January 2021 News

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The people who visit Asylum Welcome’s offices in Oxford come from across the world and from all walks of life. A university professor fleeing persecution, a boy whose parents entrusted him to strangers in the hope of safety thousands of miles away, a young man running from war, a woman coming to join her husband, then being abandoned with No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF).

Mark Goldring
AW Director
One man who recently knocked on our door soon after landing at Heathrow feared persecution for his sexuality and was desperate to claim asylum. A woman who fled communal violence has just obtained refugee status after thirteen years and has moved into a flat of her own, having lived on the streets for far too long since her arrival. The vast majority who call on us for help are somewhere in between: caught in months and years of interviews, hearings, rejections, appeals, but mostly just waiting. Waiting in limbo while officials, in their own good time, make decisions about their lives.
What our refugee clients do have in common with each other is their knowledge of fear. Many lived in fear in their home country, most felt it daily on their difficult, often dangerous journey to the U.K. Despite having reached what should be safe shores, too many still live in fear for their future when they get here. They cry out for certainty, timeliness, transparency and most of all, respect and dignity.
It’s no accident that the very first line of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights insists on the inherent dignity of all people. Recognising a common humanity and treating people with respect doesn’t depend on any law, eligibility for a benefit or even on a country’s right to decide who lives in it. It’s about how we as a society choose to engage with people who have often suffered torture and trauma, and are still trapped in fear. We add insult to injury when we ignore their dignity.
Coming new to the refugee sector in 2020, I expected to hear from refugees and asylum seekers that their biggest challenge was the impossibly low level of financial support available while their claim is being heard, or not being allowed to work. Or being told where to live and who to share a room with. Or the impact on their health, education and wellbeing of their designation as ‘NRPF’; or, after the all too common rejection of their first asylum claim, the challenge of getting legal aid and the time of the few overstretched lawyers available.
But, without understating the seriousness of these and other practical difficulties that make up the “hostile environment” so proudly launched by Theresa May as Home Secretary and continued, almost gleefully, by her successors, what we hear most is much more elemental: a simple plea for respect.  

Our clients describe long waits to meet rushed officials who are trained to disbelieve, to pick holes or find inconsistencies in stories first told in traumatic circumstances en route or on arrival. These officials have boxes to fill and deadlines to meet. There’s no room for the complexities of real lives or the impact of unrecognised PTSD. Whether it’s the Home Office requiring  expensive travel to a hard-to-reach office simply to be kept waiting then ticked off a list; or a panel assessing whether someone really is a child, cross-examining them as if they had committed a crime; or a Council  challenging why a claimant can’t  continue living on a friend’s sofa indefinitely - those claiming asylum too often describe a starting-point  of disbelief, suspicion, open or implicit hostility, and of officials wanting a quick, simple answer. An answer that fits their box and their all too limited time and patience.
We can see this hostile approach vividly demonstrated on our tv screens, as former military camps, fenced in and distant from local communities and services, are repurposed to house the handful of people arriving after the terrors of their small-boat Channel crossing. We can sense it in the grandiosely titled ‘Clandestine Channel Threat Commander’, appointed to keep our shores safe from those desperate enough to risk their lives in the hands of smugglers. But what we don’t see is the impact of every bureaucratic challenge, hostile question or snide remark, every detention and delay, on the dignity and wellbeing of people who have already suffered hugely.
We do see some examples of sensitive engagement from individuals at all levels and in all organisations. Recently we’ve seen quick and positive national and local efforts to house refugees living on the street during Covid. But these actions are not the norm. Too rarely are respect and dignity recognised as the vital prerequisite for engaging with refugees. As we face up to the likelihood of a challenging year ahead for people seeking asylum in the U.K., we could begin by reminding ourselves of the deep meaning of Article 1 of the Universal Declaration: a powerful starting point for showing our own humanity as well as our respect for those who need our help.
Thanks for your support 

Mark Goldring
Director of Asylum Welcome
Impact Stories: bringing down barriers

Mengsteab, taken from: “Refugees welcome! Meet the British families who open their homes to asylum seekers.” By Claudia Tanner, i News, 15 December 2020 (last accessed 29 January 2021). 


In October last year we were approached by Mengsteab, an Eritrean young refugee struggling to get benefits or work.

He had been in the UK for over 5 years and was settled and doing well here with a place to study towards higher education but had hit a barrier when his leave to remain expired. Although he had applied on time for an extension, he had no proof of this. He was also homeless, staying with a friend and about to be thrown out, but because he had no proof of ID, the Oxford City Council authorities initially were unable to progress his homelessness application, though with support from Asylum Welcome helping to clarify his situation and entitlements, they accepted and transferred him to where he is living now.
He was taken in by Sanctuary Hosting and we worked with him to secure payment of the benefits to which he was entitled. We wrote to the Home Office and his MP about the delays in his case. As mentioned above, we also explained his situation to the Council, and were able to provide the necessary proof that he was entitled to homelessness assistance, and that he had a local connection. The Council was then able to find him a space in supported accommodation, and we applied for funds for him to equip his new room. Mengsteab is very happy there and is now looking for work and study opportunities.
If you would like to read more about Mengsteab and many others like him and about the challenges many people now face being left destitute and homeless during the winter and about the crucial role that Sanctuary Hosting and many other wonderful organisations and people are doing to support and host refugees and asylum seekers in their homes, please read: “Refugees welcome! Meet the British families who open their homes to asylum seekers.” By Claudia Tanner, i News, 15 December 2020 (last accessed 29 January 2021).
Impact Stories: a holistic approach
M is a Kenyan national who is separated from his wife, an EU national, with whom he has two children.  Until last year, M had been renting a room, had a well-paid job at a local car factory and also worked as a temporary care worker for children with learning disabilities, doing both jobs at once. But with the coming of the pandemic, M lost both his jobs, and he was left with no entitlement to benefits or furlough payments. As a result, he lost his accommodation and became homeless and destitute.
We started supporting M with British Red Cross payments and referred him to Asylum Welcome’s Europa Welcome team who submitted a successful application for settled status, so he could remain legally in the U.K. following Brexit. Our Employment Team helped him to find a job which started at the beginning of January, and we are now helping him to find accommodation where his kids can stay with him over weekends.

This example illustrates how external crises affect everyday working people and the inability to access a social safety net has rendered this hardworking person, with two children, into destitution and homelessness. He is a proud, warm and friendly man who merely wants to do right by his children and give back to society by working with children with learning disabilities. 
Thank you for your amazing support!

Thank you so much to all of you who have donated to our Winter Hope Campaign Appeal. It will make a vast difference to the emergency support that we are providing throughout these difficult winter months now more challenging than ever given the current lockdown. We truly appreciate it.
If you haven't yet donated to our Winter Hope Campaign Appeal and would like to do so then you still can! Simply click here.

Thank you so much and may 2021 be much brighter for us all!

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