The number of refugees and asylum seekers living in food poverty has soared by 20 per cent in a year, as thousands are left destitute even after being granted protection in the UK, The Independent can reveal.
The Red Cross warns that a lack of government aid for asylum seekers and a sudden cut-off in support once they are granted refugee status is pushing a growing number of vulnerable people into destitution.
The charity supported 15,000 people experiencing destitution last year, during which it recorded a 20 per cent rise in demand for food parcels and a 43 per cent increase in people needing baby packs since 2016 – with overall distributions now at a five-year high.
At least 23 per cent of people seeking its support have refugee status and therefore a legal right to protection and to remain in the UK, the charity said.
Campaigners are now calling on ministers to extend the period of time newly recognised refugees continue to receive support, as many are becoming destitute on being granted leave to remain because their asylum support – which includes housing – comes to an end after 28 days.
There are also concerns about shortfalls in the support offered to people while they wait for their asylum decisions to be processed – aid that is often a lifeline as asylum seekers are not allowed to work or receive mainstream benefits while they wait for a decision on their claim.
The Home Office prompted anger last month when it announced a rise of 80p in the weekly cash allowance given to people claiming asylum in the UK per week. The below inflation rise followed a three year freeze, and announced a rise of 2.1 per cent when the current inflation rate is 3 per cent.
A report last year meanwhile revealed more than nine in 10 homeless and destitute asylum seekers had been wrongly denied emergency support they were legally entitled to from the Home Office. It found the Government was missing its own deadlines for providing support for people while their applications were processed.
Thangam Debbonaire MP, chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Refugees, told The Independent the rise in poverty-stricken refugees and asylum seekers was an “awful statement about who we are as a country”.
She said: “There is a global refugee crisis and the UK has a legal obligation under international law to take our fair share. However, we take a tiny number in any case and to read how many experience poverty and destitution instead of the welcome they deserve and are entitled to is an awful statement about who we are as a country.
“I urge the Government to take urgent action to ensure that refugees and asylum seekers are treated humanely and have sufficient resources to meet their needs. I also ask them to reconsider the rules on the right to work – as refugees come with skills we as a country need, and which they want to use to contribute to the country which gives them refuge.”
Alex Fraser, director of Refugee Support at British Red Cross, said: “No one who has fled conflict and persecution should be left destitute as a side effect of being granted protection in this country.
“Not only does destitution severely impact a persons’ ability to provide for themselves and their family, but in our experience can also lead to an increased risk of exploitation.
“Through our front line services, we know that after being given refugee status, the process of finding work and somewhere to live often takes much longer than 28 days.”
Jonathan Bartley, co-leader of the Green Party, said: “The Government’s hostile environment is destroying the lives of those seeking sanctuary in the UK. The Government should hang its head in shame that 15,000 refugees and asylum seekers in the UK were left destitute last year.
“This is about the choices we make as a country. Britain has the sixth largest economy in the world – we can afford to look after refugees and asylum seekers if we want to.”
Tim Farron, who campaigned for an end to the plight of refugees in Britain, accused the Government of “failing to show that they care about the plight of fellow human beings”.
He added: “First they resist attempts to take in those risking everything to escape war zones, now they ignore the plight of those already here. British people are open and caring, this Government has shown no signs of representing our compassion at the highest level.
“The Government must take action to ensure those refugees that come to the UK for protection are not ignored, not cast aside, and not left impoverished.”
A Home Office spokesperson said: “The UK has a proud history of granting asylum to those who need our protection.
“Asylum seekers who would otherwise be destitute are supported with free accommodation and a weekly cash allowance for each person in the household. This support is available until their asylum claims and any appeals are finally determined. If an asylum seeker or their dependant has additional needs because of their particular circumstances, these can be met by the provision of extra payments, where the need is properly evidenced.
“If an asylum seeker is granted refugee status or humanitarian protection they have immediate and unrestricted access to the labour market and many mainstream benefits. Failed asylum seekers are expected to return to their home country, but if there is a genuine obstacle to the return can apply for continuing support from the Home Office.”
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