Safeguarding Unaccompanied Children

♢ Posted in: Uncategorized ♢ Tags:

In the past three months we have experienced a sharp increase in the number of Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children (UASC) coming to us for help. Often they are homeless and alone or living in Home Office accommodation in a chaotic setting, being treated as adults. This pattern is the same nationally.

UASCs are young people who are seeking asylum in the UK but who have been separated from their parents or carers. In January, we met over 20 people in this situation – more than we would have expected to meet in a whole year pre-pandemic. The vast majority of these are from Afghanistan but others are also from Sudan, Iraq and Syria, and they almost all identify as male.

While a child’s asylum claim is processed, they are cared for by a local authority, but often experience inadequate support due to systemic underfunding by national government. But the biggest problem we are dealing with is children who keep saying they are children but are not being believed.

Home Office officials often assign an age, essentially a guess, that defines them as an adult. Age is notoriously hard to assess accurately and it is rare for people to arrive with documents to prove it. Birth certificates are rare in Afghanistan for example. It is very common for people who have fled not to have these papers. A child trapped in adult accommodation, sleeping in parks or living with random people is at risk and until their age is accepted, a social worker will not (and cannot) take it on.

Our Young People’s Immigration Project works with Bristol City Council to create change and improve how asylum seeking children and young people are supported through the asylum and immigration systems. Due to the sharp increase of arrivals recently, we have had to redeploy some of this funding so our workers can take on supporting age disputed young people through this key moment in their lives.

The partnership with Bristol City Council since 2018 has already delivered results, as social workers are now tending to give the benefit of the doubt and take the child’s word for it where they can. This is good practice and saves time, money and trauma. There is still a desperate need for advocacy though as young people continue to fall through the cracks.

In the last few weeks alone, 6 young people have been accepted as children and taken out of danger and into support because of our work.

Challenging an age assessment can take months. At BRR, we will always advocate for the birth date that the young person claims, and try to support them with referrals to solicitors, using interpreters, providing hardship payments, phones and top up, as well as referring them to English classes. We work closely with Welcome Wednesdays from Creative Youth Network and Refugee Council’s Children’s Adviser, to help them develop social and community connections and provide holistic advice support. We have also been collecting therapeutic sensory items for ARC Clinic at Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) – a group that supports young people recovering from trauma. While such support does not achieve a quick fix, we hope that our interventions make a positive difference to these young peoples’ present and future lives.

For a personal account, please read Ali’s story here.

Creating long term change for those subject to ‘No Recourse to Public Funds’

♢ Posted in: Uncategorized ♢ Tags:

Bristol Refugee Rights (BRR) and the Refugee and Migration Policy Project (RAMP) have been working closely with the local council and individuals with lived experience of being subject to NRPF.  The aim has been to create long term systemic change for those subject to NRPF conditions in Bristol, so as to ensure that some of the most vulnerable people don’t fall through the cracks.

From this work we have developed a Bristol Model which outlines our vision for what support is needed for those subject to NRPF in our city. The model is based on lived experiences, conversations with professionals and our expertise. It sets out what we believe all individuals subject to NRPF in our city should be entitled to. Overall the Bristol Model aims to provide people with the safety net they need to survive and thrive despite their NRPF status and to ensure that no-one in Bristol experiences destitution or homelessness.  The Bristol Model is based around 4 key principles:

  • Design-out Destitution. People must have access to basic goods needed to survive and thrive. This includes food, medicine, sanitary and washing facilities, the means to connect with people digitally and access to public transport.
  • A Safe Place to Stay.  People must have access to accommodation which is safe and secure and which provides them with privacy and dignity.
  • Informed and Supported. People must have access to appropriate and specialist legal advice. People must also have access to holistic social and welfare support where needed, and support into employment where they are legally allowed to work.
  • Included and Involved. People must have the opportunity to tell their story where they choose to, and to be actively involved in the design of relevant support services and advocacy activity.

A number of voluntary and statutory organisations in Bristol including officers from Bristol Council and Bristol’s mayor have signed up to this model, pledging their support for this vision of a Bristol that includes all. It is also in line with Bristol’s pledge as a City of Sanctuary to end destitution.

There is already a lot of good practise in the city which is working towards these principles: the aim of this model is to bring together good practice and close the gaps.  However there is much more to be done if we want to make this model a reality for all Bristolians who are subject to NRPF. We continue to work with the Council and other organisations to create long term change to improve the lives of our members subject to NRPF.

To read our Policy Recommendations to Bristol City Council and learn more about the Bristol Model, visit our Campaigning page

To transform the lives of our members including those subject to NRPF, donate on our website.

Yad’s story

♢ Posted in: Uncategorized ♢ Tags:

When Yad first arrived in the UK, he applied for asylum and was housed by the asylum support system in Liverpool. He got to know some members of the Kurdish community there, but they moved on to Bristol. Yad’s initial asylum claim was refused: he was able to appeal but couldn’t find legal representation to support him in court, so attended the court session alone. He was refused again and his asylum support accommodation and subsidence were stopped.

