SYRIAN ASYLUM SEEKERS IN THE UK SUFFERING EXPLOITATION AND POVERTY
29 March 2017
Refugees fleeing conflict in Syria face an impossible choice - stay and risk physical harm or even death, or flee and risk exploitation from people traffickers. The journey to reach the UK is often highly traumatic, and evidence of slavery and exploitation is well documented in countries along the route including Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey.
This week, The Observer reported that even when they reach the UK, Syrian asylum seekers are often either abandoned to poverty or forced into exploitative work. The newspaper reported finding “asylum seekers working in warehouses, construction sites and garages for as little as £10 per day.”
This happens not because Syrians arrive without skills – many were qualified professionals or university students back home. The situation is a result of government policy and bureaucracy, which has as yet failed to acknowledge and account for the unique situation of refugees arriving to the UK.
The Observer reports that a key issue for Syrian asylum seekers is fear of being sent back to the first EU country they reached. This is made possible through the Dublin regulation, legislation the UK Government has strongly supported. Last year, the UK Government made 3,500 requests to send asylum seekers back to countries including Bulgaria and Hungary. These countries have been criticised by the UN and NGOs for exposing asylum seekers to inhumane living conditions, arbitrary detention and even torture.
WHAT ARE WE DOING TO HELP?
Elmbridge CAN is helping refugees to avoid falling into poverty by providing small grants through the Refugee Support Fund. Some of the beneficiaries have invested in training courses or equipment that will enable them to find jobs or become self-employed.
Even when asylum seekers gain refugee status, Elmbridge CAN has identified a number of other practical obstacles to being able to work and earn a living. Obtaining a National Insurance number, critical for employment, has proven exasperatingly complex for our volunteers who have supported refugees with their applications. One case required over 6 hours on the phone to multiple government agencies and took over 2 months to achieve a positive outcome.
The questions are obvious – how is a refugee supposed to navigate this system, and what are they expected to do in the 3 months they are neither entitled to work, nor benefits, nor even a bank account?
We wrote to local MP, Dominic Raab, asking him to make it a priority that refugees automatically get a National Insurance number as soon as they receive their refugee status. He has raised the question with the Department for Work and Pensions on our behalf. We'll update you as soon as we have a response.
In the meantime, please add your voice to this request by emailing Dominic Raab.
If you would like to help, please consider becoming a volunteer with Elmbridge CAN, and share this story with your friends and colleagues.