Asylum seekers claim right to work

In National Refugee Week reporter JESSICA FORSTER looks at how the North East has been marking the event and speaks to an asylum seeker who is campaigning for their right to work.

IMAGINE being told that you can not work for a living.

Not because you are not up to the job but because if you do you are breaking the law.

This is the situation that many refugees living on Wearside face, having to rely on benefits instead to survive.

Sam Dore, originally from the Ivory Coast in West Africa, is trying to do something about this problem.

He is the subgroup leader of the Right to Work North East Campaign in Sunderland.

The Wearside network is an offshoot of a national campaign from the Refugee Council, launched in April this year, called Let Them Work.

Sam 37, who left his own country to seek refuge in the UK five years ago said: "Asylum seekers want to earn money to pay for child care, pay their rent and feed their families.

"Not being allowed to work is very frustrating and they do not want to live on handouts."

Until the Government made it illegal for people claiming asylum to work, in 2002, people who had waited for more than six months for a claim, used to be able to work.

Now they are all forced to rely on state benefits even though some of them are qualified professionals such as accountants, teachers or engineers.

Most people claiming asylum come from countries with no welfare system. They hate the fact they cannot work and would rather do anything than do nothing.

They live on food vouchers for Tescos and have no cash to spend as they see fit, for many being able to work and support themselves is a wound to their dignity.

Dana Mohamed, 25, ran a factory in Iran before he fled his country in fear seven months ago and came to live in Sunderland.

He said: "I left my country because of problems with the Government.

"I would like to work and I will do any job so I can pay my taxes, I don't want benefit money I want to pay for myself."

Asylum seekers cannot work until they have refugee status but the system is very complicated and people can wait years, up to 10 years, for their claim to be processed.

Masut Wailed, 23, from Iraq has been in the UK for six years and he is angry about the no right to work system.

He said: "The Government is wasting so much money giving all these people who want to work benefits.

At a time when the Government is making every effort to get people off unemployment and incapacity benefit and back into work, campaigners say it seems strange to force asylum seekers to live entirely on state support.

They add that working is good for community cohesion, bringing people from different communities together, breaking down barriers and increasing understanding.

The belief that asylum seekers are freeloading on taxpayers' money is often a cause of tension with the white community.

For more information on how you can get involved contact subgroup leader of Right to Work Campaign, Sam Dore, on 07922672309.

REFUGEES and asylum seekers living in Sunderland in need of help, company or support can meet at a weekly drop-in centre.

The North East Refugee Service runs a open door session at St Mary's Parish Centre, next to the church, on Bridge Street every Wednesday from 1pm till 4.30pm.

For more information Tel. 510 8685.

YOUNG asylum seekers and refugees from Wearside enjoyed a night of entertainment in Newcastle when young people from Sunderland strutted their stuff in a Pakistani fashion show.

Halo Huda, 16, from Ashbrooke, Sunderland, took to the catwalk in traditional Pakistani menswear, joined by group worker Jay Arnott.

Riya Khurana, 18, from Farringdon, Sunderland, is working on another project with the Refugee Service to produce a film called Ali in Wonderland.