Social Justice

Home Office to halt asylum evictions amid soaring refugee homelessness crisis

Evictions will be paused over Christmas, amid widespread warnings that thousands of refugees will become homeless

Glasgow refugee

Authorities in Glasgow have warned of 'unprecedented pressure' on homelessness services as refugees are evicted. Image: Living Rent Scotland

The Home Office is to pause asylum seeker evictions over Christmas, following fears of mass homelessness as it attempts to clear the legacy backlog, The Big Issue has learned.

Evictions will be paused from 23 December to 2 January, amid warnings from councils that the drive to process claims will push thousands onto the streets, as well as during periods of extreme cold weather.

The Big Issue found 1,500 refugees were made homeless between August and October after leaving Home Office accommodation.

With plummeting temperatures and worsening weather, London has already activated its emergency plan to get rough sleepers off the streets. Islington Council is among those to have been told that evictions will be also paused for up to three days while the Severe Weather Emergency Protocol (SWEP) is active.

The pause comes despite government assurances that refugees were being given ample time and support to prevent homelessness.

Any cases due to have support discontinued from 23 December to 2 January will be extended until 3 January, frontline groups were told on Thursday (30 November).

Read the Big Issue’s coverage of the growing refugee homelessness crisis:

An effective reduction in the minimum time asylum seekers are given to find a new home once evicted, plus a huge number of processed claims resulting in these evictions, has resulted in a widespread crisis as refugees are pushed onto the streets.

Councils have repeatedly complained that no extra funding has been given to deal with the wave of refugees in need of support.

“As a Borough of Sanctuary, we welcome the news that the Home Office has seen sense and committed to pausing any evictions of successful asylum seekers from their hotel accommodation during periods of extreme cold weather this winter, and for the festive period,” councillor Roulin Khondoker, Islington Council’s executive member for equalities, culture and inclusion, told The Big Issue.

“These are both vital measures we asked the Home Office to take to protect people sleeping rough from harmful and potentially life-threatening conditions.

“But we will continue to press the Home Office to take further measures that could avert a rough sleeping crisis caused by the current policy around asylum accommodation evictions.”

The pause is a good sign, but not enough on its own to prevent homelessness, Enver Solomon, CEO of the Refugee Council, told The Big Issue.

“At a time when thousands of refugees are facing homelessness as a result of harsh government policies forcing them out of their accommodation at very short notice, the decision to temporarily pause evictions is a positive step.

“But just stopping evictions for a short time isn’t enough. By giving them very limited time to start anew, the government has created a situation where newly recognised refugees are very likely to face destitution, homelessness and fall into crisis. Instead, refugees should be given far more time to settle as well as access to appropriate support so that they can get a dignified start in their new communities,” said Solomon.

The Big Issue understands that the Northwest Strategic Migration Partnership – a regional government partnership which deals with migration issues – made a formal request for a pause to the Home Office this week.

Glasgow Council also called on the Home Office to halt the “unconscionable” process, with around 800 refugees evicted from asylum housing in the city since August.

In Belfast, human rights organisation PPR has been among those calling for a “cold-weather moratorium”.

In a letter to UK ministers, the organisation’s director Chloë Trew wrote: “It is neither practical, reasonable nor humane to ask families who have suffered both the trauma of fleeing their home country and navigating the local asylum system, to leave the only safe home they have to become street homeless during the cold winter months.”

A Home Office spokesperson said: “We work with local authorities to manage the impact of asylum decisions.

“Once someone is informed that their asylum claim has been granted, they get at least 28 days’ notice to move on from their asylum accommodation.

“We encourage individuals to make their onward plans as soon as possible after receiving their decision on their asylum claim, whether that is leaving the UK following a refusal, or taking steps to integrate in the UK following a grant.”

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