On this page we are seeking to address some of the key questions around destitution. Click on the questions below to find out more.
“A person who owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.”
The 1951 United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees
In the UK, a person is officially a refugee when they have their claim for asylum accepted by the government.
Asylum Seeker: A person who has left their country of origin and formally applied for asylum in another country but whose application has not yet been concluded.
Refused asylum seeker: A person whose asylum application has been unsuccessful and who has no other claim for protection awaiting a decision. Some refused asylum seekers return home (for instance using the scheme ‘Assisted Voluntary Return’ scheme) and a small minority are forcibly returned. The majority remain to appeal their decision or to make a fresh asylum claim, however this process can be very complex and lengthy, and often requires legal assistance.
Economic migrant: Someone who has moved to another country to work.
See the Refugee Council’s ‘Tell It Like It Is’ briefing for more on this.
Most of the people currently supported through the NACCOM Network are destitute asylum seekers, who have often come from countries like Zimbabwe, Iran, Iraq, DR Congo, Somalia and Afghanistan. Most have fled torture, war, persecution and imprisonment. If they go back, they will face terrible problems, perhaps even death.
However, unless they sign up for voluntary return or are forcibly removed, they have no rights to any benefits, accommodation or work in the UK and are forced to work illegally, or to live on charity handouts to survive. Even a place in a hostel is virtually impossible, because most hostels only take people who are entitled to Housing Benefit.
Destitution can also be experienced by refugees, who have been granted ‘leave to remain’ but do not have their National Insurance number yet so are unable to claim benefits or access employment. These problems can be caused by delays in the system or by the short ‘move on’ period (28 days) that refugees have to leave their government accommodation after receiving their papers.
Destitution can also be faced by migrants who have not claimed asylum, but who have fallen on hard times since arriving in the UK, for instance being exploited or abused. Often as a result of failures in the immigration system and lack of legal advice, many people in these vulnerable situations can find themselves left with nothing to live on.
All need a safe place to live, and support to get the justice and help they need.
- help establish new projects and support projects to expand capacity to meet need
- share ideas and resources, for instance via our conferences and networking/training events
- gather and disseminate information and data on the scale of destitution through our annual survey
- raise awareness and promote understanding, through media and public speaking opportunities;
- engage in collaborative working and shared learning, serving on the Steering Group of the Strategic Alliance on Migrant Destitution and as a contributor to the work of Still Human Still Here and City of Sanctuary.
Our 2016 Accommodation Survey, as detailed in our Annual Report, highlights the estimated total number of Asylum Seekers, Refugees and Migrants accommodated by NACCOM Members in the last year was 1,707 (an increase of 28.5% since 2015). Of the projects involved in the survey, there were 24 housing schemes, 21 hosting schemes and 6 night shelters, providing 209,250 nights of accommodation over the last year.
Housing schemes include support for refugees, who pay housing benefit as rent, as well as for destitute refused asylum seekers and others who have no recourse to public funds. Different types of housing schemes exist across the network, including partnerships with Housing Associations, agreements with Landlord/Privately owned properties, Managed Properties, Church-owned properties and properties owned by the project (for instance, bought with donations from supporters).
In 2016, hosting schemes have developed considerably, as the goodwill engendered by the refugee crisis is reflected in many individuals wanting to show support across the UK.
Night shelters operate in different settings across the network and provide a crucial source of emergency relief for those who would otherwise be street homeless. Some of the night shelters are permanent but others are winter-only.
Find out more about the organisations involved by visiting our Projects page.
Lily is a 23 year old Iranian refugee. She arrived with her family in the UK in February 2016 after a long and difficult journey across Europe. Upon arrival, Lily explains, ‘I felt I was safe here and I could do something to start my life again but I knew that I would have to wait a bit to get my refugee status. I had no idea how long it was going to take but I was sure I would be able to do it.‘
Lily and her family applied for asylum but because they were being temporarily supported by a family friend, they did not qualify for initial accommodation. This was a problem because the family friend could not support them for long. Lily explains, ‘He told us before, many times, that we would have to leave but we didn’t have any place to go to. He wrote a letter giving us notice that we couldn’t stay with him for more than 10 days and I contacted the Home Office to explain our situation but they ignored us‘.
On the day that Lily and her family had to leave the friend’s home, they sat on a bench in Mitcham Common Park and tried to contact the Home Office through the Asylum helpline. ‘They told us to wait until the end of the working day when they would tell us what the decision was. But at 6pm they told us that they were unable to give us any accommodation. Then we realised that we really were on the street and we had nowhere to go. So we stayed on the park bench. Can you imagine how difficult it was to spend a night in the open air with fear, cold, anxiety and without any safety for a young girl? I could see foxes and other animals, I was extremely scared and freezing cold. I don’t even want to remember it anymore.’
Lily and her family slept in the park for two nights before they went to Refugee Council. There, she explains, ‘was a nice lady who helped us and introduced us to Refugees At Home, an organisation that helps find hosts for destitute refugees and asylum seekers. They found us a lovely family who lived in Hastings and gave us coach tickets to get there. We then received a letter saying we had to report to the Croydon office at 9am. Our host helped pay for our tickets (which were very expensive at that time in the morning). Refugee Council thought the Home Office would house us that day, but by 5pm we were told that no accommodation had been offered and that we were homeless again. Luckily, Refugees At Home were able again to find us another host, this time in Croydon and after that we moved between several other kind hosts.’
When Lily and her family finally accessed their initial accommodation, they were dispersed to different areas of the country. Lily moved to Wakefield then Newcastle, whilst the rest of her family were moved to Wales. In September, Lily received a letter informing her that she had been granted asylum. She describes what followed; ‘I was so happy. I was allowed to stay in my accommodation for another 28 days and was waiting for my NI number, without which I could not do anything. After 28 days I was evicted, without my National Insurance number and with absolutely no money or any means of getting any. Luckily Refugees At Home were able to help me again and managed to transfer some money to me so I could come back south closer to my family.’
Lily waited for seven weeks before receiving her NI number in November. During this time, if it were not for the support of Refugees at Home, she would have been homeless. Now, Lily can finally access the support she needs to fulfil her plans and start her life again.