Asylum-seekers hit by huge rise in homelessness

Faster processing of applications deprives many of state support and forces them on to the streets
  • @emilydugan

The number of homeless and destitute asylum-seekers has soared over the past year, according to refugee charities. In some places the number of inquiries from destitute asylum-seekers has doubled since 2008. Charities and faith groups say they are struggling to meet the demand.

"We have seen a disturbing increase in destitution across the country, and it is affecting people at all stages of the asylum process," Sandy Buchan, the chief executive of Refugee Action, said. "While the Home Office should be applauded for speeding up the process, we are concerned that unless properly managed it can leave people with little time to lodge an appeal and find a solicitor to help them."

Research shows that cities such as Glasgow, Manchester, Leicester and Nottingham are inundated with asylum-seekers no longer supported by the state. Their benefits are withdrawn after their asylum applications are turned down. Up to one in four later win their appeals but the process can take a long time, during which they struggle to support themselves, and many are forced on to the streets.

Refugee Action says the number of visits from destitute asylum-seekers almost doubled in a year at their drop-in centres in Portsmouth, Plymouth, Leicester, Nottingham, Manchester and Liverpool. Between April and June 2008 they had 1,699 contacts from penniless asylum-seekers; over the same period in 2009 the number was 3,082.

Experts say the new asylum process, designed to speed up applications, is partly to blame for the greater numbers of failed asylum-seekers left homeless. "We would like to see all applicants given the time and support to find legal representation and receive a full and fair hearing. Making asylum-seekers destitute pushes them further to the margins of society and makes it less likely that their cases will be resolved," Ms Buchan said.

Robina Qureshi, the director of Positive Action in Housing, a Glasgow charity, said she had been shocked by the increase in the number of asylum-seekers coming to them for shelter. "We've encountered a 25 per cent increase this year in the number of people who are destitute, many of whom are pregnant women and children," she said. "Clearly the Government's policy of starving people out of the country isn't working, so the problem has landed at doors like ours."

The Home Office insists that it "provides measures to ensure that individuals are not destitute".