Zimbabwe is Not Safe, No Deportations, No Home Office/Embassy Intimidation

Protest Monday 10th Dec 11am outside Vulcan House Home Office 6 Millsands, Sheffield S3 8NU

At Vulcan House, Sheffield the Home Office invited representatives of the Zimbabwean government to ask questions of Zimbabwean refugees in the UK. This was naturally a very distressing experience for people here because they are escaping Zimbabwean government violence.

People who were at Vulcan House today said they wanted to demonstrate our opposition to these threats.

This has happened at other Home Office buildings in the UK and appears to be part of a “redocumentation” process to make deportation to Zimbabwe possible. The UK government has had an uncritical relationship with the new Zimbabwean government of Emmerson Mnangagwa and discussed the possible deportation of 2500 Zimbabwean refugees from the UK. The fact that a Zimbabwean Embassy official was invited – without a Home Office rep being present – to question Zimbabwean refugees suggests a close relationship between UK and Zimbabwean authorities. This relationship was described as “corrupt” by one Zimbabwean woman who was questioned by the Embassy official (who refused to give his name) today.

As one Zimbabwean refugee who was questioned today said “Why is the Home Office giving this person my file? How do I know my family is safe now in Zimbabwe?”

Join us on UN Human Rights Day to say

Zimbabwe is still not safe. No deportations to Zimbabwe. Stop Home Office and Zimbabwean Embassy intimidation of asylum seekers.

Protest Monday 10th Dec 11am outside Vulcan House Home Office 6 Millsands, Sheffield S3 8NU

Lift The Ban on Asylum Seekers Right to Work

Right now, right here in the UK, people seeking refugee status are banned from working whilst they wait months, and often years, for a decision on their asylum claim.

Instead, they are left to live on just £5.39 per day, struggling to support themselves and their families, whilst the Government wastes the talents of thousands of people.

We think that’s wrong. We believe that people who have risked everything to find safety should have the best chance of contributing to our society and integrating into our communities. This means giving people seeking asylum the right to work so that they can use their skills and live in dignity.

The Lift the Ban coalition is working to change this. Together, we believe we can #LiftTheBan and ensure that people seeking safety in the UK have the right to work.

It’s ironic that people detained in immigration removal centres can work for as little as £1 per day for the global corporations like G4S, Serco GEO and Mitie who run them but are banned from work when they are released.

SYMAAG is proud to be part of the Lift the Ban Coalition which is calling for the right to work for people seeking asylum, and their adult dependants, after six months of having lodged an asylum claim or further submission, unconstrained by the Shortage Occupation List.

The alternative is destitution for people seeking asylum or the dangers of working illegally – no rights or protection at work, unpaid wages and a weakening of all workers’ rights

What can you do to support our campaign? See the Lift the Ban Activism Pack for resources and ideas

Asylum Journey Sheffield

Asylum Journey Sheffield website has information about services and resources for asylum seekers and refugees in Sheffield. Created by Sheffugees it is a comprehensive and easily searchable resource for people at each stage of the asylum process

It contains detailed information and signposting on the asylum process, legal support, accommodation, health, finance, education and much more.

The site needs constant updates to keep it useful. If you have any comments or feedback, or if you spot any gaps or errors, please contact admin@sheffield.cityofsanctuary.org.

Website https://asylumjourney.org.uk/

 

Zimbabwe still not safe – Sheffield Protest Against Deportations July 25

End Forced Deportations to Zimbabwe

Demonstrate outside Sheffield Town Hall

Wednesday 25th July 12noon to 1pm

Stop another Windrush Scandal

According to New Zimbabwe.com, British ambassador to Zimbabwe, Catriona Laing, in February 2018 told Zimbabwean Deputy President Kembo Mohadi that her government intended to deport 2,500 “illegal Zimbabweans” in that country. The announcement came as Theresa May said that her government was “determined to reduce the number of immigrants coming into the country by thousands”. Very few people have been deported to Zimbabwe over the past ten years.

There are now reports of Zimbabwe Embassy staff going to detention centres to interview any Zimbabwe nationals there to give them travel documents so that they can be forcibly deported. Some people have already been deported to a Zimbabwe where the same regime is in power even though Mugabe has gone. Their lives are in danger.

