Government concessions for Grenfell Tower survivors: still far from humane
Yesterday afternoon the Home Office announced that survivors of the Grenfell Tower fire who have insecure immigration status will be allowed to apply to stay in the UK longer, and eventually for permanent residence – updating their initial paltry offer of a temporary 12-month stay.
In the weeks after the fire it emerged that some survivors had been too frightened to seek medical assistance or other support for fear that they could be deported. And their fears were well-founded.
Information collected by NHS services and the police on patients and victims of crime has been used, sometimes routinely, to track people down and deport them.
Yesterday’s announcement is a significant concession. It goes some way to acknowledging concerns we raised, alongside North Kensington Law Centre and the Radical Housing Network, that a 12-month reprieve from being detained and removed from the country isn’t long enough for survivors to engage with the inquiry and criminal processes or, crucially, to begin to rebuild their lives.
As yet, no updated guidance has been published to explain how the updated application process will work, or whether the eligibility criteria remain the same.
When the Government’s first faux-‘amnesty’ was announced in August, we annotated it to highlight serious concerns. We don’t yet know whether those concerns have been addressed.
Survivors will not be granted permanent residence automatically. Undocumented survivors will be forced to apply repeatedly to stay. This means the Government can refuse them, leaving the risk of detention and removal hanging over survivors’ heads.
And if criteria for refusal remain unchanged, they will still include spectacularly broad and vague terms – like “concerns about criminality, associations or extremist behaviour”.
What constitutes an “association of concern” – having a friend who’s been stopped and searched? What counts as extremist when it’s a term the Government has never managed to define?
Wielded by a Home Office obsessed with creating a “hostile environment” for migrants, there is a significant risk that – if they are replicated in the new guidance – these exclusion criteria will be applied in an opaque and arbitrary way.
It was also announced yesterday that under a new policy, relatives of survivors who have been allowed to enter the UK to support those directly affected by the fire, or to make funeral arrangements for those who sadly lost their lives, will be able to apply to extend their stay to a total of six months.
Again, this policy is tightly drawn. It excludes relatives who were allowed to enter the UK for unconnected reasons, possibly prior to the fire, even if they are now supporting affected relatives or making funeral preparations. And it prevents relatives allowed to stay here from working, studying or accessing public funds for the duration of their stay – so only those who are rich enough, and have enough free time, will benefit.
Family members who apply but are refused have no right of appeal or administrative review. They must provide evidence of why they need to support their family member from within the UK, and not from overseas. And they are subject to the same vague exclusion criteria of “concerns about criminality, character or associations, including extremist behaviour”.
In the hands of a Government that has happily created ‘Skype families’ – who can’t live together in the UK because the British partner doesn’t earn enough to bring their foreign partner over – the policy may turn out to be even less generous in reality than on paper.
Any improvements to this so-called amnesty are welcome – but it’s still far from the humane response that should have been the Government’s first port of call.
No survivor of the Grenfell fire should have to worry about jumping through administrative hoops to satisfy the whims of an error-prone and increasingly callous Home Office.
Piecemeal concessions are not enough. Instead of making migrants’ lives as difficult as possible, the Government should be focusing on supporting them as it should any other member of society, regardless of their immigration status.