Asylum Seeker Accommodation and Mental Health

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This article was written by one of our guest writers, Mr. Aaron Gates-Lincoln, writer for Immigration News. The opinions expressed within reflect only the writer’s views and not The European Sting’s position on the issue.

The topic of accommodation for asylum seekers awaiting asylum decisions has been an issue discussed intensely in the world of immigration news for years. However, a new report by British Red Cross has highlighted how the UK asylum system is deeply flawed, and has increasingly caused negative impacts on individuals seeking asylum’s mental health. 

The UK asylum system currently includes individuals arriving and then being placed in accommodation by the Home Office until an asylum decision has been made. However, in recent times, the UK Home Office have struggled heavily with increasing delays in making decisions on asylum applications. This has resulted in a large number of individuals seeking asylum being placed in accommodation for months or even years. 

It would be expected that the accommodation, if being lived in for months at a time, would be safe and secure. However, the British Red Cross report has found that in many instances, asylum accommodation fails to be clean, well maintained or provide a helpful community experience for asylum seekers. This is because the Home Office has not been securing enough funding for community dispersal accommodation, and access to housing has been reduced due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Living in inadequate accommodation has had severe mental health impacts on asylum seekers awaiting decisions. British Red Cross stated that “between January 2020 and February 2021, their teams have supported over 400 individuals living in asylum accommodation who have references to suicidal ideation or attempts recorded in their case notes”. In most instances, deterioration in mental health is due to the knock-on effects that poor accommodation can have on other areas of life. This is mirrored by research conducted by the Refugee Council, a UK charity supporting asylum seekers, who found that 61% of asylum seekers experience serious mental distress whilst refugees are 500% more likely to have mental health needs than the UK population.

It has been found that the poor system of accommodation provision promote feelings of isolation, reduces access to support services and healthcare due to being situated in remote areas and can influence bullying and hate crimes due to stigmatisation. The British Red Cross spoke to asylum seeking individuals, in which some described being survivors of trafficking and being placed in large, mixed gender hostels where they were afraid to leave their rooms. It is evident that in many cases, the reduction of costs is being prioritised over ensuring the safety and wellbeing of individuals awaiting their asylum decisions. 

In comparison, many EU countries have made changes to their legislation to ensure that some of these issues surrounding accommodation do not arise. For example, Spain introduced a law in 2015 that stated hotels and hostels could only be used for a maximum of 30 days for new arrivals. This has now been extended to 4 months due to a rise in applications, but the cap in place ensures that there are always systems in motion that aim to find more suitable accommodation for asylum seeking individuals. Furthermore, France has an initial time limit of 6 months set in place for claims decisions, which significantly reduces the need for accommodation provision. Furthermore, unlike the UK, Germany allows asylum seeking individuals to join the labour force after 3 months, giving them the option to earn money and find more suitable accommodation for themselves in a move of self-dependence. 

It is clear that changes need to be made to the UK system to improve the lives and mental health of those awaiting asylum decisions. However, with the governments ‘New Plan for Immigration’ announced in March 2021, it appears proposed changes will not greatly benefit this vulnerable group of people. One of the proposals sees the introduction of reception centres, which would be a change from securing accommodation for seekers in communities across the UK. The policy does not detail what the centres will look like, where they will be, or how long people would be accommodated in them for. However, it has been claimed that they will “allow for decisions and any appeals following rejection of an asylum claim to be processed fairly and quickly”. This insinuates that asylum seeking individuals will potentially be housed in these reception centres for the whole duration of their claim. 

British Red Cross have stated that the introduction of such centres could risk reducing contact between communities, increase feelings of isolation and harm the health and wellbeing of this vulnerable group of people. 

In order to address the culmination of the issues discussed here, the British Red Cross have also issued a number of recommendations for the Home office to improve their system. They include putting procedures in place to speed up the decision-making process, immediately ending the use of military barracks as accommodation and moving people out of hotels and into community dispersal housing. They also urge the government to place funding into the asylum process that could help individuals access mental health support and ensure that their needs are examined and met fully.

It is clear that the UK’s hostile environment approach is entrenched in all areas of immigration policy, and shows no sign of budging. Without addressing the difficulties that asylum seeking individuals face in the asylum process, it becomes less likely that these individuals may make it onto the pathways to receive ‘indefinite leave to remain’ or citizenship in the future. It is absolutely vital that pressures continue to amount against the Home Office in the hopes that some of the recommendations are considered, and the lives of those seeking asylum in the UK may be improved. 

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