Thousands of asylum seekers are living in destitution for years in the UK due to failures in local and central governments to address the problem in the support system, a report has found.
A report analysed people living in destitute conditions highlights that this is a long-term problem, instead of a short-term phase of homelessness. In 2005 it was estimated that 283,500 people in the UK who came into the asylum process were living in poverty, some for more than six years and it is believed the number has continued to increase.
The report, Between Destitution and a Hard Place: Finding Strength to Survive Refusal From the Asylum System, said those fleeing persecution in their home country live in constant fear and anxiety about their situation. Several of those featured in the report were themselves or knew of people becoming depressed or mentally ill. Some were even relieved when they were diagnosed with illnesses such as tuberculosis because it meant they would receive help and treated like a human.
In the report, which has been sent to MPs and charities throughout the UK, it found one of the main difficulties experienced by those refused asylum was that destitution was accepted as the only way, with no other option because of the dangers they faced back in their home countries.
The report also explains how the majority of those featured in the research developed strategies on how to live in a culture of disbelief, distrust and personal fear, facing a daily struggle to find food and shelter for the night. It said strength was found through the support of friends and also "trusted" individuals in local churches, charities and organizations. However the report urges the Government to improve recognition and financial support for those community and voluntary organizations.
One of the key recommendations of the report was to allow those waiting to hear their case for asylum the right to work, subject to certain conditions. The report claims not giving people the right to work often leads to crime and exploitation and demeans the dignity of those waiting for a decision.
Dr Fiona Cuthill a public health senior lecturer at the University of Sunderland, led the report alongside two members of the Sudanese community in the UK, Omer Siddiq Abdalla and Khalid Bashir. She said: "Rather than denying that destitution following the asylum process exists, or using it as a tool to force people back to their country of origin, both central and local government need to harness the strength and resilience shown by these men and women to enhance both local communities and wider society.
"To give them the right to work would be a start. It is only then, that we can maybe say with some confidence that the UK is pursuing every opportunity to promote human rights and political and economic freedom."
All of the male participants in the report felt hugely ashamed to get food hand-outs and said they wanted to work and to earn their own way in life. They were left in shock when they were told they could not do so when they first arrived in the UK. This left to some becoming exploited and working in factories 12 hours a day for seven days and being given no payment. A further example showed one person working in a restaurant kitchen illegally before severely injuring his hand. The owner would not take him to hospital, and several hours later he managed to arrive at Accident and Emergency, but due to the delay and irreversible damage to his hand he has been unable to use it since.
Elsewhere in the report it explained how several participants had been detained in a detention centre before being released back into destitution on the streets with no provision from the Home Office for accommodation or financial support. One participant explained how he was driven from Scotland to an alley in the North East of England, the van doors were opened and he was taken out of the van and left in the street.
Pete Widlinski, Tees Valley Area Manager, North of England Refugee Service, said: "This report is an important and influential addition to the growing number of reports that highlights and raises the awareness of the failures in the asylum system, particularly on the lack of support element.
"Rather than opting to return to their home countries, or behaving as helpless victims, the report shows how people are coping with destitution in innovative ways, that strongly suggests innovation and strength of character -- the type of people who will contribute to our society and enhance its nature and moral fibre should they be allowed the right to remain and contribute."
I have been here a long time, many years…..and the reason is because I am having a case inside me and I left Sudan and I went through danger more than the situation I am in now. More of these difficulties, sometimes put you under a great danger and you may get killed or die and every time I think about hunger and disrespect or many things, I just compare them to the danger I have been through from my country until I got there and I put them on the scales and I found that the balance was in favour of now. And I have to be strong because if I couldn't win, this that means I am very weak and I have no power to protect my case.
The most important thing is the accommodation. The important thing is to be stable and to have somewhere stable to live….I don't mind if they only build four walls and I mean any place to stay would be fine. I don't mind -- somewhere to hide you from the street. You feel you are in the house it makes you feel stable. And even if you have a friend, you won't be able to enjoy your life and have privacy. It is too heavy a burden for your friends.
At the beginning it was like a crash and I was broken down because I escaped my country because of problems and something like that and came here and claimed asylum and received a refusal. I was absolutely crushed [Fisal].
I felt I was a lost person, devastated, crushed and I was out of control [Hashim].
I stayed with my friend after they [Home Office] refused me. It was difficult but it was better than when you don't have any place or support. I used to sleep on the sofa. It was really difficult as you are living with fear 24 hours a day. There might be a knock at the door any time or maybe the housing provider will come. I wasn't scared for myself, I was scared for my friend because I had nothing to lose but all of my fear was for all of the people I was living with. I didn't want to make a problem for them. I was living in fear and I used to be the last person to go to sleep and the first person to wake up. This was my biggest difficulty [Osman].
I can't go back to my country and I hadn't slept for 2 days. I went to the church and I didn't find it open so I went to someone to sleep with but he called the police. It became very difficult for me so I went and applied to go back voluntary return to my country but they refused that application. I told them to take me back to Darfur, because I am from Darfur and you take me there to Darfur and release me over there because I don't want the UK government to arrest me. Just leave me there and I can hide from the Sudanese government. Just let me go. They refused my application and also they didn't' want to support me [Ahmed].
You always find someone who has a problem bigger than your problem. Everyone is the same. No-one is better than anyone else [Hammed].
When camels are in the desert, they stick together to keep themselves cool, because the temperature of their bodies are lower than the outside temperature. That is why people stick together and also go to organizations and charities.
My country is more difficult than here. I asked them to send me back to Darfur. I asked them to send me to Darfur and I prefer to die by a bullet, not die here by the rain and hunger. I told them I want to die in Darfur and not here but they refused that.
I lived 5 years without support. I depended on these local organizations to survive [Zena].
If these organizations weren't there, I may have died because the government doesn't give you any support and we are not allowed to work in this country and we don't have a place to stay. All of these things I have faced and if I hadn't gone to these organizations, I wouldn't have known what would have happened [Gibrel].
Our culture is to work…not to sit back and let someone else to feed you. It has destroyed my life, waiting for others to feed me. I have always worked, since I was a young man, I have worked.
The biggest thing is that I didn't come here for a visit, or to enjoy the weather (laughs). I have a case and if I don't fear going back, there is no reason for me to stay here for such a long time, from 2006 without support and live in a situation like this. It is something which is unacceptable for me but my circumstances pushed me and knowing I have a case has made me very strong [Majdi].
The UK Government treat me as not-human. They don't give me anywhere to live, they stop support, deny access to work. Show me where is the human rights in the UK? People talk about human rights, but there is no justice here.
There are some people who become crazy because of thinking too much about this their situation [refusal and subsequent destitution], who have been in this situation for a long time and as I heard from other people, as I see by myself, I think we will become sick and tired when you think about all that has happened to you and what the Home Office said about you and not being believed.
Yes, they helped us to live with a 'good spirit' and they used to speak to me and help me to get out of this situation. They basically just helped me to feel 'I am here'. And even though I have received a refusal letter, that I am still a human being. And thank you very much to them because they came and talked to me while I didn't have anyone to speak to. And I remember when I felt down, I just go to [a local charity] and they basically make everything easy for me.
This experience has refined me and the many problems have faced me at the same time and I have been able to pass through them and become stronger [Fisal].
And to be strong is the only way that can help you to get to the shore and also to your goals. And because I have a case, I have to be strong despite all of these things I have to be strong. And I am strong or I keep myself strong because I am hoping I will reach a brighter future. As a Muslim, I accept everything that God has waiting for me [Ali].
He further explained it as: I can't change my situation because God wants me to go through this; God examines you to see how strong you are. It is a text from God and you have to pass this test.
Hope helped me to wait all of this time. I have hope that I will get the things that I want and the situation will be better and everywhere I say, tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow [Matan].
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