Memorandum submitted by Still Human Still Here (UKB 15)

 

 

Amendment to UK Borders Bill 2007

 

 

1. Summary:

 

1.1 The Still Human Still Here campaign is lobbying to amend Clause 17 of the UK Borders Bill 2007 to end destitution for refused asylum seekers in the UK.

 

 

2. About Still Human Still Here:

 

2.1 The Still Human Still Here campaign consists of refugee, human rights and migration organisations, lawyers, faith groups and anti-poverty charities and voluntary bodies who are joining forces to end the scandal of asylum destitution in the UK.[1] Still Human Still Here aims to:

 

End the threat and use of destitution as a tool of Government policy against refused asylum seekers

 

Continue financial support and accommodation to refused asylum seekers as provided during the asylum process and grant permission to work until such a time as they have left the UK or have been granted leave to remain.

 

Continue to provide full access to health care and education throughout the same period.

 

 

3. What is a refused asylum seeker?

 

3.1 A refused asylum seeker is someone who has exercised the right to claim asylum in the UK and had their claim refused by the Home Office and has no outstanding appeal The government expects refused asylum seekers to return to their country of origin, preferably on a voluntary basis but if necessary by forced removal.

 

 

 

 

 

4. How many refused asylum seekers are there in the UK?

 

4.1 Nobody knows how many people are in this country having had their claim for asylum refused. We have only a number of differing estimates.

 

The most authoritative of these is probably the National Audit Office's estimate of between 155,000 and 283,500 made in July 2005.[2] However, it may be that this is an underestimate. On July 19th 2006, the BBC reported that a trawling exercise in the Home Office had turned up more than 400,000 case files.[3] This revelation was reiterated in a report by the Commons Public Accounts Committee published in March 2006[4] which although it did not put its own figure on the number of failed asylum applicants still in the UK, was highly critical of the reliability of Home Office figures.

 

Given the huge margins for error, the lack of reliable data and other factors, the best that can be said is that there are many tens of thousands of refused asylum seekers in the UK.

 

 

5. Are all refused asylum seekers destitute?

 

5.1 Destitution is the state of extreme poverty and not having the means to provide for oneself. Most refused asylum seekers live in extreme poverty and most are not able to provide themselves as they are not permitted to work and are denied support.

 

5.2 The government is obliged to ensure financial support and housing is provided for asylum seekers while they are having their claims considered (though this system works very imperfectly). However, when their claim is refused, all asylum support is terminated. All refused asylum seekers in the UK are nominally destitute and many are effectively destitute.

 

5.3 There are exceptions where government provides some support to refused asylum seekers, but these cases are a small proportion of the tens of thousands of refused asylum seekers. Families with children remain on Section 95 asylum support, except for the handful (114) who were included in the Section 9 pilot.[5] Adults can claim Section 4 ("hard case" support), but the criteria are very strict. The latest Home Office statistics show that 6,555 were in receipt of Section 4 support. .[6]

 

5.4 Most refused asylum seekers will be supported in some way by friends or members of their own community, rather than by mainstream charities. These informal support mechanisms mask the scale of the problem because destitute asylum seekers are not visible in the way that, for instance, rough sleepers and users of homeless hostels are. There are no figures (not even estimates) of the number who have been forced into illegal working to survive.

 

 

6. What is the impact of destitution among refused asylum seekers?

6.1 There is a growing body of evidence that destitution among refused asylum seekers is widespread and is having a devastating impact on already vulnerable individuals.

 

Recent reports by Amnesty International and Refugee Action are the latest in a series chronicling the plight of destitute refused asylum seekers across the UK.[7] Refused asylum-seekers in our towns and cities are being forced to sleep in parks, public toilets and phone-boxes, to go without vital medicines even after suffering torture, and to relying on the charity of friends or drop-in shelters to survive.

 

6.2 Charities report an upsurge in destitute asylum seekers coming to them for help. The Refugee Council's internal database shows that in 2006 their offices saw 9,060 clients who were making inquiries about Section 4 out of a total of 39,169 clients seen - i.e. 23.13 % of the total number of clients. This reflects a trend over recent years for more and more clients coming to the offices of refugee charities destitute.

