Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

We are failing asylum seekers

Homelessness is rapidly rising among asylum seekers in the United Kingdom. It is time to secure their rights, writes Bethany Morris

The Migration Observatory states that in 2017, the majority of asylum seekers entering the United Kingdom came from Iran, Pakistan, and Iraq; countries of a lower socio-economic standing which have been plagued by conflict and violence. With the fifth largest economy worldwide, many have chosen to seek asylum in the UK in pursuit of a better life. However, the dream of stability and financial security is still little more than an illusion for many asylum seekers who face hardship and irresolution when attempting to settle in the UK.

Homelessness in the UK is rising: Shelter claim that 320,000 people were reported as sleeping rough in 2018. Strict regulations enforced by the Home Office, a challenging economy and housing shortages have all played a role in the increasing number of asylum seekers facing poverty across the country.

Asylum seekers do not possess the same rights as those with visas or British citizenship. Only after 12 months of waiting are they permitted to take up a job – but only if the role is featured on the UK Shortage Occupation List. This list varies from medical practitioners and graphic designers to aircraft engineers and ballet dancers. In truth, the percentage of asylum seekers qualified to fill this quota is minuscule, leaving the majority unemployed and reliant on public funds. This hardship is exacerbated by the benefit application process which can take longer than the 28-day estimate, and the wait to obtain a National Insurance number which can be extensive.

Although those who claim asylum are entitled to financial support and temporary accommodation, they are only given £5.39 a day. With such a small amount of aid offered and such stringent work regulations enforced, asylum seekers often find themselves destitute or starved. The Red Cross found that the number of refugees and asylum seekers experiencing food poverty increased as much as 20 per cent in a year.

Under current laws, asylum-seekers are offered leave to remain whilst they make a claim for refuge in the UK. However, if their claim is unsuccessful, they can lose their right to remain and will have to appeal this decision. This is a process which – in some cases – is not even realised or understood by the applicant. Yet those that do appeal are more likely to succeed: the number of appeals rejected by the Home Office and later overturned by independent judges is a staggering – and growing – majority. Between 2017-18, the percentage of rejected appeals rose by 23 per cent, standing at 75 per cent in 2018. Ineffective government policy and pressure to meet deportation and removal quotas is a likely explanation for these figures, yet despite such policy being denounced, there are still obstacles asylum seekers must face in the UK.

Asylum housing provider Serco announced a large-scale eviction programme in August 2018, ramping up pressure on local authorities to house those in need. Greater Manchester’s mayor, Andy Burnham, has threatened to block the region from housing any more asylum seekers, stating that the demand for asylum accommodation has increased by 58 per cent since April 2014. Yet with other regions across the country facing housing shortages and economic uncertainty, those seeking asylum in the UK are confronted with increasing hardship and disadvantage.

According the Mental Health Foundation, asylum seekers are five times more likely to experience mental health issues than the general population due to a culmination of both pre-migration experiences and post-migration conditions. Although more than 61 per cent of asylum seekers will experience severe mental distress, research indicates that they are less likely to receive support than the general population. Factors such as homelessness, isolation, and poverty may also lead to physical health issues such as malnutrition or deterioration.

Language barriers and a lack of awareness may also prevent individuals from seeking help, leaving many continuing to struggle without access to the services they need.

Although government policy exists to support asylum seekers, it is apparent that amendments are needed to ensure that such vulnerable individuals do not continue to fall through the cracks and remain unsupported. With the homelessness epidemic continuing to intensify, and the uncertainty around Brexit presenting new threats to our country’s economy and infrastructure, it is important that these issues are addressed with immediacy to secure the safety and rights of those seeking refuge.

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Bethany Morris is a correspondent for the Immigration Advice Service. They tweet @IASimmigration

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