Asylum policy leads to life of destitution, says Oxfam

A new report, released on 4 February, by Oxfam and the Centre for Migration Policy Research at Swansea University, paints a depressing picture of daily life for people seeking asylum in the UK

Those who have been denied asylum, are appealing their cases and unable to return to their country of origin are living in social and legal limbo due to a scheme that has been purposely designed to discourage claimants. The majority of refused asylum seekers do not apply for support because they have little faith in the system. Many have had their cases refused because they have no access to legal advice or don’t speak English. Nearly a third of asylum cases that have been refused are overturned on appeal, highlighting the poor quality of the decision making process itself.

This harsh regime gives them the choice between returning to their own country, where they fear they may be persecuted, or living here in destitution. The report reveals that:

  • Many are living a hand-to-mouth existence, depending on the kindness of friends (usually other asylum seekers) to let them sleep on their floor or share a hot meal with them
  • They have nowhere to go, wandering streets for hours every day, in constant fear of being caught and deported
  • They are highly vulnerable to crime and various forms of exploitation
  • Many suffer from ill health as a result of having no accommodation, a poor diet and lack of access to healthcare
  • Some experience psychological and emotional repercussions of being destitute, when many are already dealing with traumatic pasts
  • In desperation, some have to resort to entering into abusive relationships or even taking up sex work to survive.

Oxfam’s Director of UK Poverty, Kate Wareing, said: “These are people who have made heartbreaking decisions to leave their families and flee their homes. They end up living as ghosts on the streets of Britain because of government policy and decision making that strips them of their rights and dignity.

“The current system is designed to make people feel as low as possible and sends out a message that those who are refused asylum are not even worthy of our compassion. It goes against any sense of our common decency.”

The research was conducted by a group of refugees and asylum seekers, many with personal experiences of destitution*. The researchers spoke to 45 people over several months, all of whom were, or had been, asylum seekers. Many of the interviewees would not have been willing to take part if the research had involved contact with someone they did not know or trust. Those interviewed talked not only about their own experiences, but also those of a wide network of friends and contacts, providing an overall picture of the experience of hundreds of asylum seekers in the UK.

Heaven Crawley, Professor of International Migration at Swansea University and lead author of the report, said: “This research gives us a rare insight into what life is like for refused asylum-seekers in the UK and shows that there is a deep-rooted lack of faith in the current system. Forcing people to live in destitution is not a humane solution, nor does it lead to them returning voluntarily to their country of origin.”

In the UK, asylum seekers normally receive government accommodation and cash support of £35.52 a week. Those who have had a claim refused are moved to Section 4 Support in the form of an Azure payment card, worth £35.39 a week, but this can only be used in a limited number of shops and is conditional on their agreeing to return home as soon as the UK government considers it safe to do so.

Oxfam is calling for:

  • Asylum seekers who have been refused to receive cash support until the point of return, so they are not left without support whilst appeals or claims are being processed and can buy what they need to survive, rather than an inflexible payment card
  • Improvement in the quality of initial decisions in the asylum-determination process, so those entitled to protection will get the protection they need.

For more information, to arrange an interview or for a copy of the report, Coping with Destitution, please contact:

Sarah Dransfield, Oxfam Press Officer, on 01865 472269, 07767 085636,, or Luned Jones, Press Officer, Oxfam Cymru, on 0300 200 1269, 07887 571687,

This news item has been posted for Oxfam and the Centre for Migration Policy Research at Swansea University by Bethan Evans, Swansea University Public Relations Office, Tel: 01792 295049 or email: