This important report lifts the lid on the extreme poverty faced by refused asylum seekers in the UK.
Destitute asylum seekers, who, according to the Home Office’s UK Border Agency (UKBA), have ‘chosen’ destitution because they fear the consequences of return to their home countries.
The Leeds based organisation Positive Action for Refugees and Asylum Seekers (PAFRAS), which wrote Underground Lives: an investigation into the living conditions & survival strategies of destitute asylum seekers in the UK, found and interviewed fifty-six people from twenty different countries, who are living in the UK on ‘less than a dollar a day – the yardstick that defines acute and unacceptable poverty across the globe’.
Among the report’s findings are the following:
- 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.
The words of the asylum seekers and their photographs coming out of the pages of the report at the reader, shame our society and its inhuman policies to those deemed not worthy of asylum.
Download a copy of Underground Lives: an investigation into the living conditions & survival strategies of destitute asylum seekers in the UK (pdf file, 2.8mb)