Students build knowledge of refugees

Students at a Teesside academy have been furthering their knowledge of refugees in Britain by meeting asylum seekers and hearing from academics.

Young people are The King’s Academy, in Coulby Newham, got a taste of university life when Dr Tom Vickers, a sociology lecturer at Northumbria University spoke to them.

The lecture followed a visit from Paul Catterall, manager of Open Door North East, a charity that supports people on Teesside who have come to the UK to seek asylum and find themselves on the streets unable to work or claim state support.

Since that lesson, students have visited the charity to speak to foreign nationals and find out more about their stories.

Student Paige Cope, 18, said:

I’m really interested in immigration and asylum and I’m hoping to go on to study international relations at university.

“At Open Door I spoke to a man from the Democratic Republic of Congo who has been a surgeon in his home country. I think people mistakenly assume that most asylum seekers are not skilled people, but a lot of them are.”

Dr Vickers explained to the students the problem of people losing professional skills when they escape their home country to seek refuge elsewhere.

Some people might be asylum seekers for ten years but aren’t allowed to work in that time. When they get refugee status they may well be long term unemployed, which then makes it hard for them to get any job, not to mention the loss of professional skills they once had and issues over their qualifications being recognised.

“There are many doctors, heads of universities and other senior professionals among asylum seekers because you are more likely to get all the way to Britain if you’ve had the resources in the country where you’re from,” he explained.

Sympathetic to the asylum seekers’ plight, another student said:

People here think they are coming to take jobs; there’s a lot of prejudice which I think is influenced by what we see in the news.”

Dr Vickers also told the students that the ‘innocent until proven guilty’ cornerstone of British justice did not apply to asylum seekers.

You are assumed to be lying, whatever you say about they reasons why you have come, unless you can prove you’re telling the truth. Research shows there is a culture of disbelief in the system,” he said.

He added that asylum seekers suffered high levels of mental health problems, due to the stress they were under, and faced racism because they were put into deprived areas where people were given no warning or explanation about their arrival.

On government plans to make Britain a ‘less attractive’ option for asylum seekers by limiting benefits, Dr Vickers added:

In fact, people who seek asylum have very little idea of what the welfare system is and even if they had the information they have very little choice about where they end up. There’s no kind of league table about the best countries to go to.”

Politics teacher at The King’s Academy Jenni Yuill, who organises the lecture events, said:

“Our students have really had their eyes opened by hearing from experts and people who work on the ground with asylum seekers, rather than relying solely on what we’re told.

“It’s great that students are seeking more information and wanting to learn first hand about people’s experiences, which is really making them very well informed.”