Over three quarters of asylum seekers in Northern Ireland say their mental health has deteriorated since coming to the country, a report has found.
A report launched on Tuesday by Housing 4 All, a campaigning group of asylum seekers, supported by Participation and Practice of Rights (PPR) – conducted the research, and documented the hardships experienced.
The report found that 78% of respondents reported mental ill health, with 77% describing it worsening since entering the asylum process, while 79% reported being unable to afford enough food, and 71% of parents reported being unable to afford school uniforms for their children.
Some 31% of asylum seekers surveyed stated that their home was not safe, liveable or secure, and 7% of respondents have absolutely no means of financial support – excluded from all Home Office issued financial support, and banned from working under UK law.
The report identifies key areas in which devolved institutions in Northern Ireland can counter the impacts of UK legislation and policy, and deliver improved living conditions for asylum seekers.
Among these recommendations are providing every asylum seeker with a full social services assessment before they are allocated accommodation, and removing barriers to access to emergency accommodation for asylum seekers who are appealing a refusal of their application.
Also recommended is an increase in the school uniform allowance to at least £100 p.a. per child, and free school meals during holidays to children of asylum seeker families.
Speaking on behalf of H4All, Sipho Sibanda asylum seekers often find themselves on the street when appealing their refusal.
“When an asylum seeker’s claim is refused their accommodation support is withdrawn, even if they plan to make an appeal, because asylum seekers have no access to public funds, they are left on the streets,” he said.
“The Home Office has created a system of enforced destitution but local bodies can subvert the hostile environment by removing barriers to accessing homeless hostels using their devolved powers in relation to housing.
“We call on the Department for Communities and Northern Ireland Housing Executive to act and protect this vulnerable group of people.”
Aylisha Hogan from PPR said that British government policy was punishing those seeking asylum in Northern Ireland.
The UK Home Office hostile environment policy, announced in 2012 by the Conservative government while in coalition with the Liberal Democrats, is a set of legislative measures designed to make staying in the United Kingdom increasingly difficult.
The policy has been widely criticised including by Conservative MPs.
“The Home Office – through their Hostile Environment Policies – has created a system that deliberately punishes and causes harm to people seeking asylum,” Ms Hogan said.
“We are supporting Housing4All in their campaign because everyone deserves to lead a dignified life and that is all they are asking for.
“People should be concerned by the appalling way the Home Office is treating asylum seekers. We are talking about people who have literally fled war and persecution. They have come here seeking safety but Home Office policies only seek to cause them further harm.
“Our devolved institutions have the power to act to protect asylum seekers and they must act now.”