The new 2016 Immigration Act has made destitution support for refused asylum seekers harder to access. As a result, an increasing number of asylum seekers remain in the UK homeless, vulnerable and destitute.
BY JENNY SMITH
The introduction of the 2016 Immigration Act includes stricter conditions to access destitution support (money/accommodation) for refused asylum seekers. This includes an agreement to leave the UK as soon as possible, even though individuals are still fearful of persecution. Unable to comply with these conditions, asylum seekers remain homeless and vulnerable in the UK.
Refusal of Asylum Applications
In 2016, only 34% of asylum applications were given some form of protection from persecution. This number increased to 49% when appeals are processed. The asylum applicants that are refused support are then forced to begin a long appeal process.
Once asylum seekers have exhausted their appeal process without a positive outcome, they are expected to leave their current accommodation within 28 days. Without any regular Home Office payments or accommodation, destitution is likely for this group if they remain in the UK.
2016 Immigration Act
If destitution is experienced by asylum seekers, they are able to apply for destitution support from the Home Office. The 2016 Immigration Act has replaced previous support for destitute asylum seekers with harsher requirements to gain access this support, resulting in fewer asylum seekers being entitled to it.
Harsher measures include:
- Single individuals are only allowed to apply for this support within the first 21 days of exhausting their asylum application appeal options which terminates their support.
- The Act removes any appeal process if destitution support is refused.
- The Act requires a large amount of evidence to justify the application for support. The support is only provided if the applicant has agreed to return to their country of origin and the reason they have not left is that they have a ‘genuine obstacle’, e.g. health issues that restricts flying.
Individuals who still feel they have genuine reasons to flee persecution often feel unable to commit to voluntary return, resulting in limited eligibility for destitution support.
Refusal of Destitution Support
When individuals are not entitled for destitution support (due to their refusal to return to country of origin, missing application deadline or unable to provide evidence etc.), they destitute for lengthy periods.
They remain homeless sleeping on friends’ couches and borrowing money. This group are often exploited whilst working illegally and renting without ‘permission to rent’. Diminishing mental-health, high levels of anxiety and mistreatment are common amongst this group.
The Home Office does not monitor destitute asylum seekers who are not entitled to any form of financial or accommodation support. There is no accurate figure for how large and nation-wide this problem is. This destitution remains invisible to the general public. Here, the inaccessibility of official support encourages destitution amongst this group.
Awareness and Support
There are some wonderful organisations across the country that support asylum seekers who have no access to funds. These organisations produce interesting reports on the issue, as well as working to raise awareness of the range of issues and barriers that Home Office policies and the new 2015 Immigration Act have created. Members of the public must increasingly engage with this important work and recognise the implications of policy decisions on different migrant groups, including refused asylum seekers. Contributions to charities that support destitute asylum seekers, food banks and homeless shelters are important to help this group. ____________________________________________________________________
Jenny Smith is a doctoral researcher at Newcastle University, based in London. Her research focuses on the impacts of Home Office policy on asylum seekers, in particular experiences of destitution, everyday racism and different coping strategies used by individuals.
For more information on destitution in the UK: Red Cross Report
(Regional/National Examples) Action Foundation Report
For more information on the impact of the 2016 Immigration Act: Rights Info