Here are some of the important events of the last year – moments of solidarity and success, setbacks and threats, and working together to overcome injustice in the asylum and immigration system.
There was a window into the culture of decision-making on asylum claims at the Home Office in January, when a Guardian investigation revealed that staff were offered rewards for fighting off asylum cases. The rewards included gift vouchers, cash bonuses and extra holidays.
January was of course not the only month for such revelations – it’s hard to think of a month when the Home Office’s heartless or inept practices haven’t been exposed.
In February, student and staff at the University of Sheffield launched a selfie campaign to protest the Immigration Bill (now in force as the 2014 Immigration Act), which contains many measures that make the UK a ‘hostile environment’ in which to study.
British students took photos of themselves with an international student friend, and posted the photos online with the hashtag #StandByMe.
Ally Buckle, president of the students’ union, said:
We will use these in a campaign that will tell the politicians that for every international student or staff member that they undervalue, there is a UK friend that is willing to fight their corner.
Universities pushed back at the encroaching border again in March, when more than 160 academics wrote an open letter to the Guardian, protesting at being used as ‘proxy border police’, after universities have come under more pressure to check the immigration details of students.
March also saw a hugely popular and widely supported public campaign for the right to remain, for Yashika Bageerathi, a 19-year-old A-level student facing forced removal to Mauritius. Her school and local MP were extremely supportive, and the campaign received massive online backing and media coverage. Supporters tweeted politicians and British Airways, the commercial airline booked to carry out the forced removal, and held a protest at the airport. British Airways responded to the public pressure and refused to carry Yashika against her will but sadly Yashika was eventually removed on an Air Mauritius flight, who wrongly stated they had no right to refuse to carry a passenger booked for removal by the Home Office.
Yashika’s school are still in touch with her, and are still supporting her as she tries to adjust to being back in Mauritius, without her family. Read her headteacher’s story here.
On 22 March, Right to Remain (still officially known as NCADC at that point) joined with other anti-racist and anti-fascist campaigners for a lively march to Trafalgar Square in London. Our staff, volunteers and management committee were joined by campaigners for migration justice from across the UK, united in our slogan of ‘no human is illegal’.
In April, we formally relaunched as ‘Right to Remain’, following our members’ vote in favour of our name change. The new name reflects the focus of our work for the last few years – a focus that makes better use of our small resources to tackle an increasingly difficult climate of xenophobia, racism and anti-migrant rhetoric and policy, and a focus that reflects the campaigning for justice that we seen to work. Read more about why we changed our name here.
In May, pro-democracy activist Isa Al-Aali, who had been tortured at the hands of the Bahraini state, was facing removal back to his torturers. His case, unbelievably, was placed in the detained fast-track system, where it is nigh on impossible to access justice. Several human rights and migrants’ rights groups, and individual campaigners, worked together to prevent his removal. Isa was finally released from detention in July.
Also in May, rape survivor Noela Claye finally secured justice in her case, and the right to remain in the UK. Noela suffered horrific rape and other violence in 1995 in Sierra Leone during the civil war. In November 2013 she won the right to stay in the UK.
Having already endured so much, she was then faced with the unceasing cruelty and inhumanity of the UK Home Office, who attempted to appeal the decision to grant her the right to remain.
Noela was supported throughout by Women Against Rape, who helped her obtain pro-bono legal advice, apply for exceptional legal aid funding, and cope with the impact of the ongoing case. Noela even spoke in front of a huge crowd at the Save Legal Aid rally in London!
In Manchester in May, we held a training day and social event to celebrate our new name, with local groups and campaigners. The energy of the event was fantastic, and the theme of solidarity came up again and again. Read about our Manchester launch here and see the story of the day in tweets here.
In June, refugees in Berlin staged a rooftop sit-in to protest the police’s attempts to evict them from their homes. Their home – a former school – was occupied by around 200 refugees in 2012, after hundreds of refugees protested the Residenzphflicht – a law barring those without legal residence from moving freely across German states – by marching nearly 400 miles from Würzburg, in northern Bavaria, to Berlin. The refugees set up a protest camp at Oranienplatz in Berlin’s Kreuzberg district, and at the Ohlauer school building.
