By Aaron Gates-Lincoln
The issue of accommodation provision for individuals seeking asylum within a country has recently been a topic heavily discussed in the field of immigration studies. In contribution to this, a new report by British Red Cross has highlighted how the UK asylum system is deeply flawed and has caused increasingly negative impacts on individuals seeking asylum’s mental health.
Currently, when asylum-seeking individuals arrive in the UK, they are placed in accommodation found and provided by the Home Office until a decision has been made on their asylum claim. However, in recent times, the UK Home Office has struggled heavily with increasing delays in making decisions on asylum applications. This delay has resulted in a large number of individuals seeking asylum being placed in accommodation for months or even years.
It would be expected that the accommodation would be safe and secure if being lived for months at a time. However, the British Red Cross report has found that asylum accommodation fails to be clean, well maintained, or provide a helpful community experience for asylum seekers in many instances. This is because the Home Office has failed to secure the money to fund community dispersal accommodation, and access to housing has been significantly reduced throughout the Covid-19 pandemic.
The mental health impacts of living in largely inadequate housing are severe and underappreciated. British Red Cross stated that “between January 2020 and February 2021, their teams have supported over 400 individuals living in asylum accommodation who have references to suicidal ideation or attempts recorded in their case notes”. In most instances, deterioration in mental health is due to the knock-on effects that poor accommodation can have on other areas of life. This is mirrored by research conducted by the Refugee Council, a UK charity supporting asylum seekers, which found that 61% of asylum seekers experience severe mental distress whilst refugees are 500% more likely to have mental health needs than the UK population.
The flawed system of accommodation provision promotes feelings of isolation, reduces access to support services and healthcare due to being situated in remote areas, and can influence bullying and hate crimes due to stigmatisation. Individuals discussed instances with the British Red Cross, in which the UK Home Office was placing survivors of trafficking in large, mixed gender hostels for long periods of time, resulting in them becoming fearful of leaving their rooms. In cases such as this, it is evident that the reduction of costs is being prioritised over ensuring the safety and wellbeing of individuals awaiting their asylum decisions.
In comparison, many EU countries have made changes to their legislation to ensure that some of these issues surrounding accommodation do not arise. For example, Spain introduced a law in 2015 that stated hotels and hostels could only be used for a maximum of thirty days for new arrivals. This has now been extended to four months due to a rise in applications, but the cap in place ensures that there are always systems in motion to find more suitable accommodation for asylum seeking individuals. Furthermore, France has an initial time limit of six months for claims decisions, which significantly reduces the need for accommodation provision. Furthermore, unlike the UK, Germany allows asylum seeking individuals to join the labour force after three months, giving them the option to earn money and find more suitable accommodation for themselves in a move of self-dependence.
Changes must be made to the UK asylum system to improve the lives and mental health of those awaiting asylum decisions. However, with the government’s ‘New Plan for Immigration’ announced in March 2021, it appears proposed changes will not greatly benefit this vulnerable group of people. One of the proposals would see the introduction of reception centres. The policy proposal does not detail what the centres will look like, where they will be, or how long people would be accommodated. It has been claimed that they will “allow for decisions and any appeals following rejection of an asylum claim to be processed fairly and quickly”. This insinuates that asylum seeking individuals will potentially be housed in these reception centres for the whole duration of their claim.
British Red Cross has stated that the introduction of such centres could risk reducing contact between communities, increase feelings of isolation and harm the health and wellbeing of this vulnerable group of people. In order to address the culmination of the issues discussed here, the British Red Cross has also issued a number of recommendations for the Home office to improve their system. They include putting procedures in place to speed up the decision-making process, immediately ending the use of military barracks as accommodation, and moving people out of hotels and into community dispersal housing.
They also urge the government to place funding into the asylum process to help individuals access mental health support and ensure that their needs are examined and met fully. These issues clearly highlight that the UK Home Office does not prioritise the humane treatment of asylum-seeking individuals, and instead focuses on costs, administration, and electoral success. Without addressing the difficulties that asylum-seeking individuals face in the asylum process, it becomes less likely that these individuals may make it onto the pathways to receive ‘indefinite leave to remain’ or citizenship in the future. It is absolutely vital that pressures continue to mount against the Home Office in the hopes that some of the recommendations are considered, and the lives of those seeking asylum in the UK may be improved.
The views, information, or opinions expressed in the blog post are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Refugee Rights Europe and its employees. Refugee Rights Europe invites a spectrum of viewpoints to feature on its blog in order to highlight different aspects of the human rights crisis facing refugees and displaced people in Europe, with the hope of generating discussion conducive to constructive solutions.