Newcastle: ‘City of Sanctuary’

Asylum seekers are usually housed under arrangements funded by the Home Office and operate a number of regional contracts. The contract for the North East of England is now held by G4S who have subcontracted the work to a private housing provider called Jomast.  Prior to this Newcastle council had a Home Office contract to provide advice, support and accommodation for people who applied asylum from 1999 to May 2011.  During that period many asylum seekers were housed at in the West End of the city  and it is likely some were housed at Cruddas Park, perhaps temporarily.  Others were housed in the East End in areas like Byker and Walker.  The Home Office provides details of what an asylum seeker can currently get in terms of housing and other support (Aug 2016).

Newcastle council had a Home Office contract to provide advice, support and accommodation for people who applied asylum from 1999 to May 2011.

Newcastle is a recognised ‘City of Sanctuary’ – the certificate is displayed in the City Library. This is in recognition of the city’s commitment to welcoming and supporting asylum seekers and refugees which includes aligning housing, education and health services.  Newcastle council ‘Asylum, refugees and migration’ page Sep 2015

The North East Strategic Migration Partnership profile for the third quarter of 2011 showed there were 480 asylum seekers accommodated in Newcastle representing around 30% of the asylum population of the North East region.  Among the top countries of origin at that time were Iran, Zimbabwe and Afghanistan.  The number of  asylum seekers dispersed to Newcastle declined from 2008 to 2011, which reflected the decreasing number of asylum applications  made nationally.  Most tend to be men in their 20s and 30s.

The UK picture

According to the British Red Cross there are an estimated 117,234 refugees living in the UK  (0.18 per cent of a total population of 64.1 million people).  Official statistics show there were 44,323 asylum applications in the year ending June 2016, an increase compared with the previous year. However, this number of applications less than half the peak number of applications in 2002 when over 100,000 applications were made.  Most applications for asylum are made by people already in the country (90%) rather than on arrival at a UK port.  There was a slow rate of annual increase between 2010 and 2014.  In May 2015 – June 2016 the largest number came from Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Eritrea, Afghanistan and Syria to the UK and a total of 9,957 people were granted asylum or alternative protection (38% of applications). Grant rates vary at initial decision; the rate for nationals of Syria was 87%, compared with 12% for Iraqi nationals.  Home Office Migration Statistics Quarterly Report, August 2016 and National statistics: Asylum (April – June 2016).

Estimates show the UK had a modest number of asylum applications compared to other similar countries in the EU in the year ending June 2016 (44,000). Germany (665,000), Sweden (149,000) and Hungary (131,000) were the top three receiving EU countries. National statistics: Asylum (April – June 2016)

Asylum numbers and Newcastle

Locally-based statistics are not always easily found.  Government figures are produced in dense spreadsheets and summarised in aggregated reports.  However, in August 2016 the Home Office produced a UK-wide map of asylum seekers in receipt their support.  (There is also an interactive web tool: What are migration levels like in your area? )

People seeking asylum are excluded from claiming welfare benefits and usually from working.  What they can access is support in the form of housing and basic expenses through a Home Office scheme “under Section 95” (part 6 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999). This scheme  supports those whose claims are ongoing and who are destitute (or about to become destitute) and the numbers for Newcastle are shown in the graph below.

asylum seekers graph
Total asylum seekers receiving support in Newcastle upon Tyne 2003-16 (larger)

The data includes asylum seekers and their dependants and failed asylum seekers who remain supported  if they have children at the time their claim is finally rejected.

The pattern shows the Home Office is supporting less than half the number of asylum seekers in Newcastle it did in the first quarter of 2016 compared to the peak in the first quarter of 2004.  Although numbers have been rising since the end of 2013, they were previously much higher (2004-2008). In 2004 about a third of all asylum seekers who came to NE England were accommodated in Newcastle; by comparison in 2016 this had dropped to a fifth.  The proportion was highest in Q2 of 2006 (38.41%) and at its lowest in Q4 2013 (13.90%).  This partly reflects the way the contract holder GS4 has distributed asylum seekers throughout NE England from May 2011.  [Calculated from: Immigration Statistics – April to June 2016: Asylum (pub. 25 Aug 2016), vol 4, table as 16 q.   Available from: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/immigration-statistics-april-to-june-2016/asylum ]

The reality of life as an asylum seeker in Newcastle

Once an application is successful the applicant, having proved he or she would face persecution at home, gets permission to stay and is then legally a refugee.  Getting refugee status can be a long and complicated process.  Failed asylum seekers can quickly become homeless and destitute.

“Life for asylum seekers in the UK is tough. Many have been tortured, imprisoned or raped in their home country and all have suffered bereavement and separation from family and friends. The situation is then made worse by the many problems of life as an asylum seeker in Britain; sub-standard housing, low income, social isolation, racial harassment, unemployment, prolonged separation from family, difficulties with cultural adaptation and the fear of being returned to dangerous situations should their asylum applications be unsuccessful.” http://www.wers.org.uk

“People often arrived with no money and no possessions at all.  They needed help settling into a strange culture and dealing with officialdom. There had been no attempt to prepare local residents for the arrival of asylum seekers.” East Area Asylum Seekers Support Group [http://www.eaassg.org.uk/page8.html source no longer available]

Two refugees who have shared their stories about coming to Newcastle with the BBC are Rwandan Musa Hassan Ali who sought asylum in the UK in 2002 and  Eritrean Mohammed who arrived in Greece in 2014 in a dinghy after an arduous journey.

“After five hours at sea I was terrified,” he said.  “Water was seeping into the boat, people were crying and children screaming, all I could think about was my family would never know what had happened to me if I drowned.”  BBC News 5th September 2015 http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-34140372

In response to the plight of refugees local initiatives have been set up, often involving those from local churches, to help both the new arrivals and locals to adjust.  These projects provide services and support that go beyond what the authorities must do by statute (law).  However funding can be patchy and time limited (as the history of East Area ASSG seems to illustrate).  You can learn more about refugees and asylum seekers in Newcastle by checking out the resources from WERS (videos, statistics, teaching pack, fact sheet, stories etc.).  A number of Newcastle schools are involved in the Schools for Sanctuary initiative.    A School of Sanctuary is a school that is committed to being a safe and welcoming place for people whose lives were in danger in their own country.

The continuing refugee crisis hitting the headlines from late summer 2015 prompted Newcastle City Council to provide additional information for concerned residents who want to help.

“Newcastle is committed to supporting the Syrian Resettlement Scheme and we are proud to be one of the first local authorities that came forward to offer assistance. … People coming under the Syrian VPR scheme will have already been recognised as being in need of refugee protection and arrive in the country already having been granted refugee status. Part of the package of support being offered is 12 months of accommodation and support with orientation and integration to be facilitated by the local authority.” Newcastle council Aug 4th 2016.

Last updated 28th Nov 2016.

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