A candle on a table with a soothing bokeh background.

Signed statement: safe routes, compassion and fairness need to be at heart of Government’s approach to people seeking sanctuary

Following the tragic deaths of at least 27 people in the English Channel – including children – it is time for serious action. We cannot stand by and let this Government’s harsh rhetoric and ill-thought-out approach go unchecked.  

This Government’s policy of grabbing cheap headlines and blaming the French authorities while paying them millions of pounds to build fences around the Channel ports has not worked. Now people fleeing conflict, persecution and war have paid the ultimate price. We know from the warehouses overflowing with donations for Afghan refugees that the public believes in the right to seek safety. That same public cannot stand for this.  

Instead of trying to blame people seeking safety for its own failures, this Government must step up to its responsibilities and focus on saving lives. 

For a start, parliamentarians must rethink the Nationality and Borders Bill. Not only will these new laws take a wrecking ball to the very principle of refugee protection, but we know they are unworkable. They will push desperate people further into the arms of smuggling gangs and will only inflame our international partners who we need to work with to ensure people seeking sanctuary can do so safely. 

We also need a cast-iron commitment from this Government that it will not pursue its policies on offshoring or pushbacks, which will cause even more harm and make deaths in the Channel even more likely.  

Above all, this tragedy shows how urgent it is for this Government to work with its international partners to create more routes to safety for refugees. This Government demands refugees take official routes, but for most people, these simply do not exist. Refugees are left with little option but to arrive here hidden in a plane or lorry or crammed onto a small boat.  

We are calling on this Government to make a long-term commitment to: 

  • create a compassionate asylum system that treats all people seeking asylum in the UK with kindness and dignity 
  • resettle at least 10,000 refugees each year from around the world 
  • reinstate the Dubs Agreement to protect child refugees from exploitation 
  • expand family reunion so that more people can be reunited with their loved ones 
  • introduce a humanitarian corridor 

We ask the Government to sit down with people who’ve gone through the asylum system, and their advocates, to create a new, more compassionate, and effective process which puts safety first. Now, if ever, is the time to do so. 

Signed by 

Barrow Cadbury Trust, Dame Sara Llewellin DBE

Ben & Jerry’s, Rebecca Baron, European Head of Activism

Refugee Action, Tim Naor Hilton, CEO 

Refugee Council, Enver Solomon, CEO 

Freedom From Torture, Sonya Sceats, CEO 

Scottish Refugee Council, Sabir Zazai, CEO 

Asylum Matters, Andrea Vukovic & Paul Hook, Co-directors 

Abigail Housing, Amanda Church-Mcfarlane, Co-Chief Executive Officer  

Action for Refugees in Lewisham, Sophie Wickham, Director 

ACH, Fuad Mahamed, CEO 

Allies for Justice, Steven Shyaka, Lived experience campaigns coordinator  

Amber Film and Photography Collective Laura Laffler, Director

Art Refuge, Bobby Lloyd, CEO

Asylum Aid, Ian Kane, Legal Services Manager 

Asylum Link Merseyside, Ewan Roberts, Centre Manager 

Asylum Support Appeals Project  

Asylum Welcome, Mark Goldring, Director 

AVID (Association of Visitors to Immigration Detainees), Ali McGinley, Director 

Baca, Jimmy Zachariah, CEO 

Bail for Immigration Detainees, Annie Viswanathan, Director 

Big Leaf Foundation, Evie Booton, Campaigns Coordinator 

Birmingham City of Sanctuary, David Brown, Chair

Birmingham Schools of Sanctuary, Barbara Forbes, Coordinator

Baobab Centre For Young Survivors in Exile, Jodie Bourke, Senior Manager 

Boaz Trust, Ros Holland, Chef Executive 

Body & Soul, Emma Colyer, Director  

Bradford City of Sanctuary, Will Sutcliffe, Chair 

Breaking Barriers, Matthew Powell, CEO  

Bristol Defend the Asylum Seekers Campaign, Jo Benefield, Coordinator 

Bristol Reclaiming Independent Living (BRIL), Mark Williams, Founder 

British Association of Social Workers, Dr Ruth Allen, Chief Executive 

Bromsgrove and Redditch Welcome Refugees, Yvonne Rendell, Chair 

Calais Action, Libby Freeman & Caroline Gregory, Founder 

Cambridge Convoy Refugee Action Group, Catharine Walston, Chair of Executive Committee 

Campaign Bootcamp, Sarah Miguel, Co-Leader 

CARAS, Eleanor Brown, Director 

Care4Calais, Clare Moseley, Founder  

Caritas Diocese of Shrewsbury, Ben Gilchrist, CEO 

Carlisle Key, Diana Vlad & Iain McNee, Housing Support Officer and Operational Manager 

