Fresh research launched this week reveals that mental health support, housing, in some cases homelessness and the lack of right to work are key issues and concerns of refugees and people seeking asylum in London.
The report, published by the London Refugee Advocacy Forum, a body providing a vital voice and platform for organisations run by and for refugees across the capital, is a quantitative study based on the insights of 681 refugees and people seeking asylum in London. It explores a range of issues affecting people’s day to day lives and their ability to integrate into their new home communities.
Over half (54%) of people seeking asylum who declared having experienced mental health issues highlighted many issues with accessing health services, ranging from problems with GP registration and language barriers preventing them from getting appointments.
Just under half of all respondents have problems with their housing with nearly a fifth (17%) of people seeking asylum struggling with homelessness. Others cite struggling with life in very small accommodation with numerous other occupants, accommodation that is in poor condition, and many being simply unable to afford rent.
The research also reveals that unemployment is very high amongst refugees in London, a group which does have a legal right to work. Concerningly close to half (47%) are out of work, with main barriers including lack of qualifications and work experience, low level of English and people being permanently sick.
In most cases people seeking asylum are banned from working, and the negative impact of this, including damage to people’s mental health and their ability to move on in their new communities, has been well documented. Of all the respondents who reported being out of work, nearly a third had been in this situation for between one and three years.
The inability to work in the UK has had a negative impact on Clara, one of the people seeking asylum interviewed for this report. Trafficked to the UK by her uncle at the age of just 13, Clara was made to work for a family and not allowed to attend school. After five years, she gained the courage to enrol herself at a community college. Despite breaking away, however, she still faces many struggles. Her asylum and trafficking claim was rejected and she’s unable to work.
Clara says: “I had a society that I belonged to. That is now ripped apart. I’m here 17 years. I have built myself here. I’m not here to take money from this country. I’m here to give back. I’d love to be working and giving back. I want to work, I’d rather they say, go and work, and take half of it for tax, I don’t mind! I volunteer, because I just want to give back to any society that I belong to.”
Refugee Community Organisations (RCO) are grassroots organisations run by and for refugees and can provide a lifeline for refugees and people in the asylum system. They are places people can go to for advice on a range of important issues such as immigration, welfare, housing as well as services such as IT courses and ESOL courses. The importance of these services is highlighted by the research with the strong majority (64%) of people seeking asylum saying that they participate in RCO-led activities with many doing so monthly and even weekly.
Kahiye Alim, Chair of the London Refugee Advocacy Forum, said:
“For decades London has become the home of refugees and people seeking asylum from across the world. It is vital that their specific needs and concerns are understood and considered and above all, that their voices are heard.
“Our research comes directly from hundreds of refugees and people seeking asylum – people who have been forced to flee war, conflict, persecution and violence and are trying to rebuild their lives in the capital. Our hope and plea to decision makers is that they will take heed of these valuable insights, and ensure that this too often underserved community in London is able to play a part in the decisions that affect them.”
About the London RCO Forum
The London Refugee Advocacy Forum is a new forum for refugee community organisations, supported by the Refuge Council and funded by City Bridge Trust. It was created three years ago to champion the needs and aspirations of refugees and people seeking asylum living in London and to influence policy and practice in order to achieve positive outcomes for London refugee communities.
 The Refugee Council takes safeguarding extremely seriously, for which reason names have been changed to protect identities.