhetoric and ‘debate’ on immigration.


In contrast the Liberal Democratic Party policy Making Migration Work for Britain’ has been influenced by the efforts of Lib Dem M.P.’s like Sarah Teather and her campaigns to get Parliamentary scrutiny and reform of the asylum system. Teather was a leading opponent of the Coalition’s Immigration Act and one of only 16 M.P.’s of all parties to vote against it. With the Childrens’ Society she promoted a cross-party parliamentary inquiry into asylum support for children and young people, She is currently working with two APPG’s (All Party Parliamentary Groups) on a Parliamentary Inquiry into immigration detention supported by the Detention Forum which has already gathered an impressive amount of written evidence critiquing immigration detention regimes.


Liberal Democrats’ ‘paper policy’ for radical overhaul of asylum system


The Liberal Democrat Party’s policy on asylum ‘support’ and detention is a call for a radical overhaul of the whole system. It calls for the abolition of Section 4 (where ‘failed’ asylum seekers are given reduced support)and the Azure Card; and an end to destitution and homelessness by continuing support to those who may have had their claims rejected but cannot be returned.


After 6 months waiting for the resolution of claims asylum seekers will be able to work and in these six months policy should ‘make sure that appropriate training and volunteering opportunities are made available so they can make a contribution to society and be better prepared to find work.


The policy argues that ‘Serious problems also persist around private companies that hold outsourced contracts for the delivery of enforcement and asylum services.’ And citing the case of Jimmy Mubenga


‘Liberal Democrats propose to restore deportation transportation and the accountability of enforcement functions to the public sector as soon as the current contracts permit.’


Jimmy-Mubenga-006Jimmy Mubenga, died while being ‘escorted’ during a forced deportation by G4S guards in October 2010


On detention they propose to end Indefinite Detention for immigration purposes and to end the inappropriate use of the Detained Fast Track; and implement community-based alternatives to detention.


It will be interesting to see how these proposals survive into the Liberal Democrats’ actual Manifesto for 2015. Andrew Stunnell who chaired the policy group chose to stress in speaking at the Lib Dem conference that ‘the Lib Dem priorities on immigration will firstly be to count everyone in and everyone out and secondly to discuss immigration in parliament yearly’ which suggests that the policy will remain a paper policy.

But the influence of Liberal democrats within the City of Sanctuary movement along with other groups like Still Human Still Here have meant that some of the proposals have emerged in the eight principles being debated at a Sanctuary Summit: Standing in Solidarity with Asylum Seekers and Refugeesa on 15 November[2] a summit supported by almost all the main refugee and migrant rights organisations including the Red Cross and UNHCR


The Greens


Green Party policy calls for a new Immigration law ’this law will be based on the principle of fair and prompt treatment of applicants rather than on excluding dishonest applicants whatever the cost to the honest ones’.


The Greens want ‘the ending of immigration detention: No prospective immigrant will be held in detention for migration-related reasons, other than in the most exceptional circumstances, eg a prospective migrant who poses a serious danger to public safety.’


‘A thorough review of UK Immigration Practices and the UK Immigration Service to ensure that racist features are removed and immigration officers receive sufficient suitable training. We will encourage greater ethnic minority participation in the Immigration Service.’


Natalie Bennett leader of the Green Party has attacked political discourses around immigration – ‘this nasty, stigmatising rhetoric’.


She believes that ‘people who come to Britain, seeking to follow on our proud tradition of providing asylum, should be allowed to work if they can, should be given decent benefits equivalent to those of everyone else, and decent housing.’


