Don’t Let Them Die in Libya – Sheffield protests 18 January

     

 Don’t let them die in Libya

Sheffield march and demonstration Saturday 18 January 12.30pm

Meet bottom of The Moor near Moor Market S1 4PF at 12.30 and march to Sheffield Town Hall for a rally at 1pm

“I was lucky to find safety in the UK before Libya erupted into chaos following the fall of Gadaffi” says one of the march organisers Mihreteab Kidane. Now people who’ve lost their money and nearly their lives trying to cross the Mediterranean find themselves in a country that is incapable of safeguarding them from exploitation and abuse”.

Tell the people of Sheffield and the Council what is going on in Libya. Join us and march alongside SYMAAG (South Yorkshire Migration and Asylum Action Group) the Eritrean and other refugee communities in Sheffield.

Thousands of refugees and migrants are stranded in horrendous detention centres in Libya facing an early death, torture, rape or being sold as slaves. There are no UNCHR camps in Libya. The European Union (including for now the British government) is stopping asylum seekers from crossing the Mediterranean by working in partnership with the Libyan coastguard and militias. As a result, people seeking asylum in Europe  are trapped trying to cross the Mediterranean to Europe. The consequences of EU migration policy should, as the charity Médecins Sans Frontières puts it, “shock the collective conscience of Europe’s citizens and elected leaders”.

Many of those stranded in Libya are fleeing persecution and conflicts from Eritrea, Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Somalia, etc. In Sheffield members of these communities are in daily contact with the detention camps and have family, friends and relatives dying in Libya.

We support their demands to

  • Rescue the stranded. Save lives. 
  • Give them safe routes to asylum in Europe.
  • To tell the British government to agree to take a percentage of those crossing the Mediterranean as other countries have done.

 

Rats in the Kitchen, Sodden Carpets: Mears Group Asylum Housing

Mears Group took over asylum housing provision in Yorkshire from G4S this year. “It can’t get any worse” was the reaction of many asylum tenants. Were they wrong? John Grayson looks at life for an asylum seeking family in Rotherham

‘That’s where the rats get in.’ April [all names have been changed] was showing me round the kitchen in her Rotherham asylum house. I was visiting her with a volunteer interpreter to investigate reports that the family was in real difficulties. The visit confronted me with the worst case of neglect by an asylum housing provider I have encountered in my research and campaigning on asylum housing over the past seven years.

April and her husband Alan, who are of short stature, have a 6-month-old baby Rose who has a hole in her heart, and two other disabled daughters: tiny 7-year-old Sue, and 3-year-old Kelly, both of them have short stature and multiple health issues, including kidney problems. The family is from the Middle East seeking asylum and safety in the UK.

Since May 2019 the family has been forced to live in a house, totally unsuitable, in fact hostile to their disabilities and miscellaneous health needs. It floods regularly, water comes through the door and windows, mould grows on the wall and there are rats in the kitchen.

‘They said if I did not go into the house then I would be put on the streets’

April told me (via the interpreter), ‘they brought me, my new baby and disabled daughters from the Birmingham hostel to here. When I was in hospital after the birth someone came and asked me where I would like to live. I said my baby was born in Birmingham so I would stay in Birmingham. The person said that they would find me a flat for my kind of family. Then they came to the hostel and brought me, my new baby and my two disabled daughters to this house. When I saw the house, I told them I did not want to live there. They said if I did not go into the house then I would be put on the streets.’

She continued: ‘They sent me to the hostel in Wakefield when I was nearly due to have my baby and then moved me to the Birmingham hostel. Just before I was having my baby, they wanted to move me back to Wakefield, I said no’

With Kelly and Sue playing around us, April showed me over the house. In the living room, April pointed to damp and mould near the windows. ‘When it rains water comes through the window frame and under the door and the carpet gets very wet and my children cannot go on it’. April shows me the stains and water marks on the drying carpet.

Three-year-old Kelly says, in perfect, English, ‘I am tired.’ April states proudly, ‘Kelly goes to nursery and learns English now.’ Then through the sparsely furnished dining room, she points to a new washing machine and a fridge, still standing in their packing cases. ‘They came yesterday, we have not been able to wash clothes for weeks.’

‘That’s where the rats come in”

In the kitchen, April opens a cupboard under the sink. ‘That is where the rats come in.’ I ask April when she last saw a rat. ‘Last night it was a big one it came out of there.’ I had seen on the Visitation Log on the house notice board, that housing staff had visited on 23 and 26 November for ‘pest control’. It was now 7 December, and there was no evidence of closed poison boxes for the rats, or any other ‘control’ measures.

 

Outside the back door there was an abandoned toilet block, possibly one source of the rat infestation. There was a squalid backyard with rotting wooden decking leading to a large overgrown patch of weeds. This was the only outside play space for two young disabled girls with multiple medical conditions.

