Call to end destitution of refused asylum seekers

30 March 2007

Scottish Refugee Council is calling on the UK government to stop using destitution as a means of forcing refused asylum seekers out of the country.

Destitution among refused asylum seekers is widespread and is having a devastating impact on already vulnerable individuals. Most refused asylum seekers in Scotland and the rest of the UK live in extreme poverty and are not able to provide for themselves as they are not permitted to work and are denied support.

Many of them cannot return to their country of origin because it may be unsafe for them to do so, they are unfit to travel due to ill health or their country of origin will not cooperate with their readmission.

Effectively made destitute by the government, they rely on handouts from friends or members of the community in which they have integrated, or they are forced into sleeping rough, making them vulnerable and open to sexual exploitation and abuse.

As part of the Still Human Still Here campaign, Scottish Refugee Council is calling on the government to end destitution for refused asylum seekers in the UK and is lobbying to amend Clause 17 of the UK Borders Bill, which will have its third reading in parliament in April.

Sally Daghlian, chief executive of Scottish Refugee Council, said: “Destitution is not a policy failure by the Home Office, it is a policy outcome. The deliberate use of destitution as a tool to enforce immigration control is both inhumane and ineffective.

“The majority of refused asylum seekers are living a hand to mouth existence, reliant on charity as they are not allowed to work. Many suffer from depression and mental health problems due to their destitution and their fear of being returned to their country of origin. As vulnerable people living on the very margins, they are exposed to exploitation and abuse.

“The denial of any means of support for refused asylum seekers as a matter of government policy is morally reprehensible. It’s time to end this scandal.”



1. Scottish Refugee Council is hosting a seminar, Destitution, Poverty and Asylum on Friday March 30. Speakers will include representatives from the Still Human Still Here campaign, including Scottish Refugee Council, British Refugee Council, Refugee Action and Amnesty International. The Poverty Alliance will also speak on their recent report, Voices of People Experiencing Poverty in Scotland.

Speakers will be available for interview today (Thursday) by telephone or on Friday between 1230 and 1330. Contact Aideen McLaughlin at Scottish Refugee Council on 0141 223 7927 or 07734030763.

2. The Still Human Still Here campaign consists of refugee, human rights and faith organisations including Scottish Refugee Council, Amnesty International, British Refugee Council and Refugee Action.

Still Human Still Here is calling on the government to:

  • End the threat and use of destitution as a tool of government policy against refused asylum seekers
  • Continue financial support and accommodation to refused asylum seekers as provided during the asylum process and grant permission to work until such a time as they have left the UK or have been granted leave to remain.
  • Continue to provide full access to health care and education throughout the same period. For full information see

3. A refused asylum seeker is someone who has exercised their right to claim asylum in the UK and has had their claim refused by the Home Office and has no outstanding appeal. Many refused asylum seekers still have protection needs because of flawed decisions made by the Home Office and processes which prevent asylum seekers from receiving a fair hearing.

The government is obliged to support asylum seekers while they are having their claims considered - although this system works very imperfectly. However, once their claim has been refused, all support for refused asylum seekers is terminated, except for families with children under 18. There is some ‘hard case’ support available called Section 4 support, although this is very difficult to access.

4. Due to the hidden nature of destitution, it is unknown how many destitute asylum seekers there are in Scotland and the UK as a whole. A survey carried out by Scottish Refugee Council estimated that there were at least 154 asylum seekers, refugees and their dependents destitute in Glasgow between 30 January and 26 February 2006.

According to the National Audit Office, there are between 155,000 and 283,500 refused asylum seekers living in the UK. Around 4,000 of these are living in Scotland. Most in Scotland are families and do receive some support, however unable to work, they cannot provide adequately for their children and live well below the poverty line.

For statistics and more information on destitution see They Think we are Nothing, A Survey of Destitute Asylum Seekers in Scotland, June 2006, Amnesty International’s Down and Out in London; Refugee Action’s The Destitution Trap; the Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s Destitution in Leeds, published earlier this week.

5. Case studies attached. PLEASE NOTE: The people anonomised in the case studies are NOT available for interview or photographs.



Names have been changed to protect identities.

The people quoted are not available for interview or photographs.

Rachel is in her mid-fifties and is a refused asylum seeker. She has been living destitute and homeless in Glasgow.

Rachel arrived in the UK in 2002 after been severely beaten and left for dead in her country of origin. Her husband has subsequently been killed there.

Despite applying for asylum in 2003, Rachel has never received support from the Home Office as she did not make her application ‘as soon as was reasonably practicable’ after she arrived in the UK. Her application for Section 4 ‘hard case’ support has also been refused on the same basis.

Rachel is suffering from mental health problems as a result of her treatment in her country of origin and her subsequent destitution in this country. She has considered taking her own life and, to her great shame, she has been forced to work as a prostitute to support herself. She is sleeping rough in Glasgow and getting some charitable handouts from organisations.

Rachel said:

“I am ashamed that I have forced myself to sleep with men for money and food, but how do they think that I can survive?

“I am nothing in this country - a cockroach is better than me. Even a dog in this country has shelter but I have nothing. I don't know when my suffering will stop.”


Rajinder is in his seventies. He and his elderly wife are refused asylum seekers and are destitute in Glasgow.

Rajinder and his wife fled persecution in their home country after he had been kidnapped and his business ransacked. They claimed asylum in the UK in 2006, but their application was refused and they have exhausted all appeals.

The couple did not have any legal advice before applying for asylum. When they eventually gained access to legal advice, they had three different legal representatives throughout the process. They have had no financial support for the last seven months, but have been able to stay in their NASS (National Asylum Support Service) accommodation. Rajinder suffers poor physical health and he and his wife are very frail with little English. They are surviving on charitable handouts.

Rajinder said:

“We don't want anything special, just what everyone wants – food and water. Now though I pray to my God to just give me death.”