The Home Office has cut advice and reception services for newly arrived asylum seekers by more than 60% . Br Stephen Power from Jesuit Refugee Services fears this will have a very detremental effect on the lives of some very vulnerable people.
He writes: "Some would say that it is inevitable, with the deficit reduction plans, that we all suffer and that those who are not full citizens of the country must suffer at least as much. This, of course, is to deny the modern day principle of defining ‘a civilization’ by how its society treats minorities, especially the poorest and most vulnerable. Many seeking asylum are certainly among the poorest and most vulnerable.
"I have been struck lately by how badly recent events have affected Eritreans, in particular those trying to escape their oppressive home situation. Just the other week, four Eritrean men were found stuffed in a lorry bound for Redditch in Birmingham. Four years ago, I met up with a young Eritrean man who I had first taught as a refugee in Port Sudan fifteen years before that. He had never returned to his country and instead had decided to risk a way across the Sahara and a boat to Italian sanctuary. Having survived the mortal perils of such a journey, he then found himself unhappy at how he could not find gainful employment in Italy. His heart was set on getting to England and I later heard from another that he had done so.
"Recent events of the Libyan crisis set many migrants streaming for the exits but refugees, including Eritreans, without means to pay their way have been left to the mercy of the xenophobia. Thankfully, the Italian embassy working with the Catholic bishop of Tripoli supported by other church groups including JRS, has helped many of those stranded to be evacuated. No such luck for those Eritreans who have been trying a different route to safety across the Red Sea and into Sinai to reach Israel (whose government, by the way, give no aid or support). These men and women are trafficked across Sinai if they are lucky, but many have been held for ransom and in the meantime raped, tortured and sometimes killed if demands are not met. It is so sad that for many Eritreans who celebrated a peace from war in 1991 and then independence have since been thrown into servitude and exile with no lasting solution on the horizon.
"If more people in the UK understood the geopolitical background of the Eritreans, many local British people’s problems would be put into a new perspective!
The upheaval of war and violence has widespread ramifications and not just for one group of people. The Libyan unrest has blocked the UN food pipeline across the desert to refugees from Darfur in Sudan, now living in Chad. 40% of the food to the 250,000 refugees in Chad’s camps now has to be rerouted through the Suez Canal to Port Sudan and across Northern Sudan, the very government which caused the refugee problem, across the border to Chad. How easy is that! Perhaps you also say, ‘Darfur – is that still a problem?’
"Once something is not headlines in the media, whether it is a million displaced in Ivory Coast, the displaced from the tsunami in Japan or homeless from the earthquake in Haiti, it has ‘gone away’, presumed solved. No such luck for the destitute asylum seeker on the streets of central London.
"Another cut in services is on the way. When does a further straw break another back? Every day, I am afraid, but then again each person can make a significant difference in giving a little support in whatever way they can."