Asylum seekers ‘forced to sleep rough’

Thousands of failed asylum seekers are being forced to sleep rough and find food in dustbins, two charities have claimed.

The Amnesty International and Refugee Action report, based on surveys with people whose final application has been rejected, finds many are sleeping in parks, public toilets and phone-boxes.

This is a direct result of unfair policy, the charities say, claiming the government is deliberately using destitution as an attempt to force people to return to their country of origin.

Under current policy refugees have their cash cut off and accommodation withdrawn 21 days after their final claim is rejected.

The Home Office says it will help asylum seekers if they are entitled to support, but its view is that people should return home once their application has been rejected.

A Home Office spokeswoman said: “Where people have failed to establish a claim to asylum, our view is that they should go home.

“We will bend over backwards to help people go home voluntarily – but if that hand of support is pushed away we will enforce return.”

There is some “hard case” support – such as shelter and food vouchers – available for rejected refugees. However, failed asylum seekers must first agree to return voluntarily their home country – even if it is not safe.

But this offer of support often intimidates refused asylum seekers, today’s report finds, particularly if it means they would be committed to returning to dangerous countries such as Somalia and Iraq.

There are also practical problems preventing people returning home, such as obtaining travel documents, the report states.

Many of the interviewees spoke of their “desperation” and the “hopelessness” of their situation.

The report highlights the case of a 49-year-old Iraqi Kurdish man living in a church caravan without a toilet or washroom. The refused asylum seeker, who had his support cut off in October 2005, survives on food provided by the same church.

“The government’s policy on refused asylum seekers is a failure on both a practical level and a humanitarian level – forcing people into complete destitution as an attempt to drive them out of the country is backfiring badly and vulnerable people are suffering,” said Amnesty’s UK director Kate Allen.

Refused asylum seekers were being reduced to “penniless poverty”, denied vital medicines even after suffering torture and had to rely on charity to survive, she said.

Refugee Action’s chief executive Sandy Buchan added: “Driving people onto the streets makes return even less likely. This policy is causing enormous suffering to vulnerable people and does nothing to enhance public confidence in the system.”

The charities want the government to support refugees until their situation is resolved in order to end their “long-term limbo” by allowing them to stay in the country legally and granting working rights.