 

Another indication of the number of people needing support is revealed in the basic services provided to clients in the financial year 2005/06 at the Refugee Council Day Centre in Brixton:

28,660 hot meals;

983 clothing and toiletries;

703 food parcels.

 

6.3 The majority of refused asylum seekers are living a hand-to-mouth existence, reliant on charity, not allowed to work and denied free health care at NHS hospitals unless it is for emergency treatment or to continue with treatment they were already receiving before their asylum application was finally processed. Many suffer from depression and other mental health problems due to their insecure position and their fear of being returned to their country of origin.

 

 

7. Why are refused asylum seekers destitute?

 

7.1 The destitution of refused asylum seekers is not a policy failure of the Home Office - it is a policy outcome. The deliberate use of destitution or the threat of destitution is a tool to enforce immigration control and encourage refused asylum seekers to return to their country of origin.

 

 

8. Destitution and return to the country of origin

 

8.1 At the end of the asylum process, those who are refused refugee status by the Home Office are expected to return to their country of origin voluntarily:

 

"Asylum seekers whose applications have been refused and whose appeal rights are exhausted have been found not to require international protection. They are therefore required to leave the UK."[8]

 

Voluntary return can be facilitated by the International Organization for Migration.

 

8.2. For those who do not return voluntarily, there is the threat or reality of forced removal. The low number of removals led to the introduction of the Tipping Point target:

 

"The Tipping Point target, to remove more failed asylum seekers than the number who are predicted to be granted leave, was set by the Prime Minister in the autumn of 2004. Immigration and Nationality Directorate officials produced a delivery strategy that focused on further reducing asylum intake while increasing the number of removals".[9]

 

Although the Home Office claims it is now on target to achieve the Tipping Point[10] , it increasingly focuses resources on removals. Following the appointment of John Reid as Home Secretary and Liam Byrne as Immigration Minister the immigration enforcement budget was doubled. The number of removals has increased:

 

"Failed asylum seekers were expelled at a rate of one every 26 minutes for Quarter 2 2006. There were 5,070 removals, including dependents, during this period.

The comparative rate in 2005 was a rate of one every 34 minutes based on 15,685 removals, including dependents, and one every 49 minutes for 2001 based on 10,780 removals, including dependents.

From April 2007, all new asylum applications will be dealt with by Regional Asylum Teams under the new asylum processes. The target is for 90% of new asylum applications to be concluded-granted or removed-within six months by 2011."[11]

 

8.3 However, there is a substantial backlog of cases that the any new system will inherit, and at the rate of a removal every 26 minutes it will take 14 years for the 283,500 refused asylum seekers currently in the UK to be removed. It is unlikely that the Home Office could organise or afford to pay for this number of people to be removed as the average cost of an enforced removal is around 11,000.[12] The Home Office budget has been frozen and the Budget is not expected to grant it a real terms increase.[13]

 

8.4 This provides the context for the deliberate threat and use of destitution. The government cannot afford to remove all refused asylum seekers, so it is resorting to making them destitute in order to force them to leave the UK.

 

8.5 Return is an important part of the asylum system but the integrity of the UK's commitment to asylum depends on ensuring that refugees in need of protection receive it. At present, there are serious flaws in the UK's asylum determination process, and so many refused asylum seekers face a choice between homelessness and destitution here, or persecution and even death in their country of origin.

 

8.6 Where individuals do not have protection needs, we believe that their return should be safe, sustainable and carried out with dignity.

 

It is morally acceptable for governments to control their borders. It is morally acceptable for governments to return refused asylum seekers when they do not have protection needs. However, it is morally reprehensible for governments to make refused asylum seekers destitute in order to starve them as the cheapest method of attempting to hit the Prime Minister's Tipping Point target.

 

 

9. Why destitution does not work

 

9.1 Many refused asylum seekers have protection needs because of flawed decisions made by the Home Office and processes which prevent asylum seekers from receiving a fair hearing. The UK needs to invest in getting asylum decisions right first time.[14] This means making sure people have access to independent, high quality legal advice, giving them time to prepare their claim properly, and ensuring decision makers are highly trained and impartial. Not only would this build a fairer and more trusted system, but also a more cost effective one: appealing bad decisions is, time consuming and costly as well as distressing.

