Refugee Week is always an energising time of year where across the country we celebrate the great contribution made by refugees to our country – and this year has been no exception.
My week started with running a campaigning session for the excellent STAR (Student Action for Refugees); then to Leeds for our alternative World Cup with 14 teams competing; to Brighton for the public meeting run by Community Base; to UNHCR for their powerful photo exhibition of the plight of the Rohingya refugees; to Birmingham for a RefuTEA event; to the ITV studios to plug our work on destitution and our Birmingham fundraising event in support of Coventry Peace House and Hope Housing who do so much to help our destitute clients; to a RefuTEA event in our Brixton day centre; to a Refugee Week meeting in Croydon; and finishing with the Umbrella March on World Refugee Day where we linked up with marches across Europe.
And great to meet so many people and get an even better feeling of the real issues and concerns out there.
There is huge anger at the continued plight of destitute asylum seekers (further evidenced by the recent excellent Red Cross report, Not gone but forgotten) and at the detention of asylum seekers whose only crime is to have sought safety in the UK. And a strong sense that while asylum seekers are waiting for a decision that they should be able to work.
But I was also struck by the strength of feeling against the new Azure payment card set up to support some asylum seekers at the end of the process. People are clearly struggling with this new card and it is continuing to encourage discrimination against asylum seekers. Why do we persist in creating a parallel system of support for asylum seekers? Why do we need a separate payment card? Unnecessary and expensive. All asylum seekers, where they cannot work, should be supported by cash benefits for the duration of their stay in the UK.
We have always believed that asylum seekers should be supported by cash where they cannot work. We are looking to step up our efforts on this issue, particularly using forthcoming research we have conducted with our partners Scottish and Welsh Refugee Councils and NERS. We will be pushing the new government to re-introduce cash and would be delighted to hear your views on how we could work together to help change this policy.