Largest ever survey of destitution among asylum seekers shows system is failing

UK Media Release

EMBARGOED: 0001hrs, 14 May 2009

Largest ever survey of destitution among asylum seekers shows system is failing

A report published today by the Asylum Support Partnership, a coalition of the leading refugee charities in the UK, reveals shocking facts about the failures of the asylum system to look after people in dire need.

The Second Destitution Tally, examining the extent of destitution among asylum seekers, refused asylum seekers, and refugees, shows that almost half (48%) of visits to refugee charities are from people who are destitute, and the majority of those are people whose claims have been refused.  Many have been destitute for longer than six months.  There were 250 visits by destitute families with children.

Strikingly, half of all those recorded as destitute came from one of only four countries: Iraq, Iran, Zimbabwe and Eritrea.  Those who had been destitute for a long time, in some cases over two years, also came from a small number of countries: Iraq, Iran, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.  All of these countries are places of conflict or have poor human rights records.  This suggests that people will remain destitute in the UK for long periods if they do not believe it is safe to return, and that destitution could be more than halved if solutions were found for asylum seekers from these countries, including recognition of the problems of return, and granting leave to stay in the UK.

Donna Covey, Chair of the Asylum Support Partnership and Chief Executive of the Refugee Council said:

“It is impossible to show just from numbers how devastating the impact of destitution is.  However, the sheer size of the numbers gives some indication of how serious the problem is.  The fact that our survey includes families is simply shameful.

“The government insists that no-one needs to be destitute, but this survey shows us this is categorically not the case.  Most of the people our organisations see are from countries where there are serious human rights abuses or internal conflict and it is clear that return is not an option for them.

“The system needs a radical overhaul – with new, sustainable solutions for those who are unable to go home, and options including permission to work.  It also needs to urgently address the administrative failures that result in people who are entitled to support not receiving it.  We are eager to work with the government to help identify and implement these solutions.”




Notes to editor:


1.  An embargoed copy of the report and executive summary is available from Hannah Ward at the Refugee Council on 020 7346 1213 or

2.  The Asylum Support Partnership is made up of the following organisations:


Refugee Action – contact: Julia Ravenscroft 0161 233 1956

Refugee Council – contact: Hannah Ward 020 7346 1213

Welsh Refugee Council – press enquiries 02920 432 995

North of England Refugee Service

Scottish Refugee Council


3.  Refugee Action also launches a new online film today in which destitute people talk about the impact the policy has had on their lives and their daily struggle for survival. The four-minute film, which includes an interview with a Zimbabwean woman who turned to prostitution to support herself, can be viewed at: