Our Mission

At GARAS (Gloucestershire Action for Refugees and Asylum Seekers) we offer support to those seeking asylum in Gloucestershire, welcoming them when they arrive, advocating for them in their daily struggles, supporting them if they face being sent back as well as helping them adjust to their long term future if they are recognised as refugees.

Contact Information

Gloucestershire Action for Refugees and Asylum Seekers (GARAS)
The Trust Centre
Falkner St
Gloucester
GL1 4SQ

Telephone: 01452 550528
email: info@garas.org.uk
www.garas.org.uk

Director
Adele Owen

Women in the News

January 16, 2014

This week, Beyonce has been in the news, saying that gender equality is not a reality yet.

Too right, when you read stories like these in the news: Of female foetuses reportedly being aborted, and British Kurdish women being strip searched and robbed by the police in the UK.

A lot more needs to change.   International Women’s Day on Sat 8th March 2014 can’t come soon enough.

Here at GARAS we have a dedicated women’s worker, who is here to give advice and support to vulnerable women in Gloucestershire (who may be the victim of domestic abuse; trafficking; or destitute through the asylum system).  If you would like to find out more or help support this work, please visit www.garas.org.uk .

Shopping vouchers for Officers who succeed in asylum seekers losing their appeals

January 15, 2014

Current Home Office practice is exposed here.

Our experience working with clients echoes the belief of Duncan Lewis, that clients with credible cases about to go to appeal, turn up to court only to find the Home Office have withdrawn their decision.  This leads to a time of ‘limbo’ where clients wait, without any timescale, for a new decision and new court date.  All the while living in uncertainty about their future status in Britain.

You can contact your MP to raise concerns about these practices.

Refugee Boy takes to the stage

January 14, 2014

Benjamin Zephaniah’s book ‘Refugee Boy’ is one of our recommended reads on our website.

The book is now taking to the stage.  Here are the venues showing the productions:

Thu, 6th February 2014 to Sat, 8th February 2014
West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds»
Tue, 11th February 2014 to Thu, 13th February 2014
Southbank Centre, West End»
Thu, 27th February 2014 to Sat, 1st March 2014
Hull Truck Theatre, Hull»
Tue, 4th March 2014 to Sat, 8th March 2014
New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich»
Wed, 12th March 2014 to Sat, 15th March 2014
Citizens Theatre, Glasgow»
Tue, 18th March 2014 to Sat, 22nd March 2014
Northern Stage (previously known as Newcastle Haymarket Playhouse), Newcastle upon Tyne» {1}
Tue, 25th March 2014 to Wed, 26th March 2014
The Playhouse, Oxford»
Tue, 8th April 2014 to Sat, 12th April 2014
Birmingham Repertory Theatre, Birmingham»
For more info, check out this review from the Guardian.

Changes – what changes?

December 19, 2013

It’s slightly puzzling to read in the press that from January, Europeans coming to the UK will have to wait three months before they can claim unemployment benefits.  In our experience, this is already the case!  It may come from a different point of law.  But currently, people who come here on their European passports have to be in the country for three months before they can pass the ‘Habitual Residence Test’ part of benefit claims.  This seems to be a vote winning strategy rather than anything that will make a difference in practice.

The latest reaction to…

October 10, 2013

News of the latest immigration bill coming into force soon.

Live reaction to this article.  BBC in black, comments in red…

May: Living in UK to get tougher for illegal immigrants

Home Secretary Theresa May says illegal immigrants will find it much harder to settle in UK under planned new laws.

The Immigration Bill would force private landlords to quiz tenants about their immigration status and restrict access to bank accounts for people in the UK illegally.

It also aims to streamline the appeals process in immigration cases.

Labour said the bill did nothing about bigger problems like the “shambolic” state of UK border controls.

The bill will include measures to allow the UK to “deport foreign criminals first and hear their appeal later” how and where will they ‘hear their appeal? when there is “no risk of serious irreversible harm”. how do they know this and how will they monitor what happens to them upon return?

A requirement is also included for temporary migrants, such as overseas students, to make a contribution to the National Health Service to prevent so-called “health tourism”.

Other new measures include:

  • New powers to check driving licence applicants’ immigration status These are already very rigorous. You have to send passport or photographic ID from the Home Office. If you don’t have these, you have to send six forms of ID, which are extremely difficult (ie impossible) to get hold of if you don’t have leave to remain from the Home Office.
  • Cut the number of deportation decisions that can be appealed against from 17 to four There seems to be a lot of reaction to the Abu Qatada case. Most cases do not reach the level of headlines and the media coverage has been biased to the point that the bigger picture has disappeared.
  • Restrict the ability of immigration detainees to apply repeatedly for bail if they have previously been refused it It is very hard for those detained with no time limit imprisoned in immigration detention. The charity BID  do a very good work – check out their website- their resources are limited though and they can’t help everybody, so people have to put in their own bail applications.  No wonder they have to try several times.  Could you write a bail application with no previous experience, in a different country, in another language?!  I’d be flummoxed!
  • Make it easier for the Home Office to recover unpaid civil penalties Using bailiffs who are hard to communicate with?
  • Clamp down on people who try to gain an immigration advantage by entering into a “sham” marriage or civil partnership This makes it ridiculously difficult for people who genuinely want to get married and tie the knot. This is an infringement of their Human Rights (right to family life).
  • Require banks to check against a database of known immigration offenders before opening bank accounts Have you tried opening a bank account recently for someone who has been granted Refugee status? It’s very difficult.  What about those who have a criminal record but then later their life situation changes and they have paperwork and need to open a bank account, examples of this would be to pay wages into a bank account, Child Benefit and everyday living!  Is there any reprieve for them?  (Well sounds like they’ll probably not be given paperwork in the first place?! )

Immigration minister Mark Harper said: “The Immigration Bill will stop migrants using public services to which they are not entitled, reduce the pull factors which encourage people to come to the UK and make it easier to remove people who should not be here. This so called “pull factor” has always been a good scapegoat, but where’s the hard evidence? As for stopping to use public services, what about the risks to people’s health and the knock on effects for others? This is endangering people’s lives.

“We will continue to welcome the brightest and best migrants who want to contribute to our economy and society and play by the rules. But the law must be on the side of people who respect it, not those who break it.” Often ‘the brightest and best migrants’ are the most vulnerable: people came here to seek safety, from the cream of the crop back home – often well educated and experienced. If they become a victim to the ‘culture of disbelief’ pervading in the Home Office and refused asylum, they become party to all the restrictions that cut them off from society, life, housing and the ability to work and contribute.

Mrs May said the measures were about “making it harder for people who are here illegally to stay here”. Charming. Many people such as failed asylum seekers cannot return home for safety fears. If they try to leave the country, to try and seek sanctuary somewhere else, in a more welcoming and accepting country, they are landed with a criminal conviction and this makes their immigration case ten times worse.

She said it was a “point of principle” that people who used public services should be expected to contribute to them, but she would not comment on the cost to the country of “health tourism”. But the government doesn’t let asylum seekers work. Surely people should be able to work, even if it is only on a self- employed basis. People are wired to work and desperate to do so. It can contribute to worsening mental health – and thus the need for treatment – and lead people to take illegal work, be vulnerable and prone to exploitation or criminal convictions if these restrictions on employment continue.

She denied claims that forcing private landlords to check the immigration status of prospective tenants would be unworkable, saying they would just be “required to ask some simple questions” in the same way that employers have to do when interviewing workers. In just the same way that many refugees and people with leave to remain, or whose visa still has time on it, are turned away from work, for fear of making a mistake or the want of an easy life. It will make it harder for those with leave to secure tenancies; increase homelessness. And where will these people go? They cannot access emergency housing or shelters. They often don’t sleep rough – and if they do they will fall ill. The pressure will be on those who are securely housed to look after them, as they are often more welcoming than the powers that be, and the hidden effect of this is that some households are close to bursting and it makes it difficult for them. Check out ‘Not gone but forgotten’ by the Red Cross for grit on the hidden side of destitution.

But an organisation representing private and public sector landlords said the measures would “make it much harder for non-British people to access housing even when they have a legal right to live in the UK”. But why? This is discrimination plain and simple. Have you not heard of the Equality Act? Has an impact assessment been done on this? The government has signed up to the 1951 Geneva Convention on the Rights of a Refugee. Why make it harder for refugees to be housed when they have gone through so much already?! Simply bizarre. Even people who are eligible to apply for British citizenship may not choose to do so, or be able to, because of the huge cost involved and many barriers and hoops to jump through to do so.

Gavin Smart, director of policy and practice at the Chartered Institute of Housing, said: “Checking immigration status is complicated so landlords may shy away from letting to anyone who appears not to be British.” Indeed. It will probably deter people who don’t “look” British too.

Don Flynn, director of Migrants’ Rights Network, criticised moves to restrict access to the NHS, saying: “There are very small numbers of migrants who come here with pre-existing health conditions and find themselves registering with the health service.

“I simply do not believe there is any significant evidence that something like the NHS is a pull factor.” Quite

‘Increasingly shambolic’ Hear hear

The British Medical Association (BMA) is also critical of the plans.

Dr Richard Vautrey, deputy chairman of the BMA’s GPs committee, told BBC Radio 5live there is already a system in place for hospitals to recover the cost of treating patients who are ineligible for NHS care. And it goes against their future immigration applications.

“Clearly that could be improved, but introducing a system for general practice could be a bureaucratic nightmare,” he said.

“The reality is people don’t come to the UK to use the NHS, they’re more likely to come to work in the NHS.” Excellent. What would we do without them

Labour said there was nothing in the bill to tackle problems at the UK’s “increasingly shambolic” border controls or to deal with “long delays in getting electronic checks in place, or the UKBA (UK Border Agency) bureaucratic failings that have prevented foreign criminals being deported”.

The Conservatives say they want to reduce net migration from non-EU countries – the difference between the number of people emigrating and arriving in the UK – to less than 100,000 a year.

But the latest Office for National Statistics figures show net migration rose to 176,000 in the year ending December 2012 – up from 153,000 people in the year to September 2012 – appearing to buck the recent downward trend.

There are no official estimates of the number of illegal immigrants in the UK. A 2009 study by the London School of Economics produced an estimate of 618,000 but the Migration Watch pressure group said this under-estimated the number of people who had overstayed their visas and the true figure was more like 1.1 million.

Have you been affected by the issues raised in this story? You can send us your thoughts and experiences using the form below. Comments are plain to see here!