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Challenges Facing People Seeking Asylum and Refugees: Campaigns for change and practical actions Estelle Worthington, Regional Asylum Activism Project,

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Presentation on theme: "Challenges Facing People Seeking Asylum and Refugees: Campaigns for change and practical actions Estelle Worthington, Regional Asylum Activism Project,"— Presentation transcript:

1 Challenges Facing People Seeking Asylum and Refugees: Campaigns for change and practical actions Estelle Worthington, Regional Asylum Activism Project, North West 1 st Oct 2014

2 Regional Asylum Activism: Who are we? We’re here to:  Inform and change attitudes about asylum seekers and refugees, and  Campaign for positive change to the asylum system Co-ordinated nationally by Student Action for Refugees (STAR), we work in three regions of the UK (the North West, Yorkshire and Humber, and the West Midlands). The Still Human Still Here coalition is a key project partner.

3 General background: Who are we talking about? Refugee: In the UK, a person is officially a refugee when they have their claim for asylum accepted by the government. Asylum Seeker: A person who has left their country of origin and formally applied for asylum in another country but whose application has not yet been concluded. Refused asylum seeker: A person whose asylum application has been unsuccessful and who has no other claim for protection awaiting a decision. ‘Illegal’ immigrant: Someone whose entry into or presence in a country contravenes immigration laws. Economic migrant: Someone who has moved to another country to work. Refugees are not economic migrants.

4 General background: Why do people seek protection? People seeking asylum have been forced to flee their home countries – places like Syria, Iran, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Somalia – due to conflict and persecution. Many arrive in the UK after having been threatened, detained, beaten or tortured.

5 General background: Why do people seek protection? States are responsible for protecting the fundamental human rights of their citizens. International refugee protection is designed to provide surrogate protection to individuals when the protective bond between citizen and state is severed. The UK has signed up to The 1951 United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (known as the ‘Refugee Convention/ ‘Geneva Convention’): Established the legal criteria to be a refugee Committed signatory states to non-refoulement Ensured there was no prosecution for ‘illegal’ entry Signatory states must grant refugees equal treatment as nationals

6 What challenges do people seeking protection from persecution encounter in the UK?  The UK asylum system is strictly controlled and complex  Poor decision making  Entrenched culture of disbelief at the Home Office towards anyone claiming asylum  Hostile public attitudes  Negative press  Widespread myths and misconceptions  Limited access to quality legal advice  No-choice dispersal accommodation, often in deprived areas  No permission to work  Limited access to financial support  Limited access to healthcare  Risk of destitution

7 The National Policy Context Over the last 15 years, successive British governments have passed a range of legislation about asylum and immigration designed to reduce the number of people seeking refugee protection in the UK. These policies are largely based on the idea that introducing punitive measures - particularly around access to support – will deter people from coming or force refused asylum seekers to return home. BUT …  The UK only hosts 2% of the world’s refugees, this represents approximately 0.27% of our national population (UNHCR Global Trends Report, 2011).  80% of the worlds refugees are hosted in developing countries (UNHCR Global Trends Report, 2011).  Research conducted by the Home Office demonstrates many people do not know what country they will end up in when they flee, and do not know that they won’t be permitted to work to support themselves in the UK.

8 Poverty of People Seeking Asylum:  Asylum support rates  Destitution

9 Asylum support rates  Asylum support was historically set by the Government at 70% of income support levels. But, income support has risen annually, whilst Section 95 and Section 4 has not.  Government justifies low level of support, saying it is only temporary, but average length of time on asylum support is 18 months. Current support levels force asylum seekers to live below the poverty line. Section 95, current support levels = £36.62 in cash for a single adult per week = 52% of income support levels We want this to raise to at least 70% of income support, or £7.71 per day.

10 ‘Bring Back Dignity’ – the campaign to raise asylum support rates  Activists, campaigners and refugee support organisations have tried many different things to highlight the issue, but there had been no change.  Legal challenge in Feb 14 from Refugee Action against the Secretary of State in the High Court.  (Some) progress!! In Apr 14 - High Court judge ruled current Home Office policy on asylum support rates is unlawful and ordered the Secretary of State (Theresa May) to retake the decision!  BUT – in Aug they announced they had re-taken the decision and won’t be raising support for the third year in a row.

11 The Destitution Trap

12 What is Destitution? Under UK law, an asylum seeker is considered to be destitute if: 1)They do not have adequate accommodation or any means of obtaining it (whether or not their other essential living needs are met) 2)They have adequate accommodation or means of obtaining it, but cannot meet other essential needs. Many organisations have other definitions of destitution, but this is the legal criteria used by the Home Office

13 There are a number of points in the asylum process where people seeking asylum can fall destitute…  Before making their initial claim for asylum.  During the claim process.  Whilst transitioning between Section 95 and Section 4 support if refused or waiting for an appeal.  Whilst transitioning onto mainstream benefits if their asylum claim is successful – an increasing number of refugees are becoming destitute.  When they are refused asylum, appeal rights exhausted and have no recourse to public funds.

