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Title Social Policy & Asylum Seekers A Contemporary Perspective
Author Jaiwanda Patel
Key Concepts Oppression, Anti-oppressive Practice, Racism, Social Policy, Ideology

 

Essay

Perspective

I am a Hindu female and I have been brought up within a family who have always followed a very traditional eastern culture.  However I have also been exposed to a great deal of the western culture, therefore my values and beliefs are based around both the eastern and western cultures.  Often this mixture causes a mass of confusion, conflict and at times, creates a great deal of heartache between my parents and myself. They don’t understand me and why I want to do certain things such as wanting to go out to pubs.   However I feel this confusion is a part of life amongst individuals that live between two cultures.  Growing up in this situation helps me as a youth worker to work with young people in similar circumstances.

Although I was born in India, I am actually a British Citizen.  I grew up in Britain and all my education done in Britain.  My parents came to Britain in the early 1960’s.  My father being born and bought up in Kenya, which was then a British colony made him a British subject.  Being a British subject gave him the opportunity to settle and work in Britain.  He was then in his twenties and also the eldest son in his family.  He originally arrived in Britain alone. Being a highly educated young man he found no difficulties in securing employment.  Also whilst living in rented accommodation for a short period, he was able to purchase a large Victorian terraced house in the Highfields area of Leicester.  It was then the rest of his family joined him.  There were eleven family members living in a four-bedroom terrace.  My mother felt that they were quite fortunate having a home they could call their own.  The importance of this is so strong because she felt that they had come into a strange and alienating country, therefore they needed a place they could call home.  Often from listening to stories by my parents, the first few years of settlement were extremely hostile.  Hostility from the ‘indigenous’ white population was so fierce that at times it was degrading.  My mother says there were many times she’d wished she had never come to Britain, because they were always made to feel outsiders and constantly reminded that they were not welcome here.  This is the reason why my mother felt owning her own home so important.  I can appreciate now the importance of feeling secure.  This helps me to understand Maslow -a psychologist whose theories state that an individual can only function and progress if their basic needs are met. 

It has been over thirty years now that I have lived in the Highfields area of Leicester.  Highfields is a residential inner city area of Leicester, mostly made up of Victorian housing.  However in the late 1960’s there were new developments to one part of the area.  This consisted of tower blocks and maisonettes belonging to the Local Authority Housing Association.  Whilst growing up in Highfields I remember there being a large white community being present.  However over the years many white families have moved out.  In 1991 the census revealed Highfields was made up of over 80% Black and Asian communities. (Leicester City Council: 1991)

However, today Highfields is home to a large number of asylum seekers, all from various parts of the world.  As a Youth and Community Development worker within Highfields I have had the opportunity to work with the Montserratian, Somalian, Bosnian and Kosavan communities.

Rationale

The reason as to why I choose to study the asylum seekers is because I have grown up within a household and community-a minority community, who faced many hurdles and obstacles.  From both the British government and the English community.  Most of the time they turned into major confrontations and resulted in a great deal of bloodshed.  However, this is at its most extreme and not always did it end up in this way.

Hence, I am more aware of the hostility faced by individuals because I have been more exposed to them.  By hostilities I mean exclusion, discrimination and racism.  I remember the problems faced by my mother each time she visited the dentists, doctors, schools or even the hospital.  Problems arouse because she was unable to understand or speak English, and there was no interpreters or help of any kind available to her to overcome the situation.  At times my father was able to go with her and interpret, which enabled her to understand.  However my father didn’t always explain things to her.  This meant that at times she left in the dark, which made her feel stupid and not in control of her life or her kids.  My mother often says that she feels angry because she wasn’t able to understand the education system in this country. Due to this she was unable to help us with homework or even understand us when we were growing up.  Making it difficult for her to then communicate with us.  I remember not being able to talk to my mother because I knew that she didn’t understand me and it was too difficult for me to explain to her, therefore there was a break-up in communication.   Which meant that whilst I was growing up my mother and I missed out on mother and daughter bonding, that to me means missing out on a great deal of quality time with my mother.  This is the reason why I feel so strongly about the need to providing facilities that enable an individual to access information and services.  I don’t think any individual should be kept in the dark; everyone has a right to information.

I also opted to look into asylum seekers because I found that they are an extremely oppressed group.  When I worked as a freelance designer in Leicester, I was expected to work within various manufacturing companies.  Whilst working within these companies I eventually found out, by making friends and talking to the employees of the various companies. Many employees were illegal immigrants and a few were asylum seekers.  These illegal immigrants had no means of income and the asylum seekers were unable to cope with the amount of benefit or ‘help’ they were receiving.  Therefore they were being forced to work but what really upset me and made me angry was the fact that the manufacturer who was paying them £2 per hour for their work and was exploiting them.  These individuals had no choice but to accept the pay they were getting because they were in no position to argue.

