On Wednesday March 5th, more than 100 people will sleep out on Cornmarket to raise awareness of the government’s treatment of refused asylum seekers. Supporters of the ‘Still Human Still Here’ campaign, including Student Action of Refugees (STAR), Refugee Resource and Asylum Welcome, will sleep out in an act of solidarity with thousands of asylum seekers who are unable to return home safely to countries such as Zimbabwe, Iraq, Somalia and the Sudan, having been denied asylum.
The event has won widespread support with Oxford City Councillor David Williams and Evan Harris MP having pledged to attend. Oxford students, the Church of St Mary Magdalen and local refugee charities and community organizations have offered their support. The Lord Mayor of Oxford has also backed the event.
Councillor David Williams declared, “I shall be sleeping out to show support for the campaign for justice and better treatment for failed Asylum seekers because the present situation is a violation of their human rights. Many are forced to return to countries where they will be mistreated and may even be tortured. Others are denied food shelter and help by the UK government yet are not allowed to work to support themselves. I also believe that the present system has a racial bias as it would seem you are far more likely to be deported if you have a dark skin.”
The Reverend Dr Peter Groves of the Church of St Mary Magdalen, another supporter of the sleep out, said, “We as a church are delighted to be supporting the sleep-out in Oxford. It is fantastic to see community groups and students coming together to raise people’s awareness of the way in which refused asylum seekers are forced to live destitute on the streets and campaigning for a change.”
Jenny Allsop, a Wadham student and head of Oxford STAR group, expressed her delight at the level of support. “The campaign aims to raise awareness of the plight of tens of thousands of refused asylum seekers who are being forced into destitution in an attempt to force them out of the country. Many refused asylum seekers cannot go home because their countries are unsafe or unstable and they fear for their lives, because of uncooperative governments who refuse to recognize their documents, because of health and safety issues… Yet the current number of people living in this state of limbo is estimated at around 280,000,” she said. “I am hopeful that the sleep out will help dispel a lot of myths about asylum seekers and make people realise and act upon the fact that human rights abuses are happening right here, on our streets, as a result of government policy which is executed in our name.”
Two reports from Amnesty International and Refugee Action in November 2006 accused the Government of employing destitution as a deliberate tactic in an effort to drive refused asylum-seekers out of the country.
According to a ‘Still Human Still Here’ press release, asylum seekers are “unable to return home, refused support and prevented from taking work to provide for themselves, they are forced to sleep rough and survive on the charity of others.” The campaign also calls on the Government to grant permission to work until such a time as refused asylum seekers are able to leave the UK or have been granted leave to remain. Access to health care and education should also be provided.
Matt Holman, Director of local charity Asylum Welcome, said:
“We need a more enlightened policy that would see refused asylum-seekers who cannot be returned home provided with support and allowed to contribute to British society. We are sleeping out here in Oxford to show our support for the Still Human Still Here campaign in order to change Government policy and we are encouraging as many people as possible to join us.”
by Rob Pomfret
Check Cherwell24 next week for exclusive video coverage of the event