Bennett is one of the few politicians who recognises that the asylum system has actually been constructed as a deterrent


‘I tend towards the theory that messes are more likely to be the result of “stuff-ups” than conspiracies, but when you look at the system for seeking asylum in Britain, the tortuous, incompetent, confusing maze that is demonstrably failing even in its own terms to deliver sensible decisions (25% of rulings that go to appeal are overturned), it can only be said to be a deliberate attempt to stop refugees from securing asylum, to which they are entitled under international treaties that we signed decades ago’.


imm bill demo 2Natalie Bennett of the Green Party speaking at a demonstration against the Immigration Bill in Sheffield December 2013



Campaigning for asylum rights in election time


There is therefore a rich array of policy proposals from organisations focusing on the asylum system and detention within the UK which organisations like SYMAAG will be able to use in their local campaigns with candidates in the 2015 election. It is worth remembering that only a few weeks ago in Scotland the ‘Yes’ campaign was mobilising thousands of working class voters on a programme of welcoming migration to Scotland, closing down Dungavel detention centre, and encouraging asylum seekers as an economic asset. The TUC at its Congress in September adopted a policy calling on a future Labour government to repeal the Coalition’s Immigration Act.


Joyous LemlemA winning campaign: Lemlem arriving back in Sheffield after a successful community campaign to defend her from deportation


Unfortunately in the pre-election documents and speeches there seems to be little awareness, or maybe a refusal to be aware of, the political narrative which suggests that the inhumanity of the system is deliberate – it is meant to deter asylum claims. All eyes are narrowly focused on the UK and firmly averted from Calais, and Lampedusa. There is an unwillingness to face the brutal reality that in the asylum system the British state, governments and civil servants have willfully developed policies based on xenophobia, discrimination and exclusion with regard to asylum. The state has used ‘our’ money to do this, and has also used ‘our’ money to outsource violence, racism and exclusion via contracts with international security companies like G4S and Serco. The coroner in the inquest of Jimmy Mubenga could not have been more direct. She commented on the racism of the guards who unlawfully killed him. This was

‘Not evidence of a couple of ‘rotten apples’ but rather seemed to evidence a more pervasive racism within G4S”. She added there was “real concern” that “endemic racism” might result in “inappropriate treatment” of detainees.


Campaigning for asylum rights in the 2015 election in solidarity with refugees and migrant workers has to include developing public and political awareness of this central issue of state led discrimination and exclusion in the asylum system. The campaigning has to confront the horrors of the Mediterranean and Fortress Europe. It needs to support refugees who have had the courage to resist EU asylum policies across Europe. School and university students in Germany and France have created a climate of solidarity with displaced Roma and survivors of the boats.[3]


German 1404584776-demonstration-in-berlin-in-solidarity-with-the-refugees_5179567“Right to Stay for All” – Berlin demonstration for refugee rights


Campaigns for refugees need to challenge what Michael Diedring of the European Council for Refugees on Radio 4’s World at One on 28 October, called the “morally reprehensible” position of Britain and EU countries on search and rescue in the Mediterranean. The argument that the UK is funding Syrian refugees in camps with £600m of aid, and therefore does not need to take further humanitarian action, unravels when you read what the camps are actually like.


Robert Fisk has recently reported on

‘200,000 Syrian refugee children – some as young as five-working in Lebanon’s potato and bean fields, or picking figs in the Bekaa valley. Many of them are beaten with sticks in a situation perilously close to slave labour….sleeping in some of the filthiest camps in the land’


Channel 4’s Unreported World has exposed the plight of disabled Syrian refugee children in makeshift shelters with the UN having no funds to resource their medical needs.


The real issue is that refugees become ‘illegal’ or ‘irregular’ migrants because the UK simply refuses to create safe routes and safe methods of claiming asylum. As Maurice Wren of the Refugee Council argues

“The answer isn’t to build the walls of fortress Europe higher, it’s to provide more safe and legal channels for people to access protection.”


As the UNHCR pointed out in July, in its commentary on the situation in the Mediterranean,

‘Legal migration routes could reduce the incentives for people to embark on dangerous irregular travel. They could also help boost local economies in the medium term and create labour opportunities in the longer run. The use of humanitarian visas, protected entry procedures and enhanced family reunification need to be further explored. In specific cases some Member States in the past have provided visas at embassies to enable people in need of protection to travel to European destinations. The potential to further develop such arrangements could also be considered.’ (UNHCR p.3)


Now there’s an asylum policy to campaign for.



