Anxiety and insecurity: requiring asylum seekers to report to the Home Office

This post by Andrew Burridge has developed through having previously volunteered with a signing support group in Bristol, and forms part of their wider research in to the use of reporting in the UK asylum process. A more detailed version will appear in the forthcoming book For a Borderless World (edited by Reece Jones and published by the University of Georgia Press in 2018).

What is reporting?

Asylum seekers awaiting a decision on their application to remain in the UK are required to regularly report to the UK Visas and Immigration Agency (UKVI; a division of the Home Office). In 2014, it was estimated that approximately 60 000 people report regularly in the UK, with the government spending £8.6 million per year to operate and staff the reporting system.[i] Reporting centres are found in two distinct locations: within existing Home Office buildings, or at local police stations where UKVI officials have permission to conduct reporting. At both locations, Short Term Holding Facilities (STHFs, at Home Office buildings) and custody suites (at police stations) are used to detain persons before transfer to Immigration Removal Centres (IRCs; more commonly referred to as detention centres).

There is little awareness of reporting – or ‘signing’ / ‘signing-on’ as it is more typically referred to – as part of the asylum process; what attention it has drawn has typically focused upon reporting specifically for those released from detention or prison on bail (the latter being classed as Foreign National Offenders’ (FNOs) by the British state). While those on bail are required to report, those who are awaiting an asylum appeal hearing, have an onward appeal following a rejection of their initial appeal, or who are unable to be returned to their home country also must report.

Reporting frequency is determined by the Home Office, according to the likelihood of someone being detained and deported, and typically is set at a weekly, monthly, or six-monthly basis. Each person or family is assigned a day of the week, and a one or two-hour window in which to report. If they arrive before or after this window they will often be turned away or forced to wait. If they fail to notify the Home Office that they will be late or not attend on their assigned day (with sufficient evidence of why), they then become at risk of both losing any support they are entitled to and being detained.

Reporting as a form of internal border control within communities

As many required to report have stated, reporting creates exceptional anxiety and difficulty for those who are awaiting a decision on their status. Further it is a site of potential disappearance in to the UK’s detention and deportation system. The pressure to attend a reporting event on time – either weekly, monthly, or six-monthly – is therefore immense. Reporting restricts people’s ability to travel or leave home for any significant period of time, for fear of missing their reporting requirement, especially when coupled with electronic tags and curfews, and limited financial support. Such measures, alongside the use of dispersal housing, fix people to knowable locations for the UK government and immigration authorities.

As Ines Hasselberg has previously stated, reporting is “located at the intersection between deportability and deportation.”[ii] It is also often coupled with the use of electronic monitoring and curfews for those released on bail with such conditions placed upon them.[iii] Reporting is thus one of several options that the Home Office employs within its strategies of surveillance and deterrence, to “create a hostile environment” for those with irregular status.

Reporting is also used as a moment for conducting unannounced interviews, often framed to the person reporting as simply a conversation and therefore not requiring legal representation or advice. Further, reporting events are an opportunity for UKVI officials to attempt to convince people that they should return to their home country, by providing information on how the UK government can assist someone to return through the ‘Assisted Voluntary Return Program’.[iv] As a Home Office spokesperson was quoted:

“Reporting centres are a vital part of our work to progress cases as quickly as possible, to encourage the voluntary return of people who have no basis of stay in the UK and enforce returns where necessary.”[v]

While many in detention are placed there immediately after arriving in the UK, following workplace or home raids, or due to encounters with authorities including the police, others find themselves in detention after attending a reporting event. Reporting is therefore deeply coupled with detention and deportation and must be seen as creating what Nicholas De Genova has framed as an ‘everyday deportability’ both for asylum seekers and for those classed as Foreign National Offenders.[vi]

Detention at a reporting event

While those reporting typically remain unaware of exactly when they will be detained at their reporting event, UKVI agents will have known for some time that a particular person/s will be detained that day. There are several authorities that a person facing detention at their reporting event will potentially encounter: police front-desk staff, police custody officers, UKVI, Immigration Enforcement, and private security. For both those reporting and their support networks, the multiple agents encountered, with their diverse forms of authority, can be intimidating and confusing. Understanding who to speak with, or where a particular agent’s authority begins and ends, becomes complex. Agents often rely on this confusion and blurring of roles, continually passing both those reporting and their supporters from one authority to another and back again, frustrating efforts for effective support when someone is detained.

Within Home Office policy, ‘removal windows’ are used to notify those not currently in detention that they face imminent removal from the country, typically notifying people by mail. Under new Home Office policy brought in to power through the Immigration Act of 2014, asylum seekers can now be removed from the country without first spending a night in detention – that is they can be taken immediately from their reporting event to an airport and removed.[vii]

Location of reporting centres and difficulties encountered in travelling to them

Across the UK, recent closures of both police stations and Home Office buildings used as reporting locations have resulted in the relocation of reporting for many, meaning costly and lengthy journeys. Both the police and the Home Office have been undergoing a process of consolidation to reduce costs.[viii] These closures have had significant ramifications for those who are required to report to such authorities, and for groups seeking to provide solidarity, with little consideration of such impacts from the Home Office. This includes the effect upon a person’s ability to remain compliant, or upon their eventual decision to return to a home or third country, as well as the difficulties that distant relocation creates for effective support and advocacy.

