All countries have a moral duty to provide asylum to those in need, many of whom have fled from lives of violence and persecution in conflict ridden countries. With asylum seekers spread across the UK, all local authorities have a duty to support and care for asylum seekers while their application is being processed.
Local government figures reveal that in Southampton, 67 asylum seekers received Section 95 support between April and June 2015, meaning they had undergone a ‘destitution’ test and were deemed not to have sufficient accommodation for themselves and their dependents while their application was processed. The amount of support provided also appears to vary in different local areas. As a comparison, 128 asylum seekers in Portsmouth received this level of support during the same period, while no-one in Winchester was in receipt of Section 95 assistance. Asylum applicants can also claim a short term support allowance, known as Section 98, while their application for longer term support is being processed.
The value of such support, other than the cost of accommodation in cases where it is provided, has been fixed at the same level since 2011. According to the British Refugee Council, the level of financial support provided is £72.52 per week for a couple with no children, £43.94 for a lone parent aged 18 or over, and £36.62 for a single person over 18. This works out as lower than even the most basic form of support that can be obtained through the benefits system.
In terms of accommodation, asylum seekers are granted temporary accommodation until their claim is processed then eventually move into more permanent accommodation – usually shared housing. According to the British Red Cross, however, they are in some cases dirty, overcrowded and missing certain amenities. Asylum seekers are normally granted accommodation under a policy known as ‘dispersal’, which means they are relocated to an area outside of the South East of England with no say in where they may be placed. Issues have also been reported regarding the short term accommodation that asylum applicants stay in before being allocated a more permanent residence – in one case hundreds of people were found to be living in a London hotel designed for 98 people.
Campaigners on both a local and national level have called for an improvement in conditions for asylum seekers and the support provided by the government. Local charities such as the Southampton and Winchester Visitors Group (SWVG) support asylum seekers on a voluntary basis, providing goods and additional funding to help with the costs of living in the UK, which can’t always be met by the Section 95 support they are given by the state. Nationally, the British Red Cross has warned about the ‘demonisation’ of asylum seekers, saying that some of the goods portrayed as luxuries are in fact essential for them to live properly and communicate with home. It has also urged a reconsideration of the ban on asylum seekers working, arguing it puts more people at risk of being considered ‘destitute’.
Featured image by Simeon Coath.