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New centre to help vulnerable migrants

‘Applications weigh over a kilo... and can be sent back if there is the smallest clerical error’

24 November, 2017 — By Joe Cooper

MP Emily Thornberry with volunteer manager Caz Hattam, far left, and co-ordinator Ally Scott

A NEW service for vulnerable migrants in desperate situations has been launched in Upper Street.

The New Unity Migrant Centre is supporting people who have faced cuts to legal aid and increases in Home Office application fees. Existing services such as Islington Law Centre are already struggling to keep up with huge demand, according to organisers.

It mainly deals with single and often pregnant mothers who are working full-time around childcare commitments and relying on overstretched friends for support and accommodation. Casework has gone up since the government began routinely granting people with human rights cases permission to stay, but with “no recourse to public funds (NRPF)”. People with this status can work and pay tax, but are unable to claim benefits or access most state support.

Jenny Kay, a steering committee member, said: “What this has meant is many people are having to live in extremely exploitative situations, with landlords or abusive partners, for example.” She said the forms required to have NRPF lifted are dense and complex and have to be signed off by immigration advisers, adding: “These applications weigh over a kilo when they are complete. And they can be sent back if there is the smallest clerical error. I think it is part of a conscious decision to make it difficult for people to stay here.”

The centre has had several successful challenges to NRPF in its first few months. The Tribune spoke to one woman who had to leave her partner and live with her son in a hostel in another borough. Initially, her local council’s children’s services department would not help due to her NRPF status. Jane (not her real name), who works as a cleaner and has lived in London for 20 years, spent more than £2,000 on an expedited form to have her status lifted, but it was rejected last month. “I felt like my heart had been ripped out,” the 42-year-old said. “I was left with nothing. I can’t describe how it feels. My pay is £600 but my rent is £1,000. I am not sitting waiting for a handout, I just need a break.”

Ms Kay, an Islington councillor, said the centre had been taken aback by the amount of support received from the community so far. All work has been done for free so far, with initial funding from 30 councillors via The Local Initiatives Fund, but it is hoped money can be raised to pay staff to make the service viable in the long term. Islington South and Finsbury MP Emily Thornberry visited the centre on Friday. She said: “The forms that the Home Office expect people to fill out are really daunting. I’m worried that migrants and their families are missing out on the basic support to which they are entitled. If the Unity Project can help people through the red tape – that will be a huge help.”

Andy Pakula, minister of New Unity and one of the founding members of the Unity Project migrant centre, said: “This work lies at the heart of New Unity’s mission to promote social justice. The Unity Project is providing vital assistance to some of the people in our communities who need it most. As a non-religious church, we feel privileged to be able to help in this way.”

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