Now we've had statements, petitions and an outpouring of 'something must be done', the question is 'what'? David Camerons 'something' is to offer sanctuary to a few thousand refugees from the camps around Syria, a tricky thing to do politically whilst trying to project an anti-immigration stance for the nation. However going to the first point of sanctuary in the journey is a good way of cutting the people smugglers out of the equation.
Already Calais is filling up with donations from UK citizens: the compassion is great to see, but as that link reports, not everything that's sent over is useful, and Calais needs people with time as well as people with spare blankets. As one church leader put it at the weekend "we need to be careful that we act well and not just out of a sense of panic". The wave of compassion needs to be harnessed to good information, or it will break on the beach and leave a flotsam of unused aid and unkeepable promises.
Being alongside refugees is hard work, here's one summary what the asylum process involves. If you're offering a spare room, then you will have to support an individual family through all of this:
Feelings of loneliness, anxiety and despair are often
evident in the people we meet through Restore. Many
asylum seekers have left family behind and crave word
from them. For some, there is no knowledge of their
whereabouts and we encourage them to turn to the
International family tracing service of the Red Cross,
though this takes courage when there is fear that the
missing person may be dead.
Asylum support is granted by the Home Office to those
in the asylum system. Known as section 95 support, this
amounts to accommodation, usually in a shared house,
and approximately £37 per week.
Section 4 support is
granted when an asylum seeker has been refused asylum
but has made a fresh claim and is awaiting the outcome
of this new submission. Such support is cashless and
amounts to £35 being topped up onto a plastic Azure
Card, which can be used in mainstream supermarkets.
No money is given for travel fares.
Those who are refused
asylum and unable to submit fresh representations
have their Home Office support terminated and become
destitute without recourse to public funds. Destitution is
the plight of many an asylum seeker in our country.
Asylum seekers are prohibited from working and are
not allowed to attend English language classes in the
first six months of their asylum claim – the rationale
being that their case will be determined in six months
and if refused, they will be removed from the country.
Invariably the case determination takes much longer
than half a year and only a small percentage of those
refused are removed or return voluntarily to their home
Asylum seekers are required to report to a regional
Home Office centre. People often attend these reporting
sessions with great trepidation as it is the place where they are most likely to be detained and sent to a
Quality legal advice and representation
is essential if an asylum seeker is to present a case with
substantiating evidence, expert reports and relevant case
law. Sadly, legal aid for asylum work is limited to a few
hours and representatives tend to drop cases when they
perceive a case is unlikely to be successful.
Three other pieces that are worth a read:
Ian Paul on 'thinking about migration'. Challenges some of the simplistic responses to the crisis, and recognises that the media have an agenda in this too.
A local blog on what Yeovil should do about immigration and refugees. Argues that being better informed is part of our moral obligation to the migrants.
The Archbishop of York on the opportunity we have as a nation to offer a generous welcome.