Names have been changed on the request of the member.
Victoria arrived in the UK in 2004 from a country in Africa. She had a work visa which was valid for two years and worked as a domestic cleaner in Southport. After two years she had to apply to extend her visa and was successful in receiving a one year extension from the Home Office. Victoria’s visa was subject to the No Recourse to Public Funds condition (NRPF). This meant she had to be completely self-sufficient in the UK, as she was not eligible to access the social security net. In 2006, Victoria moved to Bristol as she had some family friends living in the city. Every year she applied to have her visa extended by the Home Office and continued to work and support herself.
Everything changed in 2010 when her visa extension request was refused by the Home Office. They said she did not have enough money in her bank account. Victoria could not afford a lawyer to help her challenge or understand this decision. She had suddenly become an undocumented migrant in the UK. No longer able to work, Victoria was completely reliant on the community and her family friends for support. Victoria slept in different people’s living rooms – constantly reliant on others to survive.
“This time was very, very difficult – sometimes I don’t want to remember this time. When I think about it I get anxious.”
Victoria’s health was impacted by her situation: at one point her blood pressure reached over 200 mmHg. She felt very worried about her health. She was supported by her GP but struggled to be honest with the GP about her situation – she was scared that if anyone found out that she was undocumented she might be reported to the Home Office, detained and deported.
In 2015 Victoria had a son. Now things were even harder. When she was asking the community for help and places to stay she was asking for two, not just one. She was completely reliant on hand me downs of old baby clothes. Victoria felt like a bad mum – unable to give her son anything. Victoria and her son spent years living this way until a friend told her about the Asylum Team at Bristol City Council. Before she called them, Victoria fully researched the support they might be able to offer. Victoria was at breaking point: she called the asylum team and requested a face to face appointment. For the first time she told a professional her full situation.
As Victoria had a young child, under Section 17 of the 1989 Children’s Act the Asylum Team were able to offer Victoria and her son accommodation. They also helped Victoria with money both for groceries and to enable her son to attend school. Victoria and her son now live in a small one bedroom flat paid for under Section 17. They have their own kitchen and bathroom. While this is much easier than when they were sofa surfing, it is still challenging: Victoria and her son have to share a bed, and as her son grows Victoria feels more and more uncomfortable about this. Victoria has asked whether or not it would be possible to get a two bedroom place so that she and her son can have some privacy but has been told that she is lucky to have the place she has – other families on Section 17 support do not have their own kitchens and bathrooms.
Victoria finds it hard to think about the future. She wants the best for her son, but continues to feel that she has not provided for him. The ongoing uncertainty of her position also makes it hard to think about the future.
“Even things you think you could do this for my son like join a football team, you are scared that they will ask about your immigration status.”
“I don’t know the way forward. I can’t plan.”
The Asylum Team have helped Victoria to access an immigration solicitor who is working with her to see what immigration options are open for Victoria and her son to regularise their status in the UK. Victoria worries about her son and what will happen for him if they are not successful in getting documents to remain in the UK. She also struggles to explain their situation to him. He has started asking her about travelling: he wants to get a passport and travel abroad like he sees his friends at school do. Victoria does not know how to tell him that they can’t do this because they are undocumented in the UK. Instead she puts off this difficult conversation, telling him this is something they will do when he is older and in secondary school.
“Children are innocent in this. They don’t belong in any other place. The only place they know is here. My son, he does not even speak my language.”
Victoria says people like her are “just piling up”: the Home Office doesn’t give them leave to remain or turns down their applications to stay, but it also doesn’t deport them. Meanwhile, she sees news about skills shortages and the need to recruit for certain roles from abroad and feels frustrated.
“There are people here with skills. People who want to work but don’t have the right. People who could fill those positions in care jobs, in nursing if they were given the training and the opportunity to do so”.
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.
by Caroline Broman, Bristol Refugee Rights’ Member Participation Organiser.
