There are hundreds of destitute asylum seekers in Coventry and possibly thousands nationwide who are without support, accommodation or the right to work, according to a recent report published by the Coventry Refugee Centre (CRC).
‘Destitution and asylum seekers: a human rights issue’ aims to draw attention to the increasingly desperate situation of many failed asylum seekers in Coventry and other areas of the UK.
During a two-week period between November and December 2004, the CRC had fifty separate appointments in relation to destitution. They say this is likely to be ‘a fraction of the actual number of people who are left destitute within Coventry’, as many people will not access the services of the organisation. It is estimated by the Chair of the Coventry Kurdish Association, that there could be as many as 500 destitute Kurdish people within Coventry.
In addition, it is believed by the report’s author Becky Woodcock, that there are around 2,000 asylum seekers that are homeless and impoverished in Birmingham alone. And Wolverhampton Asylum Seeker and Refugee Service see approximately 100 destitute clients. Further afield in Sheffield, the Asylum Seeker Support Initiative estimates that the number of those in the Yorkshire city may be as high as 300.
Failure to protect
The reasons why so many failed asylum seekers become destitute are complex. The report suggests however that certain government policies and practices are exacerbating the ‘problem’. ‘Poor quality decision-making by the Home Office’ in its initial screening process; the rigid conditionality of ‘hard case’ support; and the severe restrictions being placed on local authorities from supporting failed asylum seekers by the Nationality and Immigration Act 2002 all contribute to increasing the likelihood of destitution.
The cumulative effect can be devastating. As well as the denial of the human right to shelter, destitution heightens the potential of vulnerable people to abuse. Because the destitute are unable to work legally, they may have to resort to finding employment in the grey economy. Here, they have no rights in the workplace, are vulnerable to exploitative working conditions and likely to be paid starvation wages. For women, the picture is even bleaker. Work in the grey economy can be difficult to access and in such circumstances, the potential for sexual exploitation means women are left in an increasingly vulnerable position.
Recommendations for action
The CRC suggests that significant changes need to be made to the asylum system and support structures in order to avoid this situation deteriorating further. These include:
- An overhaul of the initial decision-making process at the Home Office;
- A repeal of the provisions of the 2002 Act that restrict local authorities from supporting destitute asylum seekers;
- The provision of international protection and the right to work for people who cannot be returned forcibly to their country of origin and those in receipt of ‘hard case’ support;
- A review of the impact of removal of support from a human rights perspective;
- A review of National Asylum Support Service decision making processes in relation to the withdrawal of support, acceptance of medical evidence and access to ‘hard case’ support;
- Better support for social services to be able to respond to the social and community care needs of destitute clients;
- A review of the restrictions that exist in pursuing a further legal issue, i.e. the increasing difficulty in accessing legal aid and the procedural barriers that exist in terms of time constraints.
This report is an invaluable tool for policy-makers and those concerned with the alleviation of this unnecessary hardship.