Young families failed by UK asylum system, report finds

Homelessweb

Red Cross survey revealed health risks of poverty and poor housing on asylum seekers.

6th December 2016 by Gavin Stuart 0 Comments

Pregnant asylum seekers and those with newborn babies are being housed in filthy, cockroach-infested flats by UK government contractors in Glasgow, the Red Cross has revealed.

A study by the charity heard reports of infants learning to crawl on carpets swarming with insects, while failures in the payment system meant new mothers struggled to buy essentials such as blankets, nappies and formula milk for their babies.

Meanwhile, payments made through pre-paid cards rather than in cash meant pregnant women were often left without the means to travel to hospital appointments.

The report - A Healthy Start? - found that the combination of poverty and poor housing posed serious health risks to asylum seekers with young families.

Several of those interviewed for the report said the stress was so great they had considered or attempted suicide during their time in Scotland. 

Homelessness and destitution during pregnancy is unacceptable in 21st century Britain

The research, conducted by Strathclyde University's Centre for Health Policy, also uncovered several instances where pregnant women were forced into destitution either through UK government policies or through delays and administrative errors in processing their claims for support.

While destitute, the women relied on informal support networks for accommodation and food, leaving them exposed to the risk of sexual exploitation and abuse. 

One of the research participants said: "I only found out I was pregnant when I tried to kill myself. I didn't know what I was going to eat today or tomorrow. I felt like all the power had been taken away from me." 

Another said: "The Home Office thinks we're not people. If we're not born here, we're not proper people."

The British Red Cross is now urging the UK government to provide adequate and consistent support for all pregnant women and clarify the responsibility of local authorities to provide support to pregnant women at risk of destitution.

Phil Arnold, the charity’s head of refugee support in Scotland, said: "All women need support during pregnancy no matter what their immigration status. All women need a safe, secure place to live, nutritious food, proper rest and to be able to access good quality healthcare throughout their pregnancy. For women seeking refugee protection, these essentials are often out of reach.

“Homelessness and destitution during pregnancy is unacceptable in 21st century Britain. The Home Office must provide adequate support to all pregnant women regardless of their immigration status.

“They must also urgently make sure that their accommodation providers are housing women and children in suitable and secure properties."   

A Home Office spokesperson contractors were told they must operate to "the highest standards" and treat asylum seekers with "care and respect".

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