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GMIAU and Boaz Trust highlight how the ‘slow violence’ of destitution impacts migrants in Greater Manchester


New report based on five in-depth case studies of people who are experiencing or have experienced destitution

Date of Publication:

Greater Manchester Immigration Aid Unit (GMIAU) and the Boaz Trust released a new report this week on destitution among migrants in the Manchester region.

Report coverThe 36-page report, A slow violence: How immigration control forces people in Greater Manchester into destitution, is available here.

It describes the plight of people in Greater Manchester who are forced into destitution, often for years on end, due to their immigration status and the myriad of harms that destitution causes. The report focuses on adults without children and is based on five in-depth case studies of people who are experiencing or have experienced destitution.

The author of the report, GMIAU's policy officer William Wheeler, notes: "It is sometimes assumed that if people are destitute, it must somehow be their fault. What the stories in this report demonstrate is how constricted people's agency becomes within the structures of immigration law. The choices each of these people have had are very limited. That they were forced into destitution for falling foul of the complex and opaque structures of immigration law is a burning injustice."

As the report's title suggests, GMIAU and the Boaz Trust view destitution as a form of 'slow violence' that is built into the UK immigration system.

"This is not a spectacular violence like detention and deportation, but a slow, debilitating, insidious form of hidden violence that is rooted in systems and baked into everyday life. Damaging one's physical and mental health, it restricts people's capacity to live as members of our society. As years are stolen from people's lives, we all suffer: individuals, communities and wider society," the report explains.

Precise figures of how many migrants in Manchester are affected by destitution are not available, which the report says shows the lack of care built into the system, but it is estimated that around 4,000 refused asylum seekers in Manchester will have become destitute between 2014 and 2021.

The report features the stories of five people with lived experience of destitution, two of whom ended up sleeping rough. One man from Belarus describes living on the streets for two and a half months and surviving by using foodbanks.

As the report notes, homelessness is common for destitute migrants, but not all will end up sleeping on the streets: "While street homelessness is the most visible form of migrant destitution, most will experience forms of 'hidden homelessness'. Street homelessness often attracts more political attention because of concern around the optics of rough sleeping. It is crucial also to maintain political concern for what is happening unseen, behind closed doors in our communities – but doing so is a challenge, not least because of the uncertainty around what hidden homelessness might involve. The term 'hidden homelessness' encompasses a wide range of situations. It might mean long-term stable accommodation with friends or relatives."

The report also highlights how people seeking to regularise their immigration status to escape destitution can face a complex, costly and lengthy legal process, with the problems exacerbated by difficulties in finding a legal advisor.

GMIAU and the Boaz Trust note: "There is a drastic shortage of accredited immigration advisors, owing to austerity-related cuts to legal aid and to local authority-funded immigration advice. In the North West, in 2022 the deficit was estimated to be 6,470. For people living in destitution, it can be even harder to find an advisor owing to legal aid not being available for most immigration cases and the difficulty in finding a legal aid lawyer willing to do further submissions for asylum claims because of the assumed complexity of those cases."

Support for those who experience destitution is uncertain and highly inconsistent, leaving people dependent on advocates from local community and voluntary organisations.

More positively, the report highlights the creation of spaces within Greater Manchester where people find and share support, dignity and solidarity, which helps to mitigate the harms of destitution.

"[I]ndividuals, organisations and statutory bodies can co-create agency to do things differently in our region. Our local leaders in particular have opportunities and responsibilities to turn Greater Manchester into a region of sanctuary and solidarity, where destitution is – as far as possible – designed out," the report states.

GMIAU and the Boaz Trust say, however, that their research shows the most important thing that is needed is for the government to stop using destitution as a weapon of immigration control.

The report concludes: "More than mitigating the next decade of destitution, however, we also want to build towards a future where no one is forced into destitution because of where they come from. … Everyone living in our communities should have the resources and opportunities to live with dignity and to thrive as members of our society. The ostensible justification for destitution as a policy tool is that it incentivises people to return to their country of origin. But this report adds to a catalogue of previous research showing this does not work. Instead it rips years out of people's lives, punishing them for simply being here in our city region."