The Home Office has been accused of breaching a high court order that halts the eviction of asylum seekers during the pandemic lockdown.
During the first lockdown in March eviction of refused asylum seekers from Home Office accommodation was paused for public health reasons to protect both asylum seekers and the general public from Covid-19.
Asylum seekers who were made street homeless could be at risk of contracting and spreading Coronavirus if left outside or if they were ‘sofa surfing’ which would involve going from one household to another, which is banned during lockdown.
After the latest lockdown announcement the Home Office were asked if it would pause the eviction of asylum seekers once again. A government statement said that while the policy was under review and would be determined by local circumstances it was to be business as usual, those whose asylum claims had failed were expected to leave the country within 21 days and cessation of support had resumed in September. The statement, however, did not mention that 24 hours earlier a high court judge, Mr Justice Fordham had issued a court order instruction for the Home Office to halt evictions because of public health concerns. The order was an interim measure until the matter could be more fully investigated at another court hearing.
The judge said in his ruling: “I have been given no reason and shown no reasoned document which addresses a basis for continuing with evictions in the circumstances. I cannot currently see a justification for continuing with evictions in the circumstances where the harm and risk cannot readily be reversed”.
A Nigerian refused asylum who had received an eviction notice from the Home Office brought the case that resulted in the court order.
Despite this order the eviction process continued. Lawyers sought an urgent out of hours court hearing to halt another threatened eviction that had appeared to be going ahead despite the court order issued the previous day. A 30 year old woman from the Caribbean whose asylum claim based on gender identity was refused, the Home Office cut off her financial support before an official from Home Office housing subcontractor Mears arrived at her door and handed her a pro-forma eviction letter showing the date she needed to leave the property – 11th November- which was handwritten into it.
She said: “I can see myself ending up on the streets. I have nowhere to go, my friends are asylum seekers and I am not allowed to stay at their accommodation. I have been diagnosed with anxiety and depression and have made two previous suicide attempts. I feel like an outcast”. The eviction letter she received stated ‘You need to leave this property by 11th November 2000. We understand it is a key step in your asylum journey’. The letter continued suggesting she contact Home Office contractor Migrant Help for post-eviction support, but when she did all they could offer was a list of food banks.
A solicitor at Greater Manchester Law Centre, Kathy Cosgrove, who secured the court order on behalf of the Nigerian asylum seeker, welcomed the order but expressed concern about the Home Office’s failure to commit to halting evictions. “The home secretary has failed to promise to cease evictions and protect not only former asylum seekers but the communities in which they live. The government claims to follow the science but appears to have not considered the public health impact of making hundreds of former asylum seekers destitute”.
Chief executive of Open Door North East, which has been supporting asylum seekers issued with eviction notices, Anna Lewis, said: “Over the last seven weeks the Home Office has sought to dehumanise the individuals further by seeking to remove food and shelter from those who do not agree to return to their country of origin – a process which has created intense anxiety among the people we serve. We have supported people who were told they had to leave their home on the day of lockdown or in the next few days but we were unable to give them any certainty they would be made safe”.