Starving detainees out of Britain

Unfortunately, there has not been any such sympathy or understanding from the government. In this section we explain that the struggle to survive in the UK does not stop once refugees have managed to get here, been able to apply for asylum, or been released from detention.

On 5th February 1996 the government introduced new social security regulations. These meant that those who claim political asylum were only entitled to state benefits if they had claimed asylum at the port of entry, and that entitlement only extended until an initial decision had been made on their case. This was despite numerous submissions to its Social Services Advisory Committee explaining that the rule changes would have the effect of making thousands of asylum-seekers destitute, and despite the Committee's recommendation to the government `not to proceed'.

Heathrow Protest
Campaign members protesting at Heathrow Airport

The result has been that many asylum-seekers have had no income support benefit, no housing benefit, no disability allowances, no clothing allowances, and no Council-tax benefit. They have had no income whatsoever, and many have been evicted and made destitute.

A number of voluntary organisations offering accommodation to asylum-seekers and refugees of the type discussed in the previous section, have had to close because housing benefit has no longer been paid. In this way, the support networks built up between local council social service departments and organisations offering accommodation have been systematically destroyed. The effects have been made worse by the fact that asylum-seekers are not permitted to work for at least six months, and even after then the chances of being able to get work on short-term admission documents are extremely slim. It is worth adding that these regulations also applied to 4,000 children each year (according to the Times Educational Supplement), of whom 750 are unaccompanied.

In June 1996 the Refugee Council successfully challenged the new regulations in the High Court. Lord Justice Simon Brown ruled that the regulations left `some asylum-seekers so destitute that in my mind no civilised nation can tolerate it.'

However, the government's response to this legal `setback' was to incorporate the new regulations into the 1996 Immigration and Asylum Act. This Act additionally withdraws the right to housing, and criminalises the employment of those working `illegally'.

We believe that the sight of destitute asylum-seekers on the streets will create a further increase in public hostility towards them, and a deterioration in race relations. Other asylum-seekers may decide instead to abandon their claims in the desperate hope that when they return to their countries they will somehow be overlooked.

Forcing people to make that choice is totally incompatible with the agreement to provide protection for those with `a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion' (UN Convention on Refugees 1951, Article 1).

There are numerous obstacles placed in the way of those fleeing persecution at all stages of the process of applying for refugee status. The claim that `it is impossible to get asylum in Britain' becomes a miserable and shabby reality for the vast majority of those who have mistakenly thought that Britain might meet its international obligations.

These pages last updated 25/2/98 by Tim Lattimer