You flee your home in fear for your life. You have no time to pack any belongings or to even say goodbye to family or friends. You know you have to leave but you don’t know where you’re going. Hopefully somewhere safe. A country where you will not have to live under the constant shadow of death. So imagine your relief when you finally reach Britain, a country in which you hope you will be able to start a new, safe life. And then the nightmare begins. Far from being welcomed with open arms you are instead forced to live on just £5 a day. You have no money but you are not allowed to work. Meanwhile, amidst this destitution you are living in a state of limbo, unsure whether you’ll be able to stay in your new ‘home’. This is the life of an asylum seeker in Britain.
Claiming Asylum in the UK
To be recognised as a refugee an individual must have left their country of origin and must be unable to return to that country due to a well founded fear of persecution. This persecution must be because of their race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership of a particular social group. An individual applying for asylum must be unable to live safely in another part of their country of origin and must be unable or unwilling to seek protection from the authorities in that country.
An applicant can use three different pieces of international legislation to support their claim for asylum in the UK:
1) 1951 Geneva Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees– Under the 1951 Refugee Convention an applicant must demonstrate that they have a well founded fear of persecution on one of the grounds listed in the Convention (see above paragraph) and that they are unable to receive protection from the authorities in that country.
2) 1950 European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR)– In addition to, or instead of the 1951 Refugee Convention, applicants can base a claim for asylum on the ECHR. This enshrines a number of fundamental human rights including a prohibition on torture and inhuman or degrading treatment (Article 3) as well as a right to respect for family and private life (Article 8). An applicant will be successful if they can prove that their deportation would be in breach of one or more of the rights encompassed in the ECHR.
3) European Union Asylum Qualification Directive– An applicant can also support their claim using this EU Directive which is intended to lay down a Common European Asylum System.
Once an asylum seeker has submitted a claim they then find themselves in a state of limbo as they wait for a decision on their claim. During this time applicants who are destitute receive what is known as ‘Section 95’ support. This equates to a weekly cash payment of £36.62 for a single asylum seeker over 18, compared to £71.70 per week for people receiving income support. This is the equivalent of a mere £5 per day and is expected to cover food, clothing and toiletries. This figure has not changed since 2011. To force people to live on such a meagre sum of money is just cruel and degrading.
However, if their claim for asylum is refused, applicants are then transferred to Section 4 support which is even less at £35.39. To add insult to injury this support is not provided in cash but instead comes in the form of an ‘Azure’ card which can only be used at certain supermarkets (not including cheaper shops such as Aldi or Lidl). This only increases the humiliation and stigma which asylum seekers face and is essentially a punishment for having your claim refused. As noted by Zoe Williams (see: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/jan/30/asylum-theresa-may-private-fiefdom) there is no rationale behind the lower payment given to failed asylum seekers, ‘you don’t need less money when your claim has been refused’. However, with the vast majority of asylum seekers unable to work, they have no choice but to live off this State support.
Asylum seekers come to Britain in search of safety but as is clear from the current asylum system this safety comes at a price: destitution. Instead of welcoming these people who have fled their homes in search of a better life, we are ostracising and humiliating them. To force these people to live on just £5 a day is barbaric and degrading. To prevent them from earning a living and contributing to our society is another act which is not only cruel but also lacks any rationale. As for Section 4 support, there can be no justification for punishing asylum seekers for having their claim refused. These people have come to our country for help, often leaving their friends and families behind. They deserve better.
If you would like to bring back dignity to our asylum support system please join the campaign by Refugee Action here: http://www.refugee-action.org.uk/support_us/campaign/join_a_campaign/1152_bring_back_dignity_to_our_asylum_support_system #bringbackdignity
Asylum Aid, ‘The Asylum Process Made Simple’: http://www.asylumaid.org.uk/the-asylum-process-made-simple/
Gov.UK, ‘Claim Asylum in the UK’: https://www.gov.uk/claim-asylum
Refugee Council, ‘Asylum Support’ (Nov 2013): http://www.refugeecouncil.org.uk/assets/0003/0290/Asylum_Support.pdf
Zoe Williams, ‘For failed asylum seekers, life on section 4 is a nightmare worse than Kafka’ (30 Jan 2013): http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/jan/30/asylum-theresa-may-private-fiefdom