From Felicity Laurence.
I was happy to be invited speak to approximately 80 young people on the National Citizenship Service summer programme in late July, about the work of our Community of Sanctuary and some of the issues faced by people seeking refuge in our country. My Community of Sanctuary colleague Alex Kempton addressed another 80 young people in the second wave of this important programme in mid-August. Although the groups had already chosen to support different local charities, many young people signed up to have longer-term invovlement with Hastings Community of Sanctuary.
It was nothing short of inspiring to see how readily these young people engaged in thoughtful discussion, expressing various points of view in courteous terms, and asking probing questions about the material presented to them. One group then decided to make this topic the theme of their social action project; in two short weeks, they accomplished an astonishing amount, exploring further the particular issue of the right to work for people seeking asylum (the topic of the campaign Lift the Ban) and raising money to help our Community of Sanctuary with our ongoing work. They present their findings and ideas in the following article (also published now in the local paper Hastings In Focus
Hastings can be very proud of these young people.
Young people: The truth about seeking asylum status
We write this article as participants on the National Citizen Service (NCS) programme, designed for 15-17year olds to develop their communication and teamwork skills, as well as involvement in key issues of their local area. Part of the scheme involves the young people spending two weeks on a social action project, designed to benefit the community around them. Our team (Hastings, Wave 1, Team 1) decided to partner with Hastings Community of Sanctuary, after learning about the valuable work they do in the local area during a presentation from the Chair of this organisation, Felicity Laurence. We all immediately felt that the exceptional work completed by the organisation was so intriguing that we wanted to support them for our project.
Hastings Community of Sanctuary is an umbrella organisation which includes various groups working to help those who have recently found themselves in the unfortunate situation where they have been forced to leave their country. Part of the work of these groups provides those waiting for refugee status with many kinds of support as best they can with their resources; whilst waiting, they will help with the learning of the language and culture. Their aim is to give them help with becoming a part of the Hastings community until they feel settled and are completely independent.
In Hastings alone, there are approximately 200 people seeking refuge: this includes approximately 100 people who have been brought into the country under the Syrian Resettlement Programme (SRP), who already have permission to stay, and the right to work, and approximately 100 asylum seekers – who, within the UK as a whole, only make up around 0.25% of the entire population, a surprisingly insignificant statistic given the sheer amount of negative press that this marginalised group receive. Two members of our team from NCS attended a Hastings Borough Council meeting that discussed whether asylum seekers should be allowed to work after 6 months in whatever job they wish to do, in the UK, rather than after 12 months in the current highly restricted list of work permitted. Typically, asylum seekers are only able to be hired in obscure jobs, such as a ballerina or geophysicist – which excludes the vast majority of people, who are unable to work until they receive refugee status, which can take up to five years or more. This is due to Home Office procedure, which has left one asylum seeker in Hastings waiting 11 years for a decision.
Although the motion to support the campaign ‘Lift the Ban’ (on the right to work) was passed by a good majority of the council, we were shocked to witness the extreme negative views that a small minority of council members had and were disappointed that these were people representing Hastings, a community that seems to us as being warm and open-minded.
We conducted an online survey that we advertised on social media for people up to 25 years old to take to find out the views that the younger generation has on refugees and asylum seekers. From the 31 participants that took this survey we found that 76.6% of young people agreed or strongly agreed that refugees support society and our economy. The facts are as they stand – if asylum seekers were allowed to work, it is estimated that they could contribute around £42,000,000 to the UK’s economy. This extreme benefit is, in our opinion, a strong and valid reason why they should be allowed to work – yet this seems like an issue which is being ignored. To add to this, 83.3% of those surveyed disagreed or strongly disagreed that asylum seekers are taking jobs from British people.
A few members from our team were fortunate enough to interview a refugee who lives in Hastings; for the purpose of this article and privacy we shall call him Mr X. With him, we discussed the many difficulties of being a refugee that he faces, and what he feels could be changed to make his experience better for him. He left his country over a year ago, and although he volunteers with Hastings Community of Sanctuary, told us that he feels frustrated about how his skills are wasted. Mr X is a highly trained professional in two sectors which have huge employment gaps in the UK. Many seeking asylum want to work again, not only to be able to gain an income but also, as Mr X said, “It is about sanity. If you’re at home all day doing nothing, you feel it’s undignified.”
“I enjoy the experience of sharing knowledge, and it’s also about a sense of pride to be able to provide for your family. I feel like… within me, I feel joy when I am able to provide.”
Mr X also added, “it would be easier to interact, because when you are working, you are able to practise your English or… make some friends. It’s a win-win situation.”
It seems quite clear that there are valid reasons for those who are waiting for the appropriate status to be able to work, yet, in the words of Mr X, those seeking approval to work “are just a number on a file”, and not an actual person.
We were also told by Mr X that the interaction involved with us during the interview was his first real experience with younger people within his time in the UK. We are hoping to change this through the idea of a mentoring programme with young people, which several of us will take part in after our time on NCS has finished; our hope is for better links to be made through regular communication between ourselves and Hastings Community of Sanctuary. We hope that this initiative is successful and helps bridge the current gaps between those who have lived within Hastings and surrounding areas for all of their lives, and those who have recently joined.
After understanding the reality of life for those wanting to seek asylum status, we wanted to raise money for Hastings Community of Sanctuary in ways which would predominantly raise funds but also awareness within the local community. Three members of our team – Hamish, Dom and Will – completed a 2.5km swim, raising funds of over £197 between them.
As a group, we also committed to completing a three-mile walk from Hastings Beach to Bexhill; although the great British weather wasn’t exactly on our side, we were able to complete the walk together. Below is a picture of us part of the way along!
Our main event was on Wednesday evening of our final week. We invited friends to attend a quiz night at a community centre in St Leonards. Our winners of the quiz are below, who received a bottle of wine as well as an invitation to a free ‘pamper party’ at The Body Shop.
As well as the quiz, which consisted of five rounds, we hosted a cake sale and raffle.
The turnout was amazing; we were very lucky to have kind donations from all who attended. The overall spirit of the evening was extremely positive.
Due to our teamwork, we have been able to make a donation of £474 to the cause. We thank everyone who supported us at our fundraising events and supported our project.
Tom Langley, Greta Beecroft, Grace Tagg, Lorraine Davenport, Dom Nicholas, Will Beard, Pearl Ukairo Morris, Charlie Day-Riley, Jessica Edgeworth, Hamish Zon, James Arthur and three more who wish to remain unnamed -a total of 14 .
All photos courtesy of the NCS group.