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Thursday, 9 July 2009

Refused asylum seekers forced to eat from bins

A man finding stuff to eat in a bin in London.Image via Wikipedia

By Martin Wainwright

A situation of absolute desperation is developing among refused asylum seekers in Britain from four of the world's most troubled countries, who are sleeping rough and eating from bins, according to a detailed audit by the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust.

Families including children have been caught between asylum refusal and the impossibility of safe return to Iraq, Iran, Zimbabwe and Eritrea.

The Rowntree report, Still Destitute, calls for immediate temporary asylum and the right to work for people classified as "unreturnable" refugees from the four countries. It is the third targeted study of asylum seekers in Leeds, where charities trying to sustain the group are described as at breaking point.

The report lists 273 destitute people in the city, including 30 children and 11 elderly dependants, who fall into the "limbo" category. The number of rough sleepers in the group has gone up from 75 last year to 85, with a further 37 people, including nine women, spending some nights outdoors or in public buildings such as bus or railway stations.

More than a third of the group have been destitute for more than a year and two out of three originate from the four countries, says the report. Many are developing mental illness and frontline staff trying to help them report an increasing number of cases of violence or aggression.

The report condemns the government for ignoring calls to end destitution in what is a relatively small group of people, many of whom have skills that could help the British economy if they were allowed to work. "We don't just ask, but implore the government to implement the reasonable and rational recommendations which the trust first made three years ago," said trustee Peter Coltman, who lives in Leeds. "The country should no longer ignore the shameful suffering of these people, many of whom, as the evidence clearly shows, simply cannot go home."

The report's researchers describe instances of people using food from restaurant bins, and increasingly aggressive rivalry for one charity's twice-weekly food parcels and hot meals service. One of the charities reported the alleged rape of a woman rough sleeper and the suicide attempt of a man refused asylum.

The trust defines destitution as the lack of means to meet basic needs of shelter, warmth, food, water and health. Its principal recommendations, unchanged since 2007, are to grant all asylum seekers in Britain the right to work, ensure access to the National Health Service and maintain basic support for those not able to work until they leave the country. At the moment support is withdrawn 21 days after an asylum refusal.

A provision known as Section 4 Support offers limited housing and food voucher support to refused asylum seekers, but the report describes it as administratively bogged-down and off-target.

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