The Migrant Help Contract – an Orwellian creation

10 October 2021: Please write to your MP: This report is from a member of the QARN steering group who works pro bono on asylum claims. 

In September 2019 the charity “Migrant Help” took over from G4S and SERCO the contract to provide help and assistance to asylum seekers housed around England in no-choice accommodation. They also took over from the Refugee Council the contract to provide “initial accommodation” at numerous centres around the country. They took on the additional responsibility of processing support claims, formerly an in-house function of the Home Office. This was indeed a massive task for what had hitherto been a local organisation providing assistance in Dover and Kent. Yet the new contract was supposed to remedy the often glaring failures of Migrant Help’s multi-national predecessors.

Within little over a month 120 charities from throughout England were lending their names to a joint letter to Victoria Adkins, the Minister then responsible for the workings of the contract. As the single contact point for all problems with housing, including furnishing and hygiene, Migrant Help was mostly unobtainable on the phone number provided in anything less than several hours. Service delivery was minimal in quantity and quality. The individuals on the other end of the line were well-meaning  but under-resourced and under-informed and probably horrendously overstretched.

There appears to have been no more than marginal improvement in this situation, except perhaps for the response to support applications. Rather, Migrant Help seems to have been co-opted and absorbed as the leading administrator of the Hostile Environment. It is a great exemplar of Orwell’s doublethink and its modern successor, doublespeak.

The latest example of Migrant Help’s misappropriation of language has been its mailing of hundreds, maybe thousands, of letters with “Medical Declaration Forms” attached to vulnerable failed asylum seekers housed in Home Office supported accommodation, suggesting (not clearly stating) that they are likely to be evicted for lack of a current asylum claim. In my own experience, these letters have been sent to a number of individuals who have in fact established fresh claims and who are in the appeals system. It is untrue that they are liable to “discontinuation”. Others have no current claim, but will almost certainly be released from any form of  detention under Rule 35 as individuals with severe mental health problems, past trauma and past torture. The unexplained issuing of Medical Declaration Forms suggests that Migrant help anticipates that many individuals receiving their letter may be signed off as “unfit to fly” – or, then again, they might fail this barrier to removal.

The worst aspect of this deplorable joint initiative spearheaded by Migrant Help is the  tormenting doubt into which the recipients are thrown. The letters are in complex and ambiguous English, which conveys a threat but no real antidote to it. Rather, the burden of exegesis and palliation of the coded threat falls onto the hundreds of other charities who have not signed huge contracts with a government which is openly hostile to immigration and asylum. The letters arrive in our hands or their scans arrive in our inboxes. We have to add hours of work to our existing overloaded schedules to tackle the latest expression of “migrant help”. We have to answer Migrant Help back quite robustly or, if in the following stage, they send out a “discontinuation letter” we have to lodge an appeal with the Asylum Support Tribunal and ensure the victims are represented at an ensuing Hearing.

This is work we could do without, especially when it is generated by one of our own kind….