Bristol Refugee Rights (BRR) and The Refugee and Migration Policy Project (RAMP) are working on a project looking to improve support for individuals who are subject to ‘no recourse to public funds’ in Bristol. No recourse to public funds (NRPF) is a condition attached to different immigration statuses. It affects many different people: individuals here on working visas, student visas or spousal visas, families, EU Citizens, Refused Asylum Seekers or any undocumented individuals in the UK.
In essence, it means for that individual or family there is no safety net as they are not able to access mainstream benefits or housing support. Thus if they are homeless or destitute they cannot get support from the local authority or central government. This all changed during Covid-19 with the ‘Everyone In’ policy – a public health response that housed all homeless people irrespective of them being subject to the NRPF condition. In Bristol this highlighted something that BRR has been aware of for a long time: the extent of the issue as the number of Bristolians left destitute by NRPF conditions became evident. It also showed what was possible; with housing provided, BRR and other partner organisations were able to give these individuals the advice and support they needed to change their status: meaning they would not need to be homeless or destitute again.
With the end of the ‘Everyone In’ policy BRR and RAMP are working to influence and advocate to see what long term support we can get in place for those subject to NRPF conditions in Bristol. This project aims to create long term systemic change helping to ensure some of the most vulnerable people don’t fall through the cracks. In this push we have been working closely with the local council and individuals with lived experience of being subject to NRPF who have shared their stories and their visions for a more supportive Bristol. The following blog series shares with you their stories of life under the NRPF condition and how it has impacted them as well as the hope for what can happen when support is put in place for Bristolians.
All illustrations by Laurel Molly. Find her on Instagram @laurel_molly.
The Early Years Project run by Bristol Refugee Rights (BRR) provides a safe and happy space for children and their parents. Our community is supported by a skilled and experienced staff team and dedicated volunteers. There is a crèche where parents can leave their children to play safely and happily whilst they access vital services support. There is also a parent support group and a team of Family Support Workers. As the vast majority of our parents and children are new to the UK with no family or friends, this project provides essential assistance to those in need. Many of us are familiar with the African proverb ‘It takes a village to raise a child’. It’s easy to take this for granted, but for parents and children seeking sanctuary, the village is what is missing.
The support of volunteers enriches the Early Years Project by ensuring that every child receives undivided attention. These volunteers notice things, give encouragement , and they show patience and care. Our volunteers are like family members to some of our children and their parents, providing reassurance and a warm and welcoming presence. Tilly, who began volunteering with BRR in 2015 and has remained closely involved ever since, explained that being able to contribute to the life of a new mother, newly arrived in the UK and with no family or friends, felt very important to her. Reflecting on her time volunteering with us, she said that she always hoped that within her ‘Welcome’ role, she would be able to help a parent feel lifted, not alone and that their child was important. By talking with parents, sharing a meal with them, chatting to them about their child – simple things – she wanted to help that parent feel valued and part of a community. That they mattered.
When Tilly inherited some money, she decided that she wanted to make a donation to the Early Years Project. Having worked with children for years in her own career, she knew that the work being done was hugely important. When asked why she wanted to donate to the Early Years Project, she said:
“These children, they’re the next generation. For each parent, their sense of selves and their child’s happiness – it means everything. I remember that, even with my own children, I’ve always felt that you are only ever as happy as your least happy child. So what the children of asylum seekers can gain through the Early Years Project will make a huge difference to them, but not just to the child, to their parent as well. Everyone benefits when you invest in children.”
Tilly’s generous donation will help Bristol Refugee Rights to continue to fund this hugely important project, which is unique in Bristol. We are so grateful to her for generosity.
If you are inspired by Tilly’s example and would like to support a specific area of our work, please get in touch: . If you would like to find out more about leaving a gift in your will to our charity, please visit our website.
By Anna Burness
We are proud to feature in Stories of Resilience 2021, celebrating the collaboration of organisations supporting people in the UK’s immigration system during the pandemic.
Each room is clean, with wifi and a TV. Each room holds a person or a family trapped in a small space with no control over their life, few ways to keep occupied or feel productive and no knowledge of how long they will stay there or what the future holds. No one expected to end up living long term in a hotel. But because of Covid, approximately 20,000 people from all over the world, exist in this strange in-between world of government appointed hotel living.