 

9.2 The UK should not seek to return people to countries where they are at risk of torture or persecution. Many thousands have no realistic way to return to a safe existence in their country of origin and many will fear return. Those from Iraq and Somalia for example, cannot be forcibly removed safely and sustainably. The policy of starving people into returning to such states is simply not working in these cases - and is doubly immoral if it is impossible for them to be removed.

 

9.3 Where refused asylum seekers cannot be returned safely and securely they should be granted a form of temporary leave that allows them to work and access support. This will allow them to contribute to the UK economy and society until they are able to return.

 

9.4 Research by Amnesty International and Refugee Action published in November 2006 demonstrated that far from encouraging refused asylum seekers to return to their countries of origin, destitution made return less likely. This policy is ineffective as well as inhumane because refused asylum seekers no longer have access to support and most have no contact with government agencies at all. This makes the process of removal more difficult.

 

The fact is that the tens of thousands of refused asylum seekers are not just numbers on the Prime Minister's Tipping Point scale - they are still human and they are still here.

 

 

10. Ending destitution of refused asylum seekers

 

10.1 The government has a moral responsibility to ensure that no-one in the UK is destitute. If they are a refused asylum seeker with no protection needs then it is the duty of government to facilitate voluntary return or remove them, not to wash their hands of the situation and hope people will disappear of their own accord.

 

As Liam Byrne MP said recently:

 

"When people have failed in their asylum claim, it is incumbent on us to seek to remove them from this country as quickly as possible."[15]

 

10.2 The responsibility lies with the government to support the refused asylum seeker up to the point of removal. The Amnesty International and Refugee Action reports demonstrate that providing support to refused asylum seekers should make voluntary return or removal easier for those without protection needs.

 

 

11. Amendment to Clause 17 of UK Borders Bill

 

11.1 The UK Borders Bill is currently being debated by Parliament. We want to highlight the plight of tens of thousands of refused asylum seekers who are being forced into abject poverty in an attempt to drive them out of the country - and to amend the UK Borders Bill to end the scandal of asylum seeker destitution.

 

11.2 Still Human Still Here is proposing an amendment to the UK Borders Bill 2007, beginning its passage through Scrutiny Committee on 27th February.

 

Clause 17 of the Bill enables an individual to remain an asylum seeker or become an asylum seeker whilst they have a pending appeal against a negative asylum or immigration decision, or during any period in which they bring or are entitled to bring an appeal.

 

While it is positive that asylum seekers appealing their decisions receive support, it does not end destitution for refused asylum seekers.

 

The Still Human Still Here amendment to Clause 17 of the Bill changes the definition of 'asylum seeker' for the purposes of support to include those whose claims have been refused while they are in the UK. The amendment ensures that refused asylum seekers would continue to have access to the financial and housing support commonly known as Section 95 support. It will also ensure refused asylum seekers have access to secondary healthcare - regulations created in 2004 have resulted in refused asylum seekers being denied treatment for cancer and pregnant women forced to give birth alone at home.[16]

 

11.3 The Still Human Still Here amendment can end the scandal of destitution at a stroke.

 

The denial of any means of subsistence to refused asylum seekers as a matter of government policy is inhumane, ineffective and morally reprehensible. It's time to end the scandal of the destitution of refused asylum seekers

 

March 2007
Appendix One

 

1. Case studies extracted from Destitution Research carried out in 2006

 

1.1 Amir is a 37 year-old Iranian who arrived in the UK in the mid 1990s. He was travelling to Canada to join relatives but was stopped by Immigration officials whilst transiting [explain what this means] the UK. He therefore had to apply for asylum in the UK. He had been a professional footballer in Iran. Once his asylum claim was refused and his appeal dismissed, his financial support and accommodation ended in 2001.

 

From this time onwards he lived on the streets, sleeping rough, or in laundrettes or pizza shops, sometimes eating from rubbish bins.

