An unforeseen result of the hostile environment.
When people claim asylum and ask for Home Office support, they start on a route which could potentially lead to safety and long-term security. Having fled war-torn areas, persecution and religious discrimination, people rapidly discover that their journey in Britain is fraught with difficulties. One of the main difficulties for asylum seekers is understanding the asylum process. Another, is understanding and interpreting the Home Office language and the implications of the written communications. Home Office communications invariably include phrases such as ‘you are liable to detention’ – which is very unnerving and frightening.
When people first seek asylum in this country, they do not realise they will not be able to work, or have a bank account, until they are accepted as refugees. This can take years. Even when people have been refused asylum and have no recourse to public funds, they are still not permitted to work. Having no right to employment traps all asylum seekers in poverty and this increases the likelihood of people experiencing mental and physical health issues.
When people first claim asylum and ask for Home Office for support, they are sent to Initial Accommodation. When their cases are assessed they are moved on to dispersed accommodation and receive £37.67 per week. They receive their benefit on an Aspen card which can be used at cash machines but not for online purchases. Dispersed asylum seekers don’t have to pay council tax or utility bills; however, the money is to cover all food, toiletries, cleaning material, clothing, transport and social activities.
Generally, dispersed accommodation for single people is multi occupancy and is furnished with the basic essentials. Each house has basic kitchen equipment, this may not always include a microwave or a vacuum cleaner. Nonetheless, the current local housing provider is working toward every person having their own room. Families are accommodated in houses or flats. In the Home Office contract for provision of dispersed accommodation there has never been a budget for TVs and licence’s, Wi-Fi connections or radios; across the country, dispersed asylum seekers as a matter of course are not connected to the outside world.
During the pandemic lockdown, the overall long-term effect of a hostile, or compliant environment has resulted in a very vulnerable community being left not just in isolation but isolated from the outside world. In the Yorkshire and Humberside area the dispersed asylum population are receiving paper notices in their own language. People are being given information and asked to stay in and stay safe. The housing provider is endeavouring to ensuring that asylum seekers have a basic phone. The asylum seekers who chose to afford phones and are able to get contracts via a third party, may be able to glean what is going on in the world, but sadly the majority of the asylum community are without access to world events.
Just for a moment can you imagine being in the position of not having computer access, TV, radio and only having a pay-as-you-go mobile. Now imagine being in a foreign country not knowing where your family is or how they are faring. Compound this with the uncertain of not knowing whether you will be believed and granted permission to stay in the country. Then factor in a pandemic.
Working with the relevant providers Wakefield District City of Sanctuary is encouraging people to help us to offer whatever is needed to make life for asylum seekers lives more tolerable.