Refugee agencies demand UK Government puts an end to the destitution of asylum seekers - Refugee Council
February 19, 2004

Refugee agencies demand UK Government puts an end to the destitution of asylum seekers

A report out today provides fresh evidence of ongoing destitution for asylum seekers. The Government’s policy of denying welfare support to asylum seekers, under Section 55, is leaving them without food and shelter.

The six top refugee organisations—the Refugee Council, Refugee Action, Scottish Refugee Council, Welsh Refugee Council, Refugee Arrivals Project and Migrant Helpline—support asylum seekers on arrival in the UK. Between September and December 2003, they saw nearly 3,000 clients affected by Section 55.

Of 101 clients interviewed who had been refused support under Section 55:

  • 61% were sleeping rough
  • 70% did not have regular meals or food
  • 57% of asylum seekers had experienced a negative impact on their health

The report also found that following requests to the Home Office from the agencies, welfare support was successfully reinstated in 67% of cases, indicating serious flaws in the system.

The research documents detailed interviews with 154, or 5%, of the 2,904 asylum seekers seen by the six organisations.

Maeve Sherlock, Chief Executive of the Refugee Council, said:

“With each fresh report evidence mounts of the devastating impact of this draconian policy. The Government must hold an inquiry to uncover the full extent of the problem. People who have fled serious oppression should not be left hungry and homeless.”

Sandy Buchan, Chief Executive of Refugee Action, said:

“This report shows that Section 55 is still causing desperate suffering. This is in spite of recent Government concessions and the efforts of the courts to safeguard asylum seekers’ most basic human rights.

“Contradictory and unsafe decisions continue to be made, often based purely on whether the applicant is believed or not. Too many decisions rely on judgements about applicants and the circumstances they have fled from – judgements that can only be properly made after full asylum interviews with representation and rights of appeal.

“Section 55 is not only breaching the human rights of vulnerable people, it is causing unnecessary costs and delays which further undermine the efficiency and credibility of the asylum system as a whole. It is time to scrap this unjust and inhumane law once and for all.”

Sally Daghlian, Chief Executive of the Scottish Refugee Council said:

“Last year the High Court judged that there were still flaws in the procedure for processing asylum claims. This report on the impacts of Section 55 details the length and breadth and depth of these flaws. It is clear that a severe policy such as Section 55, far from improving the situation, has only made things worse.

“As the debate on the utility of Section 55 continues, such a report is invaluable. It reminds us that asylum seekers have a human face and are not just statistics to be reduced or quotas to be met. Until we have a system where the humanity of asylum seekers is recognised and the reality of their plight appreciated we will continue to experience the high levels of despair, uncertainty and fear documented in this report.”

Annie Ledger, Chief Executive of the Migrant Helpline said:

“We welcome the publication of this report. It confirms that most asylum seekers claim within a few days of arrival to the UK and are not, as the Government suggests, over-stayers using the asylum process as a way of remaining in the UK.

“It also confirms that staff are seeing increasing numbers of homeless clients denied access to any support and living in intolerable circumstances.

“We hope that ministers will reflect on the findings of this report and on the impact of this harsh legislation.”


Notes to editors

On Tuesday 16 February the High Court ruled that the Home Office had subjected an asylum seeker, Yusif Adam, to “inhuman and degrading treatment” by refusing to support him. A decision which forced him to sleep rough for a month.

The GLA report on the impact of Section 55 in London, Destitution by Design, was published on 10 February.

A separate report by the Refugee Council, Hungry and Homeless, on the impact the Section 55 policy on asylum seekers and refugee communities is to be published at the end of February 2004.