In response to our joint appeal with Refugee Action York for winter clothing and smartphones for the asylum seekers currently accommodated in a hotel in York, we have received an excellent and generous response. We much appreciate the quality of items which are donated, along with nearly 40 phones. These have been distributed at the hotel to very grateful young men. The latest Covid19 mini-lockdown rules mean that we are unable to continue collection and delivery of clothing until early December, (hoping that the rules will be relaxed on 2nd of that month.) Volunteers have also been unable to visit the hotel, by order of the Home Office.
I have been asked if donors can take items directly to the hotel and leave them there. For security reasons, that is not possible. Those who are volunteer visitors are accredited and attend for specific purposes. The screening is necessary to ensure the protection of the asylum seekers. Across the UK, a number of hotels have suffered illegal entry by members of far-right groups. An attempt was made to film those staying at the hotel in York, and a hostile commentary was placed on social media. That is the reality of the current climate in which we live.
Therefore, if you have some clothing donations to offer, we ask you to hold on to them if at all possible, until early December, and I will send out a short message then to let you know when we resume our services. The need will certainly continue. During the past months, around 15 people have been moved out of the hotel, and been replaced by a similar number of arrivals. Their needs are then assessed and we seek to provide basic clothing with your help. The number of people at the hotel remains at around 95.
Three things to note about clothing donations
- All those we are currently seeking to help are young males aged 18- 30. So, we look for age appropriate clothing. If you have good quality clothing which belongs to elderly people, then it would be advisable to donate to Oxfam or Red Cross charity shops which have a wide customer base. Both charities provide support to asylum seekers and refugees in the UK.
- Our storage space is not able to take women’s or children’s clothes at the moment. Do please advise anyone who is asking or offering donations of that fact.
- With our partners RAY, our appeal is for clothing for young males, which will be warm. Our priority will be socks, gloves, hats, scarves, overcoats, parkas, jumpers, and sturdy mens shoes. There are a number of collecting points across the city, so when you have collected items, you can make contact with me after December 2nd at [email protected] or text 07745 380987. I can then find the nearest delivery point or arrange collection.
York City of Sanctuary is also grateful for the financial donations which have helped us continue our work with other asylum seekers and refugees in the city. We are dealing with a number of live cases at the moment, and donations assist us to provide hardship grants and legal advice fees.
The City of York Council, local Health authorities, Refugee Action York, York City of Sanctuary, North Yorkshire Police, local councillors, and regional groups such as Migrant Yorkshire, come together for a weekly online meeting with Mears who have the contract for housing asylum seekers, including the hotel in York. Updates on the welfare and activities of the hotel residents are given, and creative ideas to provide support, English language education, and leisure activities are discussed and planned. The health and well-being of the residents is a key issue of concern to all of us.
How encouraging it is to report this positive partnership and working together. It reflects the fact that the City of York fulfilled the criteria for becoming a nationally recognised City of Sanctuary back in 2015, and has shown itself to be living up to that title. If actions not words are the sign of commitment, then the city’s response to the arrival of 95 asylum seekers in Summer time has shown positive evidence.
Is ‘How long?’ a good question?
Exactly how long the Mears contract to house people in hotels will continue is not known at the moment. Clearly, this is going to continue into the New Year. The constant ‘stop –go’ Covid19 restrictions on face to face meetings has played havoc with the interview system operated by the Home Office. The waiting times for interviews in 70% of cases are now well beyond 6 months. The backlog of cases is rumoured to be at an all-time high. Asylum seekers are normally accommodated in shared houses or in dispersal centres. All those options are full, hence the emergency use of hotels. The number of asylum seekers entering the UK in the past 6 months is 50% down on previous years. The focus on arrivals by boat via the Channel – 7000- rarely mentions the full picture.
How long before the various hotel chains want to re-open to their usual clientele? There are around 1000 asylum seekers in Yorkshire hotels alone, not counting the North East of England and Scotland. Is Mears to be given a budget to rent/ purchase houses to accommodate them? How long before the Home Office recruits extra staff to increase the speed of processing asylum applications? Answers on a postcard to ‘The Home Secretary’, House of Commons, London SW1A 0AA. How long will you wait for a reply? That is also a good question.
Don’t spend it all at once
There is a commonly held view that those coming to the UK as asylum seekers are given full access to the welfare system, the NHS, and social housing, as soon as they enter the country. Here are the facts.
If an asylum application is accepted, the person will be provided with shared housing accommodation. They are not allowed to work, nor apply for private rented accommodation, nor receive any public benefits whatsoever. They may not open a bank account, nor apply for a UK driving licence.
If they are destitute, they will be granted £39:60 a week to enable them to buy food and essentials. This is calculated as 50% of the weekly amount awarded to Job Seekers Allowance (£79.20). The Job Seekers Allowance is the minimum amount which the Government has decided a person will need in order to survive in the UK.
For some time, Charities have been urging the Government to review the Asylum Support payment. At long last, the Home Office agreed to make a review and have awarded an increase which they say is ‘fair, generous, and represents an above inflation increase of 5% from June 2020.’
The award moves the weekly allowance up from £39.60 to £39.63. There is a sense in which it would have been better for the Home Office not to have moved the figure at all. To add 3 pence a week is so derisory that it suggests contempt for asylum seekers, and those who have been campaigning on their behalf. It adds insult to injury by suggesting that it is ‘fair and generous’.
You may want to note that Asylum Support in 2006 was £40.22 a week. What has changed since then? The introduction of the Hostile Environment policy on Immigration was adopted by the Government in 2012 onwards.
In their review, the Home Office additionally announced that those accommodated in hotels, who have so far received no asylum support allowance at all (that is correct- zero) and have been destitute, will receive £8 a week. By my reckoning that is £1.14 a day. It is a small step out of destitution, but it is not in the realm of generous.
Room for two more
Following on from our AGM, the first meeting of the Trustees elected Dr.Ahmed Khaleel as our Chair for the forthcoming year. We are delighted to have his leadership. Ahmed has experience of our work from the days before we were a charity, and brings many skills to the table.
We still have two vacancies outstanding on the Board of Trustees. Currently, there are two areas in which we would welcome and value experience and leadership.
Trustee One would help us develop our social media profile. We are aware of a lot more interest in our work via social media, and we would like to expand and respond to that interest. We do have some expertise and resources to draw on, which would be supportive to the lead trustee. The Board would value insights from the perspective of a young person (minimum age of 18 to be a trustee.) Applications from students are welcome.
Trustee Two would help us plan for end of the Covid19 restrictions period, in the field of fundraising. The Trusts and grant making bodies to which we have applied over the past 8 years of our existence are facing a sharp increase in applications, particularly from groups that were at one time funded by local authorities. The amounts we can draw down from them is decreasing. We need to develop new funding streams, including direct fund raising. Again, the lead person would find support and assistance from existing Board members.
You can express your interest in a vacancy, without commitment, by completing an application form. That will enable us to have a ‘no strings’ conversation with you about your experiences, and our expectation of a trusteeship. If we agree together to proceed, you would be co-opted to the Board until the next AGM when you would decide whether to seek election to a full term of 3 years as trustee. You would have full voting rights as a co-opted member.
An Application form attached to the newsletter should be returned to [email protected]