THE BLOG

It's Unacceptable That New Refugees Face Homelessness and Destitution

08/05/2014 16:47 BST | Updated 07/07/2014 10:59 BST

Getting refugee status in the UK isn't easy. The majority of applicants are refused. Those who do succeed have often navigated a complex system which can see them arbitrarily detained, wrongly initially refused and forced to live in substandard accommodation while their claim is processed.

Being granted refugee status and leaving the nightmare of the asylum system behind should, therefore, be a moment of relief; the starter gun to be able to rebuild your life in safety and come to terms with your traumatic experiences in your country of origin.

But it's not.

The Refugee Council has published a new report which exposes the reality of life as a new refugee: revealing that refugees can have to resort to sleeping rough and begging for money or, if they're lucky, rely on the generosity of charities and friends for food and shelter.

The report, 28 Days Later: the experiences of new refugees in the UK, examines the transition period between being an asylum seeker and becoming a refugee.

Current Home Office policy is that those who are in receipt of Asylum Support cease to be entitled to accommodation and cash support 28 days after their notification of being granted refugee status.

This represents a rapid change in circumstances for people who may not have been in the UK for very long, are unfamiliar with the systems, may not speak good English and will not have had access to employment and savings.

Under the current system, refugees must quickly obtain housing and a means to support and feed themselves and their families but face multiples barriers to doing so with people often waiting for months to be issued the correct documentation to enable them to claim mainstream benefits, find employment and support themselves.

Refugees are left at particular risk of homelessness as they are often not classed as priority need for housing by local authorities and will usually lack the savings necessary to access the private rental sector.

Refugees interviewed for the research described the period as "confusing and chaotic".

The report highlights the difficulties faced by refugees trying to prove their identity, residency and eligibility for access to public services. Many service providers did not recognise the documents that refugees hold. These problems which will only be exacerbated if proposals in the current Immigration Bill pass, as identity checks will be strengthened and extended.

The Home Office must urgently review the current system to ensure that refugees are not left unsupported. Refugees must be issued with their appropriate documentation without delay and be fully supported to access the support and services they are entitled to.

It is wholly perverse that when someone is accepted as in need of protection, the state puts them at further risk through bureaucratic failures that can make them homeless and destitute.

Being granted refugee status should signal the end of uncertainty. In reality, it often does the opposite.