In April this year, the Oranienplatz camp was forcibly evicted. On 24 June, Berlin police then turned their attack on the occupied former school building. Read more about the protest in our blog post and follow the continuing struggle here.
Also in June, Marie Therese Nana, a survivor of ritualised torture in Cameroon, finally won her right to remain in the UK. Marie Therese wrote, movingly and powerfully, for Right to Remain about the shocking things she experienced in Cameroon, and the continued abuse she faced in Yarl’s Wood detention centre. She described her experience in Yarl’s Wood as being “humiliated, assaulted, abused, tortured mentally, physically and emotionally”.
Many supporters wrote messages of support to Marie Therese, while she was experiencing this horror in detention. Emails and letters came from far and wide, and Right to Remain (then known as NCADC) passed these on to Marie Therese. They meant a great deal to her, and kept her spirits up.
After the degradation of detention and the violent attempt to remove her, Marie Therese then had a long, agonising wait while the Home Office reconsidered her case after judicial review proceedings were initiated.
In June, Marie Therese got in contact to give us the great news that she has been granted refugee status. She said:
please pass on my gratitude to all those who have been encouraging me and supporting me through their mails and prayers.
Read Marie Therese’s story here.
In July, the campaign for Isabella Acevedo hit the news. Isabella was the former cleaner of Mark Harper MP, the former Immigration Minister who was forced to resign when it became known his cleaner did not have the correct papers. Mark Harper was later reinstated to Cabinet, whereas Isabella was snatched by Immigration Officers from her daughter’s wedding and told she would be forcibly removed from the UK.
The sheer hypocrisy, and inhumanity, of these actions sparked outrage. A demonstration outside Mark Harper’s flat was covered in the mainstream media including in this Channel 4 news video, where Isabella speaks about her situation, and the strong campaign managed to prevent one flight.
The Home Office were determined to carry out this injustice however, and Isabella was issued with further removal directions, in contravention of the required procedure, and was eventually removed.
2014 was a year of some crucial legal victories in the courts. One of these was in July, when the government’s proposed ‘residence test’ – that would require someone to have been in the UK with leave to remain for the previous twelve months in order to access civil legal aid – was declared unlawful by the High Court. Despite this clearcut ruling, the government has not abandoned its attempt to introduce the test, so the fight continues.
July was a busy month for legal breakthroughs – Detention Action were also successful in their case at the High Court, in which they argued that the Detained Fast-Track system was fundamentally unfair.
The Home Office’s response to the High Court judgement that the DFT was being ‘operated unlawfully’ was predictably inadequate. They announced that asylum-seekers in the DFT would have four clear days in which to access a lawyer before their asylum interview – with no guarantee, of course, that the person would be able to get any legal advice in this time. There was a similarly disappointing outcome from Refugee Action’s important judicial review win, on the way the Home Office calculate asylum support payments.
In August, Right to Remain joined with other migrants’ rights and legal organisations to call on the Guardian to cease its use of the term ‘illegal immigrants’, because the phrase is inaccurate (a person cannot be illegal, even if they have broken a law), dehumanising and dangerous. The Guardian responded with an editorial article from its readers’ editor, saying we were ‘making perfectly reasonable arguments that have been accepted in relation to other terms’, and that David Marsh, the editor of the Guardian’s style guide.
We, in partnership with others such as PICUM who are leading the Europe-wide Words Matter campaign, continue to press the public, politicians and the press to drop the ‘i’ word #nooneisillegal
The highlight of September, and perhaps the whole year, was our annual conference in London, the first with our new name. Over one hundred campaigners, supporters, and activists came from all over the UK for jam-packed day of learning, sharing, courage and solidarity. One of the participants said:
It was a fantastic event — informative, inspiring and motivating. For those of us engaged day-to-day defending asylum seekers and migrants in an increasingly hostile climate it is a source of great strength to know there are people up and down the country doing such good work with some positive outcomes. Humanity will win this struggle!
