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You can now see our past newsletters in the “newsletter” tab on this site.

Also a selection of information leaflets on the “documents” section.  Please feel free to download and use these.  Information on asylum and refugee issues is sadly lacking with so many people.  Do let us know if you see anything that needs to be updated, so it can be a useful resource

Lib Dem Conference activities on asylum issues

Saturday 17 September 13.00–14.30 Annual General Meeting Surrey 1 Room, Hilton Metropole. Suzanne Fletcher, founder member and retiring Chair, will report back on the work so far of LD4SOS. Lord Roger Roberts of Llandudno, Honorary President of LD4SOS, will update us on topical work relating to asylum seekers and refugees in the House of Lords. Also a discussion on the way forward for LD4SOS. Bring your lunch!

Sunday 18 September 13.00–14.00 Fringe meeting Osborne Room, Hilton Metropole What now for Asylum Seekers in the U.K.? Join with Debora Singer MBE, Policy and Research Officer at Asylum Aid and Alastair Carmichael MP Liberal Democrats Spokesperson for Home Affairs to discuss the critical issues facing asylum seekers in the UK and what we can do to help.

Sunday 18 September 19.45-21.00 Joint fringe with ALDC Sandringham Room, Hilton Metropole Refugees welcome here local communities welcoming refugees and unaccompanied children

A discussion about how local councils and communities can support Syrian refugees. Speakers: Suzanne Fletcher, LD4SOS, Cllr Jeanette Sunderland, Bradford, Baroness Shas Sheehan and Bekele Woyech from Citizens UK.  Chaired by Cllr Baroness Kath Pinnock, ALDC

Questions to Minister on future for care of children after Cedars closure

Liberal Democrats for Seekers of Sanctuary remain adamant that the facility at the pre departure centre, Cedars, should not be closing, and should remain, as originally planned to be somewhere for families with children to have safe respite and be prepared for an involuntary return to their country of origin.

Barnardos have done an excellent job in making sure that the children had the right care in the right environment at this very traumatic time in their lives. We understand that they do not wish to be involved in the proposal that the families with children are to be in a detention centre, and why, as in their media statement. So, we have deep concerns about what the arrangements will be for child appropriate care.

We are therefore challenging the Minister for Home Department with the 15 points as follows.


Taking information from a visit to Cedars, and reports with recommendations published by Barnardos, we are asking the following :

  1. Where are you taking advice from in the setting up of the proposed new unit at Tinsley House to make sure that the needs of these vulnerable children is central to the operation of the unit ?
  2. That the children will not be cared for in any way by staff in security style uniform.
  3. When the arrests are made where the families are living, arresting officers should only wear personal protective clothing where risk assessments indicate that this is absolutely necessary to protect themselves or others. Transport for families should be in unmarked vehicles.
  4. It will allow escorts to build on their training as they will be applying it on a regular basis, working solely with families. These escorts should be used for all ensured returns, including same day returns.
  5. There needs to be clarity and consistency around managing non-compliant behaviour. The Home Office should develop a behaviour management policy where the emphasis is on techniques that minimise the likelihood of using physical intervention, and use it only as a last resort. The policy must address the definitions and range of physical intervention, and be underpinned by shared training to promote consistency of practice.
  6. Children should never be separated from their parent or parents for the purposes of immigration control. Children should only be separated from their parent or parents if there is a safeguarding or welfare concern.
  7. Any potential family split should be included as part of the return plan or contingency, authorised by the Minister and scrutinised by the Independent Family Returns Panel. There should be clear plans in place for reunification, and any split should take place for the shortest possible time. Family splits should be clearly documented and the outcome reviewed by all agencies as part of ‘lessons learned’ meetings.
  8. Training of existing staff at Tinsley House and new staff to work with the children is crucial. Also all agencies involved need to have development time together and work around a set of values of putting the child and family at the centre and meeting their needs while they’re there.
  9. There are currently large indoor and outdoor play areas with toys, games and play equipment suitable for toddlers and older children. There are also facilities for those with disabilities. These facilities must be provided at Tinsley House.
  10. There is a currently a library with a wide range of DVDs, books, audio books and music. These materials are available in other languages as well as English. There are also computers with some access to the internet, fax, exercise facilities, and pastoral support, prayer room and multi-faith facilities. There is a need for these facilities to be available to the families without the need to be part of the rest of Tinsley House.
  11. Most children arriving at Cedars have not been prepared for the possibility of return to another country, and are dealing with shock and a sense of loss for their current life, as well as trying to understand what life will be like for them in a different country. Barnardos did good work in this preparation, ways to replicate it must be found.
  12. Parents are often anxious as well, and may not be able to provide positive parental engagement with their children because of the situation they are in; some may be receiving emotional support from their children. Provision for the parents in this situation is crucial.
  13. Barnardo’s provided a package of support tailored to the family to meet both their basic needs and address their emotional well-being. They provided clothing if families need it, especially that which is appropriate to the climate to which they are returning.
  14. A nurse made arrangements for necessary injections, and all families were provided with mosquito nets if relevant to the country they were returning to.
  15. Every family is provided with their own tailored country information pack. This includes information about the airport, local hotels if needed on arrival, education provision, support organisations, taxi and transport information, and the current weather and currency information. A hardship fund was established so that no family was left destitute. This must continue.

