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Humanitarian crisis in Britain

 The Big Issue in Scotland 02 July 2019

Tens of thousands dependent on food handouts. Shelter provided by charities. Refugees forced to sleep rough. Women having to resort to prostitution. This is not a story about a third world country, but about the UK. (1402 Words) - By Adam Forrest

Big Issue Scotland_humanity

Courtesy of The Big Issue in Scotland

Images of emergency healthcare and food handouts are burned in the mind as belonging to far-flung regions of the world where natural disaster has struck or the rule of law has crumbled. However, charities have been forced to turn their attention much closer to home - to an ongoing crisis on the streets of Britain, where more and more asylum seekers are becoming destitute as a result of government policy.

Although the British Red Cross usually steers clear of campaigning that might be considered political, the organisation says it has been "overwhelmed" by the demand for emergency help from those turned away by the Home Office.

In a new report describing the country's asylum system as "shameful" and "inhumane", the British Red Cross estimates up to 20,000 asylum seekers are entirely dependent on food handouts and shelter provided by charities.

"We're focusing on this as a humanitarian issue," says Nick Scott-Flynn, head of refugee services at the British Red Cross.

"Unfortunately, it isn't very different to some of the work we're doing in somewhere like Sudan. We don't feel the situation is getting better - if anything, it is getting worse."

The number of refused asylum seekers living in the UK has been estimated at anywhere between 155,000 and 500,000. Unable or unwilling to return to countries they fear are unsafe, many become reliant on the kindness of friends and supporters they have met through faith groups and charities.

Many are too scared to sign up for hardship support that might mean enforced removal, or are simply unable to cope with the gruelling appeal process. Some are dropping out of the system altogether, sleeping rough or caught up in prostitution.

Marie Jammeh, a 28-year-old from Gambia who was refused refugee status in the UK in January, lives in YMCA accommodation at the Red Road flats on the north side of Glasgow, where she waits anxiously for news of her appeal.

Marie points to the tiny TV she got for £5 at a nearby car boot sale, and explains how she and her two-year-old daughter Anta have relied on clothes and furniture from charities.

For the time being, she is entitled to Section 4 hardship support from the Home Office - an 'Azure' hardship payment card worth £5 a day, which can be used in shops such as Tesco, Asda or Boots. "It is very difficult to try to bring up a child this way," she says.

"You have to budget very carefully if you want to survive. When you go to the post office [to pick up an Azure card], you can see on other people's faces they are not happy. You can see they are thinking, 'Why are you taking our money?'  It is a very uncertain situation, waiting to hear what's going to happen to you. It is a nightmare, every day."

Section 4 support is removed unless there is a 'live' appeal.

The Scottish Refugee Council says there have been people who have had support removed and reinstated six times, as families try to navigate the complexity of appealing Home Office decisions.

Many asylum families are at their most vulnerable to destitution while waiting for the Home Office to accept there is a genuine case of hardship. The Big Issue spoke to a Sikh family fleeing the Taliban in Afghanistan who have been left homeless following the withdrawal of all state support last month.

Mrs Raj Kaur, an 82-year-old grandmother, her son Parmjeet Singh and her niece Kartar Kayur are now being put up by Positive Action in Housing's network of supporters, while Kartar's two grown-up children fend for themselves elsewhere.

"We are in real trouble," says Parmjeet. "It is very difficult to live without any money. We are still waiting news on our case, so why are we left with nothing, no support? Where do five people go?"

Amar Kartar, Parmjeet's 18-year-old nephew, is temporarily sleeping on the floor in an already crowded friend's flat in north Glasgow. Amar's 21-year-old sister is staying in a different flat elsewhere in the city. "It doesn't make sense to make someone homeless, no food, no money, for months, if there is still a chance for us to stay," says Amar.

"We're not criminals. Me and my sister go to university and college here, and we think we can have a bright future here. Of course we want to work, make a life - that's what everybody wants."

Life is not easy even when refugee status is granted. Relief soon gives way to social housing lists, paying bills, applying for jobs and trying to make skills and qualifications relevant to the UK, in a struggle to avoid poverty.

Phendilizwe, a 44-year-old from Zimbabwe granted leave to remain last year, recalls a hellish five-month period in a homeless hostel in Glasgow.

He was placed among drug addicts and alcoholics, and had his door smashed in while another refugee was attacked. "I was told I didn't have a choice where to go, but I only discovered later there might be other options," he says. "The people staying there didn't understand our situation, and there were a lot of difficulties. I wouldn't say it was racism - it is fear between different groups put together."

Things are looking better for Phendilizwe now he has a flat and is volunteering and completing an SVQ in social care. As a former teacher of primary school-aged children, he's assessing how he might be able to teach in Scotland. "It is a very, very long journey.

"There are many gaps throughout the process and there's still a tension about approaching authorities, because you don't know if you can trust them. It is difficult to get stability. I can understand why other people want to give up."

The British Red Cross have joined the Scottish Refugee Council and others in calling for humane treatment and basic support throughout the time anyone claims sanctuary in the UK. They point toward parliament's own Joint Committee on Human Rights, which found that "the government has indeed been practising a deliberate policy of destitution" in designing procedure for asylum seekers.

"There shouldn't be anywhere in the system you end up destitute as a result of applying for asylum," explains Nick Scott-Flynn. "Pushing people underground is to no one's benefit."


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Originally published by The Big Issue in Scotland. ©

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