People left destitute on the streets of the UK can this be true?
A new exhibition launching this week lifts the lid on a world that few of us know about. Thousands of people in the UK are living a hand-to-mouth existence – sleeping rough or on people’s floors, begging for food and turning to prostitution or other illegal work just to get by.
These people are refused asylum seekers, people who have come to the UK seeking sanctuary but whose claims have been rejected. They are denied permission to work and government support is cut off, leaving them with nothing.
Some asylum seekers whose claims have been refused can go home safely. But nearly 50% of those refused asylum in 2007 came from countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo, Iran, Iraq, Eritrea, Somalia, Afghanistan, Sudan and Zimbabwe: countries where conflict and human rights abuses are rife.
For many, return simply isn’t an option – they are too fearful. So people who were teachers, journalists and businessmen are reduced to begging and sleeping on park benches or in public toilets.
According to the National Audit Office there are between 155,000 and 280,000 refused asylum seekers in the UK. As of September 2008, just over 10,000 were receiving ‘hard case’ Section 4 support – £35 worth of vouchers a week. And the rest? This exhibition gives an insight into what their lives are like.
Amnesty is part of the Still Human, Still Here Coalition, which is calling for a change to government policy. Not only is this policy inhumane but it is failing, driving people underground away from contact with the authorities and making returns even more difficult. Still Human Still Here asks that refused asylum seekers should be given the right to work or enough financial support to live on, until they are granted protection or can safely return home.
We’re asking people to write to their MPs and urge them to take the matter up with the Home Secretary – you can get involved here.
Still Human Still Here: The underground world of destitute asylum seekers is a joint exhibition with Panos Pictures. It opens tomorrow until 4 April at the Host Gallery, 1 Honduras Street, EC1Y 0TH. Opening Hours are Mon-Fri 10am-6pm; Sat 11am-4pm.
Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.