Treatment of new NI refugees needs a rethink
2018-05-15 13:39:00 -

By Mohammed Samaana

When I used to hear about any asylum seeker I know who was granted refugee status, I would get excited and feel happy for them, and congratulate them for the good news. Now, however, I have started to feel sorry for them at the same time.


Apparently, granting someone asylum in the North and the rest of the UK does not mean indefinite leave to remain. Instead they are given a mere five years, which leaves them in limbo. This became the case after the introduction last year of the ‘safe return review’. The aim of this policy is to examine whether it is safe for refugees to return to the places from which they fled. This means that they still can be sent back to a place where they will possibly face persecution. For them, the new regime means five years of uncertainty, fear and possible deportation, not relief at being able to restart their lives.


This is not the only problem awaiting them. Before even getting the chance to celebrate the status they have been waiting for, they have their benefits stopped abruptly, leaving them with no income. As if this was not enough, they also receive notice to leave their accommodation, which makes them vulnerable to becoming homeless. That’s besides having to leave behind the friends and communities that supported them through tough times. And that’s also if they can even understand the notice and what’s being demanded of them.


Once a refugee asked me to read a letter for him. The letter was an eviction warning, with less than a week left if he did not pay the rent for his hostel accommodation. The problem was caused by his lack of understanding of the language and the system. He thought, same as the accommodation in which he stayed as an asylum seeker, that the hostel was free, or at least that he did not have to pay for it himself.


It is obvious that there are problems in the system. It keeps asylum seekers and refugees constantly worried about what their future might hold. It also does not allow them to go through a transitional period, to allow them to adjust from being asylum seekers to becoming a refugee who has nothing in a new country but still has to provide for themselves.


From knowing a number of people who went through this process, it would make more sense if they are allowed to stay in their asylum seeker accommodation for a few months, until they are able to find a job and alternative accommodation, which would be a win-win situation. It would allow refugees to find work and to live without depending on the welfare system in the long term. Maintaining the status quo is a lose-lose situation, where refugees are pushed towards social housing and unemployment benefits, costing the government and the economy even more money.

Mohammed Samaana is a freelance writer based in Belfast

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