Campaign to stop refugees going homeless and hungry launches, as research finds ‘extreme’ poverty affects hundreds

Hundreds of asylum seekers in Scotland, including children and pregnant women, are being left completely destitute with no support and nowhere to live, and yet they have no way of returning home safely, according to Scottish refugee charities.

The claims by Scottish Refugee Council and Refugee Survival Trust are based on new research by Glasgow Caledonian University’s Scottish Poverty Information Unit, which highlights refugee poverty as the most extreme researchers have seen.

In response the charities are launching an urgent campaign calling for the UK Government to change its policy of forcing refused asylum seekers into destitution.

The campaign calls on Scots to ‘open their eyes’ to refugee destitution and help stop the deliberate policy in its tracks by signing a postcard or online petition calling for change, which will be sent to the UK Immigration Minister.

Refused asylum seekers often come from countries including Iran, Eritrea, Zimbabwe and Sudan, to which return is extremely difficult because their governments will not co-operate or there is no safe route.

Yet their support is stopped and they face eviction from their accommodation in Scotland.

They are not entitled to work yet have no money for essentials such as food, warm clothes, toiletries including sanitary products, and bus fares.  Many are destitute for years at a time but cannot return home, where they still fear for their lives.

Head researcher Morag Gillespie surveyed over 100 asylum seekers, two thirds of whom were refused, and recorded a total of 148 destitute people, including at least 18 children and five pregnant women. But she believes that this is just the tip of the iceberg.

She said: “My research suggests hundreds of asylum seekers are caught in a trap – unable to go home and yet forced into destitution and unable to support themselves in any way.

“The existence of such extreme poverty in Scotland should be a focus of public policy concern.

“In all my years of researching poverty with different sections of society, I have in fact never seen anything so extreme or so hidden from official records. I can’t believe that we treat people like this in Scotland today. It is no way to live.”

Gary Christie, Head of Policy for Scottish Refugee Council, said; “Every day our case workers deal with people who are in desperate situations.

“We see people who have been tortured in Iran yet have been refused protection; others fleeing for their lives from the violence of war in Somalia but who don’t meet the terms of the refugee convention; or pregnant women whose cases have been turned down and don’t qualify for any support until they reach 32 weeks.

“While families are supposed to receive support until they leave or are granted status, our research shows that, terrifyingly, some are falling through the gaps.

The system is complex, difficult to understand and is not working. We are calling on Scots to say enough is enough. Please get behind our campaign and tell the UK Immigration Minister that refugee destitution in Scotland has to stop.”

Michelle Lowe, Development Manager for Refugee Survival Trust, said: “It is criminal and shameful that people who come here seeking protection are left penniless and homeless by our unfair asylum system.

“Over the last three years Refugee Survival Trust has provided emergency support to over 1800 people who had no other way of buying food or other essentials. Many of them were homeless.

“It is UK Government policy which forces people into this position and this has to stop. Please help us to send the Government the message that no one in Scotland should be made destitute”.

Ako Zada, a human rights activist from Kurdistan, whose claim for asylum was refused last year is one of many struggling to survive without support. He said:

“I fled to the UK because my life was put in danger when I spoke out against the oppressive regime in my country.

“The Home Office has stopped my support and I am facing eviction. If I am kicked out on to the street I don’t have any alternatives.

“It is a horrible situation that makes me very depressed but I feel I must speak out so that things will hopefully improve for others in the future. People need to know that asylum seekers are living like this, surviving on nothing.”

Scottish Refugee Council and Refugee Survival Trust will launch their campaign at a public event at the Tron Theatre later today (Monday, 1 October), as part of Black History Month.

For more information, to arrange interviews, photographs or filming contact Karin Goodwin or Pauline Diamond, Media and Communications Officers for Scottish Refugee Council on 0141 223 7927 or mobile 07850930418

Notes to editors:

  1. Trapped – Destitution and Asylum in Scotland is an independent piece of research carried out by Morag Gillespie of Glasgow Caledonian University’s Scottish Poverty Information Unit and commissioned by the British Red Cross, Refugee Survival Trust and Scottish Refugee Council.

The Scottish Poverty Information Unit believes that poverty is caused by the unequal distribution of opportunities and resources rather than the lack of resources in society. SPIU works with others committed to eradicating poverty in Scotland by doing robust policy analysis, quality research and knowledge exchange. SPIU works in partnership towards the goal of reducing poverty and extending social justice.

  1. The Stop Refugee Destitution in Scotland campaign is co-ordinated by Scottish Refugee Council and Refugee Survival Trust. We are asking people to help us stop destitution by signing an e-petition at www.stopdestitution.org.uk calling for change. We want:
  • Proper support – provided to all asylum seekers until they receive protection or can be returned home safely
  • The right to work – for all asylum seekers who remain in the UK for more than six months without their cases being resolved
  • A better system – improve decision making on asylum claims and make sure we give protection to all those who need it

The campaign runs from October 1, 2012 until March 31, 2013. Follow the campaign’s progress on twitter using #stopdestitution

  1. Scottish Refugee Council, British Red Cross and National Theatre of Scotland have also commissioned a new film – Destitution – by film maker Chris Leslie, which tells the stories of three destitute asylum seekers. See the film at www.stopdestitution.org.uk
  2. Scottish Refugee Council is an independent charity which provides advice and information to men, women and children seeking asylum and refugees living in Scotland. We also campaign for fair treatment of refugees and people seeking asylum and to raise awareness of refugee issues. It administers grants from Refugee Survival Trust to destitute refugees and asylum seekers. For more information: www.scottishrefugeecouncil.org.uk
  3. Refugee Survival Trust is a small charity which exists to prevent destitution among people seeking asylum in Scotland. RST provides small lifeline grants to those made destitute and those facing obstacles in accessing employment and education. The organisation also carries out research, awareness-raising, and lobbying to tackle the root causes of asylum destitution.