A host of Syrian nationals from across the north of England gathered outside a Leeds court earlier this week as their long wait for interviews passed the five month mark.
Described recently by David Cameron as the ‘greatest refugee crisis of our time’, thousands of Syrian nationals have arrived on British shores in search for asylum, yet for Leeds’ representatives, they believe not enough is being done fast enough to support them.
Syrian refugees in the UK must pass an interview before they can seek employment or even education, and, in the meantime, live off just £35 a week from government funding.
Demonstrators gathered outside Waterside Court, on Kirkstall Road, Leeds, on Monday 17th March, to express their frustrations at ‘not being able to do anything’ whilst they wait for appointments.
More than 50 campaigners, most of whom were Syrian asylum seekers, held banners with messages expressing their worries, and calling for help.
Syrian national, Fawaz Alghofari, 43, has lived in Leeds since 2000, yet helped organise the peaceful protest after witnessing his homeland’s situation go from ‘bad to worse’ in recent months.
He explained what he was hoping to achieve through the demonstration, emphasising the need for Leeds’ asylum seekers in particular to be catered for.
“Almost all of these men and women have been here for five months now and still have yet to be interviewed by the UK border agency,” he said.
“They are being forced to live on the smallest budget every week, with no access to education, college, English language courses or any jobs.
“We are here today to get a voice for the Syrian people and help them get a quick interview by the UK border agency and get their settlement.
“They are not here to get benefits, they are here to work and until they get their card and settlement they cannot do anything, it is ridiculous.”
Mr Alghofari, who lives in the Burmantofts area of Leeds with his wife and three children, added that many protestors have been forced to leave family and friends behind in search for safety.
25-year-old Kamil, who did not wish to give his surname, was forced to leave his wife in Syria in October in hope of gaining asylum in the UK before sending for her safe arrival.
Yet, after five months of waiting, he is yet to hear anything from the Home Office, and says he can never know when something bad is going to happen to his family.
“We came over here as asylum seekers and after such a long, dangerous journey we thought our suffering would be over; but it isn’t,” he said.
“We respect the rules of the Home Office and understand in some cases it may take up to six months before an interview can be arranged.
But, as you see with the situation back in our country being so critical and dangerous, we need help now.
“Every day somebody could be killed back home and until we get our settlements, there is nothing we can do.
Mohammed Fattal, 28, arrived in the UK in October with his brother, and was sent to live in Leeds whilst waiting for an interview to be processed, whilst his sibling went to Cardiff.
After one month, his brother was officially processed by the Home Office yet four months later and Mr Fattal is still waiting to hear about his future.
“UK standing by the Syrian people”
Last Saturday marked the grim three-year anniversary of Syria’s civil war. In countries around the world people took part in candlelight vigils for the people of Syria who have suffered and continue to suffer the most unimaginable horrors.
In just three years this brutal conflict has claimed 140,000 lives. More than 2.6million people have fled the borders to escape the bloodshed. We are hearing harrowing reports of people starving inside Syria’s sieged cities and snipers targeting children. Polio has returned to the country 14 years after Syria was certified polio-free.
The UK is standing by Syrian people in their hour of desperate need. Our total funding for Syria and the region is now £600 million.
This is three times the size of our response to any other humanitarian crisis and it reflects the scale of the suffering. We know our support is reaching those who need it most. Every month it is supplying food for over 353,000 people and clean water for over 1.5 million people. We have also funded over 315,000 medical consultations. The people of the UK can feel proud that as a country we are at the forefront of the international humanitarian effort.
I have seen for myself the difference we are making. I was in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley in January and met refugees facing their third winter living in a tent. These people are incredibly stoic and brave about what they have been through but when you speak to them terrible stories of loss and trauma emerge. For parents the biggest worry is what this crisis is doing to their children. Children have been killed, beaten, shot at and abused during this war. Children have lost their homes and their schools, and, in many cases, their relatives.
We must not let these children become a generation lost to conflict. That is why from the start of the Syria crisis the UK has prioritised vulnerable children, ensuring not only that they have the basics they need for survival, but also the chance for a better future. Last year, working closely with the charity UNICEF, we helped to launch the No Lost Generation initiative, providing education, protection and trauma counselling for the children that one day we hope can rebuild Syria.
We have already invested £30 million in to this initiative and by working with partner organisations such as Save the Children and Islamic Relief we are getting more help through to those in need every single day. This includes support for a £2 million project by Islamic Relief to secure access to appropriate education for over 3,500 children. In Lebanon, I announced new funding to provide 300,000 packs of textbooks for all children between the ages of 6 and 15 in state schools, both local and refugee. Many of Syria’s neighbouring countries, like Lebanon, are under enormous strain as the number of refugees continues to spiral. The UK is doing everything possible to support them.
When you speak to Syrians who have been forced to flee their country the one thing they all say is that they want to go back. They want to rebuild their lives, their homes and their country. We continue to work with the UN and other partners to bring about a political settlement that will end this crisis and we continue to push all sides of the conflict for unhindered and safe humanitarian access. A whole generation is depending on us, and we cannot let them down.
Justine Greening MP
Secretary of State for International Development