Reporting conditions for migrants are excessive and punitive

They make the Hostile Environment even more hostile, writes Mishka

Home Office bureaucracy is often convoluted and punitive. The roughly 80 000 people who are subject to immigration control – including people with pending asylum claims and other immigration claims, and people with irregular status – are presented with a heavy administrative burden, seemingly irrespective of their particular situations. These people are obligated to ‘report’ with the Home Office at regular intervals and the Home Office decides this reporting frequency.

Over the past few weeks, it has been reported that people in Stoke on Trent are having to travel all the way to Salford to report at the Home Office. A mother with a five month old baby and a pending asylum application, shared her demanding experience of a five-hour round trip for her reporting event. The reason for this unnecessary burden is last year’s decision by the Home Office to close down the reporting centre at the Northern Stoke Custody Facility in Etruria, which was the local reporting centre for people with reporting conditions in that region.

Recently, I assisted an elderly person with her reporting. She has a pending asylum application and is living in Stoke on Trent. She had received a document from the Home Office (IS-91) saying that she has to report at Salford’s Manchester Dallas Court. She does not read, speak or understand much English. First of all, simply sending this sort of document could put someone in trouble if they do not understand the importance of the contents of the letter itself. She would not have even understood that she has been asked to report at Manchester, instead of her usual reporting centre in Stoke on Trent. Failing to report at the given date can have serious consequences, such as cutting off asylum support, or being marked as ‘no show’, which is considered as non-compliance.

The letter she received did not have any instructions for her journey; no travel money or tickets; not even a map of the location. The letter said that she has to be at the Manchester Dallas Court at a certain time. If I were not there to help and guide her throughout the journey, there was no way she would have found the location in the first place. She had no awareness of the transport system in Stoke on Trent; would be unable to ask someone for help on the way, and can’t access Google Maps.

The journey was a difficult one: a round trip of over over four hours in harsh wintery weather making it much worse. The most ridiculous aspect of this whole thing is that the actual reporting event took less than two minutes. She had to travel all the way to Manchester – taking a bus, then taking a train and another tram to reach there – just to show her face to an immigration officer and come back. The immigration minister, Caroline Nokes, as reported in the Independent, has stated that there is no upper limit to the distance people may have to travel for their reporting events. This approach is a key part of the hostile environment’s hostility – putting egregious costs and conditions on people being able to carry out their everyday lives. And for vulnerable or elderly people, those costs are even higher.

Charities in that region, such as Asha, Sanctus and other human rights organisations, such as Right to Remain have highlighted this issue. However, so far there is no positive action from the Home Offices’ side. Lisa Matthews from Right to Remain told me

“Reporting at the Home Office is, in itself, a stressful experience. There is the ever-present threat of detention, and there are regular reports of intimidation and harassment. Even if the reporting centre is fairly local, people can find it difficult to get there, especially if their travel is not paid for them. We know people who have to walk miles and miles each week. The recent decision to get people to travel 40 miles between Stoke and Dallas Court outside Manchester is baffling and cruel, and is a very extreme example of how barriers are put in place to make it even more difficult for people to pursue their legal cases and access justice.”

As Lisa noted, the fear of re-detention is one of the most difficult aspects of reporting with the Home Office. Someone who has already suffered the trauma of indefinite detention would be utterly reluctant to even think of being locked up in a detention centre again. I have met people who used to give farewell to their loved ones before they go for their reporting events, as they were not sure whether they would come back home or whether they would be put in a detention centre to be removed back to a different country. There have been two occasions where Freed Voices group members were re-detained when they went for reporting events. Also, the reporting frequency is sometimes disproportionate; there are Freed Voices members that have to report once a week.

It’s totally unreasonable that people have to go through this sort of difficulties during their reporting events. And detaining people when they go for reporting events without any warning or any notice heaps yet more unfairness and cruelty onto an already punitive system. People navigating the immigration system are already frustrated and disappointed with the harsh immigration policies and these harsh reporting conditions are an extension of this.

When I assisted the elderly person with her reporting, I watched her enter the centre afraid that she would not re-emerge. I was watching from the other side of the road as she entered the reporting centre. I felt an enormous sense of relief when, eventually, she did. After all that travelling, all the immigration officer did was ask her to hand over the document she was sent, and then mark something on the computer. She too was relieved that it was over – this time.

Mishka is from the Freed Voices group – Freed Voices is a group of experts-by-experience dedicated to speaking about the realities of detention and calling for detention reform. Mishka writes under a pseudonym.