Campaign Against Refugee Destitution
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Failed asylum seekers
Abdoulaye Diabate and Taha Ghasemi
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When the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches met in Swansea (April 15th-April 18th, 2011) they affirmed the Charter for Compassion, congratulated Amnesty International on its 50th Anniversary and voted to support action in favour of ending the destitution of asylum seekers. www.unitarian.org.uk/info/news-GA2011.shtml
Background In February 2011 the charity, Oxfam warned of a hidden crisis on the streets of Britain as thousands of refused asylum seekers face destitution. Oxfam's new research revealed that many of these destitute, failed asylum seekers are regularly going hungry and that they have no safe place to live or sleep.
With no income, they are forced to live a hand-to-mouth existence, relying for food and shelter on handouts from friends or voluntary organisations, and often sleeping rough. Many resort to taking cash-in-hand work when they can get it, or even entering into abusive relationships or sex work to survive.
Oxfam is calling on the government to end policies that lead to the destitution of refused asylum seekers - and for a fair, efficient asylum system that protects the rights and dignity of the people who use it.
In the UK, asylum seekers normally receive government accommodation and cash support of £35.52 a week. Those who have had an asylum claim refused are moved to 'Section 4 Support' - accommodation and an Azure payment card (not cash) worth £35.39 a week - which they can use only in a limited number of shops.
Section 4 Support is conditional on agreeing to return home as soon as the UK government considers it is safe for someone to do so. The majority of refused asylum seekers do not apply for Section 4 Support because they have little faith in the asylum system and think they have been wrongly denied asylum. Indeed, almost a third of initial decisions are overturned on appeal, demonstrating the poor quality of the decision making process. Refused asylum seekers do not want to accept the condition that they will return home when the UK government (rather than they themselves) thinks it is safe to do so. Not taking Section 4 Support leaves refused asylum seekers with no money and no accommodation. In any case, delays in processing applications for Section 4 mean that even those who apply may still be forced into destitution, receiving nothing for many months. Destitute refused asylum-seekers are only able to access hospital medical care for emergency treatment or any treatment they were receiving during their asylum claim. We really don't know how many refused asylum seekers are living in destitution in the UK, but the most recent official estimate was between 155,000 and 283,500. Whilst many may have since returned voluntarily, or been granted status, we do know that in 2009, Red Cross provided emergency assistance to 11,600 destitute asylum seekers, of which the majority were refused asylum seekers.
Proposal Speech at the Unitarian Meeting
|Bob Pounder at the Meeting|
President, delegates, ladies and gentlemen, Bob Pounder, Oldham Unitarian Chapel moving motion 6 concerning the destitution
of refused asylum seekers:
To use a well known phrase we Unitarians might 'talk the talk' but the question as always is can we 'walk the walk'? Surely this is the great test of all people, of all denominations, of all the world's great faiths. In 'talking the talk' and 'walking the walk' we can become enlivened, relevant and progressive. We can become people of our time, who are able to address the issue of our day, and it is right and proper that we should.
And so in speaking to this motion which for all its apparent complexity, is really simple and straightforward - it's about the Golden Rule, about treating people as we ourselves would like to be treated; with human dignity and with respect. So I feel we must do what love requires.
A famous trade union leader of the early twentieth century said of Jewish immigration into England, "We know that you are our brothers but we wish you had not come."
But we Unitarians, to borrow from our American cousins who say we should be on the 'side of love' must say, "We know that you are our sisters and brothers and we are glad that you are here!"
We are glad that you asylum seekers are not in prison for standing up for your rights, we are glad that you are no longer being tortured or raped, we are glad that you have managed to escape from an enforced marriage, to escape from an honour killing. We are glad that you do not face being murdered for belonging to the wrong tribe, or for practising the wrong religion. Welcome to our country, may you prosper, grow strong and enrich our lives and communities.
How can we say otherwise and not be true to ourselves, to our faith and to our own liberal tradition?
And so it is, sisters and brothers that I bring this motion, to point out the true facts, the reality of life for many asylum seekers. And let's be clear what an asylum seeker is, here's the official definition:
An asylum seeker is someone who has a well founded fear of being persecuted (by the state) for reasons of nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.
Asylum seekers come to this country for protection- but for many their suffering does not end there because they are often refused asylum because of appalling decisions made inside the asylum determination process. It's a fact that one third of asylum applications initially refused are actually overturned on appeal, and even those that are not successful at that stage go on to make fresh claims that are successful at a later date. So this motion amongst other things addresses the need to improve the quality of decision making in the asylum determination process.
But we are going further than that because we know from research concluded here, right here - which is Swansea University's Centre for Migration Policy Research, that there are 155,000 to 283,500 human beings - people like us, seeking asylum and living in destitution. Destitution occurs when you are failed by the processing system and yet cannot go home because of fear of persecution or worse.
I want to be clear: When you are a destitute asylum seeker, you receive no benefits from the estate, you don't even get food vouchers, you have nowhere to live, you don't even have the right to work, to get paid employment and it can be difficult if not impossible to access the services of the NHS.
I have heard the expression; 'bogus asylums seekers', but I see asylum seekers every week and 'bogus' isn't actually a word that comes to mind. All I can say is that forcing people into destitution, as we can see, does not force or lead asylum seekers to return to their own countries. They can't go back to the suffering and the risk so they adopt survival strategies, living in poverty, living in fear of deportation, reliant on friends on transactional relationships, on being paid for sex or doing low paid illegal work, sleeping on park benches, and even in wheelie bins.
But as the Oxfam report says, being human means that you have to have access to necessary resources on a day to day basis and that you are allowed dignity. It also means that you should have some hope for the future.
We can play a part in building that hope. Today we can send a signal to the government this General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches insists that all humanity is worthy of dignity and respect and that the brutal and discredited policy of destitution for some of the most vulnerable people in our society must end now.
Other links: http://www.38degrees.org.uk/page/speakout/PermissionToWork