Quaker Asylum and Refugee Network – QARN

qarn logo sm  Destitution and indefinite detention of people in the asylum system – see reports and articles here: http://qarn.org.uk

Quaker statement on indefinite immigration detention

[The QARN statement (see below) has now been adapted by Quakers in Britain and may be used in correspondence with press and local MPs: http://www.quaker.org.uk/news/quaker-statement-immigration-detention]


That which is morally wrong cannot be politically right.1822 Quaker faith & practice 23.26.

We urgently call for the ending of indefinite detention, which is fundamentally unjust and causes much suffering to its victims.As Quakers we believe that there is that of God in everyone. We see the Testimony to Equality as clearly relevant to our concerns about those migrants and asylum seekers who are kept in detention. They are treated much worse than those born British.The right to liberty is a fundamental right enjoyed by all people in the United Kingdom, whether British citizens or subject to immigration control. It is a right established in common law as well as protected by the European Convention on Human Rights. Recent anti-terror legislation that allows for terror suspects to be locked up without being charged has been controversial. There has justifiably been an outcry about it and the time limit has now been reduced to 14 days. However, thousands of people are kept every year in detention by the UK Borders Agency with no date set for their release, yet there is no public outrage about this.The Immigration Act 1971 first included the power to detain immigrants; later legislation has extended or amended that power. People can be detained on arrival in the UK as immigrants or when seeking asylum, if considered likely to abscond, or when they have already been refused the right to remain and deportation is expected to be imminent.The decision to detain is made by immigration officers without reference to a court. In theory each detainee has the right to apply for bail after 7 days, but many people are unaware of this procedure and find it difficult to access legal advice. The immigration court ‘judges’ do not have to be trained or experienced to the level of senior judiciary, inadequate records are kept, and in many cases the Home Office view that the applicant is likely to abscond is accepted without evidence.In theory it is Government policy not to detain survivors of torture or those with serious medical conditions or mental health problems, but in practice even proven survivors of rape and torture, pregnant women, and those with severe mental and physical health problems are often found in detention. Many innocent men, women and children who have been locked up in immigration detention centres have suffered severe mental health problems, with detention in many cases adding to trauma already suffered in their home country.

May 2012

QARN: Statement about destitution

Why many asylum seekers are destitute: Minimal support  – and none

For those seeking asylum the money allowance historically has been set at 70 per cent of normal income support. Most people now receive less, and at the best an asylum seeker receiving financial support will be living on £5 per day.[i]Asylum seekers whose claim has been refused lose their financial support and accommodation after 3 weeks unless they appeal. They are expected to leave the UK immediately. If they agree to return or they appeal they may qualify for even lower ‘hard case’ Section 4 support’,[ii] provided only in around 3% of cases. Because they are terrified of return, or for other reasons frightened of bringing themselves to the attention of a system they already know to be harsh, many do not apply. The remainder are not allowed to work and receive nothing. Women who are homeless because of domestic violence also end up destitute as do victims of trafficking. Tens of thousands of people are in this situation. The parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights[iii] said in 2007:We have been persuaded … that the Government has indeed been practising a deliberate policy of destitution… We have seen instances in all cases where the Government’s treatment of asylum seekers and refused asylum seekers falls below the requirements of the common law of humanity and of international human rights law.Four years later with a different government things are just the same.Why are refused asylum seekers still here?

  • They are afraid to go back: Most destitute asylum seekers are from countries considered extremely turbulent[iv] like Afghanistan, Somalia, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Zimbabwe and Iran.
  • The numbers allowed to remain have fallen: The number of people given permission to stay has fallen significantly in recent years[v].
  • They believe they have a case: Even if a person is correctly refused asylum, it does not automatically follow that their claim is unjustified[vi]. If the government accepts you were persecuted, you may be refused asylum unless you can prove it will happen again.
  • The system makes mistakes: Experts have long expressed concerns about whether some asylum seekers receive a full and fair hearing of their claim[vii].
  • Because they cannot go back: The Government cannot return people to countries at war, with uncooperative governments or unreliable means of travel.

