Citizens UK – for the people or the state?
January 10, 2013 — Comment
Written by Harmit Athwal
Is a human rights charity working too closely with the UK Border Agency (UKBA)?
A recent HM Inspector of Prisons report into the privately-run Sandford House short-term holding facility states that: ‘Reliance’s detainee welfare forum minutes suggested that some diversity training by Citizens UK’ is ‘being rolled out.’
Citizens UK, when asked about this, told IRR News that this was a mistake and that its ‘work with Reliance in relation to the National Independent Commission on Enforced Removals’ had been misinterpreted ‘as training’ and that ‘CITIZENS UK has not provided diversity training to Reliance staff and there are no plans to do so at present.’
The organisation went on to say: ‘CITIZENS UK has been engaging with Reliance, amongst others, through the process of the National Independent Commission on Enforced Removals. We have observed Reliance training days, which has proved crucial to the Commission and the recommendations we are now able to put forward in the report… Reliance have proved responsive and accountable, with their CEO attending two of our assemblies, and making significant commitments. Deportation, detention and enforced removals are very difficult and traumatic for our members and Citizens UK will continue to engage with all relevant stakeholders to make the immigration system humane, fair, accountable and transparent.’
Citizens UK is also involved in a ‘Community Sponsor Pilot’ project. ‘We have begun work with Citizens UK on a non-financial basis to develop a pilot to test the concept of community sponsors’, writes the UKBA’s David Wood (Criminality and Detention Group) in a letter to corporate partners. ‘We are currently in the planning phase of the pilot which aims to see whether suitably accredited people, who have a pre-existing relationship of trust with an asylum seeker, can offer ongoing, pastoral support to the individual/family going through the asylum process which is of benefit to both the applicant and UKBA. The sponsorship role is rooted in a voluntary and non-professional relationship and does not seek to replace professional advice or the role of other voluntary or state based organisations.’
Citizens UK is a UK-wide organisation with eight chapters which bring together ‘churches, mosques and synagogues; schools, colleges and universities; unions, think-tanks and housing associations; GP surgeries, charities and migrant groups to work together for the common good.’ It has carried out important campaigns to highlight the plight of low-paid workers in its Living Wage Campaign and its more recent CitySafe Campaign seeks to help young people in danger.
There is no doubt that Citizens UK has made some very important political interventions but now it appears to be succumbing, like a number of other voluntary sector groups, to state blandishments. Other examples include Barnardo’s, which provides welfare services at Cedars, the family friendly detention centre for families with children in Crawley and Refugee Action, which runs the Choices Assisted Voluntary Return Service. This new contract culture into which charities are being beguiled raises important questions about the nature of charitable organisations and their demarcation from state agencies.
Yesterday, plans were announced to open the probation service to competition from the private and charitable sectors, with proposals for ‘payment by results as an incentive to focus on rehabilitating offenders’. Surely some social responsibilities cannot simply be privatised and ‘sold’ to the lowest bidder?
Read an IRR News Story: ‘Does Barnardo’s legitimise child detention?‘
Read an IRR News Story: ‘The politics of voluntary returns‘
The Institute of Race Relations is precluded from expressing a corporate view: any opinions expressed are therefore those of the authors.