Olivia Blake, the Labour MP for Sheffield Hallam, has offered her support to a joint petition by Sheffield Student Action for Refugees (STAR) and ASSIST Sheffield, calling for asylum seekers to be housed in unused accommodation owned by the University.
She told Forge Press: “Asylum seekers risk homelessness and destitution this winter. Campaigns like ASSIST do fantastic work in providing housing to asylum seekers but they’re battling against a clear shortage of suitable accommodation.
“I 100 per cent oppose the “hostile environment” and no recourse to public funds rules. The government should provide more support to people who have fled violent and dangerous situations, and it should stop all evictions – I applaud attempts to find suitable accommodation for asylum seekers.”
The petition, which has amassed nearly 700 signatures, was started by STAR after the Home Office resumed evicting asylum seekers from emergency accommodation earlier this month. Under current UK law, asylum seekers without a residential address are expected to leave the country within 21 days.
It’s understood the University of Sheffield told ASSIST that all accommodation was occupied for the duration of the autumn semester, with a meeting planned next month to work out a strategy for the remainder of the academic year.
But Juliette Barriac, a STAR volunteer and History and French student, said the University’s initial response had been “terrible”.
She said: “When [Vice Chancellor] Koen Lamberts was appointed he said that Sheffield was a civic university and would work with the community to improve the lives of everyone living here.
“To deny fifteen individuals the chance of having a safe and warm place to sleep considering the suffering they’ve already been put through is just the opposite of what he said when he took office.
“It’s a confusing and scary time for everyone at the moment. The Home Office evictions are dangerous and we need to be there for those in need.”
A spokesperson from the University of Sheffield said: “We recognise this is a really important issue and are keen to do anything we can to help.
“Our University accommodation is currently under contract to students but we’ve been discussing this issue with ASSIST Sheffield and are raising its request with city partners to explore how we could support.”
A link to the petition can be found here.
Images: Juliette Barriac, Chelsea Burrell and George Tuli