Claimants sleeping in bins and bus shelters as effects of section 55 bite

Asylum seekers are sleeping in rubbish bins, telephone boxes and
bus shelters as a result of legislation introduced last

Early findings from the first detailed survey on the impact of
section 55 of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 show
that more than three-quarters of agencies working with asylum
seekers have seen clients sleeping rough as a result of the

Maeve Sherlock, chief executive of the Refugee Council, said it had
placed “an intolerable and unsustainable burden on refugee
communities” who were trying to fill the gap in services but who
“cannot and should not be expected to pick up the pieces of what is
an inhumane piece of legislation”.

Last month, 130 organisations responded to the Refugee Council’s
survey on the clause, which denies welfare support to those who
fail to claim asylum “as soon as reasonably practicable”. Almost
7,500 asylum seekers were refused support under section 55 between
January and September 2003.

More than half of respondents said they or others in their
profession had had to provide emergency shelter for asylum seekers.
Seventy per cent of those had put up people in their own

The survey also found that two-thirds of organisations had given
emergency provisions or money for essential items to asylum
seekers. Yet almost 90 per cent said they did not have funding to
cover the cost of the services they provided to asylum seekers
denied support by the clause.

Last month, home secretary David Blunkett extended the time within
which asylum seekers should make their applications from 24 hours
to three days, on the condition applicants could provide “an honest
appraisal of how they reached the country and how long they have
been here”.

Although the Refugee Council welcomed the extension, Sherlock
warned that asylum seekers needing support would still be at risk
of destitution because some might not know they had to apply for
asylum immediately or might be unable to apply at a port.

The council has joined more than 20 organisations calling for
section 55 to be repealed.

A full report of the survey’s findings is expected next month.

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