Another area that concerns us that a family being taken to the pre departure centre at Cedars has not been the end of the process for many families. It has not been the last resort. Family Engagement Managers working with families throughout the returns process will have no doubt contributed to the lower than expected use of Cedars, and a greater take up of voluntary returns.   Every effort must be made that for families released into the community, there are not rearrests at a later date causing trauma to the whole family as well as a use of resources that is not constructive.

Finally, Cedars’ stands for the principles staff worked to – compassion, empathy, dignity, approachability, respect and support. Every one of these principles needs to be taken to any new arrangement at Tinsley House, put into practice, and monitored.



Insight into The Verne detention centre

The VerneConditions in immigration detention centre, former prison, The Verne were highlit in this article in The Guardian by Giles Fraser.  Even more so, the desperation of unlimited detention.  We wrote to the Guardian and the letter was not published, so here it is to read now.

Giles Fraser in his article on The Verne
  on 12th  August puts the issues clearly.
It isn’t just that people are detained for immigration purposes and not for  committing a crime.  It is that the decision is not made by the judiciary in  any way, but by government officials.  It is that the person is detained  with no time limit, and not able to count down to a release as those  detained for a crime.  Immigration detention should be a last resort with  alternatives in the community worked on instead, and there be a maximum of  28 days detention when absolutely necessary.   If this were done, not only would £millions be saved, but the detention  estate would not have needed to be expanded and totally unsuitable places  such as The Verne would not need to be used.



I was privileged to be invited to speak on behalf of Liberal Democrats for Seekers of Sanctuary at the event organised by the Banyamulenge Community Association (BACA) to commemorate the 12th Anniversary of the Gatumba Massacre.Gatumba massacre choir slogan

Gatumba massacre choirIt was a very moving event, listening to speakers who were survivors of the massacre, or very involved in different ways. The choir sang beautifully about the sadness, with their T shirts proclaiming “Banyamulenge at risk without justice and protection

The film shown of the massacre was horrifying and tragic. 166 innocent Banyamulenge Congolese were mercilessly slaughtered, some burned alive, and hundreds of others seriously injured. Not only are physical scars still there, but it was clear from the reaction to the film that the devastating mental effect was still with many. We see on our screens every day the horrors of what is happening in places such as Syria, but whilst the atrocities in Gatumba are on a lesser scale, they are not known about or talked about at all.

The film showed the President of Burundi going to the scene of the crime, and he said something would be done, but 12 years on, nothing has happened to bring the killers to justice. Awareness has been raised in all of the EU, the USA and other parts of the world. All say “something must be done”, but nothing ever is.

Gatumba massacre Holocaust speaker_edited-1A speaker from the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, Rosie Crook, told us about Genocide beginning with people being seen as “different”. She told us how massacres never just happen, they are organised in advance and are always officially denied.  We say ‘never again’ but they do happen again”. As she said, we are there to tackle prejudice and hatred, and that must continue.


Church Ministers spoke strongly with messages to give strength and hope from Psalm 137 and Revelation 21.

The very clear message that came over again and again is that justice is so important.  Justice not been brought and the murderers are still free and continuing to commit atrocities.  Survivors are still raw with grief and enormous sadness in their lives.

Surely it is not too great to ask for there to be justice, just as it is for any criminal act against innocent people. Gatumba massacre Innocent_edited-1

Innocent Ntezidyayo told us how evidence is now being gathered so that advice from such as lawyers can be taken on the best way forward for justice to be done. There is hope that the subject will be raised in the UK Parliament, and I said I would do my best to take that forward.

Gatumba massacre Nzayi_edited-1Nzayi Dieudonne, a survivor of the massacre, emphasised that the commemoration event should be not like Christmas where we just come together on one day, but there is the need now need to make progress and take action with evidence.  “We seek justice together”.


Gatumba massacre SFFor my part I said that if only more people could see the film, they would understand why people fled from terror to seek sanctuary elsewhere, and be more welcoming. I spoke of the ways that LD4SOS is campaigning to make matters bettor for asylum seekers in the UK. The need for better treatment and understanding by the Home Office; the importance of ending indefinite detention; the need for the end to destitution and the right to work; the need for better contracts for housing and enforcement functions. The need to keep the Human Rights Act. Overall British Foreign and International Development policy should support the development of a peaceful world.

 Being able to live in peace in the UK, will not only begin to help to heal the scars, but give some stability for being able to support their fellow country people in their quest for justice.

 Most of all, we need to give hope, and give our support for justice to be done.


