Following the publication of his article ‘Bridging the divide – asylum seekers and refugees in Hull’ in the Hull Daily Mail in March 2011, the Projects Co-ordinator of ARKH has provided here a full copy of the full text he submitted as a ‘First Person’ piece to the newspaper. It was felt at the time that the published piece was somewhat over-edited, therefore this version should restore more detail and provide more in-depth analysis of the issues raised.
The Full Article
Bridging the divide – asylum seekers and refugees in Hull
Following the introduction of the Asylum and Immigration Act in 1999, new claimants for asylum in the UK began to be dispersed to a network of local authority areas on a “no-choice” basis. Previous entitlements to “mainstream” benefits were replaced by a more limited system of central support administered by a new agency – the National Asylum Support Service.
The policy fundamentally changed the way that the UK dealt with people fleeing persecution and introduced new communities into areas that had not experienced immigration at any significant level during the post-war period. The policy also had profound consequences, both for host communities and for new arrivals, and many of the problems associated with dispersal were particularly evident in Hull.
For local communities, there was little preparation for the introduction of new culture groups, nor any reliable information concerning the origins or entitlements of those arriving in their neighbourhoods – rumours spread and quickly became established ‘facts’. For those “on dispersal” the reception could be hostile; specialised support services were lacking, legal services were scarce and interpretation services were limited. This fostered social isolation and encouraged a tendency amongst new arrivals to become embedded in their own communities.
Despite the difficulties, many local voices were welcoming. Acknowledging the background of persecution and torture from which many people had fled – a network of voluntary organisations, church groups and statutory services grew up to support new communities in Hull and act as a bridge between local services, host communities and refugees/asylum seekers.
One such organisation, ARKH was launched in 2001 and has since developed to offer a range of services that address the needs of the client group. Currently, these include English classes, an advice drop-in service, a befriending project, a women’s group, employability training and ongoing support to a refugee led football team.
We continue to engage with the community; most recently this involved visits to our centre from pupils of Archbishop Sentamu Academy. We also provide forums for conversation and friendship between communities and promote opportunities for volunteering.
We recognise the need to do more – myths and assumptions about asylum seekers and refugees still have currency locally. Mistaken beliefs that asylum seekers have the right to work, are all male, access the benefits system and receive free cars and driving lessons are particularly intractable. However, we also encounter views that reflect genuine economic and social concerns and aim to address these through reasoned debate.
Attitudes towards our client group are not fixed; there has been a reduction in tension in recent years as people have come to know refugees as neighbours, friends, colleagues or customers. However, we recognise that a period of economic uncertainty has the potential to strain relationships and believe that refugee/ asylum support agencies in Hull have an ongoing role in helping to build relationships across communities.
If you would like to comment on any of the issues raised in this piece or seek further information we have a feedback page on our website at http://arkh-hull.com/feedback/
Ben Butler – Projects Coordinator (ARKH)