Hungry and homeless: the impact of Section 55

Hungry and homeless: the impact of Section 55

Written by: Daniel Parry

A report from the Refugee Council details the impact of Section 55 on asylum seekers and the voluntary organisations that support them.

The Refugee Council has published a report, written by Bharti Patel and Saoirse Kerrigan, Hungry and Homeless: the impact of the withdrawal of state support on asylum seekers, refugee communities and the voluntary sector, highlighting the destructive impact of Section 55, the policy of refusing welfare support to those who do not claim asylum immediately upon arrival.

Conducted in December 2003, the research on which the report is based surveyed 132 organisations providing services to asylum seekers to assess the impact of Section 55 of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002.

It highlights the way that it leaves vulnerable asylum seekers to either sleep rough or to make-do with friends or relatives in over-crowded accommodation. It details how asylum seekers who have been refused support now suffer a range of additional hardships from going hungry to facing mental health problems.

Despite the concession made to Section 55 – changing claimants time to apply for asylum from ‘as soon as reasonably practicable’ to 72 hours – the report states that 74 per cent of organisations reported seeing clients refused support even though they had applied for asylum within a few days of arrival.

Maeve Sherlock, Chief Executive of the Refugee Council, states: ‘Even with the concession, people are being refused because their account of arrival is not being believed.’ A particular example is Kadir, 25, from Sudan. Despite applying for asylum the very day he arrived, welfare support was rejected. The aftermath of which leaves him destitute and dealing with personal torment: ‘I feel depressed, unhappy and hopeless… I feel less than human – like an animal.’

The report highlights Section 55’s impact on refugee women who may already have faced the trauma of rape and sexual assault before flight. 60 per cent of organisations reported having seen such lone females denied support with nowhere to stay.

Destitution has been compounded with a lack of medical supervision. The report claims that over 60 per cent of organisations reported seeing clients suffering from health problems as a result of being made destitute and having difficulty just seeing a doctor.

Further key findings from the report reveal:

  • 69 per cent reported seeing clients with mental health problems
  • 74 per cent reported seeing clients who experienced hunger
  • 74 per cent reported seeing clients forced to sleep rough
  • 74 per cent reported that they had clients lacking essential items such as clothes and toiletries

Aimed at NGOs and the government, the report claims that the implementation of Section 55 is endangering the under-resourced asylum voluntary sector. (85 per cent of organisations said they did not have funding to cover the cost of the services they are providing to asylum seekers denied support.)

The central recommendations of the report are the need to repeal Section 55 and to carry out an independent review of the impact that such legislation has on destitute asylum seekers.

Related links

Refugee Council

NASS: chronicle of failure – IRR comment

The Institute of Race Relations is precluded from expressing a corporate view: any opinions expressed are therefore those of the authors.

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