Living with disabilities in a Mears asylum house

April takes us all upstairs. ‘Alan and my son are in Croydon today. When they are here, there are six of us in these two rooms. There is only one small wardrobe for all of us.’ On the ceiling of the corridor are water marks from dripping water. In the bathroom April points to the toilet. ‘When we use the toilet, water leaks from the pipes into downstairs.’

April tells me, ‘I am very small, and I cannot carry my baby and watch my daughters up the stairs. Kelly has one leg shorter than the other with a twisted ankle and she fell down the stairs and broke her leg.’

April shows me reports from Sue and Kelly’s consultants at the Sheffield Children’s Hospital. The children have multiple medical needs and are undergoing tests and scans. The Children’s Hospital is eleven miles from April’s house. ‘I have no help with the travel expenses’, she tells me. ‘Alan and my son have never had any money. All of us have no ID cards.’

The ID or ARC (Application Registration Card), introduced in 2017, is given to every asylum seeker to acknowledge their asylum claim, and is at the centre of the everyday lives of asylum seekers. According to the Home Office, it ‘displays an individual’s claimed identity to third party organisations, where it is used for internal and external status checking to establish entitlement to services and the right to work.’ The ARC is also used by external bodies including the police and the NHS to verify identity details held by the Home Office.

I have never heard of a whole family denied ID cards for this long by the Home Office. April and her two daughters came to the UK in March 2019, baby Rose was born in Birmingham and Alan and their son Michael came later.

I ask April how she manages in the house. ‘The house is on hills and I cannot push the buggy with my baby and my disabled daughters. The only way I can reach the food cupboards in the kitchen is by standing on the chair. I have fallen off the chair twice. I cannot reach the sink or the cooker. Cooking is very dangerous for me.’ 

The Home Office, the Mears Group and outsourcing

For seven months, April has been forced to live in this unsuitable, hostile asylum house. No one has intervened to provide accommodation suitable for the family. The Visitation Log on the house notice board shows that Mears staff visited on 27 August, then not again till 1 October and then again on 12 November. Mears claim that their staff visit all their properties every fortnight. No one seems to have contacted the Home Office (which is ultimately responsible for placing the family in the house on a ‘no choice’ basis).

When April and her family were forced to take the house in May, G4S, the largest security company in the world, held the Home Office contract to provide asylum housing in Rotherham. In September, the Mears Group, an outsourcing company working in two sectors (housing management and home care)  became the  UK’s biggest refugee landlord, beginning three 10-year asylum accommodation contracts from the Home Office worth a total £1.15 billion. Mears is one of the UK’s biggest maintenance and repairs contractors, working on over 650,000 homes for councils and housing associations. Mears home care division provides care to 15,000 older and disabled people. The company employs 12,000 people. Mears is now responsible for asylum housing in Rotherham

In April’s house nothing changed when Mears took over. In fact, things got worse. South Yorkshire experienced the wettest November for many years and the damp walls, water leaks and sodden carpets in April’s house just got worse. April’s daughters with their weak immune systems and her baby with a hole in the heart had constant colds and infections.

Holding Mears Group to account

In the weeks leading up to the September takeover Mears Group staff spoke to voluntary sector ‘partners’ in South Yorkshire and stressed that they had experience as a company of the care sector, and would put care for their tenants, particularly vulnerable ones, in asylum housing at the top of their priorities. They said they would appoint specialist welfare officers to work with these tenants.

In the Mears ‘Service User Handbook’ for asylum housing tenants the following appears:

Support plan

If you require any specialist care, you may be provided with a support plan. Your support plan will be reviewed regularly, and other people may attend reviews if appropriate, such as a social worker

  • If you feel at any time that you would like to review your support plan and the review is not due, you can speak to your Housing Manager and they will organise this for you.
  • We will work with you to agree a support plan that meets your needs.
  • If there is anything in your support plan that you disagree with, you can ask for your comments to be included in the plan.

In the Statement of Requirements for the Mears Group’s £1.15 billion ‘Asylum Accommodation and Support Contract’ with the Home Office, the following appears:

Disabled Persons or Service Users with specific needs

Accommodation for disabled persons must be fit for purpose and used for its intended purpose in compliance with relevant legislation, including the Human Rights Act 1998 and the Equality Act 2010. The Provider shall ensure that the Accommodation and its associated facilities are accessible by the Service User, and, where necessary, it has appropriate adaptations to enable the Service User to live independently, or in accordance with a Local Authority assessment under the Care Act 2014.

Asylum housing contracts and the hostile environment

Over the past three months the record of the Mears Group in Yorkshire has been disappointing to tenants. In early November the Independent reported on the ‘failing’ Home Office contracts with ‘asylum seekers left with no heating in rat infested homes’.

