A group of asylum seekers living in the North East travelled to Westminster at the end of November to speak to MPs about the current immigration system.

Organised by charity Asylum Matters, a cohort of twelve individuals from across the North East joined MP Ian Lavery and secretary of Northumberland County of Sanctuary Hilton Dawson to discuss with peers and other MPs their experiences in the current immigration climate.

Topics of discussion were the right to seek asylum and safe routes, quick, fair asylum decisions, the right to work, the need for professional skills and qualifications to be recognised, family reunion and access to English. 

Three members of the group travelled to the capital from Darlington and Stockton and spoke of their journeys to the UK and how the system has been since moving here.

The Northern Echo: Group outside Parliament.Group outside Parliament. (Image: SADIA SIKANDAR)

Kawa is a Syrian refugee living in the North East. He arrived in the UK in 2021 on a dependent student visa whilst his wife studied for her master's degree.

Upon his arrival, Kawa and his family were placed in a hotel in Newcastle but have now settled in Stockton. He now volunteers for a charity refugee organisation.

Kawa explained: "To be in the asylum system - it's not a choice. When most people arrive here, they don't know what the system is or the procedure or what it really means to be an asylum seeker in the UK," he said.

"When I became an asylum seeker, it was the most difficult time of my life. You can't work, you don't know when your decision will come - it's a dark time, people really struggle. They get depression.

"After you've been in the hotel, you get Home Office accommodation. You're put in a new neighbourhood in a new town where you don't know anyone. The biggest problem with the process is why it's so unknown, people don't know what the procedures are when arriving here."

In London, Kawa's topic to discuss was quick, fair, asylum decisions. He believes the process should be sped up and spoke to officials about how speeding up decisions would save government funds.

He said: "Nobody benefits from the decision delays - only private companies who are contracted by the government for things like accommodation.

"Asylum seekers can be a part of the solution, not the problem. If they are waiting years for a decision they will be living like machines and it can affect them mentally."

Kawa added: "Their humanity is being stolen because of the unfair process for asylum seekers. If the decision is made faster, people can settle and become a part of the community. There are thousands of asylum seekers in this country - politicians have made them a problem, so how can it be fixed?

"There is no option but to find a solution rather than making them a problem."

Ahmad Jawid Safi, 38, now lives in Darlington, but arrived to the UK in May 2023 from Afghanistan with his wife and family. The couple both worked as dentists in their home country after studying in Italy at and then worked at a successful dental practice, but faced persecution from the Taliban for their involvement with United States group USAID and their voluntary work with the charity Women for Afghan Women.

Jawid explained the charity helped Taliban wives, sisters and their relatives who had faced domestic abuse, sexual violence and forced marriage by placing them in shelters for their own safety. 

But, because of their involvement in helping these women, they were targeted by the Taliban once they entered Kabul. In a frenzy, some members who had worked with the group were evacuated for their safety - but Jawid and his family were not.

"I was in search to find a way to evacuate my family, for me on my own it was easy because I have business relations but I couldn't evacuate my family for those reasons," he said.

"At the end of 2022, a patient of mine told me that there is a way that you can go through a student visa to the UK and you can move your family as relatives with you. So, I applied to it and I was able to come here.

"Maybe if I was single and alone, I wouldn't have tried to do this but I did for my wife and children because they were very scared.

"We have been to Europe and many other countries before to study and travel but we were happy in our country. But, this time it was a different situation that made us decide to move here."

The Northern Echo: The group speaks to officials.The group speaks to officials. (Image: WALKING WITH)

Jawid continued: "I knew when I came here I would lose my money, my business, and for some time my profession, but there was no guarantee of what would have happened.

"We heard a lot on that time that Taliban started killing specific people who worked for non-profit organisations and previous government."

During the visit, Jawid's topic was to discuss the need for professional skills and qualifications to be recognised. However, he doesn't think any immigration laws will be changed soon.

He said: "I think the government have already made the laws for Asylum and Immigration. Of course, they will not change the law but they will probably provide us with more facilities.

"At least, we hope they do."

Hassan Eisa's story is rather different. The 40-year-old finance expert came to the UK from Sudan in 2022 and travelled to London from Darlington to discuss the topic of family reunion with officials.

Following a long expedition to Cairo, the former university lecturer Hassan made it to safety after facing issues with the Sudanese government which meant he had to flee the country. However, his wife and five children are still in Sudan as Hassan hopes they will one day be able to join him in the UK.

He said: "It feels like being an asylum seeker here in the UK you have no rights. I am safe here in the UK, but my family are not.

"I don't even have enough money to be able to evacuate them if I wanted to. I am stuck. I can't go back or move forward, there is nothing I can do."

He added: "When I went to Westminster, I was really focused on the topic of family. I think we need some kind of specific scheme or visa for the families of asylum seekers to be evacuated from war zones. Most of them are left behind.

"When the war started in Ukraine, they made a specialist scheme for families that helped them to save them from the war zone to come here.

"Sometimes you feel a kind of guilt, shame and helplessness because you cannot do anything." 


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Following his visit to London, Hassan expressed the experience was positive but thinks there is still a way to go.

He said: "We did meet some MPs who were really interested and are willing to help but the government messaging to the British people about asylum seekers is not good.

"They think any problem faced in Britain is because of asylum seekers including economic issues, the NHS, housing - any problems in the UK are caused by refugees and asylum seekers. 

"That kind of messaging is more than awful. When I went to London, I had a dream of being able to deliver our message in a proper way and find someone to listen.

"But, after the reading of the second immigration bill on Wednesday (December 13), I feel hopeless now."