My rationale for this topic of asylum seekers is to investigate and gain more of an insight into how much Britain has advanced in terms of recognising the needs of minority communities since the days from when my parents and I came to Britain.  Especially paying attention to how the government has advanced if at all in terms of equality and treating Black and White individuals as equals.

Asylum Seekers and Social Policy

In this assignment I will discuss and analyse the social issue for asylum seekers and the social policy behind the issue.  I will concentrate on areas such as voucher schemes and dispersal and touch on areas of oppression including racial harassment.

I will look at how bad media coverage and people in power have misused their authority to inflict oppression.

Although there have been Black people in Britain for the best part of five hundred years, they are still referred to as a new community.  The earliest date on record is said to be 210AD, when an ‘Ethiopian’ is said to have gone down in history for mocking the emperor, who was most probably the one who had bought him to Britain. (Fryer, 1984)  Which is why I believe that the ideologies of Britain being a country belonging to the White community are not quite true.  Black communities have just as much history and involvement as the White communities.  Although even today I feel that the White communities regard themselves as superior to all the other communities within Britain.  It is this level of thought that I feel is the major root to many conflicts created within Britain between White and other minority communities.

As a youth and community development worker I believe that there is so much to be learnt from each other’s knowledge.  Together with the diversity of cultures, individuals have so much to benefit from.  

The ideologies based around the issue of asylum seekers are that they are seen as ‘bogus asylum seekers’. (SocietyGuardian, January 5th 2000) They are seen to be ‘flooding into Britain’ to become ‘benefit scroungers’. (Refugee Council, 2000)  Extensive bad media coverage has resulted to asylum seekers facing extreme hostility and violent attacks from local community.  The New Labour government found itself with daily messages from national tabloids to stop the ‘madness’ and ‘send asylum spongers packing’, the major instigator being the Daily Mail. (CARF 48, Feb/Mar 1999)  Home Secretary Jack Straw was forced to make an announcement in the News Of The World that the government was ‘bringing in reforms to address the problem of bogus asylum seekers’ (CARF 48, Feb/Mar 1999)

The Asylum and Immigration act 1996 had already withdrew social security benefits from ‘in-country’ applicants.  Then the introduction of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 was to act as a further deterrent.  Limiting the cash payments providing support for the essential living needs of asylum seekers.  The Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 basically just benefits the government and it is said could be challenged under the Humans Rights Act 2000 in terms of unfair treatment of individuals. (Guardian, November 14, 2000) 

I feel that the British government are being seen as having open arms and that they are letting each every asylum seeker into the country.  In reality the government is only doing what it is obliged to do.  Britain is a signatory to the 1951 United Nation Convention on Refugees, whereby it is committed in providing a safe haven for those fleeing torture, persecution, and death. 

“There are an estimated 13,000,000 refugees in today’s troubled world, Great Britain provided a home for a mere 0.05% of them”. (Refugee Council)

Figures show that in reality there is not that greater amount of asylum seekers being taken in by Britain, and too much emphasis is being put into how much the British communities are losing out.  The Sun yet another daily tabloid, however this one is well known for its page three nudity rather than its factual accuracy.  Reported that asylum seekers have been provided with “loads of cash, computers, TV’s and free sports facilities”  (CARF 50, June/July 1999)

Tory Leader William Hague dubbed the new Enoch Powell “warned that asylum seekers were costing taxpayers £180 million a year”.  He recommended that asylum seekers should be detained in secure units and also recommends the formation of special removal agencies to get rid of rejected asylum seekers.  Major newspapers such as The Daily Telegraph, Daily Mail and the Sun praised his idea, saying that he was with the ordinary people’s concerns. (Carf 56 June/July, 2000)

The impact and influences people in power have on the mass media is tremendous.  Together with the negative media coverage, asylum seekers have been given such a bad image.  With the Conservatives using asylum seekers as a scapegoat to gain more votes.  Constantly claiming that ‘dubious’ asylum seekers were pushing British citizens to the back of the queue for housing and hospital treatment.  Constantly ridiculing the Labour government for its involvement with asylum seekers. Home Office response was that ‘Council taxpayers’ money is not being used to house asylum seekers and therefore local people are not being disadvantaged.  Properties that do not have a waiting list are being used, which basically meant slum housing and bed and breakfast hostels.

