I have been learning a lot about the experience of people seeking refuge in the UK..listening to what has happened to friends and by helping out at the Unity Centre in Glasgow. These are people who come to the UK by whatever route, who have applied to stay here because they fear for their lives in their home countries and for one reason or another cannot return. I am not talking about the huge numbers of migrants who flow in and out of the UK each year for travel, study and employment reasons, but the small number of people who are fleeing persecution; in 2010 it was less than 19,000, or 0.35 of a person per 1000 of the population.
Basically, our ‘Christian’ country behaves about as unlike the good samaritan as it is possible to do. People are treated as ‘bogus’ by default, with a hostile government and hostile press, they are distributed around the country, placed in terrible housing, given considerably less than job seekers allowance on which to survive (£44), and prohibited from working, and then to cap it all, are required to sign on at the UKBA regional offices knowing that, at any time, they may be detained and locked up. For people who have fled violence and imprisonment in their home countries, this process must feel like being abused all over again.
The Unity Centre in Glasgow provides support to asylum seekers in a variety of different ways. One of the simplest is by keeping a notebook of when people report in to the UKBA, and when they come out afterwards, so that if someone is detained they can help get their legal support and friends notified as quickly as possible.
The Unity Centre is a safe place trusted by asylum seekers participating in an unsafe and frightening process. It is entirely run by volunteers and yet performing a hugely valuable service.