Over the past few years we’ve been bombarded with media coverage of migrants. We’ve been shown images of desperate and frozen young men rescued from sinking boats, inflammatory click-bait headlines, and countless debates and discussions on TV. A lot of the coverage invokes feelings of anger at the injustices embedded in our immigration system, sorrow at the plight of displaced people, and disgust at the rhetoric spouted by media and politicians. But what can we actually do?
It is easy to feel powerless in the face of government systems. Yet every time we feel anger there is an opportunity to channel it into something positive. We may not be experts, we may not be wealthy, and we may not have a lot of time to spare, but when we join together we can create a powerful voice. This week is Refugee Week, so as we tweet, read, and share stories, what better time to take action?
Turn Anger into Action
The good news is you don’t have to glue yourself to a public structure, or pick up a placard and start shouting. Campaigning could simply be sending a letter to your MP, talking to your GP surgery, or finding out enough to challenge untruths. And you don’t have to do it alone, many wonderful people have already set up movements; all you have to do is pick one, take the plunge, and join in any capacity you can.
In the spirit of Refugee Week, I’ve pulled together a list of some of the best opportunities to get involved with campaigns and organisations working with, and for, asylum seekers and refugees:
Campaigning for? For free NHS healthcare for all, regardless of immigration status and preventing information sharing with the Home Office
Why is action needed? People who cannot prove they have the right to remain in the UK are being charged upfront for NHS Services. This goes against the core values of the NHS to be ‘free at the point of use’ and has led to people being refused life saving treatment. On top of this, as of 2017, the Home Office can request that the NHS share patient information with them, prompting concerns that people with precarious immigration statuses may avoid seeking medical attention when they need it.
Where do I sign up? The Patients not Passport website: https://t.co/F5TZsIKAHZ
On Twitter follow @Medact, @Docnotscops and #patientsnotpassports
Work and Education:
Campaigning for? For people seeking asylum to be able to work and access higher education
Why is action needed? Asylum seekers are banned from working. This means their income is limited to the £37.37 provided weekly by the Home Office to cover food, transport, clothing and all other needs. Not being able to work alienates asylum seekers from the rest of society, and can impact on people’s mental health.
Young people who do not have an immigration status called ‘leave to remain’ are unable to obtain a student loan, meaning they can face fees of thousands of pounds if they wish to study at University.
Campaigning for? A more humane process for people to seek asylum in the UK
Why is action needed? There are many legitimate reasons to overhaul the current system, but a good starting point is the lack of legal routes into the UK system to claim asylum. This means many people who wish to seek asylum have no choice but to first enter the country illegally. The Home Office then provides little support for people trying to claim asylum and navigate the complicated legal system. Poor support means people can be vulnerable to having their asylum claim rejected, becoming destitute, and even being deported.
Where do I sign up? First read Refugee Action’s report “Waiting in the Dark: How the Asylum System Dehumanises, Disempowers and Damages” for an overview. You can find out how to get involved in campaigning for a better system here and check out the Refugee Action blog entitled How you can help refugees. You can also visit the Freedom from Torture website to read about the incredible work they do with survivors of torture, and add your signature to the campaign to make the UK a safe place for torture survivors.
Campaigning for? An end to the ability to detain asylum seekers and other migrants without a release date
Why is action needed? Asylum seekers constantly live under the threat of detention. When people are detained they don’t know if it will be for days, weeks, months, or even years. They can have poor access to healthcare and legal advice, and may never be given a reason for having been detained. The detrimental impact this uncertainty can have on people’s physical and mental wellbeing is huge, and the UK is the only country in Europe that has no time limit on detaining migrants.
Where do I sign up? BiD (Bail for immigration detainees) https://www.biduk.org/ and Liberty https://www.libertyhumanrights.org.uk/campaigning/oppose-indefinite-detention
Advocate for, and with, asylum seekers and refugees:
Campaigning for? Elevating the voices of people impacted by the Home Office’s policies
Why is action needed? The system for asylum seekers removes people’s choices, takes away their voices, and is often hidden from view. A powerful way to fight for better treatment is to platform the people who have experienced it.
Where do I sign up? Migrants Organise work to promote the voices of people with experience of migration. You can also look in your local community; places of worship and community centres may run projects you can get involved in.
Consider getting involved in next year’s Refugee Week! There are hundreds of events running up and down the country where you can eat, dance, hear incredible stories and meet wonderful people.
Sign up at: http://refugeeweek.org.uk/
By Lauren Lovejoy, CW18 Trainee at Age UK