Number of homeless refugees in Glasgow doubles amid asylum backlog

<span>Photograph: Andrew Milligan/PA</span>
Photograph: Andrew Milligan/PA

The number of homeless refugees in Glasgow has doubled in recent months as the Home Office accelerates its plan to clear the asylum backlog by the end of the year.

Mini refugee camps are also springing up across London, and Liverpool council has said the situation is “nothing short of an emergency”.

Glasgow city council, the largest asylum dispersal area outside London, is expected to declare a housing emergency on Thursday as figures show the number of referrals to homelessness support services of those granted leave to remain has increased from an average of 60 a month in the first half of the year to 176 in October and 132 for the first three weeks of November.

A report by Cllr Allan Casey, the city convener for homelessness, also reveals a sharp rise in applications from those granted leave to remain outside Glasgow, with 33% of those applying to homelessness services coming from elsewhere in Scotland and the UK.

Casey said there was increasing evidence that people who had been granted refugee status were coming to Glasgow to seek housing support from farther afield, including Liverpool, Manchester and Belfast. The Scottish Refugee Council confirmed it was seeing a similar rise.

“The Home Office does not understand that Scotland has much stronger housing rights, such as a statutory duty to accommodate single adult males, which may be attracting people from elsewhere in the UK.”

Casey added that the increase in referrals still had not reached the 1,400 expected by the council, which meant potentially hundreds more households in need of accommodation during the coldest months, with temperatures in the city at -5C overnight this week.

Though the Scottish parliament strengthened legal rights for homeless people, local authorities have been experiencing big funding cuts in recent years.

The Shelter Scotland director, Alison Watson, pointed out that Glasgow had been experiencing a housing emergency long before the immediate pressures imposed by the Home Office asylum decisions, with the root cause a chronic shortage of social housing.

She said there was a danger “we end up with a situation where Scotland’s world leading rights exist only on paper rather than in reality”.

Elsewhere in the UK, human rights campaigners and lawyers have been raising the alarm for months about a sharp increase in rough sleeping. The British Red Cross estimated there could be 50,000 homeless refugees by the end of the year.

Once an asylum seeker wins leave to remain, they have 28 days to vacate their state-funded accommodation. It can take weeks for them to receive the documentation required to secure alternative, affordable accommodation and for their universal credit claims to be processed.

After a dramatic reduction in rough sleeping during the Covid pandemic as part of the “everybody in” scheme, which provided safe shelter for thousands of people, it is rising again, with many homeless hostels full, leaving some refugees on the streets.

The Guardian visited a new encampment under a railway bridge in central London where people seeking refuge estimated that about 16 people were sleeping. They identified two other central London locations where groups of new refugees were sleeping in tents in small encampments.

Many of those who are bedding down in these sites are refugees from Sudan and Eritrea. One young man from Sudan, called Adam (not his real name), told the Guardian: “I lived in ‘the jungle’ in Calais for some time and now Calais has come to central London.”

He pointed to a tent occupied by a young Eritrean married couple recently granted refugee status who they found wandering around King’s Cross station. Others were sleeping on an old sofa bed with a foam mattress that doubled up as a seating area.

“Every morning when I wake up I clean the floor around where we sleep and throw the rubbish away,” said a second young Sudanese refugee. “I have to. This is my house.”

The leader of Liverpool city council, Cllr Liam Robinson, along with Cllr Sarah Doyle, the cabinet member for housing at the council, has written to the levelling up secretary, Michael Gove, warning of a situation that they “regard as nothing short of an emergency” about refugee homelessness. They say they have been advised that 1,000 asylum seekers are likely to receive decisions on their claims “this side of Christmas”.

Government sources said Liverpool had been given a homelessness prevention grant of £3.9m to help those at risk of homelessness to access the private rented sector.

A UK government spokesperson said: “Support is offered to newly recognised refugees by Migrant Help and their partners, which includes advice on how to access the universal credit, the labour market and where to get assistance with housing. We work with local authorities to help communities manage the impact of asylum decisions.”

Scotland’s housing minister, Paul McLennan, said: “The recent decision by the Home Office to fast-track the asylum backlog is poorly thought out and has left local authorities unable to plan – putting many people at risk of rough sleeping and destitution.

“The migration and refugees minister, Emma Roddick, has written to the UK government to ask it to bring forward funding for local authorities to manage this pressure.”