Halifax groups join national campaign to ‘Lift the Ban’ and give asylum seekers the right to work

Veecca Smith Uka, Chair of Sisters United
Veecca Smith Uka, Chair of Sisters United

People seeing seeking asylum in Calderdale have joined the national campaign calling for asylum seekers to be given the right to work.

The campaign coincides with the beginning of Refugee Week and is part of a month of action to ‘Lift the Ban’.

Under current rules, asylum seekers can only apply for permission to work after waiting at least 12 months for their claim to be processed.

Even then, they can only apply to do jobs on the government’s shortage occupation list, which includes nurses, but otherwise is limited to highly specific roles such as ballet dancers, orchestral musicians and oil and gas engineers.

While people wait for their asylum claim to be decided, they may be eligible for a government allowance of £5.39 a day.

Sisters United and St. Augustine’s Centre are local organisations run by and working for people seeking asylum and refugees. They are both part of the national ‘Lift the Ban’ coalition made up of over 180 organisations, trade unions and businesses.

Veecca Smith Uka, Chair of Sisters United and Lift The Ban Ambassador, has spoken in Parliament on the issue.

“Having financial freedom is one of the greatest satisfactions anyone can have,” she said. “Imagine not being allowed to work for years upon years, even when you have no capacity issues.

“This is the reality for people seeking asylum in the UK, whose asylum application decisions can take from one year to as long as 15 years or more in some cases.

“It is a policy aimed at isolating people from other people in the community. Years of inactivity has a hugely negative impact on people’s dignity, wellbeing and mental health as their skills and talents are wasted and they struggle to provide for their families.

“It’s time to lift the ban so that people seeking asylum can contribute and give back to the society that supports them.”

Organisers of the event are expecting key stakeholders and decision makers to attend the event and intend to highlight why this is a local issue and how it affects Calderdale.

Councillor Jenny Lynn, from Park Ward in Halifax, is backing the campaign. She said: “For many years our neighbourhood in Halifax has been home to lots of vulnerable people fleeing violence in their home country.

“Calderdale Council and community organisations like St. Augustine’s Centre work hard to try to support new arrivals, and it would make such a difference

to the well-being of people seeking asylum, as well as the wider community, if the ban were lifted and people could contribute positively to the local economy - preventing people from working is just a cruel waste of their talent and time.”

Councillor Audrey Smith from Sowerby Bridge also supports the campaign. She said: “I support the Lift the Ban campaign. Allowing people to work is part way to parity.

“People deserve respect and dignity; work can help provide that. So many people seeking asylum are left for years, unable to work, simply being de-skilled year on year. We have lost doctors, teachers and motivated workers to poor mental health and poverty, this is not how society should treat people.”