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Refugee destitution tackled at Lib Dem conference

17 September 2013

Politicians and party activists have debated how to help thousands of refugees left destitute by failures in the asylum process.

On 15 September the British Red Cross urged Liberal Democrat members to tackle the problem in its event at the party's annual conference in Glasgow.

The failures include a system that ends asylum support after 28 days, but often does not transfer refugees to mainstream benefits until about five weeks later – leaving them penniless.

The Red Cross helps 6,000 destitute asylum seekers and refugees a year, often providing basic essentials such as food, toiletries and clothes.

A recent survey found that one in five of service users actually slipped into destitution after they had been granted refugee status or permission to stay in the UK. This year, more than half the destitute refugees and asylum seekers seen by the Red Cross have been penniless because of administration problems.

Speakers at the Glasgow event included refugee Mubina Irfan. The mother of three was in the asylum system for three and a half years, but actually became destitute after being granted refugee status.

She was joined by guests including the chief executive of the Refugee Council Maurice Wren and Nick Scott-Flynn, British Red Cross head of refugee services.

Asking for change

The Red Cross believes nobody in the asylum system should be left destitute. The organisation is asking the government to:

  • make sure asylum seekers and refugees get their national insurance number and other necessary documentation quickly
  • increase the level of asylum support in line with other benefits
  • give asylum seekers cash support, not prepaid currency cards, until their claim has been granted or they leave the country
  • allow asylum seekers to work in the UK, if it takes longer than six months to process their claim
  • clear Home Office backlogs and address administration problems blighting the system.

Read more about how the Red Cross is advocating to end refugee destitution.

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