Once the Government stops supporting an asylum seeker it may lose track of their whereabouts, which makes their removal near to impossible. The policy of making people destitute is therefore ultimately self-defeating.

14 December 2011

Footnotes and additional information

[i] As from 18 April 2011 Asylum Support (Amendment) Regulations 2011 SI No 907) http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2011/907/made/data.pdf

[ii] Asylum seekers on Section 4 support receive £1.23 less per week than they would have received on Section 95 support, delivered through a plastic payment card rather than in cash, making it impossible for them to use vital services like making phone calls or taking buses. Those living with friends and family have to leave that accommodation and go into housing provided by the Government at the taxpayers’ expense in order to receive the support by means of the plastic card.

[iii] The Joint Committee on Human Rights ‘The Treatment of Asylum Seekers, Tenth Report of Session 2006-7, paragraph 120

[iv] Considered dangerous by the UN, Amnesty etc because of conflict, generalised violence and human rights violations.

[v] In the past most people from these countries would almost certainly have been given Exceptional Leave to Remain (ELR) for four years, and been allowed to work to support themselves.  But in 2003 ELR was replaced by more restrictive categories of leave to remain. 2,555 adults were granted such leave in 2009 compared with 20,135 individuals who got ELR in 2002[v].

[vi] Many people apply for asylum in good faith, unaware that their case does not meet the strict criteria of the 1951 Refugee Convention. Nonetheless, they may have fled violently unstable countries and experienced violence, torture, or rape. Cut backs in legal aid have already reduced the proportion of successful claims, and further cuts now coming into effect will make the situation even worse.

[vii] Decision making in relation to some nationalities is especially poor. For example, in 2010, 50% of Somali nationals, 36% of Eritreans and 36% of Zimbabweans who appealed had their refusals overturned. This raises serious doubts about the quality of initial decision making. For every person who successfully overturns a poor decision, many more may be failing due to a lack of quality legal advice.

[Comment: Many Quakers around the UK are involved in projects aimed at relieving some of the misery of those caught up in destitution as a result of seeking sanctuary, and others campaign for changes in the system]

Quaker response to UK Borders Agency review of detention of children

Review into ending the detention of children for immigration purposes

1. We welcome the Government`s commitment to ending the detention of children for immigration purposes and this opportunity of making a submission to the UK Border Agency’s review. We hope that this may be a first step to reducing the reliance on immigration detention for adults.

2. We welcome also the recognition that this review will take place within a framework of international EU and human rights obligations and the duty of the UK Borders Agency to safeguard and promote the welfare of children in carrying out its functions under section 55 Borders Citizenship and Immigration Act 2009.

3. Improving the quality of initial decision–making would be the single most effective contribution towards reducing the pressure on the UKBA to detain children. The statutory duty to promote the welfare of children requires that children should not be separated from their parents except where there are significant child protection concerns brought a competent court. Where there are ambiguities in age assessment a precautionary principle should be applied.

4. We welcome the Solihull Pilot Scheme as a way of ensuring that asylum seekers have access to high quality and early legal advice and hope that an enhanced scheme combining this with high quality ‘contact management’ can become a benchmark for good practice. Only a system where asylum seekers are listened to with a receptive mind and have access to independent legal advice and representation will command the faith of those affected. Appropriate advice and consultation will maximise the chances of voluntary return in those circumstances where asylum seekers do not meet the rigorous requirements of the Refugee Convention and complementary protection.

5. Families with children are among the groups least likely to abscond. Where it is considered that there is a serious likelihood of absconding, Bail provides the most appropriate and least restrictive alternative to detention. In these circumstances we suggest that a model that includes dedicated case workers and welfare officers is most likely to guarantee the well being of children who are always vulnerable and sometimes destitute. We hope that the UKBA will consider the lessons of the Toronto Bail programme. We understand that in the period 2002 to 2003 the project had a record of over 90% compliance with Bail conditions. In those rare cases where there is a particular risk of absconding at the end of process we would urge the provision of high quality hostel like accommodation. We understand that in the case of Mathew House (www.matthewhouse.ca) in Canada 99% of asylum seekers have complied with conditions.

