Author: Bethan Staton, news reporter
Refugees are being made destitute because they are not informed about how to apply for asylum, charities have said.
Thousands could be being wrongly refused sanctuary or support because they do not know how to navigate the UK’s complex system, according to a coalition headed by Refugee Action.
It highlighted the issue with the launch of a £1.1m programme to inform new arrivals of their rights.
Tim Hilton, the head of services for Refugee Action, said the majority of asylum seekers lack basic knowledge about legal rights, accessing lawyers or negotiating applications and interviews.
“They get plunged into this incredibly difficult legal process and their lives depend on it,” he said.
As a result asylum applications are more likely to fail, leaving people without support and in crisis.
“It takes an absolutely terrible toll,” Mr Hilton said. “We work with people on a daily basis who’ve had their cases refused and been in limbo for years, had families break down, developed profound mental health issues, of becoming destitute and living in parks.”
Naveed (not his real name) faced this scenario last year when he arrived in the UK after being persecuted for his sexuality in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.
He told Sky News he was “clueless” about Home Office procedures, how to access help, and finding a lawyer who could represent him on legal aid proved impossible.
“At the beginning I just didn’t know how to claim asylum. I didn’t know anyone and I had no family or friends,” Naveed said. “It was difficult to survive.”
Told he had not correctly applied for the support he was entitled to, he ended up sofa surfing but was told to leave where he was staying after two weeks.
Naveed said he was “in the right place at the right time” when shortly after he found help from Refugee Action, which found a lawyer and guided him through the asylum process.
But he believes he would otherwise have been in a desperate situation – and refugee advocates say many are.
When Refugee Action offered early guidance to asylum seekers in a recent pilot, they found around 58% of participants were granted asylum. In comparison 24% of the 30,747 total asylum applications made in 2016 had been successful by the following year.
Mr Hilton stressed the pilot was small and that many cases are still waiting for an outcome.
But he thinks the numbers show more help is needed for vulnerable people – and that “anyone going through a really complicated, life-or-death process should be fully informed.”.