STOP PRESS: Demo against the Bill, Tues 5 April outside Lunar House,
40 Wellesley Road, Croydon CR9 2BY, from 10.30am
Opposition to the Immigration Bill continues to grow.
· In February, Lord Ramsbotham called for the bill to be withdrawn or suspended to allow proper consideration of a government commissioned report. The Shaw Report made recommendations: a limit on detention; an end to the detention of pregnant women; that there be a presumption against detaining victims of rape and other torture. A prestigious All-Party Parliamentary Group which took evidence from a wide range of organisations and prominent individuals also made important recommendations. Why are these being ignored?
· In recent weeks Peers have expressed their opposition by voting for: a 28-day limit on detention; to allow 3,000 unaccompanied child refugees into the country; to allow asylum seekers the right to work if their claims have not been processed within six months; to allow overseas domestic workers to change employers without risking immediate deportation.
Amendment 216ZC calling for the “absolute exclusion from detention of pregnant women” has yet to be voted on. Meanwhile during the debate over 100 pregnant women have been detained in Yarl’s Wood IRC.
The Third reading - a final chance to amend the Bill - is scheduled for 12 April.
Lobbying is working – the Lords are leaping – there is still time to defeat the Bill
The Bill will have a devastating impact on women and people of colour in particular. Measures on housing, destitution and employment will increase racism and make people more vulnerable to exploitation and violence. Other measures will see people seeking asylum being deprived of a fair hearing and deported back to danger in their country of origin.
Key parts of this Bill include:
· Deport first, appeal later. Removing the right to appeal in the UK will mean that those of us who have lived in the UK and built a family and are applying to stay on human rights family life grounds will be told to go back to our country of origin and appeal from there. Legal aid is not available for these cases. Families will be torn apart and thousands more people will be deported without hope of a fair hearing. Most of the 70 women who regularly attend the All African Women’s Group (AAWG) self-help meetings, that we help co-ordinate, would have been deported by now if this had been in place. Of the handful of women who have been sent back, who have managed to keep in touch with Black Women’s Rape Action Project (BWRAP), all have either been raped or suffered other violence.
· Increasing destitution including of families. Once someone’s asylum claim is refused they won’t be entitled to support unless they can show that there is a “genuine obstacle” to their being deported. Again, there is no legal aid to challenge this. People seeking asylum are already suffering from an apartheid system of income and housing and get only 50% of poverty line benefits. Over the summer the government cut support to the children of asylum seekers by 30% (see EDM 344). A 2009 survey of destitute people seeking asylum found: half survive on one meal a day; many live on around £5 per week; over a third continue to suffer from the physical effects of the torture from which they fled; more than a third of the women who lived on the streets reported sexual assaults, including rape. Children are increasingly taken away from destitute mothers and families. And this in the fourth richest country in the world. Unless stopped, this heralds in the age of the workhouse where 90% of children died of neglect.
· Deliberate destitution imposed by law and policy has now been extended from asylum seekers to others via benefit sanctions which can leave people without any income for weeks. Forty percent of street sex workers in Doncaster are there because their benefits have been sanctioned.
· Criminalising landlords for letting premises to people without papers. This will foster racism by singling out people of colour for worse treatment. Women will be made more vulnerable to exploitation, rape and other violence. Many women in the AAWG are homeless and describe the abuse they have to endure to get a bed for the night. Fast-track powers for landlords to evict people without papers without needing a court possession order have been criticised by the Equality and Human Rights Commission. Already “42% of landlords said they were less likely to rent a property to someone who does not have a British passport” if they were forced to do immigration status checks. It also puts all tenants at risk as courts can order possession of the entire property rather than the eviction of the particular tenant without papers.
· A new offence of “driving when unlawfully in the UK” which gives police powers to enter and search premises and search individuals for a licence. This will be a green light for the police to increase “stop and search” and all the racist persecution that goes with that. Black people are 28 times more likely to be stopped than white people. Considering that the police have officially been found to be “institutionally racist” extra powers are likely to be used in a discriminatory way. People of colour and immigrant people will likely be unfairly targeted by banks given powers to do immigration status checks and freeze or close accounts of people without status.
· Criminalise people who work without papers with a sentence of up to six months in prison on conviction. Police would have powers to seize wages and savings under the Proceeds of Crime Act (2002). This law is already used against sex workers and under it women can have their home, savings, car . . . seized even though they haven’t been convicted of a crime.
· Further penalise international students. Visa controls and a 300% increase in charges over the last five years have led international students to feel “unwelcome” in the UK despite contributing £7.9 billion to the economy. Forty percent said in a recent survey that landlord checks would “negatively impact their decision to study in the UK”. More and more international students face detention and deportation the minute they finish their studies.
· If this Bill is passed it is likely to unleash unrestrained racism similar to that of the 1960s against immigrant and settled communities. Islamaphobic attacks have risen by 70% in London. Following the Paris attacks Muslim women and girls in Britain suffered a staggering 300% increase in hate crimes. Women, especially mothers, made destitute and/or homeless, will suffer the anguish of not being able to care, feed and protect their children and exploitation, rape and other violence will increase across the board.
There is a new spirit of determination in the UK. The compassionate response to the mass movement of people in Europe fleeing war and poverty, with one in three (31%) contributing to the relief effort, indicates that people won’t endure brutality from government and are refusing to stand by while their neighbours are targeted.
More information or to interview women please call 07456525227 or 020 7482 2496
Niki Adams, Legal Action for Women
Cristel Amiss, Black Women’s Rape Action Project
Crossroads Women's Centre, 25 Wolsey Mews, London NW5 2DX