Most people who have applied for asylum or other immigration status and have not had a positive decision have to regularly report at their local Home Office reporting centre or a police station. At every reporting visit, the person is at risk of detention, particularly if their application has been refused, which they may not know until they go and report.
Some people phone a friend when they are entering the reporting centre, with instructions for what to do and who to contact if they are detained. If the friend does not get a call within an hour or two to say they are safe, the friend can call their lawyer and/or support group if they have one.
In some areas, local support groups have set up systems to help with this. The person going to report will check-in with the group first, who keep a record of everyone’s contact details and emergency instructions of what to do if they do not come out.
Find out more in this video about Bristol Signing Support Group:
A system like this can save valuable time: friends/supporters can start finding out exactly where the person is, what has happened, and what can be done to help straight away.
A signing support system also means that the person going to sign knows people are looking out for them, and that there is a plan in place if things go wrong and they are detained. This can reduce the psychological burden of reporting/signing at the Home Office.
Some starters on setting up a signing/detention support system for your group:
(1) Make sure you know when everyone in the group goes to sign
(2) Where are people signing?
(3) Where they will be detained locally, before they are sent to a longer-term detention centre?
(4) Have basic information about the stage that group members’ cases are at. Remember, you don’t need to know everything about someone’s case, and you should only ask for information if the person is comfortable sharing it.
(5) It may help to have a basic form that you use with information such as name, date of birth, emergency contact details including lawyer if there is one, family, health problems etc. Their Home Office reference number may be important for contacting the lawyer/the Home Office. On this form, you can indicate issues that need to be thought about if someone is detained – are there children who need emergency childcare? Is medication needed?
(6) Create a simple consent form for every group member to sign, giving permission for the group or a named representative of the group to speak to the person’s lawyer, or MP, or to enter their asylum accommodation, for example.
(7) How does the group find out that somebody’s been detained? You might want to think about a buddy system (with back-up in case the buddy is away), a telephone tree or email system.
Have an action plan
- Agree in advance with individuals what they want to happen if they are detained.
- Ring their lawyer (if they have one).
- Try and find out about legal aid advice in the detention centre they are taken to.
- If they can’t get legal advice, can your group help them apply for bail?
- Once you know which detention centre they are in, arrange visiting for family, friends, support group members. If it’s too far away, get in touch with the local visitors’ group (see below). You may want to think about fundraising to pay for travel to the detention centre.
- Are there any family members or professionals involved in the case that need contacting?
- Are there other actions to take? Legal support? Fundraising for legal fees? Contacting the local MP?