It’s fair to say that we meet a lot of different people at The Bike Project. To date we have donated over 4,500 bikes to refugees from over 70 countries.
Each week brings new people to our workshop, all of whom have risked everything to seek safety from persecution and a chance to rebuild their lives in the UK. Every person brings with them a unique set of experiences, skills and talents including musicians, teachers, pilots, engineers, carpenters, academics and doctors to name a few.
Many refugees tell us that one of the most frustrating things about life in the UK is not having the right to work. Instead of being allowed to earn a living whilst their asylum claim is processed, the government prohibits working and provides £5.39 per day asylum support to cover ‘basic essential living needs’. Only after a person has been waiting for a decision on their asylum claim for a year may they apply for the right to work. Unfortunately, very few people are granted permission because of the restricted jobs list: classical ballet dancer being one of them.
This hostile policy is a political choice that puts refugees in the vulnerable situation of being unable to support themselves and instead reliant on support from charities like The Bike Project to survive. Whilst we can help to avoid some aspects of destitution, at its worst this policy is re-traumatizing refugees, forcing them to experience long periods of hunger, homelessness and depression at a time when they should be living in sanctuary.
We believe this policy has to stop, and the public also agrees. Lift The Ban is a coalition of over 150 refugee organisations across the UK that are campaigning on this issue and their recent report suggests that whilst we appear to be so divided on some issues, 71% of the British public agree that the ban on working for asylum seekers should be lifted. They also estimate that if people seeking asylum were instead given the right to work it would actually save the UK economy as much as £42.4 million each year.
Seeking asylum is a process that can take years and even decades to resolve. During this time, the UK is wasting the talents of thousands of people who want to contribute to society and the ban on working has a significant impact on people’s self-esteem, confidence and feelings of social isolation. We encourage many refugees to volunteer with us as a way in which to counter some of these issues by sharing their skills, finding community and gaining experience of a UK workplace. Volunteering should however be a choice and not the only option.
We recently spoke to beneficiaries about The Bike Project’s involvement with the campaign. C. who was a teacher in Nigeria told us that if the ban were lifted she would “be able to add more value to my life by contributing to the growth of my community”, whilst A. a former business consultant from Kuwait told us that lifting the ban would make him “feel what life and the humanity looks like, as I am not treated like a human”. Both have been in in the UK for over 3 years now, still waiting for a resolution to their asylum claim.
Giving people that seek asylum the right to work means at its most basic, giving somebody the right to live in dignity, but in these increasingly hostile times it can do so much more. Join us as we unite to tell the government that it’s time for them to lift the ban.
The Bike Project is proud to be part of the Lift the Ban coalition. To find out more about this campaign, or to sign the petition please go to: http://lifttheban.co.uk/