Monday, 24 June 2013

Could Mark Harper, MP, the Minister for Immigration live on £35.39 per week?

Almost half-a-million people signed the petition calling for Iain Duncan Smith, the current Work and Pensions Secretary, to prove his claim of being able to live on £53 a week.

He’d have it easy compared with the 2,068[1] asylum seekers living on just £35.39 per week support from the Home Office under section 4 of the 1999 Immigration and Asylum Act. To make things even harder these people are not given any cash but a piece of plastic, called an Azure card, that can only be spent in a limited range of shops and if they don’t spend every penny it’s wiped off the card each week.

According to research[2] from the Centre for Research in Social Policy (CRSP) at Loughborough University, the minimum income standard for a single person is £262.25. But that includes rent, council tax, gas and electricity, which the Home Office pays directly. It also includes petrol and £5 per week on cigarettes but Asylum seekers are prohibited from buying petrol, cigarettes or alcohol on their Azure card. The weekly amount also includes things like insurance and motoring expenses that asylum seekers certainly don’t have.

If we strip things back to the very basics then according to the research the minimum income required for a single person per week is £80.76 and I haven’t included anything for the bus fair for the required trip to report to Home Office each week or month:
·        £48.25 food
·        £11.55 household goods – kitchen cleaning and bathroom
·        £11.65 personal goods – toiletries and health care
·        £9.31 clothes

It may be possible to manage on less than this for a short while – but I was shocked by Mark Harper’s reply to my letter expressing my concern.

“We do not think the value of cash and non-cash support is ungenerous…” Mark Harper MP in personal letter, May 2013

If £35.39 per week is generous then I’d like to see Mark Harper rise to the challenge of living on it for even one week. Perhaps he could donate the amount he’d save to our charity so that we can support people with the mental and physical difficulties caused by their desperate situation.

Peter Richardson

Peter Richardson is Director of Leeds Asylum Seekers’ Support Network, a small charity in Leeds where over 250 volunteers support around 700 asylum seekers and refugees each year.

[1] Number of asylum seekers on Section 4 support at the end of March 2013. Source:

BHI Media Workshop

The Black Health Initiative (BHI) led a media workshop during Refugee Week ran by Richard Smith and organised by Ali Mahgoub from the Leeds Refugee Forum at One Community Centre. The workshop raised awareness of various health issues through an innovative by using rap, music and poetry.

Richard a former DJ used music as a backdrop and used his bubbly personality to make everyone feel comfortable and free to express themselves. There was a brief talk about how there are many health issues which people are unaware of and not willing to discuss, one being prostate cancer which is a killer in the Black community, yet there a few people who are willing to discuss this. We were then asked to write a short piece about health or whatever we wanted to talk about. There were a variety of different styles of performances and topics.

Bilal Awali a 16 year old student at Mount St Mary’s rapped about street crime and the negative impact it has he says “I have seen it a couple of times and wanted to talk about it, the event has made me want to carry on performing and learn more about health, so I will definitely read more on the issues.”
Rachael McGarry a volunteer at Refugee Action is currently working  on a project for young people which aims to get them involved in sports and more activities. Rachael performed a piece on women and the way they are portrayed in the media. Rachael says “You can’t really talk about health so open but it is important to talk about especially with refugees who don’t know the country.The event has opened my eyes about health, particularly in the black community. ”

There was also a rhyme on health by Solomon who works with people who are challenged financially at the One Community Centre who said “It is important to reach people who are struggling financially; debt can cause mental health for many people. Richard has been inspirational and shown me how music can be relaxing; I will definitely try the method, especially with people I work with. We are planning a stall for the Debt Free Project next month in Lincoln Green and will use music as I have seen how relaxing it is.”

I was unaware I would have to perform but after being put on the spot I decided to be a good sport and quickly jotted something down and performed a extremely short piece titled:

Knowledge is power and power can bring change,
Change can lead to positivity and make the world a better place.
Change starts with you so stand up and take your place!

Ali says “The forum tries to do joint events, to work with disadvantaged groups, by organising these events we can let people have access and see what there is on offer. Refugee week is a celebration but also the best way to put on different events to raise and bring awareness.”

Throughout the workshop there was an emphasis on the importance of health problems and the need to talk about it. If anyone ever feels like there is something wrong they should talk about it with family, friends and get checked out as it is the only way to get better and from getting worse. Richard’s final message is simple “Your health is your wealth, the better you look after yourself, and the better you will be.”

