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.   
 
image.png
 

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/

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/

<iframe title=”vimeo-player” src=”https://player.vimeo.com/video/344832209″ width=”640″ height=”360″ frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen></iframe>

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.
image.png
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.

Resistance to Zimbabwe deportation plan grows

Victor, Khuzani and Benji, Zimbabweans from South Yorkshire have been released from Morton Hall detention centre. Marian and the other people interviewed by the Zimbabwean Embassy official at Sheffield Home Office have not been detained since. Perhaps Sheffield Home Office got the message from the well-supported local campaign for their right to remain.

However, the Home Office continue with their plans. We know of other Zimbabweans still at Morton Hall and around the country the process of preparing people for detention/possible deportation continues. For example “dozens” of Zimbabweans (including well-known campaigners) were interviewed and photographed by a Zimbabwean Embassy official when they reported at Southend police station (being used by the Home Office) earlier this week. One of them, Felix Zinhu, describes the stress this caused him here

Victor Mujakachi outside Vulcan House “I want the focus of this campaign to be all Zimbabweans not just me”

There are reports of other Zimbabweans being either detained, or interrogated by Zimbabwean Embassy officials invited by the Home Office, around the country. The stress and anxiety caused by this needs to be appreciated. Perhaps for the UK government it’s an intended consequence of their desire to create a hostile environment for people like Marian and Victor. And why should people have to sacrifice their privacy and expose themselves to even more risk by speaking out against the Zimbabwean government on national media and online?

The Zimbabwean government is well aware of criticism from opposition activists forced to become refugees. Zimbabwean Information Minister Nick Mangwana responded to stated fears of persecution from Marian Machekanyanga and others by making the laughable claims that “there are no political persecutions in Zimbabwe” and “there is no single returnee that has been persecuted regardless of the circumstances of their departure”.

In February 2018 the UK Ambassador to Zimbabwe Catriona Laing and Zimbabwean Deputy President Kembo Mohadi agreed to cooperate in the deportation of 2500 Zimbabweans living in the UK.

The Zim Vigil, a weekly protest outside the Zimbabwean Embassy in London

There has been much speculation on the details of this deal between the UK government and the Zimbabwean military dictatorship. In return for accepting 2500 Zimbabwean refugees perhaps Zimbabwe would receive financial aid, favourable trade deals (important for the UK post-Brexit) or diplomatic support in rejoining the Commonwealth?

The Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Zimbabwe tellingly described the UK government’s “ill-advised cosying-up to the Zimbabwean leadership, which owed its position, power and loyalty to the military and political machine that manoeuvred to install it and not to the people of Zimbabwe through a free and fair electoral process. I will not go into more detail; the Minister knows what I am talking about”.  Brian Donnelly, ex-UK Ambassador to Zimbabwe was more explicit, describing a “disgraceful conspiracy by the Home Office and Foreign and Commonwealth Office to return Zimbabweans against their will”.

So the campaign against detentions and threatened deportations to Zimbabwe – at it’s most dangerous for opposition supporters for years – continues. We’ve had widespread national and local media coverage, including this excellent Channel 4 report on the Sheffield February 19th protest in support of Marian. There has been parliamentary pressure, for example here from Sheffield Central MP Paul Blomfield. We’ve seen an impressive mobilisation of campaigners, refugee organisations, political parties and countless individuals illustrated by a petition for Victor Mujakachi which gained 75,000 signatures in a week.

Vulcan House, Sheffield Home Office

Inspired by the bravery of Zimbabwean asylum seekers and by what we’ve already achieved the campaign against deportations to Zimbabwe continues. While well-known and much-loved activists like Victor and Marian have received huge publicity and support we will campaign against all deportations to Zimbabwe. As Marian put it “this shouldn’t be happening to anyone, not just me”.

 

thanks to Manuchehr, Luis Arroyo for the photos, many more on our Facebook pages

 

 

We’re not frightened anymore – Sheffield says no to Zimbabwe Deportations

I have never been on a demonstration at 9am on a Tuesday morning before. Would everybody else be at work or in bed? Would more than 2 people and a dog turn up? But my worries were small compared to the anxiety that Marian was feeling today.

Marian Machekanyanga is a Zimbabwean asylum seeker living in Sheffield. Marian was called by the Home Office to report at Vulcan House (the local branch of the Home Office in Sheffield) at 9am. The last time she reported at Vulcan House she – and other people – were questioned by a Zimbabwean Embassy official, invited there by the Home Office. Two Zimbabweans were detained and sent to Morton Hall detention centre straight after, threatened with deportation to Zimbabwe where violence against political opponents is at its worst for many years.

Marian and others Zimbabwean asylum seekers asked for support. So South Yorkshire Migration and Asylum Action Group (SYMAAG) organised a demonstration outside Vulcan House, at the same time Marian was inside reporting to the Home Office, fearing that she might never come out of the front door. The response was big, even by Sheffield standards. 200 people chanted “Marian belongs in Sheffield” “No deportations to Zimbabwe” while security staff at the Home Office reporting centre looked out sheepishly. Marian was inside for just a few minutes and came out of the front door to cheers.

“I’m not frightened anymore” Marian told the crowd, going on to say that she was humbled by the support she’d had and telling us how she loved Sheffield. But Marian reminded us that other Zimbabwean asylum seekers – including Khuzani Ndlovu and Benji Gudza – were still detained at Morton Hall under threat of deportation.

Victor Mujakachi spoke next. Victor had also been detained and released after a campaign by his many friends and supporters – a petition for his release has gathered a remarkable 75,000 signatures in a week.

He stressed the need to support others detained at Morton Hall who were less well-known and connected than him.

Other speakers including Phillis Andrew from SYMAAG talked from personal experience about what detention centres are and how they are some of the most hostile places in the hostile environment for people seeking asylum. The apparent cosiness between the UK government and Zimbabwean dictatorship was a theme for other speakers.

So what did we achieve today? Marian is safe for now, she’s laughing with her friends and eating carrot cake downstairs at The Sanctuary asylum seeker drop in as I write this. But she’s due to report at Vulcan House within 2 weeks.

Victor was released. It took a campaign combining public protests, parliamentary questions, legal support, national media coverage including a very brave Channel 4 interview, a Guardian newspaper front page, a feature in the Independent, widespread local media and a social media campaign which reached new audiences. But there are still Zimbabwean people in detention. The Home Office has invited Zimbabwean Embassy officials to question Zimbabwean asylum seekers around the country. The UK government has still not – as it did between 2002 and 2010 – suspended deportations to Zimbabwe because of ‘political and humanitarian factors’ there.

I think the most important thing this week’s campaign has achieved is how we have surprised ourselves: 200 people did turn out to a morning demo in the winter, perhaps we underestimate support for refugees; Marian and others – for the first time in their lives – have told their story in national TV and newspaper interviews; the Home Office are clearly disturbed by the intensity and reach of our campaign. Victor was released from detention. Refugees in SYMAAG and other organisations have spoken out with a new confidence and authority.

The Home Office’s ongoing attempt to detain and deport high-profile, much-loved activists to Zimbabwe at a time when it is patently not safe felt like a challenge. I’m pleased we rose to that challenge this last week.

I hope that the energy and optimism generated is the basis for future campaigns against detention and deportation alongside people who are not as well known as Victor and Marian. This week we’ll be meeting to discuss what kind of alliances we need to make in Sheffield to maintain this momentum. But right now, I’m going downstairs for some carrot cake.

 

This article by Stuart Crosthwaite was originally published on Right to Remain’s blog https://righttoremain.org.uk/were-not-frightened-anymore-sheffield-says-no-to-zimbabwe-deportations/19 Feb

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/