With no support and nowhere to go, Yad remembered the community he had met who moved to Bristol and followed them here. He was homeless and sleeping in a small tent in Eastville Park. Yad’s mental and physical health were poor – he felt frustrated and upset, and struggled to access the medical care that he needed.

“I tried to contact the Home Office independently while sleeping in the park but was unable to do so without help.”

After some time he was able to find members of the community that he had met in Liverpool and they helped him a bit, sometimes letting him stay on their sofas or giving him money for food. Sometimes a local Kurdish restaurant would let Yad eat for free. The community was truly kind. But even with this limited support times were difficult – Yad was constantly moving around, never sure where he could sleep or what support would be there. He was always in other people’s spaces – relying on their kindness and hospitality.

“I was desperate for a place to live.”

“Thankfully I have managed to get past that difficult time.”

In 2020, in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, the British Government enacted a policy called ‘Everyone In’: which funded local authorities to temporarily house anyone who was homeless. This policy recognised that being homeless was a public health risk, as it was not possible for homeless people to self-isolate to protect themselves or others from the Covid-19 outbreak. The policy applied to everyone: no matter what their immigration status was. So Yad was housed by Bristol City Council in a hotel.

“It was incomparable to where I was before.”

While in the hotel Yad received £10 per week destitution support from Borderlands, a local charity. The hotel provided food for residents, although Yad struggled to eat it as it wasn’t food he was used to in his culture. He saw a 100% improvement in his health while he was in the hotel. When he was told in the winter of 2021 that the ‘Everyone In’ accommodation was going to end, Yad felt stressed and worried. While being supported in the hotel however, he had been put in touch with Bristol Hospitality Network (BHN) a local charity who provide hosted accommodation for individuals in Yad’s situation, while they work to regularise their status. As ‘Everyone In’ comes to an end, Yad has been given temporary accommodation in a BHN house and receives a £20 per week allowance from them. This means Yad will not have to face homelessness in Bristol again.

“When I heard that the Everyone In accommodation wouldn’t be extended it was stressful. I was worried. But at least for now I get £20 weekly income from BHN and I have temporary accommodation from BHN too which is great.”

Just before being housed in the hotel, Yad had been referred to Bristol Refugee Rights (BRR) by community members. BRR had helped to find a solicitor to work with him to submit a fresh asylum claim. It took Yad and his solicitor over a year to work together to gather the evidence needed to submit a fresh claim. They spent a long time waiting for the Home Office to release Yad’s previous records to the solicitor, and Covid delays also made it more difficult to gather the evidence they needed. In the winter of 2021, Yad and his solicitor finally submitted a fresh claim. This means Yad is now eligible again for accommodation and subsidence payments from asylum support. He is currently working with BRR to gather the evidence needed to apply for the support. Until it is granted, Yad knows he can stay with BHN.

These stories are from a project supporting people to tell their stories and the views expressed are their own. Due to protecting people’s voice and privacy, we have not given statutory authorities the opportunity to respond and we appreciate they may present a different perception of the individual’s situation.

Vasile’s story

♢ Posted in: Uncategorized ♢ Tags:

Vasile arrived in the UK from Romania in 2014. His hope was to work and send money back to Romania to help his family. Initially Vasile was in London. He worked various cash in hand jobs – at car washes, on building sites, cleaning – but he was often ripped off. As he didn’t sign contracts he was often paid too little or repeatedly told he would be paid next week. Vasile never had anywhere to live and was sleeping rough.

After a couple of years Vasile left London for Bristol because he had heard that people there were more helpful. But after he arrived in Bristol he continued to live on the streets.  Bristol City Council knew about Vasile and his situation as they delivered food to him twice a day: but still he was homeless. After a year or two, Vasile’s wife also came to join him in the UK. He and his wife slept rough together on the streets and in the parks of Bristol.

It wasn’t until the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 that Vasile was finally housed. He was put up in a hotel in Bristol as part of the ‘Everyone In’ scheme, which aimed to house all homeless people in response to the public health emergency. This was because while living on the streets it is impossible for people to self-isolate to protect themselves or others from the virus. Stable accommodation made a huge difference for Vasile. He was able to wash himself and his clothes regularly, and he had facilities to make himself small meals.

However, this was also a difficult time. Vasile’s wife had fallen ill with lung cancer and was receiving treatment in hospital. Her prognosis was not good and towards the end of 2020 their GP was able to help them access some funds so she could return to Romania to continue her treatment and see family, including their nine children. In early 2021, Vasile’s wife passed away in Romania. This was an extremely difficult time for Vasile, and his mental health suffered. But he felt lucky to have friends in Bristol who supported him, as well as access to his GP for medical help.

As lockdown was eased again in the UK, the national government ended funding for the ‘Everyone In’ programme on May 17th 2021, saying that the public health emergency had passed. For Vasile this meant he was homeless yet again – sleeping rough in an underpass with another friend. Being back on the streets only compounded his mental health struggles. Some of Vasile’s other friends had managed to access support through the help of Bristol City Council and St Mungos while they were staying in hotels. They were now receiving benefits and in, or waiting for, housing allocations.

