“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


“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. https://www.freemovement.org.uk/new-restrictions-on-syrian…/

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 http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p02kvj85#auto

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 https://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/john-grayson/meet-uk%E2%80%99s-latest-weapon-against-organised-crime-and-asylum-seekers 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: dignitynotdetention@yahoo.co.uk web: www.symaag.org.uk 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: dignitynotdetention@yahoo.co.uk

الموقع: www.symaag.org.uk

تويتر: @symaag


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