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Joy and Despair

18 Aug

RASAG has had two great sources of happiness recently; two of the founding members have been granted indefinite leave to remain. We are all so happy and pleased for the members and wish luck to them and thier families, one of which is here in the Uk and the other is still in the country of origin, hopefully now one step closer to being brought over here to start a new life. However, it has also come to light that one of our key members is living in a state of depression and discomfoft due to being fitted with an elecronic ankle tag to monitor his movements and to impose an unreasonable curfew upon him. This member has been unable to attend RASAG events that take place in the evening, and when he did break his curfew to attend the launch of Chris Stone’s “Shared Sense of Belonging” project, he was threatened with imprisonment.

The member in question arrived in the UK in 2005 and his original claim for asylum was turned down, but as he is from Iran, there was no question of him being returned to his country; one of the many incongruities of the asylum system. Having been forced into destitution, with all benefits and housing rights withdrawn, the RASAG member took the uneasy choice to enter into illegal work. He was caught and was sentenced to 12 month in prison; he served 16 months… This is already a breach of his human and civil rights. When he was finally released after spending an awful year and a quater in Liverpool and Doncaster prisons he was forced to submit to electronic tagging; that was three years ago and he has abided by the conditions ever since. Having reached rock bottom with his situation after suffering damage to his leg from the tag while playing football, and being unable to interact with his local community and the RASAG group because of the curfew, the RASAG member has decided to speak out about his plight and to try to challenge his sentence through the courts. The member in question has spoken to the BBC journalist who we have been working with about his situation and he has taken letters of reference to a solicitor to see if they can help him.

Another source of concern in the latest RASAG meeting was the Home Offices reaction to the Supreme Court Judgement that failed asylum seekers who make a second fresh claim for asylum should be given the right to work if they do not receive a decision within one year of their claim. Damian Green, Immigration Minister, has decided to severely restrict the jobs that this group of asylum seekers, estimated to be around 45,000 in number, will be able to do. He said “I believe it is important to maintain a distinction between economic migration and asylum – giving failed asylum seekers access to the labour market undermines this principle.” (Guardian Thursday 29 July 2010), yet his idea to limit this group to jobs on the shortage occupation list means that infact they will be treated in exactly the same way as economic migrants from outside the UK. As Jonathan Ellis, director of policy and development at the Refugee Council, said “The shortage occupation list is not designed for asylum seekers but rather economic migrants needing sponsorship to come to the UK. Asylum seekers who have waited so long for a decision should be allowed to work for local employers whenever their skills are needed.” (Guardian Thursday 29 July 2010)

The only thing that is clear here is that the right to work continues to be a minefield of uncertainties and the Home Office continues to churn out inconsistant policy and commentary. Progress is slow and even good news is tainted.

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City of Sanctuary

10 Aug

RASAG is currently working on several initiatives to expand the group and to take it to the next level.  we are working with a BBC journalist on a feature about the City of Sanctuary, where she will be using case studies to dispel the myth that asylum seekers and refugees come to England for an easy ride…  One of the RASAG members who has agreed to talk to the journalist is Lemlem Hussein Abdu, the Eritrean lady who was detained and had a flight booked to a country that she does not originate from, but was given a last minute reprieve in the form of an injunction that halted her flight.  The Manchester court granted the injunction at the last minute because a document was located and faxed from Saudi Arabia that proved that Lemlem was from Ertitrea, not Ethiopia, despite the fact that she had been issued with an Ethiopian passport (which is far from unusual as Eritrea was historically possessed by Ethiopia – the root of all of the war and troubles there in the first place).  With the help of key RASAG member and co-founder, Firas Sharefy, Lemlem will tell her story to the journalist in the hope that it will help give a greater understanding to the Sheffield community about the violence and persecution that people are subjected to before they take that enormous decision to flee their own country and seek asylum elsewhere.  Lemlem is yet to be granted leave to remain in the UK so the campaign continues.  Please go to Sheffield CDAS at http://www.sheffieldcdas.org.uk/, or contact SYMAAC at dignitynotdetention@yahoo.co.uk for more information, or write to Home Secretary Teresa May at Rt Hon Theresa May MP, House of Commons, London, SW1A 0AA to make your views known.

