A harsh place for asylum seekers

Published

Debbie White

Destitution is a major issue affecting the asylum seekers of Glasgow; according to a report by the Joint Committee of Human Rights, the Government practises a ‘deliberate policy of destitution’, by forcing people into a state of complete poverty in order to persuade them to ‘voluntarily’ return to their country of origins. These countries are places where they have experienced, and are at risk of continuing to experience, persecution. The estimates for the number of destitute asylum seekers in Glasgow vary wildly, from as low as 30 to as high as 3000. It is difficult to quantify the number because so many drop off the radar; once their asylum application is refused, many asylum seekers are wary of contacting organisations for assistance for fear of being forcibly deported or detained, and so these people are unknown to such groups. Despite this, there are organisations which can and do help those in these circumstances; 50 people present themselves to the Red Cross each month seeking advice and support, and the Unity Night Shelter sees three people each night.

There are several reasons why asylum seekers find themselves destitute. In order to gain Section 4 support, which is the only income available to them once they have had all their appeals rejected, they must obtain an appointment. These appointments are difficult to book and involve travelling to Croydon. For someone living in Glasgow, with limited funds, and usually with a first language other than English, this is often incredibly difficult. Even those who are successful in their asylum case are at risk of destitution due to delays in the bureaucratic system, for example, processing National Insurance numbers often takes time, during which they are reliant on friends or charity.

Section 4 support is not paid in the form of cash, rather, the qualifying asylum seeker is given a card which is topped up weekly. This can only be used in certain shops and on certain products. This causes major problems for those with religious dietary requirements; halal meat, for example, is often difficult and expensive to access in mainstream supermarkets, and yet the cards are not valid at specialist stores and cannot be exchanged for cash, or be used to access cash at ATMs. Only a limited number of asylum seekers are eligible for this support in any case; they must have had their case refused, be destitute and meet at least one of a list of criteria. This list includes being unfit to travel, for example due to a severe illness or late stage pregnancy, or if you can prove that you are attempting to return voluntarily.

Aside from the lack of financial support available, a major issue for destitute asylum seekers in Glasgow is housing; while there are companies that provide accommodation, often this is problematic. The situation is due to change in the near future, as Serco take over the contract. Serco are a security company that currently operate detention centres; several groups who work with asylum seekers in Glasgow have expressed outrage at the inappropriateness of this company being contracted to deal with the housing of asylum seekers. Currently asylum seekers are housed by Y-People (formerly known as the YMCA) and the Angel Group. While Y-People have a non-harassment policy, and so will not forcibly evict people due to distressing suicides that have occurred in the past, the Angel Group operate no such policy. The Angel Group will clear people’s rooms of all their belongings once they are no longer entitled to stay in the accommodation. It is uncertain exactly what will happen once Serco take over the contract.

Other options do exist, including groups such as Unity, which is the QMU’s Charity of the Semester, and Positive Action in Housing, a group which Glasgow Student Action for Refugees and GU Amnesty International fundraised for by holding a sleepout on the 2nd March. Unity is a part of the Glasgow Destitution Network, which operates a night shelter, providing food and a place to sleep for a small number of destitute asylum seekers. PAIH offer support, legal advice, shelter and emergency funds. The work that these groups do is invaluable in tackling the problem of destitution, however, the government system is highly flawed due to the underlying intention of persuading people to return to their country of origin.

For destitute asylum seekers the future often looks bleak; they are faced with the option of struggling to survive while remaining in the UK, with all the problems of housing and lack of funds that this entails, or attempting to return to a country in which they were persecuted. Neither of these options is appealing, which is why the work of charities and campaigning organisations is vital to improving the quality of life for those caught in the trap of destitution.