Channel Rescue, Kim Bryan, Co-founder  

Choose Love, Cherno Jagne, COO  

Citizens of the World Choir, Becky Dell and Matilda James, Musical Director and Exec Producer 

City of Sanctuary Sheffield, Tom Martin, Director 

City of Sanctuary UK, Sian Summers-Rees, Chief Officer  

Civic Leicester, Ambrose Musiyiwa, Facilitator

Children England, Chloë Darlington, Policy and Communications Manager

Common Space Common Humanity, Dave Plumb, Coordinator 

Compass Collective, Leah Gayer, Co-director  

Coventry Refugee and Migrant Centre, Toni Soni, Centre Director 

Curious Monkey, Zoe Connel, Project Coordinator for Arriving 

Detention Action, Bella Sankey, Director 

Doctors of the World, Ellen Waters, Director of Development 

Donate4Refugees, Amber Bauer, Founder 

ECPAT UK (Every Child Protected Against Trafficking), Patricia Durr, CEO 

Equanicity, Cryton Chikoko, Co-founder 

FAST (First Aid Support Team), Nynke van Dijck, Founder  

Fences & Frontiers, Lewis Garland, Founder / Chair 

FODI (Sunderland), Steve Newman, Chair 

Good Chance Theatre, Naomi Webb, Executive Director 

Govan Community Project, Traci Kirkland, Head of Charity  

Greater Manchester Immigration Aid Unit, Denise McDowell, Chief Executive 

Haringey Migrant Support Centre  

Hastings Community of Sanctuary, Jane Grimshaw & Polly Gifford, Co-Chairs 

Hay Brecon and Talgarth Sanctuary for Refugees , Ailsa Dunn, Secretary 

Helen Bamber Foundation, Kerry Smith, CEO 

Herne Hill Welcomes Refugees, Terry Morin, Chair 

Herts for Refugees, Angus Clark, CEO 

Homeless Network Scotland, Maggie Brunjes, Chief Executive 

Hope for the Young, Matt Blacker, CEO 

HOPE not hate, Nick Lowles, CEO 

Hope Projects, Phil Davis, Director 

Host Nottingham, Rebecca Kogan, Project Coordinator 

Humans for Rights Network, Maddie Harris, Director/Founder 

IMIX, Emma Harrison, CEO 

Immigration Law Practioners’ Association, Nicole Francis , Chief Executive 

Interfaith Scotland, Maureen Sier, Director 

JRS UK, Sarah Teather, Director 

Justice and Peace Scotland (Catholic) Bishops’ Conference of Scotland, Jill Kent  

Justice First, Jason Hussein, Project Manager 

Kids in Need of Defense UK (KIND UK), Katie Fennell, National Coordinator 

KRAN, Dr Razia Shariff, CEO 

Latin American Women’s Rights Service, Elizabeth Jiménez-Yáñez & Dolores Modern, Policy co-coordinators 

Leeds Destitute Asylum-seekers Support, Jenny Willison, Trustee 

Lewisham Refugee and Migrant Network, Rosario Guimba-Stewart, Chief Executive 

Liberal Democrats for Seekers of Sanctuary, John Skipworth, Chair of Council 

Liberty, Martha Spurrier, Director 

LOSRAS (Lewes Supports Refugees), Gill Tipping, Co-Chair 

Love Welcomes, Abi Hewitt, CEO / Founder 

Love 146, Philip Ishola, CEO 

Malvern Green Space  

Methodist Church, Geoff Charlton, Local Preacher 

Micro Rainbow, Sebastian Rocca, CEO

Migrant Destitution Fund, Sian Mullen, Action Group Member 

Migration Mobilities Bristol, Bridget Anderson, Director 

Migrants’ Rights Network, Fizza Qureshi, CEO 

Migrant Voice, Nazek Ramadan, Executive Director 

NACCOM, Bridget Young, Director  

NATECLA, Rachel Öner, Co-Chair 

Norfolk Schools of Sanctuary, Jake Rose-Brown, Founder 

North East Law Centre, Rachel McPeake, Project Administrator 

Nurses United UK, Anthony Johnson, Registered Nurse and Lead Organiser 

O’s Refugee Aid Team, Onjali Rauf, Founder and Author 

Open Aye, Becky Duncan, Director

Our Second Home, Amos Schonfield, Director 

Pathways Trust, Tara Pollitt, Operations Manager 

Pollination, Yasmine Balfour-Lynn, Co-Founder 

Praxis, Sally Daghlian OBE, CEO 

Race Equality Foundation, Jabeer Butt OBE, CEO 

Rainbow Home (North East England), Alessandra Mondin, Project worker 

Rainbow Migration, Leila Zadeh, Executive Director 

RAMFEL, James Tullett, CEO 

Reading City of Sanctuary, Maggie Filipova Rivers, Manager 

Reading Refugee Support Group, Nick  Harborne, CEO 

RefuAid, Anna Jones, Co Founder 

Refugee Action, Lizzie Hobbs, GPP Team Administrator 

Refugee Education UK, Catherine Gladwell, Chief Executive 

Refugee Legal Support (RLS), Efi Stathopoulou, Programmes Manager 

Refugee ReSETTLEment, Paul  Kelly, Project leader 

Refugee support East London and Essex, Pam Derwin, Admin   

Refugee Survival Trust, Elaine Cameron, CEO 

Refugee Trauma Initiative, Zarlasht Halaimzai, CEO and Co-Founder 

Restore (a project of Birmingham Churches Together), Jeremy Thompson, Manager 

Right to Remain, Lisa Matthews  

Room to Heal, Elli Free, Director 

Routes, Daisy Jacobs & Leyla McLennan, Co-directors 

Royal College of Nursing, Geoff Earl, Council Member (personal capacity) 

Runnymede Trust, Alba Kapoor, Senior Policy Officer 

Rural Refugee Network, Nadia Potts, CEO 

Safe Passage, Beth Gardiner Smith, CEO 

Samphire, Indre Lechtimiakyte, Legal and Migrant Support Manager 

Say It Loud Club, Aloysius Salle, Executive Director 

Screen Share UK, Moses Seitler, Director 

Scotswood Garden, Karen Dobson, CEO 

Seeking Sanctuary, Phil Kerton, Co-Director 

Settle Area Refugee Support, Angie Pedley, Treasurer 

Social Workers Without Borders, Naomi Jackson 

Solidarity With Refugees, Ros Ereira , Director 

Sophie Hayes Foundation, Red Godfrey-Sagoo, CEO 

Southampton & Winchester Visitors Group, Chris Stephens, Chair of Trustees 

Southampton Action, Nikki Walters, Chair 

Stand for All, Daniel Sohege, Director 

Stories of Hope and Home, Stephanie Neville, Project Manager 

Student Action for Refugees, Emily Crowley, Chief Executive  

Swindon City of Sanctuary, Nicola Wood, Charity Manager 

Tees Valley of Sanctuary, Suzanne Fletcher, Housing Co-ordinator 

The Cotton Tree Trust, Janet Gilbert, General Manager 

The Iona Community, Robert Swinfen, Convenor of Migration & Asylum Network 

The Jewish Council for Racial Equality (JCORE), Dr Edie Friedman, Executive Director 

The Mercy Hub, Jeremy Cain, Coordinator 

The Pickwell Foundation, Susannah Baker, Founder 

The Refugee Rights Project, Izzy Hughes, Founder 

The William Gomes Podcast, William Gomes, Director 

the3million, Nicolas Hatton, CEO 

Together with Migrant Children, Nick Watts & Jane Goldsmid, Co-Directors 

Trauma Foundation South West, Judy Ryde, Founder/Clinical Director 

UKCEN, Claudia Holmes, Founder  

Vauxhall Community Law and Information Centre, Siobhan Taylor-Ward, Solicitor 

Voices in Exile, Mel Steel, Director 

Voices Without Borders, Joss Duncan & Ewa Lelontko, Co-founders 

Waging Peace, Maddy Crowther & Sonja Miley, Co-Executive Directors 

West Cumbria Refugee Support Network, Kelly Davis, Chair 

West End Refugee Service, Hannah Barnes, Director  

Women for Refugee Women, Alphonsine Kabagabo, Director 

Young Roots, Jo Cobley, CEO 

Doncaster Conversation Club, Jan Foster, Trustee 

Skipton Town of Sanctuary, Alan Hickman, Town Councillor 

Green Kordofan, Raga Gibreel, Director 

Refugees for Justice, Dylan Fotoohi, Director  

Entraide (Mutual Aid), Felix Kupay, Chair 

South Yorkshire Migration and Asylum Action Group, Stuart Crosthwaite, Secretary 

Faversham and Villages Refugee Solidarity Group, Clarissa Hanna, Chair 

Kent Kindness, Jo Taylor, Chair 

Harrogate district of sanctuary, Pat Ki, membership secretary 

Birch Network, Dr Andrew Jolly, Chair of Trustees 

FreedVoices, Chibong Lucas,  

Refugee Women of Bristol, Layla Ismail, Development Manager 

Making Rights Real, Clare MacGillivray, Director 

St Chad’s Sanctuary CIO, Abigail Martin, Project Manager 

Flintshire City of Sanctuary, Maire Greaney, Secretary & Trustee 

Destitution Project Bolton, Shaheda Mangerah, Senior Caseworker for asylum seekers & refugees 

D6: Culture in Transit, Clymene Christoforou, Director 

Southeast Integration Network, Ruth Cape, Development Manager 

Refuweegee, Selina Hales, CEO 

Herefordshire City of Sanctuary, Jeff Beatty, Chair.

windrush compensation scheme document

Windrush learnings: Not much progress toward a fairer and more compassionate asylum system

The Windrush scandal exposed systemic Home Office failures that caused financial loss and emotional distress to many people. There are significant parallels between the Windrush nightmare and the suffering of others who experience the UK asylum and immigration systems.

We have submitted our perspective on the progress that the Home Office has made against the Windrush recommendations to a parliamentary inquiry. Here’s a summary:

  • Rushed and inaccessible consultation process: The New Plan for Immigration consultation ran for less than two months (24 March2021 to 6 May 2021) and stakeholders raised concerns about the inaccessibility of the consultation to those people who are in or have been through the asylum process. Attempts to include people with lived experience in the process were an afterthought and those meetings only took place after the consultation had closed. It is therefore unclear to what extent the responses were considered when drafting the subsequent Nationality and Borders Bill, which had its first reading in parliament only [insert amount of time] after the consultation period ended.
  • Willingness to improve practice in LGB asylum interview training: We welcomed the Home Office consulting us on the LGB asylum interview training, which they did earlier this year.
  • Raising the standard of proof isn’t in line with “a more compassionate approach”: Our concerns about the proposal in the Nationality and Borders Bill to raise the standard of proof for proving someone is LGBTQI+ have been acknowledged by this government, but we were disappointed to learn that the Home Office would only “review and update the training and guidance provided to decision-makers”. More detailed questioning will not resolve this issue.
  • Risks of indirect discrimination and lack of evidence for the new Bill: The government’s Equality and Impact Assessment for the Bill agrees that there is a risk of indirect discrimination yet the only proposal is to address it is to provide “training and guidance. The Home Office already has training and guidance on different areas but this has frequently not been enough to resolve issues such as using delay in claiming asylum as a reason for disbelieving someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity. Furthermore, more monitoring data on LGBTQI+ people in the asylum system is needed.
  • External views not always considered: Although the Home Office set up a stakeholder group to discuss and try to resolve the issues around access to legal advice for people seeking asylum, we don’t believe views have been taken into consideration during the consultation process and the drafting of the Nationality and Borders Bill.
  • Insufficient willingness to enact positive change: We believe that there is willingness by many within the Home Office to improve, however their ability to enact positive change seems to be constrained by those more senior to them.

windrush compensation scheme document

two gay men kissing

Home Office failing LGB asylum applicants

A new report published this week has found that Home Office targets are preventing asylum decision-makers from adequately assessing claims based on sexual orientation.

The report by the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration reveals that an internal Home Office review in 2019 found that there had been a widespread failure to gather the information needed to enable a robust decision to be made LGB asylum claims.

The review also highlighted that claims based on sexual orientation can require an extensive interview or a longer period of analysis and reflection than other cases in order to reach a decision, but that this was being hampered by weekly productivity targets for staff.

In addition, the Chief Inspector found decision records showing a lack of consideration of the fact that not every LGB person who is seeking asylum is comfortable or able to express their emotions articulately, including to a decision-maker who they don’t know or through an interpreter.

Evidence provided by stakeholders and included in the report suggest that too often LGBTQI+ claims are held to a higher standard of proof than the “reasonable degree of likelihood”, which is required in asylum claims at the present time.

An internal review by the Home Office in 2020 had similarly concluded that improvements were needed in application of the standard of proof.

We warned that the Nationality and Borders Bill, which is making its way through parliament, will increase the standard of proof to a higher level of “balance of probabilities”, meaning that that LGBTQI+ people will face an even higher hurdle than they currently do to “prove” their sexual orientation.

Our Executive Director, Leila Zadeh said “as the Nationality and Borders Bill is discussed in parliament, this report is a timely reminder of how incredibly difficult it already is for LGBTQI+ people who are fleeing persecution to ’prove’ who they are in order to get safety in the UK”, and added, “if the Bill passes with this clause, more LGBTQI+ people will be refused asylum and face return to countries where they will be persecuted and their lives will be at risk”.

