A damning report into homelessness and destitution amongst asylum seekers in Northern Ireland, entitled ‘A Place of Refuge: A monitor of homelessness among destitute asylum seekers - A proposal for action’, was released today (11th May 2016). The research, which involved interviews with 36 destitute asylum seekers, was carried out by the newly formed Housing4All campaign group supported by PPR.

Destitute asylum seekers are those whose application for asylum in the UK has been refused and are often in the position of gathering further information for an appeal or a fresh claim. During this period they lose the meagre support that was previously provided to them (£36.95 per week) – and contrary to many myths they are not, by right, entitled to any social security benefits or any other assistance. This can happen to asylum seekers numerous times during their application process.

Describing the situation facing destitute asylum seekers, Housing4All  member Fungayi Mukosera said:

"It just makes the human being invisible. People are left with no roof over their heads... It is abject destitution and they do not have any support."

It is unclear how many destitute asylum seekers are in Northern Ireland as this information is not monitored by the NI Executive and the Home Office have refused to provide their statistics.

The research found that:

  • 55% had been in the asylum process for over 2 years;
  • 63% had been homeless more than once in Northern Ireland;
  • 87% of respondents stated being homeless adversely affected their mental and physical health;
  • Of the 77% who had approached the social services for help not a single respondent said that the support was sufficient
  • 93% had approached charities for help, with only 5% of these stating that the help was sufficient

This policy is having a devastating impact on asylum seekers and their families.

The Northern Ireland Act (1998) states that immigration policy is a non-devolved ‘excepted’ matter retained by the Westminster government. However, Housing4All has stated that the Northern Ireland Executive have the power to act on matters relating to social and economic rights such as housing provision and support.

Dessie Donnelly, Director (Development) said:

“International law, which the UK government is a party to, says very clearly that rights, such as housing ‘apply to everyone including non-nationals, such as refugees, asylum-seekers, stateless persons, migrant workers and victims of international trafficking, regardless of legal status and documentation.’ However, we are very aware that the situation among asylum seekers is not getting better – in fact it is getting much worse.”

"Homelessness usually is a result of failings in public policy. However, for destitute asylum seekers homelessness is the deliberate and intended consequence of public policy. It is perverse that as a society we are consciously forcing people - people who are in dire need of support and safety - into homelessness."

“Housing4All - supported by a growing number of politicians, trade unions and community organisations - is calling on the Executive to take the position that it is not acceptable for any person to live in destitution here. Countries like Scotland have taken a different path from London, and so can we. The politicians here can do something – and the first thing is to acknowledge the problem, and then work with Housing4All and all others who are looking for a solution, to provide emergency housing for destitute asylum seekers.”

‘A Place of Refuge’ identified international examples of states and cities providing public services and effective sanctuary for asylum seekers including Toronto (Canada) and Ghent (Belgium).

Housing4All is calling for a move from a crisis response approach which intentionally makes people destitute and homeless triggering emergency health care, to a preventative long-term rights-based approach which provides support and enables asylum seekers to earn a living through work.

As part of the research the group have put forward a number of proposals to address emergency issues of destitution and are calling on the Executive to:

  • provide public funding to homeless hostels so that those without access to Housing Benefit can secure emergency accommodation;
  • change NIHE current position that  homeless hostels providing beds to destitute asylum seekers is a derogation of a hostels duty to take referrals from NIHE;
  • institute a social services assessment for asylum seekers before they are knowingly made homeless to assess the nature and extent of support required;
  • carry out immediate research through the Assembly’s services into the economic benefits of enabling asylum seekers to access their right to work in Northern Ireland.

Housing4All have secured the support of Belfast City Councillors, MLAs, the public service union UNISON and local community organisations such as the Ashton Centre and the Star Neighbourhood Centre. They will be seeking to engage with the newly elected Executive following May’s elections to progress their proposals.