Thursday, 30 April 2009

Strangers into Citizens getting ready for the rally

Sent from my BlackBerry® wireless device

News from America

Thousands of people will take to the streets to support immigrant rights across the US. From Miami to Chicago to Los Angeles (and everywhere in between), folks will be showing their support for President Obama's plan for immigration reform in 2009.

For more info on this action in America see

Briefing Papers

NEW “Strangers into Citizens Briefing Papers”-get all the info on the campaign

Friday, 24 April 2009

Gatwick detainees group

Nic Eadie, the Coordinator of the Gatwick Detainees Welfare Group, tells us what it is like to visit asylum seekers in detention.

The Gatwick Detainees Welfare Group aims to provide emotional and practical support to anyone who is held in immigration detention at Gatwick. We have been doing this work for the past fourteen years, and during that time have assisted many thousands of detainees. For most of that time there was just one detention centre, Tinsley House, with a capacity of around 140, including space for women and children. However, in March 2009 the Home Office opened an additional detention centre at Gatwick, Brook House, with a capacity of 426 single males. This will clearly have enormous repercussions on the work we do.

Our experiences have demonstrated to us that immigration detainees are some of the most vulnerable and powerless people in society, in many ways divorced from the country in which they are living, and existing in a sort of limbo which has no time limits and an uncertain conclusion. Many detainees pass through detention in a relatively short period of time, perhaps a few weeks at most. However, there is also a significant minority who spend extended periods locked up for ‘administrative purposes’, and the effects on the individual can be catastrophic. Most of our clients have claimed asylum, and many have spent years in the legal process. By the time they reach detention, they may have had their case refused at many different levels, and are now facing the prospect that Immigration will attempt to remove them back to their country of origin. For most, this is a terrifying prospect, for while they may not have won their asylum case, the stories they tell us are often of poverty, persecution, torture and fear. It is difficult for us to even envisage what it may be like to be sent back to a place that you felt you had to escape from, essentially after having been told that you do not deserve to be protected from this fate.

Our work largely revolves around our volunteers, who visit one-to-one any detainee who asks for someone to talk to. While this work can be difficult and emotionally draining, it can also be fascinating, and can sometimes result in a friendship that can exist beyond the barbed wire gates. Some of those we visit are released back into the UK, sometimes after months or even years of detention. This of course raises all sorts of questions over the effectiveness and value of locking these people up, although the most important cost is that which is paid by the detainees themselves, whose mental health inevitably suffers from the experience.

Brook House is a new and seemingly darker chapter in our history. Already we are hearing much discontent amongst detainees about the centre. It is built on a prison model, with very limited activities, cell accommodation, lock-downs for extended periods, and inexperienced staff. We fear that this will impact even more greatly on the vulnerable people held there. We will however continue with our work to try and make the detention experience as bearable as possible for those held at Gatwick.

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Zakir- criketeer and dear friend

Zakir Ali Rostami is an example of the many individuals that come to the UK from war-torn countries and overcome difficult circumstances to make a contribution to their community here. In spite of this he has been detained and is scheduled to be deported to Afghanistan.

Zakir escaped the violence in Afghanistan and arrived in the UK speaking no English. Since then, he has become a popular figure in the community, excelling at Canterbury College where he has almost completed a national diploma in IT, and winning a scholarship for a local Cricket Club. He has also been offered an unconditional place at University to study Computing.The Home Office allowed Zakir to stay until he was 18, but have since rejected his asylum claim, arguing that he could feasibly return to Afghanistan and not be in danger.
Despite that English is now his first language and he has no family living in Afghanistan, the Home Office have detained Zakir and is threatening to interrupt his studies and deport him.The "Keep Zakir in Canterbury" campaign is seeking support from the local community and is calling on the Home Office to release Zakir from detention, suspend his deportation, and allow him to continue his studies in the UK.

