Manchester votes to stop destitution

GMT 12:17 Friday ,04 April 2014

 Migrant Voice - Manchester votes to stop destitution


Last week refugees, activists and Charities in Manchester were uplifted by the news that Manchester Council had voted unanimously in favour of a motion against destitution – becoming the eleventh Council to take this step. The motion raises concerns about the effects of poverty and homelessness on the wellbeing and dignity of people who have come here to seek safety and had their cases refused. Councillors also raised concerns about Home Office decision making and the pervasive culture of disbelief towards those who apply for refugee protection – especially noticeable in the treatment of LGBT people who have fled persecution in countries like Uganda and Nigeria, only to be refused by the Home Office or forced to go to humiliating lengths to ‘prove’ they are gay. Heartfelt and moving speeches from Cllrs Bev Craig and Suzanne Richards were woven through with the stories of people who have come to Manchester to seek safety and found countless obstacles thrown in their way. “Destitution is a huge problem amongst asylum seekers, one that allows them to be pushed to the margins of society” said Labour Cllr Suzanne Richards. “It is fundamentally wrong to tell someone who has come to this country seeking asylum from persecution that they are not entitled to participate in our society,” she said, adding “We need change at a national level.” Alimatu, whose story was heard by Councillors - one of an estimated 2,000 destitute asylum seekers and refugees in Greater Manchester according to research by the British Red Cross and the Boaz Trust - said: “destitution makes me feel bad, my life is useless”. Antonia Dunn, British Red Cross refugee support senior service manager, said: “It is great news that Manchester City Council has shown its solidarity and support for people in our city who find themselves destitute. We're pleased that our report with the Boaz Trust, called ‘A Decade of Destitution: Time to Make a Change’, helped to inform those voting on this motion by highlighting the bleak situation of destitute asylum seekers.” Almost half of those surveyed in the research had been destitute for at least two years, and shockingly, approximately one in ten had been destitute for 10 years or more. Why do people who have come here to seek safety find themselves homeless and hungry? People who are seeking asylum in the UK are not allowed to work to support themselves. They have fled with nothing but their lives and therefore, without work, are forced to live on state support. A single adult receives just over £5 a day plus special accommodation allocated by the Home Office. This is simply too low to meet anybody’s basic needs. The situation is worse for people whose asylum claims have been refused. They lose their Home Office support and accommodation altogether because they are, in theory, expected to leave the UK. In practice, it is not this simple. For example, the Home Office refused asylum to many Zimbabweans but has not returned them to Zimbabwe because it is not safe to do so. With no permission to work, and no recourse to public funds, people who have come here to seek protection are forced to rely on Charities, faith groups, family or friends for food, shelter and other basic necessities. And if they do not have access to these safety nets, they face the indignity and fear of life on the streets. "When we started our destitution services ten years ago it was supposed to be a temporary solution to a temporary problem, but a decade on we are seeing a humanitarian crisis on our doorstep” said Antonia Dunn of the British Red Cross “We believe simple changes could make a huge difference to some of the most vulnerable people in Greater Manchester - and this motion is therefore a step in the right direction." What difference will the Motion make? Manchester will now back the Still Human, Still Here campaign calling for people seeking asylum who would otherwise be destitute to be provided with sufficient support so that they can meet their essential living needs; given free access to healthcare; and permission to work to support themselves if their case hasn’t been resolved within six months or if they’ve been refused but can’t return home. Cllr Bev Craig, who proposed the Motion, said: “The purpose of the motion was to show our solidarity and re-state our support for asylum seekers and refugees in Manchester and across the region. I hope that this motion will further raise awareness of the plight of LGBT asylum seekers and asylum seekers more generally and encourage other bodies to do the same. Finally it was a call to action for central government to implement a fair and humane process that supports the most vulnerable in our society.” The statement by Manchester Council is warmly welcomed by all those who have tirelessly raised awareness about the shameful treatment of people who have come to this country to seek safety and supporters of the local Dignity not Destitution campaign. It provides a glimmer of hope for asylum seekers who have shown such strength in impossibly difficult circumstances. Motions of this kind serve to amplify the voices of local communities who - contrary to what the media tells us - believe human dignity has no nationality and are proud to welcome those who have battled great odds to find safety. Manchester now joins the likes of Glasgow, Bristol, Sheffield, Oxford, Bradford, Leeds, Liverpool, Kirklees, Swansea and Leicester, and the growing call for change. By Estelle Worthington, Regional Asylum Activism Photo: Crispin Hughes/British Red Cross


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