ACCORDING to Government guidelines, asylum seekers should average one person in every 200 people. But Middlesbrough currently has 1 in every 186 citizens – the highest per head of the population in the UK.
Some were even subjected to having stones and eggs thrown at their homes.
Tside Reporter EMILY CONYARD speaks to a former refugee and a Teesside based charity worker to find out what it is really like to claim asylum in Boro.
Although much of Heath’s story is shocking, it is not an unusual one for refugees who are living in Middlesbrough.
Paul Catterall, Chief Executive Officer of Open Door North East, a Christian charity supporting refugees and asylum
seekers says that as numbers rise and resources are cut, local people are having to step up to the mark to support those fleeing war and persecution who have settled here.
He added: “I’d say this year alone we’ve had over 2,000 people here. We see around 45 people a week at our refugee work club and a further 35 coming for destitution support.”
“When I remember my move to Nunthorpe in 1991, there were no racially diverse citizens. I lived in an entirely white neighbourhood.
“Now Teesside has been enriched by different cultures and ethnic groups. We now have spaces filled with ethnic food, drink and clothing. It’s opening our eyes to the world around us.“
Open Door North East began when people of all backgrounds started to attend Teesside’s Jubilee Church. Paul recalls that their “eyes were opened” to the severe destitute that some asylum seekers face.
The charity now offers a range of services including job search, housing applications and a women’s group aimed at providing support and friendship.
Paul added: “Having witnessed three Ethiopian refugee camps, I would prefer the government gave adequate provision for those in the camps so it doesn’t result in desperate cross sea migration.” says Paul.
“It took horrific pictures of refugees being washed up on shores for people to stand up and take notice, if we had excellent resettlement programmes in the camps, this might not have happened.”
Out of that number only 942,000 claimed asylum.
During the same year, David Cameron announced that Britain would take up to 20,000 vulnerable Syrian refugees from refugee camps in the years leading up to 2020. From this it is hoped that around 400 to 500 refugee families will be housed in Teesside.
The exact number will be dependent on the Government’s own plan.
Paul believes refugees should be welcomes warmly: “People often forget that the UK is built on years of migration. Take Ed and David Miliband for example, they’re descendants of a Jewish refugee.
“We treat celebrities that have refugee descendants as icons of what it takes to be British, then we witness tabloid papers displaying xenophobia and claiming that we’re being “swamped” by asylum seekers.
“We need to get over ourselves and remember not to promote cultural fear but cultural welcome instead.”
Open Door welcomes refugees from all walks of life and, through that, has on occasions had to deal with personal traumas and negativity from local residents.
“People have in the past walked into our drop in sessions and enquire if it’s “just for black people. I find the best way to deal with these issues is to sit them down and explain what we offer.
“They’re usually quite accepting once they understand what we are doing and why.”
It is estimated that Middlesbrough has 980 individuals housed by the home office at any one time, 30% of which will typically get a positive decision whilst a similar number might be rejected. Both need the help and support of charities like Open Door North East.
For details on how to become a volunteer, check out their website.