Memorandum submitted by the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Foundation (UKB 11)

 

 

UK Borders Bill 2007

 

 

Clause 17

 

About the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust Inquiry in Destitution among Refused Asylum Seekers

In September 2006, in response to local requests, the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust commissioned an Inquiry to find out the extent of the problem of destitution among refused asylum seekers in Leeds, and its impact. The aim is to highlight the plight of destitute asylum seekers and to make practical proposals for new approaches which may improve the situation for both settled communities and new arrivals. The Trust appointed five Commissioners to look into the problem. The report of the Commissioners, along with a research report focusing on Leeds, are due for publication on 28 March 2007.

 

The Commissioners

The five Inquiry Commissioners are: Kate Adie OBE; Julian Baggini;

Courtenay Griffiths QC; Bill Kilgallon OBE; Sayeeda Warsi.

 

Summary

1. The Commissioners of the JRCT Inquiry welcome the opportunity to comment on the UK Borders Bill. Our focus is Clause 17 of the Bill. Our comments are based on detailed research carried out in Leeds, and extensive meetings with a range of agencies and individuals.

 

2. In the first instance, the Commissioners welcome Clause 17 in that it establishes as law the entitlement of asylum seekers to support up until their claim and any appeal is finally determined, withdrawn or abandoned. We understand that this effectively constitutes current practice.

 

3. However, the Commissioners are concerned that the Clause fails to address the serious welfare and support issues that we have found to be all too prevalent among those refused asylum, or those who through administrative error or ignorance believe their asylum claim to have been refused. Currently, people whose asylum claim is refused are not entitled to any housing or financial support and are left totally destitute. This Clause therefore potentially represents a missed opportunity to resolve an inhumane and counter-productive situation in which individuals are forced into destitution: a situation which has a negative impact on the economy, on public health, and on community relations.

 

4. Out recommendations: We therefore urge the Public Bill Committee to extend the remit of Clause 17, to ensure that no refused asylum seeker is Left destitute up until the time that they Leave the UK or their case is resolved in other ways. This can be achieved by:

 

- ensuring the provision of Section 95 support continues until such time as a refused asylum seeker leaves the UK or their case is resolved in another way

 

- granting temporary licences to work to all asylum seekers, to be revoked at such time as the asylum seeker leaves the UK post refusal, or their case Is resolved in another way

- ensuring that refused asylum seekers' entitlement to heath care is always assessed on medical need, not on legal status

 

 

The evidence from Leeds

5.. Th. scale of the problem: The research carded out for our inquiry could not determine the overall scale of destitution in Leeds because individuals are hidden and unmonitored. However, a small-scale one month survey made contact with 118 destitute asylum seekers and refugees, representing a small sample of the likely total number in Leeds. Of these:

 

38 Individuals had been destitute for one year or more.

A further 21 had been destitute for between six months to one year.

The largest groups were from Eritrea (25%), Sudan (14%) and Iran (12%)

(21 nationalities were represented altogether).

84% were refused asylum seekers, 6% were awaiting a decision, 5% had

a positive decision on their asylum claim, 5% had unknown status.

Eight were destitute families with children under the age of 18.

Five had been processed through the New Asylum Model (NAM).

There were 68 instances of rough sleeping; 128 instances of staying

with friends; 14 instances of staying with a charity or faith group.

29 individuals were recorded as having slept outdoors or in the bus

station, including three women.

 

6. This demonstrates that:

refused asylum seekers remain in the UK, and may be destitute for

long periods

the countries strongly represented ate known for conflict and human

rights abuses, making it difficult or dangerous to arrange return

the New Asylum Model has the potential to continue to result in

destitution

rough sleeping among destitute asylum seekers accessing services Is

common, despite there being no official record of asylum seekers rough

sleeping in Leeds

In a month of cold weather at least 26 men and three women were

forced to sleep on the streets of Leeds

 

7. The impact on communities: the Commissioners have learnt that the host population is often misinformed and ill prepared or supported with regard to asylum issues. As a result, community cohesion is undermined by anxieties about the presence of unmonitored and destitute individuals with high levels of need. At the same time, refugee communities struggle to support their more vulnerable members: those already traumatised and disadvantaged can carry the burden of trying to help their co-nationals. We are concerned that there is an assumption by the authorities that communities of different sorts will meet the needs generated by the deliberate withdrawal of state support to refused asylum seekers. In addition to placing a strain on local agencies and groups, and on community relations, we have found that community support is not always forthcoming, and we have learnt of exploitation and abuse occurring at different levels.

 

8. The impact on agencies: The Commissioners' visits and the research carried out for the Inquiry found that destitute asylum seekers rely upon friends and charity from voluntary organisations and churches to try to meet their basic needs. In difficult circumstances, voluntary organisations, churches and other individuals (including refugees and asylum seekers) offer shelter, food, subsistence cash payments and other forms of support. With limited funding and heavy reliance on volunteers, Leeds agencies struggle to meet the demand. They are keeping people alive with basic, donated provisions.

