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
image.png
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.
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

 

 

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

Zimbabwe: “no changes and no democracy”

Why Zimbabwe is still not safe for refugees like Marian Machekanyanga

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“We need humanity and accountability” in asylum housing

Asylum tenants organise at Sheffield conference

This was the first national meeting of asylum tenants. At the same time as a new £4 billion 10 year government contract for asylum housing and related services is being tendered and due to start in 2019.

The current contract, called COMPASS, has operated from 2012, run by G4S, Serco and Clearsprings. Since then four separate Parliamentary inquiries have confirmed what asylum tenants have been saying since: that asylum housing during the COMPASS contract has been “unacceptably poor” and “substandard”. The Home Affairs Select Committee report in January 2017 described asylum housing provision as “a disgrace” and called for a complete overhaul of the contract.  The government rejected the findings and recommendations wholesale and claimed that the “the standard of accommodation provided to asylum seekers has improved since 2012.” We know that G4S are one of the bidders for the new Asylum Accommodation and Support Services Contracts and it’s likely the others will be major outsourcing corporations.

Protesting in Sheffield in 2012 at the start of the COMPASS contract. Photo Sam Musarika

That’s why 64 of us came together in Sheffield on February 24th. We want global serial human rights abusers G4S and Serco to be barred from bidding for the new contract to provide asylum housing. So, asylum tenants, migrant rights campaigners, journalists and academics from Yorkshire, the North East, the Midlands, Manchester, Derbyshire, London and Northern Ireland met in Sheffield’s new refugee centre The Sanctuary.

We were welcomed by Manuchehr, co-chair of the South Yorkshire Migration and Asylum Action Group (SYMAAG),  who called for support to the women hunger strikers at Yarls Wood who are also up against Serco, G4S and the Home Office.

Lorna Gledhill from Asylum Matters chaired the meeting and introduced 3 themes that ran through the day:

  • the importance of basing our campaigns on the rights of asylum tenants;
  • the lack of accountability inherent in privatised asylum housing
  • that this Government’s declared aim is to create a “hostile environment” for undocumented migrants.

 

First up was Kate Smith from Huddersfield University and Huddersfield Women’s Centre. Kate spoke about the lack of safety, security and privacy for women and children in privatised asylum housing in Kirklees. “It’s a really harmful house. We are living with rats that are dying, dead. Dying in the house” Shahnaz had told her. “I wanted (stair) gates for the baby, waited for 9 months” said Jane. Doors without locks, no hot water for women and young children and the all too familiar “I complained to G4S but they didn’t do anything”. She pointed to the existence of overcrowded and dangerous “mother and baby hostels” and the effect of such conditions on children’s early development. Kate suggested that embedding children’s rights into the running of asylum accommodation was necessary to achieve accountability.

 

Makhosi Sigabade and Philani Dube from the Belfast Housing 4 All campaign explained how “you cannot hold anyone accountable” in Northern Ireland’s asylum housing system. Serco and the Northern Ireland Executive (the devolved government of Northern Ireland) are joint landlords, routinely passing the buck for vital repairs between each other. “Serco don’t provide what they say they do” but “If I make a noise will it prejudice my case?” Philani explained echoing a common fear amongst many asylum tenants all over the UK. And an understandable fear – G4S displayed notices in tenants’ houses threatening to report them to the Home Office if they complained.

Makhosi Sigabade and Philani Dube from the Housing 4 All campaign. Photo Manuchehr

Jalloh Ibrahima from Newcastle’s Migration and Asylum Justice Forum (MAJF) emphasised Philani’s point about the difficulty in speaking out “If you can’t speak good English how can you put the problem forward?” Asylum housing in the North East is run by Jomast ex-G4S subcontractor, infamous for painting asylum seekers’ doors red in an area with high levels of racist attacks.

Jalloh described how MAJF had pressured Newcastle City Council into opposing overcrowding and the practice of forcing asylum tenants to share bedrooms but that Jomast had refused to implement the Council’s decision and had appealed against it.  Overcrowding is endemic in privatised asylum housing since contractors are paid per tenant. “Private companies are always trying to make money out us,” he said. Jalloh was inspired by the success we’ve had in Yorkshire in stopping forced room sharing and invited us all to join MAJF’s protests against Jomast’s policy in the North East in March.

