New refugees in UK risk homelessness and poverty – report

by Katie Nguyen | Katie_Nguyen1 | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Wednesday, 7 May 2014 03:26 GMT

In a 2009 file photo, a homeless person begs in central London. REUTERS/Toby Melville

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Unfamiliar with UK welfare and state systems, new refugees often face homelessness and poverty

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Individuals who have just been granted refugee status in Britain often face homelessness and destitution due to delays in receiving the paperwork needed to find shelter and work, a charity said on Wednesday.

Refugee Council, which was founded in 1951, said it had uncovered evidence of refugees being forced to sleep rough and beg for money. Others had to rely on charities and friends for food and a bed for the night, it said.

Part of the problem is that an asylum seeker's entitlement to financial support and housing ends 28 days after refugee status is granted - leaving many, who are unfamiliar with the welfare and state systems, very little time to get accommodation and a means of supporting themselves.

"Refugees have fled horrifying experiences in their own countries and have lost everything. When they arrive in the UK, many are met by a complex, hostile asylum system which can leave people living in limbo for years, waiting to have a final decision on their fate," said Lisa Doyle, who wrote the report, 28 Days Later: the experiences of new refugees in the UK.

"Being finally recognised as a refugee should be a moment to be celebrated. It is unacceptable that the reverse is true and that it is a confusing, chaotic period where people can find themselves on the street, begging for money," Doyle said in a statement.

The report was based on interviews with eight refugees from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Cameroon, Colombia, Eritrea, Iran and Sri Lanka.

"The 28 days is hard on refugees," said one refugee, Bibi, in the report. "You don't know what you are going to do (when the asylum support stops). It was such a surprise when I ended up without a bed to sleep in."

The report said three interviewees experienced delays in receiving their Biometric Residence Permits, and two others waited three months before being allocated a National Insurance number. Both are crucial to open a bank account or receive state benefits.

None of the interviewees had their own accommodation at the end of the 28-day period, and instead they relied on friends, stayed in hostels or slept on the streets, the report said.

Ivo, a refugee from Cameroon, waited months to receive his National Insurance number after being granted refugee status because of errors made by the Home Office (interior ministry), Refugee Council said.

"I felt relieved when I got my refugee status but in reality it was just the beginning of a whole new set of problems. Accessing housing and other services has been very stressful," the charity quoted Ivo as saying.

"The government should do more to help refugees integrate so other people don't have to go what I went through. I was a refugee with no refuge."

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