After the workshop came to an end there was delicious food available for everyone to enjoy.
BHI is extending a warm invitation to men within the city to attend the Men's Health Dialogue on Thursday 27th June 2013, at Tiger 11 Hillside Beeston Leeds. There is a mini bus shuttle which will be going from the BHI office. 

BHI are also seeking people from the Black and Ethnic Minority community, who are living with lung cancer. If you can help or know someone who could call them on 0113 307 0300 for further information.


Together for Leeds Conference
Motivation Progress, Good Mental Health

Divine Charura, a Senior Lecturer at Leeds Metropolitan University in Counselling and Psychotherapy, led
the open discussion on Motivation Progress, Good Mental Health at the Together for Leeds Conference. Divine is a graduate member of the British Psychological society and also works as a UKCP registered adult
psychotherapist with experience in the voluntary sector and within the NHS.

He has years of various work experience in diverse psychiatric/clinical and therapeutic settings in the UK and abroad. Divine also has years of working as an individual and group supervisor and has written and presented papers and book chapters on different topics including Transcultural Psychology, Supervision, Addiction, Love, Family Work, Working with Young People, Trauma, Psychopathology and other complex mental health diagnoses. His background makes him an extremely knowledge individual to lead a discussion on such an important issue.

Feeling motivated is crucial to having good mental health, as when people become de-motivated they become trapped in a constant negative despair. This workshop was extremely insightful and showed the importance of feeling motivated.

The question ‘How to motivate refugees’ got people passionate right away. The first point mentioned by the group was the importance of integration, which members of the group did not agree with. Some raised the issue of there being a divide in communities as people only stick to people from their own cultures which leads to people not being able to integrate into other communities. However others felt when refugees come into a country, not knowing anyone and not being able to speak the language it is important to surround themselves with familiarity as it builds up confidence and a form of belonging.

As the debate went back and forth, in the end there was a common ground, in the problem that lies within housing. Refugees do not have control over where they are placed and therefore end up wherever they are housed. This may either lead them to being placed in a community with no other cultures or areas where there are predominately similar ethnic groups, which means they might be less inclined to socialise with other people and in turn miss out on opportunities such as learning the language, the countries customs and being able to integrate into the work force.

Another major issue with housing is that families with children have limited options of schools they can attend. A disadvantage of this is that sometimes the children can get labeled and by not having people from their own country in the same area it can lead to a disconnection to their roots as they have no one to relate to. One member of the group said his son goes to a school where there are no other children from his country and doesn’t want to speak his mother tongue.

The recommended solutions to both these important issues raised by the group were that there needs to be better control over housing by ensuring that communities and areas become more culturally integrated. This will not only lead to more cultural integration but it will also allow people who have misconceptions of refugees to understand more about them.

There was also a general agreement within the group that the media plays a big part in the de-motivation of refugees. The majority of media portrayal is negative, which leads to not only the public having a negative perception of refugees but also refugees of themselves. When Divine asked how many negative portrayals the group has seen nearly all of the participants raised their hand and when he asked how many positive stories they have heard or seen hardly anyone raised their hand. The media is extremely influential and when there are constant negativity portrayals being shown people will start to believe them. A participant of the discussion said “everyone has a vision when they leave their country but de-motivation starts at the airport and from there on, there are constant beating downs of your character”.

Another issue raised was the lack of support for those suffering from depression from health care practitioners. One participant felt that the current methods and dismissal the health care offers is not   supportive. A solution to this problem by participants  were the need for more practical and active classes being offered and there being better ways of communicating those to the refugee community.

The discussion could have carried on all day on how to motivate people and the various barriers there are to overcome those issues, however as the session was only 30 minutes long this was not possible. Discussing that there is a problem and the passion that the participants showed for the topic is a step forward.

If you have anything to add to the discussion that took place and have suggestions on how to improve those, please do comment below and voice your opinion.

Saturday, 22 June 2013

Migration Partnership

Together For Leeds Conference

                             Cameroon Dance Troupe                                                                          Councillor Gruen

Tuesday the 18th  June saw refugee organisations, council members, volunteers, refugees and migrants come together to discuss working with migrant communities, the issues they face and how to overcome those issues.

After a brief introduction, the conference started off with a welcome from Bishop John Packer and an introduction of City of Sanctuary a short film by Roger Nyantou, a national trustee of the City of Sanctuary movement and Deputy Director of RETAS.

There were four workshops available split into two half an hour sessions. The workshops allowed people to learn more about refugee children led by the Children’s Society, Migrant English led by University of Leeds, Question and Answers on the Welfare Reform by the Welfare Rights Unit and PAFRAS who held a session on Destitution.