When people seeking asylum first checked in, they received zero financial assistance beyond room and board. If they arrived without sufficiently warm clothes (which many did), needed lotion for dry skin or toys for their children, most were unable to purchase it. If they needed assistance of any kind, they were told to consult informational brochures (mostly in English) or to call Migrant Advice, a government hotline, where after a long wait time, all issues are logged and reported, but rarely resolved.
Eventually, under pressure, the government began to give people seeking asylum £8 a week, and in Bristol at least, to allow charities into the hotel to assist people. Bristol Refugee Rights (BRR) and The Haven (a medical practice dedicated to refugees and people seeking asylum) went to work.
Every week Alice and Andrew from BRR go into the hotel. They set up a desk in the hall and try to untangle the complex jumble of problems most residents face. Many of the issues people want solved; they can’t actually help with. People say: I just want my case resolved. I need more money. I want to bring my children. I want to bring my wife. And Andrew, the drop in manager, has to be the person who says there’s nothing BRR can do about that. Some people come every day, worried about family members in a refugee camp back home where there is a war, who they can’t get a hold of. Sometimes people just want someone to talk to, to hear their story. One man from Syria expected his asylum application to move quickly, but a year on and he hasn’t even received a date for his initial interview, (the first step in the application process). Back in Turkey where his family waits, they’ve run out of money and the landlord is asking his wife for ‘favours’ in order to pay the rent.
Another man in his late 30’s from Eritrea was very distressed because his wife and children called from a refugee camp in Tigray to tell him they were moving somewhere else, but he missed the call and had no credit on his phone to call them back. Thankfully, this was something BRR could help with. They got him phone credit so he could call his family and then referred him to the Red Cross for family tracing.
The staff from Bristol Refugee Rights help people to get signed up for health and dental services, to get phone credits, and phones that can access the internet so they can attend English, Well-Being and fitness classes. They work to get the phones confiscated from people seeking asylum on arrival by the government, returned. They link people to solicitors, help register children for school, and tell residents about any local services that could be helpful. Over time this kind of assistance has helped to build trust among the residents, many of whom were too terrified to speak to anyone in the beginning or to accept help.
Although most residents are grateful for any assistance and very aware how much better their situation is compared to their families in refugee camps, or those in the UK, who are placed in detention camps, it’s still very difficult. Many find the lack of control, especially around food disheartening. One Middle Eastern woman called Safiye often talked about how much she missed cooking. It was the activity that used to provide structure to her day. The scent and taste of the bread she would bake each morning gave her the feeling of home and safety. English bread doesn’t taste the same, she tells Alice, on her way to pick up her lunch meal, which will be one of the three very basic dishes the hotel continually rotates through.
There is no common area or group activities and people must eat meals in their own room, where visits from other residents are not allowed. This results in a close proximity with a large number of strangers from other countries, languages and cultures, while not allowing space or opportunity for any social interactions or connection.
Some families are finally starting to check out from the hotel. Safiye and her family, who fled political persecution, arrived after a two-year journey across dangerous borders and through squalid refugee camps. They spent one year living in the hotel, which their six-year-old son Ismail found particularly difficult. He was very lonely, and had nowhere to play. When he was finally enrolled in school, they didn’t have money for the uniform and Ismail spoke little English so he felt like a complete outsider. BRR helped his family to get him the correct uniform, gave the family two phones so that both mother and son could work on their English and bought Ismail a scooter so he could get to school easier. It took time, but eventually Ismail started to feel more comfortable. Now the family has been assigned a place in shared housing, which means Safiye gets to cook her own food again. And she gets to make bread. It will be the first step towards building a settled life, towards feeling at home.
By Tannith Perry
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More blog pieces:
Read ‘Keep Body and Soul Together: Surviving The Asylum System’
Read ‘How to Open British Doors’
Read ‘All Alone, Far Away From Home’