Asylum seekers to call for rights to work in UK

The event to commemorate International Human Rights Day next Thursday will hear how those fleeing persecution and conflict are being made destitute because they are unable to work or access funds.

Bristol Refugee Rights, Refugee Action, City of Sanctuary and St Nicholas of Tolentino (part of the Clifton Diocese), who work with asylum seekers and refugees in the city, are organising the event, which will hear testimonies from  asylum seekers.

Council leader Barbara Janke will be at the event and a representative of Bristol West MP Stephen Williams will be given the petition, calling for asylum seekers the right to work in the UK after six months.

Maria, an asylum seeker from Zimbabwe, who came to the UK in 2002 and who is chairing the event, said: “We want to give our testimonies on this important anniversary to demonstrate that asylum seekers’ human rights are not being respected in this country.

“We feel that making people destitute is subjecting them to ‘inhuman and degrading treatment’, which is in breach of human rights legislation.”

The conference, Protection and Dignity – Not Destitution, will be at Newton Hall on Thursday, and marks the 61st anniversary of the United Nation’s adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The event comes after a Office for National Statistics report last month showed that the numbers of people seeking asylum fell between July and September this year to 5,055 – a decline of 24% compared with the same period in 2008.

Refugee welfare groups said the fall in asylum numbers was not necessarily a matter of celebration but raised fears that the tightening up of Britain’s borders was denying sanctuary to those who needed protection.

Elinor Harris, area manager of Refugee Action in Bristol, added that those who did manage to get into the UK were being denied support and needed help until it was safe for them to return.

“We and other organisations are seeing an increasing number of people coming to our doors who have no recourse to public funds but who tell us they are too afraid to return to their country of origin,” she said.

“It is vital that their voices are heard and that we are able to support people to make difficult decisions instead of make them homeless. People who cannot be returned home should be granted temporary protection until it is safe for them to leave.”

Caroline Beatty, Welcome Centre Manager at Bristol Refugee Rights, said: “Without the right to work or to appropriate support, many are now utterly destitute in Bristol, with no end in sight to their situations. This event will go some way to giving those people a voice and will give asylum seekers the chance to be heard by a wider audience.”

The invited audience will consist of representatives of local government and other statutory bodies, churches and other faith groups and the voluntary sector. They will include the Leader of the City Council, Cllr Barbara Janke, Mgr Gabriel Leyden, Vicar-General of the Roman Catholic diocese of Clifton, representing the Bishop and Archdeacon Tim McClure (representing the Anglican diocese of Bristol).

The event will take place between 4pm and 5pm.