By Sara Ayech:
Refugee Week is a celebration of the contribution of refugees to our society, their courage and resilience, and everything they have done to make Britain the fantastic and culturally diverse place it is today. But in the midst of these celebrations we need to remember and stand up for a group of people who have been left out in the cold.
People who are refused asylum in the UK are given 21 days before they must leave their accommodation and all support for them is cut off. In the context of imminent homelessness they are expected to leave the UK immediately. However, many are from countries such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Eritrea and Zimbabwe, where there are ongoing conflicts and widespread, indiscriminate human rights abuses. Unsurprisingly, they are terrified of returning home. Others have physical or mental health problems, and many feel that they have not had adequate legal assistance in making their asylum case, so can have little faith in the decision that has been made.
As a result up to 300,000 refused asylum seekers remain in the UK, often homeless and destitute, relying on friends and charities for support, or forced into illegal and exploitative work such as prostitution, just to survive. As Rzgar, a Refugee Action caseworker in Liverpool says "sometimes clients receive help from the community and friends or family, however, these days - in the recession - there is little people can offer and frequently they are not able to provide support any more."
As you can imagine sleeping on the street frequently has a detrimental impact on both their physical and mental wellbeing. In his work Rzgar finds that "if they suffer from a medical condition it is easy to miss the times when medication should be taken or - with no address - there are difficulties in accessing their medication. Some clients are HIV positive and need to receive certain medication which must be stored in cool conditions - this is not possible if a client sleeps in the street."
Refugee Action, as part of the Still Human Still Here campaign, is fighting for an end to the current policy of destitution. We are calling for asylum seekers to be supported until they either receive refugee status or are able to return home, and for them to be allowed to work and have full access to healthcare.
To find out more watch our powerful film on You Tube, featuring interviews with long-term destitute asylum seekers.