Social Justice

Homeless refugee rushed to A&E after being found freezing on doorstep: 'It's getting worse'

As thousands of refugees are evicted into homelessness by the government, the human toll is becoming apparent

The refugee, recently evicted from Home Office accommodation, was taken to University College hospital in London. Image: TOLGA AKMEN/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

He had been granted refugee status and told to leave his asylum hotel. Within days he was found freezing on the doorstep a homelessness charity, and was so ill he had to be taken to A&E.

As Phil Kerry arrived for work on Thursday, 14 December, he recognised the man. He’d been at the New Horizon Youth Centre, where Kerry is the CEO, the day before. Having been evicted from his asylum accommodation days previously, he was seeking help, and was assessed and given a sleeping bag.

That night was the coldest day of the week in London, with temperatures dropping to two degrees Celsius. When Kerry and his team found the man the next day, lying in a soaking wet sleeping bag, they spent the day assessing him. Eventually, Kerry realised his condition was so severe he needed to be taken to A&E.

It’s an incident which highlights the human toll of government policy, as the Home Office evicts thousands of newly-recognised refugees into homelessness. 

“He was unwell because he’d been on the streets, but his mental health wasn’t good either. So a decision was made to take him into A&E. I actually walked him to A&E on the way home to University College London Hospital, left him there,” Kerry told The Big Issue.

“We haven’t seen him since, so I don’t know what’s happened to him. It’s just one of many examples like that at the moment.”

Although a severe example, it’s a case illustrating the pressures faced at the New Horizon Youth Centre, a charity supporting young people experiencing homelessness in London. Each day will see a queue outside the charity’s Kings Cross base, most of those refugees.

“We have young people who are feeling suicidal because they’ve gone through significant trauma in their life. That’s often why they’ve come to claim asylum in the first place,” says Kerry.

“At the moment where they should be kind of feeling OK, there’s a new beginning starting, it’s actually getting significantly worse for them on the streets.”

As the Home Office rushes to clear the asylum backlog, thousands of newly-recognised refugees are being evicted into destitution, creating a crisis of refugee homelessness. In some cases they are being given as little as seven days to find somewhere to live. Campaigners warn that the Home Office’s publicly stated 28 day notice still does not afford enough time, and should be extended to 56 days.

The Big Issue revealed this month that evictions will be paused during extreme cold weather and over Christmas, but Kerry warned this does not go far enough.

“We will have people just rough sleeping through the Christmas period. There’s nowhere for anyone to go. Historically, we’ve got them into Crisis at Christmas, winter shelters, you would’ve been able to make something happen,” says Kerry.

“I suspect we will have the most difficult Christmas we’ve ever had.”

“To basically say you’re not going to evict people during SWEP is to admit that they are ending up on the streets rough sleeping.”

Refugees used to account for 17% of service users. Now it’s 43%. Large proportion of those being evicted from hotels are young men, who fall in the demographic helped by New Horizon

The Home Office has U-turned on a controversial part of the policy which effectively reduced the time given to refugees to find new accommodation once granted leave to remain.

A change meant refugees were being given 28 days notice from being told their case had been approved, but delays in paperwork often meant they were unable to do anything for much of this period. From August, the number evicted into homelessness tripled.

However, the department insists that since August, policy has been to give refugees 28 days from when their Biometric Residence Permit – paperwork allowing them to open a bank account and claim benefits – is delivered.

But as the toll of homelessness from the policy becomes clear, Kerry says New Horizon has had multiple young people suicidal and facing homelessness: “It’s just compounded trauma for people, on top of what have already been incredibly difficult lives and periods.”

A government spokesperson said: “Once a newly recognised refugee is issued a biometric residence permit, they get 28 days to move-on from asylum accommodation.

“Support is also available through Migrant Help and their partners, which includes advice on how to access Universal Credit, the labour market and where to get assistance with housing.

“We are working with local authorities to manage the impact of asylum decisions as the legacy backlog reduces.”

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