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2013/03 - Asylum seekers

Guest speaker Jo (an Intern with 'Faith in Action' who spent 6 months on placement with ASSIST)

We spent some time explaining our own experiences of Asylum Seekers (if any) - there was a wide variety of feedback from this. Raised the point that there is often confusion between Asylum Seekers and economic migrants, though the dividing line between them is not always clear cut.

Claiming Asylum:
  • UN defined the term 'Asylum Seeker' in the 1940s - originally this was to protect Jews, but was quickly expanded to all people groups:
    • Any person who: owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country. [Wikipedia]
  • Shortly after arrival in the country they need to explain exactly why they are claiming asylum and to present their evidence (e.g. newspaper articles, evidence of torture, documents).
  • Often this is with limited/no access to an interpreter, legal advice or even time to collect their thoughts or to find out they can trust the authority figures they are talking to (especially relevant if they are fleeing the authority figures in their home country). Small details left out or stated incorrectly at this point can lead to a total collapse of their case at a later date.
  • Until the case is heard, Asylum Seekers are given a small amount of benefits and accommodation.
  • One third of applicants were initially turned down in 2011. At this point they can:
    • Go home - the government will pay for the transportation costs back to their country of origin
    • Stay illegally and appeal - with no benefits, no housing; banned from (legally) working or begging; could be deported without notice
Why is this unfair?
  1. Choosing to stay despite destitution is not regarded as evidence of a genuine reason for not returning to the home country
  2. Appeals should be sorted out in 6 months, many take 10-15 years
  3. Dawn raids on accommodation to take failed Asylum Seekers to detention centres (this no longer includes children, but still includes pregnant women)
  4. G4S have now lost the contract for deporting Asylum Seekers, but still have the contract to sort out housing (which they are not doing very well at). Capita is being paid by results to find failed Asylum Seekers to deport.
  5. Inflammatory media reporting, often inaccurate or completely wrong, without repercussions to the journalists, e.g. 'Kick out the scum' headlines 
Over recent years the UK attitude to Asylum Seekers has got worse and applications have reduced, but what has been the human cost of this?

Correcting misconceptions:
  • UK has relatively small number of Asylum Seekers - Pakistan has the largest (per capita). Countries neighbouring war zones / repressive regimes have the most.
  • Asylum Seekers are not given 'preferential treatment', over need UK citizens, they don't get 'free TVs' (just low quality accommodation and minimal benefits until they are successful, or until they fail and it is cut off completely).
  • Asylum Seekers do not spread disease into this country - a medical examination of 5000 Asylum Seekers found no infectious diseases, but plenty of malnutrition and evidence of torture.
Questions:
  • How can we find the right balance - we can't fit every person who wants to leave a war zone / repressive regime into this country?
    • Maybe we could at least make the process more friendly and treat people with respect, rather than with suspicion
  • How do failed Asylum Seekers support themselves?
    • Women - often prostitution. More generally, staying with friends / other Asylum Seekers who have not yet had their cases heard. Others work illegally (very open to exploitation). Some are supported by charities.
  • How many times can they appeal?
    • Each claim for Asylum can be appealed once, within a very short space of time. However, if there is fresh evidence (e.g. worsening situation in the country of origin, greater international awareness of the situation, new documentation obtained) a new claim may be started. There is not a limit on the number of new claims (but there is a risk of being deported before a new claim can be put in).
What steps can you take:
  • Help to increase awareness of the situation - many newspaper headlines are misleading or just plain wrong. Talk to people!
  • ASSIST - supports 60 Asylum Seekers in Sheffield per week with funds and accommodation. 
    • Almost all of the money donated goes directly to Asylum Seekers (the two paid workers at ASSIST are funded externally).
    • They could always do with extra volunteers to help out.
    • Would you be willing to open up your home to an Asylum Seeker?
  • Going along to a conversation club to help people to improve their spoken English (ask Anne for some times/places).
  • Signing petitions to stop the deportation of (and reopen appeals for) individual failed Asylum Seekers - CDAS . Your signature carries weight even if you do not know the Asylum Seeker yourself (but if you do, you can also write supporting letters on their behalf). Note: Immigration authorities only count a maximum of 10 signatures per sheet of paper.
  • Write to your MP http://www.writetothem.com/ - either about individual situations (Paul Blomfield has been very sympathetic to these in the past), or about changes to current legislation
  • Take a look at some of the STAR (Student Action for Refugees) campaigns
  • Would it be worth writing letters back to newspapers that publish inflammatory (and incorrect) articles about Asylum Seekers (don't expect to get published, but maybe enough letters might make a difference?)
  • Help out with English language teaching - Sheffield Association for Voluntary Teaching of English (SAVTE)
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