THE Bishop of Stafford, the Rt Revd Geoff Annas, has called on the Government to rethink its decision to close an asylum-seeker reporting centre in Stoke-on-Trent.
The closure of the Etruria reporting centre in Stoke has meant that asylum-seekers have to embark on a round trip of up to 100 miles to Dallas Court, in Salford, to report. Some have to report weekly; others monthly or half-yearly.
In a letter to the Immigration Minister, Caroline Nokes, on Tuesday, Bishop Annas, a suffragan in the Lichfield diocese, wrote that the arrangements were “impractical, unsafe, and unsustainable”.
The weekly allowance for asylum-seekers, besides accommodation, is £37. Bishop Annas said: “The cost of transport to Dallas Court from Stoke is at least £20 per person. This covers train fare and the bus journeys. The coach is cheaper, but takes longer and terminates further away from the reporting centre, thus making the journey more difficult. Even when using the train, the journey takes at least two hours from Stoke to Dallas Court.
“Many find it hard to find Dallas Court, and once there I have heard stories of people having to queue from two to four hours outside without any cover. There has been little or no consideration of people’s disabilities or vulnerable circumstances or safeguarding issues.
“Clearly, this whole situation is adding to the distress of those already carrying the scars of their previous lives, and the increased stress and anxiety exacerbates depression and other mental-health conditions.”
The Bishop continues: “Despite the offer of some concessions from the Reporting and Offender Management Team, the current reporting arrangements for those in Stoke-on-Trent remain impractical, unsafe, and unsustainable. They put people at risk of harm and of breaking their bail conditions, which carry serious consequences for them.”
He requested in the letter that travel costs for all supported and unsupported asylum-seekers and care-leavers be provided; that those who were medically unfit to travel to Manchester should not have to; that single parents should not be required to report frequently, and that the travel costs for their whole family should be covered; and that clear directions to Dallas Court should be issued to all who were required to report there.
On Thursday, a Home Office spokesperson said: “When taking the decision to close the Immigration Reporting at Stoke police station, the needs of all reportees were considered, along with the frequency of reporting being tailored to the individual and their required level of contact.
“Individuals receiving asylum support are provided with travel cards or reimbursed accordingly to ensure they are not at a financial detriment.”
This is disputed by organisations in Stoke, including Asylum Matters and Stoke and North Staffs Citzens’ Advice Bureau, who said in a briefing that asylum seekers are forced to “sacrifice some essentials to pay for these travel costs”.
The Team Vicar of Holy Evangelists’, Hanley, the Revd Sally Smith, who has asylum-seekers in her congregation, said on Thursday: “This decision that has been made by the Home Office, without consultation with stakeholders prior to its implementation, has caused, and continues to cause, extreme distress and practical difficulties for families and individuals, many of whom are particularly vulnerable.
“Each week, at our Sanctus drop-in, we attempt to support those most severely affected, sometimes providing a volunteer to make the journey with someone, at our own expense.”
One asylum-seeker in her congregation, said: “I feel they are trying to punish me, and drive me away from their country by making me suffer more and more.”