Refugee Week 2016

Today is the start of Refugee Week. Over the next few days, there’ll be plenty of events happening in your area, but I thought I’d switch it up on the blog too – keep an eye out for a few stories from people who are refugees/seeking asylum across the week.

Let me tell you a story about a man named Nigel*

Actually, seeing that we’ve got an EU referendum coming up on Thursday, I’ll kick things off today with a story! Step forward Nigel Farage, the privately-educated ex- City broker, current leader of UKIP and noble voice of the working man. Ever since he was a boy, young Nigel had dreamt of stardom. He’d spent nights rehearsing lines for the school production of Fiddler on the Roof, but his teachers just wouldn’t cast him, something wasn’t quite right. In a bid to be cool, Nigel had taken up smoking fags and sneaking off for cheeky lunchtime pints of ale. Again though, poor Nigel’s classmates wouldn’t have any of it! So no-mates-Nigel spurned the opportunity to go to university and off he went seeking fame and fortune in the City…

…the problem was, Nigel is a racist and xenophobic knobhead. Having alienated his co-workers, Nigel thought he’d found his natural bedmates in the Conservative Party. But even they weren’t nasty enough! So, Nigel decided he wanted a slice of political power via leadership of UKIP. He got to work on this and when the time came for him to seize power, the British popular press were more than happy to help him out. You see, if there’s one thing the British press hates, it’s humanity. And this suited Nigel very well. For years and years and years, the ever impartial editorial teams at The Sun and Daily Mail helped Nigel on his road to stardom by printing IMMIGRANTS at any and every given opportunity.

*this story is mostly unsubstantiated rubbish, but that’s never stopped Nigel.

As a result, most people now know fuck all about what the word ‘refugee’ actually means. So to kick things off this week, here’s a quick guide to asylum terminology.

Asylum seeker (aka a universal human right)

An asylum seeker is, quite simply, someone who is seeking asylum and has therefore made a claim for asylum with the Home Office. The broad reason for why someone can claim asylum is usually related to persecution in their home country. Importantly, the right to seek asylum is defined as a human right by the UN. And this right is enshrined in the 1951 Geneva Conventions to which (you’ve guessed it!) the UK is a signatory.

In practical terms, once an adult has made a claim for asylum, they receive NASS support and accomodation from the British government, if they can’t provide their own accomodation (e.g. through friends) or finance themself. Living in NASS accomodation means being uprooted to any part of the UK, living with people you don’t know and receiving little support from the private contracters (e.g. G4S) who often run the accomodation. Living on NASS support means receiving around £37 per week via the Post Office. Also bear in mind that to receive NASS support you need an ID card of sorts, which is generally not supplied immediately and can take weeks (or months) to chase up and receive.

Refugee (aka it’s a miserable life)

If someone’s asylum claim is approved, they are granted refugee status. Quick note: around 60% of asylum claims are rejected and, upon appeal, around 30% of these are subsequently approved. So this process is by no means a quick one. I’ve met people who have received a positive decision in weeks and others who are still waiting for a decision over a year down the line. In the first instance, refugee status is usually granted for 5 years. Naturally, being granted refugee status is great news. However, there’s also some bad news that comes with it – NASS support ends after 28 days. So rather than staying out on a NASS-fueled two week bender, most new refugees are in a frantic struggle to sort out NI numbers, get to the Jobcentre and, most importantly, find some accomodation. As we all know, housing is in short supply on this great island, and refugees are not given any preferential treatment here.

Of course, if someone with refugee status can overcome the initial difficulties and barriers, they can generally start working, socialising and settling in to UK life.

Oh yeah, here’s a few fun facts: (1) 63% of refugees live in camps in their home country; (2) Europe accepts the lowest number (6%) of refugees globally; and (3) the countries that host the most refugees are Turkey, Pakistan, Lebanon, Iran, Ethiopia and Jordan. I’m sure you all remember Nigel and the Leave team bringing up these stats in their debates around immigration.

Illegal immigrant (aka deliberate misinformation)

Did somebody say ‘immigration’?! Let’s talk about illegal immigrants! The first and most important point here is that ‘illegal immigrant’ is a massive misnomer and a bit of a myth. In an ideal world, people seeking asylum would form an orderly queue in their home country, fill out their forms and wait for Theresa May to get back to them. Obviously, this expectation is fucking stupid because if there’s a civil war going down or your government is politically persecuting you, you don’t really have much time to hang around doing admin. Therefore, the act of entering a country to claim asylum is usually illegal. However, the act of claiming asylum itself is very much legal and a human right. In fact, Article 31 of the 1951 Geneva Conventions specifically protects refugees who have entered a country illegally from being prosecuted for doing so. So don’t be fooled by Paul Dacre on this one.

It’s also worth pointing out that some people living in the UK will be undocumented non-EU nationals who are not claiming asylum. If this is the case, the individuals in question won’t receive any NASS accomodation or financial support from the government. So why would someone do this? The mostly likely answer is that they have been trafficked and are having their labour, emotions and lives exploited. The reality is, being an illegal immigrant is not all the Daily Mail cracks it up to be and it’s undesirable for nearly all individuals.

Migrant (aka anyone really)

“Why are you talking about illegal immigrants?”, I hear you say, “That’s so last year, everyone talks about migrants now”. For sure, a funny thing happened when the British public suddenly became sympathetic to Syrians fleeing war – the media started using the word ‘migrant’. To be honest, I find ‘migrant’ a really odd word, in that it’s so generic. The truth is, we all are, have been or will be migrants at some point.

All of the above groups I’ve defined? Migrants. Those annoying Americans in suits who I overhead at Canary Wharf last week on the tube? Migrants. My sister, who is from England and works in Scotland? A migrant. My friends who are French nationals and work in the UK? Migrants. I could go on, but it’d be quite boring. Basically, if you’ve ever been to another country for more than a few weeks and weren’t on holiday, you’ve probably been a migrant.

And, for me, being able to move between countries for work, asylum or just a bit of fun is a good thing.

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