Edinburgh’s Lord Provost calls for an end to refugee destitution

The Lord Provost of Edinburgh has called for an end to the unjust treatment of asylum seekers which leaves them without food or shelter and struggling to survive on the streets of Scotland’s capital.

Lord Provost Donald Wilson, who today signed the Stop Destitution campaign co-ordinated by Scottish Refugee Council and Refugee Survival Trust, believes refused asylum seekers – people who believe their lives remain at risk in their home countries – must be treated with more compassion.

The campaign calls for an end to the UK Government policy that means asylum seekers whose cases are refused are evicted from their homes. They are not allowed to work, to claim benefits and have no money for food, clothing or other essentials.

The campaign has already attracted support from Scottish civic and religious leaders, including Archbishop Philip Tartaglia, writers including Jackie Kay and Louise Welsh and more than thirty MSPs.

Research by Glasgow Caledonian University’s Scottish Poverty Information Unit shows that most of those affected are from countries with well-documented human rights abuses including Iran, Iraq, Eritrea and Zimbabwe.

They can find themselves destitute for years at a time but cannot return home, where they still fear for their lives. Some later go on to have their claim for protection upheld.

Lord Provost Donald Wilson said: "I am proud that Edinburgh is a major gateway to Scotland for people from across the world. The capital has long been a multi-cultural city, which is something we should all value. But I am concerned for those people who come here to escape violence and persecution and find themselves desperately trying to survive on our streets.

"I have added my voice to the Stop Destitution campaign because I believe that as a society we can do better than this.  People should not be forced to go hungry and homeless on the streets of Scotland today."

Rachel Farrier, Development Manager at Refugee Survival Trust, said: “Many refused asylum seekers are here in Scotland because they are desperately seeking safety from torture, terror and other human rights violations. We are calling on the UK Government to provide basic support to all asylum seekers until they are given the right to remain here or until they leave the country.

“We are delighted that the Lord Provost is adding his voice to the campaign and urge all Scots to get behind this urgent call for the humane treatment of refused asylum seekers.”

Almost 3000 people have signed the Stop Destitution petition. In addition more than 20 organisations have pledged their support, including Amnesty International, Shelter, and Child Poverty Action Group in Scotland. 

The issue was recently debated in the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government has agreed to write to UK ministers outlining their concerns about the plight of destitute asylum seekers. The campaign has the support of 30 MSPs and Glasgow City Council has also publicly denounced the policy.

The Provost today met a young man whose claim for asylum was turned down. He is now destitute in Edinburgh. 

Soran, from northern Iraq, has been destitute for two years. He said: “I fled my country because my life was in danger. My father was killed there and I believe I would also have been killed if I had not got out. I thought the UK would protect me but I did not get protection here and now it is becoming very difficult to survive.

“It’s not just me – asylum seekers across Scotland are suffering and something needs to change.”


Pictures of the Lord Provost signing the campaign petition available

For more information contact Pauline Diamond, Media Officer, Scottish Refugee Council on 0141 248 9799 /07850 930418 or email media@scottishrefugeecouncil.org.uk

Notes to editors

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 April 30, 2013. Follow the campaign’s progress on twitter using #stopdestitution

2.            Research carried out by Glasgow Caledonian University’s Scottish Poverty Information Unit found shocking levels of poverty among hundreds of destitute men and women in Scotland. The full report - Trapped – Destitution and Asylum in Scotland – can be read here.

3.            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. Watch the film at www.stopdestitution.org.uk

4.            Scottish Refugee Council is an independent charity that 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

5.            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. http://www.rst.org.uk