Seeking shelter

A destitute man c.Kuzma/ iStock
Many people seeking asylum in the UK are left destitute

In June 2010 Abdi, a destitute asylum seeker, was interviewed by Guardian journalist Amelia Gentleman. At the time he was interviewed, he was living rough on the streets of Birmingham and surviving on a £10 weekly food voucher donated by the Red Cross.

His situation, as described by Gentleman, was desperate.  His asylum claim had been rejected, and his support therefore stopped. He was persona non grata, unable to work; not even entitled to a hostel bed.

And yet a life of destitution was still preferable to returning to his home country of Somalia, where he felt sure he would be killed. “If you understand that it is a choice between living here in this way and going back to be slaughtered, then you understand that there is no choice," he told the newspaper.

His position did not seem tenable – surely something would be done? But six months later Gentleman contacted him again and found that little had improved in Abdi’s life. Fighting illness, which has plagued him since the cold weather started, and though now dossing down in a friend’s cold and dirty flat for a few weeks, the uncertainty he faces has far from abated. He is currently gathering further evidence to support his appeal, but with no money to help him carry out his research and with the prospect of legal aid in England being cut, success is far from certain.

An all too common scenario

What is so tragic about this situation is that is it all too common. Scottish Refugee Council case workers see destitute asylum seekers seeking help day after day. Some can apply for Section 4 support – short-term support granted to those who have put in a fresh claim, have a judicial review pending, can prove they are unfit to travel, or already taking steps to return home.

This provides them with £35 a week on the Azure payment card and a room in a shared flat. For others there are extremely limited emergency destitution grants provided by charities such as Refugee Survival Trust, in collaboration with Scottish Refugee Council, and by Positive Action in Housing.

But if this limited support is refused, and emergency funds used up, there is often little case workers can do other than provide people with a list of shelters, soup kitchens and church drop-ins around the city.

Some asylum seekers are lucky enough to find shelter at the home’s of volunteers for charities such as Positive Action on Housing, which matches destitute asylum seekers with those who can offer a spare room for a couple of weeks or months to someone who has nowhere else to go. Others, like Abdi, simply end up on the streets.

A shameful situation

This situation – happening on vicious repeat in cities around the UK – is one of which we should be very ashamed in 21st century Britain. That is why over 40 charities including Scottish Refugee Council are working together on the Still Human, Still Here campaign, which aims to highlight and bring an end to destitution for those seeking sanctuary here.

It is urging the Government to:

  • Provide asylum seekers who would otherwise be destitute with sufficient support so that they can meet their essential living needs until they are returned to their country of origin or are returned to the UK
  • Provide free access to healthcare for all asylum seekers while they are in the UK
  • Grant asylum seekers permission to work if their case has not been resolved within six months, or they have been refused, but temporarily cannot be returned through no fault of their own
  • Improve decision making and ensure that all those in need of protection receive it

And you can help us achieve this. You can support our campaign for humane, cash support for all those seeking asylum, and make sure that 2011 is that the year that we put our foot down and refuse to tolerate the inhuman treatment that all too many asylum seekers, like Abdi, are facing in the UK.

You can also make a donation to Scottish Refugee Council, to help us continue to support people like Abdi.


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