Check out some articles in the local press

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Cycle for Citizens

Join a cycle around the circle line in support of Strangers into Citizens prior to the Rally.. Get fit, see London and raise the profile of the issue. Start time 9am Embankment tube.
Details here

Thursday, 16 April 2009

Amnesties and public opinion

Keith Best, Chief Executive of the Immigrant Advisory Service (IAS), discusses what the British public might think of a regularisation programme for undocumented migrants.

“There is a tide in the affairs of men,
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune”

So is Brutus’ advice in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. We might think of a more modern idiom of striking while the iron is hot – but enough of these pleasantries! The real issue is when is the public going to be ready for an earned regularisation programme? Probably, at the present time even in a period of recession because many recognise that irregular migrants are now doing jobs that others, whether unemployed or not, are unwilling or unable to undertake.

Clearly, with the notable exception of the Liberal Democrats, however, the politicians are not so inclined. They are fearful of giving ground to the BNP and the anti-immigrant lobby and that attitude is hardly likely to weaken this side of a general election which, by law, has to take place no later than just over a year from now. If the local and European elections in June favour the far right and go against the Government then the attitude will be reinforced. A bleak prospect for those of us who will gather on 4 May for the rally in favour of earned regularisation?

Not really. The amount of civic and religious society commitment towards this goal as well as what we see as public opinion (not the recent poll which indicated that the majority want to see illegal migrants removed – the question was not asked about those who are already working) shows more support than we have had in the past. The momentum is growing – maybe the tide is approaching its flood. May 4 will be a turning point. If there is mass support then we can keep that momentum going; if not, we shall have to retire to our tents to lick our wounds.

From a strategic point of view we need more stories of those who are working, albeit illegally, who are undertaking vital tasks and who are not being exploited unscrupulously by employers. Sadly, there will be many cases where the opposite is true and where regularisation could save these workers from much misery. The general public, however, will not be moved to support those who are undercutting the minimum wage and we should be honest about this.

Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor the outgoing head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales has called on the Government to provide an amnesty for illegal immigrants who have been resident in the UK for several years. If, in retirement, he is elevated to the Lords he may become a leading and impressive independent advocate.

On 31 March 2006 Nigel Morris in the Independent reported that “From London's building sites to farms in East Anglia, and from late-night takeaways to the treacherous sands of Morecambe Bay, they generally fill the jobs deemed too menial or too hazardous by UK nationals. If discovered, they face deportation. But according to a radical new study published today, an amnesty on their status could be worth up to £6bn to the economy. By giving the hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants in Britain a promise that they will not be deported, at least £1bn a year would be raised in taxes, the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) has calculated. The left-leaning think-tank, which has the ear of Downing Street, also warns that government plans to tighten restrictions on bona fide migrants could have the perverse effect of driving more "illegals" underground.” The article went on to report that nearly 50% of foreign-born immigrants leave Britain within five years and that migrants fill 90% of low-paid jobs in London and account for 29% of the capital's workforce. London is the UK's fastest-growing region. No wonder Mayor Boris Johnson is in favour – think of all those votes if they could be exercised legally!

Migration Watch predictably warns that an amnesty for illegal immigrants in Britain should be rejected because “it is wrong in principle to reward illegal behaviour and
amnesties have demonstrably failed in other EU countries and are strongly opposed by the French and German governments. In the past 20 years Italy has granted five amnesties and Spain six. The only effect has been growing numbers of applicants and increased pressure on the borders.”

The Government and the Opposition have ruled out an amnesty – yet it was not always the case. Whether through naivety or inexperience on 20 June 2006 Liam Byrne MP, appointed as immigration minister only 15 days previously, told the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee that an amnesty could not be ruled out and agreed with The Voice’s call for common sense to prevail in tackling illegal immigration.

It is often forgotten that some 30,000 asylum seekers were given a status in order to take them off the backlog of over 100,000 that had developed some years ago, then there was the family amnesty: in total, according to a 2008 Centre Forum report “If these various exercises are calculated cumulatively, excluding the de facto regularisations that occurred with European expansion but including the asylum backlog-clearing exercises, the current Labour government has regularised between 60,000 and 100,000 persons since 1997.” On the accession of the A8 countries to the EU on 1 May 2004 a large number of those who went on to register under the Workers Registration Scheme were reckoned to have been in the UK illegally before that date.

