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The humanitarian crisis within our borders

Sarah Radcliffe
23rd September 2015

The plight of refugees has been a high profile issue in the news, on social media and in the streets of Britain over the past few months and tens of thousands of people have shown their support for refugees who are currently seeking sanctuary in Europe. What tends not to make the front pages of the newspapers is that even once inside the UK, asylum seekers continue to live a precarious existence of enforced destitution.

Over the summer, asylum seeking families and single parents in the UK had their asylum support cut by £16 a week.  This might not sound like a lot of money, but it definitely does when you find out that these families are now left with only £36.95 per week to meet all their needs including food, nappies, clothing, transport and infant formula.  Asylum support rates are currently around 50% of the level of income support provided to single adults – NAT thinks it should be 100%.

Asylum seekers are not legally allowed to work in the UK unless they have been waiting more than a year for their asylum decision – and even then, only in a limited number of occupations. 

If this wasn’t bad enough, the Immigration Bill published last week includes measures to remove support from refused asylum seekers, cutting off the £36.95 support within 21 days (28 for families) of the asylum claim finally being refused.  Those who face barriers to leaving the UK within this timeframe – because of illness, inability to get the relevant travel documentation or because there is no safe travel route to their country of origin – will have only three weeks to make (and prove) their case, or be left destitute.

This policy is explicitly linked to concerns about net migration.  In their consultation on this policy, the Government explained the cut to support for refused asylum seekers in this way:

“[The current system of support for refused asylum seekers] sends entirely the wrong message to those migrants who do not require our protection but who may seek to come to or remain in the UK in an attempt to benefit from the support arrangements we have put in place for those who need our protection. It also undermines public confidence in our asylum system”.

No evidence has been provided in support of this claim.

Why is this an HIV issue?  Most simply, some asylum seekers are living with HIV.  According to WHO estimates of HIV prevalence across the globe, at least 100 countries have higher rates of HIV than the UK.  At points in the past, a significant number of new HIV diagnoses in the UK were amongst people fleeing war and genocide in countries which also bore a disproportionate burden of the global HIV epidemic. 

But it’s not just a numbers game. The other reason NAT has been campaigning on asylum issues for the past decade is that asylum seekers living with HIV are the group most affected by the most extreme experiences of poverty – with serious consequences for their health.  The NHS provides HIV treatment to everyone living in the UK, regardless of their residency status, but the efforts of HIV clinics are undermined when their patients cannot afford to travel to their appointments, eat the food they need to ensure their medication is effective, or buy the infant formula which is clinically recommended to prevent mother-to-child transmission.

Help us take a stand against this domestic – and entirely solvable – humanitarian crisis.  Asylum destitution in the UK can be prevented, as can the illness it causes.   Write to your MP about why the cut to family asylum support must be reversed.

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