 

9. The Impact on refused asylum seekers: Our research in Leeds found that refused asylum seekers left destitute face poverty and hardship, leaving them vulnerable to Ill health; hunger; exploitation (including sexual exploitation); physical and verbal attack; racial harassment; the dangers associated with rough sleeping and exposure; depression; anxiety and self harm.

 

10. The failure of Section 4 'hard case' support: The only way people can currently escape this destitution is it they fit the tight eligibility criteria for hard case support. Our research, and other reports published recently, indicate that the majority of refused asylum seekers do not sign up to Section 4. Some are unaware that it is available, while others believe that if they sign up for voluntary return, the authorities who they believe have let them down will deport them whether it is safe or not. Others who do apply are refused it.

 

11. The existence of different categories of support for pre-decision (Section 95) and post-decision cases (Section 4) has had the unintended effect of exacerbating the problem of losing people from the system. It creates a rupture in the relationship between the authorities and the asylum seeker at a very vulnerable time, and makes tough demands on those required to re-establish it. It represents only a minimal saving in cost:

financial information for April to November 2005 estimated Section 95 support (including accommodation and subsistence) to cost 141 a week, while Section 4 (including accommodation and vouchers) was estimated to be 129 a week (Tony McNulty MP, Minister for Immigration, House of Commons Hansard Written answers to Questions for 4 September 2006, Column 1742W). Whatever the theoretical justice of the Section 4 system, It has demonstrably failed to do what it was intended to do.

 

 

 

Conclusion

12. The system needs to recognise that there will always be a category of refused asylum seekers who cannot be returned swiftly, for numerous reasons. Often there is no safe passage, or authorities in the country of origin refuse to provide the necessary paperwork. Asylum seekers can also have well-founded fears, even it they are not technically eligible for asylum. At the same time, forced return is not only very expensive, it is not even possible for the government to repatriate all refused asylum seekers swiftly. The threat of forced return is also a major motivator for refused asylum seekers to drop out of the system and disappear: in our research we found no evidence that destitution was achieving the government objective of forcing asylum to leave the country. Instead, refused asylum seekers need the opportunity to consider voluntary return without the threat of starvation or detention hanging over them. The right time to withdraw support is when the case is finally resolved in practice, not decided in principle.

 

 

The solutions

13. Our solutions are underpinned by three basic principles:

 

The need for the asylum claims process to keep people in the system, not drive them from it

 

The need for asylum seekers to contribute to host communities whenever possible rather than being a burden on them

 

The need to ensure that all asylum seekers have access to the basic necessities of life

 

14. Our recommendations are set out in paragraph 4 of this submission. It is our belief, founded on extensive research and consultation, that the amendment of Clause 17 in the light of these three recommendations would result in a fairer and more effective system for the host population, for the agencies and authorities involved, and for those whose claim for asylum is refused.

 

Additional information

15. The Commissioners would be pleased to submit further evidence in support of these proposals, and will send Public Bill Committee members copies of the two inquiry reports when these are published on 28 March 2007. The launch event that day takes place at the House of Commons (Dining Room A, 4.30 - 6pm) and we would welcome the attendance of committee members.

 

 

16. The Commissioners:

Kate Adie OBE: Kate Adie is a journalist and writer who has reported for the BBC from war zones around the world. More recently, she has published three books: an autobiography, an account of women and war and Nobody's Child, which explores the history of abandoned children and their treatment.

 

Jullan Bamini: Julian Baggini is a writer and journalist. He is the author of several books Including, most recently, Welcome to Everytown: A Journey into the English Mind (2007) and is a co-founder and editor of The Philosophers' Magazine. He is also author of a book of thought experiments: The Pig that Wants to be Eaten (2005).

 

Courtenay Griffiths QC: Courtenay Griffiths is widely recognised as one of Britain's leading QCs. He specialises in all aspects of criminal justice, and has been involved in many high profile trials including the Damilola Taylor murder trial. He is Joint Head of Garden Court Chambers.

 

Bill Kilgullon OBE: Bill Kilgallon is Chief Executive of the Social Care

Institute for Excellence. His experience includes working as Chief

Executive of St Anne's Shelter and Housing Action, serving as a Leeds

Councillor for 13 years, and being Chair of the Leeds Community and

Mental Health NHS Trust and then the Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS.

Trust.

 

Sayeeda Want: Sayeeda Warsi has a long-standing interest in racial justice, and has served on the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust's Racial Justice Committee. She worked as a solicitor in West Yorkshire, specialising in immigration law. Since June 2005, she has worked full time as Vice Chairman of the Conservative Party with responsibility for cities

 

March 2007