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NGOs highlight asylum-seeker and migrant poverty in submissions to UN Special Rapporteur


United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights to visit UK in November

Date of Publication:
02 October 2018

NGOs highlight asylum-seeker and migrant poverty in submissions to UN Special Rapporteur

02 October 2018

Asylum Matters, the Jesuit Refugee Service UK, Doctors of the World UK and Refugee Rights Europe are among the organisations who have submitted written evidence to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Philip Alston, ahead of his visit to the UK next month.

Asylum Matters said in its submission to the Special Rapporteur that it believes the UK is not fully implementing its obligations under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, given its current policies relating to refused asylum-seekers, asylum support and the right to work for people in the asylum system.

According to Asylum Matters, current levels of asylum support mean that a single asylum seeker will be living 74% below the relative poverty line, and an asylum-seeking family consisting of a couple and one child under 14 would be living 63% below the relative poverty line.

Asylum Matter also drew the Special Rapporteur's attention to the barriers asylum seekers face in accessing justice. It said poverty and policies of enforced destitution limit the ability of asylum seekers ability to fully engage with the legal process surrounding their claim to protection. Costs incurred by asylum seekers during their legal case, such as communication with and travel to solicitors, further exacerbate poverty and put huge pressure on very limited budgets.

In a strongly worded statement, Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) UK said the government "manufactures the destitution of refused asylum seekers, which constitutes an egregious abuse of their right to a standard of living adequate to health and well-being."

The statement continued: "Specific hostile/compliant environment legislation limiting access to essential services further undermines particular social and economic rights, such as the right to medical care. This intended poverty further interacts with different parts of hostile/compliant environment legislation and policy to undermine fundamental civil and political rights – obstructing access to the asylum process and, more broadly, equal consideration before the law. It additionally renders refused asylum seekers vulnerable to modern slavery, jeopardising their right not to be held in servitude."

JRS UK said the enforced destitution of refused asylum seekers leaves them without the ability to meet their most basic needs."

The submission also raised concerns over cuts to legal aid and the resultant unequal access to justice. JRS UK says poverty undermines a person's chance of having their asylum claim adequately heard.

JRS UK accused the government of carrying out "destitution by design" and reneging on its human rights obligations. The statement said the UK was "entrenching rights violations in law, policy and practice."

Doctors of the World UK used its submission to draw the UN Special Rapporteur's attention to the denial and delay of healthcare to migrants living in poverty.

Doctors of the World UK runs a volunteer-led clinic, staffed by GPs and nurses, that helps undocumented migrants, refugees and asylum seekers who have been unable to access NHS services. 70% of those seen at the clinic are living below the poverty line.

The written submission stated: "The research and patient case studies … provide clear evidence of how current UK government policies with regard to a) NHS charging and; b) asylum support, intersect with poverty to result in breaches of individuals' rights to health and healthcare enshrined in international human rights law."

The submission continued: "By denying treatment if a patient cannot pay in advance and by pursuing destitute individuals with unaffordable debts, the UK government is systemically undermining the right to health for migrants, many of whom have lived in British communities for a number of years."

The submission by Refugee Rights Europe focussed on issues around asylum accommodation and it recommended that the Special Rapporteur should visit asylum accommodation centres in London and Birmingham in order to gain an understanding of the poverty and human rights violations experienced in this context.