HELP ME INVESTIGATE: How many destitute asylum seekers are there in the UK? Should destitution be a part of the asylum seeking process at all?
I’m currently taking part in this investigation as I have deep concerns over the political tactics that currently enforce destitute upon thousands of people. Over the past year I have made several enquiries to the Home Office about this issue and each time they told me that the people I am speaking about do not as exist. As far as public-facing politics is concerned then there is no problem at all, however beneath the rhetoric there is quite clearly a huge population living in abject poverty in our backyard.
HELP ME INVESTIGATE: How many destitute asylum seekers are there in the UK? Should destitution be a part of asylum seeking process at all?
The Home Office refuse to put a figure on the number of destitute asylum seekers living ‘underground lives’ in Britain. Estimations from Amnesty and the Refugee Council put the number somewhere between 200,000 – 500,000.
In 2007 the House of Lords deemed that by ‘refusing permission for asylum seekers to work and operating a system of support which results in widespread destitution, the Governments treatment of asylum seekers in a number of cases reaches Article 3 ECHP threshold of inhuman and degrading treatment’.
According to the Refugee Council, half of all recorded destitution cases come from only four countries, Iraq, Iran, Zimbabwe and Eritrea – all places of conflict or that have human rights records. Many destitute asylum seekers are in poor health, both physically and mentally. Seventy-five percent of those who use the PAFRAS centre in Leeds have been diagnosed with clinical depression.
Around 95% of destitute asylum seekers are from affluent professional backgrounds including lawyers, teachers and television presenters. So the question must be asked, has Britain created a humanitarian disaster in our own backyard with its policies on asylum seekers.
DEFINITELY WORTH A WATCH – Documentary maker Nick Broomfield has made a short film for Amnesty International to highlight the issue of destitute refused asylum seekers in the UK.
– the overwhelming majority of the interviewees came from wealthy and/ or professional backgrounds in their home countries;
– their fears of return appear well-founded, as over two-thirds of those interviewed had experienced torture in their home countries, and over half had been imprisoned;
– the average period of time living destitute among those interviewed was two years and five months; one interviewee has lived destitute for seven years;
– almost three-quarters are sleeping outside or have done so. Over a third of these have been physically attacked by English people and over a third of women sleeping out have been sexually attacked, including rape. All are terrified of the police;
– most of them are surviving on less than £5 per week.
‘Underground Lives’ points out that the government’s emphasis on tough enforcement, trumpeted in press releases such as that put out in November 2008, ‘Third quarter removals at a six year high’, which boasted that ‘last year someone was removed every eight minutes’, involves starving refused asylum seekers into accepting voluntary removal, because forced removals are so expensive and can attract bad publicity when force is used. Three weeks after appeals are rejected, asylum support is cut off for those without children.
They are prohibited from working, access to health care is restricted, and they are obliged to leave asylum accommodation. Only by agreeing to return voluntarily, or by showing that it is impossible for them to return to their country of origin, can they access basic, cashless sub-subsistence level support. Refused asylum seekers don’t appear in homelessness statistics since they are ineligible for homeless persons’ accommodation; they are invisible. At least 26,000 live off Red Cross food parcels.
At the same time, asylum claims are at a 14-year low, less than a quarter of the over 100,000 claims made in the ‘peak’ year of 2002, and they represented only four per cent of total immigration applications made in 2007.