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Along with many, we watched in horror over recent weeks and months as the government pushed through a new law that will extinguish the right to seek safety in the UK for everyone other than a small number who are mostly from Ukraine, Afghanistan and Hong Kong. Like others we warned of its inhumanity and the risks it posed for our communities: destitution, exploitation, state violence, detention. We mobilised people to speak out, joining us to demonstrate in Manchester or writing to their MP. But we have a government intent on cruelty, on scapegoating people who need our help, on choosing punishment and incarceration over support and care.

As people living in the North West, we know we are welcoming and compassionate. When we hear stories of people seeking safety – women fleeing oppression by the Taliban, Ukrainian families whose homes are being destroyed, Sudanese children who fled violence in their home and left their family behind – we want them to be safe and welcomed into our communities. But the government has set themselves profoundly at odds with human instinct, public feeling and their international obligations.

What could this Act mean in practice, for our communities in the North West?

  • A child arrives seeking safety, and spends several years in the care of a local authority in the North West, going to school and college and putting down roots. But once they have turned 18 the Home Office mandates that they must be ripped away from their new community, detained and removed from the UK.
  • The Home Office builds detention facilities in our communities –camps or other institutional accommodation where people are treated as prisoners, detained indefinitely, at an estimated cost of £9 billion over 3 years.
  • Someone comes forward to say that they have been a victim of modern slavery, trafficked within the UK and exploited. But they are told there is no support available to them – they don’t have the right to the UK’s modern slavery system because of the way they travelled here – and so they have no choice but to return to exploitation.

It’s clear as day that the horrifying legislation being imposed from Westminster is out of step with who we are as people and communities in the North West. Greater Manchester’s Mayor, Deputy Mayor, and all 10 Greater Manchester Leaders  spoke out against the Illegal Migration Bill and immigration policies that make people homeless and destitute. Salford City Council recently celebrated becoming a Local Authority of Sanctuary, while Manchester City Council just voted unanimously to begin the same process: “a commitment that we will always be a place of refuge and a place of compassion”. Liverpool have said no to “floating prisons”, refusing to have a barge imprisoning people dock nearby in Birkenhead.

We believe in hope, and in celebrating our wins and those of our friends and allies, particularly those with lived experience of immigration control. But sadly, it doesn’t diminish the fact that these are very dark times for human rights in the UK.

We still have a choice to make.

We know that people seeking sanctuary themselves, and our friends in organisations and institutions will be worried about what this is going to mean, and what they can do about it.

We expect our local leaders, who have made firm commitments that this is a place of sanctuary, to resist: standing up to protect people in our communities. A useful action to take is to write to your MP or local councillors asking them to confirm their support for people seeking safety. There is also an open letter to sign making clear that this law is not in our name.

Key pillars of last year’s Nationality and Borders Act – which the government promised at the time was their answer to crisis in the asylum system – have melted away, with differential treatment for refugees no longer being applied due to its unworkability. And the Home Secretary has been found to have acted unlawfully in three different legal challenges in the space of a week: on children being housed by the Home Office in hotels rather than looked after as they should be; on removing protections for victims of trafficking; and on failing to provide basic support for people in the asylum system. Policies that refuse support, dignity and human rights cannot and will not go unchallenged.

We know that we cannot accept a law that abandons those who seek safety on our shores: so it must be changed. And we commit ourselves to continue the fight.

Resources

Read the joint civil society statement signed by 290 organisations on the passing of the Act.

Social Workers Without Borders have created a resource for social workers to raise their concerns.

Tell the Prime Minister “Not in our name” – sigh this open letter.

See Asylum Matters’ roundup of where local leaders have stood against the Anti-Refugee Laws.

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