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Eritrea is top country of origin for destitute refugees and asylum seekers, says British Red Cross

17 November 2016

Hundreds of Eritrean nationals who have come to the UK fleeing persecution are being left destitute, according to British Red Cross figures.

At least 352 Eritrean refugees and asylum seekers were supported by the charity’s destitution services, which include food parcels, clothing and small amounts of emergency cash, in the third quarter of 2016 (July 1st-September 30th).

The country, which hundreds of thousands have fled in recent years due to human rights concerns, is now the top place of origin among destitute refugees and asylum seekers seen by the Red Cross, followed by Iran, Sudan, Syria and Nigeria.

The Red Cross has warned that Eritreans, who often arrive in the UK after making the perilous journey across the Sahara desert and Mediterranean Sea, are increasingly falling through a number of gaps in the UK’s asylum system. The charity is calling on the government to implement new guidance on the situation in Eritrea, issued recently, when considering whether to accept or reject an asylum application, taking recent court rulings into account.

Since the publication of updated Home Office country information and guidance on Eritrea in 2015, the success rate of asylum applications from Eritrean nationals at initial decision has fallen. Whereas 73% of applications in the year ending June 2015 were successful, in 2016 this dropped to 48%.

However, 87% these refusals were found to be incorrect and overturned on appeal*, leading the Red Cross to call for better decision-making in Eritrean cases.

Alex Fraser, Director of Refugee Support at the British Red Cross, said: “No one who has come to the UK seeking sanctuary from persecution should be left to become destitute, in the most literal sense of the word. The refugees and asylum seekers that we see on a daily basis rely on us for the most basic of support - helping finding a place to sleep at night, and to feed and clothe themselves and their children.

“We have seen a steady increase in people experiencing destitution over the past 18 months and remain extremely concerned about how further changes brought in under the Immigration Act will impact on the support provided to families next year”

“The UK can do better than this, and is capable of running a fair and humane asylum system which protects people who have come here, having left everything behind, and gives them the support they need to rebuild their lives.”

A total of 3,279 people were supported by the charity’s destitution services between July and September 2016.

Destitute refugees and asylum seekers are found across the UK, with the Red Cross supporting people most frequently in Leicester, London and Cardiff.

The youngest person supported was not even a year old, while the oldest was 91.

Nearly 15% of those supported had been granted refugee status by the Home Office. The government has recently committed to reviewing the window which new refugees have before asylum support comes to an end, which is currently 28 days, in recognition of growing evidence that the process of applying for work or mainstream benefits and finding somewhere to live can take much longer.

*87% of appeals by Eritrean nationals determined in the year ending June 2016 were allowed, compared to 53% in the year ending June 2015




  • The British Red Cross is the largest provider of support to refugees and asylum seekers in the UK and supported over 9,000 people through its destitution services in 2015
  • For further information, interviews or case studies please contact Anna MacSwan


What is destitution?


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

Research carried out by the Red Cross in South Yorkshire has found that amongst asylum seekers with no recourse to public funds, two-thirds experience repeated hunger on a regular basis, with a quarter experiencing it every day. Over 60% had no fixed accommodation, and were therefore reliant on informal networks or relatives, friends or other acquaintances for a place to sleep at night. Over half reported worsening health over the last year.


Why do refugees and asylum seekers become destitute?


Whereas refugees have permission to work and claim mainstream benefits in the UK, asylum seekers do not and rely on asylum support payments of approximately £36 a week (also known as Section 95 support).

The most common reasons for asylum seekers becoming destitute are problems with asylum support payments, or support being stopped or suspended when an asylum claim is refused.

Asylum seekers whose claims have been refused are not all the same and can include people who:

-          Are legally appealing a decision to refuse refugee status

-          Are unable to leave the UK through no fault of their own (for example, people who are stateless or who do not have the identification papers to prove their nationality)

-          Come from a country which is recognised as too dangerous to deport to

New refugees also frequently become destitute upon being granted leave to remain in the UK, at which point there is currently 28 days before all asylum support, including housing, comes to an end. The UK Government has now committed to reviewing the 28-day window and has agreed to evaluate how long it takes new refugees to find work, apply for benefits and find somewhere to live.

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