Hastings Community of Sanctuary goes to Parliament. By Felicity Laurence, Chair, Hastings Community of Sanctuary

In November the annual event “Sanctuary in Parliament” was hosted by the national City of Sanctuary movement, of which Hastings Community of Sanctuary is now a full member. Representing our group were Alex Kempton and Felicity Laurence, who met with our MP Amber Rudd to discuss the day’s theme ‘Towards a Fairer Asylum System’ and the campaign being introduced to achieve this.

Three pivotal changes will be tabled as amendments in the new Immigration Bill, due to be introduced within three months.

The right to work for people who have asylum claims outstanding for more than six months.
Extension of refugee family reunion.
An end to indefinite immigration detention.

Taken together, these are key to producing a fairer asylum system that is better in line with our values as a society.

People seeking asylum may not work to support themselves while their claim is processed, except within a very narrowly designated group of occupations after 12 months. This is despite often possessing skills which we desperately need, for example in hospitals, schools, and many other areas. In Hastings at this moment, there are people with high technical qualifications in such areas as dressmaking and business, or post-graduate degrees in education and in medical sciences. All of them want passionately to be able to work, contribute to society, and pay their way.

Right to work is now formally supported by all opposition parties and a growing number of Conservative MPs, their position typified by Sir Christopher Chope’s recent comment that people seeking asylum should be able to: “take pride in the contribution that they can make to this country instead of being in a sort of limbo dependency, which annoys everybody”. Indeed, around 70% of us across the UK support the right to work for those seeking asylum, a view clearly reflected in our conversations across our own town.

Ms Rudd expressed to us the current Government reservations on this issue,the risk of encouraging economic migrants with a less restrictive system, in which case,permission to work might allow them to become too settled, making eventual deportation more difficult. However, those looking for easy access to the UK labour market are unlikely to bring attention to themselves through making an asylum claim and even if they did so, they would be even more unlikely to gain permission to work after six months;this being the time in which the Home Office aims to decide all straightforward claims. Ms Rudd’s final comment was that she remained open-minded about this issue and would be responsive to facts and evidence on the ground, if these spoke for right to work. 

Family reunion refers to the ability for young people brought here as children to apply for family members to join them; at the moment, adults with refugee status can apply for their children to come, but children given leave to stay cannot apply for their families to join them. There is again wide cross-party agreement about this change, and also for the ending of indefinite detention which is formally supported by all opposition parties and increasing numbers of Conservative MPs. For example, Andrew Mitchell, who claims this practice to be “so profoundly unjust that it beggars belief”. At the event, we heard from a family, including a young woman who had lived in the UK since the age of eleven, now at university, who were picked up without prior warning unwarned. She was handcuffed and detained with her parents (both professional people from a persecuted religious Christian community) without explanation for 11 weeks, before being released back into the community. More than 50% who are detained, typically without reasons given, charge, or information about what will happen next, are in fact released in this way. The current campaign focuses upon limiting detention to 28 days, to align with all other categories of detention without charge.

Hastings Community of Sanctuary is asking our local MP Amber Rudd to support right to work, family reunion and an end to indefinite detention, extending to all three issues her offer of keeping an open mind and being receptive to the evidence, as part of her own stated position that UK immigration policy should be humane and fair.

For further information, please contact us at http://hastings.cityofsanctuary.org/

You can sign our pledge of support here: http://hastings.cityofsanctuary.org/pledge

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