The new contracts for asylum housing separated the reporting of repair needs from the main housing contractors. This irrational step has meant that the only number available to call about repairs in a national one — the central number for Migrant Help, a charity which has held Home Office contracts for asylum support and advice since 2014. In 2019 Migrant Help won the £100 million contract to run the Home Office system called Advice, Issue Reporting and Eligibility (AIRE) services, which includes the reporting of repairs. Since September, there have been continual massive delays in asylum tenants being able to report repairs to Migrant Help, to be passed on to Mears. Migrant Help puts the delays down to ‘teething problems’ and ‘high demand’.

In Sheffield, in a Mears ‘mother and toddler’ house which I have visited regularly, there have been four periods over the past two months when there has been no heating and no hot water. Residents told me that they spent literally days ringing the repair number to try and get the boiler fixed. At one stage mothers and their toddlers moved out to friends to keep their children warm. Ruth, a single parent with a 3-year-old, told me ‘I had nowhere else to go. It was very cold for us, I had to boil water to wash and bathe my son.’

The Mears contract is already failing asylum tenants in Yorkshire, like April and her family. Campaigners will get the family moved into more suitable accommodation. Hopefully Mears will monitor the housing conditions for their vulnerable asylum tenants with disabilities much more systematically in future.

I contacted the Mears Group press office on 10 December for their comments on the case of April’s family.

All images © John Grayson

This article was originally published by the Institute for Race Relations http://www.irr.org.uk/news/rats-in-the-kitchen-sodden-carpets-in-the-living-room/

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Justice for Simba – End the Hostile Environment. Sheffield November 20

Simba Mujakachi, his father Victor and many other Zimbabweans living in Sheffield were threatened with deportation earlier this year. A huge campaign successfully defended them, securing the release of Victor and others from Morton Hall detention centre and halting the Home Office’s deportation plans.
 
The Home Office deliberately put pressure on the Zimbabwean community, with the prospect of deportation to a Zimbabwe still persecuting those protesting against the military dictatorship. Some people, like Marian Machekanyanga from SYMAAG, were interrogated by a Zimbabwean Embassy official at Vulcan House, invited by the Home Office.
 
During this incredibly stressful time Simba – a 30 year old fitness instructor – experienced a life-threatening stroke, which left him partially paralysed. Though he had no income he was charged over £100,000 by the NHS for the care he needed to save his life.
 
Simba’s case is not an isolated one – it’s a result of the hostile environment policy which denies people in our community the services and resources they need to live.   
 
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South Yorkshire Migration and Asylum Action Group,  Migrants Organise,  ASSIST Sheffield, Medact Docs Not Cops invite you to a very important and urgent public meeting to launch the Justice for Simba Campaign Wednesday 20th November 7-9pm Victoria Hall Sheffield S1 2JB

We will hear from Simba himself and from his father Victor, talking about how we can build a solidarity campaign.

We will also be joined by:
Marian Machekanyanga – South Yorkshire Migration and Asylum Action Group
Sarli Nana – Yorkshire & Humber Organiser, Migrants Organise
Aliya Yule – Access to Healthcare Organiser, Migrants Organise

Dr Sophie – Docs Not Cops
James Skinner – Medact
 
We have also invited General Election candidates from the main political parties in Sheffield to respond to Simba’s experience of the hostile environment. We want them to tell us how they would end the hostile environment policy and answer your questions about how their parties will support the rights of people seeking asylum. It’s your chance to question and hold them to account.

We will hear about the impact of the hostile environment and together work to end to these policies. This will include a voter registration drive, as part of the Promote the Migrant Vote campaign, to support local communities to register and vote for the general election on December 12th.


Downloadable flyer    Simbameeting (1)  Justice for Simba Facebook event page here

Please come and show your support for Simba, his family and all the people suffering under the hostile environment, and to learn more about how we can win Justice for Simba, and end the hostile environment.

On the Frontline: Voices of Resistance in the Asylum System

I got out of Morton Hall because I spoke out loud largely through the efforts of friends, supporters, family, well-wishers, politicians and organisations with which I’m associated. It was through the strength of that level of publicity that I was released. What then is the fate of the voiceless group of men I left in there? 

Victor on his release from Morton Hall Immigration Removal Centre (IRC) where he was awaiting removal to Zimbabwe

We are writing this joint article as colleagues working in solidarity alongside asylum seekers and refugees in South Yorkshire. We bring the experience of an academic activist researcher and the experience of an asylum seeker still without papers, after ten years resisting and surviving the UK’s deterrent reception policies.

A deterrent reception policy and a hostile environment
Current political and racialised discourses in the UK demonise and dehumanise the ‘migrant’, the ‘asylum seeker’ and the ‘refugee’. Over the Christmas holidays 2018, there was a debate in the media and amongst British politicians about ‘migrants’ crossing the English Channel in small boats and whether they should be rescued. Home Secretary Sajid Javid warned the deployment (of Border Force ships) would “become a humanitarian and rescue mission and there’s a risk that kind of activity can encourage more people to cross the Channel”.

