accessibility & help

Ending destitution

What’s the problem?

There has been a rapid increase in the number of refugees and asylum seekers facing destitution.

From new arrivals to refused asylum seekers, thousands each year find themselves cut off from Home Office support and entirely dependent on the British Red Cross.

One of the most shocking issues is destitute refugees: people granted a legal right to stay here, but who encounter problems getting on to mainstream support.

The British Red Cross' refugee services can provide short-term emergency support and expert advice on the limited resources available. But to prevent such hardship, the asylum system needs to change.

We are seeing changes like this in Northern Ireland, where a £55,000 crisis fund supports migrants, refugees and asylum seekers facing emergency situations. We manage this fund on behalf of the Northern Ireland Executive.

Destitution is a similar problem in Scotland. Our A Healthy Start? report reveals the extent of the challenges pregnant women in Scotland face during their time seeking refugee protection in the UK.

What is destitution?

The Red Cross defines an individual as destitute if they don’t eat sufficiently, have no fixed home, cannot afford essential items (such as clothes and toiletries) and/or are experiencing worsening health.

The British Red Cross is the UK’s largest provider of support to refugees and asylum seekers and has destitution services in around 50 towns and cities across the country.

These provide services ranging from food parcels, clothing and small amounts of emergency cash, to help finding housing, individual casework, and providing maternity packs for new mothers.

The British Red Cross says: reduce bureaucratic delays and difficulties

We think:

  • Removing uncertainty, confusion, and errors from the asylum process would hugely improve people's humanitarian situation. The government must reduce current bureaucratic delays and deal with the huge backlog of applications for asylum and support.
  • A single process – with smooth transitions between different legal states – would end these delays and the need to reapply repeatedly for asylum. 
  • Asylum seekers should be able to contribute and work in the UK if it takes longer than six months to process their claim.
  • New refugees must get their national insurance number and other needed documentation more quickly, to reduce their risk of ending up homeless and without access to support.

We know some claims will not succeed, but while people seek protection in the UK or have the right to remain here, we must treat them with humanity and dignity.

The Red Cross has taken a close look at the impact of destitution on refugees in Greater Manchester. Read our report .


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