The Islington Centre for Refugees and Migrants works with around 180 people every year. The people who come to the Centre have been displaced from their country of origin: they have to come to the UK fleeing persecution, warfare, or human rights abuses, or to make a better life for themselves. However, arrival in the UK brings its own problems.
The majority of our clients have extremely limited access to income, and live in insecure accommodation. They must wait for several years before they are able to secure the right to live in the UK. Most asylum seekers, refugees, and migrants are facing multiple barriers to healthy, happy lives, all at once.
Understanding who our clients are
An asylum seeker is someone who has left their country of origin due to persecution, war, and human rights abuses. They cannot return because they fear for their life, and have asked the government in the UK for the right to stay in this country and rebuild their lives.
A destitute asylum seeker is someone who is trying to appeal a negative asylum decision. They are trying to get more evidence to prove their story, but while they do this, they are not allowed to work, and must rely on donations of food and clothing from charities and individuals.
A migrant is someone who has left their country of origin to find a better life in the UK. Often, they work while sending money back to their families, to help them to have better lives. The government often restricts access to services such as healthcare, and when some migrants lose their jobs, they cannot get any support to help them get back on their feet.
A refugee is someone who was an asylum seeker, but now has the right to stay in the UK for five years. Even though they have succeeded in getting the right to live here, they still need help to rebuild their lives
What problems do our clients face?
Insecure immigration status: Insecure immigration status, for asylum seekers, refugees, and migrants, impacts on every area of life. It limits access to housing, income, healthcare, employment, and education. It leaves individuals at risk of detention in the UK, and removal to their country of origin, even when they are still at risk of persecution, torture, or warfare. Navigating the asylum and immigration system in the UK is incredibly difficult; the system is extremely complex and characterised by a ‘culture of disbelief’. People need legal advice and representation to make the strongest case possible, but severe cuts to free legal advice mean that, for many people, successfully securing status is near impossible.
Communication: Lack of English has a huge negative impact on wellbeing and independence. People are reliant on support from English-speakers to access services; important letters, phone calls, or conversations can be misunderstood or accidentally ignored. People may find it hard to travel, shop, and live independently. It is extremely difficult to build supportive social networks, which are crucial to wellbeing. Isolation, lack of confidence, lack of independence, potential exploitation, unjust lack of access to services, and unresolved problems can result from being unable to communicate in English.
Isolation: For people who have left their country of origin, this can mean leaving behind friends and family. Poverty, insecure immigration status, and lack of communication skills in English further increase the isolation that our clients face, leaving them without emotional and practical support, or a community that they can feel safe and happy in.
Poverty: Everyone who comes to the Centre experiences a level of poverty. Asylum seekers are effectively barred from working, and must get by on £5 a day. Some groups, such as asylum seekers who have received a negative decision and are gathering evidence to challenge it, are not eligible for any financial support from the government at all, and are not able to work, leaving them destitute and homeless. Currently 85% of our clients are in this situation. Refugees and migrants often experience poverty and destitution for a whole range of reasons, including insecure work, lack of qualifications, limited access to benefits and delays in receiving government support.
Physical wellbeing: Many people at the Centre have injuries or illnesses caused by their experiences in their country of origin or in the UK. A significant number experience chronic illnesses. Living in cramped accommodation, or homeless, with uncertain access to food due to poverty and destitution, their physical wellbeing often suffers further. Restrictions on accessing NHS services means that it can be difficult for people to resolve these problems, and they continue to suffer.
Emotional wellbeing: People seeking asylum have often experienced traumatic events in their country of origin, leading them to come to the UK to live in safety, but haunted by what has happened to them. Experiences in the UK, including isolation, racial abuse, and prejudice, uncertainty due to the immigration and asylum system, and the effects of poverty, also have a negative impact on emotional wellbeing.