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Press releases

Record number of UK asylum seekers destitute as Immigration Bill looms

British Red Cross

4 min read Partner content

A record number of asylum seekers in the UK are being left destitute and without adequate access to food, housing and healthcare, according to figures from the British Red Cross, a situation which could be made worse by impending legislation.

The charity supported over 9,000 refugees and asylum seekers who were destitute in 2015, compared to 7,700 in 2014 – an increase of nearly 15%. This includes people granted refugee status, but not given enough time to transition to mainstream benefits.

The figures are published as the Immigration Bill, which is expected to curtail levels of asylum support even further, is debated in the House of Lords. Proposals include the removal of statutory asylum support (Section 95) for asylum seekers with children who have exhausted their appeal rights.

Refused asylum seekers will also lose the right to appeal decisions by the Home Office to refuse or discontinue their support – despite a majority of appeals (61%) being successful.

Nearly 44% of destitute refugees and asylum seekers supported by the Red Cross last year were from Eritrea, Iran, Sudan and Syria, all of which are amongst the world’s top refugee-producing countries.

The Red Cross has warned that the Bill, if left unaltered, could plunge thousands more into poverty, including families who are unable to leave the UK through no fault of their own – for example, due to a lack of identification documents proving their nationality or because they have no viable or secure place to return.

Research carried out by the Red Cross in South Yorkshire has found that amongst asylum seekers with no recourse to public funds, two-thirds experience repeated hunger on a regular basis, with a quarter experiencing it every day.

Over 60% had no fixed accommodation, and were therefore reliant on informal networks or relatives, friends or other acquaintances for a place to sleep at night. Over half reported worsening health over the last year.

Some of those interviewed had been destitute for up to eight years.

Alex Fraser, Head of Refugee Services at the British Red Cross said: “Our experience tells us that asylum support is not a matter of privilege, but a means of providing a lifeline and some basic dignity to those who have come to the UK in search of a place of safety. It is a way of ensuring that families who have left everything behind can feed and clothe their children, and give them a place to sleep at night.”

“Cutting it, as the Immigration Bill proposes to do, is not only wrong in principle, but foolish in practice. Previous attempts to incentivise people to leave the UK by withdrawing support have shown that increasingly desperate people simply disappear.”

“This Bill will therefore do little to encourage asylum seekers to return home, but will have a huge humanitarian cost.”

Karl Pike, Refugees and Asylum Policy and Advocacy Manager for the British Red Cross, said: “Levels of destitution in the asylum system are getting worse, including for people who have been granted protection status by the Home Office. With the Immigration Bill set to make things even harder for some, it’s time for the government to take this evidence seriously and change course.

“Refugees should not be left destitute having fled awful violence and persecution. People refused by the system, but who the Home Office accept cannot return to their home country should not be left with nothing.”

“This is a quiet crisis where the Red Cross and other organisations like us are picking up the pieces.”

The Red Cross is calling for the Immigration Bill to be amended so that refused asylum seeking families who cannot safely return to their home country retain entitlement to limited state support, and to continue to provide a right of appeal against a decision by the Home Office to refuse or discontinue asylum support.

It is also calling for the move-on period for people granted refugee status - that is, the number of days until asylum support is withdrawn and people are expected to have moved on to mainstream benefits, new accommodation and potentially a job – to be extended from 28 days to 40 days



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