Charities reveal the desperate fight for survival facing asylum seekers in Scotland
Violence and exploitation are commonplace for destitute asylum seekers in Scotland committee hears
Asylum seekers in Scotland face a desperate fight for survival that sees them subjected to violence, forced into prostitution and subjected to hate crime.
Their desperate plight has become so severe that most don’t report the crimes to which they are subjected for fear of being deported.
And many local authorities offer little support with third sector groups their only ally to feed cloth and offer them shelter.
Holyrood’s Equalities and Human Rights Committee has taken 80 written submissions of evidence to investigate destitution, asylum and insecure immigration status in Scotland.
While immigration and asylum policy is reserved to the UK government, the Scottish Government can provide support to asylum seekers under devolved functions, such as education, social care and health.
Yesterday the committee heard from the British Red Cross, the Scottish Refugee Council, Scottish Women’s Aid and Positive Action in Housing who all told of the shocking reality facing asylum seekers in the country.
Evidence given by the British Red Cross in Scotland said its clients were facing destitution in the country despite having already faced torture, trauma and in some cases human trafficking.
This has led to a range of “vulnerabilities” not least of which are severe mental health problems that often go untreated.
In its submission the charity stated: “On several occasions families with young children, including a baby being breastfed by its mother, have been told by social workers that they have no duty to offer support or assistance to the parent and will meet their duties to the child by removing them from their parent and placing them in care despite there being no protection concerns for the child.”
The charity said it is “deeply concerned” by the situation.
Graham O'Neill, policy officer for the Scottish Refugee Council, told MSPs that people arriving in Scotland then travelled to Croydon, England, for processing – leaving them vulnerable to exploitation.
“People go into this twilight world where we don't really know how people get to Croydon to access the asylum procedure," he said.
“Some people do it through their own means, some people will do it through charities such as ourselves, but with other people, we don't know how that's going to happen.
“We think that is unacceptable, but we also think it's quite senseless as well, given that the Home Office have a network of offices where people could access the procedure.”
Jo Ozga, a policy worker for Scottish Women’s Aid, said while many Women’s Aid groups have worked to raise additional funding to cover the cost of accommodating women with no entitlement to housing benefit, this still didn’t meet current levels of demand.
With Women’s Aid services under increasing financial pressure most are unable to accommodate women with insecure immigration status, she added.
Worryingly she said: “Some Women’s Aid groups have also been informed by their local authority that as a condition of their funding they cannot accommodate women with no recourse to public funds or provide them with any support unless they are able to demonstrate this has not been provided using public funds."
Jamie Spurway, Interfaith Scotland’s religious equality training officer, said in his submission that single women were most at risk in the “enforced destitution cycle.”
“At the moment there is no 'official' shelter for women,” he said. “Positive Action in Housing can help with temporary short term accommodation and there are two flats in for women that can be used but these can only accommodate four women!
"Most sofa surf and put themselves at risk of exploitation and live in overcrowded flats, often with people they don't know.”
Christina McKelvie MSP, convener of the equalities and human rights committee, said: “Nobody doubts the great harm that destitution can have on an individual or family.
"This committee wants to find out the practical changes that could be made, and what other support can be found so there is a better outlook for asylum seekers who come to this country for sanctuary but end up destitute and vulnerable to exploitation.”