Rights for Refugees - Can they be Delivered?

A report from a recent public meeting hosted by Central Manchester Oxfam Campaigns Group

Refugees and asylum seekers, their rights and their treatment, was the focus of a recent public meeting as one of a number of events being staged to h ighlight Oxfam's Cut Conflict Campaign which aims to reduce the needless suffering caused by conflict (see last newsletter).

Mike Ash-Edwards (Oxfam's NW Area Campaigns Manager) introduced the Cut Conflict Campaign by stating that 84% of war casualties are civilians. Other s peakers included: Gaafer Abbaker Aii (GM Sudanese Community) who spoke about the experiences of refugees in this country; and Geraldine Terry (Oxfam U K Poverty Programme) who outlined problems faced by those seeking asylum in the UK.


"GAA", a refugee from Sudan in this country for several years, is one of 5,000 recognised refugees living in Greater Manchester. Problems faced by a refugee in this country are mainly to do with the refugee's attempt to rebuild a life here. One of the biggest problems is an assumption that refugees are happy just to be here and that time means nothing just so long as they are here. Sometimes an asylum seeker will have to wait years before knowing whether their application for refugee status has been accepted. During this time the individual has no passport and so is unable to visit their family at home.

The refugee community would like more assistance from the British people to enable them to be independent in this country. They need assurances that the British Government is trying to bring about an alteration to the situation in their homeland; is pressing for more democracy in the refugee's home country; and is trying to put an end to forceful displacements by governments of other countries. Campaigns like the anti-landmine campaign and Oxfam's Cut Conflict Campaign are seen as very encouraging by the refugee community.

Geraldine Terry

According to the UN High Commission for Refugees there are 26 million refugees worldwide. Most refugees end up in neighbouring countries which are als o poor and may themselves be in the grips of conflict.

Britain has a good history for taking asylum seekers and indeed an obligation to do so. However, the Asylum and Immigration Act 1996 states that unles s the individual seeking asylum does so as soon as they step onto British soil they are not entitled to benefits such as Income Support. People who ar e refused asylum can appeal but this can take (on average) 19 months, during which time the asylum seeker is still unable to claim benefits.

Asylum seekers may be placed in detention in this country. Approximately 800 asylum seekers are at the moment being detained, of these some 200 are be ing detained in prisons. There is no time limit for detention and they do not need to be given a reason.

Oxfam is currently working with voluntary groups that are providing practical support to Britain's asylum seekers, and also with agencies such as the Refugee Council in order to highlight the important issues of detention and benefit entitlement.

Take Action

Esther Douglas/Vincent Goodridge, Central Manchester Oxfam Campaigns Group (0161 228 6273)

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