London: The UK faces a fresh crisis in its asylum system, with 50,000 refugees facing homelessness by the end of the year.
The government has pledged to reduce a backlog of “legacy” asylum applications by the end of 2023, but is reducing support for refugees whose asylum applications are granted.
This means some will have just seven days to find their own housing, set up bank accounts and find work before they are removed from their state-funded accommodation — an issue made harder by a housing shortage across the country.
The British Red Cross says it has started handing out sleeping bags and tents since it has experienced a 140 percent increase in the number of refugees asking it for help since June.
It adds that 53,100 refugees could face homelessness this winter if government targets are met, and most will be single males as local councils seek to prioritize housing families.
“Once people get refugee status, they need more time, not less, to find housing, work or benefits,” said Alex Fraser, British Red Cross director for refugee support.
“It takes at least 35 days to start getting Universal Credit, and local authorities need at least 56 days to help them find accommodation.”
A 20-year-old Sudanese refugee called Hamad told The Independent that he has been sleeping in a park in London since his asylum application was approved and he was evicted from his hotel.
“I thought my backpack would be stolen and I thought something bad would happen to me,” Hamad said. “There was a restaurant in Peckham where I was a regular customer — they were bringing me food when I was in the park. They said to go to a mosque in Woolwich where you will have to sweep the floor and clean the toilets, but you can sleep on the floor there. I was there (for) a couple of weeks. Then a man at the mosque told me about Refugees at Home.”
Hamad is now being supported by the charity, but added that others are resorting to crime to survive, unaware of what help is available to them.
“You are turning them out onto the street with nothing. I didn’t know about the benefits. Kicked-out asylum-seekers don’t know about that, so they have to steal,” he said.
“The Home Office is creating criminals by treating them like this and not telling them about the next steps after refugee status.”
Carly Whyborn, executive director of Refugees at Home, told The Independent: “Since the changes, we have had a five-fold increase in the number of referrals from refugees desperate for somewhere to live, and the situation is getting worse.
“We are urgently trying to reach out to new hosts, particularly in major cities, who may be able to offer a temporary place to stay.”