[1] Amnesty International’s report in September 2014 Lives Adrift: Refugees and migrants in peril in the central Mediterranean made this clear:

“The 400 victims of two major shipwrecks of 3 and 11 October 2013 were in the vast majority refugees from Eritrea and Syria. In 2013, FRONTEX stated that “It is undisputed that significant numbers of arrivals by boat originate from countries such as Afghanistan, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Iraq and Somalia. There is a considerable likelihood that nationals from these countries are in need of international protection. ….In 2013, out of a total of 107,365 people detected while attempting to cross a border irregularly, 25,546, about 24%, were Syrians, and 11,298, about 10%, were Eritreans.”

In 2014 the top two nationalities of people landing in Italy were 28,557 Eritreans and 23,945 Syrians – over half of the total. See also IOM (International Organisation for Migration) Fatal Journeys: tracking lives lost during migration September 2014


  1. [2] All asylum seekers, refugees and migrants to be treated with dignity and respect.
  2. Asylum seekers to be welcomed & befriended on arrival, and offered free language tuition so they can fully participate and contribute to the local community.  
  3. Free access to healthcare for all asylum seekers while they are in the UK.
  4. Access to good quality legal advice and representation.
  5. Improved decision making, so protection is granted to all who need it.
  6. An end to destitution, by providing sufficient support to all asylum seekers to ensure they can meet their essential living needs while in the UK.
  7. Permission to work for asylum seekers whose case has taken more than six months, or who have been refused and are temporarily unable to return home.
  8. An end to the indefinite detention of asylum seekers and migrants.


[3] In November 2013, 20,000 university and school students marched through Paris to protest the deportation of a young Roma student, and teenagers barricaded schools (Telegraph 2013). In December 2013, thousands of school students in Hamburg walked out of lessons and demonstrated for better treatment of refugees in Germany (Snoek and Doll 2013). In February 2014, Berlin school students went on strike to stop the deportation of refugees who had arrived in Germany after crossing the Mediterranean to Lampedusa (Hansen 2014). It is perhaps no coincidence that Germany now grants asylum to more refugees than any other EU country.

A Shiver Down the Spine: David Blunkett and the immigration “swamping” controversy

David Blunkett MP chose to echo the words of Tory MP Michael Fallon (and Margaret Thatcher) in alleging that communities are being “swamped” by migrants, writing in the Daily Mail on October 27th. Migrants and supporters in South Yorkshire were shocked (though not surprised) to see Blunkett again echoing the words of those who seek to create a “really hostile environment” for those they call “illegal” migrants.


South Yorkshire Migration and Asylum Action Group (SYMAAG) drafted and sent a response to Blunkett’s Daily Mail article (below). SYMAAG Chair John Grayson was interviewed on Radio Sheffield on November 10th about Blunkett’s comments and according to one migrant activist John’s comments will have “put a shiver down Mr Blunkett’s spine”. SYMAAG received a response (also below) from Blunkett’s office soon after.



Original article in Daily Mail 27/10/14 by David Blunkett


Open letter from SYMAAG and others to David Blunkett 8/11/14


Dear David Blunkett




We are volunteers, academics, clergy, and organisations in South Yorkshire, refugees, asylum seekers and recent migrants (many of us your constituents).


In your 27 October Daily Mail article, which was widely publicised, you support the remarks of Conservative M.P. and Minister Michael Fallon when he alleges that communities are being ‘swamped’ by immigrants.


In your article you recognise that the term ‘swamping’ was used by yourself in 2002 when describing the number of asylum seeker children being dispersed to Northern towns. You also recognise that the term has a particularly unpleasant political ring about it because it was used by Margaret Thatcher in 1978. So we are puzzled that you choose not only to repeat it but to argue that this is the best way to ‘tell the truth’ about immigration – now, just a few months before a General Election.


