Refugee Council calls for re-think on anniversary of controversial asylum policy - Refugee Council
January 8, 2004

Refugee Council calls for re-think on anniversary of controversial asylum policy

One year to the day since the legislation was implemented (8 January 2003), the Refugee Council publishes the preliminary findings of the first major survey of the impact of the Government’s policy of refusing welfare support to asylum seekers who do not claim asylum at port of entry (Section 55 of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002).

Maeve Sherlock, Chief Executive of the Refugee Council said:

“The past year has seen increasing numbers of asylum seekers facing destitution and homelessness as a result of Section 55. Refugee communities have found themselves compelled to fill the gap, providing temporary shelter and basic support, and are doing so out of their own meagre resources, frequently offering shelter in their own homes.

“This is placing an intolerable and unsustainable burden on refugee communities who cannot and should not be expected to pick up the pieces of what is an inhumane piece of legislation.

“We welcome the recent changes in policy that show the government is acknowledging there are problems. Yet it remains the case that asylum seekers who may desperately need the safety this country can offer are still at risk of destitution because they did not know to or could not apply at a port. The only way this can be resolved is by repealing Section 55.”

Over a three week period in December 2003, 130 organisations responded to a survey assessing the effect of Section 55. The majority of those were refugee community organisations: small, refugee-run associations set up to help newly-arrived refugees settle into the community and rebuild their lives in the UK.

Early analysis of the responses starkly reveals the hidden cost of this policy. Refugee community organisations, most of which have extremely limited resources, are footing the bill for a government policy that is causing widespread destitution and that would otherwise cause a visible homelessness problem. Most have had to provide support in the form of food and shelter to asylum seekers the state refuses to help, with community members often accommodating people in their own homes. Almost all have no funding to cover the cost of providing this support.

The initial findings are:

  • 77% of respondents have seen clients sleeping rough as a result of being refused support under Section 55. Among others, a rubbish bin, phone box, and bus shelter were all mentioned by respondents as places where these people have taken shelter at night.

  • 65% of respondents have given emergency provisions or money for food or essential items to asylum seekers refused support under Section 55.

  • 55% said they or members of their community had to provide emergency shelter for asylum seekers. 70% of these accommodated people in their own homes or those of community members.

  • 88% of all respondents said they do not have funding to cover the cost of the services they are providing to asylum seekers denied support under Section 55.


Notes to editors

On 17 December, the Government announced a procedural change to the way Section 55 is implemented. Asylum seekers applying within three days of arrival will be supported as long as they give ‘an honest appraisal of how they reached the country and how long they have been here’ (Home Secretary David Blunkett in Hansard, 17 Dec 2003: Column 1594).

The Refugee Council welcomed this announcement, which recognised the unacceptable impact Section 55 is having on vulnerable asylum seekers. However it remains to be seen how this will impact in practical terms, since the burden is still on asylum seekers to prove when they entered the country. The Refugee Council is monitoring the effect these changes are having on decision-making for state welfare support.

The full report, to be published on Refugee Council Online at the end of February, will provide a detailed analysis of the extensive detrimental impact of Section 55 on asylum seekers made destitute by this policy and the refugee community and voluntary sectors. The report is funded by Oxfam.

Get a briefing on preliminary findings of the report, Section 55 – One year on: the real cost of denying support to destitute asylum applicants. This is a pdf document for which Acrobat Reader is required; you can get this free by going to the Acrobat website.

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