Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Watch PPCs from all parties in Cambridge queue up to praise the Sanctuary Pledge team

You can now watch the recording of a recent hustings in Cambridge where the Prospective Parliamentary Candidates from all parties are falling over themselves to express their support for the Sanctuary Pledge, and to congratulate the Sanctuary Pledge team.

Watch the debate here.

Well done to Anna Rowlands and her team!

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Half-way there in Hall Green

Respect and Labour candidates have enthusiastically signed up to the Sanctuary Pledge in Birmingham's Hall Green constituency, where Labour holds the advantage in the notional 2005 election results. Agreeing with the Pledge entirely, Salma Yaqoob and Roger Godsiff signed up in meetings with the local delegation - a team led by Sarah Teversham of St. Mary's Church, Moseley, and RESTORE, a Birmingham Churches Together undertaking for people seeking sanctuary.

Meanwhile, Tory and Lib Dem candidates are still to reply to initial letters, although the Pledge will be raised as an issue in the upcoming hustings.

Accountability meetings for after the election will also be arranged at the hustings.

Friday, 23 April 2010

"You use whatever power you've got"

Some major gains have been reported today from the London constituency of Ilford South. Phil Butcher, Director of the Commission for Justice and Social Responsibility at the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brentwood, leads a team representing over 2000 people from Catholic and Baptist churches as well as the local Albanian community.

In a difficult constituency which has previously had some BNP presence, Toby Boutle* (Cons) Mike Gapes (Lab) Wilson Chowdhry (Greens) have all readily and without reservation signed the Pledge. We have yet to hear back from the Lib-Dems who have not yet responded to our mails.

By contrast reports from the nearby Brentwood and Ongar constituency, led by Davina Bolt, suggest that Conservative candidate and former MP Eric Pickles has been reluctant to sign.

Asked to give advice to struggling delegations, Revd Butcher stated: "ensure that you have your power base; use whatever power you've got; and don't give up". He added that working on the Sanctuary Pledge has enabled him to "focus on some of the key issues" of relevance to the community.

An accountability meeting has been arranged with Mike Gapes.

* We would like to apologise to Mr Boutle and issue a retraction of comments previously posted in this article that wrongly suggested that he was avoiding discussion of this issue. We are delighted that he has signed the Sanctuary Pledge and are happy to apologise for our error.

Thursday, 22 April 2010

"The most organised group I've ever been lobbied by"

This is the first of a series of daily reports from Sanctuary Pledge delegations across the country.

Civil society leaders in Nottingham East today reported "marvellous" gains in their campaign to sign PPCs up to the Sanctuary Pledge, with all three of the main contenders - Labour, Lib Dem and Conservative - agreeing to the 5-point agenda.

The large delegation is led by Revd Karen Rooms of St. Ann with Emmanuel Church, and includes Dr Musharraf Hussain, Chair of the Christian-Muslim Forum and local imam; Richard Hawthorne of Nottingham's Interfaith Council; and members of Faiths in Action, the Eritrean community, the Pakistani Christian community, and local Anglican, Quaker and Methodist churches - covering at least 1400 people in the constituency altogether.

Liberal Democrat candidate and Borough Councillor for North Keyworth Sam Boote called the team "the best organised group I've ever been lobbied by".

The hard work culminated at the hustings at which Chris Leslie (former MP and Labour candidate), Ewan Lamont (Conservative), Sam Boote and independent candidate Benjamin Barton signed a large version of the Pledge.

Commenting that it has been "great to see people enthused and wired" about the Sanctuary Pledge, Revd Rooms advises struggling delegations to share out responsibility - to allow different members of the team to become experts on different parts of the ask so that they can respond effectively to challenges. She also says: "Trust the process [...] Get as broad a delegation as you can".

Accountability meetings have been set for after the Election. We look forward to seeing how the candidates' commitment translates into action.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Time to end the detention of children is now

By Dr Austen Ivereigh

Each year the UK Border Agency (UKBA) detains around 1,000 children in immigration removal centres (IRCs). The reason: their parent or parents have been identified for forced removal from the UK.

They range in age from babies to older teenagers, but are mostly in the age range of 10-12 years. Most have spent many years in the UK while their parents’ case for asylum has been processed, and speak with British accents after being educated at British schools.

They have committed no crime. Yet suddenly they are arrested and imprisoned – for weeks at a time, out of sight of the press and the courts. Some spend only a few days in detention at Yarl’s Wood in Bedfordshire, the main IRC with family facilities; others many weeks, or even months. The average is 15 days – described as “unacceptable” by the children’s commissioner for England, Sir Al Aynsley-Green. When they are released, less than half of them are put on a plane back to their parents’ country; most go back to where they were before they were detained. Many are detained more than once.

Mark Easton, the BBC home affairs editor, wrote in April 2009: “What sort of country sends a dozen uniformed officers to haul innocent sleeping children out of their beds; gives them just a few minutes to pack what belongings they can grab; pushes them into stinking caged vans; drives them for hours while refusing them the chance to go to the lavatory so that they wet themselves and locks them up sometimes for weeks or months without the prospect of release and without adequate health services? My country, apparently.”

