Listen now 28 mins
Controlling the country's borders has provoked a huge national debate, with mounting concern over levels of immigration helping UKIP secure 27.5% of the vote in the recent European Election polls. Winifred Robinson looks at what the Government plans to do in response, including measures by Home Secretary Theresa May, to deter EU nationals from heading to this country and to deal with those claiming benefits who don't have a realistic prospect of finding a job.
The recordings take us into the world of immigration control at a very timely moment: this is a key political issue and one which is creating debate and discussion around the country. David Cameron's promise to cut net migration to 'tens of thousands' by the next election took a blow recently as figures showed it stood at 212,000 in 2013, a rise of 35,000 over the previous year. The quarterly figure of 212,000 was more than double the 100,000 target the Conservatives set for net migration by next year's general election.
One charity that has quietly been helping thousands of people to return to their home countries is Refugee Action. In 2011 it secured the Home Office contract to run the Choices Service, which helps support asylum seekers, irregular migrants and some with temporary leave to remain to consider their options. For those who wish to return voluntarily the service offers support and follow up here and in their home countries. In addition to free flights, some of those returning are also entitled to up to £1,500 to help build a new life and make their returns more sustainable.
In the year ending March 2014, 4,252 people had returned under the Choices Assisted Voluntary Services (AVR) and almost double that number had accessed the Choices service. According to caseworker Astalli it is all about making the process as dignified as possible:
'This isn't forced removal - this is all about helping people leave as humanely and with as much dignity as possible. By the time they are at the airport preparing to go their minds are made up. They know they are going back and what we do is make that process as smooth as possible for them.'
Winifred also tracks some of the new EU migrants arriving in the UK from Romania - travelling with them from Calais as they criss-cross the country for jobs in car washes, on farms and construction sites and in warehouses. In places the welcome they get isn't that welcoming: fears about them taking opportunities, driving down wages and claiming benefits abound. With our borders open to people from other countries in the EU we can expect a debate about how to impose tougher conditions and earning the right to benefits in the run up to the general election next year.
New laws which came into effect this year make it easier for the authorities to identify illegal immigrants and easier to remove and deport them by cutting the number of decisions that can be appealed. The Immigration Act 2014 also makes it harder to people with no legal status to settle here by requiring landlords, banks and the DVLA to check on immigration status and it introduced a new requirement for people coming in on temporary visas to repay the NHS for any healthcare they receive.
At Heathrow airport Winifred hears from one man voluntarily returning to Angola after years of living in the UK.
The money he receives from the Refugee Action Choices service will, he says, enable him to catch up in Angola and he hopes to build a successful life. At the airport members of his London evangelical church have come to see him off and although he is resigned to going it has been a difficult decision: 'To make new opportunities you have to be prepared for things to be hard before they get better. My life has been here but home is home and I am hoping that I can start again. The money helps with that - it makes returning easier to accept.'.
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