Background

We are a charity and a company limited by guarantee, established in 1999 by concerned local people who realised that numbers of asylum seekers and refugees were either being “dispersed” or were settling themselves in Suffolk, particularly in the Ipswich area. These concerned local people saw the need for advice, advocacy and practical support for asylum seekers and refugees.

Who are Asylum Seekers and Refugees?

Asylum seekers are people who are making a claim to stay in Britain because of fear of persecution in their home country. Many have suffered threats, imprisonment, torture, injury or death. This makes returning to that country extremely dangerous. The 1951 United Nations Convention relating to the status of refugees defines a Refugee as a person who:

“owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country”.

This convention was agreed by the United Nations in 1951 as a result of the treatment of asylum seekers in the 1930s and 1940s, when many Jewish people were refused access to safe countries and forced back into Hitler’s Europe, very often to their deaths. There are still many people around the world who suffer persecution, for whom the UN Refugee Convention offers vital protection.

Current Situation

As conflicts and human rights abuses continue around the world, a record 65 million people are currently displaced from their homes globally, of which 21 million are refugees (the remainder are internally displaced). Syria is now by far the world’s leading producer of both internally displaced people and refugees, with more than half the population displaced by conflict. More than 4.5 million Syrian refugees are in just five countries (Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, Egypt) with Turkey alone hosting 2.5 million. 86% of all refugees are hosted by developing nations and more than half the world’s refugees are now children.

With record levels of displacement, poor living conditions and rights for refugees in many host countries, and few legal routes to the West, people are seeking safety through increasingly dangerous routes. More than 5,000 people died attempting to cross the Mediterranean in 2016, the worst annual death toll ever despite attempted crossings falling significantly.

A tiny fraction of the world’s refugees make it to Britain. In 2016 the UK received 30,603 claims for asylum, excluding dependants (source), out of more than 1.2 million asylum seekers newly registered across EU states (source), meaning the UK received less than 3% of asylum claims within the EU. The top countries of origin for asylum applicants in the UK in 2016 were Iran, Pakistan, Iraq, Afghanistan and Bangladesh.

The UK Border Agency processes claims for asylum and decides whether or not applicants can remain in Britain. Whilst they wait for a decision asylum seekers are not allowed to work or claim mainstream benefits. They can, however, apply for housing from the UK Border Agency and receive around £35 per week to live on.

Some asylum decision are made very quickly, while others can take many years. The asylum seeker will be granted either “leave to remain” (this can be short-term, indefinite or Refugee Status) or they will be refused asylum in the UK and expected to return home.

Once an individual has received the right to remain in the UK, they are no longer an asylum seeker and are generally referred to as a refugee. At this point they have the same rights as other British residents, i.e. they can seek work, apply for benefits, reside where they choose, and apply for British citizenship after a qualification period – they do not receive any kind of preferential treatment.

Local Situation

We estimate there are approximately 2000 refugees in Suffolk, the majority of them living in Ipswich. For historical reasons, the largest community comprises Iraqi Kurds, with established communities of Iranians and Afghans as well. Many of these have refugee status or leave to remain in the UK, with some also having achieved British citizenship. Others, however, find themselves still in legal limbo after more than a decade in the country.

There are also currently 80-90 asylum seekers, many of them families, housed in Ipswich under the government’s ‘dispersal’ system. These people come from a range of countries and all are awaiting a decision on their asylum claim.

Suffolk is also taking part in the UK government’s Syrian Vulnerable Persons Relocation Scheme, with political leaders across Suffolk’s public sector unanimously agreeing to take up to 230 vulnerable refugees from Syria (and elsewhere in the Middle East and North Africa) over the next five years. Suffolk Refugee Support has been commissioned to provide specialist casework for these families. The first Syrian refugees arrived in Ipswich in March 2016 and many are settling in well, working, volunteering, studying and beginning to rebuild their lives with our support.