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Change asylum-claim system, say faith leaders

22 December 2023

Joint letter expresses concern at refugees’ rough sleeping

Alamy

A person sleeps on the street outside a restaurant on London’s Southbank

A person sleeps on the street outside a restaurant on London’s Southbank

FAITH leaders in London and the south-east have joined forces with the Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Sarah Mullally, in calling on the Government to address the leave-to-remain status situation for asylum-seekers, and the increasing risk of homelessness this winter (News, 1 December). They want practice to match policy, better communication, and for the timeframe to be extended.

Forty-five of them signed the letter, sent last week to Michael Tomlinson MP and Baroness Scott of Bybrook, ministers respectively in the Home Office and Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities. Signatories included the Bishops of Chelmsford, Southwark, and Rochester, and their area and suffragan bishops.

Welcoming the Home Office’s efforts to tackle its backlog on asylum claims, the faith leaders say that they are “concerned at the number [of refugees] who, on receiving their leave to remain, are becoming street homeless”. They report growing demand in London’s churches, mosques, gurdwaras, synagogues, and temples, for support with accommodation from those with new refugee status.

“Since August, we know that, in practice, refugees are having much less notice that their asylum support will end than the stated policy of 28 days,” the letter says. “Some are given seven days or less to leave their accommodation. Many have been in asylum accommodation for months or even years, with no opportunity to work or build networks. They are now being given only days to navigate the various systems and authorities necessary to plan their next steps.”

The letter concludes: “As faith and belief leaders representing communities of faith and belief across our city, we believe that allowing refugees to begin life in the UK sleeping on the streets deeply undermines the core values of welcome, respect and responsibility which characterise our society at its best. We believe that refugees can thrive in and contribute to our communities; most are resourceful and resilient with skills and experience which will benefit the UK.”

Other signatories and bodies included Cardinal Nichols, Archbishop Angaelos, Archbishop Nikitas, the Baptists, Salvation Army, URC, and the Quakers, alongside the country’s main Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, and Sikh representatives, with Brahmans, Zoroastrians, and Humanists also among the representative faith and belief institutions.

Specifically, the appeal is, first, for the Home Office to abide by its policy that refugees have a minimum of 28 days from the date when they receive their biometric residence permit (BRP) before having to leave their accommodation; second, that all councils and relevant authorities be informed that the notice of decision for the asylum is adequate evidence to apply for housing and other support; and, third, that the eviction notice period be extended from 28 days to 56, to allow adequate time to apply for Universal Credit and other benefits.

Bishop Mullally is to raise an oral question in the House of Lords about the issue. “Across our faith communities and places of worship, we have all seen a worrying increase in homelessness at very short notice,” she said. “Even just implementing the 28-day practice properly would help. One person I met had had their BRP logged on the system two weeks before they received it, which gave them only 14 more days to find new accommodation. Some people have been in the system for two years. We want to see better alignment, and an increase to 56 days, which will also help with benefits and overall well-being.

“Our churches are doing what they can to meet the need, and we all want to avoid further strain on our crisis systems. Homelessness increases the burden on the NHS, and has an overall impact on health, well-being, and the economy.”

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