Refugees in the UK are being consigned to hunger and homelessness immediately after they are granted asylum, a report has found, in what has been described as a “timely wake-up call” about the plight of refugees seeking sanctuary in the UK.
The research, published by the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Refugees, shows Government policies are creating a costly “two-tier system” of refugee protection, with those who entered the country on Government-led resettlement schemes generally provided for, but others often being left homeless and destitute – damaging their prospects of integration.
A combination of delays and confusion about important paperwork from Government departments, a “cliff-edge” of support following a positive decision on refugee status and poor English language provision are leading to refugees who want to contribute their skills and talents to the UK facing a number of barriers, the report warned.
It reported “worrying” delays in the issuing of National Insurance numbers — necessary for newly recognised refugees to be able to gain access to finance and housing once their asylum support is ended — which is resulting in newly-recognised refugees becoming destitute.
The 28-day period given to asylum seekers after they are successful in their application before the Home Office stops giving them support – known as the “move on” period – is too short, the report found, with the brevity of the move-on period leaving “too many newly recognised refugees homeless and destitute."
One refugee, Anas from Syria, was left unable to access jobseekers support or secure accommodation after the Home Office made a spelling mistake on his official paperwork, which resulted in him spending five months homeless, jobless and without any financial support.
Speaking to researchers, Anas said: “Isis and Assad mean that it’s no longer safe for me at home. When I arrived in Britain I was so thankful to have been offered safety.
“All I wanted was to be a good person and give back to the country which sheltered me – but I couldn’t for no better reason than because my paperwork was wrong and it took five months to fix it.
“I will always be grateful to Britain, but I will never understand a system which stops people like me from getting on my feet and contributing to society.”
A programme under the last Labour government, called the Refugee Integration and Employment Service, offered 12 months of support to access housing, education, social security and the job market, but was ended under the coalition government in September 2011. Since then, there has been no government provided support service for refugees who have been through the asylum system.
The report also found that JobCentre staff who are dealing with refugees did not always provide the right information or have awareness of the correct procedures, leading to delays in refugees being able to access support. Refugees also face problems opening bank accounts, frequently as a result of being unable to provide documentation banks ask for, the evidence showed.
Separately, it found that many female refugees were at risk of sexual and gender based violence once they arrive in the UK, due to being financially dependent on a partner and facing barriers to services such as English language classes.
Commenting on the report’s findings, Thangam Debbonaire, Labour MP for Bristol West and chair of the APPG, told The Independent it was “bizarre” that the Home Office was preventing refugees from integrating into society by making it difficult to do simple things like finding accommodation and getting a job.
“If you don’t get issued with the five pieces of documentation in time — which few do — you will have a high chance of being destitute without 28 days,” Ms Debbonaire said.
“There’s a huge contrast between the elation that people thought they were going to feel when they were granted asylum, and the fact that immediately they face eviction from their asylum accommodation. They can’t apply for benefits, they can’t work — they can’t do anything.
“These are people who have come here with very little, and haven’t been allowed to work up until that point. The suddenly they’re ask to find a flat or accommodation in the private sector. I would struggle in 28 days — and I’ve got a good job.
“These are not asylum seekers whose claims are in dispute. These are people who the Home Office has decided are refugees. And that’s a really high bar, because they don’t grant it easily. To instantly make it hard for those who have been granted asylum to integrate seems bizarre.
“It doesn’t help the UK population to feel like they are able to welcome refugees if the refugees themselves aren’t in a position to integrate if they want to. British The refugees I met had all gone to enormous lengths to learn English, to try keep up their qualifications or get volunteering experiences. They want to work; they don’t want to claim benefits.
“It doesn’t help refugees and it doesn’t help the indigenous population — it doesn’t make any sense.”
Maurice Wren, the Chief Executive of the Refugee Council, who provide support to the APPG, meanwhile said: “It’s unacceptable that the Government treats refugees unequally by offering a relative few the necessary help and support they need to integrate into British life, while simultaneously consigning another much larger group to the high risk of homelessness, hunger and despair.
“These are people who have fled the same bombs and the same bullets; it’s vital the Government recognises that they need the same support to begin rebuilding their lives.”
Stephen Hale, chief executive of Refugee Action, said the report served as a “timely wake-up call” for the Government to help refugees rebuild their lives and avoid “wasting their talents”.
“This report is a timely wake-up call. The new Government must seize the opportunity to enable all refugees in Britain, regardless of how they arrive, to successfully rebuild their lives,” Mr Hale said.
”Refugees are determined to learn English and start contributing to their new communities through volunteering, work and socialising with their neighbours. But as the report highlights, they face huge barriers to integration. This is a shocking waste of their talents.”
Alex Fraser, director of refugee support at the British Red Cross, said: “This report confirms what we see on a daily basis: that all too often, people who have come to the UK after fleeing conflict or persecution are being left destitute and reliant on charity to survive.
“By definition, a refugee has had to leave their home country because their life is in danger. A two-tier system, where refugees who arrive in the UK as asylum seekers are at risk of being left homeless or living hand-to-mouth, is completely at odds with the supportive and welcoming spirit behind the government’s Syrian Resettlement Programme.
“No one should be left destitute as a side effect of being granted protection in this country. We strongly encourage the government to take notice of this report, in particular its recommendation to extend the ‘move-on’ period* from 28 days.”
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies