Support for Asylum Seekers (S.A.S) is a project of Churches Together in the Merseyside Region (CTMR) which relieves destitution and homelessness among asylum seekers and rejected asylum seekers in Merseyside.
In 1995, the Conservative Government was proposing to remove all benefits from asylum seekers. (Until then they were included in the national benefits system.) Although the courts managed to reverse this legislation on the grounds that it could not be the intention of the government of a civilised country to make people destitute (which was indeed their intention), subsequent legislation - driven by the tabloid press, as was the original parliamentary campaign - has steadily worsened the situation of asylum seekers and the latest cuts in benefits and legal have reduced significant numbers to destitution.
The initial consultation was followed by ad hoc contact with solicitors, community organisations, social workers, GPs and health workers and particularly with two independent evangelical churches which were already giving practical support to asylum seekers who had joined their congregations.
All of these activities are managed and administered by another charity, Asylum Link Merseyside, which grew out of a once-a-week afternoon drop-in centre in a church hall. It is now the only open access centre for asylum seekers in Merseyside providing friendship, advice, food and English language teaching as well as hosting regular services from NHS and other agencies and sign-posting to other sources of help. Until recently, it opened all day on weekdays but shortage of funds have forced it to put six of its eight staff on to 4/5ths time working and to close on Fridays. (It also depends on over 80 volunteers.) S.A.S itself only provides the financial resources for the relief grants, accommodation and food.
The constant changes in asylum regulations have continually put new obstacles in the way of asylum seekers. S.A.S funds have helped Asylum Link Merseyside to respond to these changes but the basic work remains the provision of resources to those without them.
At first, by far the greatest number and largest donations were grants from charitable trusts. The first grant came from the John Moores Foundation, which is still a major contributor. In 2003, the Roman Catholic Archbishop began to give the proceeds of the Lent Alms collection to S.A.S. Now as well as charitable trusts, funds come from a few churches giving one-off donations annually, from groups and from individuals (including 20+ monthly standing orders). Annual income has grown from under £20,000 to over £50,000.
S.A.S is essentially a sinking fund so that what it can do depends entirely on income. It can exist for as long as there is money in the bank! Its minimal overheads are covered by CTMR. In managing the project, there is indirect reliance on the Asylum Link premises and volunteers. ALM’s offices for administration, casework and other activities occupy most of a 3/4-storey presbytery rented from the Catholic Archdiocese.
In relation to delivering its services, S.A.S. rents properties for asylum seekers to occupy. For example, it has recently begun to rent most of the parish house at St Michael’s RC Church, Horne Street, for accommodation for up to 8 women.
Churches’ Refugee Network is good for morale.
One of the main barriers is prejudice against asylum seekers fanned by the tabloid press.