Today’s guest blog is from Forward Maisokwadzo, Mayor’s Inclusion Advisor.
‘On World Refugee Day it’s an important time to listen to the stories of people seeking sanctuary in Bristol and to reflect on what they can teach us about the city we are and the city we want to become.’
Dana* applied for asylum immediately when he arrived in the UK and was housed by the asylum support system in Liverpool. He got to know some members of the Kurdish community – but they moved on to Bristol. Dana’s initial asylum claim was refused. Although Dana appealed, he couldn’t find legal representation and he attended the court session alone. Sadly, Dana was refused again, and his asylum support accommodation and subsidence were immediately stopped.
With no support and nowhere to go, Dana remembered the community he had met who had moved to Bristol and followed them here. Dana was homeless sleeping in a small tent in Eastville Park. Dana’s mental and physical health were poor – he felt frustrated and upset. He struggled to access the medical care that he needed. After some time, he was able to find members of the community that he met in Liverpool and they helped him a bit, sometimes letting him stay on their sofas or giving him money for food. Sometimes a local Kurdish restaurant would let Dana eat for free. The community were truly kind. But even with this limited support times were difficult – Dana was constantly moving around – never sure where he could sleep or what support would be there. Dana was always in other people’s spaces – relying on their kindness and hospitality.
“Thankfully I have managed to get past that difficult time.”
In 2020 in response to the Covid-19 pandemic the Central Government enacted a policy called Everyone In – which funded local authorities to temporarily house anyone who was homeless. This policy recognised that being homeless was a public health risk as it was not possible for homeless people to self-isolate to protect themselves or others from the Covid-19 outbreak. This policy applied to everyone no matter their immigration status. Dana was housed by Bristol City Council in a hotel.
“It was incomparable to where I was before.”
While in the hotel Dana received £10 per week destitution support from a local charity Borderlands. While being supported in the hotel however he had been put in touch with Bristol Hospitality Network (BHN) a local charity who provide hosted accommodation for individuals in Dana’s situation while they work to regularize their status. As Everyone In comes to an end Dana has been given temporary accommodation in a BHN house and receives a £20 per week allowance from them, this means Dana will not have to face homelessness in Bristol again.
“When I heard that the Everyone In accommodation wouldn’t be extended it was stressful. I was worried. But at least for now I get £20 weekly income from BHN and I have temporary accommodation from BHN too which is great.”
Dana’s story is not an isolated one. We have encountered several refused asylum seekers who are impacted by the No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF) and the current Immigration policy. NRPF is a condition that is applied by the Home Office to individuals with a number of different types of immigration status. Those subject to NRPF do not have access to a wide range of benefits and support, which can leave them facing crisis and destitution without the safety net that most of us take for granted.
Today 20th June is World Refugee Day. And its theme “We Cannot Walk Alone” should challenge or rather inspire us to develop welcoming communities, including here in Bristol, a declared city of sanctuary. Dana’s story is a clear example. It’s true the Covid-19 pandemic has presented challenges to all of us and shown deep inequality in housing, health, economy etc. But it has also shown how interconnected we are and that we are part of a shared ‘us’. I witnessed the revolution of generosity across Bristol in response to the pandemic, people from our diverse communities supporting each other. And I hope this will be continued across the City and beyond.
These words “We Cannot Walk Alone” resonate across space and time including here in Bristol and across the world. The story of Dana demonstrates that by coming together and if we choose to walk side by side, share networks and resources we create deeper and longer lasting change than is possible alone. In Bristol we take a One City Approach to confront these challenges. Our collaborative work with the refugee sector to support people housed through Everyday In has shown working together produce better results. Lessons learnt from this work supporting people subject to NRPF can be accessed here.
As we celebrate the strength and courage of people who have been forced to flee their home country to escape conflict or persecution, let us use the occasion to build empathy and understanding for their plight and to recognise their resilience in rebuilding their lives. As the UN’s refugee agency UNHCR says, “together we heal, learn and shine.” People seeking sanctuary like Dana cannot be left to walk alone.