The plight of refugee children goes ignored. A personal insight from Baroness Shas Sheehan

Calais with Bradley and SamThe slip road off the motorway brings you straight into the Jungle camp in Calais. Today I was met with a cloud of pungent blue, orifice attacking, smoke. I moved away, blindly hunting a clean tissue for myself and my travelling companions from Social Work First.

Once we were able, we wondered what had triggered such an aggressive attack from the CRS, the French riot police. The group of youths at the centre of the tear-gas attack seemed calm and passive still, even after the attack. There was no noise from them, either before or after the release of the gas. Why had they been targeted?

This is a question that receives a shrug of the shoulders. Who knows? It happens often enough. Sometimes, the gas is sprayed inches from the face, causing burns.

This level of unnecessary brutality is perhaps one reason it has been an uphill struggle to persuade people of the Jungle camp in Calais to seek asylum in France. Brutality is a reality for the residents of the Jungle, whether it be CRS administered brutality, or the passive brutality of indifference to their plight by the governments of France and the UK.

Calais ShasThat the camp is a brutish environment cannot be hidden. In daylight, the residents conform to the civilities of the volunteers without whom they would be utterly destitute and whom they cannot thank enough. But at night, the camp is a different place. Nightly they walk miles to try their luck to make it to the UK, stoically accepting the methods of the CRS to deter them – razorwire, teargas, truncheons and dogs. By day their injuries are patched up by MSF (Medecins Sans Frontieres) and other volunteers.

During my stay there last week two people died. In the course of a night’s violence an Ethiopian was killed; another person died on the motorway – not the first to meet such a fate. There are those who say that fatalities on the motorway are caused by smugglers as it takes the authorities quite a while to clean up, giving them more time to get people into the stopped lorries. Who keeps a record of the fatalities? Who informs the relatives? Do the French government even know who is on their soil?

The number of unaccompanied children in the camp is almost impossible to gauge without a central registration point, but it is certainly more than the 157 last estimated by Citizens UK. The French government neglects its duty to safeguard children, whilst the UK government remains dilatory in its response to those seeking to be reunified with family in the UK.

This inaction was successfully challenged in January this year by a case brought to the Upper Tribunal by Citizens UK, Bhatt Murphy Solicitors and Doughty Street Chambers, which ruled that three children and a dependant adult should be immediately brought to the UK to rejoin family members already legally living here.

Their reasoning was that as the group had fulfilled the necessary paperwork and had already been in limbo for nine months waiting for the French authorities to issue a “take charge” notice to the Home Office, it was incumbent on the British Government to act and immediately bring the group to be reunited with their British family.

To its shame the British government lodged an immediate appeal against this decision – and this week the Court of Appeal overturned the ruling of the Upper Tribunal.

Although it is understood that the group at the centre of the case will be allowed to remain in Britain, the impact on those that remain in the camp and who are trapped by similar dysfunctional bureaucracy is cruel.

Not only that but how does the government reconcile its petty pursuance of this case with its subsequent obligations under the Immigration Act 2016, which commit it to allow unaccompanied asylum seeking children already in the EU to come to Britain – following the example of the Kindertransport scheme which brought 10,000 Jewish children to Britain to escape Hitler? Does the right hand know what the left is doing?

I hope this waste of tax-payers’ money to make a self-defeating point is a consequence of passing the baton from one government to another. Unless of course the government has no intention of meeting own target of bringing 20,000 vulnerable Syrian refugees and 3,000 unaccompanied children from camps in the region to Britain by 2020, nor of meeting its obligations under the Dubs’ amendment in the Immigration Act 2016 to give shelter to unaccompanied children already in the EU? Its record to date would suggest so.

There is very real fear amongst volunteer groups that, if the French go ahead with rumoured demolitions this autumn, increased numbers of very vulnerable children will be delivered into the hands of merciless traffickers. Memories surface of the last demolition in February, which left people traumatised – and almost 200 children missing.

Urgent action is needed by French and British governments to take seriously their obligations under international and national law to safeguard children – this must start by official representation in the camp to register existing residents and daily arrivals, and to put in place processes to assess each individual case. Surely it is a moral imperative to behave with human decency towards people seeking our protection as they flee from hideous terrors at home, until such time as they can begin the journey back home again?

key_shas_sheehanHere are some facts behind the biggest movement of people we have seen since World War II. According to UNHCR, over 65 million people have been displaced worldwide, 86% of whom are living in developing countries, some in camps. Turkey is the biggest refugee hosting country with 2.5m Syrian refugees; Jordan hosts 600,000; Lebanon 1.2m. Pakistan hosts 1.6m Afghans. Many, many more are internally displaced, living in unimaginable conditions in their homeland.

By the end of 2015 the UK had resettled just 1062 vulnerable Syrian refugees.

Shas Sheehan is a Liberal Democrat Peer and a regular visitor to the Jungle camp in Calais.