CARAG (Coventry Asylum and Refugee Action Group) is a migrant rights group founded in 2013, made up of people seeking asylum, refugees and others going through the UK immigration system. The group have recently begun working on a new campaign called ‘Right To A Home’ (R2AH) so we caught up with them to hear more.
The trigger for starting the campaign, as Loraine from the group explains, was that after years of seeing “vulnerable members experience mental health issues and people with long term conditions being discharged from hospital with no space to recuperate, we just thought- enough!”
The campaign’s vision is to end homelessness amongst Refused Asylum Seekers (RAS) and migrants with no recourse to public funds (NRPF) in Coventry. The background to it is that there are high levels of homelessness in the area, but very limited support for people in the process of challenging negative asylum decisions and other migrants with NRPF.
Indeed, whilst the number of people facing destitution is not fully known, Loraine has figures on the number of people supported by some local agencies, NACCOM members Coventry Night Shelter, Coventry Refugee and Migrants Centre and Coventry Migrant Women’s House. Yet, as she explains, the issue is that this will not be the full picture because ‘this is just people who have shown up. There will always be people who don’t come to services, who don’t know about services or are turned away due to lack of space.’
In light of such gaps, the group recognised that there is a need to go deeper, to learn from existing models, and to develop something that meets needs of Refused Asylum Seekers (RAS) and migrants with No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF). The group have been successful in getting an initial pot of funding from the Mifriendly Cities Programme to resource the campaign, which has two strands:
The first is research into existing models of accommodation and engagement in collaborative work and networking with other organisations across the country to better understand how to start a project, what resources including capital and revenue funding needed to undertake such a project, what criteria they would want to have for a future accommodation project, and what the legal requirements are for developing community-led housing projects. At the end of this phase, a report with an implementation plan will be produced to detail all the findings.
The second strand is to develop sustainable relationships with statutory bodies and local decision makers to raise awareness on the issue and the needs of people with NRPF. The research will also aim at determining the levels of support these bodies are willing to give whether in the form of advisory or financial support.
The group have already had a visit from a local Councillor and MP, and are exploring ways to progress these discussions. One idea is to map the number of people who are facing destitution in the town and then work to get this group recognised in homelessness strategies and action plans for the future.
As a group comprised of people who are going through the immigration system, there are multiple challenges to overcome. Loraine describes some of these;
‘You can only campaign if you have food to sustain you. It’s hard to contribute when you haven’t had a proper meal. The priority is survival first. The time you can put in is limited, and not having paid staff is a related challenge. In addition, the fear of being put in detention at any time results in loss of hope with many members feeling that there is no point to contribute and are therefore silent. Mental health epidemic is another related challenge. Securing the funds from MiFriendly Cities to start this project is positive, meaning; we can begin to implement programmes that are relevant to us as we know what is best for us, and can use our powerful voices to get the resources that we need. We are determined to achieve what we can.’
In this way, the funding for this project has been really crucial by enabling those in the group with NRPF to make connections, visit other places, and learn more about what is possible. Such connections are essential when it comes to researching and evidencing the needs of people who are facing destitution but who are not engaging in services, as CARAG’s members have personal links to many people who are not on the radar of local agencies or council teams.