LEICESTER, United Kingdom – A recent decision by the UK government to evict people seeking asylum from temporary accommodations is “deeply troubling,” especially during an upsurge of COVID-19 cases, according to the Jesuit Refugee Service UK.
The UK Home Office – which handles immigration and security matters – said last week that asylum seekers whose cases have been refused and have no outstanding appeals must vacate their housing with “immediate effect” and leave the UK within 21 days.
Mariam Kemple-Hardy, head of campaigns at Refugee Action, told the Independent – which first reported the story – that starting mass evictions just as COVID-19 appeared to be growing in the country again was a “sucker punch” from the Home Office to people seeking refugee status.
Asylum seekers aren’t allowed to work our access public funds while waiting for their cases to progress, so the Home Office provides housing during the process. Evictions were stopped during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The phased cessation of support has now begun in order to reduce the demand on the asylum system. We have been clear from the outset that this was a temporary measure which would be brought to an end as soon as it was safe to do so,” A Home Office spokesperson told the Guardian.
“Those who have received a negative asylum decision, which means they have no right to remain the UK, are given a 21-day grace period. During this time, they are expected to make steps to return to their country of origin while still remaining in accommodation and receiving support. Assistance is available for those who leave voluntarily, but for those who do not, enforcement action may be taken to facilitate removal,” the spokesperson concluded.
“Manufactured homelessness should never be considered an acceptable tool of immigration enforcement, and it is deeply troubling that anyone should face renewed homelessness in the middle of a global pandemic,” said Sarah Teather, the director of JRS UK.
The Catholic agency notes that many people initially refused asylum are eventually recognised as refugees, or as otherwise in need of international protection, by the Home Office.
“The UK asylum process is complex and deeply problematic and hampered by a well-documented, systematic culture of disbelief within the Home Office,” a JRS representative told Crux, noting the Conservative government’s “Hostile Environment” policy aimed at limiting the numbers of people coming to the country.
“There are many reasons why their need for protection is not recognized – successive cuts to legal aid have made it increasingly difficult to secure adequate legal advice. People might not disclose the relevant elements to support their claim at first, because they are not aware of what those relevant elements are, or because of profound trauma,” the representative said.
“Many of those whom we support still suffer trauma from their often long and perilous journeys to the UK, and many have suffered at the hands of human traffickers. Additionally, refugees often do not have personal documents, having had to flee in a hurry. This all feeds into a context where caseworkers are too often trying to refuse cases.”
JRS notes that people refused asylum are able to present new evidence towards their asylum claim to the Home Office, although the process can be difficult and can take years, especially if “you are street homeless and all your energy goes into daily survival, it is particularly hard to engage with your case.”
The refugee agency also noted that those with precarious immigration status, including those seeking asylum, who are evicted from their accommodation are left with no options, since they are banned from working and receiving public funds.
“This leaves those seeking asylum in precarious and unpredictable living situations from sofa-surfing, to street homelessness, and they become even more vulnerable to exploitation. They also face an increased chance of being detained in immigration detention centers which, as our recent report shows, is an arbitrary and unnecessary cruel policy which leaves those who experience it with ongoing trauma,” the JRS representative said.
In response to the decision by the Home Office, JRS has re-opened its London-based “At Home” hosting scheme, which pairs volunteer hosts with destitute asylum seekers for a short-term period.
They are currently looking for 10 new volunteers to take part in the scheme and are urging Catholics to open their homes to needy asylum seekers for a three-month period.
“We only refer people that are known to us and whom we have established some trust with, who have been coming to us for some time, and we do not refer through external agencies. We also take great care in matching a refugee guest to hosts who would be a willing, capable and suitable fit,” the JRS representative said.