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Page last updated at 08:51 GMT, Thursday, 16 October 2008 09:51 UK

Asylum anomaly

Michael Wild
Michael Wild
Politics Editor
BBC North East and Cumbria

We often hear about people living off the state. But what about people who want to work, but who are, by law, prevented from doing so?

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Gabriel Mulamba has a degree in electrical engineering and has worked as an engineer in a TV and radio station.

You might, therefore, expect Gabriel would be highly employable on Teesside.

But instead of going to work, he spends his days volunteering as a way of filling the time.

It is not his fault that he does not have a job - it is the rules.

Asylum seeker

Gabriel, who came to the UK in 2003, is an asylum seeker and is waiting for his claim for asylum to be processed.

Until that is decided, he is not allowed to work and must live off state benefits or the earnings of others.

For a while, he lived on £35 of vouchers every week.

Gabriel even gave up this support when he moved in with his partner, who is on benefits, and his 13-month-old baby boy and seven-year-old stepchild.

He is here because of desperate conditions at home. Like millions of other people, he fled the conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo in fear of his life.

Described by some as Africa's "Great War"... this is a conflict which has claimed, according to the Red Cross, an estimated 5.4m lives.

Gabriel has experienced, amidst the hardship of life as an asylum seeker, great kindness.

At one stage, when he was destitute, his church in Stockton supported him and the pastor's family took him in and looked after him for a year.

Qualified Engineer

Teesside University
Teesside University took a proactive stance in Gabriel's future

Teesside University allowed him to undertake his final year of an Electrical and Electronics Engineering Degree part time over two years, and it waived the fees.

However, he feels his skills as an electrical engineer are going to waste, and may become redundant in the fast moving industry.

He has learnt English, acquired IT skills and worked as a volunteer - but he cannot even get a work placement in his chosen profession because of the laws preventing asylum seekers from taking on paid work.

Gabriel says he wants to work, and by doing so not just support his family, but also contribute as a taxpayer to the country from which he is seeking refuge.

At the moment, he cannot see any future.

Life 'in limbo'

The government says it is aiming to speed up decision making in asylum cases, which will mean the backlog should be dealt with by 2011.

But that is another three years away, and for people like Gabriel, that could mean another three years in limbo.

He may now be safe, but he and his partner are unable to make long-term plans, and in the meantime, Gabriel is unable to pay his way.

This weekend we hear from him and examine the arguments for and against allowing asylum seekers to earn a living in the UK as a campaign is launched to change the law.

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