'Yohannes needed help: he was sleeping on the streets' - Refugee Council
May 20, 2016

‘Yohannes needed help: he was sleeping on the streets’

Refugees arrive in Britain having fled horrors in their home countries that are hard to imagine. They’ve often suffered greatly at the hands of smugglers during their journey to safety. Once they arrive in Britain, refugees then face the daunting task of navigating Britain’s complex, hostile asylum system in order to have their need for protection officially recognised.

But when refugees are granted asylum, they struggle to find somewhere to live and often find themselves homeless – left to sleep on the streets. Every day, we work with newly recognised refugees to help them find somewhere safe to live so they can begin rebuilding their lives.

Yohannes was one such refugee. Refugee Council Head of Integration Andrew Lawton shares his story.

Although he couldn’t speak English to tell us directly, it was clear Yohannes was distraught. Tearful, he sat in our office, surrounded by everything he owned in the world: a couple of pieces of shabby looking luggage.

Our interpreter was explaining Yohannes’ situation. A young refugee, he was sleeping on the streets; desperate and in urgent need of our help.

Slowly but surely, Yohannes’ story began unfolding.

He was originally from Eritrea; a place often referred to as ‘Africa’s North Korea’; but he’d been forced to flee because his political beliefs were putting him in danger. He’d had to leave all of his friends and family behind, not knowing if he’d ever see them again. The separation must’ve been almost too much to bear.

Although he’d been granted asylum by the British Government, newly recognised refugees receive no help from the Government to integrate into British life. People are simply left on their own to find a home and way of supporting themselves.

Yohannes had tried to find somewhere to go but he didn’t know anyone and didn’t have any money.

We immediately set to work, and managed to find Yohannes an emergency night shelter to keep him safe while we looked for a more long term solution.

We contacted the local authority to tell them that Yohannes was homeless and needed help, but we were told that as he was a young man, Yohannes wasn’t a priority for them and they couldn’t help to find him somewhere to live: there were simply too many other people in far greater need.

This meant that Yohannes would have to find a room to rent. But with no money for a deposit or rent in advance, this wouldn’t be an easy task.

We took Yohannes on to our Private Rented Scheme, which offers help to newly recognised refugees find somewhere to rent. This meant we were able to provide Yoahnnes with advice on his rights and responsibilities, help him raise a deposit and give him information on how tenancies operate and how to manage them and advice on how to deal with landlords.

We also helped Yohannes apply for an Integration Loan (£500) from the Home Office which can be a tricky and lengthy process, particularly for refugees who don’t yet speak English.

Even though we were successful, this money would only go a small way towards covering a deposit and the rent in advance Yohannes would need. Few landlords are willing to accept refugees in Yohannes’ situation, and we still needed to find him a room.

Finally, we had some luck. We’d found a room in a house share for Yohannes and we also managed to persuade the landlord to waive the deposit so Yoahnnes could use his Home Office loan to buy much needed furniture.

What relief: Yohannes was no longer homeless. Thanks to our support, Yohannes can stop worrying about where he’s going to sleep, and start focusing on his future. He’s now learning English, looking for a job, and taking the first steps towards being able to rebuild his shattered life.

You can help forgotten refugees like Yoahnnes by: