Q. WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A REFUGEE AND AN ASYLUM SEEKER?
A. Someone with ‘leave to remain’ has refugee status. Those applying for leave to remain are asylum seekers.
Refugees have access to all the same services and benefits as a UK citizen, and can study and work. Asylum seekers are given accommodation (e.g. in a hostel or sometimes in a flat if they are a family) and £38 a week to live on while their asylum claim is considered by the Home Office. They are not allowed to work, claim benefits or study during this time. Some claims even when successful can take a very long time. We know of several young people in our area who have been waiting in limbo for this process for years – what a waste of their valuable talents, skills, life experience and youth! Some arrived as unaccompanied asylum seeking children and are now well into adulthood.
Appeal rights exhausted (ARE) asylum seekers have appealed the decision not to give them asylum but exhausted all avenues available to appeal again. Often, the Home Office agrees that it is too dangerous for them to return to their country of origin, but as they have not been granted asylum, they are still not allowed to work, study or claim benefits in the UK. This inevitably leads to destitution and/ or modern slavery or crime.
Q. HOW DO PEOPLE GET HERE?
A. Resettlement programmes identify refugee families living in camps near to their country of origin. Usually the UN has found that the families are particularly vulnerable due to health problems or disabilities. The families are flown to the UK with full refugee status and do not enter the asylum system. This is how most of the Syrian families arrive in our area.
Asylum seekers have already arrived in the UK. Because the UK offers no ‘asylum visa’, there are no safe, legal ways for a refugee to reach the UK to claim asylum. This means that asylum seekers have usually made risky, treacherous journeys to arrive here. Their journeys often take years and are deeply traumatic.
Q. WHY DO PEOPLE COME TO THE UK? AREN’T THEY BETTER OFF AT HOME?
A. Most people fleeing war and persecution move within their own country or move to a neighbouring country. There are 19.5 million refugees globally – 86% of these are hosted in developing countries and remain close to their homeland in the hope of returning. Turkey, Pakistan and Lebanon, for example, host the largest numbers of Syrian refugees.
When people arrive, they have nothing and their surroundings are completely alien. They often don’t speak English and don’t have a clue how to navigate their environment or UK systems. They may not have any knowledge of UK customs or way of life. This is all very frightening and their surviving friends and family are a long way away. Still, it is better than danger, death, imprisonment and torture. It is also better than years stuck in a refugee camp with no future or hope for their children.
In many cases, ‘home’ doesn’t exist anymore – maybe because the town has been decimated by bombing and the whole community has fled or maybe the country no longer exists. Home is not an option anymore.
Q. WHY SHOULD THE UK HELP?
A. On humanitarian grounds, the UK has an obligation* (shared with other nations) to provide sanctuary to those forced to flee their homes and their countries. And we have a particular responsibility to help those attempting to cross the Mediterranean, as three of the top four nationalities making this dangerous journey are Syrians, Afghans and Iraqis. These people are fleeing countries where conflict has been violent and protracted, and where the UK has played a role. The UK might not be responsible for the refugee crisis, but that’s not to say that our actions do not leave us with a responsibility towards those who are affected.
The UK’s commitment to resettle refugees included:
- The Syrian Vulnerable Person Resettlement Scheme.
- The Full Community Sponsorship Scheme.
- The Dubs’ Amendment for Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children.
- The Vulnerable Children’s Resettlement Scheme (with UNHCR).
…although some of these have now been closed down.
*The Refugee Convention – which outlines international obligations to protect those feeling war, torture and oppression – was drafted following the Holocaust in the wake of the persecution and death of millions of innocent people. To date, no country has repealed their commitment to welcome refugees.
Q. WHAT HAPPENS TO CHILDREN WHO ARRIVE HERE ILLEGALLY?
A. The UK Government has a legal duty to provide care and protection for Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children (UASC) who reach the UK illegally. Care is provided by the local social services department in the area the child is found.
Currently the counties in the South East of England bear the greatest burden of care for UASC as many are smuggled by people traffickers (or by themselves!) across the English Channel.
There is a significant shortage of foster care placements for these children.
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