Bringing together researchers, practitioners and policy makers working with migrants, refugees and asylum seekers in Scotland
In recent months, the light of compassion and solidarity has rightly been shone on the perilous journeys refugees make in an attempt to reach a place of safety and security. Of the many that lose their lives en route, or that are stranded at borders across Europe, or are encamped in squalid conditions and under constant attack in Calais.
A dark corner of this story is that, for the refugees and other migrants who do make it to the UK, the struggle isn’t over. People seeking the right to remain in the UK are faced by a bewildering, complicated and hostile asylum and immigration system and with diminishing legal help to navigate it.
Over 60% of asylum applications are refused by the UK Home Office. This figure does not mean that the majority of asylum-seekers are not in need in protection, but that the system has failed them. Home Office decision-making is seriously called into question by the overturning of 30% of these decisions on appeal. For some countries of origin, this figure is even higher. The latest immigration statistics show that 72% of Home Office refusals of Eritrean asylum claims were overturned on appeal. Many people seeking asylum will simply be unable to prove an unjust decision has been made in their case because they do not have the legal representation to win their case in the courts.
Cuts to Legal Aid have seen free immigration legal services reduced by 50%. Every day, refugees and migrants are being refused, threatened with deportation, in desperate need of help. Although the Legal Aid regime is markedly better in Scotland than it is in England and Wales, the decimation of free legal advice affects those seeking sanctuary in Scotland too. If someone is seeking the right to remain and is detained, they are very likely to be moved across the border to England prior to removal. At that point, the vastly meaner Legal Aid allowance in England hits home and dramatically reduces the person’s ability to access justice. People in detention centres in England can only receive legal aid from a specified contract firm, reducing their options still further. If someone is detained in Dungavel detention centre in Scotland and then released into the community, as 75% of those detained in Dungavel are , they may be bailed to England. The legal aid restrictions in place in England and Wales would therefore apply to their case. People claiming asylum anywhere in the UK may be unable to explain why their case has ‘merits’ and therefore eligible for legal aid. Some people will manage to secure legal representation, but of very poor quality. With an increasingly complex system, it is much harder for people seeking the right to remain to keep track of their case, and retain any power over something so fundamental to their lives. If the person has a non-asylum immigration case, in England and Wales they cannot receive legal aid at all (with a few very limited exceptions, such as proven domestic violence cases).
People who have fled persecution, war and torture and have survived the often long and dangerous journey to the UK, are then faced with the prospect of indefinite immigration detention. Over 30,000 migrants are detained each year, without time-limit, with tens of thousands more living with the threat of detention every day. Detention cuts people off from help, advice and legal support. It’s a major barrier to justice, and damages and divides communities.
Over 6,000 refused asylum seekers are destitute, a policy that previous and current governments have stated is a deliberate policy to force people to go home even if they do not think it would be safe for them to do so. Many more undocumented migrants are living risky, hidden lives and cannot engage safely with the legal process.
These barriers to justice are part of the ‘Hostile Environment’ the government has described as its way of making life so uncomfortable for migrants that they are forced to leave. Although recent polling shows that the majority of the Scottish publicdoes not think there are too many immigrants, the government in Westminster seems unwavering in its attempts to turn civil society into border guardsand extend and harden the Hostile Environment – the proposals in the 2015 Immigration Bill being a case in point .
An empowered, informed, confident community of people seeking the right to remain and their supporters is needed now more than ever to ensure rights are recognised, protection is granted and lives are saved. That’s why Right to Remain is crowdfunding to produce a brand new Toolkit – a guide to understanding the asylum and immigration system, and taking action for the right to remain. Our Toolkit will help people to understand and navigate the complex legal system, find support and solidarity, overcome the barriers to justice, fight for their rights and secure the right to remain. We first produced a Toolkit in 2013. It was a massive success – we could hardly keep up with demand. Since then, legal changes mean that community groups across the UK, supporting asylum seekers and other migrants day-in, day-out, need a brand new Toolkit and they need it urgently. One of the groups we work with, Beyond Borders Tyneside, have made a video explaining exactly why the Toolkit is needed which you can watch here. And our stalwart supporter, Aderonke Apata, a fearsome campaigner for asylum, LGBT+, human rights talks about it below.
In less than three weeks we’ve managed to reach over 50% of our £10,000 target, and we know that a great deal of that support has come from Scotland! If we reach our target, we can produce this vital web resource and print 1,000 books which will go straight to the communities that need them most. You can read more about our crowdfunding appeal here.