What is asylum?
‘Asylum’ means ‘safety’ or ‘protection’.
A refugee is 'a person who leaves their country to seek asylum - i.e. protection - from persecution'. There are many forms of persecution, including torture, ‘honour’ killing, FGM, inhuman conditions of detention, harsh penalties for practising one’s religion, repeated arrest for political reasons, and so on.
A person who seeks asylum in the UK has to apply to the Home Office for recognition that they are a refugee - i.e. that they are at real risk of persecution in their home country.
Once they get recognition, they get five years’ permission to live in the UK, the right to work, and access to housing and benefits on a similar basis to a British citizen.
About refused asylum seekers
About half of the people who apply for asylum in the UK do not get recognition as a refugee. This can be for many reasons. The asylum process is difficult. Many people seeking asylum do not know what to expect and do not have the right support as they go through the process. Many of those who come to ASSIST have never had legal advice or have received poor advice. As a result, genuine refugees end up being refused asylum. When all appeal rights have been exhausted they are referred to as ‘refused’ asylum seekers.
There is no such thing as an illegal asylum seeker because everyone has the right to request asylum under international law.
How are people seeking asylum made destitute?
People seeking asylum aren’t allowed to work. While a claim is ongoing, they receive accommodation and minimal cash support under Section 95 of the Immigration and Asylum Act (1999).
Once someone has exhausted all appeal rights, and is finally refused, they lose their accommodation and cash support within 21 days (the only exception to that is if the Home Office recognise that there is a temporary barrier preventing them from leaving the country or if they have children).
They are not entitled to benefits from the Department of Work and Pensions and they become destitute.
A person is treated as destitute if:
- they do not have adequate accommodation or any means of obtaining it (whether or not their essential living needs are met) or
- they have adequate accommodation or the means of obtaining it, but cannot meet their essential living needs now or within 14 days (Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 s.95)
This is where ASSIST comes in. We support people who are seeking asylum and who have been made destitute by a system which fails to protect them at a time of extreme vulnerability.
Some names and photos in the following stories have been changed to protect anonymity