The closure of a reporting station is forcing vulnerable asylum seekers to make regular journeys of five hours for appointments that may last little more than two minutes.
The Home Office has told people living in Stoke-on-Trent who have pending asylum and immigration claims that they will have to travel to Salford, around 40 miles away, to report to authorities.
Campaign group Right to Remain said the closure is an extreme example in a wider problem of asylum seekers having to travel long and often expensive distances to mandatory reporting appointments.
One charity said the change in Stoke had led to “unmanageable” demand on local services with a 28% increase in people seeking help from them since the immigration reporting station at Stoke police station was closed.
“We have some people who are so severely physically disabled, it is literally beyond their capacity to make a journey like this on public transport,” Jude Hawes, from Citizen Advice Bureau in Stoke, said.
“I can’t tell you how shocked and distressed people have been by this. There are a lot of people who receive no Home Office support, people will exploit them, take advantage of them,” she added.
Asylum seekers whose claims are pending have to sign in to their local reporting centre or police station, usually on a weekly, monthly or six-monthly basis.
“While we believe the scale of what is happening in Stoke is unprecedented, issues around reporting are widespread,” spokesperson Luke Butterly at Right to Remain told Sky News.
“As a rule, travelling to report is a difficult journey – both in the time and money it takes.”
He said it is common for people to have to travel long distances across cities to report to regular asylum meetings, journeys that for people living on an allowance of £37 a week prove to be costly and burdensome.
The Home Office said that all people receiving asylum support were provided with travel cards or reimbursed. However, not all of those reporting have the rights to access funds.
“When taking the decision to close the Immigration Reporting at Stoke police station, the needs of all reportees were considered, along with the frequency of reporting being tailored to the individual and their required level of contact,” a Home Office spokesperson told Sky News.
Shadow home secretary Diane Abbot said the decision has”caused distress and added to the financial hardship of vulnerable asylum seekers” and called the move “another display” of “hostile environment policies”.
Asylum seekers may also be detained and deported when they report to authorities, a factor that adds to the psychological stress of the journey.
Mishka, who has been reporting to authorities, said the fear of re-detention makes the experience of reporting “bitter” and “traumatic”.
But it was also worsened by a lack of support or engagement from staff during an appointment.
“People sometimes travel hours to reporting centres just to show their faces and leave,” he said.