What does ‘Refugees Welcome’ look like in Tottenham?

  • Barbara Kentish, Westminster Justice and Peace
  • Apr 12th, 2022

With much hand-wringing over delays in welcoming Ukrainian refugees, it can be hard to envisage what a real welcome can be.

Those who have seen pictures of the down-at-heel unhygienic provision at the Napier Barracks, and the scanty provision for those without recourse to public funds, not to mention the snail’s pace decision-making of asylum applications at the Home Office, we can forget what real hospitality might be. There is still a glimmer of hope with tiny Government-promoted schemes however. The Tottenham Refugee Alliance (TRA) is following this route. There are several schemes, a government website informs us:

‘Refugees can be resettled to the UK via the Mandate Scheme, the UK Resettlement Scheme (UKRS) Community Sponsorship Scheme and the Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme (ACRS)’. Of the 14,700 people granted asylum in 2021 only 11%, 1,587, were accepted through resettlement schemes, however. The remainder will have struggled, perhaps over several years, to push their applications through to successful Leave to Remain status, rough-sleeping, sofa-surfing, homeless, jobless, and above all, trying to keep up their morale.

The resettlement schemes, are a ‘gold standard’ of welcome, and have been offered to few of those seeking to stay in the UK, offering settled status for a number of years, the right to work and to benefits, Syrians and more recently, Afghans, being some of the main beneficiaries. How wonderful to be allowed to work, to support oneself and family (rather than depend on the pittance of £37 per week); to have some choice in housing, to receive child benefit, to be truly welcomed.

Community groups such as the TRA can apply to participate, through the Community Sponsorship Scheme: which was used to resettle many Syrian families from 2010 to 2016 by David Cameron’s government, and is still in operation now, and now including Afghan families. While it has been recently touted as a model to use in resettling Ukrainian refugees, it is not a quick fix, as groups are finding.

The TRA is, despite this, well on the way to succeeding in its aim to welcome a family. Started by Fr David Ardagh Walter and others in South Tottenham, it began to fundraise four years ago, in order to welcome a family. By the beginning of the pandemic they had more than raised the £9000 stipulated by the Home Office as a sort of welcome cushion. Now, post-Covid, the team is reconstituted, and approvals obtained from Haringey Council, the Home Office, and the enthusiastic sponsors, Caritas Westminster. There are interpreters, befrienders, volunteers, advisers. ‘We are nearly there’, say the committee, with great optimism.

One big obstacle remains: a home for the family! Government housing benefit is capped at £1500 per month, but Haringey market rents for a three-bedroom property average £2200 per month. Without a roof, it would be mad to bring a family over. It is government policy not to use public housing, as this would compete with local need, so the hunt is on for cheaper, but decent, private property. Once a house is found, the family will indeed be offered a real, gold standard welcome to the UK.

See the TRA website: http://tottenhamrefugees.org.uk/wp/2022/03/16/can-you-help-us-find-a-home-for-a-refugee-family/

Tags: Barbara KentishWestminster Justice and PeaceRefugees

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