accessibility & help

Destitution rising among refugees and asylum seekers

11 July 2016

The British Red Cross helped almost 5,600 destitute refugees and asylum seekers in the first half of 2016.

This figure is up 16 per cent from the same period in 2015, when we helped 4,679 people.

Red Cross destitution services provide food parcels, clothing and small amounts of emergency cash to refugees and asylum seekers struggling to adapt to life in the UK.

Many asylum seekers are left in difficulty while their cases are being assessed. They may not be able to eat sufficiently, have no fixed abode, cannot afford essential items (such as clothes and toiletries) or be experiencing worsening health.

Any person experiencing one or more of these factors is destitute.

Let down by the asylum system

Nearly half (44 per cent) of those assisted by the Red Cross between January and June 2016 were from Sudan, Eritrea, Iran, Syria or Iraq. These are all among the countries that produce the highest number of refugees.

Alex Fraser, our refugee support said: “No one should flee the war in Syria or political persecution in Eritrea, only to become destitute in the UK. But for many, reaching safety is far from the end of their journey.

“With the number of people fleeing conflict and persecution worldwide at an all-time high, our Government should be doing all it can to uphold its responsibilities to refugees.

“However, these figures show that all too often people are let down by an asylum system that is inflexible and difficult to access.”

Highest in Leicester, London and Cardiff

The youngest destitute person we helped was not even a year old. The oldest was 91.

Destitution is seen across the UK, with the highest numbers of people we helped in Leicester, London and Cardiff.

Over 15 per cent of those helped had been granted refugee status, and thus permission to remain in the UK, by the Home Office.

Whereas refugees have permission to work and claim mainstream benefits in the UK, asylum seekers do not. They rely on asylum support payments of approximately £36 a week.

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

New refugees also frequently become destitute upon being granted leave to remain in the UK. At this point they have 28 days before all asylum support, including housing, comes to an end.

The UK Government has now committed to reviewing the 28-day window. There is growing evidence that the process of applying for work or mainstream benefits and finding somewhere to live can take much longer.

  • The British Red Cross is the largest provider of support to refugees and asylum seekers in the UK. We supported 9,059 people through our destitution services in 2015.
  • You can support our work for refugees and asylum seekers by donating to the Europe Refugee Crisis Appeal.


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