Agenda item


            The Committee considered the undernoted report:


“1.0      Purpose of Report or Summary of main Issues


1.1       To present proposals for asylum seekers in Belfast to access Council leisure facilities.


2.0       Recommendations


2.1       The committee is requested to consider:


·        The proposal below to grant registered asylum seekers access to Council leisure facilities free of charge or at a substantially reduced rate.

·        The rationale presented in support of the unique restrictions and hardships associated with living under asylum seeker status.


3.0       Main report


3.1       Background


            In recent years, resulting from conflicts around the world, we have experienced an increase in the number of asylum seekers arriving in Belfast.  The relatively small but steady stream has accelerated during high profile conflicts/migrations in for example, Syria, Afghanistan and more recently Ukraine.


            Asylum seekers experience a unique set of hardships while waiting for government determinations on their asylum seeker status.


            City and Neighbourhood Services has received a number of requests seeking free of charge or substantially reduced rates for asylum seekers to access our leisure facilities.


3.2       Offering concessions solely to asylum seekers does present equity dilemmas, however it should be acknowledged that the situation for asylum seekers is slightly different for the following reasons.


            Asylum seekers experience a greater level of hardship as:


a)     they cannot access the labour market.

b)     they cannot open a bank account.

c)     many do not have a residential address (as most are accommodated in hotels).

d)     their allowance of £39 per week is about half of what others on benefits would receive.

e)     they are extremely isolated and many are suffering from the trauma of the refugee journey.

f)       mental ill-health is particularly high.

g)     they are not able to work and don’t have established family networks here, leading to extreme isolation which hampers their sense of integration and inclusion in Belfast.


            The Home Office does not produce exact figures for asylum seekers.  However, the total for Northern Ireland is believed to be circa 2,500.  The proposal below would only apply to asylum seekers housed in Belfast accommodation.


3.3       Most asylum seekers are assessed within a few months but unfortunately in some cases there are long delays and in extreme cases they can remain as asylum seekers for in excess of twelve months.


            Following assessment asylum seekers are either deported, where their application is rejected, or granted ‘refugee’ status, if their application is upheld.  When an asylum seeker is reclassified as a refugee, they immediately have access to housing, the labour market, banking services, health care and income support.  Essentially the same rights as any other citizen.


3.4       Leisure provision can be key to asylum seekers’ long-term integration but moreover, in the short term, an essential means of alleviating isolation, mental health issues and the trauma associated with the refugee experience. 


            £39 per week is already a struggle for people paying for food, mobile data to communicate with family, buying clothes to suit local weather conditions, toiletries, bus passes, etc. plus children’s essentials from nappies to schooling items.


            Our current concession rate for Health & Fitness Membership is £18.30 per month (£36.55 full price).  The concession rate would put membership of our leisure centres beyond the reach of asylum seekers living on £39 per week.  A Health and Fitness Membership package includes access to all centres for gyms, pools and classes plus some facility bookings.


            Attached at Appendix 1 is a Briefing paper produced by the Law Centre which supports this initiative.


3.5       Proposal


            That members consider:


a)     Free of charge Health and Fitness Membership for asylum seekers for a period of 3 months, and


b)     A reduced rate of £5 per month, for subsequent 3 month blocks, for Health and Fitness Membership for the duration of their asylum seekers’ status (to be renewed every 3 months).


3.6       GLL have confirmed that they are in agreement with the above proposal and the resulting processing implications.




            Members are asked to consider the background information provided and the special circumstances associated with being an asylum seeker.  In particular the specific restrictions set out above at 3.2.


            Members are further requested to consider the free of charge and reduced rate proposal set out above at 3.5.


            Communications andPublic Relations


3.7       None


            Financial and Resource Implications


3.8       There would be no additional expenditure associated with the above proposal for BCC or GLL.


            Equality or Good Relations Implications/

            Rural Needs Assessment


3.9       This report has been prepared in consultation with officers from the Council’s Equality and Good Relations unit and in full acknowledgement of the equity considerations involved.”


            After discussion the Committee agreed:


·        to grant newly arrived Ukrainian refugees, refugees and registered asylum seekers access to Council leisure facilities free of charge until status was granted, with a further report to be brought back to the Committee on how this could be extended to destitute asylum seekers;

·        noted the rationale presented in support of the unique restrictions and hardships associated with living under asylum seeker status;

·        noted that the Chief Executive would undertake to convene a meeting of relevant stakeholders to see what further actions the Council could take to help asylum seekers within the city; and

·        that a report be brought back to the Committee outlining any means by which the Council or GLL could potentially reduce the admission and/or membership fees for leisure centres for Belfast ratepayers.


Supporting documents: