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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Keep Hamid in Sheffield. Demonstrate Monday 3 June

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

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

No Deportations to Zimbabwe

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

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

 

 

No Deportations to Zimbabwe – protest Tues 19th Feb 9am Vulcan House

So far two asylum seekers from Sheffield/Zimbabwe have been detained and are threatened with deportation to Zimbabwe. They were detained when they went to Vulcan House, the Home Office building in Sheffield for an ‘interview’ on Monday 11th February. An article in Independent “He’ll be killed” 12th Feb gives more information

This latest move follows asylum seekers being questioned by a Zimbabwean Embassy official invited by the Home Office to interrogate them in December. A number of other Zimbabwean asylum seekers are being asked to attend Vulcan House over the next week and we are concerned that they maybe detained. Naturally, they are afraid that this could result in deportation to Zimbabwe, the country they were forced to leave because of persecution.

That’s why Zimbabwean asylum seekers have called for a protest to support them when they go to Vulcan House. The Home Office and government seem ready to deport political opponents of the Zimbabwean government at the height of violence against those who criticise ZANU (PF). SYMAAG member Marian Machekanyanga described the Zimbabwean army going house to house to identify, beat, detain, sometimes kill opposition activists and others critical of the government, of children shot in the street, internet access shut down and phone calls monitored. The new Zimbabwean government of Emerson Mnangagwa seems every bit as repressive as Robert Mugabe’s.

Sign the petition to release Victor Mujakachi from detention https://www.change.org/p/home-office-free-victor-mujakachi

Some of the Zimbabwean people in Sheffield threatened with deportation are well-known and well-liked community activists like Victor Mujakachi and Marian Machekanyanga. 5000 people signed a petition to release him from Morton Hall immigration detention centre in 24 hours. Other people are not so well-connected but all need our support. There should be no deportations to Zimbabwe. Our asylum system should give protection to those who need it, not hand them over to their tormentors.

 

No Deportations to Zimbabwe. Release our friends from detention. Zimbabwe is Not Safe

Demonstrate! Tuesday 19th February 9am Vulcan House, Sheffield Home Office S3 8NU

“G4S tenants will be dancing in the streets”

After a six year campaign by asylum tenants G4S have lost their contracts to run asylum housing. From September 2019 tenants will not have “a prison guard as a landlord”

The new 10 year £4 billion Asylum Accommodation and Support Contract has been given to Serco, Clearsprings and the Mears Group. We will be working alongside asylum tenants to ensure they are treated with dignity and respect and provided with decent housing.

We will publish a detailed response to the announcement of the new contract soon.

In the meantime listen to John Grayson from SYMAAG interviewed on Sheffield Live on G4S getting dumped from asylum housing contract and our small part in that success here

Sheffield Stands with the Stansted 15

December 18th, International Migrants Day, was a day of action in support of the Stansted 15 who were convicted of terror-related offences for stopping a deportation charter flight taking off. In doing so they saved lives. We believe the government and Home Office are trying to terrorise those showing solidarity with people seeking asylum.

So SYMAAG and many others protested outside Vulcan House Home Office in Sheffield, as part of a day of action in support of the Stansted 15 involving 20 towns and cities in the UK.

 

Statement from Right to Remain on the Stansted 15

The Stansted 15 have been convicted for preventing a charter deportation flight through peaceful direct action.

Today’s ruling is a bitter blow for the defendants, their friends and families. It is also a blow against all those who seek to stand for justice. We wish to first and foremost express our solidarity with them as they deal with this news today.

We know that the steps they took – which caused neither injury or ill-will to anyone – was done only in order prevent a great crime. That crime was one that would have serious impact on the 60 people bound for deportation on a ‘charter flight’.

Charter flight removals and deportations are one of the most worrying aspects of the UK’s asylum and immigration process. Shielded from public oversight and information protected from freedom of information requests, these ‘ghost flights’ forcibly remove people en masse from the UK. As is common with charter flights, many who were on the grounded flight were still fighting their cases. Everybody seeking the right to remain in the UK faces significant obstacles to establishing their legal rights. Those subject to charter flight removal and deportation have even less access to justice.

The Stansted 15’s actions meant that people were able to continue to fight to remain in the UK with their families, communities, in the places they have made their lives. Not only that, it shone a bright light on charter flights and the wider deportation regime.

To Helen, Lyndsay, Nathan, Laura, Melanie E, Joseph, Benjamin, Jyotsna, Nicholas, Melanie S, Alistair, Edward, Emma, May, and Ruth, we say: stay strong, we are with you.

The Stansted 15 will be appealing the verdict. Please donate today to help them with trial related costs. Donate here.

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

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