I attended UKCoD?s Deaf People from Overseas Conference today with Sumita Paul from work. We learnt quite a few things and I thought I would tell you as well, raise some awareness of the issues surrounding Deaf asylum seekers and refugees who come to the UK.
What is the difference between an asylum seeker and a refugee? Basically, an asylum seeker is someone who has just arrived in the UK without entry clearance and has made an application to the Home Office for permission to remain. They do not have any rights as such; they are not allowed to work, nor claim benefits. They often have to stay in accommodation that has been specially built for them, and they do not have access to cash to buy clothes, food etc. They are wholly dependent on the state.
A refugee is someone who has been granted some kind of permission to stay in the UK. This could be permission with conditions attached such as being allowed to work and claim benefits up to a certain date, or being granted indefinite leave to remain.
Really, Deaf people from overseas are a forgotten group of people. Some of the horrors they have faced in their native countries are often too horrific for us to contemplate e.g. one speaker told us of some individuals who have seen terrible things. For example, witnessing father being beaten up by soldiers, a public firing squad, babies being hacked to pieces and thrown onto a fire etc.
Sadly, when they do finally arrive to the UK, their problems do not end there. They face communication difficulties because of language barriers ? often they have little or no language skills; they may come from hearing families and have never been able to communicate with their parents, brothers or sisters, aunts and uncles etc. Many have had no form of education, perhaps because their parents could not afford to send them to school or because there is no provision for Deaf children. This means when they come to the UK, they cannot understand BSL/English Interpreters, and there are no interpreters who can understand their sign language; that?s if they know any sign language. Even international sign language may be a problem. The only option they have is to use Deaf interpreters, who unfortunately are not recognised as professional interpreters by CACDP etc. They are specially trained to modify their BSL and International Sign Language into a form that suits a Deaf aslym seeker or refugee to maximise communication.
They also have culture shocks as they adjust to life in the UK, as well as having to find their way through the maze that is the UK legal system, relating to immigration, welfare benefits etc.
We were particularly inspired by Peter Merrifield?s talk ? he is the Head Teacher of Oak Lodge School. He told us the story of Jasmine, who is Deaf. She was born in Somalia, and her mother died during her birth. Her father died a few years later, leaving an older sister (hearing) and her to fend for themselves. One day, when Jasmine was 8 years old, she left to collect water, and never returned. Her sister looked for her for several weeks, and eventually gave up, thinking her dead. The sister eventually came to the UK. At a Somalian Club in London, a person she spoke to mentioned a deaf girl at a refugee camp. The sister contacted Red Cross who searched for 18 months for Jasmine, and found her, and brought her to the UK to join her sister when she was 13 years old. What had happened was that she, for some reason or other, found herself trekking 600 miles to a refugee camp in Kenya, where she was taken in by a group of mothers who looked after orphaned children. She came to the UK and attended Oak Lodge School. She became a very assertive young woman and is now a hairdresser in North London. This was particularly inspiring and I won’t forget this story in a hurry.