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Refugees destitute for years, new report finds

18 October 2013

A woman's head and shoulders

A humanitarian crisis is gripping Greater Manchester and has left many of the area’s most vulnerable people homeless and destitute for more than a decade, research by the British Red Cross has found.

According to a new report, 50 per cent of the refugees and asylum seekers surveyed had been destitute for more than two years.  A quarter had spent the previous night sleeping rough or in charity accommodation.

Head of British Red Cross refugee support, Nick Scott-Flynn, said the failing asylum system is responsible for plunging those seeking safety in the UK into poverty.

He said: "There are thousands of people suffering because the system is broken. They are trapped in a cycle that sees them left with nowhere to live and without work.  We meet many people who are sleeping rough, starving and at serious risk of worsening physical and mental health problems as a direct result of this."

Helping those with nothing

The report, published by the British Red Cross and its regional partners, marks ten years since the city’s only refugee destitution project was launched to help those left with nothing as they battle through the asylum system. Politicians, refugees and organisations that support them are discussing the issue at an event in the city today.

The hard-hitting research shines a spotlight on the plight of refugees and asylum seekers across Greater Manchester’s ten boroughs. It reveals the bleak situation faced by people who have been forced to flee violence and persecution in their home countries.

Struggle for survival

Maron Ehata, 43, who lives in Manchester, was destitute for five years after fleeing violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The married father-of-one said: "I felt utterly despondent – every day was a struggle for survival. All I wanted was protection and a new start; to support myself and work. But instead I spent five years living through one of the most degrading experiences of my life."

Although the research focuses on Manchester, the Red Cross says the dire straits affecting those in the city are mirrored nationwide – with thousands of refugees and asylum seekers suffering in other major cities such as London, Leicester, Liverpool, Bristol, Birmingham and Cardiff.

Horrendous delays

Mr Scott-Flynn said: "In many cases, we are talking about people who have been granted refugee status – they have every right to be here but they face horrendous delays in the final stages of the process, which leaves people without any right to work or any access to state support."

The Red Cross is calling on the Government to introduce end-to-end support for people as they move through each stage of the complex asylum system which is beset by backlogs.

Kate Green, MP for Stretford and Urmston, said: "This report makes distressing and shameful reading. No one could want to think people are having to live in destitution here in our midst in Manchester, whatever their status or circumstances.

"I warmly welcome the call for a strategic partnership across Greater Manchester to ensure we do all we can together to prevent asylum seekers and refugees from suffering destitution."

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