As Marian Machekanyanga, an exiled trade unionist from Zimbabwe and SYMAAG Executive Committee member, explained to us  “nothing has changed for Zimbabwean people here or at home. Mnangagwa is still ZANU-PF…there are no changes and no democracy”.

Zimbabwe refugees here for years are facing deportation rather than extension to their right to safety here in the UK

Tell Sajid Javid the Home Secretary to stop deporting Zimbabwe refugees. This is Theresa May’s Hostile Environment yet again bringing misery and danger to families seeking protection from persecution and torture in the UK

Tell Sheffield Council: Treat Homeless Asylum Children with Respect! Wed 4 July

A recent investigation by John Grayson and Violet Dickenson of SYMAAG revealed that Sheffield City Council are treating homeless asylum seeking children unlawfully and disrespectfully. These children and families have No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF) and are being placed by the Council for long periods in unsuitable and potentially dangerous Bed and Breakfast accommodation.

Carol from the Earl Marshall hostel explained to us how waiting for toilets and showers were the worst times for the families. She said some of the men “asked us for money and called us racist names. Every time we had to wait, then we had to clean the toilet, so we could use it.”

For 2 years we have tried to get Sheffield City Council – which declared Sheffield the first City of Sanctuary – to stop this practice of housing women and young children routinely and for long periods in shared hostels with vulnerable homeless men

On 7 February 2018, SYMAAG members went along to a Sheffield City Council meeting. We presented a petition, asked questions and stated our demands

1)  To immediately stop placing homeless families in B&B’s

2) To immediately stop placing homeless lone mothers and children (in particular survivors of trafficking and/or domestic violence) in potentially unsafe temporary emergency accommodation with single men.

3)To immediately institute a programme to renovate or replace the council’s existing temporary accommodation for homeless people which council reports have declared ‘not fit for purpose’

Councillor Drayton in the Council meeting and afterwards did not give any undertakings on any of these points and talked of ‘monitoring’ and refused to stop using the Earl Marshall for families.

Now Sheffield City Council has finished the long break for elections, SYMAAG will be back at the Council meeting at Sheffield Town Hall  Wednesday 4 July at 2pm to ask further questions to force the Council to treat homeless asylum children with NRPF just like any other homeless children in Sheffield.

We invite you to come with us. Ask the Council a question from the public gallery and lobby your councillor. We’ll be meeting at The Sanctuary, Chapel Walk at 1pm beforehand.

 

 

Rodents, bedbugs, mould: UK asylum housing is a Hostile Environment

A Manchester asylum hostel run by Britain’s biggest outsourcer Serco is riddled with cockroaches, rodents and bedbugs.

by John Grayson

Mothers with babies in a Manchester hostel run by Serco have shown us their dirty and dangerous living conditions.

Shadow immigration minister and local MP Afzal Khan has told us: “Nobody, let alone families with children, should be forced to live with cockroaches, bed bugs, damp, leaks and mice. Unfortunately we know that this is not an isolated case. Our asylum accommodation system is not fit for purpose.”

Last week I visited the ground floor and basement of the hostel that is home to three mothers and three children. One mother, Carole, showed me the damp basement where she lived with Nathan, her 11 month old son. She showed me water gathered by the dehumidifier that she had bought.

She said Nathan is asthmatic, and showed me bedbug bites on his arms.

“I have them too, Serco said they could not find them, but they did not change the mattress — just put plastic on it.” That looked to me unsafe, and a suffocation risk.

Bed bug infested mattress wrapped in polythene (John Grayson)

Carole showed me a video on her phone of two mice running around her bed in the middle of the night. I could hear her frustrated voice: “I can’t sleep, I can’t sleep.”

An asylum-seeker from West Africa, Carole told me: “I am on medication all the time, but it is the damp and Nathan and his breathing I am really worried about.”

From the bin Carole produced a glue trap with a dead mouse and cockroaches.

She said she feared fire breaking out in the kitchen above her basement room. “If there was a fire in the kitchen I could not get up these stairs with Nathan past the kitchen. I would have to climb up through the window which is below ground and all bars.”

The kitchen ceiling showed evidence of water leakage from the flats above — presenting risks of electrocution and fire. Carole said: “The ceiling leaks when upstairs use the baths and showers. We need buckets.”