14 What does destitution really mean in human terms?  Thousands of people who have sought safety in the UK are living amongst us hungry, cold and homeless.  They are forced to rely on charities, faith groups, family or friends for food, shelter and other basic necessities.  Destitution has incredibly damaging effects on the physical and psychological health of asylum seekers.  It places many individuals at risk of exploitation and forces them to use survival strategies such as illegal working and prostitution.  An estimated 2,000 destitute refugees and asylum seekers are currently living in Greater Manchester. Shockingly, 40% had been destitute for 2 years, and 10% have been destitute for 10 years or more (‘A Decade of Destitution’, British Red Cross, 2013)

15 Destitution– The human story “For six years I sign for hope I get papers, I get stay. To the end, they refused. So I became destitute; I start sleeping on my friend’s floor, sometimes I can’t sleep for the whole night.” “Being destitute in a foreign country is a nightmare. I did not have access to public funds, no house to live in and that drove me crazy. I became totally depressed and my anxiety was too much. I almost killed myself.” “Being destitute caused me a lot of distress. It made me ill, sick and gave me pain. It made me develop Diabetes.” “I’ve had no support for 3 years. To survive I have to find illegal jobs. I worked for a Pakistani man for two days but he refused to pay me… It feels like in this country I’m alive but dead.”

16 ‘Dignity not Destitution’ Campaign

17 The aims of the local ‘Dignity not Destitution’ Campaign are to: i) raise awareness about the problem in the local community and amongst local decision makers ii) encourage Council’s to pass a Motion Against Destitution and join the growing call for change So far, 11 councils have passed these Motions, with Manchester being the latest on 26 th March 2014!!

18 “Manchester has a long history as a welcoming and tolerant city to those fleeing persecution and the strong record of the Council in protecting and speaking out for the most vulnerable. [….] Asylum seekers face a lengthy application process, poverty and homelessness. [….] This Council resolves to:  Write to the Home Secretary voicing concerns that the current application of the asylum process allows too many people to fall destitute and that responsibility needs to be more equally shared between local and national government.  Sign up to the relevant sections of the Still Human, Still Here Campaign which includes faith groups, charities and a number of other Labour Councils such as Liverpool, Leeds, Bradford, Glasgow and Sheffield.  Encourage all Manchester MPs to adopt this position and raise these issues nationally.” ‘Dignity not Destitution’ – Manchester Motion

19 Local sources of practical support Advice, food parcels and temporary accommodation…  ‘Asylum Help’ Asylum Advice Line  British Red Cross Destitution Project  ASHA – Section 4 applications  Refugee Action PAH Project (Preventing Asylum Homelessness)  Local refugee support organisations, e.g. Revive and Rainbow Haven, Boaz Trust  Faith groups

20 Access to Healthcare …

21 Access to Healthcare: What’s the current situation? Refugees: are entitled to free healthcare. They are treated as resident British nationals as soon as they receive leave to remain in the UK. Asylum Seekers: are also exempt from charges, whilst the individual’s application is still in process or any appeal is pending. Refused Asylum Seekers: are entitled to free primary healthcare. For those who have had their application refused or are not in receipt of support (Section 4 or Section 95), charges apply for secondary healthcare (i.e. non-emergency hospital treatment).

22 Access to Healthcare: What’s the current situation? Primary healthcare Even though all people who are seeking asylum in the UK are currently entitled to primary healthcare, there are multiple barriers to accessing it…  Problems registering with GPs  Charging for GP letters and prescriptions  Confusion over entitlements  Communication barriers  Fear about GPs correspondence with the Home Office or other authorities Leading to: Delayed treatment/ mental health problems not being addressed/ more likelihood of using A&E services

23 Defending Access to Healthcare: The Immigration Act The Government’s new Immigration Act was passed on 15th May 2014. It contains powers that pave the way for charging anyone who does not have indefinite leave to remain in the UK for any primary or emergency care they may require. Why are we worried?  There are exceptions for refugees and asylum seekers, but we think confusion over entitlements will increase  We’re concerned that refused asylum seekers who are not in receipt of Section 95 or Section 4 support will be unable to access the healthcare they need.

24 Take Action today!  Ask your MP to sign the Early Day Motion 99 to increase asylum support rates. Use our model letter:  Help get more motions against destitution passed! Visit your councillor to tell them about destitution and ask for their support for a local Motion. For more info visit: win-the-argument-destitution-motions-final-with-formatting.pdf win-the-argument-destitution-motions-final-with-formatting.pdf  Write to your MP raising your concerns and call on them to defend free access to healthcare. Use our model letter: healthcare-2/ healthcare-2/

25 Other ways you can help… Support Manchester City of Sanctuary Dedicating to cultivating a culture of welcome for sanctuary seekers in Greater Manchester. Attend the monthly Conversation Club Become a Champion See:

26 Thanks for your support! Want more information? Contact Estelle Worthington, Regional Asylum Activism Project, North West: Email: Phone: 07557983264 Visit our website: Follow us on Twitter: @RAANorthWest Join our mailing list and receive regular ‘Be the Change’ Action Updates (email Estelle to request to be added)

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