Winter appeal as cold snap brings misery to homeless refugees

Last updated December 16, 2014Press release

As the winter nights turn bitterly cold, Refugee Action’s team working with homeless asylum seekers report a rise in the number of refugees sleeping rough and suffering illness due to extremes of weather.

In the last week, every one of the people who’ve received advice and support from the Preventing Asylum Homeless team in London has been sleeping rough in the outdoors, rather than the sofas and floors of friends and acquaintances, staff report.

“We’re seeing people who are forced to walk around all night in order to keep warm” says Alice Barratt, a Refugee Action Support Advisor. “The cold weather and lack of sleep is having an immediate impact on peoples’ health so there’s a pressure on us to get them off the streets as soon as possible.”

Alice continues: “It’s tougher to get access to winter shelters because they’re full up – many different groups of homeless people all across London are desperately in need. Asylum seekers are often turned away from the winter shelters because they only accept people who are eligible for mainstream benefits, which asylum seekers aren’t.”

In immediate response, Refugee Action launched an urgent appeal, Journey to Safety, calling on supporters to help an asylum seeker find safety at the cost of a bus ticket, and have their basic needs met.

Alice explains: “Our destitution fund resources are critical because it provides people with money for travel to us for advice and to day centres where they can access a warm space and hot food. Many people we see have been turned away from places for weeks on end and are forced to sleep rough, until they see a Refugee Action advisor who can help them to access support.”

Homelessness is a huge problem in the UK’s asylum system. Many asylum journeys end in homelessness because it’s too difficult to access the advice and help individuals and families need. Refugee Action is also calling for changes to the system so that fewer asylum seekers are left homeless in the first place.

“My job is really difficult because it’s constantly working against barriers that are put in front of the people to prevent them getting justice they deserve. Every day I witness the way people seeking safety are forced into poverty by our unfair system” says Alice, who features in the appeal’s video.

“It’s a huge relief whenever I find somewhere for people to stay – to know that they’re going to be safe and warm. It also gives them the space to focus on their wellbeing and most importantly do everything they need to support their asylum claim” explains Alice.

“I see people like Dariush every day. We urgently need more money to provide the critical support that we do. It’s easy to underestimate the importance of a bus ticket, especially in a city as big as London. It can literally mean the difference between being cold or warm, getting sick or finding shelter and safety.”

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