Rooms provided to mothers with toddlers had no space for play. Carole poked behind a kitchen unit and showed me a poison box for mice. “Nathan can pick the boxes up and put them in his mouth. He was playing in here, the only place where he can, and hit his head on a door handle.”

Nathan’s bedbug bites (John Grayson)

Carole showed me letters from her doctor, her health visitor, her play scheme organiser, all asking Serco to move her and Nathan. “The man from Serco comes, once or twice a week. He says he reports everything but people above him do nothing.”

Upstairs Pamela, from south Asia, grimly joked about the cockroaches, “I have the really big ones up here,” she says, and it’s true.

“I came here nearly two years ago. Paul my son is nearly two and he was a few months old then. Carole’s baby has spent his whole life down there. I think it is worse for them.”

A squalid rear yard, strewn with refuse is no place to play.

Above the women’s quarters live male asylum seekers. I hadn’t seen a mixed hostel in my six years of working alongside asylum tenants. Pamela said: “The men upstairs were really bad, noisy but there are new ones now.”

Last week I sent a detailed report and photographs to Serco company spokesman Marcus De Ville. He replied: “We are confident that in the vast majority of cases we are providing appropriate housing for asylum seekers but we are not complacent and we always want to look into any issues or concerns that are raised. We are now doing this with this property and I will get back to you in the near future.”

Dead mouse with child’s toy (John Grayson)

I sent the same evidence to local MP and shadow immigration minister Afzal Khan. He replied: “The description of conditions in this house is shocking. Nobody, let alone families with children, should be forced to live with cockroaches, bed bugs, damp, leaks and mice. Unfortunately we know that this is not an isolated case. Our asylum accommodation system is not fit for purpose. It is unacceptable that in 21st century Britain, people fleeing war and persecution are routinely housed in appalling and at times unsafe conditions.”

Serco accommodates nearly 15,000 asylum seekers in more than 5,000 properties across the North West of England, Scotland and Northern Ireland. According to the Home Affairs Committee Inquiry into asylum housing Serco housed 8,342 asylum seekers in the North West of England in September 2016, including 994 in Manchester. This suggests that they manage between 200 and 300 asylum properties in the city. In evidence to the same inquiry Serco revealed its average income per service user in February 2016 was around £300 a month. So, for the three rooms in the Manchester hostel with a mother and child in each Serco received £1800 every month of taxpayers money, £21,600 over twelve months.

Security company G4S and Clearsprings also provide accommodation under the contracts known as COMPASS (Commercial and Operating Managers Procuring Asylum Support).

I’m a housing academic and volunteer working alongside asylum seekers. Over years we have exposed the landlords’ failures and mismanagement. Reporting here on Shine A Light, we’ve exposed health hazardsintimidation, and fire risk.

This work has helped to provoke and inform a National Audit Office Inquiry and Parliamentary scrutiny.

Stairs down to Carole and Nathan’s room (John Grayson)

The National Audit Office in 2014 found that G4S and Serco, were “still failing to meet some of their key performance targets, notably relating to the standards of property and the time taken to acquire properties for asylum seekers.”

Three years later, in January 2017, MPs reported that the contractors were still failing. “Some of the premises used by Providers as temporary accommodation are substandard and unfit to house anyone, let alone people who are vulnerable,” MPs said.

The Home Affairs Committee urged that inspections should be passed to local authorities and should include: “whether an individual’s health or special needs are being met; the quality and quantity of food available; the fabric of the building itself.” And whether are facilities are appropriate for “vulnerable people, including mothers and children and victims of torture and trafficking.”

They warned that people were being moved around the asylum system without their consent, which can “disrupt vital support networks” and “cause emotional distress”. And they said the complaints system wasn’t working — asylum seekers feared complaints would prompt reprisals.

Basement window: Carole and Nathan’s escape route? (John Grayson)

The contractors carried on failing. In November 2017, the Guardian reported charities’ claims that in Greater Manchester, asylum seekers wereforced to live in “squalid, unsafe, slum housing conditions” and the public was largely unaware of the conditions into which “traumatised people are routinely dumped”.

Serco’s origins are in defence and military procurement. Its joint venture with Lockheed Martin and Jacobs Engineering holds the government contract to design, manufacture and maintain the nuclear warheads for Britain’s Trident missiles.

For more than 10 years, Serco has managed Yarl’s Wood detention centre, where guards have sexually assaulted women detainees, guards have stood by as expectant mothers undergo obstetric examinations, and where a case of child sexual abuse went uninvestigated.

Four years ago, an undercover reporter at Channel 4 recorded Serco guards at Yarl’s Wood calling women detainees “animals”, “beasties” and “bitches”. “Headbutt the bitch,” one guard says. “I’d beat her up.”

Serco is tendering for the new asylum housing contracts from 2019 worth a potential £4 billion of taxpayers’ money over seven regional contracts over ten years.

Serco CEO is establishment figure Rupert Soames, grandson of Winston Churchill. In his written evidence to the Home Affairs parliamentary select committee Inquiry into asylum housing in 2016 Soames said: “Our determination to provide a decent and caring level of provision and fulfill our contractual obligations despite massive losses deserves some recognition.”

I am not sure Carole and Pamela would agree.

 


 

 

  • Edited by Clare Sambrook for Shine A Light at openDemocracy. Names have been changed. First published at Open Democracy on 29 May 2018 here

Zimbabwe: “no changes and no democracy”

Why Zimbabwe is still not safe for refugees like Marian Machekanyanga

Marian was forced to leave Zimbabwe in November 2002 as
a result of victimisation and mistreatment. As a member of a workers
committee in a government department in Harare,she led a protest to
the Zimbabwean Parliament against the misdirection of the Government
funds to ZANU-PF. She has spent 16 years trying to secure her safety
by fighting for the right to remain in the UK.

During those 16 years Marian has also continued her fight for the
human rights of others. She is an Executive Committee member of the
South Yorkshire Migration and Asylum Action Group and active in
Zimbabwean opposition organisations in the UK, protesting against
ZANU-PF and for the rights of all asylum seekers in the UK, including
Zimbabweans.

Marian on “Don’t Let Them Drown” protest at the Home Office in Sheffield

Like many Zimbabwean political exiles in the UK she was relieved when
Robert Mugabe was forced to resign in November 2017, but wasn’t
positive about his successor Emmerson Mnangagwa. When I asked Marian
she explained “nothing has changed for Zimbabwean people here or at
home. Mnangagwa is still ZANU-PF”. Separated from her family in
Zimbabwe for an unimaginable 16 years, Marian would dearly like to
return to Zimbabwe but the party that victimised her before she came
to the UK are still in power. “The treatment of Joice Mujuru is a
sign there are no changes and no democracy” Marian said. Joice Mujuru
was Vice President of Zimbabwe who left ZANU-PF in 2015 to become an
opposition politician and has faced harassment since.

With elections due later this year there are reports that 5000 troops
have been deployed in rural Zimbabwe and voters threatened with
compulsory use of new biometric voting cards which will identify who
they cast their vote for. Despite these and other repressive measures
directed at the opposition in Zimbabwe the UK government seems
determined to continue the deportation of people seeking asylum to
Zimbabwe. The UK ambassador to Zimbabwe Catriona Lang, recently told
Zimbabwean Deputy President Kembo Mohad  that the UK wanted to deport
2500 Zimbabweans who were “living illegally in the UK”.

Marian discussing her asylum case with Paul Blomfield MP for Sheffield Central

The Home Office regard Marian as “living illegally”. Despite clear
evidence of the danger to Marian if she returns to any part of
Zimbabwe and the severe risk to her health if she could not get vital
medication there for her diabetic condition, the Home Office rejected
her asylum claim and initial appeal.

Marian clearly feels it is still unsafe for her to return to Zimbabwe
and continues her long battle to be recognised as a refugee and given
leave to remain in the UK. Lots of South Yorkshire people agree with
her too – over 1000 of us have already signed a petition in her
support.

How UK migration rules make children homeless

Councils are forcing children into homelessness and destitution simply because of their parents’ migration status.

 

Alara Bed & Breakfast room shared by Amy’s family of five (John Grayson)

For two years we have been investigating how Sheffield treats refugee families who have no recourse to public funds. Our latest article exposes the dire state of temporary housing for mothers with young children, forced to share hostels with vulnerable homeless men.

Here we provide some context to the situation.

Across the UK councils are forcing children into homelessness and destitution simply because of the migration status of their parents. This problem is compounded by the housing crisis, which is hurting the poorest most.

Sheffield City Council, the scene of our work, placed 43 homeless families with 97 children in bed and breakfast accommodation in the 11 months to 30 November 2017, according to an FOI we submitted. Some of them had been placed in B&Bs more than once, and some for many weeks. Of the 97 children, 40 were under five years old.

In April 2016, we visited a mother and four children under five years (two year old twins, a three year old and a five year old). They’d been housed in the Alara Bed and Breakfast hotel in Hillsborough, Sheffield.

We climbed a steep flight of stairs to be greeted by Amy, with her youngest child in her arms. “This is it,” Amy said, “We stay in here most of the time. The children cannot play here or anywhere inside.”

The council had put them in the Alara, in one room on the first floor, nearly 18 months before. Amy’s social worker had told her that she and her children didn’t qualify for anything better because they have ‘No Recourse to Public Funds’ status, although three of Amy’s four children were British citizens.

Here Amy washes dishes and her children (John Grayson)

Amy told us: “We have breakfast which is OK, but then we have to go to food banks or get cheap takeaways. I cannot cook in here at all.” Amy hoped we might be able to get her moved.

She had been frightened to complain to anyone but her social worker. “They told me I would have to make another claim to stay in the UK in October this year, and I don’t want to be deported,” she said.

Amy showed us the damp and dirty walls near the beds she shared with her children. The rest of the place, carpets, toilets, showers are really nice and clean”.

She was frightened to complain, fearing she would be deported

The room had a small sink that Amy used for washing the children and washing the dishes. The nearest toilets and showers were across the landing of a steep flight of stairs, shared with other residents. This presented a daily hazard for Amy’s toddlers. “I worry every day when I take the children to the toilet. The manager won’t provide any child gates — he says they will stop escape if there is a fire.”

We protested to the council. Sheffield’s Children Young People & Families department (social services) told us that the council’s Private Housing Standards department “had recommended the Alara”.

But after the standards department sent a two-person inspection team to the Alara, social services said: “We consider that the accommodation is not suitable for either family.” That was April.

Unguarded stairs (John Grayson)

We advised Amy and her children not to move to different B&B accommodation, but to hold out for something suitable. The council offered a city centre “family room” in a budget hotel — again just one room. We maintained that the council should provide temporary housing suitable for Amy and her four children.

In May the leader of Sheffield City Council Cllr. Julie Dore intervened, saying we should “assist this family by encouraging them to move to the hotel we have organised for them.”

She wrote to us: “I am very unhappy we now have a family with small children residing somewhere that has been deemed unsafe for them.”

Eventually, faced with potential legal action on the basis of the children’s human rights, the council agreed to offer Amy a standard council house on a temporary basis.

 

A place to call home

Seventy per cent of Sheffield’s homeless people in temporary accommodation are single men or childless couples, that’s almost three times the national average of 26 per cent.

Our investigations suggest that a small but growing number of homeless children in families in Sheffield have no recourse to public funds. This is a growing problem across the UK affecting families in cities like Manchester, Glasgow and Birmingham.

In late 2015, Hackney Community Law Centre and Hackney Migrant Centre produced “A place to call home: a report into the standard of housing provided to children in need in London”.

FOI requests revealed that six London local authorities supported 1,570 “Section 17” families or children between them during the last six months of 2014.

In August 2017 The Independent reported that Haringey local authority “was currently supporting 71 households with no recourse to public funds, including 151 children.”

 

Councils can defy the government

There is resistance. In December 2017 the Labour mayor of Liverpool Joe Anderson unveiled a £250,000 homeless facility called Labre House in the city centre. In a break with national policy, he said: “The centre will also help failed asylum seekers who the Government has said have ‘no recourse to public funds’.”

Our observations chime with the Hackney findings that: “Most B&B-style accommodation is inappropriate. Not only does it frequently fail to adequately meet the needs of the family but, in some situations, it can pose a positive danger.”

We are campaigning to make sure in Sheffield, the UK’s first City of Sanctuary, the council defends the safety of refugee children, whatever their status.

 


 

All names of refugees and refugee children, and interviewees, have been changed.

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

 This article was originally published on Open Democracy at https://www.opendemocracy.net/john-grayson-violet-dickenson/children-made-homeless-by-migration-rules on 5 April

Mothers and children unlawfully housed in Sheffield B&Bs for years

Women and young children routinely placed in shared hostels with vulnerable homeless men.

Earl Marshall Guest House (John Grayson)

Mothers with young children have spent months on end in Bed & Breakfast accommodation in Sheffield, South Yorkshire, living alongside vulnerable homeless single men. Women forced to share bathrooms and kitchens with men they don’t know tell us they’ve faced intimidation and racist abuse. They say they fear for themselves and their children.

Councils are obliged by law to avoid placing pregnant women or families with children in B&Bs except as a last resort, and then for no longer than six weeks. But we at South Yorkshire Migration & Asylum Action Group (SYMAAG) know of women and children housed unlawfully in potentially dangerous B&B accommodation for months, and some for years.

At a B&B on Grimesthorpe Road, Sheffield, mothers with children have been housed alongside vulnerable homeless single men.

Called Earl Marshall Guest House, the B&B is in Burngreave, to the north of the city, which has housed incoming migrants, workers in the steel industry, over the last sixty years, people from Yemen, Kurdistan, Pakistan. And in recent years from Central and Eastern Europe. The steel industry has almost disappeared and Burngreave, with its streets of redbrick terraced housing, is one of Sheffield’s poorest districts.

We first met Esther at the Earl Marshall with her young daughter one sunny September afternoon in 2017.

Esther’s room (John Grayson)

For two months, mother and daughter, aged six, had shared one small cramped room, with bunkbeds and hardly any storage space. “Come in, there’s not much room in here to sit down,” Esther said. “I have to keep the buggy in here. It’s not safe to leave it by the front door.”

Families with more children had bigger rooms, but hers was normal for a mother and child, Esther said. “I have our food in here, I can’t store it in the kitchen, there are no locked cupboards and about 20 people use that kitchen. There is only one cooker in there.”

Esther, a survivor of trafficking from West Africa, said she didn’t feel safe at the B&B. “I am frightened for my daughter,” she told us. “The man next door is very noisy, bangs on the wall at night — I think he uses drugs in there.”

She said: “The worst thing is having to queue for toilets and showers with the men, it is not right for my little girl.”

Her only income was the £20 a week she received from Sheffield social services for her daughter. “My social worker gives me vouchers for the food bank and she got them to provide a fridge in my room,” she said.

A kitchen for 20 people (John Grayson)

The ‘box room’ (John Grayson)

Esther worried about other children in the house. Were they getting enough to eat? “They don’t serve breakfast unless you ask the woman,” she said. “Then it is never before eight, which means the children here who go to school have to eat cereals and milk bought by parents.”

In a corridor we met an agitated woman dressed only in her nightie, who said excitedly: “I will be leaving soon, I will be moving out.” She opened her door to a small box-room with little natural light on a sunny afternoon, one tiny window obscured by a curtain. She said that’s where she was living.

Other women forced to spend time at the Earl Marshall also feared for their children’s safety.

Carol lived there for a year from February 2015. Like Esther she had survived trafficking from West Africa, had been turned down for asylum and so lost her financial support from the National Asylum Support Service.

“I was sharing a single bed with my daughter Sophie, no money and living with friends,” she told us. “They asked us to leave, and we went to the council as homeless.”

We asked Carol what she felt when she first arrived at the Earl Marshall. “I hated it and did not want to stay,” Carol said, “but Sophie saw the bunk beds, and after months of sharing a small bed with me, thought it was great.”

Carol told us: “It was worse at weekends. There were drunken men outside and inside, amongst the guests of the B&B as well as in our part. An American man who ended up in our part on a very busy weekend told me ‘This place is not safe for the kids. I think it is the cheapest place in Sheffield.’

“On those weekends all the mothers would gather with our children in the biggest of our rooms and stay there all weekend, making sure there was one of us with the children wherever they were.

“While I was at the Earl Marshall there was a Chinese woman with a baby, and a woman from Cameroon with her child. She hated it and went back to Cameroon. Single refugee women came but only stayed one or two nights. There was a man with five children, all in the same room.”