Almost every child who is detained suffers some injury to their health, physical and mental. Being arrested, transported and locked up is, in itself, traumatic: they recall with horror being woken early in the morning by uniformed officers breaking down the front door, told they have just minutes to pack their most essential belongings, then watching their parents being handcuffed. “Children, even the youngest, are deeply affected and traumatised by these events,”

Sir Al reported in 2008. “Many of them have recurring nightmares about them, and they often demonstrate changes in behaviour. They can become persistently withdrawn, cling to their parents, refuse food or wet the bed. Children's best interests appear to me to be entirely invisible during the arrest and escorting process.” Many of these children have put down roots in Britain after many years, and are torn from their friends and belongings. “I speak to these children in places like Yarl's Wood Immigration Removal Centre,” Sir Al wrote, “and they answer my questions in regional British accents acquired over many years of integration into our communities and schools. It seems positively cruel to rip up the hopes and aspirations of these young people, who have become settled and enjoy close ties with friends, teachers and neighbours, due to the historic problems of managing the asylum system inefficiently.”

The children’s commissioner wrote a report on Yarl’s Wood in 2009, noting certain improvements but calling for the practice of child detention to end. “We stand by our contention that arrest and detention are inherently damaging to children, and that Yarl’s Wood is no place for a child”.

The health profession has been queueing up in recent years to denounce the practice. A coalition of royal medical colleges said in a joint report in December 2009 that mental health problems, self-harm and even suicide are some of the consequences of detaining children. They say that the practice exposes children to “significant harm”, a term used to trigger child protection policies.

The Guardian, New Statesman and the Observer have long called for the practice to end. Petitions have been signed and parliamentary motions tabled. Faith and civic leaders and many NGOs have called for an end to the detention of children, which is incompatible with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, and is at odds with the Government’s own statutory commitment to safeguarding the welfare of children.

There is a consensus that the practice must end.

The Government says that it doesn’t want to lock up children but sees no alternative. "If people refuse to go home then detention becomes a necessity,” the immigration minister, Phil Woolas, told the BBC last year. “We don't want to split up families, so we hold children with their parents.”But this assumes that families who have reached the end of their claim process do “refuse to go home”. On the whole, they don’t.

The real purpose of locking up families is to make the removals process more efficient. Bureaucratic considerations are being put before human dignity. Sweden and Australia are among the countries which have now put an end to the practice without in any way undermining the removals process. (Swedish law retains the right to detain children, but for a maximum of three days). In Canada and Australia, schemes in place make detention very unusual - -and compliance with removals are around 90%. When a group of MPs looked into the matter in 2006, they found no evidence that families with children would be less likely to allow themselves to be removed, and concluded that “the most obvious alternative to detention is simply not to detain”. There is a strong case that children who have spent many years in the UK and have been educated in British schools should be given the right to remain in the UK. In August 2004, the Home Office made Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) available to families who had at least one child under 18 in the UK on 2 October 2000 or 24 October 2003, and whose principal applicant had lodged their asylum claim before 2 October 2000. The rationale driving the one-off exercise was both moral and pragmatic: where families have been in the UK for a substantial period of time, their children are likely to have integrated into UK society, may have little or no meaningful links with their country of origin and removal would have a significant impact on their well-being. Claims are now processed much faster and people returned to their countries more quickly. But many of those children who are detained are part of an administrative backlog, the product of the breakdown in the Home Office’s ability to process claims around 2001-2003. They should be given ILR on a similar basis to the 2004 initiative.

In those very rare cases where the Home Office could, hypothetically, demonstrate that there was a significant risk of absconding, there are still alternatives to detention: a bail scheme, for example, where the family seeking sanctuary might agree to live at a certain address, with friends agreeing to act as surety.

As a last resort, electronic tagging of the parents is at least preferable to detaining their children.
The time to end this shameful practice is NOW

NEWSFLASH: Scottish National Party makes manifesto commitment to end child detention

The Scottish National Party has published its manifesto today - and they have included a commitment to end child detention.

"Our MPs will continue to ...stand up for what is right, arguing for example for the Home Office to end the practice of holding the children of asylum seekers in detention centres."

It's on page 16 of the SNP manifesto, which you can find here.

That means that the Lib Dems, Greens, Plaid Cymru and the SNP have all made manifesto commitments to end child detention. Congratulations to Sanctuary Pledge teams in Scotland who have worked hard to make this happen!

Monday, 19 April 2010

Act now to make sure your Parliamentary candidates support the Sanctuary Pledge

[An article printed in the Migrant Voice election newspaper]

The politicians are on the back foot, argues Jonathan Cox, and this is the best opportunity in a generation to commit the mainstream parties to rebuilding support for sanctuary and ending the detention of children.

Our nation provided sanctuary to Huguenots fleeing religious persecution in 17th century France, Jews fleeing the Nazi regime in the 1930s, Ugandan Asians forced out by Idi Amin in the 1970s, Bosnians escaping ethnic cleansing in the 1990s and Zimbabweans seeking a safe haven today. Our tradition of providing sanctuary is part of what makes Britain great. That tradition is under threat.

