Some asylum seekers in north ‘face destituion'
Some refugees in Northern Ireland are facing destitution and have problems in accessing benefits and other support, the British Red Cross warned.
Applicants for asylum are not entitled to state benefits until their claim has been dealt with. Instead they are offered housing and a cash allowance.
In the past year the Red Cross has supported around 15 Syrian individuals and families in Belfast, as well as more than 300 people from other countries affected by war and conflict, particularly Somalia and Sudan.
Free English classes should be provided to help integrate newcomers and a long term commitment is needed to fund their settlement, the aid agency added.
Neil McKittrick, refugee support manager, said: “We’ve seen people with no shoes, no coat, nowhere to sleep, heavily pregnant women and those with small children.”
The executive this year provided a Crisis Fund for vulnerable refugees and ensured that all asylum seekers have access to primary and secondary healthcare.
Mr McKittrick said: “We signpost and advise people who struggle to understand the complicated asylum process, with limited or no English.
“We strongly argue that destitution should never be an outcome of the asylum system. However, for a number of reasons, some people do find themselves completely destitute.”
According to the Home Office, asylum seekers can ask for somewhere to live, a cash allowance worth £36.95 per person per week or both.
“We are able to help them for a limited period of time by providing a £10 weekly voucher for food,” Mr McKittrick said.
“Occasionally, we are able to reunite a family separated by conflict. Not knowing the fate or whereabouts of family members is one of the most distressing aspects of their situation for many refugees and asylum seekers.”
He called for a refugee integration strategy for Northern Ireland, which is the only UK region not to have one.
“For people arriving from Syria, or any other conflict zone, there needs to be a long-term commitment to funding their settlement and integration in our community so we can properly meet their needs.
“Those who have been granted refugee status should not have to cope with delays in the benefit system during their transition period and should never have to face destitution.
“It would also be practical for those who arrive as or become refugees to have access to free English classes to assist with their integration.”
A DSD spokesperson said: “In accordance with UK policy, all asylum seekers who are granted refugee status by the Home Office have the right to claim social security benefits.
“There are specific processes in place to assist refugees claim benefit. These include the verification of identity, a process to assist with the fast tracking of tax credit applications and the provision of a translation service for those refugees who do not speak English.”