Two Gurdwaras from the Midlands are among community organisations which have been helping the Home Office by offering asylum seekers advice on how to return home.
RAPAR (Refugee and Asylum Participatory Action Research) is a Human rights organisation, discovered the names of all 21 organisations that are helping push a voluntary returns scheme.
The scheme is to help asylum seekers or migrants with an expired visa to opt to return to their home country without fear of law enforcement.
The Gurdwaras in the Midlands involved have been named as the Gurdwara Baba Deep Singh Shaheed, Handsworth and Guru Nanak Gurdwara, Smethwick.
Refugee organisations have expressed concerns over having ‘Voluntary Return Surgeries’ in communities as they fear vulnerable people are not being informed on all of their options and that these organisations may be paid to encourage migrants to leave the UK.
However, a spokesperson from Gurdwara Baba Deep Singh Shaheed said it runs the service on a voluntary basis to offer advice and has done for several years.
A representative of the Gurdwara in Handsworth said: “We have been running these surgeries for three or four years and never had any complaints about it.
“It’s usually just three people sitting around a table coming in for help.
“It’s usually people who have came here to seek asylum and have had to wait too long. People can be here for 20 years before they get told they can stay.
“Sometimes it’s just that they have a family event, like a wedding or something back home and they decide they want to go back.
“We do also see people here who have a lot of trouble getting their passports, it’s a common struggle for Indian citizens with the embassy.
“We don’t know where the allegations are coming from that we are funded for this because we don’t and we have no idea where the money goes because it’s not coming to us.
“If it were, all the temples would be doing it.”
The voluntary return scheme offers the individual up to £2,000 if they agree to leave the UK which they can use to start a business or find accommodation when they return home. This money doesn’t go to the organisations that hosts the surgery.
The Home Office has confirmed grants are available for those who host these surgeries if they were to apply for it. It has not confirmed which organisations are currently receiving funding.
Migrant charity, Migrant Voice said it was concerned about the advice being given at these meetings and claims the voluntary returns scheme has troubled it for years.
According to the organisation’s director, the decisions made to voluntarily return are usually made out of desperation or pressure and the organisation is concerned that the individual will not be safe when they return home.
Director of Migrant Voice Nazek Ramadan said: “We have always had concerns about the Home Office ‘voluntary returns’ service, as we know from people we work with that the decision to return is often not voluntary at all but made out of desperation, with people feeling bullied or forced into returning.
“Years of a hostile environment and increasingly complex immigration regulations have left many migrants without status through no fault of their own and desperate enough that returning home seems like the only option.
“What these people need is free, trustworthy legal advice, the return of legal aid, a proper appeals process and a functioning Home Office that makes fair, transparent decisions about the lives of people in this country.”
In a statement issued by the Home Office, it declared a need for these surgeries out in the communities and claimed that they are conducted properly by their officers.
It said: “Immigration surgeries give people the opportunity to speak to immigration officers about the steps they should take to regularise their stay or to get practical support to return voluntarily.
“These are held in community and faith based locations, including mosques, in order to have conversations with individuals without the fear of arrest. Home Office staff build relationships with community leaders and surgeries are conducted with their permission.
“Fingerprints are not taken at immigration surgeries. No personal information of those attending surgeries are held by Immigration Enforcement unless that person requests a voluntary return appointment.”