6. In those circumstances where families including young children need to be returned at the end of process we would urge the continued monitoring of those affected to ensure the education and well being of vulnerable children. We note the decision of Mr Justice Collins in the cases of A v SSHD (CO/1995/2009) and T v SSHD (CO/1858/2010), a case of unaccompanied minors, in February of this year, where the removal of children without notice and without enquiring into reception conditions was held to be unlawful. In end of process cases, we recognise the value of advice, support and practical assistance in maximising the rate of voluntary returns. In the Canadian Failed Refugee Project run by the Greater Toronto Enforcement Agency over 60% of the project’s clients returned to their country of origin after a 30 day period and over 80% after a further visit. We recognise the value of appropriate support both for re-housing and access to schools on return to their country of origin. Even in manifestly unfounded cases the Government of the UK has a duty of care towards those children affected. Where there is a reasonable prospect of returning families voluntarily we would suggest that time-limited temporary leave to remain may be an option.

7. We do not consider that electronic tagging is an appropriate alternative to detention. In coming to this conclusion we are aware both of the damaging psychological effects that can be caused by tags among children and the moral hazard of introducing a new alternative to detention. We would suggest that where there is a particularly high risk of absconding of the families concerned that more onerous reporting conditions are a preferable alternative.

Michael Bartlet, Parliamentary Liaison Secretary, Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) in Britain

July 23, 2010

We must not punish the children

Quakers oppose detention of migrants’ children, and so should a new government
Quakers believe in the unique value of every individual. From this follows a sense of equality that animates Quaker thinking today. The right to asylum becomes a legal counterpart to the religious insight of the common humanity of us all.

Refugees are the human face of international injustice. They are the place – in this country – where we see the real impact of inequality: armed conflict, the inability of failed states to provide a secure home for their citizens, and abusive governments. The impact of climate change adds a further dimension in increasing pressure on land and resources. That is why migration policy presents such a difficult problem. It is easier to close our eyes and ears to the victims of injustice abroad than acknowledge its wounded presence at our door.

Whatever arguments arise about immigration policy during a general election – and we have seen how the episode with Gillian Duffy ignited the debate on Wednesday – the routine administrative detention of children cannot be right. There are at any one time around 30 to 40 children in immigration detention, at Dungavel in Lanarkshire, Tinsley House near Gatwick and Yarl’s Wood in Bedfordshire. Last year around 1,000 children were detained, often for as long as six weeks.

In the Belmarsh case concerning the legality of detaining suspected terrorists, Lord Hoffmann said: “The real threat to the life of the nation, in the sense of a people living in accordance with its traditional laws and political values, comes not from terrorism but from laws such as these. That is the true measure of what terrorism may achieve.” What is true of the detention of suspected terrorists should be unarguable in terms of those who present no threat. Can it ever be right to detain those who have neither been charged with nor convicted of a criminal offence?

This is not to argue for an open-door immigration policy. If the UN refugee convention is to be respected, those who do not require human rights protection or meet its strict standards need to be returned. But in doing so the least restrictive alternative is always to be preferred.

There are alternatives to detention, such as supervised family hostels with social-work support. Even electronic tagging would be less degrading than detention. And wherever the government detains children, even for a very short time, their welfare needs to be the guiding principle from arrest to removal.

During the second world war Quakers became best known for their conscientious “objection” to participation in military conflict. Today, many Quakers are drawn to conscientious “engagement” with the root causes of injustice and violent conflict and its humanitarian consequences on the victims of displacement.

The Quaker Asylum and Refugee Network is a community of around 80 Quakers offering practical support and advice to refugees and asylum seekers. But this is not just a matter for Quakers; it is about the common decency of us all. Our shared values call for those seeking asylum to be treated as human beings, not statistics.

An election is not just a time for clarifying policies that divide the parties but for affirming values that unite us all. Children of migrants should be treated as children first and as migrants second. A new government, of whatever political complexion, should put this humanitarian issue beyond party politics, accept responsibility for the welfare of all children, change the practices that are damaging children now and commission a public inquiry into the use of immigration detention.