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14

Forced migrants

Spare rooms for those forced to migrate to the UK

John Okello is fifty-eight, an Acholi from Northern Uganda. He was a well known TV journalist. In 1997 he was detained by the military while on an assignment in Northern Uganda. He was held for three nights in a barracks and beaten up. On release he was told never to return to the area, which is his homeland. He was then told by a friend that his home in Kampala had been raided, tapes and videos had been taken and the place trashed. John faces probable arrest if he is returned to Uganda on suspicion of sedition for his strong anti-Museveni views and his belief that some of the atrocities in Northern Uganda ascribed to the Lord’s Resistance Army were committed by the Ugandan Army. As he was badly represented for his initial application for asylum and his appeal against refusal, he has had to make a fresh application. The Home Office failed to acknowledge this for over two and a half years. Until they do he is not entitled to even the seventy per cent of income support that the National Asylum Support Service (NASS) provides. His first solicitor did not apply for permission to work for him so he can’t. Spare Room have enabled him to survive by offering a room of his own and enabled him to successfully complete high level computer courses and Access to Business Studies at Walthamstow College. In 2006 he received offers from five different universities: Queen Mary, University of London are keeping a place open for him for 2007/8. Another Spare Room guest was a woman from Romania who was the victim of sex trafficking. She came to the UK as the dependent of her husband who then abused her. She

had to leave the district quickly because she feared other members of the Romanian sex-trafficking network as well. Spare Room were able to give her a safe retreat for a few weeks. She then found herself a live-in residential care job and was able to move on. Asylum and Immigration policy and practice now excludes thousands of people from legal work and from state benefits. People seeking asylum are no longer entitled to do paid work unless they have been waiting for an initial decision on their claim for a year. Most initial applications are decided within two months. New applicants who do not lodge their claims quickly enough are refused NASS support. Those who have been refused asylum and lost an appeal have their NASS stopped unless they agree to be removed from the UK. The quality of decision making and of much representation is low. Even families may now be refused support under Section 9 with the children being taken into care and the parents left destitute. Women from outside Europe who marry British citizens who then abuse them are not allowed state benefits if the marriage has not survived for two years. They may apply for leave to remain but that is a time-consuming, humiliating and uncertain process. EU citizens from eight accession countries are not allowed most state benefits if they have not done registered work for a year or lose their job in that period. Those from Romania and Bulgaria have to get a work authorisation document before they can even begin registered work. People from outside Europe who are not seeking asylum, do not have a work permit

or a sponsor to fully support them are neither allowed to work or claim any state benefits. Few obtain the scarce work permits doing work which an EU citizen cannot be found to do, as highly skilled migrants or seasonal workers. Even those with work permits are not normally allowed noncontributory benefits if they lose their work. People from outside Europe are driven to come to the UK by economic desperation or by ecological disaster. Even forced migrants entitled to state benefits do not get it for weeks because the system to ration them for people from abroad is very inefficient and understaffed. Do you have, or know of, a safe spare room for such forced migrants who have no tolerable legal means of support? Placements may be for as long or short a time as you choose. All potential guests are referred by established immigration and asylum advice agencies and are assessed by trained experienced Spare Room team members. We do not offer hospitality to those who have engaged in or actively supported violence. If you volunteer to host you will be assessed by trained experienced team members. If selected, the team will provide provide ongoing advice. Spare Room seeks to match guests with hosts so both are able to live in the same home together in reasonable harmony. For more information contact: Spare Room, c/o The Friends Meeting House, Bush Road, Wanstead, London E11 3UA. Tel. 07950 571256 Sources for the article are on our website: www.thefriend.org

Chris Gwyntopher

the Friend , 27 April 2007