Increase in destitution for those seeking asylum in Scotland

Credit: flickr @Takver

Charlene Shillan
Writer

The number of destitute refugees and asylum seekers that the British Red Cross (BRC) have provided aid for has increased from 326 in 2014 to 820 in 2016.

This increase has been attributed to the UK government and the shifting asylum process.

The BRC consider destitution to be when a client does not eat sufficiently, had no permanent home, cannot afford items to fulfil basic needs, and/or is experiencing the deterioration of their health.

The information the Home Office is requiring from asylum applicants has become “more and more” according to a BRC spokeswoman – a claim which has been disputed by the Home Office. She notes that the telephone model for providing advice to individuals seeking support has made it increasingly difficult to access help in the presence of any language barriers. The charity acknowledges that the figures regarding destitution to “some extent” reflect a general increase in those seeking asylum in the UK.

This situation has been regarded as “unacceptable” by the Scottish government and has prompted the Scottish Refugee Council (SRC) to call for an inquiry into this treatment after accusing the UK government of delivering a “consistent reduction” in the support offered to asylum seekers. There have been previous conflicts between the Home Office and the SRC in relation to the standard of treatment and housing provided.

Government-funded guidance for those seeking asylum while living in Scotland was taken over from the SRC by Migrant Help in 2014. Migrant Help is a charity based in the south east of England which offers “access to online literature and both telephone and face-to-face advice” according to a Home Office Spokesman. “Outreach sessions are held around the UK, including in Scotland where [Migrant Help] have a well-established presence.”

An inquiry has been launched by the Scottish Parliament’s Equalities and Human Rights Committee (EHRC) into this issue and will publish its findings and recommendations in April. While policy dictates that the Scottish government cannot intervene in immigration and asylum, they can support the under devolved functions such as education, health and social care.

A spokesperson for Migrant Help said: “In Scotland, Migrant Help offers face-to-face advice to asylum seekers accommodated in the initial accommodation, but also to those in dispersal accommodation who are deemed vulnerable.”

They continue: “All asylum seekers across the UK can access our free telephone helpline which offers independent advice tailored to the region where the caller is based.”