Plight of destitute refugees to be highlighted with visual protest

By staff writers
October 16, 2007

Christians in Manchester will stage a visual protest tomorrow (Wednesday) to highlight the humanity of thousands of asylum seekers in the UK who have been made destitute.

Ten faceless, ghost-like people will be using t-shirts to literally spell out that the thousands of people refused asylum are 'Still Human' and they are 'Still Here'.

The protest is organised to let people in the region know that there are many people in their midst who have been refused asylum and are left destitute under the UK Government's current asylum policies.

The demonstration coincides with the Independent Asylum Commission’s Public Hearing at Manchester Town Hall on the same day.

Dave Smith, one of the organisers, said "We work with many people who are not allowed to help themselves through paid work and end up 'stuck' in a ghost-like existence. Their only 'crime' is to be unable to return to their country of origin. We want to reach out to the people of the region to let them know that thousands of people in this situation are in their midst. We know of 400 people registered at British Red Cross projects, but there are many more."

Alan Thornton, from Church Action on Poverty, who are also supporting the protest said: "Many people seeking asylum in the UK are ending up destitute rather accepting, however reluctantly, to return to poverty and human rights oppression in their country of origin, once their asylum request has been turned down. Often they end up dependent on food parcel handouts and the hospitality of friends here- their alternative is homelessness, with consequent illness, both physically and mentally. The current situation is forcing people into the illegal and informal economies, sexual exploitation and crime. Extending the principle of “work for those who can, support for those who can’t” to everyone in Britain would be good for society, the UK economy and the desperate people refused asylum."

Financial support and accommodation for asylum-seekers is cut off 21 days after a final claim for asylum has been refused. Vouchers and hostel accommodation are available to those who meet one or more specific criteria. These include signing up for the government’s Voluntary Assisted Return and Reintegration Programme, having a serious medical reason preventing immediate departure from the UK, or there being no voluntary travel route back to their country.

At the end of June 2006, 6,145 applicants were in receipt of such support. The remainder of the refused asylum-seeking population is destitute. The National Audit Office last year estimated the backlog of refused asylum-seekers at between 155,000 and 283,500.

At the Public Hearing of the Independent Asylum Commission tomorrow at Manchester Town Hall seven refugees will individually talk about how they became destitute, how they survived, and the impact that it had on them.

Other witnesses include Dr Angela Burnett on the health impact, Dave Smith from the Boaz Trust describing the impact on voluntary sector support organisations, Peter Olner from the No Recourse to Public Funds Network describing the impact on Local Authorities, Ruth Heatley from Greater Manchester Immigration Aid Unit explaining why lack of access to legal services can lead to destitution and Miranda Kaunang from Save The Children illustrating the experiences of young separated children who become destitute at 18.

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