A refugee sitting in a chair with a book in front of him.

From refugee to trustee

The difference between Refugee and Asylum Seeker might not seem like much to someone on the street but for a lot of us, it is the bridge between life and death. I went through the process of asylum eight years ago and although so much time has passed since then and I have become a British citizen, the anguish and uncertainty of the entire process stays with me. It took a lot of psychological counselling and therapy to manage of the night sweats and nightmares but every now and then I get a reminder.

I recently became a trustee of Rainbow Migration, it was a very emotional albeit happy day for me. I always wanted to be part of someone else’s story and help them the way I got help.  Like so many people who walk through the doors of Rainbow Migration, I was scared and anxious. I didn’t know how much to reveal. Luckily, I found out about it at the weekend so I took the entire weekend and browsed through the articles and then the message board. I read the stories of other people who’d been through the process. I felt calmer that I was in the hands of people who knew what they were doing.

It took a few weeks before I could attend an evening session and get my taster of what it would be like working with a lawyer on my case. The information I’d read earlier was already helping me. I registered myself and requested to be matched with a lawyer. I was able to afford a lawyer without Legal Aid and quickly started working with the recommended firm.

During the time I was waiting for the lawyer appointment, I started writing a very detailed personal statement starting all the way from my birth to the present day. I left nothing out. It not only helped me a lot later but it also felt somewhat cathartic and I felt a huge burden lifting off my shoulders to be able to finally say everything.

I kept attending Rainbow Migration meetings despite working with my lawyer and it gave a wealth of information not only from the lawyers but also about other things that came up with people’s questions. Once I started working with my lawyer, things started to progress quickly. I asked my friends, my ex-partner and everyone I could think of to provide letters of support and they all obliged. It was an overwhelming feeling that so many people were supporting me with this difficult process.

It was a difficult time; I was mentally numb and jaded. The uncertainty was the real downer for me. Luckily, I had finished my degree by then and took on some free online learning to keep myself busy. I couldn’t even volunteer at this time.

Finally, it was the day, after all the hard work, the seemingly endless statement editing, the back and forth with letters, collecting newspaper evidence and translation of documents, the moment of truth was here.

On the way to Croydon, I floated slightly out of my body, the prospect of detention was unbearable for me. The presence of my lawyer helped me massively. We waited and waited and waited and finally after a wait of six hours they called me, registered and gave me a registration card and I could leave with the schedule of registration every other week.

I could finally breathe; it was a real mind-bender how a government claiming to help you in the name of humanity could put you in detention when your life is at stake. I was very punctual with my fortnightly attendance at the London Bridge centre. I didn’t want to give any excuse to the Home Office to reject my case.

My second interview call came a month later and again I was prepared and this time more confident. I looked around on the internet and also asked my lawyer and prepared answers to as many questions as I could in light of my own circumstances. That timeline I had prepared really helped here.

On the day, I arrived with my lawyer with a really chunky file full of evidence, support letters and statement. My interview started and I felt the anxiety kick in but I reminded myself how much I needed this and calmed myself down. I answered all the questions in a matter of fact way with only as much detail as necessary. The interviewer did try to trick me a little by asking about the timings of the claim but it went fine with reasonable explanation. I could see my lawyer was pleased.

I returned with real hope and on 12th of December, a month later, I got a letter that I could barely open, my hands and leg shook until I saw the words ‘claim accepted’. I had to sit down to calm myself and finally I got calm enough, I started dancing and my flatmate joined me and we celebrated with a dinner.

That night I cried really hard, it was a sobering reality that I couldn’t go back to any of the places I cherished as a child, couldn’t meet anyone from my family and friends I loved dearly all because of my sexuality. I had to build my life from scratch. I buried that desolation under my pillow and never looked back.

I woke up the next morning, applied for a travel document and started looking for jobs. It has been eight years in 2020 since all that happened but I remember every bit of it so vividly. I thought life would become easier alone I got asylum but the last eight years up until I became a British citizen were a stark reminder that the struggle doesn’t end there. The Home Office rejected visas for my parents twice when they wanted to come and be my side due to surgery (they are doctors).

It is all over now though, I have a pattern in life, I do yoga, I have a successful, fulfilling career and I found my passions in life; travelling. I have been to 53 countries in the last 7 years and counting. I love writing about my experiences, you can check my blog here and YouTube channel here.

Disclaimer: This is a personal account of an asylum application made several years ago. Everyone's case and journey of applying for asylum is different. We have a guide on applying for asylum and if you have questions about asylum you can contact us for legal advice or find a lawyer independently.