THE BLOG

28 Days to Destitution: Turbulent Transition for New Refugees Must End

29/08/2014 08:26 BST | Updated 28/10/2014 09:59 GMT

By definition, refugees have every right to be here and have undisputedly had to suffer the trauma of leaving their own countries because their lives are in danger. Imagine being in that position and being forced to navigate an asylum system that is failing. And once the horror of your experience has finally been accepted by the government and you can begin to embark on a new life, the shifting sands of paperwork continue to stall that vital process.

A report released today (August 28) by the British Red Cross has uncovered 23 separate factors and inefficiencies that contribute to new refugees being unable to work and unable to access any state benefits.

We provide destitution support to 6,000 forced migrants every year and of those, one in five has refugee status or leave to remain in this country. Once someone has permission to live here, they have 28 days to complete all the necessary forms and receive all the documentation they need to move from asylum seeker to refugee. After this, state support (£36 per week) is terminated. But the transition process is always complex and often piecemeal.

Refugees receive their Biometric Residency Permits, their official ID, first. That should be all they need to access the right support from Job Centre Plus. But in some cases, job centre staff don't realise this. People are sent away with the wrong information and a list of requirements that are often fantasy. On other occasions, the individual's documents have been taken away and lost.

And so the process begins again.

These administrative delays - caused in part by confusion among government departments, poor training of staff and an impossibly tight timescale to make the transition from asylum seeker to refugee - might sound petty. But the reality is much darker than that. People are being left with nothing.

Delays range from several weeks to several months. It took one man we have been working with almost three months before the transition was complete.

Many of the people we work with are relying on food parcels, crisis grants from the Red Cross and the kindness of the local community. After the 28-day transition period, the state no longer provides housing. Some people sofa-surf if they have friends. If they don't, sleeping rough is the only option.

And what makes it even tougher to stomach is that it is entirely avoidable.

By working with the Home Office, Job Centre Plus and the Department of Work and Pensions we could streamline this process. We can be part of the solution - using our network of volunteers across the UK to challenge misinformation and raise awareness of what is and is not required of refugees as they try to access the labour market.

We understand policy change takes time and we want to help the people who need it now.

But ultimately, the Red Cross believes end-to-end support for everyone as they go through the asylum process is the only solution. A clock ticking down from 28 days to destitution is unacceptable.

To read The Move-On period: An ordeal for new refugees, go to: www.redcross.org.uk/moveonreport