Asylum Welcome supports asylum seekers, refugees and immigration detainees in Oxford and Oxfordshire. Some of our clients live in fear of being deported back to the horrors from which they have fled. They may be trying to prove, in a “culture of disbelief” (Independent Asylum Commission 2008), that they are telling the truth. Many live in destitution.
Who are asylum seekers?
Asylum seekers are people who come to the UK fleeing persecution, conflict and violence, including rape, in their own countries. They flee, sometimes having lost their family and all their possessions, because they have nowhere else to go. They come to the UK to seek sanctuary.
At the end of 2007, there were more than 16 million refugees in the world. From Iraq alone there were more than two million refugees. Most refugees took shelter in the world’s poorest countries. About 14% are in Europe. Just 25,000 (2%) refugees are in the UK.
Asylum seekers are not illegal immigrants or economic migrants. They are not ‘taking British jobs’ – they are not allowed to work. They are also not eligible for council housing, although some may be ‘dispersed’ around the country to places where accommodation is standing empty.
What happens when refugees get here?
When refugees arrive in the UK they must apply for asylum within 72 hours or face immediate refusal. Then they are interviewed. They may have limited or no English, and the facts – of torture, massacre and flight – are difficult and painful to recall. They may be suffering from trauma. They know nothing of UK law, of what legally constitutes ‘grounds for refugee status’. Any inconsistencies in their stories count against them.
The majority (70%) of first applications for asylum are rejected. This may be for several reasons but often it is simply because the interviewer does not believe what the applicant has said. Or the country of origin is considered by the Home Office as one to which the applicant may safely return. (Zimbabwe, Sudan and Iraq fall into this category.) Some applicants are sent into indefinite detention in an Immigration Removal Centre, such as Campsfield House near Oxford.
Many asylum seekers go through the long and harrowing appeal process in the courts, which is even more difficult if they have limited or no English. Finding a lawyer to deal with asylum cases is notoriously difficult. Asylum seekers are entitled to a maximum of five hours of a lawyer’s time.
The inefficient and inhumane asylum application system results in lengthy proceedings, high immigration and detention costs (which the government budgeted at £96 million in 2008/09), and enforced deportations that may lead to refugees experiencing violence and even death in their countries of origin. Asylum Welcome helps people who, through no fault of their own, are caught up in this cruel system.
Approximately 200 male asylum seekers are detained at the Home Office's Campsfield House Immigration Removal Centre in Kidlington, seven miles north of Oxford.
Detainees are accommodated at Campsfield House IRC pending their case resolution and subsequent removal from the UK Up to 30% of the detainees at Campsfield House are foreign national ex-offenders (often having been convicted of ‘immigration crimes’ such as using false immigration documents or working without being allowed to) who have completed a sentence in a British prison and whose immigration status is being determined. There is no time limit on detention. The average stay is 55 days, although some people are detained for several months.
Asylum Welcome Trustees attend quarterly meetings with Campsfield House management to discuss matters of mutual concern.
Why are asylum seekers treated so badly?
Few people know the reality of what asylum seekers face. Many people get confused about the differences between economic migrants, illegal immigrants and asylum seekers. The fact is that they are simply ordinary people who are fleeing conflict and / or persecution in their own countries. They are seeking sanctuary and need our help.
The lack of understanding and knowledge is not helped by the hostility shown to asylum seekers by some quarters of the British media. Asylum seekers are accused of being “bogus”, of being here just for the benefits (which amount to a mere £42 per week and may be accessed only by those who are still going through the appeal process).
Given strong and compassionate leadership to explain who asylum seekers are, and a more reasonable approach to the way in which these deserving people are looked after, huge amounts of money could be saved and a great deal of human misery avoided. And many people who want to make an honest contribution to British life could be welcomed.
“I am sick of not having an identity” Najaf, asylum seeker