Many people do not know the difference between asylum seekers, economic migrants and illegal immigrants. In fact, people seek asylum because they have suffered persecution at home – imprisonment, torture, death threats – simply for supporting the ‘wrong’ political party or speaking out against corruption, for being gay or marrying the ‘wrong’ person, for belonging to the ‘wrong’ ethnic group or practising the ‘wrong’ religion. These are things we simply cannot imagine in this country and why so many people disbelieve them.
On arrival asylum seekers have to report to the UK Border Agency. They are finger printed and issued with an identity card. They have to report back at regular intervals like common criminals. They are not allowed to work and receive minimal benefits which are not always paid in cash. They have to live in the accommodation provided for them (not council houses), they have no choice about where it is and they can be – and often are – moved to a different part of the country at 48 hours notice.
Only 37% of asylum claims are accepted at the first hearing and around a quarter are accepted on appeal. Far from being a ‘soft touch’ the UK takes less than 3% of the world’s asylum seekers. Just 10,000 people, nationwide, are granted leave to remain each year. It can take ten years or more to be granted permission to stay in the UK.
The work City of Sanctuary does nationally, and Leicester City of Sanctuary does locally, is a vital part of ensuring that Refugees and Asylum Seekers are able to seek and gain appropriate help and support.
Local Case Study: LCoS Drop-In Centre
The Leicester City of Sanctuary drop-in centre for asylum seekers and refugees opened in May 2011. The Red Cross, Refugee Action and Assist refer to us vulnerable individuals who they think would benefit from meeting friendly people and having something to do.
From an initial start of less than 10 asylum seekers per session, we now have around 100 asylum seekers regularly attend the drop-in session with another 15 to 20 volunteers and visitors. In the first three years, 906 different people have attended.
With the closure of Refugee Action Advice and One Stop Shop service and the introduction of the new Asylum Helpline, we now find that more and more of our clients are coming to us with problems and have increased the number of volunteers who provide support, advocacy and problem solving.
The session is now very much the heart of LCofS and though it is our most expensive project, and relies largely on donations, we feel it is enormously worthwhile.