If you read about what support Asylum Seekers are able to access via the National Asylum Support System (NASS for short), you would think it’s basic, but mostly adequate.
Unfortunately the reality for most is far, far different.
Commonplace is bed bugs, heating issues, sharing rooms and bathrooms even during the Pandemic, and for those in catered facilities the food provided is not only often stale or served cold, it’s of low nutritional value and people’s dietary requirements are not always catered for.
Worse still the policy states that no ‘service user’ which is what those accessing this service are called, will be dispersed to accommodation without a working Aspen card. This is a card similar to a debit card, but not associated to a bank account. It should have money loaded on to it each week, not much, just £37.75 a week per person, but nevertheless this amount should be given weekly for food, toiletries, travel, phone top-ups and anything else they require.
However, in reality what we find time and time again, is that people are being sent off to accommodations without a card, or with a card that doesn’t actually work. This leads to sometimes weeks of people and even entire families, having no money and no food provision. They are then expected to source food bank vouchers in order to get by, even when they are going to areas they’ve never been to before, are not registered with GP’s, and have no local connections, and our course often have massive a language barrier.
We spend so much time trying to solve these issues for people who have had to leave Colchester and move into this NASS system. And a lot of the actual time is spent on hold on the phone, being passed from department to department, then to be told that a request has been made but that we have to be patient and wait for the Home Office to respond. This means then leaving it for a day or two and doing the whole process again. We also then find local charity connections to where they are to urgently assist them with provisions. The system is failing because it’s actually rare for a dispersal to run smoothly, without us needing to intervene and chase for what people not only desperately need, but are also are entitled to.
The other things that’s really sad, is that when people are dispersed to this accommodation they are not told where they are going. That information will not be given in advance, and in most cases, it takes until they are picked up before they are told the destination. Recent pick ups from our office have ended up in London, Hull, Newcastle and Plymouth. We therefore need to prepare our clients for any eventuality. The not knowing, particularly when children are involved, is very difficult, and seems a very inhumane way of dealing with people who, let’s not forget, are here seeking asylum so are already suffering incredibly. To treat them this way, we feel is totally unnecessary, and actually cruel.
We are happy that we are able to advocate for them in order to access what they need, but it’s such a shame that we have to be doing this at all.