Barefoot British asylum seeker

By: Farai Munyebvu


Homeless asylum seekers in Bristol struggle to survive without access to basic rights and services. Photo by Simon Chapman.


“It’s no longer a matter of hope or future anymore but survival,” says Rachael Bee, a trustee of Bristol Hospitality Network (BHN), a charity that tries to accommodate tens if not hundreds of desperate homeless failed asylum seekers across the Bristol area on a daily basis.

“If it was a housing issue alone, that would have been better,” adds Rachael. But other issues abound. Sorting out service users’ food, health, legal support, individual mental stresses, even the reintegration of those few lucky ones into the mainstream – all is left to a few charitable organisations which are in dire financial crisis after suffering severe government cuts coupled by a double-dip recession.

The drop-in centre, run by Bristol Refugee Rights (BRR), has seen soaring numbers of users on the three days they open per week. Service users flock to get something to fill their stomachs, even a hot cup of tea.

“It’s sad to see such smiling faces on empty stomachs,” says Caroline Beaty, who heads up BRR.

Karim, from Morocco, whose case was thrown out by the UK Home Office in January 2011 has been using the service ever since. As soon as Karim became a “failed asylum seeker,” any aid he was receiving from the National Asylum Support Service (NASS) or the Legal Aid Commission was instantly withdrawn. At the time of writing, he may well have lost all his documentation since he has nowhere to put it, let alone a place to sleep.

According to available BRR figures, the average attendance per session from April 2010 to September 2011 ranges from 50 to 90 with highest recorded attendees in April 2010 as well as July and September of 2011. Thursdays are busiest of the three-day sessions per week with a total of 125 members visiting on the 22 September 2011 alone with overall 1011 visitors in the 13 days it was opened the same month.

The current government’s immigration policies aren’t helping either. “They [destitute asylum seekers] are denied basic rights and services which most us take for granted, and this is not an accident: this is government policy and we should be ashamed of it,” wrote Mark Haddon in The New Londoners.

In 2010, the Red Cross urgently called for a more humane asylum system to alleviate the humanitarian situation. Many of the current social and economic ills are being attributed to innocent destitute asylum seekers. The general public are often persuaded by this notion as they face unprecedented and ruthless cuts to their meagre social benefits. However, immigration has had little or no impact on unemployment in Britain, with at most “a generally modest impact on the less skilled,” says Alan Travis, Home Office editor at the Guardian. Furthermore, there is ample evidence to show that there is no link between migrant inflows and overall levels of those claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance. Lee Jasper, a senior political advisor to former London Mayor Ken Livingstone echoed similar sentiments by saying that those at the lower end of the social pyramid are being used as scapegoats.

The results of such scapegoating are witnessed by charities such as BHN, BRR and British Red Cross on a daily basis, high levels of deprivation, involuntary incarceration and mental genocide. According to British Red Cross report Not Gone, But Forgotten, most respondents depended on churches, mosques, charities, friends and family for food with 87% surviving on only 1 meal a day, and some going whole days without food.

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