You have heard of asylum seekers getting to the UK from The Middle East, North Africa and Central and South America. They have had traumatic journeys, but do you know what happens to them after they arrive? They disappear from the newspapers and news reports. Where are they?
They are “processed” on arrival and then dispersed to hostels in cities around the country (there are several in Liverpool). They are lodged in this accommodation for about four weeks during which they must start the process of applying to the Home Office to be accepted as a refugee. They need to learn how to get their £5/day support, register for medical care, find how to shop, find foodbanks, extra clothing, contact agencies and organisations who might be able to help. Then, just as they are beginning to understand the system, they are moved again to new accommodation. They are given no choice but placed by Serco in housing provided through Local Authorities and there they must stay until a decision is made on their application for refugee status (usually more than 6 months). They have no help beyond the housing, heating, medical treatment and a daily £5 allowance. They are left to fend for themselves with no contacts other than the Serco Housing Officer. Halton Borough houses over 100 such asylum seekers. This is the story of one of them.
He only arrived in England a few weeks ago. He left Iraq early last year because as a young professional he belonged to the wrong ethnic group. First he lost his job and then it became dangerous for him to be outside his parents’ house because of attacks on people in his minority group. No longer safe or able to provide for his aging parents he left his home, negotiating his way through Italy and France to England, sometimes in official camps other times sleeping rough.
When he eventually arrived in the UK at the Immigration detention centre he had his passport, a few pounds, two gold rings his mother had given him, a phone with a cracked screen, 23 words of English and a few clothes. He was interviewed and processed and issued with an ID card (which specifically said that he had no right of abode and no right to work). He had the right to medical treatment, £5 a day for food and all other expenses, and accommodation in a hostel or other accommodation wherever the authorities chose to put him. He would have to prepare a case for him to be accepted as a refugee , this he would submit to the Home Office. He learned quickly that forms had to be correctly completed (in a foreign language – English).
He was quickly moved to a hostel in Liverpool and told he would be there for about four weeks. There were over 80 people in the hostel. Fortunately there were one or two people who could speak his language and they helped him find a local foodbank. At the foodbank they gave out food bags once a week and had a supply of second hand clothes and shoes from which he could kit himself out to deal with the English weather. He did not always recognise the food or how to prepare it.
Then things turned even worse. Everyone was talking about 'coronavirus'. The authorities, the foodbank, everyone in the hostel, were all talking about people dying, not shaking hands, washing hands, staying at home, closing foodbanks, government offices - no one knew what was happening. Then the accommodation officer from Serco said they had instructions to disperse everyone to new accommodation before the whole country was locked-down. The next day they took him and another man (not his countryman) from the hostel out of Liverpool to a place they called Halton. They were put in a house with only basic furnishings, given a key, and a number to call if there was a problem with the housing. He was left with no local information, no contacts, no food other than what they brought with them from Liverpool.
For two days he and the other man walked around the streets seeing few people (most people were “Locked down”) and these people avoided them. Then they saw some people who looked like themselves. They dared speak to these folk who turned out to be refugees. These refugees told them that almost everywhere was closed, the government had told everyone to stay at home. They also advised them to try to contact Safe Space for asylum seekers at a church in the area. At this place they provided support, advice, links with other support agencies (foodbanks, schools, Red Cross), English lessons, some clothing, and perhaps most important, friendship. Unfortunately the Safe Space had had to closed too, but there was a phone number for one of the safe space volunteers. The two new arrivals in Halton phoned him – and he could speak their language!
The TSS volunteer that they contacted explained the situation and that even the “safe space” (officially called Trinity Safe Space), was ‘locked-down’ and could not provide all of the support it had before lock-down but he would be able to get them some help from TSS. He organised to get them food from the local food bank plus some extra food and some extra clothing, underwear and shoes using emergency funds that he got from TSS. He put them in touch with other asylum seekers, local medical, voluntary, and social welfare services. He explained that the TSS had had some donations from churches, individuals and other groups to help them and the other asylum seekers in Halton during the lock-down – until the funds were all used.
And who knows when that will be. Can you make it last a little longer? If you can help, weʼre raising £2,000 to support Asylum Seekers lodged in the Halton area.
Thank you for any support you can give us, thoughts, prayers or donations.
TSS support team
The reflections here are written by members of our congregation.