Then there is the experience from abroad – much mistaken and misrepresented by those who wish to denigrate the concept of regularisation. Again, Centre Forum’s report is to be commended by giving the true picture on both the Spanish and Italian situations and demonstrates that what actually happened is far from the way in which it has been portrayed by those who wish to use these experiences as evidence against a similar exercise in the UK.

Keith Best
Chief Executive IAS

Stories of Migration - this Sunday!

True Heart Theatre and WILD (Finland) jointly present:

Stories of Migration
(part of a series of Sunday open playback workshops)

Join us this Sunday as London-based True Heart Theatre and Finnish playback theatre group WILD discover stories of migration, and journeys through cultural differences, from Strangers into Citizens. Come and share your stories of migration and hear the stories of others, and witness your stories and feelings enacted live onstage through playback theatre.

Date: 19 April 2009, Sunday
Time: 2-6pm
Venue: Camden Chinese Community Centre, 9 Tavistock Place, WC1H 9SN
(Nearest tube station: Russell Square)
Admission: Free

Thursday, 9 April 2009

Hadassah's story

My name is Hadassah, from Kingston, Jamaica. I am 24 years old. In 1999, my mother fled to England in fear of her life because of her affiliation with the opposition political party. The political activists targeted my mum and threaten her life so she had to flee for her life. In 2000 my mother sent for me, as she feared what might become of my sister and me. The activists were now targeting me and making sexual advances at me from the age of 14. I was even scared to go to school.

I arrived in the UK on a one month visitor’s visa. I was 15 at the time and enrolled into a local school. I left school with five GCSE’s and went on to achieve three A-Levels. I had always dreamt of going to University to do Hospitality and Tourism Management. I want to show the beauty of Jamaica beyond the stereotype that all Jamaicans are ‘Yardies’. We are an ambitious and intellectual people – I come from a family with a strong emphasis on education. I was excited when I received unconditional offers to study at Birmingham, Portsmouth or Sheffield. I visited all three and chose Birmingham. I made all the arrangements for accommodation and applied for a student loan. All I needed was a letter from the Home Office stating that I was under NAS support. After initially waiting for a year for a response from the Home Office, I finally received a visit from a representative. They promised that the necessary letter for my student loan would be sent within two weeks. I am still waiting for that letter to arrive.

As hope turned to despair, my drive to go to University started to wane. I felt as though my dreams had been shattered. My grandmother died in 2007, I hadn’t seen her for over 7 years, and I could not go back to Jamaica for her funeral. I have had to deal with the pain so many miles away, I felt so isolated. Things got really desperate, as due to unforeseen circumstances we were left homeless, and our application for asylum was rejected on the grounds that political activism is not common among Jamaicans. My mother’s political activism was not seen as strong enough grounds for asylum even though our lives were in danger, even though a letter was sent from the Inspector of Police in Jamaica as confirmation.

Living in limbo has been a tough and lonely experience. I could not go on school trips due to passport issues; I could not work and earn money to buy my own things. I have survived by the grace of God. While our case was pending we were on £110 per NASS support for all three of us (my sister came to the UK in 2002). This was cut off without warning. I have received so much help from generous friends and people from my church. If it hadn’t been for them I don’t know how I would have survived.

However, people can only do so much for you for so long. Some want to help you when it is convenient for them; others want you to pay for utilities when they know you are not working; others want something in exchange for the roof over your head. There were times when I have been asked to leave someone’s house because I had over-stayed my welcome. I have moved 6 times in 18 months. It was embarrassing and humiliating. You are treated like a leech and a free-loader. But I am still very thankful to all those who have helped me; for feeding me; for shelter; and at times making me feel at home away from home - it is better than living on the streets.

I have been able to do some voluntary work to keep my hopes and dreams alive. However, my mum has gotten seriously ill over the whole situation, and my sister has lost hope - she is fed up of waiting around aimlessly.

