Two-tier refugee system leaves many destitute and homeless, say MPs

Cross-party group report finds support differs for refugees who come to UK via asylum route rather than resettlement

A costly “two-tier system” of providing protection for refugees in Britain has developed, leaving many at risk of homelessness and destitution, according to a report from a cross-party group of MPs.

The study by the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Refugees says the way the system is structured seriously damages the prospect of integrating new refugees and reports that the British Red Cross had to help more than 1,200 destitute refugees in just nine months last year.

The parliamentary panel that carried out the nine-month inquiry included David Burrowes, Thangam Debbonaire, Caroline Lucas, Lord Dubs and Sally Hamwee. Burrowes, the Conservative MP for Enfield Southgate and vice chair of the group, said: “For too many refugees, being granted their status is the beginning of a period characterised by homelessness and destitution. Protection must mean more than just a piece of paper.”

The MPs and peers identify as a key problem a 28-day cut-off period after which all state support, including housing, is withdrawn from newly recognised refugees once their status is confirmed.

The report says this “move-on” period, after which they are forced to leave their Home Office-provided accommodation, is too short and “leaves too many newly recognised refugees homeless and destitute”.

It says that the risk of homelessness and destitution after being recognised as a refugee in Britain faces the majority whose claims have been recognised through the asylum process.

More than 50,290 people successfully applied for refugee status through the asylum route last year, compared with fewer than 10,000 who were resettled in Britain after being nominated by the UN high commissioner for refugees.

The MPs’ report, Refugees Welcome?, says that those who come to Britain through the resettlement route are provided accommodation and receive support to access services and find employment.

“For refugees who have gone through the asylum system, there is no such support,” it says. “This was not always the case. Between 2008 and 2011, the government funded a programme to help newly recognised refugees navigate the move-on period, offering 12 months of support to access housing, education, social security and the job market. However, funding for the programme was ended in September 2011.”

The MPs say that a two-tier system has developed for refugees in Britain as a result. They recommend that the 28-day move-on period is extended to at least 50 days, reflecting the time it takes to find accommodation and financial support.

The study highlights the experience of Anas, a Syrian refugee who was left unable to access jobseeker’s support or secure accommodation after a Home Office spelling mistake on his official paperwork.

The report says the ‘move-on’ period, after which refugees are forced to leave their Home Office-provided accommodation, is too short. Photograph: Philip Toscano/PA

“Isis and Assad mean that it’s no longer safe for me at home. When I arrived in Britain I was so thankful to have been offered safety,” he said. “All I wanted was to be a good person and give back to the country which sheltered me, but I couldn’t for no better reason than because my paperwork was wrong and it took five months to fix it. I will always be grateful to Britain, but I will never understand a system which stops people like me from getting on my feet and contributing to society.”

His experience contrasted with that of Nour, who came on the Syrian refugee resettlement scheme. He received correct paperwork in a timely fashion, had access to English classes within weeks of arriving and received assistance in finding steady accommodation. He is now studying computer science at Birmingham University.

“When I arrived in Britain, I wanted a hand up, not a hand out, to get back on my own two feet, continue my work and studies and start supporting my family. I’m grateful to Britain for the support I received and I hope to have the opportunity to repay the country with my work. I want all refugees to have the same opportunity,” he said.

Debbonaire, the Labour MP for Bristol West and chair of the group, said: “A refugee is a refugee, however they were granted status. Most will want to return home when conflict is over and, in the meantime, want to contribute to this country. These are often skilled professionals and, by definition, they all have strength and determination to offer.

But there are administrative flaws in the system, which could be easily fixed. Creating a two-tier system for refugees, loading the dice against people who come here to build a new life, is not just the wrong thing to do, but a costly missed opportunity for Britain.”

Maurice Wren, the Chief Executive of the Refugee Council, who provide support to the APPG, meanwhile said: “It’s unacceptable that the Government treats refugees unequally by offering a relative few the necessary help and support they need to integrate into British life, while simultaneously consigning another much larger group to the high risk of homelessness, hunger and despair.

“These are people who have fled the same bombs and the same bullets; it’s vital the Government recognises that they need the same support to begin rebuilding their lives.”

Stephen Hale, chief executive of Refugee Action, said the report served as a “timely wake-up call” for the Government to help refugees rebuild their lives and avoid “wasting their talents”.

“This report is a timely wake-up call. The new Government must seize the opportunity to enable all refugees in Britain, regardless of how they arrive, to successfully rebuild their lives,” Mr Hale said.

”Refugees are determined to learn English and start contributing to their new communities through volunteering, work and socialising with their neighbours. But as the report highlights, they face huge barriers to integration. This is a shocking waste of their talents.”

Alex Fraser, director of refugee support at the British Red Cross, said: “This report confirms what we see on a daily basis: that all too often, people who have come to the UK after fleeing conflict or persecution are being left destitute and reliant on charity to survive.

“By definition, a refugee has had to leave their home country because their life is in danger. A two-tier system, where refugees who arrive in the UK as asylum seekers are at risk of being left homeless or living hand-to-mouth, is completely at odds with the supportive and welcoming spirit behind the government’s Syrian Resettlement Programme.

No one should be left destitute as a side effect of being granted protection in this country. We strongly encourage the government to take notice of this report, in particular its recommendation to extend the ‘move-on’ period* from 28 days.”

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