The children workshop discussed the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Outcomes for Asylum Seeking Children, supported by the Children’s Society and fed back its findings to Parliament in March 2013. The workshop also covered the findings of the inquiry and how people can practically support children in Leeds.

The Migrant English session set a conversation to develop a dynamic resource containing information about English language classes for adult migrants in Leeds and there was also an exploration of both migrant English students and their teachers.

The Welfare Reform workshop hosted by Sean Kelly who has spent the last two years advising on Welfare Reform went through the recent changes that have been introduced to welfare benefits including housing benefits, council tax and other social security benefits since the end of 2010. Participants also got information on the changes and questions were answered for people who work with migrants from a range of perspectives including destitute, asylum, and economic migrants. Participants also raised interesting issues on the change such as the effect it may have on people in abusive relationship as the abuser might the only one receiving benefits which gives them financial power and why the Equality Diverse Act hasn’t been assessed by the coroner.

The workshop also informed attendees how refugees have full access to public funds and therefore the benefit changes apply to them as to any other claimant. Until the decision is decided in their favour Asylum Seekers have very limited, if not any, access to the benefit system. The migrant group who will be most likely to be affected by these cuts are EEA nationals as the government attempts to limit their qualification for benefits while at the same time facing European Union court challenges on grounds of discrimination in limiting EEA national’s rights to benefits.

Lastly the workshop on destitution explored the needs and challenges of working with destitute asylees in Leeds. The workshop was based on the “Still Human, Still Here” campaign, the participants of the workshop looked at how to provide practical support for destitute people in Leeds as well as the wider context of destitution in the UK.

After a quick lunch where people got a chance to network and trade information on the sessions they attended, the Cameroon Dance Troupe held an energetic dance which went down a treat and raised everybody’s spirits. There were also a lot of displays at the conference for people to enjoy, these included artwork by Lawnswood High School, Highfield Primary School and Hatim Hassan who bought items from his own home to display.

To ensure everyone got the most out of the conference there were two open space workshops where people who wanted to lead a discussion on a topic they were passionate about got an opportunity to run those. Some of these discussions included ‘Save Legal Aid’, ‘Motivation Progress Good Mental Health’ and ‘Integrating Migrants into Society’. Jennifer Brown a support worker in the Mental Health sector said “These sessions have opened my eyes to the issues that migrants face and it’s got me thinking about what to do to help reduce these issues and stigma’s surrounding people”.

To wind the day the down everyone sat in a big circle and passed the microphone around to get a chance to say how they felt the day went and what they’ve learned. Aman Kefley from Eritrea who works at York Street Health Practise said “It was very interesting, especially because we were talking about our own issues. We spoke about us, and for us.”

There was then a question and answer session with Councillor Gruen, Deputy Leader and Leeds City Council. Councillor Gruen said “I know you’ve talked about Migrant English- and how we can be very practical here in Leeds about making sure we have the best provision possible(despite, and you will have to indulge my political bias here, the best efforts of this Government to restrict access to it, whilst insisting migrants should speak a level of English that most native speakers would struggle with) I really do think this is an important issue- though- and speaks to so much of the migrant agenda- but if we can crack it here in Leeds- and I don’t see why we can’t- we could make a massive contribution to the migration debate nationally.”  He also spoke on destitution and said “Through the excellent deputation that took place to Council in April- we will be discussing this at Executive Board in July to look at how we as a city can take action to protect people when they are at their most vulnerable”.

Rachael Loftus, who manages the Leeds migration partnership and also played a big role in organising the event, closed the conference saying “I’d like to first acknowledge the fantastic work that is being done in the migrant third sector in Leeds- not just during Refugee Week- but week in and week out.” She further stated “Obviously, we can’t get away from the fact that we are in a tough economic climate. And that this climate is ideal for spreading half-truths, lies and miss-understandings throughout the media- and in this climate- it’s all too easy to make refugees, asylum seekers and migrants the scapegoat. But I’m greatly encouraged by seeing here today: people who are countering those messages: challenging the stereotypes and contributing and leading in all aspects of the city’s life”.

The conference ended with a flag of all the countries around the world being lifted up by the attendees. It was a perfect ending to the day showing how united everyone was and came together for such a great cause.

Monday, 17 June 2013

Life in Britain Citizenship Session

Libraries in Leeds are taking part in Refugee Week 2013 by holding two Life in Britain Citizenship drop in introductory taster sessions.  The first one happened today at Compton Road Library and the next one will be held this Wednesday 19th at Dewsbury Road Library at 10.30 till 12.00.