Simply letting people drown as a deterrent is perhaps the best example of the public, official, dehumanising of people who are already tagged as ‘illegals’ in the UK’s ‘hostile environment’. Britain’s colonial past and slavery still seem to pattern current attitudes to the humanity of Black people and people of colour.

There is, of course, another image of the refugee in the UK. In Sheffield, the first City of Sanctuary, there are many groups dedicated to ‘welcoming’ refugees to the city. Practical help involves organising social events and conversation clubs and circles. But this positive practice is in most cases negatively framed within a view of asylum seekers and refugees as ‘victims’, simply needing ‘help’ and ‘support’.

This approach recognises the humanity of asylum seekers and refugees whilst stripping them of agency and disempowering them. The groups and their projects ignore the fact that some of the men and women finding ‘sanctuary’ in Sheffield as asylum seekers are émigré career politicians, trade union officials, successful business leaders, and university professors and teachers who are often members of UK branches of their home political parties. Christian churches and chapels in the city organise social events and English classes but asylum seekers and refugees often suspect their motives. As one Sheffield Muslim woman refugee put it, ‘I have never been to an event in a Christian church in Sheffield where I have not had a Bible given to me’.

Jonathan Darling’s (2011) research in Sheffield ‘drop-ins’ and ‘conversation clubs’ still has current resonance. He pointed to the fact that looking at the power structures within the drop-in centres and clubs, white middle class people were always in the organising and educational roles. Where asylum seeker volunteers were recruited, they filled subsidiary roles, such as making refreshments at the clubs.

Currently, in Sheffield asylum support and advice organisations, paid staff are overwhelmingly white and middle class. Even amongst volunteers, those with experience of the asylum system are still very much a minority. Perhaps as Mamdani (1973) pointed out, recalling his experience as a British overseas citizen fleeing Uganda, ‘helping’ agencies are creating a disempowered ‘refugee’ identity, giving people a new, dependent role in their new country. As a result, the voices of refugee victims relating stories of suffering become more relevant than testimony from voices demanding rights as potential citizens.

Alongside ‘welcome’ agencies that tend to disempower asylum seekers, there are, in Sheffield, rights-based organisations and groups. The two largest of these are ASSIST and SYMAAG.

ASSIST, supporting and empowering destitute asylum seekers
ASSIST, a large Sheffield charity supporting destitute and homeless refused asylum seekers, engages volunteer refused asylum seekers in organising roles and on their board of trustees. ASSIST can call on the help of some 300 volunteers in Sheffield.

Refused asylum seekers live for years in the city hosted by ASSIST volunteers and their families or for shorter periods in the growing number of houses donated to the organisation. To spend ten years or more in this limbo world of the refused asylum seeker, as significant numbers of asylum seekers do in the UK, means that many refugees and their voices are silenced by anxiety and ill health. Fathers and mothers completely lose contact with children in their home countries. Where children are refused asylum seekers as well, they become traumatised by long years of anxiety and poverty, facing hostility from officials and local communities; never able to start a life. Where children in a family arrive as teenagers, they perhaps remember a settled prosperous life with their parents. Children often become resentful of parents for bringing them to a life filled with hostility and poverty.

The UK Border Agency forces refused asylum seekers, even those who they cannot deport, because their home countries will not admit them, to check in and ‘sign’ regularly in Sheffield at Vulcan House, their regional centre. For other refused asylum seekers, each signing session can mean weeks of anxiety with a real fear of being detained and sent to an Immigration Removal Centre for deportation. Living in this state of ‘deportability’ and destitution means being forced into the arms of unscrupulous employers offering poverty wages for casual labour, and therefore committing a crime – it is illegal for asylum seekers to work. Those found working illegally could be imprisoned. At the end of their sentence they can be faced with deportation as a ‘foreign criminal’. For some people, years in detention centres can still follow after prison, because they can still not be deported.

SYMAAG, solidarity campaigning and G4S
SYMAAG (South Yorkshire Migration and Asylum Action Group) is a group with a membership of asylum seekers, refugees and activists led by Black activists and people of colour with experience of the asylum system. SYMAAG is not a charity and was established twelve years ago as an overtly political asylum rights, campaigning, and direct action organisation.

SYMAAG has a programme each year of solidarity campaigning and public critical pedagogy – public meetings, joint lectures with the University of Sheffield, street demonstrations, petitions to city council meetings, lobbying local MPs – all designed to put asylum rights back above the radar of public awareness and to mobilise different interest groups – public service professionals, trades unions, émigré political groups – for actions on asylum rights.

Since 2012, when UK asylum housing was privatised, SYMAAG and its members, many of whom are asylum tenants, have campaigned alongside tenants of the private companies contracted by the Home Office to provide asylum housing for people waiting for the outcome of their asylum claims. G4S, the largest security company in the world, was given the contract for Yorkshire and the North East of England in June 2012.

