New reports on destitution highlight “government inhumane policy” - Refugee Council
November 7, 2006

New reports on destitution highlight “government inhumane policy”

The government’s policy on refused asylum seekers does not work and is forcing thousands into abject poverty, said Amnesty International UK and Refugee Action today (7 Nov), as the organisations published new reports on conditions faced by those refused asylum and left in limbo in the UK.

The findings, contained in an Amnesty International report on London and a Refugee Action report on another nine cities, reveals the suffering caused by an inhumane and ineffective government policy that cuts off support for refused asylum-seekers. The policy, said the two organisations, is leading to a new wave of widespread destitution.

The reports note that the government is deliberately using destitution in an attempt to drive refused asylum seekers out of the country. But the research found that, far from encouraging asylum-seekers to return to their countries of origin, destitution made return less likely. The two organisations believe it is vital that the government maintain contact with refused asylum-seekers and that financial support should continue until their cases can be resolved.

Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen said:

“The government’s policy on refused asylum seekers is a failure on both a practical level and a humanitarian level – forcing people into complete destitution as an attempt to drive them out of the country is backfiring badly and vulnerable people are suffering.

“Refused asylum-seekers in our towns and cities are being reduced to penniless poverty – forced to sleep in parks, public toilets and phone-boxes, to go without vital medicines even after suffering torture, and to relying on the charity of friends or drop-in shelters to survive.

Amnesty International and Refugee Action interviewed scores of destitute people, but with large numbers of refused asylum-seekers presently in the UK for various reasons, there are concerns that thousands may be living lives of extreme hardship. Some people who spoke to Amnesty International and Refugee Action have been destitute for over five years.

Many of those interviewed spoke of their “desperation” and the absolute “hopelessness” of their situation. One case highlighted in the reports is that of a 49-year-old Iraqi Kurdish man living in a caravan provided by a church. The caravan has no sanitary facilities. The man, a refused asylum-seeker whose support was cut off in October 2005, survives on food provided by the same church.

Refugee Action’s Chief Executive Sandy Buchan said:

“There exists in Britain a new and growing excluded class of people who have no contact with the authorities, no access to work or mainstream support services, and little prospect of their situation being resolved. As a policy for dealing with refused asylum-seekers, destitution simply is not working. Driving people onto the streets makes return even less likely. This policy is causing enormous suffering to vulnerable people and does nothing to enhance public confidence in the system.”

In a letter to the Guardian, the Refugee Council joined Refugee Action , Amnesty International and a number of other partners to call on the government to “ensure that refused asylum seekers unable to return home are granted rights to remain in the UK living lives both secure and dignified.”

Anna Reisenberger of Refugee Council added:

“These reports reveal the stark reality of the severe hardship caused by the government’s inhumane policy. Very vulnerable people are living in appalling circumstances, unable to go home but not entitled to work and receiving very basic support or in many cases, no support at all.

“We have been calling for some time for an end to this policy of forcing people into destitution. We launched our ‘Just.Fair’ campaign last week with the aim of ending this practice and ensuring that while they are here, everyone who has claimed asylum should be able to live in safety and in decent conditions.”

See also

Guardian letter: Asylum seekers have a right to secure lives