What is destitution?

There are an unknown num­ber of des­ti­tute asylum seekers in Leeds without access to hous­ing or bene­fits and with no right to work. Between August 2011 and Septem­ber 2012 PAFRAS saw some 93 new cli­ents alone who were des­ti­tute. They are pre­dom­in­antly indi­vidu­als who have reached a final neg­at­ive decision on their claim for asylum and been told to leave the UK, but there are also many indi­vidu­als who are await­ing a decision on their right to remain in the UK.

A grow­ing body or research con­duc­ted by non-gov­ern­ment­al and human­it­ari­an organ­isa­tions, aca­dem­ics and Par­lia­ment­ary Select Com­mit­tees sug­gests that des­ti­tu­tion, imple­men­ted as a mat­ter of policy with the aim of for­cing refused asylum seekers to leave the UK is fail­ing. This recog­ni­tion comes from a num­ber of diverse sources includ­ing right of centre think-tank the Centre for Social Justice and Con­ser­vat­ive MP and now Min­is­ter Iain Duncan Smith.

Research also shows that asylum seekers remain in the UK after refus­al for a num­ber of reas­ons, most com­monly because:

  • they are unable to leave (e.g. they are state­less or lack travel doc­u­ments and their state of ori­gin refuses to acknow­ledge their cit­izen­ship), or
  • they have been in the UK for a long time and have fam­ily ties here now, or
  • they fear per­se­cu­tion or death if they return to their coun­try of ori­gin.

Some even come from coun­tries to which the UK Gov­ern­ment will not send people back. Yet they still deny these people the right to work, and refuse to provide them with food, money or shel­ter. Caught in Limbo, refused asylum seekers are forced into home­less­ness, hun­ger and ill health.

Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust Destitution Inquiry

The des­ti­tu­tion of many asylum seekers in Leeds has been high­lighted by the Joseph Rown­tree Char­it­able Trust’s Des­ti­tu­tion Inquiry, which includes the commissioner’s report, Mov­ing on: from des­ti­tu­tion to con­tri­bu­tion and the research report, Des­ti­tu­tion in Leeds: the exper­i­ences of people seek­ing asylum and sup­port­ing agen­cies (Lewis, 2007). The research showed that PAFRAS received 54% of vis­its by des­ti­tute asylum seekers to key agen­cies in Leeds.

Fol­low-up reports were pub­lished based on addi­tion­al stud­ies con­duc­ted in 2008 (More Des­ti­tu­tion in Leeds) and 2009 (Still Des­ti­tute), the lat­ter of which showed that more than a third of des­ti­tute asylum seekers sur­veyed had been des­ti­tute for over a year, with two out of every three of those made home­less ori­gin­at­ing form some of the most troubled parts of the world.

For fur­ther des­ti­tu­tion inform­a­tion, down­load our brief­ing paper What is Des­ti­tu­tion? and vis­it our links pages.