In recent years the rise of extremist politics, media scare stories, and high profile failings by the Home Office have led to this issue becoming a political football. Yet over two-thirds of the public still think it is important that the UK provides sanctuary to people fleeing persecution. We agree. We believe that sanctuary should not just be part of the UK’s history. It should be part of our future too. We want our political representatives to agree too.

This is a time of incredible political opportunity. With an election in the offing the polls are predicting a close battle, with a hung parliament, minority administration or an entirely new government all being possibilities. This will also be the youngest and most inexperienced parliament since the time of Cromwell, with many MPs standing down or likely to lose their seats to be replaced by fresh faces.

Since its creation last year, CITIZENS for Sanctuary has achieved considerable success at local level – organising teams of citizens to tackle slum housing, the issue of cashlessness, and unduly harsh reporting requirements across the UK. Now we are ready to make change in national politics through the Sanctuary Pledge. The Sanctuary Pledge is based on the recommendations of the Independent Asylum Commission (IAC) and calls on those who seek to represent us in Parliament to agree that our tradition of sanctuary is precious, to affirm the IAC’s five sanctuary principles, and to take five concrete actions, one of which is to support policies that will bring an end to the detention of children and families for immigration purposes. You can read the Sanctuary Pledge in full here: http://www.sanctuarypledge.org.uk/.

Our campaign strategy is to train delegations of citizens in 200 of the most important battleground constituencies to meet face-to-face with their Prospective Parliamentary Candidates and ask them to sign the Sanctuary Pledge. If they do not sign they will then be asked publicly at the local hustings to explain why it is that they want to lock up innocent children. Thus far, not many politicians have been keen to have to answer that question in front of an audience!

But our strategy is not primarily based on moral arguments. Our strategy is based on the power of community organising which asserts that when we organise leaders of communities to take action we can make change happen. The Sanctuary Pledge is supported by 16 organisations representing 7 million people across the country. But for success we need ordinary citizens - like you - to convince your local candidates to sign the Sanctuary Pledge before the election.

We have the best opportunity in a generation to secure long-term political support for sanctuary and to end the detention of children. If we delay until after the election it will be too late - the power will have shifted from the people to the politicians. So action now is imperative – please work with us to make sure your Prospective Parliamentary Candidates support the Sanctuary Pledge. Your action, along with the actions of many people like you across the country acting in concert, really will make a difference.

If you would like to take action to support the Sanctuary Pledge please email info@sanctuarypledge.org.uk or visit the website http://www.sanctuarypledge.org.uk/ .

Jonathan Cox is the Lead Organiser of CITIZENS for Sanctuary and Director of the Sanctuary Pledge campaign.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Another manifesto success as Greens call for an end to child detention

Following its inclusion in the Lib Dem and Plaid Cymru manifestoes, the Green Party win the prize for the commitment to end child detention most in line with the Sanctuary Pledge.

Check out the positive use of language in their manifesto which came out earlier this week: "Those seeking sanctuary should not bedetained, and in particular the administrative detention of children is unacceptable andshould cease immediately."

Again, this did not happen by itself - it was the hard work of Sanctuary Pledge leaders who met with Green Party officials earlier in the year to gain this commitment.

You can read the full manifesto here. The relevant section is on page 46.

Baptists, Methodists and United Reformed Church blog in support of the Sanctuary Pledge...

You can read their blog here.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

NEWSFLASH: Lib Dem manifesto pledges an end to the detention of children!

Congratulations to all Sanctuary Pledge supporters who have put pressure on Liberal Democrat candidates - today's Lib Dem manifesto includes a commitment to "end the detention of children in immigration detention centres."

You can read the full manifesto here. The relevant section, entitled "a safe haven for those fleeing persecution" is on pages 76 and 77.

If your Lib Dem candidate hasn't signed the Sanctuary Pledge yet, then this should seal the deal!

This could also be significant if there is a hung parliament and the Lib Dems hold the balance of power - we need to make sure that they push whichever party leads the next government to work to end child detention.

For those of you in Wales, Plaid Cymru have also committed themselves to ending child detention in their manifesto: "We condemn the practice of housing recently-arrived asylum seekers, especially children, in "detention" or "removal" centres."

For those of you who have seen the Labour and Conservative manifestoes, sadly they do not contain a commitment to ending child detention.

Saturday, 10 April 2010

Sanctuary Pledge leaders distribute Easter eggs in Yarl's Wood

Lorin Sulaiman, Barbara Nalumu, Rev'd Bruce Stokes and Rev'd Dr Andrew Davey (and Paddington Bear!) deliver Easter eggs to the children locked up at Yarl's Wood.

Friday, 9 April 2010

Salvation Army backs the Sanctuary Pledge in its Election Manifesto

The Salvation Army has now published its 2010 election manifesto.

The Salvation Army supports the Sanctuary Pledge, and you can find it on page 17 of the manifesto.