QARN: Statement about destitution

  Why many asylum seekers are destitute:  Minimal support  – and none

For those seeking asylum the money allowance historically has been set at 70 per cent of normal income support. Most people now receive less, and at the best an asylum seeker receiving financial support will be living on £5 per day.[i]

Asylum seekers whose claim has been refused lose their financial support and accommodation after 3 weeks unless they appeal. They are expected to leave the UK immediately. If they agree to return or they appeal they may qualify for even lower ‘hard case’ Section 4 support’,[ii] provided only in around 3% of cases. Because they are terrified of return, or for other reasons frightened of bringing themselves to the attention of a system they already know to be harsh, many do not apply. The remainder are not allowed to work and receive nothing. Women who are homeless because of domestic violence also end up destitute as do victims of trafficking. Tens of thousands of people are in this situation. The parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights[iii] said in 2007:

We have been persuaded … that the Government has indeed been practising a deliberate policy of destitution… We have seen instances in all cases where the Government’s treatment of asylum seekers and refused asylum seekers falls below the requirements of the common law of humanity and of international human rights law.

Four years later with a different government things are just the same.

Why are refused asylum seekers still here? 

  • They are afraid to go back: Most destitute asylum seekers are from countries considered extremely turbulent[iv] like Afghanistan, Somalia, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Zimbabwe and Iran.
  • The numbers allowed to remain have fallen: The number of people given permission to stay has fallen significantly in recent years[v]. 
  • They believe they have a case: Even if a person is correctly refused asylum, it does not automatically follow that their claim is unjustified[vi]. If the government accepts you were persecuted, you may be refused asylum unless you can prove it will happen again.
  • The system makes mistakes: Experts have long expressed concerns about whether some asylum seekers receive a full and fair hearing of their claim[vii].
  • Because they cannot go back: The Government cannot return people to countries at war, with uncooperative governments or unreliable means of travel.

Once the Government stops supporting an asylum seeker it may lose track of their whereabouts, which makes their removal near to impossible. The policy of making people destitute is therefore ultimately self-defeating.

December 2011

Footnotes and additional information

[i] As from 18 April 2011 Asylum Support (Amendment) Regulations 2011 SI No 907)

[ii] Asylum seekers on Section 4 support receive £1.23 less per week than they would have received on Section 95 support, delivered through a plastic payment card rather than in cash, making it impossible for them to use vital services like making phone calls or taking buses. Those living with friends and family have to leave that accommodation and go into housing provided by the Government at the taxpayers’ expense in order to receive the support by means of the plastic card.

[iii] The Joint Committee on Human Rights ‘The Treatment of Asylum Seekers, Tenth Report of Session 2006-7, paragraph 120

[iv] Considered dangerous by the UN, Amnesty etc because of conflict, generalised violence and human rights violations.

[v] In the past most people from these countries would almost certainly have been given Exceptional Leave to Remain (ELR) for four years, and been allowed to work to support themselves.  But in 2003 ELR was replaced by more restrictive categories of leave to remain. 2,555 adults were granted such leave in 2009 compared with 20,135 individuals who got ELR in 2002[v].

[vi] Many people apply for asylum in good faith, unaware that their case does not meet the strict criteria of the 1951 Refugee Convention. Nonetheless, they may have fled violently unstable countries and experienced violence, torture, or rape. Cut backs in legal aid have already reduced the proportion of successful claims, and further cuts now coming into effect will make the situation even worse.

 [vii] Decision making in relation to some nationalities is especially poor. For example, in 2010, 50% of Somali nationals, 36% of Eritreans and 36% of Zimbabweans who appealed had their refusals overturned. This raises serious doubts about the quality of initial decision making. For every person who successfully overturns a poor decision, many more may be failing due to a lack of quality legal advice.

[Comment: Many Quakers around the UK are involved in projects aimed at relieving some of the misery of those caught up in destitution as a result of seeking sanctuary, and others campaign for changes in the system]

What do we do? Network members own experiences

QARN members are all Quakers, some are members and others are attenders.

We have wide experience that we bring to the Network, and have identified the following as examples of what we as individuals and with our Meetings have been involved in:

  • I worked 22 yrs in European Commission. Last 5 yrs i.c. anti-racism action development, and welfare questions for extra-European migrants in the E Union.
  • Founded Brussels Q meeting, and founder member and some-time treasurer of Quaker Council for European Affairs [QCEA].
  • Since retirement, some 12 yrs visiting detainees in Dover Immigration Removal Centre as member of Dover Detainees Visitor Group, and standing as bail security for detainees at release request hearings.
  • Some lobbying of MPs.
  • My main activity over the past 18 months has been the Bail Observation Project of the Close Campsfield Campaign and that is likely to continue as we intend to do another study, and I have offered to work on the analysis of the data as I did for our first report.
  • I now attend the Detention Forum meetings for QARN.
  • I am on Quaker United Nations Committe, Geneva [QUNC], and I am part of the reference group – Refugees and Human Rights.
  • My local meeting contributes food for destitute asylum seekers and I collect it and ensure that it goes to Asylum Welcome
  • Founder and coordinator of Merseyside Churches’ ecumenical fund for destitute asylum seekers
  • Chair of charity giving psychotherapeutic support through horticulture to traumatised asylum seeking families
  • Former Chair (10 years) of Liverpool’s only open access drop-in centre for asylum seekers and refugees (also offering food, English language classes, housing, immigration and employment advice)
  • Trustee of Merseyside Refugee Support Network
  • Member of steering group of Churches’ Refugee Support Network (an informal network of Churches Together in Britain and Ireland)
  • Convenor of trustees of Quaker Concern for the Abolition of Torture (Q-CAT).
  • Turning the Tide Resource Person,
  • Msc Social Policy and Planning,  European MA in Migration, Mental Health and Social Care, Past research worker at UEL on the survival strategies of migrants in East London.
  • Retired social worker, community worker and voluntary organisation manager.
  • Initiator and member responsible for development,and administration, Spare Room for forced destitute migrants.
  • Member London Hosting Development Team, NACCOM. Caseworker Refugee and Migrants Project Newham.
  • Committee Member Assoc. of Families Adopting from Abroad from 1995 to  its amalgamation with OASIS – 2012
  • 2001-2004, first Chair – Yarls Wood Befrienders,  2005-2011 on the Committee as Fundraiser
  • Visited and supported assorted Detainees, and ex-detainees,  continuously, since 2001.  2004-8 I set up and ran a four-year project mini-hostel (4 beds) for homeless, destitute, ex-Yarls Wood women. I raised funding from local charities, Mothers’ Union, and individuals.
  • Luton & Leighton AM has accepted my concern to get children fully innoculated before removal.
  • Since 2004 I have been mentor to an Afghan man and later his family as well, who now all have settled status (through a project entitled “Mentoring Refugees into Employment” run by Leeds Met Univ/St George’s Crypt/Refugee Council/Leeds City Council).
  • I have been volunteering on the Teaching English at Home  project run by Leeds Asylum Seekers Support Network (LASSN).
  • I write lobbying letters to my MP and other relevant people as issues arise.
  • I support Leeds Asylum Seekers Support Network [LASSN] financially
  • As a Quaker Meeting we are providing financial support to Solace, an organisation doing mental health work with asylum seekers and refugees in Leeds
  • Hosting destitute asylum seekers in my home
  • Running a winter night shelter for destitute asylum seekers one night a week – other churches cover the other 6 nights
  • Visited and supported detainees, and ex-detainees,  continuously, since 2001.  2004-8 I set up and ran a four-year project mini-hostel (4 beds) for a group of 9 or 10 people.
  • Local Meetings keep in touch about asylum issues. Most are involved in support, visiting, fundraising or campaigning in association with 5 different local organisations.
  • I represent QARN on Still Human Still Here, the national campaign to end destitution among asylum seekers.
  • We have face to face contact, an email group, and occasional business meetings. We take asylum and immigration matters to our local business meetings, organise our food collections for destitute asylum seekers, and from time to time hold other events to maintain awareness about asylum issues.
  • I was trained up as an accredited immigration/asylum lawyer in around Jan 2008 (which is different from a solicitor) with Refugee Legal Centre, which then became Refugee Migrant Justice.
  • Throughout I have had friends in the system, and have been involved in supporting them in various ways with their anti-deportation campaigns; finding solicitors; aspects of their cases including accessing legal reps and expert witnesses for judicial review and appeals;  mental health breakdowns; housing issues; raising funds for a mobility scooter; Refugee Week activities; homelessness; detention; giving birth; family deaths; and also joyous singing and performing at music festivals; and involvement in an episode of Secret Millionaire (that was a surprise)  etc etc
  • I’m not really active on refugee issues at the moment, no longer volunteering at the Red Cross and my Spare Room guest has moved out after 2.5 years. Still interested but my time is mainly on other issues.
  • I work with the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust, a Quaker trust which makes grants for work promoting rational and humane migration and asylum policies benefitting both migrant and settled communities in West Yorkshire; at national level in the UK; and across Europe

The New Bail Guidance for Immigration Judges: Will It Make Any Difference?

A note from the Bail Observation Project, September 2011: 

The issuing of up-to-date guidance notes to immigration judges must be an urgent priority.[1]

In our report Immigration Bail Hearings, we recorded our concerns about many aspects of the immigration bail process; the recommendation above was one of a series of recommendations for change. In July, the Tribunals Judiciary published new guidelines (Bail Guidance for Immigration Judges, Presidential Guidance Note No. 1 of 2011). We welcome these new guidance notes as they provide a benchmark for both judges and those concerned with the process of immigration bail hearings. Continue reading “The New Bail Guidance for Immigration Judges: Will It Make Any Difference?”

