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/

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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.

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/

 

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.