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Coventry Evening Telegraph

July 10, 2002


THERE are about 5,000 asylum seekers in Coventry and many will be found homes by two companies, Whitefriars and Circle Housing. Whitefriars, is the not-for-profit company which runs the city’s 20,000 former council homes. Circle Housing is a sister company of the 21st Century Estates letting agency in Foleshill Road. It is impossible to know where all 5,000 asylum seekers and refugees live, because once people are granted asylum, they have the same rights as anyone else to move on freely. The Home Office declined to answer when the Evening Telegraph asked how many asylum seekers had been placed with Coventry housing companies. But how they are dealt with is a matter of public record. All those who arrived in Britain after August 2000 are dealt with by the National Asylum Support Service (NASS). This organisation pays housing companies to provide homes with furniture, power and water all included. NASS also pays the wages of Coventry City Council’s 12-strong asylum support team, which has been running for two years. Circle Housing accommodates 400 to 500 people through a contract with NASS in about 160 Coventry homes. It also houses a further 400 to 500 people in another 160 homes through contracts with councils in London and Kent and provides emergency accommodation for 50 people who have been sent from Birmingham. Coventry City Council has a contract with NASS and rents 186 flats from Whitefriars. Between 130 and 140 of them are occupied, and all are in Hillfields, apart from three which are in Bell Green. The city council also rents between 25 and 35 houses from private landlords to accommodate people under arrangements made before NASS was set up in August 2000. Half those houses are occupied by families and the other half are shared houses. Other companies believed to have contracts with NASS to house asylum seekers in Coventry are Accommodate, Clearsprings, Angel Group and Rose Lodge. The Home Office says it cannot disclose the amounts paid to housing providers under their contract with NASS, because the information is commercially sensitive. The Home Office said it did not have details of how the sums compared with commercial property rental rates. THE system where asylum seekers used vouchers instead of cash is being phased out. They take their paperwork to post offices and exchange it for cash. Adult asylum seekers now receive 70 per cent of income support, which for most, works out at around pounds 36 per week per adult. Children get the full rate of benefit. Once asylum is granted, people are then classed as refugees and are entitled to the same benefits as anyone else – the key ones being housing benefit, job seeker’s allowance and income support. People refused asylum are not allowed any benefit and often resort to working illegally.

ATA’S STORY ‘I won’t be at peace until I know what will happen to me’ KURDISH artist Ata Kazaz lives in a rented two-bedroom terrace house in Foleshill with his wife Dilkhwaz and their three children. They all sleep in the front bedroom because they say the other one is too dirty and cold. But he says it is better than being back in Iraq, where former university lecturer Ata says the authorities wanted him dead for refusing to paint pictures of dictator Saddam Hussein. Ata isn’t angry with his landlord, 21st Century Estates, in Foleshill Road. His frustration is with the Home Office, who have granted his wife and children permission to stay in England because of his persecution, but haven’t yet dealt with his application, 18 months after he arrived. When the family were waiting to be granted asylum, they had a much better house in Matlock Road, Foleshill, provided by 21st Century’s sister firm Circle Housing through its contract with the National Asylum Support Service (NASS). The problems came when the Home Office granted asylum to Dilkhwaz and the children, who arrived in Britain before Ata. NASS put new tenants into the house in Matlock Road, and Ata and his family had to fend for themselves. Ata gets pounds 27 per week in benefit, while Dilkhwaz gets pounds 130 per week to feed and clothe herself and their three children. They get housing benefit of around pounds 60 per week. Ata does not have permission to work, and Dilkhwaz says she is too busy looking after daughters Paisa, aged five, and Rosa, aged one, and three-year-old son Hawri. Coventry City Council has shown the family two properties but they were in other neighbourhoods which they did not like. “If I had permission to work, we could afford a proper house, no problem,” says Ata. “My wife and children have permission to stay because they told the Home Office I had been persecuted in Iraq. But the Home Office has not come back to me. “Every week the Coventry Refugee Centre phones the Home Office for me, but they say my application is in a queue. It’s difficult. I will not be at peace until I know what will happen to me.” Kash Chohan, a partner in 21st Century Estates, has some sympathy for people in Ata’s position. He says: “We are trying to find a better house for the family in the same area because the children are at school. But their housing benefit is only about pounds 60 per week and Mr Kazaz has no money to put in himself. “Most private landlords are renting out houses for pounds 400 to pounds 500 a month. When Mr Kazaz’s family were given permission to stay, they didn’t have anywhere to go, so we helped them out. “We have a whole set of houses set aside for asylum seekers (through NASS). The people are looked after really well. We pay the gas and electricity and the houses are furnished. “But once people get permission to stay, then NASS places new asylum seekers in those homes and they are let out on to the open market. “They have to get whatever they can through private landlords or the city council. They don’t always want to live in council properties in Willenhall or Wood End. “Often they have come from a nice house and they find themselves right in the bottom end of the market. Most landlords want a month’s rent as a bond, and references, and they don’t have that.” Anthea Smith, assistant manager of Coventry City Council’s asylum seeker support team, says: “The difficulties that come are often not when people are asylum seekers. It is after they get a positive decision and they have to move on. “NASS terminates their housing, and sometimes people haven’t got their benefits sorted out or haven’t got other housing to go to.” 21st Century Estates is now talking to the city council about providing dedicated housing for people after they are granted asylum. While Ata waits for the Home Office’s decision, he has been painting colourful but disturbing pictures which depict the persecution of the Kurdish people by Iraq. He says there’s not much space in the house, so he works at night, fuelled by coffee. Ata couldn’t afford artists’ materials, so Coventry Refugee Centre helped buy him paint, canvas and wood. Ata recently held a week-long exhibition at the Showcase gallery in Earl Street. He hopes to take the exhibition to other big cities to highlight his people’s plight. “The paintings are not my property,” he says. “They are the property of the Kurdish people. It is important to get people thinking and talking about what is happening to the Kurdish people.”


Written by Concerned

July 10, 2002 at 2:39 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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