When the award of the contract was announced, a SYMAAG member, an asylum tenant from Zimbabwe stood up in a meeting and said, “I don’t want a prison guard as my landlord’. This statement became the slogan for a campaign, which gave a voice to asylum tenants who courageously spoke out to expose slum conditions and negligent and cruel management of accommodation particularly for refugee children. Research and investigative journalism promoted by SYMAAG, including articles published on Open Democracy and the Institute of Race Relations news service systematically questioned the reputational standing of the international corporation. Despite G4S’s attempt to ban a SYMAAG / Brass Moustache film “The Asylum Market” documenting G4S and Home Office intimidation of asylum tenants in Sheffield from a BBC showing, the film was made available on Vimeo. The campaigning fuelled by the voices of asylum tenants was successful and in part resulted in G4S losing their asylum housing contracts in January 2019.

Voices against Detention and Deportation
In December 2018, seven Zimbabweans, some of whom had lived in Sheffield for more than a decade – one for 15 years another 16 years – were ordered to attend interviews at Vulcan House with Zimbabwe embassy officials. The move was the result of an agreement between Britain and Zimbabwe that Britain would ‘repatriate’ at least 2,500 refused asylum seekers. At that time nobody was detained. In February some of the seven were ordered again to Vulcan House and two were detained and sent to Morton Hall Immigration Removal Centre near Lincoln. Another Zimbabwean with learning difficulties who had lived for nineteen years in nearby Barnsley was also sent to Morton Hall.

In Morton Hall’s prison-like regime, the Sheffield Zimbabweans were held in cell blocks called Rosa Parks and Mary Seacole, named in the days when Morton Hall was a women’s prison; but the naming seems entirely inappropriate now as Morton Hall becomes an institution where human rights were being trampled on. The detainees were told that if they did chores like cleaning and litter picking, they would receive £1.00 an hour and that money would be deposited into their personal Morton Hall accounts. This exploitative prison labour which paid well below minimum wages had been found to be legal in March 2019, despite evidence from people who had been in Morton Hall. The judge had ruled that the labour was ‘voluntary’, and people had a choice whether they worked or not.

There was a great deal of support for the three people detained in Morton Hall from their Sheffield and Barnsley networks. An on-line petition soon gathered 80,000 signatures and after a few days, all three were released. A SYMAAG demonstration had been planned outside Vulcan House to put pressure on the Home Office to stop detaining Zimbabweans and to release the three. It turned into a celebration – with 300 people attending. (pic)

Is Sheffield really a City of Sanctuary?
Recently SYMAAG research has found that Sheffield Council although proudly proclaiming itself the first City of Sanctuary in the UK, has been actively collaborating with the UKBA ICE (Immigration Compliance and Enforcement) team at Vulcan House, using housing staff as border guards and handing over undocumented Sheffielders they found whilst inspecting private rented properties. They later admitted that Council staff, whilst clearing a makeshift camp of homeless people in Sheffield in January 2017, had handed over two Romanian nationals, one of them a Big Issue seller in the city, whom the ICE team had immediately sent to Yarl’s Wood detention centre for deportation.

SYMAAG and researcher Rachel Furnis also discovered that the hostile environment announced by Theresa May in May 2012 had immediately been enforced by the South Yorkshire Police in the city. Arrests of Sheffielders under suspicion ‘of being illegal immigrants’ soared from 67 people in 2010 to over 400 in 2014. In subsequent years, arrests continued at a high level, totalling nearly 1600 arrests between April 2013 and December 2017.

Testimony not stories
Collective action, research foregrounding the voices and everyday experience of asylum seekers, filmmaking, and demonstrations all make individual voices loudly heard. In our experience, asylum seekers themselves are clear that they want their voices to be heard, not through ‘stories’ but through testimony to change the world for other asylum seekers and refugees.

As people were leaving one of the regular SYMAAG demonstrations at Morton Hall there was a message shouted through the wire and steel walls of the detention centre.

“Thanks for coming, get it out there, tell people what’s happening in here!”

References:
Jonathon Darling (2011) ’Giving space: generosity and belonging in a U.K. asylum drop-in centre’ Geoforum, Volume 42, 408-417
Mahmood Mamdani (1973) ‘From Citizen to Refugee’ London: Frances Pinter

 

John Grayson is a retired housing academic and adult educator. He taught at Sheffield Hallam University and was Senior Tutor for Social History and Politics at Northern College for Adult Residential Education from 1986 to 2007.He has been a political activist, Labour councillor and chair of a housing committee. He has been a member and researcher for SYMAAG since 2007 and has written extensively for the investigative journalism site Shine a Light at www.opendemocracy.net, and for the Institute of Race Relations at www.irr.org.uk He has published widely in the fields of social history, theories of critical adult education and social movement studies. His latest publication is Grayson J.(2019) ‘The making and framing of solidarity campaigning on asylum rights’ in Ibrahim J. and Roberts J. eds Contemporary Left-wing activism vol 2 .London: Routledge pp. 9-27. Victor Mujakachi is a volunteer at ASSIST Sheffield and Football Unites, Racism Divides among other local projects in Sheffield. He is a recipient of the South Yorkshire High Sheriff’s Award and the Nether Edge and Sheffield Community Star Award.