In 2000 he converted to Christianity and he currently lives with a religious order in London. He has twice attempted suicide and has had many health problems. He fears execution if he returns to Iran and is constantly worried about his family.

 

1.2 Josephine a 53 year old woman from the Democratic Republic of Congo. Her financial support and accommodation ended in June 2005, twenty-one days after her appeal against the refusal of asylum was dismissed. At this point she had nowhere to go and felt completely lost with no one to turn to. She moved around from place to place for ten months staying with friends from her church until her lawyer made a fresh claim for asylum and in March she started to receive Section 4 Hard Case support However at the end of June 2006, her fresh claim for asylum was refused and she lives in fear having to rely on the charity of others again.

 

Josephine claims to have been raped in the DRC and since that time she has suffered from infections and has problems with her spine. She is severely traumatised by the combination of her persecution in the DRC and the uncertainty of what will happen to her in the UK. She is humiliated by not being able to provide for herself and having to ask for even the most basic requirements.

 

1.3 Joshua is a 38 year old man from Zimbabwe who applied for asylum in the UK in April 2003. Since his asylum claim and appeal was refused two years ago and his financial support and accommodation stopped, he has depended on the charity of a cousin and his [who?] who live in London.

 

Joshua was arrested while looking for a job as his employer called the police. He spent two months in early 2006 detained in Dover, Tinsley House and Campsfield Immigration Removal Centres and was released when his lawyer prevented his removal.

 

Joshua is depressed and sees no way out of his current situation. His cousin provides a roof over his head but he has no money for food or any other basic necessities and has no way of supporting himself. He even has to ask his cousin for money for a travel card to move around London or else he has to walk everywhere.

1.4 These cases are representative of the cases of 150 refused asylum seekers interviewed by Amnesty International and Refugee Action during their research into asylum destitution carried out in 2006.

Many interviewees appeared to have given up hope of ever being able to live a normal life yet amongst those interviewed for the research were lawyers, accountants, teachers, journalists and electrical engineers.

 

Some said that they had experienced torture in their home country. They thought they would be safe in the UK.


Appendix Two

 

1. The text of the amendment supported by Still Human Still Here is as follows:

 

UK Borders Bill

 

Clause 17

 

Clause 17, page 9, line 24, leave out subsections (2) to (4) and insert-

 

(2) In section 94(1) of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999, for the definition of 'asylum-seeker' substitute:

 

        "'asylum-seeker' means a person-

            (a) who is at least 18 years old,

            (b) who has made a claim for asylum at a place designated by the Secretary of State,

            (c) whose claim has been recorded by the Secretary of State,

            (d) who remains in the United Kingdom following the making of that claim for asylum, and

 (e) who is subject to immigration control but does not currently have leave to enter or remain."

 

(3) In paragraph 17(1) of Schedule 3 to the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002, for the definition of 'asylum-seeker' substitute:

 

        "'asylum-seeker' means a person-

            (a) who is at least 18 years old,

            (b) who has made a claim for asylum at a place designated by the Secretary of State,

            (c) whose claim has been recorded by the Secretary of State,

            (d) who remains in the United Kingdom following the making of that claim for asylum, and

 (e) who is subject to immigration control but does not currently have leave to enter or  remain."

 

(4) The following provisions are hereby repealed:

 

(i)                 subsections (2) to (4) of section 4 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999;

(ii)                subsections (3) to (6), (8) and (9) of section 94 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999;

(iii)               paragraphs 6, 7A and sub-paragraphs (2) and (3) of paragraph 17 to Schedule 3 to the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002; and

(iv)             section 9 of the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.) Act 2004.

 

(5) Delete paragraph 4(1)(e) of the National Health Service, (Charges to Overseas Visitors) (Amendments) Regulations 2004, No. 614.

 

 

 

 



[1] Still Human Still Here is a campaign supported by: Amnesty International; Asylum Rights Campaign; Asylum Support Appeals Project; Church Action on Poverty; Citizens Advice Bureau; Immigration Law Practitioners' Association; Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants; Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture; Migrants Resource Centre; Refugee Action; Refugee Council; Scottish Refugee Council; Student Action for Refugees; and Welsh Refugee Council. British Red Cross and No Recourse to Public Funds Network are observers.

[2] The National Audit Office's July 2005 entitled "Returning failed asylum applicants". Its conclusion was that: "The Directorate has difficulty in estimating of failed applicants to be removed. Between 1994 and May 2004 a maximum of 363,000 applicants for asylum were unsuccessful. Over the same period the Directorate reported that it had removed 79,500 failed asylum applicants. This suggests that the maximum number of failed applicants due for removal is 283,500 while the Directorate's database records of 155,000 as being due for removal at that time. Some failed asylum applicants leave the country of their own accord. The Directorate has no system for collecting information on their number but has started to deploy electronic security checking of passengers departing from the United Kingdom on certain routes." The full report can be found at: http://www.nao.org.uk/publications/nao_reports/05-06/050676.pdf

[3] http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/5193018.stm

[4] http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200506/cmselect/cmpubacc/620/62002.htm

[5] For more information on Section 9 see Inhumane and Ineffective - Section 9 in Practice, A joint Refugee Council and Refugee Action report on the Section 9 pilot, January 2006. http://www.refugeecouncil.org.uk/policy/position/2006/section9.htm

Refugee Council

[6] Figures from the Home Office Asylum Statistics: 4th Quarter 2006

[7] Other reports include:

UK wide

http://www.refugeeaction.org.uk/campaigns/documents/RA_DestReport_Final_LR.pdf

http://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/shaming_destitution.pdf

In London http://amnesty.org.uk/uploads/documents/doc_17382.pdf

In Scotland http://www.scottishrefugeecouncil.org.uk/pub/Researchreports

In Leicester http://www.leicester.anglican.org/bsr/pdf/Destitution_Report.pdf

In Newcastle http://www.opendoor-ne.org/destitute_and_desperate.pdf

[8] Liam Byrne MP, Minister for Immigration, Written Answer to Fabian Hamilton MP, 11th January 2007. URL: http://www.theyworkforyou.com/wrans/?id=2007-01-11a.109724.h&s=failed+asylum+seekers+speaker%3A11360#g109724.r0

[9] Liam Byrne MP, Minister for Immigration, Written Answer to Damian Green MP, 18th October 2006. URL: http://www.theyworkforyou.com/wrans/?id=2006-10-18a.73528.h&s=failed+asylum+seekers+speaker%3A11360#g73528.r0

[10] Home Office Press Release, Migration A Global Challenge: Immigration Minister To Attend EU/PAN-Africa Migration Conference As Quarterly Asylum Statistics Published, 21st November 2006. URL: http://press.homeoffice.gov.uk/press-releases/migration-a-global-challenge

[11] Liam Byrne MP, Minister for Immigration, Written Answer to Austin Mitchell MP, 17th February 2007. URL: http://www.theyworkforyou.com/wrans/?id=2007-02-16a.118288.h&s=failed+asylum+seekers+speaker%3A11360#g118288.r0. N.B. Home Office figures on removals includes voluntary returns and forced removals. A substantial part of the increase in removals is accounted for by voluntary returns.

[12] http://www.nao.org.uk/publications/nao_reports/05-06/050676.pdf, p. 4

[13] HM Treasury Pre-Budget Report, Investing in Britain's potential: Building our long-term future, December 2006. URL: http://www.hm-treasury.gov.uk/media/5CC/43/pbr06_completereport_1439.pdf

[14] Of the 28,025 appeals heard by immigration judges in 2005/6, 20% were successful (Home Office Asylum Statistics, First Quarter 2006). Further, snapshot analysis of court reports from the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal reveal that more than 10% of appellants have no legal representation.

 

[15] Liam Byrne MP, Minister for Immigration, Oral Answers to Questions - Home Department, 19th February 2007, http://www.theyworkforyou.com/debate/?id=2007-02-19a.16.1

[16] Nancy Kelley and Juliette Stevenson, First do no harm: denying healthcare to people whose asylum claims have failed, June 2006. URL: http://www.refugeecouncil.org.uk/policy/position/2006/healthcare.htm