Migrant homelessness: the stark reality of destitution in England

Wednesday, 10 January 2018 - 1:51pm

A report commissioned by Strategic Alliance on Migrant Destitution lays out the huge challenges faced by destitute migrants across England. 

support worker helping a migrant

“I am living like an animal but I'm human”. It is a raw response and one that hits to the heart of the continued experience of non-EEA destitute migrants in England in 2017. These are the words of someone denied access to essential welfare support, unable to afford good quality immigration advice and unable to undertake paid work to provide for themselves.

A new report commissioned by the Strategic Alliance on Migrant Destitution (SAMD), features further similar experiences and lays out recommendations for improvements to frontline services. More than 30 SAMD project organisations from London, Greater Manchester and the North East took part, along with 35 service users.

Key findings:

  • Across most services interviewed, there has been an increase in the numbers of destitute non-EEA migrants accessing services.
  • Non-EEA migrants are experiencing destitution at every stage of the asylum process (pre-asylum claim, during the consideration period and post-asylum decision).
  • A disturbing number of migrants have been destitute for a considerable length of time, in some cases several years. The average time amongst individuals consulted for the survey was over two years.
  • Most provision for people experiencing homelessness is not designed for or accessible by non-EEA migrants. This includes most accommodation and housing provision, a key need of this cohort while attempting to resolve complex immigration issues.
  • Organisations working in this field see the value of collecting and sharing data about destitute non-EEA migrants but lack the capacity or mechanism to do so coherently.

The human impact

The responses from those with lived-experience of destitution in this report are extremely powerful. Physical and mental health deterioration, depression, anxiety, stress-related illness, loss of self-esteem, confidence, shame and hopelessness, desperation and substance misuse, as a coping mechanism - all feature in the responses of those that contributed.

One respondent said: “This has affected my life badly and made me feel like a criminal. I was never a criminal in my country but sleeping on the street and having no family or money and medical problems is awful.” Another female respondent said: “We need to be considered as human; less judged and our stories considered. As women, people need to know what we've been through”.

Homeless Link’s activity

This is a challenging policy area to work in, made more difficult by a succession of immigration policy developments in recent years. Homeless Link hosts the SAMD project, which has been helping to share innovative practice in this area. In 2016, we developed the Migrant Destitution Toolkit to help services build partnerships to better meet the needs of destitute migrants.

The project has been an invaluable conduit in bringing together the shared activity of nine partner organisations, all delivering vital frontline work in this area. Since the project began, we better understand the need for good quality immigration advice in homelessness services and have trained over 130 frontline homelessness staff in this area. We have also been delighted to work in partnership with Expert Link to convene a Migrant Destitution Expert Panel – made up of people with lived experience. As panel member, Frank describes it, “experience is the best teacher” and this panel acts to amplify their voice and shape the way our sector responds to migrant destitution.

Recommendations for the future

The report states: “There must be a better way to treat people who have come to the UK seeking protection, for the benefit of the individuals affected and the communities around them.” Among other recommendations, it calls for localised snapshot surveys to develop a clearer understanding of the scale of migrant destitution.

Without better access to good quality regulated immigration advice, resolving destitution is impossible. The report calls for improved access to confidential, non-directive (trusted) advice and information on voluntary return and asylum cases. It urges services to expand on SAMD’s work developing and strengthening national and regional links with Registered Social Landlords (RSL), housing associations and homelessness organisations to provide much-needed accommodation.

Migrant destitution will not be easy to solve but we must continue to encourage innovation to respond to policy challenges and find improved ways of working. The combination of advocacy based on evidence, promotion of good practice and continued support for destitute non-EEA people, will hopefully contribute to positive change.

Are you interested to find out more? Then please click on the following link to read a summary report of the Migrant destitution: SAMD survey and consultation.

Migrant destitution: Survey and consultation report