The City of Sanctuary vision of welcome and sanctuary for all underpins our thinking as we respond to the new and rapidly changing landscape of the Covid-19 pandemic. We have a collective duty of care to ourselves, our neighbours, and people seeking sanctuary. All of us are affected and we all need to keep safe and support each other to keep safe.
The refugee sector has arisen in response to the challenges facing people seeking sanctuary –of which isolation is a part. We have no doubt that we will find creative and innovative ways to continue to support and work with those most vulnerable through the crisis and offer sanctuary to all.
Up to date and accurate information is vital.
We therefore recommend that groups across the network stay up to date on the latest government advice which can be found here. https://www.gov.uk/government/topical-events/coronavirus-covid-19-uk-government-response
There is also advice on the NHS website here. https://111.nhs.uk/covid-19
Simple and clear guidance in multiple languages is available from Doctors of the World and they can be downloaded here. Please note that the files will be updated as advice changes – Version 2 is now available. So share the link
Practical Guidance for charities and voluntary organisations from NCVO
The NCVO has published an excellent guide for small organisations and charities which can be found here.
The guidance is being regularly updated as the situation develops. It is clear and comprehensive with links to further information and includes protection, planning and supporting beneficiaries / users.
How can we support the most vulnerable?
We are aware that many face to face services are already closing in response to the advice to social distance. We encourage groups working directly with people seeking sanctuary to reflect carefully on how to continue providing support whilst protecting everyone. We will all need to be creative as this crisis unfolds and we ask groups to share their ideas and new ways of practice with us so that we can share across the network.
Covid-19 Mutual Aid UK is a group of volunteers supporting local community groups who are organising mutual aid. They have a list of local groups that are helping those in need which will be useful should you need to refer someone for support. Importantly they also have useful resources, for example on safeguarding and data protection, which will be very useful to access when considering how to support people seeking sanctuary.
The Red Cross has also produced lots of helpful information, see here. We particularly liked their simple list of ‘…eight ways to be kind to your neighbours – and yourself’.
We are aware of that many people seeking sanctuary will particularly experiencing the loneliness of self-isolation, exacerbated in many cases by not having access to the internet and being separated from loved ones. It’s important for us to find ways to continue so that we don’t inadvertently worsen the experience for people seeking sanctuary. We are currently collating examples of how groups are responding and will promote shortly.
Advocacy and Campaigning
Volunteers self-isolating will still want to be doing something, please see separate article about new advocacy and campaigning initiatives to ensure protection of people seeking sanctuary through this crisis here. People seeking sanctuary will be particularly badly affected by isolation, loneliness, fear, misinformation etc. We can only imagine how difficult it is to be destitute, detained or living on £37 a week.
How will City of Sanctuary UK continue to provide support to the network?
The City of Sanctuary UK team use Slack and Zoom as communication tools and in some cases we may be able to host a zoom meeting for you (but please bear with us if we cannot accommodate as the demand is high). The basic versions are free however, for example zoom enables a meeting for 40 minutes.
We will also shortly be launching a SLACK channel for groups to communicate with one another if they so wish. Please share with us any other tools that your group might use to keep up support and connections. Sadly, although we know many people seeking sanctuary may have mobile phones, internet access and minutes will be very limited, so we will be offering access data or top up whenever possible.
We are reviewing the AGM and Annual Conference in Bradford in June and will keep you updated on our plans.
Key messages for people seeking sanctuary
Simple and clear guidance in multiple languages is available from Doctors of the World as mentioned above.
No checks or charging for healthcare related to Covid-19
Diagnosis and treatment for Covid-19 is free regardless of immigration status. This is an important message to convey.
What has changed if you are in the asylum process?
In an update circulated on 18 March 2020, the Home Office have confirmed that they are temporarily suspending face to face substantive asylum interviews, saying: “Many of our applicants travel a long way to have a substantive asylum interview, which can be a lengthy interaction taking several hours. On that basis, we have decided to pause face to face substantive asylum interviews for now. That means we will be cancelling any that are scheduled from tomorrow 19th March and will not be scheduling any new face to face interviews for now.
In the meantime, we are exploring other ways to find the information we need to make our decisions; digitally, by telephone and by post/ email, for example. We can already interview people digitally from our offices or onsite in other location in some circumstances and are looking for support from digital colleagues to do that in a different way that doesn’t involve us being in one of our offices. On that basis, we hope – availability of staff and applicants allowing – to be conducting those substantive asylum interviews again soon. I will keep you updated on any progress we make on that.”
It has now been confirmed that applicants wanting to make further submissions in support of a fresh claim for asylum no longer have to travel to Liverpool to hand them in. Instead, application can be sent in via post, or via e-mail (details below). This new process will be a temporary measure due to the Coronavirus. A message will be sent to all applicants who have already booked an appointment.
The Capital Building
Old Hall Street
Update on lockdown measures in England
Following the new national lockdown in England, the Home Office has confirmed that it will continue to operate regional intake units and that asylum interviews will continue with no changes to current procedures. They have also recently confirmed that in-person reporting will continue for some people during lockdown.
Refugee Council are also continuing to update their page Changes to Asylum & Resettlement policy and practice in response to Covid-19 where you will be able to find any updates on changes due to the lockdown in England.
We will be updating this post as the situation develops.