By Ella Turney
In Durham Students’ Union’s most recent Assembly, a motion to support the Lift the Ban coalition, which was proposed by Durham Student Action for Refugees, passed overwhelmingly. Lift the Ban is a coalition comprising of over 240 different charities, unions, and think tanks to protest and put pressure on the government to lift the current ban on asylum seekers being able to work. The motion seeks to support the coalition and actively engage in and encourage governmental change.
Today, people seeking refugee status are banned from being able to work in the United Kingdom, instead given just £5.66 to live on per day. According to the ONS, in 2019 the average household in the UK spent £61.90 on food shopping per week, whereas asylum seekers are only given £39.62. Moreover, this isn’t even taking into account travel, clothing, household goods, and other essentials needed for living.
Asylum seekers are not allowed to work until their application for refugee status has reached a decision. This can take months or even years. Immigration figures released last August showed that 70% of those seeking asylum in the UK have had to wait longer than 6 months for a decision. Most notably, the UK is the only country in Europe that makes asylum seekers wait longer than 6 months before they are allowed to work.
This policy is not only dehumanising and reduces the agency of those seeking asylum, but in regards to human rights, Article 23 in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) enshrines the right to able to work as a human right which should be enjoyed by anyone, regardless of background, ethnicity, nationality and refugee status. Economically speaking, studies have shown that allowing people seeking asylum to work could benefit the UK economy by £97.8 million each year. In addition to this, a 2020 survey by Refugee Action found that 77% of respondents had already, or would like to, volunteer to help the NHS.
Lifting the ban has overwhelmingly positive consequences for both the host country and whoever is seeking refuge. It strengthens people’s ability to integrate successfully into their new communities, allowing asylum seekers to live in dignity and provide for themselves and their families, and gives people the opportunity to make the most out of their potential whilst dramatically improving the mental health of those seeking asylum.
The argument that lifting the ban may ‘encourage’ more people to seek asylum in the UK is both false and flawed. Refugee Action found no link between those seeking asylum choosing the UK, rather the main reasons consisted of family already being in the UK and colonial links with the English language. Asylum seekers and refugees are forced to leave their country to seek safety, it is not an active choice despite what is portrayed by some media outlets. Hence, this ban encourages and fosters exploitation, forced labour, and modern slavery; practises which should not exist in Britain in the 21st century.
In an increasingly polarised and desensitised society, what should be remembered is that those seeking asylum are often fleeing war, destruction, and suffering from trauma. Therefore, we should welcome refugees and asylum seekers with open arms and allow them the dignity to work, not treat humans as less than human. In January 2019, Newcastle City Council, Redcar & Cleveland Council, and Gateshead Council took the pioneering steps of becoming the first councils in the UK to pass motions in support of Lift the Ban.
On the 21st October 2020, a national petition was presented to the Home Office, signed by more than 180,000 people, in support of lifting the ban. The motion which recently passed in the DSU demonstrates both Durham Students’ Union and the student body’s solidarity with refugees and asylum seekers. It is a step in the right direction for the North East and wider society.
You can email your MP to support the #LiftTheBan coalition here: https://act.refugee-action.org.uk/page/65249/action/1?ea.tracking.id=Website_Button1
Image: Amana Moore