Clare Sambrook gave us an illustrated guide to G4S’ grisly history. Clare is the founder of Shine A Light and dedicated to exposing G4S’ record as a serial abuser of human rights and at the same time a “strategic supplier” to the government. A legal challenge to force the government to designate G4S as a “high risk” supplier has been launched by Bail For Immigration Detainees.

Photo: Manuchehr

Not only did G4S have no experience in housing when they bagged a £620 million share of the COMPASS asylum housing contract in 2012, they were being investigated for the death of Jimmy Mubenga. He died in 2010 while being forcibly restrained by G4S guards on a deportation flight to Angola, telling them “I can’t breathe”. Clare described G4S apparent impunity. Dave Beadnall, a G4S security guard, fatally restrained a 15 year old child in a children’s prison and was then promoted to Health and Safety Manager. She noted the irony of G4S running an employee vetting company.

Clare pointed to the role of investigative journalism in “shining a light” to expose corporate and state injustice. She pointed to John Grayson’s key role in investigating asylum housing (see here and here), forming the basis for a number of parliamentary inquiries and kick-starting other investigative and campaigning journalism into what G4S call their “asylum market”

John – co-chair of SYMAAG – explained how he was inspired by a Zimbabwean asylum seeker who told him in 2012 “I don’t want a prison guard as my landlord”. “I don’t just want improvements to asylum housing I want G4S off the contract” he said. He stressed that it was the contracting out of services like the provision of asylum housing, not just G4S, that was the problem. Given the close relationship between government and corporations (here for example) unaccountability and an apparent rotation of corporate contracts was inherent. He echoed Jalloh Ibrahima’s sentiment about the conference saying “we’ve been working at this for 5 years but we’re learning a lot from asylum tenants today”.

Jalloh Ibrahima of Newcastle Migration and Asylum Justice Forum and Bailor Jalloh, Sheffield Live reporter, discover they are from the same country. Photo: Manuchehr

Like most events of this type, the breaks are as important as the speeches and presentations. I could hear animated conversations in many languages between asylum tenants meeting each other or the first time, comparing experiences, sharing ideas. Some of us were interviewed by local TV and radio, some tried on and bought jewellery made and donated by Gogo Manyoni of Hope and Dignity Hearth, others tucked into their dinner. Nobody touched the tomato juice, which I’d bought by mistake, though.

We resumed with a poem about G4S by Jo Thorpe from Nottingham including the line “They’re hard to crack, like a cockroach in a baby’s bottle” (remember this?) We heard from asylum rights advocate Debbie Rea from Leicester about campaigning in the East Midlands (another region with G4S-run asylum housing) and the city’s history of multi-ethnicity and familiarity with new arrivals from around the world.

We called the event an Action Conference, aiming to end the day with a plan on how we can work together for decent asylum housing. So we split into 3 groups to look in detail at how to best use media; about legal challenges to the contracts and how to mobilise our allies.

Apart from sharing contacts of sympathetic journalists and linking on-line campaigning, the media group looked at ways to publicise the toxic brands of G4S, Serco, Clearsprings, Jomast etc. In the North East, the Migration and Asylum Justice Group has demonstrated where Jomast had other business interests telling people about their role in asylum housing.

The legal group looked at gathering evidence to compare the requirements of existing asylum housing contracts with the reality, without which accountability isn’t possible. We also looked at how to support the legal challenge to G4S launched by Bail for Immigration Detainees (here’s one way). We noted the success of local campaigns on housing standards when supported by the threat of legal action.

Action group discussing how to mobilise our allies. Photo: Manuchehr

In the discussion about working with our allies people pointed out the high-profile failures of companies like G4S, Serco and now Carillion to provide the public services they are paid by us all to do. This means we have more potential allies in political parties, trade unions and local authorities. We can also find allies amongst other groups campaigning against the abuses of G4S etc, for example the Palestine Solidarity Campaign.

All the groups noted the importance of illustrating the big political issue of how people seeking asylum are treated with personal stories, because the dehumanisation of people is key to the government’s ‘hostile environment’ approach.

The day was best summed up by Marie from Huddersfield: “whoever gets the contract we need humanity and accountability”. Today’s event and the formation of a national network bring us closer to that goal.

by Stuart Crosthwaite, Secretary of South Yorkshire Migration and Asylum Action Group (SYMAAG)