Let them eat laptops.

On May 17th, the Government published the Immigration Act 2016.

The Act is specifically designed to make life as difficult as possible for people subject to immigration control,  further consolidating the ‘hostile environment’ agenda pursued by the Home Secretary since the election of the Coalition Government in 2010. Amongst other things, the Act makes it possible for Immigration Appeals to be heard after the appellant has been removed from the UK, and introduces a new criminal offence of ‘illegal immigration’, effectively making an individual’s very presence in the UK a crime punishable by imprisonment. The purpose of the Act, essentially, is to ‘switch off’ access to services, using destitution as a tool of social policy, effectively in an attempt to starve people out of the UK.

Perhaps most alarming are the implications for children: the Act abolishes section 94(5) of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999, which allowed for asylum seekers who were the parents of children before the refusal of any asylum claim, and the subsequent exhaustion of any appeal rights, to continue to be treated as asylum seekers for support purposes, and so to continue to receive accommodation and financial support from the Home Office (‘NASS support’), either until the family was removed from the UK, until the youngest child reached adulthood, or until status was granted. 

The abolition of section 94(5) will therefore inevitably mean that families with dependent children will become destitute and street homeless. There will be no right of appeal against this decision.

While the Home Office has a legal obligation, under Section 55 of the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Act 2009, to safeguard and promote the welfare of children subject to immigration control, we are well aware that, in practice, little attention is given to such considerations by Home Office caseworkers.

To give but one example, ASIRT was recently approached for help by ‘Tariq’, an Afghan asylum seeker and the father of 3 young children, who has recently sought asylum in the UK. Tariq and his family have twice been threatened with eviction from the hostel accommodation in which they are staying, on the basis of the Home Office’s refusal to accept the fact of the family’s destitution.

This position has been informed by the Home Office’s insistence that Tariq has assets available to him with which he can reasonably be expected to support his family. These assets include land and property in his country of origin- for all the world as if an individual forced to flee a situation of war and persecution could simply instruct an estate agent on the sale or rent of a building 4000 miles away-and a 5 year old laptop, which he would struggle to sell for £100, and which serves literally as the family’s sole remaining connection to their former lives, containing family photographs, copies of professional certificates and evidence of Tariq’s previous employment records.

On the basis of these purported resources, Tariq and his family’s eviction onto the street was only averted by action on ASIRT’s behalf, lodging an appeal against the Home Office’s demonstrably unreasonable decision, and harnessing the support of our friends at the excellent Asylum Support Appeals Project  (ASAP) in London to ensure that Tariq was provided with legal support in the Tribunal itself.

The Tribunal’s decision, thankfully, was in Tariq’s favour and he and his family are, for now, able to enjoy the relative security and comfort of the hostel in which they have placed for the past 2 months.

But without the advocacy and representation provided to this family by ASIRT and by ASAP, it is little short of certain that this family would now be street homeless, rendered entirely destitute having already lost so much in their flight to the UK. As he wrote to us:

‘Without you they would not listen. Thank you for your help. I do not know what will happen to us tomorrow, but just because of you they have listened today’.

As Tariq suggests, the fight is never truly over. Having won a battle to keep a roof over his children’s heads and food in their stomachs today, there will be new adversity to face in the future, with the threat of destitution, homelessness and humiliation ever present in an asylum system actively seeking to make life as unpleasant as possible for those forced to depend on it. And justice is not available to those without allies helping them to fight for it.

This, again, is why a team from ASIRT will be taking part in next month’s Midland Legal Walk, mobilising to raise money to help ensure that agencies like ours can continue to work for Tariq and his family and for all the other individuals and families who, inevitably, will need our help in the advent of the new Immigration Act.

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