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Thus former Prime Minister Theresa May, then Home Secretary, described the government’s immigration policy in 2012. The legacy of this ‘hostile environment’ has been the Windrush Scandal and the amplification of negative rhetoric towards migrants, refugees and asylum seekers.
Nearly ten years after May’s declaration, Daisy Jacobs delivered the first in a series of ‘Lunch & Learn’ talks at Siren. Daisy gave us all a startling insight into the important work of her non-profit organisation Routes, elucidated the arduous process of applying for asylum in the UK, and gave vital pointers on how businesses and people can do more to support refugees.
The Hostile Environment Policy makes the process for seeking asylum in the UK as unattractive and exhausting as possible.
Daisy Jacobs and Leyla McLennan founded Routes in 2018 'as a direct response to the additional barriers faced by women who are seeking safety in the UK.’ Based in London, Routes champion women seeking asylum in the UK – in 2021, then ran 505 hours of 1:1 mentoring programmes and 59 creative workshops for 115 women. These sessions support female refugees’ wellbeing; build their self-confidence; develop their language and digital skills; help them find a sense of community; and open avenues to professional opportunities.
Elizabeth, a Routes mentee, attests that the organisation nurtures, nourishes and empowers women seeking asylum: “a place where you meet other women/people with arms stretched out wide to you, encouraging you, praying for you, working with you and cheering you on at the end of the valley’s rim.”
Understanding Refugee Status
By initially defining what a refugee is, Daisy set the tone for the clarity, concision and warmth with which she led our meeting. She delineated the different statuses of refugees and asylum seekers and their various rights. I was shocked by the government’s casual stratification of vulnerable human beings. For example, under Section 95 Support, Asylum Seekers have access to just £39.63 a week, lack the right to work or claim welfare, and are accommodated in Home Office hotels “akin to detention centres” – places that can be especially unsafe for women.
The asylum system, geared towards intransigence, takes a heavy toll. After having submitted an asylum claim in the UK, refugees must endure an initial screening interview, before a substantive interview lasting 4-10 hours an indeterminate number of months later. 60% of applications of asylum claims are rejected. However, 50% of these failed applications are overturned on appeal.
This suggests that the Home Office has fostered a culture of disbelief and incompetence – as inexperienced caseworkers are pressured to fulfil quotas, refugees’ lives are consequently reduced to paper files. If an appeal fails, then refugees are detained and subjected to ‘forced removal.’. Despite the government’s introduction of the VPRS and ACRS schemes that aim to resettle 40,000 Syrian and Afghan refugees, the United Kingdom still lags behind its European counterparts.
The United Kingdom process far fewer asylum applications than other European countries.
The asylum process is utterly demoralising. Work provides such a vital sense of purpose, routine and fulfilment to our lives; 94% of asylum seekers want to but are barred. Making £39.63 stretch over a week seems impossible, especially when caregiving for a young family in an alien country. Yet, despite current laws, the benefits of allowing asylum seekers to work are palpable: the UK economy would receive a £97.8 million boost, and 45% of refugees could become critical workers.
How can businesses help?
- Become a refugee-friendly employer by partnering with organisations that help asylum seekers find work.
- Encourage refugees to join the workforce and reach their potential by providing them with work experience, training and a competitive wage.
- Enable employees by educating them on the asylum system and facilitating fundraising and volunteering opportunities.
- Create social impact, partnering with non-profits to improve job accessibility, raise online awareness and broaden outreach.
- Create opportunities by lobbying for changes to the law. 66% of businesses feel that lifting the ban would ease UK’s skill shortage – they should act on these beliefs.
How can individuals help?
- By campaigning against forced removal and detention centres like the proposed new Hassockfield/Derwentside IRC site in Durham, opposing asylum limbo and the ban on work with the #LiftTheBan coalition.
- By engaging with support groups, such as Refugees at Home, Refugee Action, Housing Justice.
- By joining a local community and welcome groups, such as Host Nation, Bike Project, Xenia, Routes.
- By fundraising and donating to charities that protect the rights of asylum seekers in the UK.
- By educating ourselves. That evening, I watched ‘Limbo’ – a film recommended by Daisy that movingly captures the sense of alienation and mental anguish induced by the asylum system. Held on a remote Scottish awaiting a decision, Farhad imagines his future life in the UK:
“I think, when I get asylum, I would like to wear suit and work in office…and I have desk and computer and phone, and I answer phone and I say: ’Hello, how may I help you today?’ In this country, I think people like you more if you wear suit.”