Recently announced immigration measures are already having a detrimental impact on the physical and psychological health of people seeking asylum in the UK, according to the British Red Cross and the Refugee Council.
The charities, which collectively last year worked with nearly 44,000 people at all stages of the asylum process, are warning that existing problems with the asylum system are already getting worse as people are reluctant to claim support for fear or deportation, detention and other harsh measures.
Working directly with people claiming asylum, the charities are also hearing stories about people disappearing from hotels, the worrying impact on people’s anxiety and mental health with distressing reports of young people who have been self-harming.
In one case, a Rwandan asylum seeker has disclosed to the charity he would go into hiding and abstain from accessing support for fear that he could be deported back to the country from which he fled.
The charities are also concerned that the focus on trying to remove people to Rwanda will do nothing to speed up asylum decision making, with many people now having to wait for longer than a year before they get a decision. They also point to measures in the new Nationality and Borders Act, such as the limiting of family reunion rights and shorter periods of leave for some, as likely drivers of feelings of insecurity.
Mike Adamson, chief executive at the British Red Cross said:
“We are hearing directly from many people seeking asylum of the distress and anxiety recent announcements have provoked, even though they may not be directly impacted by them.
“As a result of the measures in the Nationality and Border’s Act, alongside the recent announcement to remove people to Rwanda on a one-way ticket, people are telling us that they feel less safe and less welcome in the UK.
“It’s therefore unsurprising that people’s psychological safety and sense that they are welcome has been eroded, and that people considering going underground leaving themselves without formal support and in very vulnerable positions.
“It’s vitally important that people who have been displaced from their homes feel safe and able to come forward and apply for the protection they need. We already support thousands of people who face destitution each year, and these policies are only likely to increase the need for help.
“We are urging authorities to change tack and instead address fundamental issues within the asylum system by creating more safe routes, improving asylum decisions and making sure people live in dignity with the support they need.”
Enver Solomon, CEO at the Refugee Council, said:
“We have been receiving a number of worrying reports from our services working directly with people in the asylum system about the devastating impact the threat being expelled to Rwanda is having on them. We are hearing tragic stories about the severe impact on mental health, including young, vulnerable children who are terrified what will happen to them with reports of self-harm. We are concerned the government is not seeing the face behind the case and should be doing far more to exercise its duty of care towards vulnerable people.
“These are men, women and children who have already endured so much trauma and upheaval. These new measures fail to address the reasons people take perilous journeys to the UK, and so will do little to deter people coming but only create more human suffering, distress, and chaos with dangerous, far-reaching consequences for vulnerable people who are simply in need of safety.
“We urge the Government to immediately rethink its plans and focus on operating an orderly, humane and fair asylum system.”
Those supported by the Red Cross include:
- A Rwandan asylum seeker contacted the Red Cross in South East England fearing he could be sent back to the country. He disclosed that he would be in hiding and refraining from accessing support so he is not identified by authorities.
- An Afghan service user living in temporary accommodation supplied by the Home Office in the East Midlands disclosed that he had gone into hiding, fearing that he would be detained and sent to Rwanda. He disclosed that many of his friends were in the same situation and planned to go underground so they are not detained.
- An asylum seeker from Ethiopia based in the West Midlands has said that he feels anxious about the passing of the Nationality and Border’s Act and disclosed he had left his accommodation out of fear that he will be sent to Rwanda.
- An Afghan asylum seeker also based in the West Midlands said he feels he is a second-class refugee as he is not eligible for recent schemes designed to support Ukrainians. The Red Cross has been providing advice and information to this person relating to his asylum application, and accessing services in the UK.
The charity is also concerned about the welfare of people fleeing Ukraine arriving under Government schemes.
Working alongside local councils and airport staff, expert teams from the Red Cross have been in airports, stations and other transport hubs since March 19, providing welfare support and welcome packs with vital information in English, Ukrainian and Russian, about life in the UK and how to access further support, including emotional support and basic items like food, phones and SIM cards.
But the charity claims more must be done to tackle basic problems being faced by refugees who do make it to the UK, ranging from problems accessing cash, to homelessness.
Mike Adamson, chief executive at the British Red Cross said:
“We are seeing an increasing number of calls to our support line and into teams on the ground from people struggling to get access to financial support and housing, in particular where arrangements have broken down with their original sponsor.
“The outpouring of support from the British public to Ukraine has been really moving and builds on that shown to Afghans just six months ago. Thousands of families up and down the country have offered to open their homes to women, men and children in search of safety.
“Complicated visa schemes have not made it easy or straightforward for people seeking safety in the UK to do so. Families are being left in limbo and often experience great financial and emotional strain as a result. That’s why we continue to urge the UK Government to temporarily lift visa requirements so more people can reach the UK quickly and safely.”