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The Big Issue Changemakers of 2023: Refugees and asylum

The government’s humanitarian record took ever darker turns last year, but there is still hope for displaced people in the UK in 2023, thanks to these changemakers

SOAS

Footage taken by SOAS during protests in October of conditions in Manston was shared on social media, leading to national outrage

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With the government’s increasingly hard-line stance on human rights and immigration, these are The Big Issue’s Changemakers doing all they can in 2023 to protect the rights of people seeking a better life.

Find the rest of the series on the links below and pick up the magazine from your local Big Issue vendor.

Bail for Immigration Detainees 

What was 2022 like for BID?  

Last year we witnessed grave attacks on our human rights in the UK. The Nationality and Borders Act combined with the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022, the Judicial Review and Courts Act and the proposed overhaul of the Human Rights Act represents a power-grab that seeks to make the government unchallengeable, silence dissent and erode the institutions that hold it to account.  

But we also witnessed incredible resilience, resistance, coordination and creativity from our team and the human rights sector as a whole. 

What was BID’s greatest achievement?  

Last year we helped gain the release of 313 people who were granted bail, defeating the government when it tried to hold people in detention. We also helped to reunite 128 parents who had been separated from their 284 children.  

BID light up the Home Office
In June 2022, BID’s projection lit up the Home Office’s immigration reporting centre to mark 10 years of the hostile environment in the UK. Photo: Bail for Immigration Detainees

What are your plans for 2023? 

Immigration law and policy remains a central plank of divisive politics. We will resist attempts to introduce draconian measures at every step. This will include attempts to send people fleeing persecution to far-flung countries such as Rwanda; the expansion of the use of immigration detention; and legislation to further restrict the rights of migrants.  

What does BID think is urgently needed? 

BID believes people need to be treated with humanity, with account taken of the hardship they’ve faced, or the presence of their families in the UK. Only by recognising the ties people have to this country can we overcome the history of racism and oppression that has formed the UK’s immigration policy. 

Samphire Project

Supporting migrants and detainees. Kay Marsh is media and advocacy manager
 

Kay Marsh of Samphire Project
Kay Marsh of Samphire Project. Photo: Eliza Pitkin

What was 2022 like for Samphire?  

Last year was a challenge. War and unrest overseas, changes in govern­ment, humanitarian crisis on our doorstep with Manston detention centre, far-right terror attack here in Dover, more needless deaths in the channel, the list just goes on. But through everything, we were there and we made our voice heard. 

Why is your work needed?  

The people we help directly through our emergency helpline have no other support whatsoever. When people call us they are desperate. The practical and emotional support we are able to offer is a lifeline to our clients when they have nowhere else to turn. 

Also now more than ever, public opinion on migration is so divided. With rampant inflammatory news and growing concerns over the cost-of-living crisis it is no wonder people are worried and confused. It is important groups like ours are there to counter the anti-migrant rhetoric and offer a more humanitarian view of the situation.  

What are your plans for 2023?   

We will build on our successes so we can help more people. Despite the difficulties we face being on the front line of the situation here in Dover, every member of the Samphire team is dedicated to the work we do and passionate about changing attitudes towards migration. We will be putting more time and energy into advocacy and public engagement as we continue to work towards our vision of an inclusive, welcoming country that is compassionate towards people seeking sanctuary.  

The Asylum Seeker Memorial Project 

A UK government report in 2018 found three-quarters of asylum accommodation would be considered substandard, with damp, dirty and vermin-filled properties housing those who have survived everything from torture to persecution and domestic violence. The UK government does not publish data on deaths within this accommodation, so a team of journalists from Liberty Investigates – Mirren Gidda, Jessica Purkiss, Aaron Walawalkar and Eleanor Rose – set out to find and publish the figures, creating The Asylum Seeker Memorial Project. Through Freedom of Information requests, inquest paperwork and testimony from friends and family, they found that between April 2016 and August 2022, the death toll sat at 140 – including a string of infant deaths. These stories are publicly documented on their website, sending a strong message that they will not be forgotten, uncovering the lives and stories behind the statistics, and holding the UK government to public account.  

Care4Calais 

Last year saw a record number of people seeking asylum risk their lives crossing over to the UK in small boats. In November, The Big Issue spent a couple of days with the charity Care4Calais in France and it was an eye-opening experience.

Volunteers support desperate people sleeping rough in extreme conditions, providing food, clothing and other necessities. But their main aim seems to be as ambassadors for the UK. While migrants have idealised views of the welcome waiting for them on the other side of the Channel, Care4Calais is aware that they’ll be faced with the worst examples of the hostile environment. As people face navi­gating an unfit-for-purpose asylum process, volunteers act as a reminder that not everybody in Britain will treat them with disdain. 

Care4Calais also campaigns against the worst policies proposed by the government – and there are plenty of bad ones. They highlight the fact the government attacks so-called illegal immigrants, well aware that it is not providing any legal alternatives.  

SOAS Detainee Support 

SOAS Detainee Support is a student organisation that aims to break the isolation of immigration detention, supporting people to resist imprisonment and depor­tation. The group was critical in protesting against conditions in the Manston migrant centre in Kent, where thousands faced overcrowding and inhumane living conditions. After weeks of uproar, the centre closed; 9,000 migrants left, with many put up in hotel accommodation. 

Separated Child Foundation 

The Separated Child Foundation helps the estimated 6,000 young refugees and asylum seekers in the UK who have been separated from their parents. Cut off from culture, language and homeland, many have suffered the trauma of war, hunger and persecution. The foundation runs projects to provide emotional, social and financial support.  

Siobhan’s Trust 

When Ukraine was invaded by Russia, Siobhan’s Trust pivoted from supporting young people in Dundee to feeding Ukrainian refugees. The trust’s volunteers have since mobilised six food trucks to cover the war-torn country, playing music as they serve food and hot drinks to a population living in dire conditions, often without water, gas or electricity. 

This article is taken from The Big Issue magazine, which exists to give homeless, long-term unemployed and marginalised people the opportunity to earn an income.

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