Refugee charities and grassroots organisations supporting asylum seekers have spent tens of thousands of pounds in a matter of months because of gaps in Home Office provision, an investigation by The Ferret has found.
Charities including Positive Action in Housing, Bikes for Refugees and Refuweegee, said they were providing increasingly desperate people in the asylum system with essentials including food, clothing, phone and data top-ups, prams and household goods.
Financial support of £39.60 per week is made available to most people in the asylum system by the Home Office. However, those accommodated in hotels have had that support stopped.
Many of about 400 people originally accommodated in hotels in Glasgow – including 324 moved from flats back in March and April – have now been transferred back to the community. But about 200 people are still in hotels.
Mears Group, which provides accommodation on behalf of the Home Office, says three meals, along with snacks and toiletries, are provided for those without cash support.
Meanwhile, though the Home Office has raised asylum support by 26p per day on 15 June, charities insist it has not been sufficient to meet the rising costs associated with the pandemic.
The Ferret has been counting the cost of the alleged gaps in state provision in the course of a long-running investigation into the lives of ordinary people claiming asylum in Glasgow during extraordinary times.
Their stories will be published in full on Friday.
Many have been relying on tiny charities such as Maslow’s Community shop, in Govan, and Bikes for Refugees. By mid-July those organisations had jointly spent almost £20,000 on Asda vouchers alone, some of which had gone to people staying in hotels.
A further £27,000 has been raised by Migrants Organising for Rights and Empowerment (MORE) for phone top-ups.
Robina Qureshi, chief executive of Positive Action in Housing, said she estimated her charity would spend an additional £40-50,000 this year on providing essentials for people since coronavirus hit in March.
She added: “We are having to plug the gaps despite multi-million pound contracts being handed out by the Home Office to provide accommodation and other services.
“It’s volunteers who are making this possible. We have set up the Humans of Glasgow volunteer network and in total we have about 180 people signed up. They are helping us to distribute emergency grants, food, and things like bus passes or phone top-ups.”
The human cost, she claimed, had been “shocking”. “We delivered food to one man who had just come out of hospital after cancer surgery,” she said. “He didn’t have a penny.”
Selina Hales, founder of Refuweegee, said the charity had provided 150 packs of essentials every week throughout the pandemic, with a large proportion going to asylum seekers.
“In terms of those in the asylum system one thing that’s stayed steady are the number of requests for help,” she said.
“We are still delivering to people who have been in hotels for months and that’s heartbreaking because the city has seen what happens when you leave people in intolerable situations. It’s had tragic consequences.”
The charity is also delivering bus passes, phone-ups and even laptops, to allow people otherwise unable to access technology to continue to attend college and English classes.
However, she claimed that though the problem had been exacerbated by the pandemic, it was not a new issue.
About two years ago, the charity was contacted by a asylum seeking parent who had been told that her baby’s operation would be cancelled if she did not have a suitable buggy to take them home in.
Hales said: “How can it be that I can get a call on a Sunday night from one of the team saying: “A baby can’t get an operation unless we provide them with a buggy and I don’t think I have one ready for them – what should we do”. In those moments I feel so angry.
“Things like that open up all sorts of questions. Are we doing this wrong? Because we’re not holding anyone responsible? We’re plugging a gap that should be filled by the UK Government.
“We have very quickly shifted into territory that I don’t think we thought we would find ourselves in. Once you’re there it’s ever so difficult to step back. You’ve seen too much.”
In the last few years Refugee Survival Trust has provided over £100,000 worth of destitution grants each year to refugees and asylum seekers in Scotland facing homelessness and extreme poverty.
A spokeswoman for the Home Office it had put in place a range of measures to specifically support asylum seekers affected by the pandemic.
She added: “As required by law, we provide asylum seekers who would otherwise be destitute with free, fully furnished accommodation.
“Where all essential living needs are not already provided for, we also cover utility costs and provide a cash allowance which was recently increased above inflation.”
Photos by Angela Catlin
Read Asylum in crisis: stories from inside the ‘broken system’ in The Ferret on Friday.