Another problem faced by the asylum seeker was the government’s introduction of the voucher scheme, which has been described as ‘inhuman and degrading’.  It was initially to be used by the government as a deterrent, but since the scrapping of cash benefits and the introduction of the voucher system there has been a rise in asylum seeker applications. (Guardian, September 28:2000) Charities are claiming that asylum seekers are struggling to survive on the little being provided to them by the government, many of them going hungry.  Asylum seekers are given £10 per week in cash and the rest in vouchers. (SocietyGuardian, December 20:2000)  Certain designated stores only accept these vouchers.  Goods to the value of the voucher must be purchased, as no change is given in return.  If a refugee buys goods worth £9.50 with a £10 voucher the store pockets the rest.  The government is therefore putting money directly into the pockets of the wealthy stores. 

The government are failing to recognise the impact the voucher scheme is having on the asylum seekers.  Many are faced with humiliating treatment and abusive behaviour from the locals, leaving them feeling demoralised and inferior.  Many are finding themselves in poverty and that they are able to support their families with many charitable organisations are having to provide hardship grants for cots, winter coats, shoes, nappies and babies milk.  When a mother is faced with a dilemma of buying food for her family or sends her kids to a school outing, then her only real choice is to buy food for her family.  Leaving her kids excluded from all the other children whose parents are able to afford to send them on the outing. 

As a youth worker I have worked with many young people from the Somalian community who feel left out and excluded.  They say that they called names and made fun of. 

In order to earn extra income I have found many that asylum seekers are finding their ways into local manufacturing companies.  Local manufacturers are employing asylum seekers; refugees and illegal immigrants on cash in hand basis and paying them £2 per hour or even less.  Many asylum seekers want to work and earn a living, but the government are not providing any sort of assistance in helping them secure employment.  Under recent legislation asylum seekers are not permitted to work for the first six months they are in Britain.  They can only work after six months and once they have been granted leave to stay. 

The Refugee Council hopes that the voucher scheme will soon be scrapped.  However the government are saying they will view the situation very soon, which means that they will try and drag it out as long as they can until there is a major uproar. (Guardian, September 28, 2000)

Asylum seekers are also the most recent of groups who are facing racial harassment.  The Commission of Racial Equality (CRE) defines racial harassment as:

“Verbal or physical aggression towards individuals or groups because of their colour, race, nationality or ethnic or national origin” (CRE, citied in Campling. J, 1997:23)

Throughout Britain there has been a widespread of racial harassments and aggression. (Campling. J, 1997:23) Asylum seekers have been forced out of their homes after treats.  There have been many incidents whereby families have had numerous ends of arson attacks.  They were not asylum seekers but because they were Asian, were targeted by mobs that were simply out to inflict injury on anyone ‘foreign’. (Carf 55, April/May 2000)

 

The Home Office response was to recommend the introduction of voluntary dispersal.  Especially in locations such as London and Kent where there is a high concentration of asylum seekers and attacks were on the increase. (Audit Commission, 2000:3)

 

Dispersal was a government initiative to move asylum seekers to areas where local authorities had properties standing.  The whole concept was that councils were to provide

“essential support services, helping to register with local doctors, find schools and access support groups”.  (Guardian, November 21, 2000)

However only one out of eleven authorities involved welcomed the agreement.  The Home Office was strongly being criticised by local authorities in the dispersal of the asylum seekers.  There were at times no prior consultations with councils to where the asylum seekers are to be located. They were being designated to private property. More to the point asylum seekers were dispersed to areas of deprivation and into poor quality housing.  They had no choice as to where they were being located, they had to either like it or lump it. (Refugee Council) This left asylum seekers isolated and in receipt of hostilities from the local people. 

 

Whilst on a visit to a community centre in Liverpool, colleagues and myself all from the youth and community field were astonished at what we were witnessing.  There had been a number of Somalian asylum seeker families placed in a predominately White Council Estate.  Properties in this estate were in a deteriorating state, with crime, the use of drugs and unemployment was at a high.  We had the opportunity to chat to a few of the Somalian families; we found that they often felt trapped in their homes.  Often too scared to come outdoors, leaving them unable to access the few facilities provided to them.  They were constantly being abused and threatened by members of the local community.

 

However the local authorities still continue to house asylum seekers in this estate, knowing the problems they will be faced with.  In discussion with community workers from within the area, we were able to find out that many families had moved out to live with other family members.  Whereas other families who were alone had no choice but to stay put.  Many asylum seekers are faced with psychological and sociological problems stemming from being excluded.