Image: Victor Mujakachi speaking at a demonstration outside Sheffield Home Office February 2019

This article was first published by Discover Society on 6/11/19

The Hostile Environment comes to Sheffield

EXCLUSIVE: Arrests of suspected undocumented migrants soar in Sheffield, the UK’s first City of Sanctuary

Since Theresa May launched the “Hostile Environment” South Yorkshire Police have arrested hundreds of Sheffielders every year on suspicion of being “illegal immigrants”.

John Grayson
13 September 2019

Councillors and police in the South Yorkshire city of Sheffield, the UK’s first City of Sanctuary, have been working with immigration enforcement to harass and round up Sheffielders they suspect of being “illegal immigrants”, according to research uncovered by activists and academics.

Arrests of Sheffielders under suspicion soared from 67 people arrested in the year to December 2010 to more than 400 by March 2014. The jump followed the introduction of Theresa May’s plan to ramp up immigration control and delegate enforcement to employers, councillors, GPs, police, bank managers and others.

In May 2012, Theresa May, then UK Home Secretary, told The Telegraph newspaper:

The aim is to create here in Britain a really hostile environmentfor illegal migration… Work is under way to deny illegal immigrants’ access to work, housing and services, even bank accounts.

In Sheffield the council has clearly and repeatedly stated its opposition to the raft of policies that the Conservative government called the “Hostile Environment”. As recently as 2018, in its response to a government consultation on ‘integration’, the council said:

There can be little doubt that the so called ‘Hostile Environment’ policy has substantially undermined integration, not only for its intended targets, but for those who get caught by its sweep, AND for those who are required to be un-appointed border guards checking entitlement (banks, landlords, NHS staff etc).

 

The police

Arrests of Sheffielders suspected of being “illegal immigrants” totalled 67 in the year to December 2010, and 12 in the following year, according to a South Yorkshire Police response to a Freedom of Information Request in April 2011. Then came the Hostile Environment.

In the 12 months to March 2014, 420 Sheffielders were arrested on suspicion of being “illegal immigrants”. In subsequent years arrests continued high—totalling nearly 1600 arrests from April 2013 to December 2017. Asylum seeker and refugee members of South Yorkshire Migration and Asylum Action Group (SYMAAG) have repeatedly reported personal harassment, racism and discrimination over the past few years.

In one year, 420 Sheffielders were arrested on suspicion of being “illegal immigrants”

In January 2017, for example, an Immigration Compliance & Enforcement team targeted a homeless people’s camp in Sheffield’s city centre and arrested a Romanian couple, one a Big Issue seller, who were then locked up in Yarl’s Wood detention centre.

Families spied on and threatened at home

That same month the security company G4S, who managed asylum housing in Sheffield for the Home Office, were widely criticised for equipping staff with cameras to film asylum tenants and their families.

We at SYMAAG collaborated with Brass Moustache on a film shot in Sheffield “The Asylum Market” that documented intimidation and threats from G4S and the Home Office to asylum seeker tenants.

In April 2017 I discovered in an asylum house a G4S notice which threatened that tenants guilty of bad behaviour “will not be tolerated and will be reported to the Police and may be deported away from the UK”.

In October of 2017 through an FOI request I found that immigration enforcement staff had been stationed at Sheffield’s police custody suite and central police station throughout the year.

What about Sheffield council’s opposition to anti-migrant policies?

We at SYMAAG have become increasingly concerned about how, even in Sheffield, the UK’s first City of Sanctuary, council officers have been tasked to serve the “hostile environment” regardless of the council’s purported values and principles.

For three years Sheffield city council officers who’ve attended monthly Refugee Forum meetings with the Red Cross, SYMAAG, City of Sanctuary Sheffield, ASSIST, a charity working with destitute asylum seekers, and other support projects, have repeatedly assured us that Sheffield would not apply for government money for ‘immigration enforcement projects’.

In an email to me on 2 September Cllr Paul Wood, Sheffield council cabinet member for housing, said that in 2017 the city council announced that they “would not be bidding for immigration enforcement projects and we stand by this still … Our officers will continue to state this policy at meetings …. However, as a Council, if we find anyone acting illegally then we have a responsibility to inform statutory agencies.” He added:

We do not intend to be working with UKBA directly to remove people from the Country but we could as part of this intensive work uncover activity or people that do not have all the approvals they need to stay in the UK, and we will then work with all of the key statutory agencies and charities to support these individuals as you would expect for a ‘City of sanctuary’ so they can live safely whilst any further process takes place.

In July, we in SYMAAG discovered an application form on the council’s website, which had been submitted to central government asking for money from the Controlling Migration Fund in 2017. In the application, which would secure funds for the council’s private housing standards team, they assured the government that they had worked directly with the UKBA Immigration Compliance Enforcement team locally.