 

“No Recourse to Public Funds”

All three refugee families we spoke to from the Earl Marshall had found themselves labelled “No recourse to public funds”. In a letter to us in May 2016 the leader of Sheffield Council, Cllr. Julie Dore, explained what that means.

“Public funds are defined and include all benefits and homelessness help from the Housing Department. This means that the Local Authority’s Housing department cannot provide accommodation under the housing laws.”

Showers at Earl Marshall 

 

But, she added, “Children’s Social Care may still owe a duty to the children.”

This comes under the Children Act 1989 (Section 17), Children in Need, for whom money that is provided is not considered to be public funds.

Dore went on: “We explore a number of options with such families including enabling them to return to their home country if they wish and it is safe to do so.”

These Sheffield families receive only the equivalent of UK Child Benefit (around £20 for the first child). For the mothers, social workers gave Carol and Esther vouchers to take to the local food bank, and £5 each week to pay their Earl Marshall laundry bills.

“They treat us bad,” said Carol. “Sometimes the bedclothes and washing were not collected on time, I had to change the beds and take the washing myself, it was difficult with a schoolchild to keep her clean. Breakfast was never till eight o’clock, too late for my child to get to school.”

Dinah spent five months in the Earl Marshall with her daughter Adele who was six years old. She told us: “They would only wash bedclothes and school uniform in there, other things I washed by hand.”

Waiting for toilets and showers were the worst times for the families. Carol said some of the men “asked us for money and called us racist names. Every time we had to wait, then we had to clean the toilet, so we could use it.”

Waiting for toilets and showers were the worst times. The men asked for money and called us racist names.

Dinah told us: “The showers were locked from 8pm to 9am. Waiting in the queue we heard screaming and banging doors and a naked man came in and joined the queue. I decided to buy a potty for our room so that we felt safe.”

When she spoke to us a few weeks ago Dinah had been in the UK asylum system since 2001, 17 years. “I tried to become a student, but someone stole my passport and took my money. I was in a bad abusive relationship and ended up in a house rented by my church. They wanted to buy another place and evicted me and Adele, then we ended up in the Earl Marshall.

“Adele had chicken pox when they told us we had to go to the Earl Marshall and I thought she would spread it to the other children. They told me ‘You can either go in there, or we will take Adele into care’.”

Dinah remembered two Chinese women with two children each, girls and boys, in the Earl Marshall. “A student came with her small baby, she decided to leave the country. There was a lady, she was out of her mind, she kept saying, ‘I can hear the voice of my boyfriend’, over and over again.”

 

Direct action

Earl Marshall managers spotted us taking photographs from outside the B&B in September 2017. Esther asked us not to identify her in anything we reported. “I don’t want them to make me homeless again,” she said. And so it was November before we wrote to the council setting out the dangerous situation for children in the B&B.

We demanded that the council immediately rehouse any families with children remaining in the Earl Marshall and declare that it would never again be used as emergency accommodation for children.

The secretary to the leader of the council replied on 22 November 2017.

“I have forwarded on all of your emails regarding Earl Marshall B&B to both Councillors Drayton and McDonald and asked them to contact you, as soon as possible.”

Then…nothing (later they claimed not to have received our email). So, we decided on a more direct approach.

On 7 February 2018, SYMAAG members went along to a Sheffield City Council meeting. We presented a petition, asked questions and stated our demands:

  • End the use of the Earl Marshall guest house for homeless refugee children;
  • Provide equal treatment for homeless refugee children to that given to other homeless children in Sheffield.
  • In response to our testimony about the long periods families spent in B&Bs, Cllr. Jackie Drayton, chair of the Children, Young People and Families committee, said, “These were asylum seeker families who we could not help in other ways because they had no resource to public funds.”
  • Later, on 20 February 2018, we received an email from the chair of housing, Cllr. Jayne Dunn. She admitted the council’s department for children, young people and families (CYPF, more commonly known as social services) had two families accommodated in the Earl Marshall.

She said: “Both families have no recourse to public funds. One family has been there since 9th September 2016, and one family since 28th January 2016, just over 2 years. The families are supported by CYPF. In any case B+B is not a good option for families for long periods, and I have offered to help source alternative accommodation if this is appropriate for both families.”

