Exploitation, misery and death – how the asylum process crushes refugees

Destitution cropped

The asylum process grinds refugees into appalling levels of poverty and desperation, Holyrood committee finds

Graham Martin's photo

25th May 2017 by Graham Martin 0 Comments

Destitution is built into the asylum process – and drives exploitation, ill health, misery and death.

That’s the stark message coming from MSPs who have investigated the plight of people seeking refuge in Scotland.

A report by Holyrood’s Equalities and Human Rights Committee calls for a new anti-destitution strategy to alleviate the suffering of refugees who find themselves in a desperate plight – even when they find sanctuary in Scotland.

They found that immigration status is a key aggravating factor leading to extreme poverty as many of the avenues most people can use to find accommodation or social security are not available to asylum seekers and refugees.

British Red Cross workers reported to the committee it had helped 820 destitute refugees and asylum seekers in 2016 in Scotland.

The committee also heard directly from others facing destitution, including abused and trafficked women, as well as powerful testimony from Scotland's third sector.

It is making a number of practical recommendations to improve the situation – from a call to allow asylum claims to be made in Scotland, rather than in Croydon or Liverpool – to proposing the creation of a Scottish anti-destitution strategy, bringing together all levels of government and the third sector.

Committee convener, Christina McKelvie MSP, said: “Our inquiry exposed a serious lack of compassion and humanity in the current system, which is leading hundreds to destitution. This is simply unacceptable.

“In spite of the best efforts of voluntary organisations and some in local government, there are huge gaps in the system that need to be addressed as a matter of priority.

“That’s why we are making both specific recommendations to all levels of government, and calling for a wider strategy to draw together all of the bodies who can improve this situation.

“With the ongoing refugee crisis and humanitarian problems around the world, this isn’t a problem likely to go away overnight. As a committee, we will keep an eye on progress, regularly checking improvement in the response to destitution.”

The committee’s findings were welcomed by homelessness, refugee and migrant charity Positive Action on Housing, which gave evidence.

Director Robina Qureshi said: “This report is a stark reminder that the UK asylum process, instead of sheltering vulnerable refugees while they try to build new lives, is fast-tracking men, women and children into a deeper humanitarian crisis of absolute destitution. This is happening in Glasgow and Scotland and the rest of the UK, and placing people who deserve protection at risk of further physical and sexual exploitation."

Scottish Refugee Council’s Graham O’Neill said: “The simple truth is that UK governments have sanctioned destitution as a policy lever and it has failed completely: it hurts people, it shunts humanitarian and financial costs onto country and local statutory bodies, NGOs and communities, and it gives criminals an opportunity to exploit people at their most vulnerable, and that should never happen. It doesn't even lead to more returns. 

“It doesn't need to be this way. We can and we must do better: today's report is a blueprint for Scotland to develop a humane, preventative and more effective model against destitution.”

For a full list of the committee’s recommendations, click here.