More asylum seekers are being 'left destitute' in Scotland

By Ewan Murrie
BBC Scotland news website


Hundreds more migrants are being left destitute in Scotland, according to the British Red Cross (BRC).

The charity said the number of destitute refugees and asylum seekers it had helped in Glasgow had increased from 326 in 2014 to 820 in 2016.

It accused the UK government of making the asylum process "increasingly difficult" - a claim the Home Office has disputed.

The Scottish government said the situation was "unacceptable".

According to the charity, the new figures to "some extent" reflected an overall increase in the number of people claiming protection in Scotland, including asylum seekers from Syria.

But it claimed changes made in 2014 to the support and advice offered by the Home Office had also increased destitution among migrants.

Image caption,
More migrants in Scotland are relying on charities for food and essential toiletries

A BRC spokeswoman said: "There's been a change to a telephone model of providing [asylum support] advice, which has made it more difficult for those with language barriers to access support."

She added that she believed the Home Office was requiring "more and more" information from asylum applicants, while also withdrawing advocacy from the service specification.

Asked how destitution had been defined, the BRC said it considered clients to be destitute if they did not eat sufficiently, had no fixed home, could not afford essential items and/or were experiencing worsening health.

In April 2014, government-funded advice for asylum seekers living in Scotland began being delivered by Migrant Help, a charity based in the south east of England.

Previously, this contract was held by the Scottish Refugee Council (SRC), based in Glasgow.

The Home Office disputed any suggestions that Migrant Help did not offer the same level of face-to-face support as SRC, adding that Migrant Help had a "well-established presence" in Scotland.

The figures prompted the Scottish government to accuse the UK government of delivering a "consistent reduction" in the support it offered to asylum seekers.

Last year, the SRC called for an inquiry into the treatment of asylum seekers in Glasgow.

Noreen, a single mum in Glasgow, was destitute and an asylum seeker during her pregnancy

Image source, Thinkstock

After fleeing persecution in her homeland, Noreen's claim for asylum in the UK was initially refused.

Alone and with no right to work or receive government support, she told BBC Scotland enduring her pregnancy was "a living nightmare".

"I was so down that when I was seven months pregnant I told the doctor I didn't want the baby - but it was already too late."

"I was crying saying, 'I am so hungry, I don't even have any food'," she said.

Noreen said she did not receive government support until she was nine months pregnant.

Until then, she was forced to rely on charities and friends to survive.

But Noreen revealed that before her pregnancy, the asylum process had already driven her into a severe depression.

"I was admitted to hospital twice, after trying to cut my veins," she told BBC Scotland.

"I didn't want to live - there was no hope for me," she added.

Today, Noreen has been granted refugee status and lives with her two children in Glasgow.

Names have been changed.

What can the Scottish government do?

While immigration and asylum policy is reserved to the UK government, the Scottish government can provide support to asylum seekers under devolved functions, such as education, social care and health.

The Scottish Parliament's Equalities and Human Rights Committee (EHRC) has launched an inquiry into destitution amongst asylum seekers - which will publish its findings and recommendations in April.

Image caption,
Equalities Secretary Angela Constance said destitution should never be an outcome of the asylum process

Equalities Secretary Angela Constance said she hoped the inquiry would "shine a light" on the issue of destitution and asylum in Scotland.

The Scottish Refugee Council said it hoped the EHRC inquiry would lead to "concrete actions to support people bearing the brunt of the UK government's hostile environment policy for immigrants".

A Home Office spokesman said: "The UK has a proud history of granting asylum to those who need our protection and those seeking refuge have access to a range of advice and support in the UK.

"Migrant Help offers asylum seekers access to online literature and both telephone and face-to-face advice.

"Outreach sessions are held around the UK, including in Scotland where [Migrant Help] have a well-established presence.

"It is only right that the service refers asylum seekers looking for legal advice to qualified solicitors who are cleared to handle immigration matters.

"Those who do not need our help should leave the country rather than being supported by UK taxpayers."

Migrant Help said: "In Scotland, Migrant Help offers face-to-face advice to asylum seekers accommodated in the initial accommodation, but also to those in dispersal accommodation who are deemed vulnerable.

"All asylum seekers across the UK can access our free telephone helpline which offers independent advice tailored to the region where the caller is based."

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