One councillor later admitted that the B&B was unsuitable for the families

Then Carol, who had asked a question at the council meeting in February, received a reply to our petition from Cllr. Drayton, chair of the CYPF committee who placed the families in the Earl Marshall.

The letter, dated Dated 8 March 2018, contained no apology for the year Carol and Sophie had spent in the Earl Marshall. Cllr. Drayton said that, “Children’s services do not support bed and breakfast accommodation for families and work to prevent this whenever possible.”

Cllr. Jackie Drayton concedes: families have been housed in B&Bs for more than 12 months (letter, 8 March 2018)

The letter admitted “some cases” in bed and breakfast “for over twelve months” were “unacceptable” and a review of the cases was underway. Any families in bed and breakfast for more than six weeks would have reports issued to “monitor” them. There was no commitment to stop using the Earl Marshall. “We will assess the concerns raised about the particular institution identified in the petition.”

Sheffield, City of Sanctuary, and the homeless

Lately, we spoke to Barry, a volunteer in mental health campaigning groups in Sheffield. He told us, “Over the past twenty years I have known of many people when they are discharged from NHS care, and find themselves homeless, who have been put in the Earl Marshall by Social Services.”

They made me live in the same small bedroom with him, for three months.

Mary is an elderly Anglican minister and refugee from Southern Africa, who runs an art and handicraft project for women refugees in Sheffield. She found herself in the Earl Marshall in 2015, with her adult autistic son.

“There was a serious fire in our council house and the Council had to find somewhere for us to live whilst it was repaired,” she told us. “They wanted to place my adult son, who is autistic, in the Earl Marshall. I said he would not cope in there without me. They refused to budge, so I went there with him. They made me live in the same small bedroom with him, for three months.”

 

 

Earl Marshall’s response

We contacted the Earl Marshall on 22 March and asked for a response to the refugee families’ specific allegations and concerns raised in this article.

Nada Mortin, director of Earl Marshall Guest House Ltd, replied on 26 March with the following statement:

Firstly, we refuse to comment on allegations of this nature as a matter of principle. We feel such comments may misrepresent the nature of our work or of the Hostel itself, which seeks to provide quality accommodation to homeless and vulnerable people in the community.

 

We would emphasise and reiterate that at all times we have complied with all regulations and policies issued by Sheffield City Council from time to time together with all regulatory bodies applicable to our sector and at no time have any allegations been received by the Hostel, whether from the council or any resident or former resident, in connection with the operation of the Hostel. Residents have always been provided with the requisite facilities and access to the same at appropriate times.

We contacted Ms Mortin again on 28 March and 4 April, again inviting her response to the families’ particular concerns about breakfast, shower, kitchen and laundry arrangements. We await her reply.

 

 


 

All names of refugees and refugee children, and interviewees, have been changed.

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

This article was published first by Open Democracy at https://www.opendemocracy.net/shinealight/john-grayson-violet-dickenson/mothers-and-children-unlawfully-housed-in-shef

The roots of the Hostile Environment

In December 2013 SYMAAG organised a protest in Sheffield against the 2014 Immigration Act which put into law many of the measures designed to create a “Hostile Environment” for what then Home Secretary Theresa May called “illegal immigrants”

120 people came together to oppose moves to make the Hostile Environment policy law

 

One of SYMAAG’s founding members David Price has this letter published in The Guardian 17 April 2018

Amelia Gentleman’s article (Rudd’s U Turn: At last an end to the staggering heartlessness, 17 April) rightly welcomes the belated government U-turn over the Home Office’s appalling treatment of the Windrush generation. But I doubt if this will mark an end to the Home Office’s “staggering heartlessness”.

In 2012 David Cameron set up the “Hostile Environment Working Group”. Sarah Teather, then a Liberal Democrat minister, was outraged by this title and it was changed. But ministers have continued to use of this kind of language and I fear it has moulded Home Office attitudes. Out of this working group came the Immigration Act 2014, which Labour supported at second reading. This act required all sorts of public and private bodies to bear down on people without appropriate immigration documentation. Those of us who warned that it would have a pernicious effect were ignored.

David Price
Sheffield

Originally published in The Guardian 17/4/18 https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2018/apr/17/amber-rudds-windrush-apology-fails-to-impress

The Hostile Environment policy sees landlords, schools, the NHS, banks and employers as border guards