Amidst the global refugee crisis, Daisy Forster gives an insight to the all too invisible crisis on our doorstep as she details her experiences helping refugees in Nottingham and her fears regarding a growing sense of hostility toward refugees both socially and institutionally.
During the pandemic, I started volunteering at a local Oxfam charity shop. One day, I was shopping in a different Oxfam store when a woman walked in and begged a volunteer to bring the price down on some gym leggings for her teenage daughter. The volunteer refused, saying that everything in the shop was tracked and she didn’t have the power to change prices. I knew this wasn’t the case. I’d always known there was a lot of stigma towards refugees. But, naively, I’d assumed that this was from far-off, far-right people that I didn’t associate myself with, not from a fellow volunteer at a humanitarian charity. The next week, I told Oxfam that I wouldn’t be coming back and started volunteering for a local refugee charity called Host Nottingham.
I’ve clothed everyone from the infirmed elderly to pregnant women and teenage boys, to very small babies
Host’s Clothes Bank, where I volunteer, serves 40-50 asylum seekers and refugees each week, most of whom originate from the Middle East and North Africa. I’ve clothed everyone from the infirmed elderly to pregnant women and teenage boys, to very small babies. And from them, as well as from fellow volunteers, I’ve heard many stories of the utter deprivation and destitution that refugees in Nottingham face, behind closed doors.
What I witnessed from my colleague at Oxfam is merely an example of a widespread apathetic attitude towards the invisible population of refugees and asylum seekers that reside in our city. Most asylum seekers that visit the Clothes Bank are living in either hotels or Burrow’s Court, a Sneinton tower block that has been due for undelivered redevelopment since 2018. The fact that this place, described as a ‘prison’, is where many of Nottingham’s asylum seekers are residing is unknown to the public. The people living in Burrow’s Court will currently be receiving government asylum support, £39.63 per week with just a few pounds extra for babies and expectant mothers, to cover the cost of food, clothing, toiletries, and non-prescription medicines.
How can refugees feel at home in Nottingham when these are the conditions they live in?
The situation for those housed in the Britannia and Best Western hotels is arguably worse. During the pandemic, asylum seekers placed in ‘temporary, emergency’ and ‘full board’ accommodation were given no cash to cover their expenses. Although the hotels were supposedly providing them with food and toiletries, as a volunteer, I have heard stories of hotels only providing one meal a day. This left the asylum seekers hungry, with no cash to supplement their food or access to public transport to reach the services that charities offer. Furthermore, some hotels did not provide laundry services so people were left, sometimes families of five to one hotel room, to wash their clothes in the bath.
More recently, the government have provided asylum seekers living in ‘full board’ accommodation with £8 a week. Even without the burden of hotels not providing all they promised, this is expected to cover some toiletries (including toothpaste), clothing, transport and non-prescription medications. You don’t need me to explain why this isn’t enough.
Furthermore, asylum seekers living in hotels are the victims of hostility from the natives of Nottingham. In April 2021, far-right group Britain First gained entry into the Britannia Hotel, going door to door of hotel rooms to confront those seeking asylum. While public abuse towards refugees and asylum seekers is a huge problem in the UK, this is only exacerbated by sinister, inhumane laws that embed xenophobia into the structures of our society. How can refugees feel at home in Nottingham when these are the conditions they live in?
The Nationality and Borders Bill, currently being proposed to parliament, changes who can claim refugee status in the UK and is a violation of human rights. Although Nottingham’s three main, central MPs are from Labour and oppose the Bill, the MPs in our surrounding Conservative constituencies are voting for its approval. Nadia Whittome, MP for Nottingham East, has described the bill as “the biggest threat to refugee rights we’ve seen in decades and breaches our obligations under international law”.
However, while the government and council neglect the asylum seekers of Nottingham, charities are doing their best to compensate for the lack of support. The Nottingham and Nottinghamshire Refugee Forum are an organisation based in St. Ann’s. 300 volunteers strong, they deliver ESOL classes, youth and women’s groups, a specialist advice service, as well as an anti-destitution scheme which acts as a food bank for asylum seekers specifically. They also run a community café four days a week, which aims to connect refugees and asylum seekers both with each other and with those in the local community, to help give them a sense of belonging in the city. In collaboration with Host, who run a clothes bank and match refugees with local hosting families, they offer a wide array of comprehensive support and prove that there are people in Nottingham who want to help.
It is not just those who volunteer to take refugees into their homes that are ‘Hosts’ in Nottingham; it is all of us
Hostility towards refugees in the UK is spreading in both a structural and social way. The Nationality and Borders Bill is likely to be a canary in the mine for a more long-term cutting of asylum support and increased deportations. While national charities are working hard to block the Bill and lobbying the government for better support structures, they are limited in what they can offer in terms of on-the-ground support. Donating to local charities has a more direct impact on the people suffering in Nottingham. Furthermore, you have more knowledge and assurance about where your money is going. Oxfam, for example, have 13 employees who earn over a £100k salary. The NNRF have no employees that earn over £60k. To make refugees feel like this city is theirs, we prioritise where we put our efforts.
We are all responsible for helping refugees and asylum seekers integrate into their new lives and our city. We must adopt an attitude of hospitality, not hostility, as new culture and experiences can only make our community a more vibrant place. It is not just those who volunteer to take refugees into their homes that are ‘Hosts’ in Nottingham; it is all of us.
For more content including uni news, reviews, entertainment, lifestyle, features and so much more, follow us on Twitter and Instagram, and like our Facebook page for more articles and information on how to get involved.