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Charities urge fast action on asylum claims

01 December 2023

Diocese of London

Refugees attend a recent weekly drop-in meeting, at a church in West London

Refugees attend a recent weekly drop-in meeting, at a church in West London

THE Government is receiving criticism from church groups and others of its action over refugee claims. Thousands of asylum-seekers who are waiting for refugee status find that, once it has been granted, they then have only 28 days to find new accommodation. Some are told to move within a week (News, 10 November).

Home Office data indicate that about 90,000 decisions on older cases will be made before the end of December. The size of this number means that many people will move from the Home Office system into local-council provision and are at risk of falling through the cracks.

The Red Cross estimates that 35 days are needed for an individual to start receiving Universal Credit, and local authorities require a minimum of 56 days to help to find accommodation. A further increase in street homelessness could result in a need for churches and charities to step in.

Ealing and Acton Support Enterprise (EASE), a church-hosted community project, works with asylum-seekers in hotels in the area. Volunteers at their weekly drop-in session report an increase in concerns, and say that many are fearful for the future. Some volunteers have started to offer refugee housing in their own homes, because of the difficulty in getting either a job or rented accommodation without employment history and a stable address.

One EASE service-user, Mohammed, whose refugee status has just been granted, explains: “The letter said that I have to leave the accommodation in a week. I wish no one to be in the same situation I was in. Once the news arrived, I was shocked, and started panicking.”

EASE, with the diocese of London and other organisations that support refugees, is calling on the Government to ensure that the 28-day moving period is upheld, and that there the period is increased to 56 days as soon as possible. The diocese’s refugee and asylum-development worker, Pattie Gercke, said: “It is appalling to see men and women who our church communities have journeyed with through their asylum claims being told by the Home Office that their claims are valid, but then having to sleep on the street. Seven-day eviction notices provide no time to find anywhere to stay, and this is creating an unnecessary homeless emergency.”

Record numbers are turning to councils for support, Local Government Association (LGA) statistics show. During 2022-23, 104,000 households have been in temporary accommodation, it asserts. Since the war in Ukraine began, more than 8000 Ukrainian households have been housed in England. Some councils have only until the end of December to house a reported 1000 Afghans who remain in hotel accommodation. These pressures are further compounded by chronic housing shortages, the cost-of-living crisis, and council funding shortages, the LGA says.

Cllr Shaun Davies, who chairs the LGA, which represents councils across England and Wales, said: “Demand for temporary accommodation is already at an all-time high, with councils struggling to source suitable accommodation and cater for current needs. Pushing tens of thousands of refugees out of Home Office accommodation on to councils will overload the system and mean they simply cannot provide for these vulnerable people’s needs. Asylum-seekers need as much notice as possible before they have to leave their accommodation, so they have time to find work and a new place to live.”

Further complications for asylum-seekers in resettlement schemes involve children in education. Families are frequently moved to another location, miles away, while their refugee application is being processed.

Children from five migrant families were uprooted in March, during the school year, from an Ibis hotel in east London to Horsham, in West Sussex, with a few days’ notice. “These children had undergone significant trauma, and had significant emotional needs. They were settling in well, and making real progress in their education. The implications of removing them so suddenly from their school community to another hotel, with an hour’s bus journey to the nearest school, are serious,” said Jessica Williams, head teacher of Christ Church C of E Primary School, Brick Lane, in London.

“The families were also relocated without consideration for local amenities, such as shops and their food needs, as they were immediately without access in the hotel to cooking facilities. In fact, places in local schools were not available for at least a month when they were relocated.

“We were providing wraparound care in the form of breakfast club, after-school activities, school-home support, help for uniforms, IT, and food vouchers. At a stroke, that all went, because of the Home Office’s decisions to move them. One of the children had arrived here, having travelled in a dinghy from Italy, and she was very afraid of what the future might hold.”

A spokesperson for the Home Office said: “We are committed to ensuring asylum claims are considered without unnecessary delays. Once someone is informed that their asylum claim has been granted, they get at least 28 days’ notice to move on from their asylum accommodation.”

“Support is offered to newly recognised refugees by Migrant Help and their partners, which includes advice on how to access Universal Credit, the labour market, and where to get assistance with housing. We are working with local authorities to help communities manage the impact of asylum decisions as the legacy backlog reduces.”

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