Indifference to asylum seekers’ property

Indifference to asylum seekers’ property


Written by: Frances Webber

As if being detained for removal is not trauma enough, asylum seekers in the North East are finding it impossible to reclaim their property from their asylum hostels.

Laptops, cameras, cash, a family Bible and photographs of loved ones are among the personal possessions that have been destroyed or disposed of by landlords when asylum seekers have gone to report to their local UK Border Agency (UKBA) office, and have not come back.

Asylum seekers who are not detained are generally required to report regularly to a local UKBA office while their claim is processed. The same conditions apply to refused asylum seekers. Whether they have been waiting for months or years for a decision on their claim, or have exhausted their appeals some time ago, they never know, when they approach the building, if they will come out of it, or be detained for removal. Dorothy Ismail, a seasoned volunteer at the charity Friends of the Drop-in (FODI) and with the North of England Refugee Service, says ‘It’s a bit like lining up at a random slaughterhouse – refused people scared to go in, scared not to sign – not sure who will come out again.’

Those who are detained for removal have another shock in store. They cannot go back to their accommodation to collect their belongings. Unless they have taken the precaution of bringing all their possessions with them every time they come to report, on the off-chance that they might be detained, they are left with nothing but the clothes they stand up in. Their landlord – Jomast, in the North East, a G4S subcontractor, clears out their rooms and destroys or disposes of property unclaimed after a month. (Read an IRR News story: ‘G4S, Jomast Stockton hostel and the mother-and-baby market‘.)

The G4S accommodation contract (whose terms bind Jomast) says nothing about what should happen to asylum seekers’ property in this situation. As Dorothy points out, it is quite reasonable for a landlord to dispose of a tenant’s unclaimed property after a period. What is not reasonable, though, is for UKBA not to give those it detains the opportunity to reclaim their possessions – which range from valuables such as laptops and cameras to items of sentimental value such as family mementos, and identity or tax documents which are vital to them to re-establish themselves in their home countries.

Not only is it unreasonable, it is also unlawful for UKBA to make no provision for people’s property to be secured. Article 1 of the first Protocol of the European Convention on Human Rights requires signatory states to respect the right to ‘peaceful enjoyment of property’. It would be easy for UKBA to stipulate that detained asylum seekers and others who need to collect property should be able to do so, under escort if necessary – but no such requirement apparently exists, and in its absence local officials won’t lift a finger to ensure that at least people get their property back before they are sent home.

Needless difficulty

To recover their belongings, those detained need friends with patience, tenacity and funds. Many asylum seekers have no friends they can ask to pick up their belongings for them – but even for those who do, recovery of their property is fraught with difficulty. Landlords and hostel staff are understandably reluctant to give access to people claiming to be friends without written authorisation from the tenant, which is often impossible. Then, tracking someone through the detention system to find out where to take the property can be a nightmare. The North-East doesn’t have detention centres, and so people detained there may be taken to a holding centre in Manchester, Morton Hall in Lincolnshire, Dungavel in Scotland or even further afield – and is quite likely to be subjected to repeated moves. A Mexican asylum seeker in Newcastle was distraught at his inability to collect his belongings, which included national insurance records without which he would find it virtually impossible to work back home. Dorothy was able to pick up his property through hostel staff bending the rules, and she arranged to go to Dungavel the following day to hand it over – but was stopped in her tracks by a message that he was being moved to the Manchester holding centre. When he finally arrived at the holding centre, many hours and many phone calls later, she was told it was pointless coming to Manchester, as he was being moved to Colnbrook (near Heathrow) during the night. Eventually she was forced to sell his possessions and send him the money and the precious document. But this can’t be done for everyone – and she was lucky to get access to his hostel room in the first place.

Not allowing those to be removed to take their belongings with them is another instance of the petty and vindictive treatment of refused asylum seekers against which Dorothy and thousands of others regularly battle. She hopes the issue will be raised in parliament. It may not be important to politicians, but it matters.

Related links

Read an IRR News story: ‘G4S, Jomast Stockton hostel and the mother-and-baby market

Read an IRR News story: ‘Holding G4S to account

Read an IRR News story: ‘Jimmy Mubenga’s family devastated

Read an IRR News story: ‘Response to G4S: 900 asylum seekers face eviction in Yorkshire

Read an IRR News story: ‘G4S and asylum seekers’ housing

North of England Refugee Service

The Institute of Race Relations is precluded from expressing a corporate view: any opinions expressed are therefore those of the authors.

9 thoughts on “Indifference to asylum seekers’ property

  1. Really, how come asylum seekers who claim they have absolutely no wealth and live off the all free asylum package via the UK taxpayer are able to own laptops and cameras.