 

Taking all the information aboard from our visit to Liverpool, both my colleagues and myself were more aware of the difficulties faced by certain communities.  Looking around at the asylum seekers settled within the Highfields area of Leicester, the area in which I work in.  Communities such as the Somalian’s, Bosnian’s and Montserratian have a great deal more facilities available to them then the communities in Liverpool.  This is mainly due to the fact that they have been located in a multi cultural area where there is a large Islamic community and a number of African and Caribbean communities.  Thus giving them access to facilities such as mosques, other religious institutions and specialist food shops.

 

However I feel that services such as interpreters for both the Somalian and Bosnian communities are essential.  Interpreters are needed help to access both social and welfare services, schools and also employment services.  This to me is an important area and at present I am working closely with a primary school in the Highfields area, whereby we are hoping to set up an afterschool facility.  This afterschool facility is to help members of the new settled communities to understand how the education system works within Britain.  Within this facility there are interpreters available to help those who are not able to understand English.

 

There is also a Community Interpreting Course available to members of the local community within Highfields wanting to help with interpreting at a very basic level in schools and local community centres within Highfields.  The course has been running now since November 1999, and had proved to be successful.  Leading to many of its students being offered work around the various organisations within Highfields.  However the course has not been accredited therefore it is not recognised by the local council, but it is in the process of being accredited.  This course will then help those who want to continue further along the interpreting field to gain entry in Higher Qualified courses.

 

The Home Office has admitted that the current legislation linked with asylum seekers is in total chaos.  They have now created a system that they feel is fairer, faster and firmer.  However as a Youth and Community Worker I feel that how can a system that is ‘faster’ and ‘firmer’ possibly be ‘fairer’.

 

Conclusion

 

In conclusion asylum seekers will always be seen as a social problem, with the extensive bad media coverage giving them a bad image.  At present it looks as though the New Labour government is doing everything it can for the asylum seekers, but infact it is only doing the minimum it has to do, in order to fulfil its role within the 1951 Geneva Convention.  The dispersal system and the voucher schemes are meant to be government initiatives in order to help the asylum seeker.  In reality they have made situations worse for them.

 

There has been nothing addressed in terms of why the asylum seekers are in Britain.  There is no media coverage stating that many asylum seekers have had family members shot in front them and many have lost everything.  Yet no emphasis has been put on that.

 

There are certain recommendations for both local and central governments, which need to be addressed in order to improve standards of services available to asylum seekers.  The major ones being:

  • Providing effective and appropriate services to asylum seekers.

  • Identifying the needs and profile of all asylum seekers within the area, ensuring that the data is shared between agencies.

  • Home Office should ensure that there are sufficient resources available to dispersal areas to meet the needs of asylum seekers.

Having said that these recommendations are necessary - we can only wait and see whether the government will take them on board.

Self-Assessment

In doing this assignment I have learnt that the ideologies around the issue of asylum seekers is strongly influenced by bad media coverage.  This forces me to rethink my views about the daily tabloids; I now see them as racially biased.

I have learnt that the conservative government is too racially biased.  Their thinking is no different to the thinking of Enoch Powell who in the 70’s wanted all the coloured out of Britain.

I don’t feel that British government has advanced much in terms of treating Black and White communities as equals. They tend to benefit themselves when carrying out issues concerning Black people, and not benefiting the people involved.

I feel that that the Labour government should have a more positive approach to asylum seekers and the way in which they tackle issues concerning them.  I feel that they are handling issues half-heartedly and by doing so they are not only wasting money but also what seems to me as wasting lives.

I feel that I have been able to achieve the objectives set out in my learning objectives.

© Jaiwanda Patel & Student Youth Work Online 2001

 

References & Recommended Reading

AUDIT COMMISSION, Briefing-Another Country: Implementing Dispersal under the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999, June 2000

CAMPLINGS, J. (1997) Equal Opportunities and Social Policy, Addison Wesley Longman Ltd: New York

GUARDIAN, September 28th, 2000

GUARDIAN, November 14th, 2000

GUARDIAN, November 28th, 2000

SOCIETY GUARDIAN, January 5th, 2000

SOCIETY GUARDIAN, December 20th, 2000   

http://www.carf.demon.co.uk/feat48.html

http://www.carf.demon.co.uk/feat50.html

http://www.carf.demon.co.uk/feat55.html

http://www.carf.demon.co.uk/feat56.html

FRYER, Peter. (1984) Staying Power, Pluto Press Ltd: London

http://www.refugeecouncil.org.uk  

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