Wednesday, 4 January 2017

Let's talk about destitution

When we discussed with Hope Projects the idea of taking the story about our house to the media, one of our hopes was that it might be an opportunity to raise some awareness of the scandal of asylum destitution: its causes and its implications, possibly even straying into what makes destitute asylum seekers particularly vulnerable, even compared to others experiencing the effects of the deeply worrying growth in homelessness and unsuitable temporary accommodation.

It was not to be ... because it soon became apparent that asylum destitution was a topic those we spoke to were determined to studiously avoid. The thing is, I guess, destitution is inherently a deeply political topic, and if what you want to write is a nice, fluffy, 'isn't this lovely' pre-Christmas story, political, it seems, doesn't fit very well.

I am well aware my blog doesn't have quite the exposure of some of the other media we have appeared in recently, but it is the space where I get to share the stories I want to tell, or write about the issues I think need to be heard.

And I think we need to talk about asylum destitution.

This is the 21st century. This is the UK. We describe ourselves as a developed and a civilised nation. We claim to promote the virtues of freedom and justice and tolerance and respect. We are one of the wealthiest countries in a world that is richer than it has ever been.

And all too often we leave people who have come here seeking sanctuary with literally nothing.

There are people to whom we say "you are not welcome". We say it to fit in with a discourse of hatred and fear that has come to dominate the public conversation around migration. We do so to not be a 'soft touch' because somewhere in our recent history we decided that the fact people saw us a a place of welcome and safety was something to be ashamed of rather than proud of.

And so it is that in order to persuade / encourage / force these people off our soil, as a country we have decided it is appropriate to leave them with nothing. No roof over their head. No money to buy food. "No recourse to public funds": a trite phrase trotted out behind which we hide a miserable reality.

Many of those who have experienced destitution have done so as the result of a notoriously complicated asylum system which they have struggled to navigate, or because poor legal advice and representation has failed to enable them to make their case effectively. For others the fear and trauma they have experienced, or the home office's inability or unwillingness to understand the realities they have left behind, limits their ability to make a coherent case.

They include people who cannot return home because they have no papers or rights granted by any other country so by the refusal of asylum here become effectively stateless with literally nowhere to turn for help. They include those who are too terrified to dream of accepting voluntary return to a country where they fear for their life and for whom even hunger and homelessness in Britain feels like a safer option. They even include those from countries to which Britain will not send people back because its "too dangerous" ... too dangerous to deport, but not so dangerous we'll grant you asylum... answers on a postcard as to how that makes any kind of sense?! Soon, with proposed legislation changes, they could also include hundred of families with young children.

At best these people are reliant on charities struggling on a shoe string, the goodwill of random strangers or the generosity of friends who may have very little themselves. At worst they are vulnerable to disappearing into a web of exploitation and abuse. Many, eventually, with the right advice and legal support have their right to remain recognised but as they settle into life here they do so with the added burden of this experience of exclusion in a place that should have been reaching out open hands when they needed them most.

We need to talk about asylum destitution. The minority who shout a rhetoric of hate do so very vociferously. It is imperative, then, that those of us who think such issues are a scandal in our society somehow find a way to raise our many voices to speak an alternative message loudly enough to be heard.

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