THE BLOG

Refugees Without Refuge: England's Forgotten Refugees

20/05/2016 12:44 | Updated 20 May 2016

The news has been full of pictures of refugees sleeping rough, of babies being washed in dirty puddles or going without enough milk. All happening in Europe: one of the richest continents in the world.

The British public has been undoubtedly moved by the plight of these desperate men, women and children; last September forcing the Government to announce it would resettle 20,000 Syrian refugees in Britain, and then again pressurising the Government to act this year to offer safety to lone children, both in Europe and beyond.

But it's not just on Greek beaches and in Italian parks that refugees are struggling to survive. It's happening right here in Britain too. Below the surface, behind the headlines, refugees are being left with nowhere to sleep and with no way of feeding themselves and their families.

Of course, it isn't happening on anywhere near the same scale as we see in Europe. The reality is very few asylum seekers make it as far as Britain in their search for safety: we receive just 3% of all claims made in the EU.

That surely makes it even more perverse that the Government fails to properly look after the small minority of refugees who actually make it to our shores and are granted asylum.

Asylum seekers in Britain usually arrive with no money and nowhere to go. While their claims are processed, they're banned from working and are forced to rely on the Government to feed and house them. People struggle to survive on just over £5 a day - a sum so low the Refugee Council and the Government both know it leaves people hungry and ill.

Asylum seekers are bussed around the country and housed on a no choice basis; in places that have been repeatedly been found to be substandard. Most asylum seekers are far too scared to complain: they're petrified that speaking up could somehow mean their asylum claim gets rejected.

Many people spend years living in an anxious limbo for a decision on their asylum claim. When that decision comes, and the news is good, it should be a moment to be celebrated.

But as the Refugee Council's new report England's forgotten refugees: out of the fire and into the frying pan reveals today, for many newly recognised refugees in England, a fresh nightmare is set to begin.

Unlike the 20,000 Syrian refugees due to be resettled in Britain who will all receive housing and intensive support for their first year in the country, the Government appears wilfully oblivious to the need for other refugees here to be helped to settle and integrate.

Bizarrely, at the very point refugees are granted asylum, the Government washes its hands of them, leaving often traumatised and disoriented people to survive on their own.

Newly recognised refugees are given just 28 days to leave their asylum accommodation before they are turfed out onto the street. And that measly £5 a day asylum seekers receive that I mentioned earlier? That's cut off too.

Finding somewhere to stay is virtually impossible; prior to being granted refugee status, people have been living in poverty, surviving hand to mouth while in the asylum system. They simply don't have savings for a deposit to secure somewhere to stay; let alone rent in advance. It'd be ludicrous to expect them to. Yet that's exactly what the Government does.

To make matters worse, delays in refugees' new identity documents being sent out mean that people are left with no way to secure an income because they often can't prove they are legally entitled to work, or to access mainstream support. Even if a refugee receives their documents on time, they're often not recognised by Job Centre staff and people are wrongly turned away.

Imagine what that's like - to suddenly find yourself, someone who the Government has just acknowledged is in dire need of international protection, with no money and nowhere to live.

Every day, newly recognised refugees come through the Refugee Council's door in crisis: homeless and desperate for help. They had no idea this is what being granted protection in Britain would mean; left on their own, refugees without refuge. We do what we can to help, but it's beyond belief that the Government runs a system which by design leaves vulnerable people homeless and destitute.

This is not the welcome British people took to the streets for in their thousands. This is not how this country expects or wants to deal with desperate people who need our protection. We wish all refugees received the same welcome and support the Syrians being resettled here receive.

But it doesn't have to be this way.

The Refugee Council is calling for the Government to ensure that refugees who have been granted asylum are not forgotten, and to recognise they need specialist Government funded support to rebuild their lives and integrate into British life.

It couldn't be plainer that if refugees are going to be able to begin rebuilding their shattered lives then they need to be given the tools and support they need to do so.

At the moment, new refugees are able to apply for a small loan from the Government to help them get on their feet: but this process takes such a long time refugees have already been evicted by the time their loan applications are processed.

When the loan does finally come, it simply isn't enough money to secure refugees a roof over their heads. Increasing the level of this loan so it actually covers the costs of starting your life from scratch would be a good place to start.

So too, would be to acknowledge that refugees in Britain often have no friends or families; no one to act as guarantors. Local authorities up and down the country run rent deposit schemes, designed to help homeless people into the private rented sector. But these schemes are usually beyond the reach of refugees.

We'd like to see central Government run its own similar scheme specifically for refugees: a central place that refugees can turn to, to help them get on the rental ladder. Coupled with a more reasonable integration loan and timely receipt of their new identity documents, these simple steps could save many refugees from homelessness.

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.

It is unacceptable that the reverse is true and that it is a confusing, chaotic period where people can find themselves on the street, begging for money.

It's time for the Government to acknowledge this hidden crisis and make sure no one who's granted protection in Britain is left to with nowhere to safe to sleep.

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