- Read more stories on our website.

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

MPs meet SiC paddles at Westminster tube

MPs arriving at Parliament at Westminster tube over the next month have a daily reminder of the Strangers into Citizens campaign in the shape of bright orange “paddles” at the ticket barriers.

The paddles, advertising the Strangers into Citizens logo, will remain in place until the campaign’s historic gathering in Trafalgar Square on 4 May.

Strangers into Citizens is calling for an “earned amnesty” for some 450,000 of the nation’s estimated 750,000 undocumented migrants. The campaign is calling for the regularization of the status of those who have put down roots in the UK, have lived in the country for many years, and whom the Government admits cannot be forcibly removed.

Where regularization is combined with border enforcement, as in Spain in 2005, levels of “illegal immigration” have dropped.

The Strangers into Citizens campaign, which was begun by members of London Citizens following a call in 2006 by the Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, is organizing the largest pro-migrants rally in UK history on 4 May following a series of simultaneous services at Westminster Cathedral, Westminster Abbey, and Methodist Central Hall.

The thousands arriving at Westminster tube that day for the services or for the rally at Trafalgar Square will be greeted by the paddles.

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Mr W's story

W arrived in the UK in November 1996 after a three month journey from China. He travelled with another 213 Chinese and spent at least 2 weeks inside a container on a ship.

‘到英国了 !’- ‘Here is the UK!’ - W can remember vividly when his friend shouted out while the ship was docking. The payment for the journey was 180,000 Yuen, about £15,000. After staying two and half months in different places, W applied for asylum. He started working soon after the application. His first job was in a Chinese restaurant in Chinatown, the job was 12 hours a day 6 days a week. Keen to repay his debt, W offered to work on his day off in the same restaurant. He was earning £190 a week. From this wage he paid £25 a week for his bed, a space in a bunk bed in a room shared with other 4 to 6 Chinese. He also spent about £13 a week on his bus fare to work, the journey took about 1 hour each way.

It took W 7 to 8 years to repay the debt he owed to the snakehead, the trafficker. He sent part of his earnings home to support his family. Through his contribution, his children, a boy and a girl who are now in their twenties, were able to go to school and finish their high school education. W has not seen his family since 1996.

W became ill in 2001 with hepatitis B. He was in and out of hospital between 2001 and 2003. He was working on and off during this period but was forced to take a 6 months break when his condition deteriorated. Within the first few months, he used up all his savings and had to move in with friends. The understanding was that he would move out once he recovered and was able to return to work. Nevertheless, after one and half years, his situation did not improve but worsened. His friends then expressed concern over his illness and wrote to the local council to seek assistance for W: ‘I could not offer any place for him (W) since he has serious health problem now. I am afraid his disease would affect us…’. However, without a regular income, W could not afford to move out and continued to lodge in his friends’ flat and was forced to borrow money from them to live on.

Between 2003 and 2007, W continued to work part-time in catering and other temporary jobs. However, never managed to secure a full-time job due to his illness and his frequent hospital appointments. In 2008 his condition deteriorated further and he was admitted to hospital in early 2008. W was diagnosed with a malignant liver tumour. The lesion was treated during his admission and W was assessed as needing a liver transplant. Unfortunately, the hospital could not list W for the operation because of his status as a failed asylum seeker; W’s asylum application had been refused in 2003. Although he had paid National Insurance contributions between 1996 and 2003, W’s legal status meant that he had no entitlement to NHS treatment. The specialist liver transplant social worker then referred W to the Refugee Council to seek other assistance.

W has been living in London since 1996, and during his asylum application between 1996 and 2003 he was working legally and making National Insurance contributions. Despite this, and after having been in the UK for 12 years, he still could not be listed for the liver transplant operation or receive any social assistance. In addition to his physical illness, W is also suffering from depression. Since early 2008 W has not been able to work and has had to live by borrowing from friends. W’s main wish is to receive appropriate treatment and recover from his illness.

- Read more stories on our website.