‘The problem of destitution in this country is significant, and it’s not going away’ confesses Christine Park, the president for the University’s STAR. This student organisation is currently busy planning a charity event to raise awareness of destitution, funds from which will go to the Glasgow-based charity, Positive Action in Housing. The STAR Sleepout, apart from cabaret-led entertainment and good vibes all around, has at its core a very humanitarian cause concerned with the reality many asylum seekers wake up to every day, not only Glasgow but in the United Kingdom as a whole.
‘Glasgow is a dispersal city, meaning that asylum seekers are relocated here whilst they await a decision on their asylum claim, so there is a great demand for support services in the city.’ Despite this fact, nobody actually knows how many are there, since from the moment they have been refused an official status of an asylum seeker, they more or less disappear off the grid. Bearing in mind the esteemed position of United Kingdom in international politics and its past involvement in many countries of the world, this spells out a disaster of possibly tens of thousands living unnoticed among Britain’s cities.
Asylum seekers are at risk of destitution throughout the whole process, particularly when their asylum claim is refused and their support is withdrawn. According to a report on destitution by Glasgow Caledonian University’s Morag Gillespie, in just a weeklong survey, most of 148 foreign individuals and their dependants applying for support services in Glasgow were refused the asylum seeker status when applying. This puts them in a threat of living, sometimes for years, without income, failing to reach the United Nations global poverty line of $1.25 a day. ‘Even those who have been granted refugee status may sometimes become destitute, as they are evicted from the housing they were given as an asylum seeker, but cannot claim housing benefits until they get their papers, which can take weeks to arrive.’ Destitution is rarely a tragedy that happens to you once, 40% of the surveyed had been destitute on more than one occasion and the total time survey participants were destitute, ranged from a few days to six years, with the average time being one and a half years.
‘Although there are projects and campaigns trying to help people in this situation, the UK Border Agency’s stance has not changed, and there do not seem to be signs of improvement.’ This seems to be the uncomfortable truth for the STAR movement. Given the recent scandal regarding UKBA’s ‘Go Home’ campaign, one could assume that the problem of an unfavourable policy towards asylum seekers is another endeavour by the Coalition-led government. But the reality is different; this treatment of foreign nationals has in fact been prevalent since way before New Labour rule. How will this debate change with potential Scottish independence, I wonder. ‘There are supporters of better treatment of asylum seekers on both sides of the independence debate’ acknowledges Christine, before underlining the ultimate obstacle to changing the discourse about the rights of asylum seekers; ‘Truthfully, the attitudes of the general public must change first before the politicians will start to make any changes and the way we change the public’s attitude is through education.’
Whether be it by an inadequate mainstream media approach or by outright hostility from fringe parties like UKIP or BNP, many people have taken a negative view of asylum seekers. This can be seen as, predominantly, due to the fear of unknown, but also because of derogatory perceptions of those seeking asylum by some sections of the public. Christine elaborates; ‘most major media sources portray asylum seekers as greedy foreigners, who come to steal jobs and benefits, but this is completely wrong. While you are an asylum seeker, you do not have the right to work and get half as much money as a citizen would on job seekers allowance.’
So head on down to the Wellington Church this Friday night at 8. For a suggested donation of £2 you will contribute to a good cause and enjoy an open-air cabaret. If you’re up for a challenge, join the STAR team for a brisk October night outside, in solidarity with the many unheard voices, which on the same night will not have the choice to do otherwise.
STAR’s page: https://www.facebook.com/groups/STARglasgow/?fref=ts
Sleepout’s Event page: https://www.facebook.com/events/1390344064535933/?fref=ts
Sponsor here: http://www.justgiving.com/Star-Glasgow or text “SLEP96” plus the amount you’d like to donate to 70070 (e.g. SLEP96£1)
– Michael Borowiec