On Thursday I went to a sleepout to raise awareness about destitute asylum seekers. Unfortunately I decided to leave before too long. It wasn't because I'm not brave enough to face sleeping on the streets on a bitterly cold winter's night. (I'm not, but it wasn't that cold.) It was because the event was poorly organised. Now, there's a difference between an event being disorganised and poorly organised. And this sleepout was the latter. There had obviously been a meeting sometime before to discuss the sleepout, in some office somewhere. There was undoubtedly a brainstorming session, and a person with a dry-wipe pen poised to write ideas down on flipchart paper.
But it seems they came up with great ideas like having a piece of absurdist theatre to highlight the plight of asylum seekers.
Now, I'm all for getting together and holding hands and telling each other how great we are because we care, but I don't think it's particularly productive if the aim was to raise awareness about destitute asylum seekers. Most of us there were just standing around doing nothing. We could have been handing out leaflets, or holding banners, or making some noise, or something. Instead we were standing around like lemons.
Another problem is that the people there didn't seem that well informed about the issue either (not that I am particularly), so the few discussions which did take place seemed to go like this:
Demonstrator: Having asylum seekers in destitution is bad.
Member of public: Why?
Demonstrator: Because it is.
Member of public: How many destitute asylum seekers are there?
So, just in case you were wondering, here are some facts about asylum seekers.
- There are an estimated 280,000 failed asylum seekers living in the UK without any access to public funds.
- Around 80% of these come from eight countries: Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Somalia, Eritrea, Zimbabwe, the DRC and another country which I've forgot.
- Between 2006 and this year, the High Court decided it was illegal to forcefully deport people to Zimbabwe because it was too dangerous for them. However, during this period, the Home Office still rejected 10,000 asylum claims from Zimbabweans because it felt it was safe enough to return home. These thousands of people have been living in the UK without any access to public funds.
- The Red Cross has labelled the treatment of failed asylum seekers in the UK as a 'humanitarian crisis'.
And here's a good video about the issue: