accessibility & help

Red Cross report reveals the life in limbo of refused asylum seekers who cannot return

3 March 2017

People who have been refused asylum in the UK, but are unable to return to their home country should be allowed temporary leave to remain if they meet Home Office requirements, the British Red Cross has said.

In a new report, Can’t Stay, Can’t Go, the charity identified a group of asylum seekers who have been refused permission to remain in the UK but cannot leave because they lack documents such as passports, their nationality is disputed or because there is no viable route back to their country of origin.

Refused asylum seekers can struggle to obtain the documents they need to leave the country for reasons ranging from having lost contact with their family to their embassy refusing to see them if they cannot prove their nationality. It creates a bureaucratic trap which no efforts of the UK government or the affected individual can resolve.

The Red Cross found that with no right to work and limited financial support, life for this group is bleak and characterised by extended periods of being homeless and destitute. Most rely on friends and charity to survive.

Nearly half of the 15 refused asylum seekers interviewed for the report had considered suicide. Others reported chronic stress, insomnia, anxiety and depression and most felt they have no control over their life. One refused asylum seeker from Sudan, who was a victim of torture, told the Red Cross he self-harms by banging his head against the wall.

All had no choice but to remain in the UK despite having sought to comply with everything asked of them by the Home Office.

No conclusive figures exist on those who cannot leave, as some refused asylum seekers disappear from official records. However, the report reveals that 1,096 people have lodged an application for statelessness in the UK after being refused asylum, following the introduction of new Home Office guidance on statelessness in April 2013.*

The Red Cross is appealing to the government to grant discretionary leave to remain, including a right to work, to fully refused asylum seekers who have been taking steps to leave the UK for more than 12 months, saying this would spare a small number of people from being left destitute for extended periods of time.

Mike Adamson, Chief Executive of the British Red Cross said: “Our report has found that life for fully refused asylum seekers is bleak – including and especially those who do not have the option of going back to their country of origin.

“Having no permission to be in the UK but no way home means being stuck in a permanent state of limbo and often living hand to mouth. Some of the individuals interviewed in this report have been in this situation for years. We believe this is inhumane and this kind of status should only ever be temporary.

“No one should be left destitute if they remain in the UK due to factors beyond their control.”

One of those interviewed for the report is Enaya**, 37, who came to the UK five years ago with her husband and eight month old baby daughter. Her husband was stopped at the airport and returned to Palestine, and subsequently arrested and killed.

Enaya and her daughter were refused asylum in the UK, but lack the documents to leave. Enaya has tried on a number of occasions to obtain a passport, but has been refused because the Palestinian Mission to the UK does not have the authority to issue passports. She is now seeking advice on putting in a stateless application for herself and her daughter, who is now five years old.

Another, Walid, is 44 and has been in the UK for more than 17 years, having fled the war in Algeria. He has applied to return to Algeria, but was unable to leave due to not having a passport or ID. The Algerian embassy will not recognise or re-document him.

With no financial support, he is homeless and has no other option some nights than to sleep in the streets. Walid has a heart condition and has had two heart attacks since arriving in the UK.

Red Cross staff reported that sleeping rough leaves refused asylum seekers vulnerable to physical abuse and were anecdotally aware of cases where women have resorted to paying for a place to sleep in other ways, including sex and domestic servitude.

Although the UK government does provide a small amount of financial support to refused asylum seekers who are taking all reasonable steps to leave the UK (also known as Section 4 support), this is designed to be a temporary form of support and not for people remaining in the country for prolonged periods.

In practice, it is also difficult for someone who is destitute and cannot afford to pay for travel to embassy, or making phone calls, to prove they are taking steps to leave the country. Records indicate that in 2015, only 63 people were granted Section 4 support on this ground.

Families with children who have been refused asylum are currently eligible for accommodation and £36 a week for each member of the family (also known as Section 95 support). This was, however, repealed in the Immigration Act 2016, which changes eligibility for asylum support.

Ahead of the Immigration Act coming into force, the Red Cross is calling for the Home Office to provide clear, realistic and practical guidelines for single adults who apply for asylum support on the grounds of being unable to leave the UK, and to share the burden of proof.

It is also asking for pregnant women and families with children to continue receiving Section 95 support, regardless of immigration status.


Notes to editors


*Figures for applications lodged between 1 April 2013 and 30 June 2016 – obtained via a Freedom of Information request to the Home Office

**Names of research participants have been changed to protect their identity

Can’t Stay, Can’t Go is based on in-depth interviews with 15 refused asylum seekers who cannot return to their country of origin, six Red Cross refugee support staff that work with this group of people, and a review of existing literature and quantitative data

The nationalities of those interviewed are Algeria, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Iraq, Palestine, Somalia, Sudan and Zimbabwe. Eleven were male and four female, with their ages ranging from 25 to 49.


For further information, interviews and case studies please contact Anna MacSwan

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