See pictures from the conference and read about the day here.
In September, we also began the Unlocking Detention virtual tour of the UK’s immigration detention estate, which we ran with the Detention Forum and its members, shining a spotlight on a different detention centre each week from September to December. The ‘twitter tour’ aimed to get people talking about detention, give a picture of what detention is actually like (from people who have been detained, and from visitors that support those in detention), and to challenge the ‘out of sight, out of mind’ barrier to ending immigration detention. People tweeted selfies with their statements against detention, contributed blog posts, tweeted and retweeted, and Open Democracy ran a series of articles in parallel with the tour.
The tour coincided with the first ever parliamentary inquiry into detention, whose report is due in the new year.
In October, the government announced that the UK will not support any future search and rescue operations to prevent migrants and refugees drowning in the Mediterranean. Described by the government as a deterrant to those who seek to make the perilous journey to Europe, this ‘rap across the knuckles’ is abandoning people to die terrible deaths because they have dared to seek a better life (better than persecution, better than torture, better than war, rape and oppression, better than struggling to survive and support one’s family) in Europe.
Read our response here.
In November, we reported on the Home Office quietly dropping the controversial language analysis firm Sprakab:
Despite mounting evidence over the years that language analysis is a deeply flawed process, and that the Sprakab company in particular was dodgy to say the least, the Home Office continued with it. This continued even after Supreme Court found that immigration officials were relying too heavily on Sprakab’s reports, that some comments given by the firm’s staff “went beyond the proper role of a witness”, and that the so-called (anonymous) experts made statements in the reports “without any evident expert foundation”.
How many others, of many nationalities, have been denied sanctuary before and after the courts ruled against the Home Office using this firm? Why did the Home Office continue using Sprakab for so long? With so much evidence, and a Supreme Court ruling, it seems clear that the Home Office used Sprakab because it helped them to deny sanctuary to refugees with a right to protection in the UK.
Read the full piece here.
Also in November, the Home Office awarded the £70m contract to run Yarl’s Wood detention centre to Serco, again. This is despite the centre being plagued with incidents of sexual abuse, accusations that women have been locked up for long spells, and pregnant detainees held without justification.“ Right to Remain told the Independent:
The Home Office has repeatedly re-awarded enforcement contracts to companies with proven track-records of vast failings, abuse and injustice. Rewarding failure allows these companies to act with impunity.
Those of you who follow us on Facebook or Twitter will not have missed the devastating blow in December when three G4S guards were found not guilty of the manslaughter of Jimmy Mubenga verdict. Jimmy’s family and a huge number of campaigners have fought long and hard for justice for Jimmy and in 2013 the inquiry into his death gave a verdict of ‘unlawful killing’. The judge in the guards’ trial deemed it not necessary to share with the jury the racist texts sent by two of the three guards, or the unlawful killing verdict.
Read Frances Webber’s damning indictment of these failings, in her piece in the Guardian here.
On International Migrants’ Day, December 18, campaigners demonstrated outside the Home Office about this verdict (and for the rights of international students, and against racist and xenophobic immigration rules) and then marched to the G4S headquarters. You can see photos from the protest here.
The end of the year brought with it two important legal victories. Firstly, there was an important (if complicated) judgment from the Court of Appeal, on exceptional legal aid funding. You can read our explanation of the case, in accessible language for non-lawyers, on our legal updates blog here.
Detention Action were again successful in their Detained Fast Track challenges, this time in the Court of Appeal, on the matter of appeals in the DFT. The Court ruled that a second element of the Home Office’s detained asylum process is unlawful, finding that the detention of asylum seekers who are not at risk of absconding whilst their appeals are pending is unlawful. People detained in the DFT system are encouraged to seek legal advice and/or apply for bail following this ruling, and visitors groups reported some releases from Harmondsworth and Yarl’s Wood detention centres just before Christmas.
And finally, a rousing article from Owen Jones, on how grassroots organising can overcome injustice – an important message to rally round in 2015!
Happy new year.
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