Information Landmine

"The Americans keep telling us how successful their system is. Then they remind us not to stray too far from our hotel at night." - An un-named EU trade representative quoted during international trade talks in Denver, Colorado, 1997.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Still human...

It doesn’t surprise me one bit to hear that UK Border Agency staff have been accused of humiliating people who have claimed asylum in the UK. Surely and sadly, it is obvious in a system that is designed to humiliate and de-humanise, staff members should work within a “culture of disbelief and discrimination.”

What the UK government has missed, in it’s policy making for asylum seekers in the UK – is that these people are human.

A recent change in policy has been around those asylum seekers who have been refused refugee status, but unable to return or be returned to their countries. They are not allowed to work. They are provided with basic accommodation. Until recently, a single person on section 4 was provided with £35 per week of subsistence – in the form of supermarket vouchers.
The cash free existence is one that has been campaigned against by many as being unnecessarily restrictive. It is a system, however, that had been successfully overcome outside the system – church, community groups and individuals purchased the vouchers at face value, using them themselves and providing the asylum seeker with cash that can be used for buying food etc at cheaper, more accessible shops.

The clever old UKBA weren’t too impressed by this. So, instead, they have now introduced the Azure card [1]. This card is loaded with £35 per week. It has to be taken to the supermarket and spent there. If you don’t use the credit, only £5 will roll over. Doesn’t sound so bad, but... not all the supermarkets are online for it yet. In Newcastle, only Tesco and Asda accept the cards. And what if you want to save up some money for a warm coat? Or take the bus to see your solicitor? Or visit the doctors?

Some of the people I work with have been on Section 4 for years. One man I know, we’ll call him Alpha, he lives in Walker, like many asylum seekers. There is no Asda, no Tesco in Walker. So he has to travel to Kingston Park Tesco. But he has a cash free existence. That means he can’t get the bus, the metro. So he walks. 8 miles. 8 miles there and 8 miles back to Kingston Park to shop. And he can’t buy halal food there.

Now, I agree, that perhaps this is better than being dead somewhere in East Africa, killed by a government official. And I concede that according to the ‘system’ this man has been refused asylum. But I believe that he, like many, has been wrongly refused. And even if he hasn’t, even if he is lying. What kind of life is this? It’s certainly not cheaper than providing that £35 through the benefits system – the Azure card system must have cost a fortune to implement [2]. Or even allowing people to work for a living so they don’t need state handouts. It is designed to be de-humanising, degrading, humiliating, restricting.

Alpha, he escaped persecution by the government of his country. He escaped death there. And he came here, and now, he is persecuted by our government. And he sat in front of me, and he said.
“In my country, the government, they don’t like you, and they kill you. But at least they kill you. But in this country, the government, they kill you slowly.”

[1] So called because it is blue.
[2] I might stick in an FOI request to find out how much...


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Can't the card be exchanged just like the voucher? Alpha, can trade Asda and Tesco credits with hard currency to buy more personalised products not available in thOse stores? It doesn't solve the larger problem but undermines the system.

10 February, 2010 00:21  

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