LEICESTER, United Kingdom – Jesuit Refugee Service UK (JRS UK) is praising a new report from the British Red Cross to extend the time given to refugees before being cut off from government aid.
Asylum seekers in the UK are not allowed to work until they are officially given refugee status, and depend upon a small allowance of around $50 a week, along with basic accommodation, while their asylum claims are processed.
The UK grants refugee status if a person can prove they have a a well-founded fear of persecution in their home country for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership of a particular social group.
However, once granted official refugee status – with the right to live and work in the UK – they are given just a 28-day “move on period” before they lose government asylum seeker support, which leaves many refugees destitute and even homeless.
“For someone who has fled war or persecution, being recognized as a refugee should be a moment of joy and relief. It should be the end of living in limbo and the start of a positive journey towards building a new life in the UK. But for too many refugees this momentary relief is quickly followed by an eviction notice,” says the Cost of Destitution report, which was released Feb. 18.
After commissioning a cost-benefit analysis from the Centre for the Analysis of Social Exclusion (CASE) at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), the British Red Cross said extending the “move-on period” from 28 to 56 days could end up saving the taxpayer around £7 million ($9.1 million) from expenses arising from homelessness and health costs, as well as offering “potential financial benefits of improved employability, wellbeing and social integration.”
The head of JRS UK, Sarah Teather, urged the British government to adopt the recommendations in the report and extend the “move on period” as “quickly as possible.”
“This report makes a simple, practical suggestion for change that the Government could adopt easily which would, at a stroke, prevent many refugees from suffering the horror of destitution,” she said.
“The move-on period is not the only cause of destitution amongst refugees, however. Those we accompany at JRS UK have usually been made destitute by the asylum system long before they reach that point. More root and branch reform to the system is needed to prevent their misery,” Teather continued.
The Red Cross report said destitution can be self-perpetuating: “The risks of entrenched homelessness increase with every night a person sleeps rough. The costs included in this report are a conservative estimate based on immediate, short-term destitution and homelessness but would increase if newly granted refugees became entrenched rough sleepers and/or faced longer term barriers to accessing employment and welfare support.”
Sophie Cartwright, the JRS UK Policy Officer, told Crux that many asylum seekers seriously struggle to pay for their day to day needs.
“There are barriers to accessing asylum support for many legally entitled to it, and once a claim is refused, support is cut off, leaving people utterly destitute and dependent on friends and charities to survive. Even for those who receive asylum support, at £37.75 a week it often proves insufficient to meet basic needs,” she said.
The British government has tightened the procedures for asylum seekers to prove their refugee status, following a 2010 pledge by the Conservative Party government to cut immigration to the UK to “the tens of thousands,” a target many experts saw as impractical.
Critics have accused the government of assessing asylum claims with a bias towards rejecting them to help meet this quota, instead of on the individual merits.
Asylum seekers have also been caught up in the government’s so-called “hostile environment” policy, aimed at making it difficult to live in the UK if you are not a legal resident. However, legal residents have had their access to housing and work cut off due to mistakes in the system.
“JRS UK advocates for a society where everyone who seeks sanctuary is able to participate fully, meet their needs, and live in dignity, and where no one is made destitute by the asylum system,” Cartwright said.
“We call for an end to the ‘hostile environment,’ and wider systemic change. It is vital that the ‘move on’ period support is extended,” she told Crux.
“Furthermore, we urge the government to lift the ban on work for those seeking asylum. People we accompany and serve often tell us they long to use their skills, contribute to society, and support themselves. As this is not always possible, it is also important that adequate support is readily available to people seeking asylum,” she added.
In a statement to the BBC, the Home Office said the UK “has a proud record of providing protection to vulnerable individuals and helping them to rebuild their lives here.”
The Home Office has the same competencies as the U.S. Departments of Justice and Homeland Security, and handles asylum requests in the UK.
“The government is committed to ensuring vulnerable refugees get the support they need to find work, get assistance from their local authority to find housing or apply for mainstream benefits,” the Home Office statement said.
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