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A crucial lifeline: how charities support destitute migrants in the UK

September 22nd, 2021
topic: Refugees and Asylum
by: Cameron Boyle
located in: United Kingdom
tags: asylum seekers, migrants, NGO, United Kingdom

Hostile policies in the United Kingdom are forcing migrants to suffer for no fault of their own. ‘No Recourse to Public Funds’ (NRPF) is a prime example of this - an immigration condition that prevents foreign nationals from accessing mainstream benefits. Now charities across the UK are trying to provide some relief for migrants affected by the policy.

The policy is underpinned by injustice. Many of those affected are asylum seekers who have had their initial asylum claims rejected, but who then go on to have their rejection overturned at the appeal stage. This means they were forced to endure destitution despite being entitled to refugee status - and therefore public funds - all along.  

The impact of the condition on migrants’ lives is profound. Being denied a safety net means that even in times of crisis, such as unemployment or fleeing an abusive relationship, migrants have no choice but to go without vital assistance. 

In response to this misery, charities have stepped in to provide a crucial lifeline. From cash grants to free legal advice, their invaluable work enables NRPF migrants to live with a greater level of dignity and build towards a more secure future. 

However, a lack of awareness often translates into a lack of funding, placing many of these crucial services under serious threat. 

Added to this, the number of people with NRPF is set to increase due to the government’s Nationality and Borders Bill, which seeks to impose the condition on refugees granted limited protection. And with the number of refugees set to rise due to the ongoing crisis in Afghanistan, the pressure on these services will become even greater. 

NRPF deprives migrants of basic rights

Life under NRPF is deeply distressing. An absence of support means that in so many cases, migrants - many of whom are already vulnerable - are forced into the most harrowing of circumstances, such as destitution, depression and homelessness. 

Regarding destitution, substantial numbers of NRPF migrants are unable to afford basic necessities, such as food, clothing and transport. According to the Trussell Trust, approximately 11 percent of people referred to food banks in mid-2020 were migrants with NRPF. Considering that migrants (individuals with a non-UK nationality) account for just 9 percent of the UK population, this is a truly staggering figure. 

NRPF is applied indiscriminately, with no consideration given to a person's vulnerability or level of need. As a result, migrants on low incomes who already struggle to provide for their children are subject to the condition, making it hugely difficult to maintain an adequate standard of living. 

This often has a disastrous impact on the wellbeing of the children in the family. Project 17, an organisation that works to end destitution among migrant children, found that many children whose parents are subject to NRPF are left feeling hungry and isolated during school due to having no access to free school meals.  

Further to this, a shocking 24 percent of children that were interviewed as part of Project 17’s research had been left street homeless purely due to the immigration status of their parents. In all but one of these cases, local migrant organisations had protected children from homelessness by providing emergency accommodation. 

Being forced to go without the basics takes a heavy toll on mental wellbeing. Many children spoke about the devastating emotional impact of NRPF on their parents, describing them as sad, stressed and anxious. In some cases, children’s own feelings of stress had a destructive impact on their schoolwork  and their relationships with others. 

Charities provide a crucial lifeline

In the absence of adequate state support, charities carry out invaluable work so that people with NRPF have access to robust and reliable assistance. This idea is illustrated by Migrant Destitution Fund Greater Manchester, a charity that gives cash grants to destitute migrants across the region. 

MDF’s work is guided by three core principles: dignity, choice and justice. For two main reasons, providing cash grants rather than ‘gifts in kind’ is central to implementing these principles. Firstly, cash gives a person the freedom to buy what they really need and what meets their requirements, such as phone credit so that family members can be contacted.

Given that so many people with NRPF are wholly dependent on others in order to survive, the importance of this freedom and choice should not be overlooked. In the words of Ruvimbo, a destitute asylum seeker supported by MDF: "I was able to call my family. The first time! It made me cry."

Secondly, providing cash grants reduces the stigma associated with other handouts. In many cases, users of services such as food banks experience feelings of shame and embarrassment due to a belief that by requesting food, they imply they are struggling to meet their basic needs. Cash, on the other hand, enables a person to live with a greater level of independence and dignity. 

This idea is succinctly expressed by Ruvimbo: “It is different from having to ask someone for help. It is different to have money in my pocket. Helps my mental health, how I feel inside.”

In a conversation with FairPlanet, Robbie Cowbury, Panel and Action Group Member at MDF, said this of the origins of migrant destitution and the services that MDF provides:

"The issue of migrant destitution is a direct result of the hostile environment. It's forcing groups like us to step into where the welfare state should be, and that's inevitably an inadequate substitute. We can offer temporary respite, but it will take a change in law and policy to stop migrants being made destitute and forced into truly desperate situations."

MDF is not the only charity providing vital support. Coram Migrant Children’s Project offers email advice from a specialist solicitor on all issues affecting migrant, asylum-seeking and refugee children and young people, whether they are separated or in families. 

The NRPF condition, as touched upon, has a deeply harmful impact on children. The Children’s Society interviewed two parents with NRPF who said they feared for their child’s life and safety because of the living situation they had to endure as a result of it. Projects such as Coram’s help to navigate the complex legal labyrinth involved with getting the NRPF condition lifted, and in doing so, offers a pathway to a brighter future. 

Similarly, Hackney Migrant Centre runs a weekly drop-in advice service where people can access advice on their immigration status, as well as issues relating to homelessness and destitution. The advice provided is completely free of charge, and priority is given to those who are unable to pay independently for legal advice. 

This is crucial - in so many cases, the cost of legal fees prevents migrants from finding a way out of the dire circumstances they find themselves in, leaving them trapped in a vicious cycle of poverty and misery. But by offering a service tailored to the needs of those without a safety net, Hackney Migrant Centre offers a route to stability. 

Services such as these should not have to exist. They are the product of hostile policies that deny people support purely due to their immigration status. But until such policies are reversed, their existence offers a crucial lifeline. 

Image by: Mstyslav Chernov/Unframe

Article written by:
cameron-750x570
Cameron Boyle
Author
United Kingdom
Inflatable dinghies used by migrants to cross the channel from France are stored in a compound on June 11, 2021 in Dover, England.
© Dan Kitwood via Getty Images
Many children spoke about the devastating emotional impact of NRPF on their parents, describing them as sad, stressed and anxious.
© Dan Kitwood via Getty Images
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