NACCOM Member NICRAS (Northern Ireland Community of Refugees and Asylum Seekers) last week launched ‘Living in Limbo: The Life of Refused Asylum Seekers in Northern Ireland‘, a report which identifies and addresses gaps in support within the current asylum system and calls for change.
Justin Kouame, CEO of NICRAS and author of the report, writes; ‘Refugees and asylum seekers encounter discrimination, injustice and inequality due to the actions of the United Kingdom Government and the inaction of the Northern Ireland Executive. Rescinding policies that prevent asylum seekers from accessing housing and support is not only crucial for improving the livelihood of refused asylum seekers, but would also ensure that the Executive complies with its human rights obligations’.
Dave Smith, NACCOM Network Coordinator, writes in the foreword: ‘This report represents an important step towards greater understanding, both of the plight of those facing destitution, and the urgent need for reform. It also provides a much-needed platform for those who have directly endured this inhumane government policy to be heard’.
‘Living in Limbo’ examines the experiences of 29 refugees and asylum seekers who have come to Northern Ireland from countries such as Zimbabwe, Sudan and Somalia. Issues raised include homelessness, barriers to accessing support and deteriorating quality of life and health for those left waiting. The report concludes that the scale of mistreatment represents a violation of human rights and calls for a more humane and dignified approach to those seeking sanctuary.
Testimonies and figures from the report reveal high levels of homelessness and vulnerability amongst those who have their asylum claim turned down. Once refused, many are unable to return home but due to restrictions may also not be eligible for state support. As a result, of those surveyed, 21% had been homeless for 24 months or more, and 39% were, at the time of the survey, living with friends or rough sleeping.
Alongside the obvious impact on individuals, local charities are finding demands for accommodation and support overwhelming. To combat this, NICRAS calls on both the Northern Ireland Executive and UK Government to address gaps in services and guarantee housing provision on an ‘interim’ basis.
As one survey participant put it; ‘The government should make an effort to provide decent shelter for people no matter their status, it’s mentally draining when you don’t have a clue where to live, displaced or in poor accommodation which often leads to poor health’.