    Also …

    “The same conditions apply to refused asylum seekers. Whether they have been waiting for months or years for a decision on their claim, or have exhausted their appeals some time ago, they never know, when they approach the building, if they will come out of it, or be detained for removal.” – These failed asylum seekers should not be reporting anywhere – these failed asylum seekers should have been deported back to their own countries as soon as they are legally judged to be failed.

  2. Really Angus? Do the most basic research and you’ll discover just how ‘generous’ the handouts received by asylum seekers are.

    Having ‘absolutely no wealth’ is not a requirement in order to be able to seek asylum. Indeed, many (though by no means all) asylum seekers are from professional classes etc. Seems more than a little illogical to suggest, as you appear to be doing, that if someone manages to bring a treasured or valuable possession with them (or the financial means to acquire one) this should automatically lead us to doubt their claim.

  3. Yes, Mark, really. I’ve done my research on the all free generous asylum package, herewith: free furnished, repair free homes / free gas and electricity / free financial benefits / free NHS treatment / free specs and dental treatment / free education at school or college / free translation services and free legal aid and advice.

    “Having ‘absolutely no wealth’ is not a requirement in order to be able to seek asylum.” – maybe, but seeking asylum and accepting the all free asylum package whilst failing to declare wealth is illegal and immoral – as with my own people, there is a legal requirement to declare savings if seeking benefits.

    I would hardly regard laptops and cameras as treasured possessions, bibles, perhaps yes – and you gottit wrong, bringing finance with them should not “automatically lead us to doubt their claim” but their brought finance (if they declare such wealth) should be taken into consideration when they claim the all free asylum package.

  4. Good article on a little-reported aspect of the UK Government’s war on asylum seekers. There was a similarly abusive attitude on the part of G4S (backed by UKBA) when they evicted hundreds of asylum seekers in Yorkshire. One woman in Barnsley was told she could only bring “2 bags” of possessions, leaving toys, food and equipment for her baby behind. UKBA backed down after the woman complained and campaigners campaigned.

  5. @Stuart

    There is no “war” on asylum seekers by the UK Government.

    “One woman in Barnsley was told she could only bring “2 bags” of possessions, leaving toys, food and equipment for her baby behind.”
    Not so, They (relocated asylum seekers) “will be allowed to take two (2) pieces of luggage per person to your new accommodation. In addition to this, children’s toys and other effects, baby care items, medical equipment, buggies and/or prams and disability aids by you or any dependents are allowed.” (Home office / UK Border Agency)

    The people of Glasgow were given the same false information from the director of an asylum support charity who also informed that asylum seekers being moved was in comparison with “what happened to Jews in Poland and Nazi Germany.”

  6. This has been going on for years, and also applies to newly arrived asylum seekers, who get their 6 months imprisonment for forged papers. On leasving prison they are taken to an IRC but not thier belongings. Unless the belongings are claimed in a monthy, HM PRISON destroys them. How can you collect your belongings when you are locked inan IRC.

    Another case, A Zinmbawean woman who was reporting regularly was picked up one night and taken to be taken to the Nigerian High Commission to get a papers for her deportation. The Nigeriams would not know her.She was then taken to Yarlswood, with no phone, no clothes no money with a lying accusation of her not abiding with the terms of her bail. It was 6 weeks before we could get her out.

  7. @Norman

    Asylum seekers who arrive with forged papers should be taken into custody and returned to their countries of origin or the last country they passed through prior to attempting to cheat and lie their way into the UK. Same applies to those who are taken to “prison” – on release they should be held in custody and deported as soon as possible. For those who leave without their belongings, failure to ask for their belongings is down to the asylum seekers and those who are supposed to represent them. Obviously the prison authorities cannot hold onto unclaimed belongings forever. Also, any “wealth” should be taken from their belongings as part charge for the time and money these asylum seekers have needlessly cost us.

    The “Zinmbawean woman” who was “picked up one night” and taken to Colnbrook would quite correctly be taken into custody as she would most likely have exhausted her right to stay in the UK claims. Regarding your “The Nigeriams would not know her” is probably due to your “Zinmbawean woman” falsely claiming she came from Nigeria. “Not abiding with the terms of her bail” – that she was under bail is proof she had terms and conditions placed on her – obviously she reneged on that agreement. That she was allowed out instead of being deported is just another instance of the vast amounts of time and money the UK is wasting on these supposed asylum seekers.

  8. Angus
    I’m interested in the research you’ve done on the “free asylum package”. As someone who works with many hundreds of asylum seekers every year and has a genuine working knowledge of the facts, I’d love to find out more about this package so I can let them all know. To think all this time many of them were destitute or living below the poverty line, in fear of being deported at any time?


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