Refugee Council’s AGM hears evidence of Government action that has left victims of torture sleeping rough on the streets

14 Jan 2003

A severely traumatised victim of torture has been sleeping rough on the streets of Leeds due to a misguided new asylum law - the Refugee Council - the UK's leading charity is set to reveal at its AGM on January 15, 2003.

The 28-year-old Cameroonian - who arrived in the city just four days before claiming asylum on Jan 9 - has been sleeping on the streets since waiting for the Government to decide whether he is entitled to food and shelter.

The new rule - which came into force on January 8 - has removed the right to support for destitute asylum seekers who do not claim asylum at port, forcing victims of torture, families and children to sleep rough while they wait for government bureaucracy to decide whether they are entitled to a roof over their head and some food.

The Government has publicly stated that these new rules are aimed at those who have been here for some time and been working illegally in this country, who have then been caught and claim asylum to delay being deported.

The rules state that asylum must be claimed ‘as soon as reasonably practicable’ in order for destitute applicants to be eligible for support.

But the Refugee Council can reveal that this is a sham. And in fact those who have been forced into homelessness are newly arrived into this country.

Margaret Lally, Deputy Chief Executive of the Refugee Council, said: “We are seeing clients who have been in the country for as little as 24 hours who are being turned down for support because it took them a day to claim asylum.

“This is nothing short of ludicrous. These people clearly do not fall into the category of people the government says this tough new ruling is aimed at. It makes a mockery of what the government has been claiming.

“The result of this draconian piece of legislation is that young children and very vulnerable people - including some who have been tortured by their persecutors back home - have been forced onto the streets in the perishing sub-zero temperatures we’re experiencing at the moment.

“The Government must act now and repeal this inhumane piece of legislation to prevent any more suffering. It is clearly targeting groups of people that the Government claims it is not aiming at - so the Government has got it wrong and must put it right.”

In her keynote speech at the AGM, Amnesty International’s Secretary General, Irene Khan will add Amnesty’s voice to the outcry against this most harsh legislation.

Irene Khan’s speech takes place at 3pm at the Refugee Council’s AGM on Wednesday 15 January at the Ismaili Centre, 1 Cromwell Gardens, London SW7 2SL. The business meeting takes place on 2pm. Registration from 12 noon.

Ends

The Cameroonian man who visited the Leeds office of the Refugee Council, looking dazed and confused, had been sleeping rough for four nights having fled his country five days earlier in fear of his life and left with nothing but the clothes he stood up in.

After claiming asylum on the fifth day when he discovered which country and city he was now in, he is still sleeping rough while he waits for the slow government system to decide whether he is entitled to support. In the meantime he has received hospital treatment and as a result of sleeping rough has a chest infection.

Charlotte Cooke, manager of the Yorkshire and Humberside regional office of the Refugee Council in Leeds, said: “It is incredible that someone in dire need of our help is being treated in such an inhumane way. The poor man is clearly extremely traumatised and has told us that he was tortured back home. He has also told us he has been sleeping in a bus stop for the last few days.”

One Somalian family with a two-month old baby and a five year old child who tried to claim asylum with a solicitor in Sheffield on January 8 were told this was no longer appropriate and they needed to lodge their claim with the immigration service in Sheffield.

Officers in Sheffield said they would have to go to Liverpool or Croydon to lodge their claim.

Charlotte Cooke said on this case: “From our knowledge, this destitute family has managed to claim asylum but are still waiting for a decision as to whether they’re entitled to shelter and food.

“I daren’t imagine where they’ve spent the last few nights. We can’t do anything to help until they have a letter of eligibility from the Government saying they’re entitled to support.”

Another two Iraqi men, aged 21 and 27, who having escaped from their native brutal regime arrived in the country in the middle of the night on January 8 in the Ipswich area, have been sleeping rough since claiming asylum the following day.

Tina Hines, manager of the East of England office of the Refugee Council in Ipswich, said: “It’s heartbreaking having to tell these incredibly vulnerable people that we cannot help them in any way.

“One of the men broke down in tears as well as the member of staff who had to tell them we had no food or accommodation for them.”

The two men, who have both had to see a doctor due to chest infections from sleeping rough, have now been turned down for support by the Government despite making a claim as soon as reasonably practicable.

For more information on these cases and the work of the Refugee Council’s regional offices in Yorkshire, the West Midlands and East Anglia, please contact Hana Fazal on 0113 386 2206.

Further information

The Refugee Council has published a joint statement with other leading human rights and welfare organisations, about Section 55 of the Nationality, Immigration & Asylum Act 2002, which forces thousands of asylum seekers into destitution.