END CHILD DETENTION NOW PRESS RELEASE 28 June 2010
LEADING charities and clergy and prominent figures including Colin Firth and Michael Morpurgo have greeted with rage and dismay news that Refugee & Migrant Justice has been allowed to collapse.
Refugee and Migrant Justice, formerly the Refugee Legal Centre, was the largest specialist national provider of legal representation to asylum seekers and other vulnerable migrants.
RMJ was awarded the Liberty/Justice Human Rights Award in 2005, in particular for its litigation work with Zimbabwean asylum seekers. Last week RMJ went into administration as a direct result of the government’s refusal to make legal aid payment until after cases are closed.
The collapse will deny legal representation to some of the most vulnerable members of our communities including survivors of torture, trafficked women and children, unaccompanied minors and those who have experienced rape and sexual abuse.
Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, warned before the collapse: ‘Lives will be put at risk and there are likely to be many more miscarriages of justice – which are already common in our asylum system.’ http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/10208666.stm <http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/10208666.stm>
Over the past weekend, the following comments on the collapse have been made to End Child Detention Now. Please feel free to quote them in your coverage.
‘Refugee and Migrant Justice is among the few organisations fighting for the legal rights of asylum seekers. It is hard to see how any government or society with a concern for justice could allow it to cease its work.’
John Packer, Bishop of Ripon and Leeds
‘Because of a shortage of legal representation in Wales, especially for refused asylum seekers, Welsh Refugee Council had been working closely with RMJ to support them to establish offices in Wales in 2010. The loss of this excellent organisation leaves a gap which it will be hard to fill.’
Mike Lewis Chief Executive, Welsh Refugee Council
‘Only today I have been contacted by the family of a man who was tortured in his country of origin and has bouts of severe depression. He has been released from detention and has no legal representation. I have no idea where I will find him help. People at risk of imprisonment and death in their own country face being returned because there is no one to represent them.’
Esme Madill, Refugee Action York
‘RMJ has been one of the very few means by which the most vulnerable, voiceless, often traumatised people in our country can be accorded their basic human rights. Their collapse is disastrous. To deprive so many innocent people of legal protection (the same basic rights we allow our criminals) raises serious questions about the nature of our society … and our right to consider ourselves civilised. Colin Firth, actor
I am shocked and saddened to learn that Refugee and Migrant Justice is to go into administration because of changes to legal aid procedures which mean that publicly funded lawyers in immigration cases are only paid when the case is closed. This will leave vulnerable members of our community, including women who have been trafficked, survivors of rape and torture and unaccompanied minors without legal advice which can literally save lives.
Ann Byrne, Chief Executive, Women’s Therapy Centre, London
‘We are truly shocked to hear this news. Many asylum seekers in Scotland are moved to detention centres in England where they must continue defending their claim under the English legal system. Without access to legal representation – which RMJ play a large part in providing – the likelihood is many of them won’t get access to justice.
‘The coalition government has pledged to speed up the asylum system. But the RMJ’s announcement increases our ongoing concerns that a faster system means an unfair system. Those fleeing persecution, war and the threat of death need access to the law to prove their case for protection. Without that access we risk seeing people being forced to return to situations of grave danger without a proper hearing.’
John Wilkes, Chief Executive of Scottish Refugee Council
‘We deeply regret the impact that the closure of Refugee and Migrant Justice will have on some of the most needy people in the UK. We hope that a way will be found of ensuring the continuation of high quality representation for asylum seekers and vulnerable migrants having such difficulty in accessing their legal rights.’
Susan Seymour, Clerk of Meeting for Sufferings, Quakers in Britain
‘Already deprived of their liberty, now we would deprive them of their hope. How wretched for them. How shameful for us.’
Michael Morpurgo, writer
‘I am outraged and dismayed that RMJ has been forced to close and urge the government to step in now and save this crucial life line for people seeking sanctuary. This closure will deny thousands of vulnerable people the right to have their asylum cases properly considered. No civilised society can subject people to the control of the state without them having the right to advocacy.’
Dr Simon Parker, coordinator End Child Detention Now
‘Access to the specialist legal representation that RMJ has provided is an essential element of a fair and just asylum system. The RMJ office in Leeds has provided invaluable help to asylum seekers in York and we fear for those in the future who may now have nowhere else to turn for this potentially life- saving support.’
Dr Susan Mitchell FRCPsych, Vice-chair Refugee Action York
‘The late payment of fees for services rendered would cause any organisation problems. To expect Refugee and Migrant Justice to wait in some instances up to two years to be paid is counterproductive for all concerned because of the role they play in ensuring our asylum system functions effectively and fairly. I hope the Government will see sense on this issue and steps in to resolve this problem.’
Stella Creasy, Labour MP for Walthamstow
It is very sad and outrageous that RMJ have gone into administration, especially at this hard time when legal aid is very limited and they provided a high quality service for so many vulnerable people…. it means we will have fewer places to go and refer our clients and we will miss the expertise of their work a great deal.
Luljeta Nuzi, Director, Shpresa Programme, London
‘They really helped me when I was desperate and alone with two young daughters. I had nowhere else to turn to. I don’t know what I would have done without them.’
Asylum seeker from York
‘A friend from York was unable to find legal representation in the local area despite contacting around 30 solicitors. RMJ in London agreed to take on her case when we had almost given up hope. Their caseworkers were amazingly supportive and understanding and showed genuine concern and interest despite the huge pressures they must have been under. My friend now has leave to remain but without the support of RMJ, she and her husband and children would have been forced to return to their country of origin, where they had been detained and tortured. RMJ offered a vital service and without it many more asylum seekers will be denied a just outcome to their cases.’
Mary McCormack, coordinator End Child Detention Now
NOTES TO EDITORS
- Attached RMJ statement on collapse dated 12 June was not circ’d widely to press.
- please note: Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner Thomas Hammarberg, in a stinging rebuke of UK asylum policy September 2008:
‘The Commissioner is particularly worried about the serious reduction of legal aid provided to asylum seekers. Information on existing alternatives to detention measures, such as release on bail, and expert legal aid to all detained asylum seekers should be provided ex officio, as soon as the detention starts. Without this, alternative measures to detention can hardly be used and applied in practice.’
Alerting UK Gov to dangers of fast-track target-based approach:
‘he is concerned about the publicized targets of the UK Border Agency (UKBA) aimed at accelerating further asylum procedures, given that celerity and quality of decision-making in the complex field of refugee law and protection are rarely a matching pair.’