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Refused Asylum Seekers Have 21 days to Leave the UK

Over the past few years, we have written much about the UK’s hostile environment for migrants, and if recent news is anything to go by, this policy is still very much a core priority for the government. On 18th September 2020, the Independent ran an article entitled, “‘Reckless and irresponsible’: Home Office starts evicting asylum seekers despite warning of second wave”, explaining that affected migrants would only be given three weeks to leave. In this article, we will discuss the background to this announcement and the impact of COVID-19 on Government policy.

Why is the Home Office Evicting Vulnerable Migrants Amid a Second Wave of COVID-19?

As the Independent correctly points out, at the end of March 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic was growing rapidly in the UK, Home Office minister Chris Philp wrote to the British Red Cross to explain that asylum seekers whose claims had been rejected would be allowed to remain in their accommodation in line with the policy for people to remain in their homes to prevent to spread of the virus. Philp wrote, “The practical outcome is that those who would ordinarily have their support stopped because their asylum claims or appeal has been rejected, will remain accommodated… I expect this decision to considerably relieve pressures on local authorities”. It now seems that this temporary halt on the eviction of asylum seekers has come to an end.

In an effort to justify their actions, the UK Home Office stated, “The phased cessation of support has now begun in order to reduce the demand on the asylum system. We have been clear from the outset that this was a temporary measure which would be brought to an end as soon as it was safe to do so. Those who have received a negative asylum decision, which means they have no right to remain the UK, are given a 21-day grace period. During this time, they are expected to make steps to return to their country of origin while still remaining in accommodation and receiving support. Assistance is available for those who leave voluntarily, but for those who do not, enforcement action may be taken to facilitate removal.”

This might make some sense if COVID-19 was under control, but as we now face an exponential rise in cases as a likely second wave takes hold, this begs the question as to why the Home Office is doing this now; is it really “safe to do so”. By evicting thousands of asylum seekers from their accommodation, forcing many to become homeless as winter approaches, this will place those individuals and the public at greater risk of exposure to the virus, and put local authorities under considerable strain as they try to deal with the situation.

Asylum Seeker Charities Already Under Pressure due to COVID-19

Ordinarily, it would fall to charities to provide the accommodation and other services needed by vulnerable asylum seekers, however, coronavirus has made it all but impossible for such organisations to continue their normal operations. One such charity is the No Accommodation Network (NACCOM), which provides a range of assistance to destitute migrants in the UK. Of the pending evictions, NACCOM’s national director, Renae Mann, says “Over the last few months our members have told us how they are having to either shut down or rethink services entirely because of the pandemic. There was never enough capacity to meet the need before the pandemic – the gap now is starker than ever”.

Part of the problem, as explained by Mariam Kemple-Hardy, head of campaigns at Refugee Action, is that there has been no warning to allow for adequate preparation; “There has been no warning to ensure the system – including the voluntary sector – is prepared to cope with vulnerable people being turfed out onto the streets. The government must share what plans it has in place to protect people in the asylum system as the pandemic looks set to worsen with winter coming”.

Asylum Seeker Removal Flights Grounded

Many asylum seekers who would have been returned home in recent months have been unable to do so either due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, or as in a recent case, an order to halt their flight following a court order. In September 2020, high court judge, Sir Duncan Ouseley, ordered the cancellation of a flight which was due to remove 20 asylum seekers who had arrived in small boats after travelling across the Channel. Under the Dublin III convention, the UK is legally allowed to send migrants back an EU country through which they have travelled. The legal case was brought after the Guardian newspaper revealed that 11 Syrian asylum seekers had been flown back to Spain and ordered to leave Madrid airport without any further assistance being made available to them. As the Guardian says, “They were abandoned in the streets without food, water or shelter in temperatures of 32C”.

According to the Guardian, Russell Fortt, counsel for the home secretary, told the high court “Assurances have now been requested and have been given…. It is sufficient to ensure that on this occasion they [the Spanish authorities] have given the undertaking.”

Final Words

It can only be imagined how much damage the UK Home Office is inflicting on some highly vulnerable migrants who been traumatised by events in their home country. If you are an asylum seeker in the UK and have received a refusal from the Home Office, it is important to seek the help of immigration Solicitors as soon as possible. They may be able of help to fight your cause and provide you with the support and guidance that you need to ensure your protection and that of your immediate family members.

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