According to the application, housing standards staff undertaking inspections in pursuit of rogue landlords between 2014 and 2017 had “made several referrals to the UKBA and had suspicions about other individuals who disappeared from premises immediately after initial visits had been attempted.”

The council admitted these “referrals” in a reply to an FOI from migration academic Dr Rachel Humphris in July 2019, saying that “Sheffield City Council does hold information about referrals made to the UKBA” by the private housing standards team.

One response to a question on the application form suggests that the council may have checked the form with immigration enforcement before submitting it. The form asked whether the council had “demonstrated assurance from the local Immigration Compliance and Enforcement team, if a proposal involves their resource, that they are able to commit the resources requested in the…proposal”. The council answered “yes”.

The council’s application made clear that they “have particular concern over recent undocumented, unlawful immigration into the (London Road) area, linked to private rented accommodation which is often of a very poor standard”.

street with cars, pub, shops.
London Road, a lively street with shops, restaurants and pubs in Sheffield | John Grayson

UK councils shun immigration enforcement

Sheffield city council has in effect turned its council officers into border control guards. The council should know that to be homeless, destitute and living in slums and “not have all the approvals” for residence in the UK is not unlawful or illegal.

The Guardian reported on 19 July 2019 that:

Local councils in England are refusing to share sensitive personal data of rough sleepers with the Home Office over fears it could result in their deportation. It is understood that 11 councils, including Brent, Croydon, Enfield, Islington, Hackney, Haringey, Lambeth, Liverpool, Newham, Oxford and Rugby, will not share the personal data unless explicit consent has been given. Some local authorities have slammed the programme, criticising it as a manifestation of the “hostile environment” policy.

SYMAAG has organised a demonstration on 19 September 12noon outside Sheffield Town Hall when a council committee discusses the issue. We will be demanding that the council ends its compliance with Home Office immigration compliance and enforcement teams in all its operations in a City of Sanctuary.


Thanks to Dr Rachel Humphris of Queen Mary University of London for allowing me to quote some of her Sheffield research.

Edited by Clare Sambrook and Rebecca Omonira-Oyekanmi for Shine A Light.

This article was first published on 13/9/19 by Shine a Light https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/shine-a-light/arrests-of-suspected-undocumented-migrants-soar-in-sheffield-the-uks-first-city-of-sanctuary/

Sheffield: Hostile Environment or City of Sanctuary?

When is a City of Sanctuary not a City of Sanctuary?
When it colludes with Immigration Compliance and Enforcement bodies by sharing information on its residents who are undocumented migrants.
Sheffield City Council (SCC) has accepted two grants from the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government (MHCLG).”This funding has been granted by MCHLG to fund additional staff recruitment to the Private Housing Standards (PHS) team, primarily to focus on intelligence-led work in the East of the city where poor housing conditions are believed to be linked to recent migration in to the area”.
These grants of £192,560 and £385,120 (the latest announced on 14/8/19) are part of the Government’s controversial Controlling Migration Fund (CMF). Although, significantly, SCC’s recent application for CMF funding states that “Officers from the Private Housing Standards (PHS) team undertaking inspection work in the area over the past three years have made several referrals to the UKBA“. A recent Freedom of Information request confirms this.
A report for the SCC Cabinet states “The additional funding would also allow for more coordinated work between PHS officers and partner agencies to address wider issues in the neighbourhoods, with improved information sharing and joint working protocols established.”
Are the Home Office/UKBA are one of the ‘partner agencies’?
In the original bid by SCC for Controlling Migration Funding it’s pointed out by the Private Housing Standards team that many private landlords are NOT carrying out the Right to Rent procedures with tenants. Remember the Right to Rent regulations have been declared discriminatory and are clearly racist in intent and operation. Yet council officers seem to want landlords to operate them.
For us in the South Yorkshire Migration and Asylum Action Group (SYMAAG), and many others, this is clear evidence of the Labour Council embracing the Hostile Environment policies of the Coalition and Conservative governments. These actions are not compatible with Sheffield’s status as (the first) City of Sanctuary and are a political choice. At least 11 other Labour Councils have pledged not to share immigration data with the Home Office
Over the past 5 years South Yorkshire Migration and Asylum Action Group (SYMAAG) has constantly researched City Council policies and practices to scrutinise what a City of Sanctuary actually means.
We have found them wanting in how Refugee families with No Recourse to Public Funds are treated – the City Council has housed them in dangerous B&B’s for years. John Grayson and Violet Dickenson investigated this shocking example in 2018.
We have found them wanting in terms of allowing collusion between the South Yorkshire Police and Immigration Compliance and Enforcement (ICE) in the city which resulted, in January 2017, in a Romanian couple (both EU citizens, one a Big Issue seller in the city), being forcibly removed by ICE from a temporary homeless peoples’ camp and sent to Yarl’s Wood detention centre. A SYMAAG Freedom of Information Request established that ICE staff were permanently situated in South Yorkshire Police stations to pick up undocumented Sheffield residents arrested for alleged offences.
SYMAAG has constantly asked questions of the Council about allocations of government money under the Controlling Migration Fund (CMF) 2016-2020.Sheffield Council has always denied that they applied for and received part of the Fund’s £40m “Enforcement” programme for action against ‘rogue landlords’ and deportation of undocumented tenants.
Now the Council website indicates otherwise.
So, a simple message to Sheffield City Council:
Act like Sheffield really is a City of Sanctuary
Stop collusion with Immigration Compliance and Enforcement to deport Sheffield residents
Oppose the Hostile (or Compliant) Environment in all your policies
Sources:

Some good news: Hamid is free!

Hamid Baygi has been released from detention and is now back in Sheffield thanks to a successful campaign. He should never have detained. Hamid has lived in the UK for 50 years and was threatened by the Home Office with deportation to Iran. Manuchehr from SYMAAG is interviewed by Sheffield Live about Hamid’s experience in detention and how the campaign secured his release

https://web.sheffieldlive.org/campaigners-welcome-release-of-hamid-baygi/

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SYMAAG Annual General Meeting Tuesday 25th June

Reflect on the past and plan for the future!
We are pleased to welcome our guest speaker Nita Sanghera. Nita is Vice President of the University and College Union (UCU). She will talk about racism, being a black woman trade unionist and the hostile environment against migrants.

We will also be reflecting on our last year’s work, planning for the future and electing a new Executive Committee and officers (Chair, Secretary, Treasurer etc) of SYMAAG. If you would like to stand, please let us know and we can discuss what the roles entail or talk to us at the meeting.

Everyone who supports our aims is welcome to attend, speak and vote at the meeting.
SYMAAG AGM Facebook event page
SYMAAG Annual General Meeting Tuesday 25th June 7-8.30pm (doors open from 6.30pm for refreshments)
Quaker Meeting House 10 St James Street Sheffield S10 2EW

Keep Hamid in Sheffield. Demonstrate Monday 3 June

Hamid Baygi has lived in the UK for 50 years. Now the Home Office want to deport him to Iran on Tuesday 4th June.
This is what the ‘hostile environment’ looks like
Hamid volunteers to support refugees in Sheffield, now he needs our support
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Sign the petition to stop Hamid’s deportation

Here’s how you can support Hamid
  • Demonstrate this Monday 3rd June 12 noon outside Vulcan House, Sheffield Home Office S3 8NU
  • Sign the petition to defend Hamid

No Deportations to Zimbabwe

A huge campaign in South Yorkshire earlier this year secured the release of our Zimbabwean friends Victor, Khuzani and Benji from Morton Hall detention centre. It also prevented their deportations to Zimbabwe where they would face violence, harassment or worse.
Now we need you support again.
Zimbabwean people in the UK who are in the process of seeking asylum remain under threat of deportation. Our friends who were released from Morton Hall detention centre were only given a temporary reprieve until May. Despite considerable pressure from refugee rights groups, MPs, journalists and widespread public support this government has refused to halt its deportation plans to Zimbabwe. Even though violence and persecution are commonplace for anyone thought to oppose the Zimbabwean ZANU(PF) military dictatorship. The replacement of Mugabe by Mnangagwa has, if anything, resulted in harsher repression.
But the British Government seems determined to fulfil its February 2018 deal with ZANU(PF) to deport 2500 Zimbabweans living in the UK. Was it coincidence that in September 2018 the British ambassador to Zimbabwe announced that the UK advocated a programme to help Zimbabwe pay off 1.8 billion (US dollars) of its foreign debt?
The result of this cooperation with the Zimbabwean military dictatorship is continuing uncertainty and fear for Zimbabwean people trying to escape persecution and make a life in the UK. Zimbabweans are still locked up in detention centres like Morton Hall. The Home Office has continued to invite an official from the Zimbabwean Embassy to interrogate Zimbabwean asylum seekers around the country. Though Sheffield Home Office have clearly got the message that we won’t accept this behaviour, dozens of people were questioned by the official and photographed in Southend in March. 13 people were questioned in Middlesbrough last month, with more “interviews” scheduled.
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Part of the 200-strong protest at Sheffield Home Office in February against deportations to Zimbabwe
What you can do
  • Sign this petition to stop all deportations to Zimbabwe. 77,000 people signed a petition to defend Victor Mujakachi but as Victor and others have said “This isn’t just about me”.
  • Email your MP asking them to oppose all deportations to Zimbabwe – it’s not safe – and to promote the petition. Contact them again, even if you did before to support Victor and others. You can find who your MP is and how to contact them here
  • Support forthcoming actions in South Yorkshire and beyond to oppose all deportations to Zimbabwe and for an end to the interrogation of Zimbabwean asylum seekers by Zimbabwean Embassy officials.