Vasile had also been supported to make an application to the European Union Settlement Scheme (EUSS). Having been in the UK for more than 5 years, he should have been eligible for settled status, which would allow him access to benefits and housing support. But Vasile had very little documentary evidence of his time in the UK. Despite multiple applications he had never received a National Insurance number, there were no records of the exploitative work he had undertaken, and as a rough sleeper he had no records of housing – it was going to be difficult to prove his entitlements.

At the time of meeting Caroline, Bristol Refugee Rights’ Member Participation Organiser, in May 2021, Vasile was still waiting to hear from the Home Office about his EUSS application. It is anticipated that he will be given pre-settled status (given to those who have been in the UK for less than five years as of December 31st, 2020). While this will be a big step in his journey towards getting off the streets, the Home Office is currently fighting attempts to ensure that people with pre-settled status are able to access the social security net in the courts. It is still unclear if with pre-settled status Vasile will be able to access the help he needs to change his situation. He says “the council has known about my struggles  for a long time, but still things don’t change.”

Vasile now sells the Big Issue in Bristol to get a small income. Despite the challenges he has faced in the UK, he still hopes to stay here. He says that only in the UK will he be able to earn money to help his family back in Romania. In Romania, he says, it’s hopeless. Although Vasile blames the local council for his situation, NRPF conditions and entitlements and in many cases what local authorities can do about it are set by the national government.

Vasile feels left behind. He says he knows other people who have been in the UK a shorter time than him and who have never worked but are receiving support in terms of benefits and housing. Vasile’s message following his years of living in the UK without access to public funds is twofold. He says that accommodation is crucial and can completely change someone’s life. Moreover it is difficult to see others access support while not being able to access any yourself.

These stories are from a project supporting people to tell their stories and the views expressed are their own. Due to protecting people’s voice and privacy, we have not given statutory authorities the opportunity to respond and we appreciate they may present a different perception of the individual’s situation.

Mounish’s story

♢ Posted in: Uncategorized ♢ Tags:

Names have been changed on the request of the member.

Mounish has lived in Bristol for twelve years but it has been a very difficult twelve years. He visited the UK several times before he decided to move here permanently and always liked Bristol, as it has a very welcoming community. So, when he was forced to flee Bangladesh, that’s where he decided to come.

In Bangladesh Mounish was involved in politics as a member of an opposition party. He felt he was no longer safe there due to his political activities. He received threats to his life and made the difficult decision to leave his home country and family behind. Mounish arrived in the UK on a visitor’s visa and when his visa ended he remained in the UK without any contact with the Home Office. The rumours in the community were that if you made an application to the Home Office you would be deported back to Bangladesh: and so in fear Mounish lived under the radar. He had no idea where to go to get legal advice, or that there was any organisation in Bristol that could provide support and advice to people in situations like his. Mounish lived with other members of the Bangladeshi community who would give him space in their homes. He survived by taking on work at local restaurants who would ‘pay’ him by giving him food or sometimes small amounts of cash.

This life continued until 2018, when the restaurant that Mounish was working in was raided by immigration officials – without papers, he was taken away and detained. At this time Mounish’s health was very poor as he was struggling to manage diabetes, so his detention was spent in a medical facility. It was only at this point of crisis that he first sought the advice of a solicitor and heard about organisations in Bristol that could offer advice and support to people like him. Hearing about Mounish’s experiences, the solicitor advised that he submit an asylum claim. With his asylum claim submitted, Mounish returned to life in Bristol. With his new community knowledge he started to receive a £10 a week destitution payment from the Red Cross which he could use to buy essentials and pay to travel to appointments in Bristol. He also started volunteering at local organisations. Mounish loves to give back and was always involved in a lot of voluntary work in Bangladesh.

Mounish’s physical and mental health remains poor. He has been in the UK for twelve years now and has only been able to see his family in Bangladesh, where he has a wife and two children, via video call. Mounish worries about his family; who continue to be harassed by the police. He believes this is because of his previous political activity. He has been diagnosed with depression and is accessing counselling through the NHS. Despite this, he struggles with suicidal thoughts and often feels hopeless.

“Living is not good for me – sometimes I think I want to die.”

“I never dreamed of a life like this.”

In 2021, Mounish’s asylum application was refused by the Home Office and this decision was upheld on appeal. Mounish says the Home Office don’t think he is a genuine asylum seeker as they say he has just come to the UK to work and send money back to his family. Those years in Bristol in which Mounish did not have the right information and was too afraid to seek legal advice and make an application to the Home Office have had a big impact on his ability to make a successful asylum claim. Mounish says his solicitor is still confident that he has a strong case and that the Home Office should change their decision. He has a list of additional evidence to support his case which his solicitor recommended he gather in order to submit a fresh claim. Much of this involves his family trying to get access to evidence back in Bangladesh – something that is even more difficult than usual at the moment due to Covid restrictions. Without a successful application for leave to remain in the UK, Mounish’s life in Bristol continues: without a right to work, supported only by charities and his community to survive.

“I have nowhere to go, but I’m also not here either.”

These stories are from a project supporting people to tell their stories and the views expressed are their own. Due to protecting people’s voice and privacy, we have not given statutory authorities the opportunity to respond and we appreciate they may present a different perception of the individual’s situation.