Thursday, July 17, 2014

REGIONAL ASYLUM ACTIVISM

STAR’s grassroots movement to raise refugee voices and improve the UK’s asylum system.
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STAR is the Co-ordinator of ground breaking campaigning project Regional Asylum Activism. Established in 2012 we employ 3 campaigners in Manchester, Leeds and Birmingham to work for the Still Human Still Here vision of a fairer and more humane asylum process. We want the government to:

  • Improve decision making and ensure that all those in need of protection receive it;
  • Provide asylum seekers who would otherwise be destitute with sufficient support so that they can meet their essential living needs while they remain in the UK;
  • Grant asylum seekers permission to work if their case has not been resolved within six months or they have been refused, but temporarily cannot be returned through no fault of their own;
  • Provide free access to healthcare for all asylum seekers while they are in the UK.

Why are we doing this?

People fleeing war, torture and persecution in the UK are met with disbelief, poverty, abuse on the streets and a complicated, inaccurate asylum process. Much of this has been led by public opinion, guided often by a hostile media. Polls have found:

  • 78% of the public think that the main reason people seek asylum in the UK is for state benefits, in reality 75% of asylum seekers did not expect to receive any support in the UK.
  • People vastly overestimate number of people who seek asylum in the UK for example when asked to think about immigrants, people were most likely to think of asylum seekers (62%) and least likely to think of students (29%), however the highest number of people coming to the UK are students (37%) and the lowest number are asylum seekers (4%).
  • 56% of people want to reduce the number of people seeking asylum in the UK.

The government has responded to this negative public opinion with increasingly harsh legislation while operating an inaccurate process for deciding who should be granted asylum.

  • 25% of decisions to refuse asylum are overturned on appeal.
  • Asylum seekers are not allowed to work and must live on £36.62 per week.
  • Thousands of people who are refused asylum have this small support removed and are left destitute reliant on charities such as The Red Cross for hand outs.

We believe that these negative attitudes and policies are very damaging to refugees, asylum seekers and the wider community. They work against humanitarian principles and community cohesion and do not uphold Britain’s commitment to the UN Refugee Convention.

To change this we have to get the public behind us. In our experience people will support policy change if they are furnished with the facts and meet the people who are suffering as a result. Once public opinion has shifted, policy makers will feel able to make positive changes to the asylum system.

STAR’s 12,000 strong student movement is the major campaigning force pushing for a better deal for asylum seekers and refugees in the UK and we have made huge changes through campaigning, just in the last year we have:

  • Won Equal Access at Queen Mary’s and Exeter universities and are well on the way at 10 more
  • Won public support for the Still Human Still Here campaign to end destitution by staging 40 events during Action Week 2014
  • Won protection in the UK for refugees from Syria through letter writing and collecting signatures for the Refugee Council petition

The RAA project means we now work much more closely with refugees and asylum seekers as well as local and national organisations in our campaigns. It also means that there are three skilled and experienced campaigns staff to work with STAR groups in the North West, Yorkshire & Humberside and the West Midlands.

How Does Regional Asylum Activism Work?

STAR employs three Activism Co-ordinators; Sunny Omwenyeke in the West Midlands, Lorna Gledhill in Yorkshire and Humberside and Estelle Worthington in the North West. The staff are hosted in local refugee charities ASIRT, LASSN and Refugee Action and they work closely with asylum seekers, refugee organisations, the wider community and STAR groups in their region to help them take a really active and practical role in campaigning by:

Empowering refugees and asylum seekers to raise their voices and lead campaigns

RAA brings together asylum seekers and refugees to train, share skills and deliver campaigns e.g. in Liverpool we ran a 6 week training course for 18 people who have gone on to make a documentary with the BBC on FGM and asylum and organised a fantastic Action Week Sleepout with Manchester STAR.

Supporting local people and organisations to campaign for improvements to the asylum system in their local area

RAA helps local people and organisations to plan and deliver campaigns e.g. we worked with asylum seekers, other local people and the local refugee charity in Kirklees to persuade the council to pass a motion saying they oppose the destitution of asylum seekers in their area. Kirklees is just one of eleven councils which have passed these motions after RAA supported action.

Enhancing national campaigns by mobilising regional support

RAA supports national campaigns by ensuring that the experiences of refugees and asylum seekers in each region inform the campaign and provide local campaigners with opportunities to take part in national actions e.g. we collected testimonies from local asylum seekers across the three regions for the Home Affairs Select.

Engage and educate new supporters to increase our reach

We help run events to educate people about the reality of asylum in the UK and to gain their support for a more humane system for example we held a major day of action in the Birmingham Bull Ring at which local asylum seekers spoke to shoppers about their experiences in the UK and gathered petition signatures in support of Still Human Still Here goals.

Find out more at the fab Regional Asylum Activism website here

Posted by STAR team on 17/07/2014 at 02:51 PM