Mayor of Calais should get her facts straight, says Refugee Action

Last updated October 29, 2014Press release

On 28 October Natacha Bouchart, the Mayor of Calais, was questioned by the Parliamentary Home Affairs Committee and made a number of questionable statements that have received widespread publicity. Refugee Action would like to set the facts straight.

1. People seek asylum in the UK in because they know that the UK has a generous benefit system

Surveys of asylum seekers clearly show that few have any knowledge or understanding of the UK benefit system and do not expect to receive any benefits. Most say that they would like the right to work and to support themselves. Yet they are denied this right by the UK Government.

2. The UK acts as a “migrant magnet” because it pays generous benefits to migrants

People seeking asylum and irregular migrants can’t claim mainstream benefits or get council housing. People on asylum support get just £36 a week, barely half of income support. This amount has not increased since 2011 and is no more generous than the French equivalent. Many asylum seekers don’t receive any support at all, even when they’re entitled to it, and are homeless and destitute.

Dave Garratt, Refugee Action Chief Executive, responds to the Mayor’s claims:

“The Mayor of Calais needs to get her facts straight. Every day Refugee Action’s caseworkers see people who have fled from war and persecution, facing huge dangers on their journey to reach safety. We help them to navigate their way through a complex bureaucracy, where the claims process can take months or years to resolve. During this time, they cannot work to support themselves – they are forced to live on hand-outs. It’s no El-Dorado.”

He added:

“It’s a common myth that the UK already takes more than its ‘fair share’ of refugees. This is an absolute fallacy. The vast majority of refugees flee to and remain in neighbouring countries. Of those who seek shelter in Europe, only relatively small numbers make their way to the UK. Other European countries take far more people seeking asylum than the UK. For example, in 2013, there were 109,000 applications in Germany, 65,000 in France and 54,000 in Sweden, compared to just 29,000 in the UK.”

Vianney, from Sierra Leone, is a father of three young children and with his family is seeking asylum in the UK.

The family has been forced to live on asylum support for the past two years, during which time Vianney has not been allowed to work. Of his experience, Vianney comments:

‘If we want to eat, our money is just for food. If we need to go to any appointment we are forced to walk. We can’t afford toys, books or uniforms for the children, we can’t do activities – we find it difficult to even cover the children’s food. When you are working you can support your children. It’s stressful when I’m at home all day, and the children are asking me for things, and I can’t provide.’

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Refugee Action believes asylum support rates should be dignified and fair. Our Bring Back Dignity campaign helped make this happen.

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