We have seen, in the response to this pandemic, that certain changes are possible, and want to seize on this momentum to effect permanent change. For too long, those seeking sanctuary in our city have been subjected to harsh and unfair conditions, conditions that we have seen lifted to accommodate necessary changes with Covid-19. A local and tangible example of this is that the requirement on those with insecure immigration status to sign in at Patchway Police Station has been suspended; we are calling for, in this digital age, the need for physical signing in to be abolished and replaced with reporting via telephone/other digital methods.
Provisions have also been made to ensure that no person find themselves living on the street during the pandemic, regardless of their immigration status; an incredible achievement and one that we want to see continue. One thing that is certain is that the society we emerge into after lockdown will be a very different one from the start of the year. We believe that this is a time for change, a time to show that we can do better for people who have made our city a home.
We have written to our Bristol Mayor, Marvin Rees, asking him to both call for national policy change and to make a commitment, in principle, to local actions. You can view our asks and a list of signatories below, along with the full letter. A similar letter has also been sent to the four Bristol MPs, calling on them to support these asks.
Replace reporting to UKVI at Patchway Police Station with a digitally recorded system or a landline phone.
The requirement for people with insecure immigration status to report regularly to immigration officials out in Patchway has been highly stressful for those concerned. The requirement has been suspended during lockdown. Other arrangements for reporting can and should be made in the long term, in this digital age.
Accept evidence for fresh asylum claims by post or email
It has been an absolute requirement for all refused asylum seekers who wish to tender evidence for a fresh claim (as is their right) to travel to Liverpool to present documents in person. This is costly and stressful. That it is also unnecessary has now made clear. During lockdown, fresh claims are being accepted by post or email.
Arrange evictions from asylum support accommodation to coincide with alternative provision of shelter.
The practice of evicting people seeking asylum from their temporary Home Office accommodation within one month, once an asylum claim has been decided, means that everyone, whether refused or granted refugee status, almost inevitably experiences a period of homelessness. This is not in the interests of the city as a whole. (It is currently suspended to the relief of those affected) https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/mar/28/home-office-to-hold-on-evicting-asylum-seekers-from-state-accommodation
Reduce the immigration detention estate on a long term basis to current (lockdown) levels, and hold no detainee for more than 28 days.
The notorious immigration detention estate in the country is at its lowest for many years during the COVID-19 crisis, with some 2000 releases, leaving about 700 detained. This decision begs a fundamental question about the need for a system which costs almost £100 per day per person. https://migrationobservatory.ox.ac.uk/resources/briefings/immigration-detention-in-the-uk/
Ensure IT access across the NASS estate
During lockdown, we all rely on digital communication, for work and to be in touch with friends and family. Absence of Wifi across the NASS estate, combined with extremely low income, and lack of smart phones, has made life especially difficult for the asylum seeking population. Confined to their accommodation and cut off from community, and friends, often with heightened concern for family in countries of origin, has had a negative impact on people’s mental health during lockdown which we believe to be disproportionate. School age children have been further disadvantaged in not being able to access and carry out their school work.
Raise NASS support by £20 per week in line with the rise in Universal Credit
Subsistence support given by the Home Office to asylum seekers stands at only half the basic level of Universal Credit, i.e. at £37 per week. They are also prohibited from taking any work. The inadequate level of Universal Credit has been acknowledged by Government, and it has consequently been raised by £20 a week for 12 months. The rate for asylum seeker support must also be raised by a minimum of £20 per week. https://act.refugee-action.org.uk/page/59805/-/1
Lift the ban on working for asylum seekers
The Labour and Green groups in Bristol City Council have supported the national campaign to Lift the Ban on the right for asylum seekers to work. Many asylum seekers have the skills and the determination to be independent tax-paying members of society. Post-COVID it will make less sense than ever to continue to a policy of enforcing idleness on any sector of the population, and requiring its maintenance solely from the public purse. (The cost of supporting an individual was approximately £10,000 per person per year at 2015 figures)
Stop health care charges for all asylum seekers
There is evidence that the current system of applying health care charges for some asylum seekers deters people from accessing vital health services which creates risk to public health https://act.patientsnotpassports.co.uk
Ensure children of asylum seeking and NRPF families can obtain Free school meals
Funds have also been made available in order to provide free school meals to all children irrespective of their status as having no recourse to public funds
Provide shelter for Bristol’s homeless and destitute, irrespective of immigration status
In March 2020, the Government provided funding to local authorities to house rough sleepers and homeless people irrespective of immigration status. Bristol has housed some 280 people of whom about one quarter had NRPF. The need for people to have somewhere safe to sleep was recognised in this emergency as a public health issue, and funds have been found in the short term. Rough sleeping does not cease to be a public health concern outside the pandemic, both for the well-being of those who are homeless themselves and the community within which they live.
List of signatories – to add your organisation please fill in the form at the bottom
Caroline Beatty Co-Chair, Bristol City of Sanctuary
Rev Richard McKay, Co-Chair, Bristol City of Sanctuary
Priest of St Nicholas of Tolentino
Beth Wilson, Director, Bristol Refugee Rights
Sarah Webb, Co-Chair, Bristol Hospitality Network
Jo Benefield, Bristol Defend Asylum Seekers Campaign
Rob Wotherspoon Branch Secretary, CWU Bristol & District
Abdul Malik Easton Jamia Masjid
Alex Raikes SARI
Nigel Costley South West TUC
Luke Vikram Banerjee Bristol Students for Global Health
Arif Khan Council of Bristol Mosques
Tahir Mahmood Hazrat Bilal Masjid
Refugee Women of Bristol
Aid Box Community
Steve Preddy Regional Secretary, Unite South West
Emma Harvey Trinity Centre
Avon Fire Brigades Union
We invite any organisation who would like to support this call to add their name to the letter.