Sample letter in support of suspension of forced removals to Baghdad, Iraq

Letter to:

Lord Navnit Dholakia
House of Lords
London SW1A 0PW

Dear Navnit Dholakia,

As a member of the Quaker Asylum and Refugee Network I am writing to support your recent call for the suspension of deportations of Iraqis to Baghdad (22 June 2010, House of Lords). I deplore the fact that this call did not receive the response it deserved from the Foreign Ministry spokesman, Lord Howell.

It is heartening that you and your fellow Liberal Democrat peers are in favour of the moratorium, as are a number of peers of other persuasions.

However, the Coalition Government policy on this is surely unacceptable. It seems that deportations are to continue irrespective of the concerns raised over both the immediate and the long-term safety of many of the deportees. These concerns continue to be raised by no lesser authority than the United Nations High Commission on Refugees, supported by Amnesty International, Oxfam and others.

Recently, the government has shown itself capable of accepting enlightened positions, notably the decision of the Supreme Court on Gay asylum seekers. Should you not be pressing it further on the matter of the Iraqi deportees? Can any self-respecting government be allowed systematically to oppose the UNHCR and the humanitarian organisations?

Yours sincerely,

‘If asked, “Why am I a Quaker, how am I a Quaker?”, this is what I can say.’


I applied for membership when I felt convinced that being a Quaker is my spiritual home, and I stay with Quakers because it feels like home, a place where I can recharge myself.

I may not share all your beliefs, or yours or yours, but that is not a problem, in fact one of the things that I enjoy about being a Quaker is our diversity in belief. One of the benefits for me is that the hour that we spend in Meeting on a Sunday is probably one of the few times when I’m quiet, and when I open my mind to whatever comes rather than applying myself to a task. Two weeks ago in Meeting for Worship it came to me that the difference between awful and awe-ful is the magic ‘e’ – the energy we find when we meet together that helps us move forward in the world.

How? Continue reading “‘If asked, “Why am I a Quaker, how am I a Quaker?”, this is what I can say.’”

Alternatives to detention

There has been debate about alternatives to detention.

Common elements of a solution include:

[information from other countries]:
there are community-based approaches that have a casework and welfare focus,
and community-based approaches that primarily use restrictive conditions to encourage compliance.

Given the limited capacity of the detention estate, the most obvious alternative to detention is simply to not detain.

a lack of evidence that families systematically disappear pending judicial review or other legal appeals;
questioning about why it is so often used,

and why children are subjected to spending relatively long periods of time in the detention estate. Continue reading “Alternatives to detention”

Quakers oppose detention of migrants’ children, and so should a new government

We must not punish the children

Quakers oppose detention of migrants’ children, and so should a new government by Michael Bartlet

Quakers believe in the unique value of every individual. From this follows a sense of equality that animates Quaker thinking today. The right to asylum becomes a legal counterpart to the religious insight of the common humanity of us all.

Refugees are the human face of international injustice. They are the place – in this country – where we see the real impact of inequality: armed conflict, the inability of failed states to provide a secure home for their citizens, and abusive governments. The impact of climate change adds a further dimension in increasing pressure on land and resources. That is why migration policy presents such a difficult problem. It is easier to close our eyes and ears to the victims of injustice abroad than acknowledge its wounded presence at our door. Continue reading “Quakers oppose detention of migrants’ children, and so should a new government”

Arise and Shine. Self-advocacy. Asylum Seekers.

The Cast. Lydia Besong’s play “How I became an Asylum Seeker”. April 2, 2010 (without photos)

As this blog reaches it’s first anniversary the stories that have been whispering in my ear over the past twelve months are drawn together:

The Yarl’s Wood hunger strike. The forthcoming election. War and refugee movements. The unsavoury ways in which political parties capitalise on people’s fears about immigration. A lack of funding for investigative journalism, censorship – and recurring, stereotypical images of asylum seekers in the press.

Attending the “Arise and Shine” woman asylum seekers self-advocacy event in Manchester last week addressed all of these narratives.

The play and workshops were billed as a ‘Professional Development Opportunity’. As a trained teacher in Adult Education as well as a journalist I had a critical eye on how the event was organised. I was impressed from the start. Continue reading “Arise and Shine. Self-advocacy. Asylum Seekers.”

Quakers’ letter to Jack Straw – use with prospective Parliamentary candidates

What can you do?

The letter that has been sent from Quakers to Jack Straw on 1 April 2010 can be used to address issues with prospective Parliamentary candidates:

‘We agree to the letter being sent and made public for a wide dissemination of a Quaker voice on this matter. We welcome the strategy suggested in the paper, particularly seeking alternatives to detaining children, who need to be protected and kept with their families. We ask Friends to use this letter in canvassing Parliamentary candidates at this time.’  MfS 28.3.2010

See also: