"I came here...I don't have anything...I was stressed, my family was away. I remember I walked a lot because I did not have money to pay for a bus even."
Since joining the Refugee Council in 2005, most of the research I have been involved in has focused on asylum seekers. I have investigated the impact of policy and practice on those who are waiting for a decision on their asylum claim, and have argued for improvements to the system to support people in that time of uncertainty. Over the years I have spoken with many people who were desperate to hear a positive decision so they could settle and start to rebuild their lives.
The research we have just published - 28 Days Later: the experiences of new refugees in the UK - was different . It focused on the period just after someone is told they have refugee status. Asylum seekers imagine this moment as being a time of great joy and relief, but the refugees we spoke with for this research described this time being confusing, chaotic and isolating.
Being given only 28 days notice to find accommodation and a means of support would represent a challenge to most people, but for those who were new to the country, the barriers are especially high. One woman we interviewed said:
"The 28 days is hard on refugees...all of a sudden in a country you don't know and then it stops and you don't know what you are going to do. It was such a surprise when I ended up without a bed to sleep in."
The word "surprise" is one way to put it, "appalling" is another. The people caught in this situation have all gone through a rigorous asylum process and the Government has acknowledged that they need protection, but it is at this point they are left unsupported.
It was horrible to hear refugees describe having to sleep rough, beg for money and wait for months to receive the financial support they were entitled to, often because of errors made by staff at the Home Office or Department for Work and Pensions.
Some of the issues can be easily fixed. If new refugees are given tailored advice and support during the transition period, they can more easily access the services they are entitled to.
That is not to say that there is not scope to improve the system too. We would like to see the Home Office continuing to support refugees until the point that they have alternative means (either through welfare benefits or employment), and for the government to provide a deposit for refugees to help them secure accommodation in the private rented sector.
Refugees' first steps after being granted protection should not be towards the nearest homeless hostel.