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Focus on asylum | City of Sanctuary | Birmingham City Council

Focus on asylum

A morning in the life of a LAASLO

I turn on the computer and check the diary, it looks good. I have kept the day free to write up the quarterly report. As the Local Authority Asylum Seeker and Refugee Liaison Officer [LAASLO] for Birmingham City Council this is a regular task.

Before the lockdown, I visited people seeking asylum in their accommodation. These days my work is done by phone calls, texts, WhatsApp and emails. I am thinking about how I evidence these changes in the report.

The report is loading on the computer, I check the phone; there are two voicemails and a text message, which simply says, Thank you’. The message is from the father of an asylum-seeking family, whose child had been attending school for some time and not receiving school meals. A couple of phone calls to dad and the school had quickly resolved the situation. There had been a communication misunderstanding. I phone dad just to confirm everything is OK. I practice my Spanish and dad practices his English. On balance, he does better. Dad recalls how difficult it had been for his daughter to sit in class with no lunch. “She is happy now”, he tells me. We finish the conversation with dad inviting me to have coffee and meet the family. We agree that when things are better, we will meet up.

The first voicemail is from a refugee, Fatima, she asks if I would call her. Fatima wants to tell me about a training course which resulted in the offer of a job. However, because of the lockdown, she had not heard any more about the offer. Fatima reminds me she has attended so many training courses, and still cannot find a job. She tells me she is desperate to work and move out of the shared accommodation where she is living. Fatima wants to be re-united with her children who are living with her parents in the country she fled from. “I do not want them to see me living in this small room” she tells me. I ask if she has spoken to the children recently. “It’s hard, the oldest child keeps asking me why can’t they come and live with me? They think all I must do is buy the tickets. They do not know how difficult it is to arrange visas and everything. I do not want to be living on benefits when they come here. I want to be working and have a proper home”.

Fatima was a teacher in her country. We have discussed whether she wanted to try and find teaching work in the UK. “My English is not good enough” she always tells me in perfect English. “It would take too long to become a teacher; I just need to find a job, start working, make a home for my kids”.

The phone rings, It’s Nathaniel, he says, “Good news, I have my documents”. I had contacted Nathaniel last week following a notification of discontinuation of support. These are notifications I am sent of people who have been given a positive decision on their asylum applications and are due to be issued with a 28-day notice to leave their dispersal accommodation. Last week Nathaniel, told me he had been informed by his solicitor that he had been granted leave to remain and the solicitor would forward his documents. Nathaniel had not received them, and the solicitor was not answering his calls. I had found the solicitor’s email address and sent two emails asking him to contact Nathaniel, as he needed his documentation to move on. I also phoned and left a message on the Solicitors voicemail. I did not get a reply. Eventually, I had suggested to Nathaniel it might be better to phone the solicitor’s office directly, as it is likely the documents are there.

Nathaniel told me he had been to the office and collected the documents. However, he is nearly out of time on his 28 days and needs to move this week. We agree on a referral to the Refugee and Migrant Centre (RMC) and a supported accommodation provider, that might have vacancies for a single person. I send an email referral to RMC and another to a supported housing provider.

Back to the report, we have an increase in the numbers of individuals and families supported this quarter. This is in part a result of the lifting of Covid restrictions. Behind each case lies a human story. These are people trying to move on with their lives. New challenges are faced, people need to ensure they have all the correct documentation from the Home Office, open a bank account, apply for benefits, seek work, training courses, and find accommodation. Life becomes an emotional roller coaster, the initial relief of recognition as a refugee opens the door to a sometimes-frustrating complex series of systems to navigate.

The phone rings, I do not recognize the number but as soon as she speaks, I recognize the voice. It has been a long time. Bena was a refugee who now works supporting asylum seekers and refugees. She explains that a client has died recently, they had been living in a flat and Bena wants to know who to contact, how long will they have to clear the flat and hand back the keys? Bena explains the person had lived alone and she is working with the persons extended family and friends to raise funds to return the remains home for burial. Despite fleeing unimaginable horror, home is always home. People had lives before the persecution began.

Bena reminds me the last time we saw each other was at a cemetery. Rebecca was a young woman who had been trafficked as a sex worker. When she became ill the ‘madam’ dropped her off at a church who took her to hospital. Rebecca was subsequently diagnosed with multi serious health conditions. Bena and I had worked with Rebecca in previous jobs. We shared Rebecca’s joy at being granted leave to remain. She would bring her English homework to show us. Rebecca was so proud that she was learning to read and write. We went with her to view a flat, when Rebecca found out she was not going to be sharing with anyone else, she did know whether to cry or laugh, so she did both.

Bena and I both moved on to other jobs and lost contact with Rebecca. Earlier in the year we leant Rebecca had died aged 26. Rebecca’s partner took us to view her resting place. A simple wooden cross-marked the spot, there was no money to send Rebecca home the partner told us.

Back to the report, I start to work on updating the number of clients I have worked with over the last quarter. I notice the emails are building up.

Another phone call, it is Hamida asking me if the schools are going to close again. I tell her what I know. She tells me her son Mohammed wants to say hello. Mohammed is six years old, a bright and lively young man. Mohammed comes on the phone and tells me about school, his friends and a song he has learnt. Excitedly he starts to sing a song about a baby shark. His sheer joy is infectious, and I join in. Mohammed sounds surprised and asks how come I know that song? When he returns the phone to mom I ask if she has heard anything from the Home Office about her claim, “No I am still waiting – it has been years. Hopefully I will get some news soon, Inshallah”. Her voice is weary, she sounds tired, in the background I can hear Mohammed still singing.

Back to the report, during the lockdown I had been part of a small task force that made welfare telephone calls to asylum seekers who had tested positive for covid-19. Fortunately, none of the people had become physically unwell, but many struggled with being confined to their rooms and the frustration of long delays with their asylum cases. The telephone calls had involved many conversations where people chose to share something about their lives. People separated from their families, friends and communities. People with skills and talents who are desperate to work, sitting in a room, waiting for someone in an office to decide on their future.

The report is progressing, but the day is speeding by. I decide to look at my diary and make some space to continue it next week. As I do, I catch myself humming a song about a baby shark.