Immigration officials target mosques, temples and churches to advise people to return home

Exclusive: Migrant groups call for 'hostile environment' policies to be removed, arguing that people hoping to find safe places to pray are being 'conned'. Immigration enforcement officials target places of worship to advise people with unsafe status to return to their home countries, The Independent has learned.

A team of specialists from the Home Office has carried out more than 400 “community engagement operations” at temples, mosques, gurdwaras and churches over the past three years – a fourfold increase since 2019. At least three times last year, officials made immigration enforcement visits to places of worship that resulted in bringing people directly to airports, according to figures obtained through a Public Information Disclosure Act (FOI) request.

Migrant groups and charities have criticized the practice, calling for the "hostile environment" policy to be scrapped and claiming people were being "conned". Mary Atkinson, policy adviser for the Joint Council on Immigrant Welfare (JCWI), told The Independent: “Immigration enforcement has no place in the religious space – governments need to stop running these workshops immediately and remove the hostile environment so everyone can access public services. the important one." The “hostile environment” was a series of policies introduced in 2012 by the then home secretary, Theresa May, which were intended to make living in the UK as difficult as possible for people without permission to remain in the hope that they would leave with volunteer.

Operations at religious sites are being carried out by officials from the Home Affairs Office's National Community Engagement Team (NCET), a branch of the department's Immigration Enforcement function. They are aimed at undocumented migrants, failed asylum seekers, and other groups of migrants to advise on how to access government voluntary return, reintegration schemes, and question and answer sessions on extensions of stay, student visas, EU settlements, and application delays.

Their whereabouts came to light as controversy raged over the government's handling of migrants arriving by boat across the English Channel. The revelations come as home secretary Suella Braverman faces possible legal action over conditions at the migrant processing center at Manston Airfield, where 4,000 people are crammed into a facility meant for 1,600 people.

A nine-year-old girl described her condition as "prison-like" in a letter she threw at the guardrail. Although the center is designed to handle cases within 24 hours, there are reports of asylum seekers remaining up to a month, with some sleeping in tents.

A hasty operation to bring down the number of people saw 1,200 people busted out of the camps over four days, but the Home Office was forced to apologize as some were left sleeping soundly on the streets of London.

Home Secretary Chris Philp was branded "heartless" after saying it was "a bit of a cheek" for them to complain about conditions when they choose to travel to the UK from countries where they can live safely. In another development, riot police were called to the Harmondsworth detention center near Heathrow Airport on Friday night after a group of armed detainees caused a "disruption" during a power outage.

And on Saturday, Counter Terrorism Policing South East declared that the bombing of an immigration processing center in Dover last weekend was a terrorist incident, "motivated by extreme right-wing ideology". Figures released under the KIP Law show that in 2019, 46 operations were carried out at places of worship, compared to 167 in 2021.

The Home Office said 137 operations were held at religious sites from January to the end of July this year, suggesting that the figure for 2022 could be a record high. Atkinson from JCWI said the religious space was very important for those who already felt excluded in the UK.

“All kinds of faith spaces are important places for reflection, community and spirituality.

“They are often even more important to migrants who, because of the government's anti-migrant obsession, face discrimination and are denied the most essential services.

"That's why it's so shocking to see the Home Office violate the sanctity of these spaces and use them to chase worshipers."

According to figures, 98 sessions were held at religious venues in Southall, west London, over the past three years. Shakila Taranum Maan of domestic violence charity Southall Black Sisters said: “Many of our clients have been duped and misinformed about the purpose of this operation.

“We have spoken to people who thought they were going to get help but instead they were advised to leave England and they were told 'this is how much you will give'. Home Office officials are not identified clearly enough, so people give out all their personal information, not knowing who they give these details to.

“Our clients feel this is a violation of the basics of worship – people go there because they are in chaos, to seek and seek peace. People often go there to eat in the soup kitchen.

“I believe that the leaders who allowed this session to be held in their place betrayed the trust of our community. It goes against the ethos they want to do."

Other hotspots for Home Office operations include the Guru Ravidass Gurdwara in Birmingham, which has hosted more than 35 operations so far this year, and the Hindu temple Shri Sanatan in Ealing, west London, which has allowed Home Office officials to enter the premises 83 times since its inception. year 2019.

While there are assurances that the operation did not result in enforcement action, data obtained by The Independent shows that at least three times last year Home Office officials made immigration enforcement visits to places of worship.

The Home Office said "the purpose of this visit is to transport the individual to the airport to make an arranged voluntary departure". The current Home Office guidelines on community engagement visits by the NCET team state: “Some communities, as well as religious communities, may not be willing to assist police/immigration in carrying out operations. Reasonable steps should be taken to seek advice from the communities concerned.”

The guidelines also state that, when planning operations, “you must ensure and provide evidence that all other avenues of investigation have been carried out. Scheduling the operation of religious premises should be a last resort.  This article was written by EDUKASI CAMPUS.

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