A charity who provides free legal advice to asylum seekers in Birmingham and the West Midlands is closing down, despite being financially healthy. Trustees of the charity have rejected attempts by the workers’ union, United Voices of the World (UVW) to negotiate with them, after the workers’ asked for union recognition and an end to alleged trade union victimisation. The workers are calling for the charity to be saved so they can continue providing asylum seekers the legal advice and support they need.
Eve Phillips, an immigration caseworker for ASIRT and UVW member, said:
“There is already a significant lack of free specialist advice and support in the West Midlands compared to the vast need for it and to lose ASIRT would have a hugely detrimental effect on the sector and the hundreds of people that ASIRT works with. There simply isn’t capacity in the sector to refer these individuals and families on to if the service were to close and they could very realistically be left unrepresented and unsupported; they could lose their leave to remain, they could lose their homes, they could be at risk of removal from the UK, they could be left at risk of exploitation having to raise thousands of pounds to pay private solicitors. We are concerned that closing the organisation is a bid to avoid accountability.”
Alistair Robinson, a caseworker for ASIRT and UVW member, said:
“Under the hostile environment, migrants in the UK are facing an increasing onslaught in every area of their lives, due to the racist policies set and enforced by the central government. We’re proud at ASIRT to go the extra mile to support those who often have nowhere else to turn, amid a climate of fear where migrants face barriers to support, either by design, or a lack of training in statutory support services.
“I’d like the Chair of the Board Isata Kanneh to step down with immediate effect, and for the rest of the board to work with us as we transform ASIRT into an organisation where the service users and staff have a real say.”
Matt Collins, a union official for United Voices of the World, said:
“The behaviour of the ASIRT board has been horrendous, our members have been consistently met with stonewalling from the trustees, who have refused engagement with the staff’s union despite 100% of staff being members. Now, having sacked an interim director, who advocated engagement with the staff and their union, they now seem to be attempting to shut down an invaluable social resource for the most vulnerable in society rather than come to the table and talk to the workers. UVW calls upon the ASIRT board to do the right thing and negotiate with its staff, recognise their union and do anything and everything possible to preserve the organisation.”