Another project involving people’s own stories that RASAG is assisting with is one mentioned earlier in this blog, Chris Stone at FURD’s “Shared Sense of Belonging” project.  Firas has joined the steering team for this project to help to guide the direction of the research that will take place.  This project promises to be very exciting. as it explores the sociological implications of what creates a sense of home, ownership or belonging for someone who has been driven from their own place of origin to a distant place that often does not welcome them, persecutes them and plunges them into a world of misinformation and uncertainty.  This project will particularly focus on how playing, watching and talking about football play a part in creating a sense of belonging and home in people from disparate backgrounds, but it will also examine the role of other sports and activities by way of comparison.   Several RASAG members are also interested in forming a five a side team to play football at FURD, which would be very exciting as it would be one of the few city teams that would be made up of people from different nationalities, rather than being a “DRC team”, and “Iraqi team” etc…  This unity between refugees and asylum seekers of different nationalities is one of RASAG’s great strengths.

More exciting plans in the offing include the creation of a RASAG identity card which would aim to give members a sense of belonging and ownership and could be used to enable them to interact with other community groups on an official level.  This idea came from the group when RASAG member Spag was asked to help with interpreting for an asylum case by Sheffield CDAS and was asked to show his RASAG ID – we had not considered the fact that  members would be offered opportunities based on their RASAG membership status before this point but it is a positive development.  We would also like to buy a laptop and some software so that we can start to create a database of our members and activities.

RASAG’s next event is planned to be a post Eid community meal where we will tell stories, perform music and provide attendees with food from around the world…  This event will be used to create a space for the group to meet with the wider community and to promote our activities and ethos.  We are all also looking forward to the end of Summer of Sanctuary celebrations planned to take place later this month – Summer of sanctuary funded our Legends project and in fact RASAG was formed to take part in this unique three month event.

Finally I am very pleased to announce that I have been offered the role of Communications and Administration Worker for Sheffield City of Sanctuary.  As the only member of RASAG who is not an asylum seeker or refugee I am keenly aware that this prospect is a real privilege and  an opportunity that is sadly not available to many of the group members who have hitherto been denied the right to work.  However, following the court judgment that asylum seekers who do not receive a decision within a set time should be given the right to work, I hope that this will be the start of many RASAG members finding gainful employment within the sector.   In my role at the City of Sanctuary I will be supporting a groundbreaking grassroots organisation  key to the sector of people seeking asylum in Sheffield.  I will be helping to advance the aim to promote a positive image of refugees and asylum seekers in the city and provide spaces for encounters between the community and the wider Sheffield population, which is also embedded in RASAG’s constitution.  Of course the work with RASAG will also continue.

As always, RASAG can be contacted of katelyn_mckeown@yahoo.co.uk, or at Learn For Life Enterprise on 0114 2559080.

Katelyn 🙂

Performances and picnic

9 Jun

Legends storytelling group will be performing at

Heeley Festival Sat, 19/06/2010 all day in a gazebo

One World Over Sat, 19/06/2010 – 19:00 – 22:00. In Aid of ASSIST, at the Montgomery Hall, Surrey St (by the big wheel)

Central Library Surrey Street, Sheffield, South Yorkshire S1 1XZ, 12.30 – 1.30 Mon 28/06/2010

Ecclesall Library 120 Ecclesall Road South, Sheffield, South Yorkshire S11 9PL, 5.30 – 6.30 Mon 28/06/2010

http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=113963548647447&ref=ts#!/group.php?gid=105594016150685&ref=ts

The RASAG/Big Lunch picnic will now be held at Sharrow Summer Flea Market, Old Junior School, South View Road Sheffield S7 1DB on 12 – 5 pm, 18/07/2010

http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=113963548647447&ref=ts