Supporting asylum seeekers in the North East

In Newcastle, FRFI comrades have been playing a leading role in the Tyneside Community Action for Refugees network (TCAR), which brings together local and refugee communities in defence of asylum seekers. The main focus has been regular pickets outside North Shields Reporting Centre, where ‘failed’ asylum seekers have to sign their continued compliance with an unfair system. TCAR offers tea and coffee to asylum seekers going to sign and engages in discussion.

On 11 March TCAR held a lively demonstration demanding the right to legal work for all asylum seekers. Protesters gathered in the snow in central Newcastle under the banner ‘We’re not here for benefits. Let us work!’ We used street theatre and organised an open mic so that as many people as possible could speak. A woman from the Congo demanded asylum seekers be treated with respect and dignity while a man from Nigeria pointed out the irony of the British ruling class portraying asylum seekers as scroungers when imperialist Britain has been pillaging and exploiting Africa for centuries.

The right to legal work has been denied to asylum seekers since July 2002. Instead, skilled and willing workers are forced to survive on benefits of £38.96 per week, well below the official poverty line. ‘Failed’ asylum seekers have all benefits and accommodation removed, forcing many into homelessness and others into poorly paid illegal work. Without insurance, unions, contracts or a decent minimum wage, workers in the illegal economy are the most exploited section of the labour force.

A TCAR spokesperson said, ‘We know that many people think that we just came to Britain for benefits. This is not true: we are refugees. It is not safe for us in our own countries. We didn’t come here for benefits. We demand the right to legal work.’

Annabelle Richardson

FRFI 190 April /May 2006


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