The free Life in Britain Citizenship taster session is aimed at people who have recently moved to the UK. It is a self-learning course available with practise tests. The sessions allow people to learn more about the Britain citizenship programme and to help them prepare for the test.  

It is extremely easy to book the course, if you are interested you just have to sign up to the library, become a member for free and a librarian will introduce you to the course, help you register and also give a tour of the library. Once you become a member you can book the course online or even do it from home.

Bernadette Azari who runs the drop in sessions says “I have had people tell me they wish they knew about the Life in Britain course and came to the library earlier on. I recall one student who failed the course five times and they said they learned more in 10 minutes than they have on their own.”

Compton Road Library is a part of The Compton Centre which brings various services under one roof, making it easier to get in contact with a variety of services. The Compton Centre is the base for the NHS and Leeds City Council, including the library and the Welfare Rights Unit. The main services provided by their fully trained staff include adult social care, council benefits and tax, library services with internet and a selection of books with a variety of languages, East North Homes Leeds and many more. All of their services are free and confidential.

Zahir Ahmed Area Development Librarian who mainly focuses on ensuring there is equality and diversity in the city wide libraries says “The library services are here to help people integrate into society in particular welcoming refugees into our libraries. We are very happy to be working with relevant organisations like Refugee Education Training Advice Service (RETAS) and children centres to accommodate refugees.” 

Librarian Damian Fennel with the poetry display refugees have written.
Stories From Around the World

Compton Road Library held a unique celebration today for Refugee Week by incorporating storytelling and rhymes from around the world and activities for children.

The session started off with Lorraine Lee the Children’s Development Librarian reading from the book Fatou Fetch the Water written by Neil Griffiths. The story was made to be interactive by having a Fatuo doll and asking the kids to pick the fruit off the storyboard and putting them in his basket, which not only the kids enjoyed doing but also the parents!

The children also got to sing classic nursery rhymes ‘If you’re happy and you know it…’ and ‘Eensie Weensie Spider’ using different musical instruments. The session was also educational with the children colouring in different exotic fruits and being asked to draw what they would they put in an empty suitcase if they were moving or going on holiday. The session ended with the children running around with big smiles on their faces, bursting the bubbles from the bubble blower machine.

The library holds a free story time session at 10.30am every Friday for children under the age of 5. The sessions are fun, interactive and designed to share stories in a relaxed friendly atmosphere. It is also a great opportunity to meet other parents and carers.

Lorraine said “The library is a fantastic tool with great resources. By brining children to these story times it makes it easier for them to develop their learning skills before even going to school. It is important to celebrate Refugee Week because it is all about celebrating cultures that is why we had stories from other cultures.”

For more information on the story time sessions held at Compton Road Library contact the friendly helpful team:

The Compton Centre
Harehills Lane
Telephone: 0113 336 7790

United Voices

Members of Asmarina Voices have faced difficult times yet have fantastic uplifting attitudes and show that through their smiles and singing their hearts out every Friday. Asmarina means “united” in Eritrean and that’s exactly what you will get from the women, even after only spending such a short amount of time with them you can immediately see the beautiful souls these strong women possess.
Asmarina Voices Women’s singing Group was part of the Welcoming the World programme for West Yorkshire Playhouse’s production of Refugee Boy and received funding from the Home Office to promote wider engagement with the region’s refugees and asylum seekers. The singing group has continued to flourish with women from all over the world coming together, forgetting their troubles and belting out songs.

The group comes together every Friday from 1pm-2pm and runs until the 19th July. They are currently in preparation for their performance for the Wonderful Women of the World at the West Yorkshire Playhouse on Friday 21st June at 10.30am-2.30pm as part of 2013’s Refugee Week. Asmarina Voices will be performing Taylor Swift’s Safe & Sound and We Are Family by Sister Sledge.

West Yorkshire Playhouse, alongside with the Refugee’s Council’s Health Befriending Network and the women’s group in Leeds, offer weekly singing sessions for refugee and asylum seeking women with professional artist and musician Sophie Jennings who leads the choir. Sophie says “My idea is to have fun on a Friday and I always feel happy when I leave. Some of these women only come to this during their free time, so I want to continue encouraging them to come and have some time for themselves. The songs we sing have not got too many words so there is no language barrier and it makes the sessions relaxing.”

Shreena Gobey a Youth and Community work student at Leeds Metropolitan University did her placement at West Yorkshire Playhouse and currently helps with the voices singing group. Shreena says “The group is open to everyone; it doesn’t matter if you can’t sing it’s all about enjoying music and having a bit of a social.