A Judge has ruled that for the Home Office to evict refused asylum seekers from emergency accommodation in an area which is under Tier 3 Coronavirus restrictions is unreasonable and could in fact place communities at harm, and in breach of the law.
Many people who have been refused asylum in the UK have started receiving notice to leave their state funded housing, after ministers announced that the ban on evictions introduced in March, would be lifted.
Despite criteria set out by the Home Office, which states that people should not be evicted if they are in local authorities which are subject to lockdown, asylum seekers in tier 3 are among those who have been served eviction notice.
Local council leaders in areas which have tier 3 restrictions in place have called on the Home Office to call a halt to the evictions warning that they would undoubtedly lead to an increase in homelessness and destitution in the communities and also pose a health risk to the wider public.
Ruling on two appeals lodged by asylum seekers, an immigration judge said that evicting asylum seekers in tier 3 areas was ‘unreasonable’ and ‘may well place them and others in their communities at a greater risk of harm’, and also breach their human rights. She also added “That risk to health and wellbeing applies to everyone whatever their immigration status”.
The judge said that the cases should be heard in a higher court in order that the applicants could challenge the lawfulness of the Home Office’s decision to withdraw accommodation from asylum seekers, and said that they should remain in their accommodation until the case was heard. The case will now be heard at the High Court.
A solicitor at the Greater Manchester Law Centre, who represented the two refused asylum seekers appealing their evictions, Laura Gibbons said “Despite requests for clarification on Home Office policy relating to the evictions and regarding what advice has been received to indicate that steps being taken are safe to do so we have received none”.
Leeds City Council wrote to the home secretary to ‘urgently request that it did not evict asylum seekers at this time, in light of the increasing Covid-19 infection rates across Leeds and the UK as a whole, in the interests of ‘wider public health’.
Judith Blake CBE, council leader said while in normal circumstances refused asylum seekers were often supported by local charities these groups now have limited capacity due to Covid-19. “The council is concerned if evicted without voluntary and community sector support this could lead to an increase in destitution and homelessness in the city, as well as barriers to accessing healthcare and also the likelihood of Covid-19 transmissions”.
“To evict people during the pandemic is a major cause for concern and I would urge you to reconsider your decision to evict these people during this time. The eviction process needs to be planned in consultation with local authorities to ensure adequate support is in place for them to access accommodation and support”.
Portfolio holder for corporate services at Hull City Council, Rosemary Pantelakis, said that she echoed the sentiments expressed by Ms Blake. She added: “In the current pandemic situation it is clearly undesirable for anyone to be made homeless and I would urge the Home Office to reconsider their decision to evict people from asylum dispersal accommodation as this will inevitably lead to destitution. “While the government had directed that bailiff evictions should not take place in tier 2 and 3 areas, there currently is no equivalent policy for evictions from asylum support accommodation.
Lawyers and Councils said the Home Office had not provided any evidence that their decision to resume evictions was based on advice from Public Health England, or that they had considered the concerns of the councils that house the most asylum seekers, many of which currently have high Covid restrictions in place.
Glasgow City Council have also written to the Home Office outlining their opposition to its ‘dangerous’ and ‘unconscionable’ plans to withdraw accommodation and support from hundreds of asylum seekers in the city.
Glasgow City Council leader was due to meet virtually with immigration minister Chris Philip, alongside colleagues in the Scottish Government, when she would ‘firmly re-state this position’.
Three elected mayors – Andy Burnham mayor of Greater Manchester, Jamie Driscoll the north of Tyne mayor and Steve Rotherham mayor of Liverpool city region, signed a statement saying that evicted asylum seekers had ‘few options beyond street homelessness’. As a result people in our communities are being left out of crucial measures to prevent homelessness, at a time when coronavirus cases are rising. The Home Office must extend protection from eviction for these living in asylum accommodation, so that no one is forced out of their homes with nowhere else to go.
Director at Leeds Asylum Seekers Support Network, Jon Beech, said that while his organisation would under normal circumstances be able to offer evicted asylum seekers a place in there night shelters, the pandemic has meant these weren’t running, leaving them unable to offer help. We are really scared in Leeds because we’re teetering on the edge of tier 3 and the Home Office is creating a situation where people are being made homeless. If an asylum seeker who has been evicted and has been in contact with someone who has tested positive, where should they go ? There are no options available to them. We have got a local authority who are trying really hard to prevent evictions from happening but who are being hindered by the Home Office.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “Those who have received a negative asylum decision, which means they have no right to remain in the UK, are given a 21 day grace period. During this time they are rightly expected to make steps to return to their country of origin, while still remaining in accommodation and receiving support. We offer assistance to those who choose to do so by actively promoting the Home Office Voluntary Return Service”. As the home secretary has said we are determined to reform the broken asylum system to make it firmer and fairer – compassionate to those fleeing oppression, persecution and tyranny, but tough on those who abuse our system.