Refugee Action is warning that the new Immigration Bill will leave thousands of families seeking asylum destitute and force many into homelessness.
The legislation, which is having its Second Reading on 13 October in Parliament, will remove accommodation and financial support from families seeking asylum 28 days after their claims have been refused, in a bid to encourage them to leave the UK.
Refugee Action’s analysis of the evidence shows that such measures will be counter-productive, making it less likely that refused asylum seekers will return home; and could actually ending up costing the UK more.
Stephen Hale, Chief Executive for Refugee Action, said:
“The Government’s approach is wrong in principle and wrong in practice. Previous attempts to remove support from refused asylum seekers have forced people underground and out of sight. The proposed period of 28 days is not enough time for people to make life-changing decisions, and the necessary arrangements to return home. For those that do return, our experience has shown that an average of 17 weeks is required.
“The proposals will leave vulnerable families destitute and at risk of homelessness. It is both inhumane and a false economy, as it simply displaces spending from the Home Office to local authorities, which are legally responsible for children’s wellbeing.
“Instead of penalising vulnerable families and putting children at risk, the Government should focus its efforts on improving the asylum process to ensure a fair and effective system.
“It is particularly unsettling that the Home Office is displaying such a lack of compassion when public support towards refugees is at an all-time high. Added to Theresa May’s scathing attack on the UK asylum system last week, these developments show how out of step the Government is with public opinion.”
The Government tried removing support from refused asylum seeking families in a pilot scheme in 2004 in an attempt to encourage voluntary returns. Rather than encouraging refused families to leave the UK, it led to 39% absconding out of reach of the authorities, compared to 21% of families in the pilot whose support was not removed.
More worryingly, it also pushed families into homelessness and poverty. The Government’s Impact Assessment expected local authorities would incur costs of £32m over a 10-year period as a result of the impact of the proposed changes. Many commentators say that this figure is vastly underestimated.
Refugee Action has seen the devastating impact removing support from vulnerable families can have.
Ashkiro [name changed], 30, fled Somalia when her family home was bombed. After three and a half years in the UK, she is still navigating the asylum process. Her support was removed after two years and she was left destitute for 18 months.
She said: “Without a home I was forced to stay with different people from one day to the next. I had no money for food so I relied on the church to eat. It was a difficult time; I wanted to be dead.”
During that time, Ashkiro became pregnant. She said: “The doctor said my blood pressure was up and down because I was so worried. I ended up in hospital for two months as I had nowhere else to go to keep me and my baby safe.”
Refugee Action is calling for ministers to focus their efforts on developing a more compassionate and effective approach.
Stephen Hale added:
“Instead of pursuing these poorly thought-through measures, the Government must focus on improving the quality of decision-making in the asylum system. Furthermore, evidence has shown that it is essential that asylum seekers and migrants have access to confidential and independent advice on the option of returning home.”
Refugee Action currently provides the Choices service, which offers impartial advice to people considering voluntary return and supports them to return and reintegrate in their countries.
Stephen Hale, Refugee Action’s Chief Executive is available for interview.
For further information please contact the Refugee Action Media Team on email@example.com or call 020 7952 1530. For out of hours enquires, call 07703 609094.
Refugee Action’s refugee crisis fund makes sure families seeking asylum aren’t left facing homelessness or hunger. Please donate today to help us keep doing this vital work.