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Refugees Being 'Forgotten' Just As Their UK Asylum Applications Are Granted, Refugee Council Warns

'Quite simply, refugees are being left without refuge'.

20/05/2016 07:41 | Updated 20 May 2016
Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP
A masked demonstrator holds a banner during a Solidarity with Refugees march from Marble Arch to Parliament in London

Refugees in Britain face losing the roof over their head as they are kicked out of accommodation just after they are granted asylum, a charity is warning.

"They should be able to know with certainty that Britain has provided them with protection and they can get on with their lives but they are facing homelessness and destitution," The Refugee Council's Dr Lisa Doyle told HuffPost UK.

Dr Doyle, who co-wrote the Refugee Council's report, published on Friday, about these "forgotten refugees" who reach Britain themselves to claim asylum here, said that support for them was cut off so quickly that they often did not have the time to gather paperwork to secure a job or a home and faced sleeping rough.

Unlike the 20,000 Syrians due to comee directly from camps in the Middle East, those granted asylum after reaching Britain themselves do not receive tailored, specialist integration support.

They are kicked out of their asylum seeker home in four weeks. They can apply for a one-off loan to help them integrate but this takes on average six weeks to process.

The council found that 81 of 100 refugees who had approached them to use their services were homeless or about to be.

According to the council's estimates, around 10,000 refugees in 2015 faced the prospect of homelessness as their support was quickly cut off. That is equivalent to roughly 27 a day.

The council's report mentions one 23-year-old Syrian architecture student who, after being granted asylum and kicked out of his accommodation, was given a pillow and sleeping bag by a hostel that would not take him in and told to sleep in the street.

Faisal was given the standard 28 days before eviction but it took 20 days to issue him a National Insurance Number, delaying his job search. Once evicted, he was told he was not a priority for emergency accommodation at a hostel.

“I kept phoning them every day for a month to ask them to put my name and I also kept going to the hostel myself to see if they had a space but after a while I gave up," he said.

"Once someone at the hostel gave me a pillow and a sleeping bag and told me I’d have to sleep on the street. It was the middle of winter.

“I had no way of finding a room to rent: I didn’t have money for a deposit and agency fees are ridiculous – how is someone in my situation supposed to have that sort of money?"

He added: "I’d essentially been granted asylum and then kicked out on the street."

Faisal is originally from Syria. He fled to Britain on a student visa and arrived in summer 2015. He was granted asylum last Christmas.

"I got my letter to leave my NASS (National Asylum Support Service) accommodation within 28 days. I was lucky in that I’d got my identity document fairly quickly, but I didn’t get my National Insurance Number until day 20, and it’s difficult to start the process at the Job Centre without it; without those documents you can’t do anything.

“I went to the local council to see if they could help me find somewhere to live but they told  me to come back on the same day I was evicted.

"I did, but they then told me I wasn’t a priority, so wasn’t eligible for any help.

“I kept phoning them every day for a month to ask them to put my name forward for emergency accommodation in a hostel and I also kept going to the hostel myself to see if they had a space but after a while I gave up.

Once someone at the hostel gave me a pillow and a sleeping bag and told me I’d have to sleep on the street. It was the middle of winter.

“I had no way of finding a room to rent: I didn’t have money for a deposit and agency fees are ridiculous – how is someone in my situation supposed to have that sort of money?

“I’d essentially been granted asylum and then kicked out on the street. In the meantime, l was sofa surfing with friends – but they weren’t allowed to have me in the  house so I couldn’t stay long. It was an exhausting time.  

“Eventually a local charity – the Leicester Race Equality Centre­  helped me find a place in a  hostel, and now I have a room in a shared house. “Sometimes I’ve been lucky, but sometimes I haven’t been. Now, I’m lucky in that I’ve got  offers from quite a few universities to finish my architecture degree in September.” 

The council is calling on the Government to restore The Refugee Integration and Employment Service. This was designed to help refugees in exactly this situation but was cut in 2011.

Dr Doyle added the Government should do more to help them rent private accommodation and the "strict criteria" for council rent deposit schemes should be relaxes so refugees can qualify for them.

She said: "For people who have escaped war, torture and rape; being granted asylum in Britain should be a moment of immense relief; a time to finally stop running and instead to focus on rebuilding their shattered lives.

"Shockingly, quite the opposite is true. These forgotten refugees are being all but abandoned by the Government which has just committed to protecting them. Quite simply, refugees are being left without refuge.

Of 11 people interviewed in depth for the council's report, seven had to borrow money from friends to keep going while two said they could not afford to even eat at one point.

Dy Doyle added the stress of not having somewhere to live could worsen their mental health.

One of the people interviewed, a woman called Josephine said the prospect of imminent eviction left her suicidal. She did not receive a National Insurance number before she was evicted and was misled by the JobCentre Plus about how to apply for one."These 28 days is never enough and will never be enough for me so there is no point in me living," she said.

"I can’t even think straight. You refuse to think and you condition your mind in this negative state for years. I am slowly waking up and learning again how to do things."

Ahmad, studied English Language and Literature in his native Syria. He was forced to flee initially seeking safety in Iraq until he was forced him to seek refuge elsewhere. He arrived in Britain 10 months ago and was granted refugee status late last year.

“The most difficult period after I was granted asylum in the UK was when I was  asked to leave my accommodation; I was given 28 days notice to leave my place and I  hadn’t yet received my National Insurance Number.

“I had to call some friends and finally I managed to find an organisation called Refugees at  Home; they offered to host me and place me with a family ‘til I was able to get on my feet.

"I’ve spent five months living with a family without paying any rent. This helped me save  some money and get all my paper work done so I’m more able to find somewhere to rent.

"This transitional period is absolutely crucial for refugees – they can easily become  homeless and as a result find themselves in danger of being exploited. It’s really important  that refugees receive the help they need during this time."

Four of the 100 Refugee Council's client surveyed said they would have killed themselves if the charity had not been there to help.

Dr Doyle added: "Some refugees will have pre-existing mental health issues because of  issues in their home countries and on the way to the UK.

"At this point, when they should be able to rebuild, they face more uncertainty and the prospect of having nowhere to live, can have some serious affects."

The report recommends that refugees who apply for benefits be allowed to keep their asylum seeker accommodation until they receive their first payment.

It also recommends that the one-off integration loan for refugees should be processed before they are evicted.

It also suggests JobCentre Plus staff get dedicated training in the particular barriers refugees face when job hunting.

A Home Office spokeswoman told HuffPost UK: "We do recognise that there are complex reasons why some newly recognised refugees do not secure access to DWP benefits before their Home Office support ends 28 days after they are granted status.

"That is why a review is being conducted as to whether there is a need to increase this period."

Dr Doyle said the situation of some refugees she spoke to was "heartbreaking". She added: "You hear about people struggling to eat, wondering where they're going to sleep the next night... at the point where our Government has said 'yes we know that you have protection in the UK and we have a duty towards you'."

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