Asylum seekers and trafficking victims are once again being forced to travel miles on public transport, despite lockdown restrictions, as the Home Office insists they must continue to report in person.
People who are currently waiting for a decision regarding their application to remain in the UK, including modern slavery victims and torture survivors, are regularly required to sign on at a Home Office reporting location.
This requirement was ‘suspended temporarily’ in March due to the pandemic, but in August and September the Home Office sent texts to people stating that they must begin reporting in person again ‘due to the easing of Covid lockdown measures’.
Since the government announced the second lockdown telling people to ‘stay at home’ where possible – migrants with reporting conditions have been informed that they must continue to sign on with the Home Office in person.
Charities say that this is ‘neither legitimate or proportionate’ and that it indicates the Home Office is prioritising its ‘hostile environment’ agenda over the health and safety of communities.
Lawyers from Duncan Lewis Solicitors are in the process of challenging this policy arguing that in person reporting should not be resumed in anyone’s case without an individual individualised review as to whether it is necessary in the circumstances during the pandemic.
Asylum seekers have indicated their shock and fear that they are still being required to travel to sign on, fearful that it could lead to contracting the virus.
A 61 year old asylum seeker had to make a journey of more than an hour to a Home Office reporting centre in London Bridge in order to comply with her reporting conditions. The Cameroonian national who has resided in the UK for 23 years on a spouse visa through her late husband is now fighting an asylum claim, and feels that the Home Office should do what they did last time and enable them to socially distance. The migrant who suffers from diabetes was fearful when she had to take the journey to report, which involved a bus and train journey. There is a lot of hostility against migrants and this is shown when making these journeys.
Many of the asylum seekers have to make journey’s of more than an hour, changing buses and trains and on arriving at the centres are met by queue’s of many people all in close contact.
Director and solicitor at the Anti Trafficking and Labour Exploitation Unit (ATLEU), Victoria Marks, said: “During the first lockdown in person immigration reporting was suspended without any adverse consequences”, yet we are seeing vulnerable survivors of trafficking and slavery, many with fragile health, being forced to take unnecessary personal risks during a second lockdown”. Such a policy is neither legitimate nor proportionate, and exposes the Home Office’s callous attitude towards the victims it should be trying to protect”.
Legal organiser at charity Migrants Organise, Brian Dikoff said he was alarmed by the Home Office’s ‘reckless’ decision to maintain reporting conditions during the second lockdown and that it was ‘completely contradictory to the government’s strategy of containing the virus.
“We strongly take issue with the Home Office’s prioritisation of its ‘hostile environment’ agenda over the health and safety of communities.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “We are satisfied that it is appropriate to continue with face to face reporting for the priority individuals we have identified”. “We have significantly changed how we interact and all centres are now Covid secure. Safety is of the utmost importance and we continue to monitor the impact of the pandemic on physical reporting”.