Saturday, 19 February 2011

The despair of people claiming asylum

A friend of mine who started out as a constituent has just been given bad news by the UKBA. He and his wife are asylum seekers from Iran. They were being hunted down in their own country and their lives were in danger. So they paid someone who said he could smuggle them out of the country and get them to Glasgow, Canada for a sum of money. It would involve travelling on fake Russian passports.

That kind of thing goes against you when you seek asylum but what else could he have done? What would you do? Stay and wait for the police to return and shoot you as they had already done to so many of your friends? Or hand over the money?

When they arrived here they didn't know they were in Scotland, they still thought they were in Canada, where they have family. They didn't speak English but as soon as they got to the arrival airport they admitted they were running away and that the passports were fake. They had been dumped (and duped) along the way by the guy with all the solutions who had promised to accompany them to their new life, new job, new home and safety.

I met my friend when he was at his lowest ebb. He was very affected by the three Russian asylum seekers who'd jumped to their deaths at the Red Road flats. (Chillingly, that tragedy reminded many asylum seekers that they had another option and one that I believe many would use rather than go home.)

Everyone in my office has become a friend and although we DO feel sorry for him, the relationships are not based on pity. Everyone really likes him and his wife (who we see less often) and he has become a friend to each of us as we have to him.

You only have to read articles like this one and this one with the incredible line from pro government lawyers who called for Iranian opposition leaders:

"to be tried and put to death"

Not sure what the point of the trial is if they're to be put to death anyway! But that is just an indication of the type of thing that goes on in Iran. It is an extremely dangerous country to be a citizen of.

So for that reason, it is highly unlikely that the British UKBA will deport my friend and his wife - I understand very few are sent to Iran. But if it's that dangerous why not grant them refugee status? Without it they are perpetually living in limbo.

Unfortunately for my friend and his wife, it's worse than that. For they have no outstanding claim and if you don't have a claim waiting to be considered, you are not entitled to any of the "largesse" the likes of the Daily Mail or this eejit would claim we dole out to asylum seekers. Thus, last August they stopped being paid the below poverty level benefits they'd been getting. And thus last week they were finally evicted from the flat they'd been living in.

You might wonder how on earth they've managed until now. Five months with no income and I do mean NO INCOME sounds like hell on earth to me. Once or twice the local church has given them payments of around £50. I know some friends who have given them money every so often but it can't amount to any more than £150 from all of them.

And the wonderful Positive Action in Housing, themselves facing funding cuts, gave them £70 at Christmas as well as inviting them to their pre Christmas "shop" where destitute asylum seekers can shop for food free of charge. Even then, we got there and my friend started helping everyone else but was uncomfortable taking anything for himself. We had to "force" him.

I think we often forget in all of this that no matter how poor, how desperate and how utterly helpless people end up in this life, they still have their pride. Can you imagine being starving and living in a rich country where you have no choice but to wait for and to accept the occasional offer of charity? I know all of that slowly eats away at my friend and I can't tell him I'd feel any different because I wouldn't.

Except I can't even imagine it happening to me. Lucky me eh? (At least I appreciate it, unlike this dimwit who seems to think it's the divine right of people in rich countries.)

So anyway, I estimate the MAXIMUM income they've had in 5 months is £270! That's about £10 a week. And it's never been guaranteed, it's just been there if they've been lucky!

And of course last week it got worse when they were evicted. It just so happens that I knew somewhere they could go but even that is very temporary and they just never know when they'll have to leave. We won't allow them to end up on the street but lots of people do.

Do you feel comfortable knowing that we do that to people and they have no legal right to be housed? I know I don't. I feel ashamed.

I know they don't feel right about living where they are. They feel people are doing them too big a favour and they don't want to take advantage. So it's uncomfortable for them but it was only going to be until his fresh claim was accepted by the UKBA and then, with an eligible claim, they would be entitled to housing and financial support again.

Last night I couldn't contact them. This morning was the same. This afternoon, still no answer. And then he texted me. The UKBA have rejected his claim. He couldn't face the world.

I don't blame you M. I don't know how much more of this hopeless situation you can take.

I am writing about this now because he once, at his lowest, asked me if I would make him a promise. He asked if anything ever "happened" to him, would I make sure the world knew that he was genuine, knew that he never wanted his life to turn out like this, knew how dehumanising our system is in the UK. Well I don't really want to wait for something to happen, I want to tell part of his story now. (It IS only part of it.)

It is often impossible, by the very nature of the regimes that people have fled, for them to prove their stories. And often, unless the UKBA has proof, they will reject your claim. M can't get proof, he's given them everything he can, he's told them the truth. There is nothing more he can do.

He's unlikely to be deported as I said, because it's too dangerous (and getting worse if you read the latest reports). So what is the solution? Do they want him to lie down and slowly starve to death? I don't know what to say to him anymore. He looks to me for answers and I am fast running out. It's my job to have the answers, to find the solutions and I cannot describe how it feels to have run out of reassuring words and new ideas. It's ironic to think that M is one of the luckier ones. He has us. But we could all lose our jobs in a few weeks time and although we'll still be there for him, it limits what we can do. Before he had us he told me he felt like a non person and like he wasn't part of society at all.

I think the point in writing this is to ask everyone reading just to be aware (if you weren't already) of how many asylum seekers might be feeling inside. Even better, if you know someone is an asylum seeker, maybe stop to have a chat and just show them that you care, let them know that they are part of YOUR society. If you have the time to befriend someone so much the better and there are ways in which you can offer your friendship, just get in touch with me and I'll let you know how.

My dad used to say to me "you don't know you're born Hen" meaning that I didn't realise how lucky I was. It's a phrase that springs to my mind every time I look at my friend who has done nothing to deserve being where life has landed him.

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