This week, activists have pressured Home Secretary Sajid Javid into reviewing the restriction on asylum seekers working. As it stands, Britain has a stricter waiting period than the USA, Canada or any other European country. Javid still signals there are “no plans” to change this, but human rights activist Pinar Aksu says we must arm ourselves with knowledge on this issue and demand the policy be changed…
In the UK, we attach people with a lot of different labels: asylum seeker, refugee, immigrant, economic migrant. Every label comes with different and difficult rules and people are have different rights depending on their categorisation. Some people leave their country of origin with years of work experience, whether it be in lawyering, farming, engineering, academia, the creative arts or anything else. On arrival to the UK, however, they're faced with innumerable barriers to be able to practice their work.
I'd ask people to imagine what it's like to be apart of this dehumanising asylum system – to not know when you'll be given leave to remain, to live in constant fear of being deported or detained, to not be permitted the right to work and make a living, to not be able to use the education you worked for and the skills you developed. Worst of all, the wait for confirmation on these questions can often take months or years.
It's why Lift the Ban, a new campaign calling for people seeking asylum and their adult dependents the right to work, is so important. As stated on the Refugee Action website: “Lift the Ban is a coalition, made up of over 80 non-profit organisations, think tanks, businesses and faith groups, who have come together to call on the Government to give people seeking asylum and their adult dependants the right to work, unconstrained by the Shortage Occupation List, after waiting six months for a decision on their initial asylum claim or further submission. The campaign is rooted in the knowledge, views and testimonies of those who have direct experience of the asylum system.” In total, 71% of the British public agree people seeking asylum should be allowed to work – this is patently a battle which is winnable, but it needs wholesale support from the anti-capitalist movement on both sides of the border.
It's important to recognise that the notion of an 'asylum system' in itself is ideologically driven – its a business which benefits the private sector. When people in need seek asylum, they're made to report to “Signing Centres” (or Immigration Reporting Centres) – an example of which being Brand Street in Glasgow. People are made to experience stress and anxiety as they fear being detained or deported, unsure of what the future holds, trapped within a system more interested in restricting numbers than the lived experience of human beings.
Detention Centres (or Immigration Removal Centres, such as Dungavel above) are another example of the private sector profiting off the misery of vulnerable people. These are considered business-like ventures and every person is viewed through a financial prism. In total, it costs £25,000 to detain and deport someone. Instead of creating a safe environment for those that need it most, they're treated with less than a modicum of human empathy. Of course, all detainees want is to make a living and use their skills to work. It took hard won activism to even ensure the right to volunteer. Treated as second class citizens, there are traumatising stories about refugees and asylum seekers (including children) struggling with severe mental health issues and even committing suicide.
As outlined in the following report, giving asylum seekers the right to work isn't only good for health and wellbeing; it offers them a chance to contribute to the economy and reduce costs associated with asylum support, reflecting the government's own purported values. It strengthens their chances of being able to integrate into new communities (see the work of Integration Networks in Glasgow), allows them to live in dignity, provide for their families and keep on top of their mental health. Everybody deserves the opportunity to use their skills and make the most of their potential. As a policy change, it would be popular, evidence-based and pragmatic.
These are just some of the examples which evidences the need for change. You can also use the ‘Lift the Ban: local activism pack’ to get more information and detail on how to create change and campaign. It's important we share the facts around asylum and the truth about asylum seekers' human rights and what they should be entitled to. When we don't report these facts with conviction, the far-right are given room to hijack the narrative with lies about people seeking asylum “taking our jobs and benefits”. We need to constantly ensure we're educating and challenging ourselves to know the facts – especially when we're inevitably confronted.
This week marks the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – we must ask who these rights were created for and who they protect. If they're not implemented fairly and widely, they serve no purpose. Article 6 indicates that “everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law”. In 'Hostile Environment' Britain, that's clearly not the case, so we need to fight back to ensure these rights are in place, and being shared and practiced.