'UK failing to promote human rights for asylum seekers'

Released: Tuesday 4th February 2014 at 14:34

Thousands of asylum seekers are living in destitution for years in the UK due to failures in local and central governments to address the problem in the support system, a report has found.

A report by the University of Sunderland analysed people living in destitute conditions highlights that this is a long-term problem, instead of a short-term phase of homelessness. In 2005 it was estimated that 283,500 people in the UK who came into the asylum process were living in poverty, some for more than six years and it is believed the number has continued to increase.

The report, Between Destitution and a Hard Place: Finding Strength to Survive Refusal From the Asylum System, said those fleeing persecution in their home country live in constant fear and anxiety about their situation. Several of those featured in the report were themselves or knew of people becoming depressed or mentally ill. Some were even relieved when they were diagnosed with illnesses such as tuberculosis because it meant they would receive help and treated like a human.

In the report, which has been sent to MPs and charities throughout the UK, it found one of the main difficulties experienced by those refused asylum was that destitution was accepted as the only way, with no other option because of the dangers they faced back in their home countries.

The report also explains how the majority of those featured in the research developed strategies on how to live in a culture of disbelief, distrust and personal fear, facing a daily struggle to find food and shelter for the night. It said strength was found through the support of friends and also “trusted” individuals in local churches, charities and organisations. However the report urges the Government to improve recognition and financial support for those community and voluntary organisations.

One of the key recommendations of the report was to allow those waiting to hear their case for asylum the right to work, subject to certain conditions. The report claims not giving people the right to work often leads to crime and exploitation and demeans the dignity of those waiting for a decision.

Dr Fiona Cuthill a public health senior lecturer at the University of Sunderland, led the report alongside two members of the Sudanese community in the UK, Omer Siddiq Abdalla and Khalid Bashir. She said: “Rather than denying that destitution following the asylum process exists, or using it as a tool to force people back to their country of origin, both central and local government need to harness the strength and resilience shown by these men and women to enhance both local communities and wider society.

“To give them the right to work would be a start. It is only then, that we can maybe say with some confidence that the UK is pursuing every opportunity to promote human rights and political and economic freedom.”

All of the male participants in the report felt hugely ashamed to get food hand-outs and said they wanted to work and to earn their own way in life. They were left in shock when they were told they could not do so when they first arrived in the UK. This left to some becoming exploited and working in factories 12 hours a day for seven days and being given no payment. A further example showed one person working in a restaurant kitchen illegally before severely injuring his hand. The owner would not take him to hospital, and several hours later he managed to arrive at Accident and Emergency, but due to the delay and irreversible damage to his hand he has been unable to use it since.

Elsewhere in the report it explained how several participants had been detained in a detention centre before being released back into destitution on the streets with no provision from the Home Office for accommodation or financial support. One participant explained how he was driven from Scotland to an alley in the North East of England, the van doors were opened and he was taken out of the van and left in the street.

Pete Widlinski, Tees Valley Area Manager, North of England Refugee Service, said: “This report is an important and influential addition to the growing number of reports that highlights and raises the awareness of the failures in the asylum system, particularly on the lack of support element.

Rather than opting to return to their home countries, or behaving as helpless victims, the report shows how people are coping with destitution in innovative ways, that strongly suggests innovation and strength of character - the type of people who will contribute to our society and enhance its nature and moral fibre should they be allowed the right to remain and contribute.”