NEWS & BLOG
20 January, 2023 - By Sanne van den Bergh and Leyla Williams
Advising our Community
Imagine you’re newly-arrived in the UK, seeking asylum due to facing war and persecution in your home country. You came here by crossing the Channel in a small boat because you had no other choice. Getting a visa and coming here safely by plane wasn’t an option, because there’s no such thing as an asylum visa.
You’re placed in a budget hotel where you live for the next two years while waiting for your Home Office interview, where the government give you £9.10 a week to live on and some food, airplane-style, three times a day on a tray outside the door. You’re suffering from trauma, banned from working, have difficulty stomaching the often innutritious and unfamiliar food, have heard frightening rumours about being sent to Rwanda, have no lawyer, and know nobody in the neighbourhood.
This is the situation many of our current community members find themselves in in their first weeks in the UK. That is, until a friend at the same hotel, a GP, a mental health worker or another organisation suggests they walk over to us to become part of a community and get some advice.
Giving advice in an increasingly hostile environment
The Nationality and Borders Act (NABA) has caused the existing inhumane environment for refugees, asylum-seeking people and migrants to become even bleaker. Passed in April 2022, despite strong widespread opposition by the UNHCR, the British Red Cross, Refugee Council, Oxfam, and small charities like ourselves, NABA sets out to create different categories of refugees and is based on the belief that not all refugees are made equal. The Act enshrines into law the idea that only those who arrive via ‘safe and legal’ routes or formal resettlement schemes are deserving of protection, leaving others who are unable to access the extremely limited available safe routes exposed to a constant threat of criminalisation, more insecure forms of protection, or removal to Rwanda under ‘inadmissibility’ rules.
In this increasingly hostile environment, we run busy weekly advice drop-ins for refugees, asylum-seeking people and migrants on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and by appointment on Wednesdays. People come to us through self-referrals, friends, and referrals from GPs, lawyers, NGOs, mental health workers, local authorities, and other organisations. Our small advice team consists of advisors, support workers, volunteer casework assistants and volunteer translators. It’s not always easy work our advice team is doing – it can be complex and feel relentless at times. It is, however, completely essential for our members, particularly the most vulnerable, and we are extremely proud of the tireless work of our caseworkers to ensure needs are met and our members expertly advised.
Working in partnership
We work in a funded partnership with the local Citizens Advice Bureau in Hammersmith and Fulham which means we have an excellent dedicated caseworker from their team working with us to support our members on housing, benefits, asylum support and other issues. We also work in close contact with Care4Calais and other charities supporting asylum-seeking people who are based in local hotels.
Casework for our asylum-seeking members entails everything from supporting people to register for GPs and schools to finding legal aid lawyers to take on cases, contacting the Home Office about missing subsistence payments, and working with lawyers and GPs on cases. While living in limbo waiting for substantive asylum interview, it’s vital our asylum-seeking community understand the rights they do have, and receive the support they need. We provide hardship funds for those who need to travel across London for essential appointments but cannot afford fares.
For those who have been granted refugee status and those coming recently from Ukraine on visas, our casework focuses on housing, benefits, education, and above all homelessness prevention. Those with Leave to Remain have the freedom to work, receive benefits, and rent in the private sector, but most refugees we know don’t have the credit history or savings to put down a deposit for a rental in the private market, especially with the scarce amount of affordable housing available in London. It is impossible to expect refugees who have only recently arrived in the UK, or whom have lived on tiny government subsistence payments, to have the financial security most landlords require. Homelessness is a huge issue facing many in our community, with our caseworkers working tirelessly to ensure people are safely housed rather than ending up on the streets.
Knowing the Rights of our Community – and Working Strategically
In such precarious times for our community members, we’re doing everything we can to ensure they understand their rights. We’ve been working with Lawyers Against Poverty, a movement of lawyers fighting the injustice of poverty, to deliver workshops for our community on the UK legal and asylum systems. Crucially, thanks to our volunteer translators we deliver these workshops in various languages so everyone can understand the workshops, with the support of our volunteer English teachers who know the language abilities of our members.
We also support lawyers with evidence for their strategic litigation work when we notice issues and patterns affecting many of our members. Large numbers of our asylum-seeking members experience delays in receiving their £9.10 per week from the Home Office, payments for those with young children, decisions on their asylum claims, have their belongings taken from them at the border by the Border Force, and other matters.
As a community, we cannot sit back when the rights and entitlements of so many of our members are not met. Our advice and rights work is essential for the safety, wellbeing, and long-term ability of our members to survive and live in dignity.
Sanne van den Bergh is the Casework and Development Coordinator at West London Welcome.
Leyla Williams is the Deputy Director of West London Welcome.