Friday, 8 October 2010

The Azure Card, and survival as a failed asylum seeker

Imagine having to leave your country because of war, or violence, or threats to your life. Imagine arriving to the UK, a country which you think might offer you asylum. Imagine your asylum application refused. Imagine contemplating having to be sent back to whence you came from. Imagine the stress and anguish at having to be handed over to officials of the country you fled from. Imagine that you get ill just before you are sent back or you cannot be sent back because of the political situation in your country. Who are you now? You are now a failed asylum seeker under ‘section 4’.

What does this mean?

It means you will receive £35 a week per person as support towards your maintenance. The snag is that the money is not in cash, but locked in a prepaid “azure card” which is accepted at certain supermarkets and shops. Administratively, this sounds like a good idea, if lots of places take the card, there is choice and convenience.

The cards started its roll-out phase since 2009 in Scotland however, its implementation has not been as simple as it might have been expected. Supermarkets that are participating in the scheme are not always the most cost-effective places to buy food. On £35 a week, cheap food is really important. If you have dietary restrictions because of your faith, the food you can eat might not be stocked in the shops that take the card. The card also has restrictions on what you can buy… it is not accepted for transport, or clothes; in fact… it is not money.

To discuss this, and other issues relating to the problems of asylum seekers in Scotland, representatives from Glasgow Citizens for Sanctuary, have been seeking a meeting with Phil Taylor, the Regional Director for the Scotland and Northern Ireland Region, of the UK Border Agency. Despite earlier attempts, the meeting has not materialized. I only fear that in the current economic climate, the voices of those who live amongst us without the protection that UK citizenship awards will be unheard.

Citizens for Sanctuary search and have developed good working relations with UK Border Agency offices elsewhere, why not in Glasgow? Please, Mr Taylor, can you meet-up with these folk?

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