Refugees from war-torn countries including Afghanistan and Syria are being forced to sleep on the street even though the Government has approved their asylum claim, i has learnt.
So acute is the prospect of homelessness that some refugees are buying tents in preparation to move out of their asylum hotel, with charities warning the situation could leave some individuals “at risk of suicide”.
Hundreds of refugees are facing homelessness because they now have a shorter window to leave their hotel and find accommodation of their own after their claim is approved, and because of the housing stock shortage.
One refugee told i he had been sleeping on the streets since receiving his approval last month. Another said he had to leave his hotel with just over a fortnight’s notice and had nowhere to go.
In recent months, a wave of asylum claims have been approved under the Government’s new fast-track scheme, which was designed to speed up the processing of claims from countries which have high acceptance rates due to the danger there, such as Afghanistan, Syria and Sudan.
Placing further demand on the housing stock available to asylum seekers are Afghans living in the UK following the Taliban takeover, who are also being moved out of their hotels, and Ukrainians who are in need of new accommodation as hosting arrangements come to an end.
Refugees in need of housing are also being affected by the reduction in the amount of time they have to move out of their asylum hotel and find new homes.
People granted asylum are generally allocated 28 days by the Home Office to find new housing, set up a bank account and get a job before they have to leave their hotel.
This window, known as the “move-on period”, previously began once refugees receive their residence permit – which proves their eligibility to remain in the UK and thus enables them to open bank accounts and apply for housing and work – which usually arrives between seven and 10 days after their asylum claim is approved, charities said.
‘I’m sleeping on the streets after my asylum claim was granted’
Haile*, a refugee who fled conflict in his home country of Ethiopia, has been homeless since his asylum claim was granted in August. He said he had just 12 days’ notice to secure income and housing before eviction from the hotel.
“I tried charities, I tried everyone, but I can’t get any answers,” he said. “It was really stressful.”
Haile, whose name has been changed to protect his identity, said he was told by his local council that the only housing available was in Birmingham, 70 miles away from where he had been living for the past two years.
“I thought, how can I go there? You feel like you can’t do anything.”
Sometimes Haile sleeps on the streets, and sometimes with friends who have space. It is “hard” but he is relieved that the weather is still warm.
But recently, the Home Office is beginning the move on period once the decision is served, not when the residence permit is received. The refugees then receive notice to leave their accommodation, which has narrowed to as little as seven days in some cases, the Refugee Council claimed.
Charities warn that this is slashing an already small window for people to secure a safe place to live.
Sam Jonkers, who volunteers with charity Care4Calais in asylum hotels in the south of England, said that the surge in claim approvals had “essentially overwhelmed the housing system” and the change in Home Office policy created a “perfect storm”.
“We’ve seen people sleeping on the streets since having their claim approved, or telling us that they’re buying tents in preparation for leaving their hotel. I’ve seen refugees – men and women – aged 19 to 63 made street homeless because of this,” she said.
“We’ve had referrals from other charities asking for donations of tents for refugees who have had their claims approved. The number of people facing homelessness is potentially in the hundreds in some boroughs.”
She added: “Many people have mental health issues and are already vulnerable. Leaving them on the streets will increase the risk of suicide and exploitation.”
‘I’m so scared and stressed’
Abdul* must leave his hotel imminently, but has nowhere to go. Granted asylum this summer, he had just 18 days to find housing and work before eviction from his hotel.
Now Abdul, not his real name, a qualified medical professional desperate to resume work in the NHS, is facing life on the streets.
“I asked the council, I tried to find somewhere on the private rental market, but I still couldn’t find anything,” he said. “Some of the private rentals were very expensive, and at some that I applied for, the landlord wouldn’t accept me.”
Abdul was injured during a war in his home country and has ongoing medical problems stemming from this, which make living on the streets yet more daunting.
“I’m only sleeping a few hours a night. I’m so stressed and so scared to be homeless,” he said.
Councillor Shaun Davies, chair of the Local Government Association, said that while councils continue to work hard to protect and support refugees, the “combined pressures from these many schemes are growing on councils and there continues to be a crisis across the refugee and asylum system”.
He called for a “joined-up approach” between central and local Government to cope with the pressures and reduce the risk of homelessness.
“This needs to include urgent solutions to pressing housing needs in the short and the long term across all the schemes that welcome new arrivals to the UK.”
A Home Office spokesperson said: “The pressure on the asylum system has continued to grow, with hotel accommodation costing millions of pounds a day.
“We encourage individuals to make their onward plans as soon as possible after receiving their decision, whether that is leaving the UK following a refusal, or taking steps to integrate in the UK following a grant.
“Individuals will still get at least 28 days to move on from accommodation and where an individual has not had a [biometric residence permit] card issued within the 28 day notice period, they remain on support until it is issued.”
The Home Office also offers support during the move on period through partner organisations, including advice on accessing the labour market, applying for universal credit and signposting to local authorities for assistance with housing.