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Refugee Week: putting the spotlight on destitution

11 June 2010

Refugee silhouette© InfoTo mark Refugee Week (14-20 June), the Red Cross is highlighting the plight of destitute asylum seekers in the UK – and putting the spotlight on the contribution they could make.

Thousands of refused asylum seekers currently live in severe poverty in the UK. Unable to work or support themselves, many struggle for basics such as food and shelter.

Eighty-seven per cent often survive on only one meal a day. The Red Cross believes that something must be done to end the risk of destitution among this vulnerable group.

That’s why, this year, our Look Beyond the Label campaign features a new video introduced by celebrities Dougray Scott, Karen David and Stephen K Amos. It shows how the most basic aspects of everyday living – going to work, having a meal, going to bed – can present a huge challenge for asylum seekers. The video closes by urging people to vote for an end to destitution among asylum seekers.

A difficult life

If you want an insight into how difficult life can be for refused asylum seekers, then look at the moving stories of Michael, Mary and Adam. Having fled torture, persecution and sexual abuse in their home countries, they now have to contend with homelessness, illness and a severe lack of food.

Almost as bad is the sense of depression and worthlessness that their situation imposes. As Adam puts it: “I feel really bad not having a job. I want to be independent and not depend on others’ kindness for food.”

Survey findings

During Refugee Week, the Red Cross launches a new destitution report that proposes key changes to the asylum system. The organisation has also commissioned a new ICM survey, which includes several worrying results.

The results of the poll – which surveyed over 2,000 people – show conflicting opinions and a lack of knowledge among the British public about the legal definition of asylum. Although 89 per cent correctly defined asylum seekers as those fleeing persecution in their own country, one in four of those asked still believed they come to Britain to claim benefits.

Refugee man in cap silhouette© InfoFifty-seven per cent also thought asylum seekers were given up to £100 worth of vouchers each week to cover living expenses.(In reality, they receive accommodation and vouchers equalling just £35 a week, while refused asylum seekers receive no support at all.)

Nick Scott-Flynn, head of refugee services, said: “There are thousands of people whose lives are in limbo, unable to work and provide for themselves. We’re urging the British public to witness and acknowledge their plight – and take action to end this state of poverty and deprivation.”

Read our blog on debunking popular asylum seeker myths

Find out more about Refugee Week 2010

Sign up for the World Refugee Day Umbrella Parade in London


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