Sunday, October 26, 2014

UK Asylum Seekers' Needs Unmet

Last month, a quiet announcement from UK Home Secretary Theresa May dashed the hopes of thousands of asylum seekers in the UK. A court ruling in April had criticized the very low level of support it gives to those seeking asylum and had given her four months to show how she had calculated that it would cover their needs. The Home Office duly did its sums, but announced that the amount to be paid would not increase.

The decision was a blow to campaigners who had brought the case to show that asylum seekers were being forced to live in extreme poverty while waiting for their applications to be processed.
Dave Garratt, the chief executive of Refugee Action, the organization which took the Home Secretary to court, told IRIN that asylum seekers were coming through their doors, telling them that they were really struggling to survive. But the campaigners did at least force the Home Office to give an account of how the asylum seekers’ allowance - currently just over £5 a day for a single adult - was calculated.

“Essentially what they have done,” says Garratt, “is base it on the expenditure of the lowest 10 percent of people in the UK. But we think that is quite flawed, because that is about expenditure, not about need, and many of those people have other help, from family and friends. It doesn't take account of the special circumstances of asylum seekers who may arrive without clothes or shoes, and have no stored food to fall back on. We still think it is not high enough, but now we have the analysis written down, at least we have something we can debate about, and the formula will have to be re-applied every year so they can show they are doing their job properly.”

 British immigration law prohibits asylum seekers from working legally, the purported rationale being that allowing applicants to work would blur the line between asylum applicants and economic migrants, and thereby serve as a “pull factor.” Around 11 other EU states do allow asylum seekers to work - if only six months after their arrival -  and such policies do not appear to increase the number of asylum applicants.

 A single adult asylum seeker's allowance is currently only just over 50 percent of the benefit known as “income support” - in itself considered the minimum needed to lead an adequate life. In cases where an initial asylum request has been refused and a destitute applicant is waiting for the result of an appeal, or has agreed to return to their country of origin but is unable to do immediately, the allowance, known as Section 4 support, is no longer paid in cash, but loaded onto a “Azure card”. This can only be used at designated shops, for food and a limited range of other items. The recipient has no money for anything else - bus fares, postage, faxing documents or any of the other expenses needed to pursue his claim.

 The UK is also somewhat ungenerous compared with its western European neighbours. In the Netherlands, for instance, asylum seekers receive the same benefits as any other needy resident. France, Germany, Belgium and Italy have similar systems to the UK, but pay higher levels of support. And most countries are less restrictive than the UK about allowing asylum seekers to work and support themselves.
Freedom From Torture reports that poverty and anxiety are seriously compromising the ability of their clients to recover from their experiences. The low level of support means that they are not just relatively poor by British standards, but absolutely poor. More than half of the 85 torture survivors who responded to a questionnaire said they were never, or not often, able to buy enough of the right food for a nutritionally balanced diet. Thirty-four said they were never, or not often, able to buy enough food of any kind to satisfy their hunger.

The worst off were the clients with Azure cards, who could only buy at designated shops - mostly mid-priced supermarkets - rather than in the cheaper discount supermarkets or at market stalls. In one of the designated shops the cheapest form of minced meat now costs £3.75 a kilo, a tin of tuna is 95 pence and a 300gram piece of plain cheese £2. Apples are now in season and abundant, but four apples cost a pound. The daily allowance of around £5 does not go far.
 Another problem is warm clothes. It is hard on this level of income to save enough for new shoes or winter clothing. Charity shops, which sell good quality second hand garments, are useful but of little help to the Azure card holders, who can only use those run by the Salvation Army or the Red Cross - no help if the only charity shop within walking distance belongs to Oxfam. Card holders are also prevented from saving because they are not allowed to accumulate a surplus on the card - anything more than £5 disappears at the end of each week.

 Ironically the very point at which asylum seekers finally succeed in getting refugee status can be one of the most difficult moments. Temporary support stops four weeks after that status is granted. The refugee can now work and is eligible for normal welfare benefits, but has just one month to find new accommodation and get a job, or else negotiate a whole new set of form filling, interviews and bureaucratic requirements.

Complete article here

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