“Seeking asylum in the UK is one of the toughest things that I have experienced in my life.”

Today in the UK, people who seek asylum are effectively banned from working while they wait for months, and sometimes years, for a decision on their asylum claim. This means that people must live on Government support of £5.66 a day while their skills and talents are wasted.

Araz, who lives in Stockton, is campaigning to change this.

“Seeking asylum in the UK is one of the toughest things that I have experienced in my life. When I fled from Kurdistan, my home country, and began my long journey, I thought so highly of the UK. I knew I would never be able to return to my homeland and thought that I would be able to concentrate on building my future, settle down, and have an active and positive contribution in British society: economically, educationally, and socially.

But the asylum process is a long, hectic and dreadful process. Despite my qualifications, I have not been able to fulfil my academic and occupational passions. I was a social worker in my home country for twelve years, holding a master’s degree in sociology. Although I have built strong connections with multiple Teesside charities through my volunteering, I am desperate to work, pay my taxes, and live a full existence. I don’t want to be demonised by the government, society, or politicians as a beggar, as we are currently seeing in the harsh political rhetoric aimed at the people crossing the Channel.

Sometimes I think about what I could have done with the three years I have spent in the UK. During the first year, I could have taken the exams, courses and language assessments needed to be a social worker here. In the next two years, I could have worked and supported myself without the government having to spend a single penny on me. I could have made a better life for myself, and made a significant contribution to this community and society – and what about all the other people forbidden from working, what difference could they have made?

Yet the reality of my current circumstances is that I am living in Home Office accommodation, unable to leave my home to visit friends for more than seven days, prevented from studying or working, and surviving on £39 a week. With the help of the leader of one of the charities I volunteer with, I have written to my MP to ask the Home Office to look at my case – but they said they can’t help me. If people seeking asylum were able to work, so much of this money spent on my accommodation and support would be able to go back to the Treasury. But in the meantime, people like me cannot work, becoming depressed and frustrated.

Here’s my recommendation as we face this recession. Give people seeking asylum the right to work, make it possible for us to pay taxes, and allow us to contribute. I call on the Government to listen: I would have never needed financial support if I had been allowed to work. Let me use my qualifications and skills. Lift the ban and give people seeking asylum the right to work.”

Araz is part of the Lift the Ban coalition, a group of over 200 charities, trade unions, local authorities and community groups campaigning for people seeking asylum to have the right to work. Last year, Middlesbrough Council passed a motion in support of the right to work in response to the Teesside Lift the Ban Day of Action. If you would like to get involved, the campaign has produced a new Activism Pack with ideas and suggestions about how to take action.