We are concerned that your remarks are likely to fuel the toxic climate of debate already stoked up (as you point out) by UKIP. South Yorkshire and Sheffield in particular has a reputation as a ‘city of sanctuary’ welcoming asylum seekers and refugees. Over the past year the constant political and media barrage of xenophobic and intolerant political statements and speeches has had disturbing consequences on everyday life for migrants, asylum seekers and ethnic minority people in South Yorkshire.


In the county as a whole there has been an increase in racist hate crimes against these local residents. In Rotherham an increase overall in hate crime of 65 per cent, in Barnsley a 100 per cent increase with 150 already this year from January to September. Children’s help lines have noted significant increases in reports of racist bullying in schools attributed by teachers to the hostile and xenophobic political debates in the mainstream media and social media.


We are sure that you do not intend your rhetoric to have these sorts of consequences; and we agree that there is a place for ‘frank, rational, discussion [on immigration] where voters are treated with maturity’ – but we suggest that the use of emotive language such as this provokes exactly the opposite, and that now more than ever, politicians should be thinking very carefully before using such inflammatory metaphors.


You say there is a need for “practical solutions” – let’s take learning English as an example. Why not advocate an increase in the number of free good quality English classes and help migrants to understand and contribute to society, rather than cut them as present and previous Governments have done?


“Words are important“, you say – so why choose one that serves to inflame, rather than inform this very sensitive debate?


Yours sincerely


Phillis Andrews (SYMAAG vice-chair)

Mohammed Bary (assistant secretary SYMAAG)

Revd Robert Beard, St Andrew’s United Reformed Church, Sheffield

Emma Briant (University of Sheffield – in a personal capacity)

Charles Chikwana (SYMAAG executive)

Deborah Cobbett (University of Sheffield – in a personal capacity)

Rachel Cooling (SYMAAG deputy treasurer)

Stuart Crosthwaite (SYMAAG secretary)

Violet Dickensen (SYMAAG vice-chair)

Rodrigo Edema (SYMAAG executive)

Sarah Eldridge (Sheffield City of Sanctuary)

Dave Gibson Chair Barnsley Trades Council (in a personal capacity)

John Grayson (SYMAAG chair)

Nacera Harkati (SYMAAG executive)

David Hoad (SYMAAG Executive)

Em Lawless (Housing worker – in a personal capacity)

Marian Machekanyanga (SYMAAG executive)

Revd Steve Millwood, chair Trustees of Darnall Family Development Project

Michael Miller (retired Chartered Occupational Psychologist)

Jane Petrie (Sheffield Hallam University – in a personal capacity)

Ryan Powell (CRESR, Sheffield Hallam University – in a personal capacity)

David Price (SYMAAG executive)

Mike Reynolds (chair Sheffield City of Sanctuary)

Max Senior in a personal capacity and also on behalf of the Barnsley Branch of Amnesty International

Robert Siamtinta (SYMAAG treasurer)

Robert Spooner (SYMAAG executive and ASSIST)

Prof Fionn Stevenson Head of School of Architecture, University of Sheffield

Robin Story, Sheffield Amnesty International Group (in a personal capacity)

Carita Thomas (Solicitor – in a personal capacity)


african-refugees protest israel



Response from David Blunkett MP


Thank you for your open letter which was first drawn to my attention by BBC Radio Sheffield last week.


As many of you know I respect the work that you and many others in South Yorkshire continue to do in terms of providing practical support and a voice for those who otherwise would not be heard.

I would only take issue with you on two points.


The first is the question of my “support” for Michael Fallon. In my article I supported his right to speak on the issue and within the context of a balanced interview to use the term “swamped”. I had as I pointed out, used the word within the context of enormous pressure back in 2002 although I also pointed out back then, that the word meaning the same but without the history dating back to 1978, “overwhelmed” might have been more sensitive.


Words cannot be captured by particular politicians at a moment in time and then become unusable.


My second point is to simply reinforce that all of us who care have been battling for funding not just for languages but for wider support to both those coming into the community and the host community themselves.


I hope to have better news on this front in weeks.


Finally, I know that those working at PACA at Page Hall would welcome any support you felt you could give.


Best wishes,