The Refugee Council has published its report Hungry and homeless: the impact of the withdrawal of state support on asylum seekers, refugee communities and the voluntary sector, detailing the devastating impact Section 55, the policy of refusing welfare support to asylum seekers who do not claim asylum immediately upon arrival, is having on refugees and their communities.
Over a three week period in December 2003, 132 organisations responded to a survey assessing the impact of Section 55. Their responses paint a bleak picture of large numbers of very vulnerable asylum seekers left to sleep rough or in the already overcrowded homes of refugees already settled in the UK. The majority of the organisations surveyed had provided services to homeless asylum seekers suffering from hunger, ill-health including mental health problems, and lacking essential items such as clothes and toiletries.
Maeve Sherlock, Chief Executive of the Refugee Council said:
“Every day, we see clients in our offices who are suffering desperately at the hands of this piece of legislation. As this report reveals, many more approach their communities for help, leaving small, under-funded organisations to foot the bill for services that should be provided by the state. This is an intolerable burden, and one that organisations say is unsustainable in the long term.”
The Government did announce a concession in December 2003 that gave asylum seekers up to 72 hours after arrival to make their asylum claim. Yet the way that claims for support are being assessed means that asylum seekers who claim within that time period continue to be refused support.
Maeve Sherlock continued:
“The situation is increasingly frustrating. Even with the concession, people are being refused support because their account of their arrival is not being believed. This can be because they cannot remember what the flight attendant was wearing, or because they followed their agent’s specific instructions not to approach any official upon arrival in the UK. As a result, refugees are penalised for trusting the word of the person responsible for bringing them to the UK, yet to escape persecution they had no choice but to trust that person.
“One recent case was of a young woman from the Democratic Republic of Congo who arrived in January this year and claimed the day after her arrival, but was refused help. We advised the Home Office that she was pregnant as a result of rape and were able to get this decision overturned, but in the meantime a very young, vulnerable woman was left homeless and without support.
“There are numerous valid reasons refugees might not seek asylum straight away – in fact, the more trauma someone has suffered, the harder they may find it to seek help and follow the proper procedure. As our report clearly demonstrates, this law causes nothing but harm, and should be repealed .”
Key findings from the report reveal:
85% of respondents do not have funding to cover the cost of the services they are providing to asylum seekers denied support under Section 55 (82% of the organisations that responded are small groups with less than ten paid members of staff or run completely by volunteers)
74% of all organisations that responded reported seeing clients refused support even though they had applied for asylum within a few days of arrival
74% reported seeing Section 55 clients forced to sleep rough
66% reported seeing clients with health problems as a result of being made destitute under Section 55; 69% reported seeing clients with mental health problems
74% reported that they had clients lacking essential items such as clothes and toiletries
74% reported seeing Section 55 clients who experienced hunger
53% of respondents said they or members of their community had to provide emergency shelter for asylum seekers denied support under Section 55
70% of these had accommodated individuals in their own homes or those of community members.
Notes to editor
The report provides detailed evidence of the impact Section 55 is having on asylum seekers and the voluntary organisations that support them. This includes individual testimony from the organisations that responded and from asylum seekers refused support under Section 55.
Download a copy of Hungry & Homeless: the impact of the withdrawal of state support on asylum seekers, refugee communities and the voluntary sector. This is a pdf document, for which you will need Acrobat Reader which you can get free by going to the Adobe website.
Find out more about Section 55
The report was funded by Oxfam
For further information contact press office: Hannah Ward 020 7840 4404 / Jean Candler 020 7820 3057 (Switchboard: 0207 820 3000). For urgent or out of hours inquiries ring 0870 0555500 & ask for pager 865169.