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Housing4All are a group of asylum seekers who are trying to ensure that the human right to housing is realised for destitute asylum seekers in Northern Ireland. 

Between October-December 2015 Housing for All were supported by Participation and Practice of Rights (PPR) to: monitor how their human right to housing was being violated; how it impacted individuals and families; and identify possible solutions.

Housing 4 All designed their own human rights monitoring surveys using action research methods and carry it out with other people in similar circumstances. People were able to fill in the survey by attending one of the weekly housing rights clinics held in the Northern Ireland COmmunity of Refugees and Asylum Seekers' offices, or through homeless support services, shelters, and elsewhere.

Their report 'Human Rights for Some: A monitor of homelessness among destitue asylum seekers, A proposal for action'  will be launched mid-April 2016.

To find out more about the campaign, please email Housing4Allni@gmail.com 

Context

That the right to housing applies to every human being regardless of nationality, and therefore there is a corresponding responsibility on the state to progress this right, is evident in a number of international standards. For example:

30. The ground of nationality should not bar access to Covenant rights, e.g. all children within a State, including those with an undocumented status, have a right to receive education and access to adequate food and affordable health care. The Covenant rights 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.

(General Comment No. 20, Non-discrimination in economic, social and cultural rights (art. 2, para. 2, of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights)

However this is being systematically, and as a matter of deliberate and conscious policy, denied to this extremely vulnerable group in our society.

Local Policy - How this happens

An asylum seeker is not entitled to be on the social housing waiting list, or receive housing benefit, even if they are living in conditions which would qualify them for priority status for social housing due to homelessness, overcrowding, etc. in Northern Ireland.

An essential criteria for accessing social housing, either publicly owned by the Northern Ireland Housing Executive or publicly funded through housing associations, is that a person must have no limits on their ‘stay’. However asylum seekers only have ‘temporary stay’, even if they have been living here for years and they have no other country to go to.

Many asylum seekers are accommodated under the National Asylum Support Service (NASS) – provided by the UK Home Office, sourced by the Northern Ireland Housing Executive and managed by multinational service company SERCO and property management firm Orchard & Shipman.[1]

When an asylum seeker’s claim is refused by the Home Office they are evicted from NASS accommodation and deprived of the limited access to housing and support they have been afforded to date and made destitute. Asylum seekers are also not entitled to access emergency accommodation or support through homeless hostels.

The Northern Ireland Supporting People Guidance 2012[2] (which most homeless hostel accommodation beds are funded by, most of which are hostels run by charities) classifies irregular migrants, which includes asylum seekers, as “ineligible service users”. This means that even where a hostel or shelter wants to provide support, they cannot. Homelessness providers are compensated for providing emergency accommodation through Housing Benefit, and asylum seekers are not entitled to access housing benefit or other forms of social security. 

Therefore even though many homelessness charities want to provide shelter to everyone equally, they are currently prevented from doing so by the administrative and funding arrangements of the Northern Ireland Housing Executive, Department for Social Development and ultimately the Northern Ireland Executive.

Social services have a duty to prevent human rights violations (including the provision of housing) for someone who is at risk of homelessness and is vulnerable due to factors including age, disability, mental/physical health issues, etc. The Health and Personal Social Services (NI) Order (1972) imposes a number of duties and creates powers including:

“15. (1) In the exercise of its functions under Article 4(b) the Ministry shall make available advice, guidance and assistance, to such extent as it considers necessary, and for that purpose shall make such arrangements and provide or secure the provision of such facilities (including the provision or arranging for the provision of residential or other accommodation, home help and laundry facilities) as it considers suitable and adequate. [...]

(2) Assistance under paragraph (1) may be given to, or in respect of , a person in need requiring assistance in kind or, in exceptional circumstances constituting an emergency, in cash; so however that before giving assistance to, or in respect of, a person in cash the Ministry shall have regard to his eligibility for receiving assistance from any other statutory body, and, if he is so eligible, to the availability to him of that assistance in his time of need.”

While there exists certain prohibitions against social services providing support to individuals within the immigration system[3], in 2005 the UK House of Lords ruled that a failure by the state to provide social support which exposes some asylum seekers to a real risk of becoming destitute will in certain circumstances constitute ‘inhuman and degrading treatment', and therefore will be contrary to Article 3 of the ECHR.[4]

In practice, however, most asylum seekers find this support impossible to access. Even foregoing the narrow access criteria, the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission has stated that this approach is not sufficient:

“It should be emphasised that this bare minimum approach is less than satisfactory, coming from a developed state such as the UK. Nevertheless, it is the Commission’s view that, to ensure a minimum level of support, a non-UK national who is destitute and has no other means of support ought to be assessed for assistance under the 1972 Order.”[5]

Asylum seekers can be made homeless several times throughout their application. Sometimes this is for a number of weeks or months, and sometimes years. At these times there is no support open to them, and thus they have to sleep rough, stay in overcrowded conditions, and rely on churches or mosques.

As asylum seekers cannot work and cannot access benefits, they are effectively barred from accessing private rental accommodation.

The current NIHE document ‘Facing the Future: Homelessness strategy for Northern Ireland 2012-2017’ makes no mention of the situation of destitute asylum seekers. Whilst many publicly elected representatives offer support to destitute asylum seekers through constituency work, the destitution experienced by these asylum seekers is not deemed to be worthy of a public policy response.

Housing 4 All proposals

i.      provide public funding to homeless hostel providers so that those without access to Housing Benefit can secure emergency accommodation;

ii.     change NIHE current position that  homeless hostels providing beds to destitute asylum seekers is a derogation of a hostel’s duty to take referrals from NIHE;

iii.    institute a social services assessment for asylum seekers before they are knowingly made homeless and destitute by the Home Office to assess the nature and extent of support required;

iv.   carry out research through the Assembly’s services to identify the legislative opportunities for, and barriers to, securing the right to housing for all asylum seekers;

v.    carry out research through the Assembly’s services into the benefits of enabling asylum seekers to access their right to work in Northern Ireland with a view to developing a pilot initiative.




[1] Concerns about the treatment of asylum seekers, including substandard housing conditions and complaints of bullying and intimidation by staff of Orchard & Shipman, have led to organisations like the Scottish Refuggee Council to call for investigations into the company. See The Times ‘Inquiry call over ‘callous treatment’ of refugees’, 18th Febraury 2016 - http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/news/uk/scotland/article4693483.ece

[3] Section 119 of the Immigration and Asylum Act prohibits the provision of support if the ‘person in need’ has developed a need as a result of being destitute. In other words, there must be a pre-existing need.

[4] R. (Adam and Limbuela) v. Secretary of State for the Home Department, 2005

[5] ‘No Home from Home: Homelessness for People with No or Limited Access to Public Funds’, NIHRC (2009) - http://www.statewatch.org/news/2009/aug/n-ireland-nihrc-no-home-from-home.pdf