Human rights based strategy needed to tackle asylum destitution in Scotland
New research into the levels of destitution experienced by people seeking asylum has identified an urgent need for a national action plan to tackle asylum and migrant destitution in Scotland.
The research, coordinated by the Destitute Asylum Seeker Service, a Glasgow-based project coordinated by the Refugee Survival Trust, Scottish Refugee Council, British Red Cross, University of Strathclyde Law Clinic, Glasgow Night Shelter, Castlemilk Community Church and Rehoboth Nissi Ministries, records the desperate experiences of people who have been refused asylum and made destitute in Scotland.
The report demonstrates the barriers people face when trying to exercise their rights including accessing education, health and social care services. The research also highlights the need for national guidance for public sector staff who work with people who are destitute.
Home Office figures suggest there could be as many as 1000 people in Scotland who have been refused asylum and are at risk of destitution. People in this situation are not allowed to work and are not eligible for any mainstream benefits including state provided accommodation. As a result, people experience extreme poverty, poor mental and physical health, exploitation and social isolation.
Research participants explained how they struggled to feed themselves and stay warm. Some reported that they walked miles every day despite poor health to reach doctors and lawyers appointments in different parts of the city. Several women described the exploitative relationships they found themselves in as a result of having nowhere safe to sleep at night.
The report calls for urgent action to make sure people’s basic needs for food and shelter are met and recommends a number of additional practical steps that would make a huge difference to people’s lives, including allowing people to continue with their education and providing concessionary travel to allow people to attend important appointments.
Graham O’Neill, policy officer at Scottish Refugee Council, said: “Destitution really means absolute, abject poverty. It’s an urgent human rights concern that so many people in Scotland are forced into this situation.
“We all have the right to safety and the basics of a dignified life, including housing, food, clothing, medical care, social services, and financial support. But this research shows that people who are refused asylum are blocked from having their basic needs met.
“The Scottish Government needs to step in now urgently with a human rights based strategy to tackle migrant destitution and support those affected. This strategy must be an integral part of the wider Ending Homelessness Together agenda. There are practical measures we can take in Scotland to help people find a way out of destitution and resolve their legal situation. The top priority is making sure people have accommodation, as without that it is very difficult for someone to be safe and make decisions about their future.”
Cath McGee, DASS project manager at the Refugee Survival Trust, said: “When basic needs are not met people can’t make progress with their legal case. People who are made destitute have to focus their time and energy on the day-to-day struggle of finding their next meal and a place to sleep so are unable to concentrate on progressing their legal claim for protection. Very quickly, people become trapped and finding a route out of destitution becomes increasingly difficult as their mental and physical health deteriorates.”
Phil Arnold, British Red Cross head of refugee support in Scotland, said: “Every day the British Red Cross sees high levels of distress amongst people seeking asylum. The people we support have often experienced conflict, torture and dangerous journeys, and frequently struggle to access the support they need during the asylum process. Life for those who have been refused refugee status is particularly bleak and with no stability people are stuck in a permanent state of limbo with little prospect of being able to make important decisions which will affect their safety and security.
“Tackling this problem needs an approach that puts recovery from trauma and early intervention at its core. We call on the Scottish Government to bring forward the anti-destitution strategy. Ensuring safety through and beyond the asylum process needs to be made an urgent priority. The strategy gives an important opportunity to deliver this, and we urge the Scottish Government to prioritise its development, and look forward to working with them on this.”
Research assistant Saadatu Adam has experienced destitution in Scotland.
She said: “As an asylum seeker I was not allowed to work and at one point, my kids and I were on the verge of being homeless because I could not pay the bills. We had to depend on friends and foodbanks to survive. Public transport is so expensive and without access to any cash it can be impossible to get around. My son couldn’t get a space at a school near where we stayed and his school is over an hour’s walk away. My lawyer is based in the city centre so attending appointments with her can be very difficult. I think human rights and children’s rights should be to the forefront. No child should be made to feel isolated or different because of their situation.”