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by Bethany Rielly
A HOME Office policy which leaves asylum-seekers feeling “dehumanised” and “criminalised” must be scrapped, campaigners demanded today ahead of World Refugee Day.
People awaiting decisions on their asylum cases are often required to regularly report to Home Office sites, where they are subjected to “airport-style” security checks, including searches of their children’s prams.
Migrant, refugee and asylum-seeker solidarity groups rallied today outside the Home Office’s Vulcan House in Sheffield in a bid to draw attention to the “daily harm and violence that occurs at immigration reporting centres.”
The protest was part of a day of action calling for the Home Office to scrap immigration reporting as well as Home Secretary’s Priti Patel’s New Plan for Immigration, to coincide with Refugee Week.
Rosie Huzzard, from the Walls Must Fall campaign group, said that Vulcan House is a “site of violence” for asylum-seekers, but that there is little awareness of this among the British public.
Those who report at Vulcan House and other Home Office sites around the country face being detained every time they have an appointment.
“There is serious harm to people’s mental health as a result of having to go into these buildings,” Ms Huzzard told the Morning Star.
“Even though the number of times you need to sign compared to the number of times you’d be detained is fairly unlikely, because it could happen, every time they have an appointment, they can’t sleep, they get distressed, they get anxious.
“They also have to go through really serious checks when they arrive … as if they were criminals.”
Campaigners handed in a letter to Vulcan House today, outlining the harm that reporting inflicts on them and requesting a meeting with management.
“Like you, we are people with human dignity and yet our treatment on arriving at Vulcan House denies us that basic dignity,” the letter said.
“We are searched, our phones and possessions are confiscated, even our children in prams are searched and we are treated like suspects and criminals. The experience is demeaning and humiliating,” it said.
The Morning Star spoke to a refugee who was forced to sign on at Vulcan House for 11 years while waiting for a decision on his asylum claim.
“It was a frightening experience because you don’t know if you might be detained,” Victor Mujakachi, who is from Zimbabwe, said. “Every occasion, you don’t know when you’re going to come out.”
Before meeting with a Home Office case worker, Mr Mujakachi said that he first had to go through “airport-style security” which included being searched, putting his belongings through a scanner and taking off his belt.
“It is very violating,” he said. “You feel dehumanised because, [you ask] why are you treating me any differently from any other human being, only because I was not born in this country?”
Ms Huzzard said that the practice raises questions as to why asylum-seekers are subject to security checks while people signing on at the jobcentre are not.
“I would say these policies are racist and it’s about criminalising migrants,” she added.
Campaigners argue that the policy is not necessary and only serves to intimidate asylum-seekers and others subjected to immigration controls.
Last year the Home Office suspended in-person reporting for several months during the first lockdown, instead requiring people to report over the phone.
Ms Huzzard said that the brief respite from reporting reduced people’s stress, and she saw people who were previously depressed “suddenly seem brighter and lighter.”
Campaigners claim this also demonstrated that the policy is not necessary.
They hope that their campaign, launched this week, will pressure Vulcan House to drop immigration reporting, serving as an example for other sites.
A Home Office spokesperson, said: “Our policy remains unchanged – we only ask people to physically report where absolutely necessary. The vast majority of people on immigration bail are currently not required to report in person and remain in contact via telephone.”
The Home Office said that all visitors to Vulcan House are required to go through security, including having their bag searched or passed through an x-ray machine and must walk through a scanner and searched with a hand-held wand. It said this process is consistent across all Home Office buildings.
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