In 2015, an example of such closure and relocation was witnessed when the Home Office building in North Shields (Northumbria House), situated on the outskirts of the city of Newcastle in North East England, was closed with all services conducted there relocated. Those dispersed to housing in Newcastle and its surrounds, and reporting in North Shields, are now required to report in the city of Middlesbrough. In late 2014 in Bristol, reporting was relocated from the Trinity Road Police centre in central Bristol, to the new Patchway regional police centre, in South Gloucestershire, roughly 7 miles north of Bristol city centre, taking 45 minutes by bus. These are just two examples of relocation and increased travel distances for those reporting.

For those required to report, provision of a travel allowance is provided only to those who fall under Section 95 support, or in the case of Section 4, under a separate provision, at the discretion of the Home Office. For those facing lengthy and often costly travel to their reporting location without travel allowance or other outside support this can become an impossibility, sometimes resulting in walking becoming the only option. Those without travel support are typically also required to report most frequently, on a weekly basis, due to their high-susceptibility to being deported. For those who are eligible to receive vouchers for their travel, they must know to ask an UKVI agent at their reporting event for the correct form, or rely on the goodwill of an agent to notify them of this right. Therefore it is likely that many go without support that they are entitled to.

Conclusion

The little-known use of reporting, as I have discussed here, produces significant and additional anxiety and insecurity to those awaiting an outcome on their claim for asylum within the UK. Reporting is deeply coupled with the use of detention and deportation, and in the ongoing monitoring of asylum seekers by the UK state. Further insecurities are created through the geography of reporting centres, often located in remote locations, far from government-provided housing, forcing many to travel at their own cost, at risk of being seen as ‘non-compliant’ by the Home Office. There is a need for critical research in to the use of reporting, and distinctions in experience and treatment for those reporting at police stations or Home Office facilities. At present, reporting is a largely hidden process, where people disappear regularly.

Andrew Burridge is a political geographer, and was previously Lead Researcher on Professor Nick Gill’s study of asylum appeals hearings in the UK, based at the University of Exeter (funded by the ESRC). Previously Andrew has conducted extensive research for his PhD in the Mexico-U.S. borderlands, which was concerned with migrant deaths, securitization practices, and humanitarianism, while based at the University of Southern California. While at the International Boundaries Research Unit at Durham University, his research investigated the developing practices of border management conducted by the EU agency Frontex. He is co-editor of Beyond Walls and Cages: Prisons, Borders and Global Crisis (with Jenna Loyd and Matt Mitchelson, UGA Press 2012).

Please note that the views held by the author are their own and are not representative of the institution(s) to which they belong.

 

[i] Eiri Ohtani and Jerome Phelps, “Without Detention: Opportunities for Alternatives,” Detention Action, September 2016, p.21

[ii] Ines Hasselberg, “Coerced to Leave: Punishment and the Surveillance of Foreign-National Offenders in the UK,” Surveillance and Society, 12(4) (2014): 472; see also Ines Hasselberg, “Reporting to the Home Office: Control, Risk and Insecurity”, https://www.law.ox.ac.uk/research-subject-groups/centre-criminology/centreborder-criminologies/blog/2015/05/reporting-home

[iii] Axel Klein and Lucy Williams, “Immigration Detention in the Community: Research on the Experiences of Migrants Released from Detention Centres in the UK,” Population, Place and Space 18 (2012): 741-753; The use of curfews was recently found to be unlawful, see Catrin Nye, “Unlawful immigration curfews under government review”, BBC News, November 4, 2016, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-37787007

[iv] Lotte Lewis Smith, “UK “voluntary” returns – refugee coercion and NGO complicity,” https://www.irinnews.org/investigations/2017/02/21/exclusive-uk-%E2%80%9Cvoluntary%E2%80%9D-returns-%E2%80%93-refugee-coercion-and-ngo-complicity

[v] Toni Guillot, “Asylum seeker reporting centre to be opened in central Middlesbrough”, Gazzette Live, http://www.gazettelive.co.uk/news/teesside-news/asylum-seeker-reporting-centre-open-8134124.

[vi] Nicholas De Genova, “Migrant “Illegality” and Deportability in Everyday Life,”

Annual Review of Anthropology 31(2002): 419-447

[vii] “Removal Windows, Injunctions and Out of Country Appeals: The Acceleration of Enforced Removals,” https://www.freemovement.org.uk/removal-windows-injunctions-and-out-of-country-appeals-the-acceleration-of-enforced-removals

[viii] “My Local Border Post”, Chris, http://bordercriminologies.law.ox.ac.uk/my-local-border-post.

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