REFUGEES who have been “made destitute by the asylum process” in the UK are suffering from a cycle of exclusion, homelessness, and abuse, a report from the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) suggests.
Out in the Cold: homelessness among destitute refugees in London was published today in advance of Homelessness Sunday, this weekend, on which Christians are encouraged to pray and act against rising rates of homelessness.
More than half (58 per cent) of the 135 refugees surveyed by the JRS between October and November last year had been forced to sleep on the streets at some point since their arrival in the UK, often for several years, the report says.
Refugees who did find accommodation said that this was unstable: 87 per cent of all respondents said that they did not feel in control of when they left their current accommodation; and 47 per cent said that they usually slept in different places on different nights.
This included informal lodgings, often in substandard living conditions. Overcrowding was common: a married couple in their sixties said that they slept on the floor, and a woman aged 57 said that she slept on a chair. Others reported living in rat-invested, unheated, or “chronically dirty” properties.
This was coupled with insecurity fears: 36 per cent of people surveyed said that they did not feel physically safe in their accommodation. Reasons given included the “bad behaviour” of housemates, not knowing who they were living with, and fearing physical abuse.
“I feel in danger being in different places: sometimes I do not know the person living with me,” one respondent wrote. Another said: “Sometimes I come late just to avoid problems at home. And stay in the cold or without food.”
Undernourishment and malnourishment were common among the refugees surveyed. Older people were particularly vulnerable to poor mental or physical health, and the report suggests that trauma and a subsequent fall into destitution could cause premature frailty and ageing.
A lack of dignity and freedom, feeling dehumanised, and the constant fear of being detained by immigration enforcement, were also reported. One woman, aged between 25 and 36, wrote: “We are left at the mercy of people we don’t know.
“Abuse is common, and somewhat expected. People like me have an impossible life to lead.” Another wrote: “I just need my freedom.”
The report blames the Home Office for intentionally creating a “hostile environment” for undocumented migrants, by refusing employment without proper documentation, such as driving licences and bank accounts, and charging for NHS care.
“This criminalises many everyday activities, such as driving and work, and makes it extremely difficult for undocumented migrants to access vital services, notably health care,” the report says. “As criminal convictions and unpaid medical bills count against an applicant in the immigration system, these policies also serve as a further impediment to regularising immigration status.”
JRS is an international Roman Catholic charity which supports refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) in 51 countries. In the UK, it is working to relieve refugees who are struggling to gain asylum, but who cannot leave the country, or seek employment during the process. Its day centre in Wapping, east London, supports about 215 refugees a month.
The director of the JRS, Sarah Teather, said that the report highlighted the “harrowing reality” of being a refugee in London. “The climate of hostility towards migrants has resulted in the human beings at the centre of this public storm being all but forgotten. . . The vulnerability destitute refugees are forced to experience can only be resolved by repealing the web of policies associated with the hostile environment and giving asylum-seekers the right to work to support themselves.”