Stop treating asylum seekers as “non-humans”, say protestors - Refugee Council
February 19, 2007

Stop treating asylum seekers as “non-humans”, say protestors

People sleep out in Parliament Square in fight to end policy that treats asylum seekers as “non-humans”.

Supporters of asylum seekers and refugees from across the country will sleep out in the cold in Parliament Square in Westminster on the night of Monday 19 February, to back up the Refugee Council’s call for a fundamental change in the legislation that leaves potentially tens of thousands of refused asylum seekers homeless and destitute.

Acting Chief Executive of the Refugee Council, Anna Reisenberger said:

“Refused asylum seekers are human beings first, but they are being treated as if they are non-humans. To say to someone who has fled in terror from their country in the hope of finding safety here, that unless you return home you will be left to starve on the streets – which is what the current policy towards refused asylum seekers amounts to – is shameful for a civilised society”.

“And more than that, it isn’t working. Refused asylum seekers are being left homeless, hungry and without hope by our government, but they aren’t going back to their countries because it is simply too dangerous for them to do so.”

The most authoritative study to date estimates that there are up to 283,500 asylum seekers in the UK whose claims have been refused, although the figure could be higher than that¹. Most of those will not be entitled to any kind of welfare support at all on the basis that they have no right to remain in the country. Almost a quarter of the Refugee Council’s clients last year came to us because they had been refused support². Yet the government acknowledges that many of them cannot return home. As a consequence, these people are left in an impossible limbo – unable to return home, yet with no entitlement to housing or food, and forbidden to work to support themselves.

An amendment to the new UK Borders Bill is being proposed by the Refugee Council and other agencies to allow for asylum seekers to be supported – or to support themselves – whilst they remain in the UK.

Participants in the sleepout will be spending the night in sleeping bags on Parliament Square, across the road from the House of Commons from 6pm on Monday 19th to 10am Tuesday 20th February. The sleepers are coming from across Britain, have a broad variety of backgrounds and range in age from 17 to 72. Asylum seekers and refugees will be among them, including asylum seekers who are destitute themselves.

All of the following are sleeping out in support of the campaign.

Frances, 72, Cardiff, said:

“I feel deeply ashamed to be in a country where the Government is blind and deaf to protests that vulnerable people are experiencing genuine and, it appears, deliberately created, destitution over long and sustained periods of time. If this is ignorance or negligence on the Government’s part, the sleepout is a wake-up call to Government; if it’s part of Government policy, then that is a shameful breach of human rights and the sleepout is a wake-up call to the public and media

Dale Cranshaw, 24, Bristol said:

“No one has the right to force people into destitution, or even worse to return to a place they fear… It seems to me that if this was happening to almost any other group in society there would be outrage. Able people should have the right to work. Vulnerable people should have the right to sanctuary. I believe in these principles, as I believe most people do.”

Callum, 17, Bridgwater said:

“I think it’s outrageous that our so-called civilized nation allows asylum seekers to be left homeless and without any support… As a country that has profited so much from other countries (even their inhabitants e.g. the slave trade) the least we can do is support those who need are help, especially those who are fleeing persecution. That is why I think it’s really important to take part in demonstrations like the sleep out, in order to inform the public and show the government that its people aren’t happy.”

Anna Reisenberger added:

“We cannot allow a situation to continue where very vulnerable men and women are being forced to sleep on the streets and beg for food. I am proud of all those who are giving up their warm beds tonight to support us in calling for an end to this morally reprehensible policy.”

Ends

Notes to editor

1. National Audit Office report ‘Returning failed asylum applicants’ 14 July 2005 http://www.nao.org.uk/publications/nao_reports/05-06/050676.pdf.

2. Of the total number of clients seen by the Refugee Council last year, 23.13% had been refused support and were at the end of the process.

3. The sleepout will take place at Parliament Square from 6pm Monday 19 February to 10am Tuesday 20 February. Keep up to date with events on our online diary.

4. Sleepers and asylum seekers will also be available for interview. Further quotes from sleepers are available on our website: Sleepers – their thoughts.

Hannah Ward will be the contact for media on 0788 055 6931 (24hrs) during the evnt or on 020 7346 1213 or hannah.ward@refugeecouncil.org.uk after the event.