Why many asylum seekers are destitute: Minimal support – and none
For those seeking asylum the money allowance historically has been set at 70 per cent of normal income support. Most people now receive less, and at the best an asylum seeker receiving financial support will be living on £5 per day.[i]
Asylum seekers whose claim has been refused lose their financial support and accommodation after 3 weeks unless they appeal. They are expected to leave the UK immediately. If they agree to return or they appeal they may qualify for even lower ‘hard case’ Section 4 support’,[ii] provided only in around 3% of cases. Because they are terrified of return, or for other reasons frightened of bringing themselves to the attention of a system they already know to be harsh, many do not apply. The remainder are not allowed to work and receive nothing. Women who are homeless because of domestic violence also end up destitute as do victims of trafficking. Tens of thousands of people are in this situation. The parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights[iii] said in 2007:
We have been persuaded … that the Government has indeed been practising a deliberate policy of destitution… We have seen instances in all cases where the Government’s treatment of asylum seekers and refused asylum seekers falls below the requirements of the common law of humanity and of international human rights law.
Four years later with a different government things are just the same.
Why are refused asylum seekers still here?
- They are afraid to go back: Most destitute asylum seekers are from countries considered extremely turbulent[iv] like Afghanistan, Somalia, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Zimbabwe and Iran.
- The numbers allowed to remain have fallen: The number of people given permission to stay has fallen significantly in recent years[v].
- They believe they have a case: Even if a person is correctly refused asylum, it does not automatically follow that their claim is unjustified[vi]. If the government accepts you were persecuted, you may be refused asylum unless you can prove it will happen again.
- The system makes mistakes: Experts have long expressed concerns about whether some asylum seekers receive a full and fair hearing of their claim[vii].
- Because they cannot go back: The Government cannot return people to countries at war, with uncooperative governments or unreliable means of travel.
Once the Government stops supporting an asylum seeker it may lose track of their whereabouts, which makes their removal near to impossible. The policy of making people destitute is therefore ultimately self-defeating.
Footnotes and additional information
[i] As from 18 April 2011 Asylum Support (Amendment) Regulations 2011 SI No 907) http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2011/907/made/data.pdf
[ii] Asylum seekers on Section 4 support receive £1.23 less per week than they would have received on Section 95 support, delivered through a plastic payment card rather than in cash, making it impossible for them to use vital services like making phone calls or taking buses. Those living with friends and family have to leave that accommodation and go into housing provided by the Government at the taxpayers’ expense in order to receive the support by means of the plastic card.
[iii] The Joint Committee on Human Rights ‘The Treatment of Asylum Seekers, Tenth Report of Session 2006-7, paragraph 120
[iv] Considered dangerous by the UN, Amnesty etc because of conflict, generalised violence and human rights violations.
[v] In the past most people from these countries would almost certainly have been given Exceptional Leave to Remain (ELR) for four years, and been allowed to work to support themselves. But in 2003 ELR was replaced by more restrictive categories of leave to remain. 2,555 adults were granted such leave in 2009 compared with 20,135 individuals who got ELR in 2002[v].
[vi] Many people apply for asylum in good faith, unaware that their case does not meet the strict criteria of the 1951 Refugee Convention. Nonetheless, they may have fled violently unstable countries and experienced violence, torture, or rape. Cut backs in legal aid have already reduced the proportion of successful claims, and further cuts now coming into effect will make the situation even worse.
[vii] Decision making in relation to some nationalities is especially poor. For example, in 2010, 50% of Somali nationals, 36% of Eritreans and 36% of Zimbabweans who appealed had their refusals overturned. This raises serious doubts about the quality of initial decision making. For every person who successfully overturns a poor decision, many more may be failing due to a lack of quality legal advice.
[Comment: Many Quakers around the UK are involved in projects aimed at relieving some of the misery of those caught up in destitution as a result of seeking sanctuary, and others campaign for changes in the system]