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YMCA press-gangs asylum seekers into slave labour protest

the village people | 25.05.2005 18:33 | Anti-racism | Migration | Social Struggles | Birmingham | Liverpool

Human rights protesters visited the residence of the Bishop of Birmingham the morning of Tuesday 24th May to protest at his organisations involvement in the governments plans to force asylum seekers to work without pay, union rights or health and safety for basic human needs. Refugees will be forced under the scheme to perform degrading menial tasks for their meagre upkeep. If they refuse they will be made homeless and receive no support of any kind, and will be liable to be detained and deported.

The human rights protesters representing asylum seekers, symbolically chained together with the initials Y.M.C.A. branded on their backs, cleaned up the residence, removing dirt and grime from various points on the outside of the building.

Video beginning of action - video/x-msvideo 4.1M

Working on the chain gang
Working on the chain gang

Thou Shalt work for thy board & lodging
Thou Shalt work for thy board & lodging

Andrew Gorham - Bishop's Chaplin, promises a response from the Bishop
Andrew Gorham - Bishop's Chaplin, promises a response from the Bishop

Cleaning up the Bishop's plaque
Cleaning up the Bishop's plaque

Many hands . . .
Many hands . . .

They don't keep their vans very clean
They don't keep their vans very clean

A Leaving Present
A Leaving Present

A former Ugandan refugee, The Right Reverend Dr. John Tucker Mugabi Sentamu is president of the national UK YMCA. The Right Reverend fled Uganda in 1974 seeking sanctuary in the UK from Idi Amin's dictatorship.

The protesters went to voice concern over the YMCAs involvement in what can only be called an immigration slavery scheme. They are appalled by the YMCAs decision to pilot the scheme in Liverpool where there was a consultation meeting on Tuesday with the Home Office and the YMCA in Liverpool.

It's worth noting that the YMCA embraces the following christian values:

* A worldwide fellowship based on the equal value of all persons
* Respect and freedom for all, tolerance and understanding between people of different opinions
* Active concern for the needs of the community
* United effort by Christians of different traditions


The protesters aim to raise awareness of the Bishops involvement in this scheme by informing the local community and hand delivered a letter to the Bishop of Birminghams Offices. They are urging the Bishop of Birmingham to withdraw the YMCA from the forced migrant labour scheme and lobby the home office to support destitute refugees.

After delivering the letter, and failing to elicit a personal opinion from the member of the Bishop's staff who recieved it, the shackled protestors continued to clean the rather filthy exterior of the building. Then the Bishop's Chaplain, Andrew Gorham, emerged to tell us we were 'violating private property' just as we were about to leave. He also expressed paranoia that we were dirtying the building by pointing out the dirt we were trying to remove! Once he was corrected on this point he offered to pay us, but was informed that the cleaning was free, our labour gratis. He thanked us however for making our point clearly and well, and promised that the Bishop would respond to the letter.

Later in the day there was a protest at Liverpool City Council's Millenium House where the YMCA and the Home Office were consulting on piloting the forced labour scheme in Liverpool.
See for the call and background information.

The protestors are calling for similar protests at YMCA offices around the UK, and pledge to keep pressure on the YMCA and the government until they stop trying to institute slavery for refugees.

The letter delivered to the Bishop read:


(1) The Right Reverend Dr. John Tucker Mugabi Sentamu
National President of YMCA

(2) Richard Capie
Public Affairs Manager YMCA

(3) Jeff Calvert
Chief Executive Liverpool YMCA


Section 10 of Asylum and Immigration Act 2004 making hard case support under section 4 of the Immigration and Asylum Act conditional on performance of involuntary community work.

We have written to you previously (without reply) voicing our concern over the YMCAs involvement in what can only be called an immigration slavery scheme. We are still appalled by your agreement to allow Liverpool YMCA to pilot the scheme. Your statement of May 5th does nothing to reassure us. We would like to make the following points and raise the following questions. We await your response.

(1) Historically all slave-owners and masters ultimately seek to justify their role in showing that servitude somehow helps the slave. This was the position of, for example, the cotton growers of the Southern states of America at the time of the civil war slavery being portrayed as a way that black plantation workers could be educated and their welfare met. Your statement of May 5th likewise portrays section 10 as initiating a scheme that can be benevolent and helpful to asylum-seekers.

(2) In whatever way it is sanitised section 10 does construct a system of slavery for those asylum seekers subject to it because they will be denied all support unless they agree to undertake community services.

(3) Section 10 has been condemned by the Joint Committee on Human Rights of the House of Lords/House of Commons in its Fourteenth Report of Session 2003-04. In essence the criticism is one of slave labour. In particular the report attacks the section as being in breach of Article 4(2) of the European Convention of Human Rights (prohibition of forced labour), of Article 3 (prohibition on inhuman or degrading treatment) and of Article 14 (no discrimination on grounds of nationality).

(4) You say that under the proposed pilot scheme No individual will be required to carry out any specific activity against their will. This is somewhat ingenuous as an asylumseeker within the scheme who refuses to carry out all proposed activities will automatically lose all support. This is clear from clause 4 of the Immigration and Asylum (Provision of Accommodation to Failed Asylum-Seekers) Regulations 2005

(5) What trade unions have you consulted as to the employment of wageless labour?

(6) We note that you say that section 4 asylum-seekers should be allowed to enter into paid employment and that you will continue to be outspoken on this and on other matters appertaining to refugees. We agree section 4 asylum-seekers should have the right to paid work and in fact think all asylum seekers should have this right. However we are concerned that there appears to be a deliberate omission from the issues on which you are prepared to be outspoken. This is the restoration of the right to all benefits and services for asylum-seekers. In other words no benefit or service should be linked to immigration status. This would also ensure the end of the forced dispersal scheme which itself could correctly be described as being analogous to servitude.

(7) The first sentence of your statement of May 5th justifying the pilot scheme says YMCA England is the preferred provider to deliver such a scheme.

What does this mean? It is the language of corporate bodies seeking tenders rather than an organisation fighting for the rights of asylum seekers.

(8) Your entering into this scheme undermines the whole concept of voluntary work. Voluntary work by its very name suggests the freely giving of services. The present scheme is based on the compulsory giving of labour (just like dispersal is the compulsory movement of human beings).

(9) You say and present as something positive that the YMCA is also already working with a large number of failed asylum seekers through a
contract with NASS to provide accommodation to around 150 section 4 recipients. We do not necessarily consider this of benefit to refugees. For instance how many section 4 recipients have you evicted on withdrawal of section 4 support? It is clear that if the voluntary sector (along with the private sector and local authorities) had refused to become involved with the dispersal scheme then the latter could not have been implemented.

(10) This leads to the basic issue of principle at stake here. Our position is that immigration controls cannot be sanitised, cannot be rendered just, cannot be made fair. All involvement on this basis only results in collusion and in the present case in immigration slavery.

We hope you will reconsider your position


No One Is Illegal

the village people